Monday, October 31, 2011

Treating Hydro-Fracking Wastewater at Niagara Falls: Not Now, Maybe Later

At a public meeting of the Niagara Falls Water Board on October 27, the third meeting in two months, speakers again raised concern about the Board's proposal to accept, treat and discharge hydro-fracking wastewater derived from shale-gas drilling into the Niagara River.

Wastewater from hydro-fracking (a.k.a. fracking) contains chemicals added before drilling as well as toxic and radioactive chemicals extracted from shale. Wastewater is pumped back to the surface into exposed pits [see image], and then pumped into trucks for transport to other sites for treatment. Treatment facilities in Pennsylvania, where drilling is ongoing, have proven ineffective in removing all chemicals, some of which are known to cause cancer and other health problems. Also, brine, far more salty than ocean water, can corrode treatment facility equipment and has turned up in drinking water.

The Niagara Gazette reported that Water Board Chairman Michael McNally informed the speakers at the public meeting of the Board’s position of not accepting hydro-fracking or any wastewater associated with it.

“The Board’s position is we are not accepting anything relating to hydro-fracking or any of its spoils,” he said. “But we appreciate your input as it gives us more information to work with."

In a followup report on the October 27 meeting, Water Board Executive Director Paul Drof clarified the Board's position on fracking wastewater.

“Right now, no facility in New York state is permitted to accept fracking wastewater,” he said. “Their edict is there is no one approved to take fracking water, so no one does. It’s not illegal because no one does it.”

“The treatment of trucked-in waste has been done in Niagara Falls over the last 20 years,” he said. “It’s something we do routinely. This is just another candidate for treatment. That’s all it is at this point.” Drof added that public input on the matter is appreciated as it gives the Board more insight into what actions they’ll take later.

Canadians are also concerned about the possibility that fracking wastewater would be treated in Niagara Falls, NY, since the Niagara River borders their country and drains into Lake Ontario, which is a source of drinking water for millions of people in Canada.

The Council of Canadians sent a letter to the Water Board requesting they scrap the fracking wastewater proposal to protect the Great Lake. The Council is also advocating that the town council of Niagara-on-the-Lake take action to protect the Great Lakes Basin. A town councilor will introduce a resolution today calling for a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing and the treatment of fracking wastewater within the Great Lakes Basin.

An association of mayors on both sides of the Great Lakes is tracking the issue. "The position we've taken so far, until we get more information, is that nothing be done in terms of the hydro-fracking that could in any way contaminate the lakes, the St. Lawrence basin and the underground aquifers," said St. Catharines Mayor Brian McMullan, who chairs the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.

A Niagara Falls Water Board spokesman said the Board is waiting for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to bring down rules on drilling shale and fracking water treatment. He added that it's not clear if the treatment plant will need costly upgrades to handle the fracking water, and it's possible the venture will be too expensive to pursue. 

Permitting by the DEC was intended originally to begin in early 2012 but it was further delayed last week. DEC Commissioner Joe Martens raised doubts that the state will be ready to issue permits next year. Martens said the Governor's Advisory Panel on High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing will miss its planned report deadline since they still have no estimates on what resources will be needed by four major state agencies: Health, Transportation, Agriculture & Markets, and Public Service. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has only just begun developing national standards for treating wastewater discharged from gas drilling. They propose to complete the rules by 2014, and the time for passage into law is uncertain. Also, the discharge of treated water into the Niagara River, and other rivers that flow into the Great Lakes, creates a need for international agreements between the U.S. and Canada, which may extend the time frame even further.

So even if treating fracking wastewater at Niagara Falls were found to be feasible, affordable and safe, and even if a massive transportation plan could be developed to move billions of gallons of the hazardous wastewater to Niagara Falls, it could be a long time before the plan is actually carried out, if ever.

The agencies involved should not be rushed. They need to allow plenty of time for investigations, deliberations, and input from the public. The gas will still be there. The safety of our drinking water and the protection public health must come first, and they are unquestionably worth the time.

For earlier posts about Fracking at Re-ENERGIZE BUFFALO, click here.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Niagara Falls sees profits in fracking waste, while critics see another Love Canal

 A public meeting will be held on Thursday, October 27.

The city of Niagara Falls is home to world-famous waterfalls as well as to a well-known, hazardous-waste disaster that occurred in the Love Canal neighborhood.

