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Thu, 2014-05-29 18:05Mike G
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Californians Aim to Halt Fracking Even If the State Senate Won't

A second vote on California's fracking moratorium bill—SB 1132—fell short in the State Senate today, just twenty-four hours after it was first defeated by a margin of 18-16, three votes shy of the majority it needed to pass. We're still awaiting the official word on how today's vote shook out exactly.

But many Californians are not waiting for the State Senate to take action, anyway.

Last week, Santa Cruz County's Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to pass the state's first-ever permanent ban on fracking. Earlier this month, the city council of Beverly Hills passed its own fracking ban with another unanimous vote. Several other counties and cities are scheduled to hold votes of their own on similar measures in the near future.

These local efforts to win fracking bans and moratoria are undoubtedly a response to the tremendous popular support for a halt to poorly understood but increasingly more common practices like fracking and acidization, which eats away at rock.

A poll commissioned by two environmental groups, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, shows that more than two-thirds of Californians want a moratorium on fracking until its impacts to the environment and human health have been studied more closely by the scientific community. A poll by USC and the LA Times had similar results, finding that more than 70% of Californians favored banning or heavily regulating fracking.

While environmental groups have been organizing support for SB 1132, some of the fiercest opposition has come from groups just as concerned with health, safety, and justice as with the environment. And they are certainly not backing down, even after SB 1132 was voted down for a second time.

“It's disappointing to see our leaders in Sacramento fail to pass a moratorium on fracking, siding with the powerful oil and gas industry at the expense of the health of our families and climate,” said Arturo Carmona, Executive Director of Presente.org, the largest Latino online organizing group in the nation. “Latinos will bear the brunt of the worst effects of fracking in California–from poisoned water to asthma, and are in the areas worst affected by climate change across the nation.”  

Polls have shown wide support for a moratorium among Latinos in California. In fact, the USC/LA Times poll found that Latinos favored an outright ban or at least a moratorium on fracking by substantially larger margins than whites, perhaps due to the fact that Latinos are far more likely to live in communities suffering the adverse impacts of fracking operations.

“We will remember who stood with us today, and who chose to poison our families for the sake of corporate profits,” Carmona says. “Shame on every member of the California Senate today who voted to throw Latino families under the bus.”

Wed, 2014-05-21 16:14Mike G
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Estimates of Recoverable Oil in California's Monterey Shale Slashed 96%

Last year, a post here on DeSmog asked: “Could California's Shale Oil Boom Be Just a Mirage?

For now, the answer appears to be a resounding yes.

According to the LA Times, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) is set to announce next month that it is officially downgrading its estimate of the oil reserves in California's Monterey Shale from 13.7 billion barrels to 600 million barrels — a 96% decrease.

Modern technology, it seems, is just not up to the task. The EIA will issue its new estimate after reviewing output from oil operations using the latest technologies like fracking and acidization, which eats away rock.

“From the information we've been able to gather, we've not seen evidence that oil extraction in this area is very productive using techniques like fracking,” said John Staub, a petroleum exploration and production analyst with the EIA, according to the LA Times.

At one point, the Monterey Shale was expected to fuel a new “black gold rush” in the Golden State. Initial estimates in 2011 put the amount of recoverable oil from the Monterey Shale at 15.4 billion barrels. The EIA revised this number down to 13.7 billion in 2012, which was still some two-thirds of shale reserves in the entire US.

As the LA Times notes, “The estimate touched off a speculation boom among oil companies. The new findings seem certain to dampen that enthusiasm.”

Environmentalists reacted to news of the downgrade with some relief but little surprise. 

“The oil had always been a statistical fantasy,” says geoscientist J. David Hughes of the Post Carbon Institute, who published a report last December that was critical of the EIA estimates. Hughes' findings were based on an analysis of actual oil production data from the Monterey Shale, which drastically underperformed the industry's projections.

While several of the major oil companies have been wary all along, not everyone is giving up so easily. It's not that the oil isn't there, it's just that the Monterey Shale's unique geography presents challenges for which existing methods have no answer, and there may yet be a technological innovation that will allow the exploitation of the Monterey Shale's reserves.

“As the technologies change, the production rates could also change dramatically,” Tupper Hull, a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Assn., told the LA Times

Wed, 2014-04-16 16:51Mike G
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New Study Shows Link Between Climate Change And California Drought

A study published by Geophysical Research Letters sheds new light on the connection between California's epic drought and human-induced climate change.

The study carries the decidedly wonky title, “Probable causes of the abnormal ridge accompanying the 2013-14 California drought: ENSO precursor and anthropogenic warming footprint.”

