Gas Drilling Reps Grilled In Sullivan County


According to a press release from the Independent Oil and Gas Association of NY (IOGA-NY),  “The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York together    with the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development (Partnership)**  will host a public information session to address the environmental, scientific and economic aspects of natural gas exploration.”

At their blog, Marcellus Facts,  the IOGA-NY’s  agenda is described in significantly different terms,    “You can review media coverage, our Homegrown Energy booklet and other materials that highlight the many benefits of natural gas exploration of the Marcellus Shale.”  (Italics added for emphasis.)

Fifteen minutes before the 6:30 start time, Bernie’s parking lot was full and cars lined the side of the road.

The meeting opened  with  remarks  by IOGA-NY’s  reps who boasted degrees in hydrology, geology and jurisprudence.  They were, with the exception of the attorney,  folksily garbed in blue jeans and low-key short sleeves.

The audience settled in to view,  “Homegrown Energy,”  IOGA-NY’s  self-described  “educational”  film  which provided a  cartoon-style description of  the drilling and hydraulic fracturing  process.

One audience member asked why IOGA-NY  had shown us a cartoon rather than a video of actual fracking operations.  “We’re not children,”  she added.  A while later, the sentiment was amplified by someone else,  “Why cartoons?  Why don’t you show us how the drilling and fracking look in Fort Worth and Dimock?”

The cartoon film  illustrated each stage of the drilling/hydraulic fracturing  process.  At one point,  it assured us that the cement casings (barriers) that are constructed to retain the toxic  fracturing fluids and gas are  safe and reliable.  (However,  after a house exploded in East Lake, Ohio, “The Ohio Department of Natural Resources later issued a 153-page report [2] (PDF) that blamed a nearby gas well’s faulty concrete casing and hydraulic fracturing [3].)

The cartoon attempted to allay fears concerning the toxic  ingredients found in hydraulic fracturing fluid (“mud” — which is injected through the well bore under enormous pressures  in order to fracture the shale bed and extract the natural gas contained there.)  According to the educational film,   the “mud” contains a soup of  additives necessary to the process which are commonly  found in antibacterial hand washes and dish liquid.

(For information concerning some of  the human health concerns surrounding  hydraulic fracturing, please click here for an article at the National Institutes of Health.)

The film did not address the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of hydraulic fracturing toxins which includes diesel fuel  “…sometimes a component of gelled fluids. Diesel fuel contains constituents of potential concern regulated under SDWA – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (i.e., BTEX compounds). The use of diesel fuel in fracturing fluids poses the greatest threat to USDWs because BTEX compounds in diesel fuel exceed the MCL at the point-of-injection (i.e. the subsurface location where fracturing fluids are initially injected).”

Industry reps at the Rock Hill meeting  denied that  “mud”  used at their wells will  contain  toluene even though “Benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylenes are naturally present in many hydrocarbon deposits, and may be present in drilling and fracking chemicals.”) Indeed, the  EPA’s 2004 report also states that not all of its listed toxins are present at all fracking operations.   This inconsistency and the  fact that   “The 2005 Energy Policy Act excluded hydraulic fracturing from [Safe Drinking Water Act]  jurisdiction,”  are why   Representatives Diana DeGette and Maurice Hinchey among a  few others have introduced  The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, which amends the  Safe Drinking Water Act.

According to DeGette,  “The legislation would repeal the exemption provided for the oil and gas industry and would require them to disclose the chemicals they use in their hydraulic fracturing processes.  Currently, the oil and gas industry is the only industry granted an exemption from complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act.”

In response, one of  IOGA-NY’s representatives quipped,  “Since we were never covered by the Safe Drinking Water Act,  you can’t  say we were exempted.”

Mr. Noel Van Swol, a property owner in Sullivan County who’s apparently affiliated with the  Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association was in attendance at the Rock Hill meeting.   When asked by Breathing if he would support the “FRAC Act,” and a severance tax on the gas industry  he was unequivocal,  “There’s no need for it.  The Frac Act is just  another instance of Maurice Hinchey trying to get publicity for an unnecessary law and we don’t want a severance tax.  We want the industry here,  not drilling someplace else.”

