Category Archives: Monterey Shale

California Gov. Brown: keep the oil in the ground

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle
[Editor - This report signals a highly significant shift in the discussions surrounding climate change and the oil industry: cut demand ... or cut supply?   A must read!  - RS]

Gov. Brown wants to keep oil in the ground. But whose oil?

By David R. Baker, July 26, 2015 8:16pm
California Gov. Jerry Brown, right,  delivers his speech flanked by the head of the pontifical academy of Science, Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, during  a conference on Modern Slavery and Climate Change in the Casina Pio IV the Vatican, Wednesday, July 22, 2015.  Dozens of environmentally friendly mayors from around the world are meeting at the Vatican this week to bask in the star power of eco-Pope Francis and commit to reducing global warming and helping the urban poor deal with its effects. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino) Photo: Alessandra Tarantino, Associated Press

California Gov. Jerry Brown, right, delivers his speech during a conference on Modern Slavery and Climate Change in the Casina Pio IV the Vatican, Wednesday, July 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Even the greenest, most eco-friendly politicians rarely utter the words Gov. Jerry Brown spoke at the Vatican’s climate change symposium last week.

To prevent the worst effects of global warming, one-third of the world’s known oil reserves must remain in the ground, Brown told the gathering of government officials from around the world. The same goes for 50 percent of natural gas reserves and 90 percent of coal.

“Now that is a revolution,” Brown said. “That is going to take a call to arms.”

It’s an idea widely embraced among environmentalists and climate scientists. Burn all the world’s known fossil fuel supplies — the ones already discovered by energy companies — and the atmosphere would warm to truly catastrophic levels. Never mind hunting for more oil.

But it’s a concept few politicians will touch. That’s because it raises a question no one wants to answer: Whose oil has to stay put?

“They’ve all got their own oil,” said environmental activist and author Bill McKibben, who first popularized the issue with a widely read 2012 article in Rolling Stone. “Recognizing that you’ve got to leave your own oil — and not somebody else’s — in the ground is the next step.”

Take California.

No state has done more to fight global warming. By 2020, under state law, one-third of California’s electricity must come from the sun, the wind and other renewable sources. Brown wants 50 percent renewable power by 2030 and has called for slashing the state’s oil use in half by the same year.

But he has shown no interest in cutting the state’s oil production. He has touted the economic potential of California’s vast Monterey Shale formation, whose oil reserves drillers are still trying to tap. And he has steadfastly refused calls from within his own party to ban fracking.

“If we reduce our oil drilling in California by a few percent, which a ban on fracking would do, we’ll import more oil by train or by boat,” Brown told “Meet the Press.” “That doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

California remains America’s third-largest oil producing state, behind Texas and North Dakota. The industry directly employs 184,100 Californians, helps support an estimated 271,840 other jobs and yields $21.2 billion in state and local taxes each year, according to the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation.

‘Phasing out oil drilling’

Any governor, no matter how environmentally minded, would have a hard time turning that down. Even if many environmentalists wish Brown would.

“Just like we have a plan for increasing renewables, we need a plan for phasing out oil drilling in California,” said Dan Jacobson, state director for Environment California.

It’s difficult for politicians to even talk about something as stark as putting limits on pumping oil, he said.

“Solar and wind and electric cars are really hopeful things, whereas keeping oil in the ground sounds more like doomsday,” Jacobson said.

And yet, Jacobson, McKibben and now apparently Brown are convinced that most fossil fuel reserves must never be used.

The percentages Brown cited come from a study published this year in the scientific journal Nature. The researchers calculated that in order to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius — 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — above preindustrial levels, the world’s economy can pump no more than 1,100 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere between 2011 and 2050. Burning the world’s known fossil fuel reserves would produce roughly three times that amount, they wrote.

Most governments pursing climate-change policies have agreed to aim for a 2-degree Celsius warming limit, although many scientists consider that dangerously high. So far, global temperatures have warmed 0.8 degrees Celsius from preindustrial times.

“The unabated use of all current fossil fuel reserves is incompatible with a warming limit of 2 degrees Celsius,” the study concludes.

Nonetheless, states, countries and companies with fossil fuel reserves all have an obvious and powerful incentive to keep drilling.

