Energy In Depth

Thu, 2014-02-06 08:58Sharon Kelly
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In Pavillion, Wyoming Water Contamination Case, Questions Continue To Swirl About Oil and Gas Industry's Role

A funny thing happened when Idaho Dept. of Lands Oil and Gas Program Manager Robert Johnson stepped to the microphone at a public hearing this past fall. He said something that many have long suspected, but few officials have actually been willing to say bluntly and publicly.

He said that the oil and gas industry was responsible for the contaminated groundwater in Pavillion, Wyoming — referring to a high-profile case where environmentalists have alleged oil and gas drilling and fracking caused a town’s water supplies to go bad.  

Everybody's heard of Pavillion, Wyoming,” Mr. Johnson said. “OK. Pavillion was a leaking above ground pit that was not lined.”

Did the industry cause it?” Mr. Johnson said. “Yes they did.”

Later in his talk, Mr. Johnson also pointed to a faulty cement casing in a natural gas well as another factor in the case, describing EPA data showing pollution was caused “by a bad cement job on an Encana well that was drilled in 1985.”

His statement is noteworthy because, before coming to Idaho, Mr. Johnson was directly involved with the Pavillion investigation. He worked for the groundwater division of the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office, which has taken the lead role in the contamination investigation.

The comments, which were recorded by county officials and distributed by anti-drilling advocates, were also significant because they were so candid and because the state of Wyoming maintains that more study is needed before blame can be assigned. The state is currently investigating the Pavillion incident and expects to publish a report in September of this year.

Asked about the comments, Idaho state officials said that the remarks about wastewater pits were intended “to illustrate that the State of Idaho requires lined pits to avoid surface contamination,” adding that Mr. Johnson, an Idaho official, was not speaking on behalf of the State of Wyoming. Mr. Johnson worked for the oil and gas industry before joining the Wyoming State Engineer’s Office.

Mon, 2013-11-25 05:00Sharon Kelly
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Banks Reluctant to Lend in Shale Plays as Evidence Mounts on Harm to Property Values Near Fracking

Over the past several years, the fossil-fuel industry has been highly adept at publicizing the economic upshots of fracking: royalty checks, decreased prices for oil and gas, profits for investors. 

But the industry is far less eager to discuss the hidden costs of the current drilling boom – the longterm price of air and water pollution, the consequences of undermining a nascent renewable energy industry, the harms from accidents when moving and storing all the hazardous waste fracking produces. 

Add to that list of hidden costs one that is starting to grab more attention from bankers and the real estate industry: property values and mortgage problems. New research, for example, demonstrates that the vast majority of prospective buyers say they would decline to buy a home near oil and gas drilling.

As millions of Americans sign oil and gas leases granting the right to companies to extract fossil fuels from their land, they are realizing that these documents often conflict with their mortgages, which is leading to all manner of legal and financial headaches, and make it harder to sell homes on land whose oil and gas rights are leased.

Concern about these impacts is spreading in southern states like Texas, Alabama and Florida, according to a survey due for release in the next several weeks from the University of Dever. In northeastern states like Pennsylvania, fracking worries have prompted lenders to begin rejecting mortgage applications due to gas drilling – on neighboring property. In Colorado, real estate brokers describe keeping a long list of sellers in heavily fracked areas, but a paucity of buyers. 

Under the terms mortgage buyers like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac require, “you cannot cause or permit any hazardous materials to be on your property and it specifically references oil and gas,” Greg May, vice president of residential mortgage lending at Tompkins Bank, told American Banker in an interview published Nov. 12. “That alone would make it a problem.”

The repercussions for the American real estate market could be enormous. More than 15.3 million Americans – roughly one out of every 20 people living in the U.S.– now live within a mile of an oil or gas well that was drilled since 2000, the Wall St. Journal recently reported

And that may be just the tip of the iceberg since shale gas and oil wells require ongoing drilling for them to stay productive. In 2010, for example, Pennsylvania regulators predicted a more than 10-fold increase in shale wells in their state over the next couple decades.

Thu, 2013-09-05 05:00Farron Cousins
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Fracking Away Our Water Supply

As many areas of the country experience severe droughts, the fight for clean, fresh water is becoming vital to survival for many American citizens.  The problem has been made worse by the expansion of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), which gobbles up hundreds of millions (billions, according to some estimates) of gallons of potable water every month.

The state of Texas has become the prime example of what can happen when the natural gas industry is allowed to run roughshod over citizens.  The state is currently experiencing one of the worst droughts in modern times, and certain areas have already had to resort to water rationing

But the dwindling supply of fresh water in Texas has barely slowed down the natural gas industry’s fracking activities.  Even as livestock are dying off, crops are withering, and citizens are having to purchase bottled water in order to quench their thirst, fracking companies are sucking fresh water out of the ground in order to satisfy their need to extract every ounce of natural gas from beneath the Texas soil.

The drought and water shortages in Texas have gotten so bad that some residents have said that on some days, they can turn on their faucets and nothing even comes out anymore.

