fracking

Tue, 2012-07-17 01:08Steve Horn
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Does Red Leaf's "EcoShale" Technology Greenwash Oil Shale Extraction?

At the Clinton Global Initiative in 2008, former Vice President Al Gore called the possibility of fossil fuel corporations extracting oil shaleutter insanity.” 

Insanity, though, doesn't serve as a hinderance for deeply entrenched and powerful fossil fuel interests.

Oil shale, also known as kerogen, should not be confused with shale gas or shale oil, two fossil fuels best known from Josh Fox's “Gasland.” As explained in a report by the Checks and Balances Project,

Oil shale itself is a misnomer. It is actually rock containing an organic substance called kerogen. The rocks haven’t been in the ground for enough time or under enough pressure to become oil. Oil companies need to recreate geological forces to produce any energy from it. Ideas for developing oil shale have included baking acres of land at 700 degrees for three to four years and even detonating an atomic bomb underground.

The really “insane” part of the equation: oil shale production, which has yet to begin, would be ecologically destructive to the extreme.

“Because oil shale is a rock, commercial production would release 25% to 75% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil,” wrote the Western Resource Advocates. Furthermore, like tar sands production and shale oil/gas production, oil shale production is a water-intensive process.

Adding insult to injury, in the 100 years of attempted commercial production of oil shale, the fossil fuel industry has yet to seal the deal, motivating an April 2012 report by Checks and Balances titled “A Century of Failure.”

Wed, 2012-07-11 11:10Steve Horn
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Wisconsin v. Yoder Redux? MN Amish Citizens Revolt Against Frac Sand Mining

“History,” the old adage goes, “repeats itself.” And this is precisely the reason why we learn it.

Exhibit A: Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), a landmark First Amendment Court battle royale. The case's facts, as summarized by Oyez, are as follows:

Jonas Yoder and Wallace Miller, both members of the Old Order Amish religion, and Adin Yutzy, a member of the Conservative Amish Mennonite Church, were prosecuted under a Wisconsin law that required all children to attend public schools until age 16. The three parents refused to send their children to such schools after the eighth grade, arguing that high school attendance was contrary to their religious beliefs.

The Court was tasked to answer the following question: Did Wisconsin's requirement that all parents send their children to school at least until age 16 violate the First Amendment by criminalizing the conduct of parents who refused to send their children to school for religious reasons?

Wed, 2012-07-11 03:00Brendan DeMelle
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Science Trumped by Politics In Cuomo's NY Fracking Plans?

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said repeatedly that, in making the decision on whether to allow horizontal hydrofracking in New York State, he wants to rely on “science, and not emotion.” He is relying on the NY Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to give him that science - but an array of documents suggest the Governor is being badly served.

Documents recently uncovered by Environmental Working Group shine a unique spotlight on privileged access granted to gas industry lobbyists by DEC officials with regards to fracking.

Some of the most important conversations revealed in those pages have little to do with debate over the science of fracking’s environmental footprint – and everything to do with the politics of ending New York’s temporary moratorium and allowing shale gas fracking to move forward in the state.

Governor Andrew Cuomo has gone to great lengths to present the course his state will take with regards to fracking as the opposite of Pennsylvania’s drill-baby-drill approach, which has left regulators scrambling to keep up and allowed a growing list of problems to emerge. By contrast, New York will make an incremental, guarded entry into fracking, Cuomo alleges. And his regulators will take an approach that rises above the fray of conflicts between industry and environmentalists.

We have a process. Let’s get the facts,” Governor Cuomo said last year, with regards to ending the state’s temporary moratorium on fracking. “Let the science and the facts make the determination, not emotion and not politics.”

But it’s increasingly clear that the process has actually been based on anything but science. Politics, legal considerations and economic concerns have instead predominated. Most tellingly, documents recently uncovered by Environmental Working Group show that industry representatives allowed access to drafts of the state’s permit plans, and used that information to lobby hard against testing for radioactivity in wastewater, for example.

