fracking

Thu, 2014-01-02 10:54Steve Horn
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Warren Buffett Bought Stake in Pipeline Company on Same Day as North Dakota Oil Train Explosion

On December 30, the same day a Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) oil train derailed and exploded in Casselton, North Dakota, Warren Buffett — owner of holding company giant Berkshire Hathaway, which owns BNSF — bought a major stake in pipeline logistics company Phillips Specialty Products Inc.

Owned by Phillips 66, a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips, Phillips Specialty Products' claim to fame is lubricating oil's movement through pipelines, increasingly crucial for the industry to move both tar sands crude and oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in an efficient manner.

“Phillips Specialty Products Inc…is the global leader in the science of drag reduction and specializes in maximizing the flow potential of pipelines,” explains its website.

Buffett — the second richest man in the world — sees the flow lubricant business as a lucrative niche one, increasingly so given the explosion of North American tar sands pipelines and fracked oil pipelines.

“I have long been impressed by the strength of the Phillips 66 business portfolio,” he said of the deal in a press release. “The flow improver business is a high-quality business with consistently strong financial performance, and it will fit well within Berkshire Hathaway.”

Tue, 2013-12-31 12:48Brendan DeMelle
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Looking Back at 2013: Photos of Climate Chaos, Natural Disasters, Heartache and Hope

Today, we wrap up 2013 with a slideshow of photographs taken this past year by DeSmog contributor Julie Dermansky. We’re grateful to have Julie on our team, and as you can see from her photographs, she witnessed some awe-inspiring and awful scenes in 2013.

A self-described Accidental Chronicler of Climate Change, Julie lives in New Orleans and has traveled the globe reporting on some of the most important stories of our times through her photojournalism and writing — Hurricanes Katrina and Ivan, Superstorm Sandy, earthquake-ravaged Haiti, the BP Gulf oil disaster, war-torn Iraq, genocide in Rwanda and lots more.

She joined DeSmogBlog in August, and quickly became an invaluable member of our team with her in-depth multimedia coverage of the Louisiana sinkhole, the battle over the southern half of Keystone XL, the fracking bonanza in Texas, the ongoing fallout of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and more.

Sit back and take a journey through Julie’s lens as we remember some of the biggest disasters and climate stories of 2013.

Mon, 2013-12-30 05:00Julie Dermansky
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Eagle Ford Shale: Breathe at Your Own Risk

Fracking is in full swing in the Eagle Ford Shale region of southern Texas, home to the most productive oil field in the United States.

For Cynthia Dupnik, whose Karnes County home is in the center of the region, life is no longer serene. At night, she says the landscape is frighteningly apocalyptic, marked by the roaring flares spreading pollutants across the sky from oil and gas operations.


Marathon tank battery facility in Hobson, Texas

The first time Dupnik heard about fracking was when Marathon Oil Corporation started drilling near her home. After complaining that she was getting sick, Marathon sent a team to take air samples on her property, but never returned with the test results.

Dupnik is also concerned about a nearby Marathon Challenger tank battery, a facility used in shale production, which almost constantly has a flare emitting toxic fumes into the air only six-tenths of a mile from Dupnik's home. Some nights the flare from the tank battery site is so bright she can see it from her front porch.

On the evening of December 13, Dupnik says the noise coming from the tank battery site was louder than usual and the air smelled like rotten eggs. She experienced a metallic taste in her mouth and had a hard time breathing so she called the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). No one picked up, so she called the sheriff's office, which sent a deputy over. The deputy told Dupnik the noise and smell were not out of the ordinary, but called the Texas Railroad Commission which assured Dupnik they would let the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality know.

Dupnik had already lodged a complaint about the tanker battery site with the commission in July 2013, and was assured test results were forthcoming. Despite repeated followup, Dupnik says she’s been unable to get any information about the test results.

Wed, 2013-12-18 12:00Steve Horn
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Keystone XL Fork in the Road: TransCanada's Houston Lateral Pipeline

Only Barack Obama knows the fate of the northern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  But in the meantime, TransCanada is preparing the southern half of the line to open for commercial operations on January 22.

And there's a fork in that half of the pipeline that's largely flown under the radar: TransCanada's Houston Lateral Pipeline, which serves as a literal fork in the road of the southern half of Keystone XL's route to Gulf Coast refineries.

Rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline” by TransCanada, the 485-mile southern half of Keystone XL brings a blend of Alberta's tar sands crude, along with oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin, to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas. This area has been coined a “sacrifice zone” by investigative journalist Ted Genoways, describing the impacts on local communities as the tar sands crude is refined mainly for export markets.

But not all tar sands and fracked oil roads lead to Port Arthur. That's where the Houston Lateral comes into play. A pipeline oriented westward from Liberty County, TX rather than eastward to Port Arthur, Houston Lateral ushers crude oil to Houston's refinery row

“The 48-mile (77-kilometre) Houston Lateral Project is an additional project under development to transport oil to refineries in the Houston, TX marketplace,” TransCanada's website explains. “Upon completion, the Gulf Coast Project and the Houston Lateral Project will become an integrated component of the Keystone Pipeline System.”

Wed, 2013-12-18 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Despite Flaws, Pennsylvania Regulators Fast Track FirstEnergy Coal Ash Disposal Plans

Across the U.S., the shale rush has unleashed a frenzy of excitement about domestic energy supplies.

But the oil and gas produced from fracking comes along with billions of gallons of wastewater and tons of mud and rock that carry radioactive materials and heavy metals.

As problems with disposal mount, the industry has offered mostly vague promises of “recycling” to describe how the waste will be handled over the long run.

As the nation gears up to produce vast amounts of shale oil and gas — and the toxic waste that comes along with it — it’s worth taking a look back at the failures of another industry to handle its toxic waste responsibly — the coal industry. 

Communities across America are still struggling to resolve problems left behind decades ago from coal mining and related industrial pollution.

These aren’t merely yesterday’s problems – the ash from burning coal at coal-fired power plants remains the single largest wastestream in the U.S.

Mon, 2013-12-16 10:07Steve Horn
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New "Frackademia" Report Co-Written by "Converted Climate Skeptic" Richard Muller

The conservative UK-based Centre for Policy Studies recently published a study on the climate change impacts of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale gas. The skinny: it's yet another case study of “frackademia,” and the co-authors have a financial stake in the upstart Chinese fracking industry.

Titled “Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favour Fracking“ and co-authored by Richard Muller and his daughter Elizabeth “Liz” Muller, it concludes that fracking's climate change impacts are benign, dismissing many scientific studies coming to contrary conclusions.

In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Richard Muller — a self-proclaimed “converted skeptic” on climate change — said he and Liz had originally thought of putting together this study “about two years ago.”

“We quickly realized that natural gas could be a very big player,” he said. “The reasons had to do with China and the goal of the paper is to get the environmentalists to recognize that they need to support responsible fracking.

The ongoing debate over fracking in the UK served as the impetus behind the Centre for Policy Studies — a non-profit co-founded by former right-wing British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1974 — hosting this report on its website, according to Richard Muller.

“They asked for it because some environmentalists are currently opposing fracking in the UK, and they wanted us to share our perspective that fracking is not only essential for human health but its support can be justified for humanitarian purposes,” he said. 

This isn't the first time Liz Muller has unapologetically sung the praises of fracking and promoted bringing the practice to China. In April, she penned an op-ed in The New York Times titled, “China Must Exploit Its Shale Gas.” 

Fri, 2013-12-13 07:00Steve Horn
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Former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon Buys Fracking Wells In Ohio's Utica Shale

Former Chesapeake Energy CEO and Founder Aubrey McClendon is back in the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) game in Ohio's Utica Shale in a big way, receiving a permit to frack five wells from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources on November 26. 

“The Ohio Department of Natural Resources awarded McClendon's new company, American Energy Utica LLC, five horizontal well permits Nov. 26 that allows oil and gas exploration on the Jones property in Nottingham Township, Harrison County,” a December 6 article appearing in The Business Journal explained. “In October, American Energy Utica announced it has raised $1.7 billion in capital to secure new leases in the Utica shale play.”

McClendon is the former CEO of fracking giant Chesapeake Energy and now the owner of American Energy Partners, whose office is located less than a mile away from Chesapeake's corporate headquarters.

The $1.7 billion McClendon has received in capital investments for the purchase of 110,000 acres worth of Utica Shale land came from the Energy & Minerals GroupFirst Reserve Corporation, BlackRock Inc. and Magnetar Capital.

McClendon — a central figure in Gregory Zuckerman's recent book “The Frackers” — is currently under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange CommissionHe left Chesapeake in January 2013 following a shareholder revolt over his controversial business practices.

