Sunday, October 14, 2007

What's Wrong With This Picture?

What's wrong with this picture? Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. But you'll probably never know. Keep reading and you'll find out why.

Last week, Environment Texas, an Austin-based environmental watchdog group, released a report that should help us calibrate our shame here in Texas. Texas led the nation in the number of facilities discharging pollution at levels exceeding federal clean water guidelines.

In 2005, 318 facilities in the state reported 1,340 incidents in which they discharged more pollution than permitted under the federal Clean Water Act. The group also reported that more than 53 percent of Texas' industrial and municipal facilities discharged more pollution in 2005 than permitted under the law.

"With so many facilities dumping so much pollution, no one should be surprised that more than half of Texas waterways are unsafe for swimming and fishing -- but we should be outraged," Environment Texas Citizen Outreach director Brad Hicks said in a statement.

But where is the outrage? Maybe we are just getting what we deserve here in Texas after a decade-plus of delivering this state to anti-regulatory, anti-environment Republicans such as Dubya, Slick Rick Perry and Tom Craddick.

But what does that have to do with that picture? Let's narrow our focus a bit.

Here in Fort Worth, Chesapeake Energy has a permit to put an injection well in East Fort Worth. That's a done deal, but the city of Fort Worth has put a moratorium in place to prevent any other injection wells from going ahead for the time being.

The crux of the issue is a difference of opinion between Chesapeake Energy -- and other gas drillers -- and the city over what exactly is in the fracing waste that injection wells pump into the earth. Drillers contend it is just water and clay, but Brian Boerner, the Director of Enviromental Management for the city of Fort Worth, told a League of Women Voters forum last week that this waste also includes "some chemicals."

What are these chemicals to which Boerner refers? The EPA tells us that many fracturing fluids contain chemicals that can be toxic to humans and wildlife, and chemicals that are known to cause cancer. These include potentially toxic substances such as diesel fuel, which contains benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, xylene, naphthalene and other chemicals; polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; methanol; formaldehyde; ethylene glycol; glycol ethers; hydrochloric acid; and sodium hydroxide.

Are those found in the fracing processes used in the Barnett Shale? There's no way to know. As Texas Sharon pointed out last week, fracing records in Texas don't exist. Essentially, the gas drillers are responsible for policing themselves. And Texas isn't that different in this regard from many other states. According to the Oil and Gas Accountability Project, most oil and gas agencies do not require companies to report the volumes or names of chemicals being injected during hydraulic fracturing. For an interesting look at how little disclosure is required, check out another post from Sharon with a copy of a W-14 disclosure form from an injection well in Boyd that failed. The phrase "drilling fluids" is terrifying in its lack of specificity.

What about federal law? In 2005, the oil and gas industry was granted an exemption from the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, making oil and gas the only industry allowed to inject toxic fluids directly into good quality groundwater without oversight by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

So, long story short, protections just aren't there, and chemicals may (or may not) be. There's just no way to know because Texans have decided at the ballot box to elect officials who don't value protecting the environment.

So what about that photo? I got that in an e-mail from Don Young at FWCanDo! last week, along with a few more below.

Last Tuesday, Don stumbled on a Chesapeake Energy crew shooting water from pumping equipment into the Trinity River near Riverside Drive off I-30 east of downtown.

The pumping continued for at least 30 minutes. Don spoke to a foreman who said they were just priming their pumps preparing to send water to the nearby well-site. He said it was just plain river water going back in. Nearby was a bucket labeled Bentonite, a clay used in the fracing process.

Don called a city inspector, Tom Edwards, and told him what was happening. Edwards seemed alarmed and said that nothing was supposed to go into the river. The inspector called him later and said he found nothing, and even if he had, it was out of his jurisdiction. The Tarrant Regional Water District controls the river. Don asked if Edwards was going to notify them, but Edwards wouldn't say. "It seems like no one knows anything or wants to take responsibility for the river," Don said. I e-mailed the Water District but I've not heard anything back.

Was there anything untoward going on here? Who knows? Does Chesapeake have a permit to clean their equipment in the Trinity River? Is there anything in that pumping equipment -- like the residue from chemicals used in the fracing process -- that we wouldn't want in the Trinity? We'll never know because the only way to find out is to ask Chesapeake. What do you think they'll say?

So is there anything wrong in these pictures? You can ask the City of Fort Worth, the Texas Railroad Commission, the Tarrant Regional Water District and Chesapeake Energy. You'll get the same answer from them all. Nothing to see here. Except a few photos, a lot of questions and no answers. And in all likelihood, that's all you ever will have.

UPDATE, 10.18.07: Read the TRWD reply.
UPDATE, 10.21.07: More from the TRWD.


wordgirl said...

It's hard to know what to do in a case like this...given that the Powers That Be signed away the right to ask questions or complain in 2005 by giving O & G the right to pollute to their wallets' content and then lie about it. Everyone else in power who is looking the other way does so out of fear or compliance. Who are these people? The freaking Mafia?
Oil and Gas is big business here in Texas and the current presidential administration made their fortunes on it. As they say, "the fish rots from the head down" and this is no exception.

TXsharon said...

If they don't use any chemicals in the frac water, why do they need permits that list the specific chemicals used in fracing?

They think we're stupid and many of us are but not all.

Anonymous said...

This is madness! TXSharon said people are dumb, I will somewhat elaborate on what has likely happened to peoples perception of this problem. People are not stupid, just lazy which makes them dumb! They are accepting the fact that between three independent Government Regulating Industries, (The Railroad Commission, The TCEQ and the EPA) we are safe. Couple that with the Money Changers in Government, Lobbyists, ect and the disconnect of the Corporate Imbedded Media (DVO) and they simply don’t know. Not too terribly long ago I saw a convention in Ft. Worth, sponsored by O&G for Tarrant County Residents that the media reported on showing Mineral Rights holders flashing $1000 checks to the camera for bonuses in leasing the rights to the Industry. No report was made on the protesters standing outside with signs begging for the city and residents to head the warning of selling their souls for a few bucks. The Internet has turned into an excellent source of media, but this is just not enough. I am from Wise County, like TXSh, what we have learned is that it is not enough to just know. We have to do something more. We have to support the politicians who care enough to listen to the people, not campaign contributors. I was reading a local Wise County newspaper where they were reporting on legislation for a Groundwater Conservation District for Wise, Parker, Montague and Somerville Counties. This legislation would lift the exemption currently afforded by O&G from a standard Water Code Chapter 36 district and allow the local district to monitor the use of the groundwater. At the end of the article it states that the Oil and gas companies are aware of the legislation and are okay with it. Why would I care if they were or weren’t okay with it? I don’t know who has declared them Boss yet?! Anyway, the pressure towards the lawmakers through media is the best way. Please send your pictures to every venue you can think of in the state and if they still don’t react, shame them for not telling the story. Good luck and schedule some symposiums to counter propoganda of the O&G, show up at their events and continue to picket, tell the truth! Challenge your Friends and neighbors to become Proactive, not reactive and allow Industry to label the lone wolves crying in the wilderness as NIMBY’s (Not In My BackYard) and make people aware that they are Mr. LULU GUMBY”S (Locally Undesirable Land Users Gotta Use My Backyard)

AndyN said...

More firewater from Barnett Shale Frac-ing?