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.
By Steve Horn • Wednesday, December 16, 2015 - 18:09
A new report published by the Post Carbon Institute concludes that Texas' Eagle Ford Shale basin, the most prolific shale oil basin in the U.S., has peaked and may have reached terminal decline status. The Post Carbon report dropped just as Congress is on the verge of lifting the oil export ban for U.S.-produced crude oil, which will only further incentivize drilling and fracking.
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.”