Nel's New Day

October 17, 2015

Fracking May Destroy the Country

Filed under: Environment — trp2011 @ 8:52 PM
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Michael Steele’s war cry of “Drill, baby, drill” became the mantra during Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign after the former RNC chair delivered it at the 2008 GOP convention. The slogan changed to “Spill, baby, spill” after the gigantic BP Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 people and dumped almost 5 million barrels into the Gulf of Mexico. Trailing Donald Trump and Ben Carson at 13 percent as well as failing to bring in donations, presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) may move to a slogan of “Frack, baby, frack!” In Ohio he called for reversing EPA regulations on fracking and greenhouse emissions, allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling, nullifying President Obama’s international climate change accord, and immediately allowing the Keystone XL Pipeline to be finished.

Rubio’s wish list would dismantle Obama’s carbon pollution rules, speed up approval of natural-gas export terminals,  and stop environmental groups from suing the government. Solar and wind energy would disappear. In returning to total dependence on fossil fuels, he called opponent Hillary Clinton “an outdated leader” whose policies are a misguided attempt at “changing the weather.”

Like changing his views on immigration, Rubio has “evolved,” or perhaps a better term is “regressed” in his positions on fossil fuels. Florida state legislature Speaker Marco Rubio listed clean energy as a priority in 2007. He predicted that greenhouse gas emissions were inevitable and called on Florida to become “an international model of energy efficiency and independence” and the “Silicon Valley” of clean energy. He modified this approach in his party’s rebuttal to the president’s 2013 State of the Union speech by retaining interest in solar and wind energy with a focus on extracting fossil fuels. Now he has entirely dropped clean energy.

More than 270,000 wells have been fracked in 25 states, and over 10 million people live within one mile of a fracking site that damages health, water, land, and air. The third edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking includes over 100 studies showing why areas such as the state of New York were right to ban fracking.

 

  • People living near fracking made 27 per cent more hospital visits for treatment for heart conditions than in other areas (Study of drilling in Pennsylvania between 2007 and 2011)
  • Cardiology and neurological in-patient prevalence rates were significantly higher in areas closer to active wells.
  • Hospitalizations for skin conditions, cancer and urological problems also increased with proximity to wells.
  • Prenatal exposure to fracking chemicals may interrupt hormonal functioning including lower male fertility in adulthood with low sperm count and enlarged testicles.
  • Premature births are 40 percent higher among women in areas of intense drilling, and women’s pregnancies are 30 percent more likely to be “high-risk.” Premature births are linked to breathing problems, cerebral palsy, hearing and vision impairments, neurological disabilities, and infant deaths. (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health)
  • People living near natural gas wells are more than twice as likely to report respiratory and skin conditions. (Yale University)
  • Higher levels of cancer-causing chemicals are in drinking water near fracking sites. (Texas researchers)

In an effort to stop studies in Oklahoma, billionaire oil tycoon Harold Hamm tried to persuade the University of Oklahoma to fire scientists studying the link between fracking and earthquake frequency and threatened to get the Oklahoma Geological Survey moved from the school. Hamm served as an adviser on energy policy on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Rubio may not understand the dangers of fracking to life if he follows only publications from the oil and gas industry. Although a new set of research shows that Texas methane emissions are 50 percent higher than estimated, Energy in Depth from the fossil fuel industry said that rising emissions are falling because of the paltry voluntary efforts. Texas claims that it needs to regulations to remedy the problem, but that state is failing while Colorado, Ohio, and Wyoming are taking steps toward leak detection and repair requirements for oil and gas operations.

Even the patent holder on a device that measures methane emissions thinks that it could be faulty by underrecording leakage rages. The sampler must be frequently recalibrated as methane levels rise above the capacity of the first sensor on the device.

Perhaps Rubio will agree with the EPA’s study concluding that found no “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.” Data for the poorly designed study came from the oil and gas industry that blocked direct monitoring of fracking operations. No baseline water testing was allowed before the final tests. One study of southwestern Pennsylvania fracking wells last year found that the wells released methane at rates 100 to 1,000 times higher than estimates by the EPA. Methane concentration of residential water wells at Pennsylvania homes one mile from fracking wells was six times higher than in homes located farther away from wells.

Maryland has banned fracking for 30 months while it determines regulations for the practice, but Oklahoma has banned bans on fracking after Texas told cities and towns that they were forced to permit fracking. Campaign donations trump fracking problems in Oklahoma as in Norman where hundreds of thousands of people have potentially tainted drinking water after careless disposal of fracking wastewater. The new law also prevents any city policies to ensure the water is safe.

No one may be protected from unsafe drinking water because of the Halliburton Loophole in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Named after then-Vice-president Dick Cheney’s corporation, the provision exempts fracking from key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act and allows the oil and gas industry to conceal the ways that they pollute on a grand scale. The same law also made the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) able to rubber-stamp federal, state, and local decisions about fossil fuels from accountability to Congress and the White House.

Despite Oklahoma’s bans on bans, the state Supreme Court has determined that people subjected to earthquakes caused by oil and gas operations can sue the company for damages. The industry wanted cases resolved by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) instead of the courts. Oklahoma has a seriously growing problem with fracking earthquakes with an unprecedented average of ten a day. Before fracking started in 2009, the state annually averaged two quakes of greater than 3.0 magnitude.

Less than a month after the OCC ordered companies to shut down or decrease usage of five saltwater disposal wells near Cushing, an earthquake of 4.5 hit the area a week ago. The day before, an earthquake of 4.4 magnitude hit just 80 miles away. Thus far, regulators have issued rules for only 23 of the state’s 3,500 wells.

One-fifth of the U.S. commercial crude oil storage capacity is located near this earthquake site, and the 87 million-barrel capacity is almost full because low oil prices are causing the energy industry to hoard the crude. Steve Agee, an economist and Dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University, said that the supply of crude has outpaced worldwide demand, drastically bringing down oil prices that hover around $50 a barrel up from $37.75 in August. Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates, said that the national inventory of 457.9 million barrels is the highest in almost 80 years.

