The link between Oklahoma's earthquakes and fracking is about to be tested.
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The link between Oklahoma's earthquakes and fracking is about to be tested.
The post Oklahoma Fracking Company Defies Plan To Reduce Earthquakes appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Chesapeake Energy, the second largest producer of natural gas in the U.S., may have to pay tens of millions to thousands of people.
The post Major Fracking Company Accused Of Cheating Thousands In Rural Pennsylvania appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Environmental groups are suing over a new ordinance that gives oil and gas companies a 20-year lift of the review process.
The post California’s Oil And Gas Industry Spent $10 Million Getting Rid Of Environmental Review appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Having to pay for earthquake lawsuits would make the Grapes of Wrath "look like a comedy," the oil industry says.
The post Oklahoma’s Oil And Gas Industry Says Paying For Earthquake Damage Would Be Really Terrible appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Eighty percent of Americans don't want the oil export ban lifted, but Big Oil is set to make $22 billion on this.
The post The U.S. Is About To Get A Lot More Fracking, Thanks To Congress appeared first on ThinkProgress.
According to a recently published paper, fracking companies have gotten worse about disclosing the kinds of chemicals they are using.
The post Fracking Companies Have Been Getting Worse About Disclosing The Chemicals They Use appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Great news for carbon emissions. Bad news for anti-fracking communities.
The post This Country Just Promised To Get Rid Of All Its Coal Plants appeared first on ThinkProgress.
Lately, black gold looks more like black pyrite. The price of Brent crude began falling in late June, and dropped below $100 a barrel in September – and it’s on track for a double digit quarter average for the first time since January 2011. All-in, the price of oil has declined 25 percent from a June 19 peak of $115.19 to $86.36 in mid-October. What’s behind the plunge? The price of a commodity can fall for two reasons—too little demand or too much supply. Or both. While demand from Europe and Japan has been sluggish of late, oversupply is what’s really driving prices lower. A remarkably successful effort over the last five years to extract oil from previously untappable shale beds in North Dakota and Texas has flooded the U.S. market with oil. The U.S. shale revolution, no longer just a local phenomenon, is putting downward pressure on global oil markets, and Credit Suisse believes it will continue to do so for at least the next three years.
Oil production outside the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has grown an average of 800,000 barrels per day each year since 2009. The United States, where oil production rose from 5.3 million barrels per day in 2009 to 7.4 million in 2013, is the single biggest driver of that growth. The Obama Administration is considering lifting a ban on crude oil exports, but for now, American crude stays at home. As a result, the U.S. needs less foreign oil. Imports fell from 12.9 million barrels per day in 2009 to 9.9 million in 2013, even as the economy improved dramatically. (They may not be exporting crude, but American refineries have built a booming business shipping out diesel fuel and other refined products.)
All that said, all signs pointed to a global supply crunch as recently as June, when the militant group ISIL launched a devastating offensive in the key oil-producing region of northern Iraq. As a result, says Credit Suisse Global Energy Economist Jan Stuart, speculators bid up prices. But oil production in southern Iraq was never affected, and the Iraqi Army (with foreign assistance) began to make headway against ISIL. Meanwhile, Libyan oil exports, which had stopped entirely since the summer of 2013 as the post-Gadhafi civil war intensified, began to re-enter markets in July. By August with the country’s largest export terminal re-opened for business after a year offline, flows averaged more than 500,000 barrels per day.
Through it all, global crude oil inventories actually rose rather than fell, as they usually do in summer, partly due to increasingly efficient refineries. In August, as it became clear that markets were actually oversupplied, oil prices that had been slowly weakening since late June suddenly began to sell off dramatically. Markets remain bearish. Oil prices for future delivery remain higher than spot prices, a so-called contango situation that reflects a supply surplus and the ongoing incentive to build inventory.
Credit Suisse energy analysts expect average Brent crude prices of $92 in the fourth quarter. Weak economic data out of Europe and China augurs softer demand, while both Libya and Iraq delivered higher oil production than previously estimated in August and September. Further out, Stuart expects the growth pace of the U.S. oil boom to level off in 2015 and 2016, but says crude oil production alone should still grow by more than 1 million barrels per day each year. Energy analysts have lowered their forecasts for Brent crude to an average of $91.50 in 2015, $90 in 2016, and $88 in 2017. Meanwhile, the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) oil produced in the U.S. is expected to average $86 in the fourth quarter of 2014, $84.50 in 2015, $82 in 2016, and $81 in 2017.
Those forecasts are a radical departure from the triple-digit prices of the last four years, but prices could slide even further if Saudi Arabia maintains current production levels. If Saudi Arabia doesn’t cut production, WTI prices could fall to $70 a barrel. At that level, Stuart says, U.S. exploration and production activity would decline quickly, with the number of completed wells falling by at least 11 percent and production growth falling by a third to 740,000 barrels per day. Crucially, however, growth wouldn’t deflate entirely, and would re-accelerate quickly once prices rise again. In the end, Stuart believes the kingdom will cut oil production as soon as next month, and will keep production toward the bottom end of its comfort range in 2015. . Saudi officials have repeatedly said that they prefer stability above all else, and that oil prices close to $100 per barrel makes everyone “happy.”
While politicians and policy makers may disagree about how to capitalize on the recent U.S. oil and gas boom, they do share enthusiasm for what it may bring: energy independence. But since conflict broke out between Russia and Ukraine last month, an increasingly vocal cohort in Washington has been touting another idea: energy diplomacy. The country has long been isolationist when it comes to its own energy resources — crude exports have been banned since the 70s — but some now see the opportunity to use the fruits of the boom as a new and powerful foreign policy tool.
Were the U.S. to export sizeable amounts of natural gas to Europe, the thinking goes, it could lessen the continent’s reliance on Russia for energy and weaken its regional influence. Influential lawmakers such as House Speaker John Boehner have called for accelerated plans to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) while also repealing the ban on shipping U.S. crude abroad. “The ability to turn the tables and put the Russian leader in check lies right beneath our feet, in the form of vast supplies of natural energy,” Boehner wrote in the Wall Street Journal in March. The argument gained even more weight last week, when Russia nearly doubled the price of gas it sends to Ukraine.
Timely editorials or no, quick increases in U.S. exports of any sort are unlikely. For starters, the U.S. isn’t even in a position to increase exports of gas. Current export capacity wouldn’t support it, and new LNG terminals aren’t scheduled to come online until next year. Moreover, any hope of offering gas to Europe at lower prices than Russia’s may be a non-starter anyway. It costs money to ship gas, and unless the U.S. wants to literally give it away, those countries Washington might seek to influence may not be able to afford the prices required for an economic rationale as well as a political one.
Politics will also come into play. The mere suggestion of exporting oil raises a host of thorny questions, starting with whether doing so would cause the price of domestic gasoline to rise or fall. And then there would be the inevitable criticisms: the U.S. has long chastised countries for engaging in petro-politics, such as when it condemned Hugo Chavez’ shipments of subsidized oil to regional allies like Cuba.
All that said, the longer-term prospects of the idea are better than at first glance. Especially if you consider that lawmakers’ motivations are as much about economic considerations as they are about political ones, says Thomas Marchetti, energy equities strategist at Credit Suisse.
While the approval process for exporting gas is tied in the requisite amounts of red tape, dozens of producers have already applied for licenses to build export terminals. And while most crude exports have been prohibited since the Energy Policy Conservation Act was enacted in the 1970s to protect the U.S. from price shocks, the dramatic increase in U.S. production has decreased its historical reliance on imported oil. U.S. daily crude output rose 15 percent last year to 7.5 million barrels and is on track to hit 9.5 million by 2016, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
There’s no question that there’s oil to sell. The debate is over the merits of selling it. U.S. refiners have enjoyed growing profits as increasing but captive U.S. supply has lowered the benchmark West Texas Intermediate price of U.S crude relative to Brent, the global benchmark, and a repeal of the ban would likely raise the price of the American crude they process. Environmental groups are also opposed, arguing that an increase in exports would encourage more fracking, which they believe causes pollution and potential water contamination. A third group of opponents worries that exporting crude could increase domestic gasoline prices.
Both Marchetti and Jan Stuart, head of energy commodities research at Credit Suisse, say that last worry is misplaced. Their argument: Europe’s refineries are operating below capacity because they can’t get enough of the light crude they’re designed to process. As a result, European demand for imported refined products — including gasoline — has pushed those prices up. So the export of crude might actually lower U.S. gasoline prices in the long term. That fact notwithstanding, the mere suggestion of a possible increase in gas prices – whether or not it’s likely — could still make changing export laws politically untenable. “If Congress has to get involved, the chances of that happening are close to zero,” says Stuart.
