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Posts Tagged ‘fracking’

By Vanessa Ramos and Max Anderson

2014-03-16 Eagle Ford Shale - Fracking RigEnvironment Texas, a statewide citizen-based environmental advocacy group, hosted a fracking action camp Sunday, March 16th,through Monday, March 17th.
Sunday attendees traveled south through Gonzales, Nordheim and Cuero, Texas, to visit the Eagle Ford Shale, one of the largest shale plays in the United States.

The landscape is dotted with well pads, drilling rigs, cranes, flares, storage tanks, waste pits, pipelines, pipeline pumping stations, 18-wheelers, mobiles offices, fences, surveillance cameras, and RV man camps. While some residents have made millions off of royalties from oil and gas leases, others are seeing their property value, health, and the integrity of their land decline.

Halfway between Yorktown and Nordheim, attendees met up with resident Lynn Janssen and were able to ask her questions.

Janssen’s land has been in her family since her grandfather bought it in 1897.  Mrs. Janssen and her neighbors are organizing to stop two large disposal pits from being put next to their property. Their growing concern is about the health consequences of living near a disposal pit for an extended period of time, due to air pollution and water runoff.

2014-03-16 Eagle Ford Shale - Fracking EquipmentSome of these health consequences concerning citizens of Nordheim are air pollution from chemicals and volatile organic compounds (VOC) like benzene, toluene, and xylene. VOS’s are known to cause cancer, and many times are emitted into the air by the practice of flaring. There is also concern with the toxic chemicals found in fracking fluid.  However, an even bigger concern is hydrogen sulfide gas, which is deadly in high doses and abundant in the Eagle Ford Shale.

Attendees looked at foam boards filled with maps and disposal well locations in Janssen’s garage. Mrs. Janssen explained some of the pictures on the boards were from 1.1-inch of rain that, in an hour’s time, had streamed from the property designated for a disposal pit site onto her property.

One map that has citizens and Mayor Kathy Payne’s attention is the waste pit sand disposal well that has already been permitted and is under construction, which sits 150 feet from the city limits sign and the high school in this small town.  The mayor is continuing to fight for the air and water for this small community, but it’s an uphill battle.

On Monday, March 17th, attendees met up with Irma Gutierrez, the Director of Outreach for Congressman Pete Gallego, at the Congressman’s office in San Antonio, TX. This gave attendees an opportunity to speak about the issues associated with fracking and what they witnessed the day before in the Eagle Ford Shale region. It also gave an opportunity to lobby an elected official and understand the importance of lobbying.

Attendees spoke about the billions of gallons of fresh water being used in Texas fracking, at a time of drought. The toxic wastewater, which is laced with cancer-causing chemicals is a concern in fracking communities.  The CLEANER Act (HR 2825), a bill by Representative Cartwright (PA), would close the loophole that exempts fracking from the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act and protect communities from toxic fracking waste by regulating it as hazardous.

As reported by The Weather Channel, InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity, air quality is another major concern in the Eagle Ford region.  Toxic air emissions from fracking in the Eagle Ford Shale have doubled since 2009, and air pollution from fracking threatens to push San Antonio out of attainment with the Clean Air Act for the first time in history.

Its no wonder that communities are feeling the negative health and environmental impacts of fracking, given how many exemptions the industry enjoys from our environmental and public health laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and our nation’s hazardous waste law, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

The fracking boom in the Eagle Ford Shale has changed communities and altered landscapes. Production in the Eagle Ford Shale had already reached over 1 million barrels per day (bpd) in August 2013, and it is expected to continue expanding as more wells are drilled. Many residents are concerned about the long-term impacts to their health, water, and communities, after the fracking boom goes bust. The fracking boom in the Eagle Ford Shale could be a disaster in the making.

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Oil drilling site, with pond for fracking water, Cotulla, TX  Photo by Al Braden

Oil drilling site, w/ pond for fracking water, Cotulla, TX
Photo by Al Braden

The Eagle Ford Shale play in south Texas is the 400-mile-long area that has become home to one of the country’s biggest energy booms in the past six years. The thousands of oil and gas wells producing in the region have brought dangerous air pollution to residents.

