New York Crossroads Rally, Albany.
This event sent two messages to N.Y. Governor Cuomo: “No” to hydrofracking and “Yes” to renewable energy. On June 17, David and Janet Muir and I joined more than 2,500 others outside the state capital building, where we listened to some very inspiring speakers and then marched around the capital block. Those attending include Natalie Merchant, Oren Lyons, Lois Gibbs, Debra Winger, Maurice Hinchey, Sandra Steingraber, Arun Gandhi, and others. Space here does not allow me to do the speakers justice here, but to learn more, please visit http://www.shaleshockmedia.org, where you can watch a video of the entire rally and hear what speakers had to say.
Forward on Climate Rally — February 17, 2013
It was clear and very cold at 5:00 AM when we left my brother’s house in Connecticut. He and my sister-in-law were nice enough to drive me to a White Plains, NY bus station where I joined a hundred and ten others for the long ride to Washington, DC. on buses chartered by the WESPAC Foundation. Janet and David Muir were on a bus that left Syracuse at 4:30 that morning. The Syracuse bus included a group of ESF students and a group representing the Onondaga NAtion.
Individuals representing groups from all over the country gathered on the National Mall next to the Washington Monument to listen to speeches and to persuade President Obama that approving the Keystone XL pipeline was NOT in the best interest of the country. No one knew how many people would show up in Washington on that cold February day, but it was gratifying that more than 40,000 people of all ages were there to express their concerns. As Janet says, “It was a fantastic day — fantastically cold too! .” Janet and David arrived early enough to join the New Yorkers’ rally against fracking. As they marched into the main rally, the New Yorkers Against Fracking formed a good-sized group with many signs urging Cuomo to ban fracking.
Multiple news sources describe the speakers and summarize their messages. If you’d like to view video footage of the rally including the speakers, the crowd, and the march to the Whitehouse, visit 350.org/ForwardOnClimateLivestream. To read a story about the day, I recommend the article by Dina Sciortino, “Westchester Residents Attend Largest Climate Change Rally to Date,” published in RivertownsPatch. It provides an explanation of the urgency of the climate change issue, the national sponsors behind the rally, and the connection to TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline.
For me, the ride to and from Washington was not very taxing. I was back in White Plains by 10:00 PM on Sunday night, only one hour away from my bed at my brother’s. Janet and David, on the other hand, boarded their bus at 4:30 PM Sunday and got back at 4:30 AM Monday. They were stuck on Route 81 in a standstill after an accident near — of all places — Frackville, PA from 9:40 PM until 12:40 AM when the bus driver backed them up to an exit. The police had already led all cars off the highway, but the semis and the bus from Syracuse were still there. They didn’t plan to reopen the highway until 4 AM! So, once they were off 81, a volunteer ambulance led them through some small towns and back to 81 (about 5-10 miles).
Now that we are back home, we have time to read the accounts of and reactions to the events of this past Sunday. We can only hope that President Obama was paying attention.
Maryanne Adams 2.22.2013
Reflections on Anti-frack Action in Albany, February 4, 2013
On February 4, 2013, David and Janet Muir, long term members and leaders of Onondaga Audubon, joined hundreds of anti-fracking activists in Albany, NY. The legislative hearing was packed with people who would like the fracking ban to continue. According to Janet, the rally in Albany went well, but Senator DeFrancisco is disappointingly pro “safe fracking,” as if that is a possibility. His office says he is “waiting to see the studies and whether fracking can be safely regulated.” There may still be a chance he’ll say no. His demeanor at the hearing was not friendly — he left the room halfway through.
Sandra Steingraber and Josh Fox voiced their concerns. In the hearing, Assembly members Robert Sweeney (D-11th A.D.), Barbara Lifton (A.D. #125- Ithaca), and Senator Tony Avella (D – Queens) raised several important questions about fracking and the faulty process DEC has used. Lifton and Avella also joined the rally on the Million Dollar Staircase. Gandhi’s grandson, Arun Gandhi, signed a pledge to use non-violent means to fight fracking. (He lives in NYS, too.)
The Post-Standard had a brief article covering the hearing, but did not mention the anti-frackers; it only said a Siena poll showed New Yorkers evenly divided. The bus from Syracuse had 49 riders.
You can find a longer article about the budget hearing and anti-frack rally at http://www.timesunion.com/local/article/grilling-over-fracking-4250573.php.
Report by Janet Muir and Maryanne Adams
YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!
Governor Cuomo refuses to require public participation for the Department of Health Review of the “health impact analysis” conducted by DEC. As a result, DEC remains on-track to make a final decision whether to permit Marcellus Shale gas fracking in New York by 2/27/13.
It is imperative that a DOH Review conducted completely in secret without any public input must not be used to support adoption of a Final SGEIS or DEC’s shale gas Revised Rule making proposal. The DOH Review must be put on-hold until all its shortcomings have been resolved.
Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton is circulating a colleague sign-on letter to Assembly and State Senate representatives which makes that critical request.
Call and ask your assembly and state senate representatives to sign Ms. Lifton’s letter. We need every signatory that we can get!
Read the information from Walter Hang for all the details. It explains why we need signatories for Assemblywoman’s Lifton’s (hopefully) game changing letter:
Thank you very much.
Conservation Chair, OAS
TIME IS RUNNING OUT
January 11, 2013 marks the end of the 30-day comment period for responding to the New York DEC’s proposed HVHF Regulations. The information is overwhelming and everyone is busy during the holidays.
But just this morning I found an very helpful resource for those who wish to better understand what the DEC is proposing and who want comment about specific regulatory issues. There is even scientific data to back up many of the concerns that are brought to light. With the support of numerous environmental organizations in NY state, Dr. Sandra Steingraber has developed a timesaving and informative resource — The 30 Days of Fracking Regs project.
I encourage everyone to visit http://marcelluseffect.blogspot.com/2012/12/let-countdown-begin-30-days-of-fracking.html and access the site from there. It is extremely important that the DEC receive thousands of comments from New Yorkers who care about the future of our beautiful state and the preservation of unfragmented open space.
Thank you for taking the time to do this during this very busy time of year.
This message from our friends at the Sierra Club is important!
30 days to Save NY from Fracking
This is it. In spite of massive public pressure supporting a more than 4-year
moratorium on fracking. Governor Cuomo has committed to finalizing his
gas-drilling program by February 27. Starting today (Dec 12), New Yorkers have
only 30 days to comment on new rules for fracking before any of the health or
environmental studies have been completed. Even worse, the accelerated timeline
will ensure that none of the ongoing health and environmental reviews will have
much bearing on the final rules for drilling.
Will you let Governor Cuomo know that New Yorkers deserve a transparent process
that lets science drive the timeline – not political pressure from the oil and
In spite of this fatally flawed process our best course of action is still to
generate as many individual comments as we can by January 11, 2013. Last year,
we helped generate nearly 60,000 comments on the draft fracking regulations.
Will you help us double that amount this year?
The Atlantic Chapter will be posting draft comments on our website to help you
with your own comments. And while it may be no coincidence that this short
comment period falls on the busy holiday season, let’s use every gathering and
social occasion to spread the word about what may be our last opportunity to
weigh-in on fracking. In this time of giving it is important to reflect upon
what we all could lose if fracking moves forward in NY.
Let’s make the next thirty days count!
Information about proposed regulations for high volume hydraulic fracturing in
New York and how to send comments to the DEC may be found at:
Thank you for all you do for our environment.
Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter
Atlantic Chapter | 353 Hamilton St. Albany, NY 12210 | P: (518) 426-9144 |
Fracking New York’s Southern Tier
by Maryanne Adams, Conservation Chair
In an article commemorating Rachel Carson’s warning call of 50 years ago, Molly Bennet compared the corporate-backed PR campaign by the $300 million pesticide industry against Carson’s views to that being made today to undermine scientific conclusions about climate change (http://www.inthesetimes.com/ article/13174/our_silent_spring/). Reading it made me think of the current ad campaign by the natural gas industry. Natural gas is American! It’s cleaner than coal! Why deny American citizens the opportunity to embrace an activity that promises countless jobs and much-needed income for thousands of struggling families?
It is in this context that Governor Andrew Cuomo made the decision to allow horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in communities supportive of hydro-fracking in five counties along the Pennsylvania border. Drilling would only be allowed in shale formations more than 2000 feet thick with at least 1000 feet of vertical distance separating any aquifers and the fractured rock. This “demonstration project” in Chemung, Tioga, Broome, Steuben, and Chenango Counties was welcomed by gas industry spokesmen who considered it to be a step in the right direction. (During the past three years, $4.5 million dollars has been spent in Albany lobbying for fracking and over issues of concern to the natural gas industry (http://www.nytimes. com/2012/06/14/nyregion/hydrofracking-under-cuomoplan- would-be-restricted=to-a-few-counties.html).)
DEC spokesperson Emily DeSantis said that the drilling moratorium would continue until the DEC had responded to all of the comments (80,000) they had received about the draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS). This could be accomplished by the end of summer.
Dewey Decker, town supervisor in Sanford (Broome County) heads the Deposit Landowners Coalition. This group represents more than 300 property owners owning a total of 50,000 acres who are eager for fracking to begin. XTO Energy (a subsidiary of ExxonMobil) signed two leases with the coalition for a total of $110 million. According to Decker, 80% of the local population supports drilling (http://www.chronogram. com/issue/2012/7/News+%26=Politics/Frack-Watch-Coming-Soon-Drilling-in-Towns-That-Want-It).
