Water Contamination

First Nation Challenges Shell Canada's Jackpine Mine Expansion, Citing Constitutional Treaty Rights

Yesterday the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) announced their plans to constitutionally challenge Shell Oil Canada's expansion of the Jackpine Mine tar sands project. The project expansion would threaten the resources needed to sustain rights protected under Treaty 8, which the ACFN signed in 1899 at Fort Chipewyan on Lake Athabasca. A joint federal-provincial review panel will hear the challenge - the first of its kind to appear before such a group - on October 23rd, 6 days before the Jackpine Mine expansion application will make its own appearance before the panel on October 29.

The Jackpine Mine expansion would disturb 12,719 hectares of land and destroy 21 kilometers of the culturally significant Muskeg River, according to ACFN's press release issued yesterday
 
In addition, greenhouse gas emissions from the project would total 2.36 megatons of CO2 equivalent each year - an increase of 5.2 per cent in tar sands emissions from 2009, or roughly 281,000 cars on the road. Since Shell proposed the expansion in 2007, 11 additional projects have been proposed in the tar sands region.

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.
 

Cuomo Resets New York Fracking Review, "Consigning Fracking To Oblivion"

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced today that his administration is pushing the controversial decision on whether to allow fracking in the state back to square one. This encouraging move by Gov. Cuomo is sure to upset the oil industry, but it was the right thing to do given the enormous uncertainties surrounding fracking and unconventional energy development. 

The threats of water contamination, air pollution, climate-altering methane pollution and public health impacts posed enormous challenges for Gov. Cuomo, whom many see poised to make a run for the White House in 2016.

Had he rushed through approval of fracking, his political base - including tens of thousands of state residents vocally opposed to fracking - would likely question his ability to navigate even larger controversies and pressure from industry lobbyists.

While the fate of fracking in New York remains unsettled, The New York Times suggested today that Cuomo's decision to reset the regulatory review process has “created a sense in Albany that Mr. Cuomo is consigning fracking to oblivion.”

Drought, Fracking, Coal and Nukes Wreak Havoc on Fresh Water Supplies

Millstone Nuclear Plant Connecticut

This is a guest post by EcoWatch, republished with permission.

For the last few months EcoWatch has been covering what's become the worst drought in the U.S. in more than half a century. More than 3,200 daily high temperature records were set or tied in June, and July is in the books as the warmest month ever recorded in the lower 48 states, according to a report issued by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center.

Besides the discomfort of relentless heat and unmitigated sunshine, the drought has forced us to rethink several issues commonly taken for granted—namely, abundant and affordable food, secure livelihoods for farmers, safety from natural disasters, practical public policy regarding the delegation of crops for food and biofuels, and most importantly, the value of water.

The value of water is inestimable. Without it, as the drought has shown us, uncertainty and chaos quickly enter the picture, throwing superpower economies off kilter and quite literally, imperiling lives.

But that's not all.

ALEC’s Vision of Pre-Empting EPA Coal Ash Regs Passes the House

Authored by Sara Jerving of PRWatch.org and ALECExposed.org. Cross-posted with permission from the Center for Media and Democracy. 

The U.S. House of Representatives passed an amendment on April 18 to the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2012 (HR 4348) that would effectively pre-empt the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from regulating coal ash, the waste from coal burning plants, as a hazardous waste. About 140 million tons of coal ash are produced by power plants in the United States each year. There are about 1,000 active coal ash storage sites across the country.

According to the EPA, the ash contains concentrations of arsenic, boron, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and other metals, but the coal industry has claimed there is less mercury in the ash than in a fluorescent light bulb. However, the EPA found in 2010 that the cancer risk from arsenic near some unlined coal ash ponds was one in 50 – 2,000 times the agency’s regulatory goal. Additionally, researchers from the Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and Sierra Club have documented water contamination from coal ash sites in 186 locations. The new bill would strip the EPA’s authority to regulate the ash and hand it over to the states.  

The coal industry and its allies have been pushing several levers to stop the EPA from regulating coal ash, including passing resolutions through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Along with its coal ash provisions, the transportation bill, which is intended to extend highway and transit funding through September, includes measures that would advance the controversial trans-Canada Keystone XL pipeline.

‘Theoretically, Super Fracking Would Be Super Bad’: Gas Industry Touts Even More Extreme Drilling

According to Halliburton, one of North America’s largest hydraulic fracturing operators and suppliers, the “frack of the future” has arrived. Hoping to both increase well production and lower production costs, Halliburton is one among a crowd of energy companies looking to overhaul their fracking operations with new – and more powerful – methods.

Coined by Bloomberg as “super fracking” the gas industry is celebrating this new catalogue of high-intensity fracking technologies, dedicated to creating deeper and longer fissures in underground formations to release ever-greater amounts of the oil and gas trapped there. 

