Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Don’t trust Shell

Don’t trust Shell

2011-03-30 07:26
Shell wants us to believe that in exploring for and extracting natural gas from underground layers of shale in the Karoo using the polluting and extremely water-intensive technique of hydraulic fracturing or fracking, they have all of our best interests as well as those of the environment at heart.

They must also think us the most gullible halfwits this side of the Niger Delta.

In a recent full-page newspaper ad, the multi-billion dollar oil giant’s Bonang Mohale writes passionately about his company’s “commitments to the Karoo”, promising not to despoil and pollute it in the way fracking has been documented to mess up formerly pristine landscapes and water sources  elsewhere. He describes natural gas as a “more environmentally friendly” option and a “cleaner energy source” and twice refers to its role in building a “sustainable energy future”.

Pure greenwash! In 2008 the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority ruled Shell’s use of the word “sustainable” in an ad about its involvement in extracting oil from Canadian tar sands “misleading” and in violation of industry codes for “environmental claims”, “substantiation” and “truthfulness”. The same standards ought to apply here.

In complete contradiction to their PR-laced public utterances, Shell has an atrocious environmental and human rights record, as even a cursory glance into their skeleton-packed closet reveals:

• In County Mayo on Ireland’s west coast, a fishing and farming community has been fighting a protracted battle against Shell’s plans to build a pipeline and gas refinery that has involved violent clashes with police, hunger strikes, arrests, and masked men beating up local activists and sinking an outspoken opponent’s fishing boat.

• In 1995 Greenpeace activists stopped Shell from sinking the Brent Spar oil platform, laden with tonnes of toxic and radioactive waste, at sea.

• Shell has a long and sinister history of environmental destruction and human rights abuses in Nigeria. More than a thousand oil spill cases have been brought against the company in the Niger Delta, where it continues to illegally flare natural gas, a practice that causes more greenhouse gas emissions than all other sources in sub-Saharan Africa combined. Long implicated in bribing local officials and politicians, WikiLeaks cables reveal that Shell inserted employees into all main ministries of the Nigerian government and “knew everything that was being done in those ministries”. Shell is deeply implicated in the Nigerian government’s 1995 execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 fellow environmental and human rights activists and in 2009 agreed to pay their families $15.5m as a “humanitarian gesture”.

• Environmentalists have warned that Shells’ Sakhalin II oil and gas operations in Russia will contribute to pushing the critically endangered Western Pacific Grey Whale towards extinction.

• Shell has plans to drill for oil just 30 kilometres from Western Australia’s ecologically sensitive Ningaloo Reef and off the coast of the USA’s fragile Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska.

• Shell has contributed more than a million dollars towards defeating legislation to set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in California.

• Shell is coming under increasing pressure from environmentalists, indigenous communities and its own shareholders over its extraction of oil from tar sands in Canada, which involves strip mining large swaths of forest and wetlands and uses and pollutes vast quantities of water while generating at least five times more carbon emissions than conventional sources of oil.

If Shell were a person, we’d have no hesitation in recognising this list as the shocking resume of a sociopathic career criminal whom we’d never let anywhere near our homes or children. We cannot afford to trust them with the Karoo.

Note to Shell: Even in the extremely unlikely event of you being able to convince us that you are capable of producing gas in the Karoo without wasting and polluting our water, we wouldn’t want you to. We don’t even want you to explore for it. We want you to leave the gas in the ground. The age of carbon-based fossil fuels – of coal, oil and natural gas – is coming to a close and until you propose to help us develop our abundant, clean, green and truly sustainable renewable energy sources, including solar and wind power, stay out of the Karoo.

