Wyoming

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.”

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.
 

Wyoming Governor To Interior Department: Back Off With Fracking Rules

Republican Wyoming governor Matt Mead has some advice for the U.S. Interior Department: Back off your fracking rules.

Governor Mead was responding to a recent proposal by the Interior Department that would require energy companies who are fracking in the United States to disclose the chemical cocktails that they are pumping into the ground, posing a threat to our water supplies. Thanks to a law known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” these chemicals are currently protected as an “industry secret,” and therefore do not have to be revealed to the public.

Governor Mead says that the requirement is “duplicative” and “unnecessary,” as Wyoming already has laws on the books that require energy companies to disclose which chemicals they are using in their fracking fluid. Mead believes that the federal government should let the states take the lead and enact their own laws regarding fracking. Wyoming was the first state in the nation to require disclosure from fracking companies, and Mead believes that other states will follow Wyoming’s lead on the issue.

While Wyoming’s disclosure law appears to be a positive step on paper, it has completely fallen apart when put into practice. EarthJustice says that the state has already granted more than 50 waivers to energy companies so they can still keep certain ingredients a secret from the public. That’s hardly a step in the right direction.

Exposed: Pennsylvania Act 13 Overturned by Commonwealth Court, Originally an ALEC Model Bill

On July 26, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court** ruled PA Act 13 unconstitutional.*** The bill would have stripped away local zoning laws, eliminated the legal concept of a Home Rule Charter, limited private property rights, and in the process, completely disempowered town, city, municipal and county governments, particularly when it comes to shale gas development.

The Court ruled that Act 13 “…violates substantive due process because it does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm, alters the character of neighborhoods and makes irrational classifications – irrational because it requires municipalities to allow all zones, drilling operations and impoundments, gas compressor stations, storage and use of explosives in all zoning districts, and applies industrial criteria to restrictions on height of structures, screening and fencing, lighting and noise.”

Act 13 – pejoratively referred to as “the Nation's Worst Corporate Giveaway“ by AlterNet reporter Steven Rosenfeld – would have ended local democracy as we know it in Pennsylvania.

“It’s absolutely crushing of local self-government,” Ben Price, project director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), told Rosenfeld. “It’s a complete capitulation of the rights of the people and their right to self-government. They are handing it over to the industry to let them govern us. It is the corporate state. That is how we look at it.”

Where could the idea for such a bill come from in the first place? Rosenfeld pointed to the oil and gas industry in his piece.

That's half of the answer. Pennsylvania is the epicenter of the ongoing fracking boom in the United States, and by and large, is a state seemingly bought off by the oil and gas industry.

The other half of the question left unanswered, though, is who do oil and gas industry lobbyists feed anti-democratic, state-level legislation to?

The answer, in a word: ALEC.

Does Red Leaf's "EcoShale" Technology Greenwash Oil Shale Extraction?

At the Clinton Global Initiative in 2008, former Vice President Al Gore called the possibility of fossil fuel corporations extracting oil shaleutter insanity.” 

Insanity, though, doesn't serve as a hinderance for deeply entrenched and powerful fossil fuel interests.

Oil shale, also known as kerogen, should not be confused with shale gas or shale oil, two fossil fuels best known from Josh Fox's “Gasland.” As explained in a report by the Checks and Balances Project,

Oil shale itself is a misnomer. It is actually rock containing an organic substance called kerogen. The rocks haven’t been in the ground for enough time or under enough pressure to become oil. Oil companies need to recreate geological forces to produce any energy from it. Ideas for developing oil shale have included baking acres of land at 700 degrees for three to four years and even detonating an atomic bomb underground.

The really “insane” part of the equation: oil shale production, which has yet to begin, would be ecologically destructive to the extreme.

“Because oil shale is a rock, commercial production would release 25% to 75% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional oil,” wrote the Western Resource Advocates. Furthermore, like tar sands production and shale oil/gas production, oil shale production is a water-intensive process.

Adding insult to injury, in the 100 years of attempted commercial production of oil shale, the fossil fuel industry has yet to seal the deal, motivating an April 2012 report by Checks and Balances titled “A Century of Failure.”

New Shill Gas Study Published by SUNY Buffalo Institute With Heavy Industry Ties

When does a study on the unconventional shale gas industry become a “shill gas study”? The quick answer: when nearly everyone writing and peer reviewing it has close ties to the industry they're purportedly doing an “objective” study on.

The newest kid on the block: a recent study published by SUNY Buffalo's Shale Resources and Society Institute, titled, ”Environmental Impacts During Shale Gas Drilling: Causes, Impacts and Remedies.”

The four co-authors of the “study” all have backgrounds, directly or indirectly, in the oil and gas industry:

B.C. Protest This Saturday to Stop Warren Buffett's BNSF Coal Trains

Warren Buffett, the third wealthiest man on the planet (net worth: $44 billion), often referred to as the “Oracle of Omaha,” is the target of a May 5 action called for by Stop Coal B.C. Well, not Buffett directly, but a rail company he owns through his massive holding company, Berkshire Hathaway: Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway.

BNSF Railway is the second largest freight rail company in the United States and the exclusive carrier of thermal coal from coal basins in the northwestern U.S. to docks in British Columbia, where the dirty coal is exported to the global market, primarily to Asia.

The action calls for activists to blockade BNSF's four coal-loaded freight trains from reaching their final destination for the day and in the process, risk arrest. It is part of 350.org's broader “Connect the Dots” event taking place on Saturday, with actions planned throughout the world.

The Stop Coal B.C. call to action reads,

Chesapeake Energy Well Blowout in Wyoming Causes Evacuation, Methane "Roared" For Days

A potentially dangerous oil well blowout at a Chesapeake Energy site in Wymoing caused at least 60 and perhaps 70 residents to evacuate within 5 miles of the disaster for several days until it was contained earlier today. Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK) was drilling the well in the Niobrara Shale region underlying parts of Wyoming, Colorada and Nebraska. 

“Potentially explosive methane gas roared from the ground at the site five miles northeast of the town of Douglas,” the AP reported.

Residents reported hearing the roar of escaping gas six miles away

The blowout occurred Tuesday afternoon at Chesapeake's Combs Ranch Unit well site. However, workers were unable to plug the well with drilling mud until today due to shifting winds that made the site too dangerous to attempt the now infamous “Top Kill” technique.  Halliburton subsidiary Boots & Coots workers were able to shove enough mud and other materials into the well to finally stop the methane gas leaking out of the well today.

Chesapeake had to resort to the “Top Kill” technique last year at a Pennsylvania gas fracking well blowout. In that case, Chesapeake used a junk shot of “a mix of plastic, ground up tires and heavy mud to plug the well.”

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.

Tar Sands in the United States: What You Need to Know

Think that that dirtiest oil on the planet is only found up in Alberta? You might be surprised then to hear that there are tar sands deposits in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, much of which are on public lands.

While none of the American tar sands deposits are actively being developed yet, energy companies are frantically working to raise funds, secure approvals, and start extracting.

To help you better understand the state of tar sands development in the U.S., here’s a primer.  

Where are the American tar sands?

The Bureau of Land Management estimates that there are between 12-19 billion barrels of tar sands oil, mostly in Eastern Utah, though not all of that would be recoverable.

This map from the Utah Geologic Survey shows all of the state’s tar sands.

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