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BREAKING: Pennsylvania Fracking Spill A Haunting Reminder on BP Anniversary

On the anniversary of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the fossil fuel industry has another out of control leak happening right now. Does this sound familiar? An oil and gas company is “attempting to kill the well” and working to contain a major spill.

According to WNEP-TV, a fracked gas well in rural northern Pennsylvania has blown, causing a major spill of fracking fluid into the environment. Bradford County emergency officials say thousands of gallons of tainted water have spilled from the Chesapeake Energy Corp. well site in LeRoy Township near Canton since early this morning.

Crews were fracking when the well blew out near the surface. A massive operation is underway in Bradford County to deal with the spill. Seven families have been evacuated so far.

Maryland House Votes For Moratorium On Shale Gas Development And Fracking

Maryland’s House of Representatives voted 98-40 for HB 852, a de-facto moratorium on hydraulic fracturing and Marcellus Shale drilling in the western part of the state. The bill passed the House after five amendments attempting to block it were handily rejected.

Known as the Maryland Shale Safe Drilling Act of 2011, the legislation seeks to restrict shale gas development and the dangerous drilling method of hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) until 2013 and the completion of a major two-year drinking water and environmental impact assessment.

Jessie Thomas-Blate of American Rivers, an environmental conservation group, notes that the risky fracking process creates a very briny wastewater that could potentially contaminate nearby drinking water supplies permanently.

As Thomas-Blate points out, “If you contaminate people’s water, you can’t go back.”

Third Piece in NY Times Series Shows EPA Internal Battle Over Natural Gas Fracking Threats

The New York Times today released its third piece in a shocking series of articles revealing the health threats posed by the renegade U.S. natural gas industry. The latest piece documents how the Environmental Protection Agency has failed to protect public health as the gas rush escalated - thanks to the dangerous high volume slickwater fracking technique now dominating the industry - to the currently uncontrolled threat that it represents.

Ian Urbina’s latest investigative report proves that politics is playing a significant role in the EPA’s failure to hold the gas industry accountable for its damage to drinking water supplies and public health in Pennsylvania, offering clear indications that the problem is not likely isolated to just that state.

The NY Times series is a must-read for anyone concerned about the huge power that entrenched fossil fuel industries have over public health and safety agencies, rendering science and documented health impacts afterthoughts while focusing on protecting industry interests.

Check out the latest article, Politics Seen to Limit E.P.A. as It Sets Rules for Natural Gas, and bookmark the homepage for the entire Drilling Down series by The New York Times.

Pennsylvania Governor Ends Moratorium On Marcellus Shale Gas Drilling In Sensitive State Forests

Pennsylvania’s new Republican Governor Tom Corbett fulfilled a campaign promise to rescind his predecessor’s wise executive order and de-facto ban on the leasing of sensitive state forest land for Marcellus shale gas development. This short-sighted decision removes the requirement for environmental  impact assessments prior to the granting of natural gas drilling permits, and strips other critical oversight of gas drilling on publicly-owned forest lands.

Last October, former Democratic Governor Ed Rendell barred gas drilling in state forests to protect “the most significant tracts of undisturbed forest remaining in the state.” The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) determined that leasing new drilling sites would damage the ecological integrity of the state’s forest system. The Rendell moratorium provided significant checks on run-away shale gas development on public lands since it required the state parks and forests agency to thoroughly review drilling permit applications for some public lands “even where the state doesn’t own the below-ground natural gas rights.” Specifically in instances “where the state doesn’t own the mineral rights to 80 percent of state park land and 15 percent of state forest land.”

Must-Read NY Times Story On Gas Fracking Reveals Radioactive Wastewater Threat

An incredible piece just broke in the New York Times showing that hydraulic fracking in the Marcellus Shale is drawing huge amounts of radioactivity up from the earth with the fracking fluids, often going straight through a municipal waste water treatment plant and then dumped into rivers – above public drinking water intake locations.  The piece proves that EPA knows this is going on, and that it is likely illegal. 

Highly recommended reading for anyone concerned about the real threats posed by this gas industry practice to drinking water, public health and the environment.

DRILLING DOWN: Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers

Natural Gas Industry Rhetoric Versus Reality

As the recent natural gas industry attacks on the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland demonstrate, the gas industry is mounting a powerful PR assault against journalists, academics and anyone else who speaks out against the dangers of hydraulic fracturing and other threats to public health and the environment from shale gas development. DeSmogBlog has analyzed some of the common talking points the industry and gas proponents use to try to convince the public and lawmakers that fracking is safe despite real concerns raised by residents living near gas drilling sites, whose experiences reveal a much more controversial situation.

DeSmogBlog extensively reviewed government, academic, industry and public health reports and interviewed the leading hydraulic fracturing experts who challenge the industry claims that hydraulic fracturing does not contaminate drinking water, that the industrial fracking fluids pose no human health risk, that states adequately regulate the industry and that natural gas has a lighter carbon footprint than other fossil fuels like oil and coal.

