November 13, 2014
In Western Maryland last week, the Marcellus Shale advisory commission and state officials scrambled to finish reviewing three years of studies on whether to proceed with fracking in Maryland.
The election the night before, though, shifted the landscape utterly. The few commissioners who have consistently raised concerns about fracking in Maryland recognized that whatever safeguards were in the works, insufficient though they might be, could be dismissed by the newly elected governor, Republican Larry Hogan. What the science was starting to show about the health, economic and environmental hazards for the many could be ignored for quick profit for a few.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the state and in Washington, DC, a week of peaceful and bold protests was under way, showing what people will resort to when their fears are ignored, their lives disrupted, their communities shattered, and their remaining choices few.
As part of a week of actions called Beyond Extreme Energy (BXE), determined protesters headed for Cove Point and briefly took over a dirt hill where Dominion is building a pier for a fracked-gas export facility. Another protester locked herself to Dominion equipment at a predawn sit-in. In Washington, BXE activists blocked entrances at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the mostly invisible and always intractable agency that rubberstamps pipelines, compressor stations and export facilities and is therefore the chief patron of the fracked-gas industry. The industry — and industry-bought politicians — have promoted fracked gas as clean energy and a solution to climate change when science and experience shows it is neither.
In all, about 80 people were arrested over five days in Washington and Cove Point. Some protesters had just finished walking across the country as part of the Great March for Climate Action. In addition, 15 people were arrested blocking a FERC-approved gas storage facility in salt caverns on Seneca Lake, NY.
On Monday, protesters blocked the main entrance with giant photographs of Rachel Heinhorst and her family, who live across the street from Dominion’s Cove Point front gate, and the Baum family, who live near a giant compressor station for fracked gas in Minisink, NY. In front of the portraits was a small town of shops and homes, schools and parks. Homeland Security officers guarding FERC offices eventually pulled apart this little village, much as FERC destroys communities with its rulings.
On Friday, the final day of the protests, residents of the Pennsylvania shalefields told tearful yet angry stories to FERC staff who were blocked from their offices and who had gathered on the sidewalk to watch police cut out five activists linked by lockboxes. “You have no right to poison people,” said 61-year-old Maggie Henry, who was labeled an ecoterrorist in an FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force report. Her family’s 88-acre organic farm, mentioned in a 2009 New York Times article, is surrounded by the fracking industry. A mile away is a cryogenics plant; 4,100 feet away is a frack pad; a fracked-gas pipeline skirts the land, a gas-fired power plant is being built a few miles away. Four homes three miles away have replacement water tanks: “Water buffaloes dot the Pennsylvania landscape like lawn ornaments,” she said. An earthquake in March from nearby fracking damaged her home’s foundation and cracked the drywall. That farmhouse, which has been in her husband’s family for 100 years, sits empty and she is searching for land elsewhere. “I don’t have the nerve to tell people [the food] is organic,” she said, because of the nearby emissions of carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine-disrupters such as toluene, ethylene, butylethylene.
Penni Laine of Summit Township told a similar story: Her tap water can ignite, and she has an air monitor in her house. On a good day, she said, her daughter can say, “Yay, Mom, the air is ‘unhealthy’ today. It’s not ‘hazardous.’ ”
“We are living now in a war zone,” said Wendy Lynne Lee, a philosophy professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania who writes the impatient and scathing blog, The Wrench, about the fracking industry’s devastating occupation of her state. Trooper Mike Hutson with the Pennsylvania State Police/FBI Joint Ecoterrorism Task Force once showed up uninvited at her door. “FERC does not listen. FERC does not care. FERC needs to be disbanded. FERC needs to be dissolved,” she told the FERC crowd. “FERC exists to broker permits [for Chevron, Anadarko, Exco, Williams Partners and others]. FERC does not do anything but the bidding of big industry.”
A giant poster at the FERC action shows an empty swing with three frack towers rising in the background. Another showed a map of schools and frack sites and asked: “Our children are at risk. Would you send you kids to these schools?”
BXE protesters called on FERC to repeal permits for the Cove Point export plant, the Myersville and Minisink compressor stations, and the Seneca Lake salt-cavern storage facility; to halt future permits for fracked-gas infrastructure; and to consider as a priority the rights of human beings and all life on Earth.
Back at the Eastern Garrett Volunteer fire hall in Finzel, members of the shale advisory commission were reviewing the last three studies, all done by the staff at the state Departments of the Environment (MDE) and Natural Resources: a 241-page risk analysis, a 7-page traffic study and a climate study that barely runs over onto a fourth page.
Notable about the risk study is what it doesn’t cover: risks from downstream infrastructure (such as export plants and gas lines). The risk study doesn’t say one way or the other whether fracking can be done without “unacceptable” risks, the benchmark Gov. Martin O’Malley set in the executive order that put the commission and studies in motion. And the study says more monitoring and modeling would be needed to understand the cumulative and synergistic effects of fracking on air quality in Garrett County and the rest of the state. The overall probability of air emissions is high, the report says, while the “consequences cannot be determined at this time” because of a lot of unknowns. (Appendix B, p. 44) (Comments on the risk study, due Nov. 17, should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org with the words “Risk Assessment” in the subject line.)
The greatest risks to humans, the report concludes, would be from truck traffic and accidents, noise, and methane migration to water wells. The last of those perils, the report says, could be reduced to a low risk if fracking operations are at least 1 kilometer (3,280 feet) from drinking water sources. (The state’s best practices propose a 2,000-foot setback from drinking water sources, with reductions allowed under some circumstances.) The greatest threats to the environment are from fragmenting forests and farms, and “subsurface releases or migration” — underground leaks — of frack fluid and frack waste. All the risk levels assigned assume that the state’s best management practices will be in place and enforced.
“We don’t know what the level of enforcement is going to be, we don’t know how many staff are going to be hired,” said Matthew Rowe, the MDE deputy director of the Science Services Administration who led the study.
“There’s no way you can verify and enforce some of these [best practices],” Commissioner Ann Bristow said, “but you use them to reduce the risk.” She called this one of the Catch-22s of the study.
The other, she said, is that the study ranks risks as lower only because few people in any one location would be affected. “You are studying risk analysis in an area that you know is sparsely populated and now you are using sparse population as a reason not to assess risk as severe.”
