David Sirota writes: The fossil fuel industry had already managed to shape a bill moving rapidly through Congress last summer, gaining provisions to ease its ability to export natural gas. But one key objective remained elusive: a measure limiting the authority of local communities to slow the construction of pipelines because of environmental concerns.
Then, U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican who chaired the House Energy Committee, gave the industry an opportunity to amplify its influence. Joining forces with Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the Alaska Republican who chaired the Senate Energy Committee, he launched a so-called joint fundraising committee, a campaign war chest that would accept donations from a range of contributors, with the proceeds divided between the two lawmakers.
Executives at one of the nation’s largest natural gas pipeline companies soon deposited more than $83,000 into the joint fund’s coffers. The very next day, Upton delivered on the industry’s aspirations: He rushed a bill through his legislative panel that would not only streamline the approval process for new pipelines but also empower federal officials to impose tight deadlines on state and local governments seeking to review their potential environmental impacts. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The UK government has added its weight to a behind-the-scenes lobbying drive by oil and gas firms including BP, Chevron, Shell and ExxonMobil to persuade EU leaders to scrap a series of environmental safety measures for fracking, according to leaked letters seen by the Guardian.
The deregulatory push against safety measures, which could include the monitoring of on-site methane leaks and capture of gases and volatile compounds that might otherwise be vented, appears to go against assurances from David Cameron that fracking would only be safe “if properly regulated”.
In a comment piece in 2013 the prime minister wrote: “We must make the case that fracking is safe … the regulatory system in this country is one of the most stringent in the world.”
But UK government sources say that any new form of industry controls would be “an unnecessary restriction on the UK oil and gas industry”. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: Natural gas has been touted as an environmentally friendly substitute to coal and oil production, but a new report estimates enough gas is leaking to negate most of the climate benefits of process.
The report, commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund and carried out by environmental consulting group ICF International, estimated the amount of leaks from natural gas and oil production on federal and tribal land in the US. It also looked at venting and flaring, processes in which drilling sites purposefully let gas go into the atmosphere for a variety of reasons – usually for safety.
The claim that natural gas is environmentally friendly hinges on how much methane leaks into the atmosphere during the production process. But the EDF report adds weight to those who say methane leaks at natural gas sites can make the process nearly or as carbon-intensive as coal.
The EDF found that 65bn cubic feet of natural gas was released into the air on federal and tribal lands in 2013 – amounting to about $360m of lost gas. That, the EDF says, is not only an economic loss, but an environmental problem. Methane, the main ingredient in natural gas, is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over short periods of time and 30 times more potent over the long term. [Continue reading…]
Yezid Sayigh writes: While much of the world’s attention has recently focused on the threat of pillage and destruction posed by Islamic State forces to the ancient Syrian desert city of Palmyra, damage to the energy supply and potential earnings is probably a bigger concern for the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Islamic State immediately followed its May 2015 capture of Palmyra with the seizure of nearby gas fields, depriving the regime of 45 percent of its gas and electricity resources, according to Syrian opposition estimates.
The self-proclaimed Islamic State has had its eye on the regime’s gas resources since at least July 2014, when it overran some of Jabal Shaer, part of an area containing massive gas fields said to produce 3 million cubic meters (106 million cubic feet) of raw natural gas (also known as crude gas) per day. This is compared to an estimated total national daily output of some 14.8 million cubic meters in 2014 according to Syria’s Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources.
Lying roughly 150 kilometers (93 miles) northwest of Palmyra, Shaer supplies the Ebla processing plant at Furqlus to the west, which provides liquid petroleum gas (LPG, or clean or fuel gas) to electricity-generating stations that feed into the national grid. Regime forces retained control of the actual gas fields in Shaer in July 2014, but the Islamic State seized four wells in a new attack in late October. Assad’s Syrian Arab Army once again retook the area, though the Shaer gathering station was severely damaged and most wells were shut down. A reduced supply resumed from nearby Chinese-owned wells nearby to the Hayan treatment plant and processing facility, which commenced activity in 2009 and which serves as a major LPG, oil, and condensate reserve distribution center to power plants in several parts of the country. [Continue reading…]
Deborah Sontag writes: In late June, as black and gold balloons bobbed above black and gold tables with oil-rig centerpieces, the theme song from “Dallas” warmed up the crowd for the “One Million Barrels, One Million Thanks” celebration.
