Cuomo Fracks New York State with Irony and Disassociative Policy Disease

(BREAKING NEWS: With so many promising initiatives outlined by the Governor in his State of the State Address, it may seem like base cavilling to focus on a single issue like “fracking,” but my underlying assumption is that high-volume, high-pressure hydraulic fracturing is not the “problem.” It is a symptom of the problem and it serves quite nicely to illustrate a corollary: “If you partner with industry (especially the gas extraction industry) you will be forced to engage in tortured reasoning, mad dashes left and right and a convoluted persecution of the laws that govern public Agencies. (The State Administrative Procedures Act ((SAPA), for instance, figures heavily in an intent to sue notice prepared by David and Helen Slottje, founding attorneys at Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc. Last night, as this Breathing article was getting final edits, the Slottjes wrote, “…we will turn a version of this [notice] into a formal petition to the State detailing why the regs and the draft SGEIS are illegal, demanding that the regs and the draft SGEIS be withdrawn, and placing the State on notice that suit will be brought if the demand is not honored.”)


 

(BREAKING NEWS:  With so many promising initiatives outlined by the Governor in his State of the State Address,  it may seem like base cavilling to focus on a single issue like “fracking,” but my underlying assumption is that high-volume, high-pressure hydraulic fracturing is not the “problem.”   It is a symptom of the problem and it serves quite nicely to illustrate a corollary:  “If you partner with industry (especially the gas extraction industry) you will be forced to engage in tortured reasoning,  mad dashes left and right and a convoluted persecution of the laws that govern public Agencies.  (The  State Administrative Procedures Act ((SAPA), for instance,  figures heavily in an intent to sue notice prepared by David and Helen Slottje,  founding attorneys at Community Environmental Defense Council, Inc.  Last night, as this Breathing article was getting final edits,  the Slottjes wrote,  “…we will turn a version of this  [notice] into a formal petition to the State detailing why the regs and the draft SGEIS are illegal, demanding that the regs and the draft SGEIS be withdrawn, and placing the State on notice that suit will be brought if the demand is not honored.”)

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First, whether you are a pro-fracking or pro-Moratorium New Yorker,  when you searched the text of Governor Cuomo’s  State of the State Address for some variation of “frac,”  “fractured,”  “frack,”  or “frackturing,”  you were immediately rewarded with several instances of  “FRAC.”   Armed with a fresh cup of coffee or some sedative,  you prepared to delve into the convoluted shoals that are Cuomo’s  gas extraction policy.

And that’s where you encountered the first multi-layered irony.  During the past month, activists sent New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC)  more than 200,000 comments about the Agency’s  regs,   draft SGEIS,  its review process and lack of adherence to State law.  Many of those comments were submitted “under protest” and came on the heels of more than 60,000 submitted during the last round of dSGEIS comments.  But the “FRAC” in the Governor’s speech didn’t refer to gas, extraction or hydraulics.  It’s the Food Research and Action Center which studies accessibility to “affordable fresh fruits and vegetables” and the impact of that accessibility on health.  It is a notable initiative but kind of moot if New York’s  fertile foodsheds are fracked.

You settled in a little deeper and began to review the State of the State Address category-by-category.

Under the broad heading of “Economic Development,” Governor Cuomo  touted Tax-Free Hot Spots, Academics and Unemployment Insurance.  He announced, “The Adirondack Challenge, a national rafting and paddling competition…[that] will  focus the world’s attention on the unparalleled natural beauty and recreational opportunities of the Adirondacks to attract tourists to Upstate New York.”

That’s lovely for the Adirondack and Catskill Parks which are protected from fracking by the NYS Constitution, but how will tourists reach those oases if not via a scenic gas drilling byway?   Additionally, as Cuomo  plots to protect some areas of New York State as more worthy of conservation than others, the Adirondack Mountain Club has reminded him, “It is clear from Article XIV, section (3)(1) of the Constitution that the state cannot enter into a lease with any private corporation for the extraction of natural gas from any state forest or reforestation area located in the counties of Greene, Ulster, Sullivan, or Delaware counties.”

Uh oh.

The Governor spoke to the Economy of Tomorrow and laid out a plan to Make New York the Leader in the Clean Tech Economy. He pledged himself to the creation of a workforce capable of meeting the new demands of his 21st century model.

And he drew a special bead on Upstate Economic Development.  He connected the dots between poverty, food deprivation and a failure to thrive. He outlined a plan to bolster our farms and families by strengthening Farm to School Programs. (This is of especial importance to Sullivan County, NY which a recent Robert Woods Johnson Foundation report placed next to last for health factors of all New York State counties.)

The particular attention Cuomo paid to Upstate Economic Development may have set some heads to shaking. On one hand, he lauded the value of Upstate water and  soil resources – citing to them and our foodsheds as indispensable pieces of NY’s economic engine — while,  on the other,  his  SGEIS proposes to protect the NYC and Syracuse watersheds  and leave the Upper Delaware River Basin (and its organic farmers) to the mercy of inadequate setbacks. (Sec.  7.1.5:  Revised Draft SGEIS 2011,  page 7-55.)

For instance,

… as stated in sub-section 7.1.3, the Department proposes that for at least two years the surface disturbance associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing, including well pad and associated road construction and operation, be prohibited within 500 feet of primary aquifers.

And,

… uncovered pits or open surface impoundments that could contain flowback water … are subject to a 300-foot separation distance from water wells under Appendix 5-B of the State Sanitary Code.  Flowback water tanks and additive containers … which require a 100-foot setback from water wells.  Handling and mixing of hydraulic fracturing additives onsite…requires a 150-foot distance from water wells.  The Department proposes that it will not issue well permits for high-volume hydraulic fracturing within 500 feet of a private water well or domestic-supply spring, unless waived by the landowner.

If those  “set-back mitigations” strike you as inadequate, then add this nugget to the sludge on your plate:  gas wells in New York State will be permitted within 150 feet of schools.

That’s right.  As Cuomo  outlined a broad range of education improvements with optimistic headings like,  more learning time,  full-time pre-k programs for highest needs students, better teachers, principals and evaluation systems — all excellent proposals —  his SGEIS will allow gas wells to be drilled within 150 feet of those excellent teachers, students, playgrounds, programs and classrooms.

No doubt,  Disassociative Policy Disorder strikes again.

Fighting Hunger in New York

Governor Cuomo has good reasons for envisioning a future-New York where our families are well-nourished by the bounty of our own organic farms. (New York farmers regularly lead the nation in produce donated to food banks and food pantries.  Just sayin’.)

In 2006,  NYS was home to “580 certified organic farms  with 68,864 acres in production.  In addition, there were more than 100 organic processors doing business in the State…”

Only two years later, the US Department of Agriculture reported that  NYS had grown to  827 organic farms and was ranked fourth in the nation as a result.   More,   NYS was second in the country with  319  organic dairy farms;  second to Wisconsin with 99 organic beef farms  and fifth for organic vegetable and melon farms with 190.  (Our $60.2 million dollars in organic milk sales for 2008 placed us fifth in the nation.)

The Governor even cited to  Bay Shore’s Farm to School Project, “Edible EastEnd, an innovative collaboration between Long Island’s Bay Shore Union Free School District, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets and Office of General Services, and Long Island potato farmers to increase service of Long Island potatoes in Long Island Schools)…”

And he pledged to create a Statewide Anti-Hunger Task Force with one goal being to increase “the use of New York farm products and healthy foods in anti-hunger programs.”

Yes, while painting a rosy picture of New York State’s schoolchildren being educated for the 21st century in a state fueled by sustainable industries and locally-grown food,  Cuomo’s SGEIS has determined that  many New York  schools and much of our vast foodshed will be left vulnerable to the dangers of crazily inadequate setbacks.

Worse, even if the setbacks seem a dandy solution to you, consider that you and the Governor have overlooked another threat to foodsheds in Upstate New York and the Upper Delaware River Basin:  migrating air pollution from the Hancock compressor,  the Millennium Pipeline and other components of the extraction industry.

