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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Fracking and tar sands news, week of December 8, from rjs

U.K. Embraces Fracking, Picks Winners And Losers Among Renewable Energy Industries - The U.K. government on Thursday announcedgenerous tax breaks to the hydraulic fracturing industry, just one day after touting a green energy investment strategy that it says will bring $65 billion in renewable energy investment to the country. According to U.K. Treasury Chancellor George Osborne’s announcement, companies that explore shale gas will now be relieved of up to 75 percent of taxes for their early profits. The Chancellor said the tax breaks would make it easier for fracking companies to operate, therefore bringing “thousands of jobs, billions of pounds of business investment, and lower energy bills.” 

Interestingly enough, the announcement came just one day after the country’s Department of Energy and Climate Change(DECC), announced reforms to its electricity market that it said would attract $65 billion in renewable investment over the next seven years. Those changes are updated “strike prices” — akin to subsidies in the United States — that indicate just how much monetary support different types of renewable energy projects get from the government in exchange for investment in a low-carbon grid. The new strike prices will increase government support for offshore wind, geothermal, and hydro power. The pairing of the two energy reforms is strange given the government’s carbon budget, which mandates Britain to cut greenhouse gases 34% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050 from 1990 levels. While $65 billion in increased investment in low-carbon, renewable energy by 2020 would be a huge step toward meeting those goals, the government could be partially offsetting them by implementing an enormous incentive for a controversial methane-emitting fossil fuel industry.

Massachusetts moves toward fracking ban -- Legislation that would impose a 10-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing is making its way through the Massachusetts state legislature. On Wednesday, the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture passed the bill, which would also prohibit the dumping of fracking wastewater in the state. “Although the state isn’t seen as a rich source of shale gas, there could be limited deposits in western Massachusetts,” the Associated Press reports. As EcoWatch explains, “Local concern about fracking has grown since the U.S. Geological Survey identified shale gas deposits in the Pioneer Valley last December. Moreover, as New York mulls large-scale fracking next door, drilling operators could soon view Western Massachusetts as a convenient dumping ground for toxic fracking wastewater.” If the full state legislature passes the bill and Gov. Deval Patrick (D) signs it, Massachusetts would become the second state in the nation to ban fracking. Vermont banned it last year, despite having negligible fracking potential. Meanwhile, in states that actually have sizable shale deposits and active fracking operations, fracking bans are not faring well. Five Colorado cities have prohibited hydraulic fracturing, but all face legal challenges not just from industry but from the administration of Gov. John Hickenlooper (D). And in California, where scientistscelebsactivists, and policy wonks are all calling for a moratorium, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) still backs the growing fracking industry, despite his long legacy as a climate hawk and environmental champion.

Why Massachusetts Might Ban Fracking Even Though There’s No Fracking In Massachusetts - Last week, a committee in Massachusetts moved closer to banning hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) in the Bay State. This is a day after Texas, the epicenter of fracking in the United States, suffered a 3.6 magnitude earthquake. While Massachusetts may not be rich in fossil fuels, some in the state do not want to risk the the drinking water, the climate, or tectonic stability to tap what little shale gas might be hiding under the Berkshires. The Massachusetts State Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment and Natural Resources approved a bill on Wednesday that would place a 10-year moratorium on fracking in the Bay State — through December 31, 2024. In addition, the bill would keep fracking wastewater produced by operations in other states from being treated, stored, or disposed in Massachusetts.   Of special concern is the fact that many (largely rural) communities in Western Massachusetts depend on groundwater supplies for their only source of drinking water. Earthquakes are not a central concern to people in Massachusetts, but they hadn’t been to many states that are now dealing with them as the fracking boom takes hold. Ohio oil and gas regulators found earlier this year that 12 earthquakes were almost certainly caused by hydraulic fracturing. There are 216,000 active drilling wells and 50,000 disposal wells in Texas, and recent research has pinned the blame for the increasing number and magnitude of earthquakes in the area directly on fracking. Other studies back up the links, both from the hydraulic fracturing itself and the injection of the wastewater back underground.

