Saturday, July 24, 2010

This Could Be Us: The HydroFracking Nightmare

A satellite view of natural gas drilling sites in New Mexico. 
These sites have all popped up in the last 5 years, since 
the last administration drafted the Halliburton Loophole, 
an exemption for natural gas drilling companies from 
the Clean Water Act.

Posted by: Noel Jones

I finally had the opportunity to see the film GASLAND at the Bethlehem Film Festival, and while I went in concerned, I came out shocked, stunned and downright scared. I had thought, going in, that the debate over new natural gas drilling, or hydrofracking (short for hydraulic fracturing) as it is commonly called, would be something akin to the ongoing debate of whether it is worth destroying our forests, mountains, farmland and oceans in the pursuit of fossil fuels--or whether or not there really is such a thing as "clean coal"--in other words, nothing newly dangerous, or more dangerous, just more of the danger we've become accustomed to living with in the U.S. lately.

Well, I was wrong. This is even worse. This is about defending our access to clean and safe water in our homes. We're talking tap water that you can set on fire.

As Americans, in general, we have had to consider the safety of coal mining when a mine collapses, or when miners die of black lung. We consider the effect on the environment when we see images of mountains in West Virginia topped and flattened. We feel sorry for their communities from a distance and try our hand at lofty debates about carbon emissions and "cap and trade." Or we watch the BP oil disaster on the news, feel sad for the fisherman, the pelicans, the coated coastline and the loss of pristine white beaches. We think twice about whether we want to eat shrimp for a while. Criticize our government, curse corporate greed. But it is all from a distance.

Well this is right in our own backyards; soon to be on our doorstep if we do not do all we can to stop it now. Literally, on our doorstep. Because, you see, when "natural" gas companies engage in hydraulic fracturing, and pollute the streams and rivers that supply our drinking water with 596 (known) chemicals--among them carcinogens and neurotoxins that can't be filtered out by our municipal water treatment systems--when your water turns brown and you begin suffering from dizziness and loss of motor function, they are gracious enough to begin delivering free tanks of clean water to your porch so that you can ration it to cover your washing, bathing and drinking water needs. Isn't that nice? This is what is happening in Dimock, PA--just 2 hours north of Easton.

If you have not seen the film, you must see it. It is available on HBO On Demand. The film maker, Josh Fox, is a resident of Milanville, PA and started filming out of concern for the creek that runs

through the back yard of his family home. Fox has been touring around the country doing screenings and Q and A, as he did at the Bethlehem Film Festival, to raise awareness in hopes that people will fight to keep natural gas companies from drilling in the Delaware Watershed, a watershed that supplies drinking water to 15 million people in PA and NY. They are poised to do it now. A couple of bills have passed the state house of representatives, calling for moratoriums on drilling so that health risks to residents can be assessed and addressed, but they are waiting to pass the senate.

For a more complete overview of the situation this Vanity Fair article by Christopher Bateman is a must-read, just as the movie is a must-see. On the GASLAND web site, there is a link to a "Home Screening Tool Kit" to help residents host get-togethers with friends and neighbors to view the film. There is nothing that brings the urgency of the issue home like this movie does, so please, pass on this post to as many people as you can to spread the word as fast as you can--these decisions are being made in our state government now, and Rep. Bob Freeman (who was at the screening) needs all the help he can get to stop this from happening to our river and our drinking water!

There is also an act being debated in Congress, called the Frack Act, which aims to eliminate the exemption to the Clean Water Act that Dick Cheney negotiated for these "natural" gas companies in 2005. Our current administration has failed to order the EPA to regulate the industry as well, so for the last five years these companies have been decimating the geographies of large parts of Colorado, New Mexico, and other western states unchecked, and now they are heading east, prospecting in the coveted Marcellus Shale, which stretches through 34 states. These wells only take three months to build, so we could very easily see our landscape looking like the photo above next year, if we don't take action now.

And if you'd like to see a picture of what it looks like when a natural gas well blows up in, check out this Associated Press article by Joe Mandak in today's Morning Call.


noel jones said...

GOOD NEWS--This just in:

Hinchey, Holt, Sestak Secure House Panel Approval of $1 Million to Study Cumulative Water Impacts of
Natural Gas Drilling in Delaware River Basin

Washington, DC - Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Congressman Joe Sestak (D-PA) today announced that they have secured approval from a key House panel of $1 million for the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to conduct a cumulative impact study on water withdrawals for hydraulic fracturing of Marcellus Shale natural gas wells in the Delaware River Basin. The House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies this week approved the funding for the study, which would be conducted in partnership with the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC).

