hydraulic fracturing

Thu, 2012-04-19 13:45Steve Horn
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New Bakken Shale Pipeline to Cushing, OK in the Works

The controversy over TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline has raged on for years now, with no end in sight. 

The Keystone XL pipeline would carry tar sands crude from the tar sands epicenter of the world in Alberta, Canada, take it down to Cushing, OK, and then eventually down to Port Arthur, TX, where it will be refined and placed on the lucrative oil export market.

While Republicans continue to try to make Keystone XL a campaign issue, President Obama has officially put the fate of the pipeline on the backburner until after the November 2012 U.S. elections.

But this has not stopped other key pipelines and pipeline extensions from being built “in the meantime, in between time,” as the song lyrics made famous by the classic novel, The Great Gatsby, go.

Most recently in the limelight: Obama's late-March approval of the TransCanada Cushing Extension, which extends from Cushing, OK – the self-proclaimed “pipeline crossroads of the world” – to Port Arthur, TX, where oil would be placed on the global export market. 

Now, another key pipeline proposal is in the works, one that would move unconventional oil and gas obtained via the problematic hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin southward to Cushing, where it would then be moved to Port Arthur and also placed on the global export market. Another portion of that pipeline would move the oil and gas westward toward Coos Bay, Oregon, where it would also be exported to the highest bidder.

Sat, 2012-04-07 12:06Farron Cousins
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Who Is Monitoring Fracking Wells And Pipelines? Nobody

As we here at DeSmogBlog have been covering in exhaustive detail for quite some time now, there is virtually no safe way to perform hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for unconventional oil and gas.

Fracking has been linked to numerous problems, including the release of radioactive molecules that cause an array of health problems, earthquakes, and groundwater contamination. Cancer, pollution, environmental destruction – all of these things have been linked to the practice of fracking in recent years.

So with all of the dangerous side effects, you’d expect the practice to at least be heavily monitored by some sort of official watchdog group.

You’d think so, but you’d be wrong. According to new studies, there is a dangerous lapse in oversight for fracking wells and the pipelines being used to transport gas from these wells. From News Inferno:

Sun, 2012-04-01 16:22Steve Horn
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Investors: No More Flaring of Fracked Oil and Gas in Bakken Shale

The debate over flaring unconventional oil and gas in shale basins across the United States has suddenly heated up immensely (excuse the bad pun). 

On March 27, the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economy (CERES) penned a letter calling for an end to the practice, writing,

We are a group of 37 investors, representing $500 billion in total assets, who areconcerned about the financial risks associated with the flaring of natural gas that has accompanied fast-proliferating oil production from shale formations in North Dakota, Texas and elsewhere in the U.S.

We are concerned that excessive flaring, because of its impact on air quality and climate change, poses significant risks for the companies involved, and for the industry at large,ultimately threatening the industry’s license to operate.

As you know, shale oil production, made possible by hydraulic fracturing technology,…is poised to become the world’s largest oil producer in the next five years, with nearly all of this projected growth coming from shale oil. …

On a lifecycle basis, emissions from oil produced with high flaring rates may be comparable to those from Canada’s vast oil sands region.

The letter ended by calling for the building up of proper infrastructure, such as pipelines and refineries, in order to push for an eliminiation of the dirty practice. CERES concluded the letter with a firm request, stating, “We therefore are writing to request information about the amount your company is currently flaring, as well as details about your plans to reduce flaring at existing wells and prevent it at future wells.”

Letter signarories included As You SowPresbyterian Church (USA)Turner Investments, and Praxis Mutual Funds, to name several.

Wed, 2012-03-21 12:30Brendan DeMelle
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Documents Reveal USDA Risking Lawsuits by Ignoring Own Staff On Fracking Mortgages Review

A major storm is brewing over the USDA’s sudden about-face on fracking and environmental laws. On Tuesday, the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture pulled a 180-degree U-turn and decided to reverse the call made by his staff specialists, who advised that the agency immediately stop giving special exemptions from environmental laws to people applying for federal mortgages on properties with oil and gas leases.

Now, environmentalists, members of Congress, and transparency groups are saying that something seems amiss and they are looking for answers.

