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Colorado: More fracking coming to the Pawnee National Grasslands

Feds finalizing oil and gas development plan for 100,000 acres of public land

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Oil and gas drilling is spreading northeastward into the Pawnee National Grasslands. Map courtesy WildEarth Guardians.

Staff Report

FRISCO — If it sometimes feels like fracking is closing in wherever you look, it’s because it is. One of the latest arenas for fossil fuel exploitation is on the Pawnee National Grasslands, in northeastern Colorado, described by the U.S. Forest Service as the country’s last remaining shortgrass prairie. Continue reading

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New test enables better tracking of fracking pollution

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 are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Stable tracers can help pinpoint ground and surface water contamination

Staff Report

FRISCO — There’s more and more evidence that fracking wastewater can — and sometimes does — pollute ground and surface water, but it’s not always easy to trace the pollution, especially since drillers often keep secret their fracking fluid recipes.

But after field tests at a spill site in West Virginia and downstream from an oil and gas brine wastewater treatment plant in Pennsylvania, scientists say they can reliably identify hydraulic fracturing flowback fluids that have been spilled or released into the environment by using stable boron and lithium tracers that distinctive chemical fingerprints. Continue reading

Environment: Federal appeals court focusing on toxic ozone smog in Utah’s Uinta Basin

EPA challenged on decision to designate polluted region as unclassifiable

Western U.S. Counties Violating Current and Proposed Ozone Air Quality Standards.

Western U.S. Counties Violating Current and Proposed Ozone Air Quality Standards. Map courtesy Jeremy Nichols/ClimateWest blog.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Environmental advocates and the EPA are facing off in a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C. today over air quality in Utah’s remote Uinta Basin, where ozone levels often exceed standards set to protect human health.

In a weird twist to the case, the fossil fuel industry is claiming that its own air pollution data is of poor quality and unreliable, and shouldn’t be used by the EPA to designate the Uinta Basin as a nonattainment area, despite the fact that the area regularly sees some of the highest ozone pollution levels in the country.

At issue in the oral arguments is the EPA’s refusal to designate the Uinta Basin as a nonattainment area despite monitoring showing serious air quality degradation in northeastern Utah. The EPA’s decision to designate the area as unclassifiable is a clear violation of the Clean Air Act, according to WildEarth Guardians, one of the groups involved in the case. Continue reading

More fracking pollution woes in California

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A natural gas well in western Colorado. bberwyn photo.

Central Valley groundwater tainted by illegal injections of oil and gas industry wastewater

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — All those warm-n-fuzzy fossil fuel industry ads showing clean-cut techs in lab coats with clipboards may play well on your plasma screen, but reality is a little different.

Rather than being upstanding corporate citizens looking out for the country’s best interests, some energy companies operating in California have been illegally injecting huge quantities of oil and gas wastewater into central California aquifers that supply drinking water and farming irrigation.  Continue reading

Winter ozone formation in Utah linked with atmospheric inversions and persistent snow cover

Oil and gas drillers must to more to protect the airsheds they operate in.

Oil and gas drillers must to more to protect the airsheds they operate in.

Air quality worsening in rural areas affected by fracking

Staff Report

FRISCO — Dangerously high levels of winter ozone pollution in parts of Utah can be traced directly to chemicals released into the air by oil and gas exploration. The volatile organic compounds, common byproducts of fossil fuel exploitation, get trapped under atmospheric inversion layers and sunlight reflected by snow sparks the chemical process that forms the corrosive gas.

For example, in 2013, ozone in Ouray, Utah, exceeded the national air quality standards 49 times during the winter season. By contrast, in the densely populated, urban area of Riverside, California, the standards were exceeded about half that amount that same year, but during the summer. Continue reading

USGS study links fracking wastewater injection with surge in Raton Basin earthquakes

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U.S. Geological Survey researchers have linked a surge in earthquakes in southern Colorado and northern New Mexico with injection of fracking wastewater.

Scientists say it’s almost certain that massive injections of waste water caused recent quakes in the Raton Basin, including a 5.3 tremor in 2011

Staff Report

FRISCO — A surge in earthquakes in southern Colorado and New Mexico has almost certainly been caused by the injection of fracking wastewater deep into the ground, U.S. Geological Survey scientists reported last week.

The study details several lines of evidence directly linking the injection wells to the seismicity. The timing and location of the quakes is clearly linked with the  the documented pattern of injected wastewater.

Detailed investigations of two seismic sequences (2001 and 2011) places them in proximity to high-volume, high-injection-rate wells, and both sequences occurred after a nearby increase in the rate of injection. A comparison between seismicity and wastewater injection in Colorado and New Mexico reveals similar patterns, suggesting seismicity is initiated shortly after an increase in injection rates.

For example, two injection wells near the epicenter of a 2011 5.3 earthquake had about 5 million cubic meters of wastewater injected just before the quake — more than seven times the amount injected at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal well that caused damaging earthquakes near Denver, Colorado, in the 1960s. The August 2011 M 5.3 event is the second-largest earthquake to date for which there is clear evidence that the earthquake sequence was induced by fluid injection.

Continue reading

Environment: New California fracking report leads to more questions than answers

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A fracking operation in Colorado. bberwyn photo.

Some conclusions flawed by lack of adequate data, environmental advocates say,

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — The battle over fracking probably won’t die down until humankind slurps up the last of the planet’s fossil fuel resources, and a new report by a California agency probably will intensify the debate.

The short-term study shows that fracking could threaten California ground water and pose human health risks, but was characterized as incomplete by environmental groups, who said it’s based on just a few months of data with big information gaps resulting from lack of complete reporting by state regulators. Continue reading

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