All posts by Canadian Press

Apache bails on Kitimat LNG as investors get cold feet

Apache bails on Kitimat LNG as investors get cold feet

Apache bails on Kitimat LNG as investors get cold feet
Artist’s rendering of proposed Kitimat LNG project

By The Canadian Press

U.S. energy firm Apache Corp. says it’s exiting the Kitimat, B.C., LNG project, which it had been developing with Chevron Corp.

Houston-based Apache also plans to get rid of its interest in another major liquefied natural gas project in Australia.

Apache made the announcement with its second-quarter financial report.

The Kitimat LNG project is furthest along in the development process of any of the proposed natural gas export facilities planned for Canada’s West Coast.

Apache has been under pressure from New York hedge fund Jana Partners LLC, an activist investor, to sell assets.

READ: Bloomberg analysis of Apache decision to pull out of Kitimat LNG


First Nation slams coverup of mercury poisoning report

First Nation slams coverup of mercury poisoning report

First Nation slams coverup of mercury poisoning report
Grassy Narrows First Nation member protests suspected mercury poisoning in 2013 (Kevin Konnyu / Flickr)

Updated July 29

By The Canadian Press

TORONTO – For years, the federal and provincial governments have known members of a northern Ontario First Nation suffered from mercury poisoning but failed to provide adequate compensation or health care, band members said Monday.

The Grassy Narrow First Nation said it has obtained an unreleased government report that found there is “no doubt” people in the community of roughly 1,600 near Kenora, Ont., suffered from mercury-related neurological disorders — something the band said officials have never formally acknowledged.

“The government has been sitting on this report since 2009,” Grassy Narrows Chief Roger Fobister Sr. said in a news conference in Toronto.

Meanwhile, the Mercury Disability Board, which includes both levels of government, “continues to overlook the sick people of Grassy Narrows,” Fobister said.

The report was commissioned by the board, which administers compensation for those whose health suffered as a result of mercury poisoning. The board could not immediately be reached for comment.

A spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs said members of Grassy Narrows sit on the board and would have reviewed the report when it was presented in 2010. The board also held an open house in the community to discuss the report, Scott Cavan said.

Both provincial and federal governments said they continue to work to address the issue of mercury contamination.

A spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada said Ottawa has contributed more than $9 million in compensation to Grassy Narrows and Wabaseemoong First Nations for economic and social development initiatives.

Critics nonetheless called for the report to be publicly released.

“A coverup involving the poisoning of an entire community is not something you expect to hear about here in Ontario,” NDP Aboriginal Affairs critic Sarah Campbell said in a statement.

“The government owes it to residents to release any information they have about the issue, and to take concrete steps to address ongoing health, nutrition and environmental issues stemming from the industrial waste.”

Water around Grassy Narrows has been contaminated with mercury since a local paper mill dumped an estimated 10 tonnes of neurotoxins into the system between 1962 and 1970.

Grassy Narrows and the Wabaseemoong Independent Nations negotiated an out-of-court settlement with Ottawa, the province and two paper companies in the 1980s. The board was created as part of the settlement.

The report compared the board’s decisions in several cases with diagnoses made by Japanese experts on Minamata disease, a neurological syndrome caused by mercury poisoning, who examined the community between 1975 and 2004.

It found the board recognized only 38 per cent of the cases identified by the experts, noting the discrepancies “are due to different criteria used for evaluations.”

“The approach used by the Mercury Disability Board to assess whether or not an applicant has signs or symptoms consistent with mercury poisoning was designed based on the state of science and knowledge of the impact of mercury on human health in the 1980s,” it reads.

Judy Da Silva, a Grassy Narrows member and activist, said people are being turned away by the board and forced to file appeals, only to remain unsuccessful.

[quote]Everyone should have gotten automatic compensation forever. For us to go and beg for pennies is ridiculous.[/quote]

The band is calling for the government to formally apologize for allowing its people to suffer from mercury poisoning and step up compensation and care.

