Category: Energy

Stories about oil, gas, coal, solar, wind, biomass, nuclear… you get it

‘Orphaned’ oil and gas wells are on the rise

‘Orphaned’ oil and gas wells are on the rise

Abandoned gas well pump (Steve Hillebrand, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

“Orphaned” oil and gas wells, those left behind by companies without proper cleanup or maintenance, are more likely than properly plugged “abandoned” wells to leak pollutants. That includes methane gas, which can contaminate groundwater and even trigger explosions. So it’s troubling that the number of such wells in the West has soared. A downturn in energy prices starting back in 2008 has led energy companies to orphan thousands of wells across Western states struggling even to tally them, let alone remediate them. And with a new drilling boom unfolding, some worry that the next bust will saddle the public with thousands more.

‘Orphaned’ oil and gas wells are on the rise”

High Country News, January 16, 2018

Can coal remain the bedrock of Wyoming’s economy?

Can coal remain the bedrock of Wyoming’s economy?

Wyoming officials view construction at the Integrated Test Center site, July 2017 (JZ)

In recent years, the coal industry has employed one in every 10 workers in Gillette and surrounding Campbell County, Wyoming. But coal is declining as a power source. It can’t compete with cheaper, cleaner natural gas, and eventually, climate change regulations are expected to worsen its prospects.

With roughly 6.6 billion tons of recoverable coal still in the ground, and an economy hooked on mining and burning it, Wyoming can’t seem to quit coal. Instead, state leaders are trying to clean it up and find new uses for it at the Integrated Test Center, where researchers hope to capture carbon dioxide emissions and eventually turn those emissions into plastic, carbon-fiber materials, concrete or fuels.

So far, though, most “clean coal” initiatives have failed. Carbon-based rubbers, asphalts and chemicals have never achieved large-scale commercial success, partly because it’s easier and cheaper to just use petroleum. Highly touted efforts to capture and store emissions from coal plants have also fizzled because costs spiraled out of control. Even in Wyoming, it’s hard not to wonder: Is it smart to keep betting on coal?

“Can coal remain the bedrock of Wyoming’s economy?”

High Country News, September 18, 2017

LNG project rises again, with support from Mountain states

LNG project rises again, with support from Mountain states

Rendition of the proposed Jordan Cove liquid natural gas terminal in Oregon, which could ship gas from Rocky Mountain states to Asia (Photo: Jordan Cove LNG)

The Jordan Cove Energy Project would include the Pacific Coast’s first liquified natural gas port, where gas is chilled and liquefied for easier and cheaper storage and transport, including to customers overseas. Denied a permit by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2016, the project received new life following the presidential election, as Trump administration officials said the project will be the “first thing” to now permitted.

The $7.5 billion project, at Coos Bay, Oregon, would give Western producers access to the world’s largest gas market, consisting of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other Asia-Pacific countries. The 235-mile Pacific Connector pipeline is also part of the project. It would cross Oregon and provide a critical link between the export terminal and the rest of the West’s pipeline network, which stretches into gas-rich basins in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

If FERC commissioners green-light Jordan Cove, it could set off a massive new drilling boom on public lands within Colorado’s Piceance Basin, Wyoming’s Jonah Field and Utah’s Uintah Basin. Industry is already nominating more leases for drilling on public lands under Trump. And to win approval for the project, the company behind Jordan Cove and its Oregon supporters seeking new jobs have forged a powerful alliance with Rocky Mountain states eager to enter the export market. State government and industry officials from Colorado and Wyoming have even traveled to Asia to woo potential investors and customers.

Still, even under Trump, the project isn’t a sure bet. Stagnating gas prices, caused by a supply glut in recent years, raise questions about the viability of Jordan Cove.

“LNG project rises again, with support from Mountain states”

High Country News, May 31, 2017

Fatal Colorado home explosion reignites drilling safety debate

Fatal Colorado home explosion reignites drilling safety debate

Fire burns a home toppled by a natural gas explosion in Firestone, Colorado on April 17, 2017. The blast was linked to a pipeline running from a nearby gas well (Photo YouTube channel White Fire)

On April 17, 2017, Mark Martinez and his brother-in-law Joey Irwin went down to the basement to replace a water heater in Martinez’s home in Firestone, Colorado, a fast-growing bedroom community 25 miles north of Denver. Moments later, a fiery explosion destroyed the house and shook the neighborhood. Both men were killed. Erin Martinez, Mark’s wife, and their son survived.

Following a two-week investigation, the local fire department has linked the blast to a recently restarted gas well, drilled in 1993 and located just 178 feet behind the house and operated by Anadarko Petroleum Corp. A department statement said gas entered the house from a cut, abandoned flowline still connected to the well.

The fatal explosion reignited the fierce debate over the pace and proximity of oil and gas development along Colorado’s Front Range, where booming energy fields have collided with a rapidly growing urban corridor. For years, environmentalists and community activists have furiously pushed to limit drilling near suburban Front Range communities, while the state government and industry leaders have resisted tougher restrictions.

“Fatal Colorado home explosion reignites drilling safety debate”

High Country News, May 3, 2017

Tar Sands Mining Hits the American West

Tar Sands Mining Hits the American West

Protestors with Peaceful Uprising at the test pit of the planned Utah tar sands mine (via Peaceful Uprising)
Protestors with Peaceful Uprising at the test pit of the planned Utah tar sands mine (via Peaceful Uprising)

Tar sands, also known as oil sands, require intensive processing to produce usable crude—it can take two tons of sand to produce just one barrel of oil. The expense of extracting and refining that oil (and the pollution the process entails) has historically kept most of it in the ground. However, beginning in 2000, rising oil prices and calls for North American energy independence set off a tar sands boom in Alberta (not to mention an endless debate in this country about the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Alberta’s tar sands oil to the States). Fifteen years later the industry has cleared or degraded nearly two million acres of boreal forest, created toxic tailings ponds and other waste, and become Canada’s fastest-growing greenhouse gas emitter. And now it’s looking south. 

In July 2015, Utah’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining issued a permit clearing the way for the opening of this country’s first commercial tar sands mine amid eastern Utah’s Tavaputs Plateau, which sits atop an estimated 20 billion to 32 billion barrels of recoverable oil. 

At a moment of growing public consensus that it’s time to move away from dirty energy, the decision to open up Utah canyon country to the development of what many consider the dirtiest energy source of all sends a decidedly contradictory—if not perverse—message. “If the fuels are made available,” says Dan Mayhew, the chair of the Sierra Club’s Utah chapter, “the amount of carbon that could be emitted is staggering”—as much as 48 billion metric tons just from the oil shale, according to a Sierra Club estimate. 

“Tar Sands Mining Hits the American West”

Audubon Magazine, September/October 2015