Draw A Line in the Sand: DRBC Hearing: July 15, 2009


Each day, we tell ourselves there are lines we won’t cross.

But, as global food, water and housing crises tear at the fabric of our local communities, it’s increasingly difficult to pay local farm market prices when Wal-mart has plastic-coated apples for less.  Eventually, as things get tougher, crossing even our most deepset lines is inevitable.  People who had jobs last year are  sleeping in tents and cars this year. Some of us will steal  food and shoes for our children and property holders wil sell gas leases to  drilling companies like Chesapeake.

It’s fine and dandy to say that stark times demand stark lines set in  stark terms but  gray areas abound. Diametrically opposed interests claim the same motivations. Consider the issue of hydraulic fracturing.  Proponents say, “Drilling is in the national interest. It’s a matter of national security.”  They say  there’s no evidence that fracking poisons our water, land, food and people.  Opponents  also cite “national security” but point to circumstantial evidence that links fracking  to increased earthquake activity, polluted well water and a plethora of health concerns. (“Circumstantial” because the gas drilling industry is currently exempted from disclosing the chemicals they use  in hydraulic fracturing.  Consequently, no  evidentiary studies have been conducted.) Interestingly,  few Congresspeople support full disclosure of  fracking chemicals. (Find out if your Senators and Representative support The FRAC-ACT (Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act,  S1215/HR2766).)*

Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs says, “There are no coincidences in a murder investigation.” What about in cases of  “depraved indifference?” When Coca Cola’s bottling practices destroyed  water tables in India,  didn’t  the company know, as a “reasonable person,”  that the local farmers and communities would be decimated? When Monsanto polluted water and soil in  a bevy of locales,  didn’t the company, as a reasonable person, understand  the dangers posed by its actions to the local water, soil and animal/human population?  When Dow and the US government bathed Vietnam and its populations with Agent Orange (dioxin), they knew  the dangers. When my beloved Lake Erie was dying and the great Cuyahoga River burned,  didn’t the corporate polluters know their own practices were suspect?

All over the world, like lobsters dying quietyly in cold water brought to a slow  boil,
people are being incrementally dispossessed of rights, health,  life and property by corporate-government collusion. Doesn’t that collusion meet the legal tests of “depraved indifference” and “conspiracy?”

Don’t be silly.  Of course it does! but the guilty ones have written the laws. They’ve covered their liability with convoluted “immunity” clauses.  They’ve stacked
the deck.

Petroleum wars are so passé, don’t you think? In the near future, our beautiful children will wear their patriotic colors to the  water wars.  Around the world, corporations control greater and greater percentages of the world’s water.  Rampant pollution will lead to reductions of our finite “water reserves”  and the costs of “water reclamation” will skyrocket.  Exorbitant water bills will be a fabulous source of revenue for…somebody.  Probably General Electric of Hudson-River-pollution-fame.

A smart friend of mine recently said, “We beat back NYRI because we could see the corporate bad guy.  Gas frakking’s completely different.  It’s pitting neighbors against neighbors.”

So what do I, a wildly flabbergasted opponent of fracking, say to a twenty-something  grocery clerk  who sacrificed her teen years in  minimum wage jobs because she dreamed of going to college?  What do I say when she tells me she can’t go back to college in September because even the local community college costs more than she’s saved?

What do I say to the man who folds clothes for minimum wage  at the local laundry because the bank refused him a bridge loan to keep his restaurant open?

What about the  graduate student with an education debt in excess of $250,000 and no health insurance or  the dairy farmers in hock up to their necks who anxiously watch  their corn seed rot in the field?  What is my counter-offer when a drilling company waves a $100,000 gas lease in front of  them?

The Natural Resources Defense Council tells us frakking is a done deal but Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS) fights on. “The DCS is part of a nationwide coalition of groups of citizens speaking from their homes, who do not want their environment and lives and communities further ruined by the current irresponsible approach to energy sourcing. It is our right and obligation as citizens to participate in the choices that will affect our future.  DCS’s concern is for the health and sustainability of life here (NE Pennsyvania) for us as people, and for the entire ecosystem we and all those downstream depend on.”

