Fracking companies had extensive influence over a critical study of the groundwater impacts from fracking, according to insider documents released by Greenpeace. In 2010, amidst growing worries about the environmental impacts from fracking, Congress compelled the EPA to conduct a study. The study was supposed to be a definitive look at the issue, exploring if and how fracking contaminates groundwater supplies. That study was supposed to be released in 2012, but has been delayed until 2016. Documents released as part of Greenpeace investigation have found that the EPA was forced to rely on shale companies like Chesapeake Energy for data, funding, and access to fracking sites. The shale industry in turn constrained the study, limiting what could be studied and when. These constraints led to the eventual cancellation of perhaps the most important part of the study - the "prospective" section.
Industry Actions leads to the Cancellation of Science
When the EPA's study was first conceptualized, it was supposed to include retrospective and prospective portions. The retrospective pieces would examine data collected by the industry in the past. The prospective section was where new scientific study would be done. The prospective studies were supposed to take baseline data from groundwater in areas that had not yet been drilled, and compare them to samples taken after drilling and fracking occurred. This type of prospective study, which starts pre-fracking, has never been done before and represented a major advance in the scientific study of fracking's impacts. The prospective portions would be the most reliable way to determine whether oil and gas development contaminates surface water and nearby aquifers. One EPA scientist told Inside Climate News "The single most important thing you could do is prospective studies.” However, the EPA was reliant on two shale companies for access to areas that had not yet been fracked, an arrangement that led to the full cancellation of the entire prospective section of the EPA's study. Documents obtained by Greenpeace show that Chesapeake Energy, one of the companies that initially agreed to cooperate with the EPA on the prospective portions of the study, actually drilled wells at their prospective study site, before the EPA was able to collect baseline data. This effectively torpedoed the entire project, and attempts at replacing the location, originally in Louisiana, with one in Oklahoma, also ended in failure. The correspondence between Chesapeake and EPA includes a draft press release announcing the cancellation of the prospective study in Louisiana conducted with Chesapeake. The release blames the cancellation on "scheduling conflicts, " resulting in Chesapeake drilling the well before baseline data could be collected. The press release was jointly edited by EPA and Chesapeake, but never released to the public. The EPA would never publicly announce the cancellation of the prospective studies, and only after increased pressure from Greenpeace did they reference it's cancellation deep on the study's website. The second prospective study, to be conducted with Range Resources, has also been cancelled. The cancellation of the prospective pieces has had a major impact on the usefulness of the study. "We won’t know anything more in terms of real data than we did five years ago," said Geoffrey Thyne, a geochemist and a member of the EPA's 2011 Science Advisory Board, a group of independent scientists who reviewed the draft plan of the study. (from Inside Climate News)
Kids in Pennsylvania hold tap water contaminated by nearby shale drilling
Delay and Obstruct - Study attacked on all sides by Industry
The documents reveal a number of instances where the fracking industry delayed and obstructed the EPA’s attempts to study fracking. The industry waged an attack from every side, political, scientific, and procedural. As Sharon Kelly writes for Desmog, "Watered-down federal research weakens the possibility for future regulations. It also has been used to justify loopholes in federal environmental laws for the oil and gas industry." Kelly points out the 3 step process that various industries have employed to impact unwanted studies:
Step one: using a rhetoric of collaboration and “non-adversarial” relationships, the industry effectively establishes inside access to what otherwise should be an independent research process. This allows the industry to meddle with study methodologies, pick and chose its own favored experts, and distort findings. Step two: through inside access, the industry affords itself the authority to contest, after the fact, any findings that it is not able to water down on the front end. Step three: this access also allows industry the ability to impose infeasible methodological demands on the agency, slowing the process to a crawl and at times forcing the agency to give up trying to get answers to certain key questions.
This Pennsylvania resident's water changed color and taste after a fracked well was placed near her property.
Here is a list of findings from the documents:
- Chesapeake only allowed for baseline sampling after the fracking wells had initially been drilled, rather than beforehand, as EPA scientists preferred. Without having baseline data pre-drilling, the industry can claim that contaminates existed there before their drills pierced the aquifer. The Industry has claimed this in multiple cases where groundwater impacts from fracking have occurred.
- Chesapeake demanded the EPA reduce the depth of their study from 300 to 150 feet, and demanded that the EPA focus solely on the fracking stage, not drilling, completion, or other stages where contamination can occur.
- API and ANGA tried to have their own consultants shadow the EPA's scientists during the study. This proved to be distracting to the scientists conducting the study.
- At the same time, Chesapeake and Range, the two companies that were supposed to cooperating with EPA on the prospective study, were attacking other EPA studies of water contamination cases. While initially finding evidence of contamination from Chesapeake Energy wells in Pennsylvania and Range Resources wells in Texas, The EPA never pursued any regulatory action.
- Chesapeake was, as one EPA email put it “part of the team here” when it came to the water study.
