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By Tara Lohan
We're living beyond our means when it comes to groundwater. That's probably not news to everyone, but new research suggests that, deep underground in a number of key aquifers in some parts of the U.S., we may have much less water than previously thought.
"We found that the average depth of water resources across the country was about half of what people had previously estimated," said Jennifer McIntosh, a distinguished scholar and professor of hydrology and atmospheric sciences at the University of Arizona.
By Coming Clean
A coalition of community and environmental health groups released Thursday a first-of-its-kind research combining air monitoring methods with new biomonitoring techniques to determine if toxic air emissions from natural gas operations could be detected in the bodies of nearby residents.
The study, When the Wind Blows: Tracking Toxic Chemicals in Gas Fields and Impacted Communities, found evidence of eight hazardous chemicals emitted from Pavillion, Wyoming gas infrastructure in the urine of study participants. Many of those chemicals were present in the participants' bodies at concentrations far exceeding background averages in the U.S. population.
“If your drinking water is contaminated with toxic chemicals you might be able to make do with another source, but if your air is toxic you can't choose to breathe somewhere else," Deb Thomas, director of ShaleTest who lives in Wyoming and was one of the study leaders, said.
“No matter which way the wind blows, gas development involves so many emissions sources that people can't help but to be exposed to toxic chemicals from their operations. Unfortunately, this is what everybody who is living with oil or gas drilling now has to look forward to if that drilling leads to production."
Science experts along with community members from Pavillion used a variety of air monitoring and biomonitoring methods in concert to understand if air emissions from gas production equipment are being absorbed into the bodies of nearby residents. They then used new biomonitoring methods that have been developed to detect the signature of hazardous chemicals in study participants through the metabolites or "break-down" products and other evidence of toxic chemical exposure.
“Our family has experienced phantom odors, rashes, hair loss, respiratory conditions, neurological problems, epileptic seizures, cancer and huge hits to how we think and reason," John Fenton, a Pavillion resident and farmer, said.
"These symptoms match up with the known effects of the toxic chemicals emitted in our air from gas production operations. This biomonitoring project was an opportunity to find out if the chemicals we know are in the air, are also in our bodies."
Researchers found volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air emitted from gas operations in Pavillion and in the air immediately surrounding people working and living in the area. Later, researchers found evidence of these same chemicals in study participants' bodies. The study focused on VOCs and a specific family of VOCs named BTEX chemicals (Benzene, Toluene, Ethylbenzene and Xylenes), because these chemicals are known to be hazardous to human health, even at low levels.
VOCs detected in this study are linked to chronic diseases such as cancer, reproductive or developmental disorders, as well as respiratory problems, headaches, nosebleeds and skin rashes. Study leaders note that because VOCs are so ubiquitous in products and in our homes, it is possible that the VOCs detected in participants' bodies came from multiple sources. Having conducted this new “methods development" for air and biomonitoring of these toxic chemicals, researchers hope to improve upon these methods to further understand how these chemicals travel through the environment.
When the Wind Blows details these specific findings:
- Air sampling found toxic chemicals present in the air near Pavillion, including BTEX chemicals, which are consistent with those associated with oil and gas production and its associated infrastructure. This finding is consistent with previous air monitoring findings from the Pavillion area as well as many other oil and gas production sites across the nation.
- Urine sample analysis (biomonitoring) found hazardous breakdown products and evidence (metabolites) of BTEX chemicals and other VOCs associated oil and gas production—in the bodies of the Pavillion area residents who participated in this study.
- Eight chemicals linked to chronic diseases such as cancer or other illnesses, including reproductive or developmental disorders and health problems such as respiratory difficulties, headaches, nosebleeds, skin rashes and depression, were detected both in the air near Pavillion and in the bodies of project participants.
- The results from both human and air monitoring indicate that communities living or working near gas development operations may be intermittently exposed to complex mixtures of chemical substances associated with oil and gas production. Little information exists about how VOCs in mixtures interact with each other and in the human body, but scientific research indicates that in some cases VOCs might interact in ways (or combine with other factors) that increase health risks humans in humans.
- Levels of some hazardous VOCs in air both near the gas production sites and that study participants were breathing exceeded one or more Environmental Screening Level (ESLs), which are air concentration thresholds set by public health agencies and environmental regulators above which there is risk to human health.
- Hazardous breakdown products of VOCs were present in the urine of study participants at much higher levels than those found in the general population, with one example up to ten times higher.
- The high hazard of the chemicals emitted into the air, together with the findings that the levels of certain VOC metabolites in urine of the people studied are well above the levels in the general population, send a clear signal that further action needs to be taken to prevent exposures.
“It's outrageous that Pavillion residents don't know if toxic chemicals are in their air or bodies, especially since gas production has been going on here for decades," Wilma Subra, an award-winning biochemist and one of the scientists involved in the project, said. "We may just be finding out and proving, that they've been exposed to toxic chemicals in the air for thirty years. Hopefully, the methods that we developed through this study will help them get better protections from government agencies responsible for public health—and help other communities across the nation get the protections they deserve."
The report also contains hazards assessments, conducted by Clean Production Action, for many of the toxic chemicals detected in the air or bodies of Pavillion residents. The GreenScreen for Safer Chemicals analysis presented in the report is a globally recognized tool designed to succinctly present known science on hazards associated with specific chemicals, as well as data gaps where hazard research hasn't been conducted. The GreenScreen analysis shows that many of the chemicals detected in the air around Pavillion and in the bodies of study participants are extremely hazardous and should be avoided—although Pavillion residents have been unable to avoid these ongoing exposures now for decades.
Based on the findings of this report and the new methods developed to understand health impacts resulting from gas operation's air emissions, report authors and affiliated groups are making the follow recommendations:
- Additional biomonitoring testing is needed to help understand and prevent exposure to toxic chemicals.
- Further investigation into the harmful impacts of cumulative exposure to multiple chemicals—and the endocrine disrupting effects of these chemicals—is needed.
- Implement precautionary regulations and ensure disclosure and transparency for the public. Current regulations appear to be failing communities living near gas development operations and regulatory agencies already have enough emissions data available to justify swift action to protect public health and the environment right now.
- Promote clean, renewable energy sources and stop promoting natural gas as “clean" and “safe." The data and the hazard assessments presented in this report show VOC emissions, which appear unavoidable in natural gas production. This indicates that production cannot be carried out in a manner that truly protects workers or the public. Truly protecting workers, community members and the public from these toxic hazards requires a comprehensive change in our energy system—to clean energy like solar and wind power.
- Provide ongoing monitoring, health evaluation and site remediation to protect people already affected by oil and gas production.
Watch FLIR camera imaging showing emissions at gas production site in Pavillion:
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
As the fracking industry tries to expand internationally, being promoted as a so-called clean bridge fuel, it is increasingly clear the industry has not one, but two, Achilles heels.
The first is the release of the potent greenhouse gas, methane. The second is water pollution and the threat the controversial technique poses to drinking water.
Both areas are highly disputed, but nearly every week new research reveals new evidence of harm by fracking.
A new study by scientists from Stanford University in California, published in Environmental Science & Technology, has found that fracking operations near Pavillion, Wyoming “have had clear impact to underground sources of drinking water.”
The operations near Pavillion have long been contentious. Back in 2008, the town made headlines when local residents started complaining of a foul taste and odor in their drinking water, leading to an investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In 2011, the EPA issued a preliminary report which linked shallow fracking to toxic compounds in aquifers, but no action was taken by the agency, leading to one of the co-authors of the new study, Rob Jackson, professor at the School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences at the University to argue that the “EPA has consistently walked away from investigations where people and the environment appear to have been harmed.”
The agency now maintains that since June 2013, “the EPA and the state both agreed that the best path forward in advancing the understanding of groundwater issues in the Pavillion area included EPA’s support for the state’s additional investigation of pits, production wells and drinking water.”
However, the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has now advised area residents to avoid bathing, cooking or drinking with water from their taps.
The new Stanford study goes beyond the 2011 EPA report to document not only the occurrence of fracking chemicals in underground sources of drinking water but also their impact on that water that is making it unsafe for use.
According to the university: “The research paints a picture of unsafe practices including the dumping of drilling and production fluids containing diesel fuel, high chemical concentrations in unlined pits and a lack of adequate cement barriers to protect groundwater.”
