Tag Archive: natural gas

Jul 02 2014

NY High Court Rules Towns Can Ban Fracking

New York State has had a moratorium on hydrolic fracturing (fracking) since 2008. Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that he won’t make a decision on lifting the temporary ban until the state’s Health Department finishes its study that was started in 2012. Some up state towns, concerned about the outcome of that study and the possibility that corporate friendly Gov. Cuomo would lift the ban, passed zoning ordinances banning fracking. This week New York State’s highest court upheld those ordinances:

The New York Court of Appeals upheld the ruling of a lower court that local governments have the authority to decide how land is used, which includes deciding whether or not fracking and drilling should be allowed on that land. The Court of Appeals heard arguments on two cases challenging local bans on fracking in June. The plaintiffs in those lawsuits argued that New York’s oil, gas and mining law takes precedence over local zoning laws, but in rulings both by a lower court and now the Court of Appeals, that claim was overturned.

Two New York towns – Middlefield and Dryden – that previously banned fracking were the focus of the lawsuits, but the ruling means that now other municipalities in New York can pass laws that ban fracking and drilling. So far, activists say, 170 towns and cities in New York have passed fracking bans or moratoria. [..]

The battle over the two towns’ fracking bans began in 2011, when an oil-and-gas company first challenged Dreyden’s ban on fracking. Not long after, landowner Cooperstown Holstein Corp challenged Middlefield’s ban.

The New York State Assembly had voted to extend the ban for another 3 years but the Republican controlled Senate adjourned without taking up the bill.

Municipalities around the country are taking up similar bans over concerns about contamination of vital water supplies and ground contamination by the chemicals used to release the oil and natural gases. This ruling could have an impact on those ordinances, as well:

Municipal bans are a growing phenomenon nationwide as localities target hydraulic fracturing, in which water and chemicals are pumped underground to break shale rock and release the oil and natural gas inside. Such cities and towns are often in conflict with state governments that want the revenue and the employment associated with the drilling technique that’s spurred an American oil and natural gas boom.

The battle is especially fierce in Colorado, where the governor and oil and gas companies have filed lawsuits seeking to overturn bans passed by local voters.

Pennsylvania tried to prevent its local governments from prohibiting fracking, but it lost in court. The Ohio Supreme Court is considering whether cities and towns have the right to ban the practice.

Attorneys from the environmental law firm Earthjustice helped the town of Dryden with the New York case, and they said Monday’s ruling “has sent a firm message to the oil and gas industry.”

New York State Petroleum Council Executive Director Karen Moreau said the ruling would pose a problem for natural gas development in her state.

In it’s 5 – 2 ruling, the court stated that its ruling was not about whether fracking was safe or not, but about the balance of power between state and local government.

This is a win for New Yorkers and the environment.

Feb 19 2014

What’s the Fracking Problem in OK, KS & PA?

If rising temperatures and sea levels from climate change don’t get us, maybe an earthquake or toxic fumes from hydraulic fracturing will. Meanwhile the oil companies continue to dig these wells with minimum regulation or information on the impact to the environment. What we do know is rather frightening when the earth moves under your feet especially where it’s not expected

No strangers to nature’s fury, Oklahomans grow up accustomed scorching heat, blizzards, wrecking-ball thunderstorms and tornadoes. What they don’t see a lot of are earthquakes, which have been rattling the Sooner State with rare frequency of late – at least 115 earthquakes of varying intensities in the last week. [..]

State authorities are now trying to get the bottom of the unusual seismic activity. Holland is amassing resources and data to figure out what might be to blame, and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which oversees the oil and gas industry, has already proposed new testing and monitoring requirements for wells injected with drilling wastewater, which some have blamed for the increase in earthquakes. Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, involving explosions being set off underground, has also been blamed by some for the swarm. [..]

It’s true that Oklahoma has a history of earthquake swarms that spike and then die down, but it’s also true that humans have caused earthquakes in the past. And previous swarms have been nowhere near as serious as this latest one. “We do know there have been some earthquakes caused by oil and gas activity in the state,” Holland, the research seismologist, said. “The hard part is figuring out which is which.”

At least on governor is concerned about public safety enough to appoint a commission to look into the unusual seismic activity in his state.