Oklahoma isn’t alone in earthquake problems: Kansas joined Oklahoma to have 42 earthquakes of 2.5 magnitude in one week—17 percent of the earthquakes in the world—up from 1.5 of these quakes each year. The water, sand, and toxic chemicals shot into the bedrock at extremely high pressures destabilizes the bedrock, reactivates long-dormant fault lines, and causes man-made earthquakes. The Oklahoma/Kansas area of Woodford shale sits above the mid-continent rift, a billion-year old fault line buried more than a mile below the surface. As the number of earthquakes grows, the area of occurrence increases, going as far as Oklahoma City which has no main fracking wells. The earthquakes are also becoming more powerful with the potential to provide significant local damage—such as blowing up the 87 million barrels of oil at Cushing.

At the same time, air pollution travels hundreds of miles into states with little or no fracking. Ethane measurements increased by 30 percent between 2010 and 2013 in Washington, D.C. Maybe Marco Rubio is not as safe as he thinks he is.

March 14, 2015

Fracking Affects Everyone

Until this year, large oil and gas corporations have successfully hidden the contents of its fracking fluid, the chemicals that is added to water and sand to release oil and gas. All people knew was that it caused health problems and probably deaths from the pollution of water, soil, and air. In 2013, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a law requiring disclosure of these chemicals and established air and water monitoring near fracking sites. This month the state stopped some drilling because it threatened drinking water sources, and officials admitted that they violated federal law because they hadn’t protected water sources from fracking pollution. A report stated that, in addition to excessive amounts of carcinogenic chemicals, the wastewater carried thousands of times more radioactive radium than considered safe by the state’s public health goals. The reporting in some areas is incomplete, and records are missing.

These chemicals cause health problems from headaches and nausea to benign and malignant tumors. Families living near a fracking site in California found black water smelling of sewage pouring out their taps. One woman reported that her dog has cancer and one of her daughters has skin issues. The Golden State Water Company has vouched for the water’s safety although it has not done any tests.

A Texas of University study found 18 times the safe amount of arsenic in U.S. drinking water. The closer the source to fracking sites, the higher the levels of arsenic. Investigators also found excessive amounts of other deadly chemicals such as selenium, strontium, ethanol, and methanol. Toxic chemicals and gas found in Wyoming led to residents being advised to no longer drink tap water or shower/bath in an unventilated room. The EPA research study has been turned over to the state of Wyoming where its funding comes from the company under investigation for the contamination.

The U.S. Geological Survey has also found that fracking is the main reason for the great increase in earthquakes throughout the central United States, something that other studies have long indicated.  http://www.care2.com/causes/fracking-confirmed-as-the-cause-of-earthquakes-in-ohio.html  From 1975 to 2008, Oklahoma averaged one to three earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater a year. That number began to skyrocket with 564 quakes with a magnitude of 3 or greater in 2014, almost six times as many as the year before. Nineteen were magnitude 4 or over. With a 22,900-percent increase in tectonic events since 2008, Oklahoma now has three times as many earthquakes as California. Oklahoma scientists have known about the link between fracking and earthquakes for at least five years but kept quite to keep in gas and oil industry happy. These earthquakes are moving across the border into Kansas, and a new study again shows that fracking is causing earthquakes in Ohio.

Municipalities in Ohio can also not protect themselves from fracking through local ordinances as New York state has done in the past. The state Supreme Court ruled by a 4-3 vote that the state has “exclusive authority” and that cities and counties can neither ban nor regulate fracking through zoning laws or other restrictions. For now, oil and gas companies have won in Ohio.

Fracking is also rapidly depleting the water supply in the United States. One well requires 4 million gallons, the same consumption as 3,000 families for ten years. The U.S. has 1.1 million wells. Parts of California are suffering the worst drought in 1,200 years, and last year frackers poured more than 3 billion gallons of polluted drinking water into aquifers in just that state.

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. Fracking those wells used 97 billion gallons of water, half of this water in Texas which expects to double production in the next five years. In the heart of Texas, local aquifer levels have dropped by up to 300 feet over the last few years, and many west Texas reservoirs are at 25-percent capacity. Twenty-nine communities across Texas could run out of water in 90 days.

After municipalities tired of taking their fracking concerns to a deaf Texas legislature, Denton passed a ban on fracking. Legislators are now trying to move any control to the state where “the expertise is,” according to state Rep. Phil King.

Ohio has also suffered from a number of explosions from fracking. In December 25 families were evacuated for at least three days because of a natural-gas leak that crews couldn’t stop and could explode at any time. Last May, a blowout spilled oil into a Ohio river tributary, a source of drinking water for residents. The next month, a fire at a Halliburton fracking site blew up trucks while thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals spilled into a Ohio river tributary, killing 70,000 fish. A well rupture in October caused 400 families to be evacuated. That was a few days after a worker at a fracking site was burned and a pipeline ignited several acres of woods. Ohio law doesn’t require fracking companies to reveal the chemicals that they use.

Almost a year ago, Colorado investigated a spike in fetal abnormalities such as low birth weight and congenital heart defects on the state’s western slope near a large number of natural gas wells. Although the state reported that it found no connection between the wells and the fetal abnormalities, glaring gaps existed in their examination, including a lack of water testing. Scientists affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have determined that oil and gas operations on Colorado’s front range are pumping almost seven times more benzene into the air than previously estimated.

