shale gas

Thu, 2014-08-28 11:06Steve Horn
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Obama Opened Floodgates for Offshore Fracking in Recent Gulf of Mexico Lease

In little-noticed news arising out of a recent Gulf of Mexico offshore oil and gas lease held by the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the floodgates have opened for Gulf offshore hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

With 21.6 million acres auctioned off by the Obama Administration and 433,822 acres receiving bids, some press accounts have declared BP America — of 2010 Gulf of Mexico offshore oil spill infamy — a big winner of the auction. If true, fracking and the oil and gas services companies who perform it like Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger came in a close second.

Gulf of Mexico Oil Lease Map August 2014
Map Credit: U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management

On the day of the sale held at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana, an Associated Press article explained that many of the purchased blocks sit in the Lower Tertiary basin, coined the “final frontier of oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico” by industry analysts.

“The Lower Tertiary is an ancient layer of the earth's crust made of dense rock,” explained APTo access the mineral resources trapped within it, hydraulic fracturing activity is projected to grow in the western Gulf of Mexico by more than 10 percent this year, according to Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc., which operates about a third of the world's offshore fracking rigs.”

Wed, 2014-08-27 13:10Steve Horn
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State Dept. Overseers of Contentious Enbridge Tar Sands Pipeline Workaround Have Industry, Torture Ties

The Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and other green groups recently revealed that pipeline giant Enbridge got U.S. State Department permission in response to its request to construct a U.S.-Canada border-crossing tar sands pipeline without earning an obligatory Presidential Permit.

Enbridge originally applied to the Obama State Department to expand capacity of its Alberta Clipper (now Line 67) pipeline in November 2012, but decided to avoid a “Keystone XL, take two” — or a years-long permitting battle — by creating a complex alternative to move nearly the same amount of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) across the border.

The move coincides with the upcoming opening for business of Enbridge's “Keystone XL” clone: the combination of the Alberta Clipper expansion (and now its alternative) on-ramp originating in Alberta and heading eventually to Flanagan, Ill., the Flanagan South pipeline running from Flanagan, Ill. to Cushing, Okla. and the Cushing, Okla. to Port Arthur, Texas Seaway Twin pipeline.

Together, the three pieces will do what TransCanada's Keystone XL hopes to do: move dilbit from Alberta's tar sands to Port Arthur's refinery row and, in part, the global export market.

Environmental groups have reacted with indignation to the State Department announcement published in the Federal Register on August 18. The public commenting period remains open until September 17.

Jim Murphy, senior counsel for NWF, referred to it as an “illegal scheme,” while a representative from 350.org says Enbridge has learned from the lessons of its corporate compatriot, TransCanada.

“When we blocked Keystone XL, the fossil fuel industry learned that they have a much stronger hand to play in back rooms than on the streets,” said Jason Kowalski, policy director for 350.org. “They will break the law and wreck our climate if that's what it takes for them to make a buck.”

But as the old adage goes, it takes two to tango. 

That is, influential State Department employees helped Enbridge find a way to smuggle an additional 350,000 barrels of tar sands per day across the border without public hearings or an environmental review. 

Tue, 2014-08-26 03:00Steve Horn
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Judge Nixes Cove Point LNG Zoning Permit as Dominion Says Will Soon Receive Federal Permit

Co-Written with Caroline Selle

An August 6 court decision handed down by Calvert County Circuit Court Judge James Salmon could put Dominion Resources’ timeline for its proposed Cove Point liquefied natural gas (LNG) export facility in jeopardy.

Salmon ruled that an ordinance exempting the Lusby, Md.-based LNG project from local zoning laws — Ordinance 46-13 — violated both a section of a state Land Use law, as well as Maryland's constitution. The facility will be fueled by gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

In the ruling, Judge Salmon described the zoning exemption as “a very unusual situation.” In 2013, the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners and the Calvert County Planning Commission carved out both LNG export and import facilities from zoning laws.

“To my knowledge no other municipality or county in Maryland has attempted to do what the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners has attempted to do, i.e. completely exempt two uses from being covered by zoning regulations while requiring everyone else in the County to abide by those regulations,” wrote Salmon.

Environmental groups fighting against the Cove Point LNG export terminal hailed Salmon's judgment as a major grassroots victory.

“At a minimum, this ruling will likely cause real delay in the ability of Dominion to begin major construction of this controversial $3.8 billion fossil fuel project,” Mike Tidwell, executive director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), said in a press release. “The ruling should certainly give pause to the Wall Street investors that Dominion is seeking to recruit to finance this expensive, risky project.”

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, AMP Creeks Council (shorthand for Accokeek Mattawoman Piscataway Creeks Council), came to a similar conclusion.

“This is a remarkable victory for the people of Lusby, Maryland, and folks fighting fracking and LNG exports throughout the Mid-Atlantic region,” Kelly Canavan, President of AMP Creeks Council, said in a press release.

Yet, Salmon concluded the ruling out by stating his decision “has no direct bearing on whether the facility will be built or not.” And even AMP Creeks acknowledged in its press release that its legal team “is still sorting out the implications of this ruling.”

