Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Activists and EPA Deliver Safe Water to Families with Wells Polluted after Gas Drilling

 EPA found toxic chemicals that pose health concerns

Residents of Dimock Pennsylvania were not warned of possible risks to their well water in 2008 when they were asked to lease their land for gas drilling and hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale.

Soon after Cabot Oil & Gas began drilling the gas wells in 2008, Dimock res­i­dents began expe­ri­enc­ing severe prob­lems with their well water. Water became yellow, cloudy and contained a flammable gas. The most attention-getting prob­lem hap­pened on New Years Day in 2009, when one water well exploded with great force, moving a concrete slab weighing thousands of pounds. The explosion was caused by high-level gas contamination, presumably ignited by a spark from the water pump. Fortunately, the damage occurred outside the home and there were no injuries. Several other water wells also exploded, and nine others were found with so much gas that one homeowner was told to open a window when taking a bath. Propublica reported on these stories, calling Dimock "ground-zero" for drilling in the Marcellus Shale.

Fif­teen fam­i­lies with con­t­a­m­i­nated well water filed a fed­eral law­suit against Cabot Oil & Gas in 2009. The com­pany insisted, without any evidence, that the methane in Dimock water wells occurred nat­u­rally through biological processes near the surface, like rotting plants (later, scientists identified shale gas as the contaminant). Under Gov. Ren­dell, the Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) took action and fined Cabot for the gas migra­tion inci­dents, barred it from further drilling in the com­mu­nity, and ordered it to pay for a pipeline to bring­ safe drinking water to Dimock res­i­dents. Cabot did not put in a water pipeline, but agreed to pay for tem­po­rary water sup­plies, which involved bottled water and also truck deliveries of bulk water.

In May 2011, Dimock resident-turned-activist, Craig Sautner (photo below), told a crowd of about 200 at Corning West High School in New York, “I’ve been abused by the gas industry like you wouldn't believe” during his three-year ordeal.
Sautner holding a sample of his family's well water - AP
Mr. Sautner closed his remarks in New York’s Southern Tier with an ominous warning: “On the ride up here, I saw what beautiful country you have here. Don't let [the gas industry] ruin it on you.”

In January 2011, under administration of a new governor, Tom Cor­bett, Cabot Oil & Gas asked the DEP for approval to stop the water deliv­er­ies by the end of Novem­ber. Cabot installed water filters in the homes and said Dimock’s water was safe to drink. The DEP agreed to reverse its ear­lier rul­ings, deciding that Cabot had ful­filled the water agree­ment. Sautner and other residents said the filtered water is undrinkable. Still, as of December 1, 2011, Cabot cut off water delivery to the affected Dimock families.

For three years after 2008, the affected Dimock families lived without safe tap water from their wells. They were dependent on water from Cabot Oil & Gas, the shale-gas fracking company that polluted their well water. They now had no water.

Anti-fracking groups and concerned citizens from Pennsylvania and New York joined together to help get water to Dimock. On December 6th, 2011, clean, New York water was delivered to eleven families in Dimcok. Actor/activist Mark Ruffalo who lives in a Catskill region where land is leased for gas drilling, and a hydro-geologist representing Dimock residents in a lawsuit against Cabot, as well as others spoke at a rally outside the home of a Dimock resident. Below is a video of a news report on that event:

Subsequently, after prodding by Dimock residents and activists, federal environmental regulators reopened their investigation of Dimock water wells. A tanker of water from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency arrived in Dimock on January 20, 2012. This will be a regular delivery to four homes as the EPA investigates the impact of natural gas drilling on Dimock's drinking water.

EPA toxicologist found four households’ well water contaminated with arsenic and other hazardous substances “at levels that present a public health concern” (data of Cabot and PADEP). Some of these “are not naturally found in the environment,” EPA officials said, and may have been released by drilling activities. Among the toxic substances found in the well water were:

Arsenic, classified by the US government and World Health Organization as a known human carcinogen, an element sometimes found in “elevated concentrations” in groundwater because of drilling;
Barium, a common constituent of drilling fluids; long-term ingestion at high levels can cause kidney damage;
Phthalates, a synthetic plastic chemical and probable human carcinogen, according to EPA;
Glycol compounds common in drilling fluids and associated with damage to kidneys, the nervous system, lungs, heart, testicular damage and anemia;
Manganese, an naturally occurring element that can damage the nervous system at high levels;
Phenol, found in some drilling fluids; at high levels can cause irregular heartbeat, liver damage and skin burns;
Sodium, compounds found in some drilling fluids, at high levels can cause high blood pressure.

