Drilling Contamination Spreads as Polluter’s Bankruptcy Looms

Joint Release: Powder River Basin Resource Council * EARTHWORKS

Clark, WY, 10/01 — Clark Resource Council has learned that Windsor Energy Group, LLC recently put its assets up for bid. At a public meeting in September Windsor representatives explained that benzene is also above regulatory levels east of Line Creek  where Windsor had guaranteed it would not go. Assuming no buyer is found, the logical next step is bankruptcy: leaving the community’s groundwater, and cleanup of the pollution, in doubt.

“Every thing Industry told us would not happen, has,” says Deb Thomas local resident and organizer for the Clark Resource Council. “Before the first operators of this project bankrupted, we were told that drilling was safe and no toxic chemicals were used. Since Windsor bought the development, we’ve had years of leaking waste pits, illegal dumping of drilling fluids, inadequate engineering, and finally, the blow out, which left us with contaminated drinking water aquifers. Windsor said the contamination plume wouldn’t move into private water wells or jump the Creek, and it did both. Now we fear that Windsor will join their predecessors by bankrupting and simply walk away from their mess.”

Windsor Energy Group’s Crosby 25-3 gas well blew out in the small community of Clark, Wyoming three years ago. Contamination plumes have continued to move since then, and how clean up will occur remains undecided. The blowout resulted in a 10 million cubic foot plume of groundwater contamination or more than 100 Olympic-size swimming pools worth.

The plume has contaminated drinking water aquifers, 2 private water wells and natural springs with benzene, diesel range organics, and an extensive list of toxic chemicals. The plume is also putting more than 20 downstream drinking water wells at risk. As much as 300,000 gallons of contaminated water has dumped daily into the Line Creek drainage, which then flows into the Clark Fork of the Yellowstone River.

Clark Resource Council, Powder River Basin Resource Council and Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project emphasize that the experience in Clark shows that State agencies are not adequately equipped to address the impacts and risks associated with drilling projects.

“I want other communities who are facing development to understand that they’re at risk from the oil and gas industry’s cavalier regard for the environment and human health, ” says impacted resident, Dick Bilodeau. “When oil and gas companies screw up, the results are neither simple, nor cheap, to clean up. We need adequate federal oversight to protect areas under development, and complete disclosure so that impacted people can determine what health problems they’re facing now and will be in the future.”

In Wyoming the State’s Voluntary Remediation Program allows polluters like Windsor to remediate contamination and then be released from liability. With Windsor Energy Group’s bankruptcy looming, Bilodeau and other community members fear that the extent of the contamination will never be adequately assessed and clean up will never happen.

The news of contamination crossing under Line Creek and Windsor’s asset sale comes just after the EPA released it’s investigative finding on water contamination in Pavillion, Wy, which residents fear is associated with EnCana’s deep gas operations.

“These cases demonstrate the clear and present danger posed by drilling operations under current regulation,” says Bruce Baizel, staff attorney for EARTHWORKS’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project. “They clearly show the urgent need for incremental federal regulation, like the FRAC Act now before Congress, and they also show that the FRAC Act only begins to address the need for stronger oversight.”

http://www.earthworksaction.org/PR_ClarkWindsor.cfm

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Letter published today in the Cleveland Sun Star Courier:

by James W. Cowden, Guest Columnist

Monday August 31, 2009, 9:24 AM

This is being sent as a result of the several letters on oil and gas drilling that have appeared in your pages over the past month.

The other paper has also published material including a column on the financial benefits to Ohio.

What has not been publicized has been the impact of oil and gas drilling on the natural resources and the public health of Ohio and its citizens.

I have been a consultant on environmental and resource issues for over 30 years. I have worked with Ohio EPA and the Division of Oil and Gas to curb and control the problems associated with the industry for a number of those years.

I have written ordinances for many cities in Northeast Ohio to allow them to control drilling in their communities. I have written a technical guide book for Ohio EPA. I have testified in court cases against drillers and their haphazard waste disposal practices, their drilling proposals, and the lack of adequate regulation.

The development of oil and gas wells is inherently a dangerous activity. Although there are few deaths and injuries reported, they do occur.

For instance, two men were killed in Marion County last October by an explosion of a crude oil storage tank.

The industry has too little concern for public health, for our groundwater resources, and for facts.

Natural gas is a highly compressible, highly expansible mixture of hydrocarbons, with approximate percentages of Methane-80%, Ethane-7%, Propane-6%, Butane-2.5%, Pentane-3% and Isobutane 1.5%.

