Tag Archives: fracking

Timber company’s sand plants would destroy Wisconsin wetlands

A timber company subsidiary is looking to build a pair of sand processing facilities in western Wisconsin that would eliminate more than 16 acres of wetlands.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Meteor Timber wants to build sand drying plant along Interstate 94 in Monroe County and a sand mine 14 miles away in neighboring Jackson County. Together the facilities would be valued at $65 million and create nearly 100 jobs, the newspaper reported.

Sand would be trucked from the mine to the drying plant. Meteor would build a 10-mile railroad spur to a Union Pacific line to transport the sand to Texas oil fields, where it would be used for hydraulic fracking.

The project would eliminate 16.6 acres of wetlands, including more than 13 acres of hardwood swamp. Jeffrey M. Olson, a section chief for the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, called some of that land pristine, saying it’s never been touched.

The state Department of Natural Resources has issued 60 wetland permits to sand operators since 2008, allowing the destruction of 26 acres.

Meteor’s wetland use would amount to 60 percent of that total.

Meteor needs approval from both the DNR and the Army Corps of Engineers to proceed. Both entities require that disturbing wetlands be avoided whenever possible but Meteor is trying to persuade the DNR and the corps that no alternative sites are suitable.

Midwest Environmental Advocates, an environmental law firm, is representing the Ho-Chunk Nation, which has tribal trust lands in the area. The firm is urging the corps and the DNR to deny permits for the project. Sarah Greers, an attorney for the firm, questioned why other sites can’t be found and why the company wants to build the facilities since the sand mining industry has slowed.

Christopher Mathis, managing director of real estate for Meteor, said in a statement to the Journal Sentinel that the company is sensitive to wetland impacts but can’t find any other commercially viable sites.

Meteor would preserve 358 acres on the property, shut down a cranberry marsh and remove dams from the marsh to naturalize a creek on the property, the Journal Sentinel reported. The company also would pay to restore wetlands in the same watershed.

Meteor, a subsidiary of Atlanta-based Timberland Investment Resources, has nearly 50,000 acres in forest holdings in Wisconsin.



Schools close following 5.0 earthquake in Oklahoma

A public school district in central Oklahoma canceled classes today in order to assess the damage from the magnitude 5.0 earthquake that rocked the prairie town of Cushing on Sunday evening.

The Cushing Police Department said the trembler caused “quite a bit of damage,” particularly in and around Cushing’s century-old downtown. A number of brick facades had collapsed, and windowpanes in several buildings shattered. Photos posted to social media show piles of debris at the base of commercial buildings in the city of about 7,900.

Earthquakes have become common in the region, which scientists attribute to the proliferation of fracking operations.

In early September, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency after a magnitude 5.6 earthquake struck the area. That quake tied the state’s all-time record, set in 2011. It shook parts of the Midwest and was felt from Houston to North Dakota. Six after-shocks followed the quake, including one that registered 3.6.

According to federal data, there have been 19 earthquakes in Oklahoma in the past week alone.

An increase in earthquakes measuring 3.0 or higher in Oklahoma has paralleled the growing volume of underground wastewater disposal from oil and natural gas production by fracking. Scientists believe the high-power injections of water into the earth alter stresses that hold geologic faults together and let them slip, unleashing the quakes. But oil industry and government officials deny that hydraulic fracking is causing the quakes.

Oilmen have pressured scientists and geologists at local universities not to address the subject.

In parts of the state, the number of tremblers matches those in northern California. In 2014, Oklahoma surpassed California as the nation’s most quake-prone state.

Oklahoma’s quakes are shallow — five miles or less below the surface — while California’s go as deep as 400 miles. Deep surface earthquakes are stronger and more destructive.

Oklahomans have a complicated relationship with the fracking industry. An estimated one in six workers in the state owes their paycheck either directly or indirectly to the industry. But fears about the growing frequency and magnitude of the seismic events have alarmed large numbers of residents.


State of emergency declared in Oklahoma following record earthquake

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency after a magnitude 5.6 earthquake struck nine miles northwest of Pawnee this morning.