Fingers crossed that if airborne contaminants endanger the Organic status of local Upstate NY farms, Vermont won’t charge much to  stock NY’s  school lunch programs.

Human Health

In addition to educating our children and feeding them more and healthier local food,  the Gov is determined that New York will Set the “Gold Standard” for Patient Care.

  • “The best way to improve the health of New Yorkers and to lower health care cost is to avoid preventable illness and the health care interventions they require,” he said.

He even devoted 7.5 typewritten pages to sepsis, “An overwhelming immune and inflammatory response to infection.”  He laid out an entire plan of attack to improve preventative care and to combat nosocomial infections. He was inventive and passionate.

He skipped over the fact that his SGEIS has been roundly decried by doctors, medical societies, nurses and epidemiologists for ignoring the cumulative impacts of gas extraction on human health.

He forgot to mention the plethora of reports coming in from the frontlines of Gasland about endocrine disruptions, immune system dysfunction and leukemia.

He ignored that gas extraction and production companies are exempt from revealing the toxins they use in their processes and that doctors are prohibited from telling injured patients the nature of the gas production toxins that have harmed them.

However, our governor made it clear that he intends to be a juggernaut when it comes to ensuring a fair Public Safety Policy that will open like a protective umbrella over all our heads.  He spoke about gun violence and ended with this,  “Some weapons are so dangerous and some ammunition devices so lethal that we simply cannot afford to continue selling them in our state.”

Yes, Governor Cuomo,  but perhaps there are industries and devices “so lethal that we simply cannot afford”  to welcome them into our communities, either.

I won’t belabor the Governor’s insistence that New York State must improve its reputation for cloaked dealings with lobbyists because one sentence drove all his remonstrations from my head,  “A public database will provide the fullest disclosure of lobbyist and other meetings with state officials in the country.”

Then why, oh why,  Governor Cuomo, did activists have to labor so hard to expose the fact that  Independent Oil and Gas Association  (industry lobbyist) worked hand-in-hand with  NY’s Department of Environmental Conservation to write our State’s gas extraction regulations?

The Governor also outlined a number of new Public Safety initiatives in response to the devastation wrought in New York State by Hurricane Sandy.  He described the NYS 2100 Commission and the importance of building “resiliency” into our “planning, protection and development approaches…”  He vowed to “reduce the emissions that contribute to our changing climate,”  to “increase alternative local renewable power sources,”  and to “provide assistance to property owners to mitigate or sell properties in vulnerable areas.”

Although the Gov is referring to homes damaged or obliterated by Hurricane Sandy,  the door he opens is intriguing.  Will those whose properties are damaged or destroyed by their neighbors’ fracking also be considered “vulnerable?”  Will those property owners also be helped to relocate?  Will they be helped to find a new and better quality of life? Will our organic farmers be rewarded with new  sources of clean water and soil?

And when Cuomo says that,  “Much of New York’s infrastructure is aging and susceptible to damage from extreme weather events or seismic threats,”  is he planning to replace bridges,  roads, and neighborhoods impacted by frack-created earthquakes?

Or when he admits that, “there are miles of aging [ gas] pipeline[s] that are prone to leakage and vulnerable to storm damage (and ground movement) [in New York State],”   does he intend to hire hundreds of new DEC field agents to police, test and enforce remediation of those leaks?  Or will citizens be detailed to stand on either side of the pipes to hold them in place as they rock to the beat of seismic drums?

And when he says we need to “strengthen our wastewater infrastructure” because, “Flooding and storm surges from Lee, Irene, and Sandy resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to waste water treatment plants and the release of hundreds of millions of gallons of raw and undertreated sewage,”  is he considering just how toxic the stew would be with Marcellus Shale’s radioactive materials added to the mix?

Or does he believe that his newly-minted  World-Class Emergency Response Network —  like All the King’s Horses and All the King’s Men —   will simply put New York  back together again after the extraction industry has bedded, fracked us, and moved on?

 

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Additional Links, Resources and Citations:

“Ecosystem resilience is the capacity of an ecosystem to tolerate disturbance without collapsing into a qualitatively different state that is controlled by a different set of processes. A resilient ecosystem can withstand shocks and rebuild itself when necessary. Resilience in social systems has the added capacity of humans to anticipate and plan for the future. Humans are part of the natural world. We depend on ecological systems for our survival and we continuously impact the ecosystems in which we live from the local to global scale. Resilience is a property of these linked social-ecological systems (SES). “Resilience” as applied to ecosystems, or to integrated systems of people and the natural environment, has three defining characteristics:

• The amount of change the system can undergo and still retain the same controls on function and structure
• The degree to which the system is capable of self-organization
• The ability to build and increase the capacity for learning and adaptation”

Source: The Resilience Alliance Website

 

As part of  Governor Cuomo’s  plan to “Harden Our Utilities,”  he wants the following NYS Public Service Commission (PSC) recommendations adopted as soon as possible.  It sounds dandy, actually.  Too bad  these initiatives don’t extend to the Department of Environmental Conservation or the gas extractors that Agency is mandated  to regulate.

  • The PSC will be statutorily authorized to levy administrative penalties against each utility for violations of PSC orders and regulations or upon a finding that such utility has failed to provide safe and adequate service under a “reasonable business” standard (comparable to the prudence standard). The size of the potential penalties will be increased, and provisions will be adopted to ensure that the penalties are paid out of shareholder capital and not passed on to ratepayers.
  • The PSC will be authorized to issue an order that directs a utility to comply with recommendations made pursuant to management and operations audits.
  • The PSC will recommence operational audits at least every five years as currently required under the Public Service Law.
  • To implement the strengthened auditing functions of the PSC, consideration will be given to having a dedicated auditing unit to help ensure that the PSC is well-situated to fully exercise its statutory authority and perform both management and operational audits.
  • Consideration will also be given to creating a dedicated unit for investigating and enforcing utility compliance with PSC orders and recommendations and with utility tariffs.
  • Statutory changes should be considered to explicitly authorize the PSC to formally review the performance of each of the Investor-Owned Utilities to provide safe and adequate service, and order appropriate relief including divestiture of some or all of a utility’s assets, subject to both due process standards and the need for continuity of service. To ensure compliance with the recommendations put forth by the PSC after a review, the Commission also recommends the clear establishment of the PSC’s authority to revoke the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity.
  • DPS staffing and budgetary levels will be reviewed to ensure they are sufficient to carry out the newly-designed core functions of the PSC, and procedures should be reviewed to ensure cross-training of the existing workforce, implementation of performance management standards and technology upgrades. Given the substantial retirements at DPS in recent years, the agency currently is not staffed to the level authorized in the FY 2012-13 budget of 524 full-time employees (FTE). Based upon the additional mandates that the Commission recommends, the DPS staffing authorization will be maintained in the FY 2013-14 budget and DPS will recruit and hire up to the 524 FTE allotment to assist in implementation and enforcement of the new mandates.
  • Similar to Sarbanes Oxley where CEOs need to certify the validity of their financial statements, consideration will be given to requiring senior officers of each utility to annually certify to the PSC that the utility is acting in compliance with all applicable State laws, rules, regulations, orders, and procedures, including the statutory requirement to provide safe and adequate service.
  • All appointees to the PSC will have demonstrated competence in some aspect of utility regulation as well as a concern for the public well-being.

Update: Delaware Town Board Petition and Resolution


Dear Readers,  Breathing received an email this morning which contends  that  “…some signators  to the Resolution and Petition being circulated in The Town of Delaware believed they were endorsing an ‘anti-drilling’  petition and resolution.”

Neither the petition nor the resolution are anti-drilling.  Rather, the intent of citizens who are circulating them  is to enact whatever protections are possible in the event gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing  occur in the Town of Delaware!

Residents  concerned for the future of The Town of Delaware and the Delaware River Basin are encouraged to attend the Delaware Town Board meeting this Wednesday, April 21, 2010 at 7:00  PM at the Town Hall in Hortonville where the Petition and Resolution will be presented.