Calling it a “matter of public safety,” Gov. Sam Brownback has appointed a committee to study whether oil and gas activity is behind the recent spate of minor earthquakes in Kansas.

Expansion of the oil and gas recovery method known as “fracking” has coincided with a series of small quakes in areas that had long been seismically stable. Fracking doesn’t appear to cause the problem, but an increase in oil and gas production and disposal of waste fluids associated with fracking could be behind the recent temblors that have shaken south-central Kansas and northern Oklahoma, scientists said Monday.

Free Pizza & Soda from Chevron photo pizza-letter_zps695dcf1c.jpg In Dunkard Township, Pennsylvania, 50 miles south of Pittsburgh, two of Chevron’s natural gas wells exploded last week burning for five days, leaving one worker injured and another missing and presumed dead. After the fires were out, Chevron sent a letter of apology to the residents of the nearby town of Bobtown. Included in the letter was a coupon for a free large pizza and a 2-liter bottle of soda.

Besides the ground shaking, contamination of underground water supplies, explosions and fires, another problem has arisen, literally, increased air pollution to the point that the air is so toxic that it is making people sick. A study released by The Weather Channel, the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News looked into just how bad the air quality has become near the Eagle Ford Shale site in southern Texas. The summary of their findings describes how the Texas regulators are protecting the industry rather than the public:

   

  • Texas’ air monitoring system is so flawed that the state knows almost nothing about the extent of the pollution in the Eagle Ford. Only five permanent air monitors are installed in the 20,000-square-mile region, and all are at the fringes of the shale play, far from the heavy drilling areas where emissions are highest.
  • Thousands of oil and gas facilities, including six of the nine production sites near the Buehrings’ house, are allowed to self-audit their emissions without reporting them to the state. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which regulates most air emissions, doesn’t even know some of these facilities exist. An internal agency document acknowledges that the rule allowing this practice “[c]annot be proven to be protective.”
  • Companies that break the law are rarely fined. Of the 284 oil and gas industry-related complaints filed with the TCEQ by Eagle Ford residents between Jan. 1, 2010, and Nov. 19, 2013, only two resulted in fines despite 164 documented violations. The largest was just $14,250. (Pending enforcement actions could lead to six more fines).
  • The Texas legislature has cut the TCEQ’s budget by a third since the Eagle Ford boom began, from $555 million in 2008 to $372 million in 2014. At the same time, the amount allocated for air monitoring equipment dropped from $1.2 million to $579,000.
  • The Eagle Ford boom is feeding an ominous trend: A 100 percent statewide increase in unplanned, toxic air releases associated with oil and gas production since 2009. Known as emission events, these releases are usually caused by human error or faulty equipment.
  • Residents of the mostly rural Eagle Ford counties are at a disadvantage even in Texas, because they haven’t been given air quality protections, such as more permanent monitors, provided to the wealthier, more suburban Barnett Shale region near Dallas-Fort Worth.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow examined some of the ills of fracking and discusses the report with Jim Morris, senior reporter and editor at the Center for Public Integrity.



Transcript can be read here



Transcript can be read here

Dec 17 2013

Hot Rails To Hell, Pipelines To Perdition

Do you live near a railroad line?  How about a pipeline?  You might want to check into your proximity to those things.

Because America is the new Saudi Arabia, soon to be the world’s number one oil producer, the infrastructure that used to carry our energy products around is straining to meet the demand created by the new production.  

This pressure is translating into pipeline accidents which are shockingly destructive.  There are on average 1.6 pipeline accidents a day in the US, and the rate of pipeline accidents in Canada has doubled in the past decade. There are also rail disasters, like the recent Lac Megantic rail tanker explosion which killed 47 people and devastated a small town and the recent explosion in rural Alabama when a train carrying 2.7 million gallons of North Dakota crude oil derailed and exploded, sending up 300 foot flames.

pipeline accidents

Map of US Pipeline Accidents January 1, 2010 to March 29, 2013

Even pipeline regulators say they wouldn’t live near a pipeline:

A federal pipeline safety official admitted on camera recently that he made a point of ensuring his home wasn’t in the path of any pipelines before buying it, and that he wouldn’t advise anyone to build in the path of a pipeline. …

“Here is what I did when I bought my house – I looked on all the maps, I looked for all the well holes. I found there is nothing around me but dry holes and no pipelines. And it’s not because I’m afraid of pipelines, it’s not because I think something will happen. It’s because something could happen. … You’re always better off, if you have a choice….”