Members of the DCS are regular attendees at Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) meetings. They are knowledgeable about the threats posed by  hydraulic fracturing   to our ground water, food supply and health. Their site is chock-full of facts, studies, maps and advocacy as well as articles about The FRAC-ACT (Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act,  S1215/HR2766).

Please  browse their resources.  Plagiarize  their text and write a letter to the DRBC. Contribute to the DCS  legal fund and attend the DRBC Hearing on  Wednesday, July 15th.  (Email me at cottageworks@lizbucar.com  if you’re looking to carpool and I’ll forward your information to a carpool coordinator.)

The Hearing will consider an application by Chesapeake Appalachia for  “permission from the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) to withdraw 1 million gallons a day from the West Branch of the Delaware River for hydraulic fracturing and natural gas extraction.  This is the first application to the DRBC for this purpose and would put the Delaware River Watershed at risk for tens of thousands of applications to follow…The Hearing will be held at 1:00 pm at…Northampton Community College’s Fowler Family Southside Center, 511 East 3rd Street, 6th Floor, Room 605, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. WE NEED PEOPLE THERE!”

(If nothing else, please read the Damascus Citizens’ Letter to Delaware River Basin Commission It is a  comprehensive  iteration of why the DRBC must deny Chesapeake’s current application.)

*As to The Frac Act: it will NOT stop the drilling.  It merely forces drilling companies to identify the  chemicals they use during the hydraulic fracturing process so that once our public water supply is poisoned, we can, ostensibly, prove the drilling companies did it.  (The Safe Drinking Water Act only protects  public water wells that service 25 or more individuals. Very few rural-dwellers   get their water from public wells!)

So who will buy our properties when our aquifers are poisoned?  Who will pay the taxes?  When our ground water is polluted, who will buy the food we produce locally and work so hard to distribute?  And even if the FRAC Act is passed, how many of us will have health insurance?  Who among us will be able to afford the diagnostic tests  necessary for participation in full-blown epidemiological studies?  And  once we’re guinea pigs without a human voice, who will ensure that epidemiological studies of our poisoned bodies are conducted?

When your local legislator refuses to draft a  resolution banning hydraulic fracturing until chemical disclosures and studies are made,  ask him/her the questions posed here.

In  The Pianist, Warsaw prisoners are made to lie belly-down in the dirt.  Their
shoulders nearly touch.  Each body shudders as an executioner’s bullet shoots through the back of its head. First one… then the next and the next. Each prisoner feels the slight jar and stillness when the one beside him is killed.  None raises a voice  or a hand. Their eyes are closed. I’ve thought they succumbed without a fight because  the horror was beyond understanding; or because the crushing of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising had sapped their will; or that they hoped for a miracle or believed, if  they were very, very quiet, they’d be invisible to the executioner.  The nearer the footsteps behind them, the quieter they lay — like babies hiding behind their hands in games of peek-a-boo — seeking invisibility.

Wherever we draw the line at this crucial moment, saving our communities isn’t over just because  the Natural Resources Defense Council says fracking is inevitable. It’s  over when we quit.

When people lose control of their local resources, it’s hard to argue  the existence of healthy communities. I grew up on Lake Erie. I watched it die  and our community with it.  When it was revived, so was our village.

If I thought a line of  Neo-Gandhis standing in front of the drilling equipment would  turn the tide, I’d do it in a heartbeat but I still wouldn’t know how to convince the grocery clerk, the farmer or the graduate to join me.

Good informational links:

Hydraulic fracturing and  fishing

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7 thoughts on “Draw A Line in the Sand: DRBC Hearing: July 15, 2009

  1. D Owen

    Wow…. I must say “Draw A Line…” blog is quite sensitive to so many people and how it draws an image that there is a Big Bad Oil Company that is going to come into our neighborhood and poison everyone. The Frac Act is not about disclosure its about bigger government taking more freedom where rules are already in place. I’ve been on frac jobs. You can go to the senior operator and ask to see his list of material safety data sheets for all of the chemicals that are being used, and he will have everyone of them. Why? because its a law that any chemical shipped into any site be accompanied with a material safety data sheet. Its already a law enforced by every State and required by OSHA. The MSDS will list any chemical that is mandated as hazardous. If its not hazardous then its not listed. The EPA already knows this, why do you think they’re not making as big a deal out of this as the politicians. Its misinformation in the worse way. If you were to check the water quality of water wells and water sources “Before” the drilling and frac job you will find as many others have, the water already contains potentially hazardous levels of chemicals or inorganics. Yeah, thats right before the frac job.

