Blog Archive

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Fracking, Keystone, tar sands news from rjs, week of January 21, 2014

Complaints Mount Against Fracking Pollution - Last year saw hundreds of complaints mounted against well-water contamination from oil or gas drilling in US, but the jury is still out as to whether hydraulic fracturing is to blame, news agencies report.Complaints in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas—key venues of the US oil and gas boom—continue to suggest that drinking water is being contaminated by oil and gas operations, which has been confirmed in a number of cases, but not across the board.  According to complaint data examined by the Associated Press, there were 2,000 complaints registered last year, with 62 of those alleging possibly well-water contamination from oil and gas activity.  For the same time period, Pennsylvania received 398 complaints alleging that oil or natural gas drilling polluted or otherwise affected private water wells. More than 80,000 wells have been drilled or permitted in 17 US states since 2005, with oil and gas companies using between 2 million and 9 million gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals to frack a single well.According to some reports, the drilling industry has used 250 billion gallons of fresh water since 2005. Much of that returns to the surface along with naturally occurring radium and bromides, and concerns are growing about the effects this is having on the environment.

Duke Fracking Tests Reveal Dangers Driller’s Data Missed - When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared that a group of Texas homes near a gas-drilling operation didn’t have dangerous levels of methane in their water, it relied on tests conducted by the driller itself.  Now, independent tests from Duke University researchers have found combustible levels of methane in some of the wells, and homeowners want the EPA to re-open the case. The previously undisclosed Duke testing illustrate the complaints of critics who say the agency is reluctant to sanction a booming industry that has pushed down energy prices for consumers, created thousands of jobs and buoyed the economy. “I don’t understand why they would let the company that was accused of doing the wrongdoing conduct the tests,” said Shelly Perdue, who lives near the two wells in Weatherford, 60 miles (97 kilometers) west of Dallas. “It doesn’t make sense.”The driller, Range Resources Corp. (RRC), denies that its drilling in the area is the source of any contamination and says its testing was conducted by an independent laboratory. “Range used state and federally approved testing methodologies that are internationally recognized and those results have found historically consistent water quality,” Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman for the Fort Worth, Texas-based company, said in an e-mail. “Range’s operations did not cause or contribute to the long-standing and well-documented matter of naturally occurring methane.”

Illinois Residents Demand a Ban on Fracking - An Illinois ban on fracking is inevitable. The question is whether it will happen before or after a major fracking disaster. The public comment period on Illinois’ draft regulations ended Jan. 3 with groups in potentially impacted areas repeating their call for a ban on fracking. A group of southern Illinois residents representing several grassroots groups drove to Illinois Department of Natural Resources (DNR) headquarters in Springfield to join with Frack Free Illinois in delivering comments on the regulation and a petition asking Gov. Quinn to oversee a rewrite.   “These inadequate rules will leave nothing but legacies of disasters to those who voted on this irresponsible law and abandon Illinois tax payers who will indeed foot the bill for public health issues like cancer and leukemia.” The regulation will likely be improved before being presented to the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules for final approval. Even groups who supported the law are objecting to the DNRs’ flaccid follow up. A few politicians will claim a victory for the environment after DNR makes marginal changes. But, the real weakness in the rules follows from the inadequacy of the law itself.  The law does not address the consequences of a tornado hitting a fracking site. It does not resolve the release of chemicals in a major flood, despite the fact that fracking will likely happen in floodplains of a region bordered by two of the highest volume rivers in America. The law provides for monitoring, but not preventing, fracking induced earthquakes despite the fact that fracking is expected along major fault lines. If a large groundwater source, such as the Mahomet aquifer, is depleted or contaminated it could impact the water supply of hundreds of thousands of people..When pushing for the law, Gov. Quinn claimed it will protect the environment. That was a lie.

Fracking Chemicals In North Carolina Will Remain Secret, Industry-Funded Commission Rules - What, exactly, are those chemicals being pumped underground during the fracking process? In North Carolina, no one has to say. On Tuesday, the 15-member state Mining and Energy Commission voted unanimously to pass a rule that would let fracking companies keep secret the makeup of the chemical mixture they pump underground to aid shale gas drilling. From the North Carolina News ObserverThe public safety standard will help the energy companies protect their secret sauce used in natural gas drilling, but critics said it would also keep residents in the dark about potent chemicals used near local farms and waterways. The rule passed unanimously after nearly three hours of intense debate Tuesday, and it follows more than a year of deliberations that had the commissioners tied up in knots. Commissioners sought to appease frightened residents, the energy industry and lawmakers eager to promote drilling for economic development. Though the rule passed Tuesday is only a recommendation to the state legislature, which will reportedly have the final gavel over fracking disclosure standards in the future, it effectively protects energy exploration companies from disclosing their chemical concoctions until then, according to the News Observer.

