"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘EPA’

Drought-Plagued California Watering Crops With “Treated” Oil Drilling Wastewater Containing Toxic Chemicals & Radionuclides Purchased From Oil Companies

In Uncategorized on July 13, 2015 at 2:46 pm
Oil and water

Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times Water flows into a holding pond at a Kern County vineyard near Bakersfield. Water in the reservoir was tested last summer by Scott Smith, chief scientist at Water Defense.

Oldspeak:”As California farmers face a fourth year of the state’s historic drought, they’re finding water in unexpected places — like Chevron’s Kern River oil field, which has been selling recycled wastewater from oil production to farmers in California’s Kern County. Each day, Chevron recycles and sells 21 million gallons of wastewater to farmers, which is then applied on about 10 percent of Kern County’s farmland. And while some praise the program as a model for dealing with water shortages, environmental groups are raising concerns about the water’s safety, according to a recent story in the Los Angeles Times. Tests conducted by Water Defense, an environmental group founded by actor Mark Ruffalo in 2010, have found high levels of acetone and methylene chloride — compounds that can be toxic to humans — in wastewater from Chevron used for irrigation purposes. The tests also found the presence of oil, which is supposed to be removed from the wastewater during recycling….  The water from the Kern River oil field is applied to some 45,000 acres of crops, irrigating everything from nut trees to citrus fruits.” -Natasha Gelling “Behold! The fruits of vulture capitalist industrial civilization! Ummm….Who decided this was a good idea?!? Feeding crops with radioactive toxic waste!?!?! What could possibly go wrong here!? Oh, the irony. The very same energy corporations using millions of gallons of California’s dwindling and rationed fresh water resources daily (rationing by the way they are exempt from) to produce their toxic energy products, are generating even greater profits at our expense. Selling their toxic waste water to water-starved farmers to put on food crops. Crops presumably sold to unwitting people for their consumption. Sigh. Left undiscussed here are the levels of radionuclides in produced water,  especially in light of the fact that there is no safe level of radionuclide exposure. Yep, this is where we’re at.  Watering plants with radioactive carcinogens. Nothing to see here people, just a little food supply poisoning. Enjoy your radioactive fruits and nuts.” -OSJ Written By Julie Kart @ The L.A. Times:

Here in California’s thirsty farm belt, where pumpjacks nod amid neat rows of crops, it’s a proposition that seems to make sense: using treated oil field wastewater to irrigate crops. Oil giant Chevron recycles 21 million gallons of that water each day and sells it to farmers who use it on about 45,000 acres of crops, about 10% of Kern County’s farmland. State and local officials praise the 2-decade-old program as a national model for coping with the region’s water shortages. As California’s four-year drought lingers and authorities scramble to conserve every drop, agricultural officials have said that more companies are seeking permits to begin similar programs. The heightened interest in recycling oil field wastewater has raised concern over the adequacy of safety measures in place to prevent contamination from toxic oil production chemicals. ———— FOR THE RECORD

Recycling oil field wastewater

Oil field water: In the May 3 Section A, an article about the use of recycled oil field water in California agriculture said that samples contained acetone and methylene chloride after treatment. Acetone was found in testing in 2014, but not in a March 2015 test. An accompanying graphic cited the levels of three chemicals found in untreated oil field water: oil, 240,000-480,000 parts per million; acetone, 440-530 parts per billion; and methylene chloride, 82-89 parts per billion. However, the graphic omitted the levels found in tests of treated water: oil, 130-1,300 parts per million; acetone, 57-79 parts per billion; and methylene chloride, 26-56 parts per billion. Also, the source of the untreated water was misidentified. The samples were from the Poso Creek Oil Field, not an oil field owned by Chevron. And Blake Sanden was identified as an agriculture extension agent for UC Davis. Sanden works for the statewide UC Agriculture and Natural Resources program. — ————

Until now, government authorities have only required limited testing of recycled irrigation water, checking for naturally occurring toxins such as salts and arsenic, using decades-old monitoring standards. They haven’t screened for the range of chemicals used in modern oil production. No one knows whether nuts, citrus or other crops grown with the recycled oil field water have been contaminated. Farmers may test crops for pests or disease, but they don’t check for water-borne chemicals. Instead, they rely on oversight by state and local water authorities. But experts say that testing of both the water and the produce should be expanded.

Last month, the Central Valley water authority, which regulates the water recycling program, notified all oil producers of new, broader testing requirements and ordered the companies to begin checking for chemicals covered under California’s new fracking disclosure regulations. The law, which legislators approved last year, requires oil companies to tell the state which chemicals they use in oil-extraction processes. The water authority gave producers until June 15 to report their results. “We need to make sure we fully understand what goes into the wastewater,” said Clay Rodgers, assistant executive officer of the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board. One environmental group has tested the irrigation water for oil field chemicals. Over the last two years, Scott Smith, chief scientist for the advocacy group Water Defense, collected samples of the treated irrigation water that the Cawelo Water District buys from Chevron. Laboratory analysis of those samples found compounds that are toxic to humans, including acetone and methylene chloride — powerful industrial solvents — along with oil. Water Defense, founded by actor Mark Ruffalo in 2010, works to promote access to clean water by testing local supplies and documenting contamination.

Sarah Oktay, a water testing expert and director of the Nantucket field station of the University of Massachusetts Boston, reviewed Smith’s methods and the laboratory analysis of the water he sampled. “I wouldn’t necessarily panic, but I would certainly think I would rather not have that,” she said, referring to the chemicals identified in the water samples. “My next step would be most likely to look and make sure the crop is healthy.” State Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) is sponsoring legislation that would require expanded testing of water produced in oil operations. The Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources, which regulates the state’s oil and gas industry, is already facing lawmakers’ ire after the recent discovery that about 2,500 oil wastewater injection wells were allowed to operate in aquifers that, under federal standards, contain clean water.

