Category: Energy

Midwife Sounds Alert Over Spike in Stillbirths in Heavily-Drilled Vernal, Utah

Drilling density in the Uintah Basin, where Vernal is located

Drilling density in the Uintah Basin, where Vernal is located

A midwife in Vernal, Utah, has raised a red flag about a spike in the number of stillbirths and neonatal deaths in the small town in 2013. The statistic has emerged alongside explosive growth in drilling and fracking in the area. Energy companies have flocked to Vernal in the last few years to develop the massive oil and gas fields that underlie Uintah County.

The midwife, Donna Young,  who has worked in the Vernal area for 19 years, reported delivering the first stillborn baby she’s seen in all her years of practice in May, 2013. Doctors could not determine any reason for the baby’s death.

While visiting the local cemetery where the parents of that baby had buried their dead child, Young noticed other fresh graves of babies who were stillborn or died shortly after birth.

Young started researching local sources of data on stillbirths and neonatal deaths, like obituaries and mortuary records, and found a large spike in the number of infant deaths occurring in Vernal in recent years. She found 11 other incidents in 2013 where Vernal mothers had given birth to stillborn babies, or whose babies died within a few days of being born.

Vernal’s full-time population is only about 9,800.

The rate of neonatal deaths in Vernal has climbed from about equivalent to the national average in 2010, to six times the national average in 2013.

Along with the surge in oil and gas drilling in the Vernal area over the last few years, the winter time air in the Uintah basin, where Vernal sits, has become dense with industrial smog generated by drilling rigs, pipelines, wells and increased traffic.

“DrillingAhead.com” Gives Inside Look at Problems, Accidents and Worker Behavior in Oil and Gas Field

DrillingAhead.com is a worldwide networking website for employees of the oil and gas field. Rotating news stories on the the site’s front page have headlines like “Fingertip Amputation Hangs Over Chesapeak Energy,” “2 Dead, 9 Injured After Oilfield Explosion Near Orla, Texas,” and “Texas Newspaper Investigation Questions Oilfield Safety; Says 663 Killed in 6 Years.” The latter story discusses the U.S. federal government’s failure to enforce safety standards on drilling rigs.

DrillingAhead.com also lets oil and gas field workers upload videos of what they see  at their worksites. So far workers have uploaded almost 16,000 videos onto the site, with many showing accidents and workers screwing around. One video titled “Directional Drilling Nightmare” shows a drill bit gone awry and surfacing in a nearby field, spewing mud and fluid around the area. Others show workers sleeping on the job, and another shows a gas plant exploding in fire at an unnamed location in Colorado. Another truly incredible video shows drilling rig workers engaging in a pipe-licking contest (video at left), where two men actually try to outdo each other for the length of time they can hold their tongues against an active, circulating vertical section of pipe.

DrillingAhead.com also links to a fascinating Flickr site featuring still photos of “Oilfield Accidents.” Photos show frightened workers clinging desperately to the railing of a severely listing offshore rig, an offshore rig sinking into the water, a truck impaled by oilfield equipment, rigs that have collapsed or caught fire (or both), and rigs completely encased in ice.

DrillingAhead.com gives a detailed inside look at the actual operation of drilling rigs around the world as seen by the workers themselves, and in so doing does plenty to undermine confidence — if there ever was any — in how drilling operations are carried out worldwide.

In fact, DrillingAhead.com provides ample justification to worry mightily about the safety and integrity of oil and gas drilling operations everywhere.

 

Texas Family Wins $2.95 Million Verdict from Aruba Petroleum for Damaging their Health

Drilling rig outside the Ruggiero's kitchen window. The Ruggieros were neighbors of the Parrs, who won the lawsuit against Aruba Petroleum, for damaging their health (Photo by Tim Ruggiero)

Drilling rig outside the Ruggiero’s kitchen window. The Ruggieros were neighbors of the Parrs, who won the lawsuit against Aruba Petroleum, for damaging their health (Photo by Tim Ruggiero)

A Texas ranching family won a $2.95 million award in a civil lawsuit against Aruba Petroleum, Inc., after a jury found that the company’s drilling and fracking operations near their home caused the entire family to become desperately ill.

