Department of Energy

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.

Wed, 2013-09-25 05:00Sharon Kelly
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What a Secretly-Negotiated Free Trade Agreement Could Mean for Fracking in the U.S.

A trade agreement being secretly negotiated by the Obama administration could allow an end run by the oil and gas industry around local opposition to natural gas exports. This agreement, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is being crafted right now – and the stakes for fracking and shale gas are high.

While the vast majority of the opposition to fracking in the US has focused on domestic concerns – its impact on air and water, local land rights, misleading information about its finances – less attention has been paid to a topic of colossal consequence: natural gas exports.

At least 15 companies have filed applications with the federal Department of Energy to export liquified natural gas (LNG). The shale gas rush has caused a glut in the American market thanks to fracking, and now the race is on among industry giants to ship the liquefied fuel by tanker to export markets worldwide, where prices run far higher than in the U.S.

As drilling has spread across the U.S., grassroots organizing around unconventional oil and gas drilling and fracking has grown to an unprecedented level in many communities. Public hearings and town halls from New York to California have been flooded with concerned scientific experts, residents and small business owners and farmers who stand to be impacted by the drilling boom.

Drilling advocates have become increasingly concerned about how grassroots organizing has expanded over the past 5 years. “Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry has largely failed to appreciate social and political risks, and has repeatedly been caught off guard by the sophistication, speed and influence of anti-fracking activists,” one consultant warned the industry last year.

Some of the most resounding setbacks the drilling industry has faced have come at the state or local level. Bans and moratoria have led drilling companies to withdraw from leases in parts of the country, abandoning, at least for the short term, plans to drill.

But when it comes to natural gas exports – which many analysts have said are key for the industry’s financial prospects –independent experts and local organizers may soon find themselves entirely shut out of the decision-making process, if the oil and gas industry has its way.

Fri, 2013-09-13 06:00Sharon Kelly
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Never-Released Energy Department Report Predicts Increasing Domestic Conflicts over Water, Energy

Last summer, the United States experienced the worst drought since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.

At the same time, the country was experiencing one of the biggest onshore drilling booms in history, powered by one of the most water-intensive extraction technologies ever invented: hydraulic fracking.

The tension between these two realities could not be clearer.

This year, as the drilling industry drew millions of gallons of water per well in Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming, residents in these states struggled with severe droughts and some farmers opted to sell their water to the oil and gas industry rather than try to compete with them for limited resources.

Even the Atlantic coast's mighty Susquehanna River faced record lows last year, leading regulators to suspend dozens of withdrawal permits – the majority of which were for fracking Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale.

Researchers for the Federal Department of Energy saw problems like this coming, according to thousands of pages of documents about the topic provided to DeSmog, but their recommendations and warnings were consistently edited and downplayed and the final version of their report has yet to be released.

Wed, 2013-09-11 12:45Steve Horn
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Breaking: First Marcellus Fracked Gas Export Permit Approved by Energy Dept

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has granted the first ever LNG export permit license to Dominion Resources, Inc. to export gas obtained from the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process in the Marcellus Shale basin.  

It's the fourth ever export terminal approved by the DOE, with the three others along the Gulf Coast: Cheniere's Sabine Pass LNG, Freeport LNG (50-percent owned by ConocoPhillips) and Lake Charles Exports, LLC

Located in Lusby, Maryland, the Dominion Cove Point LNG terminal will be a key regional hub to take gas fracked from one of the most prolific shale basins in the world - the Marcellus - and ship it to global markets, with shale gas exports a key geopolitical bargaining chip with Russia, the biggest producer of conventional gas in the world.

Dominion owns not only Cove Point, but also the pipeline infrastructure set to feed the terminal.

“Dominion…owns both the existing Cove Point LNG Terminal and the 88-mile Cove Point pipeline,” explained industry publication LNG Global. “Dominion Cove Point…stated in their application that natural gas will be delivered to the Cove Point Pipeline from the interstate pipeline grid, thereby allowing gas to be sourced broadly.”

DOE handed Dominion a permit lasting a generation.  

Tue, 2013-09-03 14:37Steve Horn
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"Frackademia" By Law: Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 Exposed

With the school year starting for many this week, it's another year of academia for professors across the United States - and another year of “frackademia” for an increasingly large swath of “frackademics” under federal law. 

