Toxic

Wed, 2014-07-23 09:08Sharon Kelly
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Pennsylvania Environmental Regulators Flunk State's Own Shale Gas Audit

In January 2013, Pennsylvania's auditor general announced that he would conduct an investigation into whether state regulators were effectively overseeing the impacts from the shale gas drilling rush.

A year and a half later, the results are in: the state's environmental regulators are failing badly in at least eight major areas, at times declining to cite drillers who broke the law. In a damning 158-page report, the state's auditor general highlighted the agency's wide-ranging failures. The report detailed the Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) use of a legal “loop hole” to avoid inspecting wells and described the agnecy's failure to fulfill its duty to track the industry's toxic waste. The report also faulted the agency for a reliance on voluntary measures in policing the industry.

The federal government has largely taken a hands-off approach to policing the drilling boom. What federal rules do exist have various broad exemptions exemptions for the oil and gas industry. Pennsylvania, which features a large swath of the Marcellus shale, is widely viewed as ground zero for the current fracking boom. In the unusually candid report released this week, state auditors have concluded that the state is overwhelmed by the industry and is providing insufficient oversight.

“It is DEP’s responsibility to protect the environment from these environmental risks and to ensure that laws and regulations which govern potential impacts to water quality are enforced,” Pennsylvania's auditors wrote. “Unfortunately, DEP was unprepared to meet these challenges because the rapid expansion of shale gas development has strained DEP, and the agency has failed to keep up with the workload demands placed upon it.”

Auditors described state environmental regulators as woefully outgunned and unprepared for the sudden arrival of the shale gas drilling frenzy.

Sun, 2014-06-22 11:00Julie Dermansky
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A Forgotten Community in New Orleans: Life on a Superfund Site

Shannon Rainey

Shannon Rainey lives in a house that was built on top of a Superfund site in the Upper Ninth Ward of New Orleans.

I bought my house when I was 25, and thirty years later, I still can't get out,” she told DeSmogBlog.

Rainey’s home in Gordon Plaza is part of a subdivision developed by the city in 1981 on top of the Agriculture Street landfill. No one disclosed to the buyers that their new homes were built on top of a dump that was closed in 1965.

Rainey has a view of two other city-owned properties also built on the landfill: the shuttered Morton Elementary School and Press Park, an abandoned housing project developed by the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO).

 “If it were white folks back here, this would be all gone,” Rainey says bluntly.

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.

Wed, 2013-07-24 08:27Farron Cousins
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Report Details Coal Industry's Pollution of Waterways, Political System

According to a new report, the coal industry’s pollution is contaminating our water supplies, our regulatory agencies, and even our political process.  The report, a joint project by the Waterkeeper Alliance, Clean Water Action, the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, and the Environmental Integrity Project, shows that when it comes to spewing toxic chemicals into our waterways, the coal industry is public enemy number one.

The report found that many coal plants across the country are releasing coal ash waste and scrubber waste without any federal oversight, and many are held to standards that are outdated and virtually limitless.  Many of the standards currently in place were written more than 30 years ago, and they do not include any regulations on toxic threats that had not yet been identified at the time the original rules were put in place.

A few highlights of the report, from the Sierra Club:

Of the 274 coal plants that discharge coal ash and scrubber wastewater into waterways, nearly 70 percent (188) have no limits on the toxics most commonly found in these discharges (arsenic, boron, cadmium, lead, mercury, and selenium) that are dumped directly into rivers, lakes, streams and bays.

Of these 274 coal plants, more than one-third (102) have no requirements to monitor or report discharges of these toxic metals to government agencies or the public.

A total of 71 coal plants surveyed discharge toxic water pollution into rivers, lakes, streams and bays that have already been declared impaired due to poor water quality. Of these plants that are dumping toxic metals into impaired waterways, more than three out of four coal plants (59) have no permit that limits the amount of toxic metals it can dump.

Nearly half of the coal plants surveyed (187) are operating with an expired Clean Water Act permit. 53 of these power plants are operating with permits that expired five or more years ago.

Thu, 2013-03-07 05:00Farron Cousins
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EPA Accused Of Blocking Scientific Advancement of Corexit In BP Cleanup

Oil Spill Eater International (OSEI), through the Gulf Oil Spill Remediation Conference group, issued a press release this week saying that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) effectively blocked or otherwise delayed scientific advancement in the cleanup of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster by refusing to acknowledge the toxicity of the oil dispersant Corexit.

According to OSEI, the EPA is guilty of violations to the Clean Water Act because they knowingly used the toxic dispersant instead of opting for cleaner, less toxic methods of oil spill cleanup.

