The threat bigger than toxic spills facing Western Rivers

 

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Industrial civilization and the living planet don’t mix; the former is destroying the latter. A recent article from Summit Daily details one of the threats; to rivers in Colorado and the Southwest. 

Join Deep Green Resistance in working to help all rivers run free.

 

The threat bigger than toxic spills facing Western Rivers

Gary Wockner
Writers on the Range

If there’s any good news to be gained from the toxic spill of mine wastes into the Animas River upstream of Durango, it’s that public attention has suddenly shifted to the health of rivers in the West.

The 3-million-gallon accident riveted the media, even rating a story in England’s Guardian newspaper. Here at home, officials took action almost immediately: Biologists put out fish cages to see if the sludge was killing fish, and chemists began testing the murky water for acidity and heavy metal concentrations. Within a few days, the governor, both Colorado U.S. senators, and the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency — whose contractors triggered the spill — showed up in Durango to express their regret, outrage, support, etc. They promised that it would never happen again.

But of course a disaster is sure to occur again, because there are thousands of century-old abandoned mines in the region that have never been thoroughly cleaned up. And as the saying goes: Acid mine drainage is forever.

But while an orange plume of heavy metals moving through a river system toward a major reservoir like Lake Powell is certainly a serious problem, there’s another danger targeting rivers in the West. It’s the kind of disaster that sometimes kills every living creature in a river, imperils the river’s health for weeks and months, causes extensive contaminations of e. coli and heavy metals and destroys the recreational economy — rafting, tubing, fishing — for months at a time.

This disaster is caused by dams. Whether they are large or small, they block a river so that water can be diverted for farms, ranches or domestic use. From its beginnings high on the Continental Divide, for example, the Colorado River loses 90 percent of its flow to diversion in the first 40 miles.

Once the Arkansas River leaves the mountains and heads for Kansas, it becomes a dribble of its former self. The dammed and diverted South Platte River through Denver is often a putrid, algae-ridden and depleted mess, and when it exits town, most of its flow is made up of discharge from Denver’s sewage treatment plant.

The Cache la Poudre, near my home in northern Colorado, is sometimes drained bone-dry as it moves through downtown Fort Collins, and when it does have water in it, its native flow is diminished over 50 percent by dams and diversions.

Colorado is just the tip of the iceberg of river destruction. Rivers across New Mexico and Utah are in a similar desperate condition. And in Southern California and Arizona, most rivers are drained completely dry every single year. The Gila River in Arizona, once a large and beautiful tributary of the Colorado River, is now completely dead except during rare monsoon rains that fall perhaps once every 20 years.

But there’s worse to come. The states of Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico and Utah have all just gone through official water-planning processes and are proposing even more dams and river-draining activity. The governor of Wyoming has called for “10 new dams in 10 years.” The state of Utah wants to put “a dam on every river in the state,” and water agencies in Colorado are proposing large new diversions out of the Colorado River. In addition, Colorado yearns to retain every legal drop before its rivers cross the state’s boundaries.

As you watch the media focus for a while on river health, consider this trivia question: Where was the last major dam and river-destroying project in Colorado?

If you guessed it was on the Animas River, southwest of Durango, you’re right. The controversial Animas-La Plata Project erected a huge, new dam and reservoir, a pumping station to divert water out of the Animas River and the federal government did it all with virtually no mitigation to offset the impacts to the river.

Were elected officials outraged at this project? No, they celebrated it and named the reservoir Lake Nighthorse after former Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

If this plume of poisoned water moving downstream teaches us anything, maybe it ought to be this: All of our rivers are at risk so long as we continue to prevent them from running free.

Gary Wockner is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a column service of High Country News. He directs two river protection organizations, Save The Poudre and Save The Colorado, and is based in Fort Collins.

The Ecology is Collapsing

Deep Green Resistance provides more evidence of that, below.

