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to the State detailing why the regs and the draft SGEIS are illegal, demanding that the regs and the draft SGEIS be withdrawn, and placing the State on notice that suit will be brought if the demand is not honored.”)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to the State detailing why the regs and the draft SGEIS are illegal, demanding that the regs and the draft SGEIS be withdrawn, and placing the State on notice that suit will be brought if the demand is not honored.”)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.

DEC Holds Drilling Hearing at Sullivan County Community College


The  NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) held one of only four  state-wide Hearings on  drilling and hydraulic fracturing at Sullivan County Community College on October 28, 2009.

The vast majority of the standing-room-only crowd was opposed to drilling in New York State.

Few or none  of the opponents drew a distinction between drilling in a watershed or anywhere else.

Most or all  asked for additional  time so the public can read and  comment knowledgeably on the DEC’s  800+ page  “Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on Gas and Oil Drilling in New York State.” (DSGEIS)

They asked that  several  more public hearings be scheduled throughout the state because some had driven three or more hours to attend last night. (Note:  When I left at 11:00 PM, the meeting was still going on.)

Several local highway superintendents described their local roads as  “substandard”  and worried about the damage that will be wreaked by the enormous volume of truck traffic  necessary to drilling.  Uniformly,  they asked that the DEC inform local municipalities when each drilling application is made so that Road Use Agreements can be drafted in a timely fashion and so that control of local road use will reside with the towns.

Town Supervisors reiterated what the Superintendents said and went further.  Jim Scheutzow (Town of Delaware) said,  “We need the gas companies to step up.  We  don’t have the resources to  take care of the  roads.”

Jim Greier (Town of Fremont) laid out the specifics,  “We have  1391 people,   84  miles of town roads,  16.8 miles of county road, one gas station, two bars and no extra funds  for repairing roads that are damaged by extra heavy trucks.”

One Building Inspector, citing to the lack of local  prerogatives,  raised a point that’s bothered drilling opponents from the beginning,  “No drilling company’s come to me for a permit.”

Perhaps the greatest applause was saved for Luiz Aragon, Sullivan County’s Planning Commissioner and Maria Grimaldi, a tireless advocate for  a sustainable local ecology and economy.

“Despite DEC’s efforts,” said Mr. Aragon,  “many citizens remain concerned by  DSGEIS on many issues.  I respectfully request that the cumulative impacts and socioeconomic concerns be fully-addressed.”  He included, amongst others,  the impacts on municipal infrastructure,  standards of notification,  safety to muncipalities, protection of aquifers and  the overall health and welfare of our communities.

They were not empty words.  Referencing the Sullivan County Legislature, Mr. Aragon called attention to  the potential for drilling in flood plains and called the body of legislation salient to environmental protection, “inconsistent.”   After listing  several recent accidents and incidents of contamination by the drilling industry,   the County Planning Commissioner called for bans on open pit  storage and drilling in all flood plain zones.  He urged the DEC to add a requirement  that the contents and composition of frac fluids be posted at  drilling  sites and with emergency responders.  “Our County remains concerned that municipalities must be permitted to issue  local laws without fear of lawsuits.  The cumulative impacts of  pipelines and compressors will be huge.   It is unclear that mitigation can be effected if contamination of ground water occurs.”

When Maria Grimaldi said,   “The DEC’s  DSGEIS  seems to be enabling an industry that is not compatible with  protecting our environment,”  the crowd roared approval.  Her follow through was received even more noisily, “I’m concerned about conflicts of interest between state  governments  and  the gas drilling industry. Where did the information come from for the DSGEIS and  who was consulted?  We should require that no  high level   public servants can work for the gas companies  for four years after leaving public service…. How  will we be  protected by accidents that inevitably happen?  There have been  failures in eight  states with human error being the  leading cause  of systemic failures.”

On and on, opponents  stepped to the podium.  They asked for a clear delineation of  responsibility  for oversight of drilling practices and  enforcement of  regulations,  “What will happen when there’s an accident?  Who will respond?  How will the rights of  residents who didn’t sign leases be protected when their wells are contaminated?  How can we test our wells  [when they’re contaminated] if we aren’t allowed to see a list of the chemicals the industry used?  How can we  prove liability and recoup  our lost property values?”

Some worried that DEC regulations do not prevent the drilling industry from drawing down our groundwater supplies but the umbrella concern remains this,  the DEC’s  Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement admits that it does not review the cumulative  environmental and socio-economic impacts of drilling.

Most opponents demanded  a halt to drilling,  calling it  a dangerous activity while citing to groundwater, human, flora, fauna and soil poisonings from Pavilion, Wyoming to Dimock, Pennsylvania.    One speaker referred to The  Precautionary Principle,  “Let the industry prove, within the context of  the wholesale destruction of an entire ecosystem [Dunkard Creek], that their technology is  safe.”

