Tag Archives: Offshore drilling

NY TIMES: Environmental Activists Take to Local Protests for Global Results

Repost from the New York Times

Environmental Activists Take to Local Protests for Global Results

By John Schwartz, March 19, 2016
Bill McKibben was arrested during a protest at Seneca Lake near Reading, N.Y., on March 7. He was protesting the proposed expansion of a natural gas storage facility. Credit Monica Lopossay for The New York Times

READING, N.Y. — They came here to get arrested.

Nearly 60 protesters blocked the driveway of a storage plant for natural gas on March 7. Its owners want to expand the facility, which the opponents say would endanger nearby Seneca Lake. But their concerns were global, as well.

“There’s a climate emergency happening,” one of the protesters, Coby Schultz, said. “It’s a life-or-death struggle.”

The demonstration here was part of a wave of actions across the nation that combines traditional not-in-my-backyard protests against fossil-fuel projects with an overarching concern about climate change.

Activists have been energized by successes on several fronts, including the decision last week by President Obama to block offshore drilling along the Atlantic Seaboard; his decision in November to reject the Keystone XL pipeline; and the Paris climate agreement.

Bound together through social media, networks of far-flung activists are opposing virtually all new oil, gas and coal infrastructure projects — a process that has been called “Keystone-ization.”

As the climate evangelist Bill McKibben put it in a Twitter post after Paris negotiators agreed on a goal of limiting global temperature increases: “We’re damn well going to hold them to it. Every pipeline, every mine.”

Regulators almost always approve such projects, though often with modifications, said Donald F. Santa Jr., chief executive of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America. Still, the protests are having some impact. The engineering consultants Black and Veatch recently published a report that said the most significant barrier to building new pipeline capacity was “delay from opposition groups.”

Activists regularly protest at the headquarters of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Washington, but there have also been sizable protests in places like St. Paul and across the Northeast.

In Portland, Ore., where protesters conducted a “kayaktivist” blockade in July to keep Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs from leaving port, the City Council passed a resolution opposing the expansion of facilities for the storage and transportation of fossil fuels.

Greg Yost, a math teacher in North Carolina who works with the group NC PowerForward, said the activists emboldened one another.

“When we pick up the ball and run with it here in North Carolina, we’re well aware of what’s going on in Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island,” he said. “The fight we’re doing here, it bears on what happens elsewhere — we’re all in this together, we feel like.”

The movement extends well beyond the United States. In May, a wave of protests and acts of civil disobedience, under an umbrella campaign called Break Free 2016, is scheduled around the world to urge governments and fossil fuel companies to “keep coal, oil and gas in the ground.”

This approach — think globally, protest locally — is captured in the words of Sandra Steingraber, an ecologist and a scholar in residence at Ithaca College who helped organize the demonstration at the storage plant near Seneca Lake: “This driveway is a battleground, and there are driveways like this all over the world.”

The idea driving the protests is that climate change can be blunted only by moving to renewable energy and capping any growth of fossil fuels.

Speaking to the crowd at Seneca Lake, Mr. McKibben, who had come from his home in Vermont, said, “Our job on behalf of the planet is to slow them down.”

He added, “If we can hold them off for two or three years, there’s no way any of this stuff can be built again.”

The demonstration at Seneca Lake earlier this month. Many protesters cheered when sheriff’s vans arrived. Credit Monica Lopossay for The New York Times

But the issues are not so clear cut. The protests aimed at natural gas pipelines, for example, may conflict with policies intended to fight climate change and pollution by reducing reliance on dirtier fossil fuels.

“The irony is this,” said Phil West, a spokesman for Spectra Energy, whose pipeline projects, including those in New York State, have come under attack. “The shift to additional natural gas use is a key contributor to helping the U.S. reduce energy-related emissions and improve air quality.”

Those who oppose natural gas pipelines say the science is on their side.

