Friday, April 30, 2010

A little bit of love to the meanies

I just had to send some traffic over to that big meanie TXSharon over at Bluedaze Drilling reform for Texas. The Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP) is putting the fear of regulation (apparently far worse than the fear of God) into Texas oil and gas developers. Please check out Sharon's great post. Her and others like her have been working very hard to get some protection for the citizens and water of Texas. And it is starting to pay off. So here's a big thank you to Sharon and the rest of the folks at OGAP for all that they do.

BP Had Other Problems in Years Leading to Gulf Spill

by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica - April 29, 2010 11:01 pm EDT

BP, the global oil giant responsible for the fast-spreading spill in the Gulf of Mexico that will soon make landfall, is no stranger to major accidents.

In fact, the company has found itself at the center of several of the nation's worst oil and gas–related disasters in the last five years.

In March 2005, a massive explosion ripped through a tower at BP's refinery in Texas City, Texas, killing 15 workers and injuring 170 others. Investigators later determined that the company had ignored its own protocols on operating the tower, which was filled with gasoline, and that a warning system had been disabled.

The company pleaded guilty to federal felony charges and was fined more than $50 million by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Almost a year after the refinery explosion, technicians discovered that some 4,800 barrels of oil had spread into the Alaskan snow through a tiny hole in the company's pipeline in Prudhoe Bay. BP had been warned to check the pipeline in 2002, but hadn't, according to a report in Fortune. When it did inspect it, four years later, it found that a six-mile length of pipeline was corroded. The company temporarily shut down its operations in Prudhoe Bay, causing one of the largest disruptions in U.S. oil supply in recent history.

BP faced $12 million in fines for a misdemeanor violation of the federal Water Pollution Control Act. A congressional committee determined that BP had ignored opportunities to prevent the spill and that "draconian" cost-saving measures had led to shortcuts in its operation.

Other problems followed. There were more spills in Alaska. And BP was charged with manipulating the market price of propane. In that case, it settled with the U.S. Department of Justice and agreed to pay more than $300 million in fines.

At each step along the way, the company's executives were contrite.

"This was a preventable incident. ... It should be seen as a process failure, a cultural failure and a management failure," John Mogford, then BP's senior group vice president for safety and operations, said in an April 2006 speech about the lessons learned in Texas City. "It's not an easy story to tell. BP doesn't come out of it well." More>>>

Thursday, April 29, 2010

EPA Launches Toxicity Reference Data Database

ToxRefDB (Toxicity Reference Database) captures thousands of in vivo animal toxicity studies on hundreds of chemicals. The database:
Stores detailed study design, dosing, and observed treatment-related effects using standardized vocabulary.
Provides detailed chemical toxicity data, for the first time, in a publically accessible and searchable format.
Enables linkages to other public hazard, exposure and risk resources by integrating with ACToR (Aggregated Computational Toxicology Resource).
Captures over 30 years and $2 billion of animal testing results.
Connects to another EPA chemical screening tool called ToxCast, a multi-year, multi-million dollar effort that uses advanced science tools to help efficiently (~$20K per chemical) understand biological processes impacted by chemicals that may lead to adverse health effects.
Visit EPA Toxicity Reference Database.

Gulf Oil Spill Puts Spotlight on Regulator With Mixed Record

Yes I know, yet another post about the offshore drilling rig disaster; however, this is the article I have been waiting for. Finally, an attempted explanation as to why the well is still leaking crude into the ocean. It's a shame the explanation is not going to clean up the mess.

by Marian Wang, ProPublica - April 29, 2010 2:09 pm EDT

With news from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico oil rig getting worse—a top Coast Guard official warned it could end up being “one of the most significant oil spills in U.S. history”—questions are beginning to be asked about how it happened, and how it could have been prevented.

As The Wall Street Journal reported this morning, the oil rig lacked a device—known as an acoustic control—that would’ve served as a safeguard of last resort. While the effectiveness of the $500,000 device is debated, the Journal points out that it is used by other oil-producing nations, including Brazil and Norway. Regulators in the U.S. were also considering requiring it a few years ago, but after industry objections decided that the devices were expensive and needed more study.

So which regulator oversees rigs and made that decision? It was the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service, an agency that has had a spotty record over the past few years.

In 2008, we pointed out that MMS was in quite a bit of trouble for ethical violations by its officials. The scandal involved sex, drugs and (quite literally) sleeping with the very industry it was regulating. Here’s how The New York Times summarized the government’s investigation:

The investigation also concluded that several of the officials “frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives.” The investigation separately found that the program’s manager mixed official and personal business. In sometimes lurid detail, the report also accuses him of having intimate relations with two subordinates, one of whom regularly sold him cocaine.

That hasn’t been the end of MMS’s troubles. According to an audit earlier this month by the Government Accountability Office, the regulator has hardly been a straight shooter on offshore drilling and the risks involved. The GAO found that MMS withheld data on offshore drilling in Alaska from regional staff at the agency involved in environmental analyses. The report also found that MMS lacked sufficient guidelines to properly analyze the risks of drilling in the region.

“We found considerable variation among MMS’s [Alaska] regions in how they assess what constitutes a ‘significant’ environmental impact,” reads the report (PDF). And on the withholding of data: “Some of its own scientists have alleged that their findings have been suppressed.” (In a formal response to the report, the Dept. of Interior said it “generally agrees” with the findings.)

The Project on Government Oversight, a non-profit watchdog, told us regulation wasn’t a priority for MMS.

“It was an agency that was very strapped in its human resources, and essentially the priority for agency was on production other than on regulation and oversight,” said Mandy Smithberger of POGO. She added that under Ken Salazar, who became Secretary of the Interior in January 2009, this may be changing, “but we have not seen material changes so far.”

One step in the process that oil companies must go through to get approval for drilling involves submitting an exploration plan that lays out worst-case scenarios. The Huffington Post points out that MMS “did not require BP”—which owns the well that blew up—to file a plan to how to react to a “potential blowout,” meaning an uncontrollable spill. According to the Huffington Post’s reporting, the more limited plan BP filed with MMS predicted if worse comes to worst, an oil spill would release 162,000 gallons of oil. The Deepwater Horizon spill has already exceeded that prediction.

That doesn’t make MMS look very good, since one of its officials vouched for BP’s plan at the time. From The Huffington Post again:

An MMS official certified that BP “has the capacity to respond, to the maximum extent practicable, to a worst-case discharge, or a substantial threat of such a discharge.” But after the explosion, the scale of the accident required BP to get assistance from the Coast Guard, other federal agencies and other oil companies such as Shell, which is sending half a dozen vessels to help with the clean-up effort. More>>>

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Colorado: A Clean Energy Future Done Right

You rarely hear people acknowledge the drawbacks to natural gas when talking about replacing coal but I think this article does a pretty nice job.

Elise Jones.Executive Director of the Colorado Environmental Coalition
Posted: April 28, 2010 11:48 AM at The Huffington Post

Once again, many eyes are on Colorado as it pioneers a ground-breaking pathway towards a cleaner energy future. And they should be.

Last week Colorado signed into law its historic Clean Air-Clean Jobs bill, which calls for transitioning the aging, coal-fired power plants in the Denver metropolitan area that are putting the health of the area's children, elderly and sick at risk. In addition to reducing ozone and regional haze pollution, this measure aims to decrease the greenhouse gas emissions contributing to global warming, the impact of which is already evident in Colorado's early-melting snowpack and the bark beetle epidemic ravaging our forests.

This bipartisan legislation enjoyed a diversity of supporters: Governor Ritter, Xcel (the affected utility and Colorado's largest), climate-concerned legislators, and many conservation groups, as well as rural lawmakers and natural gas companies who were delighted that much of the replacement energy from these coal plants is likely to come from natural gas (in addition to renewables and energy efficiency).

While Colorado's landmark progress in shuttering pollution-belching coal plants is a great example for other states and Congress to follow, it's important first to understand the context for this success story. Our remarkable progress towards embracing a new energy future involves a comprehensive package of energy policies - and all parts are equally important.

One of the key factors to the success of the clean air legislation was its alliance of strange bedfellows - but let's be clear, not everyone was comfortable with the sleeping arrangement. And that's because while natural gas burns cleaner than coal, it's not clean. A flight over parts of Colorado's West Slope will starkly illustrate the impacts of past natural gas production: an industrialized web of bulldozed well pads, pipelines, compressor stations, roads and waste pits carved into our scenic landscapes. For the people who live in the "gas patch" - the families whose drinking water has been contaminated, the ranchers who have lost pastures to well pads, or the landowners whose property values have plummeted with the presence of drill rigs in their backyards - fuel switching to natural gas to clean up Denver's air is not the easiest pill to swallow.

