man bites dogSierra Club v. Chesapeake Operating LLC et al is news more shocking than “Man Bites Dog”! A federal court has acknowledged that others are better equipped to address certain issues than the judiciary!

Sierra Club alleged that that deep injection of liquid waste from operations by Chesapeake, Devon and New Dominion has contributed to earthquakes throughout Oklahoma and southern Kansas. Sierra asserted that waste disposal activities present an imminent and substantial endangerment to the public health or environment. This was a citizen suit under the Solid Waste Disposal Act, as amended by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

There is reason to be concerned

Sierra Club alleged:

  • Earthquakes in Oklahoma increased more than 300-fold from before 2009 to 2015, from 167 to 5,838.
  • The severity has increased.
  • Seismologists say a magnitude 7 quake is possible in the Nehama fault.
  • Earthquake risks in Oklahoma are now the highest in the nation.

What the parties wanted

Sierra Club wanted an order requiring defendants to:

  • Reduce “immediately and substantially” the amount of wastes injected into the ground,
  • Reinforce vulnerable structures that would be impacted by a large magnitude earthquakes, and
  • Establish independent earthquake monitoring and prediction.

The defendants urged the court to:

  • Allow the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to take action in response to increased seismicity in the state.
  • Dismiss, because Sierra did not join every company that disposes of liquid wastes, and
  • Dismiss, because the claims fall outside the “zone of interests” Congress intended to protect under RCRA.

The court sided with the defendants, concluding that dismissal is appropriate under the Burford abstention and primary jurisdiction doctrines. Here’s why:

  • In 1981 the EPA gave primary enforcement responsibility for underground injection control to the state of Oklahoma.
  • Oklahoma vests that authority in the Oklahoma Corporation Commission.
  • The OCC exercises exclusive jurisdiction over injections wells.
  • The OCC has an extensive regulatory structure in place for injection well control.

Abstention doctrines explained

The Burford abstention doctrine says that where timely and adequate state court review is available a federal court must decline to interfere with the state agencies where there are difficult questions of state law whose importance transcends the results in the case at bar and where exercise of federal review of the question would be disruptive of state efforts to establish a coherent policy with respect to a matter of substantial public concern.

Oklahoma has established and is operating its own program to regulate wells, OCC oversight encompasses more wells than just those operated by these defendants, the issue is one of substantial public concern, and timely and adequate state court review is available to the plaintiff.

The primary jurisdiction doctrine protects the administrative process from judicial interference, and it applies here. The court should refer issues not within its conventional experience to the administrative agency having more specialized experience, expertise and insight.

Why is this a big deal?

Essentially, the court recognized that highly complex and technical issues should not be regulated by the courts. This presents fundamental differences between courts and regulatory agencies: The OCC is equipped as a regulatory body to apply continuous, persistent and flexible regulatory power, which the court can’t do. Immediate and substantial reduction in wastewater requires specific scientific and technical expertise, which the OCC has and the court doesn’t.

You don’t need to bite your dog.

 

godzillaWe begin with a Rorschach test. As the big election day approaches, which candidate do you see in the photograph? Discuss among yourselves.

Get ready for lots of musical interludes. The nation’s despair runs deep and wide, so profound that it cannot be expressed in mere words.

What do they promise?

Let’s look at what we might expect from our next president, based on campaign promises:

Mr. Trump:  Make oil and gas great again,

Ms. Clinton:  Wind on every hilltop, solar on every rooftop; renewables good, fossil fuels bad,

From Scott Gaille’s energy blog,

From Forbes.

And again from Forbes.

This is a way to evaluate the promises (a/k/a, don’t get your hopes up).

Your choices

You know what they are. It’s been said that one is reptilian, and the other venal (that’s Hillary in the middle; Nancy Pelosi on the “left”; Harry Reid, in drag and a wig, on the other side).

Here is P. J. O’Rourke’s choice.

Speaking of choices, here is how to survive election day:

  • Remain in the fetal position where you’ve been since the primaries, and continue to weep.
  • Surrender your belt and shoelaces to someone you trust.
  • Still undecided? Here is some advice.

