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Unsafe Levels Of Toxic Pollutants In Heavily Fracked Ohio County

By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News (TNS)

Emissions from fracking operations may be exposing people to some toxic pollutants at levels higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for long-term exposure, according to scientists from Oregon State University and the University of Cincinnati.

The researchers took air samples in Carroll County, Ohio, where there are 480 permitted wells — the most in any of the state’s 88 counties. The team found chemicals released during oil and gas extraction that can raise the risk of cancer and respiratory ailments.

Researchers caution they don’t want to create undue alarm with their findings, but they say they hope the results will highlight the urgent need to conduct more in-depth studies of fracking emissions and their potential effects on human health.

“What we see here suggests that more needs to be known about the risks people face when exposed,” said study co-leader Erin Haynes, a University of Cincinnati scientist.

Haynes’ co-author on the study agrees.

“You can’t extrapolate to every situation, but the findings in our study might give one pause to want more information on air quality if they were living near these kinds of operations,” said Kim Anderson, an environmental chemist with OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Based on the data collected, researchers calculated the cancer risk posed by airborne contaminants in the Carroll County study areas. For the worst-case scenario — exposure 24 hours a day over 25 years — they found that a person anywhere in the study area would be exposed beyond the threshold the EPA deems acceptable.

The lifetime cancer risk in the study area estimated for maximum residential exposure was 2.9 in 10,000, compared with the the EPA’s acceptable risk level of 1 in 10,000, according to the study. Anderson cautioned that the study numbers are worst-case estimates and can’t predict the risk to any individual.

The EPA did not respond to questions about the findings.

The study focused on pollutants known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). These are organic compounds containing carbon and hydrogen, found in fossil fuels.

The study mirrored other research conducted in heavily fracked areas of the country, including Texas and Pennsylvania, that have focused on volatile organic compounds. These chemicals, including benzene and toluene, also are carbon-based chemicals in the same chain as those studied in Ohio, and they present similar dangers to human health.

With fracking on the rise across the country, the study’s authors and other scientists say there are too many unknowns about the potential health effects associated with the toxic chemicals released from oil and gas operations.

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In Texas, where fracking is booming, InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity found that air emissions from oil-and-gas development are among the least regulated, least monitored and least understood components in the extraction-and-production cycle.

The Ohio study, which appears in the journal Environmental Science & Technology’s online edition, is part of a project co-led by Cincinnati’s Haynes, OSU’s Anderson, her graduate student Blair Paulik, and Laurel Kincl, director of OSU’s Environmental Health Science Center.

In the Ohio study, Anderson and her colleagues collected air samples from sites near gas wells in Carroll County over three weeks in February 2014. The county sits on top of the Utica Shale formation, where oil and gas are extracted by hydraulic fracturing _ fracking _ a process in which the shale is shattered by a pressurized mix of water, sand and chemicals.

The county, 70 miles southeast of Cleveland, is booming with natural gas development, with 421 wells at the time of the study.

A map of wells developed by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Oil and Gas Resources Division shows Carroll County at the epicenter of fracking in Ohio. Carroll County now has 480 permitted oil-and-gas sites, well ahead of the next two counties, Harrison (341) and Belmont (245).

The study began when a group of residents approached Haynes, a public health expert at the University of Cincinnati, seeking information about health risks from natural gas extraction near their homes.

“They were wondering about the smells and what was happening because of how close all of this was coming to their homes,” Haynes said. “And with more wells coming to the county, they had some growing concerns and a lot of questions.”

None of those people said they were sickened by breathing the air, but they wanted to know more about the potential consequences, Anderson said.

“There was some concern with all of the wells that were starting to go in around their homes,” Anderson said. “People want to know; wanted to get answers about how all the (fracking) activity might be affecting them.”

Anderson and her associates teamed with Haynes to design a study that relied on volunteers to collect air samples in Carroll County, which has about 30,000 people. After volunteers were recruited through a community meeting and word-of-mouth, air samplers were placed on the properties of 23 volunteers who lived or worked at sites ranging from immediate proximity to a gas well to a little more than three miles away.

The aluminum box monitors contained treated material that absorbed contaminants. The volunteers were trained in proper handling of the samplers and documenting data.

At the conclusion of the study, the samplers were sealed in airtight bags and returned to Anderson’s lab at OSU for analysis.

