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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Largest Wind Farm To Go On Line In Kansas

Largest Wind Farm in Kansas to Begin Operation Soon, by Steve Everly, McClatchy Newspaper found on Truth-out.org

The largest wind farm to be built in Kansas is set to begin operations by the end of the year.
Flat Ridge 2, jointly owned by BP Wind Energy and Sempra U.S. Gas & Power, is on a 66,000-acre site covering parts of Harper, Barber, Kingman and Sumner counties in southern Kansas.
The project has 274 wind turbines, each with capacity to generate 1.6 megawatts of electricity or a total of 438 megawatts. That’s enough to supply electricity to 160,000 homes.
Besides being the largest wind farm in Kansas, the $800 million project is the largest ever to be built all at once, instead of in phases.
The owners said the giant wind farm was built in Kansas in part because of its business environment but largely because of its wind resources, which have been ranked the second best in the United States.

To read the rest of the article, click on the link above.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Fracking surveys find support in unexpected places

 By Kevin Begos And Mary Esch---Associated Press   12-9-12

PITTSBURGH – Many people in New York and Pennsylvania have voiced concerns about the safety of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, or fracking. But two new surveys found that many people who live in New York City and the suburbs approve of drilling in parts of that state, and that Pennsylvania residents who live in an area of heavy drilling feel the benefits outweigh the risks.

Siena College, which is just outside Albany, said this week that a poll of 822 registered New York voters taken in late November found 50 percent of respondents in suburban areas support drilling in upstate portions the state, while 32 percent are opposed. In New York City, 41 percent of those surveyed support upstate drilling, while 29 percent are opposed. The poll didn’t break out particular suburbs or upstate areas.

New York has had a moratorium on fracking since 2008, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo has suggested that it be allowed in five upstate counties near the Pennsylvania line, far from New York City, its watershed, or major suburbs. Pennsylvania officials from both political parties have embraced fracking, and more than 3,000 wells have been drilled there since 2007.

“Right now what we see is that downstaters, who would be the least affected from both the environmental and jobs point of view, are much more supportive than upstaters,” said Steven Greenberg of the Siena College Poll.

Sandra Steingraber, an anti-drilling activist who lives in Tompkins County, just north of the five-county region likely to see the first drilling, said upstate residents are more likely to be opposed because they’ve learned so much about the issue during four years of intense debate.

About 40 upstate communities in New York have passed bans on fracking, usually at the behest of opposition groups that have circulated petitions. There are movements under way in about 90 more communities to ban or enact moratoriums, but almost all are in towns outside the most likely drilling area near the border. Court challenges are pending against three of the bans with the industry arguing that only the state has authority to regulate gas drilling.

About 60 communities, most of them in the five-county region that Cuomo has suggested might be opened to drilling, have passed resolutions saying they won’t ban fracking but will instead defer to the state’s authority to regulate the industry.

Overall, more upstate New York residents opposed drilling in the poll – 45 percent – compared to 39 percent who favor it, Greenberg said, but they weren’t able to specifically break out the opinions of people in the region where some local governments support fracking.

But a survey in Pennsylvania did just that.

The University of Pittsburgh Center for Social and Urban Research asked similar questions to 403 people in Washington County, which has about 600 gas wells and is about 25 miles south of Pittsburgh.

Forty-nine percent of the residents sampled strongly or somewhat supported the boom, and 22 percent didn’t care much one way or another. Just 10 percent were strongly opposed to drilling, while another 19 percent were somewhat opposed. Those results run contrary to the claims of many anti-drilling activists, who say fracking does more damage to communities than good.

Just over 76 percent in Washington County said drilling offered significant or moderate economic opportunities, and almost 32 percent had a family member who had signed a lease with a gas drilling company. But almost 24 percent still thought drilling represents a significant threat to the environment, while 34 percent thought it was a moderate threat. Forty-two percent thought it was no threat, or a slight one.

The two states have taken different approaches to drilling in the huge Marcellus Shale gas resource that lies beneath large parts of both, as well as under West Virginia, Maryland and Ohio.

Federal energy experts say it became the most productive natural gas field in the country this fall. About 3,500 wells are producing gas in Pennsylvania and Ohio, and the wellhead value this year is estimated to be in the $7 or $8 billion range, even though there’s still no drilling in many places.

While fracking has made it possible to tap into deep reserves of gas, it has also raised concerns about pollution. Large volumes of water, along with sand and hazardous chemicals, are injected underground to break rock apart and free the oil and gas. Regulators in Pennsylvania and other states with heavy drilling contend that overall, water and air pollution problems are rare. New York put a moratorium on fracking in 2008, and is trying to decide whether to proceed.

Many environmental groups and some scientists say there hasn’t been enough research on potential water and air pollution, while the industry and federal officials say the practice is safe when done properly.

Paul Sabin, who teaches environmental history at Yale University, has studied how communities in Pennsylvania, California and the Amazon react to natural resource extraction. He said scholars don’t agree on why some communities welcome an activity such as gas drilling, while others are passionately opposed.

“This is a more difficult question than it seems,” Sabin wrote in an email, adding that economic, cultural and political factors have been suggested.

Many drillers who have already found highly productive wells near the New York border have been hoping that state will allow them to expand operations.

Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, noted that New York residents already use large quantities of gas that comes from fracked wells in other states. She noted that NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said that expanded natural gas use “makes good economic and environmental sense.”

“We absolutely agree, and believe that New York should move forward with common sense shale gas regulations that ensure more of these benefits are broadly realized,” Klaber said in a statement.

Patrick Henderson, Pennsylvania’s energy executive in the governor’s office, said the Siena poll shows that New Yorkers “see in Pennsylvania and other states the ability to develop this resource responsibly while protecting the environment.”

But Greenberg said the poll also shows that any decision about fracking in New York will be controversial.

“What’s clear is that this is a tough issue for the governor,” Greenberg said, adding that “it’s almost a lose-lose” since no matter what the decision is made “a large percentage of New Yorkers are going to be unhappy.”


Fracking Stories

California Fracking Rules Slammed By Environmentalists As Shale Oil Boom Threatens To Remake State by Aaron Sankin, HuffPo, 12-19-12

SAN FRANCISCO -- Just below California's surface lies enough shale oil to fundamentally transform the state's entire economy.
And for the first time in the state's history, California regulators have seriously started to grapple with how the state deals with the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," in order to retrieve that oil.
Industry representatives insist the practice -- which involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into an oil or natural gas well to stimulate production -- is safe, and note that it has been employed in some California wells for decades. But environmentalists worry that fracking could soon become ubiquitous, doing untold damage to the state's environment in the process.
"These are the first steps in a larger discussion about fracking we're going to have," explained Jason Marshall of the California Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources during a conference call Tuesday announcing a new set of rules governing fracking in the state.
California has previously lacked a specific set of guidelines for how to deal with fracking, which has sparked oil and natural gas bonanzas in places Pennsylvania, North Dakota and northeastern Texas. Due to a loophole inserted into the Bush Administration's 2005 energy bill, a large portion of what happens with fracking -- particularly natural gas drilling -- is exempted from federal oversight, so the practice is entirely left up to the individual states.
California's proposed regulations include requirements that all wells using hydraulic fracturing take safety measures to prevent seepage and test machinery regularly. They specify how wastewater is to be stored and discarded and mandate energy companies to regularly monitor old wells after active drilling has ceased.
The rules also require energy companies to publicly release a whole host of information about each well they frack -- from the exact location to the makeup of the fluid being injected.
"If these requirements keep someone out of the fracking market because they can't afford it," Marshall said, "we're fine with that."
Some environmental activists, such as the Center For Biological Diversity's Kassie Siegel, are less than impressed with the new rules.
Siegel, whose organization is suing both the state of California and the federal government for not doing enough to regulate fracking on public lands leased in anincreasingly controversial set of mineral rights auctions, charged that the latest measures don't ensure environmental safety. "These draft regulations would keep California's fracking shrouded in secrecy and do little to contain the many threats posed by fracking," Siegel said in a statement. "[They] are going to have to be completely rewritten if the goal is to provide real protection for our air, water, and communities."
Siegel argues that the regulations fail to address air pollution and don't require drilling operations to capture the methane released in the process.
She said that a quarter of all the chemicals used in fracking are known carcinogens, and some people living near fracked wells have reported health ailments like vomiting, nausea and seizures. "We should have baseline testing of air and water quality around fracked wells, but we don't," Siegel said.
Conversely, industry backers have pointed to a year-long study conducted in Southern California's Ingleside Oil Field that found no negative health, air quality or seismic effects from the fracking occurring there. The study, sponsored by an oil company as part of a lawsuit, has been criticized by environmentalists for not looking at the long-term heath effects of fracking and failing to disclose that one of its peer reviewers had close ties to the energy industry.
California has been a major oil producer for over a century and is one of the top five oil-producing states in the nation. But a report issued last year by the U.S. Energy Information Administration released information that could easily kick state production into overdrive.
The research found that the Monterey Shale, a rock formation running underneath much of Central California, contains 15 billion barrels of oil, or some 64 percent of all the recoverable shale oil in the United States. "This shale alone could provide for our domestic oil needs for 50 years," said Dave Quast of the industry-backed research and public outreach group Energy In Depth.
Despite the area's enormous oil reserves, the formation's unique geology has impeded previous efforts to drill. The conditions underground vary widely from one location to another, making it difficult to predict the productivity of any given well based on its neighbors. One well could yield a torrent of oil while the one next door could turn up dry.
As a result, it's a lot riskier, therefore significantly more expensive, to tap directly into the Monterey Shale than continue to rely on the traditional plays that have long been the backbone of the state's oil production.
No one yet has been able to find the key to unlocking vast oil wealth hidden inside the Monterey Shale. When they do, however, not only will those techniques likely involve fracking, but the economic and environmental implications have the potential to be enormous.
Environmentalists predict that much drilling would be devastating. "The 15 billion barrels of oil in the Monterey Shale are a carbon bomb," Siegel said. "If we dig this up and burn it, we're going to counteract all of California's pollution reduction efforts."
On the other hand, California has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation, something that boosters of increased oil production argue could be largely remedied through more drilling. "North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the country and that's largely due to oil and gas development," said Quast, of Energy In Depth.
Californians themselves are relatively split on fracking, with a recent Public Policy Institute poll showing a roughly even number of Golden State residents falling on either side of the issue.
The poll found opposition to fracking falling along the expected partisan lines, with liberals and urban dwellers in regions like Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area less like to support the practice. However, some residents in California's rural, agricultural centers -- areas like Kern County, where the majority of the state's oil production takes place -- have also voiced concerns.
"We work with a lot of agricultural groups and small farmers, most of whom are shocked to discover that fracking is happening near them," said Kristen Lynch of Food & Water Watch, a national organization that opposes fracking. A recent report by the Oakland-based group noted that 10 chemicals commonly used in fracking are known to cause cancer or reproductive harm, and some farmers are concerned about these chemicals contaminating the groundwater and affecting their crops.
State regulators said they have yet to see any instances of significant contamination coming from a fracked well.
Some California municipalities, such as Culver City and Los Angeles, have taken steps toward banning the practice entirely.
California State Assemblyman Bob Wiecowski's (D-Fremont), who reintroduced a bill earlier this month that seeks to clarify the state's rules on fracking, shrugs off an outright ban as both premature and extreme. "We're Californians and we like to hate oil companies. There are always going to be people who are looking to shoot Goliath in the eyeball," he said. "It doesn't make a lot of sense to have a moratorium before all the information about fracking has been disclosed. You don't want to be in the dark when you make your decisions, and we're all in the dark right now."
Wiecowski emphasized that establishing a clear set of rules and regulations should be the state's first priority. "It's important to get all of this squared away now, before companies really figure how to tap into all of the oil in the shale," he said. "Then we can all fight about Monterey."

Shale drillers want to move wastewater on barges

By Emily DeMarco/PublicSource, 12-16-12

The shale gas drilling industry wants to move its wastewater by barge on rivers and lakes across the country. But the U.S. Coast Guard, which regulates the nation's waterways, must first decide whether it's safe.
"It may be hazardous," said Cmdr. Michael Roldan, chief of the Coast Guard's Hazardous Material Division, stressing the word "may." "If it is, it would not be allowed to ship under bulk."
Right now, he pointed out during an interview with PublicSource, it can't be shipped by barge, even though there has been confusion in Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Ohio about whether it could be.
The Coast Guard has been considering whether to allow the industry to use the waterways for about a year, according to Cmdr. Roldan, who said the question came up when the Marine Safety Unit Pittsburgh -- the local office of the Coast Guard -- called the Washington office to clarify whether bulk transport was allowed after Marcellus Shale drillers began making inquiries.
The Coast Guard's decision would affect more than Pittsburgh's iconic three rivers. Nearly 12,000 miles of waterways could be open to these waterborne behemoths, each carrying 10,000 barrels of wastewater.

