VPIRG takes fracking case to VTGas’ doorstep

SOUTH BURLINGTON — The Vermont Public Interest Research Group released a report Thursday on the environmental dangers of hydraulic fracturing in an effort to build a case against Vermont Gas Systems’ proposed pipeline expansion.

The report was released during a news conference outside Vermont Gas’ South Burlington offices Thursday, marking VPIRG’s latest move against the 43-mile, $86.6 million natural gas pipeline that would pass through Addison County if approved by the Public Service Board.

The pipeline would be used to distribute natural gas to customers of Vermont Gas, which derives some of its supply from natural gas wells outside the state that use “fracking” techniques.

The Sept. 30 report (attached below), titled “Fracking by the Numbers,” was written by the Environment America Research & Policy Center, an environmental research group. The report quantifies the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking.”

Fracking is a procedure that forces a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into bedrock to crack open a vein and release its natural gas. Part of the opposition to the proposed pipeline centers on the environmental consequences of this process.

Paul Burns, executive director for VPIRG, said using natural gas in Vermont would only export the “environmental nightmare” outlined in the report to the communities hosting the fracking wells elsewhere.

“If fracking is too dirty and dangerous for us here in Vermont, then we must admit that it is not acceptable just because it’s taking place in Alberta, Pennsylvania or anyplace else,” Burns said.

Vermont banned the process of hydraulic fracturing within the state in 2012 when Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law Act 152, making the state the first in the nation to ban this process.

Burns said natural gas distribution in Vermont is inconsistent with the state’s environmental mission to be 90 percent dependent on clean and renewable energy sources by 2050.

He said Vermont Gas does not have the interest or capacity to stop sourcing its natural gas from fracked wells.

Steve Wark, director of communications for Vermont Gas, spoke after the news conference in an effort to defend the need to use natural gas as a bridge from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources.

Wark said VPIRG’s campaign against natural gas is taking a choice away from Vermonters who currently rely on dirtier sources of heating fuel, such as propane or oil.

“VPIRG seeks to deny Vermonters access to a cleaner and more affordable fuel,” Wark said. “We know that the hydraulic fracturing process of natural gas is actually cleaner than the alternatives that are out there.”

Wark said 75 percent of homeowners and businesses use oil or propane for heat, which are energy sources that also rely of the hydraulic fracturing process. The difference with natural gas is that it is cleaner to burn, he said.

He said communities that host the fracking wells are responsible for regulating the processes for obtaining the gas. He said Vermont Gas’ responsibility is to make sure it can sell products with a clear conscience.

The report presented by VPIRG states that fracking poses a “grave threat” to the environment, the public’s health and safety, infrastructure and local economies situated near fracking wells.

According to the report, fracking produced 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater in 2012. Since 2005, the process has used 250 billion gallons of water and 2 billion gallons of chemicals, damaged 360,000 acres of land, produced air pollution, and contributed to global warming, the report says.

The report analyzed the impact of more than 80,000 fracking wells across 17 states. Where possible, the report narrowed the data to only include wells using high-volume hydraulic fracturing involving more than 100,000 gallons of water or horizontal drilling.

The report urges states to ban the process of fracking, close loopholes for sites already operating and require that companies provide financial insurance for any damages incurred during the fracking process, such as the contamination of drinking water.


Comments

  1. Annette Smith :

    Read the report, watch Gasland I and II, get educated about this destructive energy sprawl that is inadequately regulated and undemocratic, exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. The low prices cannot be sustained.

    The one aspect of fracking that the report misses is the types and large quantities of sand necessary for each well. An entire industry has developed, involving importing specially treated sand from China and soliciting truckers in local Vermont classified ads for driving trucks in Texas. New mining pressure is occurring in Wisconsin, the northern US and southern Canada. The sand is mined, sent to Texas for processing, then trucked to the fracking sites (maybe some of them use rail, I do not know) often long distances.

    And to downplay the connection to the natural world, they don’t call it sand. Search for the word “proppant”.

  2. NG will be good for the US economy for many decades. It is replacing coal that is much more harmful to human health and the environment than gas.

    Vermont should be using much more of it, instead of subsidizing dysfunctional SPEED projects and Lowell-style IWTs plants on ecologically pristine ridge lines that produce energy at 3-4 times grid prices.

