Thursday, March 14, 2013

New legislation pushing local control of oil and gas in Colorado expected next week

Colo. Dems to pitch expanded city, county control over fracking

New legislation pushing local control of oil and gas development is expected to be introduced in the Legislature by early next week.

Fracking protester Mayah Hesser, right, of Fort Collins, and other protesters walk along LaPorte Avenue en route to a Fort Collins City Council meeting regarding limiting oil and gas development within the city on Dec. 4, 2012. Colorado Democrats plan to introduce legislation by early next week that would potentially expand local municipalities' and counties' control of oil and gas development within their boundaries.
Fracking protester Mayah Hesser, right, of Fort Collins, and other protesters walk along LaPorte Avenue en route to a Fort Collins City Council meeting regarding limiting oil and gas development within the city on Dec. 4, 2012. Colorado Democrats plan to introduce legislation by early next week that would potentially expand local municipalities' and counties' control of oil and gas development within their boundaries. / Rich Abrahamson/Coloradoan library
Colorado Democrats plan to introduce late-session legislation soon targeting oil and gas development that could apply to Fort Collins’ recently adopted ban on hydraulic fracturing, party leaders in the Legislature confirmed Thursday. “I expect by the first of next week we will see some legislation on oil and gas,” said House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Gunbarrel. “There will be something on local control, probably in conjunction with setbacks.” She said environmental standards, air quality and water quality are likely to be at the heart of the proposals.

Fort Collins City Council last week approved a ban on the practice known as fracking. It involves the high-pressure introduction of water mixed with sand and other substances to below-ground shale in order to jostle oil and gas free for extraction.
In public comments to council, citizens expressed overwhelming support for a fracking ban. But the head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission that regulates natural resource development in the state lobbied against it. Gov. John Hickenlooper threatened to sue any community that denies mineral rights owners access to their property, but he has said he may be willing to compromise with cities that ban oil and gas development if they are willing to compensate mineral rights owners.

Hickenlooper has been outspoken about his position that the state — not municipalities or counties — should regulate the oil and gas industry in accordance with state law. That provision could be one of the elements that the forthcoming legislation would tackle, although Democratic leaders were not specific about what they expect the forthcoming bills would seek to accomplish.

Currently, Longmont is facing lawsuits from the oil and gas industry over its voter-imposed ban on fracking and from the state over its city council’s actions to restrict oil and gas development.

Before it took up the local fracking ban, Fort Collins City Council instituted a moratorium on new oil and gas development through the end of July in order to allow the Legislature time to tackle issues of local control. As the legislative session that began in January progressed, many observers wondered if legislation to expand local control over oil and gas development would actually be introduced.

Now that it the issue is poised to come before the Legislature, it stands a better chance of passing through the House and Senate — both controlled by Democrats this year — than it would have had the past two years when Republicans and Democrats shared control at the State Capitol.

If the legislation does pass, it would be subject to Hickenlooper’s veto prerogative.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Gas Patch Roulette: How Shale Gas Development Risks Public Health in Pennsylvania

The Oil and Gas Accountability Project has released an important new report:

Gas Patch Roulette: How Shale Gas Development Risks Public Health in Pennsylvania

PUBLIC HEALTH AND GAS DEVELOPMENT: Where oil and gas development goes, health problems often follow.

Yet industry representatives and policymakers seeking to expand drilling often dismiss claims of health impacts as “personal anecdotes” and isolated incidents.
The primary reasons that public health risks posed by increasing gas development can be disputed:
  • A lack of established science. Widespread scientific investigation has only recently begun to investigate the relationship between gas development and public health impacts.
  • State governments, which are largely responsible for protecting the public from irresponsible oil and gas development, have until recently refused to consider the issue.
  • Even as they have become widespread, individual reports of health problems in the gas patch have been continually dismissed as anecdotal by industry and government.
To investigate the connection, between August 2011 and July 2012 Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project (OGAP) researched the extent, types, and possible causes of health symptoms experienced by people living in the gas patches of Pennsylvania.

The main conclusions of the project -- Gas Patch Roulette: How Shale Gas Development Risks Public Health in Pennsylvania:
  1. Contaminants associated with oil and gas development are present in air and water in many communities where development is occurring.
  2. Many residents have developed health symptoms that they did not have before—indicating the strong possibility that they are occurring because of gas development.
  3. By permitting widespread gas development without fully understanding its impacts to public health—and using that lack of knowledge to justify regulatory inaction—Pennsylvania and other states are risking the public’s health.

Gas Patch Roulette documents:

For more information:

The health survey form through which residents reported health symptoms.
Additional information and data tables to support some of the analysis and charts found in the report.

