Maryland sues Statoil after accident

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The state of Maryland in the USA will sue Norway’s part state-owned oil and gas entreprise Statoil for alleged contamination of drinking water, in connection with the operations at nearby Bradford County in Pennsylvania.

The Susquehanna River, Pennsylvania, was reportedly affected by the accident over Easter at one of the facilities in which Statoil is a partner. PHOTO: Helge Hansen/Statoil

The shale gas project had already met opposition before an accident over Easter, during which a gas well exploded and thousands of liters of poisonous drilling fluid flowed into the Towanda Creek. The river is a tributary of the Susquehanna, which is a drinking water source for 6.2 million Americans, including those in Maryland, where state attorneys are now promising action against the Chesapeake energy company and its partners.

Statoil is one of those partners, having bought a 32.5 percent stake in Chesapeake’s shale gas projects covering the Appalachian mountains. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) estimates that Statoil has NOK 23 billion (USD 4.3 billion) invested in the projects, which stretch over Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York and Ohio.

Further lawsuits
One Maryland attorney, Douglas F Gansler, stated in a press release that “energy companies cannot expose citizens to poisonous chemicals that can lead to large risks for the environment and people’s health,” and promised that the state “will use all available resources to hold Chesapeake responsible.”

Statoil faces further lawsuits related to its shale gas operations. 160 landowners in Broome and Tioga counties in New York have launched an action against Statoil and Chesapeake after the companies informed them that leases for the mineral resources on their land would be extended beyond the contract-stipulated 10 years because New York State had delayed giving the enterprises licenses. Scott Kurkoski, who represents the landowners, told pressconnects.com that his clients “made a bargain, and they expect Chesapeake to hold up to the bargain.”

Unknown poisonous chemicals
Some estimates suggest that the USA could become self-sufficient in shale gas in a few decades, and the natural resource represents great economic importance for many states. There are nonetheless a number of people and organizations in the country that are opposes to the projects on environment grounds. Demonstrations have been held in the four states affected demanding publication of the chemicals used in the production, which are feared to be particularly dangerous for drinking water. A congressional study has already shown that hundreds of chemicals, some very poisonous, have been used.

The leader of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, also demanded that the list of chemicals be released.

In Norway, the leader of environmental organization Bellona, Frederic Hauge, told NRK that he was not surprised by the problems with the shale gas as “there are several different forms of risk that are significantly under-communicated by the industry,” including to air quality and water supplies. In terms of the contribution to climate change, Hauge stated that “the last report we have seen suggests that shale gas can be just as bad as coal, and we have not seen many suggestions of how to solve these problems.”

‘Minimal negative effect’
On Wednesday, Statoil reported profits of NOK 16 billion (just over USD 3 billion) for the first quarter of 2011. High oil prices, raised by the Arab and north African revolutions, have increased the company’s profits compared with previous years.

CEO Helge Lund told NRK that companies and authorities in the USA were engaged in a learning process about shale gas, which is a relatively new industry. “But I assume that the rules over time will become stronger,” he said, adding that “we want to work together with the authories so that our operations have the minimal negative effect.” He added that “shale gas is one of the world’s important long term energy sources,” and that “no form of energy comes without disadvantages, and neither does ths.”

Views and News from Norway/Aled-Dilwyn Fisher
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