The record-tying earthquake in north central Oklahoma also prompted regulators to order the shutdown of 35 disposal wells used by frackers over a 500-square-mile area.

Today’s quake tied the state’s previous record in 2011. It shook parts of the Midwest and was felt from Houston to North Dakota. Six after-shocks followed the quake, including one that registered 3.6.

Earlier this week, a 3.2 quake occurred in the same spot as today’s, which is about 70 miles northeast of Oklahoma City

Scientists believe hydraulic fracking operations are responsible for the growing number of Oklahoma earthquakes. The injections can alter stresses that hold geologic faults together and let them slip, unleashing earthquakes.

An increase in earthquakes measuring 3.0 or higher in Oklahoma has paralleled the growing volume of underground wastewater disposal from oil and natural gas production. According to earthquaketrack.com, there were 15 earthquakes today in the state, 114 in the past month, and 2,506 in the past year.

In parts of the state, the number of tremblers matches those in northern California. In 2014, Oklahoma surpassed California as the nation’s most quake-prone state.

Oklahoma’s quakes are shallow — five miles or less below the surface — while California’s go as deep as 400 miles. Deep surface earthquakes are stronger and more destructive.

Sean Weide in Omaha, Nebraska, told The Associated Press that he’d never been in an earthquake before and thought he was getting dizzy. Weide said he and one of his daughters “heard the building start creaking” and said it “was surreal.”

At least one minor injury was reported today. A man protecting his child suffered a head injury when part of a fireplace fell on him. The man was treated at a hospital and released.

Buildings in Pawnee’s “downtown” area were cracked and the sandstone facing on some buildings fell, according to reports.

Oklahomans have a complicated relationship with the fracking industry. An estimated one in six workers in the state owe their paychecks either directly or indirectly to the industry. But fears about the growing frequency and magnitude of the seismic events have alarmed large numbers of residents.

Oil industry and government officials deny that hydraulic fracking is causing the quakes. Oilmen have pressured scientists and geologists at local universities not to address the subject.

The wells ordered shut down today will remain closed for 10 days.




10,000 demonstrate against fracking on eve of DNC

About 10,000 activists marched for  a “Clean Energy Revolution” in Philadelphia on the eve of the Democratic National Convention in the city.

Convened by Americans Against Fracking, march was endorsed by more than 900 environmental, health, labor, political, faith, justice, indigenous and student organizations from every state.

The message: ban fracking now, keep fossil fuels in the ground, stop dirty energy, transition to 100 percent renewable energy and ensure environmental justice for all.

“Today, after listening to the science, more Americans are opposed to fracking than support it. Our elected leaders must listen to the people, which is why over a thousand groups from all 50 states endorsed the March for a Clean Energy Revolution and called for the need to keep fossil fuels in the ground and focus on renewable energy options that will create jobs, not destroy lives,” stated Wenonah Hauter, founder and executive director of Food & Water Watch.

The most recent Gallup poll, from March, shows that Americans oppose fracking 51 percent-36 percent.

“I am honored to welcome the march to our great city and to join the urgent call to free our country from its addiction to fossil fuels,” said Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym said before the demonstration began. “Cities and elected officials cannot sleepwalk their way through a climate crisis that threatens not only our future but also our current way of life. We have a responsibility and opportunity to rebuild cities like Philadelphia through clean, just, and sustainable energy solutions.”

Alesha Vega, assistant director of Coalition for Peace Action joined in the demonstration. She said, “Climate change is already causing conflicts and crises around the world, from Louisiana to Syria. That’s why the peace and justice community marched today with our allies in the climate and environmental justice movement. We need to make giant leaps towards a clean energy economy and put an end to the viscous cycle of dirty wars, climate refugees, and reliance on dirty energy.”

Karuna Jaggar talked about the planet’s health and public health policy.