Indicators of Ecological Collapse:

Industrial processes are contaminating the bodies of nearly every individual in this culture, as well as many others. Although the levels of toxins found in the body are often deemed as acceptable, their presence is a clear sign of the unhealthy nature of this culture’s practices. We should not be surprised by the enormous increase in cancer rates in the United Sates when nearly every baby is receiving carcinogens from their mother’s breast milk.

The percentage of girls under 8 years old with swollen breasts or pubic hair has gone from 1% to over 6% in just the last 8 years.

Male sperm counts have dropped more than 30% in the past 60 years.

More than a dozen highly toxic chemicals are present in our environment in large quantities.

Help us dismantle the systems that are destroying life on this planet. Read more at Indicators of Ecological Collapse

Artwork by Stephanie McMillan

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Toxic vapors suspected in deaths of three Colorado oil and gas workers

Add this to the list of ‘benefits’ brought by the oil and gas industry. This article in the Denver Post illustrates somewhat vividly the extent of the toxicity of extraction, and by extension industrial civilization.

The Denver Post

Toxic vapors suspected in deaths of three Colorado oil and gas workers
By Monte Whaley

GREELEY, CO - SEPTEMBER 03: Oil and gas operations are booming in Weld County in Colorado, September 03, 2014. Northern Colorado is on the front lines of the effort to cut reliance on foreign oil, as oil and gas companies explore a formation in Weld County. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

GREELEY, CO – SEPTEMBER 03: Oil and gas operations are booming in Weld County in Colorado, September 03, 2014. Northern Colorado is on the front lines of the effort to cut reliance on foreign oil, as oil and gas companies explore a formation in Weld County. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post)

 

Joe Ray Sherman’s death on a Weld County oil patch last year was tragic but not entirely unexpected.

The 51-year-old was diabetic and suffered heart problems. The native Texan moved to Colorado 20 years ago in hopes that the clear, mountain air would get him healthier.

The Weld County coroner confirmed what many believed, ruling his death while servicing one of the county’s oil wells was caused by heart disease.

But his March 2014 death soon became part of a mysterious puzzle that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is piecing together along with eight other oil field deaths over the past five years.

All of the fatalities occurred at crude oil production tanks, and all the victims were either working alone or weren’t being observed by anyone. Most of the death certificates listed natural causes or heart failure as the cause.

Three of the deaths were in Colorado, three more in North Dakota and one each in Texas, Oklahoma and Montana.

By late April, federal health officials had enough evidence to sound a national alarm over a dangerous trend in America’s oil fields. The men died after inhaling toxic amounts of hydrocarbon chemicals after either tank gauging — measuring the level of oil or other byproducts in tanks coming out of wells — or from taking samples of oil for more testing.

The exposure happens when hatches on production tanks are opened manually and a plume of hydrocarbon gases and vapors are released under high pressure. The gases and vapors can include benzene, a carcinogen, as well as hydrocarbons like ethane, propane and butane.

Besides explosions and asphyxiation, high concentrations of hydrocarbons can cause disorientation and, in some cases, sudden death.

“Just breathing in these chemicals at the right amount can kill,” said Robert Harrison, an occupational medicine physician at the University of California, San Francisco.

Harrison said medical examiners can sometimes miss signs of toxic inhalation during a routine autopsy, which is why some of the victims were thought to have died from natural causes.

“It’s important that coroners run the right toxicology tests for those chemicals emitted from the tanks,” said Harrison.

According to the CDC, inhalation victims can suffer cardiac arrhythmia — or irregular heartbeat — and have problems in getting enough oxygen. Exposure can also cause inadequate ventilation of the lungs.

The CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health signaled the hazards of tank gauging this spring. They, along with the oil and gas industry, recently issued recommendations to companies to limit exposure to hydrocarbons.

The recommendations include providing training of the proper use of respiratory protection and implementing engineering controls, including remote gauging and venting.

“We will do everything we can to get this information out as quickly as possible,” said Kenny Jordan, executive director of the Association of Energy Service Companies.

The sudden hike in tank gauging deaths could be linked to the explosive growth of the oil and gas industry in the United States, which brought in younger, inexperienced workers, Jordan said.

