No fracking in Republic of Ireland until EPA study completed in 2016

Today, the Irish Times reported that the controversial process of Unconvenional Gas Exporation and Extraction (UGEE) will not proceed in the Republic of Ireland until a two year study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is completed in 2016.

The all island research, conducted by authorities north and south of teh border, costing €1million is expected to undertake a literature review into the effects of the process on the environment, and may include environmental baseline studies.

You may read the full article here.

Aerial study reveals methane and benzene emissions higher than expected

A new study of the oil and gas fields of Colorado, conducted by scientists from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), has revealed that methane and benzene emissions are respectively as much as three and seven times higher than Colorado state inventory.

Published on the 7th of May 2014, the aerial study recorded methane and non-methane hydrocarbon emissions over the densely pack oil and gas fields of the Denver-Julesburg Basin, over a two day period covering the 29th and 31st May 2013.

Comparing Colorado state inventory data with observational data, the report found that methane concentrations in the air were three times higher than state inventory, with oil and gas operations in the basin emitting around 19.3 metric tonnes of methane emissions every hour, which the authors calculate as a leak rate of 4.1 percent (± 1.5) of total gas produced.

Colorado State. Source: usgs.gov
Colorado State. (image source: usgs.gov)

Benzene, a volatile organic compound (VOC) harmful to humans, was seven times higher than state inventory, emitting around 173 ± 64 kg/hr.

The study reinforces concerns that fugitive emissions of methane and other non-methane hydrocarbons are running unabated, with gas operators and policy makers unable to halt fugitive emissions of gases harmful to human health.

“These discrepancies are substantial,” said lead author Gabrielle Petron, an atmospheric scientist with NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. “Emission estimates or ‘inventories’ are the primary tool that policy makers and regulators use to evaluate air quality and climate impacts of various sources, including oil and gas sources. If they’re off, it’s important to know.”

To read a copy of the peer-reviewed paper, click here.

Members of European Parliament sign Frack-Free Europe Declaration

euro

As of the 13th of May, a total of 77 Members of European Parliament (MEP) across the continent have signed a Frack-Free Europe Pledge Declaration. The non-legally binding pledge, once signed, declares that the signatory holds true on the following six principles:

 to abide by the Precautionary Principles as formulated in the Treaty on European Union, and support a moratorium on the use of fracking, for all existing and future projects for exploration or exploitation of unconventional fossil fuels.

 to strive to integrate into existing EU legislation all necessary precautions specific to unconventional fossil fuels.

 to reject undemocratic mechanisms in free trade and investment agreements (in particular the CETA and the TTIP agreements), which could be used by multinational corporations – such as Big Oil and Gas – to challenge policies that protect the environment and public health.

 to oppose the Investor-State Dispute Settlement Mechanism (ISDS) which could make national governments reluctant to forbid the use of fracking.

 to support the creation of an EU register to which all lobbyists will be obliged to sign up; and to require all EU officials (European Commissioners, Commission civil servants, Members of the European Parliament) to maintain an online list of all meetings organised with lobbyists.

 to promote true energy transition based on clean and renewable energies, on energy conservation efficiency targets, and on an ambitious strategy to abandon all fossil fuels.
I declare myself to be a frack free candidate for a frack free Europe.

By signing the declaration, MEP’s declare themselves a frack-free candidate, for a frack-free europe.

To date, two MEP’s from Northern Ireland have signed and in the Republic of Ireland, a total of seven.

The nation of France however, has lead the way with a total of thirty-one signatories, followed by:

2nd: Spain (8)
3rd: Republic of Ireland (7)
4th: England / Germany (5)
5th: Holland (4)
6th: Belguim (3)
7th: Northern Ireland / Scotland / Poland (2)
8th: Austria / Luxemburg / Wales (1)

A total of seventeen European member states have failed to produce an MEP candidate to sign the declaration including: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden.

If you wish to read if a candidate from your nation has signed the declaration, click here.

Beverly Hills bans fracking

It has been reported by Russia Today that Beverly Hills has become the first municipality in California to ban the practice of hydraulic fracking.
rush
The initial push for legislation happened last month and was confirmed by Tuesday’s city council vote, which was unanimous. The law will come into effect June 6.

For the full report, click here.

Oklahoma geological survey confirm position on earthquake swarms related to UGEE

On february 17th 2014, the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS), which conducts research and education on the states geology and mineral resources, have released a position statement on the subject of earthquakes swarms in the state of Oklahoma as a result of Unconventional Gas Extraction and Exploration (UGEE) practices.

In the position statement, the OGS confirms recent data found on the subject and outlines future monitoring programs that look to understand better anthropogenic seismicity in the state over the future.

OKLAHOMA

In regards to current data, the statement confirms:
– Since earthquake monitoring began in Oklahoma 40 years ago, there were on average
50 earthquakes per year.
– Since the arrival of unconventional shale gas extraction in 2009-2014, earthquake activity
for the five year period is 40x stronger than previous 30 years combined.
– Seismicity of recent ‘felt’ earthquakes is greater now than over the last 100 years.
– Seismic activity, both historical and recent occur cross major geological paleo-structures.

