Despite Low Oil Prices, Renewable Power Gaining Traction, Energy Agencies Report — But Not Yet Fast Enough for the Climate

The shift away from coal and towards renewable sources of energy is slowly beginning to gain traction, two recently-released reports from American and global energy agencies show.

The biggest story is in the case of renewables,” International Energy Agency executive director, Fatih Birol, told the Guardian as this year's World Energy Outlook was released. “It is no longer a niche. Renewable energy has become a mainstream fuel, as of now.”

Almost half of the new power generation added in 2014 came from wind, solar, wave or tidal energy, the report found, and renewables now represent the world's second largest source of electricity after coal. Coal, whose share of the world's energy mix has been rising since 2000, has peaked, the agency indicated, predicting that within two decades, renewable energy sources will replace coal as the backbone of the world's electricity source.

Drillers Under Pressure as Low Prices, Broad Uncertainties Put Oil & Gas Industry's Financial Prospects 'In Limbo'

At a climate change conference in Paris last week, Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, had a blunt message for energy companies.

“We see some moves from energy companies in the direction of sustainable development. However, it is not at the level you would like to see,” Mr. Birol, who will be promoted to chief of the IEA in September, told those assembled. “If they think that their businesses are immune to the impacts of climate policy, they are making a strategic mistake.”

Other experts sound a similar note, calling for changes so fast and sweeping that they would be like an “induced implosion.”

Global Shale Fail: Oil Majors Leaving Fracking Fields Across Europe, Asia

With some analysts predicting the global price of oil to see another drop, many oil majors have deployed their parachutes and jumped from the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) projects rapidly nose-diving across the world.

As The Wall Street Journal recently reported, the unconvetional shale oil and gas boom is still predominantly U.S.-centric, likely to remain so for years to come.

“Chevron Corp., Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC have packed up nearly all of their hydraulic fracturing wildcatting in Europe, Russia and China,” wrote The Wall Street Journal.

“Chevron halted its last European fracking operations in February when it pulled out of Romania. Shell said it is cutting world-wide shale spending by 30% in places including Turkey, Ukraine and Argentina. Exxon has pulled out of Poland and Hungary, and its German fracking operations are on hold.” 

Though the fracking boom has taken off in the U.S. like no other place on Earth, the U.S. actually possesses less than 10 percent of the world’s estimated shale reserves, according to The Journal.

Despite this resource allotment discrepency, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) recently revealed that only four countries in the world have produced fracked oil or gas at a commercial-scale: the United States, Canada, China and Argentina.

Global Shale Fail
Image Credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Booming U.S. Renewable Energy Sector Growing Faster Than Expected

The mainstreaming of renewable energy is happening even faster than projected.

According to the latest “Electric Power Monthly” report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which includes data through the end of 2014, some 13.91% of electricity generation in the U.S. last year was from renewable sources.

“Given current growth rates, especially for solar and wind, it is quite possible that renewable energy sources will reach, or exceed, 14% of the nation's electrical supply by the end of 2015,” noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “That is a level that EIA, only a few years ago, was forecasting would not be achieved until the year 2040.”

That number includes conventional hydroelectric power, which comes with severe environmental impacts of its own and is not generally considered a true “clean energy” source (the same can be said of biomass and biofuels, which is also included). So it’s worth noting that 2014 was the first year that electricity generation from non-hydropower renewable energy sources exceeded hydroelectric generation.

Wind energy continues to be the biggest clean energy source by far, supplying some 4.45% of 2014 electricity generation in the U.S. versus .45% from solar and .41% from geothermal. But solar is making great strides, seeing more than 100% growth last year while wind grew just 8.3% and geothermal by just 5.4%.

Drilling Deeper: New Report Casts Doubt on Fracking Production Numbers

Post Carbon Institute has published a report and multiple related resources calling into question the production statistics touted by promoters of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)

By calculating the production numbers on a well-by-well basis for shale gas and tight oil fields throughout the U.S., Post Carbon concludes that the future of fracking is not nearly as bright as industry cheerleaders suggest. The report, “Drilling Deeper: A Reality Check on U.S. Government Forecasts for a Lasting Tight Oil & Shale Gas Boom,” authored by Post Carbon fellow J. David Hughes, updates an earlier report he authored for Post Carbon in 2012.

