Sustained Outrage

West Virginia has taken some positive steps toward better policies to encourage energy efficiency, but is still near the bottom of the national rankings, according to a scorecard issued this morning.

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy ranked West Virginia 43 among the states on its scorecard, which considers state energy efficiency budgets, adoption or active consideration of energy efficiency standards, fixed efficiency savings targets, and other issues, such as adoption of energy-saving building codes.

Regarding West Virginia, the organization said:

West Virginia utilities do not currently have any customer energy efficiency programs in place, although some are pending. Recent progress has been made for energy efficiency and demand-side management programs as a result of a 2008 decision by the Public Service Commission. The Green Buildings Act and a bill to create an Energy Efficient Buildings Program failed in January 2010 (S 184; H 4008).

On positive step not mentioned in the report is a recent W.Va. PSC decision regarding energy efficiency programs at Appalachian Power, which the Gazette’s Eric Eyre previously covered in this story.

West Virginia did move up slightly, from its 45th-place ranking in the 2009 scorecard.

WVDEP cites driller in Marshall County explosion

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Fire crews from Marshall County battle a gas well fire in Moundsville, WV, Monday June 7, 2010. The explosion and resulting fire sent seven people to area hospitals including three workers who were flown to a Pittbsurgh burn center. (AP Photo/The News-Register, Kef Howard)

West Virginia regulators have cited the operator of that Marshall County gas drilling operation that blew up on Monday, alleging that AB Resources PA LLC did not follow its state-approved plan for the site.

In a news release just issued, WVDEP said that its preliminary investigation into the incident “indicates that the operator failed to follow the plan outlined in the permit, which possibly created conditions that led to the explosion.”

WVDEP has also ordered the company to halt all of its West Virginia operations until the cause of the Monday morning explosion — which injured seven workers — can be determined.

The release says:

The notices cited AB Resources, which is the permit holder for the site where the incident occurred, for failing to set casing at the permitted depth and for inaccurately reporting the coal seam depth in the permit application. Casing consists of steel pipe that supports the well bore and seals off water and gas.

The cease operations order requires the company to review the reported coal seam and casing depths for all drilled and proposed wells; take all steps necessary to comply with West Virginia Code requirements for a person trained in blowout prevention to be present at all times during drilling rig operation; and demonstrate knowledge and an understanding of the events that led up to and the cause of the June 7 incident.

WVDEP Secretary Randy Huffman said:

We want to review the company’s activities at other sites to ensure that similar conditions do not exist that could lead to a similar outcome. Our goal is to prevent this from happening elsewhere.

Updated:

We have a full Gazette news story online about this, and and Nicole Tolmie of the New York public relations firm Sard Verbinnen issued this statement on behalf of AB Resources:

AB and Chief Oil & Gas, which is on site, are complying fully and immediately with the order from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection. We are committed to working with the DEP to answer any questions they may have and to taking whatever steps are necessary to continue production of natural gas in a manner that is safe to workers, the public and the environment.



Workers Memorial Day

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An oil skimmer cleans oil from a leaking pipeline that resulted from last week's explosion and collapse of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico near the coast of Louisiana Tuesday, April 27, 2010.  (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
An oil skimmer cleans oil from a leaking pipeline that resulted from last week's explosion and collapse of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico near the coast of Louisiana Tuesday, April 27, 2010. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Today is Workers Memorial Day, a moment to recall people who died or who were injured or were made ill on the job during the previous year.

A Presidential proclamation notes that this year is the 40th anniversary of both the Occupational Safety and Health Act and the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act, “which promise American workers the right to a safe workplace and require employers to provide safe conditions.”

Of course, as this day passes, people are still mourning the loss of 29 miners at the April 5 Upper Big Branch mine explosion in Raleigh County and 11 workers killed in the oil platform explosion off the coast of Louisiana on April 20. To that list, the White House adds seven more workers killed in a refinery explosion in Anacortes, Washington, on April 2 and four more workers killed in a power plant explosion in Middletown, Connecticut on Feb. 7.

These recent deaths have put workplace safety higher on our minds lately. But as President Obama’s proclamation points out, “most workplace deaths result from tragedies that claim one life at a time through preventable incidents or disabling disease.”

That’s certainly what the Gazette’s Ken Ward Jr. found. He has written about individual mine deaths for years, including this week.

Also, this week, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control featured new data on injuries and deaths among young workers, something for employers, parents and young workers to keep in mind at the start of the summer season. The rate of injury to workers aged 15 to 24 has decreased during the past 10 years, but not a significant amount.

Between 1998 and 2007, 5719 young workers died on the job, or about 572 a year. The rate is higher for Hispanic youth than non-Hispanic youth.

Young workers are also overrepresented in jobs with injury hazards, the CDC reports.

Gas drilling update: DEP proposing tougher rules

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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.

It’s been a while since we updated readers on  the growing concerns about pollution from oil and gas drilling operations in West Virginia (See Gas drilling damage I, Gas drilling damage II and Gas drilling damage III).

But last month, the state Department of Environmental Protection proposed some rule changes that are at least a beginning step toward more closely regulating the biggest concern: Water pollution from the “pit fluids,” the huge amounts of water used to fracture rock and release gas, especially from the wells drilling into the Marcellus Shale formation.

