Martha Reclamation Program: Dump and Run

Toxic Soup: Ashland's Radioactive Sludge Pits

Toxic Soup: Radiation at Blaine Elementary School

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Good Luck to All

Well, it has been a while since we posted.  We've been watching the world spin from the hills of Eastern Kentucky.  We're happy BP appears to have plugged their mess in the Gulf of Mexico.  People of the Gulf, we, more than anyone, know what's in store for you for the next few decades and you have our sympathy.  Once the media goes on to the next big story BP will start dragging its feet on the cleanup.  Lawsuits will be filed and drag through the courts but nothing will get settled in time to save the livelihood of hundreds if not thousands of people.  Good luck to the people of the Gulf Coast.

We also want to wish good luck to Elizabeth Burns of the Rancho los Malulos blog and her family.  For months we've followed her adventures on a big ranch in south Texas; dealing with the likes of crooked oil companies, menacing drug smugglers, government slackers, lax border enforcement and hordes of illegal aliens.  If you haven't read the blog you need to.  It documents how far things have gone off the rails in the United States of America.  She and her family have had to move from the ranch due to the oil companies' accelerated drilling program.  Yes, that's right.  Due to the oil companies, not the drug smugglers or illegal aliens.  Once again. we wish the family good luck.

If you think illegal aliens are just a problem for Rancho los Malulos that doesn't affect you, then we hope you don't live in New York or North Carolina.  If you listen to Elizabeth's July 30 interview of two illegals on her ranch, you'll notice that they are from Mexico (Chiapas) heading to New York and North Carolina.  So good luck to the Mexicans.  We hope they find that New York and North Carolina are everything they expect. Also, good luck to the people of New York and North Carolina.  We hope you need a couple more poor farmers from Chiapas.

And finally, while we're throwing good luck around we want to toss some toward the Toxic Soup boys who are pitching their film about industrial pollution at festivals in Maine and New Jersey in the next couple of months.  Good luck and keep telling the story.  Who knows, someone may listen.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What next?

Since Woodie Cantrell lost his lawsuit against Ashland Inc. in March, several of us have been kicking around ideas about what may happen next.  Just idle speculation, you know.  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Nothing will happen.  Folks want to forget about Ashland ever being here and move on with their lives.
  • Someone will sue for property damages, based on actual damages occurring to their specific property, e.g. a radioactive un-remediated sludge pit that needs cleaning up.  The plaintiff would attempt to get the court to force Ashland to pay for the necessary clean-up.  Given the ongoing ecological disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, juries in the future may be more willing to slap Ashland around a little.
  • Someone will sue for personal injury.  The water table here is polluted with Ashland's brine waste.  People drank this water from their wells, including the students and faculty of Blaine School.  There are several cancer deaths that could be tied to exposure to radioactive radium and barium isotopes through drinking water.
Most likely we will end up with a few sludge pit remediations paid for by either Ashland or the Kentucky taxpayer, and most people will continue with their lives happy to put Ashland Oil in their rear-view mirror.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Congratulations to the Toxic Soup Boys

Congratulations go out from Martha, KY to the Toxic Soup boys for their successful premiere of the film Toxic Soup at the Atlanta Film Festival.  They had screenings on April 18 and April 22 and have got to be worn out by now from all that hand-shaking and back-slapping.  Check out the interview here.

Thanks to their interviews and film work our story is recorded for posterity to wonder in amazement how all this was allowed to happen.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kentucky Supreme Court Rules in Favor of...Ashland

Oh, by the way, back on March 18 the Kentucky Supreme Court affirmed the decision by the Court of Appeals in favor of Ashland Oil in the Cantrell v. Ashland case.  Anyone surprised?

Despite all the legal maneuvering, the gamma rays and alpha particles are still doing their thing!

Smile, You're on Candid Camera Ashland Oil

On January 6, 2010 we wrote a blog about how the court in the Cantrell v. Ashland case disallowed the plaintiff’s videotape of Ashland’s contractors polluting a creek with liquid pumped from a radioactive sludge pit that they were contracted to clean up.  The jury never got to see what Ashland was doing in the name of “remediation.”  Well, thanks to a mysterious benefactor, the videotape is on the web and we all can see what the jury was not allowed to see.

First, a bit of background.  Ashland Oil negotiated an agreement with the state of Kentucky to identify and clean up radioactive sites in the Martha Oil Field.  An instance of this “remediation” was filmed in 1996 and was submitted as evidence in the Cantrell v. Ashland court case in which the plaintiffs sued Ashland for damages to their property.  The court did not allow this tape to be shown to the jury for several reasons listed here.

We can see the videotape here.  Here is what’s happening on the video:

0:04 – 0:15       Shows the extent of the sludge pit.  What a mess.
0:15 – 0:26       This is the waste line running from the sludge pit to the creek.
0:38                 A worker holding some kind of instrument
0:50                 This is the intake to the waste line that runs to the creek
0:59                 Check out the red “Danger” tape around the sludge pit
1:14 – 1:31      A backhoe loads some radioactive soil into a truck to be hauled away
1:31                 Shows a view of the creek

The court thought this tape would be prejudicial, so they disallowed it.  Remember, this is a clean up at just one remediation site.  Think about this clean up happening hundreds of times under one of the following possible scenarios:
-         The remediation efforts have specific procedures that:
o       Encourage dumping radioactive liquids from the cleanup site into creeks; or
o       Prohibit dumping radioactive liquids from the cleanup site into creeks, but the workers did it anyway; or
-         The remediation efforts do not have specific procedures of how to dispose of radioactive liquids from the cleanup site, so the workers improvised.

Any one of these scenarios results in a radioactive creek, so you see why the land owners are suing for property damages and don’t believe that the cleanup has been done properly.  Anyone think this property has been damaged?  How about that creek?  How about whatever is downstream?  Hopefully no cattle were drinking out of that creek.

