fracking

Mon, 2014-02-24 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Cold Weather Brings Wild Swings in Natural Gas Prices Despite Shale Gas Rush

Last year, natural gas prices hit record lows and shale gas promoters confidently predicted a bright future of stable low prices, making the fuel the best choice for home heating and electrical generation alike.

But last year was also marked by an unusually mild winter amid a still-sluggish economy. This year, cold winter weather returned across much of the U.S.– and consumers and utilities have begun to confront a strikingly different reality. Natural gas prices immediately spiked as high as $8.15/mmBTU Henry Hub this month – the most expensive prices seen since the 2008 economic collapse – as demand for power and heat surged.

And that $8.15 represents the daily price at a Louisiana pipeline hub often referenced by traders and federal energy analysts; regional prices have spiked far more dramatically. In the frigid Northeast, local prices have skyrocketed this year, with some operators paying up to $120 per mmBTU. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” one New Jersey power company executive told Bloomberg Businessweek in January. The spike’s effects have even reached as far south as East Texas, where spot prices topped $40/mmBTU, nearly reaching the highs seen in 2004 when the current onshore drilling rush began in the Barnett shale.

Keep in mind that the same amount of natural gas cost only $1.92 in April 2012.

That’s a little like suddenly finding out that a McDonalds burger that used to be 2 bucks will now cost you as much as full dinner at a five star restaurant.

These massive fluctuations in natural gas prices over the past year drive home a vital point: natural gas has always been prone to sudden booms and busts. The idea that shale gas – less than ten percent of the nation’s natural gas production and some of the most expensive to produce – could fundamentally transform the natural gas market, keeping prices consistently low, now seems more like a pipe dream than ever before.

Already, utilities and their customers are paying the price.

Sun, 2014-02-23 06:00Julie Dermansky
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Earthquakes Rattle Texas Towns in the Barnett Shale

Daniel Hogan thought he heard a sonic boom when a magnitude 3.6 earthquake hit Azle, Texas, last November. His home sustained damage — broken windows, cracked walls, damaged plumbing and foundation — but he did not have earthquake insurance to cover the repairs. He never imagined he'd need such protection in Texas.

Daniel Hogan in front of cracked window at his house in Azle ©2014 Julie Dermansky
Daniel Hogan in front of cracked window at his house in Azle ©2014 Julie Dermansky

 

Daniel Hogan reads a song he wrote about the earthquakes: 

Since November, Azle, Reno and Springtown, three small cities 50 miles west of Dallas, have been at the epicenter of more than 30 earthquakes. The seismic activity began after deep injection disposal wells built to house fracking's toxic wastewater went into operation. There are several injection wells in the area — three of which some suspect to be the cause of the quakes.

Sat, 2014-02-22 10:00Guest
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David Suzuki: Trading Water For Fuel is Fracking Crazy

This is a guest post by David Suzuki

It would be difficult to live without oil and gas. But it would be impossible to live without water. Yet, in our mad rush to extract and sell every drop of gas and oil as quickly as possible, we’re trading precious water for fossil fuels.

A recent report, “Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress”, shows the severity of the problem. Alberta and B.C. are among eight North American regions examined in the study by Ceres, a U.S.-based nonprofit advocating for sustainability leadership.

One of the most disturbing findings is that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is using enormous amounts of water in areas that can scarcely afford it. The report notes that close to half the oil and gas wells recently fracked in the U.S.“are in regions with high or extremely high water stress” and more than 55 per cent are in areas experiencing drought. In Colorado and California, almost all wells – 97 and 96 per cent, respectively – are in regions with high or extremely high water stress, meaning more than 80 per cent of available surface and groundwater has already been allocated for municipalities, industry and agriculture. A quarter of Alberta wells are in areas with medium to high water stress.

Drought and fracking have already caused some small communities in Texas to run out of water altogether, and parts of California are headed for the same fate. As we continue to extract and burn ever greater amounts of oil, gas and coal, climate change is getting worse, which will likely lead to more droughts in some areas and flooding in others. California’s drought may be the worst in 500 years, according to B. Lynn Ingram, an earth and planetary sciences professor at the University of California, Berkeley. That’s causing a shortage of water for drinking and agriculture, and for salmon and other fish that spawn in streams and rivers. With no rain to scrub the air, pollution in the Los Angeles area has returned to dangerous levels of decades past.

Fri, 2014-02-21 11:34Guest
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We Need a Surgeon General’s Report for Fracked Gas Exports at Cove Point

This is a guest post by Katie Huffling, Mike Tidwell, and Joelle Novey

Fifty years ago the US Surgeon General’s report on cigarettes and lung cancer changed America forever. Before the report, Americans generally thought smoking was okay – maybe even good for us given ads like, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!” But then the hard evidence – the undeniable facts – came to the surface and we changed.

That’s the good news. The bad news for Maryland is that we have a new “Camel cigarette” problem. For the past several months, a powerful corporation called Dominion Resources has been telling Marylanders that we can light something else on fire – something called “fracked gas” – and that it will be good for public health and the environment.

