fracking

Jeff Heimsath for KUT News

Even before the President’s State of the Union Address was over last night, some environmental and renewable energy groups were sending out congratulatory emails.

“We thank President Obama for his leadership” read one from the Solar Energy Industries Association. The speech outlined “clean energy solutions”  said the group Environment Texas.

Eddie Seal/Texas Tribune

In the latest report on state sales tax revenues, some towns are reporting huge increases in sales tax collections.

Asherton, for example, saw its January sales tax grow by 191 percent. Asherton is near the Eagle Ford Shale, an area being transformed by the oil and gas drilling boom.

As Mose Buchele reports for StateImpact Texas, a new bipartisan group of state lawmakers hoping to guide that transformation hosted its first meeting today at the Capitol.

Eddie Seal / Texas Tribune

Some people in the small East Texas town of Timpson are wondering if oil and gas drilling disposal wells are causing earthquakes in the area. The town registered its third earthquake in a week yesterday afternoon.

Dave Fehling/StateImpact Texas

As the debate over the safety of fracking continues between politicians, environmentalists and oil companies, some scientists may have found a way to test the drilling procedure.

courtesy flickr.com/dayland

The science linking oil and gas drilling activity and earthquakes has been established for decades. And with the current boom in domestic drilling, more earthquakes are happening and states are taking action to fight them. But not in Texas, where the most drilling is taking place. For StateImpact Texas, KUT’s Mose Buchele reports.

2012 was a banner year for renewable energy. But in Texas and across the county, one energy story captured public attention like none other: fracking.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a drilling practice used to extract natural gas from hard-to-reach deposits. Hydraulic fracturing fluid is pumped deep into underground wells to break up natural gas deposits. The fluid is then removed, and deposited into disposal wells, while the gas deposits are collected.

University of Texas Energy Institute

Update and correction: In a press release, UT announced that ​Dr. Raymond Orbach had “resigned.” It did not say, however, that Orbach will be staying at UT as a tenured professor. Orbach has only resigned as head of the Energy Institute, effective Dec. 31. This post has since been corrected. 

Original post: One University of Texas professor has retired and another has stepped down from a leadership role after a review found a conflict of interest in a controversial report on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

As KUT News previously reported, the report from the UT Energy Institute, “Separating Fact From Fiction in Shale Gas Development,” stated that fracking, when executed properly, doesn’t contaminate groundwater. But StateImpact Texas reported that the study's leader failed to disclose financial ties to the drilling industry, including a seat on the board of a drilling company.  

flickr.com/wcn247

A small quake rattled the Fort Worth area last night – the latest North Texas quake to occur in proximity to hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” sites and their disposal wells.

Fracking is the practice of pumping hydraulic fracturing fluid into wells to break up and extract oil shale and natural gas deposits.  StateImpact Texas writes that “while it’s difficult to link any individual quake to a specific cause, North Texas has seen a significant uptick in seismic events since hydraulic fracturing technology opened up the area to widespread oil and gas drilling.”

sustainability.gov/

A series of small earthquakes in the Dallas region over the weekend are reviving discussion of the link between quakes and the oil and gas industry practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”

Fracking is the practice of pumping hydraulic fracturing fluid into wells to break up and extract oil shale and natural gas deposits. Just how fracking is linked to earthquakes is a hot topic around the country, Texas especially.

The Dallas Morning News reports two quakes rattled the Dallas region on Saturday, followed by another quake on Sunday. Both quakes were in the Barnett Shale, which is rich in natural gas.

StateImpact Texas writes that it’s not the actual act of fracking itself that leads to earthquakes, but rather the disposal of the fracking fluid remaining after the process, which is usually shot into disposal wells deep underground.

University of Texas Energy Institute

The University of Texas at Austin has put together a panel of three experts to review a professor’s disputed study on hydraulic fracking.

UT professor Charles Groat’s study stated there’s little or no evidence that fracking’s connected with groundwater contamination. But the results of the study came into question after a watchdog group noted Groat has received money from a company that does fracking.

StateImpact Texas shares the make up of the panel:

University of Texas Energy Institute

A University of Texas study disputing connections between the oil and gas industry practice of fracking and groundwater contamination is receiving new scrutiny, with the revelation the study’s leader failed to disclose significant financial ties to a drilling company that engages in the practice.

As KUT News reported in February, the report from the UT Energy Institute, “Separating Fact From Fiction in Shale Gas Development,” stated that fracking, when executed properly, doesn’t contaminate groundwater. However, contamination may occur as the result of above ground spills or mishandling of wastewater.

