Sunday, July 19, 2015

More Gas Wells = More Hospital Visits



Bradford County, PA

A new study out of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine shows that people who live near hydraulically fractured wells end up in the hospital more than people who don't live near wells.

Researchers used databases that contained more than 198,000 hospitalizations (including multiple hospitalizations for the same person) for the years between 2007 - 2011. They looked at the top 25 medical categories cited, and the patient's proximity to active wells.

What they found: people living in Bradford and Susquehanna counties ended up in the hospital more frequently than residents of Wayne county. Both Bradford and Susquehanna Counties saw a significant increase in drilling activity over the same five-year period, whereas Wayne County had no drilling activity due to a ban on drilling in the Delaware River watershed.

 The biggest difference was found in hospitalizations for heart conditions and neurological illness. Where there was a well density greater than 0.79 wells/square kilometer, residents experienced a 27% increase in cardiology visits compared to where there were no wells. Residents living near wells also experienced higher rates of hospitalization for cancers, dermatological problems, and a host of other health problems.

 Senior author, Dr. Reynold Panettieri told the press that this study is one of the most comprehensive ones, to date. But there are still questions. "At this point, we suspect that residents are exposed to many toxicants, noise, and social stressors due to hydraulic fracturing," he said. But he cautioned that more study is needed to determine how specific toxicants or combinations might increase the hospitalization rates. For example, cardiac issues could be related to a variety of environmental stressors, including air pollution resulting from diesel exhaust and fine particulate matter, like the sand used in fracking.

While they can't say that fracking causes heart attacks, the authors do say that the increased hospitalizations over such a short time suggest that health care costs of fracking must be considered when looking at economic impacts/benefits of unconventional gas and oil drilling.


































Monday, June 29, 2015

DEC says NO Fracking




It's true. New York is officially banning hydrofracking from the state.

This afternoon the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation released its official Findings Statement concluding the seven-year environmental impact study on high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing.

In remarks to the press, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said, "After years of exhaustive research and examination of the science and facts, prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the only reasonable alternative.” Fracking, he said, "poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated."

Significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated.

The finding, says Martens, is "consistent with DEC’s mission to conserve, improve and protect our state’s natural resources, and to enhance the health, safety and welfare of the people of the state." 

There are no "feasible or prudent alternatives" that adequately avoid or minimize adverse environmental impacts, he notes. Likewise, there are no "feasible or prudent alternatives" that address risks to public health from fracking.

DEC based the Findings Statement on the huge amount of research included in the Final Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FSGEIS) that they released last month. That 2,000-page document included responses to public comments and the state Department of Health’s Public Health Review, which concluded that, given the uncertainty regarding potential health impacts from high volume hydro-fracking, that technology should not move forward in the state.

The 44-page Findings Statement details widespread potential impacts from fracking including impacts to water and air resources, ecosystems and wildlife, community character and public health.You can read it online at the DEC's website.




Monday, June 8, 2015

EPA study does NOT say Fracking is "safe"

Five days ago, that would be Thursday, June 4, the EPA released its "Draft Assessment on the Potential Impacts to Drinking Water Resources from Hydraulic Fracturing Activities". [You can download the complete study - nearly 1,000 pages of it - here.]

This is what some  pro-drilling interests picked up from the press release: "Assessment shows hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources and identifies important vulnerabilities to drinking water resources." They would like to believe that the EPA study shows that fracking is "safe".  In fact, "no proven contamination" has been their motto for years.

Unfortunately, early media reports simply parroted what they saw at the top of the EPA press release without reading the details or delving into the executive summary.

Dive in a bit deeper and you learn what the EPA study really says: there are cases in which fracking has impacted drinking water resources, but it is not "widespread and systematic" yet

The EPA study found that fracking activities have the potential to impact our drinking water in these ways:
  • fracking directly into underground water resources
  • withdrawing water in areas affected by droughts or periods of low water availability
  • spills
  • below-ground migration of liquids and gases
  • inadequate treatment and discharge of waste fluids
 The EPA study found “specific instances” where fracking-related activities contaminated drinking water, including water wells. They didn't find it everywhere, but they only studied a handful of communities. EPA admits that their study is limited by the lack of pre- and post-drilling water quality data. They say their study is limited by the lack of long-term systematic studies. They also say that certain information on fracking was not made accessible to them.

If you need a visual image to help you, check out this map that William Huston pulled together from data in Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale region.

Map: (C) 2015 WilliamAHuston@gmail.com Share: CC-BY-NC -- All other rights reserved.

This map shows 313 cases where families in the north eastern part of the state reported water contamination. Just six counties. The red areas indicate where the most reports came from. 

Three hundred thirteen might not seem "widespread and systematic", but it demonstrates part of the problem with how the EPA study is interpreted. The impacts are localized. But they are systematic, when you compare where the pollution is with where the drilling occurs.



