Wednesday, March 11, 2015

What Is In California's Fracked Wastewater?

Thanks to California’s disclosure law, we’re finding out what’s in fracking wastewater, and it ain’t pretty

Fracking Pits in Kern County, California
On so many issues, California is the green leader, showing other states how it should be done better. But better is not necessarily the same thing as flawless. Right now, California is doing a better job of regulating fracking than any other state that allows it — but, of course, many local activists would rather the state just banned it, as New York has.

The federal government doesn’t require fracking companies to disclose the chemicals they use in their operations, and it has failed to produce data on the safety of fracking. Five years after the U.S. EPA announced plans to study fracking’s effect on drinking water, industry resistance has thwarted the effort. It’s up to states to require fracking operations to disclose what chemicals they are using and to find out if those chemicals are getting into the public water supply when frackers inject their wastewater underground. Most state governments, beholden to fossil fuel interests, aren’t doing this.

In 2013, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a law requiring disclosure of chemicals used in fracking and setting up monitoring for air and water quality near unconventional drilling sites. No other state has adopted as comprehensive a system for finding out what’s actually in fracking wastewater. California environmental activists worry, though, that the law doesn’t go far enough in protecting against the adverse impacts of fracking, from polluting neighbors’ water and air to triggering increased seismic activity.

Still, information is better than nothing. On Tuesday, the Environmental Working Group released a report reviewing California’s implementation of the fracking disclosure law and what it has found. The group points out, “Because California is the only state to require comprehensive chemical testing of drilling wastes and public disclosure of the results, the findings also provide a unique window into what chemicals likely contaminate fracking wastewater nationwide.”

The good news is that California’s aquifers used for drinking water have not been contaminated by fracking wastewater — at least not that we know of yet. But the risk remains. Just last week, the state stopped some drilling because it was threatening drinking water sources. And yesterday, California officials admitted to an angry state Senate panel that they had not been effectively protecting water sources from fracking pollution. As the L.A. Times reports, “for years [state regulators] inadvertently allowed oil companies to inject wastewater — from fracking and other oil production operations — into hundreds of disposal wells in protected aquifers, a violation of federal law.”

Meanwhile, the really bad news is what’s in the fracking wastewater: a carcinogenic soup full of volatile organic compounds that have been associated elsewhere with an array of unpleasant health effects. We damn well don’t want this stuff anywhere near our drinking water. From the report:
Petroleum chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive elements, plus high levels of dissolved solids, are among the pollutants found in fracking wastewater samples tested under the new disclosure program.They include benzene, chromium-6, lead and arsenic — all listed under California’s Proposition 65 as causes of cancer or reproductive harm. Nearly every one of the 293 samples tested contained benzene at levels ranging from twice to more than 7,000 times the state drinking water standard. The wastewater also carried, on average, thousands of times more radioactive radium than the state’s public health goals consider safe, as well as elevated levels of potentially harmful ions such as nitrate and chloride.
In addition to the universal presence of benzene, the neurotoxin toluene was detected in 83 percent of samples. As residents of fracked communities can tell you, living near a gas well with those chemicals in the air may cause health problems from headaches and nausea to benign and malignant tumors.

While the information being provided in California is valuable — and worryingly absent elsewhere — the disclosure law isn’t being fully implemented. EWG found several shortcomings in the online database maintained by the state Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR). There are discrepancies in the approach to sampling and chemical analyses, and 31 records are missing.

EWG also finds that DOGGR is too slow to perform the analyses and that it isn’t collecting enough information about where the wastewater is dumped. That last point is especially critical. If fracking wastewater gets into the water supply, having good information about where it was dumped in the first place would be essential to responding. EWG writes, “As of January 2015, chemical analyses of wastewater from more than 100 fracking jobs completed in early 2014 were incomplete, listed as pending as much as a full year after the wells were fracked. … Drillers do not have to specify the exact injection well or sump pond where wastewater produced from a job was discarded. If a water supply is contaminated, this information would be key to identifying the company responsible.”

This is far from the first time DOGGR’s failures have been pointed out. In October, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on similar problems, such as oil companies submitting incomplete reports. Of course, if DOGGR got any more information, it would be even more overwhelmed. “The regulators,” the Chronicle writes, “don’t have enough staff to process all the reports they’ve received.” It doesn’t help that, according to state Sen. Fran Pavley (D), “DOGGR personnel continue to ignore the law and regulations.”

This is all another reminder that when it comes to protecting the public from rapacious corporations, passing a law is not the end of the struggle but just the beginning.

Source:  Ben Adler -  Please visit their site for other great articles.

 ALERT: Benzene, chromium, lead, arsenic, nitrate, chloride, and everyone's favorite cancer-causing element: RADIUM"

Sunday, February 15, 2015



Dear NY Fractivists, Climate Change Leaders, Peace & Social Justice Activists, Indigenous & Civil Rights Movement Leaders, Labor & Trade Union Leaders, and Organic/Family Farm Advocates:

We are at a crucial moment where we need to make our voices heard. Our movement has been transitioning from a statewide battle for a ban on fracking, to fighting numerous fossil fuel infrastructure projects locally in our own backyards. We continue to be fracked on so many levels.  While many of these battles involve Federal Government rubber-stamping (FERC), there are many issues that can be addressed on the State level as well--and must be.

We need a complete freeze on fossil fuel infrastructure, and a phase out and shut down of nuclear power and climate cooking biomass and waste incineration.  We need to reduce energy demand and transition to 100% clean renewable energy, prioritizing conservation, efficiency, solar, wind and energy storage.  To allow another gas-fired power plant, pipeline, storage, processing,  export facility, or bomb train, is to be complicit in the poisoning of Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio and North Dakota. We can no longer afford to endanger our own children, communities, water supplies and food sources. Insofar as the production and processing of hydrocarbons contribute to climate change, we can no longer allow this to be our legacy to future New Yorkers.

