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.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Post Frack-Ban Impacts on New York's Water Resources



Three months ago, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a ban on high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the state of New York. So – at least for now - contamination from active drilling is off the table. But there are other ways that hydrofracking puts New York’s water resources at risk.

Water monitoring in Tioga Co. NY
Steve Penningroth, director of the Community Science Institute recently spoke about how shale gas waste disposal and infrastructure development threaten the state’s water resources despite the federal Clean Water Act and the state-wide frack ban. State regulations that address wastewater treatment plants, factories, landfills, and even concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) allow a certain amount of pollution. That’s because the SPDES permits (State Pollution Discharge Elimination System) specify the source and quantities of pollutants that operations can “legally discharge” into streams, rivers, and lakes.

But some chemicals, such as endocrine disruptors and pharmaceuticals, are allowed to enter the public waste streams unregulated. And even though some wastes may be hazardous, the Clean Water Act exempts them – including radioactive drill cuttings from fracked gas wells.

It’s not just landfills that have to deal with radioactive waste in drill cuttings from Pennsylvania and other states, says Penningroth. Wastewater treatment plants that take landfill leachate have to deal with whatever pollutants end up in the water percolating through the landfills. Add to that the risks associated with train and truck transport of oil and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) for spills, fires, and explosions and the potential for storage fields - including salt caverns – to leak or explode.

Chemung County Landfill and nearby River (google earth)
Environmental attorney Rachel Treichler has been studying some of the issues that affect the Southern Tier of NY.  “At this time Pennsylvania gas drilling wastes are coming into New York landfills,” she said. Citing a report from theEnvironmental Advocates of NY, she noted that already 460,000 tons of solid fracking waste and 23,000 barrels of liquid waste from Pennsylvania gas wells – possibly more – have been dumped in a several New York landfills. Three of those, the Chemung County Landfill in Lowman, the Hakes Landfill in Painted Post (Steuben County), and the Hyland Landfill in Angelica (Allegany County) are in the Southern Tier.

The Chemung County landfill has taken close to 200,000 tons of drill cuttings. Drill cuttings bring in money for the landfills, said Treichler. But they also bring in radioactive isotopes. Treichler is concerned that some of the waste contains radioactive flowback from the gas wells. “I’ve watched loads being dumped, and they’re so liquefied that they splash,” she said. That liquid could contain radon and radium, naturally occurring radioactive elements found in Marcellus shale wells. And while the landfill has a radioactivity detector at the entrance, it only detects gamma radiation, not the more common alpha and beta radiation.

Radiation Monitors, Chemung landfill (Matt Richmond)
“The landfills take drill cuttings because they’re not prohibited,” says Treichler, “not because they’re safe.” If drilling waste were treated the same way as low-level radioactive waste, such as that produced by hospitals, it would have to be tracked, she says. There is no tracking of drilling waste.

The problem with radioactive elements in waste is that they don’t stay put. Water percolating through the landfill leaches heavy metals and radioactive isotopes. If there are no leaks in the landfill lining, that leachate is collected and transported to wastewater treatment plants. Or it might migrate through the soil to end up in a local waterway.

Even if the leachate ends up at the waste treatment plants, those facilities are ill-equipped to treat hazardous and radioactive waste, says Treichler. So that radiation is eventually discharged, along with the treated water, into local rivers.

Leachate collected from the Chemung County landfill is sent to the Chemung County waste water treatment plant in Elmira to be treated, after which it is discharged into the Chemung River which flows into the Susquehanna and provides drinking water to communities on its way to Chesapeake Bay.

In 2010, Chemung County residents concerned about radioactive drilling waste challenged the landfill’s permit that would allow them to accept drill cuttings. The result: two years of required testing of the leachate. Gary Abraham, an attorney working with the residents, compiled the data from four rounds of sampling. In an email to Tompkins Weekly, he explained that the data show that the leachate is becoming more radioactive, but the levels are well under the discharge limits. Still, Abraham is concerned about the radioactive contaminants, particularly radium-226. It is persistent in the environment and bio-accumulates up the food chain.

Water discharge from treatment plants isn’t the only concern, Rachel Treichler says. The solid waste left once water has been treated – sludge - is collected and spread on land. “If there were radioactivity in the sludge, land-spreading would be the final way for it to get into our water.”

Monday, February 9, 2015

DEC Extends Public Comment Period On Proposed Constitution Pipeline Until FEB. 27th

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today extended the public comment period on the draft permit for the proposed, federally regulated Constitution Pipeline and an upgrade to the Iroquois Wright Compressor station in Schoharie County by an additional 28 days. Public comments on the propose project will now be accepted until close of business on Friday, February 27.

The Constitution Pipeline is a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline that would traverse though Broome, Chenango, Delaware and Schoharie counties. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was responsible for conducting an environmental review of the project and has the authority to approve the pipeline route. FERC issued a final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) in October, which can be viewed at: http://elibrary.FERC.gov/idmws/file_list.asp?accession_num=20141024-4001.

DEC maintains the authority to review applications for specific permits and approvals, including an Air Title V permit for the proposed compressor station upgrade, as well as a Water Quality Certification, a Protection of Waters permit, a Water Withdrawal permit and a Freshwater Wetlands permit for state-protected wetlands and adjacent areas.

