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Saturday, January 11, 2014

Fracking, explosions, shale oil and gas news from rjs

Retired Mobil Oil VP Louis Allstadt warns of fracking and climate change - (interview) Few people can explain gas and oil drilling with as much authority as Louis W. Allstadt. As an executive vice president of Mobil oil, he ran the company's exploration and production operations in the western hemisphere before he retired in 2000. In 31 years with the company he also was in charge of its marketing and refining in Japan, and managed its worldwide supply, trading and transportation operations. Just before retiring, he oversaw Mobil's side of its merger with Exxon, creating the world's largest corporation. Allstadt launched his leisure years in this idyllic spot, intending to leave the industry behind. But then friends started asking him questions about fracking - it had been proposed near the lake. In these pages last year he called high-volume fracking "conventional drilling on steroids." "Just horrible," is how he described the 2011 SGEIS in our conversation in June 2013. Allstadt has become an indispensable guide for one of the country's most powerful environmental movements, New York's grass-roots anti-fracking resistance. He said this interview was a first for him: earlier talks and interviews have focused on what he calls "tweaking the technology and [promoting] tighter regulations." Never before has he focused squarely on the industry's impact on the planet's atmosphere. A note about interview chronology: Allstadt's observations about the Obama climate-change address were added in phone conversations in July 2013. The rest of the interview took place in person in mid-June 2013. We began by discussing fracking as part of what oil-scholar Michael Klare calls "the race for what's left. "

Methane emissions from oil & gas development - Earlier last year we posted a blog on whether the new natural gas boom, thanks to improved drilling technologies and hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”, was to be considered a boon or bane to Earth’s climate. The boon part comes from the fact that natural gas burns much cleaner and causes roughly a factor of two lower CO2 emissions than the burning of coal. So if the gas were exclusively used in high efficiency gas-fired power plants, or even combined heat and power (CHP) plants to replace coal combustion power plants for electricity production, CO2 emissions reduction would be maximized. The bane part is the fact that mining and use of natural gas does not happen without the inevitable gas leaks, in this case releasing a different, more powerful greenhouse gasmethane. Several recent scientific assessments put current fossil fuel related, “fugitive” methane emissions to the atmosphere at 100 million tons per year, roughly two thirds coming from the oil&gas industry, the remaining third from coal mining. It is useful in this context to realize that humans have roughly tripled the emissions of methane to the atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial revolution.   Because methane is such a strong greenhouse gas, reducing its emissions has direct benefits for climate stabilization. Methane’s comparatively short atmospheric lifetime would make the effects of emissions reductions measurable in the atmosphere within a decade.  So are the emissions from the fossil fuel industry in the US increasing due to fracking, or not? Unfortunately, this question was not answered in 2013, despite a number of new publications shining a light on the question through actual measurements. In August, a publication by CIRES and NOAA researchers [2] showed that methane emissions from a large oil&gas exploration field in Utah may be 6% to 12% (one standard deviation range) of average production rates, far exceeding the less than 1-2% claimed by the industry. In November, another study by NOAA [3] revealed that methane emissions nationwide appear to be significantly underestimated (by the inventory!) with respect to both of the large man-made sources, beef production and fossil fuel mining.

SPECIAL: Fracking Industrialization And Induced Earthquakes (link to pdf) This paper explores the recent significant increase in felt earthquakes in the midcontinent of the United States over the past decade in relation to fracking industrialization and its associated voluminous wastewater disposal needs. Studies and expert insight from geologists and seismologists from over the past fifty years will be utilized in order to render evidenced-based conclusions regarding these matters that have often remained at the opinion level of discourse in the public sphere. The current extent of U.S. fracking industrialization will be reviewed, including dissection of shale oil and gas production levels, the scale of proliferation of fracking wells, the volume of toxic and radioactive effluent, fracking flowback and produced wastewater disposal needs, and the impact of the exponential growth in deepinjection disposal well usage on the United States’ current seismic reality. Two important limiting conditions, the impervious unknowns regarding subterranean geological formations and the fact that disposal wells will fail and leak, provide context for discussion of our obscured yet viable long term understanding of the mechanisms underlying the whole phenomenon of fracking wastewater disposal induced earthquakes.

