No Fun Living Near Fracking

Living next to natural gas wells is no fun By Ben Adler fracking-protest-colorado-flickr-brett-rindt-erie-rising-crop

Driving around the rural back roads of Garfield County, Colo., you don’t see many cars. But one type of vehicle keeps popping up, often the only one you’ll see for hours: the white pickup trucks favored by gas drilling companies. Here in the central western part of the state, the rolling fields of scrubby yellow-green vegetation are frequently punctuated by natural gas wells. Even after a well has stopped producing gas, big cylindrical tanks of waste water and natural gas condensate remain, sitting behind low fences by the roadside. Too often those tanks emit toxic substances into the air or leak their contents into the ground, including volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene and toluene.

tanks-crop

Are these ones leaking? People who live on or near properties with gas wells say they have experienced an array of health effects from exposure to high concentrations of these chemicals. The known immediate effects of exposure to high concentrations of benzene, according to the Centers for Disease Control, include headache and drowsiness. Long-term exposure can cause cancer, as well as fertility problems in women. Karen Protz certainly thinks being surrounded by gas wells is at least partially responsible for her overwhelming health problems. In 2005, as the fracking boom brought gas wells closer to her log cabin on a winding mountain road, Protz began to feel sick. “I was walking five miles a day for three years to lose weight,” says Protz. “Then I started not feeling good: tired, lethargic. I’m Italian and I love to eat, and I couldn’t even look at pizza. I started having heart palpitations.”

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Karen Protz In the years since, her problems have multiplied and worsened. She gets frequent sinus infections, and has had several benign growths on her thyroid. More recently she has suffered from blood clots and a mild stroke for which her lab work can produce no explanation. Protz gets out of breath just from climbing a flight of stairs and is on oxygen at night, though she has never been a smoker. When she goes back to visit family in Delaware, or even just east to Denver, her symptoms subside. But they come back as soon as she returns home. She might move, but her husband works in the area and her grown children live here. Sitting in her living room, under the giant elk and deer heads over the fireplace, Protz tears up as she says, “I just wish I didn’t feel like I was 70 in a 53-year-old body.” The gas companies note that no studies have demonstrated that their wells in the area are causing these problems. There’s a dearth of good data on how much VOCs people breathe in due to living near a well. “If people have health concerns we take that seriously, but we have seen no data that there is a direct cause or correlation between symptoms and our operations,” says Doug Hoch, a spokesman for Encana, one of the major gas production companies in the area.

Protz and others who are sick counter that this is partly because the high concentrations of VOCs in the air are not being properly measured. Colorado has relatively stringent requirements for air quality reporting, but they rely on companies to do the reporting themselves. There is also the issue of access to the wells, which of course the gas companies do not grant to independent researchers. Nonetheless, a 2012 study by the University of Colorado-Denver School of Public Health found VOCs in Garfield County five times above the EPA’s Hazard Index level. Toxic chemicals are not the only air pollutants created by gas and oil drilling. Greenhouse gases are also released, as are the gases that contribute to the formation of ozone, which causes breathing problems. A University of Colorado study from 2013 found that more than half of the ozone pollution in Colorado is caused by oil and gas drilling. Ozone levels in Colorado’s Front Range — the heavily populated spine where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains — have risen in recent years and consistently exceed the levels deemed safe by the federal government. Even if it doesn’t make you sick, living next to gas wells can be unpleasant. Residents say drilling makes the wells release a “rotten egg” or “chemical” smell. The gas and the fracking fluid can infiltrate your water supply. None of the residents of Garfield County whom I interviewed drink their tap water. Their dogs won’t drink it due to the smell. Protz and her family have even gotten rashes from using the shower. Protz also says her house has experienced earth tremors because of the seismic testing done by gas companies. “My sister came to visit from Delaware in 2007,” Protz recalls, “And she said, ‘How the hell do you live here?’” The process of building and tapping gas wells is loud, and the floodlights involved can make it feel like your window looks out on airport tarmac. These activities often go on in the middle of the night, making a good night’s sleep impossible. (Critics assert that the gas companies deliberately work at night to avoid detection for violations by state authorities, since the inspectors only come during business hours.) All these annoyances may adversely affect property values. Mike Smith owns a small horse ranch and heating/air-conditioning business in Rifle, Colo. Across the two-lane road from him is a welcome sign over a neighbor’s driveway reading “My Heaven.” And just a few feet over from that, straight across the road from Smith’s front door, is a gas well owned by the Bill Barrett Corporation, an oil and gas exploration firm based in Denver. Barrett chose to put the wells right next to the road. Smith claims they did this as retribution for his refusal to agree to let them drill on his property. “They told me it was because I’m ‘uncooperative,’” he says. The smells from fracking are so nasty, Smith recalls, that a friend who was helping him put up a fence in his yard vomited. Smith estimates that his land and house have lost about a third of their value due to drilling. (Barrett did not return a request for comment.)