“We are marching to demand an end to fracking and other dangerous drilling practices that rely on toxic chemicals and are linked to an array of deadly diseases and disorders,” said Jaggar, executive director of Breast Cancer Action. “As health professionals, public health experts and people concerned with protecting health, we are gravely concerned about the mounting scientific evidence showing that these chemicals are regularly contaminating the water, the air and ultimately our bodies.”

Krystal Rain Two Bulls represented the Oglala Lakota/Northern Cheyenne at the march: “For far too long indigenous peoples’ voices have been silenced and erased. Most especially when it comes to extreme extraction practices such as fracking. No longer will I stand by and watch that happen.”

Drew Hudson, director of Environmental Action, said, “We’ve just wrapped up a Republican National Convention filled with climate denial and extreme energy talking points. Tomorrow we start the Democratic Convention and the question to all these leaders and politicians is: Are you willing to take the action that science demands or are you just another kind of climate denier? …I’m  marching today to tell all elected officials, if you’re not down to KeepItInTheGround, you’re just another climate denier.”

The protest was the first of many taking place as Democrats are gathering in Philadelphia to nominate their presidential and vice presidential candidates.

Demonstrators chanted “This is what democracy looks like.”





Study finds link between fracking and asthma

Fracking may worsen asthma in children and adults who live near sites where the oil and gas drilling method is used, according to an 8-year study in Pennsylvania.

The study found that asthma treatments were as much as four times more common in patients living closer to areas with more or bigger active wells than those living far away.

But the study did not establish that fracking directly caused or worsened asthma. There’s also no way to tell from the study whether asthma patients exposed to fracking fare worse than those exposed to more traditional gas drilling methods or to other industrial activities.

Fracking refers to hydraulic fracturing, a technique for extracting oil and gas by injecting water, sand and chemicals into wells at high pressure to crack rock. Environmental effects include exhaust, dust and noise from heavy truck traffic transporting water and other materials, and from drilling rigs and compressors. Fracking and improved drilling methods led to a boom in production of oil and gas in several U.S. states, including Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado.

Sara Rasmussen, the study’s lead author and a researcher at Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, said pollution and stress from the noise caused by fracking might explain the results. But the authors emphasized that the study doesn’t prove what caused patients’ symptoms.

More than 25 million U.S. adults and children have asthma, a disease that narrows airways in the lungs. Symptoms include wheezing, breathing difficulties and chest tightness, and they can sometimes flare up with exposure to dust, air pollution and stress.

Previous research has found heavy air pollution in areas where oil and gas drilling is booming.

Industry groups responding to the new research said air samplings measured by Pennsylvania authorities near natural gas operations during some of the study years found pollutant levels unlikely to cause health issues. But samplings were limited and didn’t reflect potential cumulative effects of emissions from the drilling sites.

The new study was published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The researchers noted that between 2005 and 2012, more than 6,200 fracking wells were drilled in Pennsylvania. They used electronic health records to identify almost 36,000 asthma patients treated during that time in the Geisinger Health System, which covers more than 40 counties in Pennsylvania. Evidence of asthma attacks included new prescriptions for steroid medicines, emergency-room treatment for asthma and asthma hospitalizations.

During the study, there were more than 20,000 new oral steroid prescriptions ordered, almost 5,000 asthma hospitalizations and almost 2,000 ER asthma visits.

Those outcomes were 50 percent to four times more common in asthma patients living closer to areas with more or bigger active wells than among those living far away.

The highest risk for asthma attacks occurred in people living a median of about 12 miles from drilled wells. The lowest risk was for people living a median of about 40 miles away.

Dr. Norman H. Edelman, senior scientific adviser for the American Lung Association, called the study “interesting and provocative.” But he said it only shows an association between fracking and asthma, not a “cause and effect,” and that more rigorous research is needed.

“Asthma is a huge problem,” he said. “Anything we can do to elucidate the causes will be very useful.”



JAMA Internal Medicine: http://tinyurl.com/jdj2hxd

Fracking: https://www.epa.gov/hydraulicfracturing

Asthma: http://tinyurl.com/jhpkc7f


Activists stage Trump protest at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Four activists have scaled a pair of 60-foot flagpoles at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, attaching a 625-square-foot banner protesting Donald Trump’s positions on fracking and immigration.

