Tag Archives: Public Health

Mr. Governor, kill the oil ‘watchdog’ – Tom Hayden on California’s pathetic fracking regulator

Repost from The San Francisco Chronicle

Watchdog or lapdog of Big Oil?

By Tom Hayden, April 24, 2015 4:32pm
LOST HILLS, CA - MARCH 24:  The sun rises over an oil field over the Monterey Shale formation where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is on the verge of a boom on March 24, 2014 near Lost Hills, California. Critics of fracking in California cite concerns over water usage and possible chemical pollution of ground water sources as California farmers are forced to leave unprecedented expanses of fields fallow in one of the worst droughts in California history. Concerns also include the possibility of earthquakes triggered by the fracking process which injects water, sand and various chemicals under high pressure into the ground to break the rock to release oil and gas for extraction though a well. The 800-mile-long San Andreas Fault runs north and south on the western side of the Monterey Formation in the Central Valley and is thought to be the most dangerous fault in the nation. Proponents of the fracking boom saying that the expansion of petroleum extraction is good for the economy and security by developing more domestic energy sources and increasing gas and oil exports.   (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images) Photo: David McNew, Getty Images
LOST HILLS, CA – MARCH 24: The sun rises over an oil field over the Monterey Shale formation where gas and oil extraction using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is on the verge of a boom on March 24, 2014 near Lost Hills, California. Critics of fracking in California cite concerns over water usage and possible chemical pollution of ground water sources as California farmers are forced to leave unprecedented expanses of fields fallow in one of the worst droughts in California history. Concerns also include the possibility of earthquakes triggered by the fracking process which injects water, sand and various chemicals under high pressure into the ground to break the rock to release oil and gas for extraction though a well. The 800-mile-long San Andreas Fault runs north and south on the western side of the Monterey Formation in the Central Valley and is thought to be the most dangerous fault in the nation. Proponents of the fracking boom saying that the expansion of petroleum extraction is good for the economy and security by developing more domestic energy sources and increasing gas and oil exports. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)

Jerry Brown perhaps should put his DOGGR to sleep. Not his family dog, Sutter, but DOGGR — the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources — the 100-year-old agency that’s been handing out permits for drilling in the Central Valley without records, oversight or enforcement of 21st century environmental laws.

The agency was created prior to Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel, “Oil!,” on which Daniel Day-Lewis’ 2007 film, “There Will Be Blood,” was based. Oil was to California what cotton was to Mississippi, a booming industry based on subsistence labor, migration, racism, vigilantism, and government officials looking the other way.

Oil wells in the Midway-Sunset oil field in Fellows (Kern County). Monterey Shale, largely untouched territory near Midway-Sunset, could represent the future of California's oil industry and a potential arena for conflict between drillers and the state’s powerful environmental interests. Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times
Oil wells in the Midway-Sunset oil field in Fellows (Kern County). Monterey Shale, largely untouched territory near Midway-Sunset, could represent the future of California’s oil industry and a potential arena for conflict between drillers and the state’s powerful environmental interests. Photo: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Times change but slowly. Current Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, who says Kern ought to be a county in Arizona, opposes President Obama’s immigrant-rights policy. There are an estimated 66,000 undocumented immigrants in Kern County, whose population is majority Latino. More than 22 percent of its people live below the poverty line, 69 percent of them within one mile of an oil well.

The barren place is a bit like Mississippi in the ’60s, powerful enough to defy progressive norms or laws on the national level. The federal government in 1982 transferred its power to California to monitor and regulate the 42,000 injection wells that dump toxic waste fluids into groundwater. That monitoring didn’t happen, a lapse that the feds say is shocking. The human carcinogen benzene has been detected in fracking wastewater at levels 700 times over federal safety standards. Health impact studies are inadequate, but Kern community hospital managers say the county has one of the highest cancer rates in the country, which is expected to double in 10 years.

How did it happen that the Obama Environmental Protection Agency is pushing the Jerry Brown EPA to comply with modern environmental law? The same Gov. Jerry Brown signed that 1982 agreement, giving Big Oil an opportunity to oversee itself. Those were the days when President Ronald Reagan’s Anne Gorsuch ran the federal EPA, perhaps convincing California that it could do a better job.