“This is a wake-up call,” said lead author Dominic DiGiulio, a visiting scholar at the Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences, who used to work for the EPA. “It’s perfectly legal to inject stimulation fluids into underground drinking water resources. This may be causing widespread impacts on drinking water resources.”
DiGiulio argues that “Geologic and groundwater conditions at Pavillion are not unique in the Rocky Mountain region. This suggests there may be widespread impact to underground sources of drinking water as a result of unconventional oil and gas extraction.”
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released its widely anticipated final report on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, confirming that the controversial drilling process indeed impacts drinking water "under some circumstances." Notably, the report also removes the EPA's misleading line that fracking has not led to "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources."
"The report, done at the request of Congress, provides scientific evidence that hydraulic fracturing activities can impact drinking water resources in the United States under some circumstances," the agency stated in a media advisory.
This conclusion is a major reversal from the EPA's June 2015 pro-fracking draft report. That specific "widespread, systemic" line baffled many experts, scientists and landowners who—despite the egregious headlines—saw clear evidence of fracking-related contamination in water samples. Conversely, the EPA's top line encouraged Big Oil and Gas to push for more drilling around the globe.
But as it turns out, a damning exposé from Marketplace and APM Reports revealed last month that top EPA officials made critical, last-minute alterations to the agency's draft report and corresponding press materials to soft-pedal clear evidence of fracking's ill effects on the environment and public health.
Thomas Burke, EPA deputy assistant administrator and science advisor, discussed the agency's final report released Tuesday.
“There are instances when hyrdofracking has impacted drinking water resources. That's an important conclusion, an important consideration for moving forward," Burke told reporters today, according to The Hill.
Regarding the EPA's contentious "national, systemic conclusion," Burke said, "that's a different question that this study does not have adequate evidence to really make a conclusive, quantified statement."
In the new report, the authors heeded to the EPA's independent Science Advisory Board's advice to review the "widespread systemic impacts" line from the June 2015 draft study. The final 1,200-page report omits that line.
"Scientists put that language in the draft report, and scientists made the decision not to include it in the final report based on feedback from the Science Advisory Board and their interpretation of the available science," Burke explained.
The Science Advisory Board also took issue with how the draft report inexplicably omitted three critical fracking-contamination cases—Dimock, Pennsylvania; Parker County, Texas; and Pavillion, Wyoming.
As Pavillion rancher and affected landowner John Fenton testified last year, "When EPA launched its national study of fracking's drinking water impacts, we thought they'd look first here in Pavillion where they'd already found pollution. But instead they ignored us without explanation. Science means taking the facts as they are. But EPA seems to be intent on finding the facts to support the conclusion they've already reached—'fracking is safe.'"
These specific cases studies are now mentioned in the final report.
In the new report, the EPA has identified cases of impacts on drinking water at each stage in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle:
- Water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing in times or areas of low water availability, particularly in areas with limited or declining groundwater resources;
- Spills during the management of hydraulic fracturing fluids and chemicals or produced water that result in large volumes or high concentrations of chemicals reaching groundwater resources;
- Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids into wells with inadequate mechanical integrity, allowing gases or liquids to move to groundwater resources;
- Injection of hydraulic fracturing fluids directly into groundwater resources;
- Discharge of inadequately treated hydraulic fracturing wastewater to surface water resources; and
- Disposal or storage of hydraulic fracturing wastewater in unlined pits, resulting in contamination of groundwater resources.
Burke said that the EPA's assessment "provides the scientific foundation for local decision makers, industry, and communities that are looking to protect public health and drinking water resources and make more informed decisions about hydraulic fracturing activities."
"This assessment is the most complete compilation to date of national scientific data on the relationship of drinking water resources and hydraulic fracturing," he added.
Unsurprisingly, the oil and gas industry has criticized the report.
“It is beyond absurd for the administration to reverse course on its way out the door," American Petroleum Institute Upstream Director Erik Milito told The Hill. "The science and data clearly demonstrate that hydraulic fracturing does not lead to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources. Unfortunately, consumers have witnessed five years and millions of dollars expended only to see conclusion based in science changed to a conclusion based in political ambiguity."
The industry-funded group Energy In Depth added that despite change in the central conclusion, the report still “blows apart the anti-fracking campaign's most common claim, namely that hydraulic fracturing is polluting groundwater all across America."
Meanwhile, public health and environmental groups and activists are saying the opposite.
"At last the EPA confirms what independent science has overwhelmingly determined for years, that drilling and fracking contaminate drinking water," said actor and prominent environmentalist Mark Ruffalo on behalf of the national Americans Against Fracking coalition.
"Across the country, Americans have had their lives turned upside down as fracking has poisoned the water coming out of their faucets and has made their families sick. Now all of our federal and state elected officials need to take action to protect Americans by banning fracking. Water is life," Ruffalo said.
Greenpeace researcher Jesse Coleman agreed. "The EPA's final report on impacts of fracking on groundwater has concluded what too many Americans already know from personal experience: Fracking has caused lasting harm to drinking water sources throughout the country," Coleman said. "The most important findings from this study is that drilling, fracking, and the use of hazardous chemicals necessary to frack have caused groundwater contamination. This puts to rest the widely repeated lie that fracking is 'safe' and has never caused drinking water contamination."
Julia Walsh from Frack Action said, "The EPA has rightly reported that fracking causes water contamination. For all of the Americans living with this tragedy every day, they are finally validated by the federal government."
Similarly, David Braun, Rootskeeper director, said "Kudos to President Obama's EPA for embracing the science about fracking, which clearly demonstrates serious and inherent problems with the practice."
"The EPA could have bowed to pressure from the oil and gas industry and didn't, however, now that the EPA has acknowledged the serious inherent problems with fracking, it is incumbent upon the Obama Administration to stand with the thousands of Americans who have had their water poisoned, and protect them from this dangerous practice," Braun continued.
"By listening to its scientists instead of its political advisors, EPA's fracking study sets an example that we hope, but do not expect, the Trump Administration to follow," Pagel said. "But a Scott Pruitt EPA would have to ignore 5 years of scientific study, and years of community impacts, to do otherwise. Unfortunately for the still suffering citizens of Pavillion, WY, Dimock, PA and Weatherford, TX, their EPA investigations didn't have advisory boards to publicly remind EPA that science trumps politics."
And Wenonah Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch, said that "the EPA has confirmed what we've known all along: fracking can and does contaminate drinking water. We are pleased that the agency has acted on the recommendations of its Science Advisory Board and chosen be frank about the inherent harms and hazards of fracking."
By Americans Against Fracking
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Science Advisory Board (SAB) today finalized its review of the EPA's June 2015 draft study of fracking's impacts to drinking water resources. For over a year, a panel of 30 scientists, engineers and industry consultants have reviewed the details of the 1,000-page draft report. The panel has taken particular issue with a finding that seemingly came out of left field: the agency's statement that fracking has not led to "widespread systemic impacts" in the U.S.
Tainted water collected from a private drinking water well in PA near a fracking site.
The EPA dismissed fracking's impacts with this line, without any clear, scientific basis of support, and now the EPA SAB has taken the agency to task. The EPA, and independent peer-reviewed studies, have identified many mechanisms of contamination, such as spills, well cementing failures below ground, and complications with waste disposal. For example, the EPA found there was on the order of 15 spills every day somewhere in the U.S., yet chose to dismiss those daily incidents as not a sign of "widespread, systemic" problems.
Affected individuals, public interests groups, and now the independent EPA Science Advisory Board, comprised of the EPA's own scientists, are calling on the EPA to "clarify" and "quantify" the controversial "widespread, systemic" line, or drop the language altogether. The panelists joined affected individuals and various independent experts who submitted comments in taking issue with how the agency ignored three high-profile contamination cases in its study—notably Dimock, Pennsylvania; Parker County, Texas; and Pavillion, Wyoming. The agency's omissions were contentious in part because in each case, the EPA prematurely abandoned investigations. Now, the EPA SAB has recommended that the agency include detailed summaries of these critical cases.
"By choosing politics over science, the EPA failed the public with its misleading and controversial line, dismissing fracking's impacts on drinking water and sacrificing public health and welfare along the way," Hugh MacMillan, senior researcher at Food & Water Watch, said.
"We are calling on the EPA to act quickly on the recommendations from the EPA SAB and be clear about fracking's impacts on drinking water resources. The EPA must prioritize the health and safety of the American people over the political interests of the oil and gas industry and its financiers, who have committed hundreds of billions to drilling and fracking in the coming decades. For climate reasons alone, that's a vision for the future that we can ill-afford."
