Friday, June 18, 2010

ProPublica--New Documents Show BP Made Little Progress on Alaska Safety Issues From 2001 to 2007

by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica - June 18, 2010 3:28 pm EDT

Six years after a scathing 2001 internal review of BP's Alaska operations found that the company wasn't maintaining safety equipment and faced "a fundamental lack of trust" among workers, a follow-up study concluded BP had made little headway in addressing those concerns.

The 2007 review, obtained by ProPublica, is based on a survey of more than 400 BP workers and contractors across Alaska greater Prudhoe Bay drilling fields. Three of four workers surveyed said that BP's maintenance program was still not aligned with BP's business priorities. Workers said that while BP had chipped away at communication and training concerns, it had not reduced maintenance backlogs of key equipment.

Those findings take on new significance as Congress hears testimony from BP executives about what the company has done to improve its safety record and address a litany of operations failures over the last 10 years. In testimony yesterday, BP CEO Tony Hayward said that he had made significant changes in the company since taking the reins in 2007 and that he had focused on safety "like a laser."

The conclusions of the report were crystallized in two PowerPoint slides and a series of graphics that were given to ProPublica by a former senior BP manager. Their validity was confirmed by Marc Kovac, a current BP employee who was part of the original 2001 review team and helped conduct the 2007 follow-up and presented the data to senior management.

Nearly 80 percent of the workers interviewed for the 2007 study said that gas and fire detection systems -- perhaps the most important equipment to saving lives and among the most critical in preventing an environmental disaster -- were either not functioning or were obsolete.

"We found that 50 percent of everything that was originally brought up was not fixed, it was ignored," said Kovac. "BP plays the time game. People forget and they know that. So as long as they file reports and do investigations and produce paperwork, they know that people will eventually go on with their business."

Last week ProPublica disclosed that a series of internal BP investigations, including the 2001 Operational Integrity Review, had found that the company valued production and profits ahead of safety and maintenance. The reports, combined with internal e-mails obtained by ProPublica and several external government reviews of the company, showed that over a period of more than 10 years BP had allowed conditions of facilities to deteriorate in order to save money, and that it retaliated against workers who raised concerns about them.

The disclosure of the 2007 follow-up to that report stands in contrast to BP's public statements from 2001 to 2007, which asserted the company had learned from its mistakes in Alaska and seized the opportunity to change.

BP did not respond to requests for comment for this article, but in a statement made in early June about the apparent pattern of recurring issues at BP operations since 2001, BP spokesman Toby Odone told ProPublica that the "premise about continuing worker safety complaints is essentially groundless."

Write to Abrahm Lustgarten at
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EPA Press Release--EPA Announces a Schedule of Public Meetings on Hydraulic Fracturing Research Study

Enesta Jones

June 18, 2010

EPA Announces a Schedule of Public Meetings on Hydraulic Fracturing Research Study

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is hosting four public information meetings on the proposed study of the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and its potential impacts on drinking water. Hydraulic fracturing is a process that helps production of natural gas or oil from shale and other geological formations. By pumping fracturing fluids (water and chemical additives) and sand or other similar materials into rock formations, fractures are created that allow natural gas or oil to flow from the rock through the fractures to a production well for extraction. The meetings will provide public information about the proposed study scope and design. EPA will solicit public comments on the draft study plan.

The public meetings will be held on:

July 8 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. CDT at the Hilton Fort Worth in Fort Worth, Texas
July 13 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. MDT at the Marriot Tech Center’s Rocky Mountain Events Center in Denver, Colo.
July 22 from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. EDT at the Hilton Garden Inn in Canonsburg, Pa.
August 12 at the Anderson Performing Arts Center at Binghamton University in Binghamton, N.Y. for 3 sessions - 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., and 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. EDT

Natural gas plays a key role in our nation’s clean energy future and hydraulic fracturing is one way of accessing this vital resource. However, serious concerns have been raised about hydraulic fracturing’s potential impact on drinking water, human health and the environment. To address these concerns, EPA announced in March that it will study the potential adverse impact that hydraulic fracturing may have on drinking water.

To support the initial planning phase and guide the development of the study plan, the agency sought suggestions and comments from the EPA Science Advisory Board (SAB)—an independent, external federal advisory committee. The agency will use this advice and extensive stakeholder input to guide the design of the study.

Stakeholders are requested to pre-register for the meetings at least 72 hours before each meeting.

Click here for more information

Thursday, June 17, 2010

ProPublica--Gulf Cleanup Training Ignores Advice From Health Agency, Official Says

by Sasha Chavkin, ProPublica - June 17, 2010 2:05 pm EDT

As we've reported, workplace safety experts have expressed concern that Gulf oil spill responders aren't getting enough safety training. On Wednesday, we spoke with a federal official who said the four-hour safety course that BP is providing to Gulf cleanup workers lacks basic information on health risks and is too short to cover the necessary material.

Joseph Hughes, director of the worker training program at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, said the course fails to incorporate important information. Among the subjects not included are chemical inhalation, the health effects of dispersants, and the risks of direct contact with weathered crude oil.

Hughes' agency, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, helped develop the training. "We tried to recommend what we thought the right training topics were, but all of those were not included," he said.

As we reported on Wednesday, cleanup workers are continuing to suffer health problems that they believe to be related to chemical exposure, including vomiting, dizziness, and nose and throat irritation.

Hughes also said the course's four-hour duration -- a fraction of the 24-hour training usually required for cleanup workers who may be exposed to hazardous materials -- is insufficient and rests upon a faulty interpretation of safety regulations. In 1990, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued a directive following the Exxon-Valdez disaster that allowed the minimum training to be cut to four hours for workers performing low-risk tasks such as beach cleanup.

"The idea of the Exxon-Valdez exemption is that they would not have direct contact with crude oil or weathered oil," Hughes said. However, he said that some spill responders receiving the four-hour training, such as booming and skimming workers on vessels, are "definitely having direct oil contact."

BP spokesman Toby Odone stated that the safety trainings are appropriate for the work people are doing. "Training for Vessels of Opportunity and shoreline workers is 4+ hours and includes properties of oil, insect bites, heat, marine operations such as laying and collecting boom," Odone wrote in an e-mail. The Vessels of Opportunity program employs local boat operators and crews in cleanup activities.

Odone also wrote that workers going into oiled areas are accompanied by a technician with 40 hours of training, and that the training was approved by the government. "It was developed with OSHA and approved by OSHA and the US Coast Guard," he wrote.

OSHA is in charge of monitoring workplace safety for the cleanup. We at ProPublica have been trying to get in touch with officials there since Monday to discuss the safety trainings, but haven't yet gotten a response.

Hughes said that his office is pressing Unified Command -- the interagency spill response team that consists of BP, Transocean, the Coast Guard and numerous federal agencies -- to implement an eight-hour training course for those at greater risk of contact with hazardous materials. The course would include the chemical exposure curriculum that is not provided in the current trainings.

"The group that I'm still concerned about is the booming and skimming workers," Hughes said. "There's an effort under way to increase the training of those workers that's being discussed at the highest level."

On Wednesday, Aubrey Miller, senior medical adviser in Hughes' agency, testified to a House subcommittee that OSHA is "working with BP to develop a new eight-hour curriculum for worker safety and health training," according to a transcript of his remarks provided by the agency.

Hughes said he had not heard any dates for when this eight-hour training program would start.

As it stands, Hughes said the training goes against the precautionary principle -- the concept that the possibility of harm is enough to warrant action to reduce the risks to public health.

"We thought it was backwards," he said of the current curriculum, "that it had a reduced amount of protection for workers."

Write to Sasha Chavkin at
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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

WFFA--Flower Mound parents worried about gas drilling near schools

I think most of us tend to assume that there are some places drilling just wouldn't ever occur. But the more I learn, the more aware I become that nothing is sacred any more. From war veteran graveyards surrounded by waste pits, to gas wells next to your kids elementary school, the oil and gas industry will set up shop anywhere that offers a profit.

Flower Mound parents worried about gas drilling near schools
Posted on June 14, 2010 at 11:23 PM

FLOWER MOUND — Some Denton County parents say any natural gas drilling near their kids' schools is too close.

A Fort Worth-based company wants to drill two dozen wells in Flower Mound near Bluebonnet Elementary and Shadow Ridge Middle schools, which are in the Lewisville ISD. Titan Operating officials say none of the wells would be within 1,000 feet of the schools.

Parents who spoke with News 8 say that makes no difference to them.

Melinda Krupa has two children. One attends Bluebonnet; the other goes to Shadow Ridge.

"Who would want their children to be out on the playground or out on the ball field and be inhaling these fumes from the gas wells?" she asked.

