About Air and Water

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Hot Water - Eastside activists join a growing line of folks worried about gas-drilling waste products.

By PETER GORMAN - The Fort Worth Weekly - Nov. 28, 2007
The two neighborhood activists were worried that high-speed truck traffic and spilled sand from a gas well were creating dangerous conditions along East First Street, between the Trinity River bottoms and Oakland Boulevard. “There were at least three accidents between July and September of this year, where cars just fishtailed off the road,” Mike Phipps, treasurer of the West Meadowbrook Neighborhood Association, said.

But when his partner, Ed Sakerka, went down to take pictures of the crashes and road conditions, to show the city that something needed to be done, he found an even bigger problem looming for that Eastside area.

“Ed was down there one day talking to someone who worked for Chesapeake, and the guy said ‘If you don’t like the amount of traffic here now, wait ’til all the trucks start coming through when they get the injection well finished.’” Phipps recounted.

It was the first either man had heard of an injection well planned for the Chesapeake drilling site at the old Arc Park softball field north of I-30. And what they found out has made them even more concerned about the price their part of Fort Worth may be paying for what once seemed like “free” Barnett Shale income.

Injection wells are the drilling industry’s preferred solution to the major problem of what to do with the millions of gallons of water used by the fracturing or “frac-ing” process required to free up natural gas from the Barnett Shale formation underlying much of North Texas. After the water — infused with sand and chemicals — is forced at high pressure into the shale and the gas is extracted, the leftover water is extremely salty, contaminated with carcinogens and radioactivity from naturally occurring materials, and even flammable because of traces of hydrocarbons. Drillers say recycling is too expensive, and they generally get rid of it by putting it back into the ground. But the injection sites are rarely on the same property as production wells, so companies wind up hauling the water away in heavy trucks that add even more to the street damage and dangers caused by traffic around well sites.

Fort Worth is suspicious of injection wells — so suspicious that they were banned until the city council decided in June 2006 to allow some to be drilled. Two permits were requested almost immediately, one for a shallow injection well on the North Side, which was denied, and one from Dale Energy for its site on East First Street.

The Dale request was for a deep injection well that would release wastewater into the Ellenberger Sand Formation that begins about 9,000 feet below the surface. That permit was granted and was transferred to Chesapeake Energy when that company bought up many of Dale Energy’s assets. But the council, alarmed at the shallow-well request, put a moratorium until April 2008 on any further permits, to allow safety issues to be studied.

Jim Popp, an investigator who worked with the oil and gas industry for more than 40 years, said local governments are right to be leery of injection wells — that in fact, they should be even more strictly regulated. He told Fort Worth Weekly that the wells and the liquid disposed in them are considerably more dangerous than the public has been told.

“You’ve got to understand that the terms ‘wastewater’ and ‘salt water’ are just wrong for what’s really being injected into those wells,” he said. “What you’ve got is a toxic waste dump. Plain and simple, that’s what they are.” Major spills are commonplace, he said, and can poison the air and groundwater. Tanker trucks unloading the contaminated water have blown up, and so have storage tanks at injection well sites, he said.

Even though the East First Street injection well isn’t operating yet, it’s already causing major friction between the city and gas company. Chesapeake wants to truck wastewater there from its leases all over the East Side. City officials say that goes against the logic of the ordinance.

“The city’s understanding is that the only waste that can be injected into that well is waste that comes from the wells on that immediate property,” Brian Boerner, director of the city’s Environmental Management Department, said. “We wrote the ordinance to get [wastewater] trucks off the street, not to take waste from other areas and have it trucked in to the well. But Chesapeake’s point of view is that it can take waste from any of their leases and inject it there. Which could mean more truck traffic, not less, and that’s the opposite of what we set out to accomplish.”

A Chesapeake spokesperson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that the difference of opinion is merely a “gentlemen’s disagreement.” But privately, the company is telling people that this issue is so important that they may consider suing if the city doesn’t change its stance. Their stake in the debate is obvious: With 190 wells operating in Tarrant County alone and more being drilled daily, a disposal mechanism is critical.

A Chesapeake spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the company is considering legal action against the city.

David Lunsford, who supervises gas well inspections for the city, said the issue probably will have to be resolved by the city council, but he doesn’t expect it to happen soon. “It could take several months,” he said.

What the council finally decides will have a long-term impact. Gas developers told the council in late summer that they will need at least 15 injection disposal wells within the city limits in the next couple of years to handle all the wastewater that will be generated. For now, the waste is being trucked to commercial disposal wells in Somervell, Wise, and Parker counties. Unlike the East First Street well, which the gas company and the city agree can take waste only from Chesapeake drilling sites, commercial wells take waste from any gas or oil drilling operation that will pay the fee of about a dollar per barrel.

“Some of the wells in Erath are permitted to take 25,000 barrels of waste a day,” Popp said. “That’s great for the operator, but what about the people who live nearby? That’s more than 250 water tanker trucks a day coming and going. In Wise, where I live, the figure is 5,000 barrels a day, but that’s still 50 trucks hauling toxic waste through the neighborhood every day.

Chesapeake’s disposal well, by comparison, is allowed to take 25,000 barrels a day — about equal to the waste from 125 wells, many times more capacity than would be needed by the wells on the East First Street property alone.

And while drillers and commercial disposal companies claim that disposal wells are dug so deep and constructed so well that there is virtually no chance of aquifers being contaminated, Popp says that’s hogwash. “When the tanker delivers the waste, it isn’t injected directly into the well,” he said. “It’s transferred from the trucks to a tank and then later injected into the well. And there is a tremendous amount of spillage. Where they want to put a well near my place it’s a little above me, and that spillage is going to roll down like rainwater and pollute my stock tanks and poison the air around here.”

He noted that even if a well is properly constructed and the operator is legitimate, hazards abound. Disposal injection wells have backed up and contaminated drinking water supplies in many places in Texas, he said.

In a deadly incident just outside of San Antonio in 2003, two tanker trucks unloading wastewater at an injection site exploded when the running engine of one of them sparked a fire in the gas still mixed with the waste. Three people were killed. Afterward, the Federal Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board classified gas-well wastewater as a flammable material. In several other instances, storage tanks at injection well facilities have exploded when struck by lightning.

Part of the problem is that disposal sites, like most other aspects of the oil and gas industry in Texas, are largely self-policing, according to Ramona Nye, a spokesperson for the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas wells.

Boerner, the environmental director, said Fort Worth has addressed the problem of explosions by requiring that all wastewater storage tanks be made from non-sparking material — “fiberglass or materials like it.”

However, one of Popp’s associates, who asked that his name not be used because of gas companies’ threats to sue him, scoffed at the notion that fiberglass or even steel tanks with lightning arresters would provide much protection.

“We had that storage tank over in Cresson in Johnson County get hit by lightning last March 29, and neighbors said it burned for six hours. And that was fiberglass,” he said. “So somebody pulled the wool over Fort Worth’s eyes if they think they’re protecting the populace with that move. And lightning rods? Well, lightning jumps. And if it jumps to a steel tank, that tank is going to go. That’s just reality.”

Popp and others sympathize with the problems facing Fort Worth and its citizens, but they’re tired of seeing gas-well waste being trucked to their counties from all over North Texas.

Popp insists that there are better solutions than disposal wells. “The gas and oil companies can desalinate the water and reuse it. They can separate out the toxic waste and dispose of it responsibly. It will cost them money, but that’s too bad,” he said. “They shouldn’t be allowed to stuff their pockets at the expense of our environment.”

Chesapeake envisions a series of underground pipelines that would transfer wastewater directly from their gas wells to their disposal sites. But Texas laws that give oil and gas companies the right to use eminent domain for transmission pipelines have no similar rights for water pipes, much less pipes carrying flammable or otherwise hazardous liquid.

“Chesapeake is working to acquire the right of way for transmission pipelines, and in the leases they’re also asking homeowners and others for the right to lay water lines at the same time,” Boerner said. “But they’ve got some big holes in their plans, so they’re still going to have to use a lot of trucks to get that water where they want it.”

“However you look at it, the issue is quality of life,” Phipps said. “And unless we can get those companies and those truck drivers to realize that this is a neighborhood and not a job site, we’re going to remain at odds.”

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Republican Control Leads Texas to Lowest Lows

From the Dallas Morning News

Texas - at or near the bottom:
  • A child is born into poverty every 7 minutes.
  • Has the highest rate of people living in poverty.
  • A child is abused or neglected every 10 minutes.
  • Texas ranks 50th for the highest teen birth rate.
  • Texas leads the country in executions since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976
  • 80-90% of the homeless population living on the streets are affected by mental illness. One in four is a veteran.
  • Texas ranks 50th in the nation for the most people without medical insurance.
  • Texas has the second highest rate of incarceration.
  • Texas has the second highest income gap between rich and poor.
  • Texas is the first in the nation for cancerous emissions into the air and toxic chemicals released into water.
  • Texas is home to three of the poorest counties in the nation.
  • Texas is home to three of the most polluted cities in the U.S.
  • PortArthur, Beaumont and Orange have the highest rate of cancer incident and death in the state. (hydrocarbon toxins and emissions)
  • 5.6 million do not have health insurance.
  • Texas has the highest teen birth rate and the most repeat teen births in the nation. (Texas requires middle schools to teach abstinence as the only method that is 100% effective in preventing pregnancy.)
PLEASE watch these videos and look at the images! We MUST do better! This is clear proof of the ruination that is the Republican party.

