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Energy companies and media are touting an “energy revolution” with drilling for shale gas. This “renaissance” has claimed it will liberate America and create energy independence.
However, it’s not that simple. With the low cost of natural gas in the US, neighbors of oil and gas operations in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Arkansas have noticed a decline in gas drilling and processing activity in 2013. Some researchers believe that the shale play might have already have peaked and be on the decline. Neighbors are standing idly by wondering if they are able to pick up the pieces of their everyday lives that have been so dramatically impacted by the gas drilling invasion. Was the boom all it promised to be? Did we already bust?
OR should neighbors hunker down and prepare for an all out frenzy? Is industry just taking a moment to assess the market and then go gangbusters?
Ever been to Wyoming?
Well, it’s not known for its environmentalism, with company towns popping up nearly side by side.
Wyoming’s reputation for its oil and gas reserves is growing rapidly with the natural gas boom and State regulators are known for sitting with dollar signs in their eyes and giving the energy companies the right of way. Meanwhile Pavillion, Wyoming has become the poster child for water contamination related to the process of fracking.
Back in 2008, residents complained to state agencies about foul smelling and tasting water from the wells on their property. Turns out the increase of these complaints coincided with the booming natural gas development in the area. Then a couple of years later, Gasland hit theaters and we all watched residents from across the country light their water on fire.
When the Wyoming state agencies failed to conduct water monitoring in Pavillion, residents took it to the regional EPA, who finally listened to the concerns of the residents and began monitoring the well water in Pavillion, WY.
Turns out, the EPA study found that there are hazardous chemicals in the drinking water, like methane, petroleum hydrocarbons and naphthalene. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) actually recommends that residents “use ventilation when showering” and “avoid fire or ignition sources while water is running”.
Now, here’s where it gets tricky. Last month, the US EPA announced that it was abandoning the study. No more samples, no more peer review, it’s time for them to pack up their bags and go home claiming that the State of Wyoming will take it from here- with the $1.5 million grant they received from EnCana, the very same company likely responsible for the groundwater contamination in the first place.
To give you a first hand look at what the residents are feeling, below is a letter from John Fenton, the Chair of Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens to the Wyoming Governor, Matt Mead.
Governor Matt Mead
State Capitol, 200 West 24th Street
Cheyenne, WY 82002-0010
June 24, 2013
Dear Governor Mead,
It was unfortunate you were unable to attend your meeting in Riverton on June 20th; we hope your condition has improved.
After reviewing the State’s plan for addressing the contamination impacts in our community, Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens (PACC) has the following initial comments and questions.
Although it appears that some of the stakeholders who have worked in the Pavillion area, such as EPA and EnCana, have been included in your planning process, we were not. As you know, PACC was formed by people who live in the affected area. We work on the issues in our community because we are heavily impacted. At this time our main concern is that we were not consulted during your planning process and your plan does not give us any process for input as the investigation moves forward.
We were surprised to learn that the State will now be in charge of the Pavillion groundwater investigation. We were extremely disappointed to learn that we were the last to know. After reviewing your plan, we are also concerned. We have worked with the EPA experts for five years and are concerned that the new experts you are proposing to enlist are yet to be identified. Please clarify this situation for us. We fully support the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Pavillion, Wyoming groundwater investigation for the following reasons. EPA initially toured our community in 2008, after we had asked the state and industry for help for over five years with no results. The EPA experts and consultants used the latest technology to conduct a strong science based investigation and sampling plan. Throughout the process, their experts continuously kept the people who live here in the loop. They explained their testing procedures and protocols, and helped us understand and navigate the data they produced. They also listened to the information we provided; information that only we have, because we live and work with the gas development. They were always kind, courteous and genuinely concerned with the conditions we live with. They always tried to find answers to the many questions we have. We have had a good working relationship.
As you know, the EPA produced a draft report of their investigation. We believe the EPA draft report should be peer reviewed, as scheduled. We recommend the State also support peer review of the report. The information in the draft report is relevant and should be used to help source, identify and remediate the contamination in our community. Regardless of who conducts the investigation and how it moves forward, the EPA report should continue to be considered. Ignoring or misinterpreting any part of the study will be extremely detrimental to our health, our right to clean water and air, as well as our property values and quality of life.
The EPA’s communications with the impacted citizens was one of the strengths of their investigation. We hope to have the same communication with the State. We believe it is our right as affected residents and landowners to have a seat at the table during all phases of the investigation, plan development and implementation of the plan. The investigation was initiated and continues because of our impacts.
