July 21, 2013
In January, I walked into the icy Potomac to help fight climate change.
This week, I’ll be walking into the hottest month, 60 miles in 6 days, to help fight climate change.
On average, I guess I’ll be comfortable.
On average, the Earth is not comfortable.
The hottest decade since records have been kept was 2001-2010. June was month No. 340 (28 years) of warmer-than-average global temperatures. Our too-warm planet is reacting with deadly heat waves, melting Arctic ice, loss of snow in the Northern Hemisphere, glacier loss on Greenland and Antarctica, Hurricane Katrina, as well as historic cyclones, droughts, forest fires and floods.
And so, I’m walking, along with many others, including two from Climate Change Initiative of Howard County, Liz Feighner and Lore Rosenthal. We embark tomorrow from Harpers Ferry, (where we will camp tonight) on the Walk for Our Grandchildren to help secure a habitable climate for future generations.
They stayed Friday night in Myersville, MD, where residents are fighting a compressor station for Pennsylvania’s fracked natural gas. They camped in the yard of Tammy Mangan, treasurer of Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community (MCRC), and walked through town yesterday, stopping at the elementary school that’s a mile from the proposed compressor station site. Ann Marie Nau, MCRC’s vice president, also spoke at a press conference about the walk. Myersville residents got word Friday that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit had ordered the state Department of the Environment to issue the required air quality permit for the compressor station or find a zoning reason to deny it, one that’s not pre-empted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). MCRC is still appealing the FERC certificate and has one lawsuit waiting for a date out there somewhere.
Liz, Lore and I are starting from Harpers Ferry, walking the remaining 60 or so miles to DC in time for a rally at the White House July 27.
Why are we sweating for this sweltering planet?
I am walking to call attention to the urgency that climate change is a real and present danger. I worry that if we don’t change our ways immediately, future generations will pay the price because of our inaction. We are blowing up mountains to extract coal, pumping toxic chemicals in the ground to extract natural gas and strip-mining millions of acres of boreal forest to extract tar sands oil, leaving behind a toxic brew. Meanwhile, we reached a very sobering milestone – 400 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere for the first time in human history. Concentration levels this high have not been seen on Earth for millions of years.
We are leaving an environmental debt to future generations that will burden them beyond our imagination. This is a debt we apparently have no intention of repaying, judging from the rate we are ravaging this Earth and destroying our planet.
As a new grandmother, I want my grandchildren to live in a beautiful and healthy environment, not one ravaged by our addiction to fossil fuels. I want to be proud of our legacy and I want our children to be grateful that we took action for their future. A Native American proverb says it all: “We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors: we borrow it from our children.”
Here’s an article about Lore’s activism and her decision to walk the walk.
And here’s my statement, previously posted on CCAN’s website:
My parents married in November 1945, just months after the end of World War II. My father had worked in the Navy developing radar; my mother used coupons to buy rationed food and fabric, gasoline and tires. At the war’s end, after their work and sacrifice, they decided it was safe to get married. As much as was possible, they could count on a future for themselves and their children.
My children were born in 1984 and 1994. I can’t know what their future holds, but my actions now — while we still have time to avert the worst climate changes — will shape their world.
This is our time to do whatever we can to ensure a future for our children, our grandchildren and generations to come. Even if that requires a WWII-like effort.
Our fight today is with the fossil fuels industry. Its executives, and the politicians who do their bidding, would have us go a little greener even as they carry on with ever more extreme technologies, spewing carbon and other greenhouse gases into our superheated atmosphere, with calamitous results for life on our planet.
Already, we are feeling the blowback, in the form of extreme storms and raging forest fires, long-term drought and deadly heat waves, melting glaciers and rising seas, acidic oceans and mass extinctions. Our burning of fossil fuels has also polluted our air, damaged our water and become the basis for pesticides, herbicides, plastics and other toxic chemicals that are making us and our planet sick. Enough already.
In that spirit, I will participate later this month in the Walk for Our Grandchildren, part of 350.org’s Summer Heat campaign to raise awareness about climate change and push President Obama to keep his promise to future generations. As scientist James Hansen says, we are in a climate emergency.
For nearly 30 years, I worked in newsrooms, as a reporter, copy editor and page designer. I was barred by ethics rules from even writing a letter to a legislator. I was also part of a business that quoted scientists about climate change, but for too long simultaneously undercut them by quoting bought-and-paid-for deniers and spreading misinformation, all in the name of fairness.
Now, I am making up for lost time.
