Archive for the ‘Hydraulic fracturing’ Category

The battle for Seneca Lake

July 10, 2015
seneca1

View of Seneca Lake from the south

Crestwood Midstream Partners, a Texas company, wants to store methane, propane and butane in salt caverns underneath upstate New York’s beautiful Seneca Lake.

The company wants to make Seneca Lake a hub for transportation and storage of natural gas products for the whole northeast United States.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has already approved the methane part of the plan.   The New York Department of Environmental Conservation is considering whether to approve storage of propane and butane—aka liquified petroleum gas (LPG).

Ellen Cantarow, writing for TomDispatch, explains what’s wrong with this idea.

Crestwood’s plan would mean the full-scale industrialization of the lake’s shores near Watkins Glen, including a 14-acre open pit for holding brine (water supersaturated with salt) removed from the caverns upon the injection of the gas; a 60-foot flare stack (a gas combustion device); a six-track rail site capable of loading and unloading 24 rail cars every 12 hours, each bearing 30,000 gallons of LPG; and a truck depot where four to five semi-trailers would be unloaded every hour.

senecaAs many as 32 rail cars at a time would cross a 75-year-old trestle that spans one of the country’s natural wonders, the Watkins Glen gorge, its shale sides forming steep columns down which waterfalls cascade.

The plan is riddled with accidents waiting to happen. Brine seepage, for example, could at some point make the lake water non-potable. (From 1964 to 1984, when propane was stored in two of the caverns, the lake’s salinity shot up.)

That’s only the first of many potential problems including tanker truck and train accidents, explosions, the emission of toxic and carcinogenic organic compounds from compressor stations and other parts of the industrial complex, air pollution, and impacts on local bird species and animal life due to deforestation and pollution.

Salt caverns 1,000 feet or more underground have been used for gas storage since the middle of the last century and have a checkered history.

A January 2015 analysis of Crestwood’s plan, based on documents by both independent scientists and an industry geologist, found 20 serious or extremely serious incidents in American salt cavern storage facilities between 1972 and 2012.

Ten of these involved large fires and explosions; six, loss of life or serious injury; eight, the evacuation of from 30 to 2,000 residents; and 13, extremely serious or catastrophic property loss.

via Dirty Energy vs. Clean Power: The Past Battles the Future at Seneca Lake by Ellen Cantarow for TomDispatch (via Unz Review).  An excellent article, well worth reading in its entirety.

A plan to store natural gas under Seneca Lake

May 15, 2015

A plan is afoot to store natural gas in salt caverns beneath Seneca Lake, one of the world’s beauty spots, an important location for the New York wine industry and a source of fresh water for 100,000 people.

Although Gov. Andrew Cuoma has suspended hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in New York state, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has authority to allow fracked gas to be brought in for storage from Pennsylvania and other states.

Filmmaker Josh Fox and author and activist Sandra Steingraber report in the video above how the natural gas industry intends to make New York’s Finger Lakes a storage and transportation hub for gas throughout the Northeast.

They argue that this creates danger of not just of a gas explosion, but even of the collapse of the lake bottom.

LINKS

Video of the Week: We Are Seneca Lake – A Call to Action from Josh Fox and Sandra Steingraber from Josh Fox’s Gasland blog.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

We Are Seneca Lake: Josh Fox & Fracking Opponents Fight Natural Gas Storage Site in Upstate NY on Democracy Now! (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

Hillary Clinton promoted fracking to the world

April 16, 2015

Urkaine_map

gas_landsMy e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey in Baltimore sent me a link to a well-researched article in Mother Jones documenting how Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State promoted fracking in foreign countries.

Fracking—hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas—is a destructive process that, among other things, creates increased risk of earthquakes and contamination of ground water and uses up vital supplies of fresh water.

I’m opposed to fracking unless there is a more desperate need for fuel than there is now.

But however you look at it, promotion of fracking in foreign countries in no way benefits the American public, except for a few wealthy investors and corporate investors, such as Beau Biden, the Vice President’s son, who is on the board of directors of an energy company that hopes to do fracking in Ukraine.

There is a strong grass-roots opposition to fracking in many countries, and, to the extent that the American government is seen to be promoting fracking, this generates ill-will toward the U.S. government and Americans generally.

Unlike in the USA, most landowners do not own the mineral rights under their land. Those rights are owned by governments and can be sold, leased or given away even if the owner objects. So fracking decisions are not usually made by an individual landowner to get income, but by government officials.

Hillary Clinton did not decide to promote fracking on her own. This is President Obama’s policy.

I doubt Republicans in Congress have any objection to promoting fracking abroad. They object to the Obama administration presuming to regulate fracking on U.S. public lands.

LINK

How Hillary Clinton’s State Department Sold Fracking to the World by Mariah Blake for Mother Jones.

Oklahoma now exceeds California in earthquakes

April 9, 2015

Oklahoma now has more earthquakes than California.

Geologists blame fracking.

Hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas involves drilling a vertical well and a horizontal tunnel through layers of shale, then setting off explosives at the end of the tunnel to fracture the shale.  Liquids are pumped into the fractures to force out the oil and gas.

Geologists say the problem is not the fracturing, but that the liquids used in fracturing lubricate existing faults and allow them to shift more easily.

LINK

A disaster waiting to happen in Oklahoma?  The link between fracking and earthquakes in an oil-rich town by Andrew Dewson for The Independent.

The Link Between Fracking and Oklahoma’s Quakes Keeps Getting Stronger by Tim McDonnell for Mother Jones.

New reports on the hazards of fracking

February 25, 2015

fracking-infographic-1024x767Source: Daily Kos.

I’ve long been aware that hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is associated with earthquakes, but I had thought the main reason was the settling of the geological strata after the fracking process is complete and the fracking fluid is pumped out.

But according to a report by the U.S. Geological Survey, the main cause of fracking-induced earthquakes is the injection of the huge amounts of contaminated waste water into deep geological strata.

Large areas of the United States that used to experience few or no earthquakes have, in recent years, experienced a remarkable increase in earthquake activity that has caused considerable public concern as well as damage to structures. This rise in seismic activity, especially in the central United States, is not the result of natural processes.

Instead, the increased seismicity is due to fluid injection associated with new technologies that enable the extraction of oil and gas from previously unproductive reservoirs.  These modern extraction techniques result in large quantities of wastewater produced along with the oil and gas. The disposal of this wastewater by deep injection occasionally results in earthquakes that are large enough to be felt, and sometimes damaging. Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.

via USGS Release.

Meanwhile in California the Center for Biological Diversity, a non-profit conservation organization, has found deep underground storage of oil fracking waste water has allowed toxic and cancer-causing chemicals to contaminate aquifers, underground reservoirs that can be a source of irrigation and drinking water.

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The fracking boom is ending with a bust

February 16, 2015

screen shot 2015-02-14 at 10.06.10 am

screen shot 2015-02-14 at 10.07.42 amSource: Business Insider.

Business booms are followed by busts—the interaction of overconfidence, oversupply and diminishing returns.

That’s not just a law of the free-market system, it’s a law of human nature.

As the chart above indicates, hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is an industry entering the bust part of its cycle.

The glut of natural gas probably will continue for some time.   Gas companies would continue to pump gas even if they’re losing money.

They’ve already paid for the drilling equipment, and they’d lose less money by continuing to pump than by walking away from their sunk costs.

It’s good that New York state didn’t jump into fracking just now.   We’d have had all the problems associated with fracking and none of the benefits the come with getting in on the ground floor.

The wise thing to do just from a business point of view, aside from all environmental and climate considerations, is to keep natural gas in the ground as long as we can.  If there comes a time when we desperately need it, it will be there.

LINKS

Fracking has collapsed by Wolf Richter of Wolf Street for Business Insider.

Keystone XL, Cold War 2.0 and the GOP Vision for 2016 by Michael T. Klare for TomDispatch.  Fracking is a factor in geopolitics.

Update 2/28/15

As Bill Harvey pointed out in his comment, a decline in the number of rigs doesn’t mean a decline in production—that is, not right away.

markets cotd rig count2

Oil rigs and oil production in the United States

A happy surprise: Gov. Cuomo bans fracking

December 18, 2014

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decsion to ban hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas in New York state was made for the right reason – the Precautionary Principle.

fracking-diagramThat is, he banned fracking not because it was proven to be harmful, but that there were good reasons to think it might not be safe.

I misjudged Cuomo.  I thought he intended to approve fracking, but was postponing this unpopular decision until after the election.

With falling oil and gas prices, the economic benefits of fracking are even less than before.  The oil and gas locked underground in the Marcellus shale will not go away.  It will still be there if someday the USA is so desperate for energy that fracking is necessary.

∞∞∞

“This Will Have a Ripple Effect Across the Country”: State of New York Bans Fracking by Cole Stangler for In These Times.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)

The passing scene: Links & comments 11/18/14

November 18, 2014

Why US fracking companies are licking their lips over Ukraine by Naomi Klein for The Guardian (hat tip to Bill Harvey)

American oil and gas companies are using the Ukraine crisis to press for an increase on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas and construction of LNG (liquified natural gas) terminals at U.S. seaports.

Supposedly this will enable the United States to export gas to Europe as a substitute for Russian gas cut off by sanctions.  The problem with this, as Naomi Klein pointed out, is that the Ukraine crisis probably will be long over by the time the LNG terminals are constructed.

This is an example of what Klein calls the “shock doctrine”—use of crises by special interests to manipulate people into agreeing to do things they don’t want to do.

The siege of Julian Assange is a farce by Australian journalist John Pilger.

Julian Assange has been living in a room in the Ecuadorian embassy in London for two years to avoid extradition to Sweden to answer questioning in a sexual misconduct case because he fears re-extradition to the United States for prosecution on his Wikileaks disclosures.

