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Archive for the ‘Fracking’ Category

Texas always had some natural earthquake activity throughout its history, but that activity seems to be increasing, and despite mounting evidence that oil and gas activity has triggered all of the recent earthquakes in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas regulators have consistently questioned the link.

A study by researchers at the University of Texas and Southern Methodist University argues that humans have been causing earthquakes not just in North Texas but throughout the state for nearly 100 years.  The paper, concludes that activities associated with petroleum production “almost certainly” or “probably” set off 59 percent of earthquakes across the state between 1975 and 2015, including the recent earthquakes in Irving and Dallas.

Another 28 percent were “possibly” triggered by oil and gas activities. Scientists deemed only 13 percent of the quakes to be natural.

Between 1980 and about 2010 there were one to two earthquakes per year in the entire state. Between 2010 and 2015 that rate of seismicity changed to up to 15 small earthquakes per year.  The number of earthquakes continues to rise, with 28 earthquakes recorded in Texas in 2016.

Almost a decade ago, the ground around the densely populated Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex started shaking. As the frequency and intensity of earthquakes increased in a region poorly prepared for the seismic activity, the risk became a priority for the state.

In the 84th and 85th Legislative Sessions, the Texas Legislature tasked the Bureau of Economic Geology in the Jackson School of Geosciences at The University of Texas at Austin with helping to locate and determine the origins of earthquakes in our State, and, where they may have been caused by human activity, help to prevent them from occurring in the future.  And in June 2015, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the 84th Legislature authorized $4.47 million for TexNet.

Since then, the Bureau’s TexNet research team has developed the TexNet Earthquake Catalog, a dynamic mapping web page, which provides information on the location of monitoring stations, and recorded earthquakes across the state.  Check it out – http://www.beg.utexas.edu/texnet

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Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a final rule to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.

Today’s announcement of a regulation designed to monitor and capture methane emissions from not-yet-built oil and gas operations is an important step for the U.S. to combat climate change in the decades to come. But under this rule, methane emissions from existing oil and gas operations will remain unmonitored and uncontrolled.

The EPA’s March announcement of an Information Collection Request to poll the industry as to the feasibility of monitoring and controlling emissions from existing operations will take years, and it could be years before a final rule that applies to existing operations is developed. The climate simply can’t wait that long. The EPA can and should start working on a rule to cover existing methane emissions now.

Research into one of America’s two major oil fracking sites found that the Bakken Shale is leaking 275,000 tons of methane annually. As a greenhouse gas, methane is 87 times more harmful than carbon dioxide. The oil and gas industry has a responsibility to begin monitoring and reducing emissions from existing sources immediately – and the public has the right to expect the EPA to do as much.

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Porter Ranch - photo by Maya Sugarman KPCC

Porter Ranch – photo by Maya Sugarman KPCC

The massive natural gas leak in Porter Ranch, CA, just outside of Los Angeles, has been temporarily capped. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the leak isn’t yet permanently stopped and that it has already done incredible damage over the 111 days it spewed methane and toxic chemicals into the air.

The state of emergency called by Governor Jerry Brown is still in effect for what is being named the largest environmental disaster since the BP oil spill. Over 94,700 metric tons of methane has escaped since October 23, which is one of the largest leaks ever recorded. This incident has taken California two steps back in its progress towards greenhouse gas emissions reductions especially since methane is 87 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. For perspective, the amount of methane released so far from the natural gas leak will have the same impact on climate over the next twenty years as emissions from seven coal power plants. Despite these environmental crimes, not one person has been arrested, although this past week, the citizens of Los Angeles County have begun taking legal action.

Southern California Gas Co (SoCal Gas), a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, is the responsible company for the Aliso Canyon Methane Leak, and is finally facing charges for this disaster. District Attorney Jackie Lacey announced the criminal charges filed against SoCal Gas for failing to immediately report the gas leak at its Aliso Canyon facility to the proper state authorities. The site leaked for three days before SoCal Gas officials contacted the city’s fire department.

Major public health concerns are also leading to lawsuits. Residents across the county are reporting health issues such as nose bleeds, female health problems (excessive bleeding), rashes, vomiting, headaches, and dizziness, and have packed town hall meetings voicing their concerns. One Porter Rach resident, Christine Katz, stated, “Even though you can’t see the gas, it’s there. And that’s the saddest part — people don’t understand it. Because it’s not a mudslide, it’s not an earthquake. You just don’t see the devastation, but it’s there.”

