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BLM Utah Halts Oil and Gas Lease Sale

By Center for Biological Diversity

SALT LAKE CITY— Climate activists are celebrating today as the Bureau of Land Management made a last-minute decision to halt an oil and gas lease sale owing to a “high level of public interest.”

Photo by Andres Sheikh, Center for Biological Diversity

Photo by Andres Sheikh, Center for Biological Diversity

Dozens of citizens were planning to protest the auction on Tuesday morning in Salt Lake City. Instead they will now celebrate the Bureau’s decision to postpone the auction of 73,000 acres of publicly owned oil and gas in Utah—which harbor an estimated 1.6 million to 6.6 million tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. The planned protest had been led by Elders Rising, calling on the BLM to act to prevent catastrophic climate change and to ensure a livable future for generations to come.
The victory is the latest from a rapidly growing national movement calling on President Obama to define his climate legacy by stopping new federal fossil fuel leases on public lands and oceans—a step that would keep up to 450 billion tons of carbon pollution from escaping into the atmosphere. Similar “Keep It in the Ground” protests were held in Colorado and Wyoming in recent weeks and more are planned for upcoming lease sales in Reno, Nev., and Washington, D.C.

“The BLM knows the public is watching, and that they don’t want our lands and our climate auctioned off to the highest bidder,” said Valerie Love with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We pushed the BLM to stop this lease sale, and we won’t rest until all new fossil fuel lease sales on America’s public lands are ended.”

 

Ecowatch: Utah Oil Boomtown Hostile to Midwife’s Concern Over Skyrocketing Infant Deaths

By , originally appearing on Ecowatch

When a polluting industry creates jobs and economic activity, especially in the very poor areas where these industries often land, there’s a tendency of citizens to want to deny any impact on its health or environment. Such a clash of interests has reached a sad impasse in a Utah oil boom town where some citizens are scapegoating a midwife who is raising questions about a spate of infant deaths.

UintahBasin
The ozone levels in the Uintah Valley have been found to be as high as in Los Angeles, thanks to oil and gas operations. Photo credit: Scott Sandberg/NOAA

A heartbreaking story in the Los Angeles Times tells about 20-year midwife Donna Young, who noticed what she thought was an exceptional number of gravestones for infants at the local cemetery in Vernal, Utah.  She wondered if there could be a connection to the oil industry, which underpins the area’s economy and provides about half the town’s annual budget.

A state investigation is underway, but in the meantime, area residents—even mothers of some of the deceased infants—are already angrily denying the connection and demonizing Young for asking questions, reports the L.A. Times. She’s gotten threatening calls, been attacked on local talk radio and online, and even found rat poison in the animal feed on her ranch, exposing the fear, anger and denial some people feel when fossil fuel industries are the linchpin of an economy. As Vernal’s Mayor Sonya Norton aptly told the paper, “People get very protective of what we have here. If you challenge our livelihood, it’s considered personal. Without oil, this town would be a couple of storefronts and a gas station.”

After spotting the graves, Young dug into obituaries and cemetery records and found that the number of graves for an infant skyrocketed from one in 95 in 2010 to one in 14 in 2013. That concern led her to contact the Tri-County Healthy Department. When its director Joseph Shaffer called a public meeting and Young’s involvement in raising concerns was revealed, blowback began. And as the matter was referred up to the state, it intensified with Shaffer taking heat as well as Young. Even area doctors were angry with her. Digging around for anything that could deflect blame from the oil industry, some citizens are blaming drug use or poor nutritional habits among oil field workers.

Vernal is located in the Uintah Basin, where a recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revealed elevated levels of winter ozone pollution caused by the widespread oil and gas exploration and extraction activities in the region. That was alarming because ozone pollution generally spikes in warmer weather. “Chemicals released into the air by oil and gas activities can spark reactions that lead to high levels of ozone in wintertime, high enough to exceed federal health standards,” said NOAA. Ozone pollution in the Uintah Basin has been measured at levels as high as the Los Angeles basin. And ozone is known to cause respiratory problems which are most acute in the old and the very young, including infants.

Meanwhile, the number of infant deaths in 2014 dropped to just two, after 13 died in 2013, which is likely to only fuel blowback and the depiction of Young as an anti-oil demon. The Los Angeles Times quoted the George Burnett, owner of a local smoothie and juice bar, saying “Drilling brings the Earth’s energy to life” and accusing Young of “alarmist thinking that has gotten ahead of good science.”

Washington Post: Four Corners Methane Plume

By Joby Warrick, The Washington Post
CUBA, N.M. — The methane that leaks from 40,000 gas wells near this desert trading post may be colorless and odorless, but it’s not invisible. It can be seen from space.

plume_full

Satellites that sweep over energy-rich northern New Mexico can spot the gas as it escapes from drilling rigs, compressors and miles of pipeline snaking across the badlands. In the air it forms a giant plume: a permanent, Delaware-sized methane cloud, so vast that scientists questioned their own data when they first studied it three years ago. “We couldn’t be sure that the signal was real,” said NASA researcher Christian Frankenberg.

