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Fri, 2014-11-07 12:01Mike Gaworecki
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Add Toxic Air Pollution To Growing List Of Problems With Fracking

The threat posed by fracking to water quality is an issue receiving a lot of attention lately (see here, here, and here, for instance), as is the looming collapse of the fracking boom. But the Center for Environmental Health, suspecting that the whole story wasn't being told, partnered with 15 different local, state, and national organizations to study fracking's impact on the air we breathe, and the results are not pretty.

Since 2012, community groups in six states—Arkansas, Colorado, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wyoming—have been collecting air samples at oil and gas development sites where horizontal drilling, fracking, and other unconventional drilling and well stimulation techniques were employed.

The results, which were written up in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health and are also available in the report “Warning Signs: Toxic Air Pollution Identified at Oil and Gas Development Sites,” were analyzed by CEH and a team of specialists, who describe the results as “shocking.” The key takeaways:

  • Fifteen of the 35 “grab” air samples (meaning, where air is intentionally drawn into a sampling device), had concentrations of volatile chemicals that exceeded federal exposure risk levels for cancer, or for non-cancer health effects.
      
  • Fourteen of the 41 passive samples (where air naturally passes through a sampling device) had concentrations of volatile chemicals that exceeded federal exposure risk levels for cancer, or for non-cancer health effects.
      
  • One sample had air pollution levels that may pose an immediate danger to life or health, according to Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
      
  • Benzene, a known human carcinogen, was detected at sample locations in Pennsylvania and Wyoming, in levels exceeding health-based standards by several orders of magnitude.
      
  • In three states, formaldehyde was detected at levels exceeding the health-based standards of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).


At least 37% of the more than 600 chemicals used in fracking are endocrine disruptors, according to the report. Other health impacts from chemicals associated with oil and gas development include headaches, impaired motor function, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, liver damage, heart attacks, and cancers of the lungs, nose, and throat.

Wed, 2014-11-05 13:50Mike Gaworecki
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Voters Ban Fracking In Texas, California, And Ohio

Yesterday's elections sent several more climate deniers to a dirty energy money-rich Congress, where they're already sharpening their knives and preparing to cut the centerpiece of President Obama's climate agenda, the EPA's Clean Power Plan, to shreds.

Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, summed it up succinctly: “With a tremendous amount of spending, the Koch Brothers have literally purchased the best Congress they could buy. It is now up to President Obama to pursue aggressive executive action on our pressing environmental issues, including climate change and clean water protections.”

But it was not all bad news for the climate yesterday, because many communities are not content to wait on the President to take action: Citizen-led initiatives to ban fracking won big in California, Ohio, and Texas.

The biggest of these victories was undoubtedly won in Denton, TX. A small city northwest of Dallas, Denton already has 275 fracked wells. Locals' concerns about fracking's impact on health and the environment led to a landslide 59% to 41% win for the measure, which bans fracking within city limits.

Wed, 2014-11-05 05:00Mike Gaworecki
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Climate Deniers In Congress Take 3.5 Times As Much Money From Dirty Energy Interests

As the US Environmental Protection Agency attempts to draw down emissions from power plants via its Clean Power Plan, fossil fuel interests are, of course, fighting back. A new special report from Earthjustice exposes the “unparalleled political spending by dirty energy industries” intent on defeating the EPA's climate initiative.

Power plants, especially those that burn coal and natural gas, are responsible for nearly one-third of all global warming emissions in the US, making electricity production the single biggest source of climate change pollution. There are currently no limits on how much carbon dioxide power plants can dump into the atmosphere.

Burning coal for electricity in particular has also been found to have dire impacts on human health at every stage of its life cycle. But those who live nearby coal-fired power plants suffer some of the worst of it: children are more likely to have asthma if they live by a plant burning coal, and mercury pollution from coal has been linked to higher incidence of autism and other developmental issues.

There's a social justice angle to consider too: coal-fired power plants are much more likely to be situated near a low-income community or community of color, forcing people who have done the least to contribute to the problem to deal with a disproportionate share of the impacts. According to Earthjustice, 40% of the US's Latino population lives within 30 miles of a power plant.

