Posts Tagged ‘natural gas’

As hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has become commonplace in many states across the country, the problems it creates have become apparent. There’s the noise, inconvenience, traffic (and accompanying accidents, injuries and fatalities), road damage, wildlife disruption, artificial earthquakes, and air pollution that accompany fracking. Worst of all though, is the impact on water – both the large quantities that are used and water contamination.

From Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress - Water Demand by the Numbers

From Ceres “Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress – Water Demand by the Numbers”

According to a Ceres’ report: “97 billion gallons of water were used, nearly half of it in Texas … [by] 39,294 oil and shale gas wells hydraulically fractured between January 2011 through May 2013”. Texas is more vulnerable than any other state to water depletion from fracking because Texas has the most wells and because much of the state is subject to water shortages.Eagle Ford data summary from Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress - Water Demand by the Numbers

From Ceres “Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress – Water Demand by the Numbers”

From Ceres:

Nearly half of the wells hydraulically fractured since 2011 were in regions with high or extremely high water stress, and over 55 percent were in areas experiencing drought.” Across Texas, multiple shale plays (Barnett, Eagle Ford, Permian, and more) are draining the already diminishing reservoirs. Explicitly for Texas, Ceres states, “Total water use for hydraulic fracturing in 2012 was an estimated 25 billion gallons… expected to reach approximately 40 billion gallons by the 2020s.


Where does it all go? That filthy, chemical solution once called water has to go somewhere. Possible contamination is always an imminent danger.

From Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources

From the EPA’s “Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources”

Most fracking water does not reenter the water cycle, taking billions of gallons out of the water supply annually. Sometimes wastewater from fracking is sent to central waste treatment facilities, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that most of these facilities cannot significantly reduce TDS (totally dissolved solids) or other contaminants. It’s up to well operators to decide whether to reuse the water if it cannot be released into water supplies. Because Pennsylvania limits disposal wells, about 70-90% of Marcellus Shale wastewater is reused. In Texas, only 5% of wastewater is reused, while the other 95% is disposed of in underground injection control (UIC) disposal wells.

An injection well, as defined by the EPA, “is a device that places fluid deep underground into porous rock formations…These fluids may be water, wastewater, brine (salt water), or water mixed with chemicals.” So rather than reusing or recycling toxic water, it is shot deep underground into porous rock that could be near any number of water formations. An Environment America report stated that 2010 testing of these wells “revealed that 2,300 failed to meet mechanical integrity requirements established by the EPA”. Beyond that, injection well pressure “may cause underground rock layers to crack, accelerating the migration of wastewater into drinking water”.


Fracking is growing a network of toxic waste that is bleeding into our drinking water.

Two scientific papers offer impartial evidence of this toxicity. While neither can say with certainty that oil and gas activities are responsible for this contamination (because proving the source of water contamination is very difficult), both rule it as a prominent possibility that requires more monitoring and research for that certainty.

The first paper, published by UT Arlington researchers in 2013, provides data from 100 private wells. The authors analyzed the links between contamination, distance, depth, and time in relation to a well. The data showed that concentrations of arsenic, strontium, and selenium (all toxic) were significantly higher in samples from active extraction areas compared to historical data. Concentrations of Arsenic, selenium, strontium, and barium were highest in areas near to natural gas wells. Arsenic, strontium, and barium contamination was highest near to the surface, indicating that this could be due to contact with surface sources, including fracking wells.

Another paper by UT Arlington researchers in 2015, examined 550 groundwater samples were taken within the Barnett Shale region. Arsenic, strontium, and beryllium contamination appeared in 10, 9, and 75 samples, respectively. All of these metals present a range of serious health issues.

Thirteen of the thirty-nine dangerous, volatile (can easily change between gas and liquid phase, which means they can cause water and air pollution) organic compounds analyzed were found in the region at least once.

Certain contaminants were detected more frequently in the counties that have the most oil and gas activity within the Barnett Shale region – Montague, Parker, Tarrant, Wise, and Johnson. Methanol and toluene (both toxic) data showed increasing concentration closer to the surface, meaning the source is more likely surface-based (perhaps from fracking well pads or waste ponds). Dichloromethane is a common and abundant chemical at well pads, and it was detected in 122 samples, 121 of which above the EPA federal limit, and 93% found within the active Barnett Shale region. The same contamination has been discovered in the Permian Basin, and “has also been implicated in air quality contamination events associated with unconventional drilling in Colorado”.

Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX) are four volatile, organic compounds that also commonly exist in fossil fuels retrieved by fracking. Their composition and volatility make them a major health hazard: benzene is a known carcinogen, and all four have kidney, liver, and blood effects with prolonged exposure (like drinking contaminated water daily). At least one of these compounds was detected in 69% of collected samples, and 10 wells had detectable amounts of all four BTEX compounds.

83% of samples within Montague County (55 of 66) contained a BTEX compound. This area houses underground injection wells for drilling waste disposal across north-central Texas and Oklahoma… Furthermore, this area is also vulnerable to contamination because it occupies the unconfined outcrop zone of the Trinity aquifer.

