Sunday, October 13, 2013

Fracking's impact on severe weather

Published 3:59 pm, Friday, October 11, 2013
Wes Gillingham is program director at Catskill Mountainkeeper.I am heartbroken over the pictures I've seen of the flooding destruction in Colorado. It particularly hits home because in 2006 flooding from an extreme, intense, isolated thunderstorm destroyed my vegetable farm in Youngsville, Sullivan County. In a few hours, torrents of water ruined three of my tractors, devastated my irrigation equipment and took away 60 percent of my topsoil. I couldn't recover, and it put me out of business.
In some ways I was lucky, especially compared to the people in Colorado. I didn't have to worry about toxic fracking chemicals that are linked to cancer, infertility, autism, diabetes, thyroid disorders and many more conditions poisoning my family, which is a real fear for people in Weld County, Colo.
I did not have a natural gas well pad or a wastewater containment facility on my land. I did not have condensation tanks or open pits that contained toxic fracking waste. That meant that the washout across my field had water in it and not toxic waste.
In New York, proponents of gas drilling say we can protect ourselves from this type of devastation by having better regulations. The tragedies in Colorado and the 2006 flood of my farm eviscerate this theory.
While the regulations in the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, the conditions under which New York state proposed to regulate fracking, may be better than what they have in Colorado, history tells us they are unlikely to address a weather calamity like the Colorado flooding.
My farm was destroyed by what was considered a 500-year flood, but the SGEIS only seeks to prohibit wells in areas that are defined as 100-year flood plains. This flood plain definition has been rendered almost meaningless, as climate change has created a "new normal" where we are seeing the increased frequency of weather events that previously were defined as 100-year, 500-year and even 1,000-year occurrences. We experienced two 100-year floods and the 500-year flood in a five-year period.
Even if the proposed regulations were more stringent, our government does not have the ability or willingness to enforce regulations. A recent study showed the Department of Environmental Conservation has lost one third of its staff. And in case after case, the Federal Environmental Protection Agency has been walking away from dealing with fracking pollution.
Ironically, it is the carbon emissions from burning natural gas and other fossil fuels that is accelerating climate change, which in turn is increasing the intensity of storms.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has maintained a moratorium as the Department of Health and DECstudies the science on fracking. If there was ever a sign that fracking is not right for New York and we need to move to clean energy, the Colorado disaster is it.

Monday, October 7, 2013

October 2, 2013

Radioactive Wastewater From Fracking Is Found in a Pennsylvania Stream

New testing of treated wastewater from fracking shows that it contains high levels of radioactive radium, along with chloride and bromide. Image via Environmental Science and Technology/Warner et. al.
In the state of Pennsylvania, home to the lucrative Marcellus Shale formation, 74 facilities treat wastewater from the process of hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. “fracking”) for natural gas and release it into streams. There’s no national set of standards that guides this treatment process—the EPA notes that the Clean Water Act’s guidelines were developed before fracking even existed, and that many of the processing plants “are not properly equipped to treat this type of wastewater”—and scientists have conducted relatively little assessment of the wastewater to ensure it’s safe after being treated.
Recently, a group of Duke University scientists decided to do some testing. They contacted the owners of one treatment plant, the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility on Blacklick Creek in Indiana County, Pennsylvania, but, “when we tried to work with them, it was very difficult getting ahold of the right person,” says Avner Vengosh, an Earth scientist from Duke. “Eventually, we just went and tested water right from a public area downstream.”
Their analyses, made on water samples collected repeatedly over the course of two years, were even more concerning than we’d feared. As published today in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, they found high concentrations of the element radium, a highly radioactive substance. The concentrations were roughly 200 times higher than background levels. In addition,  amounts of chloride and bromide in the water were two to ten times greater than normal.
“Even if, today, you completely stopped disposal of the wastewater,” Vengosh says, there’s enough contamination built up that”you’d still end up with a place that the U.S. would consider a radioactive waste site.”
The scientists tested wastewater released by the Josephine Water Treatment plant (black square) into Blacklick Creek, which feeds into the Allegheny River, a drinking water source for Pittsburgh. Image via Environmental Science and Technology/Warner et. al.
Follow us: @SmithsonianMag on Twitter

Monday, September 23, 2013

Exclusive: Pipeline Safety Chief Says His Regulatory Process Is 'Kind of Dying'

With 'few tools to work with,' PHMSA's Jeffrey Wiese says he is creating a YouTube channel to persuade industry to voluntarily improve safety.

