About Air and Water

Thursday, December 17, 2009

That Tap Water Is Legal but May Be Unhealthy

By CHARLES DUHIGG - The New York Times - December 16, 2009
The 35-year-old federal law regulating tap water is so out of date that the water Americans drink can pose what scientists say are serious health risks — and still be legal.

Only 91 contaminants are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, yet more than 60,000 chemicals are used within the United States, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. Government and independent scientists have scrutinized thousands of those chemicals in recent decades, and identified hundreds associated with a risk of cancer and other diseases at small concentrations in drinking water, according to an analysis of government records by The New York Times.

But not one chemical has been added to the list of those regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act since 2000.

Other recent studies have found that even some chemicals regulated by that law pose risks at much smaller concentrations than previously known. However, many of the act’s standards for those chemicals have not been updated since the 1980s, and some remain essentially unchanged since the law was passed in 1974.

All told, more than 62 million Americans have been exposed since 2004 to drinking water that did not meet at least one commonly used government health guideline intended to help protect people from cancer or serious disease, according to an analysis by The Times of more than 19 million drinking-water test results from the District of Columbia and the 45 states that made data available.

In some cases, people have been exposed for years to water that did not meet those guidelines.

But because such guidelines were never incorporated into the Safe Drinking Water Act, the vast majority of that water never violated the law.

Some officials overseeing local water systems have tried to go above and beyond what is legally required. But they have encountered resistance, sometimes from the very residents they are trying to protect, who say that if their water is legal it must be safe.

Dr. Pankaj Parekh, director of the water quality division for the City of Los Angeles, has faced such criticism. The water in some city reservoirs has contained contaminants that become likely cancer-causing compounds when exposed to sunlight.

To stop the carcinogens from forming, the city covered the surface of reservoirs, including one in the upscale neighborhood of Silver Lake, with a blanket of black plastic balls that blocked the sun.

Then complaints started from owners of expensive houses around the reservoir. “They supposedly discovered these chemicals, and then they ruined the reservoir by putting black pimples all over it,” said Laurie Pepper, whose home overlooks the manmade lake. “If the water is so dangerous, why can’t they tell us what laws it’s violated?”

Dr. Parekh has struggled to make his case. “People don’t understand that just because water is technically legal, it can still present health risks,” he said. “And so we encounter opposition that can become very personal.”

Some federal regulators have tried to help officials like Dr. Parekh by pushing to tighten drinking water standards for chemicals like industrial solvents, as well as a rocket fuel additive that has polluted drinking water sources in Southern California and elsewhere. But those efforts have often been blocked by industry lobbying.

Drinking water that does not meet a federal health guideline will not necessarily make someone ill. Many contaminants are hazardous only if consumed for years. And some researchers argue that even toxic chemicals, when consumed at extremely low doses over long periods, pose few risks. Others argue that the cost of removing minute concentrations of chemicals from drinking water does not equal the benefits.

Moreover, many of the thousands of chemicals that have not been analyzed may be harmless. And researchers caution that such science is complicated, often based on extrapolations from animal studies, and sometimes hard to apply nationwide, particularly given that more than 57,400 water systems in this country each deliver, essentially, a different glass of water every day.

Government scientists now generally agree, however, that many chemicals commonly found in drinking water pose serious risks at low concentrations.

And independent studies in such journals as Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology; Environmental Health Perspectives; American Journal of Public Health; and Archives of Environmental and Occupational Health, as well as reports published by the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that millions of Americans become sick each year from drinking contaminated water, with maladies from upset stomachs to cancer and birth defects.

Those studies have tracked hospital admissions and disease patterns after chemicals were detected in water supplies. They found that various contaminants were often associated with increased incidents of disease. That research — like all large-scale studies of human illnesses — sometimes cannot definitively say that chemicals in drinking water were the sole cause of disease.

.... READ MUCH MUCH MORE in the New York Times

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Does the gas industry threaten your health?

Does the gas industry threaten your health?

Find out at the DISH, TX public meeting: 10/12 at 7pm

Public can discuss new study showing toxic air threats from gas compressor stations

Dear Sharon,

Come to DISH, TX
On Monday, October 12th at 7pm the Town of DISH will hold a public meeting to discuss the findings of recent air quality study commissioned by the Town.

Please attend and spread the word to your friends and neighbors. We need you to show your support for local government and citizens addressing toxic emissions in their community!

Town of DISH public meeting
October 12th at 7 pm
5413 Tim Donald Road
DISH, Texas 76247

Learn about the health risks of gas facilities in your community
The results of DISH's air study revealed high concentrations of carcinogenic and neurotoxin compounds near and on residential properties near the megaplex of compressors stations operating at the corner of Tim Donald and Strader Roads in DISH.

These compressors have multiple engines and support equipment, such as condensate tanks, that emit fugitive toxic emissions. The report also indicated that many of the compounds in the air exceeded the Short-term and Long-term Effects Screening Levels according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality regulations.

We need your help to support science, public health
Public health and safety may be best served by immediately shutting down these compressors until they can be operated safely with emission controls. However, The Town of DISH is taking tremendous heat from the oil and gas industry, who like Big Tobacco and other industries, are simply belittling valid concerns and studies as "bad science."

We need you to turn out to this meeting and support the efforts of local government and citizens to gather emissions data and hold companies accountable for health impacts!

Jennifer Goldman, EARTHWORKS' Oil & Gas Accountability Project

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Friday, September 25, 2009

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Secrets of Alleged Oil Price Manipulation Exposed

By Landon Thomas Jr. - The New York Times - Friday, 4 Sep 2009
Its superfast, supersecret oil trading software was called the Hammer.

And if the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is right, the name fit well with an intricate scheme that allowed commodity traders in Chicago working for Optiver, a little-known company based in Amsterdam, to put their orders first in line and subtly manipulate the price of oil to the company’s advantage.

Transcripts and taped conversations of actions that took place in 2007, included in the commission’s case, reveal the secretive workings of high-frequency trading, a fast-growing Wall Street business that is suddenly drawing scrutiny in Washington. Critics say this high-speed form of computerized trading, which is used in a wide range of financial markets, enables its practitioners to profit at other investors’ expense.

Traders in the Chicago office of Optiver openly talked among themselves of “whacking” and “bullying up” the price of oil. But when called to account by officials of the New York Mercantile Exchange, they described their actions as just “providing liquidity.”

In July 2008, the commission charged Optiver with manipulating the price of oil; negotiations over a settlement continue.

In the cutthroat world of high-frequency trading, success is a function of speed, secrecy and often a bit of intrigue. Few have been more adroit at these arts than Optiver.

Optiver describes itself as one of the world’s leading liquidity providers, a trading firm that uses its own capital to make markets. It seeks to profit on razor-thin price differences — which can be as small as half a penny — by buying and selling stocks, bonds, futures, options and derivatives. (Derivatives represent about 65 percent of its business, equities 25 percent, and commodities and others make up the remaining 10 percent.)

But the extent to which market making (providing liquidity to markets that need it) and proprietary trading (the pursuit of pure profit with a firm’s own money) can properly coexist has become a thorny question for regulators. They are grappling with an exploding business that makes up as much as half the overall trading in the United States and a growing share in Europe as well.

10 Hottest Commodities of 2009
Tanno Massar, a public relations executive working for the company, said that Optiver had no comment on the case. As for Optiver’s trading conduct, Mr. Massar said that the company was committed to transparent markets and that there was no inherent conflict between pursuing profits and making markets — a view that top Optiver officials had long been trying to convey to regulators when their oil trades were being investigated.