Oil and gas has long been a staple of the Texas economy, but that does not excuse the industry’s reckless depletion of natural resources and contamination of our state. Unacceptable waste and contamination of our water supplies is happening all across the nation – the same water that supports our entire country; the same water used for drinking; the same water that farmers use to feed the country. Once the water is all gone or tainted, the infrastructure of our society will collapse.

When an industry is draining the life blood of our land, people, and civilization, it is time for change.

Read Full Post »

The business behind hydraulic fracturing for natural gas has become a hot button issue in the more recent years, but natural gas pipeline projects often get less attention.

2013-091-31 Bluegrass Pipeline - map of proposed routeThe Bluegrass Pipeline was to be built in order to transport natural gas liquids (NGLs) from the Utica and Marcellus shale regions down to the Gulf Coast. The Bluegrass Pipeline is a joint project by Williams and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners, LP, two of the nation’s leading energy infrastructure companies. As it is proposed, the completed pipeline will transport at a rate of up to 200,000 barrels of NGLs per day. The company was to start by building and repurposing approximately 600 miles of the 1,200 mile pipeline. It would begin in Pennsylvania and travels through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

One of the largest environmental concerns involves the pipeline spurs from Kentucky. The land that the pipeline will be built on has limestone karst geology that carries water through caves. In the past there have been problems with pipelines running underneath the ground such as massive sinkholes and pipe explosions, and by building the Bluegrass Pipeline in the territory they are subjecting the residents that live on that very sensitive part of the land to possible danger and a great destruction of the land.

The construction of the pipeline has been halted due to a lack of customer commitment. Along the Gulf Coast there are many regions from which customers could purchase natural gas, so it would be might be more expensive to transport the NGLs from the north to the south than to just pull from closer sights like the Eagle Ford and Barnett shale regions in Texas.

Texas has played a major role in the natural gas industry for many years. Currently, Texas is the highest ranked natural gas consuming state and 58,600 miles of natural gas pipelines within the state, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

With such deep roots in the fracking industry, it is understandable that many in Texas wants to keep it here – it brings jobs and money into the state. However, our water supplies are taking a large hit from this industry. They become contaminated by the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing procedures such as lead, uranium, mercury, ethylene glycol, radium, methanol, hydrochloric acid and formaldehyde and we drink from that contaminated water supply.

Fracking is the process by which dangerous chemicals are mixed with large quantities of water and sand are injected into wells at extremely high pressure which causes a major water contamination problem. In Texas alone there have been more than 2,000 reported cases of groundwater and private well contamination and more than 1,200 reports among other states within the last five years. They range from allegations of short-term diminished water flow to pollution from stray gas and other substances. With the current drought problem plaguing many areas of Texas, the issue of water contamination has become more prominent and our water resources more precious.

Many national and local organizations have openly opposed expanded fracking until safeguards are in place to ensure minimal pollution. Until these measures are taken our water supplies, climate and health will suffer.

Read Full Post »

Oil drilling site, with pond for fracking water, Cotulla, TX  Photo by Al Braden

Oil drilling site, w/ pond for fracking water, Cotulla, TX
Photo by Al Braden

The Eagle Ford Shale play in south Texas is the 400-mile-long area that has become home to one of the country’s biggest energy booms in the past six years. The thousands of oil and gas wells producing in the region have brought dangerous air pollution to residents.

The Center for Public Integrity, InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel released a new exposé titled, “Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil & Bad Air on the Texas Prairie,” last week. Their eight month investigation reveals the dangers that come with fracking in the form of toxic chemicals released into the air as a result of the complicit culture of the government of Texas. In case you just want to read the highlights of the report, the team was nice enough to summarize their major findings:

  • Texas’ air monitoring system is so flawed that the state knows almost nothing about the extent of the pollution in the Eagle Ford. Only five permanent air monitors are installed in the 20,000-square-mile region, and all are at the fringes of the shale play, far from the heavy drilling areas where emissions are highest.
  • Anadarko Brasada Cyro Gas Plant, Phase 1 of 3, Cotulla, TX. Photo by Al Braden

    Anadarko Brasada Cyro Gas Plant, Phase 1 of 3, Cotulla, TX.
    Photo by Al Braden

    Thousands of oil and gas facilities, including six of the nine production sites near the Buehrings’ house, are allowed to self-audit their emissions without reporting them to the state. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which regulates most air emissions, doesn’t even know some of these facilities exist. An internal agency document acknowledges that the rule allowing this practice “[c]annot be proven to be protective.”

  • Companies that break the law are rarely fined. Of the 284 oil and gas industry-related complaints filed with the TCEQ by Eagle Ford residents between Jan. 1, 2010, and Nov. 19, 2013, only two resulted in fines despite 164 documented violations. The largest was just $14,250. (Pending enforcement actions could lead to six more fines).
  • The Texas legislature has cut the TCEQ’s budget by a third since the Eagle Ford boom began, from $555 million in 2008 to $372 million in 2014. At the same time, the amount allocated for air monitoring equipment dropped from $1.2 million to $579,000.
  • The Eagle Ford boom is feeding an ominous trend: A 100 percent statewide increase in unplanned, toxic air releases associated with oil and gas production since 2009. Known as emission events, these releases are usually caused by human error or faulty equipment.
  • Residents of the mostly rural Eagle Ford counties are at a disadvantage even in Texas, because they haven’t been given air quality protections, such as more permanent monitors, provided to the wealthier, more suburban Barnett Shale region near Dallas-Fort Worth.


