Statoil’s hidden chapter: Fracking — the filth gets filthier

by Ole A. Seifert
Photo: Amy Youngs, amymyyou on Flicker<br />

Shale gas has long been advertised as being an environmentally sound alternative to oil and coal. Is this truly the case? Photo: Amy Youngs

Statoil, the Norwegian state owned Oil Company (owning 66% of the company’s shares) recently announced that it will reduce its tar sands extraction efforts in Alberta, Canada. The public are rejoicing, believing that their voice has been heard – unfortunately this is not the case. The reduction of the exploitation of the tar sands is indeed a wonderful thing, but it has occurred largely due to economic reasons.

A fair amount of Norwegians are very environmentally conscious and the detrimental effect that tar sand extraction has on the indigenous populations of Canada weighs heavy on their hearts. The fact that their government could inflict so much pain and suffering on a homeland other than their own was deeply upsetting, so the announcement of the reduction feels like a win, whatever the reason.

Shale gas has long been advertised as being an environmentally sound alternative to oil and coal. Is this truly the case? Have we had all the facts, or are we simply wanting to believe a government sanctioned advertisement campaign designed to build support for an industry that could well be as detrimental for the planet as all the rest? Are we being fed propaganda? Are we being fed and are we opening up our mouths and minds and swallowing a sugar coated truth?

Would you like a glass of fresh fracking water?

Hydraulic Fracturation, or “fracking” as it is more commonly known, is a hot topic for debate in many countries in the world. Some US cities and states have enforced a temporary ban on the practice after MSBNC ran an expose in 2009, followed by the CNN in 2010, showing how drinking water had an ignitable gas accompanied as a by-product when running out of a faucet. Quebec, Canada have also put a temporary ban on the practice. Tunisia and France have banned it completely.

Statoil is not affected with such bans. In fact, Statoil is one of the largest global operators of the fracking practice, especially on the Marcellus formations located in North-Eastern America. The Marcellus is the third largest field, after those found in Iran and Siberia.

Gas = environmentally friendly?
In a narrow perspective, gas is indeed more environmentally friendly, producing 40-50% less CO2 emissions than oil and coal. This is a great number, but gas affects other parts of our delicate world and in other ways, other ways that governments don’t want us to focus on, from soil pollution to water contamination. The biggest risk however, is the gas’s effect on global warming, especially the unburned gas. Fracking is (mainly) the extraction of methane gas, CH4. Methane gas is 86 times more dangerous as an accelerator to climate change than carbon dioxide in a twenty year-perspective, posing a huge risk to us once again. Currently the UN figures show this increased risk as 34% (IPCC in 2013) compared with CO, in a hundred year perspective. New satellite observations (2014) showed us a leak percentage high as 9-10 on average, which guts the entire benefit of switching to gas as an environmental friendly option.

Water, water, water, sand and chemicals
One of the main reasons that gas has become profitable again — as the techniques has been around for a long time, is the possibility for horizontal drilling and the fracking technique. It consists of pumping millions of liters of water mixed with sand and a huge quantities of chemicals. Many US states are now demanding that it should be explained and disclosed what chemicals are used, but this is halted by several of the companies involved. In 2005, “the Bush/Cheney Energy Bill” passed that exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It has until recently exempted companies from revealing the chemicals used in fracking. The decision overrides the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and is referred to as the Halliburton loophole. In a recent report from the Environmental Integrity Project (October 2014), it has emerged that diesel and other dangerous liquids with higher levels of toxins as Benzene, Toluene, Ethyl benzene and Xylene. Are being used. These are very hazardous, carcinogenic substances. Fracking will normally go through between 4 and 30 million liters of water. Less than half of the water comes up again and can be treated and cleansed. 80-300 tons of chemicals are used. It goes without saying that the water is highly polluted and very toxic. Both the little that comes up, as well as what is left in the ground.

Accidents happen, even with Statoil. Most recently last summer. “Luckily” most of the gas burned, while the dirty water from boreholes rebounded and flooded the waste water basins and proceeded out in Opossum Creek about five kilometers away and killed an estimated 70,000 fish, according to conservative estimates from the EPA. I guess it was not so lucky for the fish.

More pain than gain
Let’s get back to the emission track. A new research report — Remote sensing of fugitive methane emissions from oil and gas production in North American tight geologic formations, October 2014, various authors — used satellite observations combined with EPA figures, and showed that although emissions have decreased somewhat, they are still too high to give gas the status as an environmentally friendly alternative. Another study from March 2014 (Towards a better understanding and quantification of methane emissions from shale gas development), argues that the EPA numbers are too low, as does a study from December 2013 (Assessment and Risk Analysis of casing and cement impairment in oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania, 2000-2012) who believes that methane emissions are more likely to be about 100 to 1000 times higher than the EPA estimates! Even with conservative estimates, fracking contributes to a faster global warming and has no net climate benefit whatsoever in any timescale that matters to humanity. It is also of importance to put in perspective that the fresh water — a stable yet scarce resource — is used up, polluted and made unfit for human consumption. Water has long been on the UN agenda (Millennium Development Goals, 2000 -2015). Even water rich nations like Norway will be affected if the water shortage worsens as 2/3 of Norway’s water consumption is abroad, known as Virtual Water.

Ethical guidelines?
Statoil has a long-term plan for the development of shale gas resources. We focus on technology that ensures recovery in the best possible way, providing the highest possible recovery rate, and reduces the environmental impact. In addition, we are working to identify and implement activities to benefit the communities where we operate.”

– from Statoil’s Norwegian homepage*.

