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by in Northern Nevada
Saturday, Jul. 23, 2011 at 7:01 PM
This report details the risks presented to the endemic species of the sagebrush ecosystems of northeastern Nevada by El Paso Energy Corporation?s Ruby Pipeline proposed to stretch from Opal, Wyoming to Malin, Oregon.
Habitat Fragmentation and Natural Gas Instability Applied to Ruby Pipeline Project in Northern Nevada
This report details the risks presented to the endemic species of the sagebrush ecosystems of northeastern Nevada by El Paso Energy Corporation’s Ruby Pipeline proposed to stretch from Opal, Wyoming to Malin, Oregon. Included in the report’s ecological risk assessment of Ruby Pipeline are details on the general effects of habitat fragmentation on sage grouse, pronghorn and other sagebrush endemics using data extrapolated from the concentrated pipeline related infrastructure in Wyoming’s natural gas fields and theoretically applied to the longer distance of the linear length of the Ruby Pipeline. Then it covers long term hazards such as potential explosions from pipeline corrosion, an eventual factor as evidenced from El Paso’s deadly explosion in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Seismic events in Basin and Range Province are a geological certainty, yet El Paso neglects to mitigate this reality. Further details are presented on habitat disturbances from natural gas extraction or “fracking” at the source with two studies specific to type of source materials; coalbed methane (CBM) and gas shales. Comparisons are made with peak oil similarities as natural gas supply decreases and demand increases. Details compounding the gas supply peak include a classification system used by most domestic natural gas corporations that regularly overestimates their reserve supplies. Other economic factors presented show the general global instability of natural gas supplies resulting in unpredictable price spikes similar to Enron’s exploitation of consumers during California’s energy crisis of ’01. The report predicts the eventual abandonment of the Ruby Pipeline infrastructure is the most likely outcome once the source natural gas supply is exhausted. Finally the report suggests an alternative for both rural and urban regions to have greater regional control of their energy supplies by encouraging regional development of cooperative anaerobic digester infrastructure needed to harness methane from manure sources.
The Ruby Pipeline’s route chosen by El Paso begins in southwestern Wyoming, crosses northwestern Utah, across the entire width of northern Nevada and ends in Malin, Oregon. The federal agencies that have authority over El Paso’s Ruby Pipeline project are Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Concerns raised by several conservation groups and indigenous nations have as of yet been unanswered by the BLM and FERC, the two government agencies that have permitted El Paso Corporation access through said states with their Ruby Pipeline project without providing for local public input.
Along the route chosen by El Paso, the Ruby Pipeline would result in significant habitat disruption and severe fragmentation for migratory wildlife from normal usage and would result in long term habitat destruction in the event of rupture and explosion. In addition, this report will determine the futures of natural gas as undependable and question the long term benefits of the pipeline compared to the ecological costs of disruptions, accidents and eventual inevitability of abandoned pipeline infrastructure.
The sources of the natural gas moving through the pipeline are trapped reservoirs in southwestern Wyoming. The extraction of natural gas is from trapped reservoirs uses the process of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”. Fracking involves forcing fluids with sand into the source rock in order to crack or fracture the rock to allow the natural gas, previously trapped, to escape and enter the drilling site. However, the process of fracking has recently been shown to contaminate the groundwater that shares the space below ground where the natural gas is sought.
Although there are many serious ecological issues with the fracking process that require further elaboration, this report will deal primarily with the fragmentation effects of the Ruby Pipeline on the sagebrush ecosystems through the current route as construction has already begun since spring of 2010. In addition to habitat disruption, other negative consequences of natural gas pipelines include possible leaks of methane either causing explosions or contributing to global warming and causing localized air and groundwater pollution. Included in the report will be detailed information about the long term economic viability of natural gas as a stable energy source, as this is the “promise” of the pipeline.
Effects on Nevada’s Indigenous People and Residents
The region this report will focus on in detail is the high desert region of northeastern Nevada near the towns of Elko, Wells and West Wendover. Though the pipeline in many cases is over twenty miles north of these three towns, they are the closest regions of human habitation to the pipeline’s route in this location. Other human settlements to the north of the pipeline route include Jackpot on the Idaho border, Duck Creek Paiute Nation and several ranches that appear as isolated mini-villages with workers and ranch families living together around a few small houses.
Further west, Nevada and eastern California’s regionally sovereign indigenous nations including the Fort Bidwell Paiute and Summit Lake Paiute have expressed verbal distress with both FERC and BLM due to the Ruby Pipeline route crossing their ancestral lands, many containing artifacts, and disrupting their traditional plant gathering and hunting grounds.
Compensation to indigenous peoples for loss of their ancestral homeland is difficult (Darley, 52). Watchdog groups have documented numerous human rights abuses, noting dependency problems for domestic consumers and murder and ecocide for natural gas producing nations abroad (Darley, 89). Here in the U.S. energy projects like the Ruby Pipeline have negative effects on indigenous Native Americans. According to the Treaty of Ruby Valley signed in 1863, the region in northeastern Nevada crossed by the Ruby Pipeline is under the care of the Western Shoshone, who refer to their home as the sovereign nation of Newe Sogobia. The Treaty of Ruby Valley allows for ranching, mining and crossing through Western Shoshone land with railroads and telegraph lines, though no provisions exist for potentially explosive natural gas pipelines. Since the Treaty of Ruby Valley does not include natural gas pipelines, the route chosen by El Paso Corporation is in direct violation of the Treaty of Ruby Valley and a new treaty needs to occur should this pipeline project wish to proceed as planned. It appears that by approving of El Paso’s route through Western Shoshone lands, FERC and BLM are also guilty of violation of the Treaty of Ruby Valley. Unfortunately the U.S. government is notorious for failing to honor treaties with the indigenous peoples of North America. Due to the overt negligence of the U.S, government to honor treaties, this matter may need to be addressed in an international war crimes court as the Treaty of Ruby Valley was signed in 1863 to alleviate additional burdens on the U.S. military during the Civil War. The Treaty promised to compensate Western Shoshone for habitat destruction from ranching, mining railroads, roads and telegraph lines by providing them with yearly income and cattle (WSDP). However, it appears that the Western Shoshone tribal members who signed the Treaty of Ruby Valley were unaware of the deceptive nature of the forgers of the treaty and that in the future their promises would be broken time and time again. The Ruby Pipeline does not fit into those categories and creates additional dangers, pollutants and habitat fragmentations not mentioned in the Treaty, though no compensation is provided for this permanent intrusion.