Pavley said it is “obviously unacceptable” that oil contaminants are found in irrigation water. “Anyone would be extremely concerned.” Chevron and the water district say that the water is safe for use on crops, citing the fact that they are complying with testing requirements under the wastewater discharge permit issued by the Central Valley water authority. David Ansolabehere, general manager of the Cawelo Water District, reviewed Smith’s results. He said the sampling methods gathered too many solids and not enough liquid for testing. Smith uses a sampling method that gathers water and particles over a longer period of time, from deeper levels, than traditional water testing techniques. That method, Ansolabehere said, casts doubt on the test results. Ansolabehere said Chevron and the water district, in an abundance of caution, would contract with a third party to test for the broader array of chemicals that is now required by the water board. “Protection of people and the environment is a core value for Chevron, and we take all necessary steps to ensure the protection of our water resources,” Cameron Van Ast, a company spokesman, said in an emailed statement. In the Kern County program, Chevron’s leftover water is mixed with walnut shells, a process the company says extracts excess oil. The water then flows to a series of treatment ponds. The treated water is launched into an eight-mile canal to the Cawelo Water District, where it is sometimes further diluted with fresh water. The water supplies 90 Kern County farmers with about half their annual irrigation water. The program is a good deal for oil companies, which view the water as an expensive nuisance. And it’s a bargain for the water districts. Ansolabehere said the cooperative pays Chevron about $30 an acre-foot for the wastewater, about half of open-market rates. Jonathan Bishop, chief deputy director of the State Water Resources Control Board, said that monitoring oil field activities has been a “low priority” in recent years. He said the onus for disclosure and testing rests on the discharger, in this case Chevron.

In some instances, oil companies have sought permission to reduce the frequency of the tests, which are expensive, because they consistently show the water to be in compliance with regulations. The local water board has the discretion to grant those requests, he said. “It’s a balancing act,” Bishop said. “We look at the cost of monitoring to assess risk associated with the discharge.” But Bishop said the water used for irrigation is safe as long as the company and the water district follow the rules of the permit.

The Central Valley water board is responsible for regulating the water recycling program and requires Chevron to collect samples and send them to a third-party lab for analysis. Smith, the Water Defense scientist, has consulted for the Environmental Protection Agency and other government offices on more than 50 oil spills and spent two years studying the oil wastewater used for irrigation in Kern County. He traveled the eight-mile Cawelo canal, taking samples of the water as it moved from Chevron’s oil fields through the irrigation canals to farmers’ fields. He said he gathered samples only from areas that were publicly accessible. He took samples from 10 points, collecting water from a number of depths at each site through a process that he said is more comprehensive than the sampling state and local authorities require. The samples Smith collected contained acetone and methylene chloride, solvents used to degrease equipment or soften thick crude oil, at concentrations higher than he said he had seen at oil spill disaster sites. The water also contained C20 and C34, hydrocarbons found in oil, according to ALS Environmental, the lab that analyzed Smith’s samples. Methylene chloride and acetone are used as solvents in many industrial settings. Methylene chloride is classified as a potential carcinogen.

One sample of the recycled Cawelo irrigation water, for example, registered methylene chloride as high as 56 parts per billion. Smith said that was nearly four times the amount of methylene chloride registered when he tested oil-fouled river at the 2013 ExxonMobil tar sands pipeline spill in Mayflower, Ark. That spill was declared a federal disaster, spurred evacuations and resulted in a $2.7-million fine for the company. Chevron told The Times it does not use acetone or methylene chloride in its oil extraction process. The company would not disclose the fluids used in drilling or well maintenance.

Mark Smith, a board member of the Cawelo Water District who grows pistachios and citrus using treated water from Chevron, said he had “never heard a word” about contamination from the oil production process and is satisfied that the water testing is adequate. “As long as they’re treating the water to the point where it’s allowed by whatever agency governs the quality of water, I think it would be OK,” said Glenn Fankhauser, assistant director of the Kern County Department of Agriculture and Measurement Standards. Blake Sanden, an agriculture extension agent and irrigation water expert with UC Davis, said “everyone smells the petrochemicals in the irrigation water” in the Cawelo district. But he said local farmers trust that organisms in the soil remove toxins or impurities in water.

“When I talk to growers, and they smell the oil field crap in that water, they assume the soil is taking care of this,” Sanden said. Microorganisms in soils can consume and process some impurities, Sanden said, but it’s not clear whether oil field waste is making its way into the roots or leaves of irrigated plants, and then into the food chain. It’s unlikely that petrochemicals will show up in an almond, for example, he added, “But can they make it into the flesh of an orange or grape? It’s possible. A lot of this stuff has not been studied in a field setting or for commercial food uptake.”

Carl K. Winter at UC Davis, who studies the detection of pesticides and naturally occurring toxins in foods, said some plants can readily absorb toxins without transferring them to the leaves or the flesh of their fruit. Still, he said, “it’s difficult to say anything for sure because we don’t know what chemicals are in the water.” Some chemists say that the key to effective testing is to cast a broad net that includes all chemicals used in oil production. “As an environmental health scientist, this is one of the things that keeps me up at night,” said Seth B.C. Shonkoff, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley and one of the researchers analyzing hydraulic fracturing for the state Legislature. “You can’t find what you don’t look for.”

How Radioactive is Our Ocean? : Fukushima Radiation Detected in Gulf Of Alaska; Soil In British Columbia; Radioactive Plume Expected To Reach U.S. West Coast In April 2014

In Uncategorized on March 14, 2014 at 6:54 pm
Fukushima Radiation Plume

Oldspeak:Examination of a soil sample from Kilby Provincial Park, near Agassiz, has for the first time in this province found Cesium 134, further evidence of Fukushima radioactivity being transported to Canada by air and water.“That was a surprise,” said Juan Jose Alava, an adjunct professor in the school of resource and environmental management at Simon Fraser University, in an interview on Tuesday. “It means there are still emissions … and trans-Pacific air pollution. It’s a concern to us. This is an international issue.” Cesium 134 has a half-life of two years, meaning its radioactivity is reduced by half during that time. Its presence in the environment is an indication of continuing contamination from Fukushima.” -Larry Pynn

“Hmm. Cesium 134 detected in the Gulf of Alaska, AND in soil along the northern Canadian coast, and indicates continuing contamination from Fukushima via air and water. Safe bet that the rain generated from the radioactive ocean and air has transported radioactive buckyballs god knows how much further east in North America. Yet, scientists’ calls for more monitoring in the environment go unheeded by Canadian and U.S. governments. Given the that radiation is continuing to be released in to the environment and citizens and scientists are the only ones bothering to test for it, you can expect radiation levels to steadily increase as the years pass. Babies in California are already showing the effects of this radioactive contamination, nevermind the reports of Radioactive fallout affecting all area of U.S… Supposing American and Canadian governments won’t start paying attention until people start glowing and sporting mysterious lesions like the sea lions. All we get are constant and utterly unfounded assurances of safety and ‘acceptable’ exposure levels. Why cover this up? There will come a time when it is non-longer possible. There is no safe level of exposure to radioactivity.” -OSJ

Related Story:

Expert: ‘The worst’ from Fukushima has left Japan and is headed to US, Canada — “Most of the radioactivity” moving with currents toward west coast — Report: Front edge of plume arrives in Gulf of Alaska — State: “There’s been a detection of cesium from Fukushima”

By Larry Pynn @ The Vancouver Sun:

A radioactive metal from the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan has been discovered in the Fraser Valley, causing researchers to raise the alarm about the long-term impact of radiation on B.C.’s west coast.