"The expected scope of hydraulic fracturing in the Delaware River Basin and the prodigious water withdrawals for this process raise important questions and concerns about the cumulative impacts of natural gas exploration and drilling in the Basin. It is estimated that more than 30,000 natural gas wells could be developed in the Upper Delaware River Basin in the coming years, and it is critical that we understand the impacts of these proposed activities upon the water resources of the Basin," said Hinchey, who in April called on the DRBC to conduct a cumulative impact study. "With over 15 million people relying on the Delaware River for clean drinking water, we simply cannot allow drilling to move forward without first giving full scrutiny to the cumulative effects on water resources throughout the region."


noel jones said...


“Hydraulic fracturing poses a possible health and environmental threat to the millions of people who make their home in the Delaware River watershed and the almost 10 percent of the nation’s population who rely on these waters for drinking, recreational, and industrial use. We should not put these invaluable resources at risk. This funding would ensure that the Delaware River Basin Commission assess the cumulative impacts of oil and gas drilling before considering hydraulic fracturing proposals,” said Holt.

“There is extraordinary economic potential associated with the development of Marcellus Shale resources,” said Sestak. “However, as the oil spill in the Gulf and the recent explosion in Clearfield County, Pennsylvania reminds us, there is also great risk. One way to ensure proper development is understand the potential impacts. That is why I supported the funding of the cumulative effects of drilling and operation of gas wells on the water supply in the Delaware River Basin. With information from the study, we can make educated decisions on how best to minimize the impacts of drilling, while enhancing the benefits.”

The study will evaluate the cumulative impacts on water supply and resources from additional water consumption for hydraulic fracturing, landscape alteration due to gas well pad development, and changes in water quality resulting from water discharges within the Basin.

Over 15 million people, including New York City and Philadelphia residents, depend on the water resources of the Delaware River Basin. While property owners and local businesses could benefit economically from drilling activities in the Basin, the study is necessary to ensure that these individuals as well as other stakeholders throughout the Basin are not adversely impacted by any Marcellus Shale natural gas development and that the region's water resources are fully protected. The cumulative impact analysis will help to inform and guide DRBC management policies and practices that both enable economic progress and also ensure protection of public health and the environment. The DRBC has regulatory jurisdiction over all water withdrawals and discharges for Marcellus Shale drilling in the Delaware River Basin.

Hinchey continues to be a leading voice in federal efforts to protect drinking water and the environment from the risks of hydraulic fracturing. In April, Hinchey wrote to DRBC Executive Director Carol R. Collier to urge the agency to conduct a cumulative water impact study prior to permitting individual gas drilling projects in the Basin. In March, the EPA announced that it had initiated a study on the environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing based on legislative language Hinchey authored. Last year, Hinchey, Congresswoman Diana DeGette (D-CO), and several of his colleagues introduced the FRAC ACT -- Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, which would close the loophole that exempted hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act and require the oil and gas industry to disclose the chemicals they use in their hydraulic fracturing processes. Holt and Sestak have co-sponsored the legislation.

Hinchey and Holt currently serve as co-chairs of the Congressional Delaware River Task Force, a bipartisan group of members of the U.S. House of Representatives from all four basin states (Delaware, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania) that coordinate congressional efforts to promote the restoration and vitality of the Delaware River Basin and its communities.


Tracy Carluccio
Deputy Director
Delaware Riverkeeper Network
300 Pond Street, 2nd Floor
Bristol, PA 19007
Phone: 215 369 1188 ext 104
Cell: 215-692-2329
Fax: 215 369 1181

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sorry for the multiple deletes--for some reason it posted these two comments multiple times...glitchy!

tunsie said...

noel jones is the best writer in the whole wide world,and i'm not just saying that cause she's my buddy..............tunsie

noel jones said...

hey--tunsie--thanks for posting--i didn't know you were on the blog--you will have to send some jazz announcements our way so i can post them from time to time!

enjoy the clean tap water while you have it--we are headed for a world where even water becomes an expensive commodity if we don't put a stop to this. the Delaware is not just our river--it's our water.

spread the word!

Ron said...

Thanks for the info and links. I have not seen the movie yet, but have heard the same diagnosis from several folks have seen it and begun following these developments. Important stuff. Thanks for sharing, Noel.

noel jones said...