Environmental safeguard processes begins with public review of Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) followed by public discussion that provides locally effected residents reasonable access. For example, having meetings for a project in western Nevada in Salt Lake City only would be unreasonable to expect Reno residents to travel several hundreds of miles to express their opinions. A reasonable public input process for Nevada residents was non-existent, as no recorded public comment meetings occurred in the state of Nevada, despite the Ruby Pipeline route crossing the width of the state.
Basin and Range Geology and Sagebrush Ecosystem Background
The geology of the Ruby Pipeline route through this region is along the boundary of the northern limits of the Basin and Range Province, a series of spreading ridges and valleys formed by faulting and stretching of terrain similar to Death Valley in California, though not as extreme. Further north of the Humboldt River basin, the elevations are not as high as in the mountains south of the basin. This moderation in faulting provides for continuous sagebrush habitat without as many steeply sloped mountains creating barriers for sage dependent species like pronghorn and sage grouse as there are further south.
The location of the Ruby Pipeline route in Elko County crosses relatively undisturbed high desert sage scrub with big sagebrush, rabbitbrush and saltbrush being the dominant vegetation types. At some locations where the pipeline crosses higher terrain some juniper may be found. The fauna of this region include pronghorn, pygmy rabbit, greater sage grouse and other threatened and/or endangered species endemic of sagebrush habitat.
The Ruby Pipeline route would consist of a linear clearcut surrounding the pipeline and a parallel access road along the entire length of the state of Nevada and the surrounding state’s sagebrush desert regions. The pipeline route chosen by El Paso cuts through the heart of greater sage grouse mating grounds called leks. Leks are usually small openings surrounded by dense sage, enough to provide cover for the sage grouse exhibitions of prominent mating displays of tail feather flashing. When leks are disturbed or access becomes altered, sage grouse have been known to avoid their former leks and are forced to look elsewhere. The greater sage grouse population in the West has decreased since 50 years and dropped precipitously in the past 20 years (Wilderness, 17).
Habitat Fragmentation of Sagebrush Ecosystem in Wyoming Natural Gas Extraction Sites
A study of the Upper Green River Basin in Wyoming where natural gas fields are taking over high desert sagebrush shows that development effects sage grouse behavior around leks. In a thesis by University of Wyoming student A.G. Lyon, female sage grouse from within two miles of a developed field behaved differently than sage grouse from undisturbed leks. The females from disturbed leks had lower nest initiation rates and traveled further to nest sites than those from the undisturbed leks (Wilderness, 17).
In a 2000 report by Christiansen published in Wyoming Wildlife News results show that only 67% of hens captured on strutting grounds near disturbed area tried to nest. In undisturbed sites 89% of hens captured tried to nest. Furthermore, 47% of the disturbed site birds remained within two miles of the disturbed area while nesting and 89% of birds from undisturbed sites remained within two miles of where they were captured. Since both groups had half of their nests hatch, the overall results show the undisturbed sites would hatch 238 chicks while the disturbed sites would only hatch 94 chicks (Wilderness, 17).
Declines in other sagebrush dependent species were observed by Ingelfinger in a 2001 study. Along dirt roads in Jonah Field II and Pinedale Anticline Project Area results show a 50% decrease in Brewer’s and sage sparrow and also other sagebrush obligates within 100 meters of the road. Since 100 meters falls in between the 250- 500 ft. category, the results show that the presence of Brewer’s, sage sparrow and other sagebrush obligates would be reduced by half across 52-73% of the Big Piney-LaBarge field (Wilderness, 17).
The sage grouse is considered an endangered species and the disruption of their leks by the Ruby Pipeline’s linear clearcut parallel road alongside constitutes a significant habitat disruption, according to the Toiyabe Sierra Club. Along with the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club, several other environmental organizations including the Center for Biological Diversity and Great Basin Resource Watch have filed with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals against the FERC approval decision based upon their severe neglect of appropriate environmental safeguard processes when allowing El Paso Natural Gas to proceed with their route. These groups have legitimate grievances on behalf of the endangered sage grouse, pronghorn and other sagebrush dependent species, or sage obligates, such as sage sparrow and Brewer’s sparrow.
The linear clearcut of a road along the entire length of the Ruby Pipeline creates a human made barrier to the migratory needs of the pronghorn that effectively slices their range in half across and east to west linear barrier. Pronghorn are unable to jump over fences and avoid open spaces. The linear disturbance through the sage removes their protective cover and leaves them vulnerable to predation. The sage grouse require breeding leks that are uninterrupted by barriers also, and an access road paralleling the clearcut stretching across the width of the state would result in significant habitat disruptions for this sensitive endangered species. Both of the above mentioned species are shy and will avoid open spaces with human activities and disturbed habitats. A greater risk than the linear clearcut is the eventual inevitable leaks, ruptures and explosions that would occur over time as the pipeline falls into disrepair from neglect.
Natural Gas Pipeline Leaks Contribute Significantly to Global Warming
Further threats include undetected leaks that could release small amounts of natural gas below ground over long time periods that could contaminate watersheds. Eventually the leaking methane would enter the atmosphere and contribute to global warming.
Many environmentalists concerned about climate change have often touted natural gas as an alternative to coal and oil. However, in the event of an undetected pipeline leak, escaped methane becomes a significant greenhouse gas twenty times worse than carbon dioxide (Darley, 87). In natural gas pipeline leaks and small ruptures, if the pump pressure is not turned off, raw methane gas will escape until detected (Darley, 52). Natural gas also escapes at well sites and from refineries. The yearly underestimate of escaping gas is approximately between 4-6 million tons (Darley, 88). Over the last two centuries the atmospheric methane concentration has doubled, much of this likely a result of leaking natural gas pipelines (Darley, 87).
The environmental safety record in producing regions and third world nations is not very good when compared to the developed regions that consume the gas (Darley, 51). Generally speaking, the longer the pipeline, the more likely there will be leaks undetected for unknown time periods. Since the gas is invisible, natural gas pipeline leaks are more difficult to detect than pipelines leaking oil (Darley, 53).
Pipeline Corrosion from Microbes Leads to Ruptures and Explosions
Probable risks of methane leakage, ruptures and explosions were understated in the EIS issued by El Paso Natural Gas Corporation. Explosions are caused by either internal or external forces causing the pipeline’s shell to rupture and leak methane quickly enough to combust the gas. Lack of repair and improper maintenance of pipelines by negligent pipeline corporations eventually leads to internal corrosion, a known cause of pipeline explosions.
