Unlined open-air wastewater pits brimming with the toxic leftovers of fracking and other types of oil and gas development are threatening California's air and water quality, according to a study by two national environmental organizations.
A visit to a series of wastewater pits in California's Central Valley that sickened researchers prompted the study, according to the authors. Oil and gas drilling has been generating vast amounts of waste in the region for decades.
The groups' findings further document the risks of using unlined pits for oil and gas wastewater disposal and challenge whether California's regulatory system adequately addresses the hazards. The report highlights threats to water, air and health; documents regulatory failures; and proposes immediate remedies.
"The discharge of wastewater into unlined pits threatens water resources, including potential sources of drinking and irrigation water, and impacts air quality due to the off-gassing of chemicals from the wastewater," according to the 28-page report, "In the Pits."
Californians' overwhelming approval for a bond that authorized $7.5 billion for badly needed water projects was largely driven by the state's current drought and by fears that unpredictable weather patterns fostered by global warming will continue to strain the water system.
California is in a severe, multiyear drought that continues to deplete its reservoirs and groundwater aquifers. Polls going into last week's election showed that more than three-quarters of Californians believe drought and water shortages are among the state's most pressing issues. Two-thirds of voters said yes to the bond last week.
The bond funds a strategic blueprint where funding priorities are tied to a comprehensive statewide water action plan that accounts for future drought and other variables associated with climate change, said Timothy Quinn, executive director of the statewide Association of California Water Agencies.
"At its core, Proposition 1 advances an all-of-the-above strategy that includes everything from local resources to water storage to safe drinking water," he said. "Other states facing similar challenges may learn from that approach."
The installation of the first air monitor in the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale region of south Texas has been delayed following a review of the proposed site by the Texas Historical Commission.
The location selected for the air monitor is on the grounds of the 90-year-old Karnes County courthouse of Karnes City, a community of slightly more than 3,000 in the center of the drilling hotbed. It was supposed to begin operating by the end of October.
But the spot proposed for the 40-foot-by-40-foot monitor with instruments reaching 32 feet into the sky would have spoiled the view of the picturesque building, said Chris Florance, director of public information and education for the commission.
"It was kind of right out there where everybody could see it," said Karnes County Judge Richard Butler, the county’s top executive.
During his 18 years in office, Texas state representative Lon Burnam has been the odd man out in a legislature that overwhelmingly believes in business, development and the unbridled support of oil and gas.
During the last session of the House, he introduced more than a dozen pieces of legislation that would have required the industry to become a more responsible steward of the environment and the state to be more of an industry watchdog.
His record: Zero wins and 12 losses.
In an interview with InsideClimate News last summer, when asked why he doesn't just move away, Burnam said he stays because Texas needs to hear from a Texan what the future holds for the environment if change isn't made.
People living along the proposed route of a natural gas pipeline through Michigan have been bombarding federal regulators with letters opposing the project planned by ET Rover Pipeline Company LLC.
In the face of mounting opposition in one county, ET Rover, a subsidiary of Houston-based Energy Transfer Partners, quietly revised its plan and rerouted the pipeline north though two counties that were surprised to suddenly be dealing with the project.
The letter-writing campaign was directed at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the federal agency that will decide the project's fate. FERC is the lead agency responsible for conducting environmental reviews of proposed interstate pipelines, and as part of the process it allows time for the public to weigh in with comments.
People in Michigan's Oakland County were ready this time. When a Texas-based company announced plans for a natural gas pipeline that would bisect the county, township boards in Oakland County passed resolutions against it. Rallies stirred locals to action. Federal regulators were bombarded with letters against the project.
With resistance gaining momentum, ET Rover Pipeline Company LLC, a subsidiary of Houston-based Energy Transfer Partners, quietly reversed its plans. Now people in neighboring Genesee and Lapeer counties—the new path of the pipeline—are reeling, and asking the winners for help.
Two months after ET Rover revealed maps showing that its pipeline would cut across pubic land and through backyards in Oakland County—and only a few weeks after the first opposition appeared–ET Rover chose an alternative route north that touches only a tiny slice of Oakland County.
"We weren't going to let this happen again," said Kathy Thurman, the Brandon Township supervisor who heard from community members that they'd had enough of the turmoil caused by earlier pipeline projects. Brandon Township is in Oakland County.
The stage has been set for an appeal of a high profile verdict against a Texas oil and gas company after a judge refused to grant a new trial in the case of a family sickened by noxious air emissions.
Judge Mark Greenberg has denied a motion by Aruba Petroleum for a new trial, letting stand the $2.9 million jury award to Lisa and Bob Parr who sued the company after gas and oil wells surrounded their once rural ranch south of Dallas.
Greenberg's one sentence order didn't offer a reason for his decision. It simply said: "Aruba Petroleum's motion for new trial is ... denied."
Attorney Tomas Ramirez is confident he'll win an appeal in the case of a Karnes County, Texas family who sued two oil companies claiming their lives had been ruined by toxic emissions.
But even a win on appeal could take up to two years, and Ramirez thinks the delay could discourage other people from filing similar claims.
The difficulty is that Texas has a two-year statute of limitations, which means people have just two years from the time they become aware of a problem until the time they file a lawsuit. The Eagle Ford Shale boom in Karnes County began in 2012, bringing it with it thousands of oil and gas wells and the kinds of emissions that Mike and Myra Cerny said made them sick.
For people in the Eagle Ford Shale, where the Cernys live, that means time is ticking to near zero, said Thomas McGarity, a University of Texas law school professor who specializes in environmental and administrative law.
A commercial facility that disposes of oil and gas waste in Eastern Utah has been fined $50,000 for releasing excessive amounts of benzene and other volatile organic compounds without a state air emissions permit.
Rusty Ruby, compliance manager for Utah's Division of Air Quality Compliance, said the agency doesn't have "a lot of experience" when it comes to regulating waste pits because so little is known about them, a problem common in other states where hydraulic fracturing is generating vast quantities of contaminated waste water.
"It's not like a smokestack that you can get a pretty good idea of what's coming out," Ruby said.
In this case, the violation became clear when Utah officials discovered that Danish Flats Environmental Services had nearly doubled the size of its operation without obtaining an emissions permit. Ruby said the Colorado-based firm's unpermitted operation was exceeding emissions regulations under the federal Clean Air Act and state law.
12:30 PM ET on 8/28/204: This story has been updated with information from the EPA.
Pipeline giant Enbridge, Inc. has almost finished cleaning up its 2010 spill that sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of heavy crude oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River.
Now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must decide how much it will fine Enbridge for causing one of the biggest inland oil spills in U.S. history.
Enbridge spokesman Larry Springer declined to speculate on the amount of the fine. But according to the company's filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year, Enbridge expects it will be at least $22 million.
"Discussions are ongoing with the relevant government agencies, and it is premature to discuss negotiations at this time," Springer said.