- Andreas has a PhD in geochemistry and manages Lobby Books, the independent book shop at Idasa’s Cape Town Democracy Centre. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath

Send your comments to Andreas 

 News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Maryland may put the brakes on fracking

Maryland may put the brakes on fracking
Legislature makes move to ban drilling
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Sitting atop one of the largest gas reserves in the world, Maryland is one of several Chesapeake Bay region states that stand to profit handsomely from natural gas drilling.
But the process of drilling for the "clean fuel" is now embattled, as the Maryland General Assembly recently sought to do what no other state in the region had done. Before a single well has been drilled, it moved to ban the practice, boldly stepping into the center of a heated conflict.
In a vote that reflects growing national concern over the practice known as hydraulic fracturing, state lawmakers in the House on Wednesday passed a bill that would essentially place a moratorium on drilling until the Maryland Department of the Environment completes a two-year study to determine whether it endangers drinking water and public health, as some environmentalists claim.
"We're not going to be like other states that drilled first and asked questions later," said Maryland Delegate Heather Mizeur, a Democrat, who drafted and sponsored the legislation. "We understand that second chances are expensive, so we should slow down and take the time to do this right the first time."
The gas has been entombed for about 380 million years in a thick layer of rock called the Marcellus Shale, which covers 95,000 square miles from Ohio to Virginia. The gas drilling industry employs a method called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, using blasts of water mixed with chemicals to fracture the shale and release gas.
It's a difficult and expensive way to get at the hydrocarbons, but the Marcellus Shale formation is now thought to hold as much as 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Drilling could potentially bring in billions of dollars in tax revenue and jobs, along with lease payments and gas royalties from companies to property owners.
But environmentalists say fracking is a dirty business, and some government officials have listened.
The state of New York imposed a moratorium on new drilling permits in December after environmentalists raised concerns about the threat to drinking water. Drilling has launched an economic boom in Pennsylvania, but energy companies there have been hit with numerous citations for environmental violations and lawsuits from residents claiming that drilling fouled their water.
Mindful of the concerns that have been raised, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., two weeks ago introduced legislation that would force drilling companies to disclose all chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing and bring the process under federal regulation.
The FRAC Act -- Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals -- would once again place fracking under the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
An exemption dubbed the "Halliburton loophole" in the 2005 energy bill removed the ability of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to regulate fracking.
Mr. Casey's proposed legislation would restore the agency's oversight and require companies to disclose chemical additives used during fracking to state agencies. In turn, those agencies would make the information public online.
The proposal passed in Maryland last week would delay the plans of two companies, Chief Oil and Gas and Samson Resources, which obtained leases worth millions of dollars from property owners to drill in Garrett County, in Western Maryland.
Under the proposed law, Maryland would levy a tax on the companies of $10 per leased acre to pay for its study, estimated to cost $1 million by its completion in August 2013. The money would help the state Department of the Environment, which lost staff to budget cuts, hire workers to conduct the study.
A companion bill in the state Senate is expected to face a tougher road to passage as gas industry lobbyists work against it. Senators are scheduled to take up the issue before the Legislature adjourns April 11.
Robert Summers, acting state environment secretary, testified in committee on behalf of Democratic Gov. Martin O'Malley's administration, supporting the House bill with the condition that it include a study, paid for by the industry, and allow his department to grant a permit if a company can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that its operation would not adversely impact public health and the environment.
"Natural gas ... is a better source of energy than coal or oil, and it is right here," Mr. Summers said in an interview. "We have throughout the history of the country taken advantage of our resources," but without "sometimes preventing the environmental damage that could be caused."
Natural gas has potential benefits beyond being a cleaner burning fuel. A Penn State University study said gas exploration created 29,000 jobs and added $240 million to state and local tax coffers in 2008.
As Maryland lawmakers argued before the 98-40 vote to pass the bill, Republican Delegate Michael Smigiel decried the proposal, saying it would economically "handicap Western Maryland" and was part of a "war on rural Maryland."
Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said politics, not science, drove support for the bill.
"You don't have to freeze the process for some unlimited amount of time," Mr. Fuller said. But Maryland lawmakers listened to environmentalists and residents complain in hearings that Pennsylvania did not do enough to address environmental concerns. Pennsylvania facilities were not prepared at first to treat the volume of contaminated wastewater, they said, and some of it was trucked to water treatment facilities outside the state and released into waterways.
The Pennsylvania Land Trust Association compiled a list of violations by Marcellus Shale drilling companies, relying on state records. According to the association, there were 91 violations of the state's Clean Streams Law, 155 violations for discharge of industrial waste onto the ground and into waters, and 212 faulty pollution-prevention practices.
The Environmental Protection Agency and the New York Environmental Protection Agency are each engaged in environmental impact studies on hydraulic fracturing.
At a state House Environmental Matters Committee hearing, a group called Clean Water Action estimated that 2 million gallons at a single well requires "549 tanker truck trips." The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection estimated that a horizontal well requires 1,000 trips by heavy trucks, often on small roads, the group said.
The truck traffic was a lightning rod for complaints at the hearing in Maryland.
Nadine Grabania, co-owner of Deep Creek Cellars winery in Garrett County, said the traffic at a well proposed by Chief Oil would hurt her business and eco-tourism. Marilyn Moors said she bought a house on 100 acres without knowing the previous owner sold the gas rights and now feels trapped.
"I will be drilled under regardless of my desires and won't receive a penny for it," Ms. Moors said. "Those of us who do not stand to gain anything from the ... drilling should not be asked to bear any of the costs, in terms of decreased property value or ... environmental damage."