It all started on Monday when The New York Times ran a story with emails showing that the USDA planned to tell its $165 billion dollar mortgage program to stop financing properties with drilling leases until an environmental review of the impact of drilling and fracking on homes backed by the agency could be completed.

The proposal by the Agriculture Department, which has signaled its intention in e-mails to Congress and landowners, reflects a growing concern that lending to owners of properties with drilling leases might violate the National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA, which requires environmental reviews before federal money is spent. Because that law covers all federal agencies, the department’s move raises questions about litigation risks for other agencies, legal experts said,” the Times story explained.

DeSmogBlog has obtained many of the emails and they make very clear that the staff specialists, whose job it is to interpret laws like NEPA, believe that environmental reviews are legally required and that the agency is vulnerable to litigation if it gives these mortgages a pass, called a “categorical exclusion.”

Tue, 2012-03-20 14:03Steve Horn
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Obama Sojourns to "Pipeline Crossroads of the World" for Campaign Speech

It's the multi-pronged fight that never seems to end.

The Alberta Tar Sands have been near the forefront of the North American energy and climate debate, thanks in large part to growing public concern and grassroots efforts like Tar Sands Action, a campaign led by climate activists to block construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

The temporary derailing of Keystone XL by President Obama - who in January delayed permission to construct the pipeline for the foreseeable future - was labeled a “victory” by many activists. 

But complicating the “victory” narrative, Obama later granted permission to TransCanada Corporation to build the southern segment of the pipeline, the Cushing Extension, sometimes also referred to as the Cushing Marketlink Project, which will run from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas

Pandering to Big Oil, Obama will visit Cushing on Thursday, the self-proclaimed “Pipeline Crossroads of the World,” to give a stump speech for his 2012 election campaign.

The Stillwater News Press explained the rationale for the visit this way:

The White House has announced the president will be in Cushing Thursday to discuss his 'all-of-the-above' energy policy…Thursday appears to some locals as an opportune time for Obama, who said he supports the southern leg, to get on board on the northern segment of the 36-inch pipeline from Canada.

CBC News reports that “Obama will make a speech at a storage yard that's holding pipes to be used to build the pipeline.” 

As the old adage goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” 

Fri, 2012-03-09 14:44Nathanael Baker
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Fracking: Ohio Establishes Tough Regulations After Disposal Wells Cause 12 Earthquakes

State officials have determined that at least 12 earthquakes that occurred in Ohio last December were caused by the injection of brine into hydraulic fracturing disposal wells.  As a result of its findings [pdf], the state has established the nation's “toughest regulations” for the fracking disposal wells.

Brine is a toxic by-product of the fracking process.  According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the safest way to dispose of it is to store it in underground wells.  However, as residents of Youngstown, Ohio discovered, this technique can cause seismic shifts – the largest of the 12 earthquakes registered 4.0 on the Richter scale.

Originally, geologists were skeptical the earthquakes were caused by the drilling of disposal wells and the subsequent injection of brine; but, after conducting in-depth research, they concluded this process did indeed facilitate the quakes: 

“After investigating all available geological formation and well activity data, ODNR [Ohio Department of Natural Resources] regulators and geologists found a number of co-occurring circumstances strongly indicating the Youngstown area earthquakes were induced. Specifically, evidence gathered by state officials suggests fluid from the Northstar 1 disposal well intersected an unmapped fault in a near-failure state of stress causing movement along that fault.”

So, the state has decided to adopt strict regulations in regards to brine disposal wells. Today, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced a set of regulations which it believes will eliminate any future occurrence of fracking induced earthquakes. 

Tue, 2012-03-06 07:34Sharon Kelly
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Experts Air Serious Concerns Before New York Fracking Decision

James Thilman/Gothamist

Two recent court decisions  in New York state upheld the right of towns to use zoning laws to limit or even ban fracking within their borders. Other states and cities such as DallasMaryland, and North Carolina, are still trying to figure out whether, and if so how, to proceed with new drilling.

But the big decision that concerned citizens are watching is the one to be made by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo about his state’s moratorium. New York received more than 40,000 public comments on fracking and is plowing through them now.

The state has yet to publish those documents on the web, but DeSmogBlog has obtained many of them. Here is our initial shortlist of comments that offer the most important warnings and useful insights.