It also wants the government to clean up the water and block clearcutting projects that could exacerbate the situation.

The province established a mercury working group more than a year ago, but Da Silva, who is part of the group, said progress has stalled without participation from Ottawa.

Cavan said the group, which includes several provincial ministries as well as First Nations members, continues to meet and develop strategies to address mercury-related issues.

“They are researching economic development opportunities for the community, including commercial fishing and guiding with further discussions to take place later this summer,” he said, adding the group is also looking at educational opportunities for youth.


Inuit, Greenpeace team up to battle Arctic seismic testing

Inuit, Greenpeace team up to battle Arctic seismic testing

Inuit, Greenpeace team to battle Arctic seismic testing
Greenpeace’s Les Stroud Les working with Inuit in Pond Inlet (Photo: Laura Bombier / Greenpeace)

By Lee-Anne Goodman, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – Greenpeace and the Inuit have joined forces to protest Arctic seismic testing, warning that plans to gauge oil and gas reserves with high-intensity sound waves in Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait pose grave dangers to marine life.

Inuit activists are staging a protest Wednesday in Nunavut’s Clyde River, a tiny Baffin Island hamlet just above the Arctic Circle, a week after Greenpeace took their cause to the United Nations.

Inuit takes aim at Aglukkaq

An Inuit environmentalist also took aim at Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq, a Nunavut MP, accusing the Conservative government of “cultural genocide” for its efforts to open up the Arctic to oil and gas exploration.

“We depend on these waters for food and the very existence of Inuit life depend on them,” said Niore Iqalukjuak in an open letter to Aglukkaq in the Nunatsiaq News.

[quote]We fear that what the Conservative government is doing is a cultural genocide and will end the Inuit way of life as we know it. … You are our representative. Speak up on our behalf.[/quote]

Aglukkaq’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Iqalukjuak’s letter or on the protest being held in Clyde River.

Greenpeace, meantime, has thrown its support behind the community.

Greenpeace joins protest

“Proposed seismic testing activities in Baffin Bay will have severe impacts on marine life and traditional lifestyles of coastal indigenous peoples,” the organization’s Arctic campaigner, Farah Khan, said in a statement Tuesday.

[quote]We stand with the community of Clyde River in their efforts to uphold their rights and preserve their traditions.[/quote]

It was an apparent return of fire to Aglukkaq, who criticized Greenpeace this week by challenging the environmental group’s historical opposition to the seal hunt and alleging it’s merely using the Inuit to advance its own causes.

“The reality is that there are lots of environmental groups who say that they speak for and represent Inuit or aboriginal people, while at the same time they campaign against traditional ways of life like the seal hunt,” she told the Inuit Circumpolar Council general assembly in the Northwest Territories.

Strange bedfellows

Greenpeace and the Inuit indeed make strange bedfellows in their campaign against Arctic seismic testing, a contentious method for surveying oil and gas deposits under the ocean floor that can have extensive effects on marine life, including disrupting migration routes.


Greenpeace railed against the commercial seal hunt in the 1980s, and has since acknowledged their campaign had a detrimental impact on the Inuit.

“The consequences of that, though unintended, were far-reaching,” Joanna Kerr, executive director of Greenpeace Canada, said in a recent statement.

She added that the Inuit “take only what they need, and no more. They honour the animals, the land and the ocean.”

Greenpeace also recently drafted and adopted a policy, written with First Nations, in support of indigenous rights to a subsistence lifestyle.

In Tuesday’s statement, the organization chided Aglukkaq for failing to protect her homeland’s environment.

[quote]If Minister Aglukkaq acted as a steward for the Arctic environment — as an environment minister and chair of the Arctic Council should — then she would be listening to the concerns of northerners and acting on them.[/quote]

NEB opens up seismic testing

The National Energy Board, a federal government agency, recently announced it had given the green light to seismic testing in Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait despite protests from the mayor of Clyde River and other Inuit officials and elders. The testing will begin in the 2015 ice-free season.

