(EnviroNews DC News Bureau) – EDITORIAL: To begin this brief exposé on natural gas, we’re going to take a peek at a couple of snips of President Barack Obama in what looks like little less than a blatant sales pitch for the expansion of natural gas as a solution to foreign energy dependency and climate change:
President Obama: We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years. And my administration will take every possible action to develop this energy.
Now, even as we’re producing more domestic oil, we’re also producing more cleaner-burning natural gas than any other country on earth. And again, sometimes there are disputes about natural gas, but let me say this: We should strengthen our position as the top natural gas producer, because in the medium-term at least, it not only can provide safe, cheap power, but it can also help reduce our carbon emissions.
The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.
Over the past few years, there’s been a lot of talk about natural gas as a “transitionary fuel” in light of the rapidly unfolding climate conundrum, and as you’ve just heard, even president Obama has proudly touted natural gas as his solution to aid America in its transition away from a carbon-powered network towards a clean and green energy future. But can the United States, and the world for that matter, really afford to utilize natural gas as a “methadone,” if you will, to wean ourselves from a debilitating fossil fuel addiction? And do we have the time to ramp up an even loftier infrastructure to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars that will surely commit our resources, and would-be jobs, to a plan that will boost CO2 by billions of additional tons, adding fuel to the fire in what some scientists are already calling the tipping point to a runaway climate disaster?
These tough questions were tackled in an EnviroNews exclusive earlier this year when one of our field reporters interviewed an oil and gas CEO of 20 years, who exposed the raw guts of these issues on camera, from under the cloak of darkness. Take a look at this segment where the individual we’ve labeled as Oilman X opens up on the serious problem of flaring natural gas from oil wells:
They have touted natural gas, and natural gas is probably cleaner than other things, but, in the final analysis from fracking, and you know … here’s the situation for natural gas: They are flaring massive amounts of natural gas in North Dakota to make oil. They do this all over. And, you know, [in] the United States, they don’t get it to pipelines quick enough, and so they are flaring, creating CO2. And then, let’s not forget one other huge component. There are thousands and thousands of wells, and each well is an emitter. There’s something coming off … like this well right here, every day, there’s a certain amount. The burners are burning and stuff. The heat and various things, and, you know, there’s gas gettin’ away from leaks. So, that’s a huge problem that we need to get on top of, and bring to an end, and get converted to green technology.
North Dakota is fast becoming the American poster child for gas flaring due to the massive oil boom underway in the Bakken Shale, and North Dakota is the perfect example of an oil boom skyrocketing out of control in this remote Midwestern hinterland, where in many areas, a pipeline and processing infrastructure has yet to be constructed for the purpose of capturing the relatively small amount of gas that comes up with the oil. So, under the absent — or at best lax — flaring regulations in North Dakota, what is the oil industry’s solution for this marginally profitable gas that comes up with their hugely profitable crude oil? To just lazily dump it, of course, un-scrubbed and unfiltered into the open air and environment.
This problem in North Dakota has spiraled so wildly out of orbit that they can even see the Bakken oil fields from space, lit up and glowing like a cluster of Christmas tree lights, as they launch massive and continual carbon streams high into the atmosphere.
EnviroNews’ oil industry correspondents told us that it doesn’t have to be this way, and that though not as profitable, it is still lucrative to capture natural gas in mobile tanks and have them swapped, trucked down the road and offloaded on the marketplace. The problem, say these same industry whistleblowers, is downright laziness.
Since the amount of gas coming up in an oil well often comprises only 10 or 20 percent of the overall hydrocarbons, and the profit margins are very low compared to crude, many operators would prefer just to blast it into the environment, versus capturing and shipping it, and it is said that 25 billion dollars per year worldwide literally go up in smoke this way.
A worse expression yet of oil company laziness is the practice of venting pure methane, unburned, into the air. Methane is one of the most potent and dangerous greenhouse gases known to man, and it can hang around for 100 years or more in the atmosphere, hampering the climate all the while. According to our industry correspondents, this raw venting occurs because operators, once again, are too, quote, “lazy” to even purchase, haul, and install a flare tower to burn the gas on site, let alone capture and transport it. [Editor’s Note: An error snuck through and into the teleprompter here — An extra zero, turning 10 years into 100 years. CO2 stays in the atmosphere up to 100 years, and methane can stick around longer than 10.]