“As the presidential campaigns swing into full step with this week’s RNC and next week’s DNC, communities directly impacted by oil and gas extraction have come together with immigrant communities being torn apart by deportations to take a stand against an unjust system that targets us all,” Emmelia Talarico said.  Talarico is an activist from Maryland who works to address labor and immigration injustice.

Activists said they want to demonstrate that while Trump is calling for the building of a wall with Mexico, social movements are breaking down the barriers that have prevented them from working together.

“Through the power of direct action, our movements can and will stop the hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump, and continue to push Hillary Clinton to ban fracking and stop the deportations,” Shane Davis said. He was forced from his home in Colorado after being exposed to the harmful impacts of fracking. Davis isa member of the Stop the Frack Attack Network Advisory Council.

“We must remember that fracking often targets low income communities of color, often many of which are immigrants such as the Central Valley of California, where over 95 percent of fracking occurs in California,” Davis said. “We cannot stand by and accept a political system in which both candidates support the toxic fracking industry, and one candidate freely uses violent racialized language against immigrant communities.”

Activists stage a protest against Donald Trump at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. — PHOTO: Robby Diesu
Activists stage a protest against Donald Trump at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. — PHOTO: Robby Diesu

U.S. maps show hazards for human-induced earthquakes

New maps from the U.S. Geological Survey identify potential ground-shaking hazards from both human-induced and natural earthquakes.

In the past, USGS maps only identified natural earthquake hazards.

The latest report from the federal agency shows that about 7 million people live and work in areas of the central and eastern U.S. — CEUS — with potential for damaging shaking from induced seismicity.

Within a few portions of the CEUS, the chance of damage from all types of earthquakes is similar to that of natural earthquakes in high-hazard areas of California, according to the USGS.

“By including human-induced events, our assessment of earthquake hazards has significantly increased in parts of the U.S.,” stated Mark Petersen, chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project. “This research also shows that much more of the nation faces a significant chance of having damaging earthquakes over the next year, whether natural or human-induced.”

Induced Earthquakes

Induced earthquakes are triggered by human activities, with wastewater disposal being the primary cause for recent events in many areas of the CEUS. Wastewater from oil and gas production operations can be disposed of by injecting it into deep underground wells, below aquifers that provide drinking water.

The agency, in its release, emphasized that USGS scientists only distinguished between human-induced and natural seismicity in the CEUS. In the western part of the United States, scientists categorized all earthquakes as natural. Scientists also used a different methodology in looking at the CEUS compared to the West.

Six States Face Highest Hazards

The most significant hazards from “induced seismicity” are in six states, listed in order from highest to lowest potential hazard: Oklahoma, Kansas, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico and Arkansas. Oklahoma and Texas have the largest populations exposed to induced earthquakes.

“In the past five years, the USGS has documented high shaking and damage in areas of these six states, mostly from induced earthquakes,” said Petersen. “Furthermore, the USGS Did You Feel It? website has archived tens of thousands of reports from the public who experienced shaking in those states, including about 1,500 reports of strong shaking or damage.”

USGS scientists identified 21 areas with increased rates of induced seismicity.

Induced earthquakes have occurred within small areas of Alabama and Ohio, but a recent decrease in induced earthquake activity resulted in a lower hazard forecast in these states for the next year.  In other areas of Alabama and small parts of Mississippi, there has been an increase in activity and scientists are still investigating whether those events were induced or natural.

The central U.S. has undergone the most dramatic increase in seismicity over the past six years, according to the agency. From 1973 to 2008, there was an average of 24 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 and larger per year. From 2009 to 2015, the rate steadily increased, averaging 318 per year and peaking in 2015 with 1,010 earthquakes. Through mid-March in 2016, there have been 226 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 and larger in the central U.S. region.

To date, the largest earthquake located near several active injection wells was a magnitude 5.6 in 2011 near Prague, Oklahoma.

