Last updated on 21 May 2014, 4:23 pm
Draft European Commission briefing note shows jitters over dependence on Russian gas
By Gerard Wynn
The European Union aims decisively to shift away from dependence on Russian gas imports, following previous failed attempts, according to a draft European Commission document on energy security.
The Ukraine crisis has deepened European jitters over gas imports, where Russia is its single biggest supplier.
The European Commission note mentioned the word “solidarity” seven times, in a draft note whose final version would be published in June, titled “European Energy Security Strategy – Comprehensive plan for the reduction of EU energy dependence.”
“The EU and its Member States have an overriding priority: ensure that best possible preparation and planning improve resilience to sudden disruptions in energy supplies, that strategic infrastructures are protected and that the most vulnerable Member States are collectively supported,” it said.
The EU relies on imports for 70% of its gas consumption. Six member states depended on Russia as their single external supplier for their entire gas imports, the Commission said.
It called for increased gas storage in the short-term, to prepare for possible disruption in the coming winter to Russian gas transiting through Ukraine, and the development of reverse flows through gas pipelines to allow a more flexible routing of gas to where it was most needed.
It also underlined the need for a diversification of gas supplies. That included exploitation of domestic shale gas, and imports from alternative suppliers, with more imports of liquefied natural gas, for example from Qatar and in future the United States.
“Producing oil and gas from unconventional sources in Europe, and especially shale gas, could partially compensate for declining conventional production, providing issues of public acceptance and environmental impact are adequately addressed.”
It also emphasised a greater role for energy efficiency, especially in buildings and industry.
It said that the Commission would prepare efficiency goals for 2030, in a sign that it would propose a concrete EU energy saving target as already agreed for 2020.
“Energy demand in the building sector, responsible for about 40% of energy consumption in the EU and a third of natural gas use9 could be cut by up to three quarters if the renovation of buildings is speeded up.”
Shifting energy politics were visible also on the Russian side, as it signed on Wednesday a major gas supply contract with China, reducing its dependence on sales to Europe.
The Commission saw closer ties between EU member states as the critical factor for improving energy security.
It showed impatience with resistance from Russian gas supplier, Gazprom, to EU competition legislation which limits ownership of both energy and transmission assets. Gazprom sees such rules as a threat to its new proposed gas pipeline through southern Europe.
“The recent experience of certain non-EU operators challenging the application of EU legislation on EU territory might call for a stricter approach and a reinforcement of the applicable (competition) rules at EU and Member states level,” the Commission said.
“Antitrust and merger control rules must continue to be vigorously enforced since they ensure that the EU security of supply and industry bargaining position is not weakened through anticompetitive behaviour from and/or excessive consolidation or vertical integration of non-EU energy companies.”
The Commission detailed a long list of “key actions”, and said that the bloc had done too little to improve its security since previous disruptions of Russian gas, in 2006 and 2009, following gas price disputes between Russia and Ukraine.
“The EU needs, therefore, a hard-headed strategy for energy security which promotes resilience to these shocks and disruptions to energy supplies.”
DRAFT European Commission – Energy Security Communication
– See more at: http://www.rtcc.org/2014/05/21/eu-may-step-up-shale-gas-efficiency-in-response-to-ukraine-crisis/#sthash.SatW47Bt.0gDCwRjw.dpuf
Special thanks to Richard Charter
May 23, 2014 at 10:04 am Updated: May 23, 2014 at 11:18 am
I attempted to enter Canada on a Tuesday, flying into the small airport at Fort McMurray, Alberta, waiting for my turn to pass through customs.
“What brings you to Fort Mac?” a Canada Border Services Agency official asked. “I’m a journalist,” I said. “I’m here to see the tar sands.” He pointed me to border security. Another official, a tall, clean-shaven man, asked the same question. “I’m here to see the tar sands.” he frowned. “You mean oil sands. We don’t have tar here.”
Up until the 1960s, the common name for Canada’s massive reserves of heavy bitumen mixed with sand was “tar sands.” Now, the phrase is officially considered a colloquialism, with “oil sands” being the accurate name, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. But “tar sands” is not really an informal phrase in Canada as much as it is a symbol of your views. If you say tar sands, you’re an environmentalist. If you say tar sands, you’re the enemy.
“We might have to send you back to the States,” the official said, after asking if I had working papers. I didn’t, so I phoned a colleague staying at a nearby hotel. “This guy at border security says I need working papers or something and that he’s gonna send me back to the States,” I said.
“Why did you say I was going to send you back to the States? I didn’t say that,” the official said after I hung up. “See, you’re already misrepresenting what’s going on here.”
My interrogation included details about where I was going, who I was meeting with, why I wanted to see the sands. The official had me open my bag so he could see if I was carrying cameras. Then he let me into Canada. “Because I’m being nice,” he said, and gave me a certificate stating that I must leave the country by Friday.
Can’t Criticize If You Don’t Know
In all, I was delayed for about 45 minutes – a relatively painless experience – but I did get the feeling I wasn’t the only one being hassled in Canada for an association with environmentalism. Indeed, as interviews with multiple reporters and activists show, the federal government places numerous obstacles in the way of those who try to disseminate information about the Canadian tar sands. Many believe this has amounted to a full-on war.
There are logical reasons why impeding environmental journalists could be in Canada’s interest. The tar sands are the third largest oil reserve in the world, and production is currently accelerating so quickly that the government predicts capital investments will reach $218 billion over the next 25 years. Part of that investment could come from the Keystone XL pipeline, the controversial proposal that, if approved, would bring up to 830,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil per day down to refineries in the U.S.
So it makes sense that Canadian officials may want to prevent environmental perspectives on Fort McMurray’s vast tar sands reserves, which have replaced thousands of acres of boreal forest with massive refineries and sprawling mining sites – shiny, black excavated deserts that sit next to glowing white ponds of chemical waste. A small portion of boreal forest remains, but it doesn’t do much to cover the scars.
An aerial view of tar sands mining in Fort McMurray.
CREDIT: NextGen Climate Action
From the air, you can see enormous white smokestacks 50 miles away. And from the ground, you can talk to those who have been physically harmed by accidental releases from the white ponds of tar sands chemical waste, called tailings ponds, which leech into the Athabasca river and flow downstream to First Nations communities like Fort Chip, where cancer rates have skyrocketed in the last 30 years.
Stories that describe the detrimental effects of Canada’s fossil fuel boom – not to mention the high carbon-intensity of tar sands oil extraction or unlikelihood that mining sites will ever be adequately reclaimed – threaten public support for projects like Keystone XL, and by extension, speedy and lucrative development.
‘A Culture Of Secrecy’
According to Tom Henheffer, executive director of the non-profit Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), the Canadian federal government has been actively working for the last decade to prevent journalists’ access to information, particularly in science-related fields. The trend only got worse, he said, when current Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a fierce supporter of tar sands development, took office in 2006.
“It’s specifically very bad in science-related fields, but it extends into every other field,” Henheffer said. “This government has a culture of secrecy that is extremely harmful to Canadian society.”
This government has a culture of secrecy that is extremely harmful to Canadian society.
Henheffer, whose group in April released its annual Review of Free Expression in Canada Report Card, noted two main issues at play. One, he said, is an increase in the amount of bureaucracy journalists must go through to get information. The other is a gradual de-funding of research, so the information journalists want isn’t even created in the first place.
The CJFE’s report card gave a failing grade to Canada’s access-to-information (ATI) system, which saw delays beyond the legal time limit affecting almost 45 percent of information requests, and more than 80 percent of responses partially or mostly censored. That report card also slammed the government for cutting scientific research, dismissing more than 2,000 scientists and cutting 165 research programs affecting “almost every federal scientific and monitoring institution.”
The report also noted a nationwide “muzzling” of federal scientists, citing government efforts to ensure its scientists limit discussions with the media on their work – much of which includes the environmental and climate impacts of tar sands development. This was confirmed in 2007, when a leaked PowerPoint presentation from Environment Canada revealed that government scientists were told to refer all media queries to communications officers who would help them respond with “approved lines.”
The current climate, Henheffer said, is frustrating journalistic efforts throughout the country.
“They’ve essentially dismantled our access to information system,” he said. “It makes investigative journalism impossible.”
The ‘Extremist Threat’ Of Environmentalists
Along with access to information for journalists, Stephen Harper’s government has also been working to dismantle environmental groups, a fact that has been revealed, ironically, by document requests from journalists. Those documents show unprecedented attempts from agencies across the federal government to spy on, de-fund, and otherwise disrupt the efforts of environmental groups.
[Environmental] groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda.
The most recent example of this has been a rigorous effort by the Canada Revenue Agency to target environmental groups for possible abuse of their nonprofit charity statuses, alleging they may be violating the limits on how much political advocacy work they can do. The CRA’s $8 million effort was launched in 2012, shortly after the pro-tar sands group Ethical Oil kicked off a public campaign to “expose the radical foreign funded environmental groups” criticizing the oil industry.
“There are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade,” Joe Oliver, then-Natural Resources Minister, wrote at the time. “These groups threaten to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda. They seek to exploit any loophole they can find, stacking public hearings with bodies to ensure that delays kill good projects.”
One of the original groups targeted was ForestEthics, a British Columbia-based nonprofit with branches in Vancouver and San Francisco. One of the fiercest and more outspoken opponents of the tar sands and the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, the group responded by giving up its charitable status (thereby giving up tax breaks to its donors) so it could focus more on combating what it refers to as “attacks on the environment.”
“Ever since we formed the advocacy group we’ve been under further Š ‘intense scrutiny’ I guess is the nicest way to put it, because the advocacy group is set up explicitly for the sake of taking on the Harper government,” ForestEthics tar sands campaigner Ben West said.
West said that since his group founded its advocacy arm, it has been a target of a recently-revealed spying effort by the Canadian federal government. That effort, revealed in November by a public records request from the Vancouver Observer, showed that officials had been sending spies to meetings of anti-tar sands groups, relaying their plans for rallies and strategies for public meetings.
What’s more, documents obtained in February by the Guardian revealed that both Canada’s national police force and intelligence agency view environmental activist protest activities as “forms of attack,” and depict those involved as national security threats. Greenpeace, for example, is officially regarded as an “extremist” threat.
A tar sands refinery in Fort McMurray.
CREDIT: Emily Atkin
West said the revelations have had a “chilling” effect on the groups’ volunteer and donor base.
“The word is out that ForestEthics is one of the groups that the federal government is paying close attention to, and that has an impact on people’s comfort levels and their desire to get involved,” West said. “If you look at the pieces of the documents we were able to get our hands on, they explain what was happening at meetings where you would have had to have been in the room to have known the content of that meeting.”
‘A Government Of Thugs’
In addition to the more-calculated attempts to prevent environmental criticism, multiple reporters and activists say they experience an egregious amount of defensiveness, spitefulness, and intimidation from the federal government that prevents them from doing their jobs effectively.
“We have a government of thugs in Ottawa these days who are absolutely ruthless,” said Andrew Nikiforuk, an award-winning journalist who has been reporting critically on Canada’s oil and gas industry for more than 20 years. “It’s a hostility and thuggery, is the way I would describe it. That’s exactly what it is.”
We have a government of thugs in Ottawa these days who are absolutely ruthless.
Nikiforuk says he’s been shut out of government events, “slandered and libeled” by a member of the government’s conservative party, and repeatedly contacted by government flacks who criticize his reporting.
The most blatant example of government intimidation Nikiforuk can recall was when members of Canada’s Energy Resources Conservation Board actively tried to prevent the publication of his 2010 book, Tar Sands, claiming he made numerous factual errors and posting a long letter about it on its website. Nikifourk rebutted the claims, eventually winning the Society of Environmental Journalist’s Rachel Carson Book Award for his reporting.
Documentary and satire filmmakers Andy Cobb and Mike Damanskis also said they experienced government intimidation when, like me, they were detained at the Fort McMurray airport in October 2013. Unlike me, however, they were deported.
“He basically told us that the tar sands weren’t news, that he wasn’t recognizing us as journalists, and that if we wanted to come to Canada, we weren’t going to be able to do it today,” Damanskis said.
Though it seemed like at first they would be able to enter the country without working papers, Damanskis and Cobb said the border official had an “immediate change of heart” after watching a clip of their previous work – a video satirizing the infamous Mayflower, Arkansas tar sands pipeline spill.
Border spokesperson Lisa White said she was not authorized to speak on specific cases, and declined to specify whether officers were allowed to make entry decisions based on the content of journalists’ work. She did say, however, that documentary filmmakers required working papers to enter Canada, and that all entry decisions are made on a case-by-case basis.
“All decisions are made in accordance with Canadian law,” she said.
Swift And Snarky Push-Back
Of course, it’s important to note that journalists like Nikiforuk, Damaskis, and Cobb are more likely to get negative feedback from Canadian government officials because they are not, and don’t claim to be, completely objective. All three are openly and fiercely opposed to the speed of tar sands development.
But even reporters who are seemingly more objective toward development have been subject to government push-back. For example, Economist correspondent Madelaine Drohan said via e-mail that Alberta’s provincial government once posted a “defensive” response on its website to an article she wrote that mentioned leaks from tailings ponds, which are large lakes of tar sands waste. That response has since been removed, but Drohan said she remembers it happening.
“It made me think that the government was even more sensitive than the industry,” she said.
As for hostility from the Alberta provincial government, one journalist pointed specifically to David Sands, a director at Alberta’s Public Affairs Bureau, whose Twitter account is made up largely of rebuttals to journalism critical of Alberta government. In recent tweets, Sands compared two newspapers’ coverage of Parliament to “jihad,” among other critical responses.
“Yeah, I’m the mean guy,” Sands told ThinkProgress. “It’s definitely my personal style, but nobody told me to be mean.”
Sands said part of his job is tracking down stories that include inaccuracies about Alberta government policies. He said he’s the only one in his department with the specific mandate to do so.
Waste ponds at a tar sands mining site in Fort McMurray.
CREDIT: NextGen Climate Action
Still, many have criticized Alberta for the number of people they’ve employed to hunt down stories. According to documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation in April, Alberta employs 214 communications professionals at a cost of $21 million per year, a number that the National Post noted “far outstrips” the number of reporters who cover government.
Sands rebutted that story too, saying communications staff span a range of departments – healthcare, education, law enforcement – that are not all dedicated to attacking journalists.
“It’s sort of an enjoyment of the media to say we have 214 communications people who are all dealing with the media,” he said. “When reporting is challenged, people take it very personally.”
The Strategy Is Working – Or Is It?
Thus far, government push-back against environmental journalism seems to be working. As a recent survey of Canadian journalists showed, many environmental and climate stories about the tar sands often go unreported. That survey, titled “The Alberta Oil Sands, Journalists, and Their Sources,” questioned 20 reporters with extensive daily experience reporting on the tar sands.
Of the 20, 14 said stories about the tar sands were not being told, and seven of those 14 said environmental issues were the main ones untouched. Environmental damage done by leaking tailings ponds and bitumen waste; toxic contaminants leeching into the water; the impact of excess sulfur produced in the mining process – all of those were included in the issues journalists perceive as under-reported.
“I hate this story,” one reporter who participated in the study said. “It’s important, but there’s no direction or progression.”
As for activist groups, Ben West of ForestEthics said the hostility has actually been helping his group’s efforts. And it’s not just the group itself. As the government’s attacks have become more and more public, West says his and other environmental advocacy groups have been obtaining record-breaking donations from individuals – what he calls a “clear sign” that Canadians want to protect their environment from the tar sands.
“I actually kind of welcome these attacks from the federal government in a sense, because they are a great opportunity to highlight how crazy our government’s acting, and use it as a reason to ask people for more support,” he said. “Many Canadians feel strongly about this. Let the government create their own disincentives.”
Special thanks to Richard Charter
MAY 8, 2014 BY AMY MATHEWS AMOS
Winter brought us the MCHM spill in the Elk River near Charleston, West Virginia and the coal ash release into North Carolina’s Dan River. Suddenly, spring seems just as frightening. Last week, a CSX train carrying crude oil derailed in Lynchburg, Virginia, shooting flames into the air and releasing an estimated 30,000 gallons of crude oil into the adjacent James River. Just a day later, another CSX train derailed near Bowie, Maryland dumping several containers of coal onto the ground.
Thankfully, the James River derailment didn’t affect Lynchburg’s drinking water, according to news reports, and officials were able to warn Richmond and other communities directly downstream to shift to other sources if necessary until the pulse of oil flowed past on the fast moving river. The Bowie derailment doesn’t seem to have affected drinking water either (although few details have emerged in the media about this accident, perhaps because the Lynchburg spill offered a much more dramatic story) and no one was killed in either incident. But it does kind of make you wonder: Why are all these accidents happening now? And, for those of us who live in the Mid-Atlantic: Why are they happening in my back yard?
It’s hard to find a specific common denominator in this winter’s regional disasters. Commentators and advocates blame West Virginia’s MCHM spill in large part on lax environmental rules that allowed a chemical storage facility to sit upstream from the capital city’s water intake and avoid tank inspections by state and federal regulators. Many also blame an impotent Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – the federal law covering industrial chemicals like MCHM – for the confusion among public health officials about when it was safe to drink the water. In North Carolina, the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources recently charged Duke Energy with violating state and federal stormwater and wastewater requirements after facing public criticism for being too lax on polluters.
Yet a quick read through recent news reports shows that last week’s James River disaster reflects a dangerous national (even continental) trend: Other trains carrying oil have derailed in recent months, including into Philadelphia’s Schuykill River in January and in western Pennsylvania in February.
Just one week before the Lynchburg derailment, railroad representatives testified before the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) that current standards for carrying oil are inadequate. The industry itself adopted stronger tank standards in 2011, after realizing that the older models could puncture too easily. But with a recent surge in Bakken oil production, some companies still rely on older tanks to meet the growing demand for North Dakota crude. And railroads and safety officials acknowledge that even the post-2011 cars are inadequate. According to news reports, 14 of the 17 rail cars that released oil into the James River were newer models.
Two other fiery train accidents – including a December derailment in North Dakota and a deadly disaster that killed 47 people last July in the town of Lac Megantic in Quebec – prompted the NTSB to call for greater precautions in conjunction with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. In doing so, it noted that crude oil transport by rail has increased 400 percent since 2005 but safety measures haven’t kept pace. The Department of Transportation reportedly submitted proposed new rail car standards to the White House for review soon after the James River accident.
NTSB and others worry about crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale deposit for two reasons: One, it’s more flammable than many other kinds of oil and, two, the hydraulic fracking boom in North Dakota has rapidly increased the amount of Bakken oil traveling in rail cars across the country to coastal ports – from 10,000 carloads in 2009 to 400,000 in 2013 according to National Public Radio. The train passing through Lynchburg was on its way to an oil transfer terminal in Yorktown, Virginia that has become a regional hub for shipping North Dakota oil to East Coast refineries. In fact, in a March letter to Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr. of the U.S. Coast Guard, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation expressed concern about the estimated 800 trains, each expected to carry 60,000 to 65,000 gallons of oil, traveling into Yorktown annually in coming years. It urged the Coast Guard to evaluate the risk of oil spills and its readiness to deal with them.
As reporter Curtis Tate of McClatchy news service notes, rivers are particularly vulnerable to rail accidents because so many major lines were built along gentle river grades to ease transport. Rail lines along the James River, New York’s Hudson River and the Pacific Northwest’s Columbia River serve as major routes for shipping interior crude to coastal facilities and opposition along these routes is now growing.
Safety and drinking water are major concerns, of course, but there’s also river life itself and the health of ecosystems downstream. The spring rush of high water in the James River might have flushed most of the 30,000 gallons of spilled oil downriver, but pollution like that doesn’t just disappear. It lingers on the banks, smothers vegetation and enters the food web. As Pat Calvert of the James River Association told Tate, his organization measured an oil slick 17 miles long on the river after the accident. They’ll keep monitoring the river in coming weeks and months to track environmental impacts – particularly on vulnerable shad and herring – long after the flames have died, the tracks repaired, and hundreds of other trains start speeding along the James once again.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Published on Wednesday, May 7, 2014
‘Instead of addressing concerns, they are excluding concerned groups that are science-based and principled’
– Sarah Lazare, staff writer
Aerial view of Syncrude Aurora tar sands mine in the Boreal Forest north of Fort McMurray in Alberta (Photo: Greenpeace / Jiri Rezac)The Canadian province that is ground zero for tar sands oil extraction has prohibited a coalition of environmental organizations from participating in regulatory hearings on a controversial new oil industry development, claiming that the green groups are not directly impacted by the project.
The decision infuriated environmental campaigners who say Alberta’s regulatory system is rigged to favor an oil industry that is wreaking havoc on the environment.
“Instead of addressing concerns about unchecked tar sands development, they are excluding concerned groups that are science-based and principled,” said Carolyn Campbell, conservation specialist for the Alberta Wilderness Association, in an interview with Common Dreams.
Oilsands Environmental Coalition—comprised of several green groups—is seeking a voice in a proposed new Alberta development by Southern Pacific Resource Corporation.
The project at issue is an in situ development, which “is where bitumen is too deep to strip mine and you drill and steam it out,” according to Campbell.
In a March 27 letter, Environment Alberta official Kevin Wilkinson denied the coalition standing to participate in provincial regulatory hearings regarding the project on the grounds that the coalition is not directly impacted, according to Bob Weber writing for The Canadian Press.
The coalition says such claims are false, especially given that their members have a recreation lease in the area of the proposed project.
This is not the first time that the coalition has been banned from such hearings: a similar prohibition in 2012 excluded the coalition from stating concerns about a development on the MacKay River in northern Alberta, The Canadian Press reports. However, that prohibition was later overturned by a judge.
Furthermore, indigenous communities have been excluded from federal government panels reviewing tar sands developments that directly impact their environment and public health.
“There are so many exploration leases that are sold, without any public scrutiny,” said Campbell. “The regulatory system is very tipped towards approving application after application to then develop these leases.”
“We’re surprised by this decision to deny standing to the Oilsands Environmental Coalition again, especially since it was ruled that Alberta had wrongly excluded us before,” Simon Dyer, Regional Director of Alberta and the North for the Pembina Institute, told Common Dreams. “We will be challenging the decision and are confident we will be able to present our evidence at a hearing.”
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 24, 2014
CONTACT: Public Citizen
(202) 454-5107 email@example.com
WASHINGTON – April 24 – “Ironically, if missing this do-or-die moment for the TPP seals its demise, then what will be characterized as a failure now may in fact save President Obama’s legacy, given that the TPP would cause more American job offshoring, greater income inequality and higher medicine prices.
After years of missed deadlines, unbending opposition by other nations to many U.S. proposals and scores of deadlocked TPP issues, Congress’ refusal to grant President Obama trade authority, growing opposition in many nations, and now Obama and Abe not announcing a breakthrough, TPP should be ready for burial. Instead, like some movie monster that will not die, TPP is being animated by a broad coalition of powerful corporate interests and we are told talks will continue.
Even if the continuing bilateral negotiations resolve U.S.-Japan auto and agricultural trade issues, there are scores of other deep deadlocks in TPP negotiations. This includes deep disputes on medicine patent and government drug reimbursement rate policies that would affect healthcare costs; limits on financial regulation, food safety and Internet freedom; disciplines on state owned enterprises; the expansion of investor protections that subject domestic laws to attack by corporations in foreign tribunals; and environmental and labor standards. As well, 60 U.S. Senators and 230 U.S. Representatives have insisted that TPP include enforceable disciplines on currency manipulation, but other TPP countries oppose this and to date the issue had not been addressed.”
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.
Mike Soraghan, E&E reporter firstname.lastname@example.org
Thursday, April 24, 2014
One of the country’s major providers of hydraulic fracturing services plans to begin disclosing all the chemicals it uses in “fracking” fluid, without exceptions for trade secrets.
The policy of Baker Hughes Inc., rolled out quietly on an unheralded page of its website, is a split with competitors, prominent industry trade groups and even some regulators. It tracks with the recommendation of an Obama administration panel looking at FracFocus, the website where most companies report their fracking chemicals.
“Baker Hughes believes it is possible to disclose 100 percent of the chemical ingredients we use in hydraulic fracturing fluids without compromising our formulations,” the company’s website states, deeming the new policy “a balance that increases public trust while encouraging commercial innovation.”
Baker Hughes spokeswoman Melanie Kania confirmed that the website statement indicated a corporate policy that the company is moving away from asserting trade secret claims. The company plans to begin eliminating proprietary exceptions “where accepted by our customers and relevant governmental authorities,” according to the website.
A critic of the current system for disclosure said she was heartened by Baker Hughes’ change in policy. “If they’ve found a way to report with better disclosure, I’m on board,” said Kate Konschnik, policy director of Harvard Law School’s Environmental Law Program. “It’s a step in the right direction.”
But Halliburton Co., a Baker Hughes competitor, along with trade groups such as the American Petroleum Institute (API) and America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), have defended the current level of protection for trade secrets. “A company’s trade secrets can be among its most important assets — the key intellectual property that allows it to keep its market position for its products or services and provide value to its shareholders,” API, ANGA and other industry groups wrote last month in joint comments about a government report about FracFocus.
Trade secret exemptions have emerged as the latest sticking point in the tug of war between environmentalists and drilling companies about disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking. Those chemicals make up only a small fraction of the volume of the fluid that is blasted underground to shatter rock formations and release oil and gas. But with modern “frack jobs” using millions of gallons of water, even small percentages can add up.
After initially resisting public release of ingredient lists, industry has come around to disclosing more and more data (Greenwire, June 21, 2010). In 2011, oil and gas companies coalesced around the FracFocus site. Steve Everley of the industry group Energy in Depth says the debate about trade secrets can overshadow how much information is already being disclosed. “It’s not a question of whether people are or aren’t disclosing. It’s a question of how,” Everley said. “Companies are disclosing a lot more than critics are alleging.”
But industry has held the line on its desire to keep secret some of the ingredients. They say relinquishing that would give away companies’ competitive edge. “Trade secret protection is critical to encourage innovation, the environmental and economic benefits of which are being demonstrated daily in the oil and gas industry,” Halliburton wrote in its comments on the government report. Earlier this month, North Dakota’s chief oil and gas regulator, Lynn Helms, derided proposals to force full disclosure, asserting that companies would curtail the use of newer mixtures rather than give up trade secrets (EnergyWire, April 17).
A ‘systems approach’ to disclosure
The oil and gas companies that operate wells have often cast the service companies, such as Baker Hughes, Halliburton and Schlumberger Ltd., as the impediment to disclosure. Operators have said they don’t usually know what chemicals service companies are using to frack their wells.
A Department of Energy panel reviewing FracFocus for the Obama administration reported earlier this year that at least one chemical ingredient was omitted for 84 percent of the wells listed on FracFocus.
Environmental groups see the secrecy as ripe for abuse, a way to hide the use of potentially dangerous chemicals. In Wyoming, environmental groups have sued the state, claiming trade secret exemptions are granted too freely (EnergyWire, March 13). The DOE panel brushed aside many of industry’s concerns in a report, saying trade secrets can be protected by reporting the raw chemicals separately from the additive products they go into.
The report calls this a “systems approach.” The common analogy for such a systems approach is that Coca-Cola Co. reports its ingredients on every can, but the recipe remains secret. Kania said Baker Hughes’ new initiative is intended to implement such a systems approach.
The DOE panel, officially a task force of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, said reducing trade secret claims would build public confidence. “The Task Force is challenging FracFocus to operate in a manner that encourages full disclosure with few, if any trade secret exceptions,” the panel’s report stated.
The task force said that in March, “at least one large oil field service supplier” was already using such a systems approach. Based on reviewing FracFocus filings, Konschnik said she believes that to be Schlumberger. A Schlumberger spokesman did not return a call seeking comment.
But Halliburton, in its comments on the panel report, directly rebutted the panel’s assertions on the systems approach. “The method that the Task Force advocates for resolving the trade secret issue — the ‘systems approach’ to disclosure — simply will not protect proprietary information in the way the Draft Report suggests,” Halliburton wrote.
Baker Hughes Corporate Policy
Hydraulic Fracturing Chemical Disclosure Policy
Baker Hughes believes it is possible to disclose 100% of the chemical ingredients we use in hydraulic fracturing fluids without compromising our formulations – a balance that increases public trust while encouraging commercial innovation. Where accepted by our customers and relevant governmental authorities, Baker Hughes is implementing a new format that achieves this goal, providing complete lists of the products and chemical ingredients used.
Fast, accurate and full disclosures supported by a dedicated team
Baker Hughes supports our customers in communicating important information about the chemistry used in our hydraulic fracturing fluids in the most expedient way possible. That is why Baker Hughes endorses FracFocus, the national hydraulic fracturing chemical registry managed by the Groundwater Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, and accessible at www.fracfocus.org. FracFocus represents a coordination of efforts with regulators, operators, and other stakeholders to promote responsible hydraulic fracturing chemical disclosure, which is more comprehensive and well-site specific than that which could be provided by any individual company.
Our dedicated disclosure team uses systems designed to ensure that this data is accurate and that customers receive it quickly to meet regulatory deadlines. This process gives our customers confidence that Baker Hughes staff is always ready and available to help them through the process and troubleshoot any issues.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
| by JULIE CARR SMYTH
Posted: 04/11/2014 7:39 pm EDT Updated: 04/11/2014 7:59 pm EDT
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – Geologists in Ohio have for the first time linked earthquakes in a geologic formation deep under the Appalachians to hydraulic fracturing, leading the state to issue new permit conditions Friday in certain areas that are among the nation’s strictest.
A state investigation of five small tremors last month in the Youngstown area, in the Appalachian foothills, found the injection of sand and water that accompanies hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the Utica Shale may have increased pressure on a small, unknown fault, said State Oil & Gas Chief Rick Simmers. He called the link “probable.”
While earlier studies had linked earthquakes in the same region to deep-injection wells used for disposal of fracking wastewater, this marks the first time tremors in the region have been tied directly to fracking, Simmers said. The five seismic events in March couldn’t be easily felt by people.
The oil and gas drilling boom targets widely different rock formations around the nation, so the Ohio findings may not have much relevance to other areas other than perhaps influencing public perception of fracking’s safety. The types of quakes connected to the industry are generally small and not easily felt, but the idea of human activity causing the earth to shake often doesn’t sit well.
The state says the company that set off the Ohio quakes was following rules and appeared to be using common practices. It just got unlucky, Simmers said.
Gerry Baker, associate executive director of the Interstate Oil and Gas Commission, said state regulators across the nation will study the Ohio case for any implications for the drilling industry. A consortium of states has already begun discussions.
Fracking involves pumping huge volumes of water, sand and chemicals underground to split open rocks to allow oil and gas to flow. Improved technology has allowed energy companies to gain access to huge stores of natural gas but has raised widespread concerns that it might lead to groundwater contamination – and, yes, earthquakes.
A U.S. government-funded report released in 2012 found that two worldwide instances of shaking can be attributed to actual extraction of oil and gas, as opposed to wastewater disposal in the ground – a magnitude-2.8 quake in Oklahoma and a magnitude-2.3 quake in England. Both were in 2011.
Later, the Canadian government tied quakes in British Columbia’s Horn River Basin between 2009 and 2011 to fracking. Those led to stricter regulations, which news reports indicated had little effect on the pace or volume of drilling.
But for the region encompassing Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where energy companies have drilled thousands of unconventional gas wells in recent years, it’s a first. The Utica Shale lies beneath the better-known Marcellus Shale, which is more easily accessible and is considered one of the world’s richest gas reserves.
Glenda Besana-Ostman, a former seismologist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, confirmed the finding is the first in the area to suggest a connection between the quakes and fracking. A deep-injection wastewater well in the same region of Ohio was found to be the likely cause of a series of quakes in 2012.
Under Ohio’s new permit conditions, all new drilling sites within 3 miles of a known fault or seismic activity of 2.0 magnitude or higher will be conditioned on the installation of sensitive seismic-monitoring equipment. Results will be directly available to regulators, Simmers said, so the state isn’t reliant on drilling operators providing the data voluntarily.
If seismic activity of 1.0 magnitude or greater is felt, drilling will be paused for evaluation. If a link is found, the operation will be halted.
“While we can never be 100 percent sure that drilling activities are connected to a seismic event, caution dictates that we take these new steps to protect human health, safety and the environment,” said James Zehringer, director of Ohio’s natural resources department.
Ohio has also imposed an indefinite drilling moratorium at the site of the March quakes. The state is allowing oil and gas extraction to continue at five existing wells at the site.
Such events linked to fracking are “extremely rare,” said Shawn Bennett, a spokesman for the industry group Energy In Depth, who described the new rules as safeguards that will prevent similar future quakes in Ohio.
Associated Press Correspondent Kevin Begos in Pittsburgh and AP Science Writer Alicia Chang in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Craig Pittman, Times Staff Writer
Friday, April 18, 2014 7:44pm
The Texas company that stirred controversy by applying to drill for oil in Florida panther habitat was doing more with one of its wells than what its state permit allowed.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection on Friday afternoon revealed that it had fined the Dan A. Hughes Co. $25,000 for violating its permit. The violation involves using a process that sounds like fracking — although the word “fracking” appears nowhere in either Friday’s DEP news release or the legal paperwork about the fine from 10 days earlier.
Instead, the 12-page consent order, dated April 8, says DEP officials became concerned about a “workover operation” that the Texas company launched without DEP permission in late December 2013. The well site is on an island surrounded by the National Audubon Society’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, a major nesting site for wood storks. DEP officials told Hughes to stop right away.
Determining exactly what the company did is difficult because the DEP censored that part of the order, labeling it “a confidential trade secret.”
However, the DEP news release says Hughes “proposed an enhanced extraction procedure that had not previously been used in Florida. The company proposed to inject a dissolving solution at sufficient pressure to achieve some openings in the oil-bearing rock formation that would be propped open with sand in pursuit of enhancing oil production.”
That matches the dictionary definition of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking: “the forcing open of fissures in subterranean rocks by introducing liquid at high pressure, especially to extract oil or gas.” Florida Petroleum Council executive director David Mica said it may mean Hughes was fracking, or it could mean it used one of several similar procedures.
Fracking has helped the United States vastly expand its production of natural gas by allowing greater access to reserves once considered too difficult to tap. However, scientists have expressed concern that the chemicals used in fracking may pose an environmental threat. Studies of fracking sites in Texas, Pennsylvania and Wyoming found elevated levels of arsenic in the groundwater, and Ohio geologists found a probable connection between fracking and a sudden burst of mild earthquakes.
The DEP’s order, which resulted from negotiations with Hughes officials, says the company must provide an “estimate of the total amount of flowback material” from the injection and explain where and how it disposed of it. The types of chemicals used were not named.
The order also says the Texas company must put in four monitoring wells to watch for any pollution spreading beyond its drilling site that might contaminate drinking water wells.
The company also must pay for independent experts to consider “the potential for injected or native fluids to migrate through the deep geological formations or the well casing into surrounding groundwater-bearing zones” —in other words, the aquifer.
DEP officials would say little about the order and did not respond to a reporter’s request to interview Ed Garrett, who heads up the oil and gas permit program. Hughes officials did not return repeated calls. Neither did anyone from Collier Resources, which owns the land.
Joe Mule, as president of Preserve Our Paradise, has led protests against a DEP permit allowing Hughes to drill on the edge of the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge as well as about 1,000 feet from the nearest occupied home in Naples’ Golden Gate Estates neighborhood. He said nobody from the DEP had told him or his neighbors of what the company had done.
Neither the DEP nor Hughes disclosed the violation during a recent hearing on the Golden Gate permit, said Preserve Our Paradise attorney Ralf Brookes.
Florida is not exactly Texas, where oil fields produced 588 million barrels of crude last year. But there are geological formations in the Panhandle and the area west of Lake Okeechobee that produced more than 2 million barrels in 2012.
As of last count there were 156 active wells in Florida, and the oil they pump out provided $700 million in tax revenue for the state. The oldest oil field is in Collier County, where the company that’s now Exxon drilled its first well in 1942.
Rising oil prices in recent years have spurred a push to increase drilling in Florida, and Hughes has been in the forefront. Last year the company boasted, “Hughes has been in the business of drilling oil and gas wells for over 50 years and enjoys an exemplary reputation as a domestic and international operator.”
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Craig Pittman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @craigtimes.
Published on Tuesday, April 15, 2014
New report suggests highly potent greenhouse gas far more prevalent in gas production than previously thought
– Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer
Natural gas drilling is emitting far higher levels of methane into the atmosphere than federal regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency have said, according to the findings of a new study released Monday.
“We identified a significant regional flux of methane over a large area of shale gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania in the Marcellus formation and further identified several pads with high methane emissions,” said the report, conducted by a team of scientists led by Purdue University and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
While past EPA studies have said gas well sites emit as little as between 0.04 and 0.30 grams of methane per second, this new study found numbers between 100 to 1,000 times higher than what the EPA has calculated, with levels closer to 34 grams of methane per second at some of the Pennsylvania sites. Methane is up to 30 times stronger than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas.
Of particular curiosity for the research team was the fact that the highest levels of methane were coming from well sites that were being preliminarily drilled for production, but had not yet gone through the controversial gas production process known as fracking.
“The methane emissions from the gas wells … are surprisingly high considering that all of these wells were still being drilled, had not yet been hydraulically fractured, and were not yet in production,” the paper reports.
“Methane plumes might be the result of drilling through coal beds,” said the study, “which are known to release large amounts of methane when mined. Fracking sites in the Marcellus Shale formation are commonly located over coal beds.”
As the Los Angeles Times reports, Monday’s findings add to “a growing body of research that suggests the EPA is gravely underestimating methane emissions from oil and gas operations.” The EPA’s research has largely been subject to the whims of the industry, the researchers noted, which has a say over where and when the agency has access to drilling sites. Monday’s Purdue report, on the other hand, used a plane equipped with technology to measure greenhouse gas levels in the air above the sites.
Meanwhile, the EPA released its own new set of methane information on Tuesday with a series of technical white papers detailing the sources of methane emissions in the oil and gas industry. The agency also opened a public comment period, which will be used—alongside peer reviewed input—”to determine how to best pursue additional reductions from these sources.”
The EPA said the white papers, which detail five main sources of methane leakage in the fossil fuel industry—natural gas compressors, hydraulic fracturing for oil, natural gas production, removing liquids in gas wells and pneumatic devices used in the gas industry—are designed to help the agency “solidify [its] understanding of certain sources of methane and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions in the oil and natural gas industry.”
Anne C. Mulkern, E&E reporter
Published: Monday, April 14, 2014
Companies involved in offshore oil drilling in federal waters along
California’s coast should voluntarily test for chemical leaks and
release the information, a state lawmaker said Friday.
Providing water quality data would bolster people’s faith that oil
companies want to prevent pollution, Assembly member Das Williams (D)
told industry representatives at an Assembly Select Committee on
Coastal Protection hearing in Santa Barbara, Calif.
California’s S.B. 4, which passed last year, requires base line
testing of water near sites where hydraulic fracturing and other well
stimulation treatments are used, including state waters. But the law
doesn’t apply in the ocean controlled by the federal government.
“If the regulatory structure of S.B. 4 provides that extra level of
safety, and frankly, testing and verification, so therefore
accountability, why would your industry not voluntarily agree to
adhere to those standards in federal waters?” Williams said. “Why
would you not provide that testing data to state regulators? There’s
nothing stopping you from adhering to state regulations in federal
“Would you do it?” he added.
The inquiry took place at the informational hearing focused on
offshore drilling that uses hydraulic fracturing. Throughout
California, city and state officials are examining rules related to
fracking operations. In the Legislature, S.B. 1132, which would
temporarily ban hydraulic fracturing and other unconventional oil
drilling, last week passed out of its first committee in the state’s
Senate (EnergyWire, April 9).
That same day, the board of supervisors in Butte County, 80 miles
north of Sacramento, in a 4-1 vote directed staff to come back with an
ordinance that would bar fracking. There have been similar votes
seeking moratorium ordinances in Los Angeles and Culver City. Nearby,
Carson last month imposed a ban on all oil drilling.
Williams’ question Friday came after Dan Tormey, while speaking on
behalf of the California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA),
supported new state rules on water.
“With S.B. 4 and the addition of water quality monitoring, I do think
that’s a good idea,” Tormey said, “to measure what the base-line
conditions are and then to see afterward whether those have been
Williams then asked about voluntarily providing the data as it relates
to drilling in federal waters.
“It’s an unfair question,” replied Peter Candy, an attorney also
representing CIPA. “You would have to ask individual operators.” Those
drilling platform operators would need to talk to federal officials,
Candy said, adding that there currently are movements toward those
‘Prove good faith’
“We don’t need them if you guys voluntarily decided to do it,”
Williams said, which triggered applause from the audience. “If you
really wanted to prove good faith to the public, you could decide to
Candy said that it “would go operator by operator. It’s difficult for
us to sit up here today and answer for individual operators.”
Craig Johns, representing the Western States Petroleum Association
(WSPA), said that S.B. 4’s provisions on water testing focus on
protecting groundwater. Ocean water isn’t used for drinking, he said.
Additionally, he said, EPA monitors for any adverse impacts on the
aquatic environment from offshore drilling.
Williams responded sharply.
“I think on behalf of fishermen and swimmers and surfers and
beachgoers of this county and the state, seawater does have a
beneficial use,” even if it’s not used for drinking water, though
that, too, is changing, he said, referring to desalination.
The California Coastal Commission began probing offshore fracking last
year after a news report revealed that regulators had allowed fracking
in the Pacific Ocean at least a dozen times since the late 1990s. The
Associated Press unearthed the data through a Freedom of Information
In waters controlled by the federal government, there are 23 platforms
with outer continental shelf (OCS) plans granting approval for
exploration. A dozen individual wells have done some form of fracking
in the last 25 years, Alison Dettmer, chief deputy head of the Coastal
Commission’s Energy and Ocean Resources division, told lawmakers.
The agency has limited power when it comes to federal waters, she
said. Its purview is limited to evaluating whether activities are
consistent with state law.
Discharges to the ocean are prohibited in state waters but are allowed
and practiced in a number of federal waters, the Coastal Commission
has said previously. The agency plans to send U.S. EPA a letter
requesting that the agency modify its permits so that drilling
platform operators that plan to discharge would submit to an
additional Coastal Commission review, Dettmer said.
Assemblymember Mark Stone (D), chairman of the Select Committee on
Coastal Protection, at the hearing noted that he had seen in his
background materials that the oil and gas industry rejects that the
commission has review authority over OCS plans.
Dettmer said that it’s “a complicated question.”
“We’re going to have to go case by case to look at the individual OCS
plans,” Dettmer said, explaining that the agency would be evaluating
whether each initial plan “actually anticipated at that time doing any
form of well stimulation.”
Federal vs. state jurisdiction
During questioning later, Stone asked Candy — representing CIPA —
his view of the Coastal Commission’s authority. Candy said that CIPA’s
position isn’t that the state agency “lacks all authority to do
But, Candy said, “in cases where you’ve got an established facility
and an approved OCS plan, then the commission needs to be wary of
infringing upon” the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Safety and
Environmental Enforcement and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
Federal regulations give those agencies “exclusive jurisdiction” for
determining what falls within the scope of an OCS plan versus what
would require significant revision, which would trigger a commission
consistency review, he said.
“This industry is highly regulated,” Candy said. “The protections are
in place.” The Coastal Commission should be ensuring that “the
regulators are doing their jobs,” he said, “but not requiring
consistency review every time an operator proposes to hydraulically
fracture a well.”
Stone responded that “the point of consistency review is that
oversight over a federal agency” to “ensure that the federal action is
not jeopardizing coastal resources.”
Interior Department representatives turned down a request to testify
at the hearing, Stone said.
Environmental groups, meanwhile, urged more protections.
Brian Segee, staff attorney with the Santa Barbara-based Environmental
Defense Center, said that the Santa Barbara channel is rich with
marine life that includes threatened and endangered species. There are
bluefin, humpback and killer whales, porpoises, dolphins, southern sea
otters and hundreds of other fishes, birds and invertebrates, he said.
Fracking releases harmful air pollution, uses large amounts of water,
could increase risk of earthquakes and, by producing more oil, hurts
efforts to reduce climate change, Segee said.
In addition, he said, some companies are using hydrochloric and
hydrofluoric acid in wells and should fall under the definition in
S.B. 4 for well stimulation. But there’s an industry attempt to
curtail S.B. 4’s scope by exploiting an exclusion for “routine well
cleanout work, routine well maintenance and routine removal of
formation damage due to drilling.”
“Until a moratorium is enacted … it is imperative that attention be
paid to this critical issue and attempt to circumvent the plain
language and intent of S.B. 4,” Segee said.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Published on Monday, April 14, 2014
– Andrea Germanos, staff writer
Photo: Stephen Boyle/cc/flickrIn a vote cheered as a victory for democracy, one community in British Columbia has given a flat rejection to a proposed tar sands pipeline.
Over 58 percent of voters who headed to the polls in the North Coast municipality of Kitimat on Saturday said “no” to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway project.
That project would include a pipeline to carry tar sands crude from near Edmonton, Alberta to Kitimat.
CBC News reports that
Kitimat is the community most affected by the $6.5-billion project, because as the endpoint for the pipeline bringing bitumen from Alberta, it would house a marine terminal where the supertankers would load up.
“The people have spoken. That’s what we wanted — it’s a democratic process,” Kitimat Mayor Joanne Monaghan said in a statement following the vote. “We’ll be talking about this Monday night at Council, and then we’ll go from there with whatever Council decides.”
One group welcoming the rejection is the Dogwood Initiative, a B.C.-based group that advocates for decision-making power for environmental decisions to be in the hands of the people.
“This shows what happens when you actually give people the chance to vote on Enbridge’s proposal,” stated Kai Nagata, Energy & Democracy Director with the group.
The rejection was also a reflection of voter awareness of the environmental threats posed by the Northern Gate, according to the B.C.-based Raincoast Conservation Foundation.
“The vote in Kitimat illustrates how acutely aware British Columbians are that our province’s coast, which hosts incomparable land and seascapes, is in imminent jeopardy from the proposed export of diluted bitumen from Alberta’s tar sands to the oil industry’s global markets by the threat of a catastrophic Exxon Valdez type spill, as well as a host of other impacts,” said Chris Genovali, Executive Director of Raincoast.
“For example, the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project will result in increased tanker traffic and vessel noise through sensitive and productive waters, impoverishing critical habitat for numerous species of threatened and endangered whales. Additionally, the chronic oiling accompanying Northern Gateway’s tankers and terminal will likely slowly degrade habitat and water quality to the point where near-shore environments are no longer productive or capable of supporting nurseries for wild salmon, one of B.C.’s greatest natural assets,” said Genovali.
Photo: Neal Jennings/cc/flickrIn December 2013, a federal Joint Review Panel (JRP) gave its recommendation to approve the pipeline, but that approval prompted backlash from environmental groups, including ForestEthics Advocacy and Living Oceans Society, who say the approval was made without taking into consideration the full environmental impacts of the project. The groups, representing by Ecojustice, have filed suit to block the JRP’s report from being used as a basis for full federal approval of the project.
“The panel cannot consider the so-called economic benefits of oilsands expansion tied to this pipeline but ignore the adverse impacts that expansion will have on climate change, endangered wildlife and ecosystems,” stated Nikki Skuce, senior energy campaigner with ForestEthics Advocacy, when their lawsuit was filed.
A resounding “No” for the pipeline was also heard this past Friday, when, as the Globe and Mail reports,
A group of First Nations with territory covering a quarter of the route for the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline met with federal representatives Friday to officially reject the project.
The First Nations representatives said there is no more debate, as they banned the pipeline under their traditional laws.
“We do not, we will not, allow this pipeline,” the Globe and Mail reports Peter Erickson, a hereditary chief of the Nak’azdli First Nation, as telling the bureaucrats. “We’re going to send the message today to the federal government and to the company itself: Their pipeline is dead. Under no circumstances will that proposal be allowed.”
“Their pipeline is now a pipe dream,” Erickson added.
Nagata’s group is saying that all British Columbians should have a vote on the Northern Gateway.
“This project would have serious ramifications for the whole province, so all British Columbians deserve to vote on it,” said Nagata. “That should extend far beyond just speaking to a panel or writing your local newspaper. Regardless of whether you support this proposal, the decision should be made by British Columbians.”
To help make this happen, the Dogwood Initiative has launched a new website, LetBCvote.ca, to harness the province’s direct democracy laws by gathering the signatures of at least 10 per cent of the registered voters to get the issue onto a ballot.
A federal review panel is expected to give its final decision on Enbridge’s project in June.
By Ayesha Rascoe
WASHINGTON, March 31 Tue Apr 1, 2014 3:30am IST
(Reuters) – The U.S. environmental regulator has raised concerns that a federal review of Sempra Energy’s proposed liquefied natural gas export project did not include an assessment of the potential effects of more natural gas drilling. The Environmental Protection Agency issued its finding earlier this month. It urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to weigh indirect greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental effects that would flow from the increase in gas drilling needed to support exports from the Cameron plant in Louisiana.