 



EPA investigators said that they did find “above and below ground mechanisms” through which various stages of what they called “fracking activities” can “have the potential to impact drinking water resources.”
Among those mechanisms: Fracking directly into underground water resources, water withdrawals in areas with or in times of low water availability, spills of various fluids used in or produced by fracking processes, below-ground migration of liquids and gases, and inadequate treatment and discharge of wastewater.
EPA said its investigators found “specific instances” where one or more mechanisms affected drinking water, including contamination of wells. The agency report said the number of identified cases “was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells,” but conceded it wasn’t sure why.
“This finding could reflect a rarity of effects on drinking water resources, but may also be due to other limiting factors,” the EPA said. “These factors include: insufficient pre- and post-fracturing data on the quality of drinking water resources; the paucity of long-term systematic studies; the presence of other sources of contamination precluding a definitive link between hydraulic fracturing activities and an impact; and the inaccessibility of some information on hydraulic fracturing activities and potential impacts.”
- See more at: http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150607/GZ01/150609432#sthash.kYK3RUTA.dpuf
EPA investigators said that they did find “above and below ground mechanisms” through which various stages of what they called “fracking activities” can “have the potential to impact drinking water resources.”
Among those mechanisms: Fracking directly into underground water resources, water withdrawals in areas with or in times of low water availability, spills of various fluids used in or produced by fracking processes, below-ground migration of liquids and gases, and inadequate treatment and discharge of wastewater.
EPA said its investigators found “specific instances” where one or more mechanisms affected drinking water, including contamination of wells. The agency report said the number of identified cases “was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells,” but conceded it wasn’t sure why.
“This finding could reflect a rarity of effects on drinking water resources, but may also be due to other limiting factors,” the EPA said. “These factors include: insufficient pre- and post-fracturing data on the quality of drinking water resources; the paucity of long-term systematic studies; the presence of other sources of contamination precluding a definitive link between hydraulic fracturing activities and an impact; and the inaccessibility of some information on hydraulic fracturing activities and potential impacts.”
- See more at: http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150607/GZ01/150609432#sthash.kYK3RUTA.dpuf
EPA investigators said that they did find “above and below ground mechanisms” through which various stages of what they called “fracking activities” can “have the potential to impact drinking water resources.”
Among those mechanisms: Fracking directly into underground water resources, water withdrawals in areas with or in times of low water availability, spills of various fluids used in or produced by fracking processes, below-ground migration of liquids and gases, and inadequate treatment and discharge of wastewater.
EPA said its investigators found “specific instances” where one or more mechanisms affected drinking water, including contamination of wells. The agency report said the number of identified cases “was small compared to the number of hydraulically fractured wells,” but conceded it wasn’t sure why.
“This finding could reflect a rarity of effects on drinking water resources, but may also be due to other limiting factors,” the EPA said. “These factors include: insufficient pre- and post-fracturing data on the quality of drinking water resources; the paucity of long-term systematic studies; the presence of other sources of contamination precluding a definitive link between hydraulic fracturing activities and an impact; and the inaccessibility of some information on hydraulic fracturing activities and potential impacts.”
- See more at: http://www.wvgazette.com/article/20150607/GZ01/150609432#sthash.kYK3RUTA.dpuf

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Wading into the final SGEIS

active Marcellus well, Bradford County, PA


Nearly two weeks ago, the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released their Final SGEIS. Weighing in at 2,000 pages – about 20 pounds – this report lays the groundwork for what many believe will be a statewide ban on high volume hydraulic fracturing.

The SGEIS (Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement) on high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing supplements the existing environmental impact statement for oil, gas, and solution mining that was adopted in 1992. The original scoping document called for an SGEIS to address just a handful of issues that hydraulic fracturing would present including increased water use for drilling and the impacts of multiple wells at a single well pad.

Over the years the document grew as its scope expanded. Now, with the completion of the SGEIS, there is just one more official step in meeting the State’s Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA): issue a formal “findings statement”. The “findings statement” is legally binding and cannot be issued any sooner than 10 days after the release of the Final SGEIS.

What’s different about the Final SGEIS, besides its heft, is the amount of effort that DEC put in to gather comments from medical and public health professionals, environmental organizations, municipalities, industry groups, and other members of the public; the review of the state Department of Health report; and a review drilling incidents in Pennsylvania. 

Here’s what you’ll find when you crack open its covers:

In chapter two, DEC notes that, if allowed, hydro-fracking would impact areas not previously exposed to oil and gas development. Furthermore, ancillary activities associated with drilling activities “would likely spread to those areas of the state where high-volume hydraulic fracturing is prohibited.”

