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Fri, 2014-01-31 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Amid Calls for EPA to Reopen Fracking Investigations, States Confirm Contaminated Groundwater

Republican Sen. James Inhofe said it. Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper said it. Even former Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson said it.

For over a decade, oil and gas executives and the policy makers who support them have repeated a single bold claim: there has never been a single documented case where fracking contaminated groundwater. 

But a blockbuster investigative report by the Associated Press offered up new evidence earlier this month that the shale industry’s keystone environmental claim is simply not true.

Multiple states confirmed that drilling and fracking contaminated groundwater supplies, the investigation found. There have been thousands of complaints from people living near drilling over the past decade, the AP reported, and three out of the four states from which the AP obtained documents confirmed multiple instances where oil and gas companies contaminated groundwater.

Out of the four states the AP obtained documents from, only Texas reported no confirmed oil and gas-related groundwater contamination. But one high-profile incident in Texas has again come under scrutiny, as a report quietly released by the Obama administration on Christmas Eve has called the adequacy of the state’s investigation into question.

On Monday, over 200 environmental groups called on President Obama to reopen the federal investigations into that case and others in Pennsylvania and in Wyoming, and to personally meet with people whose drinking water supplies have been polluted.

“The previously closed EPA investigation into these matters must be re-opened,” said the letter, sent the day before Mr. Obama's State of the Union address. “These three are among a growing number of cases of water contamination linked to drilling and fracking, and a significant and rapidly growing body of scientific evidence showing the harms drilling and fracking pose to public health and the environment.”

Mon, 2013-11-18 05:00Sharon Kelly
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George W. Bush on Keystone XL: "Build the Damn Thing"

Make private companies happy. Don’t worry about the environment. Stop fretting about long-term sustainability. Forget renewables, property concerns, the safety of our water and air. Make private companies happy.

This was the 43rd president's message to the current administration at the DUG East conference held by the shale gas industry on Thursday.

With characteristic bluntness, George W. Bush spoke his mind on energy policy to several thousand oil and gas executives gathered in Pittsburgh at an exclusive luncheon on Wednesday.

“I think the goal of the country ought to be 'how do we grow the private sector?'” Mr. Bush said. “That ought to be the laser-focus of any administration. And therefore, once that’s the goal, an issue like Keystone pipeline becomes a no-brainer.”

“If private sector growth is the goal and Keystone pipeline creates 20,000 new private sector jobs, build the damn thing,” Mr. Bush said, prompting a burst of applause from the more than 4,000 oil and gas executives attending the conference.

In his candor, Mr. Bush also highlighted the essence of what burns bright but short in the fossil-fuel doctrine.

In emphasizing a get-it-now, don’t-worry-about-the-future approach to energy, he drove home why the Keystone XL pipeline has become such a lightning rod issue. The reason: it is symbolic of the overall short-sightedness of increasing our long-term addiction to oil rather than pushing with urgency toward renewable energy.

Sun, 2013-03-24 07:48Guest
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Marking Up the Alberta Government's $30,000 Keystone XL Ad

This is a guest post by Heather Libby.

If you're a regular reader of the Sunday New York Times, you might have noticed a half-page ad in the A section promoting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline last weekend. Paid for by the Alberta government with $30,000 of taxpayer funds, the text-heavy ad asserted several reasons why President Obama should approve the project.

Their primary argument? This is “the choice of reason”.

Putting aside the fact that their word selection suggests those who oppose the pipeline are illogical or unreasonable; the ad says “some still argue Keystone should be decided on emotion rather than science and fact about Canada's responsibly developed oil sands resource”.

We completely agree. Here are a few scientific facts it forgot to mention:

Wed, 2012-11-14 06:58Steve Horn
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Shale Gas Bubble Bursting: Report Debunks "100 Years" Claim for Domestic Unconventional Oil and Gas

Food and Water Watch (FWW) released a report today titled “U.S. Energy Security: Why Fracking for Oil and Natural Gas Is a False Solution.” 

It shows, contrary to industry claims, there aren't 100 years of unconventional oil and gas sitting below our feet, even if President Barack Obama said so in his 2012 State of the Union Address. Far from it, in fact.

The report begs the disconcerting question: is the shale gas bubble on its way to bursting?

FWW crunched the numbers, estimating that there are, at most, half of the industry line, some 50 years of natural gas and much less of shale gas. This assumes the industry will be allowed to perform fracking in every desired crevice of the country. These are the same basins that advocates of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) claim would make the U.S. the “next Saudi Arabia.” 

“The popular claim of a 100-year supply of natural gas is based on the oil and gas industry’s dream of unrestricted access to drill and frack, and it presumes that highly uncertain resource estimates prove accurate,” wrote FWW. “Further, the claim of a century’s worth of natural gas ignores plans to export large amounts of it overseas and plans for more domestic use of natural gas to fuel transportation and generate electricity.”

Wed, 2012-08-01 08:05Brendan DeMelle
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A "War on Shale Gas"?

Since late 2009, there’s been a slowly-growing wave of attacks from the unconventional oil and gas industry on media outlets that cover the controversies surrounding hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and other shale gas practices. Reporters who write for publications ranging from Rolling Stone to Reuters to the New York Times have had their professional bona fides called into question after unearthing documents and facts that challenge claims that fracked shale gas is cheap, abundant, and clean.

These industry attacks on media occur against the backdrop of a larger campaign to establish unconventional oil and gas at the forefront of the nation’s energy options.