It is documented evidence that on August 19, 2000 a corroded pipeline owned and operated by El Paso Natural Gas Company near Carlsbad, New Mexico ruptured and exploded, resulting in the deaths of twelve workers who were camping near the pipeline (UT Watch, We Love UT). This pipeline crossed the Pecos Rover close to the TX-NM state line 30 miles south of Carlsbad. The Pecos River compressor station was located one mile west of the river and received gas from four incoming natural gas pipelines; 26” diameter line 1100, 30” diameter line 1103, 30” diameter line 1110 and 16” diameter line 3191. Three lines (1100, 1103, and 1110) ran parallel to the pipeline road from the Pecos River to the compression station. Both lines 1103 and 1110 crossed the river on a one lane concrete decked steel bridge (Corrosion Doctors, Carlsbad).
The force of the explosion from the ruptured line 1103 caused a 51 foot wide crater to form along 100 feet of pipeline, sending a 26 foot long piece of pipe as far as 287 feet away. Based upon photos of the fire’s effect on the suspension bridge, the height of the flame was estimated to have reached at least 496 feet. Following a test of the damaged pipe material, it was determined by the Safety Board’s Materials Laboratory that corrosion pits were present in the ruptured area of line 1103 (Corrosion Doctors, Carlsbad).
Interconnected pits are typically associated with striations caused by microbial corrosion. The pits examined showed increasing chloride concentrations from top to bottom. Increased chloride concentration is usually caused by activity from one or more types of microbes; sulfate reducing, acid-producing, general aerobic, and anaerobic. All four varieties of microbes were found present in the samples from two pit sites of line 1103 nearly 2,080 feet downstream of the rupture site (Corrosion Doctors, Carlsbad).
The process begins when dissolved CO2 creates carbonic acid and corrodes the steel. Likewise dissolved H2S also forms a weak acid that is strong enough to corrode carbon steel. Both of these components were present in the gas that was transported through line 1103. Corrosive anions such as chloride were also detected on the tested samples. The pH of the liquid collected at the Pecos River compressor station plant inlet separator scrubber was more acidic (pH 6.7-6.8) than the liquid collected at the Keystone compressor station inlet scrubber (pH 8.2). In addition, material at line 1100 and 1103 pig receivers was measured at pH 6.2-6.3 and the inside material from a low spot along line 1103 west of the rupture was more acidic at pH 6.4 than material collected near siphon drain area of the 1103 line drip with pH 8.9 (Corrosion Doctors, Carlsbad).
Acidic water with a pH lower than seven is more corrosive than basic water with pH greater than seven. The low pH levels observed along line 1103 were likely a result of dissolved CO2, H2S or intrusion of low pH groundwater into the pipeline. The Safety Board’s conclusion was that the corrosion found in line 1103 at the site of the explosion was probably a result of a combination of microbes and contaminants such as moisture, chlorides, O2, CO2 and H2S (Corrosion Doctors, Carlsbad).
Over time pipelines are prone to corrosion from the above mentioned factors and this should be expected to be the final outcome of the Ruby Pipeline, and it is anyone’s guess as to where in the pipeline’s hundreds of miles the eventual rupture will occur. This sort of guessing game of where the weakest link in the pipeline will first become noticeable can also cost lives in the same random fashion, like a highly explosive game of Russian roulette. As California consumers are the targets of the Ruby Pipeline’s end destination, it is relevant to examine inconsistencies in the safety of the pipelines that deliver natural gas to residential neighborhoods. On September, 09 2010 an underground natural gas pipeline exploded in San Bruno, California (Baker).
Though the San Bruno pipelines operated by PG&E were not for long distance transport, they show the similar instability of the substance being transported in the event of pipeline failure. Since this occurred in a residential region, several lives were lost as a result of the explosion. Documents filed with the California Public Utilities Commission by PG&E showed concerns about liquids causing internal corrosion. The document states, “These liquids present an ongoing concern for internal corrosion.” Following the report, PG&E invested near 3 million dollars to install separators in their Milipitas terminal to prevent any liquids from causing further corrosion to the pipeline. However, their preventative measures came too late to prevent the explosion, as pitting and corrosion had already occurred. According to Robert Bea, a UC Berkeley engineering professor who studies catastrophic engineering failures, there was photographic evidence of pitting, “The pictures I’ve seen clearly show internal corrosion.” Though Prof. Bea cannot claim with absolute certainty that these pits were large enough to become failure initiation sites, pitting always increases the probability of the pipeline eventually rupturing (Baker).
In San Bruno and many surrounding communities, a spider web system of natural gas pipelines transports the gas beneath homes, roads and watersheds. To monitor and regulate this entire system seems nearly impossible, as corrosion can occur anywhere along the inside of the pipeline. Some of the pipeline’s sections may corrode faster than others due to chemical or water differentials in the surrounding soils. Trying to measure or determine this accurately would involve complexities beyond the capabilities of science. The best safety regulators could provide would be educated guesses similar to playing casino blackjack, with slightly better odds than roulette. Gambling on the regulatory safety of below ground natural gas pipelines is like playing blackjack with people’s lives, feeling lucky at 21 today?
Officials from PG&E claim they can provide for the public safety, though this false claim only covers those fortunate enough not to reside over or happen to be near the weakest link of the pipeline at that untimely moment when the rupture occurs. Factor in the seismic activity of the region and other parallels emerge between the two pipelines. Not only do residents need to be concerned with falling material from buildings during an earthquake, explosive fires coming from below the ground as seismic movements rupture natural gas pipelines are also a certainty.
These two examples of potential explosions from corrosion or other ruptures resulting from disrepair are not uncommon. While the cause of the PG&E explosion remains uncertain, it is most likely a result of corrosion after years of disrepair and neglect. The Ruby Pipeline would be subjected to the same forces of internal corrosion wear that can eventually result in a potential failure initiation site as a weak spot at some point along the pipeline and an eventual explosion. Where, when and who would be near enough to be at risk is another gamble with human and animal lives. Needless to say the CEOs of El Paso Energy Corporation that promise us our safety will be far removed from the blast crater.
Nevada’s Regular Seismic Events Increase Probability of Pipeline Explosion
An external cause of pipeline ruptures, leaks and explosions are from seismic activity such as earthquakes that can cause rapid movement below ground, shifting the pipeline enough to rupture the seals. The probable risk of pipeline rupture, leak or explosion from a seismic event was dismissed in the Ruby Pipeline’s EIS, despite knowledge of the February 2008 6.0 earthquake that occurred approximately 10 miles northeast of Wells, leaving only 12 miles from the epicenter to the nearest point of El Paso’s Ruby Pipeline passage (USGS).
This earthquake was along a normal fault trending north-south with a dip of 30-60 degrees. The USGS Quaternary Faults and Folds Database shows several widely distributed faults west of Wells Peak. Wells Peak is the nearest mountain south of HD Summit which is where the Ruby Pipeline crosses. Other regional faults include the 64 km long Independence Valley fault zone along the western boundary of the Pequop Mts. The Nevada faults are all determined to be geologically young and will remain active for many years. A sequence of Nevada-centered earthquakes began in 1915 with a magnitude 7.1 near Winnemucca, part of the Central Nevada Seismic Belt. The normal faults northeast of Wells show similar characteristics to the hundreds of other Basin and Range faults (USGS).
