If rising temperatures and sea levels from climate change don’t get us, maybe an earthquake or toxic fumes from hydraulic fracturing will. Meanwhile the oil companies continue to dig these wells with minimum regulation or information on the impact to the environment. What we do know is rather frightening when the earth moves under your feet especially where it’s not expected
No strangers to nature’s fury, Oklahomans grow up accustomed scorching heat, blizzards, wrecking-ball thunderstorms and tornadoes. What they don’t see a lot of are earthquakes, which have been rattling the Sooner State with rare frequency of late – at least 115 earthquakes of varying intensities in the last week. [..]
State authorities are now trying to get the bottom of the unusual seismic activity. Holland is amassing resources and data to figure out what might be to blame, and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which oversees the oil and gas industry, has already proposed new testing and monitoring requirements for wells injected with drilling wastewater, which some have blamed for the increase in earthquakes. Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, involving explosions being set off underground, has also been blamed by some for the swarm. [..]
It’s true that Oklahoma has a history of earthquake swarms that spike and then die down, but it’s also true that humans have caused earthquakes in the past. And previous swarms have been nowhere near as serious as this latest one. “We do know there have been some earthquakes caused by oil and gas activity in the state,” Holland, the research seismologist, said. “The hard part is figuring out which is which.”
At least on governor is concerned about public safety enough to appoint a commission to look into the unusual seismic activity in his state.
Calling it a “matter of public safety,” Gov. Sam Brownback has appointed a committee to study whether oil and gas activity is behind the recent spate of minor earthquakes in Kansas.
Expansion of the oil and gas recovery method known as “fracking” has coincided with a series of small quakes in areas that had long been seismically stable. Fracking doesn’t appear to cause the problem, but an increase in oil and gas production and disposal of waste fluids associated with fracking could be behind the recent temblors that have shaken south-central Kansas and northern Oklahoma, scientists said Monday.
In Dunkard Township, Pennsylvania, 50 miles south of Pittsburgh, two of Chevron’s natural gas wells exploded last week burning for five days, leaving one worker injured and another missing and presumed dead. After the fires were out, Chevron sent a letter of apology to the residents of the nearby town of Bobtown. Included in the letter was a coupon for a free large pizza and a 2-liter bottle of soda.
Besides the ground shaking, contamination of underground water supplies, explosions and fires, another problem has arisen, literally, increased air pollution to the point that the air is so toxic that it is making people sick. A study released by The Weather Channel, the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News looked into just how bad the air quality has become near the Eagle Ford Shale site in southern Texas. The summary of their findings describes how the Texas regulators are protecting the industry rather than the public:
- Texas’ air monitoring system is so flawed that the state knows almost nothing about the extent of the pollution in the Eagle Ford. Only five permanent air monitors are installed in the 20,000-square-mile region, and all are at the fringes of the shale play, far from the heavy drilling areas where emissions are highest.
- Thousands of oil and gas facilities, including six of the nine production sites near the Buehrings’ house, are allowed to self-audit their emissions without reporting them to the state. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which regulates most air emissions, doesn’t even know some of these facilities exist. An internal agency document acknowledges that the rule allowing this practice “[c]annot be proven to be protective.”
- Companies that break the law are rarely fined. Of the 284 oil and gas industry-related complaints filed with the TCEQ by Eagle Ford residents between Jan. 1, 2010, and Nov. 19, 2013, only two resulted in fines despite 164 documented violations. The largest was just $14,250. (Pending enforcement actions could lead to six more fines).
- The Texas legislature has cut the TCEQ’s budget by a third since the Eagle Ford boom began, from $555 million in 2008 to $372 million in 2014. At the same time, the amount allocated for air monitoring equipment dropped from $1.2 million to $579,000.
- The Eagle Ford boom is feeding an ominous trend: A 100 percent statewide increase in unplanned, toxic air releases associated with oil and gas production since 2009. Known as emission events, these releases are usually caused by human error or faulty equipment.
- Residents of the mostly rural Eagle Ford counties are at a disadvantage even in Texas, because they haven’t been given air quality protections, such as more permanent monitors, provided to the wealthier, more suburban Barnett Shale region near Dallas-Fort Worth.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow examined some of the ills of fracking and discusses the report with Jim Morris, senior reporter and editor at the Center for Public Integrity.
Transcript can be read here
Transcript can be read here