“Onshore” Well Blowouts Plague Communities Across the Country


A drilling well blowout leaves behind a highly contaminated landscape, officials debate if the cause was human error or a bad cement job, and the responsible parties drag their feet for years while government agencies levy tiny fines that won’t even dent the cost of an adequate cleanup.

Sounds like a pretty accurate account of the BP disaster, but anyone wondering if the Deepwater Horizon was an isolated event should read a new Greenspace blog post (L.A. Times) about “onshore blowouts” and their destructive impacts on nearby, unsuspecting communities.

And living near our nation’s environmental treasures is apparently no safeguard whatsoever against these catastrophic events. The L.A. Times reports “…that In 2006, in the shadow of Yellowstone National Park, a gas well blowout spewed a cloud of explosive natural gas, forced evacuations for miles around and polluted drinking water. Four years later, the people who live in Wyoming’s Line Creek Valley still wonder whether their lives will return to normal.”

Notice the reference to “four years.” And the Gulf is going to be back to normal by 2012, some say? Right.

As with the BP spill, drilling companies use a maze of state and federal authority to dodge real regulation. Says the Times: “Most U.S. onshore blowouts occur at gas wells. Tracking them falls to the states. The Texas Railroad Commission lists nearly 100 blowouts in that state since 2006. Louisiana has had 96 onshore blowouts since 1987.”

Cancer-causing toxins have turned up in Line Creek Valley’s drinking water, and the responsible company agreed to “install a filter” for an affected family. Great. We’ll see if the family’s health holds, and we’ll see how easy it is to sell that house someday.

The Greenspace revelations add to an increasingly uncomfortable few weeks for the gas industry and its “regulators.” Coming in the context of a high-profile New York Times series on natural-gas pollution and the Oscar-nominated documentary “GasLand,” the Yellowstone news adds to the drumbeat demanding real change to our energy regulatory policy.

Here’s the Greenspace blog post: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/greenspace/2011/03/gas-blowouts-wyoming-yellowstone.html

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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