As Bloomberg reports, Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger are each investing heavily in advanced fracking technologies.  Baker Hughes’ “DirectConnect” technology aims at gaining deeper access to underlying oil and gas deposits while Schlumberger’s “HiWay” forces specially developed materials into fractures to create widened pathways for oil and gas flow.  Schlumberger now supplies over 20 oil and gas operators with “HiWay” technologies, up from only two a year ago.

David Pursell, a former fracking engineer now consulting for Tudor Pickering Holt & Co. represents yet another method, one aimed at more completely shattering the rock comprising oil and gas reservoirs. “I want to crack the rock across as much of the reservoir as I can,” he told Bloomberg, “that’s the Holy Grail.” 

Gas Industry Geologists - Not Doctors - Decide If Water Is "Safe" in Alberta Fracking Contamination Cases

Water contamination is at the heart of the fracking debate. Gas companies and their well-funded industry support groups (still) adamantly contend that ‘there are no proven instances of drinking water contamination due to fracking.’ But as Chris Mooney recently wrote about in the Scientific American, and as DeSmogBlog pointed out in our featured report Fracking the Future – this argument is based more on semantics and sly avoidance tactics than scientific evidence, or personal experience for that matter. But in Alberta the oil and gas industry’s ability to deny responsibility for instances of water contamination may be related to an even greater systemic flaw – one which leaves the final verdict in the hands of industry representatives.

In Alberta, landowners who suspect their water is contaminated by gas drilling activity are directed to contact Alberta Environment (AENV), the provincial body that oversees the Water Act, and has just recently been renamed the Ministry of Environment and Water “to emphasize the importance of protecting one of Alberta’s greatest resources.”

AENV responds to complaints in tandem with the province’s oil and gas regulator, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), previously the Energy and Utilities Board (EUB).  Upon the event of suspected water contamination, ERCB provides AENV with relevant information about the producing well, including which company it belongs to.  AENV then contacts the company who is directed to “conduct an investigation or hydrogeology study, using a qualified professional.”

New York Comptroller DiNapoli Introduces Frack Fund To Cover Industry Damage

Marcellus Protest

Although New York State comptroller Thomas DiNapoli has yet to take a stance on the issue of hydraulic fracturing within his state, he introduced legislation on Tuesday that will require the gas industry to pay into a frack fund that would cover environmental damages caused by the controversial process. The fund would be on standby during drilling and ready to issue compensation to landowners affected by fracking’s unfortunate side-effects, like air pollution and water contamination.

Taking its shape from an oil spill fund created in the 1970s that DiNapoli administers, the proposed legislation would require drillers to post a liability bond for damages before they begin. The legislation also proposes increased state involvement in emergency cleanup for which drillers will pay a surcharge on drilling permits.

Environmental Working Group Reveals EPA Knowledge of Water Contamination From Fracking

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been known by the EPA to contaminate underground sources of drinking water since 1987. In a 25-year old investigative report, discovered by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Earthjustice, the EPA outlines how fracking for shale gas contaminated a domestic water well in West Virginia.

In a full-length report, called “Cracks in the Façade,” the EWG describes how the uncovered document contradicts the gas industry’s claim that there are no documented cases of water contamination due to fracking. 

The EPA found that fluid from a shale gas well more than 4,000 feet deep contaminated well water and that the incident was “illustrative” of pollution problems associated with oil and gas drilling. With now-uncharacteristic candor, the EPA report outlines how the contamination occurs: “During the fracturing process…fractures can be produced, allowing migration of native brine, fracturing fluid and hydrocarbons from the oil or gas well to a nearby water well. When this happens, the water well can be permanently damaged and a new well must be drilled or an alternative source of drinking water found.”

Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission Bans Fracking Disposal Wells Due to Earthquakes

The Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission has voted unanimously to ban disposal wells for unconventional gas drilling wastes in a region that has been inundated with earthquakes. The decision requires the immediate closure of one disposal well and prohibits the construction of new wells in a 1,150 square-mile radius. Operators have also closed an additional three disposal wells on their own initiative, the Associated Press reports.

Earthquakes have become unusually common in some areas of Arkansas where increased unconventional gas related drilling is taking place. Residents insist that there is a correlation between the quakes and the area’s wastewater disposal wells. After monitoring hundreds of earthquakes, the largest a magnitude-4.7 in February, investigators began confirming the connection.

The Oil and Gas Commission discovered that four disposal wells were situated on a fault line responsible for dozens of earthquakes this year alone. As reported by the Associated Press, “after two of the four stopped operating in March, there was a sharp decline in the number of earthquakes. In the 18 days before the shutdown, there were 85 quakes with a magnitude 2.5 or greater, but there were only 20 in the 18 days following the shutdown, according to the state Geological Survey.”

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