Sure, they have long-term plans and technology that give the highest output and return for the company and its shareholders. Reducing environmental consequences? In relation to what? This is simply empty words. Unfortunately this is not the only empty words and misrepresentation. Statoil mix words like “everything” with 15-40%. Where else can you buy a product and only get 15-40% of the item, and still be pleased?

“We are increasingly recycling all water used during Bakken drilling operations. Many shale gas and tight oil operators, including Statoil, are seeking ways to fracture wells and limit the use of water through recycling or an overall reduction in water consumption. We are increasingly recycling all water used during Bakken drilling operations. After being injected into the well, part of the fracturing fluid will return in the days and weeks that follow. The amount of fluid that returns to the surface depends on geological characteristics. Typically between 15%-40% of the fluid is returned. The rest of the water injected as part of the hydraulic fracturing process remains in the shale formation and may be produced over a long period of time.”

— from Statoil’s own website, annual report 2012.

It sounds like pure fraud in a dirty industry. I have already mentioned this “rest of the water” being ”produced” over a long time beneath the ground as extremely polluted and a source of further contamination of groundwater.

Returned (flowback/produced) water is returned for the entire production lifetime of the well…” – it continues. Well, does this only apply for the Bakken formation wells? How credible is this, when they just failed this at the Marcellus formation in 2014? Do they really believe this themselves, until an accident happens there too? Thank you so very much, Statoil, we realize that you really take environmental responsibilities seriously.



A Norwegian version of this story was published in the magazine Gatenytt (Street News), December 2014.

Big thanx to Alexandra Dimitriou-Engeler for editing!

To let our potential blossom

by Ole A. Seifert

Mayans were right. Not that it’s the apocalypse, but that we stand at a crossroads. Where we can continue with our eyes closed. We can let the world go on as before, even though we know we have a steady course towards the abyss. Or we can use what we have so much of, but use as little of, our gray matter — our brains. We can open our eyes and see and act accordingly. We can change the world to a better place where we see the planet as a whole, a unity and our common home. We can change our thinking and our actions, so our descendants also can enjoy the Mayan predictions. A turning point where we took responsibility for each other and our shared planet.


As of today, we produce enough food to feed approx. 10 billion people. That even though we also produce vast quantities of meat, which steals a tremendously large amount of fresh water, especially from water-poor country like Pakistan which produces much of the animal food. Water is a scarce resource. Not noticeable here in the Kingdom of Norway, even though 2/3 of our water consumption is in other countries, but for the roughly 1.1 billion who do not have free access to, clear, running water, and about 2.4 billion are without access to sanitation, water scarcity is noticeable.


 In our hunger for idiocy, eh … sorry, energy, we engage in the ultimate environmental crime by sucking the planet’s recent oil and gas reserves through shale gas and fracking (hydraulic fracturing). It’s not just the crazies in BP that do it, but also the Norwegian people, led by our dear Stoltenberg and our jointly owned Statoil. A contaminating process which use nearly 600 different chemicals are pumped under high pressure into the rocks. Yes, mixed with huge amounts of water. Each shale gas well use somewhere between 80 and 300 tons of chemicals. Between 4 and 30 million liters of water are required. Only 30 – 50% of the water comes up again and can be treated and cleaned. It goes without saying that the groundwater get highly polluted and very toxic. Not so cool, unless you live nearby and fancy the idea of setting tap water from the faucet on fire. Did I mention that water is a scarce resource?


Sure, we have plenty of everything, even of all that can drive humans into distress and misery. Also greed that allows us to get rid of millions of people, and still make money … That means that we choose to ignore the unequal distribution among the world’s population, our sisters and brothers. That means we can gain some extra  kilos during the Christmas season, after conscientiously have supported our wonderful system with our money, mainly presents as most would have afforded themselves or perhaps and very often do not even need, while much of the world’s population living in poverty and distress. Where those cranks and solder together mobile presents, eh … sorry, mobile phones, working under poor conditions, barely paid while they handle all kinds of toxins. What a sweet little child’s hand is more convenient than adults, hungry fingers to produce more of what we in the rich part of the world already have in abundance.


Just while I strummed down these words, 300 to 400 people died of hunger or hunger-related causes. Every four seconds a person dies of hunger and hunger-related causes. Also in 2012 we will reach 15 million dead children. Starved to death in a world of abundance. On a planet where everything is very skewed. Where 1/3 of the population goes hungry. On a planet where the world’s food production is increasing faster than population growth and how Europe throw enough food away in a year to cover the entire Belgium.


We produce enough food to feed approx. 10 billion people per 2012. Approximately the same number we expect the population to be in 2050. How inequality and poverty means that many of those living on less than $ 2 a day, can not afford this food. Where we still expect to have to double food production by 2050, because our hunger for the resource-intensive meat – which is also among the most water demanding areas we engage in – have no borders in a media-and PR-created world. Where  we can not let our cars thirst – we do rather use crops for fuel. As if the cars were our family.


We need not be afraid that meteors, volcanic eruptions or earthquakes will damage the world’s population. They have such poor accuracy anyway. We can do it best ourself, as we have it in system.


Never in history have we been our next closer. We are connected via the net to any corner of the world and we have no excuse for not taking responsibility. We can let our consciousness awake, not being oppressed by the power of greed and vile envy where everything is a competition, but to show to ourselves and our posterity that we as mankind can evolve to the common good, that we co-operate well if not even better than we can compete. Show that humans still possess something as basic as love and that this love also applies to our next and all life around us. To let our full potential blossom.


Happy New Year and good, new time!




Originally written in norwegian and published by the magazine Gateavisa, December 2012