Fracking site in UK suffered “loss of wellbore integrity” ‘allegedly’……


According to reports and information gained under the UK Freedom of Information Act it appears that one of Cuadrilla’s initial drilling sites in the UK suffered a previously unreported structural failure.

The damage has been described by engineers as a possible “loss of wellbore integrity”, this can result in a leaking of fluid or gases from shale extraction and cause possible environmental or public health hazards.

The allegations originate from emails between Cuadrilla and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) which suggest that the site at Preese Hall, Lancashire, suffered structural damage.

The news has caused environmental and safety concerns regarding fracking, although there is no indication that any gases escaped from the well into the air or surrounding rocks.


Cuadrilla has made no admission of such damage but Anthony Ingraffea, Professor of Engineering at Cornell University, said “it is quite apparent… that there was indeed a loss of wellbore integrity followed by attempts to remediate.”

But clarified that the blanket term covers a multitude of incidents of varying severity and as such “there are so many factors to consider” when reviewing the impact of a loss of well integrity.

The well itself was abandoned by Cuadrilla in December 2013, a HSE spokesperson asserted that “the issue has been resolved during the abandonment process” and that there had been “no leak of fluids” but that the site would be continued to be monitored for any potential concerns.

Caroline Lucas an MP for the Green Party said, “these new revelations cast serious doubt upon their [the government’s] assurances.

Ministers claim that the serious leaks of gas and fracking fluid that have blighted the industry in the USA couldn’t happen here because of strong regulation. But now it seems that, before fracking has even started in a meaningful way… independent experts are saying that well integrity has been breached… the only safe and responsible thing to do with shale gas is to leave it in the ground.”

However, a spokesperson for Cuadrilla stated that “the well integrity at Preese Hall is secure and always has been…

Shale Energy Insider 2014



Fracking & Litigation – money talks, bullshit walks?


June 6 (Bloomberg) — Chris and Stephanie Hallowich were sure drilling for natural gas near their Pennsylvania home was to blame for the headaches, burning eyes and sore throats they suffered after the work began.

The companies insisted hydraulic fracturing — the technique they used to free underground gas — wasn’t the cause. Nevertheless, in 2011, a year after the family sued, Range Resources Corp. and two other companies agreed to a $750,000 settlement. In order to collect, the Hallowiches promised not to tell anyone, according to court filings.

The Hallowiches aren’t alone. In cases from Wyoming to Arkansas, Pennsylvania to Texas, drillers have agreed to cash settlements or property buyouts with people who say hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, ruined their water, according to a review by Bloomberg News of hundreds of regulatory and legal filings. In most cases homeowners must agree to keep quiet.

 The strategy keeps data from regulators, policymakers, the news media and health researchers, and makes it difficult to challenge the industry’s claim that fracking has never tainted anyone’s water.

“At this point they feel they can get out of this litigation relatively cheaply,” Marc Bern, an attorney with Napoli Bern Ripka Sholnik LLP in New York who has negotiated about 30 settlements on behalf of homeowners, said in an interview. “Virtually on all of our settlements where they paid money they have requested and demanded that there be confidentiality.”


Energy Transformation

Because the agreements are almost always shrouded by non-disclosure pacts — a judge ordered the Hallowich case unsealed after media requests — no one can say for sure how many there are. Some stem from lawsuits, while others result from complaints against the drillers or with regulators that never end up in court.

“We are transforming our energy infrastructure in this country from burning coal for electricity to potentially burning a lot of natural gas,” Aaron Bernstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in an interview. Non-disclosure agreements “have interfered with the ability of scientists and public health experts to understand what is at stake here.”

Gas Alliance

“The practice is common in every type of litigation in every industry,” Dan Whitten, spokesman for America’s Natural Gas Alliance, a Washington-based industry group, said in an e-mail. “It is often the case that it is less burdensome to settle — even on claims that have no merit — than to go into a protracted court battle.”

