Tag Archives: department of environmental conservation

Gas Drilling : New York State Moratorium


I’ve noticed a recurrence in visits from people who are reaching Breathing Is Political because they’re searching for information about a “moratorium in New York State.”

To clarify,  New York is functioning under a  de facto moratorium until the State is satisfied with  the Department of Environmental Conservation’s draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dSGEIS) on drilling/hydraulic fracturing.  If and when that statement is accepted as the definitive guideline for drilling oversight and enforcement in NYS,  it is generally accepted or feared  that the  “moratorium” will come to an end and drilling in NYS will commence.

An excellent response has been written to the dSGEIS by Dr. Ron Bishop and I’m hoping to have his permission to publish it at Breathing by tomorrow or the next day.

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.

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

**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.

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

*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.

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

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.”