To ignore the factor that the basin and range province is on a continuously faulting seismically active zone is to place the lives and habitats of others at risk to severe injury. Though not every situation is entirely predictable, and it is likely that either humans, cattle, pronghorn, sage grouse or any other living beings may be present near the pipeline within striking range of explosion and or shrapnel that could injure or wound and at worst kill the life form entirely. The longer the distance of the pipeline, the greater the probability increases that any of the above beings would be within the blast range of the pipeline in the event of seismic rupture or other accidental explosion. The time factor would increase the risk of rupture or explosion from corrosion as a result of neglect, something El Paso Corporation is notorious for based upon documented history of their pipeline accidents elsewhere. Would living beings unfortunate enough to be within striking distance of the pipeline’s explosion be considered “collateral damage” by El Paso Corporation’s executives?
Global Natural Gas Supply and Demand Instability Increases
There are other alternatives to the current route of the Ruby Pipeline, as there may be even additional options that do not require any sort of pipeline crossing such tremendous distances. Though environmental groups like Toiyabe Sierra Club suggest an alternative route along the already existing industrial corridor parallel to the Interstate 80 and the Humboldt River, there are other factors surrounding natural gas production that would question the need for any sort of a pipeline.
Another factor outside of physical risks to those physically near the pipeline includes the overall desirability of the Ruby Pipeline project for consumers. Though most appear to be in California, exports may not be limited to domestic markets. When one examines the global natural gas market’s volatility and tendencies to fluctuate wildly with the whims of Wall Street traders, it is highly questionable if this is good for the greater public or another profit windfall for loosely regulated natural gas extraction and pipeline corporations. In regards to the theme of this report, the supposed benefits for the consumers in California need to be weighed against the certain risk factors borne by the people and ecosystems of primarily transporting states such as Oregon, Nevada, Utah and especially Wyoming where the natural gas extraction by fracking will occur in addition to pipelines. Though seriously underreported considering the significance to our society’s future, some books have explained the natural gas instability situation in detail.
In his book, “High Noon for Natural Gas”, author Julian Darley compares actor Gary Cooper’s character of Sheriff Will Kane facing the renegade Frank Miller and his gang of outlaws coming to town on the train at high noon with serious energy problems coming to the U.S. population. He claims that we are at “high noon” when it comes to peak oil and the related peak of natural gas supplies. For the past several decades, most U.S. military aggression abroad was for the purpose of securing overseas oil and gas energy resources from potentially hostile foreign governments (Darley, 4). The decreasing supply combined with increasing demand indicates the source for the Ruby Pipeline will not be stable.
The primary objective of the Ruby Pipeline is to deliver natural gas from Wyoming fields to west coast markets and possibly Asia by export through the Pacific Connector Pipeline (PCP). This would enable the corporation moving gas through the Ruby Pipeline to auction off the limited supplies of natural gas to the highest bidder. Though it is difficult to prove their intent, the infrastructure of the combined meeting point for both the PCP and the Ruby Pipeline in Malin, OR would make this endeavor physically possible and financially profitable.
Whether the oil or natural gas comes from overseas or is drilled domestically, as would be the case in the Ruby Pipeline, as energy consumers our dependency on these fossil fuels will be subject to severe fluctuations in price. The amount available for extraction is often overstated by natural gas corporations seeking government support, and the long term result will be quickly depleted domestic supplies with more EPA Superfund sites that were previously relatively undisturbed ecosystems.
In “High Noon” the movie, despite his best efforts in the hours leading to the high noon train’s arrival, Sheriff Will Kane could not “persuade the public to help him, and he had to resort to lone violence. In the end, in his view, he had no choice. All too often, if we leave a situation until too late, the best options may be closed.” (Darley, 7)
Pipeline Transport Limits Create Natural Gas Cliffs
Despite frequent leaks, for other economic reasons pipelines remain the preferred ways of transporting natural gas, or methane. Methane in gas form takes up 500-1,000 times as much space as equal amounts of methane in liquid form. However, turning methane from gas to liquid, or liquefaction, needs considerable energy inputs to reach the -260 degrees Fahrenheit where the transformation occurs. Once methane has reached liquid form, it is referred to as liquefied natural gas, or LNG. Due to the energy needed to achieve liquefaction of methane, LNG is only used for overseas transport. Moving large amounts of methane domestically demands a continuous transit method such as a pipeline (Darley, 40). Since most new gas is “far from market”, it needs a vast interconnected pipeline infrastructure. This rapid growth in pipeline manufacture could cause a nickel shortage, eventually slowing pipeline construction (Darley, 93).
While using pipelines is a cheaper method of transport than liquefaction, this infrastructure investment needs a “regional” market to be viable (Darley, 48). Over the last few decades, there were several new projects designed to promote rapid pipeline expansion. Now there are over 280,000 miles of large, long distance pipelines in the U.S. These pipelines require compressors about every 70 miles to keep up enough pressure to transport the gas. The rapid build-up of the U.S. pipeline system caused natural gas use to reach 23 trillion cu. ft. in 2002 (Darley, 49).
Pipelines can serve to hold back gas well production depending on their capacity. As an example; if a field can produce 100 million cu. ft. of natural gas per day and the pipeline capacity is 50 million cu. ft. per day, the production for that field is capped at the lowest level of capacity. The lower level of production gives the public appearance of steady supplies in the reserve. If the reported field’s size is not accurate, production for that well can decline suddenly & unexpectedly, known as a “gas cliff” (Darley, 50-1).
The expectation of a gas cliff for California’s consumers is known by El Paso Corporation, though this knowledge is kept secret from the public. The source of natural gas for the Ruby Pipeline is in southwestern Wyoming near the town of Opal. The Ruby Pipeline will give the appearance of a steady supply until the production for Wyoming’s wells reach their sudden decline, thereafter the gas cliff will become apparent. Following the gas cliff and eventual decline of Southwestern Wyoming’s well production, the Ruby Pipeline may simply become abandoned and remain in the ground where rust and decay will release unknown metal compounds into the watershed via groundwater percolation. It is improbable that El Paso Corporation will hire workers to remove the pipeline once the source wells decline.
