Tag Archives: Environmental Protection Agency (US)

lies, damned lies and outrageous fracking lies!

When filmmaker Josh Fox was asked to lease his land for hydraulic fracture drilling for natural gas (known as fracking), he set off instead on a journey in search of the truth about fracking. His award-winning film, Gasland, chronicles that investigation, uncovering the secrets and lies that the industry uses to protect itself, and documenting the real impact that two decades of fracking has already had on communities across America.

On Wednesday [1st Feb], Josh Fox attempted to film a congressional hearing, called after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that water contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming had been caused by fracking. Instead, he was handcuffed and arrested. On Thursday, Fox spoke on Democracy Now! about his arrest and also explained the importance hearing:

Well, basically, I was there to report on a story that I’ve been following very closely for three-and-a-half years… this was a crucial hearing for us to tape, because what was going on there was a clear and brazen attack on the EPA and on the meticulous three-and-a-half-year investigation that took place in the small town of Pavillion, Wyoming, to expose a link between fracking and groundwater contamination. And this is the first case in which EPA has come out and said, at least in this last 10 years, that the likely cause of groundwater contamination was fracking.

And what was apparent to us was that this was going to be an attack on science from within the science and technology committee, that they had a panel that was stuffed with gas industry lobbyists, that there was—this was actually a way of trying to dismantle this EPA report. We wanted to be there to show that that was what the agenda was. We wanted to report on what happened. I was not interested in disrupting that hearing. It was not a protest action. I was simply trying to do my job as a journalist and go in there and show to the American people what was transpiring in that hearing…

Fox was also asked his thoughts about President Obama’s recent State of the Union address. Obama stating that “my administration will take every possible action to safely develop this energy”, whilst claiming that the supply of natural gas from fracking could last America nearly 100 years. And that: “The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.” Fox replies:

That was actually quite, I think, a very painful moment for a lot of people who have been focusing on gas fracking for the last several years. I think the President’s statements right there are wrong. I mean, it’s very clear that we do not have a hundred years’ worth of natural gas, and certainly not if we want to start using it in cars and trucks. And it has been—it’s very, very unclear, in the science, whether or not this fracking technique can be done safely. And in my research, it shows itself to be inherently contaminating. And there is no proof to think that we could be doing this gas extraction safely.

In the second part of the interview, Josh Fox, who is currently making the sequel Gasland 2 for HBO, was joined by John Fenton, a Wyoming farmer and chair of the group Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens, which is attempting to bring awareness of groundwater contamination by the local natural gas extraction industry. Here are extracts of what they each had to say:

JOHN FENTON: Within just 350 feet of our home, we have eight to 10 of them. On the whole farm, we have 24 gas wells. When industry first moved in here in the middle ’90s and started really filling this field in, we were assured over and over that these processes were safe, that we had nothing to worry about. And, you know, a lot of people around here, quite frankly, have a pro-industry view and wanted the gas to be extracted.

But things changed pretty rapidly. It didn’t take long to notice significant impacts to the water, the change to smell like diesel fuel. Methane was bubbling in the water. We had neighbors that actually had livestock die from drinking the water. […]

Drinking and cooking water comes in five-gallon office cooler-type water jugs now. So that’s what we do all of our drinking and cooking issues with. We’re still bathing in the contaminated water. We have not been able to prepare an alternative source yet. We’ve seen all sorts of impacts from that. We have people with really unexplainable health conditions, a lot of neurological problems, a neuropathy, seizures, people losing their sense of smell, sense of taste, you know, people with their arms and legs going numb. It’s very significant.

JOSH FOX: But what we’re seeing here is a rampant situation of water contamination, both with methane getting into aquifers, as you see the methane coming into the private water well, the natural gas, and actually being ignitable out of the tap—but what’s scarier, in a way, is the benzene and the carcinogenic chemicals, some of these things that have shown up in John Fenton’s well, that are associated with drilling fluids and drilling muds. In Pavillion, they showed that there was 50 times the safe level of benzene in their groundwater. Now there’s no real safe level of benzene at all in groundwater. Benzene is a carcinogen. […]

And when you witness the events of yesterday, not only kicking out journalism from the House of Representatives and kicking the First Amendment out, and out with that goes John Boehner’s pledge of transparency in Congress, but also kicking out science and saying, “Actually, we don’t care about science.” And what’s true here is that we’re living in an age which is not kind to objective information. And frankly, this kind of obstructionism of investigating the truth, reporting the truth, this is what we’ve seen over and over and over again. And I’m outraged at this approach, because when you see people like John Fenton, who have been dealing with this and who don’t have a political position coming into it, and they’re being attacked simply for reporting what’s happening to them, you witness that this is a phenomenon and a tactic and a strategy that happened when climate change was first reported. It goes all the way back to when they started to link tobacco with lung cancer. They mounted a PR campaign to try to dismantle that information. And this is not a democratic approach.