StateImpact Texas, a joint reporting partnership of KUT News and NPR, has followed the story. On Monday, highlighting a report from watchdog group  Public Accountablitiy Initiative, it reported study leader Charles “Chip” Groat had extensive industry ties:

Image courtesy fossil.energy.gov

A newly-released report on fracking – the practice of pumping hydraulic fracturing fluid into wells to break up and extract oil shale and natural gas deposits – has caused something of a stir in Texas.

Image courtesy Chesapeake Energy

UT Study Says Fracking Doesn’t Directly Contaminate Groundwater

A new report by the University of Texas at Austin released this week says there’s no direct link between groundwater contamination and hydraulic fracturing – a controversial method of extracting natural gas and oil from shale formations.

The research was done by UT's Energy Institute. The report’s authors say contamination is often the result of above ground spills or mishandling of wasterwater, but not caused directly by fracking. 

Fracking involves blasting water, mixed with sand and chemicals, underground to fracture rock and improve the flow of natural gas and oil. The practice is used at the North Texas Barnett Shale.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency is also studying the environmental effects fracking may have on groundwater. Its preliminary results differ from the UT study.

Photo by Anne Lise Norheim, Halliburton http://www.flickr.com/photos/olfnorge/

Natural gas extraction on the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas has developed to the point that the oil field services company Halliburton has decided to build a $50 million operations base in San Antonio.

The Houston-based company announced yesterday that it is looking to hire 1,500 people to staff the center. Annual salaries will average $70,000, the Houston Chronicle reports.

When Halliburton reported its quarterly earnings last month, it announced record breaking profits at its North American operations: more than $1 billion. Much of that was on the back of the booming natural gas industry, which has taken off with technological advances in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” – a practice that allows access to natural gas stored in shale rock 5,000 feet underground.

Photo by Eddie Seal, Texas Tribune

An earthquake hit outside of Oklahoma City on Saturday night. The magnitude 5.6 quake was the strongest in Oklahoma history. The US Geological Survey has released an initial report on the quake, but has not yet given an official cause.

Eddie Seal / Texas Tribune

A 4.8 magnitude earthquake struck an area of South Texas today that is a center point for natural gas and oil production in the Eagle Ford Shale. The quake’s epicenter was here in the unincorporated community of Campbellton in Atascosa County near Karnes County. You can see numerous wells in the county in this map from the Texas Railroad Commission. (Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly placed the epicenter in Karnes County.)

A University of Texas seismologist says hydraulic fracturing itself does not cause earthquakes. But he says earthquakes have been associated with the disposal of fracking fluids.

Photo by WhisperToMe http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:WhisperToMe

In an indication of how aggressively energy companies are pursuing underground natural gas, Halliburton is reporting a record breaking quarter, largely based on growth in its North American operations.  

For the first time ever, Halliburton’s operating income in North America exceeded $1 billion. The company said that was mainly because of strong activity in shale rock formations like the Eagle Ford in South Texas and the Bakken region in North Dakota and Montana. Halliburton also cited strong activity in the Permian Basin of West Texas.

North America has been experiencing an onshore drilling boom, as companies race to exploit hydraulic fracturing technology, commonly referred to as “fracking”. It involves pumping large amounts of liquid thousands of feet underground to fracture shale rock formations and release natural gas or oil.

Oil field service companies like Halliburton are “like the people that sold the picks and shovels during the gold rush in California,” Houston-based investment banker Allen Brooks told Bloomberg News in June.

Illustration courtesy of Texas Tribune

A Department of Energy subcommittee is recommending steps for restoring  public trust in the natural gas extraction process known as hyrdaulic fracturing or "fracking," an important part of the Obama Administration's energy policy.

Over the last few years, public concern over the process has grown with the release of documentaries like Gasland and reports of possible connections between fracking and contaminated ground water. You can watch the trailer to Gasland here to get a sense of the film's story arc and tone:

Yesterday, a group of 28 scientists representing 22 universities sent a letter to Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, "expressing concern over the lack of impartiality on the Natural Gas Subcommittee."  The group criticized what they called "advocacy based science" and pointed out that six of the seven members of the subcommittee "have current financial ties to the natural gas and oil industry."

The group called for greater impartiality and asked that "at a minimum" subcommittee chairman John Deutch, an MIT professor and former CIA director,  leave the subcommittee and be replaced by "a person with no financial ties to the natural gas and oil industry."

The rise of fracking as a method for extracting natural gas from shale rock has triggered demand for a key ingredient in the process: silica sand. In parts of the upper Midwest, there's been a rush to mine this increasingly valuable product.

Eddie Seal/Texas Tribune

The Environmental Protection Agency proposed new air pollution rules for oil and gas production today. The regulations are the first national standards for emissions from hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, a controversial practice used to extract natural gas in the Barnet Shale and in South Texas, among other places.

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