Natural Gas Classification Terms and Gas Cliff Background
Classifications specific to natural gas depend on how it is stored and processed. These terms are used by natural gas corporations when discussing their available supply based upon different factors related to the type of gas found. The term “wet” describes natural gas containing other hydrocarbons (ethane, butane, pentane, propane) mixed together with methane. They are wet gases because after extraction, they condense at surface temps. Methane only becomes a “wet” gas at extremely low temperatures. Conversely, “dry” natural gas indicates that all other hydrocarbons besides methane (CH4) are removed (Darley, 19). Methane gas is worth more than butane and propane, though there is a cost for removal of other gases. The presence of gases that easily condense at surface temperatures could cause problems with compressors (Darley, 28).
Most methane deposits also contain significant amounts of hydrogen sulfide, a toxic compound that must first be removed (Darley, 18). A large amount of natural gas reserves are considered sour gas, and this is not reported by corporations. “Sour gas” contains more than 1% hydrogen sulfide, which is known to be carcinogenic and toxic (Darley, 88).
If natural gas is “stranded”, it is not connected to a pipeline or other collection system and is often flared off or reinjected. Less stranded gas is available for production due to inaccessibility (Darley, 19). Natural gas called “associated” means that it is found above of and dissolved in oil deposits. If it is “unassociated”, then it is mostly natural gas (Darley, 19). Associated gas always comes out along with extracted oil, and is often reinjected to keep pressure up. Other regions more focused on oil extraction with smaller amounts of natural gas appear to find it more economical to simply flare the natural gas off. These natural gas flares in regions with greater balance of oil than gas are visible from freeways and residential streets as bright bluish orange flames continuously burning above smokestacks. However, it is also realized by residents and passerby alike that this flaring of natural gas as “waste” is incredibly foolish and furthermore is harmful to the ecosystem.
Economic factors influence whether gas is “conventional”, meaning it is produced close to today’s prices and with today’s technology, or whether it is “unconventional”, usually formed in tight formations, contained in not very porous rocks, shales & coal seams (coal bed methane = CBM), and is either slower or more expensive to extract (Darley, 20). The natural gas available for the Ruby Pipeline obtained by fracking would be considered unconventional.
Most natural gas is contained in either broken, or clastic, formations and also in porous rocks like limestones and dolostones (Darley, 23). Sandstone is the most typical formation for trapped natural gas (Darley, 23).
The trapping process of natural gas is imperfect, and a great deal escapes as it rises through lighter more porous shales near the surface. The layers needed to seal the porous rock and trap the gas from rising or escaping could be either shale or hardened salt deposits like anhydrite (Darley, 24).
The porous source rocks cause natural gas to flow out slower after the initial well pressure drops. The peak for a well’s output is when reduced pressure and increasing permeability combine to limit the flow out of the porous rocks (Darley, 95).
Unlike oil, natural gas wells cannot be repressurized by reinjection once past their peak (Darley, 95). Though an oil well’s decline is slow, natural gas wells decline fast (Darley, 95). This happens because the pipeline’s capacity limits the gas well’s peak production line’s climb and flattens the top of the much smoother bell curve found in the oil well’s peak production line (Darley, 96). The flattened curve on the natural gas well’s production line hides warnings more visible in the oil well’s production curve, resulting in a sudden decline termed a “gas cliff” (Darley, 96).
Given this basic background information, it follows that the extraction industries of petroleum based oil and natural gas will be somewhat linked together forever. The majority of the petroleum oil corporations are usually also involved in natural gas extraction.
Intertwined Relationship between Petroleum Oil and Natural Gas Extractions
Our dependency on natural gas is intertwined with our ongoing dependency with petroleum based oil. Since petroleum based oil is often found below ground trapped with natural gas, the industries have shared interests. To comprehend the interrelated nature of petroleum oil and natural gas, we need to explore the process by which both of these fossil fuels are formed. Natural gas is methane (CH4), consisting of a central carbon atom surrounded by four hydrogen atoms. The density of methane is half that of air (Darley, 18). Methane is often found together with petroleum oil and other hydrocarbon wet gases such as butane and propane. Petroleum oil is linked chains of hydrocarbons, usually with two less hydrogen atoms per each carbon atom. There are several prehistoric geological factors that determine whether petroleum oil or natural gas is the final outcome.
Thermogenic methane is a form of natural gas produced by burial, compression & heating over a vast time. Most petroleum oil and natural gas is from 10 million years ago (mya) in the Tertiary Period to 270 mya in the Permian period. Natural gas is produced at greater depths than oil, any deposits below 15,000 feet is nearly 100% natural gas (Darley, 22).
Natural gas began as a kerogen source rock, formed from decayed remains of prehistoric plants and animals. There are two types of kerogen; sapropel (liptinite), an algae rich “rotten mud” that forms petroleum oil and vitrinite, composed of decayed trees, leaves and other plants from large river deltas that form natural gas. The process forming either type of kerogen is when organic remains covered with silt, sand, or mud to depths of a few yards are trapped and compressed over long time periods and at high temperatures. The main factor contributing to compression is subsidence, after which deeply compressed kerogen reaches temps of 500 degrees Fahrenheit in “hydrocarbon kitchens”, when pressure and heat combine to breaks carbon bonds, which releases oxygen and reshapes hydrocarbons into different shapes. The depth determines temperatures and also which type of kerogen is formed.
Sapropel forms petroleum oil above 150 degrees Fahrenheit, usually between 170-250 degrees F. At temps above 250 F, most oil breaks down into natural gas at up to 350 F. Any kerogen above 500 F is destroyed by carbonization. Vitrinite formation is a similar process, though results in mostly natural gas (Darley, 21).
Both sapropel and vitrinite forming petroleum oil and natural gas respectively only occurs under certain conditions of containment and temperature. These processes would be considered below ground fossil fuel formations that require long times of compression of ancient plant life. Given there was only so much plant life available for compression combined with the additional reducing effects of time and temperature, it can be reasoned that the oil and gas resulting from compression are a finite supply. This inevitably leads to the peak oil and gas cliff sudden supply declines that result in price spikes.
As natural gas peaks after “high noon” we will witness the same price spikes like we saw with earlier oil peaks as gas demand outpaces dwindling supplies. As domestic gas sources that supply the Ruby Pipeline are rapidly extracted and sold off to the highest bidder, the states that hosted the pipeline will be left with many miles of corroded infrastructure after the corporations plead bankruptcy and profiteers vanish to points unknown. The effects of metallic molecular compounds leaking out of the pipeline are not addressed in the environmental impact report.
The decline in natural gas supply with ever increasing demand is a modern problem much like the ‘70s oil crisis (Darley, 30). Peak oil is the extension of the crisis that began to be visible following the gasoline lines of the early 1970’s. This occurred once petroleum oil derived gasoline was in severe shortage and consumers in the U.S. needed to wait in long lines to fill their cars with fuel.
