April 22 News: Chesapeake suspends fracking in PA after blowout and leak; Contemplating the human cost of energy

Operator suspends fracking in state

As a natural gas well in Bradford County continued to leak super-salty flow-back water after a blowout Wednesday, well operator Chesapeake Energy suspended all hydraulic fracturing operations in Pennsylvania on Thursday.

The leak, which began in an accident Tuesday night, produced water and natural gas until about 10 p.m. Thursday, when Chesapeake said it had stopped the flow.

Chesapeake’s Atgas H2 gas well in LeRoy Township, near Canton, suffered a blowout when a piece of equipment failed during hydraulic fracturing just before midnight Tuesday into Wednesday, sending a reported 30,000 gallons of water spilling from the well pad, some of it reaching a tributary of Towanda Creek.


The creek flows into the Susquehanna River.

Chesapeake said fluids still seeping from the leaking piece of equipment had been contained by midday Wednesday, and a secondary containment mechanism was diverting the flow of fluids away from Towanda Creek.

Equipment was removed from the well head, and crews worked to plug the leak and seal the well. Chesapeake said after 10 p.m. Thursday that workers had successfully stemmed the flow of the leak, and that they would continue to monitor it overnight.

Chesapeake spokesman Brian Grove said the exact cause of the breach remained unknown Thursday, but that it took place in a wellhead connection.

“Chesapeake has voluntarily suspended all completion operations in Pennsylvania as we evaluate this incident,” Grove said in a statement Thursday, later adding, “a full investigation will be conducted to determine the root cause of the failure, evaluate best management practices and make any and all necessary corrections before returning to normal operations.”Seven families living near the well were temporarily evacuated Wednesday morning but returned later in the day.

On Earth Day, Contemplating the Human Cost of Energy

April 20, the one-year anniversary of the beginning of the Gulf oil spill, has no shortage of news events. Environmentalists and fishermen along the Gulf coast offered tours of the shoreline, to show the spots where the oil still remained. BP””with its impeccable sense of timing””lodged a $40 billion lawsuit against Transocean, the Swiss drilling company that operated the Deepwater Horizon, and separate suits against other contractors. Republicans in Congress marked the anniversary of the biggest oil spill in U.S. history with a call to renew and expand drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. “Safety reforms have been implemented, new technology has been deployed and the Gulf is ready to get back to work to help create jobs and lower gasoline prices,” said Doc Hastings, the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, in a statement.

But there were other, smaller events on April 20, memorials that recalled the 11 crew members killed in the Deepwater Horizon blowout. They were forgotten quickly, those men, as the rig sank and the oil spread and the fears focused on the vulnerable Gulf coastline, on the fate of the fish and the bird and the wetlands. But they should be remembered, men like Roy Wyatt Kemp, husband to Courtney and father to 3-year-old Kaylee and 14-month-old Madison. “Their daddy and my husband is never coming home,” Courtney Kemp told the Advertiser in Louisiana a few days ago.

It’s Earth Day today””the 41st one””and it comes at a time when we’ve all been made aware of the environmental cost of the energy we use. The BP oil spill caused ecological damage that scientists will study for years, and the partial nuclear meltdown at Fukushima may render large parts of the surrounding area uninhabitable. Coal and other fossil fuels continue to blacken the sky and warm the climate, and even natural gas””seen as a greener bridge fuel””has experienced recent accidents, with a major well blowout occurring this week in Pennsylvania. Alternatives like solar and wind are growing, but there are even environmental and quality of life complaints about renewable power as well.

Justice Department group tasked with monitoring oil prices

As gas prices across the nation inch higher, the Obama administration will investigate the energy markets for any evidence of manipulation of oil and gas prices through the formation of a new group, the Department of Justice announced Thursday.

With the average price of a gallon of gas at about $3.84 this week, almost a dollar higher than a year ago, according to the Department of Energy, the Oil and Gas Price Fraud Working Group will search for incidents of fraud and collusion in addition to price manipulation.

“The attorney general’s putting together a team whose job it will be to root out any cases of fraud or manipulation in the oil markets that might affect gas prices — and that includes the role of traders and speculators,” President Obama said at a town hall meeting in Nevada on Thursday. “We are going to make sure that no one is taking advantage of American consumers for their own short-term gain.”

Google Invests $100M in (Another!) Wind Farm

Google’s investments in clean power are now rivaling that of stand alone clean energy investors. Monday morning, the search engine giant said it has invested $100 million in the world’s largest wind farm, the 845 MW Shepherds Flat project under construction in Oregon. With this investment, Google has put more than $350 million (a jaw-dropping amount for an Internet company) into clean power.

