Utah

Biggest Fracking Company in Utah Hires BP Executive Involved in Gulf Oil Disaster as CEO

Fidelity Exploration and Production Company, the largest hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) operator in southeastern Utah, has chosen Patrick O'Bryan to replace its outgoing CEO, Kent Wells.

Both executives have ties to the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and both have links to BP's questionable accountability structure, poor safety record and overall bungled responses to the oil disasters. 

O'Bryan was on the Deepwater Horizon rig on the day it exploded. His visit displaced key safety personnel that day, and delayed a key cement test that would have revealed faulty seals in the well. 
  

Subsidy Spotlight: Utah Land Defenders Stand Up To Dirty Politics

This is a guest post by Anna Simonton, on assignment with Oil Change International | Part 2 of 2

Lauren Wood grew up in a family of river guides in the Uinta Basin region of Utah. She navigates tributaries of the Colorado River like her urban counterparts navigate subway systems. She learned to ride a horse, and then drive a car, on the Tavaputs Plateau. And she can name most any gorge or gully in the place she calls home.

Subsidy Spotlight: Publicly Funding a Utah Disaster in the Making

This is a guest post by Anna Simonton, on assignment with Oil Change International | Part 1 of 2

A green stegosaurus graces the logo of Uintah County, Utah, a gateway to the famed Dinosaur National Monument, where breathtaking landscapes and fossils preserved in sandstone attract thousands of visitors every year.

That logo has taken on new meaning over the past decade as prehistoric remains have attracted a different crowd. Now oil and gas executives are flocking to the Uinta Basin in Eastern Utah, as new technologies––and support from the government––offer the dubious possibility of digging up the region’s vast deposits of oil shale and tar sands.

"I Hate That Oil's Dropping": Why Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant Wants High Oil Prices for Fracking

Outgoing Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) chairman Phil Bryant — Mississippi's Republican Governor — started his farewell address with a college football joke at IOGCC's recent annual conference in Columbus, Ohio.

“As you know, I love SEC football. Number one in the nation Mississippi State, number three in the nation Ole Miss, got a lot of energy behind those two teams,” Bryant said in opening his October 21 speech. “I try to go to a lot of ball games. It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it and somebody's gotta be there.”

Seconds later, things got more serious, as Bryant spoke to an audience of oil and gas industry executives and lobbyists, as well as state-level regulators. 

At the industry-sponsored convening, which I attended on behalf of DeSmogBlog, it was hard to tell the difference between industry lobbyists and regulators. The more money pledged by corporations, the more lobbyists invited into IOGCC's meeting.

Perhaps this is why Bryant framed his presentation around “where we are headed as an industry,” even though officially a statesman and not an industrialist, before turning to his more stern remarks.

“I know it's a mixed blessing, but if you look at some of the pumps in Mississippi, gasoline is about $2.68 and people are amazed that it's below $3 per gallon,” he said.

“And it's a good thing for industry, it's a good thing for truckers, it's a good thing for those who move goods and services and products across the waters and across the lands and we're excited about where that's headed.”

Bryant then discussed the flip side of the “mixed blessing” coin.

“Of course the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale has a little problem with that, so as with most things in life, it's a give and take,” Bryant stated. “It's very good at one point and it's helping a lot of people, but on the other side there's a part of me that goes, 'Darn! I hate that oil's dropping, I hate that it's going down.' I don't say that out-loud, but just to those in this room.”

Tuscaloosa Marine Shale's “little problem” reflects a big problem the oil and gas industry faces — particularly smaller operators involved with hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)  going forward.

That is, fracking is expensive and relies on a high global price of oil. A plummeting price of oil could portend the plummetting of many smaller oil and gas companies, particularly those of the sort operating in the Tuscaloosa Marine.

U.S. Tar Sands Action: Reports from the Front Lines in Utah

For the past five months, activists from the Utah Tar Sands Resistance have camped out on the sage-swept, high plateau lands known as PR Springs in eastern Utah. From the site—where the first tar sands mine in the United States is planned, and preliminary clearing work is already underway—you can’t miss the majestic Book Cliffs that tumble from the East Tavaputs Plateau and the canyons full of tall conifers. 

