Sustained Outrage

Governors race: Candidates talk fracking

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In Sunday’s Gazette-Mail, our political staff asked the Democratic candidates for governor of West Virginia this question:

Do you believe West Virginia needs new regulations for oil and gas drilling? If so, what specific requirements should be in the legislation?

Here are their answers:

Jeff Kessler

Yes. More DEP inspectors and regulations that include protection of our water resources; protection of landowner surface rights; repair of our roads and highways; fair distribution of the production royalties to mineral right owners; that West Virginia residents are employed in the industry and that adequate severance dollars are collected.

John Perdue

Before we start drilling in the Marcellus Shale, we should first set regulations that will allow us to extract the gas in an environmentally safe way, provide protections for our water supply and establish landowner’s rights.

Natalie Tennant

Responsible development of our natural resources will allow West Virginia to create thousands of new jobs and strategic investment in education, research and technology. We must, however, ensure we protect our environment, our roads and our communities. We must also ensure companies hire West Virginians for West Virginia work.

Rick Thompson

Yes, and that’s why I proposed a special session to deal with the issue. Producers need a process that is understandable, attainable and reasonable. Communities need to be assured that their groundwater and infrastructure are protected and surface owners need assurance their rights are protected.

Earl Ray Tomblin –

Yes. The Marcellus Shale presents an enormous economic opportunity, and I support drilling in a responsible and reasonable manner. I proposed additional funding for inspectors to ensure compliance with regulations, and I will continue pushing the Legislature to provide that money and adopt reasonable regulations.

House report details fracking chemicals

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This just in (and apparently the basis for a New York Times story) from the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Democratic members and staff:

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  Today Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry A. Waxman, Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Edward J. Markey, and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette released a new report that summarizes the types, volumes, and chemical contents of the hydraulic fracturing products used by the 14 leading oil and gas service companies. The report contains the first comprehensive national inventory of chemicals used by hydraulic fracturing companies during the drilling process.

“Hydraulic fracturing has helped to expand natural gas production in the United States, but we must ensure that these new resources don’t come at the expense of public health,” said Rep. Waxman.  “This report shows that these companies are injecting millions of gallons of products that contain potentially hazardous chemicals, including known carcinogens. I urge EPA and DOE to make certain that we have strong protections in place to prevent these chemicals from entering drinking water supplies.”

“With our river ways and drinking water at stake, it, it’s an absolute necessity that the American public knows what is in these fracking chemicals,” said Rep. Markey.  “This report is the most comprehensive look yet at the composition of the chemicals used in the fracking process, and should help the industry, the government, and the American public push for a safer way to extract natural gas.”

“It is deeply disturbing to discover the content and quantity of toxic chemicals, like benzene and lead, being injected into the ground without the knowledge of the communities whose health could be affected,” said Rep. DeGette.  “Of particular concern to me is that we learned that over the four-year period studied, over one and a half million gallons of carcinogens were injected into the ground in Colorado. Many companies were also unable to even identify some of the chemicals they were using in their own activities, unfortunately underscoring that voluntary industry disclosure is not enough to ensure the economic benefits of natural gas production do not come at the cost of our families’ health.”

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Secret meetings, April 15, 2011

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Today’s issue of The State Register contains two meetings that did not comply with the public notice requirements of the West Virginia open meetings law.

The agencies at issue are the Kanawha Region Health Sciences and Technology Academy and the 11th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Corp.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterisk in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

We broke a story in this morning’s Gazette about three lawsuits in northern West Virginia that challenge a central practice of the region’s growing natural gas drilling industry: Dumping fracking waste on people’s property and then leaving potentially toxic pits behind when the drilling is done.

As we reported:

Larry and Jana Rine allege that Chesapeake unlawfully disposed of drilling wastes in the pit, then buried it and planned to leave it on a 210-acre property the Rines use as a part-time home and hunting camp at Silver Hill, east of New Martinsville.

Now, they allege, the company is using repair of a slip on its well pad as an excuse to haul away the wastes and potentially cover up what was really dumped into the pit.

Preliminary testing found the soil contained diesel fuel, benzene and a variety of other contaminants, court records show.

In a suit filed late last year, the Rines argued that it’s not “reasonably necessary” — the legal test for activities allowed by state natural gas laws — for Chesapeake to leave a buried waste dump in order to extract the gas it owns beneath the Rine property.

“These cases are just common sense and common law,” said Brian Glasser, a Charleston lawyer who represents the Rines and has filed two other, similar cases against Chesapeake. “You can’t bury a bunch of waste in somebody’s yard. It’s that simple.”

If successful, the lawsuits could force major changes in the way companies handle the huge amounts of wastes generated as they rush to drill for natural gas in the lucrative Marcellus Shale formation.

