Monday, July 7, 2014

Well Done

Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do. Wendell Berry

One of the more controversial issues in Colorado, and the United States, is the development of natural gas resources by hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking. Recently an oil and gas industry lawyer said that Colorado “has become an epicenter in the national debate over hydraulic fracturing”. Polling conducted in 2013 by a group at a Texas state university found that “oil and gas is the most negatively perceived industry in the U.S.”

In Colorado, Garfield County’s contribution to the controversy is significant. Locally, leases for natural gas development in the Thompson Divide area and the growing and on-going drilling for natural gas along the Colorado River basin from New Castle to beyond Parachute have been most newsworthy. The issue is complex, includes the whole fossil fuel industry, and involves several areas of cultural interaction.

“Fracking”, that is, hydraulic fracturing, refers specifically to a technique in the initial process of drilling gas wells that involves injecting water, sand, and chemicals under high pressure into a drilled well’s horizontal section to fracture the shale or other rock layers that contain natural gas in an attempt to release the gas. Sometimes “fracking” is used more casually, however, in reference to the whole development of a gas well.

environmental impact

As reported in the April 14, 2014 Post Independent, “The BLM is conducting an Environmental Impact Statement to address deficiencies that were identified by the Interior Board of Land Appeals in a 1993 Forest Service EIS that was used as the basis for issuing the leases across an area extending from the embattled Thompson Divide region southwest of Glenwood Springs to an area just east of De Beque.” And the Bureau of Land Management is staging a series of local meeting and a scoping period “ give the public a chance to tell the BLM what issues and concerns they think should be addressed in the EIS.”

The April 14 article continues, “The federal review includes 25 leases in the rugged Thompson Divide area, where conservation groups and local governments have opposed the recent extension of leases held by a handful of energy companies that want to drill for natural gas in the area.”

An April 21, 2014 Post Independent article by John Stroud, “City signs follow-up appeal on Thompson Divide lease decision”, says, “Three Roaring Fork Valley governments are continuing their appeal of Bureau of Land Management decision last month to extend several gas leases in the Thompson Divide area that were due to expire, even as the agency takes a new look at the original decision to issue the leases.” BLM area director Steve Bennett suspended the expiration of 25 leases issued in 2003 for the “development” of this area of Garfield County for natural gas production.

According to a lawyer for neighboring Pitkin County and one for the Western Colorado conservation watchdog Wilderness Workshop, the 2003 leases were issued illegally, which has been acknowledged by BLM.

Field manager for the local BLM, whose office is located in the heart of fracking country, articulated the goal as “ provide the public opportunities to have their questions answered and to provide specific, effective comments.”

Representatives from Colorado's Western Slope oil and gas industry are opposed to a Thompson Divide moratorium or any hesitation in issuing drilling leases anywhere.

A report ( by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released May 12, 2014 says
BLM has not followed Interior's guidance to routinely review rules and update them consistently along with technological advances. As a result, some of BLM's rules and guidance governing oil and gas development have not kept pace with technological advancements, such as its guidance on well spacing, which, among other things, determines how to maximize oil and gas production from a formation. Improper spacing guidance could lead to lower levels of oil and gas production and, therefore, less revenue for the federal government and tribes. In addition, BLM has not developed formal agreements to improve coordination with state regulatory agencies, as called for in its internal guidance. As a result, BLM and state agency officials told GAO that agencies conduct duplicative inspections of some wells, while leaving other wells uninspected.
This latest report says “In September 2012, we reported that oil and gas development poses a risk to water quality from contamination of surface water and groundwater as a result of spills and releases of produced water, chemicals, and drill cuttings; erosion from ground disturbances; or, underground migration of gases and chemicals.” Some states including Colorado, it says, have revised its rules for groundwater sampling and monitoring. This report says, “In September 2012, we reported that oil and gas development poses risks to air quality, generally as a result of engine exhaust from increased truck traffic, emissions from diesel-powered pumps used to power equipment, gas that is flared or vented for operational reasons, and unintentional emissions of pollutants from faulty equipment.” Again, it mentioned Colorado’s efforts to correct potential problems in these areas.

However, BLM’s scorecard still is not good. GAO says:
The effectiveness of BLM's management and oversight of federal and Indian oil and gas resources is hindered by the following five factors: (1) outdated BLM rules and guidance, (2) limited formal coordination between BLM and state regulatory agencies on inspections, (3) incomplete BLM inspections and limited oversight of inspection activities, (4) incomplete data on onshore oil and gas resources and drilling activities, and (5) BLM delays reviewing communitization agreements.
...more than 2,100 of the 3,702 wells that were identified as high priority in BLM's AFMS database and drilled from fiscal year 2009 through fiscal year 2012 were not inspected. 
The extent to which BLM has conducted inspections of high-priority wells, as called for by its internal guidance, is not known because BLM's AFMSS database is missing key data. Without these data, the extent to which the agency inspects high-priority wells is not known.
But the report stresses the basic assumption that “BLM's inspection program is fundamental to ensuring sound oil and gas operations”.

In 2010 GAO found that the Department of the Interior’s “oversight of the roughly 700 million subsurface acres for which the federal government holds mineral rights…” had “...a range of weaknesses.” In 2011, GAO said “added Interior’s programs [are] at high risk of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement or in need of broad reform.”

Ironically, the causes of some of BLM’s problems in its oversight of the wealthy oil and gas industry is its limited funding and limited staff. “[T]he dramatic increase in domestic oil and gas development has exacerbated BLM's long-standing challenges hiring and retaining staff needed to ensure effective oversight of oil and gas activities.”

The GAO report is a must-read for all concerned citizens because... of May 2014 there are 10,694 active oil and gas wells in Garfield County and 52,049 active oil and gas wells in the state of Colorado, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). In Colorado only Weld County with 21,214 wells has more wells than Garfield County. There are over 493,000 active gas wells in 31 states in the U.S. as of 2009. (Many more have been drilled since then.) About 90% of these wells have been fracked. About 15.3 million people in only 11 natural gas producing states live within 1 mile of a natural gas well. According to an October 2013 Wall Street Journal article, in Johnson County, Texas 99.5% of its 150,000 residents live within 1 mile of one of the county’s 3900 wells. In 2000 there were less than 20 wells in Johnson County.

(Note: While BLM has struggled with budget cuts, the fossil fuel industry has received tax breaks - for about a hundred years. Since 1916, according to Kroll, Gilson, and Park at Mother Jones, the federal government has given the oil and gas industry $470 billion in tax breaks. Currently it’s about $4.8 billion per year. And about one-half of that $4.8 billion goes to Exxon, BP, Shell, Chevron, and Conoco. Exxon and BP, as discussed below, are among the top 5 entities world-wide responsible for generating atmospheric CO2 and methane.

(As for methane, in 1977 the federal government funded the development of the technology we would come to call fracking. Then it established tax incentives to support the industry’s $283 billion per year boom. In this sense, fracking has been financed by taxpayers.

(But with 796 lobbyists, 60% of whom are ex-congress members and staffers, and deep pockets - in the last 15 years, the oil and gas industry has spent $1.4 billion in lobbying and, since 1990, $357 million in campaign donations - oil and gas has the “affluence to influence”.)

explosive growth

On April 23, 2014 an explosion at a natural gas processing plant in Opal, Wyoming caused authorities to evacuate the 95 or so local inhabitants. Amazingly, no one was killed or injured. The plant is operated by Williams of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Williams operates the Northwest Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline, and Opal is a major hub. Opal is where regional gas-pricing is determined.

On March 31 of this year, an explosion along the Northwest pipeline near Plymouth, Washington injured 5 and caused the evacuation of local residents. It was a powerful blast that sent shrapnel flying - one piece penetrated the exterior wall of a nearby storage tank. According to Reuters, the explosion “...sprayed chunks of shrapnel as heavy as 250 pounds as far as 300 yards.” Williams operates the Northwest Pipeline and the facility at Plymouth.

