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Energy

Sanders to Trump and Koch Brothers: 'Fossil Fuels' Days Are Numbered'

On Jan. 31—the day after President Trump's State of the Union address which lauded "beautiful clean coal" and completely ignored climate change—environmental activists gathered in Washington, DC to launch a new campaign to combat fossil fuel development and drive forward a renewable energy revolution from the ground up.

"Fossil Free U.S." is a grassroots strategy for passing local resolutions in cities and states nationwide that ban new fossil fuel projects. As a press release for the campaign stated, "Stopping Trump's climate-wrecking plans won't come from the beltway, but from communities everywhere fighting for justice from the ground up."

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Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Report: White House Wants to Cut Renewable Energy Programs by 72%

President Donald Trump—who remarked Tuesday that his administration ended the nonexistent "war on beautiful clean coal"—really wants to make fossil fuels great again.

The White House plans to ask Congress to cut the Department of Energy's renewable energy and energy efficiency programs by a massive 72 percent in fiscal 2019, according to draft budget documents obtained by the Washington Post.

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Energy.gov Gets Altered, Removes Climate Benefits of Renewables

By now it shouldn't be a surprise that the Trump administration is wiping Obama-era climate initiatives off the Internet.

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Energy Secretary Rick Perry. Photo credit: Flickr

Energy Department Tells Staff to Stop Using Phrase 'Climate Change'

A supervisor at the Department of Energy's Office of International Climate and Clean Energy told staff to stop using the phrases "climate change," "emissions reduction" and "Paris agreement" in any official written communications, according to POLITICO's sources.

The instructions were reportedly given at a Tuesday meeting held shortly after President Trump's latest controversial executive order that reversed Obama-era climate policies.

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While the former Texas governor had a few chuckles, Sanders made clear that the climate crisis is no laughing matter.

Bernie Sanders Skewers Perry for Whitewashing Climate Crisis

By Lauren McCauley

During his confirmation hearing on Thursday, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry was able to laugh off having once called for abolishing the Department of Energy, which he is now poised to lead, but Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) refused to let him get away "sounding like a hung over frat boy," as one observer put it, when speaking about the crisis of climate change.

Sanders repeated Perry's own 2011 statement that he does not believe in global warming that America "should not spend billions of dollars addressing a scientific theory that has not been proven."

"That position is a variance with virtually the entire scientific community that has studied climate change," Sanders observed before asking, "do you still hold the views that you expressed in 2011? ... Do you agree with those scientists that it is absolutely imperative that we transform our energy system away from fossil fuel to energy efficiency so that we can leave this planet in a way that is healthy and habitable for our kids and future generations?"

Perry responded by delivering what The Hill described as Republicans' "new line on climate change."

"I believe the climate is changing," Perry said. "I believe some of it is naturally occurring, but some of it is also caused by manmade activity. The question is how do we address it in a thoughtful way that doesn't compromise economic growth, the affordability of energy or American jobs."

"Governor, I don't mean to be rude," Sanders interrupted. "We are in danger of spending God knows how many billions of dollars to repair the damage done by climate change. Drought is becoming a major crisis, it will impact agriculture in a very significant way."

"Let's get beyond the rhetoric," Sanders continued, "the majority of scientists who study this issue think that climate change is a global crisis. It's not a question of balance this and balance that. It is a global crisis that requires massive cuts in carbon and transformation of our energy system."

Then stopping Perry's interjection about his record of lowering emissions in Texas, Sanders said: "I am asking you if you agree with the scientific community that climate change is a crisis and if we need to transform our energy system to protect future generations?"

It is worth noting, as Climate Progress's founding editor Joe Romm did, that Perry's retort about lowering carbon and sulfur emissions speaks to his lack of knowledge as well as how Republican efforts to rollback emissions regulations are at odds with climate science.

As Romm reported, "the reductions in sulfur dioxide and NOx that Perry is now bragging about were due to EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] regulations that Republicans like Perry fought against from the get-go. And now team Trump wants to kill the EPA regulations that would keep lowering carbon emissions."

Sanders also pressed Perry to state whether he thinks that "testing nuclear weapons is a dangerous idea." Perry sidestepped, saying he wants "a nuclear arsenal that is modern and safe" and that he will look to nuclear scientists for answers on whether they should be tested.