By Marcus Stern and Sebastian Jones    Sep 11, 2013
Jeffrey Wiese, PHMSA's associate administrator for pipeline safety
Jeffrey Wiese (center), PHMSA's associate administrator for pipeline safety, testifies at a hearing on pipeline safety. Credit: Rep. Gus 

     Jeffrey Wiese, the nation's top oil and gas pipeline safety official, recently strode to a dais beneath crystal chandeliers at a New Orleans hotel to let his audience in on an open secret: the regulatory process he oversees is "kind of dying."
     Wiese told several hundred oil and gas pipeline compliance officers that his agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA), has "very few tools to work with" in enforcing safety rules even after Congress in 2011 allowed it to impose higher fines on companies that cause major accidents.
     "Do I think I can hurt a major international corporation with a $2 million civil penalty? No," he said.
Because generating a new pipeline rule can take as long as three years, Wiese said PHMSA is creating a YouTube channel to persuade the industry to voluntarily improve its safety operations. "We'll be trying to socialize these concepts long before we get to regulations."
Wiese's pessimism about the viability of the pipeline regulatory system is at odds with the Obama administration's insistence that the nation's pipeline infrastructure is safe and its regulatory regime robust. In a speech last year, President Obama ordered regulatory agencies like PHMSA to help expedite the building of new pipelines "in a way that protects the health and safety of the American people.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Fracking and Colorado Flooding Don’t Mix 

Phillip Doe

A lot is being written in the state and national press about the terrible human devastation week-long rain storms have created in Colorado. The impact has been greatest along what is known locally as the Front Range, the flat land directly east of the Rocky Mountains. The city of Boulder and smaller towns such as Lyons and Jamestown have been particularly hard hit, but no city along the front range from the Wyoming state line through Denver to Colorado Springs has been spared. In Colorado, we’ve experienced massive drought, wildfires and flooding all in the same year. Welcome to the brave new world of climate change.
In time, the corporate press may turn to measuring the environmental damage these floods have caused wildlife and land, both public and private. But it’s doubtful, given the ruling elite’s bias toward oil and gas development everywhere in the state, that the reporting will look at the extent of the pollution to our waterways and land resources flooded by oil and gas wells. I don’t suspect, given the industry’s run of the place, that there will be a call for the industry to clean up its mess. After all, Gov. Hickenlooper has been known to say that Colorado has the strongest oil and gas regulations in the country.
The following photos, a mere snapshot of the true extent of the damage, call into doubt, once again, the happy talk of our political class, and the oil and gas industry:
Displaced condensate tanks near Greeley and Kersey, CO, from flooding. These tanks are used to store waste liquid from drilling operations. Oil and other hydrocarbons not captured in earlier separation processes rise to the top of these tanks and are recovered as marketable. The toxicity of the liquids stored in these tanks is largely unknown because they have been exempted from federal environmental laws. In Colorado, these liquids are collected and reinjected into deep wells that are theoretically below usable groundwater. The industry claims this liquid, of unknown toxicity, will never migrate upwards into shallower groundwater. This is a highly contested assertion since many academic geologists and engineers think contamination of groundwater is inevitable over the long term. These tanks vary in size. When full, they contain between 12,000 and 20,000 gallons of liquid. The state of Colorado does not require these tanks be secured to the ground, though the industry says some operators do use chains for tethering.
Photo courtesy of Carl Ericson
Photo courtesy of Carl Ericson