The Department of Energy approved exports from the project in February, but the plant must still get clearances from FERC. The EPA’s assessment is a fresh angle in the long running debate of how much LNG the U.S. should export. FERC should “consider the extent to which implementation of the proposed project could increase the demand for domestic natural gas extraction, as well as potential environmental impacts associated with the potential increased production of natural gas,” the EPA said in response to the commission’s draft review of the project.
The finding, dated March 3, was released by FERC late on Friday. FERC has long resisted calls from environmental groups such as the Sierra Club to consider the effects of shale gas production in its review of the safety and environmental impacts of LNG export facilities.
A spokeswoman said FERC would take the EPA’s comments and other public input into consideration as it crafts its final environmental review, currently set for release by April 30. Energy analysts said FERC will probably decide there is no need for an extensive analysis of the indirect greenhouse gas emissions that would be caused by one LNG export project.
A federal appeals court ruled in FERC’s favor in 2012 in a similar case regarding Crestwood Midstream Partner’s Marc 1 natural gas pipeline. In that case, environmental groups argued that the commission should have done a more expansive review of the impact of natural gas production.
“I don’t think FERC will defer to Sierra Club’s or EPA’s issues on the upstream unless or until regulations change,” said Christi Tezak, energy analyst for ClearView Energy Partners.
The shale gas boom, spurred by advances in drilling techniques such as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has led to record U.S. natural gas production and paved the way for the United States to become a major gas exporter.
Fracking involves injecting water, sand and chemicals underground at high pressure to extract fuel. Critics have blamed the practice for water contamination and say that increased drilling is polluting the air. (Reporting by Ayesha Rascoe, editing by Ros Krasny and David Gregorio)
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Published on Thursday, March 27, 2014
Obama calls for combination of European fracking and US exports to serve EU energy needs
– Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer
President of the European commission Jose Manuel Barroso, US president Barack Obama and president of the European council Herman van Rompuy at the summit in Brussels. (Photonews/Photonews via Getty Images)Speaking after a meeting with European leaders at the EU-US summit in Brussels on Wednesday, President Barack Obama suggested that the U.S. is open to exporting fracked shale gas, once promised as the source of American “energy independence,” to the EU and urged the EU to open up its own fracking reserves amid energy fears related to the crisis in Ukraine. Environmental groups have warned these policies will do nothing by way of energy security and everything for global environmental destruction and climate chaos.
“Once we have a trade agreement in place,” Obama said at a news conference in Brussels in reference to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership deal currently in the works, “export licenses for projects for liquefied natural gas destined to Europe would be much easier, something that is obviously relevant in today’s geopolitical environment.”
European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso reportedly pressed Obama during Wednesday’s meeting to ease current restrictions on U.S. gas exports, claiming fears over the future of Russian gas imports, which make up a quarter of EU gas supplies.
While insisting that U.S gas exports could be done sometime in the future, Obama used more candid language to suggest EU leaders should first open up their own shale gas reserves to fracking—amongst other energy options such as increased nuclear power.
“I think it is useful for Europe to look at its own energy assets, as well as how the United States can supply additional energy assets,” Obama said. “Because the truth of the matter is, is that just as there’s no easy, free, simple way to defend ourselves, there’s no perfect, free, ideal, cheap energy sources. Every possible energy source has some inconveniences or downsides. And I think that Europe collectively is going to need to examine, in light of what’s happened, their energy policies to find are there additional ways that they can diversify and accelerate energy independence.”
He added: “The United States as a source of energy is one possibility, and we’ve been blessed by some incredible resources. But we’re also making choices and taking on some of the difficulties and challenges of energy development, and Europe is going to have to go through some of those same conversations as well.”
The comments came, Reuters reports, as “a clear reference to opposition in parts of the EU on environmental grounds to nuclear power and the extraction of shale gas.”
France and Bulgaria currently ban the controversial drilling practice, which has been known to contaminate ground water supplies and pollute the air, while countries such as Britain and Poland have faced protests against ongoing fracking exploration, as Reuters reports.
Since the onset of the Ukraine crisis has sparked conversations regarding EU energy concerns, environmentalists have warned that the fossil fuel industry and fossil fuel friendly leaders are using the crisis to push through energy policies they have wanted all along—particularly having to do with the production and export of unconventional fossil fuels such as Canada’s tar sands and the U.S’s shale gas. As Stewart Trew writes at the Council of Canadian’s blog today:
Now Canada, political voices in the United States, and the European Commission for that matter, are trying to leverage the political crisis in Ukraine to make a case for more (not less) North American imports of the dirty stuff: tar sands from Alberta and fracked gas from North America’s “boom” in unconventional shale production. The first puts pressure on Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring bitumen from Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast before shipping the final product to Europe and Asia. (The Energy East pipeline would do the same in Canada.)
The second (fracked gas) would require the U.S. to approve new LNG plants and remove energy export restrictions, which the EU is trying to do through trade and investment negotiations with the United States. David Cameron’s government in the UK is also using the crisis to justify a European shale gas boom that environmental groups and the general public strongly opposes.
“Fossil fuels should not be used as a geopolitical bargaining chip, nor should giant oil and gas corporations write our foreign policy,” Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch also recently noted. “The hypocrisy of the call for exports is highlighted by the fact that it will take years for our export facilities to be able to process the volumes of gas proposed for overseas sales.”
“There’s been a lot of talk about fast tracking and streamlining” the approval process, Mike Tidwell, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, recently told Common Dreams in reference to natural gas export plans and a proposed LNG export terminal in Cove Point, Maryland. “People need to understand that what they are talking about is cutting corners on processes put in place to protect people and the environment.”
Published on Wednesday, March 26, 2014
Company with tarnished past doubling tar sands processing near major water source
– Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer
BP oil spill into Lake Michigan (Screengrab: NBC Chicago)
Oil giant BP has caused yet another oil spill in a crucial water way this week, following an increase in tar sands refining at its Indiana plant on the shores of Lake Michigan.
BP notified the federal government’s National Response Center around 5 p.m. Monday that its Whiting Refinery was leaking oil into the lake, which is the source of drinking water for 7 million people in nearby Chicago, due to a malfunction in the refinery’s cooling water system.
The spill comes less than a year after BP started processing Canadian tar sands at the refinery. Tar sands oil, many environmental groups have warned, is the “the dirtiest fuel on Earth” and is “more corrosive, more toxic, and more difficult to clean up than conventional crude.”
Enumerating a long list of historical problems at the Whiting Refinery, Henry Henderson at the Natural Resources Defense Council notes Wednesday, “The week of the Exxon Valdez disaster anniversary and a week after the Council of Canadians released a report highlighting the threat that tar sands oil imposes on the Great Lakes, BP did what it always does: crapped up Lake Michigan.”
While the scope of yesterday’s spill is clearly a tiny fraction of the Kalamazoo disaster, it’s still not clear what kind and how much oil made its way into Lake Michigan from the refinery. A day later, we still don’t know […]
It is that lack of transparency that drives environmentalists and government decisionmakers alike crazy. The public needs to know what has made its way into their drinking water sources and whether it is being adequately cleaned. Sure, state and federal regulators need to do better: press calls to state and federal EPA were routed directly to BP to answer.
“The malfunction occurred at the refinery’s largest crude distillation unit, the centerpiece of a nearly $4 billion overhaul that allowed BP to process more heavy Canadian oil from the tar sands region of Alberta,” reports the Chicago Tribune. “The unit … performs one of the first steps in the refining of crude oil into gasoline and other fuels.”
It was still uncertain Wednesday as to exactly how much of the oil spilled. BP said it had managed to stop the discharge by Tuesday and cleanup efforts continued throughout the day on Wednesday.
The EPA stated:
Under EPA oversight, BP has deployed more than 2,000 feet of boom to contain the oil. In addition, the company has used vacuum trucks to remove about 5,200 gallons of an oil/water mixture from the spill location. BP crews also are combing a nearby company-owned beach for oil globs and conducting air monitoring to ensure the safety of the public. The U.S. Coast Guard has flown over the area and has not observed any visible sheen beyond the boomed area.
Sens. Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin of Illinois said in a joint statement that they are “extremely concerned” about future spills. BP recently said they are doubling its processing of heavy crude oil at the refinery.
“We plan to hold BP accountable for this spill and will ask for a thorough report about the cause of this spill, the impact of the Whiting Refinery’s production increase on Lake Michigan, and what steps are being taken to prevent any future spill,” they stated.
A recent report by the Council of Canadians, warns that the Great Lakes are at risk of becoming a “liquid pipeline” for the dirtiest forms of oil and gas available, citing ongoing plans to transport “extreme energy” sources such as tar sands under and across the Great Lakes.
“We are only seeing the tip of the iceberg and only just beginning to understand the grave impacts these extreme energy projects are going to have on the Great Lakes,” said national chairperson of the Council Maude Barlow. “We often see these projects approved piecemeal but we have to step back and think about how all these projects are going to affect the Lakes.”
This week’s spill comes four years after BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, the largest in U.S. history, which continues to plague the Gulf of Mexico.
Despite BP’s history, the EPA recently removed a ban on BP drilling contracts and new leases in the U.S., an offer BP was quick to capitalize on.
Crews clean up an oil spill along Lake Michigan in Whiting, Ind. (E. Jason Wambsgans, Chicago Tribune, March 25, 2014)
Friday, 14 March 2014 09:28
By Roger Drouin, Truthout | News Analysis
As the first official research is published that confirms water contamination by hydraulic fracturing, an alarming amount and array of hazardous chemicals and compounds – including arsenic, chloride, barium and radium – are found in Pennsylvania groundwater.
Shortly after a gas company in Donegal, Pennsylvania, began storing fracking wastewater in an impoundment pit, a water well at a nearby home showed some alarmingly elevated levels of barium and strontium.
The Southwest Pennsylvania home sits within 2,000 feet of the impoundment pit, which began leaking in late 2012, Kathryn Hilton told Truthout. Hilton is a community organizer at the Mountain Watershed Association, a nonprofit dedicated to water conservation in the state’s Indian Creek Watershed.
In August, 2012, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) test results showed levels of barium and strontium above EPA standards. “Those are hazardous chemicals that can cause health problems when exposed to for extended periods of time,” Hilton said.
The unidentified property owners were unable to comment about the incident because they are involved in active litigation with the gas company, WPX Energy. The company has since removed the impoundment pit, but the homeowner is still “using a water buffalo” for drinking water, Hilton told Truthout. In June, 2013, the DEP’s Oil and Gas Program issued a determination letter concluding that the high chemical levels were caused by the nearby fracking activity, according to an agency spokesperson.
Environmentalists, scientists and residents worry that other homeowners may be facing similar, often unknown, threats from contamination throughout Pennsylvania – where the fracking boom has positioned the state as the third-largest producer of natural gas. Those concerns are growing as shale development continues to expand and transforms Pennsylvania communities that were once quaint rural areas into areas filled with drilling equipment and trucks.
“These drilling sites are really industrial sites,” said David Brown, a toxicologist at the Environmental Health Project in Washington County, Pennsylvania. “There is a lot of diesel fuel around, a lot of chemicals brought in to frack the rock, and it is all dumped in water or the air.”
At the well in Donegal, the levels of chemicals such as strontium that were measured in the well could be high enough to cause some skin or gastrointestinal reactions,
environmental scientist Vanessa Lamers told Truthout. An elderly person or infant would be even more susceptible.
“That’s a lot of strontium and barium,” Lamers said after reviewing the sample results. “The chloride is four times over the limit.”
This case is not the only example of chemicals and compounds contaminating drinking water in areas with fracking activity. Between 2008 and fall 2012, state environmental regulators determined that oil and gas development damaged the water supplies for at least 161 Pennsylvania homes, farms, churches and businesses.
The findings in Pennsylvania are significant because they are some of the first official research to show confirmed water contamination caused by hydraulic fracturing – an industry environmental groups say the Environmental Protection Agency and feds are not taking a serious look at and that state regulators are not equipped to adequately regulate.
Last year, state Auditor General Eugene A. DePasquale announced his office is conducting a performance audit of the Pennsylvania DEP’s water testing program to “determine the adequacy and effectiveness of DEP’s monitoring of water quality as potentially impacted by shale gas development activities” between 2009 and 2012.
Keystone State environmentalists, along with biologists and toxicologists, associate health concerns with two possible streams of contamination.
Leaks of drilling fluids and other contaminants from well casings is the first potential source of pollution. “One in 20 wells leak immediately, and over time the percentage increases,” said Anthony Ingraffea, an engineering professor at Cornell University.
“Casing is a very big issue,” Lamers told Truthout. Intense pressure – sometimes as high as 18,000 to 20,000 psi – is put on the well during the hydraulic fracturing process.
“You have all this pressure from the fracking and drilling,” Lamers said. “Then at the end of the process, which can take three weeks or three months, they are going to pull the wastewater back up. That wastewater will go back up through that casing. And if the casing is not still in great shape, after all that pressure, that’s a concern [for possible contamination].”
The second possible stream is the millions of gallons of wastewater produced during fracking. Monika Freyman, a water program scientist with Ceres, is one of those experts. Freyman worries about the way wastewater is stored, transported and treated. “And now they are talking about barging it,” Freyman said. The scientist spent months studying the effect of the industry on water resources, including the multitude of pathways the fracking fluids can go after a well is fracked.
Hilton points to a Duke University study conducted last year that shows some of the Marcellus shale wastewater pours directly downstream into water sources for Pittsburgh and other cities, with uncertain health consequences.
And violations issued by the state DEP to companies, ranging from failure to report a spill to inadequately storing wastewater, shows just how dangerous the industry is in Pennsylvania, Hilton told Truthout.
During her graduate studies at Yale, Lamers spent about a year in Washington County studying the impacts of fracking on water. In summer 2012, the scientist and a research team tested water samples at 140 households and conducted 180 anonymous health surveys.
Some of Lamers’ research is under peer review and will be made public soon in two articles. Lamers found an alarming amount and array of hazardous chemicals and compounds in the groundwater. Those included arsenic, chloride, barium and radium, a radioactive element loosened during the fracking process.
“We found more stuff in the water than we expected to find,” Lamers told Truthout. Linking the chemicals to fracking activity, however, is difficult because before hydraulic fracturing, there has been a history of mining and oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania – industries that also could be responsible for leaving behind hazardous compounds.
“It is a little suspicious finding large quantities of arsenic in the groundwater,” Lamers said.
“There is so much bad stuff in the ground in Pennsylvania,” Lamers said. “We found everything you would expect and everything you wouldn’t expect. But it was very hard to pinpoint where it came from, without pre-drilling tests.”
Researchers and scientists have pushed for the use of tracing fluids by the industry. These tracing fluids would be used to track fracking fluids and wastewater throughout a region’s water system. But the industry has been unwilling to use tracing fluids. “Such tracers would hold companies accountable to the environment, to landowners and to stakeholders,” Lamers told Truthout.
Not Enough Oversight
Scott Perry, director of the state Department of Environment Protection’s Office of Oil and Gas Management acknowledged to Truthout that impoundment spills have happened on some rare occasions, especially at the older impoundments called open “pits.”
The industry in Pennsylvania appears to be making the shift to a closed system to hold wastewater before it is treated or shipped to the deep injection waste wells in Ohio. But companies still use large impoundment ponds to store wastewater. These newer impoundment ponds meet stricter requirements enacted in 2012 requiring double-lined walls and spill detection, Perry said.
Industry representatives say development of abundant and affordable natural gas from shale formations like the Marcellus has led to a more secure energy future for the entire country. New technology in the field – such as closed storage systems and mobile filtration plants designed to filter flowback – is allowing the industry to do a better job at treating wastewater produced during fracking, Joe Massaro, a field director with Energy in Depth told Truthout. The new filtration equipment is becoming an industry “best practice.”
Wastewater storage, treatment and disposal, however, remains one of the DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas Management’s “more significant environmental concerns” when it comes to fracking, Perry said. For that reason, regulators and inspectors have been “pushing the industry as far as anyone has” to try to prevent wastewater spills,” Perry told Truthout.
Based on what she is seeing in southwest Pennsylvania, Hilton is concerned that some tougher regulations aren’t enough and that the state agency is not equipped to keep watch on thousands of wells across the region. “[Are] there enough people to effectively monitor these wells or impoundment pits, or are the laws adequate to protect our health? Absolutely not,” the environmentalist said.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency has little oversight over fracking fluids and wastewater because under President George W. Bush in 2005, the industry was exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act.
But that could change after the federal agency concludes a multiyear study probing the industry’s dangers posed to drinking water. The study will examine the impact of chemicals injected deep into the Earth during the full water cycle in the industry that is largely exempt from federal regulation. While the study could prompt consideration of new guidelines for fracking, any changes to current federal regulation of the industry would require federal legislative action.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Published on Wednesday, March 12, 2014 by
by Nick Surgey
According to documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), the American Petroleum Institute (API) and other oil industry groups have been directing state legislators to make public and legislative statements in favor of the pipeline project. Millions of U.S. citizens have voiced their opposition to the Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline in recent months, with more than 2 million public comments opposing the project hand delivered to the State Department last week. At the same time, hundreds of state legislators have been lining up in favor of KXL, seemingly just as passionate and as heartfelt as those opposed to the project. But many legislators have been tasked with promoting the project by oil industry lobbyists who provide them with model bills, talking points and draft op-eds.
According to documents obtained by the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD), the American Petroleum Institute (API) and other oil industry groups have been directing state legislators to make public and legislative statements in favor of the pipeline project, and have provided legislators with draft legislation, language for op-eds and testimony to be presented as their own. Central to these efforts is the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), through which lobbyists — such as those from API — can meet in secret with state legislators from across the country.
Consumer Energy Alliance Gives Marching Orders at ALEC
During the most recent annual ALEC meeting in August 2013, held in downtown Chicago, oil-industry lobbyist Michael Whatley provided legislators at the group’s International Relations Task Force meeting with a briefing on the KXL pipeline, urging legislators for their help in getting the project approved. Whatley — a lobbyist for the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) — has regularly attended ALEC meetings in recent years, and has presented to the organization on KXL in the past. CEA receives funding from the two leading U.S. oil lobby groups — the American Petroleum Institute (API) and the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM) — and lists among its members leading oil companies, including ExxonMobil, Shell and BP amongst many others. Whatley’s lobbying firm HBW Resources also has a somewhat unexplained relationship with the Alberta Government – see Salon.
According to the internal minutes from the ALEC meeting provided to CMD, Whatley called on legislators to help push the pipeline project to approval. Much as environmental groups view KXL as being a line in the sand, as symbolic of how serious the Obama administration is about tackling climate change, the oil industry considers the project to be a possible harbinger of things to come. “We’re very concerned about the precedential impact of this refusal,” Whatley told the group.
Whatley and CEA have briefed ALEC legislators on Keystone before. When speaking at the group’s conference in Arizona in December 2011, Whatley gave a presentation to the International Relations task force, titled “Keystone XL – A Critical Project for America.”
At the 2013 meeting, Whatley explained to legislators that it was important for the State Department to hear their individual support for KXL. “It is crucial that they hear from state legislators” said Whatley. “We will have information for you to submit letters to the State Department.”
In recent months, state legislators seem to have heeded the industry’s marching orders.
On February 13, 2014, 75 state legislators from Michigan, led by ALEC member Aric Nessbit, wrote to the State Department calling for the pipeline to be approved. Then on March 4, 2014, a letter was sent from 29 State Senators in Nebraska, led by Senator Jim Smith, who has been a vocal and controversial figure in the fight for Keystone XL in his state. Smith was one of nine state legislators to attend a 2012 ALEC Academy trip to Alberta to view the tar sands — a trip organized by CEA through ALEC and funded by TransCanada.
Letters supporting Keystone were also sent from state elected officials from the Kentucky Senate, Ohio Senate, Ohio House of Representatives, Texas Assembly and the Wisconsin Assembly as well as letters from Governors in Wisconsin, Mississippi, Montana and Maine.
ALEC Pushes State Resolutions as Oil Industry Ghostwrites Opinion Pieces for Legislators
So far, in the 2014 session, legislative resolutions supporting the pipeline have been introduced in Kansas, Missouri and Florida. That’s in addition to resolutions introduced in Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio and South Dakota during 2013.
ALEC has encouraged its members to introduce its own “model” legislation supporting KXL, titled the “Resolution in Support of the Keystone XL Pipeline.” Since that language was written in 2011, ALEC told its members by email in 2012: “If you would like to introduce a similar resolution in your state legislature, we have suggestions to update it given all that has happened.” The bills that have appeared since then have varied in language somewhat, with the updated version alluded to in the ALEC email not yet made public. Many of the pro-KXL bills introduced in 2013 and 2014 closely follow a set of TransCanada’s own talking points, as CMD has previously reported.
Since many of these states do not allow for much disclosure through state public record laws, it is difficult to fully document the influence of oil industry lobbyists. However, what can be documented is extremely revealing of their role.
CMD previously reported on the pro-KXL resolutions in the 2013 session in a series of articles, including reporting about Rep. John Adams from Ohio who, after attending an ALEC/TransCanada trip to Alberta, was asked by ALEC to send “thank you notes” to the lobbyists who paid for the trip and took him for dinner. As CMD documented, not long afterward, Rep. Adams introduced a pro-KXL resolution provided to him by a TransCanada lobbyist.
In Florida, freshman representative Walter Bryan ”Mike” Hill sponsored a pro-Keystone resolution, HM 281 in December 2013. Laying the ground for his bill, in December Hill published an opinion piece in the Pensacola News Journal in Florida, his local newspaper.
According to emails obtained by CMD under the Florida Public Records law, the language for Hill’s opinion piece came directly from API lobbyist David Mica, who sent Hill’s staff member, Ryan Gorham, a draft version on November 26th. “I have ideas for distribution… please give me a holler,” wrote Mica attaching the draft.
An hour later, Gorham emailed the draft opinion piece to Hill. According to the exchange, the only change made by Hill and his staff was to spot a missing preposition in one sentence — the word “to” had been left out. The piece was published under Hill’s name on December 27, 2013. Staff from API and related projects funded by the organization such as “Energy Tomorrow” celebrated the piece on social media. A very proud — but oh so modest — David Mica tweeted: “@MikeHillfl nails his op-ed viewpoint! Way to go Representative Hill.”
This industry-legislator-opinion strategy was explicitly expressed in August 2013 by CEA’s Whatley at the ALEC conference in Chicago. According to ALEC’s own meeting minutes, obtained by CMD, Whatley called on ALEC legislators to publish op-eds in support of the project. “Put an op-ed in any paper in your district talking about the positive values of Keystone XL,” Whatley said. ALEC has also directly asked its members to publicly speak out in support of Keystone. In a 2012 email to members, Karla Jones, Director of International and Federal Relations, wrote: “Senator Pam Roach has been quoted in the media about Keystone, and I would like to encourage and provide information to any of you that would like to do the same.”
Politicians Parrot Industry Talking Points, “Part of a Nationwide Effort to Show Washington States Support the Pipeline”
In July 2013, Jim Snyder, who was writing for Bloomberg, reported on a dozen Republican federal and state lawmakers repeating the same talking points from CEA in letters they sent to the State Department during its previous review of the Keystone XL project in 2013:
“In doing so, they (the lawmakers) often pointed to the same facts and the used the same language. ‘Keystone XL will be critical to improving American energy security and boosting our economy,’ Representative Steve Stivers of Ohio wrote. So did Representative Jackie Walorski of Indiana. And Steve Daines of Montana. And John Carter of Texas. And Phil Gingrey of Georgia.
The wording similarities aren’t coincidental. The letters are all based on correspondence written by the Consumer Energy Alliance, a Washington-based coalition of energy producers and users, including Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) in Irving, Texas, and Dow Chemical Co. (DOW) in Midland, Michigan.”
Those talking points appeared again during a hearing for the pro-KXL resolution in Kansas HCR 5014. The bill sponsor, Rep. Hedke’s testimony to the Kansas State Senate Utilities Committee on February 13, 2014, parroted the same CEA language, writing: “Keystone XL will be critical to improving American energy security and boosting our economy.” CMD asked Hedke for a comment on the source of his testimony, but as of publication the representative had not responded.
When not working as a legislator, Hedke runs a company called Hedke-Saenger Geoscience, which according to the representative’s most recent financial disclosures feature a long list of oil industry clients including Hess Oil Company, Prospect Oil, Landmark Resources, and Trans Pacific Oil Corp.
Hedke told CMD by email that he was given the initial language for his resolution by a lobbyist from the Kansas API affiliate, before he “passed it out for reviews with numerous individuals, including a lobbyist representing TransCanada.”
At the hearing, Ken Peterson, Executive Director of the Kansas Petroleum Council (the API affiliate) stated as part of his testimony that “(t)his resolution is part of a nationwide effort to show Washington that states support the pipeline.” Truer words have never been spoken. API and the organizations that it funds including CEA have been working tirelessly behind the scenes to create the impression of a groundswell of passionate opposition to KXL.
© 2014 Center for Media & Democracy
Nick Surgey is director of research for the Center for Media & Democracy. He work has been featured in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, and The Guardian.
This week, we’d like to share the film This Is Our Country: Living with the Wild West Oil Boom by the Dakota Resource Council.
Like many of the families in the GASLAND films, the people of North Dakota are seeing their livelihoods destroyed in the mad race to extract oil and gas.
Please watch and share this incredible film that shows the true cost of extreme energy extraction.
Watch This Is Our Country: Living with the Wild West Oil Boom http://blog.gaslandthemovie.com/?p=480
While you’re at our blog, check out our past videos of the week and be sure to follow us on facebook and twitter so you don’t miss our posts.
We have a Video of the Week because sharing films like these can make a big difference. Meeting the affected families and seeing their struggle makes it very clear that extreme energy extraction is not the path we want to take our country down.
So go ahead, forward this on to a few friends. Help us share the stories that can bring positive change.
Watch and share This Is Our Country: Living with the Wild West Oil Boom
Lee Ziesche, Gasland Grassroots Coordinator
Published on Friday, March 7, 2014
Environmental groups raise alarm over potential transport of tar sands oil from western regions to New England coast
– Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer
Enbridge buried pipeline marker (Adam Scott/Environmental Defense)The tar sands oil industry scored a regulatory victory on Thursday when the Canadian National Energy Board approved a plan by energy giant Enbridge to reverse the flow of Canada’s ‘Line 9’ oil pipeline eastward from Ontario to Montreal.
The decision has regional environmental groups sounding the alarm, warning the industry is now one step closer to being able to transport tar sands and other corrosive crude oil from the west, through Ontario and Quebec, over the border into Vermont, and then to the Maine coast for export.
The ruling, which comes four months after the government held public hearings on the proposal, will bring oil from western regions of Canada and the U.S., including tar sands from Alberta and heavy Bakken crude from North Dakota.
Groups such as The Natural Resources Council of Maine, Sierra Club, 350 Maine, 350 Vermont and Environment Maine say the reversal of Line 9 is “the final link” before the Maine-based Portland Pipe Line Corp. reverses its own pipeline that runs through New England, completing “energy giant Enbridge’s path from the oil sands of Alberta to tankers in the Atlantic port of South Portland,” the Bangor Daily News reports.
Fears that the New England pipeline would soon be reversed to transport Canadian tar sands to the Maine coast were sparked last year when oil companies poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into a campaign that ultimately defeated an anti-tar sands referendum in the coastal town of South Portland, Maine. The referendum would have barred a proposal to construct a tar sands pipeline terminal on the city’s waterfront.
So now, as the Canadian National Energy Board has taken the next step towards bringing tar sands to the New England border, many are alarmed.
“Thursday’s decision brings toxic tar sands oil right to New England’s doorstep, and one step away from flowing south through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine,” said Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “This decision should put Maine on high alert for the threat of tar sands transportation through our state. That would be unacceptable. Now is the time for the U.S. State Department to commit to an environmental review of any tar sands project in our state.”
While the pipeline reversal and expansion will only be officially allowed when Enbridge fulfills 30 conditions laid out by the Energy Board, including an emergency response plan, many say a spill within the fragile habitats the pipeline runs through will be inevitable. One dissenting board member raised concern over the possibility of a spill, saying Enbridge should first be required to demonstrate that it has “legally enforceable access to financial resources which are and will continue to be adequate to fund any reasonably foreseeable NEB-regulated obligations which arise as a result of a spill.”
“People have serious concerns about the safety of this pipeline because it’s old and leaky,” said Gillian McEachern, a spokeswoman for Canada’s Environmental Defense. “Our process for reviewing major pipeline projects is seriously broken. This decision puts people across Ontario and Quebec at serious risk of oil spills. If there is a spill, tar sands oil is much harder to clean up and more expensive to clean up than conventional oil that’s going through it now.”
And as the Bangor Daily News reports, should Enbridge attempt to bring oil through New England, several Maine towns have already passed resolutions “declaring opposition to the transportation of oil sands bitumen across their borders, including Casco, where the pipeline passes near Sebago Lake, the source of drinking water for 15 percent of all Mainers.”
“Tar sands pose the most significant threat to Sebago Lake that I’ve seen in my 34 years of fishing on the lake,” said Eliot Stanley, a board member of the Sebago Lake Anglers Association. “The fact is that a tar sands pipeline spill into the Sebago-Crooked River watershed would devastate the lake, its fisheries and southern Maine’s clean drinking water supply.”
“We cannot permit another Kalamazoo River catastrophe,” said Stanley in reference to Enbridge’s massive 2010 pipeline spill into the Michigan river. “This irresponsible action by the Canadian Energy Board poses a threat to all Maine citizens and public officials.”
Vermonters in more than a dozen towns took similar action this year on “Town Meeting Day,” voting to oppose the reversal of the pipeline.
“Vermonters have already loudly signaled opposition to transporting tar sands across our rivers and farms, alongside lakes, and through communities of the Northeast Kingdom,” said Jim Murphy, National Wildlife Federation Senior Counsel. “A spill would have a devastating impact on our water supplies, wildlife habitat and tourism industry. And any transport of tar sands through Vermont would encourage growth of an industry that contradicts all of our state’s leadership and hard work on moving toward cleaner sources of energy.”
Published on Tuesday, March 4, 2014
– Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer
Overpass Light Brigade holds this #XLDissent message in front of White House Mar 2, 2014. (Photo via Twitter / @OLBLightBrigade)The development of the Keystone XL pipeline would have far greater ramifications for the climate than was highlighted in the State Department’s recently released final environmental impact analysis, says the The Carbon Tracker Initiative in a report released Monday.
The State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS), which was released on January 31, says the pipeline “remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States,” indicating that Canadian tar sands would be extracted at the same rate whether or not the pipeline was built, due to an increase of oil-by-rail transport.
However, according to Carbon Tracker’s calculations, which took a different look at the cost-benefit analysis of the Keystone XL pipeline for the companies involved, the presence of the pipeline will actually decrease transportation costs for oil producers and would thus enable the increase of tar sands extraction by as much as 525,000 barrels of oil per day. This increase, the group warns, will greatly accelerate the rate of carbon pollution pouring into the atmosphere, and will significantly worsen climate change.
“In my view, ‘significance’ is in the eye of the beholder,” the report’s co-author Mark Fulton, former climate change strategist for Deutsche Bank, told The Huffington Post.
By 2050, this increase in tar sands production would produce an additional 5.3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, the group holds—roughly the same that would be emitted if the U.S. built an additional 46 coal-fired power plants and as much as the country’s current overall annual carbon emissions.
“One key takeaway of this analysis is that the scenarios modeled in the FSEIS appear incompatible with a 2°C carbon constrained world,” the report states in reference to the goal agreed upon by international leaders at the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen of limiting global warming to no more than 2 degrees Celsius.
As the report highlights, in a June 2013 speech at Georgetown University President Obama said he would approve the pipeline “only if this project doesn’t significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”
If Obama only looks to the scientists who conducted the FSEIS, the pipeline is likely to pass Obama’s requirements.
On Sunday, hundreds of students were arrested in the largest single day of civil disobedience throughout the Keystone XL “saga,” protest organizers said.
Over 1,200 students conducted a mass sit-in in front of the White House, demanding the Obama administration reject Keystone.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) recently took time away from dealing with a water contamination disaster caused by dirty coal power to make the case for opening his state up to yet another player in the dirty energy industry.
Last Monday, while his administration continued to grapple with Duke Energy’s massive coal ash spill into the Dan River, McCrory joined fellow governors Terry McAuliffe (D) of Virginia, Phil Bryant (R) of Mississippi and Robert Bentley (R) of Alabama at a meeting in Washington with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to make the case for opening up their coasts to offshore drilling for oil and gas.
Those state leaders are members of the Outer Continental Shelf Governors Coalition (OCSGC), a group promoting expanded offshore drilling that’s chaired by McCrory. Its other members are Republican Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, Nikki Haley of South Carolina, Rick Perry of Texas, and Sean Parnell of Alaska.
McCrory and his OCSGC colleagues asked Jewell to support seismic testing for oil and gas reserves off the Atlantic Coast, which is currently protected by a longstanding moratorium on offshore drilling. They got their answer three days later, when the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) published an environmental analysis that endorsed a plan for seismic exploration in Atlantic waters.
Jewell — the former CEO of outdoor goods company REI who started her career as an engineer for what was then the Mobil oil company — is expected to formally approve the testing plan next month, McClatchyDC reports. BOEM is accepting comments on the plan here until April 7.
McCrory cheered BOEM’s announcement. “This decision is the right step toward more jobs for North Carolina, particularly in our rural areas near the coast,” he said in a statement.
The first step toward offshore drilling, seismic testing involves using air guns to shoot compacted air to the ocean floor, creating sound waves used to map undersea oil and gas reserves. But there are serious environmental and economic concerns about the air gun blasts, which are thousands of times more intense than the roar of a jet engine and are expected to cause injuries to marine life. Fisherfolk in the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago reported a dramatic drop in catches following seismic testing in their waters.
But while seismic testing in the Atlantic appears to be winning support from federal officials, who say the current plan would “minimize impacts to marine life,” McCrory is meeting opposition in North Carolina coastal communities — including from members of his own party.
The town of Carolina Beach, N.C. held a special meeting on Friday, Feb. 28 — the day after BOEM approved seismic testing — where council members unanimously passed a resolution opposing seismic testing off the state’s coast. Of the council’s five members, four are Republicans and one is a Democrat.
“The town of Carolina Beach does not support the current proposals,” council member Steve Shuttleworth, a Republican, told The Star-News newspaper. “Particularly the frequency, the volume and the areas for seismic testing, as well as the potential threat to marine life.”
The resolution addresses potential harm to recreational and commercial fishing as well as tourism. Located about 15 miles south of the historic port city of Wilmington, N.C., Carolina Beach is a tourist attraction, with one of the East Coast’s last remaining beachside boardwalks, numerous charter fishing boat businesses, and a state park for fishing, camping and hiking.
Just three miles down the coast from Carolina Beach is the town of Kure Beach, N.C., where Mayor Dean Lambeth’s (R) recent decision to sign onto a letter endorsing seismic testing triggered a backlash from his constituents. Hundreds of them packed a January council meeting to protest the mayor’s action, pounding on the walls and booing Lambeth. The controversial letter had been written by America’s Energy Forum, a project of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s largest trade association.
“…[W]e really weren’t represented by our mayor in this decision,” Kure Beach resident Joanne Durham said at the meeting. The council has not taken a formal position on seismic testing.
Carolina Beach and Kure Beach residents are not alone in their opposition to seismic testing: The Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council and about 50 members of the U.S. House and Senate have also taken stances against it, according to a tally by the environmental advocacy group Oceana, which also opposes the practice.
And last month, 102 marine scientists and conservation biologists wrote a letter to President Obama opposing finalizing the environmental impact statement on seismic testing until the National Marine Fisheries completes its new Marine Mammal Acoustic Guidelines lest the statement be “scientifically deficient and quickly outdated.”
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Scott Streater, E&E reporter
Published: Wednesday, February 26, 2014
An environmental group wants U.S. EPA to ban the discharge of chemicals
off the California coastline that are used by some offshore oil and gas
drilling operators as part of the hydraulic fracturing process.
The Center for Biological Diversity today submitted the 44-page
petition to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Jared Blumenfeld, the
agency’s regional administrator in San Francisco, requesting that the
agency amend a general permit covering offshore oil and gas exploration
off the South California coast to prohibit discharges of “dangerous
fracking chemicals into the ocean just off the coast of California
directly into sensitive habitat for blue whales, leatherback sea
turtles and many other endangered species.”
EPA last month approved an updated version of the general permit that
allows oil companies to discharge more than 9 billion gallons of
wastewater into the ocean each year, according to the environmental
“EPA must revoke or modify” the permit, which authorizes 23 offshore
oil and gas platforms to discharge into federal waters off California,
“because offshore fracking and its associated discharges endanger human
health and the environment,” the petition said.
The Center for Biological Diversity says oil companies have used
fracturing on more than a dozen offshore wells in California and that a
CBD analysis of 12 offshore sites in the state found that a third of
the fracking chemicals used are suspected of ecological hazards.
“It’s disgusting that oil companies dump wastewater into California’s
ocean,” said Miyoko Sakashita, CBD’s oceans program director in San
Francisco. “You can see the rigs from shore, but the contaminated
waters are hidden from view. Our goal is to make sure toxic fracking
chemicals don’t poison wildlife or end up in the food chain.”
The general permit that EPA updated last month and that is at the
center of the CBD petition was revised to include better oversight of
offshore drilling in the state in response to concerns from state
legislators and others over “the risks to the marine environment from
potential releases of hydraulic fracturing fluids and the adequacy of
the existing information and requirements,” according to the agency
(E&ENews PM, Jan. 9).
The updated general permit, among other things, requires oil and gas
drillers operating offshore in California to maintain an inventory of
the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing and other drilling
operations and to report those results if the fluids are released into
the surrounding water.
But the updated permit also allows it to “be reopened and modified if
new information indicates that the discharges (including chemicals used
and discharged in hydraulic fracturing operations offshore) could cause
unreasonable degradation of the marine environment,” according to EPA.
While the updated EPA rules “were a step in the right direction,”
Sakashita said, chemicals used in the fracking process have no business
being discharged into federal waters.
The CBD petition said that the “hazards posed to the environment from
fracking operations are too great to allow the continued dumping of
wastewater with unlimited fracking chemicals into the ocean,” and that
“reporting alone is insufficient” to protect waterways and the marine
life in them.
“The toxic chemicals used for offshore fracking don’t belong in the
ocean,” Sakashita said, “and the best way to protect our coast is to
ban fracking altogether.”
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Published on Friday, February 21, 2014
– Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer
(Photo: Chesapeake Climate Action Network) A natural gas export terminal being proposed near a small coastal town in Maryland would increase toxic gas fracking operations around the region, hurt the environment, speed up climate change, and do little for “energy independence” in the United States, campaigners warned at the “the largest environmental protest in Baltimore history” on Thursday.
At issue is the proposal to convert the Dominion Cove Point Liquid Natural Gas import terminal into an export terminal, a plan which is up for approval with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. However, Maryland’s Public Service Commission in Baltimore has the power to veto the proposed 130-megawatt power plant that energy company Dominion needs to build for the export operation, the Baltimore Sun reports.
On Thursday, the commission held a hearing on Dominion’s proposal, which drew over 700 protesters from around Maryland and the Mid-Atlantic region to its doorstep.
“The controversial $3.8 billion Cove Point project, proposed by Virginia-based Dominion Resources, would take gas from fracking wells across the Appalachian region, liquefy it along the Chesapeake Bay in southern Maryland, and export it to Asia,” writes the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, who has helped lead the charge against the project.
Among a long list of grievances with the proposed facility, campaigners a CCAN argue it would:
“Trigger more greenhouse gas emissions than any other single source of climate pollution in Maryland.”
Initiate a “web of new pipelines and processing plants across Maryland and Virginia in order to export fracked natural gas to overseas markets,”
And “Drive demand for a surge of new hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” for gas in our region and require an expanding network of new fossil fuel infrastructure.”
“While the gas industry would profit, we would pay the price of scarred landscapes, polluted air and waterways, livelihoods at risk, and worsened climate change,” they write.
On Thursday protesters carried a 100-foot-long faux gas pipeline reading the words “Stop Cove Point” through Baltimore, stopping at the large rally held outside of the hearing.
“We know it will take a movement to go up against the deep pockets of Dominion, and that movement is here today, representing people from across Maryland and the region who know the major impacts of this project in their local communities,” said Josh Tulkin, director of Maryland Sierra Club, at the rally. “From the streets to the courts, we’ll continue challenging Dominion every step of the way. The stakes for our bay, our communities, and our climate are simply too high to do anything less.”
Reverend Lennox Yearwood, Jr., CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus stated:
The climate crisis is our lunch-counter moment of the 21st century. If we don’t win this one, we all lose. Yet now Dominion is standing at Maryland’s door, trying to block its path to a fossil-free future. Today, we send this message to Dominion: We will organize, we will mobilize, we will fight in every peaceful way possible to ensure clean solar panels and wind turbines crisscross our region – not your planet-wrecking vision of new fracking wells, pipelines, and compressors.”
Inside the hearing Sierra Club attorney Joshua Berman, argued that Dominion’s reasons for building the site were misleading and, infact, the export terminal would cause an increase in domestic natural gas prices and, in turn, increase the domestic use of coal.
U.S. Department of Energy has already given Dominion its approval to go ahead with the terminal. It was unclear after Thursday’s hearing whether or not it will be approved by the Baltimore Commission.
RORY CARROLL, REUTERS
FEB. 21, 2014, 6:01 PM 8
By Rory Carroll
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – California lawmakers have unveiled a new bill that would halt fracking and other controversial oil extraction practices in the state until a comprehensive review of their impact is complete, reigniting a legislative debate that fracking opponents lost last year.
The bill, introduced Thursday by state senators Holly Mitchell of Los Angeles and Mark Leno of San Francisco, would put the brakes on fracking until the completion of a multi-agency review of the economic, environmental and public health impacts.
The bill, whose submission was first reported by Reuters last week, would also halt the use of acids to dissolve shale rock to increase the flow of oil into wells until the report is finished.
It would also broaden the scope of a study called for as part of a bill introduced separately last year, since passed into law, that required oil companies to disclose more data about their activities.
The proposed, expanded study would include health risks posed by fracking to low-income residents like those living near Los Angeles’ Inglewood Oil Field, the nation’s largest urban oil field where both fracking and acid is being used, according to Mitchell, who represents the predominately minority community.
Last year’s bill did not seek to place a moratorium on fracking while a study was conducted, an outcome that infuriated many environmentalists in the state who see fracking as a threat to drinking water supplies and a potentially large source of planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
Fracking, where large amounts of water and some chemicals are pumped underground at high pressure to break apart shale rock and release oil, is considered a key tool in cracking California’s Monterey Shale, a massive deposit that is estimated to hold up to 15 billion barrels of hard-to-reach oil.
The bill faces long odds in the California state legislature, where a similar bill that called for a moratorium failed by a wide margin last year.
California Governor Jerry Brown, who has the power to put a halt to the practice via an executive order, has said he does not support a moratorium. It is better for California to produce its own crude oil than to import it from other states and countries, he has said in the past.
Lawmakers and environmentalists hope that the state’s severe drought might help change minds in Sacramento about the need to continue with the water-intensive practice. Fracking in the state used about 300 acre-feet of water last year, or as much as 300 households, according to state records.
“A moratorium on fracking is especially critical as California faces a severe drought with water resources at an all-time low,” said Leno.
“We are currently allowing fracking operations to expand despite the potential consequences on our water supply, including availability and price of water, the potential for drinking water contamination and the generation of billions of barrels of polluted water.”
(Reporting by Rory Carroll; Editing by Marguerita Choy)
This post originally appeared at Reuters. Copyright 2014. Follow Reuters on Twitter.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Published on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 by
– Lauren McCauley, staff writer
Fracking flares around the Eagle Ford Shale sit just meters from area residences. (Photo: Earthworks/ Creative Commons/ Flickr)Residents living near the Eagle Ford Shale were promised riches and jobs when the fracking boom exploded in their region of southern Texas. However, according to a new investigation published Tuesday, with the wells came unchecked toxic emissions that would devastate both their health and the quality of their ‘easy country life.’
While much of the reporting on the negative impact of fracking has focused on the danger it poses to drinking and groundwater resources, this eight-month, joint study by the Center for Public Integrity, Inside Climate News, and the Weather Channel reveals the lesser-known impact on air quality and the unchecked and potentially lethal amounts of toxic chemicals emitted from the wells.
“What’s happening in the Eagle Ford is important not only for Texas, but also for Pennsylvania, Colorado, North Dakota and other states,” where fracking has been sold as an “absolute-game changer” for often depressed rural regions.
Since 2008, over 7,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled in the Eagle Ford Shale and, with another 5,500 approved wells on the way, it has become “one of the most active drilling sites in America.” And though the shale covers 20,000 square miles, the state has installed only five permanent air monitors, which reportedly sit on the “fringes of the shale play, far from the heavy drilling areas where emissions are highest.”
According to the report, chemicals most commonly released during oil and gas extraction include: hydrogen sulfide, a deadly gas found in abundance in Eagle Ford wells; volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene, a known carcinogen; sulfur dioxide and particulate matter, which irritate the lungs; and other harmful substances such as carbon monoxide and carbon disulfide. VOCs also mix with nitrogen oxides emitted from field equipment to create ozone, a major respiratory hazard.
While there are some federal safety standards for workers who encounter these chemicals, there are no protections for people living near the drilling sites. Further, guidelines are typically set for one compound at a time without taking into account the impact of simultaneous exposure to multiple chemicals.
Through a series of interviews with area residents, the report describes a host of negative health impacts which include migraine headaches, nosebleeds and respiratory problems.
According to Robert Forbis Jr., an assistant professor of political science at Texas Tech University, the health issues faced by those living near drilling wells—not just in Texas but throughout country—”simply don’t carry enough weight to counterbalance the financial benefits derived from oil and gas development.”
“Energy wins practically every time,” Forbis said. “It seems cynical to say that, but that’s how states see it—promote economic development and minimize risk factors.”
“This crap is killing me and my family,” said Mike Cerny, a former oil company truck driver who lives a mile within 17 oil wells. The fumes from the nearby wells make Cerny and his wife “dizzy, irritable and nauseous,” while their teenage son suffers from frequent nosebleeds.
“We went from nice, easy country living to living in a Petri dish,” Myra said.
An image from an earlier report on the Eagle Ford Shale, “Reckless Endangerment While Fracking the Eagle Ford: Government fails, public health suffers and industry profits from the shale oil boom.” (Image: Earthworks Action/ Creative Commons/ Flickr)
EPA to investigate whether State should also permit practice
Nick Webb – 16 February 2014
While ‘fracking’ may not be permitted in Ireland, UK-based Nebula Resources is planning a venture to look for shale gas in the Irish Sea.
A company run by one of the founders of controversial British fracking company Cuadrilla has been granted three licences to explore the possibility of carrying out hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in the Irish Sea, according to the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change. The licences cover areas directly across the Irish Sea, less than 100 miles from Dundalk.
Nebula Resources boss Dr Chris Cornelius believes there are huge volumes of offshore shale gas that could be drilled. If successful, it would be the first such project in the world. The company hopes to begin exploration shortly.
“Certainly offshore shale gas is a new concept, and there’s no reason with the UK’s history of offshore development that we can’t develop these resources offshore,” he said last week.
Shale gas is extracted using the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves forcing water, sand and chemicals under extremely high pressure into rocks, to break them up and release the natural gas trapped inside. Fracking has completely transformed the US energy market by producing huge amounts of gas and oil, which has improved the country’s energy security and reduced its dependence on Gulf oil.
Some environmentalists believe that fracking may damage water supplies, and seek to block the extraction of new fossil fuel resources. However, drilling offshore removes the need to deal with local communities.
Natural Resources Minister Pat Rabbitte has charged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with investigating whether fracking should be permitted in Ireland.
The EPA has launched tenders for a two-year study into the impact of hydraulic fracturing.
The study is more comprehensive than first planned because of the level of opposition to fracking. Some 1,356 submissions were received following a public consultation period, the majority of which were against fracking. The EPA has now included a health expert on the committee drawing up the terms of reference for the study.
Most of the onshore fracking prospects focus on a small area bordering north Leitrim and south Fermanagh, which have been identified as potentially containing billions of cubic feet of natural gas. It is likely that this gas prospect may be extracted only by fracking.
The research programme is expected to start this summer. The Government has promised fracking will not go ahead while the research programme is under way. It is likely to be late 2016 or early 2017 before any fracking takes place in Ireland – assuming that the process gets a green light.
Cuadrilla Resources is the most high-profile gas fracking company operating in the UK. It is run by Irish exploration veteran Francis Egan and chaired by former BP boss Lord Browne.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
FEBRUARY 12, 2014 | 6:30 AM
BY DAVE FEHLING
Read about the history of oil drilling in Texas and you’ll find references to how wildcatters would pour barrels of hydrochloric acid into their wells. The acid would eat through underground rock formations and allow more oil to flow up the well.