Members of the audience who want us  to “Drill, Baby, Drill”  included representatives of  IOGA-NY (Independent Oil and Gas Association lobbying group),  Noel Van Swol (Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners’ Association), Chesapeake Energy and David Jones (Owner, Kittatinny Canoes).

The Chesapeake representative stated, “Banning drilling anywhere would be inappropriate.”

The IOGA-NY  industrial spokesperson objected to  the DEC’s  DSGEIS,  “It  goes   too far and puts   us at an  economic disadvantage  compared to PA.   Many companies will walk away from exploiting the   Marcellus Shale   if the DEC continues to  move so slowly.”

Mr. Van Swoel claimed that,  “Ten percent of Sullivan County Land is under lease” and then quoted Newt Gingrich, “We should let the industry drill down.”

Opinion:

Last night  was  my third public meeting on the subject of drilling  and I salute those who’ve attended regularly for the past two years.  I don’t know how you do it.

Breathing is dedicated to an open forum;  not because I’m particularly nice, but because I believe  our world is on numerous brinks and  I’d like to help steady rather than destabilize it.

Last night I had to face the truth: I’m divided against myself.   The  lies and drivel that were uttered last evening by “Drill Now!” proponents   left me quivering.  My stomach was so roiled by  contained outrage that  vomiting was an imminent worry.

I wanted to listen politely.  I wanted to hear their words  in silence.  I wanted to find any points of agreement because I want to save our land and spend my days  building a sustainable local community.

Instead, drilling proponents made baseless assertions about safe practices and   denied that accidents have occurred or that lives and livelihoods have been destroyed by fracking poisons. They lied about the types of chemicals used and turned aside questions about  industry liability when contamination inevitably occurs.

As already covered by Breathing, nobody seriously believes the drilling industry will “walk away” from the brilliantly lucrative prospect of the Marcellus Shale.

IOGA-NY’s insistence  that the  DEC’s Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on Gas and Oil Driling goes too far is inconsistent with the DEC’s own recognition that the DSGEIS ignores the cumulative impacts of drilling on our entire ecology.

Nobody in a position of policy-making (including the drilling companies) have answered  the real questions:

  • Why did it take Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection nearly three weeks to close down Cabot-Halliburton when the Dunkard Creek ecosystem was destroyed?
  • Who funded the Penn State study that touted the economic benefits of drilling in Pennsylvania?
  • Who will oversee drilling and fracking?
  • Who will enforce the already flimsy regulations?
  • How will people know what’s contaminated their water if  they aren’t allowed to know the nature and composition of drilling chemicals being used?
  • Who will clean up the mess when  inevitable accidents happen?
  • Who will make the residents of Fort Worth, TX,  Dimock, PA, Pavilion, WY and New York State  whole for the loss of their water and property values?
  • What will we drink or use to grow our food when the water’s destroyed or requires  remedial interventions that nobody has been able to describe because they simply don’t exist?

Wes Gillingham of the Catskill Mountainkeeper has been to nearly all the meetings.  He’s knowledgeable about the issues and the land.  I echo his words from last night,  “I’ve tried to be patient.  I’ve tried to weigh all sides.”

But here’s my truth:  “Civility” does not require me to be silent in a packed hall when industrial interests are shoving the rape of my world down my throat.  “Civility” does not require me to listen politely to greedy lies.  Nor does “civility” require that I acquiesce sweetly to an  industrial oligarchy.

More importantly,  Justice requires  that the money lenders  be “driven from the Temple.”

Planning A Party On A Shoestring

Dear Drilling Companies That Are Eying Sullivan County (Part 2):

I promised yesterday to provide you with a short primer on “How to organize a 330-mile party in under five weeks for less than $1,000” so, gather round.

(Oh good! Mobil-Exxon’s with us today. Welcome, welcome!)


(I was going to write a Light Up The Delaware River Party wrap-up today but seeing as how photos and stories are still coming in,   I’ll wait  a  few days.)

Dear Drilling Companies That Are Eying Sullivan County (Part 2):

I promised yesterday to  provide you with  a short primer on  “How to organize a 330-mile party in under  five weeks for less than $1,000”  so,   gather round.

(Oh good!  Mobil-Exxon’s with us today. Welcome, welcome!)

1.   The first thing you need when trying to organize a community is a good idea.  It should be easily explained and understood and it should include a component of fun.  (Your idea for  filling the shale bed with toxic chemicals and consequently polluting the land and water is easily enough understood and explained but honestly,  the “fun” piece is  missing.)  For instance, my idea for Lighting Up The Delaware River Party came from Gandhi leading  the Indian people to the sea to make salt.  He wanted them to reclaim their resources and the strength  that comes from working shoulder-to-shoulder in an act of solidarity. So we started with that idea and added puppets, songs, movies, dance, poetry, a canoe regatta, campfires,  kayaking.  It was a blast!

What’s the genesis of your idea?  This is important!  When I asked one of your spokespeople outside the July 15, 2009 DRBC hearing if he’d be willing to put your toxic chemicals in an impermeable container and then place them  in his child’s  glass of  water,  he said, “No!”  without hesitation.  It’s just not a good way  to garner trust and support.  And more important,  it’s just not fun.

