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August 07 2012

11:48

Near Injection Wells, Many Quakes Go Unfelt

Examining earthquakes in the Barnett Shale from November 2009 to September 2011, a researcher identifies nearly eight times more quakes than had been reported, with the epicenters within two miles of drilling wells.

July 27 2012

10:30

Exposed: Pennsylvania Act 13 Overturned by Supreme Court, Originally an ALEC Model Bill

On July 26, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled PA Act 13 unconstitutional. The bill would have stripped away local zoning laws, eliminated the legal concept of a Home Rule Charter, limited private property rights, and in the process, completely disempowered town, city, municipal and county governments, particularly when it comes to shale gas development.

The Court ruled that Act 13 "…violates substantive due process because it does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm, alters the character of neighborhoods and makes irrational classifications – irrational because it requires municipalities to allow all zones, drilling operations and impoundments, gas compressor stations, storage and use of explosives in all zoning districts, and applies industrial criteria to restrictions on height of structures, screening and fencing, lighting and noise."

Act 13 — pejoratively referred to as "the Nation's Worst Corporate Giveaway" by AlterNet reporter Steven Rosenfeld — would have ended local democracy as we know it in Pennsylvania.

"It’s absolutely crushing of local self-government," Ben Price, project director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), told Rosenfeld. "It’s a complete capitulation of the rights of the people and their right to self-government. They are handing it over to the industry to let them govern us. It is the corporate state. That is how we look at it."

Where could the idea for such a bill come from in the first place? Rosenfeld pointed to the oil and gas industry in his piece.

That's half of the answer. Pennsylvania is the epicenter of the ongoing fracking boom in the United States, and by and large, is a state seemingly bought off by the oil and gas industry.

The other half of the question left unanswered, though, is who do oil and gas industry lobbyists feed anti-democratic, state-level legislation to?

The answer, in a word: ALEC.

PA Act 13, Originally an ALEC Model Bill 

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is in the midst of hosting its 39th Annual Meeting this week in Salt Lake City, Utah. ALEC is appropriately described as an ideologically conservative, Republican Party-centric "corporate bill mill" by the Center for Media and Democracy, the overseer of the ALEC Exposed project. 98 percent of ALEC's funding comes from corporations, according to CMD**.

ALEC's meetings bring together corporate lobbyists and state legislators to schmooze, and then vote on what it calls "model bills." Lobbyists have a "voice and a vote in shaping policy," CMD explains. They have de facto veto power over whether their prospective bills become "models" that will be distributed to the offices of politicians in statehouses nationwide.

A close examination suggests that an ALEC model bill is quite similar to the recently overturned Act 13. 

It is likely modeled after and inspired by an ALEC bill titled, "An Act Granting the Authority of Rural Counties to Transition to Decentralized Land Use Regulation." This Act was passed by ALEC's Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force at its Annual Meeting in August 2010 in San Diego, CA

The model bill opens by saying that "…the planning and zoning authority granted to rural counties may encourage land use regulation which is overly centralized, intrusive and politicized." The model bill's central purpose is to "grant rural counties the legal authority to abandon their planning and zoning authority in order to transition to decentralized land use regulation…"

The key legal substance of the bill reads, "The local law shall require the county to repeal or modify any land use restriction stemming from the county’s exercise of its planning or zoning authority, which prohibits or conditionally restricts the peaceful or highest and best uses of private property…"

In short, like Act 13, this ALEC model bill turns local democractic protections on their head. Act 13, to be fair, is a far meatier bill, running 174 pages in length. What likely happened: Pennsylvania legislators and the oil and gas industry lobbyists they serve took the key concepts found in ALEC's bill, ran with them, and made an even more extreme and specific piece of legislation to strip away Pennsylvania citizens' rights.

There were many shale gas industry lobbyists and those affiliated with like-minded think-tanks in the house for the Dec. 2010 San Diego Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force Meeting where this prospective ALEC model bill became an official ALEC model bill. They included Daren Bakst of the John Locke Foundation (heavily funded by the Kochs), Russel Harding of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (also heavily funded by the Koch Family Fortune), Kathleen Hartnett White of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (again, heavily funded by the Kochs), Mike McGraw of Occidental Petroleum, and Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center (a think tank that sits under the umbrella of the Koch Foundation-funded State Policy Network).

A Model That's Been Passed and Proposed Elsewhere

The Act Granting the Authority of Rural Counties to Transition to Decentralized Land Use Regulation model bill has made a tour to statehouses nationwide, popping up in Ohio, Idaho, Colorado, and Texas. The model passed in some states, while failing to pass in others.