But their pleadings fell on deaf ears. During a tense conference call in 2007, Thomas Lasala, the chief regulator for Nymex, made his doubts clear about Optiver’s trading strategies. “The market seems to move in reaction to your orders,” he said, according to a transcript of the conversation. “And I don’t think that is a market-making strategy.”

Schork Oil OutlookOPEC Likely to Keep Output Steady
It could well be that Optiver’s cowboy trading tactics are unique to the company. But as concern grows over the effect that high-octane computerized trading is having on markets worldwide, Optiver’s conduct in the oil futures market raises questions as to whether the relentless competition of this business is forcing companies to engage in similar practices. “These are proprietary trading shops that are masquerading as market makers,” said Tim Quast of Modern IR, a consulting firm that advises corporations on market structure issues.

The Securities and Exchange Commission has opened up an investigation into high-speed-trading practices, in particular the ability of some of the most powerful computers to jump to the head of the trading queue and — in a fraction of a millisecond — capture the evanescent trading spread before the rest of the market does.

The spread of high-frequency trading in Europe has lagged behind the United States. But it is now experiencing rapid growth, spurred by arbitrage opportunities that have attracted large American firms like Getco and Madison Tyler.

BusinessDealBook BlogSmall Business News
Amsterdam, as much as if not more than London, has been the breeding ground for local firms seeking the same advantages. Companies like Optiver, All Options, Tibra and others have assumed influential positions in Europe, moving from their original expertise in trading options to the full gamut of stocks, bonds and derivatives as well.

Called low-latency trading, this blend of speed and opportunism is the essence of Optiver’s business model.

It deploys a sophisticated software system called F1 that can process information and make a trade in 0.5 milliseconds — using complex algorithms that let its computers think like a trader. And the company is so careful about preserving its secrets that when some traders and engineers left for a rival operation recently, Optiver hired private investigators and subsequently sued the former employees on charges of making off with intellectual property.

Founded in 1986 by an options trader named Johann Kaemingk, Optiver has grown far beyond its roots in Amsterdam to trade on exchanges all over the world. It employs 600 people and, judging from the many positions advertised on its Web site, it is still in a hiring mode.

Which Oil-Producing Nations Make Money

Given the vicious competition that exists in the industry, Optiver and other companies have become creative in attracting the smartest people in finance. The dress code is aggressively casual. The company provides free breakfasts, lunches and Friday afternoon drinks, as well as chair massages.

And in one recruiting Web video (no longer online), an Optiver trader sitting before four giant trading screens is seen ogling two skimpily clad women as they sit on his thighs.

To enjoy these professional fruits, applicants need to subject themselves to three math-based tests to test facility with numbers and the ability to think clearly under pressure. For one of the tests, 80 questions must be answered in under 8 minutes. Sample questions include 0.034 times 0.2, or, if you have a cube made of 10 by 10 smaller cubes, how many are facing the outside?

Few of the applicants even get an interview: 80 to 90 percent of people who take the test fail it. People who have worked at Optiver say the average age is young — under 30 — as the company has a policy of not hiring traders from rival institutions, preferring recent university graduates who can more easily embrace the firm’s culture.

According to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which would not comment on the case, Optiver made about $1 million on its oil trading gambit.

While $1 million may not seem like a lot, recorded conversations reveal the extent to which the firm’s trading practices broadly have enriched its employees.

In one exchange, Christopher Dowson, head of trading in Optiver’s Chicago office and the mastermind behind the oil strategy, bragged to another employee about how he had bought a new speed boat with his share of the returns. “With these profits, might have to get a bigger one,” he said.

And in another, Mr. Dowson acknowledges that Optiver was so aggressive in conducting its proprietary trades in some smaller stocks that their activities “were as big as the volume traded on the day.”

It is precisely this — high-powered computers and the swagger of those who operate them — that is causing worries over high-frequency trading’s increasing sway. “The markets used to be about capital formation,” said Mr. Quast, the consultant. “Now 80 percent of trading is driven by some form of statistical arbitrage. We are buying into a statistical house of cards that could unravel very quickly.”

This story originally appeared in the The New York Times

Saturday, August 29, 2009

State Participation in Gas Pipeline Relocations

From Minutes of Texas Transportation Commission, August 27, 2009

Chapter 21 – Right of Way (MO)
New §21.24, State Participation in Gas Pipeline Relocations (Utility
Adjustment, Relocation, or Removal) and Amendments to §21.31,
Definitions, §21.33, Applicability, §21.34, Scope, §21.36, Rights of Utilities,
§21.37, Design, and New §21.42, Appeal Process (Utility Accommodation)
Legislation passed by the 81st Legislature increases the types of gas pipelines that can be placed longitudinally in state highway right of way. The proposed rule changes authorize installation of the new gas pipelines, provide for verification of Railroad Commission regulation, and establish a formal appeal process.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Filling the gap When the state won’t take on a dirty job

By Editorial - HOUSTON CHRONICLE - Aug. 23, 2009

City of Houston officials have wrestled for years with this dilemma: How do you prevent industrial facilities from violating clean air standards if the state agency entrusted with that responsibility doesn't do the job?
Environmental groups frustrated by that inaction are now taking polluters to court, with encouraging results. In the latest example, the Sierra Club and Environment Texas have filed a federal suit to force Chevron Phillips Chemical to reduce emissions of air toxics at its Cedar Bayou chemical plant in Baytown.
In court filings, the groups claim that since 2003 the plant has illegally released more than a million pounds of toxic, carcinogenic chemicals, including benzene and 1,3-butadiene. Most of the releases occurred during so-called “upsets,” which occur during startups, shutdowns, and other non-routine activities.
The litigation is being brought under a provision of the Clean Air Act empowering private citizens affected by illegal pollution discharges to file federal suits if state and federal regulators do not take action.
This is the second time that the two groups have used the citizen suit provision against a Houston-area company. Last year the target was the Shell Oil Deer Park refinery and petrochemical complex. That resulted in a landmark settlement in which Shell agreed to reduce emissions and pay nearly $6 million for past Clean Air Act violations.
Reacting to the latest suit, a Chevron Phillips spokesman claimed the company is complying with existing laws and has reduced emissions.
Neil Carman, a chemist and the Clean Air Program director for the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club, says a single discharge of emissions from the Cedar Bayou facility 10 years ago created the highest levels of ozone in Houston in the last 20 years.
The director of Environment Texas, Luke Metzger, says citizen suits are necessary “because the state of Texas has failed to stop such violations at Cedar Bayou and elsewhere and enforce the law themselves.”
The support evidence filed in the Chevron Phillips suit is based on analysis of the company's own reports submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. It's inexcusable that the state agency responsible for enforcing clean air laws apparently can't be bothered to look at what's right under its nose.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Notice of Air Quality Permitting Contested Hearing


SOAH Docket No. 582-09-5906
TCEQ Docket No. 2009-0696-AIR
Proposed Permit No. 85088L001

APPLICATION. Trinity Materials, Inc., 2525 North Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, Texas 75207, has applied to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for issuance of an Air Quality Permit Number 85088L001, which would authorize construction of a Rock Crushing Plant to be located approximately 3.8 miles east of Elmo, Texas, on Highway 80. Travel south on County Road 314 approximately 1,000 feet to the plant entrance near Terrell, Kaufman County, Texas. The proposed facility will emit the following air contaminants: particulate matter including particulate matter less than 10 microns in diameter.

