About Air and Water

Friday, July 16, 2010

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Natural Gas Chemicals Disclosed-But Not Texas?

By Sierra Club – July 14, 2010

Natural Gas Drilling Company Announces Partial Disclosure of its “Fracking” Chemicals
Pennsylvania Residents Will Benefit, but What about Texas
?

Fort Worth, Texas – Natural gas drilling company Range Resources announced today that it would voluntarily disclose the chemicals it uses in Pennsylvania in the hydraulic fracturing process used to extract natural gas. But the company did not agree to disclose the large amount of chemicals it uses elsewhere, including Texas.

“We call on Range Resources to bring the same level of transparency to Texas that they have announced for Pennsylvania,” said Jennifer Powis, Sierra Club’s Senior Regional Representative in Texas. “While we are glad to see the company announce this first step, it’s only through full, nationwide disclosure and tough regulation of fracking chemicals that we can protect water and communities.”


Fort Worth-based Range Resources is an active driller in Texas’ Barnett Shale, boasting on its website that it makes its "highest rate of return" in Texas.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process in which oil and gas companies try to get at hard-to-reach natural gas by pumping millions of gallons of water, chemicals and sand into a well at high pressures to create cracks in underground geological formations, freeing trapped gas and letting it flow to the surface. Currently there's a loophole in the Safe Drinking Water Act that allows oil and gas companies to
frack without any testing of how those chemicals affect our air and water.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is seeking public input and suggestions on the design of their fracking research study. The EPA’s Science Advisory Board -- an independent, external federal advisory committee -- recently recommended that the scope of the upcoming EPA study of hydraulic fracturing be broad and encompass the entire life cycle of these "frack jobs. "

Energy needs to provide industry leadership in Barnett Shale

By MITCHELL SCHNURMAN - Fort Worth Star Telegram - July 14, 2010

Devon Energy Corp. works the Barnett Shale the right way. It's the biggest natural gas producer in the region and at the same time has become an industry leader on the environment.

With several initiatives, Devon, based in Oklahoma City, has cut greenhouse gases, limited emissions and recycled more than 400 million gallons of water used in "fracking" wells. Over the past decade, it has won numerous awards for its efforts, which boosted the bottom line as well as the environment.

On older wells, Devon is replacing one part -- a valve about the size of a pinkie finger -- that costs $300 and lets the company capture more gas and rack up carbon credits. One valve cuts methane emissions by 90 percent, which is the equivalent of taking 16 cars off the road.

No one doubts that Devon is a big believer in such initiatives. But last month, Devon wrote the state comptroller to oppose a bill that would require the valve replacements.

Devon also opposed a proposal for "green" well completions, even though it uses the technique on the vast majority of its Barnett Shale wells -- and the process generated $38 million in extra revenue in 2007.

Devon also shot down a call for vapor recovery units for storage tanks and the prospect of replacing combustion engines with electric motors.

The big hang-up? Devon wants the changes to be voluntary , not mandatory.

"There are spots where the technology works and spots where it doesn't," says Darren Smith, a manager of Devon's environmental, health and safety department. "Mandate these activities, and there can be a real business disruption."

In its letter, Devon said the mandates on emissions would ultimately hurt capital investment. It warned of fewer wells and jobs, lower taxes for cities, smaller royalties for residents and the risk that gas companies would shift operations.

Reciting that litany of unintended consequences is a business reflex whenever government proposes more regulation. But it's dismaying that Devon is falling back on that playbook, because right now, the industry needs leaders that will set the bar high -- not just for their companies but for every player.

After the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico, everybody knows that you can't rely on voluntary compliance for anything. Before that, we had the meltdown on Wall Street, the mortgage lending debacle, the never-ending buildup of housing inventory. All drove home a message that no less an economic authority than Alan Greenspan later articulated: Companies will sacrifice a lot, even their future, for a quick buck.

Closer to home, in the Barnett Shale, there have been reasons to lose faith, too -- or at least to insist that any trust be verified. Several communities, led by the small town of Dish, have said residents are suffering ill effects from the gas business.

Yet state regulators consistently say all is well. This year, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality lost much of its credibility when it told the Fort Worth City Council that the air was safe -- and failed to disclose that it later learned that three air samples scored high for benzene, a cancer-causing agent.

Follow-up tests showed that contaminant levels fell, but the commission never shared the complete information with city or state leaders. The test results came to light because of an internal complaint and fraud investigation, which was revealed by Forrest Wilder at the Texas Observer.

The disclosure enraged state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, who had met with the commission's top officials repeatedly and never heard a hint about a discrepancy. Now she may introduce a bill to make it a crime for public officials to withhold information that affects public health.

Fort Worth and Dish are pursuing their own air quality tests because residents don't have confidence in the state's results. Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency is also wading in. Wilder reported that environmentalists had pleaded with the EPA to intervene in Texas issues because the state agency was far too cozy with industry.

The clash between the state and the feds was on display last week when the EPA held a huge public meeting in Fort Worth to hear residents' stories about gas drilling. An EPA study is focusing on water issues in fracking, but the EPA's Dallas office is also looking into air quality.

The day before, Gov. Rick Perry pre-empted the EPA event by launching a Texas initiative on energy. He's pulling together university programs and experts to study the Gulf, gas drilling and more. Perry wants industry to underwrite the program, unbothered by the conflict that creates.

How low is the trust factor in the Barnett Shale? It says a lot when separate government entities -- the environmental commission, the EPA and individual cities -- are spending taxpayer money on the same thing.

In this setting, gas companies can't hew to the "voluntary, not mandatory" line, not if they hope to win public support. Devon may have the money and wherewithal to adopt eco-friendly policies, but others don't.