Here is a rundown of similar bills that DeSmogBlog has identified so far:

Ohio HB 278

Long before the ALEC model bill was enacted in 2010, Ohio passed a similar bill in 2004, HB 278, which gives exclusive well-permitting, zoning, and regulatory authority to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Ohio is home to the Utica Shale basin.

Mirroring ALEC's model, HB 278 gives the "…Division of Mineral Resources Management in the Department of Natural Resources…exclusive authority to regulate the permitting, location, and spacing of oil and gas wells in the state.."

Could it be that the ALEC model bill was actually inspired by HB 278? It's very possible, based on recent history.

As was the case with ALEC's hydraulic fracturing chemical fluid "disclosure" model bill (actually rife with loopholes ensuring chemicals will never be disclosed), ALEC adopted legislation passed in the Texas state legislature as its own at its December 2011 conference.

Idaho HB 464 

Idaho's House of Representatives passed HB 464 in February 2012 in a 54-13-3 roll call vote. A month later, the bill passed in the Senate in a 24-10-1 roll call vote. Days later, Republican Gov. Butch Otter signed the bill into law.

Key language from HB 464 reads

It is declared to be in the public interest…to provide for uniformity and consistency in the regulation of the production of oil and gas throughout the state of Idaho…[,] to authorize and to provide for the operations and development of oil and gas properties in such a manner that a greater ultimate recovery of oil and gas may be obtained.  (Snip)

It is the intent of the legislature to occupy the field of the regulation of oil and gas exploration and production with the limited exception of the exercise of planning and zoning authority granted cities and counties…

The Democratic Party State Senate Minority Office was outraged about the bill's passage. 

"[HB] 464 establishes Idaho law governing oil and gas exploration and development including limits to local control over the location of wells, drilling processes, water rights and the injection of waste materials into the ground," reads a press release by the Idaho State Senate Minority Office. "[HB 464] preempts local land-use planning statute dating back to 1975. Counties will have little input in the permitting process whereby well sites are selected (or restricted) and no role in planning and zoning."

Sound familiar? Like PA Act 13 and the ALEC model? It should.

Full-scale fracking has yet to take place in Idaho, though the race is on, with Idahoans signing more and more leases with each passing day. Thanks to gas industry lobbyists' use of ALEC's model bill process, the industry will have far fewer hurdles to clear in the state when the race begins. 

Colorado SB 88

The Demoratic Party-controlled Colorado State Senate struck down an ALEC copycat bill, SB 88, in February 2012.

The Bill Summary portion of SB 88 explains the bill concisely, mirroring, once again, PA Act 13 and the ALEC Model Bill: "…the Colorado oil and gas conservation commission has exclusive jurisdiction to regulate oil and gas operations, and local regulation of oil and gas operations is preempted by state law."

Colorado sits atop the Niobrara Shale basin. Like Pennsylvania, it has seen many cities successfully move to ban fracking, making the goal of a bill of this nature all the more obvious.

From Colorado Springs to Boulder County, cities and counties across Colorado have passed measures against fracking,” Sam Schabacker of Food and Water Watch told the Colorado Independent at the time SB 88 was struck down. “This bill is an attempt by the oil and gas industry to strip local governments of what little power they have to protect their citizens and water resources from the harms posed by fracking.” 

Far from a completed debate, as covered in a June 2012 follow-up story by the Colorado Independent, things are just getting underway on this one in The Centennial State.  

I don’t know where it goes from here. I suspect there is a happy medium and there is a compromise that can be reached,” Democratic Party State Senate President Brandon Shaffer told the Independent. “I also suspect next year additional legislation will come forward on both sides of the spectrum. Ultimately I think the determination will be made based on the composition of each of the chambers. If the Democrats are in control of the House and Senate, there will be more emphasis on local control.”  

Former Sen. Mike Kopp (R) was one of the public sector attendees at the Dec. 2010 Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force Meeting where the ALEC model bill passed. 

Texas HB 3105 and SB 875

In May 2011, TX SB 875 passed almost unanimously. The bill essentially calls for the elimination, in one fell swoop, of the common law of private nuisance in Texas.

SB 875's key operative paragraph explains,

[Entities] subject to an administrative, civil, or criminal action brought under this chapter for nuisance or trespass arising from greenhouse gas emissions [have] an affirmative defense to that action if the person's actions that resulted in the alleged nuisance or trespass were authorized by a rule, permit, order, license, certificate, registration, approval, or other form of authorization issued by the commission or the federal government or an agency of the federal government…

Texas — home to the Barnett Shale basin and the Eagle Ford Shale basin — played a dirty trick here, but what else would one expect from the government of a Petro State?