The release of this final report comes on the heels of a massive March for a Clean Energy Revolution at the Democratic National Convention calling for a nationwide ban on fracking, a March 2016 Gallup poll showing that Americans oppose fracking 51-36 percent, and a July 2016 Johns Hopkins Study showing that fracking is linked to increased asthma attacks in Pennsylvania.
A recent peer-reviewed analysis of the science on unconventional oil and gas extraction, of more than 680 peer-reviewed studies, found that, "The great majority of science contains findings that indicate concerns for public health, air quality and water quality." In October of 2015, a partnership of prominent health organizations encompassing nationwide medical and public health experts and scientists released a Compendium of more than 500 peer-reviewed scientific papers, as well as numerous government reports and findings, demonstrating the risks of fracking to public health, air and water quality, birth and infant health, the environment and climate change.
Comparison of detected atmospheric methane over Aliso Canyon, acquired 11 days apart in January 2016. The left picture was taken by NASA's Airborne Visible/Infrared Imaging Spectrometer on a NASA ER-2 aircraft at 4.1 miles altitude. The right picture was taken by the Hyperion instrument on NASA's Earth Observing-1 satellite in low-Earth orbit. Photo credit: NASA
Aliso Canyon's methane leak in Porter Ranch in October 2015 marked the first time an orbiting spacecraft measured a leak from a single facility on Earth. The leak was spotted by the Hyperion spectrometer on NASA's Earth Observing-1, according to a study by David R. Thompson, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, recently published in the Geophysical Research Letters journal.
The Hyperion spectrometer was able to detect methane on three separate occasions, Thompson's paper states. NASA said the research was part of an investigation into the accidental leak, which released 94,500 tons of methane into the atmosphere, according to the latest data. The orbit observations were consistent with airborne measurements, NASA reported.
Equipment and machinery is seen in Aliso Canyon facility. Photo credit: Scott L, Wikimedia commons
Developing more instruments with similar capabilities to the Hyperion, or with even better ones, will help scientists understand the amount of methane produced by human activities and spot areas on Earth's surface that are big releasers.
"The percentage of atmospheric methane produced through human activities remains poorly understood," Thompson said. "Future instruments with much greater sensitivity on orbiting satellites can help resolve this question by surveying the biggest sources around the world, so that we can better understand and address this unknown factor in greenhouse gas emissions."
“Every gas leaves its fingerprint on the light that passes through it," he said. “So what the algorithms we applied do is they examine the imagery from the spacecraft to see the very unique spectral signature of methane, and then map it over wide locations."
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has banned fracking wastewater from public sewage plants, citing the inability of these plants to handle toxic and radioactive pollutants.
"Allowing toxic, radioactive wastewater to be treated at the same place as dirty bathwater defies all logic," Rachel Richardson, Stop Drilling Program director for Environment America, said. "This is a commonsense step to help protect our water and our health from the dangers of fracking."
The final rule formalizes a practice in place since 2011, when fracking chemicals were detected in some Pennsylvania rivers and officials ordered 15 treatment plants to stop accepting and treating fracking waste.
Fracking or hydraulic fracturing, is the process by which large volumes of water along with sand and toxic chemicals are injected underground to extract shale gas. Much of this fracking fluid mixture returns to the surface as toxic wastewater, often with radioactive elements.
Municipal water treatment plants, which treat waste and then release it into drinking water supplies, aren't suited to treat such hazards. The mixture of bromides in wastewater and the chlorine used at sewage treatments plants also can produce a toxin linked to bladder cancer, miscarriages and still-births.
Even under the rule issued this week, fracking wastewater disposal still presents a conundrum for public health and safety. Plants designed to treat fracking waste are far from foolproof, as Duke University researchers found in Pennsylvania. Waste often spills into rivers and streams during storage and shipment. And studies show injecting the waste deep underground is likely causing earthquakes.
While no known municipal treatment plants currently accept fracking waste, the option could have become more attractive to drillers as standards tightened on other waste disposal methods.
“Fracking wastewater is a big problem for which there is simply no adequate solution," Richardson said. “We applaud EPA for taking this step to protect families on the frontlines of fracking. To fully protect our drinking water and the health of our families, we need to ban this practice altogether and transition to 100 percent clean energy."
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Five U.S. reactor closures have been announced within the past month. A green regulatory decision on California's environmental standards could push the number to seven.
The focus is now on a critical June 28 California State Lands Commission meeting. Set for Sacramento, the hearing could help make the Golden State totally nuke free, ending the catastrophic radioactive and global warming impacts caused by these failing plants. A public simulcast of the Sacramento meeting is expected to gather a large crowd at the Morro Bay Community Center near the reactor site. The meeting starts at 10 a.m., but environmental groups will rally outside the community center starting at 9 a.m.
The three State Lands Commissioners will decide whether to require a legally-mandated Environmental Impact Report under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). If ordered, a public scoping process will begin, allowing interested groups and individuals to weigh in on the environmental impacts of operation of two nuclear reactors on California's fragile coastline.
In 1969 and 1970 PG&E got state leases for tidewater acreage for Diablo's cooling system. These leases are set to expire in 2018 and 2019. If the State Lands Commission does not renew them, both reactors will be forced to shut down.
Signed in 1970 by then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, CEQA requires more extensive Environmental Impact Reports on such leases. Included among the issues to be evaluated are water quality, potential damage to human and other life forms, chemical and radiation releases, and impacts on threatened and endangered species. The commission will not decide whether Diablo will continue to operate, only whether it will now be required to meet CEQA standards.
Pro-nukers say PG&E is at the brink of shutting Diablo's reactors. They cannot economically compete with renewables or gas and are sustained by an intricate network of subsidies, liability protection and tax breaks. Many believe the cost of new environmental studies and of meeting updated standards would be a death blow. More protestors have been arrested at Diablo than any other American nuke, and the public pressure to finally shut it is intense.
One of the commissioners is Gavin Newsom, California's Lieutenant Governor, 2018's leading gubernatorial candidate. Newsom said he sees no long-term future for Diablo.
Another commissioner, state controller Betty Yee, is widely thought to favor the requirement.
State finance director Michael Cohen is the third commissioner. He generally votes as instructed by Gov. Jerry Brown. Brown opposed Diablo early in his career, but has recently waffled.
Among other things, Diablo dumps daily some 2.5 billion gallons of super-heated water into the ocean, killing vast quantities of marine life and worsening the global climate crisis. The project's chemical runoff infamously killed millions of abalone years before it operated.
Diablo may soon face regulatory challenges from other state and federal agencies that could, among other things, require cooling towers, at a cost of up to $14 billion. PG&E would then face a fierce public fight over who would pay for them.
Diablo is surrounded by a dozen earthquake faults. It is half the distance from the San Andreas as was Fukushima from the shock that destroyed it. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's former resident inspector Dr. Michael Peck has warned Diablo might not survive a similar quake. Such a disaster would irradiate the Central Valley, which supplies much of the U.S. with its fruits, nuts and vegetables. It would send radioactive clouds into Los Angeles within about five hours, and across virtually the entire continental U.S.
Closing Diablo would make California entirely nuke-free. Grassroots activists, with help from U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer and Friends of the Earth, recently shut two big reactors at San Onofre, between Los Angeles and San Diego. They also closed plants at Rancho Seco (near Sacramento) and Humboldt Bay, and stopped proposed projects at Bodega and Bakersfield.
Along with most nukes around the world, the only other remaining west coast reactor, WPPS2 on Washington's Hanford military reservation, is also losing massive amounts of money.
Because they can't evenly compete with renewable energy or gas, a tsunami of shut-downs has swept away a dozen U.S. reactors since October, 2012. Dozens more teeter at the brink, including two at Indian Point, just north of Manhattan, and Ohio's rapidly crumbling Davis-Besse reactor near Toledo.
In Japan, more than 40 reactors remain shut despite intense government pressure to reopen them in the wake of the Fukushima catastrophe. Germany's energiewende
Should California follow suit at Diablo, its conversion to a wholly green-powered economy would accelerate, likely leading Los Angeles to become the world's first Solartopian megalopolis.
Ironically, with citizen action, a big push in that direction could now come from a state commission's decision to enforce environmental protections signed into law by California's most pro-nuke governor.