In an effort to circumvent a possible Congressional dead end, policymakers and lawmakers are exploring changing trade regulations enforced by the Commerce Department. There’s precedent for such maneuvering: U.S. producers can already export crude to Canada because of a free trade agreement. Other U.S. trading partners, such as South Korea, Mexico, Chile and Israel could theoretically get equal treatment, Stuart says. And that’s when politics sneak back in: consider South Korea, which has no domestic oil production, and therefore relies heavily on the Middle East for imports. If Washington starts to think that way, similar trade pacts with the European Union and Japan might not be far behind either.
The most likely first step towards increased exports would involve a product called lease condensate. Under current rules, condensate is classified as crude oil because it comes directly out of a well as a liquid. The industry, on the other hand, doesn’t think of it as crude because the ultra-light liquid resembles a refined product. Lawmakers such as Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski, who sits on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, have argued that the Commerce Department should therefore reclassify condensates as an exportable product. In doing so, she has joined a growing chorus. Its refrain: the era of U.S.-as-crude-exporter could soon be upon us.
Could oil tankers like the one above soon be carrying oil drilled in the U.S.A.?
Of this, there is no debate: The future of Mexico’s oil industry lies offshore, where billions of barrels of crude are locked under the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico. The country’s deepwater frontier is promising, but successfully extracting offshore oil is expensive and technically difficult, and Petroleos Mexicanos, the state-owned oil monopoly known as Pemex, doesn’t have the financial resources to singlehandedly exploit the Gulf’s ample resources. So they’re going to bring in outside help. In a dramatic about-face, the Mexican government, which historically has been fiercely protective of its energy assets, has finally concluded that outside help is necessary. Reform legislation signed into law in December will, for the first time in 75 years, make it possible—and attractive—for established foreign energy producers to help set those buried hydrocarbons free.
The need is obvious in Pemex’s own results: On Feb. 27, the Mexico City-based company posted its fifth straight quarterly loss—76.5 billion pesos, or $5.8 billion, on production of 2.52 million barrels per day in 2013, down from 2.55 million barrels per day in 2012. Output at the Cantarell oil field, the world’s third-largest when it was discovered 38 years ago, has fallen from 2.1 million barrels per day in 2003 to 400,000 barrels last year.
The company pays more than 90 percent of its operating profit back to the government, so its losses are hitting the Mexican economy where it counts. To boost production and exploit new deepwater opportunities, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had little choice but to relax the decades-old laws that nationalized the energy sector, and to open Mexico’s oil fields to foreign investment for the first time in nearly four generations. Pemex currently functions in a vacuum, without a single significant revenue-sharing partnership that would provide access to the new technologies, knowledge and financial resources that could boost productivity. “Mexico has a lot of potential with regard to hydrocarbons,” Rolando Galindo, Pemex’s head of investor relations tells The Financialist. “But these more complex reservoirs have higher costs and technology requirements…and it was getting very complicated for Pemex to do all of this alone.”
The reform legislation allows three new types of production contracts. Profit-sharing contracts will award foreign companies a portion of the profits generated by a given oil-and-gas concession; production-sharing contracts allow them to keep a share of the actual oil and gas production; and licenses require them to pay taxes and royalties to the government to explore and extract oil from a specific concession.
The licensing and production-sharing contracts represent a sea change, allowing foreign and private investors to book the production from Mexican oil fields as assets for the first time. Until the recent reform, only Pemex could own Mexican crude, whether it was untapped reserves or those extracted at the wellhead. But by loosening the monopoly, the government hopes it can outsource the most technically difficult parts of the job to companies like BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell.
The potential payoff is enormous. Mexico’s proven reserves stand at around 10.3 billion barrels of oil and 17.3 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, but the most optimistic estimates of offshore reserves are double that. Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya thinks that the Perdido Fold Belt in the northwestern part of the Gulf holds between 8 billion and 13 billion barrels of oil-equivalent alone.
The state-owned oil company has already drilled 14 commercially viable deepwater wells, and last month it announced the discovery of high-quality light crude at a well in the Perdido Fold Belt. Pemex has also done some initial exploration work in Holok-Temoa, a deepwater natural gas field located in the southwestern Gulf of Mexico.
If the reforms proceed as expected, Pemex’s Lozoya estimates it could generate about $10 billion in new investment by 2025. For its part, Pemex forecasts oil production will grow 60 percent over the current level of approximately 2.5 million barrels per day by 2025, while natural gas production should double to 14.6 billion cubic feet a day. That, in turn, could boost annual GDP growth by 1 percent annually by 2018 and up to 1.6 percent annually by 2025.
Mexico’s 2.1 million barrel-per-day domestic demand is expected to absorb some of the new production, but there are export plans as well. The U.S. buys about 78 percent of Mexico’s oil, but the boom in shale oil and gas production has already reduced U.S. imports and will likely continue doing so. So Pemex has already begun to market its light Olmeca crude abroad, with shipments scheduled to India and the Cressier refinery in Switzerland.
Congress is expected to spell out the details of the new production contracts by the end of April. Meanwhile, Pemex has until the end of March to decide which fields it wants to develop on its own and which it will seek partnerships to tap, after which the Ministry of Energy has six months to approve the decision. Galindo said it will likely take until late 2015 or early 2016 to start working on those so-called Round Zero projects.
The energy buzz in North America has been from further north of late, whether it’s the Canadian tar sands or United States’ shale fracking. But if things go as hoped, North America’s third-largest economy should soon be enjoying an oil boom all its own.
Last-minute efforts to push through a bill that would repeal the fracking moratorium in the state of North Carolina failed yesterday, with Representative Mike Hager (R-Rutherford), who steers energy bills to the floor, quietly admitting the loss. In the final days of session for the General Assembly, the House recognized the bill was too divisive to push through without full consideration in committee. “We like for controversial legislation to go through the committee process,” Hager said. “I’m not going to hurry — we’ve been accused of that before.”
Senate Bill 127 would have repealed a prohibition on fracking permits, which critics of the bill say would essentially lift the state’s moratorium on fracking. The legislation would have also decreased tax rates on oil and gas companies in an attempt to encourage drilling activity in the state. According to the News and Observer, the fracking provisions in the bill were unknown to most House members just 36 hours earlier, after being discreetly inserted into legislation that originally would reconfigure the N.C. Department of Commerce. This misleading tactic has been used before in the North Carolina General Assembly this session, including attaching stringent abortion restrictions first to an anti-Sharia measure and then again to a motorcycle safety bill.
Representative Hager previously failed to repeal North Carolina’s successful Renewable Energy Standard (RES), despite attempts to push through the bill without even a vote count. The 2007 RES law has been widely popular in North Carolina, creating thousands of clean energy jobs and pumping billions into the economy. Even the CEO of the largest electricity power holding company in the United States, Duke Energy Corp., has expressed support for the law on behalf of the company.
These attempts to ram through unpopular reform are not isolated events. Recently, North Carolina has received national attention for its regressive policies being approved by a newly established Republican majority and governor, including relaxing gun regulations, restricting access to the ballot, and adopting tax reform that would disproportionately benefit the rich. These measures have disenfranchised North Carolinians, motivating them to participate in the largest liberal protest in the nation, which has led to the arrest of over 900 citizens.
Rep. Hager is a well-known member of ALEC, a right-wing legislation factory that is backed by the Koch brothers and that drives the campaign behind repealing the RES and also supports the oil and gas industry. Despite widespread bipartisan support for renewable energy usage and a state-wide fracking ban, Hager will continue his misguided efforts on behalf of his conservative backers – he has promised to reintroduce a RES repeal next legislative session and has suggested the fracking bill could be reconsidered in a special session.
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A new report finds natural gas must peak “sooner than many policymakers currently realize is necessary—if the United States is to meet its climate goals and avoid the worst impacts of global warming.”
The report, from the Center for American Progress (where I am a senior fellow), concludes:
There needs to be a swift transition from coal to a zero-carbon future by ensuring that the use of natural gas, particularly in the electric-power sector, peaks within the next 7 years to 17 years.
This is based on climate science, pure and simple:
… the crux of this report is that any long-term expansion and dependence on natural gas for electricity generation is incompatible with climate-stabilization targets because it also results in carbon pollution, although less than coal. The increase in global temperature must be kept within 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, which means that the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gas must be stabilized within 450 parts per million, or ppm, CO2 equivalent by 2050. This is the internationally recognized threshold, which was adopted in 2010 at the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Exceeding the 2 degree threshold would cause severe and frequent droughts, heat waves, floods, and storms, and lower-income households would be harmed the most, as they are less able to prepare for and recover from climate disasters.
To meet the 2C (3.6F) goal, the Obama administration set these emissions-reduction targets, relative to 2005 levels:
A key point the report makes is that “This is a modest level of emissions reductions; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, endorses a significantly more ambitious target of 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020.” Equally important, the IPCC says that stabilizing at total atmospheric greenhouse gas levels of 450 ppm CO2-equivalent requires taking U.S. emissions down more than 80% from 1990 levels by 2050.
