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

Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs says, “There are no coincidences in a murder investigation.” What about in cases of “depraved indifference?” When Coca Cola’s bottling practices destroyed water tables in India, didn’t the company know, as a “reasonable person,” that the local farmers and communities would be decimated?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good informational links:

Hydraulic fracturing and  fishing

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Gas Extraction, Hydraulic Fracturing, Earthquakes and the Water Supply

The drilling technique the article refers to is called “hydraulic fracturing”, and if the gas and oil companies have their way, there will be 50,000 to 75,000 such projects in the Delaware River Basin, and the NYC Watershed area in the coming 10 or 20 years.


(James Barth’s commentary in response to the New York Times article, Deep in Bedrock, Clean Energy and Quake Fears was recommended for its “thoughtfulness” by The NY Times’ editorial staff.  It is re-printed here by permission of the author and with appreciation by Breathing Is Political.  Also, please follow these links for the earthquake threat in New York State, FEMA’s Earthquake Hazard Map and Water Under Attack, a new documentary by filmmaker Josh Fox)

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The drilling technique the article refers to is called “hydraulic fracturing”, and if the gas and oil companies have their way, there will be 50,000 to 75,000 such projects in the Delaware River Basin, and the NYC Watershed area in the coming 10 or 20 years. They will not be drilling to release geothermal energy, but what we call “natural gas”.  The Marcellus shale, which underlies most of Pennsylvania and extends into the Catskills and Southern Tier of NY State, is the prime target of the gas and oil industry. Other shale layers may be targeted, and indeed even sandstone layers, like the Oriskany, which Chesapeake is currently drilling into in Wayne County, PA.

These wells will be drilled up to a depth of 9,000 feet (or greater), and then they will turn horizontal for another 3,000 to 5,000 feet in length before being hydraulically fractured through our pristine aquifers using proprietary toxic chemicals that the companies, like Halliburton and Schlumberger, manufacture and sell. These companies and these toxic solutions are exempted from the Clean Water, Safe Drinking Water, Clean Air and Right to Know Acts (among others) by the absurd amendments that were included in the July 29, 2005 Energy Act that was passed by Congress.

Not only do we fear correctly for the health of our drinking water systems from this drilling, but now, as it is explained in this article, we have to fear the potential seismic ramifications of these projects. These potential seismic activities further undermine any credible claims by the oil and gas industry that such drilling will never endanger our drinking water. Whether such earthquakes will topple buildings or not, they certainly will undermine any pathetic cement bonding and sealing that this industry claims will keep the production gas, and poisonous cocktails from migrating upwards into our aquifers.

I’m very grateful that the Times published this article. I’m also mystified  as to why it is about drilling for geothermal energy in California, when the Times has not yet published one article that explores the potential devastating implications to the health and environment of our immediate New York City area  that such horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing poses! This threat has been loud and developing over the past one and a half years in our region. It is well past time for the NY Times to directly take on this issue, and for the more than fifteen million area residents who depend on this water for life, to become aware of it.