Sat, 2013-05-25 14:00Farron Cousins
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Gas Industry Successfully Overturns Colorado Fracking Ban

The townspeople in Fort Collins were greeted with some unfortunate news earlier this week, as their city council decided to overturn a ban on hydraulic fracturing that had been in place for only a few short months. The decision to overturn the ban was based solely on the threat of a lawsuit from the oil and gas industry.

The mere threat of a lawsuit from the only fracking company in town – Prospect Energy – was enough to send the city council cowering in submission, placing the entire town at risk of the negative health impacts associated with fracking.

The gas industry was aided in their efforts by Colorado’s Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper, who warned the town of Fort Collins that if the ban were to remain in place, they could face legal intervention from the state itself.

Hickenlooper’s announcement is less than surprising. He has received more than $45,000 from the energy industry during his campaigns, along with another $104,000 from the real estate industry (a sector that stands to gain a lot with the leasing of property to fracking.)

Prospect Energy was aided in their efforts by the industry front group Energy in Depth. After the ban was lifted, EID issued a press release saying the following:

Mon, 2013-04-22 11:05Sharon Kelly
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Josh Fox's Gasland Part II Faces Aggressive Oil and Gas Public Relations Campaign

It’s coming,” a baritone voice warns as images of a fiery hellscape flash across the screen. “Lies. Deception,” someone whispers, just before the narrator launches into a diatribe about Josh Fox’s new documentary, Gasland Part II, in a youtube clip whose esthetic falls somewhere between b-horror movie and election season attack ad. It’s the sort of video that might be campy if it wasn’t made with an actual budget.

Posted last November under the account energyforamerica, the faux trailer is one of the first hits in a Gasland 2 youtube search.

 “I think it’s kinda unprecedented,” Mr. Fox said after the mock trailer appeared on youtube five months ago. “I don’t know of any other trailer that has attacked a film before even the actual trailer of the film has come out.”

Mr. Fox, the documentarian who made the Emmy-winning Gasland in 2010, and whose new movie Gasland Part II is now making its world premiere at Tribeca, has already withstood an aggressive P.R. campaign the likes of which few journalists and film-makers have ever experienced. The man who forever linked fracking to flaming tap water in the public mind has found himself, once again, in the oil and gas industry’s doghouse.

With funding from an array of oil companies, front groups like Energy in Depth have created entire websites devoted to “debunking” the first-hand reports shown in the first Gasland, produced their own film titled Truthland, and maneuvered behind the scenes to undermine Gasland’s credibility amongst the media.

Now the oil industry is gearing up for a new campaign to attack the sequel. And early signs indicate they plan to pull out all the stops.

Tue, 2012-11-06 12:40Steve Horn
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Chesapeake Energy Tied to Mansfield, OH Bill of Rights Astroturf Attack

The oil and gas industry is waging an 11th hour astroturf campaign in Mansfield, OH in an attempt to defeat the “Community Bill of Rights“ referendum. 

A “yes” vote would, in effect, prohibit hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) injection wells in Mansfield, a city of 48,000 located in the heart of the Utica Shale basin between Cleveland and Columbus. 

In March 2012, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) conducted a study linking the 12 earthquakes that have occurred in Youngstown, OH to injection wells located in the city. Further, recent investigative reports by ProPublica show that these new dumping grounds - with a staggering 150,000 injection wells in 33 states and 10 trillion gallons of toxic fluid underground - are a public health hazard in the making.

And yet, for the most part, hardly anyone is talking about it.

Preferred Fluids Management LLC is the upstart business that received two well injection permits from the ODNR in the spring of 2011 that motivated the “Bill of Rights” initiative. Industry front groups ranging from Energy in Depth (EID), Energy CitizensOhio Energy Resource Alliance and “Mansfielders for Jobs” are leading the charge in the astroturf campaign to defeat it.

Why, though, has the fracking industry put so much time and effort into the placement of a measly two injection wells in Mansfield for this relatively unheard of LLCMichael Chadsey of EID Ohio explained the importance of the waste dumping grounds at a forum on Jan. 30, 2012, stating,

If for some reason they just said, you know, we're going to stop this process, eventually the tanks that are on-site are going to get filled up. And then all the drilling pads are going to have to shut down and all of the truck drivers will have to stop.

So…this is the part of the process that is the end part of the process. When you shut down the end, you can't even start or continue because you have to have all the pieces of the puzzle to make this thing move. Everything is interconnected.

There's that and then there's the fact that Preferred Fluids Management LLC isn't merely a “new kid on the block.” Owned and founded by Steven Mobley, the business has a story of its own worthy of sharing, as it's closely connected to gas industry powerhouse, Chesapeake Energy.

Sun, 2012-11-04 10:16Steve Horn
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Exclusive: Tea Party, Fracking Industry Launch Astroturf Campaign Against Mansfield, OH Community Bill of Rights Referendum

Ohio is referred to as a “battleground state” due to its status as a “swing state” in presidential elections. But another important battle is brewing in the Buckeye State, also set to be settled in the voting booth.