On January 3, 2013 a leak in a natural gas pipeline along Parachute Creek near Parachute, Colorado was discovered. A pressure gauge was replaced and the pipeline was put back into service. However, neither authorities nor local residents were notified of the leak until March. Subsequently, it was determined that the leak had begun on December 20, 2012. Note that in spite of all the technological precautions and industry and government oversight, the leak was discovered accidentally. By the end of August 2013 almost 8000 gallons of hydrocarbons and 369,000 gallons of contaminated water had been extracted from the leak and 1700 tons of contaminated soil had been removed and disposed. The leak created a 10.6 acre plume that contained benzene, toluene, hexane, and other chemicals. The Parachute Creek facility is operated by Williams. According to a March 18, 2013 report in the Denver Post:
A cattleman who runs a herd along the creek said such spills are common and often remain secret. State records show the oil-and-gas industry causes hundreds of toxic spills each year and that water often is contaminated. 
It is among the worst of recent spills reported in a part of western Colorado traditionally known for fruit orchards and green pastures — now home to what are meant to be heavily regulated industrial facilities. 
"I've had to accept it," said cattleman Rick Bumgardner, whose 200 cows graze along Parachute Creek. His family homesteaded in the area. Over the past year, a leak from a storage tank and another from a gas compressor station affected his cattle operations, Bumgardner said. 
"If I had my choice, I'd just as soon be someplace away from here, but I guess I couldn't afford it," he said. 
Nobody notified him about this spill or the others, he said. Oil and gas companies "try to beat it back, hope nobody finds them. That's the way they operate."
Director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) Matt Lepore, speaking in March 2013 to Pitkin County Commissioners about the Parachute Creek spill, said that things go wrong in natural gas production as in any other industrial process. “There are spills. There are accidents. Nobody is happy about this, including the operators…” Pitkin Commissioners - among others - expressed concern that the industry, in this case Williams, was policing itself.

In July 2013, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined a Williams company (Bogarth) and 2 other employers over $27,000 for failing to provide adequate respirators for workers they sent into the Parachute spill area to clean it up. The companies also did not advise these workers of the kinds of materials to which they would be exposed. In 2004 Williams was fined by COGCC for a fire that burned out of control at a well near Parachute. In 2003 Williams and Encana paid a $20 million settlement over claims that they had reported false data in an attempt to manipulate U.S. gas prices.

These are not Williams’ only violations - the list of violations and fines is substantial - and Williams is not the only oil and gas industry company that has been fined for violations and incidents. Still industry spokesmen and government regulators insist that incidents involving the oil and gas industry are “rare”. A web search, however, shows just how common they are and that, in spite of new technology and tighter regulations, they continue to happen.

playing with fire

In April 2014 a 12 inch gas pipeline owned by Williams exploded and burst into flames in Marshall County West Virginia. Six homes were evacuated, 2 acres of trees were scorched, and a county road was closed as a result. There were no injuries reported and Williams was not fined. The explosion occurred near a construction site where Williams is building a natural gas refinery. From a local news source interview with a local resident discussing the explosion and Williams’ plans for the area:
"There's a lot of subsidence here. A lot of mining went on in this area, long walling, he said. 
The Oak Grove plant has been under construction for several months. That's the same location where a 510,000 pound, 41-yard-long de-ethanizer was transported last week. The super load stalled traffic during its transport. Williams Energy will eventually refine ethane from natural gas coming out of the Marcellus and Utica shales at the plant. 
The Marshall County economy has benefitted from the Marcellus shale play but Dobbs admits it comes with a cost. 
"It's very stressful and then have stuff like this in your backyard going on," he said. "I don't know what the chemicals are that burned off. What's in the air? Is that going to bother us? I don't know."
“Longwalling” is a term that applies to a method of underground coal mining.

In February 2014 in rural Knifely, Kentucky a Columbia gas pipeline explosion and fire in the middle of the night placed the local county in a state of emergency, caused the evacuation of the town of 150, sent two people to the hospital, destroyed two homes and rocked the foundations of several others, and burned 5 vehicles and 2 barns. The explosion left a crater 60 feet deep and 50 feet wide. According to a local resident:
"All the sudden, the house shook and everything lit up like daylight, so we ran to the window and looked out and all we saw was this big ball of fire," said Bill Kingdollar, who lives about a quarter-mile from the blast site.
He said what happened early Thursday is like nothing he’s experienced before.
"It looked like a war zone. I’ve never seen anything like that. I’ve told you I spent 20 years in the military and I’ve never seen a fireball or anything like that. It was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen. Everything shook. The ground shook. The windows shook. Everything was shaking, including me, because you don’t know what’s going on," Kingdollar said.
An explosion at a Williams’ processing facility in Geismar near Baton Rouge, Louisiana in June 2013 killed two and injured 114. According to a Williams spokesman, the explosion was caused by a rupture in a heat exchanger that released vapor that was ignited by “an unknown source.” He said that plans had been underway to expand the facility to increase production by 50%. Over 2 weeks after the explosion the Williams facility still was too dangerous for investigators to enter. A Louisiana senator who lived 5 miles from the Williams plant and who was at home at the time of the explosion said that it felt like an earthquake. The explosion released 31,187 pounds of volatile chemicals, according to one “conservative” estimate, and the water used in putting out the fire, which became toxic wastewater, escaped the site, violating a permit granted the company for wastewater discharge. In a public statement after the accident Williams president and CEO said, among other things, that his company had ‘a solid safety record.” Reports from a local newspaper, however, show that the plant experienced leaks in 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2012 in addition to the 2013 leak and explosion. According to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, Williams had a history of not complying with safety regulations.

In January 2014, after completing its investigation, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) cited Williams for six workplace violations of safety management standards. One of these violations was determined “willful”, that is, intentional. According to OSHA, willful violations that result in a death may be referred to the Department of Justice for investigation. OSHA said Williams “failed in its responsibility to find and fix safety violations and ensure the safety of workers.

But with all of this, Williams was fined only $99,000, which it contested, of course.

The Williams Geismar facility produces ethylene and propylene, which are used to make plastics, from natural gas. Originally an Allied Chemical plant, Williams purchased it in 1999. Williams safety record is so bad even Wikipedia says that “Williams Companies have the worst safety record of any energy company.”

Hydraulic fracturing has another deadly side effect: traffic fatalities. An article in West Virginia's State Journal dated May 5, 2014, pointing out that the tracking process requires 2300 to 4000 truck trips per well to deliver mixtures of sand,water, and chemicals reports on data that found a quadrupling of traffic deaths in six active drilling states. Traffic deaths in Texas, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia have increased at an alarming rate. In drilling areas of North Dakota the boom has increased the population by 43 percent over the last 10 years while traffic deaths have increased 350 percent. Large trucks and heavy equipment choke streets and highways where fracking  wells are drilled. According to a Royal Dutch Shell executive, such deadly crashes are "recognized as one of the key risk areas of the business." Just another day at the office.

From the May 2014 State Journal article:

Last year, a truck carrying drilling water in Clarksburg, W.Va., overturned onto a car carrying a mother and her two boys. Both children, 7-year-old Nicholas Mazzei-Saum and 8-year-old Alexander, were killed. 
"We buried them in the same casket," recalled their father, William Saum. He said his wife, Lucretia Mazzei, has been hospitalized four times over the last year for depression. 
On the day his sons were killed, William Saum's wife had taken the boys to the YMCA to register for swimming and karate classes. The truck didn't stop at the stop sign, tried to make a turn and flipped onto the family car. Police issued two traffic tickets but filed no criminal charges. 
Saum and his wife waited until she was 40 to have children, Now she's 49, he said, and "it's not like we can have any more."
gas expansion is in the pipeline

In December 2012 near Sissonville, West Virginia, a few miles from Charleston, a gas line exploded incinerating 4 homes, extensively damaging 5 others, and melting asphalt and guardrails on Interstate 77. Amazingly no one was killed and there were only a few minor injuries - at the time, locals were at work. However, it took the pipeline people over one hour to stop the flow of gas, according to the Associated Press. The Christian Science Monitor called the Sissonville explosion “Just a drop in the disaster bucked.” It said “The West Virginia gas pipeline explosion follows several high-profile natural gas accidents and a rapid increase nationally in pipeline mileage - even as federal oversight appears to lag.” The article reported that there had been 80 incidents in 2012 involving only natural gas pipelines, 38 of which were rated “significant” by the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). In addition to these 80 were 71 incidents involving deaths and injuries in gas distribution pipelines.