Read Full Post »

Updating the the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2020 to become the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan to 2024 probably doesn’t sound super exciting, but there’s almost certainly some aspect of the choices that will soon be made on your behalf that you care about.

IMG_48691. Climate Change: I’m not going to try to convince anyone reading this that our planet’s climate is changing and that humans are largely responsible for that change.  Nor am I going to try to convince you that those changes are going to be largely detrimental to human prosperity.  But if you already recognize those two basic truths, then you will definitely want to listen up.  Austin Energy is proposing to not only run Austin’s portion of the Fayette coal plant until 2025, but also to dramatically increase its use of natural gas by adding a new 800 megawatt gas plant to its energy portfolio.  That’s bigger than Austin’s portion of Fayette.  And although natural gas emits less carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour of energy production than burning coal, once the substantial impact of the roughly 3% of gas that leaks into the atmosphere during extraction, processing and transportation is accounted for, natural gas is almost as harmful to the climate as coal.  That’s because the primary component of natural gas, methane, is 87 times more powerful of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over 20 years.  Although many people focus on the 100 year time frame when talking about climate change, we can’t afford to ignore our more immediate future.  Central Texas has already experienced its share of climate impacts over the past few years in the form of drought, wildfires and floods.  We must stop those impacts from worsening at a greater rate than they already will be.  Natural gas isn’t going to save us.  Even without the massive problem of leaking methane, burning gas instead of coal only decreases our climate impact by about half, so it’s not a long term solution anyway – the best it could have been was a stopgap.  Instead of investing in infrastructure that won’t get us where we need to be, we can make better decisions now.

Attend one of Austin Energy’s stakeholder meetings this week and ask the staff to consider the full climate impacts of energy sources.

2. Jobs: Developing renewable energy sources creates 3 times as many jobs as developing fossil fuel energy sources per dollar invested.  Whereas a large chunk of the cost connected to a coal plan or a gas plant is for the coal and gas, the wind and sun are free.  So, instead of paying for the privilege of burning a limited resource, we can pay people to harness the energy from free and unlimited resources.

Across the U.S., solar energy jobs grew 20% from 2012 to 2013, compared to average job growth across all industries of 1.9%.  A large percentage of that growth was in Texas, but Texas still ranks 44th in solar jobs per capita.  Increasing Austin Energy’s solar goal will bring more jobs to Texas, but it’s increasing the local solar goal that will have the most impact on local job creation.  The Austin Local Solar Advisory Commission unanimously recommended that Austin Energy’s solar goal for 2020 be increased from 200 megawatts (MW) to 400 MW.  It also recommended that at least half of that solar development be local and at least half of that local solar be customer controlled (that’s what you see on residential and business rooftops and yards).  According to the LSAC’s calculations done using the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Jobs and Economic Development Impact (JEDI) model, the $60 million it would take to develop that amount of local solar would bring the Austin area a net of $300 million in local economic benefits – wages, taxes, etc.  If Austin Energy adopts policies to give preference to local companies who hire local workers, our community can benefit even more.  On the other hand, we are currently sending $80 million to Montana each year for the coal we burn in the Fayette coal plant.

Tell Austin Energy that you support growing local jobs by increasing our solar goals, including the local and customer owned solar goals.

3. Water: If you live in central Texas, I don’t need to tell you that water is a huge issue – in fact it’s just a big issue for Texas that the Legislature, with voter approval appropriated $2 billion dollars to fund water projects, with 20% of those funds to be used on water conservation efforts.  We can’t make it rain more, so we are going to have to make some choices about what we want to use water for.  The Fayette coal plant, which Austin Energy owns one third of, needs about 5 billion gallons of water per year to operate.  And lest you start thinking natural gas plants are the answer, know that over 39 billion gallons of water was used in fracking jobs in Texas between January 2011 and May 2013.  Producers in the Eagle Ford Shale play are especially wasteful, using an average of 4.4 million gallons of water per well.  That’s water that can’t be used for domestic, commercial, industrial, agricultural, or ecosystem uses.

Tell Austin Energy to focus investment on drought proof energy sources like wind and solar.

4. Health: Air pollution from burning coal and extracting natural gas are taking a real toll on human health in Texas.  The Fayette coal plant is responsible for over $55.5 million in health impacts from air pollution.  Those impacts include asthma attacks, chronic bronchitis, heart attacks and the associated hospital visits and deaths.  Even so, Austin Energy has proposed running its portion of Fayette until 2025.

Lack of regulation over the natural gas industry, which has operations strewn across vast areas has resulted in a tragic disregard for human well being.  If you haven’t already, read this excellent piece of investigative journalism about how your fellow Texans are being assaulted with toxic chemicals in the Eagle Ford Shale area.  Instead of building a large new gas plant to drive up demand for dangerous fracking, Austin Energy should focus on growing its renewable energy portofolio with more wind and solar and perhaps some geothermal energy.

