shale gas

A Field Guide to the Petrochemical and Plastics Industry

Read time: 13 mins
Petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia

The shale gas industry has been trying to build demand for fossil fuels from its fracked oil and gas wells by promoting the construction of a new petrochemical corridor in America's Rust Belt and expanding the corridor on the Gulf Coast. To help demystify terms like “natural gas liquids” and “cracker plants,” DeSmog has begun building a guide to some of the equipment and terms used in the plastics and petrochemical industries.

This guide, which will expand over time, is intended to serve as an informal glossary of sorts and an introduction to what happens to fossil fuels that are transformed into chemicals, plastics, vinyl, Styrofoam and a variety of other materials.

Trump Admin Accelerates Push to Export Fracking to Argentina

Read time: 7 mins
Rick Perry and energy ministers at G20 Summit in Argentina

By Joseph Siess

In June, U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry traveled to Bariloche, Argentina, for a G20 Summit where he expressed his desire to help Argentina become more like Texas, his home state.

The technology that has allowed for the shale gas revolution in America, we want to make available to Argentina,” Perry said.

At the summit, which was intended to focus on a transition to cleaner energy, Perry instead pledged the U.S. Department of Energy’s support in helping Argentina exploit its vast fossil fuel resources. Namely by connecting the nation with U.S. companies that know how to extract shale oil and gas via hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

But DOE isn’t the only part of the U.S. government facilitating fracking in Argentina. Under the Trump administration, the Departments of Interior and State — working closely with Pennsylvania State University — have been involved in multiple workshops focused on developing shale oil and gas in the South American nation.   

Newly Elected President of Mexico, Lopez Obrador, Vows to Ban Fracking

Read time: 5 mins
Andrés Manuel López Obrador

Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who won the election to become Mexico's President on July 1, stated in a press conference that he will ban the horizontal drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) upon assuming the office on December 1.

The announcement would be a devastating blow to the oil and gas industry, which had its eyes set on drilling in Mexico's northern frontier in an area known as the Burgos Basin. The Burgos is a southern extension of the Eagle Ford Shale, a prolific field situated in Texas. 

Why It Matters If Fracking Companies Are Overestimating Their ‘Proved’ Oil and Gas Reserves

Read time: 12 mins
Oil pumpjacks in silhouette

Back in 2011, The New York Times first raised concerns about the reliability of America's proved shale gas reserves. Proved reserves are the estimates of supplies of oil and gas that drillers tell investors they will be able to tap. The Times suggested that a recent Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rule change allowed drillers to potentially overbook their “proved” reserves of natural gas from shale formations, which horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) were rapidly opening up.

Welcome back to Alice in Wonderland,” energy analyst John E. Olson told The Times, commenting on the reliability of these reserves after the rule change. Olson, a former Merrill Lynch analyst, is best known for seeing the coming Enron scandal 10 years before the infamous energy company imploded in 2000.

Today, those same rules have allowed shale drillers to boost their reserves of oil, as well as natural gas. As a result, these “proved” reserves, which investors and pipeline companies are banking on, could potentially be much less proven than they appear.

And the unprecented degree to which this is happening in the shale industry casts a shadow of doubt on the purportedly bright future of America's booming oil and gas industry.

World May Hit 2 Degrees of Warming in 10-15 Years Thanks to Fracking, Says Cornell Scientist

Read time: 4 mins
Ingraffea

In 2011, a Cornell University research team first made the groundbreaking discovery that leaking methane from the shale gas fracking boom could make burning fracked gas worse for the climate than coal.

In a sobering lecture released this month, a member of that team, Dr. Anthony Ingraffea, Professor of Engineering Emeritus at Cornell University, outlined more precisely the role U.S. fracking is playing in changing the world's climate.

The most recent climate data suggests that the world is on track to cross the two degrees of warming threshold set in the Paris accord in just 10 to 15 years, says Ingraffea in a 13-minute lecture titled “Shale Gas: The Technological Gamble That Should Not Have Been Taken,” which was posted online on April 4.

China Is Financing a Petrochemical Hub in Appalachia. Meet its Powerful Backers.

