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A Pennsylvania family shows their contaminated water supply. Les Stone / Greenpeace

Fracking Study Links Pollution, Earthquakes to Drilling in Texas Shale

A new analysis of Texas' oil and gas development underscores how there really are two sides to the energy debate. We know that drilling has brought the state billions in wealth, but its vast impacts on the environment cannot be ignored.

The Academy of Medicine, Engineering and Science of Texas (TAMEST)—the state's top scientific community—has released a comprehensive, peer-reviewed report today analyzing the wide-ranging environmental, economic and social impacts of shale oil and gas production in the Lone Star State.

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SolarWorld

There Are 68.4 Million Better Places for Solar Panels Than Mr. Trump's Wall

By John Rogers

President Trump on Tuesday suggested putting solar panels on his infamous border wall to help pay for it (since Mexico certainly won't). While there are more things wrong with that proposal than I can cover in this space, it's great to see that President Trump has finally figured out solar panels are cost-effective energy investments, paying for themselves even if you ignore the many environmental benefits. But here are more than 68.4 million better places for President Trump to invest in solar to pay dividends for the American people.

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Can This 36-Year-Old Unseat the Biggest Climate Denier in Congress?

A climate activist and organizer is hoping to put "the worst climate denier in Congress" out of his job.

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Judge to Exxon: Pay $20 Million for Violating Clean Air Act More Than 16,000 Times

ExxonMobil must pay $20 million for violating the Clean Air Act more than 16,000 times at a Texas plant, a district judge ruled this week.

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Oil drilling site, with a pond for fracking water, Cotulla, Texas. Photo credit: Al Braden

Texas Town Opposes BLM's Plan to Frack Public Lands

The mayor of Brenham signed Monday the city council's unanimous resolution opposing the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) plans to auction lands beneath and around Lake Somerville for oil and gas development. The resolution cited concerns that loss or contamination of the lake's water supply would be "catastrophic" for its residents. Lake Somerville is the city's sole drinking water source.

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Exxon Dealt Big Blow as Texas Judge Kicks Climate Lawsuit to New York Court

In a decision released Wednesday, ExxonMobil lost its bid to have their complaint against Attorneys General Eric Schneiderman and Maura Healey heard by a sympathetic Texas judge.

"The decision is a major blow to Exxon's efforts to distract from the valid investigations into whether the company lied to the public and its investors about the dangers of global warming," Jamie Henn, 350.org strategic communications director, said.

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Scientists Link Fracking to Explosion That Severely Injured Texas Family

Scientists have determined that methane from a fracked well contaminated a Texas family's water supply and triggered an explosion that nearly killed four members of the family.

The family's ranch in Palo Pinto County is located only a few thousand feet away from a natural gas well.

Scientists have found that methane escaped from a poorly constructed natural gas well and leached into a Texas family's water well, causing it to explode.WFAA

In August 2014, former oil field worker Cody Murray, his father, wife and young daughter were severely burned and hospitalized from a "fireball" that erupted from the family's pump house.

A year later, the family filed a lawsuit against oil and gas operators EOG Resources and Fairway Resources, claiming the defendants' drilling and extraction activities caused the high-level methane contamination of the Murrays' water well.

"At the flip of the switch, Cody heard a 'whooshing' sound, which he instantly recognized from his work in the oil and gas industry, and instinctively picked his father up and physically threw him back and away from the entryway to the pump house," the complaint states. "In that instant, a giant fireball erupted from the pump house, burning Cody and [his father], who were at the entrance to the pump house, as well as Ashley and A.M., who were approximately twenty feet away."

While the state's oil and gas regulator—the Texas Railroad Commission—has yet to definitely prove what caused the blast, new scientific studies commissioned by the Murrays' attorneys has directly linked the explosion to fracking operations.

As the Texas Tribune detailed, the studies found that methane and drilling mud chemicals had escaped from a poorly sealed Fairway gas well and traveled through underground fractures and eventually into the Murrays' water supply.

The hired experts include Thomas Darrah, a geochemist at Ohio State University; Franklin Schwartz, an Ohio State University hydrologist; Zacariah Hildenbrand, chief scientific officer at Inform Environmental; and Anthony Ingraffea, a civil engineering professor at a Cornell University with expertise in fracking.

"The timing is undeniable, the location is undeniable, the chemistry of the gas is undeniable," Chris Hamilton, the Murray's attorney, told news station WFAA. "This is not naturally occurring gas. This is gas that came from 4 to 6-thousand feet below the ground."

Hamilton shared a video with WFAA that shows the bubbling, methane-saturated water that caused the 2014 explosion.

"What you can see in the video here is just super carbonated water that is saturated with methane gas that's bubbling out of the Murray's water," he explained.

"This is an explosive gas," Hamilton added. "Large bubbles and pockets of this methane escaping from a water well, any sort of spark will start a fire."

Groundwater contamination is one of the biggest concerns about unconventional oil and natural gas development. While the industry maintains the safety of the process, in December the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released its highly anticipated final report identifying cases of impacts on drinking water at each stage in the hydraulic fracturing water cycle.

Incidentally, the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission—a state legislative body that reviews agencies—has been highly critical of the Texas Railroad Commission's effectiveness at regulating the oil and gas industry.

As WFAA reported:

"It's the 3rd such report since 2010, and is critical of Railroad Commission's effectiveness and operations. 'The commission's lack of a strategic approach to enforcement and inability to provide information persists.' The report cites: 'no accurate counts of major violation,' 'no accurate measure of violations referred for legal enforcement action' and '(Oil and gas) operators have a reasonable expectation they will not be penalized.'"