Examination of a soil sample from Kilby Provincial Park, near Agassiz, has for the first time in this province found Cesium 134, further evidence of Fukushima radioactivity being transported to Canada by air and water.

“That was a surprise,” said Juan Jose Alava, an adjunct professor in the school of resource and environmental management at Simon Fraser University, in an interview on Tuesday. “It means there are still emissions … and trans-Pacific air pollution. It’s a concern to us. This is an international issue.”

Cesium 134 has a half-life of two years, meaning its radioactivity is reduced by half during that time. Its presence in the environment is an indication of continuing contamination from Fukushima.

A more persistent danger to people and marine life is radioactive Cesium 137, which has a half-life of 30 years, and bioaccumulates in the food chain.

Researchers developed a model based on the diet of fish-eating killer whales along with the levels of Cesium 137 detected and predicted (less than 0.5 becquerels per cubic metre, a measurement of radioactivity) by other researchers in the Pacific waters offshore of Vancouver Island.

The models suggests that in 30 years, Cesium 137 levels in the whales will exceed the Canadian guideline of 1,000 becquerels per kilogram for consumption of seafood by humans — 10 times the Japanese guideline.

“It’s a reference, the only benchmark we have to compare against,” Alava said.

He said recent federal government cutbacks have placed a greater burden of testing and monitoring for aquatic impacts on academics, non-governmental organizations and even private citizens.

“The Canadian government is the one that should be doing something, should be taking action to keep monitoring to see how these contaminants are behaving, what are the levels, and what is next.”

It was a citizen, Aki Sano, who provided SFU with the soil sample from Kilby park, near the mouth of the Harrison River, on Nov. 16, 2013. Samples of chinook, sockeye and chum spawning salmon nearby are also being analyzed for evidence of radiation.

While the soil sample tested positive for Cesium 134, the exact level is not yet known, although it is thought to be low. The plan now is to test soil samples from Burnaby Mountain, closer to Vancouver.

Earlier research by Kris Starosta, associate professor of chemistry, and his colleagues at SFU has shown evidence of Iodine 131, which has a half-life of eight days, in rainwater and seaweeds in B.C. Fisheries and Oceans Canada conducted the analysis of sea water off Vancouver Island.

An adult killer whale weighing up to 5,000 kilograms can eat five per cent of its body weight, or 250 kilograms of fish, per day.

Endangered resident killer whales already face a host of challenges: the need for high-protein chinook salmon, habitat degradation, underwater noise pollution, harassment from whale watchers, and climate change. While the additional impact of Cesium 137 is unknown, it may negatively affect the immune system or endocrine system, Alava said.

“The impact on the animal needs to be studied. This is part of a cumulative impact on the marine environment.”

The results raise concerns for aboriginal people who maintain a diet heavy in fish.

“We might expect similar results because the diet of First Nation communities is based on seafood,” Alava said. “Humans at the top of the food web can perhaps see increasing levels in the future.”

The Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant suffered a catastrophic failure due to a 9.0-magnitude earthquake on March 11, 2011, which killed almost 19,000 people. Alava noted the plant continues to leak radiation, meaning that the problem is not going away soon. “There’s going to be a long-term exposure to organisms building up in the marine environment.”

While radiation levels so far remain low, the long-term implications deserve further study.

“So far the levels are safe,” Alava said. “We shouldn’t be worried now, but we need to keep monitoring in the long term to see whether these levels are building up in the food web.”

A victim of federal cutbacks, Peter Ross, a former research scientist with the federal Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney on Vancouver Island, joined the Vancouver Aquarium last month as director of a new ocean science program.

Ross said he worked almost 18 years at the institute until Fisheries and Oceans Canada announced in May 2012 it would cut 55 positions nationally, nine of them within B.C., as part of a plan to “divest itself of ocean pollution research and monitoring to the private, non-profit and academic sectors.”

No one at Fisheries and Oceans Canada or Health Canada was available immediately to comment Monday.

Alava noted that there remain low background levels of Cesium 137 dating back to the 1960s due to the dumping of radioactive material into the Pacific Ocean from nuclear submarines and reactors.

The BC Centre for Disease Control has been notified of the latest research finding.

EPA Links Tainted Water In Wyoming To Hydraulic Fracturing For Natural Gas

In Uncategorized on December 10, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Oldspeak:”‘Chemicals used to hydraulically fracture rocks in drilling for natural gas in a remote valley in central Wyoming are the likely cause of contaminated local water supplies, federal regulators said Thursday. The energy industry has long stressed that fracking and water contamination have never been definitively linked,’ despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. Thanks to a recent report, all those bullshit Exxon and Chevron commercials espousing the virtues of natural gas drilling can be exposed for what they are. Bright, shining lies. Hopefully this new information will help the Obama administration decide to put the kibosh on energy industry plans to drill in the fragile Marcellus Shale which if approved, will in all probability contaminate the drinking water of 15 million people from Delaware , New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Recent history suggests he’ll vote yes. God help us all.

Related Stories:

Fracking With Food: How The Natural Gas Industry Poisons Cows And Crops

Two Big Decisions Loom On The Fate Of Drinking Water For 15,800,000 People Living Near The Marcellus Shale In Northeast U.S.

By Kirk Johnson @ The New York Times:

Chemicals used to hydraulically fracture rocks in drilling for natural gas in a remote valley in central Wyoming are the likely cause of contaminated local water supplies, federal regulators said Thursday.

The draft report, after a three-year study by the Environmental Protection Agency, represents a new scientific and political skirmish line over whether fracking, as it is more commonly known, poses a threat in the dozens of places around the nation where it is now being used to extract previously unreachable energy resources locked within rock.

The study, which was prompted by complaints from local residents about the smell and taste of their water, stressed that local conditions were unusual at the site, called the Pavillion field, in that the gas wells were far shallower than in many other drilling areas around the country. The shallow depth means that natural gas itself can seep upward naturally through the rock, and perhaps into aquifers.

But the suite of chemicals found in two test wells drilled at the site, the report said, could not be explained entirely by natural processes. The agency’s analysis of samples taken from deep monitoring wells in the aquifer indicated the presence of synthetic chemicals, like glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above standards in the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards, and high methane levels.