The samplers picked up high levels of pollution associated with fracking in the areas studied, according to the report. Levels taken within one-tenth of a mile of a well were highest; they decreased by about 30 percent in samples taken a little more than three miles from a well.

David Brown, toxicologist and co-founder of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, a nonprofit environmental health organization, said the study’s findings should send a message to federal and state regulators that the rules governing exposure to emissions generated by fracking need revising to reflect the growing number of people being exposed.

“You are starting to have sufficient information showing that something is going on, what the exposures are and what the associated health problems are,” Brown said. “Somebody, the EPA or state government, is going to have to step up and recognize the problems people face and what needs to be done to protect them.”

(InsideClimate News is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers clean energy, carbon energy, nuclear energy and environmental science. More information is available at http://insideclimatenews.org/.)

Photo: Mary Crandall via Flickr

Congressman Widens Inquiry Into Fracking Waste In Northeast And Midwest

By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News (TNS)

A congressional investigation into the way states regulate the disposal of the often toxic waste generated during the fracking of oil and gas has expanded.

Rep. Matthew Cartwright (D-PA) launched the investigation in October by singling out his home state for the inquiry.

Now Cartwright, a member of the House Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation and Regulatory Affairs, has broadened the probe to include Ohio and West Virginia. Those states generate waste from hydraulic fracturing as well as accepting waste from other states, including Pennsylvania.

Cartwright’s growing inquiry mirrors the increasing national concern about the disposal of oil and gas waste left over from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

In letters to the heads of the environmental protection agencies for Ohio and West Virginia, Cartwright said fracking waste can “cause harm to human health and the environment” if not properly handled.

Consequently, Cartwright wants the two states to explain how their inspection procedures of oil and gas waste disposal facilities protect human health and the environment.

The representative also is seeking answers to more than a dozen other questions, including the number of inspections or investigations of disposal facilities receiving fracking waste. He also wants to know how the states’ regulators monitor the accuracy of reporting and compliance requirements for handling and disposing of fracking waste.

“The Subcommittee minority is conducting this oversight to determine if state regulations and monitoring of fracking waste are sufficient to ensure accuracy, completeness and compliance with applicable environmental laws,” Cartwright said in the letters.

Fracking is the process of blasting a mixture of water, chemicals and sand down a well to break open shale to extract fossil fuels.

Among other concerns, Cartwright, who was recently elected to a second term, wants to determine whether Ohio and West Virginia are obeying the federal Clean Air Act, which mandates protection from airborne contaminants.

Cartwright cites a 2011 minority staff report of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. It identified 29 chemicals found in fracking waste that are possible human carcinogens, and are regulated under both the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act for their risks to human health.

The report identified benzene, toluene, xylene and ethylbenzene as being among the chemicals found in fracking products. Each of those compounds is a contaminant under the Safe Drinking Water Act and a hazardous air pollutant under the Clean Air Act. Benzene also is a known human carcinogen.
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(InsideClimate News is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that covers clean energy, carbon energy, nuclear energy and environmental science. More information is available at http://insideclimatenews.org/.)

Photo: Joshua Doubek via Wikimedia Commons

Texas Sheriff Wants Criminal Charges Filed In Fracking Pollution Case

By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

A Texas waste hauling company that is already facing civil charges for a March accident that spread toxic drilling waste along a rural road could also be facing criminal charges.

Karnes County Sheriff Dwayne Villanueva said he will ask county prosecutors to file a criminal complaint against On Point Services LLC after the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the Texas Railroad Commission close their civil cases against the company.

“We are prepared to ask the district attorney’s office to review the case for action,” Villanueva said. “There are two different levels of enforcement here: the civil by the state and the criminal by the county.”

The incident occurred March 10 when investigators say 1,260 gallons of liquid waste from an On Point truck coated eight miles of roadway near the rural communities of Falls City and Hobson.

Roads were closed for three days and the Texas Department of Transportation conducted a costly cleanup.

The incident highlights the growing problem of how to dispose of the billions of gallons of contaminated fluids left over from the nation’s hydraulic-fracturing, or fracking, boom. Drilling waste typically includes toxic chemicals, oil, metals shavings, and naturally occurring radioactive materials. It’s usually hauled to various sites so it can be injected into the ground in disposal wells, recycled, pumped into huge open pits to evaporate, or sprayed on top of the earth in sprawling waste fields.

