April 20, 2021

Amid Pipeline Debate, Two Costly Cleanups Forever Change Towns

It has been three years since an Enbridge Energy pipeline ruptured beneath this small western Michigan town, spewing more than 840,000 gallons of thick oil sands crude into the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek, the largest oil pipeline failure in the country’s history. Last March, an Exxon Mobil pipeline burst in Mayflower, Ark., releasing thousands of gallons of oil and forcing the evacuation of 22 homes.

Both pipeline companies have spent tens of millions of dollars trying to recover the heavy crude, similar to the product Keystone XL would carry. River and floodplain ecosystems have had to be restored, and neighborhoods are still being refurbished. Legal battles are being waged, and residents’ lives have been forever changed.

“All oil spills are pretty ugly and not easy to clean up,” said Stephen K. Hamilton, a professor of aquatic ecology at Michigan State University who is advising the Environmental Protection Agency and the state on the cleanup in Marshall. “But this kind of an oil is even harder to clean up because of its tendency to stick to surfaces and its tendency to become submerged.”

Before July 26, 2010, hardly anyone in Marshall had heard of Enbridge Energy Partners, a Houston firm whose parent company is based in Calgary, Alberta.

On a recent midsummer morning, the Kalamazoo looked almost the way it once did. Towering oak trees draped over the water in the heat. Hawks patrolled the deep green riverbanks. An elderly couple lugged fishing tackle toward a shady area. If not for two motorboats whirring downstream and three men probing the water with poles, there would have been no sign that anything had gone wrong.

Much of Kalamazoo’s plant and animal life has returned. But ridding the water of all the oil — some of which sank to the river floor and continues to generate a kaleidoscopic sheen — has proved elusive. Though a 40-mile stretch of the river has reopened after being closed for two years and most of the oil has been recovered or has evaporated, vestiges of the spill are everywhere. “For Sale” signs dot the rolling cornfields and soy farms. Once-coveted riverfront homes sit vacant.

Matt Davis, a real estate agent here, said he had struggled to sell homes since the spill. “Enbridge hopes people forget,” Mr. Davis said. “But this is my town. This is where I grew up. Enbridge isn’t from around here.

“We didn’t ask for them to have their pipeline burst in our backyard. Make it right. Take care of the mess you made.”

In May, the E.P.A. found that Enbridge had drastically underestimated the amount of oil still in the river. The agency estimated that 180,000 gallons had most likely drifted to the bottom, more than 100 times Enbridge’s projection. It has ordered Enbridge to dredge sections of the river where stubborn beads of oil remain submerged.

The dredging started on July 30, and stretches of the river are being closed again. Construction crews have rumbled onto the riverfront in nearby Comstock Township, angering residents and business owners who remain fearful of another accident.

Jason Manshum, an Enbridge spokesman, said the company was working to address the township’s concerns as it followed the orders of the E.P.A. “This is the single-largest incident in the history of our organization,” he said. “From the beginning, in July 2010, we said that we would be committed to this community and the natural environment, for as long as it would take to right the rupture that happened. About three years later to the day, we’re still here.”

Larry Bell, who owns Bell’s Brewery, one of the country’s largest craft beer makers, was shocked earlier this summer to see workers clear a staging area next to his brewery near Marshall. “We’re going to be downwind of this thing,” said Mr. Bell, who filed a lawsuit last month asserting that Enbridge did not get permission from the local condominium association to build its dredge pad.

“If those airborne contaminants come in, it’s going to get into our ingredients,” Mr. Bell said. “We see that as irreparable. They can’t compensate me for taking away my business.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/11/us/amid-pipeline-debate-two-costly-cleanups-forever-change-towns.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Obama Names 2 to Fill E.P.A. and Energy Posts

Mr. Obama nominated Gina McCarthy, a tough-talking native of Boston and an experienced clean air regulator, to take charge at the Environmental Protection Agency, and Ernest J. Moniz, a physicist and strong advocate of natural gas and nuclear power as cleaner alternatives to coal, to run the Department of Energy.

The appointments, which require Senate confirmation, send an unmistakable signal that the president intends to mount a multifaceted campaign in his second term to tackle climate change by using all the executive branch tools at his disposal.

But even with Ms. McCarthy and Mr. Moniz in place, Mr. Obama would have to confront major hurdles in trying to refashion the American way of producing and consuming energy, the same hurdles that stymied climate and energy policy in his first term.

Among the first of those is a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, which the administration appears inclined to approve over the vociferous objections of environmental advocates.