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Since  March 20, 2010,  when  Breathing posted a re-cap of the Town of Delaware’s  Town Board meeting and  a copy of  the  gas drilling Resolution Supervisor James Scheutzow  had presented to the Town Board,  The New York State  Assembly has begun to deliberate  several legislative initiatives.

  • One of those, NYS Assembly bill 10490, will establish a moratorium on gas drilling in New York State until 120 days after the Environmental Protection Agency releases its study of the gas industry and its  impacts.
  • A second, NYS Assembly Bill  10633,  is a “Home Rule” bill which makes explicit the notion that  local governments  have and will have zoning control over where gas drilling occurs in their jurisdictions no matter what powers of jurisdiction a  State authority may  claim.

In response,  Breathing wrote on April 18th,  “…. I will ask  citizens throughout New York State  to petition  their local governments to adopt resolutions and/or ordinances that:

  • support  A10490’s  requirement that a moratorium be effected in New York State until 120 days after the Environmental Protection Agency submits its report on hydraulic fracturing;  and
  • amend  or enact zoning laws which preserve and protect the local citizenry and their natural resources.

“An example of a zoning ordinance written  in Nockamixon, PA is available here. Although  Pennsylvania and New York State regulations are often baffling  in their differences,   the language of the Ordinance is instructive;  as is a reading of this article and its links which help explain  the legal reasoning that New York  and Pennsylvania  State courts might bring to considerations of local zoning ordinances that regulate drilling. An important legal tenet is that the decision of a  State Supreme Court may be cited as precedent in other states in the absence of  more weighty legal decisions.  That does not  mean the precedent will stick,  but it does mean it will be treated with value  when a different state court weighs similar legal issues.

“Inaction will no longer be an option for local governments in New York.  It  will now be clear that if local governments do not regulate gas drilling enterprises within their jurisdictions, they are choosing to support  the short term pecuniary interests of a few lessors over the long-term and communal interests of  the land, water and people they are obligated to defend and protect.”

Other New York State  legislative  gas drilling initiatives which came to light since the beginning of April are:

  • A10088 which prohibits “on-site storage of flowback water.”   (After toxic hydraulic fracturing fluid is injected into the shale bed,  15-40% of the toxic soup is recovered as “flowback water”  and is frequently stored in open pits at the fracking site.  60-85% of  the injected fluid is left in the shale bed.);
  • A10090 which prohibits the “disposal of drill cuttings at the drilling site.”  (Drill cuttings are the primarily solid pieces generated as the drill bores through the earth.  For those familiar with wood or metal drills,  think of the shavings created as the drill rotates and penetrates a  2 x  4 or metal bar. During hydraulic fracturing, drills bore thousands of feet.  The resultant “cuttings”  are composed of  NORMs (Naturally  Occurring Radioactive Materials) and other toxins which, according to  New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) qualifies  them as  “hazardous waste.”  In justifying the  need for A10090,  its sponsors state, “In their hearing testimony, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) indicated that a multiple horizontal well site will generate 100 to 500 times the volume of cuttings generated at a vertical well site. More importantly, the Marcellus formation has been shown to be high in pyrite. Oxidation and leaching of pyretic shale produces Acid Mine Discharge (AMD) which can lead to significant water impairments. Unfortunately, in the Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS), the Department of Environmental Conservation proposes to prohibit only the on-site disposal of cuttings contaminated with drilling mud.”
  • A10091 which would require “the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluids; and, *[prohibit] the use of hydraulic fracturing fluids containing chemicals that pose a risk to human health including, but not limited to, fluids that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (as defined by the EPA) or are known mutagens. Effects of Present Law Which This Bill Would Alter: Amends section 23-0305 (8)(d) of the Environmental Conservation Law.”
  • A10092 which  “Requires an environmental impact statement to be prepared for any natural gas or oil drilling involving the use of hydraulic fracturing fluid.”
  • A08784 which “Requires permit holders to test groundwater prior to and after drilling wells for oil and natural gas.”
  • A9414 which “Establishes the natural gas exploration and extraction liability act of 2010.”  (Of the initiative,  Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy has said, “This bill would not apply to the million and a half acres already leased in New York State and for that reason we think it needs to be amended.”)

On March 21, 2010 and in response to Breathing’s March 20th article about the Town of Delaware Board meeting,   Bruce Ferguson posted a comment which pointed to at least one issue of importance concerning locally-trained and qualified inspectors:    “But the notion that these inspectors should be ‘locally trained and qualified’  doesn’t make any sense at all. Who in the Town of Delaware is in a position to ‘train and qualify’  shale gas well inspectors? All inspectors should be hired and trained by the NYS DEC Division of Mineral Resources. The Department already has the resources and years of experience in this field and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Also well inspectors should be the best-qualified people the DEC can find, and they should be full-time professionals. The job of regulating gas wells is a huge responsibility and it should NOT be entrusted to amateurs or part-timers.”

Believing questions about the Resolution were warranted, on March 24, 2010,  Breathing created a separate page which encouraged residents to participate in adding to, changing or re-writing  the Resolution.   Included,  were several suggestions for alternate language of which this was one option:  “A moratorium on gas drilling/hydraulic fracturing should be enacted in New York State.”

The email Breathing received this morning expressed  additional concerns which I believe will be of import to those who’ve signed the petition  or who are considering signing it:

  • the resolution asks the state legislature  to compel the DEC to provide mandatory setbacks from homes  We already have mandatory setbacks from homes.   To make sense, the resolution should call for greater setbacks than exist under current law;
  • ‘closed loop drilling’ and ‘no open waste pits’ are listed  as separate items in the resolution. Of course if you have closed loop drilling, then by definition, you don’t have open waste pits.  These items should be combined into one coherent item.

NYS Drilling Moratorium : Aileen Gunther


During the month of March, many residents of New York State were asked to contact their State Representatives about several pieces of proposed legislation having to do with hydraulic fracturing:

  • A10088 which prohibits “on-site storage of flowback water.”   (After toxic hydraulic fracturing fluid is injected into the shale bed,  15-40% of the toxic soup is recovered as “flowback water”  and is frequently stored in open pits at the fracking site.  60-85% of  the injected fluid is left in the shale bed.);
  • A10090 which prohibits the “disposal of drill cuttings at the drilling site.”  (Drill cuttings are the primarily solid pieces generated as the drill bores through the earth.  For those familiar with wood or metal drills,  think of the shavings created as the drill rotates and penetrates a  2 x  4 or metal bar. During hydraulic fracturing, drills bore thousands of feet.  The resultant “cuttings”  are composed of  NORMs (Naturally  Occurring Radioactive Materials) and other toxins which, according to  New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) qualifies  them as  “hazardous waste.”  In justifying the  need for A10090,  its sponsors state, “In their hearing testimony, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) indicated that a multiple horizontal well site will generate 100 to 500 times the volume of cuttings generated at a vertical well site. More importantly, the Marcellus formation has been shown to be high in pyrite. Oxidation and leaching of pyretic shale produces Acid Mine Discharge (AMD) which can lead to significant water impairments. Unfortunately, in the Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS), the Department of Environmental Conservation proposes to prohibit only the on-site disposal of cuttings contaminated with drilling mud.”
  • A10091 which would require “the disclosure of hydraulic fracturing fluids; and, *[prohibit] the use of hydraulic fracturing fluids containing chemicals that pose a risk to human health including, but not limited to, fluids that are persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (as defined by the EPA) or are known mutagens. Effects of Present Law Which This Bill Would Alter: Amends section 23-0305 (8)(d) of the Environmental Conservation Law.”
  • A10092 which  “Requires an environmental impact statement to be prepared for any natural gas or oil drilling involving the use of hydraulic fracturing fluid.”
  • A08784 which “Requires permit holders to test groundwater prior to and after drilling wells for oil and natural gas.”
  • A9414 which “Establishes the natural gas exploration and extraction liability act of 2010.”  (Of the initiative,  Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy has said, “This bill would not apply to the million and a half acres already leased in New York State and for that reason we think it needs to be amended.”)

