Fracking fluid is leaking more often than we thought

And that's not great.

Popular Science

By Kendra Pierre-Louis

February 24, 2017

[Note from CleanAirPA: The study published 2/21/2017 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology focuses on oil and gas well spills but demonstrates that data is often underreported for events that put public health and the environment in jeopardy. The results of the study far exceed EPA calculated data, showing that there is a greater risk and we need better assessment tools as well as uniform reporting tools.]

Hydraulic fracture oil and gas wells spill pretty often, according to a recent study in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

That study, along with a companion paper which appeared in the journal Science of the Total Environment, analyzed spill data and behavior across four states—Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania—with the goal of identifying common causes of spills to help industries improve.

If you feel like you’ve heard this story before, you haven’t. Most studies on hydraulic fracture, or fracking, focus on underground leaks. This study focused exclusively on leaks at the surface, which can harm wildlife—most notably birds and marine creatures—as well as impact drinking water sources. Fracking fluid contains a slurry of chemicals, many of which are known to be dangerous and even more of which are kept secret by the companies that produce them. Many hydraulic fracture sites are located in close proximity to headwater streams that feed into public drinking water systems, so aboveground leaks can pose a big risk.

Researchers studied data from 31,481 hydraulic fracture wells, which dig deep into the ground to fracture or splinter rock formations and release the natural gas or oil trapped inside. They found that from 2005 to 2014 there were 6,648 spills, as defined by each of the four state’s reporting requirements. The researchers created an interactive map allowing viewers to search by location, year, and cause of spill.

[NOTE: North Dakota reported the highest spill rate, with 4,453 incidents, followed by Pennsylvania at 1,293, Colorado at 476 and New Mexico at 426. ]

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Racing to the Bottom on Methane Emissions?

Public News Service

By Andrea Sears

February 13, 2017

HARRISBURG, Pa. – Clean air advocates are concerned that a bill in the state Senate would undermine efforts to control a major contributor to climate change. 

Over a 20-year time period, methane, the main component of natural gas, is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. 

And Pennsylvania puts a lot of methane into the atmosphere – 115,000 tons in 2014 alone, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. 

SB 175 would prevent the DEP from imposing any regulations on emissions of methane that are more restrictive than federal regulations. 

But according to Joseph Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council, federal regulations are intended to be the floor, not the ceiling.

"The very way that the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act are written is to provide states the opportunity to go beyond the minimum that EPA requires," he points out.

Pennsylvania is the second biggest producer of natural gas, and sponsors of the bill say imposing additional restrictions on methane emissions would put the state at a competitive disadvantage.

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Senator is wrong about regulations and clean air

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By Ned Ketyer, MD - Letter to the Editor

February 3, 2017

Seeking to prevent much-needed rules on methane emissions from shale gas infrastructure, state Sen. Guy Reschenthaler badly misreads the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s 2015 Asthma Focus Report by cherry-picking data showing asthma-related hospitalizations declining from 2009-2013 and jumps to a careless conclusion that “Pennsylvania’s air is getting cleaner because of increased natural gas production” (“Natural Gas Is Improving Our Air,” Feb. 1 Perspectives). Had the senator read the report more carefully, he would have noted that emergency room admissions for asthma increased significantly in Pennsylvania during this period to an “all-time high.” Furthermore, there is a map clearly showing that the highest rates of hospitalization for asthma outside Philadelphia County occur in the Marcellus shale gas patch in southwestern Pennsylvania.

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Study: Methane levels increase as well sites decline

StateImpact Pennsylvania

By Susan Phillips

February 9, 2017

A new study shows that background levels of methane in Northeast Pennsylvania increased significantly at a time when well drilling activity decreased, pointing to leaks of natural gas during production and transportation. Researchers from Drexel University found that atmospheric levels of the potent greenhouse gas increased by 100 parts per billion between 2012 and 2015. Typically, background levels of methane would have increased by 18 parts per billion in three years, according to the study’s director Peter DeCarlo, who runs Drexel’s Air Resource Research Laboratory.

“So there’s clear increases in emissions happening in that region over this time span,” DeCarlo said.

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This isn't hot air, Pa. needs to reduce its methane emissions

Harrisburg Patriot News - Opinion

by Joseph Otis Minott, Esq.,
Executive Director and Chief Counsel of the Clean Air Council

February 5, 2017

While the eyes of a nation are on the unfolding of the Trump administration, our legislature in Pennsylvania is quietly doing the bidding of the natural gas industry as it seeks to preempt sensible protections from rampant air pollution resulting from natural gas development.

Make no mistake: The effects of this pollution affect all of us across the Commonwealth. 

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These senators must think they know more than health pros

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Letter from Laura Leete
Whitehall
The writer is a retired science and health teacher. 

January 27, 2017

While agreeing with Brian O’Neill’s column about the harmful effects of leaking methane into the atmosphere (“Put Methane in Its Place, Not the Atmosphere,” Jan. 15), which has a global warming potential more than 25 times greater than carbon dioxide, I also find the use of carcinogenic chemicals in the fracking process a grave threat to human health.