She held up a paper titled “LOCALIZED, AND DISENFRANCHISED: Who Endures Fracking Risks?” that lists numerous occasions when the study reduced the risk from high to moderate or moderate to low because the risks were “localized.” She had worked on the paper with Nadine Grabania, who co-owns a winery and farm outside Friendsville with her husband, Paul Roberts, the citizen representative on the shale advisory panel. For example: “The consequence of the release of drilling fluid is classified as moderate because, although it could cause considerable adverse impact on people or the environment, the damage would be localized.” (Appendix, p. 15)
“What I hear you saying is that because it’s occurring to a very small number of people, the risk isn’t that great,” Roberts said.
“We are talking about human beings who are living close to these facilities … where there is going to be considerable adverse effect,” Bristow said. Then ensued a brief discussion about how many people harmed is too many. Three? 500? Bristow said they would be “sacrificed.” Commissioner Harry Weiss objected, but Bristow said, “I am going to use some superlative language here” when so much is a stake.
Also troubling was that the risk study labeled many threats as “moderate,” which at first glance sounds downright reasonable and benign. All things in moderation, as they say. But, Bristow and Roberts said, the study defines moderate as: “Considerable adverse impact on people or the environment. Could affect the health of persons in the immediate vicinity; localized or temporary environmental damage.” Suddenly, moderate is sounding rather grim. And keep in mind that all but four counties in Maryland lie on top of shale basins.
Commissioner George Edwards, re-elected state senator in the Republican rout of the night before, was getting impatient. Worried about trucking? A distribution center brings traffic, too, but no one would ask for a risk study on that, he said. Forest fragmentation? Wildlife and hunters like it, he said. You can’t get 100 percent guarantee on anything, he also said. And, mocking Trout Unlimited’s push for a ban on fracking in the Savage River watershed, Edwards said, “Maybe we need to do a study on the fishermen to see if they might get hurt if they slip on a rock.” One of the commissioners, Nick Weber, who had long pushed for the risk study, is a past chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Council of Trout Unlimited.
“You are going to see a big change in Annapolis this year,” Edwards said. “We had an election. … People went and voted, and they elected people that publicly said they supported drilling but they want it done right.” He also mentioned that he had not read the risk analysis.
And on Friday, the day Pennsylvanians told their stories of despair outside FERC’s offices, the day protesters were shouting “The people are rising. No more compromising,” and signs said “Protect Our Children. Stop Drilling Near Our Schools,” and “Climate Can’t Wait,” The Cumberland Times-News published reactions from Edwards and Del. Wendell Beitzel about the election. Beitzel called the election a “game-changer.” The commission’s onerous proposals would squash drilling in Maryland, he said, and he hoped the new administration would moderate regulations, “more like what other states have done.”
Indeed, during the campaign, Hogan accused the state of “studying [fracking] to death.” As an “all-of-the-above kind of guy” on energy, Hogan called natural gas a “clean energy” and fracking “critical to our state economy.”
Protests continued Monday at Cove Point, where Lusby resident Leslie Garcia was arrested while trying to deliver an eviction notice to Dominion. About 50 residents and other supporters picketed at the entrance of the construction site. “I have nothing to lose by protesting, because I have everything to lose if this project continues,” Garcia said.
August 22, 2014
As Maryland closes in on a decision whether to allow fracking, two key studies — on economic and health effects — are in play. One doesn’t deliver on its main mission. The other has huge gaps, not of its own making but because the science it relied on is incomplete.
So, if the process works, the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission and the Maryland Departments of the Environment (MDE) and Natural Resources (DNR) should at the very least, with these studies in mind, tell Gov. Martin O’Malley that they don’t have the information necessary to decide whether fracking poses unacceptable risks to the state’s residents. That’s what the governor, in his 2011 executive order, said he wanted to know.
visions of dollar signs
The biggest trouble with Maryland’s $150,000 economic study of fracking was what was missing: the effect on tourism. A few years of boom followed by a bust will ensue, the report said. But we suspected that before we even took a peek. Western Maryland will get some jobs and tax revenue. We knew that in advance, too. All that is documented with rows of numbers and dollar signs.
What everyone wanted to know was whether fracking would harm tourism, the main economic engine in Western Maryland, and, if so, by how much? We still don’t know.
Dr. Daraius Irani and his Towson University team’s economic report on fracking in Western Maryland took such a pummeling at the commission meeting Monday at Frostburg University that one observer remarked that he was beginning to feel sorry for the economist. In addition, an economist living in Garrett County is already on record asking for his taxpayer money back.
“I knew our report would be disliked by both sides of the argument,” Irani said, as if that were the problem. It’s not.
He apologized a couple times and said the team at the university’s Regional Economic Studies Institute is rewriting and reorganizing the report, released in May, because of numerous complaints. The “well is dry,” though, he said, and “every hour is on our dime. We’re doing this because we want a good report.”
He said the team was unable to get sufficient data on drilling’s effect on tourism. He mentioned, however, one Utah study indicating that tourism and extractive industry could coexist with sufficient geographic separation. “If you have extractive industry, you probably wouldn’t want to put them next to your natural wonders,” he said. How large of a separation? He didn’t know.
The report found that property values within a half-mile of drilling would decline 7 to 9 percent, a falloff that would continue for years after drilling had ended. Turns out, though, that this estimate is based on data from conventional gas wells, which don’t produce nearly the disruption that comes with fracking. The report also failed to examine costs from accidents or well-water contamination. (Costs to community health and emergency systems weren’t part of the study scope — or any of the state’s study scopes, for that matter.) The report also couldn’t say how many local residents would get the boom-year jobs, although Irani said he would try to include an estimate in the rewritten report.
The report included a number of warnings, though, including that nonresidents might “avoid Western Maryland if they perceive the local trails, streams, and woodlands to be of lesser quality near drilling activity — ultimately impacting the popular second-home market of Garrett County.”
And the report quotes another study, prepared in New York: “[T]he regional industrialization associated with widespread drilling could do substantial damage…threatening the long‐term growth of tourism.”
Curious language indicates that “tourism-related businesses (hotels, restaurants, retail, etc.) can provide the amenities needed by shale drilling workers.” Leaving us to imagine drillers relaxing at B&B’s and taking a kayak ecotour in their off time.