According to the environmental group Oceans North Canada, Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait are home to an estimated 50,000 narwhals — most of the world’s population. The area is also home to bowhead whales, 116 species of fish and an estimated million seabirds.

Iqalukjuak made reference to the unexpected alliance between Greenpeace and the Inuit in his letter.

“Of all organizations or parties, Greenpeace has stepped up to help fund the court battle (against seismic testing). How embarrassing is that, eh? The very people that helped to destroy our seal industry here helping Inuit on a cause that they both believe,” he wrote.

Healthy Newfoundland bees may help solve mystery of global collapse

Healthy Newfoundland bees may help solve mystery of global collapse

Healthy Newfoundland bees may help solve mystery of global collapse
Honeybees are in free fall just about everywhere – except Newfoundland

By Sue Bailey, The Canadian Press

PARADISE, N.L. – Newfoundland’s healthy honeybees are an increasing draw for researchers in the race to understand why colonies across much of the globe are struggling or dying off.

“There is definitely interest in what’s happening here,” said Dave Jennings, a director with the provincial Natural Resources department.

[quote]There are fewer and fewer places as we look around the world now that can claim to be free from the major bee pests. And we’re one of the few.[/quote]

Pesticides, parasites, climate change all suspected in collapse

Honeybees are crucial pollinators for fruit, vegetables and other crops. But stressors blamed for decimating hives around the world include invasive parasites such as the Varroa destructor mite, climate change and the use of pesticides.

The Canadian Honey Council has estimated that the bee population across the country has dropped by about 35 per cent in the past three years.

The island of Newfoundland, however, is gaining attention as an increasingly rare haven.

Newfoundland bucking the trend

Jennings said there are now about 38 beekeepers with hundreds of colonies. There has been growing interest in Labrador but long winters with extreme cold pose a major challenge, he explained.

It’s a tiny sector compared to other places in Canada but Newfoundland produces a growing array of beeswax products. The honey is a particularly pure wildflower variety that sells out quickly to local consumers, Jennings said.

There are no recorded cases of predominant bee parasites such as Varroa destructor or Nosema ceranae that have plagued honeybees elsewhere. And the absence of massive corn and soybean farms on the rocky island with its comparatively short growing season means neonic pesticides are hardly used, Jennings said.

Growing calls for pesticide ban

An international panel of 50 scientists last month called for tighter regulations and an ultimate phase-out of such products. The group calling itself the Task Force on Systemic Pesticides compared so-called neonics or neonicotinoids, a type of insecticide that’s chemically reminiscent of nicotine, to the use of DDT in the 1960s.

It said a study of 800 research papers offers conclusive evidence that neonics sprayed as a preventive pesticide over crops or to coat seeds are killing bees and other insects on a massive scale.

Province maintains strict import controls

As for mites, Newfoundland’s sheer distance from infected mainland bees means they would most likely only be introduced if imported.

“You basically can’t import honeybees in this province without getting a permit,” Jennings said. “We very much restrict that because we want to keep the pests out.”


The province relies on the co-operation of beekeepers and is also assessing its control of bumblebee imports used to pollinate cranberry and blueberry crops, he added.

“It’s something we’re keeping our eye on.”

Recent studies highlight how different species can pass on parasites, said Geoff Williams, a senior research associate at the Institute of Bee Health at the University of Bern in Switzerland.

“Certainly with any type of import, whether or not it’s a honeybee or a bumblebee, there’s the threat of this transmission of pathogens.”

Newfoundland can gauge impact of harmful mite

Williams said Newfoundland can help researchers gauge the toll of the rampant Verroa destructor mite and other parasites elsewhere.

“There’s really only a handful of locations across the globe that don’t have this mite,” he said. “It gives you great baseline data of what honeybee populations were like … before Verroa.”

Williams visited Newfoundland in 2010, collecting samples from hives around Corner Brook and St. John’s for research that was part of an article last month in PLOS ONE, an international, peer-reviewed online scientific journal. He laughed when asked about reports that even the bees in Newfoundland are friendly.