Air pollution is much more than an environmental issue – it’s a public health issue.  That’s why you find medical professionals and health advocates supporting a transition to clean energy.

Sign up for one of Austin Energy’s stakeholder meetings and ask them to give up their plans for a giant new gas plant and to examine more options for retiring the Fayette coal plant in an affordable way.

5. Affordable Energy: Wind and solar energy are competitive with coal and natural gas already.  Meanwhile, electricity from coal plants is going to get more expensive because of various regulations to limit pollution.  Natural gas prices are low now, but have fluctuated greatly over time, making a big bet on natural gas risky.  When natural gas prices go up, Austin Energy raises our fuel charge to recover those costs.  Since affordable wind and solar are available now and can assure us a predictable price for 10-20 years, why would we not make those energy sources our priority?  Austin Energy has done a great job getting good wind contracts to keep customer rates low and is set to achieve its 35% renewable energy goal 4 years early in 2016.

Tell Austin Energy to keep up its momentum by expanding the renewable energy goal to 50% for 2020 and 60% by 2024.

Take Action:

Austin Energy is holding 3 stakeholder meetings to gather public input on the Austin Energy Resource, Generation and Climate Protection Plan update to 2024.

  • Tuesday, February 25: 10 am – 12 pm (noon)
  • Tuesday, February 25: 6 pm – 8 pm
  • Thursday, February 27: 1 pm – 3 pm

This is your chance to help determine how the money you pay for your electric bills is invested by our publicly owned utility.

Please sign up to attend one of the meetings.

Read Full Post »

While we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing the words “natural”, “healthy” and “environmentally-friendly” thrown around in advertisements for a variety of consumer goods, it’s important to remember that household items are not the only things capable of being greenwashed – case in point, natural gas.

The word “natural” has been used to connote things such as ‘green’, ‘healthy’, ‘non-toxic’. Many people’s cursory understanding of natural gas is that if it’s “natural”, it must be good, right? Unfortunately the truth about natural gas is more complicated. While it is true that natural gas emits far less CO2 than coal upon combustion, there are a host of other ‘fine-print’ problems that come along with the switch, most notably, fugitive emissions.

Leaky pipes and valves allow methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, to escape into the atmosphere.  Photo by Kevin Moloney, NYT

Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, escapes from wells and leaky pipes and valves into the atmosphere.
Photo by Kevin Moloney, NYT.

Fugitive emissions are the emissions not intended to take place and that usually result from pressurized equipment leaks. While these leaks are relatively tiny, when expanded to a large enough scale the amount of methane being leaked into the atmosphere can have a large impact on climate. While the EPA originally reported that average leakage rate in natural gas production was somewhere around 1.5%, a collaborative study by scientist from several universities and government agencies released this past October revealed that the figure should be much closer to 3%. Even worse, there have been reports of methane leakage upwards of 12% at some production sites.

Many climate change mitigation plans focus on reducing CO2 emissions, but methane and its effects should not be overlooked. The IPCC has reported that over a 100-year period, methane is 35 times more potent of a heat-trapping gas than CO2. When looking at the effects of methane over 20 years, this figure jumps to 87. Suddenly, that comparatively small amount of methane being leaked out of wells, pipes and valves is incredibly important. In other words, 1 ton of methane being released into the atmosphere has the same heat-trapping effect over a 20 year period as releasing 87 tons of CO2.

20 Year Climate Impact of Natural Gas vs CoalWhile the CO2 emissions from burning natural gas are about half what is produced by burning coal plant to produce the same amount of power, after accounting for fugitive emissions and converting leaked methane into CO2 equivalent (using the IPCC 87x factor referenced earlier), natural gas climate change impact is almost as bad as coal.


Read Full Post »

According to an NBC News story, a study on human-induced earthquakes published today in Science, shows within the central and eastern United States, more than 300 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater were recorded from 2010 through 2012, compared to an average rate of 21 earthquakes per year from 1967 to 2000.

The hydrolic fracturing (fracking) technique used to produce natural gas and oil involves shooting several million gallons of water laced with chemicals and sand deep underground to break apart chunks of shale rock, freeing trapped gas to escape through cracks and fissures into wells has been linked to human-induced earthquakes, however this process produces earthquakes that are almost all too small to be felt — and the fracking industry is quick to use this fact to say fracking doesn’t cause earthquakes. Nevertheless, larger earthquakes are associated with injection of wastewater into underground wells, a technique used to dispose of the briny, polluted water that comes to the surface after a frack job is completed and a well is producing natural gas and oil, so one might say the industry is a bit too literal, since these activities would not occur if fracking wasn’t occurring.

Click here to read the NBC story.

In Texas, which has seen a dramatic increase in fracking activities in the Barnett and Eagle Ford shale regions, a recent quake registered a 4.8 in May of 2013 near Timpson, TX which sits in the drilling area of the Haynesville Shale.

