Sunday’s Sunrise

This was taken this morning from my front deck. One can see the rain coming down over the ocean. It never reached the shore down here, but I did get excited reports from Carmel Valley, Carmel, and Big Sur Valley. Very rare event for this part of Cali, at this time of year. This photo was taken with my iPhone and HDR pro, as the regular camera HDR on the iPhone did not pick up the subtleties of color in this beautiful artistic display by Mother Nature.

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Fracking in California

California Halts Injection of Fracking Waste into Ground
The state warns that fracking for natural gas might be contaminating aquifers used as a source for drinking water
Jul 21, 2014 |By Abrahm Lustgarten and ProPublica
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California officials have ordered an emergency shut-down of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites and a review more than 100 others in the state’s drought-wracked Central Valley out of fear that companies may have been pumping fracking fluids and other toxic waste into drinking water aquifers there.

The state’s Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources on July 7 issued cease and desist orders to seven energy companies warning that they may be injecting their waste into aquifers that could be a source of drinking water, and stating that their waste disposal “poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources.” The orders were first reported by the Bakersfield Californian, and the state has confirmed with ProPublica that its investigation is expanding to look at additional wells.

The action comes as California’s agriculture industry copes with a drought crisis that has emptied reservoirs and cost the state $2.2 billion this year alone. The lack of water has forced farmers across the state to supplement their water supply from underground aquifers, according to a study released this week by the University of California Davis.

The problem is that at least 100 of the state’s aquifers were presumed to be useless for drinking and farming because the water was either of poor quality, or too deep underground to easily access. Years ago, the state exempted them from environmental protection and allowed the oil and gas industry to intentionally pollute them. But not all aquifers are exempted, and the system amounts to a patchwork of protected and unprotected water resources deep underground. Now, according to the cease and desist orders issued by the state, it appears that at least seven injection wells are likely pumping waste into fresh water aquifers protected by the law, and not other aquifers sacrificed by the state long ago.

“The aquifers in question with respect to the orders that have been issued are not exempt,” said Ed Wilson, a spokesperson for the California Department of Conservation in an email.

A 2012 ProPublica investigation of more than 700,000 injection wells across the country found that wells were often poorly regulated and experienced high rates of failure, outcomes that were likely polluting underground water supplies that are supposed to be protected by federal law. That investigation also disclosed a little-known program overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that exempted more than 1,000 other drinking water aquifers from any sort of pollution protection at all, many of them in California.

Those are the aquifers at issue today. The exempted aquifers, according to documents the state filed with the U.S. EPA in 1981 and obtained by ProPublica, were poorly defined and ambiguously outlined. They were often identified by hand-drawn lines on a map, making it difficult to know today exactly which bodies of water were supposed to be protected, and by which aspects of the governing laws. Those exemptions and documents were signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown, who also was governor in 1981.
State officials emphasized to ProPublica that they will now order water testing and monitoring at the injection well sites in question. To date, they said, they have not yet found any of the more regulated aquifers to have been contaminated.

“We do not have any direct evidence any drinking water has been affected,” wrote Steve Bohlen, the state oil and gas supervisor, in a statement to ProPublica.

Bohlen said his office was acting “out of an abundance of caution,” and a spokesperson said that the state became aware of the problems through a review of facilities it was conducting according to California’s fracking law passed late last year, which required the state to study fracking impacts and adopt regulations to address its risks, presumably including underground disposal.

California officials have long been under fire for their injection well practices, a waste disposal program that the state runs according to federal law and under a sort of license — called “primacy” — given to it by the EPA.
For one, experts say that aquifers the states and the EPA once thought would never be needed may soon become important sources of water as the climate changes and technology reduces the cost of pumping it from deep underground and treating it for consumption. Indeed, towns in Wyoming and Texas — two states also suffering long-term droughts — are pumping, treating, then delivering drinking water to taps from aquifers which would be considered unusable under California state regulations governing the oil and gas industry.

In June 2011, the EPA conducted a review of other aspects of California’s injection well program and found enforcement, testing and oversight problems so significant that the agency demanded California improve its regulations and warned that the state’s authority could be revoked.
Among the issues, California and the federal government disagree about what type of water is worth protecting in the first place, with California law only protecting a fraction of the waters that the federal Safe Drinking Water Act requires.

