Thursday, June 11, 2009

EPA is beginning to think frac water stinks!

The EPA is going to revisit the "Halliburton Loophole" that allows drilling companies to keep the ingredients (chemicals) of their fracing fluid secret.

Over a month ago cattle died in Louisiana while eating and drinking in a pasture near a drill site. Witnesses say they saw the fluid spewing into the air near the derricks.
Sixteen cattle dropped dead in a northwestern Louisiana field this week after apparently drinking from a mysterious fluid adjacent to a natural gas drilling rig, according to Louisiana's Department of Environmental Quality and a report in the Shreveport Times [3]. At least one worker told the newspaper that the fluids, which witnesses described as green and spewing into the air near the drilling derrick, were used for a drilling process called hydraulic fracturing [2]. But the company, Chesapeake Energy [4], has not identified exactly what chemicals are in those fluids and is insisting to state regulators that no spill occurred.
The problem is that both Chesapeake and its contractor doing the work Schlumberger, say that a lot of these fluids are proprietary, said Otis Randle, regional manager for the DEQ. "It can be an obstacle, but we try to be fair to everybody," he said. "We try to remember that the products they use are theirs and they need them to make a living."
SPRING RIDGE – An unidentified substance that apparently flowed from a natural gas drilling site into a pasture is is being eyed as a potential cause of the deaths of 19 head of cattle Tuesday evening, according to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

The contaminated area is defined as about 20-by-20 yards and is adjacent to the well that Chesapeake Energy Corp. is drilling on state Highway 169 near the corner of Keatchie-Marshall Road in south Caddo Parish. Tests to determine the nature of the milky white substance that had pooled into a low area could take a week to complete, Northwest Regional Director Otis Randle said today.
Authorities believe the cows ingested the liquid before dying. Tracks went to and from the puddles, a Caddo sheriff’s office spokeswoman said.

Nobody owning up to it. I'm not surprised
Chesapeake and its fracing contractor, Schlumberger, have denied knowledge of a chemical release on the site, Randle said. “Nobody is owning up to it.”

EPA Administrator Forecasts Potential Shift on Bush-Era Drilling Loophole

Signaling the potential for an important policy reversal, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a congressional hearing on Tuesday that the agency would consider revisiting its controversial position that a popular natural gas drilling technique doesn't harm groundwater.

A 2004 study [1] (PDF) conducted by the EPA concluded that hydraulic fracturing [2] -- a process that involves pummeling the earth with millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals to extract natural gas -- causes "no threat" to underground drinking water.
The study is often used by the gas industry to rebut concerns over drinking water contamination. It was also the main basis for a provision in a 2005 energy bill that exempts hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The bill says the process is exempt because it doesn't harm groundwater. Opponents of the exemption are trying to repeal it, and a new study from the EPA would add muscle to their argument.

A ProPublica investigation [3] co-published with BusinessWeek [4] last November identified serious flaws in the EPA's 2004 study. We found that the agency negotiated directly with the gas industry before finalizing its conclusions and ignored evidence that the process might indeed contaminate water supplies.
Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY)
expressed concern [5] about these issues and recent reports of contamination near drill sites. At a House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior hearing on Tuesday, he asked Jackson [6] whether the emerging evidence would prompt the EPA to revise its previous conclusions.

Jackson said she recognized that the current regulations restrict the EPA's ability to protect groundwater and said the issue "was well worth looking into." But she didn't say how the EPA would approach the problem or whether the 2004 study would be revised.
A spokesperson for Jackson would not elaborate on her remarks.

The statement has stirred optimism [7] among environmentalists who have been urging the EPA and Congress to repeal the exemption. They feel it's a sign that the Obama administration is willing to take a fresh look at the Bush administration's legacy on gas drilling.

"Big ships turn slowly," said Bruce Baizel, an attorney with the Oil and Gas Accountability Project [8], "but I think this is the first time EPA has acknowledged that maybe their previous conclusions were not entirely supported by sound science."

Industry representatives contend that fracturing is safe and dispute the claim that the process has been linked to water contamination. They also maintain that fracturing is best regulated by individual states, rather than the federal government.

"The EPA study is one of several studies done by a variety of different interests in the past decade, and I don't believe that there is any compelling evidence that the risk has changed since 2004," said Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America [9]. "The reports mentioned (in the hearing) have been analyzed to show that they are not related to hydraulic fracturing."

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