Permian Basin

Fracking 2.0 Was a Financial Disaster, Will Fracking 3.0 Be Different?

Read time: 8 mins
Clippy paperclip art on fracking drill well pad

Two years ago, the U.S. fracking industry was trying to recover from the crash in the price of oil. Shale companies were promoting the idea that fracking was viable even at low oil prices (despite losing money when oil prices were high). At the time, no one was making money fracking with the business-as-usual approach, but then the Wall Street Journal published a story claiming all of this was about to change because the industry had a trump card — and that was technology.

Today, frackers are again relying on technology as a financial savior, but this time, they are looking to Microsoft.

The Fracking Industry’s Flaring Problem May Be Worse Than We Thought

Read time: 8 mins
Natural gas flaring

In 2018, the oil and gas industry operating in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale burned off record amounts of natural gas, largely obtained via hydraulic fracturing (fracking). This process, known as flaring, costs the industry money — it literally burns one of the products being pumped out of the ground — but more importantly, the resulting release of globe-warming emissions of carbon dioxide and methane spells disaster for the climate.

And a new analysis of satellite evidence indicates the industry is likely underreporting how much gas it is actually flaring in the Permian Shale, with implications for other oil fields.

Fracked Shale Oil Wells Drying Up Faster than Predicted, Wall Street Journal Finds

Read time: 9 mins
Pumpjacks in Permian Basin outside Midland, Texas

In 2015, Pioneer Natural Resources filed a report with the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, in which the shale drilling and fracking company said that it was “drilling the most productive wells in the Eagle Ford Shale” in Texas.

That made the company a major player in what local trade papers were calling “arguably the largest single economic event in Texas history,” as drillers pumped more than a billion barrels of fossil fuels from the Eagle Ford.

Its Eagle Ford wells, Pioneer’s filing said, were massive finds, with each well able to deliver an average of roughly 1.3 million barrels of oil and other fossil fuels over their lifetimes.

Three years later, The Wall Street Journal checked the numbers, investigating how those massive wells are turning out for Pioneer.

Turns out, not so well. And Pioneer is not alone.

Fracking in 2018: Another Year of Pretending to Make Money

Read time: 8 mins
Gas flare

2018 was the year the oil and gas industry promised that its darling, the shale fracking revolution, would stop focusing on endless production and instead turn a profit for its investors. But as the year winds to a close, it's clear that hasn't happened.

Instead, the fracking industry has helped set new records for U.S. oil production while continuing to lose huge amounts of money — and that was before the recent crash in oil prices.

But plenty of people in the industry and media make it sound like a much different, and more profitable, story.

In Southwest Texas, the Fracking Industry Encroaches on Small Towns, Remote Wilderness, and Clear Skies

Read time: 10 mins
Church in Fort Davis, Texas, at the base of the Davis Mountains.

Sue and James Franklin run a rock and mineral shop in Balmorhea, Texas, a small picturesque town known for hosting the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. Their shop is about 15 miles from their home in Verhalen, a place they describe as too tiny to be called a town — only about 10 people live there. The couple never imagined the area, on the southwest edge of the Permian Basin, would become an industrial wasteland, but they say that transformation has begun the last two years. 

Texas’ latest oil boom, driven by the fracking industry and crude oil exports, has brought skyrocketing air, noise, and light pollution to small southwest Texas towns and the surrounding lands which are known for majestic mountain views  and brilliant starry night skies. With the oil industry come bright lights illuminating an otherwise almost perfectly dark sky. The Franklins’ home on a narrow rural road is now surrounded by fracking sites. On a clear day they can see 20 of these sites from their 10-acre plot of land.

Making Visible the Globe-warming Gases of the Permian Fracking Boom

Read time: 10 mins
Sharon Wilson with her FLIR camera at a fracking site and a methane flare in the background

There is an LED sign at a Chase Bank in downtown Midland, Texas, the heart of the Permian Basin, which quantifies the current oil boom. It alternates between current rig count, the price of oil, and the price of gasoline. On October 30, the day I arrived, the sign informed me there were 1,068 drilling rigs across the United States, of which 489 — nearly half — are in the Permian Basin.

Though the flashing sign is meant to celebrate the fracking boom, Sharon Wilson, Texas coordinator of Earthworks, sees it as a warning sign of the urgent need to cut greenhouse gas emissions to avoid catastrophic climate change.

US Oil Exports Are Exceeding Almost All Predictions—Thanks to Fracking

Read time: 5 mins
Oil tanker in the Houston ship channel

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported in September that crude oil exports are continuing to set records, mostly due to the fracking boom in the Permian Basin, in Texas and New Mexico. June exports hit a record 2.2 million barrels per day, while the monthly average was up almost 80 percent for the first half of this year compared to the same period last year.

And crude oil exports are supposed to double by 2020, according to the San Antonio News-Express. That’s a lot of oil — and almost all of it is fracked.

Fracking Wastewater Spikes 1,440% in Half Decade, Adding to Dry Regions’ Water Woes

Read time: 7 mins
Permian Basin, Texas, pumpjacks

Between 2011 and 2016, fracked oil and gas wells in the U.S. pumped out record-breaking amounts of wastewater, which is laced with toxic and radioactive materials, a new Duke University study concludes. The amount of wastewater from fracking rose 1,440 percent during that period.

Over the same time, the total amount of water used for fracking rose roughly half as much, 770 percent, according to the paper published today in the journal Science Advances.

Despite Disappointing Returns, Oil Driller Pushes Ahead with Fracking Near Rare Texas Wildlands

Read time: 12 mins
Balmorhea State Park with views of oil and gas well flares

If you ask the CEO of Apache Corp., his company made in 2016 the kind of once-in-a-lifetime find that every oil driller dreams of: a massive oil and gas field that no other company noticed, where thousands of wells could be drilled and fracked to produce massive amounts of fossil fuels — and, in theory, profits.

The US Added 38 Percent More Oil and Gas Rigs Last Year

Read time: 4 mins
Drilling rig north of Johnstown, Ohio

By John R. Platt. Crossposted with permission from The Revelator.

The number of oil and gas rigs in the United States has increased an astonishing 38 percent over the past year. That’s according to S&P Global Platts Analytics, which reported this week that the country had 1,070 rigs at the end of January, up from just 773 a year earlier.

Experts expressed fear that all of this new development does not bode well for the planet.

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