Petroleum Oil Supply Peak Leads to Natural Gas Peak
The reasons leading to the upcoming natural gas crisis are similar to the oil peaks, price spikes and gasoline lines of the ‘70s. Marion King Hubbert predicted the 1970 oil peak in 1956 while working as chief researcher for Shell. His predictions of peak oil were quite accurate, showing gasoline lines in ’72, followed by the Arab oil embargo in ’73. Oil shortages appeared as early as 1948, ironically the same year when the U.S. became a greater net importer than exporter of oil (Darley, 94).
In President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 speech about the energy crisis, he advised energy conservation and even acted on his advice by installing solar cells on the White House roof. However, in ’81 incoming President Ronald Reagan removed the same solar panels from White House roof and declared it was a “new morning in America” (Darley, 165). One part of Reagan’s “new morning” plan included expanded oil and gas drilling combined with a general abandonment of Carter’s energy conservation principles.
In 1970 U.S. oil production peaked at 9.5 million barrels/day, though in 2000 produced only half this amount. During the oil shock of ’73, the prices quadrupled. Carter made his speech just after the natural gas shock during cold winter of ‘76-7 (Darley, 167).
The U.S. formerly was the number one consumer, largest producer, and until the 60’s had the largest natural gas reserves. Since 2002, the U.S. is only the top consumer (Darley, 29). This leads to increasing demand combined with decreasing supply. A decline in U.S. conventional onshore production was masked by a large growth in CBM and the Gulf of Mexico. Our government denies knowledge of this overall decline (Darley, 99). In ’01-’02 less gas was discovered than was used, it should be noted that 20 years after same transition occurred with oil (’81), we reached the oil peak plateau (Darley, 91).
The most reasonable figure for recoverable conventional gas is 10 Peta cu. ft. (Pcf) (or 10,000 Tera cu. ft.) + 2.5 Pcf of unconventional gas. In ’01 approx. 90 Tera cu. ft. of both types were produced (Darley, 91). Looking at Laherrere’s graph of natural gas discovery and production, the discovery line showed a peak in ’70 when a big field in Iran was found, then fell off sharply soon after (Darley, 92). In this same graph the production line was set back 40 years to shows how extraction follows discovery, and it can be guessed that the extraction line will gradually drop in ’10-’25 (Darley, 92).
Many new electric generating stations are powered by natural gas, though most are running below capacity due to high cost and supply problems. The gas price spikes in ’03 resulted in drawdowns of the U.S. natural gas storage system, which consists of caverns below ground (Darley, 130). The natural gas storage system is reinjected in summer months, with a capacity of 3.5 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) (Darley, 131).
During the U.S. natural gas summit of June ’03, attendees called for some conservation, though mostly pushed for more drilling in restricted places (Darley, 131). The U.S. Energy Bill of 2003 gives tax breaks and subsidies to big energy corporations while easing restrictions on drilling permits (Darley, 160).
The world’s top natural gas importers are Japan, Korea & Taiwan, with the U.S. and Canada moving ahead to become top importers. Canada has plans to build several more LNG terminals on their east coast; this warns the U.S. that the prior exporting nation is now planning to import more natural gas. Based on this change, Canada will need to lower their demand and exports or future gas shortages will occur (Darley, 148).
Extraction Categories Overestimate Amounts Remaining in Reserves
In addition to increased demands and decreased supplies, the system of classification of known and proven gas reserves to indicate recoverable discoveries is flawed and inaccurate. There are several different classification systems of estimating the amounts of natural gas available. One category commonly used in domestic extractions is the proven reserves, or (1P). This is defined by SEC as “quantities of gas which, by analysis of geological & engineering data, can be estimated with reasonable certainty to be commercially recoverable, from a given date forward, from known reservoirs and under current economic conditions, operating methods and government regulations” (Darley, 31).
Another term for 1P is P95, representing 95% certainty that estimates will be recoverable. However, the 1P classification has been used by many corporations to promote appearances of continuous growth. Reserve growth is when corporations report, or “book” only what they produce. In years of low discovery, they use unreported reserves for appearances of constant discoveries of new reserves, though in reality no new ones are found. By claiming extra growth when none exists, the eventual decline of the well supply can appear as a sudden drop off. The sudden decline leads to price spikes as demand increases. Throughout the remainder of the world corporations use the classification 2P, representing “proved and probable.”
Though 2P is “not counted” by the SEC, the USGS term is “inferred reserves”, defined as “part of identified economically producible reserve that ‘will be added to proven reserves in the future through extensions, revisions and the discovery of new pay zones in already discovered fields’” (Darley, 32).The sum of all proven and probable reserves is called “probabilistic”, or (P50) indicating the 50% chance that the amount cited in reports will be recovered (Darley, 32-3). Generally speaking, the 2P estimation is more reasonable and is usually immune to reserve growth, the number should decline gradually as produced. Canada converted their system to 2P in 2003, though making exemptions for large corporations.
Another classification is the sum of all proved, probable and possible reserves, or 3P. These are reserves where commercial productivity has not been demonstrated, and there is 10% probability that at least the sum of the estimated proved, probable and possible reserves will be recovered (Darley, 33).
Those are the three main classification systems for estimating totals of all reserves. Another major natural gas exporting nation is Russia, which has their own system with four categories (A-D), their closest category to 2P is ABC1 = 2P (Darley, 33).
By using the 1P category more often than the more reasonable 2P option, corporations in the U.S. are severely overestimating their domestic reserves. The long term result of overdependence on the 1P category would be another “gas cliff” sudden drop off that would create price spikes and unexpected shortages, these shocks could be dangerous to lower income consumers during winter seasons depending on natural gas for home heating.
Other differences of classification are found in the two sets of numbers used by corporations to report the amounts available for a given reserve. There are usually 2 sets of books; the technical numbers being the most accurate, based upon a petroleum geologists’ secret reports given to the corporate officials, and the political numbers that are the least accurate and are released to the public by corporate officials to give the impression to the world that their nation owns more than they actually do in reality. (Darley, 34).
The SEC allows reserves to be booked only if they see actual drilling with a production bit, though as more gas fields are developed, the public political number goes up. This creates an illusion of reserve growth, though accurate geology based technical numbers remain unchanged. Technical numbers start higher, though they do not fluctuate like public numbers do. Corporations downplay their reserves to save on taxes, avoid nationalization in foreign nations and to distract other corporations to avoid competitive bidding for leases to land. Their public political numbers are increasing constantly for display on Wall Street trading boards. By overestimating reserves with 1P categorization and using inaccurate political numbers to claim greater amounts than they have, domestic natural gas corporations are leaving consumers with the burden of price spikes and infrastructure that will be obsolete following sudden supply declines.