Like so many questions involving the shale gas industry, it's a divisive one. Environmentalists said the possibility of a spill that could contaminate Pittsburgh's rivers with chemicals isn't worth the risk. But industry officials who advocate waterway transport said barges are the safest, and cheapest, way to move this stuff.
A barge accident would be a "massive catastrophe," said Steve Hvozdovich, Marcellus campaign coordinator for Clean Water Action, a national environmental advocacy organization.
"It's not just a contamination of a waterway," Mr. Hvozdovich said. "You're talking about the contamination of the drinking water supply for about half a million people. ... It seems like a very bad idea."
But industry officials and transportation experts counter that other industrial materials, some toxic, are moved on barges now. They include chlorine, hydrochloric acid and anhydrous ammonia. Why should the drilling industry be treated differently? they ask.
Anyone who says moving the wastewater is a danger doesn't know what's on the waters already, said John Jack, vice president of business development and operations for GreenHunter Water, a company that handles wastewater for major oil companies.
"Look what's going down the waters right now," Mr. Jack said, "highly toxic stuff. ... There's nothing in our product that's hazardous."
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, requires about 5 millions gallons of water per well. Water is combined with chemicals and sand and shot deep underground, releasing pockets of gas from shale rock formations.
Depending on the well, about 15 to 80 percent of what was injected returns to the surface. That's called "flowback." Plus, the well continues to regurgitate naturally occurring water from inside the shale, which is called "produced water." Both liquids become wastewater, often called "brine."
Complications arise for the Coast Guard's analysis because companies use proprietary mixtures of chemicals in fracking. And, salt, hydrocarbons and radioactive elements that occur naturally underground catch a free ride with the watery mixture to the surface.
"If there wasn't the variability, this would be a much easier process," Cmdr. Roldan said.
Ring-around-the-tub effect
The agency is determining appropriate "ceilings" for each component in the wastewater. Companies that want to ship by bulk would have to test their wastewater first. If the components are under the Coast Guard's ceilings, companies would be given the green light, assuming approval.
The Coast Guard's biggest concern about the wastewater is what Cmdr. Roldan calls the "bathtub ring" effect inside the barges. Just as, after many showers and baths, calcium in tap water can leave a ring around the tub, radioactive particles in the wastewater may accumulate inside the barge.
Workers and inspectors on the barges could be at risk after long-term exposure, he said, and the agency would likely require regular testing of the barges for radioactivity.
Cmdr. Roldan couldn't say when the Coast Guard's determination of whether wastewater can be safely moved on barges would be complete. In part, that is because the nationwide issue is complicated. For example, experts from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation and Energy departments have weighed in already.
Others, including a committee established by the White House, will likely review the draft proposal.
The agency plans to publish its proposal on transporting wastewater in the Federal Register. Then, the public and the industry will have an opportunity to weigh in.
But there has been great confusion at the ports about the rules.
Officials at GreenHunter, which moves wastewater for some of the largest drilling companies in the Marcellus and Utica Shales by truck, planned to start using barges before the end of the year because they believed it was allowed, Mr. Jack said. They've been investing in five terminals in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
"I've had the regional commanders out to our sites and nobody told us that we couldn't" move it by barge, he said. His understanding, he said, is that it's being done in Texas and Louisiana.
The Pittsburgh office of the Coast Guard declined to comment.
But Cmdr. Roldan's reaction was immediate when asked whether any company is allowed to do this.
"No, they're not allowed," he said. "You may want to tell them before we catch them."
But he said he understood the confusion because of the way the current regulations are worded. "A liberal reading [...] could lead to a misinterpretation," he said.
One question the agency couldn't answer is the expected volume of wastewater that would be shipped over the rivers.
"We've been asking ourselves this," Cmdr. Roldan said.
In Pennsylvania alone, about 23 million barrels of wastewater were generated in 2011, according to PublicSource calculations using data from the state Department of Environmental Protection's Oil & Gas Reporting website. The data are self-reported by the producers and are not vetted by the DEP.
While about 99 percent of the waste from shale drilling is just water, the remaining 1 percent is salt, chemicals and radioactive particles.
A spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition declined to answer questions about moving waste on barges and instead emphasized the industry's commitment to recycling wastewater.
Today, new technology has increased the capacity for on-site recycling, but that is costly. Transporting the waste off-site to disposal or treatment locations is still needed by the industry.
Less wear and tear on roads
Shale gas companies have good reason to eye the waterways.
Transporting wastewater by barges has environmental, safety and economic benefits, Mr. Jack, of GreenHunter, said. For example, a major drilling company would save 58,000 trucking hours by using barges.
And trucks have about 2,000 accidents for every barge accident, he said, citing data from the DOT and Coast Guard.
James McCarville, executive director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission, an agency that advocates for waterway transport, said using barges is a good idea.
"The more that it can be moved on waterways, the less wear and tear of roads," he said, adding that barges also produce less air pollution than trucks.
And they're a fraction of the cost. Barges cost only about 10 percent of the cost to move the waste by truck, said Jim Kruse, director of the Center for Ports and Waterways Institute at Texas A&M University. They are 20 to 30 percent cheaper than trains, he said.
The change would not eliminate trucks because they'd still be needed to get the wastewater from the drill rigs to the barges.
Three gas drilling companies have already approached Pittsburgh-based Campbell Transportation Co. about moving their wastewater by barge, said Peter Stephaich, one of Campbell's shareholders.
"We are regulated by just about everybody," he said, listing federal and state agencies that oversee barge companies. Mr. Stephaich said he's confident that wastewater will be moved responsibly.
"If we move it, we'll move it within the rules," he said. "If the costs are too high, we won't do it."
Operators like Campbell may have to purchase new equipment, retrofit their infrastructure and train their crews.
Benjamin Stout, a biology professor at Wheeling Jesuit University, about 60 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, is one expert who didn't know about the Coast Guard's review.
"Oh, crap," he said. "A lot of things could go wrong."
For example, wastewater contains bromides. Bromides transform into carcinogens when they are pumped through water treatment facilities, Mr. Stout said.
If there was a barge accident, the treatment facilities would have to shut their intake valves of river water, he said. Cities such as Pittsburgh and Wheeling use water from the Ohio River for drinking.
Mr. Stout is a board member of FracTracker, a nonprofit that disseminates data about the shale gas industry. Both FracTracker and PublicSource are funded, in part, by the Heinz Endowments.
Despite his alarm, Mr. Stout said he is glad that the Coast Guard is studying the issue because it's one more determination about an industry that currently doesn't offer a lot of transparency.

Asked whether the Coast Guard is being lobbied by the industry, Cmdr. Roldan said, "We're not really feeling pressure. We could deny it."

Emily DeMarco: edemarco@publicsource.org or 412-315-0262. The Post-Gazette is a news partner of PublicSource, a nonprofit investigative news group in Western Pennsylvania.

First Published December 16, 2012 12:00 am

Regulators Under Fire for Keeping Fracking Pollution Test Results Under Wraps by Mike Ludwig, 12-11-12

Residents living in the shadow of fracking rigs say they've suffered from headaches, nosebleeds and other health effects since drilling began in their communities. Meanwhile, state agencies refuse to release the results of air and water pollution tests.
Thirty years ago, Jenny and Tom Lisak moved into a historic farmhouse in Pennsylvania's rural Jefferson County. The couple raised three children there and established a certified organic farm they named LadyBug Farm.
"When living in the country, your time is marked by nature and each season comes with its own smells, sounds and colors," Jenny Lisak recently told environmental researchers. "But those colors have faded and our wellbeing, livelihood and dreams are now threatened."
The trouble started when the oil and gas boom hit Jefferson County and rolled into the Lisak's neighborhood. First came the trucks carrying equipment and supplies in a stream of constant traffic; then oil and gas wells were drilled in the area.
The Lisaks say they experienced frequent headaches, fatigue, sore throats and eye and nose irritation when they went near oil and gas facilities. The state issued a permit for a gas well and open-air impound pit to store drilling waste next to LadyBug Farm, and even though the project never commenced, the family has had trouble sleeping and experienced stress and anxiety.
Facilitated by enhanced drilling techniques known as "fracking," an ongoing oil and gas rush is rapidly industrializing rural Pennsylvania and neighboring states. Since 2005, 20,000 conventional wells and 5,700 "unconventional" wells, which employ controversial new fracking techniques, have been established in Pennsylvania.
The boom has generated big profits and boosted domestic fossil fuel production, but a growing list of environmental and health concerns have made fracking one of the nation's top environmental controversies.
The boom hit Pennsylvania hard and early, and now people like the Lisaks have health problems they say were nonexistent before the frackers arrived.
Scientists are only beginning to uncover the relationship between reported health problems and fracking, and environmentalists claim the industry and state government have refused to consider the issue.
Pennsylvania lawmakers recently stripped $2 million in funding that had been earmarked for researching and tracking drilling-related health problems from landmark oil and gas legislation. The state's environmental protection agency recently has come under fire from residents and a state lawmaker who say the agency is hiding air quality monitoring data from the public and failing to provide complete lab results to residents who fear that fracking has contaminated their drinking water.
Fracking Air Pollution Linked to Health Problems
A recent, in-depth survey by the environmental group Earthworks found that contaminants are present in the communities near fracking operations, and many residents have developed health problems they did not have before. The most commonly reported symptoms include tremors, dizziness and irritation of the eyes, ears, nose and mouth. These symptoms correlate to chemicals used in fracking, like benzene and volatile organic compounds, and suggest a "strong possibility" that oil and gas drilling is causing health problems, according the report.
Residents living closer to drilling operations reported health symptoms at higher rates. The survey found that 56 percent of children living within 1,500 feet of facilities reported nosebleeds. On average, children surveyed reported an average of 19 health symptoms that are not normally found in healthy kids.
In addition, 80 percent of respondents said they "sometimes" or "frequently" smelled bad odors.
"I strongly object to being forced to breathe toxic fumes and other unhealthy conditions, and to my family facing the possibility of one day becoming refugees from our own home," said Lisak, who participated in the survey.
Earthworks contends the findings raise serious questions about statements made by the fracking industry and its supporters. The industry is known for dismissing health impact claims as "personal anecdotes," and people living near drilling operations often are told that their health problems are likely due to other factors like lifestyle choices and family disease history, according to the report.
Regulators Accused of Hiding Test Results From the Public
On May 25, the Cornerstone Care community clinic in Pennsylvania's Washington County was temporarily shut down after being evacuated three times. Gusts of fumes had invaded the clinic for weeks, filling the building with nauseating odors and making patients and health care workers sick. The clinic remained closed until early July.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) investigated the odors at the clinic and determined that the fumes could not be linked to oil and gas drilling; but the agency has refused to hand over 400 pages of raw testing and quality control data to a concerned lawmaker.
State Rep. Jesse White, a Washington County Democrat, requested the records to share with independent scientists and researchers after the clinic shut down, but the state DEP denied his request.
White then filed a Right to Know request under Pennsylvania's sunshine law, but the agency said it was not required to hand over the records because they were part of a "non-criminal" investigation. White is quick to point out that, despite the non-criminal exemption, the agency could legally release the records if it chose to do so Pennsylvania DEP spokesperson Kevin Sunday told Truthout the agency refused to hand over the data to maintain the "confidentiality" of the air monitoring investigation, but did not explain why such data must be kept from public view.
"To date, the DEP has still refused to release the 400 pages of raw data, which is troubling for a variety of reasons," White wrote in a December 6 letter to DEP Secretary Michael Krancer. "Unless and until you release this data, I will continue to have serious concerns about DEP's commitment to transparency and openness in its operations."
White also wants to know why the DEP has withheld certain sets of test results from residents who believe their drinking water is contaminated by fracking.
Last year, samples from a Pennsylvania resident's drinking water were taken to a state lab to determine if the water had been contaminated by nearby fracking activity. The lab tested the water for 24 contaminants as required by federal standards, but the results for only eight of them were reported to the resident and the DEP's oil and gas division.
Kendra Smith, an attorney representing the resident in a lawsuit against the DEP, sent a letter to Krancer alleging that his agency uses a "deliberate procedure" to withhold critical water test results from the public.
Tara Upadhyay, the technical director for the state lab where the water was tested, had confirmed in a sworn deposition that the water samples were tested for a full set of contaminants, but the lab only reported the results for eight heavy metals.
Upadhyay said that DEP field agents provide a "suite code" for lab tests that specifies which of the test results should be reported. Smith's client, for example, received test results for barium, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, sodium and strontium. The lab tested for 16 other contaminants; including boron, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, silicon, lithium, molybdenum and others, but the results of these tests were not reported to the resident or the oil and gas commission.
Several of the metals that were not reported to the resident are found in fracking waste water, Smith wrote, and many of them are carcinogenic or otherwise hazardous to human health. Smith demanded that Krancer review the procedure of using suite codes and urged the agency to share more crucial information with the public.
Smith's accusations angered Rep. White, who was already frustrated with DEP for withholding the air quality monitoring data from the Cornerstone clinic. The state lawmaker demanded an investigation to determine if "someone belongs in a jail cell."
"This is beyond outrageous. Anyone who relied on the DEP for the truth about whether their water has been impacted by drilling activities has apparently been intentionally deprived of critical health and safety information by their own government," White said in November. "There is no excuse whatsoever to justify the DEP conducting the water tests and only releasing partial information to residents, especially when the information withheld could easily be the source of the problem."
Secretary Krancer quickly defending the "suite code" procedure in a letter to White. Krancer stated that the industry has used the procedure to identify drilling contamination since 1991, and similar procedures are used in other states.
"Although other results are generated by the lab tests, such results would not contribute to answering the question at hand - determining whether there is a connection between gas well activities and the water supply," Krancer wrote.
Krancer added that, in the particular investigation in question, the levels of contaminants that were not reported to regulators and the concerned resident were below the maximum concentration allowed by law.
The controversy raged in the Pennsylvania media for weeks. Experts weighed in, telling media outlets that the "suite code" procedure is an industry standard, but agreed with White that, regardless of whether oil and gas drilling is to blame for water contamination, the people who drink and use the water could benefit from access to the full spectrum of test results.
Wilma Subra, a lead researcher behind the Earthworks report that linked fracking to health problems in Pennsylvania, told Truthout that communities near fracking operations are at a disadvantage because they do not have the resources to pay for extensive testing and monitoring. For this reason, communities deserve to have access to all available data. The industry enjoys this privilege, Subra said, but communities often do not.
DEP officials continue to defend the procedure, arguing that the agency is simply doing its job - determining if fracking has caused water contamination.
White is not backing down. On December 6, the lawmaker once again demanded the air quality monitoring data from the Cornerstone clinic investigation and raised more question about water testing procedures.
"The DEP's ultimate explanation for leaving thousands of Pennsylvanians in the dark over the safety of their water is to say, 'That's just the way we do it around here, so tough luck,'" White said. "And I don't believe I'm alone when I call that brand of callous disregard for transparency and accountability unnerving and unacceptable."
Earthworks and researchers like Subra recommend that regulations be strengthened in Pennsylvania and other areas hit hard by the oil and gas boom. Public health should play a central role in permitting fracking and other industrial activities, and regulators and the industry should conduct health impact studies to identify potential problems before drilling begins.
When it comes to public health, they argue, the burden of proof should be on the oil and gas industry and its regulators, and not on the communities living in the shadows of fracking rigs.