On April 5, 2010,  Breathing received the following note from Aileen Gunther  (Assembly District 98) “A new bill has been introduced (A10490) by Assemblyman Englebright to establish a moratorium on conducting hydraulic fracturing for the extraction of natural gas or oil until 120 days after the Federal EPA issues their report on the effects of fracking on water quality and public health. I am a co-sponsor of this bill.  I am hearing positive response from individuals and groups regarding this newly introduced legislation.   Although I have not officially signed on as a sponsor of many of the bills you reference, I do support the bills and will support them when they come before the EnCon [Environmental Conservation] committee or to the floor.”  (Bold added for emphasis.)

Although some activists who support a total moratorium have questioned  A10490’s  120-day limit, others believe it’s a middle-of-the-road position — neither obstructing nor approving hydraulic fracturing until a comprehensive study of its effects is completed.  In the past,  the  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found many faults with NYS DEC’s draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement   (dSGEIS).   Currently, completion and submission  of the dSGEIS is the basis of   New York’s  de facto moratorium. Obviously, A10490 would extend that moratorium  until the completion of EPA’s  “comprehensive research study.”

For  more information concerning the status of the proposed legislation in this article or to contact Ms. Gunther, please follow the supplied-links.  To find your New York State Legislators and to let them know how you feel about the legislation,  please visit the New York State Assembly and/or Senate pages.

As  readers of Breathing Is Political’s “Inverse Condemnation” article  may remember,  NYS Senator John Bonacic has staked a  position on hydraulic fracturing which is different than Ms. Gunther’s and although that position is  protective of lessors,  it does not address the larger issues of human and environmental health.

Coming next:  Local conflicts of interests and incorporating  the above-legislative initiatives into Town and County Board resolutions.

Dr. Ronald E. Bishop Comments to NYS DEC


As promised,  here is  Dr. Ronald Bishop’s response to the  New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS).  Many thanks to Un-Natural Gas for making sure Dr. Bishop’s comments (and so many other things)  are on  Breathing’s radar!  A quick read  will give readers an understanding why so many are worried that  the future of  the  de facto moratorium on gas drilling and hydro-fracking in our State may rest on the dSGEIS.  For those  interested in reading more,  please see the Environmental Protection Agency’s response to the dSGEIS.

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Dr. Ronald E. Bishop
Cooperstown, NY

December 30, 2009

Attention:  dSGEIS Comments
Bureau of Oil and Gas Regulation
NYSDEC Division of Mineral Resources
625 Broadway, Third Floor
Albany, NY  12233-6500

To Whom It May Concern,

Please accept my comments regarding the Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement for the Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Regulatory Program:  Well Permit Issuance for Horizontal Drilling and High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing to Develop the Marcellus Shale and Other Low-Permeability Reservoirs.

Section 2.2 Public Need and Benefit

I note that economic benefits data are limited to a 5-year time frame and are nearly entirely speculative.  A more appropriate time frame would be 50 or more years, including the period after which natural gas reserves (and related revenues) have been exhausted.  Refusal to estimate (or even acknowledge) the “bust” phase that follows any projected industrial “boom” constitutes a failure to thoroughly assess the overall economic impact of this industry statewide.
In this context, it is noteworthy that gas wells in the Barnett Shales, projected to produce for 30 to 50 years, have exhibited catastrophic production decline (in spite of repeated hydraulic fracturing) after 4 to 5 years of operation (1), with overall productive life spans of only 7 to 10 years.  This suggests that technologies for recovery of gas from shales are immature; therefore, widespread application of the current state of the art runs counter to NYSDEC’s mandate to efficiently exploit the state’s natural gas reserves.  A thorough assessment of public benefit (also reflected in Section 4.4.3 Potential for Gas Production and Section 5.16.3 Production Rate) must address this issue.

Section 2.4.6 History of Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing in Water Supply Areas

The statement, “No documented instances of groundwater contamination are recorded in the NYSDEC files from previous horizontal drilling or hydraulic fracturing projects in New York.”  is scandalous.  These kinds of projects represent a tiny minority of gas wells developed in New York, and so in no way reflect NYSDEC’s history of regulating this industry.  Numerous instances of soil and groundwater contamination caused by the gas industry were recently documented by Toxics Targeting, Inc., primarily using sources available to (or maintained by) NYSDEC (2).  Equally spurious was the statement, “The reported Chautauqua County incidents, the majority of which occurred in the 1980’s…, could not be substantiated…”  Many of these incidents occurred in the period from 2000 to the present, and were substantiated not only by the Chautauqua County Department of Health, but also by the US Geological Survey.  My own poll of New York county health officials pointed to other incidents where gas drilling appeared to impact water supplies in Allegany, Chemung, Genesee and Steuben Counties (3).  In light of such evidence, this section of the SGEIS should be stricken and replaced with a realistic assessment of gas industry culpability for collateral damage.

Section 3.2.1.1 SGEIS Applicability – Definition of High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing

This section minimizes the pervasive issue of scale which, more than any other factor, underlies the need for updated regulations.  Compared to the GEIS’ “typical” volume of 80,000 gallons of fluids used per well, the average horizontally-drilled hydraulic fracturing project will involve over 4,000,000 gallons, 50-fold greater volume than was considered in the GEIS.  I submit that this difference is not merely “significant”; it is enormous.  For example, in spite of technological advances that permit effective additive concentrations one-tenth of those employed 10 years ago, the net result is still more than a five-fold increase in tonnage per gas well.  The accompanying increased risk in transfer-related mishaps (arguably one of the greatest potential hazards of the industry) is, in my view, severely underestimated throughout the dSGEIS.  This is particularly acute where multi-well projects are under development.

Section 5.4.3 Composition of Fracturing Fluids

This section contains gravely serious deficiencies.  First, it is inappropriate for NYSDEC to accept any less than full disclosure from energy companies regarding the chemicals they intend to use in natural gas extraction projects.  Products that are not completely described should not be permitted to be used in New York.
The catalog of health concerns noted by NYSDOH for each chemical category leaves much to be desired.  Ecological impacts of the various chemicals are entirely omitted, and some important human health effects are missed as well.
For example, one of the bromine-based biocides, 22-dibromo-3-nitrilopropionamide (DBNPA) has been shown to be extremely toxic to aquatic organisms.  In fact, DBNPA is damaging or lethal to trout, bay oysters, Mysid shrimp and Daphnia magna (so-called “water fleas”) at concentrations below its chemical detection limit (4).  The dSGEIS segment on health effects from microbicides was summarized thus:  “Toxicity information is limited for several of the microbicidal chemicals.”  This level of scientific scrutiny is dangerously inadequate for an agency charged with promoting public and environmental safety.
Worse yet, some information provided in this section is misleading.  For example, acetylenic alcohols, including propargyl alcohol, are inappropriately grouped with simple alcohols and glycols.  This group is summarized in the dSGEIS thus: “Exposure to high levels of some alcohols (e.g. ethanol, methanol) affect (sic) the central nervous system.”  Consider the toxicity of propargyl alcohol (5):  this chemical (inhaled or absorbed through the skin) induces a range of ailments that include multi-organ failure.  A sensitizer, it elicits increasing responses to decreasing exposures, and symptoms can recur months or years after all exposure has ceased.  Propargyl alcohol is widely used as a corrosion inhibitor; therefore, no discussion of health effects is adequate that fails to warn potential exposure victims about this additive.
A major question is completely omitted in this section.  No one understands, and no one at NYSDEC proposes to investigate pre-existing organisms in deep rock structures, including target formations.  What archaea, bacteria and algae currently live in these strata?  What is their value to society via biological, pharmaceutical or medical research?  How are they affected by the drastic changes imposed on their ecosystems by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing?  NYSDEC should inventory, protect and develop these natural resources.
Finally, after describing (albeit incompletely) probable health effects from carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, reproductive toxins, and potentially lethal compounds planned for use at rates of hundreds or thousands of pounds per project, this section ends with the statement, “As mentioned earlier, the 1992 GEIS addressed hydraulic fracturing in Chapter 9, and NYSDOH’s review did not identify any potential exposure situations associated with horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing that are qualitatively different from those addressed in the GEIS.”  I submit that size matters here; a massive difference in scale requires an adjustment in regulatory approach in the same sense as different care is needed for a tiger than for a house cat.
Based on the deficiencies of this section alone, I would recommend withdrawal of this draft supplement to the GEIS for oil, gas and solution mining.