2.  You have to meet people where they live. Seriously,  the way you’re going about selling fracking fluids and contaminated wells needs some honing.  It’s no good sitting in a meeting room hoping we’ll  find you.  (Many of us are hanging on by a thread and what with working 2 or 3 jobs,  we don’t have a lot of  time or energy  for your little soirees.)

And for sure,  it doesn’t help your case  to simply deny there’s a problem.  Granted, most of us who’ve been  living in  The Basin or rural New York, Colorado, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Texas, Louisiana and Ohio  for decades or centuries don’t have a lot of financial  resources but we’re not stupid  for Pete’s sake.  We can read a local newspaper!  We know about Dimock, PA,  Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Ohio…  It doesn’t help your cause if people  think you’re hiding  a bunch of garbage in a closet.  So in your interest, I  urge you to  come clean.

3.  The best way to promote an idea in a tight-knit community is to  be vested in that community and to have a ton of good-hearted friends:  join the local fire company;  become a well-known agitator whom people trust whether or not they  like you and help bolster your local resources —  rivers, land, schools,  local production & distribution of food and goods.   The list is long and varied so step right up.  Here are a couple  PR beauts you could jump on in a split instant:

  • Vest yourself in the community.  I know it’s not a tact you’re familiar with so it bears some explanation.  For instance,  you can volunteer to help farmers get the hay in during the season.  You can deliver cups of coffee to our  volunteer  firemen who work long hours all day and then roll out of bed when the fire alarm peals.  If that sounds like overkill, at least  provide jobs for local people.  They’ll remember you fondly, I promise!
  • Support the  Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act of 2009 so all the nervous Nellies out there feel appeased and safe.  If history’s a clue, you probably won’t have to  fix any of the problems you create but at least you’ll look responsible.
  • Stop funding Congress.  It makes you look bad and detracts from the wonderful product you’re promoting.  (People end up thinking you couldn’t sell gas drilling to a tribe of orangutans without having most of them in your pocket.  You can see how unwholesome it makes you appear.)
  • Pay the damned severance tax you convinced Pennsylvania Governer Rendell to pull.  Are you nuts?  (I’m asking as one organizer to another so don’t get in a huff.)  The tax will cost you barely anything in the billion dollar scheme of things and it’s great publicity.  Pay the tax and look like a regular guy.  You can’t buy that kind of good press.
  • The next time you convince a major  American university like Penn State to write a bogus “economic impact study” for you, at least fess up that you funded it.  (Again, we’re not stupid and it makes you and your university stooges look sleazy.  Sorry.  I can’t help you if we can’t be forthright with each other.)
  • If you aren’t vested in the community and you can’t distinguish Sullivan County from Wayne or Orange,  or if  we look like  numbers on a geologic plat map to you, here’s a great idea:   recruit a local organization to front for you.    (I’ve gotta’ tell ya’,  this is a really important piece and the whole Sullivan County Partnership  thing?  You blew it.  True or not,  most of us don’t think they could find the teats on a hog.   (Let’s try this:   give  me a call  and we’ll see if we can’t find you someone less…forgettable.)

Another big help is to know your local media and be trusted by them.  I’ve got to hand it to you on that point.  The work you’ve done with the media in Wayne County, PA  has been inspirational!  Almost as impressive as the national silence on some of the  “ooops”  factors you’ve precipitated in Dimock, Fort Worth and elsewhere.

And that’s where I think we can collaborate.   I’ll introduce you to the crackerjack local media who’ve remained beyond your reach and you can get me 10 minutes  on Lou Dobbs.

Deal?

EPA Confirms Drinking Water Contamination by Toxics Used in Hydraulic Fracturing

As part of a Superfund investigation, EPA began sampling in March 2009 in the Pavillion, WY area in response to multiple landowners concerns about changes in water quality and quantity following EnCana’s increased gas development in the area. Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) and EnCana had continually assured Pavillion residents that there was no evidence of hydrocarbons or toxic chemicals in their drinking water wells.


(The following joint  press release from Earthworks and The Powder River Basin Resource Council is re-printed here by permission of EarthWorks Action.  At this crux moment in our fight to protect our own Delaware River Basin, no report is  more timely.  Please read the story and then organize a Light Up The Delaware River Party.  Many of us believe  The Delaware River Basin Commission will decide the Basin’s fate by mid-October or earlier.  9-6-09 is our moment to come together as a Basin Community and say, “We need Environmental Impact Statements, cumulative effects studies and evidence that someone, somewhere will be monitoring the drilling industry and its disposal of toxins.”)

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EPA Confirms Drinking Water Contamination by Toxics Used in Hydraulic Fracturing

Joint Press Release: EARTHWORKS * Powder River Basin Resource Council

EPA will investigate nearby oil and gas development to determine contamination source

Pavillion, WY citizens call for fracking moratorium

Pavillion, WY, August 14, 2009 – This week U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told a group of over 70 that initial investigations found 11 of 39 tested drinking water wells were contaminated. Among the contaminants are toxics used in oil and gas production.