From a March 2014 Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania news source discussing the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board, “A corroded gas pipeline that had not been inspected in more than two decades contributed to an explosion in 2012 that destroyed homes and melted a section of Interstate 77 in Sissonville, W.Va…”. This explosion near Charleston “grew into a raging fire 1100 feet along the pipeline and more than 800 feet wide. It left a nearly 15-foot-deep crater just off the interstate and turned a picturesque valley with rural homes into a scorched moonscape with mailboxes melted to wood posts and charred foundations.” The fire melted 4 lanes of an interstate highway. No one was killed in the explosion, “But the potential for tragedy was clearly there.” The pipeline was owned by Columbia Pipeline whose representative promised to learn from the incident. From the article:
The 20-inch interstate transmission line ruptured at 12:41 p.m. Dec. 11. Despite several alerts at a Columbia Gas control center, the controller did not realize an explosion had happened for 12 minutes, the report said. 
A line shutdown took an hour to complete and began only when someone from another gas company told Columbia about the rupture. 
Columbia had no automatic shutoff or remote control valves on the line, the report said. 
The pipeline had not been inspected or tested since 1988, the NTSB found. A rocky backfill likely contributed to corrosion.
From the December 2012 Christian Science Monitor:
"There are never enough inspectors at the state or federal level to adequately cover all the pipelines," says Rebecca Craven, program director at the Pipeline Safety Trust, a watchdog group based in Bellingham, Wash., that monitors energy pipelines of all types. "They can't physically spend enough time with each operator or pipeline to be able to do a thorough job and conduct regular inspections. They do what they can ­– enough to comply with their requirements." 
The explosion at Sissonville adds to a previous tally of 80 small and large incidents this year involving just natural gas transmission lines, the big pipelines that ship huge quantities of gas from production areas to distribution hubs and population centers across the country, according to the Pipeline Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), a branch of the US Department of Transportation that inspects and regulates the nation's pipelines. 
Of the 80 incidents, 38 were classified as significant, PHMSA data show. The accidents and fires reportedly caused seven injuries, no fatalities, and $44 million of damage.
a boom with a blast

The Plymouth, Washington explosion in March 2014 has called attention to a proposed gas export facility in a populated area on the Oregon coast. “Opponents of the proposed export terminals have long pointed to the risks of locating them in earthquake and tsunami zones, close to population centers.” according to a report in The Oregonian. These opponents say that “...there’s potential for a catastrophic scenario.” However, in March the Obama administration’s Energy Department, under intense pressure from industry lobbyists and pro-industry politicians, authorized exports of LNG from a proposed facility at Coos Bay, Oregon. This Jordan Cove LNG Terminal, with a $6 billion dollar price tag, would supply 9.3 billion cubic feet of liquified natural gas per day to Asian countries, gas fracked from Northwest drilling sites including those in Garfield County, Colorado.

Applications for liquified natural gas (LNG) export terminals on both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico in anticipation of supplying foreign markets are keeping the Department of Energy busy. From an April 2014 article at
Even if LNG exports are fast tracked, very little infrastructure exists to support them, and won’t until at least 2016. Building the infrastructure necessary to support exports will also require significant economic investment, making them a risky, expensive and impractical investment.

Moreover, fracking, the process through which LNG would be obtained, carries significant environmental risks. In addition to polluting air and water resources, the process also releases methane into the atmosphere. A potent greenhouse gas, methane is at least 25 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat over a 100-year time frame, and causes between 79 to 105 times the climate forcing of carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame.

The International Panel on Climate Change recently highlighted the dire consequences of what’s to come from climate change if action is not taken to alleviate it. Climate scientists warn that we must leave fossil fuels in the ground and aggressively transition to renewable energy to avert climate catastrophe.
Oil and gas industry rhetoric concerning gas has already given Americans a false sense of energy security. Even assuming that the industry’s dream of unrestricted drilling and fracking comes true, plans to increase the rate of consumption in the U.S. means that we will only have about 50 years of gas at our fingertips. In many of our lifetimes, this resource will run out. Exporting it overseas will further cut into the supply, while contradicting claims of energy security.

Thousands of miles away from fracking operations and LNG facilities, it’s easy for lawmakers in Washington, D.C. to forget about the effects that gas development imposes on communities. But the industrialization, public health, economic and environmental problems that fracking and LNG processing facilities create for rural and urban communities alike are real, and increasing demand for fracked gas will only exacerbate them further.
From an April 2014 article appearing in the Baltimore Sun online discussing the Chesapeake Bay gas export facility near Cove Point, Maryland, previously owned and operated by Williams, separated by 3.5 miles and a state park from the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant just north of it:
Less talked about is the absurdity of the strategy when almost all of this U.S. gas would be headed not to Europe but to Asia (where prices are higher), and how the exports themselves will painfully raise U.S. gas prices as much as 27 percent. Then there's the huge global warming damage this fracked gas causes, with new analyses showing it's probably as bad as coal. 
But perhaps the biggest problem of all in the pell-mell rush to build six or more coastal export terminals in the U.S. is the harm it's bringing to our domestic traditions of public discourse, transparency and political accountability. From the start, the Cove Point proposal in Maryland has been steeped in secrecy, controversial "nondisclosure" agreements signed by politicians, and the withholding of key documents of vital safety concern to nearby residents. To this day, the all-Republican Calvert County Board of Commissioners (where Cove Point would be built) has not held a single public hearing dedicated to the full range of concerns on Cove Point.
Residents in this area are concerned that, based on the magnitude of the explosion in Plymouth, Washington an explosion at the larger facility at Cove Point, especially with its proximity to the Calvert Cliffs nuclear plant, could have a series of disastrous effects.

Currently, the facility at Cove Point is for gas importation but the plans in the pipeline are to convert it to an import/export facility - a project which would cost an incredible $3.4 to $3.8 billion. Though Dominion, the company proposing the project, still is in the process of getting approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), it already has signed contracts with India and Japan for liquified natural gas. Dominion appears to have no doubt that, in spite of local citizen opposition, FERC will give it a thumbs up. Maryland governor Martin O’Malley has authorized tax breaks for Dominion; local residents say the tax breaks will “subsidize the pollution of their community”. Maryland Representative Steny Hoyer and the local county commissioners issued well-scripted statements that include potent industry-government cliches such as “jobs” and “economic stability” in support of the project.

Bloomberg has pointed out that, due to the “advanced” technology that is fracking and the resulting increased production, there is a “natural-gas glut” which is leading companies to export the gas. Moreover, some economic analysts say that the current boom can’t be sustained with the price of gas as it is, that the price of gas will have to go up if the industry wants to continue to develop… and continue to produce more gas than we need… and perpetuate the vicious circle we're in with the industry's unrestrained frenzy to capitalize on the boom and build infrastructure before we understand and discuss outcomes.

crackin’ and frackin’

Williams, in addition to expanding its Geismar, Louisiana ethane cracking facility, is planning a $300 million pipeline that would connect to existing pipeline infrastructure and carry natural gas from the fracked Northeast to a facility in Louisiana. The massive pipeline would carry natural gas to cooling stations on the Gulf Coast where it would be liquified and loaded onto tankers destined for foreign markets. The project is awaiting approval from FERC.

Faced with overwhelming opposition from local groups, Williams abandoned, probably only temporarily, its plan to build the Bluegrass pipeline through Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. In the process, Williams threatened to use eminent domain to obtain private property it would need for the project. Williams decided that the Bluegrass pipeline was “a project ahead of its time.” Eminent domain is a law that gives the government the right to procure - with “proper compensation” - private property for public use.

According to the Pipeline Safety Trust, in Colorado there are 47,779 miles of gas and hazardous liquid pipeline, there have been 83 pipeline incidents since 2004 resulting in almost $18,000,000 in property damage, and almost 9000 barrels of hazardous liquid spilled. Carl Weimer at Pipeline Safety Trust has said that pipeline leaks happen “more often than we would believe”.

to your health

In 2010 a Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH) assessment said that gas drilling would cause small increases in cancer, lung disease, and headaches. Controversy grew after industry representatives said the researchers were “jumping to conclusions”. This “health assessment” was sought by a group of concerned citizens from Battlement Mesa, Colorado in 2009 when they discovered that gas company Antero had leased the mineral rights, literally, “right out from under them”. The citizens group approached the Garfield County Commissioners with their concerns and, subsequently, the County contracted CSPH for the assessment prior to an issuance of drilling permits to Antero.