Related Earthworks publications

Friday, September 21, 2012

More stories from the gas fields

Shale Gas Outrage Press Conference Coverage

September 20, 2012

Today, I had the opportunity to attend the press conference that preceded the Shale Gas Outrage Demonstration.  Below are the videos of those who gave statements at the press conference.  The speakers are residents and activists in Marcellus Shale Region, and here are their stories.

Josh Fox – Gasland director

Carol French and Carolyn Knapp – Bradford County farmers who had their wells contaminated by gas drilling.
Craig Stevens and Ryan Kembel – Both are Dimock residents.  Craig Stevens – a 6th generation landowner – signed his mineral rights to Cabot Energy.  Ryan Kembel had his water contaminated by Cabot Energy.

Francis Vanek – Cornell University – School of Civil and Environmental Engineering

Kevin Heatley – Restoration Ecologist – Lycoming County Resident

Tracy Carluccio – Delaware Riverkeeper Network – Deputy Director

Sean Kitchen is an Assistant Editor and Social Media Organizer for Raging Chicken Press. He is student at Kutztown University.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The last word on fracking and why it can't be done safely - ever

Josh Fox, documentary filmmaker of the groundbreaking “Gasland” recently released a new short video, “The Sky is Pink,” in response to New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s signaled plans for the state’s gas resource.  In a tight series of points, Fox presents scientifically based evidence for why fracking can never be done safely based on well established industry problems with long-term well integrity due to failures in the cement casing used to line and 'seal' the vertical well shaft - the equivalent of proof that smoking causes cancer that the tobacco industry knew long before litigation forced the truth out.

Watch it here.
THE SKY IS PINK from JFOX on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Ohio signs fracking regulations into law

Shale drilling rules signed into law 
Tuesday, June 12, 2012, Ellen M. Gilmer, E&E reporter

New rules for Ohio shale drilling were made official yesterday as Gov. John Kasich (R) signed a sweeping energy bill that includes tightened oil and gas oversight.

The legislation, S.B. 315, addresses chemical disclosure, water quality testing and other shale drilling issues that have become increasingly contentious as the practice catches on in Ohio's portions of the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.

Under the new law, oil and gas operators will be required to perform pre-drilling water sampling, filling a need for baseline environmental data. It also authorizes the Ohio Department of Natural Resources to draft requirements for well depth and various operating procedures.

Other provisions in the bill cover energy conservation and renewables, but environmentalists have taken issue with some of the shale drilling language.

"[T]he oil and gas industry and their friends in the legislature managed to strip away and block other good provisions while layering on some real clunkers," said Ohio Environmental Council attorney Trent Dougherty in a statement. "Sadly, the bill absolutely strikes out on protecting the public's right to appeal the terms and conditions of drilling permits, having meaningful oversight over the proliferation of 'gathering' pipelines, and enabling the public to police driller claims of trade secrecy."

The environmental group had supported the legislation in an earlier form that would have established the strictest chemical disclosure requirements in the country. Under the draft, operators would have to report to the state the fluids used during the entire life cycle of a well.

Negotiations with industry led to a softened version that only requires drillers to release information about chemicals used during stimulation and part of the drilling process (EnergyWire, May 29). Industry representatives at the Ohio Oil and Gas Association now support the legislation, calling it balanced.

Kasich, who had proposed the stricter requirements, was enthusiastic about the bill's passage.

"Because we were able to come together and look at energy consumption and production from every angle -- from shale gas to waste heat to workforce training to alternative fuels and renewables -- we've accomplished something truly unprecedented," he said in a statement last month.

Monday, May 21, 2012

FracFocus no substitute for full disclosure critics say

FracFocus can't replace full, public disclosure, groups say
Mike Soraghan, E&E reporter, Monday, May 21, 2012

Open-government and environmental groups are disturbed to see the hydraulic fracturing registry becoming a substitute for traditional regulatory disclosure, saying the site limits its usefulness in a way that provides less transparency and accountability than standard government disclosure.

The website's terms of use forbid the kind of broad use of the chemical information needed to cross-reference it against other data. And presenting it well by well in PDF format, rather than a spreadsheet or database, they say, locks up the data and blocks in-depth analysis.

The organization that runs the site, the Ground Water Protection Council, says it was never designed to be a "national environmental analytic tool."

But state governments have been adopting it. The Obama administration is considering adopting it for disclosure on public lands even though the administration's advisory panel on hydraulic fracturing faulted the site for not making the data more easily accessible.

"It should be reported on a well-by-well basis and posted on a publicly available website that includes tools for searching and aggregating data by chemical, well, by company, and by geography," the panel stated in its August report.

FracFocus does not have such tools for aggregating, and it's not planning to add them.

"I realize there are folks who want to be able to do all sort of comparative analysis, but that is not what this site was originally intended to do," Mike Paque, executive director of the Ground Water Protection Council, wrote in an email exchange with EnergyWire. "We did not set out to build a national environmental analytic tool or website, which some seem to think FracFocus should be. I guess no good deed goes unpunished."