Pilger showed the case against Assange is bogus and his fears are well-founded.  Assange’s alleged victims haven’t accused him of any crime nor did the original investigators.  There is ample precedent for Swedish investigators to come to London to question Assange if they wish.  And the U.S. and Swedish governments have discussed his re-extradition.

Afghan Opium Production Hits All-Time High by Mike Whitney for Counterpunch.

The CIA would rather see Afghanistan dominated by drug lords than by the Taliban.

Blockadia: the climate fight’s new front

October 25, 2014

The fight against global warming consists of many local struggles that, at first glance, don’t have anything to do with climate change.

These struggles include resistance to hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, to the Alberta tar sands industry and the Keystone XL pipeline, to deep ocean oil drilling and to other destructive practices by oil, gas and coal companies.

Such destructive practices are necessary to keep the fossil fuel companies in business because all the easy-to-get oil, gas and coal has been used up.  And greenhouse gas emissions will decrease only when oil and gas drilling and coal mining decrease.

naomi-klein.book0coverNaomi Klein in her book, THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs The Climate, reported on how these scattered local resistance movements are coming to realize they are part of a common cause.

In just one chapter, she touched on protests in Greece, Rumania, Canada’s New Brunswick, England’s Sussex, Inner Mongolia, Australia, Texas, France, Ecuador, Nigeria, West Virginia, South Dakota, North America’s Pacific Northwest and Quebec—all related directly or indirectly to stopping fossil fuel operations that would produce greenhouse gasses.

She and others call this alliance “Blockadia”.   Unlike some of the big, established environmental organizations, the grass-roots protesters do not limit themselves to lawsuits and political lobbying.  They engage in nonviolent direct action, the kind of mass defiance that Gene Sharp advocated.   These movements, more than the lobbying and lawsuits of the Big Green environmental organizations, will determine the future climate, she wrote.

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How much shale oil and gas is there, really?

October 13, 2014

Click to enlarge.

Source: Bloomberg News.

Shale drillers are a lot more optimistic about potential oil and gas when they talk to shareholders than when they report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.  Why?

Hint:  The SEC can prosecute for false statements.  Shareholders have to sue.

 

The only places where Americans are doing well

December 22, 2013
northdakota

Double click to enlarge.

Is drilling for shale oil the only way Americans can make a good living from honest labor?

I hope not.

Click on How oil made North Dakota rich by Amy Harder for National Journal for more and the source of this map.

Methane hydrate and the future of fossil fuels

May 1, 2013

The word may be on the brink of a new era of cheap natural gas, made possible by hydraulic fracturing and development of a new fuel methane hydrate, according to Charles C. Mann in this month’s issue of The Atlantic Monthly.  Methane hydrate is a product of organic decay trapped in ice crystals, and is found in potentially enormous quantities in the ocean’s depths.  View the video for a better explanation.  Click on What If We Never Run Out of Oil? to read Mann’s article, which I highly recommend.

What Mann reported is interesting and significant, and his prediction may be correct.  But then again, maybe not.

“Never run out” means something different to economists from what it means to me and probably to you.  In a free-market, capitalistic economy, you never run out of anything.  What happens is that the scarce resource becomes increasingly more expensive, people use less of it, and eventually a substitute is found.   The question is just what that substitute is—an equivalent resource, a more expensive resource or acceptance of doing without.

I long thought that the rising price of fossil fuels would result in a transition to solar, wind and other renewable sources of energy.   Over time, I reasoned, the cost of nonrenewable resources are goes up, while the cost of technology goes down.  Sooner or later, I believed, these two lines must cross.

I still believe that this will happen someday. but in the short run, just the opposite is happening.  The petroleum industry has found ways to extract fossil fuels that never were dreamed of when King Hubbert made his predictions about peak oil.   Methane hydrate may or may not emerge as an important energy source.   I wouldn’t bet against it.  But even if it doesn’t, hydraulic fracturing has already transformed the world market for natural gas.  Melting of the polar ice cap will open the Arctic to oil exploration and development.   Someday these sources, too, may peak but not anytime soon.

The question about hydraulic fracturing is how low it will last.  Oil wells in Texas and Saudi Arabia produced oil for decades.  How long will the hydrofracking wells produce?  My guess is that their usefulness will be relatively short-lived, while leaving behind a long-term mess for local communities to clean up.

Experts quoted by Mann say that methane hydrate could provide fuel to keep our industrial civilization going for centuries and perhaps indefinitely.   These predictions usually come with a footnote, which says “at current rates of use.”  No matter how abundant a resource is, it will be quickly exhausted if you use it up at a steadily increasing rate.  I don’t see energy use stabilizing until the world’s population stabilizes, and a majority of the world’s population are not in poverty.   What is poverty?  At a minimum, it is having enough to sustain life and health and, beyond that, it is whatever people think it is.

Then there is the question of global climate change.   Natural gas (methane) is a clean-burning fuel, but in its natural state is a worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.  In theory, natural gas can be extracted in such a way that it is not released into the atmosphere.  In practice, it might not be.