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The view from Mike Smith’s house. The truck traffic to build and service the wells is another sore point for locals. It interferes with the serenity for which they moved there. One encounters signs with phrases such as “Private Road: No Encana traffic.” And the truck traffic can be worse than merely annoying. A truck carrying fracking fluid flipped over right at the end of Protz’s driveway, spilling the chemicals. The cleanup lasted four months. “It was like something from a space movie, with the white suits,” says Protz. Encana says it’s doing what it can to improve its processes. “We understand there are some folks that are not in favor of oil and gas development in the area,” says Hoch, “but we certainly work to minimize the impact.” The company has started piping water to wells to reduce truck traffic, he says. Many of the problems neighbors complain about would violate state law, but they don’t get officially reported or verified by inspectors. If you call to report a foul odor, especially on a night or weekend, a state worker will come several days later to test the air quality and often find no problem. And even when violations are noted by the state, the penalties are too small and infrequently imposed, environmental activists say. “Fines are cheaper than doing it properly,” says Tara Meixsell, a local anti-drilling activist and author.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which is responsible for enforcement, is underfunded and incapable of inspecting every well. In 2011, there were 516 known spills but only five assessed fines. In an interview with Grist at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) noted that he has doubled the number of oil and gas inspectors in the state. That’s roughly true — the number has risen from 15 in 2011 to 27 in 2013 — but considering that there are about 50,000 active oil and gas wells in Colorado, that’s not very impressive. “We’re trying to get a gauge at every wellhead and measure benzene,” he added. Hickenlooper also boasts that his administration earlier this year adopted some of the nation’s strictest rules governing VOC and methane emissions at drilling sites.

(Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and methane leakage may wipe out the climate change benefits of natural gas over coal.) Environmentalists, though, argue that the new rules are not strong enough to achieve reductions in total pollution when 2,000 new wells are being drilled in Colorado every year. In Colorado, as in many other Western states, there’s a “split estate” approach to land ownership, which means that mineral rights beneath the surface are often bought and sold separately from the surface of the land itself. So people who live on the land can be forced to endure the adverse effects of drilling by the owners of the ground underneath. The divided incentives have had a predictable effect on communities in Colorado, pitting neighbor against neighbor. Hickenlooper argues that it wouldn’t be fair to the mineral rights owners to let the residents vote to ban fracking. “Owners of mineral rights have a right to their property,” he says. “Both sides have a legitimate right.” And that’s why neither side will give up easily. With state initiatives to limit fracking likely to appear on Colorado ballots this fall, the battle will only get uglier.

Ben Adler covers environmental policy and politics for Grist, with a focus on climate change, energy, and cities. When he isn’t contemplating the world’s end, he also writes about architecture and media

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Local CBS Satation Reports Florida Waters in Trouble

Polluted Waterways Captured From Aerial Photographs Show Water Quality Getting Worse
Story by Jana Eschbach / CBS 12 NEWS

STUART, Fla. – New images just released to CBS 12 show the mounting pollution flowing out into our ocean, reaching miles to the south of Stuart. In Stuart, at the St Lucie Inlet, bacteria levels are inching up daily. The water at the inlet has gone from a Bahamas blue-green in June to a dark brown bubbly foamy water. RedFish PAss

The S-80 Locks opened in June and are pumping up to 600 million gallons of dirty water into the estuary a day. Now, new images capture the impact from the air. “At the beginning of the summer we got excited because we started to see blue water back in the river, people seeing some new life and conch at the sandbar,” said pilot Dr. William Lippisch, who along with his wife Jacqui, have taken historical images logging the discharges into the ocean since June 2013. This week Dr. Lippisch began to get concerned.

“As soon as I got over the river I said there’s a dramatic difference and I pulled out the iPhone and started taking pictures of it. Brown water, almost black from the crossroads to the manatee pocket to Sailfish Point. Then I was mostly interested in following the plume.” Dr. Lippisch said, “I’m really saddened when you drive over the bridges as the majority of us do you look down and say ‘wow this is beautiful’ and ‘watch the sunset, this is beautiful.’ But if you stop and think about what you are looking at, and what you are seeing, you realize there’s destruction underneath the water.”

