Friday, July 23, 2010

Posting Hiatus

I apologize for the unannounced hiatus in posting. It will continue until I get a new motherboard for my computer. Please check back in a couple of weeks.
Until then, local and international events regarding oil and gas development can be found at Common Ground United and the Drilling Santa Fe Blog. They are both great sites and are updated regularly.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

ProPublica Photographer: I Was Followed by BP Security and Then Detained by Police

Welcome to the corporate land of the free...

by Lance Rosenfield, Special to ProPublica Today, 10:37 a.m.

Freelance photographer Lance Rosenfield was working on assignment for ProPublica in Texas City, Texas, last week, when a BP security guard began following him. Rosenfield was later detained by police after taking photos for two ProPublica stories. One revealed that BP’s Texas City refinery had illegally emitted 538,000 pounds of toxic chemicals into the air in April and May. The other reported that the Texas City refinery continues to have serious safety violations five years after an explosion at the plant killed 15 workers.

What follows is Rosenfield’s account of what happened on Friday night after the police, accompanied by the BP security guard, stopped him at a local gas station.

I parked my car on the shoulder of Hwy. 197 near the Texas City sign that is in the pictures, on the south side of town and the refinery. I walked onto the median where the sign is and took the pictures. I walked back to my car and drove a couple of miles to a gas station that is on the way to my hotel. I noticed that what looked like a security truck, which had a light on the top, was following me, although he continued on when I pulled into the Valero gas station. I got out of my car to fill the tank and moments later two Texas City police cars pulled in next to my car, essentially blocking me in, although I wasn't trying to go anywhere, I was trying to get gas.

The first police officer asked me what I was doing and said he had gotten a report that I was taking pictures near the refinery. I told him I am a photojournalist and had only taken some pictures of a Texas City sign. He asked to see the pictures and I told him I didn't think I had to show them, legally. Another police officer walked up and again asked to see the pictures. I told him the same thing, but assured him that they were just pictures of the city sign, taken while I was in the public right of way.

He said I could show him the pictures or he could handle this another way, including calling Homeland Security and taking me in. I agreed to show him the pictures on the back of my camera, while he took my driver's license. Meanwhile, the truck that had been following me showed up, driven by a security guard with a BP patch on his uniform. The first police officer seemed to fade back during all this, but remained present in the background. I asked the second police officer-- Officer T. Krietemeyer--for his card, which he gave me.

Officer Krietemeyer took my name, driver's license, the car license number, my D.O.B., Social Security Number and phone number.

The BP security guard asked for my personal information and I declined because he is a corporate security guard and I had already given it to the police. Then the BP security guard asked Officer Krietemeyer for my information, which he gave him.

I protested and asked on what legal grounds could the police officer share my information with BP? I was never on BP property. They told me it was standard procedure and I told them I didn't agree with it and didn't understand what legal authority they had to share that information.

They said that when there is a Homeland Security threat, then BP files a report. I said I wasn't a Homeland Security threat, that Officer Krietemeyer had already determined that the pictures posed no threat. Also, I was not under arrest, so why was BP getting my information? I asked the BP guard for his information, which he gave me: Gary Stief, BP Security.

They both told me they would call Homeland Security/FBI agent Tom Robison to come down and explain it, as if that were a threat to me. I said I didn't think that was necessary but Officer Krietemeyer called Mr. Robison anyway and handed me the phone, which I didn't ask for, but my natural reaction was to take the phone. They had already spoken to Mr. Robison when they arrived; when he got on the phone he asked what my problem is. I told him I didn't understand why BP was getting my information, but he had it anyway and we were starting to wrap up here. He said, "Oh no you're not, you're staying right there until I get there." This was obviously a scare tactic.

Mr. Robison arrived several minutes later and asked what my problem was. His demeanor was aggressive and antagonistic. I repeated myself, in a respectful manner. He aggressively explained that a refinery like this is a terrorist target and any time people take pictures of it, they have to investigate.

He asked who I was working for. I said I'm a freelance photojournalist working on assignment for ProPublica. He asked for verification of that so I showed him the letter from (ProPublica senior editor) Susan White. Officer Krietemeyer took down the information. Mr. Robison tried to dig at what the article was about, and I stayed mostly vague because I'm not the writer and I didn't see the significance anyway. Eventually he asked if it's about BP and I said yes, which seemed to make him angrier.

I then felt like Mr. Robison and Mr. Stief, the BP guard, started harassing me, primarily by keeping me there and talking to me in an aggressive and antagonistic manner, and relating what I had done to terrorist activity, ignoring what had actually happened. This went on for some time. I stayed calm and polite and on point.

Mr. Robison twice asked Officer Krietemeyer if had he reviewed the pictures carefully and concluded there was no threat, to which Officer Krietemeyer said yes. Mr. Robison seemed to be shaky with adrenaline; he was clearly worked up.

Stief said he was ready to go so the group broke up quickly.
I shook all three men's hands.
I'm guessing the whole thing lasted 20 to 30 minutes.
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Friday, July 2, 2010

Denver Post--Millions of gallons spilled in Colo. over 2½ year period

Your water is safe...really, we promise! The sad thing is, these are number provided by the oil and gas industry itself.

Post analysis of state accident reports
By Burt Hubbard
The Denver Post
Posted: 06/28/2010 01:00:00 AM MDTUpdated: 06/28/2010 02:53:25 PM MDT

Oil and gas companies have reported almost 1,000 spills to Colorado regulators over the past 2 1/2 years, totaling 5.2 million gallons of drilling liquids and oil.

They ranged from small oil leaks from half-closed valves to thousands of barrels of tainted water that escaped from pits.

It's far from the volume of oil now shooting into the Gulf of Mexico, but a Denver Post analysis of state spill reports shows that even far from offshore, drilling for oil can regularly create unintended messes:

• Produced water extracted along with natural gas and frac water used in the drilling process were the most common substances spilled. They accounted for nearly half of the spills, 461, and about 85 percent of the amount spilled, 106,000 barrels. Oil spills totaled 319 but accounted for 6,500 barrels of material.

• One hundred eighty-two spills got into groundwater and 82 into surface water. Another 10 reached groundwater and surface water. Most of the groundwater impacts were in Weld County, many of them from historic spills discovered when replacing or moving well equipment.

• Weld County and its 15,000 oil wells had the most overall spills, with 365 — more than one in every three spills in the state. However, Garfield County had the most material spilled, 66,386 barrels, mostly drilling liquids and water used in natural-gas exploration.

• The spills have led to only two fines so far, both for 2008 spills by the same company that fouled springs on the Western Slope. The fines totaled nearly $650,000.

Environmental groups said they are worried about the cumulative effect of so many spills.

"To believe we can have a lot of little spills and a lot of big spills and that we're not going to see a really, really big impact is to ignore the reality of the risks of this industry," said Nada Culver, senior counsel for the Wilderness Society in Denver.

David Neslin, director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said many of the spills are small with no real environmental impact, while the state requires remediation for spills that affect the ground and water sources.

The state requires companies to routinely report spills of 5 barrels or more. If a spill occurs near a populated area, companies must report even smaller ones.

"Our reporting requirements are very low," Neslin said. "Many of these reports are for relatively small spills or relatively benign discharges.

"It's not comparable to what's going on in the gulf."

And energy companies said they move quickly to deal with spills.

"Any drop is too much," said Curtis Thomas, director of government and public affairs for BP in the Rocky Mountains. "We immediately begin any kind of process for mitigation and remediation."

A major industry

As in the Gulf of Mexico, energy exploration is a major industry in Colorado, with oil production in Weld County and natural-gas exploration on the Western Slope.

In 2009, the state estimated that mineral exploration generated more than $700 million in revenue for local and state government.

The Post review of state documents found that 981 spill reports had been filed with the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission between Jan. 1, 2008, and June 15 of this year.

The spills totaled at least 123,193 barrels of material, or about 5.2 million gallons . However, 271 of the reports did not initially list the amount spilled. Many of those involved old spills just being discovered. For comparison, the 5.2 million gallons of fluids and oil spilled over 2 1/2 years is the equivalent of the amount of oil that spewed from the BP well in the gulf in about two days .

Kerr McGee, bought by Anadarko several years ago, submitted the most reports, 147, mainly for Weld County operations.

Anadarko spokeswoman Kimberly Mazza said the company moves quickly to notify authorities and start cleanup. Later, it reviews procedures to see what went wrong.

"We place the highest possible priority on being a safe and environmentally conscientious operator," Mazza said.

Companies are not required to publicly disclose the mix of chemicals used in frac fluids.

Colorado's new regulations that went into effect last year require that companies disclose the content of frac water involved in spills if the state asks, Neslin said.

Environmentalists said if the material is benign, its contents should be disclosed.

"It's about the public's right to know and what's going into the streams and aquifers around the state," said Steve Torbit, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation.

The Post analysis showed that two fines have resulted so far from the spills over the past 2 1/2 years. Both were against Oxy USA in 2008 for contamination of two springs near Parachute caused by leaks from pits containing drilling wastewater and hydrocarbons from oil and gas.

State investigators found elevated levels of benzene in the springs.

Minimizing the impact

Neslin said other investigations of spills from that period are ongoing.

"In fairness, there are probably another five to 10 enforcement proceedings that are underway," he said.

Neslin said the state instead has concentrated its efforts on new rules designed to minimize the impact of spills. For example, the rules keep drilling operations farther from water sources and people.

"I think we would all agree it's more expensive to clean up a problem after it occurs than to avoid the problem in the first instance," Neslin said.

Burt Hubbard: 303-954-5107 or at

[San Miguel] County changes panel after criticism

By David Giuliani, Las Vegas Optic

The San Miguel County Commission this week decided to change the composition of its oil gas task force after some contended that it was heavily weighted toward the industry.

County officials said they wanted to change the makeup of the 10-member task force after they received disclosure forms from applicants.

In April, the commission formed the task force to make recommendations for an ordinance that would deal specifically with oil and gas drilling. No requests for drilling are pending, but there are some in neighboring counties.

Industry opponents said last month that one of the members, Jeffrey Mills of the Environment Department, shouldn’t be classified as representing environmental concerns. Mills spent years discovering oil in the Gulf of Mexico and is a beneficiary of oil and gas royalties in Texas and Louisiana.

Mills, who maintains that he has no oil and gas interests in New Mexico, has been reclassified as an industry representative, taking the place of John Michael Richardson of Petroleum and Mineral Land Services, who is no longer on the task force.

Kim Kirkpatrick, a retired Highlands University professor, is taking Mills’ spot as one of the two environmental representatives.

Pat Leahan of the Las Vegas Peace and Justice Center, who had criticized the task force’s composition, is now one of three citizen representatives on the panel, replacing David Blagg, a former general contractor from Sapello, who is no longer listed as a member.

Blagg said he hadn’t been able to get an answer about why he was removed from the panel. He speculated that he may have been nixed because he has investments in mutual funds with some ties to oil and gas. But he said those investments don’t amount to much.

Blagg said he wanted to be on the task force because he is concerned about oil and gas leases through the Santa Fe Opera on land near his Sapello property.

“I probably would have been the most conservation-minded of people on the task force. I really want there to be strict and serious encumbering limitations (on oil and gas), especially with bonding,” he said, adding that he was disappointed he didn’t make the task force.

Leahan said in an e-mail to county officials this week that she, too, was disappointed that Blagg couldn’t remain on the panel. She said he could bring valuable acequia experience to the table.

Alex Tafoya, the county’s planning and zoning supervisor, said the changes were made to balance the task force.

Leahan said she was pleased with the panel’s reshaping.

“We should also be mindful as we move forward that a wider range of local voices needs to be heard — not just heard, but honored,” she said in an e-mail. “Those who have worked for generations to protect the land, water, culture and way of life for the people of this region must play a key role in shaping what happens next regarding the oil and gas industry in San Miguel County.”

She urged the county to keep the task force “open and transparent.”

During this week’s commission meeting, Commissioner Nicolas Leger said he believed the task force was balanced. But he said he was sure that some people would differ with that conclusion.

members of task force

Oil industry

• Karin Foster, Independent Petroleum Association of New Mexico

• Jeffrey Mills, Las Vegas resident with oil and gas royalties

Environmental and educational

• Kim Kirkpatrick, retired Highlands University professor

• Ken Bentson, Highlands University forestry professor


• Pat Leahan, Las Vegas Peace and Justice Center

• Ernesto Borunda, retired, Sapello

• Larry Webb, Newkirk, N.M.

County representatives

• Nicolas Leger, county commissioner

• Les Montoya, county manager

• Alex Tafoya, planning and zoning supervisor

Visit the Las Vegas Optic>>>

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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