Ashland, clean up your mess, again and again!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Exxon Must Pay $1.2 Million for Workers’ Radiation Exposure

Bloomberg reports that Exxon Mobil must pay $1.2 million to 16 workers exposed to radiation while cleaning used oil drilling pipes.  You can decide who won or lost.  Exxon Mobil denied it did anything wrong and argued that as none of the plaintiffs claimed radiation-related health problems, they couldn't recover damages.  Sound familiar?

(Hat tip: Mike Holmstrom)

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Transcript of the WDR Radio Feature

A transcript of the WDR radio feature about radiation in the oil and gas industry is now up on their website here for the benefit of those of us who weren't up at 5:05 this morning to hear it.

Also, a PODCAST is here.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

German Broadcaster WDR Reports on Martha

German public broadcaster Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR) today has published a story about Ashland Oil's radioactive contamination in Martha as part of their reporting on the problem of radioactive waste in the oil and gas industry.  Images that go with the story are here.  They are also broadcasting a radio feature on the topic here at 5:05 am Martha time on Sunday with a rebroadcast on Monday at 2:05 pm Martha time.  So break out your German / English dictionaries and enjoy.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Media Frenzy in Martha, Kentucky

We want to shout out thanks to the Toxic Soup boys.  If it wasn't for a lot of their film work putting a face on Ashland's shenanigans we would be just another wide spot in the road.  Here is an article from the Big Sandy News about the visit of reporter Nina Magoley from German radio WDR to the area, gathering material about Ashland Oil's radioactive mess for a German audience.  It's amazing that it has become more likely for a reporter to come from Germany to Martha, Kentucky than from Lexington or Louisville.  That sound of crickets chirping is the level of interest from our state's major media centers.

However, not only was the Big Sandy News on the story, but so was the Paintsville Herald.  So its good to know that while the big media boys in Lexington and Louisville were sleeping, as usual, local reporting was still playing a vital role in the community.  Those big newspapers may be dinosaurs, but small town local papers are still alive and kicking.

By the way, anybody ever seen Wade Smith when he's NOT wearing shades?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Toxic Soup at the 2010 Atlanta Film Festival

We are a little bit late, but a big congratulations goes out to the boys of Toxic Soup for getting their film into the 2010 Atlanta Film Festival.  Break a leg, or something like that!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Now You See It, Now You Don't

Thanks to Radioactive Waste Management Associates for posting the following in their web November 2009 web newsletter:

Now You See It, Now You Don’t

It’s magic! It’s amazing what a name means.  Change a waste disposal facility into a waste storage facility and Voila!  Waste gone!

The NORM waste facility, called by Ashland Oil contractors, the Martha Oil Field Storage Cell, holds oil field waste from the region around Martha, Kentucky.  The contaminated earth in the “temporary” landfill is from waste in oil fields.  Drilling produces radioactive and toxic chemical water that was dumped into unlined pits.  The contaminated earth was then centrally located in the Martha Oil Field storage cell, near Martha, Kentucky.  Now what?

A report by Auxier & Associates and funded by Ashland Oil purports to show that the waste is safe where it sits.  The supposed safety arises from two sleight-of-hands.  Auxier shows that the facility meets all applicable State of Kentucky regulations.  E.g., the total effective dose to a critical group is less than 25 millirems a year (mrem/yr).  To do that Auxier uses the Department of Energy software, RESRAD-OFFSITE.  That is, the dose due to someone residing off the property is less than 25 millirems per year.  So Auxier does not consider a person residing on the waste facility property.

And second, Auxier conveniently omits a Kentucky regulation about institutional control.  According to the regulation (902 KARE 100:022 Section 27(2)), “Institutional controls may not be relied upon for more than 100 years following transfer of control of the disposal site to the owner.”  So no fence.  No guards.  Maybe a little note in the title.

If a person lived on the “waste storage cell,” the radiation dose could be as high as 250 mrem per year to an adult, and 600 mrem a year for a 10-year old child, considerably higher than the 25 mrem/yr the regulatory max for a disposal facility.  Most of this dose comes from growing vegetables, fruits and grains in radium-contaminated earth.  Eat your vegetables, dear; it’s good for you.  And since radium-226 has a half-life of 1600 years, it will be around essentially forever.

It’s amazing the amount of magic wand-waving that’s required to get rid of Ashland’s radioactive waste.  Ashland’s legal magicians have waved wands in Kentucky courts, turning dangerous radiation spread around by Ashland’s business practices into a naturally-occurring curiosity that we shouldn’t worry about.

However, citizen outrage resulted in an attempt by Ashland and the state of Kentucky to remove some of the radioactive waste to a temporary storage facility for later disposal.  After a few years have gone by, Ashland again waves its magic wand to rename a waste disposal facility into a waste storage facility and make the problem disappear.  Now we don’t need to find a storage facility for this waste, it’s already in a storage facility.  Problem solved!

Ashland, clean up your mess!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Oil Field Remediation in Texas

If you think the problems we have here in Martha getting Ashland Oil to clean up their radioactive mess are unique, you're wrong.  Check out how ExxonMobil does oil field remediation in Texas... with a can of spray paint!  A radioactive tank battery was marked "NORM Containing Equipment."  Then this marking was spray painted over so now it's not a problem anymore.  Never mind that there is still radioactive material in that tank battery.

Now Ashland would have (and did, just check out the video above: "Martha Reclamation Program: Dump and Run") just dumped the contents of those tank batteries into a pit and covered it up with dirt.  Either way the radiation is still there, well, radiating.  Anyone other than state regulators think this is OK?

Hat tip: Mike Holmstrom

Friday, February 12, 2010

Kentucky Court of Appeals: Let Them Eat Cake!