That was decades ago. While a lot has changed in the drilling industry since then, using acid has not. It’s only gotten bigger. And in Texas, no one seems to have any idea of just how much hydrochloric, acetic, or hydrofluoric acid is being pumped into the ground.
“During my years with Shell, we did not have to go to the Railroad Commission [the state oil and gas regulator] to get approval for an acid job,” said Joe Dunn Clegg, a retired engineer who now teaches at the University of Houston. In his well drilling class, you’ll learn all about what the oil and gas industry calls acidizing.
Acidizing involves pumping hundreds of gallons of an acid solution down a well to dissolve rock formations blocking the flow of oil. After a number of hours, the solution is then brought back up to the surface and handled as a waste product.
In what’s called matrix acidizing, the solution is injected at a lower pressure so that it dissolves rather than fractures the rock formations, explained Clegg. But he said acidizing is also used in conjunction with high-pressure hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.”
“I consider it a relatively safe operation. But it does involve handling acid, which you don’t want to spill on yourself,” said Clegg.
In fact, in 2011, a drilling industry group issued a “safety alert” warning of the dangers of pumping acid solutions at drilling sites.
No Statewide Data
Acidizing remains largely unregulated in Texas. According to the Railroad Commission of Texas, drilling operators are required to report the use of acid, but spokesperson Ramona Nye told StateImpact Texas in an email that the commission doesn’t track the data. Therefore, the commission said it couldn’t provide statewide data for how much or what types of acids are injected into wells annually, nor can the commission determine what counties have the highest amounts of acidizing.
Texas lawmakers passed a bill in 2011 that now requires drilling operators to report some chemicals used in the fracking process. But the bill doesn’t mention acidizing, and one of its authors said the technique wasn’t even on their radar.
“Acidizing is not nearly as widely discussed as fracking. It could in fact be as problematic as the fracking,” says Rep. Lon Burnam, a Democrat from Fort Worth. He’s a frequent critic of the drilling operations that have taken off dramatically in his district over the last decade.
New Acidizing Law in California
One place where acidizing has attracted more discussion is California. Though the state ranks fourth for oil production, far behind Texas (which leads the country), it’s got reason to be cautious: California has bigger earthquakes than Texas.
“What happens if there’s another earthquake and you’re injecting acid down into the shale? I just think those are questions no one has answered,” said Kate Gordon, Director of the Energy and Climate Program for Next Generation, a climate change and family advocacy group based in San Francisco.
“It’s hard to hear about acid going into the ground under the state’s major aquifers and not be a little freaked out by it,” Gordon told StateImpact Texas.
Next Generation commissioned a report on acidizing and supported a California law that took effect last month. It regulates fracking and acidizing, requiring drillers to alert adjacent landowners and monitor groundwater.
“Oil is very important to both Texas and California. I get that. It’s a big part of our state GDP. But we should have an honest and fact-based conversation about what it means to be getting at this stuff,” said Gordon.
Gordon couldn’t point to any drilling sites where groundwater has been contaminated by acidizing in California. And in Texas, a statewide inventory of groundwater contamination does not list any instances of acid contamination linked to drilling. Both the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Railroad Commission of Texas said they know of no such cases.
Drilling Industry: It Only Sounds Bad
Halliburton and Baker Hughes are among the big drilling services companies that provide “well stimulation” that includes acidizing. An industry group, the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said that the term acidizing is a “harsh” sounding word that makes an easy target for critics. But Steve Everly, a spokesperson for Energy In Depth, an industry-funded research and publicity arm of the association, said environmental groups “don’t know what they’re talking about.”
“This is a technology that has been used in the oil fields since before we had a federal income tax. According to countless energy professionals across the country, who have been stimulating wells their entire careers, it’s a safe and well-understood process,” Everly wrote in an email to StateImpact Texas
Special thanks to Richard Charter
The first test well at Project Indian was drilled on Jan. 24. Steam injection can’t start under permitting for a propane-fired steam generator is completed.
Posted: Thursday, January 30, 2014 12:00 am
Oil executive Armen Nahabedian isn’t inclined to take environmental groups seriously. “If they want to go live in a cave and take their life back to a third-world means and be righteous, then I’ll salute them,” he says.
As it happened, David Hobstetter, a lawyer for the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, which is battling Nahabedian’s latest project just south of Pinnacles National Park, drove his car from San Francisco to Monterey and back on Jan. 27. He burned that gas to get to Monterey County Superior Court, where he was asking Judge Lydia Villarreal to block the first of 15 test wells approved by the San Benito County Board of Supervisors last year.
“One well has been drilled,” Villarreal said. “It doesn’t quite seem to rise to the level of public interest to stop the work on that one well.”
Nahabedian’s company, Citadel Exploration Inc., is in the early phase of a pilot project, Project Indian, on arid yellow ranchland in the Bitterwater region. The project could ultimately recover as much as 40 million barrels of oil, according to Citadel’s website.
First, they’ve got to prove to investors that it’s worth the trouble and expense to employ cyclic steam injection, also called huff-and-puff, to heat and thin heavy crude oil and bring it to the surface. That costs about $25-$30 a barrel, Nahabedian says, but it’s too early to know the steam-to-oil ratio at Project Indian, and whether it’s economically viable. (The company spent $500,000 to get its first test well up and running, attorneys said at the Jan. 27 hearing.)
To do that, Citadel got a permit for 15 test wells. It would take a separate application to state oil and gas regulators and the county for permits to scale up to commercial production. But the Center for Biological Diversity appealed the test well approval, then sued San Benito County last July.
“To me [a test well] is largely indistinguishable from a production well,” Hobstetter argued. “You don’t need multiple wells to have environmental impact.”
Villarreal also required Citadel to provide Hobstetter with a detailed agenda of its plans for future phases of the project, allowing him to challenge the project at future points.
The Center for Biological Diversity had asked Villarreal to halt Citadel’s first test well, drilled on Jan. 24, until the court rules on the lawsuit this spring. The nonprofit argues the county should have conducted a more rigorous environmental analysis of the test project, considering potential impacts to condor habitat, water consumption and potential spills.
Attorneys for Citadel told Villarreal there are even more controversial techniques happening in South Monterey County oilfields. “They’re even doing fracking, under or around the Salinas River,” said Debra Tipton of Anthony Lombardo & Associates.
Lombardo says he’s not sure if fracking is happening, but that huff-and-puff is no big deal: “There’s nothing new or unusual or dangerous.”
As to concerns about condors, he says there won’t be puddles of oil on the site: “It’s not like the old days of John Wayne movies. The site looks far cleaner and neater than when they’re drilling a water well.”
Special thanks to Richard Charter
At last! A ray of hope! DV
Posted: Saturday, February 8, 2014 7:15 pm | Updated: 7:43 pm, Sun Feb 9, 2014.
By Justine McDaniel Capital News Service
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin called Tuesday for federal regulation and oversight of drinking water in the wake of the West Virginia chemical spill, which left residents exposed to chemicals and without water for days.
Chairing a hearing of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, Cardin said safe drinking water is an interstate issue that must be addressed by the federal government. Current federal laws do not require regular updates on risks, or plans for protecting citizens, in areas where chemicals are stored.
It is difficult to know how many chemical storage tanks are located near water supplies in the United States, said witness Erik Olson, a strategic director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, and it is likely that hundreds of other water utilities would not be able to handle a spill like the one in West Virginia.
Cardin said the government’s first priority should be preventing these types of disasters.
“Our laws are just not strong enough to deal with the current situation,” said Cardin, a Maryland Democrat.
About 300,000 West Virginians were left without water when a storage tank leaked chemicals into the Elk River on Jan. 9.
The spill, which involved two chemicals, 4-methylcyclohexane methanol (MCHM) and PPH, came from storage tanks owned by Freedom Industries, a company whose plant is just a mile and a half upriver from a water source for a major utility.
Residents in Charleston and surrounding areas could not drink, cook with or bathe using the water for days, and many remain concerned about the long-term effect of chemical exposure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have said the water is safe to drink but recommended that pregnant women continue to drink bottled water until the levels of chemical in the water are “non-detectable.”
In Maryland, drinking water for major population centers, including Baltimore and Prince George’s County, comes from out of state, either traveling down the Potomac River from a reservoir in West Virginia or coming from the Susquehanna River from sources in Pennsylvania.
“Our biggest concern is the Maryland laws can’t impact what goes on in Pennsylvania or D.C. or Virginia,” said Sue Walitsky, communications director for Cardin. “Not having control of those water sources (makes) it important for Maryland especially that we have a national standard.”
Committee Chair U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and senators Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller, both West Virginia Democrats, introduced legislation last week aimed at protecting drinking water.
The Chemical Safety and Drinking Water Protection Act would require every state to make risk assessments at chemical facilities, plan for state inspections and prepare for emergencies, Boxer said.
Cardin said the current regulatory system, which hadn’t required a risk assessment of the area by the state since 2002, failed in the West Virginia crisis. That assessment did not list the risks of MCHM.
“In West VirginiaŠ a lot of different things could’ve been done if that information was available and we’d acted on that information,” he said.
West Virginia congress members, state politicians and environment and chemical experts testified about the protection of drinking water and the impact of the spill in the state.
“We need answers now,” West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant said. She added that the spill is still causing problems for businesses and tourism and anxiety among residents.
Above-ground chemical storage tanks like the one that leaked into the Elk River sit all over the U.S., but both Olson and R. Peter Weaver, vice president of government affairs for the International Liquid Terminals Association, whose members include chemical-owning companies, said they don’t know how many of them there are.
“It’s basically impossible to know that right now, but we’ve reviewed literally scores these sourcewater assessments and virtually every one of them has some storage tanks that are near… the surface water supplies, often done because it’s convenient,” said Olson, of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Boxer said more than 80,000 chemicals are out there that could become potential pollutants.
“We’ve got a massive problem, and we don’t know how massive it is,” Boxer said.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
The harmful use of precious water, along with the great potential to pollute other sources of water, are my greatest concerns with fracking. DV
Wednesday 5 February 2014 11.01 EST
An aerial photograph shows a large field of fracking sites in a north-western Colorado valley. It can take millions of gallons of fresh water to frack a single well. Photograph: Susan Heller/Getty images
America’s oil and gas rush is depleting water supplies in the driest and most drought-prone areas of the country, from Texas to California, new research has found.
Of the nearly 40,000 oil and gas wells drilled since 2011, three-quarters were located in areas where water is scarce, and 55% were in areas experiencing drought, the report by the Ceres investor network found.
Fracking those wells used 97bn gallons of water, raising new concerns about unforeseen costs of America’s energy rush.
“Hydraulic fracturing is increasing competitive pressures for water in some of the country’s most water-stressed and drought-ridden regions,” said Mindy Lubber, president of the Ceres green investors’ network.
Without new tougher regulations on water use, she warned industry could be on a “collision course” with other water users.
“It’s a wake-up call,” said Prof James Famiglietti, a hydrologist at the University of California, Irvine. “We understand as a country that we need more energy but it is time to have a conversation about what impacts there are, and do our best to try to minimise any damage.”
It can take millions of gallons of fresh water to frack a single well, and much of the drilling is tightly concentrated in areas where water is in chronically short supply, or where there have been multi-year droughts. Half of the 97bn gallons of water was used to frack wells in Texas, which has experienced severe drought for years – and where production is expected to double over the next five years. Farming and cities are still the biggest users of water, the report found. But it warned the added demand for fracking in the Eagle Ford, at the heart of the Texas oil and gas rush, was hitting small, rural communities hard.
“Shale producers are having significant impacts at the county level, especially in smaller rural counties with limited water infrastructure capacity,” the report said. “With water use requirements for shale producers in the Eagle Ford already high and expected to double in the coming 10 years, these rural counties can expect severe water stress challenges in the years ahead.”
Local aquifer levels in the Eagle Ford formation have dropped by up to 300ft over the last few years.
A number of small communities in Texas oil and gas country have already run out of water or are in danger of running out of water in days, pushed to the brink by a combination of drought and high demand for water for fracking.
Twenty-nine communities across Texas could run out of water in 90 days, according to the Texas commission on environmental quality. Many reservoirs in west Texas are at only 25% capacity.
Nearly all of the wells in Colorado (97%) were located in areas where most of the ground and surface water is already stretched between farming and cities, the report said. It said water demand for fracking in the state was expected to double to 6bn gallons by 2015 – or about twice as much as the entire city of Boulder uses in a year.
In California, where a drought emergency was declared last month, 96% of new oil and gas wells were located in areas where there was already fierce competition for water.
The pattern holds for other regions caught up in the oil and gas rush. Most of the wells in New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming were also located in areas of high water stress, the report said.
Some oil and gas producers were beginning to recycle water, especially in the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania, the report said. But it said those savings were too little to offset the huge demand for water for fracking in the coming years.
Large hoses run from hydraulic fracturing drill sites in Midland, Texas. Fracking uses huge amounts water to free oil and natural gas trapped deep in underground rocks. With fresh water not as plentiful, companies have been looking for ways to recycle their waste. Photograph: Pat Sullivan/AP
Special thanks to Richard Charter
By John H. Cushman Jr., InsideClimate News
Feb 7, 2014
Alberta Premier Alison Redford during a speech in Calgary in November 2013. Alberta goverment agencies devoted to expanding oil sands development funded research that was used by the State Department in its environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline. Credit: Chris Schwarz
The analysis of greenhouse gas emissions presented by the State Department in its new environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline includes dozens of references to reports by Jacobs Consultancy, a group that is owned by a big tar sands developer and that was hired by the Alberta government-which strongly favors the project.
In the end, the environmental review took into account much of the Jacobs group’s work-though not quite as much as the Alberta government wanted. The State Department report will play a crucial role in the Obama administration’s decision about whether to approve the Canada-to-Texas tar sands pipeline.
The Jacobs Consultancy is a subsidiary of Jacobs Engineering, a giant natural resources development company with extensive operations in Alberta’s tar sands fields. The engineering company has worked on dozens of major projects in the region over the years. Its most recent contract, with Canadian oil sands leader Suncor, was announced in January.
“The Alberta Oil Sands are a very important component of our business,” the parent company said in late 2011, announcing seven new contracts in the region. “Jacobs has a strong history in the area, and we are pleased to support our clients in these initiatives.”
Jacobs’s deep involvement with the expansion of the tar sands extends beyond its engineering activity. Jacobs Consultancy has carried out influential studies assessing the oil sands’ carbon footprint-research that has played a role in in the Obama administration’s review of the Keystone XL.
Two of its widely cited reports were paid for by government agencies in Alberta that are devoted to oil sands expansion.
One, done in 2009, was among a handful of studies chosen by the State Department in its Jan. 31 environmental impact statement to represent a range of estimates of the tar sands’ greenhouse gas impact.
As a rule, the Jacobs carbon footprint estimates of the tar sands oil that would move through the Keystone XL were considerably lower than alternative estimates produced by the U.S. National Energy Technology Laboratory, or NETL, which is part of the Energy Department and is independent of tar sands commercial interests.
Rather than choose a single figure, the State Department presented a range of estimates. Compared to other sources of oil, it said, annual incremental emissions of tar sands oil moving from Alberta to the Gulf Coast through the Keystone would fall between 1.3 million tons of carbon dioxide and 27.4 million tons.
The 1.3 million figure came from Jacobs; the 27.4 million figure from NETL.
A spokesman for Jacobs did not return a call.
The research is significant because President Obama has said he will base his decision on whether the project will “significantly exacerbate” climate-changing pollution.
Alberta has made extensive use of the Jacobs data when its officials have lobbied governments and politicians against imposing strict limits on tar sands imports because of the fuel’s heavy carbon footprint, including in California and in Europe.
The Jacobs Factor
Jacobs may be an unfamiliar name to the public, but it is one of the best-known and often-cited sources by researchers studying the emissions of carbon dioxide from the tar sands and how they compare to other types of fuel. The Congressional Research Service, for example, cited the Jacobs studies in its own survey of the tar sands’ carbon footprint, and they have figured in past environmental impact statements about other tar sands pipelines.
When Alberta sent the State Department its official comments last year seeking tweaks to the Keystone draft environmental report, which was still under review, the name Jacobs occurred two dozen times, on six of the Canadian letter’s 19 pages.
Alberta’s repeated invocations of the Jacobs group’s expert opinions centered on the two influential studies the group wrote in recent years, one published in 2009 and the other in 2012. Both had to do with measuring the carbon footprint of Canada’s tar sands crude oil.
The 2009 study, in particular, has been widely cited since its publication in just about every report examining how much dirtier the tar sands fuel is than other fuels from anywhere in the world.
In the State Department’s final environmental impact statement, as in the draft, the Jacobs group’s work is mentioned repeatedly in the same breath as work by the National Energy Technology Laboratory.
But as Alberta’s government sought to influence the conclusions in the lead-up to the crucial final State Department review, provincial officials wanted the contractors writing the agency’s environmental study to pay more attention to the 2012 Jacobs study than the 2009 one.
The 2012 study contained more recent data, the Canadians pointed out.
It also presented a prettier picture of pollution from the tar sands as compared to pollution from other sources of oil.
Alberta’s government also wanted the State Department in its final review to correct one citation of Jacobs in its bibliographic list of references. It had to do with who funded the 2012 study.
The citation said the 2012 study, like the 2009 study, had been conducted for the Alberta Energy Research Institute, an arm of the provincial government sponsoring research on behalf of tar sands enterprises.
Not so, Alberta noted. Rather, the later work had been commissioned by the Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commission, the province’s other arm-devoted to pushing tars sands as well.
Either way, Alberta had been paying for research to advance its strategic interest in producing more oil from the tar sands and shipping it to more new markets.
That has been a traditional role for Jacobs. Often, its work has been cited-twisted, according to some pipeline opponents-by the governments of Alberta and Canada or by sympathetic research institutes to further the cause of expanding the tar sands and building new corridors for sending its oil abroad, such as the Keystone XL.
Alberta Half Loses
In the end, the final environmental impact statement for the Keystone XL pipeline leaned more heavily on Jacobs’s 2009 study than the 2012 one preferred by Alberta.
The 2009 study was deemed more useful for dealing with the Keystone XL situation, as it compared Canadian crude oil to typical U.S. crudes. The 2012 study was more useful in Canada’s fight to tear down the European Union’s fuel quality directive, a law that would effectively discourage tar sands shipments to refineries in Europe if is carried out.
“Because Jacobs Consultancy (2012) focuses on the European market, this analysis continued to use Jacobs Consultancy (2009),” the final State Department report explained in a footnote.
Either way, the Jacobs work was meant to play down the carbon footprint of tar sands fuels by emphasizing factors that would tend to depress any calculations of the pollution burden.
In its 2009 document, Jacobs explained that previous studies of the carbon footprint of tar sands-such as one by the firm Farrel & Sperling that found the footprint of tar sands fuel to be 41 percent higher than other grades-had neglected to consider various factors that would make the picture look less stark.
Jacobs was hired, it said in the 2009 report, to provide a “fair and balanced” assessment for purposes of countering California’s low carbon fuel standard, which inhibits sales of high carbon fuel like Alberta’s.
That assignment came from Alberta Energy Research Institute, now operating under the name “Alberta Innovates,” and previously known as the Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority, established in 1974 “to promote the development and use of new technologies for oil sands and heavy crude oil production.”
Special thanks to Richard Charter
This is important. Please cut and past the link to sign the petition today. DV
Keep Fracking Out of Florida
Water drinkers against fracking
House Bills 71 and 157 may seem benign at first glance; they call for the creation of an online registry for fracking in Florida. But if these bills pass, they will pave the way for drillers to come to the Sunshine State, frack our fragile subsurface lands, and expose our productive ecosystems to toxic chemicals.
The bills permit the use of the discredited FracFocus.org as the state’s official registry, and they expressly prohibit the Department of Environmental Protection from requiring the disclosure of chemical compositions or concentrations. The bills also provide an exemption from public records requirements and allow drillers to report their activities two months after fracking begins.
Help protect Florida’s incredible natural resources — our water, forests, wetlands and wildlife. And help keep our skies clear of the methane this practice would produce.
Act now to tell Governor Rick Scott and your legislators to vote no on H.B. 71 and H.B. 157 and keep fracking out of Florida.
University of California Berkeley School of Law | Energy | Oceans | Regulation | Water
Jayni Hein February 4, 2014
As prior blog posts and reports have detailed, hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) has been occurring onshore in California for decades, yet without full disclosure to the public or state regulatory agencies. Recently, new reports of offshore fracking in both California and federal waters have surfaced, showing that fracking has also been underway off the coast for many years, including in California’s most biologically sensitive areas. Yet, the California Coastal Commission, which is tasked with protecting California’s marine environment, was not notified about new fracking activity within its jurisdiction, and issued no coastal development permits to allow it.
The increased public attention to offshore fracking in the state comes in the wake of a series of stories by the Associated Press in 2013 that revealed at least a dozen offshore fracking operations in the Santa Barbara Channel in federal waters, and additional operations in near- shore waters within California jurisdiction.
Perhaps a reaction to the growing attention to offshore development, last month U.S. EPA, Region 9, announced that it will require oil and gas operators engaged in hydraulic fracturing off the southern California coast to disclose any chemicals discharged into the Pacific Ocean. This disclosure requirement is part of a revised National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) General Permit for offshore oil and gas operations in Southern California.
Risks of Offshore Fracking
Fracking presents risks to the environment, whether on land or offshore. As detailed in our prior Berkeley Law report, fracking
produces hazardous wastewater which must be handled and properly disposed of, poses the risk of well casing failure and spills, and uses precious freshwater resources. Further, fracking injection wells have led to induced seismic events.
Offshore, fracking wastewater is either discharged into the ocean or transported for onshore underground injection. Any well casing failure, spills or blowouts in the ocean will immediately pollute marine waters. Offshore fracking also increases related vessel traffic, with concomitant increases in noise pollution, air pollution, and ship strike mortality for whales and other protected marine mammals.
Much of the recent offshore fracking activity near California has taken place in the Santa Barbara Channel, home to blue, humpback and sperm whales, sea otters, sea turtles, and numerous protected and endangered birds and fish species.
Fracking in California Waters
California, like other states, owns and controls the mineral resources within 3 nautical miles of the coast. The California State Lands Commission halted further leasing of state offshore tracts for new oil and gas development after the disastrous Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969. In 1994, the California legislature codified this ban on new leases of state offshore tracts by passing the California Coastal Sanctuary Act. (See Cal. Pub. Resources Code § 6240, et. seq.).
While California has long had a ban on new drilling offshore, this ban does not prohibit drilling from existing or “grandfathered” platforms in state waters. California’s Department of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), which regulates oil and gas development in the state, has approved individual well drilling plans for at least four such “grandfathered” platforms and five oil and gas producing islands in state waters. And it did so apparently without communicating with the Coastal Commission about this activity. As such, the Coastal Commission never had the opportunity to assess the potential harm to coastal waters from these operations.
The California Coastal Commission has authority to review and potentially prevent the permitting of any activities within state
jurisdiction that may harm the California coast. (See Cal. Pub. Resources Code §§ 30001, 30231). The Coastal Commission is tasked with “protect[ting] the ecological balance of the coastal zone and prevent[ing] its deterioration and destruction.” (Id. § 30001). The Coastal Act requires that the Commission issue a coastal development permit for “any development” in the coastal zone. (Id. § 30600). While the Coastal Commission has delegated most permitting authority to local governments, the Coastal Act specifically requires any development on tidelands, submerged lands, public trust lands, or any major energy facility to obtain a coastal development permit directly from the Coastal Commission. (Id. §§ 30519, 30601).
In evaluating permits, the Commission weighs the environmental impacts of the proposed development against the public benefit, and ensures that the proposed development is consistent with the goals of the Coastal Act. (Id. § 30200, et seq.). And on any public trusts lands, the Coastal Commission, as well as the State Lands Commission, must ensure that any development is consistent with the common law public trust doctrine. (See, e.g., National Audubon Society v. Superior Court (1983) 33 Cal.3d 419, 435-437).
While newly-enacted SB 4 ostensibly applies to both onshore and offshore fracking within the State of California, it does not abrogate the Coastal Commission’s responsibility for protecting the coastal zone. The savings clause in SB 4 eliminates this possibility, and sets DOGGR’s new regulations as a floor, not a ceiling. (See Pub. Res. Code § 3160(n)). At minimum, DOGGR should alert the Coastal Commission to any proposed new or expanded fracking within state waters so that the Commission can exercise its duty to protect the coastal zone.
Fracking in Federal Waters
Three miles off the coast, federal jurisdiction begins and state jurisdiction ends. Here, too, there is a history of long-term bans on new leasing for oil and gas development in federal waters off the California coast, dating back to the Santa Barbara oil spill. But, drilling and production have continued on existing leases, and a limited number of new platforms have been constructed in the area since 1969. The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (“BSEE”), successor agency to the Minerals Management Service (MMS), regulates offshore oil and gas development and exploration.
There are 23 existing oil and gas development platforms in federal waters off the California coast, many of them in the Santa Barbara Channel. Approximately half of the oil platforms in federal waters in the Santa Barbara Channel discharge their wastewater, which often includes fracking chemicals, directly to the ocean, according to a California Coastal Commission report. U.S. EPA has issued a general NPDES permit for offshore oil and gas platforms to discharge this wastewater; however, the Coastal Commission has raised concerns about inadequate monitoring and enforcement of compliance with the NPDES permit terms. (See Coastal Commission Staff Regulatory Report, p. 9).
In federal waters, the Coastal Commission can demand that fracking receives proper scrutiny under the Coastal Zone Management Act (“CZMA”) and object to any consistency certifications if it finds that fracking will pose a threat to the California coast or coastal waters. The Coastal Zone Management Act provides that any federal license or permit for activities affecting the coastal zone of a state may not be granted until a state with an approved Coastal Management Plan concurs that the activities authorized by the permit are consistent with the Plan. In California, the CZMA authority is the Coastal Commission. The Commission has approved consistency determinations on for only 13 of the 23 existing platforms—the rest predate establishment of the consistency review process by the state. However, BSEE has approved applications for permits to drill and applications for permits to modify as “minor revisions” to these platforms, potentially circumventing consistency review under California’s Coastal Management Plan.
Meanwhile, Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) has called on the federal government to impose a moratorium on fracking in federal waters off the California coast until a comprehensive study is conducted to determine the impacts on the marine environment and public health– much like the statewide environmental study mandated by SB 4. Capps likely faces an uphill battle in the District, as a similar measure was rejected by the House in late 2013.
Coastal Commission Available Actions
Here in California, the Coastal Commission is holding a follow-up meeting next week to discuss the status of its investigation into offshore fracking. The Commission can take some actions now to protect California’s coast and marine waters by:
* Requiring that oil companies fracking in state waters obtain coastal development permits from the Commission before they are allowed to conduct any operations, including expansion of existing platforms or operations;
* Requiring EPA and BSEE to obtain consistency determinations for all offshore oil and gas fracking activities in federal waters off the California Coast; and
* Issuing guidance to local governments to amend local coastal programs to prevent fracking that threatens coastal waters.
There is also much more that the federal government can do to better regulate offshore fracking. This subject is beyond the scope of this blog post, but I flag this for future research and commentary. The Environmental Defense Center in Santa Barbara recently released a report on this topic.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Published on Friday, January 31, 2014 by Common Dreams
McKibben: “The State Department has given Obama all the room he needs to do what he promised in both campaigns: to take serious steps against global warming.”
– Jacob Chamberlain, staff writer
Protestors demonstrated against the Keystone XL pipeline in San Francisco last year. (Photo: Getty Images)The State Department released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) of the Keystone XL pipeline on Friday. Environmental groups and climate activists are saying that given Obama’s promise to judge the project on its climate impacts there is no way—given the review’s contents—he can possibly approve it now.
In a press call following the release of the review, 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben said that a close reading of the report shows that the climate impacts it recognizes are undeniable.
“The report concluded that in a scenario where we take climate change seriously and regulate climate pollution, this pipeline will indeed have a ‘significant impact’ on climate change,” said McKibben. “So now we’ll find out if that’s the world Barack Obama and John Kerry want. This report gives President Obama everything he needs in order to block this project. This is the first environmental issue in years to bring Americans into the streets in big numbers, and now they’ll be there in ever greater numbers to make sure the President makes the right call.”
“President Obama now has all the information he needs to reject the pipeline. Piping the dirtiest oil on the planet through the heart of America would endanger our farms, our communities, our fresh water and our climate. That is absolutely not in our national interest. Keystone XL should be rejected.” —Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, NRDC
Following reports in the corporate media indicating that the final environmental review gives the go-ahead for the Obama administration to approve the controversial pipeline, environmental groups are calling this wishful thinking that accepts the spin of the fossil fuel industry. According to climate experts, the report actually corresponds to what the scientific evidence has shown all along—that the Keystone XL pipeline is dangerous, carbon intensive, hard to clean up, and the dirtiest fuel on the planet.
“The new review represents an important shift from prior analyses because it no longer tries to claim that Keystone’s impacts will be negligible,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity. “But even so, the environmental consequences are clear as day: oil spills, polluted rivers, and wildlife directly in harm’s way.”
According to the Sierra Club:
“Even though the State Department continues to downplay clear evidence that the Keystone XL pipeline would lead to tar sands expansion and significantly worsen carbon pollution, it has, for the first time, acknowledged that the proposed project could accelerate climate change,” said Susan Casey-Lefkowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “President Obama now has all the information he needs to reject the pipeline. Piping the dirtiest oil on the planet through the heart of America would endanger our farms, our communities, our fresh water and our climate. That is absolutely not in our national interest. Keystone XL should be rejected.”
“Keystone XL will transport nearly a million barrels of highly toxic tar sands oil through America’s heartland each and every day for 50 years or more — only to have much of it refined and exported,” said Snape. “Along the way it will crush some of the last habitat for endangered species like the swift fox and whooping crane. It’ll pollute water used by millions of people and emit as many greenhouse gases as 51 coal-fired power plants.”
“The State Department acknowledges there is risk to our water and Keystone XL will increase tarsands production,” said Jane Kleeb, Bold Nebraska executive director. “TransCanada is fighting for their bottom line, while farmers and ranchers are fighting for their livelihoods and the Ogallala Aquifer which at one point our Governor stood with us to protect. We are in this fight to win and are confident Pres. Obama will make the right decision and deny the permit.”
“The State Department has given Obama all the room he needs to do what he promised in both campaigns: to take serious steps against global warming,” said McKibben earlier on Friday. “He’s about the only person who hasn’t weighed in on Keystone XL; now we’ll see if he’s good for his word.”
As 350.org said in a press statement: “Don’t let the convoluted process fool you. This is President Obama’s decision and his alone–and he has all the information he needs to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. The President has already laid out a climate test for Keystone XL, that it can’t significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions. It’s clear that Keystone XL fails that test.”
No final decision from the Obama administration has yet been made. The process now opens up to a 30-day public comment period.
And as the Associated Press reports: “The Environmental Protection Agency and other departments will have 90 days to comment before State makes a recommendation to Obama on whether the project is in the national interest. A final decision by the government is not expected before summer.”
On Twitter, key members of the climate movement were pointing out the fallacies and corporate spin they saw in early reporting on the FEIS by some:
Michael Brune @bruneski
Don’t believe the oil industry’s hype. State Dpt analysis shows tar sands oil is more toxic, more corrosive, & more carbon-intensive. #nokxl
3:22 PM – 31 Jan 2014
Published on Friday, January 31, 2014 by The Guardian
A State Department report fails to take into account the full climate impacts of Keystone XL. Who is Obama protecting?
by Michael Mann
I have made my position on the Keystone XL pipeline quite clear. Approving this hotly debated pipeline would send America down the wrong path. The science tells us now is the time that we should be throwing everything we have into creating a clean 21st century energy economy, not doubling down on the dirty energy that is imperiling our planet.
Now that the State Department has just released a final environmental impact report on Keystone XL, which appears to downplay the threat, and greatly increases the odds that the Obama administration will approve the project, I feel I must weigh in once again.
The simple fact is this: if Keystone XL is built, it will be easier to exploit fossil fuel reserves large enough to drastically destabilize the climate. A direct pipeline to refineries and global markets makes the business of polluting the atmosphere that much cheaper and easier.
The only truly accurate examination of the pipeline would include a full cost accounting its environmental footprint. It needs to take into account how much energy is consumed in refining and transporting the crude from oil sands. It must acknowledge that the pipeline would lower the cost and raise the convenience of extracting and exporting the incredibly carbon-intensive deposits of gas.
There are two main issues at stake in the Keystone XL decision: path dependency and US leadership. Path dependency is the term use to describe the fact that once a policy is put into place, it then constrains future options to those within that policy framework. More simply, the choices we make now determine what choices we get to make in the future.
A classic example is the “qwerty” keyboard layout. Even though this layout may not be the most efficient, it was the first one, and so it became the standard. New keyboard layouts would have to compete with an established format, meaning consumers would have to adapt to a new system they had no experience with. On the basis solely of legacy, inferior standards or policies remain in place, more or less out of inertia.
So, looking through the lens of path dependency, what does the Keystone XL project look like?
It looks like decades of extracting high-CO2 fuel at a time when we should be winding down such carbon intensive resource exploitation. It looks like decades of oil spills across America’s heartland written off as an acceptable side effect of making money. It looks like decades of continued political lobbying against any CO2-limiting regulations.
If approved and built, it looks like the United State is failing to take climate change seriously by virtually guaranteeing the massive Canadian oil sands reserved are exploited. That, I’m afraid, is the real threat of Keystone XL – the loss of US status as a global leader.
As the world looks to 2015 for the establishment of legally binding emissions targets, it is looking to the US for inspiration and leadership. While opponents of carbon regulations routinely point to China and India as an excuse for further inaction, the US is still the dominant force in world politics. If Obama puts his foot down and tells us the pipeline will not be built, he will be telling the world that the United States is committed to a future powered by clean renewable energy. For better or for worse, as the US goes so goes the planet.
If the United States takes the climatologically necessary step of preventing the Keystone pipeline, it sends a message more powerful than any protest, watered down regulation or rosy proclamation. It says that business as usual is no longer an option. It says carbon pollution is a serious problem. It says that we will no longer be held hostage by ideologues demanding, “More fossil fuels, or the economy gets it!”
Protecting our planet from Keystone XL would protect US standing on the global stage, and by reassuring all nations that the United States takes climate change seriously, it would protect international negotiations from devolving into a finger pointing, blame shifting debacle. Protecting us from Keystone XL would protect us from decades of continued foreign influence on US energy policy. Protecting us from Keystone XL would protect US land from oil spills and leaks.
Most importantly, protecting us from Keystone XL would protect our atmosphere from one of the most carbon-intensive fuels ever discovered.
If the president won’t protect us, who is he protecting?
© 2014 Guardian News and Media
Michael Mann is Distinguished Professor of Meteorology at Penn State University. He was recognised with other Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change authors for their contribution to the IPCC’s 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Follow him @MichaelEMann
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 31, 2014
CONTACT: Bill Snape, (202) 536-9351
In a Shift, New State Department Review No Longer Attempts to Say Keystone Impacts Would be ‘Negligible’
WASHINGTON – January 31 – The controversial Keystone XL pipeline — a project that will worsen the climate crisis and threaten wildlife and waterways along its route — moved a step closer to approval today with the State Department’s release of a final environmental review.
“Keystone XL is a turning point for President Obama in deciding whether he’s embracing the climate-killing fossil fuels of the past or sane energy sources for the future,” said Bill Snape, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Oil companies may love this pipeline, but it’s a disaster in the making for our climate and for the wildlife in its path.”
Unlike prior reviews of the pipeline, the new State Department review does not attempt to claim that the environmental impacts would be minimal.
“The new review represents an important shift from prior analyses because it no longer tries to claim that Keystone’s impacts will be negligible,” Snape said. “But even so, the environmental consequences are clear as day: oil spills, polluted rivers, and wildlife directly in harm’s way.”
Last June President Obama warned of the dangers of climate change and said Keystone would only be in the national interest if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” The State Department and independent experts have already determined that Keystone XL will vastly increase tar sands development in Alberta, Canada. Acclaimed climate scientist Dr. James Hansen has said Keystone would be “game over” for avoiding catastrophic climate change.
“Keystone XL will transport nearly a million barrels of highly toxic tar sands oil through America’s heartland each and every day for 50 years or more — only to have much of it refined and exported,” said Snape. “Along the way it will crush some of the last habitat for endangered species like the swift fox and whooping crane. It’ll pollute water used by millions of people and emit as many greenhouse gases as 51 coal-fired power plants.”
Last year the Center released a report on the risks posed to endangered species by Keystone XL. The Center also released a video highlighting the dangers of oil pipelines — a key point given the State Department’s estimate that the 1,700 Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline will spill at least 100 times during its lifetime.
At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature – to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive.
by Thomas Homer-Dixon
Toronto Globe and Mail, December 20, 2013
For years, NASA has produced a composite photograph of North America at night. Taken by satellite, the photo shows huge patches of light marking New York, Los Angeles, and Toronto. Smaller patches mark cities like Denver, Seattle, and Calgary.
Recently something strange has appeared in this image. Another patch of light°©larger than Chicago’s°©now glows in a sparsely populated region just south of the Canada-US border near Saskatchewan.
The light comes from thousands of gas flares at oil wells tapping North Dakota’s Bakken shale. Farther south in Texas, a broad swath shaped like a scimitar marks the Eagle Ford shale play. In both places, drillers are mainly seeking oil. But because it’s often too costly to capture the natural gas associated with the oil, they burn it.
This flaring is a staggering waste of energy and a significant source of carbon emissions. But waste and environmental damage get short shrift in the popular discussion of these energy plays. Instead, the buzz is about how new hydrofracking technologies that liberate oil from shale have changed our energy future. The US is on course to be the world’s biggest oil producer and to achieve energy independence, the story goes. Shale plays around the planet mean we’ll soon be awash in oil, and prices will plummet.
But evidence is accumulating that fracking, at least when it comes to oil, has been hyped. Yes, the US is experiencing a short-term production boom, lasting perhaps another ten to fifteen years. Then its output will fall steeply. Globally, fracking isn’t going to change the fundamentals of the planet’s worsening oil-supply crunch. As the International Energy Agency says, fracking “does not mean that the world is on the cusp of a new era of oil abundance.”
No technology, no matter how ingenious, can repeal geology. It takes a huge amount of energy to drill long curving wells that follow horizontal strata kilometers from the well head, then crack the shale with high-pressure water and chemicals, and finally bring the liberated oil to the surface. Also, output from these wells drops quickly.
In a recent optimistic analysis, the US Energy Information Administration says drillers are learning how to put holes in the ground faster and release more oil from each hole; rig productivity in the Bakken field has quadrupled since 2007. But a close look at the data suggests that the EIA exaggerates the trend: rig productivity has actually varied wildly, and it may have been higher in 2009. Also, output from wells over a month old is declining 6.3 percent each month, for an annual rate of 53 percent.
A 53 percent annual decline is worse than analysts’ most pessimistic estimates. Canadian geologist David Hughes has examined Bakken drilling data closely and puts the figure at 44 percent. Either way, when it comes to shale oil, exploration companies face the ultimate Red Queen energy race: they have to run flat out just to stay in place. In an industry magazine, Lynn Westfall, EIA’s director of energy markets, acknowledges the problem. “For every 100 barrels you produce from new Bakken wells, 70 barrels of that go just to replace the decline from old wells.”
But the problems don’t end there. So much energy is needed to drill these wells that only the best produce a large energy surplus. Egan Waggoner, a graduate researcher working with Charles Hall at State University of New York, has done preliminary calculations. For wells in Bakken’s “sweet spot,” which makes up roughly a third of the field’s total area, the energy return is around 12 to 1°©about the return of US conventional oil wells. For wells outside the sweet spot, the return is 4 to 1 or less. As a result, drillers generally tap the sweet spot first and move to less-productive zones later. Hughes estimates that Bakken’s output will peak before 2020 and that, if drilling continues at current rates of about 2,000 wells a year, the field will be saturated with wells by 2025.
The price of Brent crude, which is the international benchmark, has stayed between 100 to 125 dollars a barrel for the last three years despite a struggling world economy. An OECD analysis released earlier this year projects a price of 190 dollars by 2020, given reasonable estimates of oil demand in India and China. Fracking may change the oil supply balance in North America for a while, but it’s not going to change the underlying global reality: cheap oil is a thing of the past.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Published on Thursday, January 30, 2014 by TomDispatch.com
Is Fracking About to Arrive on Your Doorstep?
by Ellen Cantarow
For the past several years, I’ve been writing about what happens when big oil and gas corporations drill where people live. “Fracking” — high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which extracts oil and methane from deep shale — has become my beat. My interviewees live in Pennsylvania’s shale-gas fields; among Wisconsin’s hills, where corporations have been mining silica, an essential fracking ingredient; and in New York, where one of the most powerful grassroots movements in the state’s long history of dissent has become ground zero for anti-fracking activism across the country. Some of the people I’ve met have become friends. We email, talk by phone, and visit. But until recently I’d always felt at a remove from the dangers they face: contaminated water wells, poisoned air, sick and dying animals, industry-related illnesses. Under Massachusetts, where I live, lie no methane- or oil-rich shale deposits, so there’s no drilling.
But this past September, I learned that Spectra Energy, one of the largest natural gas infrastructure companies in North America, had proposed changes in a pipeline it owns, the Algonquin, which runs from Texas into my hometown, Boston. The expanded Algonquin would carry unconventional gas — gas extracted from deep rock formations like shale — into Massachusetts from the great Marcellus formation that sprawls along the Appalachian basin from West Virginia to New York. Suddenly, I’m in the crosshairs of the fracking industry, too.
We all are.
Gas fracked from shale formations goes by several names (“unconventional gas,” “natural gas,” “shale gas”), but whatever it’s called, it’s mainly methane. Though we may not know it, fracked gas increasingly fuels our stoves and furnaces. It also helps to fuel the floods, hurricanes, droughts, wildfires, and ever-hotter summers that are engulfing the planet. The industry’s global-warming footprint is actually greater than that of coal. (A Cornell University study that established this in 2011 has been reconfirmed since.) Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2) and an ecological nightmare due to its potential for dangerous leaks.
According to former Mobil Oil executive Lou Allstadt, the greatest danger of fracking is the methane it adds to the atmosphere through leaks from wells, pipelines, and other associated infrastructure. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has found leakage rates of 2.3% to 17% of annual production at gas and oil fields in California, Colorado, and Utah. Moreover, no technology can guarantee long-term safety decades into the future when it comes to well casings (there are hundreds of thousands of frack wells in the U.S. to date) or in the millions of miles of pipelines that crisscross this country.
The energy industry boasts that fracking is a “bridge” to renewable energies, but a 2012 Massachusetts Institute of Technology study found that shale gas development could end up crowding out alternative energies. That’s because as fracking spreads, it drives natural gas prices down, spurring greater consumer use, and so more fracking. In a country deficient in regulations and high in corporate pressures on government, this cascade effect creates enormous disincentives for investment in large alternative energy programs.
The sorry state of U.S. renewable energy development proves the case. As the fracking industry has surged, the country continues to lag far behind Germany and Denmark, the world’s renewable-energy leaders. A quarter-century after the world’s leading climate change scientist, James Hansen, first warned Congress about global warming, Americans have only bad options: coal, shale gas, oil, or nuclear power.
Living in Gasland
There’s been a great deal of reporting about “the drilling part” of fracking — the moment when drills penetrate shale and millions of gallons of chemical-and-sand-laced water are pumped down at high pressure to fracture the rock. Not so much has been written about all that follows. It’s the “everything else” that has turned a drilling technology into a land-and-water-devouring industry so vast that it’s arguably one of the most pervasive extractive adventures in history.
According to Cornell University’s Anthony Ingraffea, the co-author of a study that established the global warming footprint of the industry, fracking “involves much more than drill-the-well-frack-the-well-connect-the-pipeline-and-go-away.” Almost all other industries “occur in a zoned industrial area, inside of buildings, separated from home and farm, separated from schools.” By contrast, the industry spawned by fracking “permits the oil and gas industries to establish [their infrastructures] next to where we live. They are imposing on us the requirement to locate our homes, hospitals, and schools inside their industrial space.”
Wells, flanked by batteries of vats, tanks, and diesel trucks, often stand less than a mile from homes. So do compressor stations that condense gas for its long journey through pipelines, and which are known to emit carcinogens and neurotoxins. Radioactive waste (spewed up in fracking flow-back and drill cuttings) gets dumped on roads and in ordinary waste sites. Liquified natural gas (LNG) terminals that move this energy source for export are a constant danger due to explosions, fires, spills, and leaks. Every part of the fracking colossus, it seems, has its rap sheet of potential environmental and public health harms.
Of all these, pipelines are the industry’s most ubiquitous feature. U.S. Energy Information Administration maps show landscapes so densely veined by pipelines that they look like smashed windshields. There are more than 350,000 miles of gas pipelines in the U.S. These are for the transmission of gas from region to region. Not included are more than two million miles of distribution and service pipelines, which run through thousands of cities and towns with new branches under constant construction. All these pipelines mean countless Americans — even those living far from gas fields, compressor stations, and terminals — find themselves on the frontlines of fracking.
The letter arrived in the spring of 2011. It offered Leona Briggs $10,400 to give a group of companies the right to run a pipeline with an all-American name — the Constitution — through her land. For 50 years Briggs has lived in the town of Davenport, just south of the Susquehanna River in New York’s Western Catskills. Maybe she seemed like an easy mark. After all, her house’s clapboard exterior needs a paint job and she’s living on a meager Social Security check every month. But she refused.
She treasures her land, her apple trees, the wildlife that surrounds her. She points toward a tree, a home to an American kestrel. “There was a whole nest of them in this pine tree out here.” Her voice trembles with emotion. “My son was born here, my daughter was raised here, my granddaughter was raised here. It’s home. And they’re gonna take it from us?”
Company representatives began bullying her, she says. If she didn’t accept, they claimed, they’d reduce the price to $7,100. And if she kept on being stubborn, they’d finally take what they needed by eminent domain. But Briggs didn’t budge. “It’s not a money thing. This is our home. I’m sixty-five years old. And if that pipeline goes through I can’t live here.”
The Constitution Pipeline would carry shale gas more than 120 miles from Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County through New York’s Schoharie County. This would be the first interstate transmission pipeline in the region, and at 30 inches in diameter, a big one. Four corporations — Williams, a Tulsa-based energy infrastructure company, Cabot Oil & Gas, Piedmont Natural Gas, and WGL Holdings — are the partners. Williams claims the pipeline “is not designed to facilitate natural gas drilling in New York.” But it would connect with two others — the Iroquois, running from the Long Island shore to Canada, and the Tennessee, extending from the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast into Pennsylvania’s frack fields. This link-up, opponents believe, means that the Constitution would be able to export fracked gas from New York, the only Marcellus state to have resisted drilling so far.
In 2010, a high-pressure pipeline owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Company exploded in San Bruno, California, killing eight people and destroying 38 homes. It was the same size as the proposed Constitution pipeline. What makes that distant tragedy personal to Briggs is her memory of two local pipeline explosions. In the town of Blenheim, 22 miles east of her home, 10 houses were destroyed in 1990 in what a news report called “a cauldron of fire.” Another pipeline erupted in 2004 right in the village of Davenport. From her front porch, Briggs could see the flames that destroyed a house and forced the evacuation of neighbors within a half-mile radius. “That was an 8-inch pipe,” she says. “What would a 30-inch gas line do out here?”
Carl Weimer, executive director of Pipeline Safety Trust, a non-profit watchdog organization, says that, on average, there is “a significant incident — somewhere — about every other day. And someone ends up in the hospital or dead about every nine or ten days.” This begs the question: are pipelines carrying shale gas different in their explosive potential than other pipelines?
“There isn’t any database that allows you to get at that,” says Richard Kuprewicz, a pipeline safety expert and consultant of 40 years’ experience. “If it’s a steel pipeline and it has enough gas in it under enough pressure, it can leak or rupture.” Many pipelines, says Kuprewicz, aren’t bound by any safety regulations, and even when they are, enforcement can often be lax. Where regulations exist, he continues, corporate compliance is uneven. “Some companies comply with and exceed regulations, others don’t. If I want to find out about what’s going on, I may [have to] get additional information via subpoena.”
In 2013 alone, Williams, one of the partners in the Constitution pipeline, had five incidents, including two major explosions in New Jersey and Louisiana. These were just the latest in what an online publication, Natural Gas Watch, calls “a lengthy record of pipeline safety violations.” As for Cabot, its name has become synonymous with water contamination in Dimock, Pennsylvania. Even that state’s Department of Environmental Protection, historically joined at the hip to gas companies, imposed sanctions on Cabot in 2010. (The corporation later settled with 32 of 36 Dimock families who claimed contamination of their water supplies.)
