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Peak Shale: Is the US Fracking Industry Already in Decline?

Peak Shale: Is the US Fracking Industry Already in Decline?

Fracking well sites from the air, in Jonah, Wyoming

But the industry shouldn’t get complacent, warned Robert Clarke of energy industry research and consulting group Wood Mackenzie. Cracks already are starting to emerge in the optimistic forecasts of how much these shale formations can produce, which is a bad sign for turning around the industry’s struggling finances.

It was only the best rigs, with the most experienced crews, drilling the best rock at the lowest service costs,” which were doing well in 2016, said Clarke at the 2018 Energy Information Administration (EIA) annual conference in June. “If you are a producer, it’s very dangerous to think that that is the new norm.”

But producers seemed to think it was the new normal and plowed ahead, going all in on fracking in the Permain Basin, currently seen as the best shale play in the country.

Granted, the results have been impressive from a production standpoint. The EIA expects “Permian regional production to average 3.3 million [barrels per day] in 2018 and 3.9 million [barrels per day] in 2019.”  Those numbers may reach 5.4 million barrels a day by 2023, according to oil industry consultants IHS Markit.

While the Permian’s oil production has been prolific, it hasn’t translated into profits. “Why Aren’t Permian Oil Producers Profitable?” asked a headline on industry publication Oilprice.com this past May.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A Field Guide to the Petrochemical and Plastics Industry

A Field Guide to the Petrochemical and Plastics Industry

Petrochemical plant in Saudi Arabia

The shale gas industry has been trying to build demand for fossil fuels from its fracked oil and gas wells by promoting the construction of a new petrochemical corridor in America’s Rust Belt and expanding the corridor on the Gulf Coast. To help demystify terms like “natural gas liquids” and “cracker plants,” DeSmog has begun building a guide to some of the equipment and terms used in the plastics and petrochemical industries.

This guide, which will expand over time, is intended to serve as an informal glossary of sorts and an introduction to what happens to fossil fuels that are transformed into chemicals, plastics, vinyl, Styrofoam and a variety of other materials.

Petrochemical Production and the Climate

Fracking for Plastics
This field guide is part of Fracking for Plastics, a DeSmog investigation into the proposed petrochemical build-out in the Rust Belt and the major players involved, along with the environmental, health, and socio-economic implications.

These fossil fuels have a significant global warming impact of their own. The methane leaks associated with the natural gas drilling and distribution industry are so pronounced that many experts say burning natural gas for electricity is worse for the climate than burning coal.

While hydrocarbons that are used as raw materials for petrochemical products aren’t burned (and therefore don’t release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere), that leaky infrastructure still results in methane pollution. Methane itself is a powerful greenhouse gas, capable of warming the climate about 86 times faster than an equal amount of carbon dioxide during the first decade after it’s released to the atmosphere.

Making petrochemicals also requires a huge amount of energy — some of the largest petrochemical plants like crackers may have their own power plants on site — and that energy comes from burning fossil fuels.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Canadian Tar Sands Oil May Be Doomed

Why Canadian Tar Sands Oil May Be Doomed

Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, tar sands oil operations

Producers are forced to keep cranking out product and selling it at a loss to cover the massive costs required to start one of these sprawling unconventional oil operations, a point made painfully clear when Alberta wildfires in 2016 forced some tar sands operators to shut down.

“I do think they’ll start up quickly once the danger from the fire is gone because there is a lot of motivation to do that,” Jackie Forrest, an energy economist for Arc Financial Corp, told The Globe and Mail. “They have a lot of fixed costs so they’re going to be motivated to get some revenue to pay for those costs that aren’t going away.”

In the face of such challenging economics, what are Canadian tar sands producers doing? Tapping more oil than ever.

In June 2018 Canada set a new record for exporting oil to the U.S., hitting well over three million barrels per day. This record coincided with another one for oil exported by rail from Canada to the U.S. The U.S. is currently the only major market for Canadian crude, with 99 percent of its exports going to either U.S. refineries or ports for export.


Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

America Is Maxing out on Canadian Crude

American refineries certainly enjoy buying Canadian crude at such low prices. How low are the prices? As the Financial Post reported in mid-October, Western Canadian Select (WCS) was $19 a barrel — approximately $50 a barrel cheaper than a barrel of the American oil standard known as Western Texas Intermediate (WTI).

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Big Oil Cheers Trump’s ‘New NAFTA’ But Mexico Could Complicate Things

Big Oil Cheers Trump’s ‘New NAFTA’ But Mexico Could Complicate Things

While the oil and gas industry has lauded the new trade deal that may soon replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a provision added by Mexico, along with its new president’s plan to ban fracking, could complicate the industry’s rising ambitions there.

