fracking

Tue, 2014-03-11 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Fracking in Public Forests Leaves Long Trail of Damages, Struggling State Regulators

Last Wednesday, the Washington D.C. city council passed a resolution opposing fracking in the George Washington National Forest, making the nation’s capitol the third major U.S. city, after Los Angeles and Dallas, to decry the hazards of shale drilling in recent days.

The D.C. council’s resolution called on the U.S. Forest Service to prohibit horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the forest’s headwaters of the Potomac River, the sole source of water for the nation’s capital, citing the risks of pollution and the costs of monitoring for contamination.

It is unclear whether the DC City Council vote will hold any sway in determining the actual fate of the forest. The decision whether to permit fracking there primarily rests with the U.S. Forest Service, which is currently updating its long-term management plan for the George Washington National Forest.

As the debate over shale drilling intensifies in the nation’s capitol and across the country, Pennsylvania offers useful lessons for how states have mishandled their forests. Pennsylvania has been ground zero for Marcellus shale development and roughly two thirds of Pennsylvania’s state forest land lies above the Marcellus shale, one of the largest shale plays in the U.S.

Cornell University Professor Anthony Ingraffea recently reviewed state data on environmental violations in Pennsylvania state forests, including the 100,000-acre Loyalsock forest in the north central part of the state, a popular tourist destination and the focus of a local controversy over fracking.

What Mr. Ingraffea found highlights the hazards of drilling and demonstrates how a powerful industry can overwhelm regulators’ capacity to protect against environmental harms.

State regulators, the data revealed, have been unable to adequately keep tabs on drilling on state lands.

Over 59 percent of the Marcellus wells already drilled in the Loyalsock had never been inspected, Prof. Ingraffea found, and over a quarter of wells on state lands had no inspection reports available to the public.

Mon, 2014-03-10 06:00Steve Horn
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Testimony Reveals Record 36% of North Dakota Fracked Gas Was Flared in December

The recent March 6 House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing titled “Benefits of and Challenges to Energy Access in the 21st Century: Fuel Supply and Infrastructure” never had over 100 online viewers watching the livestream at any point in time. And it unfolded in an essentially empty room. 

But the poor attendance record had no relation to the gravity of the facts presented by testifiers. Among other things, one presenter revealed 36 percent of the gas by-product from oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin was flared off as waste during a brutally cold midwest winter with no end in sight.

These damning facts were brought forward by Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (Ceres) Oil & Gas and Insurance Programs Director Andrew Logan, one of eight people called to testify around topics ranging from domestic propane markets to fossil fuels-by-rail markets, to pipeline markets and flaring. 

A topic covered previously by DeSmogBlog, Logan submitted to the Subcommittee that flaring “is getting worse, not better.”

“Flaring in North Dakota hit 36% in December, a new record,” Logan told the subcommittee“This means that more than 1/3 of all natural gas produced in the state is going up in smoke, at the same time as consumers around the country are seeing price spikes from natural gas in this cold winter, along with actual shortages of propane in many places.”

Logan also said that wasteful flaring is also a growing quagmire in Texas, which has seen a 10-fold increase in flaring permits since 2010.

At least one influential Subcommittee member has taken notice.

Tue, 2014-03-04 05:00Sharon Kelly
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The View from Europe: America’s Shale Boom Looks More Like a Blip

The fracking boom has progressed at breakneck speed across the U.S., with roughly one in 20 Americans now living within a mile of a well drilled since 2000.

So, how much has the economy benefitted from this drilling surge?

Not much, according to a report presented to the European Union Parliament last month, which found “no evidence that shale gas is driving an overall manufacturing renaissance in the US.”

The shale boom’s economic contributions are very narrow, inflating local economies in places where drilling is intense but generating little impact on the country’s overall economic growth, the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations, a French think tank, concluded.

Although natural gas prices have fallen from their highs in 2008, benefitting consumers, those low levels are unlikely to be sustained and the U.S. is still expected to remain heavily reliant on importing crude oil, the researchers found.

Even using very optimistic assumptions, the report said, the industry’s cumulative long term effect on America’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will be less than one percent. “Despite very low and ultimately unsustainable short-term prices of natural gas, the unconventional oil and gas revolution has had a minimal impact on the US macro-economy,”

That’s not the amount that shale gas will add to the economy each year, the researchers said. Instead, the industry will make up no more than 0.84 percent of total GDP between 2012 and 2035 – the years when the shale boom is projected to be at its height. To put that in context, the personal care products industry – hair styling, cosmetics and the like – contributed 1.4 percent of GDP in 2010 – nearly double the impact that the EU report found the shale gas rush could have.

Fri, 2014-02-28 13:14Carol Linnitt
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Los Angeles Becomes Largest City to Approve Fracking Moratorium

Fracking for oil and gas will not be happening in Los Angeles any time soon after City Council members unanimously voted to ban the practice within city limits today. The vote passes the motion to the City Attorney's office where it will be rewritten as a zoning ordinance before returning to City Council for a final vote.

L.A. is now the largest city in the U.S. to refuse the dangerous extraction process. Local bans have become an effective protective measure against fracking, and are in place in numerous jurisdictions worldwide including Vermont, Hawaii, areas of New York State, Quebec, and France among many others.

The Los Angeles ordinance prevents the use of fracking until effective governmental oversight and regulation is in place at the local, state and federal levels.

I think we can all agree unregulated fracking is crazy,” said Councilman Paul Koretz, co-author of the motion.

California is in the midst of a devastating drought, raising concerns over access to fresh water supplies. Fracking uses approximately 5 million gallons of water per frack job.

Tue, 2014-02-25 17:00Julie Dermansky
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Triple Divide: Interview with Mark Ruffalo on Fracking Documentary

“Triple Divide” is a timely cautionary documentary about the fracking industry in Pennsylvania. Clean water is the star of this film. The toxic impact of the fracking industry is the villain.

The film is a PublicHerald.org production, co-directed by journalists Joshua Pribanic and Melissa Troutman, and it features actor Mark Ruffalo as one of the narrators. 


Mark Ruffalo in Zuccotti Park with Occupy Wall Street protesters ©2011 Julie Dermansky

Using powerful camera work and informative animation, “Triple Divide” offers gripping first-hand accounts from landowners whose lives have been negatively impacted by fracking.   

Industry leaders, scientists, lawyers and politicians share the screen with Pennsylvania's rural landscape, defaced by the influx of industrial development. 

The movie raises the question, “How are state regulators and industry handling the impact of fracking?” and answers it by presenting examples of violations of state regulations.

“Triple Divide” presents example after example of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) doing little to curtail the fracking industry's rule-breaking practices despite the agency’s awareness of the violations. 

President Obama reaffirmed his support for the natural gas industry — which is propelled by fracking — in his recent State of the Union address, with the condition it be extracted safely.

But “Triple Divide” shows how lack of enforcement and inadequate regulations threaten some of Pennsylvania's most pristine waterways. 

Watch the trailer for Triple Divide:

Triple Divide - Trailer from Public Herald on Vimeo.

DeSmogBlog discussed “Triple Divide” with its directors and Mark Ruffalo. 

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.”

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