Tag Archives: DEC

NY Gas Lobby vs. NY Assembly, Moratorium and Home Rule


On April 2, 2010,  NYS Assembly bill 10490 was referred to the New York Assembly’s  Environmental Conservation Committee (EnCon).  The Bill  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.

On April, 13, 2010,  NYS Assembly Bill  10633 was referred to the Assembly’s EnCon Committee.  The  “home rule” bill will give local governments  zoning control over where gas drilling can occur in their jurisdictions.

Two days later, April 15th,  was a busy, busy day in New York gas news:

  • New York’s gas extraction lobby, the  Independent Oil & Gas Association (IOGA-NY)  proposed to  rescue “New York State’s environmental and parks budgets”  by  drilling in New York’s protected park lands.  IOGA-NY’s  press release  asserted, “New York State could raise more than $200 million in fiscal year 2010-11…” and urged, “expediting the auction of state land leases and the application approval process.”  (According to Governor Patterson’s Budget Briefing Book, the current budget deficit  is $3.2 billion and is expected to reach $6.8 billion in 2010-11, $14.3 billion in 2011-12 and by 2013,  $20.7 billion.)
  • At the same conference, “DEC Director of Mineral Resources, Bradley Field…[said] the entire process, including the issuance of [gas drilling] permits, would be finished in 2010.”

To ensure that  New York  taxpayers get a return on  the billions of gallons of free water the gas companies use in gas extraction and to offset the possible contamination of  State parks  “which welcome “more than 55 million visitors each year,” (2009 Annual Report)  Governor Patterson has proposed a 3% severance tax on some gas extraction companies. (Budget Briefing Book, pp 98-99). Unfortunately, the tax won’t be levied  until 2011-12 and will garner only  $1 million in revenues.

(By comparison,  Texas’  2007 severance tax on the  gas industry was  7.5% and produced  $2.76 billion in revenues.   Mayor Tillman of DISH, TX assured an audience in Callicoon, NY,

“We don’t have a state income tax in Texas.  We have the severance tax on the gas companies.  It’s good for a lot of reasons.   The tax is paid by volume on the gas so if you’re leasing,  you’ve got a measurement of how much your wells are producing.  It’ll tell you how much gas is coming out of the ground and how much money you should be getting.”   (A previous Breathing article,  referenced a court judgment that found   Chesapeake had defrauded royalty owners in Texas out of $134 million in payments by under-reporting the amount of  gas Chesapeake extracted from its lessor’s wells.) Tillman continued to tout the benefits of enacting a severance tax,  “Do you have enough inspectors in  New York?   A severance tax could pay for that, too.”  Then, looking out over the audience,  he asked,  “How are the roads holding out around here?”  When the audience groaned and laughed, he said,  “A severance tax can fix that.”

Although IOGA-NY’s April 15th  press release expressed concern for  the terrible state of  New York’s finances,  the gas lobby  continues  to oppose a severance tax  while urging lawmakers to entrust  the State’s public lands  to them for $200 million.

Despite the industry’s offer,  Texas’ annual severance tax of  7.5% sounds like a better deal than the 3% proposed by Governor Patterson or our $200 million share in their multi-billion dollar profits; especially since  the DEC  (dSGEIS, Chapter 9, page 6) estimates, “… 2,000 wells per year ± 25% in the New York Marcellus play.”

Two thousand wells per year?  Only 29 new DEC staff  (Budget Briefing Book, page 53) to oversee billions of gallons of  toxic fracking fluids and  radioactive waters produced by the fracking process?   Billions of dollars of gas company  profits on the backs of New York State’s  taxpayers and our  parks  and  water resources?  Billions of gallons of our water used in  fracking operations for free?   And the gas lobby believes  we can be bought off with a $200 million mosquito bite out of our multi-billion dollar deficit?

Email, call or write your Assembly and  Senate members  and tell them to support a Moratorium and local control over the siting of gas wells in our communities. (Assembly member Aileen Gunther has already signed on to both bills.)  Call your friends and neighbors.  Email them this article so they know what’s at stake. And then, write  letters to the editors of your local newspapers.  Spread the word any way you can.  The gas lobby has the money.  We have the votes.

Get busy and  we can do the other thing Mayor Tillman suggested,  “Get it right.  Learn from the mistakes made in DISH, TX.”

DISH, TX…where new studies have revealed that not only were the air and water  contaminated by the gas industry, but so were  the people.

And look again at the April timeline  above.  The gas lobby has drawn a bead on elected representatives who are working for community rights, Home Rule and studies of  hydraulic fracturing. Is the lobby worried New York residents and taxpayers will vote for the health and welfare of New York and against gas company profits and a few pieces of silver?

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.