In the coming months, Governor Cuomo will be required by the EPA to make a decision that will affect NY, the nation, and the planet in the immediate future and for generations to come.  The EPA, under it’s “Clean Air” Plan is urging governors to meet carbon reduction requirements by transitioning to gas fired generation in place of coal - as many as 300 new gas fired plants are proposed in 45 states.
We need to demand that Governor Cuomo put forth a plan that includes only clean, renewable, waste and emission free energy, as per Mark Jacobson’s Solutions Plan.

While eliminating many unhealthy jobs in the dirty fossil fuel industry, we call on Governor Cuomo to ensure a Just Transition to clean and renewable energy by launching a massive program that brings good paying Green jobs back to our ailing Southern Tier, Central, and Western NY economies.  As well, we call for energy justice, with more programs to help low income New Yorkers in making this transition.  We want the power literally back in the hands of our local communities, as in Home Rule, where we have a say where, and what types of infrastructure projects are allowed in our communities.

We are inspired by the actions taken by the Seneca Lake resistance movement, which represents the very kind of action we can learn from and emulate. These brave folks have withstood police arrests and cold winds, long hours of standing, and being herded into paddy wagons. In the process, they have stood strong. There are also substantial pockets of resistance to the various pipelines and gas infrastructure proposals across NYS. We need to bring the message to Albany, The blockade to save Seneca Lake is only a small sample of what is to come, if fossil fuel infrastructure is allowed to pollute our state and threaten our future.  If 400,000 can make the trip to NYC to demand action on climate change, surely we can organize 4,000 to convene in Albany. If 200 people can risk arrest at Seneca Lake to oppose Crestwood's construction of a dangerous LNG facility, surely we can get at least 200 to do NVDA in Albany where media cannot ignore the message.

What we are proposing is an Energize Democracy Climate Justice Rally in Albany on Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22, 2015.  We propose that our issue base be broad and comprehensive in hopes of generating a massive presence of New York activists engaged in the struggle to end fossil fuel domination.  Explosive Bakken oil bomb trains threatening horrors for our inner cities, frack sand trains spreading silicosis in the lungs of our loved ones, and landfills accepting radioactive frack waste from Pennsylvania, all equally need our attention, As well, Nuclear power is a serious threat to our communities and future sustainability. The time has come to make the transition.  We envision our message gaining support from Pennsylvania fractivists, as well as activists from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and New Hampshire. We are all fighting the very same industrial beast.

Four thousand people in Albany can make some noise.  The fact is that many of our groups are either already doing-- or are preparing for-- the use of Non Violent Direct Action (NVDA) - Peaceful resistance tactics, in the infrastructure battle.  Our premise is to capture that energy and conviction and bring this to Governor Cuomo's doorstep. The mainstream media cannot ignore 200 people willing to get arrested for their conviction, The media attention brings more public awareness and puts pressure on the politicians.

Frack Free Nation proposes the following:

 1. A large permitted rally in Albany, NY this April 22, 2015 with a target of 4,000 to 10,000       attendees.

 2.  A strong focused message: It's a Crime to Poison Us: End all Fossil Fuels - Renewables Now.

 3.  Powerful speakers, movement voices from each local infrastructure fight, Green voices and visionaries, scientists and people who live in the shale fields. Musical performances and Guerilla Theater are additional possibilities.

4.  A well planned NVDA action involving as many as 200 of us, peacefully willing to risk arrest--  either in a Die-In or a Tarsands - styled Blockade (yet to be decided) and possibly with  
celebrity involvement as well, will be employed as part of a longer term direct action strategy.
We have the intent of delivering our letter of demands to Governor Cuomo. If he receives them personally and agrees to them, there need not be any arrests.

 5.  Groups, individuals and families, that are not comfortable with NVDA, could still be supportive of the legally-permitted rally and climate march and NOT risk arrest, and will be provided with socially conscious music in the park during the time of the direct action at the governor’s office.

 6.  The possibility of further broadening our message - Factory farming and GMO/pesticide use is also a major contributor to climate change and the poisoning of our planet.  The peace movement could be drawn in as well, as the U.S. military is a major contributor to climate change and most of the wars that rage on have everything to do with U.S. dependence on fossil fuels.  These are areas where we can further increase the base of our movement.

A large enough rally, combined with the media attention brought by a large NVDA action, has the potential to push Governor Cuomo to be the first truly Green governor of NYS.  Regardless, at the end of the day, we will have gained great media attention and raised public awareness on all our related issues and promoted Green voices not only in NYS but across the nation.  We are giving Governor Cuomo the chance to truly lead the nation in the Renewable Revolution we so desperately need for the future of our planet. Not only could Governor Cuomo set an example for the rest of the nation, it could also affect the NY State delegation to the upcoming U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris in November.  Putting this type of pressure on, we could on Earth Day, 2015, look at our movement and say, "This Changes Everything".

At this point, we are seeking input from leaders across NYS.  Early on in this process we are receiving enthusiastic support from individual activists in the Seneca Lake, Pipeline Opposition groups, Energy Justice, Green Party, Climate Change, Anti Nuclear, Idle No More and Occupy movements.  But we need more input from official groups to move forward and ensure success.  This will take the involvement of many activists. We will be circulating an invitation to participate in a conference call within the next few weeks to facilitate your participation and involvement.

Will you join with Frack Free Nation as an individual and/or as an established group, in bringing our issues to Governor Cuomo's doorstep and into the living rooms of many sleeping Americans? 

Will you help make 2015 the year of the Renewable Revolution, where we can look back and tell our grandchildren years from now that we stood up for their future? 

Let's make Earth Day, Wednesday, April, 22 2015, the day which we can look back at and say, "This Changed Everything," and know that we did.

For The Next Seven Generations,

Abram S. Loeb, Founding Director  & The Frack Free Nation Planning Committee
Frack Free Nation      607-345-4865
The website is currently under re-construction and will back on line within the next few days.  In the mean time, organizational sign ons and inquiries can be directed to:

Frack Free Nation, Inc. is a non-profit organization formed to educate about the impact of the petrochemical and nuclear industries on a broad range of environmental, peace and social justice issues. Frack Free Nation seeks to mobilize the public to participate in the democratic process regarding these matters for the next seven generations.
Coverage of past action by Frack Free Nation

Facebook Page Link -

Facebook Group Link -

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

California Fracking

Hazards of Open Pits for Storing Wastewater From Fracking Is Focus of New Study

In 2013, industry produced 8 billion gallons of oil in California and 130 billion gallons of wastewater, according to the report.