    So my suggestion to the oil companies is to go in and do testing before frac to mitigate their potential liability. Oh yeah, who do you think will pay for this?

    Our only real solution to our energy crisis, yes thats right we’re still in crisis, is to develop our national resources. Watch what gasoline sells for next spring when the world sucks up the current inventory as our economy recovers. With a vengeance you will see high oil prices. Gas will lag behind because we’re developing large US based gas reserves.

    If we want absolute disclosure of chemicals, how about looking at a label on any sort of chemical you purchase and bring into your home. Don’t think that just because they sell it at a store for consumers that its any safer. On top of this you use this in your home where its a first hand toxic condition. So if every company must disclose full contents, which is already required by law by MSDS laws, lets keep the playing field level.

    I hope the meeting points out that there is a ton of misinformation floating on the net.

  2. lizbucar Post author

    To D. Owen. Thank you so much for your comment! Here’s the specific language in the 2005 Energy Policy Act as incorporated by VP Cheney and his cohort which excludes Fracking toxins from the Safe Drinking Water Act:

    SEC. 322. HYDRAULIC FRACTURING.
    Paragraph (1) of section 1421(d) of the Safe Drinking Water
    Act (42 U.S.C. 300h(d)) is amended to read as follows:
    ‘‘(1) UNDERGROUND INJECTION.—The term ‘underground
    injection’—
    ‘‘(A) means the subsurface emplacement of fluids by
    well injection; and
    ‘‘(B) excludes—
    ‘‘(i) the underground injection of natural gas for
    purposes of storage; and
    ‘‘(ii) the underground injection of fluids or propping
    agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic
    fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal
    production activities.’’

    And, here’s a terrific list of the all the goodies you can request be added to your water by drilling companies if you’re not concerned about their potential effects: http://www.earthworksaction.org/fracfluidslarge.cfm (You’ll have to increase the page size in order to read them.)

    Would you be willing to put samples of the toxins into a “guaranteed-no-leak” container and place it permanently in your well? Would you trust the packaging company’s vested assurances that the container won’t leak? Would you then serve that water to your familY? So what’s your bottom line? Are you saying because there’s toxic paint in your garage, I shouldn’t worry about it in my water?

    As you say, so much of the discussion has to do with “choice.” I’ve tried to ask drivers for the data sheets when they were dumping in a landfill in Hortonville, NY which was located almost on top of an aquifer. Even if they’d been helpful, it’s a solution guaranteed to let the horses out of the barn.

    I agree that I don’t want the gov’t to overreach and get their gnarly fingers deeper into my life than necessary. (e.g. The Patriot Act and Homeland Security). I do need government to fulfill its only mandate: defend the health, welfare and safety of the People. What you suggest leaves too much to chance and frankly, I don’t understand how a wide-open wild west system of non-regulation benefits any of us. I don’t want the future of our water left in the same gray area as we left the SEC and its regulators which brought us Bernie Madoff and the world-wide economic crisis. Money can be made. Water is a finite, closed system. On the other hand, my larger point was that people are signing leases because it’s often the only way out of a personal financial crisis. There must be, for the sake of our river valley, some point where we can find agreement and move forward. Thank you so much for leaving a comment. I apologize if I’m missing your point and would hope you’d offer it again.

  3. D Owen

    To Lizbucar
    I was brief in my earlier post. First, not in defense but as a matter of information, let me say the EPA list that you point to illustrates how misinformation can occur. Frac fluids have been developing over the past 30 years. Some of the chemicals listed are in fact no longer used because they were proven less effective than newer, non toxic alternatives. However, would I put it in my drinking water, of course my answer is “of course not”. Are there chemicals that I would, yes, those based on plant derived intermediates. Oh yeah, take a look at the ingredients on your bottle of shampoo or even dish washing detergent, you’ll find many of those chemicals listed on the EPA list. Not defending putting a chemical where it should not be, just saying if we use a standard it must be universal.

