Environment: BLM plans in-depth study of oil and gas leases on Colorado’s White River National Forest

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The BLM will analyze the environmental impacts of contested oil and gas drilling leases south of I-70, between Carbondale and DeBeque. Click for a full-size version.

BLM taking input during scoping phase of environmental study

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Lynx, elk, owls and other high country forest critters in western Colorado will get at least a temporary reprieve from potential oil and gas drilling, as the federal Bureau of Land Management announced last week that it will do an in-depth environmental study for 65 existing oil and gas leases on 80,000 acres of public lands managed by the White River National Forest.

The leases are spread roughly west to east along biologically important mid-elevation lands between Carbondale and DeBeque and overlap designated roadless areas. Conservation advocates have long argued that the sale of the leases was inconsistent with efforts to protect wildlife, water quality and other high-value natural resources. Continue reading

Environment: U.S. Coast Guard report rips Shell Oil for runaway drill rig

The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits aground on the southeast shore of Sitkalidak Island about 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, in 40 mph winds and 20-foot seas Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013. The Kulluk grounded following many efforts by tug and Coast Guard crews to tow the vessel to a safe harbor when it was beset by winter storm weather during a tow from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to Everett, Wash. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.

The conical drilling unit Kulluk sits aground on the southeast shore of Sitkalidak Island about 40 miles southwest of Kodiak City, Alaska, in 40 mph winds and 20-foot seas Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2013. The Kulluk grounded following many efforts by tug and Coast Guard crews to tow the vessel to a safe harbor when it was beset by winter storm weather during a tow from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to Everett, Wash. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Sara Francis.

Investigators delve into potential legal violations

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO —A U.S. Coast Guard report says Shell Oil didn’t acknowledge or adequately prepare for Arctic Ocean conditions before the company’s Kulluk drilling rig broke away from its towing vessel and ultimately ran aground on an Alaskan Island on the last day of 2012.

“Inadequate assessment and management of risk” was the key factor in the accident,  Coast Guard investigators concluded, calling on Shell and its partners to change their company culture to avoid complacency.

Continue reading

Environment: Does coalbed methane development in Wyoming affect water quality?

Wyoming's Powder River Basin. Map courtesy USGS.

Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Map courtesy USGS.

FRISCO — Some Wyoming watersheds may be showing signs of wear and tear due to coalbed methane development, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study done on the Powder and Tongue river basins in northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana.

According to the USGS, three sites on the Powder River show a difference in water quality between the time before coalbed methane development and during the production period. But thirteen other sites, including mainstem and tributaries to the Tongue and Powder Rivers in northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana, showed few substantial differences in water quality between the two time periods. Continue reading

Colorado: Judge rejects fossil fuel industry challenge to voter-approved 5-year fracking moratorium in Broomfield

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A Colorado judge this week upheld the will of voters in Broomfield, Colorado, affirming the vote on a ballot measure that enacts a 5-year ban on fracking.

Election results stand, pending a potential appeal

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A bid by the fossil fuel industry to thwart the will of voters in Broomfield, Colorado failed in court this week, as 17th Judicial District Court Judge Chris Melonakis upheld the five-year fracking ban approved by voters last November.

Question 300 passed by 17 votes, triggering a recount that brought nearly the same result. The challenge by the fossil fuel industry focused on election procedures and not on the substantive issue at hand — whether Colorado residents have the right to protect themselves and their communities from potentially harmful activities. Continue reading

Study: Methane emission estimates much too low

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America’s natural gas infrastructure has leakage issues.

Methane emissions from natural gas industry facilities and other sources may be up to 75 percent higher than EPA estimates

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A comprehensive air quality analysis shows that most estimates of methane emissions from various sources — including the natural gas industry — are much too low, a result that didn’t surprise the scientists who led the study. Total U.S. methane emissions are probably about 25 to 75 percent higher than EPA estimates.

