Water Contamination

US Tar Sands Operations Challenged By Grassroots Opposition

While many environmental advocates urge consumers to buy local, in this case, local isn't always better. While the Canadian tar sands are more notorious, developments here in the US are moving forward as local governments issue more permits to allow companies to start mining.

More than half of the U.S. tar sands resources in active play are in Utah. As DeSmog reported previously, the first US tar sands mine was approved in Utah back in October 2012, with plans to seek a few more permits and begin construction in 2013. After the Utah Water Quality Board approved the permit, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining also gave the operation the green light to move forward with production.

Since then, US Oil Sands Inc., the company developing the land for extraction, is marching forward. According to exploratory analysis, the 5,930 acres under lease contain approximately 184.3 million barrels of oil. That's not including over 26,000 acres that weren't evaluated in the report.

“Based on the [report] and the positive results provided by our exploratory drilling program, we are able to credibly showcase the potential our Utah properties hold for the company and demonstrate that we are one step closer to execution of the first phase of development of PR Spring,” announced CEO Cameron Todd in an earlier report, “…detailed pit planning is now underway in these locations.”


The company plans to be commercially operational by 2014.

LA Times: EPA Censored Key Pennsylvania Fracking Water Contamination Study

A must-read Los Angeles Times story by Neela Banerjee demonstrates that - once again - the Obama administration put the kibosh on a key Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) groundwater contamination, this time in Dimock, Pennsylvania.

Though EPA said Dimock's water wasn't contaminated by fracking in a 2012 election year desk statement, internal documents obtained by LA Times reporter Neela Banerjee show regional EPA staff members saying the exact opposite among friends. 

“In an internal EPA PowerPoint presentation…staff members warned their superiors that several wells had been contaminated with methane and substances such as manganese and arsenic, most likely because of local natural gas production,” writes Banerjee.

“The presentation, based on data collected over 4 1/2 years at 11 wells around Dimock, concluded that 'methane and other gases released during drilling (including air from the drilling) apparently cause significant damage to the water quality.' The presentation also concluded that 'methane is at significantly higher concentrations in the aquifers after gas drilling and perhaps as a result of fracking [hydraulic fracturing] and other gas well work,” Banerjee further explained.

It's essentially a repeat of Steve Lipsky's water contamination by Range Resources in late-2010 in Weatherford, TexasIn that case, EPA conducted a taxpayer funded study, determined Range had contaminated his water, sued Range - and then proceeded to drop the suit and censor the study in March 2012

EPA also recently kicked the can down the road on a high-profile fracking groundwater contamination study in Pavillion, Wyoming, originally set to come out in 2014. That release is now expected in 2016, another election year. Just days after EPA's decision, a Duke University study again linked fracking to groundwater contamination in the Marcellus Shale.

Duke Study Links Fracking to Water Contamination As EPA Drops Study on Fracking Water Contamination

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) kicked the can down the road on a key study designated to examine the connection between hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming. 

A study originally scheduled for release in 2014 and featured in Josh Fox's “Gasland 2,” it will not be complete until 2016 in a move that appears to be purely politically calculated by the Obama Administration, akin to the EPA's dropped and censored groundwater contamination study in Weatherford, TX.

Now, just days later, a damning study conducted by Duke University researchers published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences again links shale gas fracking to groundwater contamination. The Duke researchers did so by testing samples of 141 drinking water samples of Pennsylvania's portion of the Marcellus Shale basin. 

This is the Duke professor's third study linking fracking to groundwater contamination, the source of drinking water for hundreds of thousands of citizens in the Keystone State. The industry is likely to come out with the familiar chorus that the contaminated water is “naturally occuring,” but the latest Duke study shows otherwise. 

“They found that, on average, methane concentrations were six times higher and ethane concentrations were 23 times higher at homes within a kilometer of a shale gas well,” a Duke University press release explains. “Propane was detected in 10 samples, all of them from homes within a kilometer of drilling.”

More Financial Worries Coming to Light in Domestic Shale Drilling Industry

Virtually anyone who has followed the onshore drilling bonanza knows the name Aubrey McClendon and the company he co-founded, Chesapeake Energy.

McClendon was the hard-driving CEO and chairman of one of America’s most aggressive drilling companies, but he was brought down earlier this year after a string of financial scandals and potential conflicts of interest came to light. It turned out that at the heart of the natural gas industry’s poster child lay financial practices that drew the ire of investors, the attention of SEC investigators and the fixation of the news media.

But in the past several months there have been a series of largely under-reported events that demonstrate that Mr. McClendon's problems are by no means distinct.

Might the drilling industry have broader financial issues?

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?

Alberta Finds Mismanagement of Errors Causes Fracking Water Contamination

“There is no amount of regulation that can overcome human error,” said Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) spokesman Darin BarterERCB released an investigation report that cites inadequate management of risks as one of the main causes of a September 2011 accident that contaminated groundwater with toxic hydraulic fracturing chemicals, including the cancer causing agent known as BTEX (benzene, toulene, ethylbenzene, and xylene).