Photo courtesy of Greeley Tribune

Photo courtesy of Greeley Tribune
Photo courtesy of Greeley Tribune
Flooded oil and gas wells, and pipeline, near Greeley, Kersey and Erie, CO, and along the Platte River. Preliminary press reports indicate that perhaps as many as 13,000 of the more than 20,000 wells in Weld County may have some degree of flood damage. This county has more wells than any other county in the country. The flooding and devastation have spread east along the Platte River drainage, out to the Nebraska line to be eventually recaptured in Lake Mcconaughy, the largest man-made impoundment in the state. The cresting on the Platte is estimated to be 17 to 20 feet above normal. Though wells are not as numerous on the eastern plains as in Weld County, oil development is plentiful. Many of the wells in this part of the state are believed to store drilling waste liquids in open pits rather in tanks as required in Weld County. Ozone created by leaking methane makes enclosed storage mandatory in Weld County. Not so, out east. Open pits may be widely flooded and disgorging their toxics into waterways.
Colorado regulations contain no setback requirements from water courses or impoundments, though a gentlemanly 50 foot setback has sometimes been suggested. Neither was flooding of well sites, whether in a flood plain or not, given even a glimmer of consideration in the COGCC’s 2009 statement of purpose and new rulemaking. This sort of blindness to reality is hard to understand since local flooding is common in Colorado, albeit not on the past week’s pervasive scale.  The mantra of drill baby drill probably helped create this blind spot.
Photo courtesy of Paula Powell
Flooded well site near Greeley, CO. Photo courtesy of Paula Powell

"Line break, gas has been blowing for two days, northeast of Kersey," Oil and gas employee said. Photo courtesy of Fracking Opponents United, Facebook page
“Line break, gas has been blowing for two days, northeast of Kersey,” oil and gas employee said. Photo courtesy of Fracking Opponents United

Along the South Platte river. Photo courtesy of Kathy Woz Tompkins Facebook page
Along the South Platte river. Photo courtesy ArcGIS Weld County 2013 Flood

County Line Road, north of Erie, CO. Photo courtesy of Cliff Willmeng
County Line Road, north of Erie, CO. Photo courtesy of Cliff Willmeng
Flooded wells and tanks near Greeley. At a recent public hearing in Greeley on March 12, before the city’s planning commission, Rachael Wilbur a senior at the Colorado School of Mines and former resdident of Greeley suggested the city do a risk assessment of more drilling in Greeley, especially under a 100 year flood scenario. There has been no reply. At present, more than 460 wells exist in Greeley, with more than 200 new ones in the permitting process. Some say ultimately the city could see more than 1,600 wells. The invasion of the industry into cities and towns has caused numerous cities along the front range to consider bans or moratoria using the initiative process. The right of the people to protect home and hearth is being hotly contested by the industry and Gov. Hickenlooper.
Poudre River. Photo Courtesy Bob Winkler
Poudre River. Photo Courtesy Bob Winkler
More photos are available at the following websites: Frack City, USAEast Boulder County Unitedand Weld Air and Water.
Phil Doe, environmental director of Be the Change, wrote this article with the assistance of many grassroots activists, not least of which were Cliff Wilmeng, Conny Jensen, Bob Winkler, Therese  Gilbert and Wes Wilson.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Wed, 2013-09-11 12:45STEVE HORNSTEVE HORN

 Breaking: First Marcellus Fracked Gas Export Permit Approved by Energy Dept

DESMOBLOGBLOG.COM  v  Wed, 2013-09-11 12:45     STEVE HORN Steve Horn's picture  

It's the fourth ever export terminal approved by the DOE, with the three others along the Gulf Coast: Cheniere's Sabine Pass LNG, Freeport LNG (50-percent owned by ConocoPhillips) and Lake Charles Exports, LLC. 
Located in Lusby, Maryland, the Dominion Cove Point LNG terminal will be a key regional hub to take gas fracked from one of the most prolific shale basins in the world - the Marcellus - and ship it to global markets, with shale gas exports a key geopolitical bargaining chip with Russia, the biggest producer of conventional gas in the world.
Dominion owns not only Cove Point, but also the pipeline infrastructure set to feed the terminal.
THE ARTICLE GOES ON TO SAY:   "Exporting LNG to foreign buyers will lock us into decades-long contracts, which in turn will lead to more drilling -- and that means more fracking, more air and water pollution, and more climate-fueled weather disasters like record fires, droughts, and superstores like last year's Sandy...As we have shown, once environmental impacts are evaluated, it becomes clear that the additional fracking and gas production exports would induce is unacceptable."