The new agreement, known as the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement (USMCA), has faced criticism as being tantamount to NAFTA 2.0 — more of a minor reboot that primarily benefits Wall Street investors and large corporations, including oil and gas companies.

Mercilessly critiqued by then-candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, NAFTA is now the second major trade deal kicked to the curb by now-President Trump. The other, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), was canceled days intoTrump’s presidency.

After the most recent deal’s announcement, the oil and gas industry offered praise for USMCA. The White House even pointed this out in a press release, highlighting a quote given by the U.S. industry’s major trade group, the American Petroleum Institute (API).

“We urge Congress to approve the USMCA. Having Canada as a trading partner and a party to this agreement is critical for North American energy security and U.S. consumers,” said Mike Sommers, President and CEO of API. “Retaining a trade agreement for North America will help ensure the U.S. energy revolution continues into the future.”

In its own press release declaring its support for USMCA, API further spelled out the parts of the deal it supports.

Those include “continued market access for U.S. natural gas and oil products, and investments in Canada and Mexico; continued zero tariffs on natural gas and oil products; investment protections to which all countries commit and the eligibility for Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) for U.S. natural gas and oil companies investing in Mexico…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

US Oil Exports Are Exceeding Almost All Predictions—Thanks to Fracking

US Oil Exports Are Exceeding Almost All Predictions—Thanks to Fracking

Oil tanker in the Houston ship channel

And crude oil exports are supposed to double by 2020, according to the San Antonio News-Express. That’s a lot of oil — and almost all of it is fracked.

That should come as no surprise. In August 2015, my story for DeSmog, “Lifting Ban On U.S. Crude Oil Export Would Enable Massive Fracking Expansion,” pretty much sums up what is happening now. However, that’s not what the industry experts at the time were predicting.

Last year I noted how quickly these experts, from energy consultants to academics, were proven wrong in their predictions about the effects of overturning the 40-year-old ban, which occurred in December 2015.

If exports double by 2020, those experts will be that much more wrong. Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon is from a December 2015 newsletter from CME Group — a commodities trading group that stood to profit greatly from trading U.S.exported oil. The newsletter, which takes a question-and-answer format, included the following:

Question #2: Will lifting the crude oil export ban result in greater U.S. production?

The answer: No.

Couldn’t get more wrong that, but CME now lists U.S. WTI crude on its website as one of the top commodities it trades. I guess there’s a lesson here about whether to trust a commodities trader.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

‘Vast Blind Spot’: IPCC Accused of Ignoring ‘Decades Long’ Fossil Fuel Misinformation Campaign on Climate

‘Vast Blind Spot’: IPCC Accused of Ignoring ‘Decades Long’ Fossil Fuel Misinformation Campaign on Climate

Charles Koch

The United Nations (UN) climate science panel is being accused of ignoring research into fossil fuel-funded misinformation campaigns that have been key to holding back action on global warming.

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — an assessment of more than 6,000 research papers — found global warming caused largely by fossil fuel burning would have severe impacts even if limited to 1.5°C (2.7°F).

Described by the IPCC as “one of the most important climate change reports ever published,” the report is designed to inform policy makers and the public around the world.

But several researchers are angry the report did not take account of academic research into the “decades-long misinformation campaign” funded and promoted by fossil fuel interests and so-called “free market” conservative think tanks that has been a major brake on progress.

Several researchers say the lack of consideration of academic research into misinformation campaigns was a vital but missed opportunity to educate the public and policy makers. The groups that have colluded with the fossil fuel industry have been credited with pushing President Donald Trump to pledge to pull the U.S. from the UN‘s Paris Agreement.

A Vast Blind Spot

This is an important barrier to climate action, but it is never addressed,” said Professor Robert Brulle of Drexel University, who has published research on the funding and influence of climate science denial efforts.

A large existing literature on this was ignored by the IPCC,” he added.

The IPCC special report showed that keeping global warming to 1.5°C would require a rapid phase-out of fossil fuel use between now and the middle of the century.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Massachusetts Gas Explosions Draw Scrutiny of Natural Gas Safety and Climate Risks

Massachusetts Gas Explosions Draw Scrutiny of Natural Gas Safety and Climate Risks

House damaged by natural gas explosion in North Andover, Massachusetts

A quiet, sunny afternoon in New England quickly turned to chaos and tragedy as a series of 80 fires and explosions erupted across three communities in the Merrimack Valley north of Boston on September 13. Extreme overpressure in a Columbia Gas distribution system caused uncontrollable natural gas venting over a wide area, and the resulting blasts killed one and injured more than two dozen.