And then this warning: “[T]ourism can be part of long-term economic development strategy, whereas employment growth associated with drilling is typically short-term.”
Overall, Irani said, the report doesn’t recommend whether to allow fracking. “This is an opportunity for the counties to make decisions about whether they want to pursue this or not,” he said.
Leaving several commissioners fuming.
“I heard you just now recommend….that the counties need to look closely at the options and weigh the pros and cons. That’s what we get for $150,000?” said Paul Roberts, a farmer and winery owner who is the citizen representative on the commission.
Irani said he had described the lack of data to the departments last summer but had already commissioned the contingent valuation survey (an economic tool to gauge how much people would be willing to pay to protect the environment and avoid drilling). “We tried basically, as best we could, to squeeze in the tourism study. …The issue is really data. There are not any good data.”
“We agreed that was a principal part of your job,” Roberts continued. “What else would we be doing this for, except this?”
Irani called the report an objective analysis. “We tried to walk that fine line. There are no clear answers,” he said. “Drilling and tourism can exist as one, depending on the separation of the two.” And, “I apologize. I just don’t have the data.”
“We failed to get at a central issue in this debate,” said Roberts, who also said he would would be writing the governor to ask for money for another study.
“We don’t have the answers to so many things that could cost this region so much money,” Commissioner Ann Bristow said.
Commissioner and Del. Heather Mizeur said the state had initially hoped to fund the studies with fees from land leases. At that time, MDE and DNR officials estimated they would need $4 million. When the legislation failed during two sessions, O’Malley approved $1.5 million for studies. Maryland gets credit for studying before fracking, Mizeur said, but the funding and studies “have been woefully inadequate to get at the range of questions we had.”
Many in the audience also expressed grave disappointment with the report.
Michael Bell, Ph.D., an economist at George Washington University who said he operates a tourism-related business in the Deep Creek area with his wife, said the report “really doesn’t address the question that would affect my livelihood and my ability to retire.” In addition, in a comment about the report posted at the state’s study commission website, Bell wrote: “If [I] had turned in a report like this I would not have received payment for the work because it would be unacceptable. As a taxpayer, I want my money back.”
“We wanted to know the impact on tourism from drilling,” said Eric Robison, a co-founder of Citizen Shale and a member of the county’s Shale Gas Advisory Committee. “Now it’s been reduced to a sideline.”
“It’s extremely self-evident that the linkage of tourism and property values … is the elephant in the room,” said Paul Durham of the Garrett County Board of Realtors. “We have to study it and report out on it before making any decisions.” The Board of Realtors also issued a press release days before the meeting saying it opposed fracking in the Deep Creek Lake Watershed because of research indicating a 22 percent loss in property values in drilling areas.
“Unfortunately, a lot of the unknowns have to do with risk … and more of the knowns have to do with benefits,” said John Quilty, also a member of the county’s shale advisory committee.
Ken Braitman of Frostburg (and Bristow’s husband) picked up on Irani’s recommendation not to drill near natural wonders: “The whole county is a natural wonder.”
into the red zone
The health report, previewed in June and based on a review of available scientific literature, outlined the many hazards associated with drilling, especially from air pollution, an overburdened local health-care system, and dangers for gas workers. Those working in the industry, for example, are at risk from “silica sand [which causes silicosis], hydrogen sulfide, and diesel particulate matter, as well as fatalities from truck accidents, which accounted for 49% of oil and gas extraction fatalities in 2012, … mental distress, suicide, stress, and substance abuse.”
The report includes eight scorecards about the hazards, each derived from adding up a number of risk factors documented in scientific studies — such as duration of exposure, frequency of exposure, likelihood of health effects, magnitude of health effects, and effectiveness of setbacks. A summary of the scorecards is here:
Worth noting is that the scorecards for water contamination and cumulative risks — with hazards ranked as “moderately high” — would have been in the “high” risk, red zone with an extra point or two.
And they got just one point in several categories only because the study team couldn’t determine the risk: “[E]vidence regarding the magnitude/severity of health effect could not be determined because of insufficient data.” Without more data, these categories, with their promise of “moderately” high risk, offer a bit of comfort where none might be warranted.
The report includes 52 recommendations for reducing the hazards, including full disclosure of frack chemicals and no allowance for trade secrets. (The state’s proposed best practices make some allowances for trade secrets.) The report also recommends a minimum setback of 2,000 feet from residential property lines for wells and compressors that don’t use electric motors. (The state’s proposed best practices list 1,000 foot setbacks from homes, schools and other occupied buildings.) Even the greater setback, though, has no scientific basis. One of the three experts invited to review the health report, John L. Adgate, Ph.D, of the Colorado School of Public Health, wrote, “additional measurements, modeling, and knowledge about processes on well pads are needed to address the scientific basis for setbacks.” ( Comments from all reviewers are here.)
Other recommendations include: starting a birth outcomes surveillance system (to watch for birth defects, stillbirths and low birth weights found in some studies); start a study of dermal, mucosal and respiratory irritation (reports are numerous of residents complaining of rashes, nosebleeds and asthma in drilling areas); develop a funding mechanism for public health studies; require air, water and soil monitoring to protect the community and workers; assess whether standard setbacks are sufficient; require monitoring of leaking methane, a powerful greenhouse gas; and train emergency and medical personnel to be able to care for the industry workers.
“There are a lot of unfunded mandates here,” Bristow said.
And a lot of monitoring by communities: “Engage local communities in monitoring and ensuring that setback distances are properly implemented.” And “Create a mapping tool for community members using buffer zones (setback distance) around homes, churches, schools, hospitals, daycare centers, public parks and recreational water bodies.”
And many unknowns, acknowledged in a section called Limitations. The industry is new, the science is limited, money is short, and some illnesses might not show up for years.
“To do original research is $15 million or so … and [would] take 10 years,” said Dr. Clifford S. Mitchell, a commissioner and director of the state’s Environmental Health Bureau at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “What we’re doing in the country is we are doing that study without intending to do that study. … In Pennsylvania, they’re doing [research] on their population.”
“So, perhaps we will continue the experiment here,” Commissioner Nick Weber muttered.
Would the recommendations mitigate adverse impacts, taking a high to a medium, Commissioner Harry Weiss asked.
