Oil and Gas operations damage ecosystems

Drilling for oil and gas has created continental wide damage to agricultural ecosystems in Canada and the U.S., leading to a net reduction in primary production crop and range lands.

The report has suggested that with 50,000 new high volume hydraulic fracturing wells installed since 2000, millions of hectares of Great Plains have been transformed into heavily industrialised landscapes. The report states:

“It is the scale of this transformation that is important, as accumulating land degradation can result in continental impacts that are undetectable when focusing on any single region.”

The number of oil and gas wells drilled from 1900 to 2012 within three Canadian provinces (Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan) and 11 U.S. states (Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming). (Image Source: BRADY W. ALLRED)
The number of oil and gas wells drilled from 1900 to 2012 within three Canadian provinces (Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan) and 11 U.S. states (Colorado, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming).
(Image Source: BRADY W. ALLRED)

The report further states that the Oil and Gas industry directly reduces vegetation to allow construction of oil pads, roads and pipes etc, which in turn leads to a reduction of wildlife, biodiversity and food production.

Not only does the Oil and Gas industry expel more carbon dioxide into the air, there will also be less vegetation that can remove carbon from the local atmosphere.

When inhaling and exhaling air, we all understand that humans take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide. Plants on the other hand, take in carbon dioxide and gove out oxygen. They report has estimated that total vegetation removed for Oil and Gas operations across Central North America to be around 4.5 Tg of carbon, or 4.5 billion Kg.

Furthermore, an Animal Unit Month (AUM), is the amount of vegetation required to support one animal for one month, and the researchers have estimated that 5 million AUM have been removed since 2000. The report states that this damage is:

“likely long-lasting and potentially permanent, as recovery or reclamation of previously drilled land has not kept pace with accelerated drilling. This is not surprising because current reclamation practices vary by land ownership and governing body, target only limited portions of the energy landscape, require substantial funding and implementation commitments, and are often not initiated until the end of life of a well.”

 

Cumulative impacts of oil and gas development on ecosystem services in central North America 2000–2012. (Left) Reduction in net primary production (biomass), per land cover type. (Middle) Land area occupied, per land cover type. (Right) Number of wells in water-stressed regions (22). (Image Source: BRADY W. ALLRED)
Cumulative impacts of oil and gas development on ecosystem services in central North America 2000–2012. (Left) Reduction in net primary production (biomass), per land cover type. (Middle) Land area occupied, per land cover type. (Right) Number of wells in water-stressed regions.
(Image Source: BRADY W. ALLRED)

As of 2012 land use for Oil and Gas operations numbers only around 3 million hectares, the equivalent to three Yellowstone Parks. ON a continental scale, this amount of land mass is relatively small. However, these ecosystems have both been replaced elsewhere and as a result, there are irreversible effects, such as  increasing fragmentation that can sever migratory pathways, alter wildlife behavior and mortality, and increase susceptibility to ecologically disruptive invasive species. As competition for arable land intensifies because of food and bio-energy demand, oil and gas may further expand into native range lands.

With drilling for Oil and Gas set to continue, it can only be predicted that these negative ecological characteristics can only increase.

To read the report for yourself in full, click here.

Fracking explosion kills 70,000 fish

A fracking explosion that occurred in Ohio last year (June 2014) ended up killing 70,000 fish in what appears to be a series of unfortunate events that would make even Lemony Snicket blush.

The Ohio disaster serves as a stark reminder of the fact that with fracking accidents, the damage created can be quite difficult to bring to a halt, even despite our best efforts of regulation and mitigation.
The Ohio disaster serves as a stark reminder of the fact that with fracking accidents, the damage created can be quite difficult to bring to a halt, even despite our best efforts of regulation and mitigation.

The event started at 9am, June 28th 2014, with a break in a hydraulic line that sprayed fracking chemicals over nearby hot machinery.This in turn caused an estimated 20 trucks to catch fire, leading to 30 recorded explosions

The fracking well was allowed to leak for a full 15 hours allowing flow back fluid to emit into a tributary of Opossum creak, until the wells closure at midnight.

The fires themselves were burning for seven days, despite the best efforts of local fire services who fought to extinguish the flames.

The incident is a sobering reminder to the environmental risks posed by shale gas extraction operations, where both fracking companies and governments have fought to sooth public opinion on the dangers of unconventional shale gas extraction.

The Ohio explosion, or explosions as it were, lead to the death of around 70,000 fish and also facilitated the deaths of salamanders, frogs and crayfish through the exposure of flow back fluids that were estimated to travel 5 miles from the epicentre, falling short of the main Ohio River.

Opossum Creek leads into the Ohio River, 1.7 miles upstream from public drinking waters for West Virginian residents. Officials say that no drinking water was contaminated by the tragedy.

