Tag Archives: oil and gas

Environmental and Community Groups File Petition Demanding Federal Limits on Toxic Oil & Gas Well Air Pollution

CONTACT:

Liz Judge, Earthjustice, 415.217.2007ljudge@earthjustice.org

Shazia Manji, Physicians for Social Responsibility – Los Angeles (PSR-LA), 213-689-9170smanji@psr-la.org

Lauren Whittenberg, Environmental Defense Fund, 512-784-2161lwhittenberg@edf.org

 64 Environmental and Community Groups File Petition Demanding Federal Limits on Toxic Oil & Gas Well Air Pollution

Concerned about health impacts of drilling rush, groups push EPA to act swiftly 

 

WASHINGTON, DC – A large coalition of 64 local, state and national groups filed a petition today urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect public health by setting pollution limits on oil and gas wells and associated equipment in population centers around the U.S.

 The public interest law organization Earthjustice filed the petition on behalf of local and national groups with members and constituents across the U.S., including Clean Air Council, Clean Air Taskforce, Downwinders at Risk, Environmental Defense Fund, Global Community Monitor, Natural Resources Defense Council, Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles, Sierra Club, and WildEarth Guardians.   The petition explains why the EPA should issue rules that would require oil and gas companies to limit toxic air pollution from oil and gas wells in urban, suburban and other populated areas as the Clean Air Act expressly provides.

 In recent years, the pace of oil and gas drilling has increased drastically. As of 2011, oil and gas wells in the U.S. numbered more than 1.04 million. Current estimates project that as many as 45,000 new wells could be drilled each year through 2035. 

Available data suggest that at least 100,000 tons per year of hazardous air pollution from oil and gas well sites—such as benzene, formaldehyde, and naphthalene—are currently going freely into the air. These pollutants have been linked to respiratory and neurological problems, birth defects, and cancer.

“More than 150 million Americans now live near oil and gas wells or above shale areas where companies are looking to drill or engage in hydraulic fracturing, and EPA needs to set standards that restrict the hazardous air pollutants they put into the air,” said Earthjustice attorney Emma Cheuse, who filed the petition on behalf of the groups. “Oil and gas wells release chemicals linked to cancer, birth defects, and respiratory disease, and EPA should protect our communities, especially our children, from exposure to these hazards.”

“As fracking encroaches upon communities throughout the American West, we need relief from unchecked toxic air pollution,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director.  “Oil and gas wells might seem small, but together they are endangering our health and welfare in rural and urban areas alike, poisoning the very skies that make the West such an amazing place to live.”

“Since 2010, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality here has been promising to increase regulation and inspection of the booming oil and gas exploration and development occurring at unprecedented levels, even for Texas,” noted Cyrus Reed of Sierra Club’s Texas Lone Star Chapter. “But despite some baby steps, oil and gas development remains largely unregulated and the Texas legislature has handcuffed the agency from taking additional regulatory steps. It’s time for the EPA to step in and do what Texas leaders have been unable to do: protect Texans from the unmitigated emissions of toxic air pollutants which poison our lungs and cause smog throughout cities like Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio and Midland.” 

“Every Oklahoman has the right to clean air to breathe. Currently Oklahoma air continues to deteriorate and instances of illnesses directly connected to air quality such as asthma continue to increase.  A significant cause for this is the dramatic increase in oil and gas drilling in our state over the past decade,” said Sierra Club Oklahoma Chapter Director David Ocamb.

“Californians’ air, health and food supply are under assault from increased oil and gas production using fracking, sanctioned by our Legislature and Governor Brown,” said Denny Larson, Executive Director of the Global Community Monitor based in Richmond, CA.  “It’s time for EPA to do its job and enforce the Clean Air Act and end the loophole that is poisoning our air.”

“Oil and gas wells release chemicals that have clearly and definitely been linked to health harms from nose bleeds and head aches to cancer, birth defects, and respiratory disease,” saidJames Dahlgren, MD, an internist with a sub-specialty in toxicology and member of Physicians for Social Responsibility-Los Angeles.  “I’ve witnessed the harm these toxics cause to people and given everything we know about these pollutants, the EPA must take action to protect communities from exposure to these clear hazards,” he added. 

“Almost a decade of un-and-under-regulated fracking has transformed North Texas into a sacrifice zone for the gas industry, with conservative estimates of over 1,000 tons of hazardous air pollution being released annually from industry sources. Breathing this toxic air pollution has left a well-documented trail of illness and disease throughout the Barnett Shale. EPA needs to do its job and protect frontline victims of fracking by reducing the toxic fallout from the practice,” said Jim Schermbeck of the Dallas-Ft. Worth-based clean air group Downwinders at Risk.

“Pennsylvania residents living near shale gas operations deserve much stronger public health protections from EPA,” said Matt Walker, community outreach director of Clean Air Council. “EPA’s current standards for flaring at new oil and gas wells do not address the many other types of ongoing operations at oil and gas wells that emit significant amounts of toxic air pollution. The Council and its members urge EPA to act quickly to greatly limit air pollution from oil and gas infrastructure. 

“Our nation should not ask communities to trade clean air for cheap energy,” said Mark Brownstein, Environmental Defense Fund’s Associate Vice President & Chief Counsel, US Climate & Energy. “Anyone living near an oil and gas development deserves to know that all necessary steps are being taken to avoid hazardous air pollution.  Strong regulation is necessary to provide that assurance.”

“The scientific evidence is piling up to support what people around the country have been reporting for years: fracking-related air pollution can threaten the health of neighboring communities,” said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The oil and gas industry must not be allowed to continue spewing poisons into the air. EPA needs to step up to protect the health of Americans living near fracking operations across the country.”

 

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RESOURCES

 

 

RESOURCES INCLUDED AT THE END OF THE PETITION:

 

In Appendix A: Emissions and Covered Population Centers

  • Table 1 – NSPS v. NESHAP Coverage Comparison: Regulation of Wells and Associated Equipment
  • Table 2 – Oil and Gas Sector Summary: Comparison of Emissions Controlled by EPA’s Final Rule (“Controlled”) vs. Emissions that Could Have Been Controlled by EPA’s Final Rule But Were Not (“Not Controlled)
  • Table 5 – Presence of Active Oil and Gas Wells in — (1) Combined Statistical Areas (CSAs) with population greater than 1 million and (2) Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) not located in such a CSA

 

In Appendix B: Maps

 

  • Map 1 – U.S. Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 2 – U.S. Oil and Gas Wells and Population Centers
  • Map 3 – California: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 4 – Colorado: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 5 – Pennsylvania: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 6 – Texas: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 7 – Ohio: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 8 – Louisiana: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 9 – Michigan: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 10 – New York: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers
  • Map 11 – Oklahoma: Oil and Gas Wells, Shale Plays and Population Centers

 

In Appendix C: List of health and other studies.

 

Video

“All Shook Up” over Earthquakes in Reno

Azle resident tells Railroad Commission of Texas that he is all “Shook Up” over recent earthquakes resulting from injection of wastewater in North Texas. One of the many ugly results of fracking and wastewater injection.

The Azlers are Coming, the Renoers are coming!

Austin may never be the same. This morning a busload of folks from Azle and Reno — including the mayor — are scheduled to arrive in Austin and address the three elected commissioners of the Railroad Commission of Texas on the impacts of the tremors, earthquakes and sinkholes that is affected North Central Texas. These folks are angry and believe that oil and gas activity and in particular injection wells are causing shifts in the Earth, leading to property damage and frayed nerves. North central Texas is not the only place that oil and gas activity has appeared to induce seismic activity. Oklahoma, Arkansas, Ohio and Holland, which just set limits on gas production because of the frequent tremors.  

 

After addressing the Commission, the Reno Mayor and here cohorts are off to the Capitol to speak to their representatives and staff. In the meantime, Energy Committee Chair Jim Keffer has formed a special subcommittee on Seismic Induction, to be led by Representative Myra Crownover. More to come. 

Does Azle represent the tipping point, leading to more protective regulations on fracking?

Located some 15 miles northwest of Fort Worth, the small city of Azle — some 11,000 folks – seems an unlikely place to start a revolution for better regulations or even a moratorium on fracking and the related disposal of oil and gas wastes in “injection wells.” Primarily an anglo and middle-class town – many of whom commute to the Dallas-Fort Worth area — and best known as the gateway to Eagle Mountain Lake — a large dam on the Trinity River –  a bunch of tremors and earthquakes – including one last night — has led to citizen concern over the cumulative impacts of all that injection of water and wastes underground. In fact some of these tremors have occurred near or below Eagle Mountain lake.