“It doesn’t say you can lower a score by 10 points if you adopt this recommendation,” said Mitchell, who outlined the report but deferred many questions until next month’s meeting, when the study team would be present. The recommendations would only bring some improvement and help prepare Maryland, he said.
Research into the hazards of tobacco took many years, Bristow said. “We are really looking at exactly the same kind of problem.” She encouraged the commission to “stand up and say we’ve got to have answers.”
Rebecca Ruggles of the Maryland Environmental Health Network, praised the report as a “momentous” start. “Other states are not doing experiments. They are experimenting on their populations,” she said. In a press release issued about the report, she said, “This report should be viewed as Maryland’s first, not last, inquiry into health impacts. The work is not complete.”
on high alert
A new sign was outside the meeting room Monday:
Guards checked bags. A Frostburg student’s hoisting of a jug of brown water during last month’s meeting triggered the heightened concern for security and safety.
Later, Mitchell advised commissioners to move to seats in the audience so as not to strain their shoulders while turning to view his PowerPoint slides.
If we are concerned about backpacks and ergonomics, we should be on high alert about contaminated air and water; climate-changing methane; trucks chewing up and crashing on narrow, winding roads; babies born too small or with birth defects; asthma; skin rashes; falling property values; loss of peace and quiet; unmeasured threats to tourism and food businesses built on healthy forests, rivers and farmland; and an energy future built on fracked gas, snaking pipelines and compressor stations dotting the landscape. Maryland’s western counties are worried about revenue gaps, closing schools, and young people moving away, but grasping at fracking seems the most unimaginative and dangerous of solutions.
As both these reports show, too much about fracking is unknown. Much of what we do know isn’t good. The governor’s executive order creates a false deadline. Instead of rushing to meet it, the commission and state departments should acknowledge what they don’t know. And ask for more time for the research to unfold.
The official comment period for the economic study is closed, but send emails to email@example.com
July 18, 2014
Among the 25 arrested for civil disobedience at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in Washington this week was Ann Bristow, a member of Maryland’s Marcellus Shale advisory commission.
Also arrested was Gina Angiola of Olney, a retired doctor on the board of directors of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Another was a retired teacher and borough officer from Pennsylvania, Mike Bagdes-Canning, who last month traveled to Garrett County for the unveiling of the final progress report on Maryland’s health study on fracking. There, he issued a warning to Marylanders not to do what his state has done.
The civil disobedience came a day after Sunday’s spirited rally and march to FERC. The actions also followed a week of lunchtime picketing in front of FERC’s offices at the end of June.
“It is no longer business as usual,” said Steve Norris of North Carolina, who proposed the arrest action as a “punctuation mark” to the rally. He also dreamed up and helped organize the weeklong, 100-mile Walk for Our Grandchildren climate march last summer. “Usual will kill us all. It is time to be unreasonable.” (Of the 25 arrested, 15 had participated in the Walk for Our Grandchildren or in the related arrest action at ERM, the State Department contractor tied to TransCanada that concluded the Keystone XL pipeline was just fine for the climate.)
The trigger for the protests was FERC’s full-of-holes preliminary approval of the plan by energy giant Dominion to liquefy and export fracked gas from its Cove Point terminal in Lusby. But the protests united groups fighting every stage of shale gas extraction and production: the fracking with secret toxic chemicals, the truck traffic and diesel-fired equipment, the radioactive waste that has no safe disposal, the flaring, the methane that leaks into water wells and disrupts the climate, the forests fractured and the land taken by eminent domain for pipelines, the noise and pollutants from compressor stations, the unthinkable hazards from the export factory. Those protesting came for their children and all children, for grandchildren and future generations, for rivers, mountains and farms, for people trapped by encroaching destruction, for clean water and air, for wolves, turtles and hawks.
wake up, FERC!
Monday morning, as he headed out to be arrested at FERC, Bagdes-Canning got 36 phone messages from people in the shale fields. “They are with us,” he told the others.
“In Cove Point, the people are also counting on you,” said Ted Glick, the national campaign coordinator for Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), who helped organize the action. “And people around the world affected by climate change are counting on you.”
That morning, a few dozen people headed from Union Station to FERC’s offices, chanting “HERE WE COME, FERC” and “WAKE UP, FERC.” The pipelines and compressor stations FERC allows as a “public necessity and convenience” mean communities are gassed and fracked, they said. “As a public necessity and convenience, we are stopping FERC,” another protester from Pennsylvania shouted.
They sang, “No more frackers. We shall not be moved.” And “Stop the rubber-stamping. We shall not be moved.” And “Fighting for our future. We shall not be moved.”
As he sat in front of FERC’s doors, Alex Lotorto spread out large maps covered with color-coded rectangles signifying drilling companies and land leased for fracking over much of Bradford County in northeast Pennsylvania. Shell, Chesapeake Energy, Talisman Energy, EOG Resources, Chief Oil & Gas, Southwestern Energy.
After a couple hours of constant maneuvering to try to block both entrances as well as driveways adjacent to the building, 25 activists were arrested. They were handcuffed, escorted a few hundred feet to an office for processing, fined $50 and allowed to leave.
Ann Bristow, the commissioner, said she took part in the arrest action because she has become increasingly alarmed about the threats to public health and the environment from fracking and the infrastructure required to produce and transport the gas headed for Cove Point. “I am protesting [the project] because its impact is being assessed without consideration of the negative health effects from the infrastructure that will supply it,” she said. “I am protesting FERC’s rubber-stamping of Cove Point because all aspects of [unconventional gas development] are connected when you consider public health and the health of our environment. I am protesting because I do not have confidence that the [Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene or the Department of the Environment (MDE)] will strongly advocate for public health monitoring for toxic air emissions.”
Bristow joined the shale commission late, replacing a resigning member. As a volunteer with the state Department of Natural Resource (DNR) Marcellus Monitoring Coalition, Bristow arrived with a background in monitoring water quality. During the past two years, though, research in states that have allowed fracking is showing that air contamination — from compressor stations and condensate tanks and particularly from “wet gas” — could pose an even greater hazard, she said. Already, she said, the compressor station in Accident in Garrett County is processing and storing Marcellus gas from Pennsylvania; another is being built in Myersville, with a portion of the gas eventually headed for Cove Point. The state should “measure toxic air emissions at existing facilities … and measure air quality at Myersville before and after completion of the compressor station,” she said.