Only a few years ago, it seemed likely that gas would increasingly be a mainstay of power generation, especially in the wake of high profile disasters like the Massey Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster and the BP oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. The industry (at the time) received support from surprising allies like the Sierra Club and the Center for American Progress. Fukushima tarnished the nuclear industry, further shifting momentum towards shale gas for utility-scale electricity generation.

But a popular movement fueled by growing concerns about water contamination and public health impacts posed by fracking, coupled with a clearer look by press and by Wall Street analysts at the industry’s claims, has threatened to derail the ascendency of unconventional gas.

Quite often, rather than responding to the issues raised in a responsible fashion, industry PR shops have questioned the motives and qualifications of journalists who investigate the problems with shale gas development, and especially those who delve into the industry’s economic prospects.

Thu, 2012-06-14 12:22Steve Horn
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Was Andrew Cuomo's NY Fracking "Sacrifice Zone" Plan Hatched by NRDC?

Has New York Governor Andrew Cuomo just made the southern tier of the state a “sacrifice zone,” as alleged by award-winning author and “fracktivist,” Sandra Steingraber? Was it a plot hatched by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC)?

The signs pointing to both possibilities are troublesome, to say the least.

The New York Times reported yesterday, via an unidentified insider at the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), that Cuomo intends to “limit [shale gas] drilling to the deepest areas of the Marcellus Shale rock formation, at least for the next several years, in an effort to reduce the risk of groundwater contamination.”

The Times article describes Cuomo's apparent plan:  

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration is pursuing a plan to limit the controversial drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing to portions of several struggling New York counties along the border with Pennsylvania, and to permit it only in communities that express support for the technology.

These counties, it turns out, are not only “struggling,” as The Times describes them, but in destitute levels of poverty. Two of the counties up for grabs for fracking include Steuben and Chemung, which, according to New York Department of Labor statistics, have unemployment rates hovering around 10 percent, among the highest in the state.

Support for dangerous industrial development is certainly much easier to garner during times of economic desperation. That much has been made clear throughout history in the United States, particularly in the arena of mountaintop removal for coal extraction in Appalachia. In other words, it's far easier to sell a rotten bill of goods (or in this case, contaminated water and air) to those mired in poverty. Is New York setting up to repeat this tragic cycle?

Thu, 2012-04-19 13:45Steve Horn
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New Bakken Shale Pipeline to Cushing, OK in the Works

The controversy over TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline has raged on for years now, with no end in sight. 

The Keystone XL pipeline would carry tar sands crude from the tar sands epicenter of the world in Alberta, Canada, take it down to Cushing, OK, and then eventually down to Port Arthur, TX, where it will be refined and placed on the lucrative oil export market.

While Republicans continue to try to make Keystone XL a campaign issue, President Obama has officially put the fate of the pipeline on the backburner until after the November 2012 U.S. elections.

But this has not stopped other key pipelines and pipeline extensions from being built “in the meantime, in between time,” as the song lyrics made famous by the classic novel, The Great Gatsby, go.

Most recently in the limelight: Obama's late-March approval of the TransCanada Cushing Extension, which extends from Cushing, OK – the self-proclaimed “pipeline crossroads of the world” – to Port Arthur, TX, where oil would be placed on the global export market. 

Now, another key pipeline proposal is in the works, one that would move unconventional oil and gas obtained via the problematic hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process in North Dakota's Bakken Shale basin southward to Cushing, where it would then be moved to Port Arthur and also placed on the global export market. Another portion of that pipeline would move the oil and gas westward toward Coos Bay, Oregon, where it would also be exported to the highest bidder.

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.

Tue, 2012-03-27 17:16Brendan DeMelle
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Sierra Club Launches "Mr. Coal" Video Campaign to Mock Dirty Coal PR

The Sierra Club launched a funny new ”Mr. Coal“ video campaign this week in its ongoing 'Beyond Coal' effort to shut down coal plants throughout the United States.

The campaign will feature a steady stream of satirical TV commercials mocking the coal industry's incessant and incredulous claims about job creation, “clean coal,” and many other dirty PR tricks pitched by King Coal time and time again.

Feast your eyes on one of the ads below:

The Club has teamed up with Mekanism, a San Francisco, CA-based creative campaign agency, to push out these commercials.

Wed, 2012-03-21 12:30Brendan DeMelle
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Documents Reveal USDA Risking Lawsuits by Ignoring Own Staff On Fracking Mortgages Review

A major storm is brewing over the USDA’s sudden about-face on fracking and environmental laws. On Tuesday, the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture pulled a 180-degree U-turn and decided to reverse the call made by his staff specialists, who advised that the agency immediately stop giving special exemptions from environmental laws to people applying for federal mortgages on properties with oil and gas leases.

Now, environmentalists, members of Congress, and transparency groups are saying that something seems amiss and they are looking for answers.

It all started on Monday when The New York Times ran a story with emails showing that the USDA planned to tell its $165 billion dollar mortgage program to stop financing properties with drilling leases until an environmental review of the impact of drilling and fracking on homes backed by the agency could be completed.

The proposal by the Agriculture Department, which has signaled its intention in e-mails to Congress and landowners, reflects a growing concern that lending to owners of properties with drilling leases might violate the National Environmental Policy Act, known as NEPA, which requires environmental reviews before federal money is spent. Because that law covers all federal agencies, the department’s move raises questions about litigation risks for other agencies, legal experts said,” the Times story explained.

DeSmogBlog has obtained many of the emails and they make very clear that the staff specialists, whose job it is to interpret laws like NEPA, believe that environmental reviews are legally required and that the agency is vulnerable to litigation if it gives these mortgages a pass, called a “categorical exclusion.”

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