fracking

Wed, 2014-11-05 17:04Julie Dermansky
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Breaking: Denton, Texas Hit with Lawsuits After Landslide Victory on Fracking Ban

Less than 24 hours after Denton became the first Texas city to ban fracking within city limits, the city is being sued. The Texas General Land Office and the Texas Oil and Gas Association are the first to challenge the new ordinance. 

Denton voters passed the fracking ban by a 59-to-41 percent margin, becoming the first Texas city to ban fracking. 

Michael Leza, a Denton resident who campaigned for the ban, told DeSmogBlog: “I'm really happy that the city managed to pull together and fight off the flood of industry propaganda and money. It shows that when people feel connected on a personal level with something they will get informed and vote in their own best interest. Unlike the statewide races where people seem more concerned with politics as a game that they are trying to win, here in Denton we saw a true grassroots movement drag the lovers of power kicking and screaming into protecting our health and safety, regardless of the wishes of the powerful to the contrary”


Michael Leza, a Denton resident © 2014 Julie Dermansky

Wed, 2014-11-05 13:50Mike Gaworecki
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Voters Ban Fracking In Texas, California, And Ohio

Yesterday's elections sent several more climate deniers to a dirty energy money-rich Congress, where they're already sharpening their knives and preparing to cut the centerpiece of President Obama's climate agenda, the EPA's Clean Power Plan, to shreds.

Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, summed it up succinctly: “With a tremendous amount of spending, the Koch Brothers have literally purchased the best Congress they could buy. It is now up to President Obama to pursue aggressive executive action on our pressing environmental issues, including climate change and clean water protections.”

But it was not all bad news for the climate yesterday, because many communities are not content to wait on the President to take action: Citizen-led initiatives to ban fracking won big in California, Ohio, and Texas.

The biggest of these victories was undoubtedly won in Denton, TX. A small city northwest of Dallas, Denton already has 275 fracked wells. Locals' concerns about fracking's impact on health and the environment led to a landslide 59% to 41% win for the measure, which bans fracking within city limits.

Tue, 2014-11-04 04:00Sharon Kelly
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Marcellus Shale Fracking Rush Brings Worries of Boom-Bust Cycle

Across the U.S., the shale gas industry's arrival has been marked by wariness, not only of the environmental impacts associated with fracking, but also due to the oil and gas industry's long history of flashy booms followed by devestating busts.

In towns across the state, the lingering effects of past economic downturns – the flight of manufacturing, the 2008 financial collapse, the slow erosion of the auto and steel industries – have left communities eager for jobs, but also experienced with job loss.

Nowhere better illustrates the potential for a shale rush to heal old economic wounds, or communities' vulnerability to new ones, than Cameron County, Pennsylvania. At the eastern edges of the rust belt, Cameron County has been hit hard by the decline of the American auto industry.

Hopes for a shale renassiance are running up against some difficult realities. A report released Monday by the Post-Carbon Institute, titled “Drilling Deeper: A Reality Check on US Government Forecasts for a Lasting Tight Oil & Shale Gas Boom,” concludes that the Marcellus shale is unlikely to fully live up to government forecasts, and that natural gas prices will have to rise to keep drilling going across the state. The vast majority of the Marcellus shale is not the same high quality as the areas where drillers are currently focusing most of their efforts, referred to in the industry as “sweet spots,” making the gas there more expensive to produce.

The report also finds that shale gas production in the Marcellus is expected to reach it's peak in 2018 or 2019 – meaning that within five years, production will begin dropping. “These projections are optimistic in that they assume the capital will be available for the drilling treadmill that must be maintained to keep production up,” the report says. “This is not a sure thing as drilling in the poorer quality parts of the play will require higher gas prices to make it economic.”

Mon, 2014-11-03 12:30Steve Horn
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Federal Reserve Policy Keeps Fracking Bubble Afloat and That May Change Soon

In August 2005, the U.S. Congress and then-President George W. Bush blessed the oil and gas industry with a game-changer: the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The Act exempted the industry from federal regulatory enforcement of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

While the piece of omnibus legislation is well-known to close observers of the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) issue — especially the “Halliburton Loophole” — lesser known is another blessing bestowed upon shale gas and tight oil drillers: near zero-percent interest rates for debt accrued during the capital-intensive oil and gas production process.

Or put more bluntly, near-free money from the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank. That trend may soon come to a close, as the Federal Reserve recently announced an end to its controversial $3 trillion bond-buying program.

In response to the economic crisis and near collapse of the global economy, the Federal Reserve dropped interest rates to between 0 percent and .25 percent on December 16, 2008, a record low percentage. It also began its bond-buying program, described in a recent Washington Post article as implemented to provide a “booster shot” to the economy.

“The Federal Reserve will employ all available tools to promote the resumption of sustainable economic growth and to preserve price stability,” the Fed stated in a press release announcing the maneuver. “In particular, the [Federal Reserve] anticipates that weak economic conditions are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for some time.”