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Can the US Export its Way to Energy 


By Kurt Cobb | Sun, 18 August 2013,  OILPRICE.COM

Never let the facts get in the way of a good story. That's the credo of the oil and gas industry as it continues to lobby for increased oil and natural gas exports from the United States. After all, the industry claims, we're on our way to achieving energy independence, and we can help our balance of trade by exporting the extra hydrocarbons we produce. The data, however, contradicts the industry's claim.
Even as the Obama Administration approved the country's third natural gas export terminal, the United States remained a net importer of natural gas. Production in the United States averaged 69.5 billion cubic feet (bcf) per day this year through May, the latest month for which data is available. But the country consumed 76.9 bcf per day. It IMPORTED almost 7.8 bcf per day from Canada. And, then it EXPORTED about 1.8 bcf per day to Mexico, a number that is likely to rise as pipeline export capacity to Mexico expands. (Both Canada and Mexico are part of an integrated North American natural gas pipeline system.)
The latest approval would lift the capacity for daily liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports from the United States to 5.6 bcf per day or about 8 percent of what we currently produce. The exports would be shipped using special freighters to Europe and Asia. Strangely, these exports would make it necessary for the United States to IMPORT more natural gas in order to support current consumption! The situation seems surreal, and yet, additional approvals for LNG exports are likely in the future.
Natural gas producers keep telling the public and policy makers that U.S. natural gas production is set to grow continuously for decades as they tap large shale gas resources using hydraulic fracturing. But the story isn't holding up. U.S. natural gas production has been moribund, bouncing along a plateau from January 2012 through May of this year (the latest month for which data is available).Monthly production last year averaged 2.11 trillion cubic feet (tcf), but was slightly less through May of this year at 2.10 tcf per month. This is despite prices that have nearly doubled from the lows in April 2012.
It's possible that the situation could change, but unlikely for two reasons. Production decline rates for natural gas wells in the United States are averaging around 32 percent PER YEAR. That means about one-third of U.S. production must be replaced EACH YEAR just to stay flat. And, that's really all that we've been doing for the last year and a half.
But the situation is likely to get much worse. Here's why: Gas from shale deposits is rising as a percentage of total U.S. production. Shale gas wells decline much faster than the current overall rate (which includes conventional gas wells), between 79 and 95 percent in the first three years. That means some 80 to 90 percent of all existing shale gas production must be replaced every three years. With shale gas, it is as if we are on a down escalator trying to go up; but, the down escalator, in this case, is increasing its speed, making any upward progress difficult, if not impossible.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Fracking leaves property values tapped out

The oil and gas extraction process can be lucrative for homeowners, but it can also jeopardize their mortgages and ability to sell their homes.

By Jason Notte Wed 7:13 AM
Natural gas tanks at a site in North Dakota (© Rich LaSalle/The Image Bank/Getty Images)Depending on where you stand and what's beneath the ground you're standing on, fracking is either paving the way toward American energy independence or dooming it to methane-addled water and man-made tremors.

The one certainty about fracking, however, is that it doesn't exactly do wonders for property values.

As reported by The Atlantic, mortgage lenders are becoming more cautious about approving loans for properties near fracking sites. Lawyers, real estate agents, public officials and environmentalists have noted that banks and federal agencies are revisiting their lending policies to account for the potential impact of drilling on property values. In some cases they are refusing to finance property with or even near drilling activity.Depending on where you stand and what's beneath the ground you're standing on, fracking is either paving the way toward American energy independence or dooming it to methane-addled water and man-made tremors.

The one certainty about fracking, however, is that it doesn't exactly do wonders for property values.

As reported by The Atlantic, mortgage lenders are becoming more cautious about approving loans for properties near fracking sites. Lawyers, real estate agents, public officials and environmentalists have noted that banks and federal agencies are revisiting their lending policies to account for the potential impact of drilling on property values. In some cases they are refusing to finance property with or even near drilling activity.

That's particularly problematic, considering that many home insurance policies do not cover residential properties with a gas lease or gas well, though all mortgage companies require home insurance from their borrowers. Part of the problem stems from uncertainty over the effects of the process itself.
The article goes on to say: 
The Federal Housing Administration's lending guidelines prohibit the financing of homes within 300 feet of a property with an active or planned drilling site. Mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac also prohibit property owners from signing a gas lease or keeping hazardous materials on their property. Doing so puts their mortgages in "technical default."

While drilling companies tend to pay well for drilling rights, that's of little use to homeowners if  the property they're sitting on can't be sold or isn't eligible for a mortgage if it does.
Read the entire article: