Water Pollution Trading Programs Under Fire as Report Finds Lax Oversight, "Shell Games" Put Waterways at Risk

A little-noticed federally-backed program is chipping away at the foundation of the Clean Water Act, one of the nation's core environmental laws, allowing major polluters to evade responsibility for contaminating rivers, streams and other waterways, an environmental group said in a report released Thursday.

So called “water quality trading” programs have quietly spread into more than 20 states, the report said, with a goal of establishing a water pollution credit trading market — essentially a cap-and-trade system, like those controversially proposed for climate change, but covering the dumping of pollutants like nitrogen and phosphorus into America's waterways.

Those nutrients are behind algae blooms that suck oxygen out of water supplies, killing fish and other wildlife and sometimes making people sick. The EPA calls nutrient pollution “one of America's most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems” and warns that the hazards are likely to grow worse as the climate warms.

Programs to trade credits for nutrient pollution are still relatively small scale, but have gained the backing of the Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture. They are based on the idea that a free market can help identify the cheapest ways to cut pollution in a watershed.

Sunshine State Solar Industry Fighting Onslaught From Koch Brothers in Florida

With its nickname “The Sunshine State,” it would make sense for Florida to lead in solar energy in the United States. But industry opposition and a climate change-denying governor have allowed the state to fall dangerously behind when it comes to harnessing the power of the sun.

Today, solar energy only accounts for 2% of the total energy production in Florida, and industry analysts believe that the poor solar production is likely because the state’s average energy costs are about 30% below the national average, diminishing the demand for a cheaper, cleaner energy source.

But when you dig past the industry’s talking points and excuses, you’ll find something much more sinister at work.

New Research Confirms Earthquake Swarms Caused by Oil and Gas Industry

The evidence establishing that the oil and gas industry is causing earthquakes grew much stronger last week, as two scientific papers clarified exactly how human activity is driving the swarm of quakes that has afflicted Oklahoma for the past six years.

For decades, earthquakes were rare in the central US. Since the 1970’s, two dozen quakes over magnitude 3.0 shook the region in an average year and larger quakes were even more rare.

But since 2009, right when the drilling industry’s wastewater production started spiking, the number of earthquakes has been skyrocketing, with 688 quakes that size hitting the region in 2014 — and 2015 is on track to be even more seismically active.

This means, Oklahoma has been hit by more quakes in the past year and a half than were felt in the entire 36 year-span from 1973 through 2008.

Did DeSmog's Coverage of Coal Baron Bob Murray v. Fracker Aubrey McClendon Lawsuit Lead To Sealing of Court Records?

On December 12, Magistrate Judge Mark R. Abel issued an order for the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio to place five sets of court records under seal for the ongoing case pitting coal baron Robert E. Murray against Aubrey McClendon, one of the godfathers of the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom.

DeSmogBlog published parts of two sets of the five sets of documents ordered under seal by Abel in an October 2014 article about the Murray v. McClendon case. The documents we published revealed a lease for McClendon's new venture — American Energy Partners — for the first time. 

Bob Murray, owner of American Energy Corporation Century Mine in Ohio, sued Aubrey McClendon for allegedly infringing upon his company's copyright in August 2013. He claimed McClendon commandeered the “American Energy” brand.

Both sides have now gone back-and-forth over discovery related issues for months. The dispute has shaken loose many newsworthy documents revealing much about McClendon's new company in particular.

This includes the American Energy Partners lease; a local newspaper advertisement pushing readers to apply for an American Energy Partners job; heavily redacted depositions of officials representing both companies; a redacted document revealing some of the companies to which McClendon's new venture sells the gas it produces; and more.

Voters Ban Fracking In Texas, California, And Ohio

Yesterday's elections sent several more climate deniers to a dirty energy money-rich Congress, where they're already sharpening their knives and preparing to cut the centerpiece of President Obama's climate agenda, the EPA's Clean Power Plan, to shreds.

Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, summed it up succinctly: “With a tremendous amount of spending, the Koch Brothers have literally purchased the best Congress they could buy. It is now up to President Obama to pursue aggressive executive action on our pressing environmental issues, including climate change and clean water protections.”

But it was not all bad news for the climate yesterday, because many communities are not content to wait on the President to take action: Citizen-led initiatives to ban fracking won big in California, Ohio, and Texas.

The biggest of these victories was undoubtedly won in Denton, TX. A small city northwest of Dallas, Denton already has 275 fracked wells. Locals' concerns about fracking's impact on health and the environment led to a landslide 59% to 41% win for the measure, which bans fracking within city limits.

Oil Companies Spending Big To Defeat Community-Led Anti-Fracking Initiatives At The Ballot Box

Election day is fast approaching and, in a pattern becoming all too familiar, oil companies are spending big to defeat citizen-led initiatives to halt fracking in California.

By last August, oil industry front group Californians for Energy Independence, which is leading the charge against anti-fracking measures in the sate, had raised around $3 million. Now, just one week before the election, that number has more than doubled to just under $7.7 million, per the California Secretary of State's campaign finance database.

Chevron is the leading donor to Californians for Energy Independence, having made two donations totaling about $2.6 million. Occidental Petroleum and Aera Energy have kicked in some $2 million apiece, and Exxon has given $300,000. Every single dollar received by CEI has come from an oil company.

Once the polls close, we'll know how well that money was spent. One thing is clear, however: Big Oil has not succeeded in buying the hearts and minds of many Californians, who overwhelmingly reject the plans to frack the Golden State, polls have shown.