The more fossil fuels we burn up, the more fragile our civilization becomes.  We depend on increasingly complex systems that are increasingly vulnerable to failure.   I realize this every time there is a severe ice storm that causes electric power failures here in Rochester.  As I sit in the dark, I wonder what I would do if the failure were universal rather than local, and lasted indefinitely rather than a few days or weeks.

Back in 1954, Harrison S. Brown wrote in The Challenge of Man’s Future about how our industrialization was made possible by the availability of coal and oil, and of metal ores that were easy to process.   If for some reason industrial civilization should collapse, it would not be possible to rebuild it using the methods by which the original industrial civilization was created.  The resources would not be there.   That is still true, and the more nonrenewable resources we use up, the more true it becomes.

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MORATORIA, BANS, and RESOLUTIONS Part 2

April 9, 2013

New NY 23rd

 This is a list of Hydrofracking activity outside of around the USA (out side of NYS), and the World. Contact Joe Hoff (Jhoffefact@aol.com) to get on the email list, or to sent information from your area.

Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh adopts the first-in-the-nation community rights ordinance which elevates the right of the community to decide, and the rights of nature over the “rights” associated with corporate personhood. The City Council unanimously adopted this ordinance banning corporations from conducting natural gas drilling in the city.

Luzerne County Lehman Township, ordinance calling for “home rule” and a ban on drilling within their surrounding township area.

The Board of Supervisors for Licking Township, Clarion County, PA, voted unanimously on Wednesday to adopt an ordinance banning corporations from dumping “fracking” wastewater in the township. The Licking Township Community Water Rights and Self-Government Ordinance is the first ordinance of its kind adopted in Pennsylvania to…

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MORATORIA, BANS, and RESOLUTIONS

April 8, 2013

New NY 23rd

 Joe Hoff, Chairman of Keuka Citizens Against Hydrofracking, keeps track of the Hydrofracking Legislation, Court Cases and similar activities. He occasionally sends out a summary. The list below is his notes from New York State. I will post his list of other states and countries at another date. To get on his mailing list, (or to update him on local happenings) just contact him at: Jhoffefact@aol.com

In a move that was applauded by local residents and environmental activists, the Putman County Legislature voted unanimously to ban the sale, application and disposal of hydrofracking waste products in their county.  The new law also bars the processing of fracking waste at Putnam’s wastewater treatment plants and applying fracking brine on county roads and properties for de-icing and dust control.

New York State

208 Communities Protected, (48 of these are in the NYC/Syracuse Watersheds), 92 Municipalities Staging for Passage of Draft Legislation – 300…

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Hydrofracking for me, but not for thee

March 18, 2013
hemlock canadice,jpg

Click to enlarge.

My friend Hal Bauer, a long-time and committed environmental activist and organic farmer, e-mailed me this graphic.  As a resident of the city of Rochester, N.Y., I get my drinking water from the pristine Hemlock and Canadice lakes 28 miles to my south—unlike my suburban neighbors, who drink mostly treated water from Lake Ontario supplied by the Monroe County Water Authority.

Hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas is a process that involves fracturing deep underground strata of shale with explosives, and forcing out the trapped oil and gas by means of a high-pressure mixture of water and detergent chemicals.   The chemicals as well as some of the toxic underground metals could be dangerous if they got into the water table, and the DEC takes that danger seriously enough to protect the watersheds of the New York City and Syracuse water supplies.  Why, then, do I not deserve the same protection?

The DEC leases public lands to oil and gas drillers.   Historically the DEC has charged significantly less than the drillers pay private land-owners.  I bet this is still true, although I don’t know it for a fact.

Click on Leasing of Natural Gas Drilling Rights on Public and Private Land in New York for a 2003 study by Katherine E. Ziegenfuss and Duane Chapman of Cornell University.  That was before the current boom in hydrofracking, so my guess is that the disparity is even greater now.

Click on Hydrofracking and carbon caps for a post of mine with good links explaining the hydrofracking process and the hydrofracking controversy in New York state.

Hydrofracking: toxic costs for a clean, cheap fuel

February 13, 2013
hydrofrackingpoison

Double click to enlarge

This chart from a New York Times article last year shows one of the costs of hydraulic fracturing, a technique for extracting natural gas tightly locked in shale strata by means of fracturing the shale and forcing out the gas with a mixture of water, chemicals and sand.   Even when this is done properly, there remains the problem of disposing of the waste water, which contains not only the hydrofracking chemicals but sometimes underground toxic metals and radioactive elements.

Some benefits of hydrofracking are shown in the charts below.  The technique increases the supply of natural gas, which drives down the price, and the increased use of clean-burning natural gas lessens greenhouse gas emissions.  Hydrofracking isn’t the sole reason for either lower prices or lower carbon emissions, but it is a big contributor.

us-natural-gas-price-in-jan-2012

us-carbon-emission-tableNatural gas prices in inflation-adjusted dollars are the lowest since 1976.  Carbon dioxide emissions are the lowest since 1994.  But before we in upstate New York join in the hydrofracking boom, we should ask ourselves—which will be more permanent, the benefits or the costs?   It seems to me that we will still be dealing with the costs long after the boom is over.