    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/278866/natural-gas-good-us-economy
    http://theenergycollective.com/willem-post/169521/wind-turbine-energy-capacity-less-estimated

    US natural gas production has been steadily increasing from about 20,256 billion cubic feet in 2008 (consumption 23,277 bcf, less imports 3,021 bcf) to about 23,986 bcf in 2012 (consumption 25,502 bcf, less imports 1,516 bcf). In 2012, US NG production was about 40% from shale, and the rest from tight gas, and other sources. The shale share is projected to grow to 43% and 60% by 2015 and 2035, respectively.

    Natural gas is good for the US economy because it:

    - is domestic (energy security),
    - is abundant (many decades of supply),
    - emits no health-damaging particulates, unlike coal,
    - has CO2 emissions that are about 50-60% less/kWh than of coal (reduces GW),
    - is low-cost, about 3.50-4.00 dollars/million Btu, which promotes economic growth and job creation.
    http://www.eia.gov/naturalgas/monthly/archive/2013/2013_04/pdf/ngm_all.pdf

    • Matt Fisken :

      Willem,

      The shale gas being produced now is like the buffalos in the Plains that were killed once guns came along. Just because there was a sudden rush of “harvesting” did not mean it was at all sustainable. In fact, it meant the opposite.

      Because Vermont does not produce any natural gas and the gas we burn comes from Canada, it is not a domestic energy source. Even if you subscribe to the EIA’s wishful thinking (which I don’t), the price is expected to triple by 2040.

      What I think we’ll see is that the luck we’ve had since 2009 with relatively few hurricanes hitting in the oil/gas producing part of the Gulf of Mexico is not going to last. It may only take a couple of storms, which could hit in the next few weeks, for production to dip enough for a price surge. A serious storm and a cold winter could easily send prices back to 2008 levels (2-3 times what they are today).

      Even if VTGas gets the CPG, there are many factors that could force them to change their plans.

      • Matt,

        The buffalos were killed as part of government policy to deprive natives from food. It kept the US Army employed after the Civil War, got the natives off the land, herded them into camps (reservations), so the land would be available for settlers FOR FREE. Most people learn this in high school. You mentioning it is a digression not relevant to this NG discussion.

        “Even if you subscribe to the EIA’s wishful thinking (which I don’t), the price is expected to triple by 2040″

        The EIA collects vast amounts of data on which to base its projections and periodically adjusts these projections as new data becomes available, i.e., does not engage in wishful thinking; there are many uninformed people on this site ,and elsewhere, who do. The EIA is a reputable source used by professionals throughout the world.

        Your statements should be backed up with reputable sources. If not, serious people will dismiss them as so much rhetoric.

        • Matt Fisken :

          Willem,

          You are welcome to supply a better analogy to describe a situation where a finite resource is suddenly more easily captured and destroyed using policy and technology to create “free lunches” for some while destroying another people’s way of life. A digression is often helpful to gain perspective, IMHO.

          What should be obvious to anyone to spends a few minutes looking at the EIA projections is that the extreme price volatility over the past 10 years is COMPLETELY ignored and it is then assumed that the artificially low prices we see now will slowly and steadily ratchet up over the next 30-40 years. I don’t need to cite any sources to assert that this kind of predictability is impossible given the factors at play.

          I am not the smartest guy in the room and I don’t pretend to be, but I know my history and geology well enough to call a bubble when I see one.

          I’m also not overly concerned if the statements I (and others) make are dismissed by folks who would prefer to believe the “100 year supply” myth.

          “past performance is no predictor of future results.”

        • Moshe Braner :

          The EIA has been consistently wrong over many years, always overestimating supply and underestimating price. So has the IEA. They’re under political pressure to cook the books.

    • Bob Orleck :

      Willem: Two wrongs do not make a right! Wind turbines create an irreversible ecological nightmare for our ridge lines. The final product of fracking will be a polluted underground that destroys the life sustaining water supply that makes our planet so unique.

      It is incomprehensible why Governor Shumlin supports the mountain monsters that destroy our headwaters, our birds and our aesthetics and at the same time is opposed to the underground destruction of our water that fracking brings. Makes no sense! Could it be money?

      • Bob,

        “Might makes right”

        Shumlin & Co has the “might”, so they make “right”

        Most Democrats in the Legislature have not a clue about energy systems, vote for laws that lead dysfunctional RE projects that would not exist without excessive subsidies.

        The laws lead to rules and regulations ENCOURAGING and SUBSIDIZING the destruction of pristine ridge lines, as if it were a PUBLIC GOOD, when in fact the energy is produced at 3-4 times grid prices, because of:

        - high ridge line capital costs per kW,
        - high maintenance costs per kWh,
        - poor to middling winds, even on ridge lines, as Maine has found out with a statewide capacity factor of 0.25 on its ridge lines for the past 5 years.