Voters Ban Fracking in Colorado Towns, But Industry Sues To Stop Them - Four Colorado towns voted for bans or moratoria on hydraulic fracturing in November, but the oil and gas industry wants to repeal three of them in court. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), the industry trade group, is arguing that only the state has the authority to ban drilling, and that Coloradans can not decide to keep it out of their communities.COGA filed suit Tuesday against three of the four towns: Fort Collins, Lafayette, and Broomfield, but not Boulder, which passed a similar five-year moratorium on fracking.  The results of Broomfield’s vote were uncertain until Tuesday, when a recount found that the measure had passed by 20 votes out of nearly 21,000 ballots counted. The recount came after the vote initially came 13 votes shy of passage, then 17 votes ahead, triggering a mandatory recount. Lafayette’s measure is a total ban on new oil and gas wells, while Fort Collins imposed a five-year moratorium.  COGA is also in the middle of suing the town of Longmont, Colorado, for regulations on drilling passed by its city council, including restrictions on drilling in residential areas.

Ohio’s Official Fracking Water Damage Denialism By Dan Fejes, who lives in northeast Ohio. About a year ago a local family began getting flammable water. The fact that their house’s recorded methane levels (along with their sink) shot up shortly after fracking began nearby was considered maybe not coincidental, so the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) looked into it. Before the agency did, though, it let the public know which way it was leaning: “Methane is naturally occurring in this portion of the state, and the water well in question was found to be drilled into shale, which may have led to these increased levels.” Isn’t the point of an investigation to try and understand the cause, not to confirm one’s hunches? It doesn’t inspire a lot of faith in the impartiality of the investigation to start by declaring the expected outcome. ODNR concluded its investigation a few weeks ago, and the result was no surprise to anyone who had seen the agency tip its hand at the outset: An investigation by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources recently concluded that the gas in the Kline’s’ water well was chemically different from the gas produced by a Mountaineer Keystone oil and gas well 1,500 feet southeast of the house. “Up to 40% of the water wells within the area of the (shale) drilling have some concentration of methane in them,” “Methane is naturally occurring.” The verbatim use of “methane is naturally occurring,” in addition to being a favored pro-fracking talking point, is not especially relevant when discussing the impact of fracking. The relevant question (or one of them) is: what happens to that naturally occurring methane when heavy industrial activity begins nearby? Setting off explosions below the earth and repeatedly forcing millions of gallons of chemical cocktails into the ground makes it more permeable. We already know that fluids in shale fields migrate much farther and much faster than previously thought, because busting up the earth makes it more porous. Saying that these fluids and gases are naturally occurring is trivial; stupid even. What matters is not whether they are naturally occurring but whether they are naturally migratory.

Chamber Of Commerce Leader Says Fracking Regulations ‘Undermine Freedom’ - Attempts to put pollution and other regulations on hydraulic fracturing are “undermining freedom” and hurting the economy, according to the president of America’s largest business lobbying group. Thomas Donohue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told a meeting of business executives Tuesday that an anticipated study set to be released by the Environmental Protection Agency next year could give grounds for tight federal regulations on fracking, Reuters reported. If that were to occur, Donohue reportedly said, it would “short-circuit America’s absolute explosion in energy opportunity that is creating millions of jobs.”  While many communities are increasingly concerned about the strain fracking places on local water supplies and the threat it poses to their health and safety, others — like Donohue — want to cash in on the boom.   Currently, fracking is largely regulated by states, but the EPA has been attempting to take the reins. In 2012, the Obama administration set the first-ever national standards to control air pollution from fracking wells, which were finalized in 2013. The Bureau of Land Management is also working on regulations for drill operators with leases on federal lands, which the Chamber of Commerce has also attacked for coming at a time “when America should be taking greater advantage of our natural resources to create jobs and improve our economy.”