Mr. Obama, in introducing the nominees at the White House on Monday, recognized the political and economic delicacy of the task facing both of them.

“So these two over here,” he said, gesturing toward Ms. McCarthy and Mr. Moniz, “they’re going to be making sure that we’re investing in American energy, that we’re doing everything that we can to combat the threat of climate change, that we’re going to be creating jobs and economic opportunity in the first place.”

It is a difficult, even paradoxical task. Addressing climate change and ensuring domestic energy independence have sometimes proved to be contradictory goals, analysts said.

“The president himself has framed the challenge of going all in to cut the pollution that causes climate change while still having an ‘all-of-the-above’ energy policy,” said Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters. “We need to make sure we lean heavily on the clean energy alternatives and all the measures that cut carbon pollution, and don’t in essence take two steps forward and one step back. We will not solve the problem that way.”

Mr. Obama has embraced the boom in unconventional natural gas production, which has brought lower energy prices and reduced emissions as utilities switch from coal to natural gas to produce electricity. But the production of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, presents difficult environmental issues, including the possibility of groundwater contamination and the unregulated release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Natural gas is cleaner than coal, but it is still a fossil fuel that even its advocates see as a bridge fuel rather than a long-term answer to climate change.

Mr. Obama has also pursued increased offshore drilling for oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico and the Arctic Ocean, an enterprise fraught with environmental peril, as the BP oil spill in the gulf in 2010 and Shell’s mishaps in the Arctic last year dramatized.

In leaning toward construction of the pipeline, the administration would be embracing a project to carry heavy crude oil from tar sands formations in Alberta to refineries in Texas. That would result in the delivery of 800,000 barrels of oil a day from a friendly source and thousands of construction, refinery and spinoff jobs. But a State Department environmental impact report issued Friday notes that extracting, shipping and refining the Canadian oil would produce measurably more greenhouse gas emissions than other types of oil.

Michael A. Levi, a climate and energy fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said that the appointments of Ms. McCarthy, 58, and Mr. Moniz, 68, represent a continuation of the president’s first-term policies rather than a sharp break. The two are practical, practiced insiders who put a premium on finding workable solutions and have more experience navigating the federal bureaucracy and Congress than the officials they have been tapped to succeed, Lisa P. Jackson at the E.P.A. and Steven Chu at Energy.

“Putting it all together,” Mr. Levi said, “it appears to reinforce the president’s stated desire to push forward on a variety of different fronts. These are not people who want to use a club casually. They are not about to use rigid regulations to try to force deep changes in the U.S. economy, but they are also people who want to do big things.”

The E.P.A., which the Supreme Court granted authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, is in the midst of writing regulations governing such emissions from new power plants. Those rules, expected to be completed this year, would essentially bar construction of any new coal-fired power plants unless they included the means to capture carbon gases, a technology that does not yet exist on a commercial scale.

But to make a real dent in the nation’s emissions, the agency must then devise emissions limits for existing plants, a hugely controversial project that could force the shutdown of dozens of older coal-burning power plants, cause a steep drop in domestic demand for coal and trigger a sharp rise in energy prices.

No matter how carefully written — and Ms. McCarthy is an expert on federal air quality law — any such regulations would be subject to intense opposition in the courts, and in Congress, which could seek to overturn the regulations.

David Doniger, the director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said that the big issues before the Obama administration were the budget, immigration, gun control and climate. “Climate change is the only one of these where he has the authority to take significant action under laws the Congress has already passed, principally the Clean Air Act, and the energy efficiency laws that Moniz will be implementing,” Mr. Doniger said.

“The two agencies can work together,” he said. “We think these two appointees both very seriously get climate change.”

In addition to the E.P.A., the Energy Department has a strong role in the government’s climate change efforts, said Dan W. Reicher, who served in two assistant secretary positions at the department while Mr. Moniz was an under secretary during the Clinton administration.

Some actions would be fairly direct, like setting additional efficiency standards for appliances. The department also still has $17.5 billion in loan guarantee authority for new nuclear projects, Mr. Reicher pointed out, and has primary responsibility for handling civilian nuclear wastes — a problem that is vital to the future of the civilian nuclear power industry.

The Energy Department’s failure to begin accepting waste by the contractual deadline, which was in 1998, costs billions of dollars in penalties to taxpayers. And, he said, the department would most likely play a role in another of Mr. Obama’s priorities: reducing nuclear weapons.

