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Wed, 2014-05-28 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Exclusive: Leaked EPA Draft Fracking Wastewater Guidance Suggests Closer Scrutiny for Treatment Plants

One of the most intractable problems related to fracking is that each well drilled creates millions of gallons of radioactive and toxic wastewater.

For the past several years, the Environmental Protection Agency has faced enormous public pressure to ensure this dangerous waste stops ending up dumped in rivers or causing contamination in other ways.

But the drilling boom has proceeded at such an accelerated pace in the United States that regulators have struggled to keep up, to control or even track where the oil and gas industry is disposing of this radioactive waste. As a consequence, hundreds of millions of gallons of partially treated waste have ended up in the rivers from which millions of Americans get their drinking water. 

An internal draft EPA document leaked to DeSmog gives a small window into how, after a full decade since the start of the drilling boom, the agency is responding.

The document, dated March 7, 2014, is titled “National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permitting and Pretreatment for Shale Gas Extraction Wastewaters: Frequently Asked Questions.”

It's revealing for what it shows about how EPA staff are taking the hazards of fracking wastewater more seriously — and also how little things have changed.

“In general, the EPA memo does a good job of making clear that fracking wastewater discharges are covered under the Clean Water Act, and that proper discharge permitting is required, including setting limits to protect water quality standards and to comply with technology based standards in the Clean Water Act,” explained Clean Water Action attorney Myron Arnowitt, who was asked by DeSmog to review the document. “It is mostly an increased level of detail for regional EPA staff regarding permitting issues under the Clean Water Act, compared to the pervious memo in 2011.”

The document, intended as a guide for local regulators on how the Clean Water Act should be interpreted and applied, is impressive in many ways.

Thu, 2014-05-15 16:00Anne Landman
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Colorado Report on Birth Anomalies Near Fracking Sites Omits Key Factors

Oil flare stack

Last month, the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment announced it would investigate a spike in rare fetal anomalies reported in Garfield County, the second most heavily-drilled and fracked county in the state.

The newly released report, which the department quietly put on its website without public announcement, does little to address fears about the safety of drilling and fracking in Colorado's communities.

The report says that overall, the department found no single predominant risk factor common among the majority of women studied. 

The agency studied about a dozen risk factors, most of which focused on the mothers' personal characteristics and behavior, such as ethnicity; alcohol, tobacco and drug use; use of medications, vitamins and supplements; and family history.

But the report has glaring gaps in what the state examined, and what it didn't.

Thu, 2014-05-15 13:00Anne Landman
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Colorado Oil and Gas Operations Emitting Far More Benzene, Methane Than Expected

Gas pumpjack in Weld County, Colorado

Scientists affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have determined that oil and gas operations on Colorado's front range are pumping almost three times more methane and seven times more benzene into the air than previously estimated.

Benzene is a regulated air toxin that causes cancer and methane is 20 to 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat in the Earth's atmosphere.

Researchers collected air samples from an airplane over Weld County over two days in May 2012. Previous studies measured air samples taken at ground-level or from a 985-foot tall tower. This is the first study to measure airborne contaminants from an airplane.

Researchers found that 24,000 active oil and gas wells active in Weld County in May 2012 were emitting a total of 19.3 tons of methane each hour, or about triple the amount the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated would come from industry-reported emissions.

Drilling operations emitted benzene at a rate of 380 pounds each hour, or about seven times more than the 50 pounds an hour the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment estimated based on industry-reported data.

Thu, 2014-05-15 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Pressure Grows on EPA to Regulate Toxic Air Pollution from Oil and Gas Industry

On Tuesday, 64 environmental groups, representing over 1 million members and supporters, submitted a legal petition to the Environmental Protection Agency, calling on the federal government to more closely regulate toxic air pollution from oil and gas drilling sites.

Continued, uncontrolled toxic pollution from oil and gas production creates serious health threats in metropolitan areas across the country,” the groups wrote, warning that over 1.04 million oil and gas wells have been drilled in the U.S. and as many as 45,000 new wells are expected annually over the next two decades.

The petition represents a shot across the bow of the EPA, as the filing lays the groundwork for lawsuits by environmental groups should the agency fail to act.