In departing, he was given a $35 million severance package, access to the company's private jets through 2016 and a 2.5% stake in every well Chesapeake fracks through June 2014 as part of the Founder's Well Participation Program.

Little discussed beyond the business press, McClendon has teamed up with a prominent business partner for his new start-up: former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond.

Wed, 2013-12-11 05:00Julie Dermansky
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Texas Fracking Bonanza: How Arlington Fell to the Frackers

Fort Worth was the first major city in America to allow extensive fracking within the city limits — but it wasn’t the last. Arlington, Texas, fell to the frackers next — only this time, the frackers were required to make their installations less of an eyesore.

Berms were built up around fracking sites and compressor centers to hide them from view, and active drill sites have temporary walls built up around them to keep the noise down. But walls don't stop chemical seepage.


Fracking site in Arlington, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. ©2013 Julie Dermansky

Kim Feil, an educator, blogger and environmental activist, is no stranger to chemical exposure. She moved from New Sarpy, Louisiana, part of an area known as Cancer Alley due to its many refineries and high incidence of cancer, to Arlington, before the fracking began.

Feil monitors new industrial developments and does what she can to stop them by attending city-zoning meetings. Her blog keeps neighbors informed about what is coming next and which fracking installations are having problems. Other concerned citizens share heartbreaking stories with her about sicknesses they believe are connected to fracking.

Tue, 2013-12-10 05:00Julie Dermansky
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Urban Fracking Bonanza Threatens Dallas Suburbs

When a representative from Chesapeake Energy knocked on Phyllis Allen's door in 2003 and offered $300 for her mineral rights and an invitation to a lease-signing pizza party, she turned them down.  

Allen’s home is in the United Riverside neighborhood, predominately poor and working class African American, the place where fracking first took hold in the city. She'd like to say she didn't sign because of her concerns for environmental issues but, at the time, she hadn’t heard of fracking.

She didn't sign because of the advice her father gave her: “Never sign anything you don't understand.”

Since then, Phyllis Allen, a retired Yellow Pages sales representative, has educated herself about fracking. During her daily walks along the Trinity River she takes note of environmental problems. In 2011, she saw a white chemical cloud rising over a compressor center and workers in hazmat suits going in to shut it down.

In another instance, Allen witnessed fluid being pumped into the Trinity River during the peak of the drought. She contacted Streams and Valleys, the organization responsible for the trails along Trinity, but never found out exactly what was going on. And she's noticed that migratory birds don't come back to the riverbank anymore.


Phyllis Allen in front of a compressor station near her home in Fort Worth. ©2013 Julie Dermansky

Sat, 2013-12-07 07:00Guest
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Texas Fracking Executive Mark Grawe Threatened to Label Residents "Terrorists"

This is a guest post by Eric Moll, originally published on Occupy.com

Eagleridge Inc. Chief Operations Officer Mark Grawe brought an armed cop with him to a November 13 Homeowners Association meeting in Mansfield, a suburb of Fort Worth, Tex., and told residents that anyone who protested his company's gas wells — some of which are located less than 200 feet from homes, schools and playgrounds — would find themselves on Department of Homeland Security terrorist watch lists.

Though “terrorism” is understood to mean the use of violence and intimidation for political coercion, Grawe showed no sense of irony bringing a guard armed with a gun, a taser and a can of pepper spray to a neighborhood meeting to help deliver his pro-fracking message.

It’s unclear whether Grawe’s statements were off-the-cuff errors or part of a deliberate strategy. The remarks certainly aren't winning him PR victories, as the response from a blogger with the Drilling Awareness Group (DAG), based in Denton, Tex., makes clear.

The DAG blogger asserts, indignantly, that citizens opposing fracking wells in their back yards “are not radicals” and do not break the law for holding their beliefs. The odd insinuation here, of course, is that so-called “radicals” who do break the law are deserving of the terrorist label, even though the rapidly growing nationwide movement against fracking has been almost entirely peaceful.

Grawe seems to be operating straight out of the frack industry playbook. In a document leaked earlier this year, one of the largest corporate intelligence firms, Stratfor, laid out a strategy for defeating public opposition to petrochemical infrastructure. Stratfor categorizes activists as “radicals,” “idealists,” “realists,” and “opportunists.”

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