Bayou Frack-Out: The Massive Oil and Gas Disaster You've Never Heard Of

Thursday, 06 December 2012 10:21By Mike LudwigTruthout | Report
For residents in Assumption Parish, the boiling, gas-belching bayou, with its expanding toxic sinkhole and quaking earth is no longer a mystery; but there is little comfort in knowing the source of the little-known event that has forced them out of their homes.
Located about 45 miles south of Baton Rouge, Assumption Parish carries all the charms and curses of southern Louisiana. Networks of bayous, dotted with trees heavy with Spanish moss, connect with the Mississippi River as it slowly ambles toward the Gulf of Mexico. Fishermen and farmers make their homes there, and so does the oil and gas industry, which has woven its own network of wells, pipelines and processing facilities across the lowland landscape.
The first sign of the oncoming disaster was the mysterious appearance of bubbles in the bayous in the spring of 2012. For months the residents of a rural community in Assumption Parish wondered why the waters seemed to be boiling in certain spots as they navigated the bayous in their fishing boats.
Then came the earthquakes. The quakes were relatively small, but some residents reported that their houses shifted in position, and the tremors shook a community already desperate for answers. State officials launched an investigation into the earthquakes and bubbling bayous in response to public outcry, but the officials figured the bubbles were caused by a single source of natural gas, such as a pipeline leak. They were wrong.
On a summer night in early August, the earth below the Bayou Corne, located near a small residential community in Assumption, simply opened up and gave way. Several acres of swamp forest were swallowed up and replaced with a gaping sinkhole that filled itself with water, underground brines, oil and natural gas from deep below the surface. Since then, the massive sinkhole at Bayou Corne has grown to 8 acres in size.
On August 3, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal declared a statewide emergency, and local officials in Assumption ordered the mandatory evacuation of about 300 residents of more than 150 homes located about a half-mile from the sinkhole. Four months later, officials continue to tell residents that they do not know when they will be able to return home. A few have chosen to ignore the order and have stayed in their homes, but the neighborhood is now quiet and nearly vacant. Across the road from the residential community, a parking lot near a small boat launch ramp has been converted to a command post for state police and emergency responders.
"This place is no longer fit for human habitation, and will forever be," shouted one frustrated evacuee at a recent community meeting in Assumption.
The Bayou Corne sinkhole is an unprecedented environmental disaster. Geologists say they have never dealt with anything quite like it before, but the sinkhole has made few headlines beyond the local media. No news may be good news for Texas Brine, a Houston-based drilling and storage firm that for years milked an underground salt cavern on the edge of large salt formation deep below the sinkhole area. From oil and gas drilling, to making chloride and other chemicals needed for plastics and chemical processing, the salty brine produced by such wells is the lifeblood of the petrochemical industry.
Geologists and state officials now believe that Texas Brine's production cavern below Bayou Corne collapsed from the side and filled with rock, oil and gas from deposits around the salt formation. The pressure in the cavern was too great and caused a "frack out." Like Mother Nature's own version of the controversial oil and gas drilling technique known as "fracking," brine and other liquids were forced vertically out of the salt cavern, fracturing rock toward the surface and causing the ground to give way.
"In the oil field, you've heard of hydraulic fracturing; that's what they're using to develop gas and oil wells around the country ..."What is a frack-out is, is when you get the pressure too high and instead fracturing where you want, it fractures all the way to the surface," said Gary Hecox, a geologist with the Shaw Environmental Group, at a recent community meeting in Assumption Parish. Texas Brine brought in the Shaw group to help mitigate the sinkhole.
As the weeks went by, officials determined the unstable salt cavern was to blame for the mysterious tremors and bubbling bayous. Texas Brine publically claimed the failure of the cavern was caused by seismic activity and refused to take responsibility for the sinkhole, but the United States Geological Survey (USGS) has since determined that the collapsing cavern caused the tremors felt in the neighborhood, not the other way around.
According to Hecox and the USGS, the collapsing cavern shifted and weakened underground rock formations, causing the earthquakes and allowing natural gas and oil to migrate upward and contaminate the local groundwater aquifer. Gas continues to force its way up, and now a layer of gas sits on top of the aquifer and leaches through the ground into the bayous, causing the water to bubble up in several spots. Gas moves much faster through water than oil, which explains why the bubbles have not been accompanied by a familiar sheen.
Documents obtained by the Baton Rouge newspaper, The Advocate, revealed that in 2011, Texas Brine sent a letter to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to alert its director, Joseph Ball, that the cavern had failed a "mechanical integrity test" and would be capped and shut down. The DNR received the letter but did not require any additional monitoring of the well's integrity.
Despite this letter, regulators apparently did not suspect the brine cavern to be the source of the bubbles until a few days before the sinkhole appeared, The Advocate reported. The letter raised ire among local officials, who did not hear about the failed integrity test until after Bayou Corne became a slurry pit.
Texas Brine spokesmen Sonny Cranch told Truthout the company has not officially taken responsibility for the sinkhole disaster, but has "acknowledged that there is a relationship" between the collapsed cavern and the sinkhole.
A Historic Disaster
"It's a tough problem. Nobody in the world has ever faced a situation like this that we're grappling with," Hecox told evacuees at a community meeting on November 13.
At an earlier public meeting on October 23, Hecox said there is no "cookbook" for dealing with the sinkhole and, because the disaster is unprecedented, there is no clear path for a cleanup. After all, he said, you can't "fix" a collapsed underground cavern.
At the most recent meeting, Hecox told residents that installing methane monitors in houses near the sinkhole was one step that must to be taken if they ever wish to return home. At one point, an evacuee interrupted Hecox.
"You expect us to go back to our houses again?" the evacuee shouted from the audience. "Have y'all lost your damn minds?"
No Place Like Home
Nick Romero is a former postal worker from Baton Rouge who moved to the Belle Rose community in Assumption parish to retire next to the bayous.
"Until May 30, or whenever they reported the bubbles and stuff, everything was great around here, just great," Romero told Truthout during an interview at his home near the sinkhole in early November.
Romero has a small boathouse on the bayou behind his home, where he and his wife have lived for more than 15 years. Romero can simply push a button to drop his boat in the water and follow the bayou to his favorite fishing holes.
"The fishing was great, ah man," Romero said. "I just go over there, turn a nob, and if they don't bite, I go back to doing what I'm doing."
But Romero has not gone fishing anywhere in the neighborhood since the sinkhole opened up nearby.
"You just don't know what could happen next," he said.
Every night before going to sleep, Romero surfs the web for updates on the sinkhole from various local and state agencies. Sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night, worried about the sinkhole, and spends hours thinking about questions to ask authorities, or looking up information online.
Romero said he sometimes smells the sinkhole, which sits behind a tree line on the other side of a nearby state road. The morning before the interview, he said, was the first time the fumes came into his house. The air outside was heavy and thick, and soon the smell was inside, hanging low about the house. Luckily, he said, as the day heated up, the fumes evaporated.
Romero probably smelled the stench of the crude oil floating on the top of the sinkhole. Texas Brine has been skimming it from the surface and pumping what they can out of the ground.
Romero and his wife among the last people still living in their homes on their block in early November.The rest had evacuated. Romero said they had finally decided to move out just a few days earlier, but they did not know where to go. Should they sign a lease on a new home? What if returning home became possible in a few months? Hecox and local authorities have made it clear that they have no idea when the evacuation order will be lifted. For the Romeros, there are too many questions and not enough answers.
Romero's decision to finally evacuate was partially based on serious health concerns: His wife is battling breast cancer for the second time in a decade. He gestured with his hand, naming nearby homes where residents had also developed breast cancer. From 2005 to 2009, Assumption Parish had the seventh highest breast cancer rate among Louisiana's 64 counties, according to the National Cancer Institute. Romero is concerned about radioactive material that was produced by Texas Brine's mining operation more than a decade ago.
In 1995, Texas Brine asked state authorities for permission to dump "low amounts" of soils containing underground radioactive material into the cavern that is now collapsed. The "naturally occurring radioactive material," also known as NORM, had accumulated in soils near the well pad as part of the brine production process.
Texas Brine's Cranch said there was a "serious discussion" about storing the NORM in the cavern, but that never happened. Instead, he said, the company left the material near the wellhead and above ground, as allowed by state law. Cranch said NORM has a "low level" of radiation and a "low half-life."
"This stuff is everyday stuff," Cranch said.
State officials found NORM in the sinkhole in August, but only at concentrations well below even acceptable levels. They determined it did not pose a risk to human health, and there's no hard evidence linking the radioactive material to the cases of breast cancer noted by Romero. The NORM is simply another unknown on Romero's list of worries.
"It was a nice, laidback, easygoing place," Romero said of his community. "You feel safe. But you just don't have that anymore."
No End in Sight
On November 27, the sinkhole had a "burp," according to observers. Crude oil and woody debris rose to the surface, as water from a nearby swamp was seen flowing into the sinkhole. The "burp" roughly coincided with seismic activity recorded by the US Geological Survey.
The sinkhole continues to shift and settle, as do the fractured rocks below it, regularly causing tremors and micro-earthquakes observed by seismic monitors. Shaw Geologist Gary Hecox believes the sinkhole may increase in diameter, and observers have found that the depth of the sinkhole has decreased from 490 feet to 140 feet.
At a public meeting in mid-October, Hecox told evacuees that there is a considerable amount of subterranean material that has yet to be accounted for and may continue the frack out. At the time, the sinkhole measured 550 feet across, but Hecox calculated that it could grow to 1,500 feet across. When asked how many trees and living things could be killed by brine and oil leaking from the sinkhole, Hecox said he did not know.
The hole won't grow big enough to swallow the nearby neighborhood or state highway, Hecox said, but he continued to insist that the mandatory evacuation order is appropriate. When asked about the risks faced by those who ignored the order, which is "mandatory" but not enforced, Hecox repeatedly said that he would "not let his grandkids" live near the sinkhole.
Cleanup work continues while residents wait for the undetermined end of the evacuation order. Some evacuees are staying with friends and family; others are renting places to stay while they wait.
Texas Brine has recovered a considerable amount of oil from the sinkhole and formations below, but the company has failed to keep oil and other pollutants from contaminating nearby waterways, according to state officials. On December 1, Louisiana Commissioner of Conservation James Welsh fined Texas Brine $100,000 for failing to meet several deadlines for the cleanup effort. The company failed to install a containment system at the sinkhole to prevent contamination of nearby waterways by a November 16 deadline, Welsh said. Texas Brine also failed to meet deadlines for installing methane monitors in nearby homes and establishing a number of vent wells to burn off natural gas in the aquifer and other underground formations.
"We cannot, and will not, tolerate delays or excuses in the effort to protect public safety and the environment, especially when the people of Bayou Corne still cannot feel comfortable returning to their own homes," Welsh said.
The company is also under state to orders to pay a weekly $875 stipend to each evacuated household.
Vent wells set up by Texas Brine are now burning off the natural gas that contaminated local aquifer. Like flaming torches, pipes connected to the aquifer let flames fly into the open air as the gas makes its way out of the groundwater. One vent well removing gas from the aquifer can burn about 46,900 cubic feet of gas per day.
Wilma Subra, a chemist and technical advisor for the Louisiana Environmental Action Network, has been monitoring the sinkhole and evacuated neighborhood. Subra, who has documented environmental justice issues across the country, told Truthout that the evacuees and others living nearby are "a very well-informed and engaged community."
Public meetings and web postings provided by local officials, Texas Brine and state regulators provide the community with updated information on a near-daily basis. A spokesperson for Texas Brine told Truthout the company is trying to make its operations as transparent as possible.
Transparency alone, however, will not bring the evacuees back to their homes.
"We are doing all we can do.... Mother Nature has to take its course," said spokesperson Cranch, who added that Texas Brine did not issue the evacuation order and some people have ignored it and returned home.
Romero and other residents remain frustrated with Texas Brine. They say that simply complying with state orders to clean up the sinkhole is not enough, and the company should go above and beyond the call of duty to return them to their homes.
"They are frustrated and they are scared, and the level of frustration and the level of depression are building," Subra said. "They have been out of their homes since the beginning of August, and there is basically no end in sight."
The Bayou Corne sinkhole is not going away anytime soon. Texas Brine, state authorities and experts like Hecox have made it clear there is no magic fix for a massive slurry pit, a collapsed underground cavern and untold amounts of oil and gas escaping through the disturbed earth.
These are difficult facts to face for residents like Romero. Even if they can return to their homes one day, he said, the neighborhood will never be the same.

