Top 10 energy stories of 2013
Sean Gardner / Getty Images
No. 10 -- Gulf oil spill legal fallout
Three years after an out-of-control BP well unleashed the largest offshore oil spill in the nation's history, the company continues to face legal fallout. While enmeshed in a complex courtroom battle over how much oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, BP also launched an aggressive attack against the judge and claims administrator overseeing its settlement with victims of the 2010 spill, arguing that the payouts should be halted because the process was riddled with fraud.
[Photo: An activist protests in front of a New Orleans courthouse on the first day of the civil trial over the 2010 Gulf oil spill on Feb. 25, 2013.]
Johnny Hanson / Houston Chronicle
No. 9 -- George Mitchell dies
In the modern U.S. oil and gas industry, perhaps no man was more revered than George Mitchell. Known as "the father of fracking", his dogged persistence and keen instincts are credited for helping to launch the nation's current oil boom. He died Friday, July 26, 2013 at his home in Galveston at age 94.
[Photo: The Texas A&M Ross Volunteer Company stands next to an image of George Mitchell during his public memorial service Aug. 6, 2013, in Galveston.]
PA3 Jon Klingenberg / Coast Guard/Associated Press
No. 8 -- Arctic drilling troubles
The year opened with Shell's scramble to recover control of the Kulluk drilling rig, which ran aground New Year's Eve night near Alaska's Kodiak Island. The company's failed Arctic effort touched off calls for more rigorous regulatory oversight of drilling in the frigid region. While some companies responded by pulling back on their Arctic plans, Shell announced in October that it would make another bid to find crude in Arctic waters in 2014.
[Photo: Royal Dutch Shell's drilling rig Kulluk runs aground off a small Alaska island on Tuesday Jan. 1, 2013.]
Courtney Spradlin / Associated Press
No. 7 -- Pegasus pipeline spill
As national debate waged over the environmental risks of moving certain types of crude by pipeline, Exxon Mobil's Pegasus pipeline ruptured and sent 5,000 barrels of oil flowing through the streets of an Arkansas neighborhood in March. The incident provided fuel for opponents to the Keystone XL pipeline. Exxon blamed the rupture on a manufacturing defect.
[Photo: A member of Exxon Mobil's cleanup crew is reflected in water and oil in a drainage ditch in Mayflower, Ark.]
U.S. Coast Guard / Associated Press
No. 6 -- Shallow-water accidents
A fire waged for nearly two days on a Hercules Offshore jack-up rig in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico in July. The runaway gas well sealed itself and the 44 workers were evacuated safely. Still, the timing of the incident was especially bad for the industry, coming as an investigation continued into Black Elk's fatal platform explosion in 2013. The back-to-back events sparked increased scrutiny of regulations of shallow-water oil and gas activity.
[Photo: A fire rages on the Hercules Offshore 265 rig, causing the drill floor and derrick to collapse following an explosion in July.]
Charlie Riedel / Associated Press
No. 5 -- Ethanol fight
The ethanol industry suffered a bad year, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a reduction in the amount of renewable fuel mandated for blending into the nation's gasoline supply. Further, the Associated Press released a scathing report on ethanol's environmental effects, citing environmentalists and scientists who say corn ethanol is not a viable strategy for combating global warming.
[Photo: A plant that produces ethanol is next to a cornfield near Coon Rapids, Iowa.]
Guiseppe Barranco / Guiseppe Barranco/The Enterprise
No. 4 -- Refinery accidents
It was a bad year for refinery safety, as well. Fatal explosions at Exxon's Beaumont refinery and a Williams Co. chemical plant in Louisiana grabbed headlines early in the year. Further, a federal investigation determined that Chevron ignored warnings about piping at its Richmond, Calif. refinery, leading to a fire that left nearby residents sick.
[Photo: An ambulance responds to a fire at Exxon Mobil's Beaumont refinery on April 17, 2013. Twelve contract workers were hospitalized and one later died.]
Golden Pass Products / Golden Pass Products
No. 3 -- Natural gas exports
As the shale boom continued to unleash a bounty of natural gas in the United States, the Obama administration approved several projects to sell the fuel overseas. But factions on both sides of the gas export debate were unsatisfied. While critics insisted that exports would cause gas prices to surge for U.S. customers, supporters argued that the approvals would provide an economic boon and weren't coming fast enough.
[Photo: The Golden Pass terminal in Port Arthur, Louisiana is being converted into a natural gas export facility.]
Cody Duty / Houston Chronicle
No. 2 -- Keystone XL
TransCanada completed construction on the southern leg of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, despite numerous protests and legal challenges by landowners and environmentalists. The company announced that the line, which traverses Texas, will begin carrying oil from the Cushing, Okla. crude hub to Gulf Coast refineries within weeks. Meanwhile, U.S. approval of the pipeline's northern section, slated to move Canadian oil sands crude across the national border, remains mired in fierce political debate.
[Photo: Crewmen lower pipe for TransCanada's Keystone XL project in Wood County, Texas.]
Mayra Beltran / Houston Chronicle
No. 1 -- The U.S. oil boom
The nation's oil output is expected to leap by a record-setting 1 million barrels per day by the end of the year, challenging Saudi Arabia as the world's top crude oil producer. Texas has led the way, with a surge in drilling activity in the South Texas Eagle Ford Shale and the West Texas Permian Basin. The oil boom has reignited talk of national energy independence and debate about lifting the ban on oil exports.
[Photo: An oil pump jack sits on the Osage County ranch in Oklahoma.]
The year opened with news that would become one of the biggest energy stories of the year. Shell’s highly anticipated Arctic drilling program suffered a major setback as the Kulluk drilling rig ran aground near an Alaska island on New Year’s Eve night amid fierce storms and high winds. The news ignited regulatory concerns, leading some companies to scale back their Arctic programs.
But 2013 brought a lot of good news to the oil and gas industry, as well.
Check out which blockbuster energy stories the FuelFix staff ranked as the nation’s most important of 2013. Do you think we missed something? Vote for the news that you think rocked the industry enough to qualify as one of the year’s biggest moments, or sound off in the comments section below.
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