The mood was giddy. Halliburton served barbecued crawfish from Louisiana. A commemorative firearms dealer hawked a “one-million barrel” shotgun emblazoned with the slogan “Oil Can!” Mrs. North Dakota, in banner and crown, posed for pictures. The Texas Flying Legends performed an airshow backlit by a leaping flare of burning gas. And Gov. Jack Dalrymple was the featured guest.
Traveling through the “economically struggling” nation, Mr. Dalrymple told the crowd, he encountered many people who asked, “Jack, what the heck are you doing out there in North Dakota?” to create the fastest-growing economy, lowest unemployment rate and (according to one survey) happiest population.
“And I enjoy explaining to them, ‘Yes, the oil boom is a big, big help,’ ” he said.
Outsiders, he explained, simply need to be educated out of their fear of fracking: “There is a way to explain it that really relaxes people, that makes them understand this is not a dangerous thing that we’re doing out here, that it’s really very well managed and very safe and really the key to the future of not only North Dakota but really our entire nation.”
Tioga, population 3,000, welcomed North Dakota’s first well in 1951, more than a half-century before hydraulic fracturing liberated the “tight oil” trapped in the Bakken shale formation. So it was fitting that Tioga ring in the daily production milestone that had ushered the Bakken into the rarefied company of historic oil fields worldwide.
But Tioga also claims another record: what is considered the largest on-land oil spill in recent American history. And only Brenda Jorgenson, 61, who attended “to hear what does not get said,” mentioned that one, sotto voce.
The million-barrel bash was devoid of protesters save for Ms. Jorgenson, a tall, slender grandmother who has two wells at her driveway’s end and three jars in her refrigerator containing blackened water that she said came from her faucet during the fracking process. She did not, however, utter a contrary word.
“I’m not that brave (or stupid) to protest among that,” she said in an email afterward. “I’ve said it before: we’re outgunned, outnumbered and out-suited.” [Continue reading…]
Call it the energy or global warming news of recent weeks. No, I’m not referring to the fact this was globally the hottest June on record ever (as May had been before it), or that NASA launched the first space vehicle “dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide.” Nor do I mean the new report released by a “bipartisan group,” including former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and three former secretaries of the treasury, suggesting that, by 2100, $238 billion to $507 billion worth of American property will be “below sea level”; nor that Virginia’s coastline is already being eaten away by rising seas and storm-surge destruction in such a striking manner that state Democrats and Republicans are leaving global warming denialists in the lurch and forming a climate change task force to figure out what in the world to do.
No, I was referring to the news that the Obama administration has just reopened the eastern seaboard to offshore oil and gas exploration. To the extent that this has been covered, the articles have generally focused on the economic positives — for jobs and national wealth — of finding new deposits of oil and gas in those waters, and the unhappiness of the environmental community over the effect of the sonic booms used in underwater seismic exploration on whales and other sea creatures. Not emphasized has been the way, from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico, not to speak of the shale-gas fracking fields of this country, the Obama administration has had an all-of-the-above policy on fossil fuels. Our “global warming” president has consistently championed reforms (of a modest sort) to combat climate change. These, however, fit uncomfortably with his administration’s anything-goes menu of oil and gas exploration and exploitation that is distinctly in the drill-baby-drill mode. Unlike that drill-baby-drill proponent Sarah Palin, however, the president knows what he’s doing and what the long-term effects of such policies are likely to be.
Part of the way he and his officials seem to have squared the circle is by championing their moves to throttle coal use and bring natural gas, touted as the “clean” fossil fuel, to market in a big way. As it happens, historian of science Naomi Oreskes, an expert on the subject, has news for the president and his advisors: when looked at in a clear-eyed way, natural gas isn’t going to turn out to be the fossil-fuel equivalent of a wonder drug that will cure the latest climate disease. Quite the opposite: its exploitation will actually increase the global use of fossil fuels and pump more greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, while possibly suppressing the development of actual renewable alternatives. In a magisterial piece today, she explores every aspect of the crucial question of why natural gas is anything but a panacea for our climate change problems.