Also complicating the inquiry is the Pavillion field’s long history. The oldest wells there were drilled 40 years ago or more, and chemicals that might have been used were not required to be listed or reported to anyone.

The energy industry has long stressed that fracking and water contamination have never been definitively linked.

“When considered together with other lines of evidence, the data indicates likely impact to ground water that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing,” the draft study said. And perhaps just as crucially, the evidence also suggested that seepage of natural gas itself had increased around the drilling sites. Natural gas is often mixed with other elements, including methane, which can taint water supplies.

“Data suggest that enhanced migration of gas has occurred within ground water at depths used for domestic water supply,” said the draft study, which will now be sent for scientific peer review and public comment.

A spokesman for Encana Oil & Gas (USA), which bought the Pavillion field in 2004 and drilled some of the approximately 169 wells there, said the E.P.A.’s science was inconclusive. Encana’s parent company is based in Calgary.

“What we have here is not a conclusion, but a probability — and based on the facts, not a good probability,” said Doug Hock, the company’s spokesman. He said that enhanced migration of gas as a result of drilling was unlikely in the Pavillion field, since drilling had reduced pressure in the underlying rock, thus reducing forces that can lead to gas seepage. And finding methane and benzene in two deep test wells drilled for the study, he said, is what you would expect in a gas-rich zone.

“Encana didn’t put those there, nature did,” he said.

The governor of Wyoming, Matt Mead, also said in a statement that the E.P.A.’s conclusions were “scientifically questionable” and not based on enough data. Mr. Mead, a Republican, called for more testing by the E.P.A., in conjunction with a state group of residents, state and federal agencies, and Indian tribes already at work looking into questions about Pavillion’s water supply.

Wyoming, which is dependent on oil and gas drilling, along withcoal mining, as anchors of its economy, will also be among the peer reviewers of the E.P.A.’s draft, the governor’s statement said. The chairman of a local Pavillion residents’ group — about 200 people, mostly involved in farming and ranching, who live in proximity to the drilling sites — expressed gratitude to the E.P.A., and perhaps a bit of veiled doubt about the zeal of local and state regulators.

“This investigation proves the importance of having a federal agency that can protect people and the environment,” said John Fenton, the chairman of Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens. “Those of us who suffer the impacts from the unchecked development in our community are extremely happy the contamination source is being identified.”

Gas drilling, using both hydraulic fracturing to release gas and horizontal drilling techniques that can snake underground far from the actual bore holes, is now moving into closer proximity to American population centers than in the past.

From the suburbs of Denver to Pennsylvania and Oklahoma, natural gas reserves, known about but previously unreachable for economic and technological reasons, are being tapped, and anxieties about the hydraulic injection process and its consequences are growing. Wyoming, in 2010, became one of the first states to require petroleum companies or their contractors to disclose the ingredients in their specially formulated fracking fluids. The E.P.A. has also begun a national study on the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources.

Two Big Decisions Loom On The Fate Of Drinking Water For 15,800,000 People Living Near The Marcellus Shale In Northeast U.S.

In Uncategorized on November 11, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Oldspeak:” Not for nothin but Fuck Herman Cain. We have more important things to think about. With mountains of evidence demonstrating the grave threats to the free, natural water supply for millions of Americans and irreversible environmental damage done by high pressure hydraulic fracking, the fact that some states will be voting to allow it to go ahead, amid tens of thousands of objections, with grossly inadequate restrictions and regulations, one begins to understand the breath and scope of control the Transnational Corporate Network has over the U.S. government and indeed countless governments worldwide. Natural gas/oil drilling and production are demonstrably dangerous and environmentally devastating means of energy production. Everyone knows this, innumerable accidents worldwide leave no doubt. Yet it continues unabated. 5 people will decide the fate drinking water 15 million. Oil and Natural gas corporations wield infinitely greater power over our political and regulatory systems than the majority of people who supposedly elected officials to represent their interests.  Democracy Inaction. One has to wonder why there is so much pressure and power behind the efforts to proceed with efforts that will in all probability lead to permanent contamination of freely and naturally produced water supplies for millions worldwide, coinciding with curiously sparse corporate news coverage of this issue. Could this be a roundabout way of forcing transitions to privatized water production and distribution? Once people’s water is contaminated, they’ll be left with little other choice than paying for and drinking commercially produced water. Hmmm. Stranger things have happened.”

Related Story:

New Fracking Regulations For The Delaware Basin Unacceptable To Environmentalists

By Stephen Wishnia @ Alter Net:

The fate of fracking in the Northeast may be determined soon.

On Nov. 21, the Delaware River Basin Commission, comprising representatives from four states (New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware) and the federal government, will vote on whether to allow the intensive method of natural-gas drilling in the river’s watershed. The watershed, which supplies drinking water for more than 15 million people, overlaps the eastern end of the Marcellus Shale, an underground geological formation touted as the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”

The commission’s rules, which will apply in the Delaware watershed, will overlap with state regulations. Pennsylvania already allows fracking. New York is in the process of developing regulations about where it might be allowed and under what conditions. The state Department of Environmental Conservation will hold public hearings in November, and says it will decide sometime next year. Many environmental activists believe Gov. Andrew Cuomo is fast-tracking the issue.

The Background

Fracking is currently on hold in New York and the Delaware watershed while regulations are being developed. In Pennsylvania west of the Delaware watershed, more than 4,000 wells have been drilled since 2005, with almost 1,500 started this year.

The proposed Delaware River regulations will be released Nov. 7. Environmental activists are pessimistic about both processes. “We know they’re going to going to be bad,” says Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of Delaware Riverkeeper. “We don’t know how bad.”

“The fix is in in both,” says Bruce Ferguson of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy. “Cuomo’s going to shove it down our throats.”

Fracking — a nickname for “high-volume hydraulic fracturing” — involves drilling down into shale layers thousands of feet underground, then pumping in thousands of gallons of water, sand and often toxic additives to shatter the shale and enable gas trapped in it to bubble up through the pipes. Unlike traditional gas wells, which go straight up and down, fracking wells are drilled out horizontally once they reach the shale. The process is fraught with environmental hazards, from above ground spills to the possibility of gas and the toxic chemicals used leaking into groundwater.

The Marcellus Shale is a layer of black shale rich in organic materials along the west side of the Appalachian Mountains. Formed about 400 million years ago, it covers the area under eastern Ohio, most of Pennsylvania, almost all of West Virginia, the Maryland panhandle, and upstate New York from the Southern Tier counties along the Pennsylvania border to the Catskill Mountains. Most of it is more than a mile underground, but the areas where it is closer to the surface — northern Pennsylvania and upstate New York — are where the gas is purest and most easily accessible.

