Visualizing energy use and its impacts

Sometimes the best way to understand the world is through visualization of images.

Max Roser

Max Roser

There’s a wonderful web site called Our World in Data, developed by a researcher at Oxford University named Max Roser. The site covers a wide range of topics and visualizes the empirical evidence of how living standards have changed over decades, centuries and millenia.

One set of extremely compelling charts describes increases in CO2 emissions over time. The chart below shows CO2 emissions per capita since 1751.


The chart below shows European energy use over the last 150 years, and the transition from “muscle” to firewood to coal to oil to gas over time.

150 years of energy sources

Highly recommended, with many charts relating to energy usage and global warming, and many other topics as well.

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Learning opportunity: Conference call on EPA’s proposed Waters of the US (WOTUS) rules, Thursday, April 16, noon MDT

The EPA has proposed new rules that clarify protection under the Clean Water Act for streams and wetlands that form the foundation of the nation’s water resources.

The American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) will be holding a conference call on Thursday, April 16 at noon Mountain to provide an update on these new rules. The call will be moderated by Richard Eidlin of ASBC. Speakers will include Jon Devine of the National Resource Defense Council; Ryan Seiger, Congressional Staff for the House Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment; and Eric Henry of TS Designs.

You can register for the call here.

Clean Water ActWOTUS Rules
According to the EPA, these new rules will do the following:

  • Reduce confusion about Clean Water Act protection. Determining when the Clean Water Act protected streams and wetlands became confusing and complex following Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006.
  • Specifically, the proposed rule clarifies that under the Clean Water Act:
    • Most seasonal and rain-dependent streams are protected.
    • Wetlands near rivers and streams are protected.
    • Other types of waters may have more uncertain connections with downstream water and protection will be evaluated through a case specific analysis of whether the connection is or is not significant. However, to provide more certainty, the proposal requests comment on options protecting similarly situated waters in certain geographic areas or adding to the categories of waters protected without case specific analysis.
  • Provide more public benefits than costs. The proposed rule would provide an estimated $388 million to $514 million annually of benefits to the public, including reducing flooding, filtering pollution, providing wildlife habitat, supporting hunting and fishing, and recharging groundwater. The public benefits significantly outweigh the costs of about $162 million to $278 million per year for mitigating impacts to streams and wetlands, and taking steps to reduce pollution to waterways.
  • Help states to protect their waterways. According to a study by the Environmental Law Institute, 36 states have legal limitations on their ability to fully protect waters that are not covered by the Clean Water Act.

You can read the proposed WOTUS rules here.

You can download the Environmental Law Institute report on legal limitations on states’ ability to protect waters not covered by the Clean Water Act here. The section on Montana begins on page 143.

You can download the EPA’s cost-benefit analysis of the WOTUS rules here.

You can access other documents related to the rulemaking here.

Find background information on the Clean Water Act here.

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New report: Montana does not provide public information on legal violations committed during drilling

“Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants.”
-Justice Louis Brandeis, 1913

A brand new report highlights the transparency, or lack of it, of public records on oil and gas drilling in different states. It is yet another clear reason why local communities need to act to protect their water, their air, and their way of life.

The report’s bottom line: in 33 of 36 oil or gas producing states, it is almost impossible to get information on legal violations committed in the drilling process: spills, contamination, casing failure. And in the states that do have information readily available (Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Colorado), that information is often incomplete, hard to access or difficult to interpret.

groundwater-e1376937616578The study, Fracking’s Most Wanted: Lifting the Veil on Oil and Gas Company Spills and Violations, was produced by the National Defense Resource Council and the FracTracker Alliance. It’s not long, and I recommend it to you. You can view it by clicking the photo on the right.

The report begins with the above quote from Justice Brandeis, and argues, “Communities want to know whether a company interested in fracking in their neighborhoods is a good corporate citizen that abides by the rules established to protect public health and safety, the environment, and quality of life. A credible measure of a company’s compliance lies in the documented violations incurred from state or federal regulatory agencies. Public access to this information is particularly important in this context because, unlike other industries, oil and gas wells and associated infrastructure and equipment are widespread and often operate in the middle of residential, rural and agricultural areas.”