Dominion wants to build a massive industrial plant at a place called Cove Point in southern Maryland to systematically collect, process, liquefy, and export to faraway Asia a huge quantity of gas taken from hydraulic fracturing drilling sites all across our region. To understand the full-blown public health emergency that could result from this, you need to remember this number: 19. That’s how many Maryland counties – 19 out of a total of 23 – that have recently been mapped and found to have gas basins below their surface. Every one of those 19 counties could get fracked – with all the attendant problems ranging from flammable tap water to deforestation – thanks directly or indirectly to Dominion’s Cove Point plan.

We are Maryland leaders working with health organizations, religious communities, and environment groups, and we are simply appalled by Dominion’s Cove Point gas “liquefaction” and export proposal now before the Maryland Public Service Commission. Indeed on February 20th, outside the PSC’s downtown Baltimore office, we joined demonstrators from across the state in one of the largest environmental protests in the city’s history. Our message to the PSC: “Don’t let Dominion addict Maryland to harmful energy. Stop the Cove Point gas export plant.”

Thu, 2014-02-20 11:46Carol Linnitt
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CNRL Releases New, Lower Cold Lake Oil Spill Estimates

bitumen emulsion oil spill at CNRL Primrose CSS site in the Alberta oilsands

The Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) has released new figures tallying the total volume of bitumen emulsion recovered at the Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL) Primrose site in Cold Lake, Alta. The new total — 1,177 cubic metres or 1.1 million litres — is more than a third lower than previously reported amounts.

An earlier incident report from November 14, 2013, states more than 1,878 cubic metres of emulsion was recovered at the four separate release sites, where the mixture of bitumen and water had been leaking uncontrollably into the surrounding environment for several months without explanation. That's enough liquid to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool three-quarters of the way full.

CNRL's July 31, 2013, statement (pdf), released to investors just over one month after the leaks were reported to the AER, said that within the first month of cleanup, 1,000 cubic metres of bitumen emulsion had been collected.

Scientist Kevin Timoney, who's authored several reports on the CNRL leaks, said the reported figures just don't add up.

The bottom line is, how do you go from essentially 1,900 cubic metres, which is what you get if you listen to the president of CNRL when he was talking in January, down to 1,177 cubic metres. How does that happen?” Timoney said. “And nobody has answered that.”

Wed, 2014-02-19 10:27Steve Horn
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ALEC's Fracking Chemical Disclosure Bill Moving Through Florida Legislature

The American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) model bill for disclosure of chemicals injected into the ground during the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process is back for a sequel in the Sunshine State legislature. 

ALEC's model bill was proposed by ExxonMobil at its December 2011 meeting and is modeled after a bill that passed in Texas' legislature in spring 2011, as revealed in an April 2012 New York Times investigative piece. ALEC critics refer to the pro-business organization as a “corporate bill mill” lending corporate lobbyists a “voice and a vote” on model legislation often becoming state law.

The bill currently up for debate at the subcommittee level in the Florida House of Representatives was originally proposed a year ago (as HB 743) in February 2013 and passed in a 92-19 vote, but never received a Senate vote. This time around the block (like last time except for the bill number), Florida's proposed legislation is titled the Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act (HB 71), introduced by Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues. It is attached to a key companion bill: Public Records/Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act (HB 157).

HB 71 passed on a party-line 8-4 vote in the Florida House's Agriculture and Environment Subcommittee on January 14, as did HB 157. The next hurdle the bills have to clear: HB 71 awaits a hearing in the Agriculture and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee and HB 157 awaits one in the Government Operations Subcommittee.

Taken together, the two bills are clones of ALEC's ExxonMobil-endorsed Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act. That model — like HB 71 — creates a centralized database for fracking chemical fluid disclosure. There's a kicker, though. Actually, two.

First kicker: the industry-created and industry-owned disclosure database itself — FracFocus — has been deemed a failure by multiple legislators and by an April 2013 Harvard University Law School studySecond kicker: ALEC's model bill, like HB 157, has a trade secrets exemption for chemicals deemed proprietary. 

Tue, 2014-02-18 11:24Mike G
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Nobody Knows How Much Fracking is Happening Off California's Coast

The modern environmental movement was born when a drilling platform blew out and some 100,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Santa Barbara Channel in 1969, polluting California’s famous coastline. Yet as the race to exploit the vast amount of oil in the Monterey Shale heats up, environmentalists are warning that the state of California's lax oversight of the controversial oil production practice known as fracking, especially when it occurs on offshore oil drilling platforms, could lead to another major disaster.

Last October, the Associated Press revealed that offshore fracking is occurring much more frequently than California officials are aware. More than 200 fracking projects were discovered to have taken place over the preceding two decades in waters near Long Beach, Seal Beach, and Huntington Beach, some of the California coast’s most famous attractions.

Because fracking involves injecting water, sand, and a slew of toxic chemicals deep underground at extremely high pressure to break up the rock formations where oil is trapped, there's not just the risk of another oil spill polluting Cali's beaches but a number of threats that are not fully understood.

California passed a law last year that included some basic requirements for oil companies to disclose what chemicals are used in fracking fluids and to obtain a permit from the state for fracking operations, but the Los Angeles Times, echoing the sentiments of many environmentalists and legislators, said the law had been “so watered down as to be useless.”