The move puts the EPA on notice that it may be violating federal law by failing to regulate air pollution from oil and gas drilling and fracking sites. “EPA also has a responsibility under the Clean Air Act to protect people from toxic air emissions nationwide,” the groups wrote, “and under section 112(n)(4)(B) it must do so.”

Absolutely this lays the groundwork for possible future litigation,” said Jeremy Nichols, a program director for WildEarth Guardians, one of the signatories to the petiton, “oil and gas wells are one of the most under-regulated sources of toxic air pollution in the U.S., yet these very wells are increasingly being drilled and fracked in communities across the nation.”

The current shale drilling boom has led to a massive spike in the number of people living near drilling, and the lack of federal regulation over the industry has led to complaints from residents across the US about the impact on their health and the health of their families.

Wed, 2014-05-07 05:55Julie Dermansky
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Residents Deliver Petition to Ban Fracking to City Hall in Denton, Texas

A petition to ban hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in Denton, Texas, is being submitted to City Hall today, paving the way for Denton to become the first city in Texas to prohibit the controversial method of extracting natural gas.

Members of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group, who are pushing for a ballot initiative, collected more than 1,871 signatures in support of a fracking ban within Denton city limits — three times more than were required and just 300 shy of the number of ballots cast in the last municipal election.

Once the signatures are certified, the city council will have to vote on the proposed ban. If council adopts a ban, fracking will be illegal inside Denton's city limits. If council votes against the ban, the initiative will likely be on the ballot in November, giving the public a chance to vote on the matter.

We hope the council will vote to approve the ban,” said Ed Soph, a member of the Denton Awareness Group. “But at a minimum, we hope they’ll respect their constituents and allow the Denton residents a chance to vote on the ban, not try to block it on a legal technicality.”

Mon, 2014-05-05 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Fine Print on Baker Hughes New Fracking Fluid Disclosure Policy Draws Skepticism

Back in 2008, Cathy Behr, a nurse who worked at a Durango, Colorado hospital was hospitalized after suffering a cascade of organ failures. Days earlier, Ms. Behr had treated an oil and gas field worker who arrived in the emergency room doused in a fracking chemical mix called Zeta-Flow, the fumes from which were so powerful that the emergency room had to be evacuated. All told, 130 gallons of the apparently noxious fluid had spilled onto the Southern Ute Indian Reservation, an EPA report later noted, although the spill was never reported to local officials.

So what's in Zeta-Flow? Because the formula for the chemical, marketed as increasing gas production by 30 percent, is considered a trade secret, oilfield services company Weatherford International was never required to make the full answer public.

This secrecy was one of the first issues to be raised by public health officials investigating fracking pollution claims, who pointed out that without knowing what chemicals are used by the industry, it’s difficult or impossible to know what toxins to test for.

So at first blush, it seems like a major development that Baker Hughes, a major oil field services company, has agreed to stop asserting that the ingredients in its fracking fluids are “trade secrets” when it voluntarily provides information on the website FracFocus.

Indeed, the Department of Energy recently lauded the move by Baker Hughes to voluntarily disclose the chemicals used in its fracking formulas without invoking the controversial exemption commonly claimed by drillers. Deputy Assistant Energy Secretary Paula Gant called Baker Hughes' move “an important step in building public confidence,” adding that the department “hopes others will follow their lead.”

But a look at the fine print on that promise — and the company’s track record on disclosures — suggests that Baker Hughes' new policy may not be enough to keep the public adequately informed about the chemicals used in its fracturing fluids.

Sun, 2014-01-05 21:01Steve Horn
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Exclusive: Permit Shows Bakken Shale Oil in Casselton Train Explosion Contained High Levels of Volatile Chemicals

On January 2, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a major safety alert, declaring oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale may be more chemically explosive than the agency or industry previously admitted publicly.

This alert came three days after the massive Casselton, ND explosion of a freight rail train owned by Warren Buffett's Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and was the first time the U.S. Department of Transportation agency ever made such a statement about Bakken crude. In July 2013, another freight train carrying Bakken crude exploded in Lac-Mégantic, vaporizing and killing 47 people.

