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Keystone XL Fork in the Road: TransCanada’s Houston Lateral Pipeline

1:49 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Houston Refinery at night

The southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline is scheduled to bring oil & tarsands to Houston’s refineries starting in January.

Only Barack Obama knows the fate of the northern half of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  But in the meantime, TransCanada is preparing the southern half of the line to open forcommercial operations on January 22.

And there’s a fork in that half of the pipeline that’s largely flown under the radar: TransCanada’s Houston Lateral Pipeline, which serves as a literal fork in the road of the southern half of Keystone XL’s route to Gulf Coast refineries.

Rebranded the “Gulf Coast Pipeline” by TransCanada, the 485-mile southern halfof Keystone XL brings a blend of Alberta’s tar sands crude, along with oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin, to refineries in Port Arthur, Texas. This area has been coined a “sacrifice zone” by investigative journalist Ted Genoways, describing the impacts on local communities as the tar sands crude is refined mainly for export markets.

But not all tar sands and fracked oil roads lead to Port Arthur. That’s where the Houston Lateral comes into play. A pipeline oriented westward from Liberty County, TX rather than eastward to Port Arthur, Houston Lateral ushers crude oil to Houston’s refinery row.

“The 48-mile (77-kilometre) Houston Lateral Project is an additional project under development to transport oil to refineries in the Houston, TX marketplace,” TransCanada’s website explains. “Upon completion, the Gulf Coast Project and the Houston Lateral Project will become an integrated component of the Keystone Pipeline System.”

Boon for Houston’s Refinery Row

Houston’s LyondellBasell refinery is retooling itself for the looming feast of tar sands crude and fracked oil bounty that awaits from the Houston Lateral’s completion.

“The company is spending $50 million to nearly triple its capacity to run heavy Canadian crude at the Houston refinery, to 175,000 bpd from 60,000 bpd,”explained a March article in Reuters.

LyondellBasell admits TransCanada’s Houston Lateral project is a lifeline ensuring its Houston refinery remains a profitable asset.

“Over time, heavy Canadian oil is going to be extremely important to this refinery,” the company’s spokesman David Harpole said in a February interview with Bloomberg. “It’s not all getting down there today but as time goes on, that will become more and more powerful to an asset like we have.”

But LyondellBasell’s not the only company with skin in the game. Valero — whose refining capacity is currently overflowing with fracked Eagle Ford shale oil — is also considering expanding its capacity to refine more tar sands crude.

Not “What If,” But “Right Now”

A financially lucrative asset to refining companies like LyondellBasell and Valero, Houston’s refineries are an issue of life or death for those living within the vicinity.

“In a December 2010 report, the Sierra Club linked tar sands refinery emissions to prenatal brain damage, asthma and emphysema,” a March Huffington Post article explained. “A recent Houston-area study found a 56 percent increased risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia among children living within two miles of the Houston Ship Channel, compared with children living more than 10 miles from the channel.”

Like Port Arthur, Houston — the headquarters for some of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world — is a major “sacrifice zone” for front-line communities, with many people suffering health impacts from the city’s four petrochemical refineries.

“Much of the debate around the Keystone XL pipeline has focused on the dangers of extracting and transporting the tar sands,” DeSmogBlog contributor Caroline Selle wrote in a May 2013 article. “Left out, however, are those in the United States who are guaranteed to feel the impacts of increased tar sands usage. Spill or no spill, anyone living near a tar sands refinery will bear the burden of the refining process.”

With Keystone XL’s southern half currently being injected with oil and with TransCanada counting down the weeks until it opens for commercial operations, those living in front-line refinery neighborhoods face a daunting “survival of the fittest” task ahead.

“With toxic chemical exposure nearly certain, it is unclear what the next step will be for residents [living in refinery neighborhoods],” Selle wrote in her May article. “[T]his is a life or death struggle more immediate than the ‘what-if’ of a pipeline spill. And it’s not a ‘what-if, [but rather] the fight is ‘right now.’”

