According to a press release from the Independent Oil and Gas Association of NY (IOGA-NY), “The Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York together with the Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development (Partnership)** will host a public information session to address the environmental, scientific and economic aspects of natural gas exploration.”
At their blog, Marcellus Facts, the IOGA-NY’s agenda is described in significantly different terms, “You can review media coverage, our Homegrown Energy booklet and other materials that highlight the many benefits of natural gas exploration of the Marcellus Shale.” (Italics added for emphasis.)
Fifteen minutes before the 6:30 start time, Bernie’s parking lot was full and cars lined the side of the road.
The meeting opened with remarks by IOGA-NY’s reps who boasted degrees in hydrology, geology and jurisprudence. They were, with the exception of the attorney, folksily garbed in blue jeans and low-key short sleeves.
The audience settled in to view, “Homegrown Energy,” IOGA-NY’s self-described “educational” film which provided a cartoon-style description of the drilling and hydraulic fracturing process.
One audience member asked why IOGA-NY had shown us a cartoon rather than a video of actual fracking operations. “We’re not children,” she added. A while later, the sentiment was amplified by someone else, “Why cartoons? Why don’t you show us how the drilling and fracking look in Fort Worth and Dimock?”
The cartoon film illustrated each stage of the drilling/hydraulic fracturing process. At one point, it assured us that the cement casings (barriers) that are constructed to retain the toxic fracturing fluids and gas are safe and reliable. (However, after a house exploded in East Lake, Ohio, “The Ohio Department of Natural Resources later issued a 153-page report  (PDF) that blamed a nearby gas well’s faulty concrete casing and hydraulic fracturing .)
The cartoon attempted to allay fears concerning the toxic ingredients found in hydraulic fracturing fluid (“mud” — which is injected through the well bore under enormous pressures in order to fracture the shale bed and extract the natural gas contained there.) According to the educational film, the “mud” contains a soup of additives necessary to the process which are commonly found in antibacterial hand washes and dish liquid.
(For information concerning some of the human health concerns surrounding hydraulic fracturing, please click here for an article at the National Institutes of Health.)
The film did not address the Environmental Protection Agency’s list of hydraulic fracturing toxins which includes diesel fuel “…sometimes a component of gelled fluids. Diesel fuel contains constituents of potential concern regulated under SDWA – benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylenes (i.e., BTEX compounds). The use of diesel fuel in fracturing fluids poses the greatest threat to USDWs because BTEX compounds in diesel fuel exceed the MCL at the point-of-injection (i.e. the subsurface location where fracturing fluids are initially injected).”
Industry reps at the Rock Hill meeting denied that “mud” used at their wells will contain toluene even though “Benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylenes are naturally present in many hydrocarbon deposits, and may be present in drilling and fracking chemicals.”) Indeed, the EPA’s 2004 report also states that not all of its listed toxins are present at all fracking operations. This inconsistency and the fact that “The 2005 Energy Policy Act excluded hydraulic fracturing from [Safe Drinking Water Act] jurisdiction,” are why Representatives Diana DeGette and Maurice Hinchey among a few others have introduced The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, which amends the Safe Drinking Water Act.
According to DeGette, “The legislation would repeal the exemption provided for the oil and gas industry and would require them to disclose the chemicals they use in their hydraulic fracturing processes. Currently, the oil and gas industry is the only industry granted an exemption from complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
In response, one of IOGA-NY’s representatives quipped, “Since we were never covered by the Safe Drinking Water Act, you can’t say we were exempted.”
Mr. Noel Van Swol, a property owner in Sullivan County who’s apparently affiliated with the Sullivan-Delaware Property Owners Association was in attendance at the Rock Hill meeting. When asked by Breathing if he would support the “FRAC Act,” and a severance tax on the gas industry he was unequivocal, “There’s no need for it. The Frac Act is just another instance of Maurice Hinchey trying to get publicity for an unnecessary law and we don’t want a severance tax. We want the industry here, not drilling someplace else.”
(Please see this list of organizations which asked Governor Rendell to support a severance tax. Considering the massive natural gas potential of the Marcellus Shale, few people believe the gas industry will abandon it to avoid paying a modest tax.)