The Niagara Falls Water Board is exploring the possibility of cleaning up chemically-tainted wastewater derived from unconventional gas drilling using the process of horizontal, hydraulic fracturing, also called hydrofracking or simply fracking. However, critics are concerned that the treatment may not remove all of the hazardous waste and that the discharge would pollute the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, which are sources of drinking water.

The Niagara Falls Water Board (NFWB), encouraged by a feasibility study by an outside group, seeks to increase profits by making use of their industrial waste treatment facility, which is currently underutilized. The Board stated that "...treating wastewater from Marcellus Shale would provide the NFWB with a significant opportunity to increase revenues, provide financial stability to our organization and stabilize our rate structure over the long term, all to the benefit of NFWB ratepayers."

At a public meeting on September 22, citizens recalled the hazardous waste contamination at Love Canal in Niagara Falls, and indicated that the Water Board's new venture could be another environmental disaster in the making. Fracking wastewater includes not only chemicals added by the drilling industry, but also brine and well as toxic and radioactive chemicals extracted from the shale. In general, treatment facilities are not equipped to remove all of these chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic. 

Lois Gibbs, a resident of Love Canal in the 1970's, led successfully the battle to convince NY state officials, the U.S. government and the public that hazardous chemicals buried nearby were causing health problems and birth defects. 

In an interview about the Water Board's new venture, Gibbs wondered if city officials would ever learn. “They’re moving away from the chemical industry because the chemical industry is moving away from them, and it’s time to start a new economy,” Gibbs said by phone Thursday from Falls Church, Va., where she’s executive director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice. “And the new economy is certainly not taking chemical waste.

“We should be learning from past mistakes instead of risking our water so we can accept New York state’s hydrofracking waste,” said Rita Yelda, an organizer for Food and Water Watch, an environmental advocacy group. Yelda and a coalition of local opponents sent questions to the Niagara Falls Water Board, and attended a Board meeting on October 20th seeking answers about the potential environmental impacts, possible impacts on human health, and other issues. The Board has yet to provide answers to those questions. A TV interview with Rita Yelda is here.

New York, which is currently under a drilling moratorium, is not the only possible source of fracking wastewater. The gas drilling industry in Pennsylvania, which has been heavily engaged in fracking since 2008, has polluted rivers by passing wastewater through sewage and industrial treatment plants and is now looking for new disposal sites. Disposal of wastewater from Pennsylvania at the Buffalo sewage treatment plant occurred earlier but is no longer permitted.

Richard Roll, the director of technical and regulatory services at the Water Board, said "Since we do have a unique kind of wastewater treatment plant that's very much under-loaded, we're looking into the possibility that, with the addition of other treatment processes, maybe our plant would be much more amenable to accepting this waste than your typical municipal biological plant."

A recent report indicated that the Niagara Falls Water Board is poised to accept fracking wastewater from Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York for treatment and discharge into the Niagara River. The Board has hired a public relations firm to promote the venture and has apparently been working with the Cuomo administration to develop a massive transportation plan.

The Niagara River flows into Lake Ontario, the source of drinking water for millions of people in the U.S. and Canada. Their drinking water could be at risk if the Niagara Falls Water Board moves forward with its plans. The Council of Canadians, a social and environmental justice organization, sent a letter to the Niagara Falls Water Board concluding that "Given the significant risk posed to the Great Lakes by this proposal, we ask that you scrap it in order to protect the Great Lakes Basin for current and future generations."

Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicated that it will develop standards for disposing wastewater from the shale-gas drilling process. The EPA stated that many treatment plants are not properly equipped to treat such wastewater, and indicated that it would consider standards required to be met before water can be sent to a treatment facility. The rules will be proposed by 2014. If passed, the rules would be among the first federal regulations directed at potential water contamination by fracking waste.
The Niagara Falls Water Board will hold a public meeting on Thursday, October 27th at 5pm in the Water Treatment Plant, 5815 Buffalo Ave, Niagara Falls, NY [MAP]. Concerned citizens are encouraged to attend. Those who wish to speak should sign up before the meeting.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Public Meeting: Plan to treat Fracking Waste at Niagara Falls

Guest post by Rita Yelda, WNY Drilling Defense, and Food & Water Watch

In July, the Niagara Falls Water Board was reported to be exploring the possibility of treating wastewater containing toxic chemicals resulting from the unconventional shale gas drilling known as fracking. Yet there is little evidence that the Niagara Falls Water Treatment Plant can filter out the radiation or the chemicals found in fracking wastewater, and no analysis of the possible impacts of treating this wastewater has been shared with the public.