Takeaways

  • This will pass. We survived Millard Fillmore and Warren G. Harding.
  • Special shout-out to you Trump primary voters! You vanquished those liberals and insiders like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Mike Huckabee. You owe the party faithful.

 

steam engineWhich of these statements makes sense to you:

A. “Never before have the rulers of a society intentionally driven it backwards to scarcer, more expensive, and less efficient energy.”

B. “Communism is the optimal system for avoiding dangerous global warming”.

C. “This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution.”

D. “Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.”

E .“Global warming, like Marxism, is a political theory of actions, demanding compliance with its rules.”

What the quiz says about you

B, C and D? Comrade, you took a wrong turn at “fueling” and failed to yield to “freedom”.

A and E? Then you should read Fueling Freedom: Exposing the Mad War on Energy by Kathleen Hartnett White and Stephen Moore.

If you want a real book review, go to the National Review. This post is more of a polemic, a defense of an honorable industry that is vital to the security and prosperity of the world (excluding Venezuela, of course).

Ms. White, Distinguished Fellow-in-Residence at the Texas Public Policy Foundation, spoke last week at TIPRO’s summer conference. See this PowerPoint for the high points of her presentation. It’s no substitute for the presentation itself, but if you want to know more you should read the book.

Facts that will impress your friends 

Here are compelling facts from the book that reveal the importance of fossil fuels to our modern way of life:

  • Human misery remained at about the same level for 100,000 years until the Industrial Revolution in the early 1800’s. Since then, misery has declined and millions have been lifted out of poverty and into the middle class. This progress is a result of human ingenuity and fossil fuels.
  • America produced three times as much food as it did a century ago, with one-third fewer man-hours, on one third fewer acres, and on and at one-third the cost. (Think, natural-gas based fertilizers, tractors, and other fruits of petroleum.)
  • In 1875 the average American family spent 74% of its income on food, clothing and shelter. In 1995 the same family spent 13% of its income on these fundamental necessities.
  • In cost per megawatt hour, oil and natural gas receive 64 cents, wind $56.29 and solar $775.64 in federal subsidies.

Some points might be overstated:

  • Haynesville and non-core Bakken operators might not agree that, “In many places fracking is profitable at $40 per barrel and in most places it is profitable at $50 per barrel.”

Now, for our musical interlude.

Sources for the quiz

A. Fueling Freedom, p. xv (no link, you gotta read the book).

B. IPCC chief Christina Figueres, Daily Caller, January 15, 2014.

C. Figueres, U N Regional Information Centre for Western Europe, February 3, 2015.

D. Paul Ehrlich.

E. Paul Johnson, The Nonsense of Global Warming, Forbes, September 8, 2008.

truthinessTruthiness: A quality characterizing a “truth” that a person making an argument or assertion claims to know intuitively, “from the gut” or because it “feels right” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination or facts.

Today we explore truthiness in action. Let’s start with the loftiest bully pulpit in the land. The Washington Post gave President Obama four pinocchios  for his justification for cancelling the Keystone XL Pipeline.

  • The Prez: Keystone oil “will bypass the United States and its products will end up in foreign markets”.
  • The Post: Most of the products to be refined at Gulf Coast refineries will be consumed the United States.
  • The Prez: Keystone was just for Canadian oil and we should be focusing on American infrastructure, American jobs and American producers.
  • The Post: 65,000 BOD will be moved from the Bakken; U.S. energy companies control 30% of Canadian oil sands production.

Propaganda disguised as truthiness

According to Energy in Depth, anti-fracking activists use lies to scare us, such as:

  • Fracking causes widespread water contamination,
  • Fracking causes earthquakes (specifically, all injection wells induce earthquakes),
  • Fracking causes climate change and increases air pollution (Really? See the Sierra Club article below),
  • Fracking negatively impacts health (especially in babies),
  • Fracking chemicals are not disclosed,
  • Fracking is not regulated,
  • The industry does not provide safety measures for workers.

See the article for details explaining why they are wrong.

Facts  

Michael Lynch in Forbes runs through 11 of what he calls myths about the economics of petroleum and labels them either wrong, misinterpreted, or irrelevant.

