Blog Archive

Monday, December 16, 2013

Fracking and tar sands news roundup from rjs, week of December 15, 2013

Former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon Buys Fracking Wells In Ohio's Utica Shale --Steve Horn -  Former Chesapeake Energy CEO and Founder Aubrey McClendon is back in thehydraulic fracturing ("fracking") game in Ohio's Utica Shale in a big way, receiving a permit to frack five wells from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources on November 26. "The Ohio Department of Natural Resources awarded McClendon's new company, American Energy Utica LLC, five horizontal well permits November 26 that allows oil and gas exploration on the Jones property in Nottingham Township, Harrison County," a December 6, 2013, article appearing in The Business Journal explained. "In October, American Energy Utica announced it has raised $1.7 billion in capital to secure new leases in the Utica shale play." [think Chinese money here] McClendon is the former CEO of fracking giant Chesapeake Energy and now the owner of American Energy Partners, whose office is located less than a mile away from Chesapeake's corporate headquarters. The $1.7 billion McClendon has received in capital investments for the purchase of 110,000 acres worth of Utica Shale land came from the Energy & Minerals GroupFirst Reserve CorporationBlackRock Inc. and Magnetar Capital. McClendon — a central figure in Gregory Zuckerman's recent book "The Frackers" — is currently under investigation by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He left Chesapeake in January 2013 following a shareholder revolt over his controversial business practices. In departing, he was given a $35 million severance package, access to the company's private jets through 2016 and a 2.5% stake in every well Chesapeake fracks through June 2014 as part of the Founder's Well Participation Program.

West Virginia Landfills Will Now Accept Unlimited Amounts Of Often Radioactive Fracking Waste - A memo released earlier this year in West Virginia gives the state’s landfills the ability to accept unlimited amounts of fracking waste, the AP reports. The memo will create an exception for the state’s natural gas industry to longstanding laws on landfill waste, which stipulate that landfills can only take 10,000 or 30,000 tons of solid waste each month, depending on their classification. Now, fracking operations can send unlimited amounts of their solid waste — known as “drill cuttings” and composed of dirt, water, sand and chemicals — to landfills each month. This exception has environmentalists in the state concerned. The Marcellus shale formation, which sits under much of West Virginia, has been found to have a higher level of radioactivity than other formations — last year, nearly 1,000 trucks hauling Marcellus Shale waste to Pennsylvania landfills were stopped after setting off radioactivity alarms. But unlike Pennsylvania, where waste that is deemed too radioactive is sent to radioactive waste disposal sites out of state, West Virginia doesn’t require waste to be tested for radioactivity. Bill Hughes, chairman of the Wetzel County Solid Waste Authority in West Virginia, told the AP he thinks the state needs to look into the potential health risks of drill cuttings. “Landfills have never seen a ton of waste they don’t want to take,” Hughes said. “Our state just sort of trusts the garbage guys.”

Experts Eye Oil and Gas Industry as Quakes Shake Oklahoma - Even before a magnitude 4.5 quake on Saturday knocked objects off her walls and a stone from above her neighbor’s bay window, Ms. Sexton was on edge.  “People are fed up with the earthquakes,” she said. “Our kids are scared. We’re scared.”  Oklahoma has never been known as earthquake country, with a yearly average of about 50 tremors, almost all of them minor. But in the past three years, the state has had thousands of quakes. This year has been the most active, with more than 2,600 so far, including 87 last week.  While most have been too slight to be felt, some, like the quake on Saturday and a smaller one in November that cracked a bathroom wall in Ms. Sexton’s house, have been sensed over a wide area and caused damage. In 2011, a magnitude 5.6 quake — the biggest ever recorded in the state — injured two people and severely damaged more than a dozen homes, some beyond repair.  State officials say they are concerned, and residents accustomed to tornadoes and hail are now talking about buying earthquake insurance.  Just as unsettling in a state where more than 340,000 jobs are tied to the oil and gas industry is what scientists say may be causing many of the quakes: the widespread industry practice of disposing of billions of gallons of wastewater that is produced along with oil and gas, by injecting it under pressure into wells that reach permeable rock formations.  “Disposal wells pose the biggest risk,” said Austin Holland, a seismologist with the Oklahoma Geological Survey, who is studying the various clusters of quakes around the state.  Oklahoma has more than 4,000 disposal wells for waste from tens of thousands of oil and gas wells. “Could we be looking at some cumulative tipping point? Yes, that’s absolutely possible,” Dr. Holland said.