“Frackademia” is best defined as flawed but seemingly legitimate science and economic studies on the controversial oil and gas horizontal drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), but done with industry funding and/or industry-tied academics (“frackademics”). 

While the “frackademia” phenomenon has received much media coverage, a critical piece missing from the discussion is the role played by Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Although merely ten pages out of the massive 551-page bill, Section 999 created the U.S. Department of Energy-run Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), a “non-profit corporation formed by a consortium of premier U.S. energy research universities, industry and independent research organizations.” 

Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, RPSEA receives $1 billion of funding - $100 million per year - between 2007 and 2016. On top of that, Section 999 creates an “Oil and Gas Lease Income” fund “from any Federal royalties, rents, and bonuses derived from Federal onshore and offshore oil and gas leases.” The federal government put $50 million in the latter pot to get the ball rolling. 

The Energy Policy Act of 2005's ”Halliburton Loophole” - which created an enforcement exemption from the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act for fracking, and made the chemicals found within fracking fluid a “trade secret” - is by far the bill's most notorious legacy for close followers of fracking.

These provisions were helped along by then-Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Policy Task Force, which entailed countless meetings between Big Oil lobbyists and executives and members of President George W. Bush's cabinet. Together, these lobbyists and appointees hammered out the details behind closed doors of what became the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a bill receiving a “yes” vote by then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Tue, 2013-08-06 06:00Steve Horn
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Fracking's Myriad Ties to Flawed State Dept Keystone XL Environmental Review

fracking keystone xl pipeline ERM

Most don't think of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) when pondering the future of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline - but they should. 

There are numerous ties between key members of the fracking industry and groups pushing for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. And these threads all lead back, one way or another, to Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM Group).

ERM Group did the official U.S. State Department's environmental review for Keystone XL pipeline. The review, published in March 2013, determined the pipeline will have negligible climate change impacts (the review dealt with the northern segment of the pipeline as the southern half, now known as the “Gulf Coast Pipeline,” received an expedited Executive Order permit by President Barack Obama in March 2012).

ERM is also a paying member of the American Petroleum Institute (API), which has spent over $22 million lobbying on Keystone XL since June 2008

In its bid to provide the environmental review for the Keystone XL pipeline, ERM overtly lied on its conflict-of-interest form, saying it has no current business ties to TransCanada. ERM has an ongoing consulting relationship with the company responsible for the Alaska South Central LNG Project, also known as Alaska Gas Pipeline Project. The company, South Central LNG, is co-owned by TransCanada.

On top of lying about its current business ties, ERM stated on the conflict-of-interest form it had no “direct or indirect relationship (financial, organizational, contractual or otherwise) with any business entity that could be affected in any way by the proposed work.” In so doing, ERM may have broken federal law - 18 USC § 1001 - by making a false claim on a federal contract.

The State Department's Office of Inspector General has officially launched an inquiry into how and why State overlooked ERM's omission, allowing ERM to potentially commit a crime. 

In addition to potentially fraudulent claims about its connection to TransCanada, ERM also has significant ties to major gas industry groups and major players supporting the fracking boom in the US.

Fri, 2013-06-28 14:21Sharon Kelly
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Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz Relies on Dubious Coal Tech for Obama Climate Strategy

The key takeaway from President Obama's major climate change announcement this week was his intent to batten down on coal. But if history is any indication, the man Mr. Obama selected to run the Department of Energy may have different plans.

Ernest J. Moniz has a long history of supporting coal-powered electricity, staking his arguments in favor of coal on a technology that remains entirely unproven: carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

Mr. Moniz will be in a uniquely influential position when it comes to confronting these problems. President Obama announced that he would rely on executive agencies instead of Congress, so Mr. Moniz's Energy Department will play a crucial role in determining precisely how Obama’s strategy is administered.  

The day after Obama's speech, Moniz told Congress  “the President advocates an all-of-the-above energy strategy and I am very much in tune with this.”