As part of a Superfund investigation, EPA began sampling in March 2009 in the Pavillion, WY area in response to multiple landowners concerns about changes in water quality and quantity following EnCana’s increased gas development in the area. Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ) and EnCana had continually assured Pavillion residents that there was no evidence of hydrocarbons or toxic chemicals in their drinking water wells.

“Our families and neighbors are experiencing everything from miscarriages and rare cancers to central nervous system disorders, seizures, and liver disease” said John Fenton of Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens, a citizens group formed to address oil and gas contamination.

EPA confirmed the presence of 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE), a known constituent in hydraulic fracturing fluids, in three wells. This is the same chemical that was documented in the water well of Laura Amos, a Colorado landowner, after nearby wells were hydraulically fractured by EnCana. EPA reported that other water contamination, in the Pavillion wells, included methane, as well as adamantanes (a form of hydrocarbon) and six other chemical compounds of concern.

In 2001 EnCana’s fracturing operations in Silt, Colorado were linked to methane and other contamination of Ms. Amos’ nearby water well. Amos was unable to test immediately for chemical constituents related to hydraulic fracturing as she was unable to identify what chemicals were in EnCana’s drilling products. In 2003 Ms. Amos was diagnosed with a rare adrenal cancer and she later discovered that 2-BE had been used in EnCana’s fracking products. According to Dr. Theo Colborn at The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, known health effects of 2-BE include elevated numbers of combined malignant and non-malignant tumors of the adrenal gland, kidney damage, kidney failure, toxicity to the spleen, the bones in the spinal column and bone marrow, liver cancer, anemia, female fertility reduction, and embryo mortality.

As a result of the EPA’s findings, residents in the Pavillion area are now calling for a halt to EnCana’s fracturing operation. “It’s very concerning that we are finding known fracturing products and hydrocarbons in our citizens’ water wells,” says John Fenton. “We’ll await EPA’s determination as to what is the cause of this contamination. However, in the mean time, we are asking EnCana to ensure no more fracturing occurs in the area.”

EPA stated that they will continue sampling, meeting with all parties and working with EnCana to determine the source and extent of the contamination. Randy Tuween, an EnCana representative at the meeting, pledged to fully cooperate with the community and EPA officials.

“Full cooperation in this instance requires that EnCana fully disclose what products and chemicals have been used in the Pavillion/Muddy Ridge fields,” says Deb Thomas, organizer for the Power River Basin Resource Council and the Pavillion Area of Concerned Citizens. “This shows why federal regulation of fracturing and drilling operations is so important. We have been seeking answers from EnCana and the State of Wyoming for years. We are very pleased that EPA is now getting results. All citizens deserve clean water.”

In June, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (S. 1215/HR 2766) was introduced to require disclosure of fracturing chemicals to public agencies and to lift the exemption for hydraulic fracturing under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The legislation, known as the FRAC Act ensures that a federal minimum standard would prohibit endangerment of underground sources of drinking water while allowing states flexibility in implementing that standard.

“Citizens throughout the country have been reporting changes in their water well’s quality and quantity after nearby hydraulic fracturing operations for years and voicing concerns about both short and long-term health effects,” said Jennifer Goldman of Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project. “The FRAC Act is critical to ensuring that we know what toxics are being injected into and near our aquifers and to holding the oil and gas industry accountable for the environmental and health impacts.”

*** END ***

For More Information

Contacts:

  • Deb Thomas, Powder River Resource Basin Council: 307-645-3236
  • Jennifer Goldman, EARTHWORKS: 406-587-4473
  • John Fenton: 307 856-7098

On hydraulic fracturing:
http://www.earthworksaction.org/hydfracking.cfm

On the inadequate regulation of hydraulic fracturing:
http://www.earthworksaction.org/halliburton.cfm

On Laura Amos, the Colorado landowner poisoned by 2-BE (including links to the Endocrine Disruption Exchange report on 2-BE)
http://www.earthworksaction.org/cvLauraAmos.cfm

On the Powder River Basin Council
http://www.powderriverbasin.org

EARTHWORKS | 1612 K St., NW, Suite 808 | Washington, D.C., USA 20006
202.887.1872 | info@earthworksaction.org | Privacy Policy

Light Up The Delaware River Party: “Shot Heard ‘Round The World?”

If you live in The Delaware River Basin, love it’s Wild & Scenic Specially Protected Waters or just like hanging out with your friends at gigunda parties,


RedBackedPoster

If you live in The Delaware River Basin,  love its Wild & Scenic Specially Protected Waters or just like hanging out with your friends at gigunda parties, here are a few free and easy (some harder)  ways you can help make  the Light Up The Delaware River Party  “the shot heard ’round the world.”

