NIKIFORUK: US Study Casts Pall over BC's Shale Gas Biz

NIKIFORUK: US Study Casts Pall over BC's Shale Gas Biz

Postby Oscar » Fri Dec 09, 2011 3:54 pm

NIKIFORUK: US Study Casts Pall over BC's Shale Gas Biz

----- Original Message -----
From: Elaine Hughes
To: SK Premier Wall ; The Ecologist Magazine ; Greenpeace ; Council of Canadians ; Breitkreuz, G. MP ; Sask EcoNetwork ; Sask Environmental Society
Cc: SK Green Leader - Lau, Victor ; SK Watershed Auth. ; SK Tourism ; SK NDP Caucus ; Alberta Surface Rights Group Website Mailer ; CIELAP ; David Suzuki Foundation ; Dr. David Schindler ; Dr. Mark Bigland-Pritchard ; Ducks Unlimited Canada ; Ecojustice ; Environmental Defence ; Friends of the Earth ; Goodale, Ralph ; Lake Ontario Waterkeeper ; May, Elizabeth GPC ; Mining ; Nature Canada ; Nature Saskatchewan ; Pembina Institute ; Plamondon, Louis BLOC ; Rae, Bob, Liberal ; Safe And Green Energy ; Safe Communities ; Safe Drinking Water Foundation ; Sask. Wildlife Fed. ; Sierra Club - Can. ; Sierra Club - US ; SK Party Caucus ; The Current ; TURMEL, Nycole - NDP

Sent: Friday, December 09, 2011 3:47 PM
Subject: US Study Casts Pall over BC's Shale Gas Biz

. . . . Is Saskatchewan next???

MORE FRACKING INFO (below) and at:

Elaine Hughes
Archerwill, SK

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US Study Casts Pall over BC's Shale Gas Biz

Despite industry safety assurances, EPA finds hydraulic fracturing fluids in drinking water.

By Andrew Nikiforuk, December 9, 2011

An extensive study by the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has concluded that highly toxic and cancer-causing fluids from shale gas drilling most likely contaminated shallow groundwater in Pavillion, Wyoming.

The findings, which strengthen the hands of those calling for a public inquiry on B.C.'s shale gas industry, contradict industry claims that hydraulic fracturing "is a proven technology used safely for more than 60 years in more than a million wells."

The controversial technology, now deployed for most oil and gas wells, blasts millions of gallons of water, sand particles and toxic chemicals into both deep and shallow sandstone formations in order to release small amounts of methane or oil over areas as great as 16 square kilometres.

The Liberal government of British Columbia touts shale gas as a "game changer" for the province and now heavily subsidizes the industry with low royalties, infrastructure giveaways, and large volumes of water from hydro dams, rivers, dugouts and aquifers in regions with poor data on baseline water quality.

The highly volatile industry, which wants to export the gas to Asia, now accounts for nearly half of all resource revenue in the province and nearly four per cent of provincial revenue in 2010.

1,000 cases of water contamination reported

The EPA investigation began after many residents of the small rural town, including a former Vietnam War hero, Louis Meeks, complained about loss of well water, objectionable taste and foul smelling odors.

The water contamination issues appeared after EnCana, Canada's largest gas company, fracked scores of vertical wells in the region more than six years ago.

Across the United States landowners have reported nearly 1,000 cases of water contamination in the wake of shale gas fracking operations according to the independent press group, Pro Publica. Scores of contamination problems have also been reported in Alberta.

After finding elevated levels of methane and diesel fuel in domestic Pavillion water wells in 2010, the EPA installed two deep groundwater monitoring wells to determine if the contamination was coming from deep or shallow sources.

The EPA's 121-page report found evidence of both. High levels of benzene, xylenes and gasoline and diesel compounds were detected in groundwater from shallow monitoring wells near industry pits for disposing of drilling and fracking fluids.

In the deep groundwater monitoring wells the EPA discovered a brew of toxic chemicals commonly used in hydraulic fracturing. The contaminants included benzene, toluene, ethyl-benzene, and xylenes (BTEX), diesel oil, which is used to make a liquid gel, heavy aromatic petroleum naptha, a solvent, and tri-ethylene glycol, another solvent.

"When considered together with other lines of evidence, the data indicates likely impact to ground water that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing," said the EPA report. Furthermore there didn't appear to be solid rock barriers "to stop upward vertical migration of aqueous constituents of hydraulic fracturing in the event of excursion from fractures."

The EPA also detected methane in both monitoring wells and local domestic water wells that came directly from the gas zone being fractured by EnCana.

The agency added that gas could have migrated up well holes into groundwater because steel piping to prevent such leaks (known as surface casings) "do not extend below the maximum depth of domestic wells in the area of investigation."

Industry has recently admitted that poor surface well casing, a chronic issue for the oil patch, could cause methane contamination of water wells in Pennsylvania and other locations.

A 2011 Duke University study found concentrations of methane in domestic water wells 17 times higher near shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing. It concluded that the practice polluted groundwater either via surface casing leaks or chaotic fractures that connected to water zones.

At Pavillion, Encana drilled its gas wells as deep as 372 metres or 1,220 feet. But local domestic water wells lie directly above the company's fracking zone at depths of 244 metres or 800 feet. Groundwater is the principal source of water for towns, ranchers and livestock in the region.

The EPA added that, "Citizens' complaints often serve as the first indication of subsurface contamination and cannot be dismissed without further detailed evaluation, particularly in the absence of routine ground water monitoring prior to and during gas production."

No link between drilling and contamination, says EnCana

The finding represents more bad news for EnCana, one of North America's premier gas barons. Even its stock tumbled by six per cent after the release of the EPA report.

Nearly a decade ago the firm pioneered hydraulic fracturing to blast open both deep sandstone formations and shallow coal beds in industrial like plays over large geographies sometimes known as "carpet bombing."

But the shale gas boom that EnCana helped to engineer ultimately delivered so much natural gas to market that prices crumbled. EnCana, which has amassed a land base almost as large as Nova Scotia (11 million acres), is now struggling to remain afloat by selling key assets such as a billion worth of gas processing plants in B.C. last week. It's also pushing hard for natural gas exports to Asia.

The company even tried to sell its troubled Pavillion leases last month for $45-million, but Texas based Legacy Resources backed out the deal even though EnCana said it would retain all responsibility for the outcome of the EPA's study.

Encana has denied any link between drilling and the contamination in Wyoming.

"The EPA's draft report and current view is based on a possibility, not a conclusion built upon peer-reviewed science. The cause of the compounds in the water remains inconclusive," said a company release.

"We live and work in the communities where we operate and we care about the impacts of energy development on the environment. We work very hard to ensure our operations do not impact groundwater."

For several years now EnCana has been at the centre of shale gas and water contamination controversies in rural communities across North America.

Two years ago its aggressive drilling practices in the poisonous Montney shale gas play (it contains hydrogen sulfide) made it the target of a bombing campaign around Dawson Creek, B.C., between 2008 and 2010.

Half a dozen highly coordinated attacks on EnCana pipelines sparked a multi-million dollar RCMP investigation that ultimately treated many local residents like Taliban suspects. The case remains unresolved.

In 2004 the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission fined the company $378,000 for fracking a natural gas well that leaked methane into West Divide Creek in Garfield County.

And this year a former EnCana and oil patch consultant, Jessica Ernst, launched a $33-million lawsuit against the company for shallow gas fracturing near Rosebud, Alberta that resulted in extensive contamination of groundwater with chemicals and explosive amounts of methane.

The statement of claim charges that EnCana, beginning in 2001, "negligently injected chemical fracturing fluids at high pressure into coal seams located at shallow depths below ground and near the underground fresh drinking water supplies of rural Albertans."

The claims have not yet been proven in court.

BC's big bet on shale gas

Earlier this year Alberta's energy regulator, the Energy Resources and Conservation Board, admitted that hydraulic fracturing could contaminate "useable water aquifers" with toxic chemicals in shallow zones and "is a recognized risk that must be managed because the fracturing operation is nearer the base of groundwater."

British Columbia, Canada's second largest natural gas producer after Alberta, has banked its economic future on the resource. Critics say the province has done so without any serious examination of its depletion rates, economic risks or environmental liabilities.

As a consequence Independent MLAs and rural communities in the Peace River region have demanded a public inquiry on a "game changing" resource that most residents of the Lower Mainland know nothing about.

Given that shale gas plays cover extensive land bases, consume vast amounts of water and industrialize rural landscapes for long periods of time, "shale gas is more like oil sands development than it is like traditional... natural gas development," explained lawyer Chris Sanderson at a recent B.C. Summit on shale gas last month.

Several speakers also noted that the industry could lose its social license if critical issues such as groundwater contamination, greenhouse gas emissions, surface water demands and air pollution are not addressed in a rigorous manner.

The United States Geological Survey has also identified the resources impact on earthquakes, landscape changes and aquifer quality as critical issues. It also identifies the final destination of ten of millions of gallons of fracking fluids (most remains in the ground) as a scientific mystery.

British Columbia's Oil and Gas Commission has drawn criticism for responding slowly to public concerns about shale gas. The commission was set up by a former member of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Its last director, Alex Ferguson, left the commission to get a higher paying job with Oklahoma-based Apache, one of the biggest shale gas extractors in the province.

- - - - -

Award-winning journalist Andrew Nikiforuk writes about energy for The Tyee and others. Find his previous Tyee articles here.

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EPA Connects Dots Between Groundwater Contamination and Fracking in Wyoming

December 11, 2011

The tables turned on the gas industry today with the release of a new report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) connecting the dots between fracking and groundwater contamination in the state of Wyoming, located in the hear tof the Niobrara Shale basin.

The report is sure to leave many saying, "Well, duh!" and also asking, "What took them so long?" The perils of fracking for gas in the Niobrara Shale were made famous long ago by Debra Anderson's documenary "Split Estate."