Perry added, "I think anyone would be of the opinion that if we don't ever have to test another nuclear weapon, that would be a good thing, not just for the United States, but for the world."

Watch the exchange below:

Sanders is not the only lawmaker who took issue with Perry's past statements on climate change.

During the hearing, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) quoted Perry in 2014, when he declared: "I don't believe we have the settled science by any sense of the imagination. Calling CO2 a pollutant is doing a disserve to the country and a disservice to the world."

"Now," Franken continued, "I see in your testimony that your views have been evolving on this and you note that man is responsible for some climate change. How much climate change do you think that science shows is due to human activity?"

Perry interjected: "It is far from me to be sitting before you and claiming to be a climate scientist. I will not do that."

To which Franken retorted, "I don't think you're ever going to be a climate scientist, but you are going to be head of the Department of Energy."

What the exchange below:

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

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Former Head of CIA to Teach Fracking Industry-Funded Syllabus in New York

DeSmogBlog

By Steve Horn

Records obtained by DeSmogBlog pertaining to City University of New York (CUNY) Macaulay Honors College's hiring of former head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) David Petraeus to teach a seminar this coming fall reveal that his syllabus features two of the most well-known "frackademia" studies. 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

"Frackademia" is shorthand for oil and gas industry-funded research costumed as independent economics or science covering the topic of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the controversial horizontal drilling process via which oil and gas is obtained deep within shale rock basins.

According to the syllabus, Petraeus will devote two weeks to energy alone, naming those weeks "The Energy Revolution I" and "The Energy Revolution II." The two "frackademia" studies Petraeus will have his students read for his course titled "The Coming North American Decade(s)? are both seminal industry-funded works.

One of them is a study written by industry-funded National Economic Research Associates (NERA) concluding liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports are beneficial to the U.S. economy, despite the fact that exporting fracked gas will raise domestic home-heating and manufacturing prices. NERA was founded by "father of deregulation" Alfred E. Kahn. The study Petraeus will have his students read was contracted out by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to NERA.

The other, a study written by then-Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) research professor Ernest Moniz—now the head of the DOE—is titled "The Future of Natural Gas" and also covers LNG exports. DOE oversees the permitting process for LNG exports. That study was funded by the Clean Skies Foundation, a front group for Chesapeake Energy and covered in-depth in the Public Accountability Initiative's report titled, Industry Partner or Industry Puppet?

Noticeably absent from the reading list: studies tackling the climate impacts, air quality impacts, over-arching ecological impacts such as water contamination, wastewater impacts and diminishing supply issues.

Together, the two crucial studies on the syllabus reading list—and the lack of critical readings on the topic of fracking—offers a glimpse into the stamp of legitimacy industry-funded studies get when they have the logo of elite research universities on them. It's also another portrayal of the ascendancy of the corporate university. 

From "Petraeusgate" to "Frackademia"-gate

In the case of Petraeus, the original "Petraeusgate" scandal centered around the $200,000 fee the Honors College planned on paying him for his role as an adjunct professor set to teach one course. A normal CUNY Honors College adjunct receives $3,000 per course.

Recently, Petraeus—who the late Rolling Stone investigative journalist Michael Hastings pejoratively referred to as "King David" in reference to the role he played in implementing counterinsurgency doctrine in U.S.-occupied Iraq—took a pay cut down to $1 to teach the course. That doesn't include the money he'll still get from an unidentified private donor referred to in other documents. 

That scandal sat on top of the scandal that led to his resignation from the CIA in the first place: an extramarital affair with Paula Broadwell, who at the time of the affair was writing a biography about him titled, All In: The Education of General David Petraeus.

Petraeus Teaches Frackers Counterinsurgency, Psychological Warfare

Petraeus has also taught the shale gas industry some important things, as well.

Namely, Petraeus was one of the co-authors of the Counterinsurgency (COIN) Field Manual that Anadarko Petroleum PR hand Matt Carmichael said he has employees read at the “Media & Stakeholder Relations: Hydraulic Fracturing Initiative 2011” conference in Houston, TX, in 2011. 

"Download the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual because we are dealing with an insurgency," said Carmichael at the conference. "There’s a lot of good lessons in there, and coming from a military background, I found the insight in that extremely remarkable."