The EPA’s report, commissioned from outside consultants, also said that California regulators routinely failed to adequately examine the geology around an injection well to ensure that fluids pumped into it would not leak underground and contaminate drinking water aquifers. The report found that state inspectors often allowed injection at pressures that exceeded the capabilities of the wells and thus risked cracking the surrounding rock and spreading contaminants. Several accidents in recent years in California involved injected waste or injected steam leaking back out of abandoned wells, or blowing out of the ground and creating sinkholes, including one 2011 incident that killed an oil worker.

The exemptions and other failings, said Damon Nagami, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council in an email, are “especially disturbing” in a state that has been keenly aware of severe water constraints for more than a century and is now suffering from a crippling drought. “Our drinking water sources must be protected and preserved for the precious resources they are, not sacrificed as a garbage dump for the oil and gas industry.”

Still, three years after the EPA’s report, California has not yet completed its review of its underground injection program, according to state officials. The scrutiny of the wells surrounding Bakersfield may be the start.

Helicopter Training Missions

One of my readers, Brian Mack, found this very interesting article about military training exercises at FHL, Camp Roberts, and Bridgeport. Thanks for finding this an sharing it, Brian. It is a Press Release article from the Army and the Utah National Guard, so keep that in mind.

“Utah Apache Helicopters Return from Record-Setting California Training Event

DRAPER, Utah — Twelve Utah AH-64 Apaches are scheduled to return June 26 at the Army Air Support Facility in West Jordan from a record-setting California military training event at Fort Hunter Liggett, California.

Approximately 22 aircraft from multiple states culminated in a complex air assault operation, which inserted more than 1,200 servicemembers, making California history as one of the largest combined operations executed.

1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion 211th Aviation participated in the operation named ‘Thunder Hammer,’ a large, multi-division training event with the 40th Infantry Division and 91st Training Division June 7-15.

“It was a very demanding mission and we were able to integrate quickly,” said Maj. Ricky Smith, commander of the 1-211th ARB. “Our guys performed fabulously.”

Sixteen Apaches and 82 Guardmembers from the 1-211th ARB, the “Air Pirates” of the Utah Army National Guard in West Jordan, trained in collective, complex, and often challenging missions that were flown day and night, with a formations of Apaches, UH-60 Blackhawks, and CH-47 Chinooks.

“Our pilots are really competent and extremely professional,” said Capt. Kelly Kimber, operations officer for the 1-211th ARB. “The plan came together well and everybody got busy and dirty and made it happen.”

Utah aviators honed their skills during the exercise with missions to Camp Roberts, Hunter Liggett and the Mountain Warfare Training Center, a remote Marine Corps base near Bridgeport, which presented rugged terrain and high altitude landing zones well above 10,000 MSL.

The Air Pirates, three-time recipient of the prestigious Army Aviation Association of America National Guard Unit of the Year, have deployed three times since 2001, twice of which were to Afghanistan.”

The 1-211th ARB was awarded the “Fahnenband des Ministerpräsidenten” personally by Joachim Guack, President of Germany on its most recent deployment. This award is the the highest award given by Germany to another military unit, which was awarded for the support of the International Security Assistance Force.

Media Notes: The twelve-Apache formation is scheduled to fly into the AASF (7563 South Airport Road, West Jordan) between 5:30-6:30 p.m. Thursday June 26. Media are invited to the return of the Apaches (four returned previously) and interviews with members of the 1-211th ARB will be available. Please contact LTC Fairbourn for coordination at above contact numbers.”

Military Training over Big Sur

Kathleen:

In your Blog, I would like it if you could announce the formation of a Public Interest Political Effort to prevent the Strike Fighter basing from using the Big Sur MOA without many more restrictions and mitigation measures included in the EIS, including allowing blocks of days and times, say Friday noon to Monday noon to allow the unfettered use of the Coast as a recreational and wilderness experience which would be a “non-military” civilian use period exclusively. We also want to see the low flight corridor reoriented so it is primarily on the Base, not in the Ventana Wilderness. There are many other questions as well. The Strike Fighter is of undemonstrated reliability as I am sure you are aware from recent groundings and publicity. It also flys at speeds that will make 150 Decibel noise over Big Sur routine, on the order of 15 sorties, up to three planes per sortied, for over 250 days a year, at a minimum. You may, for the time being, use my email address as the contact point, until a website can be developed. For ease of my internal work load, please use the following reference email: stevecraig@wildblue.net. There is a certain irony there as well.

We will also be seeking more information about the testing and use of drones over the Wilderness and Monterey District, and private lands adjacent.

We are also seeking the formation documents for this Big Sur (Hunter Liggett) MOA, which appear to be tied to the Cambodian Secret Bombing by Nixon according to work done some years ago now by the UCLA Environmental Law program. Lemoore Naval Air Station, which manages the allocation of uses in this MOA, claims not to have the formation documents (if they even exist) or any other analysiis. I am beginning the process of contacting the NAA which has a role in the managing the MOA, albeit a limited one.

Legal assistance, and a meeting with Sam Farr and several members of the County Board of Supervisors, are going to be among the first steps to take. We will be approaching public interest groups with legal expertise at UC Berkeley and several other institutions.

Our request to discuss the MOA formation and use, and its land use incompatibilities, effects on the Marine Reserver, etc., went unanswered in the EIS, Thus far, and this is a first, the present Strike Fighter Commander has indicated an unwillingness to have an open, wide ranging discussion of how to reconcile public use and the military hardware issues, both for testing and training. We will be continuing to try to arrange such a meeting, but have had no success over the past six months.

A record of decision has been filed or is immediately pending for Strike Fighter training over the Big Sur MOA at a low elevation of 200 feet above the ground, up to 15 sorties a day, from dawn to 10:30 PM at night,

Also, the agreements between the Secretary of the Navy and Sam Farr regarding live ordinance bombing in Stoney Valley have been disrespected and ignored, the flight levels of military aircraft are not aligned to minimize Wilderness Impacts, and the 250,000 acre base is often not respected relative to NAA restrictions, particularly for special forces training and helicopter activity. The recent fire you made reference to was started by a live ammunition exercise according to information gathered from the Base Fire Department, and resulted from the firing of a hellfire missile in extreme drought conditions into Stony Valley, a place with many remarkable rock formations and Salinan archaeological and sacred sites.

I have found it near impossible to set a meeting date with the present squad commander. Prior commanders have always made time to meet with citizens, who are the funding entity and tax base that develops these extremely loud, disruptive military systems, such as the Strike Fighter.

The Lemoore Base staff has no information, or claims not to, about the formation of this MOA [Military Operations Agreement] over Big Sur, or any information about the NEPA review it may or may not have entailed. The MOA is routinely used and abused, as it was over the past three weeks of helicopter fighter aircraft flights.

When researched by the UCLA Environmental Law program several years ago, the principal findings were that this MOA was formed secretly during the Nixon bombing of Cambodia, deemed an illegal action by the US Supreme Court.

The use of live ammunition from aircraft was specifically prohibited in an arrangement managed into existence by Sam Farr when the Dont’ Bomb Big Sur campaign was underway some several years ago now. The recent five day fire in the region was caused precisely by such live use of Hellfire Missiles, shot from low flying attack helicopters. What has happened to the agreement made by Sam Farr and the Secretary of the Navy? One gets the impression the military does whatever it may want to do, including flying these attack helicopters down our valley at eye level with our houses, well below the scheduled NAA flight levels, at less than 100 feet from the ground surface. We experienced these flights for three full weeks.

I have requests out to numerous parties to see what if ANY documentation of the formation of the Big Sur even MOA exists.

Thus far, of course as expected, the military, particularly the Lemoore NAS Base which schedules the use of the MOA, has been of no assistance at all.

They have referred me to the Pentagon for information about the formation of the MOA. Not exactly a transparent source of information.

The present lowest flight zone passes right over Rancho Salsipuedes and into the Ventana wilderness. Given the availability of over 250,000 acres of Base land for this type of exercise, why public and private lands are used for this purpose is simply, well, mysterious. We intend to find out why the low fly corridors cannot be revised under an NAA program to alter the present flight corridor to make more concessions to the multi-use nature of Big Sur. And certainly, military uses are, among most of the public who visit this area for recreation and refreshment, of lowest priority for this exceptional and lovely wilderness and landscape.

Steve Craig
Citizen Planning Alliance,
South Monterey County

I have a tracking file on all mis-use of the Military Operations Area (MOA) so please send me your name and address and email so I can enter the time and date into my data base.

Steve Craig (stevecraig@wildblue.net)