The TCEQ executive director has prepared a draft permit which, if approved, would establish the conditions under which the facility must operate. The TCEQ Executive Director has made a preliminary decision to issue the permit because it meets all rules and regulations. The permit application, TCEQ Executive Director's preliminary decision, and draft permit are available for viewing and copying at the TCEQ Central Office, the TCEQ Fort Worth Regional Office, and at the Terrell Public Library, 301 North Rockwall Street, Terrell, Kaufman County, Texas. The facility's compliance file, if any exists, is available for public review at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality Dallas/Fort Worth Regional Office, 2309 Gravel Drive, Fort Worth, Texas.

DIRECT REFERRAL. The Notice of Application and Preliminary Decision was published on December 18, 2008. On July 30, 2009, the Applicant filed a request for direct referral to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH). Therefore, the chief clerk has referred this application directly to SOAH for a hearing on whether the application complies with all applicable statutory and regulatory requirements.

CONTESTED CASE HEARING. The State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) will conduct a formal contested case hearing at:

10:00 a.m. - September 28, 2009
William P. Clements Building
300 West 15th Street, 4th Floor
Austin, Texas 78701

The contested case hearing will be a legal proceeding similar to a civil trial in state district court. The hearing will be conducted in accordance with the Chapter 2001, Texas Government Code; Chapter 382, Texas Health and Safety Code; TCEQ rules including 30 Texas Administrative Code (TAC) Chapter 116, Subchapters A and B; and the procedural rules of the TCEQ and SOAH, including 30 TAC Chapter 80 and 1 TAC Chapter 155.

To request to be a party, you must attend the hearing and show you would be affected by the application in a way not common to the general public. Any person may attend the hearing and request to be a party. Only persons named as parties may participate at the hearing.

INFORMATION. If you need more information about the hearing process for this application, please call the Office of Public Assistance, Toll Free, at 1-800-687-4040. General information regarding the TCEQ can be found at www.TCEQ.state.tx.us.

Persons with disabilities who need special accommodations at the hearing should call the SOAH Docketing Department at 512-475-3445, at least one week prior to the hearing.

Further information may also be obtained from Trinity Materials, Inc., at the address stated above or by calling Mr. Bobby Bailey, Environmental Coordinator at 214-589-8459.

Issued: August 12, 2009

LaDonna CastaƱuela, Chief Clerk
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality

Thursday, August 6, 2009

TCEQ HELICOPTER TAKES TO THE SKY FOR GULF COAST CLEAN AIR STUDY Looking for unreported, under-reported emissions

By Lisa Wheeler - TCEQ News Release - WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 5, 2009
Residents in the Corpus Christi, Beaumont-Port Arthur, and Houston-Galveston-Brazoria areas may soon notice a white helicopter hovering over or near pipelines, oil and gas production facilities, and other industrial facilities, as part of an airborne study being conducted by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Beginning the second week of August, the helicopter flights will be conducted over industrial areas in Harris, Jefferson, and Nueces counties. The study will conclude no later than August 21, 2009.

The specially-equipped helicopter utilizes an infrared camera called the HAWK that can image volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other hydrocarbon emissions invisible to the eye. VOCs are a class of compounds present in common things like gasoline and used as solvents or industrial chemicals. VOCs can combine with nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the presence of sunlight and light winds to form ground-level ozone.

When the camera detects possible VOC emissions, the technician on the helicopter will note the time and location and other information about the emissions source. The helicopter may hover or circle a particular location for an extended period of time to gather images and data on potential emission sources.

The TCEQ project is a follow-up to similar efforts conducted in the Texas Gulf Coast, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Tyler-Longview-Marshall areas to identify VOC sources that may potentially be unreported or under-reported. Identifying the emissions will assist the agency in improving the region's air quality by advancing the study of ozone formation and VOC sources, thus leading to improved air quality planning efforts.

Notification of similar flights in the future will be posted on the TCEQ Point Source Emissions Inventory page http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/implementation/air/industei/psei/psei.html, rather than via news releases.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Penalties mean profit for polluters

By RICK CASEY - Houston Chronicle - July 14, 2009
Way back in the bad old days, many prosperous Texas companies made a happy discovery.
They could earn money by not paying their taxes on time.
Under the law, the penalties they faced for being delinquent on their property taxes were less than they could earn in interest over that period of time.
Tax laws have since been changed to take away the profit motive for tax delinquents.
In another arena, however, we still are in the bad old days. Very prosperous corporations understand that the fines they will be charged by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality for dumping illegal amounts of pollutants into the air are likely to be much less than they would have to pay to upgrade their equipment and limit their emissions to permitted amounts.
There's no secret about this. Back in 2003 a state audit of the TCEQ found that refineries and other polluters were consistently fined less than what the law called for. What's more, the law often capped fines at considerably less than an amount that would deter polluters.
The result, according to the audit:
“Violators often have economic benefits that exceed their penalties, which could reduce their incentive to comply. For 80 fiscal year 2001, 2002, and 2003 cases we tested, the total economic benefit gained by violators during the period of noncompliance was $8,647,005. However, these entities were fined only $1,683,635, which is approximately 19 percent of the economic benefit gained from being out of compliance.”

Last year a study by the Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention, a good organization with an egregiously cute acronym (GHASP), found that little had changed.
“The economic benefit gained and the cost of compliance thus far avoided are not recovered in the majority of penalties,” the report found, noting that violators thus “gain a competitive advantage over those that comply.”

State Sen. Mario Gallegos introduced a bill this spring that would have required that all fines would be equal to or more than the amount the company saved by not installing nonpolluting equipment and procedures.
If you breathe Houston's air, you won't be surprised to learn that the bill was buried early.
Still, some Houston clean-air activists took heart last month when Attorney General Greg Abbot filed a lawsuit against BP Petroleum on behalf of the TCEQ.
The suit seeks more than $100 million in fines, alleging that BP illegally dumped pollutants into the air at least 46 times, starting when 15 people were killed in 2005 at the company's Texas City plant.
The suit was filed after negotiations between BP and the TCEQ failed.
One clean air advocate said the suit against BP is “a big deal” that supports a local perception that in the past year TCEQ staff has been quietly increasing its enforcement activities while trying not to draw the attention of the agency's business-friendly board.
Others are more skeptical.
“I think it's a long time coming,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas, an Austin-based nonprofit. “I think they're basically piling on after the EPA fined BP with a huge penalty.”

