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Mon, 2011-07-04 15:23TJ Scolnick
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France Becomes First Country To Ban Fracking; Gas Drilling Still A Go

In a major setback for the oil and gas industry, the French Senate last week voted 176 to 151 to ban hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking), the controversial gas industry drilling method facing scrutiny the world over due to water contamination and other concerns. Once the legislation receives presidential approval, France will be the first country to permanently outlaw fracking.

The ban on fracking is a major victory for the French public, wary of the health, safety and water contamination impacts that unconventional gas drilling would have on communities. Still, with up to five billion cubic metres of unconventional gas spread across southern France, the drilling drama is likely far from settled.

Wed, 2011-06-15 16:14TJ Scolnick
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President Obama’s Fracking Panel Unmoved By Pennsylvanians’ Water Concerns

On Monday, the Natural Gas Subcommittee, from Energy Department Secretary Stephen Chu’s Energy Advisory Board (SEAB), held its second public meeting.  Around 400 people packed a cramped auditorium at Washington Jefferson College in western Pennsylvania to discuss the effects of hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) on water supplies, air quality and other threats from the controversial practice.

The crowd split into two camps, those opposing and those supporting the highly contentious drilling method which has spread across Pennsylvania. Fracking opponents argued that fracking is a dangerous and destructive process that must be banned immediately, while those in favour yelled out “drill, baby, drill.”

Given the circumstances it was not surprising that the pro-frackers won the evening. This was due, in large part, to the work of gas industry front-group Energy in Depth who sent out emails to Pennsylvania and New York residents supportive of fracking, offering them airfare, hotels and meals to attend. Tickets to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play the New York Mets were even offered, although later retracted.

Mon, 2011-06-13 17:49TJ Scolnick
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Interior Dept Okays Thousands Of New Unconventional Gas Wells In Utah

Last week, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that his department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are fast-tracking unconventional gas drilling permits in Utah’s Uintah Basin.

Mon, 2011-04-11 16:32TJ Scolnick
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Gas Industry Spent Record Amount Of Money Lobbying To End New York Fracking Moratorium

New York is a hot spot to watch in the controversy over  gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking), which the state placed a temporary ban on last year. A new report [PDF] from Common Cause/New York shows the historic levels of money dirty energy companies are spending to promote gas drilling and to overturn New York state’s ban on fracking.

In the state’s last legislative session, more than thirty gas-related bills aiming to create panels, commissions and task forces were proposed in order to investigate a wide range issues ranging from environmental impacts to economics, as well as two fracking moratorium proposals.

Notably, last August, the state Senate voted 48-9 in favour of S8129B which prevents the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) from issuing fracking permits until the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) evaluating shale gas drilling has been finalized. The bill easily passed the Assembly 93-43 late November 2010. However, on December 13, 2010, Governor David Paterson vetoed the legislation, instead issuing an Executive Order prohibiting fracking of horizontally drilled wells until about July 1, 2011. In February, the state announced plans to put fracking rules in place by June in order to green-light the controversial practice just as the ban runs out.

In terms of lobbyist spending, the Common Cause/NY report shows that the dirty energy companies and industry front groups fighting against the moratorium on fracking outspend environmental organizations and others supporting the ban by a margin of 4:1.

Sun, 2011-04-10 16:46TJ Scolnick
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Strike Three for Shale Gas Fracking In Québec, Is A Moratorium Imminent?

Shale Gas: No Thank You!

Once again, Québec’s government is under fire for shoddy management of its shale gas (gaz de schiste in French) reserves.

Last week, as part of Auditor General’s 2010-2011 report to the Québec National Assembly, Sustainable Development Commissioner Jean Cinq-Mars presented a scathing audit of provincial management of shale gas, “Government Management of Shale Gas Exploration and Production” [PDF].

Cinq-Mars assessed whether or not the Ministry of Natural Resources and Wildlife (Ministère des Ressources naturelles et de la Faune, MRNF) and the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks (Ministère du Développement durable, de l’Environnement et des Parcs, MDDEP) are taking the necessary precautions to ensure that shale gas resources are developed according to the Sustainable Development Act and related principles, as well as public interest, government objectives and regional development priorities.

Shale gas development in the province fails on all measures in the audit, demonstrating just how poorly the government is overseeing the gas industry.

Tue, 2011-04-05 04:45TJ Scolnick
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There Goes The Neighbourhood: China Rushes To Develop Shale Gas At Home And Abroad

To satisfy its thirst for energy, China is very quickly becoming a big player in the shale gas industry. Unfortunately, whether at home or abroad, there also seems to be little concern from Chinese leadership for the destructive environmental impact of drilling for heavily polluting shale gas – which is often drilled for using the controversial hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) method.