Pavillion residents must be included as stakeholders, with a voice in how the investigation and plan move forward, before we can support any plans that are developed. We need assurance that our consultants can fully review and comment on the investigation and plans as they are being developed and implemented.
Please provide us with the time frame for consideration and hiring of experts. We must have the right to review the list of experts being considered and have ample time for our consultants to review the list and comment on the experts’ qualifications. We must also have the right to recommend experts for consideration.
Please provide us with the schedule(s) for all meetings involving the investigation and planning process; both public and stakeholder meetings. Please explain how our input will be heard and accepted during the meetings.
Please identify the State Agency and personnel who will be our contacts, and provide their contact information.
It appears there will be a final report on Well Bore Integrity and Pits. Two of our members, Jeff Locker and I, are on the working groups. Please provide us with how the working groups will move forward and what the schedule is for the next meetings.
Your plan does not include complete information about private water well testing. Please provide the exact sampling procedures, protocols and guidelines referenced in the plan, including (Attachment A).
Your plan does not include complete information for how the state proposes to access private water wells. Who will contact residents, and when will they be contacted? Who will construct the proposed agreement? When will residents be provided with the proposed agreement? What is the time frame residents will have to consider and sign the proposed agreement?
How will the health issues and impacts from the contamination in our community be addressed by the State? Will you consult with the ATSDR, or will you hire experts to evaluate our health impacts?
Your plan does not outline any process for public comment. Please provide us with how public comment will be accepted, evaluated and considered during the investigation, in the planning process and in the final documents.
We may have other comments and questions after our consultants have had time to review your plan. We look forward to your written responses.
John Fenton, Chair
Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens
The Wild Wild West-where Big Oil & Gas make up their own rules in the Nation’s Breadbasket!
California has a strong reputation for environmental regulation and “green” cities. So you’d think when it comes to the controversial practice of fracking for oil and gas, California would again be a leader.
Consider California’s Governor, Jerry Brown (aka Governor Moonbeam) is a Democrat with long standing environmental credentials. And the Democrats have won a “super-majority” in the California Legislature, meaning that they could pass fracking legislation without a single Republican vote.
With this backdrop, you’d also expect that California regulatory agencies would have issued stringent requirements for any fracking operations that would dare to try to do their questionable business in the State
A recent vote in the California legislature denied a moratorium with regards to the central coast exploration of the Monterey Shale. A moratorium is not say no to business, it’s saying we need to find out a little more to make sure this is safe. A moratorium is not a ban, it’s pretty middle of road, reach across aisles politicking. And California said no.
“There is tremendous (scientific) uncertainty,” said Michael Kiparsky, associate director of UC Berkeley’s Wheeler Institute for Water Law and Policy and co-author of a recent report that found gaping holes in California’s regulation of fracking. “California has historically been a leader in the governance of environmental issues” – but not fracking, Kiparsky said. “There is the opportunity to learn a lot from other states … and try not to repeat their learning experiences.”
So what kinds of problems are real people in California encountering with the lack of regulation and oversight? Look no further than the breadbasket of America, California’s Central Valley.
According to the Sacramento Bee:
“One afternoon last fall, Tom Frantz cradled a video camera in his hand and pointed it at an oil well on the edge of this San Joaquin Valley farm town. Workers shuffled amid trucks and drilling equipment, preparing the site for hydraulic fracturing – fracking, for short – the controversial drilling method that has the potential to spark an economic boom in California and perhaps even free the state from foreign oil. But Frantz recorded something less promising: oily-brown waste spilled from a pipe into an unlined pit near an almond grove, followed by a stream of soapy-looking liquid.
“That was kind of shocking,” said Frantz, 63, a fourth-generation farmer. “We can’t live without fresh groundwater. It doesn’t take much to ruin that.”
Further the Sacramento Bee reported:
“Along once-quiet rural roads, residents complain about dust and noise from trucks and drilling equipment. Large metallic flares dot the countryside, burning off methane and other gases into one of the most polluted air basins in America. Last year, one flare roared for months close to Walt Desatoff’s home outside Shafter. “I called it my loud, expensive porch light,” he said. A retired businessman, he moved to rural Shafter in the early 1990s for its quiet pace of life. Now, he can smell the gassy odors and hear the million-mosquito drone of heavy equipment from his front porch.
“I’m not opposed to it,” he said. “We just need more control. Let’s do it right. Let’s do it safe. Let’s do it where it’s monitored and (companies) are not just given carte blanche to do whatever they want.”