With the virtually unanimous and sobering, accredited, scientific, impending, climate-doom-imminence warnings emanating from nearly all known science academies worldwide, it leaves one to wonder if these simply huge oil oligarchs have even a shred of concern for the future well-being of our planet.
To top it off, the CEO told our reporter off camera that practically every single well in operation across North America is off-gassing methane directly from their tank (storage) batteries. This is in addition to the multitude of other small leaks encountered on virtually every pump jack, and when it comes to raw methane, no other greenhouse gas can touch its sheer caustic power for exacerbating climate change.
According to the World Bank, flaring gas from oil wells accounts for 400 million tons per year in CO2 emissions, and this airborne pollution comes into being, by and large, because adequate natural gas pipeline infrastructures have yet to be installed in many of the primarily crude-containing areas.
And along the same topic, notice how Obama frequently proselytizes, bordering on what some activists have referred to as “snake oil” salesmanship, promising that the industry will, quote, “drill” more safely, and how he is going to demand that companies “drilling” on federal land will have to disclose which chemicals they are “drilling” with.
Well, what about the 600 chemicals that formulate the witch’s brew of so-called “proprietary” fracking cocktails? Will those ever be disclosed, and could Obama’s carefully crafted, non-fracking-containing words be meant as a sleight of hand?
President Obama: Some of you may not have been following this, but because of new technologies, because we can now access natural gas that we couldn’t access before in an economic way, we’ve got a supply of natural gas under our feet that can last America nearly 100 years.
Federally supported technology has helped our businesses drill more effectively and extract more gas.
Oil CEO: … the carcinogenic qualities. These fracking fluids, they don’t like to give you the information that’s even in these fracking fluids. They fought and fought. Why do they fight that? Because they’re all poisonous toxins and problems that are in there that can harm you. There’s many things in there that are passive, but most of ‘em have a severe effect on, ya know, sperm counts, and children …
President Obama: … and by the way, it was public research dollars over the course of 30 years that helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock, reminding us that government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground.
In all this Obama talk about the natural gas “solution,” he has scarcely even uttered the word “fracking,” and he continues to blatantly tout the expansion of natural gas exploration and development without ever making mention of the “Dick Cheney–Halliburton loophole” that exempts frackers from the Clean Drinking Water Act, while handing out frack-for-all hall passes to energy pumpers, allowing them to blast deadly chemical cocktails to no end underneath the earth —with total impunity. This, in an effort to force even more natural gas to the surface. Let’s look at a snippet of what the oilman in black had to say about the “path of least resistance,” and about whether, or whether not, fracking is contaminating America’s drinking water supplies as we speak:
Oil CEO: When you set up a drilling rig hammering the earth 24/7 with who knows what while they’re drilling, they’re saying on their way to these “impenetrable levels” down below where the gas is … I think anybody with a reasonable mindset … knows when you run casing down through there and cement it to surface, that it leaves a pathway back directly to the aquifer. And so, if the cement fails, or the casing fails — which they do: They’ve had cement and casing failures day one, on wells everyday in America, where things fail. So, it’s no question that it’s gonna fail and get in the aquifer, and make its way to your cherished water supplies. The whole concept of drilling down there and then saying “it’s an impenetrable layer” … It’s not impenetrable because you’ve created the … path of [least] resistance, right either behind the cement if the cement fails, or through the cement, or through the casing, or back up; the cement gets a hole in it in the aquifer area under these extreme pressures … a frack gets loose and they pump right in the aquifers. I can guarantee ya that they probably already pumped in the aquifer; they just haven’t told ya about it.
… And let me be clear one more time: Anything the industrial lobbyists might be saying about this not being a cancerous contamination threat to this aquifer is pure nonsense. Because, once again, any penetration of an aquifer down to oil and gas layers below poses a direct threat, because it’s the path of least resistance. Let’s remember that: The path of least resistance. There’s pressure down there, and because cement doesn’t last forever. Period. It might last 50 years or 100 years, but it won’t last a million years, and what about earthquakes?
So, Mr. Obama, just what is the policy here? A frack-for-all bonanza party that seeks to pillage every last drop of natural gas from our one-and-only planet Earth as fast and furiously as possible, while we sit around waiting on the already-hamstrung and hobbled EPA to figure out whether or not fracking actually poses a direct threat to the aquifers? Is that the policy we’re experiencing here? With our irreplaceable, vital and life-sustaining water supply, does the philosophy and cliché “better safe than sorry” even come onto the radar?