Still, he said he was glad for the suit, if skeptical that it will go far enough.
Metzger has standing to speak. His organization and the Sierra Club last year sued Shell Oil Co. for allegedly exceeding its permitted emissions at its Deer Park plant by 5 million pounds.
They won a settlement of $6 million plus an agreement by Shell to reduce its emissions by 80 percent within three years or face more penalties.
Metzger says more suits are in the works.
Here's a sweet competition for you: Can the TCEQ and the attorney general enforce clean air laws better than a little old nonprofit? Any bets?
Read more in the Houston Chronicle

Friday, July 17, 2009

Midland Texas Wells Contaminated with Chromium

By Dr. Shezad Malik - Dallas Fort Worth Injury Lawyer - July 16, 2009

Beverly Crouch spent hundreds of dollars on chemicals last fall to try to get the green tinge out of her backyard pool.
It wasn't until two months ago that she learned why the chemicals she put into her 13,000-gallon, above-ground pool wouldn't clear the water. The green color came from well water contaminated with hexavalent chromium, a known human carcinogen.
Crouch, 44, isn't alone. Some of her neighbors' wells gushed water the color of urine.
Texas environmental officials are still trying to determine the extent of the contamination. Later this month, they will ask the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to consider the site for federal Superfund status.
After that, efforts will begin to find who dumped the dangerous chemical, which appears to have been in the area for years, according to one environmental investigator.
Residents have enlisted the help of Erin Brockovich, who helped Hinkley, Calif., residents after their groundwater was found to be contaminated by the same chemical.
Industrial workers who breathe airborne hexavalent chromium may get lung cancer, and it can irritate or damage the nose, throat and lungs if inhaled at high levels. It can also damage eyes or skin.
People and animals exposed to hexavalent chromium in drinking water face an increased risk of stomach tumors.
As of June 30, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has found contamination in about one-third of the 125 wells tested in Cotton Flats, a community south of Interstate 20 on the fringe of Midland.
Most of the Cotton Flats homes are in Midland County and are not connected to the city's water supply.
The highest reading was 5,250 parts of chromium per billion — or more than 50 times the maximum allowed by the EPA.
Hexavalent chromium compounds, a toxic form of the element chromium, are man-made and used as an anticorrosive and rust inhibitor; in chrome plating; in pressure treating of wood; in dyes and pigments; and in leather tanning.
The state environmental agency continues to test wells; so far the commission has spent more than $1 million on testing and dealing with the contamination. Texas law allows the agency to seek reimbursement from polluters for costs associated with dealing with the contamination. Such costs would include filtration systems the commission has installed at homes where levels of hexavalent chromium exceed the EPA maximum.
The filtration systems provide water that is safe for all household uses, agency spokeswoman Andrea Morrow said.
The well tests began in early April, but it not known how long the chemical has been in the groundwater, Morrow said.
The concentrations of hexavalent chromium are the highest he's ever seen in groundwater, and he believes the chemical has been in the groundwater for up to five years.
The culprit is definitely oilfield activity, Bowcock said, saying that's the only industry in the area.

Bowcock and some Cotton Flats residents believe Schlumberger, an oilfield services company, is responsible. In an e-mailed statement, company spokesman Stephen T. Harris denied Schlumberger is to blame.
"Schlumberger fully appreciates the concern of the public and continues to cooperate with the TCEQ to help identify sources of chromium in the area," Harris wrote. "Independent groundwater tests, however, indicate that the source of the contamination is likely an adjacent site unrelated to our facility."

Sheldon Johnson, who has lived in Cotton Flats for 17 years and works for the city of Midland, said he doubts whoever is responsible will step forward.
Johnson and others frequently check and change the filters inside the system to ensure they are working properly. The potential heath threat is never far from their thoughts.
Read more in Dallas Fort Worth Injury Lawyer

Wednesday, July 1, 2009


By Matthew Berger - TerraViva EU - Wed. July 1, 2009

LONDON (IPS) - Governments and interest groups around the world followed the U.S. House of Representatives' vote Friday on the first U.S. policy to limit the country's greenhouse gas emissions. They were especially interested in Europe, where a system similar to the bill's cap-and-trade scheme already exists and where EU countries agreed last December to tough emissions targets.

The reaction among European groups has been as mixed as it has been among their U.S. counterparts, with the notable difference that those opposing the passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, or the Waxman-Markey bill, largely feel it does not go far enough.

Most of the 212 U.S. representatives that voted against it, on the other hand, felt it imposed excessive restrictions and costs.

"We are disappointed. The U.S. has a responsibility when it comes to climate change," Sonja Meister, climate change coordinator for Friends of the Earth Europe told IPS Friday. Developed nations need to reduce emissions by at least 40 percent by 2020, she said, referring to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's recommendation for the most ambitious government action.

The U.S. bill calls for a reduction in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions of 17 percent by 2020, compared to 2005 levels. The EU's '20-20-20' targets call for a 20 percent reduction over the same time, compared with 1990 levels.

The position taken by many in Europe is that anything is better than nothing, however. EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso was quoted by the Associated Press Friday as saying, "We want the U.S. to go as far and as fast as they can on climate change. We want Waxman-Markey to succeed."

On Monday, Lena de Visscher, the Commission's spokesperson for the environment office, told IPS, "We welcome the approval of the Waxman- Markey bill by the House. This is an important signal of Congress's desire for the U.S. to re-engage in the global debate on climate change."

The French daily Le Monde led its Sunday-Monday edition with the headline 'Climate: Barack Obama launches his green revolution', largely focusing on the change in policy since last year when, it says, "a law aiming to fight climate change would have been unthinkable."

This rejoicing that legislation addressing climate issues is on the table now after eight years of silence under the Bush Administration is not universal, however.

Leaders in Europe were following the Waxman-Markey bill very closely, said Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace International last week from Amsterdam. They are pleased legislation is on its way after nothing happening under former president George W. Bush, but are uncomfortable with the level of emissions targets at the moment, he said.

The cap-and-trade aspects of the bill have also been criticised in European environmental circles, where they have seen first-hand the successes and failures of their own Emissions Trading System (ETS).

The EU's system, agreed in 2005, distributed a set amount of allowances to industry, mainly in the energy sector. These were distributed for free initially, though the goal was to sell the carbon permits in auction by 2013. Many concessions, including the partial delay of this auctioning, were wrangled by industry as the EU tried to strengthen the ETS in order to bring it in line with the 20-20-20 targets last winter, and the story of U.S. legislation looks very similar.

Concessions to industry and opposition in the House led to the Waxman- Markey bill's original hopes being set aside in the name of simply getting something passed. Among the concessions included in the final draft, the bill would initially distribute 85 percent of allowances for free.

According to Meister, cap-and-trade programmes could work well, but only when they have 100 percent auctioning for all sectors, no offsetting, and earmarking of revenue to help the countries and industries that need the most help in adapting.

"Governments tend to over-rely on market-based solutions," she said. "Because of our experience in the EU, I'm skeptical that this could work, particularly because of the pressure that will come from industry and the loopholes that will develop over time as businesses adapt to the new restrictions."

But the most interesting aspect for Europeans may be not the efficacy of the legislation in the U.S. but the way it affects international climate change discussions, as will take place at the G8 talks in Italy Jul. 8 to 10.

De Visscher, speaking for the European Commission, said the bill shows the U.S. is "ready for a climate change deal in Copenhagen at the end of this year."

There seems to be one consensus - U.S. domestic legislation has an international effect which can raise or lower the bar for everyone else.

"It is really hard to push the EU to enact stronger targets if everyone else is much weaker," says Meister. "The EU says, 'Look, we have the strongest emissions targets.' But even those targets aren't in line with the science."

The bill now moves to the U.S. Senate, where it is expected to face even more scrutiny and criticism than it did in the House. The debate will surely continue in Europe, as well. Read more in TerraViva EU

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Limits on Emissions Have Wide Support

By Steven Mufson and Jennifer Agiesta - Washington Post Staff Writers - Thursday, June 25, 2009
Three-quarters of Americans think the federal government should regulate the release into the atmosphere of greenhouse gases from power plants, cars and factories to reduce global warming, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, with substantial majority support from Democrats, Republicans and independents.
But fewer Americans -- 52 percent -- support a cap-and-trade approach to limiting greenhouse gas emissions similar to the one the House may vote on as early as tomorrow. That is slightly less support than cap and trade enjoyed in a late July 2008 poll. Forty-two percent of those surveyed this month oppose such a program.