“We determined that natural gas development and production has the potential to create a variety of stressors that can impact health,” the CSPH assessment says. More about Exxon and Battlement Mesa below.

A February 8, 2014 article that appeared in the Post Independent titled “Study fuels the debate about scientific truth and fracking”, citing research performed by the Colorado School of Public Health demonstrating that “certain birth defects are as much as 30 percent more common among mothers living near natural gas wells”, inspired a defensive reaction on the part of the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). The peer-reviewed research, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, “found that mothers living within 10 miles of natural gas wells in rural Colorado were more likely to give birth to babies with congenital heart defects”. In response, CDPHE CMO Larry Wolk, instead of considering the research’s plausibility or simply its importance to public health, warned about rushing to judgement. The recent appointee of Governor John Hickenlooper, who is a supporter of oil and gas development, said the study was flawed. The oil and gas industry didn’t have much to say about the research. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, a trade group, referred questioners to Wolk’s statement.

On March 21, 2014, John Stroud reported in the Post Independent article “Prenatal defects investigated in Garfield County” that an epidemiologist from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) had been sent to investigate “an increase in anomalies in pregnant women in an area stretching from Carbondale to Rifle”. Details were not available and only a preliminary inquiry had been made but Department spokesman Mark Salley said that “the department has not seen any evidence that would cause the department to notify the community of a public health concern”.

Research published online in December 2013 in Endocrinology, a journal of the Endocrine Society, titled “Estrogen and Androgen Receptor Activities of Hydraulic Fracturing Chemicals and Surface and Ground Water in a Drilling-Dense Region”, says the following:
The Colorado River, the drainage basin for this region, exhibited moderate levels of estrogenic, antiestrogenic, and antiandrogenic activities, suggesting that higher localized activity at sites with known natural-gas related spills surrounding the river might be contributing to the multiple receptor activities observed in this water source. The majority of water samples collected from sites in a drilling-dense region of Colorado exhibited more estrogenic, antiestrogenic, or antiandrogenic activities than reference sites with limited nearby drilling operations. Our data suggest that natural gas drilling operations may result in elevated endocrine-disrupting chemical activity in surface and ground water. 
Hundreds of synthetic and naturally occurring chemicals have the ability to disrupt normal hormone action and have been termed endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDC’s). Laboratory experiments have shown a wide range of effects at environmentally relevant, low concentrations that were not predicted by traditional risk assessments from high-dose testing. EDC’s may be of particular concern during critical windows of development when exposure can alter normal development and has been linked to adult disease.
A potential novel source of EDC’s is through their use in hydraulic fracturing operations for natural gas and/or oil extraction processes…. More than 750 chemicals are reportedly used throughout this process. Of these, more than 100 are known or suspected EDC’s, and still others are toxicants and/or carcinogens. The rapid expansion in drilling operations using hydraulic fracturing increases the potential for environmental contamination with the hundreds of hazardous chemicals used. Importantly, hydraulic fracturing was exempted from multiple federal regulatory acts in 2005 including the Safe drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act. 
Multiple researchers have demonstrated that levels of stray gases and heavy metals in drinking water increased with proximity to natural gas wells, suggesting the possibility of underground migration of fluids associated with hydraulic fracturing. 
We report for the first time estrogenic, antiestrogenic, and antiandrogenic activity in a selected subset of chemicals used in natural gas operations and the presence of these activities in ground and surface water from a natural gas drilling-dense area in Garfield County, Colorado. 
Very little estrogen and androgen receptor activity was measured in drilling-sparse reference water samples, moderate levels were measured in samples collected from the Colorado River, and moderate to high activities were measured in water samples from Garfield County spill sites.
There is evidence that hydraulic fracturing fluids are associated with negative health outcomes, and there is a critical need to quickly and thoroughly evaluate the overall human and environmental health impact of this process.
Water samples for this research project were taken along the Colorado River basin from just west of New Castle to just west of Parachute, Colorado in September 2010.

A May 2, 2014 article in the Post Independent reported that, according to the CDPHE’s investigation, the increase in fetal birth defects, as reported in the Post on March 21 of this year, was not related to any common causal factor. From the May 2 report:
“Our investigation looked at each reported case and concluded they are not linked to any common risk factors,” Dr. Larry Wolk, chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said Friday. 
A dozen potential factors were studied, including proximity to active oil and gas wells, which had been the subject of much speculation as a possible cause in the weeks after the investigation became public in late March. 
“Obviously there was a lot of interest in the community as it relates to oil and gas,” Wolk said in followup interview. “But this was never designed, despite what some folks were asking, as a study of oil and gas effects on newborns. 
“We do investigate that to the best of our ability, though,” he said. 
“And in this particular case, there isn’t anything we could find to tie the two together,” Wolk said, adding the report shouldn’t be taken as either “an exoneration or implication” of industry impacts. 
According to the health department report, just 40 percent of the mothers involved responded to questions about where they lived at the time of conception. 
Of those, the majority (70 percent) lived farther than 15 miles from an active gas well, while the remainder lived between five and eight miles from the nearest active well, according to the report. 
The cases “were not isolated in any single community,” according to the report.
Note that, according to this report, 60% of those involved in the study did not respond to questions concerning where they lived at the time of conception.

can’t see the forest for the gas wells

Speaking of water and the Colorado River, the environmental group American Rivers identified the Upper Colorado River as America’s 2nd most endangered river for 2014. Water diversions to the front range, and proposed increased demand and diversions, threaten to “decrease river flows, degrade the environment, and harm river recreation that is a key element for the tourism economy on the Western Slope”. Another Colorado river, #7 on American Rivers’ Most Endangered List, is the White River (a tributary of the Green River, which is a tributary of the Colorado River) in northwestern Colorado. Its threat: the proposed 15,000 new oil and gas wells authorized by BLM in a “special agreement” with oil and gas industry. American Rivers says that allowing drilling in this region will industrialize it and severely compromise its beauty and environment. Oil and gas operations near the Green River and the Colorado River near Moab, Utah are either in process or production.

Thirty-eight million people in 7 states depend on the Colorado River for water for drinking, recreation, electricity production, and especially for agriculture - the Colorado is responsible for the irrigation of 4 million acres. Every drop of the Colorado is accounted for as provided in the Colorado River Compact of 1922 and other laws, contracts, and regulations known collectively as “The Law of the River”. Contamination by oil or gas extraction operations along the Colorado or one of its tributaries must be a consideration for the BLM and Department of the Interior as it continues to lease federal lands for frenzied fossil fuel exploitation.

(This just in: In May 2014 an oil well failure in Grand County, Utah sent oil and water down a wash near the Green River. According to officials, for 30 hours 80 to 100 barrels per hour of a water and hydrocarbon mixture leaked from an old well operated by S.W. Energy Corporation. An article in The Salt Lake Tribune online reported that this was the oil and gas company’s second spill:
The leak is the latest example of how Utah’s aging oil and gas fields, often equipped with outdated and failing infrastructure, threaten public lands. In March, hikers discovered oil coating a wash near a well in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Further searches around the Upper Valley oil field found old spills in four other washes and evidence of fresh leaks on the field itself. 
A state report on this week’s spill suggested S.W. Energy was "ill-equipped" to tackle a big spill, the second associated with its 45-year-old Government Smoot No. 3 well. But the federal Bureau of Land Management praised the tiny company’s prompt reporting and initial response to the crisis. 
"The well was blowing out before the operator discovered the spill [Wednesday morning]. It was washing into a dry wash, a four-mile pathway to the river," said Steve Merrit, an on-scene coordinator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The fluid was roughly a two-to-one mix of water and oil and officials have little hope of determining exactly how much escaped.
The BLM statement, heavy with dubious reassurances, said that its inspections were up-to-date but that the leak occurred in a valve that was not visible to inspectors. In other words, even with inspections, leaks cannot be avoided and, in fact, are inevitable.