But what about the 20% who will experience all the side effects of hydraulic fracturing without any of the financial benefits? Environmental groups continue to be divided over whether or not hydraulic fracturing should be allowed in New York at all. It should not, according to Dr. Sandra Steingraber, who devotes much of her time speaking out against the process and the health risks associated with it. She asserts that “Sending a polluting industry into our most economically impoverished communities is a violation of environmental justice” (nytimes.com).
Maurice Hinchey, representative from the 22nd Congressional District, would agree. Hinchey’s district crosses the Southern Tier, running along the Pennsylvania border from the Hudson River to the Finger Lakes. Parts of it would be affected by the Cuomo administration’s plan to allow fracking in some places. Representative Hinchey’s recommendations to the governor about the protections that need to be in place before issuing any drilling permits are as follows:
a cumulative impact analysis of the impact hydraulic fracturing would have in the state;
a full assessment of public health risks;
a comprehensive wastewater treatment plan;
a rule to create further distance between potential drilling sites and water supplies;
a prohibition on the use of toxic chemicals in all fracking fluids;
a rule mandating public disclosure of all chemicals used at each well site before drilling commences;
a dramatic increase in New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) resources and staffing to oversee potential drilling;
a complete ban on land spreading of fracking wastefluids;
alignment of DEC’s gas drilling permit rules with the requirements of secondary lending institutions covering oil and gas activity on mortgaged properties;
and waiting for the result of the ongoing EPA study of hydraulic fracturing that the congressman initiated. (http://hinchey.house.gov/images/stories/20110109_HincheyDSGEISComments.pdf)
Hinchey is correct when he says, “We only have one chance to get this right, which is why we must take every possible step to protect the environment, public water supplies, and the overall health of residents from the dangers of hydraulic fracturing” (Hinchey.house.gov).
Fifty years ago, the president of the Montrose Chemical Corporation called Rachel Carson ‘a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature’ (inthesetimes.com). Now she is thought of as a paragon among environmentalists. Only time will tell how those who protested fracking the Marcellus Shale will be judged and what their legacy will be. In a world where corporations have more power and political influence than ever, they have their work cut out for them.
“The modern world,” Carson wrote in 1963, “worships the gods of speed and quantity, and of the quick and easy profit, and out of this idolatry monstrous evils have arise.
… As for the general public, the vast majority rest securein a childlike faith that ‘someone’ is looking after things
– a faith unbroken until some public-spirited person, with patient scholarship and steadfast courage, presents facts that can no longer be ignored” (inthesetimes.com).
I wonder what Carson would say about today’s world.
April 6 2012 Update
By Maryanne Adams
Fracking on the Big Screen
Two films with opposite points of view about hydraulic fracturing will be in production soon. Matt Damon will be starring in an anti-fracking film called “The Promised Land.” Not many plot details are available; we only know that ‘a salesman experiences life-changing events after arriving in a small town’. It is known that another well-known actor, John Krasinski of “The Office” will co-star. Filming will take place in the Pittsburgh area, starting in late April and continuing through June. Already, pro-fracking interests are concerned that this new film will ‘increase unfounded concerns about fracking’.
To counter this, Ann McElhinney and Phelim McAleer will be directing a film that they call “FrackNation.” According to them, “There are two sides to every story. Then there is the truth. FrackNation is the film that will tell the truth about fracking.” McElhinney and McAleer intend to point out misrepresentations in Josh Fox’s Gasland and to show how fracking helps those who are suffering from economic hard times. They have been using a fundraising site called Kickstarter to raise money for their project. (I just looked there (4/6/12) and saw that $212,265 has been pledged. This surpasses their goal of $150,000.)
April, 5, 2012 Update
By Maryanne Adams
Leaders of the Tioga County Landowners Association have reached an agreement with eCorp, GasFrac Energy Services to begin fracturing Marcellus Shale using liquid propane. They believe that this process, which involves the use of liquid propane instead of millions of gallons of water, is not included under New York State’s current moratorium. They hope that initial test wells in Tioga County will demonstrate the environmental benefits of the Gasfrac process (less water use and less waste) and will also prove the worth of the Marcellus and Utica Shales in terms of productivity. The landowner coalition and GasFrac Energy Services will be able to move forward with their plan as long as it is determined that the regulations outlined in New York’s Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) from 1992 are deemed applicable to propane fracking.
Sourced from Gannett’s Press Connects. Read more about this issue on Press Connects.
Find out more about this development by reading Fred LeBrun’s thought-provoking commentary in the Albany Times Union.
April 1, 2012 Update
By Maryanne Adams, Conservation Chair
For those of you who are interested in what is happening with regard to fracking in Pennsylvania, here is a link to the April, 2012 edition of “Marcellus Monthly,” a newsletter from Marcellus Protest of Western Pennsylvania. You may link to it at http://www.marcellusprotest.org/news.
February 23, 2012 Update
By Maryanne Adams, Conservation Chair
It seems that nearly every day there’s another development having to do with hydraulic fracturing. If you would like to receive daily updates via e-mail, you may join the Marcellus Protest discussion group at Google Groups. Although much of the information is generated from Pennsylvania, New York State also receives attention. It’s been a very useful source of information for me.