This couldn’t be more important. Science historians Oreskes and Erik Conway have already written a classic book, Merchants of Doubt, on how Big Energy and a tiny group of scientists associated with it sold us a false bill of goods on the nature and impact of its products (as the tobacco industry and essentially the same set of scientists had before it). Together, they have now produced a little gem of a book on climate change: The Collapse of Western Civilization: a View From the Future. Written, so the claim goes, in 2393 by a “senior scholar of the Second People’s Republic of China,” it traces the events that led to the Great Collapse of 2090. You haven’t heard of that grim event yet? Well, you will as soon as you pick up Oreskes’s and Conway’s “thought-provoking” and gripping work of “science-based fiction” on what our future may have in store for us — if we don’t act to change our world. Tom Engelhardt
Wishful thinking about natural gas
Why fossil fuels can’t solve the problems created by fossil fuels
By Naomi Oreskes
Albert Einstein is rumored to have said that one cannot solve a problem with the same thinking that led to it. Yet this is precisely what we are now trying to do with climate change policy. The Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, many environmental groups, and the oil and gas industry all tell us that the way to solve the problem created by fossil fuels is with more fossils fuels. We can do this, they claim, by using more natural gas, which is touted as a “clean” fuel — even a “green” fuel.
Like most misleading arguments, this one starts from a kernel of truth.
Call it a double whammy for the planet or simply irony with a capital “I.” As the invaluable Michael Klare, TomDispatch regular and author of The Race for What’s Left, points out today, if you scan the planet for conflict, what you’ll find from Syria and Iraq to the South China Sea are a series of energy wars — fossil-fuel conflicts to be exact. At present, despite some hopeful signs, this crazed planet of ours is still a ravenous beast that only fossil fuels can sate. No question that conflicts and wars are terrible things. Just consider the million new refugees being generated by the disintegration of Iraq in a blaze of warfare and sectarian killings. But oil wars add a grim twist to the mix, because when they’re settled, however miserably or bloodily, the winners take to the oil rigs and the refineries and pump out yet more of the stuff that puts carbon dioxide and methane, both greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere and, as in the Middle East today, creates the basis for yet more conflict.
That region has been going through a period of heightened dryness and drought that researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration believe to be caused, at least in part, by global warming. This winter, the driest in decades, Syria and Iraq in particular have experienced a severe lack of rainfall in what should be the wettest part of the year and record heat as well. These are factors the Pentagon lists in its recent Quadrennial Defense Review as “threat multipliers.” According to meteorologist Eric Holthaus, “As in neighboring Syria, it’s increasingly clear that Iraq is drying out, an effect that’s long been predicted as a result of the human-caused build up of heat-trapping gases like CO2. Since 1973… parts of Iraq and Syria have seen ‘some of the most dramatic precipitation declines in the world.’ Citing projected stark declines in rainfall and continued population pressure and upstream dam building, a study released earlier this year made the case that the Tigris and Euphrates rivers may no longer reach the sea by 2040.”
The weather destabilization of Syria and the rise of ISIS seem to be connected. In the Mobius Strip of life, the more desperate you are — thank you, global warming — the more you’re likely to fight over what resources, from water to oil, you can command, and then when you’re done, you’ll use those resources to heat the planet further. It’s a closed system, a simple formula for the production of violent emotions, dead bodies, and a particularly nasty world. Tom Engelhardt
Twenty-first-century energy wars
Global conflicts are increasingly fueled by the desire for oil and natural gas — and the funds they generate
By Michael T. Klare
Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, South Sudan, Ukraine, the East and South China Seas: wherever you look, the world is aflame with new or intensifying conflicts. At first glance, these upheavals appear to be independent events, driven by their own unique and idiosyncratic circumstances. But look more closely and they share several key characteristics — notably, a witch’s brew of ethnic, religious, and national antagonisms that have been stirred to the boiling point by a fixation on energy.
In each of these conflicts, the fighting is driven in large part by the eruption of long-standing historic antagonisms among neighboring (often intermingled) tribes, sects, and peoples. In Iraq and Syria, it is a clash among Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds, Turkmen, and others; in Nigeria, among Muslims, Christians, and assorted tribal groupings; in South Sudan, between the Dinka and Nuer; in Ukraine, between Ukrainian loyalists and Russian-speakers aligned with Moscow; in the East and South China Sea, among the Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Filipinos, and others. It would be easy to attribute all this to age-old hatreds, as suggested by many analysts; but while such hostilities do help drive these conflicts, they are fueled by a most modern impulse as well: the desire to control valuable oil and natural gas assets. Make no mistake about it, these are twenty-first-century energy wars.
