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
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson: “Natural gas is an important part of our nation’s energy future, and it’s critical that the extraction of this valuable natural resource does not come at the expense of safe water and healthy communities.” -EPA press release, 9/09/10
Okay. Most of the conventional natural gas is gone. What’s left? Unconventional natural gas such as coalbed methane and shale gas. What does production of unconventional gas require? Yup, hydraulic fracturing.
If EPA doesn’t know if hydraulic fracturing is safe, and it’s just embarking on a study to determine whether it’s safe, how can Jackson say, “natural gas is an important part of our nation’s energy future”?
Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse?
Or, in fact, is the study’s outcome already determined?
You could be excused for thinking so. EPA’s meetings around the country have been carefully engineered to avoid meaningful citizen participation, with 2-minute time limits on comments, and a slot-assignment system that prevents a group of citizens from ceding pooled time to a designated speaker who could then make a comment of reasonable length that would allow significant content.
We have a news flash for you, Ms Jackson: Natural gas extraction is already coming at the expense of safe water and healthy communities. It has been for years. And while which aspects of the extraction process are responsible for which health and community effects are nice distinctions that bureaucrats not living with gas extraction think they have the luxury of debating at length, a lot of Americans in 32 states living in a personal hell because of natural gas extraction think those distinctions are a bit academic. They don’t care whether the contamination of their water is due to drilling or fracturing. They don’t care whether their air is being poisoned by fracking waste ponds, drilling compressors, or condensate tanks.
They’d just like to have their lives back.
From the Fort Worth Weekly blog, this was just too good to pass up:
Thursday, October 1st, 2009 by Jeff Prince
Jim Beam over ice with a splash of H20 is my favorite cocktail, and since all three ingredients require water I am concerned when somebody comes along and threatens the earth’s supply.
Fort Worth Weekly was among the first news organizations to explore the largely unregulated use of water by gas drillers and to explore how laws are stacked in the industry’s favor (“Til Your Wells Run Dry,” June 29, 2005, and “Water…Water…Where?” Oct. 4, 2006).
This paper has published numerous stories about people’s water wells being contaminated or dried up after a gas well began drilling nearby. Every time, the energy companies denied responsibility and said there’s no proof, you go get your expert and we’ll get our 12 experts, you go get your lawyer and we’ll get our team of lawyers and we’ll all meet in court…for many, many years until you’re bled dry, sucker.
Tarrant County and the Barnett Shale aren’t unique. The same fight is being waged across the country, wherever drilling is occurring.
Here’s the latest report, a good one from Reuters about polluted water wells in Wyoming. The EPA, which is taking baby steps toward growing a set of balls these days, says water wells tested positive for 14 contaminants and that nearby gas drilling might possibly maybe kinda be at fault.
As usual, the gas industry says “prove it, pal.”
Randy Teeuwen, a spokesman for EnCana Corp., which operates 248 wells in that part of Wyoming, was quoted by Reuters as saying, “The industry contends drilling chemicals are heavily diluted and injected safely into gas reservoirs thousands of feet beneath aquifers, so they will never seep into drinking water supplies. There has never been a documented case of fracking that’s contaminated wells or groundwater. We know they don’t have the science to prove what they say.”
The Reuters article ends with this: “Critics say their kids have gotten sick, their animals have died, and their water has in some cases become flammable because methane escaped into aquifers from gas wells. But they have been unable to prove their case because drilling companies are not required to disclose exactly what chemicals they use, thanks to an exemption to a federal clean water law granted to the oil and gas industry in 2005.”
Back in 2005, the Weekly was just perking up to the potential for water problems. The industry, of course, was way ahead of the game, already getting exemptions passed in their favor. Lobbyists and their wheelbarrows filled with cash have a way of encouraging exemptions.
