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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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ALEC’s Fracking Chemical Disclosure Bill Moving Through Florida Legislature

2:16 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog 

A sticker of the Monopoly game's mascot, Uncle Moneybags, labelled ALEC

ALEC is polluting environmental law in Florida.

The American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) model bill for disclosure of chemicals injected into the ground during the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process is back for a sequel in the Sunshine State legislature.

ALEC’s model bill was proposed by ExxonMobil at its December 2011 meeting and is modeled after a bill that passed in Texas’ legislature in spring 2011, as revealed in anApril 2012 New York Times investigative piece. ALEC critics refer to the pro-business organization as a “corporate bill mill” lending corporate lobbyists a “voice and a vote” on model legislation often becoming state law.

The bill currently up for debate at the subcommittee level in the Florida House of Representatives was originally proposed a year ago (as HB 743) in February 2013 and passed in a 92-19 vote, but never received a Senate vote. This time around the block (like last time except for the bill number), Florida’s proposed legislation is titled the Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act (HB 71), introduced by Republican Rep. Ray Rodrigues. It is attached to a key companion bill: Public Records/Fracturing Chemical Usage Disclosure Act (HB 157).

HB 71 passed on a party-line 8-4 vote in the Florida House’s Agriculture and Environment Subcommittee on January 14, as did HB 157. The next hurdle the bills have to clear: HB 71 awaits a hearing in the Agriculture and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee and HB 157 awaits one in the Government Operations Subcommittee.

Taken together, the two bills are clones of ALEC’s ExxonMobil-endorsed Disclosure of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition Act. That model — like HB 71 — creates a centralized database for fracking chemical fluid disclosure. There’s a kicker, though. Actually, two.

First kicker: the industry-created and industry-owned disclosure database itself —FracFocus — has been deemed a failure by multiple legislators and by an April 2013 Harvard University Law School study. Second kicker: ALEC’s model bill, like HB 157, has a trade secrets exemption for chemicals deemed proprietary.

First “Halliburton Loophole,” then “ExxonMobil Loophole”

Back when the ALEC model bill was debated in the Texas legislature in spring 2011 (and before it was endorsed by ExxonMobil and eventually adopted as a model by ALEC), the bill was touted as an antidote to the lack of transparency provided at the federal level on fracking chemicals by both industry and environmental groups, such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Texas League of Conservation Voters (LCV).

“[T]his is proof positive that the public, environmental groups, and the state’s energy industry can work together to ensure the health and safety of Texans,” the Texas LCV said in May 2011.

Rep. Rodrigues said he was impressed by these dynamics when researching the bill online in comments provided by email to DeSmogBlog.

“I was pleased to see the Environmental community and the Energy community jointly draft this legislation,” he said.

The lack of federal level transparency is mandated by law via the Energy Policy Act of 2005, as outlined in a sub-section of the bill best known as the “Halliburton Loophole.”

The “Halliburton Loophole” — named such because Halliburton is an oil services company that provides fracking services and because when it was written, the company’s former CEO, Dick Cheney, was vice president of the United States and oversaw the industry-friendly Energy Task Force — gives the oil and gas industry a free pass on fracking chemical disclosure, deeming the chemicals injected into the ground during the process a trade secret.

Yet, far from an antidote to the “Halliburton Loophole,” a new loophole has been created in its stead at the state level — the “ExxonMobil Loophole” — which now has the backing of ALEC. The results haven’t been pretty.

An August 2012 Bloomberg News investigation revealed FracFocus merely offers the façade of disclosure, or a “fig leaf” of it, as U.S. Rep. Diane DiGette (D-CO) put it in the piece.

“Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year,” wrote Bloomberg. “The gaps reveal shortcomings in the voluntary approach to transparency on the site.”

As we reported on DeSmogBlog in December 2012, FracFocus is a public relations front for the oil and gas industry:

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“Frackademia” By Law: Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 Exposed

3:41 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

With the school year starting for many this week, it’s another year of academia for professors across the United States — and another year of “frackademia” for an increasingly large swath of “frackademics” under federal law.

“Frackademia” is best defined as flawed but seemingly legitimate science and economic studies on the controversial oil and gas horizontal drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), but done with industry funding and/or industry-tied academics (“frackademics”).

While the “frackademia” phenomenon has received much media coverage, a critical piece missing from the discussion is the role played by Section 999 of the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Although merely ten pages out of the massive 551-page bill, Section 999 created the U.S. Department of Energy-run Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA), a “non-profit corporation formed by a consortium of premier U.S. energy research universities, industry and independent research organizations.”

Under the Energy Policy Act of 2005, RPSEA receives $1 billion of funding – $100 million per year – between 2007 and 2016. On top of that, Section 999 creates an “Oil and Gas Lease Income” fund “from any Federal royalties, rents, and bonuses derived from Federal onshore and offshore oil and gas leases.” The federal government put $50 million in the latter pot to get the ball rolling.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005′s ”Halliburton Loophole” — which created an enforcement exemption from the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act for fracking, and made the chemicals found within fracking fluid a “trade secret” — is by far the bill’s most notorious legacy for close followers of fracking.

These provisions were helped along by then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Policy Task Force, which entailed countless meetings between Big Oil lobbyists and executives and members of President George W. Bush’s cabinet. Together, these lobbyists and appointees hammered out the details behind closed doors of what became the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a bill receiving a “yes” vote by then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Meanwhile, almost no focus – comparatively speaking – has gone into scrutinizing Section 999, which subsidizes biased pro-industry studies for a decade and in turn, further legitimizes unfettered fracking nationwide.

Speaking at an industry public relations conference in Houston, TX in 2011 - the same conference in which it was revealed the shale gas industry is using psychological warfare tactics on U.S. citizens and recommending the military’s “Counterinsurgency Field Manual” for “dealing with an insurgency” of Americans concerned about fracking – S. Dennis Holbrook of Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York stated that it’s crucial for industry to “seek out academic studies and champion with universities—because that again provides tremendous credibility to the overall process.”

Section 999: In Service to Big Oil

RPSEA’s “FAQ” section makes its raison d’être crystal clear.

“The objective of RPSEA is to leverage research dollars along with the technical expertise and experience of RPSEA Members to conduct industry led research and development work to help commercialize domestic…Unconventional Onshore Hydrocarbon Resources,” RPSEA’s website explains. “RPSEA will focus on innovative technologies to reduce the costs of production, expand and extend the nation’s hydrocarbon resource base…” Read the rest of this entry →