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Monday
May072012

New Proposal on Fracking Gives Ground to Industry

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration on Friday issued a proposed rule governing hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas on public lands that will for the first time require disclosure of the chemicals used in the process.

But in a significant concession to the oil industry, companies will have to reveal the composition of fluids only after they have completed drilling — a sharp change from the government’s original proposal, which would have required disclosure of the chemicals 30 days before a well could be started.

The pullback on the rule followed a series of meetings at the White House after the original regulation was proposed in February. Lobbyists representing oil industry trade associations and individual major producers like ExxonMobil, XTO Energy, Apache, Samson Resources and Anadarko Petroleum met with officials of the Office of Management and Budget, who reworked the rule to address industry concerns about overlapping state regulations and the cost of compliance.

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Monday
May072012

Interior Department floats new fracking rules

The Obama administration has moved to force oil and gas operators to gain prior approval before fracking on federal land and disclose the fluids they use.

Under proposed rules released Friday by the Interior Department, frackers must also submit reports to ensure water sources are being protected.

The rules would apply only to federal and tribal land while the vast majority of fracking operations occur on private land. But this rule, along with last month’s EPA air quality standards for oil and gas operations that use hydraulic fracturing, was a highly anticipated look at how the Obama administration would treat the natural gas industry.

Under the proposed rule, operators would need to:

• Get prior approval before beginning fracking operations as a part of the application for a permit to drill. For wells already permitted but not fracked when the rule goes into effect or wells where the approval is more than five years old, operators would submit a report on the fracking plan for approval by the Bureau of Land Management before beginning the hydraulic fracturing process. Wells that are at least five years old would be reviewed promptly to eliminate any delay in operations.

• Submit additional information on the geological formations they are operating within and the specifications of the wells being drilled to ensure that water sources are being protected.

• Submit a disposal plan for recovered fluids for prior approval, along with estimates of how much fluid will be recovered.

• Conduct mechanical integrity tests to ensure that the wells can sustain the pressures expected during fracking.

• Store recovered fluids in tanks or lined pits, as is the current industry recommended practice.

After fracking operations have been completed, the operator would need to submit actual totals of fracking fluids used and the composition of fluids to BLM.

The chemical name, purpose and the amount used must be disclosed to BLM, and that information would be posted on a public website. BLM is working to integrate the information into FracFocus.org, an existing fluid disclosure website.

BLM would also reserve the right to request any additional information about well stimulation activities at any point, according to the rule.

Operators would still have to comply with any state or local regulations related to hydraulic fracturing.

A 60-day comment period will begin once the rule is published in the Federal Register.


Tuesday
May012012

Committee OKs county fracking resolution - SSNL

DOWNTOWN AKRON — A Summit County Council committee recommended Council adopt a resolution asking state officials to enact “reasonable regulations” for high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

During the April 23 Public Works Committee meeting, chair Sandra Kurt (D-at large) and members Frank Comunale (D-District 4), Jerry Feeman (D-District 6) and Nick Kostandaras (D-District 1) voted in favor of the resolution, while member Tim Crawford (D-District 7) abstained. Committee members Gloria Rodgers (R-District 3) and Bill Roemer (R-at large) voted against the measure.

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Tuesday
May012012

EPA issues air pollution rules for 'fracking' wells

Federal regulators issued first-ever air pollution rules for "fracking" wells this past week, requiring drillers burn or capture the gas and its smog-producing compounds released when the wells are first tapped.

Environmental Protection Agency official Gina McCarthy announced the long-anticipated rules, the first to cover some of the 13,000 wells drilled yearly nationwide that use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to collect natural gas and oil from deep shale layers.

Going into effect in 60 days, the rules cover the period when a well is first drilled when natural gas is still venting but before it begins actual production. In a compromise with the industry, regulators said the drillers can flare, or burn off, the gas for now, a process that can last for weeks. But starting in 2015 they would lose that option. Instead, they'll be required to collect it -- so-called green completion of new fracking wells.

