Tag Archives: Methane

Emergency Moratorium Stops All Unrefined Oil, Coal, and LNG Export Infrastructure Projects in Whatcom County, WA

Repost from the Bellingham Herald
[Editor: Here is the Whatcom County ordinance.  See also Eddie Scher’s statement from STAND.  – RS]

Whatcom County puts new unrefined fossil fuel exports on hold

By Samantha Wohlfeil, August 10, 2016
[NOTE from your Benicia Independent Editor: The Bellingham Herald story inserts a video here, which amounts to a 2-minute public relations piece for BP Cherry Point with no apparent relation to the story about Whatcom County’s August 9 emergency action. Regardless, the video is an interesting look at an industry attempt at reassuring the public that oil trains are safe. I am choosing NOT to embed this commercial video here. View it at the Bellingham Herald.]

BELLINGHAM  >  No new applications to ship unrefined fossil fuel through Cherry Point can be approved for at least the next two months after Whatcom County Council passed an emergency moratorium Tuesday night, Aug. 9.

The council unanimously passed the moratorium to address concerns about potential public health and safety risks that could come with the increased transportation of unrefined fossil fuels, such as crude oil traveling by rail through the county to two refineries at Cherry Point.

The moratorium does not impact the current refining and shipment of products through the BP Cherry Point and Phillips 66 refineries.

In July, the council directed the Planning Commission to study changes to the county’s 20-year Comprehensive Plan that could prevent any future export of unrefined fossil fuels from Cherry Point.

The council gave the commission until January to take testimony, study the issue, and make a recommendation on whether the changes should be made.

Until Tuesday night, the question of whether new applications for exports might be submitted in the meantime, in order to get ahead of any ban, was still up in the air.

In December 2015, Congress lifted a 40-year ban on exporting domestic crude oil to other countries. That created a concern for some that local refineries could shift to shipping unrefined materials abroad, eliminating local refinery jobs.

Effective immediately, the emergency moratorium prohibits the filing and acceptance of applications for county permits for new or expanded facilities that would facilitate the increased shipment of unrefined fossil fuels out of Cherry Point.

It defines unrefined fossil fuels as including, but not limited to, “all forms of crude oil whether stabilized or not; raw bitumen, diluted bitumen, or syncrude; coal; methane, propane, butane and other ‘natural gas’ in liquid or gaseous formats; and condensate.”

Environmental groups lauded the council’s move.

“It shows bold leadership that protects our community and responds to concerns that have been expressed by thousands of people throughout this process about the dangerous risks that coal, crude oil and natural gas exports pose to public health and safety in Whatcom County,” said Matt Petryni, clean energy program manager for RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. RE Sources was one of several environmental organizations rallying people to comment on the proposed unrefined fossil fuel export ban.

Alex Ramel, field director for Stand’s Extreme Oil Campaign, said the moratorium showed Whatcom County was ahead of the curve in policy making.

“This is nation-leading and proactive that the council acted to protect the community from unrefined fossil fuel transport,” Ramel said.

Council members specifically wanted to ensure the moratorium and its wording recognize the positive impact existing industry and the refineries have on the community.

“I find the moratorium helpful. I particularly find it helpful because of the discussion that differentiates between raw materials like crude oil and finished products,” said Steve Garey, a former refinery worker and union president who represented workers at the refineries in Anacortes.

Earlier in the evening, when the council was taking public comment on the rest of the Comprehensive Plan update, Garey told the council that when refineries are converted into exporting facilities, most of the workers lose their jobs.

“It’s important to recognize that refineries need to move finished products, but none of us would be served if they were to shut those plants down and export crude oil,” Garey said in an interview after the moratorium was passed.

The council must hold a public hearing on the emergency moratorium within 60 days. After that, an interim emergency moratorium could be put in place for up to six months, which would allow enough time for the Planning Commission to make its recommendation in January, council member Carl Weimer said. Weimer is the member who first proposed the changes.

“That was key,” Weimer said. “I was scratching my head about whether I was going to support the whole comp plan because I felt we should support the Cherry Point amendments, but I’m fine with passing it while we have this protection in place.”

