Opinion

New Ohio Fracking Waste Underground Injection Rules Still Second Class

Posted August 15, 2012 in Curbing PollutionHealth and the EnvironmentU.S. Law and Policy

This afternoon I filed a technical comment letter with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) on behalf of NRDC and ten other organizations and individuals regarding the changes that ODNR is making to its rules governing the disposal of wastewater from fracking into underground injection wells.   In the comments we filed today we point out a number of specific, technical ways in which these new rules don’t go nearly far enough to address both seismic and groundwater contamination risks.

Ohio’s injection wells have made headlines recently because of the massive increase of fracking wastewater that is projected for disposal in the next few years.   With each fracking operation requiring millions of gallons of water, and with thousands of wells projected to be drilled in Ohio (not to mention wastewater trucked into Ohio from Pennsylvania and potentially other states), billions of gallons of contaminated wastewater will likely be injected underground in the state according to the rules that ODNR is now in the process of revising.  Such a large volume of fluid and number of potential wells means that even a small failure rate could have significant negative consequences for human health and the environment.

An ever-increasing amount of evidence demonstrates that oil and gas wastes are toxic and have had substantial negative effects on human health and the environment.  But because oil and gas waste has been given a special exemption from federal hazardous waste requirements, it is not subject to the same rigorous testing and disposal requirements as other toxic wastes under federal law.  When it comes to underground injection, that means that oil and gas waste is subject, literally, to second-class rules (they are known as “Class II Underground Injection Control” rules) that are significantly weaker than the “Class I” rules governing disposal of other hazardous waste.  In particular, the Class II rules are less stringent in ensuring that injection wells are not sited in areas where there are existing fault lines, abandoned wells, or other subsurface geological features that would increase the risk of earthquakes or groundwater contamination.  The Class II rules also require less rigorous monitoring and testing to ensure that injection wells continue to function properly once underground disposal begins.

The high-profile, nationally reported earthquakes last December in Youngstown, Ohio that were linked to nearby injection wells provided the state with plenty of reason to update its Class II rules.  In response to this incident, ODNR is expanding the scope of the reviews of seismic risk that it may require when a new injection well is sited.  Yet even though ODNR issued a press release in March saying that it was going to require stronger standards in its new Class II rules, the rules are written in terms of what ODNR may require for injection wells, not what it shall require.  In other words, the rules don’t establish clear, uniform requirements that will be applied to every well.  Without requirements that are applied across the board, there will be no reliable way to be sure that the same environmental protections are applied to every injection well permit.  Rather, full and fair implementation the rules will depend on the vagaries of who happens to be in charge of the permitting process at any particular moment in time.  Even if we take the current ODNR leadership at its word that it is fully committed to implementing these rules, there is no guarantee that future administrations will share that commitment.

Ohio deserves better than a second-class set of rules to address the serious risks inherent in disposing of the billions of gallons of toxic fracking wastewater that are likely to be injected underground in coming years.  There is no excuse for allowing this toxic waste to be disposed of less carefully than other hazardous materials.

Via Thom Cmar’s Blog @ http://switchboard.nrdc.org

 

Replicated only for posterity. All credit goes to Thom Cmar and switchboard.nrdc.org. Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Original article found @http://switchboard.nrdc.org/blogs/tcmar/new_ohio_fracking_waste_rules.html

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What the Frack!?!

By Jim Hightower, Hightower Lowdown

11 July 12

Texas' progressive political curmudgeon, Jim Hightower. (photo: JimHightower.com)

Whether you’re religious or not, seeing flames coming out of your kitchen faucet would be enough to make you fall to your knees, fearing that a cosmic force of incomprehensible evil is loose on our land.

In more and more areas across America, families are discovering to their astonishment that their “water” has turned combustible. Rather than metaphysical, however, the force behind this fiery phenomenon is all too human, and we can even put a name on it: Dick Cheney. His is, after all, the picture-perfect face of snarling political evil, and while you had probably hoped that we’d seen the last of him when he left office three years ago, his presence still looms–including in the form of flaming faucets.

Those flames come straight from behind-the-scenes maneuvers that Cheney began right at the very start of his vice presidency to achieve a personal legislative goal, which he finally did by inserting this arcane bit of language into the 2005 Bush-Cheney energy policy bill: “Paragraph (1) of section 1421(d) of the Safe Drinking Water Act (42 U.S.C. 300h (d)) is amended… [to exclude] the underground injection of fluids or propping agents (other than diesel fuels) pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities.” With that, Dick Cheney fracked us.