One driller, Southwestern Energy Co. of Houston, said it agreed to settle a class-action complaint of water contamination in Arkansas last year only if the agreement remained open so there would be no suspicion.

“If we had a confidentiality agreement, everybody would have thought ‘oh gosh, what did Southwestern do here. They got away with something and just paid these guys a pittance,’” said Mark Boling, Southwestern’s general counsel. The $600,000 the company paid three families was a fraction of what the legal fees would have been to see the case through, he said.


Legal Threat

Another driller, Encana Corp. of Calgary, took a different approach, threatening legal action to keep details of a case out of view of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Laura Amos believed gas drilling near her home in Silt, Colorado, about 160 miles (257 kilometers) west of Denver, was to blame for a tumor she developed. Encana, which owns the well, disagreed that fracking made her sick. Yet the company bought her 30-acre property in 2006 for $310,000, according to public records.

Amos’ complaint and the existence, though not details, of a settlement and non-disclosure pact were disclosed in filings with the oil and gas commission. In December, the agency subpoenaed Amos to testify about a rule it was considering to require water tests. Matt Sura, an environmental attorney in Boulder, Colorado, who represented conservation groups that were seeking Amos’ testimony, said an Encana attorney told him the company would sue Amos if she talked. She didn’t want to face a lawsuit from Encana and Sura said he asked the commission to withdraw the subpoena.

‘Relevant Testimony’

“She had really relevant testimony,” Sura said in an interview. “Because they’ve bought everyone’s silence, they often state that they haven’t damaged anyone.”

In filings with the commission, Amos said gas drilling on a neighbor’s property in 2001 caused her water well to blow out “like a geyser at Yellowstone.” Two years later she said she developed health problems that her doctors could not explain and she believes were related to the drilling.

The commission had concluded that Encana was responsible for methane in Amos’s well, though it said it found no evidence of fracking fluids in her water. Encana disputed the finding yet agreed to a $99,400 fine and to monitor the well until methane levels dropped.

“Encana settled the Amos case as it had been an issue a predecessor company had been working with since 2001 and rather than continue with a lengthy and costly process, Encana decided to settle,” said Jay Averill, a spokesman for Encana, in an e-mail. He didn’t respond to a question about why the company sought to keep Amos from testifying to the commission.

Amos declined to comment on any aspect of the case when contacted by telephone.


Horizontal Drilling

“Why are they settling all these cases?” Deborah Goldberg, managing attorney with the environment group Earthjustice, said in an interview. “There’s obviously information that they don’t want to get out there.”

Michael Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, said corporations often insist on confidentiality.

“Companies don’t want other potential plaintiffs to know how much money the companies were willing to pay for a settlement,” he said in an e-mail.

Advances in fracking and horizontal drilling have lowered energy prices, created thousands of jobs and helped reduce emissions blamed for global warming. President Barack Obama has highlighted the benefits of natural gas, including jobs created in the industry, in major speeches.

The technology, in which millions of gallons of water and chemicals are forced underground to free trapped gas, has brought drilling operations to within hundreds of feet of schools, homes and farms. With that has come complaints of drinking water contamination — which the industry has forcefully denied.


No Contamination

“There has never been a case of groundwater contamination as a result of hydraulic fracturing,” Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group representing the oil and gas industry, said in an April 23 interview with Bloomberg Radio.

Such claims rest in part on viewing fracking in isolation from the drilling that precedes it and the disposal of wastewater that follows. Defined narrowly, fracking is the step in the middle in which water and chemicals are forced underground to break up rock and free gas and oil.

Regulators in Pennsylvania, however, have linked gas and oil drilling with about 120 cases of water contamination from 2009 to 2012, according to documents obtained through a state right-to-know request. The documents don’t say if it was the fracking stage that was to blame, as opposed to faulty drilling or waste disposal.

