U.S. Rep. Polis asks for congressional hearing on toxic spills after Colorado floods

State officials tracking numerous flood-related spills

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A Sept. 17 Landsat 8 image shows South Platte River flooding near Greeley, Colorado. For more information on this image, please visit this NASA Earth Observatory website.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A spate of potentially dangerous spills from oil and gas producing facilities resulting from recent flooding in Colorado may be scrutinized under a congressional spotlight.

Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) and Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee Peter DeFazio (D-OR) hav asked the House Resources Committee to hold a hearing on oil and gas spills caused by the recent catastrophic floods in Colorado. 

“Not only have my constituents been dealing with damage to their homes, schools, and roads, they are increasingly concerned about the toxic spills that have occurred from the flooding of nearly 1,900 fracking wells in Colorado,” Polis said. “Congress must deal with this issue to ensure that natural disasters do not also become public health disasters.” Continue reading

Sea-bottom ecosystems hit by 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster could take decades to recover

Study finds extensive loss of biodiversity

One of the impacted corals with attached brittle starfish. Although the orange tips on some branches of the coral is the color of living tissue, it is unlikely that any living tissue remains on this animal. PHOTO COURTESY Lophelia II 2010, NOAA OER and BOEMR.

One of the impacted corals with attached brittle starfish. Although the orange tips on some branches of the coral is the color of living tissue, it is unlikely that any living tissue remains on this animal. PHOTO COURTESY Lophelia II 2010, NOAA OER and BOEMR.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — It will probably take decades for the sea-bottom ecosystem to recover from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, researchers reported this week in the journal PLoS One, after finding that the spill affected sea-bottom biodiversity across 57 square miles around the wellhead, with the most severe impacts in a nine-square mile area.

Previous studies had also shown that the oil spill had damaging effects on deep-sea corals miles from the blown out Macondo Well. The failed well leaked an estimated 160 million gallons of oil into the sea in the spring and summer of 2010. An early survey of nine sites more than 12 miles from the Macondo Well found deep-water coral communities unharmed. But a followup dive by a remotely operated submarine about six miles southwest of the spill discovered numerous coral communities covered in a brown flocculent material and showing signs of tissue damage.

“The tremendous biodiversity of meiofauna in the deep-sea area of the Gulf of Mexico we studied has been reduced dramatically,” said Jeff Baguley,  University of Nevada, Reno expert on small invertebrates livING in both marine and fresh water. “Nematode worms have become the dominant species at sites we sampled that were impacted by the oil. So though the overall number of meiofauna may not have changed much, it’s that we’ve lost the incredible biodiversity.” Continue reading

Shell hit with $1.1 million fine for Arctic foul-ups

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Shell has ambitious plans to drill for oil off the north coast of Alaska, but so far, the company has not made a convincing case that they’re prepared to do that safely.

Future plans for Arctic drilling still not finalized

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A string of air quality violations related to Shell’s efforts to drill for oil off the north coast of Alaska have resulted in a $1.1 million fine — a drop in the bucket for a company that reported more than $20 billion in profits last year.

Among other violations, the EPA found that Shell failed to install required air pollution control equipment, showing a lack of conscientious management, according to conservation groups opposed to offshore oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

Following the string of violations and other incidents, the federal government decided to scrutinize the company’s Arctic plans. Shell subsequently announced it would delay plans to drill in the Arctic for at least a year. Continue reading

Colorado wildlife researchers probe techniques to restore habitat after intensive energy development

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Can energy development and wildlife co-exist in Colorado? Map courtesy Colorado Geological Survey.

Results of 5-year study show need for even more ecosystem manipulation to remediate impacts from oil and gas drilling in ‘irreplacable’ habitat

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — As deer herds in northwest Colorado have dwindled in recent years, wildlife biologists are trying to figure out if they can restore habitat after intensive energy development, which overlaps with the key migratory route for the largest mule deer herd in the country.

A five-year study led by Colorado Parks and Wildlife show some promise, officials said this week. Several energy companies funded the $400,000 research project to improve the quality of reclamation work. Continue reading

Ohio earthquakes linked with fracking waste disposal

Geologic study leaves little room for doubt

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A Dec. 31, 2011 earthquake linked with fracking rattled plaster around Youngstown, Ohio.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Youngstown, Ohio, seemingly on stable ground, had never experienced an earthquate going all the way back to 1776. But that all changed in December 2010, when a newly built well started to pump fracking wastewater into the ground.