Below are ten of the most commonly repeated claims by the industry about the ‘safety’ of hydraulic fracturing and unconventional natural gas development, along with extensive evidence showing their claims are pure rhetoric, and not reality.

‘Energy In Depth’ Was Created By Major Oil and Gas Companies According to Industry Memo

DeSmogBlog has uncovered an industry memo revealing that ‘Energy In Depth’ is hardly comprised of the mom-and-pop “small, independent oil and natural gas producers” it claims to represent.  In fact, the industry memo we found, entitled “Hydraulic Fracturing Under Attack,” shows that Energy In Depth “would not be possible without the early financial commitments” of major oil and gas interests including BP, Halliburton, Chevron, Shell, XTO Energy (now owned by ExxonMobil), and several other huge oil and gas companies that provided significant funding early on and presumably still fund the group's efforts.**See updates below.

According to the 2009 memo, Energy In Depth was orchestrated as a “major initiative to respond to…attacks” and to devise and circulate “coordinated messages” using “new communications tools that are becoming the pathway of choice in national political campaigns.”

Energy In Depth (EID) is featured in the news a lot these days, chiefly for attacking the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland, but also for its extensive efforts to malign the excellent reporting done by ProPublica, the Associated Press and other outlets. EID seems to attack everyone who attempts to investigate the significant problems posed by hydraulic fracturing and other natural gas industry practices that have been shown to threaten public health and water quality across America.

Industry Groups Fight Dirty Against Oscar-Nominated Hydraulic Fracturing Documentary "Gasland"

In the United States and beyond, governments are praising the “clean, plentiful fuel” that is natural gas, and tout it as a viable alternative to oil and coal.  According to Abrahm Lustgarten at ProPublica, its advocates are calling natural gas a step toward a greener energy future due to the fact, they assert, that natural gas produces 50 percent less greenhouse gases than coal. 

Josh Fox’s critically-acclaimed documentary Gasland tells quite a different story about the natural gas industry and its extraction process, called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.  As he journeys across the United States, he discovers the devastating environmental and health impacts of humans and animals in close proximity to gas wells, and realizes that the so-called “Saudi Arabia of natural gas” is causing more pain than it is worth.

After the release of Fox’s documentary, an oil and gas lobby group calling itself “Energy In-Depth” launched a public relations offensive against the film (apparently they didn’t like the footage of people lighting their tap water on fire).  As it turns out, the website of the lobby group was registered to a Washington, DC public relations firm called FD Americas Public Affairs (formerly FD Dittus Communications) whose clients included oil and gas lobby groups including the American Energy Alliance, run by former Republican staffers Eric Creighton, Kevin Kennedy and Laura Henderson.

Today, when Fox’s documentary was nominated for an Academy Award for best documentary feature, a major energy trade association weighed in on Gasland’s nomination.  The industry group, the America’s Natural Gas Alliance argues on its website that “for our nation’s economy” we must make greater use of the “Saudi Arabia of Natural Gas” for the sake of the environment and economy.

Britain Ignores Tyndall Centre Report Urging Shale Gas Moratorium At Its Own Peril

Despite the evidence of significant potential risks presented in a recent report by the Tyndall Centre, the British government says it will forge ahead with plans for shale gas development in the UK. The Tyndall Centre’s study, “Shale gas: a provisional assessment of climate change and environmental impacts” [PDF], urged the UK to place a moratorium on shale gas in light of serious risks associated with shale gas development, including the contamination of ground and surface waters, the expected net increase of CO2 emissions, and substantial monetary costs which could delay major investments in clean energy technologies.

Shale gas extraction involves drilling into shale formations followed by a rock fracturing process which uses heavily polluting chemicals. Especially in the US with the introduction of drilling “refinements” known as hydrofracturing or “fracking,” shale gas extraction has become highly divisive, and ever more popular among natural gas producers (making up nearly 10% of production by some estimates). The significant water contamination and public health risks associated with shale gas are well documented in last year’s “Gasland” film.

Paul Monaghan, the Co-operative’s head of sustainability describes shale gas as “like tar sands in your backyard, both in terms of local pollution and in terms of carbon emissions.”

Exxon Fracking Fluid Spill In Pennsylvania Dumps Estimated 13,000 Gallons Into Nearby Waterways

XTO Energy, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil, is under investigation by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) after a 13,000 gallon hydraulic fracturing fluid spill at XTO Energy’s natural gas drilling site in Penn Township, Lycoming County, PA.

The spill was first discovered last week by a DEP inspector who found a valve had been left open on a 21,000-gallon fracking fluid tank, discharging fluid off the well pad into local waterways, threatening a nearby cattle herd that had to be fenced off from the contaminated pasture.  Exxon/XTO has not provided an explanation on why the valve was left open.

“This spill was initially estimated at more than 13,000 gallons by the company and has polluted an unnamed tributary to Sugar Run and a spring,” said DEP Northcentral Regional Director Nels Taber. “There are also two private drinking water wells in the vicinity that will be sampled for possible impacts.”

DEP’s sampling confirmed elevated levels of conductivity and salinity in the spring and unnamed tributary, clear indications that the fracking fluid was present in the waterways.

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