Here’s a copy of the legal brief that prompted U.S. District Judge Frederick P. Stamp to issue a temporary restraining order against Chesapeake:

Well site during active drilling to the Marcelllus Shale formation in Upshur County, West Virginia, in 2008. Photo copyright West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization.

We’ve talked before about whether the greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas — especially when it comes from drilling into shale formations — has been understated in the rush to proclaim natural gas as a “clean” source of energy.

And now, there’s a new study out from researches at Cornell University which concludes:

The footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20 percent greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years.

The study is due out this week in the peer-reviewed journal Climate Change. But The Hill has a story already out about the paper, reporting:

The conclusion is explosive because natural gas enjoys broad political support – including White House backing – due to its domestic abundance and lower carbon dioxide emissions when burned than other fossil fuels.

Cornell Prof. Robert Howarth, however, argues that development of gas from shale rock formations produced through hydraulic fracturing – dubbed “fracking” – brings far more methane emissions than conventional gas production.

Enough, he argues, to negate the carbon advantage that gas has over coal and oil when they’re burned for energy, because methane is such a potent greenhouse gas.

But Howarth’s research was previously discussed in great detail in a story by ProPublica’s Abrahm Lustgarten, available here.

UPDATED: The industry website “Energy in Depth” has published a response attacking the new study.

Secret meetings, April 8, 2011

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There are two meetings in today’s issue of The State Register that violate the public notice requirements of West Virginia’s open meetings law.

The agencies involved?  The board of the 7th Circuit Public Defender Corp. and the WV EMS Technical Support Network Board of Directors.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterisk in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.

Another Thursday, another batch of thought provoking stories:

With America’s intervention in the conflict in Libya raising concerns of prolonged military involvement, ForeignPolicy.com‘s Steven M. Walt asked: Is America Addicted to War? Walt, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School for Government, offers a Top Five list of reasons that America “keeps fighting foolish wars,” including that the foreign-policy establishment is hard-wired towards “doing something” and that Congress has largely abdicated its role in determining whether or not the U.S. goes to war to presidents since World War II.

Even as they espouse the Libertarian value that smaller government and less regulation is the way to go, the Koch brothers have spent millions on a sophisticated lobbying effort to protect their wide-ranging business interests, the Center for Public Integrity reported. At times, the “lobbying steamroller” for the company’s interests is in conflict with the brothers’ public political position and philosophy, John Aloysius Farrell wrote. “The company has a history of pragmatism in commercial affairs. . . . [t]hough it opposes a cap-and-trade solution to global warming for the United States, Koch makes money trading emissions credits under a similar program in Europe.”

Multiple patients who received injections after they were promised a cure for erectile dysfunction maintain they weren’t told of the associated risks before receiving the treatment, according to the Los Angeles Times. They also didn’t know that the doctors at the Boston Medical Group in Costa Mesa were given bonuses once they generate a certain amount of business, and most learned only during their first appointment that the treatment involves injecting drugs directly into the penis before immediately prior to sex, according to the article.

ProPublica: Abandoned wells pose water threat

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Earlier this week, ProPublica continued its great reporting on oil and gas drilling’s environmental problems, with a piece about the potential threats to water supplies from abandoned wells.

The piece was headlined Deteriorating Oil and Gas Wells Threaten Drinking Water, Homes Across the Country, and was published in cooperation with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which has launched a separate section of its website focused on oil and gas drilling issues. The story reports:

In the last 150 years, prospectors and energy companies have drilled as many as 12 million holes across the United States in search of oil and gas. Many of those holes were plugged after they dried up. But hundreds of thousands were simply abandoned and forgotten, often leaving no records of their existence.

Government reports have warned for decades that abandoned wells can provide pathways for oil, gas or brine-laden water to contaminate groundwater supplies or to travel up to the surface. Abandoned wells have polluted the drinking water source for Fort Knox, Ky. [2], and leaked oil into water wells in Ohio and Michigan. Similar problems have occurred in Texas, New York, Colorado and other states where drilling has occurred.

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Secret meetings, April 1, 2011

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Today’s issue of The State Register contains one meeting that violated the public notice requirements of West Virginia’s open meetings law.

The agency involved? The board of Webster County Memorial Hospital.

As we’ve reminded folks before, the West Virginia Open Governmental Proceedings Act requires agencies to send meeting notices to the Secretary of State in time for notices to appear in the State Register five days prior to a scheduled meeting. Every week, we list the agencies that didn’t comply, thanks to the Secretary of State’s office, which kindly marks those agencies with an asterisk in the list of meetings published each Friday in the Register.