From the CPR Blog, September 2, 2009
Climate Change Schizophrenia: Cash For Coal Clunkers, Anthems for Natural Gas, and Delaying Regulation of Hydraulic Fracturing Won’t Win this Epic Battle
Those of us worried sick over climate change confronted a depressing piece of excellent reporting in Monday’s Washington Post. Environment reporter David Fahrenthold wrote that environmental organizations are getting their proverbial clocks cleaned by a well-organized and pervasive campaign mounted by affected industries in small and mid-size communities throughout America. “It seems that environmentalists are struggling in a fight they have spent years setting up,” Fahrenthold wrote. “Even now, these groups differ on whether to scare the public with predictions of heat waves or woo it with promises of green jobs.”
If scaring the public is the objective, environmentalists don’t have to look very far for hard facts to support the effort. All they really need to do is focus on what the world’s most prominent and reputable scientists keep trying to tell us about the dismal state of the environment that we’re preparing to hand over to our children—not in 100 but in 30 or 40 years—if we don’t control our energy consumption. Spend an hour perusing the various reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a remarkable consortium of thousands of the world’s leading experts in all of the relevant scientific disciplines, and the scope and severity of the problem will be abundantly clear. It’s even more troubling when one considers that the IPCC is an international group that operates by consensus, and still manages to frame warnings that will turn your hair white.
So what’s the dilemma for environmentalists? Why don’t they simply recite the facts, reminding Americans of the great damage caused by unregulated pollution and the important benefits of cleaning it up? It’s a strategy that has worked on a number of environmental issues in the past, even in the face of brutally misleading industry campaigns along the lines of the one we’re now witnessing. Why, when even John McCain ostensibly agrees with them on this issue, have so many decided they need to convert climate change into an economic development issue?
Well, even without the effective industry campaign and the expected outspending of environmental organizations by fossil fuel producers, a dismally bad economy is a very tough time to bring up legislation that admittedly would cost significant money sooner than it will deliver its far more valuable benefits. The worst damage will be in the developing world, and despite dire predictions of sea levels overwhelming the Florida coastline and the edges of Manhattan, weak-kneed legislators hide behind the demand that China and India go first.
But environmentalists are making matters tougher on themselves by confusing the public about what is truly at stake. Green jobs are a good idea, but not the main reason to control carbon emissions. And when folks cross the line into advocating the interests of specific industries that could reap a windfall from the legislation, they hopelessly confuse their audience.
I have great respect for the work of the Center for American Progress (CAP), and its founder and leader, John Podesta, former Clinton chief of staff and Obama transition head. Indeed, the Center for Progressive Reform has worked with CAP on a number of occasions in the past, and looks forward to future collaborations. But Mr. Podesta recently joined with former Colorado Senator Tim Wirth, also a progressive with a strong track record, to produce a report on energy sources that has some language that endorses a rollback of environmental protection beyond the reasonable expectations of the energy industry.
The report was jointly published by the Center and the Energy Future Coalition, a “broad-based non-partisan alliance that seeks to bridge the differences among business, labor, and environmental groups and identify energy policy options with broad political support.” Its advisory council includes the director of corporate affairs for Shell Oil Co., and its steering committee includes Frances Beinecke, the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a preeminent national environmental group. The report’s main purpose is to sing an anthem to natural gas as the “bridge fuel for the 21st century.” It proposes to use money raised by selling licenses to release carbon to compensate the owners of old, dirty coal-fired power plants that would be closed down, analogizing the program to the popular “cash for clunkers” automobile subsidy program.
Now, nothing is wrong with politics making strange bedfellows, as all the tributes to Senator Ted Kennedy illustrated so well. But the partnership should be judged by the content of the proposals it yields, not simply by the novelty of the collaboration.
In this case, the collaboration has produced a proposal that would significantly delay meaningful controls on a method of extracting natural gas that is among the most environmentally destructive ways to produce electricity. They write (on pages 9-10 of the report):
One critical part of the process for producing shale gas in the United States, including shale gas, is called “fracking.” It involves pumping water and other materials under high pressure deep into rock formations that hold gas. The process fractures the rock and holds open the fissures to allow the gas to flow to the surface more efficiently. This process can employ toxic chemicals such as benzene and has the potential to pollute deep aquifers, groundwater, and surface waters.