By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News
An unlined oil wastewater pit in Kern County, California.

A new report by two environmental organizations document the risks of using unlined pits for oil and gas wastewater disposal, and challenges whether California's regulatory system adequately addresses the hazards. Credit: Clean Water Action
Unlined open-air wastewater pits brimming with the toxic leftovers of fracking and other types of oil and gas development are threatening California's air and water quality, according to a study by two national environmental organizations.

A visit to a series of wastewater pits in California's Central Valley that sickened researchers prompted the study, according to the authors. Oil and gas drilling has been generating vast amounts of waste in the region for decades.

The report was issued by Clean Water Action and Earthworks, both based in Washington, D.C.
The groups' findings further document the risks of using unlined pits for oil and gas wastewater disposal and challenge whether California's regulatory system adequately addresses the hazards. The report highlights threats to water, air and health; documents regulatory failures; and proposes immediate remedies.

"The discharge of wastewater into unlined pits threatens water resources, including potential sources of drinking and irrigation water, and impacts air quality due to the off-gassing of chemicals from the wastewater," according to the 28-page report, "In the Pits."

The study's conclusions reflect the same issues that worry people in states from Texas and Pennsylvania to Colorado and New Mexico where fracking—hydraulic fracturing—is creating billions of gallons of wastewater that often ends up in open pits.

In most states where fracking is booming, InsideClimate News found that air emissions from oil and gas waste are among the least regulated, least monitored and least understood components in the extraction and production cycle.

The California study focused on a series of pits in Kern County, around Bakersfield. The report suggests that hundreds of pits throughout the state and especially those in the heavily drilled Central Valley pose environmental and health threats.

"We think this is potentially the biggest impact of oil and gas development in California," said Andrew Grinberg, oil and gas program manager for Clean Water Action, in issuing the report.
California is the fourth-largest oil producing state in the U.S., according to the report.  In 2013, the industry produced 8 billion gallons of oil in California while generating 130 billion gallons of wastewater, or approximately 15 barrels of wastewater for every barrel of oil, according to the report.

There are more than 400 active oil-and-gas industry pits in California where toxic chemicals, heavy metals and volatile organic compounds seep into the ground and evaporate into the air, according to the report. The industry uses similar wastewater pits across the country.

The majority of the California pits are near waterways, increasing the likelihood that spills and surface-to-groundwater migration will affect water resources, the report found.

A review of public documents by the organizations disclosed that an underground plume of pollution matching the characteristics of the wastewater in a Kern County pit stretched nearly a mile from the holding pond.

Independent air sampling performed for the environmental organizations at one disposal site identified 24 volatile organic compounds and methane. In addition, the concentrations of Benzene and 2-Hexanone were above the Long Term Effects Screening Levels used by the Environmental Protection Agency to gauge potential health consequences, according to the report.

These chemicals pose risks ranging from cancer and neurological damage to headaches, nausea and nosebleeds, said Jhon Arbelaez, Earthworks' California organizer.

"We are very concerned about the health effects from air contamination from these pits," Arbelaez said. Yet very little has been done to document the hazards to human health from waste pit emissions, he said.

This wastewater has largely escaped rigorous oversight because of decisions Congress and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency made decades ago, when oil and gas producers lobbied to get most of their waste exempted from federal hazardous waste regulations.

Tom Frantz, a Kern County almond farmer whose 36 acres of land sits in the midst of oil and gas development, said the peril posed the pits extends beyond the mostly rural area.

"We need to have clean water and air to produce healthy foods," he told reporters. "Whatever is disposed of in that cheap, sloppy manner will cause a disaster for farmers and the food they produce."

The organizations recommend that the State Water Board immediately prohibit discharge of oil and gas wastewater into unlined pits, determine where water sources have been contaminated by waste from the pits and develop a clean-up plan. The groups also called for the California Air Resources Board to increase oversight of open-air pits to prevent off-gassing of dangerous air pollutants and greenhouse gases.

Douglas K. Patteson, supervising water resource control engineer for the California Regional Water Quality Control Board's Central Valley Region, said the agency has been working to identify unlined pits and update their permit status. The board plans to prohibit unlined pits where they pose an unacceptable threat to ground water, though the agency doesn’t believe all pits pose the same risks, he said.

"The Board has made it a top priority to inventory and analyze the potential threats to drinking water from the existing sumps, particularly any remaining active ponds that are overlying good quality groundwater," he said. The agency will take enforcement actions when violations are found, he said.

Dave Clegern, a spokesman for the California Air Resources Board, said the agency couldn’t comment because it hadn't reviewed the report.

The study focused on one set of pits near McKittrick, Calif., where oil companies dispose of more than 4 million gallons of wastewater daily from surrounding oil fields, according to the study. Clean Water Action researchers reported that from a distance they saw a large tanker truck that appeared to be dumping water into the ground, according to a narrative of the visit in the report.

As researchers neared the site, warning signs cautioned of the possible presence of hydrogen sulfide, a poisonous gas associated with oil and gas. Once at the site and out of their vehicles, group members were immediately hit with a noxious odor, according to the report.

"Several tied bandanas around their mouths and noses to block the fumes," the report said.  "In less than five minutes, many in the group complained of nausea and headaches."

What they found were a few dozen long, narrow ponds, including some with liquids of different shades of green, brown and black. At one pond, two pipes were discharging steaming black and green fluids into to the waste pool where vapors rose off the surface.

"A thick black ring of what appeared to be oil rimmed the bank, and a shimmering black layer floated on the surface," according to the report. From there, pipes connected the first pond to other, larger ponds stretching hundreds of yards into the distance.