The ALEC model bill calls for a transition from centralized power by local governments to individual property rights under the common law of private nuisance, a civil suit that allows those whose private property has been damaged to file a legal complaint with proper authorities. Now, under the dictates of SB 875, even these rights have been eviscerated.

Perhaps Texas exemplifies a realization of the oil and gas industries' ideal world: legal rights for no one except themselves.

"This [bill allows] the willful trespass onto private property of chemicals and or nuisances, thus destroying the peaceful enjoyment of private property, which someone may have put their life savings into," Calvin Tillman, former Mayor of Dish, Texas and one of the stars of Josh Fox's Academy Award-nominated documentary film, "Gasland," wrote in a letter. "Therefore, private citizens would have no protection for their private property if this amendment was added."

HB 3105's key language, meanwhile, makes the following illicit (emphases mine): 

the adoption or issuance of an ordinance, rule, regulatory requirement, resolution, policy, guideline, or similar measure…by a municipality that..has effect in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the municipality, excluding annexation, and that enacts or enforces an ordinance, rule, regulation, or plan that does not impose identical requirements or restrictions in the entire extraterritorial jurisdiction of the municipality…or damages, destroys, impairs, or prohibits development of a mineral interest

This bill, unlike SB 875, never passed, though if it did, it would do basically the same thing as PA Act 13 and the ALEC model. If it ever does pass, however, it would mean that Texans would have literally no legal standing to sue the oil and gas industry for wrongdoing in their state.

ALEC's Bifurcated Attack: Erode Local Democracy, Strip Federal Regs,

Coming full circle, though PA Act 13 was struck down, for now, as constitutional, that doesn't necessarily mean ALEC copycat versions like it won't start popping up in other statehouses nationwide. 

Sleep on this for awhile. There's more to come.

Part two of DeSmog's investigation on ALEC's dirty energy agenda will show that, along with pushing for the erosion of local democracy as we know it today, ALEC has also succeeded in promulgating legislation that would eliminate Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions - another Big Business giveaway of epic proportions.

If anything is clear, it's this: statehouses have become a favorite clearinghouse for polluters to install the "Corporate Playbook" in place of democracy.

Stay tuned for Part Two of DeSmog's investigation, coming soon.

(**Full Disclosure: Steve Horn is a former employee of CMD and worked on the ALEC Exposed project)

Image Credit: Center for Media and Democracy | ALEC Exposed

April 03 2012

12:59

The Farce Of The "Golden Age Of Gas"

Oil and gas industry insiders revealed earlier this year the high probability that we're headed into a shale gas bubble. But that's not what the industry's CEOs and PR departments want you to hear.

"The reality of at least 100 years’ worth of shale gas abundance has been supported by virtually every credible third-party expert…The collective market cap of these energy leaders approaches $2 trillion – ask yourself: do I believe Rolling Stone and Arthur Berman or the world’s biggest and most successful energy companies?"

So spouts off Chesapeake Energy in a press release earlier this month responding to a Rolling Stone article which likened fracking to a huge industry Ponzi scheme. Arthur Berman is an energy consultant based in Houston, and not swayed by the industry's vibrant plumage they are putting on display to the nation.

The energy companies want the public to believe in the "Golden Age of Gas"- as it has been dubbed- where the supplies are bountiful and the profits are high. While it's true that there have been economic booms in some areas that have gas reserves, the numbers are showing that these booms will not be long lived. Meanwhile, the falling price of gas along with the inherent public health risks and environmental devastation that comes along with it makes the gas rush less profitable in the long run. But the gas industry wouldn't have you believe that.

read more

November 18 2011

13:15

ExxonMobil and Shell Eyeing North American LNG Export Deals

Yesterday, LNG World News reported that ExxonMobil Vice President Andrew Swiger announced, at a conference hosted by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, that it was actively seeking LNG (liquefied natural gas) export terminals throughout North America, including, but not limited to, in British Columbia and on the Gulf Coast.

In terms of exports from North America, whether it is the Gulf Coast or whether it is Western Canada, it’s something we’re actively looking at,” said Swiger.

So, where are these prospective export terminals located, what are the key pipelines carrying the unconventional gas produced from shale basins, and what are the key shale basins in the mix? Hold tight for an explanation.

Golden Pass LNG Terminal and Golden Pass Pipeline

The LNG World News article explains that ExxonMobil "has a stake in the Golden Pass LNG Terminal in Texas," but does not explain exactly what the "stake" is.