“People who go out and and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect,” said the lead author of the new analysis, Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Brandt. “And that’s a moderate estimate.” Continue reading

Oceans: New study could help protect endangered whales from impacts of seismic airgun blasting

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Ocean conservation advocates say federal government must use new data on endangered North Atlantic right whales when it considers permits for fossil fuel exploration. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Conservation advocates call for expansion of protective zones and seasonal closures

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Endangered North Atlantic right whales may be more at risk from oil exploration than previously thought.

New research from Cornell University suggests the rare marine mammals are present throughout the year at varying distances off the coast of Virginia, putting them at risk from the acoustic impacts generated by seismic airguns — used to probe the ocean floor for oil and gas deposits. Continue reading

Scientists launch crowdfunding effort to study winter ozone formation in Utah’s fracking patch

Signs of oil and gas development are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Signs of oil and gas development in eastern Utah  are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Snow may intensify the air quality impacts of energy development

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A team of American and Canadian scientists want to unravel some of the secrets of winter ozone formation related to oil and gas drilling — and they need your help.

University of Washington atmospheric researcher Becky Alexander, who is leading the January research project in Utah’s Uintah Basin has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help finance the field work. The team wants to raise $12,ooo in the next three weeks via their project website at mycroriza.com.

“It’s a global outreach effort,” Alexander said, explaining that crowdfunding for scientific research is a new and growing movement. Grassroots funding helps eliminate some of the administrative overhead costs sometimes associated with traditional sources of money. Sometimes, as much as 50 to 60 percent of federal funding ends up going toward overhead, she explained. Continue reading

Environment: Arctic scientist resigns after battling his own federal agency over transparency and scientific ethics

 

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Too much oil, not enough science ….

Harassment of prominent researcher likely aimed at stifling scientists

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A scientist who was targeted by a politically driven investigation has retired from the federal agency that is supposed to regulate oil development in the Arctic after settling his whistleblower complaint against the U.S. Department of Interior.

Dr. Charles Monnett, a senior scientist with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, was hectored for several years after publishing observations about drowning polar bears. The witch hunt ended in October with the Department of Interior withdrawing its letter of reprimand and paying Monnett $100,000.

“It’s a relief to be able to speak,” Monnett said, expressing his belief that the investigation was intended squelch scientific evidence that would make it more difficult to issue oil and gas drilling permits in the sensitive Arctic environment. Continue reading

Environment: Texas company fined $600,000 for fiscal mismanagement in Utah oil and gas fields

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EPA fine highlights issues in Utah oil and gas fields.

Water resources at risk?

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A Texas-based company will be dinged for $600,000 after the EPA found that it did not meet all legal requirements for operating several hundred injection wells on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah.

The settlement between the EPA and Newfield Production Company centers on the company’s failure to show financial responsibility associated with the safe operation of 442 injection wells in the Monument Butte Well Field in Duchesne County from March 2009 through September 2010. Continue reading

Geologists warn of increased Oklahoma quake risk

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Geologists say a recent swarm of earthquakes in Oklahoma has increased the overall risk of tremors around Oklahoma City. Map courtesy Oklahoma Geological Survey.

Study suggests recent swarm of tremors is related to injection of fracking wastewater

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — State and federal geologists are teaming up to study a swarm of earthquakes that have rattled central Oklahoma, evaluating possible links between these earthquakes and wastewater disposal related to oil and gas production activities in the region.

Since January 2009, more than 200 magnitude 3.0 or greater earthquakes have rattled Central Oklahoma, marking a significant rise in the frequency of these seismic events. In a press release, the U.S. Geological Survey said a preliminary analysis suggests that the recent tremors are linked with the injection of wastewater from oil and gas drilling activities in the region.

We’ve statistically analyzed the recent earthquake rate changes and found that they do not seem to be due to typical, random fluctuations in natural seismicity rates,” said USGS seismologist Bill Leith. “These results suggest that significant changes in both the background rate of events and earthquake triggering properties needed to have occurred in order to explain the increases in seismicity. This is in contrast to what is typically observed when modeling natural earthquake swarms.” Continue reading

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