Domestically: Investing in shale gas in China
China’s National Energy Administration is quickly working to draft a plan to develop the country’s shale gas reserves, which are estimated at more than 10 times its conventional gas reserves.

Early in 2010, China’s Ministry of Land and Resources (MLR) set a target for the country to identify 50-80 shale gas areas and 20-30 exploration and development blocks by 2020. Moreover, the MLR’s Strategic Research Centre for Oil and Gas wants to produce 8-12% of China’s gas from shale wells by 2020.

State-controlled PetroChina (a.k.a. China National Petroleum Corporation) announced its intention to produce 500 million cubic meters of shale gas by 2015 and Sinopec Corporation also wants to exploit some 2.5 billion cubic meters of shale gas and coalbed methane in that time. Already, Royal Dutch Shell is drilling 17 gas wells, for both tight gas and shale gas, and plans to spend $1 billion a year over the next five years on shale gas in China.

Tue, 2011-03-08 13:23TJ Scolnick
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BREAKING: Quebec BAPE Shale Gas Study Verdict Is In: Drill Baby Drill, But No Fracking For Now

After keeping Québec’s much anticipated Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) shale gas development study under wraps for more than a week, Pierre Arcand, Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks just released the BAPE’s findings to the public. Regrettably, shale gas in the province is receiving a green light or in French “un feu vert” (a green fire translated literally). Ironically, this is exactly what the BAPE’s recommendation will lead to as shale gas expansion means that many of the province’s environmental goals will go up in smoke. For now, the controversial drilling method of hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) will be halted until a strategic  environmental impact assessment can be conducted.

All in all, the BAPE’s recommendation to proceed is a major blow to environmental and health advocates calling on the Québec Liberal government to heed the many public safety and environmental risks which surround shale gas drilling and fracking.

Tue, 2011-03-01 15:50TJ Scolnick
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Pennsylvania Governor Ends Moratorium On Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling In Sensitive State Forests

Pennsylvania’s new Republican Governor Tom Corbett fulfilled a campaign promise to rescind his predecessor’s wise executive order and de-facto ban on the leasing of sensitive state forest land for Marcellus shale gas development. This short-sighted decision removes the requirement for environmental  impact assessments prior to the granting of natural gas drilling permits, and strips other critical oversight of gas drilling on publicly-owned forest lands.

Last October, former Democratic Governor Ed Rendell barred gas drilling in state forests to protect “the most significant tracts of undisturbed forest remaining in the state.” The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) determined that leasing new drilling sites would damage the ecological integrity of the state’s forest system. The Rendell moratorium provided significant checks on run-away shale gas development on public lands since it required the state parks and forests agency to thoroughly review drilling permit applications for some public lands “even where the state doesn’t own the below-ground natural gas rights.” Specifically in instances “where the state doesn’t own the mineral rights to 80 percent of state park land and 15 percent of state forest land.”

Thu, 2011-02-03 14:42TJ Scolnick
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Oil Industry Spins Subsidies Discussion In Wake of President Obama's State of the Union Address

In his State of the Union address, President Obama urged Congress to stop subsidizing oil companies and set a goal for 80% of electricity generated by 2035 to come from “clean” energy sources. While there is much dispute over some of the technologies included in the “clean” category, the President is proposing some wise investments in genuine cleantech. To pay for low-carbon energy alternatives, the President proposed $302 million for solar energy research and development (up 22 percent); $123 million for wind energy (a 53 percent increase); and $55 million for geothermal energy (up 25 percent).

But fossil fuels subsidies are holding back growth in burgeoning clean energy industries, which face a momumental challenge to compete with entrenched industries that receive far greater government subsidies.

And when it comes to oil subsidies, the President says enough is enough:

“…I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.”

Tue, 2009-04-07 15:28Leslie Berliant
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Peer Review and the Science Versus Opinion Smackdown

Peer Review - a process by which something proposed (as for research or publication) is evaluated by a group of experts in the appropriate field. – Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Over the weekend, Brian Angliss posted a piece over at Scholars and Rogues on why scientific peer review matters. He wrote it in response to climate change deniers who like to argue that peer review is useless and therefore, just because climate science is peer reviewed, it isn’t necessarily true.

Unfortunately for the denier community, it’s a little more complicated than that. As Angliss writes:

One major misconception about all varieties of peer review is that the reviews guarantee no errors in the final product.

What peer review does is start a process of finding and correcting errors, which generally continues upon and after publication, Angliss explains. It is another step in the scientific method of gathering data and testing hypotheses to solve a problem or understand an issue. Because of this method, scientific understanding often builds and deepens over time. That does not make the original assumptions or theories incorrect.

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