Archive for the ‘Environment/Energy’ Category

Michigan Oil Spill Contractors Convicted on Immigration Crimes Linked to Cleanup Work

Posted on: August 26th, 2013 by Todd Heywood 2 Comments
Unidentified members of a crew of Hallmark Industrial Services employees working on the oil spill in 2010. Photo provided to The American Independent by an anonymous source.

Unidentified members of a crew of Hallmark Industrial Services employees working on the oil spill in 2010. Photo provided to The American Independent by an anonymous source.

Two men indicted for their role in exploiting undocumented workers during a 2010 oil spill cleanup have pleaded guilty to multiple immigration crimes. An investigation by The American Independent’s former sister site Michigan Messenger uncovered the exploitation of undocumented workers – mostly from Central America – during the cleanup following a July oil spill in Marshall, Mich. (more…)

The (Alleged) Kleptocrat’s Webmaster

Posted on: October 16th, 2012 by Eli Clifton 2 Comments

Screen capture of the Qorvis-managed website of Equatorial Guinea's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, featuring an image of Teodorin.

Washington-based Qorvis Communications has continued to work on behalf of the president of Equatorial Guinea’s family and has managed the website of a government ministry currently in the crosshairs of international corruption investigations. (more…)

Enbridge, regulators faulted in Michigan oil spill

Posted on: July 10th, 2012 by Todd Heywood 6 Comments

NTSB photo of ruptured Enbridge pipeline.

LANSING — The National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday said the massive oil spill that contaminated nearly 40 miles of the Kalamazoo River in Michigan could have been avoided. (more…)

Experts explore public policy implications of fires

Posted on: June 28th, 2012 by The American Independent 5 Comments

Fires in High Park in Poudre Canyon about 15 miles from Ft. Collins, Colo. Official Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Jess Geffre.

ASPEN, COLO. — Public policy and political will must shift as dramatically as the winds that have whipped Colorado’s record wildfires, experts say, or the state’s residents will continue to pay a higher and higher price for forests that are dying due to global climate change. (more…)

Congressman seeks to increase distance between fracking and schools

Posted on: June 20th, 2012 by The American Independent 1 Comment

Editor’s note: This is the fifth and final installment in a series on hydraulic fracturing near schools. Read the first part here, the second part here, the third part here. and the fourth part here.

BOULDER, COLO. — There are a lot of opinions on how far hydraulic fracturing should be from schools. One resident near a drilling operation a few hundred yards from Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie said he was probably the only one on his block who didn’t mind the noise or environmental and health risks Encana Corp.’s project brought with it. Still, in a perfect world, he said he’d prefer it were a mile away.

In Colorado, oil and gas operations are required to be at least 350 feet from schools.

Rep. Jared Polis (Image courtesy of Rep. Jared Polis)

U.S. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., would like to increase the setback nationwide to 1,000 feet. He is introducing an amendment today that would do just that for primary and secondary schools located near U.S. oil and gas resources. If passed, the amendment would be attached to the controversial Domestic Energy and Jobs Act, or H.R. 4480, sponsored by Rep. Cory Gardner, R.-Colo. H.R. 4480 is strongly opposed by sportsmen and environmental groups as it would mandate increased federal agency leasing of oil and gas resources and weaken the country’s clean air protections.

“An increased setback would better protect school-aged children from the negative impacts of air pollution from drilling sites. Studies indicate that there are increased levels of carcinogenic fumes, such as benzene, near fracking sites,” Polis’ spokesman Chris Fitzgerald wrote in an email to the Colorado Independent.

Protecting children and other people from risks that hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, operations pose to communities is receiving more attention than ever in Colorado and elsewhere as more rigs creep ever closer.

The oil and gas companies paint their detractors as alarmists. The health concerns are blown out of proportion, they argue. Whenever possible, companies say they try to drill even farther out than the law requires and, in the case of Red Hawk and Erie elementary schools, during summer break.