So, while the 2020 target is “easy” to meet at low cost by substituting gas for coal (if we ignore the issue of methane leakage), the 2030 and 2050 targets set a very sharp constraint on total fossil fuel consumption, including natural gas:
In the most recent set of data released by EPA, total domestic CO2 emissions were 5,612.9 mmt in 2011, with 5,277.2 mmt of those CO2 emissions coming from the combustion of fossil fuels. By 2030 it is possible to expect approximately a 50 percent decline in emissions from coal and a 30 percent decline from oil, assuming aggressive vehicle-fleet turnover with new fuel-economy standards, strict EPA regulations of carbon pollution from coal plants, and increased coal-to-gas switching. Even if natural-gas use stays constant during this interval to 2030, therefore, CO2 emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels would still be at 3,716.5 mmt, which exceeds the modest 2030 emissions-reduction goal of 3,334.3 mmt of CO2. The use of natural gas therefore cannot expand unchecked. Even minor increases in the near term mean that we will need to aggressively drive coal and oil from the U.S. fuel mix.
There simply is no room for substantial expansion of natural gas over the next decade. And for those who don’t want very sharp decreases in gas after the next decade, the only hope would be successful demonstration and commercialization and mass deployment of carbon capture and storage (CCS), which right now is going nowhere due to myriad practical problems and general disinterest by the fossil fuel industry.
That’s why the CAP report has this key recommendation:
Ensure that natural-gas infrastructure and capacity are not overbuilt. The increased supply of natural gas has lowered gas prices, thereby increasing demand for gas to generate electricity. This should not, however, lead to a significant increase in natural-gas electricity-generation capacity. Modeling of a natural-gas bridge in the context of climate change suggests that natural-gas generation should peak within approximately 40 percent of total energy supply. Any new natural-gas generation capacity in excess of what is needed to meet this 40 percent threshold could lead to new capital investments in natural-gas plants that would have to be retired early once the transition to lower-carbon sources is complete, thereby wasting some of these investments. Writing off these assets would likely translate to a rate hike on consumers, a scenario that would make a transition to zero-carbon fuel sources much more expensive and difficult. A national CES would help prevent overbuilding natural-gas capacity. State-level renewable portfolio standards, or RPS, would help achieve this goal as well. (An important note of caution regarding any decision to increase natural-gas exports is that increased demand is likely to contribute to overbuilt infrastructure, which, as we note, could make the transition to renewable fuels difficult.)
I explained last year why “Exporting Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Is Bad For The Climate — And A Very Poor Long-Term Investment.”
Any substantial investment in new, long-lasting natural gas infrastructure is a major diversion of resources far better spent on the inevitable transition to carbon free power. That is why the report recommends policies to ensure that natural gas does not substitute for or slow down renewable energy: Any “expansion of natural gas should be used to create dedicated revenues to support aggressive investments in research, development, and deployment of clean energy technologies; aggressive investments in energy efficiency; and investments in the resilience of communities threatened by climate-related extreme weather.”
In short, “the expansion of natural gas should be used to create a financial bridge to a zero-carbon economy and climate stabilization.”
As part of that, CAP continues to recommend a carbon price to help ensure that any new natural gas only displaces coal, not renewables.
Develop a domestic carbon price. CAP has advocated several policies for pricing carbon, both directly through a carbon tax and market-based mechanisms such as cap and trade and indirectly through measures such as EPA regulation. A carbon tax would raise revenue, stimulate investment in clean energy technologies, and create jobs while reducing carbon pollution. It is a win-win measure that could untangle the ongoing federal budget debate.
The report notes that because natural gas is mostly methane, and methane is a potent greenhouse gas, any substantial leakage of methane during the entire life cycle from production to combustion vitiates much if not all of the climate benefit of shifting from coal to gas. Some recent studies find a very high rate of leakage — see “NOAA Confirms High Methane Leakage Rate Up To 9% From Gas Fields, Gutting Climate Benefit.”
I think it is at best premature to expand natural gas use substantially until we have resolved the leakage issue.
Finally, the report recommends, “The natural-gas expansion must be managed in an environmentally sustainable manner.” I personally believe the jury is out on whether that is even possible (see “Natural Gas, Once A Bridge, Now A Gangplank”). A Propublica exposé in Scientific American, “Are Fracking Wastewater Wells Poisoning the Ground beneath Our Feet?” reported:
“In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted,” said Mario Salazar, an engineer who worked for 25 years as a technical expert with the EPA’s underground injection program in Washington. “A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die.”
This double repost excerpts the releases for two new important articles in the journal Science. The first is “Enhanced Remote Earthquake Triggering at Fluid-Injection Sites in the Midwestern United States” (subs. req’d). The second is a review article, “Injection-Induced Earthquakes” (subs. req’d) by U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist William Ellsworth. The first release, from Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, explains:
A surge in U.S. energy production in the last decade or so has sparked what appears to be a rise in small to mid-sized earthquakes in the United States. Large amounts of water are used both to crack open rocks to release natural gas through hydrofracking, and to coax oil and gas from underground wells using conventional techniques. After the gas and oil have been extracted, the brine and chemical-laced water must be disposed of, and is often pumped back underground elsewhere, sometimes causing earthquakes.
Earthquakes induced by fracking wastewater reinjection are a major concern because those wells are already prone to fail and leak (see “Natural Gas, Once A Bridge, Now A Gangplank“). The Propublica exposé in Scientific American, “Are Fracking Wastewater Wells Poisoning the Ground beneath Our Feet?” quoted engineer Mario Salazar, who worked for a quarter century as a technical expert with the EPA’s underground injection program: “In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted. A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die.”
Here is an extended excerpt from the Columbia release:
Large earthquakes from distant parts of the globe are setting off tremors around waste-fluid injection wells in the central United States, says a new study. Furthermore, such triggering of minor quakes by distant events could be precursors to larger events at sites where pressure from waste injection has pushed faults close to failure, say researchers.
Among the sites covered: a set of injection wells near Prague, Okla., where the study says a huge earthquake in Chile on Feb. 27, 2010 triggered a mid-size quake less than a day later, followed by months of smaller tremors. This culminated in probably the largest quake yet associated with waste injection, a magnitude 5.7 event which shook Prague on Nov. 6, 2011. Earthquakes off Japan in 2011, and Sumatra in 2012, similarly set off mid-size tremors around injection wells in western Texas and southern Colorado, says the study….
“The fluids are driving the faults to their tipping point,” said lead author Nicholas van der Elst, a postdoctoral researcher at Columba University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. “The remote triggering by big earthquakes is an indication the area is critically stressed.”
… “We’ve known for at least 20 years that shaking from large, distant earthquakes can trigger seismicity in places with naturally high fluid pressure, like hydrothermal fields,” said study coauthor Geoffrey Abers, a seismologist at Lamont-Doherty. “We’re now seeing earthquakes in places where humans are raising pore pressure.”
The new study may be the first to find evidence of triggered earthquakes on faults critically stressed by waste injection. If it can be replicated and extended to other sites at risk of manmade earthquakes it could “help us understand where the stresses are,” said William Ellsworth, an expert on human-induced earthquakes with the USGS who was not involved in the study.
What follow is an extended excerpt of the other release, by William Ellsworth, Jessica Robertson, and Christopher Hook via USGS blog. It is an excellent overview of this important subject. For ease of reading, I’m not indenting the text.
The number of earthquakes has increased dramatically over the past few years within the central and eastern United States. More than 300 earthquakes above a magnitude 3.0 occurred in the three years from 2010-2012, compared with an average rate of 21 events per year observed from 1967-2000.
This increase in earthquakes prompts two important questions: Are they natural, or man-made? And what should be done in the future as we address the causes and consequences of these events to reduce associated risks? USGS scientists have been analyzing the changes in the rate of earthquakes as well as the likely causes, and they have some answers.
USGS scientists have found that at some locations the increase in seismicity coincides with the injection of wastewater in deep disposal wells. Much of this wastewater is a byproduct of oil and gas production and is routinely disposed of by injection into wells specifically designed and approved for this purpose.
U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist William Ellsworth reviewed the issue of injection-induced earthquakes in a recent study published in the journal Science. The article focused on the injection of fluids into deep wells as a common practice for disposal of wastewater, and discusses recent events and key scientific challenges for assessing this hazard and moving forward to reduce associated risks.
Although it may seem like science fiction, man-made earthquakes have been a reality for decades. It has long been understood that earthquakes can be induced by impoundment of water in reservoirs, surface and underground mining, withdrawal of fluids and gas from the subsurface, and injection of fluids into underground formations.
