Sunday, September 26, 2010

Harrisburg Decides the Potential Fate of Our Drinking Water This Week

Time is running out--our State House and 
Senate need to hear from you!

Posted by: Noel Jones

In an article written for The Morning Call, John Micek describes the tension in Harrisburg currently focused on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. As house representatives and senators debate levying severance taxes on the gas companies, activists outside, including Josh Fox, director of GASLAND, protest the hydraulic fracturing process, known as "hydrofracking" or simply, "fracking," and are calling for a one-year state-wide moratorium on drilling in the Marcellus Shale, so that environmental studies can be completed and safety regulations put in place.  Meanwhile in Washington, the FRAC Act, introduced by Senator John Kerry, struggles to pull gas

companies back under the regulation of the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act. Dick Cheney, while Vice President, arranged for natural gas companies to be exempted from these laws back in 2005, and they have been drilling with almost no oversight ever since in Colorado, Texas and New Mexico. Now thousands of drilling permits await a green light to begin drilling and use of the fracking process in the Delaware and Lehigh watersheds which supply our drinking water, despite 34 families whose drinking water has already been contaminated in Dimock, PA, just two hours north of Easton.

In New York, citizens rallied and pressured their representatives and senators to enact a moratorium on drilling for one year. In Pennsylvania, residents are just waking up to the risks of hydrofracking and struggling to take action before it is too late. 

Elected PA officials who have been wrestling with difficult budgets accumulated over the last decade of bad spending, see drilling in the Marcellus Shale as a miracle cure that will forgive all sins, and allow our state to reach a balanced budget without necessary cuts to waste. Natural gas drilling is also being touted by the gas industry and politicians alike as a job creator in a poor economy, and a means of ending our dependence on foreign oil. The problem with those claims is that most drilling jobs are going to workers from Texas and other states, and 52% of the natural gas being produced is being used for the production of new plastic, not fuel.

Not to mention that the fracking process involves blowing millions of gallons of water down each well, drained from our rivers and streams then mixed with sand, salts and 596 known chemicals--among them carcinogens and neurotoxins that have made our neighbors to the north severely sick, and destroyed their property values as their homes no longer have drinkable tap water--in fact, they can light their tap water on fire.

According to the Marcellus Shale Examiner, "The state Senate returned to session this week and much of the focus of it and the state House of Representatives was on ensuring the natural gas drilling industry pays its fair share. Newspapers across the state reported on the looming Oct. 1 deadline to enact a severance tax, which lawmakers agreed to do in July as part of the 2010-11 budget deal.

Next week marks the last week before the deadline. The House is scheduled to be in session three days while the Senate has four days on their calendar."

Are you ready to make a call or write a letter? If you have already, please post here.


michael molovinsky said...

noel, even john hanger, our EPA secretary, never mentions a moratorium, and also sees the drilling as an economic boom. i know of no legislative opposition what so ever; their only concern is how much tax can be levied. sad indeed

Anonymous said...

Write a letter to who? Call who?
Thank you.

noel jones said...

In the Easton area, it would be Bob Freeman in the State House and Bob Mensch in our State Senate. If you are living in another area of PA, you can look up your representatives and senator by clicking on the links on the right side bar of this blog entitled "PA Senate" and PA State Legislature. Anyone can click on these links to get email address and phone numbers to our elected officials. Emails DO count, so don't feel like you have to write a letter on paper if that will slow you down.

Just be sure to write your full name, and mailing address on the email/letter, so that they know that you are a voter in their district!

Please urge your reps and senators to support Phyllis Mundy's House Bill 2609 calling for a A STATE-WIDE MORATORIUM on drilling in the Marcellus Shale, so that environmental studies can be completed and safety regulations established.

noel jones said...

Anon--you can also help by writing a letter to the editor of one of the Express Times and The Morning Call, by click their links on the right side of this page--the links will take you straight to the email letter form.

noel jones said...

michael--thanks for posting. the only elected state official in our area that i know of that has taken a stand on hydrofracking at all is bob freeman, who co-sponsored legislation for a one-year moratorium on drilling in FORESTS and another on drilling in FLOODPLAINS, as well as supporting a severance tax on the gas companies for drilling that is already happening, but he has yet to sign on to Phyllis Mundy's HB 2609 on a state-wide moratorium.