A bit of research shows that ExxonMobil is a 17.6% stakeholder in the Golden Pass LNG Terminal, according to a March 2011 article publshed by Platts. It is co-owned by ConocoPhillips and Qatar Petroleum, who own a 12.4% and 70% stake in Golden Pass LNG, respectively.

Golden Pass LNG is stationed in Sabine Pass, TX, located on the Gulf Coast on the Texas-Louisiana border, which is in close proximity to Cheniere's Sabine Pass LNG export terminal, a terminal which has been written about in-depth by DeSmogBlog.

As of now, Golden Pass is an import terminal, and "is among the largest LNG import facilities worldwide, with the capacity to import 15.6 million metric tons of LNG annually," explains LNG World News. But many import facilities have turned into export facilities, including the Jordan Cove LNG terminal in Coos Bay, Oregon, the Dominion Cove LNG terminal in Lusby, Maryland, and Kitimat LNG terminal in Kitimat, British Columbia. Gas corporations often execute the bait-and-switch, transforming what were originally import terminals into export terminals.

If history repeats itself, which is highly likely based on this latest report from LNG World News, then the Golden Pass LNG Terminal could soon be transformed into an export terminal, making it export terminal number two in Sabine Pass.

It appears for now that the gas would come from the shale basins surrounding Sabine Pass, meaning the Barnett Shale, the Eagle Ford Shale, the Haynesville Shale, and the Fayetteville Shale, and flow out these respective shale basins via an extensive pipeline system, to the key Golden Pass and Sabine Pass hubs. 

For example, Golden Pass also owns Golden Pass Pipeline, which runs from the Haynesville Shale down to the Golden Pass LNG terminal.

Horn River Basin Shale and Pacific Trail Pipelines

LNG World News' article also mentions that ExxonMobil "has 340,000 shale gas acres in Western Canada’s Horn River Basin." The Horn River Shale Basin is located in northeastern British Columbia and sits on 250 trillion cubic feet of unconventional gas, producred through the toxic hydraulic fracturing, or fracking process. 

Assuming ExxonMobil holds true to the pronouncement made by Swiger, much of the gas produced in the Horn River Basin will flow westward to Kitimat LNG export terminal, which ships gas to the Asian market. 

One of these facilities is co-owned by EOG Resources (EOG), EnCana Corporation (EnCana), and Apache Corporation (Apache). In October 2011, Canada’s National Energy Board, the Canadian equivalent to the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, granted Kitimat LNG a 20-year Export Licence to serve international markets. The Pacific Trail Pipelines connect the Horn River Basin to the Kitimat LNG facility and are also co-owned by EOG, EnCana, and Apache. 

Another key LNG export terminal in the works will be co-owned by Shell, Korea Gas Corporation, China National Petroleum Corporation, and Mitsubishi Corporation.

The Globe and Mail explained the looming deal, writing

Shell is examining plans for a 3.6 billion cubic feet a day project, which would be among the largest under consideration in the world…Kitimat LNG intends to build a 700-million cubic foot facility first, at a cost greater than $5-billion, but has received an export licence that allows it to double that. The partnership intends to make a final investment decision early next year, but is already spending several hundred million dollars to terrace the sloped site of the intended terminal, the first step in construction.

A pipeline arrangement paralleling the EOG, EnCana, Apache agreement will likely follow the Shell export deal announcement, carrying gas fracked from the Horn River Shale Basin to Kitimat, in order to be exported, in the form of LNG, to the profitable Asian market. 

North American Export Market a Huge Racket

As is now perfectly clear and has been made clear by DeSmogBlog on multiple occasions, not only is the unconventional gas industry unconcerned with the "domestic consumption" of gas for "national security" purposes, but perhaps even more importantly, two of the largest fossil fuel corporations in the world, Shell and ExxonMobil, are now in the fray of the export game.

Deals of this nature will likely proliferate as time progresses, with what has been coined the "one-percent" by the Occupy Wall Street movement, standing with the most to gain from them.

March 23 2011

11:45

Texas Commission Defies EPA and Sides with Gas Company Accused of Water Contamination

The Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) voted unanimously on Monday to give the proverbial middle finger to the Environmental Protection Agency. 

The Railroad Commission, the oil and gas regulator for the state of Texas, sided today with a gas industry giant, Range Resources, over a case of drinking water contamination due to an invasive gas drilling process, hydraulic fracturing. The process was made exempt, due to something known as the Halliburton Loophole, from the obligations of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) after the 2005 Energy Policy Act granted exceptional status to the practice when used for oil and gas drilling. This exemption has hindered the EPA from fully investigating the dangers of hydraulic fracturing and adequately responding to complaints of drinking water contamination.