Book Cliffs is an area cherished by sportsmen and sportswomen—the public lands a place where Rocky Mountain Elk roam free, a place beloved by hunters and anglers and campers and backpackers.

Book Cliffs is also an area presently threatened by oil, gas, and tar sands development. Activists with Peaceful Uprising and the Utah Tar Sands Resistance are working to stop the tar sands projects in their tracks.

Greenpeace Report: Obama Administration Exporting Climate Change by Exporting Coal

Greenpeace USA has released a major new report on an under-discussed part of President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan and his U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon rule: it serves as a major endorsement of continued coal production and export to overseas markets.

Leasing Coal, Fueling Climate Change: How the federal coal leasing program undermines President Obama’s Climate Plan” tackles the dark underbelly of a rule that only polices coal downstream at the power plant level and largely ignores the upstream and global impacts of coal production at-large. 

The Greenpeace report was released on the same day as a major story published by the Associated Press covering the same topic and comes a week after the release of another major report on coal exports by the Sightline Institute that sings a similar tune.

The hits keep coming: Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson framed what is taking place similarly in a recent piece, as did Luiza Ch. Savage of Maclean's Magazine and Bloomberg BNA

But back to Greenpeace. As their report points out, the main culprit for rampant coal production is the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which leases out huge swaths of land to the coal industry. Greenpeace says this is occurring in defiance of Obama's Climate Action Plan and have called for a moratorium on leasing public land for coal extraction.

“[S]o far, the Bureau of Land Management and Interior Department have continued to ignore the carbon pollution from leasing publicly owned coal, and have failed to pursue meaningful reform of the program,” says the report.

“Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and others in the Obama administration should take the President’s call to climate action seriously, beginning with a moratorium and comprehensive review of the federal coal leasing program, including its role in fueling the climate crisis.”

Spike in Stillborn and Neonatal Deaths Reported in Heavily Drilled Vernal, Utah

Natural Gas and Oil Drilling in Utah

A midwife in Vernal, Utah, has raised a red flag about a spike in the number of stillbirths and neonatal deaths in the small town in 2013.

The concern has arisen alongside explosive growth in drilling and fracking in the area. Energy companies have flocked to Vernal in the last few years to develop massive oil and gas fields beneath Uintah County.

The midwife, Donna Young, who has worked in the Vernal area for 19 years, delivered the first stillborn baby she's seen in all her years of practice in May 2013. Doctors could not determine a reason for the baby's death.

While visiting the local cemetery where the baby was buried, Young noticed other fresh graves of babies who were stillborn or who died shortly after birth.

Young started researching obituaries and mortuary records on stillbirths and neonatal deaths and found a large spike in the number of infant deaths in the Vernal area in recent years. She documented 11 other incidents in 2013 in which Vernal mothers had given birth to stillborn babies or in which babies died within a few days of being born. Vernal's full-time population is only about 9,800.

Young found that the rate of neonatal deaths in Vernal has climbed from about equivalent to the national average in 2010 to six times the national average in 2013.

Along with the surge in oil and gas drilling in the Vernal area in the last few years, the winter air in the Uintah basin, where Vernal sits, has become dense with industrial smog generated by drilling rigs, pipelines, wells and increased traffic.

American Sands Energy Corp. To Become Third Company to Mine Tar Sands in Utah

Utah tar sands
 
Yet another company is poised to start grinding up and spitting out eastern Utah's wilderness for its tar sands.  
 
Until now, the biggest threat to eastern Utah's wilderness has been the Canadian company U.S. Oil Sands, which amid protests in 2013 succeeded in starting a strip mining operation for tar sands at PR Spring, in eastern Utah's Bookcliffs range, about 35 miles west of the Colorado border. 
 
In what's shaping up to be a new rush to riches by producing dirty oil from unconventional sources in the western U.S., now another company, American Sands Energy Corporation (ASEC), has obtained the rights to mine tar sands and bitumen (asphalt) on 1,800 acres of private property in an area called Sunnyside, about 150 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.
 