Health problems, water shortage, food contamination, earthquakes, explosions—these are a few of the problems from fracking. And there are more:

  • Housing Crisis: As a large number of people move to small towns for work at the wells, property owners double or triple the rents, forcing life-long residents to leave their homes.
  • More Public Assistance: New money in small towns drives up inflation, leaving formerly self-sufficient people no longer able to provide for themselves.
  • Traffic Jams: Trucks making thousands of trips to haul away hazardous material monopolize streets, and emergency vehicles may not get to critical areas in a timely fashion.
  • Truck Crashes: Some of the highest rates of vehicle accidents occur in fracking towns, especially on rural roads. Crashes are especially disastrous when trucks carry waste material and natural gas, annually costing fracking counties an additional $28 million.
  • Increased Crime and Arrests: Transient natural gas workers tend to cause more trouble; law enforcement officers in fracking towns have reported a 17-percent increase in disorderly conduct arrests.
  • Alcoholism: Bored workers with time and money to spend drink more, resulting in a spike in bar brawls and less safe communities. Officers also see a 12-percent jump in public intoxication arrests.
  • Sexual Assault: Popular fracking in North Dakota has led to one of the highest single men to women ratios in the country with 20 percent more single men than available women in fracking towns. Spikes in sexual assault cases have led to women being harassed and followed in public.
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections: Rural Pennsylvania hospitals found an increase of over 30 percent in rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea after fracking arrived, a 60-percent higher infection rate than in non-fracked areas.

People who live in areas where they don’t directly suffer from air and water issues, proximity to explosions and earthquakes, and loss of land may think that fracking is not their problem. Yet companies are going farther afield to dump radioactive waste, as North Dakota ships it to places such as Idaho, Colorado, Utah, and Montana.     Even worse is the way that the radioactive waste permeates the entire food and water supply across the nation. Exposed animals and fish have made their way into the food system, and vegetables and fruit are grown in contaminated soil. Eating food contaminated with radium and other heavy metals leads to cancer and other health problems. Fracking is a problem for everyone.

November 12, 2014

Texas Refuses to Follow Vote of the People

Elections have consequences. Republicans are very fond of saying this, but they rarely accept the “will of the people.” The November 4 election that swept more GOP candidates into the U.S. Senate also made Denton the first city in Texas to ban fracking by a 59-percent majority. Voters did this in the midst of the Barnett Shale basin where the “father of fracking,” George Mitchell drilled the first sample wells for his company, Mitchell Energy. Immediately, the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Oil and Gas Association filed lawsuits to stop the ban.

The incoming land commissioner is George P. Bush, latest in the Bush dynasty to be connected to the oil industry. The legal complaint was filed by the firm Baker Botts; James A. Baker III, a partner at the firm gave P. Bush $10,000 for his campaign. (His race was also funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from other companies in the oil and gas industry.) Co-counsel in the lawsuit has close ties with the Texas Supreme Court and Justice Antonin Scalia. P. Bush’s father, Jeb Bush, works for Britton Hill Holdings which has investments in a fracking company.

Denton has company in banning fracking. It was one of four bans approved this month—two in California and one in Athens (OH). The Texas town may be the only place, however, where the state blithely ignores the decision of voters. Christi Craddick, the chief regulator for the oil and gas industries in Texas, will override the vote:

 “It’s my job to give permits, not Denton’s. We’re going to continue permitting up there because that’s my job.”

It’s also Craddick’s job to deny permits when warranted. Denton has one of the most mined cities in all of Texas: corporations have pumped more than $1 billion in gas from underneath the town. The campaign to keep fracking brought in over 30 times as much as the frack-banning position, $685,000 to $24,000. The massive donations from frackers make Craddick look foolish when she claimed that voters were too “misinformed” on the subject to be able to cast a vote.

Frackers declare that no one can prove that their industry is causing the pollution and health problems, but scientists have developed a way to identify when fracking wastes results in environmental contamination through tracking isotopic fingerprints of boron and lithium. The new science reveals that fracking has caused far more risks of drinking water contamination from this wastewater even after the water is treated. In 2012, fracking wells in the United States produced 280 billion gallons of wastewater, a horrifying statistic because over 55 percent of fracked wells are in drought areas.

Large corporations have attempted to keep the locations of their fracking wells secret so people cannot blame them for illness and death. Researchers on health are now obtaining this information from SkyTruth, a West Virginia nonprofit that uses satellite and aerial imagery to study the environmental impacts of oil- and gas-drilling, deforestation, mining, etc. The company has discovered 500 new fracking ponds in just Pennsylvania, up from 11 in less than a decade.

Frackers have illegally dumped almost 3 billion gallons of wastewater through at least nine injection disposal wells into central California aquifers that supply drinking water and farming irrigation, resulting in high levels of arsenic, thallium, and nitrates. Thallium is used in rat poison, and arsenic compromises the immune system’s ability to fight illness and causes cancer. Benzene, toluene, and other harmful chemicals is found at levels hundreds of times higher than what is considered safe. California has an estimated 2,583 wastewater injection wells; 1,552 are currently active.

The flowback water can also be dangerously radioactive, as can the sludge left over from drilling. Last summer, Pennsylvania was scheduled to ship its old drilling sludge to Michigan, home to 84 percent of the nation’s fresh water supply. On the other hand, Ohio just hands out permits to put all the radioactive sludge in instate dumps.

A study in September found that people near fracking wells are twice as likely to have upper-respiratory and skin problems. Earlier studies connect fracking to birth defects, higher lung disease risks, and elevated endocrine-disrupting chemical activity in groundwater.

The health impact on people also hits agriculture, causing concerns about food safety. Animals infected by toxins can pass those along through meat, milk, and eggs. In one study, half the cattle exposed to a contaminated water source died, 17 of them within one hour. Necropsies found lesions in the lung, trachea, liver and kidneys. A high incidence of stillborn and stunted calves occurred in the other half. The same number of cattle with no exposure in another pasture had no health or growth problems. High salinity in wastewater threatens crops and farming soil.

A new study has also found contaminated water from defective well production in Texas and Pennsylvania. Instead of blaming the wastewater, researchers said that the leakage comes from faulty cement casing on the wells. The newest wells, especially in northwestern Pennsylvania, provide the biggest risks. The higher failure rate may be the longer horizontal distances that puts pressure on the casings. In September, Pennsylvania released information about 243 cases of contamination of private drinking wells from fracking in 22 counties after the state Supreme Court ordered that this information be made public. In the same month, state health experts claimed that the Department of Health was telling employees not to talk to residents about fracking-related health effects.

