fracking

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 Jerry Brown, but by then lobbyists had managed to weaken the bill to the point that many environmentalists had withdrawn their support.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.

Mon, 2013-11-04 10:19Steve Horn
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MSNBC "Leans Forward" Into Running "Native Ads" Promoting Fracking

Three years into its “Lean Forward” re-branding campaign, MSNBC has given new meaning to the catchphrase, leaning forward into running branded content promoting hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)

Looking to beef up its web presence, MSNBC has brought “Lean Forward” online with a new and improved website, calling it a “Platform for the Lean Forward, progressive community.” A key part of funding that platform: running “native advertisements” for America's Natural Gas Alliance and General Electric.

“General Electric and America’s Natural Gas Alliance are the site’s launch partners,” explained an October 30 MediaPost article.

GE, the first native ad partner for msnbc.com, will collaborate with MSNBC to deliver a content series that highlights how the 'Industrial Internet' and 'Brilliant Machines Innovation' are reshaping our world. America’s Natural Gas Alliance will be featured in sponsored polls in the 'Speak Out' section of the site centered on natural gas facts.”

GE, former owner of NBC, of which MSNBC is one of its many tentacles, is fully invested in the fossil fuel industry, with assets in fracking, coal, offshore drilling, tar sands, and more. ANGA is the shale gas industry's lobbying tour de force, both at the federal and state level.

Native advertising - also referred to as “branded content” or “native content” - is quickly replacing banner ads and pop-up ads as the go-to channel of reaching consumers for advertising executives. 

“Native content is a digital advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user’s experience, matching both the form and function of the environment in which it is placed,” explained a recent MarketingWeek article.

If banner ads and pop-up ads are “overt ads,” then native ads are best described as “covert ads,” akin to the controversial “video news releases” for TV news.

Fri, 2013-11-01 12:37Steve Horn
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Revealed: Never Before Seen Photos of Tesoro Fracked Oil Spill in North Dakota, Pipeline Restarted Today

A month after over 865,200 gallons of oil spilled from Tesoro Logistics' 6-inch pipeline near Tioga, North Dakota, the cause of the leak is still largely unknown to anyone but Tesoro. The pipeline resumed operations today.

Carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the controversial horizontal drilling method used to capture oil and gas found embedded in shale rock basins worldwide, the Bakken Shale pipeline spill on September 29 was the largest fracked oil spill in U.S. history. Oil spill experts say the spill may be even bigger than originally estimated. 

Yet few details of what caused the spill - and how to prevent it from happening again - have arisen in the month since it occurred. 

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) believes a lightning strike may have created the quarter inch hole in the pipeline, leading to the spill

PHMSA says it will carry out a rigorous investigation into the cause of the spill, but allowed the restart after Tesoro agreed to the agency's safety order mandating aerial monitoring of the pipeline over the next three days during the restart and then weekly for the next year, along with 20 other things.

The safety order also mandates Tesoro provide a documented updated within six months indicating how it enhanced its control room monitoring, instructs Tesoro to finish the final mechanical and metallurgical testing report of the failed pipe within 30 days and dictates that within “90 days complet[ion of] a root cause failure analysis for the Line that contains a detailed timeline of events.”

Documents obtained by Greenpeace USA under North Dakota's Open Records Statute show the oil has settled over 12 feet below the ground layer of the soil. The oil that settled on the surface was burned off.   

“At 10-12 feet below surface, there is a extensive clay layer that underlies the entire hill top,” Kris Roberts, Environmental Response Team Leader for the North Department of Health's Division of Water Quality, explained in an October 3 field report.

Wed, 2013-10-23 16:51Guest
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Documents Raise Important Questions About Tesoro's Pipeline Spill in North Dakota

This is a guest post by Jesse Coleman, cross-posted with permission from Greenpeace blog The Witness.

North Dakota, long known for its cattle ranches and open spaces, has recently become one of the oil and gas industry's most prized (and profitable) possessions, thanks to the advent of fracking. However, the price of oil and gas industry development is paid in destruction to the environment and strains to the regulatory framework meant to protect the public from a reckless industry, as Tesoro’s massive oil spill attests.

Documents from an open records request by Greenpeace have uncovered that Tesoro, a fracking giant based in San Antonio:

Possibly knew their pipeline was dangerously weak

Tesoro ran tests on the pipeline that ruptured more than 2 weeks before the spill was discovered.

Sun, 2013-10-20 10:43Farron Cousins
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Worldwide Protests Challenge Fracking Industry

On Saturday, October 19th, from Romania to Canada and beyond, protests of varying size took place all over the globe to bring attention to the dangers of hydraulic fracturing (fracking). 