Kentucky fracked fish?

Nami Resources Company, a Kentucky based Oil and Gas Company have pleaded guilty to charges that infringed both the Clean Water Act and Endangered species Act after it was found that a 2007 fracking waste water spill led to the deaths of several species of fish in the area.

They were fined $50,000 for the incident.

The fracking waste water originated from four of their fracking well sites into the Acorn Fork Creek in south-eastern Kentucky. Soon after, the majority of the fish in the area died, including those that belonged to two endangered species.

Chrosomus cumberlandensis, otherwise known as the 'Blackside Dace', was one of teh endangered species of fish negatively affected by the incident.
Chrosomus cumberlandensis, otherwise known as the ‘Blackside Dace’, was one of the endangered species of fish negatively affected by the incident.

Researchers studied water samples and the bodies of the dead fish, and concluded that the fracking spillage had lead to an acidification of the water, and resulted in the fish genocide, with the deceased fish showing signs of gill lessons, liver and spleen damage.

The research into the incident formed the basis of the 2013 peer reviewed study here.

 

Concerned health professionals of New York release fracking compendium

The Concerned Health Professionals of New York just released a compendium that compiles a significant body of scientific, medical and journalistic findings that highlight the experienced health risks associated with the process of Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction.

CHPNY

One of the most thorough reports of its kind, the compendium draws upon scientific evidence and experience from across the globe, including USA, Canada and Australia, where Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction has been most predominant, drawing upon information provided by medical journals such as The Lancet, the British Medical Journal and the Medical Journal of Australia.

Topics covered by the compendium include:

  • Air Contamination
  • Water Contamination
  • Engineering Problems
  • Radioactive releases
  • Occupational Health and Safety Hazards
  • Noise pollution, light pollution and stress
  • Earthquakes and Seismic Activity
  • Abandoned wells
  • Flood risks
  • Threats to Agriculture and soil quality
  • Threats to the Climate
  • Inaccurate job claims, increased crime
  • Inflated oil and gas reserves
  • Medical and scientific calls for more study

A compilation of studies and findings from around the globe, the compendium provides irrefutable evidence of the risks, harms, and associated negative trends demonstrated by the process of Unconventional Shale Gas Extraction, a process earmarked for County Fermanagh.

To read the compendium in full, click here.

Landmark $3million fracking law suit, Texas

A family from Wise county, Texas, were awarded $3 million in their legal battle against Aruba Energy for environmental pollution of the air, water and soils from Unconventional Gas Exploration and Extraction activities (UGEE) that proved to have detrimental impacts on the quality of the family’s health.

Mason and cattle rancher by trade, Bob Parr built his home on his 40-acre estate in 2001. In 2007 his then wife to be Lisa Parr moved in with her daughter and the couple married in 2008. Until this point, the family of three experienced no unusual health effects from their local environment.

After 2008 however, significant gas drilling operations took place around Parr’s 40 acre estate. Soon after, the family began experiencing health effects such as rashes, nausea, vomiting, bleeding noses, as well as environmental damage to their estate and livestock.

It was around 2010 when the Parr family seen an environmental health specialist, who found unusually high traces of specific natural gas related chemicals in their systems, including ethylbenzene and m,p-Xylene.

“We can’t drink our well water,” said Parr in 2011. “We can’t breathe the air without getting sick.”
Parr

The Parr’s filed their lawsuit on 17th september 2013. Item 16 states that as a result of UGEE operations the family suffered environmental contamination of air, water and soils as a result of sudden and continual chemical releases, spills, emissions and discharges of hazardous chemicals which lead to ailments including but not limited to unreasonable fear, impairment and exacerbation of physical health, nausea, loss of peace of mind, damage to livestock, and inability to enjoy their own environment.

Item 18 states that the environmental pollution facilitated by Aruba was as a result of operations related to UGEE including, but not limited to: Vehicles and engines, construction and trucking activity, pits, condensate tanks, dehydrators, flaring, venting, fugitive emissions and the hydraulic fracturing process, also known as fracking.

In the law suit, Item 21 states that the Parr family were under constant environmental abuse by Aruba and its discharge of chemicals, before Item 21 lists experienced health effects in more detail, including but not limited to: open sores around he eyes, nose and rest of body, permanent scarring, chronic nose bleeds, migranes, drowsiness, irregular heart beat, depression, ataxia, abdominal pains, arrhythmia, and anisocoria

Items 29-34 state clearly that Aruba Energy had performed their duties with negligence, which lead to the fact that the Parr family were able to come into contact with the hazardous chemicals.

Item 41 holds Aruba negligent towards the Parr family, before accusing Aruba in Item 44 of recklessness, oppression, fraud, malice and wilfulness to pollute the land with hazardous chemicals. Item 29 to 75 state that the Parr family had suffered gross negligence, negligence, private nuisance and trespass to property. You can read the full legal document here.

