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The U.S. Shale Revolution Has Surrendered to Reality

Fracking companies aren’t drilling as investment continues to dry up.
Oil well.
Image: Fossil fuel oil well. Credit: CL Baker. CC BY 2.0

“Drill, baby, drill is gone forever.”

That was the recent assessment of Saudi Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman of the American oil industry’s future potential. As Saudi Arabia’s energy minister, Prince Abdulaziz is one of the most influential voices in the global oil markets. Fortune termed it a “bold taunt,” and a warning to U.S. frackers to not increase oil production.

The response by the U.S. producers — to shut up and take it — quietly confirms this reality. Shale oil’s era of growth appears to be over. The reason is that even as global oil demand and prices rise, the economics of the shale oil business model continue to not work. The U.S. shale industry has lost hundreds of billions of dollars in the past decade producing oil and selling it for less than it cost to produce.

This was possible because despite the losses, investors kept giving the industry money. But now investors appear to have grown tired of losing money on U.S. shale companies and new lending to the industry has dropped dramatically.

As reported this month by The Wall Street Journal, “capital markets showed little interest in funding expansive new drilling campaigns” for the U.S. shale industry. Shaia Hosseinzadeh, a partner at investment firm OnyxPoint Global Management LP,  told The Journal that the problem facing fracking companies is that “they can’t access cheap capital any longer.”

Without new infusions of money, the industry can’t drill for more oil, and that is why the Saudis feel confident taunting the U.S. oil industry. Prince Abdulaziz’s confidence is based in the financial realities of U.S. shale.

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

Hundreds Arrested at Line 3 ‘Treaty People Gathering.’ Water Protectors Vow To Continue Until the Pipeline is Canceled

Indigenous activists in Northern Minnesota occupied sites of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline, seeking to disrupt construction. The action puts national attention on an issue that President Biden has tried to ignore.
Water protectors are seeking to stop construction of Enbridge’s Line 3 pipeline. Credit: Oil and Gas Action Network.

Nearly 200 people were arrested on Monday while protesting the Line 3 pipeline, a long-distance tar sands pipeline that runs across Indigenous land and threatens food and water resources, including the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Indigenous and environmental groups, and even some elected officials, condemned the aggressive use of a helicopter to disperse protesters.

More than 2,000 people began gathering at an undisclosed location in Northern Minnesota over the weekend, answering a call from Indigenous Anishinaabe people and a coalition of environmental groups to disrupt the construction of the pipeline.

The “Treaty People Gathering” kicked off on June 7, when hundreds of water protectors arrived at construction sites where Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline company, is ramping up construction of the Line 3 pipeline, which began in June after a several-month hiatus due to weather.

The direct action aims not just to delay and disrupt construction, but also to ratchet up the pressure on the Biden administration to intervene. Biden has avoided a public position on the issue, but growing national attention on the protests could make ignoring the water protectors increasingly difficult for the administration. The silence is all the more glaring as Biden has positioned himself as a champion of both climate action and Indigenous rights.

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

Struggling to Make a Profit, Fracking Investors are Searching for the Exit

Banks and investors have given up on the U.S. fracking industry, which is bad news for current investors who waited too long to get out.
Derricks Credit: Pay No Mind (CC BY-SA 2.0) and Going out of business sign Credit: Michael Steeber (CC BY-SA 2.0) Photos adapted by: Justin Mikulka

The outlook is increasingly bleak for oil and gas companies. The beginning of this year has seen the highest number of companies announce bankruptcy during the first quarter in five years. Eight oil and gas companies announced they were filing for bankruptcy during the first quarter of 2021.

Meanwhile, earlier this month The Financial Times noted that of 500 privately owned oil and gas companies in the U.S., 400 are losing money and unlikely to ever pay back their large debts. According to the Financial Times, the remaining companies are focused on a “last gasp” effort to look profitable to potential buyers in order to “secure a profitable exit.”

If they can’t secure a “profitable exit” that will help them pay back their debts, the most likely outcome is bankruptcy.

