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Yoko Ono holds a jug of water from Ray Kemble’s kitchen tap in Montrose, Pa. Yoko Ono and son Sean Lennon are fighting fracking in N.Y. Their song against fracking and fractivists’ use of the word prompted “deep digging” by NPR into that term. //photo borrowed from imaginepeace.com

I woke up this morning to an exceedingly bizarre NPR report titled online: “Focus On Fracking Diverts Attention From Horizontal Drilling.” Huh? I invite you to read or listen here.

The more I thought about it, the more incensed I became. So, I logged on and posted this comment to NPR and the reporter:

Horizontal drilling is “just as important” as fracking? Maybe next time, you could report on how “high-volume horizontal slick water fracturing” is just as important as fracking. This was a very odd story. It is only the industry that tries to separate one component of the process to escape responsibility and plead impunity. As in: There has been no proven case of the fracking process contaminating groundwater.” The industry can say this with a wink because “fracking,” or the injection process per se, hasn’t contaminated water – at least not yet. (Although a study published in the journal Ground Water showed contaminated water could migrate to aquifers in “just a few years.” http://www.propublica.org/article/new-study-predicts-frack-fluids-can-migrate-to-aquifers-within-years)

But the wastewater disposal (legal and illegal), the failed cement casings, the spills onto farmland and into streams, and the drilling near abandoned vertical wells are contaminating water – with methane and the drilling brew.

Everyone familiar with fracking knows about horizontal drilling. Check ANY site about fracking, and you will see a diagram of the vertical and horizontal drilling process. And the chemicals. And the trucks carrying millions of gallons of freshwater. And the wastewater pits. And the earthquakes from reinjection of wastewater for disposal.

When Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon sang about fracking, they were talking about the entire process. So what if it’s a short-hand term.

And you probably shouldn’t interview Terry Engelder without also interviewing Anthony Ingraffea.

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To the list of components of this industry that threaten communities, I should have added venting, too. And compressor stations. And pipelines. The list goes on.

–elisabeth hoffman

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Fracktivists earlier this week at a briefing of the Maryland Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.
//photo by Megan Jenny of Chesapeake Climate Action Network

A few fracking-related and polar bear updates are in order.

Harm from fracking: Jannette M. Barth, an independent economist, has strongly criticized a study funded by the gas industry that, not surprisingly, found that fracking would be an unmitigated boon to Western Maryland. Her report was given to members of the state Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee during a briefing on fracking this week.

A little background on Barth: She graduated from Johns Hopkins University and earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in economics from the University of Maryland-College Park. She was chief economist of the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority and a member of the commission studying the economic impact of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She has 35 years of experience in economic modeling and forecasting and is president of J.M. Barth & Associates in Croton-on-Hudson, N.Y.

The natural gas industry has long pointed to a March 2012 Sage Policy Group report to justify its push to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in Garrett and Allegany counties in Western Maryland using a controversial technique called hydraulic fracturing, aka fracking. The Sage report found $4 million in benefits from each well and $14,000 in economic damage.

Barth reaches a different conclusion: “The Shale gas industry will create an industrial landscape in formerly rural and pristine Western Maryland. Existing industries that are vital to Western Maryland, such as tourism, agriculture, hunting, fishing and vacation-home construction, are likely to decline as these industries are not compatible with an industrial landscape or with a real or perceived threat to water, air and land contamination. In the long-term, the two counties may be worse off if shale gas development is permitted.”

She writes that she found it “shocking” that no peer-reviewed studies are included in the Sage report, which instead quoted liberally from studies by Timothy Considine, whose work is funded by the gas industry, and the American Natural Gas Alliance.

For example, she says, the Sage report exaggerates the amount of gas locked in the Marcellus Shale, hiding in a footnote updated federal estimates that cut the anticipated yield by about 65 percent. She said workers at fracking sites are generally brought in from other states and move from site to site, so the Sage report also inflates the number of jobs. Those workers send a lot of their pay back home, so the local economic gains are also less than projected. She also has studied counties in Texas where fracking in the Barnett Shale has been in place for about a decade: “When you consider the number of people in poverty, the unemployment rate and median household income growth, gas intensive counties in Texas don’t appear to be doing well compared with the state as a whole.”

