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Thu, 2014-09-04 06:00Sharon Kelly
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Shale Oil Drillers Deliberately Wasted Nearly $1 Billion in Gas, Harming Climate

In Texas and North Dakota, where an oil rush triggered by the development of new fracking methods has taken many towns by storm, drillers have run into a major problem.

While their shale wells extract valuable oil, natural gas also rises from the wells alongside that oil. That gas could be sold for use for electrical power plants or to heat homes, but it is harder to transport from the well to customers than oil. Oil can be shipped via truck, rail or pipe, but the only practical way to ship gas is by pipeline, and new pipelines are expensive, often costing more to construct than the gas itself can be sold for.

So, instead of losing money on pipeline construction, many shale oil drillers have decided to simply burn the gas from their wells off, a process known in the industry as “flaring.”

It's a process so wasteful that it's sparked class action lawsuits from landowners, who say they've lost millions of dollars worth of gas due to flaring. Some of the air emissions from flared wells can also be toxic or carcinogenic. It's also destructive for the climate – natural gas is made primarily of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and when methane burns, it produces more than half as much CO2 as burning coal.

Much of the research into the climate change impact the nation's fracking rush – now over a decade long – has focused on methane leaks from shale gas wells, where drillers are deliberately aiming to produce natural gas. The climate change impacts of shale oil drilling have drawn less attention from researchers and regulators alike.

Thu, 2014-07-24 09:48Sharon Kelly
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After Rancher's Death, Calls for Fracking Health Study Grow Stronger

Last month, Terry Greenwood, a Pennsylvania farmer whose water had been contaminated by fracking waste, died of cancer. He was 66 and the cause of death was a rare form of brain cancer.

His death drew attention from around the globe in part because Mr. Greenwood was among the first farmers from his state to speak out against the gas industry during the early years of the state's shale gas rush.

Mr. Greenwood went up against a company called Dominion Energy, which had drilled and fracked a shallow well on his small cattle ranch property under a lease signed by a prior owner in 1921.

In January, 2008, Mr. Greenwood had reported to state officials that his water supplies had turned brown and the water tasted salty. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection subsequently found that the company, whose gas well was drilled 400 feet from the Greenwoods' water well in 2007, had impacted the Greenwoods' water. State officials ordered Dominion to temporarily supply the family with drinking water.

Mr. Greenwood's death was mourned by environmentalists around the world. In London, for example, attendees at a fracking education event recorded video messages for the Greenwood family and raised over $500 for Terry's survivors.

“Terry Greenwood was one of the most compelling people you could ever listen to,” wrote filmmaker Josh Fox. “There was just something about the way he spoke, there was a decency and a positivity that shone through every word no matter how distressing or disturbing the subject matter was.”

But the story of Mr. Greenwood's fight against the drilling industry and lax oversight by state regulators does not stop there.

In the weeks since his death, there has been a steady stream of further revelations about ineptitude by state environmental and health officials in protecting the public from the type of threats that may have killed Mr. Greenwood. These revelations are both a reminder of the importance of Mr. Greenwood's fight and a reiteration of how little has changed. 

Last week, Dr. Eli Avila, formerly Pennsylvania's health secretary, made headlines when he told the Associated Press that the state had neglected health impact studies.

The lack of any action speaks volumes,” Dr. Avila, now Orange County, New York's public health commissioner, told the AP. His perspective was shared by other health experts. “Pennsylvania is 'simply not doing' serious studies into possible health impacts of drilling, Dr. Bernard Goldstein, who has five decades of public health experience at hospitals and universities in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania” said, the AP reported.

The lack of oversight and transparency has been endemic to Pennsylvania and its handling of fracking.

Thu, 2014-06-19 09:57Steve Horn
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Silent Coup: How Enbridge is Quietly Cloning the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

While the debate over the TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has raged on for over half a decade, pipeline giant Enbridge has quietly cloned its own Keystone XL in the U.S and Canada. 

It comes in the form of the combination of Enbridge's Alberta Clipper (Line 67), Flanagan South and Seaway Twin pipelines.

The pipeline system does what Keystone XL and the Keystone Pipeline System at large is designed to do: ship hundreds of thousands of barrels per day of Alberta's tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) to both Gulf Coast refineries in Port Arthur, Texas, and the global export market.