The country’s biggest methane “hot spot,” verified by NASA and University of Michigan scientists in October, is only the most dramatic example of what scientists describe as a $2 billion leak problem: the loss of methane from energy production sites across the country. When oil, gas or coal are taken from the ground, a little methane — the main ingredient in natural gas — often escapes along with it, drifting into the atmosphere, where it contributes to the warming of the Earth.

Methane accounts for about 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and the biggest single source of it — nearly 30 percent — is the oil and gas industry, government figures show. All told, oil and gas producers lose 8 million metric tons of methane a year, enough to provide power to every household in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

As early as next month, the Obama administration will announce new measures to shrink New Mexico’s methane cloud while cracking down nationally on a phenomenon that officials say erodes tax revenue and contributes to climate change. The details are not publicly known, but already a fight is shaping up between the White House and industry supporters in Congress over how intrusive the restrictions will be.

Republican leaders who will take control of the Senate next month have vowed to block measures that they say could throttle domestic energy production at a time when plummeting oil prices are cutting deeply into company profits. Industry officials say they have a strong financial incentive to curb leaks, and companies are moving rapidly to upgrade their equipment.

But environmentalists say relatively modest government restrictions on gas leaks could reap substantial rewards for taxpayers and the planet. Because methane is such a powerful greenhouse gas — with up to 80 times as much heat-trapping potency per pound as carbon dioxide over the short term — the leaks must be controlled if the United States is to have any chance of meeting its goals for cutting the emissions responsible for climate change, said David Doniger, who heads the climate policy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

“This is the most significant, most cost-effective thing the administration can do to tackle climate change pollution that it hasn’t already committed to do,” Doniger said.

Methane’s hot spot

The epicenter of New Mexico’s methane hot spot is a stretch of desert southeast of Farmington, N.M., in a hydrocarbon-soaked region known as the San Juan Basin. The land was once home to a flourishing civilization of ancient Pueblo Indians, who left behind ruins of temples and trading centers built more than 1,000 years ago. In modern times, people have been drawn to the area by vast deposits of uranium, oil, coal and natural gas.

Energy companies have been racing to snatch up new oil leases here since the start of the shale-oil boom in recent years. But long before that, the basin was known as one of the country’s most productive regions for natural gas.

The methane-rich gas is trapped in underground formations that often also contain deposits of oil or coal. Energy companies extract it by drilling wells through rock and coal and collecting the gas in tanks at the surface. The gas is transported by pipeline or truck to other facilities for processing.

But much of this gas never makes it to the market. Companies that are seeking only oil will sometimes burn off or “flare” methane gas rather than collect it. In some cases, methane is allowed to escape or “vent” into the atmosphere, or it simply seeps inadvertently from leaky pipes and scores of small processing stations linked by a spider’s web of narrow dirt roads crisscrossing the desert.

For local environmental groups, gas-flaring is a tangible reminder of the downsides of an industry that provides tens of millions of dollars to local economies as well as to federal tax coffers. Bruce Gordon, a private pilot and president of EcoFlight, an environmental group that monitors energy development on federally owned land, recently banked his single-engine Cessna over a large oil well near Lybrook, N.M. He pointed out two towers of orange flame where methane was being burned off, a practice that prevents a dangerous buildup of pressure on drilling equipment but that also wastes vast quantities of methane.

“For these companies, the gas is worthless — the oil is what they want,” Gordon said. The burning converts methane into carbon dioxide — another greenhouse gas — while contributing to the brown haze that sometimes blankets the region on sunny days, he said.

Other environmental groups have documented leaks of normally invisible methane using infrared cameras that can detect plumes of gas billowing from wells, storage tanks and compressors. All of it contributes to the giant plume “seen” by satellites over northwestern New Mexico, a gas cloud that NASA scientists say represents nearly 600,000 metric tons of wasted methane annually, or roughly enough to supply the residential energy needs of a city the size of San Francisco.

The NASA analysis estimated the average extent of the gas plume over the past decade at 2,500 square miles — and that was before the recent energy boom from shale oil and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, said Frankenberg, the NASA scientist.

Possible remedies

But spotting the leaks is far easier than fixing them. The Obama administration is reviewing a host of possible remedies that range from voluntary inducements to more costly regulations requiring oil and gas companies to install monitoring equipment and take steps to control the loss of methane at each point in the production process. The announcement of the administration’s new policies has been repeatedly delayed amid what officials describe as internal debate over the cost of competing proposals and, indeed, over whether methane should be regulated separately from the mix of other gases given off as byproducts of oil and gas drilling.