Man-Made Quakes - Video -

Fort Worth Shows Why So Many Towns Are Banning Fracking - Several cities and counties in the U.S. have instituted bans or moratoria on the oil and gas extraction technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in recent years and Fort Worth’s experience with urban fracking shows why.“Fort Worth has been fracked to capacity,” resident Don Young told DeSmog Blog. “There is no turning back. Some days the air is so bad you can’t see downtown.”Chesapeake Energy began offering $300 and a pizza party for owners of mineral rights in predominantly poor and working class African American neighborhoods in 2003 and encountered little resistance, DeSmog Blogreported. Now Fort Worth has around 2,000 wells. Residents have been sickened by vapors from drilling operations, found their neighborhoods suddenly ruined by noise and fumes, and had their water sucked up by drilling operations in the middle of severe drought. Five sites were found in 2011 to be emitting pollution above state limits, according to a study commissioned by the Fort Worth City Council, and most of the 388 sites studied released visible emissions. Right next door to Fort Worth, the Dallas city council is considering letting fracking start up in town with a vote likely to come next week, capping a three-year fight over the future of fracking in the city. Until recently, Dallas had rejected attempts to frack in town, but that stance seems to be over. Current debate is over the distance required between wells and homes or wells and other wells: 1,500 feet or 1,000.

Did Dallas Just Ban Fracking? - The Dallas City Council voted Wednesday to require any gas wells to be placed at least 1,500 feet from homes, a move that the gas industry says might as well be a ban on drilling. Combined with the fact that the council would still have to approve any permit for a drilling site, factoring in neighborhood impact, fracking opponents are calling the ordinance a victory as well. A two-thirds council vote would be needed to alter the setback requirement in particular cases. Fossil fuel companies have been trying drill on land leased in Dallas since 2007.  The fossil fuel industry site Energy In Depth quickly called Dallas’ ordinance a dishonest backdoor ban on fracking, noting that in Fort Worth, where the setback requirement is 600 feet, “development has safely occurred for many years.” But a look at Fort Worth residents’ experience with drilling shows why neighboring Dallas would want stricter requirements. Sickening vapors, ruined neighborhoods, and wells as close as 300 feet to homes are the legacy of Fort Worth’s lax approach to fracking regulation. Nearby Arlington, Texas allows fracking inside of city limits, and has attempted to mitigate negative effects on residents by building sound-dampening walls around operations. But much of the danger of fracking comes from what it does to air and water. There’s no evidence that even 1,500 feet is enough to prevent chemical leakage into drinking water. A 2012 Duke University study found that homes within one kilometer, or 3,280 feet, of hydraulic fracturing wells had six times the methane and 23 times the ethane of homes not near wells. And an Earthworks report included video of toxic chemicals like benzene escaping into the air at drilling sites.

US Towns Sued for Illegal Fracking Bans -- Fracking has allowed the US to massively boost its oil and gas production, yet whilst the technology has arguably saved the country’s economy, it has also divided the nation, between those who support the controversial drilling technique and those that oppose it. Several towns and cities around the US have voted to ban all fracking practices within their jurisdiction, and now the oil companies, angry at being denied access to buried shale reserves, have begun to file cases against these cities. This is beginning to raise the question as to whether or not local governments have the power to introduce laws that ban fracking. This week, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) filed a lawsuit against two Colorado towns, Lafayette and Fort Collins, after both passed legislation to forbid the practice of fracking.  Laurie Kadrich, a city official from Fort Collins, told Bloomberg that “as a city, we have a responsibility to defend the voter-approved ordinance, so we’ll be looking into the contents of the lawsuit and we’ll respond appropriately.”