It is believed to be the first jury award in the country resulting from a claim of health damages from drilling and fracking operations. Most landowners who bring such suits are pushed to settle and submit to gag orders so drilling companies can keep the terms of the settlements out of the public realm.

Robert and Lisa Parr lived on a ranch about 40 miles northwest of Fort Worth, Texas, and had 20 active wells being drilled and fracked within two miles of their home.

In November, 2008, Lisa, a stay-at-home mom, started feeling nauseated and getting extreme headaches. At first she thought she was getting the flu, but the symptoms did not abate. She soon developed muscle spasms, a strange rash all over her body and open sores that would not heal. The sores and rashes got so severe that she went to the emergency room, where doctors packed her body in ice to give her some relief.

Lisa’s daughter, then about six years old, started getting severe nosebleeds in her sleep and would wake up soaked with blood.

Her husband, Robert, began experiencing memory loss. Their house pets died, and their livestock gave birth to deformed offspring.

Untangling Colorado’s Web of Anti-Fracking Ballot Initiatives

NoFrackingColorado voters who try to figure out all the proposed statewide ballot initiatives to regulate drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) are in for a real challenge. So far, fully eleven ballot initiatives have been proposed on the subject, with many of them extremely similar to each other.

It’s tempting to think the oil and gas industry filed some of them to confuse voters and try to pass a watered-down measure, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. So far all of the initiatives filed seem to have been brought by people who truly want more serious regulation of the energy industry, or who are trying to gain an advantage over Colorado’s legal and regulatory regimen, which favors corporate dominance over the desires of residents.

Here’s a rundown on what is known so far about Colorado’s slew of proposed anti-fracking ballot measures.

Over Half of Weld County’s Winter Air Pollution Comes from Drilling Rigs

Weld, County, Colorado

Weld, County, Colorado

A team of atmospheric scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the University of Colorado (CU) found that drilling operations for oil and natural gas in Weld County, Colorado was the “dominant wintertime source” of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in the air pollution emissions in that area. VOCs contribute to the formation of ozone, a constituent of photochemical smog. The researchers tested the air at a site 2.5 miles east of downtown Erie, Colorado.

In 2011, at the time of the study, Weld County had over 15,000 active gas wells. Two years later, it had 19,000. The study, titled “Source Signature of Volatile Organic Compounds from Oil and Natural Gas Operations in NOrtheastern Colorado,” was published in Environmental Science and Technology in January, 2013.

The study’s lead author, Jessica Gilman, Ph.D., said, “Average levels of propane [in the air in Weld County] were higher than the range of values reported for 28 U.S. cities. For example, they were four to nine times higher than in Houston, Texas, and Pasadena, California.”

The CU-NOAA study also found that air pollution from oil and gas emissions have a “chemical signature” that clearly differentiates them from other air pollution sources, like vehicular exhaust.

The study found that more than half of ozone-forming pollutants in Erie come from drilling activity.

Colorado Health Department Investigating Spike in Fetal Abnormalities in Heavily-Drilled Garfield County

Cross-posted from DeSmogBlog.com

Garfield County drilling rig (Photo: Garfield County government)

Garfield County drilling rig (Photo: Garfield County government)

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) has called in an epidemiologist to investigate a recent spike in fetal abnormalities in Garfield County on Colorado’s western slope. Stacey Gavrell, Director of Community Relations for Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs, said area prenatal care providers reported an increase in fetal abnormalities to the hospital, which then notified CDPHE. So far neither the hospital nor the state have released information about the numbers of cases reported, over what span of time, or the amount of the increase.

Gavrell said it is too early to speculate on the causes of the spike in abnormalities.

The report comes on the heels of the February, 2014 publication in Environmental Health Perspectives of a study that found an association between the density of natural gas wells within a ten mile radius of expectant mothers’ homes and the prevalence of fetal anomalies such as low birth weight and congenital heart defects in their infants.

