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Fri, 2014-10-31 16:13Guest
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Faces Of Fracking: A Farmer Seeks To Protect San Benito County, California From High-Intensity Petroleum Operations

This is a guest post by Tara Lohan that originally appeared on Faces Of Fracking, a project of the CEL Climate Lab in partnership with Grist that was launched to capture the stories of concerned residents who live on the front lines of fracking.

Of all the things that could threaten Paul Hain’s livelihood, squirrels are near the top of the list. And then there are the oil companies.

Last year, squirrels gorged themselves on 14 of Paul’s 20 acres of walnut trees. And oil companies have been eyeing his bucolic corner of California recently with a project in the works that may result in hundreds of new wells that use energy- and water-intensive production methods to coax viscous petroleum to the surface.

I visited Paul’s farm, Hain Ranch Organics, in the small hamlet of Tres Pinos five miles south of Hollister in San Benito County on a September morning during the walnut harvest. A worker drove a sweeper (which looks a lot like a riding mower) through the lines of trees to wind row the nuts so they’re easier to harvest.

Over the hum of the machine, Paul told me that much of this orchard was here when he was born 60 years ago. At the time the place belonged to his grandparents. It was first built around 1905 by his great-grandfather Schuyler Hain, his first relative to arrive in the area in the late 1800s.

Over the course of his life Paul has seen San Benito grow and change … in some ways. He remembers the first stop light in Hollister arriving around the late 1960s as the population began to rise, but the view from his family home is not wildly different than it was when he was a kid. San Benito is a mostly rural county of 55,000 people who live among rolling hills nestled in California’s Central coast region — 100 miles south of San Francisco and 25 miles inland from the Pacific.

San Benito County has a lot of organic agriculture, ranches, and wineries. The county’s most famous attraction is Pinnacles, which got a promotion from a National Monument to a National Park in 2012. It’s a playground of caves and towering rock formations sculpted from a long-deceased volcano. The park’s also home to falcons and condors, and has a rich cultural history, with both the Chalon and Mutsun tribes calling it home.

Quiet San Benito is not the place you’d expect to be the center of a big political fight, but this election season that’s how things are shaping up. On November 4, voters here will get a chance to weigh in on whether or not the county should pass Measure J — a ballot initiative that would ban hydraulic fracturing (fracking), cyclic steam injection, and acidizing in the county. These are three ways oil companies try to access harder to reach oil deposits now that the easy stuff is gone. They’re often referred to as “high-intensity petroleum operations.”

Wed, 2014-10-29 22:25Farron Cousins
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BP’s Bathtub Ring Of Gulf Oil Uncovered

Less than a week after Politico allowed BP communications vice president Geoff Morrell the space to tell Americans that there are no lingering effects from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, scientists and researchers have brought in new evidence to show that Morrell’s claims are completely fabricated.

According to the peer-reviewed Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, millions of gallons of BP from the 2010 Macondo well blowout have settled along the floor of the Gulf of Mexico, creating a “bathtub ring” of oil around the site of the blowout.

How much oil are they talking about? Think Progress reports that about 10 million gallons of coagulated crude sits on the Gulf floor, blanketing an area of more than 1,235 square miles. To put that into perspective, Think Progress says that the oil on the floor is enough to completely cover the city of Houston, Texas, or the entire state of Rhode Island.

Tue, 2014-10-28 11:58Mike Gaworecki
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Oil Companies Spending Big To Defeat Community-Led Anti-Fracking Initiatives At The Ballot Box

Election day is fast approaching and, in a pattern becoming all too familiar, oil companies are spending big to defeat citizen-led initiatives to halt fracking in California.

By last August, oil industry front group Californians for Energy Independence, which is leading the charge against anti-fracking measures in the sate, had raised around $3 million. Now, just one week before the election, that number has more than doubled to just under $7.7 million, per the California Secretary of State's campaign finance database.

Chevron is the leading donor to Californians for Energy Independence, having made two donations totaling about $2.6 million. Occidental Petroleum and Aera Energy have kicked in some $2 million apiece, and Exxon has given $300,000. Every single dollar received by CEI has come from an oil company.

Once the polls close, we'll know how well that money was spent. One thing is clear, however: Big Oil has not succeeded in buying the hearts and minds of many Californians, who overwhelmingly reject the plans to frack the Golden State, polls have shown.