Water that is salty or polluted by chemicals needs to be disposed of in a manner that prevents it from contaminating freshwater sources. Often, it is most economical to geologically sequester such wastewaters by injecting them underground, deep below any aquifers that provide drinking water.
Wastewater can result from a variety of processes related to energy production. For example, water is usually present in rock formations containing oil and gas and therefore will be co-produced during oil and gas production. Wastewater can also occur as flow back from hydraulic fracturing operations that involve injecting water under high pressure into a rock formation to stimulate the movement of oil and gas to a well for production.
When wastewater disposal takes place near faults, and underground conditions are right, earthquakes may be more likely to occur, Ellsworth’s research showed. Specifically, an earthquake can be triggered by the well-understood mechanism of raising the water pressure inside a fault. If the pressure increases enough, the fault may fail, releasing stored tectonic stress in the form of an earthquake. Even faults that have not moved in millions of years can be made to slip and cause an earthquake if conditions underground are right.
While the disposal process has the potential to trigger earthquakes, not every wastewater disposal well produces earthquakes. In fact, very few of the more than 30,000 wells designed for this purpose appear to cause earthquakes.
Many questions have been raised about whether hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as “fracking”— is responsible for the recent increase of earthquakes. USGS’s studies suggest that the actual hydraulic fracturing process is only very rarely the direct cause of felt earthquakes. While hydraulic fracturing works by making thousands of extremely small “microearthquakes,” they are rarely felt and are too small to cause structural damage. As noted previously, wastewater associated with hydraulic fracturing has been linked to some, but not all, of the induced earthquakes.
USGS scientists are dedicated to gaining a better understanding of the geological conditions and industrial practices associated with induced earthquakes, and to determining how seismic risk can be managed.
One risk-management approach highlighted in Ellsworth’s article involves the setting of seismic activity thresholds for safe operation. Under this “traffic-light” system, if seismic activity exceeds preset thresholds, reductions in injection would be made. If seismicity continued or escalated, operations could be suspended.
The current regulatory framework for wastewater disposal wells was designed to protect drinking water sources from contamination and does not address earthquake safety. Ellsworth noted that one consequence is that both the quantity and timeliness of information on injection volumes and pressures reported to the regulatory agencies is far from ideal for managing earthquake risk from injection activities….
There is a growing interest in understanding the risks associated with injection-induced earthquakes, especially in the areas of the country where damaging earthquakes are rare.
For example, wastewater disposal appears to have induced the magnitude-5.6 earthquake that struck rural central Oklahoma in 2011, leading to a few injuries and damage to more than a dozen homes. Damage from an earthquake of this magnitude would be even worse if it were to happen in a more densely populated area….
Reposted from USGS blog.
Coal’s share of total domestic power generation in the first four months of 2013 averaged 39.5%, compared with 35.4% during the same period last year, according to the Energy Information Administration [EIA]…. By contrast, natural gas generation averaged about 25.8% this year, compared with 29.5% a year earlier.
Once upon a time there was a charming prince and prescient princess who were building a bridge to a sustainable future to replace their current bridge, which was falling apart and posing a threat to the kingdom. Since they wanted to live happily ever after, they said to all those who wanted to help, “only those who cut carbon pollution sharply may join.”
Each day coal tried to join, but the charming prince and prescient princess both laughed and said “not a chance.” Each day, wind and solar and hydro and energy efficiency and nuclear power punched in at 8 a.m. and the Prince smiled and the Princess smiled. Okay, maybe the Princess didn’t smile at nuclear power but at least she didn’t frown — and this princess was a big frowner since she read the scientific literature on climate change and was, therefore, filled with pre-science of the future.
One day, natural gas showed up and said, “Hire me. I work cheap, and I will last for a 100 years, maybe more. Oh and I really work well with others.” Wind and solar and hydro and energy efficiency said, “But we don’t leak a super-polluting greenhouse gas, and we don’t poison the water under the bridge, and natural gas won’t be cheap forever. We have far less carbon pollution and if you just charge the people who want to use the bridge a toll, we’re really cheaper. And you can give the toll you collect to everyone in the kingdom.”
But natural gas and his fossil fuel buddies said, “a toll is a tax” and they kept chanting it over and over and over again because that’s what they had been told to do by a mighty wizard-for-hire who used the “magic of the free market” and the “invisible hand” to make everyone do his bidding.
The prescient Princess was unconvinced, but the charming Prince needed the cash — sustaining his currently unsustainable lifestyle wasn’t cheap — so he said, “Cassandra, dearest, I’m overruling you as I always do because you worry too much.”
So they let natural gas start building the bridge — and it turned out he didn’t work well with others and leaked all over the place. And then strangely enough his prices went up a little and the price of his BFF coal went down a little, and the new bridge started looking a whole lot like the old bridge. In fact, according to the Energy Information Administration, coal generation now exceeded natural gas generation by 50% and that was projected to be the case for the foreseeable future, as this chart from their Short-Term Energy Outlook clearly shows.
At this, the little girl shrieked and said, “Daddy, that has to be the worst story you ever told me.” And the Daddy said, “What didn’t you like about it?” And the little girl said, “For one thing, is the bridge ‘out’ or is it the same as the old bridge?” “What else?” asked Daddy. “It doesn’t have a happy ending,” she said. “Ah,” said Daddy, “well, you asked for a true story. The moral is, without a carbon price, natural gas is only a bridge to a sustainable future in a fairy tale.”
If you liked the Oscar-nominated fracking exposé “Gasland” by Josh Fox, you’ll love the sequel Gasland, Part II, which is being broadcast on HBO Monday night.
I think it’s a better movie, more entertaining and even more compelling in making a case that we are headed on a bridge to nowhere — a metaphorical gangplank — with our hydraulic fracturing feeding frenzy.
Future generations living in a climate-ruined world will be stunned that we drilled hundreds of thousands of fracking and reinjection wells:
Perhaps you have been persuaded fracking is a good idea by the multi-million-dollar industry campaign for fracking and against Fox — which includes backing a counter-documentary by two anti-science filmmaker’s best known for a film smearing Al Gore. If so, I’d urge you to read the Propublica exposé in Scientific American, “Are Fracking Wastewater Wells Poisoning the Ground beneath Our Feet?”
After fracking — injecting a generally toxic brew into the earth to release natural gas (or oil) — wastewater wells are used to reinject the resulting brine deep underground. Here’s the bad news:
There are more than 680,000 underground waste and injection wells nationwide, more than 150,000 of which shoot industrial fluids thousands of feet below the surface. Scientists and federal regulators acknowledge they do not know how many of the sites are leaking.
… in interviews, several key experts acknowledged that the idea that injection is safe rests on science that has not kept pace with reality, and on oversight that doesn’t always work.
“In 10 to 100 years we are going to find out that most of our groundwater is polluted,” said Mario Salazar, an engineer who worked for 25 years as a technical expert with the EPA’s underground injection program in Washington. “A lot of people are going to get sick, and a lot of people may die.”
… A ProPublica review of well records, case histories and government summaries of more than 220,000 well inspections found that structural failures inside injection wells are routine. From late 2007 to late 2010, one well integrity violation was issued for every six deep injection wells examined — more than 17,000 violations nationally. More than 7,000 wells showed signs that their walls were leaking. Records also show wells are frequently operated in violation of safety regulations and under conditions that greatly increase the risk of fluid leakage and the threat of water contamination.
The documentary does explore the climate impacts of methane leaks from fracking (see below). And it also presents the clean energy solutions that we can use instead of fracking, such as the recent Stanford study that New York State can eliminate fossil fuels from its energy mix entirely by 2050.
But the film’s primary focus is the immediate impact on water and people:
Fox makes a very compelling case. As the New York Times TV reviewer explains, the movie “paints a convincing picture: homeowners at the mercy of the oil and gas industry wait while government agencies make tentative moves toward regulation that eventually come to nothing or are reversed.”
The review makes clear that while “there are questions, large and small, that can nag at you”:
Most of Mr. Fox’s material isn’t open to question, however. Recordings of a gas industry conference at which public relations managers are told to study the Army’s counterinsurgency manual — because “we are dealing with an insurgency” when it comes to protesters and angry homeowners — are both hilarious and horrifying. Mr. Fox’s account of the Pennsylvania government’s hiring of a private company to monitor fracking protesters, an episode not widely covered outside the state, is particularly valuable.
It’s hard to take issue with Mr. Fox’s resigned conclusion that economic and political forces will soon spread fracking around the world, no matter how harmful critics say it may be to the environment and our health.
I’m not entirely sure Fox is completely resigned to that conclusion. I was able to interview him last month and he is committed to spreading the word, fighting this fracked future, and pushing clean energy alternatives.
