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Sep 282012

From Green Right Now Reports

A second major sampling of water near gas wells in Pavilion,  Wyo., has found a range of gases and contaminants.

Wind River Reservation in Wyoming where natural gas wells have reportedly contaminated drinking water.

The testing of a monitoring well near where several residents say gas drilling has ruined their drinking water supplies found methane, ethane, diesel compounds and phenol, according to news reports.

Gas drillers use diesel compounds in hydraulic fracturing to release natural gas from shale deposits deep below the surface.

Pavilion, where several residents have complained of ill effects from gas air emissions and undrinkable water supplies, is one of a handful of sites in the U.S. where it appears that fracking operations may have contaminated well water.

Encana Corp., the Canadian driller operating in the Pavilion region, has said it is not responsible for the contamination, but that some of the compounds occur naturally.

The recent testing results, by US Geological Survey working in tandem with the EPA, were “generally consistent,” with the EPA’s headline-making findings last year that identified similar contaminants in the water, according to Bloomberg News.

Pavilion, a tiny town of fewer than 200 people within the Wind River Indian Reservation in west central Wyoming, is surrounded by more than 80 gas wells.

Since 2009, the EPA has been sampling homeowner wells and later testing specially drilled monitoring wells to analyze the groundwater in the heavily drilled area.

Many residents have been advised not to drink their well water until further notice.

For more information on the EPA’s investigation in the area, see the agency’s website on Pavilion.


Sep 202011

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold three public hearings in September on the agency’s proposed standards to reduce air pollution from oil and gas drilling operations.  The proposed standards would rely on cost-effective, existing technologies and practices to reduce pollution that contributes to smog and can cause cancer, while supporting the administration’s priority of continuing to expand safe and responsible domestic oil and natural gas production.

If you want to speak at any of these three hearings — remember there are only three in the entire US — you can register with the EPA ahead of time by contacting Joan C. Rogers at 919-541-4487 or rogers.joanc@epa.gov.

People also may sign up to speak in person on the day of a hearing; however, they may not be given their preferred time slot to speak. The EPA must issue a final rule, which could require gas and oil drilling operators to better contain greenhouse gas and chemical emissions by Feb. 28, 2012.

WHAT:             Public hearings on proposed air pollution standards for the oil and natural gas industry

WHEN:             Sept. 27, 28 and 29, 2011. Each hearing will begin at 9 a.m. and continue until 8 p.m. (local time)


Sept. 27:  Pittsburgh

David L. Lawrence Convention Center

Rooms 315-316

1000 Ft. Duquesne Blvd.

Pittsburgh, Pa. 15222

Sept. 28:  Denver

Colorado Convention Center

Room 207

700 14thSt.

Denver, Colo.  80202

Sept. 29: Arlington, Texas

Arlington Municipal Building

City Council Chambers

101 W. Abram St.

Arlington, Texas 76010

Dec 142010

From Green Right Now Reports

Actor Mark Ruffalo, environmentalists and a couple from Dimock, Penn. whose water well was contaminated by gas well drilling, rallied after New York Gov. David A. Paterson issued a moratorium on horizontal gas fracturing or “fracking” until July 2011.

Gas drilling, which often involves fracturing rock with pressurized water deep beneath the surface, has been blamed for sullying drinking well water in several incidents across the country. One of the best known incidents of contamination occurred in Dimock, Penn., which is located above the same Marcellus Shale formations that gas companies want to tap in New York.

Protesters of drilling in New York worry that leakage of chemicals or methane from gas drilling could damage the watershed that New York City and other municipalities depend upon.

Gas drilling advocates deny that hydraulic fracturing has contaminated water wells; though in some locations companies have been court-ordered to supply affected landowners with drinking water to replace ruined wells.

Vertical gas wells remain unaffected by the moratorium, and some in the industry praised Paterson’s decision. The governor said he would allow the vertical drilling to continue to protect jobs, but wants further study of fracturing methods to determine if and how it can be done safely.