President Obama: Right now, American oil production is the highest that it’s been in eight years. That’s right. Eight years. Not only that, last year, we relied less on foreign oil than in any of the last 16 years. But, with only 2% of the world’s oil reserves, oil isn’t enough. This country needs an all-out, all-of-the-above strategy that develops every available source of American energy.
The exploratory binge being fostered by the Administration enabling and furthering the oil industry’s unquenchable thirst for hydrocarbons raises an interesting point: Are we all becoming feudal serfs to mineral-baron fiefdom?
EnviroNews USA Editor-in-Chief Emerson Urry recently sat down with famed environmental activist and groundwater defender Erin Brockovich on the subject of fracking, and here’s what she had to say on the fracking fiefdom:
The people need to become aware of this because a lot of them are signing the contracts, and their rights, and their land, and everything away, and they don’t know what’s gone wrong, and then they’re stuck. I mean, it’s hard for us to come in legally and fix that because they’ve signed contracts.
Here’s what Pennsylvania landowner Sherry Vargson had to say about being stuck in a mineral-rights contract with Chesapeake Energy:
We were offered 100 dollars an acre, which was going rate at that time. It’s naturally increased since we signed our lease as people became more informed as to what the gas companies were actually here for. I don’t begrudge anyone who can get a better contract than what I did. I went with a local lawyer who was very good with contracts, but at the time all of this was still so new that they even miss things.
In June of 2010, these service men were out there working. To this day, I can only tell you, through Chesapeake, that they were doing ’maintenance work.’ Within days our water changed. We went from having water that didn’t seem out of the norm to drawing Alka-Seltzer out of your faucet. And so we called Chesapeake, and they came in, and a little air monitor sent off all these bells and whistles within three to five seconds, and he determined that we had an excessive level of methane.
We have gotten very good at taking very short showers. We’re usually within under five minutes, because if you are in the shower longer than that, you do get a dizzy lightheaded feeling, but no one can explain why.
I can often hold a standard kitchen match to my water, and, like I said, it is unpredictable, but the methane randomly travels with the water, and sometimes it will light quite spectacularly. Just like that! (flames)
When you boil it all down, you have to wonder has Obama been duped, or possibly somehow strong-armed, into this blatant lust and subsequent sales pitch for natural gas, because frankly, the long-term dynamics of the equation seem questionable at best.
Think about it: Natural gas, barely profitable in today’s economy when compared to a commodity like crude oil, is subject, just like any other product, to the cyclical supply-and-demand woes of the marketplace. The more of it they bring up to the surface, the lower its value will be: supply-and-demand basics.
Now before signing off, we want to show one more segment to you from the unparalleled interview with the 42-year-career, ex-swab-rig operator, down-hole expert and non-pencil-pushing sitting oil CEO, on the larger topic of Obama’s energy and natural gas policy as a whole. Here’s what he had to say on this:
EnviroNews Reporter: And so, you hear Obama out there, he’s pitching for natural gas, he’s trying to sell natural gas as a wave of our energy future here in America, and with the current numbers that we are looking at, including the climate catastrophe, and not to mention … does this just exacerbate this fracking boom, ya know, before the real data is in? (But after the aquifers are contaminated it’s too late.) Is Obama just point-blank wrong when it comes to natural gas? Yes or no?
Oil CEO: Yes. It’s just a matter of what day ya wanna get started. Let’s get started today. I mean, the natural gas is probably technically a lesser problem, but when are you gonna get started? Are you gonna stretch it out another 40 years? Another 100 years? In the end it has to stop. It needs to stop now, worldwide.
EnviroNews Reporter: And so, that being said, what would you say to President Obama, who many have said has been very friendly to oil and gas development in our country, to say the least? What would you say to him in regards to his deep-water drilling? In regards to the natural-gas transition that he’s been advertising? What would you have to say to him in regards to energy policy as a whole?
Oil CEO: I voted for President Obama. He was the best choice. But, in the final analysis, he’s been totally friendly to the oil and gas industry. You have people running around every day saying, “Well, what’s goin’ on? What’s goin’ on?” This is the best times we’ve ever had in the oil and gas industry. Yes, they’re drilling on Federal lands. All that President Obama ever said is “drill some of the leases you’ve got.” Him and Ken Salazar said … “drill some of the leases you’ve got.” Let’s don’t drill right in the middle of the Grand Canyon on a floating barge. (laughs)
Here is a takeaway from the 2012 town hall where President Obama argued that very point with Republican candidate Mitt Romney:
Obama: That’s the strategy you need, an all-of-the-above strategy, and that’s what we’re going to do in the next four years.