According to an NPR StateImpact story, researchers have known for decades that disposal wells can cause quakes, but state regulators say they are waiting for more proof. The Texas Railroad Commission, the agency that regulates oil and gas drilling in Texas, is currently considering updated rules for disposal wells in the state, but it says it has no plans to include consideration of man-made earthquakes in that rule making. Click here to read the NPR story.

This begins to make sense when you see that 3% of the Flat Earth Society‘s membership is from Texas.

Read Full Post »

According to Bloomberg, with four days left in 2012, wind-turbine installations are expected to exceed natural gas-fueled power plants in the U.S. for the first time as wind farm developers race to complete projects before a renewable energy tax credit expires.

New wind capacity reached 6,519 megawatts by Nov. 30th of this year, beating the 6,335 megawatts of gas additions and more than double that of coal, according to data from Ventyx Incm which plans to release final tallies in January.

Congress has yet to renew the production tax credit, which provides incentives for wind farms completed before Dec. 31, 2012. Efforts to take advantage of the subsidy trumped interest in gas-fired stations, which are supported by a plunge in prices for the commodity resulting from added production through hydraulic fracturing.

To qualify for the tax credit, which pays wind farm owners 2.2 cents per kilowatt-hour of power they produce over 10 years, projects must be online and producing power by Jan. 1.

A bill to extend the wind production tax credit was approved by the Senate Finance Committee in August.  Unless Congress extends the incentive, wind turbine installations are predicted to fall 88 percent next year according to a forecast by New Energy Finance.  Earlier this month, in an effort to head off opposition to an extension, the American Wind Energy Association proposed a six-year phase-out of the credit, ending the subsidy at the start of 2019.  They claim 37,000 jobs will be lost if the credit lapses now.

An increase in gas prices may make wind even more competitive. Gas futures saw their first annual increase since 2007, rising almost 15 percent this year.  And, utilities in 29 states are required to get an increasing amount of their supplies from renewable resources such as wind and solar, whether or not Congress renews the tax credits.

Read Full Post »

Yesterday, Public Citizen spoke before the Department of Energy subcommittee tasked with natural gas drilling and outlined the key steps needed to properly oversee the process of fracking. We are calling on the subcommittee to recommend closure of many loopholes that create regulatory exemptions for fracking.

Please join us in urging the DOE to regulate this risky process by signing on to our public comments.

Click here to read our earlier post about environmental advocacy around “fracking” at the national level

Read Full Post »

Oh no . . . we're fracked!

What happens when you let Big Business regulate itself? – You get fracked.

Hydraulic fracturing — also known as fracking — is a controversial method of natural gas extraction that involves injecting a toxic chemical sludge into the surface of the earth until it rips open.

And it’s a case study in the dangers of letting giant corporations sidestep laws that protect our health, our investments and our environment.

Learn more about the risks of fracking, including how it could threaten your drinking water:


In 2005, then-Vice President Dick Cheney got fracking exempted from laws that keep our air and water clean. That exemption — known as the “Halliburton loophole” — allows oil and gas companies to force hazardous chemicals into underground water supplies.

As if that’s not enough, the Halliburton loophole is only one of seven exemptions for the oil and gas industries from major federal environmental laws like the Clean Air Act and National Environmental Policy Act.

The wholesale lack of federal tools to protect the public from fracking has created an inadequate patchwork of state regulations. As a result, companies are assaulting the environment and polluting drinking water supplies all over the country.

In Pennsylvania, a state with some of the most robust fracking regulations, one company — Chesapeake Appalachia LLC — racked up 149 environmental violations in just two and a half years.

While fracking is currently a hot-button issue, it is not a new practice. It was developed by Halliburton in the 1940s and has primarily been the scourge of communities in the Southwest.

The huge bump in fracking has been based on speculation that shale reserves in the Northeast could be the Saudi Arabia of natural gas. But even this is being challenged. The New York Times has recently reported that natural gas companies may be vastly overstating their reserves in what could be a giant Ponzi scheme.

To the credit of activists all over the country, the federal government has been forced to address fracking.

  • A number of lawmakers have sent letters to the Securities and Exchange Commission asking it to investigate whether the industry has provided accurate information about the productivity of natural gas wells, particularly those involved in fracking.
  • As part of President Obama’s “Blueprint for a Secure Energy Future,” the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board (SEAB) is exploring recommendations to better protect public health and the environment from fracking.

Public Citizen will be giving public comment with a list of recommendations at a SEAB meeting later this week. We will be giving you an opportunity to contribute to the dialogue, too, so stay tuned!

But investigations are only the first step toward curbing this unsafe practice. In the near term, legislative action to close loopholes that exempt fracking from federal law is needed. Meanwhile, all fracking activity should be suspended. Moving forward, shifting away from dangerous and dirty fuels is the only solution.

Read Full Post »

A new study from Cornell Professor Robert Howarth shows that natural gas from shale beds extracted through hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” has the same effect on the climate as burning coal, tarnishing one of the natural gas industry’s major claims of being a less polluting and more climate friendly fossil fuel.