SoCal Gas has yet to release a full listing of the chemicals being emitted from the leak, furthering distrust and anxiety from the community. Local law firms have organized a website (www.porterranchlawsuit.com) for citizens to reach out if they have been impacted. More than 25 lawsuits have been filed pursuing damages from the SoCal Gas and Sempra Energy. For example, a family of an elderly woman has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the gas company, claiming that the leaking chemicals led to the worsening of her health and untimely death this past January.

Legal actions will certainly hurt these gas companies financially, but is this an effective way of enforcing the law? History says no. Time and time again, environmental crimes are punished with fines, and these disasters continue to happen putting the public at risk. New regulations, transparency, and stricter criminal enforcement on the individuals responsible very well could bring justice in these incidents.

Crimes committed under a corporate veil are still crimes and should be treated as such. No amount of money will ever reverse the harsh health and environmental effects the Aliso Canyon Methane Leak is having on the region. But we can put into place policies that make corporations take the environmental risks of their operations much more seriously. A proactive justice process would be exponentially more effective means of dealing with environmental crimes than merely reacting after the fact.

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From Gasland: The Movie - http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/whats-fracking/faq/methane-levels

From Gasland: The Movie – http://www.gaslandthemovie.com/whats-fracking/faq/methane-levels

On Monday, February 1, 2016 from 11:00 am – 6:00 pm EST, EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB)’s Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel will hold a public teleconference to review and discuss the Panel’s first draft of the peer review report regarding SAB’s review of EPA’s Hydraulic Fracturing Drinking Water Assessment.

EPA will use the comments from the SAB, along with the comments from members of the public, to evaluate how to augment and revise the draft assessment. The final assessment will also reflect relevant literature published since the release of the draft assessment.

To participate in the meeting and view meeting materials, visit SAB’s website.

 

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by Jim Malewitz, The Texas Tribune
September 2, 2015

While filling a cattle trough 15 months ago, Ashley Murray noticed something odd occurring in the shack housing her family’s water pump. High-pressure water was spraying everywhere. She switched off the pump, went into the house and asked her husband to take a look. So out walked Cody Murray with his father Jim.

Ashley stood holding the couple’s four-year-old daughter just outside the wood-and-stone pump house. As Jim Murray flipped on the pump, it let out a “woosh.” Cody, a former oilfield worker, knew the sound signaled danger. He threw his dad backwards — just before a fireball shot from the wellhead and transformed the Murrays’ 160-acre Palo Pinto County ranch into an emergency scene.

Somehow, everyone survived the explosion, detailed in legal filings. But the flames severely burned each of the four.

Now, as the Murrays continue their recovery, the family wants to hold someone accountable for the blast, sparked by a buildup of methane gas. They say blame lies with a pair of companies that drilled and operate two gas wells roughly 1,000 feet away from their water well.

Those gas wells are among thousands that dot the Barnett Shale, which stretches some 5,000 square miles beneath at least 25 North Texas counties.

The wells drilled and operated by Houston-based EOG Resources and Fairway Resources, a partner of Goldman Sachs, “are the only possible sources of the contamination,” the Murrays allege in a lawsuit filed last month.

(Family members were not immediately available for interviews.)

“I have scientific testing showing that Mother Nature did not put this gas in the Murrays’ well,” said Christopher Hamilton, the family’s attorney, who called it “a landmark case in Texas.”

Through a spokeswoman, EOG Resources declined to comment on the litigation, citing company policy. Fairway Resources did not respond to messages left at its Southlake office. As of Tuesday, neither company had responded in court.

Scientifically proving the case, a difficult task, would put pressure on the state’s oil and gas regulator — the Texas Railroad Commission — and could reboot an emotional debate about whether years of frenzied drilling in one of the country’s largest gas fields has put groundwater at risk.

The agency has quietly investigated the Murrays’ case over the past year, its records show.

The agency — which straddles the line between industry champion and watchdog — has not openly linked groundwater contamination to drilling activities, and it frequently repeats a refrain that it has not implicated hydraulic fracturing, in particular — the revolutionary method of blasting apart rock to free up gas.

“To be clear, Commission records do not indicate a single documented water contamination case associated with the process of hydraulic fracturing in Texas,” Ramona Nye, a spokeswoman, said in an email.

