hydraulic fracturing

Wed, 2013-09-25 05:00Sharon Kelly
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What a Secretly-Negotiated Free Trade Agreement Could Mean for Fracking in the U.S.

A trade agreement being secretly negotiated by the Obama administration could allow an end run by the oil and gas industry around local opposition to natural gas exports. This agreement, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is being crafted right now – and the stakes for fracking and shale gas are high.

While the vast majority of the opposition to fracking in the US has focused on domestic concerns – its impact on air and water, local land rights, misleading information about its finances – less attention has been paid to a topic of colossal consequence: natural gas exports.

At least 15 companies have filed applications with the federal Department of Energy to export liquified natural gas (LNG). The shale gas rush has caused a glut in the American market thanks to fracking, and now the race is on among industry giants to ship the liquefied fuel by tanker to export markets worldwide, where prices run far higher than in the U.S.

As drilling has spread across the U.S., grassroots organizing around unconventional oil and gas drilling and fracking has grown to an unprecedented level in many communities. Public hearings and town halls from New York to California have been flooded with concerned scientific experts, residents and small business owners and farmers who stand to be impacted by the drilling boom.

Drilling advocates have become increasingly concerned about how grassroots organizing has expanded over the past 5 years. “Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry has largely failed to appreciate social and political risks, and has repeatedly been caught off guard by the sophistication, speed and influence of anti-fracking activists,” one consultant warned the industry last year.

Some of the most resounding setbacks the drilling industry has faced have come at the state or local level. Bans and moratoria have led drilling companies to withdraw from leases in parts of the country, abandoning, at least for the short term, plans to drill.

But when it comes to natural gas exports – which many analysts have said are key for the industry’s financial prospects –independent experts and local organizers may soon find themselves entirely shut out of the decision-making process, if the oil and gas industry has its way.

Wed, 2013-09-18 05:00Steve Horn
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Big Oil PR Pros, Lobbyists Dominate EDF Fracking Climate Study Steering Committee

Alongside releasing its controversial findings on fugitive methane emissions caused by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on September 16, University of Texas-Austin also unveiled an industry-stacked Steering Committee roster for the study it conducted in concert with Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

Stacked with former and current oil industry lobbyists, policy professionals and business executives, the Steering Committee is proof positive of the conflicts of interest evident in the roster of people and funding behind the “frackademia” study.

Only two out of the 11 members of the Steering Committee besides lead author and UT-Austin Professor David Allen have a science background relevant to onshore fracking. 

That study found fugitive methane emissions at the well pad to be 2%-4% lower than discovered by the non-industry funded groundbreaking April 2011 Cornell University study co-authored by Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth.

The Cornell study concluded fracking is worse for the climate than coal combustion when measured over its entire lifecycle. 

Webster's Dictionary defines a Steering Committee as “a committee, especially of a deliberative or legislative body, that prepares the agenda of a session.”

In the case of the EDF study - based on the oddly rosy findings - it seems plausible the industry-stacked Committee drove the report in a direction beneficial to oil industry profits rather than science.  

Mon, 2013-09-16 12:50Steve Horn
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Frackademia: The People & Money Behind the EDF Methane Emissions Study

Update: UT-Austin has released the Steering Committee roster for the study. It consists of lead author David Allen, two EDF employees, and nine oil industry representatives, including lobbyists and PR staff from ExxonMobil, Shell, Southwestern Energy and more. See DeSmog's follow-up coverage.

The long-awaited Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)-sponsored hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) fugitive methane emissions study is finally out. Unfortunately, it's another case of “frackademia” or industry-funded 'science' dressed up to look like objective academic analysis.

If reliable, the study - published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and titled, “Measurements of methane emissions at natural gas production sites in the United States” - would have severely reduced concerns about methane emissions from fracked gas.

The report concludes .42% of fracked gas - based on samples taken from 190 production sites - is emitted into the air at the well pad. This is a full 2%-4% lower than well pad emissions estimated by Cornell University professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea in their ground-breaking April 2011 study now simply known as the “Cornell Study.”

peek behind the curtain show the study's results - described as “unprecedented” by EDF - may have something to do with the broad spectrum of industry-friendly backers of the report which include several major oil and gas companies, individuals and foundations fully committed to promoting the production and use of fracked gas in the U.S.

One of the report's co-authors currently works as a consultant for the oil and gas industry, while another formerly worked as a petroleum engineer before entering academia.

The study will likely be paraded as “definitive” by Big Oil, its front groups and the media in the days and weeks to come.

DeSmogBlog exclusive investigation reveals the study actually stands to make its pro-gas funders a fortune in what amounts to industry-favorable data meant to justify shale gas in the public mind as a “bridge fuel” - EDF's stance on gas - now and into the future.  