Risks of Hydraulic Fracturing “Fracking” Natural Gas for Extraction at Coal Bed Methane (CBM) Sources
Another factor is the ecological consequences resulting from the extraction of “unconventional” natural gas. Most of the recent discoveries are categorized as “unconventional” reserves. Unconventional natural gas is extracted from reserves found either in sandstones with low permeability (tight sands), shale formations (gas shales), and coal beds (coal bed methane or CBM) (Darley, 35). CBM reserves account for 10% of U.S. gas supplies. According to a report from a major CBM basin, Powder River, that production stopped increasing for first time in 18 years. A huge increase in drilling is needed for an increase in CBM production. CBM deposits have gas adsorbed to the coal’s surface, containing between 6-7 times natural gas per volume of rock than conventional reserves (Darley, 37).
Since CBM reserves are usually found at a shallow depth (500-5,000 ft.), the drill’s reach is small so more wells are drilled. The CBM is released by filling coal seams & pore spaces with water and pumping water off again. This process produces 20,000 gallons of wastewater for 21,000 cubic feet of gas. The U.S. claims 18 trillion cubic feet (Tcf) of CBM, most of which is found in larger fractured coal seams like the Powder River Basin in Wyoming (Darley, 37).
Most significant CBM reserves are federally owned and under private land. Some of this federal land is leased to ranchers for grazing their cattle on rangelands. In other cases ranchers own only surface rights and the gas producers own the mineral rights, or all of the ground below the surface. However, mineral rights trump surface rights, so the ranchers’ land and their livelihoods are being ruined by natural gas producers. As more laws are passed to streamline the extraction process, large quantities of wastewater with increased sodium contaminants are often discharged directly into the soil. When this high salinity wastewater is discharged to the soil, it kills the surrounding vegetation (Darley, 38).
Many CBM producers are allowed to discharge directly into streams under “grandfathering” schemes that allow older wells to continue polluting. One average well in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming can produce up to 28,000 gallons of contaminated water per day. With as many as 3 wells per 80 acres, this can create more than 50,000 gallons per day. The wastewater is either discharged into rivers, reinjected into groundwater or held in impoundments (Darley, 39).
Dr. Reed Noss from the Wildlands Project and colleague George Wuerthner predicts that a proposed coalbed methane fracking project in Wyoming’s Powder River Valley will result in significant loss of biodiversity. The negative effects occur on four levels; genetic, population, species and landscape scales. Full field development produces “biological impoverishment” areas that reduce habitat for white-tailed prairie dog, swift fox, peregrine falcon, burrowing owl, sage thrasher, sturgeon chub and many other sensitive species. Habitat fragmentation from fracking and pipeline infrastructure could adversely alter evolutionary processes on the landscape. Dr. Noss criticizes the Powder River’s EIS for assuming that an increased number of one species will make up for the loss of another. Since coalbed methane extraction requires drilling numerous well sites, all future infrastructure developments from coalbed methane fracking will compound problems by increasing fragmentation. Pipelines, roads and other infrastructure will create new disturbances on ridge tops that are currently in their natural state (CMM, 11).
Dr. Noss also objects to the BLM’s stated claim that alternative habitat is available elsewhere for populations displaced by fragmentation. The BLM is scientifically incorrect as any suitable habitat elsewhere is already populated by members of the same species, and “increased densities in some areas as others are disturbed will have impacts on reproductive success and survival” (CMM, 11). Concentrating species in shrinking habitats while increasingly fragmenting existing habitats creates increased demand on food and water resources from overcrowding and eventual genetic bottleneck effects as segregated populations cannot access others for breeding due to habitat disturbance barriers.
Both Noss and Wuerthner cite as an example of disruption of natural ecosystem processes is when newly constructed roads act as a fire breaks that would slow the natural spreading of wildfires. Other cited concerns include the effects of thousands of miles of roads and power lines on wildlife by potentially altering predation and population dynamics and the increased disturbed habitat that would be habitat for invasive weeds (CMM, 11).
Dr. Barry Noon from Colorado State University’s Dept. of Fisheries and Wildlife Biology states the impacts from habitat loss can adversely effect seasonally migratory species with separate summer and winter ranges. Dr. Noon says that “even small amounts of habitat loss in critical locations such as historic migration routes between these ranges can have disproportionately large effects.” (CMM, 12).
Dr. Noon question’s the certainty of the BLM’s claim that there will not be significant impacts resulting from pipelines, power lines and compressor stations. The BLM dismisses any negative impacts from these disturbances by reasoning that since there is a lack of available data that there would not be any adverse impacts yet not performing any analysis to provide proof (CMM, 12).
Dr. Clait Braun, a researcher of sage grouse since 1973, has expressed concern about the lack of BLM research on project impacts to sage grouse populations. He is troubled by the BLM not referencing major scientific research papers on sage grouse written by Connelly and Schroeder. His studies on sage grouse show lower populations in regions with limited development than nearby regions not altered by CBM actions (CMM, 12).
The BLM draft document does not properly examine the indirect and cumulative effects of pipelines, power lines, roads and compressor stations on sage grouse habitat. Dr. Braun is concerned that the BLM document underestimates the effects of fragmentation on sage grouse, that habitat will be reduced to areas as small as 40-60 acres, inadequate for all life processes to maintain successful breeding populations (CMM, 12).
The BLM document also fails to address the loss of sage grouse habitat. The time limits and one-quarter mile minimal distance from active sage grouse leks that is being used to mitigate NEPA regulations were fabricated by the BLM (CMM, 12). Furthermore, the BLM even makes exceptions to their stated time and distance limits, resulting in near zero actual protections for sage grouse leks and nesting sites (CMM, 12).
The BLM also failed to use published Guidelines written by Dr. Braun from ’77 until 2000, although they publically stated that they would. The BLM limitations are without scientific basis and contradict the Guidelines, leading Dr. Braun to conclude that the BLM claims of development having “minimal effects on the sage grouse” are “without merit and are commonly known to be inaccurate and misleading.” (CMM, 12)
Though these results are based upon studies performed at the coalbed methane extraction sites, it follows that the BLM’s lack of concern for sage grouse habitat in Wyoming at the source also applies to the extended infrastructure of the Ruby Pipeline. It can also be deduced that over the next few years the environmental impacts from natural gas fracking will be well known by the public and protective actions will need to be taken to protect watersheds around the source.
Risks of Natural Gas Fracking from Gas Shale Sources
Two other sources of unconventional natural gas are tight gas sands and gas shales. Tight gas sands are held in reservoirs where the flow through porous rocks is slower and the reservoirs are more spread out than CBM reserves, also resulting in more drilling. Gas shales produce lower amounts than tight gas sands and CBM, though a spike in tight gas sands drilling is expected in the future (Darley, 39).