One of the key COIN tactics covered in the Field Manual is psychological operations (PSYOPs), also discussed at the Houston conference by Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella.

"We have several former PSYOPs folks that work for us at Range because they’re very comfortable in dealing with localized issues and local governments," Pitzarella said to the audience in Houston. 

"Really all they do is spend most of their time helping folks develop local ordinances and things like that. But very much having that understanding of PSYOPs in the Army and in the Middle East has applied very helpfully here for us in Pennsylvania." 

As Hastings covered in another Rolling Stone investigation, the U.S. military employed PSYOPs tactics on members of Congress. That's illegal within U.S. borders under the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, though it seems rather unlikely the co-author of the COIN Manual—"King David" himself—will cover these details in his course. 

Petraeus' Wall Street Job Description Mirrors His Course Description

Petraus also has a teaching gig at University of Southern California (USC) and a day job working at the Wall Street firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts (KKR). 

"He is expected to advise on economic trends, issues with foreign governments and other matters that could affect transactions," The Wall Street Journal explained of his hiring at KKR. "He will advise firms owned by KKR in an effort to improve management and leadership and help them confront economic and geopolitical forces that affect them."

Petraeus' job description mirrors the course description he will teach, lending insight into what type of jobs the students taking his course may obtain in the future if Petraeus' class is a pedagogical success.

"Petraeus and others at the firm [will have] discussions over macroeconomic and geopolitical forces that could influence KKR's investment decisions. These issues include the heightened role of central banks following the financial crisis, and what KKR views as 'revolutions' in energy, manufacturing and technology, among other areas," The Wall Street Journal further spelled out. 

The course description, as seen below, sings a similar tune:

Students taking Petraeus' course will go above and beyond passive stoic discussion of the burning public policy issues of the day. Indeed, they will dive into the sphere of role-playing the positions of high-ranking U.S. officialdom, all in the context of the readings—such as the "frackademia" ones—they must complete and discuss in seminar on a weekly basis that will inform the role-play.

An example below:

Re-Conceptualizing the "Revolving Door"

The government-industry revolving door commonly refers to governmental officials leaving taxpayer-funded government gigs for jobs as corporate lobbyists, public relations spin-doctors and other related iterations. The evolution and corporatization of research unversities - in many ways research factories on behalf of multinational corporations - has seen the revolving door extend into higher education. 

Petraeus is one example and Moniz is another, but so too is former CIA-head Robert Gates. After leaving the CIA, Gates became the Chancellor of University of Texas A&M and then became Secretary of Defense.

Another example is Janet Napolitano, former head of the Department of Homeland Security who recently secured a job to head the University of California System. And yet another example is John Deutch, former head of the CIA who is now on the Board of Directors of Cheniere, served on President Obama's DOE Fracking Subcommittee and is a professor at MIT, where he co-wrote the "The Future of Natural Gas" with Moniz that Petraeus will have his students read.  

"Petraeusgate," then, is just the tip of the iceberg of a problem with much deeper roots.

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS BELOW.

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Climate

Opposition Escalates Against New Jersey Offshore LNG Proposal

Clean Ocean Action

Yesterday, environmental groups including Clean Ocean Action, Food & Water Watch and Edison Wetlands Association blasted the offshore Port Ambrose Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facility at a press conference just before the public hearing at the New Jersey Expo and Convention Center in Edison, NJ. The groups cited reasons to reject this project including, threats to tourism, commerce and the marine environment, the connection to hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, the deficiencies in the application and the fact that an identical project was vetoed by Gov. Christie. Hundreds of citizens attended and spoke out against the project at the public hearing as well, with momentum building in opposition to Port Ambrose following last night’s public hearing in Long Beach, NY.

Photo Credit: Nick Lynn,
Surfrider Foundation.

“I am proud that so many residents came and spoke out yesterday. I repeat my demand that the public be provided more information, more time for comment, more hearings and more opportunity to be heard,” stated Nassau County Legislator David Denenberg (D-Merrick). “This project has security, economic, commercial and environmental concerns that must be discussed and dealt with before closing off public comment and moving to the next step,” stated Mr. Denenberg.
 