Chapter six focuses on environmental impacts. DEC acknowledges uncertainty about the effectiveness of mitigation; the inability to quantify potential risks and impacts to environment and public health; and that some significant adverse impacts simply can’t be avoided.  They list potential impacts on water resources, ecosystems, wildlife, air resources, local communities, local economies, and transportation. DEC also brings up additional concerns about radioactive materials that are released during drilling and the potential for man-made earthquakes. When considering drilling’s impact on greenhouse gases, DEC cites New York’s long-term policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions through a reduction – not an increase – in reliance on fossil fuels.

Despite the weaknesses inherent in mitigating potential harm from intensive industrialized drilling, DEC outlines seven possible measures. These steps include prohibiting hydro-fracking in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds, fracking within a 500-foot buffer area above primary aquifers, and mandatory disclosure of ingredients in fracking fluids. The DEC specifically points to the lack of evidence showing that high-volume hydro-fracking can be done “without posing unreasonable risk to human health.”

At the end of the process, DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens must file a findings statement that describes how the state moves forward. The Final SGEIS provides three alternatives: no action, a phased-permitting approach, or allowing green and non-chemical fracking technologies and additives. Many think it’s likely that Martens will choose the “no action alternative”, especially given Cuomo’s statement in December calling for a ban. Under the “no action” alternative, DEC would deny applications for hydro-fracking that uses more than 300,000 gallons of water. High-volume hydraulic fracturing, which uses 5 – 7 million gallons of water per well, would not be allowed.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Final SGEIS Released ...

... but getting to the NY State Dept. of Environmental Conservation website to read it might be difficult. Apparently traffic is heavy and the site is overwhelmed.
The SGEIS review generated over 260,000 comments

Late on Wednesday, May 13 - at 4:05 pm eastern time - the DEC press office sent out notification that the DEC had issued their final SGEIS. It's huge - so large that the document has been broken into small chunks of "downloadable" size that you can download - IF you can get onto the site. The appendices are full of splendid info, including the DOH report issued in December in which the Dept. of Health concluded that High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing "should not proceed in New York."

Here is Wednesday's press release:

DEC ISSUES FINAL SUPPLEMENTAL GENERIC ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT ON HIGH-VOLUME HYDRAULIC FRACTURING


The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today released the Final Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (FSGEIS) for high-volume hydraulic fracturing that identifies and examines continued major uncertainties about potential significant adverse health and environmental impacts associated with the activity. After a required 10-day period, DEC will issue its formal Findings Statement, in accordance with the State’s Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA).

“The Final SGEIS is the result of an extensive examination of high-volume hydraulic fracturing and its potential adverse impacts on critical resources such as drinking water, community character and wildlife habitat,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said. “We considered materials from numerous sources, including scientific studies, academic research and public comments, and evaluated the effectiveness of potential mitigation measures to protect New York’s valuable natural resources and the health of residents. I will rely on the FSGEIS when I issue a Findings Statement in accordance with state law.”

The FSGEIS incorporates the State Health Department Public Health Review report issued December 17, 2014, which determined there is significant uncertainty about adverse health outcomes and whether mitigation measures could adequately protect public health, including impacts to air, water, soil and community character.

DEC first issued a draft SGEIS for HVHF in September 2009 examining the potential impacts from HVHF, including: contamination of drinking water supplies, groundwater and surface waters; air pollution; spills; wastewater and solid waste treatment and disposal; ecological impacts; and adverse effects on communities. Concurrently, DEC also evaluated whether mitigation measures would be sufficient to prevent adverse impacts to the environment and public health.

A revised draft SGEIS was released in September 2011, which proposed to: prohibit drilling in the New York City and Syracuse Watersheds, state-owned lands and primary aquifers; restrict HVHF on certain forest and grassland areas; and require additional drinking water mitigation measures. The 2011 draft also expanded the earlier review of socio-economic and community impacts.

Since the issuance of the 2009 draft SGEIS, and the subsequent 2011revised draft  SGEIS, DEC has gained a more detailed understanding of the potential impacts associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing with horizontal drilling from: (i) the extensive public comments from medical and public health professionals, environmental organizations, municipalities, industry groups, and other members of the public; (ii) its review of reports and studies of proposed operations prepared by industry groups; (iii) extensive consultations with scientists in several bureaus within the NYSDOH; (iv) the use of outside consulting firms to prepare analyses relating to socioeconomic impacts, as well as impacts on community character, including visual, noise and traffic impacts; and (v) its review of information and data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) about events, regulations, enforcement and other matters associated with ongoing Marcellus Shale development in Pennsylvania.

During the review process, DEC hosted numerous public forums and received more than 260,000 public comments. The FSGEIS includes a lengthy summary of the public comments and DEC’s Response to Comments. The Response to Comments, which is over 300 pages long, systematically reviews each type of impact and the public comments about the impacts and potential mitigation measures.  In it, DEC recognizes extensive uncertainties about the impacts and how to mitigate them.

A copy of the FSGEIS can be found at: http://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/75370.html.