So Governor Brown, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom – anybody in the State Legislature??? Hello? Are you going to help or just stay in Big Oil and Gas’s back pocket? Is allowing unbridled fracking worth risking California’s vibrant agricultural economy that puts food on our table every day so Big Oil can get their way?
This is a guest blog from our ally in the Central Valley. Original post can be viewed here.
Shafter, California is located in Kern County which is at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. Air pollution in this area is generally considered to be the worst in the nation. Pollution levels vary in Kern County according to location. For example, Shafter, in the center of the valley floor, located far from major highways, and upwind of Bakersfield, has significantly cleaner air than Edison which is alongside Hwy 58, close to the eastern valley foothills, and downwind of Bakersfield.
Both Shafter and Edison have ozone monitors. The ozone levels are highest in August and September at both locations. Ozone is always worse at Edison but the levels track each other when the two sets of monitor readings are compared. The graph below shows the past six years of average ozone levels at each monitor for the months of August and September.
Each summer, when Edison ozone levels increase or decrease, Shafter follows suit. The fact that levels at both places seem to be climbing over the past few years will be the subject of another discussion. Suffice it to say that valley air board claims of improving air quality are subject to dispute when recent trends like these are examined.
Anyway, from 2007 to 2011 the two monitors represented by this graph follow each other. In 2012 they diverge. The question is what made the difference. Edison ozone levels improved while Shafter’s got worse.
It happens that there have been a lot of new wells drilled and fracked on the north side of Shafter recently. Approximately 35 wells in the 27 months between January 2011 and March 2013. Some of these wells are right in the city limits and others just a mile or two north. About half a mile north of the town is the central processing plant for all these wells. There are oil tanks which vent volatile organic compounds (VOCs) continuously and a large flare on a 20 foot pipe which burns unwanted gases continuously and emits both NOx and VOCs. NOx and VOCs are the two ingredients that make ozone when there is also plentiful sunshine and high enough air temperatures.
Last August and September, just when ozone levels are normally at their peak, the flare at this location was roaring. A 20 foot flame that sounded like a jet engine was burning as much as 3 million cubic feet of gas per day for the entire two months. The emissions from this flare during this time can be measured in the tons for both NOx and VOCs. It was equivalent to thousands of diesel trucks passing through Shafter daily. This is the most likely explanation for why ozone levels were higher in Shafter during those two months.
Below is a video of this flare during that time.
In conclusion, the fracking in Shafter is causing a lot of air pollution among many other concerns. It is literally killing some people.
I woke up, shuffled into the kitchen to get the coffee started, then continue my pre-coffee shuffling out front to get the newspaper. AND, what is on the front page of the Oakland Tribune – “California Releases First Ever Fracking Regulations”. Did the Holidays come early? Should I ditch this coffee for a fresh made mimosa and call in sick? NOPE! Upon further reading, I see that the environmental groups are highly critical of these regulations and the oil industry claims this to be a good start. Hmm, well this was not turning into being the sunny mimosa morning I had envisioned two paragraphs ago. Then, buried deep in the article it starts to make sense. So, pour that coffee, because we’ve got a lot of work to do. Apparently, these new draft regulations come in response to the auction of mineral leases of 18,000 acres of land, known as the Monterey Shale formation. These 18,000 acres include land in Monterey, Fresno and San Benito Counties, that was owned by the Federal Government as public land! You better hit up those organic California wineries with your out of town relatives this year, because whatever remained of our Bay Area bubble has been broken. Fracking is coming to the Bay Area of California.
The auction of the 18,000 acres of land occurred on Wednesday, 12/12/12. Now, maybe I was too inundated by the articles about spikes in marriage certificates and the impending doom to catch this big new story. But- a simple Google search shows that this got very little new coverage in the first place. Well played oil & gas industry, well played. Media outlets- I would have expected more from you. Now, we can tout the exciting revelation that California has drafted the first ever fracking regulations. So let’s examine those regulations, shall we? First, the regulations do nothing to regulate air pollution and we’ve seen severe cases of air pollution near facking sites. Next, the draft regulation calls for disclosure. Yes, full public disclosure would be a ‘good first step’. Residents, homeowners and parents have long been demanding the right to know, yet full public disclosure has been a bit of a political football in the past couple of years. This seems great, right fellow Californians? Let’s sing the praises of our new draft fracking regulations and rejoice in how progressive our state of California is. NOPE, again. Like I said, pour the coffee because we’ve got a lot of work to
do. This call for disclosure is just another place for the oil and gas companies to plug in a loophole while creating a luminous (most likely toxic) smoke and mirror image. The reality here is that, although companies need to disclose the chemicals that they are injecting into the ground, that database is not subject to public records laws. AND, on top of that, companies can still claim “trade secrets” which would allow them to not have to disclose the names any of the chemicals, to this database that the public may or may not have access to anyway! Is this new draft regulation supposed to protect our health and safety or is it supposed to make us feel better
about fracking in Monterey?