Brad Owens, president of the Northwest Jobs Alliance, said the moratorium was premature.

“The public deserves their due process through the Planning Commission, and pending the outcome of the Planning Commission’s evaluation, the council should respond accordingly,” Owens said.

The moratorium states that under the Washington State Constitution, the county has authority to provide regulation of land uses within the county.

The council also “recognizes the limits to its authority over transportation of certain goods imposed by federal statutes and the U.S. Constitution, and finds that this action is within its authority.”

If any part of the moratorium is found to be unconstitutional or invalid by a court, the rest of it will remain in effect, the ordinance states.

This story was updated at 10:05 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2016.
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    Want proof that fracking endangers residential well water?

    Repost from DeSmog Blog

    Exclusive: Pennsylvania Family Dealing with Water Contamination Linked to Fracking Industry

    The Chichura family has flammable well water, most likely due to a fracking job gone wrong in Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna County. Their water well, along with those of four of their neighbors, was allegedly contaminated with methane in the fall of 2011, shortly after Cabot Oil started drilling operations near their home.

    The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) confirmed the Chichuras had methane in their water on September 21, 2011, and advised them to equip their well with a working vent to avoid a possible ignition.

    The contamination of wells is not an anomaly. The DEP identified 245 sites potentially contaminated by the fracking industry between 2008 and 2014.  …(continued)

    Repost from DeSmog Blog

    Texas Family’s Water Well Explodes, Burns 4-Year Old, Father and Grandfather — and Fracking to Blame, Lawsuit Alleges

    A family in Texas, including a four-year old, her parents and her grandfather, were severely burned when their water well ignited into a massive fireball after methane from nearby fracked wells contaminated their water supply, a newly filed lawsuit against EOG Resources and several related companies alleges.

    Cody Murray, a 38-year old who previously worked in the oil and gas industry, suffered burns to his face, arms, neck and back that were so severe that he was left permanently disabled, no longer able to drive because the nerve damage has left him unable to grip steering wheels or other objects. Cody’s young daughter, who was over 20 feet away from the pump house when it ignited, suffered first and second degree burns, as did Jim Murray, Cody’s father.

    The cause of the blast? Nearby fracked wells, the lawsuit alleges.  …(continued)

     

     

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      IMMEDIATE BAN ON DOT-111 tank cars: Crude-By-Rail Safety Act

      From Rep. Mike Thompson’s website
      [Editor:  Read the bill on Rep. McDermott’s website.  Track the bill on GovTrac.us.   Authenticated version of the bill is here.    HIGHLY SIGNIFICANT:  Sec. 4. Requires the Secretary of Transportation to immediately prohibit the shipment of oil in all DOT-111 tank cars, and unjacketed CPC-1232 cars.  Allows jacketed CPC-1232 cars to remain in service.  Requires the Secretary of Transportation to prohibit, after 2 years, the shipment of ethanol in all DOT-111 tank cars, and unjacketed CPC-1232 cars.  Allows jacketed CPC-1232 cars to remain in service.  – RS]

      THOMPSON INTRODUCES CRUDE-BY-RAIL SAFETY ACT

      Apr 15, 2015, Press Release

      WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-5) today co-authored and introduced the Crude-by-Rail Safety Act which establishes comprehensive new safety and security standards for the transport of crude oil by rail. The legislation is designed to help protect communities along the nation’s railway networks. The legislation comes amid growing concerns that current standards do not address the threat posed by transporting crude oil by rail. Representatives Jim McDermott (WA-7), Doris Matsui (CA-6) and Ron Kind (WI-3), and Nita Lowey (NY-17) introduced the legislation with Thompson.

      “Public safety is priority number one when it comes to transporting highly volatile crude oil,” said Thompson. “Railcars transporting crude run through the heart of our communities, and as recent accidents have demonstrated, robust, comprehensive action is needed. The bill introduced today  puts safety measures in place that will help make sure communities are secure, railcars are as strong as possible, and first responders are prepared in the event of an emergency.”

      In recent months, the large growth in crude-by-rail transport has led to increased rail traffic and a rise in rail accidents. Four derailments in the US and Canada in under a month earlier this year underscored the urgency of action to curb the risks of transporting volatile crude oil. The legislation introduced today will increase safety standards and accountability.

