Tag Archives: WildEarth Guardians

Massive Fracking Explosion in New Mexico, 36 Oil Tanks Catch Fire

Repost from EcoWatch
[Editor: More coverage: KRQE 13 News Albuquerque, and KOAT 7 News Albuquerque.  – RS]

Massive Fracking Explosion in New Mexico, 36 Oil Tanks Catch Fire

By Lorraine Chow, Jul 13, 2016

This week—as thousands of Americans urge awareness to the destruction caused by oil bomb trains—an oil field in San Juan County, New Mexico erupted in flames Monday night, highlighting the continued and increasing dangers of the fossil fuel industry.

The fire broke out around 10:15 p.m. Monday at a fracking site owned and operated by WPX Energy, setting off several explosions and temporarily closing the nearby Highway 550. Fifty-five local residents were forced out of their homes.

A photo of the fire before emergency response arrived on site.Kendra Pinto

The site—located in the Mancos shale deposit area and known as the 550 Corridor and a part of Greater Chaco Canyon—contains six new oil wells and 30 temporary oil storage tanks holding either oil or produced water. All 36 storage tanks caught fire and burned, the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based energy company said.

The site was still smoldering last night and, now, “only 7 of 36 tanks at production site on fire this morning,” the company tweeted.

“The fire is being allowed to burn itself out due to the intensity of the heat, the number of oil tanks involved and to contain petroleum fluids on WPX’s five-acre site, predominantly in the storage tankage,” WPX said.

According to Albuquerque news station KOAT, WPX stopped drilling for natural gas and oil in the area last May. The company had been producing for about a week before the fire broke out.

The cause of the fire is currently unclear. “We think that in the next couple of weeks to months, we will have that information and will be able to share that with the public,” WPX San Juan Asset Team manager, Heather Riley, told the news station.

There were no reported injuries or damage to nearby property. Most of the evacuees have returned home but 10 families are still lodged in a hotel, The Farmington Daily Times reported.

Environmental advocates are speaking out about the explosion.

“The site that exploded is a brand new facility that consists of six wells drilled to shale formations that have never been adequately analyzed for impacts and safety concerns.” Mike Eisenfeld, the Energy and Climate Program manager at the San Juan Citizens Alliance, told EcoWatch in an email.

WPX was given approval to develop the site from the New Mexico Oil Conservation Division in September. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Farmington Field Office gave final approval to drill the land in December.

“In a leap before looking scenario, the federal Bureau of Land Management in Farmington, New Mexico has allowed WPX to proceed with these shale facilities discounting the inherent danger that has now become clear with the explosion,” Eisenfeld said.

“This highlights the failure to have adequate safeguards in place to protect local communities and also raises serious questions about chemicals and toxicity associated with the explosion. Emergency response for this explosion was hours away. A thorough investigation is necessary. There should be a moratorium on these new wells until BLM completes a legally proficient Resource Management Plan Amendment/Environmental Impact Statement for the Mancos Shale/Gallup formations.”

The New Mexico environmental non-profit WildEarth Guardians noted in a statement to EcoWatch that the BLM Farmington Field Office has leased more than 90 percent of the lands it oversees to oil and gas companies and plans to auction off additional acres for fracking during the January 2017 lease sale. The office manages a total of 1.8 million acres of public land.

“Enough is enough,” Kendra Pinto, counselor chapter outreach intern, said. “It seems like every month we see more wells here, and things are going to get worse if the drilling doesn’t stop. At this rate, what will be left here for our children? The land has changed.”

WPX Energy has invested millions to drill into the tight shale formations in the San Juan Basin. The company has put in at least $160 million in developing oil plays in 2014 on its 60,000 leased acres, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported.

The rise of hydraulic fracturing has aided a U.S. energy boom but the environmental impact of the technology is under intense dispute, from polluting drinking water to earthquakes. Last year, WPX Energy itself came under scrutiny for failing to disclose how it is managing its impacts on communities and the local environment with its fracking operations.

“WPX Energy scored near the bottom of the industry in a recent scorecard report published by investors benchmarking 35 companies on their disclosed efforts to mitigate key impacts, and has faced controversy in the past over allegations that it irreparably contaminated local drinking water in Pennsylvania,” the advisory firm Green Century Funds wrote.

WPX Energy has defended its operations and even helped produce a glossy 26-minute documentary, Down Deep, as a way of “spreading the message that fracking is safe and necessary for the U.S. energy future,” Tulsa World wrote of the film.

Still, as WildEarth Guardians pointed out, the recent oil field explosion in San Juan serves as a sobering reminder of the urgent need to build safe, clean renewable energy in place of fossil fuels.

“I know people want jobs,” Samuel Sage, Wildlife Guardians counselor chapter community services coordinator, said. “But why must they come at the expense of our air, water, and climate? Many other places are building clean energy generation and creating well-paying jobs in the process. That is our future, not this dirty industry.”

