Archive for category Fracking

What Happens When Fracking Hits the Suburbs | Alternet

What Happens When Fracking Hits the Suburbs

Residents of Gardendale, a suburb near the hub of the west Texas oil industry, face having up to 300 wells in their backyards.

January 2, 2013 


Photo Credit: Pincasso/

The corner of Goldenrod and Western streets, with its grid of modest homes, could be almost any suburb that went up in a hurry – except of course for the giant screeching oil rig tearing up the earth and making the pavement shudder underfoot.

Fracking, the technology that opened up America’s vast deposits of unconventional oil and gas, has moved beyond remote locations and landed at the front door, with oil operations now planned or under way in suburbs, mid-sized towns and large metropolitan areas.

Some cities have moved to limit fracking or ban it outright – even in the heart of oil and gas country. Tulsa, Oklahoma, which once billed itself as the oil capital of the world, banned fracking inside city limits. The authorities in Dallas last week blocked what would have been the first natural gas well in town. The town of Longmont, just outside Denver, meanwhile, is fighting off attempts by industry groups to overturn a fracking ban.

But Gardendale, a suburb of 1,500 people near the hub of the west Texas oil industry, exists in a legal and political environment in which there are seemingly few restrictions on fracking, even inside city limits. For residents here, fracking is part of daily life.

“You can hear it, you can smell it, and you are always breathing it. It’s just like being behind a car exhaust,” said Debbie Leverett, during a tour of the area last October organised by the Society of Environmental Journalists. “All of your senses change.”

Over the last few years oil companies have drilled 51 wells in Gardendale, an area that covers about 11 square miles – and that’s just the start.

Berry Petroleum, the main oil developer, plans to drill as many as 300 wells in Gardendale. “Berry’s current plan is to drill approximately 140 wells on 40-acre spacing in and around the Gardendale area,” Jeff Coyle, a company spokesman, wrote in an email. “Additionally, we are preparing to conduct a pilot study on 20-acre spacing and, if those test results are encouraging and economic conditions warrant, we may drill up to 160 additional wells.”

Some of those wells will be drilled within 150ft of residents’ front doors – far closer than in other towns in Texas.

In the nearby city of Midland, the oil industry hub and childhood home of George W Bush, the city council capped the number of wells inside city limits at 30. The town requires oil companies to stay 500ft away from buildings and homes. In some circumstances oil companies may be required to landscape around a well.

“People are still not really happy when an oil well turns up in the backyard,” said Wes Perry, Midland’s mayor and an oil man himself. But he added: “We are an oil town. We can’t be hypocrites.”

However, Gardendale lacks the legal authority to keep fracking at a distance. The suburb, just outside Midland and Odessa, is unincorporated, so it does not have the legal authority to impose zoning restrictions. Residents voted down an attempt to incorporate last year, fearing it would lead to higher taxes.

Berry argues the close proximity serves to encourage industry and residents to co-exist. “What we have here is a situation where we have to find the best way to work together, where mineral rights owners and surface rights owners can co-exist,” Coyle said.

But co-existence does not work for Shane Leverett, Debbie’s husband. Leverett has worked in the oil industry, but he said the drilling plan for Gardendale was excessive. “This is a fantastic opportunity for oil and gas development, but it is coming at the expense of all of us,” he said.

The couple are suing the oil company to try to block drilling on their 130 acres on the edge of town. The land is staked with bright plastic strips marking potential oil wells.

Current plans call for seven wells on the property. “They’re talking about a well every 600 feet and a pad every 300 feet,” Shane Leverett said. “Do the math. There’s not much room left over for us.”

The suit seeks to challenge a pillar of Texas law: that property owners have no control over the extraction of the oil that lies beneath their land, unless they also own mineral rights. The Leveretts only own the surface rights to their land. The mineral rights were sold off decades ago – a fact the Leveretts were aware of when they bought their property, but they did not think there was a real prospect of drilling at the time.

Fracking changed that, however, making it profitable to drill on the Leveretts’ land.

“This case is of historic importance,” said Steve Hershberger, the Leveretts’ lawyer. “Now that the oil companies have found oil and gas through fracking and horizontal drilling they are going into residential areas and urban areas. This case is going to define the relationship between mineral owners and surface owners in a big way.”

The oil company argues the Leveretts got what they paid for. “Essentially, each Gardendale surface owner bought his or her surface property (at a discounted price without the minerals) betting, wrongfully as it turned out, on the proposition that oil and gas development would not occur in the area,” Coyle said.

Other residents complain the oil company dictates what property owners can do above ground, even without definitive drilling plans.

Hector Rodriguez said he was barred from expanding his trailer home or putting in a bigger dog house on his six acres because the oil company insisted on protecting access.

“They told me they might not ever drill there, but they put the stake there just in case,” he said. “They told me I could not do anything there. I have no rights.”

Coyle said the company believes the Rodriguez property sits atop a potential oil well – although it is not currently scheduled for drilling.

