Jun 29 2010

Spectra Speak

Spectra Energy Can Chemo-Frac Anytime It Wants in Bedford, PA;

Has Approval for ‘Every Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid It Could Possibly Use’

Includes Chemicals Identified as Cancer Causing or Probably Carcinogenic

Why is Straight Talk so Difficult for Gas Industry?

Can we trust gas industry drilling, pipeline and storage companies?

Every property owner I have talked with who has actually dealt with the gas industry – from Pennsylvania to Texas – has said that you cannot trust the energy industry.

This belief is based on their personal experience.  The more experience someone has with the gas industry, the more they conclude, in the words of one property owner, that “Virtually everything the gas industry tells you is a lie, or half truth, or deceptive in some way.”

Look at the video on the welcome page for this website.  Listen to property owners in the video use phrases like:  “constant lies,”  “it’s story after story, you just can’t believe them.”

These are regular folks – hunters, NRA members, farmers, self-made businessmen.  They are not people “with an agenda,” as the gas industry likes to label its critics.  (As if the gas industry and its well-paid execs did not have an agenda.)

To say an industry lies is harsh; but deception is a slippery slope.

Deception is Slippery Slope

For example, Director of Media Relations for Houston-based Spectra Energy, Wendy Olson, published a statement in The Altoona Mirror with two objectives:

1) Tout the company’s alleged commitment “to operating our pipeline and storage facilities safely, reliably and in compliance with environmental regulations.”

2) Distance Spectra Energy from public concern over hydraulic fracturing with its health and environmental “challenges,” as even Pennsylvania Governor Rendell has admitted.1 (Remember, Rendell declared himself a “protector” of the gas industry.)

In her public statement, Ms. Olson wrote:  “There is a distinction between the Steckman Ridge Storage operations [located in Clearville, Pennsylvania] and the production process known as ‘hydraulic fracturing’ used to break up shale deposits to extract natural gas.  There was no hydraulic fracturing involved when the Steckman Ridge facility was constructed in 2008-09.2

Note the careful use of past tense (“was constructed”).  What Spectra Energy’s Director of Media Relations does not tell readers (or editors at The Altoona Mirror) is that Spectra Energy can frac those wells any time it wants, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

But hydraulic fracturing requires drilling, you say?  Yes, and nowhere in her essay for The Altoona Mirror does Olson use the word “drilling.”

In fact, Olson neglects to acknowledge that – while this is a so-called “storage operation” – Spectra Energy has drilled and is operating (so far) 13 injection/withdrawal wells as part of its 12 billion-cubic-feet underground gas facility.

Moreover, it has permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to drill 10 additional wells for a total of 23.

Spectra Energy Can ‘Frac’ in Clearville, PA

And Spectra Energy can use hydraulic fracturing on those wells if it chooses. As FERC explained to this blog:   “If their tests show that they are not getting optimal flows, they would perform hydraulic fracturing to improve the flow of gas.  A propping agent such as sand would then be used to keep the fractures open.”

The Pennsylvania DEP Oil & Gas Inspector for Bedford County also confirmed for this blog that Spectra Energy requires no special permit for hydraulic fracturing:

“There are no special permits needed specifically for hydraulic fracturing.  The fracturing process is covered under a normal drilling permit should Spectra Energy choose to frac in the future.”

Further, according to FERC, Spectra Energy filed for the record nearly 300 pages of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) “for every drilling mud and hydraulic fracturing component it could possibly use.”


Anyone who downloads this file from the FERC website (under project docket CP08-15) will see that most of the data sheets are from Halliburton; and several of the listed chemical compounds are identified as cancer causing or probably carcinogenic.

This is what some folks call chemo-fracking – sand, water, and a toxic chemical cocktail.

Olson asserts that Spectra Energy remains “committed to the high performance levels that communities have come to expect from our operations.”  In fact, far from “high performance,” Spectra Energy has had ongoing problems at its “storage operation” in Bedford County since the beginning.

This includes emergency shutdowns and/or blowdowns which can result in uncontrolled release of gas (toxic volatile organic compounds) and sometimes oily contaminate into the air (and on nearby properties).

Despite Spectra Energy’s claim to being “committed to the high performance levels that communities have come to expect,” it repeatedly dodged the logical question of how many of these continuing shutdowns/blowdowns of the compressor station occur in Clearville compared to Spectra Energy’s other compressor stations?

In other words, let’s manage by facts – not by platitudes and promises.  Let’s look at your compressor station performance record to see if we can understand why this is happening in Clearville.

Spectra Energy Won’t Tell

Finally, after months of prodding, Spectra Energy finally admitted (emphasis added), “Yes, we do track all of our compressor units’ performance as part of our system reliability monitoring efforts, but this is not data that we report externally.”

Meanwhile, the shutdowns/blowdowns at Spectra Energy’s 5,000 horsepower compressor station in Clearville, PA, continue, often in the early morning hours.  And when it occurs, it sounds like a jet engine crashing – not to mention the release of toxic volatile organic compounds.

This huge compressor station is near homes and three miles from an elementary school.  After months of this, it is clear that Spectra Energy hasn’t got a clue as to what its engineering problem is; and the PA Department of Environmental Protection is missing-in-action.

Track Records Matter

Speaking of track records by which one should be able to judge a person or a company, Spectra Energy’s performance record looks like a police rap sheet – with fires, explosions, toxic contamination of its 9,000-mile pipeline – all on the public record, if you look; but federal and state regulators apparently never look.3

Meanwhile, Spectra Energy never, ever acknowledges this side of its record.  Instead it talks in platitudes about its commitment to safety and reliability – a “butter job” as one property owner described it.  Words trump deeds, and are cheaper than doing it right.

Finally, this is a company that used the dictionary definition of lying to defend its actions in a public document submitted to FERC.4

Since Spectra Energy likes to use dictionary definitions to defend itself, here’s one that fits its behavior:

“Dis-in-gen-u-ous” means “not straightforward or candid; insincere or  calculating.”

Why behave that way – if a company is really committed to safety, reliability and high performance levels?  Unless it isn’t.

(Note:  See “Links & Resources” below for verifiable public sources to all of the above statements with footnotes.)

Links & Resources

1 Governor Rendell made his comments at a policy roundtable called “Natural Gas Nation” on March 25, 2010. They deserve wide circulation because the governor was more candid than, I believe, he realized.  The conference was conducted by the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas.  Here is a link to the audio file of that roundtable discussion: http://georgewbushinstitute.files.wordpress.com/2010/03/ngn_05_roundtable.mp3

In his comments, Rendell declared himself a “protector” of the gas industry and said (emphasis added), “I’ve been a good spokesman minimizing the potential for groundwater pollution.

BUT he acknowledged “five challenges” involved in shale gas drilling – every one of them environmental. They include: how to divert millions of gallons of water necessary for shale gas drilling; how to prevent gas migration; and what do we do with the frac water?  If the “protector” of the gas industry in Pennsylvania acknowledges multiple risks to the environment, why can’t the gas industry?

For easy reference, I made a transcript of the governor’s comments that can be accessed here.  In a few places where a word or phrase was unclear I’ve indicated that.  See p. 3 for the Five Challenges:  gov-rendell-ng-nation

Finally, here is a link to the website for the “Natural Gas Nation” conference: http://georgewbushinstitute.com/natural-gas-nation/

2 “Spectra Energy defends gas storage project” – Spectra Energy’s Wendy Olson’s disingenuous essay ran in The Altoona Mirror.  Here is the pdf file:  spectra-energy-defends-gas-storage-project

3 Spectra Energy’s Track Record is publicly available for those who look.  Check out the following links and sources and decide for yourself:

“Unlawful Conduct” – Details are treated in two posts on my website which include testimonials from landowners and documents such as the DEP “Notice of Violation” and Spectra Energy’s formal response.  Unfortunately, on the day before “April Fool’s,” the DEP announced it had fined Spectra Energy a pathetic $22,000 for air and water quality violations at its Steckman Ridge compressor station in Clearville, PA.

Emergency Shutdown: http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=372

Spectra Promises: http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=466

Fiery Inferno – This post on explosions and fire at Spectra Energy’s underground gas storage reservoir outside of Houston is detailed and offers external sources for verification.

Moss Bluff Incident:  http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=390

PCB Contamination – Details and source documents (including Spectra Energy’s 10-K Form and the EPA Top 21 List) are covered in two posts.

Spectra PCBs 2: http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=498

Spectra PCBs?: http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=480

4 Definition of lying as a defense — Spectra Energy filed a 32-page report with FERC exonorating itself regarding complaints about abusive and unethical behavior toward landowners as part of its 12 billion-cubic-feet underground gas storage reservoir in Clearville, PA.

The original report is accessible on my website and it is titled, “Inquiry Report — Response to Benard Allegations.”  In its official report, Spectra Energy uses the dictionary definition of lying as a proof point to claim:  “There is no evidence of willful ‘lying’ by any Project Representative to landowners.” This technique illustrates the slippery slope gas companies like Spectra Energy navigate between their words and their deeds.  Spectra Energy’s report and the first of four commentaries I wrote are available at this link, “Pious Mouse Wash 1″: http://www.spectraenergywatch.com/blog/?p=213

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