But the documents also show a regular pattern of behind-the-scenes communication between the industry and regulators, at the same time as environmental advocates and others were struggling to be heard through public comments and similar official channels.

Tue, 2012-07-10 10:16Steve Horn
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Oil Sands Fact Check: New API Front Group

How do you sell a rotten bag of goods? Rule number one of effective propaganda: repackage it into something seemingly less grotesque.

In that spirit, the Houston Chronicle recently reported the American Petroleum Institute (API) has created yet another front group, this one to promote tar sands crude, one of the dirtiest sources of fuel in the world, as a safe and secure energy resource.

It's name? “Oil Sands Fact Check” (OSFC).

Sat, 2012-07-07 08:00Farron Cousins
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What To Expect When You’re Electing: President Barack Obama

Part 3 in a series, see Part 1 and Part 2.

Perhaps more than any other sitting U.S. President, Barack Obama has been Commander in Chief through some of the most obvious examples of what climate change will do to America. The last few weeks alone have given us severe droughts in some areas of the country while others have seen unprecedented flooding; The state of Colorado is battling some of the worst wildfires in their history; and massive heat waves are engulfing large swaths of America. And let’s not forget the massive snowstorms in the winter of 2010 – 2011.

Then there were the manmade environmental atrocities like the BP oil geyser in the Gulf of Mexico, the deadly Massey Upper Big Branch mine disaster, the Kalamazoo River tar sands spill, fracking-induced earthquakes in Ohio, water contamination from unconventional oil and gas drilling – the list could go on and on.

So in the face of these disasters, how has President Obama fared on environmental issues? Let’s take a look.

In 2008, then-candidate Obama told supporters that if elected, he would set a goal of an 80% reduction in carbon emissions by the year 2050. He acknowledged that man-made climate change was a real threat to America, and signaled a change in policy from the previous administration. Voters, especially environmentally conscious voters, were relieved to finally hear a candidate expressing such bold goals for the country.
  

Fri, 2012-07-06 03:00Steve Horn
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EOG Resources: The Gas Corporation That Does It All From Cradle to Grave

DeSmogBlog, on multiple occasions, has reported that the damage caused by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” in the unconventional oil and gas industry goes far beyond water contamination, put in the spotlight by the documentary film “Gasland.” The multi-pronged harms were tackled in a comprehensive manner in our report, “Fracking the Future.”

One corporation in particular, EOG Resources, epitomizes the shale gas lifecycle from cradle to grave and the damage it is causing in communities worldwide. 

Who is EOG? The Artist Formerly Known as Enron

EOG Resources – owned by CEO Mark Papa – is the born again sibling of the now disgraced corporation, Enron Oil and Gas, hence “EOG.” It is headquarted in Houston, TX.

Former President and Chief Opearing Officer of Enron, Richard Kinder, recently referred to by The Wall Street Journal as “The Luckiest Ex-Enron Employee,” now co-owns oil and gas industry pipeline giant, Kinder Morgan

After the fall of Enron, Kinder Morgan purchased Enron's pipeline assets and built up the Kinder Morgan behemoth into what it is today, the corporation with the most extensive array of pipelines in North America.

Tue, 2012-07-03 15:51Ben Jervey
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Bloomberg Stunner: How Chesapeake Energy Paid Less Than a 1% Tax Rate On $5.5 Billion in Profits

Chesapeake Energy, a company that is no stranger to financial scandals, has found itself on the front page of the financial papers again. This time, the subject is taxes. Or how Chesapeake barely pays them.  

Over its 23-year history, Chesapeake Energy, the second largest producer of natural gas in the U.S., and the company described by its founder and CEO Aubrey McClendon as “the biggest frackers in the world,” has earned roughly $5.5 billion in pre-tax profits. To date, the company has paid $53 million in taxes. That’s an effective tax rate of under 1 percent - a massive taxpayer subsidy.

The corporate income tax rate in the U.S. is 35 percent. 