The first official citizen response was the January 2nd town hall meeting with RRC Commissioner Porter — typified by angry citizens asking for better regulations or even a time-out on fracking and injection wells. Many seemed aghast that the RRC did not have better answers about the relationship between the recent tremors plaguing the area and the oil and gas activities and that further regulations were not yet being considered. Then a few days later, Porter announced the RRC would hire a seismologist to “assess the science.”

And the citizens are meeting again, this time with EarthWorks to discuss what is known and possible regulations. Here is some information about that meeting.

Still need answers about fracking earthquakes?

Don’t ask questions, demand answers.

Learn how. Come to the Azle Community Center on Jan 13th.

WHAT:
A meeting to find out how to force our “regulators” to do their jobs and protect our property and communities.

WHY:
The town hall meeting the Texas Railroad Commission held on January 2nd to discuss earthquakes connecting with hydraulic fracturing was disappointing.

While Azle residents are at risk and their children practice earthquake drills, our regulators ducked questions and dashed away from the meeting to watch a football game.

The RRC’s behavior at the town hall, and previously, shows they are not interested in overseeing the oil and gas industry so much as providing political cover for it.

WHO:
Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project
North Central Texas Communities Alliance
Calvin Tillman, former Mayor of Dish, Texas

WHEN:
Monday January 13 at 6:30 pm

WHERE:
Azle Community Center
404 West Main

CONTACT:
Sharon Wilson 940-389-1622

In the meantime, Earthworks, Sierra Club and many others are looking at what regulations are needed. A good resource is a white paper published on seismicity impacts of oil and gas resources published on the Groundwater Protection Council website. See here.

As an example, the State of Ohio through executive and then legislative action, developed the following new requirements for injection wells disposing of oil and gas waste. This information is from the above white paper.

“The new UIC Class II saltwater injection well rules proceeded through the legislative process, were passed and went into effect in October 2012. The ODNR started to issue new Class II saltwater injection well permits again in November 2012. The new permits incorporated theWhite Paper on Induced Seismicity Page 34

requirements from the new regulations. The chief of the division issuing the permits could include various new monitoring on a case-by-case basis:

• Pressure fall-off testing,

• Geological investigation of potential faulting within the immediate vicinity of the

proposed injection,

• Submittal of a seismic monitoring plan,

• Testing and recording of original bottomhole injection interval pressure,

• Minimum geophysical logging suite, such as gamma ray, compensated density-neutron,

and resistivity logs,

• Radioactive tracer or spinner survey, and

• Any such other tests the chief deems necessary.

In addition the new permits would not allow drilling and completion of the wells into the Precambrian basement rock. No injection would be allowed until the results of the monitoring are evaluated. Upon review of the data, the chief can withhold injection authority, require plugging of the well, or allow injection to commence. The chief has the authority to implement a graduated maximum allowable injection pressure. All new Class II injection wells must continuously monitor the injection and annulus pressures to maintain mechanical integrity. They must include a shut-off device installed on the injection pump set to the maximum allowable injection pressure.”

Since the RRC already has an open project on developing new rules for injection wells, now is the time to add new regulations to protect the citizens of Azle – and the rest of Texas.

Sierra Club tells Texas Public Policy Foundation conference attendees that federal government not the problem – impacts of oil and gas development are..

During the annual  Texas Public Policy Foundation — a noted conservative think-tank in Texas — 2014 policy orientation conference in Austin, Sierra Club joined Railroad Commissioner David Porter and Representative Jim Keffer (Eastland-R), chair of the Energy Resource Commission, on a panel entitled “Energy and Markets: Mastering the Resource” which was all about oil and gas. There was a packed house, including many legislators and their staff, mainly those who are more conservative in their philosophy. 

During the hour-long discussion, Commissioner Porter characterized the federal government as an obstacle to continued oil and gas development and in particular set his sights on the US Fish and Wildlife, implementation of the Endangered Species Act, “radical” environmental groups whose lawsuits are used to shut down industry, and the potential for the feds to add new fracking regulations that are best left to the states. Porter said that the endangered species act was being used to shut down industries, while admitting that the state was working with USFWS to develop a habitat conservation plan for species like the Lesser Prairie Chicken. Porter did acknowledge the need for appropriate regulation and in response to questions about his recent participation in a town hall meeting on injection wells and their potential impact on tremors and earthquakes in the Azle area did again announce he wanted to hire a seismologist and review Texas rules on injection wells. 