As a result of the 1982 transfer, the feds say California has failed at oversight and record-keeping. With the feds watching, the state has two years to implement a meaningful monitoring plan.

Brown has tried to fix the problem, which undercuts his claim that drilling and controversial fracking can be addressed by beefed up regulations instead of a moratorium on fracking that most environmentalists want. He has added more professional staff to DOGGR and installed a new director, Steve Bohlen, who promises to clean up the place. Since last summer, the agency has shut down 23 injection wells out of 2,500.

The preference of one experienced state official is to peel back DOGGR, move it to Cal EPA and turning it into a real regulatory agency instead of a lapdog for the oil industry. But Brown officials prefer the uphill task of reforming DOGGR from within, and have signaled they will veto any bill that brings the agency under state EPA jurisdiction. The Legislature is going along with his incremental approach, so far.

The task will be daunting. The DOGGR mandate has been to drill, baby, drill, says state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara. DOGGR’s legal mandate calls for “increasing the ultimate recovery of underground hydrocarbons,” not determining whether drilling or fracking are sustainable and safe for aquifers or human health. Her SB545 is still a work in progress, however. It stops the archaic custom of drilling permits being obtained and accepted without any written approvals or findings, which upsets the feds and shuts out the public. Until recently, an oil company simply gave notice of its intent to drill and was entitled to proceed unless the agency said no in writing within 10 days. Under Jackson’s bill, an application to drill will require written approval, and the paperwork will be posted on the DOGGR website. In addition, the bill will limit the Kern custom of keeping records about chemicals and water impacts confidential, even when a well has gone into production.

However, the bill’s language makes oversight optional by saying that DOGGR “may” require an operator to implement a monitoring plan. Decision-making power is devolved to the division district deputy in Kern, which is like expecting a Mississippi sheriff to carry out federal law in 1964 — or the present Kern sheriff to enforce immigration law today. Nor does the bill give the state EPA or health experts any shared authority in the permitting process.

Well derricks crowd the Kern River oil field in Bakersfield in 1912. Photo: Chevron, SFC
Well derricks crowd the Kern River oil field in Bakersfield in 1912. Photo: Chevron, SFC

At the heart of the scandal is the historic power of Big Oil against the emergence of California’s clean-energy economy with its priorities of renewable resources and efficiency. The Democratic majority in Sacramento is hobbled by a pro-drilling contingent, led by Republicans with a number of Central Valley Democrats. The oil lobby spent $9 million in 2014 in a failed attempt to exempt themselves from the state’s cap-and-trade law. The effort was led by Assemblyman Henry Perea, D-Fresno, along with 16 Democratic legislators. In a more striking example, state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, left his seat in 2013 to begin lobbying for Chevron, one of the major firms along with Occidental Petroleum operating in Kern’s oil fields. The oil lobby is spending large sums to cultivate friendly Democratic candidates and underwrite advertising campaigns warning of a “hidden gas tax” if their privileges are threatened.

Many Sacramento insiders believe that Brown has made concessions to Big Oil in order to protect his considerable progress toward clean-energy goals while not confronting the industry the way he took on the nuclear lobby in the ’70s. That’s understandable, if it works. Now, however, his regulatory reputation needs rebuilding. What if his DOGGR won’t hunt? What if it’s beyond reform? What will the governor and Legislature do if facing open defiance from the powers that be in Kern on a range of issues from clean air and water to the protection of children’s health to environmental justice? With the drought on everyone’s mind, can he allow the state’s aquifers to be threatened by the carcinogenic wastewater of oil production?

The DOGGR scandal drills deeply into the foundations on which state politics are built.

Tom Hayden writes, speaks and consults on climate politics and serves on the editorial board of the Nation. His latest book is “Listen Yankee!: Why Cuba Matters.” (Seven Stories Press, 2015).