The application for a drilling permit was filed last November, before town leaders issued a moratorium on new permits. Titan wants to build up to 24 wells in the next two to five years.

Krupa says the risk is too high to gamble on the health and safety of children.

"It just doesn't make sense to bring the drilling anywhere close to the schools," she said.

Steve Schmidt came to Monday's school board meeting to voice his concerns. He still has many unanswered questions about gas drilling.

His four-year-old daughter has leukemia and his second-grader attends Bluebonnet.

"The right direction is the safe direction," Schmidt told the school board. "Safety first and foremost."

Flower Mound parents are also concerned about land owned by the school district across from the proposed drilling site. They fear property values could plummet when drilling begins.

Flower Mound's oil and gas board is expected to discuss Titan's application at its next meeting.


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Monday, June 14, 2010

Onshore accidents add to concerns

Onshore accidents involving oil and gas extraction are nothing new. Unlike the BP disaster; however, they usually get little to no attention outside the immediate area where the accident or problem occurs.

June 13, 2010, 5:10PM
A string of accidents this month at natural gas operations on land could not have come at a worse time for Houston’s vast energy industry.

With BP’s massive oil spill already prompting questions about the safety of offshore drilling in deep waters, a key growth area for the sector in recent years, the natural gas accidents are bringing new scrutiny to a business that may be even more important to the local oil and gas economy.

The incidents include two well accidents in the Marcellus Shale play in the Northeast U.S. that have reinforced regional concerns about gas drilling. Last week, two fatal gas pipeline accidents in North Texas also focused public attention on dangers associated with infrastructure used to transport the fossil fuel.

It’s not clear whether those incidents will draw onshore gas operations into the push for tighter regulation that the offshore industry already is facing amid the unfolding disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

But they do represent another setback for an industry desperate to repair its image and to reassure Americans that domestic oil and gas resources can be developed safely.

“Right now, the industry just can’t afford any more mistakes,” said Michelle Foss, chief energy economist and head of the Center for Energy Economics at the University of Texas’ Jackson School of Geosciences.

Greater scrutiny on land-based natural gas operations comes as offshore drilling practices are already under the microscope. In late May, federal regulators announced a six-month ban on deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

That was in response to the April 20 blowout at BP’s Macondo well in mile-deep waters off the Louisiana coast that killed 11 workers aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and started the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.

Government action has idled 33 rigs currently permitted to drill in the deep-water Gulf, which could result in tens of thousands of job losses across the Gulf region, say industry groups.

In Houston, the impact of the ban, along with temporary delays in shallow-water drilling, could cost 25,000 to 80,000 jobs, said Lee Hunt, president of the International Association of Drilling Contractors.

Recent accidents
No one is predicting that kind of fallout from the recent slate of onshore accidents, but they haven’t gone unnoticed either.

In Texas last week, two people were killed and three injured after a natural gas pipeline owned by DCP Midstream Partners exploded near the town of Darrouzett when a bulldozer accidentally hit it.

The day before, one person died when a power line contractor inadvertently struck a pipeline near Cleburne that was partly owned by Houston’s Enterprise Products Partners LP.

Elsewhere, a fire raged for five days last week at a rig near Moundsville, W.Va., after workers hit a pocket of methane while drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale. Seven were injured, and state officials cited the permit holder, AB Resources, for not following submitted well plans.

Also, Houston’s EOG Resources was ordered by Pennsylvania officials to halt all drilling in the state after a June 3 blowout spewed natural gas and chemicals out of a well for 16 hours before it was secured. The state has since allowed the firm to resume some drilling.

‘Accelerated’ concerns
Prior to that incident, concerns about offshore drilling safety were already starting to transfer to the onshore realm, but the EOG blowout “appears to have accelerated this trend,” wrote Kevin Book, industry analyst with Clearview Energy Partners, in a report last week.

Indeed, a handful of federal lawmakers are moving forward with bills to place greater restrictions on a drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, and environmental groups are seeing an opening.

“It just demonstrates that we’re at a point where the extraction of fossil fuels is very risky, whether it’s deep-well drilling under the ocean or hydraulic fracturing, that our dependence on fossil fuels comes with some significant risks,” said Larisa Ruoff, with Green Century Capital Management, a Boston-based investment advisory firm. The firm is trying, through shareholder proposals, to push oil and gas companies to disclose more about risks associated with hydraulic fracturing.

While proponents say hydraulic fracturing has been key in unlocking dense shale rock formations that have greatly boosted U.S. natural gas supplies, critics have raised concerns about the millions of gallons of water required to fracture each shale gas well and about possible contamination of groundwater supplies by chemicals injected into the rock.

Effect in Houston
If new regulation arises, Houston undoubtedly will feel it.

The city’s energy industry is full of small and mid-sized exploration and production companies, as well as larger players, that have made big bets on shale gas. They, in turn, support hundreds of other service providers and equipment makers with headquarters here.

“Houston is the epicenter for shale gas technology development,” said David Pursell, managing director of Houston investment bank Tudor Pickering Holt & Co.

The fear in the natural gas industry is that the latest string of onshore accidents will erase momentum it had made in building support for natural gas as a clean, abundant alternative to crude oil.

“These kinds of events give environmentalists a mail-order funding cause,” said Porter Bennett, CEO of Bentek Energy, an energy market research firm in Evergreen, Colo. “That’s not a good thing from the gas industry’s standpoint.”

But Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy Corp., the nation’s second-largest natural gas producer, said while the recent accidents are regrettable, he doesn’t believe they will have a meaningful impact on the industry.

“You want to have no accidents ever, but as long as humans are involved and you’re dealing with great unknowns underneath the earth, you’re going to have some surprising things happen,” he said.

“The question is what do you do with it? If BP had been able to control that spill in a day, we wouldn’t be talking about the BP incident today.”

Click here to visit article source.

The Daily Sentinel--Silt-area drilling report contentious

For more information about the Divide Creek seep, please visit Lisa Bracken's website, Journey of The Forsaken.

By Dennis Webb
Monday, June 14, 2010

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Garfield County commissioners want the state to take another look at their consultant’s concerns about the West Divide Creek natural gas seep as yet more drilling is being proposed in that area.

Commissioners decided to make the request last week after their oil and gas liaison, Judy Jordan, contended the state has been more interested in discrediting geologist Geoffrey Thyne and the county than working constructively with the county to resolve issues surrounding drilling in the area south of Silt.

Commissioners revisited the gas seep issue at the request of Lisa Bracken, who lives near the site of the seep, which was discovered in 2004. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission blamed gas in the creek on an EnCana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. well. Gas continues to surface from that seep, but the state has let drilling resume in the area, and Bracken said EnCana wants to drill an estimated 10 new wells from a pad adjacent to the seep site.

Garfield commissioners declined Bracken’s request that they oppose state approval of those wells, but they asked the state to reconsider Thyne’s questions about drilling in the Divide Creek area.

Those include whether repairs to the EnCana well stopped the seep, and whether it was even limited to one well. Oil and gas commission staff say residual gas from the 2004 seep is just taking time to surface.

They also dispute Thyne’s contention that methane levels in domestic water wells south of Silt have been increasing, at least partly because of drilling.

In a memo to Garfield commissioners, Jordan said oil and gas commission staff “arranged for a multiparty attack,” including from the industry, on Thyne’s work at a state commission hearing last summer. Instead, state regulators should have met with Thyne and the county to discuss their differing views, Jordan said. Thyne’s analysis since has been accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, she said.

Dave Neslin, director of the oil and gas commission, said that rather than meeting behind closed doors, his agency held an open forum to hear from Thyne and other experts.

“I would characterize that as an appropriate public proceeding to evaluate this issue, not an organized attack,” he said.

He added, “We will consider any requests that the county makes for additional study or consideration.”

One request is to have the state look into 97 mostly older gas wells in the area with surface casing shallower than the 600 to 1,200 feet the state now requires in that area to protect domestic water aquifers.
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Sunday, June 13, 2010

TCEQ botches air quality oversight

Decisions about Texas air quality ought to be made in Texas, not in Washington. Unfortunately, the bumbling efforts of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality under Gov. Rick Perry have invited an Environmental Protection Agency takeover of the air-pollution permitting process in the Lone Star State.
For 15 years, Texas has operated an air-pollution-permitting program that lacks EPA approval required by the federal Clean Air Act. The program began under Ann Richards and continued under George W. Bush and Perry.

At issue is TCEQ's use of flexible permitting that measures emissions from a group of emission points at a facility rather than from a specific emission point. That allows individual smokestacks to far exceed pollution standards as long as the groups they are in collectively meet them.