Jasmine Mitchell said...

Hey Noel... I wrote to Rep. Freeman this morning concerning the drilling... It's very disturbing to learn about this. My dad and I have been questioning the quality of our drinking water lately so it's very interesting to learn of this at this time....

I hope everyone reading this will write to the representatives about this. Drinking water is something often taken for granted. It's definitely time we all start to acknowledge and respect the importance of clean water in our daily lives.

Excited to have free time to participate in the blog,
Jasmine M. (formerly of TranquiliTea House!)

noel jones said...

Hey Jasmine--thanks for posting!

I spoke with a nutritionist recently, who has a patient that works at the water treatment center, and he said that after what the patient told him, he will never drink our tap water without filtering it--and this is even before the threat of contamination from natural gas drilling. The problem is that, neither our city's water treatment system, nor any filters we can buy, can filter out the carcinogens (like benzene and xylene) and neurotoxins in fracking fluid.

Thanks so much for writing to Bob Freeman--I hope that a lot of other people will too--he and Senator Mensch really need to hear from us to know that voters consider this a serious issue!

noel jones said...

Arnold Schwarzenegger blasted oil companies trying to take advantage of CA today--this video is worth seeing--you could very easily substitute "gas" for "oil" and "PA" for "CA":

noel jones said...

I have received copies of the following House Bills co-signed by Representative Bob Freeman:

HB 381 provides for a transparent tracking and reporting system for wastewater produced by natural gas wells.

HB 2608 prohibits natural gas drilling that uses the fracking process or horizontal drilling from drilling within 2500 feet of a community water system, such as a reservoir.

HB 2694 requires drillers to obtain erosion and sediment control permits and prohibits discharges of drilling waste water into surface waters (i.e., watershed sources).

HB 2235 provides a 3 year moratorium on drilling in the state forest system.

HR 864 is a House resolution calling on Congress to pass the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act and repeals current exemptions granted to oil and gas companies under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

He has not signed on to Phyllis Mundy's HB 2609 which calls for a 1 year moratorium on new natural gas drilling state-wide until environmental studies can be completed, but this is a good start.

The thing to remember about House bills is that they go no where until the Senate approves them, so please write to Senator Mensch in our PA State Senate and urge him to reach across the aisle to pass these bills in the Senate!

noel jones said...

I have received an email back from Sen. Mensch, and he too seems to be taking the health risks of hydrofracking seriously and acknowledges that waiting to drill would at least give Pennsylvanians the chance to get the necessary training so that the jobs created do not keep going to Texans and people from other states--he has promised to get back to me. It's nice to know that everyone recognizes that this is not a Democratic issue or a Republican issue, but a HUMAN issue of health, and protecting our land, water and property values.

noel jones said...

Ok, here's a new twist. When I spoke with Rep. Bob Freeman (D), he mentioned that there was a bill moving through the House that would establish a severance tax on current drilling, and direct 50% of that tax to the general budget, and the rest to the (Dept. of Environmental Protection) DEP to support oversight as well as to help the communities affected by the drilling.

When I spoke to Sen. Mensch (R) a few days later, he said that the Senate shot down a bill that came out of the House establishing a severance tax on drilling and directing 81% of the tax to the general fund--the Senate felt that it was, among other things, an exorbitant amount to direct to the general state budget, rather than to oversight, remediation and repair in the communities affected by the drilling.

My question is this--was this--as the Senate seems to suggest in their vote-- an attempted money grab by the House to alleviate strained local budgets in crisis around the state, rather than making painful decisions to cut waste? Or was the move to increase the percentage from 50% to 81% a political play to get credit for attempting to pass a severance tax to please those in favor, while knowing the Senate was unlikely to pass it, thereby pleasing Big Gas but blaming it on the Senate? Or did the House really believe that they had enough support in the Senate to pass 81%?

According to Mensch, the Senate was ok with the originally proposed 50%. Why then the jump to 81% at the last minute?

Let us remember that Bob Freeman does not represent all members of the House, nor does Bob Mensch represent all members of the Senate...