Colorado's Oil And Gas Regulators Must Now Consider Public Health And Safety
After years of tension over expanded oil and gas drilling, including a deadly explosion that galvanized critics, Colorado is moving to tighten regulations on the booming industry. In a sweeping overhaul the governor is expected to sign, regulators will now have to consider public health, safety and the environment in decisions about permitting and local land use.
The state must still hammer out the details of how to implement the new law over the next year. But the impending changes are already fueling hope for some, and fear for others. ...
Greeley is the epicenter of Colorado's oil and gas development. Weld County is where 90 percent of Colorado's oil is pumped, and the region hosts oil companies, secondary companies that truck water and supplies to well pads, and companies like Smith's that depend on business from the oil fields. Many who live in Greeley oppose the changes. ...
The new law would give cities and counties more control over where oil wells go. It would also shift the state's mandate from fostering oil and gas development to regulating it, with a focus on the environment and people's safety. The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will get new members with environmental and public health expertise.
The legislation also launches rule-makings in half a dozen areas, including flow lines, and limiting potent methane leaks from oil and gas infrastructure.
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Report finds 'alarming unaddressed deficiencies' in US offshore oil drilling
(CNN) Even as the Trump administration has taken steps to expand offshore oil drilling, a new report shows that thousands of oil spills are still happening and that workers in the oil and gas industry are still dying on the job.
The report comes from Oceana, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to protecting and restoring the oceans, which has sued the federal government to stop seismic airgun blasting in the Atlantic Ocean. The blasting is the first step needed to allow offshore drilling, when seismic airguns are used to find oil and gas deep under the ocean.
Every state along the Atlantic coast has opposed the blasting, worried that spills could hurt tourism and local fisheries. Some scientists say the testing could also hurt marine life, including the highly endangered North Atlantic right whale.
The group tied its report, released Thursday, to the ninth anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill to show what has been happening since the government promised to hold the industry accountable to higher safety standards. ...
Using public records and interviews with people in the field, Oceana found that although there hasn't been another big blowout like the Deepwater accident, oil spills continue, and so do fatalities, though they're not often front-page news.
There were at least 6,500 oil spills in US waters between 2007 and 2017, according to the report, which said that's probably an undercount. Despite a decrease in fatality rates overall as an industry, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the fatality rate of oil and gas industry workers, onshore and off-, was an average of seven times higher than that of other US workers in general between 2003 and 2013.
New York Times
Interior Dept. Delays Its Plan to Open U.S. Coastline to Drilling
WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Thursday confirmed that it will likely delay the release of a long-awaited plan that had been expected to open most of the nation’s coastline for offshore oil drilling, pending the final outcome of a recent court decision that blocks drilling off the Alaskan coast.
The delay appears to be an acknowledgment that the court decision is a significant setback for what President Trump has called his policy of “energy dominance” — an effort to rapidly expand oil and gas drilling across the country.
The reason given for the delay was a March decision by a federal judge in Alaska to reinstate an Obama-era ban on Arctic drilling. “Given the recent court decision, the Department is simply evaluating all of its options to determine the best pathway to accomplish the mission entrusted to it by the President,” a spokeswoman for the Interior Department, Molly Block, wrote in an email.
The delay was reported by The Wall Street Journal, quoting the Interior Department’s new secretary, David Bernhardt, as saying, “By the time the court rules, that may be discombobulating to our plan,” adding, “What if you guess wrong?” in reference to the uncertain outcome of the legal appeals process.
The delay is the latest legal stumble in Mr. Trump’s effort to roll back environmental protections and increase fossil fuel production. Experts in environmental law estimate that, in its quest to quickly undo existing environmental protections, the administration has now lost about 40 cases in federal courts.
EPA Decides Not to Regulate Fracking Wastewater as Pennsylvania Study Reveals Recent Spike
On April 23, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told two environmental groups that it had decided it was “not necessary” to update the federal standards handling toxic waste from oil and gas wells, including the waste produced by fracking.
State regulators have repeatedly proved unable to prevent the industry’s toxic waste from entering America’s drinking water supplies, including both private wells and the rivers from which public drinking water supplies are drawn, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded in a 2017 national study.
The corrosive salt-laden wastewater from fracked wells has been spread on roads as a de-icer. It’s been sprayed into the air in the hopes of evaporating the water — a practice that spreads its blend of volatile chemicals into the air instead. Oil industry wastewater has even been used to irrigate crops — in California, where state regulators haven't set rules to keep dangerous chemicals like the carcinogen benzene out of irrigation water.