“It depends on the day,” he said. “Certainly when I was over there I didn’t have any issues with really aggressive bees.”

Beekeeper Aubrey Goulding and his wife, Viola, run Paradise Farms Inc., selling beeswax candles, skin balms and honey in Paradise, N.L., outside St. John’s.

His bees are among the healthiest on the planet, he said. But he dreads that mites will somehow be brought to the island. He called for ongoing vigilance when it comes to bee imports and said residents can also help.

“Honeybees do visit people’s lawns, clover and even dandelions. So if you can refrain from using pesticides, that’d be a great plus for the bees.”

Two legal challenges filed against Northern Gateway

Two legal challenges filed against Northern Gateway


Two legal challenges filed against Northern Gateway

By The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER – Two legal challenges were filed Friday against the federal cabinet’s approval of the Northern Gateway pipeline.

The Gitxaala (git-HAT’-lah) First Nations, who hail from the North Coast of British Columbia, filed an application for judicial review with the Federal Court of Appeal.

Ecojustice filed a separate application on behalf of ForestEthics Advocacy, Living Oceans and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

The environmental groups are asking for a court order quashing the approval of the pipeline proposed by Calgary-based Enbridge (TSX:ENB).

Ecojustice lawyer Barry Robinson says the federal approval was a flawed decision based on a flawed report by the federal environmental assessment panel.

The groups also want the Conservative cabinet to provide reasons for approving the project that would link the Alberta oilsands with a marine terminal on the B.C. coast.

READ: Native law expert: First Nations hold power to stop Enbridge


BC govt, City of Vancouver-Kinder Morgan dodging pipeline questions

BC govt, City of Vancouver: Kinder Morgan dodging pipeline questions

City of Vancouver-Kinder Morgan ducking pipeline questions
Mayor Gregor Robertson and Vancouver Council have some tough questions for Kinder Morgan (facebook)

By Dene Moore, The Canadian Press

VANCOUVER – Kinder Morgan has failed to answer many of the questions put to the company about its proposed Trans Mountain pipeline through the regulatory review process, charge a chorus of critics that includes the province of British Columbia and the city of Vancouver.

Kinder Morgan ignore 40% of city’s questions

The city submitted 394 written questions as part of the National Energy Board’s regulatory review process but said the Texas-based company did not respond to 40 per cent of them, covering everything from emergency management plans to compensation in the event of an oil spill.

“We submitted almost 400 questions and only about 248 of them were answered,” said Sadhu Johnston, deputy city manager. The rest “were quite inadequate in the way they were answered, with either no answer or only partial answers.”

[quote]As interveners we are trying to assess the proposed project and are finding it quite difficult to get information on the project. That does make it hard for us to fully evaluate the proposal and to prepare our experts and our expert testimony to ask the right questions and formulate an opinion.[/quote]

Both the city and the province submitted requests to the energy board Friday asking the regulator to compel Kinder Morgan to respond to the outstanding requests.

Province stonewalled too

Kinder Morgan bills customers for pipeline application
Proposed Kinder Morgan tanker terminal expansion

The B.C. Environment Ministry issued a statement saying they had submitted more than 70 information requests to the company through the board, dealing with maritime and land-based spill response, prevention and recovery systems.

“In a number of cases, Kinder Morgan’s responses to the information requests do not provide sufficient information,” the statement said. “That makes it difficult for the province to evaluate whether the Trans Mountain expansion project will include world-leading marine and land oil spill systems.”

As part of the board review of the pipeline that would link the Alberta oil sands to Port Metro Vancouver, the company had to respond to more than 10,000 questions submitted by hundreds of groups and individuals granted intervener status by the board.

No direct, oral questioning of Kinder Morgan

Under new rules for the regulatory review, there is a strict timeline and the board decided not to allow direct oral questioning of company officials. All questions must be submitted in writing ahead of hearings set to begin in early 2015.

It’s a very restrictive process, Johnston said.

“It’s really become quite undemocratic, the way the NEB is running the process,” he said.


The city said the responses it did receive made it clear that the company will not cover the first responder costs incurred by Vancouver in the event of disaster and it said the responses from Kinder Morgan raise questions on the economic feasibility of the project.

Weaver: Answers ‘simply unacceptable’

B.C. Green MLA Andrew Weaver has also complained about the responses provided by the company to his 500 questions.

BC Green MLA Andrew Weaver
BC Green MLA Andrew Weaver

He filed a motion with the energy board Thursday asking for full and adequate responses and a revised review timetable to incorporate “new and reasonable” deadlines for information requests and evidence.

“Many of the answers I received are simply unacceptable,” Weaver, a Nobel Prize-winning climate scientist, said in a statement.

Kinder Morgan declined a request for an interview.

Scott Stoness, vice-president of regulatory and finance for the company, said in an emailed statement that Trans Mountain believes it provided robust responses to questions “that were within the scope of the regulatory review.”

Some of the information is market sensitive or would be a security risk to release, he wrote.

“It is normal in regulatory processes that there are debates about whether questions are appropriate and/or in scope,” Stoness wrote.

[quote]We understand some interveners may not be satisfied with the answers we provided. That is why the NEB process allows for interveners to make motions on the responses we submitted.[/quote]

They will have another opportunity to question the company and to submit their own evidence later this year, he said.

READ ABOUT Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan’s battle with Kinder Morgan

Rail expert-One year after Lac-Mégantic, not much has changed

Rail expert: One year after Lac-Megantic, not much has changed

Rail expert-One year after Lac-Mégantic, not much has changed
Emergency responders were unequipped to deal with Lac-Mégantic disaster, says a Quebec rail expert

By Peter Rakobowchuk, The Canadian Press

MONTREAL – An expert who examined the devastating train derailment in Lac-Megantic says no plans and equipment are in place to deal with a similar situation as the one-year anniversary of the tragedy approaches.

Rosa Galvez-Cloutier, a civil engineering professor at Universite Laval, says she doesn’t think much has changed since the massive explosion and fire that killed 47 people on July 6, although the federal government has tightened regulations.

“There was an evident lack of preparation at all levels,” she said on Wednesday.

[quote]Prevention measures, preparedness and emergency plans need to urgently be updated.[/quote]

She says firefighters and security officials were overwhelmed by the inferno when the derailment happened.

“I think there was a panic and there was a lack of co-ordination,” the Quebec expert said.

Firefighters unequipped to deal with blaze

Galvez-Cloutier, who was at the scene, says she was surprised to see firefighters were still cooling the oil tanker cars after eight hours and they were even not fighting the fire.

She says what made it even more complicated was there was no information about the exact composition of the oil that was being burned.

Galvez-Cloutier says if firefighters knew that, they would have known what type of actions to take, such as using foam to combat the blaze.

“I know that Ultramar brought in, as a last resort, some foam to assist, but this was based on their goodwill, not a pre-planned emergency measure,” she said.

Galvez-Cloutier made her comments online during a webinar hosted by the Science Media Center of Canada.

Quebec pledges support for increased training

In its recent budget, the Quebec government announced annual funding of $4 million to provide financial assistance for the training of part-time volunteer firefighters in municipalities.

It noted that the Lac-Megantic disaster showed part-time volunteer firefighters are often first responders in many municipalities in Quebec and the funding will “help ensure that Quebec’s municipalities can respond effectively to such disasters.”

Environmental impacts unknown

Cleanup efforts on Lac-Megantic (Ryan Remiroz/CP)
Cleanup efforts on Lac-Megantic (Ryan Remiroz/CP)

During her presentation, Galvez-Cloutier also noted that important information about the environmental effects of the oil spill is still unknown.

“There was a destruction of the waste water treatment plant at Lac-Megantic city that released pathogens into the water and not much has been said about this,” she said. “These pathogens can include E. coli viruses and other pathogens.”