The events, part of a worldwide effort by Global Frackdown, are designed to raise public awareness about the environmental and health threats posed by fracking, as well as to signal to oil and gas companies that citizens are not willing to be passive when it comes to the health of their communities.  Global Frackdown held their first mass protests in September 2012, spanning 20 different countries.

This past weekend’s events saw more than 250 protests take place in 26 different countries around the globe, making it one of the largest mass protests against fracking. 

Mon, 2013-10-14 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Flaws in Environmental Defense Fund's Methane Study Draw Criticism from Scientists

Perhaps the single most consequential and controversial issue at the center of the onshore natural gas drilling boom is the question of methane leaks. Natural gas is primarily made of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and if enough escapes into the atmosphere, these leaks could potentially make natural gas a worse fuel for the climate than coal.

In mid-September, researchers from the University of Texas published a study that was hailed by a triumphant oil and gas industry, which claimed it definitively showed that methane leaks from fracking are minimal. Major news outlets largely fed this excitement, proclaiming that the study showed EPA had dramatically overestimated methane leaks from the drilling boom.

But as the celebrations died down and more sober and rigorous analysis of the study has begun, scientists are finding that the University of Texas study is riddled with flaws.

The backers of the report cherry-picked the oil and gas wells included in the study, selecting smaller wells that had less capacity to leak and ones that used leak controls that are not currently used at many of the nation’s wells. The authors systematically ignored more recent federal research indicating that as much as 17 percent of natural gas – more than 10 times the estimate indicated by the UT study – leaks from gas fields, and overlooked serious methodological flaws that were pointed out in similar studies dating back as far as 1996.

As scientists have raised these concerns, the Environmental Defense Fund, one backer of the study which was 90 percent funded by the oil and gas industry, have tried to tamp down some of the media excitement surrounding the result and said that their research was misrepresented.

Fri, 2013-10-11 11:00Steve Horn
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Union of Concerned Scientists Cites DeSmog's "Frackademia" Work in Major Report

The Union of Concerned Scientists' Center for Science and Democracy has released a new report titled “Toward an Evidence-Based Fracking Debate” and DeSmogBlog's “frackademia” work takes the center stage in the 53-page heavily cited document.

With chapters on the science of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), fracking's regulatory landscape (and lack thereof), industry transparency (and again, lack thereof) and many sub-topics in between, DeSmog's “frackademia” work is mentioned twice in the “Interference in the Science” subsection. 

“Industry interests have influenced the outcome of academic studies of unconventional oil and gas development,” wrote UCS in citing DeSmogBlog. “Such efforts have produced industry-friendly research results and reports coming from several universities, a circumstance that has been dubbed 'frackademia.'”

UCS cited our “frackademia” case study of State University of New York at Buffalo and its proposed Shale Resources and Society Institute. The proposal was met with resistance and furor, eventually shuttering operations before it ever officially opened its doors in late-2012. 

Careful to avoid coastal bias, UCS also mentioned our probe of University of Southern California's “Powering California” report

Thu, 2013-10-10 20:08Steve Horn
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Over 865,200 Gallons of Fracked Oil Spill in ND, Public In Dark For Days Due to Government Shutdown

Over 20,600 barrels of oil fracked from the Bakken Shale has spilled from a Tesoro Logistics pipeline in Tioga, North Dakota in one of the biggest onshore oil spills in recent U.S. history.

Though the spill occurred on September 29, the U.S. National Response Center - tasked with responding to chemical and oil spills - did not make the report available until October 8 due to the ongoing government shutdown. 

“The center generally makes such reports available on its website within 24 hours of their filing, but services were interrupted last week because of the U.S. government shutdown,” explained Reuters

The “Incident Summaries” portion of the National Response Center's website is currently down, and the homepage notes, “Due to [the] government shutdown, some services may not be available.” 

At more than 20,600 barrels - equivalent to 865,200 gallons - the spill was bigger than the April 2013 ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline spill, which spewed 5,000-7,000 barrels of tar sands bitumen into a residential neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas.

So far, only 1,285 barrels have been recovered in North Dakota, and the oil is spread out over a 7.3 acre land mass.

Kris Roberts, environmental geologist for the North Dakota Department of Health Division of Water Quality told the Williston Herald, “the leak was caused by a hole that deteriorated in the side of the pipe.”

No water, surface water or ground water was impacted,” he said. “They installed monitoring wells to ensure there is no impact now or that there is going to be one.”

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