A day later heavy rain overwhelmed clean-up attempts and fluid contaminant and the hydrocarbon mixture washed into the Green River. The rainstorm had been forecasted yet the containment structures were not designed to hold up against the storm. From,
Living Rivers conservation director John Weisheit said it's only a matter of time before a spill contaminates the public water supply. 
“Anyone who depends upon the Colorado River should look upstream to Utah... It's not 'if,' but 'when,'” he said.
Prior to the rainstorm, Juan Palma of Utah BLM proudly announced that the spill was contained with minimal environmental impact. An amateur photographer embarrassed state and federal officials, though, by producing photos of a “giant oil plume” in the Green River 30 miles downstream of the spill area. According to,
...officials presumed little oil had entered the river and issued statements to the Utah press claiming very little oil had spilled into the Colorado River water supply. This claim was clearly in the best interest of the oil company and avoided embarrassment to the BLM and Utah officials who are on the eve of hosting a large Energy Summit on June 4 to court energy companies to invest in Utah energy development.)
The amount of water used in hydro-fracking gas wells is another concern of environmentalists. Depending on the source of the information, fracking one gas well uses about 5 million gallons of water. Multiply this number by the number of hydro-fracked wells drilled over the last few years, since fracking became an important technology, and we obtain a figure that represents a lot of water. To complicate matters, some environmentalists distinguish between water that is returned to the natural water cycle, as in agricultural use, and water that is permanently removed from that cycle due to contamination, as in fracking. The industry has been quick to point out that it uses a small percentage (on the order of 0.3%) of water allocated for agriculture and other domestic purposes. One of the more recent and absurd statistical talking points concerning fracking and water is industry’s proud assertion that, in addition to natural gas being a cleaner energy source, it also creates water during combustion.

A recent review of data obtained from COGCC by the Center for Western Priorities found that the oil and gas industry in Colorado has reported over 4900 spills between 2000 and 2013 - about one spill per day. Spills for Colorado and New Mexico resulted in the release of “100 million gallons of oil, drilling fluids and other toxic materials into the environment.” Between January and March 2014 in Colorado there were 156 reported spills, 84 of which occurred within 1000 feet of surface water and 63 within 100 feet of groundwater. The cause for 119 of these spills was attributed to equipment failure and human error. It’s not a good situation but, as Western Priorities points out, this kind of transparency on COGCC's part is deserving of credit.

Considering how much depends on the health of the Colorado River it seems daring to complicate matters by allowing such intense drilling activity so close to it. The industry and its members say that safety and protection of the environment are priorities but, as we’ve seen, the implied promises cannot be kept.

a burning question

With the exception of Colorado, neither states nor federal agencies regulate methane emissions that escape from oil and gas drilling. In Colorado new regulations to control unintentional methane emissions were brought forward by the Rocky Mountain Environmental Defense Fund.

In February 2014 Colorado became the first state to limit emissions of methane from oil and gas operations. In spite of initial opposition to the idea, Gov. Hickenlooper worked with The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to adopt rules that will require operators to install new technology and conduct routine inspections to prevent and fix leaks. The new rules could reduce the unintentional escape of methane and other volatile organic compounds by 95% but may cost industry $30 million per year.

Then again, “Saving methane from leaking should also result in a financial benefit to the industry, since it should end up with more product to sell,” said a spokesman for Encana. However, prior to the final hearing before the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission on the matter, industry representatives argued against the controls and even pushed for an exemption from inspections.

Outside of Colorado, according to Purdue University's Purdue News', "Hight levels of greenhouse gas methane were found above shale gas wells at a production point not thought to be an important emissions source…" Researchers flew a specially equipped airplane over drilling sites in Pennsylvania. They found "…that large emissions were measured for wells in the drilling phase, in some cases 100 to 1,000 times greater than the inventory estimates…" The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in April 2014.

Research published in February 2014 in the journal Science titled "Methane Leaks from North American Gas systems" reports that "…recent estimates of leakage have challenged the benefits of switching from coal to NG [natural gas]" because of methane's "high global warming potential". Another paper in Science dated October 2013 titled "Anthropogenic emissions of methane in the United States" suggests that in the South Cental region of the U.S. "…methane emissions due to fossil fuel extraction and processing could be 4.9 plus or minus 2.6 times larger" than what had been determined by a previous "comprehensive global methane inventory". (And there may be as much as twice the methane emitted from cow poo, too.) The Tyee, a Canadian online news source, in a May 2014 article titled "Shale Gas Plagued By Unusual Methane Leaks" says,

According to a spate of recent scientific studies from the United States and Australia, the shale gas industry has generated another formidable challenge: methane and radon leakage there times greater than expected. 
In some cases the volume of seeping methane, a greenhouse gas that traps heat 25 times more effectively than carbon dioxide, is so high it challenges the notion that shale gas can be a bridge to a cleaner energy future, as promoted by the government of British Columbia and other shale gas jurisdictions.
The Tyee article refers to a February 2014 Stanford Report titled "America's natural gas system is leaky and in need of a fix…" in which a review of over "200 earlier studies confirms that U.S. emissions are an important part of the problem." It continues,
"Reducing easily avoidable methane leaks from the natural gas system is important for domestic energy security," said Robert Harris, a methane researcher at the Environmental Defense Fund and co-author of the analysis. "As Americans, none of us should be content to stand idly by and let this important resource be wasted through fugitive emissions and unnecessary venting." 
One possible reason the leaks in the gas industry have been underestimated is that emission rates for wells and processing plants were based on operators participating voluntarily. One EPA study asked 30 gas companies to cooperate, but only six allowed the EPA on site.
Texas frackin' fracas

Back at the ranch, a May 2014 article in tells the story of a Texas couple's decision to move:
After 23 years living on the South Texas prairie, Lynn and herby Buehring are looking for a new home, far from the fumes, traffic and noise of the Eagle Ford Shale boom. 
We're not anti-drilling at all," she said. "My complaint is they need to do it in a responsible way. It's just causing me a lot of medical issues, and I can"t have it." 
Buehring's symptoms began when the drilling rigs arrived in late 2011. Her asthma worsened from a seasonal nuisance to the point where she needed two rescue inhalers and made frequent use of a breathing machine. She also developed chest pains, dizziness, constant fatique and extreme sensitivity to smells.
Today there are at least 57 oil and gas wells and nine processing plants within 2.5 miles of the Buehrings' house. These facilities have the state's permission to emit hundreds of tons of air pollutants per year, including volatile organic compounds like benzene and formaldehyde and toxic hydrogen sulfide, which aggravate respiratory conditions.
"Sometimes there's a yellow haze or mist out there, and my tax customers have to walk through that," she said. "how dangerous is that?"
According to the article, a recent 8 month investigation…
…revealed that despite hundreds of complaints from local residents, Texas regulators know little about air quality in the 26-county Eagle Ford region, which has nearly 9,000 wells and another 5,500 permitted. As many as 23,000 more wells may be drilled by 2018, according to some projections.
The Buehrings began to seriously consider relocation three months ago, when Lynn's symptoms took a turn for the worse. She developed balance issues and would fall over sideways "for absolutely no reason," she said. Her hands trembled so much she feared she had Parkinson's disease, though a doctor later ruled that out. 
Both she and Shelby had trouble sleeping at night due to the industry-driven truck traffic, which tended to peak between 1 and 4 a.m., Buehring said. Soundproof boards they installed over the bedroom windows proved ineffective.
"I told [Shelby], I can't live this way and I can't work this way. Enough is enough." And Shelby agreed "we've got to get out of here." 
Buehring's experiences over the past three years have changed how she feels about her country. "I thought we had people in place that were going to help the small man," she said. "And then I find out that the rug's been totally pulled out from underneath me. I feel like I'm one person out there all by myself… and there's nothing I can do. Nobody's there to help."
Lynn Buehring filed a complaint with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). An investigator visited the Buehring home on several occasions. On one visit, the investigators noted such high concentrations of volatile organic compounds at one Marathon site that they "evacuated the area quickly to prevent exposure."

Marathon, a Houston-based $25 billion company, is the owner of the wells around the Buehring home. 

In response to an email inquiry, Inside Climate News received this reply from Marathon spokeswoman Lee Warren: "Marathon places a high value on being a responsible operator and a good neighbor." The article continues,

InsideClimateNews called the TCEQ for comment, but agency spokesman Terry Clawson would not discuss anything on the phone. "The TCEQ follows up on citizen complaints aggressively and in a timely manner, and has proactively conducted reconnaissance activities to identify emission sources," Clawson wrote in an email. "To date, the TCEQ has il found no indication that authorized air emissions from oil and gas operations are causing adverse health effects in the Eagle ford Shale or any other sea in Texas."
In any case, "Three years of drought, decades of overuse and now the oil and gas industry's outsized demands on water for fracking are running down reservoirs and underground aquifers. And climate change is making things worse," according to an August 2013 Guardian report on Barnhart, Texas. Center for Public Integrity's Jim Morris has said that in the Eagle Ford area air pollution from fracking could end up being a greater health threat than contaminated groundwater. 