I live in Howard County, Md., and see the urgency most clearly in the battle against fracking in the western part of the state. Residents describe feeling colonized as the landmen arrived to buy up leases for the gas beneath their feet. Maryland is still studying whether to allow fracking. Even with no fracking in the state, though, residents in the small town of Myersville are fighting a compressor station in their backyard for Pennsylvania’s fracked gas. If we build an economy on fracked gas, we will all face some combination of drilling rigs, compressor stations, pipelines, fractured forests, air and land pollution, methane leaks that accelerate climate change, and toxic chemicals and gases wandering around in our exploded bedrock looking for a way into our drinking water.
As our climate heads for dangerous tipping points, we must work toward our own tipping point – the point when our actions will bring about the enormous changes necessary to protect our children, future generations and the ecosystem that sustains all life on Earth. This country has a long history of protest. Alice Paul and other suffragists picketed in front of the White House for 2½ years in their demand for the vote. Some were jailed, beaten and force-fed. Civil rights activists rode buses into the segregated South, sat-in at lunch counters, faced beatings, tear gas and high-pressure water hoses, all in the name of justice. Each action built on the ones before.
We don’t know which of our actions will change hearts, minds and politics. But each is absolutely necessary, in the name of climate justice for those who come after us.
When we reach the rally at the White House Saturday, July 27, we’ll tell President Obama to keep his promise to free us from the tyranny of oil and reject that planet-melting Keystone XL pipeline. If you can, please join us along the walk or head for the rally. Our children, all children, are counting on it.
Social media for the walk: Like 2013 Walk for Our Grandchildren on Facebook. Follow on twitter at 2013 W4OG(@_Grandchildren). We’re using the hashtag #walk4grandkids both places. President Obama, keep your promises! #NoKXL!
July 20, 2013
Here are questions Western Marylanders might have to contemplate if fracking for natural gas is allowed:
If a fracked well is near our home and a family member gets sick, how would a doctor quickly find out what chemicals are in the frack fluid? If an emergency at a well happens at 4 a.m., how would a doctor or EMT get information about the frack fluids? Would a doctor have to go through the state Department of the Environment (MDE) to get the list of chemicals, and how would this work at night and on weekends?
Those sorts of questions have been raised at meetings of the state’s 15-member Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission, appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley to help state regulators determine whether and, if so, how to frack for natural gas without “unacceptable risks of adverse impacts to public health, safety, the environment and natural resources.”
Here’s another concern: If a cement well casing is leaking, how would anyone know? How long would drilling companies wait to report it?
“How do we know if in fact something bad is happening?” Commissioner Clifford S. Mitchell, who is also director of the state’s Environmental Health Bureau, asked at one of the panel’s meetings this spring. He expressed concern about not knowing “the degree of small failure or large catastrophic failure.”
Keep that in mind when considering comments about the draft Best Management Practices from MDE and the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Using these BMPs, the departments would develop regulations if fracking goes forward. Comments are due Aug. 9, unless the state grants an extension. Please ask for one.
Email comments here: Marcellus.Advisory@maryland.gov or snail mail here: Brigid E. Kenney, senior policy adviser, Maryland Department of the Environment, 1800 Washington Blvd., Baltimore 21230
In the absence of results from the state’s health, economic and climate studies, determining whether these BMPs will protect our health and the environment is difficult. Perhaps they will just create tidier sacrifice zones. But we can’t remain silent. A previous ClimateHoward post was about setbacks.
And sending comments is more important than ever, given the news from Food & Water Watch that Governor O’Malley has commissioned a report from natural-gas-as-bridge-fuel proponent John Quigley that says Maryland has the opportunity for for “win-wins” with “responsible” fracking. Quigley has acknowledged problems with fracking, but he nevertheless reaches the conclusion that it can be done well enough. The former Pennsylvania official who oversaw fracking in Pennsylvania is also affiliated with PennFuture, a partner in the 1984-ishly named Center for Sustainable Shale Development. Fossil fuels are not sustainable.
Here are 10 more ideas for comments.
1) Drillers combine millions of gallons of water, silica sand (from Minnesota and Wyoming) and a secret formula of toxic chemicals, including biocides, to blast the gas bubbles out of the shale in each well. During accidents, these chemicals have reached surface waters. If (or when) the cement casing around the drill fails or the new fractures meet up with existing fractures, those chemicals could eventually reach aquifers.