Fracking and Your Endocrine System - A recent study published in Endocrinology looks at the chemicals used in fracking and finds that the contamination of both ground and surface water by the more than 750 chemicals used in the process is not insignificant when measured in terms of their endocrine-disrupting nature with a recent study showing that over 100 of these ingredients having the ability to cause negative health effects through the human endocrine system.  These chemicals are termed endocrine disrupting chemicals or EDCs.  EDC's have the ability to mimic or block the effects of the body's reproductive hormones and exposure to these chemicals has been linked to birth defects, cancer and infertility.  The authors from the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Women's Health and the Department of Health Management and Informatics, both at the University of Missouri and the United States Geological Survey, collected water samples in Garfield County, Colorado, where the drilling density is high (there are more than 10,000 natural gas wells in the area) and fracking is commonly used in drilling operations.  Looking at the bigger picture in Colorado, there are now about 30,000 active wells in the state, up markedly from 5700 twenty years ago.  In the study, unique water samples were collected from five fracking fluid spill sites, two reference sites and the Colorado River.   These samples were tested for twenty-four chemicals used in natural gas drilling operations and were measured for both estrogen (female) and androgen (male) receptor activities in human cells.  Let's open by looking at at map of Colorado from FracTracker showing the outline of shale basins (in light orange) and shale plays (in pink), where directional wells are being drilled in the state (in dark orange) and where spills from directional wells have taken place (in yellow):

Colorado Ballot Measure Could Let Towns Ban Fracking - As the natural gas industry tries to fight Colorado’s voter-passed fracking bans in court, organizers are working on a ballot initiative that would ensure local governments have the right to ban drilling. In November, four Colorado towns passed ballot initiatives that either banned or put moratoria on hydraulic fracturing: Broomfield, Fort Collins, Lafayette, and Boulder. Broomfield’s vote was so close that its results are pending a ruling from a judge, prompted by a separate energy industry lawsuit. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) quickly filed suit over two of the bans, arguing that only the state has the authority to ban drilling, and that communities can’t decide for themselves. But the activists behind the fracking bans have formed the Colorado Community Rights Network to work on an amendment to the Colorado state constitution that would appear on the ballot in November. Organizers plan to finish language for the ballot initiative in the next week or so, after which they would have to collect signatures to get it on the ballot. Cliff Willment, with the East Boulder County United group that pushed for the fracking ban in Lafayette, told the Denver Business Journal after the votes that the right to ban fracking was about democracy for the people of Colorado. “We maintain that people do have the right to self-determination and clearly the oil and gas industry has lost public credibility, they can’t win at the ballot box and this is the last resort — corporate attorneys and litigation,” he said.

Bluegrass Uprising - Lorrie Reed lives alone in a trailer on a rural road outside Frankfort, Kentucky, on two acres of land that her late husband bought more than twenty years ago. He left the property to her and their daughters when he died in a motorcycle accident.  She owns a pistol because she is afraid of the feral dogs that she says are common in the area. She held the gun in her palm when the pipeline consultants pulled into her gravel driveway. “You’re trespassing,” she told them. Still, she decided to sign the paperwork allowing them to survey. A day later, a letter arrived at her house from the Bluegrass Pipeline Blockade, a loose-knit network of Kentuckians organized mainly through Facebook. Reed learned that the pink survey ribbons in the field across the street from her land marked the potential route of a two-foot-diameter transcontinental pipe. It would haul a mix of butane, propane, pentane and other chemicals—called “natural gas liquids,” or NGLs—from fracking wells in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Nine years ago, a four-inch NGL pipeline about a tenth as big destroyed five homes in eastern Kentucky and left a state trooper with severe burns after he rescued a 3-year-old child. In August of this year, a ten-inch NGL pipeline ruptured in western Illinois, shooting flames 300 feet into the air. The information frightened Reed, and she wrote to the Williams Companies, one of the two corporations leading the pipeline project, to say that she had changed her mind: no one from the Bluegrass Pipeline project should set foot on her land.

