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Tue, 2014-10-07 16:05Mike Gaworecki
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Confirmed: California Aquifers Contaminated With Billions Of Gallons of Fracking Wastewater

Update 02/11/15: The problems with California's underground injection control program are far worse than originally reported. It has now been revealed that California regulators with DOGGR permitted hundreds of wastewater injection wells and thousands more wells injecting fluids for “enhanced oil recovery” into aquifers protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Original post: After California state regulators shut down 11 fracking wastewater injection wells last July over concerns that the wastewater might have contaminated aquifers used for drinking water and farm irrigation, the EPA ordered a report within 60 days.

It was revealed yesterday that the California State Water Resources Board has sent a letter to the EPA confirming that at least nine of those sites were in fact dumping wastewater contaminated with fracking fluids and other pollutants into aquifers protected by state law and the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The letter, a copy of which was obtained by the Center for Biological Diversity, reveals that nearly 3 billion gallons of wastewater were illegally injected into central California aquifers and that half of the water samples collected at the 8 water supply wells tested near the injection sites have high levels of dangerous chemicals such as arsenic, a known carcinogen that can also weaken the human immune system, and thallium, a toxin used in rat poison.

Timothy Krantz, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Redlands, says these chemicals could pose a serious risk to public health: “The fact that high concentrations are showing up in multiple water wells close to wastewater injection sites raises major concerns about the health and safety of nearby residents.”

Sun, 2014-09-28 07:00Mike Gaworecki
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Arctic Madness: Shell and ConocoPhillips Plead With US Govt to Avoid Standards For Arctic Spill Preparedness

Two oil companies planning to drill in remote Arctic waters, Shell and ConocoPhillips, are pleading with U.S. regulators not to make them follow new guidelines proposed by the Interior Department that would require the companies to keep emergency spill response equipment close at hand and prohibit the use of chemical dispersants.

The precise details of the new rules for Arctic drilling operations have not been made public as an inter-agency review of the Interior Department's proposal is still being carried out.

But records of meetings with officials at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which is currently reviewing the new standards, show that Shell is vigorously contesting rules that would require the company to keep on hand the necessary equipment for emergency response in the event of a blowout, such as containment systems and a rig to drill a relief well.

Shell says that keeping a rig on standby would cost the company an additional $250 million a year.

Both Shell and ConocoPhillips are taking issue with another of the proposed rules, a potential ban on the use of highly toxic chemical dispersants in favor of booms, skimmers, and other physical equipment to contain spilled oil.

In a presentation to the OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, Shell argued: “A 100 percent mechanical requirement leads to increasing costs and environmental impacts — less recovery of oil — as operators enter plays with higher daily worst-case discharges.”

Studies have shown that while dispersants can help prevent oil from washing ashore and may protect surface-dwelling sea life, it can have serious impacts on marine life living below the surface.

Tue, 2014-09-23 23:08Mike Gaworecki
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Investors Waking Up To Risks Of Stranded Assets, Realities Of Shale Bubble

The day after some 400,000 people marched in the streets of New York to call for climate justice, the world woke to some more historic news: The Rockefeller family, heirs to the Standard Oil fortune, announced that they were directing their $860 million charitable fund to divest from fossil fuels.

The Rockefellers cited their moral obligation to leave a better planet for their children as motivation, but it was also a business decision: “We see this as having both a moral and economic dimension,” Steven Rockefeller says.

Investors are beginning to realize that it’s not just coal in decline. All fossil fuels, including oil and natural gas, are living on borrowed time.

According to Carbon Tracker, we can only burn one-fifth of proven fossil fuel reserves if we are to avert the most catastrophic global warming, and if capital expenditures continue at current rates, some $6.74 trillion will be wasted over the next decade developing reserves that are likely to become unburnable.

Translation: The clean energy revolution is coming, and the forward-looking money is backing renewables, not fossil fuels.

Tue, 2014-09-23 14:00Mike Gaworecki
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California Farmers File Suit Alleging Oil Companies' Faulty Wastewater Injection Caused Crop Loss

A farming company in Kern County, California, has sued four oil producers over claims that their faulty wastewater injection methods led to the contamination of groundwater it uses for irrigation.

