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SpaceX #4: The Oil & Gas production needed to make Starbase a reality
SpaceX's outrageous plan to drill, baby, drill
CLICK HERE FOR INTRO - Background
CLICK HERE FOR PART 1 - NEPA Primer / FAA has no business permitting oil and gas facilities
CLICK HERE FOR PART 2 - Elon Musk’s Natural Gas Treatment Plant
CLICK HERE FOR PART 3 - SpaceX is building a pipeline and doesn’t feel the need to mention it
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Chapter 4: Elon Musk, Wildcat Oil Man
A recap from previous chapters:
SpaceX is trying to get FAA to fast track changes to the 2014 authorization on their Boca Chica, TX launch facility. This process, via the Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA), is for inconsequential/ minimal/insignificant environmental changes.
NEPA requires all environmental impacts to be disclosed. FAA is the lead agency for this project because they provide funding and resources from the project. Environmental impacts are universal and it does not matter that FAA doesn’t typically permit oil and gas facilities. NEPA still applies and incidental or dependent operations required for the project are in scope
We know that SpaceX needs at least 50 million standard cubic feet of gas per day, based on unit description, size of operations (eg a 250 MW power plant plus gas plant and utilities)
This activity requires a pipeline (which is illegally omitted from the PEA). I wrote about the logic here on Twitter:I've gotten numerous emails on this topic. Many of them seem to deny "Elon is building a pipeline" as a fact, but speculation instead. "SpaceX needs a pipeline" is a 100% true fact. Here's why 1/SpaceX FAA update! Elon Musk wants to build a gas pipeline and doesn't want to disclose it https://t.co/yY7vqvBZjP https://t.co/TWSzkhfX0vESG Hound @ESGhound
The “fuel pretreatment facility,” as described in the PEA, is a cryogenic gas plant. This indicates that SpaceX intends to take impure, field natural gas and treat it on site. Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) or pipeline gas (via a FERC pipeline) is already purified.
So we’ve covered the fact that:
The facility needs natural gas, roughly 50 MMscf/day
The gas plant is designed to process field gas
Here’s a generic schematic of what a natural gas integrated operation looks like (click for full size)
Natural gas and water and liquid hydrocarbons come out of a well; it can be a newly drilled or re-fracked well, or it can be a well that was drilled years ago. Production drops off quickly after initial drilling. The mixture will go into a separator which will phase separate liquids from gas. The gas from multiple wells is collected via a series of smaller diameter pipes into a compressor station where the line pressure is boosted by compressors (typically natural gas fired engines). The gas is sent to a plant (like the one SpaceX intends to build), and dry natural gas (97%+ Methane) comes out, along with some co-products (Natural Gas Liquids, Y-grade gasses (C3-C4) and wastewater.
We know what the SpaceX facility looks like from the gas plant to on site consumption. We don’t know how the co-products are leaving however.
Everything that feeds into the gas plant is a mystery. Here’s why:
The projected monthly natural gas usage for this plant would require 18% of the total gas production in the entirety of Cameron county for 20 years (Texas RRC data). I mean, this area is not a hot-bed of E&P activity:
Taking a closer look we can see an old natural gas field that was extremely un-productive. Most wells are shut in.
And, as was reported by Bloomberg, SpaceX is having some sort of legal tussle over mineral rights from the historically unproductive wells (bounded in the grey box)
The billionaire’s SpaceX intends to drill wells close to the company’s Boca Chica launchpad, it was revealed during a Friday hearing before the Railroad Commission of Texas, the state’s energy regulator.
Production has yet to start because of a legal dispute between the SpaceX subsidiary Lone Star Mineral Development and another energy company. Tim George, an attorney representing Lone Star, said at the hearing that SpaceX plans to use the methane it extracts from the ground “in connection with their rocket facility operations.”
So, yeah… this is all adding up. What isn’t adding up is the size and scope of SpaceX’s operations. The Draft PEA tells us how much fuel they need. The desire to drill has been reported on by the media.
50 million scuffs per day is quite a lot. They’re going to be drilling and fracking like madmen in, I kid you not, the Rio Grande Valley National Wildlife Refuge, if they want to be powering a 250 Megawatt power plant.
This field here, one of the areas SpaceX purchased mineral rights for:
Produced a grand total of 300 million SCF from 2000-2005 and nothing since. That’s six (yes six) days of SpaceX plant consumption.
The nearest actively producing gas gathering system is in West Hidalgo county 80 miles away.
There’s no subtext here:
Elon Musk wants to drill, frack, treat, pipe and process an entire vertically integrated oil and gas operation, that is required for the proposed STARBASE facility.
In a wildlife refuge.
In a county that currently minimally impacted by Oil and Gas E&P externalities.
And the worst part, he doesn’t think the public deserves to know.
The FAA is ready to de facto rubber stamp this activity, in an egregious, embarrassing affront to 50 years of precedent, progress and compliance with environmental laws in this country.
The kicker of course is that we, the taxpayers, are going pay billions of dollars to Elon Musk for him to give running an oil business the ole’ College try.