But when EPA investigations discovered that hydraulic fracturing in the Barnett Shale area of Texas had caused or contributed to drinking water contamination in Parker County, they decided to get heavy handed. The contamination of two private water wells with cancer-causing benzene and explosive methane was enough for the EPA to invoke the SDWA and issue an Imminent and Substantial Endangerment Order to protect the area’s drinking water.<!--break-->

Superseding the authority of the state Commission, on December 7, 2010, the EPA issued the emergency order compelling Range Resources to supply clean drinking water to two families and monitor their homes for methane. In confined spaces, methane can act as an asphyxiant, leading to brain damage or death, and is tremendously explosive.

Both Range Resource and the Commission argue that the contamination originated naturally from the Strawn formation, a shallow bed of underlying rock. The company’s drilling, they say, occurs thousands of feet down, far from the aquifer supplying the homeowner’s water wells.

However, isotopic analyses of the contaminated water suggest that the contamination is related to the nearby drilling. Range Resources, which denied both the accusation and refused to comply with the EPA’s order, was drilling within 30 miles of Forth Worth, the area containing the water wells. Although complaints of water contamination have grown rampant in other states, this is the first official case brought against the gas industry in Texas. The Commission ruled 3-0 in favor of Range Resources, with chairwoman Elizabeth Jones adding that operations “have not and will not contaminate” the homeowners’ water.

This decision lifts the EPA’s order placed on Range Resources, meaning they will not have to deliver potable water, monitor for methane, or conduct further investigations into the cause of the contamination.

State Commissioner Michael Williams told the Associated Press that he sees the EPA’s involvement as a “cavalier attempt by the federal government to reach its arms into our state’s jurisdiction” which he says will “adversely affect the domestic energy industry.” Commissioner Williams will leave his post in April to run as a Republican for the U.S. Senate. 

Sharon Wilson, Texas organizer for Earthwork’s Oil and Gas Accountability Project, told DeSmogBlog yesterday “the EPA seems to be putting the burden of proof back on the industry where it belongs instead of the private citizen. This is an important and necessary step to protect citizens.”

Wilson, who lives atop the Barnett Shale in Texas, says that even if people could afford to test their water, there are still barriers that prevent adequate testing, like chemical disclosure. 

“I know people who have spent tens of thousands on testing, trying to keep their families safe and determine what is in their water. I also know people who can’t afford to test. It’s hard to determine what is in the water or how it got contaminated without knowing what chemicals industry is using. It’s not possible to test for every known chemical.”

The secrecy of chemical components used in hydraulic fracturing operations, like the ones performed by Range Resources, is at present federally condoned. Without federally mandated disclosure there is little to ensure the full public awareness needed to protect affected homeowners. 

The EPA requested a federal court to intervene in January and is still awaiting a court date. According to a reported statement, the EPA “stands by the order issued to Range Resources and seeks to secure Range’s full compliance.” Despite the strong ruling handed down by the state Commission, the EPA is taking an even stronger stance against the decision. The state decision is “not supported by the EPA’s independent, scientific investigation, which concluded that Range Resources Corporation and Range Production Company have contributed to the contamination of homeowner’s drinking water wells” the EPA continued in that statement.

The EPA has also accused the Railroad Commission of failing to adequately respond to the initial complaints over the water contamination. The citizen, ignored by the state, eventually turned to the EPA for help. The EPA, however, failed themselves to properly conduct a full investigation, leaving essential studies unperformed and instead asking Range to conduct them.

Range Resources used this against the EPA, responding to the contamination charge by asking EPA officials to identify the specific pathway the contamination took underground. These types of investigations are burdensome to perform because the underground migration of methane or other contaminants is a notoriously difficult thing to determine. In this specific case, the EPA did not conduct a study to determine the migration pathway the contaminants took, and instead ordered Range to “conduct a study to determine if the exact pathway and cause could be defined.” 

In a recent deposition, EPA official John Belvins said the EPA “doesn’t believe that we need to do the work” because they can legally “ask a company…we believe may have cause or contributed [to water contamination] to do the work, to collect the date, and that’s what we’ve done.”

If the tide of water contamination is to ebb, however, we need a stronger force of oversight, monitoring and enforcement than the EPA has been able to muster. In order for this to happen, federal agencies will need the Congressional backing capable of overturning exemptions and reinstating EPA authority.

According to Wilson, the Texas Sunset Advisory Committee recommends that the Railroad Commission be replaced with a more effective group. “Some people call them industry lap dogs,” she says. “I’ve always called them paid protectors of industry because the commissioners receive huge campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry. I don’t think they even pretend to protect the public or our vital natural resources. Their interest is in promoting Texas energy.”

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