Palla Farms LLC, a ninety-two-year-old family farm operation, says it had to tear out hundreds of cherry trees due to high levels of salt and boron in the groundwater it has used to irrigate its crops for the past 25 years. The company claims its almond orchard has also experienced production declines.

Palla Farms' suit alleges that the four oil companies—Crimson Resource Management Corp., Dole Enterprises Inc., E&B Natural Resources Management Corp. and San Joaquin Facilities Management Inc.—violated state environmental regulations when disposing of produced water, drilling mud, and flowback water from fracking, which led to the contamination of the groundwater.

The Bakersfield Californian has the details on the allegations:

Fri, 2014-09-05 12:00Mike Gaworecki
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Federal Judge: BP's "Willful Misconduct," "Gross Negligence" Led To Deepwater Horizon Disaster

A federal judge in New Orleans minced no words in handing down a ruling this week that found BP's “willful misconduct” and “gross negligence” caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The ruling is the result of a jury-less trial to determine who was at fault for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill. The trial was held by District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans.

A blowout at BP's ultra-deepwater Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010 caused an explosion that took the lives of 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which then sank to the bottom of the Gulf, some 5,000 feet below, leaving the well to spew oil for 87 days until it was capped.

Barbier rejected BP's assertion that Transocean, which leased the Deepwater Horizon rig to BP, and Halliburton, which was contracted by BP to do cement work on the well, deserved equal shares of blame. “BP's conduct was reckless,” Barbier wrote in his 153-page ruling. “Transocean's conduct was negligent. Halliburton's conduct was negligent.”

The judge assigned 67 percent of the fault to BP, 30 percent to Transocean, and 3 percent to Halliburton. According to Bloomberg, this makes BP liable for as much as $18 billion in fines. Having been found merely negligent, Transocean and Halliburton aren't facing such hefty punitive damages.

Sun, 2014-08-31 11:00Mike Gaworecki
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Is California’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan Really About Conservation?

To understand what California Governor Jerry Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan is all about, you have to understand a bit of history.

Back in 1982, once and future governor Jerry Brown pushed through a plan to build a canal that would divert water from the Sacramento River before it gets to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in order to feed the voracious appetite for water among farmers in California’s Central Valley and municipalities in Southern California.

The canal plan was defeated by a state-wide referendum in a stinging rebuke of Brown’s plan. Californians’ objections were based largely on concerns about the impact it would have on the fragile estuary ecosystem of the delta.

Now, 30 years later, the same Governor Jerry Brown is pushing for the same plan, but he wants to build two tunnels instead of a canal, and is estimated to cost between $25 billion and $54 billion. Many Californians are once again questioning the wisdom of Brown’s plan, especially environmentalists, who worry that if you take away the Sacramento River — which supplies some 80% of fresh water to the delta — you will do irreparable harm to the estuary.

There’s a larger concern, too: Many Californians feel that, at a time of record drought, when we’re all being asked to think about how much water we’re consuming and make a concerted effort to use less, those billions in taxpayer money would be better spent upgrading outdated infrastructure to ensure we’re using water more efficiently and lowering our overall water usage.

Sun, 2014-08-31 05:00Farron Cousins
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Swapping Farmland For Coal Trains: Union Pacific’s Texas Land Grab

Railroad giant Union Pacific has some big plans for a tiny Texas community.  According to locals in the Brazos River Valley, the railroad company is hoping to turn some of the most fertile farmland in Texas into a massive, 72-line rail yard.

Union Pacific’s plan would consume as much as 1,800 acres of farmland in the region, effectively putting numerous family-owned farming operations out of business.  The toxic loads that Union Pacific’s trains would be hauling in and out of the area on a daily basis would then threaten the remaining farms in the region.

The Brazos River Valley, named after the Brazos River, is considered some of the richest farmland in the state, thanks to the city’s namesake river feeding fresh water and nutrients to the area.  Taking this land out of the hands of farmers — many of whom are the descendants of early generation of farm settlers in the area — would not only have devastating effects on the local economy, but they could also put a huge hole in the nation’s food supply.

But Union Pacific is not concerned with the well being of the Brazos Valley community or their environment, and they are hoping to move forward with their plan.  And the land grab only represents half of the danger. 

