There’s good news and bad news from a new report that took an in-depth look at problems of tainted groundwater in areas around natural gas wells: the contamination wasn’t directly caused by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”; but there are problems with the pipes and seals in natural gas wells.
While the scientists who conducted the study said the results were good news because such problems are easier to fix and are more preventable, they’re making a presumption that the oil and gas industry is willing to take the time or spend the money it takes to do it right.
History suggests that may not be the case.
• To date, Exxon has paid just $507.5 million in punitive damages, including lawsuit costs and interest, from a 1989 incident when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck the Bligh Reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound and spilled 260,000 to 750,000 barrels of crude oil. The original finding was for $5 billion in punitive damages, but was reduced after three court appeals, including one to the U.S. Supreme Court.
• British Petroleum, or BP, is still fighting lawsuits and criminal charges related to the April, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest in U.S. history. In 2012 BP agreed to pay $4.5 billion in fines and other payments, the largest settlement of its kind.
• In July of 2010 a pipeline operated by Enbridge burst and spilled 877,000 to 1,000,000 gallons of heavy crude oil into Talmadge Creek, a tributary of the Kalamazoo River. It was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. After Enbridge declared the cleanup complete, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered the company in 2013 to do more dredging. The U.S. Department of Transportation fined the company $3.7 million.
• Last July, Team Services, LLC, a Kalkaska-based oilfield services company, sprayed fracking-related liquids on roads in Benzie County. The company had been contracted to spray oilfield brine to keep down the dust, but the fracking liquid was used instead. The fracking liquid contained levels of benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene some 1,000 times more concentrated than allowed for human contact and was classified as “liquid industrial waste.”
After a review by state regulators, Team Services was told to do a self-investigation, to not do it again and to clean up the mess.
So there is a long history in the United States — and Michigan — of oil and gas companies not investing the time or money needed to properly clean up their messes.
The national fracking study is exactly the kind of hard science reporting the fracking debate needs. For much too long the pro- and anti-fracking arguments have been based almost exclusively on he-said, she-said science from questionable industry and activist sources or anecdotal evidence that likely wouldn’t stand scrutiny from a neutral third party.
This is not to minimize the impact groundwater contamination has had on hundreds of home wells across the country or the threat to health such leaks pose. But it does help focus the argument and should be a guide for state regulatory efforts.
This certainly can’t be the last word on the issue, but it’s a good baseline — something we haven’t had until now.
— TRAVERSE CITY RECORD-EAGLE
Our culture is saturated with violence
Public outrage is soaring, as it should, amid recent reports of off-the-field violence involving National Football League players. There seems to be an epidemic of hulking athletes assaulting their wives, girlfriends and even their own children.
But, sadly, the reality is that such behavior isn’t new. Nor is it limited to the NFL.
Violence, some of it gratuitous, saturates the American culture now more than ever. It’s celebrated in sports and other entertainment. Even conversations, particularly those online, are commonly laced with violent speech.
None of this, however, excuses the out-of-bounds behavior of NFL players. There is no rational defense for former Baltimore Raven Ray Rice slugging his then-fiancee or for Minnesota Viking Adrian Peterson leaving his 4-year-old son battered and bruised after disciplining him.
It shouldn’t be asking too much of NFL players to, once the game is over, turn off the aggression that has made the league the most popular and powerful professional sport.
Or is it?
Off-the-field assaults involving NFL players have been a problem for years — one that was typically given a wink and a nod, largely because fans seemed to care little about their behavior beyond game day. Those fans are why the NFL generates annual revenue of $10 billion.
Look at what happened Sept. 14. NBC reported the Chicago Bears-San Francisco 49ers game was “The NFL’s most-watched West Coast Sunday prime-time game ever!” Many of the same fans disgusted by the behavior of Rice and Peterson helped NBC attract a record audience for a game that featured defensive end Ray McDonald. Never mind that McDonald is at the center of a well-publicized investigation for assaulting his pregnant fiancee.
“But that’s different,” say those who’d rather not connect the dots. They’re among the ranks who also don’t see, for instance, the harm with the proliferation of graphic murder dramas on network and cable television. Meantime, violence in music no longer raises eyebrows. And increasingly, violent language online has become standard fare on too many websites.
NFL sponsors such as Anheuser-Busch, Nike and the Radisson hotel chain, which pay hundreds of millions of dollars to link themselves to the NFL, are pushing back.
But if there is to be real change, it must be demanded by the public and it shouldn’t be limited to the NFL.
— LIVINGSTON DAILY PRESS & ARGUS