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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.

Read the rest of this entry →

Frackademia: The People & Money Behind the EDF Methane Emissions Study

3:57 pm in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted on DeSmogBlog

Norman Hackerman Building, University of Texas

The long-awaited Environmental Defense Fund (EDF)-sponsored hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) fugitive methane emissions study is finally out. Unfortunately, it’s another case of “frackademia” or industry-funded ‘science’ dressed up to look like objective academic analysis.

If reliable, the study — published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and titled, “Measurements of methane emissions at natural gas production sites in the United States” — would have severely reduced concerns about methane emissions from fracked gas.

The report concludes .42% of fracked gas — based on samples taken from 190 production sites — is emitted into the air at the well pad. This is a full 2%-4% lower than well pad emissions estimated by Cornell University professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea in their ground-breaking April 2011 study now simply known as the “Cornell Study.”

A peek behind the curtain show the study’s results — described as “unprecedented” by EDF – may have something to do with the broad spectrum of industry-friendly backers of the report which include several major oil and gas companies, individuals and foundations fully committed to promoting the production and use of fracked gas in the U.S.

One of the report’s co-authors currently works as a consultant for the oil and gas industry, while another formerly worked as a petroleum engineer before entering academia.

The study will likely be paraded as “definitive” by Big Oil, its front groups and the media in the days and weeks to come.

DeSmogBlog exclusive investigation reveals the study actually stands to make its pro-gas funders a fortune in what amounts to industry-favorable data meant to justify shale gas in the public mind as a “bridge fuel” — EDF’s stance on gas — now and into the future.

Cornell’s Howarth Reacts

Howarth has issued a press statement unpacking the long-anticipated study, beginning by explaining a key caveat (emphases mine).

“First, this study is based only on evaluation of sites and times chosen by industry,” Howarth stated.

“The Environmental Defense Fund over the past year has repeatedly stated that only by working with industry could they and the Allen et al. team have access necessary to make their measurements. So this study must be viewed as a best-case scenario.”

Howarth next explains industry cooperation – while a nice sales pitch – isn’t necessary to “get the goods.” Read the rest of this entry →

“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 →

State Dept. Keystone XL Contractor Also OK’d Explosive, Faulty Peruvian Pipeline Project

8:08 am in Uncategorized by Steve Horn

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Macchu Pichu

The same consulting firm responsible for evaluating the Tar Sands Pipeline also worked on a troubled Peruvian project.

Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the State Department consulting firm that claims TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline proposal is safe and sound, previously provided a similarly rosy approval for the expansion of a Peruvian natural gas project that has since racked up a disastrous track record.

On March 1, the U.S. State Department declared KXL’s proposed northern half environmentally safe and sound in its draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS), part of TransCanada’s Presidential Permit application for the proposed tar sands pipeline.

KXL is a 1,179-mile tube set to blast 800,000 barrels of tar sands crude a day – also known as diluted bitumen or “dilbit” - from Alberta down to Port Arthur, TX. After it reaches Port Arthur, the crude will be sold to the highest bidder on the global export market. “XL” is shorthand for “expansion line,” named such because it would expand the marketability of tar sands crude to foreign buyers.

Because the Obama State Dept. has the final say on the project due to its crossing the Canada-U.S. border, clearing State’s EIS hurdle was crucial for TransCanada. Just days later, though, watchdogs revealed that State had outsourced the EIS out to oil and gas industry-tied consulting firms hand-picked by TransCanada itself.

One of those firms – Environmental Resources Management (ERM) Group - has historical ties to Big Tobacco; published a study declaring “safe” a Caspian Sea pipeline that ended up spilling 70,000 barrels of oil; and has a client list that includes Koch Industries, ConocoPhilips and ExxonMobil – corporations all with skin in the tar sands game. ExxonMobil’s Pegasus Pipeline recently spilled 189,000 gallons of tar sands crude into a Mayflower, Arkansas neighborhood.

An examination into the historical annals shows that ERM Group also green-lighted a major pipeline and liquefied natural gas (LNG) expansion project akin to KXL in Peru. The project in a nutshell: a 253-mile-long, 34-inch pipeline carries gas obtained from Peru’s Camisea field - located partly in the Amazon rainforest with the pipeline snaking through the Andes Mountains - to Peru’s west coast. From there, it’s exported primarily to the U.S. and Mexico.Camisea – described by Amazon Watch as the “most damaging project in the Amazon Basin“ - has created a whole host of problems. These include displacing indigenous people, clear-cutting forests that serve as a key global carbon sink to make way for the project, and major pipeline spills, to name a few.

Environmentally Sound…Except for Faulty Pipelines, Explosions

ERM performed the Environmental and Social Review Summary for Peru LNG on behalf of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), one of the tentacles of the World Bank Group. The Review lasted between Sept. 2006 and Jan. 2008.

Peru LNG, which went online in June 2010, is co-owned by an international consortium of corporations including the U.S.-based, Hunt Oil. LNG is a bit of a misnomer: the project is not only the LNG export terminal itself, but also an accompanying 253-mile pipeline carrying Camisea’s gas to Peru’s west coast and is sometimes referred to as “Camisea II.” In so doing, it traverses some of the country’s most pristine areas in the Andes and Amazon.

According to the IFC Corporation, ERM Group reviewed every aspect of the proposed project: