Wednesday, March 2, 2011

U.S. Investigations Into Wastewater Raise Similar Concerns As In Ecuador

U.S. investigations into hydrofracking — a drilling method to tap natural gas resources — revealed the same findings of an Ecuadorian judge who recently awarded $8.6 billion in damages to a group of indigenous tribes suing Chevron for oil contamination in the Amazon rainforest. The judge found that wastewater generated by Chevron’s oil exploration had contaminated drinking water and soil — the same concern raised by hydrofracking investigations in Pennsylvania, New York, Louisiana and Texas. New York Times’ reporter Ian Urbina wrote this disturbing article about the safety impacts on drinking water. Not surprisingly, industry officials denied harm, just as Chevron has done in Ecuador.

Urbina wrote:
“With hydrofracking, a well can produce over a million gallons of wastewater that is often laced with highly corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium, all of which can occur naturally thousands of feet underground.... More than 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater was produced by Pennsylvania wells over the past three years, far more than has been previously disclosed. Most of this water — enough to cover Manhattan in three inches — was sent to treatment plants not equipped to remove many of the toxic materials in drilling waste.”

In Ecuador, Chevron never treated the wastewater at all. The oil giant produced 16 to 18 billion gallons of untreated wastewater and intentionally dumped it into the rainforest during the company’s operations in Ecuador from 1964 to 1992. Tests taken in 1994 found dangerous levels of benzene in Chevron’s wastewater, but no tests on radioactive elements have been conducted. View this video of a former oil operations assistant for Texaco (purchased by Chevron in 2001) who talks about how the company intentionally dumped untreated wastewater directly into the rainforest.

Urbina wrote:
The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.... The Times also found never-reported studies by the E.P.A. and a confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.

Chevron has argued that harmful chemicals in the wastewater have been diluted by the rainforest’s waterways.

Urbina wrote:
A confidential industry study from 1990, conducted for the American Petroleum Institute, concluded that “using conservative assumptions,” radium in drilling wastewater dumped off the Louisiana coast posed “potentially significant risks” of cancer for people who eat fish from those waters regularly.... In Texas, which now has about 93,000 natural-gas wells, up from around 58,000 a dozen years ago, a hospital system in six counties with some of the heaviest drilling said in 2010 that it found a 25 percent asthma rate for young children, more than three times the state rate of about 7 percent.

Health studies have shown higher rates of cancer, respiratory illnesses, spontaneous abortions and other diseases in the former Chevron concession area, in comparison to other areas of Ecuador. Not surprisingly, Chevron denies any negative health impacts.