This battle centers around a “Community Bill of Rights” referendum in Mansfield, OH and will be voted on in a simple “yes/no” manner. Mansfield is a city with roughly 48,000 citizens located 80 miles southwest of Cleveland and 66 miles northeast of Columbus, right in the heart of the Utica Shale basin

Eric Belcastro, the Pennsylvania Organizer for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), explained the rationale behind the “Bill of Rights” push in a blog post:

Faced with the permitting of two 5,000 foot deep injection wells in Mansfield by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR)…[t]he amendment would drive a community Bill of Rights into Mansfield's charter and then prohibit the injection of fracking wastewater on grounds that such prohibition is necessary to secure and protect those community rights. The amendment also recognizes corporate “rights” as subordinate to the rights of the people of Mansfield, as well as recognizing the rights of residents, natural communities, and ecosystems to clean air and water.

The ODNR, in a study published in March 2012, linked the 12 earthquakes that have occured in Youngstown, Ohio to injection wells located in the city. 

Though the “Bill of Rights” has the full support of the City Council and the Law Director, as well as the city's newspaper, the Mansfield News Journal, one faction in particular isn't such a big fan of the Bill of Rights: the oil and gas industry. In response to the upcoming referrendum vote, the industry has launched an 11th hour astroturf campaign to “win hearts and minds” of those voters still on the fence as it pertains to the “Bill of Rights” in the week before the election. 

DeSmogBlog has obtained images of flyers distributed via a well-coordinated direct mail campaign conducted by the oil and gas industry in Mansfield, made public here for the first time in an exclusive investigation.

Tue, 2012-10-16 22:46Steve Horn
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New Gas Industry Astroturf: Landowner Advocates of NY Buses Activists to Albany Pro-Fracking Rally

A pro-fracking rally held on Oct. 15 in Albany, NY was described by about a dozen local media outlets as a gathering of roughly 1,000 grassroots activists from all walks of life.

All came out to add their voice to the conversation regarding the extraction of unconventional gas from the Marcellus Shale basin in New York state. But the marchers weren't concerned landowners worried about losing their water supplies or property values. Their demand: to lift the current moratorium on fracking, which was prolonged by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sept. 30.

One rally attendee, Doug Lee, described the ongoing fracking moratorium as a “communist act” to the Albany Times-Union. Another described anti-fracking activists as “well-funded and organized activists masquerading as environmentalists, who often do not need to make a living in our communities.” Republican Sen. Tom Libous, observed that Hollywood stars Mark Ruffalo and Debra Winger weren't on the scene, telling them to “Stay in Hollywood. We don't want you here.”

Unmentioned by any of the news outlets that covered the event was a crucial fact: these weren't actual “grassroots” activists, but rather astroturf out-of-towners bused in from counties all across the state. Their journey was paid for by the legitimately “well-funded” oil and gas industry, which raked in profits of $1 trillion in the past decade

According to the Associated Press, the pro-fracking rally and march were organized by a brand new front group called the Landowner Advocates of New York formed in the immediate aftermath of the recent Cuomo decision to stall on opening the fracking floodgates.

Mon, 2012-10-01 13:47Carol Linnitt
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USGS Fracking Study Confirms Methane Contamination of Drinking Water in Pavillion, Wyoming

For those concerned about the future of shale gas development in the U.S., water contamination present in a monitoring well in Wyoming is about to become the lynchpin in the debate over unconventional gas production and the threat fracking poses to drinking water.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) just released a report confirming the EPA's December 2011 findings that water in Pavillion, Wyoming contains contaminants related to fracking
 
After residents in the region complained of poor water odor and taste, the EPA established two deep water monitoring wells to determine if water quality concerns were related to fracking in the area. 
 
EPA’s analysis of samples taken from the Agency’s deep monitoring wells in the aquifer indicates detection of synthetic chemicals, like glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above Safe Drinking Water Act standards and high methane levels. Given the area’s complex geology and the proximity of drinking water wells to ground water contamination, EPA is concerned about the movement of contaminants within the aquifer and the safety of drinking water wells over time.
 
Tue, 2012-09-11 13:48Carol Linnitt
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Cleaning Up Information Pollution: TruthMarket Creates Public Market for Truth

Truth can be a fickle thing. And when it comes to contentious, polarized and ideologically driven issues – like climate science, the safety of fracking, or the feasibility of renewables – the ‘truth’ can be hard to find amidst the noise.

With industry-sponsored misinformation firms like the Heartland Institute or Energy in Depth playing a prominent role in ‘public education,’ and with growing factious opposition between politicians and partisan groups, the public domain has flooded with so-called scientific or expert claims intended to mislead, manipulate and sway popular opinion. Our public discourse on many key issues is polluted.

Since yesterday, however, the public has a new role to play in the information marketplace.
 
TruthMarket, a public platform designed to improve the conditions of political, commercial and scientific dialogue, announced its designs for increased public scrutiny of truth claims. The website is modeled after grassroots online campaigning, where crowd-sourced investigations challenge the veracity of politicized rhetoric.  
 
Rick Hayes-Roth, Ph.D., the founder of TruthMarket and its parent enterprise Truth Seal Corp., said yesterday in a press release, “false claims, half-truths and biased polls are polluting public dialogue, commerce and public trust.” He added, “it’s time to do something constructive and give the public a mechanism to openly challenge false claims and reinforce honest dialogue.”
 

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