The USGS published a study in 2014 that only considered natural earthquakes. The largest changes in this new report are primarily due to hazards from induced earthquakes, but the calculations also consider updated forecasts for natural earthquakes.

For example, the New Madrid Seismic Zone near Memphis has experienced a higher rate of natural earthquakes in the past two years, leading to a slightly higher hazard potential in small portions of Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee.

Wastewater disposal is thought to be the primary reason for the recent increase in earthquakes in the CEUS. While most injection wells are not associated with earthquakes, some other wells have been implicated in published scientific studies, and many states are now regulating wastewater injection in order to limit earthquake hazards.

Many questions have been raised about hydraulic fracturing — commonly referred to as “fracking” — and the USGS said its studies suggest that this process is only rarely the cause of felt earthquakes.

To determine whether clusters of earthquakes were natural or induced, the USGS relied on published literature and discussions with state officials and the scientific and earthquake engineering community.

Scientists looked at whether an earthquake occurred near a wastewater disposal well and whether the well was active at the time these earthquakes occurred. If so, it was classified as an induced event.

Current research indicates the maximum magnitudes of induced earthquakes may be lower than for natural earthquakes, but many scientists suggest that induced earthquakes can trigger larger earthquakes on known or unknown faults.

In the CEUS, there may be thousands of faults that could rupture in a large earthquake. Induced earthquakes also tend to exhibit swarm-like behavior with more numerous and smaller earthquakes at shallower depths. These factors were taken into account in the analysis.

“We are using the best available data and principles to determine when, where and how strong the ground could shake from induced earthquakes,” said Petersen. “Of course there is a level of uncertainty associated with this and all hazard maps, as we are still learning about their behavior and can only forecast with probability — instead of predict with certainty — where earthquakes are likely to occur in the future. Testing these maps after a year will be important in validating and improving the models.”

Environmentalists’ Reaction

The federal report came shortly after the Sierra Club and Public Justice filed a federal lawsuit against three energy companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing in Oklahoma. The suit alleges that wastewater from fracking and oil production has contributed significantly to the alarming increase in earthquake activity.

Oklahoma has seen a rapid increase in earthquakes registering at or above a 3.0 magnitude per year, with 109 in 2013, 585 in 2014, and more than 900 in 2015.

Sierra Club released the following statement: “Today’s report once again highlights the dangers the fracking cycle poses to our communities. The world is already experiencing deadly storms, droughts, and erratic climate and weather extremes due to climate change, and the rapid increase in earthquakes caused by wastewater injections from the oil and gas industry only raises the threat to communities across the country.”


As fracking-induced earthquakes rise, Oklahomans demand action

Oklahoma residents are imploring leaders to stop the dramatic increase in earthquakes caused by wastewater injection wells from fracking operations.

About 200 people tried to pack into standing room-only committee rooms on Jan. 15 at the Oklahoma Capitol. They sat on the floor and spilled into the rotunda, prompting legislators to move the forum into the House chamber.

Several Edmond-area residents said their homes have been damaged and their children frightened after a swarm of quakes rattled the Oklahoma City suburb in recent weeks, including a 4.3-magnitude temblor last month.

Oil and gas operations in the state inject a billion barrels of toxic wastewater per year thousands of feet under Oklahoma. The technique is believed to keep drinking water safe from the toxic byproducts of fracking but it’s also responsible for the quakes.

Earthquaketrack.com reports there Oklahoma has experienced: 6 earthquakes today, 38 in the past week, 217 during the past month and 2,201 over the past year. Residents complaint that the constant tremblors, which range up to 4.8 in magnitude are unacceptable. Scientists say the “big one” has yet to come.

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin, like GOP politicians throughout the country, has received massive donations from the oil and gas industries — and related interests. In return, she’s passed a law that makes it illegal to ban fracking operations anywhere in the state, and she’s given big tax incentives to oil and gas companies to build more fracking mines in the state.

Although the Oklahoma public likely doesn’t know that their tax dollars are paying for state’s fracking boom, they’re still fed up with the earthquakes.