Feb 182010

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Congressmen Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward Markey (D-Mass.) are asking for more information about the chemicals used to extract natural gas wells.

urban gas well outside a mall in North Texas

Urban gas well outside a mall in North Texas

Today, the two lawmakers sent letters to eight oil and natural gas companies requesting details of the ingredients used in hydraulic fracturing, a method of accessing natural gas deposits by blasting or fracturing the rock with a high pressure injection of water treated with chemicals.

The practice has come under scrutiny as natural gas drilling for shale deposits has encroached upon urban areas and watersheds in Texas (in the Barnett Shale region) and in the Northeast (the Marcellus Shale region). A  2005 law exempted oil companies from disclosure of the contents of their “fracking fluid” formulas after Halliburton convinced the Bush Administration the formulas should be proprietary and Congress slipped in an amendment to an energy bill.

This exemption to the Clean Drinking Water Act, known as the Halliburton loophole, has left the public in the dark about the current mix of chemicals used in fracturing, and in affected regions, many residents are concerned that natural gas operations could contaminate the air and underground water supplies. (A house bill has been introduced to repeal the loophole, The Natural Resources Defense Council is running a campaign where citizens can register their support for lifting the exemption.)

Benzene, a known carcinogen, is one chemical typically used in  fracking operations. Dozens of other toxic chemicals are employed. In an earlier request to Halliburton, BJ Service and Schlumberger, Waxman and Markey found that Halliburton and BJ were using toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene — all of which are considered environmentally harmful.

The response to that earlier request also revealed that the companies were using seven diesel-based fluids, potentially in defiance of a voluntary agreement with the EPA to not use those pollutants, according to a press release from Waxman’s office.

“Hydraulic fracturing could help us unlock vast domestic natural gas reserves once thought unattainable, strengthening America’s energy independence and reducing carbon emissions,” said Waxman, chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, in a news release.

“As we use this technology in more parts of the country on a much larger scale, we must ensure that we are not creating new environmental and public health problems.  This investigation will help us better understand the potential risks this technology poses to drinking water supplies and the environment, and whether Congress needs to act to minimize those risks.”

“Natural gas can play a very important role in our clean energy future, provided that it is produced in a safe and sustainable way,” said Markey, chair of the subcommittee on Energy and the Environment.

The natural gas industry has argued that regulation of fracking fluids is not needed because the vast majority of fluids are removed from the well and systematically disposed of. A recent report by ProPublica, however, challenged that contention, citing  industry experts who told ProPublica that 85 percent of the fluids used remain in the ground.

The Congressional requests for additional information sent out today are going to Halliburton, BJ Service, Schlumberger and five other companies providing services in the natural gas field, Frac Tech Services, Superior Well Services, Universal Well Services, Sanjel Corporation, and Calfrac Well Services.

The Environmental Defense Fund praised Waxman and Markey for their efforts to drill for more info.

“We commend Chairman Waxman and Subcommittee Chairman Markey for this important step. There is no reason that gas producers need to run roughshod over the environment in order to increase natural gas supplies,” said EDF Senior Policy Advisor Scott Anderson.

“Because the problem of global warming is so severe and the time for action so short, all low and lower carbon energy options, including natural gas, should be considered as part of the nation’s energy mix, but only if such options can be accomplished without significant adverse health or environmental impacts.”

Copyright © 2010 Green Right Now | Distributed by GRN Network

Jan 252010

(From ProPublica, which originally posted this piece, which was co-published with Politico, on Dec. 27, 2009.)


For more than a decade the energy industry has steadfastly argued before courts, Congress and the public that the federal law protecting drinking water should not be applied to hydraulic fracturing [2], the industrial process that is essential to extracting the nation’s vast natural gas reserves. In 2005 Congress, persuaded, passed a law prohibiting such regulation.