Click here to read the full transcript on the Democracy Now! Website.

To read earlier posts on fracking click here, here, and here.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Australia, campaigns & events, Canada, fracking (shale & coal seam gas), Uncategorized, USA

why we don’t need 400 holes in Blackpool Lancashire

I read the news today, oh boy…

An energy firm which has been test drilling for controversial “shale gas” in Lancashire has said it has found vast gas resources underground.

Cuadrilla Resources began testing for gas on the Fylde Coast in March, using a technique known as “fracking”. […]

Cuadrilla hopes to drill as many as 400 wells over the next nine years and up to 800 over 16 years if gas extraction is successful.1

Click here to read the full BBC article.

I have already posted an earlier article which details the process of fracking and the long-term environmental devastation it has already caused across America and beyond.

Basically, if you were ever looking to systematically pollute vast tracts of land, then you’d struggle to beat the process of fracking. It goes like this: take huge quantities of freshwater, mix in a secret and highly toxic cocktail of chemical ingredients, and then inject it into the ground under high pressure. The results are impressive, as this recent article in The New York Times shows:

With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground. Other carcinogenic materials can be added to the wastewater by the chemicals used in the hydrofracking itself.

While the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.

The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.

Other documents and interviews show that many E.P.A. scientists are alarmed, warning that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water in Pennsylvania. Their concern is based partly on a 2009 study, never made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law.

The Times also found never-reported studies by the E.P.A. and a confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.2

Click here to read the full article.

And here is a short documentary film made by Earth Focus and UK’s Ecological Film Unit, who looked into the effects of natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale of the Appalachian Basin, North-East America:

A word of caution though, because if you feel angered or worried about any of this, then do be careful how you raise your objections. Some in America, who have expressed opposition, are now being treated as eco-terrorists:

As for Britain, exploratory drilling around Blackpool was suspended due to earthquakes, and an announcement is expected in the next thirty days as to whether permission will be granted for further fracking:

A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) said it had to ensure any operations which went ahead were properly regulated.

“We welcome the news that Cuadrilla believe there to be good quantities of gas contained in the shale covered by their licence,” he said.

From the same BBC news report.

The DECC spokesman also told the BBC that “nothing will temper the government’s firm and unbending commitment to safety and environmental protection”. Nothing that is, except money and influence perhaps…

Cuadrilla Resources is owned by its management team and two substantial investors, AJ Lucas and Riverstone LLC. And the Managing Director of Riverstone is Lord John Browne of Madingley.

Prior to his appointment at Riverstone, Lord Browne, who was also a non-executive director of Goldman Sachs, had spent 41 years working for BP, having been appointed as Chief Executive in June 1995. Indeed, he was the immediate predecessor to the much reviled Tony Hayward, who assumed the position of CEO after Lord Browne’s forced resignation from BP in May 2007. So could Lord Browne have been culpable in any way for what was to occur just a few years later in the Gulf of Mexico?

In July 2010, just a few months after the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Tom Bower wrote this about Lord Browne:

Last Monday, amid the elegant surroundings of Dartmouth House in London’s Mayfair, Lord Browne of Madingley, the dapper former chief executive of BP, gave a lecture about ‘inspiration and vision in business’.

At ease in front of 60 hand-picked guests, the ultra-smooth tycoon shrugged off all personal responsibility for the company’s unfolding catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico.

He brushed aside critical questions about the poisoned legacy he bequeathed his beleaguered successor Tony Hayward.3

In his article, entitled “Return of Lord Oil Slick: Why has Cameron handed this Labour luvvie such a key job?”, Bower continues:

After his appointment as BP boss in 1998, Lord Browne swiftly transformed the firm from a dying oil corporation with just two fields – in Alaska and the North sea – into the world’s second largest behemoth.

By re-focusing on so-called ‘elephants’ (the big oil reservoirs) and ruthlessly cutting costs, his mastery of financial engineering used BP’s rising share price to launch audacious take-overs of failing oil companies, especially in America.

His success earned worldwide plaudits.

After re-branding BP as ‘Beyond Petroleum’ – the world’s most environmentally friendly oil company – he boasted during visits to Washington that BP was not only the largest producer of oil in America, but also the most successful explorer in the Gulf of Mexico, one of the most difficult places to extract oil. […]

Success depended on BP earning high profits, which could be used to set up a merger with Shell. Lord Browne went for broke by cutting costs.

His philosophy was ‘more for less’: operations would be completed at a cost that was 10 per cent cheaper than the previous time, and so on.