Lasts spring, the agency effectively shut the door on a high-profile case dating back to 2010 — once reopened — concerning methane-tainted wells in Parker County. The last agency analysis said evidence was “insufficient” to determine whether the accused driller unlocked deep-resting Barnett gas, or if the methane naturally bubbled up from shallower depths.

A few months later, five universities published peer-reviewed research concluding that oil and gas activities (but not fracking itself) tainted some of the same water wells in Parker County. High levels of methane escaped poorly constructed natural gas wells and migrated into shallow aquifers, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science paper said. Substandard cementing likely caused the problem, said the researchers, relying on a set of geochemical tracers different than what the Railroad Commission used.

The Parker County gases arrived in the aquifer without undergoing typical geologic changes, data showed, leading researchers to conclude that they came up through a pipe — likely part of a gas well — and didn’t interact with any water or rocks below the surface.

The commission panned that study and declined to reopen its investigation.

Hamilton, the lawyer for the Murrays, said his evidence points to cementing problems similar to what researchers at the five universities identified, implicating the energy companies.

That analysis, he claims, comes from a team of highly recognized scientists who are working for free, save for travel costs.

“This is the first case I’ve ever had where none of my experts will accept compensation,” said Hamilton. “These guys won’t take any money because they’re totally in it for the science and they don’t want anyone to question their credibility.”

However, the attorney said he could not immediately reveal his data, or the names of his experts because of the discovery timeline in his lawsuit.

The family’s complaint details the explosion’s grizzly results, including several first and second degree burns for Cody, Jim and the child. With burns on his arms, upper back, neck forehead and nose, Cody spent a week in a hospital’s intensive care and burn units. With his nerves damaged, the 38-year old cannot drive — because he can’t grip a steering wheel — and cannot work, the document says.

The Murrays are seeking more than $1 million in relief.

So far, the Railroad Commission has documented high methane levels in the Murray well, and others nearby. One family’s well registered methane at more than five times the federal limit. But the data were “inconclusive with respect to specific migration pathways from shallower sources,” that analysis said.

Nye said the agency is looking at records for local oil and gas wells to make sure companies built them correctly.

After examining the Railroad Commission water well analysis, Hugh Daigle, an assistant professor in the University of Texas at Austin’s department of petroleum and geosystems engineering, agreed that the data was inconclusive, and said it looked like the agency was on the right track in investigating the contamination.

“There’s a lot of different places that gas could be coming from,” he said. “They’re doing the right thing to try to figure this out.”

Meanwhile, water concerns extend beyond the Murray ranch.

Rebecca and Larry Norris, a couple living just west of the Murrays, said their water has been turning everything orange — the sinks, the tub — for the past few years, beginning around the time the drilling companies arrived.

They reported the problem to the Railroad Commission shortly after the explosion, but haven’t heard back — “not a peep,” Rebecca, 65, said. (Nye said the agency was looking into why it may not have responded.)

In her house sitting near six wells, Rebecca, said, “you wonder, just wonder” what’s in the water.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2015/09/02/well-explosion-could-put-pressure-texas-regulators/.

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As hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has become commonplace in many states across the country, the problems it creates have become apparent. There’s the noise, inconvenience, traffic (and accompanying accidents, injuries and fatalities), road damage, wildlife disruption, artificial earthquakes, and air pollution that accompany fracking. Worst of all though, is the impact on water – both the large quantities that are used and water contamination.

From Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress - Water Demand by the Numbers

From Ceres “Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress – Water Demand by the Numbers”

According to a Ceres’ report: “97 billion gallons of water were used, nearly half of it in Texas … [by] 39,294 oil and shale gas wells hydraulically fractured between January 2011 through May 2013”. Texas is more vulnerable than any other state to water depletion from fracking because Texas has the most wells and because much of the state is subject to water shortages.Eagle Ford data summary from Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress - Water Demand by the Numbers

From Ceres “Hydraulic Fracturing & Water Stress – Water Demand by the Numbers”

From Ceres:

Nearly half of the wells hydraulically fractured since 2011 were in regions with high or extremely high water stress, and over 55 percent were in areas experiencing drought.” Across Texas, multiple shale plays (Barnett, Eagle Ford, Permian, and more) are draining the already diminishing reservoirs. Explicitly for Texas, Ceres states, “Total water use for hydraulic fracturing in 2012 was an estimated 25 billion gallons… expected to reach approximately 40 billion gallons by the 2020s.

WASTE

Where does it all go? That filthy, chemical solution once called water has to go somewhere. Possible contamination is always an imminent danger.

From Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources

From the EPA’s “Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources”

Most fracking water does not reenter the water cycle, taking billions of gallons out of the water supply annually. Sometimes wastewater from fracking is sent to central waste treatment facilities, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that most of these facilities cannot significantly reduce TDS (totally dissolved solids) or other contaminants. It’s up to well operators to decide whether to reuse the water if it cannot be released into water supplies. Because Pennsylvania limits disposal wells, about 70-90% of Marcellus Shale wastewater is reused. In Texas, only 5% of wastewater is reused, while the other 95% is disposed of in underground injection control (UIC) disposal wells.

An injection well, as defined by the EPA, “is a device that places fluid deep underground into porous rock formations…These fluids may be water, wastewater, brine (salt water), or water mixed with chemicals.” So rather than reusing or recycling toxic water, it is shot deep underground into porous rock that could be near any number of water formations. An Environment America report stated that 2010 testing of these wells “revealed that 2,300 failed to meet mechanical integrity requirements established by the EPA”. Beyond that, injection well pressure “may cause underground rock layers to crack, accelerating the migration of wastewater into drinking water”.

CONTAMINATION

Fracking is growing a network of toxic waste that is bleeding into our drinking water.

Two scientific papers offer impartial evidence of this toxicity. While neither can say with certainty that oil and gas activities are responsible for this contamination (because proving the source of water contamination is very difficult), both rule it as a prominent possibility that requires more monitoring and research for that certainty.

The first paper, published by UT Arlington researchers in 2013, provides data from 100 private wells. The authors analyzed the links between contamination, distance, depth, and time in relation to a well. The data showed that concentrations of arsenic, strontium, and selenium (all toxic) were significantly higher in samples from active extraction areas compared to historical data. Concentrations of Arsenic, selenium, strontium, and barium were highest in areas near to natural gas wells. Arsenic, strontium, and barium contamination was highest near to the surface, indicating that this could be due to contact with surface sources, including fracking wells.

Another paper by UT Arlington researchers in 2015, examined 550 groundwater samples were taken within the Barnett Shale region. Arsenic, strontium, and beryllium contamination appeared in 10, 9, and 75 samples, respectively. All of these metals present a range of serious health issues.

Thirteen of the thirty-nine dangerous, volatile (can easily change between gas and liquid phase, which means they can cause water and air pollution) organic compounds analyzed were found in the region at least once.

Certain contaminants were detected more frequently in the counties that have the most oil and gas activity within the Barnett Shale region – Montague, Parker, Tarrant, Wise, and Johnson. Methanol and toluene (both toxic) data showed increasing concentration closer to the surface, meaning the source is more likely surface-based (perhaps from fracking well pads or waste ponds). Dichloromethane is a common and abundant chemical at well pads, and it was detected in 122 samples, 121 of which above the EPA federal limit, and 93% found within the active Barnett Shale region. The same contamination has been discovered in the Permian Basin, and “has also been implicated in air quality contamination events associated with unconventional drilling in Colorado”.

Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX) are four volatile, organic compounds that also commonly exist in fossil fuels retrieved by fracking. Their composition and volatility make them a major health hazard: benzene is a known carcinogen, and all four have kidney, liver, and blood effects with prolonged exposure (like drinking contaminated water daily). At least one of these compounds was detected in 69% of collected samples, and 10 wells had detectable amounts of all four BTEX compounds.

83% of samples within Montague County (55 of 66) contained a BTEX compound. This area houses underground injection wells for drilling waste disposal across north-central Texas and Oklahoma… Furthermore, this area is also vulnerable to contamination because it occupies the unconfined outcrop zone of the Trinity aquifer.

Oil and gas has long been a staple of the Texas economy, but that does not excuse the industry’s reckless depletion of natural resources and contamination of our state. Unacceptable waste and contamination of our water supplies is happening all across the nation – the same water that supports our entire country; the same water used for drinking; the same water that farmers use to feed the country. Once the water is all gone or tainted, the infrastructure of our society will collapse.

When an industry is draining the life blood of our land, people, and civilization, it is time for change.

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Defend local controlThere are two bills up for a hearing on Monday, March 23rd that would impact the ability of local communities to pass ordinances to protect the well-being of its citizens around fracking.  We encourage all those concerned about defending their right to local control to attend the hearing and testify or if that is not possible, contact the offices of the members of the committee and let them know how you stand before the hearing.