In a report on the Big Piney-LaBarge fields of the Upper Green River Basin of Wyoming, researchers examined the degree of fragmentation by three metrics; linear feature density (roads and pipelines), habitats in the infrastructure zone and amount of habitat in core areas (interior habitat removed from infrastructure). According to the study, there is “no place in the Big Piney-Labarge field where the greater sage grouse would not be adversely impacted by the drilling.” (Wilderness, 1)
The Big Piney-LaBarge fields are high desert sagebrush surrounded by Wind River and Wyoming mountains. Similar to northeastern Nevada, this habitat contains large populations of pronghorn, greater sage grouse, mule deer and elk (Wilderness, 3).
The region contains many wells as tight gas sands are classified as unconventional. Within the study region are many pipelines, compressor stations, roads, drill pads and retention ponds. The field is 72% tight gas sands, showing that fragmentation will be found throughout the drilling region (Wilderness, 4).
The roads, pipelines and other forms of linear infrastructure cutting through the core habitat fragments the core areas by separating it with abrupt edges. Edge effect is when habitat is invaded by edge dependent species (Wilderness, 5).
Three landscape metrics used to measure degree of fragmentation; density of roads and linear features, acreage of habitat in infrastructure effect zone and acreage of habitat in core areas. Density analysis includes all linear infrastructure features, measures number of linear miles per unit area. Roads, pipelines and other linear features all contribute to interruptions of vegetation cover (Wilderness, 6).
The effects of infrastructure extend beyond the actual structures. Forman calls the edge environments along roads and pipelines the “road effect zone”. The study’s infrastructure edge effect zone analysis measures the known effects to plant and animal species and also changes to landscape. The variations of edge effects change with the width of the road or pipeline. Nearest to the road the edge effects are road kill, soil compaction and altered surface water runoff patterns. The next edge zone is from between 50-100 feet on either side of the road, where the impacts include barriers to animal movements, noise, dust and spread of invasive non-native plants. Further from the road are impacts from increased human presence and resulting impacts of both legal or illegal hunting and other human disturbances. The long term results are the permanence of the road where before was pristine habitat (Wilderness, 7).
In the study all linear features were given initial dimensions of 3.5 meters. This was based upon the width of single lane roads defined by Trombulak and Frissel, though it is probable that some roads will be wider. Effect zone analysis varied from one mile to 100 feet with several additional measurement points between the furthest and shortest distance (Wilderness, 8).
Their results show that the road densities would increase habitat disturbances and likely interfere with courtship, nesting, migration and other needs of wildlife. In the gas fields the road densities are extremely high and result in fragmentation (Wilderness, 15). Though the Ruby Pipeline isn’t as interconnected as the Green River gas fields, it covers a large range from east to west. Since most pronghorn and other migrations occur from north to south or back, the Ruby Pipeline presents a significant barrier and effectively slices their habitat in half across several hundreds of miles.
Previous research (Lyon, 1983) shows that elk do not use habitats near roads to their fullest potential. Lyon noticed that elk habitat effectiveness is reduced by 25% when road densities are as low as one mile per square mile (Wilderness, 16).
Pronghorn in western Wyoming migrate up to 190 miles to their winter range, documented to have continued for at least 6,000 years. Pronghorn have selected different ranges depending on the season. In a 1999 report, the BLM documented pronghorn from Wyoming’s Whitney Canyon-Carter Lease were adversely impacted by “nearly one mile of road per every square mile of occupied habitat.” (Wilderness, 16)
A study on mule deer in North Dakota showed that they avoid habitat within 300 feet of well sites for feeding and bedding, and avoided roads and other facilities for over seven years. The cumulative effect was a 28% reduction of safe bedding habitat (Wilderness, 16-17).
In the reports mentioned above, the cumulative effects of both CBM and tight gas sands drilling infrastructure including roads shows habitat reduction and loss of biodiversity within the sagebrush ecosystem. Unfortunately the short term economic motives of the drilling corporations once again trump the serious concerns to the sagebrush ecosystem and the dependent species, many of which are threatened or endangered.
Deregulation Leads to Price Spikes
According to a September ‘03 report from the National Petroleum Council, they stated that it would be best to open as much land as possible for gas shale and tight gas sands drilling. Since the U.S. conventional supply gas supply peaked in ’73, only a rise in offshore and unconventional made up the gap (Darley, 40). Long before the peaks of the 70’s, the struggle to maintain stability in the natural gas supply resulted in many laws being passed since the beginning of drilling.
The Natural Gas Act of 1938 was created by the Federal Power Commission (FPC) to help create stable prices and supplies. Following decades of gradual deregulation, U.S. conventional natural gas production peaked in ’73. Then there was a more extreme gas crisis during the unusually cold winter of ‘76-‘77. The Natural Gas Policy Act (NGPA) of 1978 further deregulated the market, resulting in the perception of increased supply and actual rise in price. These two factors combined to help decrease overall consumer demand, though did little to address their growing dependency on an unstable product (Darley, 54).
In 1985 FERC separated the natural gas suppliers from transporters, enabling pipeline owners to be independent from suppliers. Then in 1992 FERC enabled pipeline corporations to “create a market determined by how their capacity would be used. “ Years after the passage of the NGPA saw an increase in domestic drilling, which peaked in 1981 at 4,500 wells. Laws regulating natural gas beginning from the many small producers to the intra/interstate transporters became more difficult to enforce, leading to a major energy crisis as corporations overcharged unknowing customers (Darley, 55). This scenario already occurred in 2001 during the energy crisis of California where Enron and El Paso collaborated to defraud consumers.
El Paso and ENRON’s Economic Fleecing of California’s Energy Market
The primary goal of El Paso’s Ruby Pipeline is to export as much natural gas away from their source in Wyoming as possible. The intended market of California could be bypassed if there is a financial incentive to sell to Asian markets at higher prices. This would be by way of the Pacific Connector pipeline, conveniently meeting up with the Ruby Pipeline in Malin, OR and connecting to the Pacific coastal port of Coos Bay, OR. There are plans there for a LNG facility, though it is claimed to be for import, there could be export potentials for the inland sources also. Corporations selling natural gas through long distance pipelines are interested in profit only, not the long term viability of the communities they target.
If the Ruby Pipeline goes through, California consumers could eventually find themselves in another economic fleecing situation similar to the Enron debacle of 2001. Ironically, El Paso Natural Gas Company was involved with Dynegy, Reliant and Enron’s price gouging of California’s utility customers during the energy crisis. Along with Enron, EPNG was implicated as a partner in planning the price spikes during the ’01 energy crisis when consumers of electricity were taken advantage of as natural gas supplies for generators during rolling blackouts sudde
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