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Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Weather Channel Goes After Oil & Gas Industry; Industry Responds Swiftly

First, the report from The Weather Channel:


Fracking The Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil And Bad Air On The Texas Prairie from Weather Films on Vimeo.

And then, the response from Energy in Depth, which accuses the report of working backwards from the conclusion that oil and gas operations in the Eagle Ford shale are running roughshod over the health of residents with little to no regulation to slow them down, and stating those conclusions despite an utter lack of any real evidence:
A new investigative report by InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity – promoted and produced by the Weather Channel – concludes that shale development in south Texas is “releasing a toxic soup of chemicals into the air,” which the researchers describe as “a bust for local residents who fear for their health.” But shaky research underlying the report raises serious questions about the validity of those claims, including the use of widely discredited literature promoted by activist groups.
The upshot of the InsideClimate/CPI report is that, despite complaints from residents in the Eagle Ford Shale region, regulators have done little to nothing to protect them. The researchers argue that operators who violate rules “face few, if any, repercussions,” all the while air emissions are allegedly threatening public health. To top it all off, the regulators themselves even admit that their rules are inadequate — at least according to the “report.”
The facts, as they say, tell a much different story.
Below is a list of claims made in the InsideClimate/CPI report and in excerpts from the Weather Channel video that accompanies the article, each followed by an explanation of reality.
CLAIM“The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which regulates most air emissions, doesn’t even know some of these facilities exist. An internal agency document acknowledges that the rule allowing this practice ‘[c]annot be proven to be protective.’” (p. 2)
FACT: What the InsideClimate/CPI team does not tell you is that this excerpt refers to an older version of the law, and in fact was part of a memo that compares the older version with the newly adopted rule. The new rule “[c]an prove protectiveness of health and human welfare and provides practically enforceable records,” according to TCEQ.
In other words, the researchers are suggesting current regulations are inadequate on the basis of an older rule that has since been updated based in part on the very flaw they’re citing.
The memo cited (which is referenced again on page six) does note that operations outside the Barnett Shale will “follow old requirements.” But a second memo (ironically also cited by the InsideClimate/CPI team, but in a different context later in the article) explains that the “old requirements” outside the Barnett only lasted until January 5, 2012. Facilities already permitted under the “permit by rule” system will be grandfathered, but only until January 1, 2016. If those facilities modify their operations, however, they will be required to meet the new requirements immediately.
The InsideClimate/CPI team carefully excerpted and strung together two separate memos, and either deliberately ignored the parts that contradicted their storyline or were unaware that they were critiquing a regulatory system that does not exist. Either way, the basis of the claim that TCEQ’s rules are not protective (and by extension many elements of the report that build off of it) is no longer valid.
CLAIM“Companies that break the law are rarely fined. Of the 284 oil and gas industry-related complaints filed with the TCEQ by Eagle Ford residents between Jan. 1, 2010, and Nov. 19, 2013, only two resulted in fines despite 164 documented violations. The largest was just $14,250. (Pending enforcement actions could lead to six more fines).” (p. 2)
FACT: The regulatory system in Texas is premised on fixing problems. As such, if there is a violation, regulators respond by requiring operators to fix the issue(s). The TCEQ carefully outlines this process on its website. When the TCEQ issues a notice of violation, operators are given a prescribed time to “return to compliance and provide documentation that all violations have been corrected.” If the violations are not corrected within that time period, TCEQ can initiate a notice of enforcement. Since most violations can be quickly corrected, the number of “violations” will always exceed the number of “enforcements,” but that doesn’t mean the regulatory agency isn’t acting.
The InsideClimate/CPI team is criticizing regulators for not focusing on imposing monetary penalties. That may be a fair critique, but in a world with limited taxpayer resources, state regulators have determined (appropriately) that fixing problems is more important than just levying fines. The researchers also gloss over the fact that a full 120 of the complaints did not show any actual violations, and refuse to detail what each of the 164 violations actually did entail (administrative and paperwork errors, for example, are categorized as “violations,” just as emissions events are).
You can read much more here. 

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