HB 40 – Darby | et al. – Relating to the express preemption of regulation of oil and gas operations and the exclusive jurisdiction of those operations by the state.

HB 539 – King, Phil | et al. -Relating to the procedural requirements for the adoption of a municipal regulation, limitation, or prohibition on the production, storage, or transportation of oil or natural gas; authorizing a fee.

These two bills are scheduled for a hearing in the House Energy Resources Committee on Monday, March 23, 2015 at 2:00 PM or upon final adjournment/recess of the Texas House.  The committee hearing will be in the Capitol Extension in room E2.010.  The members of that committee are listed below the jump.
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Lobby day group photo 2

Citizen lobbyists working to defend local control on March 2 at the Texas Capitol. Photo courtesy of Candice Bernd, www.truth-out.org.

In an effort to defend local control, known as home rule, a group of North Texan activists traveled to Austin on Monday to lobby lawmakers at the Texas Capitol. Earthworks hosted the event, providing the transportation, education and guidance for the participants as they made plans to speak face to face with elected officials. They were joined by allies from Frack Free Denton, Public Citizen, Clean Water Action, and Environment Texas.

Defend local controlThe citizen lobbyists focused on speaking to legislators belonging to the House Energy Resource committee, House Environmental Regulation committee and the representatives and senators from their districts about defending the home rule rights of municipalities.

Texas has traditionally been a strong home rule state that allows local governments to pass laws to go beyond state laws. Some of the home rule issues included: fracking bans, bag bans, and tree preservation ordinances. Citizens are particularly concerned about several bills that would work to limit home rule:

House Bill 540: (Phil King) This bill would require cities to get approval from the attorney general’s office before putting a citizen’s initiative up for a vote.

House Bill 539: (Phil King) This bill would essentially require cities to pay the state for lost revenues resulting from local oil and gas regulations.

House Bill 1556: (Miller) This bill would limit certain regulations in a county, municipality, or other political subdivision

Senate Bill 440: (Konni Burton) This bill would prohibit cities or counties from banning hydraulic fracturing.

Senate Bill 720: (Konni Burton) This bill would prohibit Extraterritorial jurisdictions (ETJs) from banning hydraulic fracturing.

Senate Bill 343: (Don Huffines) This bill would effectively eliminate home rule for Texas cities by requiring local laws to conform to state laws.

Senate Bill 360: (Estes) This bill would significantly lower the bar for what is considered a regulatory taking, remove the ability of local governments to regulate development to ensure health and safety in a variety of ways, and expand the timeframe for bringing suit when regulations are adopted. Among other impacts it would limit the ability of local government to adopt local drilling ordinances.

Senate Bill 710: (Burton) This bill would establish the parameters of a municipal government designated as a Liberty City (a new form of a general-law municipality)

Lobby day group photo 1

Texans gathered to defend local control on March 2. Photo courtesy of Candice Bernd, www.truth-out.org.

Thus far, there have been many bills filled this session that could take away a city’s right to pass rules to protect the public. As a result, it is important for constituents to make their elected officials know what their concerns are when it comes to local control and how the citizens’ efforts can be better represented in the legislature.

If you are interested in learning more about local control issues, you can visit Local Control Texas for more information.

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2014-11-02 Plastic Bags in Tres - Public Domain ImagesOn January 8th, Governor Abbott announced his intention to rollback regulations that ban fracking for oil and gas, ban the use of plastic shopping bags, and limit which trees property owners can cut down on their land. Unfortunately, although many Texas cities have local control laws in place, Abbott appears to have the support of much of the Texas Legislature in this effort to restrict home rule. With the opening of the Legislative session last month, we have seen the opposition to local control begin to mount.

Representative Phil King, (R- Weatherford) has introduced two bills that, if passed, would restrict cities from adopting municipal ordinances. Specifically, HB 540 would give the Attorney General the right to review local petitions before they are placed on the ballot. In other words, Attorney General Ken Paxton would decide whether local petitions or referendums in cities across Texas would break federal or state laws. Cities would not be able to place items on the ballot if the Attorney General found them to violate any of these laws. King’s second bill HB 539, relates specifically to the banning of oil and gas activities, and would require cities to pay the state back for any lost in revenue due to the passage of a city ordinance. If passed, both HB 540 and HB 539 would make it very difficult for cities to ban practices such as fracking in their own backyards

On the Senate side, Senator Konni Burton (R – Tarrant) introduced SB 440 that would restrict a county or municipality from prohibiting hydraulic fracturing treatment of oil and gas wells. Even worse, Senator Don Huffines (R – Dallas) introduced SB 343, that expressly bans local governments from implementing an ordinance, rule or regulation that conflicts with an existing state statute. In other words this bill would effectively end local control and have far reaching consequences way beyond environmental ordinances.