There is reason to hope that towns and communities that wish to ban fracking will be allowed to do so in New York. On Tuesday, February 21, State Supreme Court Judge Phillip Rumsey ruled that the Town of Dryden’s zoning amendment that banned oil and gas exploration was not pre-empted by state law. That’s good news for most of the residents of the Ithaca suburb, but not-so-good for Denver-based Anschutz Exploration Corp. who leased more than 22,000 acres there and has already invested $5.1 million in drilling operations. When ruling on this issue, Judge Rumsey wrote some strong words in support of home rule:
Nowhere in the legislative history (of the state oil and gas law) is there any
suggestion that the legislature intended – as argued by Anschutz—to encourage
the maximum ultimate recovery of oil and gas . . . or to preempt local zoning
If the corporation wishes to challenge Judge Rumsey’s decision, Anschutz has 30 days to appeal in state court.
An article by Sharon Guynup, “The Fracking Industry Buys Congress,” provides some alarming statistics that demonstrate how the oil and gas industry has used billions of dollars from fracking profits to effectively block federal regulation. According to Guynup, “Today, only four of 31 fracking states have significant drilling rules, while the gas industry is exempted from seven major federal regulations.”
There are approximately 493,000 natural gas wells of this type across the United States. For years, complaints about human health problems, tainted drinking water, and the deaths of livestock and pets had been dismissed as anecdotal in the absence of scientific data. But, finally there IS data linking fracking to the contamination of an aquifer. From 2008-2011, the EPA investigated complaints from the residents around the 162 natural gas wells dug in Pavillion, Wyoming between 1990 and 2006. The EPA identified numerous fracking chemicals in Pavillion’s water. According to the report, “cancer-causing benzene was found at 50 times safe levels, along with other hazardous chemicals, methane, diesel fuel, and toxic metals – in both groundwater and deep wells.”
The House subcommittee on Energy and the Environment is currently holding hearings on the EPA’s Pavillion report. And, in spite of the evidence directly linking water pollution to fracking, it is the conclusions of the EPA report that are being attacked by the industry and pro-drilling politicians. Subcommittee chairman Andy Harris, a Maryland Republican, accuses the EPA of ‘trying to go after fracking everywhere they can’ and that they have ‘absolutely no proof that fracking had polluted drinking water, that I know of.’Industry spokesmen and elected officials like Harris blame the media for creating “a poorly-informed frenzy, spreading fear and mistrust of fracking.” They must not like the simple explanation from EPA’s James Martin that cement casings that should have protected Pavillion’s water were weak or missing from some wells.
In addition to documenting a variety of problems linked to fracking nationwide, the article provides exact amounts of cash donated to political campaigns and for lobbying efforts by the oil and gas industry since 1990. The donations to several specific individuals who were put into office are also given. Is it any surprise that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett received $361,207 from the industry to help get him elected? Guynup goes on to discuss existing loopholes in current industry regulation and the need for appropriate mandates for the protection of public health. I can’t do this article justice in a summary. There are far too many interesting details supporting Guynup’s premise. I urge you to read it for yourself.
Another great source of information about the impacts of unconventional gas drilling is a website maintained by a group called “Protecting Our Waters.” Protecting Our Waters is “a Philadelphia-based grassroots alliance committed to protecting the Delaware River Basin, the state of Pennsylvania, and our region from unconventional gas drilling and other threats to our drinking water, environment, and public health”. Two recent articles by Iris Marie Bloom illustrate the seriousness of the impact of water contamination on families who can no longer use their well water safely:
- “SOS Butler County: Black Water + Purple Water= A Fracking Nightmare” (2/11/12)
- “Help Butler County Families Hurt by Gas Drilling Now!” (2/24/12)
In an area near thirty gas wells, 51 neighbors have reported discolored, foamy, and/or smelly water. (That is, unless their wells have dried up.) In addition, residents often have to put up with “odor events.” An “odor event” is the term regulators use to describe the overpowering stench often encountered at drilling operations. Even worse, health symptoms like rashes, nosebleeds, vomiting, and headaches are also being reported. The lack of assistance from authorities and the unwillingness of Rex Energy to bear responsibility for the water problems may make it impossible for people to stay in their homes. (These articles and others that may be of interest can be easily accessed at the Protecting Our Waters website.)
When you read about the health problems of people living near intensive drilling operations, you might wonder why not much is being done to help them. Well, finally, things are about to change. A medical program to assess the health impacts of widespread Marcellus Shale gas development has been set up in Washington County, Pennsylvania. This county has about 700 Marcellus Shale gas wells and a dozen compressor stations. On February 14, the nonprofit Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SPEHP) opened its office in response to “growing local and medical concerns over the potential health effects from hazardous chemical and pollutant releases associated with the rapid growth of shale gas development”. The office in McMurray will help residents understand exposure pathways and will conduct medical exams and evaluations. A nurse-practitioner will be on staff to make home visits. In the words of Raina Rippel, project director, ‘Our goal is to help individuals—help them navigate the health care systems, help them get the answers to the health care questions they have and put them in contact with the resources they need, whether that’s water testing or filtration or medical systems.’ All services will be free of charge to area residents.
