Tag Archive: fracking

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

Jan 13 2014

Sunday Train: The Rumored Death of Peak Oil Was Greatly Exaggerated

From Earth Insight by Nafeez Ahmed, hostsed by the Gardian, Former BP geologist: peak oil is here and it will ‘break economies’:

Dr. Richard G. Miller, who worked for BP from 1985 before retiring in 2008, said that official data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), US Energy Information Administration (EIA), International Monetary Fund (IMF), among other sources, showed that conventional oil had most likely peaked around 2008.

Dr. Miller critiqued the official industry line that global reserves will last 53 years at current rates of consumption, pointing out that “peaking is the result of declining production rates, not declining reserves.” Despite new discoveries and increasing reliance on unconventional oil and gas, 37 countries are already post-peak, and global oil production is declining at about 4.1% per year, or 3.5 million barrels a day (b/d) per year:

“We need new production equal to a new Saudi Arabia every 3 to 4 years to maintain and grow supply… New discoveries have not matched consumption since 1986. We are drawing down on our reserves, even though reserves are apparently climbing every year. Reserves are growing due to better technology in old fields, raising the amount we can recover – but production is still falling at 4.1% p.a. [per annum].”

Jan 05 2014

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: Fracking Skirmishes In the Anti-Corporatist War by Northsylvania

Fracking, like cigarette production, is one of the moral indicators of Capitalism-as-practiced. A lot of money is spent by the companies involved proving that it causes no harm and is in fact a common good. It also provides a good case study in how the fight against corporate/ governmental hegemony can be a long drawn out process punctuated by the occasional surprising success. If the city of Dallas, the home of Big Oil, effectively bans fracking, that says a lot.

J.R. Ewing standing in front of Southfork with the phrase,

 However, fracking is a complicated subject. The points made for it by its apologists include economic development, the prospect of having a smaller carbon footprint than with coal fired energy generation, and cheaper gas for those who are vulnerable to high heating costs. Proponents say that fracking is a proven technology used for many years, has never been proved to have a negative effect on environmental degradation, and has never caused earthquakes, which is true…if you define fracking narrowly as sending an explosive charge down a borehole to loosen the formation from which the oil is extracted, and discount the storage and transport of waste, the fugitive emissions from extraction and storage, and earthquakes caused by injection disposal wells.  Fracking is also bound up in our ideas of individual versus collective rights, class warfare, corporate/ governmental collusion, and climate change, something we on the Left are passionate about, and rightly so. On the Right it is likewise associated with decreasing reliance on foreign gas and oil imports, national economic progress, and providing jobs. Because the media promotes controversy, everything from the visual images of protesters to the letters written to local papers are often chosen to be polarising. The most extreme examples of corporate sponsored puff pieces are often balanced with impassioned but uneducated letters and e-mails, so that readers unfamiliar with the process become confused. One friend of mine asked, “How can anyone possibly think that injecting a highly pressurised column of carcinogenic chemicals into a pipe through the water supply could be a good idea?” Another made equally valid points from his point of view: “If you all say that nuclear power is off the table, renewables can’t generate enough power, biofuels take up too much productive land, and coal and petroleum has to stay in the ground, how are you going to heat your houses and cook your food?”

Jun 28 2013

Obama’s Energy Plan: Full Speed Ahead on Fracking

At DeSmogBlog, Steve Horn summed up President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan as “drill, baby, drill” and  “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.” The president’s plan is a full endorsement of controversial hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to extract natural gas from shale rack using toxic chemicals and horizontal drilling. Steve points out that the president’s claims of providing clean energy and a “moral obligation” to protect the environment for future generations flies in the face of the facts about the dangers of fracking not only to carbon emissions but to clean water.

In a study from Cornell University, researchers confirming that shale gas recovered through high volume hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” will produce even more greenhouse gases than the burning of coal in the next two decades:

“The greenhouse gas footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years… These methane emissions are at least 30% more than and perhaps more than twice as great as those from conventional gas. The higher emissions from shale gas occur at the time wells are hydraulically fractured — as methane escapes from flow-back return fluids — and during drill out following the fracturing.”

Another study from Duke University (pdf), shale gas fracking has been linked to groundwater contamination in the Marcellus Shale basin of Pennsylvania.

The scientists analyzed 141 drinking water samples from private water wells across northeastern Pennsylvania’s gas-rich Marcellus Shale basin.

They found that, on average, methane concentrations were six times higher and ethane concentrations were 23 times higher at homes within a kilometer of a shale gas well.  Propane was detected in 10 samples, all of them from homes within a kilometer of drilling.