Read the report:

CA Oil and Gas Pit Report 

Source:  Inside Climate News

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Earth Guardians - BE THE CHANGE

‘This problem is happening so humanity can come together, rebuild, reconnect, recreate and rebirth a new world.’ ~Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

This post first appeared at In These Times.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, 14, is on a crusade to stop climate change. (Photo: Xiuhtezcatl Martinez)
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, 14, is on a crusade to stop climate change.
 (Photo: Xiuhtezcatl Martinez)

When other kids were experiencing the travails of first grade, 6-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez was concerned about threats to the world’s ecosystem. Martinez, now 14, is the youth director of the nonprofit environmental organization Earth Guardians and one of the youngest people to speak on a United Nations panel.

Martinez, a resident of Boulder, Colorado, credits his worldview to the Aztec teachings of his father and the environmental activism of his mother.

In October, in his keynote address to the 2014 National Bioneers Conference in San Rafael, California, he told the assembled crowd, “In the light of a collapsing world, what better time to be born than now? Because this generation gets to rewrite history, gets to leave our mark on this earth.… We will be known as the generation, as the people on the planet, that brought forth a healthy, just, sustainable world for every generation to come. … We are the generation of change.”

In December, HBO will debut the music video “Be the Change,” by Martinez’ hip-hop group, Voice of Youth.

In These Times spoke to Martinez about how to stop climate change.
You gave your first speech at a climate change rally when you were 6. At age 12, you were among the youngest speakers at the Rio+20 United Nations Summit. How is it that you became an environmental activist?

Martinez: One factor was the indigenous teachings passed on to me by my father and ancestors: that all life is sacred and connected to each of us; that as people on earth we have a responsibility to be caretakers of the world. I also watched Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary, The 11th Hour, when I was 6. I was devastated. I saw that my world — the world that my and future generations will be left with — is being destroyed by our lifestyles. There’s such a lack of consciousness on our planet. We’re overusing our resources to an extent that every living system on earth is dying.
I couldn’t not do something. The calling to create, to build and to inspire a revolution was so great that I couldn’t sit still. Through that empowerment, I found my voice — my inspiration — and took action.

According to former NASA scientist James Hansen, the level of atmospheric CO2 needs to decrease to 350 parts per million (ppm) or less to avoid a global catastrophe. What are some ways people can help?

Martinez: It’s important to not only focus on the problems, but to focus on solutions. Sustainability is not a solar panel — it’s a lifestyle. Before we go out there to change the world, we’ve got to start with ourselves. What can we improve on? What can we do better? Turn off the lights when you’re not using them. While you’re brushing your teeth, turn the water off. Bike and walk to school as much as you can. Use public transit. Recycle. Compost. We’ve got to consider the way we’re using products and the companies we’re buying from.
It starts with simple day-to-day actions. Then, maybe, you can get a little bigger. Get involved in your community: start a youth group, get involved with an environmental or animal rights group — whatever you’re passionate about.

From 1958 to 2014, atmospheric CO2 increased from 315.71 ppm to 401.78 ppm: Do you think Hansen’s model is achievable?

Martinez: We won’t be able to stop it overnight, but we can slow it down and, eventually, with a lot of hard work, rebuild the world we’ve destroyed. If every single person on our planet stopped driving their car for one day, we could save so much energy. Imagine if we did that for a week! Imagine if we didn’t buy plastic bottles for three days! The solution lies in the collective power people have around the world. Governments signing a paper that says they’re not going to release anymore carbon into the atmosphere isn’t going to fix our problems, because we will not have learned anything.
This problem is happening so humanity can come together, rebuild, reconnect, recreate and rebirth a new world. The technology is here, but we’re not going to wait for government action. We’re not going to set this on their shoulders and be like, “Okay, you guys, figure it out,” while we continue with our lives. This is going to take every person on the planet: people uniting and collaborating. The people are more powerful than anything we’ve ever seen.

Natural gas is now being marketed to Americans as “the clean fossil fuel.” Do you believe there is such a thing?

Martinez: Natural gas companies, oil industries, even President Barack Obama is telling us that natural gas is the bridge away from fossil fuel: It cuts our output of carbon, and it’s not as bad for the atmosphere as burning coal and oil. They tell us that it’ll help us get off foreign oil and that we need it. The truth is, much of the natural gas drilled in this country is being shipped to China, India or other places overseas. They’re building enormous ports in Texas to ship this natural gas because production is growing faster than demand in the US.

People say that natural gas is better for climate change. Over a shortterm period, natural gas extraction produces less carbon, but over a 20-year period, methane is believed to be more than 50 times more potent than carbon. If we continue to develop the natural gas industry, it’s going to be game over for the climate. Natural gas is not — I repeat, not — a clean-burning fossil fuel. There is no such thing as a clean-burning fossil fuel.

What would you say to people who support fracking?

Martinez: I would challenge people who don’t believe that fracking is harmful to come out to Colorado, Pennsylvania or South Dakota, where I know kids that have constant nosebleeds and headaches; where animal populations are dying; where there’s sickness; where there’s contaminated waters; where people can set their wells on fire. Sometimes, when we’re learning about a new issue, we can’t think about it from our point of view because it won’t make sense. We have to view it from someone else’s perspective.

You are a plaintiff in suits against the state of Colorado and the federal government. What are those about?

Martinez: We’re not asking for money. We’re asking them to put climate recovery plans into place and massively reforest our country and states so that our generation and future generations to come will inherit a healthy, safe, sustainable planet. The Public Trust Doctrine says that the government must preserve and protect natural resources for public use, for future generations, and that they cannot be used or hoarded by one entity, corporation or government. So, we’re arguing that the climate is an important resource that doesn’t belong to anybody but affects everyone. We’re demanding climate recovery plans that ensure a healthy, sustainable atmosphere.

Several major fossil fuel companies in the world have signed on as co-defendants with the state and the country. It doesn’t look like we have a shot if you look at it that way, but we’re making headway. We’ve already won in Texas, and it looks like we’re going to win in New Mexico. That’s huge. And the federal lawsuit is going really well. We’re taking it up to the next highest level of court because the judge who was hearing it said, “I don’t have jurisdiction in this matter, this is too big for me to decide.” Even if we don’t win, the statements and media coverage we’re getting — kids suing their country over climate change — is huge. The people that it’s bringing together and the movement it’s building are astonishing. I’m honored to be part of it.