The company calls the project the “Sunnyside Project” or the “Gibbs Project,” after the Gibbs family, which owned the property 30 years ago. William Gibbs is the chairman of the board and CEO of American Sands Energy Corporation.
 
ASEC couldn't possibly have found a friendlier place in the U.S. for its fossil fuel extraction project.
 
Sunnyside, population 274 in 2012, is a former coal town in Carbon County, and is so friendly to energy interests that up until 1994, it never had an elected mayor. Before that time, the town's mayor was the superintendent of mines for the Utah Fuel Coal Company. After Kaiser Steel took over the local mines in 1950, Sunnyside's mayor was the head of Kaiser Steel. 

Canadian Company Called U.S. Oil Sands Will Soon Start Extracting Utah's Tar Sands

Think only Canadians need to worry about tar sands extraction? Think again.

In October, U.S. Oil Sands, Inc. joined Kentucky-based Arrakis Oil Recovery as the second company to receive a permit to produce U.S. tar sands. The Utah Water Quality Board gave U.S. Oil Sands a permit to extract 2,000 barrels of oil per day from Utah's tar sands reserves. 

Despite its name, U.S. Oil Sands is actually a Canadian outfit based in Calgary, Alberta. The company currently holds leases on just over 32,000 acres in Utah's Uintah Basin. U.S. Oil Sands' mining will take place at PR Spring on the Colorado Plateau in an area called the Bookcliffs, which straddles the Utah/Colorado border.  

U.S. Oil Sands' water-and-energy-intensive extraction process involves first digging up congealed tar sands, then crushing them to reduce their size. The company then mixes the crushed sand with large amounts of hot water (at a temperature of 122-176°F) to loosen up and liquefy the tarry, oil-containing residue and separating it from the sand.

Next, coarse solids sink, are subsequently removed and considered waste tailings. Air is then bubbled through the remaining water-oil mixture, which makes the oil float to the top in what's referred to as “bitumen froth,” in industry lingo. The froth is then deaerated, meaning all the air molecules are removed.

When it finally gets to this point in the production process, the mixture is still so thick it can't be pumped through pipelines.

Thus, it undergoes even more treatment with a hydrocarbon solvent to reduce the viscosity and density of the sludge. Wastes from the process — which contain water contaminated with chemicals and unrecoverable oils — are called “middlings” and will be disposed of in surface tailings ponds and kept long-term.

Frank Giustra, President Bill Clinton's Close Colleague, Joins US Oil Sands Board

Frank Giustra - key power broker and close colleague of former President Bill Clinton - has taken a seat on the Board of Directors of U.S. Oil Sands, an Alberta-based company aiming to develop tar sands deposits in Utah's Uintah Basin. **UPDATE: Although he was named a prospective appointee to the Board, Mr. Giustra ultimately declined the position, citing “other commitments.”**

U.S. Oil Sands - in naming several new members to its Board - also announced it has received $80 million in “strategic financing” from Blue Pacific Investments Group Ltd., Anchorage Capital Group, L.L.C. and Spitfire Ventures, LLC.

The funding will help get the ball rolling on “tar sands south,” a miniature but increasingly controversial version of its big brother to the north, the Alberta tar sands. Giustra will likely help in opening the right doors for tar sands industry interests in the United States. 

Giusta is best known for his work in the worlds of uranium mining and minerals mining, though he has dabbled in the Alberta tar sands finance world once before, lending upwards of $20 million in capital to Excelsior Energy. He serves as CEO and President of Fiore Financial Corporation. 

Founder and Director of the Radcliffe Foundation and Co-Director of the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Partnership (formerly known as the Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative), Frank Giustra has maintained close ties with Bill Clinton since 2005.

The Clinton Giustra Sustainable Growth Initiative is an arm of the Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea Clinton Foundation (the Clinton Foundation). Giustra sits on the Clinton Foundation's Board of Trustees.

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