Other scientists have discovered much greater methane emissions from fracking than the EPA previously disclosed. By 2015, the EPA will require drillers to capture methane in the completion process and turn it into liquid that can then be sold. Methane in this stage of fracking fell 73 percent. Unfortunately, the EPA reported that emissions at other stages of fracking significantly increased, and scientists found that the natural gas methane leakage is much greater than the EPA estimates. Methane is several dozen times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

New research also shows a much greater connection between fracking and earthquakes than earlier realized. Although fracking itself may not be a great cause, a large number of them—and those of greater magnitude—are caused by wastewater injection. In early October 2013, after fracking began in Harrison County (OH) almost 200 quakes occurred in just two days. The number of quakes diminished after fracking ended. The same thing happened in the Youngstown/Mahoning Valley region after fracking started there.

Frackers are also destroying the environment by mining sand.  One single well demands 4 million pounds of sand, precisely Northern White sand. Residents in Wisconsin and Minnesota now suffer truck traffic, silica dust, and breathing problems. The dust causes silicosis, swelling in the lungs and lymph nodes that restricts breathing. Not satisfied with the 4 million pounds per well, the industry is using extra sand because the U.S. Commerce Department lets it export unrefined ultralight oil. Individual mining operations also require between 420 thousand and 2 million gallons of water each day. A by-product of the mining is acrylamide, a carcinogenic neurotoxin.

The industry plans to expand sand mining into Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia. A by-product of the mining is acrylamide, a carcinogenic neurotoxin. Real estate values near sand mines can drop in value as much as 25 percent, and residents have to pay higher taxes for the destruction of the roads.

The group that claims it’s trying to prevent cancer, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, is partnering with fossil fuel firms that cause cancer on a breast cancer awareness campaign. Baker Hughes plans to distribute 1,000 pink drill bits to heighten awareness of cancer. The company is also donating $100,000 for a “yearlong partnership.” A spokeswoman at the Komen Foundation denies that there’s any connection between fracking and breast cancer.

pinkdrill_0Anyone who complains about the effects of fracking may be sued. The fracking company Range Resources is suing Steve Lipsky for $3 million because of his film in which he lights his water on fire. Range claims that he has defamed its reputation for environmental stewardship. The case of free speech v. big business goes to the Texas Supreme Court on December 4. Range has already settled with a family near Pittsburgh for $750,000 after they agreed that they would not say anything negative about the corporation or the entire gas formation, the Marcellus Shale. Last year, the town board of Sanford (NY) stopped any discussion about fracking at its public meetings before a lawsuit made them withdraw their order. Anti-fracking activist Vera Scoggins was barred from any Cabot Oil & Gas property that includes friends’ homes, a hospital, malls, and grocery stores—40 percent of the county.

Fracking creates illness and death, makes land unsafe, causes water shortages, raises prices for food, lowers real estate value, and destroys the infrastructure while big corporations buy off supposedly philanthropic organizations and stop free speech. Welcome to the United Corporations of America.

July 10, 2014

Fracking Loses in Court, in Science

Environmental exploitation is a sin, according to Pope Francis. His comment this week reflects earlier statements including the comparison of battling climate change to safeguarding creation.  In the United States, the lust for fuel fracking seems to be waning through new laws, court cases, and research.

Municipalities can ban fracking in New York. That was the good news from the state’s Court of Appeals on the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court sent down its Hobby Lobby ruling announcing that corporations have souls. The 5-2 decision confirmed the principle of municipal home rule giving villages and towns the right to manage their affairs without state legislative interference. The 170 anti-fracking measures throughout New York’s municipalities are no longer in limbo and can now take effect.

People in the state are still waiting for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision regarding the state’s 2008 temporary moratorium on fracking put in place by former governor David Paterson. Cuomo said that he’s waiting for a report from the State Health Department. Any decision may be moot if energy companies leave the state in disgust, which they seem to be doing.

Last spring, a Pennsylvania judge in the Washington County Court of Common Pleas ruled that corporations don’t have the right to privacy under the commonwealth’s constitution. Newspapers had sued to unseal a confidential settlement in which a family was paid $750,000 after gas drilling had contaminated their water and harmed their health. Until now, fracking companies have used secrecy agreements to hide environmental and health impacts of gas drilling.

The U.S. Supreme Court may have ruled that corporations are persons, but Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca said that corporations and business entities aren’t the same as people under Pennsylvania’s constitution. She wrote:

“There are no men or woman defendants in the instant case; they are various business entities [and are created by the state and subject to laws, unlike people with natural rights].In the absence of state law, business entities are nothing.” [If businesses had natural rights like people,] “the chattel would become the co-equal to its owners, the servant on par with its masters, the agent the peer of its principles, and the legal fabrication superior to the law that created and sustains it.”

She added that the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment “use of the word ‘person’ that makes its protections applicable to business entities” does not apply to Pennsylvania’s constitution. ” The exact opposite is derived from plain language of Article X of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

“Not only did our framers know how to employ the names of business entities when and where they wanted them… they used those words to subjugate business entities to the constitution. The framers permitted the Commonwealth to revoke, amend, and repeal ‘[a]ll charters of private corporations’ and any ‘powers, duties or liabilities’ of corporations… If the framers had intended this section [Article 1, Section 8] to shield corporations, limited-liability corporations, or partnerships, the Court presumes that they could and would have used those words. The plain meaning of ‘people’ is the living, breathing humans in this Commonwealth.”

The Court held that businesses do have legal rights protecting them from unreasonable searches and seizure of property, but that’s not the same as a right to personal privacy. “Our Commonwealth’s case law has not established a constitutional right of privacy to shield them from our laws.”

Looking at case law and rulings from other states, the judge held, “This Court found no case establishing a constitutional right of privacy for businesses, and it uncovered only one case that allowed a corporation to assert a state-based right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures in a criminal matter.”

