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Alaska Department of Natural Resources

ANWR Drilling Effort Hits Snag: 'This Is What Happens When You Sneak Drilling Into a Terrible Tax Bill'

The backdoor Arctic refuge drilling provision snuck in the Senate Republican's tax reform plan could be held up thanks to a little-known procedural rule.

The Republican-led effort to open the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and natural gas drilling could violate the Byrd Rule, which outlines what can be included in the Senate's budgetary legislation.

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A polar bear in Alaska's Beaufort Sea. World Wildlife Fund

Oil Exploration in Arctic Ocean Approved by Trump Administration as ANWR Drilling Bill Moves Forward

The fight against new Arctic drilling took a major setback on Tuesday. On the same day that the Senate Budget Committee passed a bill allowing oil and natural gas drilling in Alaska's pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Trump administration granted oil company Eni's request to explore for oil in nearby Alaska waters.

The Department of Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) issued the permit to Eni yesterday, allowing the oil giant to drill exploratory wells in the Beaufort Sea as early as next month.

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Renewable Energy
Windorah's Solar Farm dishes taken from the roadside (Diamantina Developmental Road) on a hot summer day. Aaronazz / Wikimedia Commons

100% Renewable Electricity to Power the World by 2050? It's Happening, Study Says

By Alex Kirby

If you think a world powered by 100 percent renewable electricity—and significantly cheaper than today's—is an impossible dream, there's a surprise in store for you. A new study says it's already in the making.

A global transition to 100 percent renewable electricity, far from being a long-term vision, is happening now, the study says. It is the work of Finland's Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and the Energy Watch Group (EWG), and was published at the UN climate change conference, COP23, which is meeting here.

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Area 1002 of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain. Wikimedia Commons

GOP-Controlled Senate Paves Way for Oil Drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

The Senate Republicans' narrow passage of the 2018 budget plan on Thursday opened the door for oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR).

But Democratic lawmakers and environmental groups criticized the GOP for sneaking the "backdoor drilling provision" through the budget process. Past proposals to drill in the refuge have consistently failed.

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Energy
The damaged oil platform in Lake Pontchartrain, LA after the Oct. 15 explosion. U.S. Coast Guard

Gulf Oil Spill Off Louisiana Coast Is 2x Bigger Than Original Estimate

LLOG Exploration Company, LLC drastically underestimated the amount of oil its fractured pipeline spilled into the Gulf of Mexico last week.

The oil and gas operator first estimated that it spewed about 340,000 gallons of oil. Now, according to a Coast Guard announcement, the company is now reporting a discharge of 672,000 gallons—about two times the initial estimate.

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vimeo.com

Video Shows Oil Company's Plans to Drill Arctic From Artificial Island

The Liberty Project has posted a video about its proposal to build the nation's first oil production platform in federal waters in the Arctic.

The video was quietly uploaded two months ago and shows Hilcorp Alaska's plan to build an artificial gravel island and undersea pipeline for its offshore drilling project in the Beaufort Sea. Frankly speaking, the five-minute clip—with its all-American voiceover and electric guitar riffs—is something you'd expect from a pickup truck commercial.

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www.youtube.com

Oil Rig Explodes in Louisiana: 7 Injured, 1 Missing

An oil rig exploded on Lake Pontchartrain, Louisiana Sunday night, injuring seven crew members, with an eighth believed to be missing, authorities said.

The explosion was reported at 7:18 p.m. near St. Charles Parish and the city of Kenner. The platform, located in unincorporated Jefferson Parish, is owned by New Orleans-based Clovelly Oil Company.

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Energy

Massive Fracking Explosion in New Mexico, 36 Oil Tanks Catch Fire


This week—as thousands of Americans urge awareness to the destruction caused by oil bomb trains—an oil field in San Juan County, New Mexico erupted in flames Monday night, highlighting the continued and increasing dangers of the fossil fuel industry.

The fire broke out around 10:15 p.m. Monday at a fracking site owned and operated by WPX Energy, setting off several explosions and temporarily closing the nearby Highway 550. Fifty-five local residents were forced out of their homes.

A photo of the fire before emergency response arrived on site. Kendra Pinto

The site—located in the Mancos shale deposit area and known as the 550 Corridor and a part of Greater Chaco Canyon—contains six new oil wells and 30 temporary oil storage tanks holding either oil or produced water. All 36 storage tanks caught fire and burned, the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based energy company said.

The site was still smoldering last night and, now, "only 7 of 36 tanks at production site on fire this morning," the company tweeted.

"The fire is being allowed to burn itself out due to the intensity of the heat, the number of oil tanks involved and to contain petroleum fluids on WPX's five-acre site, predominantly in the storage tankage," WPX said.

According to Albuquerque news station KOAT, WPX stopped drilling for natural gas and oil in the area last May. The company had been producing for about a week before the fire broke out.

The cause of the fire is currently unclear. "We think that in the next couple of weeks to months, we will have that information and will be able to share that with the public," WPX San Juan Asset Team manager, Heather Riley, told the news station.

There were no reported injuries or damage to nearby property. Most of the evacuees have returned home but 10 families are still lodged in a hotel, The Farmington Daily Times reported.

Environmental advocates are speaking out about the explosion.

"The site that exploded is a brand new facility that consists of six wells drilled to shale formations that have never been adequately analyzed for impacts and safety concerns." Mike Eisenfeld, the Energy and Climate Program manager at the San Juan Citizens Alliance, told EcoWatch in an email.

