Holy Terror Farm is a paradise of sorts on the banks of Terror Creek in the Western Colorado Rockies. Bushels of fresh fruits and vegetables of every sort, species, and color sprout from this soil every season (yes, even winter!). And all the water that irrigates the orchard, garden, and pastures here is siphoned directly from the pristine flows of Terror Creek, a tributary of the Gunnison River.
Since buying the farm in spring 2010, Alison and Jason have doubled the number of trees in the orchard and quadrupled the garden space. They feed the home first, and excess produce is sold online mostly, thru a farmers market called Local Farms First. But the “chemical free” orchards here would no longer be able to make that claim reliably if gas wells were erected on the banks of Terror Creek. Who would want to eat that food anymore?
The farmers in this valley have a great thing going here! And Alison isn’t the only one threatened; the BLM leasing proposal for gas drilling includes parcels that border schools, parks, and orchards all over the valley. It can be taken as a given that these two industries cannot coexist side-by-side. So why is it permissible for one industry to come and kick another out that was here first? That permission is representative of the fact that our federal and state governments, under the direction of industry experts, have put energy production before food production.
There are two main reasons for this jacked up priority order, and the first is pretty simple: we have to move food, among other things, across the nation and overseas to the markets in which they’ll be sold. And movement of goods takes fuel. We’ve got an infrastructure that is far larger than is really sustainable and we don’t want to face that fact. The second reason is more important, and far more discouraging: energy sells for great prices overseas where nations don’t have the technology or reckless abandon necessary to cultivate their own fossil fuels. So how do we address these two issues?
The first we can make serious progress on immediately: grow a garden! By eating locally, working locally, and investing in a localized community this will start to change. The stronger our localities, the less they have to lean on the larger national and international frameworks for their needs. The second issue is tougher to solve, especially in a capitalist society. It’s hard to tell a gas company not to sell its natural gas to Chinese markets for $16 when the unit price domestically is closer to $2.25. There’s not much we can do to make this look like a good business decision. But lifting of the veil has begun; secrets about the failing financial model of shale gas are starting to be exposed to the public. Reserve estimates in the Marcellus and Barnett shale plays, once thought to be huge moneymakers, have been slashed by 80%! As we seek to expose the truth, our foot is in the door.
Education is key here; we need to learn as a public what the problems and conflicts are in this industry so we start making better decisions on a legislative as well as a personal level. One thing I know for sure since starting this project is that the energy industry is a great liar. And since it fills the bank quite well, our political leaders stand idly by or believe the lies themselves. But this film is our little bit of education and we hope stories like it can help raise the knowledge base of the people. We’re learning so much about this conflict as we go along, and we want you to learn with us. Please help us get this film made!
Our neighbors in Tonawanda, on the Niagara River in western New York State just south of Buffalo, were being poisoned for decades by a company that, unlike the gas/oil industry, does not enjoy exemptions from clean water, clean air, toxic waste laws and other regulations set in place to protect our environment and health.For many years regulatory agencies DEC (NYS) and EPA (federal) ignored residents’ complaints of foul air and physical ailments, outrageously high rates of cancer and other diseases, and benzene levels 500 TIMES HIGHER than what is considered the highest acceptable level in state guidelines. Not only benzene, but other highly toxic chemicals were being released over decades into the air and water by a company called Tonawanda Coke Corporation. (No doubt others of the 50 or so industrial polluters that have PERMITS in Tonawanda contributed even more.).From the piece:Joe Martens, commissioner of New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, defended the record of his agency, which eventually set up high-tech air quality monitors that documented extremely elevated benzene levels, leading to the enforcement actions. But he said such sophisticated equipment had not been available previously. So state officials had no way of knowing about the benzene, formaldehyde, and other toxic emissions seeping from leaks in equipment and piping at the plant, Martens said. “Hazardous air pollutants are difficult to detect. We didn’t have the equipment to do the type of detection — you know, police work — that EPA was able to do” later.After reading this, what kind of idiot would say, “Hey, sure the DEC and DEP and EPA will protect us from being poisoned by industry”? Ask the people of Tonawanda, many of whom have become very sick and some of whom have died because of the toxins dumped on them by this single iron-smelting factory..Yet we are to trust that the DEC and other flaccid regulatory agencies will protect us from Big Gas and related industries and their fracking and related machines? No way, Jose! We must tell the DEC and the governor that no amount of regulation is acceptable. DEC (and DEP and other states’ agencies) regulations are not acceptable. Only a full and total ban on industrial poisoning from fracking and other industries is acceptable..Read the great investigative piece on Tonawanda citizens who fought back against the polluting company, which was FINALLY CHARGED IN CRIMINAL COURT because poisoning us and our communities IS A CRIME and thus should be in the criminal code. Every one of the corporate officers and senior staff should serve serious jail time and pay heavy financial damages to those they poisoned. Not that any amount of money could restore the poisoned people’s lives or adequately compensate for their losses.
