Sunday, August 4, 2013

Oil companies frack in coastal waters off Calif.

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Companies prospecting for oil off California's coast have used hydraulic fracturing on at least a dozen occasions to force open cracks beneath the seabed, and now regulators are investigating whether the practice should require a separate permit and be subject to stricter environmental review.

While debate has raged over fracking on land, prompting efforts to ban or severely restrict it, offshore fracking has occurred with little attention in sensitive coastal waters where for decades new oil leases have been prohibited.

Hundreds of pages of federal documents released by the government to The Associated Press and advocacy groups through the Freedom of Information Act show regulators have permitted fracking in the Pacific Ocean at least 12 times since the late 1990s, and have recently approved a new project.

The targets are the vast oil fields in the Santa Barbara Channel, site of a 1969 spill that spewed more than 3 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean, spoiled miles of beaches and killed thousands of birds and other wildlife. The disaster prompted a moratorium on new drill leases and inspired federal clean water laws and the modern environmental movement.

Companies are doing the offshore fracking - which involves pumping hundreds of thousands of gallons of salt water, sand and chemicals into undersea shale and sand formations - to stimulate old existing wells into new oil production.

Federal regulators thus far have exempted the chemical fluids used in offshore fracking from the nation's clean water laws, allowing companies to release fracking fluid into the sea without filing a separate environmental impact report or statement looking at the possible effects. That exemption was affirmed this year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to the internal emails reviewed by the AP.

Fracking fluids can comprise hundreds of chemicals - some known and others that aren't since they are protected as trade secrets. Some of these chemicals are toxins to fish larvae and crustaceans, bottom dwellers most at risk from drilling activities, according to government health disclosure documents detailing some of the fluids used off California's shore.

Marine scientists, petroleum engineers and regulatory officials interviewed by the AP could point to no studies that have been performed on the effects of fracking fluids on the marine environment. Research regarding traditional offshore oil exploration has found that drilling fluids can cause reproductive harm to some marine creatures.

"This is a significant data gap, and we need to know what the impacts are before offshore fracking becomes widespread," said Samantha Joye, a marine scientist at the University of Georgia who studies the effects of oil spills in the ocean environment.

The EPA and the federal agency that oversees offshore drilling, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement or BSEE, conduct some routine inspections during fracking projects, but any spills or leaks are largely left to the oil companies to report.

In a statement to the AP, the EPA defended its oversight of offshore fracking, saying its system ensures the practice does not pollute the environment in a way that would endanger human health. Oil companies must obtain permits for wastewater and storm water discharges from production platforms that "ensure all fluids used in the drilling and production process will not adversely impact water quality," the statement said.

Oil companies also say that much of the fracking fluid is treated before being discharged into the sea. Tupper Hull, spokesman for the Western States Petroleum Association, said fracking in general is safe and has "never been associated with any risk or harm to the environment" in over six decades in California.

California coastal regulators said they were unaware until recently that offshore fracking was even occurring, and are now asking oil companies proposing new offshore drilling projects if they will be fracking.

Because the area of concern is located more than three miles off the state's shoreline, federal regulators have jurisdiction over these offshore exploration efforts. However, the state can reject a permit in federal waters if the work endangers water quality.

"It wasn't on our radar before, and now it is," said Alison Dettmer, a deputy director at the California Coastal Commission.

Government documents including permits and internal emails from the BSEE reveal that fracking off the shores of California is more widespread than previously known. While new oil leases are banned, companies can still drill from 23 grandfathered-in platforms in waters where endangered blue and humpback whales and other marine mammals often congregate.

In March, a privately held oil and gas company received permission from the agency to frack some 10 miles off the Ventura County coast. The job by DCOR LLC involves using the existing wellbore of an old well to drill a new well. Three so-called "mini-fracks" will be done in an attempt to release oil locked within sand and rocks in the Upper Repetto formation.

Only a month before the application was approved, however, an official with the BSEE voiced concerns about the company's proposed frack and whether the operation would discharge chemicals into the ocean.

"We have an operator proposing to use `hydraulic stimulation' (which has not been done very often here) and I'm trying to run through the list of potential concerns," Kenneth Seeley, the BSEE's regional environmental officer for the Pacific, wrote in a Feb. 12 email to colleagues. "The operator says their produced water is Superclean! but the way they responded to my questions kind of made me think this was worth following up on."

BSEE officials approved DCOR's application on March 7. The agency told the AP that DCOR's job would use far less fracking fluid than an onshore operation.

"For comparison, well stimulation offshore typically uses 2 percent of the liquids and 7 percent of the sand that is used routinely for onshore hydraulic fracturing," the BSEE said in a statement.