That free money, known by economics wonks as quantitative easing, helps drilling companies finance fracking an increasingly massive number of wells to keep production levels flat in shale fields nationwide.

But even with the generous cash flow facilitated by the Fed, annual productivity of many shale gas and tight oil fields have either peaked or are in terminal decline. This was revealed in Post Carbon Institute's recently-published report titled, “Drilling Deeper: A Reality Check on U.S. Government Forecasts for a Lasting Tight Oil & Shale Gas Boom.” 

Sat, 2014-11-01 13:03Guest
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Arvin, California Is A Town At The Tipping Point, Thanks To The Local Oil Company

This is a guest post by Tara Lohan that originally appeared on Faces Of Fracking, a project of the CEL Climate Lab in partnership with Grist that was launched to capture the stories of concerned residents who live on the front lines of fracking.

My car tails a blue Honda, decked with shiny rims and a glittery paint job that in the midday sun sparkles like a disco ball. It’s piloted by 27-year-old Gustavo Aguirre Jr. — he’s my tour guide for the day. He takes me on the ‘scenic’ route so I can see the aging pumpjacks of the Mountain View Oil Field, which sprung to life in 1930s. Most of the pumps are resting and rusting in dirt fields, as they have for decades. A few still labor up and down.

The oilfield underlies the town of Arvin near the southernmost part of Kern County in California’s Central Valley. Arvin is 15 miles southeast of Bakersfield and 100 miles north of Los Angeles. It’s hugged in a suffocating embrace by mountains on three sides, which trap the valley’s pollution. The day I visit I only see mountains on one side, they’re blurry, like an oil painting smudged before it dried. The other mountains have been entirely swallowed by the haze.

Part of Gustavo’s job is trying to figure out what exactly residents here are breathing. While he lives in Bakersfield, Gustavo works as an organizer with Global Community Monitor and in partnership with local organizations like Committee for a Better Arvin. They’ve set up air monitors in different places in town, trying to track the amount of particulates, ozone, and other pollutants. And they work to hold polluters accountable.

Fri, 2014-10-31 16:13Guest
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Faces Of Fracking: A Farmer Seeks To Protect San Benito County, California From High-Intensity Petroleum Operations

This is a guest post by Tara Lohan that originally appeared on Faces Of Fracking, a project of the CEL Climate Lab in partnership with Grist that was launched to capture the stories of concerned residents who live on the front lines of fracking.

Of all the things that could threaten Paul Hain’s livelihood, squirrels are near the top of the list. And then there are the oil companies.

Last year, squirrels gorged themselves on 14 of Paul’s 20 acres of walnut trees. And oil companies have been eyeing his bucolic corner of California recently with a project in the works that may result in hundreds of new wells that use energy- and water-intensive production methods to coax viscous petroleum to the surface.

I visited Paul’s farm, Hain Ranch Organics, in the small hamlet of Tres Pinos five miles south of Hollister in San Benito County on a September morning during the walnut harvest. A worker drove a sweeper (which looks a lot like a riding mower) through the lines of trees to wind row the nuts so they’re easier to harvest.

Over the hum of the machine, Paul told me that much of this orchard was here when he was born 60 years ago. At the time the place belonged to his grandparents. It was first built around 1905 by his great-grandfather Schuyler Hain, his first relative to arrive in the area in the late 1800s.

Over the course of his life Paul has seen San Benito grow and change … in some ways. He remembers the first stop light in Hollister arriving around the late 1960s as the population began to rise, but the view from his family home is not wildly different than it was when he was a kid. San Benito is a mostly rural county of 55,000 people who live among rolling hills nestled in California’s Central coast region — 100 miles south of San Francisco and 25 miles inland from the Pacific.

San Benito County has a lot of organic agriculture, ranches, and wineries. The county’s most famous attraction is Pinnacles, which got a promotion from a National Monument to a National Park in 2012. It’s a playground of caves and towering rock formations sculpted from a long-deceased volcano. The park’s also home to falcons and condors, and has a rich cultural history, with both the Chalon and Mutsun tribes calling it home.

Quiet San Benito is not the place you’d expect to be the center of a big political fight, but this election season that’s how things are shaping up. On November 4, voters here will get a chance to weigh in on whether or not the county should pass Measure J — a ballot initiative that would ban hydraulic fracturing (fracking), cyclic steam injection, and acidizing in the county. These are three ways oil companies try to access harder to reach oil deposits now that the easy stuff is gone. They’re often referred to as “high-intensity petroleum operations.”

Fri, 2014-10-31 13:36Carol Linnitt
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DeSmogCAST Episode 1 Drilling Down: Fracking, Lobbying and the U.S. Midterm Elections

This week DeSmog is launching its inaugural episode of DeSmogCAST, a weekly newscast featuring our writers, experts and invited guests. Each week we’ll discuss breaking stories and engage in analysis of politics, energy and environment issues in the U.S., Canada and around the world.