The solution is not to let companies off the hook. Force them to figure out ways to meet higher standards.

"What Devon does is not the norm in the industry," says Ramon Alvarez, senior scientist at the Environmental Defense Fund in Austin. "That's why regulations are worth having -- to bring the whole industry along."

By design, Devon avoided drilling in Pennsylvania, New York and Colorado, where opposition emerged with a vengeance. That was a savvy business move, but the controversy has come home now.

So why not champion the solutions?

Mitchell Schnurman's column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7821



Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram:

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fracking not a cleaner alternative -Cornell prof. - Effects of fractured gas produces same emissions as coal

By Jon Hurdle - Reuters - Mar 31, 2010
* Fractured gas produces 30 pct more emissions than oil

* Gas industry argues no hard data to support study

PHILADELPHIA, March 31 (Reuters) - Natural gas obtained by the controversial technique of hydraulic fracturing may contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions and so should not be considered as a cleaner alternative to coal or oil, according to a Cornell University researcher.

Although natural gas, when burned, produces only about half of the carbon dioxide emissions of coal, that calculation omits greenhouse gas emissions from the well-drilling, water-trucking, pipeline-laying, and forest-felling that are part of the production of hydraulically fractured natural gas, Ecology Professor Robert Howarth argues in a new paper.

Combining the effects of combustion, production, distribution, and leaked methane from hydraulically fractured natural gas gives the fuel about the same greenhouse gas emissions as coal and about 30 percent more than diesel or gasoline, Howarth says in the draft paper published in mid-March.

"A complete consideration of all emissions from using natural gas seems likely to make natural gas far less attractive than other fossil fuels in terms of the consequences for global warming," Howarth writes.


Energy companies are scrambling to develop vast reserves of natural gas from deep shale beds in many U.S. states including Texas, Louisiana, and Pennsylvania. Experts say shale gas could meet national demand for a century while helping to reduce carbon emissions and reducing petroleum imports.

"Government and industry should not be moving ahead on the basis of what is already misleading and incomplete information," Howarth told Reuters. He urged a moratorium on further development in the multibillion-dollar industry until more is known about its greenhouse gas emissions.


The damaging nature of gas from fracturing, or "fracking", undermines claims that it is a "transition" fuel between carbon-intensive sources like coal, and renewables such as solar and wind, Howarth said in the paper.

Citing preliminary data, Howarth estimates total greenhouse gas emissions from hydraulically fractured natural gas may be equivalent to 33 carbon grams of CO2, slightly more than 31.9 grams for coal, and well above the 20.3 grams for diesel or gasoline.

The data are partly based on methane leakage of 1.5 percent of natural gas consumed, a figure assumed by the federal government.

Claims by energy companies that natural gas is a cleaner alternative to coal and oil are further undermined by leaked methane - the principal component of natural gas -- which is many times more potent as a greenhouse gas component than CO2, argued Howarth, who has served on National Academy of Sciences panels looking into climate change, and has been a Cornell professor since 1985.

Dan Whitten, a spokesman for America's Natural Gas Alliance, an industry group, dismissed Howarth's assertions as preliminary and speculative and not backed by hard data and said the professor's statement undermined its own credibility.

"We concur with the author's own assessment that this two-page draft is 'highly uncertain', that the 'numbers should be treated with caution', and that there is 'no rigorous estimate' to support its conclusions," Whitten said.

"Natural gas is twice as clean as coal and is available here in America in significant abundance today," Whitten added.

"Alongside the development of renewables, natural gas has a key role to play in transitioning our nation to a low-carbon economy."


Howarth acknowledged his statement contains many qualifiers but argued that there are sufficient concerns about the greenhouse gas emissions of hydraulically fractured natural gas to warrant early publication.

Critics also claim that fracking contaminates ground water with chemicals that are forced deep underground along with water and sand to fracture the shale and release its gas. (Editing by Marguerita Choy)
Read more in Reuters

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Drilling dispute's hidden conflict: Who's going to run Texas?

