Sustained Outrage

Marcellus shale: Jobs for local workers?

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.

There’s a report out today that is projecting a huge economic benefit for the region from Marcellus Shale gas drilling projects.  Previous reports have raised some questions, though, and there is also an interesting story out in the latest issue of The Act Report, the newsletter of the Affiliated Construction Trades Foundation:

Union construction workers are protesting out-of-state contractors and imported workers on another pipeline project related to the large Marcellus Shale gas fine in West Virginia.

The Act Foundation also has some video:

WVDEP cites driller in Marshall County explosion

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.



Drilling contractor had repeated violations

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)

The Texas company drilling the Marshall County, W.Va., natural gas well that blew up early this morning has been repeated cited and fined by federal inspectors for workplace safety violations.

Fort Worth-based Union Drilling Inc.  has been fined more than $350,000 by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration over the last five years, according to records in OSHA’s online database of inspections.

Union Drilling has been fined more than $350,000 by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration over the last five years, according to OSHA records. The company paid just more than $226,000 of those fines, with the figures being reduced, mostly through informal settlements with OSHA, the records show.

Following inspections in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and four other states, Union Drilling has been cited for repeated violations of OSHA’s “general duty clause,” which required companies to provide employees with a workplace free of hazards. OSHA inspectors have also cited Union Drilling for repeat violations of federal standards that require protective guards around open holes.

Seven workers were injured in today’s explosion, which occurred at a well Union Drilling was working on about four miles south of Moundsville. The well, owned by AB Resources LLC of Brecksville, Ohio, received a permit just last week from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection.

AB touts itself a”fast-growing, privately held” company that currently owns more than 700 wells and has interests with “the potential for over 3,000” well locations in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.  Union Drilling, with a local office in Buckhannon, owns and operates a fleet of 71 rigs.

Workers Memorial Day

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.

marcellusverticalwellpictureupshurcountywvjune2008twomegwcopyright
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.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency yesterday announced it plans for a nationwide study of hydraulic fracturing, the controversial process used by drillers to crack underground geologic formations and release oil and gas reserves.

EPA was “urged” to do the study by lawmakers when Congress passed the agency’s 2010 financial year budget:

The conferees urge the Agency to carry out a study on the relationship between hydraulic fracturing and drinking water, using a credible approach that relies on the best available science, as well as independent sources of information. The conferees expect the study to be conducted through a transparent, peer-reviewed process that will ensure the validity and accuracy of the data. The Agency shall consult with other Federal agencies as well as appropriate State and interstate regulatory agencies in carrying out the study, which should be prepared in accordance with the Agency’s quality assurance principles.

For much more on this, be sure to check out the story by ProPublica’s Abrahm Lustgarten, who has been the leading reporter on this issue and tells us, among other things:

The study, announced Thursday but hinted at for months, will revisit research the agency published in 2004 , which concluded that the process of hydraulic fracturing did not pose a threat to drinking water. The 2004 report has been widely criticized, in part because the agency didn’t conduct any water tests in reaching that conclusion.


The West Virginia Supreme Court unanimously agreed today to hear a full appeal of  the case over natural gas drilling at Chief Logan State Park.

Justices voted 5-0 to hear the case, in which environmental groups and state regulators seek to overturn a lower court ruling to allow new drilling operations inside the Logan County park.

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West Virginia’s Supreme Court has included on the agenda for a Thursday petition conference the appeal of a ruling that paved the way for new oil and gas drilling at Chief Logan State Park.

Justices will discuss the issue during the private conference. They could agree to hear — or not hear — the case, or they could add it to a future “Motion Docket” where lawyers would get to argue why the Court should hear the appeal.

Several environmental groups, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the state Division of Natural Resources are appealing a Logan Circuit Court ruling that overturned DEP’s denial of permits for the project.

Stay tuned …

Minard works to weaken WVDEP’s new drilling rules

We reported back in mid-January that the state Department of Environmental Protection’s new oil and gas drilling rules had advance without any weakening amendments from the industry … At least the West Virginia Environmental Council thought so, but it turns out they — and we — were wrong.

minard_joseph.jpgIn this weekend’s Green Legislative Update, the council’s lead lobbyist explained that Sen. Joe Minard, D-Harrison, quietly worked out a deal with the WVDEP to modify the rules. The deal provides a big loophole that would allow drillers to avoid using impermeable synthetic liners for drilling pits. According to Garvin:

While the Rule-Making Review Committee was considering other rules, the Senate Chairman of the committee, Joe Minard (D-Harrison) went out in the hall and huddled together with industry lobbyists, and DEP staff.

Continue reading…

EPA launches ‘Eyes on Drilling’ spill tipline

epa_logo.jpgThe U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has started a new “tipline” specifically focused on reports of problems with oil and gas operations.

Called “Eyes on Drilling,”  the move is in response to growing problems with major drilling operations related to the Marcellus Shale and the fracking fluids from those operations:

Public concern about the environmental impacts of oil and natural gas drilling has increased in recent months, particularly regarding development of the Marcellus Shale formation where a significant amount of activity is occurring. While EPA doesn’t grant permits for oil and gas drilling operations, there are EPA regulations which may apply to the storage of petroleum products and drilling fluids. The agency is also very concerned about the proper disposal of waste products, and protecting air and water resources.

The toll-free number to call to report “non-emergency suspicious activity related to oil and natural gas development” is  1-877-919-4EPA. Reports call also be e-mailed to EPA.

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West Virginia lawmakers have advanced out of their joint rulemaking committee a new set of Department of Environmental Protection rules to govern oil and gas drilling operations across the state.

The move sets up a potentially huge legislative battle if industry lobbyists (and there are plenty of them)  decide to fight the WVDEP proposal, especially given the previous unwillingness of Legislators to ask tough questions about this issue.

Don Gavin, lead lobbyist for the West Virginia Environmental Council, told me this afternoon that he was surprised industry didn’t push to weaken the rule during today’s committee meeting. The rule emerged as WVDEP had proposed it. But, Garvin added:

The trick now will be to get it through the session that way.

Continue reading…