Section 5.11.1.1 Subsurface Mobility of Fracturing Fluids

This section and the associated Appendix 11 register a glaringly flawed assumption:  that fracturing fluids are being pumped into dry rock formations.  Analysis of flowback fluids clearly indicate (dSGEIS Table 5-8 and Section 5.11.3.1) that rock strata including target formations are filled with salts-saturated water, i.e. brine.  The ability of deep rock formations to accommodate additional non-compressible fluids may well depend on their ability to direct them into faults, abandoned wells or other, more porous strata.  This consideration, along with accounting for repeat hydraulic fracturing, should guide a fresh attempt to model the subterranean flow of fluids introduced at high pressures for natural gas extraction processes.

Section 5.12 Flowback Water Treatment, Recycling and Reuse

This section contains some of the most optimistic operational projections in the entire dSGEIS.  Several of the modular technologies mentioned in this section are annotated, “Modular … units have been used in the Barnett Shale.”  This might be better phrased, “… have been tested in the Barnett Shale”, because none of them are in widespread use anywhere in the US.  I suggest a more realistic set of assumptions that anticipate that 10% of flowback fluids will be reused / recycled, and the rest will require transport to distant disposal sites.

Section 5.13 Waste Disposal; 5.16.6 Brine Disposal; 5.16.7 Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials in Marcellus Production Brine

Gas well flowback fluid is currently classified as “industrial waste” under state code (Article 27, Title 9, Paragraph 371.1. (e) (2) (v)).  However, 18 of the 69 compounds (dSGEIS Tables 5-8, 5-9, 6-1 and 6-2), as well as radionuclides (dSGEIS Appendix 13) reported in flowback fluids are listed in New York as hazardous substances.  Therefore, the NYSDEC commissioner should, by his authority under Article 27, Title 9, Paragraph 371.2 (b) (2), reclassify gas well flowback fluids as hazardous waste.
Permits for high-volume gas well development projects should not be issued unless and until intrastate infrastructure designed specifically for treating their hazardous wastes is built and functioning.

Chapter 6 Potential Environmental Impacts

Conspicuously absent from mention here are the potential impacts of residual infrastructure that remains in the ground when gas extraction activities are completed.  No complete inventory, let alone hazard assessment of abandoned oil and gas wells in New York has been assembled to date, and no long-term follow-up assessments related to proposed development are suggested in this dSGEIS.  This constitutes  a major failure in operational planning.

Section 6.1.1 Water Withdrawals

Large parts of the Southern Tier of New York situated over developable shale gas deposits lie outside regions regulated by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, the Delaware River Basin Commission or New York City’s West of Hudson Watershed.  NYSDEC makes no provision for monitoring or limiting water withdrawals in these areas.  This constitutes a major failure in operational planning.

Section 6.1.6 Waste Transport

Manifesting of gas drilling wastes (hazardous by nature if not by state law) should be required for transport by Part 364-permitted haulers.  Description of these loads as “general industrial waste” poses unacceptable risks for emergency responders to roadway incidents.

Section 6.5 Air Quality

This elegantly researched section suffers from a failure to aggregate emissions from a number (several to several hundred) of vicinal gas wells.  Such aggregation is currently being investigated in Dish, Texas (6, 7).  Preliminary results suggest that hazardous levels of benzene, ozone and other pollutants that accumulate in an intensively drilled area can measurably influence the health of people who live there.  NYSDEC scientists would do well to study these data and consider ways to develop commensurate analytical scope in New York.

Section 6.7 Centralized Flowback Water Surface Impoundments

Central impoundments for flowback fluids should not be permitted.  Along with maintenance of pit liners and connecting conduits, maintenance of headspace should be expected to be problematic.  New York has virtually no capacity for treating these fluids (dSGEIS, (Section 5.13 Waste Disposal), and facilities in Pennsylvania are maximally utilized.  With nowhere to go, flowback in New York will build to critical (and greater) mass.  If not contained in rigid containers, this fluid will overflow into surrounding properties.  This would be particularly troublesome during periods of heavy rain or snow.

Section 6.8 Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials in the Marcellus Shale

This section appropriately mentions the frequent occurrence of radiondclides in flowback fluids, but omits any mention of state and federal regulatory incongruities that usually complicate disposal of mixed hazard (chemical and radiological) waste.  This is particularly salient in evaluating future applications by energy companies for beneficial use determinations to permit spreading of flowback fluids on roads (Appendix 12).  I recommend consideration of these complications before any such applications are accepted.

Section 6.9 Visual Impacts

Others may consider the photos of actual wellsites in New York reassuring; I do not.  Even before scale-up to an unprecedented level of intensity, this kind of development in my region of the state should be expected to exert a significant negative impact on hunting, fishing, local recreation and tourism.  Regarding mitigation measures, I submit that “hope and wait until the worst is over” is not a viable strategy.

Chapter 7 Mitigation Measures

Throughout this section, suggestions that NYSDEC personnel should have the opportunity to supervise various critical steps in the development process (eg. surface casing cementing) should be replaced with mandates that agency personnel shall be present for any such operations.  Similarly, language proposing that mitigation steps “may” or “should” be taken should be replaced with “shall be taken”.

Section 7.1.4.2 Sufficiency of As-Built Wellbore Construction; Appendices 8, 9 & 10

Existing regulations regarding the mixing and placement of concrete are incoherent.  Particularly egregious is the requirement that poured and pumped concrete should be left undisturbed in a casing until a compressive strength of 500 pounds per square inch is achieved.  The chemistry of concrete curing is minimally defined as the hydration of calcium silicate.  The rate at which this process occurs depends heavily on several factors that include temperature, water concentration, and the presence of modifying chemicals.  All these factors are in flux with any gas well project:  (1) Temperature varies from as low as 23 deg. F at the surface to as high as 150 deg. F in the target formation – and neither extreme is ideal for curing.  (2) Water and brines are ubiquitous in New York subterranean rock strata, and can either add to or subtract from water available for curing depending on the layer depth.  (3) Commonly added fluidizers and plasticizers all tend to impede curing, but their responses to varying temperatures and water concentrations are not well characterized.
Taken together, these issues make meaningful determination of the time at which concrete throughout a well casing has reached any particular compressive strength practically incalculable.  Further, shock resistance (related to channel or crack formation) is better correlated with tensile than compressive strength.  I submit that the relative success in sealing New York gas well projects to date has been the result of many lucky guesses.  This is not a basis for sound regulation.   I strongly recommend instituting a standard period of time for waiting on concrete to cure, with the specific standard to be set by rigorous investigation of the salient parameters.
A concrete bond log should be required for every surface casing.  Further, specific site conditions under which intermediate casings must be installed should be formulated.

Section 7.1.11 Protecting the Quality of New York City’s Drinking Water Supply

I take umbrage at the notion that my or any other New Yorker’s water supply is less worth protecting than that of New York City.  Even so, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection, in its final impact assessment (8), makes clear that the best of proposed regulations are anticipated to expose New York City’s drinking water supply to substantial risk of serious damage.  Since this is the case, then acceptably safe development of gas from New York’s shales is probably not possible.  My recommended response to this realization is that NYSDEC abort any attempt to update gas development regulations and institute a state-wide ban on high-intensity gas development.

Section 7.1.12 Setbacks

This section is incoherent, lacking clarity about how interacting factors (e.g. occupied dwellings, public buildings, and various water supplies) should be interpreted in terms of setback requirements.
There is no mention of setbacks from abandoned oil or gas wells; this is a major omission.