Click on Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers for the New York Times article.

Click on Why US natural gas prices are so low for analysis of the economics of natural gas.

Click on U.S. Carbon Emissions Fall to Lowest Levels Since 1994 for more about the benefits of clean-burning natural gas.

Click on The record is clear: Obama delivers on clean energy for comment on President Obama’s support for hydrofracking.

Click on A Mysterious Patch of Light Shows Up in the North Dakota Dark for a report on North Dakota’s natural gas boom.

Click on Future Bakken Production and Hydrofracking for a report on the temporary nature of North Dakota’s boom.

Hydrofracking and the world balance of power

February 13, 2013
Two countries without shale gas: Russia and Iran

Two countries without shale gas reserves: Russia and Iran

All my life I’ve held that if you have a finite resource, such as oil or natural gas, and you use it at an ever-increasing rate, someday you will run out.   As a matter of logic, this is an irrefutable truth.  But all my life, the oil and gas industry has been rendering this truth irrelevant, by discovering new sources of oil and gas and new ways to get at it.

The latest discovery is the hydraulic fracturing technique for extracting natural gas, which, together with oil drilling in the warming Arctic, is creating a new energy era.

Because of hydrofracking, Americans are burning less coal and oil, and more clean-burning natural gas.  Carbon emissions are at their lowest level in nearly 20 years.   Increased use of renewable energy and better conservation methods contribute to the improvement, but hydrofracking is a key factor.

Because of hydrofracking, the world balance of power is changing in favor of the United States.   The world has less need to import oil from the Persian Gulf.  Europe has less need to import gas from the Russian Federation.   Here’s how Der Spiegel, the German newsmagazine, sees things.

The future of the American energy supply was looking grim until recently. With its own resources waning, the United States was dependent on Arab oil sheiks and erratic dictators. Rising energy costs were hitting a vital nerve in the country’s industrial sector.

hydro_truck_laBut the situation has fundamentally changed since American drilling experts began using a method called “fracking,” with which oil and gas molecules can be extracted from dense shale rock formations.  The International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that the United States will replace Russia as the world’s largest producer of natural gas in only two years.  The Americans could also become the world’s top petroleum producers by 2017.

Low natural gas prices — the price of natural gas in the United States is only a quarter of what it was in 2008 — could fuel a comeback of American industry. *** ***  

The outlines of a changed world order are already emerging in the simulations of geo-strategists.  They show that the United States will benefit the most from the development of shale gas and oil resources.  A study by Germany’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND, concludes that Washington’s discretionary power in foreign and security policy will increase substantially as a result of the country’s new energy riches.

According to the BND study, the political threat potential of oil producers like Iran will decline. Optimists assume that, in about 15 years, the United States will no longer have to send any aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf to guarantee that oil tankers can pass unhindered through the Strait of Hormuz, still the most important energy bottleneck in the world.

The Russians could be on the losing end of the stick.   The power of President Vladimir Putin is based primarily on oil and gas revenues.  If energy prices decline in the long term, bringing down Russian revenues from the energy sector, Putin’s grip on power could begin to falter.  The Americans’ sudden oil and gas riches are also not very good news for authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.

I’m of course glad that natural gas prices are falling, and that I am paying less to heat my house than I did a few years ago.  I acknowledge that hydrofracking has contributed to my well-being.  I don’t think it would benefit anyone if I were to switch to fuel oil, or if it would be possible to return to the coal furnaces of my boyhood.

My friend Michael thinks cheap gas from hydrofracking will tide us over during the transition to renewable energy.  I doubt it will work this way.  So long as the price of the supposed transitional energy supply is falling, there will be little economic incentive to make the transition.  That will have to wait until the price of fossil fuels starts to rise again.

I know that I can’t predict the future.  I won’t try to predict how long the hydrofracking boom will last.  I would be happy of the supply of cheap gas lasts my lifetime.  Since I’m 76, it just might.  But I don’t think it will last the lifetime of my niece and nephew, or of their infants and toddlers.  I read a report on The Oil Drum site that hydrofracked gas wells are being depleted more quickly than expected, and I link to that report at the end of this post.

I still think the smart thing for we upstate New Yorkers to do is to hold back on hydrofracking until the price of natural gas starts going up again.   The question is not whether hydrofracking is a good thing overall or not, but rather whether adding our little increment to the world supply will be worth the cost.

Click on Full Throttle Ahead: US Tips Global Power Scales With Fracking for the full Der Spiegel article.

Click on Future Bakken Production and Hydrofracking for the full article on The Oil Drum.

Click on U.S. Carbon Emissions Fall to Lowest Level Since 1994 for a report on the benefit of clean-burning natural gas.

Click on Gazprom Gas Giant Is Running Into Trouble and Stepping on the Gas: New Drilling Technologies Shake Up Global Market for more from Der Spiegel on natural gas and world power.

