Sustained Outrage

Latest WVU study ties C8 to chronic kidney disease

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There’s another significant new study out from the folks at West Virginia University’s C8 Health Project, who are churning out tons of important research about the potential toxic effects of the DuPont chemical C8.

This one is called Perfluoroalkyl Chemicals and Chronic Kidney Disease in U.S. Adults (subscription required) and was published last week in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The study examined data for more than 4,500 adults from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey, or NHANES, and found associations between higher levels of C8 and PFOS exposure and chronic kidney disease, or CKD.

These associations were independent of possible other factors, such as age, sex, race/ethnicity, body mass index, diabetes, hypertension and cholesterol levels.  One caution is that the NHANES data, because it measures C8 levels in blood and CKD at the same time, it cannot tell us which came first — the chemical exposure or the kidney disease.

Still, author Anoop Shankar and colleagues report:

Our results contribute to the emerging data on the health effects of PFCs, suggesting for the first time that PFOA and PFOS are potentially related to CKD.

… Our findings are of public health importance because serum PFCs appear to be positively related to kidney disease even at relatively low background exposure levels in the U.S. general population.

They continued:

… If our findings are replicated in future prospective studies, the population attributable risk of CKD by PFC exposure would be high. This is unlike findings form certain other specific populations that were exposed to very high serum PFC levels through local environmental contamination. Also, because PFCs are manmade, it may be possible to remove this excess exposure risk.

This new WVU study comes on the heels of the C8 Science Panel’s report outlining associations between chemical exposure and kidney cancer deaths in DuPont workers (see here and here).  So far, though, I don’t believe that we have seen any results from the Science Panel on chronic kidney disease among the non-worker population in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

Secret meetings, Aug. 26, 2011

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

The agency? The state Department of Environmental Protection.

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.

Marcellus potential: Studies offer conflicting views

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There’s a new study out from the U.S. Geological Survey that offers that agency’s new analysis of the potential of natural gas reserves that could be recovered from the Marcellus Shale. According to the USGS press release:

The Marcellus Shale contains about 84 trillion cubic feet of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas and 3.4 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable natural gas liquids according to a new assessment by the U. S. Geological Survey (USGS).

But take a look at the headlines we’re seeing about this new assessment:

— Bloomberg: U.S. to Slash Marcellus Shale Gas Estimate 80 percent.

— The Houston Chronicle: New estimate raises Marcellus gas estimate forty-fold.

Huh? Surely, both of these stories can’t be right … well, actually, they are.

As the USGS news release explains:

These gas estimates are significantly more than the last USGS assessment of the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachian Basin in 2002, which estimated a mean of about 2 trillion cubic feet of gas (TCF) and 0.01 billion barrels of natural gas liquids.

But, here’s what the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration had reported only last month:

Eighty-six percent of the total 750 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable shale gas resources identified in Table 1 are located in the Northeast, Gulf Coast, and Southwest regions, which account for 63 percent, 13 percent, and 10 percent of the total, respectively. In the three regions, the largest shale gas plays are the Marcellus (410.3 trillion cubic feet, 55 percent of the total), Haynesville (74.7 trillion cubic feet, 10 percent of the total), and Barnett (43.4 trillion cubic feet, 6 percent of the total).

So why are the estimates so different? I asked the USGS that question, and got this response from Jim Coleman, the agency’s Eastern Energy Resources Science Center Director:

We have been in discussion with our counterparts at EIA since the release of our assessment August 23 about this and other related items. We are jointly supplying each other with information so that both agencies can understand the differences in assessment methodologies, the data used as input in the assessments, and how the data are summed and presented. We expect to have a much better understanding over the next few weeks and will be working to communicate that understanding effectively to the public. I would ask you to call or email us back in about 2 or 3 weeks and check on our progress.

But it’s probably worth noting that Philip Budzik, an operations research analyst with DOE’s Energy Information Administration, is being quoted by Bloomberg and by The New York Times saying:

We consider the U.S.G.S. to be the experts in this matter. They’re geologists; we’re not. We’re going to be taking this number and using it in our model.

The Times story offered this bit of context:

In their report this week, federal geologists focused on “resource” estimates, which refer to the amount of gas that is in the ground and technically can be extracted. They did not focus on what are known as “reserve” estimates, which refer to how much of this gas can be profitably extracted from the ground. The geologists also did not discuss how high gas prices will have to rise before companies can make enough money to justify increased drilling.

It’s also worth checking out this story by Pam Kasey in The State Journal, reporting additional context and questions about the differing estimates.

 

There’s a new report out from a coalition of environmental, good-government and deficit hawks that says one way to cut federal spending and help with the deficit is to end certain energy industry subsidies.

The “Green Scissors 2011” report concludes:

Ending a third of a trillion dollars in environmentally harmful subsidies could go a long way toward solving our nation’s budget challenges.

[The report] provides a roadmap to saving up to $380 billion over five years by curbing wasteful spending that harms the environment.  That amounts to a full quarter of the savings the new congressional Super Committee has been charged with obtaining, in half the time.