Harvey Wasserman's SOLARTOPIA! OUR GREEN-POWERED EARTH is atwww.solartopia.org, along with his upcoming AMERICA AT THE BRINK OF REBIRTH: THE ORGANIC SPIRAL OF U.S. HISTORY. He has co-written six books on election protection with Bob Fitrakis (www.freepress.org), and was arrested at Diablo Canyon in 1984.
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TransCanada, owner of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline currently being contested in federal court and in front of a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) legal panel, has won a $2.1 billion joint venture bid with Sempra Energy for a pipeline to shuttle gas obtained from fracking in Texas' Eagle Ford Shale basin across the Gulf of Mexico and into Mexico.
The 500-mile long Sur de Texas-Tuxpan pipeline, as reported previously by DeSmog, is part of an extensive pipeline empire TransCanada is building from the U.S. to Mexico. The pipeline network is longer than the currently operating southern leg of the Keystone pipeline (now dubbed the Gulf Coast Pipeline). Unlike Keystone XL, though, these piecemeal pipeline section bid wins have garnered little media attention or scrutiny beyond the business and financial press.
The Sur de Texas-Tuxpan proposed pipeline route avoids the drug cartel violence-laden border city of Matamoros by halting at Brownsville and then going underwater across the U.S.-Mexico border to Tuxpan.
After it navigates the 500-mile long journey, Sur de Texas-Tuxpan will flood Mexico's energy grid with gas under a 25-year service contract. That energy grid, thanks to the efforts of the U.S. State Department under then-Secretary of State and current Democratic Party presumptive presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, has been privatized under constitutional amendments passed in 2013.
TransCanada and Sempra were the only bidders. TransCanada owns the joint venture with Sempra—coined the Infraestructura Marina del Golfo, Spanish for “marine infrastructure of the Gulf”—on a 60-percent basis.
“We are extremely pleased to further our growth plans in Mexico with one of the most important natural gas infrastructure projects for that country's future,” Russ Girling, TransCanada's president and CEO, said in a press release announcing the bid win. “This new project brings our footprint of existing assets and projects in development in Mexico to more than US$5 billion, all underpinned by 25-year agreements with Mexico's state power company.”
State Department Role, FERC and Presidential Permits for Sur de Texas-Tuxpan
David Leiter, a campaign finance bundler for Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and former chief-of-staff for then-U.S.Senator and current Secretary of State John Kerry, lobbied the White House and the U.S. State Department in 2013 and 2014 on behalf of Sempra Energy on gas exports-related issues.
Sempra has a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) export terminal on the northwest, Baja California coast of Mexico called Energía Costa Azul (“Blue Coast Energy”) LNG. Leiter's wife, Tamara Luzzatto, formerly served as chief-of-staff to then-U.S.Sen. Hillary Clinton.
Because the pipeline is set to carry natural gas, as opposed to oil, it does not need a U.S. State Department permit (though tacit and non-permitted unofficial approval could still prove important). Instead, it seemingly technically requires U.S.Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approval, as well as a presidential permit.
It is unclear if Sur de Texas-Tuxpan will require a presidential permit, though, given the precedent set in the Wild Earth Nation, Et Al v. U.S. Department of State and Enbridge Energy case.
In that case, the Judge allowed Enbridge to break up its tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”)-carrying Alberta Clipper (Line 67) pipeline into multiple pieces—helped along with off-the-books and therefore unofficial State Department authorization—avoiding the more onerous presidential and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) permit review process altogether.
Due to the legal precedent set in another related case, Delaware Riverkeeper vs. FERC, oil and gas industry law firm Baker Botts explicitly recommended against utilizing the “segmentation” approach in a January 2015 memo that came out before the Enbridge case ruling.
“Project proponents should be careful to avoid potential 'segmentation' of a project into smaller parts simply to try to avoid a more thorough NEPA review,” wrote Baker Botts attorney Carlos Romo. “Segmentation occurs when closely related and interdependent projects are not adequately considered together in the NEPA process.”
The presidential candidates Clinton and Donald Trump have yet to comment on this pipeline or the topic of U.S.-Mexico cross-border pipelines on the campaign trail. But Financial Times, in an April article, pointed out that even Trump—who has pledged he will build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico—has little to say and will likely do little to halt cross-border lines like Sur de Texas-Tuxpan.
Though still fairly early on in the process, Florian's words have proven true so far.
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Just two days before the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC, where world leaders gather to reinforce a commitment to secure nuclear materials, "America's potential next president mentions that he'd be perfectly comfortable with other countries becoming nuclear powers, including Japan and South Korea," John Oliver said in his quick recap of the week on Last Week Tonight.
Oliver played a clip from CNN's town hall with Anderson Cooper where Donald Trump said, "We're better off if Japan protects itself against this maniac in North Korea. We're better of frankly if South Korea is going to start protecting it self."
Oliver responded by saying, “He says that with the confidence of a man who could easily find Saudi Arabia on a map if he was given three tries and the map only included countries ending with Arabia."
Oliver then played a clip of President Obama responding to Trump's nuclear comments.
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On Tuesday night, the Carson City Council voted unanimously to ban fracking, acidizing and other environmentally hazardous well stimulation techniques. The move comes after a five-year fight against a proposal for 200 new fracking wells. The efforts of the Carson Coalition and concerned residents, joined by Food & Water Watch, resulted in the California Resources Corporation (formerly Occidental Petroleum) withdrawing the project last year. Residents continued to fight to ensure fracking would never come to Carson, California, resulting in the ban by city council.
“We have been fighting to ban fracking for five years and tonight Carson can usher in the future our community deserves by banning extreme oil and moving toward clean energy," Dianne Thomas, resident and founder of the Carson Coalition, said. “Our community's health is failing because we are surrounded by fossil fuel industries—refineries, freeways, the ports and oil drilling is all around us. We have to continue to fight for the people that live here, the people that inhale the fumes and endure the noise. This ban is a first step to making Carson a front runner to end oil drilling and adopt a 100 percent renewable energy future."
The Carson City Council also adopted a controversial update to the city's oil and gas code. Residents opposed provisions that would give oil companies an incentive to increase drilling in Carson and they demanded a 1,500-foot setback between oil and gas activity and nearby homes, schools, hospitals and other inhabited areas. However, the council passed a 750-foot buffer and paved the way for more drilling.
Instead of phasing drilling out drilling in the buffer, the council voted to allow each operator to move up to ten wells to outside the buffer area on a one-to-two basis. Carson has 67 active oil wells, 25 of which are within the approved 750-foot setback. If operators decide to use the incentive to transfer operations outside the setback, drilling could increase by another 28 wells, which would increase Carson's overall drilling by about 40 percent. If operators don't use the incentive, drilling may continue indefinitely within the setback, according to the approved code.
“It is inexcusable that our mayor and council would vote to ban fracking and yet allow for increased drilling in Carson in the same night," Robert Lesley, president of the Carson Coalition, said. “We set working on this code to protect our health and safety and increased drilling in Carson undermines that goal."
The fracking and well stimulation ban is primarily preventative since oil company operators say that fracking is not necessary or economically viable in Carson. The fight over the oil code was heated because of its impact on the 67 active wells in Carson.
“After years of organizing and challenging the powerful oil and gas lobby, we congratulate Carson residents for winning a fracking ban," Food & Water Watch senior organizer Alexandra Nagy said.
“It's disappointing that the council failed to take the necessary step to protect public health by phasing out operations in the setback. In the larger scale of needing to move quickly from fossil fuels to renewable energy, we have more work to do to ensure drilling comes to an end in Carson. We will continue to work with the Carson Coalition and Carson residents to fix the oil code and phase out oil drilling in Carson."
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Palm oil is already known to be an environmental blight and now we can add another item to its rap sheet. The much-maligned substance is surfacing on beaches in the UK in forms of congealed blobs known as "fatbergs," posing a threat to children and especially pet dogs who might accidentally ingest it, according to British media.
Storms that originated in Barbados, Jamaica and Trinidad are being blamed for pushing the marine pollution across the Atlantic.
Unfortunately, the issue seems to be a regular occurrence in the UK's coastal regions. Other British counties such as Hampshire, Devon and Cornwall have seen the waxy substance on their shores before.
This tweet from 2014 shows a huge palm oil deposit found on a beach in the village of Rottingdean in East Sussex. The rucksack placed next to it shows its scale.
A community Facebook page has even been launched to track and map the palm oil blobs that wash ashore in Cornwall and the southwest region of England.
"Laboratory testing has shown that this substance is a non-toxic, degraded edible oil or fat. However, there have been reports of dogs becoming seriously ill after ingesting the substance. Some dogs that have consumed small quantities of palm oil have suffered from vomiting and diarrhorea, which has led to severe dehydration. Some dogs that have eaten larger amounts of the substance have suffered a range of effects including kidney damage, liver failure and blockages of the gut. In some instances this has resulted in the dog needing to be put down."
The council noted that palm oil can enter the marine environment when it is legally discarded by ships at sea where it can become further contaminated with other oceanic waste.
"So, if you’re heading to the beach please take care—while the substance has been described as non-toxic, given the reports about dogs becoming ill, we’d suggest keeping children and pets away from the deposits. And if you come into contact with the substance, wash it off with soap or shower gel and wash your clothes."
The Mirror reported that an animal hospital in Cornwall had to give "life-saving treatment" to five dogs after they swallowed palm oil in the area's beaches.
British television veterinarian Marc Abraham told Mail Online that the bits are a particular threat to dogs because "palm oil is so gelatinous it can get lodged in the oesophagus and require emergency surgery."
A Brighton and Hove City Council spokesman told The Mirror that an area cleanup is underway and warning signs have been displayed to alert dog walkers of potential exposure.
"Our seafront and cleansing teams are working together to spot and dispose of the palm oil and have put up temporary signs alerting dog walkers to the possible danger," he said.
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“Landowners’ worst fears came true,” Jane Kleeb, the head of Bold Nebraska, told DeSmog after news broke about the latest Keystone pipeline oil spill. “When you have a pipe running through your farm or ranch-land all you think about is: it could break today.”
On Saturday afternoon that fear was realized by a Hutchinson County, South Dakota land owner. Loern Schulz found oil in surface water near the Keystone pipeline’s right-of-way and reported the spill.
By Sunday, TransCanada had shut down the Keystone Pipeline, which originates in Alberta, Canada and goes to Steele City, Nebraska. But the rest of its U.S. pipeline network is operational.
The Keystone connects to the Cushing Extension pipeline that ends in Cushing, Oklahoma, where it connects to the Keystone XL’s southern route, renamed the Keystone Gulf Coast Pipeline when the project was split into sections. The Gulf Coast line moves product from Cushing to Nederland, Texas, providing TransCanada a route to move Canadian tar sands bitumen to the Gulf of Mexico for refining and export.
Though President Obama rejected the northern Keystone XL route last year, which would have stretched from Alberta to Cushing, TransCanada has transported Canadian tar sands crude via its Keystone pipeline network since early 2014, when the Gulf Coast pipeline started operations.
TransCanada didn’t have a representative at the potential spill site until Sunday. But by Monday, when the media broke the news, TransCanada had blocked off the area, making documenting the contaminated area from the ground impossible.
It was also impossible to photograph the site from the sky, according to Bold Nebraska. Kleeb told DeSmog that FAA forbade the pilot she hired to fly over the site because it closed the airspace until May 8.
“To have the FAA close off airspace for a foreign corporation is a big problem,” Kleeb said. “We want to take our own pictures. With 100 clean-up workers on site, we have a right to be taking our own pictures and finding out our own information.”
If the public isn’t able to take their own pictures of the site, they shouldn’t expect to see any for years, if at all. Any photos that would be made available will come from TransCanada or the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the agency responsible for regulating interstate pipelines.
TransCanada turns over its findings about pipeline spills, which include photos, to the PHMSA and the agency does not share such information with the public until its investigations are complete, which can take years. And even when the agency’s investigations are finished, it does not automatically release photos when requested.
It took DeSmog over two years to obtain photos from PHMSA of a site in Missouri, where TransCanada had indicated to PHMSA that there may have been a spill in 2012. After TransCanada dug up parts of the pipeline that were almost completely corroded, both TransCanada and PHMSA claimed that no oil was released. But the few photos DeSmog obtained do not conclusively prove whether a spill took place or not.
TransCanada has released a couple of photos taken near the site that they are working on yesterday, but the photos do not show any oil, which the company admitted was visible when its representatives arrived.
Yesterday, some South Dakotans who have fought against the Keystone XL pipeline went as close to the site as they could get. They took pictures from the perimeter that TransCanada set up around the spill. But the way the perimeter was set up makes it impossible to meaningfully document the company’s remediation work.
Evan Vokes, former TransCanada materials engineer-turned-whistleblower, told DeSmog, “If there is an oil spill the probable source of the spill is at the site of a bad weld. And bad welds are inevitable when welding is not done to code.”
TransCanada’s first estimate reported 187 gallons were found.
“It can take a lot of oil to leak before enough of it percolates up to the surface level for someone to notice,” Vokes said.
If there was indeed a spill, Vokes believes it is fair to assume muchmore oil spilled than the initial estimate states. Vokes points out that oil from any leak that happens underground, would have moved wherever the subsurface water moved, making estimating the spill’s size difficult.
“TransCanada’s leak detection equipment can’t pick up a leak until 2 percent of the pressure in a pipeline drops,” Vokes said. “Which is what makes small leaks like this dangerous since they can go undetected for a long time.”
Though TransCanada confirmed its leak detection system didn’t pick up a spill, it would not confirm if the product in the line was diluted bitumen or crude oil, but it is likely that if product spilled in South Dakota it is diluted bitumen, also known as dilbit.
“Dilbit is indeed crude oil,” Mark Cooper, TransCanada’s public affairs officer, wrote DeSmog in an email. But that statement isn’t accurate. “Dilbit is not the same as crude oil,” Vokes told DeSmog. “It is processed crude that has more benzene in it than crude oil.”
Dilbit spills in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Mayflower, Arkansas, proved more problematic to clean up than crude oil spills. It took Enbridge four years to complete remedial efforts ordered by federal regulators and in Mayflower, some homeowners had no choice but to relocate. It was thought that some of the homes nearest to the spill would never be safe to live in again.
“A dilbit spill releases far more toxins into the ground and water than a crude oil spill,” Vokes said.
Canadian regulators noted 21 incidents in the Keystone pipeline’s first year in operation. And U.S. regulators identified up to 62 probable deficiencies in TransCanada’s operations of the pipeline, as noted in a letter PHMSA sent to TransCanada last year. PHMSA has fined the company for breaking rules, but has never taken action to stop construction when inspectors caught the company breaking the rules.
“It is possible the Keystone pipeline has other small leaks that have not been identified yet at the site of other bad welds,” Vokes said. “It is impossible to know where they are until someone notices them and by that time the damage could be catastrophic.”
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By Erin Schrode
I never wanted to be a politician. I am an activist, an educator, a social entrepreneur—a citizen who is committed to environmental action, public health and equal justice.
Grassroots community organizing is hardwired into my DNA, nurtured by a cadre of doers in Marin County, California. When it was revealed that Marin — despite its unparalleled natural beauty, high concentration of organic farms and protected lands — had the highest breast, prostate and melanoma cancer rates in the world, my mother sprung into action. As a young girl, I watched her deftly orchestrate her first campaign to unite boots-on-the-ground vigor, compelling storytelling and sound scientific research. The question was clear: Why had cancer rates skyrocketed?
Why? “Why" gets to the root causes of an issue, rather than address supposed symptoms, which can be more costly, dangerous and short-lived. Why, then, am I running today?
Broken policy is failing us all, as fear and vitriol permeate politics. I can no longer watch as partisan gridlock threatens our future and that of communities around the country. We need commonsense reform—and we need it en masse, yesterday. Clean water is a human right. Women add value to society. Mental health is a veritable illness. Black lives matter. Affordable healthcare helps families. Education can be an economic engine.
It's time to deliver on the promise of my generation.
Amid a massive demographic shift and immersed in culture of innovation, my digital native peers are rising to positions of leadership, shaping social norms and revolutionizing every vertical. From media to agriculture to infrastructure, no industry will remain untouched by technological advancements. Most create new business models or lead cutting edge non-profit work to affect positive change, deliberately working around the political arena.
In addition to passion and energy, we ask different questions and prioritize collaborative solutions. Not daunted by failure, beholden to special interests or settled in the status quo, we seize the moment to take informed risks —bringing to the table a wild range of experience, diverse skill set and nuanced fresh perspective.
I seek to redefine civic engagement, reinvigorate a culture of public service, expand the definition of who can be a politician and infuse meaning into the very act of running.