You’ve founded a hip-hop group called Voice of Youth. How does presenting your advocacy through music affect its interpretation?

Martinez: If I present myself as an environmental activist, only a certain group of people are going to listen to me. But if I present myself as a 14-year-old hip-hop artist, a new group of people will hear my message. Music has the power to touch people’s hearts, wake people up.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Martinez: Let’s hope that I’m not still doing this. Not because I don’t want to, but because I hope that in 10 years we won’t need constant supervision of human lifestyles. As long as there’s a problem, though, I’m going to be on the frontlines. I’m going to be spending every minute I have fighting for what is right and for my voice to be heard.

Jordan McCurdy is an editorial intern at In These Times. She graduated from the University of Texas-Austin with degrees in English and German.



Saturday, June 1, 2013


Fracking: A Silent Death Sweeps Across the World

15th May 2013

Farmland is tainted. Drinking water is flammable. And humans along with animals are sick.
The cause? Fracking.

It’s terrorizing the environment, destroying the health of those who live close to the sites and contaminating the food supply. With more than 600,000 fracking wells and waste injection locations around the country, if this practice is not contained soon, clean water and food will become a distant memory.

Fracking 101

What exactly is fracking? It’s a technique used by the oil industry to facilitate the flow of natural gas or petroleum by injecting mass amounts of noxious liquid deep into the earth. The chemicals used in fracking (benzene, arsenic, ethylene glycol, lead, formaldehyde, toluene, Uranium-238, Radium-226, to name a few) devastate the land and water within proximity to the poisonous injection sites. Even more alarming, the toxins are also linked with birth defects, cancer, autism, kidney failure and autoimmune disorders.

Water on Fire

One of the more dramatic illustrations of fracking contamination is water catching fire straight our of the faucet. Seriously. The methane levels are so high, tap water becomes combustible. Not only does fracking ruin the land and water, but it also infuses livestock and plants with toxins that eventually enter into the food supply. Farmers who live close to fracking wells have become seriously ill, animals die.

One example is seen with Marilyn and Robert Hunt, farmers in West Virginia. Goats, chickens and cattle are raised on their 70-acre organic farm. The Hunts turned down an offer from the Chesapeake Energy Corporation to lease their minerals rights. This didn’t prevent Chesapeake from “stealing gas from both sides of our property,” according to Mrs. Hunt in the Organic Consumers Association article, “Fracking our Farms: A Tale of Five Farming Families.” Then, in 2010, the company received a permit to dispose fracking waste on her land. She recalls, “The water got little white flecks in it, and we started to get sick. We lost a whole lot of baby goats that got gastrointestinal disorders from drinking the water.” Curiously, the cattle were spared any adverse effects. Mrs. Hunt believes this is due to the fact that the cattle drink from an uncontaminated spring high on the property.

Susan Wallace-Babb, a Colorado rancher, has also suffered from fracking. In 2005, she breathed in fumes from an overflowing natural gas tank half a mile from her property. She collapsed, unconscious. The next morning, Susan was violently ill with severe diarrhea and uncontrollable vomiting. Within a few days, a burning rash broke out over her body, lesions soon followed. Her symptoms became worse whenever she went outdoors. A year later she moved to a small town in Texas. Susan’s health improved over the course of three years until Exxon began fracking wells 14 miles away. Her symptoms returned within a few short months.

End the Madness

Until farmers refuse to lease their land to fracking operators, the problem will continue to escalate. In an effort to educate fellow ranchers about the dangers of fracking, Jacki Schilke of North Dakota, warns, “They’re here to rape this land, make as much money as they can and get the hell out of here. They could give a crap less what they are doing here. They will come on your property look you straight in the eye and lie to you.”

For those who find fracking unacceptable, a petition to ban the practice in the United States can be found here.

To learn more, the Dangers of Fracking website offers unique animated information.



Sources for this article include:

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Feds Let Industry Pollute

How the Feds Let Industry Pollute the Nation's Underground Water Supply

 Federal officials have given energy and mining companies permission to pollute aquifers in more than 1,500 places across the country, releasing toxic material into underground reservoirs that help supply more than half of the nation's drinking water.

In many cases, the Environmental Protection Agency has granted these so-called aquifer exemptions in Western states now stricken by drought and increasingly desperate for water.

EPA records show that portions of at least 100 drinking water aquifers have been written off because exemptions have allowed them to be used as dumping grounds.

"You are sacrificing these aquifers," said Mark Williams, a hydrologist at the University of Colorado and a member of a National Science Foundation team studying the effects of energy development on the environment. "By definition, you are putting pollution into them. ... If you are looking 50 to 100 years down the road, this is not a good way to go."

As part of an investigation into the threat to water supplies from underground injection of waste, ProPublica set out to identify which aquifers have been polluted.

We found the EPA has not even kept track of exactly how many exemptions it has issued, where they are, or whom they might affect.

What records the agency was able to supply under the Freedom of Information Act show that exemptions are often issued in apparent conflict with the EPA's mandate to protect waters that may be used for drinking.

Though hundreds of exemptions are for lower-quality water of questionable use, many allow grantees to contaminate water so pure it would barely need filtration, or that is treatable using modern technology.

The EPA is only supposed to issue exemptions if aquifers are too remote, too dirty, or too deep to supply affordable drinking water. Applicants must persuade the government that the water is not being used as drinking water and that it never will be.

Sometimes, however, the agency has issued permits for portions of reservoirs that are in use, assuming contaminants will stay within the finite area exempted.

In Wyoming, people are drawing on the same water source for drinking, irrigation and livestock that, about a mile away, is being fouled with federal permission. In Texas, EPA officials are evaluating an exemption for a uranium mine — already approved by the state — even though numerous homes draw water from just outside the underground boundaries outlined in the mining company's application.

The EPA declined repeated requests for interviews for this story, but sent a written response saying exemptions have been issued responsibly, under a process that ensures contaminants remain confined.
"Aquifer Exemptions identify those waters that do not currently serve as a source of drinking water and will not serve as a source of drinking water in the future and, thus, do not need to be protected," an EPA spokesperson wrote in an email statement. "The process of exempting aquifers includes steps that minimize the possibility that future drinking water supplies are endangered."

