Newsletter - Full Edition - December 2015
The Geyer Decision and Many Other Developments
There have been many developments locally, nationally and globally in the anti-fracking community since last we published, and we have struggled to keep up with them! Prime among them is the Court of Common Pleas decision on the Geyer well in Middlesex Twp., with many others to follow. We hope in the future to come out with a monthly newsletter in an effort to keep pace with the rapidly-changing world of shale-gas drilling. In the meantime, we present this rather large and potentially overwhelming newsletter... We advise readers to do an initial quick scan of the contents to identify items of keenest interest. Read these first; come back often to peruse other items. We guarantee it is all worthwhile reading! Take your time; arm yourself with knowledge!
"Many a mile to freedom, many a tale to tell..."
The Geyer Decision: This Isn't Over
On Thursday, Nov. 19, Butler County Common Pleas Court Judge S. Michael Yeager upheld a contentious zoning ordinance that allows drilling for natural gas in 90 percent of Middlesex Twp., but the court fight likely will continue. Opponents and environmental groups who sued the township say the judge's ruling Thursday allowed officials in Middlesex to ignore environmental and health concerns. They say they will appeal.
Aaron Jacobs-Smith, a lawyer for the Clean Air Council, a group that challenged the Middlesex ordinance, said Yeager's decision is faulty on several levels. “It is illogical and unconstitutional to allow industrial drilling in 90 percent of a township. We still think we have a strong case,” he said. While he has discussed the possibility of appealing Yeager’s decision to a higher court with the council’s executive director, Joseph Minott, he said that no decision has yet been made.
Maya van Rossum, a lawyer with Delaware Riverkeeper Network of Bucks County, which also challenged the Middlesex ordinance, said her group will appeal the decision. “The judge let local decision-makers off the hook. Drilling and fracking create a high level of environmental degradation. It's not appropriate to allow decision-makers to just ignore data and expert testimony, which they did,” van Rossum said.
We at MOB are frankly confused by some of Judge Yeager's statements regarding his decision to uphold the ordinance and deny the challenge. For example, regarding the claim that the Middlesex drilling ordinance is unconstitutional, he states: “The suggestion that a zoning ordinance is rendered unconstitutional and does not protect the health, safety and welfare of the people because it is not restrictive enough is contrary to the concepts and principles of zoning.” Yet is it not the basic purpose of zoning to keep incompatible land uses separate by "restricting" those uses? -- e.g., keeping industrial uses out of residential zones?
And regarding the challengers’ claim that shale gas drilling is an industrial use, Judge Yeager said that those who disagree with the township’s and zoning board’s contention can make their feelings known in the election process. This despite the fact that, in the Robinson Township decision overturning Act 13 zoning, the state Supreme Court stated multiple times in its ruling that shale-gas drilling is an industrial use, at one point stating that Act 13 zoning would impose "standards appropriate for the heaviest of industrial areas in sensitive zoning districts." (Emphasis ours.) This is a legal opinion from the highest court in the state, not the opinion of local officials. And yet somehow Judge Yeager failed to acknowledge it in his decision.
Regarding the Geyer decision, MOB member Michael Bagdes-Canning stated: "I think it's too early to throw in the towel. The Civil Rights movement of the '50's and '60's suffered numerous legal defeats on its way to ultimate victory. (Read Michael's blog on this topic here.)
"That being said, putting all of our eggs in the litigation basket is not a wise strategy. We must fight this on many fronts. We must be relentless. We cannot get discouraged by setbacks. We must use all the tools at our disposal. We need to let them know that this is unacceptable. They are still putting people and the planet at peril and we need to call them on it."
(Read Michael's blog on civil disobedience as a possible tool for change in Butler County here.)
Clearly, this is not over. It was felt from the beginning that this case would eventually end up in the PA Supreme Court. And even if the challengers -- that is to say, even if we, all of us who care, are concerned and support the challengers -- even if we should fail at the level of the highest court, this fight to protect our children, our residents, our air, land and water from the toxic hazards of fracking is not over. As Michael said recently: "It's only over if we abdicate." And that we will not do.
The Health Impacts of Unconventional Gas Development
On Oct. 20, MOB sponsored a presentation by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (EHP) at Conley's Resort in Penn Township.
