pollution

Widely-Used Tool Can Lowball Methane Pollution Rates, Scientists Report, With Huge Implications for Climate Policy

An EPA-approved methane sampler widely used to measure gas leaks from oil and gas operations nationwide can dramatically under-report how much methane is leaking into the atmosphere, a team of researchers reported in a peer-reviewed paper published in March.

The researchers, one of whom first designed the underlying technology used by the sampler, warn that results from improperly calibrated machines could severely understate the amount of methane leaking from the country’s oil and gas wells, pipelines, and other infrastructure.

“It could be a big deal,” study co-author Amy Townsend-Small, a geology professor at the University of Cincinnati, told Inside Climate News, adding that it’s not yet clear how often the machine returned bad results, in part because figuring out whether there’s an error would have required using a different kind of device to independently test gas concentrations at the time levels were originally recorded.

Chevron Whistleblower Videos Show Deliberate Falsification Of Evidence In Ecuador Oil Pollution Trial

Chevron has already lost the lawsuit filed against the company by a group of Indigenous villagers and rural Ecuadorians who say Texaco, which merged with Chevron in 2001, left behind hundreds of open, unlined pits full of toxic oil waste it had dug into the floor of the Amazon rainforest.

That hasn’t stopped the oil titan from attempting to retry the case, though, in both the court of public opinion and a New York court, where it counter-sued the Ecuadorian plaintiffs under the RICO Act, claiming their original lawsuit was nothing more than extortion.

But new videos released by an anonymous Chevron whistleblower undermine the company’s entire defense in the original suit as well as its RICO counterattack.

Chevron’s defense in the Ecuador pollution case hinges on the company’s assertion that, before leaving the country when its partnership with state-owned Petroecuador ended in the early 1990s, Texaco remediated a portion of the 350 drill sites and more than 900 associated waste pits, as per its agreement with the Ecuadorean government.

The Ecuadorian plaintiffs argue that, as the sole operator of those drilling operations, Chevron/Texaco is liable for the carcinogenic oil contamination of watercourses, soil and groundwater that leached out of the waste pits and overflowed into local streams and rivers. After inheriting Texaco’s liability, Chevron countered that it had fulfilled its obligations per the terms of its partnership and that the plaintiffs’ real target should be Petroecuador, which Chevron blames for the pollution.

In 2011, Chevron lost the court battle in Ecuador — the venue Chevron itself chose — and was ordered to pay $9.5 billion to clean up its oil pollution in the Amazon. But Chevron had already infamously vowed “We will fight until hell freezes over and then fight it out on the ice,” and the company has been true to its word. Only now has evidence emerged to show just how dirty Chevron was fighting.

“These videos prove Chevron knew full well their ‘remediated’ sites were still contaminated before the trial in Ecuador had even finished,” Amazon Watch’s Paul Paz said in a statement to DeSmogBlog. “Rather than admit that and help people who would be affected, they hid what they knew and denied it to the courts and to the world. Worse than that, they went on to blame the very same people affected by their waste as making it all up to extort money from Chevron.”

Oiling The Machinery Of Climate Change Denial And Transit Opposition

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

Brothers Charles and David Koch run Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned company in the U.S., behind Cargill. They’ve given close to US$70 million to climate change denial front groups, some of which they helped start, including Americans for Prosperity, founded by David Koch and a major force behind the Tea Party movement.

Through their companies, the Kochs are the largest U.S. leaseholder in the Alberta oilsands. They’ve provided funding to Canada’s pro-oil Fraser Institute and are known to fuel the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory, which claims a 1992 UN non-binding sustainable development proposal is a plot to remove property rights and other freedoms.

Researchers reveal they’re also behind many anti-transit initiatives in the U.S., in cities and states including Nashville, Indianapolis, Boston, Virginia, Florida and Los Angeles. They spend large amounts of money on campaigns to discredit climate science and the need to reduce greenhouse gases, and they fund sympathetic politicians.

Who Says a Better World is Impossible?

This is a guest post by David Suzuki

Cars, air travel, space exploration, television, nuclear power, high-speed computers, telephones, organ transplants, prosthetic body parts… At various times these were all deemed impossible. I’ve been around long enough to have witnessed many technological feats that were once unimaginable. Even 10 or 20 years ago, I would never have guessed people would carry supercomputers in their pockets — your smart phone is more powerful than all the computers NASA used to put astronauts on the moon in 1969 combined!

Despite a long history of the impossible becoming possible, often very quickly, we hear the “can’t be done” refrain repeated over and over — especially in the only debate over global warming that matters: What can we do about it? Climate change deniers and fossil fuel industry apologists often argue that replacing oil, coal and gas with clean energy is beyond our reach. The claim is both facile and false.