The new Colorado regulations concerning escaped gas have caught the attention of some Texas companies. The Environmental Defense Fund has been approached by some Texas industry representatives to see if what worked in Colorado will work in Texas, too.

Ironically, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson wants to do more. In February 2014, Tillerson, along with former Republican congressmen Dick Armey and others, participated in a lawsuit to block the construction of a water tower near his 83 acre horse ranch in north Texas. The water tower would supply water to a nearby fracking site. Plaintiffs said trucks hauling the water would cause “a noise nuisance and traffic hazards”. For his part though, Tillerson was more concerned about the devaluation of his property. Tillerson has been a harsh critic of oil and gas industry regulation.

In February 2014 Colorado congressman Jared Polis welcomed Tillerson to the club:
“I would like to officially welcome Rex to the ‘Society of Citizens Really Enraged when Encircled by Drilling’ (SCREWED). This select group of everyday citizens has been fighting for years to protect their property values, the health of their local communities, and the environment. We are thrilled to have the CEO of a major international oil and gas corporation join our quickly multiplying ranks.”
burning bridges

Anthony Ingraffea, Ph.D, Professor in Engineering at Cornell University, and Robert Howarth, Ph.D, Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell, were important figures in initiating the discussion concerning methane’s so-called “greenhouse footprint”. Their research shows “... that the process of extracting natural gas from the earth ultimately releases a significant amount of methane into the atmosphere, where it acts as a greenhouse gas.” Read the research article here: For Howarth and Ingraffea’s directly stated commentary on the issue and their research published in Nature in 2011 titled “ Should fracking stop? Yes, it is too high risk read here:

An article in The Cornell Daily Sun dated February 2012 discussing Howarth and Ingraffea’s report continues,

Ingraffea said he measured potential methane leakages that could occur during the combined processes of extraction, purification and transportation to customers.
“We did what is called a ‘life cycle analysis,’ that is, you take not just the burning of the fuel –– whether it’s coal, oil or natural gas –– but you take into account the production of greenhouse gases from the start of the investigation to produce coal or oil or natural gas all the way up to the end use,” Ingraffea said.
Using this more comprehensive analysis, Ingraffea determined that “the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas … is larger than the greenhouse gas footprint of coal and of oil.”
“Global climate change is the largest human health impact issue that will ever be addressed,” Ingraffea said. “My generation –– look what we did. We committed what I call generational greed … burning fossil fuel like there’s no tomorrow and guess what, there might not be.”
The Howarth and Ingraffea research was challenged by another Cornell researcher who questioned the formers’ calculations. Citing 2011 EPA figures that indicated a lower rate of methane leakage and new construction methods using environmentally friendly technology, Professor Lawrence Cathles argued that “If we’re talking relatively long-range … and we think we are … even if methane were bad, we’d be better off using methane if it put less CO2 into the atmosphere,” he said.
Admitting that more study of the issue was necessary, Ingraffea said, “What we are hoping to do by this study is to stimulate the science that should have been done before, in my opinion, corporate business plans superceded national energy strategy,” he added.
just say no
T. Boone Pickens, in his TED talk: ”Let’s transform energy - with natural gas”, says there isn’t, and never was, a national energy strategy. (Some might contradict Pickens’ observation by noting that President George W. Bush did have an energy policy: “drill anywhere, anytime”.) Pickens has called natural gas the “bridge fuel” and proposes a plan based largely on natural gas to cure what he calls ”America’s addiction to OPEC oil”. Mr. Pickens, who is pushing natural gas as a clean alternative fuel for vehicles, says he believes that global warming is happening.
Pickins is right about our addiction but wrong about where it comes from or what form it takes: we’re addicted to fossil fuels whatever the source.
Psychiatrists say that addiction to alcohol, drugs, exercise, sex, (fossil fuels), and so on is characterized by: denial and other patterns of distorted thinking; habituation to accept it as normal; tolerance such that more and more is required; discomfort when the drug is reduced; and anxiety and hallucinations when the drug is completely withdrawn. Intervention and behavior modification often are necessary to break the addiction.
According to an April 2014 article by Howarth titled “A bridge to nowhere: methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas”, published in Science and Engineering as a response to the idea that natural gas is a “bridge fuel”, “The use of fossil fuels is the major cause of greenhouse gas emissions, and any genuine effort to reduce emissions must begin with fossil fuels.” He says that using natural gas to generate electricity in place of coal might result in a “modest reduction” in total greenhouse gas emissions if there is “unprecedented investment in natural gas infrastructure and regulatory oversight.” But for any other use natural gas’ greenhouse gas footprint is larger than other fossil fuels, especially over the next 2 decades. He says, “Given the sensitivity of the global climate to methane, why take any risk with continuing to use natural gas at all? The current role of methane in global warming is large…” He says he’s not advocating the continued use of coal and oil either, “[B]ut to replace some fossil fuels (coal, oil) with another (natural gas) will not suffice as an approach to take on global warming... Natural gas is a bridge to nowhere.”

Howarth says, “...the conclusions stand that both shale gas and conventional natural gas have a larger GHG [greenhouse gas footprint] than do coal or oil, for any possible use of natural gas.”

take this Mother earth frackin’ job and shove it

..contrary to all the unmeaning and unmeant political talk about "job creation," work ought not to be merely a bone thrown to the  otherwise ought to be necessary; it ought to be  good; it ought to be satisfying and dignifying to the people who do it, and genuinely useful and pleasing to the people for whom it is done.  Wendell Berry

Few multinational corporations are as well known as ExxonMobil of Irving, Texas. Founded by John D. Rockefeller in 1870 as the Standard Oil Company, ExxonMobil is “...the largest publicly traded petroleum and petrochemical enterprise in the world”, according to its website. But whatever its history or innovations or wealth, most of us will remember it as the company responsible for the Valdez oil spill of 1989. At the time, the incident was the U.S.’s most devastating human-caused environmental disaster, resulting in the spilling of 750,000 barrels of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. The spill covered 1300 miles of coastline and 11,000 square miles of ocean. The cause eventually was determined to be “human error”, which was the result of Exxon’s failure to staff and prepare the crew. The Exxon Valdez crew, it was found, was fatigued and overworked.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as of 2007 only about 10% of the oil spilled by the Exxon Valdez had been recovered.

Proving that the oil and gas industry creates jobs, 11,000 people were hired in the cleanup effort in Alaska. Unfortunately, all of those who were exposed to the aerosols of crude oil caused by spray from hot-water hoses, and the oil dispersant, have died according to a May 2014 article. The average age at death for these people was 51 years, while the average life expectancy in the U.S. is about 78 years.

Not to be outdone by Exxon, in April 2010 a British Petroleum (BP) operation was responsible for the largest accidental oil spill in American history - so far - when its Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded. The incident caused 11 fatalities, spewed 4.9 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf’s marine environment, and covered 68,000 square miles of ocean. As for BP job creation, almost 48,000 people were employed in this oil disaster cleanup, including local fishermen who were desperate for work and income because they could not fish. Unfortunately for these people, as a part of BP’s clean-up strategy 1.84 million gallons of a very toxic dispersant was sprayed onto and into the oil and Gulf waters. Later, in research published in Environmental Pollution Journal in February 2013, it was estimated that the oil-dispersant combination was 52 times more toxic to small marine animals called rotifers than the oil alone. However, even as the dispersant was being used by BP in the Gulf there was little to no toxicology data available to understand its impact on human health or environment.

Corexit, the dispersant used in both the Exxon Valdez and Deepwater Horizon spills, is an industrial solvent that breaks-up or emulsifies oil into droplets that will remain in suspension, which oil-eating bacteria can break down, or which will sink to the ocean bottom. Although Corexit is very toxic, according to the manufacturer’s manual, and users should avoid contact with the skin, wear protective clothing, and avoid breathing its fumes, no training or warning about its toxicity was given clean-up crews. In fact, BP prohibited crews from wearing respirator masks, fearing that it would alarm the public if pictures of clean up crews wearing gas masks appeared in the media. BP also told Corexit’s maker, Nalco, to ship the product without the instruction manual and other warnings.