They note that methane, the chief component of natural gas, is a powerful greenhouse gas in the short term, with more than 80 times the effect of carbon dioxide in its first 20 years in the atmosphere.

The Obama administration is issuing regulations to reduce leaks, but environmental opposition to fracking, and events like the huge methane plume released at a storage facility in the Porter Ranch neighborhood near Los Angeles, have helped embolden the movement.

Once new natural gas pipelines and plants are in place, opponents argue, they will operate for decades, blocking the shift to solar and wind power.

“It’s not a bridge to renewable energy — it’s a competitor,” said Patrick Robbins, co-director of the Sane Energy Project, which protests pipeline development and is based in New York.

Such logic does not convince Michael A. Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“Saying no to gas doesn’t miraculously lead to the substitution of wind and solar — it may lead to the continued operation of coal-fired plants,” he said, noting that when the price of natural gas is not competitive, owners take the plants, which are relatively cheap to build, out of service.

“There is enormous uncertainty about how quickly you can build out renewable energy systems, about what the cost will be and what the consequences will be for the electricity network,” Mr. Levi said.

Even some who believe that natural gas has a continuing role to play say that not every gas project makes sense.

N. Jonathan Peress, an expert on electricity and natural gas markets at the Environmental Defense Fund, said that while companies push to add capacity, the long-term need might not materialize.

“There is a disconnect between the perception of the need for massive amounts of new pipeline capacity and the reality,” he said.

Market forces, regulatory assumptions and business habits favor the building of new pipelines even though an evolving electrical grid and patterns of power use suggest that the demand for gas will, in many cases, decrease.

Even now, only 6 percent of gas-fired plants run at greater than 80 percent of their capacity, according to the United States Energy Information Administration, and nearly half of such plants run at an average load factor of just 17 percent.

“The electricity grid is evolving in a way that strongly suggests what’s necessary today won’t be necessary in another 20 years, let alone 10 or 15,” Mr. Peress said.

Back at Seneca Lake, the protesters cheered when Schuyler County sheriff’s vans showed up. The group had protested before, and so the arrests had the friendly familiarity of a contra dance. As one deputy, A.W. Yessman, placed zip-tie cuffs on Catherine Rossiter, he asked jovially, “Is this three, or four?”

She beamed. “You remember me!”

Brad Bacon, a spokesman for the owner of the plant at Seneca Lake, Crestwood Equity Partners, acknowledged that it had become more burdensome to get approval to build energy infrastructure in the Northeast even though regulatory experts have tended not to be persuaded by the protesters’ environmental arguments.

The protesters, in turn, disagree with the regulators, and forcefully. As he was being handcuffed, Mr. McKibben called the morning “a good scene.”

The actions against fossil fuels, he said, will continue. “There’s 15 places like this around the world today,” he said. “There will be 15 more tomorrow, and the day after that.”

A version of this article appears in print on March 20, 2016, on page A16 of the New York edition with the headline: Protesters Across U.S. Turn Up Heat on Fossil Fuel. Order Reprints| Today’s Paper|Subscribe
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Oil bust claims first casualties – Hercules Offshore

Repost from MySanAntonio.com

Hercules Offshore files bankruptcy with plan to convert debt

By Bloomberg, August 13, 2015
Several Texas oil and gas producers have either filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection or have missed interest payments and are heading toward restructuring.
Several Texas oil and gas producers have either filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection or have missed interest payments and are heading toward restructuring. Photo: James Durbin

Hercules Offshore Inc., owner of the largest fleet of shallow-water drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, filed for bankruptcy with a plan to be taken over by senior creditors.

The company said it planned to use the bankruptcy process to implement a proposal, announced in July, to cut $1.2 billion in debt. The plan calls for investors to trade their senior notes for almost 97 percent of Hercules’s equity.

Some noteholders would also lend the company $450 million to help finish building a new oil-drilling rig, the company said in a statement.