During one of the famines in France during the reign of King Louis XVI, it was claimed that when Queen Marie-Antoinette heard that the people were suffering due to bread shortages she was so detached from reality that she said, “Let them eat cake.”  Well, reality bit hard when the King and Queen later had their heads lopped off by an angry mob.

The American legal system seems to be a bit detached from reality right now.  Lawyers and judges settle common-sense cases with arcane legal mumbo-jumbo, you know, the “how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?” type stuff.  This may challenge their intellects and help build their careers but the relevance is lost on the rest of us when it results in warped justice.

These Ashland Oil lawsuits are full of examples of this type of legal nonsense.  For example, this business about a five year limit on filing for damages if someone poisons your well.  Here’s basically how it played out for Woodie Cantrell in court:

Woodie:           I’m suing Ashland Oil for poisoning my well with radioactive radium.
Ashland:           Yes, we admit we enhanced your well water with radium and are sorry you are not pleased.  However, you can’t sue us.  That was more than five years ago.  The state of Kentucky says you can’t wait more than five years to sue someone for poisoning your well.
Woodie:           I didn’t know my well was poisoned until now.
Ashland:           Sure you did.  You complained about salty taste, therefore you knew.
Woodie:           Wait a minute.  My water may have been a bit salty, but I didn’t know it was radioactive.
Court:               Ashland is right, Woodie.  It’s about when you knew that you had been wronged, not about when you knew the wrong was actionable in court.
Woodie:           Hold on.  It’s one thing to have salty water.  It’s another to have radioactive water.
Court:               Sorry Woodie.  It’s not about whether your water is salty or glows in the dark.  It’s all about when you knew Ashland had done you wrong.  And that was more than five years ago, Woodie.  So too bad.
Woodie:           So now I’m stuck with radioactive well water and Ashland won’t clean it up.  What can my family do if they can’t use our well?
Court:               Let them eat cake!

Ashland, clean up your mess!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

EPA Has New Drilling Tip Line

Everyone around here should know that the EPA has set up a new tip line for anyone who wants to report suspicious activity related to oil and gas development and production.  You know, things like:
·        Dumping produced water into creeks;
·        Burying radioactive sludge in un-lined pits;
·        Leaving radioactive pipes lying around; or
·        The double whammy: dumping radioactive pits into radioactive creeks.

The EPA phone number is 1-877-919-4EPA and it’s free.  You can also e-mail them at: and they have a US Mail address at their website if you want to make sure your tip is in writing.  This EPA tip line may be a bit late for Martha, but some of us may have drilling for deep gas happening on other properties and this might help with any problems.

(Hat tip: Amy Mall at NRDC)

Friday, January 29, 2010

Who Knew?

Many of us had thought that dumping brine water from oil wells into creeks and unlined pits was just common industry practice.  Ashland seemed to do it all the time.  And in these parts it wasn’t just Ashland doing it.

However, this study of oil field waste disposal practices shows something different.  The summary of the study was pretty clear:
…oil field production problems have been with us for many decades…the oil and gas industry, through the American Petroleum Institute  – a trade association, appointed a committee, the Committee on Disposal of Production Wastes, to examine the problem.  The Committee issued a report through its Chairman, V. L. Martin, in 1932, at an API chapter meeting.  That API report further discredited the use of pits or “evaporation ponds” because they don’t result in disposal by evaporation, except in unusual cases, and they cause seepage into the ground and groundwater.  A later report (Elliston, 1942) by the API Central Committee on Drilling and Production Practice recommended tanks and injection wells for disposal of produced water.
Ashland’s geologists and engineers must not have received the memo.  You’d think that after all those years of going to API conventions they would have picked up a few industry best practices and brought them back to the Martha Oil Field.  However, it looks like they must have just spent all their convention time hanging out in cocktail bars and strip joints because we didn’t see any evidence in these reports that dumping produced water into creeks was a best practice for brine disposal.  It’s bad enough that they would salt up the waterways and the water table around here but when you add radioactive radium to the mix it’s an example of negligent, reckless business practices.

Ashland, clean up your mess!

(hat tip to Elizabeth Burns)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Martha Oil Field News Archive

Each of us remembers different things that have happened in the Martha Oil Field over the years.  It’s been so many years that sometimes it’s hard to keep things straight.  So we created an archive of news articles that have been written over the past several years.  These news articles usually have a short summary online.  Sometimes you have to pay a fee to see the whole article.  On the right side of the page are the first articles in chronological order.  We will add more as you point them out to us.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Louisiana's New Thingamabob

Here’s some interesting news from Louisiana (hat tip: Elizabeth Burns) about a relatively inexpensive way to measure the spread of brine water in soil in order to determine the extent of pollution from produced water pits.
ExxonMobil and Chevron are both settling cases with the state of Louisiana based on a technology called GEM. This is short for Geophex Electromagnetic Survey. It involves a conductivity probe that measures soil conductivity (more salt = higher conductivity) as you push it into the ground with a hydraulic rig. The probe is connected to a computer so that you can see how deep the salt contamination is in the field as soon as you are done pushing the rod as deep as you want to go. Using this toy, and the GEM, the plumes of open produced water pits are completely mapped before any samples are collected.
An attorney working for the state of Louisiana claims it costs about $1200 to map a pit in an open field.  They use a company called ICON Environmental.  The attorney reports that:
He said you can turn it over to the regulators and watch Chevron and ExxonMobil attempt to clean up produced water pits.
Of course this measurement method assumes produced water was dumped into pits.  In the Martha Oil Field a lot of produced water was just dumped into creeks.  Remember what General Kern called Yatesville Lake: Dead Sea II from all the brine.  Maybe the Commonwealth of Kentucky should be talking to the State of Louisiana
Ashland, clean up your mess!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lyrics to the Ashland Oil Song

There have been requests for the lyrics to the song in our music video, the Ashland Oil song.  The banjo tune is "Ida Red," a traditional American folk song of unknown origin.