The industry has been secretive about the chemicals, although some companies post them online once drilling is complete. Companies claim some of the chemicals are protected as trade secrets. Dr. Mitchell proposed banning the use of trade secret chemicals in Maryland, but MDE and DNR didn’t take him up on that idea. Under the proposed BMPs, the state would require disclosure of chemicals used in fracking before drilling begins as well as posting on site and with emergency agencies. If a company claims its chemicals are protected as trade secrets, it would still have to disclose the information to MDE, which would determine if the claim is “legitimate.” MDE would divulge the identity of chemicals deemed to be trade secrets “only to exposed persons or health care professions.” Again, how would this work, particularly on the weekends or in the middle of the night? At a meeting this week about the BMPs, MDE policy adviser Kenney said doctors would also have to sign forms indicating that they would not disclose the information. Why is this acceptable? A comment might be: Let’s not inject toxic chemicals into the ground. And if a chemical is making someone sick, let’s warn the rest of the community.
2) The BMPs would require an operator of a drill to have an emergency plan for each site, including identifying trained and equipped personnel who would respond to a well blowout, fire or other incident: “These specially trained and equipped personnel must be capable of arriving at the site within 24 hours of the incident.” In a Pennsylvania case, a specially trained crew from Texas couldn’t get to an out-of-control well for 13 hours, with disastrous consequences. The blowout sent 10,000 gallons of fracking fluid over nearby farm fields and into a creek and forced the evacuation of seven families. So, 24 hours seems like a very long time.
3) Under the proposed BMPs, the state would require a Comprehensive Gas Development Plan (CGDP). Maryland would be the first state to mandate these plans (In Colorado, CGDPs are voluntary. They are required in Pennsylvania state forests). The CGDP is a company’s five-year plan that includes locations for well pads, roads, pipelines and other equipment. (A driller would also have to submit more detailed plans for individual wells permits.) Part of the CGDP process would be a public meeting with residents and NGOs. Kenney at MDE said at a spring meeting of the commission: “There would not have to be unanimous agreement of the stakeholders group of the plan.” So, one question has to be whether the public would truly have a say or merely learn what is about to happen to them.
4) The BMPs don’t, but should, set a cap on the amount of land disturbed in Garrett and Allegany counties and control the pace of development.
The state agencies based the BMPs on a report by Drs. Keith N. Eshleman and Andrew Elmore of the University of Maryland’s Appalachian Laboratory in Frostburg. Eshleman and Elmore said, “With careful and thoughtful planning …, it may be possible to develop much of the gas resource in a way that converts less than 1-2% of the land surface, even when accounting for the need for ancillary infrastructure such as access roads, pipelines, and compressor facilities.”
They also recommended that the state “ ‘go slow’ and allow a new regulatory structure and experience in inspection and enforcement to evolve over time and effectively ‘catch up’ to the new technology ” as fracking proceeds. They said “effective planning … that moderates the rate at which the gas resource is developed across the region would help mitigate some of the negative effects of ‘boom-bust’ cycles that have occurred elsewhere.”
MDE and DNR, however, rejected that recommendation. The proposed BMPs indicate that land disturbance would be limited to 1 to 2 percent only in “high value watersheds” and “the Departments do not recommend using [the mandatory comprehensive gas development plans] to limit the pace of development.”
Commissioner Paul Roberts, in his dissenting opinion that will be included with the final BMP report, says: “If there is not a limit set on the total amount of development, [the BMPs are] only asserting a methodical pace to industrialization. … If we don’t set limits on the industrialization, the county will cease to be rural.”
5) The state would forbid open containment ponds for fracking waste. In Pennsylvania, these open ponds – larger than a football field – can leak and contaminate fields, rivers and streams. They also overflow in heavy rains, and wildlife can’t read the No Trespassing signs. This is a good BMP.
All frack waste would have to be kept in containers on site until it is either reused or sent via truck for disposal, presumably to Ohio, which has put out the welcome mat for this toxic and briny fluid. Ohio injects it into the ground, a practice linked to small earthquakes. Whether the waste will remain safely “away” is another question. Some research is beginning to doubt that. So, then we have the moral question of whether we ought to ship our poisons to the children of other states. Should we drill when we have no solution for the waste? According to the state’s draft BMPs, all waste would be tracked and the records kept for three years. I don’t know why the records can’t be kept for much longer – perhaps for a few decades after the land is reclaimed. Just in case someone needs that information. By the way, documentation didn’t prevent this case of tampering with records and dumping of frack fluid into streams.