Section 7.5 Protecting Air Quality

Frankly, major industrialization of a region is incompatible with protecting air quality.  If the goal is maintenance of air quality that is characteristic of New York’s Southern Tier today, then the mitigation measures discussed (not mandated) are doomed to failure.

Section 7.11 Mitigating Road Use Impacts

NYSDEC offers practically no assistance in this endeavor.  Municipalities should receive assistance with posting and appropriate bonding of roadways, and a centralized trust fund should be established to protect private taxpayers from having to pay for roads ruined by energy corporations and their subcontractors.  This section contains no discussion of privatization of gas revenues accompanied by socialization of the risks and costs of collateral damage, let alone any mitigation of this scenario.

Section 7.12 Mitigating Community Character Impacts

This section contains no description of existing community character with which future attributes might be compared.  Major potential impacts omitted from this section include: influences of permanent industrialization, changes in the types and numbers of cottage industries now typical of New York’s Southern Tier, and influences of the “bust” phase of a boom / bust economic cycle.  I recommend that NYSDEC conduct a rigorous examination of existing community character as prelude to an expanded discussion of impacts mitigation.

Section 7.13 Mitigating Cumulative Impacts

There is no meaningful discussion of cumulative impacts in this section, let alone any attempt to describe mitigation measures.  This constitutes one of the greatest failures of operational planning in this dSGEIS.

Chapter 9 Alternative Actions

Option 9-1, Prohibition of Development, is ruled against by NYSDEC on the basis that it would violate state law, which requires development of natural resources.  I submit that, in light of the overwhelming value of resources that would be damaged or destroyed by intensive gas extraction from New York’s shales, it is the sole legal and just option.

Appendix 15 Hydraulic Fracturing – 15 Statements from Regulatory Officials

Hydraulic fracturing has, in my view, metamorphosed from a technically challenging array of methods to release trapped gases from rocks into a caricature of all that is feared about the natural gas industry.  Judged soberly, these methods elevate risk from gas extraction processes primarily by requiring the transport, handling and use of exotic chemicals which would otherwise not need to be moved, handled, or disposed of.  In comparison to these elements of risk, the actual steps involved with “fracking” are anticlimactic – though not risk-free.
Attribution of a specific accident to any single risk factor is always fraught with difficulty, even when that factor is known by the weight of evidence to be significant.  For example, the fact that one of the drivers in an auto accident was intoxicated is not de facto evidence that the drunk driver was at fault.  Still, the drunk driver bears some responsibility.
As this issue has developed publicly, I have observed energy company spokespeople caricaturizing “hydrofracturing” as that demon which is feared by the uneducated public, but which investigators can never make culpable – provided it is considered in the narrowest methodological sense and as a sole causative factor.  I am disappointed that NYSDEC has chosen to perpetuate this caricature.
This appendix demonstrates, more than anything, the extent to which a variety of public officials are willing to collude in half-truths.  While a handful of state officials who were queried acknowledged that gas extraction produces unintentional consequences, all whose responses were included here acceded to the premise – without context, of course – that, under the narrow conditions of the question posed, hydraulic fracturing has never polluted any groundwater.
NYSDEC had the opportunity in an appendix like this to perform a valuable service of education to the public, putting issues with hydraulic fracturing into proper context.  I could not be more disappointed that you chose a different path.

Respectfully,

Ron Bishop
References Cited:

1.     Arthur Berman, “Lessons from the Barnett Shale suggest caution in other shale plays”,
ASPO International Peak Oil Conference, August 10, 2009.

2.     Walter Hang, “Drilling Spills Profiles”, Toxics Targeting, Inc. 2009

3.     Ron Bishop, “Experiences with Natural Gas Extraction:  Interviews with Health Officials
in New York’s Counties”, private communication 2009.  (Attached)

4.     EPA, “Reregistration Eligibility Decision (RED) 2,2-dibromo-3-nitrilopropionamide
(DNPA)”, September 1994.

5.     BPPB Consortium, “Propargyl Alcohol U.S. EPA HPV Challenge Program Revised
Submission”, July 2003.

6.     Jack Z. Smith, “Texas expediting environmental complaints on natural gas operations in
Barnett Shale”, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, December 23, 2009.

7.     Wilma Subra, “Results of Health Survey of Current and Former DISH/Clark, Texas
Residents”, Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, December 2009.

8.     New York City Department of Environmental Protection, “Impact Assessment of Natural
Gas Production in the New York City Water Supply Watershed: Final Impact Assessment
Report”, December 22, 2009.

Tillman: Dimock to Callicoon : Please Stay Tuned!


Breathing Is Political’s coverage of  Mayor Tillman’s  visit to our area  and his shared presentation with Nancy Janyszeski will  be posted as a two-part series within the next 48 hours.   I apologize for the delay but  with 25+ pages  of notes,  I want to be sure this “watershed” moment   includes  our trip to Dimock, PA as well as the forum held yesterday in Callicoon.  It will also respond to new developments concerning interest shown by a local school district in siting a drilling operation on its school grounds.

Please stay tuned  and many thanks to  the 300 or so residents who turned out to hear what Mayor Tillman and Supervisor Janyszeski  have to tell us about their own experiences with this urgent issue.   Liz

Honesdale Vigil: Climate Change Talks : Copenhagen


Dear Breathing Readers:  The following article is published here with thanks to SEEDS (Sustainable Energy Education & Development Support.)  I received it as an email notice about  the upcoming candlelight vigil scheduled in  Honesdale’s Central Park on December 11, 2009 at 5:00 pm.  The vigil is intended as a message and plea  to the Climate  Change Talks in Copenhagen and is organized  in solidarity  with 350.org.  However,  it includes information about the impacts of climate change on our local area and so I’m helping promote the event  to a larger audience.   Best, Liz

*     *     *     *

All are invited to bring a candle to Central Park, Honesdale at 5 PM on Friday, December 11th to join a vigil for hope during the climate change talks being held in Copenhagen.  SEEDS (Sustainable Energy Education & Development Support) is holding the vigil locally, while 350.org is calling for similar events around the world.

Here in northeast Pennsylvania, our Maple and Black Cherry trees are already being challenged by the effects of a carbon-overloaded atmosphere, and are expected to disappear completely within our children’s lifetime when our local  climate will be resemble  that of present-day Alabama and Georgia, according to a recent report specific to Pennsylvania and  published by the Union of Concerned Scientists.  While we are already getting a taste of devastating floods in our region, countries like the Maldives and Bangladesh will soon be devastated and are fighting for their very survival.

“Our atmosphere has almost 400 parts per million of carbon, mainly from fossil fuel burning for electricity and cars,” says SEEDS chair, Michele Sands.  “We need to get down to under 350 to continue life as we know and love it in northeast PA.  SEEDS is promoting renewable energy sources and sustainable food choices locally, but we need our government leaders to respond to the urgency of our situation, here and in Copenhagen.”

CNN called the previous worldwide 350 event in October the biggest day of political action in the planet’s history. Several local groups including SEEDS took part, SEEDS announcing an ambitious plan to encourage installation of 350 Kw of renewable energy in our local area within a year and save just as much through conservation.

“We hope these vigils will surpass the October action,” says Kathy Dodge, organizer of the local vigil. “And this will be as easy as a walk in the park. So, please come with your candle or lantern to help send a message to Copenhagen.”

Anyone wishing more information about this vigil, may go to 350.org or SEEDSGroup.net. Contact SEEDS at (570) 224-0052 or SEEDSGroup@gmail.com.

Natural Gas Leases/Hydraulic Fracturing: One Property Owner’s View

Thank you, “[Delaware] River Valley Resident” for grappling with the question, “What does stewardship of our lands and communities demand of us?” Although I disagree that “[gas] drilling [and hydraulic fracturing] are inevitable” or that their dangers and impacts can be mitigated, your question and profound determination to preserve and protect are what join us. Indeed, if drilling spreads inexorably, then your efforts to protect may be the last arrow in our quiver.