Public Concern

“At the end of the day the public is less concerned with the niceties of whether it’s coming from the fracturing of the shale or whether it is coming from the failure of the well casing because as far as they’re concerned, it’s all hydraulic fracturing,” Mark Brownstein, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund in New York, said in an interview.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a long-term study of the potential impact of fracking on water.

Settlement terms in the Hallowich case were unsealed over the objections of the driller, Range Resources, by Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Debbie O’Dell-Seneca who said companies failed to show they’d suffer harm to trade secrets or reputations if the records were open.

Hallowich Case

MarkWest Energy Partners LP and Williams Cos.’s Williams Gas unit joined in the June 2011 agreement, which included the transfer of the Hallowich home in Hickory, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) southwest of Pittsburgh. The family received $594,820, including $10,000 for each of their two children. The rest of the $750,000 went to attorneys’ fees, according to court documents.

Unlike most settlements, the deal required court approval because minor children were parties to the case. That put the settlement in court, where newspapers and public interest groups challenged an order sealing the case.

“We support the judge’s decision to release the file, which now clearly shows that the state’s extensive investigations clearly proved that there were no environmental or health impacts,” Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman for Range, which is based in Fort Worth, Texas, said in an e-mail. The problems the Hallowiches experienced were from the nuisance of drilling and related activities nearby, he said.


‘Can’t Talk’

As part of the settlement, the Hallowiches signed an affidavit stating there is no medical evidence that their symptoms are related to gas drilling. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection had said it “cannot conclude” that drilling contaminated the water, a finding the family disputed in its lawsuit. They alleged the agency refused to adequately investigate and outsourced some of the testing to Range Resources itself.

The Hallowiches declined, through their attorney, to discuss the case.

“My clients signed a confidentiality agreement,” Peter Villari, their lawyer, said in an interview. “They can’t talk to you.”

In the end, settlements undermine the industry’s credibility, Robert Kennedy Jr., president of the environment group Waterkeeper Alliance, said.

“The industry is asking us to trust it on the one hand, at the same time it’s gagging people who get sick so that they’re not allowed to talk,” Kennedy said in an interview. “Local doctors, the medical community and citizens who are in these areas need to know.”

Excerpt from


Oil companies are drilling on public land for the price of a cup of coffee……


One of the U.S. government’s largest sources of non-tax revenue comes from the land it leases to oil, gas and coal companies. Last fiscal year, the federal government generated more than $13 billion from drilling and mining activities on its land – but it should have made hundreds of millions of dollars more. Antiquated pricing rules have given these energy companies access to federal lands at prices that ignore decades of inflation, as well as many environmental and health costs of fossil fuel production.

Even as the average annual price for oil produced in the United States tripled in a decade, the minimum price the federal government charged for leases remained stagnant. In fact, for decades, the minimum bid to lease public land for fossil fuel production has been just $2 an acre. Annual rental fees, which companies pay to hold and explore federal lands before production, are just as low.

And the royalty rate for oil and gas produced onshore has remained at just 12.5 percent since 1920. Those bargain prices give private companies a windfall while depriving American taxpayers of a fair return from energy production. Instead, the public has been left to pay for many of the social and environmental costs of fossil fuel operations, from road damage to respiratory problems.


This longstanding issue has become more pronounced as hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking,” has caused domestic energy production to soar, increasing its potential to become an even larger source of revenue for federal and state governments. 

Although fossil fuel production on federal lands has declined in recent years, oil, gas and coal from public lands – including offshore leases – still account for 25 percent of total U.S. fossil fuel production. Coal production on federal lands, alone, accounts for 40 percent of the U.S. total.

While the $2 minimum bid for federally auctioned oil and gas leases is only the starting price, about 40 percent of existing leases were sold at that level. Further, annual rental fees for onshore oil and gas leases – $1.50 per acre during the first five years and $2 per acre each year thereafter – allow drilling companies to hold and explore mineral leases for the price of a cup of coffee.