- The Inspector General of the EPA tried to investigate “the EPA’s and states’ ability to manage potential threats to water resources from hydraulic fracturing.” In response, pro-fracking Congressional representatives demanded the investigation “immediately end.”
As Neela Banerjee writes in Inside Climate News: "The industry balked at the scope of the study and sowed doubts about the EPA's ability to deliver definitive findings. In addition, concerns about the safety of drinking water conflicted with the Obama administration's need to spur the economy out of recession while expanding domestic energy production."
A Chesapeake drilling site warns of water contamination
Does Fracking Contaminate Water Supplies?
Studies conducted since the EPA’s study began have found evidence that fracking affects groundwater supplies. A 2013 Duke University study found that within a kilometer of fracking wells, methane concentration in drinking-water wells was 6 times higher than the surrounding area. A University of Texas-Arlington study from 2013 found elevated levels of arsenic and heavy metals in groundwater near fracking sites in Texas’ Barnett Shale. See Greenpeace's fracking page for a list of groundwater contamination incidents.
On January 9th, Freedom Industries, a company that stores chemicals for the coal industry, spilled 7,500 gallons of Crude Methylcyclohexanemethanol (MCHM), a little known, little understood compound into the Elk river. The spill occurred one mile upriver from the water intake that supplies tap water for all of West Virginia's capital city of Charleston.
The thick oily chemical was pumped through the water system and into homes and businesses throughout the area, causing vomiting, skin problems, and diarrhea. Now, nearly two weeks since the disaster was discovered, the water has been deemed "safe to drink," though water from the tap still releases a sickly sweet chemical odor, especially when heated.
Pregnant women and children are still advised to drink bottled water, but very few people in the affected area are interested in drinking from the tap, with child or not. The tremendous need for potable water has led to the creation of the West Virginia Clean Water Hub, a community led effort to provide the people of Charleston and the outlying areas with bottled water, a need that government agencies have largely ignored. Sign this petition to demand justice for people whose water has been poisoned
So little is known about 4-MCHM that regulators didn't even know it's boiling point. Now scientists are scrambling to find out how the chemical reacts with the chlorine in the municipal water system, and whether the chemical has leached into water heaters and water pipes in people's homes. Authorities recommend that all pipes that have come in contact with the pollutant be flushed, including water heaters and outdoor faucets. However, West Virginia American Water, the company that owns the water treatment facility contaminated by the coal chemical, is only offering a 10 dollar credit (1000 gallons) to consumers. The cost of flushing homes will therefore fall on already struggling West Virginians, where poverty is rampant and Walmart is the largest single employer.
The affected intake also supplies water to 9 counties surrounding Charleston, which contain multiple rural communities, like the small community of Pratt. Pratt was added to Charleston's municipal water system only two months ago. This was initially celebrated by the residents of Pratt, because it meant relief from the extremely poor quality water from local sources, which have been contaminated by Acid Mine Drainage, coal dust, and other coal industry impacts.
Water contamination from the coal industry is nothing new to West Virginians, who have lived with poisoned wells streams for generations. This spill, the latest and most dramatic in a long history of water contamination, exposes the problems of lax and inadequate regulation coupled with politicians that prioritizes the bottom line of the coal industry over the health and safety of people. The chemical 4-MCHM was exempted from federal laws that require disclosure. The tanks that held the chemical were not required to be inspected regularly, due to a loophole that exempted above ground tanks from inspection.
West Virginian politicians with close ties to the coal industry have continued to defend coal companies from federal and state regulation, even as 300,000 of their constituents went without drinkable water. Speaking at an event hosted by the coal front group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) last week, Joe Manchin, West Virginia’s junior senator and former governor continued to defend the coal industry from reglation. “Coal and chemicals inevitably bring risk — but that doesn’t mean they should be shut down,” said Manchin. “Cicero says, ‘To err is human.’ But you’re going to stop living because you’re afraid of making a mistake?” Manchin has significant financial ties to the coal industry.
The current governor of West Virginia, Earl Ray Tomblin, was also quick to defend the coal industry. In a press conference days after the spill, he said "“This was not a coal company. This was a chemical supplier where the leak occurred. As far as I know, there are no coal mines within miles of this particular incident.” Governor Tomblin's remarks ignore the fact that many communities affected by this spill are only using municipal water because local sources have already been poisoned by coal extraction and use. Tomblin also ignored the fact that Freedom Industries' product is a necessary part of the coal extraction and burning process.
To donate water to West Virginians, please visit the Keeper of the Mountain Foundation.
To volunteer or request clean water, visit the West Virginia Clean Water Hub.
New Documents show Exxon knew of contamination from the Maryflower oil spill, still claimed lake was "oil-free"
On March 29 ExxonMobil, the most profitable company in the world, spilled at least 210,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil from an underground pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas. The pipeline was carrying tar sands oil from Canada, which flooded family residences in Mayflower in thick tarry crude. Exxon’s tar sands crude also ran into Lake Conway, which sits about an eighth of a mile from where Exxon’s pipeline ruptured.