New laws in Colorado, Texas and Pennsylvania allow drillers to satisfy their disclosure requirements by posting to FracFocus. At the urging of Exxon Mobil Corp., the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council adopted the Texas law as model legislation. Now it's moving through the Illinois Legislature (EnergyWire, May 2).
In Washington, the Obama administration says it's working with GWPC to see whether the disclosure it plans to require for drilling on public land can be integrated into FracFocus (Greenwire, May 4). Oil and gas companies are lobbying the White House to allow that (EnergyWire, May 7).

Critics say FracFocus shouldn't serve as a substitute for true "public" disclosure.
" is not a website that is useful to the public, as information made available through a state government or multistate website would be," said Joshua Ruschhaupt, director of the Sierra Club's Rocky Mountain Chapter. "We do have a problem with state governments requiring disclosed data and critical information to be provided only through a site with massive restrictions on its use."
'Searchable,' not 'aggregatable'

Earlier this month, EnergyWire asked GWPC for the full database of ingredients. The organization declined to provide it.

"We cannot release the database as a whole," said Mike Nickolaus, GWPC's special projects director. "It is a policy decision that was made early on in the development process."

Some, however, have already started finding their way around the obstacles put up by the site. Julian Todd, a programmer who co-founded a British company called ScraperWiki, has "scraped" some of the data from the PDFs and put it in a format downloadable to a spreadsheet (to see it, click here). Because of the difficulty of extracting the data, he has been able to get chemical information for only about 2,000 of the 17,000 wells listed.

On FracFocus, wells can be searched by operator, state and county. But because the site is not aggregatable, the results cannot be organized into a chart. Instead, there is an individual PDF for each of the roughly 17,000 wells.
So, for example, one could search for all the Chesapeake Energy Corp. wells in Bradford County, Pa. That returns more than 140 PDFs spread across eight screens. To make a chart of all the chemicals used, a researcher would have to open each one and copy the list.

To use FracFocus, companies submit their information to the site after a fracture treatment, or "frack job," using a spreadsheet template. If the data were presented that way, it could be easily aggregated and cross-referenced with other information, like water pollution data.

Instead, the spreadsheet is destroyed after the information is converted to a PDF, under the agreement that GWPC and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC) reached with drilling companies when the registry was created.
Opening, recording and analyzing the contents of those 17,000 PDFs wouldn't just be tedious, it might be illegal. It appears to be against the site's terms of use.

"Except for a single copy made for personal use only, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, republish, upload, post, transmit, or distribute any documents or information from this site in any form or by any means without prior written permission," the terms state. Unauthorized use, it states, "could result in criminal or civil penalties."
It's not clear how aggressively this might be enforced, however. The ban appears to be part of an off-the-shelf, boilerplate set of rules, which also prohibit seemingly irrelevant uses of the information, such as gambling.

States can and do present other information, such as oil and gas production data, in spreadsheet form.

But the oil and gas industry opposes making the fracking data available in such spreadsheet format for fear that drilling opponents might misinterpret it. Lee Fuller, head of the industry group Energy in Depth, notes that opponents would likely use such data to take certain toxic chemicals and add up how much was used in a state or across the country.

"The reason that industry is concerned about it is that these numbers are not really meaningful, but they're used to create anxiety in communities," Fuller said. "It would be used for political purposes."

Paque said concerns about misinterpretation did not drive design of the site.
"That is not a concern of ours," Paque said. "Any data can be misinterpreted at any time, and the opportunity to do so with FracFocus already exists."
To environmental groups, the obstacles to broad use of the data indicate the site is designed to serve the industry's interest rather than the public's.
"It's known that industry had a strong role in the group that set up FracFocus," said Michael Chiropolos, chief counsel of Boulder, Colo.-based Western Resource Advocates, "and there's a suspicion that it was set up more to protect industry than to establish transparency."

FracFocus was created by GWPC and the IOGCC with praise from industry and federal funding from the Department of Energy. The two groups, Oklahoma City-based organizations of state officials with ties to industry, now run it.
GWPC is a private nonprofit whose governing board is composed of state water regulators, but it has accepted industry funding, including $47,500 from the American Petroleum Institute in 2009. The IOGCC describes itself as a "multistate government agency," though it has oil and gas executives on its governing board and its meetings have industry sponsors such as BP PLC, Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell PLC.

Private concerns

Critics say public data shouldn't be entrusted to a private entity like GWPC.
"If this information needs to be disclosed, it needs to be usable by everybody, not locked away in PDFs," said Tom Lee of the Sunlight Foundation, which advocates for greater government openness and transparency.

