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Oil to Begin Flowing in the Southern Leg of Keystone XL Pipeline

keystone xl pipeline

TransCanada will begin shipping crude oil through the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline today. The southern leg starts in Cushing, Oklahoma and goes to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. According to the Dallas Morning News, the pipeline will be capable of moving 830,000 barrels of crude a day.

The northern leg of the pipeline is still waiting for approval from the State Department. The southern route doesn’t require State Department approval as it doesn’t cross an international boarder. The southern leg did receive approval from the US Army Corps of Engineers.

Many are still concerned about the pipeline and are still fighting it. Lawsuits have been filed in Nebraska and one in Texas, where they have appealed to the state Supreme Court. Texas landowners are starting a new network to over see the pipeline called Texas Pipeline Watch. The group will help ensure that any leaks or other mishaps are reported quickly.

“We’re going to be watching these things,” said Julia Trigg Crawford, a north-Texas landowner who has been fighting a losing battle in state courts. “We’ll be taking measurements and testing water. Usually their fancy-schmancy detection systems are not what discover leaks. It’s ordinary people. This is like a giant neighborhood watch.”- read more

Worries about the pipelines safety multiplied last summer, when the company had to pull up sections of pipeline to make repairs. Citizens identified more than 100 repair sites from the Oklahoma-Texas border and the Texas Gulf.

In September, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration sent TransCanada two letters warning of violations. The violations included not hiring qualified welders and failing to protect the pipeline during construction. The agency said TransCanada addressed these issues but many are still concerned about the pipeline’s safety.

A similar pipeline owned by Enbridge Energy, leaked earlier this week in Canada furthering concerns. While this leak seems to be fairly minor, leaking around 125 barrels of oil, Enbridge doesn’t have the best record when it comes to spills. One of the companies pipelines leaked around one million gallons of crude oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River back in 2010. The spill is the largest inland oil spill in US history. The company is still working to clean up the spill and has already missed a deadline.

TransCanada is expected to have a news conference later today.

Photo credit: shannonpatrick17

Breaking News: Anti-Fracking & Tar Sands Protesters Arrested at Devon Tower

devon protestAccording to Great Plains Tar Resistance, a total of 10 activists have been arrested at a protest at Devon Tower in downtown OKC. Their last update said that six of the activists have been released with four still in police custody.

The activists from Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance and Cross Timbers Earth First! looked themselves inside of a revolving door at Devon Tower this morning. The action is in protest of Devon’s involvement in toxic tar sands extraction and fracking.

“I’m opposed to the industry’s blatant disregard for human wellbeing in the pursuit of profit,” said Cory Mathis of Austin, TX—one of the activists locked down inside Devon. “These industries poison countless communities, often deceive and coerce folks into signing contracts, and when that doesn’t work, they use eminent domain to steal the land. Texas and Oklahoma have long been considered sacrifice zones for the oil and gas industry, and people have for the most part learned to roll over and accept the sicknesses and health issues that come with the temporary and unsustainable boost in employment.”

Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance reported the first arrest at 10:50 this morning. Police were called to the scene this morning and shut down the 300 block of Sheridan because of the protest. The street reopened just after 11:30 a.m. According to Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance’s lawyer, police are considering “terrorism hoax” charges for two of the protesters, “in relation to glitter falling from the banner as it unfurled.”

Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance is asking for donations to help with legal fees for the protesters. You can donate and find more information on their website- http://gptarsandsresistance.org

Oil Starting to Flow Into the Keystone XL

keystone xl pipelineOn Saturday, December 7, 2013 TransCanada began to inject oil into the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. In the coming weeks TransCanada will inject around three million barrels of oil into the pipeline. Once the pipeline goes into service, which is expected to happen on Jan. 3, 2014, it will carry up to 700,000 barrels of oil per day. The pipeline will carry oil from Cushing, Oklahoma to the gulf.

Many in the Oklahoma oil and gas industry are happy about the pipeline as it will help to relieve the glut of crude oil in Cushing.

“We have a lot of oil being developed in the state. Having another outlet going south is very positive for us,” said Tony Say, CEO of Oklahoma City-based Clearwater Enterprises.