Thanks for posting Ron. I'm hoping that anyone who gets HBO On Demand will consider hosting a get-together with their friends to show the film. Anyone who has HBO (I don't, or I would host one) can click on the link in this post for the "Home Screening Toolkit" to get started.

Aside from being really important, the film is also just a great film--really well-done--some parts are even funny--not easy to do with such a serious subject!

Dennis R. Lieb said...

Part One...

Noel does a great job of clearly and concisely exposing the dire straits we face with this issue, but information surrounding this mess is changing day to day and not everyone has access to it. For those interested in widening their exposure to the events and decisions surrounding the hydro-fracturing crisis, I will soon be posting an informational piece with links to all the articles, organizations and policy opinions I have assembled over the past few months.

National events are now unfolding that will result in the energy industry bringing down huge pressure on the necks of all Pennsylvanians. The Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf, coal mining accidents worldwide, the inability of congress to institute carbon taxes or decide on a national renewable energy portfolio requirement for utilities and the expiration of alt-energy incentives at the end of the year - all these will conspire to make gas drilling in Pa. the defacto energy policy for the country going forward.

If allowed, this contingency will push off the required decision to switch to a national renewable energy and climate change policy that is already overdue. Decisions about the trade-offs between gas recovery and clean drinking water are decisions that should be made locally. But state politicians and bureaucrats will seize that power and make decisions for the short term - decisions to placate their campaign contributors (the oil and gas lobby) and to balance the state budget via drilling royalties on the backs of the Delaware River Basin inhabitants whose water will be effected.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is another of the activist organizations following these developments closely. They have an entirely different take on the solution than the current one. Intensified regulation and oversight or a temporary moratorium on drilling until better methods are developed to safely drill this resource are the routes most people would choose. One look at the map of Noel's post will expose how ludicrous that solution is. Pennsylvania cut the state's environmental protection office budget by 27% last year. How will they monitor the thousands of proposed well sites when we can't even manage the hundreds of "test wells" already in operation.

The real answer is to stop using the regulatory process. Each municipality touching the Delaware Watershed should pass local ordinances banning foreign corporations (i.e. those corporations not chartered locally) from operating in the municipality and also refuse to recognize their claims of "corporate person-hood" under the 14th amendment in defending their right to override local governance.

Part Two follows

Dennis R. Lieb said...

Part two...

Gas drilling is just the latest in a long line of corporate insurrection over local self-government. In theory it is no different than the application of sewage sludge to agricultural land, factory-scale hog farms, strip mining or another local downtown's economy destroyed by Wal-Mart.

However, due to the scale of the hydro-fracturing operations and it's potential devastation, it may prove to be the perfect vehicle to rally massive public support and finally get past the symptoms and at the root cause of all these issues: corporate control of local democratic decision making. There may be no better opportunity to see this issue taken to the Supreme Court than the gas drilling would only take one municipality within the watershed willing to bring suit and carry it to conclusion to see that happen.

Do not be fooled. Gas is a relatively clean burning fuel in it's final form, as a substitute for oil or coal. It is NOT clean and it is NOT safe in it's production phase. It pollutes the air and water as much as any other hydrocarbon when the entire production cycle is taken into account. It's extraction and refining in the area surrounding Houston creates as much air pollution as all the auto emmissions in the metro area. Where is the benefit? How can converting the auto fleet to natural gas possibly improve anything?

We are gaining nothing from an environmental standpoint by using it. We are simply postponing the inevitable switch to green fuels by allowing the energy industry to continue business a usual. We are being suckered by an industry with a huge PR budget.

The day you wake up and can't take a clean shower, brush your teeth at the bathroom sink or make a fresh cup of coffee...will be too late.


Anonymous said...

I would really like to see the Democratic Party take this (corporations controling and contaminating our lives) on as a cause countering the
Republican channeled TeaParty that points at the government as being the problem.

Morgan said...

Hello Noel, Wow you are quite the writer! Excellent blog content authoring. It is the same political game with the same financial result. Water is the resource we are forsaking in the interest of energy. I suspect we could save the $1M slated to be used for the cumulative impact study and save it for delivered water for the 15 million people who will likely be bearing the Haliburden

noel jones said...

Hi Morgan--thanks--and nice to have you aboard! Please pass this link around to other folks in Harmony, as this issue effects all of us in the Delaware Watershed, and protective legislation--or lack of it--is being decided in our state government as we "speak."

David Caines said...

just thought I'd add my two cents, and yes we are following this. It's a mess-


noel jones said...

Thanks, David!