The Port Ambrose LNG facility has been proposed off the coast of Long Branch, NJ, and 17 nautical miles south of Jones Beach, NY. The project is the same proposal that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie vetoed. The only difference is the name. The project, if licensed, would allow both exports and imports of natural gas, resulting in accelerated hydro-fracking in the region and higher energy costs.
 
While the application is for an import facility, existing Department of Energy approvals have authorized up to 40 percent of our domestically-produced natural gas to be exported to certain nations around the world, and more approvals are in the pipeline for exports to the rest of the globe. Opponents of the project say any LNG facility will be for both import and export and it will create demand for fracking, via exports.
 
“This proposed LNG facility has the capability to destroy our Garden State. New Jersey is one the most densely populated areas in the country and our Jersey Shore generates millions of dollars through summer recreation alone,” said Dana Patterson, Edison Wetlands Association’s program supervisor. “Our communities must not be put at risk so a precarious facility can operate for pure profit without consideration for our water quality, diverse sea life, thriving fisheries or health and safety of our residents,” she explained.
 
“The last thing our still suffering Sandy damaged New Jersey Shore needs is an LNG export facility. We know the process of fracking to extract the gas destined for export risks our drinking water, air and ocean as it is not even regulated,” said ocean advocate and paddler Margo Pellegrino. “With this proposed terminal we increase this risk to our own drinking water and ocean, our own health, and pay more for our own ‘home grown’ energy as prices skyrocket with European demand for our dirty fuel. To say the idea of such a facility anywhere on the East Coast, but especially here in this most trafficked of all waterways is a ‘bad idea’ is an extreme understatement,” added Pellegrino.
 
"Port Ambrose would require a massive investment in dirty fossil fuels and fracking at a time when the threat of climate change demands we switch to truly clean energy," said Matt Smith, an organizer with Food & Water Watch, a consumer advocacy organization. "In this post-Superstorm Sandy era, New Jersey residents are saying no to fossil fuels, no to fracking and no to this ill-concieved hazard to our air, water and climate," stated Smith.
 
“Liberty Natural Gas, an unknown and well-connected foreign company is using their significant money, lobbyists and influence to bring this floating disaster to our region. By holding this hearing in Edison, NJ, the Maritime Administration is trying to ignore the Jersey Shore, which is why we are hosting a 'Citizens' Hearing' tomorrow in Sea Bright, NJ,” explained Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action. “Citizen’s voices unable to get to Edison can come and testify and the comments will be officially submitted for the record,” said Zipf.
 
The citizens’ hearing, organized by Clean Ocean Action, is tonight in Sea Bright, NJ, at the Sea Bright Public Beach, 1099 Ocean Ave., Sea Bright, NJ 07760. There will be an informational open house from 4:30 - 5:30 p.m. and the hearing will be from 6 - 8 p.m. Comments made at this hearing will be submitted to the federal government.

Visit EcoWatch’s LIQUEFIED NATURAL GAS and FRACKING pages for more related news on this topic.

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SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS BELOW: Do you feel misled upon learning the plans to export LNG since officials have long claimed that fracking for natural gas will create energy independence?

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Obama Administration to Rely on 'Clean Coal' and Unproven Sequestration to Combat Climate Change

DeSmogBlog

By Sharon Kelly

The key takeaway from President Obama's major climate change announcement last week was his intent to batten down on coal. But if history is any indication, the man Mr. Obama selected to run the Department of Energy may have different plans.

On May 22, 2013, newly sworn-in Energy Secretary Dr. Ernest Moniz opened up a town hall forum. DOE employees were invited to attend, and submit questions to staff. Photo by Sarah Gerrity, Department of Energy.

Ernest J. Moniz has a long history of supporting coal-powered electricity, staking his arguments in favor of coal on a technology that remains entirely unproven: carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).

Mr. Moniz will be in a uniquely influential position when it comes to confronting these problems. President Obama announced that he would rely on executive agencies instead of Congress, so Mr. Moniz's Energy Department will play a crucial role in determining precisely how Obama's strategy is administered.

The day after Obama's speech, Moniz told Congress “the President advocates an all-of-the-above energy strategy and I am very much in tune with this."