After winning their case in court after a three year legal battle, the Parr family attributed some of their success to the fact that they documented their ordeal on a daily basis, documentation that supported their case in front of a jury. The Parr family expect Aruba to appeal the decision.

Canadian government to be sued over Quebec fracking ban

Oil and Gas company, Lone Pine Resources is currently aiming to sue the Canadian Government for CDN$250million, in response to a moratorium placed on unconventional shale gas extraction (USGE) in the provence of Quebec.

Lone Pine Resources had obtained permits relating to oil and gas extraction in different areas, including underneath the length of St. Lawrence River, an area that Lone Pine have calculated to contain between 1,870 – 3,346 billion cubic feet of thermogenic gas. Lone Pine state that the moratorium is an infringement of their right to conduct USGE under the river.

Canadian flag

Due to public pressure and scientific studies linking USGE to pollution of air, soils and water, the Quebec Government introduced Bill 18 into the Quebec National Assembly, which revoked all permits related to oil and gas under the St. Lawrence River.

The Bill received Royal Assent and a further document, Bill 37 placed a moratorium on the USGE project in June 2011, which was then expanded to autumn 2012. The moratorium banned drilling under the St. Lawrence river until an environmental evaluation of the potential effects of USGE on the environment were in place.
frack-lonepine
Lone Pine Resources responded on 6th September 2013, with a CDN$250 million notice of arbitration under chapter eleven of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Lone Pine Resources also state that the Government of Quebec have violated their obligations under Article 1110 of NAFTA which provides Lone Pine Resources the right to mine for oil and gas under the St. Lawrence River.

Lone Pine claim that not only were they not consulted on the moratorium or revocation of permits, but neither were they compensated for any money invested into the unconventional shale gas extraction project itself.

In paragragh (10) of the lawsuit, they claim:
“The Act is a clear violation of Canada’s obligations under Chapter Eleven of the NAFTA, including Canada’s obligation under Article 1105 to accord U.S. investors with “treatment in accordance with international law, including fair and equitable treatment and full protection and security,” and also of Canada’s obligation under Article 1110 not to expropriate investments of U.S. investors without a public purpose, without due process, and without the payment of compensation.”

Continuing in paragraph (11) of the lawsuit, Lone Pine state that:

“[we] submit[s] this arbitration on bahalf of the Enterprise under Article 1117 of the NAFTA, for the arbitrary, capricious, and illegal revocation of the Enterprise’s valuable right to mine for oil and gas under the St. Lawrence River by the Government of Quebec without due process, without compensation, and with no cognizable public purpose. The Government of Canada is responsible for Quebec’s acts under the NAFTA and applicable principles of international law.”

Furthermore, in paragragh (53):
“Lone Pine Resources hold the Canadian Government to its obligations in under Article 1105 of the NAFTA which obliges Canada “accord to investments of investors of another Party treatment in accordance with international law, including fair and equitable treatment and full protection and security.”

Lone Pine’s lawsuit has been publicly condemned:

“This egregious lawsuit — which Lone Pine Resources must drop — highlights just how vulnerable public interest policies are as a result of trade and investment pacts,” said Ilana Solomon, Sierra Club Responsible Trade Program Director. “Governments should learn from this and other similar cases and stop writing investment rules that empower corporations to attack environmental laws and policies.”
***

References

1) The Canadian Press. (2012). Ottawa sued over Quebec fracking ban. Available: http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/ottawa-sued-over-quebec-fracking-ban-1.1140918 . Last accessed 16/04/2014.

2) Bennett Jones LLP. (2013). NOTICE OF ARBITRATION UNDER THE ARBITRATION RULES OF THE UNITED NATIONS COMMISSION ON INTERNATIONAL TRADE LAW AND CHAPTER ELEVEN OF THE NORTH AMERICAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT. Available: http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/assets/pdfs/disp-diff/lone-02.pdf. Last accessed 16/04/2014.

3) The Government of Canada. (2013). NAFTA – Chapter 11 – Investment. Cases Filed Against the Government of Canada. Lone Pine Resources Inc. v. Government of Canada. Available: http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/topics-domaines/disp-diff/lone.aspx?lang=eng. Last accessed 16/04/2014.

4) Byrnes, D and Trew,S.. (2013). LONE PINE RESOURCES FILES OUTRAGEOUS NAFTA LAWSUIT AGAINST FRACKING BAN Canada, Quebec, and U.S. Environmental Groups Denounce Case. Available: http://content.sierraclub.org/press-releases/2013/10/lone-pine-resources-files-outrageous-nafta-lawsuit-against-fracking-ban. Last accessed 16/04/2014.