Leaked Documents Reveal IRS Concerns, Funding Crisis At Corporate Lobbying Group ALEC - Steve Horn - The Guardian has published a major investigative piece that once again exposes the scandalous ways of the right wing lobbying group, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).  [...] ALEC State Chairs were handed a draft pledge to put ALEC's interests over its constituent's interests, asked to "act with care and loyalty and put the interests of [ALEC] first." ALEC confirmed to The Guardian that it was "not adopted by the membership committee or by any of the state chairs."The Guardian obtained ALEC's Board of Directors' meeting minutes which reveal that ALEC has created a 501(c)(4) non-profit organization called The Jeffersonian Project. Creation of the Jeffersonian Project -- paralleling ALEC's self-serving branding as standing for "Jeffersonian principles" -- could be seen as a tacit admission that ALEC had been illegally operating as a shadow lobbying organization on behalf of its corporate members for the past four decades. [...] These findings by The Guardian come just one day before ALEC's forthcoming States and Nation Policy Summit in Washington, DC, in which pro-fracking and anti-regulatory model bills and presentations will be the centerpiece of the Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force's convening. Shale gas industry lobbying powerhouse America's Natural Gas Alliance will be named as a corporate member at the meeting.

US Consumers Are Getting “Fracked” as Fossil Fuel Industry Benefits Enormously From Natural Gas Wholesale Price Drops -  An article posted in The National Journal asserts that fracking -- dangerous to the environment, the earth and humans -- has resulted in huge price breaks in natural gas for businesses, but comparatively little for consumers. The article reveals that the industrial sector has seen the wholesale price of natural gas decrease by 66% -- attributed to fracking increases in the supply of natural gas -- but only 23% for residential consumers. . On a web page revealingly filled with large adds for Chevron the article makes clear who is economically get a windfall from fracking:  Fracking has sent the price of natural gas plummeting, just not for the people who need it most.The straight-out-of-the-ground price of natural gas is way down since the start of the boom in hydraulic fracturing. Back in 2008, users buying gas directly from drillers were paying an average of $7.97 per thousand cubic feet, according to the Energy Information Administration. By 2012, that cost—known as the “wellhead” price—had dropped to $2.66 in nominal dollars (not adjusted for inflation) resulting in a two-thirds discount in just five years. However, those are the prices paid by pipeline operators, utilities, large industrial users, and other entities that can buy gas directly from the companies that drill for it. By the time gas was piped into homes, individual consumers were still paying an average of $10.68 per thousand cubic feet. That’s down from $13.98 in 2008, but the $3.30 price drop is much smaller—both in absolute and relative terms—than the one that big buyers are getting further up the chain.

As Oil Floods Plains Towns, Crime Pours In - One cold morning last year, a math teacher jogging through her hometown in eastern Montana was abducted, strangled and buried in a shallow grave. Charged in her death were two drifters from Colorado, drawn to the region by the allure of easy money in the oil fields. One hundred fifty miles away, in a bustling oil town in North Dakota, a 30-year-old man disappeared one afternoon from the street where he had been putting in water and sewer pipes, leaving behind a lunchbox with his paycheck inside and a family grasping for answers. After months of searching, his mother said she now believes her son is gone, buried somewhere on the high plain. Stories like these, once rare, have become as common as drilling rigs in rural towns at the heart of one of the nation’s richest oil booms. Crime has soared as thousands of workers and rivers of cash have flowed into towns, straining police departments and shattering residents’ sense of safety. “It just feels like the modern-day Wild West,” said Sgt. Kylan Klauzer, an investigator in Dickinson, in western North Dakota. The Dickinson police handled 41 violent crimes last year, up from 7 only 5 years ago.

In Fracking, Sand Is the New Gold - The race to drill for oil in the U.S. is creating another boom—in sand, a key ingredient in fracking. Energy companies are expected to use 56.3 billion pounds of sand this year, blasting it down oil and natural gas wells to help crack rocks and allow fuel to flow out. Sand use has increased 25% since 2011, according to the consulting firm PacWest, which expects a further 20% rise over the next two years. In Wisconsin, the source of white sand perfectly suited for hydraulic fracturing, state officials now estimate more than 100 sand mines, loading, and processing facilities have received permits, up from just five sand mines and five processing plants operating in 2010.Less than a decade ago, U.S. Silica focused on sand for industrial and consumer products—plate glass for windows and, more recently, glass for iPhone and iPad screens. Now those uses account for just half the sand the company digs out of its open pits and even less of revenue. During the first nine months of this year, the more than $245 million in sand sold to energy companies accounted for 62% of U.S. Silica's sales, up from 53% during the same period in 2012 and 33% during the first nine months of 2011.