Thanks to Burnt Orange Report.

Friday, December 21, 2007

EPA Waives Clean Cars Goodbye

By Josh Dorner - Sierra Club - Issue #238 - December 21, 2007
EPA Waives Clean Cars Goodbye

The Bush Administration sure knows how to ruin a good party. On Wednesday morning, President Bush, Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, and a whole pack of Congressmen gathered at the Energy Department to enjoy a brief moment of peace between the two ends of Pennsylvania Avenue and sing Kumbaya over the energy bill. Then, in a classic bit of Washington high theatre, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson swooped in like the Grinch and stole our Green Christmas by denying California the waiver it (along with at least 16 other states) needs to move forward with its landmark global warming emissions standards for cars.

In an evening press conference called with little more than half an hour's notice, Johnson explained that California's need to deal with global warming did not meet the "extraordinary and compelling" circumstances spelled out in the Clean Air Act and that the energy bill's compromise CAFE provision was the administration's "comprehensive" response to global warming emissions from vehicles, thank you very much. While this decision has long been expected, it was particularly galling that the energy bill, with its ink barely dry, was used as the pretext for denying the waiver.

The reaction of state officials and politicians ranged from "disappointing," "absurd," "indefensible," "a mockery of the law," to "disgraceful." But at least someone was happy. The auto industry -- fresh off yet another stinging loss in the courts just last week -- issued a glowing press statement commending EPA. California, the Sierra Club, and others of course immediately pledged to take EPA to court over the decision.

While EPA may have thought that its hastily-called, Wednesday-evening-before-Christmas presser would be enough to bury the news, they were badly mistaken. For one, the Washington Post obtained internal EPA documents that demonstrate that Johnson denied the waiver over the "unanimous recommendation of the agency's legal and technical staffs." Indeed, the EPA's own lawyers predicted they would lose in court if it denied the waiver and would almost certainly beat back an auto industry lawsuit if it approved it.

Looks like Johnson's got some 'splainin' to do. Luckily, it appears he will have no shortage of venues in which to explain exactly why he overruled his staff and participated in a possibly illegal lobbying campaign against the waiver orchestrated by the White House and the Department of Transportation. Sen. Barbara Boxer of California, whose requests for meetings with Johnson over the past two weeks went unanswered, has pledged to bring him before the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee. Similarly, Congress' Maestro of Oversight, Rep. Henry Waxman -- also of California -- expressed his outrage in a statement and indicated his own Oversight and Government Reform Committee will be delving into the process behind the denial.

As our lawyer who's been fighting this in the courts all year said, these guys are 0-4 and they are about to go 0-5.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Dale Henry Announces Candidacy For Railroad Commission - Pledges To Make Environmental Protection, Safety Priorities

By Dale Henry Campaign - Dec. 20, 2007
AUSTIN -- Dale Henry (D-Lampasas) Tuesday announced that he will seek his party's nomination for Texas Railroad Commissioner in the 2008 Democratic Primary.
"For years, the Texas Railroad Commission has made the oil and gas companies their priorities, not the people of Texas. It's time to reverse that trend," Henry said during a press conference at Texas Democratic Party Headquarters in Austin.
Public safety, environmental protection, and encouraging the utilization of safe, renewable and clean energy are Henry's top priorities. Over the past several years, the Commission has neglected both areas, Henry says.

"The Commissioners have just stuck their head in the sand when it comes to public safety and our environment," Henry notes. "As a result of their failure to use their statutory authority to require gas companies to replace faulty couplings in the Dallas area, two elderly Texans have died. And, the commission has simply looked the other way as saltwater injection wells have polluted the water supply up and down the Barnett Shale region in North Texas and in other areas of the state," Henry said.
Dale Henry has more than four decades of experience in the oil and gas industry including oil field work and a lengthy tenure in research and development for companies including Dowell, a division of Dow Chemical Company, Dowell Schlumberger, and Gearhart-Owen-both internationally and in the United States. He holds a degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. He has also served as city manager for the city of Lampasas, as a County Commissioner in Mills County, and as a member of the Lower Colorado Regional Water Planning Group.

Henry also will work toward campaign finance reform for the Railroad Commission.
"It is pretty hard to properly regulate the oil and gas industry when you are taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from their political action committees and executives," Henry said. "The Railroad Commission doesn't rule for the public anymore, they rule for the people lining their campaign war chests. I will work to get legislation passed to prohibit Railroad Commissioners from taking money from the industries the Commission is supposed to regulate," he said.

Henry faces Art Hall of San Antonio and Mark Thompson of Hamilton in the March 4 Democratic Primary. The winner of the March 4 Democratic Primary will face Commissioner Michael L. Williams in the general election.

Read more about Dale Henry on his website: ELECT DALE HENRY

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I will kill you for water.

When the well is dry we learn the worth of water.

~Benjamin Franklin

Learning the worth of water

The Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's fourth international assessment released earlier this year predicted that "drought-affected areas will likely increase"

In our quest to beat the hydrocarbon energy dead horse we are abusing our environment and depleting the natural resource that we cannot live without, water. Each year approximately 3,066,000,000,000 gallons of water is permanently removed from our hydrologic cycle through oil and gas operators causing a deficit in our available water budget.

Brace yourselves and read the rest on Bluedaze.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Estes to Recommend RRC Investigation. No Time to Rest!

I've been calling Estes' office to prompt him and it looks like we may get that investigation! On October 18, 2007, Tracy made a speech at the Town Hall Meeting hosted by Senator Craig Estes and listed many egregious examples where the RRC has failed to protect Texans. She requested an investigation.

I followed up with several posts on this blog and others requesting that you join us by emailing the Natural Resources Committee members. Well, it looks like your action is working. THANK YOU! But please continue applying pressure. Here is the letter I received: (click to enlarge)

Even if Estes requests an investigation, the other committee members will have to agree. Please apply pressure. Email these people and demand an investigation of Texas Railroad Commission malpractice.

Senate Committee on Natural Resources
Kip Averitt - Chair
Craig Estes - Vice Chair
Kim Brimmer - Member
Bob Duell - Member
Robert Duncan - Member
Kevin Eltiff - Member
Glen Hegar - Member
Juan "Chuy" Hinijosa - Member
Mike Jackson - Member
Kel Seliger - Memeber
Carlos Uresti - Member

Injection well news round up

Just Across the Wise County Line:

I've been tracking a Montague County class II commercial injection well used for Barnett Shale drilling waste for several years now and started photographing the facility in October 2007.

Here are the pictures taken by me on 10-05-07, just after this facility was inspected by the Texas Railroad Commission on 9-27-07, and found "safe and clean." Dark spots from chemical spills are clearly visible on the ground. The site is poorly maintained and alarmingly out of compliance.

On 11-21-07, I checked to see if there were any improvements. You can see that the only improvements are a painted fence and new sign. Brandon Evans of the Wise County Messenger wrote an excellent article about the well in which he explained that the same chemical spillage found on the site had washed into the nearby creek bed killing all the surrounding vegetation. (The creek feeds into Denton Creek which flows into Lake Grapevine which is a municipal water source.)

After taking more pictures, tracing down the owner to discover that his license has been revoked on 3 other businesses and making a formal complaint, the RRC conducted another inspection. They noted a number of violations including NORM that was not labeled, and said that the operator would be fined, face legal action and the well would be shut in until it meets regulation.

Imagine our surprise when the Messenger reporter, photographer and I found the facility still operating the next day. The operator can continue polluting the environment for the next 10 days.

A Permitted Class II Commercial Injection Well in Wise County
Stopped by Activists.

This is a first! LINK to decision. This is a groundbreaking case that will help others in similar fights. Read more about it here.

Railroad Commission overruled by 3rd Texas Court of Appeals

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - Dec. 7, 2007

Senator Estes and the Texas Railroad Commission are under fire for lax regulation and oversight. After confrontrations at a Town Hall Meeting with citizens who were dissatisfied with the oversight of the Natural Resource Committee in protecting water from contamination injection wells in Wise County, Senator Craig Estes wrote: I am concerned by reports that the Railroad Commission may have been too lax in its oversight of the oil and gas industry, and enforcement of the rules and regulations. It is my intention to share these concerns brought by my constituents to the Chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee with my recommendations that these concerns be throughly reviewed by this committee."
See TxSharon's diary on Texas Kaos.

Lax regulation by the Texas Railroad Commission has dominated the news in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex for weeks. Investigative WFAA Reporter Brett Shipps has hammered away at the failure of the Railroad Commission to force removal of dangerous compression couplings by Atmos Energy. The death of a couple in Wylie, Texas when their home exploded despite numerous reports by neighbors to the gas company of gas leaks has spurred public outcry against decisions by the Railroad Commission which allowed TXU and later ATMOS Energy to keep over a hundred thousand compression couplings in the ground and at gas meters in North Texas for years after other states (such as Missouri) demanded their removal. Recently the Railroad Commission has announced that they are requiring that compression couplings be replaced, however, despite their claim that it had nothing to do with the series of reports by Brett Shipps, most North Texans credit public pressure and the news coverage for the decision rather than due diligence on the part of the Railroad Commission.

