drinking water

Confusion and Fear in North Carolina As State Ends Drinking Water Safety Warning

This is a guest post by Rhiannon Fionn,  an independent investigative journalist and filmmaker in post-production on the documentary film “Coal Ash Chronicles.” 

“I’m fighting for my kids and my neighbors,” says a determined Amy Brown.

Brown and hundreds of other North Carolina residents have been using only bottled water for the better part of a year now for cooking, drinking, hygiene and even for their pets. Like Brown, most of those residents live near impoundments of coal ash — the waste product created when coal is burned for electricity.

Now residents are learning that the “do not drink” orders placed on their well water supplies have been lifted by state officials. That decision has provoked fear and confusion among residents and some experts about the safety of their water supply. “This news makes me feel like we’re not getting anywhere,” said Brown, before her voice wavered with emotion.

In April 2015, the state began notifying residents their water wells were contaminated, many with the carcinogen hexavalent chromium and vanadium, which is known to harm kidneys and affect blood pressure.

Residents were issued the “do not drink” notices by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. Duke Energy’s coal ash impoundments were suspected as the cause of the contamination and the company was compelled by the state legislature to provide bottled water.

But last Monday, March 7, during a county commission meeting in rural Lee County, state officials announced most of the “do not drink” orders were being withdrawn.

High-Profile Trial Begins in Dimock, PA Water Contamination Case

Trial began this week in a case alleging that an oil and gas company contaminated drinking water in Dimock, Pennsylvania. The tiny town is now internationally notorious over claims that drilling and fracking tainted people's drinking water and caused it to become flammable.

This lawsuit is the first such case out of Dimock to reach a jury, nearly a decade after many residents of Carter Road, a short stretch of dirt road in the Endless Mountains region of Pennsylvania, first noticed that their water seemed to have gone bad.

“We haven't had clean water since he was in kindergarten,” Monica Marta-Ely told reporters during a press conference outside the courthouse on Monday, as she gestured to her 13 year-old son, Jared. “He's in 7th grade now.”

It's a legal case that is as noticeable for the allegations being tried —  that Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. negligently contaminated the water supplying Nolan Scott Ely and his family and that living without water for years was a serious nuisance for the Elys and the Huberts, a family living in a trailer on the Ely's land — as for the claims and evidence that the jury will not hear.

Heat on EPA as National Study on Fracking's Risks to Drinking Water is Challenged

The Environmental Protection Agency's draft national assessment on fracking's potential to pollute drinking water is still under review. If it is to reflect science over policy, some dramatic changes to the wording of the study's conclusions are needed, EPA's review panel was told during a public comment teleconference on Thursday.

Back in 2010, when Congress first tasked EPA with investigating the risks that hydraulic fracturing poses to American drinking water supplies, relatively little was known about the scale and significance of the onshore drilling rush's environmental impacts.

"Abandoned" by EPA, Landowers from Dimock, Pavillion, Parker County Demand Inclusion in EPA National Fracking Study

For the past five years, the EPA has undertaken a highly-consequential national study on the impacts that hydraulic fracturing (fracking) can have on American drinking water supplies.

The agency will look to the results of this program as the basis for its scientific conclusions and recommendations on hydraulic fracturing,” EPA said in a 2013 statement.

This June, the national study's draft assessment was released to the public, and while hundreds of spills, accidents, and even cases where fracking itself directly contaminated underground aquifers (a method of pollution that the oil industry had long argued had never happened) were reported by EPA, it was a phrase from the agency's press release that drew the attention of the national media: “hydraulic fracturing activities in the U.S. are carried out in a way that have not led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.”

EPA's New Fracking Study: A Close Look at the Numbers Buried in the Fine Print

When EPA’s long-awaited draft assessment on fracking and drinking water supplies was released, the oil and gas industry triumphantly focused on a headline-making sentence: “We did not find evidence of widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

But for fracking’s backers, a sense of victory may prove to be fleeting.

EPA’s draft assessment made one thing clear: fracking has repeatedly contaminated drinking water supplies (a fact that the industry has long aggressively denied).

EPA Study: Fracking Puts Drinking Water Supplies at Risk of Contamination

The Environmental Protection Agency has released its long awaited draft assessment of the impacts that fracking has on the nation's drinking water supplies — confirming that the process does indeed contaminate water.

“From our assessment, we conclude there are above and below ground mechanisms by which hydraulic fracturing activities have the potential to impact drinking water resources,” the EPA wrote.

The impacts take a variety of forms, the EPA wrote, listing the effects of water consumption especially in arid regions or during droughts, chemical and wastewater spills, “fracturing directly into underground drinking water resources,” the movement of liquids and gasses below ground “and inadequate treatment and discharge of wastewater.”

The agency wrote that it had documented “specific instances” where each of those problems had in fact happened and some cases where multiple problems combined to pollute water supplies.