What's wrong with an all-of-the-above strategy? It extends reliance on fossil fuels, at a time when scientists warn that we can only burn 20 percent of current reserves before the world tips past the crucial 2 degree Celsius point. Beyond two degrees, some of the most devastating impacts of global warming will be felt. Keep in mind that, if all of the world's coal is burned, global temperatures could rise by a jaw-dropping 15 degrees Celsius, a study published in the prestigious journal Nature last year concluded.

The stakes, when it comes to controlling American greenhouse gas emissions, are huge.

In May, carbon dioxide levels in the Earth's atmosphere reached 400 parts per million—the highest level of carbon dioxide ever recorded in human history. Last year, the continental U.S. experienced its hottest year on record, and the Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that climate-related disasters like crop loss, wildfires and floods cost the nation roughly $140 billion last year alone, with much of the tab picked up by taxpayers.

Power plants are the single largest source of American carbon dioxide emissions, accounting for a third of the nation's total greenhouse gases. So focusing on power plants is key if emissions are to be reduced.

Coal currently supplies about 40 percent of American electricity, according to Energy Information Administration statistics, down from 50 percent in 2005. Coal's decline comes as natural gas from fracking (which has its own worrisome climate impacts, measured in methane rather than carbon dioxide), wind and solar, have risen in their share of the U.S. electric portfolio. Since the beginning of 2010, 145 coal-fired power plants announced plans to retire.

But the Department of Energy is focused not on retiring more of these plants, pinning its hopes instead on developing new technologies to make coal cleaner. The plan in rough form, involves collecting carbon dioxide emitted by power plants and burying it, forever, underground.

If that sounds like a heck of a challenge, that's because it is.

There's not a single large commercially-operating carbon sequestration plant anywhere in the world.

That's despite over $25 billion in government subsidies worldwide from 2008 to 2012.

Nevertheless, Mr. Moniz told Congress that “the Administration has already committed about $6 billion to [carbon capture and sequestration] demonstrations, and success of the forthcoming projects will be a critical step toward meeting the President's climate goals."

The $8 billion in total subsidies adds up to more than the wind and solar industries combined receive—and those are industries that have proven themselves to be commercially viable.

Undaunted, Moniz told The New York Times that CCS was a vital part of the country's climate change strategy. He called for CCS to be commercialized first for coal-fired power plants. He added that natural gas' carbon emissions, though half those of coal, are still too high to meet Obama's long-term goal of slashing emissions 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050—so he called for the same speculative technology to resolve that problem as well.

The transition to an electric industry that captures its greenhouse gases instead of releasing them into the atmosphere makes the challenges associated with developing renewables like wind and solar look easy in comparison.

Professor Vaclav Smil, author of Energy Myths and Realities: Bringing Science to the Energy Policy Debate has calculated that to sequester just a fifth of current carbon dioxide emissions:

"... we would have to create an entirely new worldwide absorption-gathering-compression-transportation-storage industry whose annual throughput would have to be about 70 percent larger than the annual volume now handled by the global crude oil industry whose immense infrastructure of wells, pipelines, compressor stations and storages took generations to build."

Carbon capture is also grossly inefficient. "By some estimates, 40 percent of the energy generated has to go to the carbon capture and sequestration process," Josh Galperin, associate director of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy, said after the climate strategy was released. DeSmog's Kevin Grandia describes some further technical hurdles that carbon sequestration has yet to overcome.

In a key indication of how shaky the science is behind carbon sequestration, not even the World Bank will fund it. Concerns about climate change led the Bank to restrict its financial support for coal projects except in “rare circumstances," a draft strategy leaked to the press last week indicates. In a glaring omission, the strategy says nothing about carbon capture and sequestration as an alternative.

None of this seems to matter to Mr. Moniz, whose support of the coal industry and faith in sequestration has been longstanding.

A 2009 report he helped produce focused on how to reduce carbon dioxide from coal plants, touting the potential for so-called "clean coal."

"It's cheap," he told Scientific American when the report was released, "there's lots of it and there's lots of it in places with high demand, namely the U.S., China and India."

In 2007, Moniz co-authored an Massachusetts Institute of Technology report titled The Future of Coal that aimed to examine “how the world can continue to use coal, an abundant and inexpensive fuel, in a way that mitigates, instead of worsens, the global warming crisis."