      The Crude-by-Rail Safety Act would establish new, commonsense federal safety standards for railcars transporting oil across the country.  This legislation:

      • Establishes a maximum volatility standard for crude oil (propane, butane, methane, and ethane) transported by rail
      • Prohibits use of unsafe DOT-111 tank cars, including the removal of 37,700 unsafe cars off the rail network
      • Establishes the strongest tank car standards to-date
      • Requires comprehensive oil spill response planning and studies
      • Increases fines for violating volatility standards and hazmat transport standards
      • Requires disclosure of train movements through communities and emergency response plans
      • Requires railroads to implement a confidential close-call reporting systems

      Congressman Mike Thompson is proud to represent California’s 5th Congressional District, which includes all or part of Contra Costa, Lake, Napa, Solano and Sonoma Counties.  He is a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Thompson is also a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition and chairs the bipartisan, bicameral Congressional Wine Caucus.

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        Shale Oil Drillers Deliberately Wasted Nearly $1 Billion in Gas, Harming Climate

        Repost from Desmogblog

        Shale Oil Drillers Deliberately Wasted Nearly $1 Billion in Gas, Harming Climate

        2014-09-04, by Sharon Kelly

        In Texas and North Dakota, where an oil rush triggered by the development of new fracking methods has taken many towns by storm, drillers have run into a major problem.

        While their shale wells extract valuable oil, natural gas also rises from the wells alongside that oil. That gas could be sold for use for electrical power plants or to heat homes, but it is harder to transport from the well to customers than oil. Oil can be shipped via truck, rail or pipe, but the only practical way to ship gas is by pipeline, and new pipelines are expensive, often costing more to construct than the gas itself can be sold for.

        So, instead of losing money on pipeline construction, many shale oil drillers have decided to simply burn the gas from their wells off, a process known in the industry as “flaring.”

        It’s a process so wasteful that it’s sparked class action lawsuits from landowners, who say they’ve lost millions of dollars worth of gas due to flaring. Some of the air emissions from flared wells can also be toxic or carcinogenic. It’s also destructive for the climate – natural gas is made primarily of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and when methane burns, it produces more than half as much CO2 as burning coal.

        Much of the research into the climate change impact the nation’s fracking rush – now over a decade long – has focused on methane leaks from shale gas wells, where drillers are deliberately aiming to produce natural gas. The climate change impacts of shale oil drilling have drawn less attention from researchers and regulators alike.

        A new report from Earthworks finds that drillers in North Dakota alone have burned off over $854 million worth of gas at shale oil wells since 2010, generating 1.4 billion pounds of CO2 in 2013 alone. The 1.4 billion pounds of CO2 produced by flaring equal the emissions from 1.1 million cars or light trucks – roughly an extra 10 cars’ worth of emissions per year for every man, woman and child living in the state’s largest city, Fargo (population 113,000).

        Flaring at shale oil wells is now so common that satellite images of the largely rural state at night are dotted with what appear at first to be major metropolises but are instead the flares burning round-the-clock in the Bakken shale drilling patch.

        But while the highly visible flaring in North Dakota has drawn the most media attention, the practice is on the rise in Texas, particularly in the state’s Eagle Ford shale.

        “The Eagle Ford produces considerably more natural gas than the Bakken,” Earthworks noted. “In June 2014, the Eagle Ford Shale produced seven billion cubic feet per day, while the Bakken produced 1.3 billion cubic feet per day.”

        In 2013, nearly a third of the gas in North Dakota’s Bakken was flared – but the numbers coming from Texas seem a bit more murky, in part because unlike North Dakota, Texas does not tax flared gas and – according to a new four-part investigative report by the region’s newspaper – the state has failed to track or control flaring adequately.