The report evaluated such factors as whether the information was available online in an easy-to-use, downloadable format, whether the date, location and company incurring the violation were included, whether there was an understandable text description of the violation, and whether the regulation or code violated was cited. It found that even in the three states where information was readily available to the public, none complied with all these parameters for transparency.

What it means in Montana
Our experience in Montana, which does not put any record of violations online despite public requests to do so, is clear proof of the accuracy of the report.

ECA West Virginia violations

A section of the West Virginia report

When Energy Corporation of America (ECA) promised to come to our area and bring “a little bit of the Bakken” to the Beartooth Front, it made sense for local residents to want to check the public record.

We went to Pennsylvania and West Virginia, where ECA has extensive operational experience. What we found is that ECA is a serial polluter in both those states.

  • In Pennsylvania, between 2005 and January, 2014, ECA had 66 inspections with violations, 90 separate violations, and 55 enforcement actions, with fines totaling over $80,000. You can view the actual report by clicking here. What’s more, we know that during this period inspectors were unable to monitor 82,000 wells, 91% of the state’s total number of active wells, so these violations are significantly under reported.
  • In West Virginia, according the Department of Environmental Protection web site, ECA was guilty of 70 more violations, although detail is lacking on the exact nature of the violations, consistent with today’s report.

So for those of us in Montana who want to know about this specific company’s track record, there are only two public sources of information. Both are extremely damning.

ECA: “a lot of misunderstanding”
And what is ECA’s response?

The company says that the Pennsylvania and West Virginia reports, the only two sources of easily accessible public information about the company’s compliance record, are not correct. The company’s spokesperson traveled all the way from West Virginia to Red Lodge to tell us that public record was the result of “a lot of misunderstanding” — the laws were unclear, enforcement was inconsistent, and the company was really much better than that.

Watch for yourself, beginning at 10:26:

John Grewell: Can either of you comment on, you’ve had issues in Pennsylvania?

Jennifer Vieweg: Yeah, that’s something that is not well understood. It’s very different from anywhere else and here’s why:

Jennifer Vieweg: "There was a lot of misunderstanding with regard to the regulations."
Jennifer Vieweg: “There was a lot of misunderstanding with regard to the regulations.”

The industry changed dramatically in Pennsylvania in about 2007-2008. Regulations changed constantly, regulators weren’t even quite sure what the regulations were. The industry, because the regulators didn’t know what the regulations were, it was hard for the industry to know what the regulations were, they were constantly changing so it was very hard to remain in compliance. All of that’s evened out over the last three years or so. Things have evened out. The industry understands what the regulations are, the regulators understand what they are, and, as such, you don’t see any of the same kind of issues as when it was constantly changing. There was a lot of misunderstanding with regard to the regulations.

CEO John Mork: “never had an environmental problem”
And you can watch as John Mork, ECA Chief Executive Officer, proudly tells an audience at West Virginia University that ECA has a perfect environmental record:

He describes how safe fracking is beginning at 28:47, and concludes by saying, “Another statistic that I love to tell, we have fracked over 10,000 times and never had an environmental problem…Statistically we are so far ahead on this that this is just not a question to us.”

Montana landowners need to take action to protect themselves
All this clearly illustrates how the law leaves Montana landowners unprotected. There are few public sources of information regarding the safety records of operators who want to drill on our property.

What records there are reside in out of state databases, and oil companies obviously feel as if they can just lie about their records to cover up their transgressions.

It is not unreasonable for landowners to require the collection and publishing of their own information about the safety records of oil and gas companies. It makes sense for landowners to establish rules for the testing of water, air and soil; to demand setbacks from their homes; and to prohibit dangerous practices such as flaring.