While under scrunity by persistent bloggers like TXSharon and investigative television reporters such as Brett Shipps, the Railroad Commission also has taken a few "lumps" in court.

Wise County activists (Texas Citizens for a Safe Future and Clean Water) appealed the ruling of the Railroad Commission in permitting Pioneer Exploration, Ltd> to operate a commercial injection well to dispose of oil and gas waste. The Texas Third District Court of Appeals in Travis County overruled the Railroad Commission and found that:

The court found that:
the Commission did interpret "the public interest" too narrowly and therefore failed to adequately consider additional factors that may affect the public interest. We remand this case to the Commission for a reconsideration of the permit under a broader interpretation of "the public interest."

Part of the case:
Before issuing an injection well permit, the Commission must make a finding "that the use or installation of the injection well is in the public interest." Tex. Water Code Ann. § 27.051(b)(1) (West Supp. 2006). In its second issue, Texas Citizens argues that the Commission took too narrow a view of "the public interest" by focusing only on the increased recovery of oil and gas and disregarding the public interest concerns presented by Texas Citizens.
At the May hearing, Texas Citizens offered testimony and evidence that they alleged related to the public interest. Texas Citizens' primary concern was a public-safety issue regarding the fact that trucks hauling saltwater waste would frequently be accessing the well site using narrow, unpaved roads. Wefelmeyer testified that the proposed disposal well could operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with 20 to 50 hauling trucks--each carrying up to 100 barrels of saltwater waste--accessing the site each day. Texas Citizens took the position that because the dirt roads contained blind curves and were often used by children and pedestrians, the presence of a large number of trucks hauling between 2,000 and 5,000 barrels of saltwater waste a day would create a public-safety issue.

The court did not uphold Pioneer's and the Railroad Commissions argument:
Pioneer and the Commission argue that the factor considered in granting Pioneer's application--the increased capacity for oil and gas production in Texas--is an appropriate factor for making a public interest finding and that, while the hearing examiners did in fact hear and consider evidence on Texas Citizens' traffic-related concerns, these types of issues were not within the Commission's jurisdiction and could not be considered.

Instead the court stated:
There is no controlling precedent interpreting what considerations the Commission may weigh when determining whether a proposed injection well is in the public interest under Texas Water Code § 27.051(b)(1). Administrative agencies have wide discretion in determining what factors to consider when deciding whether the public interest is served. See Public Util. Comm'n of Texas v. Texas Tel. Assoc., 163 S.W.3d 204, 213 (Tex. App.--Austin 2005, no pet.). "An agency abuses its discretion in reaching a decision if it omits from its consideration factors that the legislature intended the agency to consider, includes in its consideration irrelevant factors, or reaches a completely unreasonable result after weighing only relevant factors." Hinkley v. Texas State Bd. of Med. Examiners, 140 S.W.3d 737, 743 (Tex. App.--Austin 2004, pet. denied).

The court went back to the orignial intention of the Legislature and ruled that the Railroad Commission has:
abused its "discretion" by not weighing safety factors which the Legislature intended to be weighed and/or by "reaching unreasonable results after weighing reasonable factors!"

The Court ruled against The Railroad Commissioners ruling. In the permitting process the Railroad Commission stated:
is in the public interest to safely produce hydrocarbon reserves in order to meet market demand. . . . The production of hydrocarbons for use by the people of Texas and industry serves the public interest. Production from the Barnett Shale is obtained by fracing with large volumes of water and the frac water must then be recovered and disposed of. The safe and proper disposal of produced saltwater in disposal wells such as the one proposed by Pioneer meets this need and thereby serves the public interest. . . It is in the public's interest to encourage the safe drilling and completion of more wells for the production of oil and gas.

The court found that:
While relying solely on the increased production of oil and gas to indicate that Pioneer's well would be in the public interest, the hearing examiners declined to consider Texas Citizens' public-safety concerns, determining that traffic issues do not come within the Commission's jurisdiction.

The Court cited the The PFD in which the Railroad Commission explicitly stated:
The Commission does not have jurisdiction to regulate truck traffic on the state's roads and highways. The examiners sympathize with the Protestants' concerns about property values and other quality of life issues, but conclude that Pioneer has met its burden of proof on the statutory issues the Commission is required to consider, including the public interest issue.
The Court examined presecent and Legislative Intent in regard to public roadways and public safety hazards in location of injection wells. It overruled the finding of the Railroad Commission that public roadway hazards were not to be considered.

The Court ruled that

Because the Commission believed it could only review the effect on oil and gas production in making a public interest determination on Pioneer's permit, we hold that the Commission abused its discretion in failing to consider other factors in determining whether the permit would be in "the public interest" under Texas Water Code § 27.051(b)(1). While the legislature did not specify which factors should be considered, the scope of "the public interest" must be broader than the effect on oil and gas production. Such a narrow interpretation of "the public interest" could potentially allow the Commission to rubber stamp injection well permit applications despite legitimate public safety concerns, which the legislature, in passing § 27.051(b) and requiring that the effect on the public interest be considered, clearly did not intend.

The Court finding states:
the Commission continues to argue in its post-submission brief, as it did at oral argument and in its initial brief, that traffic-related concerns are not within the jurisdiction of the Commission and therefore should not be considered in public interest determinations. (6) The Commission's position taken on appeal and the statements made by the hearing examiners in the PFD provide sufficient evidence that Texas Citizens' traffic concerns were not considered as part of the public interest analysis.

Furthermore, the Commission argues that it cannot consider the effect of increased truck traffic on rural roads because regulating road-safety issues is solely within the jurisdiction of other governmental agencies. However, practically all matters of public safety are regulated by some governmental agency. If the Commission is foreclosed from considering any matter that falls within the jurisdiction of another governmental agency when making public interest determinations, then the Commission's realm of inquiry is essentially limited to reviewing a proposed injection well's effect on oil and gas production. Such a limited scope of review cannot have been the legislature's intent in giving the Commission the broad mandate found in Texas Water Code § 27.051(b) to consider "the public interest." The Commission does not need the authority to regulate road safety issues in order to determine whether the development of an injection well will create traffic-related problems of such magnitude that the harm to the public outweighs the benefit of increased oil and gas production. The Commission is not being asked to regulate road safety, but merely to consider potential threats to public safety before issuing an injection-well permit.

The Railroad Commission argued that they do not have authority to regulate public safety issues. However, the Court found that by requiring that security be at the site 24-7 and there be a locked fence and gate for public safety, they do in fact regulate public safety.

In addition to the power to deny applications that are not in the public interest, the Commission may also resolve public-safety issues by regulating the activities of the injection well itself. The Commission's final order places a number of "special conditions" and "standard conditions" on the proposed injection well. Standard condition number 12(e) states, "Prior to beginning operation, the facility shall have security to prevent unauthorized access. Access shall be secured by a 24-hour attendant, a fence and locked gate when unattended, or a key-controlled access system." This condition placed on Pioneer's permit requiring the maintenance of sufficient security to prevent unauthorized access suggests that the Commission has exercised authority to regulate the operations of the injection well in order to ensure public safety. Similarly, the Commission may be able to conserve natural resources, while also addressing any relevant public-safety concerns, by taking steps such as regulating the number of trucks accessing the well, limiting the hours of operation, or requiring the use of alternative access routes to the well. When reconsidering the public interest finding on remand, the Commission might also consider whether any possible conditions may be applied to the injection well to alleviate relevant public-safety concerns.

The court found that the Railroad Commission abused its discretion by limiting its public interest determination.

While administrative agencies have wide discretion in determining what factors to consider when deciding whether the public interest is served, we hold that the Commission abused its discretion by limiting its public interest determination to the conservation of natural resources. We remand to the Commission to reconsider its public interest determination, using a broader definition of "the public interest," which includes public-safety concerns where evidence of such concerns has been presented.

The Court overturned the ruling of the Railroad Commission:

because the Commission relied on an improperly narrow definition of "the public interest" in granting Pioneer's application, we reverse the district court's judgment affirming the Commission's final order and remand to the Commission for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Sierra Club Challenges Proposed Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility - Says Waste Control Specialists’ Application Failed to Meet Legal Requirements

By Lone Star Chapter Sierra Club, Nov. 28, 2007

The Sierra Club is challenging a radioactive waste disposal facility proposed for Andrews County in West Texas.

The environmental group says that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) should not have even prepared a draft license for the disposal of so-called radioactive “byproduct materials” because the application for the license by Waste Control Specialists (WCS) failed to meet the basic requirements of the state law governing these materials.

The Sierra Club said TCEQ should withdraw the draft license and return the application to WCS. If TCEQ refuses to do so, then the Sierra Club is requesting a contested case proceeding on the draft license on behalf of Club members living in Eunice, New Mexico just across the Texas-New Mexico border from the proposed facility.

Deficiencies in the Application

“The Environmental Analysis of the proposed waste dump prepared by TCEQ itself shows that WCS failed to meet the requirements of state law in its application for the facility,” noted Texas Sierra Club state director Ken Kramer.
“WCS failed to conduct a routine year-long monitoring program,
failed to adequately characterize the geology and hydrology of the proposed site,
failed to account for high-wind events and worst-case rain scenarios,
and ignored the interaction of the proposed radioactive waste operations with the existing hazardous waste operations at the WCS facility.”