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/05/us/politics/obama-names-2-to-fill-epa-and-energy-posts.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Many Steps to Be Taken When ‘Sequester’ Is Law

At that moment, somewhere in the bowels of the Treasury Department, officials will take offline the computers that process payments for school construction and clean energy bonds to reprogram them for reduced rates. Payments will be delayed while they are made manually for the next six weeks.

Hours later, employees at the Environmental Protection Agency will open e-mails notifying them of the bad news: a forced furlough of up to 13 days in the weeks ahead.

And over at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, officials will spend the weekend mailing out letters to governors in all 50 states showing how much their grants will be reduced in the coming days and weeks.

Created by desperate politicians in Washington to force themselves to find a smarter way to cut government, the “sequester” will instead become the law of the land as a result of a failure of Mr. Obama and congressional Republicans to compromise.

But the law does not create an immediate spending crisis or government shutdown like the ones that have loomed over so many of the previous budget fights in Washington. On Friday, the immediate impact on most Americans will be exactly nothing.

Federally funded day care programs will continue to operate. National parks will stay open. Government employees will continue to report to work. Border patrol agents will do their best to prevent illegal crossings. Experts do not expect the stock market to flinch.

It will be, Mr. Obama said Wednesday night, more of a “tumble downward” than a quick descent into budgetary nightmare. “It’s conceivable that in the first week, the first two weeks, the first three weeks, the first month, a lot of people may not notice the full impact of the sequester,” Mr. Obama told a group of business officials.

That might not be entirely true, as Mr. Obama noted, for some pockets of American society: companies who do business directly with the Defense Department, families who live near military installations and parents who rely on federally funded child care will be affected. Federal workers may soon face effective cuts of 10 percent or more in their salaries this year.

But even there, officials conceded this week, the specific impacts are more fuzzy than the aggregate ones. Ask officials about which contracts will be cut or which services will be trimmed back, and there are long pauses and blank looks.

“The impacts of sequester are real,” Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said again and again to reporters on Thursday. “These are about real issues. These are about the concrete effects of policies on people’s lives.”

But who? Which agencies? What contracts?

Under the barrage of questions, Mr. Carney managed to come up with reduced funding for school children in Ohio.

But which children? Those who live in Columbus or Cincinnati? Officials at the White House, the Office of Management and Budget and the Education Department cannot answer with that kind of specificity.

White House officials become indignant with suggestions that Mr. Obama and his top lieutenants might have hyped the devastation wrought by the automatic cuts. At his briefing, Mr. Carney insisted that the administration had been transparent.

“You know, we’ve been very clear,” he said. “What the president said last night is that — you know, and I think what other people have said — is that this will be a rolling impact, an effect that will build and build and build.”

Strategists in the West Wing are betting that the growing impact of the budget cuts — including what they expect will be a hit to the nation’s already slow economic growth rate — will eventually bring Republicans to the table for a deal.

It may take some time. Even the most direct impact on federal workers — the forced furloughs — will not happen in most cases for 30 or 60 days, after government managers have concluded negotiations with the unions that represent workers.

A letter sent to employees at the Justice Department, for example, is filled with legalese. “This memorandum notifies you that the Department of Justice (DOJ) proposes to furlough you no earlier than 30 days from receipt of this notice,” it said.

More letters like that are coming once Mr. Obama signs the letter making sequestration official.

And when, exactly, will that happen?

“It has to be done by 11:59 p.m. tomorrow,” Mr. Carney told reporters, joking that it would be at “11:59 and 59 seconds, because he’s ever hopeful.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/01/us/politics/many-steps-to-be-taken-when-sequester-is-law.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

You’re the Boss Blog: A New Web Site Warns Small-Business Owners of Coming Regulations

The Agenda

How small-business issues are shaping politics and policy.

Long concerned that small businesses are over-regulated by the federal government, Republicans in Congress have enlisted business owners to make that case directly to the rule makers.

On Thursday, the G.O.P.-led House Small Business Committee unveiled a Web site, “Small Biz Reg Watch,” that highlights rule-making initiatives undertaken across the federal government that could affect small businesses and provides links so that business owners can read and then comment on the proposals.

“Most small businesses don’t have lawyers or lobbyists who focus on regulatory compliance,” Representative Sam Graves, Republican of Missouri and chairman of the committee, said in a news release that announced the site. “Not all regulations are bad, but many can be unnecessarily burdensome, and it is important that small companies express their concerns before a rule is finalized.”