The SPEHP has a website that describes their services in detail. They even provide a fact sheet for those who are concerned about pollution in their immediate environment, called “Here are 3 Good Things to Do if You Live Near Gas Drilling.” After I read their suggestions, (“Vent the air in places where you use water,” for example) I felt a bit unsettled. This is not the Third World. I feel sorry for any American families who would need to take such steps in their own homes in order to protect themselves from pollution.
February 2012 Fracking Update—New York and Pennsylvania
By Maryanne Adams, Conservation Chair
“THANK YOU,” to all who wrote letters to the Department of Environmental Conservation, Governor Cuomo, and other legislators. You certainly did make a difference! According to Fred LeBrun, there’s “a lull in the fight over bringing hydrofracking to New York” . It will take months for the DEC to review the 61,000 comments it received regarding the dSGEIS before it can create appropriate regulations for allowing hydrofracking in New York State. At the present time, both Cuomo and DEC Commissioner, Joe Martens, say “no decision has been made as to whether fracking will actually be allowed in the state”. But, ultimately, it is Governor Cuomo who has the final say. On Wednesday he told the Syracuse Post-Standard that “a decision about it could come ‘in a couple of months’” .
When questioned about the time schedule for gas drilling in New York State, DEC Commissioner Martens commented that “It is ‘conceivable’ a handful of permits could be issued this year”. Will the review of all the SGEIS comments be completed that soon?
A factor that may affect the future profitability of drilling for natural gas in New York is “keeping options alive on the cheap leases negotiated with landowners in the Southern Tier and Catskills” . Many of these leases have already expired and more will as time passes. Gas companies are attempting to obtain a court ruling that would include “time-consuming governmental rule-making as an unforeseeable impediment” , like wars or natural disasters, so they would be allowed to renew leases with the original terms. Lawyers who are familiar with such leasing issues have told LeBrun that “it’s possible drilling a few wells might be enough to keep the cheap options alive for when Chesapeake might want to come roaring back to New York”.
Should we be concerned about the “handful of permits” that might be issued this year? Issuing them would indicate that there was a business-friendly administration at the helm. LeBrun points out that fostering this impression would be helpful to Governor Cuomo if he were to consider running for President.
At the end of January, I came across an internet posting by journalist Ellen Cantarow titled “Fracking Gets Its Own Occupy Movement.” In it she explains how the grassroots movement made up of people from all social strata and walks of life came into existence in New York as people learned about the process of hydraulic fracturing and all its implications. Out of discussions from neighbors meeting in livingrooms grew the first anti-fracking organizations. As people became aware of the problems that were developing in heavily drilled areas of Pennsylvania, the word continued to spread and the influence of these people and organizations grew. Gas corporations “have spent millions of dollars on advertising, lobbying, and political contributions to counter it” .
In May, 2009, after visiting Dimock, Pennsylvania, lawyers Helen and David Slottje decided to devote all of their time to doing pro bono work in support of the anti-fracking movement. Because of their interpretation of the home rule provision in New York State’s constitution, many towns decided to fight fracking by zoning it out. As of January 25, 2012, 61 towns have blocked fracking by banning it or declaring moratoria.
The degree of public involvement became very clear early in 2012 when the DEC received an astounding number of dSGEIS comment letters. Agency officials told the New York Times that they knew of no issues that had generated even 1,000 comment letters before this ). And, by the way, Gannett’s Albany Bureau reported that “anti-drilling submissions outnumber those of drilling supporters by at least ten to one” .
In stark contrast, on February 8, 2012, the Pennsylvania legislature passed House Bill 1950– “a one-size-fits-all ordinance that super cedes all existing ordinances and prevents municipalities from adopting any zoning provisions that are stricter than the [state’s] weak, mandated standards” . In addition, “The bill requires that all types of oil and gas operations (except for natural gas processing plants) – unlike any other commercial or industrial business – be allowed in all zoning districts, even in residential neighborhoods and near schools, parks, hospitals, and sensitive natural and cultural resource protection areas”. Another provision of this bill is that “impact fees” will be provided to municipalities where gas operations take place. However, it also prohibits municipalities from “regulating drilling activities more stringently than other industrial activities if they want to remain eligible for the fee revenues”. Pa. State representative Jesse White blasts the Marcellus Shale bill on You Tube for eleven minutes as a “one-sided giveaway to billion-dollar drilling conglomerates that strips local government of reasonable controls” .