A megawatt of electricity from a natural gas power plant will generally produce anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of the greenhouse gas emissions, specifically CO2, compared to a megawatt from a coal plant.  And since coal plants have rightfully been targeted as the biggest climate polluters the natural gas folks have been positioning themselves as the cheaper, cleaner alternative.

Not so fast, since methane, the main component of natural gas, is also a greenhouse gas that the EPA rates as having 20 times the heat-trapping capacity of CO2.  Since so much methane is released into the atmosphere during the fracking and drilling process, Howarth’s study questions that assumption, implying the climate benefits are minimal, if they even exist.  From The Hill:

More broadly, many gas supporters see domestic reserves as a “bridge” fuel while alternative energy sources are brought into wider use.

Howarth’s study questions this idea.

“The large GHG footprint of shale gas undercuts the logic of its use as a bridging fuel over coming decades, if the goal is to reduce global warming,” the study states.

But [natural gas industry spokesmen] also note that gas has other advantages over coal as an energy source, due to its lower emissions of conventional pollutants including nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.

The study cautions that the research is not meant to justify continued use of oil and coal, but rather to show that using shale gas as a substitute might not provide the desired checks on global warming.

Howarth and Cornell engineering Prof. Anthony Ingraffea, who also worked on the study, acknowledged uncertainties in the nexus between shale gas and global warming in a presentation last month.

“We do not intend for you to accept what we reported on today as the definitive scientific study with regard to this question. It is clearly not. We have pointed out as many times as we could that we are basing this study on in some cases questionable data,” Ingraffea said at a mid-March seminar, which is available for viewing on Howarth’s website.

“What we are hoping to do by this study is to stimulate the science that should have been done before, in my opinion, corporate business plans superceded national energy strategy,” he added.

This is an incredibly important discussion to have, especially given the impacts that fracking is having on our air, water, health, and our state budget.

UPDATE: The Texas Energy Report got some good response from around the Capitol and we couldn’t help include it:

“Sounds like the coal industry may have funded it,” joked Sen. Troy Fraser (R-Horseshoe Bay), author of Senate Bill 15, which would create a 20-year energy and environmental policy council for Texas.

“The direction they’re going is exactly opposite of what we hear that natural gas is cleaner with less greenhouse emissions. We’ve always worked under that premise,” said Fraser who is also chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

***“I would like to see it. I don’t know what they’re drawing their conclusions on. I would say it’s interesting – significant I don’t know,” said Rep. Jim Keffer, chairman of the House Energy Resources Committee.  “We’ll have to take a look at it. I’m sure there’ll be another side.”

Keffer is the author of a bill to require oil and gas companies drilling for shale gas to disclose the contents of chemicals they inject into the ground with water and sand during fracking. Fracking involves high-pressure injections of water into the ground to fracture rock formations and release gas.

The Environmental Defense Fund of Texas, which has embraced Keffer’s bill as the most significant fracking disclosure measure in the nation, said more work is needed to determine the air quality implications of fracking.

“Though we have questions about the study’s emissions estimates, it nevertheless highlights the importance of getting better data,” said Ramon Alvarez of the EDF.


By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

Read Full Post »

In another effort to stave off critics who call a $1 billion annual tax break for high-cost gas producers in Texas outrageous, a study paid for by the industry has emerged intended to scare folks into believing that for every $1 the state spends in tax breaks it gets back about $4 in related economic activity and that will disappear if we take their tax break away.

Former Deputy State Comptroller and current lobbyist Billy Hamilton has produced an industry-backed study for the American Natural Gas Alliance on what they claim the impact of the withdrawal of the tax incentive would have on Texas.   The  industry is rightly concerned that the tax break would come under attack as the state tries to close a $27 billion budget gap.

Hamilton’s analysis concludes that ending the tax break would result in an immediate loss in 2012 of 35,000 and $3.8 billion in economic output, estimating Texas would lose 94,400 jobs each year and $10.4 billion each year in economic output.

The industry has been saying for some time that if Texas dumps this tax break, states like Pennsylvania will get the driller’s business, but Texas has the largest reserve of natural gas in the nation and it is hard to believe the industry would pull up stakes to move elsewhere.  It is not like they aren’t making plenty of money here in Texas.  And the state hasn’t seemed concerned that they are losing renewable energy manufacturing jobs by not providing that industry with tax breaks/incentives, so no sympathy here.

Worthy of discussion here is exactly who is getting these state tax cuts, and according to the Houston Chronicle, it’s mostly companies from out of state.

Not surprisingly, the top five firms that saved the most as a result of the exemption represent the largest oil and gas producers in Texas:

Oklahoma-based Devon Energy, saved $113.8 million in fiscal year 2010 under the exemption. Devon reported net earnings last year of $4.6 billion.

Next on the list was XTO Energy Inc., a subsidiary of Exxon, which saved $113.2 million on its “high cost” gas operations in Texas. XTO reported $2 billion in net earnings last year. Others who received top financial benefits were: Canadian-based EnCana, which saved $60.6 million, Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy, which saved $59.4 million and Enron spin-off EOG Resources of Houston, with $58.6 million in savings.