Summing up, she said:

“It is axiomatic that corporations, companies, and partnerships have ‘no spiritual nature,’ ‘feelings,’ ‘intellect,’ ‘beliefs,’ ‘thoughts,’ ’emotions,’ or ‘sensations,’ because they do not exist in the manner that humankind exists… They cannot be ‘let alone’ by government, because businesses are like grapes, ripe upon the vine of the law, that the people of this Commonwealth raise, tend, prune at their pleasure and need.”

Her ruling made fracking companies so desperate that they started offering $50,000 to people who own land in the country to release the corporation from any liability caused by the drilling. Those who take the money cannot sue for health problems, property damage, or other issues such as noise, dust, light, smoke, odors, fumes, soot, air pollution or vibrations. It also covers not only drilling but also anything that they might do in the future including construction of pipelines, power lines, roads, tanks, ponds, pits, compressor stations, houses and buildings.

Although California’s governor, Jerry Brown, is known for being fracking-friendly, Beverly Hills has decided to ban the practice. The first municipality in the state to deny fracking, the city council unanimously decided that it would not be allowed within city limits. Carson City (CA) had already declared a moratorium on fracking, but only for 45 days.

Texas may be oil country, but last year Dallas banned fracking within “1,500 feet of a home, school, church, or well.”  That pretty much covers the entire city.

A jury has awarded a family in Decatur (TX) $2.9 million because of Aruba Petroleum’s irresponsible activities. The Parr family is not the first to suffer nausea, rashes, nosebleeds, and sight and memory impairment, but they are the first to win in court after the jury determined that fracking is dangerous to people’s health. Naturally Aruba is appealing.

New research shows that methane release from drilling operations in southwestern Pennsylvania is 100 to 1,000 times more than federal regulators had estimated. The study contributes to a body of knowledge showing that the EPA has gravely underestimated methane emissions from oil and gas operations. Carbon dioxide from fossil fuels may be the biggest problem with climate change, but methane is about 20 to 30 times more potent in trapping heat in the atmosphere. The U.S. may be producing 50 percent more methane than the EPA has assumed.

Wells leaking the most methane were in the drilling phase, a time not previously known for high emissions. The release comes from underbalanced drilling methods with a lower pressure in the well-bore than the surrounding geology that allows the capture of ethane and butane. EPA investigations are less accurate because energy companies restrict access to wells, pipelines, processing plants, and compressor stations. Colorado became the first state to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas last February.

Another study, published last week in the world’s leading scientific journal Science, has determined that the overwhelming increase in earthquakes throughout Oklahoma is directly connected to fracking and waste-water injection. Before 2008, the state averaged one earthquake of 3.0 or greater each year; in just 2014, the state had more than 230. That’s a 22,900 percent increase after fracking began. Overpressuring a fault system by injecting too much waste water causes tectonic plates in previously stable areas to slip, resulting in not just one earthquake but a number of them because of the distribution of pressures along the entire fault system. Some of these earthquakes may be as far away as 20 miles from the wells that cause the problem. Continued fracking will make the rate of earthquakes much worse.

earthquake increase oklahoma

Earlier this year, Ohio officials linked fracking to a cluster of earthquakes and is imposing new rules. Previously it was thought that earthquakes occurred when water was injected, but these earthquakes were near a site where fracking had begun. If monitors detect an earthquake even as small as 1.0, the state will suspend fracking for an investigation.

In another environmental success, TransCanada’s permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline has expired in South Dakota, and Nebraska’s permit is halted by litigation. These two events block the already-complete portions of the pipeline in Montana and Kansas. TransCanada will have to start the South Dakota application process again, this time with more unified resistance. North Dakota’s fracking boom will erase the argument that people in the U.S. need Canadian oil enough to give a company in another country the powers of eminent domain.

Since the pipeline’s proposal, TransCanada has faced huge national protests and small-scale disobedience along the path of its construction. Grassroots groups have organized and politicked all along the pipeline’s proposed route.

People can make a difference if they just keep working to save the world.

 

February 19, 2014

Fracking = Earthquakes?

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:53 PM
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Imagine living in a state that has 103 earthquakes in one weekend. That was the case in Oklahoma last weekend. Yesterday, Oklahoma had 39 earthquakes over 2.5 in magnitude with many others below that. Each year saw between 0 and 11 earthquakes of at least 2.0 in Oklahoma between 1990 and 2008; that number grew to 49 in 2009 and 180 in 2010. Yesterday there were more than three dozen in just a day. A chart of five years shows the exponential growth, with 780 earthquakes in under two months this year. And that was before the 39 yesterday.

maddow_earthquakes_ spiike

What’s the difference during the past few years? Even doubters are beginning to believe that fracking–underground explosions to free oil and gas–and the resulting waste-water disposal may be the cause. They might want to note that the growing number of earthquakes near the Dallas/Fort Worth Airport stopped a few years ago when the facility shut down fracking wells on the airport property.

These are fracking experiences across the nation:

  • Arkansas: two couples are suing two companies for causing earthquakes that damaged their homes by fracking. The complaint states that “Arkansas experienced almost as many earthquakes in years following disposal well activity than it did in the previous twenty years collectively.”
  • California: The federal government approved three new fracking jobs off the state’s shores despite concerns from state coastal regulators who can stop fracking in federal waters at least three miles offshore if the work threatens water quality closer to shore. U.S. government permits treat fracking like oil drilling.
  • Florida: This may be the latest state to have whole-sale fracking: a company has applied for a permit to frack in the middle of the Florida panthers’ Everglades habitat. The EPA will hold a hearing on the permit on March 11. Collier Resources Company owns mineral rights in 800,000 acres in the wilderness. In addition to southwest Florida, fracking companies are looking at the northwest part of the state. Although two bills before the legislature would require companies to divulge what chemicals are being used, the measures do not ask for disclosure of the amount or concentration of the chemical.
  • Kansas:  Gov. Sam Brownback has assigned a committee to study the possibility that fracking is the cause of a recent increase of earthquakes in the state. Kansas was one of five states least likely to experience earthquake damage until the state experienced a spate of tremors last fall, culminating in a 3.8 quake on December 16, 2014 near the Kansas-Oklahoma border. 
  • North Dakota:  Last week, an oil well leaked fluid and spewed oil. No one knows what chemicals are in the water because fracking companies are not required to release this information.  There is no report about whether the well is under control almost a week later.
  • Ohio: After state lawmakers approved fracking and drilling in state parks, Gov. John Kasich and state regulators began to make plans for this extraction. Allies include Halliburton, the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and America’s Natural Gas Alliance.  Update on 2/20/14: Kasich has stated that he doesn’t support fracking in state parks after all. Series of events in Ohio:

*Kasich opened up state parks and forests to fracking.