The investment in the Shepherds Flat project follows on a $168 million investment announced last week into a solar thermal project being built by startup BrightSource Energy in California’s Mojave Desert, as well as a planned $38.8 million investment into 169.5 MW worth of wind projects developed by NextEra Energy Resources in North Dakota, and a ‚¬3.5 million ($5 million USD) investment in a solar photovoltaic farm in Brandenburg an der Havel, Germany, which is near Berlin. In addition to its investments, Google’s subsidiary Google Energy “” which can buy and sell electricity on the wholesale markets “” plans to buy 114 MW of wind power from an Iowa wind farm owned by NextEra Energy resources.

Google says it’s interested in backing the world’s largest wind farm partly because the project will use next-gen wind tech, permanent magnet generators, which can improve the efficiency of turbines, and increase the reliability of the grid connection, and which aren’t readily used in currently installed large utility wind farms. The Shepherds Flat will use GE’s 2.5xl wind turbines.

The Shepherds Flat wind farm is anticipated to be the largest in the world when it is fully built sometime in 2012. It’ll stretch across 30 square miles of Oregon, and will cost $2 billion to build. Southern California Edison, a utility, has entered into a contract to buy the wind power.

Mixed Signals for Q1 Greentech Investment

What to make of the mixed messages in the green technology investment figures from the first quarter of 2011? Depending on your point of view, the first three months either signal a record-setting expansion for the industry or retrenchment in the face of economic and political headwinds.

My first-quarter 2011 report at GigaOM Pro (subscription required) lays out highlights and breaks out in-depth details by industry sector. But at the highest level, the nature of the first quarter’s data is reflected in a big rise in venture capital investment, and a big drop-off in global clean energy financing.

First, the bad news. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported last week that global renewable energy investment fell off sharply in the first quarter, falling to $31.1 billion, more than a third down from the fourth quarter’s $47.1 billion. The biggest category of asset finance fell to $25.7 billion from the previous quarter’s $36.6 billion.

While part of that is due to the “hangover” from the record-high, fourth-quarter investments, it was mainly driven by skidding solar markets in Europe and headwinds for the U.S. wind power industry, now facing decade-lows in prices for the natural gas that spins the turbines it competes against.

Former Mich. governor Granholm touts clean energy

Former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Thursday told an audience in Little Rock that new investments in clean energy were needed to create jobs and replace factories that are closing their doors.

Granholm spoke at the Clinton School of Public Service. She was introduced by Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe, who called on audience members to “evangelize in the old Southern way” about solar power, biofuels and other forms of alternative energy.

“It’s good for the environment, it’s good for our economy, and it’s good for our national security,” Beebe said.

Granholm, who served two terms as Michigan’s governor, told the story of a town in her state that lost a refrigerator plant. The company turned down Granholm’s offer of tax breaks and concessions from workers to move to Mexico, where labor costs were cheaper, she said.

State Regulators List 33 Ways EPA Rules Aren’t Working

If the administration is going to strip away some red tape, as President Obama said when he penned an executive order telling federal agencies to get rid of ineffective and outdated regulations, one group of top state officials has 33 good places for U.S. EPA to start.

The executive order, which was signed in January, asked the members of the public to air their grievances. So far, EPA alone has received nearly 1,500 comments on its rules, which have been placed under a microscope on Capitol Hill as Republicans have advanced the argument that regulations are the reason the economy has been slow to recover from the woes that began when the financial sector nearly collapsed three years ago.

Joining the fray yesterday was the Environmental Council of the States, or ECOS, an influential group that represents the secretaries of state environmental agencies. Under the nation’s environmental laws, such as the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, these officials run more than 95 percent of the programs and take about 90 percent of the enforcement actions, making them intimately familiar with the rules.

Schwarzenegger slams GOP-led bills to block pollution rules

Arnold Schwarzenegger said Thursday that congressional attacks on Environmental Protection Agency air-pollution rules are enough to make him cry.

The movie star and former GOP governor of California used a Wall Street Journal op-ed to attack bills circulating on Capitol Hill that would thwart climate-change rules and various other regulations.

He noted that when he came to California in the late 1960s, poor air quality would cause his eyes to water, while the air quality is much better now thanks to the Clean Air Act.

“Today, I have tears in my eyes again, but for a very different reason. Some in Washington are threatening to pull the plug on this success,” Schwarzenegger writes.

“Since January, there have been more than a dozen proposals in Congress to limit enforcement of our clean-air rules, create special-interest loopholes, and attempt to reverse scientific findings. These attacks go by different names and target different aspects of the law, but they all amount to the same thing: dirtier air,” the column reads, warning of increased illnesses and deaths linked to mercury, dioxins and other pollutants.