In addition, natural gas may contain quantities of nitrogen, helium, carbon dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and water vapor. In Pennsylvania, methane related to the natural gas industry has contaminated water wells in at least seven counties since 2004.

In one case, methane was detected in water sampled over 15 square miles. In another, a methane leak led to an explosion that killed a couple and their 17 month old grandson. These cases were linked to newly drilled, active natural gas wells.

Essentially, the methane migration was linked to improper construction of gas wells that allowed gas to seep out of the well structures and into water supplies.

An adequate inspection system would have prevented these accidents from happening. Since the passage of HB 278 by our feckless state legislature, neither regulation nor inspection has been carried out adequately by the state.

Groundwater constitutes the most important mineral resource annually extracted from beneath the earth’s surface.

Water is an economic resource for Ohio and preservation is an economic necessity. Groundwater monitoring in the state is inadequate to detect water quality problems.

A product of oil and gas well drilling is brine.

What’s so bad about brines?

Brines are too concentrated, they have too much sodium and there is far too much of it, Clinton brines have 175,000-210,000 parts per million of sodium.

For comparison, ocean brines have only 18,000-35,000 ppm of sodium.

The USPHS standard at one time was a maximum of 250 ppm. One volume of Clinton brine can raise 800 volumes of fresh water above the 250 ppm limit.

There is no adequate program to address lack of disposal capacity. I do not have data beyond the 1980′s but I have no reason to believe the ratios have changed.

At that time, there were 56,000 producing wells with an average brine production of 184,000 barrels with an estimated injection well capacity of 36,000 barrels. The excess was 148,000 barrels.

That is roughly 6.2 million gallons, which if dispersed could make 4.8 billion gallons of fresh water unsuitable for use.

I tried to get legislation passed to prohibit brine in surface or groundwater in such quantity as to cause:

1. Taste and odor problems

2. Exceedance of safe drinking water standards or limit of 100 ppm of sodium

3. Damage or injury to public health or safety to include damage to the environment beyond the immediate site of drilling and storage of oil and gas.

4. This would include exposure to benzene, ethyl benzene, alkyl benzene, toluene, xylene, naphthalene, and 2,4 dimethyl-phenol that exceed drinking water standards. Also exposure to concentrations of silver, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead and zinc that exceed drinking water standards.

This came from “Toxicological Analysis of Ohio Brine Constituents and Their Potential Impact on Human Health.” By Dr. Gerald Poje.

Regulation 1501-9-9-02 at one time required all reasonable means to safeguard against hazards to life, limb and property. It should require notification of local fire officials of fire, explosion, major gas leaks, water and air pollution and training on how to cope.

There are a number of recommendations I would make to amend state law and regulations and require compliance.

First would be to abolish the subservience of the legislature to the oil and gas industry and think about the public they supposedly serve.

There is a need to redefine the ground surface water system and restructure the approach from correction to prevention.

But unless the Division of Mineral Resources is mandated to protect human health and drinking water and is given the funds and staff to accomplish this, both public health and the economy will continue to suffer.

__________________________________

James W. Cowden is a resident of Brecksville. He has been a researcher, educator, coordinator and consultant at Kent State University and Hiram College and has written extensively and provided expert testimony on a range of topics including water resources planning, pollution control, public health and public involvement in policy development.

http://www.cleveland.com/sunstarcourier/index.ssf/2009/08/brecksville_resident_weighs_in.html

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In a story published on 8/27/09, Jon Hurdle of Reuters reports:

U.S. finds water polluted near gas-drilling sites

PHILADELPHIA, Aug 27 (Reuters) – U.S. government scientists have for the first time found chemical contaminants in drinking water wells near natural gas drilling operations, fueling concern that a gas-extraction technique is endangering the health of people who live close to drilling rigs.

The Environmental Protection Agency found chemicals that researchers say may cause illnesses including cancer, kidney failure, anemia and fertility problems in water from 11 of 39 wells tested around the Wyoming town of Pavillion in March and May this year.

. . . . .

Evidence of a link between gas drilling and water contamination would set back development of a clean-burning fuel promoted by the Obama administration as crucial to the future of U.S. energy production.

. . . . .

“There may be an indication of groundwater contamination by oil and gas activities,” said the 44-page report, which received little public attention when released on Aug. 11. “Many activities in gas well drilling (and) hydraulic fracturing … involve injecting water and other fluids into the well and have the potential to create cross-contamination of aquifers.”