These low rental rates also fail to account for many of the external costs associated with exploratory drilling and mining, including local air pollution, damage to ecosystems, and truck traffic. In some cases, former hiking and scenic areas are converted into production sites and access roads.  Since these effects must be disclosed in environmental impact statements before lease sales, the federal government can estimate the cost of the damage and raise rental rates to cover them.


Equally pressing, the U.S. government charges a lower royalty rate for onshore oil and gas leases – 12.5 percent – than many U.S. states and foreign countries. California, New Mexico and North Dakota charge between 16.67 and 18.75 percent. Texas rates are as high as 25 percent. The Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management even increased offshore royalty rates in 2007, from 12.5 percent to 18.75 percent.

But the department’s Bureau of Land Management, which oversees onshore federal lands, has never increased the royalty rate. Further, the financial costs of local air pollution, damaged roads and wildlife habitat disruption were not factored into the royalty rate set in 1920. In addition, methane emissions from oil and gas production contribute to climate change and waste natural gas that can provide more revenue to the public.

As a starting point, the federal government should update the minimum bid to account for inflation; that alone would raise it to $24. Second, renting public land to some of the wealthiest corporations in the world for as little as $1.50 per year is irrational; that rate also should increase annually with inflation and account for foreseeable environmental costs.



And as we learn more about the cost of pollution that contributes to public health problems and climate change, the Interior Department should annually evaluate royalty rates for both onshore and offshore energy production to ensure a fair return to the public. The “social cost of carbon” – an official estimate of the monetary damage associated with carbon dioxide emission – is one tool the Department of Interior could use to put a value on some of these environmental impacts.

Continued advances in technology that make it cheaper for companies to produce oil and gas, and increases in market rates for fossil fuels, also would justify increasing royalty rates. These policies would be in line with the Interior Department’s mandate to both preserve natural lands and resources and to support energy production.

Many presidential candidates have announced that, if elected, they would lift the nation’s 40-year-old ban on exporting crude oil to foreign countries, a move that likely would boost U.S. oil production and corporate profits. Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Perry and Scott Walker all have criticized the federal ban, which dates back to the 1973 oil crisis. 



Excerpt from a Washington Post article

UK energy security at risk as gas imports surge


Britain must find new sources of energy fast as the quantity of imported natural gas is expected to increase at a much faster rate than the government had previously expected, the chief executive of Centrica has warned.

“In primary energy, the UK’s production of gas is falling rapidly,” Sam Laidlaw has told an international energy conference in Houston. “North Sea oil and gas output has fallen by 38pc over the last three years. By 2020 we will be reliant on imports to meet 70pc of the country’s gas needs. So when it comes to security of supply, there is a pressing need for solutions.”

Energy Minister Michael Fallon had previously said in November than Britain would import three-quarters of its natural gas by 2030, up from about 50pc at present. Late last year, Centrica signed a new deal with Qatar to import liquefied natural gas by tanker. The Gulf state already accounts for 15pc of UK supplies.

Rising energy bills and a growing dependence on imported gas have increased pressure to step up development of shale resources in the UK through fracking. The vulnerability of UK energy supplies has also been exposed by the unfolding dispute between Russian and Europe over Ukraine in Crimea. Russia is Europe’s largest supplier of gas and a significant exporter to the UK.

Half of Britain could be opened up for fracking to tap 1,300 trillion cubic feet of gas that is estimated to be locked under ground in the North of England alone to ease the growing dependence on imports.


The Wisdom of Solomon – plotting the coordinates of the dead

article-0-1B02879E000005DC-897_970x1267It was never Donna Young’s plan to raise a racket about fracking. She grew up around coal mines and bears no brief against the grunts who work the rigs and the men who own them. “I’ve got one son commuting to North Dakota” to work a rig and “another who’s done every job there is, from tearing down the rigs, putting them on flatbeds and driving ’em clear back from Kansas,” she says. “I believe we can live with drilling — as long as the politicians make sure it’s done responsibly.”

