Friday, September 30, 2011

Citizen Journalists Document Brine Spreading on PA Roads


Citizen journalists from Lancaster, Pa traveled to northern PA to have their own look at gas rigs, well pads, storage facilities, and transport trucks in action. They stopped in Dimock to talk with some of the landowners affected by drilling and subsequent contamination of their drinking wells. 

The video, a labor of love rather than a professional endeavor, was uploaded to You tube just a couple days ago. It raises some intriguing questions, such as: 
  • what are the trucks spraying on PA roads?
  • why do company representatives give different answers?
  • how come brine tanks aren't surrounded by barriers like the companies say they are supposed to be?

It's pretty clear that, regardless of rules, regulations or industry promises, the agencies responsible for regulating the gas industry needs more "boots on the ground". These industry reps. didn't seem to know what was going on at their own well pads....

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

DEC issues Draft Regulations for Fracking

This morning the DEC issued their draft regulations for high-volume hydraulic fracturing and announced a series of four public hearings.

 The draft regulations, says DEC Commissioner Joe Martens, “are based on the proposed requirements contained in the agency’s revised draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement released earlier this month.”

Martens said that public review of the proposed regulations “is an important part of the environmental impact statement process. The comments from the 2009 public comment period proved insightful and helped inform the revised SGEIS.” He assured the public that the DEC is looking forward to continued oral and written comments during this round.

The draft regulations are supposed to create a legal framework for implementing the proposed mitigation measures published in the revised dSGEIS. The public comment period on the draft regulations begins today and runs concurrently with the public comment period on the dSGEIS, which ends Dec. 12.

In addition for the drilling rules, DEC also released the proposed State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) General Permit (GP) for Stormwater Discharges associated with high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

 Four Hearings:

Each public hearing will have an afternoon session from 1 – 4 pm and an evening session from 6-9 pm. Comments will be accepted in written and oral format at the hearings.

Here’s where the hearings will be:
  • Nov. 16: Dansville Middle School Auditorium, 31 Clara Barton St., Dansville, NY 14437
  • Nov. 17: The Forum Theatre, 236 Washington Street, Binghamton, NY, 13901
  • Nov. 29: Sullivan County Community College, Seelig Theatre, 112 College Rd, Loch   Sheldrake, NY 12759  
  • Nov. 30: Tribeca Performing Arts Center, 199 Chambers Street, New York, NY, 10007

Once the comment period is complete, DEC will review the comments and prepare responses to be released with the final SGEIS and final regulations.  No permits for high-volume hydraulic fracturing will be issued until the SGEIS is finalized and DEC issues the required Findings Statement.

 How to submit comments:
By mail to Attn: dSGEIS Comments; New York State Department of Environmental Conservation; 625 Broadway; Albany, NY 12233-6510

For More Info:
On the proposed State Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (SPDES) General Permit (GP) for Stormwater Discharges along with its fact sheet:;

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Will Corporate Interests Trump Local Land Use?

Who has the power to regulate land use in a town: the local government? The state? Or multinational energy corporations?

Given two lawsuits filed over the past ten days, it looks like New York will be ground zero for testing whether state regulation of gas drilling trumps local control of land use through zoning. Over the past year more than 15 municipalities and counties across NY have strengthened zoning ordinances or passed legislation to exclude gas drilling and other heavy industries from within their borders.

The gas companies don’t like it, and neither do some large landowners hoping to cash in on what they see as a lucrative gas rush. The real kicker: DEC has not finalized the environmental impact statement – the infamous SGEIS – that sets the basis for establishing rules and regulations for high-volume horizontal hydrofracking. And, once that’s finalized they still have to adopt drilling regulations.

Still, Denver-based Anschutz Exploration Corporation is concerned about its investment in the tiny town of Dryden, located in the Finger Lakes region. According to some press reports, the company has leased well over 20,000 acres. Now they’re concerned that the town’s revised zoning rules will stop them from drilling, and they want the state to strike down Dryden's “drilling ban”.

You see, last month the Dryden Town Board unanimously approved a change to its zoning laws – a change that expressly prohibits any gas exploration, extraction or storage in the town. Town supervisor Mary Ann Sumner told the press that the town had researched the legality of such a zoning ordinance. “DEC cannot preempt our ability to regulate land use,” she said. Dryden, like any other town in NY has the right to decide whether and how to allow industries to operate within the town. “Heavy industry,” she said, “is in conflict with our major industries.”