Governor Abbott and his Texas oil and gas industry backers argue that allowing local control over fracking risks creating a patchwork of regulations in different cities instead of a comprehensive solution to solve an issue that is paramount in our state.

Conversely, towns advocating for local control to solve environmental problems say they, not the state, should be able to decide the terms of matters that affect the health and well-being of their residents. And they are well within their rights to do so. Texas is a state with a long standing proud tradition of home rule and when our state agencies don’t do the best job of protecting Texans and taking responsibility for the clean- up cost of industrial operations, local governments should have the power enact home rule.

One of the targets for the attack on local control is the ban on plastic bags currently in place in ten Texas cities including Austin and Dallas; an ordinance Governor Abbott calls overregulation. However, these bans reflect the fact that the majority of residents in these ten cities simply want to make an effort clean up their cities and it’s cheaper to stop using so many single-use plastic bags than to pay people to pick them up. If people don’t want to see bags in their trees, they should be able to take action.

The Legislature this session wants to crack down on municipal ordinances passed by local governments around the state. However, these are ordinances that have been deemed necessary by the cities and have the support of the majority of their residents. As the attacks mount in the Legislature, it will be important for local leaders and citizens to show their support for local control or else risk that right being taken away.

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Coalition for Sensible SafeguardsThe Coalition for Sensible Safeguards strongly opposes the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA), which the House passed on Tuesday. They are urging members of Congress to oppose it and The White House  has issued a veto threat for the Bill . This innocuous-sounding bill is designed to undermine our nation’s environmental, public health, workplace safety and consumer financial security protections – not improve them.

The RAA would rewrite dozens of laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Consumer Product Safety Act and the Food Safety Modernization Act by requiring federal agencies to put corporate profits ahead of the health and safety of American workers and families. Agencies would have to produce highly speculative estimates of all the indirect costs and benefits of proposed rules and do the same for any potential alternatives. What counts and does not count as an indirect cost or a potential alternative? The bill leaves that up to the imagination of industry.

In addition, the RAA would hamstring the work of agencies like the Securities and Exchange Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bill would subject their work to review by the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which is infamous for delaying, diluting and blocking important new safeguards. Federal agencies already take years to issue health and safety standards. The dozens of cumbersome requirements added by this bill would make that process even longer.

Any high-stakes rule that miraculously made it through these roadblocks would face unprecedented challenges. The RAA would allow industry lobbyists to second-guess the work of respected scientists through legal challenges, sparking a wave of litigation that would add even more costs and delays to the rulemaking process – while putting the lives, health and safety of millions of Americans at risk.

The costs of blocking crucial standards and safeguards are clear: The Wall Street economic collapse, the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in West Virginia, the West Fertilizer Company explosion in West, TX, countless food and product safety recalls and massive environmental disasters including the Dan River coal ash spill in North Carolina and the Freedom Industries chemical spill in West Virginia are just some of the most recent examples.

It’s no wonder polling shows that Americans want better enforcement of our nation’s rules and standards. Congress should listen to the public and stop trying to sabotage the safeguards that protect us all.

To learn more about the potential effects of the bill, see the Coalition for Sensible Safeguards’ 2011 report: Impacts of the Regulatory Accountability Act. The latest version of the bill has been partially revised, but the problems at the heart of the bill remain.

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Blog Post PicTwo non-profit and non-partisan investigative journalism organizations, the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News, have concluded through their joint investigation that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Railroad Commission protect the oil and gas industry instead of the public whom they claim to serve.

Fred Wright and Morris Kocurek were two oil and gas regulators working for the Texas Railroad Commission who received praise from their supervisors, promotions, and merit raises throughout their careers. But they may have done their jobs too well. They were fired in 2013 for what they believe to be their insistence in making sure oil and gas operators followed the rules and regulations in place to protect the public and the environment.