But the noise, traffic and questions of public safety are too much for some parents. If they aren’t pulling their children out of the affected schools and moving out of their communities, they are rallying together and taking to the streets with protest signs, trying to reclaim their neighborhoods.

Getting results or even answers isn’t easy.

Growing natural gas development in urban Texas where schools, health facilities, homes and elderly communities are increasingly at risk led to a Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods report (pdf) last year titled “Recommendations For Drilling Near Schools.”

“In its genesis, this project was envisioned to be a comprehensive review of available data with concomitant recommendations. Once into the project, however, it became patently clear that there is an appalling lack of information available on which to base sound responsible decisions,” the report concluded. “It was deeply disturbing how little information is available to elected officials or State regulating entities that is independent of the operators. Proper due diligence is nearly impossible. This was both startling and alarming. Further, there appears to be a complete relegation of responsibility by both the City and State which allows industry to conduct operations at their own discretion with very little oversight or verification by governmental entities or accountability to the public.”

The Fort Worth League of Neighborhoods further found “the city has no comprehensive plan or map of drilling or pipeline placement for the entire city; has not conducted independent on-going monitoring for emissions; and has no will to assume authority for such.” Nor is there a mechanism in place for routine emissions checks at existing wells or processing facilities, according to the group’s report.

Fracking isn’t just putting pressure on schools. It is also competing for their water supplies.

Protestors in Erie, Colo., tell Encana to get its "Hands Off Our Community" and "Our Children Are Not Your Experiment." (Photo by Troy Hooper)The amount of water used each year in Colorado — between 22,100 and 39,500 acre feet — is enough to meet the annual needs of up to 296,100 residents or more than the population of Orlando, Fla., Cincinnati, Ohio, or Buffalo, N.Y., according to a Western Resource Advocates report released today.

“It is a travesty that in a water-starved state like Colorado, we are using so much water for oil and gas drilling,” said Longmont resident Barbara Fernandez, who retired in 2011 after 24 years with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission and is concerned about fracking near schools and residences.

There are 89 public schools in Colorado within a 1,000-foot radius of federal subsurface estates.

“Schools should be safe havens for learning and growing, not places for worrying about whether the wind is blowing industrial poisons into the classroom,” said Gary Wockner of Clean Water Action. “We applaud Rep. Polis’ leadership to protect school kids and families from cancer-causing chemicals emitted during oil and gas drilling and fracking.”

Political battle lines drawn over fracking in Colo.

Posted on: June 20th, 2012 by The American Independent 1 Comment

Editor’s note: This is the fourth installment in The Colorado Independent’s ongoing series on hydraulic fracturing near schools. Read the first part here, the second part here and the third part here.

As concerns mount over oil and gas rigs inching closer to several Colorado schools, legislators are looking toward 2013 to sort out whether local controls should take a backseat to state regulations.

Trailers are used as sound barriers at a new drilling operation near schools and homes in Erie. (Photo by Troy Hooper)

In the Colorado General Assembly’s last session, which adjourned in May, the Republican-controlled House tried to centralize power with the state and override municipal authorityto zone drilling while the Democrat-led Senate sought to give cities, towns and counties the ability to decide where rigs go.

“I don’t know where it goes from here. I suspect there is a happy medium and there is a compromise that can be reached,” State Senate President Brandon Shaffer said in an interview this week. “I also suspect next year additional legislation will come forward on both sides of the spectrum. Ultimately I think the determination will be made based on the composition of each of the chambers. If the Democrats are in control of the House and Senate, there will be more emphasis on local control.”

Industry groups, Republicans and Democrat Gov. John Hickenlooper contend the state should regulate oil and gas drilling. When Longmont City Council attempted to pass its own regulations that would have prohibited drilling in residential areas, Colorado Attorney General John Suthers sent a letter to the city with the implied threat of a lawsuit should council move forward. Residents have responded with grassroots action, forming groups like Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont and Erie Rising to stand up for their rights to clean air and water.