Gassed Up, Ready to Go

The two House committees most involved in the nation’s energy policy have had a jam-packed agenda over the past three months. They’ve held a total of 30 sessions on gasoline prices, offshore drilling, climate-change rules, energy spending, and oversight of the government’s energy and environment agencies.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee has already sent a bill to gut the Environmental Protection Agency’s climate-change rules to the House floor, where it passed 255–172. The Natural Resources Committee has approved three bills to expand offshore drilling that are scheduled to reach the full House next month.

Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Natural Resources Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Wash., are just getting started. In the coming months, they’re planning additional hearings and bills, even though Republicans know that most of the measures have little chance of passing in the Democratic-controlled Senate and no chance of surviving on President Obama’s desk. But turning bills into laws isn’t really the point.

The panels are serving as springboards for a political message that GOP leaders believe will be one of the most effective in helping them to gain ground in the 2012 elections: blaming Democrats for high gas prices and overzealous environmental regulations.

On Our Radar: Republicans Mark Spill Anniversary With Drilling Call

Doc Hastings, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, marks the anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill with a call to speed drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. “Over the past year significant progress has been made toward making American offshore drilling the safest in the world,” Mr. Hastings, Republican of Washington, said in a statement. “Safety reforms have been implemented, new technology has been deployed and the gulf is ready to get back to work to help create jobs and lower gasoline prices.” [House Natural Resources Committee]

Darrell E. Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, accuses President Obama of an “aggressive quest to end domestic offshore energy development altogether” in the wake of the BP spill, despite the administration’s approval of dozens of drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the spill. “Administration-approved bureaucratic delays contradict our nation’s history in encouraging those who have made major advances in exploring the unknown, whether under the Earth’s surface or beyond its atmosphere,” Mr. Issa writes in an essay. [National Review]

Visiting the Gulf Coast, Lisa P. Jackson, the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, says that an environmental “Armageddon” from the BP oil spill was averted, but that rigorous tracking of the effects of the spill needed to continue for years. “There is still oil in the ecosystem. We know that now,” she says. “What I say to people is that we need several years of data to ensure there is no collapse of any part of the ecosystem.” [The Hill]


A year after the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed eleven workers and triggered a months-long spill in the Gulf of Mexico, how safe is offshore drilling? “It certainly can be safer and more responsible than it has been and than it is right now,” Elizabeth Kolbert says on this week’s Political Scene podcast:

Can you put lots of wells into very deep water””I mean, we’re talking, in some cases, under a mile of water and then going down underneath the sea another mile or more. Can you do that without incident? Without accident? Without spills? I think the record seems pretty clear that no, you’re not going to be able to do that without accidents taking place.

Raffi Khatchadourian, who wrote last month about the BP spill and discussed the cleanup efforts in a live chat this week, says that the disaster led officials to recognizing some “very real problems and things that can be fixed.” But he worries about losing momentum.

You know, after Exxon Valdez there was a lot of push within the oil industry to fund oil-spill response and journals and technologies and investment in trying to figure out better ways to clean up oil. That also happened, by the way, in the federal government, as well. And, after several years, all of that money and interest basically arced down, and a kind of complacency went into place.

Which nations are most responsible for climate change?

There are many different ways to compare the carbon footprints of the world’s nations. These include total emissions, per capita emissions, historical emissions and emissions as measured by consumption as opposed to production. Each gives a different insight — and none tells the whole story on its own. Following is quick guide to the data.

Current CO2 emissions

The simplest and most widely cited way to compare the emissions of countries is to add up all the fossil fuels burned in each nation and convert that into CO2. According to 2009 data from the US Energy Information Administration, the top 10 emitters by this measure are:

1. China: 7,711 million tonnes (MT) or 25.4%2. US: 5,425 MT or 17.8%3. India: 1,602 MT or 5.3%4. Russia: 1,572 MT or 5.2%5. Japan: 1,098 MT or 3.6%6. Germany: 766 MT 2.5%7. Canada: 541 MT or 1.8%8. South Korea: 528 MT or 1.7%9. Iran: 527 MT or 1.7%10. UK: 520 MT or 1.7%See all countries

All greenhouse gas emissions

The problem with focusing purely on CO2 from burning fossil fuels is that it ignores other greenhouse gases and non-fossil-fuel sources of CO2. When these are included, the figures change considerably, with countries such as Brazil and Indonesia shooting up the list due to emissions caused by deforestation. Recent data isn’t available, but as of 2005, the top 10 emitters as measured in total greenhouse gases looked like this:

1. China: 7,216 MT or 16.4%2. US: 6,931 MT or 15.7%3. Brazil: 2,856 MT or 6.5%4. Indonesia: 2,046 MT or 4.6%5. Russia: 2,028 MT or 4.6%6. India: 1,870 MT or 4.2%7. Japan: 1,387 MT or 3.1%8. Germany: 1,005 MT or 2.3%9. Canada: 808 MT or 1.8%10. Mexico: 696 MT or 1.6%