If equally contaminated waste came from other industries, it would usually be designated hazardous waste and subject to strict tracking and disposal rules designed to keep the public safe from industrial pollution. But in July 1988, after burying clear warnings from its own scientists about the hazards of oilfield waste, the EPA offered the oil and gas industry a broad exemption from hazardous waste handling laws.
The EPA's decision this week echoes that.
Seismological Society of America
Studies Link Earthquakes to Fracking in the Central and Eastern United States
25 April 2019–Small earthquakes in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas can be linked to hydraulic fracturing wells in those regions, according to researchers speaking at the SSA 2019 Annual Meeting.
While relatively rare compared to earthquakes caused by wastewater disposal in oil and gas fields in the central United States, Michael Brudzinski of Miami University in Ohio and his colleagues have identified more than 600 small earthquakes (between magnitude 2.0 and 3.8) in these states.
Brudzinski said these earthquakes may be “underappreciated” compared to seismicity related to wastewater disposal since they appear to happen less frequently. He and his colleagues are studying the trends related to the likelihood of induced seismicity from hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which could help industry and state regulators better manage drilling practices.
Unconventional U.S. oil production, which extracts oil from shales and tight rocks using a variety of drilling techniques, has been linked to an increase in human-induced earthquakes across the mid-continent of the United States for nearly a decade. Researchers studying the increase in places such as Oklahoma think that the main driver of this increase in seismicity is the injection of wastewater produced by extraction back into rock layers, which increases pore pressure within rocks and can affect stress along faults in layers selected for disposal.
NY denies natural gas pipeline expansion permit
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — State environmental regulators on Wednesday denied a water quality permit for a 24-mile (39-kilometer) underwater pipeline from New Jersey to Queens that backers say is crucial for meeting rising demand for natural gas in New York City and Long Island.
The Northeast Supply Enhancement project would expand the Transco pipeline, which extends from Texas to the Northeast coast. It would allow National Grid to bring natural gas from Pennsylvania’s shale gas fields to the metropolitan region.
The pipeline is opposed by environmental groups who say it threatens marine life and extends reliance on fossil fuels rather than renewable energy sources.
In denying the permit, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation said the project “fails to meet New York State’s rigorous water quality standards” and “would cause impacts to habitats due to the disturbance of shellfish beds and other benthic resources.”
Inside Climate News
Midwest Flooding Exposes Another Oil Pipeline Risk — on Keystone XL’s Route
Rushing rivers have exposed once-buried pipelines before, leading to oil spills. With climate change exacerbating flood risks, Keystone XL critics see dangers ahead.
NAPER, Nebraska — Standing on the banks of the Keya Paha River where it cuts through his farm, Bob Allpress points across a flat expanse of sand to where a critical shut-off valve is supposed to rise from the Keystone XL pipeline once it's buried in his land. The Keya Paha flooded several weeks ago, and when it did, the rush of newly melted water drove debris, sand and huge chunks of ice deep inland, mowing down trees and depositing a long wall of ice 6 feet high and 30 feet wide across Allpress's property. ...
Opponents of Keystone XL have successfully stymied the project's completion for years with legal challenges over threats to regional drinking-water aquifers, streams, wildlife habitat and the global climate. The pipeline would carry tar sands crude 1,200 miles from Hardisty, Canada, to Steele City, Nebraska, where it would connect to other pipelines to Gulf Coast refineries.
After extensive environmental reviews, the Obama administration refused to grant the project a presidential permit, finding that it was not in the national interest. President Trump reversed that decision, but environmentalists claimed the project needed a new environmental impact statement before it could proceed, in part because of a new route through Nebraska, and so far the courts have agreed. ...
Without adequate environmental review, grave risks such as flooding and erosion "haven't been analyzed and the pipeline is going to go forward without agencies fully understanding risks and threats to the project," said Doug Hayes, a lawyer for the Sierra Club, which is a plaintiff in the suits.
The threat to pipelines from erosion prompted the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, the federal regulator responsible for the safe operation of the country's energy pipelines, to issue an advisory two weeks ago to pipeline owners. It urged them to institute safeguards after a recent spate of accidents from soil shifting around pipelines. In the last decade, fast currents and high floodwaters exposed two pipelines in the Yellowstone River in Montana that both ruptured, leaking a total of about 93,000 gallons of oil.