David Hearst writes: It took the CIA 60 years to admit its involvement in the overthrow of Mohammad Mossadeq, Iran’s first democratically elected prime minister. The circumstances around the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, may not take as long to come to light, regardless of whom is behind it.
Mossadeq sealed his fate when he renationalized Iran’s oil production, which had been under the control of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, later to become BP. Morsi’s enemy was gas, and he proved to be a major obstacle to a lucrative deal with Israel – which nobody will be surprised to learn – is about to take place now he has been removed.
Clayton Swisher of Al Jazeera’s investigative unit has spent five months delving into the corrupt sale of Egyptian gas to Israel. His report Egypt’s Lost Power to be broadcast on Monday night reveals that Egypt has lost a staggering amount of money -$11bn , with debts and legal liabilities of another $20bn – selling gas at rock bottom prices to Israel, Spain and Jordan. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: China plans to sign a multibillion-dollar deal to buy Russian gas during a visit by President Vladimir Putin next week despite U.S. pressure to avoid undermining sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis.
Washington has appealed to Beijing to avoid making business deals with Russia, though American officials acknowledge the pressing energy needs of China, the world’s second-largest economy.
Negotiations that began more than a decade ago had stalled over price. But analysts say Moscow, isolated over its role in Ukraine, faces pressure to make concessions in exchange for an economic and political boost.
“We are still exchanging views with Moscow and we will try our best to ensure that this contract can be signed and witnessed by the two presidents during President Putin’s visit to China,” a deputy Chinese foreign minister, Cheng Guoping, told reporters on Thursday. [Continue reading…]
The Globe and Mail reports: On March 20, the U.S. authorized sanctions against billionaire Gennady Timchenko amid the escalating crisis between Russia and Ukraine. Three weeks later, the Russian tycoon, who amassed a fortune trading oil and selling natural gas, appeared on Russian television. He was not in Russia at the time. He was in China. The West, he said, was “pushing us away.” China was not. In fact, Chinese companies were talking with Mr. Timchenko about buying more of Russia’s abundant energy.
“There is a market with a lot of potential developing in the Asia-Pacific region,” said the billionaire, who boasts close ties to Vladimir Putin and has been called one of Russia’s most powerful men.
This week, the country’s Prime Minister was even more explicit: “We are interested in diversifying today more so than ever before. Therefore we are implementing solutions for the export of gas and oil to Asian and Pacific countries, first and foremost China,” Dmitry Medvedev said on Russian television.
As the global fissures radiating from Russia’s moves against Ukraine call into question the future of its ties with Western powers, Russia is increasingly casting its gaze east, to a distant border long neglected. In May, Mr. Putin is expected to come to Beijing to sign a major contract that will see Russia pipe vast quantities of natural gas to China. It will mark the sixth meeting between Mr. Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping since the beginning of 2013, as Russia pushes for a “pivot east” that has taken on sudden new urgency in the wake of the country’s moves in Ukraine, which have earned it global criticism, and an increasing likelihood of punitive sanctions.
The change stands to have wide-reaching ramifications, redrawing geopolitical alignments and altering global energy flows, a matter of concern to Canada, among others.
For Russia’s economy, Ukraine stands to create “a major crisis,” said Vassily Kasin, a China expert with the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Moscow-based defence studies organization. “And China will become the major economic partner.” The two countries “will in fact move very close to an alliance, I think,” he said. “This is a major change.” [Continue reading…]
Steve Horn reports: In a long-awaited moment in a hotly contested zone currently occupied by the Russian military, Ukraine’s citizens living in the peninsula of Crimea voted overwhelmingly to become part of Russia.
Responding to the referendum, President Barack Obama and numerous U.S. officials rejected the results out of hand and the Obama Administration has confirmed he will authorize economic sanctions against high-ranking Russian officials.
“As I told President Putin yesterday, the referendum in Crimea was a clear violation of Ukrainian constitutions and international law and it will not be recognized by the international community,” Obama said in a press briefing. “Today I am announcing a series of measures that will continue to increase the cost on Russia and those responsible for what is happening in Ukraine.”