“Clearly, the agency clearly should withdraw the draft license and force the applicant to reapply. If TCEQ does not do so, then the agency needs to grant our request for a contested case proceeding on the license.”

Concerns of Area Residents
Eleven residents or families in Eunice, New Mexico – just four miles west of the WCS disposal site and home to about 2500 people – as individuals also have asked TCEQ for a public meeting and a contested case proceeding on the matter if TCEQ does not withdraw the draft license.

The Eunice residents are concerned that the more than one million cubic yards of uranium and thorium byproduct waste that might be buried at the disposal site would impact their health and livelihoods.

Their concerns stem from the potential for groundwater contamination, traffic accidents involving trucks carrying radioactive materials, and wind-blown dispersal of radioactive dust and liquids, among other issues.

These are also some of the concerns noted by the Sierra Club in its request for a contested case proceeding. In its comments to TCEQ the Sierra Club cites two Eunice residents who are Club members - a caregiver living on the eastern edge of Eunice and a local business owner, who owns a flower shop, feed store, and 15 acres of alfalfa fields in the region.

“These individuals work, travel and make their livelihoods from the local groundwater, roads and resources of the area,” Kramer noted. “The fact that TCEQ prepared a draft license based on a WCS application that lacks basic information on and/or includes contradictions about the porosity, fissures, and saturation levels of the soils in which the radioactive waste will be dumped is unacceptable.”

“We live here and the trucks and railcars will be going literally by our houses,” noted Eunice business owner and Sierra Club member Rose Gardner. “I don’t want to be taking my flower boxes to the local landfill next to WCS and face the prospect of escaped radon gas infecting my lungs or uranium tailing waste leaching into my water well for my alfalfa.”

A copy of Sierra Club’s comments on the draft license prepared by TCEQ may be found on the Club’s Lone Star Chapter website .

A copy of the draft license (R05807) may be found on the TCEQ website .

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

I-10 Well Explosion closes traffic into Baton Rouge

Note: We are posting articles on ABOUT AIR AND WATER about this Louisiana well explosion because it illustrates what can occur in Texas. During TxDOT Trans Texas Corridor public meetings last summer Dale Henry testified that running pipelines too near major transportation corridors is a bad idea. One of the leading oil/gas field safety experts in the world, Dale Henry recognized the dangers and warned Texas Legislators and bureaucrats that roadways, rail lines and pipelines and gas/oil wells should be separated as much as possible. Transportation is snarled for hundreds of miles now in Louisiana. The photos and reports are dramatic and costly illustrations of the validity of Mr. Henry's insight.

I-10 closed until December;
DNR to review company's rig permit after well blowout

By Mike Hasten - Lafayette Daily Advertiser - Nov. 20, 2007
BATON ROUGE - Interstate 10 between Lafayette and Baton Rouge will remain closed until Dec. 4 while crews battle a natural gas well fire that erupted Thursday less than a football field away from the roadway.
Dan Eby of Crudd Well Control, which has been hired to extinguish the fire at the Bridas Energy USA Inc. well site, said Dec. 4 is "not an ultra-optimistic estimate and it is not an ultra-pessimistic estimate" of when the work will be finished and the highway can reopen. "It is a realistic estimate" and he would be surprised if it took longer

But Eby cautioned, "you never know what you're going to get into" when fighting a well fire.

State Police Commander Colonel Stanley Griffin and Department of Transporta-tion and Development Secretary Johnny Bradberry said eastbound I-10 traffic will continue to be routed up I-49 at Lafayette on to U.S. 190 into Baton Rouge and I-10 westbound will be routed through Baton Rouge to LA 415 west of Port Allen, where it will link to U.S. 190 toward Opelousas.
He said he has contacted major trucking lines and advised them to reroute traffic to Interstate 20 across Louisiana until the problem is cleared. He also advised motorist to try to find alternate routes, like U.S. 90 if they are headed to New Orleans from Lafayette.

The additional traffic at times slows U.S. 190 between Opelousas and Baton Rouge to a crawl, Bradberry said, so "If you can think of another way without traveling over 190, do it."

The well, located about two miles west of the Ramah/Maringoin exit on the Atchafalaya Basin floodway side, blew out Thursday while the company was attempting to drill a second shaft after the original one ran into trouble.

Louisiana Department of Natural Resources spokesman Chris Frink said Monday that the agency is investigating what went wrong on the well and at the same time is reviewing the soundness of its policy that allowed a well to be drilled so close to a major highway.

"We are still gathering all the facts," Frink said in an interview. "Our first priority is public safety, to get that thing capped. When the investigation is complete and we have all the facts, we will look again at our policies with an eye n maintaining public safety."

A primary factor in that review, he said, is the current policy that allows a well to be drilled near a roadway with the only stipulation that it be far enough away that if the drilling derrick falls, it will not block the road.

The Bridas well, he said, "was within our policies." It's 90 yards from the elevated westbound lanes of I-10.

Bradberry said Gov. Kathleen Blanco has ordered an immediate review and possible change of that policy.

Bridas Energy USA Inc., based in Longview, Texas, "has got a good safety record with us," Frink said.

Since 1998, the company has received permits to drill 49 wells in six fields in Caddo and DeSoto parishes. This is its first one in south Louisiana.

State Sen. Robert Adley of Benton, who once was in the gas well drilling business, said "Caddo and DeSoto are a whole lot different than what they're drilling down there" because the pressure is much greater in south Louisiana. "There must be an incredible amount of pressure."

Adley questions why the well blew out and is still going strong.

"With the technology we have today, they should have been able to handle it," he said. "I'm just astounded they haven't been able to get control of it."

Don Briggs, executive director of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, said all drilling rigs have blowout preventers and "obviously, something didn't work."

Briggs said it's standard operation when a well is drilled to pump heavy drilling mud into the hole to hold back the pressure. The higher the pressure, the more mud is needed. If the pressure builds up faster than mud can be pumped in, "that's why you have blowout preventers. When you have a blowout, something had to have gone wrong."

Briggs said, using an expression in the business, "they got their mud cut and it came to see 'em. I'm sure those guys hate seeing their reservoir drained."

Blowouts are not supposed to be commonplace, he said, but they're common enough to keep a number of blowout specialists and well firefighters in business.

Rodney Mallett, communications director for the state Department of Environmental Quality, said inspectors with air and water monitors have been on-site since Thursday and have detected "not a thing" that would harm the environment. "It's pretty much a clean-burning gas" and so far, no distillates have been detected that would harm the environment.

DEQ has constructed retaining walls around the well site to collect the massive amount of water expected to be sprayed on the fire to knock it out, Mallett said. It's possible the water could contain material that would affect the Atchafalaya Basin, so it will be collected and removed from the site.

Briggs said he received a report that crews at the well have dragged off bags of chemicals that he termed "caustic" and removed melted metal structures from the well area in anticipation of the high-powered water spray.

Bradberry said DOTD inspectors have found no damage to I-10 and will be safe to use as soon as the fire is extinguished and no gas is escaping. Until then, he said, it is not safe for traffic.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Texas Firm Indicted for Disposing Hazwaste Underground

By Environmental News Services, November, 20, 2007
HOUSTON, Texas, November 20, 2007 (ENS) - The owner of a hazardous waste transport company and his operations manager face federal charges for their roles in a conspiracy to illegally transport and dispose of hazardous waste underground. Their alleged misuse of an underground injection well may have contaminated drinking water.

The men were arraigned Friday in U.S. District Court in Houston. They are charged with 14 felony counts including conspiracy, violating the Safe Drinking Water Act and violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which regulates storage, transportation and disposal of hazardous wastes.

John Kessel, the president and owner of Texas Oil and Gathering, Inc., and Edgar Pettijohn, the company's operations manager, were arrested and charged with illegally disposing of hazardous waste at a facility only approved to take oil and gas production waste.

Texas Oil and Gathering, Inc., a licensed hazardous waste transporter and used oil handler, was also named in the indictment.

Kessel and Pettijohn allegedly conspired to purchase hazardous waste from multiple generator facilities and process it at their Texas Oil and Gathering facility in Alvin, 12 miles southeast of Houston.

The men then sold portions of the waste as a fuel additive, and allegedly directed their employees to transport the remaining hazardous waste, disguised with documents indicating the waste was from an oil production well, to Disposal Facility A.

This facility is not permitted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to accept, store or dispose of hazardous material.

Once at Disposal Facility A, the hazardous waste allegedly was disposed into Class II injection wells in violation of the law.

Class II injection wells are for disposing of saltwater or brine that is produced when oil and gas are extracted from the Earth. It is illegal to dispose of anything other than these fluids through Class II wells.

The Safe Drinking Water Act prohibits the unauthorized use of these injection wells to prevent contamination of drinking water sources.

In furtherance of the conspiracy, Kessel and Pettijohn allegedly falsified bills of lading and trip tickets which misrepresented the origin and type of waste they were transporting.

If convicted of all charges, Kessel and Pettijohn each faces five years in prison, and the business faces fines of up to $7 million.

The investigation was conducted by the EPA's Criminal Investigation Division, the Texas Environmental Task Force, the Houston Police Department, and the Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General.

The prosecution is being handled by the Justice Department's Environmental Crimes Section.

This is not the first time Texas Oil and Gathering has been in trouble with the EPA. In 1999, the company settled with the federal agency for selling diesel fuel with an illegally high proportion of sulfur. While denying the allegations, the company paid a civil penalty of $6,300.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.