Now an important part of that argument — that most of the millions of gallons of toxic chemicals that drillers inject underground are removed for safe disposal, and are not permanently discarded inside the earth — does not apply to drilling in many of the nation’s booming new gas fields.

Three company spokesmen and a regulatory official said in separate interviews with ProPublica that as much as 85 percent of the fluids used during hydraulic fracturing is being left underground after wells are drilled in the Marcellus Shale, the massive gas deposit that stretches from New York to Tennessee.

A hydraulic fracturing operation in Bradford County, Pa. It's possible that for each modern gas well drilled in the Marcellus and places like it, more than three million gallons of chemically tainted wastewater could be left in the ground forever.(Photo courtesy of the New York State Environmental Impact Statement)
A hydraulic fracturing operation in Bradford County, Pa. (Photo: the New York State Environmental Impact Statement)

That means that for each modern gas well drilled in the Marcellus and places like it, more than 3 million gallons of chemically tainted wastewater could be left in the ground forever. Drilling companies say that chemicals make up less than 1 percent of that fluid. But by volume, those chemicals alone still amount to 34,000 gallons in a typical well.

These disclosures raise new questions about why the Safe Drinking Water Act, the federal law that regulates fluids injected underground so they don’t contaminate drinking water aquifers, should not apply to hydraulic fracturing, and whether the thinking behind Congress’ 2005 vote to shield drilling from regulation is still valid.

When lawmakers approved that exemption, it was generally accepted that only about 30 percent of the fluids stayed in the ground. At the time, fracturing was also used in far fewer wells than it is today and required far less fluid. Ninety percent of the nation’s wells now rely on the process, which is widely credited for making it financially feasible to tap into the Marcellus Shale and other new gas deposits.

Congress is considering a bill that would repeal the exemption, and has directed the Environmental Protection Agency to undertake a fresh study of how hydraulic fracturing may affect drinking water supplies. But the government faces stiff pressure from the energy industry [3] to maintain the status quo — in which gas drilling is regulated state by state — as companies race to exploit the nation’s vast shale deposits and meet the growing demand for cleaner fuel. Just this month, Exxon announced it would spend some $31 billion to buy XTO Energy, a company that controls substantial gas reserves in the Marcellus — but only on the condition that Congress doesn’t enact laws on fracturing that make drilling “commercially impracticable.”

The realization that most of the chemicals and fluids injected underground remain there could stoke the debate further, especially since it contradicts the industry’s long-standing message that only a small proportion of the fluids is left behind at most wells.

But while the message has not changed, the drilling has.

The Marcellus Shale, denoted in brown, primarily cuts across large swaths of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. (Map by Jennifer LaFleur/ProPublica)
The Marcellus Shale, denoted in brown, primarily cuts across large swaths of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. (Map by Jennifer LaFleur/ProPublica)

In the nation’s largest and most important natural gas fields, far more chemicals are being used today than when Congress and the EPA last visited the fracturing issue, and far more of those fluids are remaining underground. Drilling companies say that as they’ve drilled in the Marcellus they’ve discovered that the shale rock — which is similar to many of the nation’s largest natural gas projects in Louisiana, Texas and several other states — holds more fluids than they expected.During hydraulic fracturing, drillers use combinations of some of the 260 chemical additives associated with the process, plus large amounts of water and sand, to break rock and release gas. Benzene and formaldehyde, both known carcinogens, are among the substances that are commonly found.

If another industry proposed injecting chemicals — or even salt water — underground for disposal, the EPA would require it to conduct a geological study to make sure the ground could hold those fluids without leaking and to follow construction standards when building the well. In some cases the EPA would also establish a monitoring system to track what happened as the well aged.

But because hydraulic fracturing is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act, it doesn’t necessarily have to conform to these federal standards. Instead, oversight of the drilling chemicals and the injection process has been left solely to the states, some of which regulate parts of the process while others do not.