First published on March 29, 2011 at 12:00 am

Monday, March 28, 2011

Shale gas: what the frack is the truth?

In South Africa, international oil giant Shell has received most of the media attention so far. Sasol and other less well-known companies such as Falcon Oil and Bundu Gas also have shale-gas plans, but thus far have managed to stay mostly out of the public eye. This in spite of allegations that Falcon does not go to the same lengths as Shell with its public participation process.

Chris Tucker, director of Energy in Depth, a group that represents independent gas companies in the US, says Gasland’s criticism of the industry is unfair and uninformed. The spectacular scenes where people in Colorado ignite their tap water have nothing to do with shale gas and fracking, he says.

According to him, investigations have shown that this gas is conventional, natural gas that is found in shallower earth layers and had been there before any fracking and horizontal drilling had been done in shale rock.

I would like to ask Mr Tucker how he explains the igniting water in Australia, I guess that to is "Naturally Occurring" too.

Shell Oil - The Awful Truth

Opposition to Shell's gas plan

Opposition to Shell’s gas plan

There was firm opposition to Shell's plan to explore for gas in the Karoo at a meeting on Monday in Calvinia, the Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG) said.
“Just like Friday’s meeting at Kelvin Grove, the people at the Calvinia meeting today do not want fracking to take place in the Karoo,” said TKAG's spokesman Jonathan Deal.
“Fracking will deplete the scarce water resources of the Karoo and lead to contamination of the groundwater table.”
He said the meeting was attended mostly by farmers in the area for a briefing on Shell’s proposed environmental management plan for exploration for shale gas in 95,000 square km in the Karoo.
A senior company executive at Shell said earlier this month that the company would use a safe technique not known to harm the environment. It intended releasing the gas by hydraulically fracturing rock, using water pumped deep underground.
“The oil and gas industry has used this technique safely for more than 60 years to recover natural gas,” general manager for new ventures and international exploration Graham Tiley said.
Deal proposed that Shell should do a full environmental impact assessment before pursuing an exploration licence. - Sapa
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We dont want Fracking here

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Cape Town Public meeting between Shell/Golder and public, 25 March 2011

After listening to arguments about fracking for the last month, I am sick and tired of the pros and cons reasoning, bargaining, etc.

We have heard enough about water issues, water contamination, infrastructure issues, chemical issues, morality, site selection, gas usage, energy needs, etc.  I have had enough.

It is clear as day that WE DO NOT WANT FRACKING TO TAKE PLACE IN THE KAROO, full stop. 

It is time that we stop bargaining, and wasting time chatting, especially in the light of PASA’s comments. We don’t want fracking to go ahead.