Call me crazy, but I still believe in the institution of government. We have the knowhow and tools to shape a future we are proud of, in terms of global and environmental health, learning and work, and human rights domestically and abroad—and cannot afford to wait.
It is not enough to mitigate further environmental degradation. We must employ new and existing technologies to reverse damage, plan for increasingly common climate-related disasters or hazards and ensure sustainable resource management, responsible consumption and businesses that deliver profit on financial, ecological and social levels. Without an environment, there can be no justice. We are all entitled to take a deep breath and sip clean water — and should be able to trust our leaders to defend those rights. Our health and safety is tied to that of our planet. We both benefit and pay the price of mismanagement and destruction of the commons.
It is not enough to denounce the current education system.We need a new, dynamic approach to learning and working. The antiquated frameworks of schools and jobs fail amid today's changing landscape. Students of all ages need access to relevant, fluid curriculum that fosters creativity, imparts transferable skills and sparks entrepreneurship. Crippling debt thwarts growth, hinders independence and burdens families. Loan forgiveness for hardworking citizens is essential, as is remedial training for professional pivots when current jobs disappear. You once got an education in order to earn a livelihood. Now we struggle to earn a livelihood to pay off loans from graduation. Education is not only the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world, but also the basis for personal and global growth, prosperity and progress. We must prepare our people for the future of work and solidify the pipeline to fair wage employment.
It is not enough to lament the lack of inclusion or imbalance in access. We need all segments of the population granted equal opportunity and encouraged to develop competitive skills, which provides an actual chance to contribute and succeed. Discrimination on the basis of gender, race, religion and ethnicity must stop. Progressive female voices equate to progressive policies—on equal pay, childcare, paid leave and reproductive health, as well as immigration, criminal justice, guns and foreign policy. Empowering women and girls, respecting underrepresented populations and fighting for reduced inequality is not a choice, but a moral imperative with lasting positive impacts.
Eco awareness illuminates interdependence to inform decision-making. Knowledge allows for improved systems, institutions and quality of life. Unique perspectives offer wider frames of reference to improve policy and our cultural fabric.
I believe that democracy should be representative, but 51 percent of our population is women and 35 percent of our population is under 30, yet there has NEVER been a woman under 30 elected to United States Congress. We need diversity and representation in a democracy, people who have the courage to challenge convention and establishment with new ideas, energy and integrity. Millennial and female participation will shape the nation. Progressive thinkers are disrupting with intention. Historically marginalized voices are uniting in chorus. The largest voting demographic of present and future will not stop short of change.
The best qualified person is not necessarily an older, white male. We must stop making that the default, for young does not mean less capable of critical thought. Our Constitution was written by people without grand accomplishments, individuals like you and me who shared a vision. My generation is better connected, well-informed, and more open to debate than ever before — all of which leads to stronger, practical solutions. By harnessing the power of innovation, entrepreneurial spirit and collaboration across silos, our world can be more just, connected and equitable; our business more competitive, prosperous and open; our infrastructure more environmentally-sound, capable and durable; and our government more effective, efficient and transparent.
A country where a young woman is dissuaded from running for office because she is young or because she is a woman is not one in which I desire to live. May we truly be of the people (representative of the electorate), by the people (with ongoing accountability, not only at election time) and for the people (not for lobbyists or donors) where all are encouraged to add value to society by running and serving. If I were to listen to political pragmatists, I would never take this step, particularly at 24-years-old. I do not have tens of thousands of dollars in the bank or family wealth, have not spent decades in law or business, don't self-edit to put forth an image of some squeaky clean conservative life and was never president of any young political organization. But doom is not an element of this campaign, nor is any notion of entitlement.
Change will not roll in on the heels of inevitability, as Martin Luther King Jr. so wisely told us. If we want to build a new paradigm, we need people to be brave and actively choose a lesser worn path, but one with rich possibility. Think: how can we create a country of togetherness, inclusion and love, rather than send a message of division, hatred and fear? How can we elevate discourse? How can we drive real policy reform that is felt in the day-to-day?
Once upon a time, a young girl was born in Northern California. Her parents, of different faiths, divorced when she was but a year old, yet remained fiercely committed to their only child, each working multiple jobs to provide her with healthy food and a safe home, the priorities of so many mothers and fathers across America. With the help of scholarships, she attended schools that challenged her to think critically and to dream. She went on to co-found a non-profit, focus on youth and environmental issues, fight for equity and access, raise up the importance of humanity and dignity, work in disaster and conflict zones, urge corporations toward better practices and gain invaluable experience in dozens of nations around the world. An informed global citizen who has forged an unconventional path, she has now returned home to take responsibility for her corner of the world.
Four weeks ago, I gave a speech in my hometown in Northern California, the through line of which was “if not Marin, where?" My surroundings have fundamentally shaped my personal identity, career path and values. The region where I live is world renown as an incubator, catalyst and pioneer. Last week, I announced my run for United States Congress to represent California's District 2.
This is about purpose, not position — and I have dedicated my life to civic dialogue and action, a fervor which will not cease. I believe that moral authority can carry more weight than formal authority, for one should earn respect and trust for expertise, integrity and judgment—based upon behavior and track-record—rather than assume or be allotted a title. But when too many of us are being ignored, excluded and discriminated against, it is our time to not only mobilize on the streets of our hometowns, but also in Washington.
This is about people—for there is nothing that we, as committed citizens, cannot accomplish together. How exciting is that? I am honored to embark on this next chapter of service, to learn from, share with and co-create around messages with relevance and accessibility that are actionable. The issues matter—and I look forward to earning your vote, as we unite to deliver for all who have come before us, all who walk beside us, and all who are yet to come in Northern California and beyond.
I have faith in humanity. I trust in the power of community. And I maintain hope in the promise of our generation and nation.
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) advisors are calling foul on the agency's highly controversial study that determined hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has not led to “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the U.S.”
The EPA's conclusion requires clarification, David Dzombak, a Carnegie Mellon University environmental engineering professor who is leading the review, told Bloomberg. A panel headed by Dzombak will release its initial recommendations later this month.
"Major findings are ambiguous or are inconsistent with the observations/data presented in the body of the report," the 31 scientists on the panel said in December 2015.
Possible changes to the report could spell trouble for the oil and gas industry that recently celebrated the ending of a 40-year-old crude oil export ban in December 2015. According to Bloomberg, "a repudiation of the results could reignite the debate over the need for more regulation."
Fracking involves the pumping of highly pressurized water, sand and chemicals into underground rock formations to release trapped oil and gas. The controversial drilling process has spurred a boom in U.S. oil and gas production and driven down gas prices across the country. However, numerous environmental complications have arisen from fracking, including pollution of water and air, landscape destruction and even earthquakes.
Five years ago, Congress commissioned the U.S. EPA to study the impacts of fracking on drinking water. After analyzing more than 950 sources, including previously published papers, state reports and the EPA's own research, the agency released a draft analysis in June 2015 that indeed found numerous harms to drinking water resources from fracking. As EcoWatch reported, the U.S. EPA found evidence of more than 36,000 spills from 2006 to 2012. That amounts to about 15 spills per day somewhere in the U.S.
However, the report's misleading and widely reported conclusion—“there is no evidence fracking has led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources”—has not only downplayed fracking's effects on drinking water resources, it was also seen by many in the pro-drilling camp as the EPA's thumbs up to the drilling industry. For instance, a Forbes writer summed up the study with this headline: EPA Fracking Study: Drilling Wins.
According to Bloomberg, the review panel could ask the U.S. EPA to rescind this main conclusion or clarify it by saying that the "widespread, systemic" impacts from fracking are relative to the number of wells drilled.
Pennsylvania State University professor Elizabeth Boyer, a member of the Science Advisory Board, noted that the "widespread, systemic" top line was "widely quoted and interpreted in many different ways," EnergyWire reported. "The executive summary and press materials should be carefully reworded" for clarity, she said.
Some panel members also said that more weight should be given to the "severity of local impacts" on water supplies.
Some environmental advocates want the final U.S. EPA document to include additional information on "high-profile cases of fracking contamination inexplicably left out of the study," Food & Water Watch Executive Director Wenonah Hauter said in a statement, pointing to drilling sites in Dimock, Pennsylvania; Parker County, Texas; and Pavillion, Wyoming.
Hauter added that EPA Science Advisory Board's official review of the study on fracking and drinking "may seem surprising, but it shouldn’t be to anyone who actually read the original study thoroughly."