The movie also covers methane leakage in the context of global warming. Recent research continues to vindicate those who have warned that fracking has a high leakage rate of methane, which is up to 105 times as effective at trapping heat than CO2 over a 20-year period. See my January post, “Bridge To Nowhere? NOAA Confirms High Methane Leakage Rate Up To 9% From Gas Fields, Gutting Climate Benefit.” See also the the recent Christian science Monitor piece “Methane leaks of shale gas may undermine its climate benefits,” which explains “If methane leak rates are more than 3 percent of output, fracking of shale gas formations may be boosting greenhouse gas emissions rather than lowering them.”
What is so frustrating about the frenzy to frack is that even ignoring the leakage issue, we must stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure the middle of this decade to have a realistic chance of crossing climate tipping points that will ruin our children’s future.
To get beyond all the hand-waving analysis asserting “gas is better than coal for the climate,” you need a comprehensive energy and climate model — and an emissions or temperature target.
If your goal is 2°C or 3.6°F total warming, then we’ve just about finished building every hydrocarbon-burning power plant we can. That is the conclusion of two of the (very few) groups that have such models — the International Energy Agency and Climate Interactive, which has done climate and energy modeling for everyone from the State Department and the Chinese government.
Climate Interactive used their En-ROADS global energy model to explore “the goal of the Copenhagen Accord – to limit temperature increase to 2°C is still in reach.” They found:
Even if the world also has sustained success eliminating deforestation, reducing emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gasses and improving energy efficiency, new investment in fossil fuel infrastructure can’t occur much beyond 2015 in order to maintain a 50% chance of limiting temperature increase to 2°C in 2100. Having a higher probability of achieving the 2°C goal or keeping these even odds of meeting the goal but delaying the end of the era of fossil fuel investment would require additional measures such as shutting down already-constructed fossil-fuel-using infrastructure before the end of its useful lifetime, further reducing energy demand, or achieving so called negative emissions, where CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and sequestered.
In this thought experiment using the global energy system model En-ROADS, there is no new investment in fossil fuel using infrastructure after 2015, but the long lifetime of the existing infrastructure means that fossil fuel use continues well into the century.
The concept of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” was pushed by the American Gas Association as far back as 1981. It’s the longest bridge in history!
Averting catastrophic warming means it makes little sense to invest tens of billions of dollars in gas infrastructure and gas-fired power plants over the next few years — unless you plan to shut it down within two decades.
This is very similar to the conclusion that the IEA reached with its energy model.
The IEA made clear that natural gas isn’t the “solution” if your goal is staying far from 7°F warming — see IEA’s “Golden Age of Gas Scenario” Leads to More Than 6°F Warming and Out-of-Control Climate Change. It must be noted that even that IEA gas scenario, which results in too much warning, assumes that not only does global oil consumption peak around 2020 — but so does coal! So if one or both of those peaks don’t happen — and they wouldn’t without a high price of carbon and aggressively clean energy deployment starting now — then the Golden Age of Gas is just the “devastating” scenario laid out in last years’s World Bank report, a “world marked by extreme heat-waves, declining global food stocks, loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and life-threatening sea level rise.”
And remember, neither the IEA nor En-ROADS models the impact of methane leakage.
Tragically, just about the time we wake up to the reality that fracking isn’t the solution to climate change, we’re probably going to wake up and find that we’ve poisoned billions of gallons of water — much of which will be in regions of the country that are turning into a permanent Dust Bowl thanks to climate change.
Or we could wake up now and start getting off fossil fuels immediately. A very good wake up call is Gasland, Part II. You can see it on HBO Monday.
The researchers analyzed 141 drinking water wells (combining data from a previous study of 60 sampled wells in 2011) from the Alluvium, Catskill, and Lock Haven aquifers and a few drinking water wells from the Genesee Formation in Otsego County of New York. Methane was detected in 82 percent of drinking water samples for homes within a kilometer (0.62 miles or 1,093 yards) of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, wells.
Robert Jackson from Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment wrote the report and confirmed that, “the methane, ethane and propane data, and new evidence from hydrocarbon and helium isotopes, all suggest that drilling has affected some homeowners’ water.”
The natural gas boom is happening all across the country. Gas constitutes about 25 percent of total energy consumption. Pennsylvania saw natural gas production increase by 69 percent in 2012.
But this boom has also created many issues: earthquakes, water contamination and scarcity, and leakage. 65 percent of Americans already say more regulations of fracking are needed, despite only a few studies having been conducted on the topic of possible water contamination. This makes the recent Duke study a significant contribution to the ongoing fracking debate.
The study states “the two simplest explanations” for the contamination in drinking water are faulty or inadequate steel casings and imperfections in cement sealings.
Natural gas companies will hopefully work to develop ways to fix the problem of well integrity, but the Duke study shows just how much additional research and investigation into the fracking process is needed, especially by the federal government.
Unfortunately the EPA has decided to drop their investigation of probable water contamination due to fracking in Pavilion, Wyoming. Instead, the agency will support the state’s own investigation into water quality in the area even though EPA originally concluded that “the data indicates likely impact to ground water that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing.” Wyoming’s version of the report is set to be released by September 30, 2014.
Even worse, the Bureau of Land Management’s draft rules released in May fail to protect people from harm and instead protect the oil and gas industry from having to follow strong environmental standards. DeSmogBlog also notes that BLM adopted the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill written by ExxonMobil.
Even if the engineering problems were fixed, fracking will still allow greenhouse gases to pump into our atmosphere, which is bad for public health and drives global warming.
The Chicago Tribune writes that the legislation will force oil and gas companies to register with the Department of Natural Resources. In the permitting process they must detail:
Additionally, a 30-day public comment period begins seven days after the Department of Natural Resources receives a permit application; and people who suspect fracking has polluted their water supply can request an investigation forcing the Department of Natural Resources to investigate within 30 days and reach a determination within 180 days.
While other states like Arkansas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wyoming, have rules or laws requiring companies to disclose chemicals used during the drilling process, Illinois is the first state to require fracking companies to disclose the specific chemicals used both before and after fracking occurs. Illinois will also be the first to mandate companies conduct water testing throughout the entire fracking process.
Hydraulic fracturing typically involves injecting a high pressure combination of water, sand, and a mix of previously undisclosed chemicals into fissures in underlying bedrock to allow natural gas to escape. The chemicals in this water-intensive process have come into question because of their potential to pollute groundwater. Currently, the most efficient way for gas companies to dispose of the chemical-laden water is to store it in underground wells where it may reach water sources in the future.
With fracking operations already established in the state, many people feel that this rule offers strong protection and should be seen as a model for other states. At first, oil and gas companies claimed that the mix of chemicals involved in fracking was a trade secret and therefore needed to be kept from the public. Parts of the Illinois law will limit the ability of fracking companies to claim that the chemicals used in their process are proprietary information.
This regulation could mark the beginning of a new wave of fracking legislation. Other states are working on similar rules.
The Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is drafting a rule that would require companies to register the chemicals they use through FracFocus.org.
California’s SB 4 has passed the Senate and moved to the assembly where, if passed, it will require companies in the state to disclose chemical names and concentrations in an attempt to bring transparency to the process.
As for the Obama administration, the Bureau of Land Management’s draft rules released in May fail to protect people from harm and instead protect the oil and gas industry from having to follow strong environmental standards. More disheartening is that BLM adopted the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill written by ExxonMobil.
Illinois’ new law comes only after three months of the end of the state’s 2012 drought. The drought in Illinois last summer cut corn production to the lowest levels since 2008 and soybeans to the lowest level since 2003. Springfield residents were under mandatory water-use restrictions from July 31, 2012 until March 7, 2013.
Droughts in the Midwest will become more frequent and will cause more limitations on water usage as a result of climate change. Every fracking job requires 2 million to 4 million gallons of water, according to the Groundwater Protection Council. The EPA has also estimated that the 35,000 oil and gas wells used for fracking consume between 70 billion and 140 billion gallons of water each year.
So while Illinois has passed what can be considered the strictest set of regulations for fracking in the nation, it has risked the state’s future access to water. Furthermore, it has likely increased the amount of pollution the state will release into the air and water. As the Illinois chapter of the Sierra Club notes:
Fracking poses grave dangers to our communities, land, air, and water; and contributes to the continued destabilization of our climate. States like Illinois are largely on their own in facing these threats since Congress, in enacting one of the worst recommendations of the Bush-Cheney secret energy task force, exempted fracking from our most basic national environmental laws… These new regulatory measures are essential to provide a measure of protection for the environment and public health. However, new regulations will not make fracking safe, and our support for additional protections does not mean we have confidence that fracking can be done safely or without pollution.
Matt Kasper is the Special Assistant for Energy policy and Patrick Maloney is an intern for Energy policy at the Center for American Progress.
As the level of hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells in the United States has intensified in recent years, much of the mounting public concern has centered on fears that underground water supplies could be contaminated with the toxic chemicals used in the well-stimulation technique that cracks rock formations and releases trapped oil and gas. But in some parts of the country, worries are also growing about fracking’s effect on water supply, as the water-intensive process stirs competition for the resources already stretched thin by drought or other factors.
