tagged w/ VOCs
Residents living near gas fracking sites suffer an increasingly high rate of health problems now linked to pollutants used in the gas extraction process, according to a new report released Thursday.
The study, conducted by Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project, pulled from a survey of 108 Pennsylvania residents in 14 counties, and a series of air and water tests. The results showed close to 70 percent of participants reported an increase in throat irritation and roughly 80 percent suffered from sinus problems after natural gas extraction companies moved to their areas. The symptoms intensify the closer the residents are to the fracking sites.
"We use water for nothing other than flushing the commode," said Janet McIntyre referring to the now toxic levels of water on her land, which neighbors a fracking site. McIntyre said her entire family, including their pets, suffered from a wide array of health problems including projectile vomiting and skin rashes, indicative of other families' symptoms in the areas surveyed. Other symptoms include sinus, respiratory, fatigue, and mood problems.
"Twenty-two households reported that pets and livestock began to have symptoms (such as seizures or losing hair) or suddenly fell ill and died after gas development began nearby,” the report finds.
After taking water and air samples, Earthworks detected chemicals that have been linked to oil and gas operations and also directly connected to many of the symptoms reported in the survey on the resident's properties. This study showed a higher concentration of ethylbenzene and xylene, volatile compounds found in petroleum hydrocarbons, at the households as compared to control sites.
“For too long, the oil and gas industry and state regulators have dismissed community members’ health complaints as ‘false’ or ‘anecdotal’,” said Nadia Steinzor, the project’s lead author. “With this research, they cannot credibly ignore communities any longer.”
According to a separate report released earlier this month, EPA regulators are having trouble keeping up with the "rapid pace" of shale oil and gas development, due to a lack in resources, staff, data and a number of legal loopholes.Residents living near gas fracking sites suffer an increasingly high rate of health... more
On a cold, overcast afternoon in January 2003, two tanker trucks backed up to an injection well site in a pasture outside Rosharon, Texas. There, under a steel shed, they began to unload thousands of gallons of wastewater for burial deep beneath the earth.
The waste – the byproduct of oil and gas drilling –was described in regulatory documents as a benign mixture of salt and water. But as the liquid rushed from the trucks, it released a billowing vapor of far more volatile materials, including benzene and other flammable hydrocarbons.
The truck engines, left to idle by their drivers, sucked the fumes from the air, revving into a high-pitched whine. Before anyone could react, one of the trucks backfired, releasing a spark that ignited the invisible cloud.
Fifteen-foot-high flames enveloped the steel shed and tankers. Two workers died, and four were rushed to the hospital with burns over much of their bodies. A third worker died six weeks later.
What happened that day at Rosharon was the result of a significant breakdown in the nation’s efforts to regulate the handling of toxic waste, a ProPublica investigation shows.
The site at Rosharon is what is known as a “Class 2” well. Such wells are subject to looser rules and less scrutiny than others designed for hazardous materials. Had the chemicals the workers were disposing of that day come from a factory or a refinery, it would have been illegal to pour them into that well. But regulatory concessions won by the energy industry over the last three decades made it legal to dump similar substances into the Rosharon site –as long as they came from drilling.
Injection wells have proliferated over the last 60 years, in large part because they are the cheapest, most expedient way to manage hundreds of billions of gallons of industrial waste generated in the U.S. each year. Yet the dangers of injection are well known: In accidents dating back to the 1960s, toxic materials have bubbled up to the surface or escaped, contaminating aquifers that store supplies of drinking water.
There are now more than 150,000 Class 2 wells in 33 states, into which oil and gas drillers have injected at least 10 trillion gallons of fluid. The numbers have increased rapidly in recent years, driven by expanding use of hydraulic fracturing to reach previously inaccessible resources.
ProPublica analyzed records summarizing more than 220,000 well inspections conducted between late 2007 and late 2010, including more than 194,000 for Class 2 wells. We also reviewed federal audits of state oversight programs, interviewed dozens of experts and explored court documents, case files, and the evolution of underground disposal law over the past 30 years.
Our examination shows that, amid growing use of Class 2 wells, fundamental safeguards are sometimes being ignored or circumvented. State and federal regulators often do little to confirm what pollutants go into wells for drilling waste. They rely heavily on an honor system in which companies are supposed to report what they are pumping into the earth, whether their wells are structurally sound, and whether they have violated any rules.
More than 1,000 times in the three-year period examined, operators pumped waste into Class 2 wells at pressure levels they knew could fracture rock and lead to leaks. In at least 140 cases, companies injected waste illegally or without a permit.
In several instances, records show, operators did not meet requirements to identify old or abandoned wells near injection sites until waste flooded back up to the surface, or found ways to cheat on tests meant to make sure wells aren’t leaking.