The market value of oil companies, for example, is based in part on the size of their reserves and their ability to find more. Activist investors warning of a “carbon bubble” in their valuations have pushed the companies to assess how many of those reserves could become stranded assets if they can’t be burned. The companies have resisted.

President Obama, meanwhile, has made fighting climate change a key focus of his presidency, raising fuel efficiency standards for cars, pumping public financing into renewable power and pushing for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

Cut demand or cut supply

But Obama has also boasted about America’s surging oil and natural gas production — and tried to claim credit for it. Last week, his administration gave Royal Dutch Shell the green light to hunt for oil in the Arctic Ocean. Keeping oil in the ground does not quite square with his “all of the above” energy policy, observers note. At least, not American oil.

“The same government that is working very hard to get a Clean Power Plan is allowing Shell to go exploring for hydrocarbons in the middle of nowhere, oil that may never be producible,” said climate activist and former hedge fund executive Tom Steyer, with audible exasperation.

He notes that Obama, Brown and other politicians intent on fighting climate change have focused their efforts on cutting the demand for fossil fuels, rather than the supply. Most of the policies that climate activists want to see enacted nationwide — such as placing a price on emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases — would do the same, ratcheting down demand rather than placing hard limits on fossil fuel production.

“The political thinking is the market itself will take care of figuring out which fossil fuels have to stay in the ground,” Steyer said.

Some climate fights, however, have focused on supply. And again, the issue of whose fossil fuels have to stay put has played a part.

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline extension, for example, see blocking the project — which would run from Canada to America’s Gulf Coast — as a way to stop or at least slow development of Alberta’s enormous oil sands. James Hansen, the former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, famously declared that fully developing the sands would be “game over for the climate.”

Obama has delayed a decision on the pipeline for years. Given America’s own rising oil production, rejecting a project that could be a boon for the Canadian economy would be difficult, analysts say.

“The message would be, ‘We’re not going to help you develop your resources — we’ll essentially raise the cost,’” said UC Berkeley energy economist Severin Borenstein. He is convinced that Canada will develop the tar sands, regardless.

“It’s become such a huge symbol that it’s impossible for Obama to make a decision on it,” Borenstein said. “I think he’s just going to run out the clock.”

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Reuters Exclusive: California getting more Bakken crude by barge than rail

Repost from Reuters
[Editor:  At the 9/11/14 Benicia Planning Commission meeting, John Hill, vice president and general manager of the Valero Benicia Refinery, stated that Bakken crude has been refined at Valero.  Commissioner Steve Young asked Hill to confirm his statement, which he did.  Young then asked the means of transport, and Hill replied “by barge.”  Our communities might well ask when, how much, and with what new volatile emissions output, etc….  – RS]

Exclusive: California getting more Bakken crude by barge than rail

By Rory Carroll, SAN FRANCISCO, Oct 23, 2014
A pumpjack brings oil to the surface  in the Monterey Shale, California, April 29, 2013.  REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

A pumpjack brings oil to the surface in the Monterey Shale, California, April 29, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

(Reuters) – Shipments of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to California by barge have quietly overtaken those by train for the first time, showing how the state’s isolated refiners are using any means necessary to tap into the nation’s shale oil boom.

While tough permitting rules and growing resistance by environmentalists have slowed efforts to build new rail terminals within California itself, a little-known barge port in Oregon has been steadily ramping up shipments to the state, a flow expected to accelerate next year.

From January through June, California received 940,500 barrels of the North Dakota crude oil from barges loaded at terminals in the Pacific Northwest, the highest rate ever, Gordon Schrempf, senior fuels analyst for the California Energy Commission, told Reuters.

Bakken crude transported to California on railcars, which has gained widespread attention after a series of fiery train derailments in North America, accounted for just 702,135 barrels over the same time period, according to published figures.

“We’re seeing marine transport of Bakken crude outpace rail for the first time,” Schrempf said. In 2013, rail shipments of 1.35 million barrels exceeded barge shipments of 1.33 million barrels. The year before, almost no crude arrived by barge.

Bakken shipments by barge and rail may only comprise a tiny portion of the crude California imports, at about 5,200 and 4,000 barrels per day respectively, with Alaska supplying over 20 times as much crude.

