Monday, September 15, 2014

Faulty shale-gas wells contaminate water, study finds

Poorly constructed shale gas wells, not hydraulic fracturing, are to blame for contaminated water in Pennsylvania and Texas, says a study by scientists at Duke University and four other schools.

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

Researchers analyzed the gas content of more than 130 drinking water wells over the Marcellus shale formation in Pennsylvania and Texas' Barnett shale. They found contamination in eight clusters of wells. 

Hydraulic fracturing extracts gas from deep underground. The suspicion has been that methane -- the main component of natural gas -- from fracking or horizontal drilling had migrated up into drinking water aquifers.

The new study appears to rule that out. Instead it found, in four contaminated clusters, that the methane leaked at shallow depths from faulty rings of cement around gas-well shafts. Three more clusters suggested methane leaked through bad well casings.

While drilling has contaminated water, the scientists say, most of the causes can be prevented.

The researchers used noble gases such as helium to trace methane emissions because they mix with natural gas but aren't affected by microbes or oxidation. Measuring the noble gases determined the source of the methane and how it reaches drinking water aquifers. 

Scientists from Duke, Ohio State University, Stanford University, Dartmouth College and the University of Rochester took part in the peer-reviewed study. Funding came from the National Science Foundation and Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Opposition forming to Atlantic Coast Pipeline

Forces against the natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to Eastern North Carolina, announced last week, are quickly mustering.

A coalition of 22 conservation groups have formed the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance. The groups say the pipeline route would disrupt ecologically sensitive areas, including parts of the Monongahela and George Washington national forests in West Virginia and Virginia.

The route would cross karst topography formed by soluble rocks such as limestone that form underground drainage systems, the alliance says, placing water supplies at risk.

Supervisors in Nelson County, Va., which includes part of the George Washington forest, passed a resolution opposing the pipeline on Tuesday.

Duke Energy and Charlotte's Piedmont Natural Gas, which solicited proposals for the $5 billion line, last week said Richmond-based Dominion Resources would build and operate it. The line, which needs federal approval, would tap gas deposits in the Marcellus and Utica shale basins.

The 42-inch diameter pipeline in West Virginia and Virginia would require a construction right-of-way 125 feet wide and a permanent easement 75 feet wide, Dominion says. In North Carolina, a smaller 36-inch pipe would need rights-of-way 110 feet and 50 feet wide.

Dominion says it expects to complete the route planning by December, with construction of the line in 2017 and 2018.

Open houses will start Monday at points along the pipeline route in all three states.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The other end of that new gas pipeline

Remember the news, a couple of days ago, that Duke Energy and Piedmont Natural Gas will partner on a new natural gas pipeline into Eastern North Carolina?

The Energy Information Administration published a chart today that illustrates the rich shale-gas reserves the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would tap. Pay special attention to the vast Marcellus basin in green. Gas would also come from the much smaller Utica shale, in red.

Hydraulic fracturing -- fracking -- and horizontal drilling explain the explosion in production from shale reserves. The controversial drilling techniques also raise questions about the potential for groundwater contamination, overuse of water supplies, wastewater disposal and the impact of fracking chemicals.

While the pipeline would deliver gas from several states away, the fracking debate is upon us too. Hearings began last month on North Carolina's version of fracking rules, and legislators decided that permits could be issued next spring.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

NC 10th nationally for 2Q clean energy jobs

North Carolina ranked 10th nationally for clean energy and transportation jobs in the second quarter, the business group Environmental Entrepreneurs said Thursday.

A report from the group says 272 new jobs, highest among states in the Southeast, were created by four announcements in the state.

The 12,500 jobs created nationally more than doubled the results from the first quarter, the group said. It attributed that to "new confidence about future clean energy growth" linked to the Environmental Protection Agency's carbon limits on power plants, announced in June.

Solar energy led all sectors with 5,300 U.S. jobs in the second quarter, followed by 2,700 in wind and major electric-car announcements by Tesla and General Motors.

Arizona led all states in new jobs, followed by California.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

EPA adds to NC's polluted-water list

The Environmental Protection Agency has added to North Carolina's list of polluted waterways, saying the state should have included 52 more bodies of water than it did.

States have to update the so-called 303(d) list of impaired waters every two years. But EPA objected to new methodology the state Environmental Management Commission adopted to update this year's list.

EPA added back to the state's list 52 river and stream segments that are impaired by metals, which can be toxic to fish and humans. The additions include Mecklenburg County's Irwin Creek, where the water contains lead and zinc.

EPA spokeswoman Dawn Harris-Young said adding to a state list is "not common, but it is not an unusual occurrence." EPA added one segment to North Carolina's 2012 list, state officials say.

The state environment commission last year raised the bar for proving that waterways are impaired.

