fracking

Tue, 2013-12-03 09:58Sharon Kelly
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Toxic Coal Ash Disposal Proves Costly and Hazardous, Duke Energy's Sutton Lake Contamination Questioned

A new report out from Wake Forest University concludes that coal ash waste from Duke Energy’s Sutton coal plant in Wilmington, NC is elevating levels of selenium pollution in nearby Sutton Lake. The lake, prized by fishermen for its largemouth bass population, has been contaminated, according to a study released today by Prof. Dennis Lemly, Research Associate Professor of Biology at Wake Forest, with high levels of selenium. Selenium has been linked to deformities in fish – including two-headed trout – and can cause a condition known as selenosis if people consume high enough doses in their food or drinking water.

Several conservation groups, including the Sierra Club and the Southern Environmental Law Center, which joined the University in announcing the findings, filed suit against Duke Energy Progress, Inc. this summer, arguing that pollution from the Sutton plant's coal ash is “killing a regional fishing lake and is threatening a community’s drinking water.”

The new report, which found that the coal ash pollution kills over 900,000 fish and deforms thousands more in Sutton Lake each year, is likely to bolster the plaintiffs' case in that suit.

The research also highlights one of the most fundamental problems with American energy policy: policy-makers and the public have been unwilling to recognize the true costs of the fuels we use to make electricity.

Wed, 2013-11-27 10:58Steve Horn
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Firm with History of Spill Cover-Ups Hired to Clean Up North Dakota Oil Spill

Tesoro Logistics — the company whose pipeline spilled more than 800,000 gallons of fracked Bakken Shale oil in rural North Dakota in September — has hired infamous contractor Witt O'Brien's to oversee its clean-up of the biggest fracked oil spill in U.S. history.

The oil was obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale basin.

As revealed after ExxonMobil hired the same firm in the aftermath of a 210,000-gallon tar sands oil spill in April 2013, Witt O'Brien's — formerly known as OOPS, Inc. — is a firm with a history of oil spill cover-ups dating back to the Exxon Valdez oil spillIt also oversaw the spraying of toxic oil dispersants into the Gulf of Mexico during BP's summer 2010 mega-spill and a literal cover-up of Enbridge's massive “dilbit disaster” tar sands pipeline spill in Michigan. 

Witt O'Brien's also won a $300,000 contract to develop an emergency response plan for TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline in August 2008.

The same firm is now maintaining Tesoro's website dedicated to offering updates — also known as crisis communications management — for the massive spill's recovery efforts at TesoroAlert.com

Buried at the bottom of the website is a mention that the site is “powered by the PIER System.” PIER — short for “Public Information Emergency Response” — is owned by Witt O'Brien's.

Screen Shot Taken Nov. 25, 2013

Tue, 2013-11-26 15:31Steve Horn
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Obama Approves Major Border-Crossing Fracked Gas Pipeline Used to Dilute Tar Sands

Although TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has received the lion's share of media attention, another key border-crossing pipeline benefitting tar sands producers was approved on November 19 by the U.S. State Department.

Enter Cochin, Kinder Morgan's 1,900-mile proposed pipeline to transport gas produced via the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of the Eagle Ford Shale basin in Texas north through Kankakee, Illinois, and eventually into Alberta, Canada, the home of the tar sands. 

Like Keystone XL, the pipeline proposal requires U.S. State Department approval because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border. Unlike Keystone XL - which would carry diluted tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) south to the Gulf Coast - Kinder Morgan's Cochin pipeline would carry the gas condensate (diluent) used to dilute the bitumen north to the tar sands.

“The decision allows Kinder Morgan Cochin LLC to proceed with a $260 million plan to reverse and expand an existing pipeline to carry an initial 95,000 barrels a day of condensate,” the Financial Post wrote

“The extra-thick oil is typically cut with 30% condensate so it can move in pipelines. By 2035, producers could require 893,000 barrels a day of the ultra-light oil, with imports making up 786,000 barrels of the total.”

Increased demand for diluent among Alberta's tar sands producers has created a growing market for U.S. producers of natural gas liquids, particularly for fracked gas producers.