The Shale Oil Party Is Ending, Phibro's Andy Hall Warns - Phibro's (currently Astenback Capital Management) Andy Hall knows a thing or two about the oil market - and even if he doesn't (and it was all luck), his views are sufficiently respected to influence the industrial groupthink. Which is why for anyone interested in where one of the foremost oil market movers sees oil supply over the next decade, here are his full thoughts from his latest letter to Astenback investors. Of particular note: Hall's warning to all the shale oil optimists: "According to the DOE data, for Bakken and Eagle Ford the legacy well decline rate has been running at either side of 6.5 per cent per month... Production from new wells has been running at about 90,000 bpd per month per field meaning net growth in production is 25,000 bpd per month. It will become smaller as output grows and that’s why ceteris paribus growth in output for both fields will continue to slow over the coming years. When all the easily drillable sites are exhausted – at the latest sometime shortly after 2020 – production from these two fields will decline."

Judge Rules Exxon Must Face Criminal Charges Over 50,000 Gallon Fracking Waste Spill - Exxon Mobil Corp. subsidiary XTO Energy will have to face criminal charges for allegedly dumping tens of thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracturing waste at a Marcellus Shale drilling site in 2010, according to a Pennsylvania judge’s ruling on Thursday.  Following a preliminary hearing, Magisterial District Judge James G. Carn decided that all eight charges against Exxon — including violations of both the state Clean Streams Law and the Solid Waste Management Act — will be “held for court,” meaning there is enough evidence to take the fossil fuel giant to trial over felony offenses.Pennsylvania’s Attorney General filed criminal charges back in September, claiming Exxon had removed a plug from a wastewater tank, leading to 57,000 gallons of contaminated water spilling into the soil. The Exxon subsidiary had contested the criminal charges, claiming there was “no lasting environmental impact,” and that the charges could “discourage good environmental practices” from guilty companies. 

7 things everyone knows about energy that just ain't so (2013 Edition) - Below I've listed seven whoppers that it would be charitable to call misleading. Longtime readers will recognize that I've addressed them before in various pieces. But I thought that it would be useful to review the worst of the worst of 2013 as the year ends. Here are seven things everyone knows about energy that just ain't so:

Massive Fireball From North Dakota Oil Train Derailment Caught On Tape - Wind is taking toxic smoke towards areas southeast of Casselton, ND, after train derailment. Residents urged to stay indoors A train has derailed west of Casselton, North Dakota, just before 2:20 p.m. Monday. As Valley News Live reports, several area emergency teams are on scene and are setting up an incident command center. Emergency crews are urging people to stay inside and a code red alert has been sent out to residents in a two mile radius of the accident. The Casselton Fire Department says a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train is involved. An unknown number of cars derailed, but Valley News Live reports is told one bulk oil car is on fire and toxic black smoke is being released.

Train Derailment Causes Fiery Destruction In Casselton, ND (AP) — Authorities urged residents to evacuate a small North Dakota town Monday night after a mile-long train carrying crude oil derailed outside of town, shaking residents with a series of explosions that sent flames and black smoke skyward. The Cass County sheriff's office said it was "strongly recommending" that people in the town of Casselton and anyone living 5 miles to the south and east evacuate. As many as 10 cars out of more than 100 caught fire when the BNSF Railway Co. train left the tracks about 2:30 p.m. Monday. No one was hurt. The cars were still burning as darkness fell, and authorities said they would be allowed to burn out. Authorities hadn't yet been able to untangle exactly how the derailment happened, but a second train carrying grain was involved. BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said the train carrying grain derailed first, then knocked several cars of the oil train off adjoining tracks.

As Evacuation Ends For Explosive Oil Train Crash, Officials Hint At The Persistent Threat Of Rail Transport - While the crash of a train carrying crude oil in North Dakota led to fireballs rocketing into the air, clouds of thick black smoke for 15 miles, and the evacuation of nearby residents, officials are saying the incident could have been much worse.   Officials say residents were not exposed to any of the deadly toxins that explosive crude might give off, though one woman in the town said the particulates in the air alone were enough to make you “want to barf your guts out.”  In a press conference on Tuesday, Casselton officials acknowledged that even carbon monoxide poisoning would not be the worst potential outcome from such a serious crash.  “If that thing happened a half mile into town, we’d be looking at a very, very different discussion here today.”  North Dakota trains now carry more oil across the country than the controversial Keystone XL pipeline would. Ninety percent of the fossil fuel-rich state’s oil is carried by freight, shipped off to refineries all around the U.S. and Canada. One of those freighters turned up in a massive derailment in Alabama in November of 2013, when a 90-car train derailed and caught fire, sending flames 300 feet up into the air.  Still, rail transport of crude is proliferating in North America. A new proposal for a rail terminal in California may soon bring North Dakota crude to that state, too. And the executive of a major oil company has even deemed rail a good alternative to pipeline transport. The surge in rail transport, he added, is calling into question the importance of the Keystone XL pipeline.