Further, Canavan told DeSmogBlog in an interview that she agrees with Salmon, at least in terms of the legal argument he put forward about his role in the final destiny of the Cove Point LNG export facility. 

“Even if he wanted to, he does not have the power to determine whether or not the facility will be built,” she said. “It doesn’t mean there won’t be a ripple effect.”

So, what gives? Is the decision a game-changer or something less? Dominion certainly thinks the latter, based on a review of its quarter two earnings call transcript.

Wed, 2014-08-20 07:00Justin Mikulka and Steve Horn
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Big Rail Cites Bin Laden, Al Qaeda to Fend Off Oil-by-Rail Route Transparency

While many states around the U.S. have released information to the public about the frequency and routes of trains carrying oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin, holdouts still remain. 

Why the delay? Homeland security concerns, claim some companies. 

In an ongoing Maryland court case over the issue of transparency for in-state oil-by-rail routes, a July 23 affidavit from Carl E. Carbaugh — director of infrastructure security for Norfolk Southern — goes into extensive detail about the supposed risk presented by terrorism attacks on “Bomb Trains.” 

In so doing, Carbaugh mentions Al-Qaeda. 

The most recent edition of Inspire magazine, March 2014, the online, English-language propaganda publication of [Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula], presents a full-page collage depicting varied images…in order to construct an explosive device,” reads Carbaugh’s affidavit

Among these images are a derailed passenger train and a partly covered note paper listing cities in the [U.S.] as well as the terms ‘Dakota’ and ‘Train crude oil.’” 

Carbaugh also cited Osama bin Laden, the late Al-Qaeda international ring-leader, in his affidavit.

Among the materials seized in the May 1, 2011, raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, were notes indicating interest in ‘tipping’ or ‘toppling’ trains — that is causing their derailment,” Carbaugh wrote.

Osama Bin Laden Compound Diagram; Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Wed, 2014-08-13 11:15Justin Mikulka and Steve Horn
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Rail CEOs to Investors: "Bomb Trains" Safe At Almost Any Speed

Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) recently said it would proceed with plans to increase speeds for oil-by-rail unit trains in Devil’s Lake, N.D. to 60 MPH from 30 MPH, despite opposition from local officials

BNSF’s announcement came merely a week after the Obama Administration announced its proposed regulations for trains carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin.  

The rail industry’s position on speed limits for “bomb trains” is simple: they continuously claim velocity has nothing to do with oil-by-rail accidents or safety.

For example, Big Rail — as revealed by DeSmogBlog — lobbied against all proposed oil train speed reductions in its dozen or so private meetings at the Obama White House before the unveiling of the proposed oil-by-rail regulations. 

Recent statements by rail industry CEOs during investor calls put the heads of many companies on record opposing oil-by-rail speed limits for the first time.

Sat, 2014-08-02 07:31Sharon Kelly
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As Energy Department Announces Methane Measures, Critics Call for Stronger Action

On Tuesday, the White House released a report estimating that delaying action on climate change could cause $150 billion a year in damage to the U.S. economy.

“These costs are not one-time, but are rather incurred year after year because of the permanent damage caused by increased climate change resulting from the delay,” the assessment warned.

That same day, President Obama announced moves to help reduce greenhouse gasses. But some critics charge that the President's actions have so far failed to be proportionate to the crisis the White House predicts.

As DeSmog reported, on Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency's program on natural gas pipeline leaks came under fire from the EPA's own internal watchdog. The EPA inspector general lambasted the agency for setting up rules that rely heavily on voluntary leak repairs by pipeline companies while turning a blind eye to state policies that allow those companies to simply pass the price of leaking gas to consumers instead of making costly repairs.

The resulting leaks, the EPA audit concluded, cost consumers over $192 million and the resulting greenhouse gasses each year were equal to putting an addition 2.7 million cars on the road.

On the heels of that report, the Obama administration announced that it would adjust its methane pollution controls — but the measures they announced fell far short of what some experts argue is necessary to curtail methane's climate hazards. The Department of Energy's new measures include adjustments to its voluntary leak control program and add funding for research into ways to better curb leaks.

While we applaud the commitments made by DOE, labor unions, utility groups, and other stakeholders,” Earthworks Policy Director Lauren Pagel told the Oil and Gas Journal, “voluntary measures and new research initiatives don’t adequately protect communities and the climate.”

Thu, 2014-07-31 13:42Steve Horn
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Documents: Cheniere Fuels ALEC’s New Push for Fracked Gas Exports

Today, legislative and lobbyist members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) voted on model legislation promoting both exports of gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG)

Dubbed a “corporate bill mill” by its critics, ALEC is heavily engaged in a state-level effort to attack renewable energy and grease the skids for exports of U.S. oil and gas. Today's bills up for a vote — as conveyed in an ALEC mailer sent out on June 25 by ALEC's Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force — are titled “Resolution In Support of Expanded Liquefied Natural Gas Exports“ and “Weights and Measures and Standards for Dispensing CNG and LNG Motor Fuels.” 