The study examined a large cohort of babies over an extended period of time in rural Colorado, and specifically controlled for confounding factors that also emit air pollution, including traffic and other heavy industries. The abnormalities in infants in the study are associated with exposure to air pollutants like those emitted from natural gas wells, including volatile organic compounds and nitrogen dioxide.

map of current drilling activity in the Garfield County area shows the number and concentration of active wells along the busy I-70 corridor between Glenwood Springs and Rifle, one of the areas of interest in CDPHE’s investigation.

Colorado Legislators Seek to Punish Cities that Ban Fracking

Cross-posted from DeSmogBlog.com

Colorado Representative Frank McNulty announced  initiative effort to punish cities that ban fracking

Colorado Representative Frank McNulty announced initiative effort to punish cities that ban fracking

Two Colorado legislators announced they are introducing a ballot initiative aimed at punishing cities and towns that vote to ban fracking within their borders.

Rep. Frank McNulty of Highlands Ranch and Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, both Republicans, announced they will attempt to get an initiative on the ballot to block local jurisdictions from getting severance tax revenues or grants from Departments of Local Affairs as long as they have fracking bans or moratoria in place.

The state collects severance taxes on income derived from the extraction of non-renewable natural resources, like oil and gas, coal and metallic minerals. Severance taxes also help pay for programs administered by Departments of Local Affairs.

The legislators estimated it will cost about $150,000 to get the initiative on the November, 2014 ballot. According to the Colorado Secretary of State, they  would need to gather approximately 86,000 valid signatures.

The lawmakers did not say why they chose a ballot initiative instead of just introducing legislation to achieve this goal, but it could be because they know chances are slim it would pass in Colorado’s Democratically-controlled legislature.

New Business Coalition Forms in Colorado to Fight Anti-Fracking Movement

Cross-posted from DeSmogBlog.com
Vital for Colorado's full page "Energy Chaos" ad is aimed at derailing a potential ballot initiative to rein in corporate power over citizens

Vital for Colorado’s full page “Energy Chaos” ads, run in rural areas of the state, are aimed at derailing a potential ballot initiative to rein in corporate power over citizens

A new pro-fracking business coalition called “Vital for Colorado” (VfC) has sprung up to fight the growing grassroots anti-fracking movement in Colorado. VfC’s board chairman and registered agent is Peter T. Moore, a senior partner at the Denver law firm of Polsinelli, P.C., which serves the oil and gas industry. Calls and emails to Peter T. Moore and VfC seeking information on the group’s major funders and legal registration information went unanswered.

Most of VfC’s supporters (pdf) are chambers of commerce in more rural areas of the state, cattle and dairy farmers, trade groups like the Colorado Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association, prominent construction and real estate companies, and oil and gas drilling companies like Encana and Suncor Energy, which is based in Calgary, Alberta, and not in Colorado.
So why has VfC gone to Colorado’s hinterlands to try to drum up support? Because VfC’s best chance to gain support appears to be away from the front range, where so far five front range cities have passed ordinances banning fracking within their limits, a fact that has apparently made a big impression on Colorado businesses.

 

In typical front group fashion, VfC’s website doesn’t list a phone number and only permits email contact through a web form, but the site does give a street address for the group: 4950 S. Yosemite St., F2 #236. Coincidentally this is the same address as the former office of the issue group “No on Measure 2A,” whose registered agent was also Peter T. Moore.

Study Links Natural Gas Drilling to Congenital Heart Defects in Babies

"Drill, baby, drill?"

“Drill, baby, drill?”

A newly-published study specific to Colorado (pdf) links the rate of congenital heart defects in babies to how close they live to natural gas wells. The study, published January 28, 2014 in Environmental Health Perspectives, a publication of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, examined a large cohort of babies over an extended period of time — 124,842 births between 1996 and 2009 in rural Colorado. Researchers discovered an association between the density and proximity of methane (“natural gas”) wells within a ten mile radius of the mothers’ residences and the prevalence of heart defects, low birth weight and small-for-gestational age in newborns. Congenital heart defects are often associated with maternal exposure to toxins during gestation from sources like maternal smoking, alcohol abuse, exposure to solvents, benzene, toluene and petroleum-based solvents. Low birth weight and pre-term births are associated with exposure to air pollutants including volatile organic compounds, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter, all of which are emitted during natural gas production. The authors restricted their study to people living in rural areas and towns in Colorado with populations under 50,000 to reduce the potential for exposure to other sources of pollution, like heavy traffic and pollution from other industries. The researchers compared results with births among mothers who live in control areas that do not have natural gas drilling nearby.