The EPA, under the Bush administration, warned state officials and flexible permit holders about potential non-compliance. Perry chose to ignore those warnings. Now the EPA is threatening to take control of the process.

Perry mistakenly sees this as yet another example of the unbridled exercise of federal power. It's a good campaign sound bite, but it doesn't reflect the reality of the failure of leadership — handpicked by Perry — at TCEQ.

This is the same TCEQ that has outraged residents of North Texas by failing to disclose errors in air quality testing related to gas drilling in the Barnett Shale. And it is the same TCEQ that has fought a legitimate open records request from Sen. Eliot Shapleigh, D-El Paso, to turn over records of agency officials who met with representatives of a copper smelter company while it had an air emission application pending.

Perry and TCEQ officials claim the EPA takeover is unwarranted because Texas has one of the most successful clean air programs in the nation [I suggest visiting Bluedaze Drilling Reform for Texas if you are curious about all that great air Texas residents are breathing]. Perhaps they're correct. But given TCEQ's track record, Texas residents and federal authorities have every reason to be skeptical.
Click here to visit article source.

The Huffington Post--Utah Oil Spill 500 Barrels Spill Into Red Butte Creek After Pipeline Breaks

First Posted: 06-13-10 12:34 AM. Updated: 06-13-10 02:55 PM

SALT LAKE CITY (AP)— A leaked pipeline sent oil spilling into a Salt Lake City creek, coating geese and ducks and closing a park, officials said Saturday as they started a cleanup effort expected to last weeks.

At least 400 to 500 barrels of oil spewed into Red Butte Creek before crews capped the leak site. Nearly 50 gallons of crude oil per minute initially had spilled into the creek, according to Scott Freitag, a Salt Lake City Fire Department spokesman.

"Our real concern is keeping people safe, and keeping the oil from reaching the Great Salt Lake," he told the Deseret News.

Chevron determined the pipeline broke at 10 p.m. Friday, and police and fire crews were notified of it shortly before 7 am. Saturday.

Officials were unsure of the cause of the leak, near the University of Utah campus, or the extent of the spill's environmental impact. Mayor Ralph Becker said drinking water for residents was not affected.

"Our fire teams have capped the site and will work to determine the damage and the best course of action," the mayor said in a statement.

The state Division of Water Quality was onsite assessing damage and will issue a violation notice against Chevron, Gov. Gary Herbert said in a release. The governor said he was monitoring the spill, which he called "devastating."

Chevron spokesman Mark Sullivan said some residual oil was still leaking and the cleanup likely will take "weeks."

"We're taking full responsibility for any financial damage, environmental damage, safety concerns, impacts on health and cleanup," Sullivan told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Click Here to visit The Huffinton Post

Friday, June 11, 2010

ProPublica--Rise in Offshore Spills Raises Wider Questions on Drilling

by Sasha Chavkin, ProPublica - June 10, 2010 2:59 pm EDT

The catastrophe unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico has been portrayed as a one-of-a-kind disaster, a perfect storm of bad equipment, bad planning and bad luck.

But it’s far from the only spill that’s taken place this year – or even the only spill occurring in the Gulf right now.

On June 7, the Mobile Press-Register reported that the Ocean Saratoga rig has been leaking into the Gulf since April 30. Interior Department spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff confirmed the next day that “small amounts of oil” were leaking from the wells beneath the rig, about 10 miles from Louisiana’s southeastern coast.

Taylor Energy, the well’s owner, said in a statement that it was engaged in an “ongoing well intervention plan” with the government to fix damage caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, and that no significant new spill had occurred.

The Deepwater Horizon isn’t the only recent spill for BP, either. On May 25, according to Reuters, an accident on the Trans-Alaska pipeline spilled thousands of barrels of oil and forced the pipeline to be shut down for more than three days. BP is the largest owner of the pipeline operator, controlling 47 percent. (Read our story about BP’s troubled history in Alaska and its other U.S. operations.)

In addition, there was the Jan. 24 spill in Port Arthur, Texas, when an Exxon-Mobil tanker collided with an outgoing vessel and dumped nearly half a million gallons of oil into the Gulf.

If it seems as if oil spills – and particularly offshore spills in US. waters – are on the rise, that’s because they are.

A USA Today analysis of federal data found that spills from offshore oil rigs and pipelines have more than quadrupled in the last decade. From the 1970s to 1990s, offshore facilities averaged four spills per year of more than 50 barrels. From 2000 to 2009, the annual average soared to 17.

The report also found that the rate of oil being spilled was increasing faster than the growth in production. From USA Today:

In the 1980s, an average of about 2,900 barrels of oil and other toxic chemicals spilled a year. That figure rose to more than 4,400 in the 1990s and to more than 6,100 in the 2000s. Offshore oil production increased during that time, but the rate of barrels spilled per barrels produced continued to increase.

The company with the most spills in the last decade was BP, which had reported 23 spills of over 50 barrels without counting the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

Why are offshore oil facilities spilling more in recent years than they have in the past? More>>>

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Rio Grande Sun--Commission Sides With Landowner Over Drilling (Rio Arriba County)

Normally I try to make very up-to-date posts. This article is about a week old but, as it is very close to home, I decided to post it.

Landowner does not want Texas oil/gas company to drill on his property
By Joe Crawford
SUN Staff Writer
Thursday, June 3, 2010 1:09 PM MDT

A Texas oil company was lectured on being “neighborly” last week as its request to drill on a northern Rio Arriba County ranch was rejected.

For the first time ever, the County Commission exercised its power to deny an application for an exploratory oil and gas well by Approach Resources — at least for now. An unusual procedure by the Commission killed a motion to approve the request but did not formally deny it, meaning it could possibly be resurrected at a future meeting.

Approach plans to start drilling for oil and gas south of Tierra Amarilla next month. The Commission has already approved eight other applications for the company to drill wells in the area since March, when a nearly two-year standoff between the County and the company ended. The negotiation process has so far included a County-wide drilling moratorium, a lawsuit from Approach and hundreds of hours of legal work billed to the County by its attorneys.

The application the Commission rejected May 27 was on a ranch owned by Jerry Barela, the first landowner to ask the Commission to deny Approach’s request to drill on his land. Barela said he was concerned about the operation harming his cattle if the animals consumed contaminated water or other harmful chemicals left by the oil company.

“It’s just not for us,” he said.

As it has done with previous Approach applications, the County Planning and Zoning Department did not recommend approval or denial of the request. Instead, County Planner Louise Pocock only recommended conditions the Commission should include if it approved the application.

Barela said he had recently tried to sell his 964-acre property, but a deal fell through when a prospective buyer was told Approach wanted to drill there. Barela doesn’t own royalties to the mineral rights on his land, and he said he would not profit if Approach struck oil or gas. The state Surface Owners Protection Act requires only that Approach put down a bond in case of damage to the land — the oil company is not legally required to get the landowner’s permission before drilling if it owns the mineral rights to the land. Approach has leased 90,000 acres of mineral rights in the area that includes Barela’s land.

With the previous eight applications, there was no protest from the landowners. Barela’s neighbors, the Spill family, spoke in favor of allowing Approach to drill on their land, where five of the new wells are to be located. One of those family members, Ed Spill, said he hoped to make money if Approach struck oil or gas.

Commissioner Felipe Martinez, who represents the area where the new wells are to be drilled, berated Approach representative Brice Morgan for not communicating enough with the Barelas. Jerry Barela said he received a couple of letters from the company, but there had been little dialogue between he and Approach employees.

“I’m just very, very disappointed,” Martinez said. “We have to strike a balance here, and the first thing we have to do is you have to be neighborly.”

Martinez paused.

“I don’t know — maybe it’s just out of arrogance,” he continued.

After Martinez’s monologue, Morgan stood up and asked to respond, but Commission Chairman Alfredo Montoya told him he wouldn’t be allowed to speak. Morgan declined to comment as he was leaving the meeting, instead referring questions to Approach’s vice president for land, Ralph Manoushagian, who refused to comment.

The Commission never actually voted on whether to approve the application. Commissioner Elias Coriz made a motion to approve the request, and then Martinez and Montoya remained silent. Eventually Martinez said he didn’t intend to second the motion, and Montoya declared the motion failed. The application could still come before the Commission in a future meeting, Montoya and Pocock said after the meeting.

Once the motion failed, Coriz also voiced his contempt for Approach’s public relations practices, but he said he motioned to approve the request because he felt the Commission had already researched the situation well and decided to approve other applications.

“I made the motion because we’ve done a lot of homework,” Coriz said.