But companies, including refiner Tesoro Corp and logistics company NuStar Energy LP, have plans to significantly expand that volume with new terminals along the Pacific Northwest that would unload trains from North Dakota and pump the oil onto tankers.

They would help make California a major destination for Bakken oil, a trend that has drawn objections from environmental groups who have been seeking to stem the tide, often by blocking local permits to built oil-train offloading terminals.

“Bringing it in by barge gets you around cumbersome permitting and the growing citizen opposition to crude-by-rail,” said Lorne Stockman, research director of Oil Change International, a research and advocacy organization working on energy, climate and environmental issues.

To be sure, their objections may differ. The principle concern over transporting Bakken by rail is the risk that a derailment could cause a deadly explosion similar to the one in Lac Megantic, Quebec, last year that killed 47 people.

There is no suggestion that waterborne oil transportation poses similar explosive risks, although the environmental impact of a barge spill could be much greater.

“The barges are designed to carry the grade of oil that the Bakken is,” said Ted Mar, prevention branch chief for the state’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response and a former member of the Coast Guard.

That is small comfort to environmentalists, who oppose all forms of oil production, in particular shale crudes like Bakken, extracted through hydraulic fracking they fear contributes to global warming and poses a potential risk to water supplies.

“Our end goal is to leave these more dangerous, unconventional fuels in the ground,” said Jess Dervin-Ackerman, conservation manager for the San Francisco Bay Chapter of the Sierra Club.

SMALLER BUT CLOSER

With state production declining since the mid-80s, California’s refiners have increasingly relied on deliveries of crude by oceangoing tankers carrying 500,000 barrels or more from places like Alaska, Saudi Arabia, Ecuador and Iraq, which supplied two-thirds of their needs last year.

The refiners have been scrambling for several years to get better access to cheaper domestic shale oil by any means necessary, replacing costlier imports. But with the big shale fields to the east of the Rocky Mountains and a lack of major pipelines, it has not been easy.

The articulated tug barges (ATBs) now arriving are tiny by comparison to the tankers, carrying as little as 50,000 barrels.

Such shipments cost more than bringing Bakken directly to California by rail, but easily plug into existing port and terminal infrastructure – avoiding the need for new permitting that can take years.

While many are working to build out their own rail facilities, a handful of major rail-to-barge terminals along the Pacific Northwest coast that would ship over 500,000 bpd of Bakken crude have been in the works for several years. But most are incomplete, and several face delays.

One of the few exceptions is an idled ethanol terminal and processing plant in Clatskanie, Oregon, run by Global Partners LP. The facility, on a small canal that feeds into the Columbia River, began quietly transshipping oil from trains to barges in 2012 and is now receiving so-called “unit trains”, mile-long trains that only carry crude oil.

“Unit train volume into our Clatskanie terminal is up, and interest in the facility from prospective customers is at an all-time high,” Global Partners Chief Executive Eric Slifka said in August.

Global Partners did not respond to a request for comment.

Later that month, the firm received a new air permit from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality that will allow it to ship as much as 1.84 billion gallons of volatile liquids, or some 120,000 bpd. It did not specify crude or ethanol.

Much of those shipments moved north to refineries in Washington, including BP’s Cherry Point in Puget Sound, and Phillips 66′s Ferndale facility. But both those plants are expanding their own facilities to bring more Bakken in by rail, likely curbing some demand for barges.

Top oil barge operator Kirby Corp, which runs vessels out of Clatskanie, is currently building two larger 185,000-barrel barges to deploy on the coast next autumn.

Environmentalists say they are monitoring the rise in Bakken-by-barge deliveries.

“This won’t pull our focus away from crude by rail, but rather expand the lens with which we look at dangers of Bakken entering our communities,” said the Sierra Club’s Dervin-Ackerman.

(Reporting by Rory Carroll, editing by Jonathan Leff and Marguerita Choy)
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Monterey Shale estimate bungled: background & causes

Repost from the Post Carbon Institute

The Peak Oil Crisis: The Monterey Shale Debacle

May 28, 2014  |  Tom Whipple

Last week the LA Times ran a story saying that the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) is about to reduce “its” estimate of the amount of shale oil that can be recovered from the Monterey Shale under California by 96 percent. This reduction cuts the estimate of producible shale oil in the U.S. by 60 percent.