Source: Lisa M. Mckenzie, Ruixin Guo, Roxana Z. Witter, David A. Savitz, Lee S. Newman and John L. Adgate, Witter, Birth Outcomes and Maternal Residential Proximity to natural Gas Development in Rural Colorado, Environmental Health Perspectives, 28 January 2014

Shoot Out with High Noon Solar

HighNoonThinking of getting solar panels installed on your house or office? Great! Just don’t let your solar company rush you into a deal, and make sure they calculate the size of your system based on the correct power consumption data from your building. Any error will cost you for decades.

That’s our advice after having had a bad experience dealing with Grand Junction’s High Noon Solar. In their zeal to rush us into a soon-to-expire lease deal, High Noon miscalculated the size of power system we’d need. Now we’re stuck with a system that’s too small to offset our power bills to the extent that High Noon promised.

ALEC Pushes Bills to Penalize Homeowners Who Install Solar Panels

ALEC-coal-members-300x225The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the corporate bill mill that pushes “Stand Your Ground” laws like the Florida law that led to the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, is now working to gut state laws that require electric companies use more energy from renewable sources. ALEC is also pushing laws to discourage people from putting solar panels on their own homes.  “Renewable Portfolio Standards” (RPS) are laws that require power companies to derive a specific portion of their power from solar, wind or other renewable sources by a certain future date. So far 30 states have enacted RPS laws. In 2012, though, ALEC started pushing “model legislation” calling for the out-and-out repeal of RPS laws. Confidential ALEC strategy documents obtained by the UK Guardian newspaper reveal that ALEC calls such legislation the “Electricity Freedom Act.” So far, ALEC has engineered the introduction of such measures in about 15 states.

Grand Junction Chamber’s Support for Dirty Energy Quietly Fails

Duck that landed in a toxic mining runoff lake at a Canadian tar sands mining site. (Photo: Natural Resources Defense Council)

Duck that landed in a toxic mining runoff lake at a Canadian tar sands mining site. (Photo: Natural Resources Defense Council)

On its website, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce touts green business practices. It sports photos of green leaves and solar panels on its Facebook page and offers up articles like the “Top 10 Green Practices for Landscapers” and “Top 10 Green Practices for Auto Repair.” The chamber urges businesses to take steps to reduce air pollution, protect people’s health and conserve water. Sounds pretty good, right? Like they really care about the environment, huh? So does this mean the Chamber is pro-environment?

Not by a long shot.

The Grand Junction chamber tries to put on a green face but it is one of the biggest political boosters in the state when it comes to promoting development of oil shale and tar sands — two of the most environmentally destructive and economically impractical mining practices in the world today.

BP’s Deepwater Horizon Cover-Up

Studies have found oil/Corexit® residue accelerates the absorption of toxins into the skin. The results aren’t visible under normal light (top), but the contamination into the skin appear as fluorescent spots under UV light (bottom). Photo Credit: James H “Rip” Kirby III, Surfrider Foundation

Studies have found oil/Corexit® residue accelerates the absorption of toxins into the skin. The results aren’t visible under normal light (top), but contamination that has worked its way into the skin appears as fluorescent spots under UV light (bottom). Photo Credit: James H “Rip” Kirby III, Surfrider Foundation