About 40 miles northeast of Davenport lies the town of Schoharie, where James and Margaret Bixby live on a well-tended, 150-year-old farm. The day I visited, their 19-acre pond glimmered in the early fall sunlight. As we talked, Bixby listed all the wildlife in the area: bear, raccoon, beavers, muskrats, wood ducks, mallards, mergansers, cranes, skunks, and Canadian geese. He began telling me about the last of these. “Pretty soon they’re going to come in by the hundreds, migrating north. A dozen will stay, hatching their young. We have wild turkeys, just about everything. I don’t care to live no place else.”
The Bixbys were offered more money than Briggs — more than $62,000 — for a pipeline right of way and they, too, turned it down. He and his wife are holding fast and so, he says, are 60 neighbors. “They don’t want it to bust up this little valley.” Pointing, he added, “There’s gonna be a path up our woods there as far as you can see, [and] there’s gonna be another one over there. That’s nothing nice to look at.”
Driving around New York and Pennsylvania you’ll spot odd, denuded stretches running down hillsides like ski jumps. On the crests of the hills, the remains of tree lines look like Mohawk haircuts on either side of shaved pipeline slopes. This is only the most obvious sign of pipeline environmental degradation. The Constitution pipeline would also impact 37 Catskills trout streams, endangering aquatic life. According to Kate Hudson, Watershed Program Director at Riverkeeper, one of the state’s most venerable environmental watchdog organizations, the pipeline would “cross hundreds of streams and wetlands by literally digging a hole through them… Any project that jeopardizes multiple water resources in two states is clearly against the public’s interest.”
Holding the Line
Longtime residents aren’t alone in opposing the building of the Constitution pipeline. This tranquil region has been attracting retirees like Bob Stack, a former electrical engineer. In 2004, he and his wife, Anne, bought 97 acres near Leona Briggs’s home. Their dream: to build a straw bale house, a sustainable structure that uses straw for insulation. No sooner had engineers visited the land to start planning than the couple got a letter from Constitution Pipeline LLC. “We were absolutely clueless. We knew nothing about fracking or about pipelines. Fracking was about as remote from us as oil in Iraq or someplace else,” says Anne. “We just looked at each other and said, ‘What an outrage!’” The Stacks, who moved east from Nevada, are now living in limbo.
“Once you have this pulsing fossil fuel energy coming through, it will… industrialize the Susquehanna River valley,” says Anne Marie Garti, who in June 2012 co-founded a local activist group, Stop the Pipeline. (“The unConstitutional Pipeline” reads the organization’s website banner.) “They’re going to start building factories. There’s an interstate, a railroad, there’s cheap labor, and there’s a river to dump the toxins in.”
Garti, a small, quietly assertive former interactive computer software designer, is now a lawyer; her aim: helping people like Briggs and the Bixbys. She grew up in the town of Delhi, near Briggs’s home. In 2008, she found herself among a small group of activists who convinced New York’s then-Governor David Paterson to impose a moratorium on fracking. Under the measure’s shelter a powerful grassroots anti-fracking movement grew, using zoning ordinances to ban drilling in municipalities.
Mark Pezzati, a graphic designer, helped get his town, Andes, in New York’s Delaware County to enact a fracking ban. “Pipeline news wasn’t high on the radar [then],” he says. “Most people were concerned about drilling.” In 2010, Pezzati was shocked to discover that a pipeline called the Millennium had penetrated his state.
It turned out that local land use laws govern only drilling. Under the 1938 Natural Gas Act, pipelines and compressor stations represent interstate commerce. “Suddenly there was this frantic flurry of emails, where people were saying, ‘We’ve got to meet and make people aware.’” (The meeting took place and 200 people flocked to listen to Garti.) “As time went on,” adds Pezzati, “it became apparent that you really can’t frack without a pipeline. There’s no point in drilling if there’s nowhere for the gas to go. So a light bulb went on. If you could stop pipelines you could stop fracking.”
That was when Pezzati and his friends, used to arguing for bans at town board meetings, came up against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which, among other responsibilities, regulates interstate natural gas transmission. It tilts to corporations, and even Garti found the bureaucratic hurdles it posed daunting. “I have some experience and training in environmental law and it took me a month to figure out the intricacies of FERC’s process,” she told me.
Because FERC refused to disclose the names of landowners in the pipeline’s path, Garti, Pezzati and about a dozen other volunteers had to pore over county tax databases, matching names and addresses to the proposed route. “First we sent letters, then we did door-to-door outreach,” says Garti. Her basic message to landowners along the right of way: “Just say no.”
“People are kind of impressed that you came all the way to their house,” Pezzati points out. “There’s not that many landowners in favor.”
Garti attributes local resentment against the pipeline corporations and their threats to exercise eminent domain to a “fierce” regional “independence” dating back to the anti-rent struggles of tenant farmers against wealthy landlords in the nineteenth century. “People don’t like the idea of somebody coming on their land and taking it from them.”
The activists drafted a letter refusing entry to corporate representatives and circulated it to local landowners. By October 2012, Stop the Pipeline was able to marshal a crowd of 800 for a public hearing called by FERC — “a big crowd for a sparsely populated rural area,” Garti recalls. The vast majority opposed the pipeline’s construction. By January 2013, 1,000 people had sent in statements of opposition.
The organization has created a website with instructions about FERC procedures and handouts for local organizing, as well as a list of organizations opposing the pipeline. These include the Clean Air Council and Trout Unlimited. Among state and federal agencies expressing concerns to FERC have been the Army Corps of Engineers and New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation, known in earlier fracking battles for its collusion with the gas industry.
“Just like we have a fracking story that’s different in New York State, we have a pipeline story that’s different,” says Garti. “The force of the opposition to pipelines is in New York State. And we have a shot at winning this thing.”
Having covered the environmental degradation of Pennsylvania’s shale gas fields, the wastelands that were Wisconsin’s silica-rich hills, and tiny New York towns where grassroots fracking battles are ongoing, I now have a sense of what it means to be in the crosshairs of the fracking industry. But it was nothing compared to how I felt when I learned Spectra Energy had its sights set on my hometown, Boston.
Fracking isn’t just about drilling and wells and extracting a difficult energy source at a painful cost to the environment. Corporations like Spectra have designs on spreading their pipelines through state after state, through thousands of backyards and farm fields and forests and watersheds. That means thousands of miles of pipe that may leave ravaged landscapes, produce methane leaks, and even, perhaps, lead to catastrophic explosions — and odds are those pipelines are coming to a town near you.
Spectra’s website explains that the Algonquin pipeline “will provide the Northeast with a unique opportunity to secure a… domestically produced source of energy to support its current demand, as well as its future growth.“ Translation: Spectra aims to expand fracking as long as that’s possible. And a glance at any industry source like Oil & Gas Journal shows other corporations hotly pursuing the same goal. (A new New-York-based group, Stop the Algonquin Pipeline Expansion, is the center of opposition to this project.)
It remains to be seen whether the people of Massachusetts will undertake the same type of grassroots efforts, exhibit the same fortitude as Bob and Anne Stack and Leona Briggs, or demonstrate the same organizing acumen as Anne Marie Garti and Mark Pezzati. But Massachusetts citizens had better get organized if they want to stop Spectra Energy and halt its plans to run the Algonquin all the way from Texas northward to Boston and beyond. Fracking is on its way to my doorstep — and yours. Who’s going to hold the line in your town?
© 2014 Ellen Cantarow
Ellen Cantarow, a Boston-based journalist, first wrote from Israel and the West Bank in 1979. Cantarow has written on women in the labor force, social activism, and the Middle East. Her work has been published in the Village Voice, Grand Street, and Mother Jones, among other publications, and was anthologized by the South End Press. More recently, her writing has appeared at Counterpunch, ZNet, TomDispatch and Common Dreams.
Published on Wednesday, January 29, 2014
Scientist says there’s ‘a lot more we don’t know’ about the safety of West Virginia water
– Lauren McCauley, staff writer
“What we know scares us, and we know there’s a lot more we don’t know,” a West Virginia environmental scientist said Wednesday after revealing he had found formaldehyde in water samples taken after officials had declared the water safe for drinking.
Scott Simonton, a Marshall University environmental scientist and member of the state Environmental Quality Board, told a joint legislative committee on water resources that he found traces of formaldehyde in water samples taken from a restaurant in downtown Charleston, the Charleston Gazette reported.
“I can guarantee that citizens in this valley are, at least in some instances, breathing formaldehyde. They’re taking a hot shower. This stuff is breaking down into formaldehyde in the shower or in the water system, and they’re inhaling it.” -Scott Simonton, EQB
Though he did not say exactly when he took the sample or how much was found, Simonton’s statement comes weeks after local officials declared the water safe to drink following the spill of over 10,000 gallons of coal processing chemicals MCHM and PPH into regional water source, the Elk River.
Crude MCHM has methanol as one of its main components and methanol breaks down into formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, Simonton explained.
“We know that (crude MCHM) turns into other things, and these other things are bad,” Simonton told reporters Wednesday. “And we haven’t been looking for those other things. So we can’t say the water is safe yet. We just absolutely cannot.”
“I can guarantee that citizens in this valley are, at least in some instances, breathing formaldehyde,” he added. “They’re taking a hot shower. This stuff is breaking down into formaldehyde in the shower or in the water system, and they’re inhaling it.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, brief exposure to formaldehyde can elicit symptoms such as eye irritation and a sharp burning sensation of the nose and throat which may be associated with sneezing, difficulty in taking a deep breath, and coughing. Longer exposure to the chemical at 50 to 100 parts per million might cause serious injury to the lower respiratory passages.
In response to Simonton’s warning, University of Washington public health dean and environmental health specialist Dr. Howard Frumkin told the Associated Press that officials should “use caution” when interpreting the results of the water tests because such chemicals may have been present in the region’s waters even before the spill.
“There’s a lot of possibilities there,” he said.
Frumkin’s comments allude to the fact that, in a region that is now known as much for its lax regulatory oversight as it is for its coal mines and mountaintop removal, such water contamination may have previously existed.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Impressive pics and good introduction to the oilsands production process
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Published on Tuesday, January 28, 2014
– Lauren McCauley, staff writer
Environmental groups paraded a giant inflatable pipeline around the Capitol building Tuesday ahead of the State of the Union address. (photo: @erichpica/ Twitter)Green groups are calling on President Obama to make a choice: ‘Be remembered as a climate champion or the pipeline president.’
Parading a 100-yard inflatable pipeline outside the U.S. Capitol Tuesday afternoon, demonstrators are hoping to grab the president’s attention ahead of the annual State of the Union address.
Organized by groups including 350.org and Friends of the Earth, the demonstration is calling on Obama to renew the pledge he made last year when he said he would not approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline if it is found to “significantly exacerbate” carbon pollution.
“President Obama needs to decide whether he wants to be remembered as a climate champion or the pipeline president. He can’t have it both ways,” said Jason Kowalski, Policy Director for 350.org.
The demonstration comes within days of the anticipated release of the State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) on the project, which Obama previously said he would look to for guidance on whether to permit the pipeline or not.
“Despite shoddy analysis by industry contractors working for the State Department, there is no doubt that approving Keystone XL would have a dramatic impact on the climate and should be rejected immediately by President Obama as not serving the national interest,” the groups continued, referencing a previously released draft of the SEIS which was condemned by both scientists and green groups as “deeply flawed.”
“The State of the Union would be an excellent time to reject the project and embrace a clean energy future,” they add.
Last week, the lesser known southern leg of the Keystone XL began operating, carrying tar sands from its northern terminal in Cushing, Oklahoma to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico.
Whether or not the Keystone XL is approved, the enormous upswell in opposition to the project has “changed American environmental politics,” according to a piece published Friday in the New York Times.
Times reporter Sarah Wheaton writes:
Although some critics say the environmental movement has made a strategic error by focusing so much energy on the pipeline, no one disputes that the issue has helped a new breed of environmental organizations build a mostly young army eager to donate money and time. The seven-year-old email list of 350.org, an organization that focuses on climate change, has more than doubled to 530,000 people since the group began fighting the pipeline in August 2011. In addition, about 76,000 people have signed a “pledge of resistance” sponsored by seven liberal advocacy groups in which they promise to risk arrest in civil disobedience if a State Department analysis, expected this year, points toward approval of the pipeline.
“I remember when I heard the call for civil disobedience, I thought, ‘Yeah, right, you’ll get like 40 people to show up,’ ” Ross Hammond, a senior campaigner with Friends of the Earth, told the Times. “‘And then, bam!’ Over a two-week period, about 1,200 people were arrested at the White House.”
During Tuesday’s demonstration, 350.org founder Bill McKibben reiterated the power of the KXL opposition:
Giant pipeline currently circling White House, a reminder before tonite’s SOTU of what’s brought environmentalists into the streets
12:14 PM – 28 Jan 2014
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 27, 2014
CONTACT: Food & Water Watch
Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch, (202) 683-4905, firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON – January 27 – Pressure on the Obama administration to take decisive action to protect Americans from the public health and environment effects of fracking intensified today as a coalition of concerned organizations called on President Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to re-open investigations into the connection between drilling and fracking for oil and gas and contaminated groundwater in Parker County, Texas, and to ensure that residents there have access to safe drinking water. Initiated by Americans Against Fracking and signed by over 200 groups, the letter also asked the administration to meet with residents whose water has been contaminated, just as the administration has met with representatives from the oil and gas industry.
“President Obama is in danger of leaving a toxic legacy if his administration doesn’t get its facts straight on fracking,” said Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter. “The EPA needs to take responsibility for the mess caused by fracking, and once and for all, assess the risks of fracking to the public.”
Today’s development comes on the heels of the EPA Inspector General’s report on the agency’s investigation in Parker County, Texas that confirmed that the regional EPA office was justified in intervening on behalf of local residents. The report found that the EPA pulled out of litigation with oil and gas companies as part of an agreement with Range Resources that assured that the company would participate in a national agency study on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water contamination.
The report also found that EPA agreed to let Range Resources take over testing the wells in Parker County, even thought the agency lacks quality assurance information on the testing. Range Resources reported finding no concerning widespread methane contamination in the families’ wells. However, just this month, Bloomberg reported that independent tests conducted by Duke University found high levels of combustible methane in the wells, contradicting Range Resources’s findings.
John Armstrong of Frack Action said, “The Inspector General’s report and Duke University’s water tests show that affected residents’ water and health have been left at risk. President Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy must act swiftly to ensure residents’ safety and to reopen the investigation into water contamination from fracking.”
The letter sent today concludes, “It is incumbent upon you to correct your administration’s troubling abdication of responsibility and denial of the science on fracking and the harms it is posing to Americans across the country. As more than 250,000 Americans have already urged and the evidence compels, we ask that you swiftly act to re-open the EPA’s investigations in Texas, Pennsylvania and Wyoming. We also ask that you meet with the victims of fracking and hear their accounts first-hand and also the leadership of Americans Against Fracking as you and high ranking administration officials have had several meetings with industry leaders including your golf outing with executives at Western Gas Holdings and Gina McCarthy’s recent meeting with the CEO of the American Gas Association about the expansion of shale gas development.”
“Just last month, the Obama Administration met with representatives of the American Gas Association,” said Jesse Bacon of Environmental Action. “We strongly urge the President and his staff to show constituents whose lives upended by not having access to clean water by affording them the same consideration.”
The EPA has dropped similar investigations in Dimock, Pennsylvania, and Pavillion, Wyoming. In Dimock, it has since been revealed that EPA dropped its investigation against the wishes of the Philadelphia EPA office, the agency that had been monitoring drinking water there. In Pavillion, EPA abandoned its investigation even after linking high levels of chemicals, including benzene, to fracking, handing the investigation over to the state with ongoing research funded by EnCana, the same drilling corporation under investigation for the contamination. Earlier this month, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy noted in a letter to the National Resources Defense Council, in response to its request to reopen and complete the three investigations, that it was not necessary to do so because residents affected by contamination could find alternative water supplies or treatment systems.
A significant and rapidly growing body of scientific evidence shows the harms that drilling and fracking pose to public health and the environment. A recent Associated Press review found many confirmed cases of water contamination from fracking, noting that the review casts doubt on the industry’s assertion that fracking and drilling don’t affect drinking water supplies. This builds on evidence from 2013 and 2011 Duke University studies that found systematic evidence that methane associated with shale gas extraction contaminates drinking water. Moreover, a University of Missouri School of Medicine study released in December linked fracking to the presence of dangerous hormone-disrupting chemicals in the water near fracking sites, including the Colorado River.
The groups are calling on the Obama Administration to correct what they believe to be a troubling denial of the science on the effects of fracking. Late last year, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell called on the oil and gas industry to clear up “confusion” about the effects of fracking, a call to action that troubled many fracking opponents, as it dismissed concerns about water pollution and climate change linked to the process.
Read the letter here: http://documents.foodandwaterwatch.org/doc/Obama_IG_Report_Letter_1-27-1…
Americans Against Fracking is a broad-based coalition composed of the following groups: www.americansagainstfracking.org/members. For more information about Americans Against Fracking, visit www.AmericansAgainstFracking.org
Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.
Published on Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Sacrificing the health of the people and planet, 590,000 additional barrels of oil will now flow to refineries on the Gulf
– Lauren McCauley, staff writer
Activists in Portland, Maine showing solidarity with communities along the pipeline by locking themselves to TD bank. (Photo: Meaghan LaSala)Tar sands oil began flowing through the the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline Wednesday as operations commenced delivering the “the dirtiest fuel on Earth” to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico.
The southern leg—the lesser known half of Transcanada’s pipeline—originates in Cushing, Oklahoma and passes through countless communities in Oklahoma and East Texas before arriving at refineries and shipping ports along the coast.
“We are the story that isn’t often told,” East Texas resident Maya Lemon said in a statement circulated by the group NacSTOP (Nacogdoches County Stop Tar Sands Oil Permanently), “the story where Obama’s decision to delay on KXL north was paired with an endorsement to fast track KXL south.”
While opposition to the project has lacked the national attention given to protests against the northern section, local activists and community members on the front lines of the pipeline have long-fought the project and the eminent domain laws that bullied it through.
“We are dissatisfied with the process that allows this pipeline to begin operation, we are frustrated that landowner rights and issues related to eminent domain have never been fully resolved, and we are concerned that our communiies are not prepared to respond safely from this pipeline,” NacSTOP writes in a letter calling for solidarity action nationwide.
Answering that call, two activists in Portland, Maine were arrested for protesting in solidarity with the communities along the pipeline route Wednesday by locking themselves to the front door of a TD Bank, one of the biggest investors in the pipeline.
The activists, both with the group Maine Trans and/or Women’s Action Team, braved 15 degree weather hoping to draw attention to the 590,000 additional barrels of oil that will now flow to refineries located in largely minority communities in Manchester, Texas.
“Climate change’s origin is deeply rooted in this practice of sacrificing of communities that are deemed dispensable,” Betsy Catlin, one of the protesters locked to TD Bank, told Common Dreams.
“It comes as no surprise that these are mostly low-income, communities of color: majority Latina/o on the East End of Houston and majroity African-American in Port Arthur,” said life-long Houston resident and community activist, María Jiménez, who added that these communities “are living examples of environmental racism.”
According to a recent comparitive health study, children raised amid refineries in Houston’s Manchester neighborhood are already 56% more likely to contract childhood leukemia, says Yudith Nieto, an organizer with Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (TEJAS).
“[R]efining tar sands will only increase that percentage while the refineries keep up their blatant disregard for the lives of those of us forced by circumstance to breathe their dangerous emissions on a daily basis,” she added.
Fully operational, the 486-mile southern pipeline will transport 830,000 barrels of crude per day between vast underground storage tanks in Cushing, Okla., and the Gulf Coast, the Dallas Morning News reports. Other pipelines and rail services feed into it from the north.
National environmental groups responded to the news with despair, both for the communities along the pipeline route as well as for what the moment spells for the priorities of American politicians and their approval of the northern half.
“Expediting KXL south was not the mark of a president who really ‘gets’ climate change,” said leading climate activist and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben, who later tweeted:
“Tar sands is more corrosive, more toxic, and more difficult to clean up than conventional crude. Coupled with lax oversight and TransCanada’s dismal safety record, this pipeline spells bad news for farmers and families whose land, health, and safety were forfeited so that oil companies can reach export markets with their deadly product,” said Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune in a statement.
“We hope from this point on that unity is the clarion call for the climate movement,” lamented Juan Parras, founder of TEJAS.
“Environmental Justice communities, private property owners, residents living in proximity to the pipeline, and all those up and downstream – we’re are all affected here in the same struggle: to permanently stop the most ecologically devastating mining operations in the world and address the ongoing injustices of petrochemical refining,” he added.
Speaking with residents along the pipeline route, Al Jazeera produced this report on the impact of the southern leg
If you want to know just how bad an idea it is for America to ship “fracked” natural gas to overseas markets, travel the 65 miles from the White House to a place called Cove Point in southern Maryland.
There, right on the Chesapeake Bay, the Obama administration wants to give fast-track approval to a $3.8 billion facility (12 times the cost of the NFL Ravens stadium) to liquefy gas from all across Appalachia. The new plant, proposed by Virginia-based Dominion Resources, would somehow be built right between a coveted state park and a stretch of sleepy beach communities, with a smattering of Little League baseball fields just down the road. Along the Chesapeake itself, endangered tiger beetles cling to the shore while Maryland “watermen” hunt crabs and oysters in age-old fashion.
Right here, Dominion wants build a utility-scale power plant (130 megawatts) just to power the enormous “liquefaction” process for the fracked gas. The company will then build an industrial-scale compressor, a massive refrigeration system and an adjacent, surreal six-story-tall “sound wall” to protect humans and wildlife from the thunderous noise. The facility as a whole would chill the gas-extracted from fracking wells as far away as New York-to 260 degrees below zero so it can be poured onto huge tankers (with Coast Guard escort due to terrorism risks) and then shipped more than 6,000 miles to India and Japan.
Sound good yet? There’s more: The Cove Point plant in Maryland is just one of more than 20 such “liquefaction” plants now proposed-but not yet built-for coastal areas nationwide. They are intended, as an emerging facet of U.S. energy policy, to double down on the highly controversial hydraulic fracturing drilling boom across the country. But like the Keystone XL pipeline for tar sands oil and the proposed export of dirty-burning coal through new terminals in the Pacific Northwest, this liquefied gas plan is bad in almost every way.
Simply put, this gas needs to stay in the ground. If it’s dug up and exported, it will directly harm just about everyone in the U.S. economy while simultaneously making global warming worse. How much worse? Imagine adding the equivalent of more than 100 coal plants to U.S. pollution output or putting 78 million more cars on our roads. Yes, supporters say, but this gas would be replacing a lot of coal use overseas. And they’d be right. The only problem is we’d be replacing that coal with aggregate “life-cycle” emissions from gas that are almost certainly worse than coal, creating new net damage for the global atmosphere (more on this later).
Ironically, a recent sea-level rise report commissioned by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, reportedly a presidential hopeful, shows that climate change could soon wipe out the peninsula of Cove Point itself. The very point of land next to Dominion’s proposed facility-the whitewashed lighthouse, the country roads and homes and forests-would all drown if the world continues to combust oil, coal and natural gas at current rates, according to the Maryland report.
The “inconvenient truths” on liquefied gas also come-in different forms-from the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and elsewhere. On the economic side, a study commissioned by the DOE last spring found that exporting U.S. gas would raise the fuel’s price here at home. It’s basic supply and demand. More buyers overseas will drive up our domestic price by as much as 27 percent, according to the DOE. And that increase will reduce incomes for virtually every sector of the U.S. economy, from agriculture to manufacturing to services to transportation. No wonder manufacturers like Dow and Alcoa are resisting this emerging U.S. export policy for gas, forming a coalition called “America’s Energy Advantage” to push back.
The DOE found that only one economic sector wins from gas exports. You guessed it: the gas industry! This one special interest wins so big-hundreds of billions in profits-that the DOE now basically argues that it offsets the pain for everyone else, creating a perverse and tiny net bump in the nation’s GDP. If you’re a farmer or wage-earner, too bad. Dominion’s profits at Cove Point are more important than the financial lives of already-struggling average Americans.
The gas export calculations grow even more insane when you factor in climate change. The industry bombards the public with ads saying natural gas is 50 percent cleaner than coal. But the claim is totally false. Gas is cleaner only at the point of combustion. If you calculate the greenhouse gas pollution emitted at every stage of the production process- drilling, piping, compression-it’s essentially just coal by another name. Indeed, the methane (the key ingredient in natural gas) that constantly and inevitably leaks from wells and pipelines is 84 times more powerful at trapping heat in the atmosphere than CO2 over a 20-year period, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Bill McKibben founder of 350.org.
Mike Tidwell is director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/01/fracking-natural-gas-exports-climate-change-102452.html#ixzz2r9CvGzMb
January 22, 2014
Michael Weller and Jason Hutt
Bracewell & Giuliani LLP
Region 9 of the US Environmental Protection Agency recently made available the finalized National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) general permit applicable to discharges from oil and gas exploration facilities offshore Southern California. NPDES General Permit No. CAG280000 (2014 NPDES General Permit), issued under provisions of the Clean Water Act, authorizes discharges from exploration, development and production facilities located offshore of Southern California in accordance with specified effluent limitations, monitoring and reporting requirements and various other conditions.
The final 2014 NPDES General Permit includes certain new requirements that EPA indicates were added to address offshore hydraulic fracturing operations, including increases in the monitoring requirements associated with produced water discharges and new inventory and reporting requirements.
While operating offshore, waste streams generated by oil and gas operations are generally either treated and discharged via a NPDES permit or shipped back to shore for disposal. The 2014 NPDES General Permit authorizes discharges from 23 platforms operating offshore Southern California, including discharges of Drilling Fluids and Cuttings, Produced Water, Well Treatment, Completion and Workover Fluids, Bilge Water, and Water Flooding Discharges.
This reissuance of the 2004 NPDES general permit was initially proposed in 2012. During the public comment period, the U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), several California legislators and the California Coastal Commission (CCC) expressed interest in hydraulic fracturing operations offshore of California. To address the concerns raised over offshore hydraulic fracturing, EPA changed portions of the final general permit, adding new testing and reporting requirements.
Section 301(a) of the Clean Water Act prohibits point source discharges of pollutants into navigable waters unless in compliance with a permit. To comply with the prohibition on point source discharges, businesses typically obtain CWA Section 402 permits from the state; however, because these operations are offshore, EPA issues the NPDES permits directly. Under the NPDES program, EPA may issue individual permits or general permits. The latter allows the Agency to authorize discharges from a large number of facilities engaged in the same activity. When EPA issues a general permit, a prospective permittee simply submits an application for coverage and then abides by the terms and conditions of the general permit.
NDPES general permits typically contain monitoring requirements. In its response to public comments on the 2014 NDPES General Permit, EPA indicated that it has increased the mandatory Whole Effluent Toxicity or “WET” testing for produced water discharges from an annual to a quarterly requirement. EPA indicated that, because the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations are “commonly commingled and discharged with produced water,” the mandatory tests applicable to produced water will address any concerns over discharges associated with hydraulic fracturing operations.
NPDES permits may also contain inventory and reporting requirements. In the 2004 version of this particular NPDES permit, EPA required that permittees maintain inventories and report drilling fluid constituents added downhole for all discharges of “Drilling Fluids and Cuttings.” In the 2004 version, the mandatory inventory and reporting requirement only applied to mud systems and there was no such requirement for “Well Treatment, Completion and Workover Fluids.”
The 2014 NDPES General Permit includes that same requirement for discharges of “Drilling Fluids and Cuttings.” However, the permittee must also now submit detailed information for discharges of “Well Treatment, Completion and Workover Fluids,” which includes chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Specifically, EPA added Part II.C.3 to the 2014 NPDES General Permit, which requires the permittee to:
1. maintain an inventory of the quantities and application rates of chemicals used to formulate well treatment, completion and workover fluids; and
2. if those fluids are discharged, report to EPA Region 9 the chemical formulation of the discharges and the discharge volume with the operators quarterly discharge monitoring reports.
The disclosures under the 2014 NDPES General Permit are not to the “public” and EPA has indicated that the inventory would be available to EPA where the Agency “deems it necessary to meet the purposes of the CWA. For example, in case of well failure or other accident resulting in an unexpected discharge, EPA may access such inventory in order to immediately assess emergency response needs.” It is not yet clear how the chemical formulations must be reported or to what extent trade secret protections are available.
The public comment period for the 2014 NPDES General Permit closed nearly one year ago on February 4, 2013. The effective date of the permit is March 1, 2014.
Michael Weller is member of the firm’s environmental and natural resources practice in Washington DC.
Jason Hutt is a partner in the firm’s Washington, DC office. He counsels clients on current and upcoming regulatory developments at the nexus of environmental and energy policy, with focused attention on natural gas development, including hydraulic fracturing.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Published on Tuesday, January 21, 2014
‘Will we disregard the treaties we have with First Nations? Will we continue to allow oil companies to persuade our government to gut laws?’ asks open letter
– Andrea Germanos, staff writer
(Photo: Light Brigading/cc/flickr)In an open letter issued Monday, the musicians, authors and scientists say the Canadian rocker’s campaign has raised questions the government should be forced to answer about whether it will have laws “written by powerful oil companies” or be a nation that respects the environment and the treaties it signed over 100 years ago.
Among the signatories are authors Naomi Klein and Michael Ondaatje, scientist David Suzuki and actor Neve Campbell.
Young’s “Honour the Treaties” tour, which just wrapped up, raised $500,000 to help the Athabasca Chipewyan legal challenges to the tar sands industry, which they say has brought “devastating environmental impacts” to their land.
“The Federal Government’s continued approval of new tar sands mines such as Shell’s Jackpine mine despite the devastating environmental impacts and inadequate consultation with First Nations is insulting and unlawful. We are encouraged and grateful for all the support we are receiving from across Canada. This is just the beginning,” said Chief Allan Adam of the ACFN.
Just ahead of the tour’s closing, the Athabasca Chipweyan First Nations (ACFN) held a teach-in to explain why they need to raise the legal funds, and also explain how their fight is a fight for all of us.
“If you breathe air and drink water, this is about you,” Crystal Lameman told the teach-in audience.
A spokesperson for Prime Minister Stephen Harper responded to Young’s criticisms during his tour by saying that “the lifestyle of a rock star relies, to some degree, on the resources developed by thousands of hard-working Canadians every day.”
In their open letter, the group writes:
“Instead of focusing on Neil Young’s celebrity, Prime Minister Harper should inform Canadians how he plans to honour the treaties with First Nations. This means ensuring the water, land, air, and climate are protected so the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations and other First Nations communities be able to hunt, fish, gather plants and live off the land. Canada signed a treaty with them 114 years ago, and this must be honoured.
“The world is watching as we decide who we will become. Will we disregard the treaties we have with First Nations? Will we continue to allow oil companies to persuade our government to gut laws, silence scientists, and disassemble civil society in order to allow reckless expansion of the oil sands?”
* * *
The full letter is below:
On his Honour the Treaties tour, Neil Young is doing what poets do—forcing us to examine ourselves. This is hard enough on a personal level and it can be even more difficult when we are being asked to examine the direction in which our country is headed.
The time has come for Canada to decide if we want a future where First Nations rights and title are honoured, agreements with other countries to protect the climate are honoured, and our laws are not written by powerful oil companies. Or not.
Neil’s tour has triggered the Prime Minister’s Office and oil company executives. They have come out swinging because they know that this is a hard conversation and they might lose. But that should not stop the conversation from happening.
Instead of focusing on Neil Young’s celebrity, Prime Minister Harper should inform Canadians how he plans to honour the treaties with First Nations. This means ensuring the water, land, air, and climate are protected so the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations and other First Nations communities be able to hunt, fish, gather plants and live off the land. Canada signed a treaty with them 114 years ago, and this must be honoured.
The world is watching as we decide who we will become. Will we disregard the treaties we have with First Nations? Will we continue to allow oil companies to persuade our government to gut laws, silence scientists, and disassemble civil society in order to allow reckless expansion of the oil sands?
We are proud to stand with Neil Young as he challenges us all to think about these larger, more profound and humane questions.
Now is the time for leadership and to honour promises that we have made, not personal attacks.
Michael Ondaatje, author, Officer of the Order of Canada
Margi Gillis, dancer,
Member of the Order of Canada
Clayton Ruby, lawyer, Member of the Order of Canada
Dr. David Suzuki, scientist,
Companion of the Order of Canada
Dr. David Schindler, scientist, Officer of the Order of Canada
Stephen Lewis, Companion of the Order of Canada
Joseph Boyden, author
Gord Downie, musician
Sarah Harmer, musician
Naomi Klein, author
Dr. John Stone, scientist
Tzeporah Berman, author
Amanda Boyden, author
Neve Campbell, actor
Wade Davis, author
Dr. Danny Harvey, climate scientist
J.B. MacKinnon, author
Dan Managan, musician
Sid Marty, author
Andrew Nikiforuk, author
Rick Smith, author
John Valliant, author
Ronald Wright, author
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 14, 2014 4:51 PM
CONTACT: Environmental Groups
Alec Saslow: Alec@FitzGibbonmedia.com, (720) 319-4948
Sarah Lane, email@example.com
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – January 14 – In the wake of the driest recorded year in California’s history, concerned Californians submitted more than 100,000 public comments today denouncing Governor Brown’s proposed fracking regulations and urged him to ban the water-intensive drilling activity. At today’s event, Californians Against Fracking delivered boxes filled with tens of thousands of public comments to DOGGR while chanting, “Climate leaders don’t frack,” a clear message to Gov. Brown, whose legacy as a climate leader is on the line as he green-lights a massive expansion of fracking in the state.
“As California faces a massive drought, the last thing Gov. Brown should be doing is letting oil companies frack our state and contaminate our drinking water,” said Zack Malitz, CREDO’s Campaign Manager. “The only way to protect Californians is with a ban on fracking, not weak regulations that will only encourage more drilling.”
“In order to protect our water, farms, and public health from toxic contamination Governor Brown should ban fracking now,” said Adam Scow, California Director of Food & Water Watch.
“The days of Big Oil calling the shots in Sacramento are over. Californians are rising up in record numbers to say no to these dangerous oil extraction techniques,” said Ross Hammond, Senior Campaigner, Friends of the Earth.
“Governor Brown needs to make a choice. He can stand with thousands of Californians for a safe climate future and stop fracking up our state, or he can stand with Big Oil and for more droughts, wildfires and threatened communities,” said David Turnbull, Campaigns Director at Oil Change International.
“The tide of history is quickly turning against Governor Brown on fracking,” said Hollin Kretzmann, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The question is whether he’ll be remembered as the governor who unleashed fracking’s nightmare on California or the man who stood with his fellow Californians and protected the places we all love.”
“We’re told this is a record-breaking number of comments on environmental and health policy in the state,” said Victoria Kaplan, MoveOn.org Civic Action Campaign Director. “Governor Brown can listen to the voters and ban fracking, or he can be remembered as the governor who paved the way for more climate change and drought.”
“If Governor Brown wants California to continue to hold its reputation as national leader in environmental standards, banning fracking should be a no brainer,” said Democracy for America Chair Jim Dean.
“The Central Valley has some of the most impacted communities in California, who are a key part of the movement to stop fracking. Today, we’re showing our grassroots power,” says Valley Resident Juan Flores Organizer at Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment.
“2013 was the driest year in California’s history, and opening the state to fracking will only make the problem worse. If Governor Brown wants to get serious about stopping climate change, he should listen to the thousands of Californians calling for a ban on fracking, and stand up to big oil,” said Linda Capato, Fracking Campaigner at 350.org
Californians Against Fracking is a coalition of environmental, business, health, agriculture, climate, labor, environmental justice and political organizations working to win a statewide ban on fracking in California. Groups that participated in today’s delivery include CREDO, Food & Water Watch, Center for Biological Diversity, MoveOn.org Civic Action, Friends of the Earth, Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, 350.org, Oil Change International, Greenpeace, Democracy for America, and 350 Bay Area.
BY ZACK COLMAN | JANUARY 10, 2014 AT 2:04 PM
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that, “Increasing evidence suggests…
A long-awaited final federal study on the environmental impact of using seismic guns to search for oil and gas deposits off the Atlantic coast is due at the end of February, signaling future battles between Republicans and Democrats regarding offshore drilling.
The final environmental impact study on using seismic guns to explore for oil and gas from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean energy Management has been five years in the making, and will be used to inform decisions on whether to open the Atlantic Ocean to offshore oil and gas drilling.
A seismic gun shoots compressed air into the water and reflects off the seabed to deliver information about whether oil and gas deposits lay beneath. Proponents say it reduces the costs and environmental damage of exploration, while opponents say the shots can deafen marine life, disrupt habitats and lead to eventual death.
While Democrats say the practice disturbs marine life, Republicans say it’s safe, noting that the federal government has never pinned a marine mammal death to seismic guns.
It’s a complicated matter, said Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Deputy Director Walter Cruickshank, who noted the environmental study has taken longer than usual.
“There’s a lot of species out there, a lot of ocean to cover, and we’re continuing to learn new things as we conduct this research,” he said during a Friday hearing in the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.
At its core, though, approval of seismic guns is a discussion of expanding offshore drilling, lawmakers noted at the hearing.
“There’s been a lot of talk about, ‘Let’s explore.’ But talk is cheap. Action is needed,” said Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., who noted the state’s Democratic Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, along with Democratic Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe, support offshore drilling.
For now, the Obama administration’s current drilling plan that runs through 2017 blocks energy development in the Atlantic Ocean. Those Atlantic blocks were included in a draft of the president’s first five-year drilling plan, but he revised it following the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 workers and spewed 4.2 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Drilling supporters say wading into the Atlantic could be lucrative — an American Petroleum Institute report said it would provide 280,000 jobs and add $23.5 billion to the U.S. economy each year between 2017 and 2035.
If the federal government decides to offer oil leases in the Atlantic, it would likely come in the latter half of the next five-year drilling plan that would run through 2022, Cruickshank said.
Many Democrats hope that doesn’t happen.
They warned at the hearing that U.S. laws have not strengthened enough in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon incident — though Donald Boesch, a marine biologist who worked on a White House-convened independent commission evaluating the response to the spill, said federal regulations and industry have responded well.
Democrats maintained another spill would threaten tourism and fishing industries that support 200,000 jobs and bring in $11.8 billion annually, according to ocean conservation group Oceana.
Seismic testing would pose a risk to those industries too, said Boesch, who is president of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
“There’s legitimate concerns,” Boesch said. “It’s a matter of legitimate scientific controversy.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that, “Increasing evidence suggests that exposure to intense underwater sound in some settings may cause certain marine mammals to strand and ultimately die.” Oceana, citing federal projections, says seismic testing would injure 138,500 dolphins and whales through 2020.
“We should not be risking our fishing and tourism industries … because the energy companies want to get their hands on a quick oil buck,” said Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., the top Democrat on the subcommittee.
But Republicans and industry say seismic testing has greatly improved since its early use in the 1970s.
They also noted that none of the 60 “unusual mortality events” that killed marine life since 1991 and were documented by a federal working group were the result of seismic testing.
Suggestions of a link between seismic testing and marine mammal deaths “is likely a chimera,” said James Knapp, chairman of the department of earth and ocean sciences at the University of South Carolina.
Enhancements in seismic testing include the advent of 3D imaging, which witnesses credited with reducing environmental damage through curtailing exploration by drilling.
It also has helped shed light on the potentially vast resources available undersea. In the Gulf of Mexico, seismic testing revealed a resource basin five times larger than previously thought, Richie Miller, president of Spectrum Geo Inc., said during the hearing.
“We would expect the same thing just with this new technology off the East Coast,” he said.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
“Currie, who had financial support from the Environmental Protection Agency and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and her colleagues obtained Pennsylvania birth records containing the latitude and longitude of the mothers’ residences, matching them to the locations of fracking sites. In doing so, they built on the work of Elaine Hill, a PhD student at Cornell University who sparked controversy in 2012 with a study showing that infants born near fracked gas wells had more health problems than infants born near sites that had merely been permitted for fracking”
note: Elaine Hill’s initial study is available at a link in the article below. Here is a link to her research page. https://sites.google.com/site/elainelhill/research
By Mark Whitehouse – Jan 4, 2014
The energy industry has long insisted that hydraulic fracking — the practice of fracturing rock to extract gas and oil deep beneath the earth’s surface — is safe for people who live nearby. New research suggests this is not true for some of the most vulnerable humans: newborn infants.
In a study presented today at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association in Philadelphia, the researchers — Janet Currie of Princeton University, Katherine Meckel of Columbia University, and John Deutch and Michael Greenstone of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — looked at Pennsylvania birth records from 2004 to 2011 to assess the health of infants born within a 2.5-kilometer radius of natural-gas fracking sites. They found that proximity to fracking increased the likelihood of low birth weight by more than half, from about 5.6 percent to more than 9 percent. The chances of a low Apgar score, a summary measure of the health of newborn children, roughly doubled, to more than 5 percent.
The study, which has yet to be peer-reviewed or posted online, comes at a time when state and federal officials are grappling with how to regulate fracking and, in the case of New York State, whether to allow the practice at all. Much of the available research has been sponsored either by the energy industry or by its critics. Independent studies have found evidence of well-water contamination in areas close to fracking activity. Establishing a direct link between fracking and human health, though, has been complicated by a lack of information on the chemical substances used in the process and the difficulty of obtaining health records that include residence data.
Currie, who had financial support from the Environmental Protection Agency and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and her colleagues obtained Pennsylvania birth records containing the latitude and longitude of the mothers’ residences, matching them to the locations of fracking sites. In doing so, they built on the work of Elaine Hill, a PhD student at Cornell University who sparked controversy in 2012 with a study showing that infants born near fracked gas wells had more health problems than infants born near sites that had merely been permitted for fracking. One criticism of Hill’s study was that fracking activity might change the demography of an area, attracting more mothers who are likely to give birth to infants with health problems.
The new research addresses such concerns by following a constant group of mothers who had children both before and after the onset of fracking, and by controlling for geographical differences in mothers’ initial health characteristics. It seeks to achieve the rigor of a controlled experiment by focusing on mothers who, due to their locations and the dates of their pregnan
cies, were effectively selected at random to be exposed to fracking.
While the study strongly indicates that fracking is bad for infant health, more work is needed to understand why. Surprisingly, water contamination does not appear to be the culprit: The researchers found similar results for mothers who had access to regularly monitored public water systems and mothers who relied on the kind of private wells that fracking is most likely to affect. Another possibility is that infants are being harmed by air pollution associated with fracking activity.
The study doesn’t necessarily tell us whether or not fracking is worth doing. There may be offsetting health benefits related to the added jobs fracking creates, to lower energy prices or to the reduced use of coal or other fuels as more natural gas becomes available. “Given how important fracking is for the economy generally, it might make sense to compensate people for the cost of moving away from a site rather than shutting it down,” said Currie.
Still, evidence that our demand for cheap energy could be doing irreversible harm to children should be reason for serious pause.
(Mark Whitehouse is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)
Special thanks to Richard Charter
see video at:
Organizers hold fracking protest in Salinas
UPDATED 12:00 AM PST Jan 09, 2014
The debate over the controversial practice of fracking continued Wednesday night in Salinas at the National Steinbeck Center.
SALINAS, Calif. -The debate over the practice of fracking continued in Monterey County on Wednesday.
The debate over the controversial practice of fracking continued Wednesday night in Salinas at the National Steinbeck Center.
People against the practice held a protest outside the National Steinbeck Center while officials held a public comment session inside.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock layers by injecting highly pressurized liquid into the rock.
VIDEO: Fracking protest at the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas
Representatives from the Department of Conservation listened to anyone who wanted to speak. Several consumer advocacy groups were on hand, including Food and Water Watch.
“Four to 7 million gallons of water on average is what’s used, and that’s water that is permanently damaged and not returned to the water cycle, and we’re in the midst of a drought,” said Tia Lebherz, the Northern California organizer for Food and Water Watch.
Dave Quast, the California Director of Energy in Depth, disagrees. “There are a number of differences in California, and a big one is we use significantly less water than back East. And in a state where water is a big concern, that’s important,” Quast said. Quast said fracking would use 116,000 gallons per one process.
The public comment session did not allow for a question and answer session, but representatives said the comments would be added to the rulemaking record.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
by Center for Biological Diversity, January 9, 2014, ecowatch
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today established a new requirement for oil and gas operations off the Southern California coast to publicly report chemicals dumped directly into the ocean from offshore fracking operations. The notice, formally published today, announces the changes as part of a new permit for water pollution discharges from offshore oil and gas operations in federal waters off California. The reporting requirement will become effective March 1.
“Requiring oil companies to report the toxic fracking chemicals they’re dumping into California’s fragile ocean ecosystem is a good step, but the federal government must go further and halt this incredibly dangerous practice,” said Miyoko Sakashita, oceans director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Banning fracking in California’s coastal waters is the best way to protect the whales and other wildlife, as well as surfers and coastal communities. It’s outrageous that the EPA plans to continue allowing fracking pollution to endanger our ocean.”
In response to the controversy generated by recent reports of fracking of oil and gas wells along the California coast, the EPA revised the offshore oil and gas discharge permit to require reporting of the chemical formulations of any fracking fluids discharged by oil companies.
Approximately half the oil platforms in federal waters in the Santa Barbara Channel discharge all or a portion of their wastewater directly to the ocean, according to a California Coastal Commission document. This produced wastewater contains all of the chemicals injected originally into the fracked wells, with the addition of toxins gathered from the subsurface environment.
Oil companies have fracked offshore wells more than 200 times in recent years in the state and federal waters off California’s coast. A recent Center of Biological Diversity analysis of 12 frack jobs in state waters found that at least one-third of chemicals used in these fracking operations are suspected ecological hazards. Drawing on data disclosed by oil companies, the analysis also found that more than one-third of these chemicals are suspected of affecting human developmental and nervous systems.
“The EPA’s new reporting requirements underscore how little is known about offshore fracking,” Sakashita said. “This risky practice has gone essentially unregulated.”
“Until recently, no one even knew that our oceans were being fracked,” Sakashita continued. “To protect our coast, we need to stop this dangerous practice in its tracks”
Tell Gov. Brown and the California Department of Conservation to Ban Fracking in California.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
California’s fracking hearings continue this week after yesterday’s Sacramento hearing overflowed it’s hearing room and had to be relocated to larger chambers….BAKERSFIELD — January 8, Kern County Administrative Center, first floor board chambers, 1115 Truxtun Avenue, 3-7 p.m.; SALINAS — January 8, National Steinbeck Center, One Main Street, 3-7 p.m.; SANTA MARIA — January 13, Santa Barbara County supervisors hearing room, 511 East Lakeside Parkway, 3-7 p.m.; for more information, see: http://www.conservation.ca.gov/dog/Pages/WellStimulation.aspx#Item2
Orange County Register
Fracking foes sound off at hearing
A man holds a sign to protest against hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, outside the California State University, Long Beach Auditorium where a public hearing to receive comment was scheduled by the Department of Conservation, Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources at California State University, Long Beach on Monday.
ANIBAL ORTIZ, LONG BEACH REGISTER
By AARON ORLOWSKI / ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
Published: Jan. 6, 2014 Updated: 8:35 p.m.
Environmentalists and activists pleaded Monday for state officials to protect California’s air, land and water from the fires of fracking at a public hearing to take comments about proposed statewide rules governing the controversial drilling method.
About 30 activists rallied before Monday’s hearing, denouncing the oil and gas industry, criticizing state officials and agencies and repeating one message: ban fracking. Now.
“We’re the majority. We want fracking banned and 2014 is going to be our year,” said Alex Nagy, a Southern California organizer for Food & Water Watch, an environmental group that organized the pre-meeting rally.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a drilling process where a cocktail of water, sand and chemicals is injected into the rock deep beneath the earth’s crust to open wide fissures that allow for the extraction of oil and natural gas.
In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 4, which tasked the Department of Conservation, and more specifically the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, with crafting rules regulating fracking in California. Those interim rules took effect Jan. 1. Permanent rules – ones the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources is taking comment on now – will take effect in 2015.
Though more than 100 people showed up Monday, there was scant support for fracking, or the proposed regulations. Activists from environmental organizations laid out a litany of specific changes they wanted for the rules, while residents from Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego counties, and the Inland Empire, decried the drilling technique.
A representative for Hispanics in Energy, a group advocating Hispanic inclusion in the energy industry, was laughed at while making a statement while a representative from Valley Industry & Commerce Association received minimal applause.
Both argued fracking in California could bring reliable jobs to the region, while aiding energy independence.
“It could reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said Adriana Fernandez, the legislative affairs manager at VICA, a business advocacy group for the San Fernando Valley.
That’s not so, said Brenna Norton, a Southern California organizer for Food & Water Watch.
“We get our oil on a global market,” Norton said. “We frack here for oil, it doesn’t affect the price at the pump at all. The only way to ensure energy independence is to get off fossil fuels.”
But the main concerns, repeated by almost every anti-fracking speaker, centered around air, land and water. And climate change.
