california

Wed, 2014-05-21 16:14Mike Gaworecki
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Estimates of Recoverable Oil in California's Monterey Shale Slashed 96%

Last year, a post here on DeSmog asked: “Could California's Shale Oil Boom Be Just a Mirage?

For now, the answer appears to be a resounding yes.

According to the LA Times, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) is set to announce next month that it is officially downgrading its estimate of the oil reserves in California's Monterey Shale from 13.7 billion barrels to 600 million barrels — a 96% decrease.

Modern technology, it seems, is just not up to the task. The EIA will issue its new estimate after reviewing output from oil operations using the latest technologies like fracking and acidization, which eats away rock.

“From the information we've been able to gather, we've not seen evidence that oil extraction in this area is very productive using techniques like fracking,” said John Staub, a petroleum exploration and production analyst with the EIA, according to the LA Times.

At one point, the Monterey Shale was expected to fuel a new “black gold rush” in the Golden State. Initial estimates in 2011 put the amount of recoverable oil from the Monterey Shale at 15.4 billion barrels. The EIA revised this number down to 13.7 billion in 2012, which was still some two-thirds of shale reserves in the entire US.

As the LA Times notes, “The estimate touched off a speculation boom among oil companies. The new findings seem certain to dampen that enthusiasm.”

Environmentalists reacted to news of the downgrade with some relief but little surprise. 

“The oil had always been a statistical fantasy,” says geoscientist J. David Hughes of the Post Carbon Institute, who published a report last December that was critical of the EIA estimates. Hughes' findings were based on an analysis of actual oil production data from the Monterey Shale, which drastically underperformed the industry's projections.

While several of the major oil companies have been wary all along, not everyone is giving up so easily. It's not that the oil isn't there, it's just that the Monterey Shale's unique geography presents challenges for which existing methods have no answer, and there may yet be a technological innovation that will allow the exploitation of the Monterey Shale's reserves.

“As the technologies change, the production rates could also change dramatically,” Tupper Hull, a spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Assn., told the LA Times

Wed, 2014-04-16 16:51Mike Gaworecki
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New Study Shows Link Between Climate Change And California Drought

A study published by Geophysical Research Letters sheds new light on the connection between California's epic drought and human-induced climate change.

The study carries the decidedly wonky title, “Probable causes of the abnormal ridge accompanying the 2013-14 California drought: ENSO precursor and anthropogenic warming footprint.”

A subscription is required to read the full thing, but you can read the abstract, which concludes that “there is a traceable anthropogenic warming footprint in the enormous intensity of the anomalous ridge during winter 2013-14, the associated drought and its intensity.”

As the accompanying news release makes clear, this new research not only helps explain how global warming has intensified the drought in the Golden State, but also its role in the record-breaking cold weather that has hit the East Coast. But it's the climate-drought connection that is under the most scrutiny.

Essentially, an “anomalous high-amplitude ridge system,” or a ridge of exceptionally high atmospheric pressure, has contributed to what's known as a “dipole” — in this case, the two poles of the dipole being the high pressure in the Western U.S. and the low pressure in the East.

The researchers, from Utah State University, have “uncovered evidence that can trace the amplification of the dipole to human influences.” They go on to state that “it is important to note that the dipole is projected to intensify, which means more extreme future droughts for California.”

Not everyone accepts the connection between manmade climate change and the Cali drought. To wit, this study is likely to provoke another round in the very public debate between University of Colorado political scientist Roger Pielke, Jr. and Obama Administration Science Advisor Dr. John Holdren.

Mon, 2014-04-14 10:44Mike Gaworecki
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Why Isn’t Petcoke Regulated As a Public Health Threat?

Last year, a train leaving a Valero refinery in Benicia, CA derailed while carrying petroleum coke, also known as petcoke, a toxic byproduct of the crude oil refining process. None of the petcoke spilled that day as a result of the derailment, thankfully, but that doesn’t mean Benicia residents can breathe any easier.

Locals already have their concerns about the way petcoke is handled in their community and are questioning what public health impacts it might have. But California and federal law have a long way to go before they can be said to be adequately addressing those concerns.

Marilyn Bardet has been dealing with this issue ever since the 1980s, when she helped fend off a Koch Industries proposal to build a petcoke terminal in Benicia. (A smaller facility was eventually built in nearby Pittsburgh, CA, and it operates to this day.) But that early success didn’t mean the fight against petcoke was over for Mrs. Bardet and her fellow Benicians—far from it.

A friend of Mrs. Bardet’s who runs a business near the train tracks that lead in and out of the Valero refinery was able to easily scoop all of this petcoke right off the tracks “in one go”:

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, 2014-02-18 11:24Mike Gaworecki
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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.

Thu, 2013-11-07 09:00Sharon Kelly
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Could California's Shale Oil Boom Be Just a Mirage?

Since the shale rush took off starting in 2005 in Texas, drillers have sprinted from one state to the next, chasing the promise of cheaper, easier, more productive wells. This land rush was fueled by a wild spike in natural gas prices that helped make shale gas drilling attractive even though the costs of fracking were high.