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New “Frackademia” Report Co-Written by “Converted Climate Skeptic” Richard Muller

11:46 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

MyFDL Editor’s Note: Read more about the Muellers on Firedoglake.

Richard Muller in class

The conservative UK-based Centre for Policy Studies recently published a study on the climate change impacts of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for shale gas. The skinny: it’s yet another case study of “frackademia,” and the co-authors have a financial stake in the upstart Chinese fracking industry.

Titled “Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favour Fracking“ and co-authored by Richard Muller and his daughter Elizabeth “Liz” Muller, it concludes that fracking’s climate change impacts are benign, dismissing many scientific studies coming to contrary conclusions.

In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Richard Muller — a self-proclaimed “converted skeptic” on climate change — said he and Liz had originally thought of putting together this study “about two years ago.”

“We quickly realized that natural gas could be a very big player,” he said. “The reasons had to do with China and the goal of the paper is to get the environmentalists to recognize that they need to support responsible fracking.”

The ongoing debate over fracking in the UK served as the impetus behind the Centre for Policy Studies — a non-profit co-founded by former right-wing British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in 1974 — hosting this report on its website, according to Richard Muller.

“They asked for it because some environmentalists are currently opposing fracking in the UK, and they wanted us to share our perspective that fracking is not only essential for human health but its support can be justified for humanitarian purposes,” he said.

This isn’t the first time Liz Muller has unapologetically sung the praises of fracking and promoted bringing the practice to China. In April, she penned an op-ed in The New York Times titled, “China Must Exploit Its Shale Gas.”

The Mullers co-head the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST), a non-profit that at one time received funding from the Koch brothers. BEST published a study in 2011 affirming that climate change is real and caused by humans.

There is an important detail buried on the last page of the Centre for Policy Studies report: Liz Muller’s position as founder and Managing Director of the China Shale Fund. One copy of the study is even published on the China Shale Fund’s website.

EDF Study, “FrackNation,” PM2.5

In their paper, the Mullers rely heavily on the recent University of Texas-Austin fracking climate change study published in October in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund. DeSmogBlog characterized that study as another example of “frackademia,” science funded by Big Oil with accompanying results favoring the industry’s bottom line.

The Mullers’ report also cites the Koch Brothers-funded documentary “FrackNation” to dispute the veracity of fracking causing water contamination.

They also juxtapose the PM (particulate matter) 2.5-emitting Chinese coal industry (named such because the PM is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter) with a powerful source of energy they claim does not emit PM2.5: shale gas. They do so both in the report itself and in an accompanying YouTube video.

Unmentioned is the fact that fracking has all kinds of accompanying air quality issues of its own, documented comprehensively in Earthworks’ recent report, “Reckless Endangerment While Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale.”

Also unmentioned is the issue of frac sand mining — the fine-grained cyrstaline sillica sand shot down a well to facilitate fracking - which emits immense amounts of PM2.5.

“We were not trying to make a comprehensive review of the subject. Our goal was to alert people to the fact that shale gas, if responsibly developed, can mitigate both air pollution and global warming,” Richard Muller told DeSmogBlog when asked why frac sand went undiscussed in his study. “There is nothing intrinsic about the mining of sand that means it cannot be responsibly extracted.”

China Shale Fund

Though the title of the report says nothing about China, “China” and/or “Chinese” appears 58 times in the report. BEST is also currently a partner of the non-profit organization Future 500, teaming up to bolster China’s rising tiger shale gas industry.

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Obama Approves Major Border-Crossing Fracked Gas Pipeline Used to Dilute Tar Sands

8:39 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Kinder Morgan logo

Kinder Magic?

Although TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has received the lion’s share of media attention, another key border-crossing pipeline benefitting tar sands producers was approved on November 19 by the U.S. State Department.

Enter Cochin, Kinder Morgan’s 1,900-mile proposed pipeline to transport gas produced via the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) of the Eagle Ford Shale basin in Texas north through Kankakee, Illinois, and eventually into Alberta, Canada, the home of the tar sands.