6) Under the proposed BMPs, the state would require the driller to collect at least two years of baseline data. This is a great BMP, and will prevent the shenanigans in Pennsylvania, where drillers on at least one occasion tossed out a pre-drilling water test and refused to accept responsibility for water contamination. In fact, one BMP might be to require that industry acknowledge that its fracking activities have contaminated water. And clean up Pennsylvania before heading elsewhere to create havoc.
7) All that fracturing of rock under the ground creates new fractures — for the chemicals and methane to migrate. Drs. Eshleman and Elmore recommend “a sufficient number (at least tens) of tiltmeter or seismic surveys.” The state has decided that drillers would have to test the first well drilled. That’s all. Is that sufficient?
8) The well pad, according to the BMPs, must be surrounded by a berm designed to hold at least 2.7 inches of rainfall within a 24 hour period, so that spills of gasoline, oils and other hazardous chemicals won’t run off onto surrounding land. But Ryan Saunders, a summer fellow at Chesapeake Climate Action Network, has studied rainfall in our area. He found that 2.7 or more inches of rain has fallen in 24 hours two to six times since 2010 at gauges near western Maryland that share similar rainfall patterns. These locations include Hagerstown, Morgantown, W.Va., Dulles International Airport, and Reagan National airport. Most of these totals came during September 2010, Hurricane Irene, the remnants of Lee, Superstorm Sandy, Andrea (a few weeks ago), and other drenching storms this summer. As climate change brings more or more erratic rain to the eastern United States, this BMP will fall increasingly short.
9) The BMPs address flaring, or burning off of gases from the well (not more than 30 days for an exploratory well and some restrictions once drilling has begun). Flaring nearby sounds like a jet engine taking off. It also releases nitrogen dioxides, volatile organic compounds like benzene, and other substances that have been linked to asthma and chronic bronchitis. Are restrictions on flaring sufficient to protect our health and the environment? Well, we haven’t done that health study, so we don’t know.
10) The language of the BMPs is full of rules that “encourage” this or that, require something “if possible” “as possible” “wherever possible ” and “as far as possible.” Drillers should keep skies “as dark as possible” and avoid truck traffic during festivals and when buses are transporting children to and from school. (What about after-school activities?) Reclamation should be done “as quickly as possible.” Land managers should “consider suspending” drilling during hunting and trout season and bad weather. A company could find a lot of wiggle room in regulations based on these BMPs. As the undead movie pirate Captain Hector Barbossa said, “The code is more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.”
Have you written a comment yet? Start writing.
July 12, 2013
Over the next few weeks, state officials would like us to imagine that we are ready to frack for natural gas in Western Maryland.
We are to pretend that officials have answered all the questions about fracking’s effects on the tourism economy and decided that on balance, dividing up Garrett and Allegany counties into 5-acre industrial sites is just fine.
We are to imagine that they have examined the health risks and been able to conclude — even before the Environmental Protection Agency and the Geisinger medical system’s Weis Center for Research — that fracking is just fine for children and other living things. Oh, and the climate. We are to imagine that the state is certain it can keep leaks of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, to a minimum.
So, we are pretending that we are ready to frack. Now we can look at the best management practices (BMPs) the state has devised to keep everyone safe and industry on good behavior. The state has barely begun the other studies, but the BMPs are ready to go. The state’s 15-member Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission, which Gov. Martin O’Malley appointed two years ago, has been reviewing these BMPs and making recommendations for several months. We have until Aug. 9 to let officials know what we think: Marcellus.Advisory@maryland.gov
This post is not an exhaustive list of concerns about the BMPs, but it’s a start. Please compose a comment before the deadline. While you’re at it, request more time for comments. Our health, water, air, soil and climate depend on it.
The state initially scheduled one public hearing on the BMPs, and that was this week in Garrett County. At the urging of NGOs and Delegate Heather Mizeur (who is also a commissioner on the state’s Marcellus Shale advisory panel), a second meeting has been scheduled at Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) offices for Tuesday, July 16, from 2-5 p.m., 1800 Washington Blvd., Baltimore. State officials will discuss the BMPs and take comments and questions. Please also request more public hearings at times convenient for the public so we can understand what’s at stake.
I am not a scientist, but I used as inspiration biologist Sandra Steingraber’s analysis of proposed fracking regulations in New York.
BMPs are supposed to keep us safe. One key way the state keeps residents safe is with setbacks – the minimum distance between us and something dangerous. Many comments could be written about setbacks.