(Please see this list of organizations which asked Governor Rendell to  support a severance tax.   Considering the massive natural gas potential of the Marcellus Shale,  few people believe the gas industry will  abandon it  to avoid paying a modest tax.)

In fact, one Wayne County  resident who’s recently signed a lease,  contacted  Breathing to suggest we join  forces to  support the Frac Act and a severance tax on the gas industry.  In an email, she wrote, “I hope that both sides can drop the vitriolic language and concentrate on working together to get clear local, state, and federal oversight of the drilling process including a severance tax so that even those people who do not dirctly benefit from the drilling will see some kind of community financial remuneration for the burdens we will see put upon our communities by the drilling. I also feel very strongly that the 2005 exemption from the Clean Water Act that fracking enjoys must be removed by Congress.”***

Most of the audience’s questions had to do with reports of noise and water pollution resulting from the drilling and  fracturing processes.  Maria Grimaldi described her trip through a gas drilling  area in New Mexico.  “It was awful.  I couldn’t get out of there  fast enough.”

Industry representatives reminded the audience that  any construction site  is noisy.   A  drilling proponent said,  “Look around you, folks.   We need the jobs and the money these drilling companies are going to bring.   I can put up with a month of ‘boom, boom boom.'”

Some residents living near Texas’  Barnett Shale disagree.

When the IOGA-NY geologist was questioned about reports that hydraulic fracturing had stimulated earthquakes,  the geologist claimed to have never heard such allegations.  Further, he denied knowing anything  about New York State’s history of earthquakes.

Another concern audience members expressed had to do with storage of the fracking fluid once it’s been extracted from the ground.  Citing Sullivan County’s history of flash floods, one  person asked how the  toxic frak fluid would be stored and who would oversee its disposal.  Industry representatives said that they would review individual situations but  tended to think  “we’ll store it in tanks because of the flooding.”

At one point in the evening.  IOGA-NY  was  asked specifically about incidents of toxic contamination in  Pavilion, Wyoming,  Dimock, Pennsylvania,  dead cows in Louisiana and tap water catching fire.  At first,  the Industry reps   dismissed those worries but backed off slightly when a recent EPA report and ProPublica story  about Wyoming were mentioned.  In part, the article states, “‘It [contamination] starts to finger-point stronger and stronger to the source being somehow related to the gas development, including, but not necessarily conclusively, hydraulic fracturing itself,'” said Nathan Wiser, an EPA scientist and hydraulic fracturing expert who oversees enforcement for the underground injection control program under the Safe Drinking Water Act in the Rocky Mountain region.”)

When one of the Industry representatives asked where people were getting  their information, several audience members shouted out,  “Water Under Attack!  Josh Fox’ movie.”  There were also suggestions that members of  The Partnership and IOGA-NY  watch the film.  In response, one of the Industry presenters said,  “I’ll talk to [Mr. Fox].  I’ll talk to anyone.  Give him my card.” ****

In another back-and-forth having to do with water contamination,  IOGA-NY  reps told the audience that New York State’s  Department of Environmental Conservation is one of the strictest and best environmental enforcement agencies in the fifty states.  In consequence, he added,  New York residents won’t experience the same kinds of  problems encountered by residents elsewhere.  When Breathing asked if  strict oversight would be required in New York to keep  us safe from the Industry,  the response was, “Gas drilling is  an industry.  Industrial accidents happen.”   In a follow up question,    Breathing asked how many DEC oversight and enforcement personnel would be required to keep  our environment safe from the Industry.

I got the same answer  from  IOGA-NY as was offered by  the  Delaware River Basin Commission on July 15, 2009.   No answer.