Yet EPA officials say the agency has quietly assembled an unofficial internal task force to re-evaluate its aquifer exemption policies. The agency's spokesperson declined to give details on the group's work, but insiders say it is attempting to inventory exemptions and to determine whether aquifers should go unprotected in the future, with the value of water rising along with demand for exemptions closer to areas where people live.

Advances in geological sciences have deepened regulators' concerns about exemptions, challenging the notion that waste injected underground will stay inside the tightly drawn boundaries of the exempted areas.

"What they don't often consider is whether that waste will flow outside that zone of influence over time, and there is no doubt that it will," said Mike Wireman, a senior hydrologist with the EPA who has worked with the World Bank on global water supply issues. "Over decades, that water could discharge into a stream. It could seep into a well. If you are a rancher out there and you want to put a well in, it's difficult to find out if there is an exempted aquifer underneath your property."

Aquifer exemptions are a little-known aspect of the government's Underground Injection Control program, which is designed to protect water supplies from the underground disposal of waste.
The Safe Drinking Water Act explicitly prohibits injection into a source of drinking water, and requires precautions to ensure that oil and gas and disposal wells that run through them are carefully engineered not to leak.

Areas covered by exemptions are stripped of some of these protections, however. Waste can be discarded into them freely, and wells that run through them need not meet all standards used to prevent pollution. In many cases, no water monitoring or long-term study is required.

The recent surge in domestic drilling and rush for uranium has brought a spike in exemption applications, as well as political pressure not to block or delay them, EPA officials told ProPublica.
"The energy policy in the U.S is keeping this from happening because right now nobody — nobody — wants to interfere with the development of oil and gas or uranium," said a senior EPA employee who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the subject. "The political pressure is huge not to slow that down."

Many of the exemption permits, records show, have been issued in regions where water is needed most and where intense political debates are underway to decide how to fairly allocate limited water resources.

In drought-stricken Texas, communities are looking to treat brackish aquifers beneath the surface because they have run out of better options and several cities, including San Antonio and El Paso, are considering whether to build new desalinization plants for as much as $100 million apiece.
And yet environmental officials have granted more than 50 exemptions for waste disposal and uranium mining in Texas, records show. The most recent was issued in September.

The Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates oil and gas drilling, said it issued additional exemptions, covering large swaths of aquifers underlying the state, when it brought its rules into compliance with the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in 1982. This was in large part because officials viewed them as oil reservoirs and thought they were already contaminated. But it is unclear where, and how extensive, those exemptions are.

EPA "Region VI received a road map — yes, the kind they used to give free at gas stations — with the aquifers delineated, with no detail on depth," said Mario Salazar, a former EPA project engineer who worked with the underground injection program for 25 years and oversaw the approval of Texas' program, in an email.

In California, where nearly half of the nation's fruits and vegetables are grown with water from as far away as the Colorado River, the perennially cash-strapped state's governor is proposing to spend $14 billion to divert more of the Sacramento River from the north to the south. Near Bakersfield, a private project is underway to build a water bank, essentially an artificial aquifer.

Still, more than 100 exemptions for natural aquifers have been granted in California, some to dispose of drilling and fracking waste in the state's driest parts. Though most date back to the 1980s, the most recent exemption was approved in 2009 in Kern County, an agricultural heartland that is the epicenter of some of the state's most volatile rivalries over water.

The balance is even more delicate in Colorado. Growth in the Denver metro area has been stubbornly restrained not by available land, but by the limits of aquifers that have been drawn down by as much as 300 vertical feet. Much of Eastern Colorado's water has long been piped underneath the Continental Divide and, until recently, the region was mulling a $3 billion plan to build a pipeline to bring water hundreds of miles from western Wyoming.

Along with Wyoming, Montana and Utah, however, Colorado has sacrificed more of its aquifer resources than any other part of the country.

More than 1,100 aquifer exemptions have been approved by the EPA's Rocky Mountain regional office, according to a list the agency provided to ProPublica. Many of them are relatively shallow and some are in the same geologic formations containing aquifers relied on by Denver metro residents, though the boundaries are several hundred miles away. More than a dozen exemptions are in waters that might not even need to be treated in order to drink.

"It's short-sighted," said Tom Curtis, the deputy executive director of the American Water Works Association, an international non-governmental drinking water organization. "It's something that future generations may question."

To the resource industries, aquifer exemptions are essential. Oil and gas drilling waste has to go somewhere and in certain parts of the country, there are few alternatives to injecting it into porous rock that also contains water, drilling companies say. In many places, the same layers of rock that contain oil or gas also contain water, and that water is likely to already contain pollutants such as benzene from the natural hydrocarbons within it.

Similarly, the uranium mining industry works by prompting chemical reactions that separate out minerals within the aquifers themselves; the mining can't happen without the pollution.

When regulations governing waste injection were written in the 1980s to protect underground water reserves, industry sought the exemptions as a compromise. The intent was to acknowledge that many deep waters might not be worth protecting even though they technically met the definition of drinking water.

"The concept of aquifer exemptions was something that we 'invented' to address comments when the regulations were first proposed," Salazar, the former EPA official, said. "There was never the intention to exempt aquifers just because they could contain, or would obviate, the development of a resource. Water was the resource that would be protected above all."

Since then, however, approving exemptions has become the norm. In an email, the EPA said that some exemption applications had been denied, but provided no details about how many or which ones. State regulators in Texas and Wyoming could not recall a single application that had been turned down and industry representatives said they had come to expect swift approval.

"Historically they have been fairly routinely granting aquifer exemptions," said Richard Clement, the chief executive of Powertech Uranium, which is currently seeking permits for new mining in South Dakota. "There has never been a case that I'm aware of that it has not been done."