The Sierra Club's Ruschhaupt added that "obtaining permission" to use public information contradicts the definition of "public information."
GWPC and IOGCC launched the site in April 2011 as a way for oil and gas drilling companies to voluntarily disclose the chemicals they inject underground during drilling as part of the fracturing process.

As the shale boom began, drillers fought Democratic legislation calling for disclosure and federal regulation of fracturing. Industry argued that full disclosure to the public meant giving away trade secrets. When the calls continued into the realm of shareholder resolutions, industry argued that there already was disclosure because Material Safety Data Sheets were posted at well sites, and state regulators could demand more detailed lists.
hen, a few companies and states started putting lists of commonly used chemicals on their sites (Greenwire, June 21, 2010). When critics called that too vague, officials started working on FracFocus.

It has become industry's preferred means of satisfying government-mandated disclosure, by both states and the federal government.

GWPC's Paque said the site is being updated because of demands from states using it for mandatory disclosure. Paque calls it "FracFocus 2.0," and it will allow searches by date, chemical name and chemical identification number. The site can already be searched by company, state and county. It will not become aggregatable.
"We are trying to do something right with FracFocus," he said, "and put information out for landowners and the general public that did not exist two years ago."

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

DOI, States seek to streamline 'all of the above' energy on public land including oil sands

In 2009 Governor Brown and DOI Secretary Salazar signed a MOU to streamline renewable energy that exempted industry from important environmental laws.  Sierra Club, NRDC and other mainstream environmental group supported these shortcuts.  We knew then that zoning federal land for renewables, negotiating MOUs, and streamlining and fast-tracking permitting processes would set a dangerous precedent that could be later used by the fossil fuel industry. And here it is. Now industry is pushing the model to expand dirty energy extraction in other states.

Utah, Interior working on 'all of the above' development plan
Margaret Kriz Hobson, E&E reporter, Wednesday, May 16, 2012

SALT LAKE CITY -- Utah officials are working with the Interior Department to develop a memorandum of understanding aimed at speeding construction of energy projects on federal lands in the state, a state official said yesterday.

Speaking at the University of Utah's unconventional fuels conference here, John Nowoslawski, the state's manager of unconventional energy development, said the MOU will be similar to an agreement that Interior reached with California state officials in 2009 and updated earlier this year (E&ENews PM, Jan. 10).

But while the California agreement focused on streamlining approval of renewable energy projects, the Utah memorandum will seek to spur development of all types of energy projects on federal lands in the state.

Nowoslawski declined to provide any details on Utah's agreement with Interior, which he said will be released in the coming weeks.

But he said: "Just look at the recent [MOU] they signed with California and imagine that with all energy resources. They were focused only on renewables, but we've made it an all-of-the-above thing."

Utah is also drawing up blueprints for creation of an "oil sands technology zone," which would give fledgling oil sands companies a place to test new oil extraction technologies. The zone would provide free access to pre-permitted state lands located next to an oil sands mine.

"The idea here is that not all oil sands companies are as advanced or as well-funded as others," Nowoslawski said. "There are some entrepreneurs with innovations out there that are bench-scale or garage-scale."

The technology zone would help "identify the most environmentally responsible economic process out there," he said. "What this would do is remove the technology risk and provide a bridge to commerciality."

The upcoming agreement with Interior and the technology zone are Utah's latest efforts to expand oil and gas development in the state.

Utah state and county officials have been critical of an Obama administration proposal to significantly reduce the amount of federal acreage available for oil sands and oil shale leasing in Utah, as well as in Colorado and Wyoming.

That proposal, released by the Bureau of Land Management in February, would downsize by 75 percent a George W. Bush administration plan to develop federal lands in the West. It also would permit only research on the leases, a sign that federal regulators do not believe that commercial development is technically viable and environmentally safe (Greenwire, Feb. 3).

But Utah's Energy Development Office director, Samantha Julian, last week chided the federal government for not recognizing the commercial viability of oil sands and oil shale extraction technologies.

Describing Utah as "the epicenter of unconventional energy development in the United States," Julian told a House Science subcommittee that "the responsible development of unconventional energy is happening today in Utah."

Julian argued that "[l]eading technology companies have settled in Utah, permits have been granted and efforts begun. Hundreds of millions of private dollars are being invested and jobs are being created as we speak. These critical resources in Utah are no longer on the horizon. The unconventional industry is operational in Utah and poised for continued growth."

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) has encouraged leasing state lands for oil sands and oil shale extraction and is promoting legislation to simplify the permitting process for energy development projects on state lands.

In March, Herbert went a step further, signing legislation demanding that the federal government turn over roughly 30 million acres of U.S. lands that lie within Utah's borders. The Utah state delegation in Washington is promoting federal legislation to transfer the lands to Utah, but those measures are not likely to advance this year.