Category Archives: Water quality

DESMOGBLOG: Science advisors tell EPA not to downplay fracking-related water contamination

Repost from DeSmogBlog

EPA’s Science Advisors Tell Agency Not to Downplay Fracking-Related Water Contamination

By Sharon Kelly, August 14, 2016 – 17:12

On Thursday, the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific advisors finished their review of EPA‘s national study on fracking and sternly rebuked the EPA for claiming that its draft study had found no evidence of “widespread, systemic” impacts to drinking water.

The EPA had not provided the evidence to support that claim, the Science Advisory Board (SAB) peer review panel found. The phrase was widely quoted in the press, but appeared only in a press release and the Executive Summary of EPA‘s draft study of the impacts of fracking on drinking water.

Environmentalists challenged EPA‘s summary of the data, arguing that the agency’s conclusion wrongly ignored the thousands of spills, leaks, and other problems described in the body of the draft report.

The science advisory panel, in a letter signed by 26 of the 30 panelists, agreed. “The SAB is concerned that these major findings as presented within the Executive Summary are ambiguous and appear inconsistent with the observations, data, and levels of uncertainty presented and discussed in the body of the draft Assessment Report,” the SAB wrote.

The SAB finds that the EPA did not support quantitatively its conclusion about lack of evidence for widespread, systemic impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources,” the SAB wrote, “and did not clearly describe the system(s) of interest (e.g., groundwater, surface water), the scale of impacts (i.e., local or regional), nor the definitions of ‘systemic’ and ‘widespread.’”

The SAB‘s 180-page letter makes clear that if the Obama administration claims that fracking has not led to “widespread, systemic impacts” to water, it bears the burden of proving that their assessment is actually supported by evidence.

The SAB concludes that if the EPA retains this conclusion, the EPA should provide quantitative analysis that supports its conclusion that hydraulic fracturing has not led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources,” the reviewers wrote.

Environmental advocates welcomed the science panel’s findings as vindication.

EPA didn’t provide/have a scientific basis for its controversial line, and today EPA SAB is calling them out for that,” Dr. Hugh MacMillan, a senior researcher for Food and Water Watch, told DeSmog in an email.

The controversial language from EPA‘s 998-page draft fracking study‘s Executive Summary had said: “We did not find evidence that these mechanisms [which included wastewater spills or treatment problems as well as underground water contamination] have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

The EPA was asked by Congress to investigate fracking’s impacts on drinking water back in 2009.

That “widespread, systemic” language matters beyond headlines. When state and federal regulators decide whether fracking requires regulation or restrictions like bans, it matters enormously whether the EPA says that problems with fracking are severe enough to require action.

“This, of course, goes to the very heart of the issue, because it’s one thing if, occasionally, there have been some unfortunate accidents — but another if there is something inherent to the entire process of unconventional gas development that harms drinking water,” the Washington Post explained in its coverage of the SAB‘s scathing letter.

The EPA‘s study had long been under fire for apparent coziness between researchers and the shale industry. Repeatedly, news outlets obtained drafts of the EPA‘s study plans that showed a powerful industry influence over the study and a steady narrowing of the study’s scope — which would mean that real-world problems would not make it into EPA‘s on-paper review of fracking’s potential hazards.

“'[Y]ou guys are part of the team here,’ one EPA representative wrote to Chesapeake Energy as they together edited study planning documents in October 2013, ‘please write things in as you see fit,’” DeSmog previously reported.

The SAB science advisory panel, which worked for over a year on reviewing EPA‘s draft study, included scientists from academia, government, and the industry. Four of the 30 advisors dissented, writing their own opinion. “While the report could have articulated the agency’s statistical assessment more clearly, there has not been any facts or evidence demonstrating a systemic or widespread impact to existing drinking water resources or other water resources,” the four dissenters wrote.