The Center for Public Integrity, InsideClimate News and The Weather Channel released a new exposé titled, “Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil & Bad Air on the Texas Prairie,” last week. Their eight month investigation reveals the dangers that come with fracking in the form of toxic chemicals released into the air as a result of the complicit culture of the government of Texas. In case you just want to read the highlights of the report, the team was nice enough to summarize their major findings:

  • Texas’ air monitoring system is so flawed that the state knows almost nothing about the extent of the pollution in the Eagle Ford. Only five permanent air monitors are installed in the 20,000-square-mile region, and all are at the fringes of the shale play, far from the heavy drilling areas where emissions are highest.
  • Anadarko Brasada Cyro Gas Plant, Phase 1 of 3, Cotulla, TX. Photo by Al Braden

    Anadarko Brasada Cyro Gas Plant, Phase 1 of 3, Cotulla, TX.
    Photo by Al Braden

    Thousands of oil and gas facilities, including six of the nine production sites near the Buehrings’ house, are allowed to self-audit their emissions without reporting them to the state. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which regulates most air emissions, doesn’t even know some of these facilities exist. An internal agency document acknowledges that the rule allowing this practice “[c]annot be proven to be protective.”

  • Companies that break the law are rarely fined. Of the 284 oil and gas industry-related complaints filed with the TCEQ by Eagle Ford residents between Jan. 1, 2010, and Nov. 19, 2013, only two resulted in fines despite 164 documented violations. The largest was just $14,250. (Pending enforcement actions could lead to six more fines).
  • The Texas legislature has cut the TCEQ’s budget by a third since the Eagle Ford boom began, from $555 million in 2008 to $372 million in 2014. At the same time, the amount allocated for air monitoring equipment dropped from $1.2 million to $579,000.
  • The Eagle Ford boom is feeding an ominous trend: A 100 percent statewide increase in unplanned, toxic air releases associated with oil and gas production since 2009. Known as emission events, these releases are usually caused by human error or faulty equipment.
  • Residents of the mostly rural Eagle Ford counties are at a disadvantage even in Texas, because they haven’t been given air quality protections, such as more permanent monitors, provided to the wealthier, more suburban Barnett Shale region near Dallas-Fort Worth.

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2014-02-28 Drilling Rig explores the shale - Mladen Antonov AFP Getty Images

Drilling Rig Reflected in Wastewater Holding Pond
Photo by Mladen Antonov, AFP/Getty Images

Studies released over the past few months have linked pollution from natural gas extraction with birth defects.

In a study released in January by Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers examined data from 124,842 births between 1996 and 2009 in rural Colorado. They examined correlations between how close and dense natural gas development was to the pregnant mother and incidences of various birth defects, including congenital heart defects, neural tube defects, oral cleft, preterm birth and low term birth weight.

The study found that the most exposed mothers, who lived in areas containing over 125 natural gas wells per mile, were 30% more likely to have a child born with a congenital heart defect than a mother who does not live near any wells. One might ask – how is this possible?

Many pollutants from the natural gas extraction processes, including toluene, xylenes and benzene, are suspected to cause physiological abnormalities and mutations in human DNA. These pollutants are known to be able to cross the placenta blood barrier, raising the possibility of fetal exposure to these and other air pollutants.

Of course, air pollutants are not the only danger posed by natural gas extraction. The fluid used in this process is already known to contain over a hundred known or suspected endocrine disruptors – chemicals that can interfere with the body’s responses to estrogen and testosterone – which can lead to many health problems including infertility and cancer. What researches found in a late 2013 study was that groundwater samples taken from areas around natural gas extraction contained very high levels of these endocrine disruptors, while groundwater taken from an area without natural gas had much lower levels. In other words, natural gas extraction is linked with the contamination of groundwater with chemicals that cause infertility.

While researchers cannot say that their studies definitively prove that the natural gas extraction process causes birth defects or groundwater contamination, it is clear that more research needs to be done and the process needs to be further regulated before America continues on an ‘All of the Above’ energy policy. These studies suggest that the future health of generations to come depends on it.

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Small towns like Azle and Springtown, in the North Texas area have experienced about 32 earthquakes over the past two months leaving citizens concerned about what is happening to their home.

According to a recent study from the University of Texas, most earthquakes that are coming from the area are a few miles from the Barnett Shale region. The study also found correlation between injection wells and small earthquakes.  These disposal wells contain chemical contaminated wastewater from oil and gas drilling..  This is part of the process of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking”.

The Railroad Commission has not publicly acknowledge the link between disposal wells and quakes, even with evidence from several studies from Duke University, Cornel University, University of Texas, Texas Christian University, Southern Methodist University and other universities.

According to a story on NPR StateImpact, studies found that oil and gas wastewater disposal wells are a reason for the Eagle Mountain Lake quakes. Disposal wells that inject at higher rates are likely causing quakes.  Studies show that these large amounts of wastewater can cause inactive faults to slip, which causes an earthquake to occur.