As the industry was lobbying Congress for that exemption — and ever since — the notion that most fluids would not be left underground continued to emerge as a recurring theme put forth by everyone from attorneys for Halliburton, which developed the fracturing process and is one of the leading drilling service companies, to government researchers and regulators.

“Hydraulic fracturing is fundamentally different,” wrote Mike Paque, director of the Ground Water Protection Council, an association of state oil and gas regulators, to Senate staff in a 2002 letter advocating for the exemption, “because it is part of the well completion process, does not ‘dispose of fluids’ and is of short duration, with most of the fluids being immediately recovered.”

In May, ProPublica heard a similar explanation from the industry-funded American Petroleum Institute.

“Hydraulic fracturing operations are something that are done from 24 hours to a couple of days versus a program where you are injecting products into the ground and they are intended to be sequestered for time into the future,” said Stephanie Meadows, a senior API policy analyst who has been closely involved in fracturing legislation issues. “I don’t see the benefit of trying to take that sort of sequestration type activity and applying it to something that is temporary in time.”

Asked how much fracturing fluid can remain underground, and whether it could be as high as 30 percent, the figure that was still being included in government reports earlier this year, Meadows said: “I guess I didn’t know that the statistics are that high.”

Neither the American Petroleum Institute nor the Ground Water Protection Council responded to requests for further comment.

EPA officials maintained in 2005, and say now, that the volume of fluids left underground had little to do with its opinion that hydraulic fracturing for gas wells is not the same as underground injection. They say that distinction is because the primary function of the two types of wells is different: Gas wells are for production processes, while most EPA-regulated underground injection wells are intended for storage.

But Stephen Heare, director of the EPA’s Drinking Water Protection Division in Washington, said that both the circumstances and the drilling technology have evolved. When asked to explain how hydraulic fracturing today is different from other forms of underground injection, he said the bottom line was simple.

“If you are emplacing fluid, it does not matter whether you are recovering 30 percent or 65 percent of it, if you are emplacing fluids, that is underground injection,” Heare said. “The simple explanation for why hydraulic fracturing is different from other injection activities,” he added, is that hydraulic fracturing “is exempt from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

The argument that fracturing should not be regulated by the EPA became prominent in the 1990s, after the EPA said that fracturing lay outside the scope of the Safe Drinking Water Act, because the primary purpose of gas wells was energy production, not fluid disposal.

A 1997 Alabama lawsuit challenged that position, and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the EPA.

[2] In that decision, the judges wrote that “According to the state agency, hydraulic fracturing is not underground injection because it does not result in permanent subsurface ‘emplacement’ of the fluids, as these fluids are pumped out of the ground before methane gas is extracted out of the well.” But the judges called that assertion “untenable” and ordered the EPA to regulate fracturing in Alabama under the Safe Drinking Water Act. They also ordered the EPA to more clearly define fracturing as a type of underground injection, a move that could have paved the way for regulation in other states as well.

But in 2005, before such regulation could happen, Congress stepped in and gave hydraulic fracturing its special exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

When Congress voted for the exemption, it referred to a 2004 EPA report, which concluded that fracturing did not pose a threat to drinking water. That report, which has since been criticized as incomplete, said that while some of the fracturing fluids remained underground, “Most of the fracturing fluids injected into the formation are pumped back out of the well along with groundwater and methane gas.”

Lee Fuller, vice president of government affairs for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said that the emphasis on wastewater removal was made to help legislators understand how fracturing was different from underground injection, but that those legislators also knew that much of the water stayed underground when they voted for the exemption.

“The EPA study said there was a certain amount of the water that does stay in the fractured formation. That information was known,” he said, adding that more of the water may seep out over the life span of the well. “So I think there was an understanding of it on the part of the proponents of the proposal.”

In the 2004 report, the EPA said as much as 59 percent of fracturing fluids can remain underground. A 2009 Department of Energy report titled Modern Shale Gas put that figure at 30 to 70 percent, but emphasized that most wells fall into the lower end of that range, explaining that “the majority of fracturing fluid is recovered in a matter of several hours to a couple of weeks.”