But then, nothing in Young’s life has gone to plan — not that she minds the left turns. The impulse to become a midwife at 39, then move back to Utah nine years later so she could help her ailing father run his ranch — it’s all been improvised and guided by feel. She was born in Moab to a Mormon family, raised around horses and miners and men on old tractors who came home reeking of cow shit. Her father was a range rider for the Bureau of Land Management who bred and trained racehorses on the side.

When he retired to Idaho, Young joined her folks there and opened a health-food store. A mother of two, she earned a degree in naturopathy, then found her true vocation, birthing babies. “I’d been working with lots of people, some cancer patients and chronically sick people, and here were these clients who had a clean slate — or would have, if their moms had ate healthy. I thought, ‘Oh, this is what I’m put here to do. Bring ’em into the world with no drugs or toxins, then teach the moms to raise them that way.’ ”


After 20 years and hundreds of births, Young has every reason to be proud. But in the fall of 2013, her client Caren Moon was pregnant with her third child and not doing well in the first trimester. She was cramping a lot and feeling weak; Young ordered bed rest and a natural progesterone cream to help with the bouts of mild bleeding. Moon was up on her feet again shortly, chasing after her toddlers, both birthed by Young. Then, the week before Thanksgiving, an early snowstorm led in a cold-air inversion. Moon felt ill again, took to bed, and lost the pregnancy while her house was filled with holiday guests. “It was right in that period of heavy ozone,” Moon says. “I thought we’d taken all the precautions.”

The Moons live on Bonanza Highway, a major conduit between Vernal and the oil fields due south. All day and into the night, massive trucks barreled by, farting CO and diesel soot that hung over the yard like clouds of no-see-ums. Five minutes east, her friend Melissa Morgan was also struggling to keep her baby. “I got pregnant about the same time Caren did, and was sick with all the stuff that she had — bleeding, cramping, feeling bad when I went out,” says Morgan. “There was a horrible, thick haze hanging around here for weeks. You could see it when you drove up the mountain and looked back at just this blanket of gray . . . yuck.”

Morgan spent weeks on bed rest while women from her church cooked and looked after her kids. The baby, her fifth, somehow made it to term, but weighed nearly a third less than her previous four and was in and out of doctors’ offices until she was eight months old. “It’s a miracle she’s here at all,” says Morgan. “When I saw the placenta, it was small and deformed, like it had used up all its tissue to protect her.”


heard some version of that tale all over town. Avery Lawton, a radiant redhead, was pregnant that winter with her second child, but the fetus wasn’t growing. It was so frail at 30 weeks that an obstetrician told her it could die during labor, and she should deliver at the hospital and not at home. Defying him, she went for a second, and third, opinion; her daughter, almost two now, was born with a rare and profound vision disorder, for which she wears Coke-bottle goggles.

In all the years Young has delivered babies, she says this was her first with a birth defect — and four more followed in 15 months. A girl with a shredded epiglottis, choking her when she tried to feed; a boy born tongue-tied and with a clubfoot; a girl born tongue-tied and lip-tied as well, preventing her from latching onto her mother’s breast. All required surgeries days after birth. Still others were born tiny or with mangled placentas — but at least they were alive and intact.


In May 2013, Young delivered a girl who was pink and fully formed; the child never took her first breath. She came out of her mother and collapsed in her arms; Young performed CPR, then raced her to the Ashley Regional Medical Center while the mother remained at home. She called 911 on the way, and a uniformed officer escorted her into the emergency room. Efforts to revive the child proved useless, however, and Young, who was heartsick and staggered by the loss, decided to join the mother at home. But a staffer, Young claims, wouldn’t let her leave the building. She says he put Young and her daughter Holt, a 15-year-old who often accompanies her during the births, in a room. (“We did not prevent Ms. Young from leaving our hospital,” a spokeswoman for ARMC said via e-mail. “Police onsite who were gathering information may have, but no one from our hospital was involved in that.”) After an hour, Young says, she was let go at the insistence of the dead infant’s father. She got home at 5 a.m. and wept and paced her bedroom well past sunup.