121212-chartIn 1981, shortly after the first exemption rules were set, the EPA lowered the bar for exemptions as part of settling a lawsuit filed by the American Petroleum Institute. Since then, the agency has issued permits for water not "reasonably expected" to be used for drinking. The original language allowed exemptions only for water that could never be used.
Oil companies have been the biggest users of aquifer exemptions by far. Most are held by smaller, independent companies, but Chevron, America's second-largest oil company, holds at least 28 aquifer exemptions. Exxon holds at least 14. In Wyoming, the Canadian oil giant EnCana, currently embroiled in an investigation of water contamination related to fracking in the town of Pavillion, has been allowed to inject into aquifers at 38 sites.

Once an exemption is issued, it's all but permanent; none have ever been reversed. Permits dictate how much material companies can inject and where, but impose little or no obligations to protect the surrounding water if it has been exempted. The EPA and state environmental agencies require applicants to assess the quality of reservoirs and to do some basic modeling to show where contaminants should end up. But in most cases there is no obligation, for example, to track what has been put into the earth or — except in the case of the uranium mines — to monitor where it does end up.

The biggest problem now, experts say, is that the EPA's criteria for evaluating applications are outdated. The rules — last revised nearly three decades ago — haven't adapted to improving water treatment technology and don't reflect the changing value and scarcity of fresh water.

Aquifers once considered unusable can now be processed for drinking water at a reasonable price.
The law defines an underground source of drinking water as any water that has less than 10,000 parts per million of what are called Total Dissolved Solids, a standard measure of water quality, but historically, water with more than 3,000 TDS has been dismissed as too poor for drinking. It also has been taken for granted that, in most places, the deeper the aquifer — say, below about 2,000 feet — the higher the TDS and the less salvageable the water.

Yet today, Texas towns are treating water that has as high as 4,000 TDS and a Wyoming town is pumping from 8,500 feet deep, thousands of feet below aquifers that the EPA has determined were too far underground to ever produce useable water.

"You can just about treat anything nowadays," said Jorge Arroyo, an engineer and director of innovative water technologies at the Texas Water Development Board, which advises the state on groundwater management. Arroyo said he was unaware that so many Texas aquifers had been exempted, and that it would be feasible to treat many of them. Regarding the exemptions, he said, "With the advent of technology to treat some of this water, I think this is a prudent time to reconsider whether we allow them."

Now, as commercial crops wilt in the dry heat and winds rip the dust loose from American prairies, questions are mounting about whether the EPA should continue to grant exemptions going forward.
"Unless someone can build a clear case that this water cannot be used — we need to keep our groundwater clean," said Al Armendariz, a former regional administrator for the EPA's South Central region who now works with the Sierra Club. "We shouldn't be exempting aquifers unless we have no other choice. We should only exempt the aquifer if we are sure we are never going to use the water again."

Still, skeptics say fewer exemptions are unlikely, despite rising concern about them within the EPA, as the demand for space underground continues to grow. Long-term plans to slow climate change and clean up coal by sequestering carbon dioxide underground, for example, could further endanger aquifers, causing chemical reactions that lead to water contamination.

"Everyone wants clean water and everyone wants clean energy," said Richard Healy, a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey whose work is focused on the nexus of energy production and water. "Energy development can occur very quickly because there is a lot of money involved. Environmental studies take longer."

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source. 
Abrahm Lustgarten
Abrahm Lustgarten is a former staff writer and contributor for Fortune, and has written for Salon, Esquire, the Washington Post and the New York Times since receiving his master's in journalism from Columbia University in 2003. He is the author of the book China’s Great Train: Beijing’s Drive West and the Campaign to Remake Tibet, a project that was funded in part by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Source: Truth Out

Sunday, June 10, 2012

What Does Fracking Look Like?

Oh what these eyes have seen!

Over the last month I have seen more of the transformed landscape that was once Pennsylvania and is now turned gas fields than I can even understand, or fully explain. I will only attempt a synopsis of the journey.  I visited 12 different places that all had unique stories and situations, but had one thing in common: gas development has changed their lives, and not for the better.

I first went to Butler County, then Washington County, Fayette County and all over the Moshannon Forest. My mission was to see, first hand, what living in the gas fields is like for some people and to assist some of these families with independent air testing. I had already met at least 4 families that have lost their water, in Butler alone. I know that there are at least 12. Their situation is still dire, still haphazard.  Although, many kind citizens have helped to collect and deliver water to these families, a solution has yet to be found and help from the state is rather non-existent.  If anyone would like to make a donation to this water drive, please contact me directly-, and I can make that happen.

On this day I ran into my favorite little girl, Skylar, who was enjoying a sponge bath on the porch in the warm sun. They are leaving. They are cutting their losses and getting the heck out and resuming a normal life, free of fear of further harm, for themselves and Skylar. I was so happy to hear that, but outraged that it had come to this for them. Leave the home and save your family, another family forced to live like refugees, here in PA. While we were there, black water ran out of her faucet in the bathroom and then dried back up as she worked to collect whatever water came out so that they could put it in a gallon container to use to flush the toilet.

This is how they live; this has been their life for too long.

Not everyone in that area can do what they are doing. Moving is not always an option, not everyone can afford that loss.  Too many families outright own the property, have everything in their life invested in it and have no means to start over, adding on a new mortgage payment or rent. The land they dreamed of working is now a constant nightmare for them.

I also met a dog this time around, Sam, who lived with another family that has lost their water. He has since had to be put down, less than a week after I patted his head and told him I was sorry that this was allowed to happen to him. It was heartbreaking. He reminded me so much of my best friend, and sadly, his owners feared that he had continued to drink out of a spring, nearby that may no longer have been potable. His nose and face was inflamed and infected and he seemed like he was in a lot of pain.  To be honest, I have never seen anything quite like it. If it was cancer, it was one of the most unusual cancers I have ever seen. I left there sad beyond belief and sick to my stomach. He was a very good old boy, and family that has already lost so much had to put him down, without any answers and with fear in their hearts.