        Fracking is the process of injecting fluids under high pressure to crack underground shale rocks and release oil or gas within the rocks for extraction. There are potential risks of contaminating ground water, increasing air pollution, and mishandling of waste. Federal and state regulations, such as California Senate Bill 4, have been and are being implemented to set stricter fracking standards and better regulate the practices and minimize adverse environmental impacts of fracking.

        Companies using fracking have been operating in a regulatory vacuum for a few years ( governments are to blame; they should have been ahead of the curve), but this is rapidly being corrected, as California has shown.

    • Katharine Hikel, MD :

      The only people who will benefit from shale gas are the supply-side 1%.

      Even The Economist is saying that shale gas prices are artificially, pathetically low, and that as soon as the infrastructures are in place (and demand rises) the prices will jump sky-high:

      http://www.economist.com/news/finance-and-economics/21572815-natural-gas-prices-are-sure-riseeventually-bonanza-or-bane

      - as is already happening in the rest of the world:

      http://shaleoilplays.com/2012/10/map-of-world-natural-gas-prices/

      The industry, of course, is PRIMED FOR PRICE INCREASES:

      http://theuticashale.com/driven-by-oil-shale-economics-natural-gas-prices-primed-for-slow-and-steady-rise/

      http://shaleoilplays.com/2011/09/when-will-natural-gas-prices-rise/

      None of this even addresses the costs to consumers of conversion of heating systems, appliances, etc.

      So it’s not going to be a form of cheap energy for the masses; but a huge source of income for the corporate industrialists and their cronies.

    • Ken McPherson :

      The current low price for natural gas is a temporary market anomaly that exists only because the producers lack the infrastructure necessary to sell it in the global energy market. You can bet that the producers are looking at pipelines that will carry natural gas to transshipment ports where it will be loaded on LNG tankers and transported anywher3e in the world, driving the price up to levels commensurate with crude and other energy sources. We have an example close at hand. The crude oil pipeline from Canada to Portland Maine will be used to load crude into tankers for transport to world markets. The Keystone pipeline will almost certainly be used either to load crude onto tankers for transit to refineries that can handle this type of crude, or to displace shipments of non-US crude that will then go into the world market. In all cases the price will equilibrate and any possible cost advantage – except for the price difference that would reflect the cost of transporting natural gas or crude, will disappear. The companies than own and process the product will reap substantial profits, but little will trickle down to consumers. A large percentage of the natural gas consumed in New England is – or at least was – produced in Algeria and transported to pipelines in Boston. You might ask why Republicans fought hard against an amendment to the Keystone pipeline that would require that all crude transported through the pipeline be used to increase the supply of – and reduce the price of – fuel in the United States.

  3. Matt Fisken :

    The argument that the proposed pipeline gives Vermonters another choice in the fuel they purchase is misleading for a couple of reasons.

    First, the number of new households and businesses that would actually get to tap into the pipe is quite small compared to the number who would remain without access. It’s only freedom of choice if everyone has that choice. As we know, the end game is to supply International Paper, which, to borrow from Dunder Mifflin’s motto, would be promoting “limitless paper in a paperless world.”

    Second, and to somewhat contradict my first point, all Vermonters currently have access to natural gas through NGAdvantage’s “virtual pipeline,” in the form of propane (which is a NG derivative) and from electricity of which, in New England, 50-60% is generated by using natural gas. If you are on the grid, you are using natural gas already. There’s no need for a new pipeline, except to support VTGas’s bottom line.

    So if you are one of those oil burners who can’t wait for a cheaper, cleaner fuel, you’ll be waiting a couple years no matter what. Why not put your money where your mouths are and install a new furnace, range, clothes drier, or water heater and run it on propane and convert it to NG when/if the opportunity arises? Or you can do these same things with electricity, which will closely follow the upward price swing of NG as the unconventionally drilled wells begin petering out in the coming months and years.

    To believe that it is “clean and green” to bury miles of pipe to transport a fuel that will only be available to a select few, that is already available everywhere in the state in bottled form (propane is not a GHG!) and as turbine generated electrons is nothing more than a pipe dream.

  4. This is a breath of fresh air!

  5. Virginia Burgess :

    The argument will be mute when there is no water to drink. Human beings can’t argue aboit policy when they are extinct. (Even shareholders and corporate executives can’t live on profits!)