Among the contaminants found in some of the wells was 2-butoyethanol, or 2-BE, a solvent used in natural gas extraction, which researchers say causes the breakdown of red blood cells, leading to blood in the urine and feces, and can damage the kidneys, liver, spleen and bone marrow.

Greg Oberley, an EPA scientist who has been testing the water samples, said the agency did not set out to prove that hydraulic fracturing caused groundwater contamination, but was responding to complaints from local residents that their well water had become discolored or foul-smelling or tasted bad.

The investigation was the EPA’s first in response to claims that gas drilling is polluting water supplies, he said. Testing will continue.

LINK TO GAS INDUSTRY?

While the EPA team has not determined how the chemicals got into the water, many are associated with gas drilling, Oberley said in a telephone interview.

“The preponderance of those compounds in the area would be attributable to the oil and gas industry,” he said.

. . . . .

John Fenton, a farmer in Pavillion, a rural community of about 150 people, said residents blame gas drilling for a range of illnesses including rare cancers, miscarriages and nervous system disorders.

Families with contaminated water wells have been advised by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention not to drink the water, which in some cases was black and oily, with a petroleum-like sheen, and a smell of gas, Fenton said.

“The stress is incredible,” Fenton told Reuters. “People have built their lives and businesses here. What’s it all worth now?”

Complete story at:

http://in.reuters.com/article/oilRpt/idINN2731170120090827?sp=true

For more on this story:
http://www.propublica.org/feature/epa-chemicals-found-in-wyo.-drinking-water-might-be-from-fracking-825

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The Shreveport Times reports:

Recent incidents raise issues on drilling, environment

By Alisa Stingley
astingley@gannett.com

Blanche Jefferson lives in Shreveport, but her worries are all south of here.

Her granddaughter and five great-grandchildren live south of Spring Ridge and close to where 17 cows died after ingesting liquid that spilled from a nearby natural gas drilling rig site into a pasture.

“I’m mostly concerned … stuff might get in the water,” said Jefferson, 79, adding that the family depends on well water.

The environmental impact of drilling has her so concerned that she’s rethinking whether she wants to lease mineral rights from property she owns in that area to an energy company in the future.

“Money is nothing if something happened to them,” she says of the children.

. . . . . Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality is reviewing several area incidents:

April: Seventeen cows died in a south Caddo Parish pasture after ingesting a liquid found pooled in the pasture, a spill from a nearby Chesapeake Energy drilling site. No reports on what killed the cows have been made public.

May: Fifteen Naborton families evacuated when a Chesapeake well east of Mansfield began blowing natural gas into the air. The air quality was monitored, and a Chesapeake spokesman said there was no threat to public safety or the environment. According to DEQ files on the case, 50 million standard cubic feet of methane gas — the main component of natural gas — was discharged after a casing valve failed.

DEQ doesn’t require notification of the release of 1 million standard cubic feet but does require notification of more than 2.5 million in a planned release. The Naborton release, however, was unplanned. Otis Randle, manager of the DEQ regional office here, said 50 million is “a lot of gas.” But he said people would not suffer health problems unless they breathed in a concentrated amount.

The main risk to nearby residents is the potential for explosion, and methane causes an adverse impact on the planet’s ozone layer, since methane is a greenhouse gas. The DEQ report on the Naborton well said the release did not have an off-site environmental impact. (un-naturalgas.org note:  guess the atmosphere doesn’t count)

July: A natural gas well blowout occurred in north Sabine Parish, about six miles east of Converse. No residents were evacuated. The well was owned by Chesapeake, whose spokesman said there was no threat to the public or environment, and air quality was being monitored as a precaution. DEQ’s regional office in Shreveport investigated the blowout, finding it “pretty routine,” said Randle. No details on the amount released were available.

There are environmental concerns beyond reported incidents too:

Ground and surface water issues have arisen, particularly in south Caddo and DeSoto parishes, which heavily depend on the fragile Carrizo-Wilcox Aquifer. On the last day of June, about 1,000 customers of South DeSoto Water System had no water while workers replaced a pump. Officials wondered publicly if a natural gas drilling operation just 500 feet from their water well was making their equipment work harder to pump.

. . . . .

Many of the Web sites of the major competitors in the Haynesville Shale tout their dedication to preserving the environment.

Chesapeake’s page notes that it is a key contributor to The Nature Conservancy, and “our objective is to leave each site in as good, if not better, condition than when we started drilling.”