Every fracking job requires 2 million to 4 million gallons of water, according to the Groundwater Protection Council. The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, has estimated that the 35,000 oil and gas wells used for fracking consume between 70 billion and 140 billion gallons of water each year. That’s about equal, EPA says, to the water use in 40 to 80 cities with populations of 50,000 people, or one to two cities with a population of 2.5 million each.
Some of the most intensive oil and gas development in the nation is occurring in regions where water is already at a premium. A paper published last month by Ceres, a nonprofit that works on sustainability issues, looked at 25,000 shale oil and shale gas wells in operation and monitored by an industry-tied reporting website called FracFocus.
Ceres found that 47 percent of these wells were in areas “with high or extremely high water stress” because of large withdrawals for use by industry, agriculture, and municipalities. In Colorado, for example, 92 percent of the wells were in extremely high water-stress areas, and in Texas more than half were in high or extremely high water-stress areas.
“Given projected sharp increases in production in the coming years and the potentially intense nature of local water demands, competition and conflicts over water should be a growing concern for companies, policymakers and investors,” the Ceres report concluded. It goes on to say that:
Prolonged drought conditions in many parts of Texas and Colorado last summer created increased competition and conflict between farmers, communities and energy developers, which is only likely to continue. … Even in wetter regions of the northeast United States, dozens of water permits granted to operators had to be withdrawn last summer due to low levels in environmentally vulnerable headwater streams.
Another recent study by the University of Texas looked at past and projected water use for fracking in the Barnett, Eagle Ford, and Haynesville shale plays in Texas, and found that fracking in 2011 was using more than twice as much water in the state as it was three years earlier. In Dimmit County, home to the Eagle Ford shale development in South Texas, fracking accounted for nearly a quarter of overall water consumption in 2011 and is expected to grow to a third in a few years, according to the study.
Moreover, an April report by the Western Organization of Resource Councils found that fracking is using 7 billion gallons of water a year in four western states: Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, and North Dakota. “Fracking’s growing demand for water can threaten availability of water for agriculture and western rural communities,” said Bob Leresche, a Wyoming resident and board member of the group.
The national oil and gas trade association, American Petroleum Institute, correctly notes that the “industry’s water use is small when compared to other industrial and recreational activities.” But even though hydraulic fracturing usually accounts for just 1 percent or 2 percent of states’ overall water use, the Ceres study notes that “it can be much higher at the local level, increasing competition for scarce supplies.”
Not surprisingly, the oil and gas industry, along with companies drawn by the opportunity to profit from a better way to frack, are all seeking ways to reduce and even eliminate fracking’s thirst.
A new company in Texas, Alpha Reclaim Technology, sees using treated wastewater from municipal sewage-treatment plants as part of the answer. Founded in 2011, the company has signed up cities to provide about 21 million gallons of treated wastewater a day and is negotiating with oil and gas exploration and production companies to make the switch in the Eagle Ford shale play.
With regard to water use and fracking, Jeremy Osborne, the company’s vice president and general counsel, says, “We are really in a collision course here in Texas”—a course he says is accelerated by drought and population growth.
But Jillian Ryan, Alpha Reclaim Technology’s vice president for government affairs, said changing longstanding practices in the oil and gas industry can be a challenge. While the industry talks a good game about conserving water, Ryan says, “We can have a hard time getting oil and gas companies to live up to what they are talking about. Nobody wants to change. It’s easier to drill a water well where they are drilling [for oil and gas].”
Another player in this oil and gas niche is GASFRAC Energy Services, a Canadian company that says it has successfully fracked about 2,000 wells using liquid propane gas in place of water. Most of these wells are in Canada, but about 100 of them are in Texas.
Environmentalists and fracking critics, however, are alarmed at the thought of fracking with propane. Prompted by the possibility that GASFRAC would be employed in New York state and could evade a state moratorium on fracking by using propane instead of water, environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council, protested to the commissioner of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. Similar to water-based fracking, the groups said, fracking with propane also requires “the addition of toxic chemicals.” Because GASFRAC’s method is proprietary, the groups said in their letter that “there is little publicly-available information on the process” and the exact chemicals it uses.
Cornell University engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea is among those who are very skeptical of fracking in shale formations with propane and other alternatives to water. Ingraffea has been studying fracturing since doing research for his doctorate in the 1970s. He finds that even modern fracking practices, using millions of gallons of water per well to yield what he says is just 10 percent to 15 percent of oil and gas out, are “very inefficient and inelegant.”
Using propane or a propane-butane combination, Ingraffea says, has a positive side in that it eliminates a key problem with water-based fracking: the disposal of vast quantities of flowback water that returns to the surface after fracking is completed and is often contaminated with things such as salts and radioactivity.
But, he added, no one has yet clearly demonstrated that fracking with propane or some of the other alternatives—such as using a nitrogen or carbon dioxide gel—can compete on economics with water. Propane, he said, “is expensive and nobody really knows how much it takes to develop a typical shale gas well with a lateral that is a mile or two long.”
Oil and gas service companies such as Halliburton and Schlumberger have thrown a lot of money and bright minds at seeking efficiencies over many years, said Ingraffea, and if there was a “silver bullet you would think those companies would have hit it very hard.”
As the Ceres report concludes:
Shale energy development highlights the fact that our water resources were already vulnerable before additional demands were introduced. Regulators, water managers and ultimately all significant economic players who rely on abundant supplies of water must double-down their efforts to better manage this limited and most precious resource.
Tom Kenworthy is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress.
The fracking industry really doesn’t want you to see “Gasland 2.” The industry has brought in anti-science film-maker Phelim McAleer to produce an industry informercial, “FrackNation.” McAleer has a long track record of trying to disrupt and disinform. Here’s Part 2 of DeSmogBlog’s exposé of this oil and gas industry PR campaign — JR.
By Steve Horn via DeSmogBlog
Part one of the DeSmogBlog investigation of "FrackNation" - a film made in response to "Gasland 2" – honed in on the past track records and funding streams of co-directors Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney.
We revealed that Donors Trust/Donors Capital – the "dark money ATM of the right" – partially funded their first two films, "Mine Your Own Business" and "Not Evil, Just Wrong."
We also revealed that "Not Evil," a climate change denial documentary, was utilized by a partner of Americans for Prosperity (AFP) to push the Balanced Education for Everyone (BEE) campaign.
That campaign calls for a "balanced" scientific teaching of the climate change "controversy" and parallels ones pushed for via an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill, by the Discovery Institute, and by the Heartland Institute.
Yet, what about "FrackNation"? Who bankrolled it and are the screenings and is the tour really a grassroots endeavor?
It might seem that way based on its marketing, but as Jean de La Fontaine once said, "Beware, so long as you live, of judging men by their outward appearance."
Interested in where "FrackNation" and its film-making team are getting their funding from, I signed up for its email list. In so doing, I learned that Market Aces LLC runs it.
"From the start, Market Aces had a vision to offer low-cost website development solutions to small businesses and a niche market within the political and non-profit sector – but only those who are dedicated to protecting the American Dream and freedom," its website reads.
According to LI's website, it "teaches conservative Americans how to influence policy through direct participation, activism, and leadership." Its website also explains that "since 1979, [it] has trained more than 119,000 conservative activists, leaders, and students."
Playing by API's Employee Advocacy Playbook?
Beyond getting email list building help from one of the key "feeder" nodes in the right-wing network, it's also questionable how many of the funders of "FrackNation" were of the grassroots variety. As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette explained,
[T]he roster of "executive producers" who have donated at least $1 includes scores of energy industry associates. The filmmakers said Thursday they plan to return any donations given by "senior" workers in the industry, which they define as executives.
Among those who donated money to the KickStarter campaign: "the director of an Ohio-based oil and gas outreach program and the head of external affairs at Cabot Oil and Gas, the company that's fought accusations of water contamination in Dimock, Pa., for the past several years," according to the Post-Gazette.
Within four weeks of the Kickstarter fundraising campaign's launch, "FrackNation" had already raised over $150,000, raising over $22,000 in the first two days of fundraising.
Perhaps "FrackNation" is playing by the American Petroleum Institute's employee advocates' "corporate citizen" playbook.
In a presentation given at an industry PR conference attended by DeSmogBlog in Houston, TX titled, "Educating Employees On Key Issues To Encourage Brand Management Energy Nation: Empowering Employee Advocates," API's Director of External Mobilization Tara Anderson explained how – in essence – to create an armada of fracking advocates from within the employee base of oil and gas corporations.
"Employees are the best brand ambassador you can come by…The most important principle to remember is to create a culture of advocacy," she said in Houston. "This is really a community that regularly communicates and engages in the political process. It gives them all the necessary tools and empowers them to get involved and make a difference."