Just six months ago that point was reiterated in testimony before the House Committee on Natural Resources, when the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission repeated a statement that former Alabama state geologist Donald Oltz made in the 1997 Alabama court case: “Almost all hydraulic fracturing fluid is recovered to the surface after a hydraulic fracturing operation.”

That statement contrasts sharply with the latest reports from regions where gas drilling is on the upswing.

Spokesmen for Cabot Oil and Gas, Range Resources and Fortuna Energy — three of the most active companies developing gas resources in the Marcellus Shale — say that more water is trapped underground in newer drilling areas because the “tight shale” that is loath to give up the gas is likely to hold on to the fluids too.

“It’s not like you pump a volume of water into the frack and then it gives you that volume back,” said Ken Komoroski, a spokesman for Cabot Oil and Gas, who says only 15 to 20 percent of the fluid comes back out. “Most of the water and sand stays in the formation compared to in other geologic formations.”

In Pennsylvania, where regulators had once predicted that drilling in the Marcellus would produce about 19 million gallons of wastewater per day, that estimate has been revised to just a fraction of that volume, largely because so much of the fluid is remaining underground.

Range Resources now reuses 100 percent of the wastewater it extracts from its Pennsylvania wells by diluting it with fresh water and using it to drill more wells, said spokesman Matt Pitzarella. Range has been able to do that, Pitzarella said, in part because it’s extracting only 20 percent of the 4 million gallons it pumps underground for each of its wells.

Gas industry officials say the amount of fluids they leave behind in their wells should have no bearing on whether hydraulic fracturing is or is not regulated by the federal government. What’s important is managing the risk, says the Independent Petroleum Association’s Fuller, a job he says the industry is doing very well without additional oversight.

“You are wrapping yourself around a distinction of whether something should or should not be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act as opposed to whether something does or does not pose an environmental risk,” said Fuller, who asserts that despite numerous reports of contamination in drilling areas, the fracturing process has never been conclusively proven to be the cause.

Regulation, Fuller said, “may shut down natural gas drilling for a long time, but it is not going to make the environment any better.”

It will fall to Congress — and then to the EPA — to decide whether that is truly the case. Sponsors of the Frack Act hope for a vote this spring. If it passes, and if the EPA finds reason to change the conclusions it reached in 2004, the agency would then have to decide exactly how fracturing will be addressed by the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“The thinking we did then, the study that we did then, we were really looking at a different set of circumstances,” said Heare, the EPA’s Drinking Water Protection Division director. “The agency has not investigated the impacts of hydraulic fracturing in other settings such as shale gas production and at this time is unable to quantify the potential threat.”

Write to Abrahm Lustgarten at Abrahm.Lustgarten@propublica.org.

Oct 082009

By Abrahm Lustgarten

A version of this story appeared in the Albany Times-Union [1] on Oct. 8, 2009.

A preliminary report [2] from a consultant hired by New York City warns that “nearly every activity” associated with natural gas drilling could potentially harm the city’s drinking water supply and that while the risk can be reduced with strict regulations, “the likelihood of water quality impairment…. cannot be eliminated [2].”

That assessment contrasts sharply with the picture presented by an environmental review released by state officials last week [3]. Aside from clauses that ban some waste pits and promise additional consideration for drilling within 1,000 feet of the city’s reservoirs and water infrastructure in upstate New York, the environmental review does little to respond to New York City’s long-standing concerns [4] that the watershed deserves special environmental consideration and instead paves the way for drilling to proceed throughout the watershed.

Continue reading »

Jul 132009

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

Pity the American public trying to figure out where to stand on natural gas. There’s a cacophony of appeals to our patriotism, pocketbooks and desire to be eco-correct.