Written comments should be submitted to:
Stephen M. Tomasik
DEC - Division of Environmental Permits
625 Broadway, 4th Floor
Albany, NY 12233-1750
constitution@dec.ny.gov

For more go to  http://www.dec.ny.gov/press/100284.html

Friday, December 26, 2014

DEC Seeks Public comments on Constitution Pipeline




Today the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation announced it is seeking public comments on the Draft State Permit Applications for proposed construction of the Interstate Constitution Pipeline. Public comments will be accepted through Jan. 30, 2015

The public is invited to comment on permit applications the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) received for the proposed, federally regulated Constitution Pipeline and an upgrade to the Iroquois Wright Compressor station in Schoharie County that is part of the project.

The 30-inch Constitution Pipeline is a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline that would traverse 124 miles though Broome, Chenango, Delaware and Schoharie counties, transporting 650,000 dekatherms of gas per day – enough to serve approximately 3 million homes.

Just last month, November 15, more than 200 people converged on Ithaca College to discuss how communities can protect their interests in the face of development from pipelines, compressor stations, and other fracking infrastructure. Pipelines represent a huge investment in continuing to burn fossil fuels to power our economy – a $21 billion investment in pipeline development for moving gas extracted from Marcellus shale alone, said environmental lawyer David Slottje. Overall, he said, current estimates point to building 15,000 miles of pipeline each year between now and 2035. Not the sort of investment a company makes for a “bridge fuel”, he noted.

The Federal Energy Regulatory commission (FERC) and NY State Public Service Commission (PSC) are in charge of big projects, such as pipelines. The major difference, especially important in the case of pipelines, is that FERC decisions grant eminent domain whereas PSC doesn’t. Which agency has oversight also depends on whether a pipeline is crossing state borders or connecting to an interstate pipeline, and how big it is.

While transmission lines are regulated, “gathering lines” and those carrying gas at pressures below 125 pounds per square inch (psi), or that are shorter than 1,000 feet fall into the unregulated category.

The Constitution Pipeline is only one of the pipelines scheduled for this area. There’s also the “Millennium Phase-1 North-South Upstate Pipeline Connector”, locally referred to as the “I-81 Pipeline”. This is a 24-inch, high-pressure pipeline slated to run from Johnson City in Broome County north along I-81 to Syracuse. A pipeline that large needs 75-foot easements, she said – a large swath across people’s property.

According to Delaware Riverkeeper, a 100-foot wide right-of-way translates into twelve acres of disturbed land for every mile of pipeline. People need to consider the impacts along the entire length of these pipelines. But instead, some pipeline companies are breaking down their project to look like shorter pipeline projects so that FERC doesn’t see assessments for cumulative damage along the entire route.

Because the proposed Constitution pipeline and compressor station upgrade are components of an Interstate Natural Gas Transmission project, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was responsible for conducting an environmental review of the project and has the authority to approve the pipeline route. FERC issued a final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) in October, but additional federal reviews and approvals for the project also are necessary. You can read the FEIS at: http://elibrary.FERC.gov/idmws/file_list.asp?accession_num=20141024-4001

DEC maintains the authority to review applications for specific permits and approvals. These include an Air Title V permit for the proposed compressor station upgrade, as well as a Water Quality Certification, a Protection of Waters permit, a Water Withdrawal permit and a Freshwater Wetlands permit for state-protected wetlands and adjacent areas for the pipeline installation.

DEC Notice of completed Application (second one) at  http://www.dec.ny.gov/enb/20141224_reg0.html#099990018100009

 
Comments will be accepted on the permit applications from Dec. 24, 2014 to Jan. 30, 2015. Comments can be submitted to:

Stephen M. Tomasik
DEC - Division of Environmental Permits
625 Broadway, 4th Floor
Albany, NY 12233-1750
constitution@dec.ny.gov

In addition, DEC will hold public meetings to allow people to provide verbal or written comments. The meeting schedule is:

    Binghamton - Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, 6 p.m.
    East Middle School Auditorium, 167 East Frederick Street
    Oneonta - Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2015, 6 p.m.
    SUNY Oneonta Lecture Hall IRC #3, 108 Ravine Parkway
    Cobleskill, Wednesday, Jan. 14. 2015, 6 p.m.
    SUNY Cobleskill, Bouck Hall Theater, State Route 7

Copies of the FEIS and DEC permit application documents can be viewed online at: http://www.constitutionpipeline.com/  Printed copies are available at:

  • The Broome County Public Library, 185 Court St., Binghamton
  • The Afton Free Library, 105A Main St., Afton
  • The Bainbridge Free Library, 13 N Main St., Bainbridge.
  • The Franklin Free Library, 334 Main St., Franklin
  • Sidney Memorial Public Library, 8 River St., Sidney
  • Deposit Free Library, 159 Front St., Deposit
  • The Community Library, 110 Union St., Cobleskill
  • Schoharie Free Library, 103 Knower Ave., Schoharie


Information on the Iroquois Wright Compressor Station can viewed at: http://www.iroquois.com/documents/WIP_-_NYSDEC_Air_Permit_Application_7-26-13.pdf .  Printed copies are also available at:

  • Schoharie Free Library, 103 Knower Avenue, Schoharie
  • Town of Wright Municipal Building, 105-3 Factory Street, Gallupville