ALEC, CSG, ExxonMobil Fracking Fluid “Disclosure” Model Bill Failing By Design

Last year, a hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) chemical fluid disclosure “model bill” was passed by both the Council of State Governments(CSG) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). It proceeded to pass in multiple states across the country soon thereafter, but as Bloomberg recently reported, the bill has been an abject failure with regards to “disclosure.”
That was by design, thanks to the bill’s chief author, ExxonMobil.
Originating as a Texas bill with disclosure standards drawn up under the auspices of the Obama Administration’s Department of Energy Fracking Subcommittee rife with oil and gas industry insiders, the model is now codified as law in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.
Bloomberg reported that the public is being kept “clueless” as to what chemicals are injected into the ground during the fracking process by the oil and gas industry.
“Truck-Sized” Loopholes: Fracking Chemical Fluid Non-Disclosure by Design
“Drilling companies in Texas, the biggest oil-and-natural gas producing state, claimed similar exemptions about 19,000 times this year through August,” explained Bloomberg. “Trade-secret exemptions block information on more than five ingredients for every well in Texas, undermining the statute’s purpose of informing people about chemicals that are hauled through their communities and injected thousands of feet beneath their homes and farms.”
For close observers of this issue, it’s no surprise that the model bills contain “truck-sized” loopholes.
“A close reading of the bill…reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets,” The New York Times explained back in April.
Disclosure Goes Through FracFocus, PR Front For Oil and Gas Industry
The model bill that’s passed in four states so far mandates that fracking chemical fluid disclosure be conducted by FracFocuswhich recently celebrated its one-year anniversary, claiming it has produced chemical data on over 15,000 fracked wells in a promotional video.
The reality is far more messy, as reported in an August investigationby Bloomberg.
“Energy companies failed to list more than two out of every five fracked wells in eight U.S. states from April 11, 2011, when FracFocus began operating, through the end of last year,” wrote Bloomberg. “The gaps reveal shortcomings in the voluntary approach to transparency on the site, which has received funding from oil and gas trade groups and $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy.”
This moved U.S. Representative Diana DeGette (D-CO) to say that FracFocus and the model bills it would soon be a part of make a mockery of the term “disclosure.”
“FracFocus is just a fig leaf for the industry to be able to say they’re doing something in terms of disclosure,” she said.
“Fig leaf” is one way of putting it.
Another way of putting it is “public relations ploy.” As Dory Hippauf of ShaleShock Media recently revealed in an article titled “FracUNfocusED,” FracFocus is actually a PR front for the oil and gas industry.
Hippauf revealed that FracFocus‘ domain is registered by Brothers & Company, a public relations firm whose clients include America’s Natural Gas Alliance, Chesapeake Energy, and American Clean Skies Foundation – a front group for Chesapeake Energy.
Given the situation, it’s not surprising then that “companies claimed trade secrets or otherwise failed to identify the chemicals they used about 22 percent of the time,” according to Bloomberg‘s analysis ofFracFocus data for 18 states.
Put another way, the ExxonMobil’s bill has done exactly what it set out to do: business as usual for the oil and gas industry.
Steve Horn is a Research Fellow at DeSmogBlog and a freelance investigative journalist based out of Madison, Wisconsin.

Marcellus Shale Report: November 2011
Water: Into the Wells
A discussion of the water input required to hydraulically fracture a Mar- cellus Shale well – the quantity, additives, and risks.

New Study: Fluids From Marcellus Shale Likely Seeping Into PA Drinking Water 

by Abrahm Lustgarten

ProPublica-Fracking Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat, 

ProPublica, July 9, 2012
New research has concluded that salty, mineral-rich fluids deep beneath Pennsylvania's natural gas fields are likely seeping upward thousands of feet into drinking water supplies.
Though the fluids were natural and not the byproduct of drilling or hydraulic fracturing, the finding further stokes the red-hot controversy over fracking in the Marcellus Shale, suggesting that drilling waste and chemicals could migrate in ways previously thought to be impossible.
The study, conducted by scientists at Duke University and California State Polytechnic University at Pomona and released today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tested drinking water wells and aquifers across Northeastern Pennsylvania. Researchers found that, in some cases, the water had mixed with brine that closely matched brine thought to be from the Marcellus Shale or areas close to it.
No drilling chemicals were detected in the water, and there was no correlation between where the natural brine was detected and where drilling takes place.
Still, the brine's presence – and the finding that it moved over thousands of vertical feet -- contradicts the oft-repeated notion that deeply buried rock layers will always seal in material injected underground through drilling, mining, or underground disposal.
"The biggest implication is the apparent presence of connections from deep underground to the surface," said Robert Jackson, a biology professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University and one of the study's authors. "It's a suggestion based on good evidence that there are places that may be more at risk."
The study is the second in recent months to find that the geology surrounding the Marcellus Shale could allow contaminants to move more freely than expected. A paper published by thejournal Ground Water in April used modeling to predict that contaminants could reach the surface within 100 years – or fewer if the ground is fracked.
Last year, some of the same Duke researchers found thatmethane gas was far more likely to leak into water supplies in places adjacent to drilling.
Today's research swiftly drew criticism from both the oil and gas industry and a scientist on the National Academy of Science's peer review panel. They called the science flawed, in part because the researchers do not know how long it may have taken for the brine to leak. The National Academy of Sciences should not have published the article without an accompanying rebuttal, they said.
"What you have here is another case of a paper whose actual findings are pretty benign, but one that, in the current environment, may be vulnerable to distortion among those who oppose this industry," said Chris Tucker, a spokesman for the gas industry trade group Energy In Depth. "What's controversial is attempting to argue that these migrations occur as a result of industry activities, and on a time scale that actually matters to humanity."
Another critic, Penn State University geologist Terry Engelder, took the unusual step of disclosing details of his review of the paper for the National Academy of Sciences, normally a private process.
In a letter written to the researchers and provided to ProPublica, Engelder said the study had the appearance of "science-based advocacy" and said it was "unwittingly written to enflame the anti-drilling crowd."
In emails, Engelder told ProPublica that he did not dispute the basic premise of the article – that fluids seemed to have migrated thousands of feet upward. But he said that they had likely come from even deeper than the Marcellus – a layer 15,000 feet below the surface – and that there was no research to determine what pathways the fluids travelled or how long they took to migrate. He also said the Marcellus was an unlikely source of the brine because it does not contain much water.
"There is a question of time scale and what length of time matters," Engelder wrote in his review. In a subsequent letter to the Academy's editors protesting the study, he wrote that "the implication is that the Marcellus is leaking now, naturally without any human assistance, and that if water-based fluid is injected into these cross-formational pathways, that leakage, which is already ‘contaminating' the aquifers with salt, could be made much worse."
Indeed, while the study did not explicitly focus on fracking, the article acknowledged the implications. "The coincidence of elevated salinity in shallow groundwater... suggests that these areas could be at greater risk of contamination from shale gas development because of a preexisting network of cross-formational pathways that has enhanced hydraulic connectivity to deeper geological formations," the paper states.
For their research, the scientists collected 426 recent and historical water samples -- combining their own testing with government records from the 1980s -- from shallow water wells and analyzed them for brine, comparing their chemical makeup to that of 83 brine samples unearthed as waste water from drilling sites in the Marcellus Shale.
Nearly one out of six recent water samples contained brine near-identical to Marcellus-layer brine water.
Nevertheless, Jackson, one of the study's authors, said he still considers it unlikely that frack fluids and injected man-made waste are migrating into drinking water supplies. If that were happening, those contaminants would be more likely to appear in his groundwater samples, he said. His group is continuing its research into how the natural brine might have travelled, and how long it took to rise to the surface.
"There is a real time uncertainty," he said. "We don't know if this happens over a couple of years, or over millennia."

Check the link out.

Heavy metals: Study links water contamination to fracking

WASHINGTON, Pa. -- In its analysis of residential drinking water, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is not reporting all the chemicals discovered in test results, claiming that the substances simply aren’t related to wastewater from commercial gas drilling.
But a 3-year-old study, in which the state DEP participated, links those unreported chemicals with flowback water from the practice of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking.
State Rep. Jesse White, D-47, Cecil Township, first brought the issue to light Thursday. Citing a deposition given in a lawsuit by Washington County residents against a drilling company, White issued a press release calling out the DEP for reporting incomplete results of water contamination tests.
Using a computer code called Suite Code 942, the DEP in one case tested for 24 contaminants but listed only eight of those in the report given back to a resident who requested the analysis: barium, calcium, iron, potassium, magnesium, manganese, sodium and strontium.
“These are a Marcellus shale specific list of parameters that are most indicative to that contamination,” DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said Thursday.
Using the same suite code, the report would not include results for silver, aluminum, beryllium, cadmium, cobalt, chromium, copper, nickel, silicon, lithium, molybdenum, tin, titanium, vandium, zinc and boron. In that same interview on Thursday, Sunday would not confirm that these metals were unrelated to Marcellus drilling.
But Sunday said in a later interview that “(The DEP) has a Marcellus-specific analysis that we run at our laboratories based on our experience with the Marcellus activities. The outrageous contention that DEP has ‘omitted key Marcellus shale markers' has not been substantiated by this attorney or the so-called expert witness, or any evidence whatsoever.”
But a 2009 study, “Sampling and Analysis of Water Streams Associated with the Development of Marcellus Shale Gas,” links these unreported metals and fracking.
The study, prepared for the industry-funded Marcellus Shale Coalition by Thomas Hayes of the Gas Technology Institute with input by the state DEP, did a sampling of water at 19 locations, before and after fracking. The study found aluminum, boron, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, lithium, molybdenum, nickel, tin, titanium, thallium and zinc in the flowback water after fracking.
These heavy metals can be toxic and some have been identified as carcinogens.
Concerning the DEP’s delineation of which metals are related to Marcellus drilling and which are not, others point out that the “trade secret” of the gas industry -- namely, gas drilling companies do not have to make public any proprietary mix of chemicals used in fracking -- should also prevent the DEP from making that call.
“You don’t know the chemicals they are using, you don’t know what they are adding to their frack water, you don’t know the outcome of their geological research,” said Maya K. van Rossum of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “This is a critical question. The drillers are allowed by the agency to keep their secret formulas secret. Everybody’s operating at an incredible information disadvantage.”
The omissions in water contamination reports were revealed in the deposition of a high-ranking DEP employee in a Washington County case of residents against Range Resources. The Sept. 26 deposition of DEP Bureau of Laboratories technical director Taru Upadhyay revealed the DEP’s use of the suite codes that intentionally left out a portion of test results for residents concerned their water had been contaminated by nearby drilling.
One of the homeowners is Loren Kiskadden of Amwell. Kiskadden claims that the DEP’s report regarding his water contamination complaint was inaccurate and incomplete. According to Upadhyay’s deposition from the Environmental Hearing Board case, Kiskadden’s water was found to contain zinc, nickel, cobalt, molybdenum, titanium and boron. These results were not included in his water contamination report.
Upadhyay also said the lab also found acetone, chloroform and T-butyl alcohol in Kiskadden’s water, the latter of which is known to be used in fracking fluid. The DEP said these findings were from lab error and ruled that Kiskadden’s water was not contaminated as a result of nearby fracking, which was occurring 3,000 feet from his home.
Upadhyay also said the lab only released the results asked for by the client. The client, it turns out, isn’t a homeowner like Kiskadden concerned about water contamination. The client is the DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas Management, which obtains lab results, then passes them on to the DEP field office, which then gives the results to the homeowner.
In the deposition, also in the Washington County case, of a DEP water quality specialist, John Carson said he was not aware that using the suite codes allowed the lab to only report back to him a portion of the water contamination results.
Sunday, the DEP's spokesman, said that those living in proximity to drilling should have the gas companies do a pre-drill sample for a baseline measure to determine if there is existing contamination before drilling begins.
“If a homeowner refuses to allow the driller to do this sample, the DEP may not be able to invoke the presumption of liability to hold drillers (responsible,)” Sunday said.
The DEP Bureau of Laboratories is accredited by the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program. According to a letter from attorney Kendra Smith of Smith Butz, LLC, a lawyer in the Washington County case, in order to maintain that accreditation, the DEP lab must follow certain testing methods and guidelines when reporting test results. Smith said the EPA testing method used was 200.7, which was used by the DEP lab to test drinking water for 24 specific metals.
In short, the DEP, under its accreditation requirements, did test for all 24 substances. It just didn’t report them all.

State representative calls for probe of DEP water testing reports

November 1, 2012 by Don Hopey Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has created incomplete lab reports and used them to dismiss complaints that Marcellus Shale gas development operations have contaminated residential water supplies and made people sick, according to court documents and other sources.
As a result, state Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, today called on state and federal law enforcement agencies to investigate the DEP for "alleged misconduct and fraud" described in sworn depositions in a civil case currently in Washington County Common Pleas Court.
"This is beyond outrageous," Mr. White said in a press release. "Anyone who relied on the DEP for the truth about whether their water has been impacted by drilling activities has apparently been intentionally deprived of critical health and safety information by their own government."
The DEP quickly responded Mr. White's statements in an email to the Post-Gazette.
Department spokesman Kevin Sunday said the DEP's testing lab received a "glowing" review last year in a peer review by the Association of Public Health Laboratories.
He added, "Jesse White is ideologically opposed to responsible drilling regulations which is evidenced by, among other things, his vote against Act 13," a state law that regulates Marcellus Shale drilling and gas production.
"The battery of analyses we order during investigations are thorough and give us the results we need to make sound determinations, which we fully stand behind," Mr. Sunday said.
"DEP takes very seriously instances where we do determine gas migration has occurred from drilling -- this administration issued the largest single civil penalty in the history of the state's oil and gas program last year for such a case."
Mr. White's call for an investigation came after the release of two depositions of DEP employees, one of whom, Taru Upadhyay, the division director of DEP's Bureau of Laboratories, said the department's lab reports to property owners didn't contain a full array of contaminants found by the lab's testing.
Mr. White said there's no excuse for withholding some of the water test results because they could hold the key to residents' water supply problems.
"If these allegations are true, there needs to be a thorough and objective investigation to determine if someone belongs in a jail cell," he said.
In her deposition, Ms. Upadhyay said the department's oil and gas division directed the lab to generate water test reports to homeowners that omitted the full menu of findings for heavy metals, including lithium, cobalt, chromium, boron and titanium, some of which are human carcinogens, as well as volatile organic compounds that are associated with hydraulic fracturing fluids.
Those metals are Marcellus Shale markers, found in the shale layer a mile or more underground in Pennsylvania. They are released by hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" of the shale and can be carried by flowback fluids to the surface.
Finding them and certain volatile organic compounds in the water test results would link contamination of groundwater to gas well drilling and fracking operations, said John Smith, an attorney with Smith Butz, a firm representing eight people in the Washington County case against Range Resources and 12 of its subcontractors. Their case contends that they face serious health problems and increased cancer risk due to exposure to toxic chemicals in their air and well water near Range's Yeager drill site in Amwell.
"Despite these significant health consequences, the DEP purposely never considered information concerning all of these metals in each of the plaintiffs' water supplies before making any of its determinations and purposely failed to alert the plaintiffs to their presence," said Mr. Smith in a court filing Wednesday.
Kendra Smith, another Smith Butz attorney, today sent a 10-page letter to DEP Secretary Michael Krancer about the incomplete test results and requested a review of the practice. She sent copies of the letter to state Attorney General Linda Kelly; the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region III; David Hickton, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania; and five state legislators.
According to the deposition transcript, Ms. Upadhyay said the DEP's state laboratory tests water samples for a full battery of contaminants, but at the direction of the department's Office of Oil and Gas Management, limits the number of contaminants reported to the oil and gas division and the property owner.
In a second deposition filed in the case, John Carson, a DEP water quality specialist, said a special lab code for Marcellus Shale water contamination complaints is used statewide. He also said the department failed to provide its water quality specialists with training to help them interpret the lab reports and identify contaminants that could signal Marcellus Shale-related impacts.
A Post-Gazette review of DEP water quality reports generated under the department's "942 Suite Code" found that those reports didn't disclose all of the contaminants found in well water samples. The water complaints in these cases were dismissed because the abbreviated reports did not support the property owner complaints in Amwell, Washington County, the Woodlands area in Butler County, and Dimock in Susquehanna County.
Ms. Upadhyay's statements came in response to questions from Ms. Smith and are contained in a 336-page transcript of her deposition taken Sept. 26 for an Environmental Hearing Board case. The case, brought by Loren Kiskadden of Amwell, alleges that DEP's investigation of his well-contamination complaint was inaccurate and incomplete.
The depositions were filed as supporting documents in the related Washington County Court case. In that case, four homeowners, including Mr. Kiskadden, who live near the Yeager well site, allege their private water supplies were contaminated and they suffered a variety of health problems.
Range, owner of the Yeager well site, has denied any responsibility for any contamination from its operations, which included three wells, a 13 million-gallon impoundment and a drill cuttings pit.

