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.

Opinion: DRBC Postpones Debacle. What’s A Conservationist to Do?

Imagine a Delaware River Basin Conservation Day (or some other snazzier name!) that stretches the entire 330 miles of the Basin. Each river community will go down to the river and each person will pour a single cup of water into it. Conservation NOT exploitation.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? Remember when Gandhi led the Indian people to the sea to make salt? The British Empire laughed. They smirked.

I say to you  as I’ve said  regularly  to my long-suffering  children,  if you never listen to another word I say,  listen to me now:

The Delaware River Basin is threatened by the natural gas industry and hydraulic fracturing.  If you love the  river and its environs,  now is the time to act.  There won’t  be another moment.  In years to come, when  your water is spoiled and your land is worthless,  this is the moment you will remember and you  will ask yourself,  “What was so important that I didn’t protect the River Valley when I had the chance?”

The Delaware River Basin Commission  (DRBC) is under pressure from  the natural gas drilling industry, politicians, property holders and farmers dying on the vine.  The Commission’s decision to extend the public comment period on Chesapeake’s application was a gift to Conservationists but also provides drilling proponents with  additional time to concentrate their forces.

What can conservationists  do with the two months we’ve been given?

First rule of organizing:  identify your resources  and bring them to bear.  I’ll start with mine and those sent in by others. You add your own. (Three rules govern  community brainstorming:   think big,  fluidly  and don’t turn your nose up at any idea. It might not stand on its own but with others to bolster it,  the fabric becomes more whole.)

RESOURCES I see  that can be brought to bear in saving the Delaware River Basin:

The indescribable beauty of the area, the  thousands of people who started visiting as children and who now bring their grandchildren,  Robert Kennedy, Jr.,  Alan and Sandra Gerry, Jimmy Carter (flyfishing, flyfishing, flyfishing),  River and Mountainkeepers, WJFF,  The River Reporter, Sullivan Transition, Pete Seeger, The Sloop Clearwater, Upper Delaware Networkers,  Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, Wayne and Sullivan Peace Groups, Sullivan Alliance for Sustainable Development,  the many new groups springing up the length of the Delaware Basin in its defense, Thich Nhat Hanh,  the internet and its viral capacity, our kids,  Josh Fox, musicians, artists, writers, photographers, Maurice Hinchey, Hello Honesdale!, private lands where people can camp when they come for the day, Lawrence Rockefeller, Dan Rather, Amanda Burden, Charlie Rose, the New York City Council,  Wayne County Audobon Society, citizen journalists and commentators like Leni Santoro (Catskill Chronicle), Breathing is Political and Zest of Orange…

Of course, once we have our resources “on board,”  we have to give them something to do.

Imagine a   Delaware River Basin  Conservation Day (or some other snazzier name!) that stretches the entire 330 miles of the Basin.  Each river community will go  down to the river and each person will pour a single cup of water into it.  Conservation NOT exploitation.

Sounds silly,  doesn’t it?  Remember  when Gandhi led the Indian people to the sea to make salt?  The British Empire laughed.  They smirked.  They made fun of the “little brown man”  (as the newsreels described the Mahatma).  But then, the images of thousands and thousands of people making salt  hit the international  teletypes  and  in that moment,  the sun began to set on the British Empire.

On the Conservation Day I imagine,   each community will organize whatever ancillary celebrations they want — a festival,  show movies, sell locally-produced goods, play baseball, sleep, camp out  —  so long as they do it on the banks of the River.  And that  night,  when orbiting  satellites can see it,  a candlelight vigil  will stretch 330 miles.   Dream on,  right?   But that image and the power in it  are  far more imaginable to me than what the drillers have planned for our Valley.

And if “too few people show up?”

I’m reminded of the political candidate who suggested during the last election cycle that certain members of Congress  should be investigated for Un-American activities.  Within 24 hours, the viral capacity of the internet had dumped $1 million dollars into her opponent’s campaign coffers.  (The poor man was absolutely flummoxed by  the unexpected bounty!)  We have the rest of July and all of August to organize  before Labor Day (if that’s the weekend we choose).   We have nothing to lose by thinking as large and inclusively as we can.   By the end of September,  the DRBC will most likely have made its decision on Chesapeake’s application to begin their surface water  withdrawals.  (For a detailed explanation of what the withdrawals will look like, please see James Barth’s lucid explanation in the “comments”  section following my last post, “Delaware River Basin Commission: Postpones 30,000,000 Gallon Withdrawal from Delaware River.”)

CottageWorks and Breathing Is Political will each donate $200 for the purpose of promoting the Day of Conservation. Whatever consortium of groups is willing to help organize the event, the money is theirs.

Finally,  I want to address the issue of language.  We who protect are often in defensive mode. Whether we stand in defense of the Constitution or our world’s ecology,   our position is often a response to a perceived threat.  In consequence,  we’re portrayed as the “antis”:  anti-war, anti-frakking, anti-nuclear, anti-business, anti-farmers.  I no longer submit to that characterization.  I am not “an anti-frakker.”  Besides being a nasty assortment of consonants,  I’m  not “anti-” anything.  I am a Conservationist.  I am  a walking, talking, thinking, loving,  nurse, construction worker, paralegal, writer and former farmworker.  And I’m pro-water, baby!

Many thanks to Karl Rove for the instruction.

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