Hickenlooper et al. promote Colorado as having the strongest hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, disclosure laws in the country. Critics argue the state often doesn’t enforce its own rules, repeatedly failing to punish companies that break laws or spill oil and gas.

“I think companies engaged in oil and gas drilling should have to prove to the community that what they are doing is safe,” said Mike Foote, a former deputy district attorney who is running as a Democrat to succeed Matt Jones as the next representative of House District 12, which includes the Boulder County portion of Erie where fracking has crept awfully close to multiple schools.

“Right now I don’t see that,” he said. “I see the oil and gas companies coming in and saying they are going to drill and people protesting and the companies basically saying, ‘That’s too bad. We’re going to drill there anyway.’ People have legitimate concerns about whether the process is safe and the oil and gas companies don’t seem to be doing a good job addressing those questions.”

Messages left with oil and gas companies and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association were not returned.

Tisha Casida, an independent running against incumbent Republican Scott Tipton and Democrat challenger Sal Pace to represent the Western Slope in Congress, worries government is trampling the individual property rights of people living in energy-rich communities.

“The ‘fight’ must get down to the local level where the actual stakeholders are – these are the people that live in the community, and are intricately invested in the community,” she said. “I have spoken to many in our campaign – and the one thing that we can agree on is that there are big companies and ‘big government’ that are ultimately deciding on and benefiting from the development of these resources. This never really gets back to the individuals in these communities.”

While Colorado politicians wrangled over local versus state controls, U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette and Jared Polis, both D-Colo., urged the federal government to require drillers to disclose what chemicals they pump into the ground.

But in a concession to the oil and gas industry, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar proposed a rule that wouldn’t require the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluids until after the drilling of a well is completed. DeGette and others believe disclosures should be made before drilling.

The Environmental Protection Agency has preliminarily linked groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyo., with hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking, in which large volumes of water, sand and chemicals are flushed into the earth to dislodge natural gas or oil.

Industry representatives dispute that fracking can contaminate drinking water.

“We need to have some standards in place for the types of chemicals that are used to make sure we are not injecting cancer-causing chemicals into the ground and potentially contaminating water supplies for populated areas,” Shaffer said. “But ultimately I think it’s a state and local government issue. There is a responsible way to explore for natural gas. We just need to make sure it’s done in a responsible way.”

Shaffer is now running for Congress against incumbent Republican Cory Gardner in CD 4.

His opponent, Rep. Gardner, whose district includes heavily fracked areas like Erie, has been an ardent supporter of the oil and gas industry, consistently voting to weaken environmental protections.

“My opponent has now received more contributions from oil and gas interests in his short year and a half tenure than [Gardner's predecessor] Marilyn Musgrave [a Republican] received her entire six years she was in Congress,” Shaffer said. “For sure, there is an attempt by the oil and gas industry to influence the policies that are in place at the federal level.”

Gardner and his spokespersons did not return messages seeking comment.

The congressman isn’t alone. Oil and gas money has long poured into the campaign coffers of politicians across America. This year is no different. The oil and gas industry is the ninth biggest giver to Congress, donating $11.7 million so far in 2012, according to The Center for Responsive Politics. Eighty-six percent of the funds went to Republicans and 14 percent of it to Democrats.

Residents of Longmont, Colo., seek fracking ban

Posted on: June 6th, 2012 by The American Independent 1 Comment

Editor’s note: This is the third installment in an ongoing Colorado Independent series on hydraulic fracturing near schools. Read the first part here and the second part here.

LONGMONT, COLO. — As she kept a watchful eye on her playful toddler, Lindsay Gahn pulled out a state-issued map of town where subdivisions susceptible to oil and gas drilling were colored in red.

“When I saw this, my heart just stopped,” she said, pointing to the ubiquitous red blobs on the map.

Lindsay Gahn

Under Colorado law, there could be drilling next to half of the schools in Longmont. In Adams, Boulder, Broomfield and Weld counties, 32 public schools are within 2,000 feet of a drilling site, and 26 of those schools are within 1,000 feet, according to a recent Western Resource Advocates analysis.