“Total US natural gasoline exports reached a record volume of 179,000 barrels per day in February as Canada's thirst for oil sand diluent ramped up,” explained a May 2013 article appearing in Platts. ”US natural gasoline production is forecast to increase to roughly 450,000 b/d by 2020.”

Mon, 2013-11-25 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Banks Reluctant to Lend in Shale Plays as Evidence Mounts on Harm to Property Values Near Fracking

Over the past several years, the fossil-fuel industry has been highly adept at publicizing the economic upshots of fracking: royalty checks, decreased prices for oil and gas, profits for investors. 

But the industry is far less eager to discuss the hidden costs of the current drilling boom – the longterm price of air and water pollution, the consequences of undermining a nascent renewable energy industry, the harms from accidents when moving and storing all the hazardous waste fracking produces. 

Add to that list of hidden costs one that is starting to grab more attention from bankers and the real estate industry: property values and mortgage problems. New research, for example, demonstrates that the vast majority of prospective buyers say they would decline to buy a home near oil and gas drilling.

As millions of Americans sign oil and gas leases granting the right to companies to extract fossil fuels from their land, they are realizing that these documents often conflict with their mortgages, which is leading to all manner of legal and financial headaches, and make it harder to sell homes on land whose oil and gas rights are leased.

Concern about these impacts is spreading in southern states like Texas, Alabama and Florida, according to a survey due for release in the next several weeks from the University of Dever. In northeastern states like Pennsylvania, fracking worries have prompted lenders to begin rejecting mortgage applications due to gas drilling – on neighboring property. In Colorado, real estate brokers describe keeping a long list of sellers in heavily fracked areas, but a paucity of buyers. 

Under the terms mortgage buyers like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac require, “you cannot cause or permit any hazardous materials to be on your property and it specifically references oil and gas,” Greg May, vice president of residential mortgage lending at Tompkins Bank, told American Banker in an interview published Nov. 12. “That alone would make it a problem.”

The repercussions for the American real estate market could be enormous. More than 15.3 million Americans – roughly one out of every 20 people living in the U.S.– now live within a mile of an oil or gas well that was drilled since 2000, the Wall St. Journal recently reported

And that may be just the tip of the iceberg since shale gas and oil wells require ongoing drilling for them to stay productive. In 2010, for example, Pennsylvania regulators predicted a more than 10-fold increase in shale wells in their state over the next couple decades.

Fri, 2013-11-22 11:45Farron Cousins
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Report: Gas Industry’s Campaign Donations Reach Record Levels

As elected officials in Washington continue to mull the possibilities of setting stricter standards for fracking, the natural gas industry has decided to pull out all the stops to defeat these standards before they can even see the light of day.  A new report from Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) shows that the industry’s campaign contributions are now at record levels as they battle politicians wishing to tighten the reins on fracking.

According to the report, natural gas campaign donations to politicians in states where fracking is taking off have risen by 231% in the last 8 years.  But the industry is also hedging its bets in non-fracking states, as donations to politicians in those areas saw an increase in donations of 131%. 

Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW, isn’t surprised by the increase.  Of the report, Sloan said, “Like many industries under increasing scrutiny, the fracking industry has responded by ratcheting up campaign donations to help make new friends in Congress…As CREW’s report shows, the fracking boom isn’t just good for the industry, but also for congressional candidates in fracking districts.”

CREW goes on to explain where the bulk of the money is going:

Wed, 2013-11-20 03:25Steve Horn
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Fracking Lobby ANGA's Tax Forms: Big Bucks to Media Outlets, "Other ALECs"

America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) - the public relations arm of the oil and gas fracking industry - has released its 2012 Internal Revenue Services (IRS) 990 form, and it's rich with eye-opening revelations, some of which we report here for the first time. 

Incorporated as American Natural Gas Alliance, Inc., ANGA received $76.7 million from its dues-paying members for fiscal year 2012. Not strictly a lobbying force alone at the state-level and federal-level, ANGA has pumped millions of dollars into public relations and advertising efforts around the country and hundreds of thousands more into other influence-peddling avenues. 