“The program is basically a paper tiger,” said Mario Salazar, a former senior technical advisor to the Environmental Protection Agency who worked with its injection regulation program for 25 years. While wells that handle hazardous waste from other industries have been held to increasingly tough standards, Salazar said, Class 2 wells remain a gaping hole in the system. “There are not enough people to look at how these wells are drilled …to witness whether what they tell you they will do is in fact what they are doing.”
Thanks in part to legislative measures and rulemaking dating back to the late 1970s, material from oil and gas drilling is defined as nonhazardous, no matter what it contains. Oversight of Class 2 wells is often relegated to overstretched, understaffed state oil and gas agencies, which have to balance encouraging energy production with protecting the environment. In some areas, funding for enforcement has dropped even as drilling activity has surged, leading to more wells and more waste overseen by fewer inspectors.
“Class 2 wells constitute a serious problem,” said John Apps, a leading geoscientist and injection expert who works with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “The risk to water? I think it’s high, partially because of the enormous number of these wells and the fact that they are not regulated with the same degree of conscientiousness.”
In response to questions about the adequacy of oversight, the EPA, which holds primary regulatory authority over injection wells, reissued a statement it supplied to ProPublica for an earlier article in June.
“Underground injection has been and continues to be a viable technique for subsurface storage and disposal of fluids when properly done,” a spokesperson wrote. “EPA recognizes that more can be done to enhance drinking water safeguards and, along with states and tribes, will work to improve the efficiency of the underground injection control program."
Some at the EPA and at the Department of Justice, which prosecutes environmental crimes, say the system’s blind spots suggest that many more violations likely go undiscovered – at least until they mushroom into a crisis.
By Abrahm Lustgarten
ProPublica, Sept. 20, 2012, 12:12 p.m.On a cold, overcast afternoon in January 2003, two tanker trucks backed up to an... more
New research suggests the health of newborn babies is adversely affected in areas close to sites undertaking natural gas extraction by way of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking; the method of obtaining natural gas by blasting shale with a solution of water and chemicals.
“A mother’s exposure to fracking before birth increases the overall prevalence of low birth weight by 25 percent,” said Elaine L. Hill, Cornell University doctoral candidate and author of the working paper, “Unconventional Natural Gas Development and Infant Health: Evidence from Pennsylvania.” Hill also found a 17 percent increase in “small for gestational age” births, and reduced health scores.
She spoke at a fracking forum hosted by Sen. Tony Avella in New York City Wednesday.
Hill’s paper looked at birth measures, including birth weight and premature birth, for those born in Pennsylvania starting in 2003, before fracking began. The study used data through 2010 and focused on those living up to 1.5 miles from gas development sites. Pennsylvania increased its unconventional natural gas wells from 20 in 2007 to 4,272 by the end of 2010.
Fracking in New York
New York currently has a moratorium on fracking, but the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is reviewing the nearly 80,000 comments received from public hearing sessions held in 2009 and 2011 regarding the draft Supplement Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) that will determine if New York will move forward and review permits for horizontal fracking.
The SGEIS will have to pass the state Legislature before heading to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s desk for approval. The DEC decision is expected by the end of this year.
Hill’s working paper will not be published until it passes a peer review—a huge risk for a doctoral student who does not share the same protection as a tenured professor.
“I think the courage she is showing today in coming forward and speaking truth to power should be matched by other acts of courage by members of our own state government,” Sandra Steingraber, distinguished scholar in residence for the department of environmental studies at Ithaca College, said before Hill’s testimony.
Steingraber said she believes Hill’s paper should be peer reviewed, but also feels science is having a tough time keeping up with the rush to get new fracking measures in place.
Hill said it may take up to two years to finish the review process, at which time new fracking regulations will likely already be in place. “My study is robust across multiple specifications and it indicates that our future generation may be seriously harmed. I couldn’’t possibly value my career over their well-being,” Hill said by email on Thursday.
A lifelong resident of New York state, Hill concluded her testimony by speaking from a personal perspective. She mentioned she is engaged to be married and hopes to start her own family soon, however her findings are giving her second thoughts about doing that in New York.
“I fully understand the economic potential for this technology and its importance for the state, but I hope for the sake of my generation and our future children, that New York will do its part to ensure our health and safety by refraining from allowing fracking to begin until the questions raised by the research presented today are answered,” Hill said.
“According to current estimates, a single low birth weight infant costs society, on average, $51,000 during the first year of life,” Hill said, adding that that did not include long-term costs for the child or decrease in parental earnings.
Calling on Cuomo
On Thursday, Sen. Avella followed through by issuing a letter to Cuomo formally requesting a meeting with him, as well as scientists, medical professionals, and environmentalists to discuss fracking and how the DEC and the governor will be making decisions.
“There has been virtually no outreach from either your staff or DEC staff to engage in detailed conversations with these respected members of the medical and scientific communities,” Avella said in his letter, a sentiment echoed by the majority of those that testified Wednesday.