Hydraulic fracturing–commonly known in the natural gas drilling industry as “fracking”–is as coarse as it sounds. It’s a mining technique for forcing gas (or oil) out of underground rock formations, in particular gas contained within layers of shale rock that generally lie from 5,000 to 20,000 feet beneath Earth’s surface. Here’s how it’s done: (1) a borehole is drilled down to the shale; (2) a pipe is then cemented into the hole to allow millions of gallons of fracking fluid (water and sand slurry laced with nearly 600 chemicals; of those, 71 can cause 10 or more ailments) to be shot under extremely-high pressure straight down the pipe into the shale rock to crack it apart and prop it open; (3) with the shale fractured, the gas that was trapped in it will naturally seek the easiest path to the surface. Drillers intend for that path to be up the drill hole into their storage tanks, but the gas can have a mind of its own, often escaping like a fugitive into local aquifers or into the air. Stuff happens.

Stuff like gas ending up in the area’s drinking water–leading to such unpleasant surprises as faucets of flame. This tends to upset people, prompting them to action. Thus, to save gas drillers from pesky regulators and bothersome legal liabilities under our Safe Drinking Water Act, the ever-helpful Cheney simply exempted them from the law. Neat.

[FLASHBACK: Aside from his general snarliness and autocratic wickedness, one reason for the Veep's hand-holding attentiveness to the industry is that he has been a central player in it. Prior to becoming George W's vice, he was CEO of Halliburton--a conglomerate that pioneered fracking and is now the industry's number one fracker, hauling in $1.5 billion a year for such destructive drilling work. Halliburton honchos were on Cheney's secret industry task force that he convened in only his second week in office to rewrite the national energy policy. Even while serving as VP, Dick continued drawing annual paychecks from the giant, totaling more than a million dollars from 2001 through 2005! So, not for nothing is his little amendment to our water safety law dubbed "The Halliburton Loophole."]

Maybe you think this doesn’t affect you, because you don’t see any fracking where you live, but there’s a good chance that you soon will, because profiteering drillers have caught a gold rush fever over shale gas. Huge swaths of our landscape are above known deposits–from Los Angeles to New York State (see map)– and more are being found as corporations go for the gold. President Obama and assorted governors have gone all-in to back this wealth of gas (and the tax revenues it might produce), with Obama gushing in a January speech that the US is “the Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”

Fracking operations (benignly called “plays” in industry parlance) are already underway in 34 states, not only in remote rural areas, but also in suburbs and cities. Drillers are now pushing technologies to cause larger fractures in the subterranean rock, intending to extract more than half of America’s natural gas from shale plays by the end of this decade.

Problems

Natural gas is being touted by the industry and its tail-wagging politicos as clean and cheap–the “magic bullet” for our energy problems. Before we swallow such hype, however, let’s just note that the process is named “fracturing” for a reason–it’s inherently destructive, dirty–and way more costly than the market price of the fuel admits.

WATER. Up to seven million gallons of water are needed to frack a single well. In areas of shortages and drought (increasing in scale and frequency all across our country), this volume alone is a problem, taking a precious resource away from public use so a few profit-seeking corporations can shatter underground rock. Also, getting water to the wells from distant sources requires trucking or pipelines, which create their own sets of environmental, public nuisance, and other costs. Then there’s wastewater. One well can recover more than a million gallons of the water shot down its pipe. It comes back up contaminated not only with heavy doses of chemicals that were added to the fracking fluid, but also with cancer-causing chemicals and radioactive elements that occur naturally deep in the Earth, surfacing as a result of the fracking process.

Where does this radioactive mess go? Some of it leaks from the well and gets into drinking water supplies. Some is spilled on-site. Some is actually sprayed on roads as a de-icer–and at least half is merrily trucked to municipal sewage plants that are ill-equipped to purify it, meaning the nasties are discharged into our rivers and lakes.

CHEMICALS. The industry makes light of the chemical cocktail in frack- ing fluid, saying that the toxic stuff is a mere one-half of one percent of the mix, with the rest consisting of water and sand. Sounds benign–except that the 0.5 percent figure equals 20 tons of chemicals per million gallons of fracking fluid(again, up to seven million gallons of fracking fluid per well).

Okay, scoff the frackers, but those “scary” chemicals are substances like guar gum, an emulsifier used in ice cream–so worry not. Yeah, ice cream from hell! To keep microbes earthborne from devouring the guar gum, it has to be dosed with poisonous biocides. Then, to thin the emulsifier later in the process, it is treated with a form of extremely toxic kerosene (a substance that families in fracking areas say they smell and taste in their air and water–and a possible source of those pyrotechnic faucets).

Among the cancer-causing and environmental toxins mixed into fracking fluid are acrylamide, benzene, naphthalene, ethylbenzene, toluene, and xylene. In addition, the deep-earth contaminants brought to the surface in wastewater include arsenic, lead, chromium, barium, and strontium (plus radium-226 and other radioactive materials). A 2011 scientific analysis of 632 chemicals used in natural gas operations found that 25 percent can cause cancer; 37 percent can disrupt the endocrine system; more than 40 percent can affect the brain (as well as nervous, immune, and cardiovascular systems); and more than 75 percent can impair the eyes, intestines, and respiratory system.