Taking his cue from New Labour, targets became the Holy Grail. In July 2000, he announced that production would annually grow over three years by 5.5 to 7 per cent, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico and Angola.

This optimism was hailed and BP’s share price soared. But, in fact, BP’s growth turned out to be only 2.9 per cent and BP could hit its targets only by more ruthless cost-cutting.

Hundreds of engineers were sacked. Budgets for safety and maintenance were slashed. Skilled oil men resigned in disgust.

Bower’s catalogue of criticisms and failures goes on and on. Click here to read more.

1 From an article entitled “Shale gas firm finds ‘vast’ gas resources in Lancashire” published by BBC News on September 21, 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-lancashire-14990573

2 From an article entitled “Regulation Lax as Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers”, written by Ian Urbina, published in The New York Times on February 26, 2011. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/27/us/27gas.html?pagewanted=all

3 From an article entitled “Return of Lord Oil Slick: Why has Cameron handed this Labour luvvie such a key job?”, written by Tom Bower, published in the Daily Mail on July 3, 2010. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-1291663/Return-Lord-Oil-Slick-Why-Cameron-handed-Lord-Browne-key-job.html

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fracking all over the world

Have you ever heard of fracking? If you have, then are you’re probably aware that fracking is a method for natural gas extraction that is already widespread across America, with rigs set up across 32 states . Perhaps you also know that permission has been granted for fracking in parts of Europe and Africa. So are you aware that we may soon see the go-ahead for fracking in England too…?

A few miles inland [from Blackpool Tower] a gawky newcomer in the flat landscape makes a rival gesture towards the skies. It’s a drill rig attempting to usher in an era of its own; an era of cheap and plentiful gas to set the UK’s energy policy alight.

The firm involved, Cuadrilla, promise that their fracking technique is safe. Their CEO, Mark Miller is a veteran gas man from the US. He admits that careless fracking in his homeland has caused problems, but says: “People compare us to the worst operators in North America. Things are different over here because we use practices that are foolproof. We make a bullet-proof well where you can’t get any leakages. It’s called Industry Best Practice. We don’t take any short cuts over here.”

Cuadrilla currently have permission to do test drilling and the Environment Agency confirm that they will need to apply for a full licence if and when the time comes for full scale production.

Environmentalists want a delay in fracking until a major review of the practice by the US Environmental Protection Agency has been carried out — maybe sometime next year. The government believes its own safety regulations are strict enough.

So far, the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC) appears to be cautiously welcoming the advent of shale gas in the UK.

I met Philip Mitchell, chairman of Blackpool Green Party by the banks of the picturesque River Wyre in this little-visited corner of rural England. “I’m worried about the risks,” he told me.

“Risks to human health; to ground water and drinking water; and to the environment due to the huge amounts of waste this produces and the huge amount of water it consumes. Also I think the impact of drilling rigs on the countryside will be totally unacceptable to the British people. I think this is something we’ll live to regret.”1

Click here to read full article from BBC News.

Fracking, or Hydraulic fracturing, is a method for extracting natural gas from shale. A borehole is drilled and then a cocktail of highly toxic and volatile chemicals, including benzene, toluene and formaldehyde, are added to huge quantities of freshwater, and pumped into the ground.2  Thanks to the “Halliburton Loophole”, the precise make-up of the cocktail used is allowed to be kept as a trade secret:

The industry lobbied the Bush Administration and Congress with its claims that the “fracking fluid” should be considered “proprietary” and exempt from disclosure under federal drinking water protection laws.3 Led by Halliburton and aided by the former CEO of Halliburton, then-Vice President Dick Cheney, the industry obtained this exception in the law along with favorable treatment by political appointees and regulators in the “Environmental Protection Agency.” As a result of the “Halliburton loophole” to the law, drilling companies have not been required to divulge the cocktail of chemicals that are in the fracking fluids used at each of the proposed or continuing drill sites across the country.

Taken from sourcewatch.

So should we be worried? Here are some extracts from a recent article published in The Engineer :

Scientists are warning that plans to use a new method of gas drilling in the UK could contaminate water supplies.

A report released today [17 Jan 2011] from Manchester University’s Tyndall Centre calls for a moratorium on shale gas drilling until further research is done.

Mining company Cuadrilla Resources is preparing to carry out drilling that could involve ‘fracking’ – fracturing rock with water and chemicals to release gas trapped inside – following initial tests at a site near Blackpool, Lancashire.

The Tyndall report warns that horizontal fracking carries risks of contaminating groundwater and surface water with the fracturing chemicals and with methane, as well as putting pressure on water and land resources in the UK.

It adds that there is little publicly available information on these risks or the chemicals used in fracking, but notes that substances stockpiled in the US for the process include toxins and carcinogens such as naphthalene and benzene.4

With fracking rigs now operating across huge stretches of land, there is also the ever-increasing danger of contamination due to blowouts. Here’s a report of an accident that happened only last month:

Chesapeake Energy suspended the use of a controversial natural-gas production technique in Pennsylvania on Thursday as it worked to contain a well blowout that spilled toxic fluid into a local waterway”.

President Barack Obama has made natural gas the cornerstone of his energy policy, in part thanks to the huge reserves unlocked by the use of fracking. Shale gas now accounts 23 percent of U.S. natural gas production, rising from a negligible amount in 2004.

But environmentalists and residents complain that fracking can pollute water supplies, raising calls for increased regulation on natural gas production.

“This is the kind of incident that is likely to shine a spotlight, again, on the fact that despite repeated assurances from industry and regulators in Pennsylvania, things there keep somehow going wrong,” said Kate Sinding, senior attorney for the New York-based Natural Resources Defense Council.5

But if you’ve never heard of fracking, then you may still be wondering how anything with such a pointedly stupid name could possibly be worth worrying about. Well, the bigger truth about fracking is so astonishing, so shocking and so absurd that you may need to see it in order to believe it – which is the reason I am recommending a documentary called Gasland. Here is a précis:

When filmmaker Josh Fox received an offer of $100,000 from a gas company to lease his land for drilling in May 2008, he decided to investigate. Setting off across America and speaking with other rural residents about their experiences of fracking, he was soon confronted by toxic streams, dying livestock, neurological diseases, and kitchen sinks that burst into flames.

Fox learns that the process of fracking requires huge fleets of tankers, with between 400 and 600 needed to supply the freshwater alone. He also discovers that the contaminated water returning to the surface, known in the trade as “produced water”, is simply dumped into “flowback pits” and allowed to evaporate, so that the volatile additives are thereby released into the atmosphere as well as the groundwater.

Click here to watch the full documentary Gasland

In the film, Fox also speaks to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) whistle-blower Weston Wilson, and environmental scientist Dr. Theo Colborn 6, who is one of the foremost experts on health and environmental effects of the toxic chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Colborn tells him:

“Every environmental law we wrote to protect public health is ignored.”

On April 14th 2010, Colborn also expressed her concerns about fracking on Democracy Now!

Fracking has already caused widespread, long-term and very serious environmental damage by polluting water systems throughout America, and yet many people have still never heard of it. Now, as permission is granted for operations to begin in other countries — including Britain — the devastation it brings is also spreading, poisoning more land and destroying more lives. Sad proof, if any were needed, that corporate irresponsibility knows no bounds when it comes to risking human health and the environment in the pursuit of profit.

1 From BBC News article entitled “UK shale plans target cheap gas” by Roger Harrabin published on April 1st, 2011. www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12922196

2 A breakdown of some of the additives is available from Department of Environmental Conservation for New York State report “Natural Gas Development Activities and High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing” www.dec.ny.gov/docs/materials_minerals_pdf/ogdsgeischap5.pdf

3 “Central to that development is the use of fracking fluids. Largely unregulated, they’ve been employed by the energy industry for decades and, with the exception of diesel, can be made up of nearly any set of chemicals. Also, propriety trade laws don’t require energy companies to disclose their ingredients. “It is much like asking Coca-Cola to disclose the formula of Coke,” says Ron Heyden, a Halliburton executive, in recent testimony before the COGCC. Despite its widespread use and somewhat mysterious mix, fracturing fluid was deemed in 2004 by the Environmental Protection Agency as safe for the environment and groundwater.” from “A Toxic Spew? – Officials worry about the impact of ‘fracking’ of oil and gas” published in Newsweek on August 20th 2008. www.newsweek.com/2008/08/19/a-toxic-spew.html

4 Extracts from an article entitled “Evidence from the US prompts calls to stop fracking” by Stephen Harris published in The Engineer on January 17th 2011. www.theengineer.co.uk/news/evidence-from-the-us-prompts-calls-to-stop-fracking/1006915.article

5 Extracts from an article entitled “Driller halts Pennsylvania fracking after blowout” by Edward McAllister for Reuters on Thursday April 21st 2011. uk.reuters.com/article/2011/04/21/us-chesapeake-blowout-idUKTRE73K5OH20110421

6 Theo Colborn is Professor Emeritus of Zoology at the University of Florida. She is also the President of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange.

Her awards include the: Chatham College Rachel Carson Award, Norwegian International Rachel Carson Prize, United Nations Environment Program Women Leadership for the Environment Award, International Blue Planet Prize, Society of Toxicology and Environmental Chemistry Rachel Carson Award, Center for Science in the Public Interest Rachel Carson Award, Beyond Pesticides Dragonfly Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Council for Science and the Environment.

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