  6. Moshe Braner :

    Willem: you usually check your facts better. In this case, I must point out that “shale gas” and “tight gas” are the same thing, and that the extraction of natural gas, which increased rapidly in the early years of “fracking”, has leveled off, and declined somewhat, in the last 2 years. The reasons include: rapid decline of output from existing wells (90% in 2 years), running out of the best sites for new wells, and the stuff selling for half the cost, meaning the producers are “losing their shirts” (the words used by Exxon CEO). Thus they’ve moved most of the drilling rigs out of gas and into oil (which is still profitable). No, we do not have “decades of supply” of natural gas – certainly not at today’s low prices!

    For a perspective on this whole false promise of “fracking”, I recommend you read Richard Heinberg’s new book, “Snake Oil”. You can buy it hardcopy or electronically, and also chapters of it are now gradually appearing online for free.

    • Moshe,

      The US will surpass Russia as the largest energy producer of oil and gas combined by 2014-2015.

      The US increased oil production is from shale which has NG as a by-product.

      NG used in CCGTs is essential to balance the variable energy of renewables.

      Exxon is a high overhead company, ergo, would not find it profitable to produce gas at low prices. Some gas wells have been capped to await higher prices.

      One would need to have production data of many gas and oil wells, including new wells started, old wells taken temporarily or permanently out of production, over a period of time, to make a statement regarding their production trends.

      Richard Heinberg wrote many books and also made alarmist predictions about “Peak Oil” which thus far have not happened.

      In fact, Peak Oil has shifted further into the future as years went by, because of advanced exploration and production technologies.

      • Moshe Braner :

        “The US will surpass Russia as the largest energy producer of oil and gas combined by 2014-2015.”

        - Despite the “saudi america” hype, we’re still importing half our oil and some of our gas.

        “The US increased oil production is from shale which has NG as a by-product.”

        - although some NG is extracted along with oil, much of it (especially in North Dakota) is flared (burnt on site, wasted) due to a lack of pipelines to ship it elsewhere. The Bakken field at night from space looks as bright as Minneapolis due to the flaring – google for images. They don’t build collecting pipes because they know it’s not worth it, since the fracking boom will be over in a few years.

        “One would need to have production data of many gas and oil wells, … to make a statement regarding their production trends.”

        - such data has been collected and analyzed. Look up analyses by petroleum geologist Art Berman and by David Hughes. Or read Heinberg’s book for a summary.

        “Richard Heinberg wrote many books and also made alarmist predictions about “Peak Oil” which thus far have not happened.”

        - sure did happen. Conventional oil peaked globally in 2005, and the resulting price rise triggered the global economic problems since. US conventional NG has plummeted in recent years too. If it wasn’t for the depletion of the easy-to-extract oil and gas we wouldn’t be spending billions scraping the bottom of the barrel in the form of expensive and dirty fracking and tar sands in an attempt to keep the fossil-fuel party going. Despite all the hype about the “game changing” fracking bonanza, oil has stayed stubbornly above $100 a barrel, even in a weak economy. NG in the US is cheap only because they over-drilled (since the whole endeavor is a financial bubble), and it’s hard to ship NG other countries. It fetches 3x to 5x the US price in Europe or Japan. When they build the planned export terminals (where it will be cooled to some -200 degrees to liquify it, and loaded onto special ships the burn some 1/3 of it on the way to keep the rest cold), watch the price here climb!

    • Matt Fisken :

      Moshe,

      While I agree with your more realistic view about the reserves of economically accessible natural gas (years, not decades), Willem is correct that shale gas and tight gas are two different products.

      http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/images/figure_91-lg.jpg

      http://aboutnaturalgas.com/content/natural-gas/tight-and-shale-gas/

      The explosion in shale gas production is entirely thanks to our former Vice President’s connections and conflicts of interest.

      http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-fracked-up-usa-shale-gas-bubble/5326504

      “The real reason for the recent explosion of fracking in the United States was passage of legislation in 2005 by the US Congress that exempted the oil industry’s hydraulic fracking, astonishing as it sounds, from any regulatory supervision by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The oil and gas industry is the only industry in America that is allowed by EPA to inject known hazardous materials – unchecked – directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies.”

      “The 2005 law is known as the “Halliburton Loophole.” That’s because it was introduced on massive lobbying pressure from the company that produces the lion’s share of chemical hydraulic fracking fluids – Dick Cheney’s old company, Halliburton.”

  7. Mary Martin :

    Wark said,” communities that host the fracking wells are responsible for regulating the processes for obtaining the gas.” He said Vermont Gas’ responsibility is to make sure it can sell products ……

    Those communities, Wark refers to, are fighting for their lives against big business.
    Law suits that have been dragging on for years against deep-pocketed gas business.