This development, of course, came as no surprise to those of us who have been watching the Monterey Shale situation closely. To begin with, anyone with the most rudimentary knowledge of geology knows that California is where great tectonic plates have been banging together for millions of years turning the earth below the surface into an incredible jumble. To produce shale oil one needs nice flat strata of oil bearing rock that run on for miles.

Then of course we have the issue of Chevron, which has been drilling in California since 1879. If one believes there really are 15 billion barrels of shale oil under the state, then why isn’t Chevron pumping it out by the tanker load?

Thus the interesting parts of this story are: who said there were 15.4 billion barrels of shale oil under California in the first place?; and how did the Department of Energy come to accept such an obviously flawed estimate, and trumpet the story far and wide so that many investors and policy makers in California and Washington fell for it?; and then why did it come to such a screeching halt leaving the country’s prospects for “energy independence” a dubious proposition?

Moreover, the government’s retraction of its estimate of shale oil prospects in California raises issues about just how good are its forecasts that North Dakota and Texas will continue producing large amounts of shale oil into the next decade.

The great Monterey Shale oil myth got its start back in July 2011 when the EIA stapled a cover on a contractor-produced “study” that it paid for entitled Review of Emerging Resources: U.S. Shale Gas and Oil Plays. In the fine print of the cover pages, however, the EIA did note that the “views in this report should not be construed as representing those of the Department of Energy.”

The underlying study, which was prepared by a small consulting company, INTEK, Inc., in Arlington, Virginia, purports to have been based on a wide range of sources and methods. However when it came to California the report’s author, Hitesh Mohan, said the California portion was primarily based on technical reports and presentations from oil companies. Presentations from oil companies are prepared to raise money from investors and can be expected to lay out the most optimistic view possible.

The methodology that produced the mythical estimate seems to have been something like this: take the 1,700 square miles of the Monterey Shale, drill 28,000 wells in it at the rate of 16 wells per square mile, wait until each well produces 550,000 barrels of oil, and you have your 15.4 billion barrels. Later research showed that only a handful of California oil wells ever produced 550,000 barrels of oil or anything close.

The California story only gets worse. The California oil industry funded a joint study by the University of California and the industry which concluded that exploiting the supposed 15 billion barrels of shale oil would result in from 512,000 to 2.8 million new jobs in the state; would increase per capita GDP by $11,000 and boost government revenue by up to $24.6 billion per year. All the politicians had to do was get out of the way, stop all this environmental nonsense over fracking and more regulations, and the state would be rich.

The writing on the wall came last year when thorough and independent studies by the Post Carbon Institute pointed out first that very little oil was coming out of California due to fracking of shale deposits as compared to those in North Dakota and Texas. In December of last year, a second and more detailed well-by-well study of what was actually happening in California blew the ridiculous INTEK/EIA conclusion out of the water. Although the Post Carbon Institute studies got little nationwide attention, several California newspapers and TV stations, which are much closer to the state’s well-being, did in-depth stories concluding that the 15 billion number and the ensuing riches were unlikely eventualities.

It is obvious that the new studies brought pressure on the Department on Energy to take a second look at what they were saying about shale oil in California. When it became obvious that were endorsing nothing but industry hype, they did an about face and lowered the estimate to 600 million barrels, which in itself may be high.

The EIA’s reaction to questions about one of the biggest blunders in its history is interesting. EIA Director Adam Sieminski told the Wall Street Journal that the oil bearing rocks are still under California, but the technology to extract the oil has not yet been developed. Industry spokesmen are more upbeat, saying that hundreds of smart engineers are working on the problem of producing California’s shale oil and that someday, if not sooner, they will be successful.

The California shale story raises once again questions about just where America’s shale oil and gas production is going and along with it the future of industrial society. Naturally, none of us want to hear that hard times, lower economic growth, and fewer jobs lie ahead. The Department of Energy clearly is trying to draw a fine line between the gross over-optimism exhibited in the Monterey shale incident and an energy apocalypse. But, do we really have to wait until the evidence of over-optimism is so overwhelming that it has to be admitted? There are several other “Monterey Shales” out there well-understood in the peak oil community where the Department of Energy continues to make overly optimistic estimates which will one day rebound to the detriment of us all.

Originally posted at Falls Church News Press.
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