Something I did not know about hydrofracking

February 4, 2013

I had not known that the chemical-laded hydrofracking waste water was spread on western New York highways for de-icing in the winter and keeping down dust in the winter.  So long as this is done, it negates any regulations to prevent leakage of the chemical-laden water during the hydraulic fracturing process itself.

saltbrinesystem_eOn January 15, the Woodstock Town Board unanimously passed a resolution to petition New York State to introduce New York Public Law #1—which would impose stiff penalties for fracking and related activities.  Before taking this step, the Woodstock Town Board took two others: banning fracking within its borders and outlawing the use of frackwaste fluid, some of which is known as “brine” (because of its heavy salt content), on its roads. 

This material is used as a de-icing agent in the winter and for dust control on dirt roads in the summer.  Despite the fact that brine from oil and gas wells (whether fracked or not) is laden with heavy metals, toxic chemicals, and radioactivity, since 2008 the Department of Environmental Conservation has granted approval for it to be spread on roads in the western part of the state.

Click on Can a Small Community Throw a Monkey Wrench Into the Global Fracking Machine? for details.

Two possible arguments for hydrofracking

January 31, 2013

Here in New York state, Governor Andrew Cuomo is considering regulations for hydraulic fracturing to obtain natural gas from deep strata of shale.  Like many people, I think hydrofracking is a bad idea [1].  Here is what it would take to change my mind.

Double click to enlarge

Double click to enlarge

Opponents of hydrofracking are worried about the environmental impact, especially on the ground water and our water supply.  Supporters say that, with proper regulation, environmental effects would be minimal.

Hydrofracking is a large and widespread global industry.   My challenge to supporters would be to point out the area of the world where the hydrofracking industry uses its best practices.   If the environmental impact there is acceptable, then it would be acceptable in New York state under the same conditions. [2]

The other situation in which I would change my mind is that if there was a big shortage of natural gas, and hydrofracking was the only way to get the gas.  I heat my house with gas, and I don’t want to be without gas in an upstate New York winter.  But that situation is the opposite of the situation today.

Thanks to hydrofracking, the world’s supply of natural gas is increasing and the price of natural gas is falling.   Purely from the standpoint of economic gain [3], New York state would be wise to sit on its supply of natural gas until the world supply is diminishing (relative to demand) and the price is rising.  The underground natural gas isn’t going to go way.  It is like money in the bank.  We should save it for a rainy day, when we can impose a hefty severance tax (as Alaska does for oil) without diminishing the demand.

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Matt Damon stars in anti-fracking movie

November 29, 2012

Hydraulic fracturing for natural gas is supposed to take care of the United States energy problems for the next generation.  Many struggling farm owners in New York and Pennsylvania see it as their economic salvation.  But there is a price to be paid that goes beyond the direct economic cost, in destruction of the land, in danger to the ground water and in greenhouse gas emissions.

Matt Damon stars in a new movie, “Promised Land,” which he also helped write, which makes a case against hydrofracking.  It is due out in December, and should be interesting to see.

Hydraulic fracturing requires drilling a deep vertical well, then drilling a horizontal well out from the side of the vertical well, then setting of an explosive charge to fracture (frack) the underground shale.  Then a mixture of water (hydro) and chemicals is pumped into the crevices in order to force out the gas.  If the seal on the sides of the well is imperfect, gas and chemicals can leak into the ground water.

Even if the seals are always perfect and execution is always perfect, lots of fresh water is used, and it is not in infinite supply.  Natural gas is a clean-burning fuel, but in unburned form it is a greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming.  Drilling is hard on the land, and oil rigs are hard on local roads.  Hydraulic fracturing has been associated with minor earthquakes.  There are a lot of things that can go wrong with the process.

For now we in the United States need natural gas, and all the cheap easy-to-get gas has been used up.  We may have to turn to hydrofracking eventually, unless better energy sources are developed in the meantime.  Drilling companies may be in a hurry to get control of the land ahead of other drilling companies.  We the poeple don’t have to be in a hurry to use up our reserves shale gas. The shale gas is not going to go away, and it’s not going to lose its value if we hold off on drilling.  In fact, natural gas prices at present are extremely low and likely to go up in the future..

Click on Shakeshock Media videos for background about hydrofracking and the anti-fracking campaign.

Click on Blog | No Fracking Way for Shaleshock Media’s web log.

Hat tip to Hal Bauer.

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How about a hydrofracking severance tax?

November 14, 2012

If we have to have hydrofracking in New York state, there should be a severance tax—that is, a tax on the amount of oil and natural gas produced—just like Texas, Alaska and other oil-producing states have on oil production.

Hydrofracking—hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling for shale oil and gas—is a highly controversial method of energy production which, according to opponents, is destructive to land, a threat to the water supply, and a cause of minor earthquakes.  But according to a report this week of the International Energy Agency, the future of oil and gas production in North America is in hydrofracking.   Natural gas prices in the United States already are falling, due to use of this new technology.