Moniz's faith in carbon sequestration has remained unshaken up to the present day.

"It's not going to happen tomorrow, but I believe in this decade we will have demonstrated the viability of large-scale storage" of carbon dioxide from industrial operations, he told the Associated Press recently. “The president made clear that we anticipate that coal and other fossil fuels are going to play a significant role for quite some time on the way to a very low carbon economy," he added.

Meanwhile, broader concerns about the President's climate plans remain.

“We're happy to see the president finally addressing climate change" said Bill Snape, senior counsel for the Center for Biological Diversity, “but the plain truth is that what he's proposing isn't big enough, and doesn't move fast enough, to match the terrifying magnitude of the climate crisis."

And if the clean coal technology Mr. Moniz is counting on doesn't pan out, prospects may be even dimmer.

Visit EcoWatch's CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.

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DO YOU THINK ERNEST MONIZ MAY HAVE A CONFLICT OF INTEREST IN THE HEAVILY SUBSIDIZED CARBON CAPTURE AND SEQUESTRATION INDUSTRY?

Energy

The Toxic Legacy of Waste Injection Wells

DeSmog Canada

By Elizabeth Hand

Early scientific analysis predicted that the risks associated with hazardous waste injection wells would be negligible. Unfortunately, experience has indicated that disposing of hazardous waste deep underground has been linked to water contamination, destroyed ecosystems, toxic leaks and earthquakes.

Now we are learning that there is a difference between scientific analysis and scientific evidence.

In a recent extensive report by ProPublica, John Apps, leading geoscientist, who advises the Department of Energy for Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, said that the science used to go forward with disposal wells was not sound.

"Every statement is based on a collection of experts that offer you their opinions. Then you do a scientific analysis of their opinions and get some probability out of it. This is a wonderful way to go when you don't have any evidence one way or another ... But it really doesn't mean anything scientifically," said Apps.

Perhaps the scientific projections behind the disposal well operations would be sound under ideal conditions: uniform rock structure, stability of toxic materials, predictable reactions and seismic activity. But, scientists say, no amount of speculation can take into account all of the variables of deep underground environments.

"Geology," according to geologist Ronald Reese, "is never what you think it is.”

Only practical data and experimental research can offer any insight into the possible risks of hazardous waste injection wells. And since many disposal wells have gone unmonitored for years, regulators are unable to make informed decisions about their safety.

According to ProPublica, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “has not counted the number of cases of waste migration or contamination in more than 20 years.”

Up until the 1960s, most toxic waste was deposited in lakes and rivers, which led to obvious, unbearable pollution of ecosystems and drinking water in the U.S. As an answer to this pressing problem, oil companies developed hazardous waste injection wells as a solution.

Disposal wells use high-pressure pumps to force toxic and non-toxic waste down cement and steel pipelines to dumping zones about two kilometers deep in the Earth. Wells can be shallower if the waste is less offensive. The waste is then released into the porous rock beneath several layers of Earth. 

The idea, according to a recent report in the Scientific American, is that “underground waste is contained by layer after layer of impermeable rock. If one layer leaks, the next blocks the waste from spreading before it reaches groundwater. The laws of physics and fluid dynamics should ensure that the waste can't spread far and is diluted as it goes.”

Each disposal well could deposit more than millions of gallons of waste into the ground using tremendous force. Once the waste is deposited, it is not tracked and scientists have no real idea of how far it can travel.

The ProPublica report points out that, “rock layers aren't always neatly stacked as they appear in engineers' sketches. They often fold and twist over on themselves. Waste injected into such formations is more likely to spread in lopsided, unpredictable ways.”

In light of recent research and evidence of leakage, hydrologist Tom Myers says that more knowledge is needed to understand the implications of deep disposal wells as “natural faults and fractures are more prevalent than commonly understood.”

Scientific projections were unable to foresee the ways that injection wells would impact the environment. The three major ways are:

Water

In many cases, liquid waste has traveled horizontally and migrated up to ground water through abandoned water and oil wells. This unanticipated phenomenon has been linked to hundreds of water contamination cases throughout the U.S. and Canada. 