Newsweek magazine published a scathing expose’ this week about BP’s behind-the-scenes efforts to limit what the public saw and understood about the company’s disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon gulf oil spill.  BP assured thousands of fishermen, on-shore residents and workers they hired to help with spill cleanup operations that the proprietary oil dispersant they used called “Corexit” was as safe as dish soap, but people exposed to the Corexit/oil mixture subsequently fell ill with a range symptoms that mimic Gulf War Syndrome, including muscle spasms that rendered their hands unusable, neurological problems like short term memory loss, painful skin inflammation and breathing problems. A Government Accountability Project (GAP) investigation done after the fact found BP purposely withheld manufacturer’s safety manuals for Corexit from the fishermen and other workers. In interviews after the disaster, cleanup workers said BP had threatened to fire any workers who complained about the lack of protective clothing and respirators. Airplanes spraying Corexit also indiscriminately sprayed the substance over the fishing boats BP hired to help contain the spill, exposing the fishermen to multiple doses of the chemicals. Nineteen months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the peer-reviewed scientific journal Environmental Pollution published a study that found that crude oil becomes 52 times more toxic when mixed with Corexit than it would otherwise be if left alone.  GAP representatives asked BP to pay for the medical treatment of victims of Corexit-and-crude poisoning but BP has refused. BP’s cover up demonstrates the huge amount of power corporations wield and the inability or unwillingness of governments to restrict that power. Eleven people were killed in the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but no one has yet faced any criminal charges. What’s worse, the BP spill and its after-effects haven’t prompted any changes in public policy towards big corporations and their activities. It’s as though the U.S. government has gleaned no wisdom at all from the disaster and BP’s subsequent actions.

Source: Newsweek, “What BP Doesn’t Want You to Know about the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill,” April 22, 2013 (Accompanying photo is from the University of South Florida study “Findings of Persistency of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Residual Tar Product Sourced from Crude Oil Released During the Deepwater Horizon M252 Spill of National Significance,” [PDF], April 14, 2012)

Grassroots Group Succeeds in Peeling Away Heartland Institute’s Funding

Screen shot 2013-01-20 at 11.48.55 AMA group called Forecast the Facts is leading a campaign to peel away corporate funders who give money the Heartland Institute, a prominent think tank that has been a leader in the effort to deny climate science. Heartland is known for its harsh and divisive anti-climate change PR tactics, like running cringe-inducing billboards along major highways that liken people who believe in climate change to mass murderers like Charles Manson and the Unabomber, Ted Kaczyinski.  The Heartland Institute has flourished through funding from large corporations and industries that have a stake in climate change denial, including ExxonMobil, The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Murray Energy Corporation, Altria/Philip Morris, Microsoft, General Motors and biotech companies like Amgen and Bayer. Forecast the Facts’ grassroots effort to peel away funders looks like it’s paying off, too. The group calculated Heartland’s corporate and trade association funding for 2012 based on the amounts Heartland projected they would take in in their 2012 fundraising plan. Of $2.3 million in projected funding, Forecast the Facts has succeeded in getting corporations to withdraw $1.3 million, leaving about $990,000 remaining. More than 150,000 people have weighed in with various corporations through the project and urged them to pull their funding from Heartland. On its website, Forecast the Facts lists Heartland’s remaining corporate funders, the approximate amount the companies donate to the think tank, and phone numbers at each corporation that people can call to ask the company to stop funding Heartland.

Progress in Fuel-Free, Pollution-Free Flight

The spectre of fuel- and pollution-free air travel drew closer this month as the first airplane powered completely by solar energy completed its first intercontinental flight. The Solar Impulse left Madrid, Spain in the early morning hours of Tuesday, June 5 and flew across the Strait of Gibraltar to Rabat, Morocco, where it made a spectacular landing 19 hours later. The plane has the wingspan of a jumbo jet, but weighs only as much as a medium-size car. In 2010, the Solar Impulse earned a place in history after it became the first airplane to fly for more than 24 hours straight using only solar energy. The aircraft stayed aloft for 26 hours, 10 minutes and 19 seconds, and also set a record for altitude, having flown at an elevation of 30,298 feet. Technology now allows the solar-powered plane to fly both day and night. The landing in Morocco’s capitol of Rabat was also symbolic for another reason: that country’s progress toward development of viable amounts of renewable, non-polluting energy. This year Morocco will award a contract to build a power facility that will generate 160 megawatts of solar power — the first step in an ambitious and progressive national plan to generate 38 percent of the country’s electricity from solar power by 2020. The goal of the Solar Impulse Project is to prove that progress is possible using clean forms of energy, and that it is possible to eventually free societies from dependence on fossil fuels. You can follow the Solar Impulse’s progress at the project’s website,  SolarImpulse.com.