The total horror of this river of toxics is not known, because (1) our state and federal “regulators” consider the concoction used in any particular frack job to be secret corporate property, and (2) many of the chemicals used have not even been tested for their health and environmental risks, and the corporations themselves don’t bother tracking all of the proprietary components they use. Also, as the New York Timesreported last year, the EPA and some state regulators have ruled that [prepare to gasp] since many sewage plants are unable to cope with the radioactive elements in fracking wastewater (some of it containing more than 1,000 times levels considered safe), the plants should simply not test the wastewater for radioactivity. Voila, problem solved!

HEALTH. In heavily fracked locations–from Pennsylvania to Wyoming –repeated “no-drink” warnings have been issued by the EPA and other agencies because of such sickening by-products as methane and fracking fluid migrating into water wells. Also, methane releases from drilling not only add immensely to the global increase in climate change, but they pollute the air with asthma-causing smog. For example, a six-county region of Texas with heavy fracking has a startling 25 percent asthma rate for young children. “It’s ruining us,” says a mother who has two children severely affected by chemicals from a gas well near their home. “I’m not an activist, an alarmist, a Democrat, environmentalist, or anything like that,” she told the Times. “I’m just a person who isn’t able to manage the health of my family because of all this drilling.”

Then there are blowouts and explosions, as well as euphemistically phrased “micro-seismic events” (otherwise known as earthquakes). Messing so massively with geological formations literally turns out to be earthshaking, including in such normally stable places as Youngstown, Ohio, Oklahoma (50 events), and Arkansas.

ECONOMICS. ”Picky-picky,” barks the industry. Such troubles are merely the price of economic prosperity. But prosperity for whom? When entering a region, fracking flimflammers specialize in Enron-style lies, grossly overstating the number of jobs that will be created and just as grossly understating the economic losses.

To start with, not many jobs come with fracking. Those that do are short-lived (lasts about a year), and the high-paying jobs go to transient, out-of-state workers with specialized skills, not to locals. On the other side of the ledger, such reliable industries as farming and tourism suffer severe bodyblows–polluted air, water, and soil are not a plus for growing and marketing crops or livestock, and the whang and blight of gas wells are not attractive lures for travelers seeking scenic places for recreation and relaxation.

Also, there’s a dirty little secret hiding behind all the fast talk about America’s boom in natural gas: It’s a bust waiting to happen. Extractable deposits may be less than ballyhooed, the costs are increasingly intolerable, and rising public opposition can make politicians and regulators skittish about rolling over for frackers. In addition, America is hardly the only player–corporations are all over Argentina, Australia, Poland, South Africa–and, of course, China–pushing big plays. China anticipates overtaking the US in shale gas production as soon as 2015. Amazingly, our government is helping them, having signed a US-China Shale Gas Initiative in 2009 to help foster China’s technical expertise in fracking.

Who’s Who?

There are some 14,000 natural gas companies, but more than half of US production is controlled by the 40 biggest corporations, and a third of it is in the hands of the top 10. More than 90 percent of the gas wells in our country are fracked.

Biggest of all is Exxon Mobil, the $486 billion-a-year colossus that is America’s most profitable corporation. In 2010, Exxon swallowed XTO Energy (then our nation’s second-largest gas producer) to become Number One, with 50 percent more drilling production than its nearest competitor. Other brand-name biggies fracking America are BP, Chevron, and ConocoPhillips.

In various regions, however, local folks find themselves confronting so-called “independents,” with names most of us never heard of. Industry PR materials portray these as mom-and-pop drillers–but while they’re not Exxon-sized, they’re huge corporations, including Anadarko ($14 billion), Chesapeake Energy ($11.6 billion), EnCana ($8.5 billion), Southwestern Energy ($2.9 billion), and Williams ($7.9 billion). Add to this trillion dollar-amalgamation of corporate power the massive outfits that do the fracking and that profit from providing other services to the top 10, such as Halliburton ($24.8 billion), and the reliable polluting profiteer Koch Industries ($110 billion).

These same brutes are energetically fracturing America’s governmental landscape, using high-pressure bursts of toxic corporate dollars to bust up the system so public mining policy flows their way. Common Cause reported last December that the fracking industry had invested $20.5 million in campaign donations to current members of Congress and spent almost three-quarters of a billion dollars on national lobbying during the past decade.

They have poured many millions more into front groups and PR campaigns, including creating their own fracking front dubbed “Energy In Depth.” Pretending to be a spontaneous outpouring of grassroots folks concerned about overzealous regulators trying to shackle poor, beleaguered energy producers, EID was formed in 2009 by the two biggest lobbying consortiums of oil and gas giants and funded by such “folks” as Anadarko, BP, Chevron, EnCana, Halliburton, Shell, and XTO (Exxon).