Read time: 16 mins
U.S. President Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and West Virginia Commerce Sec. Thrasher join in the Great Hall in Beijing for MOU signing for the Appalachian Development Hub  in November 2017

Over the past year, oil and gas industry plans to build a petrochemical refining and storage hub along the Ohio River have steadily gained traction. Proponents hope this potential hub, which would straddle Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky, could someday rival the industrial corridor found along the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana.

Those plans center around creating what is known as the Appalachian Storage Hub, which received a major boost on November 9 during a trade mission to China attended by President Donald Trump and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. At that trade mission, also attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the China Energy Investment Corp. announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to invest $83.7 billion into the planned storage hub over 20 years. For comparison, West Virginia's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016 was $72.9 billion.

Though called the Appalachian Storage Hub as a broad-sweeping term, in practice the hub could encompass natural gas liquids storage, a market trading index center, a key pipeline feeding epicenter, and a petrochemical refinery row. Its prospective development has been spurred by the current construction of a $6 billion petrochemical refining facility in Pennsylvania owned by Shell Oil.

This Vigilante Scientist Trekked Over 10,000 Kilometres to Reveal B.C.’s Leaking Gas Wells

Read time: 10 mins
John Werring in the field

If you’d met John Werring four years ago, he wouldn’t have been able to tell you what an abandoned gas well looked like.

We had no idea whether they were even accessible,” said the registered professional biologist.

That was before the summer of 2014, when he headed up to Fort St. John, B.C., on a reconnaissance mission. At that time, much was known about leaking gas wells in the United States, but there was very little data on Canada.

All Werring had to work with was a map of abandoned wells provided by B.C.’s Oil and Gas Commission. Armed with a gas monitor and a metal detector, he headed into what the gas industry calls the “Montney formation,” one of the largest shale gas resources in the world. Shale gas is primarily accessed via hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.

Most of these places, there’s nobody in the field,” Werring said. “You won’t see anybody for miles and miles. Just well after well after well.”

Obama Alums Are Pushing Fracked Gas Exports. That’s Exactly What Trump Wants.

Read time: 12 mins
Obama speaking in front of pipeline parts in Cushing, Oklahoma

During his State of the Union address, President Donald Trump exclaimed that the “war on American Energy” had ended and that “we are now an exporter of energy to the world.”

What Trump did not say, though, is that several former senior energy officials from the Obama administration — the one Trump said had declared a “war on American Energy” — now either lobby or work as executives for companies making his “energy dominance” agenda possible. At least five of these Obama officials now work for natural gas export companies, four of them for Cheniere and another for Tellurian.

New NASA Study Solves Climate Mystery, Confirms Methane Spike Tied to Oil and Gas

Read time: 5 mins
Global map of percent changes in acres burning

Over the past few years, natural gas has become the primary fuel that America uses to generate electricity, displacing the long-time king of fossil fuels, coal. In 2019, more than a third of America's electrical supply will come from natural gas, with coal falling to a second-ranked 28 percent, the Energy Information Administration predicted this month, marking the growing ascendency of gas in the American power market.

But new peer-reviewed research adds to the growing evidence that the shift from coal to gas isn't necessarily good news for the climate.

A team led by scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory confirmed that the oil and gas industry is responsible for the largest share of the world's rising methane emissions, which are a major factor in climate change — and in the process the researchers resolved one of the mysteries that has plagued climate scientists over the past several years.

Study: Babies With Low Birth Weights More Likely Near Pennsylvania Fracking Sites

Read time: 4 mins

A new study published in the journal Science Advances has concluded that babies born within two miles of sites of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for natural gas in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale basin are more likely to have low birth weights.

Researchers from Princeton, the University of Chicago, and UCLA analyzed a decade of Pennsylvania birth data from 2004 to 2013 — reviewing 1.1 million birth certificates — and concluded that those babies born to mothers living in close proximity to fracking sites are more likely to weigh under 5.5 pounds at birth. Specifically, the study concluded that babies born within a kilometer (just over half a mile) of fracking sites are 25 percent more at risk of low birth weights, which comes with other health effects.

While we know pollution from hydraulic fracturing impacts our health, we do not yet know where that pollution is coming from — from the air or water, from chemicals onsite, or an increase in traffic,” said UCLA researcher Katherine Meckel in a press release

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