An Energy In Depth report quantifies the threat of earthquakes from injection wells. To summarize:

  • Percentage of U.S. disposal wells potentially linked to seismicity – 0.55%
  • Percentage of disposal wells operating without seismicity – 99.45%
  • Percentage of Class II injection wells potentially linked to seismicity – 0.15%
  • Percentage of Class II injection wells operating without seismicity – 99.85%

The numbers are similarly low in Texas.

Could go either way?

This could be truth or truthiness. Energy In Depth reports that the Sierra Club admits but downplays the contribution of cheap natural gas to the reduction in carbon emissions in the United States. Read the article itself and all the links and decide for yourself who is more correct. This one could be a matter of your point of view.

Why this blog uses cute pictures

A study examining truthiness was carried out by Eryn Newman of Victoria University of Wellington. Experiments showed that people are more likely to believe that a claim is true regardless of evidence when a decorative photograph appears alongside.

An interlude

Today we have a movie interlude. You will want to view this if college is in the present or future for you or someone for whom you are responsible.

Les Advises the Tigers Not to Buy Leases in NY
Les Advises the Tigers Not to Buy a Lease in NY

Political actions have consequences. A force majeure clause in New York oil and gas leases does not modify the primary term of the habendum clause and the leases are not extended because of the state ban “moratorium” on hydraulic fracturing.

The force majeure clause:

[I]f and when drilling . . . [is] alleged or interrupted . . . as a result of some order, rule, regulation, requisition or necessity of the government, or as the result of any other cause whatsoever beyond the control of Lessee, the time of such delay or interruption shall not be counted against Lessee, anything in this lease to the contrary notwithstanding.”

No operations were conducted during the primary term and there was no production.

This question was certified to the New York State Court of Appeals: “If [the moratorium was a force majeure event] does the force majeure clause modify the habendum clause and extend the primary terms of the leases?” The state court answered “no”.

The Court’s Reasoning

  • The habendum clause did not incorporate the force majeure clause by reference or contain language expressly subjecting it to other lease terms, and the force majeure clause did not specifically refer to the habendum clause.
  • Under New York law the force majeure provision did not supersede all other clauses in the leases, only those with which it was in conflict. Because the two clauses were not in conflict, “anything in this lease to the contrary, notwithstanding” alone was insufficient to compel the conclusion that the force majeure clause modifies the primary term.
  • Because the clause expressly referred to delay or interruption in drilling or production, it follows that the clause only conflicted with, and therefore modified, the secondary term of the habendum clause.
  • The force majeure clause expressly indicated that it dealt with lease termination, not expiration. Thus, the “notwithstanding” language excused lessee’s performance only during the secondary term.

Based on the state court ruling a summary judgment terminating the leases was upheld.

Q and A in Which the Author Interviews Himself

Q:  What is the source of this heresy?

A: You’d be surprised. The court referred to several cases from Texas and California for support. A 1975 Texas case construed identical language in just the same way, meaning that someone didn’t update his forms.

Q:  Did it have to end this way?

A: Of course not. The lessees argued that “anything in this lease to the contrary notwithstanding” has consistently been held to enforce the clause. Several Texas cases could be relied upon for a contrary result. Being the highest court in New York, they could have decided to follow another approach. Supreme courts are fond of saying they just call ball and strikes. But they also define the strike zone, the distance between the bases, the height of the mound, and just about every other aspect of the game.

Q:  What does it mean?

A: Are you asking me, legally or politically? The legal effect is, if the “moratorium” ever ends, many lessees will by paying again for leases they paid for once before. Politically … not my problem, and unless you have leases in New York it’s not yours either.

And this musical commemoration of LSU v. McNeese.

Finally, Les’s failure to stop the lightning is yet another reason to fire him. You-know-who-I’m-talkin’-about would have willed the storms to proceed away from Tiger Stadium … quickly.

davy crockettYour Texas legislators have done their work and the citizens are safe for the next two years.  The other good news is that industry supporters generally believe the 2015 Legislature was their friend.

House Bill 2: Set aside $4,471,800 to the University of Texas at Austin Bureau for Economic Geology and appointed a technical advisory committee to study the effects of hydraulic fracturing and disposal wells on earthquakes. The Bill authorized seismic equipment, maintenance of seismic networks, and modeling of reservoir behavior in the vicinity of faults. The committee will have nine members appointed by the governor. Two members will represent higher education institutions and have seismic or reservoir modeling experience, two will be experts in the oil and gas industry, and at least one must be a RRC seismologist. The committee will advise the governor and the House Committee on Energy Resources.

House Bill 40:  Preempts local jurisdiction over subsurface operations. This is the legislative response to the ogre that was Denton’s anti-fracking ordinance.

House Bill 1331: Once an operator has transferred drill cuttings to a third party for subsequent beneficial use, such as recycling, the operator can no longer be held liable in tort for consequences of the subsequent use.

Senate Bill 1589: Requires holders of unclaimed mineral proceeds to include more information when reporting to the Comptroller, such as lease, property and well names, and identification numbers used to identify the lease, property or well.

House Bill 2207: An existing oil and gas lease will remain in effect upon the foreclosure of a security interest if the lease was executed and recorded before the foreclosure sale. If the leased property is sold in a foreclosure sale, the rights granted to the lessee to use the surface will be terminated. Royalty payments which become due after the foreclosure sale will pass to the purchaser of the foreclosed property. A subordination agreement would control conflicting provisions of the law.

House Bill 30: Requires regional water planning groups to include opportunities for benefits of developing large scale desalinization facilities. The point is to establish brackish groundwater production zones that would not affect industry’s use of brackish water. The Texas Water Development Board is to study the use of brackish groundwater. As passed the Bill does not create a scheme for the use of brackish groundwater.

The Ones That Got Away (or Euthanized, If You See It That Way)

House Bill 1552: The allocation well Bill. An operator would have been allowed with a RRC permit to drill, operate and produce from wells that traverse multiple tracts. The Bill would have removed doubts about the legality of allocation wells. Royalty and mineral owners defeated this one.

House Bill 3291: Would have established as a second degree felony the possession transporting, removing or purchasing oil and gas or condensate without a RRC permit. Passed in a version that was far different from the original, then  vetoed by the governor. I’m told the reason was because it would have criminalized what has otherwise been a RRC permitting violation. Thieves and some DA’s were pleased, operators were not.

House Bill 1392: The fieldwide unitization effort that has failed in every session since Davy Crockett realized there wasn’t a back door to the Alamo. This year it was known by the catchy “Cenozoic Era Unitization”. Some have been in favor, some not.

To see the text and history of the Bills, go to www.capitol.state.tx.us/.  Under Search Legislation type in bill number (“SB … or HB …), and search.  If it passed, see the “engrossed” version.

Our legislative interludes:

To the supporters of HB 40

To legislators everywhere who can’t get a bill passed

To legislators everywhere who prevent their colleagues from passing a bill

 

 

amniotic fluidFirst, an apology. I have brought shame to my own self and this blog for failing to invoke trigger warnings about activities I will mention again, after the appropriate trigger warning. (I had no idea there were so many.)

Trigger Warning

This post will refer to activities in oil and gas production as they are commonly described in the industry. This post will feature the mindset of the industry and its enemies. Don’t take my word for it. Read the links themselves. First, see James Lileks‘ treatment of trigger warnings in National Review.

Fracking (ouch) had mixed poll results in a recent Gallup Poll.  Perhaps that is because of …

Hysteria

Michael Lynch in Forbes cites emotional, bordering on the ridiculous, claims by anti-frackers, including our favorite Yoko and related anti-fracing groups who resort to demagoguery and overuse and misuse of “frac”.

Women in the oil business, do know what you are? Sandra Steingraber is an environmental activist who “peer-reviewed” the study relied on by Gov. Cuomo to ban fracking in New York. She opined that the only jobs for women in the “fossil fuel industry” are as prostitutes and hotel maids. But then, there is …

Science

Energy in Depth reports that according to the California Council on Science and Technology, five myths by fracking opponents have been debunked:

  • Hazardous chemicals are released by hydraulic fracturing,
  • Hydraulic fracturing directly causes ground water contamination,
  • Fluid injected in the process of fracing causes earthquakes,
  • Upstream oil and gas sources represent small proportions of toxics in certain highly-urbanized areas in the South Coast air district. Eliminating oil and gas production would not eliminate air pollution problems in the San Joaquin Valley. (To be fair about it, oil and gas facilities emit significant air toxics in the area and are responsible for a large fraction of H2S emissions.)
  • Fracturing operations use a large amount of fresh water compared to other human water use.