Ashland Oil

Ashland Oil, Ashland Oil,
We all live near Ashland oil,
Radiation's in the air,
Radiation's in the soil,
Ashland Oil, Ashland Oil,
We're all dying near Ashland oil.

The oil came from Kentucky shale,
The money flowed, it didn't fail,
What came up with the pumping water
Will kill your son or kill your daughter,
Ashland Oil, Ashland Oil,
We're all dying near Ashland oil.

We wrote to the lawyers, addressed the nation
To try and get some compensation,
Radium here, radium there,
Deadly atoms in the air,
Ashland Oil, Ashland Oil,
We're all dying near Ashland oil.

You can bet our case will fail,
Nobody will go to jail,
The legislature's bought and sold,
And we'll all die before we're old,
Ashland Oil, Ashland Oil,
We're all dying near Ashland oil.

Bishop Ralph will yell and shout,
The judge will throw our experts out,
Otto Raabe will testify
That natural background rates are high,
Ashland Oil, Ashland Oil,
We're all dying near Ashland oil.

If you come to this part of Kentucky
You better hope that you are lucky,
This is all stochastic harm
But you just wear that golden charm,
Ashland Oil, Ashland Oil,
Death remains here in the soil.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Yatesville Lake: Dead Sea II?...almost

Yatesville Lake was finished in 1991 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dammed Blaine Creek in Lawrence County, Kentucky.  The headwaters of Blaine Creek lie in the Martha Oil Field.  We have an interesting view into the politics of Yatesville Lake from the memoirs of Brig. Gen. Richard S. Kern who was commanding general of the Ohio River Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers at the time Yatesville was built.

Gen. Kern, from page 301…

When I arrived, I found myself faced with a lot of pressure from Congressman Perkins to get started on building 18-mile long Yatesville Lake.  At the same time, there were questions on the environment.  Huntington District came in one day and said, “We have a major problem.  We’ve tested the waters of the river, and it has an extremely high brine content because the Martha Oil Field is located just above it.”
Ashland Oil was operating this oil field, and they had a low-level extraction procedure going on.  Long ago the wells were basically finished, and now they were pumping brine into the wells to force out oil.  They were reaping very little, like a barrel a week, from some of them.
They were running that brine straight down the hillside into the streams, heading towards the creek that became the river that was going to become the lake behind Yatesville Dam.  Huntington District said, “We’re going to have Dead Sea II here if we build this lake.  It will be too briny; it will not support fishing or anything else.”
When that had been passed to Congressman Perkins, he said, “It’s all false.  Best bass fishing in the world is right there where those two tributaries come together and where we were going to build that dam.  I catch bass there all the time.  Best bass fishing in the world.”
When you reviewed the brine content of samples measured by Huntington District, you knew that we had two views of the world here [laughter].

So Congressman Perkins was determined to get his Yatesville Lake, come hell or high water, so to speak.  And Huntington District of the US Army Corps of Engineers was afraid Yatesville Lake would become Dead Sea II because Ashland Oil was dumping so much brine water into the creeks that would feed Yatesville.  Now back to Gen. Kern on page 302…
I asked for further analysis to be done on where the flows were coming from.  Meanwhile, I’d gone down to the Martha Oil Field and walked it, and I was appalled – absolutely appalled – to see what Ashland Oil was dumping down those hillsides.  I mean, you’d go up there and you’d see this eroded ditch coming out of a wellhead, running down the hill toward a stream, and it would be brown-orange colored from the stuff that had come out of there over time.  It was just running raw down the hillside – an absolute disregard for the environment.  I was really appalled.

Gen, Kern, the really appalling thing is what you couldn’t see, the radioactivity that was brought up from the shale formation by the brine water.  How are you going to build a lake with Ashland’s pollution feeding it?  Back to Gen. Kern, page 302…
Meanwhile, as mentioned, we had Huntington District doing further studies as to how the stuff got to the Big Sandy River and to the potential lake and what would happen.  What we discovered was that there were two components, surface runoff and ground water.  We also found a fault area through there, so we traced that.
What we found was that the way the fault lay, the subsurface water, the ground water, would be cut off before it got to the lake area and would go elsewhere.  Where the aquifers came in, they met up against an impervious wall area, and they were diverted elsewhere.  An important find – the briny ground water was cut off from going into the lake project area.

Well, congratulations Gen. Kern!  A geologic fault line diverts the briny ground water contamination away from your project site to “elsewhere.”  Guess what, we live in “elsewhere.”  Now that your ground water contamination problem is settled, how are you going to deal with the surface runoff?  Once again, Gen. Kern on pages 302-303…
So, with this, we developed a scheme that said we would design the lake, and we would isolate the lake from the Martha Oil Field by closing down discharges and the brine source.  Huntington District had come back with a proposal that we buy out the Martha Oil Field from Ashland for $50 million.  I thought that was not a worthwhile expenditure of federal funds.  We really ought to get Ashland to do what the nation had mandated, and that was to clean up the environment.  We needed to get the Commonwealth of Kentucky to act.  Being good responsible citizens, they would obviously want to do the same thing.
So, Huntington District approached the governor’s office and found that there was not great interest at the moment in cleaning it up.  Consequently, we went into a briefing one day for Congressman Perkins, I was going to lay out for him how we were going to proceed because he was badgering Chairman Bevill to get money for the project in that year’s budget to get started…
…In our meetings with EPA, we felt that we could go into the environmental impact process and demonstrate that if Kentucky cleaned up their law so Ashland Oil would stop contaminating, we could move it through EPA and Fish and Wildlife and show we were doing a good thing for the environment…
…That process was what we took to Congressman Perkins…Basically, he threw us out of the office at that point.  He told General John Wall, the Director of Civil Works, who was with us, that he wanted some of those combat generals, not all these environmental generals to talk to him [laughter]…
…Anyway, he basically threw us out of the office because he didn’t want to hear about going to the state to force Ashland Oil into compliance. 

So the Army Corps of Engineers went to the governor’s office to get Ashland to clean up their mess in the Martha Oil Field so the Army could safely build Yatesville Lake.  The governor’s office basically wasn’t interested in upsetting Ashland.  And Congressman Perkins definitely did not want to open that can of worms, so he threw them out of his office.  The only help the Army got was from Mother Nature, providing that geologic fault line to block the flow of contaminated ground water to Yatesville Lake.
The Army assumed that the surface runoff problem was fixed, since by the time the lake was finished most of the wells in the Martha Oil Field had been abandoned.  However their attention was on the brine in the runoff, hence the lake’s nickname Dead Sea II.  What about the continuing runoff from our radioactive sludge pits and other hot spots?  Check out the above video Toxic Soup: Ashland's Radioactive Sludge Pits.
Ashland, clean up your mess!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Martha Reclamation Program: Dirty Socks Under the Bed

After a piece of radioactive pipe from Ashland Oil’s Martha oil field tripped a Geiger counter at a scrap yard in 1988, Ashland knew they had a problem.  Let’s let Tom FitzGerald, Director of the Kentucky Resources Council, tell the story.  From his August 11, 2005 letter to the Kentucky Department for Public Health:

The discovery of elevated levels of radioactivity in the Martha oil field in the late 1980’s led to the development of a “Joint Agreement on Martha Reclamation Program (MRP)” executed between the Cabinet for Human Resources (CHR) and Ashland Exploration (AEI), in which AEI agreed to a program of reclamation under a document captioned “Martha Reclamation program” (August 1, 1993), modified by Technical Support Addendum (October/December 1994) and Technical Consensus Document (January 1995) in which levels of NORM would be lowered through selective removal of contaminated media, to agreed-upon values for radioactivity, with confirmatory sampling by the company and oversight by the Cabinet. The exemption criteria below which no remediation would be required was set at 5 pCi/gm above natural background and averaged over 100 square meters, in the top 15 cm of soil (with 15 pCi below 15 cm).

Whew!  Reading that was about as fun as clearing kudzu.  We think what he meant was Ashland and the state of Kentucky entered into an agreement to clean up the radiation to an agreed standard, with testing performed by Ashland (overseen by the state of Kentucky) to confirm that the agreed standard was met.  Now, back to Mr. FitzGerald…

After execution of the Joint Agreement in February 1995, procedures were agreed upon by CHR and AEI for selective confirmatory surveys of well sites and tank battery sites, for removal of contaminated soil and piping to a local collection and storage site, and for securing letters from CHR approving the remediated sites for “unrestricted release.” The “First Addendum to Joint Agreement on Martha Reclamation Program” executed in September 1995, contained procedures for release of sites, allowing any site with a reading below 20 micro r/hr at 1 meter above ground to be released, and providing for confirmatory surveys of a statistical sampling of the remediated sites. Over a period of several years as reclamation work was being undertaken by OHM under contract with AEI, data was submitted to the state concerning sites that had been “remediated” and letters of concurrence from CHR of the eligibility of many properties for unrestricted release were issued. The soils and piping removed by AEI were stored on AEI property, and to this day, significant quantities of the NORM-contaminated soil remain at a consolidation site and have not been properly disposed of in a permanent disposal site.

In other words, a process was put in place to survey selected sites where radioactive waste was likely to be, and the radioactive pipes, sludge, scale, soils, etc. that exceeded an agreed measurement threshold were removed to a temporary consolidation site on 
Ashland’s property.  The waste still sits there waiting for permanent disposal (see above video Toxic Soup: Ashland’s Radioactive Sludge Pits for an aerial view of the toxic waste consolidation site).  Once again, Mr. FitzGerald…

…Data developed on the Martha oil field through field surveys conducted by the Cabinet for Human Resources and the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet, as well as a consultant for an oil company in the area, indicates the existence of numerous sites where levels of radium-226 has been detected at excessive levels. These areas include apparently dozens of brine/sludge pits in the Martha oil field that were formerly used for separation of oil and produced water (brine), and for disposal of oil-related sludges and clays as well as other land areas which currently or formerly supported tank batteries (oil/water separators) or piping and equipment storage, many of which exhibit levels of radium-226 as much as hundreds of times above the levels deemed unacceptable due to health consequences by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for human exposure.

So, even though we’ve all been through the Martha Reclamation Program for the past 15 years we still have hazardous radioactive hot spots throughout the oil field.  So the clean-up has not been successful.  And we have a temporary radioactive waste dump site that is starting to look permanent.  We have radioactive waste drained out of old storage tanks, dumped into holes and buried. Some of these remediation efforts remind us of when we try to get our teenage kids to clean their rooms; at first things look OK but then we find that all the dirty socks and underwear end up under the bed.

Ashland, clean up this mess!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Radiation at Blaine Elementary School

Over 15 years ago radiation was discovered in the drinking water and playground equipment at Blaine Elementary School, about 5 miles from Martha.  The playground equipment was made from pipes provided by Ashland Oil to the school.  Of course the pipes were loaded with radioactive scale and were removed from the school grounds once it was discovered that they were radioactive.

The drinking water at the school was tested and subsequently shut down.  The water table was evidently found to be contaminated so bottled water was brought in for the students.  Eventually a dedicated water supply was provided for the school and all this slipped down the memory hole.  Try googling the internet.  There’s nothing out there…except this:

From the Public Papers of Governor Brereton C. Jones, 1991-1995, page 359-360

House Committee on Appropriations Testimony
Washington, D.C.
February 28, 1995

“I went to Blaine Elementary School in Lawrence County, Kentucky, where $430,000 had been approved to help build thirty-one miles of water lines for the area.  The principal, who met me at the door, was nearly in tears because she was so excited.  The 320 students who went to that school had to drink bottled water because of the presence of radioactive sludge from nearby oil-field pits.  Some of them had never, ever, had running water in their homes.  And that $430,000 was only a part of the funding.  The community also had gotten a Community Development Block Grant of $750,000, a Farmers Home Administration grant of $500,000, a Farmers Home Loan of $400,000, plus more than $118,000 in local money and almost $35,000 in in-kind labor.  So that $450,000 has been parlayed into a construction project exceeding $2.3 million.”

What Governor Jones was telling the House Committee on Appropriations was that an original $430,000 contribution from the Appalachian Regional Commission was leveraged with additional federal and local taxpayer money into a $2.3 million water system for Blaine, Kentucky, all because Ashland Oil contaminated the water table with radioactive waste.  We may be mistaken, but, unless it is included in the local money or the in-kind labor we don’t see any Ashland contribution to this water system.  Blaine Elementary School had to shut down its well, buy bottled water, and the taxpayers had to buy a new water system for the school.  Ashland used to be considered by folks to be a good corporate citizen around here.  It seems that in the end they just did a dump and run.

Look at the video Toxic Soup: Radiation at School for more information about Ashland’s radioactive contamination at the school.

Ashland, clean up your mess!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Kentucky Courts as Scientific Gatekeepers

We can all breathe a lot easier knowing the great scientific minds of the Kentucky judicial system are on guard keeping the world safe from pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo.  At least that’s what the Kentucky Appellate Court and Ashland’s attorneys would like us to believe.  We are skeptical.

The court in Kentucky likes to think of itself as a scientific “gatekeeper charged with keeping out unreliable pseudoscientific evidence” presented by expert witnesses.  They call it “narrowing the issues” using “orderly pre-trial proceedings.”  The court believes its role as gatekeeper is “especially sensitive in cases where the plaintiff claims that exposure to a toxic substance caused his injury, because a jury may blindly accept an expert’s opinion that conforms with their underlying fears of toxic substances without carefully understanding or examining the basis for that opinion.”

An example of this “gatekeeper” role occurred in the Cantrell v. Ashland trial.  The plaintiff’s expert witness testimony was excluded by the court because the witness used a linear model where large doses of radiation present a large risk relative to small doses, consistent with the dose modeling used by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Ashland’s expert asserted that a threshold model applied, where radiation doses under a threshold value have no effect on human health.  The court excluded the plaintiff evidence completely, disregarding the EPA model.  This is wrong.  Since radiation dose risk assessment is NOT settled science how is one model valid and the other not per se?  The plaintiff model used by the EPA is valid for regulatory purposes and should have been admitted as reasonable evidence at trial.  It would be subject to cross-examination by Ashland’s attorneys and let the jury decide based on the merits of both models.  This is a jury of our peers, not children.  We believe the court inserted itself into the trial and affected the outcome by excluding this evidence since, without it, the plaintiffs had difficulty demonstrating the negative impact of Ashland’s radioactive waste on their properties.

The plaintiffs have an uphill fight on their hands.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Ashland: How do you clean up a sludge pit? Dump it in the creek!

In the Cantrell v. Ashland case the plaintiffs tried to get a videotape admitted as evidence that showed Ashland’s contractors on November 12, 1996 intentionally pumping contaminated water and oil from a sludge pit into Blaine Creek, a public waterway that discharges into nearby Yatesville LakeAshland was literally caught on tape.  We don’t have a copy of the actual tape, but we do have an “artist’s interpretation” depicting the events of November 12, 1996 for your entertainment.

The lower court disallowed the videotape and the accompanying testimony of the cameraman as evidence for the following reasons:

  1. The court viewed the conduct on the videotape as a remedial measure for the contamination.  So let me get this straight… removing the radioactive waste from a sludge pit and dumping it into a public waterway is a standard remedial measure?  On what planet?  The videotape shows a clear example of the problem, not the remedy.
  2. Ashland’s pollution of Blaine Creek was activity on other property, not the plaintiff’s property.  Here we go again.
  3. The court viewed the tape as unfairly prejudicial toward Ashland.  Never mind that it merely shows what happened: Ashland pumping radioactive waste into the creek.
  4. Finally, seizing on the plaintiff’s statement that the tape depicted a criminal act, the court stated, “Well then, you’re in the wrong Court right now, then.  You ought to be in criminal court.”  Since when is criminal evidence not admissible in a civil case?  Ask O.J. Simpson.

Needless to say, if the court won’t admit this type of evidence, the plaintiffs are fighting an uphill battle against Ashland and the courts.  What kind of message does this send to landowners in oil and gas country?

Ashland, clean up your mess!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Ashland: Your Water Table Ends at Your Property Line

The Cantrell v. Ashland case has gone on appeal to the Kentucky Supreme Court.  Written briefs have been submitted to the Court by both sides and oral arguments are pending.  We scratch our head when we read this stuff, since the lower court’s actions are riddled with errors, handing the verdict to Ashland.

One of the big errors committed by the lower court was restricting the testimony of Bob Grace, a petroleum engineer with oil field experience and particular expertise in water flooding and other secondary recovery techniques.  Grace reviewed the records for several wells, including those on the plaintiff’s property.  He opined that Ashland’s methods were reckless, dangerous and grossly negligent and contaminated the land, surface waters and aquifers of the Martha Oil Field.  He added that the improper use of nitroglycerin and high pressure water injection fractured the underground rock formations, permitting radioactive material to migrate between formations and contaminate the oil field.

Ashland objected to this testimony because they had not committed all these activities specifically on the plaintiff’s property.  Grace was not allowed to talk about the use of nitroglycerin or hydrofracking since these techniques were not used of the plaintiff’s property per se, even though they were used throughout the Martha Oil Field as part of Ashland’s secondary recovery program.  Hydrofracking on a neighbor’s property is inadmissible evidence if the neighbor is not part of the lawsuit.  This is ridiculous since the effects of nitroglycerin explosions and hydrofracking are not likely to be limited by property lines.  You guys in the Marcellus Shale zone should take note of this legal technique, since it may be used against you in the future.