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.

Company Presses Forward on Plans to Ship Fracking Wastewater via Barge in Ohio River, Drawing Objections from Locals

A major dispute is brewing over transporting wastewater from shale gas wells by barge in the Ohio River, the source of drinking water for millions of Americans.

On January 26, GreenHunter Water announced that it had been granted approval by the U.S. Coast Guard to haul tens of thousands of barrels from its shipping terminal and 70,000-barrel wastewater storage facility on the Ohio River in New Matamoras, Ohio.

“The U.S. Coast Guard approval is a significant 'win' for both GreenHunter Resources and our valued clients,” Kirk Trosclair, Chief Operating Officer at GreenHunter Resources, Inc., said in a statement announcing the Coast Guard's approval. “Our ability to transport disposal volumes via barge will significantly reduce our costs, improve our margins and allow us to pass along savings to our clients.”

Outraged environmental advocates immediately objected to the news.

Despite the thousands of comments from residents along the Ohio River opposing the risk of allowing toxic, radioactive fracking waste to be barged along the Ohio River, the Coast Guard quietly approved the plan at the end of 2014,” said Food & Water Watch Ohio Organizer Alison Auciello.

The Coast Guard is risking man-made earthquakes, drinking water contamination, leaks and spills. This approval compromises not only the health and safety of the millions who get their drinking water from the Ohio River but will increase the amount of toxic fracking waste that will be injected underground in Southeast Ohio.”

But the company's announcement was in fact made before the Coast Guard completed its review of the hazards of hauling shale gas wastewater via the nation's waterways – a process so controversial given the difficulty of controlling mid-river spills and the unique challenges of handling the radioactivity in Marcellus shale brine that proposed Coast Guard rules have drawn almost 70,000 public comments.

GreenHunter's move drew a sharp rebuke from Coast Guard officials. 

California's Wastewater Injection Problem Is Way Worse Than Previously Reported

Documents released this week as part of the EPA’s investigation into the state of California’s underground injection control program show that in addition to hundreds of wastewater injection wells there are thousands more wells illegally injecting fluids from “enhanced oil recovery” into aquifers protected by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

At a time when California is experiencing extreme and prolonged drought, you might expect state regulators to do everything they can to protect sources of water that could be used for drinking and irrigation. But that simply isn’t the case.

For every barrel of oil produced in California — the third largest oil-producing state in the nation, behind Texas and North Dakota — there are 10 barrels of wastewater requiring disposal. California produces roughly 575,000 barrels of oil a day, meaning there are nearly 6 million barrels of wastewater produced in the Golden State on a daily basis — a massive waste stream that state regulators have utterly failed to manage properly.

In meeting a February 6 deadline imposed by the EPA to provide a plan for dealing with the problems rampant in its Underground Injection Control (UIC) Class II Program, regulators at California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) revealed that nearly 2,500 wells have been permitted to inject oil and gas waste into protected aquifers, a clear violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

More than 2,000 of the wells are currently active, with 490 used for injection of oil and gas wastewater and 1,987 used to dispose of fluids or steam used in enhanced oil recovery techniques like acidization and cyclic steam injection.

“The Division acknowledges that in the past it has approved UIC projects in zones with aquifers lacking exemptions,” DOGGR told the EPA in a letter dated Feb. 6.

Pennsylvania Plant Agrees to Stop Dumping Partially-Treated Fracking Wastewater in River After Lengthy Lawsuit

A Pennsylvania wastewater treatment plant alleged to have dumped toxic and radioactive materials into the Allegheny River has agreed to construct a new treatment facility, under a settlement announced Thursday with an environmental organization that had filed suit against the plant.

Back in 2011, Pennsylvania made national headlines because the state's treatment plants – including municipal sewage plants and industrial wastewater treatment plants like Waste Treatment Corporation – were accepting drilling and fracking wastewater laden with pollutants that they could not remove.

In July 2013, Clean Water Action alleged in a lawsuit that Waste Treatment Corp. of Warren, PA violated the federal Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, along with Pennsylvania's Clean Streams Law by continuing to discharge partially treated wastewater, carrying corrosive salts, heavy metals and radioactive materials into the river, which serves as the drinking water supply for hundreds of thousands of people, including much of the city of Pittsburgh. 

Under the terms of the settlement, within 8 months, Waste Treatment Corporation must install advanced treatment technology that will remove 99% of the contaminants in gas drilling wastewater.

Until those treatment methods are in place, Waste Treatment Corporation agreed to stop accepting wastewater from Marcellus shale wells, notorious for its high levels of radioactivity, and to cut the amount of wastewater it can accept from conventional gas wells by over a third.

“The settlement represents the first time an existing industrial treatment plant discharging gas drilling wastewater in Pennsylvania agreed to install effective treatment technology to protect local rivers,” Clean Water Action wrote in a press release.

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