Court Throws Out Bush Fuel Economy Standards

By Environmental News Service - November 16, 2007
SAN FRANCISCO, California -- The Bush administration's fuel economy standards for many sport utility vehicles, minivans and pickup trucks have been rejected by a federal appeals court because they set a zero value on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide that cause global warming.

Thursday, the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals sided with 11 states and five environmental groups who argued federal regulators ignored the effects of carbon dioxide emissions when determining fuel economy standards for light trucks.
The court sent its decision back to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, NHTSA, for a full Environmental Review of the gas mileage standards.

The ruling, written by Senior Circuit Judge Betty Binns Fletcher, found against the administration's decision to exempt SUVs and light trucks from fuel-economy standards.

"That class 2b trucks have never been regulated by NHTSA is not a reason for not regulating them now. We remand to NHTSA to revisit this issue and promulgate average fuel economy standards for these vehicles, or to provide a validly reasoned basis for continuing to exclude them from the regulation."

"This ruling is a big help in holding the Bush administration accountable for its refusal to accept the realities of global warming and forcing it to start taking responsible actions to implement the obvious solutions," said Kassie Siegel, who directs the Climate, Air, and Energy program for the Center for Biological Diversity, the lead plaintiff in the case..

"Raising fuel-economy standards is one of the most effective actions the government can take to quickly and significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution. There's no reason SUVs and light trucks should be exempt from these standards," Siegel said.

The case, filed on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity by the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, is consolidated with similar challenges by California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, District of Columbia, the city of New York, and four other public interest groups, the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Public Citizen, and Environmental Defense.

The new mileage standards, announced in March 2006, required an increase in the average fuel economy for all passenger trucks sold in the United States from 22.2 miles per gallon to 23.5 miles per gallon by 2010.

Under the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, adopted four decades ago in response to the Arab oil crisis, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administrations sets gas mileage standards for motor vehicles. The Bush administration, ordered a one mile per gallon increase, from 22 to 23 miles per gallon by 2010, and exempted SUVs and light trucks.

Plaintiffs argued that the administration violated the Energy Policy and Conservation Act by setting low fuel-economy standards of 22.5, 23.1, and 23.5 miles per gallon for upcoming model years 2008, 2009, and 2010 respectively.

Plaintiffs also argued that the Bush administration violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider greenhouse gas emissions and global warming before selecting the low mileage standards.

California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. hailed the 9th Circuit's decision striking down national automobile mileage standards, calling it a "stunning rebuke" to the Bush administration's failed energy policies.

Commenting on the decision Brown said, "This decision sends a clear message that the Congress must get serious about combating dangerous foreign oil dependency and global warming. This is a major victory."

"This is an important victory in the fight against global warming," said Deborah Sivas, director of the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic and the attorney of record on the case. "It's hard to imagine a federal action more significant to the problem of climate change than one which dictates fuel-consumption standards."

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, AAM, an industry association representing the major automotive firms, commented, "Announced more than 19 months ago the MY 2008-2011 light truck fuel economy rule represented the largest fuel economy increase in the history of the CAFE [Corporate Average Fuel Economy] program. It has become the basis for product planning through 2011. Any further changes to the program would only delay the progress that manufacturers have made towards increasing fleet wide fuel economy."

"The federal government and the automobile industry should have embraced higher fuel economy standards years ago," said David Doniger, policy director of the Climate Center at the Natural Resources Defense Council, NRDC, and an attorney on the case.

"The U.S. auto industry is having a tough time today because Detroit's top management spent years hiding from the future," he said. "Well, the future is now. We have the technology to do this, and it's time we got started."
"Better fuel economy makes this country more secure, cuts dangerous global warming pollution, and saves consumers billions of dollars a year," said Doniger. "With the price of oil creeping up to $100 a barrel we need more efficient cars and trucks."
The AAM says its members are working towards more efficient vehicles. "Automakers support aggressive fuel economy increases that would raise the standards for all vehicles to as much as 35 miles per gallon by 2022. We share the goal of an energy bill and CAFE standard that is good for the consumer, environment and energy security. We continue to believe such a bill can be reached with industry support."

"This ruling comes at a key moment in our efforts to avoid the worst impacts of global warming," said Doniger. "The president has ordered the EPA to propose global warming standards by the end of the year, but White House officials are busy trying to water them down. The court's decision is a clear signal that it's time to set serious standards to cut global warming pollution."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Toxic waste to be shipped by rail to West Texas from NY

By SCOTT STREATER - Star-Telegram staff writer - Sat, Nov. 17, 2007
Tons of toxic waste dredged from the Hudson River in New York are about to be shipped by rail to a disposal and storage site in West Texas.

General Electric Co. has chosen Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists to bury tons of sediment contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, at its waste disposal facility in Andrews County, on the New Mexico border. The decision is expected to be approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The PCBs, which are classified as probable human cancer-causing agents, were dumped in the Hudson River from two GE plants. The pollution covers 40 miles of the river north of Albany, making it the largest federal Superfund hazardous waste site in the nation.

Beginning in May 2009, about 81 railcars will make the 2,200-mile trip to West Texas each week. Federal regulators, and officials at GE and Waste Control Specialists, say that transporting the waste by rail is safe. The exact route is not likely to be made public.

"If you look at the statistics, no matter what type of hazardous waste you're transporting, it's the safest way to do it," said Steve Kulm, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration in Washington.

Waste Control Specialists officials say that once the toxic materials are buried, they will stay there forever.

"What gives this site a position of strength for this type of disposal is that it's sitting on a very solid, thick clay formation that holds the waste in place," said Chuck McDonald, a company spokesman.

But others disagree. Cyrus Reed, a lobbyist with the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club, said he's not as worried about the railcars as he is about the disposal at the West Texas site. He said the state has never adequately studied whether the site is suitable to hold the waste.

"We believe if you're going to grant permits for additional waste to come in, you better make darn sure that none of this stuff ever reaches the aquifer below," Reed said. "We're not sure there's sufficient monitoring to make sure that doesn't happen."

Toxic cleanup

The contaminant

Polychlorinated biphenyls are industrial coolants and lubricants banned from manufacture in the U.S. in 1977. PCBs can damage the lungs and liver and are classified as probable human cancer-causing agents.

The plan

The toxic materials to be sent to Waste Control Specialists beginning in 2009 are the first from a two-phase Hudson River cleanup plan. The first phase involves the dredging and transport of 265,000 cubic yards of PCB-laden sediment -- the equivalent of more than 17,000 dump-truck loads. The contaminated sediments will be spread out in lined landfills and covered with compacted clay and a synthetic liner. The larger second phase, which involves dredging and transporting 2 million cubic yards of sediment, would begin in 2011, said Mark Behan, a General Electric Co. spokesman. The total cost of the cleanup: $700 million.

The site

The Waste Control Specialists site in West Texas is one of only about 10 authorized to dispose of PCBs, said Kristen Skopeck, an EPA spokeswoman. The state also recently granted a draft permit to Waste Control Specialists to store tons of radioactive waste from a long-abandoned Ohio uranium-processing plant at the site.

Toxic cleanup

The contaminant

Polychlorinated biphenyls are industrial coolants and lubricants banned from manufacture in the U.S. in 1977. PCBs can damage the lungs and liver and are classified as probable human cancer-causing agents.

The plan

The toxic materials to be sent to Waste Control Specialists beginning in 2009 are the first from a two-phase Hudson River cleanup plan. The first phase involves the dredging and transport of 265,000 cubic yards of PCB-laden sediment -- the equivalent of more than 17,000 dump-truck loads. The contaminated sediments will be spread out in lined landfills and covered with compacted clay and a synthetic liner. The larger second phase, which involves dredging and transporting 2 million cubic yards of sediment, would begin in 2011, said Mark Behan, a General Electric Co. spokesman. The total cost of the cleanup: $700 million.

The site

The Waste Control Specialists site in West Texas is one of only about 10 authorized to dispose of PCBs, said Kristen Skopeck, an EPA spokeswoman. The state also recently granted a draft permit to Waste Control Specialists to store tons of radioactive waste from a long-abandoned Ohio uranium-processing plant at the site.
Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

City of Fort Worth losing bucks by outsourcing gas-lease work

By Mitchell Schnurman - Star-Telegram Staff Writer - Sun, Nov. 18, 2007Fort Worth may be sitting atop a fortune in natural gas, but that's no excuse for not minding the money.

For more than two years, the city has been paying through the nose to outsource its dealings in the Barnett Shale. Instead of doing most of the work in-house, it hired JPMorgan Chase to handle gas leases and monitor royalty runs.

Here's the kicker: It's paying a management fee based on a percentage of revenue, rather than an hourly rate -- a costly mistake, given the run-up in local mineral rights.

In the past two years, the city has paid $1.9 million in fees to JPMorgan, with $1 million more likely due in a few months. If the contract remains in place over the long term, the city's tab could reach $30 million.

Meanwhile, other public entities with major gas reserves, such as Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, the Tarrant Regional Water District and the city of Arlington, are paying far smaller amounts to outsiders. Their employees do much of the work, and they hire experts on a project basis.

Like the state of Texas, which does a huge business in mineral rights, they've decided not to give away part of a revenue stream that could run for 30 years.