The Washington Post-ABC News survey showed that support slipped slightly when people were asked whether they would be willing to pay higher prices in general or higher electricity bills in exchange for significant decreases in greenhouse gases. Although 62 percent of those surveyed said they would support regulation even if it raised the price of purchases and 56 percent would back cap and trade if it resulted in a $10 increase in utility costs, 44 percent said they would back a cap-and-trade system if it boosted monthly electricity bills by $25.

"I think there hasn't been enough regulation," said Janet Opkyke, 60, a freelance book editor in northern Michigan. "Way back when deregulation started, I thought it was the wrong thing to do. I thought it was a license for greed. And I'm glad to see it swinging the other way." She added, "I think greenhouse gases are very harmful, and we have to do something about it."

Cap and trade is a signature issue for President Obama and the Democratic congressional leadership, and it is the centerpiece of the 1,201-page climate bill co-sponsored by Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.). House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hopes to bring the measure to the House floor for a vote tomorrow -- before a week-long recess for the Fourth of July holiday -- but a dispute with Republicans over annual spending bills could delay that plan.

Pelosi called the bill "a wonderful collaboration," and most environmental groups and a large number of companies endorsed it yesterday, despite last-minute concessions made to win the support of farm-state lawmakers led by the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin C. Peterson (D-Minn.).

"These changes will not help the cause of making real reductions in greenhouse gases," said Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch. "And even some strong supporters of the Waxman-Markey legislation are now holding their noses, as if on the perimeter of a hog farm."

Nonetheless, American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman said yesterday in a statement that despite the changes, the group still opposes the "seriously flawed" climate legislation.

A cap-and-trade system sets a limit on the nation's emissions of greenhouse gases, then issues or auctions emission allowances that can be bought or sold by individuals, funds and companies. Over time, the cap is lowered to reduce the nation's emissions. Making emitters pay for carbon dioxide, a byproduct of burning fossil fuels, would provide incentives for developing renewable energy sources and new technologies to limit emissions from coal plants.

Debate over the cap-and-trade approach has focused on the cost to the average American. The Congressional Budget Office estimated this week that cap and trade would cost the average U.S. household $175 a year in 2020, but House Republicans have pushed the message that the legislation would cost many times that and drive millions of jobs offshore.

That message has failed to sway liberal and moderate Republicans, 60 percent of whom back a cap-and-trade program, but it appeals to the party's conservative base.

Tiffany Collins, 31, a part-time children's activity director at a church and a mother of four in Riverside, Calif., said she does not think greenhouse gases are causing climate change. She said she read a report on the Internet saying climate change was linked to changes in the sun's activity. But in any case, she does not support government intervention. "
I'm opposed to the government overregulating just about everything. It costs us money, and they don't do a very good job of it," she said.

One argument used by foes of climate legislation is that the United States should not take action unmatched by China and India, among the world's fastest-growing economies and sources of greenhouse gases. But the Post-ABC poll showed that six in 10 Americans favor U.S. action, even if other countries do less to confront climate change.

One of the sharpest dividing lines in attitudes toward climate legislation was age, with younger adults more receptive to cap and trade and federal regulation of greenhouse gases. Nearly two-thirds of those younger than 30 said they support cap and trade, and eight in 10 support federal limits on emissions. Among seniors, about four in 10 said they back a cap-and-trade proposal, and half favor federal intervention on emissions.

Sensitivity to increased prices is highest among those in households with incomes under $50,000. Nearly all of the drop-off in support for cap and trade or other greenhouse gas regulation comes among people who live in such households. Those in higher-income households were relatively unfazed by the increased costs.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted by telephone June 18 to 21 among a national random sample of 1,001 adults; results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

Staff writer Paul Kane contributed to this report.
Read more in the Washington Post

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Barnett Shale rights of way bill among 37 vetoed by Perry

By Dave Montgomery - Fort Worth Star-Telegram - June 19, 2009

AUSTIN — Gov. Rick Perry on Friday vetoed 37 bills passed by the 2009 Legislature, including a measure that would have allowed natural gas pipelines in the Barnett Shale to be routed along state rights of way.

Perry also struck down a major expansion of pre-kindergarten programs sponsored by state Rep. Diane Patrick, R-Arlington, along with bills sponsored by two other House members from Tarrant County. Sunday is the deadline for Perry to deal with legislation.

Perry signed the nearly $182 billion budget to run the state for the next two years. But he cut $288.9 million through line-item vetoes, mostly appropriations for bills that were either vetoed or failed to make it through the Legislature.

The budget includes $5 million that will allow the University of Texas at Arlington’s School of Nursing to establish a regional nursing education center. The program intends to double the number of undergraduate nursing students from 400 to 800 by 2012, according to a university news release. The appropriation was sponsored by state Sen. Chris Harris, R-Arlington.

"I am proud of the accomplishments lawmakers made this session and thankful for their solid leadership," Perry said. "However, there was some legislation that, in its final form, would have done more harm than good to our citizens."

Barnett Shale

In vetoing the Barnett Shale bill sponsored by state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, Perry said he agreed that the measure "would provide a benefit to communities and reduce the impact on private property owners." But, he said, the measure, Senate Bill 686, conflicted with a similar bill he signed into law that permits gas corporations to lay and maintain lines under public rights of way.

Davis’ bill was a top priority for Fort Worth during the legislative session and was aimed at easing disruptions in residential areas as a result of natural gas drilling.

On Friday night, Fort Worth City Councilman Jungus Jordan said city officials would review the bill Perry referred to — House Bill 2572 — to determine whether the city could use it to meet its goal of routing natural gas pipelines away from residential neighborhoods.

"We’re going to have to sort through it," said Jordan, saying the city’s fundamental objective is to accommodate "the need for pipelines without interfering with the quality of life in neighborhoods."

Perry said HB 2572 "accomplishes the same objectives statewide while ensuring that pipelines are installed using the highest safety standards."


Patrick’s bill would have created a grant program to enable eligible school districts to implement or continue full-day pre-kindergarten programs.

Perry said that a similar grant program exists and that the $25 million appropriated for Patrick’s bill could be used to dramatically increase the number of students served through the program.

Passage of the bill was a major legislative accomplishment for Patrick, a former teacher who served on the Arlington school board. She could not be reached to comment Friday night.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank, applauded Perry’s veto, saying it would have created "an additional and unnecessary government" pre-kindergarten program.

Tarrant County reps

Reps. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, and Todd Smith, R-Euless, also lost bills to Perry’s veto pen.

Smith was the sponsor of House Bill 3148 that would have allowed certain defendants to petition a judge for an exemption from registering as a sex offender. The legislation would have applied only to age-based offenses involving consensual sex in which the defendant was no more than four years older than a victim who was at least 13 years old.

Smith, a lawyer, said the bill was designed to protect teens and young adults engaged in consensual sex from being branded as sex offenders. But Perry said the bill "fails to adequately protect young victims."

Veasey’s bill, House Bill 3481, would have permitted criminal records to be expunged in cases in which no charges resulted from an arrest or investigation. In vetoing the bill, Perry said it "precipitates an untenable injustice to victims and a hazard to public safety."

Veasey said the veto was unwarranted. "I’m shocked," he said. "I thought this was a good chance to give innocent people back their names."

Other legislation

Perry has used a lighter hand with his veto pen this year. Shortly after his first session as governor in 2001, he set the known record for vetoes by a Texas governor with 83. He vetoed 49 bills after the 2007 legislative session.