Emily Pope, a Maryland native who moved to Edmond four months ago after her husband got a job here, said she is shocked at the number of quakes that have rattled her home.

“We had no idea we were moving into a huge earthquake zone,” she said while holding a four-month-old toddler. “If we had known that, we probably wouldn’t have accepted the job out here.”

Edmond resident Julie Allison, who lives about 2 miles from the epicenter of two recent quakes, said she believes oil and gas companies should be forced to subsidize the cost of earthquake insurance premiums and claims of damages.

“People can’t afford to pay the deductibles,” Allison said. “If I sound like an unhappy citizen, it’s because I am.

“It’s time for everyone to wake up.”

Despite growing concerns from the public, a spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin said Friday “there is no need for the governor to intervene at this time.” Fallin formed a coordinating council to address the issue, but has deferred mostly to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates the oil and gas industry and has directed some wells to shut down or reduce disposal volumes. Fallin spokesman Michael McNutt said the governor’s secretary of energy and environment also is working on the issue.

The lawmaker who organized the forum, Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, said he intends to push legislation in the upcoming session to establish a reparation fund to help residents impacted by wastewater injection that would be based on a new fluid disposal fee. He also wants to impose mandatory reductions in injection amounts in the ten Oklahoma counties where most of the earthquakes are occurring.

Any attempt to impose new restrictions or fees on the oil and gas industry is likely to face fierce resistance from industry lobbyists, a powerful force at the Capitol.

Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, said he’s not optimistic lawmakers will take steps to address the quakes because they’re afraid of harming an industry that is a key economic driver in the state.

“Unfortunately, I think we’ve chosen the industry over our constituents, and we’ve gotten things out of balance,” Williams said.

“I need people to engage on a much grander level even than we’re seeing today.”

Environmental coalition demands regs to stop dumping of drilling, fracking waste

A coalition of environmental organizations on Aug. 26 filed a legal notice with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency demanding regulations to stop oil and gas companies from dumping drilling and fracking waste in ways that threaten public health and the environment.

Laura Allen, EPA deputy press secretary, said in an emailed response, “EPA will review the notice of intent and any related information submitted to the agency.”

The groups filing the notice letter are the Environmental Integrity Project, Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthworks, Responsible Drilling Alliance, San Juan Citizens Alliance, West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization and the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. The groups say the EPA must comply with its long-overdue obligations to update waste disposal rules that should have been revised more than a quarter century ago.

“We’re asking that EPA finally do what it found to be necessary back in 1988: update the regulations for oil and gas wastes,” said Adam Kron, attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project. “The oil and gas industry has grown rapidly since then, and yet EPA has repeatedly shirked its duties for nearly three decades. The public deserves better protection than this.”

For example, the groups said EPA should institute stricter controls for underground injection wells, which accept 2 billion gallons of oil and gas wastewater every day and have been linked to numerous earthquakes in Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas.

EPA should ban the practice of spreading fracking wastewater onto roads or fields, which allows toxic pollutants to run off and contaminate streams.

And EPA should require landfills and ponds that receive drilling and fracking waste to be built with adequate liners and structural integrity to prevent spills and leaks into groundwater and streams.

“Oil and gas waste is extremely dangerous — yet the EPA admitted decades ago that federal rules are inadequate to protect the public,” said Matthew McFeeley, attorney at NRDC.  “The scary truth is that right now this waste—complete with carcinogens and radioactive material—is being dumped irresponsibly or disposed of like everyday household garbage. Toxic waste should not be sent to run-of-the-mill landfills, sprayed on our roads and fields or stored in open air pits.”

The groups notified EPA that they will file a lawsuit in 60 days unless the agency complies with its duty under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act to review and revise the federal regulations governing how oil and gas waste must be handled and disposed.

RCRA requires that EPA review the regulations at least every three years and, if necessary, revise them. The agency determined that such revisions of the regulations were necessary to address specific concerns with oil and gas wastes more than 25 years ago, yet has failed to meet its legal responsibility to act.