EHP was created to respond to individuals’ and communities’ need for accurate, timely and trusted public health information and health services associated with natural gas extraction. As MOB has previously reported, the PA Dept. of Health has done an abysmal job responding to residents' health complaints related to shale-gas development, thus creating the need for these services. EHP has an onsite nurse practitioner who is available by appointment for home or office visits, exams and consultations with people who think their health may be compromised by nearby gas drilling activities (including compressor stations, wastewater pits, and truck traffic). She will also provide referrals, help clients navigate the health care system, and consult with environmental health specialists about residents’ medical conditions. Initially formed to assist the residents of Washington County, PA, EHP has expanded to address the needs of Ohio, West Virginia, the rest of PA and even New York, which has banned fracking, but still has the natural gas infrastructure (pipelines, compressor stations) that can cause health impacts.
Nurse practitioner Leni Resick told attendees that there is a consistent "set of symptoms" revealed in all the shale-gas health studies from various places around the country, and that set of symptoms is what EHP is finding in the people who seek out their services. Acute health symptoms for short-term exposure to toxins like benzene, toluene and hydrogen sulfide include, but are not limited to, respiratory problems, headaches, skin rashes, nausea and asthma attacks. Chronic health effects due to long-term exposures include worsening respiratory diseases and cancer. EHP advises that, if you have concerns about your health or of the health of someone in your family, you should see a health professional. If you have health concerns that you believe could stem from environmental exposures and have no health care provider or do not feel you are getting the help you need, you can schedule an appointment with their nurse practitioner by calling 724.260.5504. EHP has also developed a medical toolkit, available on their website, to assist health care providers in dealing with possible chemical exposures associated with shale-gas development.
In addition to EHP staff members, attorney Oday Salim from Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services addressed those in attendance, telling them that elected municipal officials have a "constitutional duty" (PA constitution) to enact laws that protect the health of the communities they serve. Many of them are unaware of the health impacts associated with shale-gas development. He said it is therefore important for residents to get that information to them as early as possible, especially if there is a public hearing re: a well-pad, pipeline or compressor station approval, so that they can have that health impact information available to factor into their approval process.
Health impacts from unconventional shale-gas development are real, are occurring at this very moment and need to be addressed. From the SWPA-EHP website: "At EHP we are aware of the uncertainty around what precisely residents are exposed to. The scarcity of objective, reliable data on the health effects of gas extraction activities leaves open many questions about the origins of residents’ health problems and the scope of public health risks in communities. We do not, however, see this uncertainty as a cause for inaction. As public health professionals we know that the perception in the community of environmental dangers, along with plausible sources of hazardous substances, are reason enough to provide a public health response. State and federal agencies as well as research institutions are beginning the extensive research required to help determine adverse health and environmental impacts on regions affected by drilling. Epidemiologic research on the health effects of living near natural gas drilling activities is crucial and we support it. But this type of research takes a long time to conduct and we know people need information and help now." Please help to get the word out about these health impacts and that "accurate, timely and trusted public health information" is available from SWPA-EHP.
(To be clear, MOB believes that all these health and environmental impact studies needed to have been completed before this toxic industry was allowed to begin operating in our midst. As it is, we have become the guinea pigs for a huge, filthy extreme-energy experiment. MOB's position is that this process needs to be banned unless/until the studies have proven conclusively that it can be done safely, without harm to health and the environment. So far, most of the studies have been pointing in the other direction. To wait for all these years-long studies to be completed before halting this toxic process places too many lives at risk and is therefore unconscionable.)
Public Herald Exposes DEP's Mishandling of Water Contamination Cases
We who have been endeavoring to raise the alarm about the harm of natural gas development struggle against the fact that there are still so many people who are clueless about this issue--not only clueless, but adamant that it is harmless and safe and good for us all. We know that among the many factors contributing to this cluelessness is the cover provided to the gas industry by the very agency that should be exposing the harm: the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Many well-meaning people may work for the DEP, but the fact remains that it is controlled by politicians who for too many reasons to discuss here support corporations’ business models over the health and safety of Pennsylvania’s citizens and the environment. We’ve long known this, but thanks to the independent journalists of online media source Public Herald, we now have measurable data on what the DEP has, or in many cases has not, been doing to protect us with respect the encroachment of unconventional natural gas drilling and its related infrastructure (fracking) upon Pennsylvania communities.
Independent journalists Joshua B. Pribanic & Melissa Troutman of Public Herald pursued the handling of water quality complaints reported to the DEP and have released 2,309 complaint records for 17 of 40 counties and analyzed over 200 of these complaint cases. The online compilation of the files, which may be printed and shared, is an open-source project called #fileroom (PublicFiles.org), and contains interactive maps built by FracTracker Alliance. Analyzing five key townships — Delmar and Charleston, Tioga County; Cogan House, Lycoming County; and Leroy and Wyalusing, Bradford County — Public Herald found a significant percentage of mishandled water contamination cases between 2009 and 2012. But just obtaining the records was in itself a triumph.