What’s wrong with an all-of-the-above strategy? It extends reliance on fossil fuels, at a time when scientists warn that we can only burn twenty percent of current reserves before the world tips past the crucial 2 degree Celsius point. Beyond two degrees, some of the most devastating impacts of global warming will be felt. Keep in mind that, if all of the world’s coal is burned, global temperatures could rise by a jaw-dropping 15 degrees Celsius, a study published in the prestigious journal Nature last year concluded.

The stakes, when it comes to controlling American greenhouse gas emissions, are huge.

Sat, 2013-05-18 06:00Steve Horn
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Friday Trash Dump: Obama DOE Approves 2nd Fracked Gas LNG Export Terminal

Friday is the proverbial “take out the trash day” for the release of bad news among public relations practitioners and this Friday was no different. 

In that vein, yesterday the Obama Department of Energy (DOEannounced a conditional approval of the second-ever LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminal. 

LNG is the super-chilled final product of gas obtained - predominantly in today's context - via the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process taking place within shale deposits located throughout the U.S. Fracked gas is shipped from the multitude of domestic shale basins in pipelines to various coastal LNG terminals, and then sent on LNG tankers to the global market.

The name of the terminal: Freeport LNG.

Freeport LNG is 50-percent owned by ConocoPhillips and located in Freeport, Texas, an hour-long car ride south of Houston. The export facility is the second one approved by the Obama DOE, with the first one - the Sabine Pass terminal, owned by Cheniere and located in Sabine Pass, Louisiana - approved in May 2011

DOE gave its rubber stamp of approval to Freeport LNG to export up to 1.4 billion cubic feet of LNG per day from its terminal. 

Tue, 2013-04-09 05:00Steve Horn
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Ties That Bind: Ernest Moniz, Keystone XL Contractor, American Petroleum Institute and Fracked Gas Exports

Congress will review the Obama Administration's nomination of Ernest Moniz for Secretary of the Department of Energy (DOE) in hearings that start today, April 9.

Moniz has come under fire for his outspoken support of nuclear power, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale gas and the overarching “all-of-the-above” energy policy advocated by both President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent in the last election, Mitt Romney

Watchdogs have also discovered that Moniz has worked as a long-time corporate consultant for BP. He has also received the “frackademic” label for his time spent at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At his MIT job, Moniz regularly accepted millions of dollars from the oil and gas industry to sponsor studies under the auspices of The MIT Energy Initiative, which has received over $145 million over its seven-year history from the oil and gas industry. 

MIT's “The Future of Natural Gas” report, covered by many mainstream media outlets without any effort to question who bankrolled it, was funded chiefly by the American Clean Skies Foundation, a front group for the shale gas industry's number two domestic producer, Chesapeake Energy. That report concluded that gas is a “bridge fuel” for a renewable energy future and said that shale gas exports were in the best economic interests of the United States, which should “not erect barriers to natural gas imports and exports.” 

As first revealed on DeSmogBlog, Moniz is also on the Board of Directors of ICF International, one of the three corporate consulting firms tasked to perform the Supplemental Environmental Impact Study (SEIS) for TransCanada's Keystone XL (KXL) tar sands pipeline. KXL is slated to bring tar sands - also known as “diluted bitumen,” or “dilbit” - from Alberta to Port Arthur, TX, where it will be sold to the highest bidder on the global export market

Moniz earned over $300,000 in financial compensation in his two years sitting on the Board at ICF, plus whatever money his 10,000+ shares of ICF stock have earned him. 

Tue, 2013-01-22 13:38Steve Horn
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Keystone XL North: TransCanada's Controversial Shale Gas Export Pipeline Plan

The battle continues over the future of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, with the Tar Sands Blockade continuing and a large forthcoming President's Day anti-Keystone XL rally set to take place in Washington, DC.

In a nutshell: Keystone XL, if approved by the U.S. State Department, will carry viscous and dirty tar sands crude - also known as diluted bitumen or “dilbit” - from Alberta, Canada down to Port Arthur, TX. From Port Arthur, the tar sands crude will be exported to the global market

Muddying the waters on the decision is the fact that The Calgary Herald recently revealed that prospective Secretary of State, John Kerry, has financial investments in two tar sands corporations: Suncor and Cenovus. Kerry has $750,000 invested in Suncor and another $31,000 invested in Cenovus. 

Which of course all begs the question: Is this another episode of State Department Oil Services all over again?

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