CCST is a “non-partisan, impartial not for profit corporation established in 1988 by an assembly concurrent resolution to provide objective advice from California’s best scientists and research institutions on policy issues involving science.”

According to a grudgingly favorable report from Treehugger, billions of gallons of treated wastewater from fracking operations are being delivered to California almond and pistachio producers for irrigation.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology reports that electrodialysis may provide a cost effective treatment of salty water from hydraulic fracturing.  Both of these reports show progress in the important area of water use. Do not let the likes of CERES tell you nobody but them is doing anything about it.

Announcing the Gray Reed Safe Room

By now you are aware of “safe rooms” on college campuses – havens for those youngsters who are so traumatized by ideas that offend their firmly and sincerely held personal beliefs that they can’t function. I learned about the one at Brown University from a source not The Onion and not first presented on April 1st. That’s what you get for $48,272 in annual tuition.

Gray Reed goes one better than Brown.  Sand is an irritant to sensitive young skin, a little one could gag on a chunk of Play Doh, and communing with your inner three-year-old isn’t sufficiently therapeutic. In the Gray Reed safe room there will be the frolicking puppies, but also more! To bring a profound and perfect peace to the utterly infantilized, participants in the Gray Reed safe room will be bathed in a warm, gently flowing stream of amniotic fluid. No harsh abrasives or choking hazards. You can’t get any closer to “home” than that.

A Bo Diddley interlude.

Coming soon: Huckleberry Finn, uncensored.

million dollar quartetThe Texas legislature has been busy on energy.

House Bill 40, similar to House Bills 539 and 540, steamrolled through the House of Representatives last week by a vote of 122 to 18. Reminds us of A L pitchers not rookies and the Rangers’ betting order.

The bill would preempt local control of oil and gas operations. If the bill becomes law political subdivisions could not enact or enforce ordinances that ban, limit or otherwise regulate an oil and gas operation within its boundaries.

Exceptions would be:

  • Above ground activity that governs fire and emergency response traffic, lights, or noise, or “reasonable” setback requirements;
  • That is commercially reasonable;
  • Does not effectively prohibit an oil and gas operation conducted by a reasonably prudent operator (hello Dallas and Denton); and
  • Is not otherwise preempted by state or federal law.

A regulation is prima facie commercially reasonable if it has been in place for at least five years and has allowed oil and gas operations to continue during that period.

See the House Research Organization’s analysis of who’s for and who’s against. You won’t be surprised at the lineups.

What Supporters Say:

  • To satisfy concerns that Railroad Commission surface regulations are insufficient and not enforced, the Legislature should fully fund the Railroad Commission and focus on improving state policies and regulations instead of off-loading that task to municipalities (good luck on the “fully fund” part);
  • The law would affirm the preemptive nature of state oil and gas regulations and reduce litigation (a cause dear to the heart of our legislature, regardless of the side effects);
  • Municipal regulations that effectively ban attempts to exploit natural resources deprive mineral rights owners of their property.
  • The law would affirm the dominance of the mineral estate (as has been the law of Texas since minerals were discovered).
  • The impact of operations are only temporary and can be mitigated by above-ground regulations such as setbacks, fencing, etc.
  • Establishes regulatory certainty.

What Opponents Say:

  • Even basic ordinances intended to insure public health and safety would be prohibited;
  • Effects of operations are felt most acutely at the local level, and municipalities are better equipped than state agencies to understand the effects of operations in their communities.
  • State agencies may not have the political will to enforce regulations to protect public health and the environment.
  • Gaps in state subsurface rules and regulations are filled by local ordinances, which would be preempted.
  • State regulations on oil and gas operations are notoriously weak.
  • Municipalities might have statutory obligations that cannot be performed without limiting subsurface activity.
  • Current law is sufficient to protect property rights. Regulatory takings are not inherently bad; property owners are compensated for a regulatory taking facilitated by municipal regulation.
  • Erosion of property rights is worthwhile if local regulations are necessary to protect neighborhoods from environmental degradation and public health consequences.
  • Oil and gas operations infringe on property rights of surface owners.