Environmentalist, landowners and others throughout the state and country oppose the pipeline because of the risks that come along with the pipeline, many also oppose how TransCanada acquired the land for the pipeline, and some in the oil industry aren’t happy with the oil being taken to the gulf for export, instead of being used here.

Many Oklahomans fear oil spills as tar sands oil, a heavy crude oil from Canada, pipelines have a poor record when it comes to spills. The oil is also more toxic than traditional crude oil and harder to clean up.

One group that opposes the pipeline is the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance. They participated in several protests which included civil disobedience and resulted in arrests. Their spokesperson, Jay Morris had this to say about the pipeline becoming operational.

“It’s incredibly unfortunate, but we’ve learned valuable lessons on what levels of resistance these projects must face for us to stop them dead in their tracks. While we can choose to focus on our defeat– the Gulf Coast Segment of the Keystone XL beginning to pump its toxic fuel stock–it is also incredibly important to look at other tar sands infrastructure projects that are still in construction. The Seaway Pipeline will actually exceed the Gulf Coast Segment in it’s capacity to move tar sands to the Gulf, and the Flanagan South, which is comparable to the Keystone XL in capacity and strategic importance to the industry, is currently being built from “Illinois” to Cushing. And always, you can look over the horizon and imagine the reality of the tar sands, or you can look towards Cushing and see the machine that keeps the toxic oil and gas industry functioning.”

TransCanada is still awaiting approval from the Obama administration to construct the northern leg of the Keystone XL. The approval is needed for the northern leg because it crosses the U.S.- Canada boarder.

Photo credit: shannonpatrick17

Oklahoma Earthquake Activity Up By Nearly 4,000 Percent

It used to be a rare occurrence to feel an earthquake in Oklahoma, not anymore. Between 1975 to 2008 we had around 1 to 3 magnitude 3.0 earthquakes annually. Between 2009 to mid 2013 we have had more than 200 magnitude 3.0 or greater in Oklahoma. This increase is not believed to be due to natural fluctuations in seismicity activity.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) released a statement about the earthquake swarms and the believed cause, stating one part of gas and oil drilling could be at fault.

“The analysis suggests that a contributing factor to the increase in earthquakes triggers may be from activities such as wastewater disposal–a phenomenon known as injection-induced seismicity.”

This is consistent with several recent studies that have linked earthquakes in Oklahoma with wastewater disposal wells. One study even linked Oklahoma’s largest earthquake, back in November of 2011, to disposal wells.

The USGS and Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) are making progress in evaluating the swarms. They have also encouraged Oklahomans to be aware of the hazards of these swarms.

“Important to people living in the Oklahoma City region is that earthquake hazard has increased as a result of the swarm. USGS calculates that ground motion probabilities, which relate to potential damage and are the basis for the seismic provisions of building codes, have increased in Oklahoma City as a result of this swarm.  While it’s been known for decades that Oklahoma is “earthquake country,” the increased hazard has important implications for residents and businesses in the area.”

Studies of these swarms will continue but it does appear that wastewater disposal wells have played a role in the swarms.

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Photo credit: martinluff

Natural Gas Pipeline Explosion Sparks Fire

Last night around 10:35 p.m. a 30-inch natural gas pipeline near Rosston in Harper County, Oklahoma, just four miles south of the Kansas state line, exploded. The explosion caused a large fire and the evacuation of homes within two miles of the blast and highway 284 was shut down.

Around 75 firefighters responded from Oklahoma and Kansas. People reported seeing the flames in southern Kansas and all over the Oklahoma Panhandle. A family of three was living in a home around 200 yards away, according to authorities, they escaped unharmed. No injuries have been reported.

As of around 7 a.m. Wednesday, the fire was under control and the firefighters were letting it burn itself out. The cause of the explosion is unknown and the investigation could take days to weeks to complete.



Disposal Well Shutdown After Possibly Triggering Earthquakes

Love County EarthquakesA disposal well in Love County was shutdown last week after it was suggested by a state seismologist that it may have triggered an earthquake swarm in the area in September.

The well is located near Marietta and is a new well that started on September 3rd. The earthquakes started two weeks later.