So what is in the body of EPA‘s study that was left out of its executive summary? DeSmog reviewed and found that the EPA described numerous problems, including the following:

Meanwhile, accidents keep on happening, both above-ground and under, by the hundreds or thousands. One in a dozen spills by drillers wasn’t contained before it hit drinking water sources – and the spills that hit water supplies tended to be much larger spills than those that didn’t (p. 38). Although gas wells are generally depicted as having numerous layers of concrete and steel casings to prevent the gas, wastewater and chemicals inside the well from interacting with the environment outside it, two thirds of wells had no cement along some portions of their bores (p. 275), an EPA review found. And conditions underground, which can leave wells under high pressure, high temperatures or in “corrosive environments” sometimes caused well casings to have “life expectancies” that run out in under a decade (p. 281) – but the oil and gas industry has told investors that shale wells are expected to keep pumping for 30 years or more.

In its letter yesterday, the SAB peer-review panel also took the EPA to task for neglecting some of the nation’s highest-profile cases of water contamination, like Pavillion, WY, Parker County, TX and Dimock, PA. People from those towns whose water was contaminated had testified before the SAB in November, questioning the panel about the EPA‘s apparent decision to ignore what had happened to their communities.

“I feel that the EPA abandoned me,” Steven Lipsky, of Parker County, Texas, who faces a defamation lawsuit from driller Range Resources after EPA dropped its investigation into the flammable water at his home, told the SAB in November.

In its peer review, the SAB called on EPA to include those three high-profile incidents and questioned the EPA‘s decision to zoom out the lens by focusing on “widespread” problems. ” These local-level potential impacts have the potential to be severe, and the final Assessment Report needs to better characterize and recognize the importance of local impacts, especially since locally important impacts are unlikely to be captured in a national -level summary of impacts,” the SABtold EPA.

On Thursday, oil and gas advocates sought to closely parse the SAB‘s language, suggesting that the EPA did not necessarily have to change its language. “The panel does not ask EPA to modify or eliminate its topline finding of ‘no widespread, systemic impacts’ to groundwater from fracking – it asks EPA to provide more details or a ‘quantitative analysis’ of how the agency came to that conclusion,” Energy in Depth wrote in a blog post on the study.

Dr. David Dzombak, a member of the SAB who helped prepare the SAB‘s opinion told reporters that the SAB was backing a call for the EPA to drop the “widespread, systemic” phrasing.

One option for the agency would be to drop that conclusion,” he told StateImpact. “The SAB is asking here for clarification of an ambiguous statement.”

In a statement, the EPA said it would take its peer-reviewer’s comments into consideration as it moved to finalize its study draft. “EPA will use the SAB’s final comments and suggestions, along with relevant literature published since the release of the draft assessment, and public comments received by the agency, to revise and finalize the assessment,” the EPA said.

Environmental groups called on the EPA to listen closely to the SAB‘s recommendations and to take action to address the problems that the EPA‘s draft study described.

“The science is in. EPA knows that fracking pollutes drinking water,” said Lauren Pagel, Policy Director for Earthworks. “Now is the time for us to move away from this dirty fossil fuel and replace it with clean energy that does not harm public health.”

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Protest against crude oil on Grays Harbor draws hundreds

Repost from The Daily World

Protest against crude oil on Grays Harbor draws hundreds

By Bob Kirkpatrick, July 9, 2016 – 1:30am
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Fawn Sharp, center, president of the Quinault Indian Nation, leads protest marchers to Hoquiam City Hall on Friday. (BOB KIRKPATRICK | The Daily World)

Supporters from around the region showed up in full force to protest a proposal to ship crude oil through Grays Harbor and support the Quinault Indian Nation’s Shared Waters, Shared Values Rally in Hoquiam Friday afternoon.

Hundreds gathered at the 9th Street Dock to welcome the tribe’s flotilla of traditional canoes, kayaks and boats and to band together to protest the proposed expansion of fuel storage facilities at the Port of Grays Harbor.

“No crude oil” was the chant as they embarked on a four-block march to city hall to make their stand.

“We area at a critical place here in Grays Harbor, a decision is going to be made soon,” Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Nation said. “The future of the harbor is going to go in one direction or the other. We need to go in the direction of no crude oil in Grays Harbor … forever!”

Sharp told supporters at the rally they needed to consider what was at stake should Westway, an existing fuel storage facility on Port of Grays Harbor property in Hoquiam, be allowed to expand its site to accommodate crude oil shipments.

“We commissioned an economic study and concluded about 10,000 jobs are at risk … tribal and non-tribal fishermen and tourism related (jobs) are in jeopardy,” she said. “The general health and welfare of all citizens in Grays Harbor County will all be compromised by this decision.”