By MITCHELL SCHNURMAN - Fort Worth Star Telegram - July 10, 2010
Science and politics go together about as well as natural gas and drinking water.
The combination can be dangerous, with long-term consequences.
In the deep-red state of Texas, where history and economy intertwine with oil and gas, new clashes over science and politics are bubbling to the surface, threatening even more confusion.
It's tough enough for an average citizen to make a judgment on gas drilling. Advocates insist it's safe and there's never been a case of groundwater contamination. Residents cite cancer-causing emissions and say, "Check my back yard -- and take a swig of this water."
Science is supposed to settle the matter, drawing a bright line between things to fear and fear-mongering. But now we also have to decide whom to believe and whom to trust.
The Environmental Protection Agency came to Fort Worth last week, holding a public meeting as part of a new study on gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing. About 600 people turned out to hear stories about "fracking," and many implored the EPA to ride to the rescue because they felt betrayed by their state.
The day before, Gov. Rick Perry went to Dallas to unveil an effort to pull together all of Texas' resources on energy, including programs at major universities. Perry was responding to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but part of his mission is to stay on top of fracking -- and keep the natural gas flowing in Texas.
There was nothing coincidental about Perry's timing or the EPA kicking off its study in the home of the Barnett Shale. The conflict within the conflict: Who's going to run Texas?
Perry wants to reassert the state's primacy over all things oil and gas, and extend his vision of states' rights. The federal government, through the EPA, wants to show that it can make meaningful progress in even the most hostile territory.
On the political front, this clash has been at a high pitch since President Barack Obama took office 18 months ago (although Perry knocked heads with the EPA during the Bush administration, too). Perry rejected more than $500 million in unemployment insurance funds, saying too many strings were attached. He passed on the chance for federal education grants and pushed Texas to be among the states suing over the healthcare law.
Oil and gas should afford more room for a middle ground. Texas has a long track record developing and monitoring gas drilling. And Perry, like many local leaders, has experience balancing the economy and the environment.
At the EPA, the focus is solely on the environment, so it seems that both sides could learn from the other.
Instead, the debate over fracking could devolve into one more battle between Washington and a conservative Southern governor. That could generate more heat than light, at a time when communities want to get a handle on the true threats of drilling and protect their residents.
In North Texas, the Barnett Shale has been a huge boost to jobs and income, but more people are worrying about the long-term risks. The Gulf oil spill has become a reminder that serious dangers can lurk beyond public view.
The oil and gas industry wants states to manage fracking, fearful of new federal standards. Officials from the Texas Railroad Commission, as well as representatives from Oklahoma and Louisiana, were quick to defend their regulatory records at the EPA hearing.
The EPA didn't criticize the states directly. Plenty of citizens did that, telling stories of contaminated water, polluted air and dying cattle -- and alleging that state agencies had ignored them. Many also believe that businesses and their lobbyists have too much clout with state legislatures.
The scope of the EPA study is a bit unnerving, given the amount of fracking that's already occurred. Plus, it won't be completed for 21/2 years.
Some questions listed by the EPA: How are well casings constructed? How is dirty fracking fluid managed? What are the gaps in current knowledge?
Sounds like basic stuff -- facts that really should have been settled long ago.
The Barnett Shale has about 14,000 gas wells, and we're now asking what we don't know about the environmental impact?
Parker County Judge Mark Riley, one of dozens of speakers at the hearing, blamed the states and the gas industry for the current crisis in confidence.
"The states just haven't been responsive to citizens," Riley said.
The gas industry stirred fears by refusing to disclose chemicals used in the fracking process, he said. And states lost credibility by considering exemptions on air permits. If state regulators and industry had been more aggressive on safety and the environment, federal intervention would be unnecessary -- and Riley wants to keep the feds out.
Mark Brownstein, deputy director for energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, said the nuclear industry took its own aggressive steps after the Three Mile Island accident. One bad player damaged the entire industry, so companies set higher standards and posted annual rankings.
Investors watch those scores closely, and Brownstein says that people get fired if performance drops.
He says states and industry have legitimate reasons to police the gas drilling business. They have more experience, more staff and can tailor regulations to their geology.
"But if they fail to make sure that it's being done properly, this will be a self-fulfilling prophecy -- the federal government will step in," he said.
Reach that point, and even a Texas governor won't be able to push back.

Mitchell Schnurman's column appears Sundays and Wednesdays. 817-390-7821

Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

Fort Worth meeting on gas drilling process draws heated response Read more: http://www.star-telegram.com/2010/07/08/2323407/fort-worth-meeting-on-ga

BY JACK Z. SMITH - Fort Worth Star Telegram - July 8, 2010
FORT WORTH -- It wasn't an event for the meek and indecisive, nor for those seeking middle ground.
A capacity crowd of about 600 gathered at the downtown Hilton Fort Worth hotel Thursday night, and dozens of speakers voiced either grave concerns about -- or enthusiastic support for -- the increasingly controversial hydraulic fracturing process that has made possible drilling booms such as the Barnett Shale play in North Texas.
The federal Environmental Protection Agency called the meeting -- the first of four around the nation -- to determine the scope of a study that will focus on the issue of whether the fracturing process poses a significant threat in terms of groundwater contamination. But the study also will examine other issues, including the large volume of water used in "fracking" wells.
"I'm sending out an SOS to the EPA," said fervent fracking critic Sharon Wilson, a local representative of the Texas Oil and Gas Accountability Project, which favors strong federal regulation of the energy industry and full disclosure of chemicals used in fracturing.
"We need you here. We need you on the ground. We need you now," Wilson told EPA officials, as supporters applauded enthusiastically.
But Angie Burckhalter, speaking on behalf of the Oklahoma Independent Petroleum Association and the Independent Petroleum Association of America, also elicited enthusastic clapping after describing fracking as "a safe, proven technology that has been used over one million times for 60 years."
Fracturing is vital to producing "clean energy that makes modern life possible," she said.
Boos and cheers
Texas Railroad Commission Chairman Victor Carrillo also strongly defended fracturing, saying that without it, gas recovery from tight rock formations such as the Barnett Shale -- the leading gas-producing area in the nation -- would be "impossible." There are no documented cases of fracturing causing groundwater contamination in Texas, he said, drawing both cheers and boos.
Meeting moderator Adam Saslow repeatedly implored audience members to tone down, urging them to employ "manners your mother taught you."
Calvin Tillman, an outspoken critic of the oil and gas industry and mayor of the Denton County community of Dish, held up a container of murky water and said it came from the home of a resident who fears his water well has been contaminated by Barnett Shale operations.
In considering stronger regulation, the foremost concern should not be about what might "negatively affect Chesapeake or Devon," Tillman said, referring to two large gas producers. Instead, the emphasis should be on negative effects on drinking water, he said.
America's Natural Gas Alliance, which represents 34 independent gas exploration and production companies, defended fracking and pledged to "be a constructive participant in the progress of the [EPA] study going forward."
"We are confident that a scientifically sound and data-driven examination will provide policymakers and the public with even greater reassurance of the safety of the longstanding practice," ANGA said in a statement.
How it works
Hydraulic fracturing is a technique in which huge volumes of water and sand, along with a much smaller amount of chemicals, are injected deep underground to fracture rock formations and allow gas and oil to flow into a wellbore.
Concerns have been expressed about the potential for fracturing to pollute groundwater; about surface spills of well wastewater that include chemicals used in fracturing; and about the volume of water that fracturing requires -- often 3 million or more gallons for a single well.
JACK Z. SMITH, 817-390-7724


Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

Judge who nixed drilling ban has oil investments

By Associated Press - June 22, 2010
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Louisiana judge who struck down the Obama administration's six-month ban on deepwater oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has reported extensive investments in the oil and gas industry, according to financial disclosure reports. He's also a new member of a secret national security court.
U.S. District Judge Martin Feldman, a 1983 appointee of President Ronald Reagan, reported owning less than $15,000 in stock in 2008 in Transocean Ltd., the company that owned the sunken Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.
Feldman overturned the ban Tuesday, saying the government simply assumed that because one rig exploded, the others pose an imminent danger, too.
The White House promised an immediate appeal. The Interior Department had imposed the moratorium last month in the wake of the BP disaster, halting approval of any new permits for deepwater projects and suspending drilling on 33 exploratory wells.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said in a statement late Tuesday that within the next few days he would issue a new order imposing a moratorium that eliminates any doubt it is needed and appropriate.
Several companies that ferry people and supplies and provide other services to offshore rigs argued that the moratorium was arbitrarily imposed after the April 20 explosion that killed 11 workers and blew out a well 5,000 feet underwater. It has spewed anywhere from 67 million to 127 million gallons of oil.
Feldman's 2008 financial disclosure report — the most recent available — also showed investments in Ocean Energy, a Houston-based company, as well as Quicksilver Resources, Prospect Energy, Peabody Energy, Halliburton, Pengrowth Energy Trust, Atlas Energy Resources, Parker Drilling and others. Halliburton was also involved in the doomed Deepwater Horizon project.
Feldman did not respond to requests for comment and to clarify whether he still holds some or all of these investments.
He's one of many federal judges across the Gulf Coast region with money in oil and gas. Several have disqualified themselves from hearing spill-related lawsuits and others have sold their holdings so they can preside over some of the 200-plus cases.
Although Feldman ruled in favor of oil interests Tuesday, one expert said his reasoning appeared sound because the six-month ban was overly broad.
"There's been some concern that he is biased toward the industry, but I don't see it in this opinion," said Tim Howard, a Northeastern University law professor who also represents businesses and people claiming economic losses in several spill-related lawsuits. "They overreacted and just shut an industry down, rather than focusing on where the problems are."

That was what Feldman essentially said in his ruling, writing that the blanket moratorium "seems to assume that because one rig failed and although no one yet fully knows why, all companies and rigs drilling new wells over 500 feet also universally present an imminent danger."
Josh Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group, said the ruling should be rescinded if Feldman still has investments in companies that could benefit.
"If Judge Feldman has any investments in oil and gas operators in the Gulf, it represents a flagrant conflict of interest," Reichert said.

Feldman's ruling prohibits federal officials from enforcing the moratorium until a trial is held. He wrote:
"If some drilling equipment parts are flawed, is it rational to say all are? Are all airplanes a danger because one was? All oil tankers like Exxon Valdez? All trains? All mines? That sort of thinking seems heavy-handed, and rather overbearing."

At least two major oil companies, Shell and Marathon, said they would wait to see how the appeals play out before resuming drilling.
The lawsuit was filed by Hornbeck Offshore Services of Covington, La. CEO Todd Hornbeck said after the ruling that he is looking forward to getting back to work.
"It's the right thing for not only the industry but the country," he said.
Earlier in the day, executives at a major oil conference in London warned that the moratorium would cripple world energy supplies. Steven Newman, president and CEO of Transocean, called it unnecessary and an overreaction.
"There are things the administration could implement today that would allow the industry to go back to work tomorrow without an arbitrary six-month time limit," Newman said.

BP stock dropped 81 cents Tuesday, or 2.7 percent, to $29.52, near a 14-year low for the company in U.S. trading. The stocks of other companies associated with the spill remained low despite Feldman's ruling.
Feldman is a native of St. Louis and former Army captain in the Judge Advocate General Corps who was appointed in May to a seven-year term on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, according to court records.
The court meets secretly to consider government requests for wiretaps in national security cases, such as those involving foreign terrorist groups.
A graduate of Tulane University in New Orleans with bachelor's and law degrees, Feldman frequently jokes with lawyers before his court about his friendship with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, known for his strict interpretation of the Constitution as written more than 200 years ago.

Anderson reported from Miami.
Read more on WFAA

Thursday, July 8, 2010

EPA Flexes Federal Muscle on Texas Air

BY KATHERINE GREGOR - Austin Chronicle - July 9, 2010
On June 30, Environmental Protection Agency Regional Administrator Al Armendaiz took decisive action to clean up air pollution in Texas by invalidating all 122 "flexible" air-quality permits issued by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The industrial polluters that now must apply for federal permits are primarily Gulf Coast oil and chemical refineries, run by corporations that include ExxonMobil, Shell Oil, BP, Valero, and Chevron Phillips; locally, the coal-fired Fayette Power Project that provides electricity to Austin Energy and Lower Colorado River Authority customers also is on the list. The Texas flex permit program has long been criticized as ineffective by environmental organizations. The EPA decision effectively agrees that flexible permits may be allowing Texas polluters to endanger Texans by emitting higher-than-allowed levels of chemicals that cause cancer, asthma, and other health problems.

To soften the immediate effects of its decision, the EPA is offering an amnesty and self-audit option for Texas permit holders, in theory allowing them to achieve compliance without aggressive enforcement action.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry immediately issued a statement flexing his states' rights muscles. In running for re-election, Perry has taken a brusque anti-Washington posture; his book, Fed Up, will hit bookstores in November. "Texas will continue to fight this federal takeover of a successful state program," he declared in a June 30 statement, criticizing the EPA as "blinded by its activist agenda."