“The Oklahoma Corporation Commission last week ordered the well operation reduced to less than 5 percent of its designed capacity. The operator then shut in the well because it was not economic at the reduced rates, commission spokesman Matt Skinner said.” –Love County Well Potentially Linked to Earthquakes, NewsOK

The geological survey is continuing its investigation. Austin Holland, a seismologist at the Oklahoma Geological Survey and author of the Love County report, still needs more information to be sure of the earthquakes cause.

“There are states where at this point the well would have been shut in. But we know earthquakes occur naturally in Oklahoma. We need to rule out natural occurrences as a possibility.”  –Love County Well Potentially Linked to Earthquakes, NewsOK

Past studies have linked Oklahoma’s increase in earthquakes to disposal wells. One study even linked Oklahoma’s largest earthquake, back in November of 2011, to disposal wells. As these studies continue to find links many Oklahomans are worried about the damage these earthquakes may cause. The Love County earthquakes did some damage to homes, including causing rocks to fall from a chimney.

More studies are still needed for us to know how disposal wells are impacting our increase in earthquakes and how much of a threat it really is. It is not clear when the Love County disposal well will be functioning again. You can find the Preliminary Analysis of the 2013 Love County Earthquake Swarm, on StateImpact Oklahoma.

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Map Credit: U.S. Geological Survey
Department of the Interior/USGS


Two Earthquakes Rattle Oklahoma

earthquakesSmall earthquakes are becoming more normal in Oklahoma and even some large enough for people to feel, and do minor damage, are becoming more common. Sunday a magnitude 2.7 earthquake struck near Boley and Monday morning a 3.2 earthquake struck near Lone Grove. These are the two earthquakes large enough for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to report, 2.5+ magnitude. The Oklahoma Geological Survey, which reports all earthquake activity in the state, has reported several smaller earthquakes over the last several days.

When we have earthquakes in Oklahoma the question of why they are increasing always comes up. Earlier this year a study linked the states largest earthquake to disposal wells used in oil and gas drilling. However, a new study done in the Eagle Ford Shale in south Texas found a link between oil and gas production sites and earthquakes.

The study was done by  scientists at the University of Texas at Austin. Cliff Frohlich, Associate Director at UT’s Institute for Geophysics and lead author of the study, was expecting the results of the study to point to disposal wells, as studies in other areas had but the Eagle Ford study results were different.

“What I found was, almost all the interesting [quakes] were not near sights of injection, they were near sites of production,” Frohlich says. “That is, people were pulling more fluid, oil and water out of the ground than they were injecting.”- New Study Finds Another Link Between Drilling and Earthquakes, StateImpact

The quakes in the Eagle Ford and Barnett, where many other earthquake studies have taken place, shales are generally small. Their frequency and intensity in areas not used to earthquakes has been unsettling to residents. One of the largest quakes in the Eagle Ford was in October 2011 and measured magnitude 4.8. The 4.8 quake occurred after the study.

Corporation Commissioner Dana Murphy responded recently to the link between Oklahoma’s earthquakes and disposal wells saying,

“The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is working with the Oklahoma Geological Survey and oil and gas operators to come up with a list of best practices for saltwater injection wells. The practices would only be voluntary, but Commissioner Dana Murphy said it’s important to make sure regulatory agencies keep pace with changes in the industry.

Although the OCC can suggest that operators monitor seismic activity in wells before and during the disposal process, the rules aren’t mandatory. Making a company install and monitor for earthquakes requires legislative changes.”- Regulator Responding to Risk of Injection Well Earthquakes With Suggestions, Not Rules or Laws, StateImpact

Studies on the oil and gas industries role in the increase of earthquakes, in places like Oklahoma, are ongoing. The oil and gas industry is not required to share a lot of the data that researchers need, making the process more difficult.

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Map Credit: U.S. Geological Survey
Department of the Interior/USGS


Oklahoma 2nd in Oil Spills in 2012

cushingEnergyWire reported that Oklahoma had the 2nd most oil spills in the US in 2012. There were 951 oil spills reported in Oklahoma. The only state with more spills was North Dakota. In 2009, Oklahoma had 1,036 oil spills, putting it in the number one spot for that year.

The number of spills in Oklahoma are also likely higher, because in Oklahoma companies only have to report spills if they are 10 barrels (420 gallons) or larger. In North Dakota, companies have to report any spills that are 1 barrel or larger.