EID and other flacks for the fracking industry specialize in ruthless attacks on aggrieved homeowners, public interest advocates, critical journalists, and anyone else who raises a peep of protest. At a November 2011 conference of gas-driller PR agents, an Anadarko executive advised them to “Download the [military's] Counterinsurgency Manual, because we’re dealing with an insurgency.” A spokesman for Range Resources, a big Pennsylvania fracker, told the same conferees that his corporation employs former military psy-ops specialists, because their experiences combatting Middle East terrorist networks help the company overcome angry citizens in America’s fracking fields.

It’s Everyone’s Fight

The fracking of America is a health, environmental, economic, and natural-resource issue rolled into one –but it’s really much bigger than all of these. It poses the fundamental issue facing our society today: WHO RULES? Moneyed corporations… or the people? Are we to be a democracy of, by, and for the many, or a plutocracy of a bullying, profiteering few?

At present–unbeknownst to the great majority of Americans who’ve been kept in the dark about this assault on our communities and democracy– the moneyed corporations (and their purchased politicians) are ruling. Both the injury and insult of fracking diminishes who we are and what our country represents. That’s why this is everyone’s fight, whether or not your water faucet has yet caught on fire.

National radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the book, “Swim Against The Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow,” Jim Hightower has spent three decades battling the Powers That Be on behalf of the Powers That Ought To Be – consumers, working families, environmentalists, small businesses, and just-plain-folks.

Replicated only for posterity. All credit goes to Jim Hightower and ReaderSupportedNews.org. Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Original article found @http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/271-38/12364-focus-what-the-frack

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Big Names and Big Numbers Protest Fracking in Ohio

Channel Ten is saying there were thousands of us protesting Fracking in Columbus, Ohio on Sunday. I’ve never been any good at estimating crowd size, so I’ll take their word for it. In my blog post about it on Wednesday I estimated that there would be hundreds of us. Look at that. I’m conservative.

Leaders in the fight against fracking came to Columbus from all over the state and from all over the country. On Saturday I had one on one interviews with both Bill McKibben and Josh Fox. On Sunday I documented the protest and spoke with some leaders on camera. Here’s a video I put together from those events…

So, hey. I have an idea. Why don’t we quit subsidizing the dirty energy industry and giving them free license to pollute our air, water and soil? How about we also charge them for dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere? What if we chose to invest in a transition to renewable energy? Why not choose good jobs that don’t kill us and an economy that is built to last? Fossil fuels are subsidized 12 times as much as renewable energy. Let’s turn that around and see what happens.

Does fracking increase the risk of earthquakes? Some say yes, some say no. I say, “Why mess around with energy extraction that might trigger earthquakes when there are viable alternatives?”

Does fracking pollute the groundwater? Some say yes, some say no. I say, “Why mess around with energy extraction that might pollute the groundwater when there are viable alternatives?”

Does fracking pollute the air? Some say yes, some say there are ways to minimize the pollution. I say, “Why mess around with energy extraction that might increase ozone levels and increase our health risks when there are viable alternatives?”

Does fracking accelerate climate change? Some say yes, some say no. I say, “Why mess around with energy extraction that might exacerbate a serious threat to our wellbeing, our economy and the survival of our species?”

Does fracking lead to economic booms and busts that degrade communities? Some say yes, some say no. I say, “Why mess around with energy extraction that might destabilize our economy when there’s a way to build an economy that’s built to last?”

Does fracking pollute our government by giving people an incentive to dump dirty money on our politicians in an effort to buy special favors for the industry? Some say yes, some say no. I say, “Why mess around with energy extraction that might exacerbate corruption of our democracy, when there are viable alternatives?”

Does fracking concentrate money and power in the hands of just a few people? Some say yes, some say no. I say, “Why mess around with energy extraction that might concentrate wealth, when renewable energy generation spreads the wealth around?”

Does cooperating with fracking in Ohio slow down our transition to renewable energy? Some say yes, some say no. I say, “Why take that risk? Why not do everything in our power to speed up the transition to renewable energy when the risks of not doing so are incredibly high and the rewards for doing so are beautifully abundant?”

The green economy is the new big opportunity. Let’s not allow Ohio to get left behind in the high risk economy of days gone by. No to fracking. Yes to renewables. No to recklessness. Yes to a prosperous and healthy Ohio!