Adjacent communities are concerned about the public health impacts from the use and release of toxic substances, both naturally occurring and those used in the natural gas production process such as benzene, formaldehyde, or radioactive materials. The process also yields significant amounts of air pollution.
As a first step, the EPA must undertake a comprehensive scientific analysis of the air, land, water, and global warming impacts from natural gas production.
After the release of this analysis, states should have the opportunity to adopt the appropriate safeguards to protect their residents and environment. If a state declines to act after a reasonable amount of time, then the federal government should have the authority to establish safeguards for the state based on the state’s particular characteristics, including location of the gas, water system, and other relevant variables.
On its face, such a policy seems to make sense. But what it ignores is that EPA has a long history with fracking, having spent thousands of hours mastering the environmental downsides of natural gas production. That’s why the report could list the problems with the method with such certainty. “A comprehensive scientific analysis” is an industry euphemism for another long stall—not for months but for years—before regulators take effective action to curb the environmental damage caused by the mammoth expansion of natural gas production that the report advocates. Worse, the idea that after doing all this research, EPA should stand back and let the gas-producing states take the lead, stepping in only after much more delay, would amount to a rollback of environmental protection to the dark days of the 1950s and 1960s, before modern environmentalism and federal regulation began.
No wonder the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold thinks the environmental movement is so confused. Its leaders need to expand their vision beyond forming coalitions with industry and return to the kind of advocacy they do best: explaining to the American people what will happen to the environment if we do not act.
In a story published on 8/27/09, Jon Hurdle of Reuters reports:
U.S. finds water polluted near gas-drilling sites
PHILADELPHIA, Aug 27 (Reuters) – U.S. government scientists have for the first time found chemical contaminants in drinking water wells near natural gas drilling operations, fueling concern that a gas-extraction technique is endangering the health of people who live close to drilling rigs.
The Environmental Protection Agency found chemicals that researchers say may cause illnesses including cancer, kidney failure, anemia and fertility problems in water from 11 of 39 wells tested around the Wyoming town of Pavillion in March and May this year.
. . . . .
Evidence of a link between gas drilling and water contamination would set back development of a clean-burning fuel promoted by the Obama administration as crucial to the future of U.S. energy production.
. . . . .
“There may be an indication of groundwater contamination by oil and gas activities,” said the 44-page report, which received little public attention when released on Aug. 11. “Many activities in gas well drilling (and) hydraulic fracturing … involve injecting water and other fluids into the well and have the potential to create cross-contamination of aquifers.”
Among the contaminants found in some of the wells was 2-butoyethanol, or 2-BE, a solvent used in natural gas extraction, which researchers say causes the breakdown of red blood cells, leading to blood in the urine and feces, and can damage the kidneys, liver, spleen and bone marrow.
Greg Oberley, an EPA scientist who has been testing the water samples, said the agency did not set out to prove that hydraulic fracturing caused groundwater contamination, but was responding to complaints from local residents that their well water had become discolored or foul-smelling or tasted bad.
The investigation was the EPA’s first in response to claims that gas drilling is polluting water supplies, he said. Testing will continue.
LINK TO GAS INDUSTRY?
While the EPA team has not determined how the chemicals got into the water, many are associated with gas drilling, Oberley said in a telephone interview.
“The preponderance of those compounds in the area would be attributable to the oil and gas industry,” he said.
. . . . .
John Fenton, a farmer in Pavillion, a rural community of about 150 people, said residents blame gas drilling for a range of illnesses including rare cancers, miscarriages and nervous system disorders.
Families with contaminated water wells have been advised by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention not to drink the water, which in some cases was black and oily, with a petroleum-like sheen, and a smell of gas, Fenton said.
“The stress is incredible,” Fenton told Reuters. “People have built their lives and businesses here. What’s it all worth now?”