“More than half of North Dakota’s spills — 588 — were 5 barrels or less, while only 6 percent of Texas’ 914 spills (53) were 5 barrels or less. Without the 588 smaller spills, North Dakota would have ranked fourth behind Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.” –EnergyWire

In places like Oklahoma and Texas, they follow a largely “compliance-based” approach.

“Commission inspectors place a premium on helping drillers get back into compliance with the rules rather than hitting them with fines….

An inspector succinctly laid out the thinking last year after following up on a spill of 300,000 gallons of oil and wastewater into pastureland.

“Reinspected spill area,” the inspector wrote. “Found spill has been cleaned up. Looks OK. Please close incident. No further action anticipated.” EnergyWire

Just this past May there was a spill in Cushing, the nation’s largest oil hub. The spill was around 2,500 barrels and the third-largest spill this year in the US. The spill took place at Enbridge’s Cushing storage facility. Earlier this year, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration proposed a $78,700 fine against Enbridge for problems with tank-inspection procedures and corrosion control on some of their Cushing tanks.

Enbridge is the company responsible for the Kalamazoo River spill in 2010. They are also hoping to bring another pipeline to Oklahoma soon, this one carrying tar sands oil, like the Keystone XL pipeline.

“The recent spills could chip away at the local and regulatory support needed by pipeline companies to get projects approved, said Amy Myers Jaffe, executive director of energy and sustainability at University California, Davis, Graduate School of Management. “The more accidents there are, the more resistance you’re going to see,” she said.”- The Wall Street Journal

These spills have many Oklahomans questioning pipelines like the Keystone XL and Enbridge’s Flanagan South. Groups like Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance say they are agains the tar sands pipelines for several reasons, including the probability of leaks. They say it’s not a matter of if it will leak, but when.

“Tar sands dilbit or heavy crude, as the industry often calls it, is  more caustic, more abrasive material that is transported at a higher temperature and a higher pressure than conventional crude.  Diluted by proprietary chemicals transporting tar sands is an inherently dangerous activity that poisons water for all species for generations.” – Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance

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Photo Credit- FreeWine

New Study Links Increase in Earthquakes to Oil and Gas Disposal Wells

earthquakes and frackingEarlier this year a study linked Oklahoma’s largest earthquake to disposal wells. And now a new study, released yesterday, suggests the increase Oklahoma has seen in earthquakes is linked to oil and gas disposal wells. The study was done by U.S. Geological Survey geophysicist, William Ellsworth.

The study states that  microearthquakes (those below magnitude 2) are routinely produced as part of the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process. However, the current process appears to pose a low risk of inducing destructive earthquakes, with the largest induced earthquake being magnitude 3.6, too small to pose a serious risk. Disposal wells are a different story.

“Yet, wastewater disposal by injection into deep wells poses a higher risk, because this practice can induce larger earthquakes. For example, several of the largest earthquakes in the U.S. midcontinent in 2011 and 2012 may have been triggered by nearby disposal wells. The largest of these was a magnitude 5.6 event in central Oklahoma that destroyed 14 homes and injured two people.”

Nicholas van der Elst of Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York, who led another study on earthquakes and disposal wells, had this to says,

“The fluids (in wastewater injection wells) are driving the faults to their tipping point.”

The new study by Ellsworth states that only a small fraction of the more than 30,000 disposal wells appear to be problematic. The wells that dispose very large volumes of wastewater and/or communicate pressure perturbations directly into the basement faults, appear to the the problematic wells.

Nicholas van der Elst’s study found that distant earthquakes can trigger earthquakes at disposal wells.

“The 2010 magnitude 8.8 Chile quake, which killed more than 500 people, sent surface waves rippling across the planet, triggering a magnitude 4.1 quake near Prague 16 hours later, the study says. The activity near Prague continued until the magnitude 5.7 quake on Nov. 6, 2011 that destroyed 14 homes and injured two people. A study earlier this year led by seismologist Katie Keranen, also a coauthor of the new study, now at Cornell University, found that the first rupture occurred less than 650 feet away from active injection wells. In April 2012, a magnitude 8.6 earthquake off Sumatra triggered another swarm of earthquakes in the same place. The pumping of fluid into the field continues to this day, along with a pattern of small quakes.”