Story,  photos and video by Lauren Michelle Kinsey
Follow: @OHLMK
Contact: laurenkinsey@gmail.com

Replicated only for posterity. All credit goes to Lauren Michelle Kinsey & PlunderBund. Copyright 2012. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Original article found @http://www.plunderbund.com/2012/06/18/big-names-and-big-numbers-protest-fracking-in-ohio/

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The Fracking Industry’s War On The New York Times – And The Truth

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. via The Huffington Post

October 20th, 2011 – Superb investigative journalism by the New York Times has brought the paper under attack by the natural gas industry. That campaign of intimidation and obfuscation has been orchestrated by top shelf players like Exxon and Chesapeake aligned with the industry’s worst bottom feeders. This coalition has launched an impressive propaganda effort carried by slick PR firms, industry funded front groups and a predictable cabal of right wing industry toadies from cable TV and talk radio. In pitting itself against public disclosure and reasonable regulation, the natural gas industry is once again proving that it is its own worst enemy.

I confess to being an early optimist on natural gas. In July of 2009, I wrote a widely circulated op-ed for the Financial Times predicting that newly accessible deposits of natural gas had the potential to rapidly relieve our country of its deadly addiction to Appalachian coal and end forever catastrophically destructive mountaintop removal mining. At that time, government and industry geologists were predicting that new methods of fracturing gas rich shale beds had provided access to an astounding 2000-5000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the lower 48 — enough, they claimed to power our country for a century.

These rich reserves might have allowed America to mothball or throttle back our 336 gigawatts of mainly antiquated and inefficient coal fired electric plants replacing them with underutilized capacity from existing gas generation plants. That transition could reduce U.S. mercury emissions by 20%-25%, dramatically cut deadly particulate matter and the pollutants that cause acid rain and slash America’s grid based CO2 by an astonishing 20% — literally overnight! Gas could have been a natural companion for wind and solar energy with its capacity to transform variable power into base load, and could have been a critical bridge fuel to the new energy economy rooted in America’s abundant renewables.

American sourced natural gas might also have helped free us from our debilitating reliance on foreign oil now costing our country so dearly in blood, national security, energy independence, global leadership, moral authority, and treasure amounting to $700 billion per year — the total cost to our country of annual oil imports — in addition to two pricey wars that are currently running tabs $2 billion per week.

My caveat was that the natural gas industry and government regulators needed to act responsibly to protect the environment, safeguard communities from irresponsible practices and to candidly inform the public about the true risks and benefits of shale extraction gas.

The opposite has happened.

The industry’s worst actors have successfully battled reasonable regulation, stifled public disclosure while bending compliant government regulators to engineer exceptions to existing environmental rules. Captive agencies and political leaders have obligingly reduced already meager enforcement resources and helped propagate the industry’s deceptive economic projections. As a result, public skepticism toward the industry and its government regulators is at a record high. With an army of over 40,000 highly motivated anti-fracking activists in New York alone, popular mistrust of the industry is presenting a daunting impediment to its expansion.

I sit on the New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel. I and the other panelists are charged with developing recommendations to the Commissioner regarding rules that will hopefully safeguard New Yorkers from the kind of calamities caused by the natural gas industry to communities just across our border with Pennsylvania. We spend much of our time sorting truth from the web of myths spun about fracking by fast talking landsmen, smarmy CEOs, and federal regulators.

Recent studies have raised doubts about many of the industry’s fundamental presumptions;

  • For example, releases of methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas, may counterbalance virtually all the benefits of CO2 reductions projected to result from substituting gas power for coal. Robert W. Howarth, Renee Santoro, Anthony Ingraffea, Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations, Climatic Change (2011); Wigley T. (2011) Coal to Gas: The Influence of Methane Leakage. Climate Change Letters. DOI 10.1007/s10584-011-0217-3.
  • The human health impacts of gas extraction on local communities may rival those associated with coal. A new study by Centers for Disease Control finds that breast cancer rates have dropped in every county in Texas, but have increased in the six counties with the heaviest natural gas air emissions.
  • The U.S. Geological Survey just slashed its estimate on the amount of gas in the Marcellus Shale by 80%, raising doubts about all the industry’s positive economic projections about jobs, royalties, and revenues. Industry based those projections on resource estimates that the federal government has now jettisoned.
  • Meanwhile local communities are finding the costs of irresponsible drilling to be ruinous. Contaminated well water, poisoned air, nuisance noise and dust, diminished property values and collapsing quality of life are often the predictable collateral damage of gas shale development in the rural towns of the east. Barth. The Unanswered Questions About the Economic Impact of Gas Drilling in the Marcellus Shale: Don’t Jump to Conclusions. March 2010. Accessed 8/10/11; Christopherson & Rightor. How Should We Think About the Economic Consequences of Shale Gas Drilling? May 2011. Accessed 8/10/11;Stephen G. Osborn, Avner Vengosh, et al., Methane Contamination of drinking water accompanying gas wells drilling and hydraulic fracturing, PNAS Early Edition, April 14, 2011; Riverkeeper, Fractured Communities (Sept. 2010),
  • In a devastating admission, the industry now acknowledges that it absolutely cannot afford to pay localities the costs of roads damaged from the thousands of truck trips per wellhead, leaving those ruinous costs to local taxpayers, many of whom will see no benefits from the shale boom, but only declines in their quality of life.
  • With several notable exceptions, like Southwest Energy, the industry has demonstrated a disturbing fervor for secrecy while advocating regulatory policies that favor the most irresponsible practices and the worst actors.

