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Thu, 2013-11-07 09:00Sharon Kelly
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Could California's Shale Oil Boom Be Just a Mirage?

Since the shale rush took off starting in 2005 in Texas, drillers have sprinted from one state to the next, chasing the promise of cheaper, easier, more productive wells. This land rush was fueled by a wild spike in natural gas prices that helped make shale gas drilling attractive even though the costs of fracking were high.

As the selling price of natural gas sank from its historic highs in 2008, much of the luster wore off entire regions that had initially captivated investors, like Louisiana’s Haynesville shale or Arkansas’s Fayetteville, now in decline.

But unlike natural gas prices, oil prices remain high to this day, and investors and policymakers alike remain dazzled by the heady promise of oil from shale rock. Oil and gas companies have wrung significant amounts of black gold from shale oil plays like Texas’s Eagle Ford and North Dakota’s Bakken.

Shale oil, they say, is the next big thing.

“After years of talking about it, we’re finally poised to control our own energy future,” President Obama said in his most recent State of the Union address. “We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.”

But once again, the reality may be nothing like the hype. Consider California.

Mon, 2013-10-14 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Flaws in Environmental Defense Fund's Methane Study Draw Criticism from Scientists

Perhaps the single most consequential and controversial issue at the center of the onshore natural gas drilling boom is the question of methane leaks. Natural gas is primarily made of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and if enough escapes into the atmosphere, these leaks could potentially make natural gas a worse fuel for the climate than coal.

In mid-September, researchers from the University of Texas published a study that was hailed by a triumphant oil and gas industry, which claimed it definitively showed that methane leaks from fracking are minimal. Major news outlets largely fed this excitement, proclaiming that the study showed EPA had dramatically overestimated methane leaks from the drilling boom.

But as the celebrations died down and more sober and rigorous analysis of the study has begun, scientists are finding that the University of Texas study is riddled with flaws.

The backers of the report cherry-picked the oil and gas wells included in the study, selecting smaller wells that had less capacity to leak and ones that used leak controls that are not currently used at many of the nation’s wells. The authors systematically ignored more recent federal research indicating that as much as 17 percent of natural gas – more than 10 times the estimate indicated by the UT study – leaks from gas fields, and overlooked serious methodological flaws that were pointed out in similar studies dating back as far as 1996.

As scientists have raised these concerns, the Environmental Defense Fund, one backer of the study which was 90 percent funded by the oil and gas industry, have tried to tamp down some of the media excitement surrounding the result and said that their research was misrepresented.

Tue, 2013-08-13 07:00Sharon Kelly
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Greenwashing Concerns Mount as Evidence of Fracking's Climate Impact Grows

Several years ago, Utah public health officials realized they had a big problem on their hands – one with national implications as other states were racing to increase oil and gas drilling. Smog levels in the state’s rural Uintah basin were rivaling those found in Los Angeles or Houston on their worst days.

The culprit, an EPA report concluded earlier this year: oil and gas operations. The industry was responsible for roughly 99 percent of the volatile organic compounds found in the basin, which mixed under sunlight with nitrogen oxides – at least 57% of which also came from oil and gas development – to form the choking smog, so thick that the nearby Salt Lake City airport was forced to divert flights when the smog was at its worst.

But the haze over the Uintah isn’t the most dangerous air pollutant coming from the oil and gas fields in the valley.

A string of studies by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that the core ingredient in natural gas, methane, is leaking at rates far higher than previously suspected.  This methane has climate change impacts that, on a pound-for-pound basis, will be far more powerful over the next two decades than the carbon dioxide emissions that have been the focus of most climate change discussions.

The smog problem is especially pronounced in Utah. But a growing body of research nationwide suggests that methane is leaking from the natural gas industry at levels far higher than previously known.

In Washington D.C., pressure is mounting to ignore these methane leaks. The oil and gas industry says there is no time to waste. We must proceed immediately with the “all-of-the-above” national energy strategy they say, code for “drill baby drill”. This pressure is coming not only from the natural gas industry itself, but also from a surprising ally: the Environmental Defense Fund, which has supported natural gas development as a “bridge” from coal to renewables.

This position has drawn renewed accusations that the EDF is “greenwashing” for the natural gas industry.