Sharp said the Quinault Nation has an obligation to defend the salmon and natural resources that would also be heavily affected if a large oil spill occurred in local waters.

“The great Billy Frank Jr. (a now-deceased leader of the Nisqually tribe and a fierce champion for tribal fishing rights and the environment) at one point said the salmon deserve to be in healthy waters,” she said. “They can’t get out of the water themselves, so it’s up to us to stand up for them and our precious resources.”

Sharp emphatically stated to the crowd that it is also the duty of the Quinault Nation to pass on the legacy of pure, unpolluted waters to future generations, and said that is why they are taking such a strong stance in this matter.

Hoquiam Mayor Jasmine Dickhoff was on hand to welcome the protesters to city hall.

“I appreciate all the time and effort put in for this demonstration,” Dickhoff said. “I got involved in government because I felt great pride in the possibilities ahead of us as a community … not just here in Hoquiam, but with all of our neighbors. This rally is a testament of shared values and I want to thank you all for coming and sharing your voices and concerns to implement change.”

Larry Thevik, vice president of the Washington Dungeness Crab Fishermen’s Association, was also on hand to express his concerns with the proposed expansion of crude oil storage.

“As everyone knows, Grays Harbor needs more jobs, but our members have determined the benefits from the proposed oil terminals simply do not measure up to the risks they bear,” he said. “Grays Harbor is the fourth largest estuary in the nation, a major nursery area for Dungeness crab, and an essential fish habitat for many species. It is also an area particularly sensitive to the adverse effect of an oil spill.”

Thevik said an oil spill in the harbor would lead to a catastrophic loss of habitat and could potentially impact an area much larger than Grays Harbor.

“The Nestucca oil barge that was hauled off of Grays Harbor spilled about 231,000 gallons, killed 56,000 sea birds, and left a sheen that was seen from Oregon to the tip of Vancouver Island,” he said. “Tankers that would move through Grays Harbor County would be hauling up to 15 million gallons.”

Thevik said the state Department of Ecology claims Washington State has the best spill response in the nation. But he fears the response plan in Grays Harbor wouldn’t measure up.

“No matter how high the paperwork is stacked, the oil spill response plan and spill response assets are simply not going to take care of the problem,” he said. “Booming, which is the first response when a spill occurs, loses its effectiveness in strong current and rough waters. … Currents in Grays Harbor routinely exceed 3.5 knots. Fall and winter gales blow strong and often and unless a spill occurs during daylight hours, with a slack tide in calm seas, booming will offer little defense against a spill.”

He reiterated the potential for damages from an oil spill would far exceed the benefits the terminal would provide and that the profits would go elsewhere and the risks would remain.

Thevik acknowledged tribal and non-tribal fishermen often disagree on how to allocate shared waters and shared marine sources, but said both are united in their resolve to preserve those resources.

“Our survival and future depend on that,” he said. “Working together, we the citizens of Grays Harbor and others across the state must stand up against sacrifice and reclaim our destiny. We must speak with one voice, take our fate back from the hands of poorly informed decision makers and from big oil and just say no!”


Earlier announcement from KPLU 88.5 Jazz, Blues and NPR News

Opponents Of Crude Oil Terminals Rally In Grays Harbor County

By BELLAMY PAILTHORP • JUL 8, 2016
FILE PHOTO / AP IMAGES

Opponents of plans to ship crude oil by rail and barge through Grays Harbor in Southwest Washington will rally in Hoquiam on Friday. They say the risks far outweigh the benefits of the proposal.

The rally was organized by the Quinault Indian Nation and will begin on the water with a flotilla of traditional tribal canoes as well as kayaks and fishing vessels.

The tribe’s president, Fawn Sharp, says they’ll also march to Hoquiam’s City Hall and host an open mic to voice their opposition for bringing oil trains to the area.

“The trains run through our ancestral territory to Grays Harbor and a good portion of the rail tracks are right along the Chehalis River,” she said.

She says the river and the harbor are areas where the Quinault exercise their treaty fishing rights and adding oil cars onto the trains and barges there is too risky.