Romney: But that’s not what you’ve done in the last four years.
Obama: Sure it is.
Romney: That’s the problem. In the last four years, you’ve cut permits and licenses on Federal lands, and in Federal waters in half.
Obama: Not true, Governor Romney. It’s not true.
Romney: By how much did you cut them by then?
Obama: Governor, we have actually produced more oil …
Romney: No, no. How much did you cut licenses by on Federal land and in Federal waters?
Obama: Governor Romney, here’s what we did. There were a whole bunch of oil companies …
Romney: No, I had a question, and the question was, “How much did you cut them by?” How much did you cut them by?
Obama: You want me to answer the question? I’m happy to answer the question.
Romney: All right, and it is?
Obama: Here’s what happened. You had a whole bunch of oil companies who had leases on public lands that they weren’t using. So what we said was, “You can’t just sit on this for 10, 20, 30 years … decide when you wanna drill, when you wanna produce, when it’s most profitable for you. These are public lands. So if you wanna drill on public lands, you use it or you lose it.
Obama: So what we did was take away those leases, and we are now reletting them, so that we can actually make a profit.
Romney: And production on government land is down. Production on government land of oil is down 14%. And production of gas is down 9%.
Obama: No, it isn’t. Governor, what you’re saying is just not true. It’s just not true.
“Oilman X” also weighed in along these lines, and here’s what he had to say:
Let’s remember: There’s a finite amount of oil and gas. Let’s just say we’ve reached peak oil, and I think that’s been stated. And so, in that case, it’s evident we gotta make the change, let’s make the change now, and just start going this direction into the green technologies, right now! — and not wait ’til we completely are on our deathbed.
In the grand scheme, unchecked fracking seems to make little sense where a looming climate catastrophe and the environment are concerned, and one is left to contemplate whether this nat-gas explosion will ultimately be boom or bust. Could it pull America, and the world for that matter, along with it, down a dangerously wrong-headed path, ultimately unsustainable as the cumulative effects from reckless and hasty natural-gas plunder continue to pile up relentlessly toxic footprints on the earth, in the water, and ultimately in human and animal tissue?
Jobs, jobs, jobs — so called growth and development — that is all we ever hear, but what about all life and the delicate balance that maintains a stable climate and a healthy ecosystem?
Once we are 100% committed to the gas-path juggernaut and boundless infrastructure is implemented, will we ever truly be able to stop and turn that train around? Will we overdose on our own methadone-like, transitionary, weaning substance?
With the horse now blazing further and further out of the barn, could we all now be utterly doomed to receive an Obama-policy natural-gas whoopin’ of biblical proportions by a catastrophically carbon-loaded future?
Oil CEO: The tire companies are gonna fight ya, the entrenched special interests are gonna’ fight ya. It’s a huge battle that looms ahead. One thing I know for sure, and you should know for sure, is it’s going to happen. That is going to happen. We’re not sure what day it is, but when you run out of natural gas and oil, what are you gonna do then? I would like to ask that question point-blank: What day, what time? When it’s all gone — there’s a finite amount. They’re not really making it, or regenerating it down there to any reasonable amount. What are you gonna do that day when it ends?
EnviroNews Reporter: Can we even make it that far?
Oil CEO: No. I mean, the children will have choked to death by the time you get to that point. It seems absurd to me. It’s like a heroin addict that says, “I just can’t get off. I just can’t quit, and then so I’m just gonna eventually die.” That’s really a good analogy, and methadone, the transitionary thing for heroin, is kinda the equivalent of the natural gas. The guy goes in every day and gets his methadone thing. He doesn’t really have a life ‘cause he’s still basically hooked, but he’s kinda in and kinda out. I mean, get on or get off! America, the world, make a change. I mean, it takes courage, it takes guts, and it takes foresight. You know, personally, most oil people would look at me and say, “It isn’t what I wanna do.” But when are you gonna do it? When are you gonna quit your special interest and start tryin’ to get into a world that’s feasible for the planet to survive so your children and grandchildren can breathe? It’s that simple.
For EnviroNews USA, this is Josh Cunnings.