Previously, citizen complaints were being withheld from the public by the DEP. Public Herald and others such as Earthworks had submitted Right-to-Know requests that were denied based on exemptions in the Right-to-Know Law. In 2012, Public Herald learned that complaints were being held as “confidential.” Melissa Troutman reports that upon inquiring of a DEP attorney in the Southwest Regional Office why the requests were being denied, she was told that DEP Deputy Secretary Scott Perry was concerned that public disclosure of the complaints might “cause alarm.” The complaint disclosure blackout was broken later in 2012 when the DEP lost an open records lawsuit brought by the Scranton Times-Tribune to release all the determination letters it had on file, which the Department had been maintaining were confidential or impossible to assemble. The Times-Tribune published 969 of these determinations. However, determinations were not made for all complaints. The latter were left undisclosed and only brought to light through Public Herald's investigation.
Based on its investigation, Public Herald concluded that the DEP has been "cooking" its complaint investigations, meaning they have used certain practices to keep water contamination cases off the books. The practices are:
Examples of these practices are cited in this Public Herald article. Visit Public Herald’s #fileroom project to become part of the Public Herald team. Public Herald offers paid training on accessing and aggregating records to create the transparency the public needs and deserves.
Fracking in the News 12-15
Public Drinking Water Systems Impacted
According to Public Herald, two public drinking water systems have been impacted and at least seven private water supplies contaminated due to ongoing pollution being caused by a natural gas fracking operation of JKLM Energy in Potter County, Pennsylvania. Read more...
PA DEP Under Fire
Even mainstream media like the Harrisburg Patriot News has noticed something amiss with the DEP. Read more...
... and so has the EPA! Read more...
In commenting to a reporter about water supply problems in the Woodlands area of Butler County, PA DEP Secretary John Quigley said, “I don't think it would be a productive use of my time to review how the agency handled certain cases…" Read more...
An excellent article from the Harrisburg Patriot News about the ongoing human rights tragedy in the Woodlands. Read more...
The people of Connoquenessing's Woodlands need you. Please donate what you can to help supply them with fresh water.
Health and Pollution Research
The EPA's own scientific advisory board dispute the agency's findings on water pollution caused by fracking, saying that it has found "little basis" for the claim that fracking has not led to "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water." Read more...
PennEnvironment finds hundreds of fracking operations near schools and day-care centers. Read more...
The group Concerned Health Professionals of New York has released a fully referenced compilation of the significant body of scientific, medical, and journalistic findings demonstrating risks and harms of unconventional oil and gas development. Read more...
A Johns Hopkins University study links proximity to unconventional gas wells to premature birth risk. Read more...
A University of Missouri study finds that spills associated with natural gas drilling can contaminate surface, ground and drinking water, raising the risk of reproductive, metabolic, neurological and other diseases, especially in children who are exposed to the chemicals. Read more...
A new study from Cornell University links methane emissions from shale-gas development to risk of climatic warming.
Two doctors urge a New England community to keep opposing a natural gas pipeline and compressor station, citing health effects.
PA Pipeline Task Force
The Public Accountability Initiative has found that PA Gov. Wolf's Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force is dominated by representatives of the oil and gas industry. Protestors rallied at the task force's monthly meeting in October, calling for an end to fracking and pipeline development throughout Pennsylvania.
This month (November 2015), a report on the task force's work was released. Maya van Rossum, head of the environmental group Delaware Riverkeeper Network, said the report failed to ask whether the huge buildout is necessary in the first place. She said it failed to provide "a genuine assessment of need in the context of how to best serve the energy needs of the present and future generations.” DEP Secretary John Quigley stated: “We’re not having that conversation. The conversation about energy policy is not for this task force.” But don't energy policy and protection of the environment go hand in hand??? Read more...
New Regulation Proposals
Shale gas pipelines in rural areas would be subject to safety standards for the first time under PA Senate Bill 1044. Read more...
Both the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and StateImpact have reported on an EPA proposal would require oil and gas facilities to report chemicals to the Toxics Release Inventory.
WTAE reports on more local gas industry jobs going to out-of-state workers. Read more...
Investors in oil and gas have lost $20 billion over the past year. Ian Urbina of the New York Times took a lot of heat in June 2011 for writing a story that predicted this very thing. Read more...