Oil industry estimates show that at least half of the chemical-laced water used in fracking remains in the environment after an operation. Environmental groups say as much as 80 percent of the fluids can be left behind. The rest gets pumped back up to the oil platform, and is piped or barged back to shore for treatment. Companies can also pump the fluids into an old well reservoir to discard it.

DCOR, which did not respond to requests for comment, is not the first company to try to tap more oil from California's offshore reserves, nor is the project the most extensive offshore frack here in recent years.

In January 2010, oil and gas company Venoco Inc. set out to improve the production of one of its old wells with what federal drilling records show was the largest offshore fracking operation attempted in federal waters off California's coast. The target: the Monterey Shale, a vast formation that extends from California's Central Valley farmlands to offshore and could ultimately comprise two-thirds of the nation's shale oil reserves.

Six different fracks were completed during the project, during which engineers funneled a mix of about 300,000 pounds of fracking fluids, sand and seawater 4,500 feet beneath the seabed, according to BSEE documents.

Venoco's attempt only mildly increased production, according to the documents. Venoco declined to comment.

Despite greenlighting offshore fracking projects for years, federal and state regulators now are trying to learn more about the extent of fracking in the Pacific even as officials and marine scientists scramble to weigh the environmental effects.

In January, Jaron Ming, the Pacific regional director of the BSEE, told employees in an email that there had been heightened interest in offshore fracking from within the agency and the public.

"For that reason, I am asking you to pay close attention to any (drilling applications) that we receive and let me know if you believe any of them would be considered a `frac job.'"

That same month, BSEE estimated in internal emails that only two such jobs had occurred off California in the past two decades. But weeks later, as the agency worked to respond to public requests about fracking offshore, emails show it had found 12 such instances of offshore fracking.

BSEE said it cannot be sure just how often fracking has been allowed without going through every single well file.

Brian Segee, a staff attorney at the Environmental Defense Center, said the uncertainty makes him skeptical about the actual number of offshore fracks. The Santa Barbara-based environmental law firm, which formed in the wake of the 1969 oil spill, is calling for a moratorium on future fracking in the Pacific until the potential environmental effects are studied.

Most fracking efforts off California have yielded mixed results. The first time Venoco fracked offshore in the 1990s, it had limited success. Chevron's one try failed. Out of Nuevo Energy's nine attempts, only one was considered very successful, according to company and BSEE records.

The practice has been more fruitful in the North Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, where it's more common and the porous nature of the geologic formation makes it easier to extract oil, according to regulators and oil industry experts. Still, oil companies surveyed by federal regulators said they haven't ruled out fracking projects in the Pacific in the future.

As fracking technology evolves and companies seek to wring production from old offshore wells, drilling experts caution that strict safety precautions and planning are needed.

Working in the open ocean, "you have to be a lot more careful to avoid any spillage," said Mukul Sharma, a professor of petroleum engineering at The University of Texas at Austin.

David Pritchard, a Texas petroleum engineer who has been working in offshore drilling for 45 years, said offshore fracking "no doubt adds complexity and risk."

One concern is that the high pressure fracking mixture in some jobs might break the rock seal around an old well bore, allowing oil to escape, added another expert, Tulane University petroleum engineering professor Eric Smith.

"I'd say it (offshore fracking) is safe," Smith said, "but nothing's a sure thing in this world."


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Movie review: Stars Denzel Washington, Mark Wahlberg fired up in ...

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Paula Patton, left, and Denzel Washington in a scene from "2 Guns." (AP Photo/Universal Pictures, Patti Perret)

Review ? Chemistry propels overblown buddy-cop thriller.

A buddy-cop movie on steroids, "2 Guns" fires off smart-alecky one-liners and bullets at equal rates ? as the stars make a convoluted and overwritten script work.

Bobby (Denzel Washington) and Stig (Mark Wahlberg) are introduced as criminals working together to curry favor with a Mexican drug lord, Papi Greco (Edward James Olmos). What neither man knows is that the other is working undercover for the U.S. government. Bobby is a DEA agent trying to bring down Greco?s cartel, while Stig works for Navy intelligence and is under orders to bring Bobby down.



?2 Guns?

Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg make a good team in a movie that mixes solid action and ridiculous dialogue.

Where ? Theaters everywhere.

When ? Opens Friday, Aug. 2.

Rating ? R for violence throughout, language and brief nudity.

Running time ? 109 minutes.

When the two rob a bank where they think Greco stashes his drug proceeds, they discover a whole lot more money than they expected. They also find that they have been double-crossed and set up to take the rap for the robbery and worse. That?s when a shadowy and flamboyant figure, Earl (Bill Paxton), shows up demanding his money and leaving a string of corpses. With no one else to turn to, Bobby and Stig reluctantly team up to clear their names.