Chairman Keffer, taking a more measured approach, agreed that the oil and gas industry was creating tremendous economic opportunity and development, as well as important taxes for the state government, but agreed there had been missteps in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and that new technology and regulations were needed. He lauded the RRC for recent new rule changes on casing and cementing, mentioned his two bills that were passed on required disclosure of fracking chemicals and new rules on rural pipeline safety. He said that during the interim, his committee wanted to look at the issue of injection wells, rural pipeline safety and also mentioned the real problem of roads and water use. On the whole, he said he was optimistic that Texas could solve these issues but needed to acknowledge them and not stick their head in the sand. 

Speaking on behalf of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, Conservation Director Cyrus Reed took a different approach, characterizing the oil and gas development as “boom and gloom.” “Like it or not, there are real consequences of this boom,” he stated. He noted that the purpose of the Endangered Species Act was to protect species, not shut down industries and that both industry and species could survive with good planning and appropriate regulation. 

Reed discussed the needs for further regulations and action on air quality — including venting and flaring — injection wells, pipeline safety and rural property right, roads, water use, inspections and enforcement and climate disruption. He said the fact that so many folks were concerned with injection wells and the potential for leaking or earthquakes meant it was time to revisit those regulations — and consider a requirement for an upfront seismic analysis (which the State of Ohio) before permitting — as was also true for the large amount of gas being wasted through gasing and flaring and leaks from valves and pneumatic devices. “Climate disruption is real and the methane leaks are undermining the benefits of switching from gas to coal,” he stated. 

Reed consistently stressed that any one individual oil or gas well might not be problematic, but the cumulative impact on water, air and waste streams was an environmental and public health challenge. For a copy of the agenda of the conference, see here. If you would like to see a copy of our PPT on these issues, contact me. cyrus.reed@sierraclub.org

Sierra Club Tells House Energy Resources Committee, “It Ain’t 1983,” Supports HB 3598 to Raise Maximum fines on oil and gas polluters.

For Immediate Release: April 10, 2013

549061_10151518113817920_4140573_nFor More Information: Lone Star Chapter Conservation Director Cyrus Reed – 512-740-4086, cyrus.reed@sierraclub.org

Dressed in his best imitation Don Johnson/Miami Vice white suit, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter Conservation Director Cyrus Reed testified in support of legislation to raise the maximum fines the Railroad Commission of Texas (RRC) can assess against oil and gas companies violating state laws from the current $10,000 to $25,000 per violation per day.

“The $10,000 maximum was set in 1983, when the Police and Michael Jackson were the two biggest musical acts, and the Ewings out of Dallas were the biggest oil developers in Texas,” Reed told members of the House Committee on Energy Resources. “You should support HB 3598 (Rep. Lon Burnam – Fort Worth) to raise the maximum penalty from $10,000 to $25,000, because $25,000 today essentially equals $10,000 in 1983.”

Reed noted that the Sunset Advisory Commission recommended raising the RRC maximum fines to $25,000 four years ago. The Texas Attorney General, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency already have maximum fines of $25,000 per violation per day.

Reed wrapped up his testimony quoting Sting and Michael Jackson, “It is time for the Railroad Commission of Texas to watch ‘every move you make’ and tell companies operating in Texas with egregious regulatory violations to pay the fines, clean up their act or ‘beat it’.”

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Texas Proposes Pardoning Pollution (Again!) — public hearing March 6th

They are at it again. The Texas Commission for Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) Compliance History program has never worked and new rules proposed by the state’s environmental agency could cause thousands of previously categorized “poor” — oh sorry now they are calling it unsatisfactory not poor —– performers to be bumped up to “average” without having removed an ounce of pollution from our air and water. We need all of you folks involved in the campaign to reform TCEQ through sunset to improve these proposed rules. Come one, come all next Tuesday to Austin for public hearing — or even better yet — demand that TCEQ hold a public hearing in the communities that are impacted by repeat violations and industrial pollution — places like Corpus, El Paso, Houston and Beaumont..

Below is a press release on the issue and listen and look hear if you want to hear our webinar on the issue….

If you want more information about the rule, or to make e-comments, check out this list of rules, information about the public hearing and how to submit comments  on TCEQ’s rules page.  OR visit this Public Citizen page with loads of information.

Thanks EVeryone for helping Make Texas Better….

