Eagle Ford Shale

2014 Year in Review: Photos of All Things Fracking Related

The oil and gas fracking industry continues to change America's physical and political landscape. Falling oil and gas prices have threatened to stall the industry's production growth, but for now, new drill sites continue to spring up. It was a very eventful year for both the industry and its critics. Here is my look back at some of the most notable stories and photographs.

In 2014, The Post Carbon Institute and the University of Texas released reports finding the Energy Information Administration's projections of the fracking boom’s production potential greatly inflated. 

Numerous peer-reviewed studies have been published that hold the fracking industry responsible for water and air contamination. And health studies have connected industry emissions to negative health effects impacting those living near fracking sites.

Despite the fracking industry's continued growth, the anti-fracking movement claimed numerous victories in 2014. The most high profile victories: Denton, Texas voters passed a referendum banning fracking in their city, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a statewide fracking ban after his health commissioner's report concluded that the health risks are too great.

Meanwhile, America's export policy on liquefied natural gas (LNG) is loosening and the federal government will streamline permits for frack sites on public lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a unit of the U.S. Department of Interior.

DeSmog Fracking Coverage in 2014

Here are some selected stories covered by DeSmogBlog on the fracking industry in 2014:

Citizens Take Monitoring Into Own Hands as Eagle Ford Shale Boom Continues Undaunted

Flare stack

Hugh Fitzsimons lll, a buffalo rancher on the outskirts of Carrizo Springs, Texas, cautiously watches the fracking industry’s accelerating expansion. His 13,000-acre ranch is atop the southwestern part of the oil-rich Eagle Ford Shale, which stretches from Leon County in northeast Texas to Laredo, along the Mexican border.

During the last two years Fitzsimons has watched the fracking boom transform a rural locale into an industry hub. Desolate dirt roads are now packed with truck traffic, and commercial development to service the growing industry has sprung up along state highways, creating air and noise pollution.

Hugh A. Fitzsimons III

Hugh A. Fitzsimons lll on a dirt road near his ranch in the Eagle Ford Shale. ©2014 Julie Dermansky for Oceans 8 Films

Though Fitzsimons stands to profit from oil extraction, he has not turned a blind eye to the industry’s damaging effects on the environment. He wants to make sure the expanding industry acts responsibly and is doing his part to ensure that happens, a tall order since a state-sponsored report estimates the number of wells could grow from 8,000 to 32,000 by 2018 and industry polices itself for the most part.

Eagle Ford Shale: Breathe at Your Own Risk

Fracking is in full swing in the Eagle Ford Shale region of southern Texas, home to the most productive oil field in the United States.

For Cynthia Dupnik, whose Karnes County home is in the center of the region, life is no longer serene. At night, she says the landscape is frighteningly apocalyptic, marked by the roaring flares spreading pollutants across the sky from oil and gas operations.


Marathon tank battery facility in Hobson, Texas

The first time Dupnik heard about fracking was when Marathon Oil Corporation started drilling near her home. After complaining that she was getting sick, Marathon sent a team to take air samples on her property, but never returned with the test results.

Dupnik is also concerned about a nearby Marathon Challenger tank battery, a facility used in shale production, which almost constantly has a flare emitting toxic fumes into the air only six-tenths of a mile from Dupnik's home. Some nights the flare from the tank battery site is so bright she can see it from her front porch.

On the evening of December 13, Dupnik says the noise coming from the tank battery site was louder than usual and the air smelled like rotten eggs. She experienced a metallic taste in her mouth and had a hard time breathing so she called the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). No one picked up, so she called the sheriff's office, which sent a deputy over. The deputy told Dupnik the noise and smell were not out of the ordinary, but called the Texas Railroad Commission which assured Dupnik they would let the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality know.

Dupnik had already lodged a complaint about the tanker battery site with the commission in July 2013, and was assured test results were forthcoming. Despite repeated followup, Dupnik says she’s been unable to get any information about the test results.

Keystone XL Fork in the Road: TransCanada's Houston Lateral Pipeline

Only Barack Obama knows the fate of the northern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  But in the meantime, TransCanada is preparing the southern half of the line to open for commercial operations on January 22.

And there's a fork in that half of the pipeline that's largely flown under the radar: TransCanada's Houston Lateral Pipeline, which serves as a literal fork in the road of the southern half of Keystone XL's route to Gulf Coast refineries.

Rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline” by TransCanada, the 485-mile southern half of Keystone XL brings a blend of Alberta's tar sands crude, along with oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin, to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas. This area has been coined a “sacrifice zone” by investigative journalist Ted Genoways, describing the impacts on local communities as the tar sands crude is refined mainly for export markets.

But not all tar sands and fracked oil roads lead to Port Arthur. That's where the Houston Lateral comes into play. A pipeline oriented westward from Liberty County, TX rather than eastward to Port Arthur, Houston Lateral ushers crude oil to Houston's refinery row

“The 48-mile (77-kilometre) Houston Lateral Project is an additional project under development to transport oil to refineries in the Houston, TX marketplace,” TransCanada's website explains. “Upon completion, the Gulf Coast Project and the Houston Lateral Project will become an integrated component of the Keystone Pipeline System.”

New "Frackademia" Report Co-Written by "Converted Climate Skeptic" Richard Muller

The conservative UK-based Centre for Policy Studies recently published a study on the climate change impacts of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale gas. The skinny: it's yet another case study of “frackademia,” and the co-authors have a financial stake in the upstart Chinese fracking industry.

Titled “Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favour Fracking“ and co-authored by Richard Muller and his daughter Elizabeth “Liz” Muller, it concludes that fracking's climate change impacts are benign, dismissing many scientific studies coming to contrary conclusions.

In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Richard Muller — a self-proclaimed “converted skeptic” on climate change — said he and Liz had originally thought of putting together this study “about two years ago.”

“We quickly realized that natural gas could be a very big player,” he said. “The reasons had to do with China and the goal of the paper is to get the environmentalists to recognize that they need to support responsible fracking.

The ongoing debate over fracking in the UK served as the impetus behind the Centre for Policy Studies — a non-profit co-founded by former right-wing British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1974 — hosting this report on its website, according to Richard Muller.

“They asked for it because some environmentalists are currently opposing fracking in the UK, and they wanted us to share our perspective that fracking is not only essential for human health but its support can be justified for humanitarian purposes,” he said. 

This isn't the first time Liz Muller has unapologetically sung the praises of fracking and promoted bringing the practice to China. In April, she penned an op-ed in The New York Times titled, “China Must Exploit Its Shale Gas.” 

Obama Approves Major Border-Crossing Fracked Gas Pipeline Used to Dilute Tar Sands

Although TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has received the lion's share of media attention, another key border-crossing pipeline benefitting tar sands producers was approved on November 19 by the U.S. State Department.

Enter Cochin, Kinder Morgan's 1,900-mile proposed pipeline to transport gas produced via the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of the Eagle Ford Shale basin in Texas north through Kankakee, Illinois, and eventually into Alberta, Canada, the home of the tar sands. 

Like Keystone XL, the pipeline proposal requires U.S. State Department approval because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border. Unlike Keystone XL - which would carry diluted tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) south to the Gulf Coast - Kinder Morgan's Cochin pipeline would carry the gas condensate (diluent) used to dilute the bitumen north to the tar sands.

“The decision allows Kinder Morgan Cochin LLC to proceed with a $260 million plan to reverse and expand an existing pipeline to carry an initial 95,000 barrels a day of condensate,” the Financial Post wrote

“The extra-thick oil is typically cut with 30% condensate so it can move in pipelines. By 2035, producers could require 893,000 barrels a day of the ultra-light oil, with imports making up 786,000 barrels of the total.”

Increased demand for diluent among Alberta's tar sands producers has created a growing market for U.S. producers of natural gas liquids, particularly for fracked gas producers.

“Total US natural gasoline exports reached a record volume of 179,000 barrels per day in February as Canada's thirst for oil sand diluent ramped up,” explained a May 2013 article appearing in Platts. ”US natural gasoline production is forecast to increase to roughly 450,000 b/d by 2020.”

Interview: Energy Investor Bill Powers Discusses Looming Shale Gas Bubble

On Sat., April 27, I met up with energy investor Bill Powers at Prairie Moon Restaurant in Evanston, IL for a mid-afternoon lunch to discuss his forthcoming book set to hit bookstores on June 18.

The book's title - “Cold, Hungry and in the Dark: Exploding the Natural Gas Supply Myth” - pokes fun at the statement made by former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon at the 2011 Shale Gas Insight conference in Philadelphia, PA

“What a glorious vision of the future: It's cold, it's dark and we're all hungry,” McClendon said in response to the fact that there were activists outside of the city's convention center. “I have no interest in turning the clock back to the dark ages like our opponents do.” 