According to a 2013 article,

Not only did BP fail to inform workers of the potential hazards of Corexit and to provide them with safety training and protective gear, according to interviews with dozens of cleanup workers, the company also allegedly threatened to fire workers who complained about the lack of respirators and protective clothing.

According to the Institute for Southern Studies,

the chemicals people are being exposed to in the oil and dispersants are known to have health impacts including eye, skin and respiratory irritation, as well as headaches, dizziness, weakness, nausea and confusion. An analysis of EPA air testing data has found levels of these chemicals in coastal communities exceeding safety standards.

A May 2010 New York Times article titled “Less Toxic Dispersants Lose Out in BP Oil Spill” says,

Critics say Nalco, which formed a joint venture company with Exxon Chemical in 1994, boasts oil-industry insiders on its board of directors and among its executives, including an 11-year board member at BP and a top Exxon executive who spent 43 years with the oil giant.
"It's a chemical that the oil industry makes to sell to itself, basically," said Richard Charter, a senior policy adviser for Defenders of Wildlife.
The older of the two Corexit products that BP has used in the Gulf spill, Corexit 9527, was also sprayed in 1989 on the 11-million-gallon slick created by the Exxon Valdez grounding in Alaska's Prince William Sound.
Cleanup workers suffered health problems afterward, including blood in their urine and assorted kidney and liver disorders. Some health problems were blamed on the chemical 2-butoxyethanol, an ingredient discontinued in the latest version of Corexit, Corexit 9500, whose production Nalco officials say has been ramped up in response to the Gulf of Mexico disaster.
Doctors treating oil cleanup workers exposed to oil and/or Corexit from the spill in the Gulf of Mexico have identified symptoms similar to what’s been experienced by those who returned from the “Gulf War”. The cause of the complex of symptoms called Gulf War Syndrome (GWS) has not been identified - officially. (Ironically, the same name applies appropriately to both in at least a couple of ways.) Over one-third of those returning from the war in the Persian Gulf expressed GWS.

The explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig was caused by a methane gas leak; dispersants like Corexit are used in the hydraulic fracturing process.

Or, for those who lived on Colorado’s Western Slope about 30 years ago, Exxon is known for “Black Sunday”, May 2, 1982: Exxon, anticipating falling oil prices, abruptly pulled out of its $5 billion “Colony Project” shale oil operation in Battlement Mesa. One day Exxon board of directors made the decision, the next day 2200 people were out of a job. Angry former Exxon employees filled bars. Police ordered liquor stores to close describing the situation as “potentially dangerous”. Fights broke out, disturbances erupted, banks foreclosed on mortgages, families were evicted from their homes, divorces increased, a bank president committed suicide. Soon 15,000 people would leave the area.

Commenting on Exxon’s bust, a Parachute pastor made a most profound statement: “We were here before it started and we’ll be here after it ends.” Those who came to work on the Exxon project, he said, “...were desperate when they came and now they are desperate again.”

After the failure, Exxon, wanting to sell its Battlement Mesa property and the infrastructure it had developed, marketed the property as a retirement community through its front company, The Battlement Mesa Company. Unfortunately, it wasn’t known by mortgagees that Exxon retained the mineral rights to the property, which it sold to Denver gas company Antero in 2009. Antero’s plans to drill included wells as close as 400 feet to homes and recreation areas. According to Battlement Mesa Concerned Citizens:

Most BM home buyers were not aware of the potential for NG drilling and many were told that drilling would never happen since the gas was of poor quality and quantity and therefore not economically feasible to extract.

Citizens of Battlement Mesa, alarmed that a gas drilling operation would be harmful to their health and well-being, went to the Garfield County Commissioners proposing that a “health impact assessment” (HIA) be performed before the drilling commenced. HIA’s are promoted by a national organization, the Health Impact Project, to determine the unwanted effects on health of industrial development, as a way of helping to moderate debates on controversial issues such as this one. An HIA for Antero’s Battlement Mesa project would have been funded by two well-known charitable trusts that support the Health Impact Project. The citizens group from Battlement Mesa had done their homework; it was known from the outset that, according to the online, “The drilling project for Battlement Mesa would be extremely intrusive.” The Concerned Citizens accepted the premise that natural gas development was an important industry; they merely wanted a system in place that would mitigate some of the side-effects on the community of Antero’s natural gas development.

“Who else do we have to turn to but our county officials to help us look after the welfare of the citizens here?’ was what Battlement Concerned Citizen (BCC) Dave Devanney said earning him Garfield County’s “Famous Last Words” award for that year.

Agreeing to the HIA, and agreeing to pay for it, Garfield County Commissioners (BOCC) contracted the Colorado School of Public Health (CSPH) for the project. A first draft was submitted in September 2010, and a second in March 2011, each followed by a 30 day public comment period. From

It should be mentioned that the CSPH had expected to have a detailed plan of the drilling activities from Antero. However, when Antero did not submit a CDP or any other details to the HIA team, the project became more difficult. Antero’s level of cooperation seemed to diminish as the project progressed.

On March 21, 2011 the county commissioners, at the request of the O&G industry, extended the comment period by an additional thirty days, with a deadline of April 27, 2011.

On May 2, 2011 the county commissioners terminated the contract with the CSPH for the HIA. “We have gathered adequate data and information in the report and the commissioners put the project to rest,” said Jim Rada, project manager and Garfield County Public Health environmental health manager. “Conflicting perspectives expressed between the oil and gas industry, the community and the School of Public Health were deemed to be irresolvable.”

BCC voiced its opposition to the project termination but were rebuffed by the BOCC.

(It should be mentioned that Exxon was awarded a $1.5 billion federal loan guarantee for its oil shale operation in August 1981, just 9 months before it pulled out of Battlement Mesa. In 2010 dollars, $1.5 billion is equivalent to $12 billion.)

Wendell Berry, agrarian writer, poet, and farmer-activist presently engaged in protesting coal mining in his home state Kentucky, says,

The message is plain enough, and we have ignored it for too long: the great, centralized economic entities of our time do not come into rural places in order to improve them by "creating jobs." They come to take as much of value as they can take, as cheaply and as quickly as they can take it. They are interested in "job creation" only so long as the jobs can be done more cheaply by humans than by machines. They are not interested in good health--economic or natural or human--of any place on this earth.

In a recent interview with Bill Moyers, Wendell Berry, discussing industry and job creation, observed that it was the purpose of the Industrial Revolution to replace human, manual labor with machines and mechanized labor, and that it had succeeded quite well in achieving this goal. Why, therefore, should we expect industry to make job creation its priority when, by definition, it wants machines to do as much of the work as possible?

well done

An important article published in Climate Change in November 2013 and available online at, written by Richard Heede of the Climate Accountability Institute in Snowmass, Colorado, paints a clear picture of the relationship between industry and the causal factors of climate change, among other things.

Heede points out that “...some degree of responsibility for both cause and remedy for climate change rests with those entities that have extracted, refined, and marketed the preponderance of the historic carbon fuels.” Heede discovered in his research that almost two-thirds of cumulative, worldwide emissions of industrial carbon dioxide and methane emitted between 1751 and 2010 can be traced to 90 commercial or government entities; that one-half of the cumulative worldwide emissions of industrial carbon dioxide and methane have been emitted since 1984; and that major fossil fuel entities possess enough reserves that, if produced and used, will intensify human-caused climate change. Heede proposes that, if we consider this historical data on the matter, we will be better equipped to determine public policy. Though it’s likely he’s not the first to make the statement, Heede says,

It is now broadly accepted that anthropogenic climate change presents a serious threat to the health, prosperity, and stability of human communities, and to the stability and existence of non-human species and ecosystems

Heede’s research shows that almost 30% of global industrial emissions from 1751 to 2010 are attributable to the 20 largest investor-owned and state energy companies. Of the top 4 on his list, ExxonMobil is #2 and BP is #4. Heede demonstrates a direct relationship between wealth and the side effects of fossil fuel production and consumption, which lead to human-caused environmental damage and anthropogenic climate change.

Considerable benefits have accrued to these carbon majors, and to their state-sponsors and investors. Given this, it seems reasonable to argue that they have an ethical obligation to help address climate destabilization. Moreover, many of these entities—both state- and investor-owned—possess the financial resources and technical capabilities to develop and contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation.