The comment period on the DEP proposal  ended last night with a public hearing. I’m told that a ton of industry lobbyists attended, but none of them got up to make public statements. Behind the scenes, though, the industry is strongly opposing the rule changes. Perhaps that will come out today, when the issue is scheduled to be discussed during legislative interim meetings (1 p.m., House Government Organization Committee Room, 215 E).

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NiSource: The glass is half full

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NiSource, the Indiana energy company that owns Charleston-based Columbia Gas Transmission Co., had a pretty darned good year in 2008, according to its Feb. 4 press release.

The company earned $369.8 million from continuing operations — up $67 million or 22 percent from its 2007 profits, the report says.

Stockholders — the folks these announcements presumably are aimed at — should have been encouraged to see that yearly income per share of stock from continuing operations rose at a similar rate, almost 23 percent.

Things look a little less rosy in the very first paragraph, where NiSource says net operating income for 2008 ($348.5 million) fell slightly compared to 2007 — about 4 percent.

NiSource, you’ll recall, announced a few weeks later it was cutting 95 jobs in Charleston and 75 more elsewhere in the state, as our Eric Eyre reported. In its press release,<co link> it said the job cuts were among “several structural changes designed to enhance operation efficiency, support growth initiatives, and maintain safe, reliable service to customers.”

And yes, NiSource once owned, then sold, Columbia Gas’ former well drilling and production unit here, now owned by Chesapeake Energy. That probably didn’t work out so well, as you’ll see below.

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Gas drilling damage III — DEP’s plan?

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Thickness map of the Marcellus Shale. Modified after: United States Geological Survey, Open-File Report 2006-1237, Assessment of Appalachian Basin oil and gas resources: Devonian Shale-Middle and Upper Paleozoic Total Petroleum System, by Robert Milici and Christopher Swezey. First published at http://geology.com/articles/marcellus-shale.shtml.

The state Department of Environmental Protection just announced its plan for dealing with the potentially huge water pollution problems of drilling for oil and gas in the Marcellus Shale formation. We previously discussed this problem, which is of growing concern to environmentalists, in Gas drilling damage II.

A DEP press release is here and a copy of the plan — agency officials call it “Industry Guidance” is posted here.

Among other things, the guidance changes the oil and gas industry’s permit applications to require drillers to provide DEP with information about disposal methods if operations will use or dispose of more than 5,000 barrels of pit fluids.

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Doth Chesapeake protest too much?

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Remember how Chesapeake Energy folks complained (is whined too strong a word?) about the 2007 Roane County Circuit Court jury award of about $404 million in compensation and penalties?

In the class-action “Tawney case,” people who sold natural gas to Chesapeake and its predecessors — Triana Energy, NiSource Inc. and Columbia Natural Resources — alleged they were cheated out of some of their royalty payments, and the jury agreed.

Chesapeake CEO Aubrey McClendon, in his parting shot at the state last month, said the W.Va. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear an appeal of the Tawney case had a lot to do with the company’s decisions to cancel plans to build a $40 million regional headquarters in Charleston and, ultimately, eliminate 215 valuable jobs here.

You might logically conclude Chesapeake was forced to fork over $404 million to its gas lease-holders and their lawyers. You would be wrong.

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Gas drilling damage II

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

We’ve had a couple of blog posts and a story in the Gazette about the problems caused by the U.S. Forest Service’s failure to properly police an oil and gas operation in the Monongahela National Forest (See here, here and here).

One of the blog posts, Gas drilling damage I,  took a closer look at what happened in the Mon Forest’s Fernow Experimental Forest, a research station near Parsons in Tucker County. Last week, through its Greenwire service, The New York Times had a piece about growing concerns about drilling on public lands, and what the Forest Service is — and isn’t — doing about it.

But there have been two growing types of concerns in West Virginia and around the region about the oil and gas business.

One surrounds the boom in drilling in the Marcellus Shale gas formation, and what happens to the huge amounts of toxic waste water produced by these wells.  This issue really came to the forefront last year, when some of this nasty stuff that was taken to small community sewage treatment plants made its way into the Monongehala River.

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Gas drilling damage I

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Yesterday, I blogged about serious questions raised by the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility about a gas drilling and pipeline operation in the Fernow Experimental Forest section of the Monongahela National Forest. We’ve also got a more detailed story in the paper today, and it’s online here.

The blog post includes links to some of the documents that PEER cited in alleging that managers at the U.S. Forest Service ignored their own staff scientists’ advice that the operation proposed by Berry Energy would damage caves that are critical habitat for endangered bats, create toxic runoff, and harm long-term forest ecology.

Posted above is a photo PEER sent me of this drilling operation, and I’m also posting  a shot they also provided of the vegetation damage apparently caused by toxic materials from the drill pit fluids.

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Cheating Chesapeake shareholders?

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We had a mention in Gazette Business Editor Eric Eyre’s story on the loss of 215 Chesapeake Energy jobs in Charleston of a class-action lawsuit against the company,CEO Aubrey McClendon (above), its officers and directors on behalf of Chesapeake’s shareholders.

Over at the West Virginia Business Litigation blog, Jeffrey V. Mehalic has posted a copy of the lawsuit, which Mehalic reports “alleges various securities laws violations that have caused Chesapeake’s stock to drop 80% from its offering price in July 2008.”

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