NY Learning from Pennsylvania’s Mistakes?

Pennsylvania has relatively loose regulations. It allows drilling as little as 100 feet away from streams or wetlands and 200 feet from a structure. While it prohibits companies from dumping drilling waste into streams or unlined pits, it lets them store it in open-air pits, as long as the pits are lined with a synthetic material.

The proposed New York regulations, at least the draft issued in September, would be somewhat stricter. They would allow fracking in an estimated 80 percent of the Marcellus Shale, but would ban it within 2,000 feet of public drinking-water supplies and within 500 feet of private wells. They would require “flowback” — the water that returns to the Earth’s surface after fracking, which contains numerous toxic chemicals used in the process — to be stored in watertight tanks. Most important for both political and environmental reasons, they would prohibit fracking within 4,000 feet of the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, as both cities do not filter their water supplies, and it would cost billions of dollars to build filtration plants.

“In developing the permitting process for high-volume hydraulic fracturing, DEC’s number one priority is to protect drinking water for all New Yorkers,” says a Department of Environmental Conservation spokesperson. “New York has taken a cautious and deliberate approach to propose the strictest standards in the nation that are based on sound science and engineering principles. The draft SGEIS [supplemental generic environmental impact statement] contains multiple barriers to protect the state’s drinking water and public health, which include generous buffers around water supplies.”

Richard Young, a geology professor at the State University of New York at Geneseo, calls the buffers “ridiculous.” In fracking, he says, water is pumped underground at pressures of 15,000 pounds per square inch, capable of lifting an 8,000-foot column of rock. This would force the gas and the chemicals used up into fractures in the earth, where they then would inevitably wind up in groundwater.

“There’s lots of faults and fractures in New York State that nobody has mapped. Once you start pressurizing them, there’s no controlling where things go,” he explains. “The cleanup costs would be astronomical even if you could do it. Once you contaminate water underground over a broad area, there’s nothing you can do about it. There’s no bailout plan.”

A Duke University study released in May found methane gas concentrations averaging 19.2 milligrams per liter in water from wells within 1,000 meters of shale-gas well pads in Pennsylvania and upstate New York-17 times the amount of methane in wells farther away. The methane found was distinctly “thermogenic,” prehistoric and from deep underground, rather than “biogenic,” from recent organic decay near the surface. The study listed three possible sources of water contamination: that the process itself had forced gas and toxic chemicals up into aquifers; leaks from defective drill pipes closer to the surface; and spills above ground.

“Methane migration through the 1- to 2-km-thick geological formations that overlie the Marcellus and Utica shales is less likely as a mechanism for methane contamination than leaky well casings,” it said, “but might be possible due to both the extensive fracture systems reported for these formations and the many older, uncased wells drilled and abandoned over the last century and a half in Pennsylvania and New York.”

“Every time you drill a well, be it a water well or a gas well, you’re breaking a seal, says William Kappel, a hydrologist with the United States Geological Service office in Ithaca, New York. Still, he says the chances are “nil” that fracking would force toxins up into groundwater. The intense pressure used, he explains, is to balance the high pressure underground, and the actual pumping takes only 15 to 20 minutes. Underground vertical faults are very small, he adds, sometimes as thin as a sheet of paper. They can be as much as 1,000 feet long at depths of 7,000 feet, but closer to the surface, they are shorter and much more likely to be horizontal.

From the data he’s seen, he says, leaks from vertical drilling pipes are a far more likely hazard.

That is what happened in Dimock, Pennsylvania, a town of 1,400 people near the New York border, in April 2010. The cement casing around a drill pipe cracked, allowing methane to leak into the groundwater, poisoning 19 wells. The water in those wells contained so much methane that there was a risk it might explode. The gas that leaked in Dimock, says Kappel, was not from the Marcellus shale, but from a slightly higher geological layer. Drilling was banned in a nine-square-mile area after the leak. Cabot Energy, the operator of the defective well, signed a consent decree that it would provide water to the 19 households affected. Originally, it was going to build a pipeline to bring water from the nearby town of Montrose, but it decided that supplying 550-gallon “water buffalo” tanks was cheaper.

On Oct. 18, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection said that Cabot could stop providing water to the affected households after Nov. 30.

“They said they weren’t going to spend any more money testing our water,” says Dimock resident Craig Sauter. “They said it was a done deal. One of our neighbors turned on his water today, and it came out brown and orange.”

Sauter and his wife signed a lease for $2,500 an acre in June 2008 to let Cabot drill on their land. The company promised to restore his water if it was degraded, he says, but “they never have.” When the air in his well was tested Sept. 15, he says, it contained 20 percent methane. His tap water “looked like coffee with milk in it.”

Cabot is required to give the affected households gas mitigators. “We’ve been down that road before, and it didn’t do the job,” says Sauter. The device got a lot of the methane out, he says, but his water was still contaminated with arsenic, barium, and uranium. Cabot insists those elements were there naturally.

Lawyers for the affected households may appeal the decision, but Sauter doesn’t have much faith in the courts. “I know money talks, and that’s not reassuring,” he says. The New York DEC says that properly cementing the vertical drilling pipes would have prevented the Dimock gas leaks, as well as several others that occurred in nearby wells. It contends that because the Dimock well was located on a steep hill, it would have flagged the permit application and required “site-specific permit conditions designed to address the risks associated with hillside locations.”

Other fracking hazards include the huge numbers of truck trips required to carry supplies, the amount of water needed for the process, and waste storage. Flowback contains significant amounts of toxic volatile hydrocarbons, such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, as well as lead and halogenated hydrocarbons such as dichlorobromomethane. In Pennsylvania, the ponds that contain the flowback are “the size of an Olympic swimming pool and lined with plastic slightly stronger than a trash bag,” says Gloria Forouzan of Marcellus Protest in Pittsburgh. “There’s no facility in Pennsylvania that can treat this fluid.”

The New York DEC claims that its proposed testing procedures would have averted an April incident in LeRoy Township, Pennsylvania, when, after a heavy rainstorm, a valve flange at a wellhead failed and 60,000 gallons of fracking fluids spurted out. About 10,000 gallons overflowed the edges of the containment pond, and some wound up in a nearby creek. Chesapeake Energy, the well’s operator, says it had passed all safety tests before the accident.