"There was a clear disconnect between the EPA’s top-line spin—that there was no evidence of ‘widespread, systemic’ impacts on drinking water from fracking—and the content of the actual study, which highlights data limitations, open questions, and clear evidence of local and severe impacts," Hauter said. "This disconnect raises serious questions about political tampering with scientific conclusions in the release of the draft study."
Unsurprisingly, Big Oil and Gas are unhappy with the Science Advisory Board's review. American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard blamed the panel's criticisms on environmental activists opposed to fossil fuels.
“The science should be settled,” Gerard said at a news conference Tuesday. “There are a handful of people who are not happy with the outcome and they continue to drive their agenda based on ideology, not based on the science."
The agency will use the comments from the advisory panel as well as those submitted by the public "to evaluate how to augment and revise the draft assessment," EPA spokeswoman Melissa Harrison told Bloomberg. "The final assessment will also reflect relevant literature published since the release of the draft assessment."
Meanwhile, a new paper published Jan. 6 in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental and Epidemiology only emphasizes why further evaluations on fracking fluids are a must.
After analyzing 1,021 chemicals used in fracking, Yale School of Public Health researchers found that many of the substances have been linked to reproductive and developmental health problems, and the majority had undetermined toxicity due to insufficient information, Phys.org reported on the study.
The research team said in their paper that further exposure and epidemiological studies are urgently needed to evaluate potential threats to human health from chemicals found in fracking fluids and wastewater created by fracking.
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Since I joined the fight to end fracking three years ago, I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many inspiring people across the U.S. fighting the oil and gas industry in their communities. Most recently, I met Calvin Tillman, Mayor Emeritus of DISH, Texas, who visited Southern California on a speaking tour of Carson, Brea and La Habra Heights. Each city is engaged in its own, unique struggle against Big Oil, but Tillman’s story of standing up to the industry hit home for residents of each of these communities.
If you’ve seen the Josh Fox documentaries Gasland and Gasland Part II, you may remember that Tillman, while mayor of DISH, fought to protect the community from dangerous natural gas projects. Ultimately, his family made the difficult decision to move away from a sprawling gas industry in the Fort Worth exurbs. The reason was simple—his kids were getting sick, and the industry wasn’t pulling out any time soon.
Tillman’s California visit was timely. Two Los Angeles County cities are turning people out to the polls on March 3 to decide whether to protect their communities from dangerous oil drilling. In La Habra Heights, a small rural community, residents will decide on Measure A, which would ban fracking and other unconventional drilling. And in Hermosa Beach residents will vote on Measure O, which would reverse a long-time ban on drilling in the coastal city; if the industry-funded measure passes, the city will be obligated to approve a project that will install a drill site within 160 feet of some residents’ homes and within one-half mile of half of the residents of Hermosa Beach. This week, Get Out the Vote operations are full swing in Hermosa Beach and La Habra Heights.
Meanwhile, residents of Carson recently defeated a 200 well proposal by California Resources Corporation (formerly Occidental Petroleum) and the Los Angeles County city is working to revise its oil and gas code in response to public pressure. And folks in the Orange County city of Brea have been struggling to get city officials to take under consideration their concerns about nearby oil wells.
Tillman had a lot to share with these communities about going up against the desperate-for-expansion fossil fuel industry, but his message boiled down to a simple directive: Get involved.
In the week leading up to his SoCal tour, I had an opportunity to catch up with Calvin Tillman, and ask him about his experiences working with communities across the U.S. since he moved from DISH to Aubrey, Texas.
Q. What have you been up to since you moved from DISH?
A. I founded ShaleTest.org [a non-profit organization that collects environmental data for families and in low-income communities being negatively affected by shale oil and gas extraction] and have done a lot of work all over the U.S. It has really outgrown what we initially intended it to be—we had to hire an executive director, and put infrastructure in place to keep up with the demand. We’re doing work with groups in California, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Montana, Wyoming, Ohio and New York.
I’m still very active with the legislature. In Texas it’s a constant battle. We have our legislative session going on right now, and we’re very active in working with a variety of different groups to help protect people and their property from their [the fossil fuel industry] abuses.
Elected officials seem to think there’s only one side of this property rights argument. The people who live in these communities have rights too, but the oil companies seem to have the jump on [the politicians’] side of the fence. I’ve been successful to some extent, but I still have a long way to go.
Q. Were there hurdles to calling out the oil industry in DISH?
A. The biggest problem was financial—we just couldn’t keep up with the money financially that it takes to fight these folks. They started to bully us a bit, would do public info requests that were so broad that it would be thousands and thousands of pages of docs. We had a part-time city secretary, so it was almost a harassment technique they used to keep us busy making copies for public info requests instead of dealing with them.
We would get so many public info requests for a small town, I started printing every email off and filing it because I knew they would be demanding it at some point. These weren’t always companies that had anything to do with DISH. Sometimes it was the trade associations. They would always ask for sensitive info they had no business to, and then would always back off when we called them out.
Q. You do a lot of speaking to a lot of different groups: is there anything particular that stands out to you in this movement?
A. Yeah. If you look at this from a 30,000-foot level, every city looks the same. Not only in the way they approach this with the politicians, but also in the way they deal with the environmental impacts. If I take a sample from a compressor station in Colorado versus Texas, you’re going to see the same chemicals and the same problems. Their approach is the exact same.
Most of the small towns, the local towns, are not going to take $100,000 in campaign contributions—local officials don’t get paid. They use the money to influence, especially the larger cities, the campaign contributions. All of a sudden, city councilmen will author a blog for them, or get a seat on some trade association. We see that everywhere, all across the country.
The industry tries to manipulate the democratic process, and make it to where they don’t have to follow any rules.
Q. Any community fights or places you’ve been in particular?
A. There’s different parts of the country that have been ravaged at different levels. In California, there’s problems there, and probably problems you don’t know about, and https://www.google.com/adsense/app#homewon’t know about for years to come. In western Pennsylvania you have extremely economically depressed areas that have been ravaged by the industry. You have areas where peoples' water goes away, or turns black, or smells horrible, so the industry sets up water buffalos [large water tanks] for them. If those residents speak out in any way, the industry takes their water away.
I know this lady who had to give her daughter a bath from a gallon jug that they were filling up at somebody else’s house because the industry took their water away. You don’t believe that’s happening until you see it for yourself. I’ve been to everywhere—Dimock, Pavillion, but that scene in, I think, Butler, Pennsylvania always sticks with me.
This always starts in lower economic areas, it seems. And those are the ones that are always the most impacted and the least able to defend themselves.
Q. This isn’t your first California tour—what’s it like meeting all of these communities?
A. The first time I went out there, I was just doing some work with Earthworks and ShaleTest, and I met with a few of the smaller groups. I’ve seen the possibility of making some headway, which prompted me to come back and do speaking events last summer.
I just feel like there’s momentum there that could be helpful.
Obviously the national movement, the national exposure to what’s going on—the same things that you see in Texas—you see in California. Most Californians probably don’t understand that, so I think it’s important to build on a local perspective.
There’s plenty of things California does to require more responsibility, but there’s still problems. Nobody’s immune from those problems. Folks in California need to know what’s coming over the back fence.
Q. When you speak to different communities and tell your story, is there any message in particular you want to get across?
A. I don’t come to places to tell people to do this, or not to do this. What I hope to get across is to have people think about it, what they’re doing, and what they’re inviting into their communities. The hope is to not to tell someone what to do, but for people to think about what they’re doing and get involved in the process and make sure they understand what they’re inviting into their community.
I didn’t win against the oil industry, so I don’t know what that’s like. But I can tell you what does happen when you don’t get involved.
Walker Foley is a Southern California Organizer with Food & Water Watch. He became inspired to end fracking after the gas industry fracked the land surrounding his family’s farm in the verdant hills of northeast West Virginia.
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For the first time, members of Congress today called upon U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy to “investigate and address the water contamination” in Dimock, PA, in Parker County, TX, and in Pavillion, WY. In all three communities, the EPA has previously withdrawn investigations into water contamination and stopped providing affected residents with clean drinking water. Eight Representatives, led by Rep. Matt Cartwright (PA-17), made the request in a letter to Administrator McCarthy.
Responding to community requests in prior years, the EPA investigated alleged drilling and fracking-related oil and gas pollution of drinking water supplies in each of the three communities. In each case, the EPA’s preliminary results indicated oil and gas development was the cause of the drinking water pollution. In each case, the EPA withdrew before finalizing the results of the investigations.