    Gas business that is polluting their water and land.

    They are fighting rare forms of cancer.

    They are fighting and have been fighting but to no avail.

    How can you make those communities responsible when they are sick and no one is listening to what they say?

    The community of Cornwall is not facing fracking. They are facing VGS, Mr.Wark’s employer. They have said no and yet VGS still intends to come through the town taking land by eminent domain. Taking our land to send their fracked gas to International Paper in New York state.

    Wark said, “the campaign against natural gas is taking a choice away from Vermonters.”

    VGS is the one taking away our choices!
    I suppose that’s our responsibility not the responsibility of Vermont Gas.

    Vermont Gas is taking all the profit and none of the responsibility.

    • Mary,

      And individuals in various communities that have wind turbines have been fighting for years to get them shut down, even in Denmark, and Germany, and the UK.

      Wind turbines are fine in the very sparsely-populated areas west of Chicago with low capital costs/kW, low O & M costs/kWh, AND GOOD TO EXCELLENT WINDS.

      In NE ,high capital costs/kW, high O & M costs/kWh, and poor to middling winds; just look out of your window in the morning and in the evening, usually not a leaf moving.

      As level-headed Phyllis wrote, we use oil obtained by fracking for heating and driving, and we use products made with oil from fracking.

      BTW, per Physics 101, all of us in New England use about 28% nuclear energy when turning on a light bulb or a TV, no matter what RE pundits say.

      People who understand how the cookie crumbles, i.e., realty, usually do not make some of the offbeat statements in this comment string.

      Modernity, fueled by low-cost fossil fuels, has been around for about 150 years and will be with us for a long time coming.

      The latest data show, largely due to DEVELOPING nations, the percent fossil fuels in the world energy mix will increasing for decades, no matter what Vermont, a fly on an elephant’s butt, does.

      Vermont’s best bet is not dysfunctional RE ,a la SPEED and Lowell, but EE.

    • Kathy Nelson :

      Mary, I have been in the fight against industrial wind for two years and I certainly know your frustration with a corrupt political system. Many of the comments here center around bits and pieces of technical facts and figures and that info is important. The real issue is that the people do not have the right to build healthy, sustainable communities because of state and federal dictatorship, which is heavily influenced by corporate interests. It takes ten minute of listening to “the State knows best” rants from Shumlin and Klein to understand the mindset we the people have to fight against.
      The law needs to be changed, Mary, and our rights need to be firmly embedded back into our communities and municipalities. We need to be able to look, as a community, at all this technical data, and then decide what is best for us locally. We need the right to say no when the project is in the wrong place.
      VT is strangled by Dillon’s rule which gives control over all municipalities to the state. If the state is corrupted by corporate influences, which VT is, then they make the law to use our municipalities as the corporations see fit.
      We need to focus on getting our rights back and eliminating the travesty of “corporate personhood” that has poisoned our country.

  8. Phyllis North :

    Some U.S. oil is obtained by fracking. Shall we ban all oil imports into Vermont because some of the oil is fracked?

  9. Matt/Moshe,

    “NG supply for years, not decades”

    Energy companies try to act in a rational manner when placing investor money at risk.

    Would they be getting export licenses, building NG export terminals (more than 1 billion each) and special ships (more than $350 million each) which take about 3-5 years, if the NG supply would not be there? These terminals and ships have lives of 30-60 years.

    You can rest assured, the NG supply is in the ground and it will be there, no matter how you might wish otherwise.

    • John Greenberg :

      Willem,
      “Would they be getting export licenses, building NG export terminals (more than 1 billion each) and special ships (more than $350 million each) which take about 3-5 years, if the NG supply would not be there?”

      Would they be doing all these things if the DEMAND would not be there as well?

      And if the demand is there, unless the supply increases by the same amount as those terminals will allow effective demand to increase, won’t the price go up?

  10. Jeffrey C Frost :

    The latest international IPCC assessment shows that methane (CH4) or natural gas is 86 (EIGHTY-SIX) times more damaging to global warming than the same volume of CO2 over 20 years. Together with research showing the large quantities of methane gas released over the natural gas life-cycle, this fact invalidates all of those bogus claims about how natural gas is a valid transition path to a clean energy future. Natural gas is almost as onerous as coal when it comes to the full life cycle global warming damage.

    • Jeffrey,
      Over 100 years, it is about 20 times more damaging.

      Nature releases far more methane than mankind.

  11. John Madden :

    A “bottom line” issue with “natural gas” is that it is explosive (google: explosions of natural gas transmission pipelines), people are killed and property destroyed.

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