Earthquake-Causing Fracking to Be Allowed within 500 FEET of Nuclear Plants, by Washingtonsblog.com, 10-22-12

Nuclear Plants Vulnerable to Earthquakes

The American government has officially stated that fracking can cause earthquakes. Some fracking companies now admit this fact The scientific community agrees. See thisthisthisthis and this.
Earthquakes can – of course – damage nuclear power plants. For example, even the operator of Fukushima and the Japanese government now admit that the nuclear cores might have started melting down before the tsuanmi ever hit. More here.
Indeed, the fuel pools and rods at Fukushima appear to have “boiled”, caught fire and/or exploded soon after the earthquake knocked out power systems. See thisthisthisthis and this. And fuel pools in the United States store an average of ten times more radioactive fuel than stored at Fukushima, have virtually no safety features, and are vulnerable to accidents and terrorist attacks. And see this.
Indeed, American reactors may be even more vulnerable to earthquakes than Fukushima.
But American nuclear “regulators” have allowed numerous nuclear power plants to be built in earthquake zones (represented by black triangles in the following diagram):
(Note: Ignore the long lines in the diagram … they represent the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, which present a huge danger of flooding nuclear reactors , but not an earthquake risk).
And they have covered up the risks from earthquakes for years … just like the Japanese regulators did.For example:
  • The NRC won’t even begin conducting its earthquake study for Indian Point nuclear power plant in New York until after relicensing is complete in 2013, because the NRC doesn’t consider a big earthquake “a serious risk”
  • Congressman Markey has said there is a cover up. Specifically, Markey alleges that the head of the NRC told everyone not to write down risks they find from an earthquake greater than 6.0 (the plant was only built to survive a 6.0 earthquake)
  • We have 4 reactors in California – 2 at San Onofre 2 at San Luis Obisbo – which are vulnerable to earthquakes and tsunamis
For example, Diablo Canyon is located on numerous earthquake faults, and a state legislator and seismic expert says it could turn into California’s Fukushima:
On July 26th 2011 the California Energy Commission held hearings concerning the state’s nuclear safety. During those hearings, the Chairman of the Commission asked governments experts whether or not they felt the facilities could withstand the maximum credible quake. The response was that they did not know.
This is similar to what happened at Fukushima: seismologists dire warnings were ignored (and see this.)
Yet the Nuclear Regulatory Commission doesn’t even take earthquake risk into account when deciding whether or not to relicense plants like Diablo Canyon.

Are They Fracking With Us?

American nuclear regulators are allowing earthquake-inducing fracking to be conducted mere feet from nuclear power plants.
As the Herald Standard reports:
Chesapeake Energy has a permit to frack just one mile from the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station in Shippingport. Whether that is cause for alarm, experts can’t say.
“Hydraulic fracturing near a nuclear plant is probably not a concern under normal circumstances,” [Richard Hammack, a scientist at the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory] said. “If there is a pre-stress fault that you happen to lubricate there (with fracking solution), that is the only thing that might result in something that is (seismically) measurable.”
That’s not very reassuring, given that “lubrication” of faults is the main mechanism by which fracking causes earthquakes. (Indeed,  the point is illustrated by the analogous fact that leading Japanese seismologists say that the Fukushima earthquake “lubricated” nearby faults, making a giant earthquake more likely than ever.)
And as Akron Beacon Journal notes, fracking is allowed with 500 feet of nuclear plants:
“We’re not aware of any potential impacts and don’t expect any,” said FirstEnergy spokeswoman Jennifer Young today. “We see no reason to be particularly concerned.”
[But] experts can’t say if the proposed well so close to two nuclear power plants is cause for concern.
DEP spokesperson John Poister told the Shale Reporter that there are no required setbacks specifically relating to a required distance between such shale wells and nuclear facilities, just a blanket regulation requiring a 500-foot setbackfrom any building to a natural gas well.
(See link for maps and video)

Fracking Pollution Sickens Pennsylvania Families, Environmental Group Says, by Lynne Peebles, HuffPo, 10-18-12

The McIntyres of Butler County, Pa., no longer drink the water piped into their home. They no longer brush their teeth with it, shower or do laundry with it.
"We use water for nothing other than flushing the commode," said Janet McIntyre, after describing her family's wide-ranging health problems -- from projectile vomiting to skin rashes -- that she attributed to the water.
McIntyre and her husband, Fred, were among more than 100 people recently surveyed by the Oil and Gas Accountability Project at Earthworks, an environmental and public health advocacy group based in Washington, for a report published on Thursday, which suggests that widespread contamination of air and water by natural gas drillers in Pennsylvania has triggered an array of health problems, including sinus, respiratory and mood problems.
"We have a serious timing problem," Nadia Steinzor, of Earthworks, said during a press call on Thursday. "Natural gas development is accelerating rapidly, but knowledge about its impacts on the environment and people is coming much slower."
Natural gas production is expanding across the country. While the burgeoning industry has lowered U.S. energy costs, some experts and advocates say they're increasingly concerned that the natural and manmade chemicals released during drilling, hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) and reinjection are making more people sick.
"They are playing roulette with public health," said Steinzor, lead author of the report.
Rates of symptoms since drilling began generally went up the closer people lived to gas facilities, according to the survey. Children averaged 19 health problems, with throat irritation and severe headaches topping the list.
In addition to asking participants about symptoms before and after natural gas development, the research team conducted 34 air tests and nine water tests. They wrote that many of the chemicals detected have been linked to oil and gas operations, as well as with many of the symptoms reported in the survey.
Critics of the report said the 108 residents surveyed across 14 Pennsylvania counties came from Earthworks' contacts and participants' own networks.
"This report seems somewhere between anecdotal and a rigorously designed study," said Rob Jackson, a biologist at Duke University. He said the report fills a "critical gap."
"The health effects are the biggest uncertainty with this issue. There's almost no information about it," said Jackson, whose research has found some evidence for elevated levels of gases such as methane in water supplies close to gas wells. "That doesn't mean there are huge health effects. We just don't know."
Steinzor acknowledged the report doesn't prove fracking harms public health. She added: "An absence of proof is not proof of absence."
Some recent studies have offered hints. Earlier this year, researchers suggested that average birth weights may drop and peoples' exposure to known carcinogens may rise close to natural gas development sites. Another study found animals living near fracking wells suffered serious health effects. (The McIntyres' dog suddenly died around the same time they began to be sickened by what they believe is their water.)
LuAnn Brink, a visiting assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh, shared Jackson's mixed reaction to the study. "Earthworks represents a biased group of highly motivated individuals. As such, the interpretability of this work is limited," she said. "However, the conclusions of this work are in line with public health, including enhanced surveillance for disease outcomes of interest in affected areas, as well as an evaluation of the 'loopholes' in environmental regulations, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, for which it was provided an exemption under the Energy Policy Act of 2005.
"Public health has not been invited to the table yet," Brink said, referring to the relatively "new industry."
Dan Whitten, spokesman for America's Natural Gas Alliance, said he sees the situation differently. "Hydraulic fracturing has been used for more than six decades with an excellent safety track record," he said. "Extensive federal and state regulations are in place to address public health and safety."
Earthworks also released a study in September that quantified doubts that environmental advocates have with such a statement. As HuffPost reported, government inspections of wells, as well as fines for regulatory violations, according to the report, are generally too infrequent and too small to change drilling company behavior.
Industry representatives dismissed that report, much as they have done with the new one.
"The conclusion of this study is not supported by either history or the broader science surrounding natural gas development," Whitten said. Companies that belong to his trade group "take seriously the responsibility of ensuring the safety of our operations."
Janet McIntyre said that drinking bottled water and using a shower at a family member's home have reduced many of the symptoms plaguing members of her family, including her young daughter. But she said she believes the continued irritability, headaches, breathing and other health problems come from air contaminated by the drilling. McIntyre is among the 80 percent of survey participants who reported smelling bad odors.
And then there's the noise. "It's constant, 24 hours a day," she said. "It keeps me up at night."
McIntyre, who turned 53 on Thursday, said this might be the first presidential election since she turned 18 in which she won't cast a vote. President Barack Obama received her vote in 2008.
"I'm so frustrated," said McIntyre. "We're not getting answers. I think Obama needs to sit back and really take a look at it, instead of just saying, ' We need this, we need this.' We need more regulations and stiffer penalties."
Of course, while both presidential candidates have expressed support for expanding natural gas development, McIntyre is aware that Republican challenger Mitt Romney has pledged to reverse Obama's four years of "overregulation."
"Not voting is not good either," she said.
(See link for photo collection.)