The County’s oil and gas ordinance, adopted last year, requires the Commission to use similar criteria to evaluate drilling applications to that it uses to decide whether to allow new subdivisions and businesses. The Commission must base its decisions on whether a development would comply with the County’s Comprehensive Plan and County ordinances, and if a development is compatible with surrounding land uses. Possible costs for roads, utilities and fire response should also be considered, according to County ordinance.

The oil and gas ordinance does state the Commission should consider “any Surface Use Agreement between the Surface Property Owner and the Operator.” But neither that ordinance or the Comprehensive Plan specifically address whether the Commission could deny an application because a landowner doesn’t approve.

Even if the application was not formally rejected, a delay could possibly keep Approach off the Barela land permanently.

Approach has already agreed with the County to drill only between May and September so as not to disturb the area during hunting season. If the County postpones its decision long enough, Approach would not have a chance to drill this summer, when Manoushagian has said the company plans to determine the presence — or lack — of oil and gas in the area. The results of the exploratory drilling this summer will determine whether Approach will proceed with any other drilling in the area next year, Manoushagian has said.

Immediately after effectively rejecting the Approach application, the Commission approved a request by Titan Energy Corporation to drill on a ranch west of Coyote along State Road 96. That ranch is owned by Sergio Morfin, who has argued in favor of the drilling. Coriz and Martinez said they favored the Titan application partly because the oil company was working with the landowner’s blessing.

The conversation about Approach and Titan eventually led Martinez and Montoya to reveal their more general beliefs and attitudes about the oil industry.

“I really think God never intended for oil to be extracted from the depths of the earth,” Martinez said, explaining how using the resource seemed unnatural to him. “Short of burning it, there is really nothing that we can do with it.”

Montoya spoke more specifically about the County.

“I just can’t wrap my hands around how this industry can be compatible with our culture, our customs and our traditions,” he said.

Tax revenues from the oil and gas industry pay for a large chunk of the County government. An interim budget presented to the Commission May 27 projected the County would take in $7 million — more than a third of its total projected revenues — from oil and gas next year.

Click here to visit Rio Grande Sun archives.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

.Blast in Texas Panhandle kills 2, injures 3

Well...Just wow. Accidents like this are becoming way to common place. I think they highlight the importance of county-based regulations. Mora and San Miguel Counties currently lack the resources to respond to events like these. In such remote areas that lack both manpower and equipment, a pipeline explosion would be extremely dangerous, causing fires that could spread far beyond the accident site itself.

Tue Jun 8, 9:05 pm ET
DARROUZETT, Texas – A Texas Panhandle sheriff says two people are dead from a natural gas pipeline explosion.

Lipscomb County Sheriff James Robertson said in a news release Tuesday that the men were killed shortly after the blast in a remote part of the region.

Three people were injured. One was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Oklahoma City. Two others working near the explosion had injuries not considered life-threatening.

The five men were moving clay from a pit near the pipeline when a bulldozer struck it, causing the explosion.

The blast about 270 miles northeast of Lubbock is the second natural gas line explosion in Texas in as many days.
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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Salazar Declares Shallow Water Drilling “Safe,” Lifts Drilling Injunction, Conceals Shallow Water Oil Spill Currently Fouling Gulf


June 8, 2010
3:10 PM

Taylor Energy Spill Has Caused 10-mile Slick, Is Still Spewing Oil
TUSCON, AZ - June 8 - On May 6, 2010, the U.S. Department of the Interior placed a partial moratorium on shallow and deepwater drilling in response to the April 20, 2010 explosion of BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling project. Interior defines “shallow-water drilling” as occurring in less than 500 feet of water and “deepwater drilling” as that which occurs in greater than 500 feet of water.

The moratorium was to last 30 days while Interior conducted a drilling safety review. On May, 28, 2010, the deepwater moratorium was expanded with great fanfare, and the shallow-water moratorium was quietly lifted without comment or explanation from Interior. Despite the announced 30-day safety review period, the Interior Department has produced any report or finding to justify its apparent conclusion that shallow-water drilling is safe.

Today it was revealed that Taylor Energy Company LLC’s shallow-water drilling operation, using Diamond Offshore’s Ocean Sarasota oil rig, has been leaking oil since at least April 30, 2010. That is just 10 days after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Taylor Energy has multiple drilling operations in the Gulf of Mexico using the Ocean Sarasota, all in waters between 430 and 440 feet in depth.

“It is unbelievable and unacceptable for the Secretary of the Interior to lift the moratorium on shallow-water oil drilling right in the middle of a large shallow-water oil spill. If Ken Salazar did not know the oil spill had occurred, he is spectacularly incompetent. If he did know, he purposefully misled the public. Either way, he has utterly failed the American public and the Gulf of Mexico,” said Kierán Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

As it did BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling project, the Minerals Management Service, under Salazar’s watch, approved the Taylor Energy drilling project with an exemption from environmental review.

“To this day, the Department of the Interior is allowing the MMS to exempt drilling projects from environmental review,” said Suckling. “If the Taylor Energy disaster doesn’t force an immediate change of policy, we can only conclude that the Department of the Interior is as fully controlled by the oil industry as MMS itself."

More Information on the Dangers of Shallow-water Drilling

Contrary to the hand waving of the Interior Department, shallow-water drilling is very dangerous. Indeed, it has a worse blowout record than deepwater drilling.

1. The largest oil spill ever in North America – the Ixtoc 1 disaster – was from a well in just 160 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico. The damaged rig spilled some 138 million gallons of oil into the Gulf over nine months in 1979 and 1980 before it was contained.

2. The largest oil spill globally in 2009 occurred in just 250 feet of water off the western coast of Australia. The Montara spill gushed oil for 10 weeks, making it Australia’s worst offshore-oil disaster.

3. A Mineral Management Service review of blowouts between 1992 and 2006 concluded that “most blowouts occurred during the drilling of wells in water depths of less than 500 ft.” The agency found one blowout per 362 wells drilled in 500 feet of water or less and just one blowout per 523 wells drilled in deeper waters. The same report also found that 56 percent of all blowouts — whether in deep or shallow waters — happened before the true vertical depth of the well bore depth reached 5,000 feet. The blowout in the Deepwater Horizon drill occurred at about 18,000 feet below sea level.

See MMS, 2007, “Absence of fatalities in blowouts encouraging in MMS study of OCS incidents 1992-2006.”

4. In May, 2010, Elmer Danenberger, a 38-year veteran of the Minerals Management Service, testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources that MMS data indicate “well control performance for deepwater drilling was significantly better than for shallow water operations.”

See Danenberger, 2010, “Congressional Testimony.”
Above link will take you to main page linking to testimony.
Article source>>>

Accidents bring calls to suspend shale drilling

Tuesday, June 08, 2010
By Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Serious accidents at Marcellus shale natural gas drilling operations in Pennsylvania and West Virginia over the past five days have prompted sanctions against one Texas-based drilling company, support for tighter federal regulations and even calls for a moratorium on drilling.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger on Monday ordered EOG Resources Inc., formerly Enron Oil & Gas Co., to suspend all new drilling operations in the state until an independent investigation of a massive well "blowout" Thursday night near Penfield, Clearfield County, is completed.
"The Clearfield County incident presented a serious threat to life and property," Mr. Hanger said. "We are working with the company to review its Pennsylvania drilling operations fully from beginning to end to ensure an incident of this nature does not happen again."
Mr. Hanger said it was fortunate that the well did not ignite or explode. A preliminary DEP investigation has determined that the well's blowout preventer failed, even though EOG records show the company inspected the device early Thursday morning.
The accident occurred when EOG's operators lost control of the well after fracturing, or cracking, the Marcellus formation more than a mile underground to release the natural gas locked in the shale. High pressure pushed the gas and "frack fluid" laced with toxic chemicals out of the well for 16 hours, spraying more than 35,000 gallons and maybe as many as 1 million gallons 75 feet into the air.
The DEP order prohibits EOG from drilling new wells for seven days, starting fracking activities for 14 days and initiating post-fracking operations for 30 days throughout the state. The investigation could extend those operational suspensions and result in additional fines or enforcement actions against the company. The order, which EOG agreed to, affects 50 drilled but incomplete wells in the state but not its 265 active wells.
EOG issued a press release in which Gary Smith, EOG vice president and general manager in Pittsburgh, said he "regrets the incident" and the company is cooperating with state investigators and conducting its own investigation.
Monday afternoon, EOG officials conducted a full briefing on the incident for members of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a drilling industry advocacy group.
"It's important that the whole industry understands and can learn from those kinds of experiences and share what worked in emergency responses," said Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, who noted that the "blowout" in Clearfield County was the first in the Marcellus shale formation and such accidents are extremely rare.
But Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Rep. Joe Sestak on Monday called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to increase its monitoring and oversight of Marcellus shale development, saying in a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson that adequate regulations are not in place to protect the public and water resources.
Until such regulations are in place, all Marcellus shale drilling operations should be halted because they pose an "immanent public health hazard," said Conrad Dan Volz, assistant professor for Environmental & Occupational Health at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health and director of the school's Center for Healthy Environments and Communities.
Dr. Volz said the Clearfield "blowout" and a drilling rig explosion near Moundsville, W.Va., Monday that burned and injured seven drilling workers in a suspected methane gas explosion on a Chief Oil & Gas well is evidence that a moratorium is necessary to allow a thorough assessment of drilling operations and the risks they pose.
"This is a public health issue, especially for planned drilling in populated areas and around schools," he said. "It's an occupational health problem, an environmental health problem and an emergency preparedness problem that no one has foreseen."
But Ms. Klaber said that new federal regulation would be redundant to state laws, and a moratorium on drilling would drive up retail gas prices and deprive property owners of financial benefits from leasing gas drilling rights.
"These incidents occurred from two very different sets of circumstances," she said. "Having them happen so close together makes us look harder at the broader lessons learned and we are doing that right now."
The Marcellus shale formation underlies three-quarters of Pennsylvania and parts of New York, Maryland, Ohio and West Virginia, a total of 95,000 square miles, and contains as much as 363 trillion cubic feet of natural gas -- enough to supply the nation's gas demands for 10 to 15 years.
In Pennsylvania alone, approximately 2,500 Marcellus shale gas well drilling permits were issued from 2007 through 2009 by the state Department of Environmental Protection, which projects another 5,000 permits will be issued this year.
Don Hopey: or 412-263-1983.
Article source>>>