“Unfortunately, this may be the tip of the iceberg,” Rebecca Sobel, senior climate and energy campaigner at WildEarth Guardians, said. “The Obama Administration has already leased more than 10 million acres of public land to oil and gas drilling, and BLM continues to lease more land in New Mexico to fracking interests without studying these impacts. How many more explosions and evacuations will it take before we seriously consider the cost of these dirty fossil fuel industries and simply end this leasing program?”

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    ‘Keep It in the Ground’ Win: Utah Oil and Gas Auction Halted

    Repost from the Center For Biological Diversity
    [Editor: sign their petition .  – RS]

    BLM postpones Utah auction to ‘accommodate’ climate activists

    By Phil Taylor, E and E News, November 17, 2015

    About the CenterThe Bureau of Land Management late last night announced it is postponing today’s scheduled oil and gas lease sale in Salt Lake City to appease activists who are fighting to keep those minerals in the ground.

    BLM had planned to lease up to 37,580 acres scattered around the center of the Beehive State for future oil and gas development, but the agency said it needed more time to “better accommodate the high level of public interest in attending the sale.”

    It marks the first time that the “Keep it in the Ground” climate movement — which seeks to end the sale of federally owned oil, gas and coal — has disrupted a BLM lease auction.

    BLM said it intends to reschedule the sale in the “near future.”

    “As a public agency, we understand the importance of transparency,” said BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall. “Given the large interest, we chose to postpone the sale and will be working to find the best way to accommodate the public and those who wish to attend and participate in the auction when it is held.”

    It was the third consecutive BLM lease sale to be confronted by climate protesters who believe the burning of federally owned fossil fuels will undermine the nation’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

    Roughly 50 people gathered last week outside BLM’s Colorado headquarters in Lakewood to protest the agency’s sale of 90,000 acres in the Pawnee National Grassland, according to the Western Energy Alliance.

    BLM moved forward with that auction, selling 106 parcels covering 83,534 acres for $5 million.

    Protesters also demonstrated outside a Nov. 3 lease sale in Wyoming.

    Crandall said there was not enough room in BLM’s downtown Salt Lake City auction room to accommodate members of the public who wanted to attend. The room is about 28 feet wide by 60 feet long and also has to accommodate up to 30 bidders and reporters, she said.

    BLM planned to live-stream the auction, but many activists insisted on attending in person, she said.

    The “Keep it in the Ground” campaign is backed by some major environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and is buoyed in Congress by legislation from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) that would end new leasing and renewals of nonproducing federal leases for oil, coal and gas.

    The movement is riding the momentum of President Obama’s recent rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline and Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s decision to abandon oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean. It now seeks to stop BLM from leasing fossil fuels in the West and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management from opening the Atlantic Ocean to offshore drilling.

    In Salt Lake City this morning, roughly 40 activists displayed theatrical bidding paddles, held up photos of their grandkids and sang folk songs including John Prine’s “Paradise,” according to Tim Ream, an organizer from WildEarth Guardians who is based in San Francisco and attended this morning’s protest. Organizing groups included WildEarth, the Center for Biological Diversity, Women’s Congress for Future Generations, 350.org, the Rainforest Action Network and Elders Rising for Intergenerational Justice.

    Ream said BLM informed him last week that some members of the public would be turned back from the auction room regardless of whether there was space. This morning’s protest was led primarily by older activists who had no intention of disrupting the sale, he said.

    “They wanted to touch the hearts of those who are selling and buying our public lands,” he said. “They realized two years in prison is too high a price.”

    Ream was referring to the two-year prison sentence handed down in 2011 to activist Tim DeChristopher for his decision to pose as a bidder at a BLM lease sale in Utah in late 2008 and snatch up $1.8 million in leases with no intention of paying for them.

    Vaughn Lovejoy of the group Elders Rising was among those who attended this morning’s rally.

    “We’d like to see if there’s a way to inspire my generation … to spend this piece of our life doing something for the future rather than hanging out on cruise ships or golf courses,” he said.

    Ream said activists will also stage protests at BLM’s upcoming oil and gas lease sales in Reno, Nev., on Dec. 8 and in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 10. “We’re going to keep on hitting every one of these lease sales,” he said.

    The American Petroleum Institute has criticized the movement and Merkley’s legislation as a “political stunt,” warning that halting federal sales of fossil fuels would hike energy costs and hurt the federal government’s coffers.

    The Mineral Leasing Act requires BLM to hold regular oil and gas auctions.

    Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs at the Western Energy Alliance, whose members depend heavily on public lands leasing, said this morning that the Salt Lake City protesters are ignoring how increased production of natural gas has helped the nation transition away from coal that is more harmful to the climate when burned.

    “Apparently, BLM is seeking a larger venue to accommodate the expected crowd of protesters whose goal is to disrupt the sale,” she said. “These same professional protesters bragged that they were traveling to other lease sales to try to disrupt them, but they’re on a fool’s errand.”

    Sgamma noted that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has rebuffed the “Keep it in the Ground” movement as unrealistic.

    “There are millions of jobs around the country that are dependent on these industries, and you can’t just cut it off overnight,” Jewell said in September during a breakfast organized by The Christian Science Monitor (Greenwire, Sept. 15).

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