The air could be polluted with more oil development, compounding air quality that is already among the poorest in the country. The land, under strain from the violent blasting under its surface, could tremble with earthquakes in an already earthquake-prone region.
The ground water could be contaminated if fracking fluids leak into it from spills or faulty oil well casings, they said. And questions still remain about whether there’s enough water in this drought-afflicted region to supply the millions of gallons of water needed for the fracking process.
Fracking foes also raised the specter of climate change, saying California regulators should not allow a process that could potentially unleash 15 million barrels of Monterey Shale oil – oil that would add to carbon emissions and climate change.
Others took a more existential approach. Dave This, a Brea resident and member of the Brea Congregational United Church of Christ, said humanity is called to preserve a planet gifted to them by the Creator.
“Regardless of the faith, regardless of whether you’re Christian, Muslim or Buddhist, there’s that thread of taking care of the planet and handing it off in better condition than you received it,” he said.
The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources is holding several more public hearings across the state. Norton, of the Food & Water Watch, vowed to continue the fight and drive home the message to Gov. Brown that they want fracking banned.
“We’re already dogging him all across the state,” Norton said. “He can’t go to any public hearing, he can’t go to a birthday party, without us being there. If he doesn’t like it now, he’s not going to like it next year.”
Contact the writer: firstname.lastname@example.org or 562-310-7684
Interim rules permitting but regulating fracking took effect Jan. 1. The Department of Conservation is currently taking public comment on the permanent rules, which will be implemented in 2015.
The Department held public comment meetings in Sacramento and Long Beach Monday. It will host meetings in Bakersfield and Salinas Wednesday and in Santa Maria Monday, Jan. 13.
The Department’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources must also certify an environmental analysis of the rules by July 1, 2015.
The Division is also taking public comments about the environmental analysis, both in writing and at public meetings. The last two of five meetings are being held Wednesday, Jan. 8, in Long Beach and Thursday, Jan. 9, in Ventura. The Long Beach meeting will be at the Long Beach Convention Center from 4 to 8 p.m.
WHAT IS BEING DEBATED?
Senate Bill 4, signed into law in September 2013, required the California Department of Conservation to draft rules regulating “well stimulation,” which includes the controversial oil drilling technique hydraulic fracturing, also called fracking.
A few key points:
Evaluation: The well operator must test the cement of the well casing to make sure it is strong enough and must determine fluids cannot leak away because of well stimulation.
Permit: The permit application must detail where and when a well will be stimulated, what chemicals will be used and their concentration, and include a groundwater monitoring plan and an estimation of waste material, among other things.
Notification: Neighbors must be notified 30 days before a well is stimulated.
Testing: The well must be tested at a pressure 25 percent higher than the expected pressure during stimulation.
Monitoring: The well operator must track a host of factors during and after well stimulation, and notify authorities if certain breaches occur.
Disclosure: The well operator must post information about the composition of the stimulation fluids on a government website within 60 days of ending well stimulation.
Trade secrets: Well operators must disclose the composition of the stimulation fluids to the state, which will decide if it is a trade secret.
The Department of Conservation will hold a series of meetings to solicit public comment. The current rules are temporary and the final version of the rules will be implemented in January 2015.
Fracking moratorium urged by California lawmakers
BY JEREMY B. WHITE
The Sacramento Bee January 6, 2014
SACRAMENTO, CALIF. – Reviving an issue that dominated the environmental agenda in 2013, California lawmakers are calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to impose a moratorium on the controversial drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing.
California is at work crafting regulations to govern hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which well operators blast a potent mix of chemicals and water underground to shatter energy-trapping rock formations. The new guidelines will set up a permitting system, require more groundwater testing and force companies to disclose information about where they plan to frack and what chemicals they will use.
Those forthcoming regulations are the product of a new law passed last year. Senate Bill 4, by state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, was less stringent than other proposed fracking measures that would have halted the practice outright.
In the end, legislators sent Pavley’s bill to Brown even as environmentalist groups forsook the legislation, saying it had been diluted to the point of ineffectiveness.
“I think almost everyone walked out of session feeling unsatisfied, so we want to make sure there is accountability on this industry,” said Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, who last year carried an unsuccessful fracking bill.
Given concerns about the impacts of fracking on groundwater and public health, Levine said, he and three other Assembly members have sent Brown a letter asking for a statewide ban on fracking “until health and environmental concerns are addressed.”
“Current studies show fracking threatens California’s precious water supply, further disrupts our approach to mitigate the dangerous impacts of climate change, exacerbates our pollution problems, and the disposal of wastewater associated with fracking may increase seismic activity,” the letter said.
In an interview with The Sacramento Bee, Levine said he hoped the governor would defer continued fracking operations until regulators have finished the year-long process of laying down new fracking rules.
“I don’t believe we have as much information as we need to continue allowing the oil industry to work unfettered before those regulations are in place,” Levine said.
The fracking issue has increasingly become the lens through which disenchanted environmentalists view Brown. Protesting activists have dogged the governor at events throughout California since he signed Pavley’s bill.
Lawmakers approved Senate Bill 4 last year under the governor’s auspices. Brown interceded as legislators were debating the bill, urging them to pass the measure and promising his signature.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Published on Monday, January 6, 2014 by Common Dreams
Despite roadblocks by industry and state officials, well water contamination found in four states
– Sarah Lazare, staff writer
March against hydraulic fracturing and gas well drilling on the Rachel Carson Bridge in Pittsburgh on November 3, 2010. (Photo: AP/Keith Srakocic, File)The Associated Press has confirmed what residents have long known and the oil and gas industries have sought to hide: the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, as well as conventional oil and gas drilling, is polluting and contaminating well drinking water supplies.
In an investigation published Sunday, AP reporter Kevin Begos—drawing upon hundreds of complaints made by residents, as well as admissions from state officials and even drilling companies—verifies well water contamination in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Texas.
The AP summarizes:
— Pennsylvania has confirmed at least 106 water-well contamination cases since 2005, out of more than 5,000 new wells. There were five confirmed cases of water-well contamination in the first nine months of 2012, 18 in all of 2011 and 29 in 2010. The Environmental Department said more complete data may be available in several months.
— Ohio had 37 complaints in 2010 and no confirmed contamination of water supplies; 54 complaints in 2011 and two confirmed cases of contamination; 59 complaints in 2012 and two confirmed contaminations; and 40 complaints for the first 11 months of 2013, with two confirmed contaminations and 14 still under investigation, Department of Natural Resources spokesman Mark Bruce said in an email. None of the six confirmed cases of contamination was related to fracking, Bruce said.
— West Virginia has had about 122 complaints that drilling contaminated water wells over the past four years, and in four cases the evidence was strong enough that the driller agreed to take corrective action, officials said.
— A Texas spreadsheet contains more than 2,000 complaints, and 62 of those allege possible well-water contamination from oil and gas activity, said Ramona Nye, a spokeswoman for the Railroad Commission of Texas, which oversees drilling. Texas regulators haven’t confirmed a single case of drilling-related water-well contamination in the past 10 years, she said.
Begos reports that his investigation was impeded by a lack of transparency at state levels. He writes:
The Associated Press requested data on drilling-related complaints in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas and found major differences in how the states report such problems. Texas provided the most detail, while the other states provided only general outlines. And while the confirmed problems represent only a tiny portion of the thousands of oil and gas wells drilled each year in the U.S., the lack of detail in some state reports could help fuel public confusion and mistrust.
In some cases, this amounted to state attempts to prevent the media from obtaining information. Begos explains, “For example, starting in 2011, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection aggressively fought efforts by the AP and other news organizations to obtain information about complaints related to drilling. The department has argued in court filings that it does not count how many contamination ‘determination letters’ it issues or track where they are kept in its files.”
Elana Schor, E&E reporter
Published: Tuesday, December 17, 2013
TransCanada Corp. will begin shipping heavy oil sands crude from Alberta to the Gulf Coast — the goal of its Keystone XL pipeline — on Jan. 22, when the controversial project’s President Obama-blessed southern leg begins operation, the company announced today.
Environmentalists rarely offer loud criticism of the Obama administration’s green light for the 485-mile pipeline that TransCanada last year renamed the Gulf Coast Project, locked as they are in a years-long campaign to secure a presidential veto of the 1,179-mile northern leg of KXL. But as the pipeline giant’s CEO affirmed in a Reuters interview today, higher prices for heavy oil along the Gulf Coast mean many shippers will seek to move Canadian crude from the 2010-launched Keystone 1 pipeline, which runs from Alberta to Cushing, Okla., onto KXL’s southern portion, which runs from Cushing to Port Arthur, Texas.
“This is another important milestone for TransCanada, our shippers and the refiners on the U.S. Gulf Coast who have been waiting for this product to arrive,” TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard wrote to reporters.
The company had said last week that it would not disclose the in-service date for the Gulf Coast Project until crude shipments already had begun, citing the risk of financial market speculators aiming to profit off anticipated time frames for deliveries (Greenwire, Dec. 9).
Despite the practical blow that the southern leg’s opening represents, conservation and safety advocates remain as committed as ever to unraveling TransCanada’s border-crossing permit application for the northern section of KXL. The State Department remains at work on a final environmental review of the $5.4 billion project, widely expected to see release next year given an ongoing inspector general inquiry into conflict-of-interest allegations against the private contractor helming the process.
The Gulf Coast Project’s ultimate capacity is expected to reach 700,000 barrels per day, though initial flows are likely to fall below 600,000 bpd as TransCanada continues to seek shipper commitments to run heavy crude through the line.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Published on Tuesday, December 17, 2013
‘They want to extract the dirtiest oil in the world and send it overseas at the expense of communities and the climate’
– Andrea Germanos, staff writer
Activists engaging in a blockade of a tar sands “megaload” in Oregon earlier this month. (Photo: Portland Rising Tide) “The face of tar sands resistance in the Northwest” appeared again on Monday when 16 people were arrested in Oregon after blockading a “megaload” of equipment on its way to the Athabasca oil fields in Alberta, Canada.
Organizers with the climate activism group Portland Rising Tide say protesters set up two blockade sites along Highway 26 near the town of John Day, locking themselves to disabled vehicles in front of the 376-foot long, 901,000-lb load carrying a heat exchanger to be used in tar sands extraction.
While the activists succeeded in at least temporarily halting the transport of equipment, Portland Rising Tide says police used “pain compliance to extract” the four protesters who had locked themselves to the two vehicles, and aggressively arrested others “who were actively trying not to obstruct the load or police activity.”
Among the arrested were the group’s photographers and videographers.
“Transporting loads of such sizes presents a huge threat to rural Oregon’s roads, and rivers,” said Nicole Brown, who grew up in Eastern Oregon and was present at the actions last night. “Law enforcement should focus on protecting Oregon’s roads and rivers and people, rather than multinational fossil fuel interests.”
Portland Rising Tide says that a similar megaload toppled last week in Gladstone, Ore., blocking part of I-205 for hours.
“Are they creating jobs in our communities? No, they want to extract the dirtiest oil in the world and send it overseas at the expense of communities and the climate,” Brown stated.
Weather, mountain roads and protests have already slowed down the megaload’s travel. It now heads east into Idaho and then into Montana before reaching the Alberta tar sands.
It is the first of three megaloads scheduled to pass through Oregon.
Monday’s blockade follows a similar action earlier in the month, when Rising Tide activists and Umatilla tribal members blockaded a megaload of tar sands equipment near the Port of Umatilla in Oregon. In August members of the Nez Perce tribe and others halted a similar megaload of equipment making its way along Idaho’s Highway 12 to the Alberta tar sands fields.
Within the last two weeks, Portland Rising Tide has also occupied offices of megaload shipper Omega Morgan as well as the office of a General Electric subsidiary that makes equipment for what the group has called “the most destructive and outmoded, fossil fuel extraction undertaking on Earth: Alberta tar sands mining.”
Endocrine-disrupting activity linked to birth defects and infertility
University of Missouri researchers have found greater hormone-disrupting properties in water located near hydraulic fracturing drilling sites than in areas without drilling. The researchers also found that 11 chemicals commonly used in the controversial “fracking” method of drilling for oil and natural gas are endocrine disruptors.
Endocrine disruptors interfere with the body’s endocrine system, which controls numerous body functions with hormones such as the female hormone estrogen and the male hormone androgen. Exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as those studied in the MU research, has been linked by other research to cancer, birth defects and infertility.
“More than 700 chemicals are used in the fracking process, and many of them disturb hormone function,” said Susan Nagel, PhD, associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health at the MU School of Medicine. “With fracking on the rise, populations may face greater health risks from increased endocrine-disrupting chemical exposure.”
The study involved two parts. The research team performed laboratory tests of 12 suspected or known endocrine-disrupting chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, and measured the chemicals’ ability to mimic or block the effects of the reproductive sex hormones estrogen and androgen. They found that 11 chemicals blocked estrogen hormones, 10 blocked androgen hormones and one mimicked estrogen.
The researchers also collected samples of ground and surface water from several sites, including:
* Accident sites in Garfield County, Colo., where hydraulic fracturing fluids had been spilled
* Nearby portions of the Colorado River, the major drainage source for the region
* Other parts of Garfield County, Colo., where there had been little drilling
* Parts of Boone County, Mo., which had experienced no natural gas drilling
The water samples from drilling sites demonstrated higher endocrine-disrupting activity that could interfere with the body’s response to androgen and estrogen hormones. Drilling site water samples had moderate-to-high levels of endocrine-disrupting activity, and samples from the Colorado River showed moderate levels. In comparison, the researchers measured low levels of endocrine-disrupting activity in the Garfield County, Colo., sites that experienced little drilling and the Boone County, Mo., sites with no drilling.
“Fracking is exempt from federal regulations to protect water quality, but spills associated with natural gas drilling can contaminate surface, ground and drinking water,” Nagel said. “We found more endocrine-disrupting activity in the water close to drilling locations that had experienced spills than at control sites. This could raise the risk of reproductive, metabolic, neurological and other diseases, especially in children who are exposed to endocrine-disrupting chemicals.”
The study, “Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Activities of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Surface and Ground Water in a Drilling-Dense Region,” was published in the journal Endocrinology.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
The president has said the right things about climate change – and has taken some positive steps. But we’re drilling for more oil and digging up more carbon than ever
Two years ago, on a gorgeous November day, 12,000 activists surrounded the White House to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. Signs we carried featured quotes from Barack Obama in 2008: “Time to end the tyranny of oil”; “In my administration, the rise of the oceans will begin to slow.”
Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math
Our hope was that we could inspire him to keep those promises. Even then, there were plenty of cynics who said Obama and his insiders were too closely tied to the fossil-fuel industry to take climate change seriously. But in the two years since, it’s looked more and more like they were right – that in our hope for action we were willing ourselves to overlook the black-and-white proof of how he really feels.
If you want to understand how people will remember the Obama climate legacy, a few facts tell the tale: By the time Obama leaves office, the U.S. will pass Saudi Arabia as the planet’s biggest oil producer and Russia as the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas combined. In the same years, even as we’ve begun to burn less coal at home, our coal exports have climbed to record highs. We are, despite slight declines in our domestic emissions, a global-warming machine: At the moment when physics tell us we should be jamming on the carbon brakes, America is revving the engine.
Greenland Melting: Climate Change’s Disasterous Effects
You could argue that private industry, not the White House, has driven that boom, and in part you’d be right. But that’s not what Obama himself would say. Here’s Obama speaking in Cushing, Oklahoma, last year, in a speech that historians will quote many generations hence. It is to energy what Mitt Romney’s secretly taped talk about the 47 percent was to inequality. Except that Obama was out in public, boasting for all the world to hear:
“Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth, and then some. . . . In fact, the problem . . . is that we’re actually producing so much oil and gas . . . that we don’t have enough pipeline capacity to transport all of it where it needs to go.”
Actually, of course, “the problem” is that climate change is spiraling out of control. Under Obama we’ve had the warmest year in American history – 2012 – featuring a summer so hot that corn couldn’t grow across much of the richest farmland on the planet. We’ve seen the lowest barometric pressure ever recorded north of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and the largest wind field ever measured, both from Hurricane Sandy. We’ve watched the Arctic melt, losing three quarters of its summer sea ice. We’ve seen some of the largest fires ever recorded in the mountains of California, Colorado and New Mexico. And not just here, of course – his term has seen unprecedented drought and flood around the world. The typhoon that just hit the Philippines, according to some meteorologists, had higher wind speeds at landfall than any we’ve ever seen. When the world looks back at the Obama years half a century from now, one doubts they’ll remember the health care website; one imagines they’ll study how the most powerful government on Earth reacted to the sudden, clear onset of climate change.
The Fossil Fuel Resistance
And what they’ll see is a president who got some stuff done, emphasis on “some.” In his first term, Obama used the stimulus money to promote green technology, and he won agreement from Detroit for higher automobile mileage standards; in his second term, he’s fighting for EPA regulations on new coal-fired power plants. These steps are important – and they also illustrate the kind of fights the Obama administration has been willing to take on: ones where the other side is weak. The increased mileage standards came at a moment when D.C. owned Detroit – they were essentially a condition of the auto bailouts. And the battle against new coal-fired power plants was really fought and won by environmentalists. Over the past few years, the Sierra Club and a passel of local groups managed to beat back plans for more than 100 new power plants. The new EPA rules – an architecture designed in part by the Natural Resources Defense Council – will ratify the rout and drive a stake through the heart of new coal. But it’s also a mopping-up action.
Obama loyalists argue that these are as much as you could expect from a president saddled with the worst Congress in living memory. But that didn’t mean that the president had to make the problem worse, which he’s done with stunning regularity. Consider:
• Just days before the BP explosion, the White House opened much of the offshore U.S. to new oil drilling. (“Oil rigs today generally don’t cause spills,” he said by way of explanation. “They are technologically very advanced.”)
• In 2012, with the greatest Arctic melt on record under way, his administration gave Shell Oil the green light to drill in Alaska’s Beaufort Sea. (“Our pioneering spirit is naturally drawn to this region, for the economic opportunities it presents,” the president said.)
• This past August, as the largest forest fire in the history of the Sierra Nevadas was burning in Yosemite National Park, where John Muir invented modern environmentalism, the Bureau of Land Management decided to auction 316 million tons of taxpayer-owned coal in Wyoming’s Powder River basin. According to the Center for American Progress, the emissions from that sale will equal the carbon produced from 109 million cars.
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Even on questions you’d think would be open-and-shut, the administration has waffled. In November, for instance, the EPA allowed Kentucky to weaken a crucial regulation, making it easier for mountaintop-removal coal mining to continue. As the Sierra Club’s Bruce Nilles said, “It’s dismaying that the Obama administration approved something even worse than what the Bush administration proposed.”
All these steps are particularly toxic because we’ve learned something else about global warming during the Obama years: Most of the coal and gas and oil that’s underground has to stay there if we’re going to slow climate change.
Though the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009 was unquestionably the great foreign-policy failure of Obama’s first term, producing no targets or timetables or deals, the world’s leaders all signed a letter pledging that they would keep the earth’s temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius. This is not an ambitious goal (the one degree we’ve raised the temperature already has melted the Arctic, so we’re fools to find out what two will do), but at least it is something solid to which Obama and others are committed. To reach that two-degree goal, say organizations such as the Carbon Tracker Initiative, the World Bank, the International Energy Agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, HSBC and just about everyone else who’s looked at the question, we’d need to leave undisturbed between two-thirds and four-fifths of the planet’s reserves of coal, gas and oil.
The Powder River Basin would have been a great place to start, especially since activists, long before the administration did anything, have driven down domestic demand for coal by preventing new power plants. But as the “Truth Team” on barack obama.com puts it, “building a clean future for coal is an integral part of President Obama’s plan to develop every available source of American energy.”
And where will the coal we don’t need ourselves end up? Overseas, at record levels: the Netherlands, the U.K., China, South Korea. And when it gets there, it slows the move to cleaner forms of energy. All told, in 2012, U.S. coal exports were the equivalent of putting 55 million new cars on the road. If we don’t burn our coal and instead sell it to someone else, the planet doesn’t care; the atmosphere has no borders.
As the administration’s backers consistently point out, America has cut its own carbon emissions by 12 percent in the past five years, and we may meet our announced national goal of a 17 percent reduction by decade’s end. We’ve built lots of new solar panels and wind towers in the past five years (though way below the pace set by nations like Germany). In any event, building more renewable energy is not a useful task if you’re also digging more carbon energy – it’s like eating a pan of Weight Watchers brownies after you’ve already gobbled a quart of Ben and Jerry’s.
Let’s lay aside the fact that climate scientists have long since decided these targets are too timid and that we’d have to cut much more deeply to get ahead of global warming. All this new carbon drilling, digging and burning the White House has approved will add up to enough to negate the administration’s actual achievements: The coal from the Powder River Basin alone, as the commentator Dave Roberts pointed out in Grist, would “undo all of Obama’s other climate work.”
The perfect example of this folly is the Keystone XL pipeline stretching south from the tar sands of Canada – the one we were protesting that November day. The tar sands are absurdly dirty: To even get oil to flow out of the muck you need to heat it up with huge quantities of natural gas, making it a double-dip climate disaster. More important, these millions of untouched acres just beneath the Arctic Circle make up one of the biggest pools of carbon on Earth. If those fields get fully developed, as NASA’s recently retired senior climate scientist James Hansen pointed out, it will be “game over” for the climate.
Obama has all the authority he needs to block any pipelines that cross the border to the U.S. And were he to shut down Keystone XL, say analysts, it would dramatically slow tar-sands expansion plans in the region. But soon after taking office, he approved the first, small Keystone pipeline, apparently without any qualms. And no one doubts that if a major campaign hadn’t appeared, he would have approved the much larger Keystone XL without a peep – even though the oil that will flow through that one pipe will produce almost as much carbon as he was theoretically saving with his new auto-mileage law.
But the fight to shut down the pipeline sparked a grassroots movement that has changed the culture of environmentalism – but not, so far, the culture of the White House. For me, the most telling moment came a month or two ago when it emerged that the president’s former communications director, Anita Dunn, had taken a contract to flack for the pipeline.
The reason for fighting Keystone all along was not just to block further expansion of the tar sands – though that’s required, given the amount of carbon contained in that expanse of Alberta. We also hoped that doing the right thing would jump-start Washington in the direction of real climate action. Instead, the effort necessary to hold off this one pipeline has kept environmentalists distracted as Obama has opened the Arctic and sold off the Powder River Basin, as he’s fracked and drilled. It kept us quiet as both he and Mitt Romney spent the whole 2012 campaign studiously ignoring climate change.
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We’re supposed to be thrilled when Obama says something, anything, about global warming – he gave a fine speech this past June. “The question,” he told a Georgetown University audience, is “whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late. And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren. As a president, as a father and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act.” Inspiring stuff, but then in October, when activists pressed him about Keystone at a Boston gathering, he said, “We had the climate-change rally back in the summer.” Oh.
In fact, that unwillingness to talk regularly about climate change may be the greatest mistake the president has made. An account in Politico last month described his chief of staff dressing down Nobel laureate and then-Energy Secretary Steven Chu in 2009 for daring to tell an audience in Trinidad that island nations were in severe danger from rising seas. Rahm Emanuel called his deputy Jim Messina to say, “If you don’t kill Chu, I’m going to.” On the plane home, Messina told Chu, “How, exactly, was this fucking on message?” It’s rarely been on message for Obama, despite the rising damage. His government spent about as much last year responding to Sandy and to the Midwest drought as it did on education, but you wouldn’t know it from his actions.
Which doesn’t mean anyone’s given up – the president’s inaction has actually helped to spur a real movement. Some of it is aimed at Washington, and involves backing the few good things the administration has done. At the moment, for instance, most green groups are rallying support for the new EPA coal regulations.
Mostly, though, people are working around the administration, and with increasing success. Obama’s plan to auction Powder River Basin coal has so far failed – there aren’t any bidders, in large part because citizens in Washington state and Oregon have fought the proposed ports that would make it cheap to ship all that coal to Asia. Obama has backed fracking to the hilt – but in state after state, voters have begun to limit and restrict the technology. Environmentalists are also taking the fight directly to Big Oil: In October, an Oxford University study said that the year-old fight for divestment from stock in fossil-fuel companies is the fastest-growing corporate campaign in history.
None of that cures the sting of Obama’s policies nor takes away the need to push him hard. Should he do the right thing on Keystone XL, a decision expected sometime in the next six months, he’ll at least be able to tell other world leaders, “See, I’ve stopped a big project on climate grounds.” That could, if he used real diplomatic pressure, help restart the international talks he has let lapse. He’s got a few chances left to show some leadership.
But even on this one highly contested pipeline, he’s already given the oil industry half of what it wanted. That day in Oklahoma when he boasted about encircling the Earth with pipelines, he also announced his support for the southern leg of Keystone, from Oklahoma to the Gulf. Not just his support: He was directing his administration to “cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles and make this project a priority, to go ahead and get it done.”
It has: Despite brave opposition from groups like Tar Sands Blockade, Keystone South is now 95 percent complete, and the administration is in court seeking to beat back the last challenges from landowners along the way. The president went ahead and got it done. If only he’d apply that kind of muscle to stopping climate change.
This story is from the December 19th, 2013 – January 2nd, 2014 issue of Rolling Stone.
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Published on Friday, December 13, 2013
Pumped underground using disposal wells, the leftover water from oil and gas drilling is literally shifting the ground beneath communities
– Jon Queally, staff writer
Joe Reneau showing damage from two earthquakes to his home in Sparks. (Photo: Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)In Oklahoma, the oil and gas industry have drilled more than 4,000 “disposal wells” designed to hold wastewater produced from the tens of thousands of extraction drilling sites scattered throughout the state.
But as those wells have grown in number and the millions of gallons of wastewater—generated as an inevitable bi-product from the fossil fuel industry—are pumped into the seems of the earth beneath, something else is happening. Earthquakes. And lots of them.
As the New York Times reports Friday:
Oklahoma has never been known as earthquake country, with a yearly average of about 50 tremors, almost all of them minor. But in the past three years, the state has had thousands of quakes. This year has been the most active, with more than 2,600 so far, including 87 last week.
While most have been too slight to be felt, some […] have been sensed over a wide area and caused damage. In 2011, a magnitude 5.6 quake — the biggest ever recorded in the state — injured two people and severely damaged more than a dozen homes, some beyond repair.
Though hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is among the many extractive practices now believed to cause earthquakes, Austin Holland, a seismologist with the Oklahoma Geological Survey, told the Times that “disposal wells pose the biggest risk.”
“Could we be looking at some cumulative tipping point? Yes, that’s absolutely possible,” Dr. Holland said.
As the Times explains, experts say that wastewater wells are especially pernicious because of their number and size:
Along with oil and gas, water comes out of wells, often in enormous amounts, and must be disposed of continuously. Because transporting water, usually by truck, is costly, disposal wells are commonly located near producing wells.
Though the disposal of oil and gas wastewater has been ongoing for some time, experts say that the scale and locations of the practice that have changed, mostly because of the boom in oil and gas fracking, which is being done in places with unique underground shale formations.
“People are disposing of fluids in places they haven’t before,” Cliff Frohlich, a University of Texas scientist, told the Times.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
Environmental News Network
Published December 1, 2013 09:16 AM
The Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture has approved a 10-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing – better known as fracking. The committee’s approval of a bill introduced by Reps. Peter Kocot, D-Northampton, and Denise Provost, D-Somerville, came after Environment Massachusetts and its allies presented the committee with documented cases of water contamination, illness and other damage from fracking operations elsewhere.
“From Pennsylvania to Colorado, fracking has contaminated water, threatened residents’ health and turned rural landscapes into industrial zones” said Ben Hellerstein, field associate for Environment Massachusetts. “Thanks to the leadership of Chairs Anne Gobi and Mark Pacheco, we are now one step closer to protecting the Pioneer Valley from dirty drilling.”
Concern over fracking in the Bay State has been growing since last year, when an industry-affiliated organization met with landowners in western Massachusetts to discuss the prospects for fracking there. Moreover, as New York mulls over large-scale fracking, drilling operators could soon view western Massachusetts as a convenient dumping ground for toxic fracking wastewater.
“All you have to do is look at the overlap of shale and water resources in the Pioneer Valley, and you know we cannot allow fracking – or its toxic waste – to come to Massachusetts,” Provost said.
“Our state government must do everything it can to protect our drinking water supplies,” Kocot said. “This bill will help to ensure that the health and prosperity of our communities is maintained.”
Special thanks to Richard Charter
amazing moonscape video at:
Shared by Melissa Troutman on December 2, 2013
Every year, we hear about the latest oil spills, pipeline explosions and pollution but we rarely see how people and environment are impacted over time. Public Herald is embarking on a new series to investigate the environmental legacy of fossil fuel in America and solutions for cleaning it up. We begin in Aliceville, Alabama.
Ongoing efforts to clean up an Alabama oil spill are under scrutiny after a train carrying 2.7 million gallons of North Dakota Bakken crude oil exploded, spilling into wetlands just outside the town of Aliceville. Photojournalist John Wathen captured video of cleanup efforts one week after the November 7th derailment, and the footage prompts questions about the efficacy of methods being used.
Wathen wasn’t the only citizen responder in Aliceville. He was joined by Scott Smith, who’s visited major oil spills across the globe to deploy his biodegradable technology, OPFLEX, that can absorb oil and other toxins from polluted water. Wathen and Smith tried to reach the wetland to assess the damage and help stop the oil from moving downstream. But they no sooner were turned away by railroad personnel and threatened with the FBI. Railroad spokesperson Michael Williams wouldn’t confirm or deny the FBI’s involvement and redirected Public Herald to the Bureau.
The footage captured by Wathen shows clean up workers spraying what appears to be water into the oil spill.
After seeing Wathen’s footage, Smith wrote to the railroad company, Genesee & Wyoming, to express his concerns about the methods being used to clean up the spill:vvIt appears from the photos sent to me that water is being used to spray down the oil in the wetlands surrounding Aliceville, AL. There are much better options to remove the oil and help prevent further damage to the wetlands. If it rains anytime soon, there is little doubt that the oil in the water will spread downstream and things can be done now to prevent this.
Smith believes his own technology may be one better way. After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Smith sold BP over 2 million square feet of OPFLEX for cleanup. OPFLEX is an open-celled, sponge-like material modeled after the human lung and sometimes takes the shape of eelgrass to absorb oil and other toxins from polluted water both on and below the surface.
According to Genesee & Wyoming spokesperson Michael Williams, the spray method revealed in Wathen’s footage is “a process used to corral the oil within the containment booms prior to skimming.” However, workers appear to be spraying away from booms in some instances and towards unprotected shorelines. Smith believes the workers are actually using an outdated, defunct “dilution is the solution to pollution” method.
U.S. EPA Region IV, who responded to the spill, was not available for initial comment about the spraying.
Workers spraying oil at the train wreck and crude spill near Aliceville. Photo: John Wathen.
According to Smith, when water is sprayed onto a shale oil spill, some toxins mixed with the oil dissolve below the surface of the water. Some of these toxins are naturally-occurring and some are byproducts of the drilling process used to extract Bakken crude, called hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which involves hundreds of chemicals that return to the surface with recovered oil.
So how are oil spills cleaned up, exactly?
In nearly all oil spills, containment booms are used as floating buffers to try and corral oil resting on the surface of water for skimming. Preventing oil from reaching shore is a major concern, given that oil is virtually impossible to remove from soil. U.S. EPA and industry alike also use absorbent padding at waters edge in order to try and keep the oil off the shore.
When asked about the railroad’s cleanup efforts, Williams wrote to Public Herald that “air and water monitoring began on the morning of the derailment, and the site will be remediated.”
The railroad has a top oil-cleanup contractor on site that is experienced with crude oil responses for pipelines, exploration companies, railroads and shipping companies and which has an established working relationship with EPA Region IV and the State of Alabama. The railroad is working closely with the EPA who are on site daily.
Williams later added their “top oil-cleanup contractor” is United States Environmental Services (USES), the same company involved in cleanup efforts of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and others.
Of course, part of remediation involves knowing precisely what’s been spilled and how. Though the cleanup and investigation of how the train derailed and exploded in Alabama is ongoing, Williams informed Public Herald that the railway was up and running ten days after the incident and trains carrying Bakken crude are being diverted around Aliceville.
Series of Spills Reveals Crude Trend
Four months before the Alabama spill, Smith visited another oil train disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where railcars, also carrying Bakken crude oil, derailed and exploded killing over 40 people and decimating half the town.
CBC News Montreal reported in August that the “U.S. Department of Transportation authorities were worried prior to the Lac-Mégantic disaster about the transport of oil from North Dakota on trains.” Another CBC News report states that Lac-Megantic investigators found it “unusual for crude oil to burn so fiercely.”
Smith has sampled and tested Bakken crude. According to him, not only is Bakken crude lighter and more volatile than other oils, but no one is testing or “fingerprinting” each shipment before placing it in railcars or pipelines for transport. “The objective is to pump it and load it,” Smith told CBCNews Montreal.
Smith offered his test results to help with Genesee & Wyoming’s ongoing investigation. “I have done baseline fingerprinting of Bakken crude oil in its ‘pure form’ This data might help Genesee & Wyoming assess exactly what was in the tankers that exploded.”
Bakken crude is extracted using a controversial drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. A Bakken wellhead during fracking. Photo: Joshua Doubek (2011) Wikimedia Commons.
CBC News also reported tests of Bakken crude by one oil company which showed ten times the amount of benzene in Bakken oil as compared with others, as well as hydrogen sulfide, leading some experts to wonder about the crude’s propensity to easily ignite.
Spills Not Uncommon
Like Smith, John Wathen has responded to many environmental disasters. As Hurricane Creekkeeper of the international Waterkeeper Alliance, Wathen responded to the 2008 Kingston coal ash disaster in Tennessee and the BP Gulf of Mexico spill in 2010, which won him the honor of being named 2012 River Hero. His documentation of these incidents gives a close-up look at how spills are handled.
Aliceville is just the latest in a series of spill disasters in North America, topping (for now) a growing list of incidents related to fossil fuel’s production, transport, distribution, and waste disposal. Setting aside natural gas facility explosions and coal ash spills, here’s a list of some of the oil spill disasters in the United States, or involving U.S. companies, in just the last three years:
January 11, 2010 – Aleutian Islands, Alaska – Adak Petroleum tank spill
January 23, 2010 – Port Arthur, Texas – ExxonMobil tanker ship hit by barge, spill
April 7, 2010 – Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana – ExxonMobil pipeline contractor spill
April 20, 2010 – Gulf of Mexico, US – BP Deepwater Horizon explosion, spill
May 1, 2010 – Niger Delta, Nigeria – ExxonMobil spill
May 25, 2010 – Anchorage, Alaska – BP Trans-Alaska pipeline spill
June 11, 2010 – Salt Lake City, Utah – Chevron Red Butte Creek oil spill
July 26, 2010 – Kalamazoo, Michigan – Enbridge pipeline rupture into Kalamazoo River
July 27, 2010 – Barataria Bay, Louisiana – Boat struck a Cedyco Corp. abandoned wellhead, 5-day spill
December 1, 2010 – Salt Lake City, Utah – Chevron Red Butte Creek oil spill, part II
March 18, 2011 – Gulf coast, Louisiana – Oil spill, unknown origin
July 1, 2011 – Billings, Montana – ExxonMobil Yellowstone River oil spill
July 13, 2011 – Prudhoe Bay, Alaska – BP pipeline leak, spill
November 8, 2011 – Campos Basin, Brazil – Chevron offshore rig oil spill
December 21, 2011 – Niger Delta, Nigeria – Shell offshore oil spill
April 28, 2012 – Torbert, Louisiana – Exxon Mobile pipeline spill
October 29, 2012 – Sewaren, New Jersey – Arthur Kill oil spill after Hurricane Sandy
December 21, 2012 – McKenzie County, North Dakota – Newfield well blowout, spill
March 9, 2013 – Magnolia, Arkansas – Lion Oil refinery leak
March 26, 2013 – Willard Bay, Utah – Chevron pipeline rupture, spill, groundwater contamination
March 30, 2013 – Mayflower, Arkansas – ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline rupture, spill
May 7, 2013 – Milner, North Dakota – TransCanada pipeline leak, spill
May 9, 2013 – Indianapolis, Indiana – Marathon Oil pipeline leak, spill
May 18, 2013 – Cushing, Oklahoma – Enbridge storage terminal leak, spill
September 25, 2013 – Tioga, North Dakota – Tesaro Logistics pipeline rupture, spill
November 7, 2013 – Aliceville, Alabama – Genesee & Wyoming crude train explosion, spill
This is not a comprehensive list. According to an analysis by EnergyWire, over 17,000 spills were reported between 2010-2012 in the U.S.
‘Best’ Method of Transporting Oil
Due to a surge in American fossil fuel production in recent years, oil-by-rail has become an alternative for many companies at a time when pipelines are taboo, crowned in controversy by the Keystone XL. The L.A. Times reported in September that railroads are carrying 25 times more crude oil than they were five years ago.
Genesee & Wyoming’s Michael Williams wrote to Public Herald, “Rail is the safest means of ground-freight transportationŠAs a common carrier, the railroad has a legal obligation to transport these materials.
Both railways and pipelines can be ‘common carriers’ which are legally required to carry all freight, if space allows and fees are paid, and may not refuse unless reasonable grounds exist. Under international law, a common carrier is liable for damage to freight as well, with four exceptions: “An act of nature, an act of the public enemies, fault or fraud by the shipper, [or] an inherent defect in the goods.”
Whether pipelines or railways are ‘safer’ for transport of hazardous materials like crude oil is debatable, but writer Russ Blinch gives an interesting analogy:
Looking at pipelines versus rail tankers is really like asking, “Should I drive the car with bad brakes or the one with bad tires?
For those living along routes for transporting hazardous materials, whether by pipe or by rail, it’s unlikely anyone’s taken time to ask which methods or cleanup technology communities prefer industry use.
About Melissa Troutman
Melissa Troutman is a Public Herald co-founder. She has experience as a traditional print and multimedia journalist and has a passion for photography, teaching, songwriting, and dance. As Managing Editor for Public Herald, Melissa strives to unearth, or sometimes dust off and reorganize, stories that are valuable to all readers. You can email her at email@example.com. Follow on twitter: @melissat22 View all posts by Melissa Troutman »
Anne C. Mulkern, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, November 15, 2013
Unconventional oil drilling in the waters off Southern California uses
several chemicals considered hazardous, including at least one that a
federal agency connects to increased cancer risk, an environmental
group said yesterday.
The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) in a 28-page letter asked the
California Coastal Commission to block offshore hydraulic fracturing,
or fracking, and cited a list of potential perils.
The green group identified chemicals used in offshore operations after
looking at oil and natural gas company disclosures on FracFocus.org.
“The fracking chemicals known to be used in California state waters are
alarming,” Emily Jeffers, Center for Biological Diversity’s staff
attorney, Oceans Program, wrote in the letter. “The Center’s analysis
of chemicals used in 12 wells and disclosed by the voluntary reporting
site FracFocus reveals that almost all of the chemicals used are
suspected of causing gastrointestinal, respiratory, and liver hazards,
as well as skin, eye, and sensory organ risks.
“More than half of the chemicals are suspected of being hazardous to
the kidneys, immune and cardiovascular systems, and more than one-third
are suspected of affecting the developmental and nervous systems,” the
letter added. “Between one-third and one-half of the chemicals used are
suspected ecological hazards.”
The green group said that the California Coastal Commission should use
its authority to prohibit fracking in waters off the Golden State
because it threatens coastal resources.
The commission has not had the chance to review the letter that arrived
yesterday, said Sarah Christie, the agency’s legislative director.
“The Commission staff is in the process of evaluating all of the
available information on offshore fracking, and will be discussing the
topic, as well as our role in the regulatory process, when the
Commission meets next month in San Francisco,” Christie said in an
email. “The Commission is committed to protecting coast and ocean
resources consistent with its mandate and authority in the Coastal Act
and the Coastal Zone Management Act.”
The commission had already planned to talk about offshore oil drilling
at its meeting next month, Christie said. It’s a follow-up to a meeting
in August, when the agency launched an investigation into how much
hydraulic fracturing is happening offshore and what power the
commission has to control it.
That followed a news report that regulators have allowed drilling using
fracking in the Pacific Ocean at least a dozen times since the late
1990s. The Associated Press unearthed the data through a Freedom of
Information Act request.
At that August meeting, Alison Dettmer, chief deputy head of the
commission’s Energy and Ocean Resources division, said the agency lacks
key data related to fracking, in which companies blast water laced with
sand and chemicals at high pressure to break apart rock formations and
release oil or natural gas.
In waters controlled by the federal government, there are 23 platforms
with outer continental shelf (OCS) plans granting approval for
exploration. Thirteen of those were authorized by the Coastal
Commission, Dettmer said in August. Of those, a dozen “have done some
form of fracking in the last 25 years,” she said. In addition, it has
been approved for Platform Gilda off Santa Barbara.
Dettmer will review the CBD letter before next month’s meeting,
Oil and natural gas industry trade group Western States Petroleum
Association did not respond to inquiries about the CBD letter and
claims on chemicals used.
Chemicals listed as hazardous
The Center for Biological Diversity in its letter said many of the
dozen wells where fracking is underway use chemicals with risks.
The green group lists seven chemicals that it said are most commonly
used in offshore wells. It said there are known health risks with those
The ones listed include crystalline silica or X-Cide, which CBD’s
letter said is “classified as a hazardous substance under both the
Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and the Comprehensive
Environmental Response, Cleanup, and Liability Act (CERCLA, or
The chemical is “harmful to skin, eyes and other sensory organs,
respiratory system, immune system and kidneys; mutagen. Known human
carcinogen,” the letter said. CBD drew that information from the
Endocrine Disruption Exchange Inc., or TEDX, which describes itself as
an organization “that focuses primarily on the human health and
environmental problems caused by low-dose and/or ambient exposure to
chemicals that interfere with development and function, called
OSHA has issued a hazard alert on respirable crystalline silica, which
said that “hydraulic fracturing sand contains up to 99 percent silica.
Breathing silica can cause silicosis. Silicosis is a lung disease where
lung tissue around trapped silica particles reacts, causing
inflammation and scarring and reducing the lungs’ ability to take in
The alert, which addresses the issue of worker exposures only, added
that “workers who breathe silica day after day are at greater risk of
developing silicosis. Silica can also cause lung cancer and has been
linked to other diseases, such as tuberculosis, chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease, and kidney and autoimmune disease.”
CBD’s letter also said offshore wells use methanol, which the green
group quoted TEDX as saying is “harmful to skin, eyes and other sensory
organs, respiratory system, gastrointestinal system and liver, brain
and nervous system, immune system, kidneys, reproductive and
cardiovascular system; mutagen.”
The letter also named glyoxal, sodium tetraborate, 2-butoxyethanol,
methyl-4-isothiazolin and ethoxylated nonylphenol as chemicals used in
the offshore wells.
“The chemicals used in the fracking process are extremely dangerous,
but the fate of their ultimate disposal is of even greater concern,”
the letter said. “Releases of fracking fluids onshore have led to fish
kills in freshwater bodies. Spilling or leaking of fracking fluids,
flowback, or produced water is also a huge problem. Spills can occur at
the surface, and there is a risk of underground migration of fluids.
Also, many fluids must be transported to and/or from the well,
presenting additional opportunities for spills.”
Special thanks to Richard Charter
The Huffington Post | By Jared Gilmour
Posted: 11/20/2013 4:21 pm EST | Updated: 11/20/2013 6:45 pm EST
Fracking industry contributions to congressional campaigns spiked 231 percent between 2004 and 2012 in districts and states with fracking activity, according to a report released Wednesday.
Compiled by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and based on MapLight’s collection of federal campaign contribution data, the report showed a smaller, 131-percent uptick in fracking industry contributions to candidates outside of fracking areas. The fracking industry’s level of contributions increased steadily from $4.3 million to just under $12 million between 2004 and 2012, according to the report, just as fracking’s importance to the U.S. energy industry grew.
“Like many industries under increasing scrutiny, the fracking industry has responded by ratcheting up campaign donations to help make new friends in Congress,” CREW Executive Director Melanie Sloan said in a statement.
Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is the controversial process of injecting water, sand and chemicals into oil and gas wells to unlock fossil fuels trapped in layers of rock. The process has revolutionized oil and gas production in the U.S., but faces strong criticism from environmentalists, who worry the chemicals used in fracking could harm the environment.
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) received the most in contributions, the report found, raking in $509,447 between the 2004 and 2012 elections. Barton is a former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
During his tenure as chairman of the committee, Barton was a sponsor of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, according to the CREW report. The act exempted fracking from federal oversight under the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was another major recipient of fracking money, with $384,700 in contributions in the 2004-2012 period.
Republican congressional candidates benefited most from the fracking industry’s largesse, the CREW report showed, garnering almost 80 percent of total contributions.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Posted on Nov 15th, 2013 with tags California, News, offshore fracking .
Citing the use of hazardous hydraulic fracturing chemicals and the release of oil industry wastewater off California’s coast, the Center for Biological Diversity yesterday called on the Coastal Commission to halt fracking for oil and gas in state waters and press for tighter regulation of fracking in federal waters.
In a letter delivered as commissioners meet this week in Newport Beach, the Center says hundreds of recently revealed frack jobs in state waters violate the Coastal Act. Some oil platforms are discharging wastewater directly into the Santa Barbara Channel, according to a government document.
“The Coastal Commission has the right and the responsibility to step in when oil companies use dangerous chemicals to frack California’s ocean waters,” said Emily Jeffers, a Center attorney. “Our beaches, our wildlife and our entire coastal ecosystem are at risk until the state reins in this dangerous practice.”
After noting seven risky chemicals used by oil companies fracking in California waters, the letter describes the duties of the Coastal Commission to protect wildlife, marine fisheries, and the environment. “Because the risk of many of the harms from fracking cannot be eliminated, a complete prohibition on fracking is the best way to protect human health and the environment,” the letter says.
At minimum, the Coastal Commission must take action under the Coastal Act to regulate the practice, including requiring oil and gas operators fracking in state waters to obtain a coastal development permit.
The letter also contains the Center’s analysis of chemicals used in 12 recent frack jobs in state waters near Long Beach. Drawing on data disclosed by oil companies, the Center found that at least one-third of chemicals used in these fracking operations are suspected ecological hazards. More than a third of these chemicals are suspected of affecting the human developmental and nervous systems.
The chemical X-Cide, used in all 12 offshore frack jobs examined by the Center, is classified as a hazardous substance by the federal agency that manages cleanup at Superfund sites. X-Cide is also listed as hazardous to fish and wildlife.
Oil companies have used fracking at least 200 times in waters off Long Beach, Seal Beach and Huntington Beach, as well as in federal waters in the Santa Barbara Channel. Fracking involves blasting massive amounts of water and industrial chemicals into the earth at pressures high enough to crack geologic formations and release oil and gas.
Approximately half the oil platforms in federal waters in the Santa Barbara Channel discharge all or a portion of their wastewater directly to the ocean, according to a Coastal Commission document. This produced wastewater contains all of the chemicals injected originally into the fracked wells, with the addition of toxins gathered from the subsurface environment.
The Center’s letter says that water pollution from fracking and oil operations in California’s waters poses risks to a wide range of threatened and endangered species, including Blue whales, sea otters, and Leatherback turtles.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
A Royal Proclamation day feast brought out over 300 to the anti-fracking blockade in Rexton, New Brunswick in early October. [Photo: Miles Howe]Elsipogtog First Nations members are heading back to the streets in New Brunswick this week to defend their land from a gas drilling company seeking to re-start exploratory fracking operations in the region.
The new wave of local anti-drilling resistance will resume an ongoing battle between the community members who faced a paramilitary-style onslaught by law enforcement agencies last month that sparked international outcry and a wave of solidarity protests.
“This is an issue of human rights and access to clean drinking water, and it’s fundamentally about sovereignty and self-determination.” –Clayton Thomas-Muller, Idle No More
The renewed protest follows a recent announcement by New Brunswick’s premiere that SWN Resources Canada, a subsidiary of the Houston-based Southwestern Energy Company, will resume shale gas exploration in First Nations territory after it was halted by blockades and protests.
Elsipogtog members announced Monday they will join with local residents and other First Nations communities—including the Mi’kmaq people—to “light a sacred fire” and stage a protest to stop SWN from fracking.
“SWN is violating our treaty rights. We are here to save our water and land, and to protect our animals and people. There will be no fracking at all,” said Louis Jerome, a Mi’kmaq sun dancer, in a statement. “We are putting a sacred fire here, and it must be respected. We are still here, and we’re not backing down.”
“The people of Elsipogtog along with local people have a very strong resolve and will be there as long as they need to be to keep the threat of fracking from destroying their water,” said Clayton Thomas-Muller, a campaigner with Idle No More, in an interview with Common Dreams.
Community members previously blocked a road near the town of Rexton in rural New Brunswick to stop energy companies from conducting shale gas exploration on their land without their consent.