Texas law requires that TCEQ consider a facility’s past compliance when making decisions regarding permits, inspections or penalties for violations.  “The TCEQ has for over a decade attempted to use an incentive structure – the Compliance History program – to reward good behavior at the thousands of facilities it regulates around the state, from your local gas station to the refinery that produces that gas,” said Matthew Tejada, Executive Director of the Air Alliance of Houston.  “A facility’s Compliance History score affects every bit of its business with the TCEQ.”

Late Wednesday, TCEQ released a report of the previous year’s Compliance History database using the new calculations they are proposing in the rules.  “Our analysis of the data shows that 5% of the over 250,000 facilities regulated by TCEQ are currently classified as having a “poor” compliance history, and that would drop to 3% using the new calculations,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, Director of the Texas office of Public Citizen. “Texas had an excellent opportunity to fix the Compliance History program during the recent Sunset Commission review of the TCEQ.  Unfortunately, most of the statutory changes to the program appear to have only further cemented its faults in place and given an even bigger free pass to some of the state’s worst performers.  As written, these new rules:

  1. Change the ranking system to make 6,000 polluters with poor records average
  2. Allow the TCEQ Executive Director to pardon polluters by  adjusting their repeat violator classification without any criteria or review
  3. Make it very difficult for any “complex site” with many “complexity points” to ever be punished for or even be considered a repeat violator
  4. Give polluters overly generous discounts for participating in environmental management and other pollution prevention programs
  5. Don’t specify what an emission of the “same environmental media” is and how it can be used in determining who is a repeat violator.”

A public hearing on these rules is scheduled at the TCEQ on Tuesday, March 6th. Texans need to let the TCEQ know that they want a system that works to protect their health and environment and not give big polluters yet another free pass.

“One, and possibly the only, major improvement was that the Compliance History scores are now separated by industry type.  Before, the TCEQ put every facility into one big hopper, meaning that your local gas station was being compared to a big refinery,” said Cyrus Reed of the Lone Star Chapter of Sierra Club.

“While that one change was a step in the right direction, it will fall far short of the reforms needed to actually deliver the intent of the Compliance History program – rewarding good actors for their good behavior and offering incentives to poor performers to clean up their acts,” continued Reed.  “The problem with the existing structure is that basically every facility comes out average.  You don’t have to be a policy genius to know that incentives don’t work if everyone stays in the middle.”

This current problem is made worse because the Texas Legislature saw fit to drastically limit the compliance information that state staff can use to generate Compliance History scores.  The law now bars the TCEQ from looking at more than one year’s worth of notices of violation, one of the most common types of compliance information.

“This is a near debilitating limitation,” said Tejada.  “However, it could still be possible for the agency to craft a program which effectively separates the good from the average from the poor performers.”

“Unfortunately, in its rulemaking, the TCEQ has introduced even more limitations which will only further serve to keep every facility average.  These changes include lowering the score by which a performer falls into the poor category, giving the TCEQ Executive Director extraordinary authority to change a facility’s classification, and handing out bonus points for ill-defined and unregulated voluntary measures that a facility can implement.”

Chris Young of the Texas Organizing Project said, “If the Compliance History program reforms go forward as currently written, nothing will change, which is a shame.  Compliance History is a good idea that has never been executed effectively.  We are missing out on two major opportunities by continuing to pretend that all facilities in this state are average.”

“First, we miss a chance to implement the type of regulation that a lot of people in our state prefer.”

“For those of us living along the fenceline of the polluters, it doesn’t improve our air, our water or our health to have TCEQ grade these industries on the curve,” said from Patricia Gonzalez, a member of the Texas organizing Project and Pasadena, TX resident, a highly polluted part of the state.

“In addition to this rule, rules for another section of the regulatory code that are coming up will makes it too easy to qualify for new regulatory flexibility and other incentives,” said Reed.  “There is no provision in the proposed rules that would not allow an entity with an unsatisfactory compliance record to participate in an innovative program and receive regulatory flexibility, and gives the executive director ability to consider any factor in providing incentives.  With a very low application fee of $250 for a Regulatory Flexibility Order and requiring only a review of an Environmental Management System that received incentives once every three years, this provision reduces even further any teeth that the compliance history score might have in reducing pollution in the state.”

Reed concludes, “Finally and most importantly, we miss a huge opportunity to try to clean up the air and water around our state in a business friendly manner.  At a time when the challenge of grappling with an increasing array of environmental and health threats to our state and population gets harder every day, we cannot afford to let such opportunities pass us by.  We urge the TCEQ to reconsider its Compliance History rules, and deliver a program to the people of the state of Texas that works.”