The shale gas industry’s campaign against The Times illustrates the difficulty in getting solid information upon which to base a regulatory scheme. The Times is doing an unusually rigorous job at covering this extremely important and complex issue. The paper’s ongoing series on natural gas drilling is one of the strongest pieces of investigative journalism this year from any news venue. Thankfully, The Times is covering this extremely important topic with rigor and balance. But it is also going the extra mile in the level of documentation it provides to bolster its stories, a move that raises the bar on public service journalism.

In an era when few papers or news outlets are still willing to take on very powerful interests, The Times has pursued very difficult questions about one of our country’s richest and most aggressive industries. At a time when accessing documents through open records requests faces an obstacle course of daunting roadblocks, the series has spent nearly a year using these flawed tools to collect and publish an extraordinary trove of original documentation. Archives published by The Times include thousands of pages obtained through leaks and/or public records requests. The Times reporters provide page-by-page annotations explaining the documents so that the reader can sift through them in guided fashion.

Among the revelations uncovered by The Times’ admirable reporting;

  • Sewage treatment plants in the Marcellus region have been accepting millions of gallons of natural gas industry wastewater that carry significant levels of radioactive elements and other pollutants that they are incapable of treating.
  • An EPA study published by The Times shows receiving rivers and streams into which these plants discharge are unable to consistently dilute this kind of highly toxic effluent.
  • Most of the state’s drinking water intakes, streams and rivers have not been tested for radioactivity for years — since long before the drilling boom began.
  • Industry is routinely making inflated claims about how much of its wastewater it is actually recycling.
  • EPA, caving to industry lobbyists and high level political interference reminiscent of the Bush/Cheney era, has narrowed the scope of its national study on hydrofracking despite vocal protests from agency scientists. The EPA had, for example, planned to study in detail the effect on rivers of sending radioactive wastewater through sewage plants, but dropped these plans during the phase when White House-level review was conducted.
  • Similar studies in the past had been narrowed by industry pressure, leading to widespread exemptions for the oil and gas industry from environmental laws.
  • The Times revealed an ongoing and red hot debate within the EPA about whether the agency should force Pennsylvania to handle its drilling waste more carefully and strengthen that state’s notoriously lax regulations and anemic enforcement.
  • The Times investigation also explodes the industry’s decade old mantra that a “there is not a single documented case of drinking water being contaminated by fracking.” The Times investigation of EPA archives exposes this claim as demonstrably false.

A second round of New York Times stories showed that within the natural gas industry and among federal energy officials, there were serious and disturbing reservations about the economic prospects of shale gas:

  • Government and industry officials made sure that all of their reservations were discussed privately and never revealed to the American public. Internal commentary by these officials is striking because it contrasts so sharply with the excited public rhetoric from the same agencies, lawmakers, industry officials and energy experts about shale gas.
  • Many industry experts have reservations over whether the wells produce as much gas as industry is claiming and whether companies may be misleading investors, landowners, and the public about the true costs of shale gas.
  • Shale gas wells often dry up faster than companies expected — sometimes several decades faster than predicted.
  • Rather than coming clean, the companies downplay how much it costs to keep these wells flowing and overstate how much profit companies can make by these wells.
  • Furthermore, only a small percentage of the land in each shale gas field turns out to be highly productive, even at the start. Nevertheless, companies routinely pretend that all of their acreage will be equally promising.
  • These emerging issues also sparked private discussion among federal energy experts, who expressed grave concern that their agency’s predictions were too heavily influenced by the natural gas industry’s over-optimism. The Times found that the EIA was heavily reliant on data provided by companies with shale-gas industry ties.

The science writer for the Knight Ridder Journalism website summed up the significance of the Times’ revelations about the industry’s ballyhooed economic prospects. “From here, it appears that the Times and [the series principal author] Mr. Urbina are calmly saying we should learn a lesson from the dot-com bubble and the housing bubble, suggesting investors and regulators and gov’t planners step with care and not be blinkered by all the money that’s pouring in.”

The organized attack on The Times and its reputation by well financed industry spin machines is illustrative of the perils and real challenges facing public service journalism today.

The Times piece has been the target of massive industry blowback. Industry funded front groups like Energy in Depth, an army of slick PR firms, and former regulatory officials like PA DEP Commissioner John Hanger, now on industry’s payroll, have artfully manufactured deceptive talking points and posted blogs that are parroted by journalists looking for an industry response to The Times coverage and then emailed as “facts” to the industry’s supporters and its indentured servants in Congress.