These tax breaks really amount to little more than subsidies of some of the most profitable companies around. It would be one thing if these were Texas companies, but when Texas taxpayers are subsidizing Oklahoma and Canadian companies, something is very, very wrong. We can expect the corporate welfare queens to cry when their gravy train is threatened, but their protected status at the Legislature, thanks to millions in campaign contributions to Texas politicians, insures that they won’t actually be in danger of cuts.  Not like our schools, or grandma’s nursing home. Perhaps if our teachers and the elderly were represented by out of state special interests who can dip into their huge profits to bribe donate to politicians, they could be safe from cuts, too.

If, in fact, there are no sacred cows as the legislature tries to deal with the budget deficit, then this tax break needs to be on the table too.

Read Full Post »

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) wants to know the reasons for the Texas power generation outages and for the interruptions in natural gas delivery to New Mexico.

As Texas officials began looking into the causes of the Texas electricity blackouts, New Mexico was holding its own hearings.  The ripple effect felt by down pipeline states when Texas’ electric grid and natural gas supplies went awry during an abnormally cold winter storm in February of this has prompted the federal agency to examine how to ensure that a new fleet of natural gas plants around the country can get plenty of fuel.

This has major implications for a state that has been expanding natural gas drilling operations exponentially over the past several years, many think to the detriment of the environment and the health of those who live around those operation.  Just ask the folks in the Barnett Shale region of North Texas.  Some of them might even be able to light their water taps on fire for you.

If you want to learn more about the concerns of citizens living in natural gas drillling areas check out “Gasland,” the Academy Award nominated documentary film by Josh Fox, that examines whether hydraulic fracturing of shale formations threatens water supplies and poses other environmental hazards.  Click here to read our earlier blog about the movie.

Read Full Post »

Map of Texas highlighting counties served by t...

Texas counties served by AACOG

San Antonio, which sits just north of what many say is one of the largest oil and gas reserves in the country known as the Eagle Ford, is a heart beat away from violating federal air quality standards for ground-level ozone. It seems it is only a matter of time before the increased emissions from the Eagle Ford could drift up on prevailing winds, pushing the area out of compliance.

With drilling expected to increase over the next decade, those responsible for this region’s air quality say the increased pollution could make it difficult to remain under federal limits.  In the past decade, San Antonio’s ozone levels have decreased by 13 percent while its population has increased 13 percent, managing to stay just ahead of federal standards.  However, once a region falls out of compliance, efforts to get back in are time-consuming, politically unpopular and expensive.

It is going to be a tough contest for the environment to compete with the hype about the economic benefits (which always fail to take into account the economic costs to the region for these types of activities – increased health care costs, decreased quality of life costs, and the cost of coming back into compliance with federal air quality standards).

According to a study by the Center for Business Research at the University of Texas at San Antonio and commissioned by America’s Natural Gas Association:

Activity in the Eagle Ford in 2010 alone generated more than $2.9 billion in total revenue, supported roughly 12,600 full-time jobs and provided nearly $47.6 million in local government revenue.

Last year there were 72 active oil leases, some of which may have more than one well, and 158 producing gas wells.

However, the number of drilling permits issued by the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, has reached 1,132 as of February. In just one year, the output of crude oil, condensate and other liquids nearly quadrupled to 3.9 million barrels.

And the boom has just begun; the UTSA study forecasts that 5,000 more wells could be drilled by 2020.

So far, no regulatory agency has begun comprehensive air monitoring in the Eagle Ford area, meaning there’s no baseline to measure any increased pollution.

Models for other regions of the country show drilling and related emissions can increase ground-level ozone significantly and the sheer volume of drilling that’s expected over the next decade, will require Alamo Area Council of Governments (AACOG) to add a new category, for drilling and recovery, into its air pollution forecasting models.

The San Antonio Express News writes about the area:

The Eagle Ford shale covers a swath roughly 50 miles wide and 400 miles long, from Maverick and Webb counties sweeping north and east up to Leon and Houston counties, but not including Bexar County. Unlike other large shale formations that have recently been tapped, the Eagle Ford includes a good deal of oil, mostly along the northern reach.

Because oil prices are high and natural gas prices low at the moment, there’s more activity in the oil region at this time, industry analysts say.

Drilling has occurred in South Texas for decades, but the oil and gas trapped in the deeper, dense rock layers once were too expensive to reach. Advances in drilling technology, most notably hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, have allowed an unprecedented amount of hydrocarbons to be extracted.

“Fracking,” as it’s known, forces millions of gallons of water, mixed with sand and a variety of chemicals, into shale formations, forcing open fissures to allow the natural gas and oil to escape. Horizontal drilling allows for one hole to be drilled vertically, then one or more pipes to branch out into the shale.

Together, these techniques have spawned a natural gas boom in the country, with some industry experts estimating a 100-year supply of a fuel that burns more cleanly than coal and could help push the country toward energy independence.

In other parts of the country the boom is well under way, and as drilling has increased, so have complaints about its environmental impacts, most notably drinking water contamination.  While it remains unclear whether fracturing has contaminated drinking water, the EPA last month agreed to study the entire life cycle of the gas production process, to determine how it can affect drinking water supplies.