The state of Montana does not protect local landowners from oil and gas operators who have records of being polluters in other states.

Local landowners need to do it themselves.

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What happens when Energy Corporation of America abandons a well?

You’re probably familiar with the saga of Energy Corporation of America (ECA) announcing that it planned to bring “a little bit of the Bakken” to the Beartooth Front and elsewhere in Montana. The story, for the moment at least, has run its course.

It’s been a dramatic 18 months, but we’ve all learned a lot about how oil companies approach a community, and how they behave when they leave.

As most of you are aware, ECA sent a letter to the Carbon County Commissioners last December saying they were abandoning a well in Belfry “for now.” It is now nearly four months later, so let’s take a look over in Belfry to see what they left behind.

API “Good Neighbor Standards”
We know what they were supposed to do. The American Petroleum Institute has established a set of “good neighbor standards” for oil and gas operators that is intended to be “the gold standard for good neighbor policies that address community concerns, enhance the long-term benefits of local development, and ensure a two-way conversation regarding mutual goals for community growth.”

These standards state that during the “departure phase” the operator should show a “commitment to reclaiming the land using best practice restoration and reclamation processes.”

That’s not what ECA has done. The waste pond is still in place with fluid in it.

ECA waste pond at the Belfry site

ECA waste pond at the Belfry site

The pond has been fenced, as has the wellhead, but there has been no reclamation or replanting, and there is still a big pile of dirt left behind.

Wellhead with pile of dirt

Wellhead with pile of dirt

ECA has insisted throughout this process that they are “good neighbors,” and have pointed to some self-serving good works that had no impact on Carbon County. Their attorney reiterated this in a letter to the County Commissioners, stating that “ECA…conducts its business in a completely safe and responsible manner.”

But the proof is in the pudding. Like most oil and gas operators, ECA does nothing that detracts from the short-term bottom line. They certainly didn’t in the Silvertip area. And that doesn’t even mention their well-documented record as a serial polluter in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and their proven failure to pay fair royalties to landowners.

This is just one more reason why local landowners are justified in fighting to set regulations locally to protect their properties.

Posted in Fracking Information | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Another oil and gas commission ignores citizen rights (with video)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

The Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission proposed an injection well in Sioux County to dispose of wastewater from oil exploration. This wasn’t wastewater from local oil activity. This was an out-of-state company’s application to transport 80 truckloads carrying 10,000 barrels a day of produced water across the state to be dumped in western Nebraska.

Sioux County is the most rural of areas. Located right on the Nebraska border with South Dakota and Wyoming, the entire county has a population of about 1500, and a population density of less than one person per square mile.

Naturally the Commission decided that only about two dozen people and companies located near the proposed injection qualified as “interested parties” who would be allowed to testify regarding the well.

As you might imagine, this didn’t sit well with a lot of Nebraskans, so, after a lot of public pressure, the Commission agreed to allow three hours of public comment, with each speaker limited to three minutes.

However, the Commissioners decided to hold the meeting in a small room in the Commission’s office. “We will have seating available for a maximum of 25 members of the public in the hearing area” the Commission announced. “If the number of occupants is over 25, then after a commenter has spoken they will be required to leave the commission office so that a new member of the general public can be seated.”

Over 100 people showed up, nearly all in opposition to the proposal. The photo below depicts the scene inside the room. We can only imagine the long line of people waiting outside, including a busload of students from Scottsbluff High School who made the trip to see democracy in action, and two state senators.

Inside the hearing at the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission

Inside the hearing at the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. Photo: Scottsbluff (NE) Star Herald

At the meeting the Commissioners announced that public comments would not be part of the public record, and would not be considered in their final decision on the dumping site.

No decision has yet been announced, but opponents have already said they plan to file suit to block the inevitable decision to allow the dumping site because of a violation of open meeting laws.

This happened in Montana too
Montanans will recall a similar experience with the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC).