In a few months, based on recommendations from the 15-member advisory commission, MDE and DNR will send a report to the governor with conclusions about whether or how fracking could be done safely in Garrett and Allegany counties. Only four commissioners, including Bristow, have expressed abundant concerns and pressed for caution.
Gina Angiola, the retired physician arrested at FERC, is on the steering committee of Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility. If built, Cove Point would endanger thousands who live near the facility and increase fracking across the region, “further feeding our unsustainable fossil fuel addiction,” she said. “A few people will get wealthy, many more will be harmed.
“It’s becoming ever more obvious that traditional channels of democratic participation simply aren’t working,” she said, “and we are running out of time. Although policymakers pretend that these issues are very complicated, they really are not. It’s all very simple at this stage. Climate change is happening NOW, people are dying or being displaced by the millions around the globe, regional conflicts are escalating, and the U.S. is failing to act rationally. Our scientists are telling us loudly and clearly that we must leave 75 to 80 percent of the remaining fossil fuel reserves in the ground if we hope to avoid the most catastrophic climate alterations. Why on earth are we allowing massive new fossil fuel infrastructure projects to move forward? This is insanity.”
“If we would redirect our investments toward efficiency improvements and distributed renewable energy, we could lead a global transformation to an economy that serves everyone. I’m sick and tired of government agencies rubber-stamping bad ideas just to advance corporate profits. Those agencies are there to serve us, the people. If we can remind them of that mission, the Cove Point project will be stopped.”
fighting for existence
The day before the arrest action, nearly 2,000 people rallied at the U.S. Capitol and marched to FERC’s offices with the same message. They carried signs that said: “Don’t frack up our watershed,” “Don’t frack our towns for export profits.” On the stage, a group holding a giant cardboard yellow submarine with a giant rubber stamp sang, “We all know FERC’s a rubber-stamp machine” to the tune of “Yellow Submarine.”
The Rev. Lennox Yearwood looked to the future. We are on the way to stopping coal and the Keystone pipeline, he said, but if we export fracked gas, “then we are defeating our purpose.” He called the climate change battle this generation’s Birmingham and Montgomery. “Sometimes, you don’t see the transition,” he said. But in 2114, he said, “they will look back on this time. They will say, ‘Those are the ones who fought for us to exist.’ ”
Biologist, author and fractivist Sandra Steingraber drew inspiration from past victories. Dryden, she said, was one of the first towns in New York to use zoning laws to ban fracking within its borders. “Lots of people warned the citizens of Dryden not to do it, pointing out that a local ban on fracking would only invite ruinous lawsuits by armies of industry lawyers,” she said. “All the citizens of Dryden had was sheer determination, a sense of their own righteousness and a willingness to do whatever it took,” Steingraber said. And on June 30, New York’s highest court ruled in the town’s favor. “Dryden beat Goliath with a slingshot made out of a zoning ordinance and so set a precedent that is now reverberating around the world.”
She said she spent the Fourth of July weekend with members of the Dryden Resource Awareness Council. There, they talked of tomatoes, grandchildren, recipes and arthritic knees and hips, she said. “Did you catch that? The people of Dryden, who brought the world’s largest industry to its knees, have arthritic knees. But they are motivated by love. Love for the place where they live and love for the people who will come after them. They feel a responsibility to protect what they love. Because that’s what love means,” she said.
More inspiration from the past: Forty years ago, residents in Rossville, NY, fought another seemingly long and impossible battle against storing liquefied natural gas (LNG) in tanks in their town. For 13 years, united as Bring Legal Action to Stop the Tanks (BLAST), Rossville residents “ignored the counsel of those who said that it couldn’t be done. That the tanks were already built. That of course they would be filled with LNG. That it was all inevitable. That you couldn’t fight the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But in the end, BLAST won,” Steingraber said. In part, it won because of an LNG explosion in 1973 that killed 40 people and led New York to ban LNG facilities. All the LNG hazards present in 1973 remain, Steingraber said, including that it will flash-freeze human skin and, if spilled, will disperse as a highly combustible vapor cloud and that an LNG fire is not extinguishable. Plus now we know about fracking and about climate change.
“We New Yorkers Against Fracking pledge our support, assistance and solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Maryland who are fighting the LNG terminal in Cove Point. Our destinies are intertwined. Our success depends on yours,” she said.
The present consumes Rachel Heinhorst, whose family’s front lawn faces Dominion’s front lawn in Lusby. “We do not deserve to live in fear of an explosion, of the water we drink, of the air we breathe,” she told the crowd. “FERC and President Obama, please hear my family and all the others living so close to this. Feel our worry, know that it is real, know that we are coming to you, not looking for a fight. We are coming to you looking for compassion.” Her family, though, is preparing to move. If they can sell the house.
Fred Tutman, Patuxent Riverkeeper, said the gas industry tries to divide people into those fighting climate change, compressor stations, fracking, export facilities. “We stand together,” he called out. “They have to fight all of us.”
Tim DeChristopher of Peaceful Uprising called FERC a lapdog to the president and the Democratic Party. “Being slightly better than Republicans on climate change is not enough,” he said. “We will not have that energy plan of ‘Frack here’ and ‘Frack there.’ ”
One prop for the rally and march was a large slingshot. “This has been a David and Goliath fight from the start,” said Mike Tidwell, director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “We have been throwing stone after stone. We have more stones to throw.”
–by elisabeth hoffman
July 12, 2014
A Frostburg resident’s anger and frustration burst through the typically methodical proceedings of the state’s Marcellus Shale advisory commission meeting Friday.
Gabriel Echeverri refused to wait six hours until the designated half hour at the end of the meeting when the public gets to speak. “I have an issue with you all debating for hours about the most publicly acceptable way of coming and destroying our homes and poisoning our waters while we have to sit here and listen to all of it,” he told the commission.
Chairman David Vanko tried several times to quiet him, noting that Echeverri didn’t have to “listen to all of it” — although Vanko added that he hoped he would.