Are Fracking Fluids to Blame for Rail Car Explosions? - Over the past year or so there seems to have been far more train derailments of cars carrying crude oil that have resulted in huge, deadly explosions, and it is not a coincidence that the oil in these explosions originated from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota. One problem is that the light crude extracted from the Bakken is more flammable than heavy crude, but there are other factors at play here as well. In order to extract oil in the Bakken the oil companies use fracking to split apart the shale rock and gain access to the tight light oil trapped there. A special mix of chemicals is used to split the rocks underground, and while companies refuse to disclose the exact composition of this cocktail of chemicals, claiming that it is a trade secret, there is a high possibility that they are extremely flammable. Some of these chemicals remain mixed up in the crude oil, thereby increasing its flammability.  Recently the Wall Street Journal has also looked into the increase in explosions of rail tankers carrying fracked crude oil.  They suggested three possibilities for the explosions: irresponsible care during the transport of the crude; other, more flammable products such as propane naturally mixed into the crude; or the addition of flammable chemicals during the fracking process. Back in August Bloomberg identified another problem caused by the fracking chemicals, which is much of the millions of gallons of chemicals injected into the ground during fracking is in the form of hydrochloric acid. This is a highly corrosive substance and the railway administration has begun to note an increasing number of tanker cars are suffering damage to their interior surfaces after transporting light crude, likely due to the presence of the acid, and that this is weakening the tanks and making them more prone to rupture.

Offshore Fracking (And Dumping Chemicals Into Coastal Waters) Beyond The Public Eye - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published a rule on January 9, 2014, requiring oil and gas companies using hydraulic fracturing off the coast of California to disclose the chemicals they discharge into the ocean. Oil and gas companies have been fracking offshore California for perhaps as long as two decades, but they largely flew under the radar until recently. An Associated Press story in August 2013 revealed that oil and gas companies had engaged in hydraulic fracturing at least a dozen times in the Santa Barbara Channel – the site of the nation’s first offshore drilling site as well as the first major oil spill.  Documents published through a Freedom of Information Act request showed that federal regulators have allowed drillers to dump chemicals into the ocean without an environmental impact statement assessing the effects of doing so. This was largely unknown to California regulators and the general public.  The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement – the federal agency responsible for regulating offshore oil drilling – has issued “categorical exclusions” for fracking offshore California, essentially giving frack jobs a pass on environmental assessments. The logic is that offshore fracking has largely occurred in existing wells, locations for which companies already jumped through all the environmental hoops long ago. Offshore fracking could be much more widespread than even federal regulators are aware. According to the Environmental Defense Center, BSEE only began to learn about the extent to which fracking was occurring offshore when pressed to respond to FOIA requests.

France Oil Giant Is Expected to Seek Shale Gas in Britain — The French oil giant Total is on the verge of becoming the first major oil company to explore for natural gas and oil in shale rock in Britain.  Under the deal, which may be announced as soon as Monday, Total would commit about $50 million for a roughly 40% stake in licenses held by a group of companies in Lincolnshire in the East Midlands, according to three people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the agreement has not yet been signed.  Total’s participation would be a vote of confidence in the government of Prime Minister David Cameron, which has been trying to promote shale gas as an alternative to declining production of oil and gas in the North Sea, despite opposition from local communities and environmental groups. Total, a major offshore oil and gas producer in Britain, apparently wants to expand its role.  Surging production of oil and gas from shale rock has sharply lowered energy prices in the United States and helped make its industry more competitive, though it has also brought criticism from environmental advocates. Britain, however, is the lone country in Western Europe that has encouraged the exploration of shale gas, which is produced through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which uses a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals.  Analysts say that if shale gas production is successful in Britain, countries like France and Germany, which are thought to have considerable shale gas potential, might reassess their thinking.