Heede mentions a principle of the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment that “...a nation-state’s ‘sovereign right to exploit their own resources is subject to not causing ‘damage to the environment of other states’”, and the “legal principle of objective responsibility” that a polluter can’t escape responsibilities for having polluted by claiming ignorance of the damage to the environment. Some might say that those in the oil and gas industry who deny the reality of anthropogenic climate change are attempting to avoid responsibility by claiming ignorance. According to one expert, denial, in addition to its being used in addiction, is the first in a series of emotions experienced by one facing death. Anger and bargaining may follow.

Although Heede says that human-caused climate change is”broadly accepted”, it is not universally accepted. So-called “climate deniers”, who appear to represent the interests of the fossil fuel industry, bring to the debate research and statistics that support their contention that human activity has not contributed to climate fluctuations, and that there is no need to pull back on the development and consumption of fossil fuels. The conflict resulting from these opposing views has led some observers to identify a “culture war”.

A Fall 2012 article, “Climate Science as Culture War” by Andrew Hoffman, discusses the ideological divide between those who believe climate science is real and those who believe it’s a hoax. Though “culture war” in America has been used to identify value conflicts between “conservatives” and “liberals” in a general, political sense, this new “culture war” is bigger than that. Regarding climate change, Hoffman says,

Today, there is no doubt that a scientific consensus exists on the issue of climate change. Scientists have documented that anthropogenic sources of greenhouse gases are leading to a buildup in the atmosphere, which leads to a general warming of the global climate and an alteration in the statistical distribution of localized weather patterns over long periods of time. This assessment is endorsed by a large body of scientific agencies—including every one of the national scientific agencies of the G8 + 5 countries—and by the vast majority of climatologists. The majority of research articles published in refereed scientific journals also support this scientific assessment. Both the US National Academy of Sciences and the American Association for the Advancement of Science use the word “consensus” when describing the state of climate science.

And yet a social consensus on climate change does not exist.

We must acknowledge that the debate over climate change, like almost all environmental issues, is a debate over culture, worldviews, and ideology.

Climate change has become enmeshed in the so-called culture wars. Acceptance of the scientific consensus is now seen as an alignment with liberal views consistent with other “cultural” issues that divide the country (abortion, gun control, health care, and evolution). This partisan divide on climate change was not the case in the 1990s. It is a recent phenomenon, following in the wake of the 1997 Kyoto Treaty that threatened the material interests of powerful economic and political interests, particularly members of the fossil fuel industry.

This may be a culture war but it is not about science or politics. It’s about the culture of Industrialism resisting its inevitable usurpation in a natural process. “...the electric principle everywhere dissolves the mechanical technique of visual separation and analysis of function” according to Marshall McLuhan.

shills for shale

The Western Slope chapter of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association says on its website that it “...aggressively promotes the expansion of Rocky Mountain natural gas markets, supply and transportation infrastructure through its growing and diverse membership.” Many big names in the oil and gas industry are represented in its board and chapter memberships. But it’s the word “aggressively”, which it uses proudly, that betrays its identity. The manner in which oil and gas industry companies operate is aggressive - and invasive, overwhelming, explosive, and from the top, down. With a purposed rhetoric and the repetition of key phrases such as “job creation”, “energy security” and “community values”, industry controls the dialog, converts the native locals, and occupies the territory.

If a local property owner, confronted with a drilling operation within sight or smell of his home, should want to complain, or protest, or resist, it would do little good to go directly to the company.

Wendell Berry says, in general,

...if you should undertake to appeal or complain to one of these great corporations on behalf of your community, you would discover something most remarkable: you would find that these organizations are organized expressly for the evasion of responsibility. They are structures in which, as my brother says, "the buck never stops." The buck is processed up the hierarchy until finally it is passed to "the shareholders," who characteristically are too widely dispersed, too poorly informed, and too unconcerned to be responsible for anything. The ideal of the modern corporation is to be (in terms of its own  advantage) anywhere and (in terms of local accountability) nowhere.

The Concerned Citizens of Battlement Mesa discovered what happens when an appeal is made to County government. If one were to complain at the state level in Colorado, given the governor’s nickname, “Frackenlooper”, and his background in the industry, it would be no surprise that one would get an “official response” and that would be all. As for the federal government, the Department of the Interior, and the BLM…

...according to Eric Frankowski,, April 10, 2014, former Secretary of the Department of the Interior Bruce Babbitt talked about the oil and gas industry on a recent visit to the University of Colorado.

Babbitt criticized the agency he oversaw during the Clinton years, the Bureau of Land Management, for its handling of drilling on 250 million acres of land and 700 million acres of subsurface minerals, all of which it manages for American taxpayers. Agency decisions about drilling are “dictated by the oil and gas industry,” he said bluntly. Instead of protecting the public’s interest, the agency’s culture and structure facilitate industry profits at the expense of recreation, conservation and natural values.

well hell

In a June 18, 2014 article Al Gore says that we’re at a turning point in “the struggle to solve the climate crisis”, and that “there is hope if we accelerate our transition to a low carbon civilization”.

In the struggle to solve the climate crisis, a powerful, largely unnoticed shift is taking place. The forward journey for human civilization will be difficult and dangerous, but it is now clear that we will ultimately prevail.

Our ability to convert sunshine into usable energy has become much cheaper far more rapidly than anyone had predicted.

...all over the world, the executives of companies selling electricity generated from the burning of carbon-based fuels (primarily from coal) are openly discussing their growing fears of a "utility death spiral."

Germany's two largest coal-burning utilities have lost 56 percent of their value over the past four years, and the losses have continued into the first half of 2014. And it's not just Germany. Last year, the top 20 utilities throughout Europe reported losing half of their value since 2008. According to the Swiss bank UBS, nine out of 10 European coal and gas plants are now losing money.

We are witnessing the beginning of a massive shift to a new energy-distribution model – from the "central station" utility-grid model that goes back to the 1880s to a "widely distributed" model with rooftop solar cells, on-site and grid battery storage, and microgrids.

This year, Citigroup reported that the widespread belief that natural gas – the supply of which has ballooned in the U.S. with the fracking of shale gas – will continue to be the chosen alternative to coal is mistaken, because it too will fall victim to the continuing decline in the cost of solar and wind electricity.

It is worth remembering this key fact about the supply of the basic "fuel": Enough raw energy reaches the Earth from the sun in one hour to equal all of the energy used by the entire world in a full year.

...Internet-based communication – social media, blogs, digital journalism – is laying the foundation for the renewal of individual participation in democracy, and the re-elevation of reason over wealth and power as the basis for collective decision­making.

Rapid technological advances in renewable energy are stranding carbon investments; grassroots movements are building opposition to the holding of such assets; and new legal restrictions on collateral flows of pollution – like particulate air pollution in China and mercury pollution in the U.S. – are further reducing the value of coal, tar sands, and oil and gas assets.

The Carbon Tracker Initiative, “Financial specialists making  carbon investment risk real today in the capital market”, has proposed the idea of a “carbon bubble” which could burst if investors continue to invest in fossil fuel reserves instead of considering the long-term where companies, such as Exxon, are over-valued and carry high risk. Carbon Tracker says that “Exxon [is] not preparing for an energy transition to limit global warming” and that “investors need to take action” to avoid being stuck with “stranded assets”.

Exxon saying that there is no risk does not constitute prudent management of shareholder funds - it is like King Canute assuming he can hold back the tide, but investors can see that a shift in energy is already coming in.

Carbon Tracker is focusing on the fossil fuel industry where it hurts the most - the wallet -  even as it’s trying to awaken its more prominent players to what’s happening.

Wendell Berry knows, without an EIS, HIA, quantitative analysis, investment strategy, or political agenda, the effects of fossil fuel extraction. In his forward to Gene Logsdon’s book The Man Who Created Paradise, he considers the “hell” that is coal stripmining and the...

...worst hell of all: a mind almost inconceivably narrow, which can justify this hell making as a necessity, a feat of economic progress, and a human good.

If you can look at the landscapes produced by stripmining [or oil or gas wells] without reacting toward some vision of the land restored, then you not only are looking at one of the versions of hell; you are in it.

The age of Industrialism, including its accomplishments and the fossil fuels that powered it, is over. It was a job well done. But now it’s: well? Done.

William Conder, June 2014