Energy giants need to get gas and chemicals to process their raw product to transport it to a refinery.  Since US demand for petroleum products has been in decline since 2005 they also want to transport the refined product to a port in order to reach a higher paying market, which is why energy giants like Exxon are presssuring Congress to lift the US export ban on oil and other energy products like natural gas. Naturally, the President Obama has installed a friend of the energy giants as Secretary of the Department of Energy who is in favor of enormous profits for greedy polluters exports of energy products.

Taken together with natural gas, the US is awash in domestic fossil fuels that are largely stranded in North America, and is now in a position to reconsider its scarcity-based energy policies.

Should the export ban be lifted, there will be even more pressure on the energy transportation infrastructure and, hence, more danger for Americans living near pipelines, rail lines and roads where there will be increased truck traffic.

Aug 12 2013

Sunday Train: The Myth of Baseload Power

cross-posted from the Sunday Train origin station Voices on the Square

In Baseload power is a myth: even intermittent renewables will work, Mark Diesendorf, Asst. Professor and Deputy Director of the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of New South Wales (Australia), writes:

The old myth was based on the incorrect assumption that base-load demand can only be supplied by base-load power stations; for example, coal in Australia and nuclear in France. However, the mix of renewable energy technologies in our computer model, which has no base-load power stations, easily supplies base-load demand. Our optimal mix comprises wind 50-60%; solar PV 15-20%; concentrated solar thermal with 15 hours of thermal storage 15-20%; and the small remainder supplied by existing hydro and gas turbines burning renewable gases or liquids. (Contrary to some claims, concentrated solar with thermal storage does not behave as base-load in winter; however, that doesn’t matter.)

Anyone who engages in online discussion on issues involving renewable energy for any length of time will encounter the myth that renewable energy is unreliable in supplying base-load demand. This myth is pushed into the discussion with substantial financial investment, directly and indirectly, by vested interests in continued reliance on the Global Suicide Pact power sources of coal, petroleum, and natural gas. Writing from Australia, Mark Diesendorf flags the use of the Murdoch press empire in propagating this myth. Here in the United States, the myth is promoted by both Big Coal and Big Oil funded propaganda mills ~ including those libertarian “think tanks” that argue against the government getting involved in defending our economy from the prospect of collapse in the face of climate chaos …

… because the “free market”, together with billions of dollars of government subsidies for fossil fuel industry and tens or hundreds of billions of unfunded third party costs of fossil fuel consumption, will surely choose best.

Jul 27 2012

The Fracking of America

Hydraulic Fracturing is the process of extracting natural gas from otherwise inaccessible underground sources, such as the Marcellus Shale Formation which extends under much of the  Appalachian Basin. The process involves  millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals pumped underground, under high pressure, to break apart the rock and release the gas. Scientists are worried that the chemicals used in fracturing may pose a threat either underground or when waste fluids are handled and sometimes spilled on the surface. Needless to say it is a hot political topic, nationally and locally, that has generated law suits, studies and a lot of propaganda from oil companies, the news media and the government

Hiram residents seek local control on fracking

By Dan, who lives in northeast Ohio. Originally published at Pruning Shears.

On Tuesday the town of Hiram held a public meeting with representatives of the company Mountaineer Keystone (MK). MK, a subsidiary of First Reserve Corporation, is set to begin fracking operations in Hiram next month. The company is a bit of an enigma; for one, it does not appear to have a web site, just a generic landing page at First Reserve. Also, according to Business Week it was founded in 2010 and lists no Key Executives. So who exactly the public was meeting with was something of a mystery. [..]

The town counsel began by taking some questions, and residents tried to probe for different ways to slow down this runaway train. Ohio has home rule nominally enshrined in its Constitution, but the Small Government Conservatives in Columbus have happily chipped away at it whenever it has threatened (as in this case) to result in a messy outburst of local control.

Residents asked some creative questions, though. One asked about being annexed by a larger neighboring municipality in order to get a greater degree of local control. [..]