Fracking in the UK: 'We're going all out for shale,' admits Cameron - David Cameron is to declare that his government is "going all out for shale" as he announces that councils will be entitled to keep 100% of business rates raised from fracking sites in a deal expected to generate millions of pounds for local authorities. In a renewed attempt to win support for the controversial expansion of fracking, the prime minister will also say that revenues generated by shale gas companies could be paid directly in cash to homeowners living nearby. The prime minister's announcement, likened to a bribe by environmentalists, comes on the day that the French energy group Total becomes the first global oil company to invest in a shale gas exploration project in Britain. The prime minister will make a new pitch to shore up support for fracking amid concerns about the use of high-pressure water and chemicals to fracture underground rock, thereby releasing trapped gas. New fracking sites have opened up in the Midlands, Cumbria and Wales. Cameron, who is to visit a fracking site, will announce that the government is to double from 50% to 100% the amount that councils in England can keep in business rates raised from shale gas sites. The offer, which was proposed last year by the Institute of Directors, could be worth up to £1.7m a year for a typical site.The prime minister will also try to reach out to concerned local communities by saying that the industry will consult on how to distribute funds of up to £5m-£10m for a typical site over its lifetime – a lump sum of £100,000 when a test well is fracked, plus 1% of revenues. Direct cash payments could be made to homeowners living near fracking sites.

Are Towns In England Being Bribed To Accept Fracking? - Speaking in front of a fracking facility in Lincolnshire, England, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced new financial incentives for communities that embrace unconventional natural gas extraction. Under the new rules, local councils will be allowed to keep 100% of the taxes levied on fracking projects in their area instead of the 50% previously allowed. That could mean as much as £1.7 million for local coffers for a typical 12-well site. Communities would also receive an additional £100,000 when a test well is fracked and would earn 1% of the company’s revenues over the lifetime of the wells.“Shale is important for our country. It could bring 74,000 jobs, over 3 billion pounds of investment, give us cheaper energy for the future and increase our energy security,” said Cameron. “I want us to get on board this change that is doing so much good and bringing so much benefit to North America. I want us to benefit from it here as well.”“This move raises potentially serious concerns about conflicts of interest, if councils that benefit from this money are also the ones who decide on planning applications from fracking firms in the first place,” Jane Thomas of Friends of the Earth told the Guardian.
BP appeal against ‘fictitious’ Gulf spill compensation claims fails - An attempt by BP to block billions of dollars of what it says are bogus compensation claims related to the Deepwater Horizon Gulf oil spill has been rejected by a US appeals court. The company was seeking to overturn judicial approval of settlement it agreed to in 2012 after it said a legal loophole allowed thousands of businesses that were not affected by the disaster to claim “money they don’t deserve.” But on Friday night an appeals panel rejected BP’s case, finding it had not explained how the courts could check the existence of claimants that did not lose money because of the spill. Two out of three judges on the panel found against BP and said the company should be able to defend itself against bogus claims. In its appeal filing last year, BP referred to a compensation payment of $21m to a rice mill located 40 miles from the Louisiana coast as an example of the unharmed businesses that were profiting from the disaster and the loophole in the settlement agreement. The ruling on Friday said: “No case cited by BP… suggests that a district court must also safeguard the interests of the defendant, which in most settlements can protect its own interests at the negotiating table.”

Oil Company Cries ‘Sabotage’ After 11 Mystery Spills Coat Trinidad Beaches In Crude The media is calling it one of Trinidad and Tobago’s worst environmental disasters ever. The company responsible is calling it sabotage. Petrotrin, Trinidad’s state-owned oil company, is accusing an unknown party of causing at least two out of the 11 recent oil spills that occurred from a pipeline in mid-December, cloaking miles of beaches with crude. At least 7,000 barrels of oil have spilled so far, and local officials have reportedly accused Petrotrin of trying to downplay the extent and size of the spill. Company chairman Lindsay Gillette told reporters earlier this month that there was “strong evidence” to show that its facilities were “deliberately tampered with.” At one of the facilities, run by Trinity Exploration Production, Gillette said, “Two of the plugs were removed, and you would [need] a very large wrench to remove that plug physically for that oil to flow.” Trinity has told local media that the spills were not its fault. “The evidence is out there, but I don’t think it’s being articulated clearly,” Trinity executive chairman Bruce Dingwall said. Now, the region’s Minister of Energy is being urged to commission an independent investigation into what caused the spill, how it has effected the area, and what needs to be done next.