* Kasich’s team met to discuss a marketing plan to promote fracking on public lands.

* Kasich’s spokesperson said the governor’s office didn’t know about the plan.

* Kasich’s spokesperson concedes the governor’s office did know about the plan.
* Kasich announces he’s not for fracking in state parks and forests after all.
 Democrats have called for an investigation into Kasich’s actions.
  • Pennsylvania: On February 11, a Chevron natural gas well exploded in Greene County, killing one person and injuring another. Chevron’s fracking well exploded, killing one person and injuring another. A massive blaze caused by the explosion spread to another well and burned for over a week, sending smoke and noxious fumes across the community. Referring to the disaster as an “incident,” Chevron gave each householder a gift certificate for a large pizza, hoping that this mollify them. Certificates expire in less than three months.

The fracking companies wield great power. Since October 21, one Pennsylvania opponent, 63-year-old Vera Scroggins, is legally barred from 312.5 square miles that Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation owns or leases. That means she cannot go to the county hospital, animal shelter, recycling center, shops, and lake shore. Cabot was not required to identify or map lands of its drilling leases. Her peaceful and legal protests included taking Yoko Ono to frack sites to elevate public concerns about fracking.

  • Texas: Although the EPA dropped an inquiry last year into a claim of contaminated water in Parker County, the agency relied on tests done by the driller. Independent research from Texas Duke University has discovered high levels of methane in the county’s wells, exceeding the federal minimum safety level.

In the Barnett Shale area, the small town of Azle is fighting back against the fracking and waste-water disposal that has resulted in cracked foundations, sinkholes, and reduced property values after over 30 earthquakes have hit the area in the past three months. Dissatisfied with response from the state, a busload of residents went to Austin to a meeting of the Texas Railroad Commission, the state’s oil and gas regulator.

U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist Dr. William Ellsworth tried to claim correlation but not causation. He noted last summer than that rate of quakes of 3.0 and over in the central and eastern U.S. had multiplied to about 100 a year during 2010 to 2013 and coincided with the increase in fracking. A shutdown of disposal wells has ended the earthquakes.

Most of the current fracking in the U.S. occurs in areas suffering the greatest from drought, usually Colorado and Texas. Water use for almost 40,000 wells from January 2011 to March 2013 was 97 billion gallons of water. California has called on Gov. Jerry Brown to suspend fracking during the state’s record-breaking drought.

More than property values are at risk because of fracking proximity. A study released in early February shows that children born within a 10-mile radius of fracking sites have a greater chance of having congenital heart defects (CHD). The research studied 124,842 rural Colorado births from 1996 to 2009. In Colorado, 26 percent of the over 47,000 oil and gas wells are within 150 to 1000 feet of a home or other building for human occupancy. Researchers reported that their analysis was restrict to rural towns of under 50,000 with less potential for other pollution sources such as traffic, congestion, and industry.

According to the study:

“Studies in Colorado, Texas, Wyoming and Oklahoma have demonstrated that natural gas development (NGD) results in emission of volatile organic compounds, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from either the well itself or from associated drilling processes or related infrastructure, i.e., drilling muds, hydraulic fracturing fluids, tanks containing waste water and liquid hydrocarbons, diesel engines, compressor stations, dehydrators and pipelines.

“Some of these pollutants [e.g., toluene, xylenes, and benzene] are suspected teratogens or mutagens and are known to cross the placenta, raising the possibility of fetal exposure to these and other pollutants resulting from NGD. Currently, there are few studies on the effects of air pollution or NGD on birth outcomes.”

In Pennsylvania, a study shows that proximity to fracking wells has a correlation with lower birth weight. Water pollution does not seem to be related; researchers are wondering about the air pollution of fracking as a potential cause. Over 15 million people in the United States live within one mile of a fracking well.

There is at least one recent victory. In Pennsylvania, the state Supreme Court ruled 4-2 in December that the zoning provisions of Act 13 are unconstitutional. The 2012 act amended an existing Oil and Gas Act by destroying local zoning control over fracking and other oil and gas drilling. Companies could frack 24 hours a day anywhere they wanted.

Thanks to the court decision, state municipalities can use the same land use authority over fracking that they do for all other industrial activities. The beauty of the decision is that the court wrote that people have the “right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.” It keeps the state legislature from imposing new zoning laws surrounding fracking. Other states have a number of home rule cases similar to this; Pennsylvania has set a precedent.

Vera Scroggins is appealing her banishment from her community. Maybe she will win too.

May 20, 2013

‘Don’t Frack with Me!’

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 11:18 AM
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During the same week that saw fracking fan Ernest Moniz appointed as head of the Department of Energy (DOE), the Interior Department released its revised proposal for fracking federal and Indian lands. The public has 30 days to comment.

Fracking, aka hydraulic fracturing, is forcing huge amounts of water with unknown chemicals deep into the ground to break up the shale to release oil and natural gas, with toxic results for land, water, and people as well as the possibility of earthquakes in the area.

It may be a better plan than the one that they pulled almost a year ago because industry officials oppose them. Energy companies are required to disclose the chemicals used in the process, they have to have management plans for the great volume of “flowback water,” and they are required to verify that the flowback water doesn’t escape into groundwater.