As the selling price of natural gas sank from its historic highs in 2008, much of the luster wore off entire regions that had initially captivated investors, like Louisiana’s Haynesville shale or Arkansas’s Fayetteville, now in decline.

But unlike natural gas prices, oil prices remain high to this day, and investors and policymakers alike remain dazzled by the heady promise of oil from shale rock. Oil and gas companies have wrung significant amounts of black gold from shale oil plays like Texas’s Eagle Ford and North Dakota’s Bakken.

Shale oil, they say, is the next big thing.

“After years of talking about it, we’re finally poised to control our own energy future,” President Obama said in his most recent State of the Union address. “We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years.”

But once again, the reality may be nothing like the hype. Consider California.

Wed, 2013-11-06 17:44Mike Gaworecki
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Oil Industry Spending Big To Win Unfettered Fracking Rights In The Golden State

There’s a lot of money at stake for oil companies that want to frack California’s Monterey Shale, so it’s no wonder Big Oil is spending big to forestall any new environmental regulations from biting into profits.

Here’s a particularly striking case in point: Just a week before the California State Senate voted on a bill that would impose new regulations on fracking activities, the Western States Petroleum Association (which represents the likes of Exxon, Chevron, BP, Occidental, Valero, Phillips 66, etc.) treated a dozen lawmakers to a lavish $13,000, 5-course meal at The Kitchen, one of Sacramento’s fanciest restaurants.

Two weeks later, the bill was signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, but by then lobbyists had managed to weaken the bill to the point that many environmentalists had withdrawn their support.

Before they passed [the bill], lawmakers accepted new amendments from the oil and gas industry – amendments that undermine the original intent… changing it into a bill we simply can’t support,” said the California League of Conservation Voters.

That $13,000 dinner is a drop in the bucket, of course.

So far in 2013, the oil and gas industry has already spent over $11.5 million on lobbying efforts in California, and it’s not just fracking regulations that are in Big Oil’s crosshairs.

Fri, 2013-06-21 04:00Sharon Kelly
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A Gamble on Shale Job Growth Fails to Pay Off for Governor Corbett, as Fracking Worries Grow Nationwide

Last Friday in Philadelphia, a small crowd gathered outside the Franklin Institute, protest signs in hand. Only a few days before, word went out that Governor Tom Corbett, one of the nation’s least popular governors, would be in Philadelphia, a city that has borne the brunt of many of Mr. Corbett’s crippling budget cuts, and protest organizers said they had mobilized fast.

Inside the museum, Mr. Corbett was speaking at a shale gas summit sponsored by the Keystone Energy Forum, and he was once again touting the benefits of the Marcellus fracking boom.

 “The shale gas industry is helping to sustain more than 240,000 jobs in every corner of our state,” Corbett said. (Many analysts say these numbers are overblown and the impact on the state’s employment has been negligible.)

The speech was textbook Corbett — unapologetic championing of the oil and gas industry, puzzlement at the mounting tide of opposition to fracking, a deep-seated faith in the good intentions of drillers and the benefits they want to bring to Pennsylvania and America.

During this speech, Mr. Corbett made no mention of one drilling services company — Minuteman Environmental Services — that he had extolled as “an American success story” a year ago in a similar speech only to see the company raided by the FBI months later.

And for all the talk about jobs and drilling, no one in the crowd asked him about the recent ranking of Pennsylvania as 49th of 50 states in terms of new job creation.

Mon, 2013-06-17 12:03Mike Gaworecki
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Who Is Fracking With California?

California has become the newest battleground state in the fracking fight that is already being waged in states like Pennsylvania and New York. Why?

The short answer is the Monterey Shale. It’s a massive oil deposit that is trapped in the shale formations underneath Los Angeles and most of California’s Central Coast and Central Valley regions (as well as all of the sources of drinking water for the people living in those regions). It was considered too difficult to reach to be worth it until fracking technology came along.

The rush to exploit the Monterey Shale’s reserves has spurred three bills moving through the California state legislature that would halt all fracking in the Golden State until its impacts can be studied more fully, not unlike what has happened in New York and New Jersey. Unlike New Jersey’s ban, which expired in January, the California legislation would require further legislative action to lift. It also stipulates that fracking cannot be done close to valuable water sources, and that all chemicals used in the process must be disclosed.

Environmentalists oppose fracking because of the many dangers, known and unknown, that it poses to the environment and human health. Contamination of water supplies is the major concern, as is the amount of fresh water required by fracking operations, and the fact that injecting water and chemicals to fracture the ground is maybe not a great idea in earthquake-prone California.

Sun, 2012-10-14 09:06Steve Horn
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Whitewash: SUNY Buffalo Defends Controversial Shale Gas Institute

On Friday, SUNY Buffalo's President's Office released a lengthy and long-awaited 162-page report upon request of the SUNY System Board of Trustees that delved into the substantive facts surrounding the creation of its increasingly controversial Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI).

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