The latest twist comes from politicians in Congress, accompanied by oilman and clean energy trumpeter T. Boone Pickens,  who are promoting big tax breaks for natural gas-powered cars and fueling stations. The Natural Gas Act (Sen. 1408), proposed last week by Sen. Robert Menendez of (D-New Jersey) and co-sponsored by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nevada) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), would increase tax breaks for people and groups that buy vehicles that use compressed natural gas (CNG). It also would offer incentives to those developing CNG infrastructure, for example, doubling the property tax break for building a fueling station from $50,000 to $100,000.


This move has got some serious environmental potential: Compressed natural gas vehicles put out almost no harmful tailpipe emissions. Compared with traditional gasoline vehicles, they win the clean tailpipe competition hands down. Don’t believe me, take it from this synopsis by the Union for Concerned Scientists comparing emissions from CNG, diesel and gasoline engines.

Of course, you can’t easily fill up on natural gas because there are only a few hundred stations in the US. So this technology works better for government fleets that can refuel at a single source. This is a problem that could be solved in a couple ways, by converting gasoline cars, which is not very difficult, and by offering big government bonuses to people who can build more stations (people like T. Boone Pickens).

This could be good for Americans because natural gas, if the price holds, is cheaper than gasoline. Yea! And it’s mainly (for now) domestically sourced in the US and elsewhere in North America. Rah!


And yet, from an environmental perspective, the idea of gearing up for a future based on natural gas, another finite fossil fuel, really smells. In fact, it’s flammable. Ask the people in Ohio whose house exploded when leaking natural gas filled up their well and then their basement.

OK, call that an accident. It still leaves the question of environmental contamination from the whole process of natural gas extraction. Natural gas drilling causes significant air pollution. Last year, a researcher at Southern Methodist University determined that air pollution from natural gas drilling operations was nearly as great as that from autos and cars in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area. State environmental quality experts reviewed the SMU study and … concurred.

Natural gas drilling also can compromise groundwater, or at least, the under ground regions near groundwater, when dozens of chemicals (many of them known carcinogens like benzene linked to certain leukemias) are injected deep into the ground during the “fracking” process to access natural gas deposits.

These are serious environmental consequences, and we don’t even really know how serious because oil and gas companies have been exempted from disclosure on their hydraulic fracturing “fracking” formulas under the Clean Water Act.

In another turn of rich Washington D.C. irony, a different set of lawmakers has recently asked that this Clean Water exemption be overturned, so we can find out more about the chemicals being unleashed near our groundwater. So as Menendez and crew are pushing for more tax breaks for natural gas, another group is asking for more disclosure from the same industry via the Fracturing Responsiblity and Awareness of Chemicals Act. These aren’t mutually exclusive movements, necessarily, but they do illustrate how we Americans might suffer whiplash trying to follow natural gas developments.

Meantime, natural gas has wide support as a “bridge” solution while other technologies such as the batteries for all-electric vehicles and the wind and solar installations capable of powering buildings are developed.

“Natural gas is an important alternative fuel to help pave the way to energy independence, which will not only help keep us safer, but will also help reduce the high cost of fuel and, thus, high utility bills across the board,” said Hatch, at the news conference announcing SB 1408. Needless to say, Utah and Nevada contain extensive natural gas reserves. Menendez’s New Jersey sits astride a swath of reserves in the Northeast.

And there are more reserves in shale rock, now accessible, according to the industry, via new drilling methods.

But do we need it (or a better question may be, who needs it?) and at what environmental price? While there have been opposition groups to past surges on natural gas, and there are active pockets of local opponents, the large environmental groups appear to be undecided or at least uncharacteristically less vocal on this topic. (Except on the shale issue, which has louder opposition.)

If you want to know more about the potential downside of natural gas drilling, see the article Buried Secrets: Is Natural Gas Drilling Endangering U.S. Water Supplies?

And stay tuned, we’ll try to keep a nose out for the fumes too.

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media