This may explain why the film not only raised money with such rapidity, but also has full industry backing for its nationwide tour
For an alleged grassroots-funded film, "FrackNation" has enjoyed robust support from Big Oil and other corporate interests in the first several months of its roadshow. Both Energy in Depth and the Marcellus Shale Coalition - for example – are also promoting the film.
"The film is a case of the good guys hitting a home run that changes the entire game," exclaimed Energy in Depth in a Jan. 2013 review of the film.
Former Big Tobacco lackey Grover Norquist - now head of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) – also wrote a favorable review of the film to coincide with the film's premiere on the Mark Cuban-owned AXS TV in Jan. 2013 and ATR's hosting of the filmmaker's for lunch.
Ezra Lavant of "Ethical Oil" infamy has also aided in promoting the film. "FrackNation" co-director Magdalena Segieda will speak on Levant's "Freedom Cruise" in August and he also had McElhinney and McAleer on his show in February.
In Feb. 2013, Joint Landowner’s Coalition of NY Inc. (JLCNY) hosted two "FrackNation" screenings in upstate New York, both of which McAleer attended. Just three months later in May, JLCNY announced its new partnership with AFP.
Later, in March, AFP-Michigan played host to a "FrackNation" screening, a fracking battleground state where the toxic process has yet to commence. In April and May, AFP–Illinois hosted a total of eight screenings of "FrackNation," another state with an ongoing fracking battle. AFP-MT and the Montana Petroleum Association – a state-level API - also screened the film.
Most recently to coincide with the launch of the grassroots launch of "Gasland 2," McAleer has taken "FrackNation" on-tour to bird-dog it.
On May 22, AFP-Colorado hosted a "FrackNation" screening at the same time University of Colorado hosted a showing of "Gasland 2," and the next "showdown of the century" – as the "FrackNation" promoters put it – will take place on May 31 in Santa Barbara, CA. Young America's Foundation will play host to the "FrackNation" Santa Barbara screening.
AFP-Maryland also hosted a screening of "FrackNation" on June 2.
“It’s important that politicians educate themselves about fracking. It’s the future of American energy,” McAleer wrote in an email promoting the Capitol Hill screening. “With all the lies and misinformation out there, we’re excited to bring the truth about fracking to Capitol Hill.”
Dave Weigel of Slate reported that "around 40 Republican staffers and members of Congress made time for a private movie screening."
Among those in the room, according to Weigel, was Committee Chair U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), a climate change denier who took $10,000 from Koch Industries and $83,750 from Big Oil for his 2012 electoral campaign.
“He was glad to have these points made in an easily digestible way, on screen,” McAleer told Weigel of Smith's reaction to seeing the film. “People know there's something smelly about Gasland, but people are suspicious about how it smells.”
As a direct juxtaposition, "Gasland 2" director Josh Fox was arrested at this same Committee's hearing in Feb. 2012 while filming for his then-upcoming film for "unlawful entry." Though he had a pass to do the filming during the hearing, he was was slapped with this charge anyway.
"This is a public hearing. I’m within my First Amendment rights, and I’m being taken out," Fox calmly stated to those in the hearing room while being escorted out during his arrest.
This condo was purchased by them in May 2010, according to property records matching the listed address for Hard Boiled Films LLC, the listed producer of "FrackNation."
And though it's obvious from the filmmaker's track-records that they have ties to powerful right-wing upper-level circles, sources told DeSmogBlog that McAleer interviewed them under deceptive pretenses.
One of the featured interviewees in the film is Dimock, PA's Craig Sautner alongside his wife, Julie. The Sautners were interviewed for the first "Gasland" and had their water contaminated by Cabot Oil and Gas in 2008.
"Trees were cleared and the ground leveled to make room for a four-acre drilling site less than 1,000 feet away from their land," an account in Vanity Fair explained. "The Sautners could feel the earth beneath their home shake whenever the well was fracked. Within a month, their water had turned brown. It was so corrosive that it scarred dishes in their dishwasher and stained their laundry."
In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Sautner said McAleer approached him under misleading pretenses, claiming to be an anti-fracking filmmaker hoping to help out in Ireland's fracking fight.
"I was hesitant at first to do the interview, but he begged us and we said 'okay.' Everything he ended up using in the video he took out of context. He had it all set up from the beggining of what he wanted to show and he wasn't going to show the truth," Sautner told DeSmogBlog.
Victoria Switzer, another Dimock victim of Cabot interviewed for "FrackNation" who spent four hours speaking with McAleer in her house (her interview did not appear in the film), also expressed similar sentiments to DeSmogBlog.
He called he assured me he was doing an unbiased documentary both sides of the issues. I think it is significant because it goes to his lying, his manipulation of the truth, and misrepresentation of his agenda. I never would have let him in my home if I knew what his agenda was. Later when I saw some of his other work I was sickened that this man sat at the table my husband built in the home that is now threatened by the industry he serves!
McAleer mislead interviewees during the filming of "Mine Your Own Business," too. Stephanie Roth – a 2005 recipient of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize and a grassroots activist who has helped in the anti-mining fight in Romania – was also approached by McAleer for an interview for that film.
The catch: he did so – according to one account - under a psudonym and Roth refused to speak to him because McAleer was uninterested in interviewing any of the local grassroots activists she suggested should be interviewed besides her.
"FrackNation" itself features numerous fossil fuel industry shills-for-hire, climate change deniers, as well as one former Big Tobacco apologist, all posing as "independent experts." The roster of hired guns is robust:
-Bruce Ames - Ames sits on the Advisory Board of Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), a climate change denial, fossil fuel industry-funded group on college campuses nationwide. He also formerly sat on the Advisory Board for The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC), created by Philip Morris, as explained in the book "Trust Us We're Experts" by Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber.
In the film, Ames compares the chemical compounds found in fracking fluid to those found in cabbage.
"If I gave you all of the long names of the chemicals in cabbage that give cancer to rats in high levels, you could get scared, but there's really no danger in cabbage," he stated in the film. "If people say fracking's causing cancer, then they don't know what they're talking about."
-Robert Bryce - Bryce's analysis was also featured early-on in the film, though his fellowship at the Manhattan Institute Center for Energy Policy and the Environment - heavily funded by the oil and gas industry – goes unmentioned. Bryce was also interviewed extensively in the industry propaganda film, "Haynseville."
-James Delingpole - Delingpole is an infamous climate change denier and columnist for the UK Telegraph. In the film, Delingpole hints that the U.S. anti-fracking movement might be funded by Russia for geopolitical purposes.
"In fact, I would say Russia is screwed if it can't export its gas," Delingpole said in the film. "So, it really is very important for Russia that the shale gas revolution does not happen. It is also in Russia's interest to fund those environmental groups which are committed to campaigning against fracking. That's how it works."
-Terry Engelder - Engelder is viewed by many as a shale gas industry spokesman. He is the co-founder of Appalachian Fracture Systems, a natural gas consulting firm and was interviewed in "Truthland," a documentary made in response to "Gasland" by Energy In Depth.
-Jon Entine - Entine is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, which The Guardian revealed takes millions to deny climate change from, among others, ExxonMobil. He also has a fellowship at George Mason University, heavily funded by the Koch Brothers.
-Bryan Shaw - Shaw serves as head of the Texas Center for Environmental Quality (TCEQ). He's also a notorious climate changer denier whose fellow climate change denying boss – TX Republican Gov. Rick Perry - took $5,204,795 from Big Oil before his 2010 electoral victory. Perry has already raised $671,069 in advance of his forthcoming 2014 electoral efforts.
McAleer can best be described as a favorite corporate third-party advocate, a hired gun to sow seeds of doubt on the ecological impacts of fracking.
"[Third party advocacy] offers camouflage, helping to hide the vested interest that lurks behind a message," wrote Rampton and Stauber in "Trust Us We're Experts." "Putting the same message in someone else's mouth gives it a credibility that it would not otherwise enjoy."
Thus, while many critics write McAleer off as a convoluted goof ball, there's more to the story than originally meets the eye: it's the story of the Tobacco Playbook's redux and the stakes of the climate crisis couldn't be higher.
In Dec. 1953, PR hegemon Hill and Knowlton formed the Tobacco Industry Committee for Public Information, also forming the Tobacco Institute in 1963. The U.S. Dept. of Justice would later say that "deceive[d] the American public about the health impacts of smoking."
60 years later, more of the same. Hill and Knowlton now represents America's Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), the unconventional oil and gas industry's lobbying tour de force.
With influential news outlets ranging from The New York Times, Variety, New York Post, National Review, and the Associated Press all covering the film favorably, whoever is bank-rolling "FrackNation" understands how the dark arts of PR are utilized. That is, when "both sides" of a one-sided scientific debate are covered in a news story, the "merchants of doubt" always wins.