"We wanted to encourage 'green completions' as soon as the technology can become widely available," McCarthy said, explaining the 2015 "phase-in" of the rules. The announcement came in response to a lawsuit involving the Clean Air Act. EPA estimates the rules will cut 95 percent of the smog- related chemicals released by fracking wells, ones linked to asthma, respiratory ailments and cancer.

http://www.mansfieldnewsjournal.com/article/20120422/NEWS01/204220304/EPA-issues-air-pollution-rules-fracking-wells?odyssey=tab%7Ctopnews%7Ctext%7CFrontpage

 

Tuesday
May012012

Local fracking control often lacking

Limited control

Local governments' ability to stop oil and gas development is murky at best, but they can make a driller's margins smaller, said Nathan Johnson, staff attorney for the Buckeye Forest Council, an environmental advocate.

Cities can levy their own fees and taxes on drillers operating within their boundaries, he said. They can refuse to accept brine, which is different from fracking fluid and sometimes used to treat dusty or icy roads, thereby forcing the company to store it or inject at their expense.

"Cities can pass their own severance taxes if they wanted," Johnson said, referring to the levy paid for removing a natural resource, such as oil or timber. "Another thing they can do, municipalities can take fines (for violating a regulation) and increase them."

Steve Strauss, a county commissioner in Muskingum County, said local government wants to be involved in the process and wants to be heard by the multi-billion dollar energy companies operating down the street.

Muskingum County has a notification system that keeps every official from the township level up abreast of activity.

As for control, Strauss said it may not be codified, but they have influence. He points to a stop sign on at the intersection of an access road for the well and Paisley Road near The Wilds.

Strauss said the county felt it was a safety issue to have these big trucks merging onto the main road without stopping first. Anadarko Petroleum Corp., the well's owner, agreed and a stop sign was put in.

"They want to be good neighbors," Strauss said.

Water impact

Devon Energy, an Oklahoma City firm, plans to pull 3 million gallons from the Licking River over the course of a week.

The water will be mixed with sand and chemicals and blasted underground at high pressure to break open the shale and allow natural gas, liquids and oil to escape.

Devon spokesman Chip Minty said they had considered buying water from landowners with ponds or drilling a well for water, but decided on the Licking River as the best option. They are following the state's protocol on water withdrawals, he said.

For every inch of rain over a square mile area, abo

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Tuesday
May012012

Reporting of fracking and drilling violations weak

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (CNNMoney) -- For Pennsylvanians with natural gas wells on their land, chances are they won't know if a safety violation occurs on their property.

That's because the state agency charged with regulating the wells -- the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) -- does not have to notify landowners if a violation is discovered. Even if landowners inquire about safety violations, DEP records are often too technical for the average person and incomplete.

While some landowners would like more transparency around safety issues, as a group they are not pushing for stronger regulations. Landowners, who are paid royalties by the companies that drill on their property, generally want the drilling to proceed.

Violations: In February, CNNMoney spoke with four families in Lycoming County, Pa., about violations issued against natural gas wells on or near their property.

The families have a total of 26 natural gas wells among them. They've received royalties from the wells, ranging from the low hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars over the last few years.

Yet none said they had ever been notified by the DEP or any of the well operators that wells near their homes had been cited for what DEP's website said were 62 safety violations over four years.

"We had no idea that there were any violations," said Dan Bower, who lives next door to his mother, Jane, and her five wells.

"We should have been contacted or something," echoed Neil Barto, another well owner.

DEP says that in cases in which violations pose risk to human health, they "certainly notify landowners."

The violations range from simple things such as improper signage toserious infractions such as subpar cementing -- which according to DEP can allow gas to seep out of a well and in some cases "has the potential to cause a fire or explosion."

While the violations are posted online, the digital records are short on specifics -- most importantly whether a violation poses a health risk.

A time consuming process: If landowners want to inquire about all violations on their property, DEP says they should do an in-person file review of the state regulator's documents relating to each well.

The agency declined multiple interview requests, but assured CNNMoney that an in-person review would contain records of any communication with landowners about violations. CNNMoney conducted a file review in late March.

The process required a visit to the regional DEP office, which had to be scheduled weeks in advance. 

But even then, the details discovered were largely in legal and technical language.

In approximately 1,000 pages of documents for the 26 permitted wells, there was only one record of any communication DEP had with a landowner about a violation.

A letter was sent to indicate that a spill of fluid used for drilling on Jane Bower's property had been cleaned up, but the recipient's name was redacted.