“If there were either an explosion or an oil spill, that could wipe out not only our fishing industry, but the non-Indian, non-treaty fishing industry,” Sharp said, adding “any damage to that resource would not only be for this generation, but we believe it could take a good 70-100 years to restore what could potentially be lost.”

That’s why their protest will include non-tribal commercial fishermen as well as activists from all over the state. They’re calling on the city of Hoquiam to deny permits for two potential oil terminals.

Among the speakers at the rally will be Larry Thevik, the vice president of the Washington Dungeness Crab Fishermen’s Association. He says Grays Harbor is a delicate ecosystem that would be devastated by a spill.

“All of the activities that depend on that healthy estuary would be in jeopardy. But I’m also concerned, as is evidenced by the recent train derailment in Mosier, for the public safety of our citizens and the communities through which these trains would roll,” Thevik said.  “If we didn’t have the terminals, we wouldn’t have the trains.”

He says he lost a season to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 and was also here in 1988 when the Nestucca barge spilled bunker oil near Grays Harbor – and the effects were devastating.

Backers of the proposals say they’re cooperating with the Washington State Department of Ecology and the city of Hoquiam and would build them with the highest commitment to safety. And they argue expansions for crude oil transport would provide new jobs and tax revenue for Grays Harbor.

“We’re confident that we can build this project in a way that protects our neighbors and the environment we all value,” said David Richey, a spokesman for Westway Grays Harbor, in an emailed statement.

The final environmental impact statement for two terminals combined (one from Westway and one from Renewable Energy Group, which was formerly “Imperium”) is expected to be released in August or September. After that, a permit decision by the city of Hoquiam could come within 7 days.

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Federal spending deal falls short on environment

Repost from the San Francisco Chronicle

Spending deal falls short on environment

By Annie Notthoff, December 17, 2015  |  Annie Notthoff is director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s California advocacy program.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell Photo: J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press

The spending and tax policy agreement Congress and the White House have reached to keep the government funded and running includes important wins for health and the environment.

But there’s good news to report, only because of the Herculean efforts of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and the White House, who worked tirelessly to block nearly all of the dozens and dozens of proposals Republican leaders were pushing.

Those proposals would have blocked action on climate, clean air, clean water, land preservation and wildlife protection and stripped key programs of needed resources. The Republican leaders’ proposals were the clearest expression yet of their “just say no” approach to environmental policy. They literally have no plan, except to block every movement forward on problems that threaten our health and our planet.

The worst aspect of the budget agreement is another clear indication of Republican leaders’ misplaced priorities — they exacted an end to the decades-long ban on sending U.S. crude oil overseas in this bill, in return for giving up on key elements of their antienvironment agenda.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made that give-away to the oil industry one of his top priorities. It will mean increased oil drilling in the U.S., with all the attendant dangers, with the benefits going to oil companies and overseas purchasers. That won’t help the American public, or the climate. It’s simply an undeserved gift to Big Oil.

In good news, the agreement extends tax credits for wind and solar energy for five years, which will give those industries long-sought certainty about their financing.

Wind and solar will continue to grow by leaps and bounds, helping domestic industry, reducing carbon pollution and making the U.S. less vulnerable to the ups and downs of fossil fuel prices.

Democratic leaders deserve all our thanks for what they were able to keep out of the budget deal. Gone are the vast majority of obstacles Republican leaders tried to throw in the way of environmental protection. Recall for a moment the 100 or more antienvironmental provisions Republican leaders tried to attach to these spending bills. Those included efforts to:

• Block the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan, which sets the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants — our best available tool to combat dangerous climate change.

• Roll back the Obama Administration’s Clean Water Rule, which would restore protections for the potential drinking water supplies of 1 in 3 Americans.

• Repeal the EPA’s newly issued health standards to protect us from smog.

• Bar the Interior Department from protecting our streams from the pollution generated by mountaintop removal during coal mining.

• Strip Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves, the greater sage grouse, elephants, the Sonoran Desert tortoise, and other threatened animals.

• Force approval of the proposed Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, which President Obama already has rejected.

There’s more work ahead to protect the environment, starting with eliminating the threat of oil drilling in the Arctic and off the Atlantic Coast.

But despite the efforts of Republican congressional leaders to hold the public hostage and bring us to the brink of another government shutdown, a budget deal has emerged that protects environmental progress.

 

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