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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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A new report issued by Global Community Monitor, GASSED! Citizen Investigation of Toxic Air Pollution from Natural Gas Development, details the air sampling results, environmental and public health threats with living amid the natural gas boom. During 2010-11, Global Community Monitor (GCM), responding to citizen odor and health complaints, launched a Bucket Brigade in northwest New Mexico, southwest Colorado and western Colorado to document and measure air pollution from natural gas facilities. Through the course of this pilot study, residents, armed with their own air monitors, documented a potent mix of chemicals in nine air samples from different locations, many of them located near homes, playgrounds, schools and community centers.
The lab detected a total of 22 toxic chemicals in the air samples, including four known carcinogens, as well as toxins known to damage the nervous system and respiratory irritants. The chemicals detected ranged from 3 to 3,000 times higher than what is considered safe by state and federal agencies.
These air samples confirm the observations, experiences and first-hand complaints of residents.
Odors and health effects that have been reported for years were consistent with exposure to the
chemicals found in the samples. These results underscore the need of regulatory agencies to take such complaints seriously, given the close proximity between the industry and its residential
New legislation is coming out from state governments which would require natural gas companies that use hydraulic fracturing to disclose the list of chemicals used in the fracking fluid. Surprisingly, Texas is the first state government to pioneer such legislation.
Sounds great right? Well, here’s the catch-
The majority of these statewide proposals include an exception stating that the company does not have to disclose the list of chemicals if it would threaten trade secrets. That’s the same excuse Halliburton gave the US EPA in response to the Federal request for disclosure! Although, it appears that that request has still gone unanswered, Halliburton has since released the ingredients of its new Eco-Friendly Fracking Fluid that uses chemicals “sourced entirely from the food industry.”
Both, this “Eco-Friendly Fracking Fluid” and this new legislation are poised to appear as a progressive step in the right direction – for public safety and corporate responsibility. This is exactly what the energy companies and their allied public officials need: to undermine the public health and environmental activists by confusing their support base. Read the rest of this entry »
Guest blog from field activist Dave Devanney
We, the residents of Garfield County, Colorado, have been concerned with health effects potentially related to the increase in natural gas development within the last year. So we started circulating a petition in favor a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) done by the Colorado School of Public Health. The petitioning campaign was a success and the HIA began. Well, after the second draft of the HIA was released, the results were of serious concern and seemed to confirm the residents’ fears. So what does the County Commission do? They quit by putting a halt to the HIA!
How does this make you feel? I’m mad as hell! Did they spend over $250K and not finish the job? It may be that they and the industry did not like what they saw in the second draft. They saw a lot of recommendations being proposed that would cost money that they might not want to spend. Recommendations that were “health-based” to safeguard residents of Battlement Mesa. So now we have an unfinished product that will forever be labeled as “just a draft.”
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