Either way, that’s one good dog and pony show.
So, make another pot of coffee. We’re going to need it.
Erie Rising, a grassroots mom (parent) powered organization, has partnered with Global Community Monitor (GCM) to launch a Bucket Brigade in the quickly expanding natural gas development sites. These residents need answers to protect their health and the health of their families. They have a right to know what is in the air that they are breathing.
Ever played “Old Maid”?
Remember that card game where each player has to pick cards from each others’ hand trying not to get stuck with the ‘Old Maid’ card?
Fracking has become a little like that, similar to a ponzi scheme or a fool’s game, where everyone is trying to sell the leases and natural gas before the bubble breaks and still turn a profit. This economic bubble is created by too much natural gas on the market, causing a price drop and therefore the underpinnings of initial investment will come undone. The person or company left holding the natural gas investments when this bubble breaks will be the ‘Old Maid’ (aka: lose a lot of money in the investment).
With this ‘overabundance’ of natural gas below the surface, gas prices are dropping so quickly, some even call the fracking practice uneconomical. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “From an average of $8.85 per million British thermal units in 2008, natural-gas prices fell sharply to $4.39 in 2010, and $3.94 in 2011. In [January], prices dropped below $2.50, and they are expected to stay under $5 for another decade.” It’s starting to seem as if the only way to turn a profit on it is by exporting it to Europe and China where gas prices are much higher.
But, exporting it leaves the “America’s Domestic Energy Source” messaging to fall flat on its face.
To complicate the natural gas market even further, businesses like Chesapeake Energyare known for ‘flipping land’ to be fracked. They do initial exploration, make projections and then sell the land at a higher cost. Chesapeake Energy is no newcomer to Airhugger. We highlighted their toxic fracking fluid spill in Pennsylvania last April. And now they’re back in the news, some even calling them the next Enron, or blaming them for creating a financial bubble worse than the housing crisis. And, with the drop in gas prices, they’ve had to make some risky financial deals and move very quickly to sell these leases so as to not become the ‘Old Maid’.
So, not only does fracking risk our clean and healthy environment, it also puts at us great economic risk. We’ve all heard the promise of hundreds of jobs, although the figure is highly debatedand the number may be far lower than predicted, but now it seems as if any jobs fracking creates will only last until this economic bubble breaks. When the fracking bubble breaks, people will lose their jobs and investments. This has the potential to add even more stress to our already strained economy.
Now, the silver lining here is that this economic perspective shows the light at the end of the tunnel. Once fracking becomes vastly uneconomical, there is a very strong chance we’ll see the end of the practice entirely. But, the big question here is ‘when?’. We’ve already heard so many concerns over contamination and environmental degradation and many are very worried about the potential health risks associated with fracking. How many more wells will be drilled too close to homes, schools and community centers before the economics prove the practice obsolete?
Before we raise our glass to our trusty, progressive ally in the NorthEast, we need to note that there is believed to be little to no natural gas or oil below the surface of the state.
Many fracking advocates are writing this off, saying no big deal. Many are challenging Gov. Shumlin’s statements, which bring into question the safetyof the fracking process. They say, Gov. Shumlin is setting a bad example, but whatever- Vermont’s loss.
Sure, a fracking ban in Vermont is an easier victory for anti-fracking activists, but it is important to note that it’s still a win, a big win. Now, there is precedent for states to ban fracking.
And, Vermont seems like the perfect place to start.
There’s little to no opposition here. No high paid lobbyists, no false promises of more jobs and no ‘black gold’ to dig for.
BUT, what if other states with little to no natural gas or oil below the surface ban fracking as well? With Vermont taking the lead here, the road’s already been paved for states like Oregon, Washington or even Maine and New Hampshire. Although, a ban in states like these would not really hinder the fracking industry, it would serve to strengthen the debate over the potential safety risks of the fracking process. Which could prompt other states, with shale reserves to pass a ban on fracking. Imagine a fracking ban spreading throughout the entire Northeast. What if New York and Pennsylvania passed similar legislation? This could lead to a significant shift in fracking policies and even serve to create a groundswell of support against the questionable practice. If the majority of States pass a fracking ban, we could easily see new federal policies and regulation enacted to protect our air, water and our health.