There are currently thousands of unplugged and abandoned wells in the U.S. and Canada. In 1989, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) investigated and concluded that current safeguards aren’t preventing contamination from injected oil and gas wastes. Their report states specifically that “brines from Class II wells can enter drinking water supplies directly, through cracks and leaks in the well casing, or indirectly through nearby wells.”

Canada, too, has had its share of disposal well-related contamination due to insufficient research. The Canadian government blames events like the contamination of groundwater in Lambton Count, Ontario, in 1977 on a “lack of knowledge.” According to Environment Canada, “[d]isposal wells were constructed and waste injected following the regulations and best knowledge at the time. However, it was not realized that waste fluids would migrate to the surface through abandoned oil and groundwater wells, causing a major problem that still exists today.”

Earthquakes

Even basic regulations are supposed to include a seismic survey within a two-mile radius of the designated drilling area. Yet, “in 1961, a 12,000-foot well was drilled at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal, northeast of Denver, [CO], for disposing of waste fluids from the Arsenal's chemical weapons operations. Injection commenced March 1962, and an unusual series of earthquakes erupted in the area shortly after.” According to the U.S. Geological Survey, over the course of time that the Rocky Mountain Arsenal waste dumping practice went on, the area sustained a dozen earthquakes.

The earthquakes were prompted by the destabilization of a seismic fault line due to the drilling of the well and the pressure of materials being forced into the ground. The Arsenal stopped injection operations Nov. 26, 1967, after a 5.0 magnitude earthquake rocked the area a few months earlier.

This isn’t an isolated case.

In 2011, A magnitude 5.7 earthquake rocked the area surrounding Prague, OK. Scientists say the "largest earthquake in Oklahoma history was likely triggered by a waste injection well." According to a report in National Geographic, "[a]s pressure builds in these disposal wells, it pushes up against geological faults, sometimes causing them to rupture, setting off an earthquake."

In a report released by the scientific journal Geology earlier this year, "Significant earthquakes are increasingly occurring within the continental interior of the United States." These quakes are being directly linked with injection well operations.

Land Value

In Texas, many farmers are unable to use their land for farming or livestock due to contamination. Texas is riddled with abandoned and unplugged oil wells, which play a role in the leaks caused by injection wells.

The abandoned wells present a pathway for injected wastes to migrate upward into ground water and onto farmland. If a field is flooded by an injection well leak, the land is not suitable for farming of any kind. The resale value of the land is also affected.

As ProPublica reports, in 2003, "Ed Cowley of the EPA got a call to check out a pool of briny water in a bucolic farm field outside Chico, TX. Nearby, he said, a stand of trees had begun to wither, their leaves turning crispy brown and falling to the ground." 

The pool of water was due to a salt-water leak from a nearby injection well. Salt-water brine is used in various oil production techniques [fracking] and is known to contain dangerous chemicals like benzene. "It was frustrating," Crowley said. "If your water goes, what does that do to the value of your land?"

A major contributor to the deficit of knowledge surrounding waste injection wells could be the lack of sufficient monitoring and documentation. And this negligence doesn't appear to be accidental. In the 1980’s, an abundance of leak and water contamination reports brought waste injection well regulations into consideration with federal regulators proposing stricter rules. At the time the oil and gas industry complained they couldn’t afford to uphold such high standards of inspection. The amount of money needed to conduct the inspections would force them to close down they said.

Oil and gas exploration and production waste is now exempt from federal hazardous wastes regulations in the U.S. 

According to ProPublica, “[o]perators are required to do so-called 'mechanical integrity' tests at regular intervals, yearly for Class 1 wells and at least once every five years for Class 2 wells. In 2010, the tests led to more than 7,500 violations [in the U.S.], with more than 2,300 wells failing. In Texas, one violation was issued for every three Class 2 wells examined in 2010.”

In some cases, operators aren't required to comply with what regulations do exist. Many operational wells were built before current regulations were put into place. These “grandfathered” wells are not, and will not be, subject to the same regulations as new wells.

Even with new wells, the standards are not being met. According to the GAO, new permits are being issued “without evidence that the pressure tests were conducted.”

Inspection regulations in place are habitually ignored or sidestepped. Perhaps because regulations are, according to some experts, “outdated at this point.”

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING WASTEWATER page for more related news on this topic.

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HOW IS YOUR COMMUNITY'S WATER IS SOURCED?

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