Yet they can use “FraFocus” to meet the rules’ chemical disclosure requirements, meaning that companies don’t really have to disclose what toxic chemicals are used. Companies are also permitted more “flexibility” in showing that the cementing jobs in the wells are adequate. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, also a fracking fan, said  that it “has been done safely for decades.”

Conservatives argue that fracking is vital to provide energy for the United States. Yet last week the DOE approved the release of 1.4 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas to be sent overseas to nations lacking a free-trade agreement with the U.S. That agreement is for 25 years. Nineteen more permits are pending while government studies refuse to acknowledge the dangers of fracking.

Some Democrats are also on the side of fracking. Ed Rendell, former Democratic governor of Pennsylvania from 2003 to 2011, is trying to get his neighboring state, New York, to join the fracking bandwagon. Rendell is a paid lobbyist for driller company Range Resources Readers and is a paid consultant of Elements Partners, a private equity firm with big stakes in several energy companies that are engaged in fracking.

His eloquence omits that fact that the drilling of over 150,000 wells for natural gas has transformed large swaths of rural Pennsylvania into basically industrial zones, inundated with huge trucks, wastewater ponds, and traffic jams. Air pollution is higher in counties with drilling than those without, and residents complain about round-the-clock noise. People who live in the frack zone suffer from projectile vomiting, headaches, breathing problems, mysterious skin rashes–the list goes on.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is being sued for producing deceptive lab reports and then using them to dismiss homeowners’ complaints that shale gas corporations have contaminated their water, making them sick. The nickname for DEP is “Don’t Expect Protection.”

Democratic state representative Jesse White is demanding that state and federal agencies investigate the DEP for “alleged misconduct and fraud.” A 2011 study shows 353 industry chemicals that could damage the skin, the brain, the respiratory, gastrointestinal, immune, cardiovascular, and endocrine (hormone production) systems. Twenty-five percent of the chemicals found by the study could cause cancers.

These chemicals come from water (including bathing), air, soil, and food—in short, anyone near fracking is surrounded. The chemicals are also synergistic: according to veteran toxicologist David Brown, “The presence of one agent can increase the toxicity of another by several-fold.”

In a blow to all corporations, including fracking companies, a Pennsylvania judge ruled that there is no corporate right to privacy under that state’s constitution. Judge O’Dell Seneca cited the text of the 1776 Pennsylvania constitution, the history of its various provisions, related recent case law from other states and policy considerations, and rejected the various claims by corporate lawyers stating, “Nothing in that jurisprudence indicates that that right [of privacy] is available to business entities.” He added that the 14th Amendment “use of the word ‘person’ that makes its protections applicable to business entities” does not apply to Pennsylvania’s constitution.

Although businesses have legal rights protecting them from unreasonable searches and seizure of property, they do not have the right to personal privacy, according to Seneca.

“This Court found no case establishing a constitutional right of privacy for businesses, and it uncovered only one case that allowed a corporation to assert a state-based right to be free from unreasonable searches and siezures in a criminal matter.”

In summation, Seneca wrote:

“It is axiomatic that corporations, companies, and partnerships have ‘no spiritual nature,’ ‘feelings,’ ‘intellect,’ ‘beliefs,’ ‘thoughts,’ ’emotions,’ or ‘sensations,’ because they do not exist in the manner that humankind exists… They cannot be ‘let alone’ by government, because businesses are like grapes, ripe upon the vine of the law, that the people of this Commonwealth raise, tend, and prune at their pleasure and need.”

Not all New Yorkers are enchanted with Rendell’s enthusiastic support for fracking. After a fact-finding tour to the northern Pennsylvania town of Troy, state Senator Terry Gipson, a Democrat from the beautiful Hudson Valley, wondered what would happen after the oil companies finished plundering the land:

“Envision a time when the trucks are gone, the lease money is spent, the trailers and the diners are empty, and all that is left is unusable farm land with a contaminated water supply. What will these people do then?”

Gipson’s concerns have been echoed by many others who lived through the oil boom and bust of the twentieth century which led to economic disaster.

New Yorkers have moved from support of fracking to opposition, especially in its conservative upstate. The state has 55 municipal bans against fracking and 105 moratoriums. Oil companies have gone to court with the argument that only the state can prohibit drilling, but the state supreme court disagreed. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is still sitting on the fence about fracking, failing to meet all deadlines thus far to make a decision. At this time, he has no “timeline” to decide.

A past strong supporter of fracking, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, has now said that “the science on the impact of fracking is far from settled,” according to the Associated Press.

Another boost for anti-frackers came from a California judge in April. A federal magistrate judge in San Jose, California ruled that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) failed to analyze its impact on 2,500 acres in Monterey County, part of the Monterey shale formation four times the Bakken formation centered in North Dakota. Oil from federal lands accounted for about 5 percent of that retrieved by fracking, and 98 percent of BLM land is in western United States.

In earlier blogs, I’ve written about the dangers of fracking such as pockholes and radiation leaks, but following are some that I failed mention:

Methane-Spewing Geysers:  Because regulators don’t require frackers to search for abandoned wells,  unplugged, forgotten wells, like the 1932 Butters Well in Pennsylvania’s Tioga County, literally burst with gas when drilling displaces underground pockets of methane. The same thing can happen with cracks in the ground.

Eminent Domain: A Chesapeake employee said, “If properties don’t want to sign, if we have 90 percent secured of the well that we need, we have the power to put these people in the lease without their permission….  We can do whatever we want.”

Milk Production Dips: Milk production decreased by 19 percent in Pennsylvania’s counties with 150 or more Marcellus Shale wells compared to a 1.2 percent decrease in counties with no wells.

Contaminated Wine: Dirty water means dirty crops and then dirty wine. A Brooklyn winery boasted, “Many of our wine bar’s seasonal menu items include ingredients grown on upstate farms.” There’s no fracking there—yet.