RSPB warns Northern Ireland not to push ahead with fracking

The RSPB, the largest conservation charity in Europe, has joined with other concerned organisations to warn the Northern Ireland Executive of the dangers of fracking.  They say:

‘Conservation charity the RSPB and two other leading environmental organisations are warning the Northern Ireland Executive not to push ahead with ‘fracking’ (a controversial method to extract gas) until sufficient evidence shows that it is safe to do so.

In County Fermanagh, the idyllic surroundings for the G8 summit, a licence has already been issued to explore for shale gas, but it is still unclear what the economic, social and environmental impact will be.

The RSPB, Friends of the Earth (FOE) and the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health (CIEH) are deeply concerned about the environmental and health risks posed by ‘fracking’. The group believe more research is needed to understand the extent and impact of fracking on this beautiful habitat. John Martin, RSPB, stated that “Shale gas exploration and extraction should only be allowed within a strict regulatory and policy framework that is fit for purpose, and in Northern Ireland this does not exist.” In addition, Mr Martin continued “we believe that an independent Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) should be required for all developments here. This has not been the case for other UK sites and problems have followed.”

Co Fermanagh is known for its excellent agricultural produce and wonderful natural heritage which attracts valuable spend from tourists travelling here from around the world. Much of the local economy has been built around this and as yet it is not known what impact fracking will have on these rich natural assets. Declan Alison, FOE stated “2050 is the cut-off date given by Tamboran, the company issued with the licence for exploration. No provision is given by the company on what will happen next but as temporary exploitation, shale gas is not an answer to economic uncertainty in the long term.”

A 2007 study commissioned on behalf of nine leading NGOs and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency found that economic activities relating to the environment contributed over half a billion to our local economy and the equivalent of over 32,000 jobs. “It would be foolish to threaten this already existing green economy in such uncertain times”, concluded Mr Alison.

The controversial method involves geological risks and can be responsible for triggering earthquakes as happened in Lancashire. Fermanagh has a unique geology which is rich in caves (map in annex): the group believe the seismic risk associated with fracking must be fully assessed as this could introduce unnecessary risks.

“Shale gas will also endanger NI’s ability to deliver on its climate change commitments within the UK Climate Act3 and move towards a green economy added Gary McFarlane of CIEH and Chair of Stop Climate Chaos NI. “Northern Ireland has some of the best features nature has to offer- wind, wave and tidal. These invaluable assets should be the future of the NI green economy and developing renewable energy could create thousands of new jobs”.

France, Bulgaria and South Africa have suspended the search for shale gas until research uncovers the potential long-term impacts on human health and the environment.’

 

Read the full statement with diagrams here, and see the accompanying map of the licence area, its water catchment and important nature conservation areas here.

RSPB opposed to fracking

The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) has spoken out forcefully against the use of fracking and extraction of shale gas in our current situation.  The highly respected and authoritative charity has pointed to the dangers of groundwater pollution, methane leakage, habitat loss, worsened climate change and loss of biodiversity as some of the major reasons why this would not be a positive step forward for either our native birds or ourselves.

If you agree with the RSPB, please take a few moments to let your elected representatives know how you feel.  Click here to find out how easy it is.

The full briefing is as follows:

RSPB External Position on Shale Gas

The RSPB is very concerned that unconventional gas developments are currently not regulated strongly enough to ensure that the potential environmental impacts are properly addressed.  The most significant risks that have not been adequately examined to date are that of accidental pollution of groundwater and methane leakage.  It is imperative that these risks are assessed and appropriately mitigated.  This will amost certainly require Government to amend or produce legislation.

Direct habitat loss is also a very significant concern in priority habitat areas, including designated and functionally-related sites.  It is important to note that both the individual footprint and cumulative impact of these sites could be significant, leading to habitat loss and fragmentation.

Furthermore, the RSPB does not think that developing the UK’s unconventional gas resources is compatible with its commitments on climate change and biodiversity protection.  If the UK is to meet its climate change commitments, we cannot allow a new ‘dash for gas’ that would lock us into high emissions for decades to come.  Until CCS technology to capture and bury carbon dioxide emissions is proven, further investment in gas-fired electricity is very risky.  Therefore, the Government must clearly show how new investment in gas at the level currently proposed is compatible with our short and long-term carbon targets.

John Martin, RSPB Northern Ireland

 

 

 

 

A reminder …

… of the unparalleled beauty of County Fermanagh*, the unique landscape which underpins our healthy tourism and agriculture businesses, provides us with clean water, air and soil and brings to both local people and visitors endless sources of adventure, observation and contemplation.

*Some of the pictures show our neighbour County Leitrim, also licensed for the same fracking operation.

All photographs copyright Stephen Carson, not to be reproduced without permission.