In part, I hope readers will respond with suggestions helpful to landowners who’ve been cut off like islands in the midst of leased properties. Thank you, Breathing Is Political, Liz Bucar)


(Dear  Readers and “River Valley Resident”:  In an effort  to provide a  community forum where divergent and frequently  noisy  views can be aired,  Breathing has  solicited articles from property owners who are considering signing   natural gas leases or who, after months of  deliberation, have completed the signing. There have been difficulties  and  I had to decide whether or not to publish an anonymous post.  In the end, I decided  a wide-ranging discussion of  the issues facing our communities is more critical  than identifying our author who fears for her job if her name is released.  I hope her obvious concern for the land and our cultures is sufficient to set minds at ease.  She’s known to me.  She’s not a figment.  She’s not greedy and she’s not oblivious to the dangers posed by drilling —  and cited to regularly  by Breathing.  Hers  is an important voice that sheds light — whether or not you agree with her conclusions.

For months,  the author researched, examined  and agonized.  Breathing is grateful that she chose  to speak in this forum despite her misgivings. Unhappily  — given the high passions on both sides of the discussion  —  being a kind of bridge in the middle can invite  vilification and  distrust from  those standing on the  opposite shores. Thank you,  “River Valley Resident”  for  grappling   with the question,  “What does stewardship of   our lands and communities demand of us?”   Although I disagree that “drilling is inevitable” or that its dangers and impacts can be mitigated,  your  question and profound determination to preserve and protect are what join  us.  Indeed, if drilling  spreads  inexorably,  then your efforts to protect may be the last arrow in our quiver.

In part, I hope readers will  respond with suggestions  helpful to landowners  who’ve been cut off   like islands in the midst of leased properties.   Thank you,   Liz)

*    *    *   *    *

I have spent months exploring the ramifications of drilling in the area. Unfortunately, I believe it is extremely likely to occur, so I have been trying to learn the dynamics of horizontal drilling and its potential to contaminate the aquifer. I have read numerous articles and finally found what I believe is a good representation of the process. The gas companies appear to make an extremely strong effort to isolate the aquifer from the fracking fluids. Please see this website for visualization:

http://www.geoart.com/index.php?id=1

Perhaps this is all hype by the gas companies, but if they do in fact follow this process it seems that the aquifer is isolated by steel piping encased in cement. Perhaps aquifer contamination is more likely related to the holding ponds where the backflow is stored as it is forced from the well; which brings up an interesting possibility. One. of the drilling companies, (which is one of Hess’s designated subcontractors for this area) is utilizing a patent pending process called “Ozonix”. It apparently removes all organic chemicals, particles, etc. from the flow back as well as nearly all the brine through reverse osmosis. This process can be read about at the following web site:
http://www.wallstreetresources.net/pdf/fc/TFM.pdf

On a more personal level I have found myself in a situation where the majority of the landowners in my immediate area (across the road and next door) have signed leases. Personally, I do not want to see gas drilling in this area, but am somewhat resigned to the power that the Gas corporations wield and feel that it would be amazing if the gas development does not take place. As a result, I have chosen to try to protect my property. I joined [Northern Wayne Property Owners’ Association]  NWPOA a few years ago, because I felt it gave me a chance to do that and also because this group planned to work toward the most environmentally sound lease possible. I have also been a member of the UD Community for several years, and feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to receive information from the divergent viewpoints. As more information came out from both sources I became more and more confused. This caused me to undertake my own research into the fracking process and its potential for adverse environmental effects. Simultaneous to this, NWPOA came up with a lease agreement with Hess. I have not as yet signed that document. However, I did begin researching the drill company that would be working for Hess in my area. It is a company called Newfield and they are using the “Ozonix” process mentioned above in some of their other shale developments. My thought was to attempt to encourage Hess to have Newfield employ that technology here, as it appears to strongly mitigate a lot of the potentially detrimental effects of the frac process. Additionally, it allows the water to be reused at multiple sites, thus greatly reducing the amount of water needed from the Delaware or other sources, as well as reducing the truck traffic on the roads. Perhaps, I have been taken in by good PR, but I also believe it is in the Gas companies’ best interests to develop these wells as efficiently as possible. If they are drilling and allowing the gas to somehow escape into the aquifer then that is gas they can’t bring to market which spells a loss for them. I have been an environmentalist for well over 40 years and if I had a magic wand, I would surely make this all go away, although I do completely understand the local farmers’ support of this issue. I guess the bottom line for me is that I believe the gas development will occur and that the best approach is to do all within our power to make it happen in the most environmentally responsible way possible. This means supporting companies like Newfield and trying to have them employ the frac recycling process called “Ozonix”. It also means supporting legislation in Congress such as the “Frac Act” which requires companies to divulge their “formulas” for the fracking mud. The Clean Water Restoration Act also needs support to return some of the strength sapped from it, by our previous administration. Will I sign a lease with Hess…I honestly have not been able to decide as yet. I fear drilling around me, and with no lease, if there were any problems, I would be up against the Gas Company on my own. The lease ensures that they will mitigate any water contamination issues, or provide bottled water if necessary. Granted this is not a great solution, but it is probably better than trying to deal with it unassisted.

I know that there are many people like myself who are conflicted over this issue, and struggling with making the right decision. I could never refer to myself as “pro-drilling”. Perhaps, a more appropriate classification is “pro-preservation”. I would like to see this area remain as much like it is right now as possible. This may be a false hope, but I honestly believe that trying to influence the gas companies to use the very best practices possible here, is a more achievable goal than stopping the entire process. I would greatly appreciate comments, as I have been struggling with making a decision for a long time. Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope that I have not inadvertently insulted anyone’s viewpoint. I am merely trying to illustrate what a lot of people are feeling.

October 7, 2009. Since writing the above comments, I have had numerous discussions with Gas Company representatives about exactly what signing a lease would mean. My first thought was to obtain a conservation easement or deed restriction on my property so that the only gas related activity that could take place would have to be subsurface. I was informed that they were not accepting properties with conservation easement unless they were large commercial properties where portions of the surface land are critical to continuing their businesses whatever they may be. I then discussed the amount of acreage I have with the gas company, its geography and location and they told me that it was highly unlikely that they would place a drill pad on a piece of property the size of mine, nor would they likely place a road there. However, they could not guarantee this. So, to sign I would have to accept the remote possibility of surface activity. This gave me a lot to think about. But, perhaps more important than that is what the gas companies do with the individual leases they own. As most people know there are at least 3 major players in the area: Chesapeake, Cabot and Hess. Although you may sign with any of these companies, it does not mean that they will be the company developing your land. In order to create a drilling unit, they need about 640 contiguous acres. In some cases, they may have this from large farms or adjoining properties that have signed. But they may also have an area they would like to develop where the mineral rights have been leased to different companies. The gas companies now trade leases to obtain the acreage they need for development. It’s just like Monopoly where you need all the cards in a block to build houses. So, Hess’s drilling company, Newfield, with the innovative and environmentally sensitive technology may have nothing to do with the development of gas on the land of Hess lease holder. The terms of the lease remain the same as far as per acre compensation, royalties, and environmental mitigation, if needed. But, you could sign with Hess and Newfield, and end up with Cabot and Halliburton. The initial signing deadline has come and gone. I may or may not be on a secondary list. I am not sure at this point, since I haven’t gotten any emails lately from the group.

Have I done the right thing, I honestly don’t know. I have turned down well over $25,000 in guaranteed lease payments, and the potential for royalties. If the area near me is made into a drill unit and all goes well and the water stays good and the roads are removed and replanted when the development is complete will I have regrets? If the area is developed and the aquifer is contaminated and I can’t sell my home and have to sue one of these companies for compensation will I have regrets? More importantly what would you do in my situation? I could probably still sign a lease…..should I? I would really appreciate it, if you could try to put yourself in my place and honestly consider what you might do. Thank you for taking the time to read this.

a river valley resident

(Tomorrow:  The National Council of Churches on the issue of drilling.)