North Dakota’s explosive Bakken oil: The story behind a troubling crude - The massive columns of smoke in North Dakota this week turned the afternoon sky to midnight, and the ground shook with each blast. In November, an explosion in rural Alabama sent a huge ball of fire 100 metres into the sky, and scorched the swampy earth around it. And in July, emergency crews battled four days to extinguish the flames in Lac-Mégantic, Que. It would take longer for the dead to be counted.Each of these accidents shared a key ingredient: Trains carrying hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude oil from North Dakota derailed on their way to refineries in Canada and the United States, and the cargo exploded in ways that no one had previously thought possible. Until Lac-Mégantic, crude oil was known to be flammable. But no one – not government regulators or oil shippers – thought it was explosive. Until Alabama, the Lac-Mégantic disaster was thought to have been a freak accident that would likely not reoccur. And before Monday’s fiery derailment of an oil train near Casselton, N.D., which caused the evacuation of nearly 3,000 people, the North Dakota government was commissioning a study that would show it was safe to move massive amounts of oil on 100-car trains. The report, when finished, would try to dispel the negative press the state’s oil industry was getting since 47 people were killed in Lac-Mégantic. However, Bakken crude is not like other oil. Before I ever set eyes on Bakken crude for the first time, I was warned it would look different. But it’s true: the crude looks more like gasoline than it does oil. This is also where it gets its explosive properties.  

Warren Buffett Bought Stake in Pipeline Company on Same Day as North Dakota Oil Train Explosion - On December 30, 2013, the same day a Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) oil train derailed and exploded in Casselton, North Dakota, Warren Buffett — owner of holding company giant Berkshire Hathaway, which owns BNSF — bought a major stake in pipeline logistics company Phillips Specialty Products, Inc. Owned by Phillips 66, a subsidiary of ConocoPhillips, Phillips Specialty Products' claim to fame is lubricating oil's movement through pipelines, increasingly crucial for the industry to move both tar sands crude and oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in an efficient manner. "Phillips Specialty Products the global leader in the science of drag reduction and specializes in maximizing the flow potential of pipelines," explains its websiteBuffett — the second richest man in the world — sees the flow lubricant business as a lucrative niche one, increasingly so given the explosion of North American tar sands pipelines and fracked oil pipelines. "I have long been impressed by the strength of the Phillips 66 business portfolio," he said of the deal in a press release. "The flow improver business is a high-quality business with consistently strong financial performance, and it will fit well within Berkshire Hathaway."

Scientists Find 7,300-Mile Mercury Contamination ‘Bullseye’ Around Canadian Tar Sands -- Canadian government scientists have found that levels of mercury — a potent neurotoxin which has been found to cause severe birth defects and brain damage — around the region’s vast tar sand operations are up to 16 times higher than regular levels for the region. The findings, presented by Environment Canada researcher Jane Kirk at an international toxicology conference, showed that the 7,500 miles contaminated are “currently impacted by airborne Hg (mercury) emissions originating from oilsands developments.” The region’s heavy crude oil is mixed with clay, bitumen, and a good deal of sand — hence the name “oil sands.” This makes for a unique and energy-intensive extraction process that some scientists say produces three times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventionally produced oil. Environment Canada has said it expects production emissions from tar sands to hit 104 million tonnes of CO2 by 2020 under current expansion plans. Mercury pollution is just the latest contamination-related environmental woe to hit the tar sands. In May of this year, leaks of the oil started popping up in Alberta, and haven’t yet stopped. In September, the company responsible for the leaks was ordered to drain a lake so that contamination on the lake’s bottom could be cleaned up. By September 11, the leaks had spilled more than 403,900 gallons — or about 9,617 barrels — of oily bitumen into the surrounding boreal forest and muskeg, the acidic, marshy soil found in the forest.

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