Rodriguez, back at home, is unimpressed. “We’re just talking about a dog house,” he said. “I should be able to decide about that.”

 What Happens When Fracking Hits the Suburbs | Alternet.


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Nation’s energy transportation getting a revamp – Houston Chronicle

Nation’s energy transportation getting a revamp

By Simone Sebastian
Updated 01:34 a.m., Monday, July 2, 2012


Union Pacific is upgrading Houston's huge Englewood Yard. The company has added 785 Texas employees this year, largely to respond to the booming Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas. Photo: Nick De La Torre / © 2012  Houston Chronicle

Union Pacific is upgrading Houston’s huge Englewood Yard. The company has added 785 Texas employees this year, largely to respond to the booming Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas.

 Photo: Nick De La Torre / © 2012 Houston Chronicle


The nation’s energy transportation network is undergoing a multibillion-dollar overhaul, as oil and natural gas production surges in new regions of the country.

Across North America, pipelines and rail terminals are being built in areas where wells were once scarce. Companies are reversing pipe flows and adding stronger pumps to funnel more crude through their lines.

The changes are transforming the web that carries energy across the country.

“Where it used to be isn’t where it is now. Where it needs to go isn’t where it used to go,” said Terrance McGill, president of fuel carrier Enbridge Energy. “You’re seeing this fundamental shift of crude oil across the country.”

Historically, fossil fuels flowed north, from oil fields in Texas toward the nation’s big cities. But energy producers have charged into new areas with technology that can reach oil and natural gas trapped in shale and other tight rock formations.

Pipelines haven’t moved as quickly as drilling rigs, leaving pools of crude and gas stranded far from the Gulf Coast refineries and petrochemical plants that need them.

Now companies charged with moving those fuels are rushing to catch up. Pipeline company Enbridge Energy, a subsidiary of Canada’s Enbridge, made about $2.5 billion in capital expenditures and investments in 2011. This year, it expects to reach $3.6 billion, largely through investments in pipelines carrying liquid petroleum.

Houston-based fuel transport corporation Enterprise Products Partners has more than doubled its annual capital spending from $1.7 billion in 2009 to a projected $3.8 billion this year, according to financial statements. Plains All American Pipeline grew its capital expenditures and acquisition investments from about $770 million in 2009 to nearly $2 billion last year.

“We’re in a renaissance of pipeline construction,” said Andy Black, president and CEO of theAssociation of Oil Pipe Lines. “There is new North American supply in areas that don’t have a matching amount of pipeline takeaway capacity. So there’s a great demand for transportation of crude and natural gas.”

Pipeline shortages have created wide pricing gaps for petroleum products across regions. Coastal refiners are forced to buy higher-priced imported crude because of limited modes for carrying cheaper domestic oil from the Midwest. As a result, drivers in the center of the country fill their tanks for as much as a dollar per gallon less than those on the coasts.

Adding by acquisition

Besides construction, major pipeline companies also have expanded their reach with pricey acquisitions. Last year, pipeline king Kinder Morgan shelled out $21 billion to absorb competitor El Paso in one of the largest business deals of the year. In April, Dallas-based natural gas haulerEnergy Transfer Partners announced it would buy Sunoco and its network for $5.3 billion.

“Over $200 billion of midstream infrastructure is going to be needed in the next few years to handle North America, including that coming out of Canada,” said Roger Ihne, a portfolio leader in the energy practice for consulting firm Deloitte. “The whole dynamic and economics of established pipelines are changing.”

Still, the nation’s web of pipes isn’t keeping up with the billions of barrels pumped from the ground each year. It can take years for a pipeline to go from concept to construction. It can require many permits and lengthy negotiations with landowners and environmentalists.

And that is prompting more energy companies to move their loads by rail.

Phillips 66 is considering buying 2,000 more rail cars, CEO Greg Garland said recently. He pinned the refining company’s profit growth to its ability to access North America’s burgeoning crude production.

The new cars would allow Phillips 66, which can refine about 2.2 million barrels of crude per day, to carry an additional 150,000 barrels a day from shale regions to its refineries across the country.

“That’s a pipeline on wheels,” Garland said during an energy conference in June. “It can shift as the opportunity shifts around the country.”

Enbridge is building a rail system in North Dakota to move about 80,000 barrels per day. Already, the company has expanded the capacity of its North Dakota pipeline system to 210,000 barrels per day, compared with 30,000 barrels in the late 1990s, said Mark Maki, president of Enbridge Energy Management.

Bigger rail loads

Railroads are responding to the demand. Loads coming in and out of shale regions have grown 400 percent since 2009 for Union Pacific, one of the largest railroads in North America, spokeswoman Raquel Espinoza said.

The company has added 785 Texas employees this year, largely to respond to the booming Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas. And it is funneling millions to expand rail terminals in oil-pumping regions.

In West Texas, Union Pacific is investing more than $68 million to add tracks and expand rail yards servicing the oil-rich Permian Basin, Espinoza said. Near the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, the company has reopened a dormant rail yard that was being used for storage.