“Over the years, we’ve had a massive buildup in terms of employment and a lot of new employees have come in,” Jordan said. “The best thing we can do is to get the information out there and get into every company’s hands.”

The problem is the nomadic nature of the oil and gas industry. Many oil and gas sites are in remote locations and run by subcontractors who may not have the resources or time to do in-depth training, Harrison said.

“Even just tracking down people for training is a challenge,” said Harrison.

Also, the hazards of tank gauging hasn’t been thoroughly studied, say health and industry officials. But it’s clear the practice can be deadly, even for veteran workers, Harrison said.

“The thing that really captured me is how sudden these deaths are,” Harrison said. “You could have done this work hundreds and hundreds of times. If you get a high enough concentration and someone inhales at one time, you are going down and you are never getting up.”

Sherman, who worked for Now or Never Trucking in Greeley, lost consciousness while pulling an oil sample out of a tank in a site near Kersey, according to reports. Now or Never Trucking declined to comment on the incident.

Sherman fell backward on the 90-degree corner of the catwalk guardrail, where his clothing became hooked to the guardrail.

David Simpson’s death was similar. Simpson died outside Ardmore, Okla., in March 2014, at a Woodford Shale well that produced oil and gas, according to EnergyWire, an online publication that covers the oil and gas industry.

The 57-year-old was found collapsed on a catwalk next to a tank hatch. The Oklahoma medical examiner office listed his cause of death as unknown, although the CDC considers him a likely victim of toxic inhalation.

Oil and gas sites are exempt from many OSHA rules, and working in the industry is considered one of the most hazardous in the country. The national occupational fatality rate for the oil and gas industry was seven times higher than general industry and 2½ times higher than the construction industry between 2005 and 2009, according to the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

Still, the industry has taken huge strides in worker health and safety, as evidenced by a 40 percent drop in the injury and illness rate from 2003 to 2013, said Zachary Cikanek, spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute.

That is well below the national average for all private sectors, he said.

“Still, our goal is zero incidents, and we remain committed to continuous improvement,” he said.

Harrison says the industry has done a lot of work in the area and “should be commended, but there is still much more they could do.”

The Weld County coroner’s report on Sherman’s death includes a note that “despite the death occurring on a work site, there is no evidence to suggest that the work environment contributed to the death.”

Sherman’s older sister — Sherry Tinney of Junction, Texas — is still wondering what to think about her brother’s death.

“The coroner told us he died of an underlying heart condition, and I’m hoping we were told the truth,” Tinney said.

“He had breathing problems,” she added, “so the doctor suggested he move to a place like Colorado to help his breathing, and he liked it there and he stayed.

“But now I wish he hadn’t.”

Nine deaths in five years

Federal agencies are looking into the deaths of nine oil and gas workers in a five-year span related to suspected toxic inhalation (names and locations were not included):

2014

• A flow tester was expected to gauge a crude oil tank. He was discovered in the early morning facedown in the upper hatch of a crude oil storage tank.

• An employee was assigned to routinely (on the hour) gauge the amount of liquid in three oil tanks on site. The employee was found dead by a delivery driver, at the bottom of the stairs next to the tank battery.

• An oil tanker tractor-trailer driver died while collecting crude oil samples. Coroner reports state he died of cardiovascular disease and sudden cardiac death, and states that toxic gas inhalation and oxygen displacement by volatile hydrocarbons may have been contributory.

• A man working for a transport company was found collapsed and nonresponsive on a catwalk adjacent to a crude oil tank.

• A man lost consciousness while pulling an oil sample out of a tank. He fell backward on the 90-degree corner of the catwalk guardrail.

• A truck driver pumping and hauling crude oil from a tank battery was found on the catwalk next to a tank, slumped over. It appears he was measuring the volume of liquid from the top of the tank battery.

2013

• A truck driver was transferring crude oil from a tank battery and was found slumped over a railing on top of the tank battery.