Companies are generally not required to disclose the exact chemicals contained in specific products used in fracking, because that information is considered a “trade secret.” The Bush administration exempted fracking fluids from the Safe Drinking Water Act’s restrictions. The Earthworks Action Web site calls that the “Halliburton loophole,” because “it is widely perceived to have come about as a result of the efforts of Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force.” Halliburton is one of the top three manufacturers of fracking fluids. There are huge loopholes in the proposed New York regulations, argues Roger Downs, legislative director for the Atlantic branch of the Sierra Club. The regulations cover only wells that will use more than 300,000 gallons of water, he explains; about 5,000 are expected to use less. And the state has not considered the effect of 10,000 fracking wells, with an average of 1,200 truck trips to each one.

“They refuse to do a cumulative environmental impact statement,” he says. “They just concentrate on the impact of individual wells.” Organizing and financing the regulations is another concern. Downs estimates that the DEC would need to hire 220 new staff and spend $20 million a year to have adequate inspections and enforcement. If that doesn’t happen, he says, there will be “pandemonium,” and rules “will be negotiated at the well pad.” If the state doesn’t have solid regulations, he continues, it will be impossible for the public to sue to have them enforced.

There is no federal Environmental Protection Agency standard limiting the amount of methane in drinking water, notes Emily Wurth of Food & Water Watch. Some occurs naturally. Downs also questions whether the regulations will actually prohibit fracking in the New York and Syracuse watersheds. In any case, he adds, most people in rural central and western New York get their water from wells, so they’re also drinking unfiltered water.

Many activists believe that in order to enable fracking, Gov. Cuomo is planning to sacrifice upstate to protect New York City. “They certainly are deciding to drill around political boundaries,” Downs says.

Rural Towns Threatened

The politics of the issue come down to large gas companies versus local residents worried about having their environment poisoned, with the companies trying to win local support from the money drilling generates-in jobs and in payments to landowners. In October, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry announced that there were more than 20,000 jobs directly linked to Marcellus Shale gas development, more than twice the number in 2008, although jobs in other areas related to the gas industry fell slightly.

“This data further reinforces the undeniable fact that responsible American natural gas production is an unmatched, private-sector job-creation machine,” said a statement by Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group based in Pennsylavania.

Elmira, New York, a depressed industrial city just over the border from Pennsylvania, “is indirectly benefiting from the gas boom,” says a local environmental activist. “The influx of gas drilling service industries is using more and more of Chemung County’s underutilized industrial infrastructure. High-paying, low-skilled jobs, albeit temporary, are creating enthusiasm with the working class.”

“It’s a really complicated issue,” says Autumn Stoschek of ShaleShock, an Ithaca-based activist group. She lives in Van Etten, a small town nearby. “It’s a depressed area, but on the other hand, it’s a rural area, and people really like the outdoors.” The rural residents are more likely to display gas-company logos in their yards than the anti-fracking signs that dot the college town of Ithaca, she explains, but they’re suspicious of both environmentalists and corporations.

The Southern Tier has a long history of gas drilling, she says, but when fracking came in, “it was a big turning point,” as large corporations replaced “mom-and-pop gas companies.” Her parents signed a gas lease for $2 an acre in 1999. In 2005, Fortuna Energy drilled a horizontal well on their farm. Some now “regret that they signed the lease,” says upstate activist Lisa Wright. The gas-company “landsmen” who arranged the deals, she explains, didn’t tell them “it’s a huge industrial process. It involves hundreds of truck trips per well.”

“People had no idea what they were dealing with,” says Stoschek. “When they don’t restore your fields and leave a rubble pile, they tell you to sue them.” The pressure on homeowners to settle lawsuits is huge, says Gloria Forouzan. When people can’t live in their home because the water is destroyed, they can’t sell it either, so they are desperate-and gas companies demand silence as part of the settlement, she says.

“Working-class people don’t have the means to get a corporate lawyer to fight this kind of thing,” says Wright.

“We’re a sacrifice zone,” Stoschek concludes.

In New York’s Sullivan and Delaware counties, in the Catskill Mountains on the eastern side of the Delaware, a poll taken in early October found more than two-thirds of residents willing to support a fracking ban. The practice would bring money to the area, says Bruce Ferguson, but at the expense of tourism, farming, and land values. “People value above all the rural character,” he says. “They don’t want to live in an industrial zone.”

The Big Decision

The Delaware River Basin Commission received more than 69,000 comments from the public after its draft regulations were released last December. When it extended the comment period to April 15, the Marcellus Shale Coalition complained that it would “undermine dialogue” by “detracting from the voices of the key stakeholders… landowners, residents of the Basin, and our member companies who are investing capital and creating jobs in the region.”

The Hess company, a member of the coalition, objected to proposed restrictions on drilling within flood-hazard zones, on steep hills, or within 500 feet of water sources, saying they would affect 60 percent of the land the company has leased in the area. It urged more flexible, case-by-case rules.

Tracy Carluccio of Delaware Riverkeeper calls the draft regulations “totally inadequate” to protect the watershed. The commission has not done either a comparative environmental analysis of fracking or a cumulative-impact study, she says.

“They haven’t done the analysis to see if it could be done safely,” she says-and given the record of accidents in Pennsylvania, she adds, it can’t be done safely. “They are now putting in place the ruination of our aquifers.”

DRBC spokesperson Clarke Rupert responds that the commission’s work “was not created in an information vacuum.” It looked closely at how other areas of the country were handling fracking, he adds, and it is not required by federal law to do an environmental-impact statement.

States can enact stronger regulations than the ones the commission creates, Rupert says. The commission can also establish regulations stronger than state laws, but they would apply only to the areas within the Delaware watershed. In Pennsylvania, that would mean the counties along the river, not the western three-fourths of the state.

Activists suspect the commission has agreed not to propose regulations that would be stronger than those of any of the four states in the area. “They are opting out of anything stricter,” says Carluccio.

In May, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sued the federal government, demanding that it undertake a full environmental review before it allows gas drilling in the Delaware watershed. On Oct. 13, the Philadelphia City Council voted to join the suit.

Three of the five members’ votes are needed for the commission to approve regulations. Pennsylvania is considered a sure yes, as Gov. Tom Corbett is a strong supporter of fracking. He considers it a panacea for the state’s economy, and he received more than $1 million from oil and gas interests in his 2010 campaign. In April, after he proposed slashing the state’s higher education budget by half, he suggested that state colleges could offset the cuts by putting well pads on campus.

The other members’ votes are in play, activists say. In New Jersey, the state legislature recently passed a bill to ban fracking, but Gov. Chris Christie vetoed it. Delaware, which is at the mouth of the river, might be more likely to vote no. Andrew Cuomo may want fracking in New York, but may also want to get his own state’s regulations through first. Environmentalists have been urging the Obama administration to vote no.