A Hidden Threat?

One of the most overlooked but potentially dangerous public health issues relating to unconventional gas drilling is radon. This odorless and radioactive gas comes up from the wells mixed with the gas that gets piped to consumers. Highly carcinogenic, radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer, just behind cigarette smoking, according to the EPA.

In his comments, Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, director of Radioactive Waste Management Associates, concludes that radon levels in the gas that will come from Marcellus and likely be delivered to nearly 12 million New York residents will be far higher than current levels. As a result, “the potential number of fatal lung cancer deaths due to radon in natural gas from the Marcellus shale range from 1,182 to 30,448” he writes.

Wed, 2012-02-01 16:56Brendan DeMelle
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Video of Josh Fox Being Arrested At House Energy Hearing, First Amendment Rights Ignored

Here is video footage of Gasland director Josh Fox being arrested by Capitol police earlier today. Josh Fox will be on the Ed Schultz show tonight on MSNBC at 8:45pm EST to talk about his arrest today. 

Fox released a statement about his arrest, which we reprint below (H/T Grist):

Wed, 2012-02-01 09:24Laurel Whitney
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Josh Fox Arrested For "Unlawful Entry" At Congressional Fracking Public Hearing, GOP Attacks 1st Amendment Rights

Earlier this morning, “Gasland” filmmaker and anti-fracking advocate Josh Fox was ejected out of the Energy and Environment subcommittee meeting on fracking after he attempted to film it. Claiming the First Amendment gave him rights to record, Fox refused to leave, so he was handcuffed, led out, and later arrested. An ABC news crew was also prevented from filming as well. House Republicans directed the Capitol Hill police to arrest Fox, and to block the ABC team.

The Energy and Environment Subcommittee held a hearing on EPA's fracking study conducted in Pavilion, WY. A few months ago, the agency found benzene and other chemicals associated with fracking in resident's drinking water. The main focus of the hearing was to verify the scientific integrity of the study.

Puzzlingly, Fox was charged with “unlawful entry” to a public hearing. (How is that even possible? We'll await Republican explanation on how they're interpreting the First Amendment here.)

As Fox was led out of the room, Democratic Representative, Brad Miller (D-NC), attempted to suspend the committee rules to let the crews film the hearing but was blocked by the Republican Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD). Normally, the committee chairman can give special permission to allow uncredentialed media members to film. They attempted to pass a motion that would either allow Fox and others to film or postpone the hearing until credentials could be obtained, both of which were voted down with Harris stating that the hearing could be viewed on the web.

Huffington Post released this update

Capitol Police public information officer Seargant Kimberly Schneider provided the following statement to HuffPost on the morning's events:

“At approximately 10:30 a.m. today, United States Capitol Police arrested Joshua Fox of Milanville, Pa. in room 2318 of the Rayburn House office building. He is charged with unlawful entry, and he is currently being processed at United States Capitol Police headquarters.”
UPDATE: Gasland posted on Facebook that Josh Fox will be on the Ed Schultz show tonight on MSNBC at 8:45pm EST to talk about his arrest today.
Sun, 2012-01-29 10:58Laurel Whitney
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New York Looks To Local Bans On Fracking

As the New York moratorium on fracking continues to hang in jeopardy, towns within the state are taking it upon themselves to issue fracking bans locally, what may become a last-ditch effort to keep fracking out if the moratorium is lifted. Over 20 cities, including Buffalo, Ithaca, Syracuse, and others in the Finger Lakes regions, have passed bans through the “municipal home rule” to keep fracking outside of their city limits.

The question, though, is whether the state and the courts will uphold the cities' rulings.

The home rule is designed to allow residents to pass laws that protect their health and environment from invading industries like oil and gas development. There is an abundance of evidence that fracking threatens drinking watersheds and wells, releases radiation, causes major sickness and disease, and even could contribute to earthquakes.

New York City's drinking water is protected, with lawmakers vowing to keep drilling operations contained to areas outside the watershed. However, there is still concern that if fracking operations cause major earthquakes, it could shatter the city's antiquated water tunnels that deliver drinking water from upstate.

In order to protect people who live outside the city, where legislators are eager to lift the moratorium and start drilling, local bans may be the only option left.

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