“The methane, ethane and propane data, and new evidence from hydrocarbon and helium content, all suggest that drilling has affected some homeowners’ water,” said Robert B. Jackson, a professor of environmental sciences at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.  “In a minority of cases the gas even looks Marcellus-like, probably caused by poor well construction.”

The ethane and propane data are “particularly interesting,” he noted, “since there is no biological source of ethane and propane in the region and Marcellus gas is high in both, and higher in concentration than Upper Devonian gases” found in formations overlying the Marcellus shale.

This all comes as the Environmental Protection Agency has delayed a study examining the connection between hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming. The EPA also dropped and censored the groundwater contamination study in Weatherford, TX.

Pres. Obama also endorsed plans to expand fracking internationally:

Obama’s plan also boasts about bringing the U.S. model for fracking abroad through the U.S. State Department’s Global Shale Gas Initiative, now called the Unconventional Gas Technical Engagement Program.

And to add to the package, the plan also fully endorses “T. Boone Pickens’ “Pickens Plan,” helping create a domestic market for natural gas vehicles, particularly for 18-wheelers.”

Obama’s Climate Plan: A Historic Turning Point or Too Reliant on Oil, Coal, Natural Gas?



Transcript can be read here

President Obama has unveiled a climate plan that imposes the first limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants. The move will not require congressional approval, meaning Obama can bypass expected Republican-led opposition. In his address, Obama also outlined a broad range of measures to protect coastlines and cities from rising sea levels, and vowed to promote the development of renewable energy. In a development that has led both opponents and supporters of the Keystone XL oil pipeline to express optimism for their side, Obama said approval of the project will be contingent upon assuring it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” Just how successful Obama will be in carrying out his sweeping plan to address climate change – and whether it goes far enough – is a matter of debate. We assess his speech with two guests holding differing views: Dan Lashof of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen.

Sep 10 2012

Frackonomics, or, Why we can’t have anything nice

I was recently asked by a friend to contribute to a sort of compact reference on fracking (you can see the product here). As I was working on the section on the economics of fracking, it struck me that what is wrong with the economics of fracking is what is wrong with our whole energy economy; the incentives are set up to create a perverse outcome.

Because the environmental costs of fracking (and pretty much all extractive energy industries) are externalized, or perhaps “socialized” would be an easier term here, and the profits are privatized, the appearance of a very profitable industry is based upon false economic information.  The creation of these incentives to extract fossil energy with little regard to the environmental consequences (and sometimes even common sense) has vested enormous economic power in the hands of people who use that money to purchase political power.  They then perpetuate those same incentives over the objections of those who for years, Cassandra-like, point out that their continued activity is rendering our environment inhospitable to human life.  As an article in the Independent from 2006 “Disappearing world: Global warming claims tropical island,” chronicles:

Rising seas, caused by global warming, have for the first time washed an inhabited island off the face of the Earth. The obliteration of Lohachara island, in India’s part of the Sundarbans where the Ganges and the Brahmaputra rivers empty into the Bay of Bengal, marks the moment when one of the most apocalyptic predictions of environmentalists and climate scientists has started coming true.

As the seas continue to swell, they will swallow whole island nations, from the Maldives to the Marshall Islands, inundate vast areas of countries from Bangladesh to Egypt, and submerge parts of scores of coastal cities.

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.

Jul 17 2011

Rant of the Week: Stephen Colbert

Anti-frack Attacks

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To promote fracking, Talisman Energy releases Talisman Terry the Frackosaurus, the funnest energy extraction-based character since Mountaintop Mining Manny.

Mar 07 2011

Pique the Geek 20110306: Fricking, Fracking, and Earthquakes

Hydraulic fracturing, also called hydrofracture or just fracking, is a commonly used method to increase the yield of fluid raw materials, usually petroleum or natural gas, from formations that are not “easy” extraction targets.  Easy targets are ones that the fluids dispersed in sands or very porous rock formation.  

Let us dispel a common myth right now:  oil and gas is almost NEVER found as big pools of those materials in large holes in the rock.  Almost without exception, and perhaps quite without exception, these materials are dispersed in some more or less porous rock or sand.    When you see pictures of underground reservoirs of gas or oil, you are really looking at the fluid as it is dispersed in the native matrix.

Sand and very “rotten” sandstone are easy matrices from which to extract the fluids.  Shale and hard sandstone are much more difficult matrices, and hydraulic fracturing is used to increase yields from such formations.

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.