Wastewater Injection Wells: The Trillion-Gallon Loophole

On a cold, overcast afternoon in January 2003, two tanker trucks backed up to an injection well site in a pasture outside Rosharon, Texas. There, under a steel shed, they began to unload thousands of gallons of wastewater for burial deep beneath the earth.
The waste – the byproduct of oil and gas drilling – was described in regulatory documents as a benign mixture of salt and water. But as the liquid rushed from the trucks, it released a billowing vapor of far more volatile materials, including benzene and other flammable hydrocarbons.
The truck engines, left to idle by their drivers, sucked the fumes from the air, revving into a high-pitched whine. Before anyone could react, one of the trucks backfired, releasing a spark that ignited the invisible cloud.
Fifteen-foot-high flames enveloped the steel shed and tankers. Two workers died, and four were rushed to the hospital with burns over much of their bodies. A third worker died six weeks later.
What happened that day at Rosharon was the result of a significant breakdown in the nation’s efforts to regulate the handling of toxic waste, a ProPublica investigation shows.
The site at Rosharon is what is known as a “Class 2” well. Such wells are subject to looser rules and less scrutiny than others designed for hazardous materials. Had the chemicals the workers were disposing of that day come from a factory or a refinery, it would have been illegal to pour them into that well. But regulatory concessions won by the energy industry over the last three decades made it legal to dump similar substances into the Rosharon site – as long as they came from drilling.
Injection wells have proliferated over the last 60 years, in large part because they are the cheapest, most expedient way to manage hundreds of billions of gallons of industrial waste generated in the U.S. each year. Yet the dangers of injection are well known: In accidents dating back to the 1960s, toxic materials have bubbled up to the surface or escaped, contaminating aquifers that store supplies of drinking water.
There are now more than 150,000 Class 2 wells in 33 states, into which oil and gas drillers have injected at least 10 trillion gallons of fluid. The numbers have increased rapidly in recent years, driven by expanding use of hydraulic fracturing to reach previously inaccessible resources.
ProPublica analyzed records summarizing more than 220,000 well inspections conducted between late 2007 and late 2010, including more than 194,000 for Class 2 wells. We also reviewed federal audits of state oversight programs, interviewed dozens of experts and explored court documents, case files, and the evolution of underground disposal law over the past 30 years.
Our examination shows that, amid growing use of Class 2 wells, fundamental safeguards are sometimes being ignored or circumvented. State and federal regulators often do little to confirm what pollutants go into wells for drilling waste. They rely heavily on an honor system in which companies are supposed to report what they are pumping into the earth, whether their wells are structurally sound, and whether they have violated any rules.
More than 1,000 times in the three-year period examined, operators pumped waste into Class 2 wells at pressure levels they knew could fracture rock and lead to leaks. In at least 140 cases, companies injected waste illegally or without a permit.
In several instances, records show, operators did not meet requirements to identify old or abandoned wells near injection sites until waste flooded back up to the surface, or found ways to cheat on tests meant to make sure wells aren’t leaking.
“The program is basically a paper tiger,” said Mario Salazar, a former senior technical advisor to the Environmental Protection Agency who worked with its injection regulation program for 25 years. While wells that handle hazardous waste from other industries have been held to increasingly tough standards, Salazar said, Class 2 wells remain a gaping hole in the system. “There are not enough people to look at how these wells are drilled … to witness whether what they tell you they will do is in fact what they are doing.”
Thanks in part to legislative measures and rulemaking dating back to the late 1970s, material from oil and gas drilling is defined as nonhazardous, no matter what it contains. Oversight of Class 2 wells is often relegated to overstretched, understaffed state oil and gas agencies, which have to balance encouraging energy production with protecting the environment. In some areas, funding for enforcement has dropped even as drilling activity has surged, leading to more wells and more waste overseen by fewer inspectors.
“Class 2 wells constitute a serious problem,” said John Apps, a leading geoscientist and injection expert who works with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “The risk to water? I think it’s high, partially because of the enormous number of these wells and the fact that they are not regulated with the same degree of conscientiousness.”
In response to questions about the adequacy of oversight, the EPA, which holds primary regulatory authority over injection wells, reissued a statement it supplied to ProPublica for an earlier article in June.
“Underground injection has been and continues to be a viable technique for subsurface storage and disposal of fluids when properly done,” a spokesperson wrote. “EPA recognizes that more can be done to enhance drinking water safeguards and, along with states and tribes, will work to improve the efficiency of the underground injection control program."
Some at the EPA and at the Department of Justice, which prosecutes environmental crimes, say the system’s blind spots suggest that many more violations likely go undiscovered – at least until they mushroom into a crisis.
That’s what happened at Rosharon.
The accident prompted the EPA to examine what else had been dumped at the site, ultimately exposing a scheme by a company that was not involved in the explosion, Texas Oil and Gathering, to pass off deadly chemicals from a petroleum refining plant as saltwater from drilling.
The switch saved the company substantial fees by allowing it to dispose of the material in a Class 2 well, instead of a more stringently controlled well for hazardous waste, federal investigators said.
Texas Oil and Gathering’s owner and operations manager were convicted of conspiring to dump illegal waste and violating the Safe Drinking Water Act. Both declined to comment for this article.
Texas officials acknowledged that they had not looked beyond the paperwork submitted by the operators using the well. The delivery trucks weren’t inspected; the wastewater was not sampled.
“Staff had no reason to believe at the time that such testing was necessary at this facility,’’ Ramona Nye, a spokeswoman for the Railroad Commission of Texas, which regulates the oil and gas industry activity in the state, wrote in an email. “The likelihood of unpermitted material being disposed of is low.’’
William Miller, the EPA’s chief investigator on the case, points out that the only reason anyone was held accountable for injection-related violations was because the site blew up.
“If you can get the stuff down the well how is anyone ever going to know what it was?” said Miller, who retired from the EPA in 2011. “There is no way to recover it. It’s an easy way to commit a crime and not have any evidence left of it afterwards.”
States and Industry Resist Environmental Protections
One reason that Texas Oil and Gathering was able to dump toxic waste for years without getting caught is that environmental regulations governing how the oil and gas industry disposes of material underground were weakened almost as soon as they were written.
A series of injection accidents beginning in the 1960s – involving pesticide waste in Colorado, dioxins in Beaumont, Texas, and drilling waste that spread for miles through a drinking water aquifer in Arkansas – prompted lawmakers to impose tougher rules on injection wells.
Wells were divided into classes, depending on the source of the waste they handled. Class 1 wells for chemical, pharmaceutical and other industrial wastes, along with Class 2 wells for the oil and gas industry, were subjected to tough controls under the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974. From the start, the EPA says, oil and gas waste was treated as less toxic than waste from other industries, but all such material was seen as dangerous to drinking water.
Companies drilling the wells were required to do geological modeling to ensure that surrounding rock layers would not allow waste to escape through fissures or fault lines. They also were required to check for the presence of other wells that could be a conduit for contamination. The EPA set baseline standards and mandated periodic inspections for defects. In many cases, states oversaw their implementation.
The ink had barely dried on the new regulations when the oil and gas industry – aided by sympathetic state regulators who thought their existing oversight was sufficient – began arguing that its waste should be treated differently.
Industry officials lobbied for state oil and gas agencies, some of which already had rules in place, to oversee Class 2 wells, not federal or local environmental officials. Some argued state energy regulators had greater expertise in well construction and regional geology.
In 1980, California Rep. Henry Waxman sponsored a measure that allowed the EPA to delegate authority to oversee Class 2 injection to state oil and gas regulators, even if the rules they applied varied from the Safe Drinking Water Act and federal guidelines.
A few years later, Dick Stamets, New Mexico’s chief oil and gas regulator at the time, told a crowd of state regulators and industry representatives that the Waxman amendment was a biblical deliverance from oppressive federal oversight for the drilling industry.
“The Pharaoh EPA did propose regulations and there was chaos upon the earth,” Stamets said. “The people groaned and labored, and great was their suffering until Moses Section 1425 (the Waxman amendment) did lead them to the Promised Land.”
In the late 1980s, the EPA moved to impose more stringent measures on injection wells after Congress banned injection of ”hazardous” waste. The new rules barred underground dumping unless companies could prove the chemicals weren’t a health threat. To earn permission to inject the waste, companies would have to conduct exhaustive scientific reviews to dispose of hazardous materials, proving their waste wouldn’t migrate underground for at least 10,000 years.
The energy industry moved preemptively to shield itself from these changes, too. The Safe Drinking Water Act prohibited the EPA from interfering with the economics of the oil and gas industry unless there was an imminent threat to health or the environment. The industry argued that its waste was mostly harmless brine and that testing and inspecting hundreds of thousands of wells for waste that would qualify as “hazardous” would delay drillers or cost them a fortune.
“It would have been crippling to U.S. oil and gas production,” said Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Fuller was a former staff member for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, whose ranking member at the time, the late Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen, led the fight against the hazardous waste rule. “So yes, the industry was very aggressively seeking some mechanism to address those consequences.”
Bentsen had won the industry a temporary reprieve in 1980 by persuading Congress to redefine any substance that resulted from drilling – or “producing” – an oil or gas well as “non-hazardous,” regardless of its chemical makeup, pending EPA study. In 1988, the EPA made it permanent, handing oil and gas companies a landmark exemption. From then on, benzene from the fertilizer industry was considered hazardous, threatening health and underground water supplies; benzene derived from wells for the oil and gas industry was not.
The effect was that the largest waste stream headed for underground injection, that from the oil and gas industry, was exempted from one of the most effective parts of environmental rules governing hazardous waste disposal.
“A blanket exemption without any sense of what the actual chemistry of these wastewaters is, is very concerning,” said Briana Mordick, a geologist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Other protections also began to unravel, widening the gap between Class 1 and Class 2 well regulations. Both regulators and the industry regularly refer to drilling waste as “salt water” even though, according to a 2002 EPA internal training documentobtained by ProPublica, “on any given day, the injectate of a Class II-D well has the potential to contain hazardous concentrations of solvents, acids, and other… hazardous wastes.”
Once the wastes were defined as nonhazardous, there was little justification for holding Class 2 wells to the same rules as other waste being injected deep underground.
Today, for example, Class 1 wells for hazardous waste are tested for pressure continuously and are supposed to be inspected for cracks and leaks every 12 months. Oil and gas wells – though the goal is to inspect their sites annually – have to be tested only once every five years.
Injection wells are known to cause earthquakes, so Class 1 wells usually have rigorous seismic and geologic siting requirements. Often, Class 2 wells do not. An EPA staff member might spend an entire year reviewing an application for a new hazardous waste well. Class 2 wells are often permitted in bulk, meaning hundreds can be green-lighted in a matter of days.
Where Class 1 hazardous waste is injected, companies have to inspect a two-mile radius for old wells, making sure contaminants will have no avenue to shoot back up into drinking water aquifers or to the surface. The minimum standard for oil and gas companies is to inspect within 400 yards, even though it is widely believed, according to internal EPA memorandums obtained by ProPublica, that such a rule is arbitrarily defined, runs against “much existing evidence” and “may not afford adequate protection” of drinking water.
EPA officials acknowledge that their Class 1 regulations represent the best practices to keep water safe and that the risk of a Class 2 well leaking is no different than the risk of a Class 1 well leaking. The contrast in regulations reflects “varying legal authorities, not varying levels of confidence,” an agency spokeswoman wrote in an email, referring to the mandate not to let environmental rules interfere with the nation’s drilling progress.
State injection regulators counter that much drilling-related waste is put in the same geologic formations that produce oil and gas, in which contaminants like benzene naturally occur. The water close to these wells is often already undrinkable, they say, so lesser protections make sense.
According to the EPA’s most recent inventory, the number of Class 2 wells is near an all-time high.
Oklahoma, Texas, Kansas and California use tens of thousands of Class 2 wells to push out oil and gas or dispose of fracking fluids and “produced” water, as the waste derived from drilling is called. In North Dakota, injection permits have increasedtenfold, with more wells being permitted in one month – September 2011 –than is typical in an entire year. New Mexico issued twice as many permits last year as it did in 2007. Ohio injected twice as much waste in 2011 as it did in 2006 and is evaluating applications for dozens of new injection sites. largely for waste exported by Pennsylvania and New York, where such wells are deemed unsafe.
As much as 70 percent of the waste destined for Class 2 facilities would be considered toxic if it were not for the loopholes in the law, according to Wilma Subra, a chemist and activist who sits on the board of STRONGER, a partnership of oil and gas industry representatives and state regulators aimed at bolstering state standards.
Recently, Stark Concerned Citizens, an anti-drilling group, asked Ohio regulators why radioactive materials such as radium weren’t identified or disclosed when injected into Class 2 wells.
“The law allows it,” Tom Tomastik, a geologist with Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources and a national expert on injection well regulation, replied in a Sept. 17 email. “It does not matter what is in it. As long as it comes from the oil and gas field it can be injected.”
Well Operators Game Safety Tests
When Carl Weller showed up, shovel in hand, at a Kentucky farm field dotted with injection wells in June 2007, he was acting on a tip. Weller, a contracted EPA injection inspector, was an expert in testing for what regulators call “mechanical integrity,” using air pressure to check if wells have leaks or cracks.
Such tests are among the only ways to know whether cement and steel well structures are intact, preventing brine and other chemicals from reaching drinking water.
Using his shovel, Weller dug around the top of a well, unearthing the steel tubing near the surface. A few inches down, he came across an apparatus he had never seen before: A section of high-pressure tubing ran out of the well bore and connected to a three-foot-long section of steel pipe, sealed at both ends. The apparatus appeared designed to divert air pumped into the well into the pipe instead, making the well test as if it were airtight.
“The only reason that I know of that that device would be installed would be to perform a false mechanical integrity test, more than likely because the well itself would not pass,” Weller testified in 2009 as part of a case against the well’s operator. The EPA did not make Weller available to comment for this article.
When EPA inspectors kept digging, they found the buried devices on 10 more wells.
The case stunned regulators. Weller had been inspecting the site’s injection wells, which were used to enhance the recovery of oil, for the better part of a decade, certifying them as safe. After the EPA’s discoveries, workers at the company that operated the wells, Roseclare Oil, accused its manager, Daniel Lewis, of having conspired to cheat the tests for much of that time.
In 2009, Lewis was convicted of a felony charge for gaming the safety tests on Roseclare’s wells and was sentenced to 3 years probation and a $5,000 fine. He maintains his innocence, saying the wells were rigged by his father, who ran the company’s local operations until his death, but said such practices were typical in Kentucky’s oil and gas industry. “I’d say it’s pretty common,” said Lewis, whose probation was commuted in 2011. “But it’s not something people go around talking about either.”
From Lewis’ perspective, injection well operators sometimes have little choice but to try to fool inspectors. Many wells are decades old and were drilled before the current regulations were written. Some are decrepit, their cement aging and cracked. They also can’t be easily – or cheaply – repaired.
Lewis, who is now a part-owner of Roseclare and continues to run its operations, said that before wells were due for EPA inspections he would pretest them himself. If one failed, he’d enter problem-solving mode, prepping the site for the EPA’s arrival. Two of his employees testified that he ordered them to fabricate and install the diverters.
“You go and work in it and try to get it to hold and it won’t hold,” Lewis said of the wells. “What are you going to do? It’s kind of a ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’”
Randy Ream, the Assistant U.S. Attorney for Kentucky’s Western District who prosecuted the case against Lewis, called his scheme unusually elaborate but agreed that efforts to get around the rules for injection wells are common. Sometimes, he said, they result in the contamination of private drinking water wells.
“We have people who have constructed wells that are not certified injection wells, or we have people who will put their brine in a tank and carry it over and put it in somebody else’s well,” Ream said. “One guy, he’s got oil coming out of his shower head.”
“There is just so much brine,” Ream added, “and you have to get rid of it.”
So Many Wells, So Few Inspectors
One obstacle to more effective enforcement in Kentucky and elsewhere, Ream said, is that regulators cannot always keep up with well tests and inspections.
According to EPA records, Kentucky has 3,403 Class 2 wells, which are supposed to be tested for mechanical integrity once every five years. But since 2007, an average of just 253 wells a year have been tested, less than half as many as there should have been to remain on schedule.
A spokeswoman for the EPA’s regional office in Atlanta said in an email that only half of Kentucky’s injection wells are actively used and only active wells can be tested. She said mechanical integrity tests are performed on each well every 36 months, but did not address the discrepancy between this schedule and the number of tests reflected in EPA data.
The EPA employs just six people to check its wells across the southeast, not just in Kentucky, but in Tennessee and Florida, too. Those same people are also responsible for working with state inspection programs in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, which have their own inspection staffs.
Most states aim to visit injection sites at least once a year, and some meet or exceed that schedule, EPA records show. Ohio, for example, recently added staff dedicated exclusively to injection oversight and visits its active injection sites every 12 weeks. (Ohio also insists that Class 2 wells meet many of the more stringent testing and permitting regulations it uses for Class 1 hazardous waste wells.)
“Ohio’s [rules] are based on what we felt we needed to develop to continue to alleviate any concerns,” said Tomastik, of Ohio’s Department of Natural Resources. “Obviously without regulatory presence in the field, the operator is not concerned about operating within the requirements.”
But understaffing seems to be endemic across drilling states, especially where state regulatory agencies are responsible for checking both producing oil and gas wells and injection wells for waste or to enhance production.
In Montana, EPA auditors noted that inspectors are choosing which wells to inspect and have a “significant” workload. In North Dakota, EPA auditors also noted the pressures of “exponential” growth and an “increasing workload.”
To meet the goal of inspecting each well annually, Texas inspectors would have to visit eight wells a day, every day, including Sundays and Christmas. That’s after Texas’ Railroad Commission hired 65 staffers last year to help inspect the state’s 428,000 wells.
Nye, the commission’s spokeswoman, said the state had sufficient funding and inspected each of its commercial disposal wells twice last year.
“The Commission has a stringent and comprehensive review process for these wells,” Nye wrote in an email. “Railroad Commission staff work diligently to ensure saltwater disposal wells are not and will not be a problem.”
But inspectors don’t check on private disposal wells, which are far more numerous, with the same regularity. Nor do they keep a schedule for when officials should conduct such visits.
Other states are struggling under similar burdens. In Wyoming, inspectors would also have to check eight wells a day for each well to be checked once a year – a pace possible if wells are clustered together, experts said, but otherwise difficult to achieve. In West Virginia and Kansas, inspectors would have to check seven wells per day.
Visiting injection wells often ranks low among inspectors’ priorities unless there is an accident or spill, according to a 2007 Texas auditor’s report. The most urgent responsibility for regulators, beyond responding to emergencies, is typically overseeing the development of new oil and gas wells.
The result is that several years can pass between inspections of many injection well sites. In 2010, state regulators visited less than half of the Class 2 sites that a federal well inventory shows they were responsible for monitoring, ProPublica’s analysis showed. EPA inspectors checked on such wells even less frequently, visiting less than one-quarter of the sites under their jurisdiction in 2010.
“I don’t give a darn whether you have federal regulations, or a squeaky clean permitting system,” said Bill Bryson, a member of the Kansas Geological Survey and the former head of Kansas’ oil and gas commission. “If you don’t have somebody going out and looking at the wells it doesn’t do any good, and if you don’t have the right people looking … it doesn’t do any good either.”
Much of the problem with oversight comes down to money, critics say. In some states, budgets and staff for oil and gas agencies have dropped relative to the number of new wells being drilled over the last nine years.
Kansas employs about the same number of inspectors as it did in 2003, even though it drills four times as many new wells. New drilling has nearly doubled in Louisiana over the same period, but the state’s enforcement staff has remained static and its oil and gas budget has increased modestly. In Illinois, drilling has nearly doubled, while the number of enforcement staff has been reduced.
Since the Underground Injection Control program is run under a federal mandate, states rely partly on money from the EPA to fund oversight and enforcement. Federal dollars make up 20 percent of Texas’ budget, for example. But in the last 22 years, the EPA’s annual operating budget for injection has remained about the same: $10 million. Taking inflation into account, funding has dropped at least 40 percent from 1990 to 2012, though the regulations for all well classes have only grown more complex.
“The UIC program has been flat funded for years,” said Dan Jarvis, the field operations manager for Utah’s Division of Oil, Gas and Mining. “With more manpower, obviously you put them on the ground and you’re going to have better compliance. Our field people are some of the greatest guys going, but they are overworked.”
The EPA declined to disclose the operating budget for regional offices that monitor waste wells under federal jurisdiction or oversee state injection programs. Documents show, however, that in 2011 the agency suspended its travel budget for visits to some of the states that have the largest injection programs, including Louisiana, Texas and Oklahoma.
“Do you think we are doing more now than we were doing 30 years ago? No, there is no money,” said Salazar, the former EPA injection expert. “There are not enough people to know what is going on. It is the ideal storm for industry. Less and less people, more and more things that the EPA has to do.”
Ultimately, much of the responsibility for meeting EPA standards falls to companies themselves. Some operators routinely exceed the minimum requirements of injection regulations, says Hughbert Collier, who runs a Texas environmental engineering firm that consults with injection well operators. They conduct their own integrity tests every year and make sure employees visit well sites once a month.
But operators inclined to cut corners have little to hold them back.
“What most people would be surprised about is that regulators don’t have real good control over everything that goes on in the regulated community,” said Miller, the former EPA criminal investigator in Texas. “Most of our environmental law requires self-reporting and that requires honest people.”
When violations are identified – such as the 140 times waste was illegally injected and noted in the regulatory reports – the consequences can be minimal, and only in rare cases do transgressions rise to the level of criminal prosecution. In the three years of national data reviewed by ProPublica, which included more than 24,000 formal notices of violations, only one case was referred to criminal investigators.
Usually, violations result in citations or informal warnings. If operators do not address violations, then modest fines may be levied; in some cases, wells are temporarily shut down. There is no central source of information on the size of fines, but an audit ofLouisiana’s injection program provides a glimpse: In 2011, the state collected an average of $158 for each violation.
After three deaths, two federal worker safety investigations and a criminal prosecution, few injection sites nationwide received as much regulatory scrutiny as those in Rosharon, Texas. Yet, despite all the attention, the wells there later failed on the most basic level.
On Feb. 17, 2010, thousands of gallons of waste that had been deposited into these wells gurgled to the surface in what the Railroad Commission described as a “breakout.” Materials injected far below the earth had managed to migrate back up to the surface, perhaps through an old well missed by regulators.
As of this June, investigators were still analyzing whether the chemicals injected underneath the site had reached water supplies.
Jesse Nankin contributed research for this report.