Bakken shale oil highly volatile

Jean-Paul Lacoursiere, a chemical engineering expert, says the highly-volatile crude was being shipped from North Dakota and the Bakken shale formation, from which the oil is extracted, extends into Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

“We are going to face (light) oil either from Alberta where it’s occurring and from Saskatchewan and Manitoba and potentially from the Anticosti Island here in Quebec,” the University de Sherbrooke professor said.

“That’s the future of what’s going to be transported — that’s what I see personally.”

Dangerous tanker cars prohibited for dangerous goods

Dangerous Dot-111 cars are being phased out
Dot-111 cars can no longer carry dangerous goods

The federal government has prohibited use of DOT-111 tanker cars — the kind that ruptured in Lac-Megantic — for transporting dangerous goods.

“The roll-out of improved tank cars is going to be a significant improvement,” Bill Hjelholt, a freight rail industry expert, told the webinar.

Ottawa has also strengthened emergency response requirements and ordered railways hauling dangerous goods to assess the risk of routes and reduce train speeds.

In addition, communities alongside tracks are advised of hazardous goods carried by rail, but — apparently for security reasons — only after they have passed through.

The Railway Association of Canada, a group that represents rail companies, says the industry is committed to do what is required in the areas of safety, training and emergency preparedness to prevent another disaster like the one that occurred in Lac Megantic.

It says the rail industry in North America is spending $2.5 billion this year to ensure the safety of its infrastructure.


Orcas face triple threat - Vessel noise, pollution, lack of food

Orcas face triple threat: Vessel noise, pollution, lack of food

Orcas face triple threat - Vessel noise, pollution, lack of food
Photo: NOAA

By Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press

VICTORIA – Triple threats of pollution, vessel noise and the availability of food are making it hard for a group of orcas that live along the continent’s West Coast to increase beyond an estimated population of 80, says a decade-long U.S. study.

Southern resident Orcas can be found in the Salish Sea off Vancouver Island and Washington State, and have been seen as far south as Monterey Bay, Calif., and as far north as Chatham Strait, Alaska.

Lynne Barre, a spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said Monday from Seattle, Wash., that experts don’t consider the southern residents in recovery, so the animals will remain an endangered species. Barre noted:

[quote]Right now, they’re not growing as fast as our recovery criteria would require for them to be taken off the Endangered Species List. They’ve been hovering around the 80s for quite some time.[/quote]

Theme parks contributed to population’s decline

There are estimates the southern resident population once numbered at least 140 animals, and was perhaps as high as 200, but that was before nearly 50 were removed from the population in the 1960s and ’70s and placed into theme parks, Barre said.

She said since 2003 NOAA scientists have collected data, ranging from fecal and biopsy samples to satellite-location data and behavioural observations, in order to provide a comprehensive look into the health of the population, and to inform recovery efforts.

Food, noise, pollution are top threats

The study found after 10 years of research that pollution, vessel noise and the availability of food are the three major barriers to recovery for the southern residents, said Barre.

“It’s most likely a combination of the threats that’s resulting in the lack of recovery for the whales,” Barre said.

[quote]If they don’t have enough food to eat, that’s when they’ll use their blubber where those (pollution) contaminants are stored. Also, vessels and sound make it difficult to find prey that is in the environment. All three of those threats work together to cause problems for the whales.[/quote]

The study found southern residents are among the most contaminated marine mammals in the world. They favour endangered Chinook salmon as prey, and when vessels are present they hunt less and travel more.

Disappearing Chinook, contaminants affect food supply

Barre said pollution causes disease and reproduction problems in the southern residents. She said endangered Chinook runs limit their primary food source, and when vessels are nearby, the orcas call louder, hunt less and spend more time and energy trying to get away from the traffic.

Chinook salmon are a key part of orcas' diet
Chinook salmon are a key part of orcas’ diet

Chinook salmon make up a majority of the whales’ diet, particularly in the summer, but many runs of Chinook are endangered or threatened, potentially limiting the food source, she said.

Pollutants like PCBs, DDT and now flame retardants were found in high concentrations in the southern residents, she said.