Follow the links on the  red poster to:

NB:  Last night, I told you CottageWorks was hosting the “Light Up The Delaware River Party because we hadn’t had a chance to create a stand-alone site for it.   When I woke up this morning,  I had an email from the indefatigable Tanyette.  During the night, she’d created the site and sent it live.  I’m still stunned by her determination and energy.  Thank you, thank you, Tanyette!

Light Up The Delaware River: 9-6-09 Is Party Day!


In my July 17, 2009 post, I wrote, “Imagine a   Delaware River Basin [Party]…that stretches the entire 330 miles of the Basin.  Each river community will go  to the river and each person will pour a single cup of water into it.

“When Gandhi led the Indian people to the sea to make salt…the British Empire laughed…. They made fun of the ‘little brown man,’  as the newsreels described the Mahatma.  But, when images of thousands and thousands of people making salt  hit the international  teletypes,… the sun began to set on the British Empire.

“…[at  the Delaware River Party]  I imagine,   each community will organize whatever ancillary celebrations they want — a festival,  show movies, sell locally-produced goods, play baseball, sleep, camp out  —  so long as they do it on the banks of the River.  And that  night,…a candlelight vigil  will stretch 330 miles.

“Dream on,  right?   But that image and the power in it  are  far more imaginable to me than what the drillers have planned for our Valley.”

*    *    *    *

The response was a startling, unanimous, “Let’s do it!”

So  Leni Santoro  (The Catskill Chronicle) and I  are hitting the road  for our “Light Up The Delaware River”  trip that starts this Friday August 14, 2009 in Philadelphia, PA and ends in Hancock, NY  on August 16th.

We’ll be hand-delivering  September 6, 2009 (Labor Day) Delaware River Basin Party invitations to as many community organizations and activists as we can reach.  (If you’d like to meet up with us along the road, don’t be shy!  Email me at:  Ljbucar@earthlink.net               Best of all, you can download a printable version of the  invitation at the end of this post.)

The threat to the Delaware River Basin cannot be exaggerated so we’re asking local community organizers to do a ridiculous amount of work  in a very short  time.

Once you have the party invitation in hand and on your computer (download below)  please:

  • Alert your local media about our road trip and  The Delaware River Basin Labor Day Party.   (Media websites always have an email address where you can send press releases and news tidbits.)
  • Email the invitation to your friends and family so they can
  • Help you distribute the invitations door-to-door or in front of your local post offices or wherever else  people gather in your community.
  • Forward it to all the river-lovers, water-lovers, community organizers, environmental groups and media you know.
  • Post your community’s  “Party Day Plans”  to the brand new “Light Up The Delaware River Party” website.
  • Search Light Up The Delaware River Party” for events in your area and help promote them.
  • Let all your friends and relatives know that they can follow  the road trip and party plans at Twitter,  “Light Up The Delaware River Party,” Breathing Is Political and The Catskill Chronicle.
  • If you have time, organize  complimentary  celebrations  in your community.  (One group is  sponsoring  a  “Toxic Canoe Regatta,”  but whatever you plan, do it on the banks of the River.)

Fifteen million people depend on The Delaware River Basin for their water so it’s critical that this Labor Day  we focus national attention on the  dangers posed to it by drilling and fracking.    We need as many people and media as possible to gather  along the banks of the River on September 6, 2009 to celebrate the  works of the River, its culture and its people.

The evening of the party, at  7:00 PM,  each person  in each community will pour a single cup of water into the River.  At  7:30 PM,  we’ll light our candles — a 330-mile long beacon  — from Hancock to Philadelphia.

In a recent article I wrote, “On July 15, 2009, the Delaware River Basin Commission  (DRBC)   extended the public comment period on Chesapeake Appalachia’s  application to begin withdrawing up to 30 million gallons of surface water per month for a ten year period.”

Many of us worry that despite its inclinations, the DRBC will be politically-driven to render approval.  Such approval will open the door to what both conservationists and drilling proponents predict will be  thousands of  wells in the Basin.

In accord with Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS), Leni and I want  the DRBC to table all drilling and fracking applications until after an  Environmental Impact Statement has been issued and independent, scientific studies have evaluated  the cumulative impacts of drilling, fracking and waste water disposal on the Delaware River Basin.

When you’re at The Delaware River Basin Party on September 6, 2009, don’t forget to  sign up to support  the legal battles  Damascus Citizens for Sustainability has been  waging on behalf of the Basin as well as the expertise it’s  been gathering over the past eighteen months.  In large part, DCS is  the reason there’s still a battle to win.

Click this flyer  link for a printable version of the Delaware River Party Invitation:  8-11-09 flyer

Opinion: Defend Local Food AND Water

Perhaps the following ideas for a more unified community plan will encourage others to add more pieces. Without a plan, I fear our region will end up divided against itself:

1. Listen to local producers and work cooperatively with them to build the Buy Local movement in our communities;
2. Create a Delaware River Basin Buy Fresh Network or similar cooperative union of local producers and local consumers;


On July 19, 2009, Eileen Cear posted a comment to Breathing Is Political which I’ve excerpted here:

“What about the poor people living here for generations. We NYC people(I’m actually on Long island), but own property in the watershed, take such advantage of this area, and take away all future developement for people [who] have been here first. Remember what we all did to the Indians. We need to do something for upstate, not only take-and direct ALL future activites in the name of being our Playground.”