Federal officials said that although the investigation has not been completed, they have concluded, based on samplings to date (by Cabot and PADEP), that a “chronic health risk exists” for the wells in question.

The EPA will conduct its own sampling of 61 water wells in Dimock after reviewing data collected by the state, Cabot Oil & Gas and other firms raised concerns about groundwater contamination connected to Cabot's expansive drilling operations in the area.

The water deliveries were met by families and drilling critics rallying in support of the EPA's actions who accused state regulators of failing to help them and enabling bad practices by the industry. "The EPA's stated policy is to step in where states have failed to enforce," filmmaker Josh Fox said, "which means the state of Pennsylvania and Gov. Tom Corbett has failed in its obligation to protect the citizens of Pennsylvania."

Monday, January 23, 2012

Public Workshops: Brownfield Opportunity Areas

The City of Buffalo has been awarded three grants from the New York Department of State to undertake studies at important Brownfield Opportunity Areas.

The studies will be led by the City of Buffalo Mayor’s Office of Strategic Planning, which has retained the expertise of land use, environmental, and economic consultants to formulate documents, and manage the study process.

Public Workshops will be held to discuss “Findings & Directions for the Future” for the three Brownfield Opportunity Areas (BOA) listed below:

Buffalo Harbor BOA
January 25th, 2012 from
Three BOA Locations [Click image]
6:00pm to 9:00 pm
Buffalo Waterfront Elementary School
Faculty Entrance (North Entry)
95 4th Street
Click here to download invitation

Buffalo River Corridor BOA
January 26th, 2012 from
6:00pm to 9:00 pm
Valley Community Center
93 Leddy Street
Click here to download invitation

Tonawanda Street Corridor BOA
February 1, 2012 from
6:00pm to 9:00 pm
Riverside High School
51 Ontario Street
Click here to download invitation

To learn more about the program and the opportunities, visit the website for Buffalo Brownfield Opportunities.

Help Re-Tree WNY and Sabres Score a Green Goal

When the surprise October snow storm of 2006 devastated much of the area’s towering foliage, it took with it some of the glory of springs to come. An all-volunteer organization, Re-Tree WNY, stepped forward with a bold plan to plant 30,000 new trees and help restore the area’s landscape. 

Re-Tree WNY has planted a total of 23,880 of their 30,000 tree goal. The organization needs more help from the community to reach its goal of planting 30,000 trees by the end of this year.

Re-Tree WNY recently launched a new fundraising campaign, called “Green Goal,” in cooperation with the Buffalo Sabres Foundation, The Buffalo News and Entercom Radio. 

Donors who make a $40 gift to Re-Tree WNY by Feb. 26 will have a tree planted in their name. The Sabres Foundation will match the $40, bringing the total gift to $80—enough to pay for the cost of a 10-to 12-foot tree, as well as stakes and ties. The News will print the names of donors, or the name of a loved one in memoriam, in a future edition.

Tax-deductible donations can be made:
- Online at greengoalwny.org
- Mail a check to Re-Tree WNY Green Goal, P.O. Box 347, Tonawanda NY 14151-0347

To see a flyer about the Green Goal campaign, click here.
A Buffalo News editorial about the campaign is here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Gas Industry Gave Campaigns Big Bucks to Back Hydrofracking in NY State

A day before the Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) deadline for public comments on hydrofracking (also called hydraulic fracturing or fracking), a report was released by Common Cause indicating that the natural gas industry gave $1.34 million in campaign contributions to New York state politicians and their parties.

“Hydraulic fracturing has raised environmental questions, and now financial ones, about the influence of the natural gas industry over state lawmakers and public policy,” said Common Cause
NY Executive Director Susan Lerner, as reported in the NY Daily News. “New Yorkers need to be assured that such a controversial issue will be decided based on merit, not money,” Lerner added.