“Dimock, PA, Pavillion, WY, and Parker County, TX were grateful when the EPA stepped in to help deal with their water contamination issues, and disheartened when the EPA stopped their investigations, leaving them with polluted water and little explanation,” wrote the Representatives to Administrator McCarthy. They continued, “We are writing to urge you to take any and all steps within your power to help these communities.”
Emerging data shows that the EPA was misguided in closing its investigations. In the case of Parker County, TX, for instance, independent water testing from Duke University reveals that residents’ drinking water was still contaminated when the EPA determined it was safe due to relying on faulty gas industry testing.
The EPA’s investigations into fracking-related threats to drinking water are especially important as the Obama Administration advocates for increased natural gas exports as a counterweight to Russia’s influence in Eastern Europe. Because more than 90 percent of all gas wells are fracked, increased exports mean increased fracking.
“Europeans aren’t fracking their own countries’ shale gas because they are worried about its environmental and health impacts,” said Ray Kemble, an affected resident of Dimock, Pennsylvania. He continued, “They’re right to worry. I haven’t had clean water for four years, and its due to oil and gas drilling.”
President Obama’s argument for increased unconventional oil and gas production has changed as times have changed.
“President Obama’s arguments for fracking change with the wind,” said Kemble. He continued, “Need a bridge fuel to a clean energy future? Fracking! Want energy independence? Fracking! Weaken Putin? Fracking! All the while his administration avoids clear evidence that fracking-related oil and gas development is poisoning Americans. Hopefully this letter will shake some sense into them.”
The eight members of Congress who signed the letter are:
- Matt Cartwright (PA-17)
- Alan Lowenthal (CA-47)
- Jared Huffman (CA-02)
- Raul Grijalva (AZ-03)
- Keith Ellison (MN-05)
- David Scott (GA-13)
- Mark Pocan (WI-02)
- Rush Holt (NJ-12)
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Today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Inspector General found EPA Region 6 was justified in legally intervening to protect Parker County, TX residents’ drinking water from drilling impacts. At Sen. Inhofe’s (R-OK) request, the Inspector General investigated to determine if Region 6’s intervention against Range Resources was due to political influence by the Obama administration.
“The EPA’s internal watchdog has confirmed that the EPA was justified in stepping in to protect residents who were and still are in imminent danger,” said Sharon Wilson, Gulf regional organizer of Earthworks. “Now we need an investigation as to whether political corruption caused EPA to withdraw that protection.”
The EPA invoked its power to protect drinking water in 2010, prompting Oklahoma Sen. Inhofe to request the Inspector General’s investigation in 2011. The EPA withdrew its legal complaint against Range Resources in 2012 despite having a report from an independent scientist showing that a gas well drilled by Range likely polluted nearby water supplies.
The EPA’s withdrawal from Parker County appears to be part of a larger pattern, in which the Obama administration has blocked or abandoned investigations of whether drilling or hydraulic fracturing polluted drinking water. In addition to the case in Parker County, reports in major news outlets indicate that the Obama administration caused the EPA to abandon studies of potential drilling or fracking pollution in Pavillion, WY and Dimock, PA despite evidence of drilling-related harm.
“The Obama administration appears to be more concerned about protecting corporate interests, not the public interest,” said Steve Lipsky, a Weatherford, TX homeowner who sued Range Resources after the EPA named the company the party responsible for contaminating his drinking water well. “President Obama promised that hydraulic fracturing would occur safely. With this IG report, it now seems clear that he is determined to squash any evidence to the contrary.”
Just prior to the release of the Inspector General report, the Texas Railroad Commission (regulator of oil and gas, not railroads) opened an investigation into the case. The EPA intervened in 2010 to protect area drinking water only after the commission refused to do so. The Commission’s new investigation prevents the EPA from legally intervening now as it did in 2010.
“Regulators shouldn’t have to be pressured into doing their job to protect people like me from drilling impacts,” said Shelly Perdue, a Parker County resident with drilling-polluted drinking water. "If what has happened to me is happening to others, I completely understand why communities across the country are voting to ban fracking and drilling.”
“Releasing this report at noon on Christmas Eve shows the Obama administration is obviously embarrassed by its findings,” said Earthworks energy program director Bruce Baizel. “As they should be. The withdrawal of Obama’s EPA is an abject failure of its mission to protect Americans’ health and environment.”
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
Residents personally harmed by gas drilling and fracking held a press conference in front of the White House yesterday and delivered 250,000 petition signatures from concerned citizens across the U.S. to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy at EPA headquarters. The residents—including Ray Kemble from Pennsylvania, Steve Lipsky and Shelly Perdue from Texas and John Fenton from Wyoming—were all part of the EPA fracking investigations in their respective states that the EPA abandoned despite evidence of water contamination.
The petitions were collected by Stop the Frack Attack and Americans Against Fracking and its advisory committee member, actor Mark Ruffalo. The petitions demand that the U.S. EPA reopen investigations into fracking-related drinking water contamination in Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming and provide residents with safe drinking water in the interim.
"Today, I stand with affected community members from Dimock, PA, Pavilion, WY, and Parker County, TX, to call on President Obama and the EPA to re-open the investigations on the link between fracking and drinking water contamination,” said actor and advocate Mark Ruffalo. “The American people expect and deserve a transparent EPA that makes science-based decisions, free from political interference."
This event comes a month after Dimock, Pennsylvania resident Ray Kemble and Susquehanna County resident Craig Stevens delivered more than 50,000 petitions to the EPA asking it to reopen its investigation into the possible connection between gas drilling and water contamination in Dimock.
“Last month, we told EPA officials that we would be back in a month with more petitions,” said Craig Stevens. “Today, we are here to deliver five times our original number of petitions, and we stand here with affected community members from Pavilion,WY, and Parker County, TX, who have been through the same nightmare we have in Pennsylvania.”
“For years now, I have had to live with toxic, poisoned fracked water in my home,” added Ray Kemble, a former gas industry employee and an affected Dimock area resident, who was part of the EPA investigation. “When the EPA finally stepped in and tested my water, I thought ‘Thank God. Someone is finally here to help us.’ But then it became apparent to those of us on the ground that they were playing politics. EPA officials officially told us that our water was safe to drink but then told us off-the-record not to drink it. Now the truth is out and we want justice.”
In late 2010 in Parker County, TX, the EPA’s investigations led it to issue a rare emergency order because at least two homeowners were in immediate danger from a well saturated with flammable methane. More than a year later, the agency rescinded its mandate without explaining why. A subsequent Associated Press story reported that although the EPA had scientific evidence connecting the driller, Range Resources, with drinking water contamination, they changed course after political pressure from the company and its lobbyists.
“President Obama told us that we would only extract natural gas if it didn’t pollute our water,” said Steve Lipsky of Parker County, TX. “The EPA knows my water was polluted by fracking, their own investigator told them so. Now I have to truck in my drinking water. President Obama, you need to tell the EPA to reopen its investigations.”
“The purpose of the EPA is to protect us all from these types of health and safety hazards,” said Shelly Perdue, of Parker County, TX, whose water and air have also been contaminated with methane. “The methane at my house is 18 times the explosive level. It’s time for President Obama and Gina McCarthy to stand up for our communities.”
More recently, the EPA abandoned its fracking study in Pavillion, WY, which found benzene, a known carcinogen, at 50 times the level that is considered safe. However, even with this evidence, the EPA handed its investigation over to the state of Wyoming, whose lead politicians have vocally supported fracking. Moreover, this research will be funded by EnCana, the very company whose drilling and fracking operations may have caused the groundwater contamination in question.
“The EPA conducted an investigation into the contamination of our aquifer, and discovered that drilling was responsible,” said John Fenton a rancher from Pavillion. “But rather than finish, they knuckled under to political pressure and turned the investigation over to the very state and company that denied there was a problem in the first place. President Obama needs to tell the EPA to reopen its investigations.”
This action follows the one million public comments delivered to Obama Administration against fracking on public lands as part of a growing movement demanding that the Obama Administration do its job in protecting Americans from dangers of fracking.
Organizations involved in the EPA petition delivery include: Berks Gas Truth, Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Center for Biological Diversity, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Earthworks, Energy Action Coalition, Environmental Action, Food and Water Watch, Frack Action, Gasland, MoveOn.org, Public Citizen and Western Organization of Resource Councils.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.