In re-reading my response to her comment, I have to say that I blew  by Ms. Cear’s very real concerns about the future of farmers and long-time property holders in the Delaware River Basin.

On July 11, 2009, I’d written,  “If I thought a line of  Neo-Gandhis standing in front of the [natural gas] drilling equipment would  turn the tide, I’d do it in a heartbeat but I still wouldn’t know how to convince the grocery clerk, the farmer or the graduate to join me.”

Perhaps the following ideas for a more unified community plan will encourage others to add more pieces.  Without a plan, I fear  our region will end up divided against itself:

1.   Listen to local producers and work cooperatively with them to build the Buy Local movement in our communities;
2.   Create a Delaware River Basin Buy Fresh Network or  similar  cooperative union of local producers and local consumers;

3.   Create a local coalition of  producers, retailers/wholesalers, lenders, consumers and government entities to:

Support distribution of local goods through local outlets.

Support retail and wholesale markets whose inventory is comprised of         60-75% local goods.  Encourage them to build cooperative purchasing         models that can reduce the cost of goods;

Support  politicians and candidates who work with local producers,               retailers,  wholesalers, lenders and local consumers to make local                   distribution economically viable and to promote the cooperative
distribution of local goods to local outlets;

Support local banks with a track record of lending to local producers            for capital improvements and expansion which result in greater                   production and availability of local goods;

Support new tax structures that encourage local production,                   distribution and sales of local products.

Encourage local schools and restaurants to buy/serve locally-produced         foods.

The day we stand beside the Delaware River to pour in our cups of water and to celebrate our roles as caretakers,  we must also pledge to join our farmers in creating vibrant, dependable markets for their goods. Our communities are actively harmed when we buy fruits, veggies, grains, dairy and meat products that originate a thousand miles from our tables. Without local control of our community resources, it’s difficult to understand how our communities will survive.

*   *   *   *
Here are more links with good information for those of us who are  as committed to preserving our local food resources as we are to rescuing our River and water:

Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF)
Transition US
Go Green NOLA
Food Routes

There are also a bunch of local  “Green Beings”  and Community Resource links here.

Locally, Sullivan Transition is meeting Monday, July 27, 2009 from 6 to 8 PM at Cornell Cooperative Extension. The group is dedicated to planning “…our LOCAL future in regard to food, green building and energy, education/awareness raising, local currency and economy, transportation, water and other resources…” Please see the CottageWorks Community Calendar for contact information and additional details.

Opinion: DRBC Postpones Debacle. What’s A Conservationist to Do?

Imagine a Delaware River Basin Conservation Day (or some other snazzier name!) that stretches the entire 330 miles of the Basin. Each river community will go down to the river and each person will pour a single cup of water into it. Conservation NOT exploitation.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Remember when Gandhi led the Indian people to the sea to make salt? The British Empire laughed. They smirked.


I say to you  as I’ve said  regularly  to my long-suffering  children,  if you never listen to another word I say,  listen to me now:

The Delaware River Basin is threatened by the natural gas industry and hydraulic fracturing.  If you love the  river and its environs,  now is the time to act.  There won’t  be another moment.  In years to come, when  your water is spoiled and your land is worthless,  this is the moment you will remember and you  will ask yourself,  “What was so important that I didn’t protect the River Valley when I had the chance?”

The Delaware River Basin Commission  (DRBC) is under pressure from  the natural gas drilling industry, politicians, property holders and farmers dying on the vine.  The Commission’s decision to extend the public comment period on Chesapeake’s application was a gift to Conservationists but also provides drilling proponents with  additional time to concentrate their forces.

What can conservationists  do with the two months we’ve been given?

First rule of organizing:  identify your resources  and bring them to bear.  I’ll start with mine and those sent in by others. You add your own. (Three rules govern  community brainstorming:   think big,  fluidly  and don’t turn your nose up at any idea. It might not stand on its own but with others to bolster it,  the fabric becomes more whole.)

RESOURCES I see  that can be brought to bear in saving the Delaware River Basin:

The indescribable beauty of the area, the  thousands of people who started visiting as children and who now bring their grandchildren,  Robert Kennedy, Jr.,  Alan and Sandra Gerry, Jimmy Carter (flyfishing, flyfishing, flyfishing),  River and Mountainkeepers, WJFF,  The River Reporter, Sullivan Transition, Pete Seeger, The Sloop Clearwater, Upper Delaware Networkers,  Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, Wayne and Sullivan Peace Groups, Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development,  the many new groups springing up the length of the Delaware Basin in its defense, Thich Nhat Hanh,  the internet and its viral capacity, our kids,  Josh Fox, musicians, artists, writers, photographers, Maurice Hinchey, Hello Honesdale!, private lands where people can camp when they come for the day, Lawrence Rockefeller, Dan Rather, Amanda Burden, Charlie Rose, the New York City Council,  Wayne County Audobon Society, citizen journalists and commentators like Leni Santoro (Catskill Chronicle), Breathing is Political and Zest of Orange…

Of course, once we have our resources “on board,”  we have to give them something to do.

