Asking court to force Wyoming to reveal information about toxins pumped into ground
CASPER, WY – In an effort to help protect the public from exposure to toxic chemicals, the Powder River Basin Resource Council, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Earthworks and OMB Watch are asking a court to require the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC) to disclose information about chemicals used during the controversial oil and gas development process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Under regulations approved in 2010, Wyoming became the first state in the nation to require well operators to disclose the identities of chemicals that are mixed with water and injected into the ground during fracking. But since the regulations were adopted, the Commission has approved some 50 chemical secrecy requests by Halliburton and other oil and gas service companies.
Today, I attended a hearing of the House Energy and Environment Subcommittee of the Science, Space and Technology Committee on the topic of quality science at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). So, I’ll get in to the substance of the hearing, but clearly the highlight was watching Academy award nominated director and anti-fracking celebrity Josh Fox, handcuffed and escorted out of the hearing room by Capitol Police. House rules don’t allow members of the media to take video during hearings. Josh is filming a sequel to his popular anti-fracking documentary Gasland for HBO due for release this summer. Ranking member Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) twice made formal motions to allow Josh to continue taping arguing that a properly credentialed ABC film crew also requested permission to video tape the hearing. Both attempts were rebuffed.
The hearing considered the efficacy of an EPA report describing water contamination attributed to hydraulic fracturing activities in Pavillion, Wyoming. In reality, this hearing served as another opportunity for the House majority to rail against the EPA. Referring to the EPA’s work as “scientific innuendo” and “regulatory straight jacketing”, the Republicans criticized the report as lacking transparency, peer review, or sufficient consultation with relevant state authorities.
After initial testing in August 2010, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) urged Pavillion-area residents not to drink their water or use it for cooking. The reason: their drinking water wells were contaminated with hazardous chemicals commonly associated with oil and gas development.
In the wake of that testing, the EPA began investigating whether the contamination was actually caused by oil and gas development – that is, they set out to determine if oil and gas development actually was guilty of contaminating people’s drinking water wells.
Last month, the preliminary results of that investigation were released as a draft report: yes, oil and gas development, including hydraulic fracturing, is the culprit.
This is a huge deal. If these results are confirmed, they will definitively refute the oil and gas industry’s oft-repeated claim that hydraulic fracturing has never contaminated drinking water wells.
State & industry previously refused investigation of Pavillion-area drinking water wells
JOINT RELEASE: Earthworks’ Oil & Gas Accountability Project * Powder River Basin Resource Council * Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens
Pavillion, Wyoming, Jan 17 – Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens (PACC) today denounced attacks from the oil and gas industry and the state of Wyoming in a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency regarding its investigation of contaminated drinking water wells in Pavillion, Wyoming. EPA test results show that hazardous chemicals, commonly used in oil and gas development, contaminated the wells.
Powder River Basin Resource Council and Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project applauded PACC for its letter and today launched a national sign on letter campaign urging the EPA to continue with its rigorous investigation and to identify the cause of the contamination.
If you felt the earth tremble beneath your feet this past week, it may not have been because of an earthquake caused by a nearby injection well, or a shale gas well being fracked on your neighbor’s property.
It was more likely because of two things, one good and one bad.
First, the bad news: the EPA confirmed that the presence of contamination in water wells near Pavillion, Wyoming could be due to hydraulic fracturing.
Second, the good news: two states – Texas and Colorado - approved chemical disclosure rules for hydraulic fracturing chemicals on the same day.
The larger victory here: the Colorado rule for the first time elevates the community right to know principle (disclosure) above the narrow economic principle of protecting corporate property.
The door has now been opened for other states and the U.S. Department of Interior to step through. Maybe a federal standard on disclosure would be a good next step.
Wyoming Landowners Face Condemnation or Loss of Homeowners' Insurance
Under the current laws of the State of Wyoming, landowners who own their surface but not the minerals lying underneath (commonly referred to as split estate) face a desperate decision:
Either agree to allow a seismic company to place explosives on your property and detonate them, or be condemned under eminent domain.
But wait, there's more...Should the landowner agree to allow the explosive seismic testing to take place in order to avoid condemnation, they may lose their homeowners' insurance. So, what do you do? You call the Governor, right?
Last week I had the great pleasure of attending a screening of Josh Fox s Oscar nominated documentary Gasland . The film describes the public health problems associated with the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing or fracking and contains powerful images of the spontaneous combustion of household tap water.
The words natural gas belies the hazardous process used to procure it. In fracking, toxic chemicals are injected in to the ground designed to break apart the geological formations and release the gas within. The oil and gas industry is the only industry in America that can inject hazardous materials in to underground drinking water supplies. This is because they benefit from the Halliburton loophole created by former Vice President Cheney s energy task force that exempts fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act.
A number of states have passed disclosure laws requiring these companies to report which chemicals they use. Wyoming, the first state to require disclosure, appears now to be bowing to industry s desire to keep 146 fracking chemicals secret citing their proprietary interests. According to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, regulators have granted disclosure exemptions to 11 different companies that frack in Wyoming.