U.S. Shale Gas Regulators Struggle To Keep Up With Rapid Development, Government Finds

* Regulators not always sure about activity at well sites

* Hydraulic fracturing exempt from some regulations

* Lawmaker says regulators have "one hand tied behind their back"

By Ayesha Rascoe

WASHINGTON, Oct 9 (Reuters) - U.S. regulators are having a tough time keeping pace with rapidly expanding shale oil and gas development, according to a report from a government watchdog released on Tuesday.

Legal limitations and a lack of key data have hampered the Environmental Protection Agency's oversight of shale production, said the report from the Government Accountability Office, Congress' non-partisan investigative arm.

"Officials at EPA reported that conducting inspection and enforcement activities for oil and gas development from unconventional reservoirs is challenging due to limited information, as well as the dispersed nature of the industry and the rapid pace of development," the report said.

Breakthroughs in horizontal drilling techniques and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in recent years have unlocked massive oil and gas reserves trapped in shale formations.

But the surge in domestic drilling has raised concerns about possible water and air pollution.

Both President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Governor Mitt Romney, have touted the shale boom on the campaign trail, with Romney pledging to keep states in charge of most onshore drilling.

The Obama administration has said that states are the primary regulators of shale energy output, but the federal government can offer a template for effective oversight.

Critics of shale oil and gas drilling have charged that federal regulation of the practice is inadequate, especially since hydraulic fracturing is exempt from certain EPA rules.

The report was requested by Democrats in the House of Representatives and the Senate who have raised questions about fracking.

The GAO found that the EPA has difficulty investigating water contamination cases because there is often no information on the quality of water before drilling began to use for analysis.

A separate report issued by the GAO on Tuesday reviewing hazards associated with shale energy development said the risk to aquifers may be linked to the depth of drilling, citing studies that have found that the fracturing process itself was unlikely to directly affect groundwater because drilling typically takes place thousands of feet below water sources.

In the GAO's report on challenges regulating shale production, the EPA said it does not always know where to conduct inspections or enforce certain regulations because it sometimes does not have information on what activities are going on at well sites.

In some cases, the EPA must completely rely on companies to identify themselves as subject to regulations, the GAO reported.

"Regulators have operated with one hand tied behind their back for too long when it comes to the oil and gas industry," said Congressman Edward Markey, one of the lawmakers who requested the report.

Markey and other lawmakers have pushed for legislation that would expand federal oversight of hydraulic fracturing, a move the industry has warned is unnecessary and could curb development.
(See link for photo collection.)

Fracking Regulations In States Leave Wells Without Inspection, Environmental Group Says, by Tom Zeller, Jr., HuffPo, 9-25-12

Hundreds of thousands of active oil and gas wells go without government inspection in any given year, and fines for regulatory violations are too small to change drilling company behavior, according to an energy watchdog group's review of regulation and enforcement activities in six states.
The 124-page report, released Tuesday by the Oil & Gas Accountability Project at Earthworks, an environmental and public health advocacy group based in Washington, examined well inspection data, violations, enforcement actions and penalties in Colorado, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.
The analysis suggested that state regulators are often understaffed, underfunded, or otherwise unable to keep pace with rapidly expanding oil and gas exploration and the attending risk of spills, leaks, contamination and accidents that might arise through negligence or deliberate shortcutting. The review lands amid a contentious presidential election that has been animated in part by starkly different views on energy development and the appropriate role of the federal government in ensuring that public health and the environment are protected from industrial activity.
"I was surprised at how uniformly inadequate things were," said Bruce Baizel, a staff attorney with Earthworks. "If you compare this to building a house -- you have to have multiple inspections during the home-building process. Why is that not the case here, with oil and gas drilling? It should be. But you can get a permit to drill a well and never see a single inspection. The regulators don't like for that to happen, but it does happen."
Oil and gas industry representatives, as well as state regulators, quickly dismissed the report as both flawed and biased.
"As could be expected from Earthworks, this is not a scientific study or even a sincere attempt to fix any supposed problems with state regulation," said Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, an industry lobby group. "Its key recommendation is to shift the burden of proof away from those making accusations about impacts and onto the industry, which naturally would give Earthworks more power to shut down oil and gas development with even less evidence."
Among other things, the new analysis, which took two years to complete and was partially funded with a grant from the Heinz Endowments, a philanthropy based in southwestern Pennsylvania, found that only a fraction of active wells in any of the six states examined are actually inspected by state regulators to ensure that they comply with state rules and regulations.
Texas had the best record on that front, with 47 percent of active wells receiving some inspection in 2010. In Pennsylvania, which has seen an unprecedented boom in natural gas drilling over the last decade, only 9 percent of active wells -- or only about 8,000 of the state's roughly 90,000 active wells -- were inspected.
In some states, requirements for frequency of inspection are non-existent, the analysis showed. In others, recommended guidelines have been developed, but often go unmet. Pennsylvania's guidelines, for example, call for at least five inspections of each well during the drilling and preparation stages -- the period when most problems typically occur -- and at least one inspection per year after completed wells begin producing, according to the Earthworks analysis.
In an email message, Katherine Gresh, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, argued that the Earthworks report created a skewed picture by conflating data on tens of thousands of older and safely operating conventional wells, and newer sites that are plumbed using horizontal, hydraulic fracturing.
"DEP focuses its inspection efforts on wells during the site development and drilling phases, which is when environmental issues are expected to arise, to ensure the environment and public health and safety are protected," Gresh said. "Once a well is in production, which the tens of thousands of conventional wells noted in the Earthworks report are, it is essentially a static operation. Wells typically operate without issue for decades. By failing to differentiate between conventional and unconventional wells in terms of inspections, and combining newly drilled wells with wells that were drilled decades ago, the Earthworks report is comparing apples to oranges and misleading the public."
Gresh added that in 2011, the department conducted inspections at 3,837 of the 4,894 unconventional wells in Pennsylvania -- a rate of 78 percent. "To inspect every active well in Pennsylvania, the commonwealth would need to employ thousands of DEP inspectors who would spend considerable time inspecting sites where no environmental issues are expected," Gresh said. "Instead, we focus our resources and efforts on the active well construction and drilling phases, which is where the focus obviously should be."
The Earthworks analysis also argued that while penalties have been increasing in many states, the sums pale in comparison with profit being reaped by drilling companies. The total amount of fines collected from 2009 to 2011 ranged from a high of $4 million (collected in Pennsylvania in 2010) to a low of $14,000 (collected the same year in New Mexico), according to the analysis. By comparison, the market value of a single gas well in Pennsylvania, the report found, was estimated to be about $2.9 million, suggesting that companies are able to simply absorb penalties as a cost of doing business, rather than alter behavior.
"In preparing to do this research, we did an initial round of discussions with former regulators and ex-industry inspectors," Baizel said. "They pretty much cut to the chase and said money matters. They told us you'll only get the industry's attention if you hurt their pocketbook, and that anything less is really just the cost of doing business to them.
"You have to have economic consequences in enforcement," Baizel added. "That was the bottom line."
Oversight of energy development has become a central issue in the 2012 presidential campaign, with the administration of President Barack Obama coming under withering attack from Republican challenger Mitt Romney for what he describes as stifling and onerous regulation of oil and gas producers. Fossil fuel producers have also redoubled advertising and lobbying efforts to unseat Obama in November.
In an energy policy white paper released last month, Romney argued that "President Obama has intentionally sought to shut down oil, gas, and coal production in pursuit of his own alternative energy agenda," and that "states have crafted highly efficient and effective permitting and regulatory programs that address state- specific needs.
"[F]rom oil and gas and coal to wind and solar and biofuels," the Republican candidate continued, "states are far better able to develop, adopt, and enforce regulations based on their unique resources, geology, and local concerns."
Baizel said the review of state policies suggests that is not the case.
"Romney needs to read the data in this report, because it doesn't support what he's suggesting," Baizel said. "The states are not able to enforce the rules as they are, so piling more on their plate is not going to get a better result." Baizel added that proper oversight needs increased cooperation among local, state and federal agencies.
In response to an email query, an aide with the Romney campaign noted that under the candidate's proposed plan to shift more regulatory responsibility to the states, federal agencies would "certify state processes as adequate" before control is transferred.
Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, the largest national trade group representing oil and gas companies, said the industry was already among the most heavily regulated in the country -- both at the state and federal levels.
"Our companies comply with numerous federal statutes including the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act, and Occupational Health and Safety Act," Carroll said in an email. "Our companies also comply with numerous state regulations and stringent industry standards. We maintain our commitment to safety and environmental stewardship. The future of our industry and fueling America's future depends on it."
Still, the Earthworks report, titled "Breaking All the Rules," suggested that in many states, regulators are pressured to by industry representatives to rush permitting at the expense of careful oversight.
"During oil and gas booms, state agencies typically come under pressure from the oil and gas industry (as well as some elected officials) to expedite permits for drilling and other oil and gas development processes," the report noted. "By reducing the time spent on reviewing permits, agencies are less likely to consider site-specific permit conditions, which could ultimately impede enforcement actions.
"This report shows that states across the nation are betraying one of the basic agreements between government and the governed: to enforce the law," the report concluded. "That betrayal feeds into the growing lack of confidence that government should be about equal treatment and not about financial or political clout."
(See link for graph.)