Fri, 2013-09-13 06:00Sharon Kelly
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Never-Released Energy Department Report Predicts Increasing Domestic Conflicts over Water, Energy

Last summer, the United States experienced the worst drought since the Dust Bowl in the 1930s.

At the same time, the country was experiencing one of the biggest onshore drilling booms in history, powered by one of the most water-intensive extraction technologies ever invented: hydraulic fracking.

The tension between these two realities could not be clearer.

This year, as the drilling industry drew millions of gallons of water per well in Arkansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah and Wyoming, residents in these states struggled with severe droughts and some farmers opted to sell their water to the oil and gas industry rather than try to compete with them for limited resources.

Even the Atlantic coast's mighty Susquehanna River faced record lows last year, leading regulators to suspend dozens of withdrawal permits – the majority of which were for fracking Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale.

Researchers for the Federal Department of Energy saw problems like this coming, according to thousands of pages of documents about the topic provided to DeSmog, but their recommendations and warnings were consistently edited and downplayed and the final version of their report has yet to be released.

Wed, 2013-09-11 12:45Steve Horn
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Breaking: First Marcellus Fracked Gas Export Permit Approved by Energy Dept

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has granted the first ever LNG export permit license to Dominion Resources, Inc. to export gas obtained from the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process in the Marcellus Shale basin.  

It's the fourth ever export terminal approved by the DOE, with the three others along the Gulf Coast: Cheniere's Sabine Pass LNG, Freeport LNG (50-percent owned by ConocoPhillips) and Lake Charles Exports, LLC

Located in Lusby, Maryland, the Dominion Cove Point LNG terminal will be a key regional hub to take gas fracked from one of the most prolific shale basins in the world - the Marcellus - and ship it to global markets, with shale gas exports a key geopolitical bargaining chip with Russia, the biggest producer of conventional gas in the world.

Dominion owns not only Cove Point, but also the pipeline infrastructure set to feed the terminal.

“Dominion…owns both the existing Cove Point LNG Terminal and the 88-mile Cove Point pipeline,” explained industry publication LNG Global. “Dominion Cove Point…stated in their application that natural gas will be delivered to the Cove Point Pipeline from the interstate pipeline grid, thereby allowing gas to be sourced broadly.”

DOE handed Dominion a permit lasting a generation.  

Mon, 2013-09-09 14:47Steve Horn
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University of Tennessee "Frackademia" Program Put to Rest, For Now

University of Tennessee-Knoxville's “frackademia” program proposal - set to transform UT's Institute of Agriculture into a de facto fracking land leasing agency - has been put to rest for now, according to The Tennesseean. In short: the university's premiere leasing proposal for acreage didn't recieve a single bid.   

UT-Knoxville's proposed program - as revealed in a DeSmogBlog investigation - intended to research wells fracked on 8,600 acres of Cumberland Forest land owned by UT that sits on top of the Chattanooga Shale basin. UT-Knoxville would lease the acreage off to Big Oil under the nullified plan. 

The proposal called for an initial fee of $300,000 paid by companies interested in fracking, an additional $300,000 per year, 15-percent royalties on any gas sold and a minimum of $35 per acre paid to UT-Knoxville.

“It would create a rare, controlled environment in which experts could study the environmental impact of the controversial drilling technique, while also generating revenue to finance research,” explained a March 2013 New York Times article on the proposal.

For now, the “controlled environment” conception serves as merely a prologue, its future at UT-Knoxville - if any at all - still undetermined. 

At this point, I am unsure of the next steps, if any,” Kevin Hoyt, Director of UT's Forest Resources Ag­Research and Education Center - which manages the Cumberland Forest - said in a press statement. “Those decisions will be up to UT Institute of Agriculture leadership.”

It might also be up to other key important players, too: the Haslam family.  

Tue, 2013-09-03 14:37Steve Horn
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"Frackademia" By Law: Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 Exposed

With the school year starting for many this week, it's another year of academia for professors across the United States - and another year of “frackademia” for an increasingly large swath of “frackademics” under federal law. 

“Frackademia” is best defined as flawed but seemingly legitimate science and economic studies on the controversial oil and gas horizontal drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), but done with industry funding and/or industry-tied academics (“frackademics”). 

While the “frackademia” phenomenon has received much media coverage, a critical piece missing from the discussion is the role played by Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Although merely ten pages out of the massive 551-page bill, Section 999 created the U.S. Department of Energy-run Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), a “non-profit corporation formed by a consortium of premier U.S. energy research universities, industry and independent research organizations.” 

Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, RPSEA receives $1 billion of funding - $100 million per year - between 2007 and 2016. On top of that, Section 999 creates an “Oil and Gas Lease Income” fund “from any Federal royalties, rents, and bonuses derived from Federal onshore and offshore oil and gas leases.” The federal government put $50 million in the latter pot to get the ball rolling. 