As Adam Waterous, head of the private equity group Waterous Energy Fund, told the Financial Times: “This business is broken. The industry is going through a multiyear process of wringing capital out of the sector, not bringing new capital in.”

Investors appear to be done with the fracking industry as they realize that the only people making money are the Wall Street banks and shale company executives. With investors losing interest in the fracking industry — and banks no longer interested in loaning money to fracking companies  —  there is a lack of new money available to prop up the struggling fracking business model.

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

Analysis: How Exxon Is Being Forced To Accept The Reality Of Bad Fossil Fuel Investments

Analysis: How Exxon Is Being Forced To Accept The Reality Of Bad Fossil Fuel Investments

ExxonMobil
Last August, ExxonMobil warned that it may need to remove 20 percent of its oil and gas proved reserves from its books. While that was a shocking number from the oil major, reality proved to be even more of a shock to the company. On February 24, Exxon reported that it would actually remove over 30 percent of its proved reserves from its books — essentially wiping out the value of its Canadian tar sands holdings from its books.

According to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), proved reserves are “the estimated quantities of crude oil, natural gas, and natural gas liquids which geological and engineering data demonstrate with reasonable certainty to be recoverable in future years from known reservoirs under existing economic and operating conditions.”

Proved reserves are the concept on which the whole oil business is based. It is a main factor in how oil and gas companies are valued and in determining how much money banks will loan companies. Much of oil and gas lending is known as reserved-based lending.

Exxon’s latest move is even more remarkable, however, because it has a reputation for being resistant to properly valuing reserves, often lagging behind the other oil major companies in making these downward adjustments.

In this case, the market — and the SEC— forced Exxon’s hand on the matter. SEC rules require that oil and gas companies value reserves based on the average price of oil from the previous 12 months.

In its latest SEC filing released this week, Exxon explains that this requirement essentially meant removing all of the value for its Canadian tar sands investments from its reserves.

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

 

Exclusive: Whistleblower Accuses Exxon of ‘Fraudulent’ Behavior for Overvaluing Fracking Assets For Years

Exclusive: Whistleblower Accuses Exxon of ‘Fraudulent’ Behavior for Overvaluing Fracking Assets For Years

ExxonMobil
ExxonMobil announced a $19.3 billion write-down on Tuesday, a big hit to a company reeling from depressed oil and gas prices and a rapidly changing global energy market.

The write-down reduces the value of the assets on Exxon’s books. The announcement comes as part of the company’s fourth quarter earnings for 2020.

The fossil fuel giant, however, may be understating the financial damage to its assets, according to a former ExxonMobil employee turned whistleblower, Franklin Bennett. The oil major has overvalued its assets for years, according to Bennett and a team of advisors, a practice he describes as “fraudulent and defiant behavior” in a January 31 supplement to a whistleblower complaint he filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Bennett and his team argue that instead, the company has been overvaluing its U.S. oil and gas assets by as much as $56 billion, as of year-end 2019.

At the root of the SEC complaint is ExxonMobil’s 2010 purchase of shale fracking company XTO Energy, which it acquired at the height of the natural gas boom for $46 billion. In the months and years following the acquisition, natural gas prices collapsed, and never returned to previous heights, rendering much of XTO’s assets uneconomic to produce.

Until now, ExxonMobil largely refused to take a meaningful write-down on those assets, despite several downturns in oil and gas market conditions. In particular, a deep natural gas price slide in 2015–2016, and another in 2019, hollowed out the valuation of many high-cost shale gas assets. Through it all, Exxon never took a significant write-down, which Bennett and his team argue is illegal.

In accounting terms, Exxon essentially told regulators that they could still get full value from the assets that they paid for in 2010, despite the deterioration in the natural gas market, claims the SEC complaint.

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

Investigation: How Pesticide Companies Are Marketing Themselves as a Solution to Climate Change

Investigation: How Pesticide Companies Are Marketing Themselves as a Solution to Climate Change

Green pesticides

This article was published as part of the launch of DeSmog’s Agribusiness Database, where you can find a record of companies and organisations’ current messaging on climate change, lobbying around climate action, and histories of climate science denial.

Like a pandemic, climate change is an inevitable threat that we must address before it is too late,” reads a June 2020 statement. “As the economy and agriculture begin to build back with the gradual easing of the COVID-19 restrictions, we need to support a recovery for farmers that puts the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss at its core.”

The speaker? Not Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Al Gore. Not, in fact, any environmentalist you might care to imagine. Instead, it was Erik Fyrwald, Chief Executive Officer of Syngenta Group — one of the world’s five largest pesticides manufacturers, a major consumer of fossil fuels, and now a company marketing its products as a solution to climate change.

Syngenta’s messaging — alongside similar campaigns from the other “big five” global pesticides producers BayerBASFCorteva and FMC — reflects a sudden transformation within the agricultural world.

After decades of denial and delay by big agribusiness, the pesticides industry now appears to have become a climate champion.

Waking up on climate change’

The pesticides market is dominated by a small handful of companies — Bayer (which acquired Monsanto in 2018), Corteva (formerly Dow and DuPont), SyngentaBASF and FMC — whose hazardous products a United Nations report said have “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health, and society as a whole” amid a global insect die-off and legal battles over carcinogenic effects of products once marketed as harmless.

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

Investigation: How Pesticide Companies Are Marketing Themselves as a Solution to Climate Change

Investigation: How Pesticide Companies Are Marketing Themselves as a Solution to Climate Change

Green pesticides

This article was published as part of the launch of DeSmog’s Agribusiness Database, where you can find a record of companies and organisations’ current messaging on climate change, lobbying around climate action, and histories of climate science denial.

Like a pandemic, climate change is an inevitable threat that we must address before it is too late,” reads a June 2020 statement. “As the economy and agriculture begin to build back with the gradual easing of the COVID-19 restrictions, we need to support a recovery for farmers that puts the fight against climate change and biodiversity loss at its core.”

The speaker? Not Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Al Gore. Not, in fact, any environmentalist you might care to imagine. Instead, it was Erik Fyrwald, Chief Executive Officer of Syngenta Group — one of the world’s five largest pesticides manufacturers, a major consumer of fossil fuels, and now a company marketing its products as a solution to climate change.

Syngenta’s messaging — alongside similar campaigns from the other “big five” global pesticides producers BayerBASFCorteva and FMC — reflects a sudden transformation within the agricultural world.

After decades of denial and delay by big agribusiness, the pesticides industry now appears to have become a climate champion.

Waking up on climate change’

The pesticides market is dominated by a small handful of companies — Bayer (which acquired Monsanto in 2018), Corteva (formerly Dow and DuPont), SyngentaBASF and FMC — whose hazardous products a United Nations report said have “catastrophic impacts on the environment, human health, and society as a whole” amid a global insect die-off and legal battles over carcinogenic effects of products once marketed as harmless.

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

Norway’s Supreme Court to Decide on Climate Lawsuit Challenging Offshore Arctic Oil Drilling

Norway’s Supreme Court to Decide on Climate Lawsuit Challenging Offshore Arctic Oil Drilling

Greenpeace protest against Norway arctic oil drilling
The Supreme Court of Norway is set to rule in a high-profile climate change lawsuit challenging the Norwegian government’s licensing of new offshore oil drilling in the fragile and rapidly warming Arctic region. The forthcoming decision from Norway’s highest court could, for the first time anywhere in the world, invalidate offshore petroleum production on climate change grounds.

Hearings before the country’s Supreme Court in the case, dubbed The People v. Arctic Oil, began on November 4 and concluded on November 12; a decision is expected within the next few months.

The fate of the climate, and millions of people across the world affected by extreme weather events, hangs in the balance of every barrel of oil we either extract, or leave in the ground. The Norwegian state has an obligation to both the Paris Agreement and the Norwegian Constitution to minimise the health and safety risks from the climate crisis on future generations,” Frode Pleym, head of Greenpeace Norway, one of the organizations challenging the oil licenses, said in a statement. “The Supreme Court now has the unique opportunity to decide over the future of new oil drilling in the middle of a climate crisis.”