ProPublica--Years of Internal BP Probes Warned That Neglect Could Lead to Accidents

by Abrahm Lustgarten and Ryan Knutson, ProPublica - June 7, 2010 10:00 pm EDT

A series of internal investigations over the past decade warned senior BP managers that the company repeatedly disregarded safety and environmental rules and risked a serious accident if it did not change its ways.

The confidential inquiries, which have not previously been made public, focused on a rash of problems at BP's Alaska oil-drilling unit that undermined the company’s publicly proclaimed commitment to safe operations. They described instances in which management flouted safety by neglecting aging equipment, pressured or harassed employees not to report problems, and cut short or delayed inspections in order to reduce production costs. Executives were not held accountable for the failures, and some were promoted despite them.

Similar themes about BP operations elsewhere were sounded in interviews with former employees, in lawsuits and little-noticed state inquiries, and in e-mails obtained by ProPublica. Taken together, these documents portray a company that systemically ignored its own safety policies across its North American operations - from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico to California and Texas.

Tony Hayward, BP's CEO, has committed himself to reform since taking the top job in 2007. Top BP officials would not comment for this story, but spokesman Tony Odone said that in March an independent expert reported that BP has made "significant progress" toward meeting goals set in 2007 in response to a deadly Texas refinery explosion. Odone said the notion that BP has ongoing problems addressing worker concerns is "essentially groundless."

Because of its string of accidents before the recent blowout in the Gulf, BP already faced a possible ban on its federal contracting and on new U.S. drilling leases, several senior former Environmental Protection Agency debarment officials told ProPublica. That inquiry has taken on new significance in light of the Gulf accident. One key question the EPA will consider is whether the company's leadership can be trusted and whether BP's culture can change.

The reports detailing BP's Alaska investigations -- conducted by outside lawyers and an internal BP committee in 2001, 2004 and 2007 -- were provided to ProPublica by a person close to BP who believes the company has not yet done enough to eradicate its shortcomings.

A 2001 report noted that BP had neglected key equipment needed for emergency shutdown, including safety shutoff valves and gas and fire detectors similar to those that could have helped prevent the fire and explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf.

A 2004 inquiry found a pattern of intimidating workers who raised safety or environmental concerns. It said managers were shaving maintenance costs with the practice of "run to failure," under which aging equipment was used as long as possible. Accidents resulted, including the 200,000-gallon Prudhoe Bay pipeline spill in 2006, the largest ever spill on Alaska's North Slope.

During the same period, similar problems surfaced at BP facilities in California and Texas.

In 2002, California officials discovered that BP had falsified inspections of fuel tanks at a Los Angeles-area refinery and that more than 80 percent of the facilities didn't meet requirements to maintain storage tanks without leaks or damage. Inspectors were forced to get a warrant before BP allowed them to check the tanks. The company eventually settled a civil lawsuit brought by the South Coast Air Quality Management District for more than $100 million.

In 2005, an emergency warning system failed before a Texas City refinery exploded in a ball of fire. BP's investigation of that deadly accident--conducted by a committee of independent experts -- found that "significant process safety issues exist at all five U.S. refineries, not just Texas City." It said "instances of a lack of operating discipline, toleration of serious deviations from safe operating practices, and apparent complacency toward serious process safety risk existed at each refinery." BP spokesman Odone said that after the accident the company adopted a six-point plan to update its safety systems worldwide. But last year the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined BP $87 million for failing to make safety upgrades at that same Texas plant.

It is difficult to compare safety records among companies in industries like oil exploration. Some companies drill in harsher environments. And bad luck can play a role. But independent experts say the pervasiveness of BP's problems, in multiple locales and different types of facilities, is striking.

"They are a recurring environmental criminal and they do not follow U.S. health safety and environmental policy," said Jeanne Pascal, a former EPA debarment attorney who led the investigations into BP. "At what point are we going to say we are not going to do business with you any more, bye? None of the other supermajors have an environmental criminal record like they do." More>>>

Monday, June 7, 2010

Natural gas facility explodes in Johnson County killing three

Posted on June 7, 2010 at 3:14 PM
Updated today at 4:11 PM

JOHNSON COUNTY - A natural gas facility has exploded near Cleburne in Johnson County killing three, according to the Cleburne city manager.

At least 10 people are missing, Chester Nolen said.

A lot of people have been transported to hospital with burn injuries.

A massive fireball and a huge plume of smoke can be seen in the area.

“About 2:40 p.m., we heard a loud explosion, rumbling, almost like a tornado. It shook our entire house. The plume of smoke that came out or steam is heading this way, the wind is blowing it right over our house. We are trying to work out whether it is something we need to evacuate or not," said Laura Harlin in Johnson County.

“We don’t really smell anything at this point. It sounds like faraway thunder at this point,” she added. At 3:15 p.m., she said she could still hear the rumbling.

“There is a lot of onlooker traffic in the area,” said Hood County resident, Franklin Daniel.

People living in nearby Pecan Plantation have been told they don't need to evacuate.

A gas company is working to turn off a gas line. The underground line measures 36 inches.

"There's not a whole lot they can do, until they get that line turned off," Nolen said. "A lot is going to depend on where the main valves are that control that section of line. Obviously, what's in the line is going to have to burn off before they can get it shut off. So it may be late into this evening when they get the fire controlled."

Firefighters from eight departments are surrounding the fireball. Parkland Hospital is expecting patients to be transported to its specialist burn unit and are making preparations.

Dirt devils can be seen in the area.

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Las Vegas Optic, Letter: Secret deliberations cut into credibility

By Kate Daniel

I read, with disbelief, County Planning and Zoning Supervisor Alex Tafoya’s comment in your article, “(Task Force) Panel’s Makeup in Dispute.” He said, “’s not like we’re building a new nuclear bomb....”

Really? How would he characterize the impact to the Gulf of Mexico from the ongoing “natural disaster,” as the culpable British Petroleum calls it? I know that Mr. Tafoya’s remark was referencing the secrecy aspect of the task force and not the dangerous potential of this toxic industry, but the point he overlooked is that without proper regulation, the oil and gas industry is an extremely dangerous one for all concerned.

No one I know is advocating a drilling ban in San Miguel County. However, we deserve and expect any task force assembled and paid for with our tax dollars to consider our wellbeing above the convenience of the oil and gas industry. That they would even consider conducting their deliberations in secret is an affront to every San Miguel County citizen. Where is the advocate for the citizens who has equivalent firepower to Karin Foster’s position with the oil and gas industry?

Secret deliberations will completely undermine the credibility of any ordinance they propose. Allowing citizens to observe the proceedings will provide at least the illusion of transparency, even if the real negotiations are held in a back room somewhere.