Canada loses patience on Keystone XL, tells U.S. to decide (Reuters) - Canada bluntly told the United States on Thursday to settle the fate of TransCanada Corp's proposed Keystone XL pipeline, saying the drawn-out process on whether to approve the northern leg of the project was taking too long. The hard-line comments by Foreign Minister John Baird were the clearest sign yet that Canada's Conservative government has lost patience over what it sees as U.S. foot-dragging. Baird also conceded that Washington might veto the project, the first admission of its kind by a Canadian government minister. The 1,200-mile (1,930-km) pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels a day from the Alberta tar sands in western Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast. Ottawa strongly backs Keystone XL, which it says would create jobs and provide a secure supply of oil to Canada's closest ally and trading partner. "The time for Keystone is now. I'll go further - the time for a decision on Keystone is now, even if it's not the right one. We can't continue in this state of limbo," Baird said in a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Although the State Department is responsible for ruling whether the pipeline meets the national interest, President Barack Obama has made clear he will make the final decision. Obama is under heavy pressure from environmental activists to veto the northern leg, and Washington seems in no hurry, despite the growing irritation in Ottawa. Canada is the largest single supplier of energy to the United States. 

Wikileaks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Environment Chapter: “Toothless Public Relations Exercise” - Yves Smith - Wikileaks has thrown yet another wrench in the negotiations over the sellout-to-multinationals-masquerading-as-trade-deal otherwise called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Wednesday, on the eve of an expected-to-be-contentious Senate Finance Committee hearing on the Administration’s request for “fast track” authority for the TPP, Wikileaks released another important draft chapter from the pact, this one on environmental regulations. Wikileaks also published an analysis by Professor Jane Kelsey of New Zealand. Given how difficult it is to parse the text (particularly since one also needs to understand how its provisions relate to other international agreements in order to appreciate the significance), her report provides a good, technical overview.  The main points of her analysis of the chapter proper are that despite aspirational language, the draft chapter has few definitions of key terms and has no mechanism for providing penalties. The one stab at defining terms is “environmental laws” and that is narrow, including only environmental protection and human health and safety. It excludes prudent resource management practices and also appears to impinge on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which all parties to the pact save the US have signed. Among other things, it [the UN declaration] protects the rights of indigenous people over traditional knowledge, specifically: …genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora…and … the right to maintain, control, protect and develop their intellectual property over such cultural heritage, traditional knowledge, and traditional cultural expressions. Seeds? Monsanto is going to cede control over seeds to savages indigenous people? Similarly, Big Pharma has been scouring exotic locations to try to find new molecules and treatments to exploit. It would be a shame if pesky natives stood between them and their profits. You can see why the Administration is keeping these notions out of the text.  Professor Kelsey also notes that she is reading this chapter in isolation, so she can’t tell how conflicts between chapters will be resolved, but she can see there are plenty, most importantly with the investment chapter:

This W Virginia situation came up this week, so i'm including what i have on it here too
Hundreds report symptoms after West Virginia chemical spill: Nearly 800 people in West Virginia have reported symptoms after a chemical spill contaminated the water supply for nine counties, officials said Saturday. By Saturday afternoon, the state's poison control center had logged 787 human exposure calls and 54 animal exposure calls since the massive leak sparked a tap-water ban for 300,000 residents, said the director Dr. Elizabeth Scharman. Many of those were from people experiencing nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches, skin irritation or rashes in “varying degrees of severity," Scharman said. The center — which called in staff from vacation, recruited volunteers and put workers on 16-hour shifts — recommended that only a few callers go to the emergency room because most of the symptoms can be treated at home. ----- The West Virginia American Water Co. announced Thursday that its water supply had become contaminated, after a leak from a Freedom Industries storage tank about a mile upstream on the Elk River sent a strange licorice-like smell wafting through the streets in Charleston, the state capital. West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency in Boone, Cabell, Clay, Jackson, Kanawha, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam and Roane counties after the spill of up to 5,000 gallons into the Elk River. "If you live in one of these areas, do not use tap water for drinking, cooking, cleaning, washing, or bathing. At this time, I do not know how long this will last,"

Tap water may be out for days after W.Va. spill - Tap water in nine West Virginia counties continues to be off-limits, the governor said Saturday evening, as residents spent a third day unable to drink from the faucet or bathe following a chemical spill. “We will let you know as soon as the water company lifts the ban,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said at a news conference. “Please remain patient and keep checking on your neighbors.” Tomblin said officials will continue testing the water supply and purging the system, after nearly 800 people reported symptoms by Saturday afternoon. The National Guard said tests administered on the water on Saturday showed the contamination level was decreasing but that the water was not yet safe to use, reported NBC affiliate WSAZ. “I would expect that we are talking days” before the water is safe, said West Virginia American Water's president, Jeff McIntyre.