Frack-Water Recycling, an Emerging Market - Some 21 billion barrels of wastewater a year flows from oil and natural gas wells in the US, and while the market to recycle frack water has been slow to emerge, the potentially multi-billion-dollar arena is now starting to take off in earnest. It takes between 70 billion to 140 billion gallons of water to frack 35,000 wells a year, the industry's current pace, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and while recycling frack water is still a relatively new idea, companies are coming under increasing pressure to do so, and Schlumberger predicts a strategic boom in the business. Re-using treated frack water in the fracking process itself is growing on companies as it proves it can be economically viable, environmentally safer and in the long-term a hedge against dwindling water supplies. In Texas, where hydraulic fracturing uses up around 50% of water in some counties, recycling for fracking re-use could have a significant impact. Schlumberger, an oilfield services company that has been a pioneer of frack water recycling, predicts that a million new wells will be fracked around the world between now and 2035, and reducing freshwater use "is no longer just an environmental issue—it has to be an issue of strategic importance.” This year, we’re seeing a clear uptick in frack water recycling, both in terms of pilot programs and actual implementation. Right now, only about 2% of frack water is being reused, but new recycling technology continues to make the process more cost effective. 

The Fracking Industry’s Next Target: Our Natural Heritage - The fracking boom has already taken a devastating toll on communities across America, leaving toxic pollution and plummeting property values in its wake. Now, the oil and gas industry has set its sights on our national forests, wildlife refuges and even lands within view of national parks. President Obama promised to protect us from the ravages of fracking, but instead of safeguarding our natural heritage and its supplies of clean drinking water, his administration is preparing to step aside and let fracking run roughshod over them. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), charged with safeguarding our public lands from the worst abuses of fracking, has just proposed a shocking set of rules that reads like an industry wish list.Those rules would not stop energy companies from fracking next to national parks, inside national forests, and across millions more acres of treasured lands. Nor would they stop the frackers from drilling alongside drinking water supplies on public lands. Here are just a few of the places where the BLM is essentially preparing to hang out a sign that says “Open for Drilling”: Virginia’s George Washington National Forest, Ohio’s Wayne National Forest, Colorado’s White River National Forest, California’s Los Padres National Forest, and lands outside Glacier and Grand Teton National Parks.

Coal Bed Methane Extraction: “Don’t Worry. It’s Not Fracking”Coal bed methane extraction is a technology closely associated with shale bed fracking. While there have long been leases in Nova Scotia for exploration, the very first that was heard about actual plans was in a news release from the new provincial government early in November.   “East Coast Energy has all of the necessary permits in place to begin exploring for local and cleaner sources of natural gas,” said Energy Minister Andrew Younger. The permits do not allow the use of hydraulic fracturing.East Coast Ventures went to even greater lengths to distance their project from fracking. 

It’s not fracking.” But coal bed methane extraction produces waste water in similar volumes, and with the same potential for “naturally occuring” toxins- the same toxins whose presence in the Kennetcook fracking wastes has produced the impasse that has stranded them in ‘temporary’ waste ponds. 

Not fracking.” But one of the major reasons the former NDP government took its internal review of hydraulic fracturing out of the hands of the Departments of Energy and Environment, was precisely because of that broad vote of no confidence in Environment’s assurances of the safety of the fracking waste processing they had approved. 

Not fracking.” But the Environment Department approvals for the Pictou County coal bed methane extraction use the regulatory protocols it has developed for hydraulic fracturing waste water. 

Not fracking.” But the early indications are that leakage from producing wells is even more prevalent with coal bed methane extraction than it is for shale gas fracking.