In early October, the government imposed a temporary injunction on the New Brunswick protest, bowing to pressure from SWN.
Claiming the authority of the injunction, over 100 Royal Canadian Mounted Police launched a paramilitary-style assault on the blockade in late October, bringing rifles and attack dogs and arresting 40 people.
First Nations communities and activists across Canada and the world launched a wave of actions in solidarity in response to the attack.
“Within 24 hours of the paramilitary assault on the nonviolent blockade by the fed police, Idle No More and other networks organized over 100 solidarity actions in over half a dozen countries,” said Thomas-Muller.
Days later, a Canadian judge overruled the injunction on the protests. Yet the federal and provincial governments continue to allow SWN to move forward fracking plans on indigenous lands, in what First Nation campaigners say is a violation of federal laws protecting the sovereignty of their communities.
“This is an issue of human rights and access to clean drinking water, and it’s fundamentally about sovereignty and self-determination,” said Thomas-Muller. “Support for the Elsipogtog and their actions to reclaim lands in their territory is something that is powerful and united from coast to coast and around the world.”
Published on Thursday, October 31, 2013
Russ Girling still sees project going forward, with or without White House approval
– Andrea Germanos, staff writer
The CEO of TransCanada, the corporation behind the tar sands-carrying Keystone XL, recognized the power of activists in fighting the project but said that even a rejection from the White House won’t deter the pipeline from being completed.
(Photo: Emma Cassidy via tarsandsaction/cc/flickr) Russ Girling, head of the Calgary-based energy giant, was in Washington on Tuesday to meet with the State Department about the pending approval of the pipeline, and offered his thoughts about Keystone opponents and the future of the pipeline in a handful of interviews on Wednesday.
Girling acknowledged the power activists, who have given “good sound bites” that have caused the average person to be fearful of the project, have had in fighting the pipeline, in an interview with Politico. Speaking to Bloomberg, he said that Keystone foes have been able to slow down the approval process and have been “very successful in creating the impression that the pipeline equals emissions.”
“There’s no question that the noise outside is having an influence on the process,” Girling told Bloomberg. “The project has been hijacked by activists that are opposed to the development of all fossil fuels.”
The reach of the message of Keystone XL opponents forced the company to launch extensive PR campaigns to fight back, Girling conceded.
While now in a fifth year of waiting for White House OK for the Keystone XL, which he expects in early 2014, Girling is optimistic, but said that even a “no” from the president won’t deter the project from moving forward.
In June President Obama declared :
Our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward.
A widely criticized draft environmental statement on the pipeline from State Department issued in March indicated it would have minimal impact.
Girling told The Hill he sees no reason for the White House to reject the pipeline in its final assessment, and, contradicting reports from environmental groups, said, “It is impossible to get to a conclusion that the pipeline causes any significant increase in [greenhouse gas] emissions.
He said supporters of the project that TransCanada has already sunk $2 billion into have shown no signs of leaving, despite years of waiting.
“Nobody is going to pack up their tent and leave,” Girling told Bloomberg. “We will get through these hurdles. The marketplace will determine whether these projects get done.”
Published on Monday, October 28, 2013 by Common Dreams
Industry cash and lobbyists pour into coastal Maine town in effort to defeat residents’ initiative to block dirty oil project
– Sarah Lazare, staff writer
Protect South Portland rallies in favor of the Waterfront Protection Ordinance (Photo: damp wood)Big Oil is sparing no expense in its bid to crush efforts by residents of South Portland, Maine who are taking the fossil fuel industry head-on to save their waterfront from tar sands.
Campaign finance reports revealed Friday that the oil industry has poured over $600,000 into a campaign to defeat the Waterfront Protection Ordinance—a land-use zoning ordinance up for referendum in the November election, that is backed by grassroots organizations and would block oil industry efforts to build a tar sands export facility.
“Clearly they have all the money. We are talking about some of the wealthiest corporations in the world. They do not want a community to stand up for itself. They are going to do everything they can to squash our initiative.”
–Robert Sellin, Protect South Portland
The oil industry is likely to break all records on campaign spending in this coastal town of 25,000 people, out-spending local environmental and community groups six-to-one.
“Oil industry spending is completely over the top,” said Robert Sellin, from the group Protect South Portland, in a phone interview with Common Dreams. “Clearly they have all the money. We are talking about some of the wealthiest corporations in the world. They do not want a community to stand up for itself. They are going to do everything they can to squash our initiative and discourage other jurisdictions.”
While the Keystone XL pipeline is still under review by the State Department, the fight in South Portland shows that oil and pipeline industries are pressing to expand routes across the U.S. and Canada.
The campaign to defeat the Waterfront Protection Ordinance is bankrolled by the Washington, D.C.-based lobbying group American Petroleum Institute, as well as the Portland Pipe Line Corporation. The hundreds of thousands of dollars are being used to run advertisements, hire consultants and strategists, and employ canvassers.
“They have been stuffing our mailboxes with shiny mailers and our phones have been ringing off the hook with robo calls, and we’re so sick of it,” said Cathy Chapman, a South Portland resident.
In contrast, local organizations in favor of the ordinance’s passage have collectively spent only $107,000. Protect South Portland says that the $31,000 they have spent in favor of the ordinance came from 192 people donating an average of $42.49 each.
“Our citizen group—Protect South Portland—is volunteer-powered by neighbors and is grassroots,” said Crystal Goodrich of Protect South Portland, who also questioned the tactics of the oil lobby.
The Portland Pipe Line Corporation applied four years ago for a permit to use South Portland as the potential location for an alternate tar sands pipeline. The plan was to use a 70-year-old, 236-mile pipeline, currently employed to transport crude oil from freighters in the South Portland harbor to Montreal, to instead transport tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada. This would be accomplished by reversing the flow of the pipeline, and the tar sands oil would be distributed to international markets via oil tankers and an upgraded terminal in South Portland.
The upgrade would include two 70-foot smokestacks erected on the South Portland waterfront that would spew pollution, including carcinogenic benzene, into the atmosphere. Freighter ships transporting crude oil from Casco Bay would increase the risk of spills, and tar sands storage tanks would be erected near area schools.
PPLC President and CEO Larry Wilson now claims that his company has no immediate plans to move forward on this project, though has said his company won’t rule it out. Meanwhile, PPLC is putting up a vigorous fight against community efforts to prevent tar sands distribution at the South Portland waterfront.
Sellin said that the same tactics the oil industry is using against local residents are used in a bid to force the tar sands industry on communities all over the world. “I hope that people would think about their local situation and how they can use what powers they have to defend their communities,” he said. “We encourage all communities nationally and internationally to look at what’s available and stand up.”
Published on Monday, October 28, 2013 by Common Dreams
New analysis reveals over 15 million homeowners now have a fracking well in their ‘backyard’
– Lauren McCauley, staff writer
(Screenshot from Gasland Part II)Over 15 million homeowners have a natural gas or oil well within a mile of their home—according to a Wall Street Journal analysis published Saturday—thanks to the fracking gold rush that has pushed the fossil fuel industry into Americans’ backyards.
“At least 15.3 million Americans live within a mile of a well that has been drilled since 2000,” said the WSJ analysis, which looked at well location and population data for more than 700 counties in 11 major energy-producing states. “That is more people than live in Michigan or New York City.”
The story credits the toxic process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for spurring the expansion of the fossil fuel industry into the small towns and neighborhoods over the Niobrara Shale in Colorado, the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and the Barnett Shale in Texas, among others.
“The change can be dramatic,” the WSJ writes.
In Johnson County, Texas, in 2000, there were fewer than 20 oil and gas wells. Only a fraction of the residents of this mostly suburban county, south of Fort Worth, lived anywhere near a well or could tell you where to find one.
Today, more than 3,900 wells dot the county and some 99.5% of its 150,000 residents live within a mile of a well. Similar transformations took place in parts of Pennsylvania, Colorado and Wyoming, according to Journal data.
According to DrillingInfo, a data provider to the oil industry, in 2010 some 23 counties, with more than four million residents, each had more than three new wells per square mile.
The WSJ quotes a number of homeowners who have either permitted by lease onto their own property or watched the oil industry move in to adjacent land. Describing the new wells as little more than an “irritation” focusing particularly on the noise and “influx of truck traffic,” the report fails to emphasize the long-term impact of these new neighbors.
Documented in environmental journals and films such as director Josh Fox’s Gasland and Gasland Part II, communities which have already been ravaged by the fracking boom report widespread water contamination—resulting in sickness, dead livestock and flammable tap water.
In late July, environmental groups uncovered a leaked EPA report that said fracking caused methane to leak into drinking-water aquifers in Dimock, Penn. Dimock, which is featured in Gasland, has become the exemplar of a community casualty of the toxic fracking boom.
Published on Monday, October 28, 2013 by TomDispatch.com
X-ray of a flagging presidency: Will Obama block the Keystone XL pipeline or just keep bending?
by Bill McKibben
President Barack Obama speaks at the southern site of the Keystone XL pipeline on March 22, 2012 in Cushing, Oklahoma. In June of this year, President Obama said that the building of the full pipeline — on which he alone has the ultimate thumbs up or thumbs down — would be approved only if “it doesn’t significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” By that standard, it’s as close to a no-brainer as you can get. (Photo: Getty images)As the battle over the Keystone XL pipeline has worn on — and it’s now well over two years old — it’s illuminated the Obama presidency like no other issue. It offers the president not just a choice of policies, but a choice of friends, worldviews, styles. It’s become an X-ray for a flagging presidency. The stakes are sky-high, and not just for Obama. I’m writing these words from Pittsburgh, amid 7,000 enthusiastic and committed young people gathering to fight global warming, and my guess is that his choice will do much to determine how they see politics in this country.
Let us stipulate at the start that whether or not to build the pipeline is a decision with profound physical consequences. If he approves its construction, far more of the dirtiest oil on Earth will flow out of the tar sands of Alberta, Canada, and reach the U.S. Gulf Coast. Not just right away or for a brief period, but far into the future, since the Keystone XL guarantees a steady flow of profits to oil barons who have their hearts set on tripling production in the far north.
The history of oil spills and accidents offers a virtual guarantee that some of that oil will surely make its way into the fields and aquifers of the Great Plains as those tar sands flow south. The greater and more daunting assurance is this, however: everything that reaches the refineries on the Gulf Coast will, sooner or later, spill into the atmosphere in the form of carbon, driving climate change to new heights.
In June, President Obama said that the building of the full pipeline — on which he alone has the ultimate thumbs up or thumbs down — would be approved only if “it doesn’t significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” By that standard, it’s as close to a no-brainer as you can get.
These days, however, as no one will be surprised to hear, brainless things happen in Washington more often than not, and there’s the usual parade of the usual suspects demanding that Keystone get built. In mid-October, a coalition that included Exxon, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Royal Dutch Shell, not to mention the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and the Business Roundtable, sent Obama a letter demanding that he approve Keystone in order to “maintain investor confidence,” a phrase almost guaranteed to accompany bad ideas. A report last week showed that the Koch brothers stood to earn as much as $100 billion in profits if the pipeline gets built (which would come in handy in helping fund their endless assault on unions, poor people, and democracy).
But don’t think it’s just Republican bigwigs and oil execs rushing to lend the pipeline a hand. Transcanada, the pipeline’s prospective builder, is at work as well, and Obama’s former communications director Anita Dunn is now on the Transcanada dime, producing TV ads in support of the pipeline. It’s a classic example of the kind of influence peddling that knows no partisan bounds. As the activists at Credo put it: “It’s a betrayal of the commitments that so many of us worked so hard for, and that Dunn herself played a huge role in shaping as top strategist on the 2008 campaign and communications director in the White House.”
Credo’s Elijah Zarlin, who worked with Dunn back in 2008, wrote that attack on her. He was the guy who wrote all those emails that got so many of us coughing up money and volunteering time during Obama’s first run for the presidency, and he perfectly exemplifies those of us on the other side of this divide — the ones who actually believed Dunn in 2008, the ones who thought Obama was going to try to be a different kind of president.
Yes, the Environmental Protection Agency has put in place some new power plant regulations, and cars are getting better mileage. But the president has also boasted again and again about his “all of the above” energy policy for “increasing domestic oil production and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.”
On energy there’s been precious little sign of that. Yes, the Environmental Protection Agency has put in place some new power plant regulations, and cars are getting better mileage. But the president has also boasted again and again about his “all of the above” energy policy for “increasing domestic oil production and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.” It has, in fact, worked so well that the United States will overtake Russia this year as the biggest combined oil and natural gas producer on the planet and is expected to pass Saudi Arabia as the number one oil producer by 2017.
His administration has okayed oil drilling in the dangerous waters of the Arctic and has emerged as the biggest backer of fracking. Even though he boasts about marginal U.S. cuts in carbon emissions, his green light to fracking means that he’s probably given more of a boost to releases of methane — another dangerous greenhouse gas — than any man in history. And it’s not just the environment. At this point, given what we know about everything from drone warfare to NSA surveillance, the dream of a progressive Obama has, like so many dreams, faded away.
The president has a handy excuse, of course: a truly terrible Congress. And too often — with the noble exception of those who have been fighting for gay rights and immigration reform — he’s had little challenge from progressives. But in the case of Keystone, neither of those caveats apply: he gets to make the decision all by himself with no need to ask John Boehner for a thing, and people across the country have made a sustained din about it. Americans have sent record numbers of emails to senators and a record number of comments to the State Department officials who oversee a “review” of the pipeline’s environmental feasibility; more have gone to jail over this issue than any in decades. Yet month after month, there’s no presidential decision.
There are days, in fact, when it’s hard to muster much fire for the fight (though whenever I find my enthusiasm flagging, I think of the indigenous communities that have to live amid the Mordor that is now northern Alberta). The president, after all, has already allowed the construction of the southern half of the Keystone pipeline, letting Transcanada take land across Texas and Oklahoma for its project, and setting up the beleaguered communities of Port Arthur, Texas, for yet more fumes from refineries.
Stopping the northern half of that pipeline from being built certainly won’t halt global warming by itself. It will, however, slow the expansion of the extraction of tar sands, though the Koch brothers et al. are busy trying to find other pipeline routes and rail lines that would get the dirtiest of dirty energy out of Canada and into the U.S. via destinations from Michigan to Maine. These pipelines and rail corridors will need to be fought as well — indeed the fights are underway, though sometimes obscured by the focus on Keystone. And there are equally crucial battles over coal and gas from the Appalachians to the Pacific coast. You can argue that the president’s people have successfully diverted attention from their other environmental sins by keeping this argument alive long past the moment at which it should have been settled and a decision should have been made.
At this point, given what we know about everything from drone warfare to NSA surveillance, the dream of a progressive Obama has, like so many dreams, faded away.
At this point, in fact, only the thought of those 900,000 extra barrels a day of especially nasty oil coming out of the ground and, via that pipeline, into refineries still makes the fight worthwhile. Oh, and the possibility that, in deciding to block Keystone, the president would finally signal a shift in policy that matters, finally acknowledge that we have to keep most of the carbon that’s still in the ground in that ground if we want our children and grandchildren to live on a planet worth inhabiting.
If the president were to become the first world leader to block a big energy project on the grounds of its effects on climate, it might help dramatically reset the international negotiations that he allowed to go aground at Copenhagen in 2009 — the biggest foreign policy failure of his first term.
But that cascade of “ifs” depends on Obama showing that he can actually stand up to the oil industry. To an increasingly disillusioned environmental movement, Keystone looks like a last chance.
by Asjylyn Loder, October 10, 2013,
Chesapeake Energy’s (CHK) Serenity 1-3H well near Oklahoma City came in as a gusher in 2009, pumping more than 1,200 barrels of oil a day and kicking off a rush to drill that extended into Kansas. Now the well produces less than 100 barrels a day, state records show. Serenity’s swift decline sheds light on a dirty secret of the oil boom: It may not last.
Shale wells start strong and fade fast, and producers are drilling at a breakneck pace to hold output steady. In the fields, this incessant need to drill is known as the Red Queen, after the character in Through the Looking-Glass who tells Alice, “It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”
The U.S. is producing 7.8 million barrels of oil a day, more than it has in a quarter-century. Crude from shale formations has cut reliance on imports and put the U.S. closer to energy independence than it’s been since 1989. The International Energy Agency predicted last year that the U.S. would overtake Saudi Arabia by 2020 as the world’s largest producer.
Whether current production can hold up is the subject of debate. David Hughes, a geoscientist and president of Global Sustainability Research, has examined the life span of shale wells. “The Red Queen syndrome just gets worse and worse and worse,” he says. “The higher production goes, the more wells you need to offset the decline.”
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that about 29 percent of U.S. oil production today comes from so-called tight oil formations. These dense layers of rock and shale are cracked open by blasting water, sand, and chemicals deep underground, creating fissures that allow the oil to flow into horizontal pipes, some of them thousands of feet long. Production from wells bored into these formations declines by 60 percent to 70 percent in the first year alone, says Allen Gilmer, chairman and chief executive officer of Drillinginfo, which tracks the performance of U.S. wells. Traditional wells take two years to slide 50 percent to 55 percent, and they can keep pumping for 20 years or more.
In North Dakota’s Bakken shale, a well formally known as Robert Heuer 1-17R put out 2,358 barrels in May 2004, when it went live. The output proved there was money to be made drilling in the Bakken and kicked off an oil rush in North Dakota. Continental Resources (CLR), the well’s operator, built a monument to it. Production declined 69 percent in the first year. “I look at shale as more of a retirement party than a revolution,” says Art Berman, a petroleum geologist who spent 20 years with what was then Amoco and now runs his own firm, Labyrinth Consulting Services, in Sugar Land, Tex. “It’s the last gasp.”
There are plenty of people who disagree. Aubrey McClendon, founder and former president and CEO of Chesapeake, called Berman a “third-tier geologist” in a 2011 interview on CNBC’s Mad Money With Jim Cramer. Harold Hamm, the chairman and CEO of Continental, estimated in 2010 that there were 24 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the Bakken and other formations underlying the Williston basin. Now, Hamm says improved technology could eventually boost that number to 45 billion: “We’re just getting started,” he says. Since Continental drilled the Robert Heuer, North Dakota’s oil production has increased more than 10-fold to 874,000 barrels a day, beating Ecuador and Qatar, the two smallest members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.
Global Sustainability’s Hughes estimates the U.S. needs to drill 6,000 new wells per year at a cost of $35 billion to maintain current production. His research also shows that the newest wells aren’t as productive as those drilled in the first years of the boom, a sign that oil companies have already tapped the best spots, making it that much harder to keep breaking records. Hughes has predicted that production will peak in 2017 and fall to 2012 levels within two years.
“The hype about U.S. energy independence and ‘Saudi America’ is deafening if you look at the mainstream media,” Hughes says. “We need to have a much more in-depth and intelligent discussion about this.” On Oct. 7, Abdalla Salem el-Badri, OPEC’s secretary general, said at a conference in Kuwait that U.S. shale producers are “running out of sweet spots” and that output will peak in 2018.
If the boom goes bust, it will profoundly affect the fortunes of states such as Oklahoma, which from 1907 to 1923 was the biggest oil-producing state in the U.S. Its production has increased more than 80 percent since Chesapeake drilled the Serenity well near the Kansas border, propelled by oil prices that have averaged more than $85 a barrel since the start of 2009. Drills are targeting the Woodford shale, the Mississippi Chat, and the Mississippi lime, hardened deposits left by a shallow sea that covered Oklahoma 350 million years ago.
The cost of drilling a horizontal shale well ranges from $3.5 million in the Mississippi lime to $9 million or more in the Bakken. That’s far more than the cost of a similar vertical well, which goes from $400,000 to $600,000, according to Drillinginfo.
In September, Steve Slawson, vice president for Slawson Exploration, sat in a trailer about 35 miles north of Oklahoma City, watching monitors as his crew shattered the Mississippi lime thousands of feet below. The well, known as Begonia 1-30H, will cost about $3.7 million. One-third of that is the cost of fracking: First, thin pipes loaded with explosives are threaded into the hole to blast the ancient reef. Then, at a cost of about $80,000, the Begonia will consume 50,000 gallons of hydrochloric acid to dissolve the limestone; another $68,000 will pay for 1,000 gallons of antibacterial solution to kill microorganisms that chew up the pipes; $110,000 goes for a soapy surfactant to reduce friction; $10,000 covers a scale inhibitor to prevent lime buildup; and $230,000 purchases 2 million pounds of sand to prop the fractures open so the oil and gas can flow into the well. Then there’s $300,000 in pumping charges, plus the cost of equipment rental, pipe, and water, which brings the price tag for fracking the well to $1.2 million. A host of other things, from cement to Porta Potty rentals, accounts for the rest of the cost.
There’s little doubt Begonia will produce oil, Slawson says. The question is whether it will be enough to cover the cost of drilling and how quickly. Slawson Exploration’s first Mississippi lime horizontal well, the nearby Wolf 1-29H, produced the equivalent of almost 1,185 barrels a day when it started flowing last year and has paid for itself twice over, Slawson says. After the Wolf, a third of his wells were “dogs,” and only a third have come even close to it.
Slawson sees a few more years of growth in U.S. production if prices stay high. Below $70 a barrel, the number of rigs hunting for oil will drop, and production won’t be far behind, he says. “Like anybody else who is over the age of 50 and has been through the boom-and-bust cycle, I am concerned,” he says.
Companies that borrow heavily to pay for drilling will be hit especially hard if prices decline. Since natural gas prices started falling, Chesapeake has been forced to sell off assets to pay for drilling. It’s also started cutting jobs. Chesapeake would not comment for this story.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Published on Friday, October 11, 2013 by DeSmogBlog
by Steve Horn
Over 20,600 barrels of oil fracked from the Bakken Shale has spilled from a Tesoro Logistics pipeline in Tioga, North Dakota in one of the biggest onshore oil spills in recent U.S. history.
Though the spill occurred on September 29, the U.S. National Response Center – tasked with responding to chemical and oil spills – did not make the report available until October 8 due to the ongoing government shutdown.
“The center generally makes such reports available on its website within 24 hours of their filing, but services were interrupted last week because of the U.S. government shutdown,” explained Reuters.
The “Incident Summaries” portion of the National Response Center’s website is currently down, and the homepage notes, “Due to [the] government shutdown, some services may not be available.”
At more than 20,600 barrels – equivalent to 865,200 gallons – the spill was bigger than the April 2013 ExxonMobil Pegasus pipeline spill, which spewed 5,000-7,000 barrels of tar sands into a residential neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas.
So far, only 1,285 barrels have been cleaned, and the oil is spread out over a 7.3 acre land mass.
Kris Roberts, environmental geologist for the North Dakota Department of Health Division of Water Quality told the Williston Herald, “the leak was caused by a hole that deteriorated in the side of the pipe.”
“No water, surface water or ground water was impacted,” he said. “They installed monitoring wells to ensure there is no impact now or that there is going to be one.”
Roberts also told the Herald he was impressed with Tesoro’s handling of the cleanup.
“They’ve responded aggressively and quickly,” Roberts commented, also noting that the cleanup will cost upward of $4 million. “Sometimes we’ve had to ask companies to do what they did right off the mark. They’re going at this aggressively and they know they have a problem and they know what they need to do about it.”
Tesoro Logistics Chairman and CEO Greg Goff also weighed in on the spill.
“Protection and care of the environment are fundamental to our core values, and we deeply regret any impact to the landowner,” said Goff in a press release. “We will continue to work tirelessly to fully remediate the release area.”
Pipeline to Albany Refinery, Barging on the Hudson
Tesoro’s six-inch pipeline was carrying oil obtained via the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process to the Stampede, ND rail facility. From Stampede, Canadian Pacific’s freight trains take the oil piped from Tesoro’s pipeline and ship it to an Albany, NY holding facility by Global Partners located along the Hudson River.
Albany, NY Global Partners Facility; Image Credit: Google Maps
“Over five years, the equivalent of roughly 91 million barrels of oil will be transported via CP’s rail network from a loading facility in Stampede, N.D., to a Global terminal in Albany,” explained a September story appearing in the Financial Post.
Albany’s holding facility received its first Canadian Pacific shipment from the Bakken Shale in December 2011, according to Bloomberg, with 1.4 million barrels of storage capacity. The facility receives 149,000-157,000 barrels of Bakken crude per day from Canadian Pacific.
Once shipped to Global’s Albany holding facility, much of the oil is barged to market on tankers along the Hudson from the Port of Albany.
“As much as a quarter of the shale oil being produced in North Dakota could soon be headed by rail to the Port of Albany,” explained an April 2012 article appearing in the Albany Times-Union. “The crude oil…will be loaded onto barges to be shipped down the Hudson River to refineries along the East Coast.”
North Dakota Petroleum Council Responds
North Dakota Petroleum Council’s response to the largest fracked oil spill in U.S. history and one of the biggest onshore spills in U.S. history? Ho-hum.
“You know, this is an industrial business and sometimes things happen and the companies are certainly responsible to take care of these things when they happen,” Petroleum Council President Ron Ness told KQCD.
John Berger, Manager of Tesoro’s Mandan, ND, refinery, sits on the Petroleum Council’s Board of Directors.
DeSmogBlog will post continuing updates on the spill: stay tuned.
Photo Credit: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration | Wikimedia Commons
© 2013 DeSmogBlog blog
Anne C. Mulkern, E&E reporter
Published: Friday, October 4, 2013
Hydraulic fracturing operations in the waters off California’s coast
break multiple environmental laws, a green group warned yesterday in a
letter to two federal agencies.
The Center for Biological Diversity asked the Bureau of Ocean Energy
Management and the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to
halt offshore operations that use unconventional drilling, including
the process known as fracking.
Oil and natural gas company operations in the Pacific Ocean need to go
through a supplemental National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
analysis, the letter said. That would look at potential threats to
environment and wildlife in the area, “which hosts the world’s densest
summer concentrations of blue whales,” Center for Biological Diversity
The agencies need to take corrective action or face a lawsuit from the
green group, said the Center for Biological Diversity.
“Oil companies are fracking California’s beautiful coastal waters with
dangerous chemicals, and federal officials seem barely aware of the
dangers,” Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney and director of the Center’s
oceans program, said in a statement. “We need an immediate halt to
offshore fracking before chemical pollution or an oil spill poisons the
whales and other wildlife that depend on California’s rich coastal
The Associated Press in August reported that companies including Venoco
Inc. and Chevron Corp. have fracked offshore wells. Federal regulators
have permitted at least a dozen instances of hydraulic fracturing in
the Pacific Ocean since the late 1990s, AP reported, citing federal
documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests.
At a California Coastal Commission meeting a week later, Brian Segee,
staff attorney with the Santa Barbara-based Environmental Defense
Center, said that most of the leases in question have existed for years
and have changed ownership several times. California bans new leases
for offshore drilling (EnergyWire, Aug. 16).
The center’s letter went to Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Pacific
Region Director Ellen Aronson and Bureau of Safety and Environmental
Enforcement Pacific Region Director Jaron Ming. Neither immediately
responded to reporter inquiries sent after business hours local time in
The Western States Petroleum Association, a trade group for oil and
natural gas companies, also did not immediately reply to a request for
comment. WSPA, as it’s known, has argued that the California
Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA, has not applied to onshore fracking
Kassie Siegel, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity,
said that NEPA applies to offshore fracking under the same theory used
in a recent lawsuit in California. In that case, a federal judge ruled
that the Bureau of Land Management improperly issued oil and gas leases
in California’s massive Monterey Shale without considering the effects
of hydraulic fracturing on leased lands (EnergyWire, April 9).
“That suit focused on onshore fracking on public land in central
California, but the judge made it clear that NEPA applies to fracking,”
The Center for Biological Diversity subsequently filed a similar case.
It has been in settlement talks with BLM on the remedy in the first
case and on merits and remedy in the second case, said Brendan
Cummings, the CBD attorney in the case.
“As with onshore leases issued by BLM where the agency never looked at
fracking, offshore fracking has also never been analyzed in any NEPA
document, as fracking wasn’t considered at all in the old
[environmental impact statements] or [environmental assessments] for
the original lease sales, nor in the more recent, very cursory NEPA
done for more recent drilling permits on those leases,” Cummings said.
“Approving any offshore drilling that involves fracking without new
NEPA is unlawful, and this letter puts the agency on notice of such,”
Yesterday’s letter sent to the agencies said that under NEPA, agencies
not only must perform analyses prior to taking federal action but must
conduct supplemental review whenever “[t]here are significant new
circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns and
bearing on the proposed action or its impacts.”
The green group also noted provisions in the Outer Continental Shelf
Lands Act (OCSLA).
“The Bureaus are required to ‘[p]revent damage to or waste of any
natural resource, property, or the environment,'” the letter said,
citing the law, “and have the authority to suspend ‘any operation or
activity, including production, pursuant to any lease or permit … if
there is a threat of serious, irreparable, or immediate harm or damage
to life (including fish and other aquatic life), to property … or to
the marine, coastal, or human environment.'”
Published on Friday, October 4, 2013
Hydraulic fracturing gas drilling turning America’s water into cancer-causing, radioactive waste
– Jon Queally, staff writer
The explosion of hydraulic fracturing in the last several years, according to a new report, is creating a previously ‘unimaginable’ situation in which hundreds of billions of gallons of the nation’s fresh water supply are being annually transformed into unusable—sometimes radioactive—cancer-causing wastewater.
According to the report, Fracking by the Numbers, produced by Environment America, the scale and severity of fracking’s myriad impacts betray all claims that natural gas is a “cleaner” or somehow less damaging alternative to other fossil fuels.
The report explores various ways in which gas fracking negatively impacts both human health and the environment, including the contamination of drinking water, overuse of scarce water sources, the effect of air pollution on public health, its connection to global warming, and the overall cost imposed on communities where fracking operations are located.
“The bottom line is this: The numbers on fracking add up to an environmental nightmare,” said John Rumpler, the report’s lead author and senior attorney for Environment America. “For our environment and for public health, we need to put a stop to fracking.”
In fact, the report concludes that in state’s where the practice is now occurring, immediate moratoriums should be enacted and in states where the practice has yet to be approved, bans should be legislated to prevent this kind of drilling from ever occurring.
Though the report acknowledges its too early to know the full the extent of the damage caused by the controversial drilling practice, it found that even a look at the “limited data” available—taken mostly from industry reports and government figures between 2005 and 2012—paints “an increasingly clear picture of the damage that fracking has done to our environment and health.”
So what are the numbers?
The report measured key indicators of fracking threats across the country, and found:
• 280 billion gallons of toxic wastewater generated in 2012,
• 450,000 tons of air pollution produced in one year,
• 250 billion gallons of fresh water used since 2005,
• 360,000 acres of land degraded since 2005,
• 100 million metric tons of global warming pollution since 2005.
“The numbers don’t lie,” said Rumbpler. “Fracking has taken a dirty and destructive toll on our environment. If this dirty drilling continues unchecked, these numbers will only get worse.”
The Environment America report comes on the heels of a study released by researchers at Duke University earlier this week that found a “surprising magnitude of radioactivity” in the local water near a fracking operation in Pennsylvania.
And ClimateProgress adds:
The report also pointed out the weaknesses of current wastewater disposal practices — wastewater is often stored in deep wells, but over time these wells can fail, leading to the potential for ground and surface water contamination. In New Mexico alone, chemicals from oil and gas pits have contaminated water sources at least 421 times, according to the report.
Those toxic chemicals are exempt from federal disclosure laws, so it’s up to each state to decide if and how the oil and gas companies should disclose the chemicals they use in their operations — which is why in many states, citizens don’t know what goes into the brew that fracking operators use to extract oil and natural gas. Luckily, some states are beginning to address this — California recently passed a law ordering fracking companies to make their chemicals public, an order similar to laws in about seven other states.
The report also noted the vast quantities of water needed for fracking — from 2 million to 9 million gallons on average to frack one well. Since 2005, according to the report, fracking operations have used 250 billion gallons of freshwater. This is putting a strain on places like one South Texas county, where fracking was nearly one quarter of total water use in 2011 — and dry conditions could push that amount closer to one-third.
In addition to the impact on surface and ground water supplies, fracking is a well-known contributor to global warming and numerous studies have shown that the methane emissions created by the extraction and transportation of natural gas far outweighs any benefit generated by its ability to burn “cleaner” than oil or coal.
Download or read the complete report here (pdf). EA_FrackingNumbers_scrn
Published on Thursday, October 3, 2013 by Common Dreams
‘Extraction of unconventional fuels is having a particularly devastating impact on climate change,’ say noted scientists and peace advocates
– Jon Queally, staff writer
There is no proposed pipeline to pump Canada’s tar sands oil direct to customers in Europe, but that hasn’t kept twenty-one Nobel Prize laureates from demanding the European Union make a stand against the dirty and damaging fuel source.
In a letter this week to the EU president José Manuel Barroso, EU ministers and heads of state, the prominent group of peace advocates and scientists implored the government leaders to enact a law that would classify the heavy bitumen that comes from tar sands mining as a dirtier fuel than conventional crude oil. Such a move, the letter argues, would provide incentives for cleaner energy choices within the EU and also help discourage further development of Canada’s destructive tar sands industry.
“The world can no longer ignore, except at our own peril, that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing life on this planet today,” the letter reads. “The impacts of climate change and extreme resource extraction are exacerbating conflicts and environmental destruction around the world. The extraction of unconventional fuels—such as oil sands and oil shale—is having a particularly devastating impact on climate change.”
The letter highlights the European Commission’s own scientific research which found that one of the unconventional fuel sources identified in the proposed policy, tar sands, produces an average of 23% more greenhouse gas emissions than average conventional oil.
On the particulars of the law the group is pressing on, The Guardian reports:
EU member states approved legislation in 2009, called the fuel quality directive, with the aim of cutting greenhouse gases from transport fuel sold in Europe by 6% by 2020.
In October 2011, the commission proposed detailed rules for implementing the law, including default values to rank fuels by their greenhouse gas output over their wells-to-wheels life cycle.
So far the commission has said it is standing by its value for tar sands – of 107 grams per megajoule – making it clear to buyers that the fuel source had more greenhouse gas impact than average crude oil at 87.5g.
Intense Canadian lobbying and an inconclusive EU vote on the law forced the commission to announce an assessment of the impact of the fuel quality directive in April 2012.
EU sources say the assessment has been concluded, but not yet made public, so the law is still in limbo.
The Canadians have argued the EU law discriminates against Canadian oil and have taken every opportunity to press their case.
The commission has said repeatedly it would stand firm on the law, but the pressure to weaken the measure is intense.
The full letter follows:
EU climate legislation and unconventional fossil fuels
The world can no longer ignore, except at our own peril, that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing life on this planet today. The impacts of climate change and extreme resource extraction are exacerbating conflicts and environmental destruction around the world. The extraction of unconventional fuels—such as oil sands and oil shale—is having a particularly devastating impact on climate change.
For this reason, we are writing to urge you to support the immediate implementation of the European Union’s (EU) Fuel Quality Directive in order to fulfill its 6% reduction target in greenhouse gas emissions from fuels used for transportation by 2020. We have no doubt that the Directive must be applied fairly to unconventional fuels to ensure their climate impacts are fully taken into account. It follows that the fuel-producing companies should report their climate emissions and be held responsible for any emissions increase.
We welcome the EU’s scientific analysis—as it is now proposed for the implementation of the EU Directive—that the extraction and production of fuels from unconventional sources fuels including oil sands, coal-to-liquid, and oil shale leads to higher emissions and that this should be reflected in the regulations.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) is warning that unconventional fuel sources are especially damaging to the environment and climate, and is concerned that these fuel sources are now increasingly competing on a par with conventional fuel sources. In order to avoid catastrophic climate change, the IEA calculates that two thirds of known fossil fuel reserves must be left in the ground.
Now is the time to transition swiftly away from fossil fuels, with a special focus on those that pollute the most. We must all move toward a future built on safe, clean and renewable energy. Fully implementing the EU’s Fuel Quality Directive will send a clear signal that the European Union is committed to action that supports the rights of future generations to a healthy planet.
It is not too late to avert our actions that only amount to palliative care for a dying planet. The time for positive action is now. The European Union can demonstrate clear and unambiguous leadership by upholding its climate principles. We look forward to working together as we move forward to confront this frightening challenge to our global survival.
Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize, 1976, Ireland
Roger Guillemin, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1977, France
Adolfo Pérez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize 1980, Argentina
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize 1984, South Africa
Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Nobel Peace Prize, 1992, Guatemala
Richard Roberts, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1993, United Kingdom
Paul Crutzen, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1995, Netherlands
Harold Kroto, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1996, United Kingdom
José Ramos-Horta, Nobel Peace Prize, 1996, East Timor
John Walker, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1997, UK
Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize, 1997, USA
John Hume, Nobel Peace Prize, 1998, Ireland
Paul Greengard, Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 2000, USA
Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Prize, 2003, Iran
Gerhard Ertl, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2007, Germany
Mark Jaccard, member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Nobel Peace Prize, 2007, Canada
John Stone, member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Nobel Peace Prize, 2007, Canada
Martin Chalfie, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2008, USA
Thomas Steitz, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 2009, USA
Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Prize, 2011, Liberia
Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Prize, 2011, Yemen
Douglas Main LiveScience
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, extracts oil and gas from deep underground by injecting water into the ground and breaking the rocks in which the valuable hydrocarbons are trapped. But it also produces wastewater high in certain contaminants – and which may be radioactive.
In a study published Wednesday in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, researchers found high levels of radioactivity, salts and metals in the water and sediments downstream from a fracking wastewater plant on Blacklick Creek in western Pennsylvania.
Among the most alarming findings was that downstream river sediments contain 200 times more radium than mud that’s naturally present upstream of the plant, said Avner Vengosh, a co-author of the study and a professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke University. Radium is a radioactive metal naturally found in many rocks; long-term exposure to large amounts of radium can cause adverse health effects and even diseases such as leukemia. [5 Everyday Things that Are Radioactive]
The concentrations of radium Vengosh and his team detected are higher than those found in some radioactive waste dumps, and exceed the minimum threshold the federal government uses to qualify a disposal site as a radioactive dump site, Vengosh told LiveScience. While the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility removes some of the radium from the wastewater, the metal accumulates in the sediment, at dangerously high levels, he added. Radium can make its way into the food chain by first accumulating in insects and small animals, and then moving on to larger animals, like fish, when they consume the insects and smaller animals, Vengosh added. But it’s not known to what extent this is happening, since this study didn’t address that question, he said.
For two years, the team monitored sediments and river water above and below the treatment plant, as well as the discharge coming directly from the plant, for various contaminants and levels of radioactivity. In the discharge and downstream water, researchers found high levels of chloride, sulfate and bromide.
Levels of salinity in the plant’s discharge were up to 200 times higher than what is allowed under the Clean Water Act – and 10 times saltier than ocean water, Vengosh said. But fracking wastewater is exempt from that law, Vengosh said.
The high bromide concentrations that were found were particularly concerning, since bromide can react with chlorine and ozone – which is used to disinfect river water and produce drinking water – to yield highly toxic byproducts. But there’s no direct evidence that this has happened yet, Vengosh said.
Several of these contaminants, particularly radium and bromide, may be present in high enough concentrations to cause harm to human health and the environment, but that wasn’t addressed in this study, Vengosh said.
“The occurrence of radium is alarming – this is a radioactive constituent that is likely to increase rates of genetic mutation” and poses “a significant radioactive health hazard for humans,” said William Schlesinger, a researcher and president of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, in Millbrook, N.Y., who wasn’t involved in the study.
Researchers say they are sure the contaminants are coming from fracking because the Josephine facility treats this oil and gas wastewater, and the water contains the same chemical signature as rocks in the Marcellus Shale Formation, Vengosh said. This wastewater is often called “flowback,” as it’s the water that flows back to the surface from underground after being injected into rocks in the fracking process.
In Pennsylvania, some of this water is transported by oil and gas companies to treatment locations such as the Josephine facility, where it is processed and released into streams and rivers. However, much of the water used in fracking is treated by oil and gas companies and reused, or injected into deep wells, said Lisa Kasianowitz, an information specialist at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
The treatment facility did remove some contaminants, including some of the radium, though enough made it through to accumulate in high levels in sediments, Vengosh said. It also “did nothing” to remove certain salts, like bromide, he said. Traditional wastewater plants are not built to remove these contaminants, he added.
The study “really seals the verdict that it’s flowback waters that are contaminating the streams,” Schlesinger told LiveScience.
The Pennsylvania DEP confirmed that the Josephine facility is accepting and discharging “conventional oil and gas wastewater in accordance with all applicable laws and regulations,” Kasianowitz said.
Vengosh said that the research suggests that similar contamination may be happening in other locations with discharge of fracking wastewater throughout the Marcellus Shale formation, which underlies parts of Pennsylvania, New York and Ohio.
Email Douglas Main or follow him on Twitter or Google+. Follow us @livescience, Facebook or Google+. Article originally on LiveScience.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 30, 2013
CONTACT: The Yes Men
TransCanada’s “community consultation” squad dogged by activist lookalikes
WASHINGTON – September 30 – In towns across Canada, troupes of mischievous activists are successfully derailing the attempts of TransCanada—the company building the stalled Keystone XL pipeline—to ram through their latest proposed project, the Energy East pipeline, which would bring over a million barrels of Tar Sands oil to the East Coast for export, primarily to Europe and Asia.
During previous pipeline projects, stakeholders were able to express concerns in front of their whole community. To impede the type of opposition that has stalled past projects, this time TransCanada has changed the format of community consultations, turning them into trade-show-like promotional events where stakeholders can only speak one-on-one with company representatives (or PR contractors hired for the occasion).
To outwit this latest ploy by TransCanada, local activists all along the pipeline route have been swarming these events dressed just like TransCanada reps, but with lookalike “SaveCanada” name tags and brochures. Instead of promoting the pipeline, the SaveCanada reps communicate risks.
“Since TransCanada has come up with a new way to lie to the public, we had to come up with a new way to tell the truth,” said North Bay farmer Yan Roberts, who helped to launch the unusual protest. “We’re friendly folks, so our solution is to dress like them, outnumber them, and ‘out-friendly’ them in every community they’re trying to scam.”
The series of SaveCanada actions began at TransCanada’s open house in North Bay, where roughly 30 TransCanada reps were surprised to see their meeting overwhelmed by newcomers wearing nearly identical shirts and also carrying slick PR materials, but with a twist.
Now, ten other towns have orchestrated their own versions of the prank. When TransCanada came to the Montréal area on September 24, members of the Québécois SaveCanada counterpart, “SansTransCanada,” nearly outnumbered the TransCanada reps. A Global TV segment even identified a SansTransCanada activist as a TransCanada rep.
The Montréal SaveCanada action came to a carnivalesque conclusion when attendees were invited to play “pin the bitumen spill on the pipeline” and a crowd formed around TransCanda’s large route map to see where the sticky-note spill would end up.
NASA’s James Hansen has said of the Keystone XL pipeline that, if built, it will be “game over” for the climate. This is truer still for the Energy East pipeline, as it’s designed to carry a greater volume. The new pipeline also threatens the local communities in its path with inevitable leaks.
“In the next few weeks TransCanada is holding more of these so-called ‘consultations,’ and we are looking forward to seeing them derailed by every community they hope to fool.” said Roberts. “Then we’ll see what they try next, and we’ll derail that, too.”
Upcoming TransCanada “consultations” are scheduled in: Saint-Honoré-de-Témiscouata, Québec (Oct. 1); Kemptville, Ontario and St-Onésime-d’Ixworth, Québec (October 2); Montmagny, Québec and Horton, Ontario (Oct. 3); and Ottawa, Ontario, Canada’s capital city (Oct. 10). To help derail one of these events, please visit www.save-canada.com.
“Companies may try to invent new ways to fool people, but citizens will always be more powerful because we care more,” said Shona Watt, a local organizer of the Montréal SaveCanada/SansTransCanada action. “What’s guaranteed is that, ultimately, people will win.”
### Special thanks to Common Cause
Tell your Governor to listen to the data on fracking:
Fracking Harms Our Beloved Communities
Check out our new report, then share it with your Governor!
It all happened in less than 10 years.
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Sexually transmitted infection rose by 32.4% in rural Pennsylvania counties where fracking began (that’s 62% more than the increase in rural unfracked counties).
Social disorder crimes — especially substance abuse and alcohol-related crimes — increased by 17% in counties with the highest density of fracking (compared to only 13% in unfracked rural counties).
Heavy-truck crashes increased by 7.2% in counties with high fracking activity (whereas they fell in unfracked counties).
Across the country, folks have been coming to community meetings and town halls for years to voice concerns about how natural gas drilling has affected their communities. Now, we finally have the data to back up their concerns. Show your support for a ban on fracking and share this critical report with your Governor!
Thanks for taking action,
P.S. There’s lots you can do in your own community to ban fracking! On October 19, plug into the Global Frackdown to be part of an international day of action against fracking — sign up for an event near you!
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The Obama administration on Wednesday authorized a fourth company to broadly export U.S. natural gas, giving Dominion conditional approval to sell the fossil fuel abroad after processing it at a Maryland facility.
The Energy Department’s decision means that as long as it secures other required permits, Dominion Cove Point will be able to sell as much as 770 million cubic feet of natural gas per day for the next 20 years to Japan and other countries that do not have free-trade agreements with the United States.
With the Dominion Cove Point decision, the Obama administration has now authorized 6.37 billion cubic feet of liquefied natural gas to be sold to non-free-trade nations. Previously, the Energy Department has given export licenses to a Lake Charles, La. project, as well as the Freeport LNG project on Quintana Island, Texas, and, in 2011, Houston-based Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass facility in southwest Louisiana.
Exxon: Natural gas soon will overtake coal in global energy use
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, urged the Obama administration to be more skeptical of future proposals to export natural gas harvested in the United States, lest the foreign sales drive up prices at home. Analysts broadly have predicted total U.S. natural gas exports might settle somewhere between 5 and 10 billion cubic feet per day.
“The United States is now squarely in the range that experts are saying is the most likely level of U.S. natural gas exports,” Wyden noted. “If (the Energy Department) approves exports above that range, the agency has an obligation to use most recent data about U.S. natural gas demand and production and prove to American families and manufacturers that these exports will not have a significant impact on domestic prices, and in turn on energy security, growth and employment.”
Critics of expanded natural gas exports — including some large industrial users of the fossil fuel — say more foreign sales could cause the domestic price to climb, hiking energy bills for manufacturing plants as well as households. Manufacturers who use the fossil fuel as a building block for plastics and chemicals also say higher prices could blunt a competitive advantage that has spurred them to move facilities to the United States.
But a government-commissioned study last year concluded that the United States would score big economic benefits by broadly exporting natural gas, with only modest domestic price increases for the fossil fuel.
And export enthusiasts say more foreign sales of natural gas would ensure new markets and demand that are essential to sustaining the current U.S. drilling boom. The government’s Energy Information Administration has predicted the U.S. will produce a record-setting 69.96 billion cubic feet of natural gas on average each day this year, driven largely by hydraulic fracturing techniques that involve blasting sand, water and chemicals underground.
Dominion aims to convert its existing Cove Point facility so it can liquefy natural gas and load the super-chilled product onto tankers. The facility was originally built as a terminal to receive and regassify tanker shipments of LNG, before today’s surge in domestic natural gas production largely negated the need for those imports.
The Energy Department’s action on Dominion comes roughly four weeks after the last LNG export authorization, a swifter timeline than some had anticipated, especially as analysts expect the bar for approvals to climb with each new approval.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who has championed broader LNG exports, said she was “encouraged that the Department of Energy seems to have picked up the pace of its reviews.” But she noted that the Cove Point approval came nearly two years after Dominion first applied for the export license.
“The United States has a narrowing window of opportunity to join the global gas trade,” Murkowski said. “In order for us to take advantage of the geopolitical and economic benefits offered by selling American gas to our friends and allies overseas, projects like Dominion’s Cove Point must be approved without unnecessary delay.”
Dozens of LNG export facilities are planned around the globe, as companies in the U.S., Australia, Canada and other countries clamor for a foothold in Asian markets hungry for natural gas.
Environmentalists questioned the wisdom of the Dominion approval, saying it would tether the U.S. to fossil fuels for decades.
“Exporting LNG to foreign buyers will lock us into decades-long contracts, which in turn will lead to more drilling — and that means more (hydraulic fracturing), more air and water pollution, and more climate-fueled weather disasters like record fires, droughts, and superstorms like last year’s Sandy,” said Deb Nardone, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas Campaign.
Twenty other export proposals are pending at the Energy Department, which is vetting the applications on a case-by-case basis, following an order that was set in December. In announcing its decision Wednesday, the Energy Department vowed to continue processing the applications individually, even as it continues “to monitor any market developments and assess their impact in subsequent” decisions.
Chairman: Houston port has record exports, but challenges remain
Next in line is a second application from Freeport LNG to export 1.4 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas, followed by a proposal from Cameron LNG for 1.7 billion cubic feet per day.