West Virginia residents cope, with days of water woes still ahead after chemical spill - —“DO NOT USE WATER,” say the signs taped over sinks at the airport, and in the State Capitol the sinks are entirely wrapped in plastic bags. People line up for free water at the fire stations or buy it at the Dollar General — $1.60 for a 20-ounce Dasani, $39 for a flat of 24 bottles. A chemical used in coal processing has leaked from an old tank along the Elk and invaded the water supply, a crisis that has affected nearly 300,000 people in nine counties and effectively closed the largest city in the state. You can’t drink the water, bathe in it or do laundry with it. It’s good only for flushing. Monday will mark the fifth day of the water emergency, which began early Thursday when people all over town registered a powerful odor like black licorice. Two state employees tracked the leak to Freedom Industries, which owns a row of vintage storage tanks along the south bank of the Elk. The chemical had leaked from an inch-wide hole in the bottom of one tank, pooled in a containment area and then seeped through a porous cinder-block retaining wall, down the bank and into the river. Government officials said Sunday that chemical levels had dropped significantly over the weekend, enabling the West Virginia American Water Co. to begin flushing out the contaminated pipes. The entire process will take a number of days and will occur in stages, starting in Charleston and working outward to the remote areas of the distribution system.  The infrastructure here was primed for a water crisis. The intake for the system is downstream by a little more than a mile, and on the same side of the river, as the tanks containing the chemicals.

The Wait Continues for Safe Tap Water in West Virginia - As hundreds of thousands of residents faced a third day without water because of a chemical spill in a local river, a water company executive said on Saturday that it could be days before it was safe for them to drink tap water again.  Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water, said that officials had set up four labs to test the amount of chemical in the water, but that it might take days to provide enough samples to determine whether the water was safe. A state official also said that thousands of gallons more of the chemical had leaked into the river than was initially believed. A team from the Chemical Safety Board, an independent federal agency that investigates industrial chemical accidents, will arrive on Monday to begin looking into the spill, the board said on Saturday. “Our goal is to find out what happened to allow a leak of such magnitude to occur and to ensure that the proper safeguards are in place to prevent a similar incident from occurring,”  At a news conference here on Saturday evening, officials said tests had begun to show concentrations of the chemical dropping below the one part per million threshold considered safe by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The concentration must remain that low for 24 hours before the water system can be flushed out and the do-not-use ban can be lifted. Officials said they planned to conduct at least 100 additional tests of samples overnight and on Sunday.

Chemical Leak Into West Virginia River Far Larger Than Previously Estimated - As over 300,000 people in West Virginia face a fourth day without water, state environmental officials are now estimating that as much as 7,500 gallons of a chemical used to process coal — Crude MGHM — may have spilled into the Elk River. That number is a substantial increase from early estimates of 2,000 to 5,000 gallons.  The chemical leak, first reported Thursday, was at a facility owned by Freedom Industries along the Elk River, just 1.5 miles upstream from a major intake used by the largest water utility in the state, West Virginia American Water.  At a press conference Saturday afternoon, Jeff McIntyre, president of West Virginia American Water Company, said that it would likely still be “several days” before tap water in the nine counties affected would be safe for anything besides flushing toilets.  The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention has set the standard of 1 part per million as a safe concentration of Crude MGHM in drinking water. Levels of the chemical must remain below this threshold for over 24 hours of testing before the water company can begin flushing the system.  At a press briefingSaturday evening, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s (D) office released the first results of the now round-the-clock water sampling efforts. While some tests are coming in below the safe threshold, the system is still far from clean. Eight out of 18 recent test results tested above 1 part per million. Some of the earliest tests showed concentrations as high as 3 parts per million.