Contaminated Food, Stillborn Calves, and Poisoned Animals: Fracking fluid consumption killed 16 cows in Louisiana, and hundreds of others raised near fracking sites are being reported affected. When 28 beef cattle in Pennsylvania were exposed to fracking fluid recently, 8 of 11 calves birthed thereafter were stillborn.

Earthquakes: Cuadrilla Resources, a UK energy company, admitted that their fracking has caused earthquakes and other seismic events. The UK has stopped fracking until they look into the situation. Earlier this year Arkansas declared a moratorium on fracking because of a “swarm” of earthquakes in the state.

As journalist Richard Schiffman wrote, “We don’t know nearly what we should at this stage, given that massive swaths of the U.S. are already being fracked–and that most of that fracking is going on virtually unregulated by states which, tipsy on the revenue bonanza from the drilling, have been giving gas companies what amounts to a free pass.”

This last week, Vermont became the first state in the country to outlaw fracking. Let’s hope more states say, “Don’t frack with me!”

January 4, 2013

Dangers of Fracking

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 8:20 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Gus Van Sant’s new film Promised Land opened today after pro-fracking individuals fired salvos at its message for the past few weeks. One of them, Phelim McAleer, who directed the documentary FrackNation, has accused the film of attacking fracking, which he thinks is perfectly safe. For the uninitiated,  fracking, hydraulic fracturing, gets oil and gas from rocks when crews drill a hole and then use high pressure to inject a mix of water, sand, and chemicals underground to free hydrocarbons.

The film’s topic is timely: New York is currently deciding whether to overturn a four-year ban on fracking. Earlier this year, the state seemed ready to do this, but protesters made Gov. Andrew Cuomo delay the decision until next week. New York is not alone; California is considering flawed fracking rules. And Longmont (CO), the first city in that state to ban fracking, is being sued because of its new policy.

Environmentalists have a number of concerns, including water contamination and earthquakes. Another major concern is health. Livestock in areas popular with fracking are dropping dead in unusual numbers. After exposure to the fracking chemicals, 24 farmers in six states reported that livestock experienced neurological, reproductive, and acute gastrointestinal problems.

One well that uses fracking requires up to seven million gallons of water with another 400,000 gallons of additives. Of the 632 chemicals used in fracking, according to a 2011 study, 75 percent could affect the skin, eyes, other sensory organs, and the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems; 40-50% could affect the brain/nervous system, immune and cardiovascular systems, and the kidneys; 37% could affect the endocrine system; and 25% could cause cancer and mutations.

Because some of the cattle exposed to fracking chemicals look healthy, they end of in the food system, either through their milk or meat products. Those who think that this is not a problem and that fracking is not causing the deaths should note that Nationwide Mutual Insurance, which sells agricultural insurance, will not cover damages related to fracking. Rabobank, the world’s largest agricultural bank, will not sell mortgages to farmers with gas leases.

Obviously if fracking kills livestock, it will also kill humans. It results in such high levels of radioactive materials that these exceed EPA’s maximum contaminant safety levels by 1,000 times, causing “anemia, cataracts, cancer, and increased mortality,” according to a CDC toxicological profiles report. Radon, the second leading cause of lung cancer in the country, travels through the pipelines into homes and businesses of the gas users. And failing well casings allow fracking fluids to migrate into underground water ways and fresh drinking water sources.

It’s hard to assess the dangers because many of these become evident only over time. Because fracking is relatively new, about a decade, conventional medicine is unfamiliar with the symptoms and illness that come from increased toxic chemical exposures. Treatment of cancer and radiation-related conditions is a medical specialty. Anyone evaluating  fracking needs to evaluate the costs of the following:

Doctor visits, laboratory tests, medications, emergency room visits and hospitalization due to acute medical disorders, acute exacerbations of existing chronic diseases such as asthma, chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), congestive heart disease, exposure to radioactive materials, ingestion of contaminated water, inhalation of contaminated air, traffic accidents involving heavy duty trucks, and trauma from on-site accidents.

Truck traffic is another serious problem from fracking. Diesel emissions, dust, accidents, and spills cause contaminated water and ground, respiratory problems, and life-threatening danger to anyone in proximity to the trucks.

The government has not bothered to keep records on the results of fracking, partly because state governments don’t want to lose money that fracking brings. For example, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) neither adequately monitors nor collects health data.

Governments also pass laws to keep people from talking about the problems of fracking. For example, when local water supplies become contaminated in the aftermath of fracking, many citizens are forced to sign non-disclosure agreements in order to receive trucked-in water from the gas companies. And when health problems in PA communities emerged, the legislature attempted to instate Act 13, an ALEC model bill that actually prohibits physicians from disclosing to patients and communities when fracking chemicals appear in people’s bloodstreams.

No one except the contractors knows what chemicals are in the fracking mix because most governments don’t require companies to disclose this information. Although Texas has a law requiring drillers to tell what’s in their fluid, Nabors, the largest onshore drilling contractor by revenue, is exempt because the company has declared it a “trade secret.” Other drilling companies used the same excuse on 19,000 times during the first half of this year.

The Environmental Protection Agency cannot regulate fracking in order to protect groundwater, because in 2005 Congress exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act, which controls how industries inject substances underground.

Earthquakes now occur in places where they have never been before. After the companies finish the fracking, they get rid of the brine waste by injecting it underground. A New Mexico/Colorado study reported that their research “led us to conclude that the majority, if not all of the earthquakes since August 2001 have been triggered by the deep injection of wastewater related to the production of natural gas from the coal-bed methane field here.” And the Oklahoma paper found there could be “multi-year lags between the commencement of fluid injection and triggered earthquakes.”

In case you read something about the current spate of earthquakes in previously safe areas having no relationship to fracking, follow the source. Recently, a study from the University of Texas was discredited because of the researcher’s financial interest in the gas industry. Just as some people refuse to believe in climate change, so do they fight the idea that fracking can cause earthquakes.

Fracking will continue to be a problem in the United States as long as people continue to put money above the future of the planet, but it needs to be stopped.

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