Imagine a   Delaware River Basin  Conservation Day (or some other snazzier name!) that stretches the entire 330 miles of the Basin.  Each river community will go  down to the river and each person will pour a single cup of water into it.  Conservation NOT exploitation.

Sounds silly,  doesn’t it?  Remember  when Gandhi led the Indian people to the sea to make salt?  The British Empire laughed.  They smirked.  They made fun of the “little brown man”  (as the newsreels described the Mahatma).  But then, the images of thousands and thousands of people making salt  hit the international  teletypes  and  in that moment,  the sun began to set on the British Empire.

On the Conservation Day I imagine,   each community will organize whatever ancillary celebrations they want — a festival,  show movies, sell locally-produced goods, play baseball, sleep, camp out  —  so long as they do it on the banks of the River.  And that  night,  when orbiting  satellites can see it,  a candlelight vigil  will stretch 330 miles.   Dream on,  right?   But that image and the power in it  are  far more imaginable to me than what the drillers have planned for our Valley.

And if “too few people show up?”

I’m reminded of the political candidate who suggested during the last election cycle that certain members of Congress  should be investigated for Un-American activities.  Within 24 hours, the viral capacity of the internet had dumped $1 million dollars into her opponent’s campaign coffers.  (The poor man was absolutely flummoxed by  the unexpected bounty!)  We have the rest of July and all of August to organize  before Labor Day (if that’s the weekend we choose).   We have nothing to lose by thinking as large and inclusively as we can.   By the end of September,  the DRBC will most likely have made its decision on Chesapeake’s application to begin their surface water  withdrawals.  (For a detailed explanation of what the withdrawals will look like, please see James Barth’s lucid explanation in the “comments”  section following my last post, “Delaware River Basin Commission: Postpones 30,000,000 Gallon Withdrawal from Delaware River.”)

CottageWorks and Breathing Is Political will each donate $200 for the purpose of promoting the Day of Conservation. Whatever consortium of groups is willing to help organize the event, the money is theirs.

Finally,  I want to address the issue of language.  We who protect are often in defensive mode. Whether we stand in defense of the Constitution or our world’s ecology,   our position is often a response to a perceived threat.  In consequence,  we’re portrayed as the “antis”:  anti-war, anti-frakking, anti-nuclear, anti-business, anti-farmers.  I no longer submit to that characterization.  I am not “an anti-frakker.”  Besides being a nasty assortment of consonants,  I’m  not “anti-” anything.  I am a Conservationist.  I am  a walking, talking, thinking, loving,  nurse, construction worker, paralegal, writer and former farmworker.  And I’m pro-water, baby!

Many thanks to Karl Rove for the instruction.

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Delaware River Basin Commission: Postpones 30,000,000 Gallon Withdrawal from Delaware River

Filmmaker, Josh Fox (Water Under Attack) asked a series of questions which, for the most part, went unanswered. “Who will be monitoring the wells and the trucks hauling the waste water? If that monitoring is a requirement of the application process, is there a body that will enforce the regulations? I’ve witnessed trucks dumping fluids. I have glass jars full of stuff that truckers were ordered to dump in the Susquehanna River.”


The  Delaware River Basin Commission’s  agenda for July 15, 2009 contained twenty docketed items for review.  The meeting was scheduled for 1:00 pm.  At noon, except for some media crews, the Hearing room was empty.   By 12:55, in the middle of a gorgeous summer workday, it was standing-room-only. Interested parties plugged laptops into outlets and blessed wireless networks.

Several  items docketed for DRBC review were approved with little discussion.  Only two or three  members of the public addressed applications other than  Docket #20 and with each  DRBC decision, the audience  shifted, taking deep calming breaths.

At 1:36 PM,  the DRBC announced “that the public record on [DRAFT DOCKET D-2009-20-1] will remain open until Wednesday, July 29, 2009 to allow an additional opportunity for the public to submit written comments.”  Some  in the audience weren’t sure they’d heard correctly but it was official:  no decision would be made  on Docket #20 until after the extended public comment period passed.

Why had  DRAFT DOCKET D-2009-20-1  roused residents of the Delaware River Basin to leave their farms and offices in the middle of a work week?