In another NPR StateImpact story by Terrence Henry, he writes that under state law, the Commission cannot suspend a disposal well permit unless the operator is in violation of commission rules. There are currently no rules on seismicity, and without this rule the commission has no authority to shut it down. The article also goes on to say that the Railroad Commission is aware of such studies and research linking disposal wells and other drilling activity to man-made quakes, but publicly calls this evidence “theories.”

Young witness at RRC Hearing on Seismic Activity in North Texas - Photo by Sierra Club

Young witness at RRC Hearing on Seismic Activity in North Texas – Photo by Sierra Club

A town hall meeting in Azle, Texas hosted by the Texas Railroad Commission on January 2nd drew 850 residents. The residents had concerns about cracks in their property, sinkholes, earthquake insurance, and possibly having their ground water affected.  They wanted the commission to explain what was happening and asked if disposal wells were the reason for the recent problems. Click here to read more.

The Commission told attendees it would further study the issue of injection wells and quakes, but residents felt they were getting a runaround. Days after this first meeting the Commission announced it would hire a seismologist to investigate local drill sites.
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According to an NBC News story, a study on human-induced earthquakes published today in Science, shows within the central and eastern United States, more than 300 earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater were recorded from 2010 through 2012, compared to an average rate of 21 earthquakes per year from 1967 to 2000.

The hydrolic fracturing (fracking) technique used to produce natural gas and oil involves shooting several million gallons of water laced with chemicals and sand deep underground to break apart chunks of shale rock, freeing trapped gas to escape through cracks and fissures into wells has been linked to human-induced earthquakes, however this process produces earthquakes that are almost all too small to be felt — and the fracking industry is quick to use this fact to say fracking doesn’t cause earthquakes. Nevertheless, larger earthquakes are associated with injection of wastewater into underground wells, a technique used to dispose of the briny, polluted water that comes to the surface after a frack job is completed and a well is producing natural gas and oil, so one might say the industry is a bit too literal, since these activities would not occur if fracking wasn’t occurring.

Click here to read the NBC story.

In Texas, which has seen a dramatic increase in fracking activities in the Barnett and Eagle Ford shale regions, a recent quake registered a 4.8 in May of 2013 near Timpson, TX which sits in the drilling area of the Haynesville Shale.

According to an NPR StateImpact story, researchers have known for decades that disposal wells can cause quakes, but state regulators say they are waiting for more proof. The Texas Railroad Commission, the agency that regulates oil and gas drilling in Texas, is currently considering updated rules for disposal wells in the state, but it says it has no plans to include consideration of man-made earthquakes in that rule making. Click here to read the NPR story.

This begins to make sense when you see that 3% of the Flat Earth Society‘s membership is from Texas.

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According to a story in the New York Times, landowners across the country have signed millions of leases allowing companies to drill for oil and natural gas on their land, but some of these landowners — often in rural areas, and lured by the promise of quick payouts — are finding out too late what is, and what is not, in the fine print.

Energy company officials say that standard leases include language that protects landowners. But a review of more than 111,000 leases, addenda and related documents by The New York Times suggests otherwise:

  • Fewer than half the leases require companies to compensate landowners for water contamination after drilling begins. And only about half the documents have language that lawyers suggest should be included to require payment for damages to livestock or crops.
  • Most leases grant gas companies broad rights to decide where they can cut down trees, store chemicals, build roads and drill. Companies are also permitted to operate generators and spotlights through the night near homes during drilling.
  • In the leases, drilling companies rarely describe to landowners the potential environmental and other risks that federal laws require them to disclose in filings to investors.
  • Most leases are for three or five years, but at least two-thirds of those reviewed by The Times allow extensions without additional approval from landowners. If landowners have second thoughts about drilling on their land or want to negotiate for more money, they may be out of luck.

The leases — obtained through open records requests — are mostly from gas-rich areas in Texas.  If you want to read the entire New York Times story, click here.

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According to the Texas Energy Report, Senate Natural Resources Committee Chairman Troy Fraser, called the energy industry a bit too “thirsty” during a record one-year drought, and warned the oil and gas companies to ramp up the recycling of water consumed during hydraulic fracturing.

Currently much of the chemical-laced water and sand that Texas companies blast into shale formations to release oil and gas is later pumped back underground for disposal.

“It’s going to be an issue next session. I continue to tell the industry they’ve got to get aggressive about water reuse,” Fraser, a Republican from Horseshoe Bay in the Central Texas Highland Lakes region, said during a joint interim hearing on drought held by the Natural Resources and the Senate Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committees.