Next, I saw a frack pond full of toxic waste and a drill site right next to newly tilled land that will grow food. I saw the homes of many, who once enjoyed a serene lifestyle, filled with fields and crickets that now live downwind of toxic dumps and have no choice but to wonder just what is in that air that they are now forced to breathe. All day I thought: do you know where your food is coming from? Well, you should. We must demand frack free food and frack free farming, or this will be part of the food chain for Pennsylvanians in the future. Your vegetables could be fortified with barium and radiation. Local now may mean tilled with toxins and carcinogens. Not even organic farms are safe, as many of those farmers have leased as well. Do your homework people. You are what you eat.

The next day, I met a woman who was afraid to go out on her porch and her friends were afraid to visit and sit outside, like they always have, because the fumes in the evening envelop them.  We had to encourage her to stay inside, and sadly, no one would want to buy this property now, and anyway,  she, in her 70′s, lives alone, and is in no shape to go. These are now her golden years.

I saw property value after property value slashed as shiny new compressor stations roar and spit and spew god knows what across from nicely manicured lawns and dream homes. I pulled up to the gate of one of these compressor stations, one that only seems to be getting bigger and bigger, and my companion told me to roll down the window.  I got my first big gulp of air that is created there, and the only words that came out were “OH MY GOD!” and I quickly wound the window back up and immediately wanted to leave. It was disgusting to smell, let alone breathe.

My friend said that he should have taped the moment, just to capture the expression on my face. Well, imagine that combination of shock, horror and fear. That is what my face looked like. The days we spent in Gaslandistan, I developed this strange scratch in my throat. A constant clearing of a tickle that never let up, until some time had passed and I was no longer breathing that air. It made me think that I needed to bring a respirator next time, and yet somehow, our neighbors have to breathe this 24/7.

I am sure it was coincidental, it’s just anecdotal evidence, just like every other persons’ complaints to the DEP, and the EPA, and to local government agencies.  Sure, you didn’t ever have these problems before drilling came to an area near you. Sure, your story and symptoms are similar to hundreds of others across the state, but we have the power and we can assure you that this onslaught of bad water and wretched air is coincidental, or all in your mind, and since nothing can ever be definitively proven, the burden continues to fall on the victims to prove the unprovable. Drillers just continue on with business as usual; they do not have to prove it is safe.

Why? All these families ask for and want is a life free of harm.

I went to see a family whose story I know well and to meet some of their neighbors that have had similar symptoms and experiences.  They fear for their safety, all the time.  The stress is so thick, you can see it in their eyes.  As hope diminishes, the eyes change. I saw that again and again when I had to sit in the chemo ward.  Post traumatic stress is no joke.  Anger and depression oozes from their pores. These families are surrounded. Compressor engines everywhere.  Their small country road now faces truck traffic and accidents that seem impossible. The story is the same.  The industry owns everything and everyone in these parts.  People that are suffering are just crazy or envious. Even the local radio station is now run by industry hacks. Neighbors that have known each other for generations are turning their backs on each other and on the suffering and reality for those that are in harm’s way.

Yes there are many that will continue to sing the praises of Marcellus Shale, but there are also many landowners that were bamboozled. They have realized too late that they were misled. Or, now they see what their profit has cost their neighbor.  They are surrounded by pipelines, industrial construction, toxic ponds, un-breathable air, dangerous trucks and traffic that can kill. This is their story. This is their Range Resources commercial. Sadly, this is the commercial everyone should see, but never will, and so the corporate takeover of our state continues.

(Sorry for the terrible quality of film. I wasn’t trying to film, I was just protecting myself with my phone rolling just in case any industry security folk showed up. But their stories need to be told).
The following week, HOPE made a comeback. I saw a farmer and a philosopher stand for his love and his land. I stood with him and 50 others in his stated rebellion on top of a hill, overlooking his goats and his farm. The beauty that I have always known as Pennsylvania- its rolling hills with wildflowers, dotted with farms, barns, and little white houses- not well pads and drill rigs and clear cut land.

I am proud to call him a friend. We spent 2 glorious days in Paradise with 90 happy goats, chickens roaming freely, and a pack of dogs in what really must be dog heaven, and yet outside of the bubble of the farm the development and devastation was everywhere apparent.

My boyfriend that has actively followed and stood with me in this fight was forever changed on this trip. I watched it happen. It made me realize that this is why I have such a hard time, here in Allegheny County.  I can tell you this is coming to a neighborhood near you, but until you see it, until you see well pad after well pad and truck after truck and smell the smells that your brain tells you to run from, it just doesn’t fully sink it. By the time you see the first rig,  it’s too late. The gravity of the situation only comes when the first hand experience is encountered. It is what Calvin Tillman says again and again, “Once you know, you can’t not know.”

It is not until you hear a story from a woman that explains what it was like when she had no water, and no one cared, and how her dog died later that winter from licking the salty frack fluid from his paws, that you know. You see the truth in her eyes.  She takes you to the site up the road, the one that poisoned her water, where you clearly see the toxic waste buried and imagine what harm all of this has done and what it will continue to do. Her orchards hang in the balance. Her obvious love for her land, animals, orchards and her family is only bested by her fear for their health and their future and her justified anger at what has already been done. Understandably so.

I saw a forest destroyed: an industrial wasteland now where trees and animals once lived. No trespassing signs everywhere. Nature violated at every turn.  A pipeline runs here, and there and there. Well pad after well pad after well pad. A compressor station, another compressor station.  Toxic waste buried, bad air, fouled water….more of the same, just in a different corner of the state. The land is forever scarred. It was, again, terribly depressing and completely overwhelming.

We saw this type of clearing and industry 20x over in a 2 mile radius of the Moshannon Forest.
But remarkably, in this broken forest, we also found strength in the form of standing up and fighting back. The beginnings of a rebellion. A man who spread the ashes of his wife in defiance on a hill and stated that no drill would ever permeate this land. A woman that stood up for her land and her family, and stopped a frack pond from being built across the road from her house, and now, she is winning. A group that provides independent testing to people that have no hope of help from the state.  You see, the tide is turning and its the grassroots, boots on the ground that is making that happen. We will win the PR battle with truth and we will challenge and dismiss the politicians that only serve the industry. This will not happen quickly, there are many more battles and rebellions to wage, but I know, in time, that we will win this war.