The Small Business Administration has reported [PDF] that complying with regulations is often more expensive for small companies than their larger competitors. “Any time you can increase awareness among small businesses it’s a good thing,” said Daniel Bosch, manager of regulatory affairs for the National Federation of Independent Business, a small-business lobbying group. Those owners probably will not have the time to comment in as much detail as those who watch regulations for a living, he said, but “they still want their voices to be heard, especially on a proposed regulation that’s going to directly affect their business.”

The Web site debuted with six new rules. Two are a result of the Affordable Care Act, including one related to the so-called employer mandate. Two others are from the Environmental Protection Agency. As comment periods for new rules open, the committee will notify business owners through e-mail and other social media tools, as well as at events legislators hold in their districts around the country. A spokesman for the committee, D.J. Jordan, said that it had gathered 210,000 e-mail address through another interactive Web page it maintains.

Ines Mergel, a professor at Syracuse University who studies how Congress uses the Web and social media to connect with constituents, marveled at the new regulatory Web site. “It’s really remarkable that they’ve set this up and opened up the policy-making process,” she said. “Usually the decision-making process, and all the factors that lead to the final policy, are a black box for the public but also for everybody on the receiving end.” And normally when legislators use the Web or social media, she said, they are not genuinely interested in what their constituents think — “it’s all about me.”

“The question is going to be, how are small-business owners going to find this site,” said Leo Bottary, a vice president of Vistage International, a peer-advisory network for small-business chief executives. “My hope is that they have aggressive plans to make small-business owners aware that the site is available to them. I’ll certainly pass it on to my Vistage owners.

“I have no doubt that this will get used,” Mr. Bottary continued. “It’s much easier than writing a letter to your congressman.”

Like most Republicans, Representative Graves is skeptical of regulation — although Mr. Jordan was quick to point out in an e-mail, “We are not anti-regulation” — but the proposed rules are described in neutral language, and the committee makes no effort to draw attention to any particular part of a proposal or suggest how business owners should view it. “This initiative isn’t intended to manipulate the rule-making process by encouraging small businesses to mirror our viewpoint,” Mr. Jordan said. “We have an idea of how small businesses will view these regulations, and it most likely will be similar to our viewpoint. But sometimes not.”

Mr. Jordan said that the Small Business Committee has no political purpose in mind with the Web site. But Sarah Binder, who watches Congress from her perch as a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said the site could help the committee advance its agenda. “It’s very easy to block things in Congress, but it’s much harder to get things done,” she said. The site, she added, “builds and documents a constituency for what the committee wants to do. It makes it more salient for people who might be affected. And they can contact their own members and encourage them to follow up and support whatever comes out of this committee.”

Article source: http://boss.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/02/01/a-new-web-site-warns-small-business-owners-of-coming-regulations/?partner=rss&emc=rss

Chicago News Cooperative: Community Is Torn Over Expansion of Oil Refinery

Now BP, the British oil giant, owns the century-old Standard refinery, the largest inland oil refinery in the United States. And Mr. Kozel, who still lives in northwest Indiana and is president of a citizens group called the Calumet Project, still worries that it will harm his health. He and other residents of the area are especially concerned now that the refinery is undergoing a large expansion to process more Canadian tar sands oil by 2013.

Across the Midwest, refineries like BP are expanding to process the tar sands oil — heavy, gooey oil mixed with sand in vast deposits that will be shipped via pipeline from Alberta. Tar sands oil is expected to be a staple of this country’s energy future.

Opposition from citizen and environmental groups and citations from the federal Environmental Protection Agency mean BP will now most likely have to install cutting-edge pollution-control equipment that BP officials and environmental lawyers say will make the BP facility a model for other refineries.

Environmental groups are pushing BP, and the two are close to agreement on a consent decree designed to limit the effect of the refinery expansion. But even as environmentalists take on the oil giant, they are finding that they must also make their case to local residents, who want jobs more than they worry about new pollution, Mr. Kozel and other local leaders said.

In the face of a slow economy, BP’s expansion is creating jobs on the southern rim of Lake Michigan, an area full of heavy industry and home to some of the worst air quality in the United States. The project will create about 5,000 construction positions, the company said, and 80 to 100 permanent jobs.

Chicago politicians and advocates for the Great Lakes raised a huge outcry in 2007 when Indiana officials granted BP a new permit that would allow it to release significantly increased amounts of ammonia and suspended solids, or sludge, into Lake Michigan as part of the expansion. The controversy eventually died down after BP promised not to exceed the limits of its previous permit.

Scott Dean, a BP spokesman, said he was confident that the company would not increase discharges into the lake.