From January 2007 to October 2011, the Natural Gas industry made 2,349 campaign contributions to state and local level New York politicians and parties, according to the Common Cause report entitled "Expenditures of the Natural Gas Industry in New York to Influence Public Policy - Part III." A breakdown of the $1.34 million in campaign contributions by type is shown in the figure below.
Figure is from the Common Cause report cited in the text [click image to enlarge]
Almost 75% of the natural gas industry money went to the State Legislature (State Senate candidates, state party soft money, and State Assembly candidates).
The Cuomo-Duffy 2010 campaign was by far the largest gubernatorial recipient of gas industry money, receiving a total of $153,816.

Two local senatorial campaigns were among the top 10 legislative recipients of gas money: Sen. George Maziarz (R) 62nd District (Buffalo-Rochester area) ranked first at $38,532, and Sen. Michael Ranzenhofer (R) 61st District (Buffalo area) ranked 7th with $21,175. Maziarz is the Chair of the Senate Energy Committee, and Ranzenhofer is a member of that committee as well as the Chair of Corporations and Authorities.

Maziarz voted against the 2010 fracking moratorium bill, while Razenhoffer voted in favor of the bill.

Included in the gas industry are companies that regulate electricity, such as National Grid and Con Edison, which are also involved in natural gas infrastructure. The full list of companies is shown in the Common Cause report.

The Common Cause report raises an important question that New Yorkers should ask their State representatives and officials: What impact does over a million dollars from the gas industry to political candidates and committees in NY State have on the representatives and officials when setting public policy on hydrofracking?  

Senator Maziarz, speaking at a conference on hydrofracking hosted by the Independent Oil & Gas Association (IOGA) last year, said “It’s been proven it can be done in a safe way.” He also said that the Buffalo-Niagara region could see an economic “boom” through the creation of an industry to purify toxic fracking fluid (wastewater) at local water treatment plants in Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda.

Concerned citizens have subsequently expressed strong opposition to creating such an industry at public meetings of the Niagara Falls Water Board, which is considering purifying fracking fluid as a means to increase revenues. However, the DEC has no proven plan in the current environmental impact statement (SGEIS) for purifying fracking fluid.

The Common Cause report also expressed concern that regulatory decisions may not be based on facts and science and made with proper deliberation since the study of the impacts of hydrofracking on NY state were done by an outside consulting firm, Ecology and Environment, Inc., which has oil and gas companies among its clients. 

Gov. Cuomo indicated to reporters yesterday that there will be no funds for gas-drilling regulation in the budget proposal until the state DEC determines whether to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing. 

A number of NY Senators and Assembly Members are again proposing and sponsoring legislation to ban, or further extend the moratorium on, the controversial fracking method across the State.

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

Public Comment on NY Water Withdrawal Regulations

From the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter: 
Tell NY DEC We Need More Time For Public Comment on Water Withdrawal Regulations! 

Comments on the proposed Water Withdrawal regulations are due Monday, January 22, 2012, and are intended to go into effect as early as February 15, 2012. However, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has held NO public hearings on them and does not intend to do so.

Both state law and the draft regulations mandate the issuance by the DEC of water withdrawal permits for withdrawals of 100,000 gallons per day or more, but DEC has not yet developed such permits -- they will not be available for consideration and/or comment by the public before they are issued.

The Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter is asking the public to tell DEC that we will not stand for a blatant lack of care and transparency when it comes to protecting our water!

Click here to Email DEC director Joseph Martens.

Speaking About Climate Change...

"Climate change, in my humble opinion, is the most important issue that we face," said Chris Hayes, the intelligent and informed moderator of "Up with Chris Hayes" on MSNBC.

Panelists on last Saturday's broadcast were David Roberts, who writes on energy and climate at Grist.org, and also Michael Mann, climatologist and author of "The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars".

Interesting discussion! Check out the Video here.
Note: Advance the video slider to 10:22 minutes where the climate discussion begins.