Hughes analyzed the production stats for seven tight oil basins and seven gas basins, which account for 88-percent and 89-percent of current shale gas production.

Among the key findings: 

-By 2040, production rates from the Bakken Shale and Eagle Ford Shale will be less than a tenth of that projected by the Energy Department. For the top three shale gas fields — the Marcellus Shale, Eagle Ford and Bakken — production rates from these plays will be about a third of the EIA forecast.

-The three year average well decline rates for the seven shale oil basins measured for the report range from an astounding 60-percent to 91-percent. That means over those three years, the amount of oil coming out of the wells decreases by that percentage. This translates to 43-percent to 64-percent of their estimated ultimate recovery dug out during the first three years of the well's existence.

-Four of the seven shale gas basins are already in terminal decline in terms of their well productivity: the Haynesville Shale, Fayetteville Shale, Woodford Shale and Barnett Shale.

-The three year average well decline rates for the seven shale gas basins measured for the report ranges between 74-percent to 82-percent. 

-The average annual decline rates in the seven shale gas basins examined equals between 23-percent and 49-percent. Translation: between one-quarter and one-half of all production in each basin must be replaced annually just to keep running at the same pace on the drilling treadmill and keep getting the same amount of gas out of the earth.

Court Files: Coal CEO Robert Murray Unearths Lease from Aubrey McClendon's New Fracking Company

Robert E. Murray, CEO Murray Energy Corporation

DeSmogBlog has obtained a copy of a sample hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) lease distributed to Ohio landowners by embattled former CEO and founder of Chesapeake Energy, Aubrey McClendon, now CEO of American Energy Partners

Elisabeth Radow, a New York-based attorney who examined a copy of the lease, told DeSmogBlog she believes the lease “has the effect of granting American Energy Partners the right to use the surface and subsurface to such a great extent that it takes away substantially all of the rights attributable to homeownership.”

The American Energy Partners fracking lease was shaken loose as part of the discovery dispute process in an ongoing court case pitting coal industry executive Robert E. Murraycontroversial CEO of Murray Energy Corporation and American Energy Corporation — against McClendon in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Eastern Division

Murray brought the suit against McClendon back in August 2013, alleging McClendon committed trademark and copyright infringement by using the “American Energy” moniker. Murray’s attorneys used the lease as an exhibit in a Motion to Compel Discovery, filed on September 8, over a year after Murray brought his initial lawsuit. 

The case has ground to a slow halt as the two sides duke it out over discovery issues and related protective order issues, making a large swath of the court records available only to both sides’ attorneys and causing many other records to be heavily redacted.

Out of that dispute has come the American Energy Partners lease, published here for the first time.

Shale Rush Hits Argentina as Oil Majors Spend Billions on Fracking in Andes Region

While many countries, including France, Germany and South Africa, have banned or delayed their embrace of fracking, one country is taking a full-steam-ahead approach to the unconventional drilling technology: Argentina.

The country is welcoming foreign shale companies with open arms in the hope that oil and gas drilling will help combat one of the world’s highest currency inflation rates. But the government there is also facing violent clashes over fracking in arid regions of the Andes mountains and allegations from locals of water contamination and health problems.

Argentina’s Vaca Muerta shale formation — estimated to hold an amount of oil and gas nearly equal to the reserves of the world’s largest oil company, Exxon Mobil — has already attracted billions in investment from the major oil and gas company Chevron.

In April, the government drew global attention when it announced plans to auction off more acreage. “Chevron, Exxon, Shell have shown interest in Vaca Muerta. They will compete for sure,” Neuquen province Energy Minister Guillermo Coco told potential investors on a road show in Houston on April 30th.

Argentina, which the EIA estimates could hold even more shale gas than the U.S., already has over 150 shale wells in production, more than any country in the world aside from the U.S. and China. California-based Chevron, in partnership with Argentina’s state-owned oil company YPF, invested $1.24 billion in a pilot program last year. Last month, Chevron announced an additional $1.6 billion effort for 2014, part of Chevron's overall investment plan that could top $15 billion. The company is hoping that this plan will allow it to extract 50,000 barrels a day of shale oil plus 100 million cubic feet of shale gas per day from the country’s Andes mountain region.