New York Groundwater: Methane Detected In About 9 Percent Of Wells Tested In New Study, 9-5-12, HuffPo

About 9 percent of New York state water wells contain enough dissolved methane to require monitoring and other safety measures, according to a new study.
The research tested more than 200 wells used for drinking water across the state for the explosive gas, which is naturally occurring but can be dangerous if ignited. In 2 percent of wells, methane levels were so high that the gas needed to be vented off to avoid potential detonation.
"The research is important because it raises the awareness of the natural quality of people's drinking water," study leader William Kappel, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), said in a statement. "Well owners should work with local health departments to understand the quality of their drinking water to know ifmethane or other chemicals are present."
Methane is odorless and colorless and is the main component of the natural gas used to heat homes and make electricity. The gas occurs naturally in its dissolved form in some groundwater systems, USGS director Marcia McNutt said in a statement.
Six million New York state residents get their drinking water from groundwater, making water quality an important issue. In the new study, Kappel and his colleagues analyzed well-water samples collected between 1999 and 2011. They found that 91 percent of wells were free of methane. Seven percent, however, contained levels greater than 10 milligrams of gas per liter of water. Well owners with methane levels this high should contact their local health departments for help with monitoring or remediation, according to the USGS. Another 2 percent of wells had levels greater than 28 milligrams of methane per liter. At those levels, venting of the gas is necessary to prevent possible explosions. [10 Greatest Explosions Ever]
Methane pollution is a concern where energy companies drill for oil and natural gas. Wells, oil-field tanks and other equipment can leak the gas, causing air pollution. One study, published in May 2012 in the Journal of Geophysical Research, found that oil and gas operations in northeastern Colorado leak about twice the amount of methane as industry estimates would suggest. These findings have implications for global warming, as methane is a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere, much like carbon dioxide.
Given increased energy exploration and drilling in New York and Pennsylvania, the new groundwater research will help establish the baseline for normal levels of methane in New York, according to the USGS.
Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas or LiveScience @livescience. We're also on Facebook & Google+.

Pennsylvania's 'Permit Decision Guarantee' Puts Public 'At Risk,' Critics Charge

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Critics say a new order from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett will pressure state employees to more quickly approve environmental permits, including Marcellus Shale gas wells and projects that involve sensitive wetlands or ecosystems.
The order, signed July 24, is described as a "Permit Decision Guarantee" for the Department of Environmental Protection. Environmental advocates say the order directs the agency to "consider compliance with the review deadlines a factor in any job performance evaluations" of staff.
"It's going to put the public health and safety at risk," said George Jugovic Jr., a former top DEP employee who supervised a staff of more than 200 as the agency's Southwest regional director. "I think the message is clear. Issuing the permit has a higher priority than doing a fair and thorough job of insuring that the application complies with the law."
"This executive order does not recognize any of the complexities of what the agency is required to do," Jugovic added. It also won't affect operations "other than to further beat down an already demoralized staff." Jugovic is president of PennFuture, an environmental group with offices throughout the state.
But DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said in a statement that Corbett's new order "will not sacrifice environmental protection." Sunday said details of the new policy are being developed and the agency will publish them for public comment this month.
"We are confident that we have the staff needed to both carry out the governor's executive order and protect the environment," Sunday said.
Jugovic wasn't convinced.
"This (order) is written by someone who has never had to sit down and review a complicated air or waste permit," he said.
Corbett said last month that many groups have complained about how long it takes to approve permits.
"One of the biggest complaints I have received over and over again is the time it takes for businesses, nonprofit organizations and local governments to work through the permitting process," Corbett said in a statement. "I promised to correct this."
Stephen Kunz, an ecologist with Schmid & Company Inc., a consulting firm based in Media, also criticized the order.
"This is just going in absolutely the wrong direction. They should be slowing down," Kunz said.
Last year, The Associated Press reported that state environmental regulators said they spend as little as 35 minutes reviewing each of the thousands of applications for natural gas well permits. Even then, the regulators said, they didn't spend extra time for requests to drill near high-quality streams and rivers even though the waterways have special state and federal protections.
Kunz said the emphasis on speed might make sense for an agency that promotes business development but not for the DEP.
"That's not the way I think the public expects the Department of Environment Protection to protect the environment," he said. "It's a very short-sighted framework. I think it's a real disservice to the public."

Fracking Operations Run Roughshod over Pennsylvania Homeowners, By Frances Beinecke, 9-26-12, HuffPo

On a recent trip to western Pennsylvania, I visited a man who lived along a leafy country road. He showed me around the house he had built for his wife and three sons and said he wanted to raise his family in a quiet rural area. He thought he had the perfect spot until an energy company showed up on his property and said it had the rights to drill for natural gas beneath his land. Although he owned his land and home -- and paid taxes on them -- he could not protect his property from a drill pad, wells and a pipeline he did not want.
Soon tractor trailers began delivering compressors the size of shipping containers, tanker trucks hauled infracking chemicals, and workers built an industrial drill pad near his house. The last straw came when the company hired security guards to patrol the area -- and stationed them right in the middle of the family's yard.
There was nothing the man could do to stop them.
Every affected family that I met with in western Pennsylvania said they felt displaced on their own property after natural gas companies muscled their way into backyards and fields. Existing health or environmental safeguards are too weak, and poorly enforced. Instead, gas companies are allowed to run roughshod over homeowners and their communities.
Pennsylvania is no stranger to fossil fuel development. The first oil discovered in America was found in Oil Creek in 1859, and Standard Oil built its empire on the state's oil fields. Coal has been mined in the region for decades, and old mine shafts dot the landscape.
Local residents told me they thought natural gas would be the next wave in a familiar tide. Most were used to seeing the occasional "donkey" oil pumps bobbing up and down on a hillside, and figured natural gas operations would have a similar profile.
But once drilling began, they realized that fracking goes way beyond anything they had seen before. Instead of a single donkey, a drill site can be the size of several football fields. Half of it may consist of a huge pit holding water and wastewater. When a well is fracked, operators run compressors 24 hours a day for days. People told me their houses shook the entire time.
Even people who gave energy companies the right to drill on their property are overwhelmed by the scale of industrial development. One man told me, "My dad allowed oil drilling on his land years ago, and he got income from the company. It was just one pump out there. It wasn't a big deal." He figured he would follow in his father's footsteps, but then the massive fracking equipment arrived, and he realized he had been boxed into a corner.
Many oil and gas companies turn out to be careless and furtive neighbors. Homeowners are especially concerned about the chemicals sitting in the giant open wastewater pits called impoundments. Yet the oil and gas industry has resisted every attempt to make companies more transparent, and as a result, too few states require them to disclose the chemicals used in fracking fluids, even in some cases to doctors trying to find out why people may be suffering from medical conditions. Standards for managing and reporting on toxic wastewater are too lax and companies sometimes flout the rules. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Reviewreported that one company worker was dumping fracking wastewater right into a local river.
This isn't an isolated incident. Researchers at PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center found that of the 4,596 fracking sites operating in Pennsylvania between 2008 and 2011, companies violated environmental laws 3,355 times. Some companies see the meager fines levied against them as a cost of doing business. Homeowners, meanwhile, pay the price in polluted air, contaminated water, and decimated property values.
Strong national standards could help protect residents from reckless companies and ineffective state regulators. Yet Senator Hoeven (R-ND) recently introduced a bill that would make it harder for the federal government to regulate fracking. Big Oil's giant lobbying association, the American Petroleum Institute,welcomed the bill, but many local residents will not. Americans should be protected from the hazards of fracking no matter what state they call home.
NRDC is helping achieve that. We are fighting to put stronger state and national safeguards in place, and we created the Community Fracking Defense Project to help local communities to define their own fracking ordinances.
Lawmakers may sit in Harrisburg or Washington and say there is no need for environmental standards, but people living next door to leaking wastewater pits and polluting wells know better. It's time we honor their experience and start holding companies accountable.

This post originally appeared on NRDC's Switchboard blog.

Deepening Doubts About Fracked Shale Gas Wells' Long Term Prospects

This month, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released its bi-annual report on how much natural gas has been produced in the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation which stretches underneath much of Appalachia. Investors were shocked because the production numbers seemed far lower than expected.  Watched closely by market and energy analysts, the report sparked a heated debate about the oil and gas industry's excited rhetoric about fracked shale gas as the cure-all to many of America's energy and jobs needs.
But the story quickly got complicated. The report was released despite lacking data from the state’s second largest driller, Chesapeake Energy, and state regulators never flagged the omission. The amount of gas flowing out of Pennsylvania had actually climbed dramatically.
It was a major flaw, and suddenly the searing spotlight of the media honed in on questions about whether regulators were keeping accurate track of how much gas the wells in their state really produce. How could they overlook such a massive error? Can the public be sure that the updated tally gives an accurate picture of how these wells are performing?

If regulators make mistakes in tracking energy production in their state, how reliable is the companion to that report, which tracks the toxic waste produced by these same companies?

Those are all valid questions that need honest answers. But the most important questions raised in the controversy were largely overlooked.
The amount of natural gas produced from all the fracking going on in Pennsylvania matters not just for the state's residents, its land-use regulations, its waste disposal capacity, and its water use limits. Unconventional gas production data from the Marcellus Shale matters for the nation as a whole because national energy policy is being crafted based on certain long-term assumptions about shale drilling and the price of natural gas.
The oil and gas industry has propagated a vision that fracking unleashes vast amounts of gas which then flows relatively steadily for decades. But a growing mountain of evidence suggests that nothing could be further from the truth. Shale gas wells dry up, sometimes long before they have produced enough gas to cover the costs of drilling and fracking them.
In the oldest shale formation, Texas’s Barnett shale, many aging wells have had to be re-fracked multiple times to keep them from running dry. Re-fracking costs millions of dollars and requires millions of gallons of water.
review last year by the New York Times found that less than ten percent of 9,000 Texas shale wells had recouped their estimated production costs within their first seven years.
This is the dirty little secret that the oil and gas industry rarely will acknowledge. Oil and gas companies don't want to discuss it because high volume slickwater horizontal fracking is so new that there is paltry data to show how wells generally perform over the long run (read: twenty to fifty years).
Over the past year, the total amount of Marcellus gas produced has indeed risen dramatically. But this gas only matters if drillers can pull it out of the ground at a profit. It also only matters if drillers can discern how much money they will have to throw at a well to keep that gas flowing via fracking.
This is why the production data from places like Pennsylvania is so fundamentally important. Not to judge whether more gas is coming out of the Marcellus now -- the current drilling boom means that new wells are constantly drilled across the state, adding an enormous burst of gas each time a well is brought online. But because data about individual wells, tracked over time, can show how quickly each well runs low.
The answer to that question is about far more than whether oil and gas companies can make a profit on the gas or whether investors will lose out. It's ultimately a far higher-stakes issue: whether renewables will not only be far cleaner, but also cheaper than shale gas over the long run. Can today’s low natural gas prices last, or are we on the verge of a gas price spike?
If the accuracy of the production data is questionable, then policymakers in Washington, investors on Wall Street and the public at large will have a tough time getting an accurate picture of how these wells perform over the long run.
Relying on industry rhetoric for answers to these questions is perilous. Consider, for example, Chesapeake Energy, the company behind this summer's confusion over production data.
In 2009, Chesapeake was telling investors that its average Marcellus well would produce 4.2 billion cubic feet of gas equivalent (bcfe) of natural gas over its lifetime.  By 2010, it had hiked its estimate to 5.2 bcfe per well.
But according to a new USGS report, the industry-wide average for wells drilled in the interior Marcellus region (the best performing area) in 2011 will actually be 1.2 billion cubic feet – roughly one fifth of the amount that Chesapeake has told investors and the public its wells in the region can produce.
Do these federal estimates mean that Chesapeake was lying to investors? No. Every company’s acreage is different – there are sweet spots in the shale, and every driller leases the land it thinks will be most profitable and productive.

Chesapeake also includes natural gas liquids in its estimates (the "e" in bcfe indicates that they're including liquids like propane and ethane along with methane gas), but USGS does not, which could account for a small portion of the difference. And both the company and its federal regulators at USGS are making projections into the future with limited history to guide them -- after all, the fracking boom is just over a decade old.
But it does show a wide gulf between the numbers that drillers brag about, and the conclusions reached by independent analysts.
Federal regulators have struggled for some time to get the numbers right when it comes to fracking. When the Energy Information Administration first released estimates for the total amount of gas trapped in the Marcellus, their numbers were stunning. But within less than a year, the agency was forced to drop their projections by roughly 80 percent, as more data showed that early guesses were unreliable.
The new USGS report also shows clearly that individual shale gas wells can be fickle. Some wells are monster wells, able to produce jaw-dropping amounts of gas and making the people who leased their land millionaires overnight. But many other wells in the same region produce very little gas.
For example, the USGS report projects that in the Haynesville shale along the Gulf Coast, the best wells can be expected to produce 20 bcf of gas over their lifetimes. But the worst wells drilled in 2011 can only be expected to generate 0.02 bcf – a thousand-fold difference. The average well in the region will produce 2.6 bcf, the USGS says.

Given that some investment analysts expected far more, and some investors have calculated that Haynesville wells need to produce 5.5 bcf to cover the costs of drilling and fracking, this could spell big trouble for drillers – and potentially a big price spike for consumers.
Companies' hyping of shale gas production and profitability has already had consequences. In the past year or so many of the biggest companies have had to drastically writedown their reserves, partly because the cost of extracting the gas is higher than the price drillers can sell it for. Even though it promised investors untold riches from these shale plays, Chesapeake Energy has gone on a selling spree to try to deal with staggering debt.
All this deeply undercuts the industry's rhetoric and the refrain that will most assuredly get mobilized once again during the upcoming presidential debates about there being a 100-year supply of gas (this myth is unpacked and debunked here).
So, what does any of this have to do with the flap between Pennsylvania and Chesapeake Energy about the well performance data?
It goes to show, yet again, that the uncertainty surrounding our current shale gas bet is as broad and deep as the shale itself.
In Pennsylvania, these problems are especially pronounced. Unlike other energy producing states, Pennsylvania does not have a severance tax on the gas produced in the state, meaning it has less incentive to accurately tally the history of each well. It is also unique in that it only reports its data every six months – all other states release figures monthly.
This all makes it especially difficult for independent analysts who might not have access to the statistics used by the USGS to make their own predictions, to see whether the industry’s claims can be corroborated -- or not.

Originally published at DeSmogBlog.com