Anschutz begs to differ, and DEC has tossed this hot potato to the courts noting that the law is "open to interpretation".

But Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, who represents the region, is not so waffly when it comes to local land use issues. She comes down firmly on the side of “home rule”. Changing local zoning does not regulate the gas industry, she insists. Deciding where industry can locate their facilities (zoning) is very different from telling them what kind of fracking chemicals they can use (regulating).

Meanwhile, over in Otsego county a group of landowners led by a farmer (who has leased her land to a gas company) has engaged a Binghamton law firm to go after the town of Middlefield.  In June the town passed a zoning law that, like Dryden’s, excludes drilling through wells or subsurface excavations for oil or gas.

The law firm, Levene Gouldin & Thompson told the press that only the state can regulate oil and gas activities. According to LG&T, state law regulating oil and gas would supersede local zoning ordinances regulating land use.

But David Clinton, Middlefield’s town attorney, sees the issue very differently. “Environmental Conservation Law says that a municipality may not regulate gas drilling,” he says. But the town is not regulating gas drilling. They are prohibiting it.

Who has control over the land? Those of us who live on the land, who grow food on the land, harvest timber, drink the water? Or lawmakers who, by their own admission, are heavily lobbied by corporations interested in extracting wealth for their stockholders?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Books from GasLand - The End of Country

The End of Country
By Seamus McGraw
Random House, 2011

Some folks drill into the shale for gas, others for stories. Seamus McGraw, a Dimock lad, recently published a book about how drilling has impacted his neck of the woods. But The End of Country is about more than drilling. McGraw mixes memoir and documentary to reveal the character of those most impacted by drilling: Victoria Switzer, a retired school teacher who moved to Dimock to build her dream home; Ken Ely who quarries bluestone from his farm just uphill of Switzer; Rosemarie Greenwood, an aging dairy farmer who apologized for not baking muffins because her oven stopped working years ago.

When Ely tells him that the land is resilient, McGraw understands that he’s referring to past years of timbering, dairy farming, coal mining and, now, gas drilling. “Sure, you could kill it if you took too much,” Ely says. People need to understand that the land doesn’t owe them a fortune, just a living.

So why did people sign gas leases? For Rosemarie it was a way to keep the cows fed and the grain bills paid for one more year. For Ken it was another way to work his land. For Victoria it was an ambivalent faith that drilling might provide energy security to the region and the nation. The leases are less about money than about hope for a better future, one in which young men and women are not sent off to war to secure access to foreign oil fields.

A lot of the problems with drilling and gas distribution have mechanical solutions, McGraw says. Gas lost through leaky valves and pipes, referred to as “fugitive emissions” represents a loss of money for the energy corporations. “They could fix the problem but they don’t because they are too concerned about their production rates,” he says. What people need to understand is that public policy that forces the companies to address these issues not only protects the environment but is also in the best interest of the companies.

One question McGraw has for the gas companies is why they continue to power their industrial extraction efforts with expensive diesel. “Here we are sitting on top of the second – or third – largest reservoir of natural gas in the world,” he said, “yet how are they running the rigs? Diesel!” Drillers could be using gas to power everything from drilling rigs to their fleets to the generators that power the fracking operations.

Sure, Marcellus drilling has changed the countryside, McGraw says. “We can compare what it is now to what it was like 15 years ago, but the more important question is where are we going to be 5 or 10 years from now?”

Regardless of your thoughts on drilling or leasing, The End of Country makes for compelling reading

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hearing on LPG Storage Facility in Watkins Glen, NY

On Tuesday, September 27 the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is holding a public hearing on Inergy's application for a LNG storage and distribution facility on the shore of Seneca Lake, just three miles north of Watkins Glen.

The public hearing begins at 7pm in the Watkins Glen High School Auditorium, 301 12th St. Written comments accepted until Monday, October 10. Send your comments to:  David Bimber, Deputy Regional Permit Administrator, NYSDEC, 6274 East Avon-Lima Road, Avon, NY 14414-9516.