Even so, the water permit that drew the ire of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley and then-Representative Rahm Emanuel remains in place. Environmentalists are calling for a legally binding commitment that BP will not exceed the prior limit.

Concerns about the discharges into the lake are but one issue for environmentalists as the $3.8 billion expansion moves toward completion in two years. Because tar sands are much heavier and contain more sulfur than conventional oil, they must be diluted with a volatile natural gas product to make them sufficiently liquid to be shipped. Once they arrive at Whiting, these toxic compounds need to be removed and disposed of during refining.

Environmental groups appealed the air permit that Indiana granted BP in 2008, saying it omitted expected increases in emissions, particularly from flaring, the burning off of toxic gases that shoots flames into the sky. The E.P.A. agreed and in 2009 ordered the state to redo the permit.

Now Indiana authorities, the E.P.A. and environmental groups are negotiating a consent decree governing BP’s air emissions, which include volatile organic compounds, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, benzene, lead and other pollutants linked to higher rates of cancer, respiratory disease or other ailments.

In its permit application, BP said the expansion would actually reduce its total air emissions, since the company was installing modern technology across the refinery and shutting down some old equipment.

In the challenge filed with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, environmental and citizens groups essentially accused BP of making calculations designed to misrepresent the effect of the refinery expansion. The environmental groups argued that BP’s calculations did not include increased flaring or new procedures needed to process tar sands oil, while at the same time the company took credit for reduced emissions from equipment that had been shut down years ago.

klydersen@chicagonewscoop.org

This article was made possible by a grant from the Dennis A. Hunt Fund for Health Journalism, and was produced as part of the California Endowment Health Journalism Fellowships, a program of the Annenberg School for Communication Journalism at the University of Southern California.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=3a492feaafa24b6fd81524b270279f3b

New Rules and Old Plants May Strain Summer Energy Supplies

But that may not be the case in the future as stricter air quality rules are put in place. Eastern utilities satisfied demand that day — July 21 — with hefty output from dozens of 1950s and 1960s coal-burning power plants that dump prodigious amounts of acid gases, soot, mercury and arsenic into the air. Because of new Environmental Protection Agency rules, and some yet to be written, many of those plants are expected to close in coming years.

No one is sure yet how many or which ones will be shuttered or what the total lost output would be. And there is little agreement over how peak demand will be met in future summers.

The E.P.A. estimates that a rule on air toxins and mercury that it expects to complete in November will result in a loss of 10,000 megawatts — or almost 1 percent of the generating capacity in the United States. Electricity experts, however, say that rule, combined with forthcoming ones on coal ash and cooling water, will have a much greater effect — from 48,000 megawatts to 80,000 megawatts, or 3.5 to 7 percent.

The Southern Company, which like most coal-burning power companies opposes the new standards, said on Aug. 4 that it would retire 4,000 megawatts of coal-fired generation under the proposed rules. It warned that the closings would “significantly impact customers and the overall U.S. economy as a result of higher costs for electricity and reduced reliability.”

American Electric Power, a multistate utility based in Columbus, Ohio, is saying it will retire 6,000 megawatts. Much of that was scheduled to retire anyway, but the rules have stepped up those retirement dates.

Robert W. Perciasepe, the deputy administrator of the E.P.A., said his agency had not estimated all the retirements that would be set off by rules it was still preparing. His agency, he said, was trying to move promptly through rulemaking and “provide the rational basis for utility planning, instead of this continually rolling ball of uncertainty, which allows people to speculate, and creates a situation where it’s very difficult for competent utility planners to do the work they need to do.”

He said the E.P.A. had been regulating power plant emissions for 40 years, and where necessary to keep the grid stable, had granted delays and exemptions.

The industry is concerned. PJM Interconnection, the regional unit that set the demand record on July 21, has suggested that the E.P.A. rules would put the grid’s reliability at risk. “E.P.A.’s analysis of the impact of the proposed rule may understate the level of expected generation of plant retirements and does not provide sufficient flexibility or time to address potential localized reliability concerns,” it wrote in a statement filed with the agency.

The most likely replacement for the coal plants is new natural gas-powered generators. But PJM and others are complaining that if the E.P.A. follows its intended schedule, utilities will not have much time to decide whether to close or upgrade their old plants, and no one will have time to build new ones.

Marc de Croisset, an analyst for the investment bank FBR, said the uncertainties arose from the scale of the plant closings. “It’s a major transformation,” he said — the biggest since the electric companies shifted away from oil in the 1970s, possibly larger.

On July 20, a record was also set farther to the west, reported by the Midwest Independent System Operator, a parallel organization that stretches from Michigan to Montana and Manitoba.