WPX was given approval to develop the site from the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division in September. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Farmington Field Office gave final approval to drill the land in December.

"In a leap before looking scenario, the federal Bureau of Land Management in Farmington, New Mexico has allowed WPX to proceed with these shale facilities discounting the inherent danger that has now become clear with the explosion," Eisenfeld said.

"This highlights the failure to have adequate safeguards in place to protect local communities and also raises serious questions about chemicals and toxicity associated with the explosion. Emergency response for this explosion was hours away. A thorough investigation is necessary. There should be a moratorium on these new wells until BLM completes a legally proficient Resource Management Plan Amendment/Environmental Impact Statement for the Mancos Shale/Gallup formations."

The New Mexico environmental non-profit WildEarth Guardians noted in a statement to EcoWatch that the BLM Farmington Field Office has leased more than 90 percent of the lands it oversees to oil and gas companies and plans to auction off additional acres for fracking during the January 2017 lease sale. The office manages a total of 1.8 million acres of public land.

"Enough is enough," Kendra Pinto, Counselor Chapter outreach intern, said. "It seems like every month we see more wells here, and things are going to get worse if the drilling doesn't stop. At this rate, what will be left here for our children? The land has changed."

WPX Energy has invested millions to drill into the tight shale formations in the San Juan Basin. The company has put in at least $160 million in developing oil plays in 2014 on its 60,000 leased acres, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

The rise of hydraulic fracturing has aided a U.S. energy boom but the environmental impact of the technology is under intense dispute, from polluting drinking water to earthquakes. Last year, WPX Energy itself came under scrutiny for failing to disclose how it is managing its impacts on communities and the local environment with its fracking operations.

"WPX Energy scored near the bottom of the industry in a recent scorecard report published by investors benchmarking 35 companies on their disclosed efforts to mitigate key impacts, and has faced controversy in the past over allegations that it irreparably contaminated local drinking water in Pennsylvania," the advisory firm Green Century Funds wrote.

WPX Energy has defended its operations and even helped produce a glossy 26-minute documentary, Down Deep, as a way of "spreading the message that fracking is safe and necessary for the U.S. energy future," Tulsa World wrote of the film.

Still, as WildEarth Guardians pointed out, the recent oil field explosion in San Juan serves as a sobering reminder of the urgent need to build safe, clean renewable energy in place of fossil fuels.

"I know people want jobs," Samuel Sage, Wildlife Guardians Counselor Chapter community services coordinator, said. "But why must they come at the expense of our air, water, and climate? Many other places are building clean energy generation and creating well-paying jobs in the process. That is our future, not this dirty industry."

"Unfortunately, this may be the tip of the iceberg," Rebecca Sobel, senior climate and energy campaigner at WildEarth Guardians, said. "The Obama Administration has already leased more than 10 million acres of public land to oil and gas drilling, and BLM continues to lease more land in New Mexico to fracking interests without studying these impacts. How many more explosions and evacuations will it take before we seriously consider the cost of these dirty fossil fuel industries and simply end this leasing program?"

Energy

U.S. Holds More Oil Reserves Than Saudi Arabia and Russia

By Andy Rowell

According to a new analysis, the U.S. now holds more oil reserves than Saudi Arabia and Russia, the first time this has happened. And more than half of the U.S.'s remaining oil reserves are in shale oil.

The analysis, by Rystad Energy, has concluded that recoverable oil in the U.S. from existing fields, discoveries and yet undiscovered areas is equivalent to 264 billion barrels, which easily beats Saudi Arabia's 212 billion barrels and just squeezes past Russia's 256 billion.

Photo credit: Paul Lowry

The crux though will be whether the U.S. shale industry can access the finance to carry on exploiting shale. And that remains to be seen.

The mini-revival in the oil price may be over. Having rallied since its low point earlier in the year of $27, oil had reached the $60 a mark, but has slipped back to below $50 a barrel on concerns about a slowdown in the global economy has increased.

And those looking for a rapid increase in the next few months look set to be disappointed. The CEO of the world's largest oil trader, Vitol, which trades about 6 million barrels a day, has told Bloomberg that oil prices will not rise much further over the coming months.

Vitol's boss, Ian Taylor said: "I cannot see the market really roaring ahead. We have a lot of oil in the system and it will take us considerable time to work that off."

The international benchmark will probably end the year "not too far away from where we are today" and rise to about $60 by the end of 2017, Taylor said.

According to Bloomberg: "The wild card for next year is U.S. shale supply, which appears to have reached a bottom, but it's too early to say whether growth will resume."

But shale growth is not looking certain, with the industry still struggling with a low oil price and access to financing. And one of the key way to access financing is via bond sales.

As the Financial Times reported: "Bond sales by U.S. independent oil and gas companies have fallen to their slowest rate for more than a decade, in a warning sign of financing constraints that could hold back the industry's recovery."

In the second quarter of this year, the U.S. shale sector sold a paltry $280m of bonds in the second quarter, making it a slower period than any since the financial crisis of 2008-09.

In contrast, the paper points out, the industry raised almost $860bn from bond sales and bank loans during the boom years of 2007-2014. It is an industry still sitting on a crumbling pile of debt.

And the bottom line is that the industry is still spending more than it is earning. According to the FT, the leading U.S. exploration and production companies cut their capital spending to $14.9 billion in the first quarter of this year, which is a whopping $10 billion more than they earned.

This is totally unsustainable and will constrict the smaller players from accessing bonds and finance. Gary Ross of Pira Energy told the FT: "It's not going to be easy to reconstruct this industry."

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