Facile because the issue is complicated. It’s not simply a matter of substituting one for the other. To begin, conservation and efficiency are key. We must find ways to reduce the amount of energy we use — not a huge challenge considering how much people waste, especially in the developed world. False because rapid advances in clean energy and grid technologies continue to get us closer to necessary reductions in our use of polluting fossil fuels.

Legislators Call Out California Regulators’ “Corrupt, Inept” Management Of Underground Wastewater Injection

The fallout from California officials’ failure to properly oversee the disposal of oil industry wastewater continued this week as lawmakers grilled officials with the state’s oil and gas regulatory agency for two hours while seeking assurances that they were getting the problem under control.

According to the LA Times, state senators “called the agency’s historic practices corrupt, inept, and woefully mismanaged.”

Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), who said that reading the background materials ahead of the hearing “caused her blood pressure to soar,” per the Times, pretty much nailed it when she said, “There has been a serious imbalance between the role [of] regulating the oil and gas industry and the role of protecting the public.”

DeSmog helped break the initial story in this ongoing saga last year when 11 underground injection wells were ordered to shut down over fears they were pumping toxic and carcinogenic chemical-laden wastewater from fracking and other oil production processes into groundwater aquifers protected under federal law. Last week, 12 more injection wells were shut down for the same reason.

In the intervening months, the true extent of the problem has slowly come to light. It was revealed in February that regulators at California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) wrongfully issued permits for close to 500 wells to inject oil industry wastewater into aquifers containing water that is useable or could be made useable—water that is badly needed in drought-stricken California and should have been protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

More California Oil Industry Wastewater Injection Wells Shut Down Over Fears Of Groundwater Contamination

The latest in the ongoing investigation into California regulators’ failure to protect residents from toxic oil industry waste streams has led to the closure of 12 more underground injection wells. The 12 wells that were shut down this week are all in the Central Valley region, ground zero for oil production in the state.

California has roughly 50,000 underground injection wells. State officials are investigating just over 2,500 of them to determine whether or not they are injecting toxic chemical-laden oil industry wastewater into aquifers containing usable water (or at least potentially usable water) that should have been protected under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

A coalition of environmental, health and public advocacy groups filed a legal petition with Governor Jerry Brown last week in an attempt to force an emergency moratorium on fracking after it was discovered that flowback, a fluid that rises to the top of a fracked well, contains alarmingly high levels of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals.

Fracking flowback is an increasingly prevalent component of the oil industry wastewater that is being injected into the state’s aquifers, as fracking is now used in up to half of all new wells drilled in California.

Prompted by an inquiry by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 2011, state officials shut down 11 wastewater injection wells last year over similar concerns that they were polluting badly needed sources of water in a time of prolonged drought. It was later confirmed that 9 of those wells were in fact pumping wastewater into protected aquifers—some 3 billion gallons of wastewater, by one estimate.

Since then, the fallout has continued at a rapid pace, with a new revelation coming seemingly every other month. In just the past few months, for instance, the scope of the problem has ballooned from hundreds of injection wells allowed to dump oil industry wastewater into protected aquifers to thousands more wells permitted to inject fluids from “enhanced oil recovery” techniques such as acidization and cyclic steam injection into protected aquifers.

Internal Documents Reveal Extensive Industry Influence Over EPA's National Fracking Study

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched an ambitious and highly consequential study of the risks that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, poses to American drinking water supplies.

This is about using the best possible science to do what the American people expect the EPA to do – ensure that the health of their communities and families are protected,” Paul Anastas, Assistant Administrator for the agency's Office of Research and Development, said in 2011.

But the EPA's study has been largely shaped and re-shaped by the very industry it is supposed to investigate, as energy company officials were allowed to edit planning documents, insisted on vetting agency contractors, and demanded to review federal scientist's field notes, photographs and laboratory results prior to publication, according to a review by DeSmog of over 3,000 pages of previously undisclosed emails, confidential draft study plans and other internal documents obtained through open records requests.

Company officials imposed demands so infeasible that the EPA ultimately dropped a key goal of the research, their plans to measure pollution levels before and after fracking at two new well sites, the documents show.

All told, the documents raise serious questions about the study's credibility and they highlight a certain coziness between the EPA and Chesapeake Energy, one of the most aggressive oil and gas companies in the shale gas rush.

“[Y]ou guys are part of the team here,” one EPA representative wrote to Chesapeake Energy as they together edited study planning documents in October 2013, “please write things in as you see fit”.

Chesapeake took them up on the offer.

Fracking Flowback From California Oil Wells Found To Contain Dangerous Levels Of Carcinogenic and Toxic Chemicals

Adding to the already lengthy list of reasons to be concerned about the disposal of oil industry wastewater in California, the Center for Biological Diversity says it has found dangerous levels of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene and toluene in fracking flowback.

Flowback is a fluid that floats up to the surface of fracked wells that contains clays, dissolved metal ions and total dissolved solids (such as salt) in addition to chemical additives used in the fracking process.