Inergy is a limited partnership developed to “acquire midstream energy assets.” They own and operate four natural gas storage facilities in NY and PA, with a combined gas storage capacity of 41 billion cubic feet (Bcf). Inergy also owns gas pipelines in NY and PA with 30 million cubic feet per day (MMcf/d) transportation capacity.

Their strategy, in their own words, is to “continue to develop a platform of interconnected natural gas assets that can be operated as an integrated Northeast storage and transportation hub”.

The Seneca Lake proposal

Inergy has proposed a new underground LPG storage facility for the storage and distribution of propane and butane on a portion of a 576 acre site located on NYS Routes 14 and 14A on the western shore of Seneca Lake. The storage facility will use existing caverns used by US Salt.

The company plans to store 2.10 million barrels (88.20 million gallons) of LPG in the salt caverns seasonally, displacing some of the brine currently filling them. The idea is to withdraw the fuel during the heating season.

During storage operations, the brine displaced by LPG will be stored and contained in a 14-acre double-lined surface impoundment with a capacity of 2.19 million barrels (91.98 million gallons) uphill of the facility.

The facility will connect to the existing TEPPCO LPG interstate pipeline, and will ship LPG by truck via NYS Routes 14/14A and rail via the existing Norfolk & Southern Railroad. The proposed project involves construction of a new rail and truck LPG transfer facility, consisting of a 6 rail siding capable of allowing loading/unloading of 24 rail cars within 12 hours, and a truck loading station capable of loading 4 trucks per hour.

Public concerns:
  • Residents are concerned about the large 14-acre brine pit.
  • They are concerned about the increased rail and truck traffic in a tourist area.
  • They are concerned about safety – and note that Inergy has refused to release details of their planned safety measures until after the permit is granted. One concern is the proximity to Watkins Glen.
  • They are concerned about air quality issues from the increased truck traffic and potential impacts of ground level ozone and other pollutants on wine grapes and other agricultural crops.
  • They are concerned about the impact of this industrialization on the tourism and wine industry.
  • They are concerned about the integrity of the brine pit in terms of “extraordinary” weather.
  • They would like Inergy and DEC to disclose the number of years of similarly-sized LNG storage facilities and the number of accidents and explosions, so that an honest evaluation can be made of the possible disaster.
You can read the Environmental Impact Statement for the project at Check out what my colleague, journalist Peter Mantius has to say about the project here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

EPA Hearings: Air Pollution Standards for Oil and Gas Production

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will hold three public hearings in September on the agency’s proposed standards to reduce air pollution from oil and gas drilling operations.  The proposed standards would rely on cost-effective, existing technologies and practices to reduce pollution that contributes to smog and can cause cancer, while supporting the administration’s priority of continuing to expand safe and responsible domestic oil and natural gas production.  The first hearing will be held in Pittsburgh on September 27. The other hearings will be in Denver, Colorado and Arlington, Texas.  

Pittsburgh Hearing: 9 am - 8 pm, Tuesday, Sept. 27
David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Rooms 315-316
1000 Ft. Duquesne Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Denver Hearing: 9 am-8 pm, Wed. Sept. 28
Colorado Convention Center, Room 207
700 14th Street
Denver, Colorado 80202

Arlington Hearing: 9 am - 8 pm, Sept. 29
Arlington Municipal Building in the City Council Chambers
101 W. Abram Street
Arlington, Texas 76010

To register to speak at a specific time at any of the hearings, please contact Joan C. Rogers at 919-541-4487 or People also may sign up to speak in person on the day of a hearing; however, they may not be given their preferred time slot to speak.

Public comments will be accepted through October 24, 2011. When you submit your comments, identify them by Docket ID number EPA-HQ-OAR-2010-0505.

Ways to submit written comments:
  • online at the Federal rulemaking portal -
  • by email to
  • by FAX at 202-566-9744
  • by postal service (include 2 copies) to: Docket ID number EPA-HQ-OAR-2010-0505, 1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20460
If you mail comments, please mail an additional copy to: The Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, OMB, Attn.: Desk Officer for EPA, 725 17th St. NW, Washington, DC  20503

EPA must issue a final rule by Feb. 28, 2012. More information at

You can read the 106-page announcement of the rules in the Federal Registry at

For further information contact Bruce Moore at 919-541-5460 or by email at