But a number of environmental experts and attorneys around the state said there is no factual basis for claims made in the governor's statement. Perry attacked the EPA action as "irresponsible and heavy-handed." Charles Irvine, an environmental lawyer with Blackburn & Carter in Houston, has represented numerous clients before TCEQ and handles air permit and Clean Air Act matters. He countered:
"What EPA has done is exactly what is written in the federal Clean Air Act. If EPA finds that some portion of a state program does not comply with fed law, the Clean Air Act says, 'It shall disapprove' – so it has to disapprove it. Stepping in and taking over these permits is what is required."


Perry claimed that the TCEQ's program "has achieved a 22 percent reduction in ozone [smog] and 53 percent reduction in [nitrogen oxide] from regulated sources since 2000." (Nitrogen oxide and ozone pollution are linked to asthma and respiratory illness in children and the elderly, according to the EPA; ozone also can cause permanent lung damage.) Irvine said Perry cites percentages, not absolute numbers, because Texas started out with some of the worst emissions in the nation for nitrogen oxide and ozone.

"The numbers Perry is using are a classic example of 'How to lie with statistics," wrote James Marston, who leads the Environmental Defense Fund Texas office in Austin. "Perry is cherry-picking statistics, using biased base years and final years; 2000 was a bad ozone year and 2008 [due to weather] was a particularly good ozone year. Improving air quality does not mean that we have good air quality," continued Marston. "The American Lung Association ranks the Houston [seventh] and DFW [13th] metro areas among the nation's 15 worst for ozone air pollution (using 2006-2008 data)."

Perry's statement claims, "Texas' air quality program has outperformed federal programs in virtually every category." But environmental experts interviewed said the state cannot take credit for recent improvements in air quality; those have in fact resulted from tighter federal standards, they said, as well as lawsuits brought by environmental groups to force compliance. Matthew Tejada, executive director of Air Alliance Houston, said,
"It is ridiculous to state that Texas' air quality has 'outperformed' federal standards when, just two years ago, Gov. Perry asked for a full decade extension for the Houston region to meet federal requirements."


Unaddressed by Perry's statement were the health issues that underlie federal standards for clean air permits.
"Texans deserve the same clean air protection as citizens of every other state, and TCEQ's flexible permitting program has been denying all of us that right for nearly 20 years," said Luke Metz ger of Environment Texas. "The Clean Air Act is the same law that polluters in all other 49 states have to follow, and it's time that polluters in Texas follow it, too."


"EPA's decision about Texas' flexible permits is merely symptomatic of a larger problem with the way Texas leaders view clean air protection," noted Ilan Levin of the Environmental Integrity Project. "Polluters' interests get priority over public health nearly every time."


Perry stated of the EPA action, "It will also likely curtail energy supplies and increase gasoline prices nationwide." He cited no evidence to support that claim, noted Irvine.
"Gasoline prices as we have seen in recent years are tied to international markets, and have little to do with the cost of production," said Marston. "It's a ridiculous statement to say that these actions would curtail energy supplies," said Tejada. "The cost of a gallon of gas is primarily predicated on the cost of a barrel of oil."


In this campaign year, Perry has repeatedly cast the EPA's takeover of air permitting in Texas as a states' rights issue, citing "our rights under the 10th Amendment." (It states: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.")

"What he's complaining about, in terms of states' rights, legally is a very weak argument," said attorney Irvine. "The federal Clean Air Act has survived all sorts of legal challenges. Every court that has looked at the issue has found that the Clean Air Act was a fully constitutional and proper exercise of federal power. The 10th Amendment, as a legal concept, is really very narrow. It gets mentioned a lot, but very little gets struck down under it."


Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott sued the EPA in the 5th Circuit Court earlier this year to block two other actions: the EPA's move to regulate greenhouse gases and Armendariz's reversal of TCEQ-issued "qualified facilities" air permits. The A.G. could file a similar complaint regarding flex permits. But in Irvine's opinion, "to bang the table and complain about a rogue agency may play well in an election year," but based on legal precedent, "a Texas challenge probably would not go very far."

Read more in the Austin Chronicle

Exxon’s “Frack Attack” and What Shareholders May Do About It Read more: http://www.triplepundit.com/2010/06/exxon-fracking-shareholders/#ixzz0t5hfsnZ

By Michael Passoff, Senior Program Director at As You Sow - June 9, 2010
ExxonMobil believes in public disclosure regarding its use of toxic chemicals. Either that, or it is funding lobbying groups to oppose regulations for disclosure.

Former VP Dick Cheney was concerned about your health. Either that or he gave a big handout to his gas and oil buddies.

What do the two have in common? The answer is in your water tap—and you may not want to drink it.

Welcome to the world of “fracking,” which, besides being a fun word to say, is the process of injecting a mixture of water, chemicals, and sand underground to create fractures, through which natural gas can flow for collection.

Fracking—more formally referred to as hydraulic fracturing—has been around for decades but the technology recently advanced to the point where it is able to reach and extract previously inaccessible gas deposits.

A natural gas boom may be on the horizon and many consider this both economic and environmental good news. Natural gas emits far fewer greenhouse gases than coal or oil and is viewed as a transitional energy source until renewable energy resources are fully developed. It also can bring in big money to economically depressed areas.

Six months ago, ExxonMobil announced a $41 billion merger with XTO Energy. This move will vault ExxonMobil from being about the ninth largest natural gas company in the US to the undisputed #1 industry giant (approximately 30% larger than second place BP). 
 
At the heart of this merger is XTO’s wide range of natural gas holdings across the country.