Over the past decade, the oil and gas industry’s fracking-based boom has produced a vast amount of solid and liquid waste. Each well produces millions of gallons of wastewater and hundreds of tons of drill cuttings, which contain contaminants that pose serious risks to human health. These include known carcinogens such as benzene, toxic metals such as mercury and radioactive materials.

However, the current RCRA rules that govern oil and gas wastes are too weak because they are the same rules that apply to all “non-hazardous” wastes, including household trash.

As a result, oil and gas companies are handling, storing and disposing of these wastes in a number of troublesome ways, according to the environmental groups. These include: spraying fracking waste fluids onto roads and land near where people live and work; disposing of billions of gallons of oil and gas wastewater in underground injection wells; sending the drill cuttings and fracking sands to landfills not designed to handle toxic or radioactive materials; and storing and disposing of wastewater in pits and ponds, which often leak.

Across the U.S., there are numerous instances of wastes leaking out of ponds and pits into nearby streams and the groundwater beneath, and operators often “close” the pits by simply burying the wastes on site.

Aaron Mintzes, Policy Advocate for Earthworks, said, “While it’s sadly common for states to fail to enforce their own oil and gas oversight laws, it is especially shameful that we should have to sue the Environmental Protection Agency, the only federal agency solely dedicated to protecting the environment and human health, to force EPA to fulfill its legal obligations to protect us from fracking pollution.”

Some examples of problems caused by the improper disposal and handling of fracking and drilling waste:

Ohio:  Underground injection wells in Ohio accepted 22 million barrels of oil and gas wastewater for disposal in 2014, nearly four times the amount in 2009.  This has resulted in scores of earthquakes in the well-dense Youngstown area, with one well alone linked to 77 earthquakes.  The Ohio Oil and Gas Commission recently noted that regulations “have not kept pace” with the problem, and that (to an extent) both the state and industry are “working with their eyes closed.”

Pennsylvania: In May 2012, a 6-million-gallon industrial pond holding fracking wastewater in Tioga County leaked pollutants, including arsenic and strontium, through holes in its liner into groundwater and a nearby trout stream.

West Virginia: Oil and gas wastewater dumped or spilled in rivers in West Virginia and Pennsylvania contains high levels of potentially hazardous ammonium and iodide, according to a study by Duke University scientists. 

North Dakota: In January 2015, 3million gallons of drilling wastewater spilled from a leaky pipe outside Williston, polluting a tributary of the Missouri River.  In July 2011, a pipeline serving a well in Bottineau County leaked over two million gallons of fracking wastewater, damaging twenty-four acres of private land.

Colorado: A contractor for a pipeline services firm gave a detailed account of sand-blasting pulverized waste buildup (called “scale”) from pipeline seals directly into the air outdoors without a filter, even though such dust can be radioactive and cause damage to lungs.

Across the Marcellus region: Over the past several years, landfills in states around the Marcellus shale formation — even in New York, where fracking is prohibited — have experienced increasing shipments of drill cuttings that contain high levels of radiation.  Many of the landfills do not test for radiation and do not have adequate controls to prevent the often toxic and radioactive “leachate” from seeping into groundwater.

“Improper handling of drilling waste threatens the health and safety of 3.5 million Pennsylvania residents whose drinking water comes from private wells,” said Barbara Jarmoska, who serves on the board of directors of the Responsible Drilling Alliance, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania.  “It is past time for the EPA to put public and environmental health and safety first. EPA should revise existing regulations and specifically address issues relevant to the modern oil and gas industry.”

If EPA does not act within 60 days of today’s notice letter, the groups intend to ask a federal court to set strict deadlines for EPA to complete this long-needed update and strengthening of its regulations for oil and gas wastes.

The EPA, in its emailed response to WiG after the coalition’s announcement, provided background information and said last spring the agency “proposed pretreatment standards that would require zero discharge of pollutants from unconventional oil and natural gas extraction facilities into municipal wastewater treatment plants.”