According to a letter from the Brazos River Bottom Alliance that was sent to state and federal representatives, there will be no environmental review of the project:

Fri, 2014-08-29 05:00Mike Gaworecki
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Stealth Carbon Bombs Stopped In Their Tracks

North America is now the biggest producer of oil in the world thanks largely to Canada’s tar sands and North Dakota’s Bakken shale, and West Coast refineries are looking to cash in.

But not all crude is created equal, and oil companies hoping to import tar sands oil and Bakken crude — known as “cost-advantaged crude” in industry parlance — are deliberately disguising the true nature of upgrades they’re making to their facilities in California when seeking the necessary permits from regulatory agencies or speaking about the projects to the public.

“We’re seeing this all over the state,” says Yana Garcia, a staff attorney with Communities for a Better Environment.

CBE, which is one of several green groups calling out refineries that appear to be acting in bad faith, was notified by the South Coast Air Quality Management District last Friday that the permitting process for a Tesoro refinery in Wilmington, CA had been put on hold after the group filed numerous comments in opposition to the “negative declaration” the SCAQMD had made.

A “negative declaration” is essentially a rubber stamp ruling from the regulatory body, meaning it agreed with Tesoro that no significant impacts to the environment and human health were likely and the oil company could go ahead with its plans to build a new shipyard pipeline which, the company said, was only intended to speed up offloading of crude from ships to shore-based storage tanks.

In a press release, CBE explains:

There was no mention of the corrosive and explosive crude oils Tesoro plans to import, or its plans to combine its Wilmington refining operation with its newly acquired BP refinery in Carson; omitting major increases in greenhouse gases that result from tar sands crude oil refining, and other key impacts. Based on Tesoro’s omissions, the environmental document for the project incorrectly concluded that there was not even the potential for significant impacts.


At its best, it’s just business being business, they want to get these crudes out to the refineries and start profiting from them,” Yana Garcia says. “At its worst, that gaming of the system is essentially about lying to the public and letting these pretty nasty projects go through in predominantly low-income communities of color.”

Tue, 2014-08-26 07:30Mike Gaworecki
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Oil Industry Front Group Sets Sights On Santa Barbara County Measure That Would Ban “Extreme Oil Extraction”

Local activists in California’s Santa Barbara County have placed Measure P on the November ballot to ban “extreme oil extraction” practices such as fracking, acidization, and steam injection over concerns that they make global warming worse, cause earthquakes, pollute aquifers, and waste massive amounts of water at a time when the state is experiencing extreme drought.

The LA Times label for these same practices is a bit less rhetorically provocative: the paper calls them “high intensity petroleum operations.”

But according to Jim Byrne, a spokesman for Santa Barbara County Coalition Against the Oil and Gas Shutdown Initiative, which is running a No On Measure P campaign, both “extreme oil extraction” and “high intensity oil operations” are labels applied by activists seeking to ban practices that have been used in the county “for the past 50 years.”

The real purpose of Measure P? “It’s a shutdown initiative,” Byrne argues.

Byrne is echoing the sentiments of many in the oil industry who argue that Measure P would effectively end all oil operations in Santa Barbara County despite the measure being explicitly worded to allow existing projects to continue operating.

Mon, 2014-08-25 13:58Farron Cousins
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BP Wins Big In Offshore Oil Drilling Lease Auction

For all of his administration’s tough talk on protecting our environment, President Obama doesn’t seem to have any problem increasing the nation’s dependence on dirty energy.  Earlier this year, the Obama administration announced plans to open up an astounding 112 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas exploration, setting a bidding war in motion for some of the worst environmental offenders in America.

It should come as no surprise then to find out that the big winner in the lease auction earlier this month was BP, the main culprit behind the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion and oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. 

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) put 21.6 million acres up for auction, with area blocks ranging everywhere from 9 miles offshore, to 250 miles offshore.  Overall, the auction brought in close to $110 million, with as much as 90 million acres still waiting to be auctioned off.

BP bid on a total of 31 lots, and was successful in winning 27 of those lots, more than any other energy company.  The company had previously been barred from bidding on new oil and gas exploration leases following the 2010 Macondo well blowout, but that ban was lifted in March of this year.

Many of the areas that the company won are for deepwater exploration, an unpleasant scenario for areas of the Gulf Coast still reeling from the company’s 2010 disaster.

But the British oil giant BP plc has very little to fear with their new leases, even if another blowout were to occur, and that’s the part of the story that has been routinely missed by the media. 

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