Proposed new pipeline: Both pipelines, trains too risky for tarsands oil

Repost from The Leader-Post, Regina, Saskatchewan
[Editor:  See also, Huffington Post: “Nearly 300 Pipeline Spills In North Dakota Have Gone Unreported To The Public Since January 2012.”  – RS]

Pipelines, trains risky for oil

By Florence Stratton, April 24, 2015

TransCanada is promoting Energy East (April 20 commentary), a pipeline that will cut through Harbour Landing in Regina.

Using an old natural gas pipeline for the Saskatchewan portion, Energy East will transport 175 million litres of tarsands oil per day from Alberta to Eastern Canada, mainly for export.

TransCanada claims its pipelines are safe, but in its initial year of operation, TransCanada’s first Keystone pipeline, constructed in 2010, had 12 spills, including one that dumped 79,493 litres of oil in North Dakota. [Editor: See Wall Street Journal report.  Also ClimateProgress.]

Energy East is especially risky. The Saskatchewan section of the pipeline is 43 years old and was constructed to carry natural gas, not tarsands oil, a thicker substance requiring higher pumping pressure.

Should Energy East be approved, the question is not if, but when there will be pipeline leaks and spills. What happened in North Dakota could happen right in Regina.

TransCanada also claims that pipeline transport of oil is safer than rail transport. In truth, both are safety hazards.

Moreover, both modes of transport facilitate the expansion of tarsands production, an environmental hazard. Indeed, climate scientists warn that, if we are to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we must leave at least 80 per cent of tarsands oil in the ground.

Citizen safety, health, and welfare must take precedence over corporate profit.

Regina should follow the good example of Toronto and ban the transport of tarsands oil through our city by rail or pipeline.

Florence Stratton, Regina

Federal Fracking Ban Re-introduced: Protect Our Public Lands Act, H.R. 1902

Press release, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
[Editor: Food & Water Watch supports the bill with a petition here.  “We know that this is just a first step — that in this political climate it seems like it’s nearly impossible to move things forward — but together we can build momentum to protect the lands that are such an important part of our country.”  – RS]

On Earth Day Pocan and Schakowsky Introduce Strongest Federal Fracking Ban in the U.S.

WASHINGTON, DC — On Earth Day, U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), members of the Safe Climate Caucus, introduced the Protect Our Public Lands Act, H.R. 1902. The legislation is the strongest anti-fracking bill introduced in Congress to date and would ban fracking on public lands.

“Our national parks, forests and public lands are some of our most treasured places and need to be protected for future generations,” said Rep. Mark Pocan. “It is clear fracking has a detrimental impact on the environment and there are serious safety concerns associated with these type of wells. Until we fully understand the effects, the only way to avoid these risks is to halt fracking entirely. We should not allow short-term economic gain to harm our public lands, damage our communities or endanger workers.”

“Today is Earth Day – a time to renew our commitment to protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the planet we all call home,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky. ‘Our public lands have been preserved and protected by the federal government for over one hundred years.  We owe it to future generations to maintain their natural beauty and rich biodiversity.  I believe the only way to do that is to enact the Protect Our Public Lands Act, and I will continue to fight to see that happen.”

“Our public lands are a shared national heritage, and shouldn’t be polluted, destroyed, and fracked to enrich the oil and gas industry,” said Wenonah Hauter, Executive Director of Food & Water Watch. “Ironically, the President is speaking in the Everglades today, a unique and fragile ecosystem that is threatened by nearby fracking on public land. Congress must follow Congressman Pocan and Congresswoman Schakowsky’s bold leadership and ban fracking on these lands, so that future generations can enjoy these special places.”

Mounting evidence shows that fracking threatens our air, water and public health. To make matters worse, reports have shown that existing fracking wells on public lands aren’t being adequately inspected, creating even more potential for disastrous accidents. Right now, about 90 percent of federally managed lands are available for oil and gas leasing, while only 10 percent are reserved for conservation, recreation, wildlife and cultural heritage.