Koch Brothers' Georgia-Pacific Supplied Coal Chemical Contaminating West Virginia River - A few days after the Freedom Industries' spill of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol into the Elk Rivernear Charleston, West Virginia, little is known about how that chemical impacts drinking water. Leaving the tap water of 300,000 citizens across nine counties off-limits, it will still be at least several days until the water is safe to drink, and possibly much longer. A DeSmogBlog investigation reveals that Georgia-Pacific, a Koch Industries subsidiary, served as the supplier of the chemical concoction, while Freedom Industries serves as the storage facility and product distributor. "With coal in short supply worldwide, obtaining maximum quality and yield from coal preparation plants is vital to feeding high global demand and capitalizing on higher coal prices,"explains an April 2008 press release.  "With this in mind, Georgia-Pacific Chemicals LLC is unveiling its new patent-pending Talon(TM) Mining Reagents product line in conjunction with its distributor, Freedom Industries."

Freedom Industries executive a two-time convicted felon, benefitted from 2009 federal stimulus -  Freedom Industries, the company [eco-terrorists] responsible for contaminating the water of 300,000 Kanawha Valley residents, was founded by a two-time convicted felon, benefited from the 2009 federal stimulus and at least two of its executives have longstanding ties to the Charleston business community. Since the chemical spill on Thursday, Freedom Industries executives have entirely avoided media requests, except for a brief news conference Friday night... In 2008, Freedom Industries secured a contract to distribute a line of products called Talon that are used as a binder in coal processing, according to a news release issued at the time. Talon is made by Georgia-Pacific Chemicals LLC. Georgia-Pacific is owned by the billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch.

West Virginia’s Water Catastrophe Reveals Gaping Holes In Government Oversight - After a major chemical spill contaminated the water supply and as 300,000 West Virginians endure their fifth day without clean tap water for drinking, bathing, or cooking, many residents are left asking the same question: How could this happen?On Thursdayup to 7,500 gallons of crude MCHM, a chemical used in the coal production process, leaked from a storage facility operated by Freedom Industries into the Elk River and the drinking water supply for 16 percent of the state’s population. The fact that a potentially toxic chemical could be stored on the banks of a river — just over a mile upstream from a major water treatment facility that distributes drinking water to a 1,500 mile area — without adequate testing, inspection, or reporting points to several levels of failure.“The fundamental issue here is the governor and the DEP [Department of Environmental Protection] have created an atmosphere of permissiveness related to coal and gas operations,” said Evan Hansen, president of Downstream Strategies located in Morgantown, West Virginia. “It seems like their intention is to make permitting as cheap and easy and painless as possible and this is what was going to happen eventually.” State officials have said Freedom Industries potentially fell into one or more ‘loopholes’ because the chemical was not classified as a hazardous material, the Charleston Daily Mail reported. Thus, they may not have been required to “follow a state law requiring industrial facilities to report an emergency within 15 minutes.”

West Virginia puzzled, outraged over chemical leak - Few people in West Virginia had any idea that an obscure company was storing a mysterious coal-washing chemical in tanks overlooking the Elk River, just upstream from a major water treatment plant. Nor did many realize that no agency had conducted regular inspections of those tanks, even though they are perched on a steep bank that tumbles down to the river northeast of downtown Charleston. On the morning of Jan. 9, residents complained about a licorice-like odor wafting from the site, operated by a chemical company with the unlikely name of Freedom Industries. When state inspectors arrived to investigate, they discovered that one of the tanks had ruptured and dumped the little-known chemical 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, known as MCHM, into the river. The inspectors also discovered something else: Freedom Industries had not taken action to stop the leak or report it to authorities, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. As it turned out, there are virtually no regulations governing inspection and maintenance of the storage tanks. "I can't believe there is not a law against what they did," Charleston's outspoken mayor, Danny Jones, said in an interview. He called the chemical company "a bunch of renegades who have done irreparable harm to this valley." "Quite frankly," he said, "somebody needs to go to jail."