A subscription is required to read the full thing, but you can read the abstract, which concludes that “there is a traceable anthropogenic warming footprint in the enormous intensity of the anomalous ridge during winter 2013-14, the associated drought and its intensity.”

As the accompanying news release makes clear, this new research not only helps explain how global warming has intensified the drought in the Golden State, but also its role in the record-breaking cold weather that has hit the East Coast. But it's the climate-drought connection that is under the most scrutiny.

Essentially, an “anomalous high-amplitude ridge system,” or a ridge of exceptionally high atmospheric pressure, has contributed to what's known as a “dipole” — in this case, the two poles of the dipole being the high pressure in the Western U.S. and the low pressure in the East.

The researchers, from Utah State University, have “uncovered evidence that can trace the amplification of the dipole to human influences.” They go on to state that “it is important to note that the dipole is projected to intensify, which means more extreme future droughts for California.”

Not everyone accepts the connection between manmade climate change and the Cali drought. To wit, this study is likely to provoke another round in the very public debate between University of Colorado political scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. and Obama Administration Science Advisor Dr. John Holdren.

Mon, 2014-04-14 10:44Mike G
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Why Isn’t Petcoke Regulated As a Public Health Threat?

Last year, a train leaving a Valero refinery in Benicia, CA derailed while carrying petroleum coke, also known as petcoke, a toxic byproduct of the crude oil refining process. None of the petcoke spilled that day as a result of the derailment, thankfully, but that doesn’t mean Benicia residents can breathe any easier.

Locals already have their concerns about the way petcoke is handled in their community and are questioning what public health impacts it might have. But California and federal law have a long way to go before they can be said to be adequately addressing those concerns.

Marilyn Bardet has been dealing with this issue ever since the 1980s, when she helped fend off a Koch Industries proposal to build a petcoke terminal in Benicia. (A smaller facility was eventually built in nearby Pittsburgh, CA, and it operates to this day.) But that early success didn’t mean the fight against petcoke was over for Mrs. Bardet and her fellow Benicians—far from it.

A friend of Mrs. Bardet’s who runs a business near the train tracks that lead in and out of the Valero refinery was able to easily scoop all of this petcoke right off the tracks “in one go”:

Fri, 2014-03-14 14:30Mike G
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Chevron RICO Verdict Sets Dangerous Precedent For Activists

Last week, Chevron's RICO suit against the lawyers representing 30,000 Ecuadoreans impacted by the company's oil pollution in the Amazon came to its inevitable conclusion when the judge presiding over the case, Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York, ruled in Chevron's favor.

Yes, that's RICO as in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the law written so that mob bosses could be prosecuted for running their criminal empires.

Faced with a $9.5 billion judgement in Ecuador's courts, Chevron came back to the US and counter-sued under RICO statutes, essentially saying the organized opposition to its attempts to evade responsibility in Ecuador amounted to a criminal conspiracy.

Let that sink in for a minute: The lawyers who were trying to help 30,000 Indigenous villagers, farmers, and other poor, rural Ecuadoreans demand accountability from a multinational corporation with a $221.3 billion market cap were charged with corruption by that very same multinational corporation, and a US judge went along with it.

What this means is that the Ecuadoreans are barred from seeking Chevron assets in the US to force the company to pay the $9.5 billion. Chevron has refused to comply with the Ecuador court's ruling, even though Chevron itself argued that Ecuador was the proper jurisdiction for the lawsuit over its 18 billion gallons of oil pollution in the Ecuadorean Amazon. Since the Ecuadoreans had no plans of pursuing Chevron on its own turf, this ruling doesn't have much practical impact on the matter.

What Kaplan's ruling does do, however, is set a terrifying precedent for any company looking to evade responsibility for the consequences of its business operations.

Tue, 2014-03-11 12:11Mike G
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Alberta Doctor: Canada Is "Lying" About Health Impacts of Tar Sands

Last month, a doctor from Northern Alberta asked a group of U.S. Senators to “keep up the pressure” on the Canadian government about an “ongoing tragedy” he has witnessed firsthand: a health crisis provoked by tar sands development.

Dr. John O'Connor doesn't just claim that the Canadian government is willfully ignoring the impacts of the tar sands on the environment and human health—drastically higher incidence of some rare cancers linked to contaminants released into the air and water by tar sands development, for instance—he claims that in their blind rush to make Canada an energy superpower, Canadian offiicals have been deliberately misleading the public.

O'Connor did not mince words. As the Vancouver Observer reported:

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