Update: Seismic Thumping in Wayne County, PA

Confusion abounds concerning the seismic thumping planned for our neighbors in Damascus (Wayne County)  Pennsylvania.

First,  as to whether or not the National Environmental Planning Act — used in the State of Wyoming  to trigger an investigation of seismic thumping — would apply to the activity in our Delaware River Corridor, apparently, the answer is,  no.  In a phone conversation with Charles Barsz,  the National Park Service’s (NPS)  Philadelphia Division Chief  of the Wild & Scenic River,  Breathing was informed that, “Seismic thumping apparently falls in the cracks.  Because the NPS does not own the land,  the agency cannot trigger an investigation of seismic thumping or its impact on the River or its fauna.”  Mr. Barsz has promised to look further into concerns raised by seismic thumping on what are frequently single-lane, dirt roads  with little or no shoulder, within a couple hundred feet of the river and  often only yards from residences.  Of particular concern is the often steep descent from the roadside to the River or its tributary creeks below.

Second, although seismic testing acquires valuable geological information by sending sonic shock waves under privately-held lands,  property owners are not reimbursed for the data collected.  In other words,  the information obtained by seismic tests about your private land is sold to gas extraction companies and the information is not available to you as the landholder. You won’t know if the data reveals your property as a good target for drilling but the gas extraction company will.  That disparity in knowledge will  place the landholder at a negotiating disadvantage. (This will be of special concern in New York where landholders can be forced into “compulsory integration.”)

In fact, one local landholder wrote,  “Executive Director Henderson of the PA Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and I are engaged in a dialogue regarding seismic testing.  He agrees that no testing or flags should be allowed on property against that owner’s wishes, and suggests anyone who’s been trespassed [against]  should contact their local or state police.  Perhaps anyone upset about the testing should follow his advice.” (Bold added for emphasis.)

The Chenango County Farm Bureau offers two documents of especial interest to property owners:   “Stop Roadway Seismic Testing Without Your Permission” (which the organization says has been used “with some success”)  and a “Memorandum on Seismic Testing” which addresses the issue of trespass by  companies which, essentially,  “steal”  your substrata information.

And lastly,  seismic testing comes in a lot of different flavors but there are two types usually done on roadways.  “Vibroseis ” is done with seismic vibrators which “shake” the ground over a period of time.  “Thumping” is a higher impact testing done by dropping a heavy weight (usually multiple times).  (A video and a more detailed explanation of the two types can be Found at Google Videos:   Vibrating the Earth – Vibroseis)

One particularly interesting sidelight of seismic testing is that it reveals faults in the geologic layers of the earth which are of particular interest to gas extraction companies seeking areas where toxic by-products of fracking can be injected.  Such injections would  save companies the expense of trucking  the toxic fluids to treatment facilities.   Underground injections of toxic flow-back materials are discussed more-fully here.  The contention  that such injections are environmentally-sound and safe  has been hotly contested by those  who cite to upward migrations of the toxins which may contaminate our vital aquifers and groundwater.

Ms. Karen Dussinger,  Press Officer in District 4 for the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT)  told a Breathing source that  PennDOT permitted Dawson Geophysical Company to do the seismic testing in accordance with PA Code Title 67, Section 459.9(f).  In part, the statute reads,

(f) Seismograph—vibroseis method. Seismograph—vibroseis method shall comply with the following:

(1) Seismograph operations by other than the vibroseis method will not be permitted. (Bold added for emphasis.)

(2) A permit will not be issued to authorize seismograph operations within limited access highway right-of-way.

(3) Wherever possible, seismograph operations shall be performed entirely off the pavement and shoulder to lessen interference to traffic.

Breathing is  not certain whether  the two technologies — vibroseis and thumping  — are used in tandem but it seems clear from the statute that PennDOT is not authorized to permit  Dawson or any other company to use high-impact thumping on Pennsylvania’s roadways.

Breathing has asked various agency representatives, biologists and geologists to help locate more definitive studies of the impact of vibroseis on geologic substrata,  residential foundations and fauna such as bats, fish and snakes.  When, and if, that information is made available,  it will be published here.

New Gas Drilling Production: A Theater Near You

To  read  Breathing’s review of  the sometimes-bawdy, always entertaining,   “Corporate Relations:  Gas Does Marcellus”  please click here.

The choice is yours:  pay the admission price for a  tired old movie with a cast of raggedy characters  (be prepared to swallow long and hard)  OR  pop on  over to “Ban Natural Gas Drilling In New York State”  and sign the petition.

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.”


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.”