Cuomo’s office did not respond to a request asking if a meeting had been set up.
More at the linkNew research suggests the health of newborn babies is adversely affected in areas... more
Releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) which combine in the presence of sunlight to form ground-level ozone
As we continue seeking relief from rising temperatures this month, it’s also time to be on the watch for ozone alerts. The annual Texas smog season – April 1 through October – already appears to be in full swing this year with numerous counties around the state exceeding health-based ozone concentrations many times since March.
Just last week, the Houston Chronicle highlighted the magnitude of ozone exceedances that the area hasn’t seen since 2003. Additionally, the month of May was the nation’s “smoggiest” in the past five years according to a recent report released by Clean Air Watch. Texas ranked second, surpassed only by California, for the most Code Red and Code Orange days so far in 2012, with 18 days and 27 days respectively.
Ozone-forming pollution is emitted by cars, refineries and various industrial plants. As more Texans begin to see shale gas drilling rigs pop up around them, many are asking the question: Could emissions from natural gas and oil operations significantly contribute to ground-level ozone? The answer is an unequivocal yes.
The Role of Natural Gas and Oil in Rising Ozone Levels
While burning natural gas produces less smog-forming pollution than coal combustion but more than renewable energy generation, much of the equipment used in the drilling, production, processing and transporting of natural gas and oil produces significant amounts of such pollution. This equipment releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx), which combine in the presence of sunlight to form ground-level ozone or “smog.” According to the state of Colorado, natural gas and oil operations were the largest source of ozone-forming pollution, VOCs and NOx in 2008.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has reported that storage tanks used in the exploration and production of natural gas and oil are the largest source of VOCs in the Barnett Shale. Recently, there have been additional concerns that San Antonio may not meet federal ozone standards due to Eagle Ford Shale development. Peter Bella, natural resources director at the Alamo Area Council of Governments, told the Houston Chronicle that the city is “right on the edge of nonattainment.”
Ozone concentrations comparable to those recorded in some of the most heavily polluted U.S. cities have been measured in rural parts of Wyoming and Utah, where little other industrial activity occurs:
- In 2010, air quality exceeded national health standards for ozone nearly seventy times in Utah’s Uintah Basin. Concentrated natural gas and oil development in the Uintah Basin has been identified by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as the primary cause of the ozone pollution.
- Residents of Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin suffered thirteen unhealthy ozone days in 2011. Air quality in the Basin had declined so much due to emissions from natural gas activities that former governor Dave Freudenthal requested it be designated an ozone nonattainment area, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) confirmed.
It’s important to note, however, that ozone monitoring does not exist in many oil and gas development areas, so we don’t know the full extent of the potential problem. For instance, though the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has committed to start monitoring in the Eagle Ford, there is not currently sufficient monitoring to characterize ozone problems in the area.
Protection of Human Health
As natural gas and oil development expands into new regions, adverse air impacts are likely to follow, absent sufficient emissions controls. It is crucial for states to have strong standards in place, especially for a state such as Texas, which experienced exponential production increases in a short period time. The Eagle Ford Shale alone saw a 432 percent increase in natural gas production from 2010 to 2011.
We are happy to report that EPA recently finalized clean air measures that will serve as an important first step in reducing harmful pollution discharged from a variety of oil and natural gas activities. In fact, last month, EDF President Fred Krupp testified before the U.S. Senate in support of these new clean air standards, which will result in significant reductions in smog-forming pollutants and hazardous air pollutants like benzene, a known carcinogen. As a co-benefit, the standards will also reduce methane, a potent climate forcer.
In his testimony, he said “these common sense measures are a win-win: they reduce pollution, conserve valuable domestic energy resources, and in some cases, actually save producers money.” He added that it was “critical that we build on these clean air measures if our nation is to fulfill the President’s promise in his State of the Union to develop natural gas without putting the health and safety of our citizens at risk.”
While mounting evidence continues to link natural gas drilling with rising ozone levels, it is important to remember why we should care in the first place:
- Ozone has been linked to a host of maladies, including premature mortality, heart failure, increased hospital admissions and emergency room visits for respiratory causes among children and adults with pre-existing respiratory disease, such as asthma and inflammation of the lung, and possible long-term damage to the lungs.
- Children, the elderly, and people with existing respiratory conditions are the most at risk from ozone pollution.
-Ozone also damages crops and ecosystems. Ozone is one of the most phytotoxic air pollutants – causing damage to vegetation in national parks and wilderness areas, especially in mountain regions and to valuable crops.
- Ozone pollution also contributes to climate change. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), ozone is the third-largest contributor to climate change after carbon dioxide and methane.
In the end, we’re talking about the protection of human health as well as our entire planet. Continue to visit this blog for updates on rising ozone levels in our state, as well as other vital information related to Texas air quality.
This commentary was written by Elena Craft, PhD.Releases volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) which combine... more