Also in the mix are Stig?s superior, Cmdr. Quince (James Marsden), and Bobby?s DEA colleague and sometime lover Deb (Paula Patton).

Icelandic director Baltasar Korm?kur, who directed Wahlberg in the smart 2012 thriller "Contraband," creates some effective action set pieces ? including an over-the-top finale that includes exploding cars, helicopter machine guns and a stampede of bulls.

The plot-heavy script, an adaptation of Steven Grant?s graphic-novel series, has erratic tone shifts and too much clever-to-be-clever dialogue. It?s as if screenwriter Blake Masters, a TV writer making his movie debut, swallowed the Shane Black action-movie playbook and the Quentin Tarantino dialogue generator and is regurgitating pieces of both all over the place.

That said, Washington?s deceptively easygoing charm and Wahlberg?s fast-talking pugnacity make for an entertainingly sweet-and-sour partnership. The one-liners coming out of their mouths may be phony, but these actors infuse them with a sense of fun among the mayhem.

Twitter: @moviecricket

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Copyright 2013 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Ohio man who kidnapped 3 women gets life in prison

Ariel Castro rubs his nose in the courtroom during the sentencing phase Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, in Cleveland. Three months after an Ohio woman kicked out part of a door to end nearly a decade of captivity, Castro, a onetime school bus driver faces sentencing for kidnapping three women and subjecting them to years of sexual and physical abuse. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Ariel Castro rubs his nose in the courtroom during the sentencing phase Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, in Cleveland. Three months after an Ohio woman kicked out part of a door to end nearly a decade of captivity, Castro, a onetime school bus driver faces sentencing for kidnapping three women and subjecting them to years of sexual and physical abuse. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Ariel Castro listens in the courtroom during the sentencing phase Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, in Cleveland. Three months after an Ohio woman kicked out part of a door to end nearly a decade of captivity, Castro, a onetime school bus driver faces sentencing for kidnapping three women and subjecting them to years of sexual and physical abuse. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Ariel Castro, center, listens in the courtroom during the sentencing phase Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, in Cleveland. Defense attorney's Craig Weintraub, left, and Jaye Schlachet sit beside Castro. Three months after an Ohio woman kicked out part of a door to end nearly a decade of captivity, Castro, a onetime school bus driver faces sentencing for kidnapping three women and subjecting them to years of sexual and physical abuse. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Michelle Knight speaks during the sentencing phase for Ariel Castro Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, in Cleveland. Three months after an Ohio woman kicked out part of a door to end nearly a decade of captivity, Castro, a onetime school bus driver faces sentencing for kidnapping three women and subjecting them to years of sexual and physical abuse. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Michelle Knight sits in the courtroom during a break in the sentencing phase for Ariel Castro Thursday, Aug. 1, 2013, in Cleveland. Knight one of the victims of Castro testified at the sentencing Thursday. The appearance by Knight is the first time she?s been seen publicly since her rescue from the house where she was held captive for ten years. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

(AP) ? Standing before the man who kidnapped her and raped her for a decade, Michelle Knight described how the world had changed in the three months since they last saw each other. The captive, she said, was now free and the oppressor would be locked away forever to "die a little every day."

Ariel Castro's fate had been determined long before he was sentenced Thursday to life in prison plus 1,000 years. But Knight's words in a crowded courtroom put a final seal on the kidnapping case that horrified the nation and subjected three young women to years of torment in Castro's ramshackle house.

"You took 11 years of my life away and I have got it back," Knight said. "I spent 11 years in hell. Now your hell is just beginning."

A short time later, the 53-year-old former school bus driver apologized to his victims briefly in a rambling, defiant statement. He repeatedly blamed his sex addiction, his former wife and others while claiming most of the sex was consensual and that the women were never tortured.

"These people are trying to paint me as a monster," he said. "I'm not a monster. I'm sick."

The sentence was a foregone conclusion after Castro pleaded guilty last week to 937 counts, including aggravated murder, kidnapping, rape and assault. A deal struck with prosecutors spared him from a possible death sentence for beating and starving Knight until she miscarried.

During her statement, Knight was just a few feet from Castro, seeing him for the first time since her rescue in May from the house that Castro turned into a prison with a makeshift alarm system and heavy wooden doors covering the windows.

"I will live on," she said. "You will die a little every day."

The three women disappeared separately between 2002 and 2004, when they were 14, 16 and 20 years old. Each had accepted a ride from Castro. They escaped May 6 when Amanda Berry, now 27, broke part of a door to Castro's house in a tough Cleveland neighborhood and yelled for help. Castro was arrested that evening.