“In a drought situation, it’s starting to be a problem, a big problem in some areas,” Fraser added of the millions of gallons of water used in fracking. “I’ve been projecting for multiple months that this is coming and we’ve got a crisis out there.”

When asked about the water recovery program and how much water is being recovered from fracking, the industry representative responded that he did not have a specific number of how many companies recycle frack water but added that TXOGA has requested data from its members. He noted that while some companies do have significant recovery operations, others do not.

“Significant,”said Fraser. “That implies a lot.”  But the numbers from the industry were not there to back that implication up.

Fraser said he’d like to see more efficient water reclamation by cities, manufacturers and refiners as well, but he also took aim at the electric power industry.

“Long-term the power industry is going to hear me talking about figuring out a way to convert and get that technology,” he said. “We can’t continue to use the amount of water that we’ve used in the past. The way we are treating our water right now is not sustainable.”

John Fainter, president of the Association of Electric Companies of Texas, said everyone in the state needs to learn more and do more about conserving and saving and reusing water, but he added a threat of his own.  “There is a cost, and the public needs to be aware of that, just like the environmental requirements we’re facing,” he said.

Click here to watch the hearing.

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US Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu

US Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Chu may play a role in sorting out the entangled mess of misinformation and spin about the environmental impacts of gas drilling.

U.S. gas producers are looking to ramp up industrialization in rural areas outside of some of the nation’s largest cities.  Secretary Chu has indicated that the White House has charged the DOE with helping to develop this industry, but in an environmentally responsible way, but no one knows what that looks like at this point.

The Obama administration enforcement of the Clean Air Act is pushing the oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants out of the nation’s electricity fleet. That means tapping and burning trillions of cubic feet of newly booked gas reserves is quickly becoming a de facto energy policy in the absence of federal policies designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions, and gas producers are hoping that gas will replace the coal burners.

Because of these “game changing” new gas discoveries near population centers in Pennsylvania, Texas and New York  have entered the public consciousness through environmental lenses, and the EPA coming under siege because of their new rulemaking on air quality, the DOE is looking to play a larger role.

U.S. energy debate around this industry is dominated by a fear that extracting this gas through “fracking” is too invasive and fouls air and water.

Impacted States and U.S. EPA have been searching for a balance that allows companies to expand their drilling operations, while government agencies craft policy that addresses public concern about contaminating water aquifers, toxic waste pits and air pollution.

The nation’s massive shale and tight gas reservoirs are spread across the Northeast; in the upper Midwest; under Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Arkansas; and north into the Rocky Mountain region.

In May, Chu appointed an Energy Advisory Board subcommittee on natural gas, led by former CIA director John Deutch and which includes Daniel Yergin, chairman of IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, and Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

EPA is the other federal agency looking at the environmental impact of drilling for huge volumes of shale gas, but EPA doesn’t plan to release its initial findings until 2012 at the earliest. Chu’s panel plans to have recommendations on the table in the next few weeks.

Where DOE’s report will fit into the broader array of  investigations into the environmental pitfalls of the gas boom is hard to say.  Regardless, DOE’s authority is limited. Land and water management tied to gas production on private and state lands is left to state and local regulators.

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Public Citizen was lucky enough to have been invited to the release of the new study Flowback: How Natural Gas Drilling in Texas Threatens Public Health and Safety.  We had to split the press conference into three different pieces to get them uploaded, but here we get started with Sharon Wilson and State Rep. Lon Burnam of Ft Worth.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5byZatNW85o]

After that, several other folks dealing with the health impacts of hydraulic fracturing stepped up to the mic: Calvin Tillman, the Mayor of Dish, TX, a city at the heart of the frack debate, Tammi Vajda a resident of Flower Mound and Sister Elizabeth Riebschlaeger who lives on the Eagle Ford Shale, who absolutely brought the house down.

The final clip features my remarks, which you can mostly fast forward through to get to  Alyssa Burgin of the Texas Drought Project.

We heartily recommend you read the report and call your legislators about the problems Texas faces with fracking. And special thanks to Donna Hoffman at the Sierra Club who took this video.  You can check out their blog at texasgreenreport.wordpress.com

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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Texas oil and gas officials will plead with House Appropriations Committee members next week that the industry needs its $1.2 billion annual tax break, more than children need fully funded schools or the elderly need nursing homes to stay open.

The committee will take testimony on April 14 from industry representatives and others on the controversial tax break for producing “high-cost” shale gas. The tax incentive has been for a controversial drilling method known as fracking in which rock formations are broken with high-pressure water injections. It has come under fire in recent weeks as lawmakers grapple with a budget shortfall estimated at $27 billion.