The plantiffs really got the shaft from the lower court when Grace’s testimony was excluded since they could not demonstrate that Ashland’s behavior throughout the Martha Oil Field, which Ashland managed for decades, was a gross deviation from industry standards.  Ashland’s D.C. law firm bragged on their web site that “One of the foundations of the favorable verdict, and its affirmation on appeal was the success of key pretrial efforts led by members our team to limit the testimony of plaintiffs’ experts.”

It seems to us that once again the lawyers get to pad their resumes and we get to glow in the dark.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Legal Struggle: Let's Make a Deal

The village of Martha has had challenges in dealing with Ashland Oil to clean up the radioactive waste spread around the oil field.  These challenges have resulted in several lawsuits filed by residents against Ashland.  These lawsuits have been dragging through the courts for over a decade.  In a previous post, we discussed the Cantrell v. Ashland lawsuit and Ashland’s ridiculous legal position.  In this post we will discuss Rigsby v. Ashland and why we think it shows Ashland’s true intentions of saddling the property owners and the State of Kentucky with the cost of the cleanup of Ashland’s radioactive mess.

The plaintiffs in Rigsby v. Ashland sued Ashland in 1996 for trespass, nuisance and negligence claims related to the radioactive waste spread on their properties by Ashland’s oil production activities.  In 1997 the plaintiffs settled with Ashland; Ashland gave the plaintiffs an undisclosed sum of money and the promise to participate in the “Martha Reclamation Program.”  In return, the plaintiffs released Ashland of its liability.  The Martha Reclamation Program was the result of a 1995 agreement between the State of Kentucky and Ashland Oil in which Ashland agreed to remediate and restore property in the area including that owned by the plaintiffs.  So basically the plaintiffs agreed to waive Ashland’s liability for the radioactive pollution in exchange for money and an agreement by Ashland to clean up the mess.

All was well until 2007 when the plaintiffs hired an independent radiation officer to inspect their properties and hazardous levels of radioactive material were found, despite the properties obtaining a release from the State that they had been cleaned up by Ashland.  The plaintiffs sued Ashland seeking performance of the remediation and additional compensation.

The Kentucky Court of Appeals sided with Ashland.  The Court basically said that the plaintiffs signed an agreement to relieve Ashland of its liability, received money in return, and if they have issues with the quality of the radiation cleanup they should address the State of Kentucky, not Ashland.  So it appears in this case that Ashland gets to pass any additional costs incurred to appropriately clean up the properties to the landowners and/or the taxpayers of Kentucky.

Is it any wonder that other plaintiffs might be hesitant to settle their lawsuits with Ashland?

Ashland, do the right thing and clean up your mess!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Legal Struggle: Don't Cry Over Spilled Radium

The village of Martha has had challenges in dealing with Ashland Oil to clean up the radioactive waste spread around the oil field.  These challenges have resulted in several lawsuits filed by residents against Ashland Oil.  These lawsuits have been dragging through the courts for over a decade.  We will comment on one of these lawsuits, Cantrell v. Ashland, to demonstrate the ridiculous position that Ashland Oil has taken in dealing with the affected landowners.  The Kentucky Supreme Court has agreed to hear oral arguments concerning the case.

In Cantrell v. Ashland, the plaintiffs sued Ashland Oil for damages resulting from Ashland dumping radioactive waste on the plaintiffs’ properties during the process of separating oil from the pumping water.  The radioactive waste was the pumping water infused with radium-226, a water-soluble radioactive isotope with a half-life of 1600 years, that was naturally present in the oil-bearing formation.  This radioactive pumping water was brought to the surface, separated from the oil, then disposed of in sludge pits and local streams by Ashland, creating radioactive hot spots around the oil field.

The plaintiffs contend that they suffered a health hazard and a decrease in property value due to the radioactive contamination.  Ashland says that just because the property is contaminated with radiation does not mean a health hazard exists, since radiation “cannot be seen, heard, felt, smelled, tasted or otherwise detected by human senses.”  Ashland also takes the position that the property damages are “stigma” claims, that the plaintiffs should not be compensated for the “stigma” of having radioactive waste on their property.

Think about the position that Ashland has taken.  They admit to dumping radioactive waste on the properties… who else could have done it?  However, Ashland claims that the radioactive contamination is not a health hazard since you cannot see, hear, feel, smell, taste or otherwise detect it with human senses and that Ashland is not going to compensate the plaintiffs for the “stigma” of having radioactive hot spots on their properties.  This is outrageous.

We believe Ashland is trying to use legal maneuvering and technicalities to avoid owning up to the responsibility of cleaning up the mess they made.  We also believe Ashland would like to stick the landowners and the taxpayers of Kentucky with the cleanup bill, and they are hoping to use the court system of Kentucky to do it.  We will show you why we believe this in the next post.

Shame!  Clean up your mess, Ashland Oil!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

"Will the real Ashland Oil please stand up?"

There used to be a TV show called To Tell the Truth where three contestants appeared before a panel of judges, all pretending to be the same person.  In the end, the moderator would ask the contestants, "Will the real _____ please stand up?" to reveal the person's true identity.  We can play a similar game with Ashland Oil:

1997 - Ashland signed definitive agreement with Marathon Oil to combine the two companies' refining, marketing and transportation assets. Ashland sold its domestic oil and gas properties for $566 million, and the company's two coal investments merged to form Arch Coal, Inc.

1998 - Marathon Ashland Petroleum LLC began operation Jan. 1. Ashland owned 38 percent of this joint-venture company, the nation's sixth largest refiner. 