An e-mail from one citizen & taxpayer to Barbara Fiala:
I am writing in regard to Broome County’s decision to hire a lobbyist
to urge Albany not to get “bogged down” in its environmental review of
drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
The shale gas drilling techniques that have come into use over the
last decade were developed in an atmosphere of very poor regulatory
control. A May 19 press release on hydrofracturing from Congressman
“More than 1,000 cases of contamination have been documented by
courts and state and local governments in New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio,
Texas, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. In one case, a house exploded after
hydraulic fracturing created underground passageways and methane
seeped into the residential water supply.
A 2004 EPA study, which was haphazardly conducted with a bias
toward a desired outcome, concluded that fracturing did not pose a
risk to drinking water. However, Hinchey noted that the more than
1,000 reported contamination incidents have cast significant doubt on
the report’s findings and the report’s own body contains damaging
information that wasn’t mentioned in the conclusion. In fact, the
study foreshadowed many of the problems now being reported across the
We have recently seen drilling-related methane contamination of water
wells in nearby Dimock, PA. Questions still remain as to exactly how
the water in Dimock became contaminated. Once an aquifer is
contaminated, it may be extremely difficult or even impossible to
clean it up. Fortunately, so far, no one has been killed by the
drilling-related explosions that have occurred in water wells, and, in
one case, in a home. But there is certainly no guarantee that we will
continue to be that lucky.
It is often said that New York’s environmental regulations regarding
drilling are superior to those of other states, but a review of the NY
regulations does not bear out that claim. For example, NY’s setbacks
from residences and bodies of water are much smaller than those in
many other areas. Water is becoming increasingly precious as shortages
occur around the world and in other parts of our own country. Areas
possessing clean water are likely to be increasingly desirable in the
future. Our water is our area’s most valuable natural resource and we
should not endanger it.
Last summer and fall, the NYSDEC demonstrated that it did NOT have a
good grasp of the multiple issues involved in shale gas drilling.
Rather, it was members of the public and of local environmental groups
who researched the damage that has occurred from this type of gas
drilling in other areas and then made the NYSDEC aware of that damage
through the informational meetings and draft scope SGEIS hearings held
by the NYSDEC. The NYSDEC received thousands of comments on its draft
scope. Many, many of those comments were NOT in support of drilling.
I do not believe that the NYSDEC is getting bogged down in
bureaucracy. They are understaffed and do not have the resources
needed to deal with this issue in a truly thorough manner. Even if
they had sufficient resources, the environmental review would still
require a great deal of care and time. This is an extremely complex
and technical issue; the drilling’s impacts will be long-lasting and
wide-ranging and are likely to negatively affect not only our water,
but our air, the health of our forests and farmlands, the nature and
desirability of our communities, and the health of our people.
Many Broome County residents are not in favor of this drilling. While
the pro-drilling landowners’ groups may be well organized, it is
important to recognize that most of the residents of this county do
not own large tracts of land, will see little or no financial gain
from the drilling, and may suffer serious personal and financial
losses if their quality of life, their health, and/or the value of
their homes are negatively impacted by the drilling.
I would also like to point out that the current price of natural gas
is quite low, that some experts expect it to remain low for some time,
and that the first few years of production are usually the highest for
any given shale gas well. It is therefore quite likely that if Broome
County’s land is drilled in the near future, the county will be
selling a large fraction of its recoverable gas at bargain-basement
We have all seen the results of the TCE contamination in Endicott. Our
area does not need more of the same. Frankly, given the track record
of the gas industry and the high well density needed to recover
appreciable amounts of gas from the Marcellus Shale, it seems
extremely likely that Broome County will end up with a number of
seriously contaminated drilling sites, several areas in which homes
have no reliable water supply, poor air quality, a loss of green
space, lowered residential property values in areas where drilling
occurs, a loss of residents who prefer not to live in an
industrialized area, difficulty attracting new and highly skilled
residents to the area, additional costly health problems among its
residents, and probably a whole host of unforeseen problems as well.
We should not rush into this. The gas is not going anywhere. And I
would add that, in any case, the gas industry is well able to afford
its own lobbyists.
For all of the reasons explained above, I do not think it is in Broome
County’s best interest to spend taxpayer dollars to hire a lobbyist to
push for gas drilling.