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

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Bird Mortality in Oil & Gas Fields

oiled bird/ US Fish & Wildlife Service



Pepper Trail may be the only full-time forensic ornithologist. He works for the National Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab in Ashland, Oregon. On November 3 he visited the Cornell Lab of Ornithology to talk about the sort of work he does.

Trail documents evidence of crimes against birds. That can include anything from smuggling endangered species to trade in feathered craft items. One of the most common kinds of evidence he gets – accounting for a quarter to a third of all his cases – is oiled birds.

These birds often come from oil pits and waste pits located at drilling sites, Trail said. Companies are supposed to make their waste pits inaccessible to birds, but in most cases the their attempts fall far short of the law. Some look like wetlands, with oily water spread over reedy areas, while others are well-defined rectangular ponds. Both attract birds.

Trail doesn’t visit drilling sites, so he can’t say exactly where the birds are coming from or whether the driller is fracking for gas or oil. It’s the job of field investigators to fish dead birds from the oily depths and send them in. Trail’s job is to clean the feathers – tail feathers are best, he says – and look for distinguishing characteristics. So he washes them with solvent, gives them a rinse and then dries them off with a hair-drier.

Waterfowl aren’t the only birds attracted to gas and oil waste pits. Trail has identified 172 species, including mocking bird, barn owl, lark buntings and even roadrunners. “The mortality due to gas and oil pits is in the range of 500,000 to a million every year,” he said. To put that in perspective, the Exxon-Valdez oil spill killed 250,000 to 300,000 birds. Wind turbines account for about 100,000 bird deaths each year.

 “This is some of the most important work we do,” said Trail. “Not because the fines are high, but because we can compel the companies to clean up their pits.”
flags don't adequately protect birds from waste pits

The current strategy of surrounding the pit with chain-link fence or stringing used-car-lot flags across the surface is totally inadequate. “The best way to protect birds is to pump out the pits and inject the fluids into storage tanks that are closed,” said Trail, adding that an alternative would be injecting waste into a geological formation – “if that’s safe.” Securely netting the pond could work, but too often the netting sags into the oil.

You can learn more about minimizing risks to migrating birds at oil and gas sites hereThis was taken from a longer article in the November 10, 2014 issue of Tompkins Weekly

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veterans Defend Seneca Lake Against Environmental Enemies "Foreign or Domestic"




Colleen Boland and Sandra Steingraber arrested @ Seneca Lake
On October 27, retired Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Collen Boland zipped up a fleece jacket emblazoned with her name, rank and rows of decorations, then headed to Crestwood energy’s site on Seneca Lake. There, she linked arms with others defending Seneca Lake from the proposed gas storage project. When a tractor trailer approached, Boland and the others refused to move. Within minutes Sheriff’s deputies showed up and arrested the protesters.

Boland, who was born and raised in Corning, NY, never thought of herself as an activist. She never thought of herself as a tree-hugger. After four years of service in the Army and another thirteen in the Air Force, Boland retired. She took off her uniform and moved on to new things.

But with industrialized drilling and gas storage encroaching on the local landscape, Boland reluctantly polished her boots and dusted off her awards and decorations and prepared to serve in a new way.  In a press conference last week she reflected on her years of military service, and the places she was stationed. One thing they had in common, she said, is water. Children in Schuyler County and Dimock, Pennsylvania, like children in Malaysia and elsewhere, need access to clean water.

Explaining why she wore a “civilianized” version of her Air Force jacket, Boland explained that she was trying to dispel the notion that “the only people standing up to protect our water, our air, and our communities are tree-hugging hippies or out of touch dreamers. Don't get me wrong, I love trees, but I was never quite cool enough to be a hippie —and I'm certainly not dreaming," she said to laughter and applause.

Boland is distressed and offended that people who oppose extreme fossil fuel extraction are being dismissed as “people who don’t belong here.” We do belong here, she declared.

 "I am still serving, still defending. I am defending the natural beauty of the Finger Lakes region that I love against all enemies foreign and domestic. Crestwood is my enemy." Boland isn't the only Veteran defending the lake; Dwain Wilder, a former sailor, spent his Veterans Day in jail for his part in the protest.

Watch the video of the press conference and read an interview with Boland in the Air Force Times.