In the wake of this disaster, scientists and environmentalists are raising questions about the safety and climate impacts of Massachusetts’ aging natural gas infrastructure and the wisdom of continuing to rely on this fossil fuel.

Margaret Cherne-Hendrick, lead author of a 2016 Boston University study of natural gas leaks, cautioned, “This is a very delicate system. It’s a system that is piping a combustible gas into everybody’s homes and businesses.”

Ticking time bombs’

Experts have repeatedly warned about the dangers of Massachusetts’ pipelines. The Conservation Law Foundation (CLF) calls them “ticking time bombs.” According to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), 38 percent of the system distributing natural gas was installed prior to 1970. Massachusetts utilities still operate more than 8,300 miles of old, risky cast-iron and steel pipe, which includes those in the recent explosions.

But brand-new pipes don’t guarantee safety. Just a few days before the disaster in Massachusetts, a pipeline transporting natural gas from wells to a processing plant exploded in Pennsylvania. It had only been in service for seven days.

Gas is climate damaging, has public health implications and concerns, and it very clearly has safety concerns as well,” said Greg Cunningham, director of the clean energy and climate change program at CLF. “Those may arise infrequently, but they’re devastating when they do.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Fossil Fuel Companies Knew How Hard Keeping to IPCC’s ‘Unprecedented’ 1.5C Limit Would Be — And Did Nothing

Fossil Fuel Companies Knew How Hard Keeping to IPCC’s ‘Unprecedented’ 1.5C Limit Would Be — And Did Nothing

The scientists are clear: “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” are needed if the humans are going to prevent the world warming by more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

This news — emanating from the release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) mammoth new special report —  comes as a surprise to almost no-one. Least of all the fossil fuel industry, which has known for decades that the carbon budget that keeps that goal within reach has been rapidly depleting thanks to its products.

So how did we get here, to a place where plotting a path to keep planetary warming within this highly desirable limit requires changes on a scale for which “there is no documented historic precedent”?

Exxon Knew, Shell Knew

Fossil fuel companies have known for decades that their products would lead us to this point.

Back in 1982, Exxon published this graph, which shows a probable temperature rise of 1.5°C some time between 2030 and 2040:


Source: Graph from an internal 1982 Exxon briefing document

Today’s report confirms how scarily accurate that prediction is likely to be — it says that on current trends, the world is expected to wam by 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052. It also shows that the world has already currently warmed by about 1°C since pre-industrial levels thanks to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Exxon wasn’t the only fossil fuel company to commit resources to understanding this problem in the early days. An internal document from 1988 shows Shell also knew back that fossil fuel emissions were likely to lead to 1.5°C to 3.5°C of warming. On current trends, they’d be right — under current policies, the world is expected to warm by about 3.1°C to 3.7°C.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

South Carolina Still Grappling with Historic Flooding from Florence, a Storm Worsened by Climate Change

South Carolina Still Grappling with Historic Flooding from Florence, a Storm Worsened by Climate Change

April O'Leary kayaks to her flooded home in Conway, South Carolina

South Carolina was spared the worst of Hurricane Florence’s fury when the storm made landfall in North Carolina on September 14, but did not escape its catastrophic impacts. Nearly two weeks later, the state was still contending with historic flooding.

Flooded house on South Carolina coast
Flooded house in Socastee, South Carolina.

Florence lingered over the Carolinas, dumping more than 30 inches of rain in some areas. Five rivers and the IntraCoastal Waterway crested several feet above major flood stage, resulting in flooding that will last for weeks to come in parts of South Carolina. Cities and towns on its northern coast are experiencing the worst of it, where standing water remains in buildings along the Intracoastal Waterway and near riverbanks deep into the Carolinas.

Flooded mobile home in Bucksport, South Carolina, after Hurricane Florence
Flooded mobile home in Bucksport, South Carolina.

Floodwaters overwhelm Pine Grove Baptist Church in Brittons Neck, South Carolina
Pine Grove Baptist Church in Brittons Neck, South Carolina.

Jane and Chris Ochsenbein, owners of Gator Bait Adventure Tours in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, took me on a kayak tour of flooded areas 10 days after the storm hit the coast.

On September 26, we met up with April O’Leary, a program officer for Winyah Rivers Foundation and the Waccamaw Riverkeeper program, in Conway, a city about 15 miles from South Carolina’s coast.

Chris Ochsenbein pulls a kayak into floodwaters in Conway, South Carolina
Chris Ochsenbein pulling a kayak into floodwater in Conway, South Carolina’s Sherwood neighborhood.