The EPA's Clean Power Plan aims to reduce emissions from US power plants some 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, but it will have a host of other economic and health benefits as well. Earthjustice says that imposing emissions limits on power plants could prevent as many as 100,000 asthma attacks in children every year, and by cutting their climate pollution Americans could save $13 billion a year on their energy bills.

Which begs the question Earthjustice set out to answer: “When acting on climate change has the added benefits of cleaner air that’s easier to breathe, healthier communities, safer people and homes, economic protection and even growth, why would elected officials oppose it?”

As the saying goes, just follow the money.

Mon, 2014-11-03 05:00Mike Gaworecki
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Utilities Couldn't Kill Distributed Solar, So Now They're Co-Opting The Business Model

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then they… steal your business model?

Solar energy is booming: More than half a million US homes and businesses have gone solar, some 200,000 in just the last two years alone. The Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that in the first half of 2014, a new solar installation went up every 3.2 minutes.

That scares the hell out of the electric utilities, who have been fighting rooftop solar tooth and nail.

Utilities are right to be scared—the rise of distributed solar energy generation presents an existential crisis to their business model. But solar's steady march has not slowed down, so now the utilities are taking a different tact: they're simply trying to co-opt the rooftop solar business altogether.

“You have to question their motives,” Will Craven, a spokesman for the Alliance for Solar Choice, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “They’ve been attacking rooftop solar for years at this point, and they’ve tended to lose most of those battles. This is just the latest tactic.”

Wed, 2014-10-29 13:16Mike Gaworecki
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EPA's Cross State Air Pollution Rule To Finally Move Forward

First issued in 2011 but quickly met with numerous legal challenges, the EPA's Cross State Air Pollution Rule is finally cleared for takeoff.

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit lifted a hold it had placed on the CSAPR, effectively giving the EPA a green light to begin implementing the rule, which regulates air pollution from power plants in 28 states that drifts across state lines, contributing to ozone and fine particle pollution.

The CSAPR creates a two-step process: first the EPA determines whether or not a state contributes more than 1% of the pollution causing a neighbor to exceed federal air standards, then the EPA gives the polluter state an emissions budget based on a complex modeling system.

It's been a long road for the EPA to get to this point. Courts struck down the agency's first two attempts to draft a rule for regulating sulfur and nitrogen emissions from power plants that drift from one state to another. After the EPA announced the final CSAPR in July of 2011, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals placed a hold on the rule the following December before throwing it out altogether last year in response to a lawsuit filed by 15 power utilities and upwind states.

But in April of this year, the Supreme Court ruled 6-2 in favor of the EPA, upholding the CSAPR. In the majority opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that the CSAPR “is a permissible, workable, and equitable interpretation of the Good Neighbor provision” of the Clean Air Act, which grants the EPA the authority to regulate intersate pollution that threatens national air quality standards.

Tue, 2014-10-28 11:58Mike Gaworecki
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Oil Companies Spending Big To Defeat Community-Led Anti-Fracking Initiatives At The Ballot Box

Election day is fast approaching and, in a pattern becoming all too familiar, oil companies are spending big to defeat citizen-led initiatives to halt fracking in California.

By last August, oil industry front group Californians for Energy Independence, which is leading the charge against anti-fracking measures in the sate, had raised around $3 million. Now, just one week before the election, that number has more than doubled to just under $7.7 million, per the California Secretary of State's campaign finance database.

Chevron is the leading donor to Californians for Energy Independence, having made two donations totaling about $2.6 million. Occidental Petroleum and Aera Energy have kicked in some $2 million apiece, and Exxon has given $300,000. Every single dollar received by CEI has come from an oil company.

Once the polls close, we'll know how well that money was spent. One thing is clear, however: Big Oil has not succeeded in buying the hearts and minds of many Californians, who overwhelmingly reject the plans to frack the Golden State, polls have shown.

Residents of Santa Barbara County will vote on Measure P on November 4, a ballot initiative that would ban fracking and other “extreme oil extraction techniques,” including cyclic steam injection and acidization. Lauren Hanson, who serves on the Goleta Water District Board of Directors, wrote in an op-ed for the Santa Barbara Independent:

When a single industry — whatever that industry might be — proposes bringing into Santa Barbara County a massive amount of activity that has time and again contaminated and used up water supplies elsewhere, it is time for extreme caution and, yes, common sense. It makes no sense to allow that risk.

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