In December 2013, the BOGC  refused to allow public comment on a proposed well in Belfry. They had to be sued to allow a public hearing, and then pointedly ignored testimony asking for landowner protections in the permit.

Clearly many state oil and gas commissions are in need of reform. The days of the BOGC acting as a state’s arm of the oil and gas industry need to end, and fairness needs to be built into the system.

While you’re working on that and waiting for it to happen, you’ll enjoy the testimony of this Nebraska farmer at last week’s hearing. He asks the Commissioners to drink some frackwater. Their reaction is priceless.

And the farmer underscores the point that there’s no way to know what’s in the water because it’s protected as a “trade secret.”

Worth four minutes.

Posted in Community Organization, Politics and History, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Shhh. Bakken oil spill is on “confidential status”

The spill occurred a mile northwest of Keane Township in McKenzie County. Click to see on Google Maps

The spill occurred a mile northwest of Keene Township in McKenzie County. Click to view Google Maps

Ho hum. Another day, another well blowout. Another 25,000 gallons of crude released in McKenzie County in the Bakken. Sure hope it doesn’t wind up in the Missouri River.

Nobody hurt, and not much cause for worry. The land around the well is just farmland.

Petro-Hunt LLC, the operator responsible for the well, is on site and working to control the damage.

“We’ll be working…to make sure we get it cleaned up,” said Fred Hosey, general counsel for Petro-Hunt.

That’s comforting.

The North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources is there too, protecting the interests of North Dakota citizens.

Here’s what they have to say about it: nothing.

According to Allison Ritter, spokesperson for the Department of Mineral Resources, “the oil well is on confidential status.”

An oil rig near Keene, North Dakota. Photo: Jeff Swan, Selah, Washington

An oil rig near Keene, North Dakota. Photo: Jeff Swan, Selah, Washington

What does that mean?

This, folks, is the Halliburton Loophole in action.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1974 was established to protect America’s drinking water. It authorizes the EPA to set national health-based standards for drinking water to protect against both naturally-occurring and man-made contaminants. The EPA, states, and water systems then work together to make sure that these standards are met.

The Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from SDWA oversight,  leaving drinking water sources in the 34 oil and gas producing states unprotected from the toxic chemicals used during fracking. Also known as the Halliburton Loophole, this law turns over control of water quality to the oil and gas companies to protect their “trade secrets,” and this is why they do not have to tell us what chemicals they use in the fracking process.

“Confidential status” means the Department of Mineral Resources can’t release information to the public for six months. North Dakota has put this rule in place to entice exploration and “protect oil companies from competitors.

So what else leaked besides 25,000 gallons of oil? What chemicals were being used in the well that blew? What is gurgling around in the farmland near Keene, heading toward the Missouri River?

Shhh. It’s a trade secret.

The oil company is protected, but not the owners of that farmland, and not the people who live downstream from the spill.

This, folks, is why we need local regulation of the drilling process. Strong rules, put in place locally, protect citizens, their land and their water from damage done by oil companies that otherwise have no legal responsibility to say what chemicals they are using.

And this is why landowners in Carbon and Stillwater counties are fighting so hard to establish local zones.

They deserve your support.

Posted in Bakken, Fracking Information | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A personal story: Grace Her Many Horses, Newtown, North Dakota

Today’s personal story was originally published in 2014 in the Sicangu Eyapaha (Rosebud Sioux) tribal newspaper, and written by Damon RunningHorse-Buckley, who at that time was Communications Director of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

It provides an account of an experienced police officer assigned to the Bakken, telling in detail what it was like to deal with man camps in the area around New Town, North Dakota.

We have often heard the story of the influx of oilfield workers into rural areas and their housing in man camps, but it is usually told by state officials in the form of crime statistics and data about jail overcrowding.

This is a much grittier version, and the ugly detail should be a matter of concern for residents of any area where oil expansion is being considered. Those who favor unregulated oil development should understand what it means to small rural communities. A man camp supporting rapid unregulated oil development in Belfry or Dean could quickly transform those communities in ways that locals don’t expect.

