testing the waters

January 11, 2013


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


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