The Nation Magazine's Lee Fang revealed in a recent piece that ANGA gave $1 million in funding to “Truthland,” a pro-fracking film released to fend off Josh Fox's “Gasland: Part II.”

On its website, “Truthland” says it is a project of both industry front group Energy in Depth and the trade association, Independent Petroleum Association of America. The “Truthland” website was originally registered in Chesapeake Energy's office, Little Sis revealed.

Fang also revealed ANGA gave $25,000 to “ASGK Strategies, a political consulting firm founded by White House advisor David Axelrod,” as well as “$864,673 to Edventures Partners, an education curriculum company that has partnered with ANGA to produce classroom materials that promote the use of natural gas.”

Mon, 2013-11-18 05:00Sharon Kelly
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George W. Bush on Keystone XL: "Build the Damn Thing"

Make private companies happy. Don’t worry about the environment. Stop fretting about long-term sustainability. Forget renewables, property concerns, the safety of our water and air. Make private companies happy.

This was the 43rd president's message to the current administration at the DUG East conference held by the shale gas industry on Thursday.

With characteristic bluntness, George W. Bush spoke his mind on energy policy to several thousand oil and gas executives gathered in Pittsburgh at an exclusive luncheon on Wednesday.

“I think the goal of the country ought to be 'how do we grow the private sector?'” Mr. Bush said. “That ought to be the laser-focus of any administration. And therefore, once that’s the goal, an issue like Keystone pipeline becomes a no-brainer.”

“If private sector growth is the goal and Keystone pipeline creates 20,000 new private sector jobs, build the damn thing,” Mr. Bush said, prompting a burst of applause from the more than 4,000 oil and gas executives attending the conference.

In his candor, Mr. Bush also highlighted the essence of what burns bright but short in the fossil-fuel doctrine.

In emphasizing a get-it-now, don’t-worry-about-the-future approach to energy, he drove home why the Keystone XL pipeline has become such a lightning rod issue. The reason: it is symbolic of the overall short-sightedness of increasing our long-term addiction to oil rather than pushing with urgency toward renewable 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, 2013-11-06 17:44Mike G
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Oil Industry Spending Big To Win Unfettered Fracking Rights In The Golden State

There’s a lot of money at stake for oil companies that want to frack California’s Monterey Shale, so it’s no wonder Big Oil is spending big to forestall any new environmental regulations from biting into profits.

Here’s a particularly striking case in point: Just a week before the California State Senate voted on a bill that would impose new regulations on fracking activities, the Western States Petroleum Association (which represents the likes of Exxon, Chevron, BP, Occidental, Valero, Phillips 66, etc.) treated a dozen lawmakers to a lavish $13,000, 5-course meal at The Kitchen, one of Sacramento’s fanciest restaurants.

Two weeks later, the bill was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, but by then lobbyists had managed to weaken the bill to the point that many environmentalists had withdrawn their support.

Before they passed [the bill], lawmakers accepted new amendments from the oil and gas industry – amendments that undermine the original intent… changing it into a bill we simply can’t support,” said the California League of Conservation Voters.

That $13,000 dinner is a drop in the bucket, of course.

So far in 2013, the oil and gas industry has already spent over $11.5 million on lobbying efforts in California, and it’s not just fracking regulations that are in Big Oil’s crosshairs.

Wed, 2013-11-06 05:00Julie Dermansky
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Fracking Victim Steve Lipsky's Flaming Water is No Joke

Steve Lipsky

Weatherford, Texas, homeowner Steve Lipsky has nothing to hide. He is not trying to take down Range Resources, a large oil and gas company with a reputation for bullying its critics, nor is he trying to defame the company as it has accused him of in a defamation lawsuit demanding over $3 million.

Lipsky, a private, conservative man who made his nest egg in the banking industry, now finds himself playing the role of David against a modern day Goliath in a battle fraught with Kafkaesque moments. After what looked at first like an open and shut case of industrial negligence turned into a lengthy legal battle, he must either fight or accept financial ruin.

In 2011, the Environmental Protection Agency determined that Range Resource’s drilling activities at a nearby fracking project had contaminated Lipsky’s well.

Lipsky can light the water coming out of his well on fire.

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