An exclusive investigation conducted by DeSmogBlog reveals that Cheniere — the first U.S. company to receive a final liquefied natural gas (LNG) export permit by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) — has acted as the lead corporate backer of the LNG exports model resolution. 

Further, Clean Energy Fuels Corporation, owned by energy baron T. Boone Pickens, of Pickens Plan fame, and trade associations it is a member of, served as the main pusher of the CNG model resolution.

ALEC has served as a key vehicle through which the fracking industry has curried favor and pushed for policies favorable to their bottom lines in statehouses nationwide. Now ALEC and its corporate backers have upped the ante, pushing policies that will lock in downstream demand for fracked gas for years to come. 

With Cheniere becoming an ALEC dues-paying member in May 2013 and with America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA) — the fracking industry's tour de force — crowned an ALEC member in August 2013, it looks like many more fracking-friendly model bills could arise out of ALEC in the months and years ahead.

Tue, 2014-07-29 05:00Sharon Kelly
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EPA Internal Audit Finds Flawed Pipeline Oversight Adds $192 Million a Year to Gas Bills, Harms Climate

On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency's internal watchdog, the inspector general released a scathing report on the agency's failure to control leaks from the nation's natural gas distribution system.

The report, titled “Improvements Needed in EPA Efforts to Address Methane Emissions From Natural Gas Distribution Pipelines,” describes a string of failures by the EPA to control leaks of one of the most potent greenhouse gases, methane, from the rapidly expanding natural gas pipeline industry.

“The EPA has placed little focus and attention on reducing methane emissions from pipelines in the natural gas distribution sector,” the report begins. “The EPA has a voluntary program to address methane leaks — Natural Gas STAR — but its efforts through this program have resulted in limited reductions of methane emissions from distribution pipelines.”

To date, the industry has faced little binding regulation on leaks, in part because the EPA assumes that pipeline companies will not allow the product they are attempting to bring to market to simply disappear. But the reality is that when gas is cheap and repairs are expensive, pipeline companies often put off repairs unless there's a threat of an explosion.

Under many state policies, pipeline companies would have to pay upfront costs for pipeline repairs — or they simply choose to pass the cost of lost gas from unrepaired leaks on to consumers, an issue that the audit faults the EPA for failing to take into account.

Nationwide, the Inspector General report concluded $192 million worth of natural gas was lost from pipelines in 2011 alone.

Wed, 2014-07-23 09:08Sharon Kelly
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Pennsylvania Environmental Regulators Flunk State's Own Shale Gas Audit

In January 2013, Pennsylvania's auditor general announced that he would conduct an investigation into whether state regulators were effectively overseeing the impacts from the shale gas drilling rush.

A year and a half later, the results are in: the state's environmental regulators are failing badly in at least eight major areas, at times declining to cite drillers who broke the law. In a damning 158-page report, the state's auditor general highlighted the agency's wide-ranging failures. The report detailed the Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) use of a legal “loop hole” to avoid inspecting wells and described the agnecy's failure to fulfill its duty to track the industry's toxic waste. The report also faulted the agency for a reliance on voluntary measures in policing the industry.

The federal government has largely taken a hands-off approach to policing the drilling boom. What federal rules do exist have various broad exemptions exemptions for the oil and gas industry. Pennsylvania, which features a large swath of the Marcellus shale, is widely viewed as ground zero for the current fracking boom. In the unusually candid report released this week, state auditors have concluded that the state is overwhelmed by the industry and is providing insufficient oversight.

“It is DEP’s responsibility to protect the environment from these environmental risks and to ensure that laws and regulations which govern potential impacts to water quality are enforced,” Pennsylvania's auditors wrote. “Unfortunately, DEP was unprepared to meet these challenges because the rapid expansion of shale gas development has strained DEP, and the agency has failed to keep up with the workload demands placed upon it.”

Auditors described state environmental regulators as woefully outgunned and unprepared for the sudden arrival of the shale gas drilling frenzy.

Tue, 2014-07-01 09:17Steve Horn
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Meme with Wings: Are Western Anti-Fracking Activists Funded by Putin's Russia?

At a June 19 speaking event at London's Chatham House, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen claimed the Russian government is covertly working to discredit hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the west from afar.

“I have met allies who can report that Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called non-governmental organisations — environmental organizations working against shale gas — to maintain European dependence on imported Russian gas,” said Rasmussen, the former Prime Minister of Denmark.

Rasmussen's comments were relayed to the press by someone in attendance who apparently broke the “Chatham House Rule” by telling outsiders about the content of a Chatham House meeting.


Anders Fog Rasmussen; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

But Rasmussen left out some key context from his presentation, which he said “is my interpretation” and did not further elaborate on his “disinformation operations” comments.   

That is, while powerful actors have claimed on multiple occasions that western-based anti-fracking activists are funded by the Kremlin, no one has ever documented such a relationship in the form of a money paper trail.

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