Gov. George W. Bush had far fewer vetoes during his tenure. His highest total for a legislative session was 38 in 1997.

Other vetoes Friday included:

A bill that would have made it easier for Child Protective Services to remove children from a home while investigating possible abuse. The governor agreed with critics that the measure would infringe on the rights of parents and guardians. At the same time, Perry ordered the Department of Family and Protective Services to develop statewide procedures for seeking court orders without compromising the rights of parents and families.

A proposal to require that drivers give bikes, motorcyclists and pedestrians at least a 3-foot space when passing,

A resolution that would have requested that Perry appoint a task force on horse and greyhound racing,

A measure that specifies what types of marketing and public opinion campaigns the Texas Department of Transportation can spend money on.

Perry signed legislation allowing public schools to buy electronic textbooks, saying it will "further propel Texas schools into the 21st century and ensure that our students have access to the most up-to-date information available in each subject."

And he said he would allow nine bills to become law without his signature, including a resolution that would have designated the Brady World Championship BBQ Goat Cook-off as the official state goat barbecue championship cook-off.

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

Read more in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Is this "the industry standard" for covering up a drilling well sump hole so children can't fall in?

By Faith Chatham - DFWRCC - June 6, 2009

PHOTO BY EDDIE CROSSWHITE - copyright 2009 - used by permission
Driver Pipeline's work crew's responded to instructions this week to cover-up the deep well hole (sump holes) on the Daniel Drive DFW Midstreams Pipeline/ONCOR constuction site in East Arlington. Homeowner Eddie Crosswhite photographed the hole from his back yard after the crew was gone. The president of DFW Midstreams Pipeline, in a phone coversation with Faith Chatham Wednesday afternoon stated:
"They are supposed to be covering the sump hole when they leave each day. Do you know if that is happening?"
Faith assured him that she could find out.

A call to Mr. Crosswhite, whose's home shares a common boundary only a few feet north of this site, prompted him to shoot this picture. Harriet Irby shot video tape of one of the Zapada children, an adorable pre-schooler, playing in his side yard about ten feet from this uncovered, insufficiently-fenced, unsecured, toxic sump-hole filled with drilling chemicals, petroleum residue, salt water and sludge from the coring process. This is not a mud puddle. It is a deep-well hole filled with quick-sand-like drilling sludge.

Construction commenced on this site about nine weeks ago. The company has not fenced the site, despite knowlege that several children reside in the home sharing the southern boundary of this pipeline construction site.

Neither ONCOR/Luminant, owner of the utility right-of-way, nor DFW Midstreams Pipeline, nor their parent company, Texas Energy Futures, has exercised minimal work-site security precautions at the Daniel Drive pipeline construction site in this residential neighborhood.. Their one security guard usually sits in a car parked without a clear view of the opening between the Zapata children's back and side yards and the uncovered sump-holes on the construction site.

Blantant disregard for the health and safety of residents in this neighborhood opens investors in these companies to unnecessary risks.

See related article in The Arlington Texan with embedded links to Jim Grimes and the NEWS 33 teams coverage.

Persuaded by pipeline industry lobbyist citing the advantages of "self-regulation",and generous campaign contributions by individuals and industry PACS, Texas lawmakers have stripped municipalities and other governmental agencies (other than the Texas Railroad Commission) from authority to enforce local building codes and ordinances at pipeline construction sites. Lawmakers have granted the Texas Railroad Commission sole authority to enforce what few restrictions Texas places on the pipeline industry. Gas development in the Barnett Shale, in high-density inner city neighborhoods creates health and safety hazards on par with construction in backward third-world countries.

It doesn't take a petroleum engineer or environmental scientist to identify numerous violations to common decency and reasonable work-place safety practices at this site.

I don't believe there is a parent or grandparent employed at any of these companies would trust the less than "half-ass" poles forming a triangle around this well-sump hole we saw at the Daniel Dr. site Wednesday night to keep any of their children or grandchildren from falling in if they were, like the Zapata children, living within a few feet of this hazard!

Curiousity is natural. Children learn about danger by testing it. Small children disobey parents and go out in their yard when the get a chance.

We urge investors in Luminant, ONCOR, TXU, Texas Energy Futures, and DFW Midsrtreams Pipeline to complain to your investor relations officials about unnecessary risks at these company's work-sites and/or on their utility easements in Arlington.

Without reasonable regulation and sensible enforcement, chaos thrives. Where there is chaos, there are accidents. This job site reflects chaos and shows evidence of unmigitated stupidity.

PHOTO BY EDDIE CROSSWHITE - copyright 2009 - used by permission
This is not the only unsecured, uncovered sump-hole at a DFW Midstreams Pipeline construction site in East Arlington.

After videotaping this site, Mr. Crosswhite and Harriet Irby, photographed another one on the ONCOR/LUMINANT utility easement at a City of Arlington park adjacent to Hugh Smith Recreation Center on New York Ave. The coring/drilling site on the park is farther away from homes than the narrow distance between the Zapata home and Crosswhite home on Daniel Drive. However, parks attract children. All families do not keep their children home after dark. Instead of erecting a fence and installing a gate around the drilling site which they can lock, the company erected barriers on some sides and left at least one side open.

Other Problems:
At the Park, we saw a hose running from the sump hole into a creek outside of the utility easement (a possible E.P.A. violation to The Clean Water Act). The sump-hole was uncovered.

The security guard was on the parking lot, across the creek some distance from the worksite. It appears that the company uses security more to insure that their equipment is not stolen than to help prevent people, especially children, from wandering in and getting hurt.

Chemicals utilized in the drilling operation were not secured at either job site. What good does it do to regulate child-safety at day care centers, schools and residences when companies are allowed to to leave hazardous chemicals unsecured near children's play yards. We videotaped one of the Zapata children playing near stacks of buckets/pails of drilling chemicals stored by the pipeline construction crew between his home and the temporary plyboard wall they erected. The company refers to it as "sound-baffling" but it has no sound absorbant blankets on it like are normally used when companies are serious about sound-abatement. For the convenience of the workers, they left a generous opening between the plyboard so they could get to the chemicals, without concern that their opening (and other unfenced openings) makes it easy for children to wander onto the jobsite, and possibly fall into one of three deep quicksand-like sump holes on the site!
They drill down 15' to 20' and install the steel pipe utilizing horizontal drilling similar to when they drill the gas wells. They bring up salt water and sludge from the coring operation out of the well-holes (sump holes). These are deep, dangerous, wet, sump holes filled with drilling mud and drilling chemicals. They are wide enough for an adult to fall in and drown, let alone a child.

Industrial Development in parks and neighbors:

What good does it do for parents and schools and daycares to lock dangerous household chemicals in closets and kitchen counters when an industry is allowed to leave pails and buckets and barrels of chemicals on unfenced worksites adjacent to children's play-yards? Perhaps the pipelne industry will take work-site safety more seriously if Texas lawmakers grants the Department of Child Protective Services inspection authority for work-sites in residential neighborhoods and at parks. An industry which chooses to operate in residential neighborhoods deserves greater, not less, scrunity. Fines generated for safety violations involving risks to children's health and welfare could help fund additional social workers to inspect worksites and to cover regular CPS case work for at-risk children. To avoid CPS caseworkers coming onto their worksites, they may get serious and take child safety issues on worksites in residential neighborhoods seriously.

