On September 23, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held public hearings in Dallas and Denver on its proposed rule to lower methane and associated pollution from oil and gas industry facilities. A third hearing will take place in Pittsburgh on September 29th.
Once finalized, the standards mandated by the EPA to control methane pollution will be a component of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan for reducing U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
For Texans, the hearing holds special significance because of HB40, a new law the state passed shortly after Denton, Texas, voted for the state’s first fracking ban. HB40 makes fracking bans illegal and threatens all local ordinances the oil and gas industry doesn't like.
In a joint press release, AEP and EIM (Energy and Infrastructure Mexico) Capital announced a “long-term, landmark partnership to explore the vast exploration and development opportunities offered by Mexico's abundant oil and gas energy resources.” The deal serves as another case study of U.S.-based companies cashing in on the Mexico energy sector privatization policy the U.S. State Department helped make possible under both the Obama Administration and the Bush Administration.
New records obtained by DeSmog shed further light on the role the U.S. government has played to help implement the privatization of Mexico's oil and gas industry, opening it up to international firms beyond state-owned company PEMEX (Petroleos Mexicanos).
Obtained from both the City of San Antonio, Texas and University of Texas-San Antonio (UTSA), the records center around the U.S.–Mexico Oil and Gas Business Export Conference, held in May in San Antonio and hosted by both the U.S. Department of Trade and Department of Commerce, as well as UTSA.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.