The report, issued by progressive environmental group Friends of the Earth, deficit hawk Taxpayers for Common Sense, consumer watchdog Public Citizen and free-market think tank The Heartland Institute, propose cutting many fossil fuel, nuclear and alternative energy subsidies. Other targets include massive giveaways of publicly owned timber, poorly conceived road projects and a bevy of questionable Army Corps of Engineers water projects.

Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said:

These common sense cuts represent the lowest of the low hanging budgetary fruit. Lawmakers across the political spectrum should be scrambling to eliminate these examples of wasteful spending and unnecessary tax breaks that are squandering our precious tax dollars while the nation is staring into a chasm of debt.

Dennis and Tammy Hagy of Jackson County said they cannot live in their home because of fracking. Gazette photo by Chris Dorst.

At about the time citizen groups were holding press conferences in Charleston and Huntington yesterday to protest the lack of tougher policing of natural gas drilling across our state, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection was issuing its “emergency” rules on the practice.

The Gazette’s Dr. Paul Nyden covered yesterday’s event in Charleston, while Larry Messina over at the Associated Press had this story about the WVDEP’s rules. We’ve got a copy of the WVDEP rules posted here along with the agency’s press release here.

And this morning, the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization released released a brief critique of the WVDEP proposal. Called Almost Nothing for Landowners, and Only Baby Steps for the Environment, the group’s comments conclude:

For the horizontal wells the Rule is designed to cover, the Rule only takes baby steps on environmental concerns, some of which are shared by surface owners, beyond what is currently being done. Most of the provisions are things that the Manchin administration already had imposed in practice. The Rule still allows drillers to sneak out onto landowners’ property and survey well sites and well roads without contacting the landowner first. It does not give surface owners notice of plans to drill the wells until the permit is actually filed, and then there is only 15 days to file comments, no hearing on the permit application, and no power for the State to help a surface owner whose future home site is now going to be a well site. The Rule also continues to allow gas wells to be drilled within 200 feet of peoples’ homes. This close proximity is of particular concern for Marcellus Shale operations, given their duration, the air, noise, light and other pollution from the sites, in addition to the potential for more serious accidents like the fires and explosions that occurred last year in the Northern Panhandle.

The group says that the WVDEP news release was inaccurate when it said that the agency’s rule:

… stipulates that all drill cuttings and drilling mud be disposed of in an approved solid waste facility …

According to WVSORO:

In Section 4.3 the Rule also states, “or managed on-site in a manner otherwise approved by the Secretary,” and there is no indication of what the Secretary may approve.

Continue reading…

WVDEP issues ’emergency’ rules on drilling

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Here’s the release issued today by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection:

The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, as directed on July 12 by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in Executive Order No. 4-11, filed an emergency rule today with the Secretary of State’s Office to increase the DEP’s regulatory oversight of horizontal well development in the state.

The rule, which adds new permit application requirements for operators drilling horizontal gas wells, as well as new operational rules to protect the state’s water quality and quantity, will become effective after approval by the Secretary of State and remain in effect for 15 months.

The emergency rule is intended to help the DEP better regulate the state’s growing natural gas industry, which is benefitting from improved horizontal drilling techniques that allow operators to more easily access deep shale gas, such as that found in the Marcellus Shale. Those same drilling techniques involve significant surface area disturbances and large-volume hydraulic fracturing that uses millions of gallons of water per well.

I’ve posted a copy of the WVDEP rules here, previous posts on this topic are here, here and here.

Continue reading…

Secret meetings, Aug. 19, 2011

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Today’s issue of The State Register contains no meetings that violate the public notice requirements of West Virginia’s open meetings law.

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.

More than a month after Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin, acting as governor, ordered “emergency” rules to toughen regulation of natural gas drilling in West Virginia, and the state Department of Environmental Protection has yet to issue those rules.

We still don’t know what role the oil and gas industry’s lobbyists played in crafting Tomblin’s executive order, or what role they may be playing behind the scenes in developing the WVDEP’s rules. Are any significant changes being made at industry’s behest?

In the Daily Mail, Ry Rivard reports that a new law on drilling practices is unlikely to happen before the end of this year — and some lawmakers seem in no hurry to work on such legislation.

Meanwhile, a coalition of citizen groups are planning dual events in Morgantown and Charleston on Monday to call attention to what they say are weaknesses in the Tomblin executive order. According to a press advisory from the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization:

West Virginia citizens need strong protection from a range of effects of Marcellus shale and other natural gas drilling and production. Representatives from participating organizations will address such issues as air, land, and water pollution from drilling operations; water usage and waste disposal; light and noise pollution; lack of surface owners’ rights; and lack of sufficient DEP inspectors to enforce the law and ensure safety. Participants are critical of the measures proposed in Governor Tomblin’s Executive Order as being insufficient to provide the protections citizens are demanding and are calling on the legislature to act swiftly.

The advisory added:

The Charleston event will also include testimony from the Hagy family. The Hagy’s water well became contaminated and family members became sick after a natural gas company drilled and hydraulically fractured three natural gas wells on their property in Jackson County.

Readers may recall that the Hagy’s experience was outlined in great detail in a recent report by the Environmental Working Group.