Water Ban Lifted for Part of West Virginia After Spill - By Monday evening, officials had given the green light to about 15 percent of West Virginia American Water's customers, and company spokeswoman Laura Jordan said as much as 25% of its customer base could have water by the end of the day. The water crisis shuttered schools, restaurants and day-care centers and truckloads of water had to be brought in from out of state. People were told to use the water only to flush their toilets. Officials were lifting the ban in a strict, methodical manner to help ensure the water system was not overwhelmed by excessive demand, which could cause more water quality and service problems. An online map detailing what areas were cleared showed a very small portion in blue and a vast area across nine counties still in the 'do not use' red. Customers were credited with 1,000 gallons of water, which was likely more than enough to flush out a system. The average residential customer uses about 3,300 gallons per month

Water-relief tankers filled from Charleston water system  - West Virginia American Water pulled its bulk water tankers out of service in Kanawha County, Thursday evening, after complaints that the water being distributed to residents had the same odor as the chemical-tainted water from last week's Freedom Industries spill into the Elk River. Kanawha County Manager Jennifer Sayre said complaints began coming in late Thursday afternoon about the now-familiar licorice odor in water given out at the Crossings Mall in Elkview and at Riverside High School."We were getting conflicting information as to where [those tankers] were filled," Sayre said Thursday evening. "We wanted to clear that up."According to Sayre, county officials originally were told the tankers were being filled "off site, out of Charleston." After hearing complaints, though, they checked again with West Virginia American Water officials, who told them to take the tankers out of circulation, Sayre said. Water company spokeswoman Laura Jordan said the tankers had been filled near the plant after zero levels of the chemical "Crude MCHM" were recorded. "But to avoid any concerns," she said, "just to reassure our customers, we're filling up the tankers from another system."

Freedom Industries’ Other Chemical Storage Site Is Unsafe Too - After 7,500 gallons of a chemical called crude MCHM spilled into West Virginia waters on Thursday, contaminating potable water for 16% of the state, the company responsible was ordered to move the rest of those chemicals to a new site.  But that site is not safe either, according to a report released Wednesday by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  Freedom Industries has now been slapped with five violations from the DEP for using a storage facility without secondary containment — meaning there was no adequate barrier to prevent a chemical from leaving a site if it spilled from the original container. “The plan indicates that the building itself acts as secondary containment, but holes exist at floor level in the building’s walls,” DEP inspector Kevin Saunders wrote in the report. “A variety of chemicals (emulsifiers, oxidizers, acids, corrosives, mineral oil, etc) were stored in the facility without secondary containment and could reach the trench in the event of a spill.” What’s more, the new site Freedom Industries chose to store the crude MCHM was — like the first site — within 1,000 feet of a river that supplies potable water, the DEP report said. According to the report, the new location to store the remaining crude MCHM is a building, which is surrounded by a trench. The trench is supposed to catch any runoff from the building, which Freedom Industries reportedly indicated may act as secondary containment. However, Saunders wrote that there is no way to keep leaked chemicals from mixing with stormwater, so the trench does not act as secondary containment.

48 Hours After West Virginia Told Residents It Was Safe To Start Using Water, Pregnant Women Warned Not To Drink -- More than two days after West Virginia American Water began lifting the ban on water use that had impacted 300,000 West Virginians, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finally broke its silence and advised pregnant women not to drink the water. Late Wednesday, the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources issued a one-page advisory for pregnant women, based on guidance from the CDC, recommending “out of an abundance of caution” that “pregnant women drink bottled water until there are no longer detectable levels of MCHM in the water distribution system.” Previously, officials had maintained that levels of the chemical, crude MCHM, below 1 part per million were considered safe. As of Thursday, officials had cleared the water for more than 200,000 West Virginians based on the 1 part per million threshold set by the CDC. As the Charleston Gazette reported the latest warning to pregnant women comes after the CDC repeatedly refused the paper’s requests for information regarding how the 1 part per million figure was derived.  According to the CDC’s letter, “since making the initial [1 ppm] calculations, scientists have obtained additional animal studies about MCHM. These are being reviewed.” Very little is known about the chemical, crude MCHM, and its potential effects on humans. Used in the coal production process, MCHM is one of 64,000 chemicals in use in the U.S. that were grandfathered in to the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), meaning there are no requirements that anyone prove whether or not they are safe.

Company Behind West Virginia’s Chemical Spill Files For Bankruptcy - According to the Charleston Gazette, Freedom Industries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy today. On January 10, a tank owned by Freedom spilled 7,500 gallons of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol (MCHM) — a chemical used to wash coal of its impurities — into West Virginia’s Elk River. As a result, over 300,000 people in the state were left without drinking water for almost five days, and numerous reports of illnesses possibly related to the spill are already filtering in.  Freedom’s filing lists $1 to $10 million in assets, $1 to $10 million in liabilities, and 200 to 999 creditors. As of Thursdayat least 20 lawsuits had been filed against Freedom Industries over the leak. The company reportedly lacks an umbrella insurance policy, and what coverage it does have is “inadequate to cover the amount of claims in this case.” “Under the bankruptcy code,” the Gazette reports, “Chapter 11 permits a company to reorganize and continue operating.” Chapter 11 also requires all creditors to stop all collection attempts.