Ironically, many of the attacks against the series have claimed that the articles were poorly sourced or under-researched. Yet, The Times has not printed a single factual correction. This is certainly an admirable reporting record for a series that has been running in the paper for nearly a year. This is because, despite massive efforts by the industry to find errors, no critic has been able to identify a single fact that The Times actually got wrong. The Times posted thousands of pages of closely annotated original-source documents along with its news articles.

Rarely has a series had such wide-reaching and immediate impact. The New York Times articles have led to major changes in how the industry as well as state and federal regulators are handling one of America’s most important energy issues.

Documents uncovered by The Times have already been put to use in litigation by injured parties seeking to force some treatment plants to stop handling the frack wastewater. The Times series has also pressured the EPA to begin a review of treatment plant permits (signaling the agency’s possible intent to prohibit plants from discharging treated waste into rivers without comprehensive testing for shale gas contaminants). Healthy skepticism raised by the series has dampened some of the thrilled exuberance among Wall Street bankers ecstatic about the latest gold rush, federal lawmakers in the thrall of industry money, and in hard pressed rural communities seduced by hollow promises of massive royalties, local prosperity and abundant jobs.

As our panel grapples with these complex and difficult problems, we have found that the principal impediment to going forward with recommendations regarding regulations that could allow fracking in our state is a general mistrust of the claims we are hearing from industry and federal regulators. Revelations from The Times series and elsewhere have cast doubt upon all the industry’s assurances about fracking and have complicated the task for those of us charged with advising the regulatory agencies on developing rules that could allow the industry to proceed while safeguarding the public interest.

For many of us on New York State’s fracking panel, the one bright light has been the presence of Southwest Energy’s Vice President and General Counsel Mark Boling. Boling is bullish on shale gas but his passion for public disclosure and a rigorous and rational regulatory framework, his candor about the perils of certain practices and his honest assessments of the costs and benefits of gas shale extraction have inspired trust and confidence among his fellow panelists. Boling’s candor may have made him a pariah in his industry, but the panel’s confidence in his integrity is the one thing that might allow us to go forward with recommendations regarding a regulatory scheme that could allow certain kinds of fracking to proceed in New York State. None of us wants to be in the position of getting seduced by sweet and lofty promises that quickly turn into a sour gas and impoverished communities.

Gas fracking flacks routinely make extravagant promises about bringing jobs and income to the depressed rural communities. If those jobs and royalties don’t come — the way they have not come for people in Bradford County, PA — New Yorkers will be justifiably angry, as they wonder why the government and our panel did not protect them when there were so many warning signs.

By Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Replicated only for posterity. All credit goes to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and The Huffington Post. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. Original article found @http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-f-kennedy-jr/fracking-natural-gas-new-york-times-_b_1022337.html

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Testimony of Dusty Horwitt, JD (Senior Counsel, Environmental Working Group)

Oversight Hearing on The Revised Environmental Impact Statement on Hydraulic Fracturing and New York City’s Upstate Drinking Water Supply Infrastructure.

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Excerpt from full testimony:

“Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on the Revised Environmental Impact Statement on Hydraulic Fracturing and New York City’s Upstate Drinking Water Supply Infrastructure. My name is Dusty Horwitt, and I am Senior Counsel at Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., with offices in Ames, Iowa and Oakland, California. This is my fifth appearance before the council on this issue.

Gas drilling poses great health risks – and financial risks – to New York City and much of the rest of New York State. We have reviewed the revised plan of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Some of its provisions could make drilling safer. But we are not convinced that if the state allows high-volume hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, it can sufficiently protect New York City’s drinking water supply – or the drinking water of rest of the state’s population.

The state’s environmental conservation department says that the gas drilling industry is unlikely to create many new jobs for New Yorkers. “Given the newness of the industry,” the plan says, “it is assumed that, in Year 1, 77% of the total workforce would be transient workers from outside the state.” It goes on to speculate that eventually, 90 percent of workers would be local – but not until year 30 of shale gas development.

A handful of jobs in the drilling industry could cost New Yorkers billions of dollars they don’t have. That’s why it is especially important for New York to proceed carefully.”

(View Full Article as Neogap Post / View or Download as PDF)

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Bernard D. Goldstein, M.D.

Biography of Bernard D. Goldstein, M.D.

Dr. Goldstein is Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health and the former Dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. From 1986-2001 he served as the founding Director of the Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, a joint program of Rutgers University and the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. He was also the Chair of the Department of Environmental and Community Medicine at the medical school from 1980-2001. He is a physician, board certified in Internal Medicine, Hematology and in Toxicology. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences.