The Shale Oil Boom is More "Mirage" than "Miracle": Gail Tverberg -- Gail Tverberg, is a professional actuary who applies classic risk assessment procedures to global resources: studying issues such as oil & natural gas depletion, water shortages, climate change, etc. She is widely known in the Peak Cheap Oil space for her reports issued across energy websites over the years under the penname "GailTheActuary." In this week's podcast, Chris asks Gail to assess the merits of the shale oil "revolution."   Gail quickly begins discounting the underlying economics behind the shale model: We have to ask: At what price is the oil available? Is this shale oil available because prices are high and in fact, because interest rates are low, as well? Or is it available if it were cheap oil with interest rates at more normal levels? I think what we have is a very peculiar situation where it is available ,but it is available only because of this peculiar financial situation we are in right now with very high oil prices and very low interest rates. The shale oil plays are going to be probably much less than a 10-year flash in the pan. They are very dependent on a lot of different things, including low interest rates and the ability to keep borrowing - which could turn around very quickly. Lower oil prices would tend to do the same thing. But even if you hypothesize that we can keep the low interest rates and that the oil price will stay up there, under the best of circumstances, the Barnett data says they probably will not go for very long. Similar to many energy experts Chris has interviewed prior, Gail looks at the math and concludes that humans (especially those in the West) have been living on an energy subsidy that is beginning to run out. We have been living outside of our natural budget, and will be forced to live within what remains going forward. As a result, she expect great changes in store for the next several decades: socially, politically and lifestyle-wise. Click the play button below to listen to Chris's interview with Gail Tverberg (38m:07s): . 

Drilling California: A Reality Check on the Monterey Shale - The March 2013 study from the University of Southern California suggested that the development of the Monterey shale could—by 2020—increase California’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 14%, provide an additional 2.8 million jobs (a 10% increase), and provide $24.6 billion per year in additional tax revenue (also a 10% increase). This study was based on estimates that development of the Monterey shale could increase total California oil production as much as seven-fold. Given the unrealistic nature of the original EIA/INTEK Monterey shale estimates, such production growth estimates are unfounded. Moreover, an examination of USC’s oil production estimates reveals that they include unrealistic assumptions about the total production growth possible from the Monterey and the number of wells that would be required to increase production to the levels forecast. Hence the economic projections of the USC study must be viewed as extremely suspect. Environmental concerns with development of the Monterey shale are centered around hydraulic fracturing (fracking), the main completion technique used in other tight oil plays. Acidization completions, using hydrofluoric and hydrochloric acid, are also of concern. It is certain that hydraulic fracturing and acidization completions have already been used on the Monterey shale, yet an analysis of production data reveals little discernible effect of these techniques in terms of increased well productivity. Many oil and gas operators and energy analysts suggest that it is only a matter of time before "the code is cracked" and the Monterey produces at rates comparable to the Bakken and Eagle Ford. Owing to the fundamental geological differences between the Monterey and other tight oil plays, and in light of actual Monterey oil production data, this is likely wishful thinking. For all of these reasons, this analysis suggests that California should consider its economic and energy future in the absence of an oil production boom from the Monterey shale.

The U.S. energy independence story: Will anyone be punished if it turns out to be wrong? - Will anyone who is currently predicting U.S. energy independence be punished if the story turns out to be wrong? I ask because the story--and that's all it is right now--appears to be driving public policy and business planning practically worldwide. Often implied with that narrative is a corresponding abundance of oil globally. In fact, some are predicating worldwide abundance on a continuous rise in U.S. oil output. This is despite the fact that even many optimistic forecasts make such ideas seem foolish. The actual data for crude plus condensate (which is the definition of oil) show oil production in the rest of world declining almost as much as the United States has increased its production from 2005 onward. Worldwide crude volumes have barely nudged upward in the last eight years, just 2.7 percent versus 10 percent in the previous eight-year period, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This is despite record oil prices and record investment! Now, a lot of people stand to get hurt by the energy independence/abundance story--which is, in effect, a forecast--if the story turns out to be wrong. This is because governments, businesses and households will not have prepared themselves for a negative surprise--all because they were assured that the United States and even the world had nothing to worry about when it comes to oil supplies.