Fort Worth has brought in $31 million in natural gas revenue. Compare its revenue and spending with Arlington's: It signed gas leases worth $42 million and spent $386,000 in outside fees.

Fort Worth and JPMorgan both defend the high-dollar arrangement.

"You get what you pay for," says Paul Midkiff, managing director at JPMorgan and the point man for gas work for the city. "Arlington may end up with more problems than they understand. There's more to it than just getting a lease signed."

JPMorgan gets 5 percent of the signing bonus for the leases it arranges and 4 percent of the annual royalties from the gas itself. Fort Worth officials say they're pleased with the arrangement.

"The city could not have generated the same amount of revenue without JPMorgan Chase expertise, knowledge and the respect they command in the gas leasing industry," Engineering Director Doug Rademaker said in a statement.

The city's endorsement has helped the bank land other public clients. Tarrant County and the Fort Worth school district have agreed to the same commissions on bonuses and royalties. And Midkiff says that Euless, North Richland Hills and several nonprofit groups signed deals for bonuses alone.

Midkiff says he provides many services for a city. He coordinates the bid process, evaluates offers for their effects on the community and, perhaps most importantly, cuts through the "analysis paralysis" that often grips government.

"Fort Worth has been signing lease deals for two years now, because they hired me," he says. "Tarrant County didn't make a single deal, but I've already done five this year. The benefit of hiring me is, you get somebody to push through the bureaucracy and do it right."

By all reports, Midkiff is a competent guy, who has done a fine job in getting top dollar for Fort Worth. My beef is with JPMorgan's fees. Couldn't Fort Worth get expert help on gas leasing -- maybe even Midkiff's help -- for a fraction of the cost?

Midkiff says the work is too hard for him to accept an hourly rate: "I wouldn't do it," he says.

But he did agree to serve as a consultant to D/FW Airport for a one-time fee. And JPMorgan monitors D/FW's royalties for a flat $100,000 a year.

"It wouldn't be fair to expect 4 percent on the amount of gas that D/FW is generating," Midkiff says.

OK, but Fort Worth isn't exactly chopped liver. The city says its natural gas revenue will total $742 million over the next 20 years.

Midkiff says that managing Fort Worth's project is more complicated that D/FW's. The city has dozens of leases, several drillers and a wide range of properties, from small street corners to big acreage under water-treatment plants. That's more labor intensive.

Maybe, but is the work 10 times tougher -- or 20 times?

Fort Worth can drop the JPMorgan contract with 45 days' notice, and it's disheartening that the staff hasn't proposed that already.

Hiring JPMorgan may have made sense in March 2004, when the deal was struck. Payouts hadn't soared yet, and city leaders and staffers were worried about their lack of industry knowledge.

They still say they don't want to get into the oil and gas business, but that line sounds timid and tired today. We're not talking about wildcatting here. Being a royalty owner is not that daunting.

Neighborhood groups in Tarrant County are regularly winning great lease deals by simply using volunteers and a legal review. Perhaps Fort Worth should hire a gas administrator, a position that D/FW is advertising for right now.

But somebody at City Hall has to get a lot more thorough on the subject. In September 2003, the staff recommended hiring a private management firm for gas leasing, and Rademaker showed the City Council a chart comparing the costs of an outside firm versus using city staff.

The outsiders would cost 28 percent less, he said.

The decision looked like a no-brainer, and the presentation was finished in 10 minutes, with almost no discussion.

Unfortunately, the chart projected costs for only two years, which is akin to choosing an adjustable-rate mortgage based just on the teaser payments. The really big bucks -- on ARMs and this deal -- are on the back end.

The staff also underestimated the revenue by a huge amount. It assumed a signing bonus of $500 an acre, the prevailing rate at the time; the city's latest deal topped $17,000 an acre. Prices of natural gas have surged since then, too, and the wells have been more productive than expected.

Higher bonuses and more gas revenue translate into much higher fees and change the equation entirely.

Maybe the staff and elected leaders couldn't know all this then. But they can't miss it now.

Gene Powell, who's been in the oil and gas business for 42 years, has criticized the city's gas-management deal from the start. He writes the Powell Barnett Shale Newsletter and says his readers include about 50 financial analysts.

"They're always asking me, 'What's the best deal you've ever seen in the Barnett Shale?'" Powell says. "That's easy: JPMorgan's contract with the city of Fort Worth."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Development offers a lesson in low-impact drilling

By MIKE LEE - Star-Telegram staff writer - Sun., Nov. 18, 2007
There are 80 natural gas wells on the Walsh Ranch property, and not a rusty tank battery in sight. Malcolm Louden says that's a system the city of Fort Worth should consider copying as it decides how to deal with the wastewater from natural gas wells.

The ranch covers 7,000 acres, an area larger than the city of Benbrook, in Tarrant and Parker counties just west of Fort Worth. It was owned by the late oilman F. Howard Walsh and is being developed into a mixed-use community. The first homes are expected to be built by 2009, and the ranch will eventually become part of the city, said Louden, president of Walsh Ranches.

XTO Energy and Walsh Ranches have built the system for handling gas, salt water and other byproducts over the past two years.

Louden, who worked for F. Howard Walsh for decades, required XTO to space its wells closely, reducing the size of drilling pads, and to use "closed-loop" drilling rigs that don't need open pits to store drilling mud.

Each well is served by three pipes: one to remove natural gas, one to remove salt water and one to return natural gas to the well, where it is used for re-stimulation. Instead of the large tank batteries seen near most gas wells, the Walsh Ranch is dotted with horizontal separators, which are about the size of a household propane tank and blend in better with the terrain.

The gas and salt water are piped to a handling area at the far southwest corner of the ranch. The compressor stations, a necessity in the Barnett Shale, are in a warehouse-type building protected by a foot of sound insulation. A normal compressor station sounds like a locomotive, but two people can talk outside this building without raising their voices.

The saltwater piping eliminates the need for disposal trucks, Louden said.

"Without it, we'd have 80 trucks a day on the ranch," he said. "These trucks are dangerous as hell. The first time they have an accident, they're going to have a real problem with it running in the storm sewers."

Gas wells that serve adjacent land owned by the Aledo school district and Weatherford College will soon be hooked up to the system, Louden said.

Louden has things that many landowners don't: clout, a huge expanse of undeveloped land and a good relationship with his energy company.

"XTO has been great," he said.

But he said the system could be copied in Fort Worth: Water could be piped to a central disposal well, or taken to a railroad terminal and loaded on tanker cars.

It's common for gas companies to work together in situations when two of them have acquired mineral rights in the same area.

"If Chesapeake owns 80 percent of the mineral rights and XTO owns 20 percent, they split the costs. In essence, they're partners," he said. "I don't see why they can't go in together on something like this and cut down on all these trucks."

But is it feasible on a large scale?

"Why isn't it?" Louden asked.

Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

Katrina, Rita Caused Forestry Disaster - Die-Off Will Add To Buildup of Greenhouse Gases

By Marc Kaufman - Washington Post Staff Writer - Friday, November 16, 2007

New satellite imaging has revealed that hurricanes Katrina and Rita produced the largest single forestry disaster on record in the nation -- an essentially unreported ecological catastrophe that killed or severely damaged about 320 million trees in Mississippi and Louisiana.

The die-off, caused initially by wind and later by weeks-long pooling of stagnant water, was so massive that researchers say it will add significantly to the global greenhouse gas buildup -- ultimately putting as much carbon from dying vegetation into the air as the rest of the nation's forest takes out in a year of photosynthesis.

In addition, the downing of so many trees has opened vast and sometimes fragile tracts to several aggressive and fast-growing exotic species that are already squeezing out far more environmentally productive native species.

Efforts to limit the damage have been handicapped by the ineffectiveness of a $504 million federal program to help Gulf Coast landowners replant and fight the invasive species. Congress appropriated the money in 2005 and added to it in 2007, but officials acknowledge that the program got off to a slow start and that only
about $70 million has been promised or dispensed so far. Local advocates said onerous bureaucratic hurdles and low compensation rates are major reasons.

"This is the worst environmental disaster in the United States since the Exxon Valdez accident . . . and the greatest forest destruction in modern times," said James Cummins, executive director of the conservation group Wildlife Mississippi and a board member of the Mississippi Forestry Commission. "It needs a really broad and
aggressive response, and so far that just hasn't happened."

The U.S. Forest Service and Farm Service Agency have made estimates of the forest damage from the two 2005 hurricanes, but they have generally focused on economic losses -- $2 billion, or 5.5 billion board feet, worth of timber.

The new assessment of tree damage comes from a study being published today in the journal Science, written primarily by researchers at Tulane University who studied images from two NASA satellites.

Lead author Jeffrey Q. Chambers said that to assess the damage, which occurred to a greater or lesser extent over an area the size of Maine, the team used a before-and-after method perfected by researchers who study logging in the Amazon River basin. The satellite images identified green vegetation before the storm, and wood, dead
vegetation and surface litter after it. The team then visited the areas of greatest damage to make their overall assessment.

"I was amazed at the quantitative impact of the storm," Chambers said. Of the 320 million trees harmed, he said, about two-thirds soon died. "I certainly didn't expect that big an impact."

Chambers was even more surprised when his team calculated how much carbon will be released as the storm-damaged vegetation decomposes. The total came to about 100 million tons, equal to the amount that all the trees in the United States take out of the atmosphere in a year.