The oil industry continues to insist that fracking is totally safe, even as it attempts to evade any and all new regulations. According to the Surfrider Foundation: “Despite [the] industry vowing to conduct their activities in a transparent and open fashion, the fracking industry has repeatedly failed to provide notice of offshore fracking…to the [California] Coastal Commission.”

Other than another spill, the chief concern is that the oil industry is allowed by federal regulators to dump as much as 9 billion gallons of wastewater into the ocean every year, and no one knows what the impact of fracking chemicals will be on ocean and coastal ecosystems.

“To date, little data has been collected,” says Allison Dettmer, deputy director of the California Coastal Commission.

Fri, 2014-02-14 12:40Sharon Kelly
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New Study Shows Total North American Methane Leaks Far Worse than EPA Estimates

Just how bad is natural gas for the climate?

A lot worse than previously thought, new research on methane leaks concludes.

Far more natural gas is leaking into the atmosphere nationwide than the Environmental Protection Agency currently estimates, researchers concluded after reviewing more than 200 different studies of natural gas leaks across North America.

The ground-breaking study, published today in the prestigious journal Science, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency has understated how much methane leaks into the atmosphere nationwide by between 25 and 75 percent — meaning that the fuel is far more dangerous for the climate than the Obama administration asserts.

The study, titled “Methane Leakage from North American Natural Gas Systems,” was conducted by a team of 16 researchers from institutions including Stanford University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and is making headlines because it finally and definitively shows that natural gas production and development can make natural gas worse than other fossil fuels for the climate.

The research, which was reported in The Washington Post, Bloomberg and The New York Times, was funded by a foundation created by the late George P. Mitchell, the wildcatter who first successfully drilled shale gas, so it would be hard to dismiss it as the work of environmentalists hell-bent on discrediting the oil and gas industry.

Thu, 2014-02-13 16:27Caroline Selle
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Maryland At High Risk of Water Contamination From Fracking, Independent Assessment Finds

An independent assessment commissioned by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Citizen Shale, two Maryland environmental groups, warns hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in the state would pose a “high risk” to Maryland air and water.

The assessment, titled, “Shale Gas Risk Assessment for Maryland,” was conducted by Ricardo-AEA, the same United Kingdom-based independent environmental consulting firm that led the European Commission’s hydraulic fracturing risk assessment and regulatory review.

To develop an evaluation of the potential impacts of fracking in Maryland, the firm reviewed evidence of environmental and health issues associated with hydraulic fracturing, the gas industry’s standard operating practices and Maryland’s current regulatory framework. In the process, Ricardo-AEA conducted a literature review of more than 200 documents and evaluated Maryland-specific geological data. The study did not address climate or carbon footprint issues.

The assessment found a cumulative risk grade of “high” or “very high” in nine of ten qualities if fracking were to occur in Maryland. The qualities included a high risk of surface water contamination, ground water contamination, noise impacts, visual impacts, increased traffic and threats to biodiversity.

Additionally, the study notes fracking is estimated to use 3.88 million gallons of water per well, threatening Maryland water supplies from two sides. Fracking would also produce dangerous air emissions such as particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds and sulfur dioxide.

The study also predicts a “very high risk” of undeveloped land being taken over for development, with up to 10 percent more land needed for full development of a gas reservoir than is currently described as developed in Maryland's Allegheny and Garrett counties.

Though two western Maryland counties, Allegheny and Garrett, lie above the Marcellus Shale, fracking is currently prohibited in the state.

Wed, 2014-02-12 05:00Steve Horn
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Documents Reveal Calvert County Signed Non-Disclosure Agreement with Company Proposing Cove Point LNG Terminal

Co-authored by Steve Horn and Caroline Selle

DeSmogBlog has obtained documents revealing that the government of Calvert County, MD, signed a non-disclosure agreement on August 21, 2012, with Dominion Resources — the company proposing the Cove Point Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export terminal in Lusby, MD.  The documents have raised concerns about transparency between the local government and its citizens.

The proposal would send gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from the Marcellus Shale basin to the global market. The export terminal is opposed by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Maryland Sierra Club and a number of other local environment and community groups.

The Accokeek Mattawoman Piscataway Creeks Council (AMP Council), an environmental group based in Accokeek, MD, obtained the documents under Maryland's Public Information Act and provided them to DeSmogBlog.

Cornell University’s Law School explains a non-disclosure agreement is a “legally binding contract in which a person or business promises to treat specific information as a trade secret and not disclose it to others without proper authorization.”

Upon learning about the agreement, Fred Tutman, CEO of Patuxent Riverkeeper — a group opposed to the LNG project — told DeSmogBlog he believes Calvert County officials are working “in partnership with Dominion to the detriment of citizen transparency.”

We’re unhappy that it does seem to protect Dominion's interest rather than the public interest,” Tutman said. “The secrecy surrounding this deal has made it virtually impossible for anyone exterior to those deals, like citizens, to evaluate whether these are good transactions or bad transactions on their behalf.”

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