At the public meeting on 25 March 2011 in Cape Town, the Chairman of Shell South Africa, Bonang Francis Mohale, stood in front of a room full of hundreds, and publicly stated that “if a community does not want us to go ahead, we will not frack there”.  It seems very clear that the Karoo community has spoken, and does not want fracking.  Will Shell now follow through on this promise by stopping this exploration process?

Shell has publicly admitted that they cannot guarantee well integrity.  They maintain that they work to the highest level of quality, but they cannot 100% guarantee that, and I understand their position.

What I am saying and I believe what we all should be saying is the following:
Forget about all the issues, even if Shell miraculously manages to satisfy all of our demands, the Karoo is a Special and Extremely sensitive eco system, and quite simply put, if there is any water contamination, or loss of well integrity, or well bore, the Karoo, or at least that area of the Karoo will not be able to recover, FULL STOP, it is as simple as that, forget all the arguments.

The risk of damaging the Karoo irreparably is just too great, even if the chance is one in 700 000, that is why I am saying NO FRACKING IN OUR KAROO, stop bargaining. The risk is too great.  Look at the rest of the world, that are only now waking up to the problems of fracking, and many municipalities, states, etc… are now busy banning and placing moratoriums on fracking.  We have a chance to ban it BEFORE it causes any damage, let us do it.

I find it extremely worrying that PASA is effectively lobbying for fracking in front of parliament, through Jennifer Marot, senior geologist at PASA, as this proves that they are not the impartial regulatory body they are supposed to be.  Also of concern about PASA, as stated by DA shadow environmental minister Gareth Morgan:   “This small agency, with a miniscule staff and possessing a budget which, by its own admission, will not see it adequately through the next two years, is not in a position to make a considered decision on applications that to date cover a landmass of SA in excess of 200,000 square kilometers.”

PASA is too small and underfunded to handle a project of this magnitude.  They have shown themselves not to be an unbiased regulatory agency.  They are not waiting to review the EMP and the EIA.  Before these studies and documents have even been completed, Jennifer Marot is now going before Parliament to lobby for fracking.

Furthermore, in the words of Mr. Anthony L. Cortis, Shell Upstream International Exploration, China, if you look at some of the publicized spills and explosions that happened in Pennsylvania, the affected areas were cleaned up, “seeded over” and will be completely restored in 6 years.  The problem here is that you cannot simply just seed Karoo bossies, they take years and years to develop and grow, the Karoo is a Semi Desert, it is not Pennsylvania.  It is an extremely hard eco-system to “restore”.

The other issue that I have is that they cannot make the claim of “completely restored to its former state” because there is not enough known about the after effects of hydraulic fracturing at this point in time, or of the underground migration of gasses after fracking has taken place.

 I would like to address three of Shell’s commitments, given to us, the public:

Shell will provide full compensation to any landowner with evidenced direct negative impact or loss on their land as a result of our activities.

I love the wording “evidenced direct impact”.  At the meeting Shell committed to keeping control of all operations, before, during and after drilling, but as we have seen all over the world, in most cases, the onus is on the land owner to actually prove that damage was done, and when he does prove it, after many years of fighting, and very expensive legal costs, the company just runs around and says that they have done everything to regulation and best practice, so they are sorry, but they complied with the laws concerning gas drilling, so the contamination is not their problem.  It is the complete lack of accountability that concerns me; there are countless cases I can mention.

We will conserve and recycle water where ever possible.

Fracking is water intensive; that is a fact.  South Africa does not have the capacity to recycle water that comes from fracking operations, fact.  The US is struggling with recycling water that is rich in Uranium 226, fact. 

Fracking wastewater also contains salts, heavy metals and radioactive material (radium 226 [a derivative of uranium], strontium and barium) from drilling through radon-bearing granite and other layers deep underground. The levels of radiation in frackwater are thousands of times the safe level limit for drinking water. There are reports of people and animals dying in the USA as a direct consequence of fracking contamination.

My question to Shell, how EXACTLY do you propose to recycle water from your operations?