ExxonMobil views natural gas as a major area of expansion and is aggressively moving to be the industry leader.
 
Yet, this move also places ExxonMobil into the center of the storm brewing over hydraulic fracturing.
 
While natural gas development might be better for the climate, fracking is increasingly linked to water contamination. The process is incredibly water intensive, with each well requiring one to three million gallons of water. About 60-80% of that water is returned to the surface and has to be dealt with. (PDF)

The water contains highly toxic chemicals used in the fracturing process and also picks up naturally occurring radiation, dissolved solids, and heavy metals in the process. Just this past weekend, in Clearfield County, PA, an estimated 1 million gallons of frack water spewed out of a well, causing parts of Moshannon State Forest to be evacuated.

Although there are hundreds of chemicals known to be used in fracking, companies refuse to provide specific information on toxic chemicals used. Even when an emergency room nurse in Durango, Colorado, who treated a gas field worker covered in fracking fluids, became so ill from exposure to the chemicals that she suffered liver failure, respiratory failure, and heart failure, the company still would not disclose the chemicals. The hospital was forced to guess at the appropriate treatment. Later, a Colorado study found that at least 65 fracking chemicals are listed as hazardous under any one of six federal laws.

Water contamination can also come from the gas itself. Last year in Dimock, PA, methane gas migrated thousands of feet contaminating the fresh-water aquifer and resulting in at least one explosion at the surface. Over a dozen other water supply wells within nine square miles were affected. In fact, there is so much methane gas mixed in with their water that Dimock residents can literally light the gas leaking out of their kitchen taps.

Normally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would be regulating this. But in 2005, Vice President Dick Cheney (and former CEO of Halliburton, the company which pioneered fracking) guided a bill through Congress that exempted fracking operations from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Without federal oversight regulation is left to the states–but they have been less than rigorous in doing so. The U.S. Department of Energy reports (PDF) that 2/3 of the drilling states have no regulations specific to hydraulic fracturing, and only four states have detailed regulations

Industry adamantly defends its safety record, but consumers are alarmed—and politicians are starting to listen. Tougher regulations have been introduced in Pennsylvania, Colorado, and New York (New York City’s drinking water supply is home to a prized gas drilling region). The ‘FRAC’ Act has been introduced in Congress (which would restore EPA oversight under the Safe Drinking Water Act), and the EPA has begun public hearings on fracking.

Industry’s lack of disclosure has raised many red flags with investors who are concerned about regulatory risks that could greatly increase operation costs, legal liabilities from health impacts, and reputational risk from the growing public and political opposition.

ExxonMobil investors just voted on a shareholder proposal asking the company to report on the environmental risks associated with hydraulic fracturing. Shareholders even took the unusual step of highlighting fracking risks with the SEC. The proposal received 24% of the vote which – to put it in perspective – is about five times higher than the typical vote in support of first year environmental proposals. Votes have been even higher at other companies such as Williams (41%), Cabot (36%), and EOG (31%) which are less diversified than Exxon and thus more vulnerable to financial risks associated with fracking.

Yet instead of developing non-toxic alternatives or providing full disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluids as the public, politicians, and investors are asking for, Exxon is offering sound bites. At the recent Exxon shareholder meeting CEO Rex Tillerson was asked if they support disclosure. He said yes but then refused to answer questions regarding whether Exxon would provide supportive comments to the EPA hearings, withdraw its funding for lobbying groups that are actively opposing disclosure regulations, or give preference to suppliers who could provide less toxic fracking fluids. Mr. Tillerson simply dismissed the issue by saying that fracking fluids are just pretty much what you would find in your kitchen cabinet. If what is in his kitchen cabinet put an emergency room nurse in the hospital I, for one, don’t want to go to his house for dinner.

Perhaps Mr. Tillerson should pay more attention to the Gulf oil spill– the result of BP’s ignoring regulations and safety procedures on its Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Exxon is also trying to avoid regulations and increased safety procedures. It is a recipe for another disaster.

***

Michael is a leading practitioner of shareholder advocacy on social and environmental issues. For nearly 15 years he has been engaging the nation’s largest investors and corporations including Disney, McDonalds, Starbucks, Exxon, and DuPont among many others. His shareholder advocacy work led him to be named as one of 2009’s “100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics,” and he also received the 2009 Climate Change Business Journal award for NGO activism. Michael authors an annual Proxy Preview that is designed to help foundations identify shareholder resolutions related to their mission and provides additional information on how foundations can align their mission and investments. The Chicago Tribune called the Preview “a bible for socially progressive foundations, religious groups, pension funds and other tax-exempt organizations.”

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ExxonMobil Shareholders Support Disclosure of 'Fracking' Risks

By Chem News - Thursday, May 27, 2010
DALLAS, May 26 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — A proposal asking ExxonMobil to disclose what it is doing to reduce risks from toxic chemicals in natural gas drilling, and consider alternatives, won support Thursday from holders of 26.3 percent of the company's shares — the latest indication of investors' concerns about hydraulic fracturing's threat to drinking water, public health and shareholder value.

The level of support was five times the typical level for a first-time environmental resolution. The proposal was put forth by As You Sow, a shareholder advocacy organization based in San Francisco, representing the Park Foundation of Ithaca, N.Y., and the holders of 16,746 ExxonMobil shares valued at more than $1.1 million.

"Today's vote sent a strong message to ExxonMobil that shareholders are concerned about how it is dealing with hydraulic fracturing, especially in light of the expansion that will make it the nation's largest natural gas company," said Michael Passoff, senior program director of the corporate responsibility program at As You Sow.


Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is a controversial process of injecting water, chemicals and particles underground to increase gas production. In response to reports of contaminated water supplies and intense public concern, tougher regulations have been introduced in New York, Pennsylvania, and Colorado and legislation has been introduced in Congress to repeal the exemption of fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

"Fracking poses regulatory risks that could greatly increase operation costs, legal liabilities from health impacts, and reputational risk from growing public and political opposition," added Passoff. "If ExxonMobil truly aren't concerned about the financial ramifications of fracking, they're not a good bet for investors."

In the absence of meaningful disclosure by the company, shareholders took the unusual step of highlighting fracking risks with the Securities and Exchange Commission. (http://bit.ly/9TFOjP). For background on the significance of Thursday's shareholder vote, see http://jm.ly/EGys66.

"The Gulf oil spill is a powerful example of how oil and gas drilling can devastate the environment," said Jon Jensen, executive director of the Park Foundation. "This is a good first step in responsibly seeking energy in a way that protects the environment, human health, and the welfare of the company."


As You Sow (www.asyousow.org) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting corporate social responsibility.
Read more in Chem News

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

State issues advisory against eating fish from Trinity River

Jul. 07, 2010
By DOMINGO RAMIREZ JR.
ramirez@star-telegram.com
A fish consumption advisory was issued Wednesday by a state agency warning people not to consume any species of fish from the Trinity River in Tarrant, Dallas, Ellis, Kaufman, Henderson Navarro, Freestone and Anderson counties.
The advisory by the Texas Department of State Health Services was issued after tests indicated that fish taken from the river had elevated levels of dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyl’s or PCBs.
The agency warned that long-term consumption of fish with dioxins and PCBs might cause cancer and liver, immune system and reproductive problems.
State officials said that PCBs are industrial chemicals once used as coolants and lubricants in electrical equipment. The Environmental Protection Agency banned PCBs in 1979, but items containing it did not have to be replaced.
Dioxins are byproducts of combustion and industrial activity, state officials said.
PCB levels in fish about 0.047 milligrams per kilogram (mg/kg) may pose a risk to human health, according to state standards. The levels in fish taken from the Trinity River was at 0.185 mg/kg and they were as high as 1.301 mg/kg, state officials said.
Levels of dioxins averaged 2.64 picograms per gram (pg/g), above the state standards of 2.33 pg/g.
State officials, however, noted that the high levels of PCBs and dioxins in fish do not pose a health risk for people swimming or taking part in any water recreation activities.
The advisory includes the Clear Fork of the Trinity River from the Benbrook Reservoir Dam and the West Fork of the Trinity River from the Lake Worth Dam to the U.S. 287 bridge on the Freestone-Anderson county line.
DOMINGO RAMIREZ JR., 817-390-7763


Read morein the Fort Worth Star Telegram

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

TXI to shut down highest-polluting cement kilns in Midlothian

By RANDY LEE LOFTIS - The Dallas Morning News - July 6, 2010

TXI will permanently shut down its four oldest, highest-polluting cement kilns in Midlothian and will stop burning hazardous waste as fuel, the company said Tuesday.

The Dallas-based company’s announcement ends an environmental battle that has raged in North Texas for decades.

TXI, formally known as Texas Industries, always insisted that the practice of fueling its oldest kilns with other companies’ waste was safe, but environmentalists maintained that it spread toxic pollution across the region.

TXI said it will continue to operate its newest kiln, which uses a different process and burns coal and natural gas as fuel. That kiln, which began operating in 2001, also emits less pollution than the old kilns, the oldest of which dates from 1960.

A longtime campaigner against North Texas cement plants’ air pollution hailed TXI’s announcement as a major victory for public health.

“This is a landmark day,” said Sue Pope of Midlothian, who founded the North Texas clean-air group Downwinders at Risk after researching TXI’s emissions. “I’ve been doing some crying today. Words can’t really describe how good I feel.”

TXI said the decision was based on its desire to boost efficiency in preparation for a recovery in the North Texas construction market. Improvements planned for its remaining kiln will let the Midlothian plant expand production, company spokesman David Perkins said.

TXI wanted “to find a way to operate in the most energy and fuel-efficient manner, as well as from an emissions standpoint,” Perkins said.

The four older kilns have been idle since late 2008, a response to a downturn in demand for cement. TXI does not expect to reduce its Midlothian workforce, currently about 170, because of Tuesday’s decision, Perkins said.

He said new federal rules governing toxic air emissions from cement kilns did not contribute to the decision. The rules are expected to become final in August and will take effect in the next three years.

Counting all five of its kilns, TXI has been the largest of three cement kilns in Midlothian. The other plants in the northern Ellis County city are owned by Kansas-based Ash Grove Cement, with three kilns, and Swiss firm Holcim, with two kilns.

Midlothian became a center for the cement industry because of extensive limestone deposits. Yet it also became the site of one of the country’s biggest environmental fights.

Federal law allows some cement kilns to burn hazardous waste as fuel to create the high heat required to make cement. TXI is the only company that has burned hazardous waste in Midlothian in recent years.

Environmentalists across the country and in North Texas said burning massive volumes of chemical waste needlessly endangered the public.

The cement industry and federal regulators called the process a safe way to destroy waste and to recover its energy content.

The practice also let cement companies cut fuel costs and essentially go into the waste-treatment business, although the market for hazardous-waste disposal has suffered as companies have reduced the amount they produce.

TXI said Tuesday that while its hazardous-waste enterprise had yielded economic benefits, “the dynamics of this market have significantly changed and are no longer applicable to TXI’s future operational strategy.”

The company said it would immediately give up its hazardous-waste permit.

TXI’s departure from the waste business does not end all environmental disputes regarding the Midlothian cement industry. Kilns there remain North Texas’ biggest industrial sources of nitrogen oxides, which produce regional ozone, or smog.