Chris Hayes cites the EPA website on Greenhouse Gas Emissions: ghgdata.epa.gov There you can find locations and data on emission sources, such as those in Tonawanda, NY below:

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Hydrofracking: DEC Must Protect Our Drinking Water -- Take Action!

High-volume hydraulic fracturing, also called hydrofracking or fracking, is a method to mine natural gas from shale rock seams deep underground. The process requires horizontal drilling from a vertical well, uses millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and some toxic chemicals, and produces large volumes of flowback wastewater containing additional toxic chemicals and radioactive elements extracted from shale. Fracking wastewater is hazardous.

A moratorium has been in effect for the past three years while NY state considers permitting high-volume hydraulic fracturing. The NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has produced a revised draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) that is currently under public review. The public is strongly encouraged to send comments on the SGEIS to the DEC, which must be received or postmarked by January 11, 2012 (see links and postal address below).

The SGEIS contains a surprising proposal along with a number of major gaps that the DEC needs to address.

The DEC SGEIS proposes that watersheds for New York City and Syracuse "should be off-limits to surface drilling for natural gas using high-volume hydraulic fracturing technology." This proposal amounts to an admission by the DEC that fracking and hazardous wastewater are threats to drinking water in these two watersheds. Given these threats, should fracking and hazardous wastewater be permitted in other State watersheds?

NY State Watersheds - DEC
We All Live in a Watershed is the title of a DEC webpage. A watershed is the land that water flows on the surface or underground on its way to a river, lake, stream or bay. The DEC defined 17 watershed basins in NY state (map, at right). The watershed basin for Buffalo and vicinity (blue area on left side of map) drains into Lake Erie and the Niagara River, both of which provide drinking water for the region.

All NY State residents have a right to clean water and deserve equal rights to protection from water pollution. What's good for NY City and Syracuse watersheds should apply equally to all watersheds in the State. Demand that the DEC protect all State watersheds from the threats of fracking and hazardous wastewater, not just NY City and Syracuse watersheds, in order to provide safe drinking water.

Fracking wastewater contains brine, radioactivity, carcinogens and other hazardous chemicals. In Pennsylvania, millions of gallons were sent to sewage treatment plants until it was found that the discharged water was contaminated. Some fracking wastewater from Pennsylvania was shipped to the City of Buffalo for treatment, but this is no longer permitted. Pennsylvania is now shipping fracking wastewater to Ohio for disposal in deep injection wells, a method that may be short-lived since it has been recently linked to earthquakes. NY geology is not suitable for injection well disposal. What is the DEC's plan for fracking wastewater disposal?

The DEC SGEIS does not describe a proven method to cleanup fracking wastewater. Disposal of the hazardous wastewater poses threats to NY drinking water, including watersheds in the state where gas drilling will not occur. The public needs to inform the DEC that they can not permit fracking in the absence of proven, cost-effective methods to remove all hazardous chemicals and radioactive elements from the wastewater. 

Additional gaps in the SGEIS have been pointed out by the Governor's Advisory Panel on High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing. These include the absence of estimates on what resources will be needed by four major state agencies: Health, Transportation, Agriculture & Markets, and Public Service. The socio-economic analysis by a local firm, Ecology & Environment, highlighted the economic benefits but did little to quantify potential costs, according to some members of the Advisory Panel. The DEC directed the firm to also look at the cost on communities, the housing market and emergency services. 

Even more gaps in the SGEIS have moved over 21,000 people to sign a letter requesting that Governor Cuomo immediately withdraw the SGEIS in order to resolve documented fundamental shortcomings. You can examine the letter and additional gaps here. The public can sign the letter online.

At the very least, the DEC should Extend the Moratorium. High-volume hydraulic fracturing is a very complex process. It is a threat to clean water and to our health and well-being. There are too many unknowns that require further research, evaluation and time. The gas will still be there as a reserve.

The revised draft SGEIS document and related documents are here.

TAKE ACTION: Send comments to the DEC on the revised draft SGEIS by January 11:
  • Electronic submission using a web-based comment form on the DEC's website. 
  • Paper submission can be sent to:  New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-6510. Attention: rd SGEIS Comments. Please include the name, address, and affiliation (if any) of the commenter.
For earlier blog posts on various aspects of fracking, click here.