We commit to disclose fracturing fluids at each drilling location, and consult with communities as part of the development of hydraulic fracturing plans.

When, we want a date, will the public be getting the complete list of chemicals that could be used in fracking operations?  We want it now, not later.  If Shell is so open, why do we have to wait for it?

Also, it has come to the fore that the actual fracking operations will be sub contracted to fracking companies.  Who will these companies be?  We want their names!  Will they be coming from abroad?  They will have to, as there are no fracking experts in SA, and no fracking companies in SA, which means already that some of the operations are proposed to be out-sourced, but most important, what is the safety record of these companies?

And in closing, I would like to simply state this:

Shell is promising transparency and integrity, as a responsible corporate citizen.  Dr. Adam Dodson, Shell  Exploration Manager – Unconventional Oil & Gas New Venture, was introduced at the beginning of the Cape Town meeting on 25 March, but toward the end of the meeting, when there were questions for him, he was nowhere to be found.  This reflects very poorly on Shell and I personally feel that it is an insult to all of us who sat there until after 21:00, waiting to be heard, and wanting to ask relevant and important questions.
Dr. Dodson’s behavior, is very worrying as it reflects the tendency of big oil companies to cut and run, once THEY feel the meeting (drilling/operations) is over, and not once the public feels they are satisfied.  Is this what we are going to be left with?

Shell/Golder meeting on Thursday 25 March 2011, Cape Town - Business Live

25 MARCH, 2011 20:08


Shell could spend $200m on Karoo gas exploration

International petroleum group Shell could spend up to 200 million US dollars (about 1.4 billion rand) in the exploration phase of its plans to extract shale gas in the Karoo.

Shell South Africa chairman Bunong Mohale told BusinessLIVE this after leaving a public participation meeting with interested persons about the controversial issue on Friday.
“Ordinarily Shell spends up to US15 million US dollars (about 105 million rand) per well. The costs are very variable as it depends on how deep the well is, how much water has to be used and other things,” Mohale said.
Shell has applied for a license to explore for shale gas in the ecologically sensitive Karoo region.
The exploration involves a controversial process called “hydraulic fracturing”, or,“fracking” in which water and sand are pumped into a well in order to get the gas that is contained in soft rock to flow freely.
While the prospect of exploiting such a resource may go some way in securing the country’s energy supplies, critics of the plan charge it could lead to pollution of the underground water system and might impact land use for years.
An unnamed Shell official accompanying Mohale indicated that Shell will drill 24 wells in its exploration phase.
Mohale said that Shell expects the Petroleum Agency of South Africa to give it either a 'yes' or 'no' in August as this would meet the 120 day period granted to prepare itself in terms of the law.
This preparation includes holding public meetings such as the one on Friday evening and completing an environmental management plan.
During Friday’s meeting Mohale, other Shell South Africa officials and consultants from Golda, the agency advising the corporation, faced a cordial but antagonistic audience.
Members of the public included farmers, activists and others with some kind of interest in the Karoo.
One of the audience members was well-known environmentalist and lawyer Lewis Pugh who pointed to Shell’s record in the Nigerian Delta.
“Shell has spilt nine million barrels of oil in the Niger Delta, which is twice as much as BP has split in the Gulf of Mexico,” Pugh said to resounding applause.
Pugh made the point that the life of the wells would be at best nine years, but the pollution it would cause would last much longer.
Questions from the audience ranged from why Shell would not say anything yet about the chemicals it would pour into the wells or the naturally occurring chemicals, damage that would be caused and what if the local communities asked Shell to stop its activities.
Mohale committed Shell to being a “good corporate citizen" and said that it would stop its activities if asked by the local communities.
Members of the audience complained that while Shell appeared to be meeting the letter of the law in terms of holding public consultations, they complained that the documentation was complex and that it was not getting to the communities that were going to be directly affected.
Applications have been received by the Petroleum Agency of South Africa for explore some 220 000 square kilometers of the Karoo. Shell has asked to explore about 90 000 square kilometers mainly located in the western part of the basin.