After this article was published Grace was removed from her position at Rosebud, and has since gone to work on the Fort Berthold (ND) Reservation.

The original story is no longer on line, so I could not link to it, but I spoke personally to Mr. RunningHorse-Buckley, and he gave me permission to run it.

To read other personal stories in this series, click here. There are several pages of stories, and you can find more by clicking “older posts” at the bottom of the page.

Grace Her Many Horses

Grace Her Many Horses. Photo: Sicangu Eyapaha

A personal story: Grace Her Many Horses, Newtown, North Dakota
Former Rosebud Sioux Tribe Police Chief Grace Her Many Horses took a temporary job working in the Bakken Region near Newtown, North Dakota. This Bakken Basin stretches from Montana to North Dakota and it is rich in shale oil supplies. She began work in June of last year until October of the same year. It was her first experience with Man Camps. She seen them before while driving past on the way to pow-wows but this was going to be the very first time she would enter the premises and work the area as a law enforcement officer. This seasoned professional would be in for a rude surprise.

“When I first got there some of the things they talked about, in any of these areas, was they told the men ‘Don’t go out and party. Don’t get drunk and pass out. Because you’re going to get raped,” she said without hesitation.

New Town, ND is in the heart of the Bakken. Click to view on Google Maps.

New Town, ND is in the heart of the Bakken. Click to view on Google Maps.

It’s not exactly something you would expect to hear from a workers’ camp but these places are not exactly your ordinary laborers’ camps. The depth of depravity and dubious behavior are commonplace in these so-called Man Camps. No one will say that all of the inhabitants are criminal but there is definitely an element there that has rocked the local law enforcement officials to the very core of their morals and value systems.

There are identifiable variables that remain constant: These oil workers usually come from desperate conditions. These workers usually have a family they have left elsewhere so they are not looking to start new relations. These workers are paid an excessive amount of money. These workers are well aware their employment is only temporary. These workers know they are living in a remote environment where law enforcement is already stretched beyond its limits and the temptation for criminal behavior is very strong. Unfortunately, most of America still cannot comprehend this information.

“Sexual assaults on the male population has increased by 75% in that area,” she continued. That kind of statistic makes maximum security prisons look like the minor league. “One of the things we ran into while working up there was a 15 year old boy had gone missing. He was found in one of the Man Camps with one of the oil workers. They were passing him around from trailer to trailer.”

He went there looking for a job and was hired by individuals within the Man Camp to do light cleaning in and around their personal areas. The young teenager was forced into sex slavery. It’s the kind of thing you hear about in the ghettos of third world countries; not in the quiet and remote countryside.

The victims aren’t just males but females too. Everyone has heard by now of the missing school teacher that was kidnapped as she was out jogging, repeatedly sexually assaulted, and murdered near one of these Man Camps. The age of the Man Camp victims varies. The assailants are not necessarily looking for male and female adults. They are also going after little girls.

Grace Her Many Horse recalls one specific instance where “We found a crying, naked, four year old girl running down one of the roads right outside of the Man Camp. She had been sexually assaulted.”

There has been a significant rise in prostitution, gambling, and organized crime in these Man Camps too. The oil workers enjoy being compensated at salaries far above that of the average American blue collar worker. So when their paydays come around the predators venture out of the camps and into nearby towns and places a little further down the road. They usually move in caravans of workers with large amounts of cash stuffed into their pockets. Their large payoffs give them the buying power to obtain anything they can think of including prostitutes and hardcore drugs that have never been seen in these towns before. It has a devastating effect on the local small towns.

This former tribal police chief’s first experience talking with prostitutes that cater to Man Camps came here on the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation. She pulled over two vans heading out of town. They were filled with female passengers, again, of varying ages. They were heading in the direction of the Man Camps. One of the brazen occupants declared outright to this officer, “Well, you know why we are going up there.” It’s not something you would expect to hear from a woman but these passengers were determined to make it to their destination one way or another.