Gas Drilling : Sullivan County’s Hazards Mitigation Plan


In early January 1987,  emergency sirens in Cochecton, Lake Huntington  and Callicoon shattered  the cold  afternoon.*    The children and I stared fearfully at the Plektron© where it sat on its living room shelf  crackling with meager details.  Like any good fire chief’s wife, I didn’t  pick up the phone to call him.  He’d ring us  the minute he had a chance.

Slowly, painfully,  news reached us.  A train had derailed just behind the Callicoon hospital on route 97.  A chemical had spilled and was filling the air with  caustic vapor.

Snow and mud were making access difficult.  All we knew for certain was that several train  cars had jumped the track and were lying on their sides.

For hours,  the nature and toxicity of the chemical remained unknown but  our husbands, brothers and  sons  were having trouble seeing and  breathing.  The Ladies Auxiliaries prepared coffee and sandwiches that remained undelivered.  We were banned from the site.  Our unanswered questions floated in the air around us,  “Where’s Conrail?  What kind of  poison is it?  What’s happening to our men?”

Barely two miles south of the spill,  as our eyes and throats began to tingle,  we learned that young Doc Salzberg had rolled up his sleeves and was helping to evacuate the hospital.  There were too few ambulances for speed or efficiency.

The baby in my belly kicked as my own fear rose.  At some point,  I remembered to feed his brother and sisters and thanked the fates we weren’t amongst the families being forced from their homes.

That was the night  we learned there were serious holes in our  county-wide disaster response.

Within weeks of the incident, local leaders, representatives of ConRail and our Congressional representatives gathered at the Cochecton Firehouse and began to rectify the situation.  It was an admirable and worthy effort on the part of a small county with minimal resources and to this day,  I couldn’t be more grateful for the care our leaders showed.

Fast forward to 2010 and Sullivan County is asking  residents to help update its All-Hazard Mitigation Plan by completing and returning its Hazard Mitigation Questionnaire by March 31, 2010.  According to Sullivan County’s Division of Planning and Environmental Management,  “[The questionnaire] can be mailed, faxed or emailed to Michael Brother at Barton and Loguidice, the consulting firm that is conducting the plan update.  His contact information is listed on the first page of the questionnaire.”

Although the questionnaire does not address  gas drilling or hydraulic fracturing specifically,  comments concerning  the gas extraction industry and its potential for disastrous accidents can be appended at the last page of the questionnaire.

In December 2009,  the Cornell Law School Water Law Clinic submitted its comments on the Draft Supplemental Generic Impact Statement (dSGEIS) issued by New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).  The report stated, “...[DEC’s] current staffing incapacties must be remedied….To demonstrate the critical need for additional field staff, principal tasks specifically identified in the Chapter 7 of the dSGEIS are summarized in the 15-page Memorandum…”

In turn,  the Memorandum states unequivocally,   “…. The scope and extent of these tasks are clearly beyond the capacity of the DEC.” (Cornell comments dsgeis)  (Cornell Law School WLC Memo)

During Mayor Calvin Tillman’s  recent tour of upstate New York and Pennsylvania,   the DISH, Texas official  was asked,  “If a well catches fire in Texas, do local firefighters get called in?”

“No,”  he answered.   “We go to the scene  but  even emergency responders aren’t allowed on a site.  Even if they were,  most  don’t have special training.  If  a relief valve goes off,  our emergency responders  show  up  and  just wait for the guy to turn it off.  We can’t  get access.”

According to  the Environmental Protection Agency’s  (EPA) 2000  report on compliance in the Oil and Gas Extraction Industries, “Oil and gas extraction facilities are inspected much less frequently (46 months between inspections on average) than facilities in most other industries… and the enforcement to inspection ratio (0.05) is among the lowest of the included industries.” (Page 121: Environmental Protection Agency’s  Compliance Assistance Notebooks:  Oil and Gas Extraction Industry)  In a chart on page  120 of the report,  the “enforcement to Inspection Rate” in Region 2  (including New York State)  was  0.17%  while  Region 3’s rate  (including Pennsylvania)  was  .04%.   (More recent data was unavailable at the site.)

So, if  oversight and enforcement of  the gas drilling industry “is beyond  the capacity of the DEC,”  and  the enforcement ratio was already abysmal during Clinton’s “boom times”  in the 1990s,  what disaster mitigation can we expect now in cash-strapped Sullivan County relative to gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing?

Here are a few  clues:

  • if residents see  a possible gas drilling spill or other emergency,  we’re encouraged to call the EPA’s  newly-established TIPLINE  (877-919-4EPA)  or  email the Agency at  eyesondrilling@epa.gov
  • of the 30-plus gas extraction States in  the US,   only  Pennslvania and New York have no severance tax on the industry.  States that have the tax use its revenue for, among other things, community services and infrastructure;
  • under emergency conditions, the FRAC Act (S1215 – 5 sponsors,   HR2766 – 51 sponsors)   would require gas extractors to reveal the  fracturing toxins used at a  particular site.  Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near passage and  consequently,  there is no reason to believe emergency personnel would know the nature of the chemical soup confronting them.