Greenpeace Norway and an environmental youth-led organization called Nature and Youth (also referred to as Young Friends of the Earth Norway) sued the Norwegian government in 2016 challenging the opening of new areas of the Barents Sea to oil drilling; the hearings over the past week are the culmination of this lawsuit which has weaved its way through the courts over the past four years.

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

The US Oil and Gas Industry’s Methane Problem Is Catching up With It

The US Oil and Gas Industry’s Methane Problem Is Catching up With It

A laid-off oilfield worker's vest and gloves hang on a fence post in front of an idled pump jack in Eddy County, New Mexico
For years, the oil and gas industry has been able to downplay, or outright ignore, the problem of methane. Methane is an invisible gas, and lax state and federal regulations in the U.S. have allowed oil and gas producers to self-report how much of this potent planet-warming gas leaks from its supply chain, which researchers have repeatedly found is a lot more than the industry was admitting to.

But improved technologies, particularly from satellites, have allowed the world to increasingly fact-check industry numbers, shining a light on the true climate impact of natural gas, which is primarily methane. These days, methane emissions have become an industry black eye, to the point that major players are now clamoring for regulations after the Trump administration recently finalized the rollback of Obama-era rules meant to reduce methane leaks from oil and gas.

On August 24, the Houston Chronicle published an op-ed arguing for the United States to regulate methane emissions for the oil and gas industry, and it was co-written by two influential voices in the industry, Antoine Halff and Andrew Gould. Halff was formerly the head of oil analysis at the International Energy Agency, an independent, intergovernmental organization focused on energy research and policy — and notorious for its overly optimistic (and inaccurate) outlooks for fossil fuels and overly pessimistic views on renewables. Gould is the former CEO of Schlumberger, the world’s largest oilfield services company. Gould also currently serves on the board of Occidental Petroleum Corporation — one of the largest fracking companies among the Permian oilfields of Texas.

Halff and Gould were writing in response to the Trump administration’s repeal of existing methane regulations. However, as a sign of the changing times, they argued that regulating the greenhouse gas is simply good business for the oil and gas industry.

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

Delaware Just Sued 30 Fossil Fuel Companies and the American Petroleum Institute Over Climate ‘Denial and Disinformation’

Delaware Just Sued 30 Fossil Fuel Companies and the American Petroleum Institute Over Climate ‘Denial and Disinformation’

Flood damage from Hurricane Irene at Prime Hook National Wildlife Refuge in Delaware.

Delaware, the home state of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, announced on Thursday, September 10 that it is taking dozens of major oil and gas companies including BP, Chevron, and ExxonMobil to court over the rising costs of climate impacts such as sea level rise and coastal flooding.

Like other U.S. states and municipalities suing the fossil fuel industry, Delaware says that the industry knew half a century ago about the likely climate impacts resulting from the use of its products, but instead of warning the public or changing their business model, the fossil fuel companies engaged in campaigns to attack climate science and downplay the risks of burning coal, oil, and gas in order to stave off policy responses.

Delawareans are already paying for the malfeasance of the world’s biggest fossil fuel companies,” Attorney General Kathy Jennings said in a press release. “Exxon, Chevron, and other mega-corporations knew exactly what kind of sacrifices the world would make to support their profits, and they deceived the public for decades. Now we are staring down a crisis at our shores, and taxpayers are once again footing the bill for damage to our roads, our beaches, our environment, and our economy. We are seeking accountability from some of the world’s most powerful businesses to pay for the mess they’ve made.”

The lawsuit, filed September 10 in Delaware Superior Court, a state court, seeks monetary damages to help pay for costs the state is already incurring and that are expected to mount as climate impacts worsen.

As noted in Delaware’s complaint, the state has the lowest average elevation of any state in the country and more than 22,000 residents are currently threatened by coastal flooding.