After taking a long breath followed by a sigh Officer Her Many Horse said, “That small tribal town has been through so much. When you go into to their casino around 11 at night you notice the flavor of the patrons has dramatically changed for the worse.” She speaks of her short time policing those camps and admits it was easy to notice how hard drugs and prostitution had increased dramatically.

She spoke with local Indians that said they used to frequent their casino but they stopped. Things had changed so much that a large number of locals dare not venture outside at night. There are strangers everywhere. Again, this is coming from a small town where most of its population is Native American and everyone had known each other’s first names and origin. Now it is hardly recognizable. Businesses were forced to open only to be shuttered later. Trash and debris has increased. Violence of all types has surged and the beauty of the land has been replaced with heavy construction vehicles and the destruction of lands once referred to as God’s Country. The traffic on local highways has increased significantly as well as the number of traffic accidents and its numerous victims that can no longer speak for themselves. Life goes on in these small Indian towns but it is a life that is bitter and strange.

Meth has been seen as having destructive effects on Indian communities before but now there are new drugs filtering onto Indian reservations from these Man Camps. “There is a new drug called Crocus. When you ingest it your skin boils from the inside-out. It leaves you with permanent scars on the surface of your skin that resembles the scales of a crocodile. It will literally eat your feet off, eat your limbs off. It’s horrible. That’s been introduced up there and it is more addictive than heroin. The drug trade is rampant up there.” She explains how the police department near that particular Man Camp is smaller than the one here in Rosebud. “They need help,” she confesses.

There are oil workers there that can’t even speak English. The sex offenders are very prevalent. “We found thirteen sex offenders in one Man Camp and that Man Camp is found directly behind the tribal casino. Our supervisors would tell us “Watch your kids. Don’t let them run through there.” Making matters worse was the fact that Grace Her Many Horses moved up there with her two young daughters ages ten and fourteen. Living in those conditions and having to worry about the safety of her children must have added years to her life. After the need for workers ends the small town is left with its eye sore oil pipeline, businesses will go bust, the introduction of these new hardcore drugs will linger on, and its shocked residents will be left to contemplate their decision for the oil pipeline in years to come.

The most startling time Grace Her Many Horses spent at the Man Camps was when her police force had to serve warrants on some of the workers and remove them from their dwellings. She and her co-workers took things very serious, suited up in full SWAT gear, went through extra-ordinary measures to could conduct their raids, and to protect themselves from harm.

“It was scary. I never had to do that before in my many years of service. I feel really bad for the local residents because the flavor of their [Indian] reservation has changed so much,” she admits.

It leads the common Rosebud resident to ask if we have enough police officers to cover the proposed Man Camp being built nearby the Rosebud Sioux Indian Reservation. She was not hesitant to argue: “No we do not have enough members on the police force. We barely have enough people to cover our [Indian] reservation right now. If you were around for the first week of January we had a double-homicide, we had unattended deaths, we had shootings, we had a major car accident, and that’s just in one week. We were so busy here at the [police] station. My whole department worked thirty hours straight. I told those guys to go home, get showered, and come back to work. That’s not even taking care of our outlying communities.

This tribal police department isn’t equipped to handle what’s going to happen out there when the Man Camp arrives. The infrastructure of the towns on this Indian reservation will be forced to expand then months later it will collapse onto itself. Because I’ve witnessed it doing just that… what I am saying up there in Newtown, ND. It’s going to be really scary. Realistically speaking, we’re going to need to set up a substation for the area nearest to the Man Camp, and we got to have people on call 24 hours a day there too. I don’t know how we are going to deal with that just yet. We are overwhelmed as is stands right now. Once the Man Camp moves in…” Basically, it’s not a future everyone wants to see.