If the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society are put at the greatest risk as their parks and neighborhoods are invaded by industrial development, state lawmakers cannot continue exempting an arrogant industry from observing zoning codes, safety ordinances and construction/worksite regulations which other businesses have to observe.

Lawmakers should allow local municipalities to enforce reasonable regulations on pipeline transmission, construction, and gas and petroleum production and storage in high-density residential neighborhoods. Since children are at greater risk, companies who ignore basic child safety practices while profiting from developing gas (and transmission) in the Barnett Shale should fund additional services for those who bear the cost -- the children who live nearby.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Solar plant planned for Austin

By Environment Texas - Summer Report 2009

In March, the Austin City Council approved a contract to build a 30-megawatt utility scale solar plant—the largest photovoltaic installation in the United States.

“We don’t settle for less than the best in Texas,” said Luke Metzger, director of Environment Texas. “The city of Austin made a major investment in the green economy that will pay dividends in jobs, economic development and environmental protection.”

According to a new report by Environment Texas, Public Citizen and Vote Solar, legislation proposed by state Rep. Rafael Anchia and Sen. Florence Shapiro could lead to solar installations on as many as 500,000 roofs in Texas by 2020, at a cost of about $0.98 per month per Texan. This investment would create tens of thousands of jobs and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 29 million tons, the equivalent of taking 4.3 million cars off the road for a year.
Read more in Environment Texas

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Report Finds Barnett Shale Emissions Contributing to DFW Smog - Environmental Defense Fund

Report Finds Barnett Shale Emissions Contributing to DFW Smog - Environmental Defense Fund

Posted using ShareThis

PUC awards wind power transmission line contracts

By ELIZABETH SOUDER / The Dallas Morning News - January 30, 2009

The Public Utility Commission on Thursday assigned seven utilities to build pieces of a $5 billion transmission line project to bring West Texas wind power to North Texas and Houston.

The decision marks the next step in the Competitive Renewable Energy Zone project, designed to promote renewable energy investment.

Texas has more wind power than any other state, and most of it is in West Texas. Existing transmission lines have nearly reached their capacity to bring wind power to population centers.

"Oncor is pleased by the PUC's movement from discussion to action, stimulating economic development through investment and the creation of hundreds of new jobs," said Don Clevenger, vice president of external affairs for Oncor, which won the largest piece of the transmission project.

Oncor, the electric delivery arm of Energy Future Holdings, will build around $1.34 billion in transmission lines in North Texas for the project.

Another Dallas company, Sharyland Utilities, lead by Hunter Hunt, will build $394 million in transmission lines.

The commission also included newcomers in the process. Wind Energy Transmission Texas, a unit of Spain's Isolux Corsan Concesiones SA, will build $402 million in transmission lines.

Traditionally, transmission line utilities own and operate the power lines in particular regions of the state. In the past, each utility suggests and builds its own projects.

For the CREZ project, the commissioners came up with power lines themselves and allowed anyone to bid on them.

Next, the utilities must file a traditional transmission line application by October, said PUC spokesman Terry Hadley. The application would include proposals for exactly where the lines should go.


Here's how the major projects awarded by the Public Utility Commission for wind power transmission lines break down. The numbers are estimates, and the PUC may award other contracts.

Oncor: $1.34 billion

Electric Transmission Texas: $789 million

Lower Colorado River Authority: $750 million

Lone Star Transmission:
$564 million

Wind Energy Transmission Texas:
$402 million

Sharyland Utilities: $394 million

Cross Texas Transmission: $390 million

SOURCE: Public Utility Commission
Read more in the Dallas Morning News

Pipeline Nightmare: Gas Industry Goes Unscathes This Session

By Jim Grimes - News33 Team - May 27, 2009
Fort Worth - Texas lawmakers have just days until the end of the session, and the natural gas industry has emerged without a scratch.

"The gas industry has completely controlled the legislative process," said Rep. Lon Burnam of Fort Worth.

Burnam was among the lawmakers who filed bills aimed at tighter regulations for gas companies. Those bills addressed eminent domain, environmental and safety issues. "None of that's going to be addressed in this legislation," said Burnam.

Gary Hogan who sits on the Fort Worth Gas Ordnance Task Force said, "most people would see we are building ourselves into a catastrophe."

Burnam also wanted gas to be odorized at the wellhead, which he said would allow the highly combustible gas to be detected in the event of a leak.

Industry expert Ed Ireland said odorizing gas would be ineffective in an outdoor setting. "These companies have stockholders to answer to," said Ireland.

Copyright © 2009, KDAF-TV
Watch more on News 33



Battle Over Fracking Capitol Hill

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Face-off Over 'Fracking': Water Battle Brews On Hill

by Jeff Brady -NPR Morning Edition, May 27, 2009 ·
Environmentalists and the natural gas industry are getting ready for a battle in Congress over something known as "hydraulic fracturing."

"Fracking," as the industry calls it, involves injecting a million gallons or more of water and chemicals deep underground to pry out gas that's locked away in tight spaces.

Environmentalists want the federal government to regulate the practice because, in some cases, fracking may be harming nearby water wells. The industry says regulation should be left up to the states.

Hydraulic fracturing allows drillers to dramatically increase production. The chemicals pumped underground with the water help drillers bore through the hard rock. The pressure used is tremendous — about 300 times a typical garden hose. That creates small cracks in the rock that allow gas to escape.

Steve Harris believes that pressure also ruined his well. He lives on 14 acres south of Dallas. Shortly after a driller fracked a nearby well, he and his neighbors noticed a change in water pressure.

"When you'd flush the toilet — in the back where the bowl is — water would shoot out the top of the bowl," says Harris.

When he took a shower, there was a foul odor, and the water left rashes on his grandson's skin. His horses stopped drinking from their trough, and there was an oily film on top of the water.

Similar stories are popping up around the country. In Ohio, a couple's house blew up when gas from their water well filled their basement. A woman in Colorado blames her health problems on the chemicals used for fracking.

For the most part, people nearby don't even know what chemicals are being injected into the ground — companies don't have to report that.

Theo Colborn, who founded The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, based in Paonia, Colo., has spent years trying to figure out what chemicals the industry is using, with some success. She says removing the exemption fracking has been given from the Safe Drinking Water Act would bring some much-needed light to the industry.

"Believe me, we have a lot of good people within our federal agencies that would love to be working on this issue and addressing it. And they can't — it's hands-off right now," says Colborn.

Generally, the Environmental Protection Agency regulates anything that could affect underground drinking water supplies. But in 2005, the industry successfully lobbied for the exemption for fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act. That leaves regulation up to the states, which don't have the kind of resources the EPA does.

"We have no evidence that hydraulic fracturing is causing problems," says Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Without evidence of problems, he says there's no reason to pile on more regulation.

"I think people need to have more faith in the regulatory agencies that are watching it very closely and their ability to respond to issues if they arise," says Fuller

But environmental groups are lobbying Congress to get that exemption overturned as hydraulic fracturing becomes increasingly common. Halliburton, which pioneered hydraulic fracturing, says about 35,000 wells are fracked each year.

Gwen Lachelt of the Oil and Gas Accountability Project says that politically, now is the time for those on her side of this issue to move.

"We have a different presidential administration. We have new regions of the country that are now experiencing oil and gas development," says Lachelt. "New York City is a case in point. ... Companies are wanting to drill natural gas wells in New York City's drinking watershed."

Several City Council members have expressed concern over that idea, and there's been talk of finding a way to ban drilling in that region.