Under the old standard, more than 10 percent of water samples had to show elevated levels of contaminants to be deemed impaired. The commission added a requirement that sample results be shown to be accurate at a 90 percent confidence level.

Establishing that confidence level meant analyzing more water samples. The N.C. Division of Water Resources moved some water bodies, for which it lacked the additional data, from "impaired" to "inconclusive."

The EPA objected, adding those waterways back to the list. It will take public comment on the additions through Sept. 12 -- email

EPA approved the state's listing of nearly 1,200 water bodies as impaired, and the removal of 227.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

NC Wildlife Federation announces award winners

The North Carolina Wildlife Federation has announced the winners of the annual Governor's Conservation Achievement Awards.

The federation has presented the awards since 1958. This year's awards will also induct environmental philanthropist Fred Stanback of Salisbury into the Conservation Hall of Fame. Stanback previously was named Conservationist of the Year in 2005.

Award winners will be honored at a Sept. 6 banquet in Cary:

  • Conservationist of the Year: Jean Beasley of Topsail Island for her work with sea turtles
  • Wildlife Conservationist: Robert Curry, chief of inland fisheries for the N.C. Wildlife Commission in Raleigh
  • Sportsman: Bryan Perry of Zebulon for his work with wild turkeys
  • Land Conservationist: Jamin Simmons, a farmer from Fairfield who embraces innovation
  • Water Conservationist: Roger Dick of Albemarle for his defense of rivers, lakes and public access
  • Environmental Educator: Shaefny Grays of Morrisville for a mentoring program at N.C. State University's College of Natural Resources
  • Conservation Communicator: Joe Albea of Winterville for his advocacy of wildlife on public television and other media
  • Youth Conservationist: Rachel Hopkins, a student in Raleigh who advocates for nongame species
  • Legislator: Rep. Chuck McGrady of Hendersonville for his attention to conservation
  • Municipal Conservationist: The City of Jacksonville for showcasing the New River
  • Wildlife Volunteer: John Spruill of Hampstead for fighting for wildlife, farms and wild lands in Eastern North Carolina
  • Hunter Safety Educator: Stony Rushing of Wingate for helping underserved hunters
  • NCWF Chapter: Habitat and Wildlife Keepers in Matthews, which turned its community green
  • NCWF Affiliate: North Carolina Hunters for the Hungry, whose volunteers process and donate venison
  • Natural Resources Scientist: Christopher Moorman of Raleigh for his work with wildlife-friendly forestry
  • Conservation Organization: Quality Deer Management Association for combining hunting with conservation
  • Business Conservationist: The Webb Farm of Ellerbe for work with quail hunting on a family farm
  • Wildlife Enforcement Officer: Master Officer Robert Newsome of Marion for merging law enforcement with public outreach
  • Marine Fisheries Enforcement Officer: Sgt. Carter Witten of Havelock for leading special enforcement projects in Eastern North Carolina.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Enviro groups unhappy with ash legislation

Several environmental groups wrote N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger and House speaker Thom Tillis on Friday to complain about the coal ash legislation now before a legislative conference committee.

Legislation adopted by both chambers sets Duke Energy on a 15-year timeline to drain each of its 33 ash ponds in North Carolina. Differences between the two include House changes that allow extensions to the timeline and changes in how groundwater contamination is defined. Neither says whether consumers would pay to clean up the ponds.

House and Senate members say their work puts North Carolina at the forefront of states in dealing with ash and predict it will serve as a national cleanup model.

But the environmental groups wrote that "the current legislation inexplicably attempts to weaken our state's existing groundwater protection laws in favor of Duke Energy while allowing Duke to continue polluting state waters and putting our communities at risk."

The letter was signed by the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents groups in litigation against Duke, and representatives of 11 advocacy groups including Charlotte's Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation.

It listed three "fundamental problems" with the legislation:

  • Ash is required to be removed from ponds at only four of Duke's 14 coal-fired power plants in the state. The groups say ash could stay in place, near water it could contaminate, at the remaining 10 plants.

  • House members inserted language they said was intended to prevent over-broad interpretations of a judge's order this year that state law requires "immediate action" to eliminate sources of groundwater pollution. Advocates say the change "is a clear effort to gut that requirement."

  • The bill allows Duke the option of bringing unpermitted leaks from its coal ash dams under existing permits. 

"In short, the bill as written actually weakens North Carolina's protections against coal ash pollution, which is alarming given the recent disaster at the Dan River facility and frequent assurances that this bill would provide strong protections for our citizens," the groups wrote. "It is not too late to make good on those promises."

Rep. Chuck McGrady and Sen. Tom Apodaca, both Republicans from Hendersonville, are the respective leads for ash legislation in the House and Senate and are expected to try to arrive at a compromise bill. No word when it will appear.