Report Comes on Heels of Citizen Action in Dimock, PA
The Wyoming report comes on the heels of a large citizen action involving a water delivery to 12 Dimock, Pennsylvania families, led by "Gasland" Director Josh Fox and actor Mark Ruffalo. The action centered around another case of water contaminated by Cabot Oil and Gas. Cabot was delivering clean drinking water since 2008 to the families after it contaminated their water, but recently, the Pennsylvania DEP ordered that Cabot was no longer responsible for transporting water to these families.

Put another way, cases of water contamination are nothing "new."

In fact, EPA first tied fracking to contaminated underground sources of drinking water in 1987. In a 25-year old investigative report, discovered by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Earthjustice, the EPA outlines how fracking for shale gas contaminated a domestic water well in West Virginia.

More recently, four Duke University scientists released a study in May 2011 linking methane contamination to groundwater on fracking sites.

ProPublica's Abrahm Lustgarten wrote of the report:

The research was conducted by four scientists at Duke University. They found that levels of flammable methane gas in drinking water wells increased to dangerous levels when those water supplies were close to natural gas wells. They also found that the type of gas detected at high levels in the water was the same type of gas that energy companies were extracting from thousands of feet underground, strongly implying that the gas may be seeping underground through natural or manmade faults and fractures, or coming from cracks in the well structure itself.

Energy in Depth Redux?
Predictably, Energy in Depth (EID), an industry funded front group, responded immediately to the report in force, writing a piece titled, "Duke Study Misrepresented."

We can probably safely assume an EID "refutation" of the EPA study is already in the works. After all, one of the fossil fuel industry's best friends, climate change denier, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), has already come out on the offensive against the EPA.

In response to the study, Inhofe stated, "EPA's conclusions are not based on sound science but rather on political science."

As the Senate's leading climate denier, Inhofe sure knows how to politicize science, and how to ignore real science in favor of industry excuses masquerading as science.

Update: As expected, Energy in Depth has responded to the EPA report in an article titled, "Six Questions for EPA on Pavillion." This is, of course, par for the course for EID, which serves as the gas industry's go-to source for crisis communications responses like these.

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TAGS: Abrahm Lustgarten, Debra Anderson, Duke University, Duke University Natural Gas Study, Energy In Depth, Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, fracking, gas, Government Policy, hydraulic fracturing, natural gas, Niobrara Shale, ProPublica, shale gas, Split Estate, unconventional gas, Wyoming


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EPA Implicates Fracking in Groundwater Pollution at Wyoming Gas Field

By Joe Romm on Dec 8, 2011 at 6:01 pm

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday for the first time that fracking — a controversial method of improving the productivity of oil and gas wells — may be to blame for causing groundwater pollution.

The draft finding could have a chilling effect in states trying to determine how to regulate the process.

The practice is called hydraulic fracturing and involves pumping pressurized water, sand and chemicals underground to open fissures and improve the flow of oil or gas to the surface.

The EPA’s found that compounds likely associated with fracking chemicals had been detected in the groundwater beneath a Wyoming community where residents say their well water reeks of chemicals.

Health officials advised them not to drink their water after the EPA found hydrocarbons in their wells.

This APNewsBreak is certainly a bombshell for an industry whose favorite (very dubious) talking point had been “we’ve never had one confirmed case of groundwater contamination.”

Of course, the important and influential NY Times series on natural gas fracking reported back in February that “The dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood.”

And the industry insiders who made up the DOE Fracking Panel warned last month of “a Real Risk of Serious Environmental Consequences” Absent Regulation:

It is the Subcommittee’s judgment that if action is not taken to reduce the environmental impact accompanying the very considerable expansion of shale gas production expected across the country – perhaps as many as 100,000 wells over the next several decades – there is a real risk of serious environmental consequences and a loss of public confidence that could delay or stop this activity.

The new EPA finding certainly supports that warning.

Here is more from the AP story on the implications of the preliminary finding:

The EPA announcement has major implications for the vast increase in gas drilling in the U.S. in recent years. Fracking has played a large role in opening up many reserves.

The industry has long contended that fracking is safe, but environmentalists and some residents who live near drilling sites say it has poisoned groundwater….

“EPA’s highest priority remains ensuring that Pavillion residents have access to safe drinking water,” said Jim Martin, EPA regional administrator in Denver. “We look forward to having these findings in the draft report informed by a transparent and public review process.”

The EPA also emphasized that the findings are specific to the Pavillion area. The agency said the fracking that occurred in Pavillion differed from fracking methods used elsewhere in regions with different geological characteristics.

The fracking occurred below the level of the drinking water aquifer and close to water wells, the EPA said. Elsewhere, drilling is more remote and fracking occurs much deeper than the level of groundwater that anybody would use.

This new EPA finding suggests that the agency is not making the mistake it made in the 1980s — see Exclusive: EPA Whistle-Blower Warns EPA Must Not Buckle to Industry Pressure and Greenwash Fracking Yet Again; 37-Year EPA Veteran: Oil & Gas “Industry is Targeting the Times” Because its Fracking Series “Had an Unprecedented Role in Prodding EPA into Action.”

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