My state senator, Guy Reschenthaler, and nine co-sponsors of an amendment to a 1960 air pollution bill do not seem to share my concern for clean air, as they are seeking to bar the state Department of Environmental Protection from imposing any air pollution standards stronger than those of the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

Obviously, they seem to know more than the doctors and health care professionals in the Pennsylvania Medical Society who have called for a moratorium on fracking due to worsening asthma, premature births, neurological and mental symptoms, and other adverse effects near drilling sites. Also ignored by these senators is a new study by the Yale School of Public Health that found numerous carcinogens used in fracking also have the potential to contaminate air and water of nearby communities and to increase the risk of childhood leukemia.

The study further notes that 1,000 chemicals may be released into air and water. Information on their cancer-causing potential was lacking on 80 percent of the compounds. Fifty-five of the remaining 119 compounds were identified as confirmed or possible carcinogens; 20 are linked to increased risk for leukemia or lymphoma.

Perhaps some of the $9.5 million contributed to state candidates since 2009 and the $59 million spent lobbying against sensible regulation would be better spent on finding a cure for cancer.

http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/letters/2017/01/27/These-senators-must-think-they-know-more-than-health-pros/stories/201701250042

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Trump administration issues temporary media blackout at EPA, freezes grants

StateImpact Pennsylvania 

By Susan Phillips and Jon Hurdle

January 24, 2017

The Trump administration has implemented a temporary media “black out” at the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a report by the Associated Press that cited emails to EPA staffers. EPA press releases, blog post updates, and social media posts are banned for an indeterminate amount of time. All media requests are to be forwarded to the Agency’s office of administration. The Trump administration also imposed a freeze on new grants and contracts. A spokesperson for Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection says it’s too early to know what this could mean for the state’s environmental protection programs.

“However, suspension of EPA grants for any duration of time would significantly disrupt the work of the agency to protect public health and the environment,” said DEP spokesman Neil Shader. “EPA grants to DEP amount to approximately $36 million per fiscal year, and cover a variety of issues, ranging from clean water protection, municipal stormwater projects and watershed restoration (like the Chesapeake Bay) to hazardous site cleanup to air quality.”

A staffer for EPA Region 3, which includes Pennsylvania and Delaware, told StateImpact that their only knowledge of the media blackout and grant freeze came from media reports.

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DEP Unveils Methane Controls for Shale Gas Sites

[NOTE: These methane pollution standards for new natural gas sites are a great first step from the Department of Environmental Protection to address the serious health and climate issue of methane leaks. The Council has advocated for the Wolf Administration to develop methane standards for new and existing gas industry sources for two years through speaking at public meetings and getting its members to take a variety of actions. Next on the to-do list for DEP are strong regulations that would cover all of the existing natural gas infrastructure currently polluting Pennsylvania's air.  Keep your eyes posted for how to comment on these general permits in the next few weeks after DEP officially publishes them.  - CleanAirPA]

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By Laura Legere / Harrisburg Bureau

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania environmental officials unveiled plans for new permits aimed at limiting methane and other air pollution from shale gas well sites and compressor stations on Thursday, adding specifics to a methane reduction strategy Gov. Tom Wolf announced as a priority at the start of the year.

The new draft general permits mark the state’s first attempt to regulate methane emissions from natural gas well site operations directly rather than through a permit exemption process or by curbing emissions of the potent greenhouse gas as a side benefit of other pollution controls.

Minimizing methane emissions across the natural gas production system is seen as a way to ensure that the climate benefits of burning gas for electricity instead of coal are realized.

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U.S. scientists officially declare 2016 the hottest year on record. That makes three in a row.

Washington Post

By Chris Mooney

January 18, 2017

In a powerful testament to the warming of the planet, two leading U.S. science agencies Wednesday jointly declared 2016 the hottest year on record, surpassing the previous record set just last year — which itself had topped a record set in 2014.

Average surface temperatures in 2016, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, were 0.07 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than 2015 and featured eight successive months (January through August) that were individually the warmest since the agency’s records began in 1880.

The average temperature across the world’s land and ocean surfaces was 58.69 Fahrenheit, or 1.69 degrees above the 20th-century average of 57 degrees, NOAA declared. The agency also noted that the record for the global temperature has now successively been broken five times since the year 2000. The years 2005 and 2010 were also record warm years, according to the agency’s data set.

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Brian O'Neill: Put methane in its place, not the atmosphere

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By Brian O'Neill

January 15, 2017

It’s not often we see legislation that eases the way for the emission of methane and other volatile organic compounds we’d be better off not breathing, but America’s Largest Full-Time State Legislature is considering just that.

The idea is to make federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations the maximum, not the minimum, to protect oxygen-breathing life forms in Pennsylvania, a group you and your children are likely among.

The 10 Republican senators co-sponsoring the Pennsylvania bill all have been amply compensated with campaign contributions from the natural gas drilling industry, but let’s save details on that impressive cash outlay until later.

Senate Bill 1327 seeks to amend a state air pollution bill dating to 1960. The amendment would bar the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection from imposing any air pollution standards “more stringent than those promulgated’’ by the EPA. This would happen just as the new Donald Trump administration appears keen to relax those EPA restrictions.

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