Consequently, ensuring that natural gas production is "done right," using new technologies and improved management practices to reduce impacts, is an essential part of the equation. Indeed, the Clean Air-Clean Jobs bill would not have happened had Governor Ritter and state lawmakers not shown bold leadership in 2009 in updating the state's rules guiding oil and gas drilling to increase protections for our drinking water, wildlife habitat, and communities. Among other things, these common sense measures direct new drilling away from municipal water supplies, require extra care in important wildlife areas, and require companies to disclose the toxic chemicals they use in the drilling process in case accidents or spills occur. More>>>

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Big Oil Fought Off New Safety Rules Before Rig Explosion

I know I have done quite a few posts about this, but it really is an environmental catastrophe of staggering proportions and it is not just going to disappear.

Marcus Baram, Huffington Post

As families mourn the 11 workers thrown overboard in the worst oil rig disaster in decades and as the resulting spill continues to spread through the Gulf of Mexico, new questions are being raised about the training of the drill operators and about the oil company's commitment to safety.

Deepwater Horizon, the giant technically-advanced rig which exploded on April 20 and sank two days later, is leaking an estimated 42,000 gallons per day through a pipe about 5,000 feet below the surface. The spill has spread across 1,800 square miles -- an area larger than Rhode Island -- according to satellite images, oozing its way toward the Louisiana coast and posing a threat to wildlife, including a sperm whale spotted in the oil sheen.

The massive $600 million rig, which holds the record for boring the deepest oil and gas well in the world -- at 35,050 feet - had passed three recent federal inspections, the most recent on April 1, since it moved to its current location in January. The cause of the explosion has not been determined.

Yet relatives of workers who are presumed dead claim that the oil behemoth BP and rig owner TransOcean violated "numerous statutes and regulations" issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Coast Guard, according to a lawsuit filed by Natalie Roshto, whose husband Shane, a deck floor hand, was thrown overboard by the force of the explosion and whose body has not yet been located.

Both companies failed to provide a competent crew, failed to properly supervise its employees and failed to provide Rushto with a safe place to work, according to the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana. The lawsuit also names oil-services giant Halliburton as a defendant, claiming that the company "prior to the explosion, was engaged in cementing operations of the well and well cap and, upon information and belief, improperly and negligently performed these duties, which was a cause of the explosion."

BP and TransOcean have also aggressively opposed new safety regulations proposed last year by a federal agency that oversees offshore drilling -- which were prompted by a study that found many accidents in the industry.

Story continues belowThere were 41 deaths and 302 injuries out of 1,443 incidents from 2001 to 2007, according to the study conducted by the Minerals and Management Service of the Interior Department. In addition, the agency issued 150 reports over incidents of non-compliant production and drilling operations and determined there was "no discernible improvement by industry over the past 7 years."

As a result, the agency proposed taking a more proactive stance by requiring operators to have their safety program audited at least once every three years -- previously, the industry's self-managed safety program was voluntary for operators. The agency estimated that the proposed rule, which has yet to take effect, would cost operators about $4.59 million in startup costs and $8 million in annual recurring costs.

The industry has launched a coordinated campaign to attack those regulations, with over 100 letters objecting to the regulations -- in a September 14, 2009 letter to MMS, BP vice president for Gulf of Mexico production, Richard Morrison, wrote that "we are not supportive of the extensive, prescriptive regulations as proposed in this rule," arguing that the voluntary programs "have been and continue to be very successful," along with a list of very specific objections to the wording of the proposed regulations.

The next day, the American Petroleum Institute and the Offshore Operators Committee, in a joint letter to MMS, emphasized their preference for voluntary programs with "enough flexibility to suit the corporate culture of each company." Both trade groups also claimed that the industry's safety and environmental record has improved, citing MMS data to show that the number of lost workdays fell "from a 3.39 rate in 1996 to 0.64 in 2008, a reduction of over 80%."

The Offshore Operators Committee also submitted to MMS a September 2, 2009 PowerPoint presentation asking in bold letters, "What Do HURRICANES and New Rules Have in Common?" against a backdrop of hurricane activity in the Gulf of Mexico. On the next page, the answer appears: "Both are disruptive to Operations And are costly to Recover From". More>>>

Oil and Gas Industry Account for Half of Susana Martinez's Recent Gubernatorial Fundraising

A while back, someone gave me a link to a website that shows campaign contributors and who they contributed to. Since the oil and gas industry is so big, it's no surprise they are the single largest corporate contributors to political campaigns in the nation. I will post that link here if I can dig it back up. The only label I have that applies here is regulation, as Governors have a huge impact on state-wide regulations.


By: BARRY MASSEY
Associated Press
04/26/10 5:05 PM EDT

SANTA FE, N.M. — The oil and natural gas industry provided half of the campaign contributions that Republican gubernatorial candidate Susana Martinez raised during the past six months.

An analysis of state campaign finance reports by The Associated Press found that Martinez collected about $215,000 from oil and gas donors from October through early April. That's half of the $428,065 she raised during the most recent campaign finance reporting period.

Martinez, the Dona Ana County district attorney, is one of five Republicans seeking the party's nomination for governor in the June 1 primary election.

Southeastern New Mexico oil producers accounted for most of the industry contributions to Martinez. The largest amounts came from Artesia-based Mack Energy, other companies connected to it and their officers. They collectively contributed $155,000.

"As the only Republican candidate from southern New Mexico, it's no surprise that Susana Martinez is receiving support from a leading industry in the region," said Adam Deguire, Martinez's campaign manager.

He said the contributions won't influence Martinez if she's elected governor.

"As governor, just as she has always done in the past, Susana will base decisions on a fact-and-evidence-based criteria that's in the best and common interest of New Mexicans," Deguire said in a statement.

All of the Republican candidates are aligned with the oil industry in opposition to environmental regulations imposed by Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson's administration to restrict the use of pits for onsite waste disposal at drilling operations.

Producers contend the rules make drilling too costly and have contributed, along with lower energy prices, to an industry downturn in New Mexico.

No other Republican gubernatorial hopeful has received as much money from oil and gas interests as Martinez.

But the industry also is a large contributor to GOP candidate Doug Turner, providing him $118,000 from October through April. About $100,000 of that came from Ray and Karen Westall and Loco Hills-based companies tied to them.

The oil and gas money represents about three-fifths of contributions Turner received during the past six months, excluding personal loans he made to the campaign.

"Doug has been very clear during his campaign and through his professional career that he is supportive of New Mexico's extractive industries — oil, gas, mining. Nothing Doug has said regarding policy toward those industries has changed or will change as a result of contributions," Turner spokesman Stephen Dinkel said in a statement.

Several candidates, including Turner, are using large amounts of personal money to finance their campaigns, according to disclosure reports filed with the state earlier this month.

Since beginning his gubernatorial bid last year, former GOP state chairman Allen Weh has loaned his campaign $750,000 — roughly three-fifths of the money he has raised. Weh owns an aircraft charter company in Albuquerque. More>>>

Monday, April 26, 2010

Louisiana Gulf Rig Spewing 1,000 Barrels (42,000 gallons) of Oil per Day

Here's an article that actually acknowledges the environmental devastation that is occurring.

NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana – Robotic submarines are on Monday racing to stop oil from a sunken rig streaming into the Gulf of Mexico, as BP warned that sealing the seabed leaks could take three months if the operation fails.

Crude oil is spewing from a sunken oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving a massive slick covering an area of 400 square miles (1,035 square kilometers), officials said on Sunday.BP,(The British energy giant -- which leases the stricken Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible platform -- is desperately trying to prevent a massive slick from growing and spreading to Louisiana's ecologically fragile coast.

Satellite images on Sunday showed the slick had spread by 50 percent in a day to cover an area of 600 square miles (1,550 square kilometers), although officials said almost all the oil was just a thin veneer on the sea's surface.

BP has dispatched a flotilla of skimming vessels to mop up oil from the rig, which sank on Thursday while still ablaze, almost two days after a massive explosion that left 11 workers missing and presumed dead.

The crucial operations, though, are being conducted by four underwater vehicles almost a mile below on the seabed, where the riser that connects the wellhead to the rig is spewing out an estimated 42,000 gallons of oil a day.

"Those operations are ongoing. I know they have been working overnight but I don't know the progress that has been made," Bill Salvin, a spokesman at the joint information center set up to deal with the spill, told AFP.

Experts say that using the robotic vehicles to activate the blowout preventer -- a giant 450-tonne, 50-foot high machine near the wellhead that could effectively cap the well -- is a longshot.

"It has not been done before, but we have the world's best experts working to make it happen," admitted BP executive Doug Suttles.

Richard Metcalf, a mechanical engineer at the pro-industry Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Association told AFP: "Essentially, they're trying to put a cork in a bottle of champagne."

Aware that the effort could well fail, BP is also preparing to drill relief wells that would permanently shut off the oil flow by injecting a special sealant into the wellhead -- but this would take much longer.

"It is possible that it could take two to three months for a relief well to be drilled," said Salvin, adding that a "worst case scenario" could see them "lose total control of the well" and oil leaking at a much quicker rate.

The spokesman told AFP that it should be clear by Tuesday morning if the remotely-operated submarines would be able to activate the blowout preventer and stop the two leaks in the riser.

The US coast guard, which conducted two overflights of the slick on Saturday and Sunday to assess the extent of the pollution, have described it as a "very serious spill."

Five aircraft and 32 spill response vessels -- skimmers, tugs, barges and recovery boats -- have been trying to mop up the slick but efforts were hampered over the weekend by winds and high seas.

So far, the slick is not threatening the coast of Louisiana, more than 40 miles away, where it could endanger ecologically fragile wetlands that are a paradise for rare waterfowl and other wildlife.

"In the trajectory analysis we don't see any impact to any shoreline within the next three days," Charlie Henry, scientific support coordinator of the US government's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), told journalists on Sunday.

Environmentalists have sounded the alarm about the threat to Louisiana and experts say the spill has the potential to be the worst seen in the United States since the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil tanker disaster.

That spill, considered one of the worst-ever man-made disasters, poured nearly 11 million gallons of crude into Alaska's Prince William Sound, devastating some 750 miles of its once pristine shores. More>>>

Industry defends safety efforts

I don't feel that this article is exactly comprehensive and unbiased; however, it does have a few interesting facts. Bluedaze Drilling Reform for Texas has a post with reader submitted photos of the rig that are well worth looking at. TXSharon has also gotten some informative comments on the pictures.

Tuesday’s explosion on a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico has brought renewed focus on safety standards in the oil and gas industry.

There were 59 deaths and nearly 1,000 fires and explosions on offshore rigs from 2001-2009, according to data provided by the U.S. Minerals Management Service.

Tuesday’s explosion would be the worst U.S. offshore oil rig disaster since 1964, when 21 crew members were killed in a blowout on a Gulf drilling barge.

Such accidents are a constant threat in the Gulf of Mexico, where 1.7 million barrels of oil and 6.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas are produced every day.

Approximately 35,000 people are working offshore in the Gulf at any given time, with 90 rigs and nearly 1,000 production platforms currently in operation. More>>>

City of Las Vegas [NM] to Adopt a Drilling Moratorium?

There is a notice in the Las Vegas Optic stating that the Las Vegas City Council will have a moratorium on drilling activity within Las Vegas City Limits on its agenda for May 5. To read the notice, click here.
The Mayor of Las Vegas has been very proactive about the issue of oil and gas development and has even attended meetings in Mora County to speak to citizens and our county commission. It would be great if we could get a good showing of people out to this Las Vegas City Council meeting and show our support. The meeting notice does not say what time the meeting will be held but I will post it as soon as I know.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

ProPublica: New York Puts Brakes on Drilling in NYC Watershed, Clears Way for Upstate Wells by Next Spring

by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica - April 23, 2010 1:36 pm EDT

New York State environment officials shoved a cumbersome task off their plates Friday when they announced that their controversial environmental review of natural gas drilling in New York's Marcellus Shale would not apply to drilling inside New York City's 1,900-square-mile watershed.

The decision appears to protect the unfiltered water supply for nine million residents -- as well as another unfiltered watershed near Syracuse, N.Y. -- because energy companies will be required to undergo a separate and exhaustive review for each well they propose to drill and hydraulically fracture inside the area, a hurdle that may amount to a de facto ban.

But it also removes a significant political and scientific obstacle to completing the two-year statewide review process, paving the way for drilling to proceed across much of the rest of the state as soon as next spring.

"Clearly there will be less analysis required to finish the job now that we are going to be focusing on the environmental safety of the process and not getting into the unique components of the FAD watersheds," said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation assistant commissioner Stuart Gruskin, referring to the Filtration Avoidance Determination, the federal permit that allows New York City's water to be delivered untreated. "We are not giving special treatment to those FAD watersheds or deciding that it is unsafe to drill there -- rather we are pulling them out and recognizing that there are a distinct set of issues."

The state has received more than 14,000 comments relating to its generic statewide environmental review and has struggled to complete another draft of that review while coping with questions about the New York City watershed, and a shortage of staff to complete the research. By simplifying the scope of the study, state officials hope they can finish the larger review, known as the SGEIS, by the end of the year. Then they'll begin considering the 58 drilling applications for outside the watersheds that have already been submitted, soon after. More>>>

Friday, April 23, 2010

Deepwater Horizon Accident Foreshadows a Potential Disaster Waiting to Happen in the Gulf

April 22, 2010
4:23 PM
CONTACT: Food & Water Watch
Kate Fried, Food & Water Watch: (202) 683-2500, kfried(at)fwwatch(dot)org.

Deepwater Horizon Accident Foreshadows a Potential Disaster Waiting to Happen in the Gulf
Food & Water Watch and Safety Engineer Warn of Consequences of a Lack of Critical Safety Documents, Fear Disaster Possible for BP Atlantis
WASHINGTON - April 22 - Following Tuesday's explosion on the Deepwater Horizon Platform, leased and operated by British Petroleum (BP) in the Gulf of Mexico, the national consumer advocacy group Food & Water Watch is warning of the possibility of a similarly tragic disaster involving the company's Atlantis Project- one of the world's deepest semi-submersible oil and natural gas platforms, located 150 miles south of New Orleans in the Gulf of Mexico.

Last year, a whistleblower and former company contractor alleged that the Atlantis platform has been operating without a large percentage of the engineer-approved documents needed for it to operate safely. An independent engineer later substantiated these concerns, concluding that a BP database showed that over 85 percent of the Atlantis Project's Piping and Instrument drawings lacked final engineer-approval, and that the project should be immediately shut down until those documents could be accounted for and are independently verified.

"The tragic explosion on the Deepwater Horizon platform is an urgent reminder of the calamity that could occur if BP's Atlantis platform is operating without the approved documents necessary for ensuring its safety," said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. "This accident and the recent Massey mine disaster in West Virginia underscore a complete lack of regulatory oversight over the operations of the fossil fuel industry."

BP has denied the whistleblower's assertions regarding Atlantis, going so far as to write a letter to Congressional staff saying that they are "unsubstantiated," even though internal documents show that in August 2008, BP management was aware of the problems and believed that the document deficiencies "could lead to catastrophic Operator error." An investigation conducted by the company's Ombudsman in April 2009 seems to substantiate the charges, although the investigation's results did not become known until this month. BP has never acknowledged that the Ombudsman conducted an investigation of the project's document deficiencies.

"BP's recklessness in regards to the Atlantis project is a clear example of how the company has a pattern of failing to comply with minimum industry standards for worker and environmental safety," said Mike Sawyer, an Engineer at Apex Safety Consultants, who verified the contractor-turned-whistleblower's concerns about the company's lack of proper documents.

In March 2010, the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the agency charged with overseeing the nation's offshore oil and gas platforms, announced that it would investigate these allegations in response to a letter from Representative Raul M. Grijalva (D-AZ) and 18 of his colleagues calling for an investigation and a report on the findings issued to Congress. Food & Water Watch brought the situation to Representative Grijalva's attention in October of 2009. More>>>

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

At least 11 workers sought after oil rig explosion

Associated Press:
By KEVIN McGILL (AP) – 1 hour ago

NEW ORLEANS — Helicopters, ships and an airplane searched waters off Louisiana's coast Wednesday for at least 11 workers missing after an explosion and fire that left an offshore drilling platform tilting in the Gulf of Mexico.

Most of the 126 people were believed to have escaped safely after the explosion on the rig Deepwater Horizon at about 10 p.m. Tuesday, Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Mike O'Berry said. The rig, about 52 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip, was listing about 10 degrees and still burning Wednesday morning.

"It's burning pretty good and there's no estimate on when the fire will be put out," O'Berry said.

Seven workers were reported critically injured, Coast Guard Lt. Sue Kerver said. Two were taken to a trauma center in Mobile, Ala., where there is a burn unit, but the nature of their injuries was unclear, she said. At least two were taken to a suburban New Orleans hospital.

O'Berry said many workers who escaped the rig were being brought to land on a workboat while authorities searched the Gulf of Mexico for any signs of lifeboats.

"We're hoping everyone's in a life raft," he said.

The rig was drilling but was not in production, according to Greg Panagos, spokesman for its owner, Transocean Ltd., in Houston. The rig was under contract to BP PLC. BP spokesman Darren Beaubo said all BP personnel were safe but he didn't know how many BP workers had been on the rig.

Kerver said the Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service will work together to investigate possible causes of the accident. More>>>

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Sheriff: No improvement in water quality

A special post for all those people who are under the impression that natural gas drilling cannot contaminate aquifers. Thirty-five private water wells contaminated at once. Ouch. As my 7 year old would say, "35 is not a few. 3 is a few."


Caddo evacuated area could expand
By Bobbie J. Clark • and Loresha Wilson • April 20, 2010

"We have been testing the water and are not satisfied; we have not made any progress," Sheriff Steve Prator said.
Crews have stopped gas from seeping from the well that led to an evacuation Monday, Prator said. But that does not seem to have diluted the concentration in the water.
The leaking led to the voluntary evacuation of about 100 families in south Caddo Parish.
The evacuated roads include Cypress Garden, Willow Ridge, Debroeck, Norris Ferry south of Southern Trace, Pueblo, Lasso, Lariat, Goldsberry and Goldsberry Circle.
Prator said more residents could get be evaculated depending on what further testing shows.
"At this point we are not say your homes are safe," the sheriff said.
It all started early Monday when emergency officials were notified by Exco Resources Inc. that gas vapors had been detected at a well site on Norris Ferry Road because of high pressure in the well.
Exco was able to relieve the pressure, but then the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality discovered that natural gas had leaked into the Wilcox Aquifer, affecting several private water wells in the area. The gas well in question sits on a superpad site with two other wells.
"We don't want to alarm anyone, but we also don't want to take it lightly," Prator said. "This is a serious situation. We are erring on the side of caution by telling people there is natural gas in a number of the (water) wells out there."
By late Monday, officials with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality had tested about 45 private water wells. Of those, 35 tested positive for natural gas.
Prator did not rule out an expansion of the voluntary evacuation area.
The evacuees were directed to the Hilton Hotel in downtown Shreveport, where Exco officials planned to give them more information about accommodations.
Prator said families that did not evacuate should not use their water for any reason. Officials planned to monitor the situation overnight and give an update this morning. More>>>

Monday, April 19, 2010

Good neighbors abound

Well, I found a couple of article worthy of mention today. The first concerns Royal Dutch Shell, a company that has expressed interest in drilling for natural gas here in Mora County. Now, they have this "good neighbor" program that I hear a lot about. It sounds really great until you realize that your neighbor will be a gas well, not the executive telling you about their "good neighbor" program. And then you read articles like this...Personally, if my neighbor sues me to get their way, I will not feel like they are a good neighbor!

Court clears Shell for Sweden gas drilling
Published: 19 Apr 10 14:17 CET

UK-Dutch energy firm Royal Dutch Shell has received the retroactive backing of an environmental court over its test drilling for natural gas in Skåne in southern Sweden.

The court in Växjö has ruled in favour of the energy giant against 15 neighbours of the site in the small community of Ry near Lövestad.

The neighbours had appealed a Skåne county administrative board decision in November, which cleared the way for Shell to prospect for natural gas that it claims could supply Sweden's needs for a decade.

Shell confirmed in a February newsletter that it had completed its test drilling of the site having reached a depth of 950 metres.

"All work in Ry was completed in the beginning of February," the firm confirmed in the statement.

Shell's planned drilling in Skåne, which currently extends to two further sites in Tomelilla and Hörby, has met with opposition from environmental activists concerned over the impact that large scale exploitation could entail.

The Hörby site was sabotaged last Thursday night with damage to fences, electrical cables and tools reported, according to the Sydsvenskan daily. While the police have gathered some clues at the site they have not been able to identify any suspected saboteurs.

A network calling itself Heaven or sHell is among the groups organizing opposition to Shell's plans. The group has the backing of major landowner Carl Piper and was recently awarded the Guldklövern prize by the Centre Party for its work in generating debate over the issue.

The group is lobbying for changes to Swedish minerals legislation that they hope will prevent the continued test drilling. They also complain that the drilling has continued despite a series of appeals.

Shell has been given permission to search for gas in two areas which cover a total of 20 percent of Skåne's surface area over a period of three years.

The Local has made several attempts to contact Shell Sweden on Monday.


This is obviously a world-wide issue. We tend to pay most attention to what is happening in our own backyards, but natural gas production is a process that is impacting vast amounts of the world's population. So on to our next story of the day...

Published in The Green Muze

Ugly Reality of Fracking
Monday, 19 April 2010 Joyce Nelson/Watershed Sentinel

In a telephone interview, Jessica Ernst says she’s “still getting used to” being compared to Erin Brockovich (the environmental activist made famous by Julia Robert’s film portrayal ten years ago). The comparison comes easy because the outspoken Ernst, a landowner in the town of Rosebud, Alberta, is one of the few Albertans who have publicly criticized hydraulic fracturing (called “fracking,” in the trade).

Fracking is a technology used by the oil and gas industry to access “unconventional” natural gas deposits trapped in shale, coalbed, and tight-sand formations – potentially at the expense of underground water supplies.

After her well water was contaminated by nearby fracking in 2006, Ernst decided to go public, showing visiting reporters how she could light her tap water on fire, and speaking out about Alberta land owners’ problems with the industry, especially Calgary-based EnCana. EnCana is Canada’s second biggest energy company (after Suncor) and is now also a major player in British Columbia, with hundreds of natural-gas wells in the province.

Ernst, a biologist and environmental consultant to the oil and gas industry, says EnCana “told us ‘we would never fracture near your water.’ But the company fracked into our aquifer in that same year [2004].” By 2005, she says, “My water began dramatically changing, going bad. I was getting horrible burns and rashes from taking a shower, and then my dogs refused to drink the water. That’s when I began to pay attention.” More than fifteen water-wells had gone bad in the little community.

Tests revealed high levels of ethane, methane, and benzene in Ernst’s water. “EnCana told us they use the same gelled [fracking] fluids as in the States.” Fracking has become a huge controversy in the US, with pending legislation that would impact its regulation.

Ernst says she heard from “at least fifty other landowners the first year” she went public, and she continues to get calls. Groundwater contamination from fracking “is pretty widespread” in Alberta, “but they’re trying to keep it hidden.” Canada has no national water standards and conducts little information gathering about groundwater.

Chromium-6 In The WaterBeing an activist on behalf of her community is not the only connection Ernst has with Brockovich. Through expensive Freedom of Information requests, Ernst obtained post-fracking water well monitoring data that showed the Alberta Environment people had found hexavalent chromium in Rosebud’s well water. “The government hasn’t told this to people” in the hamlet, says Ernst.

Hexavalent chromium, otherwise known as chromium-6, is the extremely toxic substance Brockovich found in the drinking water in Hinkley, California, which led to a major class action lawsuit against Pacific Gas & Electric, which finally paid the plaintiffs more than $200 million (€146M) in 2006.

Ernst, who knows the industry well, says chromium-6 “is used in fracking and drilling.” In an odd coincidence, Erin Brockovich herself is currently involved in investigating a mile-long plume of chromium-6 contamination of drinking water – apparently caused by fracking and drilling – in Midland, Texas. In July 2009, Brockovich investigators told the press they have evidence that hydraulic fracturing specialist Schlumberger is to blame. In the continuing case, Brockovich is representing 40 householders whose water has been contaminated. More>>>

Sunday, April 18, 2010

When oil's gone, a mess remains

Living in a county that currently has no active gas wells, I see citizens (myself included), spending a great deal of time talking about the dangers posed by the drilling process. Since we don't have old abandoned wells and waste pits in our back yards, most of us don't think beyond the initial phases of drilling development. It is important to remember that natural gas wells do not produce forever. At some point, the developer will move on and probably leave a very big mess if there are not adequate regulations and enforcement in place.

When oil's gone, a mess remains
By JOE CARROLL Bloomberg News
Published: Sunday, April 18, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.

Bo Vavrusa was heaping dirt into the path of a wildfire on a Texas ranch in October 2007 when his tractor rammed an Exxon Mobil Corp. natural-gas pipe hidden in a thicket. Flames engulfed the tractor, burning his face, arms and hands as he fled.

"This isn't something the states are proud to advertise. It's the ugly side of the oil and gas business."– Philip Dellinger, Environmental Protection Agency

"I thought I was fixing to die," said Vavrusa, 28, who was earning $10 an hour to groom the ranch for quail and dove hunters.

Exxon, the biggest U.S. oil producer, has neglected this stretch of Texas since its oil fields began drying up in the 1970s, said Jerry Patterson, the state's General Land Office Commissioner. Now Patterson and other state officials are urging Texas lawmakers to follow the examples of California and Pennsylvania in cracking down on oilfield practices that have left leaking pipelines, wells and storage tanks.

Oozing chemical pits and Vavrusa's scarred skin are emblematic of a legacy Exxon has sought to keep buried in court, even as it gears up for a return to active exploration within miles of the ranch through its pending $29.3 billion acquisition of Fort Worth, Texas-based XTO Energy Inc.

Exxon's renewed focus on North America follows nationalist energy policies in Venezuela and Russia that reduced opportunities to profit abroad. It coincides with fresh scrutiny in the United States that is leading Congress to examine whether stricter drilling regulations are needed.

"This isn't something the states are proud to advertise," said Philip Dellinger, chief of the groundwater section in the Austin, Texas, office of the Environmental Protection Agency. "It's the ugly side of the oil and gas business." More>>>

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Eleven Variances

I was searching for some news to post and ran across an article about Corinth Texas. I decided to post the variances requested by XTO instead of the article itself. These seem like some pretty basic responsibilities to be requesting variances for. To read the full article, click here.


ELEVEN VARIANCES

XTO Energy has asked for 11 variances to drill for natural gas at Lake Sharon Christian Center.

* To allow a $25,000 bond or check per well in lieu of a letter of credit to pay for road damages.

XTO has said it’s against company policy to issue letters of credit. Council member Randy Gibbons has said a letter of credit is counted as a liability in a company’s balance sheets.

* Reduce the setbacks to allow drilling within 300 feet of a protected use.

XTO claims it has received waivers from the Lake Sharon Christian Center and nearby residences and discloses that one of the protected uses — one of the buildings at the center — is 200 feet from its operations.

* To not require a chain-link fence around the drill site.

XTO has said it will install a noise fence, which is not penetrable, on three sides of the pad site. The company said it would consider a chain-link fence on the north side, but it is not preferred.

* To drop the requirement that the area within 300 feet of the drill site be kept free of weeds, trash and debris.

XTO has said part of that perimeter is in the city’s right of way, and it cannot go there without the city’s permission.

* To drop the requirement that drilling fluids be contained in pipelines at all times, including for movement to a disposal well.

XTO has asked that it be able to temporarily store fluids on site until they can be trucked to a disposal well.

* Reduce the setbacks to allow a tank battery within 100 feet of a protected use.

XTO claims it doesn’t have enough space on the well site to meet this requirement.

* Reduce the setbacks to allow waste disposal tanks within 100 feet of a protected use.

XTO claims it doesn’t have enough space on the well site to meet this requirement.

* To allow a lift compressor station.

XTO claims it doesn’t know whether the well will produce without one.

* To drop the masonry fence requirement.

XTO claimed the cost — about $75,000 — would not create the screening that could be affected by a “living” screen the company would rather install, and would make it more difficult to re-enter the site for additional operations. Manthei has told the council it could drill as many as five to 18 more wells at that site.

* To drop the tree mitigation requirement

XTO claims it would cost $1 million to comply with this requirement, making the site too expensive to develop.

* To drop the requirement to disclose the pipeline route for the site

XTO claims it is too expensive to secure the easements without knowing whether it will be permitted to drill.

Friday, April 16, 2010

ProPublica: Cabot Oil & Gas’s Marcellus Drilling to Slow After PA Environment Officials Order Wells Closed

I know I posted the press release about this yesterday but this article is much more comprehensive.

by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica - April 16, 2010 11:04 am EDT

In its 2009 annual report, Cabot Oil and Gas named a field in Texas and another in Dimock, Pa., as its two largest fields of production. But yesterday the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ordered Cabot to plug at least three of its gas wells in Dimock and pay hefty fines after contaminating local drinking water.
More than 15 months after natural gas drilling contaminated drinking water in Dimock, Pa., state officials are ordering the company responsible -- Houston-based Cabot Oil and Gas -- to permanently shut down some of its wells, pay nearly a quarter million dollars in fines, and permanently provide drinking water to 14 affected families.

The order is among the most punitive in Pennsylvania's history and reflects officials' frustrations over a string of drilling-related accidents. The record of spills, leaks and water contamination in Pennsylvania -- several of which are tied to Cabot -- has spotlighted the environmental risks of drilling for natural gas across the country, jeopardized development of the massive Marcellus Shale resource deposit, and contributed significantly to actions by both Congress and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to bolster federal oversight of drilling.

"The events at Dimock have been the black eye for the industry and have also been a black eye for Pennsylvania," the state's chief environment official, John Hanger, told ProPublica. "It's been an enormous headache. If Cabot doesn't get this message, the company has got an amazing hearing problem."

ProPublica was among the first to report about the water contamination problems in Dimock -- and about more than 50 other similar cases that have emerged as drilling development has spread across the state -- in an article published last April that was part of a series about drilling concerns across the country. Since then the state Department of Environmental Protection has more than doubled its enforcement staff, and legislation has been introduced to revise Pennsylvania's rules for drilling and strengthen protections for groundwater.

In a statement Thursday, Cabot Oil and Gas said that it agreed to the DEP's measures and that the state's order represents "a continuing joint effort by Cabot and the PADEP to ensure the safety of people, water resources and the environment of Susquehanna County."

DEP officials determined last fall that methane gas and drilling waste had leaked through cracked underground casing on Cabot's gas wells and seeped into drinking water in the Dimock area. They fined the company, which is also being sued by a group of area residents, $120,000 at the time. In its most recent order, which is an update of that 2009 action, the Department of Environmental Protection expressed frustration with Cabot's failure to address the contamination and said it found gas bubbling up in well water as recently as March, even though the company had submitted a plan to fix it last November. Full article>>>

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Tests detect Barnett Shale emissions toxins in Dish residents' blood, urine

Here on the home front, we spend a lot of time concentrating on drilling's adverse impacts on water. I think this has drawn our attention away from all the other elements like air. You can survive without water for a few days, but not air. Lets not forget that our ability to live on earth means breathing (nontoxic please) air.

07:02 AM CDT on Wednesday, April 14, 2010
By PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE / Denton Record-Chronicle
pheinkel-wolfe@dentonrc.com

Tests on blood and urine samples taken from Dish residents by state health officials in January have found the same toxic compounds in people's bodies that have been detected in the air and water here.

The results showed that exposure is occurring, according to Louisiana chemist Wilma Subra.

"Clearly, it's connecting the dots – which we didn't want to happen," Subra said.

Subra, the recipient of a 1999 MacArthur Fellowship ("genius" grant) for her work as an environmental health scientist, has been working with the community since Dish spent $15,000 last year to commission a study of the western Denton County town's air quality.

Eleven gas gathering pipelines converge in southern Dish, where five energy companies run major compression and metering facilities in a side-by-side complex of plants on Strader Road.

Allison Lowery, Texas Department of State Health Services spokeswoman, confirmed that the department sent results last week to all 28 residents who were tested, far fewer than the 50 people the agency originally planned to choose at random for testing.

In addition, the department will release a summary report, since individual results are considered confidential. The aggregate report is being drafted now and should be released the last week of April or the first week of May, Lowery said.


Angry at explanation

Resident Amber Smith said she was troubled that it took so long to get the individual results. When investigators came to take a water sample along with blood and urine samples in January, she was told it would take four to six weeks to get results.

As she read the April 2 cover letter that came with her results, she said the words seemed carefully crafted.

She was angered, however, at how the letter suggested she had been exposed to the solvent N,N-dimethylformamide through "the production of electronic components, pharmaceutical products, textile coatings, and synthetic fibers."

"I'm around none of that," Smith said. "They found the same compounds in all my neighbors, but in trying to explain that, they failed to associate that it could be the drilling. They never once did even mention that in their explanation."

Mayor Calvin Tillman said he was reassured at first when he received his results, since the levels detected in his blood did not exceed any average values for the general population.

But no such baseline comparison exists for urine, where toxic compounds show up as metabolites in the body. And, after Smith and Tillman compared their individual results with several other residents, they became more concerned.

The same toxic compounds found in their own blood and urine tests were detected in other residents. Tillman said he asked Subra to make some comparisons. More>>>

DEP Takes Aggressive Action Against Cabot Oil & Gas Corp to Enforce Environmental Laws Protect Public in Susquehanna County

DEP Takes Aggressive Action Against Cabot Oil & Gas Corp to Enforce Environmental Laws Protect Public in Susquehanna County

Suspends Review of Cabot’s New Drilling Permit Applications Orders Company to Plug Wells Install Residential Water Systems Pay $240,000 in Fines

HARRISBURG -- The Department of Environmental Protection today issued a sweeping order requiring Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. to take extensive actions and help the residents of Dimock Township, Susquehanna County, who have been affected by the company’s drilling activities.

Under the consent order and agreement, Cabot must plug three wells within 40 days that are believed to be the source of migrating gas that has contaminated groundwater and the drinking water supplies of 14 homes in the region. It must also install permanent treatment systems in those homes within 30 days.

Additionally, DEP Secretary John Hanger said his agency is immediately suspending its review of Cabot’s pending permit applications for new drilling activities statewide until it fulfills its obligations under the order issued today. Cabot also is barred from drilling any new wells for at least one year in the Dimock Township area.

Today’s action follows Cabot’s failure to abide by the terms of a November 2009 consent order and agreement with DEP.

“Cabot had every opportunity to correct these violations, but failed to do so. Instead, it chose to ignore its responsibility to safeguard the citizens of this community and to protect the natural resources there,” said Hanger. “I have ordered that all of Cabot’s permit applications for further drilling in any region of the state be put on-hold, indefinitely, until the region’s homeowners receive their new water treatment systems, the fines are paid, and the wells are plugged.

“Gas migration is a serious issue that can have dire consequences to affected communities and we will not allow Pennsylvania’s citizens to be put in harms way by companies that chose not to follow the law.”

During recent inspections, DEP identified five additional defective Cabot gas wells and another home water supply that has been affected by gas migration, bringing to 14 the number of impacted water supplies in the Dimock area.
Hanger said DEP also will continue to investigate another 10 Cabot gas wells in the Dimock area over the next 85 days that could be sources of migrating gas and determine whether Cabot should be ordered to plug some or all of those wells.

The original November 2009 consent order and agreement directed Cabot to meet a March 31 deadline to fix defective cement and well casings on certain wells and to prevent the unpermitted natural gas discharge into groundwater that violated the state’s Clean Streams Law and the Oil and Gas Act. The company did not meet this deadline, while the migrating gas continues to impact water supplies at homes in a nine-square-mile area near Carter Road.

As part of today’s order, Cabot has also paid a $240,000 fine to the commonwealth, which has been deposited into the state’s well-plugging account. It also must pay $30,000 per month beginning in May until DEP has determined that the company has met its obligations under the 2009 order.

“Companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale have the legal responsibility to design and construct their wells to keep all gas contained within the wells and to prevent gas from moving into fresh groundwater. These standards are not mere suggestions or recommendations,” Hanger said. “Oil and gas companies doing business in Pennsylvania will follow the environmental rules and regulations put in place to protect citizens and our natural resources or face aggressive action by this department.”

Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. is headquartered in Houston, Texas with a mailing address in Pittsburgh.
For more information on oil and gas wells, visit www.depweb.state.pa.us, keyword: Oil and gas.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Shell fights shareholders' campaign for oil sands review




Photograph: John Vidal
• Investors table special resolution prior to May meeting
• Campaigners argue project is an environmental liability
Tim Webb guardian.co.uk, Monday 12 April 2010 21.29 BST
A group of institutional investors want Shell to review the commerical and environmental viability of its oil sands project.

Shell has dismissed shareholder calls for a review of its controversial oil sands developments.

A group of institutional investors, led by campaign group FairPensions, had tabled a special resolution ahead of the Anglo-Dutch company's annual meeting next month. They want Shell to review the commercial and environmental viability of going ahead with its new projects in Canada's boreal forests.

But the Anglo-Dutch oil company today urged other investors to vote down the resolution. "Whilst the issues raised by the group of shareholders ... are valid and appreciated ... it would set a precedent which, if applied more generally to the company's major investment opportunities, would add unnecessary costs and duplication of effort."

The letter to shareholders, giving notice of the meeting in the Hague on 18 May, added that the company had already provided all the non commercially sensitive information to shareholders about its oil sands projects. BP, whose annual meeting takes place on Thursday, is facing similar pressure from shareholders over its own oil sands activities. More>>>

Monday, April 12, 2010

San Miguel County Oil and Gas Ordinance Task Force

Approval of the San Miguel County Oil and Gas Taskforce is on the agenda for tomorrow's San Miguel County Commission meeting. Any community members able to attend and offer their opinions to the commission are strongly encouraged to do so.

Below is an excerpt from tomorrow's agenda and an article published in the Las Vegas Optic regarding one of the applicants request for San Miguel County to remove its moratorium on oil and gas development in the county.


13. Oil and Gas Ordinance Task Force Appointments
(Backup)
Background Information: San Miguel County has accepted letters of interest from
individuals who wish to be appointed to and serve on the County's Oil and Gas Ordinance
Task Force. The County received letters from fourteen (14) individuals which were then
reviewed by a committee composed of County staff and one (1) County Commissioner.

Action Requested of Commission: Consider and appoint the following individuals to an
oil and gas task force representing the following categories:

Oil Industry: Karin Foster, Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico; and John
Michael Richardson, Petroleum and Mineral Land Services.

Environmental and Educational: Jeffrey Mills, NMED Las Vegas, NM; and Ken Benston,
Ph.D., NMHU.

Citizen: J. David Blagg, General Contractor, Sapello, NM; Ernesto Borunda, Retired,
Sapello, NM; Larry Web, Citizen, Newkirk, NM.

County Representatives: Nicolas T. Leger, County Commissioner; Les Montoya, County
Manager; and Alex Tafoya, Planning and Zoning Supervisor.


Staff Recommendation: Consider and approve recommended appointments to the Oil and
Gas Ordinance Task Force.

Presenter: Alex Tafoya, Planning and Zoning Supervisor





Las Vegas Optic
18 March 2010

You're taking property rights, county told

By David Giuliani
Two San Miguel County landowners are asking the County Commission to rescind its moratorium on oil and gas drilling. They said it is impacting their property rights.
Larry Webb and Phil Bidegain — both of whom own land on the county’s east side — told the commission this week that they have leases with companies for possible oil and gas drilling.
Webb said he has a lease that comes up on May 4. He said he fears the company may not renew it because of the uncertainty surrounding the moratorium.
But county officials assured him that the moratorium was only temporary.
The county enacted the moratorium in January, with officials saying they needed to update a 20-year-old ordinance that deals with such issues. Commissioners maintain they want to protect the interests of all concerned.
They expect the moratorium to last a year while they draft a new ordinance, seeking feedback from everyone from environmentalists to the oil and gas industry.
The county hasn’t received any applications for oil and gas drilling, but they said they want to be prepared. In recent years, companies have expressed interest in oil and gas drilling in neighboring Santa Fe and Mora counties.
Webb said his lease brings in $140,000 over five years.
“By passing this moratorium, you have taken our private property rights,” he said.
He said he doubted the county would pass a moratorium on grazing if people questioned such activities.
“How is that different from minerals?” he asked.
He said oil and gas drilling would help the area’s economy and ultimately such things as schools.
Bidegain said he didn’t question the county’s authority to pass the moratorium, but he requested that the county rescind it while it enacts new local regulations on drilling, “so everyone can get on with their business.”
He said lifting the moratorium would give him and others on the county’s east side “a little better bargaining position” with companies.
Commission Chairman David Salazar stressed that the moratorium was only temporary and that the county sought to protect all concerned.
“We have a right as a county commission to put an ordinance in place that we think protects San Miguel County residents,” he said.
-----------------

Most Barnett Shale facilities release emissions

09:48 AM CDT on Sunday, April 11, 2010
By RANDY LEE LOFTIS / The Dallas Morning News
rloftis@dallasnews.com

Plumes of toxic, smog-causing chemicals from Barnett Shale natural-gas operations are so common that inspectors find them nearly every time they look, a Dallas Morning News examination of government records shows.

What's more, the inspectors have rarely looked.

Hundreds of pages of documents obtained by The News under federal and state open-records laws, plus other reports and studies, reveal a pattern of emissions of toxic compounds, often including cancer-causing benzene, from Barnett Shale facilities.

More than 90 percent of the gas-processing plants, compressor stations and wells that agencies have examined with leak-detecting infrared cameras since 2007 were lofting otherwise invisible plumes of chemicals. In the most recent surveillance late last year, every facility checked was emitting pollution.

Many were near homes, emblematic of drilling's spread into North Texas urban areas. One was next to the University of Texas at Arlington. Another was just over the right-field fence of a Decatur softball field.

Gas operators say most pollution the cameras caught was routine and legal, requiring no repairs. Even authorized emissions face new scrutiny as state and federal regulators cope with drilling's impact in Tarrant County and areas to its north, west and south.

The infrared cameras – the newest ones cost $106,200 each, including lenses, plus $1,000 per user for training – are potentially powerful weapons against environmental violators and sloppy operators, revealing problems that neither inspectors, neighbors nor companies can see. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has two new ones and six older models.

State and federal agencies have aimed infrared cameras at only a tiny fraction of the 13,000 natural-gas wells and support facilities that have appeared across North Texas since 2005.

The fact that regulators find chemicals rising virtually every time they aim the camera suggests that a comprehensive search might reveal thousands of releases of volatile organic compounds into the air – some authorized, some not.

Months after companies told the TCEQ that they had fixed any problems the state's cameras detected, other scientists found chemicals wafting into the atmosphere.

"We found emissions from wells, condensate tanks, compressor stations" – just about every component of the Barnett Shale production system, said Wilma Subra, an environmental scientist helping the Denton County town of Dish monitor air pollution.

"There are toxic air emissions being released by the majority of the facilities that we have looked at."

Texas officials acknowledge that just about every Barnett Shale installation emits invisible air pollution.

"When we aim the camera at any one of these facilities, be it a compressor station or a condensate tank battery, we are going to see some emissions," said John Sadlier, the TCEQ's deputy director for enforcement. More>>>

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Mora and San Miguel County Commission meetings for April

The Mora County Commission will hold it's regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 10:00 A.M. at the Wagon Mound City Hall, Wagon Mound, New Mexico. Agendas are available 24 hours in advance at the Mora County Manager's office.

The San Miguel County Commission will be having their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, April 13, 2010, 1:30 P.M. at the San Miguel County Commission chambers, county courthouse, second floor, 500 West National Ave. suite 200, Las Vegas New Mexico. Agendas are available 24 hours in advance at the San Miguel County manager's office. Or can be found online. I noticed this month's agenda has approval of the oil and gas task force on it.

Split Estate and M.I.T.'s Landman Report Card Offer Special Competition

Split Estate is teaming up with Landman Report Card, a project of MIT's Center for Future Civic Media, to present a special competition.

Landman Report Card (LRC) is giving away free Split Estate screening packages to the first three communities that submit 10 reports to the LRC website. LRC has already partnered with Red Rock Pictures to organize recent screenings in Ohio, Texas and Virginia.

ABOUT
Landman Report Card (LRC) is a web resource that helps people share and explore reports about interactions with landmen and the gas companies they represent. Those new to the gas drilling issue can use LRC to read about the experiences of others and connect with knowledgeable people in their communities, while those who have gone through the process of negotiating a lease can share their experiences to hold companies and landmen publicly accountable.

Community groups can use the site to monitor activity in their area, share documents, find other groups in similar situations around the country, and build up a detailed profile of activity in their neighborhoods.

THE PRIZE
Winners will receive a free copy of the community-screening edition of Split Estate on DVD. In addition, LRC will reimburse the three winning communities up to $100 towards the cost of planning a screening event.


HOW TO PARTICIPATE
Ask members of your community to submit report cards at LRC. All participants must include a quick sentence about their affiliation in the description section of their report card. After a group has submitted 10 reviews, the representative responsible for organizing the screening should send an email to extract@media.mit.edu to alert the LRC team, which will verify that criteria have been met.

ELIGIBILITY
Individuals, citizen groups and NGOs are welcomed to apply. National organizations are not eligible for participation, but local chapters of national organizations are. Each individual is encouraged to submit as many report cards as they can — one for each landman or company they have dealt with. However, only two reports per individual will count towards the final group total. If you have questions, please email Christina Xu at ckx@media.mit.edu.
Visit the Split Estate website

Friday, April 9, 2010

Helena Chemical Company wins case against community activist

Normally I try not to post the same things as Drilling Santa Fe because I figure a lot of people read both and it's nice to get a variety of news. Today's news from the New Mexico Independent is too bad not to post though. The impacts of this decision could have far reaching consequences that go way beyond Helena Chemical and Arturo Uribe. Obviously, since the company was investigated and fined for violations, Mr. Uribe was not making up stories.
For some general information about SLAPP (Strategic lawsuit against public participation), click here.

Uribe ordered to pay $75k in punitive damages
By Laura Paskus 4/9/10 12:25 PM

Wednesday night, a jury found a southern New Mexico activist guilty of defamation and harassment against a chemical company.

Now, Arturo Uribe, a 40-year old social worker, owes the Tennessee-based Helena Chemical Company $2 in damages and $75,000 in punitive damages.

“The most important thing is we wanted the lies to stop—the amount of money was not something that was important to Helena—and we wanted to set the record straight in a forum where proof and evidence matter,” Robert Soza, Jr., Helena’s attorney told The Independent. “Though, I think that the money does send a message to Mr. Uribe and others who think that defamation is way of getting their point across: It’s not going to be permissible. It’s unlawful.”

In December 2008, Helena Chemical Company sued Uribe in New Mexico’s Third Judicial District Court in Las Cruces, saying he had repeatedly defamed Helena in public statements. According to the company, Uribe had harassed employees at the Mesquite branch and defamed the company via six individual slides within various presentations at community meetings, and when he told a television reporter: “We’re gonna allow companies and industry to contaminate us and knowingly do it and do nothing about it? I’m insulted; I’m hurt more than anything.”

The lawsuit was filed to silence an outspoken activist, Uribe’s attorney says

Two months prior to Helena’s suit against him, Uribe and 22 community members had filed a lawsuit in state court alleging that the chemical company’s emissions were sickening local children. Health problems include chronic respiratory infections, asthma, severe chronic bronchitis and nosebleeds.

According to Uribe’s attorney, Linda Thomas, Helena’s suit against Uribe was filed to silence the activist. Uribe had repeatedly reported information to the New Mexico Environment Department. In turn, she said, the department had investigated the facility, found violations and levied fines against Helena. “To us, this was a clear, malicious abuse of process,” she said. “They had filed the suit to shut him up.”

Thomas also said she was worried about how the jury’s decision will affect people living in Mesquite: “They’re not going to go back to their community and feel safe—they’re going to feel like they can’t speak out because they’re worried they’re going to be sued.” The case will also have nationwide implications, for activists on both sides of the political spectrum: “This decision is going to have a chilling effect on everyone in the country, on anyone who might want to stand up against polluters in their community, or meet with other community members to talk about concerns.”

Company had been hit with a $233,777 fine for not complying with air quality regulations

Just south of Las Cruces, the town of Mesquite doesn’t merit much notice—even from those who might meander toward El Paso along back roads rather than zipping down Interstate-10. Tallied during the 2000 Census, the population was almost 95 percent Hispanic or Latino—and until 2004, the chemical company had escaped attention from the state’s agency in charge of environmental safety.

That is, until residents such as Uribe—along with state Rep. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, Sen. Cynthia Nava, D-Las Cruces, and Doña Ana County commissioner Oscar Butler—complained to the New Mexico Environment Department about Helena’s impacts on the community.

In early 2004, NMED first inspected Helena’s facility, where chemical fertilizers are received in bulk, then mixed and sold to local farmers. Later that same year, the state issued a Notice of Violation against Helena—for operating its plant without an air quality permit.

Under state law, the company had to install wells that monitor chemicals in the groundwater, submit what is called an “abatement plan”—a plan to investigate and contain groundwater pollution—and comply with investigations into air and occupational health and safety issues.

The state also hit Helena with a $233,777 civil penalty for not complying with New Mexico’s air quality laws and regulations. At that time, in June 2005, the department issued a press release quoting deputy secretary Derrith Watchman-Moore saying, “Since our first inspection a year and a half ago, we have consistently and patiently made every attempt to work with them and get them into compliance. Our patience is now at an end. This order is a clear message to Helena to immediately comply with New Mexico’s environmental laws and become a good neighbor to the people of Mesquite.”

But problems persisted: In September, 2006, the company failed to report a 500-gallon spill of liquid fertilizer. State law mandates that spills be called in within 24 hours. Helena reported the spill 12 days afterwards—and subsequently paid a $30,000 fine.

The following year, in November, 2007, NMED issued another notice, citing 15 violations of the Mesquite facility’s air quality permit. In the end, Helena and the state reached a settlement agreement over ten of the violations, and the company agreed to pay $208,331 in fines. More>>>

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Broad Scope of EPA’s Fracturing Study Raises Ire of Gas Industry

by Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica - April 7, 2010 7:09 am EDT

A federal study of hydraulic fracturing set to begin this spring is expected to provide the most expansive look yet at how the natural gas drilling process can affect drinking water supplies, according to interviews with EPA officials and a set of documents outlining the scope of the project. The research will take a substantial step beyond previous studies and focus on how a broad range of ancillary activity – not just the act of injecting fluids under pressure – may affect drinking water quality.

The oil and gas industry strongly opposes this new approach. The agency’s intended research "goes well beyond relationships between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water," said Lee Fuller, vice president of government affairs for the Independent Petroleum Association of America in comments he submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The "lifecycle" approach will allow the agency to take into account hundreds of reports of water contamination in gas drilling fields across the country. Although the agency hasn’t settled on the exact details, researchers could examine both underground and surface water supplies, gas well construction errors, liquid waste disposal issues and chemical storage plans as part of its assessment.

The EPA begins public hearings today in Washington to nail down the scope of the study.

Plans for the study have attracted international attention and have been the focus of intense debate among lawmakers and the oil and gas industry. The findings could affect Congress’ decision whether to repeal an exemption that shields the fracturing process from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The EPA is undertaking the study in response to a wave of reports of water contamination in drilling areas across the country and a Congressional mandate issued in an appropriations bill last fall. The agency had previously examined hydraulic fracturing in a 2004 study that was limited in scope and was widely criticized.

"When we did the 2004 study we were looking particularly for potential for impacts from hydraulic fracturing fluid underground to underground sources of drinking water," said Cynthia Dougherty, the EPA’s director of the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. "So it was a much narrower focus."

For the latest study, the EPA sent its scoping document to its Science Advisory Board asking for the group’s input in designing the fracturing study. In the document, the EPA explained that information gained from looking at the impact from the start to the end of the process, called a lifecycle assessment "can help policymakers understand and make decisions about the breadth of issues related to hydraulic fracturing, including cross-media risks and the relationship to the entire natural gas production cycle."

In past interviews with ProPublica, Fuller has explained that, in his view, hydraulic fracturing shouldn’t be blamed for any contamination unless the process of injecting fracturing fluids underground under pressure was "the sole" cause of contamination. If contamination seeped through cracks in a gas well’s protective casing under pressure of the fracturing process, for example, he wouldn’t attribute it to fracturing because the cracks may have existed before the fracturing process began and would be a well construction problem, not a fracturing problem.

Fuller’s definition of fracturing-related contamination helps explain the oil and gas industry’s steadfast claim that that there is not a single case in which hydraulic fracturing has been proven to have contaminated drinking water supplies.

An 18-month investigation by ProPublica, however, has shown more than 1,000 cases in which various aspects of the fracturing lifecycle have affected water supplies, including spills of fracturing fluid waste, cracking of underground cement and well casings meant to enclose the fracturing process, and methane gas traveling large distances underground through faults and fractures.

In planning its study, the EPA has made clear that for its purposes fracturing may play a role in many aspects of the drilling process and in many different environmental risks. The study could examine how well-construction activities have the potential to impact water, what specific materials or design practices would make a well suitable for fracturing, and what are the most effective methods for measuring well integrity. More>>>

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Incidents of water contamination with suspected links to hydraulic fracturing

Amy Mall senior policy analyst for the National Resources Defense Council, is creating a list of drinking water contamination related to hydraulic fracturing. It is going to be a useful resource for those of us who often deal with people who like to use the quote "there has never been one documented instance of drinking water contamination attributed to the New Mexico oil and gas industry." Okay, so it's not an exact quote, but people familiar with our former oil and gas association president, Bob Gallagher, can probably still hear it ringing in their ears.
Anyone who is aware of "other incidents of contamination" is encouraged to contact Amy Mall so that it can be posted on her blog.
To read the post, click here.

Monday, April 5, 2010

[Pennsylvania] State lawmakers look to regulate gas drilling

By Elizabeth Skrapits (Staff Writer)
Published: April 5, 2010

In response to growing concerns about the effects of natural gas drilling on water supplies and the environment, state lawmakers are proposing legislation to change the way the industry is regulated.

One proposal, which will be discussed at a public hearing this week, has the support of several local legislators and a newly formed local environmental group, while another piece is condemned by the group as likely to undermine state oversight of natural gas drilling.

State Rep. Camille "Bud" George, D-Houtzdale, Clearfield County, who is chairwoman of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, introduced House Bill 2213, the Land and Water Protection Act.

The proposed legislation would amend the state Oil and Gas Act to require state inspections of natural gas well sites during each drilling phase; extend the presumed liability of a natural gas well for polluting a water supply from 1,000 feet to 2,500 feet around the well site; require full disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" and update bonding requirements to cover costs of closing down a natural gas well and restoring the land.

The Environmental Resources and Energy Committee will hold a hearing on the bill - and on ways to mitigate environmental risks associated with Marcellus Shale drilling - on Wednesday from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Kingston Township municipal building, 180 E. Center St. State Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston, a co-sponsor of the bill, will be moderator.

People who will give testimony include Jeff Schmidt, senior director of the area Sierra Club chapter; Dr. Gere Reisinger of Wyoming County, whose farm was affected by natural gas drilling; and Victoria Switzer of Dimock Township, Susquehanna County, whose water supply was contaminated by nearby gas drilling.

Also slated to speak is Dr. Thomas Jiunta of Lehman Township, founder of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, formerly known as Luzerne County Citizens for Clean Water.

A controversial aspect of natural gas drilling is the fracking process, which involves blasting millions of gallons of chemical-treated fresh water deep underground to fracture the shale in order to release the gas.

Jiunta's group held a public information meeting last Wednesday in Dallas to highlight what they believe are the potential negative impacts of natural gas drilling, and to urge people to call on their state and federal lawmakers to impose regulations on the industry.

State Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, who attended the meeting, called HB 2213 "a piece of legislation you want to get your arms around."

Boback and state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, who was also present at the meeting, pledged to work to address the concerns brought up by residents.

"I believe the inspection component is critical," Baker said. "That is the highest priority from my perspective, the water quality is the highest priority, and what we do with the discharge is another key component." More>>>

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Senators' support of drilling irks some environmentalists

While not surprising, it is still disappointing to see politics trump morality.


Senators' support of drilling irks some environmentalists Bingaman, Udall, two favorites among environmentalists, both praised Obama plan
Steve Terrell The New Mexican
Posted: Saturday, April 03, 2010 - 4/2/10

For years, both of New Mexico's U.S. senators have voted against lifting the decades-old moratorium on offshore drilling.

But this week, when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the Obama administration's plan to open up part of the Atlantic coast and other areas to offshore drilling, both Sen. Jeff Bingaman, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. Tom Udall applauded the announcement.

"I commend Secretary Salazar for proposing a plan that makes available for leasing much of the potential offshore oil and gas resources that the federal government owns," Bingaman said. "I also commend him for indicating that additional studies will be undertaken before making a final decision on leasing in areas that might be environmentally sensitive."

Bingaman said the plan is "generally consistent" with the legislation his committee approved last year.

Udall released a statement saying the new plan has "clear guidelines for offshore oil and gas production," which "builds upon the Obama Administration's unparalleled support for renewable energy and increased fuel efficiency standards. For its part, Congress must monitor the development of offshore oil and gas closely to ensure that we remain responsible stewards of our environment for future generations."

Spokeswomen for both senators said this week there were specific features about previous offshore drilling measures that prompted the votes against them. More>>>

Officials Fear Ship Breaking Apart on Barrier Reef

A Chinese coal-carrying ship ran aground in a protected area of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. .Sun Apr 4, 2010 03:20 AM ET | content provided by Associated Press .
The Chinese coal carrier Shen Neng 1

THE GIST:
•Shen Neng 1 ran aground late Saturday on Douglas Shoals east of the Great Keppel Island tourist resort, off the coast of Queensland.•The ship, well outside the shipping lane, hit the reef at full speed.•Patches of oil seen nearby, but there is no major loss of the 1,000 tons of oil on board.


A coal-carrying ship that ran aground and was leaking oil on Australia's Great Barrier Reef was in danger of breaking apart, officials said Sunday.

The Chinese coal carrier Shen Neng 1 ran aground late Saturday on Douglas Shoals, a favorite pristine haunt for recreational fishing east of the Great Keppel Island tourist resort. The shoals are in a protected part of the reef where shipping is restricted by environmental law off the coast of Queensland state in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Authorities fear an oil spill will damage the world's largest coral reef off northeast Australia, listed as a World Heritage site for its environmental value.

The ship hit the reef at full speed, nine miles (15 kilometers) outside the shipping lane, State Premier Anna Bligh said.

A police boat was standing by to remove the 23 crew if the ship broke apart and an evacuation was necessary, she said.

Patches of oil were seen near the stricken ship early Sunday, but Maritime Safety Queensland reported no major loss from the 1,000 tons (950 metric tons) of oil on board.

"We are now very worried we might see further oil discharged from this ship," Bligh told reporters.

Maritime Safety Queensland general manager Patrick Quirk said the vessel was badly damaged on its port side.

"At one stage last night, we thought the ship was close to breaking up," he told reporters. "We are still very concerned about the ship."

"It is in danger of actually breaking a number of its main structures and breaking into a number of parts," he added.

A salvage contract had been signed but the operation would be difficult and assessing the damage to the ship could take a week, Quirk said.

Bligh said she feared the salvage operation could spill more oil, which could reach the mainland coast within two days.

Local emergency crews were on standby to clean any oil that reached mainland beaches, she said.

Aircraft on Sunday began spraying a chemicals on the oil patches to disperse it, she said.

Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett said authorities had been working through the night to determine what risks the ship posed to the environment.

"The government is very conscious of the importance of the Great Barrier Reef environment and ensuring that impacts on its ecology are effectively managed," Garrett said in a statement.

The 755 foot (230 meter) bulk carrier was carrying about 72,000 U.S. tons (65,000 metric tons) of coal to China and ran aground within hours of leaving the Queensland port of Gladstone. More>>>

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Deadly Washington blast is latest refinery accident

More news from yesterday and further proof that the inherent risks of natural gas development are numerous.

Los Angeles Times
By Kim Murphy
April 3, 2010

Reporting from Seattle - Four workers were killed and three others critically burned Friday when an explosion tore through a Tesoro oil refinery in Anacortes, Wash., the latest in a series of troubling refinery accidents that have touched off a nationwide inquiry.

"We're very concerned," said Daniel Horowitz, spokesman for the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, which is dispatching an investigative team to the scene of the accident 70 miles north of Seattle.

"Our agency investigates only the most serious oil and chemical accidents across the country. We have 18 open cases, including this one, and nearly half of them are at oil refineries," he said.

Tesoro, which was fined last year by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries for a series of safety and health violations at the plant, said the cause of the early-morning explosion and fire was still under investigation.

The refinery, part of a large complex in upper Puget Sound, processes about 120,000 barrels of oil a day into gasoline, jet fuel and diesel for markets in Washington and Oregon. It also sells liquefied petroleum gas and asphalt.

Refinery officials said the accident happened around 12:30 a.m. Friday during the dangerous process of restarting the unit's naphtha unit after maintenance. Naphtha is a volatile hydrocarbon mixture that is often used as feedstock for producing high-octane gasoline.

The explosion shook the entire area around the refinery complex and sent flames towering more than 100 feet in the air, according to witnesses.

"My whole house shook like an earthquake. The windows rattled, and I looked over at the refineries, and you could see big flames coming out," said Lisa Wooding, who lives about a mile away. "There was black smoke, and what appeared to be like red embers in the air."

Tina Smith, another nearby resident, said her house also shook. "We thought it was a sonic boom, because the Navy flies over a lot. But then we heard a really loud whooshing sound, and then we heard the sirens over at the refinery going off."

One woman died of burn injuries at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, and three other employees, a woman and two men, remained in critical condition with burns over most of their bodies. More>>>