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Out of the mouths of babes: a Bozeman six-year-old looks at climate change (with video)

Bozeman’s six-year-old Noah Gue  is the youngest of 15 winners of this year’s White House Junior Film Festival. “Noah’s Project,” his three minute video on climate change, earned him a meeting with President Obama, who singled him out as “the one missing his front teeth.”

Now if we could just get Steve Daines to sit down and watch the video.

The video was selected from more than 1500 entries from K-12 students from across the country. The theme of this year’s contest is making an impact and giving back.

His father Michael, a wildlands firefighter, saw the film festival announced on Twitter, and asked Noah if he’d like to enter. They saw the notice in February, went out for a weekend to shoot at Yellowstone, Paradise Valley and Hyalite Lake, and put the video together in one afternoon, using an Apple iMovie program. They were notified early this month that they had won, and were invited to the White House.

Noah and his father Michael. Photo: Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez, Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Noah and his father Michael. Photo: Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez, Bozeman Daily Chronicle

According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Michael shot most of the video with his GoPro camera, while Noah’s mother Amy, a wedding photographer, contributed still photos of grizzly bears, bison and other wildlife that she shot with Noah’s help.

Noah is the talent, looking into the camera and telling us he’s seen climate change “with my own eyes.”

He tells how rising temperatures are affecting his family and the landscapes near his home. “Glaciers are receding and could soon be gone forever…Some animals may go extinct in the next century….It’s time for the world to see conservation through a kid’s eyes.”

President Obama singles Noah out as the one "missing his front teeth"

President Obama singles out Noah as the one “missing his front teeth” Photo: Jacquelyn Martin, AP

“He memorized what he was going to say,” Amy says of Noah, who is barely old enough to read. “But when he got in front of the camera, he added in his own comments.”

Global warming is a concept simple enough for a six-year-old to understand. You have to be much older, more jaded, and blinded by money to misunderstand it.

The video:

Posted in Politics and History | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

BLM introduces new fracking rules: a welcome step forward, but not enough to protect the Beartooth Front

New fracking rules
On Friday the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a new set of long-anticipated rules regarding fracking. These rules will require oil and gas operators to (see pages 7-8 at above link):

  • Design and implement a casing and cementing program that follows best practices and meets performance standards to protect and isolate usable water, defined generally as those waters containing less than 10,000 parts per million of total dissolved solids (TDS);
  • Monitor cementing operations during well construction;
  • Take remedial action if there are indications of inadequate cementing, and demonstrate to the BLM that the remedial action was successful;
  • Perform a successful mechanical integrity test (MIT) prior to the hydraulic fracturing operation;
  • Monitor annulus pressure during a hydraulic fracturing operation;
  • Manage recovered fluids in rigid enclosed, covered or netted and screened above-ground storage tanks, with very limited exceptions that must be approved on a case-by-case basis;
  • Disclose the chemicals used to the BLM and the public, with limited exceptions for material demonstrated through affidavit to be trade secrets;
  • Provide documentation of all of the above actions to the BLM

The BLM initially proposed these rules in 2012 and opened them to public comment. As you would expect, there has been extensive comment from both the oil and gas industry and the public. The rules will take effect this summer, 90 days after they are published in the Federal Register.

Filling water truck

Worker fills water truck to perform dust abatement near a fracking operation. Photo: RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

A welcome step forward
The rules are a positive step forward in the effort to make fracking responsible for protecting the public, and we have argued for most of these reforms on this site.

The requirement to monitor, report and fix problems with well casings recognizes a major issue with fracking — cement casings leak and can contaminate soil and water. The requirement to hold produced water in tanks instead of ponds is also welcome.

The improvement of reporting requirements is also positive. Oil and gas companies will be required to disclose the chemical composition of their fracking fluids within 30 days of finishing a drilling operation. The “trade secret” provision, a key element of the Halliburton Loophole, is tightened but not closed. Companies can still claim trade secrets, but must submit an affidavit to prove this.

