EPA

Widely-Used Tool Can Lowball Methane Pollution Rates, Scientists Report, With Huge Implications for Climate Policy

An EPA-approved methane sampler widely used to measure gas leaks from oil and gas operations nationwide can dramatically under-report how much methane is leaking into the atmosphere, a team of researchers reported in a peer-reviewed paper published in March.

The researchers, one of whom first designed the underlying technology used by the sampler, warn that results from improperly calibrated machines could severely understate the amount of methane leaking from the country’s oil and gas wells, pipelines, and other infrastructure.

“It could be a big deal,” study co-author Amy Townsend-Small, a geology professor at the University of Cincinnati, told Inside Climate News, adding that it’s not yet clear how often the machine returned bad results, in part because figuring out whether there’s an error would have required using a different kind of device to independently test gas concentrations at the time levels were originally recorded.

Dimock, PA Lawsuit Trial-Bound as Study Links Fracking to Water Contamination in Neighboring County

A recent peer-reviewed study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has confirmed what many fracking critics have argued for years: drilling operations associated with hydraulic fracturing (“fracking) for oil and gas can contaminate groundwater. 

For the study, researchers examined groundwater contamination incidents at three homes in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale basin in Bradford County. As The New York Times explained, the water samples showed “traces of a compound commonly found in Marcellus Shale drilling fluids.”

The study's release comes as a seminal lawsuit demanding recovery for such damages winds its way to a jury trial later this year in the U.S. District Court in Scranton, PA. That case pits two families from Dimock, PA, located in neighboring Susquehanna County, against Texas-based, industry giant, Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation.

Coal Funded Congressman Takes Lead In Dismantling Coal Ash Safety Standards

In December 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released long-awaited coal ash safety standards designed to increase the reliability of coal ash disposal sites. These standards had been years in the making, but stopped short of classifying coal ash as a hazardous waste material, which many advocates had been hoping for.

The new standards enacted by the EPA require stricter structural integrity standards for new coal ash disposal sites, and mandate that the ash ponds not be located near sensitive environmental areas such as wetlands or near fault lines. They also ramped up the inspection and compliance standards for existing disposal sites. The new standards also require coal companies to publicly disclose disposal operations.

While all of these new requirements are fairly common sense steps, coal industry-funded politicians in Washington are not happy, and one month after announcing the new standards, they began launching their attack to undo them.

Leading the charge is Republican Representative David McKinley from West Virginia. McKinley sponsored legislation earlier this year that would strip the public disclosure portion of the rules and allow states to take over the permitting process for coal ash disposal site construction, effectively pushing the EPA out of the way.

New Federal Fracking Rules Rely on FracFocus Even as EPA Research Highlights Site's Flaws

It's a classic case of the government's left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Days after the Bureau of Land Management issued new federal rules for fracking on federal land, relying heavily on an industry-run site called FracFocus, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a study mainly noteworthy for the shortcomings of the site that it revealed.

More than 70 percent of the chemical disclosure statements that drillers posted on FracFocus between January 2011 and February 2013 were missing key information because drillers labeled that data “confidential business information,” the EPA reported.

On average, drillers reported using a mix of 14 different chemicals at each well site. At sites where information was withheld, an average of five chemicals were not named.

In fact, FracFocus allowed drillers to conceal the identity of more than one out of every ten chemicals whose use was “disclosed” on the site, EPA researchers found.

This made it impossible for EPA's researchers, who received over 39,000 disclosure statements from FracFocus in March 2013 and published their study two years later, to definitively say what chemicals drillers used most often, how much of each chemical was injected underground, or even to simply create a list of all the chemicals used at the wells.

Calls For Immediate Shutdown Of Illegal California Injection Wells As Regulators Host 'Aquifer Exemption Workshop'

While California legislators are calling for immediate closure of the thousands of injection wells illegally dumping oil industry wastewater and enhanced oil recovery fluids into protected groundwater aquifers, regulators with the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) were holding an “Aquifer Exemption Workshop” in Long Beach on Tuesday.