    A point I might bring out is that even before they get to the point of fracturing the formation they must drill the formation. Ever think about those chemicals? A major fluid used to drill with is based 80% on diesel, even the so called water based muds contain a lot of oil and crude chemicals. And, its drilled in open hole conditions before the casing is cemented into the hole. In direct contact with subsurface formations. There is a drilling additive a lot of drillers use called ‘loss circulation additives’. Most of these are fibers that create a bridge to prevent the mud from leaking into the formation. The reason for them is that catastrophic losses occur, mostly in shallower formations where the mud weight exceeds the rock’s ability to hold the fluid. If a contamination of fresh water aquifier were to occur its most likely that it might occur during the drilling phase not the well fracture phase. The well fracture occurs well down the hole and in stages of around 500 feet only in the horizontal shale section. The casing has already been cemented in place and checked with pressure to hold liquids out. No one is bringing up that point. Why is that?

    The bottomline is that there are safe, non-polluting alternatives to every aspect of the drilling and frac water process. The Frac legislation will stir up a lot of political flare over this one point and miss the much bigger point. Start with drilling operation and include frac and production operations. If drilling / frac companies understand that toxic brand is not allowed they will adapt to the safer brand.

    I would prefer an attitude of lets work through the issue rather than say, “no drilling” because that is truly not in our best interest.

    For some reason there are a lot of people who feel that we will just use alternative energy and work our way out of the energy crisis. I just ask that they read, “Gusher of Lies : The Dangerous Delusion of Energy Independence” by Robert Bryce. Its an in depth study of the myths that surround many of the supposed energy solutions. When you put the pencil to the paper and add up current use, in particular the type of fuel we consume its a staggering amount. Not wind nor solar will get us anywhere because the majority of energy goes into a fuel tank.

    The truth is that natural gas can be converted into a clean burning fuel that can go into tanks and power our huge inventory of vehicles. Not tomorrow, but right now today. No corn or soybeans here, just proven science.

    Lets push for drilling, develop gas reserves. Lets just demand that it be done in a clean and responsible manner. The technology exists. Does it cost more, in some cases yes, in most its about the same. Thats all.

  4. lizbucar Post author

    Most important, thank you for taking the time to provide so much information; and for doing it in reasoned tones. (I will spend time tomorrow reading it much more closely but I genuinely appreciate your efforts.) I hope we’ll have an opportunity to talk at the DRBC Hearing.

    For this moment, let me reiterate my fundamental objection to drilling: we don’t know enough about the side effects. When people use words like “non-toxic alternatives,” I wonder, “says who?” Who certified them as such? Bush’s EPA? And where are we going to get clean water if the industry-vested experts are wrong?

    At one point in my life, I was a carpenter. The first thing Gramps taught me was, “Use a screw wherever you can. It’s gentler on the wood.” But every carpenter will tell you, a screw is less likely to split the wood than a nail…until the day it tears it all to hell. If drillers could use nothing but high pressured steam, the danger of earthquakes and substrata disruptions remains. Haven’t we done enough damage to the surface of our world based on “fail-safe” technologies? Do we really want to risk our water supply on the basis of unprovable assertions (usually provided by pro-drilling studies)?

    I agree that our current usage is unsustainable. So we agree that we need a ramped up energy policy to meet a need that must be severely reduced. Transportation of goods must be thoroughly re-thought.

    We have no way of knowing the capacity of alternative fuels to meet energy demands. We’ve never fostered the development of alternative energies or their start-up companies. In fact, Congress’ support of fossil fuel industries prohibited real investment in alt energy development. (Don’t you remember the solar energy studies that were funded by electric companies? Not surprisingly, it was determined that solar energy would never be cost effective and should be taken off the table as a viable alternative.)

    I hope you don’t feel you’ve wasted good intelligence and information on me but fundamentally, it comes down to risk aversion. Balancing the benefit against the risk and being suspicious of whose feeding my broker information. Hope to see you at the hearing, Liz

  5. lizbucar Post author

    PS. You’ve given me pause to think of “safe-coal technologies” that have left so many mine workers dead and fires burning for decades beneath the surface. As sure as I am that the coal industry promoted its safety-first mindset, I’m also sure there were workers and environmentalists who warned of the risks that came to pass. (Half my family’s from coal country.)

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