The U.S. Department of Interior recognized Devon Energy with a national award for its outstanding environmental and safety performance in the Gulf of Mexico.

And EnCana’s page notes: “We are looking at opportunities to recycle water and this option will become more viable as the play is further developed.”

While the proliferation of drilling in the Haynesville Shale is making environmental issues more visible and prominent, such concerns didn’t just arrive with the shale. Two cases from DEQ files:

In June, a Carthage, Texas, man pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of illegally discharging a pollutant into Louisiana waters after ordering a truck driver to discharge well treatment fluid into a Natchitoches Parish creek in April 2006. The man was sentenced to 24 months probation and agreed to pay a $5,000 criminal fine.

“Unfortunately, economic incentives drive environmental crime,” said Jeffrey T. Nolan, DEQ’s criminal investigations division manager.

In August 2006, DEQ responded to a landowner’s complaint that a well site where Winchester Energy was operating near Frierson had released at least four barrels of saltwater from a fracturing tank. According to DEQ files, the company had not contacted DEQ about the spill, which violates regulations. Also, the landowner said he asked Winchester to clean up the site but it refused. A few days later, DEQ noticed a cleanup in progress at the site, where vegetation had been killed in an area about 20 feet by 100 feet. DEQ in April this year deemed the site OK and did not take any action against Winchester.

For complete article, visit:

http://www.shreveporttimes.com/article/20090809/NEWS01/908090333/1060

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In a July 27 post, Robert F Kennedy correctly lists some of the reasons we need to move away from burning coal for energy generation.   Unfortunately, his conclusion that the solution is to replace coal with natural gas is as erroneous as his convictions about coal are correct.

At http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-f-kennedy-jr/king-coal_b_245117.html he concludes:

“Natural gas comes with its own set of environmental caveats. It is a carbon-based fuel and [its] extraction from shale, the most significant new source, if not managed carefully, can cause serious water, land use, and wildlife impacts, especially in the hands of irresponsible producers and lax regulators. But those impacts are dwarfed by the disastrous holocaust of coal and can be mitigated by careful regulation.

The giant advantage of a quick conversion from coal to gas is the quickest route for jumpstarting our economy and saving our planet.

In response, SplashdownPA writes:

“It sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
“All we need are responsible producers and vigilant regulators!

“Congress can’t even agree that this is necessary! Money isn’t there for environmental protection agencies to hire the number of inspectors necessary to monitor this lawless industry. And YES! coal mining and burning is dangerously toxic, but when Kennedy talks about enough affordable natural gas to last us into the next century, he’s supporting perpetuation of a carbon-based energy industry that has demonstrated it is unwilling to divert a nickel of its profits to safeguard our absolutely VITAL resources: WATER, AIR and LAND. Their best practices are simply NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Especially not a century’s worth!!!

“Closing coal fired plants would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 20%.. BUT, what measure of CO2 and even more environmentally harmful methane is released into the atmosphere during extraction of natural gas, including toxic air polluting emissions from transporting the millions of gallons of water to and from well pads, treatment or burial of “produced water”, operating drilling rigs, compressors and other associated gas production equipment and activities, over and above emissions from well flares and finally, power plant emissions from energy generation from natural gas? How does all that stack up against that 20%?

“How too does Kennedy justify the permanent depletion and contamination of drinking water supplies across the country, occurring as a result of mining for gas? Surely he can’t think that indicating the need for responsibility and vigilance is going to suddenly manifest a new attitude on all fronts, by all players in this play?

“What guarantees do we have that a gluttonous industry won’t milk the quick fix dry, leaving us with an irrevocable permanent loss in exchange for temporary energy?

“There are important unanswered, and without drilling reform legislation in place, perhaps unanswerable questions. They loom like loopholes in his argument as we continue to learn how criminally untrustworthy corporate America is willing to be in pursuit of the almighty dollar. We’ve seen too how even regulations aren’t foolproof, and how when one entity acts outside the law it encourages others to follow suit.

“Meanwhile, the gas industry has already been irresponsible for deadly releases of toxins into the atmosphere, deadly releases of toxins into our waters, for killing and/or sickening livestock, wildlife and humans, for the seepage of toxic wastewater into our lands, contaminating land and water, the evaporation into the atmosphere of carcinogens from open sludgepits… in short, there isn’t anything healthy or friendly about the production of natural gas and turning a blind eye to the devastating problems of the lesser of two evils does not make the lesser evil any better.”