As such, flowback is a component of oil industry wastewater, and one of the chief reasons why the wastewater must be disposed of in a very cautious manner.

In California, where the toxic and cancer-causing chemicals were found to be present in flowback by the CBD, oil industry wastewater is not, unfortunately, disposed of in a cautious manner.

The most common wastewater disposal method is to inject it underground. It was recently revealed that California regulators have allowed hundreds of injection wells to pump wastewater into aquifers protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Regulators also permitted thousands more wells to inject fluids from “enhanced oil recovery” techniques like acidization and cyclic steam injection into protected aquifers.

Fossil Fuel Connected Judge Says Oil Industry Not Liable For Destroying Gulf Coast

While much of the attention paid to the Gulf Coast in recent years has focused on BP’s destruction of the Gulf of Mexico and the coastline, it is important to remember that the fossil fuel industry has been polluting the South for decades.

In fact, the problem is so bad that the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed a lawsuit against 97 fossil fuel companies two years ago to force them to pay for the destruction that they have caused to the Louisiana coast.

The lawsuit seemed almost doomed from the start: Republican Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal signed legislation in 2014 that forbade the lawsuit from moving forward, but this legislation was later ruled unconstitutional and thrown out.

As Climate Progress points out, the growing concern among Louisiana citizens is that their coastline is disappearing: More than 1,900 square miles of coast line has vanished in the last 85 years, and the fossil fuel industry has been responsible for polluting what’s left. The industry has even admitted it is responsible for at least 36% of the total wetland loss in the state of Louisiana. The State Department estimates that the wells drilled by the dirty energy industry are destroying as much as 59% of the coast.

An admission of liability, hard facts, and the protection of the public’s well being should have been enough to make this case a slam-dunk for any seasoned attorney. Unfortunately, the dirty energy industry has powerful connections all over the South – from politicians to judges – and those connections have resulted in the dismissal of the lawsuit.

In mid-February, U.S. District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown tossed the suit, after the industry successful lobbied to have the case moved from a state judge to a federal judge. This action, known as venue-shopping, allows a defendant to search for a more friendly judge before the case is heard, and Judge Brown is about as friendly with the industry as a judge ever could be.

Before her appointment to a federal judgeship by President Obama (confirmed unanimously by the U.S. Senate), Judge Brown spent decades as a corporate attorney, working for firms that regularly represented the dirty energy industry in matters of environmental litigation.

During her time in practice, she worked at the law firms of Adams & Reese, the Onebane Law Firm, Milling, Benson, & Woodward, and the Chaffe McCall law firm. The McCall firm’s website says the following about its oil and gas representation:

California Regulators Allowed Oil Industry To Drill Hundreds Of Wastewater Injection Wells Into Aquifers With Drinkable Water

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 not only permitted hundreds of wastewater injection wells but also thousands more wells injecting fluids for “enhanced oil recovery” into aquifers protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

Original post: The fallout from the ongoing review of California’s deeply flawed Underground Injection Control program continues as new documents reveal that state regulators are investigating more than 500 injection wells for potentially dumping oil industry wastewater into aquifers protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act as well as state law.

Last July, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered an emergency shutdown of 11 wastewater injection wells in California. In October, nine of the wells were confirmed to have been illegally dumping wastewater into protected aquifers.

Now a letter from Steve Bohlen, the State Oil and Gas Supervisor for California’s Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), sent to the EPA on August 18, 2014 but just revealed via a Freedom of Information Act request, shows that the problem is much more widespread than previously disclosed to the public.

A copy of the letter was shared with DeSmogBlog by the Center for Biological Diversity. “EPA has confirmed to us and to the San Francisco Chronicle that Steve Bohlen’s list shows 532 wells believed to be injecting into protected aquifers,” according to Patrick Sullivan, a spokesperson for the CBD.

Under federal law, any aquifer with water that contains less than 10,000 parts-per-million of total dissolved solids (such as salt and other minerals) is protected. Sullivan told DeSmog that the 532 wells are all injecting wastewater into water that is either cleaner than 10,000 ppm TDS or with unknown TDS. CBD has mapped all of the injection wells in question.

“We know that at least 170 of these wells were drilled into aquifers with TDS of below 3,000 — which means they are suitable for drinking water,” Sullivan says. “Hundreds more are injecting into aquifers below 10,000 TDS, which is water that likely could be made usable.”

In response to the revelations, CBD sent a letter to the EPA demanding an immediate shutdown of all oil industry injection wells in the state that are injecting wastewater into protected aquifers.

“Because the state has failed to protect our water or uphold the law, action by the EPA Administrator is legally required,” the letter states. “In the midst of an unprecedented drought and when so many Californians lack access to safe, clean drinking water, it is outrageous to allow contamination of drinking and irrigation water to continue.”

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