In this episode, hosted by DeSmog contributor Farron Cousins, our team discusses Steve Horn’s recent story on the new Post Carbon Institute report that calls into question the viability of forecasts for oil and gas production via fracking.

A Horn explains, “if you look at this report it second guesses a lot of the estimates put out by the Energy Information Agency in the States.”

There’s a concept called the drilling treadmill in industry: you have to drill more and more just to maintain productivity. Which means all the things we know about, water contamination, climate change impact, on a county by county basis across the U.S. those happen all over the place just so industry can maintain flat levels of production.”

It’s a story of false premises,” Horn adds.

Fri, 2014-10-31 13:22Sharon Kelly
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Oil and Gas Industry's "Endless War" on Fracking Critics Revealed by Rick Berman

Leave it to Washington's top attack-dog lobbyist Richard Berman to verify what many always suspected: that the oil and gas industry uses dirty tricks to undermine science, vilify its critics and discredit journalists who cast doubt on the prudence of fossil fuels.

In a speech at an industry conference in June, surreptitiously recorded by an energy executive, Rick Berman, the foremost go-to guy for Republican smear campaigns, gave unusually candid advice to a meeting of drilling companies.

Think of this as an endless war,” he told executives in a speech, which was leaked to The New York Times by an attendee at the conferenece who was offended by Berman's remarks.

And you have to budget for it.” He said the industry needs to dig up embarrassing tidbits about environmentalists and liberal celebrities, exploit the public’s short attention span for scientific debate, and play on people’s emotions.

Fear and anger have to be a part of this campaign,” Berman said. “We’re not going to get people to like the oil and gas industry over the next few months.”

Berman also advised that executives continue to spend big. “I think $2 to $3 million would be a game changer,” he said. “We’ve had six-figure contributions to date from a few companies in this room to help us get to where we are.”

But always cover your tracks, he suggested, adding that no is better equipped at doing so than his firm. “We run all this stuff through nonprofit organizations that are insulated from having to disclose donors. There is total anonymity,” he said. “People don’t know who supports us. We’ve been doing this for 20-something years in this regard.”

Berman, whose tobacco ties were profiled yesterday by DeSmog contributor John Mashey, is the founder and chief executive of the Washington-based Berman & Company consulting firm. He attended the conference in Colorado, hat in hand, looking to raise money from energy companies for an advertising and public relations campaign he started called Big Green Radicals.

Thu, 2014-10-30 16:41Guest
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New Study Documents Air Pollution at Oil and Gas Fracking Sites Exceeding Risk Levels

This is a guest post by Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health.

Decades ago, when I was a graduate student, my advisor often said that our job as scientists was to put numbers on the obvious. Maybe it should be obvious that oil and gas production, including as it does the extraction, transport, and processing of enormous quantities of hydrocarbon mixtures, will result in air pollution, but studies that put numbers on this pollution have been rare.

The complexities of topography, weather, and the variability in the production processes themselves make such studies difficult. Today Environmental Health publishes a new study that “puts numbers” on air pollution near oil and gas infrastructure in five US states and finds sobering results.

The Environmental Health study is a collaboration between 15 local, state, and national nonprofit organizations. Our groups came together to conduct this study because we all share concerns about the potential but little studied health threats from the expansion of oil and gas operations, and in particular from hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Tue, 2014-10-28 11:58Mike Gaworecki
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Oil Companies Spending Big To Defeat Community-Led Anti-Fracking Initiatives At The Ballot Box

Election day is fast approaching and, in a pattern becoming all too familiar, oil companies are spending big to defeat citizen-led initiatives to halt fracking in California.

By last August, oil industry front group Californians for Energy Independence, which is leading the charge against anti-fracking measures in the sate, had raised around $3 million. Now, just one week before the election, that number has more than doubled to just under $7.7 million, per the California Secretary of State's campaign finance database.

Chevron is the leading donor to Californians for Energy Independence, having made two donations totaling about $2.6 million. Occidental Petroleum and Aera Energy have kicked in some $2 million apiece, and Exxon has given $300,000. Every single dollar received by CEI has come from an oil company.

Once the polls close, we'll know how well that money was spent. One thing is clear, however: Big Oil has not succeeded in buying the hearts and minds of many Californians, who overwhelmingly reject the plans to frack the Golden State, polls have shown.

Residents of Santa Barbara County will vote on Measure P on November 4, a ballot initiative that would ban fracking and other “extreme oil extraction techniques,” including cyclic steam injection and acidization. Lauren Hanson, who serves on the Goleta Water District Board of Directors, wrote in an op-ed for the Santa Barbara Independent:

When a single industry — whatever that industry might be — proposes bringing into Santa Barbara County a massive amount of activity that has time and again contaminated and used up water supplies elsewhere, it is time for extreme caution and, yes, common sense. It makes no sense to allow that risk.

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