Nonetheless,  as Sullivan County’s Manager, David Fanslau says, “Federal law requires that the municipalities of Sullivan County develop and implement local hazard mitigation plans in order to obtain future FEMA grant monies for hazard mitigation.  These plans must be updated every five years.  Upon final approval from FEMA, Sullivan County and each participating municipality must formally adopt and approve the plan.”

In light of FEMA’s requirements and the potential harm from  drilling activities,  Breathing suggests the following:

  • Encourage  the Sullivan County Legislature  to hold  public meetings where residents can hear  from, and ask questions of, our Commissioners of  Public Health, Public Works, Planning and the County’s emergency responders;
  • Ask your  Town, Village and County representatives if they were present in Narrowsburg on February 19, 2010 when  Mayor Tillman met with local officials to discuss his  and his residents’ experiences with the gas industry in DISH, Texas;
  • Ask your  County Legislator to propose and/or support a Resolution demanding  that New York State maintain a moratorium on gas drilling until  cumulative impact studies have been conducted on the industry and drilling; until Congress completes its investigation of  the industry’s practices;  until residents can be assured of adequate oversight and enforcement of the industry; until  New York State has a severance tax which can be used to train emergency personnel and maintain our infrastructure; and until the FRAC Act has been passed and communities have full-knowledge of the  toxins we’ll confront in an emergency.

Some County Legislators can be be contacted  here and if you’re not sure which District is yours, look on this Legislative District map.

Individual Town websites will have contact information for your Supervisor and Town Board.

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**Sullivan County’s Gas Drilling Task Force Report.   Its  Emergency Mitigation portion is excerpted here:

“Along with impacts to local road infrastructure, emergency management  issues are another concern at the local level. Interviews with Emergency
Management counterparts in other parts of New York State indicate that gas  drilling companies have been very good to allow the emergency services (police,
fire and EMS) to attend training sessions which explain how and where a drilling  operation will be set up to include a site visit and hands on question sessions. In
summary, our investigation has shown that most natural gas production wells are located in the Western part of the state and the Emergency Service agencies in
those counties have reported no fire or health hazardous to be associated in there areas for the past twenty plus years.  A few safeguard measures and protocols must be instituted:

  • We must be provided with a list of operational telephone numbers and  email addresses of management contacts and especially emergency contacts that can be called in the event  of an incident near or at a drill  site.
  • Each well site will need a 911 address and access information (gate and lock locations plus access) to ensure that emergency response units can access the site. As will be discussed in the section to follow, the driveway permit process at the town level can be integrated with 911 addressing provided by the Sullivan County Division of Planning. As will be discussed in the next section, the driveway permit forms will need to be revised to require a site plan showing the drilling site and driveway access, as well as photos of the site before construction, after a well is installed and after any subsequent change (e.g., when a well is capped or abandoned) requiring a change in or addition to the NYS DEC permit).
  • Interface with NY Alert to inform Sullivan County residents of a chemical spill or gas fire.
  • Communicate with the public about the importance of registering on-line with NY-Alert to secure receipt of notifications of emergencies.
  • Transportation of waste water/or fracing fluid should be reviewed with emergency response agencies by each operator of a drill site.
  • Emergency management personnel should have access to, or know, the contents of the fracing fluids, to know how to treat injuries and protect the health of emergency personnel and medical staff.
  • For the purposes of health treatment by EMS units and hospital ER’s, the exact contents of the fluid should be on record so that proper treatment is made available.
  • Municipal emergency management staffs need to interact with DEC Region 3 Office and the Mineral Division of the DEC to understand the use of blow out preventers during drilling operations to understand how to control unexpected flows of gas which could result in fires. Along with the DEC, municipal emergency management staff should witness a blow out preventer test prior to drilling.
  • Local emergency management personnel should understand the gas flaring procedure and the layout of flow lines. As for pipeline transport of product through the existing natural gas line or new lines as built, we already have emergency reporting information and training as to how to response to a natural gas line break. This information is updated yearly by the Columbia Gas Transmission Company with their contractor for safety:Paradigm Liaison Services, Wichita, KS.

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*Here’s a  NY Times reference to  what we subsequently learned was  an acetaldehyde spill behind the Callicoon Hospital  in 1987:

DERAILMENT IN UPSTATE NEW YORK CALLICOON, N.Y., Jan. 4 (AP) -Twenty-seven cars of a Conrail freight train derailed in a wooded area near the Delaware River this evening, discharging a hazardous chemical from one car and forcing the evacuation of several homes and a small hospital, state police officials said.

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Resources you might find helpful as you fill out the County’s  Hazard Mitigation Questionnaire:

Environmental  Protection Agency’s Emergency Planning and  Community-Right-To-Know Act

Environmental Protection Agency’s  Compliance Assistance Notebooks:  Oil and Gas Extraction Industry

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.”