While water has gotten the lion’s share of the attention thus far, air quality concerns also are increasing and seem to be the area of most concern to San Antonio as they look toward increased drilling activities in the region.  Let’s hope they can stay ahead of this new boom.

Read Full Post »

Texas Barnett Shale gas drilling rig near Alva...

Image via Wikipedia

I hope you’re going to have a great Oscar night, and while we may all have our favorites for best picture (True Grit was my favorite, but I think The Social Network and The King’s Speech are also very deserving), this year we have one of the most important issues of our time as the subject of one of the nominees for best documentary.

In Gasland, director Josh Fox travels across America to learn about the effects of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as a method to drill for natural gas. Despite the rhetoric about how clean natural gas is compared to other fossil fuels (kind of like saying it’s the least ugly stepsister), fracking is causing major problems across the US.

One of our favorite local bloggers in Texas, TXSharon, has been documenting these same problems living on top of the Barnett Shale. We don’t have a clip we can embed from Gasland, but I’ll use this as a placeholder:

Fox’s filmmaking is beautiful, frightening, humorous where possible, wry, and dismally depressing all at the same time. But he educates you on this terrible problem seeping up from the ground, and he makes you a little bit hopeful that we can find ways to get energy that don’t destroy our water supplies. That don’t ruin suburban neighborhoods or productive farmland.

And ultimately why it should win is because it’s fairly obvious the truth it is telling is far too dangerous to those who profit from fracking with our water. The natural gas industry has been on a months-long crusade to try to discredit Gasland, even going so far as to try to get it declared ineligible to receive the award, and if Hollywood bows to the pressure it will be an even worse tragedy than allowing them to censor The King’s Speech so it can get a PG-13 rating.

Also, Id like to see it win because it features my favorite EPA Regional Administrator, Dr. Al Armendariz, talking about his research about how the drilling from the Barnett Shale in suburban Ft Worth is creating more pollution than all of the cars and trucks in the Dallas/Ft Worth area combined. It also features Cal Tillman, the mayor of the little town of Dish, TX, who recently sold his home in Dish because of health problems his family was having from the drilling. He made the new buyer watch Gasland before they bought the house. These real, but amazing, subjects in the documentary are folks I’m proud to rub shoulders with here in Texas.

Enjoy the Academy Awards, hopefully surrounded by some good, geeky friends and family. And even if “Exit Through the Gift Shop” wins for best documentary, make sure you see Gasland as soon as possible.

Cross-posted at BigShinyRobot.com where I occasionally blog about geeky stuff under the pseudonym CitizenBot

Read Full Post »

The protests in Wisconsin. The passage of the CR in the House in the dead of night over the weekend. And the continued debate over how to balance the Texas $26 billion budget gap. We kept getting told there are no sacred cows- that all have to share in the burden and pain of budget squeezing.

But realpolitik has shown exactly where the real sacred cows are, while corporate tea party crusaders use the budget crises as a reason to bust unions, raid pensions funds, and slash health services and education budgets, they are leaving intact the tax breaks for oil and gas companies.

Let’s talk Texas first:  a new study out this morning by the Texas Tribune showed that Texans want a balanced approach to fixing the budget.  The single most popular answer was a 50/50 split of revenue enhancements and spending cuts.  However, when you asked people what they wanted to cut spending on, the answer was a resounding NO! to educationTexans say no to budget cuts cuts, NO! to health services cuts, NO! to environmental reg cuts. And when asked where to increase revenue, it was equally sticky.  The single most popular options, the only ones which get over 50% support, was to legalize casino gambling and increase alcohol taxes.  But taxing vice can only get us so far.

One of the things not touched by the poll were the enormous tax breaks we give to the natural gas industry, one which the LBB has suggested eliminating, namely a $7.4 billion tax cut to oil and gas companies using “high cost” wells- which generally means one thing: hydro-fracturing. Fracking is used on areas like the Barnett Shale and has been linked to spoiled water, a cancer cluster located in Flower Mound/Dish, and natural gas turning tap water flammable, and a garden hose into a flamethrower.

At the very least, all of the drilling is producing more air pollution than all of the cars and trucks in the Dallas-Forth Worth area. So to add insult to industry, not only is the drilling on the Barnett Shale ruining families’ homes and making people sick, but we are paying the companies billions of dollars in pork to do it, robbing school children and those who need a hand from social services.

And to kick us even more when we’re down, Chesapeake Energy has the audacity to say if their corporate welfare goes away, they’re going to have to curtail drilling on the Barnett Shale.  From the Star-Telegram’s story:

An executive with Chesapeake Energy told members of the Tarrant County legislative delegation Wednesday that the company would consider curtailing activity in Texas if the exemption is discontinued.

“We’d have to look at it on an individual well basis, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that we would reduce our activity in the state of Texas,” Adam Haynes, senior government affairs director for Chesapeake, said after his appearance before lawmakers. “It certainly affects the Barnett Shale, absolutely.” (more…)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »