shale gas

Documents: How IOGCC Created Loophole Ushering in Frackquakes and Allowing Methane Leakage

Earthquakes caused by injection of shale oil and gas production wastes — and methane leakage from shale gas pipelines — have proliferated in recent years, with both issues well-studied in the scientific literature and grabbing headlines in newspapers nationwide.

Lesser-mentioned, though perhaps at the root of both problems, is a key exemption won by the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact (IOGCC) via a concerted lobbying effort in the 1980's. That is, classifying oil and gas wastes as something other than “hazardous” or “solid wastes” under Subtitles C and D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), thus exempting the industry from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) enforcement. 

Will LNG Exports Save the Shale Gas Drilling Industry's Profitability? Not So Fast

Last year, a wave of bankruptcies swept the oil and gas drilling industry as oil prices collapsed, leading to layoffs, lost revenues for communities, and turning former boomtown-era mancamps into ghost towns in places like North Dakota's Bakken shale.

Even before oil prices plunged, the price of shale gas was already under siege from a domestic supply glut caused by the shale drilling frenzy. All told, prices dropped from its all-time high of over $15/mcf when the shale boom began in 2005 to $1.57/mcf — the lowest levels since 1998 — in March.

For shale exploration and production companies, however, the conventional wisdom has held for years that there is a light at the end of the tunnel — gas exports.

Unlike oil, natural gas is difficult to transport across oceans. To ship gas by tanker, it needs to be cooled to below -256 degrees Fahrenheit, an expensive and technologically challenging process, requiring the construction of multi-billion dollar Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) import and export terminals.

Introducing IOGCC: The Most Powerful Oil and Gas Lobby You’ve Never Heard Of

The Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) is far from a household name, but a new investigation published by InsideClimate News' Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Lisa Song may have just put what is likely the most powerful oil and gas lobbying node you've never heard of on the map.

Titled, “Is the IOGCC, Created by Congress in 1935, Now a Secret Oil and Gas Lobby?,” the article's origins lay in the hundreds of documents obtained from open records requests and historical archives by me and Jesse Coleman, a researcher at Greenpeace USA, that are part of an ongoing investigation into IOGCC.

Song's article for the award-winning InsideClimate News reveals documents that show for the first time that it was IOGCC at the front and center, and not just Halliburton, which created what many now know as the Halliburton Loophole.

Study: Fracking, Not Just Fracking Wastewater Injection, Causing Earthquakes in Western Canada

A groundbreaking study published today in Seismological Research Letters has demonstrated a link, for the first time, between hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for oil and gas and earthquakes. 

Hydraulic Fracturing and Seismicity in the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin” confirms the horizontal drilling technique (which in essence creates an underground mini-earthquake to open up fissures for oil and gas extraction) is responsible for earthquakes, above and beyond what is already canonized in the scientific literature. We already knew that injecting fracking waste into underground wells can cause quakes. But now it's not just the injections wells, but the fracking procedure itself that can be linked to seismicity. 

Dimock Water Contamination Verdict Prompts Calls for Federal Action on Fracking

Last week, in a historic verdict, a Pennsylvania jury awarded $4.24 million to two families in Dimock, PA who sued a shale gas driller, Cabot Oil and Gas Corp., over negligent drilling that contaminated their drinking water supplies.

Dimock has for years been one the nation's highest-profile cases where shale gas drilling and fracking was suspected to have contaminated water, a claim the oil and gas industry strenuously denied. Controversy over the water quality swirled as state and federal regulators repeatedly flip-flopped over who was responsible for the water contamination — and whether the water might even be safe to drink.

For years, Cabot Oil and Gas has maintained that the problems with the water were simply cosmetic or aesthetic, and that even if the water was not good, their operations in the area had nothing to do with it.

The federal jury's verdict last Thursday represents a legal conclusion that the water was in fact contaminated because of the negligence of the drilling company — no small matter for those who spent years living in a deeply fractured community where emotions over the shale rush have run high and pitted neighbor against neighbor.

The verdict also has broader ramifications for the national debate over shale drilling and water contamination.

Following Sudden Death of Indicted Former Chesapeake Energy CEO, Justice Department Investigation into Collusion Continues

Last Tuesday, the Justice Department announced criminal charges against former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon, stemming from an alleged lease bid-rigging conspiracy between McClendon and another unidentified oil and gas company. The felony count against McClendon carried up to a decade in prison and $1 million in fines.

Shortly after 9 AM the next day, McClendon crashed his SUV at over 50 mph into a concrete highway overpass and died instantly of blunt force trauma. Police are continuing to investigate McClendon's cause of death, awaiting toxicology results and other data, and have not ruled out the possibility that the car wreck may have been a suicide.

“He pretty much drove straight into the wall,” Oklahoma City Police Department Capt. Paco Balderrama told a local NBC affiliate. “There was plenty of opportunity for him to correct and get back on the roadway and that didn’t occur.”

The dramatic exit of one of the most flamboyant wildcatters in the shale rush stunned many observers — and his abrupt death may serve to pull attention away from the underlying crimes that McClendon was so recently accused of committing. The acts McClendon, age 56, stood accused of occurred at the height of the shale land rush and were committed in his role as then-CEO of Chesapeake Energy, the nation's second largest natural gas producer.

Before McClendon died, Forbes writer Chris Helman noticed something very interesting in the former CEO's response to his indictment: McClendon didn't deny the acts underlying the charges, he simply argued that others in oil and gas industry also engaged in the same conduct.

Fracking Supply Chain a Climate Disaster, Doing Little to Uplift Poor Communities: Studies

Two recent studies further call into question the oil and gas industry's claims of the climate benefits and community benefits of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

One of those studies, published in Environmental Research Letters and titled, “Just fracking: a distributive environmental justice analysis of unconventional gas development in Pennsylvania, USA,” concludes that “the income distribution of the population nearer to shale gas wells has not been transformed since shale gas development.”

The other, a report released by Environmental Integrity Project titled, “Greenhouse Gases from a Growing Petrochemical Industry,” examines the post-fracking supply chain and concludes that the petrochemical industry's planned construction and expansion projects announced in 2015 alone are the “pollution equivalent to the emissions from 19 coal-fired power plants.”

Top Drillers Shut Down U.S. Fracking Operations as Oil Prices Continue to Tank

It was a tumultuous week in the world of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale oil and gas, with a few of the biggest companies in the U.S. announcing temporary shutdowns at their drilling operations in various areas until oil prices rise again from the ashes.

Among them: Chesapeake Energy, Continental Resources and Whiting Petroleum. Chesapeake formerly sat as the second most prolific fracker in the U.S. behind ExxonMobil, while Continental has been hailed by many as the “King of the Bakken” shale basin located primarily in North Dakota.

Proposed Marcellus Gas Pipeline Sparks Protest At Prized Maple Farm

Plans to build a major Marcellus shale gas pipeline were briefly paused this month by a protest launched by a collection of community and environmental activists who gathered on the Holleran-Zeffer property in New Milford, PA.

Pipeline company Williams Partners, LLC plans to start clearing trees on the property as early as this week to make way for a proposed 124-mile pipeline stretching across the Pennsylvania-New York border.

Tree felling for Williams' Constitution pipeline project began in Pennsylvania on February 5, before New York state had finished its regulatory approval process. Environmentalists fear that the company hopes to present New York state with a fait accompli on the Pennsylvania side, which would put pressure on New York regulators to approve the expansion on its side of the border.

High-Profile Trial Begins in Dimock, PA Water Contamination Case

Trial began this week in a case alleging that an oil and gas company contaminated drinking water in Dimock, Pennsylvania. The tiny town is now internationally notorious over claims that drilling and fracking tainted people's drinking water and caused it to become flammable.

This lawsuit is the first such case out of Dimock to reach a jury, nearly a decade after many residents of Carter Road, a short stretch of dirt road in the Endless Mountains region of Pennsylvania, first noticed that their water seemed to have gone bad.

“We haven't had clean water since he was in kindergarten,” Monica Marta-Ely told reporters during a press conference outside the courthouse on Monday, as she gestured to her 13 year-old son, Jared. “He's in 7th grade now.”

It's a legal case that is as noticeable for the allegations being tried —  that Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. negligently contaminated the water supplying Nolan Scott Ely and his family and that living without water for years was a serious nuisance for the Elys and the Huberts, a family living in a trailer on the Ely's land — as for the claims and evidence that the jury will not hear.

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