April O'Leary stands in chest waders in floodwaters outside her home in Conway, South Carolina
April O’Leary, in front of her flooded home in Conway, South Carolina, on September 26.

We paddled our way to her home in Conway’s Sherwood neighborhood the day that the Waccamaw River crested, reaching 21.16 feet, 7 feet over major flood stage. O’Leary later told me that level set a new record by more than three feet. The previous record, 17.89 feet, was set following Hurricane Matthew just two years earlier.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Climate Emissions From Gulf Coast’s New Petrochemical, Oil and Gas Projects Same as 29 New Coal Power Plants

Climate Emissions From Gulf Coast’s New Petrochemical, Oil and Gas Projects Same as 29 New Coal Power Plants

Petrochemical plant in the Houston Ship Canal

In the last six years, officials in Texas and Louisiana issued permits allowing 74 petrochemical, oil, and gas projects to pump as much climate-warming pollution into the atmosphere as running 29 coal-fired power plants around the clock, according to numbers released September 26 by the nonprofit watchdog Environmental Integrity Project.

And construction appears to be speeding up, with over 40 percent of those projects permitted between 2016 and mid-2018. The 31 most recent projects combined will add 50 million tons of greenhouse gases — equal to 11 new coal-fired power plants — to the world’s atmosphere in a year, the watchdog adds.

Environmentalists pointed to the risks that climate change poses to Gulf Coast states, where these projects are being built, and noted that the greenhouse effect has already led to sea level rise and a higher risk of extreme storms.

“Louisiana is already sinking into the Gulf of Mexico, and yet our state government is permitting more of the emissions that cause flooding and storms,” Anne Rolfes, Founding Director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, said in a statement accompanying the numbers. “It’s mind boggling.”

The most recent projects tallied by the group include seven Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plants or terminals, 15 chemical and plastic resin plants, five petroleum refineries, and two natural gas processing plants, as well as a fertilizer manufacturer and hydrogen plant, all in Texas and Louisiana.

Looking North

The count does not include plants outside the Gulf Coast, like the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, where a glut of natural gas liquids (NGLs) like ethane, a petrochemical feedstock produced by many shale wells, is attracting attention from plastics and chemical manufacturers.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

‘Mud and Confusion’: Oil and Gas Industry Goes On Defense as Studies Show Offshore Exploration Could Kill Zooplankton

‘Mud and Confusion’: Oil and Gas Industry Goes On Defense as Studies Show Offshore Exploration Could Kill Zooplankton

Oil rig in Santa Barbara Channel

McCauley was referring to the results of an experiment testing the impacts of a common oil and gas industry technique in waters off southern Australia, which were reported in a scientific paper in June 2017.

The world’s powerful offshore oil and gas industry has used seismic surveys for decades as the primary way to locate fossil fuels under the ocean floor.

Impacts of Seismic Surveys

Seismic surveys involve an underwater air gun pulled behind a boat and fired at intervals, and as the shock waves bounce off the sea floor and return to sensors, they help reveal where oil and gas might be.

McCauley, an associate professor at Curtin University in Western Australia, and his colleagues wanted to know what these seismic surveys did to zooplankton — an organism at the base of the marine food web.

According to their results, published in the Nature journal Ecology and Evolution, there was a two to three-fold increase in the number of dead zooplankton at a distance of at least 1.2 kilomenters (about three-quarters of a mile) from the air gun after the blasts. That is much farther than previous reports of impacts out to only 10 meters or so (roughly 33 feet).

But as reported in Guardian Australia, two major U.S. oil and gas industry groups have been writing to regulators describing McCauley’s findings as “seriously flawed” while commissioning other unnamed experts who have also criticized the study.

McCauley, who has been researching the impacts of seismic surveys on marine life since the early 1990s, told Guardian Australia the criticisms of his research were a “whitewash.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Trump Admin Accelerates Push to Export Fracking to Argentina

Trump Admin Accelerates Push to Export Fracking to Argentina

Rick Perry and energy ministers at G20 Summit in Argentina

The technology that has allowed for the shale gas revolution in America, we want to make available to Argentina,” Perry said.

At the summit, which was intended to focus on a transition to cleaner energy, Perry instead pledged the U.S. Department of Energy’s support in helping Argentina exploit its vast fossil fuel resources. Namely by connecting the nation with U.S.companies that know how to extract shale oil and gas via hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

But DOE isn’t the only part of the U.S. government facilitating fracking in Argentina. Under the Trump administration, the Departments of Interior and State — working closely with Pennsylvania State University — have been involved in multiple workshops focused on developing shale oil and gas in the South American nation.


Excited to join my fellow energy ministers at the . This is an exciting time for Argentina and the region. Argentina’s leadership in energy is good for our hemisphere and the world. pic.twitter.com/5X37kAEiXb

View image on Twitter

Argentina has the second largest shale gas reserves in the world, but is still a net energy importer. Working together, our countries can partner to deliver abundant, affordable energy to the Americas and the world.


The main target for fracking in Argentina is Vaca Muerta (translated as “Dead Cow”), one of the world’s largest unconventional oil and gas deposits, located in the Neuquén Basin. The oil and gas industry has been eyeing this formation in west-central Argentina since its existence was announced in 2011.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Fracking Industry’s Water Nightmare

The Fracking Industry’s Water Nightmare

Sign reading "hot water"

The U.S. is setting new oil production records as horizontal drilling and fracking open up shale deposits in places like North Dakota and Texas.

Fracking is based on the “hydraulic” process of using pressurized liquid to shatter shale rock to let the oil and gas inside escape. And while that liquid is a mixture of many hazardous chemicals, it is mostly water. And acquiring that water and then properly disposing of the toxic wastewater produced by fracking is becoming a big and expensive problem for the industry.

Gabriel Collins is a fellow in energy and the environment at Rice University, and in August he gave a presentation at the Produced Water Society Permian Basin 2018 event in Midland, Texas. There, Collins presented a business case for starting a large water processing company to service the fracking industry.

One sign that the fracking industry is becoming concerned about water is that there are now societies and conferences dedicated to the topic of “produced water.” Produced water is the term for the toxic water that is “produced” over the life of a fracked oil or gas well.

In a story by Bloomberg News, Collins said he didn’t believe investors were aware of the risks that water poses to the fracking industry in the Permian Basin.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Pipeline that Exploded in Pennsylvania Part of Push to Build Fracking-Reliant Petrochemical Network

Pipeline that Exploded in Pennsylvania Part of Push to Build Fracking-Reliant Petrochemical Network

And that’s when it all hit us what was happening,” Belczyk told NPR’s State Impact. “You knew the pipeline went.”

A column of fire shot 150 feet in the air and destroyed a home, a barn, and several cars. Residents of over two dozen homes, including Belczyk, were evacuated, with one family barely escaping the flames that engulfed their home, neighbors said. Interstate 376 was shut down amid concern over falling power lines, including a half-dozen high tension towers, which left 1,500 people temporarily without electricity. No one was injured or killed by the blast, authorities said, and because of recent rains, the possibility of a forest fire was averted.

The 24” diameter pipeline responsible for the blast had gone into service just seven days earlier. It’s owned by Energy Transfer Partners, the same pipeline company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline project and the Bayou Bridge pipeline in Louisiana.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission has said it suspects that the blast was caused by heavy rainfall, which they believe may have caused the pipeline to slip on the saturated ground, break, and then explode.

Energy Transfer Partners dubbed its new “gathering” line the Revolution pipeline. Revolution was built to connect individual gas wells to a new cryogenic plant, the Revolution gas processing plant, where so-called “wet gas” from Marcellus wells would be separated into natural gas liquids and dry gas.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The 19th-Century Tumult Over Climate Change – And Why It Matters Today

One European forester remarked in 1901 that few questions had “been debated and addressed from so many sides and so relentlessly” as that of the climatic effect of deforestation. Recalling this crowded, noisy and wide-ranging conflict – a “hurly-burly” over the “climate question,” as the scientist Eduard Brückner called it at the time – reminds us that climate science has not always been the elite, well-mannered pursuit that it is today.

Might this popular, participatory approach have been an advantage? Given the ongoing rise in global greenhouse gas emissions five years after a U.N. report found that humans are “the dominant cause” of global warming, it’s a question worth asking.

The science of climatology is born

As I write about in my book about the history of climate science in the 19th century, the possibility that human actions might wreak havoc with the climate became a widespread concern for ordinary people across Europe, North Africa and the Americas.

Farmers knew intuitively that even a small change in baseline climate greatly increased the risk of extremes, and a single drought could ruin a farming community, even if followed by years of good weather. As one farmer in Central Europe put it in a letter to a local paper, you couldn’t rightly grasp the import of climate change unless you were “dependent on the yield of a few small plots of land,” and until you had “kept a lookout for a hearty rainfall day by day throughout the dry summer for several years, in vain…You must have seen your favorite fruit trees mourning with wilting leaves.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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Olduvai III: Cataclysm
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