In a commentary today, Hoppy Kercheval of West Virginia MetroNews talked up his belief that a draft report from an Obama administration advisory panel on shale-gas drilling “provides balance” and dismisses concerns about water pollution from increased gas drilling activity.

Hoppy must have missed this part of the draft Department of Energy report:

Intensive shale gas development can potentially have serious impacts on public health, the environment and quality of life – even when individual operators conduct their activities in ways that meet and exceed regulatory requirements. The combination of impacts from multiple drilling and production operations, support infrastructure (pipelines, road networks, etc.) and related activities can overwhelm ecosystems and communities.

The Subcommittee believes that federal, regional, state and local jurisdictions need to place greater effort on examining these cumulative impacts in a more holistic manner; discrete permitting activity that focuses narrowly on individual activities does not reach to these issues.

A natural gas well operated by Northeast Natural Energy on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011.(AP Photo/David Smith)

We’ve written before on this blog about the growing debate over whether relying on natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to quickly reduce greenhouse emissions in the near-term is a sound environmental policy for the nation and world (See here, here and here for previous coverage).

Most recently, a blockbuster study from Cornell University scientists got a huge amount of media attention when it suggested — contrary to conventional wisdom — that gas might be worse than coal when it comes to climate change.

Now, though, there’s another study, this one from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University that suggests that the original conventional wisdom was right all along.  A press release from the university touted the study this way:

Carnegie Mellon University’s Chris Hendrickson, Paulina Jaramillo and their colleagues report that life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions from Marcellus Shale natural gas are not as high as life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions of coal, when used by the electric power sector — the major sector in which these fuels compete.

“Marcellus Shale gas emits 50 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than any U.S. coal-fired plant,” said Hendrickson, the Duquesne Light Co. Professor of Engineering and co-director of the Green Design Institute at Carnegie Mellon. “We favor extraction of Marcellus Shale natural gas as long as the extraction is managed to minimize adverse economic, environmental and social impacts.”

Remember that the Cornell study by Robert W. Howarth and others, reported:

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 greatr and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years.

Now, while Howarth’s study got a lot of press attention, the new Carnegie Mellon paper hasn’t yet been covered much by the mainstream media, aside from this report in the Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa.  Look for that to change very soon, as the industry’s public relations machine gears up. The paper is already being promoted here in West Virginia by a pro-drilling bog sponsored by the industry law firm Spilman Thomas and Battle and by John Hanger, the former Pennsylvania environmental commissioner who now consults for industry.

Hanger in particular seems thrilled with the CMU study, writing:

This careful study debunks and decimates professor Howarth’s hit piece study that the NYT gas reporter and other media gave so much attention. By contrast, the CMU study has received very little press attention so the result remains that many people think Howarth is the final word on this important matter.

Now, keep in mind this part of what the CMU study reports:

There is significant uncertainty in our Marcellus shale GHG emission estimates due to eventual production volumes and variability in flaring, construction and transportation.

Not surprisingly, Hager is eager to weigh those uncertainties in a manner that favors gas drilling:

The researchers found that there was virtually no difference between greenhouse emissions from Marcellus shale gas and conventional gas production.

Continue reading…

Two weeks ago, we reported on the findings of a West Virginia University study that raised serious concerns about the relationship between exposure to C8 and the function of the thyroid gland.

And today, the C8 Science Panel has made public a summary of its latest report on the matter — raising more questions about how exposure to C8 and similar chemicals affects thyroid function and thyroid disease in kids.

The most significant new piece of information?

Science Panel members found a 50 percent higher risk of thyroid disease among kids exposed to higher levels of C8.

In a three-page status report, the Science Panel concludes its latest results:

… Suggest that exposure during childhood to two perfluoroalkyl acids, PFOS and PFNA, may be capable of disturbing thyroid hormone levels. Reported thyroid disease in children was found to be associated with PFOA but not PFOS or PFNA,

The panel cautioned that “the results are not sufficient to prove that PFOA is leading to increased thyroid disease” but also concluded:

Taken together, these new findings suggest that normal thyroid function may be affected by exposure to one or more of the family of pefluoroalkyl acids.

The Science Panel explains the importance of any connection between C8 exposure levels and the thyroid this way:

Disturbances to the thyroid system, particularly in children, may have a number of negative effects, as thyroid hormones play important roles in regulating metabolism, growth and development, especially in normal brain maturation and development.

In this particular study, the Science Panel compared blood levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH, and total thyroxine (TT4) to levels of C8 and similar chemicals in the blood of 10,725 children ages 1 to 18 years. They also compared the hormone levels to the C8 in the blood of mothers at the time of pregnancy.

And, the Science Panel looked at the number of children for whom a diagnosed thyroid disease was reported.

The three-scientist panel found that thyroid disease “was positively associated with” C8 levels in the child “with borderline statistical significance.”  The panel reported a 50 percent higher risk for hypothyroidism for those with higher levels of C8 versus lower levels of the chemical.  Similar associates were found for both C8 levels in the child’s blood and the mother’s blood while pregnant.

Continue reading…