“We do have to listen to all of it,” Echeverri said, “to wait ‘til the end, where you so magnanimously offer us the scraps of time left to say our little pittance.” Then he raised up a jug of murky brown water. “This is poison. This is mercury, this is uranium, radioactive,” said Echeverri, who in February was arrested in Cumberland with three others for civil disobedience while protesting Dominion’s plans to liquefy and export fracked gas from Cove Point. “You are talking about poisoning our waters, and poisoning our families, and poisoning our land. And I refuse to accept that. I refuse to just sit here and listen while you do that.” At some point, a security guard slipped inside the lecture hall at Frostburg University’s Dunkle Hall.
Echeverri said he would leave, taking the jug with him “because I don’t trust you to deal with it properly.” Under the state’s proposed best practices, drillers would have to ship frack waste to other, more accommodating states, a plan Echeverri called “completely unacceptable.” Before heading out, he said, “I don’t know about you, but I say ‘No fracking, no compromise.’ ”
As the commission rushes to complete its mission, area activists have taken note. On July 3, Savage Mountain Earth First! set up a Facebook community. “We declare ourselves as a contingent of residents of western maryland who will not stand for the degradation of this land. No compromise,” the group’s page says. So far, 129 people have Liked the page. Over the July 4 holiday, two banners were hoisted on the overpass at Sideling Hill on I-68: “Welcome to Western Maryland” and “No Fracking Allowed!”
As Echeverri left and in the brief lull created while state agency computers were being hooked up, others also asked to speak, forcing a reversal of the usual agenda at the 30th meeting of the commission.
“I do not want fracking here,” said Susan Snow of Frostburg. Industry takes advantage of people who aren’t fully knowledgeable about fracking and then “destroys their land,” she said, leaving them unable to move. And if the gas is shipped overseas from the proposed export facility at Cove Point, Marylanders won’t even benefit. Only a few will get rich while the others suffer, she said. “I am very passionate about it because this is my home. … I say ‘No fracking, no way.’ “
“I want you to take in the whole human costs,” said Amy Fabbri of Allegany County. Extractive industries have long made the few rich while sickening residents and leaving behind ruined land. “I’m a mother, and I think long term,” she said.
Jim Guy of Oldtown in Allegany asked how the commission would determine what was an “unacceptable risk” and how it would decide if fracking would pose such a risk. The charge of the commission, according to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s 2011 executive order is to determine “whether and how” fracking can be accomplished without “unacceptable risks of adverse impacts” to public health and safety and the environment.
That’s a question the commission and state officials have for the most part dodged. Only because Commissioner Nick Weber pressed the issue of determining and analyzing risk at every opportunity did the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) decide to conduct an in-house risk assessment. Once that report is complete, Weber said, the community will have to decide if it can tolerate the risks and if regulations will mitigate the risks sufficiently. If the community gets to decide.
Commissioner Ann Bristow said some studies have documented birth defects and low birth weights in fracking areas. The commission and then politicians will have to “weigh the lifetime of costs to the community against what would be gained” by a few people. “I’m not a politician,” she said. “I’m someone who is trying to work through a mountain of data that’s emerging.” And in the absence of science, best practices for fracking should not be accepted, she said.
As if on cue, though, the state’s “interim final” report of the how best to frack in Maryland was posted online yesterday. Interim, because the commission, MDE and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have yet to see, much less evaluate, the risk assessment, the final health study and a traffic study. The report identifies “practices that we believe will be as protective, or more protective, than those in place currently in other states,” according to a letter submitted with the report from the heads of DNR and MDE.
The whole discussion brought the commission full circle to reflect for an illuminating moment on what, precisely, had been its mission for the past three years. Commissioner Harry Weiss, a Pennsylvania attorney, said he thought the commission was to assume fracking would happen and make recommendations. Over the years, others have expressed similar sentiment. The confusion perhaps arises from the full title of the commission, Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative Advisory Commission — even though no one has determined that “safe drilling” is possible and many studies have suggested the opposite.
But Vanko said the commission was “not asked to assume drilling” would happen and was charged with advising MDE and DNR.
“You need to say this is unacceptable,” Susan Snow said.
“We might do that,” Vanko said.
“That would be awesome,” Snow said.
“We could say that we don’t believe it’s an unacceptable risk,” Weiss said.
Or the commission might not be able to reach a consensus, Vanko said.
Bristow said she wasn’t convinced that fracking would be permitted. During the years that the commission has been working, research has begun to emerge — in spite of industry’s attempts to stop it through gag orders and nondisclosure agreements. “We just know the tip of the iceberg,” she said. “I don’t’ buy that [fracking in Maryland] is a foregone conclusion.”
MDE and DNR are a couple months from issuing a final report based on the commission’s work. The last scheduled meeting is in September, and MDE senior policy adviser Brigid Kenney said a final report would probably be the topic of the October meeting.
Revealing how much is at stake, the meeting included a slide show from a field trip last month to fracked communities in West Virginia. Some commissioners and MDE and DNR staff had previously been on a Chevron-choreographed tour of a Pennsylvania frack site. “A very nice tour,” Vanko said. This time the host was West Virginia Host Farms, a group of concerned landowners living with fracking. This tour was not so nice. Water buffaloes (wrapped for heating) were visible at homes in several areas. Residents didn’t know what had happened to the water; the company had just provided replacement water. It was all a big secret. Commissioners said they had counted many, many trucks on the roads. They saw a couple frack pads as well as large tanks called shark tanks, for holding wastewater. They saw staging areas with many tanks and pipes. Vented tanks had a strong odor. Potholes. Buckled asphalt that scraped the bottom of the commissioners’ vehicle. Vanko reported a high level of suspicion between the drillers and the tour hosts and commissioners. Lots of erosion. Loud compressor stations that run round-the-clock. Several commissioners noted that Maryland would not allow some of those practices, including all that erosion.
“In a state without regulations, industry is doing exactly what it wants,” said Bristow, who went on the field trip. “I see no data on the ground of industry doing any more than they are forced to do,” she said, “because the name of the game is to get as much out of the ground as fast as they can.” Maryland might claim superiority, she said, but consider the comparison.
Being somewhat better than West Virginia and other states is still abysmal.
June 18, 2014
Despite frequent strong objections last week from three of its members, the state’s Marcellus Shale advisory commissioners signed off on — or voted that they could “live with” — a set of best practices for fracking in Maryland.