Another resident asked (start of clip) why a noise ordinance couldn’t be enforced. The trustee responded that the township didn’t have the manpower to enforce it, and after a little back-and-forth she says: How about volunteer police officers? [..]

The unresponsiveness of the officials brought to mind a concept I first encountered in Dana Nelson’s Bad For Democracy (p. 177): plebiscetary democracy. As Barney Frank described it relative to the Bush years, this is a system “wherein a leader is elected but once elected has almost all of the power” (Cf. Bush’s accountability moment).

These officials continually defer all proposals to the state level. Try getting the industry-friendly government in Columbus to do something about it, they say – which is really just a polite way of saying shut up and go away. By and large local officials bristle at any kind of pressure to act on this issue. There was an accountability moment a couple years ago, is the implication. You had your chance, now buzz off. See you next election day.

Some citizens, though, believe accountability moments happen at more frequent intervals.

h/t Lambert Strether at naked capitalism

Court Rejects a Ban on Local Fracking Limits

By Mireya Navarro

A Pennsylvania court on Thursday struck down a provision of a state law that forbade municipalities to limit where natural gas drilling can take place within their boundaries.

The law, known as Act 13 and approved in February, required that drilling be allowed in all zoning districts, even residential areas, although with certain buffers. The law had been sought by drillers who have been fracking in the Marcellus Shale and wanted uniformity in rules on where they could drill.

But an appellate court found such a requirement unconstitutional, saying it allowed “incompatible uses in zoning districts,” failed to protect the interests of neighboring property owners and altered the character of neighborhoods.

Lawyers for the seven municipalities that sued over the state law said the court had reinstated their power to carry out basic zoning.

“It will allow local governments to continue to play a meaningful role in protecting property rights, residents and water supplies,” said Jordan B. Yeager, a lawyer who represented the township of Nockamixon and the Borough of Yardley, both in Bucks County.

New Anti-Fracking Film by Gasland’s Josh Fox Targets Cuomo: ‘Governor, What Color Will the Sky Be Over New York?’

by Jeff Goodell at Rolling Stone

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of the great state of New York, I’d like you to meet Josh Fox. As you may know, Josh, who is 39, wrote and directed a film called Gasland, which I’m sure is at the top of your Netflix queue. In 2010, the film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Feature Documentary and helped bring the world’s attention to the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking. To put it another way, Josh is the guy who is largely responsible for the political minefield that you now find yourself tip-toeing through as you consider whether or not to lift the moratorium on fracking in New York State. [..]

Last week, someone in your administration – I won’t try to guess who! – leaked details of your administration’s plan to allow fracking to the New York Times. I’ll give you this: You didn’t allow Chesapeake and the other gas industry thugs to roll you entirely; among other things, the plan limits fracking to five counties in the southern tier of the state and places restrictions on drilling near drinking water supplies. Obviously, you’re trying to appear rational and pragmatic about all this, talking about following “the science” while balancing economic development with environmental and public health concerns.

Well, guess what? When it comes to fracking, there isn’t much “science” to follow yet – there’s mostly just industry-funded propoganda. Not only that, but there are a whole lot of people in your state who don’t want you to balance anything. They’ve seen what has happened in Pennsylvania where the gas companies have run wild and they fear that once the drillers get their bits into the ground in New York, it’s a mad rush to ruin.

Horrors! Unpublished Study Used to Raise Health Questions About Fracking

by Dean Baker at MyFDL

Elaine K. Hill, a doctoral candidate in Cornell University’s department of applied economics and management, found evidence that fracking is associated with the frequency of low birth weight babies. The findings of her study (pdf) implied that for mothers living close to a fracking site, the probability of a low birth weight baby increased by 25 percent.

While this might be important information for government officials and the general public to have when considering restrictions on fracking, New York Times reporter Andrew Revkin is outraged that an unpublished study is being widely circulated and could impact public policy. From his blogpost, it sounds like Revkin gave Hill a really serious grilling about the ethics of allowing her unpublished study to influence debate on a major national issue. [..]

Hill has uncovered an important finding. If there is some fundamental error in her methodology then the more senior people in the field who are condemning her, should be able to quickly identify it. Revkin found people with plenty of bad things to say about Hill, but he was apparently unable to find anyone with fundamental questions about her methodology or who could suggest an alternative explanation for her findings.