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

Canada’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Inches Forward, But Opposition Intensifies

Canada’s Trans Mountain Pipeline Inches Forward, But Opposition Intensifies

Tiny House Warriors rally near Blue River, BC

Late one night this past April, four people on off-road vehicles drove into a small, Indigenous village near the town of Blue River in British Columbia, Canada. It was dark and the vehicles drove through deep snow, smashing through wooden signs and barriers that guarded the village of tiny houses, erected in the path of a long-distance oil pipeline that runs from Alberta to the Pacific Coast.

The attackers punched and kicked a man, shouting profanity and racial slurs. One of them stole a truck and used it to mow down a display of red dresses, hung as a memorial to missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, who are disproportionally affected by violence. The driver then crashed the truck into one of the houses.

The small houses were built by Secwepemc and Ktunaxa people, who built them to assert their rights over unceded Indigenous land, through which an expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline is slated to carry diluted tar sands oil. Members of the village believe the attack was related to their opposition to the pipeline.

Confrontation between the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and a variety of Indigenous and environmental groups is heating up, precisely because the new pipeline is now moving forward with construction after years of legal battles.

The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau purchased the Trans Mountain system from Kinder Morgan in 2018 in order to keep the expansion alive. Texas-based Kinder Morgan was about to scrap the project, but Canada bought it for C$4.5 billion and vowed to see a second, “twin,” pipeline built alongside the existing line. The expansion would triple the system’s capacity to 890,000 barrels of oil per day, allowing Alberta’s tar sands to expand to overseas markets.

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

As Trump Leaves Permian Oilfield, Industry Insiders Question If 2020 Bust Marks Texas Oil’s Last Big Boom

As Trump Leaves Permian Oilfield, Industry Insiders Question If 2020 Bust Marks Texas Oil’s Last Big Boom

Yesterday, President Trump left Midland, Texas, after arriving in the state’s Permian oilfield region for a $2,800 a plate luncheon and a “roundtable” that required each participant to pony up $100,000.

The west Texas Mr. Trump left behind bears little resemblance to the region as it was when he first took office in January 2017, as the shale rush resumed following 2016’s oil price plunge.

Today, the shale boom of the 2010’s is officially bust, battered not only by the US’s outsized failure to control COVID-19 outbreaks and an oil price war in which foreign producers proved their ability to steer oil prices, but also a wave of multi-billion dollar write-downs by oil giants — write-downs that predated both the price war and the pandemic and resulted from the industry’s perpetual struggles to generate profits from shale drilling and fracking regardless of the price of oil.

Last Friday, just 103 active drilling rigs dotted Texas, according to data from Baker Hughes. That’s down from 403 drilling rigs as 2020 began and the state’s peak this decade of 930. Just 251 active oil and gas rigs could be found across the entire United States, the lowest number recorded since Baker Hughes began tracking the rig count back in 1940.

In late February, the nighttime horizons around Midland and Odessa were still dotted with brightly burning oil well flares, dozens of flickering licks of flame that cast an uncertain light across the mesquite and cotton fields of west Texas. Mancamps and hotels already appeared partially emptied out, even while a constant flow of truck traffic streamed along the desert highways.
Empty worker housing at FTSI in Odessa, Texas. May 27, 2020. Credit: ©2020 Justin Hamel

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

Trump’s Golden Era of Energy Is Turning to Lead

Trump’s Golden Era of Energy Is Turning to Lead

 A drilling rig on a former ranch outside of Barstow, Texas, in the Permian Basin

It was just over a year ago that President Trump announced, “The golden era of American energy is now underway,” saying that his policies focused on exploiting oil, gas, and coal were “unleashing energy dominance.” 

What a difference a year makes. On July 10, the Financial Times ran an article with a headline that asked, “Is the party finally over for U.S. oil and gas?” And there is no doubt that it has been quite a party for the last decade. At least, for the fracking executives who have enriched themselves while losing hundreds of billions of dollars investors gave them to produce oil and gas. Meanwhile, profits never materialized.

Lately, prospects for the broader fossil fuel industry look more like lead than gold.

For starters, the oil and gas industry in America is facing an era of losses, bankruptcies, canceled projects, and declining demand. It is highly likely that history will show that this point in time was the beginning of the golden era of renewable energy and the decline of the fossil fuel industry. 