Yet, an exclusive DeSmogBlog investigation reveals the company receiving that oil downstream from BNSF — Marquis Missouri Terminal LLCincorporated in April 2012 by Marquis Energy — already admitted as much in a September 2012 permit application to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The BNSF Direct ”bomb train” that exploded in Casselton was destined for Marquis' terminal in Hayti, Missouri, according to Reuters. Hayti is a city of 2,939 located along the Mississippi River. From there, Marquis barges the oil southward along the Mississippi, where Platts reported the oil may eventually be refined in a Memphis, Tennessee-based Valero refinery.

Thu, 2012-10-18 13:20Steve Horn
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Fracking Your Future: Shale Gas Industry Targets College Campuses, K-12 Schools

In Pennsylvania - a state that sits in the heart of the Marcellus Shale basin - the concept of “frackademia” and “frackademics” has taken on an entirely new meaning.

On Sept. 27, the PA House of Representatives - in a 136-62 vote - passed a bill that allows hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” to take place on the campuses of public universities. Its Senate copycat version passed in June in a 46-3 vote and Republican Gov. Tom Corbett signed it into law as Act 147 on Oct. 8.

The bill is colloquially referred to as the Indigenous Mineral Resources Development Act. It was sponsored by Republican Sen. Don White, one of the state's top recipients of oil and gas industry funding between 2000-April 2012, pulling in $94,150 during that time frame, according to a recent report published by Common Cause PA and Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania. Corbett has taken over $1.8 million from the oil and gas industry since his time serving as the state's Attorney General in 2004. 

The Corbett Administration has made higher education budget cuts totaling over $460 million in the past two consecutive PA state budgets. The oil and gas industry has offered fracking as a new fundraising stream at universities starved for cash and looking to fill that massive cash void, as explained by The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Mon, 2012-10-01 13:47Carol Linnitt
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USGS Fracking Study Confirms Methane Contamination of Drinking Water in Pavillion, Wyoming

For those concerned about the future of shale gas development in the U.S., water contamination present in a monitoring well in Wyoming is about to become the lynchpin in the debate over unconventional gas production and the threat fracking poses to drinking water.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) just released a report confirming the EPA's December 2011 findings that water in Pavillion, Wyoming contains contaminants related to fracking
 
After residents in the region complained of poor water odor and taste, the EPA established two deep water monitoring wells to determine if water quality concerns were related to fracking in the area. 
 
EPA’s analysis of samples taken from the Agency’s deep monitoring wells in the aquifer indicates detection of synthetic chemicals, like glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards and high methane levels. Given the area’s complex geology and the proximity of drinking water wells to ground water contamination, EPA is concerned about the movement of contaminants within the aquifer and the safety of drinking water wells over time.
 
Sun, 2012-04-01 16:22Steve Horn
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Investors: No More Flaring of Fracked Oil and Gas in Bakken Shale

The debate over flaring unconventional oil and gas in shale basins across the United States has suddenly heated up immensely (excuse the bad pun). 

On March 27, the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economy (CERES) penned a letter calling for an end to the practice, writing,

We are a group of 37 investors, representing $500 billion in total assets, who areconcerned about the financial risks associated with the flaring of natural gas that has accompanied fast-proliferating oil production from shale formations in North Dakota, Texas and elsewhere in the U.S.

We are concerned that excessive flaring, because of its impact on air quality and climate change, poses significant risks for the companies involved, and for the industry at large,ultimately threatening the industry’s license to operate.

As you know, shale oil production, made possible by hydraulic fracturing technology,…is poised to become the world’s largest oil producer in the next five years, with nearly all of this projected growth coming from shale oil. …

On a lifecycle basis, emissions from oil produced with high flaring rates may be comparable to those from Canada’s vast oil sands region.

The letter ended by calling for the building up of proper infrastructure, such as pipelines and refineries, in order to push for an eliminiation of the dirty practice. CERES concluded the letter with a firm request, stating, “We therefore are writing to request information about the amount your company is currently flaring, as well as details about your plans to reduce flaring at existing wells and prevent it at future wells.”

Letter signarories included As You SowPresbyterian Church (USA)Turner Investments, and Praxis Mutual Funds, to name several.

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