Sunday, October 30, 2011

Pipeline Project Hits Resistance

corrected 10/31/11
People whose land the Empire Pipeline is crossing aren’t happy with the way the project is going. Residents in the towns of Corning and Caton, NY and Canton, PA* have told the press that construction of the gas pipeline has created flooding, washed out their driveways, and left huge holes that – they say – are dangerous.

Back in 2010, when the company presented the project to residents, they promised landowners to “minimize impact”. They would accomplish that by using existing right-of-ways (ROW). They also promised to keep the ROW to 50 feet wide, compensate landowners for economic loss, and to restore the land to original or better condition.

But, say landowners, they took a 75-foot ROW, threatening eminent domain against those reluctant to sign a contract. Given recent problems, some homeowners are planning to sue the pipeline.

Empire Pipeline’s project, the “Tioga County Extension” was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in May, with an original completion target of this fall. However, according to the Natural Gas Intelligence “Shale Daily” (Oct. 28, 2011) the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has asked FERC to hold off on the extension until it has complied with state soil disturbance and stabilization requirements.

*though I've been assured that many folks in Canton (south of the NY border) feel the same way...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Study on Marcellus Drilling Impacts on Drinking Water

Penn State scientists just released a report on water quality in private water wells in rural PA before and after drilling of nearby Marcellus Shale gas wells. Although the study didn’t find significant contamination of drinking water wells, researchers caution that there needs to be more intensive study. 

They also noted unexpected high levels of bromide after drilling, and expressed concern for health impacts. In addition to testing water, the study also documented the enforcement of existing regulations and the extent of voluntary testing by homeowners.

The study, which took place in 2010 and 2011 focused on 233 water wells located in close proximity to Marcellus gas well pads. Phase I of the study (2010) tested 48 water wells within 2500 feet of a well pad both pre- and post-drilling. Phase II tested an additional 185 wells located within 5000 feet of a Marcellus gas well pad post-drilling.

A statistical analysis of pre- and post-drilling water chemistry did not find significant differences due to drilling or hydro-fracking when considering the pollutants “most prominent in drilling waste fluids.” Unlike the Duke study, this study found no significant increase in methane after drilling, and no significant correlations with distance from the well pad.

But, the researchers pointed out, this lack of data could be due to the lack of testing beyond 1000 feet. According to PA law the industry is presumed responsible for pollution of water supplies within 1000 feet of a well pad for six months after drilling. So, few people pay for testing beyond that distance.

One thing the scientists did find was increased levels of bromide in water wells after drilling and/or fracking. “These increases may suggest more subtle impacts to groundwater and the need for more research,” they write. Increased bromide levels were often accompanied by increased levels of sediment and metals in the water. These increased levels were observed within 3000 feet of the gas well pads – suggesting that 3000 feet is a more reasonable distance for testing than the current 1000 feet.

Bromide is rarely tested as part of the industry-sponsored pre-drilling baseline sampling. The PSU researchers selected bromide as a parameter for their study because it is typically not found in detectable concentrations in undisturbed groundwater and because it is found in relatively high concentrations in drilling gas wastes. For those reasons it serves as a good indicator of the influence of gas drilling on groundwater.

In the pre-drilling samples bromide levels were always well below detection levels (0.1 ppm). But in seven wells bromide was detected in measurable concentrations. Those wells were located within 1670 feet of five different Marcellus well pads that were operated by three separate companies.

While bromide does not present a health hazard by itself, it combines with disinfection agents to create a carcinogenic byproduct - and that concerns the researchers. They suggest two potential sources of the bromide: drilling mud and flowback fluids.

You can read more of their findings at

Friday, October 21, 2011

Chesapeake Rallies The Troops

photo by Frank Finan
Not content with going after the New York Times, now the gas industry is targeting public meetings – at least in a more obvious manner (because – heck – they’ve always sent industry supporters to meetings).

Yesterday Jennifer Cox, Chesapeake Energy’s “coordinator of corporate development for Marcellus Shale” sent out an urgent e-mail appeal asking pro-gas supporters to attend a talk in Deposit. Not one that Chesapeake is presenting – but one organized by a group of citizens who want to know more about what gas drilling looks like in agricultural communities.