A large portion of the forest devastated by Katrina and Rita belongs to relatively small landowners, who use their property as an investment to be logged when they need some cash. The federal program designed in 2005 to address the destruction was an emergency add-on to the popular federal Conservation Reserve Program, which pays
landowners "rent" for returning marginal or environmentally sensitive land to more natural conditions.

Larry Payne, director of cooperative forestry for the U.S. Forest Service, said that "Congress wanted to get money back into the hands of these people, and that was the top priority." But generally it has not worked out.

Judd Brooke, for instance, owns 4,000 acres of timberland in Mississippi' s Hancock County, one of the hardest-hit areas. He had wanted to use the emergency funding on 35 to 40 damaged acres to plant longleaf pine, which is native to the area but quickly disappearing. But to qualify, his entire property would have to be off-limits to logging for 10 years.

"It was just crazy," Brooke said. "Around here, the program was a total disaster, as far as I can tell."

In contrast, he said, a smaller but better adapted program to clear hurricane-damaged land was well received, as was the Mississippi state tax credit program for affected forest-land owners.

Payne and Bengt "Skip" Hyberg, a U.S. Farm Service Agency economist and policy analyst, said the Gulf Coast landowners were subject to most of the same restrictions and compensation rates as Conservation Reserve participants around the nation, where circumstances and needs are different. For instance, the "rental" rates are based on the quality of the soil, which in the affected area is generally sandy and not considered agriculturally valuable. In addition, landowners had to
promise not to log any of their land if they accepted funding for even a small portion of it.

Hyberg said changes were made in the program this year to make it more attractive to landowners.

Hurricane Katrina came ashore along the Pearl River, which divides Mississippi and Louisiana and is ecologically very rich and diverse. The Chambers study, as well as the work of local conservationists including Cummins, found that such native species as longleaf pine, live oak and cypress survived the hurricane much better than species planted primarily for logging, such as loblolly and slash pine.

But some of the native deciduous forests were severely damaged, and the young, slow-growing oaks and maples are being squeezed out by Chinese tallow trees -- an ornamental plant imported more than a century ago. It thrives on disturbed land and is running wild in the damaged area, foresters said. The tree produces a milky, toxic sap that keeps insects away and makes an inhospitable habitat for birds
and small mammals.

In pine forests, the suddenly open spaces are being taken over by
other invasive species, especially cogon. The aggressive Japanese
grass was initially imported as packing material for oranges, but it
has gotten into the environment and pushes out more productive native

"People are very concerned about the invasives -- you hear that everywhere Katrina went," said Richard Martin, director of conservation services at the Nature Conservancy in Louisiana. "As the Chinese tallow and other invasives take over, they form a dense canopy that makes it hard for the oak and maple to grow well. Those trees will win out in the end, but it will take hundreds of years rather than a much quicker response if the invasives weren't there."

The slow pace of the reforestation has disappointed many conservationists, as has the government's failure to encourage the planting of longleaf pine -- which once dominated 40 million acres in the Southeast but is now down to 1 million acres.

Urban "forests" often fared even worse than timber plots. According to Edward Macie, regional urban forester for the Forest Service's Southern Region, about 75 percent of the trees in New Orleans died because of the storm. In some towns along the Mississippi coast, he said, not a tree remained standing.

Monday, November 5, 2007

City of Arlington meets Nov. 7 to consider leasing Arlington Cemetery and inner city parks for gas drilling

By Susan Schrock - Fort Worth Star Telegram - Monday, Nov. 5, 2007
The Arlington City Council will vote Tuesday night to open up bidding to companies that want to lease gas and oil rights on 95 acres of city-owned land in north Arlington. The mineral lease would include Johnson Creek Linear Park, Doug Russell Park, College Hills Park, Senter Park, Fielder Park and Arlington Cemetery.
The Arlington City Council will receive updates Tuesday on the Dallas Cowboys stadium, the planned Viridian project in north Arlington near Bird's Fort and proposed design standards for the entertainment district.

The Arlington City Council plans a work session at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday and a regular meeting at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall, 101 W. Abram St.

Telecast: Channel 16 on Arlington Time Warner Cable

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Residents question gas leak 'fixes'


Part V in a continuing series
WYLIE — Atmos Energy remains busy responding to concerns about the safety of its natural gas delivery system.

Customers have been flooding the Atmos call center following a News 8 investigation into potentially dangerous pipeline couplings still being used in North Texas. Now new questions are being raised about the company's safety commitment throughout its system.

Jay Marcom walks through a Wylie neighborhood with a natural gas detector—and an acute curiosity. He's seen the News 8 Investigates reports on defective couplings and wants to know how bad the leaks really are.

It didn't take him long to find one on Wednesday, apparently coming from a rusty gas meter.

A quick squirt of liquid soap on the source of the gas revealed the leak. "You can see the bubbles right here," Marcom said. "It tells me that piece of riser is leaking, right there where it hits that valve."

Just moments after alerting authorities, firefighters arrived with their own detection gear, confirming Marcom's discovery.

It's not really a surprise, considering all of the yellow Atmos "activity flags" littering the neighborhood that's just half a block away from where Benny and Martha Cryer died in a natural gas explosion one year ago.

Following that fatal blast, Atmos discovered 24 active leaks within just a few blocks.

Atmos repair crews responded to Marcom's leak report on Wednesday afternoon, but Wylie fire investigators were back on Thursday after Marcom discovered that the leaking pipe had simply been painted over.

Repairs were finally made after a second visit by Atmos workers.

Neighbor Coral Watkins said the gas company continues to repair leaks, while insisting that the area is safe. "Smelled gas the other day, called them out, they told me there was nothing out here," she said. "Then the other day, we caught them out here; they were fixing a neighbor's leak right behind my house."

Cindy Graham of Richardson feels the same way. She says she reported a neighborhood gas leak to Atmos last June. "They said they would do something. Nothing ever happened," Graham said.

Atmos took action only after News 8 reported Graham's story last week. The company told her the leak should have immediately been placed on a repair list.

Atmos says it has responded in person to more than 1,500 concerned customers following our reports. The company maintains that its gas delivery system is safe and reliable for all customers.

At the same time, however, Atmos boasts to potential investors that it has the "lowest utility operation and maintenance expenses per customer among its peers." Atmos spends $112 per customer; competitors spend $218 per customer.

A desire to keep maintenance costs low might explain why Atmos lets an estimated 100,000 potentially deadly pipeline couplings to remain in the constantly shifting North Texas soil. Replacing them could cost tens of millions of dollars.

Two times in the past week, News 8 has responded to natural gas leaks faster than Atmos repair crews.

State Rep. Jody Laubenberg (R-Murphy), whose district includes the Wylie neighborhood where the Cryers died, believes it's time for Atmos to put safety first. "We've already had, what? Eight, nine deaths, already? We know ground is going to shift, we know things are going to happen, let's not wait for more deaths," she said.
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State's decision on gas blast questioned


The safety of many North Texans was called into question last week during a News 8 investigation into a deadly natural gas explosion in Wylie last year.

As a result, the state agency that oversees pipeline safety in Texas is under increasing scrutiny for allowing 100,000 potentially deadly pipe fittings to remain in the ground.

One year after a natural gas explosion killed Benny and Martha Cryer of Wylie, the Texas Railroad Commission is taking some action to ensure that some of the potentially deadly couplings are removed.

Now there is new evidence that the Texas Railroad Commissioners may have suddenly backed off a proposal last spring to force Atmos to remove the dangerous couplings.

In Ramsey, Minnesota, three people were killed and one injured on December 28, 2004, which was when a natural gas pipe pulled out of its coupling, leaked gas and sparked an explosion. It was the same style of coupling that federal regulators and industry experts had warned for two decades posed a deadly potential for pullout.

The Minnesota Office of Pipeline Safety conducted an exhaustive and detailed investigation including a forensic examination of the failed coupling and determined the pipe "pull-out occurred" because of "thermal contraction of the soil."

The response was swift. The fittings were deemed dangerous and state pipeline officials ordered nearly 30,000 of them immediately pulled from the ground, which cost the gas company nearly $40 million.

Fast forward to October 16, 2006 in Wylie. Benny and Martha Cryer were killed when an Atmos pipe pulled out of its compression coupling, leaked gas and caused an explosion.

The Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates the pipeline industry, conducted the investigation.

Its preliminary finding stated that a line that separated from a compression coupling "possibly due to shifting of soil" and "natural ground movement."

Just as was the case in Minnesota, a recommendation was drafted, which was dated April 25, 2007, from Safety Director Mary McDaniel directing gas companies in Texas to establish a "replacement program to phase out" the questionable couplings.

However, that memo was never sent.

Another memo, also dated April 25 from Mary McDaniel, was greatly modified. The demand for a "coupling phase out" was gone and replaced with a request for information regarding the "installation, maintenance and leak history" of the compression couplings.

McDaniel denied a "phase out" was ever considered.

So, the potentially deadly couplings, an estimated 100,000 of them, remain in the soil while the Railroad Commission conducts a survey.

At a recent meeting in Austin, Commissioner Elizabeth A. Jones congratulated McDaniel for her fine work.

"You all are doing such a great job in getting so deep into this study," she said. "I really appreciate it."

Then amid mounting questions from News 8, Commissioners ordered gas companies to "repair or replace" the dangerous couplings if they are leaking or discovered during routine excavations.