The placement and construction of pipelines to transport Marcellus shale gas is another issue with the potential for huge impact on New Yorkers. Again, events in Pennsylvania could foreshadow what might happen in New York should fracking be permitted. On November 14, 2011, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the $250 million MARC 1 pipeline. This 39-mile natural gas pipeline will pass through “northern Pennsylvania’s pristine Endless Mountains”. In the AP wire story, “Landowners Fight Eminent Domain in Pa. Gas Field,” Michael Rubinkam of Laporte, Pennsylvania, describes the interaction between Central New York Oil and Gas Co., LLC, and landowners who would be affected by the pipeline. The company insisted that it was “acquiring land ‘through negotiated agreements with landowners, thus minimizing the need’ to condemn people’s land”. However, within two days of gaining approval for the project from FERC, CNY Oil and Gas began eminent domain proceedings against 74 out of 152 property owners in Bradford, Lycoming, and Sullivan Counties. In this situation, “eminent domain” does not mean that landowners would lose their property; rather, the company would be accorded “the right to excavate and lay the 30-inch diameter pipeline on private property”. Although the Environmental Protection Agency had concerns that the pipeline project might damage the forest ecosystem and the FERC had received 22,000 comments raising safety and environmental concerns, the commission decided that the pipeline would not significantly impact the environment and granted approval.
Some landowners are concerned that they are not receiving adequate compensation for the easements. Others care more about the pipeline’s route. “The company told Bob Swartz that it plans to cut a 50-foot-wide long gash through an ancient stand of trees across the front of his property. When Swartz proposed an alternate route through an open field that would preserve his trees and views, the company said it wasn’t interested and offered instead to pay him for the wood”. Is it any wonder that landowners are worried?
Dr. Sandra Steingraber, one of the most eloquent voices to speak up for the environment, clean air, and clean water, gave a moving speech at a rally in Albany on 1/23/2012. In this speech, she compared banning fracking to abolishing slavery. She made the point that “doing fracking ‘right’ simply means building time bombs with longer fuses”. She pointed out that a week before her speech was made that the country of Bulgaria announced a total ban on fracking. The ban is permanent and unlimited. The permits that had been issued to Chevron have been revoked. This was not easy to accomplish, but the citizens of Bulgaria marched in the streets until their parliament listened. Steingraber pointed out that Harriet Tubman “did not advocate for state of the art slavery or for promulgating 1500 pages of regulations about slavery or for allowing a few showcase plantations in the Southern Tier to demonstrate how slavery could be done right. Harriet Tubman settled for nothing less than a total ban, on the grounds that slave labor – however useful to the economy- is a homicidal abomination”. Steingraber asks New Yorkers if they are meeker, more frightened, or more resigned to a toxic future than the people of Bulgaria. In my opinion, she makes a very good point.
If any reader has not yet formed an opinion about whether or not High Volume Slick Water Hydraulic Fracturing would be beneficial to the residents of New York State, I encourage you to watch the 216-slide Power Point presentation put together by Dr. Stephen Cleghorn and his late wife, Lucinda. It recently became available for viewing online. When they realized that their organic farm in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania might be fracked because of a previous-existing lease, the Cleghorns spent many hours researching hydraulic fracturing. Their presentation “makes a case for a moratorium on unconventional gas drilling in Pennsylvania (or anywhere) until there is a scientific consensus that it cannot cause irreparable environmental harm to one half of our state and all its living populations of people and creatures” . The presentation takes about an hour and ten minutes to view. Because it is so informative and well-documented, it is well-worth the time needed to watch the entire slide show.
I wish to point out two slides that had a lot of impact for me. Slide # 179 clearly illuminates the long-term economic risk of fracking New York. It compares the potential Marcellus Shale Royalties–$16 billion, to other upstate New York incomes. Wildlife Watching, Hunting and Fishing, Dairy, Grapes and Wine, Farm Receipts, and Tourism have a potential yield of $350 billion. According to Cleghorn, “Industrializing the countryside could compromise and diminish the other larger drivers of rural economies” .
Slide #202 presents a concept called The Precautionary Principle. It is based on the UNESCO statement of the principle. It states that:
When credible evidence exists that irreparable harm to the public health
or the environment is possible, and in the absence of scientific consensus
that an activity cannot cause such irreparable harm, the burden of proof for
proceeding with such activity falls upon those who wish to undertake it.
With regard to fracking, “I (Cleghorn) do not believe such a consensus is possible because there are too many facts arrayed against this drilling ever being safe. But first we have to stop it”.
On February 8, 2012, a report prepared by the Democratic Staff of the Natural Resources Committee at the request of Representatives Edward J. Markey and Rush D. Hart became available. The title says it all. Drilling Dysfunction—How the failure to Oversee Drilling on Public Lands Endangers Health and the Environment. It clearly demonstrates the difficulty of monitoring natural gas production on public lands. I was surprised to read that in the last 5 years, “more than 90 percent of the natural gas wells drilled on federal lands were accessed using hydraulic fracturing”. A variety of procedural violations were described as well as the inconsistent issuance of monetary fines. In addition, fines issued for a variety of safety and environmental reasons are inconsequential in the eyes of the gas companies. For example, in 2003 when an operator was caught discharging fluids directly into the Washita River in Oklahoma, the fine levied was $2,500 – “less than what some of the largest oil and gas companies can earn in a minute”. You may access the entire report about drilling on public lands at http://catskillcitizens.org/.
