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.

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.”