“Colorado law only mandates a 350-foot setback from schools and residential areas for oil and gas wells, a much shorter distance than required for businesses such as medical marijuana dispensaries or liquor stores,” the Boulder nonprofit’s analysis said. “In fact, it is illegal in Colorado to idle a vehicle for more than 5 minutes within 1,000 feet of a school — but you can drill for oil and gas, spewing potentially toxic chemicals into the air, as long as you aren’t closer than 350 feet.”

Residents in Longmont, which lies in Boulder County, and other communities across the state are wrestling with protecting themselves from the impacts of the nation’s booming oil and gas industry. Ever since hydraulic fracturing, aka “fracking,” and horizontal drilling made once-hard-to-reach deposits of oil and gas both accessible and profitable in 2007, oil derricks and natural gas well pads have been creeping closer to more homes, schools and regions where drilling never occurred before.

“There is a proposal to drill a well immediately next to a middle and elementary school on the eastern side of town,” said Food & Water Watch regional director Sam Schabacker. “This is a very real deep concern for the citizens of Longmont in that there could be drill rigs next to half of their schools.”

Longmont City Council attempted to pass its own regulations that would have prohibited drilling in residential areas but it backed off last month after Colorado Attorney General John Suthers sent a letter to the city with an implied threat of a lawsuit should the council proceed with its regulations.

“Longmont is Exhibit A for how the state of Colorado has failed its citizens,” Shabacker said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and industry groups say the state should regulate oil and gas drilling. Colorado has the strongest  fracking disclosure laws in the nation, they insist, but astute residents lament that state officials aren’t enforcing their own rules.

“If the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission gets its way, it won’t be long before Longmont will look like Erie,” said one local teacher who asked not to be identified. Drilling near schools is becoming commonplace in Erie, where residents are trying to shut down a new Encana project.

There is currently a drilling ban in Longmont but it expires June 16.

Worried about their future, residents are fighting back.

Last week, an issue committee titled Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont filed a notice of intent with the city clerk to put a charter amendment on the November ballot to ban fracking in the city limits, period. If it were to get passed, Longmont would become the first city in Colorado to ban fracking.

This gas well, which is 360 feet north of Trail Ridge Middle School in Longmont, led to the contamination of area ground water. (Photo via

“The state and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association are bullying Longmont to take away their local control and the city council is not standing strong to protect the health, safety and welfare of Longmont residents, so this petition is our only recourse,” Peter Champe with Our Health, Our Future, Our Longmont said in a release that noted 6,000 valid signatures are needed. “People who live, work and raise their families in Longmont should have a say on whether or not they want their air, water, soil and roadways threatened by the risky process of fracking and the subsequent well production. If no action is taken, existing regulations would allow hundreds of wells to be drilled in Longmont.”

COGA officials have not returned messages seeking comment for this series.

A rallying point for residents here has been Lakewood-based TOP Operating’s Rider 1 gas well positioned 360 feet north of Trail Ridge Middle School. For at least three years, the ground water around the well was contaminated with carcinogens such as benzene, which was measured at almost 100 times the state limit, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

Debates about where to drill and how far back operations should be from homes and schools have flooded the state capitol but legislation that would have better protected the public was shot down.

That’s discouraging to many of the parents and teachers in Longmont.

“This isn’t a political issue,” Gahn said. “I’m worried about the health and safety of my kids.”

Coloradans protest fracking near schools

Posted on: June 5th, 2012 by The American Independent 2 Comments

Olivia Cusimano, 6, leads a protest against hydraulic fracturing in Erie on Saturday. (Photo by Troy Hooper)

ERIE, COLO. — With black whiskers painted across her cheeks, 6-year-old Olivia Cusimano roared into the plastic megaphone as if hers were the voice of the blue knotted-up balloon tiger she clutched beneath her left arm. (more…)