Under the plan, current shareholders would have a chance to split the 3 percent of the company not going to noteholders, Hercules said. The plan must be approved by a bankruptcy judge in Wilmington, Delaware, where the case was filed Thursday.

Hercules, which leases rigs to oil and gas producers, said the plan has the “overwhelming” support of the noteholders.

The Houston-based company, formed in 2004 as a small gulf driller, has a fleet of 27 jack-up rigs and 21 lift boats.

Flagging Demand

Demand for both U.S. and international business has flagged as the price of oil has plunged. Drillers around the world have also been suffering from a glut of new sophisticated vessels displacing older rigs in the market. Cal Dive International Inc., a contractor that does manned diving and platform installation, sought creditor protection in March.

Debt issues by Hercules and fellow Houston-based drilling rig provider Paragon Offshore were among the worst-performing oil and gas service bonds in the high-yield energy index in the first quarter of 2015, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analysts Spencer Cutter and Yuanliang Huang.

The number of rigs operating in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico has fallen by more than half from last year’s high of 63 in August, according to Baker Hughes Inc.

Hercules listed liabilities of $1.3 billion and $546 million in assets as of Aug. 11.

The case is In re Hercules Offshore Inc., 15-11685, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).

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Santa Barbara oil spill might have been far larger than projected

Repost from Associated Press
[Editor:  See also local coverage in the Benicia Herald.  – RS]

Oil spill might be larger than projected

By Michael R. Blood, Aug. 5, 2015 4:04 PM EDT
In this May 21 file photo, David Ledig, a national monument manager from the Bureau of Land Management, walks past rocks covered in oil at Refugio State Beach, north of Goleta. New documents released Wednesday show that the Plains All American Pipeline spill, originally estimated to be around 101,000 gallons, might have been much larger than projected. JAE C. HONG , THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

LOS ANGELES (AP) — More than two months after oil from a ruptured pipeline fouled California beaches, documents released Wednesday disclosed that the spill might have been far larger than earlier projected.

Plains All American Pipeline had estimated that the May 19 break along a corroded section of pipe near Santa Barbara released up to 101,000 gallons of crude. The resulting mess forced a popular state park to shut down for two months, and goo from the spill washed up on beaches as far as 100 miles away.

In documents made public Wednesday, the Texas-based company said alternate calculations found the spill might have been up to 143,000 gallons, or about 40 percent larger.

The company is continuing its analysis, and the figures are preliminary. Plains All American has hired an outside consultant as part of the effort to reconcile the differences, the documents said.

At this point, the company considers the methodology used in its initial estimate to be “the most straight forward and accurate calculation.” However, it emphasized the estimate could change as the investigation continues.

In a statement, Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Massachusetts, faulted the federal agency responsible for regulating the nation’s pipelines for the conflicting figures.

“The revelation that the Santa Barbara pipeline spill was much larger than originally thought underscores the importance of our pipeline safety agency providing complete information to Congress and the American people. Unfortunately, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s operational culture has been to withhold information from the American people and Congress,” he said.

The company has been criticized for taking about 90 minutes to alert federal responders after confirming the spill, even though federal regulations require the company to notify the National Response Center, a clearinghouse for reports of hazardous-material releases, “at the earliest practicable moment.” State law requires immediate notification of a release or a threatened release.

The cleanup is nearly complete, although the cause of the break is under investigation. The state attorney general and local prosecutors are considering possible charges, and the documents said the U.S. Justice Department is also investigating.

The company said it’s covering legal costs for several employees who could be questioned by the Justice Department.

No timeline has been set to restart the pipeline.

CEO Greg Armstrong told Wall Street analysts in a phone call that the company faced as much as $257 million in potential costs from the break, which includes estimates for cleanup operations, possible legal claims and fines.

At the end of June, the company said cleanup costs had hit $92 million.

Wildlife officials reported that nearly 200 birds and more than 100 marine mammals were found dead in the spill area. Investigators have not yet determined what, if any, role the spill played in those deaths.

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