At 10 a.m. that day, a detective drove out and interrogated Young. She explained how a typical home birth happens and took him through the evening step by step. At the end, he concluded she’d done nothing wrong and declared the matter closed from his end. Devastated, she joined the bereaved parents at the graveside that week. There, at Rock Point Cemetery in Vernal, an acquaintance pulled her aside and whispered, “This isn’t the only baby to die this year.” She led Young to a pair of fresh-dug graves; two newborns had been laid to rest there since the first of the year. Young went home and combed through online obits: four other babies from Vernal or close by had died already that year. It was a shockingly big number for a small town.


Then she plotted the coordinates of the dead, and another bolt went through her. Three of the babies, including the one she’d just lost, were from moms who lived or worked near the intersection of 500 West and 500 South, a four-way stop sign that bottlenecks traffic and forces big-rig drivers to brake-start-brake, which drapes the block in shrouds of hydrocarbons. “Looking back, there were red flags,” says Young. “Every time I’d visit for a checkup, I’d come back with a splitting headache and my eyes and nose running.”

Five more babies would die that year, bringing the body count to at least 10 in Vernal; three more were lost in towns nearby. Young searched back to the start of the decade. In 2010, there were two, about average for a small town, then one in 2011 and four in 2012, including one whose mom worked at the senior facility on that smog-bound corner. And then the big jump in 2013, on the heels of a historic run in production that began a decade earlier.

The Uintah Basin alone was home to more than 11,000 wells – that’s an enormous concentration of soot and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) drifting into Vernal, then sitting there; in that inversion-filled winter, the VOC count was equivalent to 100 million cars’ exhaust. Reached for comment about the region’s pollution, Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of public affairs at the Western Energy Alliance, a trade association for the drillers, said,

“We acknowledged that the emissions were our responsibility, [and] have worked with the state to reduce them.” Asked about a link between those toxins and infant deaths, Sgamma said that “the epidemiologist showed there was not enough data to find the cause, and to make the jump you’re making is not supported.”


By June 2013, Young had seen enough. Accompanied by Bo Hunter, her 23-year-old son, she paid a call on Joe Shaffer, the TriCounty health director. She didn’t know these mothers or their medical histories — so had no idea what was killing their babies — and acknowledges that the cause may never be determined. But she was acutely fearful for her other clients’ babies and wanted Shaffer’s advice on keeping them safe. She and Hunter say she’d barely broached the subject of infant losses when Shaffer admitted he too had concerns about the air quality in Vernal and the effect it might have on area families, including his own. (Shaffer, who retired in the summer of 2014 and hasn’t spoken publicly since he left, was reached by phone at his home but declined to comment.)

Frantic now, Young called a local advocacy group, who connected her with Dr. Brian Moench. Moench, an anesthesiologist in Salt Lake City who co-founded Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, is a cross between Bill Nye and Bill McKibben, a science-geek activist and erudite spokesman for a growing clean-air coalition.

With the roughly 350 doctors in Utah he’s recruited to the cause, he and his colleagues gathered dozens of studies about pollution and its long- and short-term damage to the unborn. “What we know now,” he says, “from several blue-ribbon studies, is that the chemicals Mom inhales in industrial zones are passed to her baby through the umbilical cord, exposing them to many complications. We also know these toxins like to live in fat cells — and the brain is the largest fat reservoir in a developing fetus.”

At Moench’s urging, Young ordered her clients to stay in on bad air-quality days, and to equip their homes with high-end filters that trapped both soot and gases. Finally, in May 2014, LeFevre, the state health official, met with the TriCounty Health Department to present his proposed method to study the deaths. It would not, however, look at environmental factors; this was strictly about the statistical significance of the infant deaths.