A federal law dictates that the Energy Department must affirm proposed exports are in the public interest before granting licenses to sell the fossil fuel to countries that don’t have free-trade agreements with the United States — a benchmark that tilts in favor of the foreign sales.
Even after companies have approvals and secure financing for the massive, multibillion-dollar liquefaction facilities, it can take years to build them.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
September 11, 2013. 10:09 am
Sour gas was a constant danger in western Canada’s first commercial oilfield. Toxic even at low concentrations, it was part of the workplace. The Turner Valley Gas Plant scrubbed the hydrogen sulphide – H2S – from the sour gas and made it safe for consumers.
But the men at the plant found that even very small concentrations of gas built up in the liquid of the eye.
Pat Tourond experienced “gassed eyes” often but was usually better by the next morning. His eyes usually started watering right away. Others said it felt like someone threw gravel in their eyes, which became red and inflamed.
Red Kennedy said: “It’s like thousands of needles in your eyes, it’s painful.” Bill McGonigle recalled that gassed eyes created blue circles around the lights in the house. It sometimes took two or three days to go away, but most men remembered being able to go back to work on the next shift. Bill just washed his eyes out with water or put in drops that the doctors gave him. Druggist Joe Korczynski said the physicians handed out castor oil drops and cocaine drops for the pain caused by gassed eyes. Fred Cowling often put grated potato on his eyes when they hurt, and the potatoes turned black as the sulphur soaked into the cure. His eyes were bloodshot for a few days after being gassed. Geoff Andrews recalled a bath of boracic acid worked well for gassed eyes. Les Lake came home a few times with gassed eyes and his wife, Gladys, put wet tea bags on each eye until the sting went away. Bill McGonigle and his mother both experience gassed eyes-their homes burned unprocessed gas until the late 1930s. They subscribed to the wet tea-leaf solution as a cure and felt relief after 8 to 10 hours. Bill McIntyre worked with sour gas for years. It only knocked him out twice but it brought him to his knees many times. It might not have been laughing gas, but it had a humorous side. Bill passed out once and it took a while for him to regain his senses. His wife Beatrice came to his side, comforting him, doing what she could to make sure he came back to the land of the living. A bystander said: “He’s not even dead and you are already coming over to get his wallet!”
SAVE THE DAY – MAY 14, 2014 – for a BIG PARTY!
We are counting down to the 100th anniversary of the discovery of oil in Alberta – just upstream from Black Diamond at Turner Valley. Watch for more stories about how oil changed the province, and Canada,
RECENT POSTS FROM THIS AUTHOR
Gassed Eyes common in the early Alberta Oil Patch Posted on Sep 11, 2013
Protecting Canada’s Oilfield During WWII Posted on Sep 4, 2013 Snatching Out
a Fire in the Oilfield Posted on Aug 28, 2013 Flaring A Thing of the Past in
Alberta Posted on Aug 20, 2013 Flares consumed lots of sour gas Flares
consumed vast quantities of dangerous gas
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Published on Tuesday, September 10, 2013 by Common Dreams
Flickr / Creative Commons License / NRK P3Fresh off a trip to Canada’s tar sands oil fields in Alberta, famed singer Neil Young spoke out at a conference in Washington, DC on Monday against the controversial oil extraction and its export through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, calling Fort McMurray, the town nearest Alberta’s vast tar sands, a “wasteland.”
“This is truly a disaster,” said Young, painting a dire picture in which the people, land and animals of the region are greatly suffering.
“The fuel’s all over – the fumes everywhere – you can smell it when you get to town,” Young recalled. “The closest place to Fort McMurray that is doing the tar sands work is 25 or 30 miles out of town and you can taste it when you get to Fort McMurray. People are sick. People are dying of cancer because of this. All the First Nations people up there are threatened by this.”
“Yeah it’s going to put a lot of people to work,” Young said of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which is slated to transport the excavated tar sands to export terminals in Texas and Louisiana. “I’ve heard that, and I’ve seen a lot of people that would dig a hole that’s so deep that they couldn’t get out of it, and that’s a job too, and I think that’s the jobs that we are talking about there with the Keystone pipeline,” he said.
“The fact is, Fort McMurray looks like Hiroshima,” said Young. “Fort McMurray is a wasteland. … All of the First Nations people up there are threatened by this. Their food supply is wasted. Their treaties are no good. They have a right to live on the land that they always did but there’s no land left that they can live on. All the animals are dying. This is truly a disaster.”
“Neil Young is speaking for all of us fighting to stop the Keystone XL,” Jane Kleeb, Executive Director of Bold Nebraska, a coalition of landowners and others opposed to the $5.3-billion Keystone XL pipeline, told the Globe and Mail. “When you see the pollution already caused by the reckless expansion of tar sands, you only have one choice and that is to act.”
By Steve Horn | September 7, 2013
The Republican-controlled House is voting today on a measure that would strip the president’s authority on Keystone XL pipeline approval, allowing Congress to push the project through before completion of the environmental impact study. (Photo/Matt Wansley via Flickr)
While President Obama made a big deal out of delaying the northern half of the Keystone pipeline’s construction, he compensated by signing an executive order to expedite similar infrastructure projects everywhere else. (Photo/Matt Wansley via Flickr)
Large segments of the environmental movement declared a win on Jan. 18, 2012, the dawn of an election year in which partisan fervor reigned supreme.
On that day President Barack Obama kicked the can down the road for permitting TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline’s northern half until after the then-forthcoming November 2012 presidential election.
“Northern half” is the key caveat: just two months later, on March 22, 2012 – even deeper into the weeds of an election year – President Obama issued Executive Order 13604. Among other key things, the order has an accompanying memorandum calling for an expedited review of the southern half of Keystone XL stretching from Cushing, Okla. to Port Arthur, Texas.
The day before, March 21, Obama flew on Air Force One to a pipe yard in Cushing – the “pipeline crossroads of the world” – for a special stump speech and photo-op announcing the executive order and memorandum.
Dubbed the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project by TransCanada – 95 percent complete and “open for business” in the first quarter of 2014 – the 485-mile tube will ship 700,000 barrels of tar sands crude per day from Cushing to Port Arthur, where it will then reach Gulf Coast refineries and be exported to the global market. It will eventually have the capacity to ship 830,000 barrels per day.
The subject of a large amount of grassroots resistance from groups such as Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance and the Tar Sands Blockade, the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project – when push comes to shove – is only the tip of the iceberg.
That’s because Obama’s order also called for expedited permitting and review of all domestic infrastructure projects – including but not limited to pipelines – as a reaction to the Keystone XL resistance.
A months-long Mint Press News investigation reveals the executive order wasn’t merely a symbolic gesture.
Rather, many key pipeline and oil and gas industry marketing projects are currently up for expedited review, making up for — and by far eclipsing — the capacity of Keystone XL’s northern half. The original TransCanada Keystone pipeline – as is – already directly connects to Cushing from Alberta, making XL (short for “extension line”) essentially obsolete.
Keystone XL’s northern half proposal is key for marketing oil obtained from the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin.
Dubbed the Bakken Marketlink Pipeline, the segment has lost its importance with the explosive freight rail boom for moving Bakken fracked oil to market and other pipeline proposals. One of those pipelines, in fact, has received fast-track approval under the March 2012 Obama Executive Order.
Feeling the pressure from protest against the Keystone XL from groups such as the Tar Sands Action, Indigenous Environmental Network and others, Obama pulled a fast one: “wait and see” for XL’s northern half – which many claimed as a victory – and expedited approval of everything else via executive order.
Breaking down the Keystone XL executive order
Obama’s Keystone XL southern half March 2012 memo reads like Big Oil talking points.
“[W]e need an energy infrastructure system that can keep pace with advances in production,” Obama states in the Memo. “To promote American energy sources, we must not only extract oil — we must also be able to transport it to our world-class refineries, and ultimately to consumers.”
A metaphorical slap in the face to environmentalists who spent months working on opposing Keystone XL, Obama argued a more efficient, less bureaucratic means of approval was compulsory.
“[A]s part of my Administration’s broader efforts to improve the performance of Federal permitting and review processes, we must make pipeline infrastructure a priority … supporting projects that can contribute to economic growth and a secure energy future,” the memo reads.
Though the order issued an expedited permitting process for Keystone XL’s southern half, it also foreshadowed that expedited permitting would become the “new normal” going forward for all domestic oil and gas pipeline projects.
“To address the existing bottleneck in Cushing, as well as other current or anticipated bottlenecks, agencies shall … coordinate and expedite their reviews … as necessary to expedite decisions related to domestic pipeline infrastructure projects that would contribute to a more efficient domestic pipeline system for the transportation of crude oil,” the memo states in closing.
The memo also notes all projects placed in the expedited permitting pile can have their statuses tracked on the online Federal Infrastructure Projects Dashboard, with 48 projects currently listed.
Little time was wasted building the XL’s southern half after Obama issued the Order and within a slim two years, TransCanada will have its first direct line from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries in southern Texas.
Muted opposition: “eco-terrorists,” SLAPP lawsuit threats
It’s not as if the Keystone XL southern half expedited permit has gone unopposed. It’s just that activists who have chosen to resist the pipeline have paid a heavy price for doing so.
A case in point: opposition to Keystone XL’s southern half has earned many activists the label – on multiple occasions – as potential “eco-terrorists,” named as such by TransCanada, the U.S. FBI and Department of Homeland Security’s Nebraska-based “fusion center” and local undercover police.
Other activists were threatened by TransCanada with a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP), all of whom made an out of court settlement in January 2013.
Activists agreed to “no longer trespass or cause damage to Keystone XL property including the easements within private property boundaries,” explained FireDogLake’s Kevin Gosztola in a January 2013 article.
The agreement was a quintessential “lesser of two evils” choice, given activists could have found themselves bogged down in legal fees from TransCanada and may have eventually owed the corporation big bucks.
“The activists had a choice: either settle or face a lawsuit in court where TransCanada would seek $5 million for alleged financial damages … that could have much worse consequences,” Gosztola further explained.
Beyond SLAPP threats, key lawsuits aiming to fend off TransCanada have also failed.
Texas lawsuit highlights expedited permitting corruption
One of those lawsuits in particular – filed on April 25, 2013 by a Douglass, Texas-based citizen named Michael Bishop representing himself in court – paints a picture of what President Obama meant when he said he would fast-track permitting for infrastructure projects going forward.
Before filing the lawsuit, Bishop penned a four-part series for EcoWatch in February and March of 2013 on his experiences as a landowner living a mere 120-feet from pipeline construction and dealing with TransCanada in Texas.
“I am amazed by the lack of understanding about this project by the general public and even more amazed that people in other parts of the country are so focused on the ‘northern segment’ while the pipeline is actually being laid right here in Texas and will begin transporting diluted bitumen, tar sands crude oil, to Gulf Coast refineries by the end of the year,” Bishop wrote in Part III. “So many seem oblivious to this fact.”
Bishop alleges in his Complaint for Declaratory Relief and Petition for Writ of Mandamus that on-the-books bread-and-butter environmental laws were broken when fast-tracked permitting for Keystone XL’s southern half unfolded.
The permitting mechanism utilized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – following Obama’s March 2012 executive order and memorandum – was a Nationwide Permit 12.
Nationwide Permit 12 has also been chosen for fast-tracked permitting of Enbridge’s Flanagan South Pipeline. That pipeline is set to fill the gap – and then some – for Keystone XL’s northern half, bringing tar sands crude along the 600-mile long, 600,000 barrels per day pipeline from Pontiac, Ill. to Cushing, Okla.
A 2012 document produced by the Army Corps of Engineers explains Nationwide Permit 12 is meant for permitting of utility lines, access roads; foundations for overhead utility line towers, poles, and anchors: pipelines carrying corrosive tar sands crude go unmentioned.
The Corps’ document also explains Nationwide Permit 12 exists to “authorize certain activities that have minimal individual and cumulative adverse effects on the aquatic environment,” further explaining, “Activities that result in more than minimal individual and cumulative adverse effects on the aquatic environment cannot be authorized.”
Bishop cited the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), arguing Nationwide Permit 12 as applied to Keystone XL’s southern half violated the spirit of that law because no environmental assessment was conducted and no public hearings were held.
“Given the fact that the Corps was involved in the preparation of the TransCanada Keystone Pipeline XL for the State Department … knowledgeable of the toxic nature of the material to be transported and massive public opposition to the project, public hearings should have been held in accordance with the law,” wrote Bishop.
Further, the pipeline crosses “nearly 1,000 crossings of bodies of water in Texas alone,” according to Bishop’s complaint.
In following the dictates of the March 2012 executive order and memorandum, Bishop argues the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers acted in total disregard for long-established environmental law.
“The use of Nation Wide Permit-12 is not a substitute for following NEPA and the Corps, while having some degree of latitude, failed in its ministerial duty,” Bishop wrote. “There was a blatant disregard for established environmental law…which not only included public input, but also directed the agency to consider human health and safety.”
To date, the lawsuit has not been heard in court.
Hastening Bakken shale development
While the environmental community hones in on Keystone XL’s northern half, the business community has focused on expediting permits in the Bakken Shale and filling in the gap left behind by the lack of a TransCanada “Bakken Marketlink.”
Big Business has done so – in the main – by using pipelines to ship Bakken crude to key rail hubs.
One of the pipelines listed in the Federal Infrastructure Projects Dashboard is the Bakkenlink pipeline – not to be confused with the “Bakken Marketlink” – a 144-mile-long tube set to carry fracked oil from the Bakken to rail facilities that would then carry the product to strategic markets.
“Currently, crude oil from this region of the Bakken field is transported to rail facilities via truck,” explains the Dashboard. “The proposed BakkenLink pipeline provides an opportunity to eliminate a vast amount of overland truck traffic.”
Petroleum News Bakken, an industry news publication, explains Bakkenlink was proposed when the northern half of Keystone XL was put on hold by the Obama Administration.
“Originally the BakkenLink was intended to run all the way to Baker, Mont., where it was to connect to the Keystone XL pipeline, but when the Keystone XL project was put on hold in 2011, BakkenLink LLC modified its plan and opted to terminate the pipeline at the Fryburg rail facility,” Petroleum News Bakken explained.
The Bismarck Tribune explained Great Northern Midstream LLC – which wholly owns BakkenLink LLC as a subsidiary – has built capacity to load fracked Bakken oil onto 110-car unit trains via the Fryburg rail facility.
For sake of comparison, TransCanada’s Bakken Marketlink Pipeline – aka Keystone XL – was slated to bring 100,000 barrels per day of crude to market.
The freight trains scheduled to carry this oil are owned by Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF). BNSF itself is owned by Warren Buffett, the fourth richest man on the planet and major campaign contributor to President Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.
With plans to “spend $4.1 billion on capital improvements in 2013, a single-year record for an American railroad…BNSF says it is transporting more than half of the oil produced in the North Dakota and Montana regions of the Bakken,” according to a June 2013 Dallas Morning News article. “The boom would not be as big, nor would it have happened as fast, without BNSF.”
Recent investigative pieces on Buffett’s ties to the tar sands also shows he owns over $2.7 billion worth of stock in tar sands producers such as ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, General Electric and Suncor as of September 7, 2013.
Another key data point: a 70-unit train carrying 51,428 barrels of fracked Bakken Oil to a Canadian east coast export terminal owned by Irving Oil derailed and exploded in a fireball on July 2013, killing 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, located in Québec province.
Coming full circle, Irving Oil and TransCanada announced a joint venture to develop and construct an export facility in St. John, Canada on August 1, less than a month after the lethal Lac-Mégantic derailment. That facility would take tar sands crude shipped from the 1.1 million barrels per day proposed TransCanada Energy East pipeline and export it to the global market.
Bakken Federal Executives Group
Bakkenlink isn’t the only game in town for the March 2012 executive order’s impact on expedited permitting in the Bakken Shale.
Enter the Bakken Federal Executives Group – helped along by Obama’s Assistant for Energy and Climate Change Heather Zichal – the Obama White House’s industry-friendly liaison to Big Oil.
“Among Zichal’s tasks is wooing Jack Gerard,” explained a May 2012 article in Bloomberg. Gerard was thought to be one of the candidates for Chief-of-Staff for Republican Party candidate Mitt Romney if he became president.
“[I]dentified by the President as one of five priority regional initiatives under Executive Order 13604 … [the] [g]roup represents a dozen federal bureaus with review and permitting responsibilities that are working collaboratively to address common development obstacles associated with the Bakken boom…,” explains an August 7 U.S. Department of Interior press release.
Newly-minted U.S. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell – a former petroleum engineer for Mobil Oil Company – recently took a trip to the Bakken Shale oil fields to advocate for the dictates of the March 2012 Executive Order.
“The group’s Aug. 6 itinerary began with a tour of a rig operated by Continental Resources Inc., followed in the afternoon by a tour of facilities operated by Statoil, which has invested more than $4 billion in the Bakken,” explained the Oil and Gas Journal.
Continental Resources’ CEO is Harold Hamm, who served as energy advisor to Mitt Romney, the Republican Party presidential nominee for the 2012 election.
“Interior continues to be a leader in implementing President Obama’s vision for a federal permitting process that is smarter [and] more efficient,” David Hayes, Department of Interior Deputy Secretary said in a June press release. “By coordinating across the many federal agencies involved in the Bakken region … we are able to offer a better process for industry.”
Obama May 2013 memo: Cut it in half
On May 17, 2013, President Obama issued an updated memorandum titled, “Modernizing Federal Infrastructure Review and Permitting Regulations, Policies, and Procedures.”
Citing his March 2012 executive order as precedent, this memo called for cutting the time it takes to approve major infrastructure projects – pipelines included – in half.
“By the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America, and to advance the goal of cutting aggregate timelines for major infrastructure projects in half,” he states in the memo, with a final goal to “institutionalize or expand best practices or process improvements that agencies are already implementing to improve the efficiency of reviews.”
Adding insult to injury, a recent story appearing in The Wall Street Journal explains Keystone XL’s northern half is no longer a priority for refiners, investors or the industry at large.
With a further delay in the cards due to conflicts of interest in the State Department’s environmental review process, it may start to matter less and less for Big Oil as it plans out its other options for getting its product to market going forward.
“U.S. companies that refine oil increasingly doubt that the controversial Keystone XL pipeline [northern half] will ever be built, and now they don’t particularly care,” explained the Journal.
Enbridge recently proposed an expansion for its Alberta Clipper pipeline (approved by Obama’s State Department in August 2009, now known as “Line 67”) from 450,000 barrels per day to 570,000 barrels per day to theState Department in a November 2012 application.
It upped the ante since the original Clipper expansion application — a move met with activist opposition — requested 800,000 barrels of tar sands run through it per day.
That’s on top of Enbridge’s recently proposed Nationwide Permit 12 – paralleling what TransCanada did for Keystone XL’s southern half – set to bring 600,000 barrels per day of tar sands to Cushing, Okla from Pontiac, Ill.
The reaction to pressure against building Keystone XL’s northern half has been – put simply – “build more and faster.” Simple math and geography shows – as The Wall Street Journal boasted – project permitting parameters have tilted more and more in Big Oil’s favor under President Obama’s watch.
With full-throttle expansion of the tar sands described as “game over for the climate” by now-retired NASA scientist James Hansen — and with fracked oil and gas found to be dirtier than coal when examined in its entire lifecycle according to a May 2011 Cornell University study — it makes for scary math indeed.
Por OPSur el 03/09/2013 14:51
Press release –September 3rd, 2013. Argentina
Last Wednesday, August 28th, a mobilization of 5000 people in Neuquén province, Patagonia region, was heavily suppressed by local police. Afterwards, houses of a mapuche community were burnt as retaliation by, apparently, affiliates of local government.
By OPSur.- The agreement  between Chevron and YPF needed Neuquén’s parliament ratification due to federal sovereignty over natural resources. Since civil society’s participation was not allowed at any stage, a pacific mobilization –organized by unions, mapuche Confederation, political parties and the Neuquén’s Platform Against Fracking, among others- was conducted to raise the voice against this agreement. The main issues expressed where fracking’s environmental and sanitary consequences, sovereignty violation and the possibility to export a strategic resource.
The government’s response
The mobilization that took place on August 28th was heavily suppressed by local police. In 7 hours of protests, more than 25 people were injured with rubber bullets and tear gas; one of them, a 33 year old teacher accompanied by his son, was hit by a lead gunshot in the chest. Several people were detained and lawsuits are currently maintained. In spite of the situation in the streets, that day the parliament approved the agreement with votes from MPN party (Neuquén’s government) and others .
On Thursday, ten thousand people were back in the streets marching against the suppression and the agreement. Nevertheless, between Friday and Saturday, four houses of Campo Maripe mapuche community, settled in the region of YPF-Chevron’s project, where burnt to the ground as retaliation. Until Sunday, mapuche people and other organizations occupied pits and held responsible MPN of the attack. They are preexisting indigenous people whose collective rights are being violated -mainly the right to prior, free and informed consultation established by ILO’s 169 Convention- and that already suffer decades of oil and gas sanitary, economic and cultural impacts. This and other legal violations have been a common practice in the whole process.
Nevertheless, population is alert and resistance is increasing. Nowadays, 15 local governments have banned fracking in 5 provinces and different actions are being held to stop the expansion. We want to alert international community about this situation, holding that Chevron’s investment is the tip of the iceberg. As YPF says, the final goal is to create an ‘energy exporter’ Argentina based on unconventional resources (shale, tight and coalbed methane); having as key technical and financial allies transnational companies. Shell, Exxon, Petrobras, Apache, Dow and Total, among others, are exploring Neuquén’s shale formations. Moreover, YPF intends to explore in neighbor countries (Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay and Chile) as it has recently announced in agreements with Ancap and YPFB.
Lefxaru Nawel (Mapuche Confederation): firstname.lastname@example.org.
María Cabrera (Neuquén’s Platform Against Fracking):
Diego di Risio (Observatorio Petrolero Sur): email@example.com.
[OPSur] A new context: unconventional power, resistances and the pursuit for other energy.
 For over 50 years, Neuquén province is being ruled by local party MPN; which has an extensive network in the Estate, media, companies and other power nodes in the region. An important sector of the party responds to the oil workers union, a historical strategic ally of companies.
 The project has as main operator YPF and it has two steps. The first one -12 months- is a pilot of 20 km² where the objective is to unconventionally drill 100 wells to extract oil and gas of Vaca Muerta shale formation. Taking into account the results, Chevron has the option to maintain and extend the agreement for an area of almost 300 km²: US$ 16,000 million of joint investment for 1,500 wells that could extract 750 million BOE in 35 years. In July and due to Chevron’s requirements, national government decreed (929/13) a promotional regime for hydrocarbon exploitation that aimed to increase international investment in unconventional formations; mainly creating flexible measures for exportation, partially tying local prices with internationals and awarding areas for 35 years. The goal is not only reduce current massive energy imports but also to valorize unconventional resources in the country -a top 3 global holder according to USA- for international market.
BY THE OUTPOST – POSTED ON AUGUST 9, 2013
POSTED IN: ENERGY
Lauren Steiner writes on California’s insufficient move to regulate fracking with SB 4, sponsored by State Representative Fran Pavley: “Worse than having no regulations, weak regulations provide political cover to legislators who could otherwise be pressured to vote for a moratorium on the practice.” Tell Fran Pavley to withdraw her bad regulatory bill and fight for a fracking ban instead! http://bit.ly/15huBIm and rally Monday, August 12 at her office to deliver signatures in Calabasas, CA. RSVP: http://on.fb.me/19OCP2n
Rally in downtown LA from Californians Against Fracking. 58% of Californians want a moratorium on fracking. The state Democratic Party, the majority party, passed a resolution calling on legislators to impose a moratorium. Activists were also able to get two strong moratorium bills introduced in the legislature. Only one made it to the full Assembly. Had 18 Democrats voted “yes” instead of abstaining, the bill would have passed. Photo By Jack Eidt.
California’s Fracking Regulatory Bill: Less Than Zero
By Lauren Steiner, Published in Common Dreams
A year after buying his dream home in Los Angeles, Gary Gless started falling down and breaking bones. Fourteen years and one thousand doctors visits later, his neuromuscular disorder hasn’t been specifically diagnosed. He survives on painkillers and sleep aids.
Gless’s backyard overlooks the Inglewood Oil Field, the largest urban oil field in the nation.
Within the field, gas companies have been secretly hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the middle of this community of 300,000 residents for nine years. Many of Gless’s neighbors also suffer from neurological, auto-immune and respiratory diseases and several types of cancers. Many have died. Homes and swimming pools are cracking.
None of these people will be helped by passage of the only fracking bill still alive in California’s legislature: Senate Bill 4. That’s because the regulations in SB 4 do nothing to actually make fracking safer. Instead, the flawed bill sets up a process for notification, disclosure, monitoring and permitting and simply calls for future regulations by other agencies and a scientific study.
Telling someone when you’re going to frack, where you’re going to frack and what chemicals you will use, is like a murderer telling you he’s going to shoot you on your front porch at noon tomorrow using an AK-47. At the end of the day, you’re still dead.
The State of Play
Worse than having no regulations, weak regulations provide political cover to legislators who could otherwise be pressured to vote for a moratorium on the practice. 58% of Californians want a moratorium on fracking. The state Democratic Party, the majority party, passed a resolution calling on legislators to impose a moratorium.
Activists were also able to get two strong moratorium bills introduced in the legislature. Only one made it to the full Assembly. Had 18 Democrats voted “yes” instead of abstaining, the bill would have passed. When asked why they didn’t vote for a moratorium, many said they were planning to vote for SB 4 instead. Passage of this bill will remove the regulatory uncertainty currently surrounding fracking. It will give the green light to Big Oil to frack the Monterey Shale, the largest oil play in the nation holding nearly 2/3rd of all US reserves. This bill must be stopped.
Aerial view of the Baldwin Hills oil fields in Los Angeles – the largest contiguous urban oil field in the U.S. Gas companies have been secretly fracking in the middle of this community of 300,000 residents for nine years. Photo from Transition Culver City.
A big fat compromise
SB 4 – just like the Illinois fracking regulation bill passed in May – will probably be hailed as the strongest fracking regulatory bill in the country. But even the bill’s sponsor, State Rep. Fran Pavley, calls this bill a compromise. “We’re trying to put regulations in place that will address public concerns,” Pavley said in an April interview. “This bill does not place a moratorium on the process. It will go on. I consider this a compromise measure.”
Although industry representatives testified against the bill, they tempered their criticisms. It’s an indication this bill is seen as preferable to those placing a moratorium on fracking. “I’ve told the oil companies that the public is going to go there if it thinks they have something to hide,” she said, suggesting that lack of legislative action could potentially lead to a ballot initiative to ban fracking in California.
Big Oil also loves the “big fat compromise.” “It is in our best interest that we have disclosure,” said Western States Petroleum Association’s spokesman Paul Deiro. “To calm the fears that are out there is in our interest, because we believe it’s a safe technology.”
Dissecting the Bill
Fran Pavley is known as an environmental hero for authoring the Global Warming Solutions Act and the Clean Car Regulations. She accepts no money from Big Oil and is considered by many “the best friend environmentalists have in California.” Platitudes aside, this bill does no favor to the environment or to public health.
While proclaiming to provide full public disclosure of fracking chemicals, exceptions are provided for “proprietary trade secrets.” As Kathryn Phillips, legislative director of Sierra Club California states, this would be “the first overt statutory recognition in the nation that fracking fluids qualify for trade secret protections. This would set us back, not forward, in our efforts to make sure that fracking in this state does not harm public health and the environment.” For this reason, Sierra Club opposes this bill, as do Food and Water Watch, Physicians for Social Responsibility and most of the other organizations in the coalition Californians Against Fracking.
Furthermore, we already know the chemicals used in fracking. They were disclosed to the Pennsylvania Department of the Environment and the US House Energy and Commerce Committee. Of the thousand of possible products frackers use, 650 contain chemicals that are known toxins or carcinogens.
In the Inglewood Oil Field, the operator also released the list of 40 chemicals used. They include benzene, toluene, lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium, and formaldehyde, all known carcinogens. As to the notification, giving someone 30 days notice before doing a frack job is not much comfort. Making matters worse, groundwater monitoring is to be conducted by the oil company, a classic case of the fox guarding the hen house.
A permit would be denied if it presents “an unreasonable risk.” We already know that fracking fluid includes multiple carcinogens and the re-injection of fracking wastewater causes and exacerbates earthquakes. Are these considered reasonable risks? If so, what risk would fracking have to pose before this bill would prohibit it? The bill also directs other agencies to make regulations, failing to specify what those regulations should be. No regulations can prevent leaks. 6% of wells leak immediately; and 50% leak within 20 years. If the industry could make well casings leak proof, they’d do it. It’s their own valuable product that is lost.
The bill calls for an independent scientific study on the effects of fracking. Originally, the bill said if the study were not completed by January 1, 2015, there would be a moratorium on all new fracking. But Pavley was pressured to remove the moratorium provision from the bill.
“We already know that fracking fluid includes multiple carcinogens and the re-injection of fracking wastewater causes and exacerbates earthquakes.” Hydraulic fracturing operation near private homes in Wetzel County, West Virginia, November 2012 (photo by SkyTruth; aerial overflight provided by LightHawk).
Learning from History
Although an independent study sounds better than one conducted by the industry, many “independent” studies are done by firms so entrenched in the oil industry they can’t risk losing future business. Such is the case with the last two State Department studies on the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Many studies are victims of the political winds of the day. “Gasland Part II,” outlines three EPA studies that proved fracking was contaminating groundwater in Dimock, PA, Pavillion, WY and Parker County, TX. As soon as President Obama announced in his State of the Union Address that fracking – utilizing American Petroleum Institute talking points – was to be the centerpiece of his national energy policy, those studies were all scuttled within the next year.
Plenty of independent studies already exist, further calling the rationale for the need for “more studies” into question. Duke University 2011, 2012, and 2013 studies all linked methane contamination of groundwater in Pennsylvania to fracking. Another study from the University of Texas found elevated levels of lead and other heavy minerals close to natural gas extraction sites in Texas. A Colorado School of Public Health study found fracking increases cancer risk, contributing to serious neurological and respiratory problems in people living near fracked wells. Fracking’s brief history in the U.S. shows one thing clearly: it creates havoc wherever it goes.
Regulations: Only as Good as the Regulators
In states where there are regulations on fracking, they aren’t enforced either by design, or because agencies are both underfunded and understaffed by state governments often bought and paid for by Big Oil. Worse, when fracking violates existing regulations, many states simply change the regulations to the benefit of Big Oil. In Colorado, the Air Quality Control Board is being directed to increase the allowable air pollution because of the air pollution caused by the fracking boom.
If you say that can’t happen here in California, look what’s already happened. Democratic Party Gov. Jerry Brown actually fired the head of Department of Conservation and the head of its Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Regulation (DOGGR) for pushing for tougher permitting requirements. Brown said the firings were because DOGGR was “steadfastly blocking oil production permits,” citing the state’s need for “a healthy and vibrant oil and gas industry.”
The move was hailed by then State Senator Michael Rubio from Shafter, a community being devastated by fracking. “We have worked diligently with the governor’s administration to reduce the roadblocks for the oil and gas industries to receive permits,” Rubio said at time. Less than a year and a half later, he resigned to take a position in government affairs with – wait for it – Chevron.
When regulations are enforced, fines are so low, they are written off as a “cost of doing business.” In Shafter, Vintage Oil, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, flared off gas – a by-product of fracking – for two months. This created constant noise as loud as a jet engine. Five tons of nitrous oxide and two tons of volatile organic compounds were released into a community with the worst air quality in the state. This clearly violated the Air Board’s regulations. Vintage’s big penalty? $750.
Don’t expect any stronger regulations or enforcement of existing ones to come from Governor Brown. He has already accepted $27,200,the maximum donation allowed, from Occidental Petroleum for his re-election campaign. Big Oil is the biggest spender in California politics. The Western States Petroleum Association has already spent $2,308,790 on lobbying efforts in the first half of this year.
Plus, Brown is salivating over the tax revenues he expects from this oil boom. “One wonders whether there might be the ingredients of a grand bargain – the oil industry is given the green light to develop Monterey shale with some stringent but not crippling regulation, in return for which the state could impose a severance tax on new production that would benefit state and local governments,” Dan Walters pondered in a recent column in the Sacramento Bee.
Regulations can neither prevent nor mitigate the disastrous consequences inherent to fracking. We need to keep the carbon in the ground. Rep. Pavley should withdraw her regulatory bill and fight for a ban instead. Photo By Jack Eidt.
Even if regulations could magically make fracking safe, it uses too much water in a drought prone state. The hundreds of daily diesel truck trips will also cause extensive damage to local roads and increased incidences of asthma and other respiratory diseases.
Fracking causes the industrialization of bucolic landscapes and noise and light pollution. In other states, fracking’s “man camps” are rife with drugs, alcohol, gambling and prostitution. Fracking would also most likely decimate the food and wine industries, which are far more important economically to the state than oil. The oil will not always even go toward energy independence – despite the popular refrain- as it will be exported to the highest bidder, predominately Europe and Asia.
Finally, fracking all that oil out of the Monterey Shale will accelerate climate change. According to climate blogger RL Miller, the CO2 released from burning it will be almost as much as that released by the Keystone XL Pipeline. Coming full circle, this will prevent California from achieving the 20% reduction in CO2 called for in Pavley’s signature bill, the Global Warming Solutions Act.
Regulations can neither prevent nor mitigate the disastrous consequences inherent to fracking. We need to keep the carbon in the ground. Pavley should withdraw her regulatory bill and fight for a ban instead.
Lauren Steiner is an environmental activist based in Los Angeles. Follow her on twitter: @Lauren_Steiner
Big Oil will be coming to Downtown Los Angeles for the huge Western Summit Petroleum Conference on Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013 and we invite you to join us to be IDLE NO MORE against the destruction they promote leading us into climate disruption and health consequences to our communities.
These corporations have long been notorious for exploiting Indigenous Peoples and their sacred land so that they may unfairly claim natural resources to profit from to feed their greed and destroy the planet in one dark destructive process. Be sure that the consequences are not limited to Indigenous Peoples, since the environmental destruction knows no borders and makes its way well into all communities in some form destroying our quality of health and life. In the face of the current issue of the Keystone XL pipeline being proposed across Indigenous lands in the United States, The destruction of Tar Sands in Canada, and the many other exploitative projects on Turtle Island/ The Americas and world wide, we are ready to keep building this movement to shut down Big Oil. Lets DISCOVER OUR AGENCY to protect this sacred land that is this earth upon which we all depend to be healthy so that our communities and future generations may rise into a healthy existence.
Link to Pacific Oil Conference & Trade Show : Western Summit
Links to more info on the destruction being caused by the petroleum companies:
Published: August 31, 2013 Updated 2 hours ago
By ANYA LITVAK – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PITTSBURGH – Last year, nearly 1,000 trucks hauling 15,769 tons of Marcellus Shale waste were stopped at Pennsylvania landfill gates after tripping radioactivity alarms.
The trucks were pulled to the side, wanded with hand-held detectors and some of the material was sent to laboratories for further evaluation. In the end, 622 tons were shipped to three out-of-state landfills specifically designed to dispose of hazardous and radioactive materials.
But most of the flagged waste was eventually allowed past the gates. It was safe enough to be buried along with other waste as long as it stays below the annual limit, the Department of Environmental Protection and landfill operators deemed.
The increase in radiation alarms going off at landfills has mirrored the growth in Marcellus Shale activity, and the DEP has launched a yearlong study of radioactive Marcellus waste to determine any risks involved in its transportation or disposal.
The agency’s bureau of waste management also has formed a working group and charged it with developing protocol for tracking rejected loads, for telling gas operators how to characterize the waste, for developing waste acceptance criteria for landfills, and for clarifying how well sites and waste treatment plants should handle residual waste.
So far, neither the DEP nor the landfill owners are alarmed.
To put it into perspective, the alarms flagged only 1 percent of all landfill-bound Marcellus waste last year, according to state figures. Shale gas operators reported sending just under 1 million tons of waste to Pennsylvania landfills in 2012. The majority of that was drill cuttings – chunks of earth pulled out of the well during the drilling process – but there was also flow-back water, frack sand and other fluids that were turned into sludge for disposal.
It’s these sludges that experts say are most likely contributing to elevated radiation counts.
The radioactive material in Marcellus waste is naturally occurring. It’s mostly radium, a product of uranium decay, and it has been underground for millions of years in the Marcellus formation. Dredging earth and gas out of the ground brings up the radioactive elements.
Since 2002, all Pennsylvania landfills have been outfitted with radiation detectors following concerns about medical waste ending up in the municipal waste stream. All trucks arriving at the facilities pass through a gate topped with a sensor that takes a reading inches away from the top of the truck.
According to the DEP, Marcellus sludge is three times more likely to trip alarms than solid shale waste. Last year, 224 loads of drill cuttings elicited alarms at landfills, while 773 loads of sludge did the same. So far this year, 211 loads of sludge and 124 loads of drill cuttings tripped alarms, the DEP said.
But the number of times an alarm is tripped doesn’t tell the whole story.
Landfill sensors are particularly sensitive and able to detect even small levels of radioactivity, said Erika Deyarmin, a spokeswoman for Waste Management Corp., which operates 17 commercial landfills in Pennsylvania.
Usually, if a load is really radioactive, it never makes it to a landfill because the oil and gas company or wastewater treatment plant that first scans that waste at their site knows it will be rejected, she said. In such cases, the company must come up with another disposal option.
The increase in radioactivity at landfills may be a product of how Marcellus waste treatment has changed over the last few years.
In 2011, radioactivity concerns centered around water. Back then, oil and gas companies were still taking their waste to municipal wastewater treatment plants and to commercial plants that were discharging into the state’s waters.
In the summer of 2011, the DEP collected and analyzed sediment from the PA Brine wastewater treatment plant in Indiana County and found levels of radium 226 in the discharge pipe that was 44 times the drinking water standard. Twenty meters downstream of the discharge point, levels were still 66 percent above the standard.
Similar results were found at several other facilities, as revealed in a settlement between the Environmental Protection Agency and the company earlier this year.
In April 2011, the PA Brine plant and all such plants in the state had been told not to accept Marcellus wastewater, but the radioactive elements found in PA Brine’s soil were remnants of prior discharges.
Kelvin Gregory, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University who works on Marcellus water issues, said the peak of radioactivity in wastewater comes after the initial gush of flow-back water comes to the surface after fracking. Radium concentrations are highest in produced water, a term that describes the brine that continues to flow out of the well for long periods of time after that well starts producing gas.
In a survey of flow-back and produced water at 46 Marcellus sites, Mr. Gregory found radioactivity increases for two months on average, then he saw plateaus.
Whether the level stays at that high concentration forever or tapers off at some point isn’t yet clear, Mr. Gregory said. The wells haven’t been producing long enough to tell.
Examples of highly radioactive waste from the Marcellus are rare so far.
“The cases where we get a very hot load are very few and far between,” said John Poister, a spokesman for the DEP’s southwestern district.
But every once in awhile, it happens.
In April, a truckload from Rice Energy arrived at Max Environmental’s Yukon Landfill in Westmoreland County and set off the alarm. The waste was deemed too radioactive.
The company shopped it around to a few landfills, but no one would take it, Mr. Poister said. Eventually, the truck went back to the source while arrangements were made to transport the waste to a specialized disposal site in Idaho.
Why was Rice’s load so much hotter than others?
“That’s a question for the (DEP) study,” Mr. Poister said.
“We’ve taken quite a bit of drill cuttings at our Yukon facility this year, and only one truck triggered the radiation alarm,” said Carl Spadaro, environmental general manager of the Yukon landfill. “Other landfills have had alarms triggered quite a bit.”
Yukon accepts about 90,000 tons of waste annually and just last month amended its permit to be able to accept waste that trips radiation alarms.
“We didn’t do this to bring in a lot of (radioactive) waste,” Mr. Spadaro said. “We did this to level the playing field.”
Yukon competes with two other landfills within a 5-mile radius.
“The biggest concern is exposure of a landfill worker during unloading and somebody who’s handling material,” Mr. Spadaro said.
The exposure level allowed at Pennsylvania landfills is a quarter of the EPA’s public radiation dose limit of 100 millirem per year.
“This is equivalent to about two chest X-rays,” said Kevin Sunday, a former spokesman for the DEP.
Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com
Read more here: http://www.centredaily.com/2013/08/31/3759270/in-pa-shale-waste-tripping-alarms.html#storylink=cpy
Special thanks to Richard Charter
By James F. McCarty, The Plain Dealer
on August 29, 2013 at 12:30 PM, updated August 29, 2013 at 2:28 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio — An employee of a Youngstown company that stored, treated and disposed of oil and gas drilling liquids admitted this morning to dumping tens of thousands of gallons of fracking waste on at least 24 occasions into a tributary of the Mahoning River.
Michael Guesman appeared in U.S. District Court where he pleaded guilty to a charge of unpermitted discharge of pollutants under the Clean Water Act. He faces a sentence of about a year in federal prison, although his time could be reduced by the amount of assistance he provides to prosecutors, and his acceptance of responsibility for his crime.
Guesman 34, of Cortland, said he acted on the orders of his boss at Hardrock Excavating, owner Benedict Lupo, when ran a hose from the 20,000-gallon storage tanks to a nearby storm water drain and opened the release valve. A gusher of waste liquid left over from hydraulic fracturing operations — commonly known as “fracking” — poured into the drain, sending saltwater brine and a slurry of toxic oil-based drilling mud, containing benzene, toluene and other hazardous pollutants, flowing into the Mahoning, prosecutors said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brad Beeson said Guesman is cooperating with investigators, and if necessary will testify for the government at the trial of Lupo, which has not yet been scheduled.
Guesman has told investigators that, between Nov. 1 and Jan. 31, Lupo instructed him to dump the fracking waste into the storm sewer at least 24 times, always after dark and after all of the other employees had left the facility, Beeson said.
The black fracking waste left a smelly, oily sheen on the Mahoning, which was located less than a mile away from the Hardrock facility and its 58 storage tanks, investigators said.
U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent scheduled sentencing for Nov. 15.
Lupo, 62, of Poland, Ohio, has pleaded not guilty to charges of violating the federal Clean Water Act.
An anonymous tipster alerted authorities from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources that the improper dumping of fracking waste was occurring, and state agents observed the crime as it was being committed, according to court documents.
Guesman told the agents that Lupo ordered him to lie if questioned about the dumping, and to tell law enforcement officers he had emptied the waste tanks only six times, when in fact he had done it at least four times that number, documents state.
The fracking process involves injecting millions of gallons of chemical-laced water to crack open rock formations holding gas deposits deep under the Earth’s surface. Ohio allows for disposing of fracking waste in state-permitted injection wells.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
The Sierra Club
Sierra Club and Oil Change International just released an extensive report, titled “FAIL: How Keystone XL’s tar sands flunk the climate test,” to directly answer President Obama’s pledge to reject KXL if it significantly exacerbates #climate pollution.
Read more about the report: http://sc.org/kxl-fail-climate-test
— with Thomas Edward Pearce.
August 29, 2013
Why Keystone Flunks the Climate Test
In June President Obama set a climate test for his decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. He said he will not approve the pipeline if it would significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution. Today the Sierra Club, Oil Change International, and 13 partner groups have released a report that settles the issue unequivocally: Keystone XL would be a climate disaster.
Our report, “FAIL: How the Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Flunks the Climate Test,” spells out the full consequences of building the pipeline.
Start with the one fact that the State Department, the U.S. EPA, climate scientists, and even Wall Street and industry analysts all agree on: The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will create massive amounts of carbon pollution. Tar sands, after all, are the world’s dirtiest and most carbon-intensive source of oil. Oil Change International estimates that the pipeline would carry and emit more than 181-million metric tons of carbon pollution each year. That’s the pollution equivalent of adding 37.7 million cars to U.S. roads, or 51 new coal-fired power plants.
The State Department, though, tried to ignore this 181-million metric ton elephant. It argued in its environmental review of Keystone XL that tar sands development was inevitable, regardless of whether the pipeline is built. That’s not true for several reasons.
Tar sands can be processed only at specialized refineries. The accessible U.S. and Canadian refineries capable of handling it are already at or near capacity. In order to expand production, tar sands producers must reach the U.S. Gulf Coast, where the heavy crude can be refined or, more likely, exported.
Although other pipeline projects have been proposed to export tar sands east, west, and south from western Canada, all of them face legal, technical, economic, and political obstacles that make them unlikely. Using rail is too expensive because tar sands transport requires special heated rail cars and loading terminals. Industry experts and financial firms like Goldman Sachs have already said this will be cost-prohibitive.
Keystone XL is critical for the Canadian oil industry to meet its goal of massive expansion in the tar sands. You don’t need to take our word for it, though. Just this week, Canada’s independent Pembina Institute uncovered documents from the industry itself that make that case. Briefing notes prepared for Canadian natural resources minister (and pipeline proponent) Joe Oliver state: “in order for crude oil production to grow, the North American pipeline network must be expanded through initiatives, such as the Keystone XL Pipeline project.”
The U.S. Interior Department has already joined the Environmental Protection Agency in criticizing the State Department’s environmental review for disregarding how the Keystone XL pipeline would affect wildlife and waterways. Given that we now know the State Department’s review was conducted by a consultant with strong ties to Keystone XL’s backer, TransCanada, and to the tar sands industry, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.
In fact, earlier this month, the State Department’s own office of inspector general confirmed that it has opened an into inquiry how its Keystone XL review was conducted. Perhaps the most serious charge is that State Department officials tried to cover up evidence of conflicts of interest.
For an administration that’s actually done many good things on climate, the State Department’s environmental review of Keystone XL is both a failure and an embarrassment. It’s time to kick the oil industry lobbyists out of the room, listen to the scientists, weigh the facts, and reject this pipeline once and for all.
Add your voice to the growing chorus: By President Obama’s own standard, Keystone XL should not be approved.
By Erik Hoffner
Grist guest contributor
When my wife and I pulled into a relative’s subdivision in Frederick, Colo., after a wedding on a recent weekend, it was a surprise to suddenly find a 142-foot-tall drill rig in the backyard, parked in the narrow strip of land between there and the next subdivision to the east. It had appeared in the two days we’d been gone.
This couple hundred grassy acres, thick with meadowlarks and bisected by a creek crowded with cattail, bulrush, willow, and raccoon tracks, sits atop the DJ Basin shale deposit. Our folks hadn’t known that when they bought the property last year, nor did they recall any useful notice that this new industrial neighbor was moving in.
We witnessed the increasing phenomenon of rigs popping up in suburban neighborhoods like mushrooms overnight. The craze of the gas rush means that companies won’t hesitate to drill wherever shale deposits lie — even if they’re under a school or a subdivision. The message to homeowners in towns big and small alike seems to be: You are on notice. The ills of fracking that were once viewed as a rural concern — contamination of air and water, noise pollution, reduced safety on roads jammed with heavy trucks — are coming to your backyard, too.
Their neighborhood was now lit 24/7 by floodlights and featured the incessant low grind of the drill’s nearly 900 HP Caterpillar engine, the clanking of roughnecks beating on pipe at 2 a.m., and regular snorts from the rig’s massive 525 HP diesel generator … loud enough that we kept the windows closed to hear the television at night.
We stared at this potentially toxic tower surrounded on three sides by many homes of the Eagle Valley and Raspberry Hill developments, and on the other side across a county road, by Legacy Elementary School. It seemed that the rig was only about 300 feet from the nearest homes, and about the same to a playground. Definitely too close.
But as a member of Fracking Colorado (which fights such projects in the Denver suburb of Aurora) told me by email, “The setback for wells from homes in urban areas was 350 feet. The new setback rules have increased that distance to 500 feet, but that probably was not in effect when this permit was granted. The new rules are effective as of Aug. 1, 2013. Also, when they re-enter an existing abandoned well, that was there before the homes were built, they can be closer than 350 feet to homes.”
Approximate current location of the rig.
An aerial map did seem to reveal the presence of a previous wellhead, but the difference between 300, 350, or even 500 feet seemed trivial, given the industry’s uninspiring track record on air and water pollution, plus the occasional explosion.
But then there are energy companies that think they don’t need any meaningful setback at all: Take a current frack-job just to the north. The derrick looms so near roads and powerlines that it’s potentially in direct contact with people in case of an accident, in direct violation of setback rules. Unfortunately for the managers of that project, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis owns a home across the street. His threat of a legal injunction prompted an apology from the company and a $26,000 fine from the state last week, although the drilling continues.
Back in Frederick, concerns of abutters went unheeded. After news of the project eventually became known (rules about notice vary, with some towns only requiring signs be posted on fields in the project area), numerous residents spoke up about safety, congestion, air quality, proximity to the school, and noise.
Interestingly, it’s town-owned land that’s being debated, so I suppose they will be collecting the check, as outlined in the town’s board of trustees meeting minutes on June 11: “Upon approval of the (Surface Use Agreement) and drilling permit application, the Town would be paid … a total of $20,000. In addition, the Town would receive a nominal amount of residual compensation for its share of the minerals …”
Hardly sounds like enough remuneration (a new pickup truck for the highway department?) given the steadily souring opinion of residents, one of which stated in a letter to the trustees on June 11: “Many homeowners have said they didn’t think it would do any good to come to meetings and give their input because it didn’t do any good in past years. Please fight for us, the citizens you represent, and don’t allow (them) to drill in Eagle Valley.”