Environmentalists have pressed regulators, so far without success, to require the use of pollution-control technology that would slash emissions from the Midlothian kilns.

While that effort continues, Jim Schermbeck, field organizer for Downwinders at Risk, said the permanent shutdown of TXI’s oldest units would remove four major sources of regional air pollution.

TXI’s remaining unit is among the cleanest-burning kilns in Texas, he said.

“They should be congratulated for making the right choice,” Schermbeck said. “I am delighted.”


Read more in the Dallas Morning News

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Denton, Johnson county residents blame drilling process for fouled well water

By Elizabeth Cambell and Aman Batheja - Fort Worth Star Telegram - July 1, 2010
When her well water took on an odd odor, Linda Scoma, who has lived near Crowley in rural Johnson County for 20 years, worried something might be wrong. Then her hair suddenly turned orange after she washed it, and she knew there was a problem.

Damon Smith of the Denton County town of Dish said the water flowing from his family's well, drilled in 2002, used to run clear and clean. Now, when he pours it into a glass, Smith regularly sees sediment floating in it.
Both suspect the same source of their problems: nearby natural gas drilling activities.
While most of the discussions about the environmental impact of natural gas drilling in the Barnett Shale have centered on air quality, questions are now being raised about its potential impact on water quality as well.
Drilling critics have expressed concern that a drilling process called hydraulic fracturing -- in which millions of gallons of water and sand laced with chemicals are pumped into the ground to free up natural gas -- has the potential to contaminate groundwater supplies.
Industry advocates counter that fracturing for Barnett Shale wells typically occurs more than a mile below underground aquifers that provide drinking water. Industry practice is to install multiple layers of pipe, known as casing, and cement inside the wellbore to isolate petroleum and chemicals from groundwater.
"You're talking about 6,000 feet of strata, rock and sand separating the fracturing in the shale and the fresh water table," said Ed Ireland, executive director of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council. "There's not any case in Texas where hydraulic fracturing has damaged a water table."

The federal government may weigh in on the issue. The Environmental Protection Agency is launching a study of fracturing that is expected to focus on effects on groundwater supplies. Congress is also considering legislation that would increase regulation of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, including forcing companies to disclose the chemicals used in the process.
After drilling began near Scoma's home, water tests detected increasing levels of chemicals used in the drilling process. The company that conducted the tests advised the Scomas not to drink the water, and they wash their clothes at a Laundromat because the couple says the water is discolored and has an oily sheen. They have sued the drilling company.
"I was embarrassed to go out in public because of my hair," Linda Scoma said.

At Smith's well, though, testing by the Texas Railroad Commission, which regulates drilling, found no high levels of toxic materials. Contaminants detected in the water were not at a level that would violate state or federal water quality standards, officials said.
"Therefore, we would not expect any adverse health effects after ingestion of water with these concentrations," Railroad Commission spokeswoman Stacie Fowler said.

If that's true, Smith has an offer for the commission and anyone else who wonders if the water is OK.
"Come to my house. Drink a big glass of that water at my table," he said
.


Read more in the Fort Worth Star Telegram

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Bringing it down to a "personal, on your dinner table, level

Cattle From Tioga County Farm Quarantined After Coming in Contact with Natural Gas Drilling Wastewater

By US News Wire - July 1, 2010

HARRISBURG, Pa., July 1 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Department of Agriculture announced today that it has quarantined cattle from a Tioga County farm after a number of cows came into contact with drilling wastewater from a nearby natural gas operation.
Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding said uncertainty over the quantity of wastewater the cattle may have consumed warranted the quarantine in order to protect the public from eating potentially contaminated beef.
"Cattle are drawn to the taste of salty water,"
said Redding.
"Drilling wastewater has high salinity levels, but it also contains dangerous chemicals and metals. We took this precaution in order to protect the public from consuming any of this potentially contaminated product should it be marketed for human consumption."

Redding said 28 head of cattle were included in the quarantine, including 16 cows, four heifers and eight calves. Those cattle were out to pasture in late April and early May when a drilling wastewater holding pond on the farm of Don and Carol Johnson leaked, sending the contaminated water into an adjacent field where it created a pool. The Johnsons had noticed some seepage from the pond for as long as two months prior to the leak.
The holding pond was collecting flowback water from the hydraulic fracturing process on a well being drilled by East Resources Inc.
Grass was killed in a roughly 30- x 40-foot area where the wastewater had pooled. Although no cows were seen drinking the wastewater, tracks were found throughout the pool. The wet area extended about 200-300 feet into the pasture.
The cattle had potential access to the pool for a minimum of three days until the gas company placed a snow fence around the pool to restrict access.
Subsequent tests of the wastewater found that it contained chloride, iron, sulfate, barium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, strontium and calcium.
Redding said the main element of concern is the heavy metal strontium, which can be toxic to humans, especially in growing children. The metal takes a long time to pass through an animal's system because it is preferentially deposited in bone and released in the body at varying rates, dependent on age, growth status and other factors. Live animal testing was not possible because tissue sampling is required.
The secretary also added that the quarantine will follow the recommended guidelines from the Food Animal Residue Avoidance and Depletion Program, as follows:
Adult animals: hold from food chain for 6 months.
Calves exposed in utero: hold from food chain for 8 months.
Growing calves: hold from food chain for 2 years.


In response to the leak, the Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation to East Resources Inc. and required further sampling and site remediation. DEP is evaluating the final cleanup report and is continuing its investigation of operations at the drilling site, as well as the circumstances surrounding the leaking holding pond.
Media contact: Justin Fleming, 717-787-5085
SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

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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):

Astronaut!


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