Alberta Clipper and Line 67 expansion

Alberta Clipper was approved by President Barack Obama and the U.S. State Department (legally required because it is a border-crossing pipeline like Keystone XL) in August 2009 during congressional recess. Clipper runs from Alberta to Superior, Wis.

Map Credit: U.S. Department of State

Initially slated to carry 450,000 barrels per day of dilbit to market, Enbridge now seeks an expansion permit from the State Department to carry up to 570,000 barrels per day, with a designed capacity of 800,000 barrels per day. It has dubbed the expansion Line 67.

As reported on previously by DeSmogBlog, Line 67 is the key connecter pipeline to Line 6A, which feeds into the BP Whiting refinery located near Chicago, Ill., in Whiting, Ind. BP Whiting — the largest in-land refinery in the U.S. — was recently retooled to refine larger amounts of tar sands under the Whiting Refinery Modernization Project.

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:34Julie Dermansky
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Breaking: TransCanada Shuts Down Southern Leg of Keystone XL Pipeline, Raising “Suspicions”

KXL install in TX copyright Julie Dermansky

TransCanada shut down the southern leg of the Keystone XL (now called the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project) on June 2 for “routine work,” according to Reuters.  

“Pipelines aren't normally shut down for maintenance shortly after being started up. They may have planned it but something is wrong,” an industry insider told DeSmogBlog. “A two day shutdown on a new line raises suspicions.”

The Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration was unable to provide an answer to DeSmogBlog when asked to confirm if the shutdown was due to routine work today.

Wed, 2014-05-28 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Exclusive: Leaked EPA Draft Fracking Wastewater Guidance Suggests Closer Scrutiny for Treatment Plants

One of the most intractable problems related to fracking is that each well drilled creates millions of gallons of radioactive and toxic wastewater.

For the past several years, the Environmental Protection Agency has faced enormous public pressure to ensure this dangerous waste stops ending up dumped in rivers or causing contamination in other ways.

But the drilling boom has proceeded at such an accelerated pace in the United States that regulators have struggled to keep up, to control or even track where the oil and gas industry is disposing of this radioactive waste. As a consequence, hundreds of millions of gallons of partially treated waste have ended up in the rivers from which millions of Americans get their drinking water. 

An internal draft EPA document leaked to DeSmog gives a small window into how, after a full decade since the start of the drilling boom, the agency is responding.

The document, dated March 7, 2014, is titled “National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permitting and Pretreatment for Shale Gas Extraction Wastewaters: Frequently Asked Questions.”

It's revealing for what it shows about how EPA staff are taking the hazards of fracking wastewater more seriously — and also how little things have changed.

“In general, the EPA memo does a good job of making clear that fracking wastewater discharges are covered under the Clean Water Act, and that proper discharge permitting is required, including setting limits to protect water quality standards and to comply with technology based standards in the Clean Water Act,” explained Clean Water Action attorney Myron Arnowitt, who was asked by DeSmog to review the document. “It is mostly an increased level of detail for regional EPA staff regarding permitting issues under the Clean Water Act, compared to the pervious memo in 2011.”

The document, intended as a guide for local regulators on how the Clean Water Act should be interpreted and applied, is impressive in many ways.

Mon, 2014-05-19 18:00Steve Horn
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Southwestern Energy Executive Mark Boling Admits Fracking Link to Climate Change

An Executive* of a major shale gas development company has conceded what scientists have been saying for years: global shale gas development has the potential to wreak serious climate change havoc.

Best known for his company's hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) activity, Southwestern Energy Executive Vice President* Mark Boling admitted his industry has a methane problem on the May 19 episode of Showtime's “Years of Living Dangerously” in a segment titled, “Chasing Methane.”

“I think some of those numbers, they certainly concern me,” Boling says on the show. “How could you say that that methane emission rate was one and a half percent - very, very difficult to there from here for that.” 

Boling goes toe to toe in the segment with Cornell University Professor Anthony Ingraffea, who co-authored the 2011 paper now best known as the “Cornell Study.”

That study was the first to say that over its entire lifecycle, shale gas production is dirtier than coal due to the greenhouse gas trapping capacity of leaking methane. Numerous studies since then have depicted high leakage rates throughout the production lifecycle. 


Cornell University Professor Anthony Ingraffea; Photo Credit: Cornell University

Brendan DeMelle, DeSmogBlog Executive Director and Managing Editor, is also a featured guest on tonight's episode. He discusses the well-funded climate change denial machine and attacks on renewable energy development in a segment titled, “Against the Wind.”

Thu, 2014-04-24 11:16Farron Cousins
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Report: Arctic Oil Spill Readiness Virtually Nonexistent

Sea ice in the Arctic Circle is currently melting at a pace far greater than scientists had originally projected.  While this is bad news for the planet — sea ice helps reflect the sun’s rays and keeps the arctic cooler — it has created new paths for the oil industry to exploit the resources hidden deep under the icy water.

Drilling activities in the Arctic have currently stalled, but this stall isn’t going to last forever.  The Arctic is estimated to hold about 13% of the world’s oil reserves, and at least one-third of the total oil within U.S. territory.  This means that the oil companies don’t need to worry with drilling on foreign lands or about the prospect of not hitting a massive payday.  They will return.

That’s the problem – they will return.  According to a new report by the National Research Council, that is a very scary scenario for both the climate and the environment.  The report says that increased drilling and the placement of oil pipelines make oil spills a question of “when,” not “if.”

The report lays out two very specific themes with regards to Arctic drilling. The first is that there is no discernable oil spill response plan, and the second is that the history of oil companies tells us with great certainty that there will be a massive spill as a result of the increased activity in the region.

Tue, 2014-04-22 15:27Brendan DeMelle
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Breaking: $3 Million Jury Verdict in Texas Fracking Nuisance Case

A jury in Dallas, TX today awarded $2.925 million to plaintiffs Bob and Lisa Parr, who sued Barnett shale fracking company Aruba Petroleum Inc. for intentionally causing a nuisance on the Parr's property which impacted their health and ruined their drinking water.

The jury returned its 5-1 verdict confirming that Aruba Petroleum “intentionally created a private nuisance” though its drilling, fracking and production activities at 21 gas wells near the Parrs' Wise County home over a three-year period between 2008-2011.

Plaintiffs attorneys claimed the case is “the first fracking verdict in U.S. history.” 

The trial lasted two and a half weeks. Aruba Petroleum plans to appeal the verdict.

The pollution from natural gas production near the Parrs' Wise County home was so bad that they were forced to flee their 40-acre property for months at a time.  

Tue, 2014-04-22 11:50Julie Dermansky
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In Celebration of Earth Day: Photos Capture the Beauty of Southeastern Louisiana's Wetlands

Louisiana's wetlands are threatened by coastal erosion, climate change and the oil and gas industry.

The Green Army, a group representing environmental and social justice organizations led by retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore is trying to stop bills they believe stand in the way of preserving Louisiana's disappearing coast, including bills that would kill the lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East that would require 97 oil and gas companies to pay for their share of the damage the industry has done to the coast.

Governor Bobby Jindal has pushed to derail the lawsuit by backing legislation that is undermining the levee board. So far the Green Army has not been able to sway the legislators from dismantling the lawsuit that many believe could save the coast.

Many of the bills set to derail the lawsuit have already passed in the Senate but Michael Orr, operations coordinator of Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) points out they haven't been heard in the House yet.  “There is still a chance to kill them” he told DeSmogBlog.  “I feel the battle is RE-enfranchising the public to believe that things can change, that we can win and that they can make a difference. And honestly I do feel like we can win this. And we surely cannot afford to lose. ” Orr says. 

Here is a slideshow celebrating the richness of the coastal wetland environment.

Mon, 2014-04-07 12:25Steve Horn
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ANR Pipeline: Introducing TransCanada's Keystone XL for Fracking

When most environmentalists and folks who follow pipeline markets think of TransCanada, they think of the proposed northern half of its Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. 

Flying beneath the public radar, though, is another TransCanada-proposed pipeline with a similar function as Keystone XL. But rather than for carrying tar sands bitumen to the Gulf Coast, this pipeline would bring to market shale gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

Meet TransCanada's ANR Pipeline System.

Although not actually a new pipeline system, TransCanada wants ANR retooled to serve domestic and export markets for gas fracked from the Marcellus Shale basin and the Utica Shale basin via its Southeast Main Line. 

“The [current Southeast Main Line] moves gas from south Louisiana (including offshore) to Michigan where it has a strong market presence,” explains a March 27 article appearing in industry publication RBN Energy


Map Credit: RBN Energy

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