New Study Finds Higher Methane Emissions from Fracking - A major new study finds that methane emissions from the production of shale gas may in fact be higher than previously thought. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on November 25, casts into doubt the notion that natural gas produces half as much greenhouse gas pollution as coal. Natural gas has been embraced by many, including President Obama, as a centerpiece of America’s climate change plan. Methane can be released from natural gas wells during the drilling process. Scientists have thus far had difficulty measuring these “fugitive methane emissions” precisely, with competing studies stirring controversy. The latest report, published by a group of 15 scientists, found that the EPA is significantly underestimating the amount of methane released during natural gas production. Specifically, the report concludes that fugitive methane emissions could be 50% higher than EPA estimates.  The findings could put pressure on state environmental regulators as well as the U.S. EPA to draw up new regulations, according to Dan Lashof of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Methane is a powerful climate change pollutant, and the study gives greater impetus to the EPA and states to establish stronger standards to reduce leaks from the oil and gas system,” he said in an interview. Similarly, Dan Grossman of the Environmental Defense Fund told NPR in an interview last week, “[w]e think that other states will look at what we were able to accomplish here and replicate it.”

Emissions of Methane in U.S. Exceed Estimates, Study Finds - Emissions of the greenhouse gas methane due to human activity were roughly 1.5 times greater in the United States in the middle of the last decade than prevailing estimates, according to a new analysis by 15 climate scientists published Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The analysis also said that methane discharges in Texas and Oklahoma, where oil and gas production was concentrated at the time, were 2.7 times greater than conventional estimates. Emissions from oil and gas activity alone could be 5 times greater than the prevailing estimate, the report said. The study relies on nearly 12,700 measurements of atmospheric methane in 2007 and 2008. Its conclusions are sharply at odds with the two most comprehensive estimates of methane emissions, by the Environmental Protection Agency and an alliance of the Netherlands and the European Commission. The E.P.A. has stated that all emissions of methane, from both man-made and natural sources, have been slowly but steadily declining since the mid-1990s. In April, the agency reduced its estimate of methane discharges from 1990 through 2010 by 8-12%, largely citing sharp decreases in discharges from gas production and transmission, landfills and coal mines. The new analysis calls that reduction into question, saying that two sources of methane emissions in particular — from oil and gas production and from cattle and other livestock — appear to have been markedly larger than the E.P.A. estimated during 2007 and 2008.

Another reason to worry about methane: It’s leaking out of the Arctic Ocean hella fast - We often talk about greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide as if they are one and the same. CO2 is by far the most prevalent greenhouse gas, but while much less methane is released into the atmosphere, methane is about 21 times more potent over a 100-year period.  And now we’ve got another reason to worry about methane. New research published in the journal Nature Geoscience finds that “significant quantities of methane are escaping the East Siberian Shelf as a result of the degradation of submarine permafrost over thousands of years.” Methane is stored on the Arctic Ocean floor, and is kept there by a layer of permafrost. As the permafrost thaws due to global warming, the methane escapes. Extra methane has also been escaping in recent years due to stronger and more frequent storms that shake up the ocean and bring gases to the top more quickly. As the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner notes, there are also carbon stores being similarly affected. And the methane release creates a feedback loop: More methane causes more warming, which causes more rapid methane release.

Off Siberia’s Arctic coast, the seafloor belches methane - Thawing permafrost gets a lot of attention as a positive feedback that could amplify global warming by releasing carbon dioxide and methane, both of which are greenhouse gases. Because of this, a lot of effort goes into studying Arctic permafrost. An international group of researchers led by Natalia Shakhova at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has been plying the remote waters of the Siberian Shelf for about a decade to find out how much methane was coming up from the thawing permafrost. They didn’t expect to find it bubbling. The researchers have discovered a number of these bubbling plumes, but it’s difficult to figure out just how important they are to the total amount of methane escaping from the Siberian Shelf. To make progress toward that end, their latest work involved surveys around the Lena River Delta to measure methane in and above the water and learn more about the bubble plumes in the area by measuring them using sonar. Apart from being unusual, the bubbles are actually an important phenomenon. Some of the methane doesn't form large bubbles. This moves slowly through the sediment and water and is oxidized by microbes, becoming CO2, which is less potent as a greenhouse gas, molecule-for-molecule, than methane. Large, buoyant bubbles take the express route, heading straight for the atmosphere. The sonar work found areas where bubbles were seeping out of the sediment all around the delta. Using their methane measurements and the density of the bubbles picked up with the sonar, the researchers revised their estimate of the total amount of methane being released from the Siberian Shelf. The number roughly doubled to 17 billion kilograms per year.