Instead of ordering the couplings removed as in Minnesota, Railroad Commissioners have opted to study them and revisit the issue in January.

"We are taking every effort we can to make sure that we can provide to people in this state the safest natural gas transporting system in the country," said Commission Chairman Michael L. Williams when asked if he thought it would be possible someone could die before the compression coupling leaks are discovered.

"This order would not have saved Benny and Martha Cryer's lives," said Bruce Scrafford, an Austin attorney who represents the Cryer family in a lawsuit against Atmos Energy.

He called the Railroad Commission directive meaningless, mainly because federal safety regulations already say "each segment of pipeline that becomes unsafe must be replaced or removed from service."

Scrafford said Railroad Commissioners are, in effect, doing nothing.

"The Railroad Commission has not done anything to follow up, to make sure that they take those couplings out of the ground in applications where they are not appropriate and where they are unsafe and where more people are going to die if they don't do something to fix this problem," he said.

So, why isn't Atmos aggressively removing the 100,000 non-restraint couplings still in their system? That question was recently posed to an Atmos engineer in a videotaped deposition.

"I don't know," said the engineer when asked if he thought there was any other reason besides cost that Atmos would not replace the fittings.

Atmos Energy's official position is another utility disrupted their gas pipes causing the Wylie explosion. Atmos officials also said that they are complying with the Railroad Commission's directive and insist their pipeline system is safe.

Atmos officials also once assured Wylie residents who reported smelling gas hat everything was fine.

"In some cases, there was no leak found," said Rand Lavon, an Atmos spokesperson. "In other cases, it might have been something inside the home like a hot water heater."

But everything in that Wylie neighborhood was not fine. A compression coupling with s deadly reputation failed, killing Benny and Martha Cryer. It was a style of coupling too dangerous for Minnesota, but not the state of Texas.

In response to News 8 reports, Atmos officials have released a statement. They said safety and reliability are their highest priorities and that they welcome any discussion about safety and maintaining their natural gas system.

More importantly, they ask anyone who may smell gas to contact Atmos.

And for those who live in an older home and have a meter that looks unattended to, contact Atmos and tell them you want your system checked for bad couplings.
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Gas leak discrepancies spark concern - Atmos has thousands more identified gas leaks than it repairs

Part IV

A top official from Atmos Energy is on the record saying that all natural gas leaks are serious and possibly deadly; but at the same time, Atmos Energy says the vast majority of their leaks can go months or longer without being repaired.

That policy has Cindy Graham of Richardson concerned. She described the experience of smelling leaking natural gas just outside of her home this summer.

"It was like walking into a wall of natural gas," she said. "It made me ill."

Graham said her immediate response was to call Atmos. When Atmos came out and found the leak next door, she said, they told her it would not be repaired because it was not a threat.

"He said he found the leak but it's just going up into the air, but that it was not going to harm anyone," she said.

Coral Watkins, of Wylie, said she and her neighbors were also told for years not to worry about gas they smelled in their older neighborhood.

"We had called and called and called about gas leaks, gas smells and bubbling everywhere and [Atmos said] there's nothing wrong," she said.

But one of those leaks turned deadly when gas found its way under the Wylie home of Benny and Martha Cryer, who were both killed when the gas exploded last October.

In the days following that explosion, Atmos discovered 24 active leaks within a few blocks in the same neighborhood. The leaks may have been something they knew already existed. Any one of which, according to one top Atmos official, who while being deposed recently for a lawsuit, said all leaks are dangerous.

"I believe anytime you have an escape of natural gas you have the potential of a serious situation that could cause serious damage or even death," said Scott Powell, Atmos Vice President.

What's the danger to North Texans? Atmos reported having more than 16,000 leaks in its North and Mid-Texas system in 2006. They said on any given day, they have roughly 6,700 active leaks.

According to Atmos, only five percent or their leaks, the really bad ones, are repaired immediately. Those are called grade one leaks. Grade two leaks, about 33 percent, are medium priority and get monitored monthly until they're repaired. Grade three and four leaks, about 61 percent, are low priority and may not get repaired for months.

Graham's fear is that right next door is one of those grade three or four leaks, which according to Atmos, is both potentially dangerous, yet not a threat to public safety.

"I don't know what these people are thinking," she said. "I don't know how they can come to your door and look you straight in the face and tell you it's not an issue when obviously it's an issue."

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Bonnie Raitt on Nuclear Energy

By NPR - Oct. 23, 2007
Listen to AUDIO on NPR

Senate Energy Bill contains an amendment to remove limit on loan guarantees for Nuclear Power Plant. This amendment which grants UNLIMTED LOAN GUARANTEES by the Federal Government for Nuclear Power Plants was not debated.

Nuclear Industry Seeks $50 Billion Safety Net

By The Bryant Park Project NPR - October 23, 2007
Amid rising concern over climate change and the greenhouse gases caused by burning carbon-based fuels, lawmakers in Washington, D.C., are taking a new look at nuclear power.

A provision in the energy bill now before the Senate would help finance a boom in the construction of new nuclear reactors. The one-line amendment, entered without debate, lifts the limit on federal loan guarantees for nuclear plants.

Efforts to create nuclear power facilities in the 1970s and '80s often went bankrupt before the plants ever opened. They were expensive projects designed to meet demands for electricity that sometimes failed to materialize, reports Steve Mufson, energy correspondent for the Washington Post. Some, ready to start operations, couldn't get regulatory approval.

Mufson explains that under the proposed law, utilities would have a safety net. "If the utility company can't pay the loan back, then the government will," he says. "Or taxpayers, [that] would be another way of looking at it."

The nuclear industry is asking that a total of $50 billion be available in guarantees over two years, 2008 and 2009.

Meanwhile, opponents of nuclear power are gearing up for a lobbying campaign to stop the provision. Singer Bonnie Raitt is leading a group of anti-nuclear musicians to Capitol Hill, and they've launched a video on YouTube to carry their message. Proponents championing atomic energy as a relatively clean source of fuel have launched a countercampaign, rebutting Raitt and company point-by-point.

Listen to AUDIO and read more on NPR

Senate Bill Targets Coal-Power Greenhouse Gases

by Elizabeth Shogren - NPR - All Things Considered - Nov. 3, 2007
This past week, a Senate subcommittee passed a bill that would be a major step toward controlling greenhouse gases. The legislation would target places like Maryland's Brandon Shores, a large coal-fired power plant that emits 10 million tons of carbon dioxide a year.

Coal-fired power plants like Brandon Shores, located outside Baltimore, are the United States' biggest contributors to global warming. But they also supply about half of the country's electricity.

On a recent tour of the plant, Paul Allen, senior vice president of Constellation Energy — which owns Brandon Shores — discussed the plant's future.

"This power plant serves the electrical needs of perhaps a million customers. It's a very significant portion of the generation supply for the Baltimore metropolitan area," Allen said. Asked how long he expects the plant to operate, his response is optimistic. "Oh decades," he said.

That could mean Brandon Shores will also be pumping out carbon dioxide for decades. Right now, that doesn't cost the company anything. But that will change if one of the bills making their way through Congress becomes law.

The two measures would cover power plants, refineries and factories in a cap and trade system, in which they would need allowances for every ton of carbon dioxide they emit.

At first, the government would probably give Brandon Shores and other polluters some of those allowances. But over time, the company will have to buy them.

The price will be dynamic," Allen said. It could go up it could go down. But if we are serious about meeting the kind of targets that climatologists tell us need to be met, it's possible to think the price of carbon control could be pretty high."

Allen says Constellation will have no choice but to buy the allowances from other companies or the government.

"We recognize that ultimately this is going to be an additional cost of doing business."

Over time, as the cap gets tighter, that could lead to customers paying more expensive electricity bills.

Allen says Constellation can't just install a pollution control device for carbon dioxide, the way it's doing to strip out other pollutants like the ones that create smog and acid rain. The difference is that carbon dioxide is an unavoidable byproduct of burning coal.

Some engineers are working on ways to capture carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants and then inject it underground. But Allen doesn't expect those technologies to be available any time soon.

Allen says the prospect of carbon dioxide regulation is already having a huge impact on his business. For instance, Constellation is planning to build new nuclear plants, mostly because they don't emit carbon dioxide.

"If you believe as we do, that carbon policy is both good and inevitable, and that it's going to have to be pretty significant to make a difference ecologically speaking," Allen said, "then you begin to believe that it has to be at the center of all your business planning — and for us, it is."

Economist Billy Pizer, from the Washington think tank Resources for the Future, says that Allen's statement reflects exactly the kind of thinking supporters of climate change policies are hoping to inspire by making it expensive to emit greenhouse gases.

"Suddenly this activity that had no consequence before has a consequence, a financial consequence," Pizer said.

"So, it's going to change the way people think. It's going to change the way they use the fuels they currently have and it's going to change the way people invest in research and development to try to find cleaner technologies."

Pizer says the hope is that over the long run, the changes will be enough to stabilize concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere at a level that will protect the environment.

But in the mean time, measures like the one passed this week by a Senate subcommittee will have to work their way through the political process. The bill, America's Climate Security Act, was sponsored by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John Warner (R-VA).

After being approved, 4-3, the bill moves on to the Environment and Public Works Committee, which is headed by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA).

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