Given the importance of these findings, it would have been irresponsible for Hill not to make them public. It’s unfortunate she has to deal with people who are more concerned about credentials than science.

Fracking: What Cuomo Won’t (or Can’t) Tell You

by Alec Baldwin at The Huffington Post Green

On Saturday, June 2, 2012, I hosted a screening of Josh Fox’s documentary film, Gasland, at the Landmark Theatre in Syracuse, New York. After the film, I moderated a panel that included Fox, Kate Hudson from Waterkeeper Alliance, ecologist and author Sandra Steingraber and Cornell University engineering professor Dr. Anthony Ingraffea. The event was co-sponsored by a consortium of anti-fracking groups in Central New York and beyond, such as World Grain Organization, Frack Action and Shale Shock, to name only a few. Supporters of hydraulic fracturing in the natural gas industry were invited to attend and provided with an opportunity to participate. All of those declined, as did all local, state and federal officials that were contacted. [..]

Issues of hidden costs to tax-payers for infrastructure that will ultimately line the pockets of very few in the Southern Tier of New York State while potentially causing catastrophic contamination of billions of gallons of fresh water aside, it was Kate Hudson who raised what I view as the most chilling point during the proceedings: that fracking and all of its inherent risks will accomplish little, if anything, to lower the cost of energy here at home. The Great Fracking Race will only bring more natural gas to market which will be piped to U.S. coasts and sold overseas. This will make some small cadre of gas executives and their investors very rich, while possibly leaving behind incalculable amounts of environmental damage and a price tag for the American taxpayer, at a time of fiscal austerity, that is truly unimaginable.

Mar 12 2012

Pique the Geek 20120311: More on Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking)

Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is back in the news since the Ohio Department of Natural Resources indicated that it was likely that disposal of those fluids after the actual fracturing operation was likely the cause of seismic activity in the Youngstown area, the largest of which was a magnitude 4.0 on 20111231.  It turns out that it us usually not the fracturing activity itself that caused the seismic, but rather deep well injection for disposal of the spent fluids after use.

This not the only potential problem with this procedure, however.  I have written about the process before, but am returning to give a more in depth treatment of it.  I was first drawn to the subject when earthquakes occurred in Guy, Arkansas last year.  The Guy area is not known for seismic activity, but sure enough after deep well injection of the spent fluids began so did the earthquakes.

Before we look at the potential problems with this process, we should look into why it is done and some historical background.  It turns out that the process is over a century old.

Nov 30 2010

Fracking A! New York

This has got to be the best political news I’ve read in a long time. A little before 1:00 a.m. last night, by a vote of 94-44, the New York State Assembly passed the moratorium on hydraulic fracture drilling.

Well it may only be state legislature and the governor still need to sign but apparently this moratorium to protect our drinking water is a first. It’s not top down and the Working Families Party humbly takes some of the credit for more than 52,000 New Yorkers signing the petition urging the Assembly to act.

Go ahead: get up from your chair. Do a little dance, pump your fist, or do whatever you do to celebrate a victory of grassroots action over corporate power.

I just received a letter form the WFP and I was doing just that.  

Nov 17 2010

Pittsburgh Bans Natural Gas Drilling

In the ongoing Propublica investigation Buried Secrets, Gas Drilling’s Environmental Threat today’s headline is Pittsburgh Bans Natural Gas Drilling. Citing health and environmental concerns, the city council received a standing ovation after voting 9-0 to approve the ban within city limits on Tuesday.

City Council President Darlene Harris said her biggest concern was people’s health. She said she had heard stories about people being sickened by water contaminated by Marcellus drilling. She said claims by the industry of the thousands of jobs being created wasn’t worth the risk.

“They’re bringing jobs all right,” Harris said. “There’s going to be a lot of jobs for funeral homes and hospitals. That’s where the jobs are. Is it worth it?”

Pennsylvania is the center of the Marcellus Shale activity, with more than 2,000 wells drilled in the past three years and many thousands more planned, as multinational exploration companies invest billions in the pursuit.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a nonprofit advocacy group, takes credit for drafting the ordinance and claims this is a “first-in-the-nation ordinance” that “elevates the right of the community to decide, not corporations.”

Very good news for Americans and that’s on top of the recent bad news for Halliburton. Dick Cheney must be having a bad day!