Mining, Fracking, And Drilling Have Changed Public Lands From Carbon Sinks To Carbon Polluters - A report released Thursday by the Center for American Progress finds that our nation’s forests, parks, grasslands, and other onshore public lands in the continental United States are the source of 4.5 times more carbon pollution than they are able to naturally absorb. This imbalance is primarily due to the large quantities of coal, oil, and natural gas that are extracted from public lands. 42.1% of the country’s coal, 26.2% of its oil, and 17.8% of its natural gas are currently sourced from public lands both onshore and offshore. Using data from the United States Geological Survey and Stratus Consulting, the CAP analysis determined that when combusted, fossil fuels extracted from public lands are the source of 1,154 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, while those same lands absorb only 259 million metric tons every year. As the authors wrote, the carbon sink that should be our national parks, forests, and other public lands is now “clogged.”  The president’s “all of the above energy” plan calls for continued expansion of mining and drilling on the 700 million acres of public lands managed by the federal government — contributing to high levels of carbon pollution.

Rising Slag Heaps of Petcoke in Midwest Arouse Environmental Concerns - One by product of the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline decision is that rising volumes of Canadian crude, particularly Alberta oil sands, are being refined in the Midwest rather than being shipped to U.S. refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.  The increasing production is also generating attendant slag heaps of petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” whose particles wafting along on the wind has local residents claiming it endangers their health.Residents of the southeast side of Chicago, tired of the fact that the owners of the heaps don’t even bother to cover them, on 25 November filed a class-action lawsuit against several Koch Industries subsidiaries, which have been buying up the petcoke slag across the country, presumably for sale to lucrative Asian markets. The lawsuit charges that Koch Carbon, KCBX Terminals, George J. Beemsterboer Inc. and KM Railways in improperly storing the petcoke residue has resulted in its coating the homes and property of residents throughout the surrounding South Chicago neighborhood. The suit states, “Instead of safely disposing and deconstructing the petcoke, (the) defendants have chosen to sell it and distribute it and mark it for profit. It is a marketing enterprise that despoils and degrades every environment it touches.” BP is also named as a defendant as residents maintain that much of the problem petcoke is coming from BP’s nearby Whiting, Indiana, refinery. The six-count lawful suit alleges willful and wanton conduct, abnormally dangerous activity, strict liability in tort, trespassing, public nuisance, private nuisance and declaratory relief, with the residents seeking an undisclosed amount in damages.

Forget Keystone XL: Dangerous Tar Sands May Soon Be Traversing The Country By Barge - When tar sands crude spills into water, it doesn’t float on top in an oily sheen for all to see. It sinks to the bottom, mixes with sediment, and creates a toxic, viscous muck that is almost impossible to remove completely. That is exactly what happened three years ago in the Kalamazoo River in Southwest Michigan, and that is exactly what critics of plans to ship tar sands crude by barge across the Great Lakes say will happen again if industry is given the green light. According to a new report released by the Alliance for the Great Lakes, Calumet Specialty Products Partners, L.P., is preparing to begin shipping tar sands crude by barge on the Great Lakes as early as 2015. Calumet and its dock partner, Elkhorn Industries, recently applied for several permits from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Plans include a $25 million loading dock on Lake Superior, and the heavy crude would most likely travel from Wisconsin across Lake Superior to Lake Michigan. From there the barges would continue on to refineries in Whiting, Indiana, Lemont, Illinois, and Detroit, Michigan, as well as other destinations along the St. Lawrence Seaway. There is simply more tar sands crude being extracted from Alberta, Canada than can currently be transported to market via existing channels. The Great Lakes supplies drinking water for over 40 million people in North America and is the largest surface freshwater resource in the world. 

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