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Issue No. 24 - January 15, 2014

1. Co. Clare fracking license area severely flooded

Clare Peninsula

Enegi Oil License Area
Click here for list of townlands.

The Loop Head Peninsula, voted Ireland's Best Holiday Destination by Irish Times readers in 2013 (SGBI No. 10), is the area covered by the licencing option granted to Enegi Oil PLC for possible future shale gas extraction. As reported by the Irish Times and the Clare Champion, Loop Head was severely affected by the flooding caused by Storm Christine over the first weekend of 2014, which left six houses on the Loop Head peninsula cut off from the mainland.

The Clare Champion reports that the places worst hit by the flooding include Seafield in Quilty, Doonbeg, Carrigaholt, Kilbaha, Ross, Knock, and Cross, and that the main road between Kilrush and Kilkee was flooded at Moyasta. All of these locations are in the licensing option area (see map, list of townlands). Clare Champion images of the flooding at Seafield, Quilty, are here.

While the residents of the Loop Head peninsula do not at present have to worry about pollution from flooded well pads and other gas infrastructure, or broken gas pipelines, they may in the future. This Inshore Ireland article recalls the severe flooding that occurred in Colorado in September 2013 (SGBI No. 17), which caused widespread damage to the shale gas infrastructure, and asks: "Does Ireland have the resources to deal with a similar problem if it were to arise here?"

In this Ecowatch interview, biologist Shane Davis discusses the potential extent of the damage caused by the Colorado flooding: "According to COGCC (Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission), 1,970 active wells were affected by the flood waters with drums tipped over, failure of oil lines and containment facilities, and other equipment damaged. As of the latest Nov. 26 report, 14 confirmed spills occurred spilling 48,250 gallons of oil and indicating the release of 43,479 gallons of produced water (basically toxic liquid industrial waste)."

2. Natural gas boom ends in Wyoming, state left with abandoned wells

A well site in Campbell County

The New York Times reports that there are now more than 1,200 gas wells in the state of Wyoming that have been abandoned by their operators, many of whom are now applying for bankruptcy. This number is expected to grow, as there are an additional 2,300 idle wells that have not yet been completely abandoned by their operators. The estimated cost of plugging the existing 1,200 wells is $8 million. The state has a fund for plugging abandoned wells and reclaiming land, which is made up of bonds paid by gas operators. The problem is that many of the companies cannot afford the bonds required of them to close down wells, and the fund only allocates $1 million per year for plugging abandoned wells.

The wells are being abandoned because gas prices are lower than production costs, and because shale gas production is inherently unprofitable, given the extremely rapid decline in production over time.
(See SGBI No. 22 for a review of related articles)

There are concerns in the financial world that the end of the shale boom may (already) be near, as these articles illustrate: 

3. Associated Press reports water contamination from oil and gas drilling in four US states

The Associated Press requested records of water contamination complaints related to oil and gas drilling from four US states where hydraulic fracturing has been practiced extensively: Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Texas. The AP article on the study was published in the Guardian on January 6, 2014. Commentary on the study can be found on Jessica Ernst's site.

Although the state of Texas provided 94 pages of water contamination complaints to the AP, it claimed that there had been no confirmed cases of contamination. This would seem to contradict the experience of Steve Lipsky, of Weatherford, Texas.

contamination of Mr. Lipsky's well water was initially confirmed by the US EPA (which later retracted its confirmation). This EPA confirmation was the central evidence in a court case brought by Mr. Lipsky against Range Resources, the gas company he accused of polluting his well. Without the EPA evidence, Mr. Lipsky lost his case. Mr. Lipsky was subsequently sued for defamation by Range Resources. A report by the EPA ombudsman and released by the Obama administration on December 24, 2013, found that the EPA was justified in initially intervening to protect residents of Parker County, Texas from contaminated water. In this Ecowatch interview, Mr. Lipsky responds to the new EPA report. 

In a new development, Duke University has revealed the results of its tests for methane in the wells of Mr. Lipsky and his neighbours, results which were previously provided to the landowners and to the EPA. In deciding that the water was not contaminated, it emerges that the EPA used data provided by Range Resources, the company accused of contaminating the wells.

In other water pollution news, a Pennsylvania judge has ruled that a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil must face criminal charges over a 57,000-gallon hazardous waste spill in the state in 2010. The company is accused of deliberately removing a plug from a wastewater tank, releasing the water and contaminating the soil. The company had claimed "no lasting environmental impact".

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