U.K. taxpayers to pay for fracking pollution if companies go bust - Taxpayers will pay to clean up any pollution caused by fracking if the companies go bankrupt, after a proposal to make UK operators take out insurance against such damage was ruled out by the government. Energy companies including Centrica-backed Cuadrilla are poised to drill shale gas wells around the country after the Treasury published draft legislation on Tuesday for tax breaks for the industry. Hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – is the controversial technique that involves pumping sand, chemicals and water underground to extract shale gas trapped in rocks. Campaigners and a cross-party group of MPs argue that before operators are granted permits to frack, they should have to take out a bond to pay for potential pollution incidents. Without such a bond, campaigners argued, clean-up costs would have to be paid for with public money if a company went bust.But on Monday, the environment minister Dan Rogerson said that there was no case for an amendment bringing in such proposals to the draft water bill. He told MPs: "We believe that the existing regulatory framework is fit for purpose for the exploration and exploitation of onshore oil and gas activities. There are a great number of checks and controls available to us to ensure that operators comply with the requirements of their permits and deal with the wider pollution risks without adding to existing regulation."The government could not support the new clause, he said, adding that if fracking companies caused pollution they could be fined under existing regulations.

Oilprice Intelligence Report: Japan Burns with "Fire Ice" Momentum - Japan, desperate for new domestic energy sources, is where we now look for research and development that no one else has the patience for—like this week’s revival of talk about “fire ice,” otherwise known as methane hydrates.  After all, methane hydrates—if we are to believe the experts—could be more plentiful than all known reserves of natural gas, while one cubic foot of solid methane hydrate yields about 164 cubic feet of gas. However, there is some disagreement over the actual volume of commercially viable methane hydrate deposits. In March, Japan Oil, Gas & Metals National Corp successfully extracted the first gas from deposits of methane hydrate from the ocean, producing 120,000 cubic meters of gas in six days of testing in the Pacific Ocean, off central Japan. Last week, Japan stumbled upon another source of fire ice in the Sea of Japan, and now the game is on to predict when Japan will start producing commercial quantities of gas from methane hydrates. Those estimations range from two years to 15 years, so we don’t have much to go on. In a November report, the International Energy Agency (IEA) noted that the viability of methane hydrates as a source of gas will depend largely on technological advancements and climate change regulations—the latter because methane is a potent greenhouse gas when leaked into the atmosphere so extracting it requires great care. So, while there is talk of fire ice eventually sidelining shale gas due to the enormity of the resources, there are also some cautionary notes, both technologically and economically. 

Trains From North Dakota Will Now Carry More Crude Oil Than Keystone XL Would - A top official at North Dakota’s Mineral Resources Department said Thursday that as much as 90 percent of the state’s crude will move by freight rail in 2014, just one day before announcing record oil production of almost 1 million barrels per day — or approximately 5 percent of total U.S. oil consumption. A million barrels a day is more than the capacity of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport 830,000 barrels per day. The fact, according to Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG), has led some in the oil industry to believe that heavy crude oil derived from Canada’s tar sands will find a way to refineries regardless of whether Transcanada’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline is approved. “Even if President Obama rejects the pipeline, it might not matter much,” CRG said, noting that the recent crude-by-rail boom is good news for tar sands advocates. “Tar sands advocates are happy to promote the idea that continued development of the tar sands is inevitable because it implies that opposition to Keystone XL is futile and that Americans should therefore cash in on its jobs and construction expenditures before somebody else does.” 

Ottawa to designate crude oil as highly dangerous - The federal government will, for the first time, designate crude oil a highly dangerous substance and introduce tougher safety and testing measures for shipping oil by rail, Transport Minister Lisa Raitt has told The Globe and Mail. The fundamental shift, in response to mounting concerns about crude safety, comes after a Globe investigation detailed how the oil that exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Que., last summer was far more dangerous than regulators and shippers considered. The investigation found that numerous warning signs about the volatility, corrosiveness and content of the crude were ignored before the disaster. Until now, the government considered crude flammable, but not highly explosive. However, massive fireballs erupted in Lac-Mégantic on July 6 after a train carrying 72 tankers of crude oil derailed, killing 47 people and levelling much of the downtown. It is the worst railway disaster in Canadian history.

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