That might have been the end of it if not for Moench. He looped in a contact at The Salt Lake Tribune, who sent a writer down to cover the announcement. For the next two days, the Tribune ran page-one stories about Young’s efforts to learn the truth about those deaths.


That’s when some people in Vernal started to turn on Donna Young. The phone calls went on for months. Several times a week she’d pick up the phone to snarling curses and personal accusations that she was “trying to bust up the economy.” Staffers at Ashley Regional Medical Center trashed her to clients, she says, and denounced her in online comments as a baby killer. (The ARMC spokeswoman denies this, adding that “if anyone employed by our facility said this, it was not on behalf of our hospital.”)

Ben Cluff, its CEO, threatened Young with legal action for “[communicating] inaccurate information regarding the number of infant deaths at our facility.” When Young took Avery Lawton for an ultrasound there, both women recall that a staffer told Young that everyone was out to destroy her, “and it’s political.”


It’s sad but unsurprising that Young would get pushback from a town that leans on oil as much as Vernal. Since crude was first pumped in this High Plains town shortly after World War II, its fortunes have tracked the price point of gas, riding its fluctuations up and down. Then along came the fracking boom, which extracted fossil fuels at rates undreamt of 10 years back, and Vernal was suddenly awash in real money.

Virtually the whole west side is newly constructed, with big-box chain stores, midrange hotels and three brewpubs serving the roughnecks who rent the prefab townhomes. Oil money helped fund the new City Hall, as well as the 32-acre convention center, one of the largest such spreads in the West. There’s the juice bar hawking T-shirts that say ‘I Heart Drilling,’ the July 4th parade featuring girls on derrick floats and the yearly golf tourney called Petroleum Days.

So it’s moot to expect much Green Party ferment from a place where boys quit high school in boom years to work the rigs at 16. But where are all the worried parents? “A huge number of my kids have breathing problems — it averages six or seven in every class,” says Rodd Repsher, a health teacher at Uintah High who hails from Pennsylvania. “Come January, they’re out sick for a week at a time. I never saw anything like it back home,” says another teacher, who relocated from the Northeast.


I met the two teachers at a town-hall forum led by Moench and three of his colleagues from Salt Lake City. Though they’d papered the town with fliers about the forum — a primer on pollution and ways to protect your family from it — and invited the mayor, Sonya Nelson, and the three Uintah County commissioners, only 40 people showed up at the Vernal Junior High School auditorium. Several were Young’s clients and their husbands and kids. Young was there, too, along with her daughter Holt. As a precaution, she’d brought a bodyguard.

In an easy-to-follow slide show about the air in the Basin and its calamitous level of pollution, Moench and his fellow doctors, two of them obstetricians, spent an hour and a half building a brick-by-brick indictment against the effect of those toxins on fetal neurons. “Think of them as bullets to developing brain cells,” said Moench. “They either kill some of those cells, alter them or switch them off, blocking their connections to other cells.” Citing a wave of new studies that link inhaled contaminants to everything from diabetes and obesity to ADD, he added that babies “are being born now pre-polluted. Lower IQs, less serotonin, less white-brain matter: We’re literally changing who they are as human beings.”

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New York State Ban On Fracking Made Official


After years of exhaustive research and examination of the science and facts, prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the only reasonable alternative.”

Those were the words many activists in New York never expected to hear from Joe Martens, head of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, but they were included in a statement released today as New York made the state’s ban on fracking official.

This step in the process was expected after the release in May of the massive 1,448 page report on fracking that was seven years in the making which also was preceded by the Cuomo administration announcing they planned to ban frackingback in December.

While there had been some mentions in the media that the recent Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report on fracking and drinking water contamination might cause trouble for the Cuomo administration, it appears that trouble was limited to predictable Republican statements about Cuomo’s decision being based on “controversial scientific studies.”

As explained in detail in this DeSmog piece by Sharon Kelly, if you read the EPA report and didn’t just rely on headlines in the New York Post to get your information, the report actually provides support for New York’s decision for a fracking ban.

