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Legal Case: White House Argues Against Considering Climate Change on Energy Projects

9:20 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The White House

The White House

Just over a month before the United Nations convenes on September 23 in New York City to discuss climate change and activists gather for a week of action, the Obama White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) argued it does not have to offer guidance to federal agencies it coordinates with to consider climate change impacts for energy decisions.

It came just a few weeks before a leaked draft copy of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest assessment said climate disruption could cause “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems.”

Initially filed as a February 2008 petition to CEQ by the International Center for Technology Assessment, the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) when George W. Bush still served as President, it had been stalled for years.

Six and a half years later and another term into the Obama Administration, however, things have finally moved forward. Or backwards, depending on who you ask.

NEPA and CEQ

The initial February 2008 legal petition issued by the plaintiffs was rather simple: the White House’s Council for Environmental Quality (CEQ) should provide guidance to federal agencies it coordinates with to weigh climate change impacts when utilizing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) on energy policy decisions.

A legal process completely skirted in recent prominent tar sands pipeline cases by both TransCanada and Enbridge, NEPA is referred to by legal scholars as the “Magna Carta” of environmental law.

CEQ oversees major tenets of environmental, energy and climate policy. It often serves as the final arbiter on many major legislative pushes proposed by Congress and federal agencies much in the same way the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) does for regulatory policy.

In February 2010, Obama’s CEQ showed signs it would utilize NEPA in its policy decision-making process with regards to climate change, issuing a “Draft Guidance for Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Change Impacts” and opening up a 90-day public comment period. Read the rest of this entry →

Obama Opened Floodgates for Offshore Fracking in Recent Gulf of Mexico Lease

12:22 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

An offshore oil platform glows in the dark

Is widespread offshore fracking in America’s future?

In little-noticed news arising out of a recent Gulf of Mexico offshore oil and gas lease held by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the floodgates have opened for Gulf offshore hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

With 21.6 million acres auctioned off by the Obama Administration and 433,822 acres receiving bids, some press accounts have declared BP America — of 2010 Gulf of Mexico offshore oil spill infamy — a big winner of the auction. If true, fracking and the oil and gas services companies who perform it like Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger came in a close second.

On the day of the sale held at the Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana, an Associated Press article explained that many of the purchased blocks sit in the Lower Tertiary basin, coined the “final frontier of oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico” by industry analysts.

“The Lower Tertiary is an ancient layer of the earth’s crust made of dense rock,”explained AP. ”To access the mineral resources trapped within it, hydraulic fracturing activity is projected to grow in the western Gulf of Mexico by more than 10 percent this year, according to Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc., which operates about a third of the world’s offshore fracking rigs.”

Unlike other Gulf oil and gas, Lower Tertiary crude is located in ultra-deepwater reservoirs, industry lingo for oil and gas located 5,000 feet — roughly a mile — or deeper under the ocean.

Just over a week before the lease, the Mexican government passed energy reform legislation that will prop open the barn door for international oil and gas companies to sign joint ventures with state-owned oil company Pemex, including in Mexico’s portion of the Gulf of Mexico.

Baker Hughes Fracks the Tertiary

The May edition of World Oil explains that Baker Hughes has lead the way in technology innovation to tap into Lower Tertiary oil and gas, described as existing within “harsh HPHT conditions,” or high pressure, high temperature conditions.

Using offshore fracking techniques, Baker Hughes has aided Petrobas in developing a test well in the Cascade offshore field. The company believes the recent Gulf acreage sale by the Obama Administration will serve as a boon for further offshore fracking in the months and years to come.

“We expect that there will be more offshore stimulation in coming years,” Douglas Stephens, president of pressure pumping at Baker Hughes, told the AP in the lease’s aftermath.

Baker Hughes maintains roughly one-third of the world’s offshore fracking operations.

Fracking as “Next Frontier for Offshore Drilling”

Two weeks before the lease, Bloomberg published an article declaring that fracking could serve as the “next frontier for offshore drilling.” That next frontier will come at a steep cost: $100 million spent per well, according to Bloomberg.

Even Halliburton, key innovator of onshore fracking technology and the force behind the “Halliburton Loophole” within the Energy Policy Act of 2005, admits offshore fracking is risky business.

“It’s the most challenging, harshest environment that we’ll be working in,” Ron Dusterhoft, an engineer at Halliburton, told Bloomberg. “You just can’t afford hiccups.”

The article further explained that the oil industry at-large, and not just Baker Hughes and its fellow oil services companies, stand to win big from the push to frack the Gulf of Mexico.