Read more at:

http://splashdownpa.blogspot.com/2009/07/king-coal-rf-kennedy-jr-weighs-in-on.html

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PA DEP Investigating Natural Gas Well Leak In Lycoming County

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa., July 28 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is investigating a natural gas well leak at an East Resources well in McNett Township, Lycoming County.

“East Resources is cooperating fully with our investigation, and has already implemented measures to stop the leak,” said DEP Northcentral Regional Director Robert Yowell. “DEP staff will continue to work closely with East Resources and local emergency responders to ensure the safety of nearby residents.”

DEP was alerted to the problem last week by a citizen who reported discoloration of water in a tributary to Lycoming Creek and in a nearby spring. DEP staff investigated on July 24 what was then a suspected sediment problem in the creek.

On Monday, DEP received a report of possible natural gas bubbling from the tributary. DEP staff collected water samples from the spring and the tributary. Those samples are being analyzed for methane and other parameters in the department’s laboratory in Harrisburg. DEP staff confirmed the bubbling in two Lycoming Creek tributaries earlier today.

East Resources personnel monitored 18 private water wells in the nearby area that same day, and are providing water to four homes. They also monitored methane levels in the homes.

East Resources has three wells in the area, which are in the Oriskaney [sic] geologic formation, and not in the Marcellus Shale area. Two of the wells are drilled and completed, but not yet in service due to the lack of gathering lines in the area. The third well was previously plugged and abandoned.

East Resources began flaring the Delciotto #2 well on Monday to reduce pressure from the natural gas, and is currently working to flare the other two wells. The company is investigating the possibility that a casing failure in part of the Delciotto #2 well caused the natural gas leak. The company is attempting to seal off the leak with drilling mud to stop the natural gas from escaping.

CONTACT: Daniel T. Spadoni (570) 327-3659

SOURCE Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection

- http://news.prnewswire.com/DisplayReleaseContent.aspx?ACCT=104&STORY=/www/story/07-28-2009/0005067720&EDATE=

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Does Schreiner’s ‘right’ to extract natural gas supersede residents’ right to clean water and safe homes?    And does the industry’s ‘right’ to process natural gas supersede the neighborhood’s right to clean air?

These folks didn’t move into this neighborhood knowing their air and water was going to be ruined. They had good water and air. Drilling and processing of (un)natural gas by someone else has taken their property.

————–

June 9, 2009
“Our neighbor who has been out of his house for 11 weeks brought a sample of his water from his newly drilled well up to our house, and it still catches on fire- we got video again.  Plus, now there is some weird black stuff in it- it’s a little like oil but a little like charcoal or something.  Very strange.  Schreiner apparently didn’t know that our neighbor already tested his water, because he told him that he has great water now and can move back in!  I just can’t believe that.  Also, it appears that Schreiner has lied to State Representative Martin Causer’s secretary Rhonda because he told her that the Bailey family was already back in their home- definitely not true.

“Another neighbor told me that he heard that Schreiner has been kicked out of New York state and Sheffield, PA for bad practice before.  I’d sure like to try and find those details.

“Another neighbor has a new well and a reverse osmosis system, and his water is still bad.  DEP alluded to the idea that as long as they can get good water out of one tap in the house for drinking, then that will be all that Schreiner has to do.  Ridiculous.

“The stripper plant is still way too noisy and the vapors coming off of it are not getting any better.  The couple of neighbors who have detectors in their homes (I think CO2 and methane) have had the alarms go off several times.  These are issues that we are going to stress at the next township meeting on the 22nd.”

————

June 16, 2009
“My neighbor who has been out of his home for 12 weeks now was forced to move back in tonight.  His water still catches on fire, but Schreiner said that he’s done and won’t pay for a hotel anymore.  DEP claims that it’s perfectly safe… even though when my neighbor runs the washer there is free methane left in the machine after the laundry is done!  Unbelievable. Schreiner says he put $100,000 into addressing our problems, and even though not one house has their issues fixed, he is “done” and if we want more we just have to sue him.  He’s even been giving State Representative Causer’s secretary crap telling her to stop calling him with our complaints and that he is just going to stop answering his phone.”

————

DEP, why do you side with industry?

It’s time to take the oil & gas industry in hand.


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May 14, 2009 – Encana buries frack pit waste onsite – right over a drinking water source.

Colorado regulators are asleep at the switch.

New York’s DEC inspectors are required to visit well sites just 3 times: before work begins, when the surface casing is cemented, and after the site is “reclaimed.”

You thinking what I’m thinking?

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