The BLM noted that it is negotiating a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the organization that manages FracFocus. Under the MOU, FracFocus will notify the BLM each time chemical disclosures are uploaded on the site. The rules require companies with operations on federal land to follow state and federal disclosure requirements; however, if the state regulation is stricter, the state can request a variance that requires operators to comply with the stricter state rule. Companies will also have to submit additional information to the BLM concerning wellbore geology, fault and fracture locations, water depths, the volume of fluids used, and the direction and length of fractures.

AP Photo

AP Photo

But not enough to protect the Beartooth Front
While the new rules are a positive step, they are not enough to protect us along the Beartooth Front for several reasons:

  • The rules apply only to drilling on federal land, not on private property, so they would not apply to any drilling in the Silvertip area in Carbon County or along the Fishtail-Dean-Nye corridor in Stillwater County.
  • There is no guarantee the rules will ever be put into place. The Independent Petroleum Association of America and Western Energy Alliance have complained about the BLM’s estimate of a cost of $11,700 per well to comply with these regulations (between 0.13% and 0.21% of average drilling cost per well), and have already filed suit to challenge the regulations.
  • The BLM has not proven to provide effective enforcement of the rules it already has on the books. We have documented what a poor job the agency does of inspecting injection wells, and, without proper oversight, operators will not comply.
  • The rules do not address many issues raised by local landowners as necessary to protect their properties: regular water, air and soil testing; setbacks of  wells from residences; and the maintenance of local infrastructure are key areas not addressed by these rules.

We should applaud and welcome the many positive steps we have seen recently: the new BLM rules, laws limiting fracking in many states and localities, and substantial advances in the scientific documentation of the risks of fracking.

The evidence is clear. Congress is not going to pass legislation that regulates the oil and gas industry, and federal agencies such as the EPA and BLM have been completely unable to resist the power of the industry to curtail their efforts. And the Montana legislature has demonstrated over and over that it is not willing to do anything to regulate or monitor oil and gas activity in the state.

It is up to local communities to protect their water, their health, and their way of life.

That is why landowners in Carbon and Stillwater counties are working so hard to implement citizen-initiated zones. These are efforts we should support as responsible approaches to oil and gas drilling. They can take effect now, while we wait for years and years for Washington and Helena to take action.


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Energy Corporation of America dismissed from Carbon County lawsuit. Will landowners be next?

Energy Corporation of America (ECA) has been dismissed from the lawsuit filed by Silvertip landowners against the Carbon County Commissioners. The dismissal came at the request of ECA, which indicated that it had no interest that it wished to defend in the case.

The lawsuit challenges the January decision of the County Commissioners to deny the Silvertip Zone. The suit was filed on February 13.

Silvertip lawsuitAccording to the suit, ECA was named as a defendant even though the plaintiffs sought no damages against them. They were named because they might “claim an interest which would be affected by the declaration.” ECA conducted exploratory oil and gas drilling in the Silvertip area, and the company’s representatives participated in public meetings concerning establishment of the Silvertip Zoning District and, through its attorney Mike Dockery, ECA submitted extensive comments to the Commissioners opposing the establishment of the Zone.

Public meeting at Belfry School, September 2014

Public meeting at Belfry School, September 2014

However, ECA informed the Commissioners in December that the company had decided not to pursue further development in the Belfry area, and, according to the stipulation, “ECA does not claim an interest that it wishes to defend in the claims currently raised.”

As a result, ECA was dismissed from the case.

Will protesting landowners follow the same path?
You have to wonder whether the protesting landowners, who were also named in the lawsuit, might take the same path as ECA did. According to the lawsuit, “no relief is sought” against these individual landowners, “but they are considered necessary parties because of their interest in the outcome of this appeal.”

In other words, they were named as defendants not because anybody wants any money from them, but because they protested and the law requires that they have the opportunity to explain themselves if they choose to do so.

However, if they choose not to testify, they could conceivably opt out of the case in the same way ECA did.

What the Silvertip landowners ultimately decide to do is s between them and their attorney, but they have a path to get out of the suit if they want to.

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