In addition, the EPA said it tasked the Underground Injection Control National Technical Workgroup with the development of recommendations to assist UIC directors with management and mitigation of the potential effects of induced seismicity under the Class II regulations. 

The EPA statement said: UIC program directors have the authority and discretion within the UIC Class II regulations to address induced seismicity where needed. For Class II oil and gas wastewater disposal wells, existing regulations provide state and federal permit writers with broad discretionary authority to include conditions and requirements in permits to address induced seismicity, where they find that seismicity could cause migration of fluids into an underground source of drinking water.  Existing regulations for UIC Class I hazardous waste wells and Class VI wells include explicit requirements related to seismicity.

States are using this authority to address concerns with induced seismicity. In 2012, Ohio developed UIC regulations to help mitigate concerns with injection induced seismicity.  Other states, including Oklahoma and Kansas, have taken steps to shut in wells that were believed to be contributing to induced seismicity, according to the EPA.

The agency said it will continue to work with the states and organizations such as the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission “to ensure that the latest information and tools are made available to UIC directors to address potential concerns related to injection-induced seismicity.”

Oklahoma Supreme Court says citizens can sue for injuries from fracking-related earthquakes

Oklahoma’s Supreme Court has ruled that citizens injured by earthquakes that were possibly triggered by oil and gas operations can sue for damages.

The ruling allows a woman who blames fracking disposal wells for damages she suffered from an earthquake to request a jury trial. If one is granted, the case would become the first of its kind in the nation.

Sandra Ladra sued New Dominion and Spess Oil Co. for injuries suffered to her knees and legs in November 2011, when a 5.0 magnitude earthquake struck near her home in central Oklahoma. She said the tremor caused the rock facing on her two-story fireplace and chimney to fall into the living room, where she was watching television with her family.

Scott Poynter, a spokesman for the injured woman and her attorney, said Ladra, 64, has been told she may need knee-replacement surgery.

Poynter said Ladra’s case —Ladra v. New Dominion LLC — will “be stuck for a while” if the oil companies ask the court for reconsideration. Similar cases in Arkansas and Texas didn’t make it as far as jury trials, he said.

In Ladra’s case, the Oklahoma Supreme Court reversed a trial court’s ruling that the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates the energy industry, has exclusive jurisdiction over cases concerning oil and gas operations.

The regulatory body “is without authority to hear and determine disputes between two or more private persons or entities in which the public interest is not involved,” the high court said in its decision.

Oklahoma, a region not known for seismic activity, has experienced a rash of earthquakes since 2009, the same year area oil companies began using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to shatter deep rock layers to extract oil and gas. Fracked wells produce large quantities of wastewater, which drilling companies inject into ultra-deep disposal wells, which critics blame for causing earthquakes.

Richard Andrews, Oklahoma’s state geologist, published a study in April concluding it’s “very likely” the 600-fold increase in earthquake activity experienced in some parts of the state was triggered by the injection of wastewater in disposal wells rather than by the fracking activity itself.

Quake rate

Oklahoma’s earthquake rate has increased from 1.5 temblors a year before 2008 to an average rate of 2.5 a day, Andrews said in the April 21 report.

Since 2011, more than 20 lawsuits have been filed against companies including BHP Billiton Ltd., Chesapeake Energy Corp., Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Sunoco Logistics Partners LP that allege underground injection activities caused earthquakes in Arkansas and Texas, according to a tally of cases compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence.

A July 2014 study published in the journal Science found that four high-volume disposal wells owned by New Dominion on the outskirts of Oklahoma City may have accounted for 20 percent of all seismic activity in the central U.S. from 2008 to 2013.

David J. Chernicky, chairman and founder of New Dominion, has said the evidence tying underground wells to earthquakes is unreliable. He was dismissive of Ladra’s lawsuit in an interview this year and expressed confidence New Dominion will prevail.

New Dominion, based in Tulsa, and Spess Oil didn’t immediately respond to phone messages seeking comment on the suit. Robert Gum, New Dominion’s lawyer, also didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

Mark Chediak and Benjamin Elgin in San Francisco contributed to this story.