Source: Ottowa Citizen, June 6, 2012

Romney Fails to Retract Huge, Verfiable Lie

Mitt Romney made, and has continued to spew, a totally verifiable lie

A slew of major media outlets including the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal and CNN reported on a speech that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave on May 31 in front of the shuttered offices of Solyndra, the California-based solar panel manufacturer that went bankrupt after taking a $535 million loan from the U.S. Department of Energy — but they all failed to check on whether what Romney said in his speech was true.  Referring to Solyndra’s government loan, Romney said, “An independent inspector general looked at this investment and concluded that the [Obama] administration had steered money to friends & family, to campaign contributors. This building — the half a billion dollar taxpayer investment — represents a serious conflict of interest on the part of the President and his team. It’s also a symbol of how the President thinks about free enterprise. Free enterprise to the President means taking money form the taxpayers and giving it freely to his friends.” But Romney’s statements are a bald-faced, easily-verifiable lie and it took days for the major media covering the speech to fact-check Romney’s statements after media watchdogs called them out.

Clean, Sustainable Energy vs. Fracking Colorado

A guest post by Michele Swensen

The week prior to Senator Morgan Carroll’s May 2 introduction of SB 107 (The Fracking Safety Act) to the Senate Judiciary Committee, an oil drilling site near Windsor, Colorado, operated by Ranchers Exploration Partners based in Greeley, was issued a cease-and-desist order by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), which declared an environmental emergency. The site, located in unincorporated Larimer County above the Ridge West residential subdivision, the Poudre River and a lake, was declared a public health hazard after the drilling rig became unstable and brought up potentially toxic solid waste from the landfill upon which it was positioned. The COGCC had issued a drilling permit in September 2010, and state health officials were satisfied that the company had moved the drilling site sufficiently away from the landfill, based on a June, 2011 six-foot test drill over the site. Ranchers Exploration plans to move the drilling rig yet again to another site on the same property, ostensibly away from the old landfill.

The COGCC’s field inspection of the drilling site concluded that Ranchers Exploration failed to follow “most best management practices for drilling sites,” e.g., failing to build secondary containment for “storm water runoff, sewage, chemicals and other toxins that might flow off the drilling pad.”

Compass Colorado Links Obama and U.S. Energy Policy to Iranian Dictator

CompassColorado.org's new billboard

The Republican front group Compass Colorado is running billboards across the state that link President Obama with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The boards show a photo of President Obama alongside photos of Ahmadinejad and, varyingly, three lesser-known Colorado Democratic Congressional candidates: Representatives Joe Mikloski, Sal Pace and Congressman Ed Perlmutter. Above the photos, text says “Higher gas prices YES! U.S. Energy Independence NO!” The boards fail to mention that the U.S. does not buy any oil from Iran. By using their photos and names next to that of President Obama, Compass Colorado is unwittingly giving the three lesser-known candidates a free boost to their name recognition. Compass Colorado is run by Tyler Q. Houlton, who worked as communications director for former Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo. Tancredo gained fame for his February 4, 2010 speech at the National Tea Party Movement Convention in which he said Barack Obama became president because of “people who could not even spell the word ’vote’ or say it in English.” Tancredo then proposed making people take “a civics literacy test” as a prerequisite to voting. Houlton also worked for Rep. Scott McInnis’ failed campaign for governor of Colorado. McInnis’ campaign tanked after journalists revealed McInnis had plagiarized an extensive essay about water law that a nonprofit group had paid him to write. McInnis blamed the plagiarism on an elderly research assistant and refunded the $300,000 to the organization that paid him. Compass Colorado does not reveal its funders.

Main source: Colorado Pols, May 12, 2012