A new batch of documents received by Greenpeace in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has revealed that Exxon downplayed the extent of the contamination caused by the ruptured pipeline. Records of emails between Arkansas’ DEQ and Exxon depict attempts by Exxon to pass off press releases with factually false information. In a draft press release dated April 8, Exxon claims "Tests on water samples show Lake Conway and the cove are oil-free." However, internal emails from April 6 show Exxon knew of significant contamination across Lake Conway and the cove resulting from the oil spill.
When the chief of Arkansas Hazardous Waste division called Exxon out on this falsehood, Exxon amended the press release. However, they did not amend it to say that oil was in Lake Conway and contaminant levels in the lake were rising to dangerous levels, as they knew to be the case. Instead, they continue to claim that Lake Conway is "oil-free." For the record, Exxon maintains that the "cove," a section of Lake Conway that experienced heavy oiling from the spill, is not part of the actual lake. Exxon maintains this distinction in spite of Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel saying unequivocally "The cove is part of Lake Conway…The water is all part of one body of water." Furthermore, Exxon water tests confirmed that levels of Benzene and other contaminants rose throughout the lake, not just in the cove area.
Though Exxon was eventually forced to redact their claim that the cove specifically was "oil-free," the oil and gas giant has yet to publicly address the dangerous levels of Benzene and other contaminants their own tests have found in the body of Lake Conway. The Environmental Protection Agency and the American Petroleum Institute don’t agree on everything, but they do agree that the only safe level of Benzene, a cancer causing chemical found in oil, is zero. Benzene is added to tar sands oil to make it less viscous and flow more easily through pipelines. Local people have reported fish kills, chemical smells, nausea and headaches. Independent water tests have found a host of contaminants present in the lake.
According to Exxon’s data, 126,000 gallons of tar sands crude oil from the pipeline spill is still unaccounted for.
Exxon's spill emanated from the Pegasus Pipeline, which like the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, connects the Canadian Tar Sands with refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.
Crossposted from Greenpeace USA.
In the midst of attacks from Congress on virtually all things environmental, EPA has announced a rule to reduce emissions of mercury and other toxic air pollution. The two-decade history of this long-developing rule is a frustrating anecdote of the success of the anti-public health coal lobby.
Coal industry has contributed heavily to the campaign coffers of our lawmakers. Senator Inhofe (R-OK), America's most iconic politician against environmental logic, introduced the speciously entitled CARE Act. When it comes to public health, the bill is better called the 'Don't Give a Damn Act.' CARE would strip EPA's ability to protect people against airborne toxics. American Electric Power is clearly supportive of Inhofe's stalling bill. Other companies willing to pay evil lobbyists, but not to pay to invest in pro-public pollution technology, include Southern Energy and Duke Energy.
To their disappointment, this rule requires polluters reduce emissions of heavy metals, toxic gases, and other dangerous pollutants. Let's be clear, these companies have a choice.
'Mad hatter's disease,' named after a symptom of mercury exposure, wreaks havoc on the central nervous system and eventually the entire body. Also called Minimata disease, named after the river and community who suffered from wanton mercury pollution by industry in Japan, chronic mercury poisoning has been studied for several decades now.
Mercury contributes to thousands of deaths annually and may adversely affect the development of over 400,000 babies per year. Mercury exposure is serious problem for the lungs, brain, heart, stomach, kidneys, and the immune system. About 90% of human exposure is through the diet. Because of 'bioaccumulation' (mercury collects over time in organisms' bodies, including human bodies) and 'biomagnification' (concentration increases as animals eat other animals) we are most exposed through eating animal products. Newborn babies are most vulnerable, since they act as a mercury filter in the womb, and are exposed again through their mother's milk. Umbilical cord blood is a filter for a number of hazardous pollutants that include mercury. The only safe level of mercury exposure is zero.
Polluters have been spreading mercury around the country. Taller smokestacks never help. Much airborne mercury often falls back to the ground and waterways within only 100 or so miles, but since it doesn't breakdown it is re-emitted into the air, floats down streams, or is carried around by animals who ingest it. In 2008 about half the area of all rivers and lakes were under water contamination advisories, 80% of which was due to mercury pollution.
Most coal-fired power plant owners have not yet opted to install easily available technology that could reduce up to 90% of their mercury emissions. The majority of mercury poisoning is linked to burning coal. Some of this is transboundary pollution from burning coal in other countries. Fortunately, the US administration is constructively engaged in international discussions to reduce transboundary airborne mercury pollution. A positive outcome at the next international meetings surely depends on a strong rule. This rule is supposed to be finalized by November, whereas the next round of international mercury talks is the first week of the same month.
This new EPA rule would reduce our exposure to many of the most toxic substances humans have ever encountered (and created). Everyone knows arsenic is poisonous. Notwithstanding Frank Capra's masterpiece adaptation of Arsenic and Old Lace, we cannot blame widespread arsenic contamination on Cary Grant's well-meaning aunts. The main culprit is coal, always dirty and filthy.