The escape electrified Cleveland, where photos of the missing women still hung on utility posts. Elation turn to despair as details of their ordeal emerged.

Prosecutors on Thursday detailed Castro's repeated sexual assaults, how he chained the women and denied them food or fresh air.

They displayed photos that gave a first glimpse inside the rooms where the women lived. Stuffed animals lined the bed and crayon drawings were taped to the wall where Berry lived with her young daughter who was fathered by Castro. One of the drawings on a shelf said "Happy Birthday."

But in the same room, the window was boarded shut and door knobs had been removed and replaced with multiple locks.

Another room shared by Knight and Gina DeJesus had a portable toilet and a clock radio and several chains.

Prosecutors said the women were chained to a pole in the basement and a bedroom heater. One woman had a motorcycle helmet placed on her head while in the basement. Later, when she tried to escape, she had a vacuum cleaner cord wrapped around her neck.

FBI agent Andrew Burke said Castro would occasionally pay his victims after raping them. Then he would require them to pay him if they wanted something special from the store.

A letter written by Castro was found in the home days after his arrest and shown in court. It was titled "Confession and Details." He also wrote "I am a sexual predator."

Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty said in a court filing that one of the women kept a diary.

"The entries speak of forced sexual conduct, of being locked in a dark room, of anticipating the next session of abuse, of the dreams of someday escaping and being reunited with family, of being chained to a wall, of being held like a prisoner of war ... of being treated like an animal," the filing said.

Knight, 32, was the first woman abducted after Castro lured her into his house with the promise of a puppy for her son. She said she cried every night and that her years in captivity "turned into eternity."

"He tormented me constantly, especially on holidays," Knight said. "Christmas was the most traumatic day because I didn't get to spend it with my son."

She sat quietly as Castro claimed the women lived a happy life with him.

"We had a lot of harmony that went on in that home," he said.

Castro called his daughter with Berry a "miracle child" and argued with the judge that he didn't commit a violent crime.

He pointed out that the FBI was once close to him when agents talked with his daughter, who was walking home with DeJesus on the day she disappeared.

"The FBI let these girls down when they questioned my daughter," he said. "They failed to question me."

He also said he was never abusive until he met his former wife, who is now dead.

Once Castro finished, Judge Michael Russo thanked Knight for showing "remarkable restraint" during his statement. The judge then dismissed Castro's claims that the women lived a happy life with him.

"I'm not sure there's anyone in America that would agree with you," he said.

None of Castro's relatives were in the courtroom. Berry and DeJesus also stayed away. Instead, their family members read statements on their behalf.

"We stand before you and promise you that our beloved family member thrives," said Sylvia Colon, DeJesus' cousin. "She laughs, swims, dances, and more importantly, she loves and is loved. We are comforted in knowing that she will continue to flourish."

The women have begun emerging from the privacy they had sought after they escaped to freedom.

Berry made a surprise onstage appearance at a rap concert last weekend, and DeJesus made a few televised comments as a privacy fence was being erected around her house.


Seewer reported from Toledo. Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus contributed to this report.

Associated Press


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Gwen Stefani's Got the London Look

Posted Saturday August 3, 2013 10:11 AM GMT

Bringing her unique style Across the Pond, Gwen Stefani ventured out in London, England on Saturday (August 3).

The No Doubt frontwoman daringly sported a long, gray jumpsuit, black headband, and strappy silvery sandals as she headed out for some weekend adventures.

Earlier in the week, the 43-year-old musician and rocker hubby Gavin Rossdale got some star treatment at the London Zoo.

Along with their boys Kingston and Zuma, the whole family was invited inside the penguin exhibit, where they engaged in some up-close-and-personal time with their new feathered friends.

Enjoy the pictures of Gwen Stefani out in London (August 3).


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Friday, August 2, 2013

Arctic Monkeys Producer James Ford Talks 'AM': Hip-Hop, RnB And Sabbath

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IU scientists get $1.2M for breast cancer research from Susan G. Komen charity

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INDIANAPOLIS ? Indiana University researchers exploring possible new treatments for breast cancer have received nearly $1.2 million from a breast cancer charity to advance their work.

The funding from Susan G. Komen is part of $4.5 million in grants the Dallas-based charity announced Thursday for research into the role toxins and other environmental factors play in breast cancer's development.

The $1.2 million for IU researchers includes $500,000 for the Susan G. Komen Tissue Bank at the IU Simon Cancer Center. That Indianapolis center will use its grant to collect normal breast tissue from women in Kenya to help understand the underlying biology and genetic issues that lead to more aggressive forms of breast cancer.

Women of African descent have higher breast cancer mortality rates.


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