Fri, 2013-04-05 15:33Carol Linnitt
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Shell Pipeline Spill Is Fourth Disaster In Bad Week for Keystone XL Promoters

Last Friday, as national attention turned to the massive Exxon Pegasus tar sands pipeline spill in Mayflower, Arkansas, another oil spill was occurring near Houston, Texas. Operators of a Royal Dutch Shell subsidiary's West Columbia pipeline, a 15 mile long, 16 inch diameter line, received warnings from the US National Response Center of a potential 700 barrel release (nearly 30,000 gallons) of crude oil on Friday, March 29.

Yesterday, representatives from the US Coast Guard acknowledged at least 50 barrels of oil had entered Vince Bayou, a waterway connected to the Gulf of Mexico.

On Monday, April 1, Shell spokeswoman Kimberly Windon told Reuters “no evidence” of a crude oil leak had been found. “Right now, we haven't seen anything,” she said at the time. Investigators have since determined at least 60 barrels of the spilled oil had entered the Bayou. It is unclear at this time what kind of crude oil the pipeline carried.

DeSmog contacted Shell Pipelines US media relations department to inquire about the type and size of the spill but did not receive a reply by the time of publication.

Steven Lehman, Coast Guard Petty Officer told Dow Jones, “That's a very early estimate - things can change.”

Thu, 2013-01-03 13:21Farron Cousins
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Shell’s Kulluk Rig Grounding Proves Folly of Arctic Oil Drilling, Again

Oil giant Royal Dutch Shell spent a good portion of 2012 defending allegations that the company wasn’t “arctic ready.”  The disaster that occurred with their offshore drilling rig Kulluk on New Year’s Eve only served to prove that the company is not to be trusted.

Tug crews towing the floating Kulluk rig in the Arctic Ocean off the coast of Alaska lost connection with the vessel during a storm on December 31. Kulluk subsequently washed ashore with the waves. The U.S. Coast Guard says that the Shell vessel currently does not appear to be leaking, but it is estimated to have about 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel aboard.

In response to Shell’s failures to safely operate this vessel, as well as their countless failures in recent history, Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune issued the following statement

In just one year, Shell has proven over and over again that they are completely incapable of safely drilling in the Arctic. Their ships have caught fire and lost control, they’ve damaged their own spill containment equipment, and they’ve been caught entirely unprepared for the challenges of the Arctic…This is the last straw.  We should judge Shell not by their assurances or their PR tactics, but by their record – and Shell’s record clearly demonstrates that letting them operate in the Arctic is an invitation for disaster.

The Sierra Club is calling on the Obama administration to immediately revoke Shell’s Arctic drilling permits. NRDC, the Wilderness Society and other groups are expected to issue similar requests this week. 

Tue, 2012-12-18 15:32Carol Linnitt
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Shell Abandons Fracking Plans For BC's Sacred Headwaters

Shell Canada announced that the company will immediately abandon plans to frack for natural gas in an area of British Columbia known as the Sacred Headwaters on Tahltan Nation traditional territory. The province of BC says it will issue a permanent moratorium on oil and gas tenures in the area.

A four-year moratorium, scheduled to expire today, began after Shell drilled three test wells in the area, igniting protest and blockades throughout the region and at Royal Dutch Shell headquarters in The Hague. In 2004, Shell was awarded a 400,000 hectare tenure in the Sacred Headwaters, the point of origin of the Skeena, the Nass and the Stikine rivers which are among the province's most important salmon-bearing waterways.

According to the Skeena Watershed Conservation Coalition, Shell's plans involved the construction of nearly 300 kilometers of road and over 4000 wells, as well as pipeline infrastructure and compressor stations. 
 
In a separate agreement, BC will award Shell $20-million in royalty credits, as compensation for the lost tenure. The funds will be redirected toward a water recycling project at Shell's gas drilling operations elsewhere in the province.
 
“Shell has backed away from a project only a handful of times. The powerful, relentless movement led by the courageous Tahltan and supported by nearly 100,000 people from around the world has not only stopped Shell, but persuaded the BC government to permanently protect the region from any further gas development,” said Karen Tam WuForestEthics Advocacy senior conservation campaigner. 
 
“It’s an inspiring day when communities in northern B.C. can stand up to one of the largest oil companies in the world and win. Congratulations to the Tahltan, and to the citizens and government of British Columbia.”
Mon, 2012-12-03 21:27Brendan DeMelle
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Shell's Arctic Oil Spill Gear "Crushed Like a Beer Can" In Simple Test

Royal Dutch Shell, the massive multinational oil company, badly wants to be ready to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean next summer. This year, the company's plans to begin drilling in the treacherous seas of the Arctic were thwarted by its late start and repeated failures to get even basic oil spill response equipment into place. 

But the full extent of the company's failed attempts to test oil spill response gear was recently revealed by Seattle's NPR radio affiliate KUOW. Shell has faced repeated criticism and regulatory scrutiny over its cavalier attitude towards Arctic drilling, and the KUOW investigation makes clear why Shell is not “Arctic Ready” by a long shot.

Documents obtained by KUOW through FOIA requests indicate that Shell's oil spill response gear failed spectacularly in tests this fall in the relatively tranquil waters of Puget Sound. 

The containment dome - which Shell sought to assure federal regulators would be adequate to cap a blowout in the event of emergency at its Arctic operations - failed miserably in tests.  The dome “breached like a whale” after malfunctioning, and then sank 120 feet. When the crew of the Arctic Challenger recovered the 20-foot-tall containment dome, they found that it had “crushed like a beer can” under pressure.
 

Fri, 2012-11-09 09:01Carol Linnitt
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Heavy is the Head That Wears the Crown: Tar Sands Expansion May Violate Crown's Legal Obligation to First Nations

Today the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) will argue in the Alberta Court of Appeal that Shell Canada’s proposed Jackpine Mine expansion is in violation of their Constitutional rights and represents a failure on behalf of the federal government to uphold their legal duty to consult (DTC). The First Nation, which originally made this argument in a joint federal/provincial hearing on October 1, was told the panel did not have jurisdiction to hear constitutional questions.

When the ACFN applied for an adjournment, in that case, their request was denied. In response the First Nation is claiming they have “no other option but to file legal arguments for the protection of their constitutionally protected rights through the Alberta Court of Appeal.” 
 
The government’s refusal to consider the ACFN’s best defense against the megaproject, which will increase Shell’s tar sands bitumen mining capacity in this one project alone by 100,000 barrels per day, appears out of step with the federal government’s own admission that they must accommodate the rights of First Nations when considering industrial projects that entail irreversible impacts.
 
First Nations rights, especially as defined in the 1982 Constitution and subsequent court decisions, must be accommodated, according to an internal federal discussion paper, released to Greenpeace Canada’s climate and energy campaigner Keith Stewart through access to information legislation.
Tue, 2012-10-16 11:27Brendan DeMelle
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Delta Boys: Powerful Documentary Chronicles Niger Delta Oil Struggle

The next time I gas up my car, I will have a lot to think about after watching the new documentary film, Delta Boys, now available for digital download release starting today at Sundance and iTunes, and on DVD at Amazon.com.

The film chronicles the plight of the people of the Niger Delta in Nigeria, the fifth largest supplier of oil to the United States. Despite the wealth generated by this oil extraction, the majority of Niger Deltans live on less than a dollar a day and lack even basic public health and sanitation services.

Nigeria suffers the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez oil spill every year, as it has each of the last 50 years of oil exploitation. “The wealth underground is out of all proportion with the poverty on the surface,” in the words of The New York Times.

The film brings to light the Niger Delta people’s ongoing struggles against multinational oil corporations and one of Africa’s most corrupt governments. While most of the revenue from oil development flows to the Nigerian government in the form of royalties, in the rural Delta villages where the drilling actually takes place, there are no water or sewage systems, no schools, no hospitals, no adequate roads, and no real job opportunities outside of joining one of the rebel militias.

Meet the Delta Boys – armed rebels who zoom around the Delta in high-speed motor boats, sabotaging oil infrastructure, blackmailing the oil companies, kidnapping workers, and tapping into their pipelines to feed a lucrative but dangerous black market in oil they claim is rightfully theirs.

Sun, 2012-10-14 09:06Steve Horn
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Whitewash: SUNY Buffalo Defends Controversial Shale Gas Institute

On Friday, SUNY Buffalo's President's Office released a lengthy and long-awaited 162-page report upon request of the SUNY System Board of Trustees that delved into the substantive facts surrounding the creation of its increasingly controversial Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI).

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