– by Steve Horn, reprinted from DeSmogBlog with permission
The fracking industry really doesn’t want you to see “Gasland 2,” which I can understand because it is in some respects even better than the Oscar-nominated “Gasland.” The industry has brought in anti-science film-maker Phelim McAleer to shadow director Josh Fox during Fox’s PR tour and to produce an industry informercial, “FrackNation.” McAleer has a long track record of trying to disrupt and disinform (see my 2009 post “A falsehood-pushing film-maker tries to shout down real journalists from asking Al Gore questions”), DeSmogBlog has been doing a great job of exposing this oil and gas industry PR campaign, so I’m reposting their latest 2-part series — JR.
By Steve Horn via DeSmogBlog
It comes in the form of a documentary film titled, "FrackNation," whose co-directors' funding in the past came from Donors Capital and Donors Trust, referred to by Mothers Jones' Andy Kroll as "the dark-money ATM of the right" and a major source of funding for climate change denial.
Both "Gasland 2" and "FrackNation" cover hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), the toxic horizontal drilling process via which unconventional oil and gas is obtained from shale rock basins around the country and world. Co-produced and co-directed by Irish couple Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, "FrackNation" purports to be "funded by the 99 percent to combat the misrepresentations by the 1 percent of urban elites who want to tell rural Americans how to work and live."
McAleer and McElhinney also say they are independent journalists working independently of corporate funding. McAleer was referred to by the San Francisco Chronicle as "climate denial's Michael Moore" and both McAler and McElhinney are listed as "experts" by the climate change-denying Heartland Institute.
"FrackNation is an independent film and we want to remain independent of the Gas industry and be funded by ordinary people," it says on its KickStarter page that it used to raise $212,265 from 3,305 backers of the film between February-April 2012.
This isn't the first dip in the "doubt is our product" pond for McAleer and McElhinney. In the past, they co-directed and co-produced a pro-mining documentary titled "Mine Your Own Business" and a climate change denial documentary titled, "Not Evil, Just Wrong."
Both McAleer and McElhinney have made a living in recent years deploying the "Tobacco Playbook," mutating settled scientific debates on energy and climate catastrophe into false two-sided affairs, which corporate-funded news media take and run with as "he-said, she-said" stories.
"FrackNation" made its public debut in Jan. 2013, coinciding with the release of "Promised Land," a Hollywood drama starring Matt Damon.
"It's time Hollywood celebrities and environmentalists were asked some difficult questions about their anti-fracking activities and ideologies. And that's what FrackNation does," McAleer said in a press release announcing the world premiere.
McAleer and McElhinney are now singing a similar tune about "Gasland 2," as it approaches its July 8 HBO release date.
"Mine Your Own Business"
Countering popular environmental struggles and luminaries is the modus operandi for McAleer and McElhinney, with a track record of doing so dating back to the mid-2000's. Their first public foray into the world of "marketing doubt" came with the release of their "Mine Your Own Business: The Dark Side of Environmentalism."
Released in 2006, the film was produced in response to the anti-mining protests that popped up against Gabriel Resources proposed open-pit gold mines in Romania, slated to be the largest in Europe. McAleer said it was "the world's first anti-environmentalist documentary."
One key funder: Gabriel Resources. This moved local Romanian citizen Eugen David to write that the film was pure propaganda.
"Because the gold lies squarely under and around the village of Rosia Montana, Gabriel needs to move out the local population — roughly 2000 people all in all. But it's not only the people that will need to go," David wrote in Jan. 2007. "Gone also would be our mountains, pastures, rivers and our churches, cemeteries and school – our community with its social fabric and traditions."
The purpose of the film was obvious: complicate the narrative on the proposed mine through ad hominem attacks on environmentalists, rather than addressing environmental issues associated with the mine itself. David and fellow citizens living in the proposed mining area didn't buy the bluff.
"After a first unannounced test screening in Bucharest, Gabriel Resources had to stop the film after 15 minutes because people were so revolted by what they saw," he further explained.
"Mine Your Own Business," however, did have a loyal fan base: the right-wing echo chamber.
Steve Milloy, a tobacco industry front man-turned-fossil fuel industry front man, wrote two favorable reviews for Fox News. The Salt Institute and Atlas Society (named after Ayn Rand's "Atlas Shrugged") echoed Milloy's efforts.
"Not Evil, Just Wrong"
In response to the proposed 2009 federal climate legislation and in the run-up to the 2009 Copenhagen United Nations international climate summit, McAleer and McElhinney released the film, "Not Evil, Just Wrong." Akin to "FrackNation" with "Gasland 2" director Josh Fox, the film spends much time attacking former Vice President Al Gore in ad hominem fashion, with the film serving as a response Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth."
"It has no commercial distributor, but instead debuted on an October 18 webcast heavily promoted by social conservative organizations like Focus on the Family and the American Family Association, as well as local Tea Party groups," a Mother Jones article explained.
Paralleling "Mine Your Own Business," the film was met with great fanfare within the right-wing echo chamber despite lack of commercial distribution.
"They’ve held pre-screenings for bloggers and brought the film to every major conservative conference of 2009, including the Values Voter Summit and Americans for Prosperity’s Defending the American Dream Summit," one news media report explained. "At the Conservative Political Action Conference [CPAC], McAleer and McElhinney spoke right before Rush Limbaugh."
Other Big Tobacco apologists-turned-Big Oil apologists also helped promote the film: Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform and the Heritage Foundation, the Cornwall Alliance, The Washington Examiner, Collegians for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), the Fraser Institute, Breitbart.com, and Right Online.
McAler and McElhinney have brought the Tobacco Playbook to the big screen. The question remains: who's funding them?
"Mine Your Own Business"
"Mine Your Own Business" was funded by Gabriel Resources, but Gabriel wasn't the only fundee. The other patron: Donors Trust/Donors Capital.
In the past, McElhinney and McAleer were formerly Fellows at the Moving Pictures Institute (MPI), founded by Thor Halvorssen. MPI, in turn, produced "Mine Your Own Business" and is a member of the State Policy Network (SPN), a right-wing echo chamber network for state policy that publishes PR "studies" to promote the corporate agenda.
Halvorssen also runs the Human Rights Foundation (HRF), which has taken $764,950 from Donors Trust and Donors Capital since 2005, according to a recent investigative story by Max Blumenthal. Blumenthal also explains MPI took more than $300,000 from Donors between 2005 and 2011.
"Not Evil, Just Wrong"
"Not Evil, Just Wrong" also received funding from Donors. DeSmogBlog contributor and Guardian (UK) climate changer writer Graham Readfearn explained in a Feb. 2012 article that Donors funnelled $24,753 toward the film.
This lends an explanation as to why "Not Evil, Just Wrong" was promoted by well-heeled climate change deniers in the mid-2010 Balanced Education for Everyone (BEE) campaign, calling for a "balanced" scientific teaching of the climate change "controversy." The BEE campaign parallels ones pushed for via an American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) model bill, by the Discovery Institute, and by the Heartland Institute.
"Global warming alarmists want Americans to believe that humans are killing the planet," BEE's former website explained in promoting the film. "But Not Evil Just Wrong, a documentary by Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney, proves that the real threats to America (and the rest of the world) are the flawed science and sky-is-falling rhetoric of Al Gore and his allies in environmental extremism."
BEE's campaign was run by the Independent Women's Forum (IWF), which in Oct. 2003 signed a partnership with Americans for Prosperity (AFP), an astroturf front group founded and funded by the Koch Brothers, key funders of the climate change denial machine. The two entitites at the time announced they would share leadership, senior staff and office space, a formal relationship they say ended in 2005.
IWF – before it disbanded – was formerly headed by current AFP Board Member Nancy Mitchell Pfotenhauer from 2000-2005, who also sat on IWF's Board of Directors from 2005-2007. From 1998-2000, Pfotenhauer served as a lobbyist for Koch Industries, also serving as Senior Policy Advisor and spokesperson for the 2008 John McCain presidential campaign.
Pfotenhauer was also the former Executive Vice President of Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), established by Charles Koch and affiliate Richard Fink and propelled by $13 million in grants from Koch Family Foundations. After CSE split into FreedomWorks and AFP, she served as AFP's President and CEO. She now sits on the Board of Visitors of George Mason University and on the Board of Directors of the CATO Institute, two other key entitites that make up the Koch echo chamber.
"Not Evil, Just Wrong" shared the same PR firm with BEE, Go Ahead PR, a sure sign that the film's release and the campaign were part of a well-coordinated campaign.
And though McAleer and McElhinney say "FrackNation" was bankrolled via a grassroots KickStarter fundraising drive, a deeper dig into its books – as will be seen in part two of this investigation – calls that all into question.
– by Steve Horn, reprinted from DeSmogBlog with permission
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