The same Chile quake also set off an earthquake swarm on the Colorado-New Mexico border, near wells where wastewater used to extract methane from coal beds had been injected. The study also found that Japan’s devastating magnitude 9.0 earthquake in 2011 trigged an earthquake swarm in west Texas.

“The idea that seismic activity can be triggered by separate earthquakes taking place faraway was once controversial. One of the first cases to be documented was the magnitude 7.3 earthquake that shook California’s Mojave Desert in 1992, near the town of Landers, setting off a series of distant events in regions with active hot springs, geysers and volcanic vents. The largest was a magnitude 5.6 quake beneath Little Skull Mountain in southern Nevada, 150 miles away; the farthest, a series of tiny earthquakes north of Yellowstone caldera, according to a 1993 study in Science led by USGS geophysicist David Hill.”

Earthquakes are not the only concern with disposal wells, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently conducting a study of the effects of fracking, particularly the disposal of wastewater. This study could be the basis of new regulations on oil and gas drilling.

Proponents of fracking reacted to the study saying,

“More fact-based research … aimed at further reducing the very rare occurrence of seismicity associated with underground injection wells is welcomed, and will certainly help enable more responsible natural gas development,” said Kathryn Klaber, chief executive of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Studies on fracking, disposal wells, and their ability to cause earthquakes will likely be ongoing. It has been hard for researchers to get all of the data they need to do the research and still need to do more. However, evidence is mounting.

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Map Credit: U.S. Geological Survey
Department of the Interior/USGS

Another Tar Sands Pipeline to Come to Oklahoma

cushingThere has been a lot of focus on the Keystone XL, which is currently under construction in Oklahoma but there is another pipeline that will possibly carry Tar Sands oil to Oklahoma looking for approval. Enbridge’s proposed Flanagan South pipeline would run from the Chicago area, through Illinois, Missouri, and Kansas and end up connecting at the oil hub in Cushing, OK. Like the Keystone XL it would connect to existing pipelines.

Enbridge says on their website that construction is expected to begin mid-2013 and be complete by mid-2014. Enbridge also states that,

“Enbridge has been committed to safe and reliable operation of our pipelines for more than 60 years; this same commitment will be inherent in the design, installation, and operation of this pipeline.”

However, in 2010 Enbridge had a pipeline spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo County. As of this May, Enbridge has estimated that they have recovered 1.15 million gallons of oil from the Kalamazoo River. The EPA estimates about 180,000 gallons of oil (plus or minus 100,000 gallons) remain in the river bottom sediment.

Like with the southern route of the Keystone XL, the part that goes through Oklahoma, the Flanagan South doesn’t cross an international border. This means it doesn’t require State Department approval. Enbridge is trying to use a regulatory shortcut known as Nationwide Permit 12 to prevent the kind of protest happening with the Keystone XL, by getting the pipeline in the ground before the opposition starts.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers explains what a Nationwide Permit 12 is,

“Under Section 404(e) of the Clean Water Act, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) can issue general permits to authorize activities that have minimal individual and cumulative adverse environmental effects. General permits can be issued for a period of no more than five years. A nationwide permit is a general permit that authorizes activities across the country, unless a district or division commander revokes the nationwide permit in a state or other geographic region. The nationwide permits authorize approximately 40,000 reported activities per year, as well as approximately 30,000 activities that do not require reporting to USACE districts. There are currently 49 nationwide permits, and they authorize a wide variety of activities such as mooring buoys, residential developments, utility lines, road crossings, mining activities, wetland and stream restoration activities, and commercial shellfish aquaculture activities.”

After the Kalamazoo spill, one may ask if another pipeline will have “minimal environmental effects.” The Kalamazoo River spill had more than a minimal environmental effect.

Enbridge already has a pipeline in Oklahoma. The pipeline goes through Oologah Lake, a source of drinking water for Tulsa. The pipeline is 64 years old. Enbridge was inspecting the pipeline last month. No anomalies were found during this inspection but with the pipeline being this old and carrying around 160,000 to  200,000 gallons of oil a day, this is a concern for many, as is a new pipeline.

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Photo Credit- FreeWine