Ultimately, says William Kappel, the question is of “relative risk.” He’s worked on drilling rigs, and “accidents do occur.”

All industrial processes cause some environmental degradation; it’s the price we pay for living at a standard above hunter-gatherers and subsistence farmers. Yet there is only so much damage the Earth can take. Is the risk that fracking poses to our drinking water worth the amount of energy it creates and the money it provides?

Steven Wishnia is a New York-based journalist and musician. The author of Exit 25 Utopia and The Cannabis Companion, he has won two New York City Independent Press Association awards for his coverage of housing issues.

The 1% Are Fracking the Rest of Us … Literally

 

 

The 1% Frack the 99%

 

As the Emmy-winning documentary Gasland demonstrates, hydrofracking (“fracking” for short) is

polluting water all over the country.

As I noted in August, the government has also officially stated that fracking can cause earthquakes.

A fracking company in the UK admitted last week that their activity was causing earthquakes.

As the New York Daily News notes, many locals suspect fracking of causing the largest earthquake in Oklahoma in 200 years:

Scientists are puzzled by the recent seismic activity.

***

There are 181 injection wells in the Oklahoma county where most of the weekend earthquakes happened, said Matt Skinner, spokesman for the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which oversees oil and gas production in the state and intrastate transportation pipelines.*

Of course, the good folks making money hand over fist by fracking are encouraging open and truthful debate about the risks of fracking, right?

Well, not exactly.

Actor Mark Ruffalo was put on terror watch list after he organized showings of Gasland – the Emmy-award winner – part of a trend of using national security laws to protect big companies (more).

And fracking companies are using military psychological operations techniques to discredit opponents(and see this).

In short, the 1% are fracking the rest of us.

JP Morgan and BP Are Fracking Us, Too

JP Morgan was – at the time of last year’s Gulf oil spill – the largest owner of BP.

BP is ending its clean up operations in the Gulf.

Too bad the well is probably still leaking (and see this).

Indeed, the BP Gulf oil spill, the financial crisis, Fukushima and other major disasters were all caused by the 1%: (1) making insane bets that nothing would blow up, and (2) cutting every possible safety measure to make more money.

And exactly like the toxic financial assets that the big banks dumped onto the national balance sheets of Greece, Italy, America and elsewhere – and ultimately the people – JP Morgan, BP and the U.S. government are dumping the cost of the Gulf disaster on the backs of the American people.

Another Oil Spill As ExxonMobil Fouls Montana’s Pristine Yellowstone River

In Uncategorized on July 6, 2011 at 10:14 am

Oldspeak:”ExxonMobil spends alotta money trying to convince you that they’re doing good things for you, America and the environment with their feel good commercial/campaign ads where they support  minority education and fighting infectious diseases. Reducing dependence on foreign oil, engineering “cleaner” more environmentally friendly extraction techniques. It’s all bullshit. They deal in death. Their business is extracting the extremely toxic fossilized remains of dead animals and plants. And in the wake of their latest environmentally devastating accident, they’re going to the old reliable disaster response playbook: downplay the amount released, downplay environmental and health effects while feigning vigorous clean up efforts so as to minimize exposure to resulting legal action and amounts of recompense. The EPA, one of the energy industry’s captured ‘regulators’ is even in on the snow job claiming air and water quality have not been affected in the face of reports of oil covered wildlife and people hospitalized from exposure to oil fumes. Alas pictures like the one above tell you all you need to know. Extraction and production of oil and natural gas are inherently dangerous and toxic to the environment and everything living in it. People around the world are being killed, displaced and poisoned so Big Oil can get at their lethal lifeblood. Truly clean (not ‘natural’ gas, not nuclear, not ‘clean’ coal) and renewable energy is the only safe and sustainable way forward.

Related Stories:

Yellowstone River Suffers Oil Spill

 

Crews Mop Up Oil On Yellowstone River

 

Oil Leak Not Sealed As Quickly as Exxon Claimed

By Tara Thean @ Time Ecocentric:

Amid the fireworks, parades, and hot dogs of this past Fourth of July weekend was that sinking feeling of déjà vu when news broke that yet another oil spill was oozing across once-clean waters. This time, it wasn’t the Gulf of Mexico, it was Montana; and it wasn’t BP, it was ExxonMobil. On Friday, 1,000 barrels of crude oil (42,000 gal.) spilled into Yellowstone River after an ExxonMobil pipeline under the riverbed ruptured. The pipeline has been shut down, but not yet repaired.

ExxonMobil is “making progress” in cleaning up the oil, according to, well ExxonMobil. Company president, Gary Pruessing says that the oil giant is conducting daily reconnaissance tests to see the impact the leak is having in the areas around the riverbanks. At this point, Pruessing says, the cleanup team has yet to find areas affected by the spill beyond 25 miles of where the pipeline ruptured, and the oil found along the shoreline is “in really small patches.”

More from TIME: A Timeline of the BP Oil Spill

“I don’t want to infer in any way that we’ve completed [the tests],” Pruessing said. “If we have citizens with additional information that would conflict that, we encourage them to contact us.”

If ExxonMobil’s tests on air and water quality so far are anything to go by, residents should have no reason to panic. Though citizens of Yellowstone county raised concerns that benzene, a chemical naturally present in crude oil, might be fouling the air in the wake of the spill, air monitoring conducted so far has not found “measurable amounts that would cause problems from a health standpoint,” according to Pruessing. The same goes for water quality: the Environmental Protection Agency has conducted sampling throughout the river but has yet to pick up anything harmful.

“All the monitoring has indicated that we don’t have any air issues…and we have not had any reports about water quality,” Pruessing said, adding that the Environmental Protection Agency conducted more sampling on Monday and will make the results available in the next day or two. “We believe [the latest sampling] will confirm earlier reports that we do not have any issues on the water.”

But Alexis Bonogofsky, who lives on the Yellowstone River, said she feels strongly that ExxonMobil has downplayed the impact of the oil spill and is withholding information from residents of Yellowstone County. “It’s almost like they’re reading out of a playbook,” she said. “First they downplay the amount, then they downplay the effect – and then you see reports that it’s bigger and more damaging than they thought.” Bonogofsky added that Yellowstone County residents were not allowed to record Pruessing’s responses to their queries during a meeting with Pruessing on Sunday.

“They’re just spewing talking points,” she said. “It’s really frustrating – I think right now people are nervous and scared; they don’t know what’s going on.”