Just 23 out of the 2,500 wells DOGGR officials have acknowledged the agency improperly permitted to operate in aquifers that contain potentially drinkable water have so far been closed down — 11 were closed down last July and 12 more were shut down earlier this month.

Given the urgency of the situation, it certainly does not look good that DOGGR made time to hold a workshop to outline “the data requirements and process for requesting an aquifer exemption under the Safe Drinking Water Act,” when it has given itself a two-year deadline to investigate the thousands more wells illegally operating in groundwater aquifers that should have been protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act all along.

Last Friday, state legislators sent Governor Jerry Brown a letter calling for the immediate closure of the wells, writing that “the decision to allow thousands of injection wells to continue pumping potentially hazardous fluids into protected aquifers is reckless.”

And protestors with Californians Against Fracking were outside the Holiday Inn Long Beach Airport on Tuesday to greet DOGGR officials as they showed up for their workshop.

Peabody Coal Lawyer Laurence Tribe, Obama's Law Professor, Testifies in Congress vs. EPA Carbon Rule

Laurence Tribe, constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School and of-counsel at the firm Massey & Gail LLP, recently testified in front of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce against the proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carbon rule

Currently working as legal counsel for coal industry giant Peabody Energy and helping the company write comments, Tribe submitted a 57-page legal memo to accompany his five-minute testimony (starting at 22:43). In December 2014, Tribe submitted 35 pages worth of comments to the EPA on its proposed rule.

Joining Tribe were both New York University School of Law professor Richard Revesz and Hunton & Williams attorney Allison Wood, who testified for and against the Clean Power Plan, respectively. But Tribe served as the star witness and fielded most of the questions from the Committee during the question-and-answer session.

Fittingly given his distinguished legal background, Tribe argued against the Clean Power Plan on constiutional law grounds. 

“Burning the Constiution should not become part of our national energy policy,” Tribe wrote in the early pages of the legal memo he submitted to the Committee. “At its core, the issue the Clean Power Plan presents is whether EPA is bound by the rule of law and must operate within the framework established by the United States Constitution.”

He also proposed a solution — favored by his client Peabody  in a section titled, “There is a Better Way.”

“The United States could…support carbon capture and storage technologies,” Tribe wrote, not mentioning Peabody's advocacy for so-called “clean coal.” 

“An 'all of the above' energy policy can support all forms of domestic energy production that will minimize carbon emissions, protect consumers and American jobs, and ensure that the U.S. remains independent from unreliable foreign sources of energy.”

EPA's National Study into Fracking Narrowed as Key Goals Fall by Wayside Due to Industry Pressure

In 2010, when Congress tasked the EPA with launching a national study of the risks posed by hydraulic fracturing, environmentalists were cautiously optimistic.

“At least the EPA is paying attention,” Don Young, founder of Fort Worth Citizens Against Neighborhood Drilling Operations told the Christian Science Monitor in 2010. 

And for a while, there seemed to be strong signs that the EPA planned to conduct a rigorous investigation. At the outset, the agency's plans included investigations into public health impacts, air pollution, well failures, run-off, and a range of other harms associated with the shale drilling rush.

And into 2011, EPA withstood intense pressure from the shale gas industry and its supporters in Congress to sharply narrow the scope of their research, and in particular to focus exclusively on one part of the process, the actual frac job, rather than to look at the full range of impacts from shale oil and gas extraction.

But at the same time, the goals of the national study were drastically narrowed. Plans, for example, to model the hazards potentially posed by dumping radioactive fracking wastewater at sewage treatment plants — essentially flushing it down the drain and allowing it to enter rivers only partially treated, as was common in Pennsylvania at the time — were slashed from the study.

That industry pressure has continued in the years since, and over time, EPA has indeed dramatically lowered its ambitions and limited the scope of its research, leaving only a small fraction of the original study standing, based on a review by DeSmog of internal EPA documents and emails.