        The year-long investigation by the San Antionio Express-News recently uncovered striking problems with the regulation of flaring in Texas, including:

        • Texas law forbids drillers to flare past 10 days without a permit – but out of the twenty wells that had flared the most gas in the state, the paper discovered that 7 had never obtained required permits. State law calls for fines of up to $10,000 a day for flaring violations, but regulators have issued a total of less than $132,000 in fines in the Eagle Ford since the boom began, despite over 150 “possible flaring or venting violations” found by state inspectors in the region between 2010 and 2012.
        • Statewide, 33 billion cubic feet of natural gas were flared or vented in 2012 – a 400 percent rise from 2009, when the shale oil rush arrived. The Eagle Ford was responsible for two thirds of the state’s wasted gas in 2012, totaling 21 billion feet for the year. Eagle Ford drillers burned off gas at ten times the combined rate of drillers in the state’s other oil fields.
        • That much gas produces enormous amounts of airborne pollution. “In the early days of the boom, flaring released 427 tons of air pollution each year. By 2012, pollution levels shot up to 15,453 tons, a 3,500 percent increase that exceeds the total emissions of all six oil refineries in Corpus Christi,” the paper wrote. “Moreover, flaring and other oil industry activity in the Eagle Ford released more ozone-creating pollution in the summer of 2012 than two dozen Texas oil refineries.”
        • Despite concerns over how these emissions can affect human health, the state operates just seven air monitoring stations in the region. It can take regulators up to 10 days to arrive to take samples when citizens complain about potentially hazardous fumes.
        • Texas’s environmental agency, the Railroad Commission, is run by a 3-member panel of elected officials. “The three Railroad Commissioners have raised $11 million from campaign donors since 2010,” the paper found. “At least half that money came from employees, lobbyists and lawyers connected to the oil and gas industry, according to campaign finance records.”

        Flaring has angered environmentalists, landowners and even many in the oil and gas industry itself.

        The Railroad Commission is statutorily required ‘to prevent waste of Texas’s natural resources’,” said Earthworks Texas organizer Sharon Wilson. “I don’t see how the Railroad Commission isn’t breaking the law by allowing drillers to waste natural gas by flaring it off rather than capturing it.”

        “Nobody hates flaring more than the oil operator and the royalty owners,” Ron Ness of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, an industry trade group, told Reuters last year. “We all understand that the flaring is an economic waste.”

        But the problem is projected to get worse not better. An environmental report from the Alamo Area Council of Governments predicted that by 2018, emissions of volatile organic compounds – which the EPA warns can have “short- and long-term adverse health effects” – could quadruple in the Eagle Ford.

        Nonetheless, the EPA has decided to consider air emissions from each shale well, pipeline compressor or other piece of equipment individually when deciding whether there’s enough pollution for federal regulators to get involved – meaning that even though the Eagle Ford’s wells collectively pollute more than multiple oil refineries, the flaring escapes federal oversight.

        New federal regulations, aimed at cutting down on the release of climate-changing carbon dioxide and methane from the wells and scheduled to go into effect in 2015, will require many drillers to use a process called a “green completion,” rather than flaring the gas or venting it to the atmosphere as raw unburned methane. Green completions can help reduce leaks by up to 99 percent, according to a study by the Environmental Defense Fund that has was heavily touted by the drilling industry and its advocates.

        But those requirements only apply to wells whose purpose is to produce natural gas, not oil. This means the regulations will have little impact on shale wells in Texas’s Eagle Ford, the Express-News pointed out.

        More than 1 million Texans live near the Eagle Ford, some of whom say they have suffered a litany of health effects that they suspect are tied to flaring.

        We went from nice, easy country living to living in a Petri dish,” Mike Cerny, who lives within a mile of 17 oil wells, told the Center for Public Integrity.  “This crap is killing me and my family.”

        There’s a simple way to spot a poorly-performing flare. “If you see a smoking flare that’s not complete combustion,” Neil Carman, a former state scientist who now works with the Sierra Club, told the Express-News. “If it’s not completed, you get a smorgasbord of chemicals.”

        At times, the gas is simply released unburned directly to the atmosphere – a practice labeled “venting” by the industry.

        Texas state regulators fail to distinguish between flaring and venting in their public production database, the newspaper pointed out, making it impossible to know precisely how bad the impacts of the pollution might be.

        Photo Credit: Flaring Natural Gas in North Dakota, via Shutterstock

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