In a report last month, RBC Capital Markets analysts noted that rail shipments of petroleum products have jumped 36 percent nationwide compared with last year.

Some drawbacks

But carrying crude by rail has drawbacks, including potential for spills. Further, compared to pipelines, hauling on tracks often takes longer and costs more, Enbridge’s McGill said.

“You can do rail for a while. You can do trucks for a very little bit,” McGill said. “But at the end of the day, pipelines are going to be your most cost-effective, safest, most reliable way of transportation.”

 Nation’s energy transportation getting a revamp – Houston Chronicle.

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Study: Airborne methane plume found near Bradford County gas migration site – News – The Times-Tribune


Study: Airborne methane plume found near Bradford County gas migration site


Published: June 27, 2012

Photo: N/A, License: N/A, Created: 2010:05:17 11:51:05

Marcellus Shale

Complete coverage of natural gas drilling in Northeast Pennsylvania including recently updated searchable database of natural gas drilling leases for Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wyoming Counties


·         Study: Airborne methane plume found near Bradford County gas migration site

·         Woman sues gas company for father’s death

·         Royalty tax withholding proposal gets low marks from gas leaseholders’ group

·         Local companies drill into natural gas industry

·         Montrose Hospital closing in on construction funding goals

·         Chesapeake Energy replaces controversial chairman

·         N.J. OKs bill banning waste from hydraulic fracturing

·         Local officials say they’ve been kept in the dark about spills

Methane seeping up underground pathways caused concentrated plumes of gas in the air in Bradford County where the state and a natural gas drilling company are investigating the cause of stray methane bubbling in streams and water wells, according to a study released Tuesday by the Clean Air Council.

The 3½-hour survey conducted for the environmental organization by Gas Safety Inc. in Leroy Twp. on June 8 found average ground-level methane concentrations in a roughly 2-square-mile area at nearly twice normal background levels for the region’s air.

The methane concentration in the air spiked to 22 parts per million – more than 10 times the highest background level of 1.95 parts per million – during a roadside survey north of Route 414 and Rockwell Road. The concentration and size of the plume “clearly indicate that one or more methane emissions were present and releasing substantial amounts of methane into the atmosphere,” according to the report. The scientists ruled out nearby farm or other natural sources of so-called biogenic methane, like animal manure, and found no elevated levels downwind of a nearby Chesapeake Energy natural gas well pad that might have indicated leaking from above-ground infrastructure at the site.

Much higher

The methane levels were much higher than amounts that naturally seep through the earth or that are caused by the breakdown of biological material in wetlands, the researchers said.

“The amount of methane that had to come out at that point to generate that plume, that’s a lot of methane,” said Bryce Payne, Ph.D., the report’s author and an environmental scientist at Gas Safety Inc. “The preponderance of evidence here is that this is a nonbiogenic source.”

The researchers were limited to surveys along public roads and on a few properties where landowners gave them permission to take air samples and so could not track the precise emissions points for the gas.

The average concentration of methane found in the air during the sampling would not pose a health risk but it is a notable source of a greenhouse gas, Dr. Payne said. The highest concentration of gas nearest to the points where it is escaping from the ground could potentially pose an explosion risk, he said.

Methane bubbling in water wells and creeks outside the airborne plume but close to it also indicate the spread of methane is greater underground than above ground in the area, the study found.

“The underground extent of methane contamination is significantly greater than the plume we identified,” Dr. Payne said.

The state and Chesapeake have been investigating the source of methane in at least three water wells, two streams and a wetland in the same area of Leroy Twp. since May 19, when residents reported changes in their water. Two Chesapeake natural gas wells on a pad a half-mile from the affected water wells are being investigated as a potential source of the stray gas.

Cause not determined

The state has not determined the cause of the methane, which is found naturally in some water wells in the state and has also been tracked to faulty cemented barriers in natural gas wells in Bradford, Susquehanna and other regional counties.

Methane bubbling in one tributary to Towanda Creek unsettled the rocky streambed and turned it the consistency of pudding. As of the end of May, three water wells had been vented and the homes were provided with water treatment units or replacement bulk water and methane monitoring alarms. A fourth home was provided bottled water as a precaution.

A Department of Environmental Protection spokesman said the agency received the Clean Air Council report on Tuesday afternoon and would have to review it before commenting. Oil and gas enforcement staff were out of the regional office on business and were not available to provide an update on the status of the state’s investigation, he said.

A Chesapeake Energy spokesman also said the company has not had an opportunity to review the report and could not comment on it on Tuesday.

The report indicated that the well water at five homes in the study area are now “supersaturated” with methane, meaning the amount of gas is too high to be contained in the water and begins to escape to the atmosphere.

The researchers also observed bubbling in the main stem of Towanda Creek, apparently along a fault line, and measured high levels of methane just above the soil along its banks.

 Study: Airborne methane plume found near Bradford County gas migration site – News – The Times-Tribune.

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