The Bloomberg article that exposed these stunning figures is quick to note that this is far less than the 12 percent rate that GE paid in 2010 that caused such public outrage, and even a tiny percentage of the 18 percent effective rate that Google had to answer for.

So how does Chesapeake pull this off? Mostly, it’s due to a rule written in 1916 that allows oil and gas producers to, according to Bloomberg, “postpone income taxes in recognition of the inherent risk of drilling wells that may turn out to be dry.

The break may be outdated for companies such as Chesapeake, which, thanks to advances in technology, struck oil or gas in 99.6 percent of its wells last year.“ When the policy was written, drillers struck “dry wells” roughly 80 percent of the time.

Sat, 2012-06-30 08:00Brendan DeMelle
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Aspen Ideas Festival Fracking Debate Livestream - Tune in Sunday

This Sunday, July 1, FORA.tv is hosting a free, online debate at the Aspen Ideas Festival, “No Fracking Way: Is The Natural Gas Boom Doing More Harm Than Good?

The debate will feature Deborah Goldberg and Katherine Hudson arguing for the motion, Joe Nocera and Susan Tierney arguing against. (See below for brief bios.)

The debate will be streaming live online at 6pm PDT (3pm EDT), and you can tune in here at DeSmogBlog to watch as well.

Fri, 2012-06-29 10:47Steve Horn
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Sand Land: Frac Sand Mining in Western Wisconsin - Video Report by DeSmogBlog

The rush to drill for unconventional gas, enabled by a process popularly known as “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, has brought with it much collateral damage. Close observers know about contaminated water, earthquakes, and climate change impacts of the shale gas boom, but few look at the entire life cycle of fracking from cradle to grave.

Until recently, one of the most underlooked facets of the industry was the “cradle” portion of the shale gas lifecycle: frac sand mining in the hills of northwestern Wisconsin and bordering eastern Minnesota, areas now serving as the epicenter of the frac sand mining world.

The silence on the issue ended after several good investigative stories were produced by outlets in the past year or so, such as Wisconsin WatchPR WatchThe Wisconsin State Journal, the Associated PressThe Wall Street JournalOrionEcoWatch, and most recently, Tom Dispatch. These various articles, all well worth reading, explain the land grab currently unfolding in the Midwest and the ecological damage that has accompanied it

To put it bluntly, there could be no shale gas extraction without the sand. As Tom Dispatch's Ellen Cantarow recently explained,

That sand, which props open fractures in the shale, has to come from somewhere. Without it, the fracking industry would grind to a halt. So big multinational corporations are descending on this bucolic region to cart off its prehistoric sand, which will later be forcefully injected into the earth elsewhere across the country to produce more natural gas. Geology that has taken millions of years to form is now being transformed into part of a system, a machine, helping to drive global climate change.

Frac sand, which consists of fine-grained sillica, can cause the respiratory illness, silicosis. Washing the frac sand in preparation for the fracking process is also a water intensive process, particularly threatening in the age of increasing water scarcity in the United States and around the world.

Fri, 2012-06-29 07:00Farron Cousins
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What To Expect When You’re Electing: Part 1 – What’s At Stake

Environmental and energy issues became one of the central issues of the 2008 U.S. presidential election. While the economy itself took center stage, energy issues were right behind it, being pushed by the insufferable chant of “Drill baby drill.” In the four years that have followed, the U.S. has seen a boom in hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the worst oil spill in our history, skyrocketing (and then plummeting) gas prices, a disastrous oil pipeline plan that threatens the safety of our aquifers, and a Republican-led assault on environmental safety standards.

With all of these issues weighing heavily in the mind of the American public, there’s no doubt that both energy policy and environmental concerns will once again play an important role in the 2012 election cycle.

To help educate those voters concerned about the environmental policies and histories of the 2012 candidates, we’re putting together a multi-part series “What to Expect When You’re Electing,” and we will discuss the statements, policies, positions, and industry money received by both major presidential candidates, as well as those seeking lower offices.

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