But even before the vote and issuing of sanctions, numerous key U.S. officials hyped the need to expedite U.S. oil and gas exports to fend off Europe’s reliance on importing Russia’s gas bounty. In short, gas obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is increasingly seen as a “geopolitical tool” for U.S. power-brokers, as The New York Times explained.
Perhaps responding to the repeated calls to use gas as a “diplomatic tool,” the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently announced it will sell 5 million barrels of oil from the seldom-tapped Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Both the White House and DOE deny the decision had anything to do with the situation in Ukraine.
Yet even as some say we are witnessing the beginning of a “new cold war,” few have discussed the ties binding major U.S. oil and gas companies with Russian state oil and gas companies.
The situation in Ukraine is a simple one at face value, at least from an energy perspective.
“Control of resources and dependence on other countries is a central theme connecting the longstanding tension between Russia and Ukraine and potential actions taken by the rest of the world as the crisis escalates,” ThinkProgress explained in a recent article. “Ukraine is overwhelmingly dependent on Russia for natural gas, relying on its neighbor for 60 to 70 percent of its natural gas needs.”
At the same time, Europe also largely depends on Ukraine as a key thoroughfare for imports of Russian gas via pipelines.
“The country is crossed by a network of Soviet-era pipelines that carry Russian natural gas to many European Union member states and beyond; more than a quarter of the EU’s total gas needs were met by Russian gas, and some 80% of it came via Ukrainian pipelines,” explained The Guardian.
Given the circumstances, weaning EU countries off Russian gas seems a no-brainer at face value. Which is why it’s important to use the brain and look beneath the surface.
The U.S. and Russian oil and gas industries can best be described as “frenemies.” Case in point: the tight-knit relationship between U.S. multinational petrochemical giant ExxonMobil and Russian state-owned multinational petrochemical giant Rosneft. [Continue reading…]
CNN reports: While the world watches the escalating crisis in Ukraine, investors and world leaders are considering how the instability could roil the global economy.
The political turmoil is rooted in the country’s strategic economic position. It is an important conduit between Russia and major European markets, as well as a significant exporter of grain.
But in the post-Soviet era, it’s a weakened economy. Now, the government is in need of an economic rescue — and torn between whether Russia or the Western economies (including the European Union) is the savior it needs.
Here are five reasons the world’s largest economies are watching what happens in Ukraine. [Continue reading…]
Zoë Carpenter writes: On Sunday, Secretary of State John Kerry delivered a call for climate action that attracted considerable attention because of its forcefulness. Speaking in Jakarta, Indonesia, Kerry rebuked climate deniers, referring to them as “a tiny minority of shoddy scientists…and extreme ideologues.” He described the economic costs and catastrophic implications of inaction. Most strikingly, he suggested that climate change is “the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”
“It doesn’t keep us safe if the United States secures its nuclear arsenal, while other countries fail to prevent theirs from falling into the hands of terrorists,” Kerry said. Similarly, a serious response to climate change requires that all countries break their fossil fuel addiction. “At the end of the day, emissions coming from anywhere in the world threaten the future for people everywhere in the world,” Kerry said.
Kerry’s nuclear analogy is useful for understanding the Obama’s administration’s climate agenda — and its glaring omission. The plan is built on three pillars: curbing domestic carbon pollution (or, securing our own nuclear arsenal), preparing for the impacts of climate change (building fallout shelters) and leading efforts to address climate change internationally (encouraging disarmament.)
All of that nonproliferation work would be undercut if the US sold weapons-grade uranium to the countries it was asking not to build a bomb. In effect, that is what the United States is doing with fossil fuels. [Continue reading…]
Christopher Dickey reports: When Israel looks at the greatest threat to its long-term hopes for the future, these days it’s looking out to sea. The old issues are on the table, of course: Iran’s nukes, the Palestinians, the Syrian slaughterhouse next door and growing regional instability. But if there’s a place where a sudden, out-of-control war is likely to erupt, it’s probably not going to be called the Sinai, the Golan, the West Bank (or Judea and Samaria). It’s going to be called Leviathan, Dalit or Karish — the vast fields of natural gas and oil discovered in the deep waters between Israel and Cyprus over the last five years.
Who controls that wealth is likely to dominate the economic future of the region for generations to come. The Israelis know it. So do their allies, their rivals and their enemies. And tensions are mounting by the day.