Residents of Santa Barbara County will vote on Measure P on November 4, a ballot initiative that would ban fracking and other “extreme oil extraction techniques,” including cyclic steam injection and acidization. Lauren Hanson, who serves on the Goleta Water District Board of Directors, wrote in an op-ed for the Santa Barbara Independent:

When a single industry — whatever that industry might be — proposes bringing into Santa Barbara County a massive amount of activity that has time and again contaminated and used up water supplies elsewhere, it is time for extreme caution and, yes, common sense. It makes no sense to allow that risk.
Fri, 2014-10-24 14:44Mike Gaworecki
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Crude Oil Transport Project Halted In California After Environmentalists Sue

Back in August, DeSmog reported on California environmentalists stopping “stealth carbon bombs” in their communities. Now they're celebrating another victory as a dangerous—and illegal—crude oil transport project in Sacramento has been halted as well.

According to a report by the Sacramento Bee last March, the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District first caught InterState Oil Company, a fuel distributor, offloading ethanol without a permit in the fall of 2012. Inspectors with the AQMD then caught InterState transloading crude oil from trains to trucks bound for Bay Area refineries in September of last year, again without a permit.

InterState was not fined for these violations and was even allowed by the AQMD to continue importing ethanol and crude oil into California by train while it sought the necessary permits.

InterState received the permit to transload crude from trains to trucks in March of this year. On September 23, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court on behalf of the Sierra Club challenging what it called the AQMD's “furtive approval” of the permit.

Wed, 2014-10-22 12:52Farron Cousins
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Politico Allows BP Exec To Mislead Public About Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill Impacts

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Geoff Morrell, the senior vice president of communications at BP, wants the whole country to know that the company’s negligence that led to the Deepwater Horizon oil geyser has not destroyed the Gulf of Mexico. And all of those fears about lost revenue and declining tourism along the Gulf Coast? That never happened, according to Morrell.

Politico allowed the BP executive to use its platform to spread some of the most egregious and misleading information about the health of the Gulf of Mexico that we’ve seen to date.

Granted, it is Morrell’s job as VP of communications to put a positive spin on such a negative story for BP, but his op-ed in Politico goes far beyond whitewashing the problem. Morrell has completely fabricated a story that those of us who live along the Gulf Coast spot just as easily as we can spot the BP tar balls that still wash up on our shores.

Fri, 2014-10-17 14:00Mike Gaworecki
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More Oil Companies To Disclose Risks Of Fracking, Climate Change To Investors

Last week brought yet more evidence that investors in oil and gas companies are waking up to the risks of fracking and climate change.

Two natural gas companies, Anadarko Petroleum and EOG Resources, recently struck a deal with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to disclose the financial and environmental risks associated with fracking to their shareholders, including “probable future regulation and legislation” that could impact their operations, according to a statement released by Schneiderman's office.

The agreement resolves a probe by Schneiderman into the disclosure practices of oil and gas companies begun in 2011.

Business media outlets like Bloomberg are framing the story very much as “oil companies doing the right thing,” but it's important to note that these companies would not be doing this if they didn't feel it was in their best interest—and generally whatever keeps shareholders happy is in a company's best interest.

Bloomberg notes that the oil companies are hoping “to ease public fears about fracking after legal setbacks and concerns over water pollution.” As is becoming increasingly clear, concerns over water pollution are all too valid.

Legal setbacks are probably keeping any fracker in New York up at night, as well, after the New York state supreme court ruled in June that municipalities have the right to adopt their own rules on fracking.

So far, 180 New York towns and cities have issued a ban or moratorium on fracking.

Wed, 2014-10-15 23:10Mike Gaworecki
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Fracking Boom Has Had Devastating Consequences For Motorists

A joint investigation by the Houston Chronicle and Houston Public Media shines a light on one of the fracking boom's lesser known impacts: traffic deaths.

With several shale fields in play—including Eagle Ford and Permian Basin, which together are pumping out over 3.2 million barrels per day—Texas has contributed heavily to the fracked oil boom. Apparently, motorists have paid a heavy price for that oil.