Here are a few practices the majority accepted or said it could live with:
- cultural and historic sites, state and federal parks and trails, wildlife management areas, scenic and wild rivers and scenic byways 300 feet (the length of a football field) from the edge of a frack pad;
- aquatic habitat (such as streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, seeps and wetlands) 450 feet from the edge of frack pads;
- irreplaceable natural areas and wild lands 600 feet from the edge of drill pads and permanent infrastructure;
- homes, schools and other occupied buildings 1,000 feet from the edge of a frack site;
- private and public water sources 2,000 feet from the drill hole (with exceptions that could allow drilling within 1,000 feet of a gas well).
The centerpiece of the best practices is the mandatory Comprehensive Gas Development Plan (CGDP), an overarching timeline and siting of “clustered drilling pads” and infrastructure. A public meeting is also part of this CGDP, giving property owners, local officials and organizations up to 60 days to comment. If your property is within 2,500 feet of a proposed drill site, you’ll be notified. No drilling would be allowed on state lands or within the watersheds of the Broadford Lake, Piney and Savage reservoirs.
The three frequently dissenting commissioners — Ann Bristow of the Savage River Watershed Association, citizen representative and farmer Paul Roberts, and Nick Weber of Trout Unlimited — had wanted to delay the best practices vote until the risk assessment and health study were complete. They asked how the best practices would be updated to reflect those reports, along with evolving science.
Roberts also asked whether a fundraising event for Gov. Martin O’Malley at the D.C. headquarters of America’s Natural Gas Alliance had any bearing on the rush to finish the best practices. Robert M. Summers, secretary of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE), who occasionally attends these monthly meetings, called out from the back of the small and crowded classroom at Allegany College that “the campaign is completely separate” from government offices. “So, there is no connection whatsoever.”
Weber said repeatedly that too many of the best practices, from flaring to cementing to casing, seemed to be mere suggestions urging drillers to “Do the right thing” and pointing to American Petroleum Institute guidelines. Drillers need to avoid this or minimize that, he said, and are granted altogether too much leeway. Weber, a scientist formerly with the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, has long argued that the state should develop best practices only after analyzing the risks fracking poses to human and animal health and the environment.
But that’s not how the state is proceeding.
Brigid Kenney, a senior policy adviser at MDE, said the in-house risk assessment will analyze potential harms in light of this snapshot of best practices. Based on that analysis, if a risk were still deemed too high, she said, MDE would consider additional practices. The votes, she said, will appear in an appendix to the final best practices report. “I should point out: It’s two years late already,” Kenney said of the best practices report.
The governor’s June 2011 executive order setting up the three-year study commission said the best practices were due in August 2012, but progress was slowed by lack of funding. Drs. Keith Eshleman and Andrew Elmore delivered their best practices recommendations to the commission in February 2013, and the commission, MDE and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) have been working on them on and off since then.
Worth noting here is that the best practices will be the basis for updating the state’s regulations, which until now have dealt only with conventional drilling and mining. In fact, the state had been months away from granting permits for fracking in the Marcellus Shale under Garrett and Allegany counties under existing regulations when concerned residents raised alarms, setting in motion the advisory commission and what amounts to the state’s three-year moratorium. The 15-member commission, working (without pay) with MDE and DNR, is charged with determining whether fracking “can be accomplished without unacceptable risks of adverse impacts to public health, safety, the environment and natural resources.” That determination has not yet been made.
Jeffrey Kupfer, a fellow at the Asia Society and former senior adviser at Chevron, urged fellow commissioners to press on with the best practices votes. “This is MDE’s and DNR’s report. We play a role in this, but at the end of the day, it’s their words on the paper. It’s their report,” he said on a conference phone line. “We don’t need to push the envelope for the sake of pushing the envelope. A ‘best practice’ is something we’ve seen somewhere else and that works.”
Given the practices and accidents in other states and threats emerging in health studies, Kupfer’s definition of a best practice could fall well short of the “gold standard” to which state officials say they aspire.
But the vote commenced, with each commissioner indicating by a show of hands whether the proposed standard was 1) “appropriate,” 2) might not be appropriate “but I can live with it” or 3) “not appropriate because_______.”
VOTING ON THE CGDP
First up for a vote was the CGDP, which, Kenney said, “is the most important thing we can do to minimize impacts.” The state would require a company or group of companies to seek approval for a drilling plan covering a large area and including the location of well pads, roads, pipelines and other infrastructure.
Although the state’s goal has been to have the best practices grounded in science, Roberts said, no research demonstrates that CGDPs reduce harms. In fact, John Quigley, who oversaw similar development plans for fracking in Pennsylvania’s state forests and who produced a report for Maryland saying the CGDPs would be a win-win for the business and the environment, testified in a lawsuit last month that the impact on forests in his state had been “underestimated.”
“There are going to be impacts,” said Commissioner Stephen M. Bunker of the Nature Conservancy. He said his organization is developing a tool to determine where best to locate roads and gas lines to “minimize impact on the landscape.”
To which Roberts replied: “But as someone who lives out here, what I’m concerned about here is a 40-acre industrial fracking compound 1,000 feet from my house.”
“There is nothing showing [the CGDP] is consistently superior to other techniques,” Bristow said. The CGDP might lessen forest fragmentation, she said, but it doesn’t address threats to public health. In fact, she said, “intense aggregation [of wells] may be worse for public health.” Workers and nearby residents will be exposed to more air emissions, for example. The risk of explosion and well casing failure might also increase. “The point is that [the CGDP] is a land-use decision. It is not a public health model.” she said.
Commissioners who voted that the CGDP was an appropriate practice were: David Vanko, chairman and Towson University dean; state Sen. George C. Edwards; Pennsylvania attorney Harry Weiss; Bunker from Nature Conservancy; Oakland Mayor Peggy Jamison; Garrett Commissioner James M. Raley; and Clifford S. Mitchell M.D., director of the Environmental Health Bureau of the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Kupfer said he was a 2 — he could “live with” the CGDPs — or was between a 2 and a 3. He said he supported the idea “in principle, but my concern is the way it’s laid out here it’s not workable in practice” for industry.
Voting that the CGDP was “not appropriate” were Bristow, Roberts and Weber.
(Allegany Commissioner William R. Valentine couldn’t attend because he was assessing flood damage from several days of heavy rain in his county. Commissioners Heather Mizeur, Shawn Bender and Dominick E. Murray didn’t attend.)