Mr. Tafoya is right when he says that they’ll be criticized no matter what they do. This is the plight of every public figure. The only thing he and the rest of the task force need to determine is whether or not they have the wellbeing of the culture and general population of San Miguel County as their highest priority. If it is, they will write a good ordinance that protects what we have while adding oil and gas development into the mix. If not, they may as well just hand the keys to San Miguel County to the oil and gas industry and say goodbye to all that we hold dear in this community, because lightly regulated oil and has development will overwhelm the existing local economy and culture.

In doubt as to the economic and cultural effects of lightly regulated oil and gas development? Go visit Farmington and decide if this is what you want Las Vegas and San Miguel County to become.

Kate Daniel


Sunday, June 6, 2010

Denton Record-Chronicle, Filmy water vexes family

11:51 PM CDT on Saturday, June 5, 2010
By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe / Staff Writer
DISH — Amber Smith no longer takes soaking baths, one of the young mother’s favorite ways to unwind at the end of the day.

Since early May, she and her husband, Damon Smith, and their two children, Hannah, 8, and Bryson, 3, use bottled water to cook with and drink. She has her children use bottled water to brush their teeth.

She said she worries about vapors in the shower mist, and what her family is rubbing into their skin with each short shower they take to clean up.

And she wishes they had taken precautions much sooner.

On Saturday, Damon Smith shows the dirty water filter he changed just five days ago. Smith said his wife, Amber, first noticed the water’s gray appearance last year after a gas well was drilled near the family’s home.
Amber Smith first noticed a gray tinge to the family’s water in March 2009, not long after Devon Energy drilled three new gas wells several hundred feet northwest of their seven-year-old home on Hovenkamp Lane.

“You could see it when you flushed the toilet, or in the bath,” she said.

She complained to her husband, who wasn’t concerned at first — he thought their water well, at 530 feet deep into the slow-moving sands of the Trinity Aquifer, was safe.

Finally, she drew a bath one night and let it settle to show him.

“Amber called me in to see,” Damon Smith said. “You could see it — it looked like gray sand at the bottom of the tub, but when you reached down to touch it, you couldn’t feel anything.”

He went to a home improvement store to buy a filtration system. After finding that he had to change the filter cartridges fairly frequently — about once a month — he bought a crate of them online.

“When I would change them out, it was more of that fine, gray clay, real slimy,” Damon Smith said.

Then, in late April of this year, the Smiths began having major water pressure problems. The gauges on the pump and pressure tank were fine, he said, but when he pulled the filter cartridge, it was caked in a fine, gray sediment. He could see that little water was passing through the filtration system.

He and his father, Dish Town Commissioner Charles Smith, worked all day the first Saturday of May, taking the system apart and cleaning it thoroughly. The plumbing worked fine for about two days, and then the pressure problems began again.

Damon Smith pulled the filter and the cartridge was completely caked again. The Smiths consulted with Mayor Calvin Tillman, who recommended they call a contact at Devon Energy. They told their story to a company representative and urged him to take a filter with him to show his boss, but the representative urged the couple to call the Texas Railroad Commission instead.

A Railroad Commission inspector came out May 5 and took water samples.

Meanwhile, the town of Dish voted to provide for private testing of any area water well that showed a need to be tested. The Smiths signed up and Wolf Eagle Environmental took samples May 13.

At the time, Tillman said town officials had been so focused on emissions coming from a nearby compression complex that they had neglected the possibility that hydraulic fracturing could have compromised well water in the area.

Nationwide, industry officials have said repeatedly that hydraulic fracturing is safe and has been used for years without any documented cases of groundwater contamination. The process was exempted from the Safe Water Drinking Act after a 2004 study by the Environmental Protection Agency deemed it safe.

Recently, that study was discredited and the agency has ordered a new study.

Environmentalists dispute the claim that it’s safe.

“We think they are playing a game of semantics with that statement,” said Amy Mall, spokeswoman for the National Resources Defense Council. The group has chronicled cases in Arkansas, Colorado, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wyoming, and near Grandview, Texas, where water wells appear to have been compromised after a gas well was fracked nearby.

A Railroad Commission inspector called the Smiths a week after the May 5 visit, saying they wanted to come out again. Damon Smith said he pressed them, but the inspector would only tell him that they’d found barium at troubling levels.

“I may be the dumbest guy in the room when you all start talking about these levels,” Damon Smith said, “but when you want to come back out and test some more, I know that’s not good.”

When the family got the commission’s lab results on paper several days after the call, they asked environmental expert Wilma Subra to analyze it, Amber Smith said.

She said Subra’s analysis showed chromium from that sample at 2.5 times the maximum contaminant level, or MCL, established by the EPA; arsenic at 10 times the MCL; and lead at 21 times the MCL.

Barium levels came in not quite half the MCL.

The Smiths were stunned by the report. State health inspectors had been in their home in January, part of the health study being conducted throughout Dish.

A lab report provided to the couple showed state health inspectors had detected benzene, ethylbenzene, styrene, toluene and xylene in their water, but at levels far below federal limits.

The Wolf Eagle samples did not detect the same levels of the heavy metals, but instead found acetone and 2-butanone above the federal limits. Wolf Eagle also tested for total dissolved solids, and found those, too, exceeded federal limits for drinking water.

Railroad Commission inspectors turned around the next battery of tests gathered May 24 in three days, documents show. The lab looked for a larger array of compounds, but did not detect the heavy metals of the May 5 test.

The Smiths said since early May, after they complained to the Devon representative, they’ve not had to change filters as often — maybe every four or five days — but they’ve also questioned whether something had changed at the well. Neither Damon nor Amber — nor Damon’s father, who lives next door — has seen the kind of truck traffic servicing the well in the last month that had been typical up to that point.

Devon Energy spokesman Chip Minty said he did not have any knowledge of the well’s operations, so he could not comment on the family’s observation. He said the company was aware of the complaints about the water well and that the Texas Railroad Commission was investigating the problem, but so far the company had not seen any kind of report.

“It’s too soon to comment,” Minty said.

Ramona Nye, a spokeswoman for the Railroad Commission, did not respond to a request for comment.

The Smiths said they thought the problem would be solved quickly, once the company saw the data. They’ve talked to the EPA, too, and don’t understand what everyone is waiting for.

“We don’t have city water out here,” Amber Smith said. “We don’t have any other options.”

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is

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Saturday, June 5, 2010

New York Times: Op-Ed Columnist, Disaster in the Amazon

Published: June 4, 2010

BP’s calamitous behavior in the Gulf of Mexico is the big oil story of the moment. But for many years, indigenous people from a formerly pristine region of the Amazon rainforest in Ecuador have been trying to get relief from an American company, Texaco (which later merged with Chevron), for what has been described as the largest oil-related environmental catastrophe ever.

“As horrible as the gulf spill has been, what happened in the Amazon was worse,” said Jonathan Abady, a New York lawyer who is part of the legal team that is suing Chevron on behalf of the rainforest inhabitants.

It has been a long and ugly legal fight and the outcome is uncertain. But what has happened in the rainforest is heartbreaking, although it has not gotten nearly the coverage that the BP spill has.

What’s not in dispute is that Texaco operated more than 300 oil wells for the better part of three decades in a vast swath of Ecuador’s northern Amazon region, just south of the border with Colombia. Much of that area has been horribly polluted. The lives and culture of the local inhabitants, who fished in the intricate waterways and cultivated the land as their ancestors had done for generations, have been upended in ways that have led to widespread misery.

Texaco came barreling into this delicate ancient landscape in the early 1960s with all the subtlety and grace of an invading army. And when it left in 1992, it left behind, according to the lawsuit, widespread toxic contamination that devastated the livelihoods and traditions of the local people, and took a severe toll on their physical well-being.

A brief filed by the plaintiffs said: “It deliberately dumped many billions of gallons of waste byproduct from oil drilling directly into the rivers and streams of the rainforest covering an area the size of Rhode Island. It gouged more than 900 unlined waste pits out of the jungle floor — pits which to this day leach toxic waste into soils and groundwater. It burned hundreds of millions of cubic feet of gas and waste oil into the atmosphere, poisoning the air and creating ‘black rain’ which inundated the area during tropical thunderstorms.”

The quest for oil is, by its nature, colossally destructive. And the giant oil companies, when left to their own devices, will treat even the most magnificent of nature’s wonders like a sewer. But the riches to be made are so vastly corrupting that governments refuse to impose the kinds of rigid oversight and safeguards that would mitigate the damage to the environment and its human and animal inhabitants.

Pick your venue. The families whose lives and culture are dependent upon the intricate web of waterways along the Gulf Coast of the United States are in a fix similar to that of the indigenous people zapped by nonstop oil spills and the oil-related pollution in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Each group is fearful about its future. Both have been treated contemptuously.

The oil companies don’t care. Shell can’t wait to begin drilling in the Arctic Ocean off the northern coast of Alaska, an area that would pose monumental problems for anyone trying to deal with a catastrophic spill. The companies pretend that the spills won’t happen. They always say that their drilling operations are safe. They said that before drilling off Santa Barbara, and in the rainforest in Ecuador, and in the Gulf of Mexico, and everywhere else they drill.

Their assurances mean nothing.

President Obama has suspended Shell’s Arctic drilling permits and has temporarily halted the so-called Arctic oil rush. What we’ve learned from the BP debacle in the gulf, and from the rainforest, and so many other places, is just how reckless and inept the oil companies can be when it comes to safeguarding life, limb and the environment.

They’re dangerous. They need the most stringent kind of oversight, and swift and severe sanctions for serious wrongdoing. At the same time, we need to be searching with a much, much greater sense of urgency for viable energy alternatives. Treating the Amazon and the gulf and the Arctic as if they were nothing more than toxic waste sites is an affront to the planet and all life-forms that inhabit it.

Chevron doesn’t believe it should be called to account for any of the sins Texaco may have committed in the Amazon. A spokesman told me that the allegations of environmental damage were wildly overstated and that even if Texaco had caused some pollution, it had cleaned it up and reached an agreement with the Ecuadorian government that precluded further liability.

The indigenous residents may be suffering (they’re in much worse shape than the people on the gulf coast) but the Chevron-Texaco crowd feels real good about itself. The big money was made, and the trash was left behind.
Read source article here.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Las Vegas Optic Letter to the Editor: Let's prevent bomb with good process

By Pat Leahan
I am writing in response to a recent Optic article about the lop-sided membership of the San Miguel County Oil and Gas Ordinance Task Force.

Planning and Zoning supervisor Alex Tafoya was quoted as saying, in relation to the work of the task force, “It’s not like we’re creating a new nuclear bomb.” Mr. Tafoya is correct. We want an ordinance to prevent a bomb, not create one.

When I was a teenager, a natural gas pipeline exploded in our community. It was like a bomb was detonated. We lost two of our neighbors — a father running from the explosion with his child in his arms. They were killed by the fireball.

The video footage of the current environmental disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico looks like a bomb in continuous-explosion-mode. And one of the options on the table to try and stop it is, ironically, a bomb. And the catastrophe itself is due, in large part, to weak regulations and lack of oversight (and greed, as well).

The job before our county task force is prevention and protection — an ordinance that provides oversight to prevent disasters, and includes strict regulations to protect our community.

We are not asking for much from our county commission — a balanced task force, transparency in the process of developing the ordinance, open meetings — you know, just the basics of fair and open government working with its citizens.

It’s not like we're asking them to create a new nuclear bomb.

Pat Leahan

Las Vegas

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Oil Spill Could Bring Mass Extinction to the Gulf Coast

While BP plays the influence game, environmentalists and scientists are contemplating the possibility of mass marine and wildlife extinctions as a result of the ongoing oil spill.

Published on Friday, June 4, 2010 by The Media Consortium
Oil Spill Could Bring Mass Extinction to the Gulf Coast
by Sarah Laskow

A cap placed over a severed pipe is siphoning some oil from the broken BP well in the Gulf Coast, the company said today. The company’s CEO said this morning on CBS that it was possible that this fix could capture up to 90% of the oil, but that it will take 24 to 48 hours to understand how well this solution is working. Adm. Thad Allen, the former Coast Guard chief and oil spill incident commander, called the cap “only a temporary and partial fix.”

Despite the capping procedure, it became clear this week that the onrush of oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon rig will not cease any time soon. Even in the best case scenario, thousands of barrels of oil will still flow into the ocean. Destruction is already spreading along the Gulf Coast, and before the oil stops leaking, species might be extinct and industries destroyed.

In the coming months—it’s not clear how many—oil will continue to pollute the Gulf of Mexico. BP and the Obama administration are talking about August as the end of this crisis, but other experts have projected that the spill could last until Christmas.

As Justin Elliott reports for TPMMuckraker, BP told the government it could handle a spill much larger than this one. In the initial exploration plan for the well, BP claimed “it was prepared to respond to a blowout flowing at 300,000 barrels per day — as much as 25 times the rate of the current spill,” Elliott writes. BP cannot, it turns out, respond to a blowout flowing less than 20,000 barrels per day, and the consequences for the Gulf communities are only beginning to emerge. The first casualty will be Gulf ecosystem and its inhabitants. The second casualty will be the livelihood of Gulf communities that have depended on fish, shrimp, and oysters for survival.

How long?

In 1979, another company released torrents of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, in much shallower waters than where BP was drilling. As Rachel Slajda writes for TPMMuckeraker, the clean-up methods the oil industry relied on three decades ago are similar to the technology BP is trying now. The Ixtoc spill was comparatively easy to address; yet it still took 10 months to stop.

During that spill, the nearest state, Texas, had two months to prepare for the oil to hit shore, and still “1,421 birds were found with oiled feathers and feet,” Slajda writes. The fishing industry escaped much damage, but the tourism industry lost 7-10% of its business.

Dead fish

In Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida, and other states affected by this spill, fish, fowl, restaurateurs, and oystermen won’t get off easy. As Care2 reports, the National Wildlife Federation has already documented the deaths of more than 150 threatened or endangered sea turtles and of 316 seabirds (“mostly brown pelicans and northern gannets”).

And BP is trying to keep images of the animal victims away from the public. Julia Whitty, reporting from Louisiana, writes for Mother Jones:

All up and down this shoreline angry and scared people told me some scary and infuriating stories in the past few days. I heard about the the dead and dying wildlife we’re never going to see because the victims are being carted away to early responder ships and to inaccessible buildings onshore. I’ve seen some of those photographs which can’t be shown (according to BP’s new orders) of dolphins swimming through thick gunky oil, struggling sperm whales trailing wakes a mile long in thick gunky oil, dead jellyfish in gunky oil.


The impact of the oil spill goes beyond those individual bodies, though. As Inter Press Service reports, environmentalists and scientists “are beginning to reckon with the reality of a massive annihilation of sea creatures and wildlife.”

“You could potentially lose whole species, have extinction events,” Michael Blum, a Tulane ecology professor told IPS. “Brown pelicans were just taken off the endangered species list. On this threshold, a big dieback and mortality event, they would be pushed back into a situation where they could be endangered.” Also at Care2, Jay Holcomb, Executive Director of the International Bird Rescue Research Center, demonstrates a brown pelican being de-oiled, her feathers shampooed with Dawn detergent, her head and pouch cleaned with Q-tips.

Livelihoods destroyed

For generations, Gulf Coast residents made their living by fishing. Their fishing grounds are now off-limits. Some have found short-term work with BP fighting the oil. But those jobs come with new hazards.

Some clean-up workers have reported dizziness, nausea, and shortness of breath that they think comes from exposure to chemical dispersants. BP is not providing safety gear that would clean the air workers breathe and has threatened to fire clean-up workers who bring their own, Colorlines reports.

In the long-term, Gulf Coast fishermen may have no source of income and will have to abandon their homes and professions.

“It’s a way of life,” shrimper Dean Blachard told Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman this week. “They destroyed a way of life, a way of life that if you take it away too long, you can’t learn this in a school. This is passed from generation to generation, so the daddy teaches the son, and the son teaches his son. And, you know, once the chain is broke, you’re never going to get it back.”

It’s understandable that the residents of the Gulf Coast might want BP to pay for the damage. At The Nation, Chris Hayes reveals that BP could be on the hook for mitigation, the cash value of injured property, and for punitive damages–all beyond the cost of cleanup itself. But, as Zygmunt J. B. Plater, a law professor who chaired a legal task force on the Exxon Valdez spill, explains:

“In Alaska, most of the damage was suffered by communities who had their quality of life destroyed, and there’s no way to put a dollar value on that.”

© The Media Consortium, 2005 - 2010
Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Gas Well Blowout In Clearfield County [PA]

The BP offshore oil rig blowout is a disaster of catastrophic proportions, it is obvious and impossible to ignore; however, accidents happen onshore with disturbing frequency and get very little attention.
There has been a gas well blowout in Clearfield County Pennsylvania. Officials say it took sixteen hours to get under control after spewing an approximate one million gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluid and unknown amounts of wet natural gas. An entire mile wide evacuation has been put in place for nearby residents. An EPA spokesperson stated that none of the polluted drilling water reached waterways in the area. Though who knows if that statement can be accurately made yet. One million gallons of fracturing fluid contains massive amounts of chemicals though. I expect that there will probably be more long-term environmental issues from this blowout than we will really hear about.
For more information, visit Bluedaze Drilling Reform for Texas.
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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Center for Biological Diversity to Sue EPA

For Immediate Release, June 2, 2010

Contact: Andrea Treece, Center for Biological Diversity, (415) 378-6558;

Lawsuit Seeks Full Disclosure of Dispersant Impacts on Gulf's Endangered Wildlife

SAN FRANCISCO— The Center for Biological Diversity today filed an official notice of its intent to sue the Environmental Protection Agency for authorizing the use of toxic dispersants without ensuring that these chemicals would not harm endangered species and their habitats. The letter requests that the agency, along with the U.S. Coast Guard, immediately study the effects of dispersants on species such as sea turtles, sperm whales, piping plovers, and corals and incorporate this knowledge into oil-spill response efforts.

“The Gulf of Mexico has become Frankenstein’s laboratory for BP’s enormous, uncontrolled experiment in flooding the ocean with toxic chemicals,” said Andrea Treece, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The fact that no one in the federal government ever required that these chemicals be proven safe for this sort of use before they were set loose on the environment is inexcusable.”

Dispersants are chemicals used to break oil spills into tiny droplets. In theory, this allows the oil to be eaten by microorganisms and become diluted faster than it would otherwise. However, the effects of using large quantities of dispersants and injecting them into very deep water, as BP has done in the Gulf of Mexico, have never been studied. Researchers suspect that underwater oil plumes, measuring as much as 20 miles long and extending dozens of miles from the leaking rig, are the result of dispersants keeping the oil below the surface.

On May 24, EPA Administrator Jackson expressed concern over the environmental unknowns of dispersants, which include the long-term effects on aquatic life. Nonetheless, the federal government has allowed BP to pump nearly 1 million gallons of dispersants into the Gulf of Mexico.

“Pouring dispersants into vital fish nursery grounds and endangered species habitat simply trades one evil for another. Had the government first examined dispersants before the disaster, we would not be left wondering what sort of havoc BP is wreaking on the ecosystem just so it can make the oil less visible,” added Treece. “We cannot and will not allow this to happen again.”

Studies have found that oil dispersed by Corexit 9527 damages the insulating properties of seabird feathers more than untreated oil, making the birds more susceptible to hypothermia and death. Studies have also found that dispersed oil is toxic to fish eggs, larvae, and adults, as well as to corals, and can harm sea turtles’ ability to breathe and digest food. Formulations of the dispersants being used by BP, Corexit 9500 and 9527, have been banned in the United Kingdom due to concerns over their impacts on the marine environment.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 260,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
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Oil and gas drilling still going strong in New Mexico

There has been a lot of trash talking about the pit rule and its "negative" impacts on oil and gas development in New Mexico. I think the following press release from Governor Bill Richardson clearly shows that is not the case. So, protective regulations an economy killer, or simply conducive to human and environmental safety?

For Immediate Release Contact: Jodi McGinnis Porter
May 19, 2010

Governor Bill Richardson Announces Oil and Gas Drilling Activity in New Mexico Is Strong
Environmental regulations are not driving business away
SANTA FE, NM - Governor Bill Richardson today announced that New Mexico's drilling activity has more than doubled this year according to the Baker Hughes rig count with 63 operating rigs reported on May 14, 2010, compared to 31 operating rigs a year ago on May 15, 2009. The number of oil- and gas-producing wells in New Mexico remains constant with new environmental regulations balancing our energy needs while protecting New Mexico's precious ground water and our environment.
"New Mexico's pit rules have shown that protecting our health and water resources are good for industry and the environment," said Governor Richardson. "The BP oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico is a sobering reminder that preventing environmental contamination is always less expensive than cleaning it up."
Activity in southeastern New Mexico's Permian Basin is especially strong. Apache Corporation, an independent energy exploration and production company, recently announced it expects to drill in excess of 200 new wells during 2010 in the Permian Basin. Of the 200-plus wells, 100 will be drilled in New Mexico, which will represent the most wells drilled by Apache in the state in any year.
"We can produce oil and gas in New Mexico in an environmentally sound manner that works for industry and protects our natural resources." said Jon Goldstein, Cabinet Secretary for the New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department. "Drilling activity closely follows the price of oil and gas. As commodity prices rise, drilling activity increases."
The price of a barrel of oil was in the mid $30 range in 2009. Current prices in the $60-$70 range are driving healthy activity in New Mexico's southeastern oil fields. Unfortunately, natural gas prices have not increased to the same extent keeping activity at a lower level in the gas fields of the San Juan Basin.
The price of oil and gas fluctuates, but companies can find and produce oil and gas more safely, efficiently and with increased environmental protections using new technologies, such as directional drilling, reusing existing well pads for new wells and using closed loop systems to manage their waste.
Earlier this week, U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar followed New Mexico's lead and announced that the Department of Interior's Bureau of Land Management is reforming its oil and gas program to improve environmental protection of important natural resources on U.S. public lands while aiding in the orderly leasing and balanced development of the nation's energy supply.
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Gulf of Mexico Oil Well Approved

While it is quite true that to err is human, if we do not learn from our mistakes, we really are doomed to repeat them.

WASHINGTON - Federal regulators approved the first new Gulf of Mexico oil well since President Barack Obama lifted a ban on drilling in shallow water last week, angering environmentalists even as business groups urged his administration to relax a moratorium on new deepwater projects.

The Minerals Management Service said on its Web site Wednesday that it had granted a permit sought by Bandon Oil and Gas, LP to drill at a site about 50 miles off Louisiana's coast and about 115 feet beneath the water's surface.

Mr. Obama announced last week that the Interior Department would extend a moratorium on wells in more than 500 feet of water. At the same time, the administration said it would allow drilling projects to continue in less than 500 feet of water, provided they satisfy new safety and environmental requirements identified in a report that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar gave to Mr. Obama last week.

Environmental groups criticized the MMS, however, saying a 2007 study by MMS of all wells drilled between 1992 and 2006, found that most blowouts occurred in water less than 500 feet.

"This is like putting a drunk back in the driver's seat after handing him a cup of coffee," Mike Gravitz, a spokesman for Environment America, said.

At the same time, a group that represents the nation's offshore oil and gas operators said Wednesday that the administration's continuing moratorium on deepwater drilling warned will result in tens of thousands of job losses. The National Ocean Industries Association said the moratorium would halt work on 33 exploratory wells in the Gulf of Mexico.

"At a time when the spill is already causing economic stress for key industries in the region, the president's action will make things much worse by putting more Gulf citizens out of work," Burt Adams, the group's chairman, said.

An Interior spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to a request for a response to the industry group. In announcing details of the new restrictions this week, Mr. Salazar said they are a "prudent" step that will provide the government time to implement new safety requirements while a recently-appointed presidential commission investigates the cause of the April 20 Deepwater Horizon accident.

Write to Stephen Power at
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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess calls on Texas AG to investigate state's environmental agency

I have heard a lot of reassurances from oil and gas industry representatives. The most common is in regards to a lack of need for county-based regulations. This comes in the form of a statement like "there are already regulations and entities that enforce them, so why on earth would you want unnecessary regulations that will negatively impact business?" Well, I think the article below is a clear illustration of why counties need to take responsibility for their own well being.

11:57 PM CDT on Tuesday, June 1, 2010
By PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE / Denton Record-Chronicle

U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess has called on the Texas attorney general to investigate the state's environmental agency, following an audit report that showed agency officials may have withheld information about toxic compounds found near natural-gas facilities.

"They have a credibility problem now," Burgess, R-Lewisville, said of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. "That's what's so disturbing. It calls into question virtually everything else they have done so far. You don't like to be treated dismissively."

Burgess had asked for a briefing on the TCEQ's air quality work, which the agency provided in late April. At the time, he wasn't as concerned about findings in Fort Worth as much as he was the Denton County findings, but no mention was made of the TCEQ audit. He said he was troubled that agency officials were sitting on the information.

The call for a full investigation could help restore confidence in the agency, Burgess said.

"We continue to work with both the public and elected officials to keep them informed of TCEQ's air quality activities in the Barnett Shale area," agency spokesman Terry Clawson said in a prepared statement.

The TCEQ audit followed a Feb. 3 complaint sent by e-mail to the agency's fraud division. According to the audit report, dated March 25, leadership in the TCEQ compliance division knew early on that, during a December air quality study of natural-gas facilities in Fort Worth, inspectors used equipment that was not sensitive enough to detect toxic compounds, including the carcinogen benzene, at long-term screening levels. More>>>