“All the elements of danger are there,” says Pierre Terzian, editor of the oil industry weekly Petrostrategies: there is competition for huge resources, there are disputed borders, and, not to put too fine a point on it, “this is a region where resorting to violent action is not something unusual.”
The United States government is watching warily, trying to broker diplomatic settlements and, so far, failing. No longer inclined to be the region’s policeman on land or in the air, much less at sea, Washington is scaling back its presence in the Middle East while just about everyone else is increasing theirs.
Israel is rushing to create “the most technologically advanced fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean,” according to a report in Tablet Magazine. Turkey is flexing its maritime muscles with plans to spend as much as a billion dollars on a multi-purpose amphibious assault ship that will give its fleet blue water capabilities like never before. The Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in Lebanon, meanwhile, is known to have naval missiles, and has used them in the past, sinking a cargo vessel and holing an Israeli warship during the Lebanon war of 2006. Russia is expanding both its naval and commercial presence in Syrian waters, despite the Syrian civil war. It inked a $90 million, 25-year exploration deal with Damascus last Christmas Day. [Continue reading…]
What kind of world is this? In China, an almost 1,350 square mile freshwater lake — that’s more than four times the size of New York City — recently dried up due to an ongoing drought. In the high Sierra of America’s West, bears have forgone hibernating as a result of (what were once, at least) unseasonably warm conditions. Across the continent in Maine, increasing ocean acidity is thought to be behind the spread of coastal “dead mud” which may have “disastrous implications for clammers, lobstermen, oyster farmers, and others whose livelihoods depend on healthy coastal ecosystems.” Meanwhile, across the globe in Australia, blistering heat chased koalas from the trees and sent many to the hospital, possibly baked 100,000 bats to death, and is threatening cattle and crops.
In a world wracked by increasing climate chaos, the seemingly appropriate response would be immediate remediation and mitigation efforts. Instead, this world being what it is, we have just the opposite. In the U.S., this means increased coal consumption and a resulting rise in carbon emissions for the first time in years. It means that, despite so much recent damage from “wild weather” flooding all over the country, the Federal Emergency Management Agency often relies on inaccurate flood maps, leaving property owners in jeopardy. It also means the administration of embattled New Jersey Governor Chris Christie pushing to, as the New York Times put it, “thread a 22-mile-long [gas] pipeline through the heart of the Pinelands, a 1.1-million-acre protected expanse of scrub pines, gnarly oaks, and yellow-brown river deltas.”
New Jersey is far from alone when it comes to pipeline peril. Today, TomDispatch regular Ellen Cantarow takes us to the frontlines of fracking. Once, this would have meant a trip to the ancient undulating hills of Wisconsin, which are being despoiled for the silica used in hydraulic fracturing, or the increasingly toxic towns of rural Pennsylvania where such silica and water, as well as a noxious chemical stew, are all forced at high pressure into deep underground deposits of shale. With a gas pipeline snaking toward her hometown, Cantarow points out that the frontline of increasing fossil-fuel use and abuse is everywhere. You don’t need to go looking for a frack fight, anymore. It’s coming looking for you. Nick Turse
No pipe dream
Is fracking about to arrive on your doorstep?
By Ellen Cantarow
For the past several years, I’ve been writing about what happens when big oil and gas corporations drill where people live. “Fracking” — high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which extracts oil and methane from deep shale — has become my beat. My interviewees live in Pennsylvania’s shale-gas fields; among Wisconsin’s hills, where corporations have been mining silica, an essential fracking ingredient; and in New York, where one of the most powerful grassroots movements in the state’s long history of dissent has become ground zero for anti-fracking activism across the country. Some of the people I’ve met have become friends. We email, talk by phone, and visit. But until recently I’d always felt at a remove from the dangers they face: contaminated water wells, poisoned air, sick and dying animals, industry-related illnesses. Under Massachusetts, where I live, lie no methane- or oil-rich shale deposits, so there’s no drilling.
But this past September, I learned that Spectra Energy, one of the largest natural gas infrastructure companies in North America, had proposed changes in a pipeline it owns, the Algonquin, which runs from Texas into my hometown, Boston. The expanded Algonquin would carry unconventional gas — gas extracted from deep rock formations like shale — into Massachusetts from the great Marcellus formation that sprawls along the Appalachian basin from West Virginia to New York. Suddenly, I’m in the crosshairs of the fracking industry, too.
We all are.