Fracked Shale Oil and Gas Industry Failing

President Trump’s 2016 campaign was backed heavily by the oil and gas industry, with strong support from fracking CEOs like Continental Resources’ Harold Hamm. The story of record American oil production due to fracking was even being touted by President Obama, who rightfully took credit for the fracking boom that occurred on his watch. That’s despite President Trump recently taking credit for it as well. 

But as we have documented over the last two years at DeSmog, the fracked oil industry has been a financial failure for more than the past decade. The industry produced record amounts of oil and gas but lost huge sums of money in the process. And now even industry leaders are admitting the U.S. oil industry has already peaked, a little more than a year after President Trump declared the beginning of the “golden era.” 

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

Bankers and Investors Finding Fracking Industry’s Underlying Models Prove Overly Optimistic

Bankers and Investors Finding Fracking Industry’s Underlying Models Prove Overly Optimistic

Dozens of drilling rigs are stacked at the Patterson-UTI yard in Midland, Texas after the oil price went negative on April 20, 2020. Midland, Texas. May 27, 2020.

Warren Buffet has a famous quote about investing: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” 

When it comes to his $10 billion investment in Occidental Petroleum, Buffett will need to take that one to heart now that other investors have sued Occidental for the merger financed in part by Buffet’s stake, alleging that the amount of debt required for Occidental to merge with Anadarko left the company “precariously exposed” if oil prices went lower. They cited the billions that Buffett invested in the deal as compounding this risk. 

The fracking industry doesn’t care that you’re a world-famous investment sage: It destroys all capital. 

Even in 2019, when Buffett was investing in Occidental, we knew that the fracking industry had been losing hundreds of billions of dollars the past decade. However, with the industry’s staggering debt load, lack of ability to continue borrowing, and drops in oil demand due to the pandemic, the tide is now truly going out to reveal the fracking industry’s failing financial performance. That receding cover has also revealed that the industry has broken one of the most basic tenets of financing for oil and gas production: reserve based lending. 

Reserve based lending involves a firm estimating how much oil it has in the ground, and then assigning those reserves a value based on the most recent price of oil. A bank then lends the company money based on a percentage of this value. For lenders this has historically been a low-risk arrangement, because if a firm defaults on the loan, the bank can simply take possession of its oil field. So it has long been among the most reliable methods for smaller oil and gas companies to get financing. 

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

DC Is the Latest to Sue Exxon and Big Oil for Climate Disinformation Campaigns

DC Is the Latest to Sue Exxon and Big Oil for Climate Disinformation Campaigns

DC Attorney General Karl Racine

Washington, D.C. is suing the four largest investor-owned oil and gas companies — BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell — for allegedly misleading consumers about climate change, including historically undermining climate science and even now using deceptive advertising about the companies’ role in leading solutions to the climate crisis.

District of Columbia Attorney General Karl A. Racine announced the consumer fraud lawsuit on Thursday, June 25. The lawsuit claims that the four oil majors violated the District’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act by engaging in misleading acts and practices around the marketing, promotion, and sale of fossil fuel products, which produce globe-warming pollution. The D.C. lawsuit alleges that these companies knew since at least the 1950s about the harmful consequences of burning fossil fuels and that they engaged in a campaign to deceive the public about those risks.

“For decades, these oil and gas companies spent millions to mislead consumers and discredit climate science in pursuit of profits,” said Attorney General Racine. “The defendants violated the District’s consumer protection law by concealing the fact that using fossil fuels threatens the health of District residents and the environment. [The Office of Attorney General] filed this suit to end these disinformation campaigns and to hold these companies accountable for their deceptive practices.”

In particular, the D.C. Attorney General’s Office called out the oil industry’s use of fake grassroots groups, such as the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, which started out as a front group for tobacco giant Philip Morris in 1993. This group had transitioned to become the Advancement of Sound Science Center in 1997 and was run out of the home of climate science denier Steve Milloy, who most recently worked in public relations for coal company Murray Energy.  The group has now been phased out of existence.

…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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