First, for an overview of fracking, please take a look at the Center for Justice & Democracy’s brand new FAQ, called “Fracking, Regulation And Obstacles To Litigation.” As we explain for those unfamiliar with the term,
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking, is the process used by oil and gas companies to extract large amounts of natural gas from shale rocks deep underground. Fracking involves injecting millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals into the ground at very high pressure to break up these rocks so that the oil and gas from the rocks can flow into nearby oil and gas wells.
And no, it’s not safe. And no, it’s not well regulated. And no, it’s not easy to litigate over harm caused by this process. Here's more, courtesy of a few choice news articles today:
First, speaking of safety:
The concentration of silica in the air workers breathe exceeded occupational health criteria at all 11 hydraulic fracturing sites tested by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, the American Industrial Hygiene Association announced July 31.…
Silica sand is a crucial and common component in many fracking operations. Silica is often mixed with the water and chemicals injected into shale formations during fracking, with silica acting as a “proppant” to keep the underground fractures open to allow oil or natural gas to flow. Approximately 28 million metric tons of silica sand was used in fracking during 2012, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Second, speaking of the difficulties of litigating over harm caused by fracking, in Montana,
Three conservation groups filed notice Thursday they will appeal a federal judge's dismissal of their lawsuit seeking to force companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when drilling nearly 80,000 acres of oil and gas leases scattered across Montana.
The Montana Environmental Information Center, WildEarth Guardians and Earthworks' Oil and Gas Accountability Project want the Bureau of Land Management to require companies to cut methane emissions as a condition of their leases.
Methane is considered a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. It's emitted through leaking pipelines.
Third, speaking of the industry’s insistence on nondisclosure clauses they insist upon when settling fracking lawsuits (and a Pennsylvania case discussed in CJ&D’s fact sheet concerning a lifetime disclosure ban imposed on the children of Chris and Stephanie Hallowich, who sued when the family became sick from gas drilling activity near their home),
Stephanie Hallowich told Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Paul Pozonsky that she agreed to the gag order in order to get enough funds to move out of the house. But she said she didn't fully understand the lifelong gag order on her children.
"We know we're signing for silence forever, but how is this taking away our children's rights being minors?" she asked the judge. "I mean, my daughter is turning 7 today, my son is 10."
Judge Polonsky didn't have an answer for her. And the family's attorney, Peter Villari, questioned whether the order would be enforceable.
"I, frankly, your Honor, as an attorney, to be honest with you, I don't know if that's possible that you can give up the First Amendment rights of a child."
Villari told StateImpact that it's the first time he's seen this in his 35 years of practicing law.…
"That's what we've agreed to," [Range Resources's lawyer] Swetz told the court. "Putting aside all these other issues and sort of ancillary topics, that's what the settlement says, and that's what we've agreed to at this point."
Range Resources seems to now be distancing itself from its lawyer's remarks, insisting the gag order applies only to the parents.
Well, I guess that’s progressFinally comes this fascinating piece about the insurance industry’s reluctance to trust fracking.
Insurance providers want a clearer picture of the potential hazards of deep well hydraulic fracturing in U.S. shale plays as they weigh the costs of covering the risks -- or consider whether to provide insurance at all, industry officials and experts say.
Some major global reinsurers, which traditionally pick up substantial parts of insurance exposure, remain unwilling to take on fracking and well drilling risks in shale plays until operating, regulatory and legal liability issues become clearer, said Justin Russo, senior vice president of energy insurance provider Energi Inc., based in Peabody, Mass.…
"The insurers and the reinsurers are reticent to participate if they can't understand the risk. If they can't understand the risk, they can't price it. That's what the insurance industry is wrestling with: 'If we write this policy, is it going to be profitable for us?'" he added.
For example, they think “fracking chemicals should be disclosed and usage should be tracked.” As CJ&D points out, disclosure is anathema to this industry. Here’s more:
Lawsuits linked to fracking and deep horizontal well operations are increasing. In the wake of several multimillion-dollar settlements, the insurance industry has "a major stake in understanding the scope and extent of risks potentially posed by fracking," attorney Michael Case of the LeClairRyan law firm wrote this year in Claims Management magazine.
An investigation by EnergyWire found that spills, blowouts and other mishaps at onshore oil and gas well sites increased 17 percent from 2010 to 2012 as shale drilling activity accelerated, according to state and federal data. There were more than 6,000 spills in 2012, an average of more than 16 spills a day, EnergyWire reported last month.
"One of the big issues is the issue of fortuity," Hagström said. If an accident happens and a well goes out of control and spews out oil or gas, and it clearly was unintended or fortuitous, that is the kind of accident that policies are intended to ensure against, he said.
"The problem I see with some of the coverage that's being considered for the fracking issue is that you are intentionally pumping down millions of gallons or water" with chemicals to assist the shale rock fracturing. "If that then results in migration of methane or fracking fluids into unintended zones, is that a fortuitous event or the result of intentional actions?
"This issue has not made its way through the courts," Hagström said.
Hopefully it won’t before we’re back covering this and other important issues in a couple weeks. See you then!