On Point, which is based in Falfurrias, Texas, failed to contain the spill, respond to the spill and inform authorities of the spill, according to the TCEQ notice of violation.

“Due to the apparent seriousness of the alleged violations, formal enforcement action has been initiated, and additional violations may be cited upon further review,” according to the violation notice signed by Cameron Lopez, manager of TCEQ’s Region 13 San Antonio Waste Section. “We encourage you to immediately begin taking actions to address the outstanding alleged violations.”

The TCEQ told On Point to submit a written plan describing procedures to prevent future spills. It also directed the company to do a better job of maintaining its equipment and training its employees.

The Railroad Commission is seeking to sanction On Point for allegedly violating state water protection and leak rules, said Ramona Nye, a commission spokeswoman.

“Transport vehicle was not operated in a manner to prevent spillage or leakage of oil and gas waste during transportation,” according to the Railroad Commission’s letter to On Point.

On Point now has an opportunity to dispute the charges. The process could take months and, if the agencies’ findings stand, could lead to fines for On Point.

A representative for On Point hung up when asked for comment. But in an earlier interview, owner Winfred Stanfield suggested that his company might not have been responsible for the spill, saying five companies had been implicated in the incident.

When Karnes County sheriff’s investigators confronted Stanfield with the evidence, Stanfield blamed the driver, according to the sheriff’s investigative report. Stanfield said the driver was “not fully competent.”

If not for surveillance video given to the Sherriff’s Department by a citizen, the 18-wheel tanker truck responsible for the dumping may have disappeared into the night. Using the video, the department narrowed the possible suspects to two companies. After one of the companies provided GPS data showing that its truck didn’t travel the spill route, the investigation turned to On Point.

Sheriff’s investigators learned that an On Point tanker left a drilling site loaded with drilling fluid, according to the department’s report, which the TCEQ and the Railroad Commission credit as the basis for their recent actions. Records show the tank was empty when it arrived at a facility where tankers are cleaned out, according to the report.

The driver told sheriff’s investigators that the valve of the back of his tanker sometimes leaked. He said he couldn’t remember whether he had checked the valve on the night the incident occurred.

Photo: danielfoster437 via Flickr

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Major New Pipeline Proposed Next To Enbridge Line That Ruptured In 2010

By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

The wild grass is only now beginning to hide the scar left by the giant ditch digger that gouged a trench though Ron Kardos’ Oceola Township, Michigan, pasture last year for an oil pipeline — but already Kardos is preparing for another onslaught of construction.

Last week Kardos got a letter from Energy Transfer Partners, a Houston, Texas-based company, saying a subsidiary — ET Rover Pipeline Company LLC — intends to build an interstate pipeline to move natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale gas formations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio to a terminal in Ontario, Canada.

The 365-mile Rover Pipeline will cross Ohio and Michigan and ultimately carry 3.25 billion cubic feet per day if plans are approved. Much of the line would follow the route of the oil pipeline that Alberta, Canada-based Enbridge Inc. built on Kardos’ property and that of other central Michigan residents. It replaced Enbridge’s aging Line 6b, which ruptured in 2010 and spilled more than a million gallons of heavy crude oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.

Before construction can begin on the Rover Pipeline, the project must be approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the lead federal agency responsible for conducting environmental reviews of proposed interstate pipelines. But Energy Transfer Partners seems so confident of obtaining FERC’s approval that it announced Thursday that it has already signed long-term agreements with multiple shippers and has set a date of June 2017 to have the pipeline running
Energy Transfer spokeswoman Vicki Granado did not return phone calls asking for comment for this story.

Obtaining early commitments from shippers isn’t unusual, said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog organization based in Bellingham, Washington.

“It’s a sort of, ‘If we build it, will you come?’ sort of thing” that serves two purposes, Weimer said. It allows a company to gauge whether a new pipeline will be financially successful and gives the company leverage in persuading FERC that the project is needed.

FERC’s approval is vital because it empowers a pipeline company to exercise eminent domain and take whatever land it needs to build the pipeline. The company must compensate landowners for their loss, but as residents like Kardos see it, FERC’s Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity is nothing more than a license to steal.

“It gives them the right to take whatever they want with little regard of what it means to the people,” he said.