Both Jane and Dan say they never received such a letter, even though DEP fined Chief Oil and Gas, the operator of the well at the time, $2,100 for the five barrel spill. There were no details of this spill on the DEP website.

The file review revealed there was also a spill of 294 gallons of 'frac fluid' at the same Bower well. The fluid is what is used in hydraulic fracturing, a process where water, sand and a small amount of chemicals, are injected into shale deep underground to fracture the rock and release gas.

There was no mention of this spill in DEP's online records, and the paper records did not clearly indicate whether the ground water was tested after the spill.

It is not clear from the physical records whether these spills, or any other violations reviewed, ever posed a threat to human health.

The well operator at the time, Chief, said it did not.

But David Yoxtheimer, a hydrogeologist at Penn State's Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, said there's not enough information to say for certain.

He said that if the Bower spills had gotten into surface or ground water then they "could have a water quality impact of low to moderate severity," but that such a risk would depend on site-specific factors not available in the files.

Landowner apathy: Despite the violations, it's not clear that the landowners are doing all in their power to check for violations on their property. 

Neither the Bowers nor the Bartos have a computer to check for violations, and neither plans on changing that.

"I sure as hell am not gonna buy one to check DEP," Neil Barto said.

All four families continue to support the drilling and note it has been aboon to the local economy. The Bartos, who have six wells on their property, say they have made about $150,000 in royalties off of the wells on their property in the last three years.

Plus, increased regulation is not a priority for them. That's a fairly common viewpoint among landowners.

"In our experience, landowner groups have been focused on advancing expanded drilling to maximize royalty payment opportunities, and have generally been opposed to increased regulation," said Kate Sinding at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

And that, says the NRDC, could be delaying further regulation for the industry, or taking pressure off regulators to report violations more clearly.

"Advocacy for those kinds of protections would undoubtedly carry more weight were they to come from landowners themselves, as opposed to the environmental community," Sinding said.

-- with additional reporting by CNN's Poppy Harlow To top of page

Tuesday
May012012

Fracking in Ohio

Whether you support the industry or not, you should be concerned about how the state has prepared for the fracking boom. Governor Kasich has taken a strong public position about the need for robust safety standards, enforcement capacity, transparency on the chemicals being used in fracking, as well as the economic benefits to the citizens of Ohio from the extraction of natural gas and oil in the state. And NRDC has been actively engaged to help make sure that tougher laws deliver real protections of public health and safety when the state concludes its current regulatory revamp effort. But, the protections are not there yet.

Why does Ohio need tough, clear and enforceable standards, based on science and technology? A recent Wall Street Journal piece pops to mind as illustrative. It had nothing to do with fracking, or energy for that matter. It was about the Titanic. And in typical Journal fashion, the article was an attempt to blame government standards for the historic disaster. But the facts actually painted a cautionary tale about weak regulations and the failure to demand the safety that technology and science could deliver in the interests of business, health and safety. In short, the article said that the main reason for massive loss of life when the ocean liner sank was that outdated British regulations had not kept up with the changing size, speed, performance and nature of vessel traffic. Documents point back to a seminal moment in the Titanic’s construction when ship owners were deciding how many lifeboats to build into the vessel. Ultimately, they noted that the regulations did not require enough lifeboats to accommodate all the passengers and assure their safety; and accordingly, decided to only build up to the required minimum, rather than invest to meet the risks they knew they were taking on. The resulting disaster has become a metaphor for human failure, hubris and refusal to heed the facts.

I see similar things happening with state laws for fracking all over the country. Some states, like New York, have environmental review laws that create the time and process for a thorough review of where and how fracking can proceed (which is why there is a moratorium, which we support, while that process is engaged and completed in the state). But in most places, this stuff is already moving forward without appropriate oversight to keep up with the realities on the ground. That’s why these fights are so important---not only to ensure state of the art standards are put in place to protect the public health and safety, meet the risks of water and air pollution and prevent the despoliation of unique environments---but to do it in a timely manner, before the risks multiply or damage occurs. In many states, the regulations proposed by state governments fall well below what the industry itself considers appropriate and the American Petroleum Institute’s best practices would be an improvement over existing and proposed regulations, so let’s make them the legal threshold that everyone needs to meet in places like Illinois and Ohio. 

 

http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/hhenderson/fracking_in_ohio.html

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