Vessel noise affects feeding patterns

The study also found southern residents spent less time hunting for food when vessels were in their area. Instead, they swam in less predictable patterns, including breaching and slapping their tail fins.

Barre said they were also observed to communicate in louder tones when vessels were nearby.

Whale watchers must maintain a safe distance and turn off motors
All boats must now maintain a safe distance from whales

She said changes in 2011 to increase the distance from which whale-watching vessels can view whales appear to have been adopted by the industry, but the message to stay away from the Orcas still hasn’t resonated with recreational boaters and anglers.

“They either don’t know about the rules or aren’t paying attention to what’s going on around them, or they just want to drive right up to the whales to get a close look,” said Barre.

Kristin Hobbis of Victoria’s Eagle Wing Tours said the southern residents are curious animals and often come up to the boats to take a look, but the tour operators are vigilant about keeping their distance.

“We just have to shut off our engines,” she said. “It’s super, super important to them for sure that we are not crossing any lines.”


Fracked wells leak 6 times more methane-New Cornell study

Fracked wells emit 6 times more methane leaks: New Cornell study


Fracked wells leak 6 times more methane-New Cornell study

By Seth Borenstein, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON – In Pennsylvania’s gas drilling boom, newer and unconventional wells leak far more often than older and traditional ones, according to a study of state inspection reports for 41,000 wells.

The results suggest that leaks of methane could be a problem for drilling across the nation, said study lead author Cornell University engineering professor Anthony Ingraffea, who heads an environmental activist group that helped pay for the study.

Scientists say fracking can't fulfill America's energy needs
Drilling on a fracking well pad in Pennsylvania

The research was criticized by the energy industry. Marcellus Shale Coalition spokesman Travis Windle said it reflects Ingraffea’s “clear pattern of playing fast and loose with the facts.”

The Marcellus shale formation of plentiful but previously hard-to-extract trapped natural gas stretches over Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York.

The study was published Monday by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A team of four scientists analyzed more than 75,000 state inspections of gas wells done in Pennsylvania since 2000.

Methane leaks 6 times higher than older, conventional wells

Overall, older wells — those drilled before 2009 — had a leak rate of about 1 per cent. Most were traditional wells, drilling straight down. Unconventional wells — those drilled horizontally and commonly referred to as fracking — didn’t come on the scene until 2006 and quickly took over.

Newer traditional wells drilled after 2009 had a leak rate of about 2 per cent; the rate for unconventional wells was about 6 per cent, the study found.

The leak rate reached as high as nearly 10 per cent horizontally drilled wells for before and after 2009 in the northeastern part of the state, where drilling is hot and heavy.

Graphic courtesy of UN Environment Program
Graphic courtesy of UN Environment Program

The researchers don’t know where the leaky methane goes — into the water or the air, where it could be a problem worsening man-made global warming.

The scientists don’t know the size of the leaks or even their causes and industry officials deny that they are actual leaks. The study calls it “casing and cement impairment,” but the study’s lead author says that is when methane is flowing outside the pipe.

Said Ingraffea, who has been part of a team of Cornell researchers finding problems with fracking:

[quote]Something is coming out of it that shouldn’t, in a place that it shouldn’t. [/quote]

Ingraffea also heads a group of scientists and engineers that has criticized fracking and two of his co-authors are part of the group.

The study didn’t discuss why the leak rate spiked. Ingraffea said it could be because corners are being cut as drilling booms, better inspections or the way the gas is trapped in the rock formation.

Industry attacks researchers

Pennsylvania regulatory officials said their records show that gas leaks peaked in 2010 and are on the way down again, reflecting their efforts to stress proper cementing practices. Further in 2011, the state focused more on unconventional wells to make leak protection efforts “more stringent,” wrote Morgan Wagner, a spokesman for the state environmental agency.


Energy industry officials attacked the study and Ingraffea.