Like Keystone XL, the pipeline proposal requires U.S. State Department approval because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border. Unlike Keystone XL – which would carry diluted tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) south to the Gulf Coast – Kinder Morgan’s Cochin pipeline would carry the gas condensate (diluent) used to dilute the bitumen north to the tar sands.

“The decision allows Kinder Morgan Cochin LLC to proceed with a $260 million plan to reverse and expand an existing pipeline to carry an initial 95,000 barrels a day of condensate,” the Financial Post wrote.

“The extra-thick oil is typically cut with 30% condensate so it can move in pipelines. By 2035, producers could require 893,000 barrels a day of the ultra-light oil, with imports making up 786,000 barrels of the total.”

Increased demand for diluent among Alberta’s tar sands producers has created a growing market for U.S. producers of natural gas liquids, particularly for fracked gas producers.

“Total US natural gasoline exports reached a record volume of 179,000 barrels per day in February as Canada’s thirst for oil sand diluent ramped up,”explained a May 2013 article appearing in Platts. ”US natural gasoline production is forecast to increase to roughly 450,000 b/d by 2020.”

Before Eagle Ford, Kinder Morgan Targeted Marcellus

Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale basin was Kinder Morgan’s first choice pick for sourcing tar sands diluent for export to Alberta. It wasn’t until that plan failed that the Eagle Ford Shale basin in Texas became Plan B.

Known then as the Kinder Morgan Cochin Marcellus Lateral Project proposal, the project fell by the wayside in February 2012.

“The company’s Cochin Marcellus Lateral Pipeline would have started in Marshall County, West Virginia, and transported natural gas liquids from the Marcellus producing region of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio,” wrote the Mount Vernon News of the canned project. [It] would [then] carry the [natural gas] liquids to processing plants and other petrochemical facilities in Illinois and Canada.”

“Kinder Magic”: More to Come?

Industry market trends publication RBN Energy described Kinder Morgan’s dominance of the tar sands diluent market as “Kinder Magic” in a January 2013 article.

“These are still early days for the developing condensate business in the Gulf Coast region,” RBN Energy’s Sandy Fielden wrote. “Plains All American and Kinder Morgan are developing the potential to deliver at least 170,000 barrels per day of Eagle Ford condensate as diluent to the Canadian tar sand fields in Alberta by the middle of 2014.”

Fielden explained we could see many more of these projects arise in the coming years.

“We have a sense that before too long there will be many more condensate infrastructure projects showing up like ‘magic’ in midstream company presentations.”

While the industry press coverage sounds optimistic, it doesn’t account for the concurrent rise of public opposition to dirty energy pipelines and expansion plans in the fracking and tar sands arenas, so only time will tell the fate of Cochin and its kin.

Interview: Energy Investor Bill Powers Discusses Looming Shale Gas Bubble

1:43 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Cold Hungry and in the Dark cover

Bill Powers latest book looks at the mythology of the natural gas industry.

On Sat., April 27, I met up with energy investor Bill Powers at Prairie Moon Restaurant in Evanston, IL for a mid-afternoon lunch to discuss his forthcoming book set to hit bookstores on June 18.

The book’s title – Cold, Hungry and in the Dark: Exploding the Natural Gas Supply Myth - pokes fun at the statement made by former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon at the 2011 Shale Gas Insight conference in Philadelphia, PA.

“What a glorious vision of the future: It’s cold, it’s dark and we’re all hungry,” Powers said in response to the fact that there were activists outside of the city’s convention center. ”I have no interest in turning the clock back to the dark ages like our opponents do.”

What Powers unpacks in his book, though, is that McClendon and his fellow “shale promoters,” as he puts it in his book, aren’t quite as “visionary” as they would lead us all to believe.

Indeed, the well production data that Powers picked through on a state-by-state basis demonstrates a “drilling treadmill.” That means each time an area is fracked, after the frackers find the “sweet spot,” that area yields diminishing returns on gas production on a monthly and annual basis.