Fairway Resources declined to provide a comment to WFAA due to the ongoing lawsuit. The Texas Railroad Commission also declined to comment citing their ongoing investigation.

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Photo credit: Lorne Matalon / Marfa Public Radio

Wind Pays More Than Oil in Lone Star State

By Steve Hargreaves and Courtney St. John

Two stories this week—both from Texas—illustrate the precarious nature of fossil fuel jobs and the economic power of renewable energy.

The first, published in the New York Times, shows how oil production is making a comeback in West Texas, but many of its jobs are not. Like manufacturing before it, the oil industry is undergoing a period of rapid automation. Tasks that once required an actual worker are now being performed by software and machines.

"I don't see a future," one worker, whose job laying cables was eliminated by wireless technology, told the Times. "Pretty soon every rig will have one worker and a robot."

Automation is just the latest threat to labor in an industry where hiring has long been subject to the boom and bust cycle of commodity prices. Roughly 30 percent of oil workers nationwide lost their jobs when crude prices tanked in 2014, according to the Times. Falling prices forced oil firms to cut costs, replacing workers with labor-saving technology. Up to half of those jobs will not come back even as oil prices rebound, according to the paper.

The second story, from the Guardian, tells of ranchers making big money off of royalty payments from Texas wind power. A single turbine can produce between $10,000 and $20,000 a year for landowners.

"I never thought that wind would pay more than oil," one landowner told the paper amid the thrum, thrum, thrum of rotating blades. "That noise they make—it's kind of like a cash register."

And it's not just landowners making money. In Nolan Country, the tax base jumped from $400 million a year to $3 billion, largely as a result of wind power, according to the Guardian.

Because clean-power prices are generally set by decades-long contracts, renewables tend to produce a predictable flow of cash to public coffers. The oil industry, on the other hand, slashed the taxes it paid to state and local governments across Texas in 2016 by 40 percent from 2014—another drawback to an industry dependent on volatile commodity pricing. When oil is cheap, tax revenue dries up.While wind turbines provide a steady stream of income to local governments, the industry is not immune to automation. But, unlike oil, wind companies are adding jobs right and left. Last year, the number of wind jobs grew by 32 percent nationwide, according to the Energy Department. According to the Department of Labor, wind technician is the fastest growing occupation in the country.

Fossil fuel jobs may be well paid, but they are volatile and they are in decline. The growth is in renewable power.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

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FOX4News.com

Texas Pipeline Spills 600,000 Gallons of Oil One Week Before DAPL Is Approved

By Steve Horn

On Jan. 30, 600,000 gallons (14,285 barrels) of oil spewed out of Enbridge's Seaway Pipeline in Blue Ridge, Texas, the second spill since the pipeline opened for business in mid-2016.

Seaway is half owned by Enbridge and serves as the final leg of a pipeline system DeSmogBlog has called the "Keystone XLClone," which carries mostly tar sands extracted from Alberta, Canada, across the U.S. at a rate of 400,000 barrels per day down to the Gulf of Mexico. Enbridge is an equity co-owner of the Dakota Access Pipeline, which received its final permit needed from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Feb. 7 to construct the pipeline across the Missouri River and construction has resumed.

The alignment of Native American tribes, environmentalists and others involved in the fight against Dakota Access have called themselves "water protectors," rather than "activists," out of concern that a pipeline spill could contaminate their drinking water source, the Missouri River.

Just Spewing

Brittany Clayton, who works at a nearby gas station in Blue Ridge, which is 50 miles from Dallas, Texas, was close to the scene of the spill when it occurred.

"You could just smell this oil smell. A customer walks in and says 'nobody smoke.' You could see it just spewing," Clayton told KDFW-TV, the local Fox News affiliate in the area. "It was just super huge. It was like a big cloud. The fire marshal said, 'This is like a danger zone. You guys have to evacuate immediately.' I was totally freaked out. I kept texting the boss man."

Enbridge and co-owner Enterprise Products Partners said in press release that the spill had been contained and it resumed service on Feb. 5.

"The incident … resulted in no fire or injuries and the pipeline has been shut down and isolated," the companies said. "Seaway has mobilized personnel and equipment to the site and is working closely with emergency responders, law enforcement and regulatory authorities to conduct clean-up operations and develop a plan to resume operations as quickly and safely as possible."

Government Reaction

According to KDFW, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) intend to do water and environmental testing in the coming days. TxDOT also told the local National Public Radio affiliate, KETR-FM, that it would take "several weeks" to complete a full cleanup.

"It remains too early in the investigation to know where final blame lies for the accident," wrote KETR, also noting that "it is also too early to tell how much the cleanup and loss of product will cost."

TxDOT referred DeSmog to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for details on the spill, cleanup and related issues. We have reached out to TCEQ and will update the article as details come in and have also filed open records requests to learn more about the spill.

Chris Havey, Lieutenant Sheriff for the Collin County Sheriff's Office, confirmed with DeSmog that a spill investigation is ongoing under the umbrella of the EPA and the Texas Railroad Commission, which is the state's oil and gas regulatory agency.

"The Sheriff's office is not conducting any parallel investigation," said Havey. "As to whether or not the line has been shut off/capped, it's my understanding that within an hour after the line ruptured it was successfully shut off."

Neither the EPA Region 6 Office nor the Texas Railroad Commission responded to a request for comment. EPA, though, has been ordered not to speak to media by President Donald Trump's White House until the agency has a new administrator, likely nominee Scott Pruitt and senior-level staff in place.

As momentum and tensions alike mount surrounding oil and gas pipeline projects around the country, this oil spill is a reminder of the risks and consequences that come with them.

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