The Sage report also minimizes health threats from fracking, Barth says in her report. The Sage report doesn’t mention the chemicals used in fracking, the problems with disposal, or the “enormous potential health costs to the region if carcinogenic and endocrine disruptive chemicals contaminate water or land.” Also ignored in the Sage report, she says, are the costs from damage to roads and increased demand for social and emergency services and police. Possible declines in property values are also overlooked, as well as insurance companies’ reluctance to cover what Nationwide has called the “unique risks” from fracking.

She concludes that fracking will benefit “the gas industry and a few large landowners” but will “likely be at the expense of small communities and statewide taxpayers. The long-term net economic impact may be negative for the region. Marylanders should insist on a comprehensive, unbiased economic assessment prior to any decision” on allowing fracking in the state.

Paul Roberts, a Garrett County farmer and owner of Deep Creek Cellars winery, wrote this week in Appalachian Independent about Barth’s report as well as industry influence in Annapolis. Roberts, who is also co-founder of CitizenShale, a member of the governor’s Marcellus Shale advisory commission and a former journalist, has worked relentlessly for more than two years to protect communities from the harms of shale gas development.

Money for fracking study: Gov. Martin O’Malley has included $1.5 million in his 2014 budget to study the effects of fracking in Maryland. The governor wants to allocate $1 million to examine the public health and ecological effects and $500,000 to establish baseline data for ground, surface water and air in Western Maryland. O’Malley’s Marcellus Shale study commission hasn’t been able to complete a thorough study because it lacked funding. Bills that would have raised money from the gas industry by setting a fee on leased land have failed to get out of a Senate committee. An article about the budget proposal is here.

Skirmish won in Myersville: Ann Marie Nau, a member of Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community, says the state Department of the Environment (MDE) wrote to the local group Jan. 17 that it would not issue the air quality permit for the compressor station in that Frederick County town. Read about MCRC’s battle against the pipeline that would carry fracked gas here and here. Dominion Transmission Inc. (DTI) maintains that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) certificate it received in December preempts local zoning, but MDE disagreed. State MDE Secretary Robert M. Summers wrote in the letter that state code “requires a permit applicant to submit documentation with the application demonstrating that the applicant’s project either has local zoning approval, or that it meets all applicable zoning and land use requirements. In the absence of such documentation, the Department is prohibited from processing the application.”

MCRC says “this does not mean that the fight is over. It is very likely that DTI will either challenge the state or the town to obtain the required [permit]. The only way to completely stop DTI from building the gas compressor station is to have the FERC Certificate revoked, at least the part that regards the gas compressor station in Myersville. This means that we have to continue to fight the FERC Certificate by submitting our ‘request the rehearing’ and potentially go to the Court of Appeals.”

Bold, cold action for the climate: In his inaugural address this week, President Obama said, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” He also said, “You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time – not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals.”

So, we will need to lift our voices and be louder than the fossil fuels industry.

One step you can take is to contribute to help sponsor my polar bear plunge into the icy Potomac to Keep Winter Cold. This is Chesapeake Climate Action Network’s biggest fundraiser. Thanks to many wonderful friends and family, I’ve raised $850 so far. YAY. … If you can donate even a few dollars, here is my page. Only a few days left before the plunge.

Be there: Another step is to join other climate activists Feb. 17 in Washington, D.C., for what we hope will be the largest climate rally in history. We want to make Obama take action on global warming, starting with rejecting the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry dirty tar sands oil from Canada to refineries in Texas. Sierra Club, 350.org and many other organizations are sponsoring this event. The rally is from noon to 4 p.m. (arrive by 11:30) and CCIHC will be carpooling. Information and sign-up is here. Email CCIHC about carpooling at HoCoClimateChange@gmail.org

elisabeth hoffman

testing the waters

January 11, 2013

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Megan Jenny of CCAN offers a taste of well water from near a fracking site
in Butler County, PA. //photo by Ruth Alice White

No legislators tasted the murky brown well water from a fracked community north of Pittsburgh.

In fact, most state senators and delegates averted their eyes. They hurried on to the opening of the General Assembly session nearby, steering clear of the water “taste test” Chesapeake Climate Action Network had set up outside the State House in Annapolis.

Well, let’s hope no one drinks the kool-aid the natural gas industry is serving up about fracking either.

The “taste test” Wednesday was CCAN’s latest in its “No studies, No fracking” campaign, designed to draw attention to the need to study fracking before deciding whether to permit it in Maryland. “We need to chart a pragmatic course in our state,”  Delegate Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery)  said at the event. “Second chances are really expensive.”