Fracking fluid consists primarily of water, sand and a cocktail of chemicals that includes many toxins and known carcinogens: methanol, ethylene glycol, formaldehyde, napthalene, benzene, toluene and xylene. To date, 600+ chemicals have been used in fracking fluid. The fracking process has also been known to release radioactive elements into the waste, such as radon and uranium. The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) figures show 6.6 billion gallons of fracking waste would have to be disposed of each year.

Niagara Falls is the first location in New York to state their desire to treat this waste. A report issued in September indicated that an outside firm has completed a feasibility study and that the Water Board is moving forward with the plan to treat fracking wastewater. Water from the treatment plant would be released into the Niagara River, which flows into Niagara Falls, Lake Ontario, and other Great Lakes communities, creating potential regional and even international concern.

The Council of Canadians released a letter to the Niagara Falls Water Board asking them to not accept the waste as it poses a threat to the Great Lakes. In Pennsylvania, where hydrofracking is happening in full force, the Department of Environmental Protection asked the gas industry to stop taking fracking wastewater to municipal wastewater treatment plants, after concerning levels of radioactive compounds were detected in the state's waterways.

The Niagara Falls Water Board will hold their next monthly public meeting on Thursday, October 20 at 5pm in the Water Treatment Plant, 5815 Buffalo Ave, Niagara Falls, NY [MAP]. Western New Yorkers will raise their voices on Thursday with a chorus calling out for answers about their health and their water. Those who wish to speak should sign up before the meeting.

Questions presented a month ago still remain unanswered.

For more information, contact or call 716-507-2077

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The U.N. Climate Conference and Why It's Important

Representatives of 194 countries are meeting in Panama at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, the last opportunity to reach a consensus on the reduction of carbon emissions before the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Durbin, South Africa later this year.

Conference participants must win another commitment period for reducing carbon emissions from developed countries to prevent global average temperatures from rising more than two degrees, which scientists have indicated would have catastrophic consequences for human life.

Carbon emissions must peak by 2015, according to scientists who fear that otherwise, damage from climate change will become irreversible with rising floods, droughts and other extreme weather.

The United States, currently the world's second-largest carbon emitter, was the only nation to reject the Kyoto Protocol, under the administration of President George W. Bush. The Kyoto agreement expires at the end of 2012.

The U.S. has held that it would only accept an agreement that includes all major countries. "We could consider it only if it's genuinely binding with respect to all the major players, whether developed or developing, including China and others," said Todd Stern, the top U.S. climate negotiator.

President Obama faces strong opposition on climate change from the Republican Party, many of whose members do not believe that human activity is causing rising temperatures.


Why is the U.N. Climate Conference important? 
Below are seven reasons to keep working towards an international climate agreement:
1) It's urgent
2) It will create long-term certainty for business investment
3) It will be more economically efficient for countries to do it all together
4) Collective action is needed
5) Unpopular decisions may be more palatable if other countries are taking them as well
6) Who will otherwise pay for adaptation?
7) We are morally obligated
The full article is here.

What if actions to greatly reduce carbon emissions are not taken?
A bipartisan panel of scientists, former government officials and national security experts is recommending that the U.S. government begin researching a radical fix: directly manipulating the Earth’s climate to lower the temperature. 

Examples of methods to achieve such "climate remediation" include seeding the atmosphere with reflective particles, launching giant mirrors above the earth or spewing ocean water into the air to form clouds.  

The idea of intentionally tinkering with the Earth's climate is shocking and seems potentially dangerous. As a member of the bipartisan panel said, “It should be shocking.”  

Climate remediation research is already under way in Britain, Germany and possibly other countries, as well as in the private sector. Read more about this in the NY Times.

We know that a shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy is key to greatly reducing carbon emissions. A global agreement that includes the U.S. is needed to begin to deal with the scale of the problem.


Reports on the U.N. Conference:

Global Warming, Climate Policy and Honesty

[Click image to enlarge]