The event, “Neighbor to Neighbor: Living the Drill” features two Bradford County (PA) dairy farmers, Carolyn Knapp and Carol French. I’ve heard these women – they speak honestly about how industrialized drilling has changed their agricultural landscape. They share accounts of how drilling has impacted their neighbors – some of whom have had to sell their livestock because the drilling made it impossible to move cows to pasture or bring hay back to the barn.

The idea that people might be talking to their neighbors seems to bother Chesapeake, so Cox is asking drilling supporters to “attend and share with others the economic benefits that natural gas development has brought to your community and the positive impact the industry can have on our nation’s economy and energy security”.

Why is she – and Chesapeake – so concerned? “Public opinion about the industry is still being shaped,” Cox wrote, “and you have an important role to play.”

If you want to hear just normal folks share what it’s been like to continue farming while surrounded by a ring of wells a mile away, head to Deposit this Sunday, October 23. The talk begins at 2 pm at the State Theatre, 148 Front Street. Doors open at 1:45 for refreshments and conversation.

Read more here and here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Defying Open Meeting Law, Town of Sidney OKs Pipeline

Last Thursday, October 13, the Sidney NY town board unanimously approved a controversial natural gas pipeline project. But even if you were sitting in the front row you wouldn’t have been able to hear the roll call vote. That’s because outraged citizens were chanting “delay the vote!”

To say the town board meeting was unruly would be an understatement. Part of that is due to the refusal of town supervisor Bob McCarthy to move the public meeting to a larger venue. A full fifteen minutes before the meeting was gaveled to order, the room was crowded, with more people waiting in the hallway. Many citizens begged McCarthy to move the meeting to a larger room, upstairs, that would accommodate the people who wished to attend their town board meeting.

In a clear violation of NY’s open meeting law McCarthy refused. He cited recent knee surgery, and then later simply said, “no; I don’t want to [move the meeting].”  The result: 75 or more people crammed into a room with a 52-person occupancy.

Then, after calling the meeting to order McCarthy immediately tossed the agenda aside and called for a vote on the pipeline project. The proposal – to provide a 50-year franchise to Leatherstocking Gas Co. for a gas pipeline through Sidney, Coventry, and Bainbridge and eventually connecting with the Millennium pipeline and eastern ports – has been a point of controversy all summer long.

Without allowing for any discussion, McCarthy called for a vote. Residents immediately protested, chanting “delay the vote!” and “illegal meeting!” Most of the meeting was met with angry outbursts and citizens shouting down town council members. At one point McCarthy makes a show of calling the police on his cell phone. The single officer who responded simply stayed in the meeting to ensure that some semblance of order was kept.

You can read more about this meeting here and watch a video of the meeting here.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Still Waiting for Water in Dimock

The Sautner's & their neighbors still awaiting clean water
How many days months years does it take for a gas company to make good on its promise to provide a permanent supply of clean, fresh drinking water to homeowners affected by bad drilling practices? Well, if you’re Cabot, two years, nine months, fifteen days and counting.

That’s how long 17 homes in Dimock, PA have been without their well water. Water fouled by methane that escaped from what PA’s Department of Environmental Protection has characterized as cementing deficiencies in Cabot’s wells. Despite fines (by DEP) and promises to provide a permanent water supply (by Cabot) people still rely on water trucked in each week.

Nearly three years later, they’re getting tired of it. They would like to be able to turn on their faucets and know that the water streaming out is safe to cook with, safe to bathe in … safe to drink. But recent testing show that gas continues to contaminate Dimock’s groundwater.

Last year Cabot balked at orders to put in a pipeline that would bring fresh water from Montrose to Dimock. Instead, they made a deal with DEP that the company would buy out homeowners or install treatment systems that would remove the methane. Treatment systems that, despite their $30,000 price tag, don’t seem to be working.

Despite the lack of water, some residents worry that state regulators will sign off on Cabot’s efforts and allow drilling to resume. Read more here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Hurry Up and Drill - So We Can Export it

Millennium Pipeline, Catatonk NY
One of the key selling points that gas industry spokesmen hammer time and again is that shale gas (and other gas) will provide a domestic source of energy for Americans – so we don’t have to import dirty petroleum products from overseas. The gas reservoirs in Marcellus, and now the Utica shales, could last us 20 to 30 years, they say. Maybe even longer.