But the drilling has begun, and a shrieking frack rig is now a regular feature of the hammock time, dog walks, and backyard barbecues of hundreds of people.
Here’s what that looks like:
Update: We’ve dropped references to “fracking rigs” as the fracking comes after the drilling.
Special thanks to Erik Hoffner, Outreach Coordinator at Orion Magazine
By Ashton Marra
August 28, 2013 · West Virginia and North Dakota have one thing in common – an economy that relies on extractive industry that each state taxes. Last week legislators from West Virginia met in North Dakota learn more about that state’s Legacy Fun, but as the meeting progressed, the focus changed from talk about the savings account to the industry.
The environmental concerns of the two states with very different topographies are similar when it comes to the oil and natural gas industries.
Shale is one common element when it comes to oil and gas extraction in the two states. West Virginia’s natural gas production is based on the hydraulic fracturing of Marcellus shale. In North Dakota, oil comes from the Bakken shale formation, and the portion of the Bakken situated in the state is about the same size as West Virginia.
As with any extraction industry, environmental concerns are always a high priority for the governments regulating them. North Dakota’s industry is regulated by the state Department of Mineral Resources.
“Right now, the environmental concern is flaring,” said Lynn Helms, the director of the department.
Flaring is the process through which natural gas and other byproducts are burned as waste at the well site before the crude oil reaches the surface.
David Manthos is with the Shepherdstown-based group SkyTruth which studies the effects of activities like mining, drilling and logging using satellite digital mapping technology. Manthos said Skytruth has seen the impact oil drilling has had in the Bakken region.
“Thirty percent of the natural gas produced in the Bakken is being flared and the annual emissions are equivalent to the annual emissions of one million automobiles,” he said Tuesday. “So, even if it’s working optimally, it’s producing enough carbon dioxide to offset some of the benefits we would hope to obtain by extracting natural gas.”
Manthos said the practice does not happen as often at wells in the Marcellus region because natural gas is the sought after resource, but one industry representative said it still occurs.
“We do some flaring, but we do it to burn off impurities,” said Corky DeMarco, Executive Director of the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association. “They’re doing it because natural gas is a nuisance to them.”
DeMarco said those impurities are methane, butane, or associated gases that flow up from the ground with the frack water before the natural gas starts to surface, and if they’re not disposed of properly they can pose an explosive safety risk for works at well sites.
North Dakota’s Helms said DeMarco is right, natural gas can be seen as a nuisance for drillers who are after oil. Some forms of natural gas produced in the Bakken are more expensive to capture than they’re worth on the market so they burn them off, but the state is now starting to reassess the regulations surrounding the practice.
“I met with my Commissioners (of oil and gas) and told them that we’re at a stage in the Bakken and Three Forks where they need to reevaluate flaring policy and make some changes to reduce the amount of natural gas that’s being flared,” Helms said.
Both states deal with water issues as well. In fracking, chemical laced water is injected into the shale to release the gas or oil.
“The water issue is the most universal one across the board with hydraulic fracturing whether it’s here or at other locations,” Manthos said. “It’s the surface and groundwater contamination that could occur.”
In West Virginia, drilling companies run into the topographical challenge of finding flat land. They either have to build well sites in valleys close to streams or high on ridge tops. In both cases, the possibility of run off contamination has to be considered.
Run off is less of a concern on the flat plains of North Dakota, but both states share the issue of transportation, getting the water to and from the well sites.
Bakken shale is 20 percent salt, so tap water is used to dissolve it to get to the oil, but, much like West Virginia, the water is brought back up to the surface and trucked from the site.
Helms said it takes 2,000 truckloads of water to get just one well site on production in western North Dakota, prompting the state to look at other options.
“We’re trying to work with industry and get pipeline systems in place for moving the water to and from the wells. If we can do that number of truckloads goes from 2,000 down to 850,” he said. “So, we eliminate way over half of the truck trips and that will have an enormously positive impact on, not the truck industry, but obviously on dust, traffic and road infrastructure. Environmentally, it’s just absolutely the right thing to do.”
North Dakota plans to use public private partnerships to build many of the pipelines, but Manthos isn’t sure that is the solution for West Virginia.
“They’re at least a bigger engineering challenge to build pipelines. I do know there are locations where pipelines are being used and if that does reduce the amount of truck traffic than that by itself is progress,” he said, “but the fragmentation of constructing well pads, especially up and down some steep hillsides. So, there’s just as much of a concern that a hillside could slip in the process of building a pipeline.”
Still, Helms said all of the issues, environmental, economic and social, have to be balanced in order for the industry to be a success in any state.
“If you overemphasize environmental or social you can make it uneconomic. If you overemphasize the economics, you can make it something that is environmentally bad or socially bad for the people and all three of those have to be looked after.”
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Well water in Pennsylvania homes within a mile of fracking sites is found to be high in methane
By Mark Fischetti
September 12, 2013 issue
In Pennsylvania, the closer you live to a well used to hydraulically fracture underground shale for natural gas, the more likely it is that your drinking water is contaminated with methane. This conclusion, in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA in July, is a first step in determining whether fracking in the Marcellus Shale underlying much of Pennsylvania is responsible for tainted drinking water in that region.
Robert Jackson, a chemical engineer at Duke University, found methane in 115 of 141 shallow, residential drinking-water wells. The methane concentration in homes less than one mile from a fracking well was six times higher than the concentration in homes farther away. Isotopes and traces of ethane in the methane indicated that the gas was not created by microorganisms living in groundwater but by heat and pressure thousands of feet down in the Marcellus Shale, which is where companies fracture rock to release gas that rises up a well shaft.
Most groundwater supplies are only a few hundred feet deep, but if the protective metal casing and concrete around a fracking well are leaky, methane can escape into them. The study does not prove that fracking has contaminated specific drinking-water wells, however. “I have no agenda to stop fracking,” Jackson says. He notes that drilling companies often construct wells properly. But by denying even the possibility that some wells may leak, the drilling companies have undermined their own credibility.
The next step in proving whether or not fracking has contaminated specific drinking-water wells would be to figure out whether methane in those wells came from the Marcellus Shale or other deposits. Energy companies claim that the gas can rise naturally from deep formations through rock fissures and that determining a source is therefore problematic. Yet some scientists maintain that chemical analysis of the gas can reveal whether it slowly bubbled up through thousands of feet of rock or zipped up a leaky well. Jackson is now analyzing methane samples in that way.
Another way to link a leaky fracking well to a tainted water well is to show that the earth between them provides pathways for the gas to flow. Leaky wells have to be identified first, however. Anthony Ingraffea, a fracking expert at Cornell University, is combing through the inspection reports for most of the 41,311 gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania since January 2000. Thus far, he says, it appears that “a higher percentage” of Marcellus Shale fracking wells are leaking than conventional oil and gas wells drilled into other formations. Stay tuned.
This article was originally published with the title Fracking and Tainted Drinking Water.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Scott Streater, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, August 22, 2013
The oil and gas industry and national environmental groups continue to weigh in strongly for and against the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed rule on hydraulic fracturing and its potential impacts on domestic energy production and natural resources.
BLM’s proposed rule would require disclosure of the chemicals injected underground during hydraulic fracturing and set tougher standards for demonstrating well bore integrity and management of flowback water. Among other things, the proposed rule is designed to address concerns about potential water contamination from the fracturing process, which involves injecting water, sand and chemicals underground at high pressure to create fissures in tight rock formations, allowing oil and gas to flow to the surface.
The public comment period for the draft rule, first unveiled in May, ends tomorrow.
With that deadline looming, the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and the Denver-based Western Energy Alliance submitted formal comments mirroring those of Republican congressional leaders who are opposed to the federal rule because they say states are better positioned to regulate fracturing.
“This rule undercuts states’ authority to regulate energy production, a realm in which they have been successful for decades,” said IPAA President and CEO Barry Russell in a statement. “Our federal system has vested the states with the authority to ensure that development of energy sources is safe and responsible. Together with state regulators and local environmental groups, the U.S. oil and natural gas industry has secured the great benefits of the shale revolution, while protecting the environment and strengthening local communities. DOI should not be in the business of undermining this progress.”
All that progress could be undermined because adding another layer of red tape to an already complicated permitting process could discourage energy development on public lands in the West, said Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs for the Western Energy Alliance.
The alliance last month commissioned a study that found BLM’s proposal to more tightly regulate fracturing on public lands would cost society $346 million annually, or greater than 15 times more than what the agency estimated the rule would cost when it released its draft rule (Greenwire, July 22).
“The Interior Department cannot point to a single instance of an environmental problem from hydraulic fracturing,” Sgamma said. “DOI cannot demonstrate that states are not adequately regulating or that federal regulation is more effective.”
Meanwhile, environmental groups are lobbying Interior and BLM to move forward with the proposed rule, and some are calling on the agency to make some significant changes to strengthen the regulations.
The Wilderness Society this week submitted formal comments urging the agency to take additional steps, such as “requiring pre- and post-fracturing water monitoring, pre-fracturing notice of chemical constituents, measures to reduce flaring, the use of enclosed tanks for storing fracturing fluids, and proper well abandonment and remediation.”
“The increase in the use of hydraulic fracturing means that there needs to be meaningful rules governing its use on federal lands,” Lois Epstein, the Wilderness Society’s Arctic program director, said today in a statement. “The current draft rules from the BLM are a good start, but should be strengthened in order to guarantee the highest possible protections for the public and nearby wildlands.”
Environment America, claiming to speak alongside more than half a million Americans, called on BLM to use the rules on fracturing to take steps to keep oil and gas drilling out of national forests and away from being sited near national parks.
“The ugly reality is that the oil and gas industry has gotten very used to operating on our public lands with few safeguards in place,” said Trip Van Noppen, president of Earthjustice.
Van Noppen called BLM’s proposal “weak rules” that won’t result in any meaningful protections.
One source of contention among the environmental groups appears to be BLM’s decision to alter rules first proposed last year in favor of a new draft rule released in May that would allow the agency to defer to state drilling rules if they are found to be as strong as or stronger than the federal rules.
“The Obama administration had the chance to lead,” said Jennifer Krill, the executive director of EarthWorks. “Instead, despite overwhelming public input urging stronger oversight or an outright ban on fracking, the Bureau of Land Management caved to industry lobbying and made the rules weaker. President Obama, listen to the public this time and protect our land, air and water.”
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Natural gas has become a leading source of alternative energy with the advent of techniques to economically extract gas reserves from deep shale formations. Here, we present an assessment of private well water quality in aquifers overlying the Barnett Shale formation of North Texas. We evaluated samples from 100 private drinking water wells using analytical chemistry techniques. Analyses revealed that arsenic, selenium, strontium and total dissolved solids (TDS) exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water Maximum Contaminant Limit (MCL) in some samples from private water wells located within 3 km of active natural gas wells. Lower levels of arsenic, selenium, strontium, and barium were detected at reference sites outside the Barnett Shale region as well as sites within the Barnett Shale region located more than 3 km from active natural gas wells. Methanol and ethanol were also detected in 29% of samples. Samples exceeding MCL levels were randomly distributed within areas of active natural gas extraction, and the spatial patterns in our data suggest that elevated constituent levels could be due to a variety of factors including mobilization of natural constituents, hydrogeochemical changes from lowering of the water table, or industrial accidents such as faulty gas well casings.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
by TXSHARON on AUGUST 6, 2013
in NDA, RANGE RESOURCES
“Drawing is a natural mode of communication that children rarely resist and that offers a way to express feelings and thoughts in a manner that is less threatening than strictly verbal means. For the child who has experienced trauma or loss, it helps to externalize emotions and events too painful to speak out loud and is one of the only means of conveying the complexities of painful experiences, repressed memories, or unspoken fears, anxieties, or guilt.” Using Drawing as Intervention with Traumatized Children.
Aly Hallowich expressed her trauma in a drawing done before she was gagged by Range Resources.
I’m guessing this drawing was made when Aly was 5 or 6 because according to the court transcript, she was 7 when she was gagged.
MRS. HALLOWICH: We have agreed to this because we needed to get the children out of there for their health and safety. My concern is they’re minors. I’m not quite sure I fully understand. We know we’re signing for silence forever, buthow is this taking away our children’s rights being minors now? I mean, my daughter is turning 7 today, my son is 10. How – I guess that concerns me that we need to keep them safe, but –
The tallest object looks like a flare. You can see the green tanks that depict gas wells, the drilling rig and the impoundment pond with black in it. The sun and sky are sad. Aly’s drawing was previously posted HERE.
Reilly Ruggiero created this fantastic Google Doodle. Check out the “L.” Half of Reilly’s world looks pretty wonderful but the other half is filled with diesel, drilling waste and scorched earth. I think Reilly was about 9 when she drew this. I posted it on my blog HERE before her parents started replying, “That matter has been resolved,” when asked about their issues with Aruba Petroleum.
During her first “free time” of the second grade, Emma Parr drew a picture of what was happening around her home. She says, “This is the oil rig next to our house. It is messing up our air.” And she tells the workers to clean up their mess.
Fracking is tearing apart families, dividing communities and traumatizing our children.
Villari’s firm “never encouraged the family to agree to it,” he told Yahoo! Shine. “I pushed them quite hard on the issue, said it was unusual, and that we did not believe it was constitutional.” But he said he understood the family’s decision, as the settlement was a “take it or leave it” offer, with the gag order attached. “They had to make a difficult decision at that point in time,” he explained, adding that the Hallowiches were under financial strain and needed the settlement money in order to move. “They made what they felt was the best decision for their family.”
Special thanks to Richard Charter.
By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian
Sunday, August 11, 2013 13:35 EDT
Beverly McGuire saw the warning signs before the town well went dry: sand in the toilet bowl, the sputter of air in the tap, a pump working overtime to no effect. But it still did not prepare her for the night last month when she turned on the tap and discovered the tiny town where she had made her home for 35 years was out of water.
“The day that we ran out of water I turned on my faucet and nothing was there and at that moment I knew the whole of Barnhart was down the tubes,” she said, blinking back tears. “I went: ‘dear God help us. That was the first thought that came to mind.”
Across the south-west, residents of small communities like Barnhart are confronting the reality that something as basic as running water, as unthinking as turning on a tap, can no longer be taken for granted.
Three years of drought, decades of overuse and now the oil industry’s outsize demands on water for fracking are running down reservoirs and underground aquifers. And climate change is making things worse.
In Texas alone, about 30 communities could run out of water by the end of the year, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
Nearly 15 million people are living under some form of water rationing, barred from freely sprinkling their lawns or refilling their swimming pools. In Barnhart’s case, the well appears to have run dry because the water was being extracted for shale gas fracking.
The town – a gas station, a community hall and a taco truck – sits in the midst of the great Texan oil rush, on the eastern edge of the Permian basin.
A few years ago, it seemed like a place on the way out. Now McGuire said she can see nine oil wells from her back porch, and there are dozens of RVs parked outside town, full of oil workers.
But soon after the first frack trucks pulled up two years ago, the well on McGuire’s property ran dry.
No-one in Barnhart paid much attention at the time, and McGuire hooked up to the town’s central water supply. “Everyone just said: ‘too bad’. Well now it’s all going dry,” McGuire said.
Ranchers dumped most of their herds. Cotton farmers lost up to half their crops. The extra draw down, coupled with drought, made it impossible for local ranchers to feed and water their herds, said Buck Owens. In a good year, Owens used to run 500 cattle and up to 8,000 goats on his 7,689 leased hectares (19,000 acres). Now he’s down to a few hundred goats.
The drought undoubtedly took its toll but Owens reserved his anger for the contractors who drilled 104 water wells on his leased land, to supply the oil companies.
Water levels were dropping in his wells because of the vast amounts of water being pumped out of the Edwards-Trinity-Plateau Aquifer, a 34,000 sq mile water bearing formation.
“They are sucking all of the water out of the ground, and there are just hundreds and hundreds of water trucks here every day bringing fresh water out of the wells,” Owens said.
Meanwhile, residents in town complained, they were forced to live under water rationing. “I’ve got dead trees in my yard because I haven’t been able to water them,” said Glenda Kuykendall. “The state is mandating our water system to conserve water but why?Š Getting one oil well fracked takes more water than the entire town can drink or use in a day.”
Even as the drought bore down, even as the water levels declined, the oil industry continued to demand water and those with water on their land were willing to sell it. The road west of town was lined with signs advertising “fresh water”, where tankers can take on a box-car-sized load of water laced with industrial chemicals.
“If you’re going to develop the oil, you’ve got to have the water,” said Larry Baxter, a contractor from the nearby town of Mertzon, who installed two frack tanks on his land earlier this year, hoping to make a business out of his well selling water to oil industry.
By his own estimate, his well could produce enough to fill up 20 or 30 water trucks for the oil industry each day. At $60 (£39.58) a truck, that was $36,000 a month, easily. “I could sell 100 truckloads a day if I was open to it,” Baxter said.
He rejected the idea there should be any curbs on selling water during the drought. “People use their water for food and fibre. I choose to use my water to sell to the oil field,” he said. “Who’s taking advantage? I don’t see any difference.”
Barnhart remained dry for five days last month before local work crew revived an abandoned railway well and started pumping again. But residents fear it is just a temporary fix and that next time it happens they won’t have their own wells to fall back on. “My well is very very close to going dry,” said Kuykendall.
So what is a town like Barnhart to do? Fracking is a powerful drain on water supplies. In adjacent Crockett county, fracking accounts for up to 25% of water use, according to the groundwater conservation district. But Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, argues fracking is not the only reason Texas is going dry – and nor is the drought. The latest shocks to the water system come after decades of overuse by ranchers, cotton farmers, and fast-growing thirsty cities.
“We have large urban centres sucking water out of west Texas to put on their lands. We have a huge agricultural community, and now we have fracking which is also using water,” she said. And then there is climate change.
West Texas has a long history of recurring drought, but under climate change, the south-west has been experiencing record-breaking heatwaves, further drying out the soil and speeding the evaporation of water in lakes and reservoirs. Underground aquifers failed to regenerate. “What happens is that climate change comes on top and in many cases it can be the final straw that breaks the camel’s back, but the camel is already overloaded,” said Hayhoe.
Other communities across a bone-dry south-west are resorting to extraordinary measures to keep the water flowing. Robert Lee, also in the oil patch, has been hauling in water by tanker. So has Spicewood Beach, a resort town 40 miles from Austin, which has been trucking in water since early 2012.
San Angelo, a city of 100,000, dug a pipeline to an underground water source more than 60 miles away, and sunk half a dozen new wells.
Las Cruces, just across the border from the Texas panhandle in New Mexico, is drilling down 1,000ft in search of water.
But those fixes are way out of reach for small, rural communities. Outside the RV parks for the oil field workers who are just passing through, Barnhart has a population of about 200.
“We barely make enough money to pay our light bill and we’re supposed to find $300,000 to drill a water well?” said John Nanny, an official with the town’s water supply company.
Last week brought some relief, with rain across the entire state of Texas. Rain gauges in some parts of west Texas registered two inches or more. Some ranchers dared to hope it was the beginning of the end of the drought.
But not Owens, not yet anyway. The underground aquifers needed far more rain to recharge, he said, and it just wasn’t raining as hard as it did when he was growing up.
“We’ve got to get floods. We’ve got to get a hurricane to move up in our country and just saturate everything to replenish the aquifer,” he said. “Because when the water is gone. That’s it. We’re gone.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
August 13, 2013
CONTACT: Food & Water Watch
Seth Gladstone – sgladstone[at]fwwatch[dot]org, 718.943.8063
Action Comes on Heels of Report Showing EPA Officials Ignored Evidence from Philadelphia Office Finding Pollution in Dimock Drinking Water
WASHINGTON – August 13 – Pennsylvania residents and activists personally harmed by the hazards of fracking gathered today at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C. to call for the reopening of the investigation into drinking water contamination in Dimock, PA. A recent report in the Los Angeles Times revealed that EPA officials in Washington chose to close an investigation of Dimock drinking water despite evidence gathered from agency investigators based in Philadelphia that found “significant damage to the water quality,” from poisonous contamination likely caused by fracking. The EPA PowerPoint Presentation was released last Monday on DeSmog blog by investigative journalist Steve Horn. Evidence of drinking water contamination due to fracking was similarly ignored by the EPA in Pavillion, Wyoming and Weatherford, Texas. The resident-activists delivered more than 50,000 petitions to new EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy calling on her to reopen investigations in Dimock, PA as well as in Pavillion, WY and Weatherford, TX. They are also calling on EPA to provide safe drinking water to residents while these investigations recommence.
“For years now, I have had to live with toxic, poisoned fracked water in my home,” said Ray Kemble, a former gas industry employee turned whistleblower and an affected Dimock area resident. “When EPA finally stepped in and tested my water, I thought ‘Thank God. Someone is finally here to help us.’ But then it became apparent to those of us on the ground that they were playing politics. EPA officials literally told us officially that our water was safe to drink but then told us off-the-record not to drink it. Now the truth is out and we want justice.”
In 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection concluded that a fracking well drilled by Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation was responsible for methane contamination of a large aquifer in Dimock, PA resulting in the contamination of the drinking water of 19 families. The PA DEP enacted a fracking moratorium in the area and promised to build a water line from a nearby town to the residents. Then they rescinded that promise leaving Dimock residents to fend for themselves.
During the next few years, Cabot Oil and Gas paid for water deliveries to the residents and then abruptly stopped December 2011. Residents and advocates demanded the EPA and the federal government step in and in January 2012, the EPA commenced water deliveries while conducting its own investigation into groundwater contamination caused by drilling and fracking operations. In the summer of 2012, the EPA concluded its investigation and stated that Dimock’s water wasn’t contaminated from drilling and fracking operations, however the Los Angeles Times now reports that internal documents show regional EPA staff members said the exact opposite. Staff members warned their superiors that several wells had been contaminated with methane and substances such as manganese and arsenic, most likely from local gas drilling and fracking.
“I helped sound the alarm and called EPA when Cabot Oil and Gas stopped water deliveries to outspoken residents in Dimock, PA,” said Craig Stevens, a resident from the neighboring town of Silver Lake Township, who has also been adversely been affected by fracking operations in the region. “The people in this country deserve better then this. These fracking corporations should not be allowed to cause citizens harm and then have the federal government cover up the water contamination. Enough is enough. We aren’t going away until we have law, order and safe drinking water.”
Residents argue this isn’t the first time the EPA has stepped back from connecting the evidence from its own studies of water contamination to unconventional gas drilling and fracking operations. Dimock’s story is emblematic of a troubling pattern in EPA groundwater investigations related to fracking.
In late-2010 in Weatherford, Texas, after evaluating samples from a water well near drilling and fracking operations, the Environmental Protection Agency believed the situation was so serious that it issued a rare emergency order that said at least two homeowners were in immediate danger from a well saturated with flammable methane. More than a year later, the agency rescinded its mandate and refused to explain why. However, in an Associated Press story that later emerged, the EPA had scientific evidence against the driller, Range Resources, but changed course after the company threatened not to cooperate with a national study about hydraulic fracturing. In response to this threat and industry pressure, regulators set aside an analysis that concluded the drilling could have been to blame for the contamination.
More recently, the EPA abandoned the fracking study in Pavillion, WY, which found benzene, a known carcinogen, at 50 times the level that is considered safe. However, even with this evidence, the EPA stepped away from this study and instead handed it over to the state of Wyoming, whose lead politicians have repeatedly vocally supported fracking. Worse, the research will be funded by EnCana, the very company whose drilling and fracking operations may have caused the groundwater contamination.
“The purpose of the EPA is to protect all Americans from the types of health and safety hazards fracking so obviously caused in Dimock and elsewhere,” said Emily Wurth, director of water programs at Food & Water Watch, the organization that led the petition collection effort. “It’s time for Gina McCarthy and the EPA to do its job and stand up for public health, not continue wilting under pressure from the oil and gas industry to simply maintain the dangerous status quo.”
Food & Water Watch is a nonprofit consumer organization that works to ensure clean water and safe food. We challenge the corporate control and abuse of our food and water resources by empowering people to take action and by transforming the public consciousness about what we eat and drink.
hmmmmmmmmmmmm Who knew? DV
By Sarah Rae Fruchtnicht, Tue, August 06, 2013
Hydraulic fracturing has been occurring off the coast of California for about 15 years, in the same sensitive waters where all new oil leases were banned since the 1969 Union Oil Santa Barbara spill, the third worst spill in American history.
The California Coastal Commission wasn’t even aware the offshore fracking was taking place, according to Grist, because it happens three miles off the coast, in federal jurisdiction. California, however, has the right to reject federal permits if water quality is in danger.
Regulators have allowed fracking in the Pacific Ocean to occur at least 12 times since the late 1990s, according to federal documents released by the government to The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act. A new fracking project was recently approved.
Gas companies want to frack the Santa Barbara Channel, the same place where the 3 million gallons of crude oil from Union Oil’s Platform A were spilled in 1969. The spill was the worst of its time. Today it is the third worst spill behind BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010 and the Exxon Valdez Spill in Alaska in 1989. The Santa Barbara spill killed thousands of sea birds, dolphins, elephant seals and sea lions.
DeSmogBlog reported Tuesday that a censored Environmental Protection Agency PowerPoint presentation found a clear link between shale gas fracking and groundwater contamination in Dimock, Pa.
Currently federal regulators allow offshore fracking chemicals to be released into the sea without companies having to file a separate environmental impact report or statement on the possible repercussions.
Fracking an area that includes oil wells adds even more risk. Tulane University petroleum engineering professor Eric Smith said that high pressure fracturing could break the rock seal on old well bore and leak oil into the ocean.
The Coastal Commission plans to grill new offshore drilling projects on details pertaining to fracking now that they know it is occurring in the Pacific. They could require new, separate permits and stricter review processes for new fracking projects.
Sources: Grist, AP
Special thanksto Richard Charter
Published August 06, 2013, 11:00 PM
During her first visit to North Dakota as secretary of the interior, Sally Jewell said it’s clear to her that oilfield operators and the state recognize that more work needs to be done to reduce natural gas flaring.
By: Amy Dalrymple, Forum News Service
U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell speaks during a media briefing at a Statoil facility in Williston, N.D., on Tuesday, Aug. 6, 2013. From left are Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, Neil Kornze, principal deputy director for the Bureau of Land Management, Sen. John Hoeven and Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service
WILLISTON, N.D. – During her first visit to North Dakota as secretary of the interior, Sally Jewell said it’s clear to her that oilfield operators and the state recognize that more work needs to be done to reduce natural gas flaring.
“Flaring it and venting it is obviously not capturing resources that could be leading us to energy independence,” Jewell said Tuesday.
Top executives of two oil companies gave Jewell a tour of their North Dakota operations, focusing on technology advancements and efforts to reduce natural gas flaring.
A recent report estimated that $3.6 million in natural gas is burned away each day in North Dakota.
U.S. Sens. John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp invited Jewell to tour the Bakken to see the state’s oil and gas development firsthand.
“There is no question that this is the epicenter of many aspects of energy development in this country,” said Jewell, who was sworn in as secretary in April.
Officials who helped lead the tours included Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm and Statoil Senior Vice President Torstein Hole, who is based in Norway.
Continental Resources gave Jewell a tour of a location adjacent to a residential area in Williston that will have 14 oil wells on the same location, minimizing the footprint on the land.
Statoil showed the group a location in the city limits of Williston that had pipelines in place ahead of time, capturing the natural gas and eliminating the need for of thousands of truck trips to transport oil and water.
Across the state, about 29 percent of natural gas is flared, Hamm said. But Continental Resources flares 10 percent of its natural gas and captures 90 percent, with a goal to reduce the flared amount even further.
“It’s valuable and we collect it all,” Hamm said. “We’re not going to waste those hydrocarbons.”
Hamm said he expects other companies will catch up and bring that percentage down.
“They’re getting there real quick,” Hamm said of other companies.
Statoil currently flares 30 percent of the natural gas it produces due to infrastructure challenges, said Lance Langford, Statoil vice president who oversees Bakken operations.
But the company is working to reduce that percentage through the use of bi-fuel rigs, which use natural gas and reduce the amount of diesel required, and technologies that will extract the valuable natural gas liquids.
Statoil also showed Jewell a pilot project the company is working on to test a compressed natural gas liquids unit.
Jewell, whose background includes working as a petroleum engineer, asked technical questions during the tours, such as how wet the gas is and how operators build a curve to drill horizontally. When touring a drilling rig, Jewell commented that there were “no chains flying around like when I was in the industry.”
Hoeven said the goal of the visit was to emphasize that North Dakota’s approach to energy development, rather than a federal one-size-fits-all model, is producing more energy with better environmental stewardship.
“This country needs to develop a comprehensive energy plan as well,” Hoeven said. “The secretary can be very instrumental in that development.”
As Interior Secretary, Jewell plays a key role in energy development on public and tribal lands. She referenced President Barack Obama’s all-of-the-above energy policy and said “he believes it deeply.”
Jewell said she’s in favor of having federal baseline minimum standards for hydraulic fracturing that would include requirements such as disclosing the chemicals and ensuring the integrity of the wellbore.
While North Dakota and other states are sophisticated, other states don’t have experience regulating fracking, she said.
“There are a number of states that don’t have standards at all,” Jewell said.
If states’ standards meet or exceed the federal standards, operators would follow those state standards, she said.
Heitkamp, Hoeven and Lt. Gov Drew Wrigley, who also participated in the tour, repeatedly emphasized a states-first approach to energy development.
“No one knows the hydrology and geology of North Dakota better than the people who have been studying for years,” Heitkamp said.
Officials also said they are partnering with Jewell on efforts to improve the efficiency of the Bureau of Land Management, which experiences backlogs in keeping up with drilling permit applications in the Bakken.
Jewell’s tour concluded Tuesday with a visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Jewell also planned to meet with Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall on Tuesday, but he got caught in traffic.
“The fact that he got stuck in traffic when we had a 7 a.m. breakfast meeting says something about the boom going on here,” Jewell said.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Photograph by Julia Schmalz/Bloomberg
Steyer discusses his opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline during an interview in Washington
(Updates with response from U.S. Department of State’s Office of the Inspector General in the seventh paragraph.)
Three weeks back, when we last checked in on the lively, sometimes absurd fight over the Keystone XL pipeline, opponents of the project had just raised alarm about undisclosed conflicts of interest between ERM (ERM:LN), a U.K.-based company the U.S. State Department has relied on to assess the potential environmental impact of the proposed line, and TransCanada (TRP), the company that wants to build it. Previous conflict of interest allegations about the Keystone XL had led to congressional complaints and an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General. The new disclosures raised the prospect that the project might be further delayed by a new ethics inquiry.
Since then the saga has featured still more twists, including:
• President Obama chuckling (per the New York Times) as he low-balled the number of construction jobs the pipeline might create;
• revelations that a dozen or more state and federal Republican lawmakers apparently sent letters endorsing the pipeline that had been written by fossil fuel lobbyists;
• TransCanada’s announcement of a longer, 1,864-mile, $12 billion pipeline that, if completed, would certainly make good on the company’s name, and make the Keystone XL look more like the Keystone XS; and,
• Claims by the Washington-based Checks and Balances Project that a new U.S. government special investigation is underway over ERM.
As you’d expect, proponents of the pipeline were quick to dismiss the conflict-of-interest charges as a transparent ploy to derail the pipeline’s approval process. Guilty as charged, says Friends of the Earth’s Ross Hammond. His nonprofit engaged in opposition research, as it is called during election campaigns, to turn up the evidence that ERM had worked with TransCanada on projects that it had failed to disclose to the U.S. State Department.
Calling the conflict-of-interest charges tactical, however, doesn’t mean they lack merit. Here, (PDF), for example, is a 2010 document, cached online, in which ERM lists TransCanada as a client. Does this prove that ERM has been biased toward TransCanada in its Keystone assessment? No. But unless this document is a forgery, ERM appears not to have disclosed all it should have to the U.S. government. (ERM declined to comment.)
“The Keystone XL environmental review lost all credibility when ERM lied to taxpayers about what it was up to,” says Tom Steyer, president of NextGen Climate Action. “ERM’s hubris deprives the State Department and the public of the unbiased information they need. A large group of Americans will support Secretary Kerry if he insists on doing the review in a clean, straightforward way—this time, with an honest contractor.”
The State Department maintains that it has the situation well under control. “The selected contractor works directly with and under the sole direction of the Department of State while the applicant pays for the work,” says State official Jennifer Psaki.
Steyer, a semi-retired hedge fund billionaire, is a financial supporter of President Obama, and it’s not hard to imagine that Steyer encouraged Obama to nix Keystone’s development during the president’s most recent visit to Steyer’s home. (Could Steyer be where Obama got his low jobs-created number? Hard to say. Obama’s Keystone remarks have become political sport—”Kremlinology,” even; the Washington Post’s WonkBlog did terrific work fact-checking his figures).
The Office of the Inspector General confirms that it has “initiated an inquiry” into the ERM conflict of interest complaints, and whether or not that goes anywhere, the Keystone faces a second, straight-talking judge in Gina McCarthy, the new Environmental Protection Agency chief. Whether the pipeline proceeds is ultimately up to the President. But the EPA has a role to play: It is reviewing the environmental impact studies that contractors such as ERM have conducted.
When asked about Keystone XL recently, McCarthy first jokingly got up to leave, rather than be put on the spot. Then she replied that the EPA would strive to be “an honest commenter” on the XL plans. Up to now, that honesty (PDF) has been bracing, as the EPA has called the Keystone environmental impact statements insufficient and inadequate not once, but three times.
Wieners (@bradwieners) is an executive editor for Bloomberg Businessweek.
By: Matt Daily
August 1, 2013 02:10 PM EDT
An environmental group is rolling out a new tactic today to fight the Keystone XL pipeline: ananimated video showing every significant oil, gas and chemical pipeline spill in the U.S. since 1986.
The group, the Center for Biological Diversity, hopes the video will go viral and says it’s aimed at stirring up enough public awareness of the pipeline industry’s troubles to put pressure on three key Democratic senators – Bill Nelson of Florida, Michael Bennet of Colorado and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota – to oppose any pro-Keystone legislation. It’s also hoping to influence President Barack Obama’s final call on the pipeline’s future.
The video is part of a campaign aimed at spreading a simple message: Don’t trust the pipeline industry.
(WATCH: Obama says he’ll approve Keystone only if greenhouse gases won’t worsen)
Contrary to claims by the oil and gas industry, pipelines are not a safe way to ship energy, said Noah Greenwald, director of the Arizona-based group’s endangered species program. “For so many different reasons, we need to be moving away from fossil fuels,” Greenwald said. “There’s really no safe and clean way to deal with them.”
But the oil industry has said pipelines are far safer than other transportation systems, such as rail cars or trucks.
“Safety is the number one priority for the oil and natural gas industry. Pipelines are one of the safest ways to transport crude oil, gasoline, and other petroleum products, and spills are extremely rare,” said Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute. “Even one spill is too many, and our industry, working with regulators, continues to apply the highest standards and the latest technologies to ensure the safe delivery of the energy needed to fuel our economy.”
(PHOTOS: Climate skeptics in Congress)
The Center for Biological Diversity is perhaps best known for its aggressive tactics to enforce the Endangered Species Act, including the many lawsuits it has filed accusing agencies like the Interior Department and EPA of refusing to impose legally required protection for creatures like the polar bear, California condor and Mexican gray wolf.
Its animated spill map is based on data culled from nearly 8,000 incidents catalogued as “significant” by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, including incidents that killed people, sent victims to the hospital, caused more than $50,000 in damages, released more than five barrels of volatile substances or triggered an explosion or fire. The spills featured in the video involved natural gas, oil and other hazardous liquids, such as diesel fuel, gasoline, fuel oil and anhydrous ammonia.
The group says the incidents have caused almost $7 billion in damage and killed more than 500 people since 1986.
“The numbers add up to 76,000 barrels per year, nearly 300 incidents per year,” Greenwald said.
The United States has more than 180,000 miles of oil and liquids pipelines and more than 305,000 miles of natural gas pipelines, according to industry data.
(WATCH: Obama’s full speech on climate change)
But the data also show that, at least in terms of the volume of the spills, the three lowest annual totals have occurred in the past five years, with the smallest volume in 2012. Greenwald acknowledged the downtrend in recent years, as well as the fact that a large percentage of the spills are very minor.
“A lot of the spills are small, but if it’s your land or the creek that you fish in Š it’s very damaging,” he said.
Environmentalists have pointed to the oil-sands crude that Keystone would carry as a particularly noxious type of oil that can be extremely difficult to clean up after a spill, particularly in water. That crude, which is mixed with light fluids to enable it to flow through pipelines, appears to sink in water, making it far more difficult to recover than crude oils that float on the surface.
That’s what happened when an Enbridge pipeline ruptured in July 2010, pouring more than 20,000 barrels of diluted oil-sands crude into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan. The clean-up there is still ongoing, with the costs to Enbridge likely to approach $1 billion.
Another rupture on a pipeline owned by ExxonMobil this March sent thousands of barrels of oil streaming through a neighborhood in Mayflower, Ark.
According to PHMSA data, nearly a quarter of the pipeline accidents were caused by excavation damage, while more than 18 percent were from corrosion. Another 17 percent of the incidents happen because of faulty materials or welding problems.
The Keystone fight has been raging for five years, but with an Obama administration decision on a needed permit expected before the end of the year, supporters and opponents are ramping up their rhetoric.
The Senate may also be nearing a crucial vote in September on a pro-Keystone amendment that Republicans would try to attach to widely popular energy efficiency legislation. That outcome may depend on the votes of a handful of Democrats, including Nelson, Klobuchar and Bennet.
Obama hasn’t yet tipped his hand on whether the Keystone pipeline, which would connect the oil sands fields in Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, will win the permit. But his comments this week downplaying the number of jobs that the project will create gave opponents hope that he may turn it down.
In June, he warned that the pipeline shouldn’t be built if it would increase greenhouse gases, a statement that indicated the administration could be leaning on a State Department draft report that said the pipeline was a cleaner option than railroad cars or trucks to transport the oil.
© 2013 POLITICO LLC
Special thanks to Richard Charter
By Trisha Marczak | July 31, 2013
Surfers enjoy the waves near a conventional offshore oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. These rigs could soon be joined by offshore fracking operations. In fact, in California, it turns out they already exist. (Photo/berardo62 via Flickr)
Environmental advocates are crying foul after the discovery that oil companies are using the controversial process known as fracking to extract oil off the coast of California, warning that the West Coast operations could become the norm from the Arctic to the Gulf of Mexico.
According to documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the news organization Truthout, two fracking operations have been ongoing in the Santa Barbara Channel since 2009 without the environmental review normally required under federal regulations.
The same discovery was made by the Environmental Defense Center, which indicated that its research confirmed that Venoco Inc. conducted an offshore fracking operation in 2009. According to the center, no public disclosure was made before the fracking began.
“It’s completely illegal for the agency to approve fracking in the outer continental shelf without conducting a complete environmental impact statement,” Center for Biological Diversity Senior Counsel Kassie Siegel told Truthout.
The offshore fracking operations were approved by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement as a regular oil drilling operation.
According to documents obtained by Truthout, oil companies Venoco and Dcor LLC modified drilling permits already in place to pave the way for the fracking operations.
An email obtained by Truthout indicates the federal government knew the companies were fracking. In an email sent on behalf of the bureau’s chief of staff, Thomas Lillie, to a fellow employee, he posed the question: “Has there been an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) to assess the environmental consequences of fracking on the OCS? How can we begin to review permit requests without that?”
That’s the question environmental organizations are asking, too.
“Venoco’s fracking operation was allowed under existing authorizations, and no further environmental analysis or public disclosure was made prior to the operation, despite the fact that offshore oil development raises its own host of environmental issues,” the Environmental Defense Center states on its website.
Those environmental issues, including groundwater contamination and propensity for spills, are still being debated as onshore fracking spreads in California and around the nation. There are also issues relating to the wells’ location near seismic faults.
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management justified its endorsement of fracking operations using the argument that updated permits were approved after all new threats were assessed. But according to the Center for Biological Diversity, that doesn’t do the trick, either scientifically or technically.
Venoco, however, claims it does. Its website illustrates the company as one “concerned about the environment.”
“We operate in areas with extensive environmental regulations such as in and around the Santa Barbara Channel as well as in prime agricultural areas such as the Sacramento Basin,” the company’s site states.
California landlocked fracking questioned
California sits atop the Monterey shale formation, estimated to hold a potential 15 billion barrels of crude oil, representing the largest reserve in the nation.
In April, the federal Bureau of Land Management lost a lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club over the issuing of leases to oil companies to drill in the Monterey shale. The Sierra Club successfully argued that leases were improperly given to the oil companies without the proper environmental reviews.
In all, roughly 17,000 acres of land in the Monterey shale formation was leased by the federal government to oil companies.
This is, essentially, the beef environmental organizations have with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.
According to a bureau fact sheet obtained by Truthout, the agency has allowed fracking to occur 11 times in the last 25 years. However, a spokesperson for the bureau told Truthout the exact number of fracking operations is not known, as it would require combing through years of files.
The offshore fracking is similar to the process used on land to drum up oil locked in shale – a combination of water, chemicals and silica sand is shot into the earth to break up and extract hidden oil.
In the sea, it’s no different, although the process doesn’t require as much water or silica sand, otherwise known as frac sand. According to Truthout, offshore fracking uses 7 percent of the frac sand and 2 percent of the combined water and chemicals used in onshore fracking wells.
On land and sea
The offshore fracking discovery comes at a time when the safety of onshore fracking is being debated in the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency has yet to release its study on the impact of fracking – recently announcing it would be delayed until 2016.
In the meantime, the effect on groundwater supplies is being monitored by people on both sides of the debate.
A study released by the University of Texas this month indicates water supplies surrounding fracking wells had elevated and toxic levels of arsenic, strontium and selenium, all associated with the fracking process.
The study assessed water samples taken from 100 private wells, 91 of which were within 3 miles of drilling sites.
The University of Texas study echoed one released this year by Duke University that found fracking operations were linked to groundwater contamination.
The study looked at roughly 140 water samples from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale formation and discovered methane levels were 23 times more prevalent in homes less than a mile from a fracking well.
The University of Texas study comes after the National Energy Technology Laboratory, or NETL, released a report indicating groundwater supplies near a Pennsylvania fracking site did not show any signs of contamination. However, the report was only preliminary, and the laboratory intends to release its full report in 2014.
“NETL has been conducting a study to monitor for any signs of groundwater contamination as a result of hydraulic fracturing operations at a site on the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania,” NETL said in a statement following the preliminary report release. “We are still in the early stages of collecting, analyzing, and validating data from this site. While nothing of concern has been found thus far, the results are far too preliminary to make any firm claims. We expect a final report on the results by the end of the calendar year.”
On top of issues associated with groundwater contamination, fracking has raised questions associated with wastewater disposal and spills.
This month, Exxon Mobil was fined $100,000 for a fracking wastewater spill that contaminated the Susquehanna River in 2010. The EPA discovered water tested near the spill included elevated levels of chlorides, strontium and barium, chemicals also found in the company’s wastewater storage tanks.
Within three months, two major fracking fluid spills occurred at fracking well sites operated by Carrizo Oil and Gas. In May, a fracking well sent 9,000 gallons of fracking fluid onto nearby property in Pennsylvania. In March, a fracking well sent 227,000 gallons of fracking fluid into another Pennsylvania community.
These are the types of incidents environmental advocates are worried about, especially when there’s now a possibility such spills could occur in the ocean. While the offshore fracking process requires less fracking fluid, the possibility for detection and cleanup is in question, particularly when most people aren’t aware that offshore fracking is taking place.
Special thanks to Richard Charter
Published on Friday, July 19, 2013 by Common Dreams
– Lauren McCauley, staff writer
Two residents of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec have filed a class action lawsuit against the corporations behind the July 6 train derailment and explosion which killed nearly fifty people and devastated the small Canadian town.
Yannick Gagne and Guy Ouellet, who together own the Musi-Cafe—a bar that was crowded with people the night it was destroyed by the blast—are seeking damages from the Maine-based Montreal Maine & Atlantic Railway (MM&A), Irving Oil, World Fuel Services and its subsidiary Dakota Plains Holdings, which extracted the crude oil the train was carrying.
According to the Portland Press Herald, the plaintiffs filed a motion Monday in Quebec Superior Court seeking to authorize a class-action suit against the railway company. On Wednesday, they amended the motion to include the oil and extraction companies.
The unattended train was carrying 72 cars of crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale fields to an Irving Oil refinery in Saint John, New Brunswick when it derailed initiating an explosion and fireball which engulfed the small downtown.
Meanwhile, the death toll for the disaster has risen to 42 after four more bodies were discovered Thursday. Eight more people remain unaccounted for though are presumed to be dead.
The impact on the town of 6,000 has been severe. Beyond the crippling effect of the casualties, the untold environmental costs continue to unfold.
An estimated 250,000 to 300,000 liters of oil spilled into Lac-Mégantic, according to Quebec’s Environment Minister. And, as the Globe and Mail report, traces of oil were visible in the Chaudière River “and the air was pungent with the scent of oil.”
“Multi-coloured sheens could be seen on the surface of the water in areas where the current slowed, and the grass along some stretches of the shoreline was brown and straw-like,” they continue.
Following the accident, finger pointing prevailed among the major corporations involved.
Edward Burkhardt, CEO of MM&A as well as its much larger parent company, Rail World Inc., had initially attempted to blame local firefighters before claiming the fault lay with a train employee for not properly setting the brakes—despite the fact that he has continuously opposed arguments by railway employees who have long-insisted that one-man crews were too dangerous.
Similarly, a spokesman for Irving Oil—whose crude fueled the small town’s incineration—told the Associated Press, “We did not own or control the crude oil or its transportation at any time.”
Of the pending suit, the Press Herald continues:
The motion claims that the companies failed to ensure the oil was properly secured and safely transported. The lawsuit would seek compensation for any person or business affected directly or indirectly by the disaster.
It was not known Thursday when the court will rule on the motion.
If a Quebec Superior Court judge approves the motion, the lawsuit could be among the largest in Canadian history, though according to Jeff Orenstein, a lawyer from one of the firms working on the suit, no dollar amount on the damages sought will be available for some time.
“It will require interviews with the people of the city and expert evaluators as well,” Orenstein said. “There is no number I can pin down without much further research and expertise.”
Posted by Pear Energy
Raising new concerns about a little-examined dimension of the fracking debate, Environment America Research & Policy Center today released a report analyzing state and federal financial assurance requirements for oil and gas drilling operations. As fracking expands at a frenzied pace in several states and federal officials consider allowing fracking near national parks and forests and key drinking water sources, Who Pays the Costs of Fracking? reveals current bonding requirements are inadequate to cover the costs of damage from gas drilling.
Read the full report by clicking below:
Who Pays the Cost of Fracking_vUS screen
Just reclaiming a fracking site can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the damage done by fracking—from contaminated groundwater to ruined roads—can cost millions of dollars. But today’s report shows that:
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) generally requires drillers to post bonds of only $10,000 per lease or a blanket bond of only $25,000 for all wells in any one state;
All but eight states require bonds of less than $50,000; and
In most cases, these bonds only cover the cost of site reclamation and well plugging, providing little or no up-front financial assurance for the broader damage done by fracking.
“This appalling lack of financial assurance dramatically increases the risks that our communities, our drinking water and our natural heritage face from fracking,” observed John Rumpler, senior attorney with Environment America Research & Policy Center and a co-author of the report.
Today’s report comes as the oil and gas industry is seeking to frack in several national forests and other sources of drinking water for millions of Americans—including George Washington National Forest in Virginia, White River National Forest in Colorado, Otero Mesa in New Mexico, Wayne National Forest in Ohio and the Delaware River Basin.
“It’s bad enough to think that fracking could pollute major sources of drinking water,” said Rumpler. “The fact that we could wind up paying the clean-up bill as well just adds insult to injury.”
Environment America is urging the BLM to implement a key recommendation of the administration’s advisory panel on fracking, which is the “preservation of unique and/or sensitive areas as off limits to drilling …”
The report shows that financial assurance requirements at the state-level are also quite weak in areas at the center of the current fracking boom—including in Colorado, New Mexico, Ohio and Pennsylvania.
Of particular concern for financial accountability are the long-term costs of fracking. According to the report, across the nation by 2006 there were already 59,000 abandoned oil and gas wells and at least another 90,000 whose status is unknown. The potential cost for just plugging these wells exceeds $780 billion.
“From coal to oil to mining, we’ve seen every boom of extraction leave a legacy of pollution that future generations are left to grapple with,” observed Rumpler. “Weak financial assurance requirements virtually guarantee the same fate wherever fracking is allowed.”