What Sam Phillips Did For You Yesterday

After watching Rhodes Baseball take three out of three from Millsaps, we had a holy experience Sunday in Memphis. The 8:00 a.m. Rite I service at Calvary Episcopal Church downtown was one, but I’m really talking about Sun Studio – “The birthplace of Rock and Roll”. Today’s musical interludes are the first studio recordings ever by these artists. What’s so new and different? Nothing, until you consider the best-selling tune of 1952 for perspective. Imagine the world before Rock and Roll and then listen:

Howling Wolf 1952 (not R&R of course, but it set the stage).

Elvis 1953

The Killer 1956

Three more next time, including two gents in the picture.

LesserPrairie-Chicken-Vyn_090420_0194It was an abrupt and remarkable about-face. In a Rose Garden ceremony in the presence of the CEOs of America’s largest oil companies and special guest David Koch (brother Charles remained ball-gagged and handcuffed by the editorial board of The Nation), President Obama signed an executive order fast-tracking construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and, to the astonishment of all in attendance, promised federal subsidies and loan guarantees to TransCanada Corporation for the facility. In his remarks the president said, “It’s high time the helping hand of my all-powerful and omnipotent administration come to the aid of our country’s most popular and vital industry. Our citizens will no longer be denied the high-polluting, pet-coke discharging, energy-sucking Canadian tar sands oil so necessary to maintain their wasteful and profligate lifestyles and, in the case of Al Gore and Pharrell Williams, that precious fuel that sends their Gulfstream G650’s to the next global-warming summit.

Environmental activist Yoko Ono’s reaction was as lucid as we have come to expect. For their part some Republicans were, as they often are, chagrined, although in this case no one knows why.  (This post is interactive: Visualize your favorite chagrined Republican now).

In other news today:

Sports

LSU quarterback Anthony Jennings appeared on the 2015 Heisman Trophy watch list.  The pundits predict a 72 percent pass-completion rate, achieved solely by screen passes to Leonard Fournette.

Alternative Energy

Prominent environmentalists condemned wind and solar power, remarking that solar is “too hot and burns up too many cute little birds when they fly over”, and wind is “unreliable; its sharp and unforgiving blades pulverize bigger-but-still-cute birds into bite-sized chunks for the coyotes, and its tall towers endanger the lesser prairie chicken, that flightless, cute kind-of-little bird so beloved by the several ranch hands in West Texas who come into contact with the species every year”. Solar is fine for Bubba from Mississippi. “Them critters drop right out of the sky, all fried up good and well done, just how I like ’em. And it saves Lurleen from another day in the kitchen.”

Religion

After 17 ballots the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas elected its first openly gay bishop, who narrowly defeated a Hispanic woman from the Rio Grande Valley and a transgender African-American person from the Diocese of New Hampshire. The early favorite – the middle-aged white guy (Diocese of Quincy, ACNA) – was eliminated early. In his post-election remarks the new bishop, who most-recently served as rector of Saint Stonewall Church of the Heavenly Liberation (Diocese of California) said, “I look forward to the warm and loving embrace – spiritual, of course – of my new flock, where I am destined to encounter, at long last, the  “orthodox” Episcopal church.

Grievance Leftism

Al Sharpton paid his delinquent tax bills, renounced the millions in protection money extracted over the years from major corporations, resigned his membership in posh New York private clubs, took up residence in a cardboard box in Megyn Kelly’s front yard, and began medical treatments to turn himself Caucasian. In a press conference in which all the words were pronounced correctly he rejected his sordid history of race-baiting, apologized to the New York police for the Tawana Brawley incident, and denied that he ever really believed Officer Wilson should in any way be prosecuted for the Michael Brown incident.

And finally this, to explain the day.