May 2010 Archives

May 19, 2010

Texas Report Shows No Evidence of Health Problems in Town of Dish

The Texas Department of State Health Services issued its report on results of blood and urine samples taken from 28 residents of the tiny town of Dish, in Denton County, Texas. The report concludes that there is no evidence from those tests that the residents have elevated levels of airborne toxins in their bodies. 

As has been widely reported, the Mayor of Dish has been complaining that oil and gas operations around the town have resulted in exposure to airborne contaminants and health problems among citizens in the town. The town commissioned an air quality survey by a company named Wolf Eagle Environmental, which reported in December 2009 that the town "continues to show high levels of atmospheric VOCs known to have both carcinogenic and neurotoxin capabilities in concentrations that exceed TCEQ ESLs. High atmospheric concentractions of Methane were confirmed at various locations in both the August 2009 and December 2009 Air Quality Studies performed by Wolf Eagle." The town also conducted a health survey of its citizens, and the survey results were analyzed by Wilma Subra, a Louisiana chemist, for Earthworks' Oil and Gas Accountability Project. Ms. Subra's report concluded that a significant number of residents reported health effects associated with toxics measured in excess of TCEQ screening levels, and it recommended that the Texas Department of State Health Services (TxDSHS) test the blood of community members.

TxDSHS reported that, although elevated levels of volatile organic compounds were found in some of the blood samples, "the pattern of VOC values was not consistent with a community-wide exposure to airborne contaminants, such as those that might be associated with natural gas drilling operations," and could have come from other sources such as cigarette smoking, metal cleaners, degreaser and lubricants. TxDSHS also tested water samples from residents' homes and found one home with an elevated level of a chemical derived from chlorine added to drinking water. The TxDSHS report cautioned that its investigation was limited to a one-time sampling event, that VOC's stay in the body for only a short time, so the tests could reflect only recent exposures and not historical exposures.

Mayor Tillman, interviewed by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, commented that he does not think the results of the tests should be taken to assume that drilling in the rest of the Barnett Shale is being conducted safely. "He is convinced that gas companies were severly polluting the air in Dish but cleaned up their act when they saw state regulators were starting to take an interest. "They've done something and I don't know what it is and I don't care,' Tillman said. 'All I care is the air is getting cleaner.'"

Gene Powell, Editor of the Powell Barnett Shale Newsletter, estimated that the tests conducted to investigate Mayor Tillman's complaints have cost the State $400,000, or $6,667 per resident. 

May 14, 2010

Movie 'Gasland' Stirs More Controversy About Hydraulic Fracturing

Gasland is a film documentary about the dangers caused by hydraulic fracturing of gas wells being drilled in shale plays across the U.S. It won a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival this year. It was filmed by Josh Fox, whose family owns land in Pennsylvania that is in the Marcellus Shale Play. Gasland is now being screened across the country.

Josh Fox was recently interviewed about his film on the PBS program NOW. The film asserts that frac'ing of wells has caused underground aquifers to be charged with methane in Pennsylvania and Colorado and poses severe risks of contamination to the water supply. Josh Fox notes that hydraulic fracturing is exempt from federal regulation, and he advocates for passage of the FRAC Act now before Congress that would give the EPA jurisdiction over hydraulic fracturing.

The comments about the NOW story posted on its website evidence the growing controversy over frac'ing.

 

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May 7, 2010

News of "Super Extended Laterals" in Woodford Shale, and ConocoPhillips' First Well in Eagle Ford Shale

Newfield Exploration has reported that it is drilling horizontal wells with "super extended laterals" in the Woodford Shale in Oklahoma -- wells with laterals exceeding 5,000 feet. Newfield has so far drilled 14 super-extended lateral wells, with an average length of 9,000 feet. Those wells had an average gross initial production rate of approximately 9 MMcfe/day.

ConocoPhillips reported that it has completed the drilling of four horizontal wells in the Eagle Ford shale play, in its "liquids-rich" core. The first of these wells was put on production in March and flowed at an initial rate of 3.8 mmcf/day and 1,200 barrels/day of condensate.

All of the new shale gas production continues to put downward pressure on gas prices. Natural gas futures for June delivery fell 36.8 cents, or 8.5 percent on Thursday, April 29 on NYMEX. So far this year, natural gas futures have fallen 29 percent. The Energy Information Administration reported that the supply of gas in storage increased  by 83 Bcf for the week ended April 30. Gas in storage is 315 Bcf above the 5-year average.

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May 3, 2010

ExxonMobil Proxy Statement Addresses Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing

The Park Foundation has submitted a resolution for consideration at ExxonMobil's annual meeting urging ExxonMobil to prepare a report on the environmental impact of fracturing operations and what can be done to reduce or eliminate environmental hazards caused by hydraulic fracturing.  The proposal, and ExxonMobil's response, provide a good summary of the state of the debate in the U.S. over potential environmental impacts of hydraulic fracturing. I have reproduced the entire statement from Exxon's proxy statement below.

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