The American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade association for the oil and gas industry, contends that companies are already making progress in slashing methane waste, installing updated equipment that reduces leaks. New regulations are unnecessary and would ultimately make it harder for U.S. companies to compete, said Erik Milito, API’s director of upstream and industry operations.

“Every company is strongly incentivized to capture methane and bring it to the market,” Milito said. “We don’t need regulation to tell us to do that.”

But environmentalists point to problems with old pipelines and outdated equipment that are the source of more than 90 percent of the wasted methane, according to a report earlier this month by a consortium of five environmental organizations. The study said relatively modest curbs would result in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions over two decades comparable to closing down 90 coal-fired power plants.

The report’s authors noted that the measures would also help protect taxpayers who, after all, are the ultimate owners of the oil and gas taken from federally owned lands, including most of New Mexico’s San Juan Basin.

“The good news is that there are simple technologies and practices that the oil and gas industry can use to substantially reduce this waste,” said Mark Brownstein, an associate vice president for climate and energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the contributors to the report.

“You don’t have to be an environmentalist to know that methane leaks are simply a waste of a valuable national energy resource,” he said.

Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals Linked to Fracking Found in Colorado River

Originally posted on Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition:

The Colorado River flows through the town of Rifle in Garfield County, Colorado. Photo (taken 1972) by David Hiser,courtesy of U.S. National Archives, Flickr/Creative Commons.

The Colorado River flows through the town of Rifle in Garfield County, Colorado. Photo (taken 1972) by David Hiser, courtesy of U.S. National Archives, Flickr/Creative Commons.

Original article by Sandra Postel, National Geographic

This week, more evidence came in that hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) poses potentially serious risks to drinking water quality and human health.

A team of researchers from the University of Missouri found evidence of hormone-disrupting activity in water located near fracking sites – including samples taken from the Colorado River near a dense drilling region of western Colorado.

The Colorado River is a source of drinking water for more than 30 million people.

The peer-reviewed study was published this week in the journal Endocrinology.

Fracking is the controversial process of blasting water mixed with sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressure so as to fracture rock and release the oil and gas it holds…

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Mora County, NM passes ordinance banning all oil and gas extraction

Originally posted on Deep Green Resistance News Service:

By Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

Earlier today, the County Commission of Mora County, located in Northeastern New Mexico, became the first county in the United States to pass an ordinance banning all oil and gas extraction.

Drafted with assistance from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), the Mora County Community Water Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance establishes a local Bill of Rights – including a right to clean air and water, a right to a healthy environment, and the rights of nature – while prohibiting activities which would interfere with those rights, including oil drilling and hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” for shale gas.

Communities across the country are facing drilling and fracking.  Fracking brings significant environmental impacts including the production of millions of gallons of toxic wastewater, which can affect drinking water and waterways.  Studies have also found that fracking is a major global warming contributor, and have…

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SE Utah Coalition fights oil and gas

 

A group of concerned citizens opposed to the Moab-Monticello Bureau of Land Management oil & gas lease sale gathered in Moab Friday to deliver letters and petitions with 76,000 signatures from around the country, asking the BLM to protect the region’s watersheds and clean air.  The letters, drawn from around the country as well as locally, seek to halt the auction of thousands of acres of federal lands in southeast Utah to oil and gas companies. An informal coalition of individuals and groups—among them Canyonlands Watershed Council, the Sierra Club, and Deep Green Resistance—has formed to address oil and gas development in the region.

Many worries center around pollution of ground and surface water—in this case, potentially affecting public drinking water supplies. “Several of the parcels proposed for auction are either overlapping or immediately adjacent to wells and reservoirs that are the sole drinking water source for thousands of people,” said Laurel Hagen of the Canyonlands Watershed Council, a group based in Moab, Utah. “Two parcels west of Monticello are right over the reservoir protection zone, the parcel south of Moab is within the aquifer recharge area for several proposed county wells, and the parcel near La Sal is less than half a mile from the well at the elementary school.”

Several of the letters also state concerns with lowering local air quality, due primarily to energy development and production in the Canyonlands region. “Though the valleys where people live are much more susceptible to air pollution, the BLM is basing its claims of acceptable risks to air quality on the only monitoring station, which is up in Canyonlands National Park,” said Michael Carter of the local chapter Deep Green Resistance. “And even that isolated station has registered levels close to violating air quality standards,” he added.

“In places like Lisbon Valley, which is a sacrifice zone for mining and drilling, all of these impacts to air and soil and wildlife are adding up. And several of the smaller parcels are near full-time residences and pose an immediate risk to human health,” said Kiley Miller, who lives near one of the parcels proposed for auction. Miller started the petition effort with Credo Action Network, and Food and Water Watch has since joined. 

The official public comment period for the Environmental Assessment ends on October 19th, though the public may still submit unofficial comments until the final decision on the sale. The BLM will issue the final list of parcels to be leased at a yet-to-be-determined date. The auction is scheduled for February 2013.