New York now is the only state with known large amounts of shale deposits that has enacted a ban on fracking. In the past week, the state has also released a new energy plan with goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% (below 1990 levels) by 2030 and 80% by 2050 and to produce 50% of its electricity from renewables by 2030.

As the oil industry prepares to roll out fracking technology around the globe, New York has taken an important step in showing the world what a “reasonable alternative” looks like.

As DeSmogBlog concluded in our 2011 report Fracking the Future, the risks to our water, health and climate our simply too great to continue this fossil folly.


Fracking oil companies can be sued by earthquake victim, Oklahoma court rules

An Oklahoma woman who was injured when an earthquake rocked her home in 2011 can sue oil companies for damages, the state’s highest court ruled on Tuesday, opening the door to other potential lawsuits against the state’s energy companies.

Oklahoma has experienced a dramatic spike in earthquakes in the last five years, and researchers have blamed the oil and gas industry’s practice of injecting massive volumes of saltwater left over from drilling.

The state saw nearly 600 quakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater in 2014, compared to just one or two per year prior to 2009, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

Oil production in Oklahoma has doubled in the last seven years, in part because drillers can dispose of vast amounts of saltwater found in oil and gas formations relatively cheaply by injecting it back into the ground. This practice is believed to be what is triggering off the earthquakes.

The practice is separate from hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which has been linked to some smaller quakes but is not believed to be causing Oklahoma’s tremors.

Oklahoma, home to major energy companies including Chesapeake Energy Corp., Devon Energy Corp., and Sandridge Energy Inc., has already tightened regulations on injection wells. The state is considering tougher rules, and lawsuits would further boost costs for energy companies.


Other potential litigation?

Falling rocks injured Sandra Ladra’s legs when a 5.0 magnitude quake — the most intense in the state’s history — toppled her chimney in 2011. She has sued two Oklahoma oil companies, New Dominion LLC and Spess Oil Company, which operate injection wells near her home in Prague, Okla.

A lower court ruled that the case had to go before the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the regulator overseeing oil and gas, and dismissed Ladra’s case in 2014.

On Tuesday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed that decision, ruling that the commission’s authority does not extend to the power to “afford a remedy” to those harmed by the violation of its regulations. The case will return to district court to decide whether Ladra should be granted any damages.

Ladra’s lawyer, Arkansas-based Scott Poynter, told Reuters he can now move forward on several other potential suits from Oklahoma residents seeking compensation from energy companies for damages resulting from earthquakes.

Attorneys for New Dominion and Spess did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Industry advocates on Tuesday downplayed the significance of the court’s ruling, and cast doubt on whether Ladra and her attorneys could prove specific wells were responsible for the earthquake that caused her injuries.

Researchers say more work needs to be done to determine the exact mechanism of the link between underground injection and earthquakes, and whether location, volume, pressure, or other factors are the most significant.

Fracking under fire in Canada

Players in the Canadian oil and gas industry, especially those with fracking operations, are similarly coming under increasing scrutiny for both the connection to an increase in earthquakes and the alleged contamination of groundwater reserves.

Increased seismic activity throughout the natural-gas rich regions has been definitively linked to natural gas development, particularly to fracking. British Columbia’s oil and gas commission recently tied 231 seismic events in the province’s northeast to nearby fracking projects, for example.

Alberta fracking case to be heard by Supreme Court of Canada

That being said, no damage to infrastructure caused by fracking-related quakes has ever been recorded in Canada. Generally only earthquakes of at least magnitude 6.0 pose a significant structural threat to buildings. While B.C. and Alberta have recorded tremors of magnitude 4.4, no event of magnitude 6.0 or higher has ever been linked to fracking anywhere in the world. 

As fracking projects continue in Canada, however, there will likely be legal challenges from residents and environmental groups who oppose the practice. 

In April, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled it would hear the case of an Alberta woman who claims fracking operations have so badly contaminated her well that the water can be set on fire.