******************************

**When the  meeting adjourned,  Breathing  Is Political and a friend of Light Up The Delaware River  had an opportunity to discuss the evening’s event  and hydraulic fracturing with Mr. Tim  McCausland, President and CEO of the Partnership.  I first asked Mr. McCausland   to clarify  his organization’s relationship with IOGA-NY.   “I wouldn’t call it a ‘relationship,'” he answered.  “They approached us.  Offering sessions like this is part of what The Partnership does.”

This morning,  Mr. McCausland sent  me The Partnership’s  recently-released position statement on gas drilling which reads, “The Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development believes strongly, that if government and industry can collaborate to properly protect and preserve our environment, the development of a natural gas industry in Sullivan County could create substantial economic and fiscal benefits for our landowners and communities  — and while the direct economic impacts are vital, the industry must strive to produce:  (a)  a business model that is locally sustainable, and (b) policies that result in a meaningful shift toward energy independence.”

(Breathing encourages you to share  your views of the Partnership’s position in our comment section.  I will happily forward  them to Mr. McCausland.)

***Breathing endorses  this  suggestion wholeheartedly by offering  the letter-writer a column here.   While the rest of us stumble  in the dark looking for a way to bridge the divide between “pro-drillers”  (a misnomer)  and  “anti-frackers,”  (please!)   she offers  a way to cooperate  for the good of us all.

****A request with which Breathing complied immediately.



10 thoughts on “Gas Drilling Reps Grilled In Sullivan County

  1. James Barth

    Thank you for the excellent report. I wasn’t there, so it is good to know that so many knowledgeable and concerned people showed up to hold those gas industry lobbyist’s feet to the fire. Brad Gill mounts a constant assault against logic and truth. He needs to be confronted with fact at every opportunity. I would add that, as good as Josh’s film is turning out to be, we get our information from a ton of sources and news reports that keep mounting daily as the impacts of drilling filter in from across the Nation, including Pennsylvania. These are facts and experiences that can no longer be denied by false statements by industry lobbyists.

  2. lizbucar Post author

    I have a feeling Mr. Gill will be confronted with even more questions and demands for answers in Oneonta tomorrow night. un-natural gas is doing great work keeping people informed and active.

  3. Bill O'reilly

    With over 100,000 wells already drilled in PA I am surprized at how uninformed people are. There are 110,000 wells drilled in Wyoming, 75,000 in Colorado and many other states have tens of thousands as well. With 8 or 9 examples of drillers causing serious environmental damages, do these few examples really represent what will happen throughout the state, which already has 100,000 wells? Do 8 or 9 examples of stupidity really represent the 2 million wells that have been drilled in the US? Or is it really a case of the opposite? Lots of wells drilled correctly and a few serious errors which receive more representation in the media? I am sorry, but I have to wonder?

  4. Stan Lee

    “folksily garbed in blue jeans and low-key short sleeves.”

    Come on… As if they weren’t normal people like you and I. Every geologist I have ever met in my life is a blue jean wearing rock hound. They are certainly not tuxedo wearing fools. This article tries too hard to make these companies look like bad guys. Stick to the facts.

  5. lizbucar Post author

    Apparently, you’re not drawing distinctions between hydro-fracked wells and vertically-drilled wells which is a huge consideration for those of us determined to put the brakes on this rushing train.

    You’re right: documented accidents in other states do not guarantee accidents in New York or the Basin. They do demonstrate the enormous potential dangers. They require a moratorium until a profound review of cumulative impacts, inspection and other oversight mechanisms can be done.

    Additionaly, as news reports surface of slack oversight by state agencies, our concerns for the consequences mount.

    If we all share the same concern: the impacts of drilling on our water and lives — if we are intent on ensuring safe operations — then how can we justify a rush to drill when so many issues and concerns continue to arise?

    As always, I ask, “What’s the rush?” especially since such a large percentage of gas extracted by Chesapeake will be leaving our country in the pockets of BP and StatHydro?

    I realize that some folks feel an almost frantic urgency because they’re sinking economically. But the most cursory review of Dimock, for instance, demonstrates clearly that a rush to drill can be disastrous for lessors.