FERC spokeswoman Tamara Young-Allen said the agency doesn’t grant eminent domain without seriously considering landowner concerns. The review process, which can take as long as two years, gives the public multiple opportunities to raise objections to the project. Young-Allen said the agency could order changes to the pipeline route if compelling arguments are made.

In the end, she said, the agency tries to balance what’s best for the millions of people who depend on the gas and for the landowners who will have to surrender part of their property.

Kardos is still angry about the Enbridge project that ate up a section of his 50-acre property. He said he won’t surrender any more land without a fight.

Although Enbridge had an existing right-of-way on his property from the old 6B Line, the company used eminent domain to obtain more land. The company cut down about 50 trees, ripped through his garden and dug up his pasture.

“It was just destruction,” he said. “I’m not anxious for that to happen again.”

The letters that Energy Transfer sent to landowners along the route said the company will host 10 community meetings in four states where residents can see maps showing the Rover Pipeline’s approximate location. FERC requires community meetings for pipeline projects, in part so the public can learn how the formal protest process works.

“Project Team members will be available to answer your questions, explain project details, and listen to any comments about the project,” the letter said.

Jeffrey Insko, an American literature professor at Oakland University in Rochester, called the letter “deeply disturbing” on his Line 6b Citizens’ Blog because it implies that the project is already a done deal.

“One can only assume this is a deliberate strategy to make landowners feel helpless; it has almost certainly further demoralized them,” he wrote.

The question is whether landowners’ objections to the project will be taken seriously, said Barry Rabe, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy at the Ford School.

“Is this an earnest effort to engage the citizenry, or is it a dog and pony show where there isn’t any give on the proposal?” Rabe asked.

Photo: Rickz via Flickr

Judge Upholds Jury Verdict For Family In Texas Fracking Case

By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

The judge presiding over a pivotal case involving toxic emissions from gas and oil drilling has accepted a jury verdict that awarded $2.9 million to a family who said the emissions have made them sick.

Judge Mark Greenberg issued a one-page ruling late Thursday denying a motion by Aruba Petroleum to reject the jury’s verdict. Among Aruba’s arguments rejected by Greenberg were that Bob and Lisa Parr did not prove the emissions that made them sick came from Aruba wells.

The Parrs filed their lawsuit in March 2011, claiming they were “under constant, perpetual, and inescapable assault of Defendants’ releases, spills, emissions, and discharges of hazardous gases, chemicals, and industrial/hazardous wastes.”

Following a two-week trial in April, a Dallas County jury found that Aruba “intentionally created a private nuisance” that affected the family’s health and awarded the Parrs damages. The case is one of the first successful U.S. lawsuits alleging that toxic air emissions from oil and gas production have sickened people living nearby.

Lisa Parr said Greenberg’s ruling further validates the family’s claim of being made sick by emissions generated by Aruba.

“We have had a jury hear the evidence and say that it was Aruba’s fault,” Parr said. “Now we have a judge who heard the evidence say that the jury was right.”

The company had earlier paid $108,000 to settle a court case brought against it by the Texas Attorney General’s Office. In that case, an inspector for the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality was sickened after he began collecting air samples in response to a complaint from the Parrs, according to an agency report. Using an infrared camera, he identified “heavy plumes” of emissions wafting from the Aruba facility and toward the Parr house, 280 feet away.

Greenberg’s ruling sets the stage for a possible appeal by Aruba.

Photo: danielfoster437 via Flickr

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Illegal Dumping Highlights Problem Of How To Dispose Of Fracking Waste

By David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News

Under the cover of early-morning darkness in South Texas last March, a tanker truck ferrying fluids from an oil and gas drilling site rumbled down a country road spewing its toxic load all over the place.

The concoction of drilling fluid, which typically includes undisclosed and dangerous chemicals, oil, metals shavings and naturally occurring radioactive materials, coated eight miles of roadway, according to a Karnes County Sheriff’s Department report obtained by InsideClimate News.

The spill has prompted an investigation by the sheriff’s department, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and the state Railroad Commission.

If not for surveillance video given to the sheriff’s department, the trucker responsible for the dumping may have disappeared into the night. But the video caught the distinctive flash from the reflective stripes on the tanker. It was the telltale clue detectives needed.