As it would happen, Public Citizen will be participating in a press conference that same morning of Thu Apr 14, at 10am, on the South Capitol steps, with great folks actually living up on the Barnett Shale and who have been documenting the health impacts. If you’d like to show up to show solidarity both for folks living with drilling and to support getting rid of this corporate welfare tax loophole in favor of fixing our budget deficit, feel free to come by.

For folks living in the Barnett Shale region of the state, leaving this tax break in place would just add insult to injury.  Many in North Texas are grappling with environmental impacts from the natural gas drilling that they believe are adversly impacting their water, their air quality and their health.  To suffer the economic impacts of cuts to vital and important services while giving this highly lucrative industry a corporate welfare “tax break” would be too much to ask of these Texas citizens.

The state has been giving out this ‘high-cost’ gas exemption to wells that only cost $24,000 and above to drill, while a leaked interim report from the Legislative Budget Board that was never published shows that eliminating the oil and gas industry’s tax break would bring in $2.4 billion to the state per budget cycle.

It is going to be an interesting hearing.

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March 29th – Bill of the day!

HB 3110 – Bad

by Craddick – Relating to air permitting requirements for certain oil and gas facilities. (more…)

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Are desperate school boards having to make decisions about the fiscal health of their districts now vs the long-term health of their charges in the future?

Mike Norman, the editorial director of the Star-Telegram/Arlington and Northeast Tarrant County, writes about the precarious lab rat position of citizens in the Barnett Shale.  Click here to read his editorial.

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The Texas Supreme Court, the state’s highest civil court, will hear a controversial case over whether a company that plans to build pipeline to carry carbon dioxide and natural gas from Louisiana to site south of Houston qualifies as a “common carrier,”  giving it the power of eminent domain. That means if they want to come through your property and you don’t want to sign the offer they make on your property, they can begin condemnation procedures to just take your property for what they think it is worthAnd that just ain’t right.

The case is scheduled for oral arguments before the Texas Supreme Court on April 19th.  At issue is whether the  Jefferson County trial court ruled incorrectly when it said Denbury was a common carrier (meaning besides the company’s private, for-profit use, the line would be available for public use as well) and therefore could force private landowners to sell right-of-way so the 320-mile stretch of pipe could be built.

The appeals court upheld the trial court.

The industry is watching the case closely, and so should you, as lawmakers this session are considering emergency legislation that would strengthen the position of private property owners in eminent domain cases.  If the Supreme Court rules in the company’s favor and the legislation is passed, we could see a whole network of new pipelines snaking across areas of northeast and east Texas as natural gas companies expand their fracking projects and with a Canadian company pushing the tar sands pipeline from Western and Central Canada, down through the middle of the country on its way to crude refineries in the Houston area.  And they’ll be singing:

So Lord help the sister, who comes between me and my pipeline terminus.

To see the court documents filed in the case, click here.

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By promoting cleaner energy, cleaner government, and cleaner air for all Texans, we hope to provide for a healthy place to live and prosper. We are Public Citizen Texas.

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Senator Wendy Davis (D-Fort Worth) filed Senate Bill 772, which, if passed, would require companies using hydraulic fracturing to mine natural gas in Texas to include a unique tracer compound enabling regulators to determine which party is or is not responsible in the event that the fluids find their way into drinking water supplies.

Sen. Davis compared the tracing compound to “DNA” for gas drilling companies. She said the measure would protect both landowners and the operators in the state’s growing shale plays and resolve questions regarding groundwater contamination allegations.

If an effective tracer compound had been used by Range Resources, it might have gone a long way toward settling a dispute between the Fort Worth company and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over two contaminated wells in Parker County containing methane, benzene and other compounds found in natural gas fracking operations.

To see a copy of Davis’ bill, click here.

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“Gasland,” the documentary film by Josh Fox, that examines whether hydraulic fracturing of shale formations threatens water supplies and poses other environmental hazards, was nominated today for an Academy Award.GasLand

The movie is a cross-country tour that included visits to people who live near several drilling sites, including North Texas’ Barnett Shale.

If you want to see this documentary before the Oscars it is probably not going to be shown in a theater near you anytime soon, but it is available on Amazon or through the movie’s website, or you can even rent it through netflix.

Of course, the gas industry is getting verklempt!  They would prefer you talk amongst yourselves about any other movie, and they’ll gladly give you a topic . . . The Prince of Tides was about neither a prince nor tides. Go!  

However, if you still want to talk or watch something about fracking check out some of our earlier posts that talk about the fracking issue being addressed in the popular medium of TV in both a 60 Minutes segment and an episode of CSI.

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