Internal Documents Reveal Extensive Industry Influence Over EPA's National Fracking Study

In 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched an ambitious and highly consequential study of the risks that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, poses to American drinking water supplies.

This is about using the best possible science to do what the American people expect the EPA to do – ensure that the health of their communities and families are protected,” Paul Anastas, Assistant Administrator for the agency's Office of Research and Development, said in 2011.

But the EPA's study has been largely shaped and re-shaped by the very industry it is supposed to investigate, as energy company officials were allowed to edit planning documents, insisted on vetting agency contractors, and demanded to review federal scientist's field notes, photographs and laboratory results prior to publication, according to a review by DeSmog of over 3,000 pages of previously undisclosed emails, confidential draft study plans and other internal documents obtained through open records requests.

Company officials imposed demands so infeasible that the EPA ultimately dropped a key goal of the research, their plans to measure pollution levels before and after fracking at two new well sites, the documents show.

All told, the documents raise serious questions about the study's credibility and they highlight a certain coziness between the EPA and Chesapeake Energy, one of the most aggressive oil and gas companies in the shale gas rush.

“[Y]ou guys are part of the team here,” one EPA representative wrote to Chesapeake Energy as they together edited study planning documents in October 2013, “please write things in as you see fit”.

Chesapeake took them up on the offer.

California's Wastewater Injection Problem Is Way Worse Than Previously Reported

Documents released this week as part of the EPA’s investigation into the state of California’s underground injection control program show that in addition to hundreds of wastewater injection wells there are thousands more wells illegally injecting fluids from “enhanced oil recovery” into aquifers protected by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

At a time when California is experiencing extreme and prolonged drought, you might expect state regulators to do everything they can to protect sources of water that could be used for drinking and irrigation. But that simply isn’t the case.

For every barrel of oil produced in California — the third largest oil-producing state in the nation, behind Texas and North Dakota — there are 10 barrels of wastewater requiring disposal. California produces roughly 575,000 barrels of oil a day, meaning there are nearly 6 million barrels of wastewater produced in the Golden State on a daily basis — a massive waste stream that state regulators have utterly failed to manage properly.

In meeting a February 6 deadline imposed by the EPA to provide a plan for dealing with the problems rampant in its Underground Injection Control (UIC) Class II Program, regulators at California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) revealed that nearly 2,500 wells have been permitted to inject oil and gas waste into protected aquifers, a clear violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

More than 2,000 of the wells are currently active, with 490 used for injection of oil and gas wastewater and 1,987 used to dispose of fluids or steam used in enhanced oil recovery techniques like acidization and cyclic steam injection.

“The Division acknowledges that in the past it has approved UIC projects in zones with aquifers lacking exemptions,” DOGGR told the EPA in a letter dated Feb. 6.

Voices in Arlington, Texas Unify to Protect Environment and Community From Fracking

Liveable Arlington, a new Texas grassroots environmental group, joins the growing number of anti-fracking groups forming around the world. The group was established at the end of January, as the battle to impose stricter ozone standards intensifies and the call for fracking bans and tighter ordinances on industry increase nationwide.

Arlington, Texas, a Dallas suburb, sits atop the natural gas rich Barnett Shale. ”Once Arlington was known as a bedroom community. Now we are in the forefront of a potentially dangerous industrial experiment,” Ranjana Bhandari, one of the co-founders of Liveable Arlington, told DeSmogBlog. “We have lived with fracking all around us for many years now and have experienced its negative effects on air quality, public health, and now the earthquakes,” she says. 


Ranjana Bhandari, co-founder of Livable Arlington, in her backyard. ©2013 Julie Dermansky

Bhandari and her family are among the few residents who turned down Chesapeake Energy when the company’s signing agents came seeking their mineral rights. The company offered her an $18,000 per acre bonus that she declined, only to find that the Texas Railroad Commission could strip those rights from her, which they did. 

Pages

Subscribe to EPA