What Powers unpacks in his book, though, is that McClendon and his fellow “shale promoters,” as he puts it in his book, aren't quite as “visionary” as they would lead us all to believe. 

Indeed, the well production data that Powers picked through on a state-by-state basis demonstrates a “drilling treadmill.” That means each time an area is fracked, after the frackers find the “sweet spot,” that area yields diminishing returns on gas production on a monthly and annual basis.

It's an argument regular readers of DeSmogBlog are familiar with because of our recent coverage of the Post Carbon Institute's “Drill Baby, Drill” report by J. David Hughes. 

Powers posits this could lead to a domestic gas crisis akin to the one faced in the 1970's.

We discuss these issues and far more in the interview below. 

Shale Gas Bubble About to Burst: Art Berman, Bill Powers

Food and Water Watch recently demonstrated that the dominant narrative, “100 years” of unconventional oil and gas in the United States, is false. At most, some 50 years of this dirty energy resource may exist beneath our feet.

Bill Powers, editor of Powers Energy Investor, has a new book set for publication in May 2013 titled, “Cold, Hungry and in the Dark: Exploding the Natural Gas Supply Myth.”

Powers' book will reveal that production rates in all of the shale basins are far lower than the oil and gas industry is claiming and are actually in alarmingly steep decline. In short, the “shale gas bubble” is about to burst.
 
In a recent interview, Powers said the “bubble” will end up looking a lot like the housing bubble that burst in 2008-2009, and that U.S. shale gas will last no longer than ten years. He told The Energy Report:
 
My thesis is that the importance of shale gas has been grossly overstated; the U.S. has nowhere close to a 100-year supply. This myth has been perpetuated by self-interested industry, media and politicians…In the book, I take a very hard look at the facts. And I conclude that the U.S. has between a five- to seven-year supply of shale gas, and not 100 years.
 
The hotly-anticipated book may explain why shale gas industry giants like Chesapeake Energy have behaved more like real estate companies, making more money flipping over land leases than they do producing actual gas. 

Regulatory Non-Enforcement by Design: Earthworks Shows How the Game is Played

Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project published a scathing 124-page report this week, “Breaking All the Rules: the Crisis in Oil & Gas Regulatory Enforcement.”

The content of the report is exactly as it sounds.

That is, state-level regulatory agencies and officials often aren't doing the jobs taxpayers currently pay them to do and aren't enforcing regulations on active oil and gas wells even when required to under the law.

This is both out of neglect and also because they're vastly understaffed and underfunded, meaning they literally don't have the time and/or resources to do proper inspections.

And on those rare instances when regulatory agencies and the regulators that work for them do enforce regulations on active oil and gas wells, Earthworks demonstrated that the penalties for breaking the rules are currently so weak that it's merely been deemed a tiny “cost of doing business” by the oil and gas industry.

Petroleum Broadcasting System's "Newshour" and the Merchants of Climate Doubt

There's an old German proverb that goes, “Whose bread I eat his song I sing.”

Enter a recent spate of reportage by the Public Broadcasting System's (PBS) ”Newshour.” In a September 17 story titled, “Climate Change Skeptic Says Global Warming Crowd Oversells Its Message” (with a URL titled, “Why the Global Warming Crowd Oversells its Message”) the Newshour “provided an unchecked platform for Anthony Watts, a virulent climate change denier funded by the Heartland Institute,” as described by Forecast the Facts.

Forecast the Facts created a petition demanding that the “PBS ombudsman…immediately investigate how this segment came to be aired,” stating that, “This is the kind of reporting we expect from Fox News, not PBS.”

Very true, this is exactly the type of reporting we've come to expect out of Rupert Murdoch's Fox News, a cable “news” network that provides a voice for right-wing propagandists on all policy issues, including climate change denial. But perhaps expectations are too high for PBS' “Newshour” and we should've expected exactly what we got: a friendly platform for the climate change denying merchants of doubt

What's at play here goes above and beyond a single bad story by “Newshour.” Rather, it's a small piece and the result of an aggressive campaign that's been going on for nearly two decades to destroy public television in the public interest.

Based on the shift in how the “Newshour” has funded itself over the years, it's evident that the once-esteemed ”MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” streamed on the Public Broadcasting System has transformed PBS into what investigative reporter Greg Palast calls the “Petroleum Broadcasting System.”

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