OSEI is actually not off base with their accusations.  Reports from late 2012 revealed that using oil dispersants like Corexit make oil spills less visible, but when combined with the oil, create a mixture that is 52 times more toxic than the oil itself.  The studies revealed that even in small amounts, the combination of oil and Corexit reduced the number of egg hatchings in small marine invertebrates by 50%.  These are small creatures like krill, shrimp, and other crustaceans that form the bottom of the oceanic food pyramid.

Those results were just from small doses of the mixture.  And as I wrote in 2011, the amount of Corexit dumped into the Gulf was anything but “small”:

Wed, 2013-01-09 05:00Carol Linnitt
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DNA Tracers Could Put End to Fracking Guessing Game On Water Contamination

The oil and gas industry has just been handed an opportunity to walk the walk when it comes to 'best practices' for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for unconventional gas. BaseTrace is a cutting-edge technology that uses resiliant DNA tracers to give a unique fingerprint to fracturing fluid blends. Conflicts over water contamination often boil down to one point: was the contamination pre-existing or naturally occurring as drilling companies on the defense often claim? Or was it the industry's fault?

A technology like BaseTrace would give a definitive answer to regulators, communities, industry and policymakers alike. 

The question is, will companies like EnCana, Anadarko, Chief, BP, Chesapeake, Devon, EOGXTO (EXXON) and others actually take on the challenge? Will they walk the 'best practices' talk?

Wed, 2012-11-14 21:04Carol Linnitt
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Toxic Tar Sands: Scientists Document Spread of Pollution, Water Contamination, Effects on Fish

Today federal scientists from Environment Canada presented research at an international toxicology conference in the U.S. that indicates contaminants from the Alberta tar sands are polluting the landscape on a scale much larger than previously thought.

A team lead by federal scientist Jane Kirk discovered contaminants in lakes as far as 100 kilometers away from tar sands operations. The federal research confirms and expands upon the hotly contested findings of aquatic scientist David Schindler who, in 2010, found pollution from the tar sands accumulating on the landscape up to 50 kilometers away.

“That means the footprint is four times bigger than we found,” Schindler told Postmedia News.

Senior scientist Derek Muir, who presented some of the findings at Wednesday's conference, said the contaminated region is “potentially larger than we might have anticipated.” The 'legacy' of chemicals in lake sediment gives evidence that tar sands pollution has been traveling long distances for decades. Samples show the build up of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, known to cause cancer in humans and to be toxic to aquatic animals, in 6 remote and undisturbed lakes up to 100 kilometers away from tar sands operations.

The pollutants are “petrogenic” in nature, meaning they are petroleum derived, and have steadily and dramatically increased since the 1970s, showing the contaminant levels “seem to parallel the development of the oilsands industry,” Muir said.

Fri, 2012-11-09 08:55Farron Cousins
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EPA And TVA Nix Coal Ash Spill Cleanup Efforts

Four years after a coal processing plant operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) accidentally released tons of toxic coal ash into waterways in Kingston, the cleanup has finally come to an end. 

But just because cleanup efforts have ceased, that does not mean that the pollution problem is gone.

In fact, quite the opposite is true.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has reached a deal with the TVA to allow the company to stop their cleanup efforts and allow “natural river processes” to dispose of the remaining toxic sludge.

Thu, 2012-11-08 10:33Carol Linnitt
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"Stephen Harper Hates Science": Federal Scientists Muzzled to Protect Tar Sands Reputation

The Canadian government is working hard behind the scenes to cover up the negative effects that tar sands extraction is having on the local environment, wildlife, communities and the global climate. According to Access to Information documents obtained by Postmedia's Mike De Souza, the Stephen Harper government has actively suppressed the release of vital information regarding the spread of tar sands contamination by muzzling federal scientists.

The gag order, according to De Souza, came on the heels of a newly researched government report in November 2011 which confirmed the findings of University of Alberta scientists Erin N. Kelly and David Schindler. The scientists discovered concentrations of toxics such as heavy metals were higher near tar sands operations, showing a positive correlation between tar sands activity and the spread of contaminants in the local environment.

The government of Canada and the government of Alberta denied the correlation, saying local waterways tested showed no signs of toxic contamination and reports of mutated and cancerous fish downstream from the tar sands were unfounded.

Fri, 2012-07-20 10:32Farron Cousins
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White House Wants Industry Help To Choose Which Regulations To Kill

When the Obama White House begins adopting the same talking points as the dirty energy industry, something has gone horribly wrong with our government. But that is exactly what is happening today, with the White House apparently buying into the repeatedly debunked industry talking point that claims that government regulations are killing jobs.

The White House has created a new page on their website – whitehouse.gov/advise – where they are asking businesses to tell the government which regulations are burdening their business so that the government can decide whether or not to kill that regulation.

Featured on the website is a video by Cass Sunstein, Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, where he tells businesses that the White House will do what is necessary to do away with burdensome regulations in order to spur job growth.

Here’s the video:

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