“Those expensive drilling projects are a boon for oil service providers such as Halliburton, Baker Hughes Inc. and Superior Energy Services Inc. Schlumberger Ltd., which provides offshore fracking gear for markets outside the U.S. Gulf, also stands to get new work,” Bloomberg reported.

“And producers such as Chevron Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc and BP Plc may reap billions of dollars in extra revenue over time as fracking helps boost crude output.”

According to lease statistics made public by BOEM, 42 of the 81 blocks of oil and gas auctioned off on August 20 sit in water depths of over 1600 meters (roughly a mile, or 5,280 feet).

“All of the Above”

BOEM press release declared the Gulf lease falls under the broad umbrella of President Obama’s “all of the above” energy policy, which critics point to as a form of climate change denial.

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BP’s Lake Michigan Spill: Did Tar Sands Spill into the Great Lake?

11:16 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

Is it conventional crude or tar sands? That is the question. And it’s one with high stakes, to boot.

The BP Whiting refinery in Indiana spilled between 470 and 1228 gallons of oil (or is it tar sands?) into Lake Michigan on March 24 and four days later no one really knows for sure what type of crude it was. Most signs, however, point to tar sands.

The low-hanging fruit: the refinery was recently retooled as part of its “modernization project,” which will “provide Whiting with the capability of processing up to about 85% heavy crude, versus about 20% today.”

As Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) Midwest Program Director Henry Henderson explained in a 2010 article, “heavy crude [is] code for tar sands.”

Albeit, “heavy crude” is produced in places other than Alberta’s tar sands, with Venezuela serving as the world’s other tar sands-producing epicenter. So, in theory, if it’s heavy crude that spilled into Lake Michigan, it could be from Venezuela.

But in practice, the facts on the ground tell a different story. As a January 2014 article in Bloomberg outlined, the combination of the U.S. hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom and the Canadian tar sands boom has brought U.S. imports of Venezuelan oil to 28-year lows.

Which brings us to the next question: how does the Canadian “heavy crude” get to BP’s Whiting refinery to begin with? Enter: Enbridge’s Line 6A pipeline.

Alberta Clipper/Line 6A

Dan Goldblatt, a spokesman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, told DeSmogBlog he wasn’t sure what type of oil was spilled into Lake Michigan from the BP Whiting refinery  — which goes back to why it’s just being referred to as “oil” at this point by officials.

Goldblatt said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be looking into it as part of its investigation.

“Right now they’re more focused on recovery than on what type of oil it is,” Goldblatt said. “That’s a little further down the line.”

When asked about which pipeline feeds the BP Whiting refinery beast, Goldblatt told DeSmogBlog it’s Enbridge’s Line 6A pipeline.

Part of Enbridge’s “Lakehead System,” Line 6A stretches from Superior, Wis., to Enbridge’s Griffith/Hartsdale holding terminal in northwest Indiana.

“Lakehead System serves all the major refining centers in the Great Lakes … through its connection with the affiliated Canadian pipeline,” explains Enbridge’s Lakehead System website. “Total deliveries on the Lakehead System averaged 1.65 million [barrels per day] in 2009, meeting approximately … 70 percent of the refinery capacity in the greater Chicago area.”

Enbridge’s Line 67 (AKA Alberta Clipper) pipeline serves as the corridor between Alberta’s tar sands and Line 6A. Alberta Clipper currently awaits a capacity expansion permit from the U.S. State Department, which it applied for in November 2012 and needs because it’s a U.S.-Canada border-crossing line.

It was originally approved by President Barack Obama’s State Department in August 2009.

If approved, Line 67′s expansion would morph it from a 450,000 barrels per day pipeline to a 570,000 barrels per day pipeline. Its “full design capacity is 880,000 [barrels per day] of heavy crude oil,” (emphasis mine) according to theexpansion application it submitted to the State Department.

Hydrocarbon Technologies, which offers “market insight tools covering all segments of the global hydrocarbons market,” also points to the ties that bind Alberta’s tar sands, Enbridge’s Line 6A and the BP Whiting refinery.

“Once the modernisation project is complete, BP aims to increase the use of Canadian crude from oil sands via the Enbridge [Line 6A] pipeline, which runs from Alberta to Illinois,” explains Hydrocarbon Technologies.

In 2010, Line 6A spilled in a major way in Romeoville, Ill., with 6,050 barrels of oil escaping. An account in oil and gas industry trade publication PennEnergy explains the pipeline was carrying “heavy crude oil.”

“When the leak occurred, the Line 6A was transporting approximately 459,000 barrels per day of heavy crude oil,” the reporter detailed.

The “Dilbit Disaster” Connection

Line 6A is connected to the 2010 spill of over 843,000 gallons of tar sands into the Kalamazoo River, a Lake Michigan tributary. Literally.

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