Thousands on the Treasure Coast protested and fought to save the waterways, but here we are again. Dangerous bacteria levels, and black water. “I thought this is crazy because they aren’t releasing from lake Okeechobee yet, and so all of this is just runoff from rain from the agriculture. When you compare it to ocean blue water it is a tremendous difference,” Dr. Lippisch said. The locks are releasing only local water flushing into the Okeechobee waterway. The locks at Lake Okeechobee remain closed. That means its local run off from farms and homes doing the damage now.

“Everybody blames Lake Okeechobee, and that’s part of it, but it’s not really the whole thing. People need to take a bigger look at everything going on around us,” Dr. Lippisch said.”Most of the plume was heading south into Hobe Sound Refuge and into Jupiter Island and as far as Pecks Lake,” Dr. Lippisch said. “It’s amazing we live in a beautiful area, lots of water and it’s amazing you can’t step into the water without fear that you are going to get an infection.”

Fertilizer Runoff

Fertilizer Runoff

With the dirty water comes bacteria, fecal contamination, and possible human illness. The Stuart sandbar, still listed as having good to moderate levels of potentially harmful bacteria, is the weekend boating hot spot. Health officials say it is safe to go in. But many who study the waterways here say they wouldn’t touch it, as areas west of the Sandbar are posted by health officials that you not come in contact with the water. The results for water tests for harmful bacteria levels taken this week. will be back Thursday.

We will bring you those results as soon as they come in to the Health Department.

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One of Those Days

Here’s a little ditti for when things just seem to be going all wrong. A little humor can sometimes overcome a bad situation.

<PureWaterHQ

What They Do

The Chemical Safety Act of 2013 was introduced by the late Sen. Frank Lautenberg D-NJ and Sen. Vitter R-LA. This bill is just more of the Chemical Industries efforts to circumvent as much regulation as possible. This bill would bar states from states from enacting their own regulations. The bill will give the EPA some authority to review existing chemicals. It would allow the EPA to order the company to submit chemical test to help the agency assess the safety of the substance in question.
The standard regarding risk is “unreasonable risk” which requires a “cost-benefit analysis.
What we have here is more of the same, lobbyist writing a bill for show. And two politicians going along to accrue some benefit. What this all comes down to is this, for substance to be banned to high burden of proof is on the EPA. The Chemical has no burden to speak of to prove it’s safe.
New chemicals can be made and sold before the EPA rules on them, as delays are to costly. Companies do voluntary testing for the EPA. The EPA is already so weak they can barely find a problem they believe they have authority to enforce. We still have asbestos being manufactured and used.

EWG’s section-by-section comparison concludes that the Chemical Safety Improvement Act:
Uses a weaker safety standard;
Opens the door to heightened judicial review;
Lacks minimum data requirements;
Includes broad preemption language that would undermine states’ ability to set their own standards;
Lacks fee and cost-sharing provisions;
Fails to focus on vulnerable populations and biomonitoring data.

Click Here to read the side by side comparison.

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Why a Nitrate Water Filtration System?

New World

For most of my lifetime we in the United States have assumed the water coming from their faucet was perfectly safe to drink. I still think when compared to the rest of the world our water supplies are relatively safe. The keyword is relatively. We live in a new world. With the advance of industrial agriculture and the expanded use of chemical fertilizers these contaminates are making their way into our water supply. This can pose serious health risk, especially for babies and expectant mothers.

Nitrates

The fifth most detected contaminate found in US drinking water is Nitrate. Nitrate in drinking water poses significant threats to infants and to the unborn. According to a June 16, 2013 National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences report the consumption of water containing nitrates can cause birth defects.Read Report Here In addition excess nitrate in water used to mix baby formula can cause “blue baby syndrome”. Nitrate prevents the blood from holding and carrying oxygen, causing vomiting, nausea, shortness of breath and or loss of consciousness. There are also long-term chronic health effects from drinking nitrate containing water for prolonged periods. Pregnant women whose drinking water contains nitrates above the regulatory standard faces a fourfold increase in the risk of anencephaly—absence of the brain—in their developing fetus. A nitrate water filtration system is the best way to eliminate these risks.

Nitrate 7 Stages SM

Water Treatment Facilities

Many of our municipal water treatment facilities are old, outdated, and operating with constrained budgets. While most make efforts to comply with federal regulations and report their compliance status to customers, unfortunately the EPA acknowledges this is not always the case.

Bottled Water

Although many people believe they are avoiding these problems by using bottled water, in addition to the high cost ,what they don’t realize is much of that bottled water is just tap water in a plastic bottle.

A Solution

The solution that makes sense is having your own water filtration system. At PureWaterHQ we offer custom water filtration systems to fit individual needs. We recommend asking for the water report from your provider or having your water tested by an independent lab. This will arm you with the information needed to knowingly protect yourself and your family from the health risk posed by contaminated drinking water

July 2014
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