This piece is part of a fine, scary, and eye-opening new series by the Center for Public Integrity in concert with Slate and NPR, called “Poisoned Places.”As often happens during in-depth investigations — an unexpected discovery. Reporters learned that the EPA maintains a “watch list” that includes serious or chronic Clean Air Act violators that have not been subject to timely enforcement. Two versions of the internal list, never previously made public, were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. (More about the watch list here.)
Congratulations to the investigators, researchers, writers, editors, publishers, and funder of these important pieces. May they awaken people to the dangers we face and help them force change to protect and sustain the places we live, the air we breathe, and the lives we hope to continue leading.
- Maura Stephens, independent writer, associate director of the Park Center for Independent Media, and a cofounder of Coalition to Protect New York
From a follow-up interview conducted by e-mail and used with permission:
Thanks for coming up to Ithaca on Friday.
On a separate note, would you mind if I share your experience with fracking with people in Ithaca? If it’s okay with you for me to do so, I’d also like to confirm what you told me:
1. Pollution of your well (two wells?). How did this show up?
Bohlander: We have two wells on the farm (190 acres). We had a detailed baseline water testing done on both before any of the gas activity happened in our area. We subsequently have had another 6 or so tests done on these wells. It is crucial to have certified baseline testing done prior to any activity by gas companies or they will claim there is no proof they are the cause and argue it was a pre-existing condition. We also retained a very competent hydrologist (who has the gas company clients) who was the plaintiffs hydrologist in the Dimock, PA contamination (highlighted in the movie Gasland). The well for the barn/and original farmhouse was so contaminated with methane they thought it would explode so the well pump was disconnected for six months and water was trucked in by the gas companies for the animals, and spring water for the humans!
2. The operations end up being more extensive than anticipated. The “pads” are large, and end up being used for other operations.
Bohlander: Gas companies are major deceivers. They do this many ways. One is using land agents that are not their employees so that they can claim “we never said that ..they did”
Most all the neighbors were told that the gas wells would be drilled, it would take 3 months or so, and then land would be restored to earlier state. In reality this is what happens. They excavate a pad obliterating the natural terrain, hauling in 100’s of trucks of stone, gravel, etc. Once the pad is completed, they only drill 2-4 actual gas wells of what ultimately are likely going to be 12 or so on that pad. They may not frack the drilled wells immediately, but wait sometimes a year. The intention is to refrack over and over the same drilled wells. They are now claiming there is 60 years of gas here. Simultaneously, although not on all pads, they use the pads for other things such as equipment storage, frack water storage, and the worst: frack water recycling which we have three in our neighborhood and 2 are 10 year permits (one is in the review process, 9 days to go). These are REGIONAL frack water recycling operations bringing in dirty radioactive brine from 15 miles away or more, operating 24/7 with extensive noise, lights and traffic. DEP is way behind on enforcement. The neighbors are the enforcers, but it is David vs. Goliath (the gas companies). After four years now, I have not seen one well pad restored back to the original state. The stated plan by the gas companies is that there will be one well pad every 50 acres. If the well pad is 10 acres, 20% of our surface land area will be a perpetual well pad.
3. Extensive light pollution due to 24/7 operation.
Bohlander: Re frack water recycling: They power huge lights that light of the pads for the whole night. They don’t use street electric but generators which contribute to the noise. The trucks have large pumps that due to the volume of 5200 gallons per truck are large motors, the trucks endlessly are using their backup safety beepers, horns for instructions to the ground crew, etc. The three sites in our neighborhood will generate 800 trucks a day, 1600 with return trip passes.
The gas drilling when it goes on makes it almost impossible to sleep. 24/7, 7 days a week.
4. Extensive trucking.
Bohlander: The gas companies make new roads over smaller older roads to accommodate their extensive traffic. The state allows them to exceed the weight limit of the road by paying some fee or posting a bond. The small country road in front of our farm is now elevated 3 feet in the air from normal ground level. Certain roads are used as main arterial roads after they have been rebuilt –this happened to ours. The trucks are hauling huge amounts of gravel, fill, fresh water for fracking and the dirty brine water out, as well as all the equipment for the drilling process. Each well on the pad uses 5 million gallons of water. 60% flows back and is recycled, but removed from the site. Our road was destroyed initially and impassible. The gas companies then closed 10 mile stretches of the road for months at a time as they began rebuilding it. One landowner could only get to and from his property with a four wheeler.