Just four days after the report describing these oversight problems was made available, President Obama made a speech in Las Vegas touting natural gas as a way to power our cars, homes, and factories in a “cleaner and cheaper way”. He indicated that the supply of natural gas could last America nearly a hundred years and that it could support “more than 600,000 jobs by the end of the decade”. (These glowing projections about the gas supply and the resultant jobs were called into question at http://catskillcitizens.org/.) In the same speech, the President also stated that he “wanted to lead by example by promoting the safe use of hydraulic fracturing on public lands.” (Apparently, he has not yet had time to read the report from the Natural Resources Committee.)
The President’s endorsement of the development of natural gas was excellent news for the gas industry. So was Kevin D. Williamson’s pro-fracking piece in which he states “the advent of fracking… prompted the state [Pennsylvania] Department of Environmental protection to overhaul its regulatory regime, working closely with individual firms and industry groups to develop best practices and high environmental standards” . He explains how the state of Pennsylvania has developed “a system of environmental-protection regulations that actually works”. I wonder how many Pennsylvania residents would agree with this observation of Mr. Williamson.
In New York State, three bills related to fracking have been introduced in the legislature. One of these bills, S5830, has a chance of passing in the current session. Called the “Home Rule” bill, it “clarifies the right of towns to enact zoning ordinances that prohibit fracking”. Bill A7013/S4616 passed in the Assembly last year, but not the Senate. It closes “the hazardous waste loophole that permits the oil and gas industry to get away with improperly disposing of toxic and radioactive wastewater”. Last, but not least, bill A07218A/S4220-A, would “prohibit hydraulic fracturing anywhere in the state”.
Letter to New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
As Conservation Chair of the Onondaga Audubon Society and member of Audubon New York, I provide the following comments on the RDSGEIS for the Oil, Gas, and Solution Mining Regulatory Program. I am deeply concerned with the rush to expand drilling for natural gas and the profound and lasting impacts this large scale industrial process could have on public health and the landscape of New York State. This current draft does not adequately protect birds, other wildlife and their habitats from drilling.
First, the Marcellus shale region includes some of the best remaining unfragmented forests in our state. As numerous wells, roads, pipelines and other infrastructure will be built to facilitate expanded drilling; this will undoubtedly cause fragmentation of this precious habitat, adversely affecting fauna and flora throughout the drilling region. In the SGEIS, the cumulative effects of the entire development process of the Marcellus shale have not been addressed. The SGEIS discusses the impact of wells and roads but leaves out the environmental impact of building thousands of miles of pipelines and multiple compressor stations. These will cause further fragmentation of habitat. The New York State Public Service Commission has the regulatory authority over constructing and operating natural gas gathering pipes. There has not been a full analysis of the cumulative and indirect impacts of gas pipelines taken together with the impacts of hydraulic fracturing. The public Service Commission needs to be made a cooperating agency so that a full analysis of the environmental effects of the actions of drilling, hydro fracturing, collecting, and transporting natural gas be considered as a single entity.
Next, while I support the DEC’s efforts to reduce the impact of fragmentation by prohibiting drilling on state lands, I am particularly alarmed that 40 of our state’s 136 Important Bird Areas are found within the projected drilling area and yet are not included as a Key Habitat Focus Area. They must be. Some of these IBA’s are not protected because they are on private land. Others are off-limits only temporarily and may be developed after a “sunset date.” In addition, some areas, called “buffer-zones” will only receive site-specific environmental review, not straight-forward protection. Fragmentation of core forests and large grasslands will further endanger bird species already in decline. These include forest species such as Wood Thrush and Cerulean Warbler and grassland birds like Northern Harrier, Bobolink, Savannah Sparrow, and Eastern Meadowlark. All important bird habitat needs to remain permanently off-limits to gas development.
Another troublesome detail is that open waste pits are not clearly banned by the SGEIS. According to section 5.11.1, Flow back Water Recovery, flow back water could range from 216,000 gallons to 2.7 million gallons per well. That is a great deal of liquid to isolate and confine. Section 5.11.2, states that “the Department will require water-tight tanks for on-site handling of flow back water for wells covered by the SGEIS.” In 22.214.171.124 the SGEIS states that using a closed-loop tank system will eliminate the need for a reserve pit. “The objective is to fully contain the cuttings and fluids in such a manner as to prevent direct contact with the ground surface or the need to construct a lined reserve pit” (SGEIS). However, in section 126.96.36.199, there is a discussion about lined reserve pits (also called “drilling pits” or “mud pits”) which contain cuttings and fluids used during the drilling process. A single pit may be maintained at the well pad until “all wells are drilled and completed” (SGEIS). Even though fluid associated with each well would have to be removed “within 45 days of the cessation of drilling operations,” this may not happen if the operation has submitted a plan to use the fluid in subsequent operations and the Department has inspected and approved the pit” (SGEIS).This is not acceptable. If multiple wells are present, the drilling process may go on for months or even years. How long will an open pit of toxic fluid be allowed to remain?