In fact, one Wayne County resident who’s recently signed a lease, contacted Breathing to suggest we join forces to support the Frac Act and a severance tax on the gas industry. In an email, she wrote, “I hope that both sides can drop the vitriolic language and concentrate on working together to get clear local, state, and federal oversight of the drilling process including a severance tax so that even those people who do not dirctly benefit from the drilling will see some kind of community financial remuneration for the burdens we will see put upon our communities by the drilling. I also feel very strongly that the 2005 exemption from the Clean Water Act that fracking enjoys must be removed by Congress.”***
Most of the audience’s questions had to do with reports of noise and water pollution resulting from the drilling and fracturing processes. Maria Grimaldi described her trip through a gas drilling area in New Mexico. “It was awful. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.”
Industry representatives reminded the audience that any construction site is noisy. A drilling proponent said, “Look around you, folks. We need the jobs and the money these drilling companies are going to bring. I can put up with a month of ‘boom, boom boom.'”
Some residents living near Texas’ Barnett Shale disagree.
When the IOGA-NY geologist was questioned about reports that hydraulic fracturing had stimulated earthquakes, the geologist claimed to have never heard such allegations. Further, he denied knowing anything about New York State’s history of earthquakes.
Another concern audience members expressed had to do with storage of the fracking fluid once it’s been extracted from the ground. Citing Sullivan County’s history of flash floods, one person asked how the toxic frak fluid would be stored and who would oversee its disposal. Industry representatives said that they would review individual situations but tended to think “we’ll store it in tanks because of the flooding.”
At one point in the evening. IOGA-NY was asked specifically about incidents of toxic contamination in Pavilion, Wyoming, Dimock, Pennsylvania, dead cows in Louisiana and tap water catching fire. At first, the Industry reps dismissed those worries but backed off slightly when a recent EPA report and ProPublica story about Wyoming were mentioned. In part, the article states, “‘It [contamination] starts to finger-point stronger and stronger to the source being somehow related to the gas development, including, but not necessarily conclusively, hydraulic fracturing itself,'” said Nathan Wiser, an EPA scientist and hydraulic fracturing expert who oversees enforcement for the underground injection control program under the Safe Drinking Water Act in the Rocky Mountain region.”)
When one of the Industry representatives asked where people were getting their information, several audience members shouted out, “Water Under Attack! Josh Fox’ movie.” There were also suggestions that members of The Partnership and IOGA-NY watch the film. In response, one of the Industry presenters said, “I’ll talk to [Mr. Fox]. I’ll talk to anyone. Give him my card.” ****
In another back-and-forth having to do with water contamination, IOGA-NY reps told the audience that New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation is one of the strictest and best environmental enforcement agencies in the fifty states. In consequence, he added, New York residents won’t experience the same kinds of problems encountered by residents elsewhere. When Breathing asked if strict oversight would be required in New York to keep us safe from the Industry, the response was, “Gas drilling is an industry. Industrial accidents happen.” In a follow up question, Breathing asked how many DEC oversight and enforcement personnel would be required to keep our environment safe from the Industry.
I got the same answer from IOGA-NY as was offered by the Delaware River Basin Commission on July 15, 2009. No answer.
**When the meeting adjourned, Breathing Is Political and a friend of Light Up The Delaware River had an opportunity to discuss the evening’s event and hydraulic fracturing with Mr. Tim McCausland, President and CEO of the Partnership. I first asked Mr. McCausland to clarify his organization’s relationship with IOGA-NY. “I wouldn’t call it a ‘relationship,'” he answered. “They approached us. Offering sessions like this is part of what The Partnership does.”
This morning, Mr. McCausland sent me The Partnership’s recently-released position statement on gas drilling which reads, “The Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development believes strongly, that if government and industry can collaborate to properly protect and preserve our environment, the development of a natural gas industry in Sullivan County could create substantial economic and fiscal benefits for our landowners and communities — and while the direct economic impacts are vital, the industry must strive to produce: (a) a business model that is locally sustainable, and (b) policies that result in a meaningful shift toward energy independence.”
(Breathing encourages you to share your views of the Partnership’s position in our comment section. I will happily forward them to Mr. McCausland.)
***Breathing endorses this suggestion wholeheartedly by offering the letter-writer a column here. While the rest of us stumble in the dark looking for a way to bridge the divide between “pro-drillers” (a misnomer) and “anti-frackers,” (please!) she offers a way to cooperate for the good of us all.
****A request with which Breathing complied immediately.