The incident occurred near Grande Prairie in northern Alberta when Crew Energy and GasFrac Energy Services workers failed to “recognize and properly assess a number of issues that led to the perforation and fracturing above the base of groundwater protection,” according to the report.

Workers accidentally fracked directly into an underground water table after a series of mishandled errors resulted in a massively bungled frack job that injected 42 cubic metres of unrecoverable propane gel into an aquifer some 136 metres below ground. 
 
Personnel from Crew Energy told the Calgary Herald the company is “embarrassed” about the accident. Rob Morgan, chief operating officer for Crew said, “there's no question of our appreciation of the severity of this,” adding, “pretty much all of the personnel who were involved in this particular circumstance are no longer with the company.”

Mining Corporation Looks to BC for Frac Sand Open Pit Mine

Stikine Gold Mining Corp. will provide unconventional gas producers with British Columbian silica sand for fracking operations if the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations approves the company's open pit frac sand mine project application. According to the Ministry's website the project, located 90 kilometers north of Prince George, is in pre-application status with the Environmental Assessment Office.

If granted approval, Stikine could gouge a 5 kilometer wide and 200 meter deep hole in the region's sandstone shelves, dismantling what works as a massive natural water filtration system in order to benefit an industrial enterprise that removes millions of gallons of freshwater from the earth's hydrogeological system each year. This is done as an intermediary step towards fracking for unconventional gas, an energy-intensive, heavy industrial process that will ultimately release high levels of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. 
 
“Stikine's new focus on the potential production of Frac Sand from silica sources in north eastern BC (NEBC) represents a strategic opportunity in the market and a first for what is shaping up to be a massive gas play in region,” the company announced on its website.
 
Frac sand mining is an often overlooked component of hydraulic fracturing operations. Producers use a mixture of sand, water, and chemicals to blast open shale gas deposits, such as those located in northeastern BC. Fracking opponents often point to the toxicity of fracking chemicals, the possibility of groundwater contamination and high levels of fugitive methane emissions associated with the process to demonstrate the high environmental footprint of the industry-lauded 'clean' energy source.
 
The role sand plays in fracking is often overshadowed by these more widespread problems that follow the process to each well-pad, affecting communities at the local level. However, giving more thought to the industry's need for sand - a single well can use between 2 and 5 million pounds of sand - sheds light on just how destructive fracking is, right from inception.

Pennsylvania's Top Environmental Regulator Champions Drilling Industry at Shale Conference

When Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer stepped to the mic at a shale oil and gas conference earlier this month, he offered one of his most candid descriptions to date of how he sees his mission as a regulator. His job, he said, is to protect the state not from the potential misdeeds of drillers but from those of the EPA.

EPA has completely lost its concept of the rule of law,” Mr. Krancer charged, adding that he would remain watchful against any effort by the federal government to usurp state authority over hydraulic fracturing.

It was a small window into the mind of the top environmental regulator in a state now famous as ground zero of the current drilling boom, where the shale industry has enjoyed a virtually unprecedented bonanza.

Mr. Krancer described how foolhardy he thought it was to assume that the industry needed policing.

We’ve been doing this safely in the United States for years and years and years,” he said with regards to hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Along these lines, he dared his listeners to walk up to any American rigworker and to look that worker in the eye and tell say to his or her face that they shouldn’t be trusted to do their job safely.

Actually, I don’t recommend that you do take that challenge,” he added, to knowing chuckles from the audience of shale gas industry representatives.

Dr. David Schindler: Tar Sands Science "Shoddy," "Must Change"

If you ask an Environment Canada media spokesperson about contamination resulting from tar sands operations, they will not tell you the federal government has failed to adequately monitor the mega-project's effects on water.

They most certainly will not say outright that the federal government has failed to monitor the long term or cumulative environmental effects of the world's largest industrial project. They won't say it, but not because it isn't the case. 

The tar sands are contaminating hundreds of kilometres of land in northern Alberta with cancer-causing contaminants and neurotoxins.

And although federal scientists have confirmed this, they are prevented from sharing information about their research with the media. 

In fact, if a journalist wants to approach a public servant scientist these days, he or she is required to follow the federal ministry's media relations protocol, one which strictly limits the media's access to scientists, sees scientists media trained by communications professionals who coach them on their answers, determine beforehand which questions can be asked or answered, and monitor the interaction to ensure federal employees stay within the preordained parameters.

The result is an overly-monitored process that causes burdensome delays in media-scientist interactions. The overwhelming consequence is that the media has stopped talking to the country's national scientists.
 
But University of Alberta scientist Dr. David Schindler is ready and willing to pick up the slack, especially after Environment Canada federal scientists recently presented findings that vindicated years of Schindler's contentious research exposing the negative effects of tar sands production on local waterways and aquatic species.
 
According to Schindler, the rapid expansion of the tar sands is not based on valid science: “Both background studies and environmental impact assessments have been shoddy, and could not really even be called science. This must change,” he told DeSmog.

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.

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