Wright was responsible for determining whether oil and gas wells were up to code to prevent groundwater contamination. He was often encouraged or coerced by his superiors to bend the rules, to say that operators had met compliance standards when they had not. In 2013, his superiors told him that complaints had been filed against him by the operators claiming he was “unreasonable to work with” and “does not attempt to offer solutions to bring them in compliance with commission rules”, citing that Fred’s methods for compliance would be “costly”. Wright’s boss at the time, Charlie Teague, insisted that Write approve oil and gas wells despite the fact that they were in violation of statewide rules.

As the enforcer of proper toxic waste disposal in the oil and gas industry, Kocurek faced very similar problems. He said his bosses made it clear that he was supposed to go easy on the industry. The violation notices Kocurek filed were usually processed very slowly and follow-up inspections were assigned to the more lenient inspectors. Eventually, Kocurek realized the influence that the industry had on its supposed regulators and his reports were all ignored. Violations would disappear after the right phone calls were made.

Documents obtained from the Railroad Commission through the open-records corroborate the stories of Mr. Wright and Mr. Kocurek. Wright has filed a civil lawsuit alleging wrongful termination. He has also filed a federal whistleblower complaint. Kocurek, on the other hand, hasn’t taken any legal action and would rather forget the whole thing.

According to InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity, the Railroad Commission is controlled by three elected commissioners who have accepted nearly $3 million combined in campaign contributions from the industry during the 2012 and 2014 election cycles, according to data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. In the case of the Railroad Commission and the TCEQ, money talks and it’s louder than the voice of Texas citizens.

Read their extensive report here: [http://books.insideclimatenews.org/fired]

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Denton’s fracking ban was approved by voters on November 4 and takes effect today on December 2. For many residents in the state of Texas, Denton’s recent ban on fracking is a watershed moment as Texas’ first ban against fracking within city limits. Denton’s city council promises to defend its ban despite opposition from the oil and gas industry as well as state officials who argue that this ban violates state law. This recent ban serves as a beacon of hope for Texas residents wanting to challenge the dominance of the oil and gas industry here in Texas.  We are seeing more Texas towns seek fracking bans.

Reno, Texas had its first earthquake last year, confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey, and then hundreds of earthquakes since which residents believe are due to fracking. On the outskirts of Reno lie disposable wells where millions of gallons of “water” are injected for hydraulic fracturing.

Barbara Brown, a resident of Reno, claims that sinkholes on her property and cracks on her front steps and above the door are because of fracking activity. She added, “They’re destroying our land, they’re ruining our health,” complaining of the noxious fumes produced by fracking. The town of Presidio, Texas is also trying to protect themselves against fracking. Their biggest concern is protecting their water source from fracking contamination.

Near fracking sites, the amount of toxic chemicals and carcinogens detected are tremendously high. These chemicals pose a significant public health risk according to Dr. David Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany-State University of New York. Researchers from the University of Washington and Yale University conducted a study that found that residents within 1 kilometer of a gas well had up to twice the rate of health problems per person compared to those who lived 2 kilometers away or further.

In October of this year, it was discovered that fracking sites injected about 3 billion gallons of fracking wastewater into California’s drinking-water and farm-irrigation aquifers. The Central Valley Water Board reported high levels of arsenic, thallium, and nitrates in the water supply [Arsenic is a carcinogen that weakens the immune system; thallium is used for rat poison]. Needless to say, this does not serve well for California as it continues to suffer an unprecedented drought.

Across the state, Texans are taking the example of Denton in using local democracy to counter the oil and gas industry which is destroying our environment and poisoning our water and the air we breathe.

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Amid big losses for the more progressive candidates on the Texas statewide ballot, Denton residents voted to ban fracking within city limits.  This is the first fracking ban in Texas.  The ballot language was:

SHALL AN ORDINANCE BE ENACTED PROHIBITING, WITHIN THE CORPORATE LIMITS OF THE CITY OF DENTON, TEXAS, HYDRAULIC FRACTURING, A WELL STIMULATION PROCESS INVOLVING THE USE OF WATER, SAND AND/OR CHEMICAL ADDITIVES PUMPED UNDER HIGH PRESSURE TO FRACTURE SUBSURFACE NON-POROUS ROCK FORMATIONS SUCH AS SHALE TO IMPROVE THE FLOW OF NATURAL GAS, OIL, OR OTHER HYDROCARBONS INTO THE WELL, WITH SUBSEQUENT HIGH RATE, EXTENDED FLOWBACK TO EXPEL FRACTURE FLUIDS AND SOLIDS?