On May 19, 2009, according to the DRBC website,  DRBC Executive Director Carol R. Collier announced that sponsors of  natural gas extraction projects “could not begin any natural gas extraction project located in shale formations within the drainage area of the basin’s Special Protection Waters without first applying for and obtaining commission approval.  This determination.. asserts commission review over all aspects of natural gas extraction projects in shale formations within the drainage area of the basin’s Special Protection Waters, regardless of the amount of water withdrawn or the capacity of domestic sewage treatment facilities accepting fracking wastewater.

On May 22, 2009 Chesapeake Appalachia  asked the DRBC “to review” its request  to remove up to 30 million gallons of surface water from the West Branch of the Delaware River over a period of 30 days “to support Chesapeake’s
natural gas development and extraction activities…for natural gas wells drilled into the Marcellus Shale and other shale formations…for the applicant’s exploration and development of natural gas wells in the State of New York and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

Less than 40 working days later,  the public was sitting in the DRBC Hearing Room.

Although the majority of  speakers  supported  the Executive Director’s May 19, 2009 determination, several raised issues of  agency jurisdiction and enforcement responsibility. Filmmaker, Josh Fox (Water Under Attack) asked a series of questions which, for the most part, went  unanswered.  “Who will be monitoring the wells and the trucks hauling the waste water?  If  that monitoring is a requirement of the application process, is there a body that  will enforce the regulations?  I’ve witnessed trucks dumping fluids.  I have glass jars full of stuff that truckers were ordered to dump in the Susquehanna River.”

Most projections  by both opponents and supporters of natural gas drilling anticipate  tens of thousands of wells being drilled in the Basin.  It’s clear that no federal or state agency has budgetary funds  to monitor the majority of  water withdrawals, their impact on the river or  where the waste water is dumped and under what conditions. Mr. Fox summed up the sentiments of the majority of  speakers,  “They’re [natural gas drilling corporations] going to lawyer us to death.  You’ll need a private army to enforce any regulations.”

Another opponent of   hydraulic fracturing in the  Basin asked that drilling companies test wells of any person living in  the Basin both before and after drilling commences and not limit the testing to potable water.  Yet another suggested that drilling companies pay for the water they use in their operations.

Specific to the amount of water being withdrawn, several speakers addressed water temperature, stressing that  variations will endanger the Basin’s shad and trout populations.

Over the last decade,  the Basin has sustained lengthy periods of drought that resulted in flash flooding when the rains finally arrived.  “What will happen to the open pits of waste water during a flash flood?” one woman asked while someone else demanded,  “Will drilling companies be required to stop withdrawals during a drought?  Will they have the financial ability to stop the withdrawals?”

One member of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS)  said after the Hearing,  “We asked the DRBC to do an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) prior to considering any application for gas extraction activity in the basin.  DCS attorney Jeffrey Zimmerman spoke and had previously submitted a detailed letter to the Commissioners.  We believe there are legal grounds for requiring this EIS.”

The  DCS has also posted a “Help Save the Delaware from Gas Drilling  revised petition at its website and is asking the public to continue submitting statements to the DRBC.

Comprehensive oversight and enforcement by the DRBC is constrained by The Delaware River Basin Compact and a US Supreme Court Decree (Section 3.5 (c)) which apparently gives  de facto veto power to the Compact’s   signatories:  The President of The United States and the Governors of Delaware, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania.

That’s where confusion and mixed intent reign.

Politically-speaking, State Governors are often the first to be voted out of  office  when the national economy tanks.  Governor Rendell of Pennsylvania lifted the ban on drilling in State forests and called natural gas drilling  of the Marcellus Shale a potential Gold Rush while saying significant problems caused by early exploration must be balanced with its benefits.  His  Department of Environmental Protection appointee, John Hanger, provided more insight as to the Commonwealth’s position on hydraulic fracturing and natural gas drilling, “… some of the chemicals could be dangerous to human health but the  risk has to be weighed against the benefits that will come from the exploitation of…the ‘enormous’ gas reserves contained in the Marcellus Shale.”   Although “he pledged that officials would respond diligently to any complaints about polluted water resulting from the drilling,”  he was unable to  “confirm or deny reports that water in the northeast Pennsylvania township of Dimock — where many producing wells are located — is being contaminated by chemicals…”

To add further confusion,  DRBC’s rules and regulations state, “The Commission will rely on signatory party reviews as much as possible”  which may be one of the points Governor Rendell intends to press.

Proponents of natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing repeated their assertions that new drilling methods and chemicals are safe, though none cited to  any independent scientific studies.   Noel Van Swol of Fremont alluded to DCS and their ilk as “dilettantes.” He further stated, “Seventy thousand acres are ready to be leased in New York from Hancock to Port  Jervis.  The towns are dying.  Anti-drilling presentations falsely assume that water withdrawals from the Delaware are not renewable,”  and claimed rainfall would replenish the water taken by drilling companies.

Our world’s water supply is a closed system.  Despite Mr. Van Swol’s  assertions, rainfall cannot “replenish” that closed system.  It’s merely one inherent part of it.

The next business meeting and public hearing of the Delaware River Basin Commission will be on Wednesday, September 23, 2009.