It’s an argument regular readers of DeSmogBlog are familiar with because of our recent coverage of the Post Carbon Institute‘s “Drill Baby, Drill” report by J. David Hughes.

Powers posits this could lead to a domestic gas crisis akin to the one faced in the 1970′s.

We discuss these issues and far more in the interview below.

SH: Tell me more about the premise of your book, why you wrote it, and what you think some of the biggest findings were from your book.

BP: What I really take a look at and show is that shale gas, while it’s an important resource, it’s importance has been vastly over-stated. We do not have a 100-year supply of shale gas.

The increasing demand, which has been brought about by the low prices of the last few years, is going to lead to another 1970’s-style gas crisis. That will happen sometime between 2013 and 2015. We are seeing gas – while there’s been a lot of promotion of the 100-year supply myth – the facts simply just do not support it. That’s the premise of the book.

SH: Why and how is gas such an important resource in the US to begin with that a crisis akin to that which happened in the 1970′s could happen here again?

BP: Well, the US produces over 60 billion cubic feet per day, which is the energy equivalent of 10 million barrels of oil per day.

We’ve already seen a major move away from coal-fired power plants towards increased reliance on gas, we’re seeing legislation come in such as MATS that would be implemented by 2015 and would shut down many coal-fired power plants. We’re seeing increased consumption not just from the electrical power industry but also from the industrial sector. We’re seeing a big fertilizer plant being built in Iowa right now that will consume huge amounts of natural gas. We’re seeing a pick-up of natural gas consumption in manufacturing after more than a decade of decline, and we’ve seen an increasing number of homes in the U.S. that are heated by natural gas.

SH: Increasingly so because of the increase in gas power plants and the switch-over, right?

BP: We’ve seen more homes in the Northeast switch away from heating oil to gas and we’ve seen many homes for decades in the Midwest heated with gas, so that is something that I think is going to have a very big impact on the rise of gas prices and a very big impact on a lot of Americans. That’s going to lead to higher electricity prices, higher home heating costs, as well as higher food costs, because the natural gas component of fertilizer is so significant.

SH: Do you think that there will be a switch back to coal then because of the gas crisis? Or is it a broader problem than just a simple switch-over?

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Shale Gas Bubble About to Burst: Art Berman, Bill Powers

4:55 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Food and Water Watch recently demonstrated that the dominant narrative, “100 years” of unconventional oil and gas in the United States, is false. At most, some 50 years of this dirty energy resource may exist beneath our feet.

Bill Powers, editor of Powers Energy Investor, has a new book set for publication in May 2013 titled, “Cold, Hungry and in the Dark: Exploding the Natural Gas Supply Myth.”

Powers’ book will reveal that production rates in all of the shale basins are far lower than the oil and gas industry is claiming and are actually in alarmingly steep decline. In short, the “shale gas bubble” is about to burst.

In a recent interview, Powers said the “bubble” will end up looking a lot like the housing bubble that burst in 2008-2009, and that U.S. shale gas will last no longer than ten years. He told The Energy Report:

My thesis is that the importance of shale gas has been grossly overstated; the U.S. has nowhere close to a 100-year supply. This myth has been perpetuated by self-interested industry, media and politicians…In the book, I take a very hard look at the facts. And I conclude that the U.S. has between a five- to seven-year supply of shale gas, and not 100 years.

The hotly-anticipated book may explain why shale gas industry giants like Chesapeake Energy have behaved more like real estate companies, making more money flipping over land leases than they do producing actual gas.

Powers told The Energy Report:

Put simply: There is production decline in the Haynesville and Barnett shales. Output is declining in the Woodford Shale in Oklahoma. Some of the older shale plays, such as the Fayetteville Shale, are starting to roll over. As these shale plays reverse direction and the Marcellus Shale slows down its production growth, overall U.S. production will fall.

Powers believes we are quickly approaching a gas crisis akin to what occured in the 1970′s and because of that, prices will soon skyrocket.

Art Berman Also Sounds the “Shale Gas Bubble” Alarm

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