Meet The Drilling Companies: 9-8-09. Bernie’s in Rock Hill, NY

I’d welcome an opportunity to discuss with you more targeted ways by which you can endorse Breathing Is Political. Perhaps over a glass of Dimock, Pennsylvania’s finest fire water? Or, maybe at your industry-sponsored promotional event tomorrow night at Bernie’s in Rock Hill, NY. (See the CottageWorks Community Calendar for details.)


(The following was written today with old fashioned  pen an paper.  No  electric on the mountain.  Due to the 9-8-09  drilling promotion being held in Rock Hill at Bernie’s,   I wanted to post this announcement  and correspondence before getting all the Party photos uploaded. Sorry!)

Dear  Gas Drilling Companies  That Are Eying Sullivan County, New York:

First,  I want to tell you how much I appreciate your frequent visits to this site, Breathing Is Political.   Some of  the “hits”  are probably  “ping backs.”  (I don’t really understand  all  that blog stuff either, so don’t be embarrassed.)  I do notice, however  that some of your visits have lasted long enough for a good read.  Great!

I’d  welcome an opportunity to  discuss with you  more targeted ways by which  you can endorse Breathing Is Political.  Perhaps over a glass of   Dimock, Pennsylvania’s finest  fire water?  Or, maybe  at  your industry-sponsored promotional event tomorrow night at Bernie’s  in Rock Hill, NY. (See the CottageWorks Community Calendar for details.)

I also want to express my personal gratitude  for the informational sessions you’ve planned in New York.  I genuinely appreciate having this opportunity to hear about all the benefits in store for us in Sullivan County. I’ve included links  for your convenience here because you might not remember where Sullivan County and the Delaware River Basin are.  I know how busy you’ve been in Dimock, PennsylvaniaFort Worth, TexasPavilion, Wyoming and so many other places where drilling is creating whole new landscapes and jazzing up the water with an array of additives.

Just one quick update about our Light Up The Delaware River Party last night because I know you’re interested.  Evidently,  a couple of  Pennsylvania river officers were forced to eject three  middle-aged  people from a PA access site.  The  three  revelers were preparing to pour cups of clean water into the River or something bizarre like that.  Sigh.  What can ya’ do, right?  (Turned out there were nearer 20  participants for the candle lighting on the Bridge but  more about that tomorrow.) I did hear reports that  one of the  agents looked “a bit sheepish” about the role he was playing and happily, neither officer  felt the need to unholster  his sidearm.  Thank goodness, right?

Please excuse the disjointedness of this.  I’m just so excited to finally have a way to talk with you!  (By the way,  could you please call Josh Fox at Water Under Attack?  I know he’d love to hear from you.)

Sorry for that diversion.  My Granny-something brain is easily distracted.

Since your interest in my modest little rag sheet has  been rewarding for you, I’m  posting this letter  to other blogs.  I’m sure they’ll do everything they can to encourage lots of interest in,  and attendance at,  the upcoming promotional events you’ve scheduled for New York State.

And there are  supportive documents at Governor Paterson’s site, aren’t  there?  I know he’s getting  pretty excited about all the gas dollars waiting to be plucked from the Marcellus Shale in New York. But don’t  worry yourself over the details.  We’ll have you covered.

FYI:   Coming tomorrow,  “How To  Light Up The Delaware River in under five weeks for less than $1,000.  (Hint:  it starts with  an inspired idea.  Mine came from Gandhi.  And yours…?  What with your millions?  billions?  for national TV ad campaigns, you’ll find our grassroots efforts  interesting in a folksy, anthropologic kind of way.  Enjoy!

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Nockamixon Township Peforms Baseline Water Tests

Scientists are beginning to sample wells and water sources in the township. It will serve as proof if the water is poisoned by gas drilling.

If Nockamixon’s groundwater is poisoned during natural gas extraction, officials will have the evidence.

Scientists with Princeton Hydro, a New Jersey-based water and wetlands resource management company, are traveling throughout the township this week to sample wells, streams, creeks and aquifers.


(Breathing Is Political extends its appreciation to The Intelligencer and Amanda Cregan for  allowing  me to re-print the following article which first appeared  August 18, 2009. The “Cabot property” referenced in the article is the one Leni Santoro and I visited during our River Road Trip.  A photo is viewable here.  Please note that the berm around the frack pool did not appear to be  more than three feet high and the  return fence (running perpendicular to the road) was no higher than  2-3 feet. Because so few people we met during our journey were cognizant of   drilling and hydraulic fracturing or the threat  they pose to our  aquifers and land,  I wanted  people here in the Upper Delaware Basin to know what some of   our sister communities  are doing  to protect themselves.)

By: AMANDA CREGAN Bucks County Courier Times
Scientists are beginning to sample wells and water sources in the township. It will serve as proof if the water is poisoned by gas drilling.

If Nockamixon’s groundwater is poisoned during natural gas extraction, officials will have the evidence.

Scientists with Princeton Hydro, a New Jersey-based water and wetlands resource management company, are traveling throughout the township this week to sample wells, streams, creeks and aquifers.

With a $25,000 grant, the Lower Delaware River Wild and Scenic Management Committee, a group of governmental representatives from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, voted in September to do the testing as a protective measure.

Delayed all summer by frequent rainstorms, scientists have completed testing water wells at nine homes and the Upper Bucks Regional EMS headquarters.

Now they’re roving the township, gathering 20 samples from creeks and streams. Overall, water data will stretch over a 300-square-mile region.

“We’re testing for a whole suite of chemical parameters,” said James P. Shallenberger, senior project manager for Princeton Hydro. “Right now, the objective is just to establish some base lines and sense what the water is like. If there is any drilling done, there will most likely be some follow up work closer to those drill sites.”

If the water was to become contaminated, the Lower Delaware River management committee argues, this baseline, pre-drilling data could be used to make the case that drilling was the cause.

“The baseline testing is extremely important. Because all the discussion we’ve had about accountability and liability, the onus is on us to show the integrity and clarity of our water and have documentation on it,” said the committee’s Pennsylvania chairwoman Nancy Janyszeski, who also serves as Nockamixon’s supervisor chairwoman.

Scientists are focusing their water testing on both sides of the former Cabot Industries property, she said.

The Cabot property on Beaver Run Road, just of Route 611 near Revere, is the only site in the gas drilling permit application stages at the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The 102-acre property was home to a specialty metals production operation. The site underwent a federal environmental cleanup in the early 1990s.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given the Cabot site a clean bill of health.

The Lower Delaware River management committee is worried that one misstep at a drilling site in Nockamixon could spell disaster for its neighbors.

Township homeowners rely on private water wells and septic systems, and many are already grappling with a diminishing groundwater supply.

Natural gas is extracted thousands of feet below the surface via hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The process uses vast amounts of water, mixed with sand and other chemicals, injected into the ground under high pressure to create fractures in the rock and allow the oil or gas to be more easily withdrawn.

Like already-affected municipalities across the country, Nockamixon officials want the gas company to disclose what chemicals are being used, but it’s considered a trade secret and is exempted by federal law.

About 250 homeowners have signed leases with Michigan-based gas drilling company Arbor Resources. Nockamixon supervisors have asked Bucks County Court to overturn a decision by the township’s zoning hearing board, which decided Feb. 9 that township ordinances go too far in restricting drilling and agreed with Arbor officials that the state’s Oil and Gas Act trumps local regulations.

If groundwater is poisoned in the drilling process, the burden of proof will be with the gas company, said Shallenberger.

“The state rules put the burden of proof on the drilling company. If there is a problem or if someone else reports a water quality issue within six months that the drilling occurs, there is a presumption the drilling company is responsible for a change in water quality,” he said.

Although these samplings would serve as a before-and-after picture of Nockamixon water quality, it would bring little relief for homeowners suffering the consequences.

“Water is crucial resource for everyone,” he said.

Princeton Hydro’s water samples will be sent to the laboratory. Results are expected in a month.

August 18, 2009