The Energy Policy Act of 2005's ”Halliburton Loophole” - which created an enforcement exemption from the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act for fracking, and made the chemicals found within fracking fluid a “trade secret” - is by far the bill's most notorious legacy for close followers of fracking.

These provisions were helped along by then-Vice President Dick Cheney's Energy Policy Task Force, which entailed countless meetings between Big Oil lobbyists and executives and members of President George W. Bush's cabinet. Together, these lobbyists and appointees hammered out the details behind closed doors of what became the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a bill receiving a “yes” vote by then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Wed, 2013-08-21 05:00Steve Horn
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Exclusive: Ousted Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon Launching Ohio Land Grab

Aubrey McClendon's penchant for “land grab” as a business model made the recently-ousted Chesapeake Energy CEO infamous - and he's at it again for his new start-up hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) company in Ohio's Utica Shale basin. It's a formation he once hailed as the “biggest thing to hit Ohio since the plow.”

Under Securities and Exchange Commission investigation for sketchy business practices, McClendon departed Chesapeake with a severance package including $35 million, access to the company's private jets through 2016 and a 2.5% *return on ownership stake in* every well Chesapeake fracks through June 2014.

Since then, he launched three new start-ups: McClendon Energy PartnersAmerican Energy Partners and Arcadia Capital LLC.

American Energy Partners' headquarters are just half a mile down the road from Chesapeake's, the number two U.S. producer of shale gas behind ExxonMobil. Some of those in McClendon's Chesapeake inner circle have left Chesapeake and joined him (or reportedly intend to join him) at his new ventures.**

Though former Chesapeake employees are barred from working for McClendon, this excludes “any employee assigned to Mr. McClendon as an assistant,” “any employee who has been terminated by the Company,” “any employee who elects (or has elected) to accept any voluntary severance or retirement program offered by the Company,” or “any employee for whom the Company consents in advance to the soliciting and hiring by Mr. McClendon.” 

In other words, the scandal-ridden AKM Operations has shape-shifted into McClendon Energy Partners, American Energy Partners and Arcadia Capital LLC.

McClendon's playing the same business plan game using a different company name, with Ohio serving as the first pit stop. Although his business plans were held close to the chest since his Chesapeake departure, recent stories indicate that McClendon's Ohio “land grab” has now begun in earnest.

Fri, 2013-08-16 10:51Steve Horn
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Warren Buffett Buys Over $500 Million of Suncor Tar Sands Stock, Latest in "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap"

Warren Buffett - the fourth richest man on the planet and major campaign contributor to President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 - may soon get a whole lot richer.

That's because he just bought over half a billion bucks worth of Suncor Energy stock: $524 million in the second quarter of 2013, to be precise, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. Suncor is a major producer and marketer of tar sands via its wholly owned subsidiary Petro-Canada (formerly Sunoco) and this latest development follows a trend of Buffett enriching himself through dirty investments and deal-making. 

So far in 2013, Suncor (formerly Sun Oil Company) has produced 328,000 barrels per day of tar sands crude.

Though he receives far less negative press than the Koch Brothers, Buffett's no deep green ecologist. Not in the slightest. 

Referred to as one of 17 “Climate Killers” by Rolling Stone's Tim Dickinson in a January 2010 story, Buffett owns the behemoth holding company, Berkshire Hathway. It's through Berkshire that he's making a killing - while simultaneously killing the ecosystem - through one of its most profitable wholly-owned assets: Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF).

Buffett purchased BNSF for $26 billion and was “the largest acquisition of Buffett's storied career,” Dickinson wrote.

BNSF hauls around frac sand for the controversial horizontal oil and gas drilling process known as “fracking.” The rail company also moves fracked oil from North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin, tar sands logistical equipment and tar sands crude itself and tons of coal. And not only does Buffett's BNSF haul around ungodly amounts of coal, he actually owns coal-burning utility companies, too.

Thu, 2013-08-15 08:25Steve Horn
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Keystone XL Influence Peddling Web Extends into PA Governor's Race Via Katie McGinty

Pennsylvania Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate and former head of the PA Department of Environmental Protection, Kathleen “Katie” McGinty, has hired powerful PR firm SKDKnickerbocker for her campaign's communications efforts.

SKDKnickerbocker - once known as Squier Knapp Dunn - is co-owned by President Barack Obama's former Communications Director Anita Dunn and a member of Obama's national media team for his 2008 run for President, Bill Knapp. Both Dunn and Knapp previously did PR for U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's 2004 run for President, as well.

One of SKDKnickerbocker's key clients is TransCanada, owner of the Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline.

Another key SKDKnickerbocker client: Association of American Railroads, that industry's version of the American Petroleum Institute. Rail is an increasingly viable alternative to pipelines for bringing tar sands - and fracked oil - to market. 

Both McGinty and Dunn also have key marital connections with skin in the game for the looming decision over the prospective northern half of Keystone XL: Karl Hausker and Robert “Bob” Bauer, respectively. 

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