5. Feel free to add any other relevant details.
Bohlander: The gas companies have a very systematic playbook from the years of operating and polluting Colorado, Wyoming, Texas, etc. They have two sides: a friendly neighborly “give $35K to the fire company” and then a ruthless no-holds-barred side. Three times they threatened that in 24 hours they were going to stop trucking in water for the cows in our barn unless we agreed to things. These things include non-disclosure agreements, consent not to sue, etc. Read the book Collateral Damage. A lot of good environmental activist groups with websites and a lot of info. Many have been to our house. We were one of the first contaminated sites in this region from the drilling.
The public does not have any idea how bad the permanent environmental contamination is going to be. There has been major barium and radiation poisoning with some already. One not far from us is a 13-year- old girl with barium poisoning. One of our immediate neighbors’ daughters is having clumps of hair fall out and his dog got sick and parakeet died from drinking his well water. He abuts one of the frack water recycling sites.
Air pollution is the sleeping giant. Each well pad on an ongoing basis emits things into the air (like toluene) as the gas goes through a preliminary filtering process at the well pad. The absolutely worst are the gas compression stations for both noise and air pollution.
As you may know, the gas drilling is exempt from the Clean Water Act — we actually are more apt to be fined if manure is spread on the road, than these major infractions the gas company are doing. The environmental enforcement agencies only slap their wrists with fines. Cost of doing business to gas companies –easier to just pay the fine.
Leaked to un-naturalgas.org:
on natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale
for internal use with Governor Cuomo’s office and DEC
From the executive summary:
“The potential transportation impacts are ominous. Assuming current gas drilling technology and a lower level of development than will be experienced in Pennsylvania the Marcellus region will see a peak year increase of up to 1.5-million heavy truck trips, and induced development may increase peak hour trips by 36,000 trips/hour. While this new traffic will be distributed around the Marcellus region this Discussion Paper suggests that it will be necessary to reconstruct hundreds of miles of roads and scores of bridges and undertake safety and operational improvements in many areas.
“The annual costs to undertake these transportation projects are estimated to range from $90 to $156 million for State roads and from $121-$222 million for local roads. There is no mechanism in place allowing State and local governments to absorb these additional transportation costs without major impacts to other programs and other municipalities in the State.
“This Discussion Paper also concludes that the New York State Department of Transportation and local governments currently lack the authority and resources necessary to mitigate such problems. And, that if the State is to prepare for and resolve these problems it is time to establish a frank and open dialogue among the many parties involved.”
Click here for OCR’d version.
In its Executive Summary of the revised SGEIS released yesterday, the DEC states clearly that groundwater is at sufficient risk from gas drilling to restrict gas drilling to protect those drinking groundwater. But they only afford that protection to those drinking from primary aquifers. The DEC leaves the great majority of drinkers of groundwater in the Marcellus unprotected. They have some explaining to do.
I’m looking forward to hearing the DEC’s logic and science—their risk assessment strategy— used to assess that only some drinkers of contaminated groundwater need protection.
Primary aquifers are used as drinking water for some municipalities.
The list is on on page 5: http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/water_pdf/togs213.pdf
The list includes about 300,000 people in those municipalities drinking water from these primary aquifers in counties in the Marcellus shale. (see attached spreadsheet and chart at bottom.)
Page 18 of the new DEC doc describes the exclusion of primary aquifers. It’s pasted below, bold face added.
No HVHF Operations on Primary Aquifers
Although not subject to Filtration Avoidance Determinations, 18 other aquifers in the State of New York have been identified by the New York State Department of Health as highly productive aquifers presently utilized as sources of water supply by major municipal water supply systems and are designated as “primary aquifers.” Because these aquifers are the primary source of drinking water for many public drinking water supplies, the Department recommends in this dSGEIS that site disturbance relating to HVHF operations should not be permitted there either or in a protective 500-foot buffer area around them. Horizontal extraction of gas resources underneath Primary Aquifers from well pads located outside this area would not significantly impact this valuable water resource.
As the DEC says, this is in addition to the exclusion of drilling in the watersheds of NYC and Syracuse.