BUFFERS FROM FRACKING
Voting on setbacks yielded similar split votes. The separation between the well pad’s edge of disturbance and streams, rivers, lakes, ponds, seeps, wetlands, reservoirs and 100-year floodplains would be 450 feet. Again, Bristow, Roberts and Weber dissented. “I don’t see 450 feet as protective” of agricultural uses, or for humans and other animals, Bristow said.
Of the distance protecting wildlands and other special conservation areas, Bristow and Roberts dissented. “It’s shocking to me that Maryland is going to [allow a drill pad] 600 feet from an irreplaceable natural area,” Roberts said.
Mitchell joined Bristow, Roberts and Weber in opposing the 300-foot setback from cultural and historical sites, state and federal parks, trails, wildlife. He said “aesthetic issues” and noise were at stake and he wanted to see the health study results before deciding if that buffer would be sufficient.
The buffer of 1,000 feet from occupied buildings fails to protect farm animals, Bristow said. “We don’t have data on goats and cows … [and] we’re going to be eating their byproducts. It’s not protective enough.” That setback also ignores undeveloped property, Roberts said. But Kenney as well as Commissioner Bunker said that was a local property rights matter beyond the scope of the commission.
Kupfer, the Chevron representative, joined Bristow, Roberts and Weber in opposing the 2,000-foot setback from private drinking wells. Kupfer dissented because the setback seemed too large: “This one seems over the top and unsubstantiated.” Roberts, however, has long urged 1-kilometer (3,280-feet) setbacks, based in part on Duke University research that was presented to the commission in April. At the suggestion of Chairman Vanko, the state will run the risk assessment using the 1-kilometer setback as well as the proposed 2,000 feet.
DISCLOSURE OF TOXIC CHEMICALS
The best practice on chemical disclosure satisfied no one, although, again, many could “live with it.” Kenney said Maryland would have the “most stringent regulation” in the nation, requiring disclosure of toxic chemicals and their concentration used at a frack site. Companies claiming a trade secret, however, could withhold the brand name and concentration. Should someone fall ill or be injured by one of these trade secret chemicals, a doctor would contact the company for information. (Medical organizations have complained, for starters, that doctors won’t necessarily know which company to call. Knowing the concentration of chemicals is also key. ) Doctors would be allowed to share the information with the patient and, if the patient is a minor or unconscious, the patient’s family, as well as public health officials — although the information would still be deemed confidential. A company could ask physicians to sign a nondisclosure form, although signing such a form could not be a condition of receiving the information. Health professionals, toxicologists and epidemiologists could also request information about the secret chemicals for research, but that could be conditioned on confidentiality agreements.
Vanko, Kupfer, Raley, Weiss, Mitchell, Edwards, Bunker and Jamison said they could “live with” the proposal. Bristow, Roberts and Weber dissented. “One very strong standard we can set is to start opening this up so research can be done,” said Bristow, who called the proposal “grossly inappropriate” and suggested that “trade secret” chemicals not be permitted.
THERE IS NO ‘AWAY’
What to do with the waste also split the commissioners. Maryland’s geology is unsuited for disposal in deep injection wells, and the state won’t allow sewage treatment plants to accept the toxic and radioactive waste. So, although companies would be encouraged to reuse as much as possible, eventually millions of gallons of Maryland’s fracking waste would be loaded on trucks and shipped out of state. Kenney said the state would require record-keeping on the waste hauler, volume and shipment dates.
Bristow, Roberts and Weber asked about the integrity of tanks and how long waste could be stored on site. They feared a “shell game,” with tanks of toxic and radioactive waste being moved from one temporary spot to another.
“Our shipping our crap to other states that don’t have our regulations” is a “social justice issue,” Bristow said. “Wastewater is going to be the Achilles’ heel of this industry,” she said. “For Maryland to say, ‘We don’t want it here, ship to Ohio,’ seems to me very inappropriate.”
“What will we do in 2021 when Ohio can’t take more?” Roberts asked. Scientists have linked injection wells and fracking in Ohio to earthquakes.
“There’s a problem here,” said Commissioner Weiss, the attorney. “Somebody’s going to make a lot of money off it. But we don’t have [a solution] yet.”
Voting that the practice is appropriate: Edwards, Vanko, Weiss and Kupfer. Willing to “live with” it: Raley, Bunker, Mitchell, Jamison. And dissenting: Bristow, Roberts and Weber. “It’s inappropriate to dump the problem somewhere else,” Bristow said.
FAILURE TO PROTECT
After listening to six hours of voting on these and other best practices, those who would have to live near future drilling sites were sharply critical.
“It’s frustrating that people who do not live on the shale are asked to say if they can ‘live with’ a regulation that can fail to protect those who ‘live on’ the land about to be industrialized,” said Nadine Grabania, who owns a farm and winery in Garrett County with her husband, Commissioner Roberts, and who serves on that county’s Shale Gas Advisory Committee. Calling in between customers at her Friendsville winery, she asked the state officials “to consider weighting the dissenting contributions to this consensus process because these commissioners represent actual residents who will experience the impacts that regulations are intended to mitigate. The state should place a higher value on protections than on the perception that our priority is to facilitate industrial development in rural and residential communities.”
“You ‘number 2s’ can ‘live with’ your decisions, but we will be the ones actually living with your decisions,” said Gabriel Echeverri of Frostburg, who was arrested in February in an act of civil disobedience to stop the facility in Cove Point that would liquefy and export fracked gas. “We are going to have to be living with the eventualities — not the possibilities — of degradation of water, land and air that give us sustenance in this place we call home.”
“Conservation areas get setbacks while farms do not,” said Paul Durham of the Garrett County Board of Realtors. “A limestone cave gets a setback while a field of corn does not. If you are a forest-dwelling bird, you get a setback, but if you are cattle you do not. And if you are fortunate enough to have a well or occupied building on your property, you get a setback, but if your property is unimproved the setback from compressor stations and gas infrastructure is zero feet from your property line and the setback to the well bore is cut in half.” Three studies, he said, have confirmed that proximity to drilling activity lowers property values. He questioned whether the state was trying to set a gold standard when it was ignoring best practices that would protect property values.
The day after the meeting, West Virginia Host Farms gave several commissioners a tour of fracking sites in that state. Members of the public were not permitted to go along.