Although sheriff’s investigators couldn’t determine whether the illegal dumping was intentional, it highlights the growing problem of how to dispose of billions of gallons of contaminated fluids left over from both the drilling and production phases of oil and gas development using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Karnes County is at the epicenter of a drilling boom in the 26-county Eagle Ford Shale region of South Texas. It’s one of the most active drilling areas in the country, where nearly 9,000 wells have been sunk and another 5,500 approved since 2008. Drilling and fracking a single well in the Eagle Ford can take 4.9 million gallons of water, according to a report to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

All of that contaminated liquid waste has to be disposed of in some way. Among the approved disposal methods in Texas are injecting the unwanted fluid into deep underground wells, recycling, pumping it into huge open pits to evaporate or spraying it on top of sprawling waste fields. The pits and waste fields are being cited as a major source of noxious fumes and harmful airborne chemicals.

States are solely responsible for regulating the disposal of the toxic drilling waste, in part because of exemptions from federal environmental laws, and the rules vary widely across the country. Texas laws remain comparatively lax.

The waste fluid is disposed of wherever it is convenient and out of sight, said Sharon Wilson, an organizer with the Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project in Texas.

“There is so much of this that they don’t know what to do with it,” she said. “So it’s not surprising that there are cases where it’s just dumped anywhere.”

The “anywhere” that sparked the investigation in Karnes County was along Farm-to-Market Road 81, a rural, two-lane stretch of blacktop just west of Hobson. A driver reported the mess after the side of his pickup became smeared with an oily substance; a landowner later provided the critical video to law enforcement.

Texas Department of Transportation officials closed the road so it could be cleaned up by a hazardous-waste disposal company, according to the sheriff’s department report. Karnes City firefighters worried there may be flammable substances and potentially deadly hydrogen sulfide in the mix.

Sheriff’s investigators soon narrowed the possible offenders to two trucking companies that had been hauling fluid from three oil and gas wells being drilled by Marathon Oil Corp, one of the largest Eagle Ford development companies with 211,000 acres under its control.

One trucking company provided GPS data to investigators proving its tankers did not drive the contaminated route, according to the sheriff’s report. That left the second company — On Point Services — as the focus of the investigation.

When the On Point Services tanker left the Marathon drilling site, it contained 20 to 30 barrels (840-1,260 gallons) of contaminated drilling fluid, according to the report. Records show the tank was empty when it arrived at facility where tankers are cleaned out.

The driver told sheriff’s investigators the valve of the back of his tanker sometimes leaked, though he said he couldn’t remember whether he checked on that particular load to see if the valve was closed, according to the report.

When contacted by detectives, On Point Services owner Winfred Stanfield denied his company was responsible.

In a brief interview with InsideClimate News, Stanfield suggested that his company may not have been at fault, saying five other companies had been “implicated.” He did not elaborate.

“I don’t want to touch this story at all,” Stanfield said before hanging up.

Yet when confronted by sheriff’s investigators with evidence — the video, the driver’s admission and documents showing the On Point Services truck drove the route at the time it was contaminated — Stanfield blamed the driver, according to the report. He said the driver was not competent.

Although the detective said he thought the drive was competent, he told Stanfield he could not prove that his driver intentionally spilled the liquid on the highway.

“If I could, I would file criminal charges on him,” according to the 10-page report prepared by Robert Ebrom Jr., the Karnes County chief deputy and one of the detectives in the case. Karnes County Sheriff Dwayne Villanueva declined to comment though a spokeswoman who said the department couldn’t discuss the case until after the two state agencies wrapped up their investigations.

TCEQ spokeswoman Andrea Morrow said the agency had not yet completed its investigation.

The Railroad Commission is reviewing the incident to determine whether enforcement action is warranted, according to spokeswoman Michelle Banks.

The Karnes County incident comes on the heels of a similar episode in neighboring Wilson County. In that incident, Amber Lyssy, who runs an organic farm with her husband, came upon a tanker truck stopped in the middle of the dirt road near her home outside of Poth, Texas, last January.

Lyssy described seeing a brownish colored fluid with a strong diesel odor.

“It was gushing out and pooling on the road,” she said in an interview.

Lyssy hurried home to drop off her children and alert her husband and dinner guests to what was happening. She returned with a friend but the tanker was gone. She scooped up a sample of the fluid in a canning jar and alerted law enforcement authorities and county officials.

“It was just pooh-poohed away,” Lyssy said.

Photo: danielfoster437 via Flickr