His experience includes appointment as Assistant Administrator for Research and Development of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1983-1985. He has been president of the Society for Risk Analysis and is currently editor-in-chief of the Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE) His past activities include member and chairperson of the NIH Toxicology Study Section, EPA Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee, the Health Effects Institure Research Committee and numerous National Research Council (NRC), IOM and CDC committees, including serving as the current chair of the IOM/NRC Committee on Effectiveness of National Biosurveillance Systems: BioWatch and the Public Health System. He is currently Executive Director of the National Board of Public Health Examiners and a Board member of the National Urban Air Toxics Research Center.

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So what’s the rush to drill for gas?

A seasoned environmental health professional looks at the Marcellus Shale

August 17th, 2011 – Haven’t we learned anything from our past mistakes?

Public health and the environment have been my life since 1966. I have been a U.S. Public Health Service officer stationed in Los Angeles, our most polluted city; an assistant administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Reagan administration; and the director of an academic environmental health program in New Jersey, arguably our most polluted state.

Before the Marcellus Shale issue, I believed we had learned from past mistakes to approach potential environmental health risks intelligently. But now I’m not so sure.

Let me start by saying I’m in favor of extracting Marcellus Shale gas — but not yet. For reasons that include air quality and global climate change, natural gas is a better energy source than coal. At the risk of offending my environmentalist friends, I don’t believe that conservation measures combined with alternative energy sources will eliminate our need for fossil fuels within the next few decades.

I also agree it is in our national interest to decrease our reliance on fossil fuel imports. The gulf oil commission recently supported a return to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico because if we do not get this oil, Cubans, Venezuela or China will. But unless the Canadians can horizontally fracture under Lake Erie, the gas in the Marcellus Shale is ours for the taking.

The Marcellus Shale’s fixed location and limited amount of gas provides many reasons to go about it thoughtfully. Whenever we begin, we still will have at least the same amount of gas extracted over the same duration of time. In contrast, delaying allows us to prepare for three certainties.

First, there will be surprises. Fracking already has been linked to bromide in water and brominated compounds are potentially highly toxic. Will there be radioactivity or arsenic released into groundwater? Will the emissions of thousands of natural gas sources cause us to exceed the Environmental Protection Agency’s ozone standard, thereby requiring pollution controls that limit industrial development?

We are told not to worry about surprises because shale drilling has been going on for many years elsewhere. But we are also told the gas in the Marcellus Shale is now available because of new advances in hydrofracking technology. It can’t be both.

Second, disease occurrences in communities vary both by environmental cause and by chance. It is a statistical certainty that an increase in disease diagnoses — be it pancreatic cancer, autism or whatever — will happen after Marcellus Shale drilling activities begin. When this occurs, journalists will notice, anxiety will rise, property values will fall, industry will be sued and lawyers will profit. The Pennsylvania Department of Health will investigate, but by then it will be harder to determine whether there is truly a cause-and-effect relation.

To avoid these inevitable problems, it is in the best interests of the public and of industry that we now start a comprehensive study of the impact of Marcellus Shale activities on human health.

Third, it is a certainty that the extraction industry will find ways to lessen the extent of environmental and human impact by such means as better recycling of fracking fluids (which they must buy) and limiting the environmental release of natural gas (which is the product that they sell). Let’s give them time to do so and the incentive to do it.

Should we be frightened about fracking chemicals? As a toxicologist, based on what I know now, I see nothing on the list of today’s fracking compounds that alarms me if exposure will truly be minimal. But until I know more about them I wouldn’t want these chemicals in my water supply or the air I breathe. The EPA has embarked on a major study of these chemicals which will be completed late next year. Why can’t we wait?

The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health recently found some drilling companies have more than twice as many environmental violations than drilling sites. Companies should lose their right to drill if they cannot comply with environmental regulations and laws. These regulations are changing in response to the recognized risk of damaging the environment and human health.

The EPA recently proposed standards that would limit air and water pollution by requiring that all companies use the best anti-pollution technology available, Gov. Tom Corbett received numerous recommendations from the state’s Marcellus Shale commission and President Barack Obama’s commission has just released its recommendations. Wouldn’t it make sense to postpone new wells until these protections are in place?

I realize it is not reasonable to turn off wells that are already extracting natural gas. But recognizing that the risk to our health and natural resources increases with every new well, that information and technology is on the way to lower the risk and that the natural gas will not go anywhere, Pennsylvania should join other states, including New York and Maryland, in not drilling new wells for now.

By Bernard D. Goldstein, M.D.

Bernard D. Goldstein, M.D., is a professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and the school’s former dean. He is the former assistant administrator for research and development at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and he is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies (bdgold@pitt.edu).

Replicated only for posterity. All credit goes to Bernard D. Goldstein, M.D.. and Post-Gazette.com. Copyright 2011. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Original article found @http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11229/1167715-109-0.stm?cmpid=newspanel5#ixzz1VOPnws6c

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