Why Workers in Red States Vote Against Their Self-Interest - Robert Reich - Last week’s massive spill of the toxic chemical MCHM into West Virginia’s Elk River illustrates another benefit to the business class of high unemployment, economic insecurity, and a safety-net shot through with holes. Not only are employees eager to accept whatever job they can get. They are also also unwilling to demand healthy and safe environments.   The spill was the region’s third major chemical accident in five years, coming after two investigations by the federal Chemical Safety Board in the Kanawha Valley, also known as “Chemical Valley.”  No action was ever taken. State and local officials turned a deaf ear. The storage tank that leaked, owned by Freedom Industries, hadn’t been inspected for decades.  But nobody complained.  Not even now, with the toxins moving down river toward Cincinnati, can the residents of Charleston and the surrounding area be sure their drinking water is safe — partly because the government’s calculation for safe levels is based on a single study by the manufacturer of the toxic chemical, which was never published, and partly because the West Virginia American Water Company, which supplies the drinking water, is a for-profit corporation that may not want to highlight any lingering danger.   So why wasn’t more done to prevent this, and why isn’t there more of any outcry even now?  The answer isn’t hard to find. As Maya Nye, president of People Concerned About Chemical Safety, a citizen’s group formed after a 2008 explosion and fire killed workers at West Virginia’s Bayer CropScience plant in the state, explained to the New York Times: “We are so desperate for jobs in West Virginia, we don’t want to do anything that pushes industry out.” Exactly.

Coal Country Toxic Chemical Spills: Not If, But When -- Much has been made of the nation’s deteriorating highways and bridges, but the infrastructure crisis plaguing the mining and related chemical industry at times has reached nightmarish proportions.  The worst example dates back to February 26, 1972, when three dams containing a witches’ brew of coal slurry and water in Logan County, W.Va., failed in rapid succession. A startling 125 people were killed, 1,121 others were injured, 17 communities were wiped out and over 4,000 were left homeless after 130 million gallons of sludge and toxic water were released into the Buffalo Creek flood plain.  Despite evidence of negligence, the Pittston Coal Company -- the owner of the dams -- called the tragedy an “act of God.” But state investigators concluded the company had shown a “callous indifference” to public safety,” and had ignored years of warnings from area residents. In October 2000, about 300 million gallons of fine coal refuse and water escaped from a 68-acre impounding area owned by Martin County Coal Corporation in eastern Kentucky. The deluge of coal sludge – larger in quantity than the Exxon Valdez oil spill -- flooded nearby mines, damaged thousands of homes and killed all aquatic life along 200 miles of stream, all the way to the Ohio River. Then in 2002, a 900-foot-high, 2,000-foot-long valley fill near a mountain-top coal production site in Lyburn, W.Va., failed and slid into a sediment pond at the toe of the fill. The accident generated a tidal wave of toxic water and sediment that destroyed nearby homes and cars.

Does West Virginia Have The Political Will To Prevent The Next Water Disaster? -  On Monday, West Virginia officials began lifting the water bans that had affected nine of the state’s counties since Thursday, when as much as 7,500 gallons of a chemical used to clean coal spilled into the Elk River. Residents in the affected regions celebrated when they heard the news, which brought a welcome end to brushing teeth with bottled water and trekking to friend’s houses and community centers to shower.  But for some West Virginia residents, the ban’s end presents a new fear: that rather than use the spill to fight for tougher environmental regulations, the lawmakers, residents, and rest of the country will soon forget that the spill ever happened. “It’ll be the same song and dance again,” Charleston . “Because it’s the same song and dance that happens every time. It’s always ‘We can’t afford it; we can’t tax the industry more than they’re already taxed, they’re already over-regulated.’” McGervey’s lack of optimism is not unfounded. Three years ago, the U.S. Chemical Safety Board urged the state to adopt stricter chemical oversight rules after an explosion at a Bayer CropSciences plant killed two workers. Their recommendation is still on the books, having never made it past proposal stage. 

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