1999 - Ashland's headquarters moved to Covington, Ky., as the company observed its 75th anniversary. Ashland formed two new divisions - Ashland Distribution Company and Ashland Specialty Chemical Company - from its largest wholly owned business, Ashland Chemical Company. 

2004 - Ashland and Marathon Oil Corporation signed an agreement to transfer its 38-percent interest in Marathon Ashland Petroleum LLC (MAP) to Marathon for approximately $3.0 billion. 

2005 - Ashland Inc. (NYSE: ASH ) and Marathon Oil Corporation (NYSE: MRO ) on June 30 completed an agreement under which Ashland transferred its 38-percent interest in Marathon Ashland Petroleum LLC ( MAP ) and two other businesses to Marathon. The two other businesses were Ashland's maleic anhydride business and 60 Valvoline Instant Oil Change (VIOC) centers in Michigan and northwest Ohio, which were valued at $94 million. After 81 years in the petroleum refining and marketing industry, Ashland Inc. became a two-sector company with operations in the chemicals and transportation construction industries. 

So, is Ashland or Marathon responsible for the radioactive mess in the Martha Oil Field?  I'm sure the lawyers know who is legally responsible, however, if a good corporate citizen decided to clean up the mess tomorrow, who would it be?  Ashland, Marathon or someone else?  Will the real Ashland Oil please stand up?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Radioactive Pollution

Naturally occurring radioactive material, or "NORM," is a term used to describe radioactive material that occurs naturally but is radioactively enhanced or concentrated through human activity. Radioactivity associated with NORM in waste generated by the exploration and production of gas and oil is produced by the decay of uranium and thorium. Radium-226, a decay product of uranium which occurs in the Devonian shale that is a source rock for much of the oil found in Kentucky, is the decay product of most concern, because unlike the highly insoluble uranium, the radium (Ra226) is water and brine-soluble and is brought to the land surface and often concentrated as a by-product of the production of oil. The process of development of the oil resources, including the waterflooding of producing formations, and surface activities to separate oil from wastewaters, has resulted in the surface disposal of concentrated levels of radium-226 in disposal pits, and the concentration of radium-226 on land areas associated with tank batteries used for separation of oil and produce (brine) water, at concentrations which exceed levels at which the Environmental Protection Agency has recommended that action should be taken to require removal and proper management of the radioactive materials and contaminated soil.

The principal contaminant of concern in the radiation problems associated with oil production activities appears to be radium-226, which was noted by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality to have "a number of physical and chemical features that make it a particularly potent hazard to human health:"

* It emits both alpha and gamma radiation
* It behaves much like calcium and is incorporated into the bones in the human body
* It is a known carcinogen
* It has a half-life of 1,620 years
* It undergoes radioactive decay to produce radon - another hazardous substance.
* Radium-226 can enter both aquatic and terrestrial food chains leading to human consumption.

The current level of information regarding the extent of the problem of oilfield radioactive wastes in the state is virtually nonexistent, and it is not known beyond the Martha oil field, whether a problem exists with oilfield waste radioactivity. Data developed on the Martha oil field through field surveys conducted by the Cabinet for Human Resources and the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet, as well as a consultant for an oil company in the area, indicates the existence of numerous sites where levels of radium-226 has been detected at excessive levels. These areas include apparently dozens of brine/sludge pits in the Martha oil field that were formerly used for separation of oil and produced water (brine), and for disposal of oil-related sludges and clays as well as other land areas which currently or formerly supported tank batteries (oil/water separators) or piping and equipment storage, many of which exhibit levels of radium-226 as much as hundreds of times above the levels deemed unacceptable due to health consequences by the United States Environmental Protection Agency for human exposure.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

History of the Martha Oil Field

We know a little bit about the history of the area and would like to share it with you.  The village of Martha was named after Martha Skaggs, nee Cothron, a Cherokee who married Peter Skaggs in Virginia in 1788.  They moved to the “head of Blaine” in Lawrence County, Kentucky in 1804.  Martha Skaggs died in 1865 in Martha.

The Martha Oil Field was discovered in 1919 and produced roughly 19 million barrels of oil prior to 1955 when a waterflood project was begun by Ashland Oil to extract more oil.  Over 6 million barrels of oil was recovered using water injection between 1955 and 1970.  At this point, Ashland estimated an additional 30 million barrels of oil remained to be recovered by injection of brine and inert gas.  They considered the Martha Oil Field to be an opportunity to test the field-wide application of these enhanced oil recovery techniques.

Unfortunately the oil in the Martha Oil Field lies in Devonian shale, which contains low-level concentrations of radium-226, a radioactive element (naturally occurring radioactive material, N.O.R.M.) with a half-life of 1600 years.  Radium-226 is highly water soluble.  The water, brine and inert gas injections into the Devonian shale concentrated the radium-226 and brought it to the surface where the oil was separated from the brine.  The radioactive brine was dumped into sludge pits and disposed of in Blaine Creek.  As a result, oil wells, pressure wells, tank batteries, sludge pits and disposal pathways were contaminated with concentrated radioactive material.  Also, pipes and tanks that were in prolonged contact with the radioactive material were contaminated and strewn about the oil field.

The radiation contamination was discovered in 1988 when pipes hauled from Ashland Inc. tripped a scrap yard’s radiation detectors.  Ashland contended the radiation was harmless and began removing old pipes and tons of contaminated soil from the area to a designated disposal site.  Area residents claimed their health and property were at risk and filed lawsuits against Ashland Oil.

Ashland Oil Exploration merged with Marathon Oil in 1998 to form Marathon Ashland Petroleum, LLC.  In 2005 Ashland sold its share in Marathon Ashland Petroleum to Marathon Oil to exit the petroleum business.

We can’t imagine that Marathon Oil took on Ashland’s liabilities without proper due diligence, therefore Marathon should move to settle with the local residents and clean up this mess.  Do the right thing, Marathon!