In signing the fracking ban, Gov. Shumlin said one of the more compelling statements I’ve heard in regards to the potential safety risks. “Human beings survived for thousands and thousands of years without oil and without natural gas,” he said. “We have never known humanity or life on this planet to survive without clean water.”
Someone had to step up and take the lead here, and we should all applaud Gov. Shumlin. Until fracking is regulated by our trusty Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act, there are a plethora of safety concerns associated with the practice. So touche Vermont. New Hampshire and Maine- it would be great if you could get on board, Vermont could probably use some help here. And, the more and more states we get to stand in solidarity with Vermont, maybe one day we’ll see similar legislation coming out of Colorado and New Mexico.
Remember the national debate on the Keystone Pipeline? The protests, the online petitions and the political mudslinging? Well, get ready because a similar debate is brewing around hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking). Although, President Obama did include natural gas development in his January State of the Union Address, Senate Republicans lack confidence in President Obama to move quickly and keep the fracking industry unregulated. Prompting Senator Inhofe to introduce a bill, The Fresh Act, to “ensure that states – not the federal government – have the sole authority to regulate hydraulic fracturing within their state boundaries.”
So what’s the debate here?
Same as usual, Safety vs. Profit.
Energy companies repeatedly assure us that fracking is safe and poses no documented risks to human health. Energy companies claim there is no confirmed evidence that it contaminates water wells or emits an alarming presence of volatile organic compounds that can elevate the risk of respiratory problems, reproductive issues and cancer. There’s no direct connection, energy companies claim. Therefore there is no need to regulate fracking under the Clean Air Act or Safe Drinking Water Act, despite the fact that these laws have regulated almost every other industry since the 1970’s! AND, of course there’s no need to for the EPA or the public to know what chemicals are being injected into the soil, even if that soil is on their property. Regulations like these would simply slow down our progress, and that’s “un-American”!
Yeah, we’ve all heard the rhetoric, but a lot of us have seen GASLAND too. We watched the oil pouring out into the Gulf Coast for 87 days and although BP said Gulf Coast seafood is perfectly safe to eat, about 119 days after the spill, did you really believe them? The fact is, the majority of us want stricter fracking regulations to ensure our own safety.
As part of the generation most impacted by the mass media. I wonder, what if the Mayor of Amity Island took Martin Brody & Richard Dreyfuss’ advice and closed the beach down despite profits from the tourist season? Or, what if the Captain of the Titanic heeded the seven iceberg warnings by slowing down instead of being blinded by power and profit? We’ve seen this scenario play out outside of Hollywood as well. The Deep Water Horizon, Bhopal and countless other accidents have cost us lives when individuals in power compromise safety over profits. Is the natural gas industry any different? The top execs in the energy industry have an opportunity to make a lot of money here and we the people need to have oversight of the industry to protect our health and safety!
So let the oil and gas companies scream JOBS but we, the American people, value the health and safety of our families a little more. President Obama needs to impose regulations on the natural gas industry, close the Halliburton loophole and be sure not to let energy companies compromise our health over profits. If fracking is not a risk to our air and water, it should have no problem adhering to the regulations within the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Fracking has caused such a gas boom in the United States that the El Paso Corporation is building a natural gas pipeline from Wyoming to the Oregon/California border. The Ruby Pipline is expected to open as soon as early August 2011, and guess who’s already partnered up with the project? Good ol’ PG&E. The same company that can’t seem to figure out how to test the structure and integrity of their current natural gas pipelines.
High pressured gas and faulty pipelines aside, fracked gas brings an entirely different set of concerns. Fracked gas is a crude energy source that needs to be processed at remote locations including compressor stations and dehydrators. Even though fracking is not taking place at those sites, simple air tests with the Bucket Brigade uncovered exceptionally high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, at a dehydration site. The chemicals do not stop at the well sites.
These chemicals travel all the way through the refining process, which will include processing at four natural gas plants in the San Francisco Bay Area, the one already under construction is along the Hayward Shoreline.
This poses serious threats to human health if left unregulated. This power plant “will be fourteen stories tall and will produce a plume that can reach up to 1,000 feet in the air” located about 1.35 miles away from Chabot Community College. The Board of Trustees, the faculty association, employee unions and students groups at Chabot Community College have been fighting it, all on the bases of environmental racism. There is no reason why working class communities of color should be disproportionately affected by the negative health impacts of natural gas production.
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