Anne Landman's blog

Colorado Report on Birth Anomalies Near Fracking Sites Omits Key Factors

Oil flare stack

Last month, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment announced it would investigate a spike in rare fetal anomalies reported in Garfield County, the second most heavily-drilled and fracked county in the state.

The newly released report, which the department quietly put on its website without public announcement, does little to address fears about the safety of drilling and fracking in Colorado's communities.

The report says that overall, the department found no single predominant risk factor common among the majority of women studied. 

The agency studied about a dozen risk factors, most of which focused on the mothers' personal characteristics and behavior, such as ethnicity; alcohol, tobacco and drug use; use of medications, vitamins and supplements; and family history.

But the report has glaring gaps in what the state examined, and what it didn't.

Colorado Oil and Gas Operations Emitting Far More Benzene, Methane Than Expected

Gas pumpjack in Weld County, Colorado

Scientists affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have determined that oil and gas operations on Colorado's front range are pumping almost three times more methane and seven times more benzene into the air than previously estimated.

Benzene is a regulated air toxin that causes cancer and methane is 20 to 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere.

Researchers collected air samples from an airplane over Weld County over two days in May 2012. Previous studies measured air samples taken at ground-level or from a 985-foot tall tower. This is the first study to measure airborne contaminants from an airplane.

Researchers found that 24,000 active oil and gas wells active in Weld County in May 2012 were emitting a total of 19.3 tons of methane each hour, or about triple the amount the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated would come from industry-reported emissions.

Drilling operations emitted benzene at a rate of 380 pounds each hour, or about seven times more than the 50 pounds an hour the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment estimated based on industry-reported data.

American Sands Energy Corp. To Become Third Company to Mine Tar Sands in Utah

Utah tar sands
 
Yet another company is poised to start grinding up and spitting out eastern Utah's wilderness for its tar sands.  
 
Until now, the biggest threat to eastern Utah's wilderness has been the Canadian company U.S. Oil Sands, which amid protests in 2013 succeeded in starting a strip mining operation for tar sands at PR Spring, in eastern Utah's Bookcliffs range, about 35 miles west of the Colorado border. 
 
In what's shaping up to be a new rush to riches by producing dirty oil from unconventional sources in the western U.S., now another company, American Sands Energy Corporation (ASEC), has obtained the rights to mine tar sands and bitumen (asphalt) on 1,800 acres of private property in an area called Sunnyside, about 150 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.
 
The company calls the project the “Sunnyside Project” or the “Gibbs Project,” after the Gibbs family, which owned the property 30 years ago. William Gibbs is the chairman of the board and CEO of American Sands Energy Corporation.
 
ASEC couldn't possibly have found a friendlier place in the U.S. for its fossil fuel extraction project.
 
Sunnyside, population 274 in 2012, is a former coal town in Carbon County, and is so friendly to energy interests that up until 1994, it never had an elected mayor. Before that time, the town's mayor was the superintendent of mines for the Utah Fuel Coal Company. After Kaiser Steel took over the local mines in 1950, Sunnyside's mayor was the head of Kaiser Steel. 

Seismologists Warn Fracking Boom Can Lead to More Earthquakes

Seismologists are warning that disposing of fracking wastewater by injecting it into underground rock formations may pose a far greater risk of setting off dangerous earthquakes than formerly believed. 
 
At the 2014 annual meeting of the Seismological Society of America in Anchorage, Alaska, scientists presented new evidence indicating wastewater injection wells can affect earthquake faults located miles away from the wells themselves. The new research comes amid mounting evidence demonstrating that oil and gas drilling operations in North America are causing man-made earthquakes, also called “induced seismicity,” or “frackquakes.”
 
Unfortunately, scientists say that there is no way to forecast which drilling or wastewater disposal wells will induce seismic events, but said induced seismicity could post a significant risk to the integrity of critical infrastructure, like dams, roads and bridges. 
 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates over 2 billion gallons of fracking fluid are disposed via underground injection each day in the United States.
 
Fracking has already been directly linked to earthquakes, and scientists say drilling, fracking and wastewater disposal are responsible for an uptick in earthquakes in the U.S. in the last several years. Two geophysicists with the U.S. Geological Survey, Art Garr and Justin Rubenstein, found that a high volume of injected wastewater combined with a high injection rate increases the likelihood of triggering earthquakes powerful enough to be felt by humans. 

Energy Industry Makes Last-Ditch Effort to Short Circuit Colorado Fracking Ballot Initiatives

Colorado's oil and gas industry is trying to short-circuit proposed ballot initiatives that would strictly regulate drilling and fracking by pushing a watered-down, last-minute bill in the state legislature.
 
The industry-backed “grand bargain” bill would give local governments limited, feel-good regulatory authority over oil and gas operations, like the ability to determine setbacks from drilling rigs and to charge “reasonable” fees for inspecting drilling operations. 
 
Colorado's legislative session ends May 7 though, leaving precious little time for the legislature to take up the measure. The bill faces only a 50/50 chance of even being introduced within the next couple of days. It would need a minimum of three days to get through the legislature. 

Wealthy Corporate CEOs Behind Fake Anti-Fracking Ads

The online version of the Post Independent, the local daily newspaper in heavily-drilled Garfield County, Colorado, is prominently displaying black-and-white banner ads that read, “Blowing the Lid off Fracking Colorado.”

Readers are led to believe the ads are anti-fracking, but click on them and you're taken to a pro-fracking website, JobCreatorsNetwork.com, that boasts about all the wonderful jobs and economic benefits that drilling and fracking create. 
 
Members of Job Creators Network include the wealthy CEOs of major companies like Home Depot, Whole Foods Market, Staples and Best Buy. Members also reportedly have ties to groups like the Cato Institute and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. 
 
Despite this, the Job Creator's Network website complains that “Today, small business are under fire” from “confiscatory taxes and suffocating regulations…stifling energy costs…” 
 
The network holds it meetings and events in tony locales, like Scottsdale, Arizona and Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.
 
According to Little Sis, a free online database that details the connections between powerful people and organizations, Job Creators Network members give overwhelmingly (87%) to Republicans, and the group's biggest donor, Bernard Marcus of Home Depot, has given over $3 million to U.S. politicians. 
 
Far from being anti-fracking as the banner ads lure readers to believe, the JobCreatorsNetwork is not just pro-drilling, but anti-regulation, pro-Keystone XL pipeline, pro-coal, pro-offshore drilling and, of course, in favor of cutting corporate tax rates. 
 
“Fracking Colorado,” the group the CEOs target in their ads, is a grassroots group that supports a moratorium on horizontal hydraulic fracturing until it is assured the practice will not harm health, safety, air, land, water or water security.

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