Mizeur is sponsoring a House bill that would establish a moratorium on fracking unless studies can show it’s safe. CCAN Director Mike Tidwell said state Sens. Robert Zirkin (D-Baltimore Co.) and Jamin B. “Jamie” Raskin (D-Montgomery) plan to co-sponsor the companion Senate bill. A determined Tidwell said, “We are not going to let the oil and gas industry run this chamber anymore.” Industry has money; we have the grassroots power, he said.

“If we go ahead with fracking without studies, people are going to ask what we’ve been drinking in Annapolis,” Raskin told some reporters and activists at the event.

CCIHC at taste test event in annapolis IMG_3083

CCIHC members at the water “taste test.”

Nearly 50 environmental, public health, civic,  labor and other groups are backing the legislative moratorium because Gov. Martin O’Malley’s executive order setting up a study commission and moratorium on fracking permits is temporary. Food & Water Watch is pressing for a ban on fracking. The governor’s study has had no funding for the complete health, environmental and economic review Mizeur’s bill would require. Just last week, a medical doctor — Dr. Clifford Mitchell, director of the state health department’s Environmental Health Bureau — joined the commission because so many health questions had to be considered.

The jug of murky well water at the taste test belonged to Kim McEvoy and her family in the Woodlands community of Connoquenessing Township in Pennsylvania’s Butler County. The McEvoy family had to move because of health problems and were forced to abandon their $80,000 house, which they couldn’t sell because it has no water. Since the move, their health problems, including rashes, hair loss and shortness of breath, have gone away.

Other Woodlands residents have been without usable tap water for about two years. They can’t drink it, cook with it, shower in it. Their water had been fine until fracking began in December 2010. In January 2011, the water started running brown and full of particles. Initially, the drilling company provided a water buffalo. But the state eventually ruled the water “safe to drink,” and the drilling company removed the emergency water supply. These families now rely on volunteers, organized by a church, to bring them gallon jugs of water. For two years, no one but local volunteers has even tried to address their water problems.

Apparently, though, Pennsylvania homeowners have been receiving incomplete water reports that fail to disclose contamination from heavy metals and volatile organic compounds, according the director of laboratories for the state’s Department of the Environment. The director testified in a Washington County lawsuit that her lab was directed to generate reports that withheld information about heavy metals, such as lithium, cobalt, chromium, boron and titanium, and VOCs that are associated with hydraulic fracturing fluids. Reports are here and here.

Water from the Woodlands also went to the Stop the Frack Attack in Washington, DC, carried by bicyclists on the Tour de Frack. For CCAN’s taste test, rider Jason Bell got the water from the Woodlands and Mike and Karen Bagdes-Canning drove the water from Butler over the weekend. Mike and Jason circulated photos from CCAN’s event on the Marcellus Outreach Butler (the MOB) facebook page. “Connoquenessing water fights fracking in Annapolis……Janet Mcintyre, Kim McEvoy, and other residents of the Woodlands, your hard work and courage are paying off,” Mike wrote on the MOB page. (A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article about the Woodlands families is here.)

The first day of Maryland’s 2013 General Assembly session coincided with big protests in Albany, N.Y., urging that state legislature to ban fracking.

A few other coincidences:

The session in Maryland also opened on the same day news circulated from climate scientists that 2012 was the hottest on record for the contiguous United States; 2012 was also the second “most extreme year” on record for the nation, with droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, storms. During the year, 11 disasters each caused more than $1 billion in losses. The discussion continues on how much is natural variation and how much is caused by human activity, “[but] many [scientists] expressed doubt that such a striking new record would have been set without the backdrop of global warming caused by the human release of greenhouse gases. And they warned that 2012 was probably a foretaste of things to come, as continuing warming makes heat extremes more likely,” reported the New York Times. The NOAA report is here; other reports are here and here.

The session opened just days after the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported high rates of methane leaks from fracking. If the rate of leakage is greater than 2 percent, natural gas is no better than coal for the warming climate. So, what rate did NOAA find? A eye-popping 9 percent. Over 20 years, that leaking methane will trap about 72 times more heat than carbon dioxide.

The session opened just as Bureau of Meteorology in Australia had to add two colors (deep purple and pink) so it can start showing temperatures above 122 degress F.

Before the presidential election, a Fox news analyst  downplayed polls that looked bad for the station’s favorite, Mitt Romney.  “You can go through all the scientific gobbledygook you like…I don’t believe it.”

We saw how well that turned out for Fox news.

Time to pay attention to all the scientific “gobbledygook.”

–elisabeth hoffman