In relation to the link between UGEE and earthquakes:
– Acknowledgement that scientists confirm that earthquakes are related to subfurface withdrawl and the waste management practice of fluid injection wells.
– Despite the fact that shallow saltwater injection wells are used in Oklahoma, the earthquakes experienced are located far deeper underground.
– There may be a correlation in time and space between earthquakes and fracking wastewater injection wells located within 8km from one another.

To read the position statement in full, including information on future plans for study and research, click here.

To read recent, scientific peer reviewed studies relating earthquake swarms to fracking waste water fluid injection wells, 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.

Wyoming ozone pollution exceeds U.S national limit due to gas drilling

Whilst public perception on the environmental risks of unconventional shale gas extraction has focused upon the negative impacts on water quality, less attention is paid to the risks of air pollution.

Rural Wyoming, is known for its idyllic countryside. Yet, with the arrival of unconventional shale gas extraction, came a reduction in local air quality that to a state that exceeds that of the U.S. national average, and sometimes, the city of Los Angeles on its worst days.

Wyomming State
Wyomming State, where air pollution due to fracking operations has taken place.

U.S. National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), introduced as a result of the Clean Air Act, dictate legal limits of pollutants deemed harmful to public health. Limits for ground level ozone are set at 75 parts per billion (ppb).

However in 2011, preliminary tests undertaken in Wyoming found levels of ozone reaching 124 ppb, two thirds above the NAAQS legal limit.

Californian almond farm ruined by fracking company operations

In January 2010, a farmer was awarded USD$8.5million damages by an unconventional shale gas extraction (USGE) company that had been found guilty of contaminating local waters that had accessed his farmland.

Farmer Fred Starrh of Kern County, California owns 6,000 acres of farmland that harvested pistachios, alfalfa, cotton and almonds.

Oil and Gas company Aera Energy are estimated to have dumped 2.4billion barrels of ‘produced’ fracking waste water into unlined percolation ponds on the edge of Mr Starrh’s land.

Mr Starrh noticed the environmental damage after he mixed his ground water with local aqueduct water that watered his cotton plants, before they wilted heavily. The water also killed off almond trees that he had managed to farm at 155 per acre.

Mr Starrh had considered that contaminants of the produced frack waste water could have caused the pollution. Well waters within his land were tested and were found to be positive for boron and chloride – two chemicals associated with the USGE callied out by Aera Energy, a joint venture between Shell and Exxon Mobil.

After a nine year court case, Mr Starrh was awarded $8.5million in damages by Kern County Court. However, despite winning his case against Aera Energy, Starrh appealed the court decision, stating that, as a result of the damage caused by Aera, he will need as much as $2 billion to rehabilitate his land and construct terraced ponds to properly “flush” his soil and groundwater of toxins.

Mr Starrh was in court again last year as a jury retired on 8th March 2013 to determine wether Mr Starrh be awarded further punitive damages from Aera Energy in order to fully remediate his land.

As a result of previous findings about Aera’s responsibility for the pollution, much of the case has revolved around the usefulness of Starrh’s native groundwater with regard to irrigation.

Aera’s lead attorney, Stephen Kristovich recalled testimony that the area’s groundwater has long been understood to be too salty and with too much boron to work on crops, hence the farming boom that arrived with the California Aqueduct in the 1960s.

Starrh’s attourney Ralph Wegis countered by referencing studies suggesting that at least 20 different crops can live on Starrh’s native groundwater.

In a practice he called ‘devoid of morals’, Wegis drew attention to Aera’s use of an accounting concept known as “net present value” to make, or help make, strategic decisions. By using the system, Wegis claimed Aera used net present value to determine that it was more profitable over the long run — even in the event of a jury’s award of punitive damages — to let the groundwater pollution continue into Mr Starrh’s farmland, rather than offer remediative or preventative measures.

Kristovich responded by saying that net present value has been just one of many criteria guiding Aera’s decisions, and that the others include environmental responsibility. He added, “There’s nothing wrong with using economics and using that as part of your decision-making process.”

In his rebuttal, Wegis told the jury that Aera decided it was in its best financial interest to wait rather than stop the pollution.

The jury returned 13th March 2013 to deny Mr Starrh further punitive damages, stating that Aera Energy’s contamination of the adjacent aquifer was accidental.

Mr Starrh was dissapointed in the result, “I was totally devastated, that’s all,” Starrh said. “I couldn’t accept it from a personal perspective.”

Mr Starrh and his attourney Ralph Wegis will re-appeal the decision.
Fred starrh
***

References

1) Millar, J. (2010). Oil and Water Don’t Mix with California Agriculture. Available: http://www.hcn.org/issues/42.21/oil-and-water-dont-mix-with-california-agriculture. Last accessed 17/04/2010

2) The Bakersfield Californian. (2013). Aera-Starrh lawsuit goes to jury. Available: http://www.bakersfieldcalifornian.com/business/x837007080/Aera-Starrh-lawsuit-goes-to-jury. Last accessed 17/04/2014.

3)The Bakersfield Californian. (2013). Akern grower gets another bumper crop of disappointment. Available: http://www.bakersfieldcalifornian.com/business/oil/x738927654/Kern-grower-gets-another-bumper-crop-of-disappointment. Last accessed 17/04/2014.

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.