In section 5.13.2, Reserve Pit Liner from Mud Drilling, there is mention of on-site burial for plastic liners used for reserve pits. The document goes on to say “pit liners for reserve pits where polymer- or oil-based drilling muds are used must be removed from the site by a permitted Part 364 Waste Transporter and properly disposed in a solid waste landfill” (SGEIS). Insects trapped in reserve pit fluids attract songbirds, bats, amphibians, and small mammals. The risk of mortality to any organism landing in an open reserve pit containing oil-based fluid is very high. Therefore, the SGEIS should make it clear that open reserve pits of toxic flow back are not to be allowed. This SGEIS should reflect the highest levels of protection for wildlife.
Yet another issue is the ecological impact of water use for HVHF. Removal of water for fracking from the water cycle is permanent. Each hydrofracked shale gas well will require roughly 5 million gallons of water. If 70,000 Marcellus wells are drilled, 350 billion gallons of water will be removed from the environment. The impact on our surface water will be significant and wildlife that depends on this water will suffer adverse effects. According article by John L. Confer, New York State Ornithological Association Conservation Committee member, the SGEIS “seriously misrepresents the ecological impact of [water] withdrawal for HVHF” (http://www.nybirds.org/Articles/conservation/fracking-SGEIS comments-confer 2011_10.html.). Confer points out that “the estimate of ecological impact of water use for HVHF compares water used for HVHF in a localized part of the state to water withdrawn for the entire state” ((www.nybirds.org). It would be more realistic to compare the volume of water used for fracking to other water uses within the region where fracking will occur. The estimated ecological impact of water use for HVHF is therefore MUCH greater than the impact described in the SGEIS. The perception that the impact of water use for hydraulic fracturing will be minimal is inaccurate and should be modified in the SGEIS to ensure that the aquatic ecosystems of New York State will be given the protection and oversight they deserve. There need to be an adequate number of DEC staff members in place to monitor them.
I wholeheartedly endorse the position of Audubon New York and agree with the points that were made in the 22-page letter that was sent to Commissioner Martens. It would be silly for me to reiterate them here. Let me just say that I would like to emphasize the need for an intense revision of the section of the SGEIS dealing with lighting at well pads. There is no reason why the most stringent guidelines for down-shielding light should not be followed. Also, the gas industry should be required to employ light sources that minimize the kind of lighting that is most harmful to migrating birds. Every effort must be made to minimize the potential for large bird kills during migration. And, as our scientific knowledge improves, the industry should be required to update their lighting practices to keep up with these developments.
I appreciate the DEC for requiring Best Management Practices (BMPs); however, it is unclear how effective this will be in reducing the impacts to forests and grasslands. The DEC must develop regulations to protect forest and grassland habitats and wildlife and not approach this through the permitting process. The DEC must also develop benchmarks for environmental and biotic integrity to be used to evaluate the drilling impacts and to trigger changes in regulations if necessary.
In order to fully understand the impacts to key habitats and species, the DEC must undertake a comprehensive cumulative impact analysis before finalizing this impact statement, and ensure proper mitigation funding is established. Before drilling is permitted in the state, these inadequacies must be addressed.
Thank you for consideration of these comments.
The amount of information about fracking can be overwhelming. So is the idea of reading the entire draft SGEIS, and making suggestions for improving it. A very good way to get a better understanding of the fracking process, its cumulative impacts, and ideas for your letters to the DEC and to government officials is to visit shaleshockmedia.org. At that site, you’ll be able to access videos of some of the best presentations that have been given on the subject.
Once you are at the shaleshockmedia site, you can type the name of a person or an event in the “Find Something” search box and a direct link to a video presentation will appear. All you need to do is click on the arrow on the screen to start the show. Here are some good sources of information:
- Dr. Anthony Ingraffea
- Dr. Sandra Steingraber
- James (Chip) Northrup
- Tompkins County Forum on Revised Draft SGEIS (July 25, 2010)
- Fracking the Fingerlakes – conference in Hammondsport, NY (9-15-11)
The last reference I’d like to mention is “Natural Gas Drilling in the Marcellus Shale: Potential Impacts on the Tourism Economy of the Southern Tier” by Andrew Rumbach, a doctoral candidate in the Department of City and Regional Planning at Cornell University. It was written in April, 2011 and can be found at stcplanning.org. This thorough document clearly describes the potential impacts of gas drilling on the tourism economy and the quality of life in the region. Most importantly, it provides data and facts that support the author’s conclusions.