Now, one can make an argument, as the DEC has, that the exclusion of drilling in the NYC and Syracuse water supplies is based on their being unfiltered surface water (as opposed to ground water), with a risk of “turbidity” from surface drilling activity. And because there have been rules in place for years restricting industry and development in unfiltered surface watersheds to avoid having to build super-expensive filtration plants, as for NYC. A more clear eyed assessment of carving out the NYC watershed is that the DEC wants to excise the political opposition of NYC, which could easily create a critical mass of opposition in the state. But they do have the surface water “turbidity” argument to fall back on to explain this preferential exclusion, even if politics is the underlying reason.
But when you are dealing with groundwater sources, how can you rationally and scientifically exclude some aquifers and not others? Again, the actual rationale appears overtly political, rather than based on the science or risk. The DEC is trying to carve out the opposition of the municipalities drinking from primary aquifers—including Jamestown, Elmira, Cortland, Binghamton, Corning, Salamanca. After all, these municipalities are really organized entities of people…….. who would otherwise likely oppose drilling.
Problem is, there are at least 1,140,000 people drinking groundwater in the Marcellus shale. What’s up, DEC? You’ve determined that groundwater is at risk. You’re going to protect 300,000 people from ground water pollution, but not the other 840,000.
Who are those people? Hello, it’s us, the people of rural NY State who will be drinking from polluted wells. It’s us, people who will not be receiving equal protection against the very threats that the DEC assesses are too risky for the people of upstate municipalities.
I think I’m going to call my lawyer.
Ken Jaffe, MD
county percent of population drinking groundwater county population population drinking groundwater population drinking groundwater from primary aquifer population drinking groundwater not from primary aquifer name of primary aquifer Cortland 100 49,336 49,336 39,000 10,336 Cortland-
Chenango 95 50,477 47,953 47,953 Tioga 90 51,125 46,013 46,013 Waverly-
Cattaraugus 90 80,317 72,285 72,285 Salamanca Allegany 85 48,946 41,604 41,604 Steuben 80 98,990 79,192 49,000 30,192 Corning-Cohocton Broome 80 200,600 160,480 110,000 50,480 Endicott-
Schuyler 80 18,343 14,674 14,674 Madison 75 73,442 55,082 55,082 Otsego 75 62,259 46,694 46,694 Chemung 70 88,830 62,181 50,000 12,181 Elmira Yates 60 25,348 15,209 15,209 Genesee 60 60,079 36,047 36,047 Wyoming 55 42,155 23,185 23,185 Chautauqua 50 134,905 67,453 52,000 15,453 Jamestown Seneca 30 35,251 10,575 10,575 Ontario 25 107,931 26,983 26,983 Cayuga 25 80,026 20,007 20,007 Albany 20 304,204 60,841 60,841 Tompkins 15 101,564 15,235 15,235 Onondaga 15 467,026 70,054 70,054 Monroe 10 744,344 74,434 74,434 Erie 5 919,040 45,952 45,952 Totals 3,844,538 1,141,468 300,000 841,468
- incomplete DEC data on primary aquifer in Cattaraugus and Tioga Counties may underestimate those drinking from primary aquifer by up to 50,000; this could raise the total using primary aquifers to about 350,000
- incomplete DEC data on total users of ground water does not include Delaware and Sullivan Counties; this could raise the total users of unprotected groundwater to about 950,000
In a February 23rd story, the Denver Post reports that homeowner Tracy Dahl lost his case before the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Dahl’s water went bad on June 30, 2010, according to the Post story, “the same day that Pioneer fracked its Alibi well about 1300 feet away.”
The COGCC – which “regulates” gas extraction in the state – is notoriously pro-industry, a universal condition of regulating agencies, which really serve the industry they’re supposed to be watchdogging.
According to the story,
“‘There is no question there is something wrong with your well,” commission member Mark Cutright said. ‘The question is whether you proved fracking impacted your well.’
“The commission, in a unanimous vote, ruled Dahl had not.
“‘Alibi is a good name for that well,’ Dahl said.
“The commission investigates dozens of well complaints each year.”
Whether any of those complaints receive a fair hearing is a question worth considering. According to someone present at the hearing, “The landowner…was not allowed to present his side of the story and [was] barred from submitting his consultant’s reports on the grounds they were hearsay.”
The oil & gas industry is used to calling the shots wherever it goes, a reality that must be acknowledged by any individual considering leasing and every public official in every state where the industry seeks drilling permits. To fail to understand the nature of the industry, and the nature of its relationship with its “regulating” agencies, is to pave the way for tragedy and travesty.
Complete Denver Post story here.