Under the BMPs, for example, the edge of disturbance of the well pad can be a mere 300 feet from a stream, river, spring, wetland, pond, reservoir and 100-year floodplain. It also can be as little as 300 feet from cultural and historical sites, state and federal parks, trails, wildlife management areas, wild and scenic rivers, and scenic byways. (see page 16 in the BMPs)
In 2011, restaurateurs and volunteers in Texas made a 300-foot-long enchilada. So we will have fracking one big enchilada away from very valuable resources. A football field without the end zones is also 300 feet.
The edge of a drilling area can also be 600 feet from “irreplaceable natural areas” and “wildlands.” The industry will be able to set up a drill pad alongside these irreplaceable areas and then drill down and under them.
By definition, these are irreplaceable, so how do we know that 600 feet is a sufficient buffer? How will the departments consider the cumulative effects of several wells in the vicinity, all 600 feet from one spot on some scenic byway or river?
Toxic air pollutants from these industrial sites travel far more than 300 or 600 feet. One peer-reviewed study found high levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in the air during the drilling phase. From the study: “Selected polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were at concentrations greater than those at which prenatally exposed children in urban studies had lower developmental and IQ scores.”
Officials could consult the state’s health study for guidance on this. But, wait. The health study hasn’t been done yet.
MDE and of the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) based these setbacks on a report of BMPs prepared by Drs. Keith N. Eshleman and Andrew Elmore at the University of Maryland’s Appalachian Laboratory. That report says: “How much protection (if any) these setbacks can provide can clearly be debated; many setbacks do not seem to be based on solid scientific reasoning or empirical data.” One has to wonder, then, where these numbers come from and if they will be sufficient to ensure human and ecological health and safety. Eshleman and Elmore got the setbacks from regulations in other states. So, it’s possible that each state will keep making the same miscalculations.
Here are some more setbacks: The drill rig can be as close as 1,000 feet from an occupied building (house, school, medical office, store), 1,000 feet from a private well and 2,000 from public groundwater wells or surface water intakes and reservoirs. A new Duke study found methane contamination in water wells up to a kilometer away (about 3,280 feet). Proposed New York regulations call for a buffer of 4,000 feet from “unfiltered surface drinking water supply watersheds.”
Paul Roberts, a grape grower and member of the state’s Marcellus Shale advisory commission, has pointed out numerous times that federal regulators granted industry a 2,000-foot buffer from fracking activities to protect an underground gas storage field near Sabinsville, Pa. He says that, because 80 percent of Garrett residents drink from private water wells, those wells should have the same protection as municipal supplies.
“Given that the state produced not one bit of justification publicly for a 1,000-foot setback from private wells,” Roberts wrote in a dissenting statement to be included in the final BMP report, “if it chooses not to extend the setback to at least 2,000 feet, everyone should be aware that Maryland disregarded evidence offered by the industry itself about the risks of drilling too close to resources that demand protection.” In light of the Duke research, even the 2,000-foot buffer might fall short, he said.
So, which buffer will adequately protect human and wildlife, rivers and streams: 300 feet? 600 feet? 1,000 feet, 2,000 feet, 3,000 feet, 4,000 feet?
Commissioner Jeffrey Kupfer, a Chevron senior adviser, has said “lots of alternatives” exist for replacing a contaminated private water supply. He has not figured out, though, how to restore the value of the land once the water is gone. Nor has he figured out how to replace the water for the fish, frogs, birds, rabbits, turtles, deer, foxes, raccoons and bears living on that land. (Visitors to Garrett County can get a free booklet on Learning to Live with Black Bears.)
I’ve heard numerous radio ads this summer beckoning visitors to Garrett County’s mountains, rivers and lakes and inviting people to go hiking, kayaking and camping in the area’s natural beauty. (Drilling can be 2,000 feet from Deep Creek Lake.) Allegany County also promotes outdoor adventures in its mountains and along trails and streams. In a fracked future, perhaps Crede Calhoun, who runs an ecotourism business in Western Maryland, will be able to pause during kayak tours and light methane-filled streams on fire.
More than 30,000 people live in Garrett County year-round, and twice as many live in Allegany. For them, these rivers and streams, mountains and pathways are home.
One part of the BMPs goes to lengths to show that even with the setbacks, 100 percent of the shale under Garrett and Allegany counties is still accessible to industry if the drill, after heading down, goes horizontally for 8,000 feet. (See Appendix D) And if those drills go only 4,000 feet horizontally, 97.7 percent of the shale is still accessible. What we need to know is whether 100 percent of the residents and “irreplaceable” ecosystem will be safe.
— elisabeth hoffman