Frack Free DentonClearly, the people of Denton were convinced that this is the best way to protect their health, safety and quality of life.  The science strongly supports this view.  The environmental and health impacts of fracking are numerous, severe and some are long lasting.  Releases of toxic pollutants into the air are making people sick in the short term and causing long-term health impactsWater pollution from fracking operations poses health risks and hardship on people whose water supply is destroyed.  Billions of gallons of water are removed from the hydrological cycle when Texas is already struggling to meet its water needs.  Ejection wells in some areas are causing earthquakes.  On top of all that, methane leakage from fracking, natural gas processing, and transportation of natural gas is contributing to climate change.

There will be legal challenges to the Denton fracking ban, and possibly legislative action to try to roll it back.  That’s where the rest of us who care about protecting human health and the environment come in.  We can’t leave Denton residents to fight alone.  This is not a problem that is unique to them, and it’s one that we all contribute to by using natural gas.  Our individual and community decisions are impacting real people in serious ways.  Natural gas is not a clean or harmless energy choice.  Its use should be minimized as much as possible.  That includes moving away from natural gas-fired power plants, not building more of them.

Even if Denton’s fracking ban stands up to legal challenges and avoids legislative destruction, many communities in Texas will continue to suffer the impacts of fracking.  Denton has the benefit of being an urban area with a significant student population.  The Eagle Ford area, on the other hand, is largely rural and less affluent and residents find themselves powerless against the rampant fracking around them.  The community advocates who worked to pass the fracking ban in Denton deserve an incredible amount of credit for their work, as do Denton residents for making the smart decision to protect themselves.  Now we must not forget about those left on the front lines of fracking who are less able to organize to protect their health, their land, our shared water resources, and the climate.  We need a Sharon Wilson for every fracked community.

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Update

This election has broad implications for Texas, regardless of the outcomes.  With almost all of the statewide races expected to turn over due to the state’s governor stepping down after 12 years in that office, all of the statewide offices had incumbents and new candidates vying to move up the chain.  But some cities also have races and other measures on their ballots that will dramatically change things.

Austin, is moving from a 7 member council (including the mayor) with all members elected at large to a 10 member council with members elected within a geographical district and a mayor elected at large.  This means the entire governing body of the City of Austin will be changing after today and their voters are facing a slate of 78 candidates on their ballot.

Update on Denton Fracking Ban measure -in yesterday’s election the ban passed with nearly 60 percent of the vote.  The ban’s passage will almost certainly trigger litigation, with energy companies and royalty owners arguing that state drilling regulations trump Denton’s rights and that the city was confiscating mineral rights, which have long been dominant in Texas law.

Just as important is a measure on the Denton ballot.  In 2010, Denton citizens got the city to adopt an ordinance that required a minimum of 1,000 feet between a gas well and schools, homes, churches, parks and other “protected” land uses, but  just before passing the ordinance, the council added an amendment that allows new homes to be built within 250 feet of land platted for drilling, where companies can re-drill and re-frack existing wells.  Since the passage of the ordinance, Denton residents realized that increasing setback requirements wouldn’t be enough and started collecting signatures to force the City Council to vote on a fracking ban which then got kicked to the voters.  The referendum required  596 signatures from registered voters—or one-quarter of the number of people who voted in the last local election,  nearly 2,000 verified signatures were collected a full month before the deadline. If this measure passes today, Denton will be the first city in Texas to ban fracking.  This ballot measure will not only have major implications for the city of Denton is poised to have ripple effects throughout Texas and beyond the state’s borders. This is one to watch.

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A new investigation shows a strong correlation between the fracking boom and a significant increase in fatal crashes in Texas.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is known for the environmental dangers it poses: obscene water use, groundwater contamination and the release of greenhouse gasses. An equally dark side to the practice has recently been revealing itself.

Texas Increase in Vehicle Accidents and Fatalities as Fracking IncreasedWorking together, The Houston Chronicle and Houston Public Media conducted an investigation that found fatalities involving commercial vehicles on Texas roads have increased dramatically since the fracking boom of 2008. In 2009 there were a reported 352 highway fatalities involving commercial vehicles. That number jumped to 532 in 2014; a 51 percent increase.

For decades, Texas’ incidents of auto fatalities were in decline. Improved safety standards, such as seat belts, child seats and airbags made being on the road less deadly. However, Texas saw an 8 percent increase between 2009 and 2013, the same time the fracking boom started.
(more…)

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