Gas Drilling Reps Grilled In Sullivan County


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 [2] (PDF) that blamed a nearby gas well’s faulty concrete casing and hydraulic fracturing [3].)

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.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s where confusion and mixed intent reign.

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

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

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

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

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