Hydrofracking involves (1) drilling a deep vertical well into gas-bearing or oil-bearing strata of shale, (2) drilling a horizontal well into the shale, (3) setting off an explosive charge to fracture the shale and (4) pumping in water mixed with detergent to force the trapped oil or gas to the surface.  Proponents and industry spokesmen say that, if done correctly, there is no danger of the oil, gas or detergent getting into the water supply.  The shale strata are deep below the water table and the horizontal well should be sealed tight.  They have answers to other objections as well.

The problem, as I see it, is that even if hydrofracking can be done safely, being completely sure that it is would require a degree of regulation that is not feasible.  But if there were a severance tax, there would be money to mitigate or compensate for the damage.  New York is generally regarded as the highest-tax state, based on combined state and local taxes.  This new source of revenue, while it lasts, might allow for reductions in state income taxes and local property taxes.

The drilling companies might then go to states that don’t have severance taxes.  The way to get around this would be for the governors of the hydrofracking states to agree among themselves as to what the severance tax should be.  If they can’t agree, the oil and gas companies would have to come to New York state in the end, after they’ve pumped the other states dry and natural gas prices start to rise again.

Click on Hydrofracking picking up steam for an explanation of the technology and an argument against federal regulation.

Click on Shale Gas Will Be the Next Bubble to Pop for a dissent on the economic benefits of hydrofracking for shale gas.

U.S. to be top oil and gas producer?

November 13, 2012

A couple of years ago, I thought the goal of U.S. energy independence was a pipe dream.  But a report yesterday by the International Energy Agency predicts that the United States will become the world’s largest oil and gas producer in the next five years, and a net oil and gas exporter in less than 20 years.

And how is this to come about?  By hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling for shale oil and gas, otherwise known as hydrofracking.

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The IEA report forecasts a decline in nuclear power’s share of world energy, and an increase in renewable energy’s share, based on increased government subsidies.  Energy conservation efforts will be stepped up.  But 20 years from now the world still will be dependent on fossil fuels, and demand for energy will be one third higher than it is now.

Rising oil and gas prices will be a burden on the world economy, but less so in the United States than elsewhere.  Natural gas prices in Europe will be five times as high as in the United States in 2030, and gas prices in eastern Asia will be eight times as high.

Although the United States is predicted to be the largest oil and gas producer, Saudi Arabia will continue to be the largest oil exporter, but with Iraq replacing Russia as the No. 2 exporter.  Most of the oil of the Middle East will go to the growing economies of China, India and other Asian countries.

The IEA says carbon dioxide emissions will be at record levels, and 1.3 billion people will be without electricity.

I don’t like the idea of a United States economy dependent on hydrofracking, which is what “unconventional” oil and gas is based on.  Hydrofracking at best is destructive to land and at worst a threat to water supplies.  But in the absence of alternatives, we Americans may not be able to afford to do without it.

Forecasts can be wrong, of course.  I don’t have expert knowledge that would enable me to evaluate the IEA’s report, but it seems plausible.  I think it would be a big mistake to regard a resurgence of the domestic U.S. oil and gas industry as the answer to U.S. economic problems.  We need manufacturing and high technology, not just extractive industries.  If the United States depends on oil and gas alone, this country could wind up as an economic as well as political facsimile of Vladimir Putin’s Russian petro-state.

The New Policies Scenario is based on the assumption that governments will carry out policies they have announced for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and phasing out subsidies of fossil fuels.

Click on North America leads in shift in global energy balance for the IEA press release on its latest World Energy Outlook report.

Click on Report Sees U.S. as Top Oil Producer, Overtaking Saudi Arabia, in 5 Years for a New York Times report.

Why New York should hold off on hydrofracking

July 3, 2012

This new documentary by Josh Fox makes a case against hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in New York and rebuts arguments against his earlier documentary, Gasland.

My previous view of the hydraulic fracturing process was that it could be done safely if industry adopted best practices, but the actually drilling would be so scattered there would be no way regulators could make sure everything was done correctly.  Fox cited internal documents of the gas industry indicating that the process was inherently dangerous.  The concrete casings that supposedly prevent contamination of ground water are in fact porous.

Now, I depend on natural gas to heat my home, and I appreciate the human effort and ingenuity that are necessary to bring the gas to my house.  But there are substitutes for gas, and there are no substitutes for clean fresh water.

Maybe there are valid answers to Fox’s arguments.  If so, it will do no harm, except to the financial interests of the gas industry, to hold up on hydrofracking until these answers can be weighed.  The natural gas isn’t going to go away just because there is a delay in drilling for it.

Click on New Anti-Fracking Film by Gasland’s Josh Fox Targets Cuomo: ‘Governor, What Color Will the Sky Be Over New York? for background on Fox’s new documentary from Rolling Stone magazine.  Hat tip for the link to Bill Elwell.