But over the past half year it’s become clear that economics trumps patriotism. With the price of gas falling – down to around $4/mcf (thousand cubic feet), gas companies are looking beyond our borders to sell their gas. Their reasoning? Too much gas. So they’re asking the US Department of Energy for permission to ship the gas overseas.

Back in May the DOE quietly approved plans for CheniereEnergy to export 2.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from its Sabine Pass, La., port terminal.

Now, Dominion Resources has announced plans to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) to “any country with which the US does not prohibit trade”. The company has already filed with the Department of Energy requesting permission to export up to 1 billion cubic feet per day from its Dominion Cove Point facility on the Chesapeake Bay in Lusby, Md.

There will be many advantages, they point out:
  • It would provide needed markets to support domestic natural gas industry growth;
  • It could improve balance of trade by at least $2.8 billion annually;
  • It could increase government revenue by almost $1 billion annually;
  • It could add more than 7,000 short-term jobs nationally during peak of construction and approximately 14,600 permanent oil and gas industry jobs once in operation.
 I admit, I’m confused. If we’re drilling to stop importing fuel, and we’ve gotta hurry up and get this Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) approved so the rigs can move into NY to extract this much-needed fuel, why exactly are we giving it away? And if we’re sacrificing clean air and water for an energy source that will reduce our dependence on coal, why are we giving it away? And if we really are “drilling a well to bring home a soldier”, why are we giving it away?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Caroline Town Board Puts Kibosh on Frack Ban Resolution

(file photo from meeting in summer)
Tuesday night it was standing-room-only at the Brooktondale Community Center as Caroline residents took the floor to argue in favor of a frack ban. The resolution is short – only 55 words – simply asking the town to ban high-volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing because the intensity of industrial development would threaten the town’s “clean air, clean water, soil, rural landscapes, and health” as well as its social and economic well-being.

But – despite the fact that 50 people spoke passionately in favor of the ban and only a handful argued against it – the Caroline Town Board did not pass resolution. Town councilman Dominic Frongillo and town supervisor Don Barber were the only “yes” votes. Council members Linda Adams and Toby McDonald voted no and Councilman Peter Hoyt abstained, essentially killing the resolution.

While many people reiterated the known dangers to health from air and water pollution, it was Frongillo’s closing statement that brought the crowd to its feet.  “We are gathered tonight to affirm that we are one town,” he said, “that we choose the future not just as individuals but as a community.” He reminded people of the hours they put into crafting a Comprehensive Plan to guide the town’s development. That vision for the town, he said, describes “a safe, affordable place to call home, a vibrant local economy with locally-owned small businesses that enhance our rural town, clean water and air, healthy forests and farmland, and a revitalized farming community for future generations.”

Gas drilling – on the industrial scale being proposed – would fundamentally alter the town’s character, Frongillo said. Industrialized drilling isn’t compatible with the plan for the future and takes the town in the opposite direction from that which the citizens outlined together. 

“Contrary to what some tonight have said, we have a responsibility to our citizens to protect the health and welfare of our community,” Frongillo stated. “The five of us sitting at this table represent and must be advocates for everyone who is affected by our decisions, including children and future generations.” When one-half of the registered voters ask the Town board to do something, it’s the board’s responsibility to listen, he said.

In response to fears about lawsuits, should the town adopt a fracking ban, Frongillo said he would rather the town place the health of its citizens over avoiding lawsuits from a foreign corporation.  “I would risk that we placed the concern for the downstream effects of our actions over the potential for trickle-down money to some in our community,” he stated. “I would risk that we used this moment to recommit to our vision for community we are proud to leave for the next 20 and for the next 200 years.”

As for the results, Frongillo reminded people what their effort was for. “This resolution is about hope,” he said of the frack ban. “Hope that every farmer for another seven generations can earn a decent living on their land. Hope that our kids can play outside without fear… On behalf of past, present, and future Caroline citizens, I cast my vote for investigating every available means to protect our town, our water, air, community, roads, housing values, safety, farmland, rural hillsides, local economy, and our democracy.”

Though disappointed by the vote, the crowd seemed neither surprised nor dismayed. Many people are looking towards the November election when both Hoyt’s and McDonald’s seats are up for grabs. Both candidates running for those seats have expressed strong support for a fracking ban and suggested that the resolution could be revisited in January.

Thank you to all the people who contributed to this post.