The Protect our Public Lands Act, H.R. 1902 prohibits fracking, the use of fracking fluid, and acidization for the extraction of oil and gas on public lands for any lease issued, renewed, or readjusted. The legislation is endorsed by the Food and Water Watch, the American Sustainable Business Council, Environment America, Friends of the Earth, Center for Biological Diversity, Progressive Democrats of America.

Report: public health in Lac-Mégantic after train derailment and explosion

Repost from CBC News

Lac-Mégantic disaster by the numbers: Catalogue of a tragedy

54% of town’s residents suffered from depression, PTSD after explosion: health report

Jan 28, 2015

A report into the health effects of the Lac-Mégantic, Que., train derailment and explosion indicates people living there are four times more likely to drink to excess following the disaster.

Two-thirds of the 800 people studied suffered human loss, and over half experienced negative feelings such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Marie-Claude Arguin, the town’s deputy manager, said children are among those still showing signs of PTSD, including trouble sleeping and hyper-vigilance.

“Essentially, children have taken care of their parents in the last year,” she said.

“They don’t have all the fears and worries that adults have … But they’ve seen the images, they’ve seen friends losing their parents, they’re living it.”

Lac-Mégantic Mayor Mayor Colette Roy Laroche
Lac-Mégantic Mayor Colette Roy Laroche says the town’s residents will need long-term support to cope with life after the tragedy. (CBC)

She said the community needs a firm commitment that help will continue, and hopes part of the assistance will be devoted to further studies on the population.

In July 2013, a freight train carrying 72 cars of oil derailed and exploded in the centre of Lac-Mégantic.

The explosion killed 47 people, and hundreds of thousands of litres of oil spilled into the Chaudière River as a consequence of the derailment.

Lac-Mégantic Mayor Colette Roy-Laroche said Wednesday the recovery period will be extensive for residents.

In the direct aftermath of the tragedy, resources were rushed in to meet the town’s immediate needs and its citizens were well cared for, she said.

The fear, she said, is that those services may not be there in the longer term. She urged officials to recognize ongoing mental-health support residents will require.

Human and material losses

Estrie public health director Dr. Mélissa Généreux, public health specialist Dr. Geneviève Petit and Danielle Maltais, an expert on the health consequences of major disasters, presented their findings on Wednesday morning in Sherbrooke, Que.

Généreux explained that following the tragedy, residents in the Granit MRC (regional county municipality) experienced a greater sense of belonging and community than people living elsewhere in the Eastern Townships.

​Interviews with 800 residents of the Granit MRC found:

  • 64 per cent had a human loss (fear for their lives or that of a loved one, was injured, etc.).
  • 23 per cent had a material loss.
  • 54 per cent had a negative perception (depression, post-traumatic stress, etc.).
  • 17 per cent of people had an “intense exposure” (e.g. experienced all three of the above).

Généreux, Petit and Maltais commended the fact that medical and psychological resources were quickly deployed to the area after the blast.

Still, it could take years for the mental-health issues stemming from the disaster to subside, said Maltais, a researcher and professor at the University of Chicoutimi.

The public health officials convened in Sherbrooke said the tragedy will have lasting effects on the community for years, particularly because it was due to human negligence.

Arguin said more research is needed to ensure the younger generation is also taken care of, adding it’s hard to know how to handle this type of trauma because there’s no precedent.

“It hasn’t even involved children and teenagers, which is the future of our community,” Arguin said. “And they have been affected just as much.”

In October, a coroner ruled that the deaths in Lac-Mégantic were violent and avoidable.

Three people have each been charged with 47 counts of criminal negligence causing death.

Other numbers from the Lac-Mégantic public health report:

  • 27 children were orphaned (either lost one or both parents).
  • 621 people sought help from the centre set up for homeless and people affected by explosion.
  • 44 buildings were destroyed.
  • 169 people became homeless.
  • 150 psycho-social counsellors deployed to region in wake of explosion.
  • 57,000 square metres of Lac-Mégantic downtown completely burned.
  • 5,560,000 litres of crude oil released into the environment.
    558,000 metric tonnes of contaminated soil to treat.
  • 740,000 litres of crude oil recovered from train cars that did not explode.