American drillers have talked up Argentine shale as the next big thing. “Vaca Muerta is going to be an elephant compared to Eagle Ford,” Mark Papa, CEO of EOG Resources told the Argentine press in 2012, referring to a major oil-producing shale formation in Texas.

Revealed: Former Energy in Depth Spokesman John Krohn Now at U.S. EIA Promoting Fracking

For those familiar with U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) work, objectivity and commitment to fact based on statistics come to mind. Yet as Mark Twain once put it, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

That's where John Krohn comes into play. A former spokesman for the gas industry front group Energy in Depth (EID), Krohn now works on the Core Team for EIA's “Today in Energy!“ 

Krohn has been at EIA since at least January 2014, when his name first appeared on the EIA website. On his Twitter account, he describes himself as an EIA communications manager.

As DeSmog revealed in February 2011, Energy In Depth was launched with a heavy injection of funding from oil and gas industry goliaths such as BP, Halliburton, Chevron, Shell and XTO Energy (now owned by ExxonMobil).

With its public relations efforts conducted by FTI Consulting, EID now serves as a key pro-industry front group promoting unfettered hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to the U.S. public.

Krohn follows in the footsteps through the government-industry revolving door of the man President Barack Obama named to head the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for his second term, former Massachusetts Institute of Technology “frackademic,” Ernest Moniz. DOE is the parent agency for EIA

Further, EIA Administrator Adam Sieminski, another second-term appointee of President Obama, also passed through the same revolving door as Krohn and Moniz in his pathway to heading EIA. He formerly worked in the world of oil and gas finance. 

For First Time, TransCanada Says Tar Sands Flowing to Gulf in Keystone XL South

TransCanada admitted for the first time that tar sands oil is now flowing through Keystone XL's southern leg, now rebranded the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project. The company confirmed the pipeline activity in its 2014 quarter one earnings call.

Asked by Argus Media reporter Iris Kuo how much of the current 300,000 to 400,000 barrels per day* of oil flowing from the Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas pipeline is tar sands (“heavy crude,” in industry lingo), TransCanada CEO Russ Girling confirmed what many had already suspected.

“I don’t have that exact mix, but it does have the ability to take the domestic lights as well as any heavies that find a way down to the Cushing market, so it is a combination of the heavies and the lights,” said Girling. “I just don’t know what the percentage is.”

The Keystone Pipeline System — of which Keystone XL's northern leg is phase four of four phases — is and always has been slated to carry Alberta's tar sands to targeted markets. So the announcement is far from a shocker.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

More perplexing is why it took so long for the company to tell the public that tar sands oil now flows through the half of the pipeline approved via a March 2012 Executive Order by President Barack Obama

Follow the Money: Three Energy Export Congressional Hearings, No Climate Change Discussion

In light of ongoing geopolitical tensions in Russia, Ukraine and hotly contested Crimea, three (yes, three!) U.S. Congressional Committees held hearings this week on the U.S. using its newfangled oil and gas bounty as a blunt tool to fend off Russian dominance of the global gas market.

Though 14 combined witnesses testified in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Energy and Power and U.S. House Committee on Foreign Relations, not a single environmental voice received an invitation. Climate change and environmental concerns were only voiced by two witnesses. 

Using the ongoing regional tumult as a rationale to discuss exports of U.S. oil and gas obtained mainly via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the lack of discussion on climate change doesn't mean the issue isn't important to national security types.

Indeed, the Pentagon's recently published Quadrennial Defense Review coins climate change a “threat force multiplier” that could lead to resource scarcity and resource wars. Though directly related to rampant resource extraction and global oil and gas marketing, with fracking's accompanying climate change and ecological impacts, “threat force multiplication” impacts of climate change went undiscussed. 

With another LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminal approved by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in Coos Bay, Ore., to non-Free Trade Agreement countries on March 24 (the seventh so far, with two dozen still pending), the heat is on to export U.S. fracked oil and gas to the global market.   

So, why wasn't the LNG climate trump card discussed in a loud and clear way? Well, just consider the source: 11 of the witnesses had ties in one way or another to the oil and gas industry.


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