Click on Gasland Director Josh Fox on His New Film, Gas Industry Lies and Government Collusion for more.  [Added 7/4/12]

Click on Shale Gas: The View From Russia for a sidelight from Dimitry Orlov’s ClubOrlov web log.

Click on Reflections on the Natural Gas Revolution That’s Already Begun for musings by Conor Friedersdorf on The Atlantic Monthly. [Added 7/4/12]

Roundup: Fracking, rich people, Islam, etc.

March 3, 2012

Here are links to some interesting articles I read on-line during the week.

2012 or Never by Jonathan Chait in New York magazine is an argument that the Republican Party’s policies put it on the wrong side of ongoing demographic changes.  The future electorate is going to be more and more like Barack Obama—young, urban, hip and non-white.  I think the Democratic leaders are making a mistake if they rely on demographics and Republican self-destruction to win their elections for them.  The party that wins the support of a majority of the electorate will be the one that actually does something about unemployment, outsourcing, declining wages and financial abuses.

The Big Fracking Bubble by Jeff Goodall in Rolling Stone is a profile of Hugh McClendon, founder of Chesapeake Energy, which is possibly the largest company engaged in hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.  It reportedly owns drilling rights on 15 million acres of land, more than twice the area of Maryland.  One disappointed Pennsylvania farm owner who sold drilling rights to Chesapeake said that the United States is destroying its water resource in order to extract an energy resource.

Upper class people more likely to cheat on the Raw Story web site describes a study which indicated that rich people on average are more willing than poor people to break traffic laws, cheat for financial gain and even take candy from children.  The researchers concluded that wealth generates a sense of entitlement.

Are They Really Religious? by Alaa al Aswany, an Egyptian journalist, for Huffington Post says the form of Islam being imported into Eygpt from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States emphasizes form over substance.  Hospital staffs leave emergency rooms unattended while they participate in their daily prayer routine.  Members of Parliament grow beards in tribute to Mohammad but are unconcerned with torture and corruption in the Mubarrak regime.  True religion, he writes, emphasizes the human values of truth, justice and freedom, not the details of ritual observances.

Tunisia: Moderate Political Islam Eschews Violence is a profile by my friend Tom Riggins on his web log is a profile of Said Ferjani, a leader of Tunisia’s Ennahda Party, and his teacher, Rachid al-Ghannouchi, founder of the party. The Ennahda Party, which represents a more moderate and democratic form of Islam than the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, won the recent Tunisian elections in coalition with two smaller parties, and is now participating in the drafting of a new Tunisian constitution.

Bradley Manning’s quest for justice is a report by Logan Price in The Guardian newspaper in England.  Reporting on Manning’s arraignment in military court for allegedly providing secret information about U.S. war crimes to Wikileaks, Price says that Manning holds to a higher standard of truth than the court does.

Thirty More Years of Hell is a rant by Connor Kilpatrick in Jacobin magazine about the world the Baby Boomer generation has created for the Millennial generation.

Hydrofracking and earthquakes

November 9, 2011

Opponents of horizontal hydraulic fracturing for natural gas claim it can contaminate ground water.  Now another possible threat has emerged.  Hydrofracking can cause earthquakes.

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There is no doubt this can happen.  There is even a technical name for it — “induced seismicity.”  The question is how often this occurs and how serious it is.

The Richter scale for measuring earthquake intensity is a logarithmic scale, which means that 5.0 is 10 times as intense as 4.0, 4.0 is to times 3.0 and so on.  The practical meaning of the scale is shown on the chart.  Most of the earthquakes associated with hydrofracking are below 4.0 on the Richter scale.  Still, even a so-called “microquake” can cause damage, and a couple of allegedly induced earthquakes have been above 5.0.

Horizontal hydraulic fracturing consists of drilling a well into deep shale strata, drilling a lateral pipe from the deep well, and using explosives to shatter the shale in which the natural gas is locked.  Then water mixed with chemicals is pumped into the shattered shale to force out the gas or oil.  After the natural gas is forced out, waste water is pumped back into the ground.

The earthquakes result not from the ground settling after the gas is pumped out, as I would have thought, but by the effect of the water-chemical mix on geologic fault lines.  The water-chemical mix reduces friction; it makes the fault lines slippery, and more likely to move.  Defenders of the natural gas drilling industry say that geologic slippage near hydraulic fracturing activity would have occurred with or without drilling activity.

Drilling companies in the United Kingdom have admitted that earthquakes in their area were caused by hydraulic fracturing, and gas drilling in a region of Arkansas has been halted because of concerns about a big increase in the number of earthquakes.  Here in New York, where the Department of Environmental Conservation has put hydrofracking on a fast track for approval, environmental activists claim there have been at least two earthquakes associated with hydrofracking.

This seems to me to be another reason to go slow on hydraulic fracturing until safety and environmental issues can be studied.  The natural gas is not going to go away, or become less valuable, as a result of delay.  And if hydraulic fracturing is allowed to proceed, this is a reason to keep it away from structures such as dams or nuclear power plants, or from major earthquake faults.

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