A new report has found that transitioning to a clean energy economy would be an economic boon to the United States, increasing employment, reducing costs to consumers, and benefiting investors. Read more...
According to the latest International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) report and a paper written by Stanford University, a 100% renewable-powered world is "technically feasible and economically viable" by 2030. Read more...
Fracking and the Law
Maya von Rossum of Delaware Riverkeeper Network muses over what the recent state Supreme Court election could mean for the environment. Read more...
In neighboring Lawrence and Allegheny counties, two municipalities have approved strict fracking ordinances. Read more... (for Lawrence County) and an article from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. (for Allegheny County)
The National Toxics Network of Australia has recently published a report, "Unconventional Gas Exploration and Production: Human Health Impacts and Environmental Legacy." Read more...
An article about a grassroots educational effort re: fracking in the town of Helmsley, UK. Kevin Hollinrake, MP, mentioned in the article, recently visited w. PA on a fact-finding tour re: fracking. Read more...
Local and Regional Actions
Since our last newsletter MOB and its sister organizations have been involved in a number of actions designed to bring about awareness of and "the fight" to the dangers of unconventional natural gas development, drilling and infrastructure.
On August 29, MOB and the state group Protect Our Children (POC) held a march and rally in downtown Butler to highlight the dangers of allowing shale-gas drilling and infrastructure in close proximity to schools. Speakers from MOB, POC, the Mars Parent Group, Save Lake Arthur Watershed, Section 27 Alliance, Penn Environment and Women for a Healthy Environment informed the crowd of the dangers associated with toxic emissions from shale-gas well sites and how children are especially susceptible to these toxins. Janet McIntyre also spoke of the continuing water woes in The Woodlands, and a group of Butler city residents informed us of a new threat related to the gas industry: hundreds of large trucks filled with silica sand used in fracking, thundering past their apartment complex at all hours of the day and night -- at times as many as 30 trucks an hour. This group has asked the mayor of Butler for assistance in this matter, only to be turned away. They are considering legal action.
September was highlighted by the 3rd annual Fossil-Free Energy Fair. This year's fair had an added attraction: an electric car show, with area electric car owners showing off and giving rides in their vehicles. The energy fair has been held at a different venue each year -- this year it was held in Cranberry Township, at Kohl's lower parking lot to accommodate the electric vehicles. Despite a chilly rain that kept some people indoors, a nonetheless enthusiastic crowd greeted the transport energy wave of the future. Fossil-Free Energy Fair has recently changed its name to the Go Green Festival!
MOB also had a presence at the annual Fall Festival in the city of Butler in September. Festival-goers were intrigued by the displays MOB has created to show the close proximity of well pads and gas processing plants to schools in the county, prompting expressions of surprise, concern and outrage. The displays may be viewed here.
MOB held a small rally at the homecoming football game at Moniteau High School to alert residents in that area that well pad is to be constructed directly behind and in close proximity to Dassa McKinney Elementary School in the Moniteau School District. Additionally, MOB member and Moniteau School District resident Michael Bagdes-Canning raised the issue at the next Moniteau School Board meeting. The only comment from the board in response to this issue was how much money the school district would be getting from its gas leases.
In October MOB sponsored two educational programs. One was a water quality workshop featuring Duquesne University professor John Stolz at the Middlesex Twp. Municipal Building; the other was a program on health impacts related to shale-gas drilling and also emergency response preparations re: shale-gas infrastructure featuring staff members from the Southwest PA Environmental Health Project in Washington County (see Health Impact editorial).
Pipelines In Your Backyard?
Shale Gas Infrastructure & Community Organizing
December 5, 1 - 3:30 PM
Butler Public Library [MAP]
218 N. McKean Street, Butler, PA 16001
Alex Lotorto from the Energy Justice Network will review the natural gas midstream, from wellhead to end use. Because our shale contains natural gas liquids as well as methane here in Butler County, Alex will cover how cryogenic processing plants work and why they exist. The three types of pipelines Alex will differentiate, are gathering lines, transmission lines, and distribution lines. Compressor stations are used to move gas along all pipelines.
After Alex reviews how the gas midstream works, he will discuss the problems with each part including land disturbance, basic wetland and stream ecology, land use issues, eminent domain and landowner rights, impacts on air quality, and how organization in the shale fields can be used to leverage companies in their decision making. This includes an overview of strategies and tactics that have been used across the state, including municipal ordinances, landowner coalitions, conservation groups’ monitoring, and direct action.