Since the state's fracking boom began in 2008, Texas has bucked the national trend and seen its traffic fatality numbers going up, leading the country in motor vehicle deaths every year.

The police don't note in accident reports whether or not a particular vehicle involved in a crash belonged to an oil company or who the driver at fault worked for, so it's nearly impossible to actually quantify the oil industry's responsibility for traffic deaths.

But the joint investigation finds that the shocking 51% increase in accidents involving commercial vehicles correlates closely to counties where fracking operations are concentrated:

Fri, 2014-10-10 09:53Sharon Kelly
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A Shift from Fossil Fuels Could Provide $1.8 Trillion in Savings, Two New Reports Conclude

A worldwide transition to low carbon fuels could save the global economy as much as $1.8 trillion over the next two decades, according to two reports published Thursday by the Climate Policy Initiative.

By switching to renewable energy sources, the high costs associated with extracting and transporting coal and gas could be avoided, the reports, titled Moving to a Low Carbon Economy: The Financial Impact of the Low-Carbon Transition, and Moving to a Low Carbon Economy: The Impact of Different Policy Pathways on Fossil Fuel Asset Values, conclude.

This would free up funds to bolster financial support for wind, solar and other renewables – with enormous sums left over, the reports conclude. Following an approach aimed at capping climate change at 2 degrees Celsius will require walking away from massive reserves of fossil fuels, stranding the assets of major corporations, many researchers have warned. The new reports give this issue a closer look, demonstrating that more than half of the assets at risk are actually owned by governments not corporations.

This finding could be double-edged, since that means taxpayer money in many countries is at stake and those governments have the power to establish policies that could promote or repudiate the fossil fuels they control. But the reports' conclusion that trillions could be freed up if governments and private companies abandon those assets could make it easier for governments to leave those fossil fuels in the ground.

Tue, 2014-10-07 16:05Mike Gaworecki
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Confirmed: California Aquifers Contaminated With Billions Of Gallons of Fracking Wastewater

After California state regulators shut down 11 fracking wastewater injection wells last July over concerns that the wastewater might have contaminated aquifers used for drinking water and farm irrigation, the EPA ordered a report within 60 days.

It was revealed yesterday that the California State Water Resources Board has sent a letter to the EPA confirming that at least nine of those sites were in fact dumping wastewater contaminated with fracking fluids and other pollutants into aquifers protected by state law and the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity, reveals that nearly 3 billion gallons of wastewater were illegally injected into central California aquifers and that half of the water samples collected at the 8 water supply wells tested near the injection sites have high levels of dangerous chemicals such as arsenic, a known carcinogen that can also weaken the human immune system, and thallium, a toxin used in rat poison.

Timothy Krantz, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Redlands, says these chemicals could pose a serious risk to public health: “The fact that high concentrations are showing up in multiple water wells close to wastewater injection sites raises major concerns about the health and safety of nearby residents.”

Sun, 2014-09-28 07:00Mike Gaworecki
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Arctic Madness: Shell and ConocoPhillips Plead With US Govt to Avoid Standards For Arctic Spill Preparedness

Two oil companies planning to drill in remote Arctic waters, Shell and ConocoPhillips, are pleading with U.S. regulators not to make them follow new guidelines proposed by the Interior Department that would require the companies to keep emergency spill response equipment close at hand and prohibit the use of chemical dispersants.

The precise details of the new rules for Arctic drilling operations have not been made public as an inter-agency review of the Interior Department's proposal is still being carried out.

But records of meetings with officials at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is currently reviewing the new standards, show that Shell is vigorously contesting rules that would require the company to keep on hand the necessary equipment for emergency response in the event of a blowout, such as containment systems and a rig to drill a relief well.

Shell says that keeping a rig on standby would cost the company an additional $250 million a year.

Both Shell and ConocoPhillips are taking issue with another of the proposed rules, a potential ban on the use of highly toxic chemical dispersants in favor of booms, skimmers, and other physical equipment to contain spilled oil.

In a presentation to the OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Shell argued: “A 100 percent mechanical requirement leads to increasing costs and environmental impacts — less recovery of oil — as operators enter plays with higher daily worst-case discharges.”

Studies have shown that while dispersants can help prevent oil from washing ashore and may protect surface-dwelling sea life, it can have serious impacts on marine life living below the surface.

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