Starting in January 2011, seismic instruments recorded 109 tremors, and a careful study of the pattern of earthquakes — as strong as a magnitude 3.9 — suggests they are linked to the well in neighboring Pennsylvania. Continue reading

Finding balance between energy development, conservation

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Graph courtesy Center for Western Priorities.

New report highlights need for more emphasis on land protection

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Public lands in the West are being leased for oil and gas production at a steady rate, but setting aside lands for non-industrial purposes has not kept pace — and it’s not just Republicans who are to blame.

The last time Congress  protected public lands was under an omnibus public lands bill that set aside more than 2 million acres of wilderness and established three new national park units, a new national monument, three new national conservation areas, and more than 1,000 miles of national wild and scenic rivers.

Since then, both parties have emphasized fossil fuel production for the past decade, according to a coalition of advocacy and conservation groups who released a new report last week outlining the need to protect at least as many areas as are being leased for drilling and fracking. Continue reading

Energy: BLM to study California fracking impacts

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Widespread deposits of valuable natural gas and oil in shale formations has spurred the fracking boom.

Some leasing likely to be on hold for at least a year

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Following a legal challenge, federal officials said last week they will re-evaluate the potential impacts of fracking to public lands in California. The federal environmental study will be accompanied by a statewide independent scientific assessment of fracking in central California.

The new studies were announced after a federal court upheld a legal challenge of the  BLM’s decision to auction off about 2,500 acres of land in Monterey County to oil companies. The lawsuit was brought by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club. Continue reading

Environment: BLM to take a closer look at air pollution from oil and gas drilling on Colorado’s Western Slope

Settlement with conservation groups also will provide more public transparency of permitting activities and environmental data

A computer-generated split-screen image a split-image simulates the average 20 percent best (left) and 20 percent worst 20 percent (right) visibility at the Long’s Peak vista based on an average of monitored data for years 2000-2004.

A computer-generated split-screen image a split-image simulates the average 20 percent best (left) and 20 percent worst 20 percent (right) visibility at the Long’s Peak vista based on an average of monitored data for years 2000-2004.

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The BLM’s Colorado River Valley Field Office covers some of the most active oil and gas drilling territory in Colorado.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Acknowledging a gap in its analysis of Colorado western slope oil and gas drilling activities, the Bureau of Land Management this week agreed to take a much closer look at air pollution resulting from 34 projects covering a total of more than 1,300 proposed wells in the jurisdiction of the agency’s Silt-based Colorado River Valley Field Office.

More than 250 wells have already been drilled, and 54 more have been permitted, but any new permits will require additional analysis.

The settlement came after conservation groups filed a 2011 lawsuit to force the BLM to examine pollution from oil and gas drilling, acknowledged as one of the main sources of regional haze and ozone pollution in the Intermountain West. Continue reading

Environment: Oil industry seeks rollback of endangered species listing for Alaska’s bearded seals

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A bearded seal pup. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Conservation group joins legal fray, aiming to maintain protected status

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Oil companies may talk nice about protecting endangered species in Alaska, but when it comes to squeezing just a few more drops of oil from the region, industry fat cats sing a different tune.

Most recently, the Alaska Oil and Gas Association and American Petroleum Institute have gone to court to try and strip endangered species protection from bearded seals, animals that rely on Arctic pack ice for much of their life cycle. Continue reading

Environment: Researchers still tracking oil leaks from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico

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A massive slick from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill spreads across the Gulf of Mexico in July 2010. Photo courtesy NASA.

Oil ‘fingerprinting’ technique shows the oil is likely from the wreckage of the sunken drill rig

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Chemical fingerprints show that oil sheens in the Gulf of Mexico are probably from pockets of oil trapped within the wreckage of the sunken Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Both the Macondo well and natural oil seeps common to the Gulf of Mexico were confidently ruled out by researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the University of California, Santa Barbara. The study was published online this week in Environmental Science & Technology.

The oil sheens were first reported to the United States Coast Guard by BP in mid-September 2012, raising public concern that the Macondo well, which was capped in July 2010, might be leaking.

“It was important to determine where the oil was coming from because of the environmental and legal concerns around these sheens. First, the public needed to be certain the leak was not coming from the Macondo well, but beyond that we needed to know the source of these sheens and how much oil is supplying them so we could define the magnitude of the problem,” said WHOI chemist Chris Reddy. Continue reading

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