On Aug. 1 and 2, the Southwest Power Pool, which covers an area from Kansas to New Mexico, set a record. Texas, which is an electrical island in its grid operation, also set new records. And New York State, which forms its own electrical jurisdiction, has come within a whisker of doing so.

Most of the old records had been set in a heat wave at the end of July 2006. Peak electricity use in the intervening years has been stunted by the natural variability of weather and a recession.

The new peaks will shape the planning of the grid. In the eastern United States, electricity is mostly generated near where it is consumed, and if some producers disappear, someone will have to build new generation or new transmission to supply the area from a distant source.

“You always manage toward the peak, and have a reserve margin based on your latest peak,” said Tom Williams, a spokesman for Duke Energy, which does business in areas that experienced a new peak.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=b3a6a8cce52f55a54c7512be94cc9995

Drilling Down: One Tainted Water Well, and Concern There May Be More

The claim is based in part on a simple fact: fracking, in which water and toxic chemicals are injected at high pressure into the ground to break up rocks and release the gas trapped there, occurs thousands of feet below drinking-water aquifers. Because of that distance, the drilling chemicals pose no risk, industry officials have argued.

“There have been over a million wells hydraulically fractured in the history of the industry, and there is not one, not one, reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated from hydraulic fracturing. Not one,” Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, said last year at a Congressional hearing on drilling.

It is a refrain that not only drilling proponents, but also state and federal lawmakers, even past and present Environmental Protection Agency directors, have repeated often.

But there is in fact a documented case, and the E.P.A. report that discussed it suggests there may be more. Researchers, however, were unable to investigate many suspected cases because their details were sealed from the public when energy companies settled lawsuits with landowners.

Current and former E.P.A. officials say this practice continues to prevent them from fully assessing the risks of certain types of gas drilling.

“I still don’t understand why industry should be allowed to hide problems when public safety is at stake,” said Carla Greathouse, the author of the E.P.A. report that documents a case of drinking water contamination from fracking. “If it’s so safe, let the public review all the cases.”

Eric Wohlschlegel, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, dismissed the assertion that sealed settlements have hidden problems with gas drilling, and he added that countless academic, federal and state investigators conducted extensive research on groundwater contamination issues, and have found that drinking water contamination from fracking is highly improbable.

“Settlements are sealed for a variety of reasons, are common in litigation, and are done at the request of both landowners and operators,” Mr. Wohlschlegel said.

Still, the documented E.P.A. case, which has gone largely unnoticed for decades, includes evidence that many industry representatives were aware of it and also fought the agency’s attempts to include other cases in the final study.

The report is not recent — it was published in 1987, and the contamination was discovered in 1984. Drilling technology and safeguards in well design have improved significantly since then. Nevertheless, the report does contradict what has emerged as a kind of mantra in the industry and in the government.

The report concluded that hydraulic fracturing fluids or gel used by the Kaiser Exploration and Mining Company contaminated a well roughly 600 feet away on the property of James Parsons in Jackson County, W.Va., referring to it as “Mr. Parson’s water well.”

“When fracturing the Kaiser gas well on Mr. James Parson’s property, fractures were created allowing migration of fracture fluid from the gas well to Mr. Parson’s water well,” according to the agency’s summary of the case. “This fracture fluid, along with natural gas was present in Mr. Parson’s water, rendering it unusable.”

Asked about the cause of the incident, Mr. Wohlschlegel emphasized that the important factor was that the driller and the regulator had not known about the nearby aquifer. But in comments submitted to the E.P.A. at the time about the report, the petroleum institute acknowledged that this was indeed a case of drinking water contamination from fracking.

“The damage here,” the institute wrote, referring to Mr. Parsons’ contaminated water well, “results from an accident or malfunction of the fracturing process.”

Mr. Wohlschlegel cautioned however that the comments provided at the time by the institute were not based on its own research and therefore it cannot be sure that other factors didn’t play a role.

In their report, E.P.A. officials also wrote that Mr. Parsons’ case was highlighted as an “illustrative” example of the hazards created by this type of drilling, and that legal settlements and nondisclosure agreements prevented access to scientific documentation of other incidents.

“This is typical practice, for instance, in Texas,” the report stated. “In some cases, the records of well-publicized damage incidents are almost entirely unavailable for review.”

Bipartisan federal legislation before Congress would require judges to consider public health and safety before sealing court records or approving settlement agreements.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=c7b501d84b69e34691878980d3e301bc