But the natural gas industry argues that more regulation will push up prices. To be sure, hydraulic fracturing is, in part, responsible for the low natural gas prices consumers are paying now.

Colorado School of Mines professor Geoffrey Thyne understands that. Still, he wants the industry to start encouraging more scientific research on fracking.

"Let's prove to everybody what we're saying — that's there's absolutely no danger — but let's do it in a rigorous way we can defend," says Thyne.

Thyne says the industry also could agree to stop using harmful chemicals in the process. Already, several of the largest drillers have agreed to stop using diesel, which can poison groundwater with benzene.
Read (or hear) more on NPR

Monday, May 18, 2009

U.S. to Issue Tougher Fuel Standards for Automobiles

By JOHN M. BRODER - The New York Times - May 18, 2009

WASHINGTON — President Obama will announce tough new nationwide rules for automobile emissions and mileage standards on Tuesday, embracing rules that California has sought to enact for years over the objections of the auto industry and the Bush administration.

The rules, which will begin to take effect in 2012, will put in place a federal standard for fuel efficiency that is as tough as the California program, while imposing the first-ever limits on climate-altering gases from cars and trucks.

The effect will be a single new national standard that will create a car and light truck fleet in the United States that is almost 40 percent cleaner and more fuel-efficient by 2016 than it is today, with an average of 35.5 miles per gallon.

Environmental advocates and industry officials welcomed the new program, but for different reasons. Environmentalists called it a long-overdue tightening of emissions and fuel economy standards after decades of government delay and industry opposition. Auto industry officials said it would provide the single national efficiency standard they have long desired, a reasonable timetable to meet it and the certainty they need to proceed with product development plans.

Yet the industry position represents an abrupt about-face after years of battling tougher mileage standards in the courts and in Congress, reflecting the change in the political climate and the industry’s shaky financial condition. The decision comes as General Motors and Chrysler are receiving billions of dollars in federal help, closing hundreds of dealerships and trying to design the products and business strategy they will need to survive.

“For seven long years, there has been a debate over whether states or the federal government should regulate autos,” said Dave McCurdy, president of the Alliance of Auto Manufacturers, the industry’s largest trade association. “President Obama’s announcement ends that old debate by starting a federal rulemaking to set a national program.”

Mr. McCurdy, a former Democratic congressman from Oklahoma, has been working with Mr. Obama and his advisers on the issue since early this year.

In announcing the new program at the White House, Mr. Obama will be accompanied by Gov. Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, along with auto industry executives and environmental leaders.

The administration’s decision resolves a question over California’s application for a waiver from federal clean air laws to impose its own, tougher vehicle emissions standards. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have said they plan to adopt the California program.

The new national fleet mileage rule for cars and light trucks of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 roughly corresponds to the California requirement, which will be shelved as a result. The current national standard is slightly more than 25 miles per gallon.

The California plan, first proposed in 2002, had been stalled by industry lawsuits and the Bush administration’s refusal to grant a waiver from less stringent federal rules, although California has been given dozens of such exemptions over the last 40 years.

The program will also end a number of lawsuits over the California standards, officials said.

“This is a very big deal,” said Daniel Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign, who has pushed for tougher mileage and emissions standards for two decades with the goal of curbing the gases that have been linked to global warming. “This is the single biggest step the American government has ever taken to cut greenhouse gas emissions.”

The administration had faced a June 30 deadline set by Congress to decide whether to grant California’s application to put its emissions rules into effect. President Obama became personally involved in the issue because he was also trying to find a way to rescue American auto companies from their financial crisis.

One ranking industry official said that the administration wanted to get the new mileage rules in place before General Motors made a decision on a bankruptcy filing, which could happen by the end of this month. The new rules also provide some certainty for Chrysler, which is already under bankruptcy protection, so that it can plan its future models.

To meet the new federal standards, auto companies will have to drastically change their product lineups in a relatively short time.

The companies have declined so far to comment on the costs involved in meeting a fleet standard 0f 35 miles a gallon. For starters, the automakers will probably have to sharply reduce the number of low-mileage models, like pickup trucks and large sedans.

The president’s decision will also accelerate the development of smaller cars and engines already under way.

But Mr. McCurdy said the industry could meet the new mileage targets using existing technology and improvements in future models. He said that 130 models already got 30 miles a gallon or better on the highway.

In January, Mr. Obama directed the Environmental Protection Agency to reconsider the Bush administration’s past rejection of the California application. He also instructed the Transportation Department to draw up rules to complement a 2007 law requiring a 40 percent improvement in mileage for autos and light trucks by 2020. The Bush administration wrote no regulations to enforce the 2007 law.

Mr. Obama will direct the E.P.A. and the Transportation Department to jointly write enforcement regulations.

Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy at the liberal Center for American Progress, said that under the White House plan, California would retain the ability to set its own emissions standards in the future when the current program expired.

He also said the new administration program was very close in language and intent to a provision in the climate change and energy bill now before the House Energy and Commerce Committee. That bill calls for a “harmonization” of the California and federal regulatory programs to provide a nationwide standard.

Mr. Obama has been thinking about the future of the American automobile industry for years. He co-sponsored two bills in 2006, during his second year as a United States senator, one to raise fuel economy standards and the other to encourage the use of alternative fuels.

During the presidential campaign, he gave a speech in Detroit chastising the American automobile industry for doing too little to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and improve their vehicles’ efficiency.

“The auto industry’s refusal to act for so long has left it mired in a predicament for which there is no easy way out,” Mr. Obama said.

That inaction has been a factor in the current dire state in which General Motors and Chrysler find themselves. The Japanese automakers are far ahead in developing smaller, more efficient vehicles, although they, too, will have to adjust their product lines.

Fran Pavley, the California state senator who sponsored the legislation that established the California standard, praised the decision as she traveled to Washington Monday to join the White House meeting on Tuesday.

She said through a spokeswoman that California would work on its own rules while the federal regulations were drafted. “This cleans up our air, reduces our dependence on foreign oil and continues to allow California to lead the way,” she said.

Read more in The New York Times

Travel to other worlds ... UTA Planetarium

Immersive full-dome 3-D Digital planetarium show narrated by Ewan McGregor (Obi wan Kepobi from Star Wars) - Astronaut takes you exporing the worlds of inner and outer space. The movie is projected all around you. You recline in specially constructed chairs which enables you to comfortably view the immersive full-dome planetarium show. Astronaut! (produced from the National Space Centre in England) goes beyond the stereotypical space movie. Experience a rocket launch from inside the body of the astronaut. Float around the international Space Station moving thorugh the microscopic regions of the human body! Discover the beauty and perils as "Chad", the test astronaut experiences everything thrown at him.

Summer Schedule (June 2-August 26):


shows at the UTA Planetarium.

Wed. through Saturdays at 11 a.m.
and Thursday at 7:00 p.m.

Cosmic CSI

shows at the UTA Planetarium 3-D Digital Dome.

Wed. through Saturdays at 2 p.m.

Rock Hall of Fame 1 (The Original)

shows at the UTA Planetarium.

Thursday at 8:00 p.m.

Read more (Warning their flat dull website doesn't give much of a glimmer of the multi-dimensional experience you'll have once you enter the dome of the UTA Planetarium!)

Admission: Adults: $5.00

Seniors, Students, Children: $4.00

UTA Faculty, Staff & Alumni (with ID): $3.00

UTA Studens (with ID): $2.00

Groups of 10 or more with reservation: $3.00

Call 817 272-1183 or e-mail planetarium@uta.edu