  6. Lili Packer

    On 9/11/01 all of our lives changed forever. Mine changed because I lived and worked just 2 blocks from the WTC. As many of you did, I lost many friends and colleaugues; however, I also lost my health. Two years ago I was diagnosed with Leukemia. My oncologist feels it is very likely related to my living and working, 24/7, near Ground Zero. I stood at many meetings right after the attack and listened to Christy Todd Whitman and Mayor Giuliani tell all of us to go home and go back to work; the air is fine and safe to breathe. As a Registerd Nurse with a certification in Occupational Health I should have known better; however,I believed the lies. I now find myself in what (until the gas drilling issue) was our safe haven. Our home in Narrowsburg was where we lived for 3 weeks after 9/11 when we had to evacuate our apartment. Two years ago we made this our full time residence. Now much to our dismay we find this to become another toxic disaster. Please do not ruin our health, the health of the wildlife, our children and grand childrens’ health. Please do not drill here and destroy our lives. Please do not be a fool and believe the lies. The fracturing fluid is toxic; it will be tracked all over by wildlife; it will be on your shoes and in the air you breathe. It will contaminate our water. I know the Leukemia will someday end my life, but I will not allow it to happen again.

  7. lizbucar Post author

    Mr. Lee. My coverage of the 9-8-09 IOGA-NY “informational” meeting in Rock Hill followed a point-counterpoint format.

    Unfortunately, much of the drilling industry’s points have been made, heretofore, in their national ad campaigns without an opportunity to question their assertions about the “cleanliness” and “safety” of their operations.

    I cannot be held responsible when they fare poorly (“look like bad guys”) in a point-by-point presentation of facts & other sources and points of view.

    The facts I ommitted out of concern that they would be nothing more than distractions were:

    1. The grin on one IOGA rep’s face as an audience member described the horrible deaths of cows in Louisiana & the impacts of drilling on Dimock, PA.

    2. The contratemps that arose when Mr. Gillingham requested that IOGA update their “informational” literature to more accurately reflect the state of drilling accidents nationally.

    3. The brouhaha that occurred when one audience member was threatened with expulsion.

    I excluded those three facts from the article because, frankly, I had a point-counterpoint format in mind and I couldn’t think of anyway to incorporate these instances into such a format.

    As to your complaint that I editorialized by using the word “folksily” to describe their garb, I plead guilty.

    As to them being just like me, I would respectfully disagree.

  8. Mel

    I live on the Barnett shale, in a very nice suburb of Dallas. They tell me there is drilling all around me, and, if you look, you can see some small steel pipes occasionally as you drive around the area. I happened upon this site, and I think there is some exaggeration about the unsightliness and noise of drilling. I live in the heart of drilling in Texas, and honestly, you hardly notice it.

    Now, a rural area is a different story-the roads are not as sturdy, noise travels more, etc. but the disturbance of drilling is minimal.

    There are problems reported lately with the air around the rigs containing high levels of benzene, and of course, all pollution issues should be investigated, but there seems to be more hysteria in these writings than is necessary. Even when you live around drilling, you hardly notice it. At least, that’s the way it is here. Maybe they place the wells further apart, or conceal them more effectively.

  9. lizbucar Post author

    Dear Mel,

    Thank you for speaking to your experience. It’s extremely important that we hear both sides. Those whose lives have been upended by the noise would say their experience is different than yours, as would those in DISH, TX who’ve moved from their homes because, as they allege, their health has been adversely affected. As you say, it’s difficult to know why such differences in experience abound but clearly, there are differences.

    Pro-drillers in NY believe the evidence of negative impacts is either non-existent or exaggerated. Those who stand opposed to drilling believe any evidence of eco-system degradation and consequent human health injury is enough to warrant a moratorium until independent, comprehensive studies on the cumulative impacts of drilling can be completed.

    What would you say in that context as well as to those who want a Moratorium until Congress has completed its investigation of the drilling industry and its practices?

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