Photos from TIME: Victims of the BP Oil Spill 

But even if it is frustrating, this response shouldn’t be surprising, according to Ryan Salmon, Energy Policy Advisor for the National Wildlife Federation‘s Climate and Energy Program. “I think industry in every case has downplayed the impacts and I don’t anticipate this will be any different,” he said. Those impacts could be pretty significant: the toxic chemicals released into the river would be a problem for aquatic wildlife, Salmon said, and NWF Global Warming Solutions Program Executive Director Tim Warman noted that pipeline oil spills tend to adversely affect the health of rivers and the ecosystems surrounding them.

“It’s literally impossible that there are not going to be those impacts,” Bonogofsky said, adding that the residents of Yellowstone County haven’t been provided with enough information from ExxonMobil about the consequences of the oil spill.

Faced with these claims, Yellowstone County commissioner Bill Kennedy noted that he had provided ExxonMobil with a list of all the landowners along the riverbank and asked the company to talk face-to-face with them. “They spent four hours with one couple who had a lot of oil on their property,” he said. “We’re working on trying to have a public meeting to update everyone.” Pruessing also emphasized that a community hotline has been set up for homeowners to raise concerns about water quality or the affects of the oil spill on their land.

But Kennedy, Pruessing and ExxonMobil have a lot of convincing to do yet. Bonogofsky, for one, feels that many of the company’s statements and actions are merely for publicity. “I feel like now the cleanup crew is here and there are cameras everywhere…but only in the public places. Landowners don’t have cleanup crews in their place,” she said. “We haven’t had anyone call us and say ‘Hey, Exxon is taking care of you.’”

Photos from TIME: Protesting BP

Fukishima Reactors A Raging Nuclear Inferno Vast Amounts Of Radiation Still Being Released Into Atmosphere

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2011 at 2:23 pm

Oldspeak: “The deafening silence continues with next to no coverage of this ongoing environmental catastrophe. More than 2 months later we learn that 3 of the 4 reactors have melted down. Crickets from corporate media. The Russians having gone through Chernobyl are rightfully concerned and are reporting on it. With recently raised ‘acceptable’ radiation limits at 1000 times that which is safe for the human body, and radiation detectors turned off, apparently there is nothing to be concerned about here. “Ignorance is Strength”.

By Kurt Nimmo @ Infowars:

Professor Christopher Busby, who sits on the European Committee on Radiation Risks, told RT yesterday that the reactors at Fukushima are a raging nuclear inferno and he believes at least one of the reactors is now outside its containment structure and emitting vast amounts of radiation into the atmosphere.

The Japanese newspaper Asahi reports today that data reveals meltdowns occurred at the No. 2 and No. 3 reactors. Goshi Hosono, special adviser to Prime Minister Naoto Kan, acknowledged the likelihood of meltdowns. “We have to assume that meltdowns have taken place,” Hosono said at a news conference May 16.

Infowars.com and other alternative news sources reported the probability of a nuclear meltdown at the plant, but this was virtually ignored by the corporate media.

Soon after an earthquake and tsunami crippled the plant, nuclear experts said meltdowns occurred at all three reactors. TEPCO and the corporate media downplayed the possibility of nuclear meltdown. On April 17, TEPCO released a schedule to reach a cold shutdown at the Fukushima plant within six to nine months, but eventually had to revise the schedule.

Nuclear experts indicate more than a decade will be required to remove the melted fuel, eliminate the contamination, and dismantle the reactors.

Public release of data on the situation at the plant, which had been kept at the central control room, was delayed because it took time to restore power and remove radioactive materials attached to the papers, according to TEPCO. According to the data, the pressure in the pressure vessel of the No. 2 reactor dropped at 6:43 p.m. on March 15. A similar drop in pressure also took place at the No. 3 reactor at 11:50 p.m. on March 16.

“We have yet to be able to grasp the entire situation at the plant,” a TEPCO official said on May 16.

Radioactive technetium was discovered in water in the No. 3 reactor building. The discovery raised speculation that the melted nuclear fuel has breached the pressure vessel and landed in the containment vessel. Technetium is produced when nuclear fuel rods are damaged.

Related articles

Fukushima Reactor 1 melted down, 2 and 3 may have too

By John Timmer @ Ars Technica:

Yesterday, TEPCO, the company responsible for running the Fukushima nuclear reactors, released a provisional analysis of the events that occurred in Unit 1, one of the reactors that was active when the tsunami struck. In five stark pages, the report lays out the impact of the tsunami on the facility: water levels that plunged below the bottom of the fuel, a complete meltdown of the nuclear fuel, and extensive damage to the reactor vessel.

The new analysis was enabled by the recent installation of air purifiers that let personnel reenter the reactor control room for the first time. Once inside, they were able to recalibrate some of the instruments that have been monitoring the reactor core; the revised numbers have enabled TEPCO to better understand what happened in the wake of the tsunami.

Things moved fairly quickly: by four hours after the tsunami hit, the levels of cooling water had dropped enough that the top of the fuel stack was exposed to the air. Shortly after that happened, the temperature in the core reached nearly 3,000°C, and the cooling water boiled off the bottom of the fuel stack. Melting of fuel rods started at 4.8 hours after the earthquake hit, and a partial meltdown had already occurred by 5.1 hours. According to TEPCO, any residual integrity in the fuel rods was gone by 15 hours after the quake, and the reactor core was emptied of fuel by 16 hours.

If there’s a bright side here, it’s that, by melting to the floor of the reactor, most of the fuel was resubmerged in cooling water. Temperatures there are now in the area of 100-120°C. The temperatures still fluctuate based on the rate of cooling water injection, suggesting the majority of the fuel is still inside the reactor vessel. The temperature and pressure readings indicate that the vessel is generally intact, as well. But the continued loss of cooling water indicates that it almost certainly has been leaking water that is heavily contaminated with radioactive isotopes (though not necessarily reactor fuel).

As Nature’s Geoff Brumfiel puts it, “Nobody really knows where all the water is going—but it can’t be anywhere good.” The best hope is that it largely leaked into the basement areas of the reactor building but we currently don’t know for certain where the water escaped to or how far it has spread. Complicating matters further arereports that TEPCO thinks that the two other reactors that were active at the time of the quake suffered similar damage. Confirmation will have to wait for access to their control rooms.

All of this will make the cleanup efforts extraordinarily complex, as the fuel can no longer be lifted out using the structure it was incorporated into, since all that supporting material has melted away. Workers will also have to contend with leaks of highly radioactive water during the process; that water will have to be removed or contained before it leaches into the surrounding soil. There are positives here—temperatures are relatively low now, and the fuel appears to have remained in the reactor vessel—but Fukushima is likely to be a long-term worry.

Further reading