2012

• A worker tasked with gauging a crude oil tank was found dead on the tank battery.

2010

• A man was found slumped over on the catwalk next to an oil storage tank.

Source: CDC

Community Members, Activists Confront Suncor Energy at Oil Leak Site

  ***FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE***

March 10, 2012

Community Members & Activists Confront Suncor Energy at Oil Leak Site

Protestors demand an end to pollution in Colorado, Canada

Commerce City, Colo – Members of the Stop Suncor and Tar Sands Coalition, including the American Indian Movement of Colorado (AIM), Deep Green Resistance Colorado (DGR), United Community Action Network (UCAN), Occupy Denver, Front Range Rising Tide, 350.org, Boulder Food Rescue, and concerned citizens rallied and occupied the site of Suncor Energy’s oil leak on the shore of Sand Creek. Acting as Private Attorneys General, under the authority of the Clean Water Act, water samples were taken to be tested for contaminants. The demonstration sought to bring public attention to the fact that Suncor Energy’s continued negligence and environmental degradation is killing Colorado communities, water and wildlife, and to force the industrial polluter to confront the effects of its actions.

“Suncor has so poisoned this land, that oil is not spilling into these waters, it is bubbling up through the toxified soil from numerous burst sub-surface pipelines,” Deanna Meyer of Deep Green Resistance Colorado said. “ Benzene levels in this water—water that fish, ducks, geese, beavers, trees, grasses and many other beings depend on—are 100 times the safety standard, and what’s happening here is nothing compared to the destruction of the tar sands.”

Suncor’s role in the tar sands is contributing to a devastated climate and world, and is harming indigenous communities in Canada as well as people living in local communities in Colorado. The development of the tar sands—a form of oil deposit—in Athabasca has led to the deforestation of tens of thousands of square miles of the Boreal forest and the destruction of First Nations cultures. Suncor Energy declares itself to be the first corporation to begin the extraction of this abnormally dirty form of oil, and continues to do so today. Currently, Suncor produces more than 90,000 barrels of oil a day, much of this from tar sands oil, at its refinery in Commerce City, Colorado.

“All the oil that’s being spilled here came from Athabasca, which is a First Nation community. My people up there are suffering because of the oil we’re refining here,” said Tessa McLean of American Indian Movement of Colorado to the group of more than 150 that occupied the spill site. “We don’t want that oil here!”

While the spill was first reported on November 27th of last year, it is believed to have begun nine months earlier, when an underground pipe failed a pressure test, in February of 2011. However, Suncor’s history of negligence and degradation goes far beyond 2011 (when 3 different leaks were reported). Underground “plumes” of leaked oil dot the refinery grounds, the wounds and scars left by the refinery’s operation. In addition, the refinery has been cited with nearly 100 distinct air-quality violations.

“Suncor’s activities are beyond toxic, they are incompatible with a living world and they must be stopped. A safe a just world has no place for oil leaks, toxic air, poisoned water, or the tar sands,” said the coalition.

On December 31st, the Stop Suncor and Tar Sands Coalition organized a march and rally to protest Suncor Energy on the 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver. After having now come to the site of the leak and become more familiar with the severity of the damage being wrought by Suncor, the group reiterated the need to confront and stop ecocide, whether that of Colorado waters and wildlife, or the Boreal forest of Athabasca.

As Tessa McLean said, “only when the last tree has been cut, only when the last fish has been caught, only when the last river has dried up, will we realize we cannot eat money.”

Colorado’s Front Range is Under Fracking Siege

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Unless you live in a cave (lucky you!), you’ve probably heard about the recent explosion in efforts to drill for the natural gas that lies deep beneath our feet. The entire oil & gas industry seems to be descending upon Colorado, exploring and drilling thousands of new wells. A number of reasons have been cited for the burst in activity, including the belief that because natural gas burns cleaner than conventional coal, it is a feasible “fuel of the future”.

We’d like to add ourselves to the list of people calling bullshit on this claim.

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