Chris Tucker, spokesman for industry-supported group Energy In Depth, said what they measured may not be leaks but state inspectors detecting pressure buildup. Tucker wrote in an email:

[quote]The trick these researchers are pulling here is conflating pressure with leakage, trying to convince folks that the mere existence of the former is evidence of the latter[/quote]

Scientific community embraces study

But outside scientists, even pro-drilling ones, praised the study.

Terry Engelder of Pennsylvania State University, a pioneering supporter of the Marcellus fracking boom, said it shows there is plenty of room for improving drilling safety.

“It clearly indicates that there is a problem with the production” of the wells, said University of California Santa Barbara engineering professor and methane expert Ira Leifer, who wasn’t part of the study.

Fracking and earthquakes - US states mull new regulations

Fracking and earthquakes: US states mull new regulations

Fracking and earthquakes - US states mull new regulations
3.0-plus magnitude earthquakes in the midcontinental US. USGS

By Emily Schmall And Kristi Eaton, The Associated Press

AZLE, Texas – Earthquakes used to be almost unheard of on the vast stretches of prairie that unfold across the U.S. Midwestern states of Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma.

But in recent years, they have become commonplace. Oklahoma recorded nearly 150 between January and the start of May. Most were too weak to cause serious damage or endanger lives. Yet they’ve rattled nerves and raised suspicions that the shaking might be connected to the oil and gas drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, especially the wells in which the industry disposes of its wastewater.

Now governments in all three states are confronting the issue, reviewing scientific data, holding public discussions and considering new regulations.

[quote]In recent weeks, nighttime shaking in Oklahoma City has been strong enough to wake residents. [/quote]

Oklahoma rattled by quakes

The latest example comes Thursday in Oklahoma, where hundreds of people are expected to turn out for a meeting that will include the state agency that regulates oil and gas drilling and the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

States with historically few earthquakes are trying to reconcile the scientific data with the interests of their citizens and the oil and gas industry.

In recent weeks, nighttime shaking in Oklahoma City has been strong enough to wake residents. The state experienced 145 quakes of 3.0 magnitude or greater between January and May 2, 2014, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

That compares with an average of two such quakes from 1978 to 2008.


North Texas has had 70 earthquakes since 2008 as reported by the U.S. Geological Survey, compared with a single quake, in 1950, reported in the region before then.

Regulators from each state met for the first time in March in Oklahoma City to exchange information on the quakes and discuss toughening standards on the lightly regulated business of fracking wastewater disposal.

“This is all about managing risks,” said Oklahoma Corporation Commission spokesman Matt Skinner. “It’s a little more complicated than that because, of course, we’re managing perceived risks.”

Texas regulator hires state seismologist

In Texas, residents from the town of Azle, which has endured hundreds of small quakes, went to the state capitol earlier this year to demand action by the state’s chief oil and gas regulator, known as the Railroad Commission. The commission hired the first-ever state seismologist, and lawmakers formed the House Subcommittee on Seismic Activity.

After Kansas recorded 56 earthquakes between last October and April, the governor appointed a three-member task force to address the issue.

Fracking linked to quakes

Seismologists already know that hydraulic fracturing — which involves blasting water, sand and chemicals deep into underground rock formations to free oil and gas — can cause microquakes that are rarely strong enough to register on monitoring equipment.

However, fracking also generates vast amounts of wastewater, far more than traditional drilling methods. The water is discarded by pumping it into so-called injection wells, which send the waste deepunderground. No one knows for certain exactly what happens to the liquids after that. Scientists wonder whether they could trigger quakes by increasing underground pressures and lubricating faults.

Another concern is whether injection well operators could be pumping either too much water into the ground or pumping it at exceedingly high pressures.

No clear correlation: Industry advocates

Still, seismologists — and the oil and gas industry — have taken pains to point out that a clear correlation has not yet been established.

Nationwide, the United States has more than 150,000 injection wells, according to the Society of Petroleum Engineers, and only a handful have been proven to induce quakes.

Nonetheless, ExxonMobil is supporting a study by Southern Methodist University, company spokesman Richard Keil said.

“We’re sort of in wait-and-see mode,” he said.

Eaton reported from Oklahoma City.