Residents of Santa Barbara County will vote on Measure P on November 4, a ballot initiative that would ban fracking and other “extreme oil extraction techniques,” including cyclic steam injection and acidization. Lauren Hanson, who serves on the Goleta Water District Board of Directors, wrote in an op-ed for the Santa Barbara Independent:

When a single industry — whatever that industry might be — proposes bringing into Santa Barbara County a massive amount of activity that has time and again contaminated and used up water supplies elsewhere, it is time for extreme caution and, yes, common sense. It makes no sense to allow that risk.

Court Files: Coal CEO Robert Murray Unearths Lease from Aubrey McClendon's New Fracking Company

Robert E. Murray, CEO Murray Energy Corporation

DeSmogBlog has obtained a copy of a sample hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) lease distributed to Ohio landowners by embattled former CEO and founder of Chesapeake Energy, Aubrey McClendon, now CEO of American Energy Partners

Elisabeth Radow, a New York-based attorney who examined a copy of the lease, told DeSmogBlog she believes the lease “has the effect of granting American Energy Partners the right to use the surface and subsurface to such a great extent that it takes away substantially all of the rights attributable to homeownership.”

The American Energy Partners fracking lease was shaken loose as part of the discovery dispute process in an ongoing court case pitting coal industry executive Robert E. Murraycontroversial CEO of Murray Energy Corporation and American Energy Corporation — against McClendon in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio Eastern Division

Murray brought the suit against McClendon back in August 2013, alleging McClendon committed trademark and copyright infringement by using the “American Energy” moniker. Murray’s attorneys used the lease as an exhibit in a Motion to Compel Discovery, filed on September 8, over a year after Murray brought his initial lawsuit. 

The case has ground to a slow halt as the two sides duke it out over discovery issues and related protective order issues, making a large swath of the court records available only to both sides’ attorneys and causing many other records to be heavily redacted.

Out of that dispute has come the American Energy Partners lease, published here for the first time.

Loopholes Enable Industry to Evade Rules on Dumping Radioactive Fracking Waste

As the drilling rush proceeds at a fast pace in Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale, nearby states have confronted a steady flow of toxic waste produced by the industry. One of Pennsylvania's most active drilling companies, Range Resources, attempted on Tuesday to quietly ship tons of radioactive sludge, rejected by a local landfill, to one in nearby West Virginia where radioactivity rules are still pending. It was only stopped when local media reports brought the attempted dumping to light.

“We are still seeking information about what happened at the Pennsylvania landfill two months ago when the waste was rejected, and about the radiation test results the company received from the lab,” Kelly Gillenwater, a West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection spokeswoman, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which had tracked the waste after it was rejected by a Chartiers, PA landfill because it was too radioactive. “For now this is still under investigation.”

It's one of a series of incidents involving the disposal of fracking's radioactive waste. Collectively these incidents illustrate how a loophole for the oil and gas industry in federal hazardous waste laws has left state regulators struggling to prevent the industry from disposing its radioactive waste in dangerous ways.

Shale Rush Hits Argentina as Oil Majors Spend Billions on Fracking in Andes Region

While many countries, including France, Germany and South Africa, have banned or delayed their embrace of fracking, one country is taking a full-steam-ahead approach to the unconventional drilling technology: Argentina.

The country is welcoming foreign shale companies with open arms in the hope that oil and gas drilling will help combat one of the world’s highest currency inflation rates. But the government there is also facing violent clashes over fracking in arid regions of the Andes mountains and allegations from locals of water contamination and health problems.

Argentina’s Vaca Muerta shale formation — estimated to hold an amount of oil and gas nearly equal to the reserves of the world’s largest oil company, Exxon Mobil — has already attracted billions in investment from the major oil and gas company Chevron.

In April, the government drew global attention when it announced plans to auction off more acreage. “Chevron, Exxon, Shell have shown interest in Vaca Muerta. They will compete for sure,” Neuquen province Energy Minister Guillermo Coco told potential investors on a road show in Houston on April 30th.

Argentina, which the EIA estimates could hold even more shale gas than the U.S., already has over 150 shale wells in production, more than any country in the world aside from the U.S. and China. California-based Chevron, in partnership with Argentina’s state-owned oil company YPF, invested $1.24 billion in a pilot program last year. Last month, Chevron announced an additional $1.6 billion effort for 2014, part of Chevron's overall investment plan that could top $15 billion. The company is hoping that this plan will allow it to extract 50,000 barrels a day of shale oil plus 100 million cubic feet of shale gas per day from the country’s Andes mountain region.

American drillers have talked up Argentine shale as the next big thing. “Vaca Muerta is going to be an elephant compared to Eagle Ford,” Mark Papa, CEO of EOG Resources told the Argentine press in 2012, referring to a major oil-producing shale formation in Texas.

Ohio Geologists Link Earthquakes to Fracking, State Introduces Seismic Monitoring

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced earlier this month that it will start requiring oil and gas companies to install networks of sensitive seismic monitors on their wells to detect small earthquakes that could be caused by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” 

The special requirement will kick in if companies request permits to drill horizontal wells within three miles of known fault lines, or where earthquakes greater than a 2.0 magnitude have already been recorded. If the monitors detect any tremors in excess of 1.0 magnitude, drilling must cease while experts investigate the cause of the seismic activity. 

The new rules are the department's response to recent earthquakes in Ohio's Poland Township in Mahoning County — which Rick Simmers, chief of the Ohio Department of Natural Resource's oil and gas division, says have a “probable connection” to hydraulic fracturing activity in the area.

The March earthquakes mark the first time state geologists in Ohio have definitively linked earthquakes to gas drilling. They believe that fracking for gas in the Utica Shale beneath the Appalachian mountains caused five earthquakes in the area by increasing pressure on a previously unknown fault. 

Ohio has also imposed an indefinite moratorium on new drilling in the area of the earthquakes, but will allow extraction to continue at five other existing wells at the site.


Subscribe to Ohio