garrett county road crede calhoun

A winding road in unfracked Garrett County. An Associated Press analysis found that traffic fatalities had increased more than fourfold since 2004 in states with fracking. http://bit.ly/1ux9415 //photo by Crede Calhoun

Between naps at a meeting last week about a Cove Point wetlands permit, Gov. Martin O’Malley apparently woke up long enough to decide that fracking could be done safely in Maryland. Even though his Marcellus Shale advisory commission is still wading through reports that raise plenty of alarms.

The big reveal came at a daylong session of the state Board of Public Works (BPW), of which the governor is one of three members. On the agenda was Dominion’s permit for a temporary pier, which the company needs to haul in equipment for its proposed facility on the Chesapeake Bay that would liquefy fracked gas and send it off to Asia on huge tankers.

Most of the permission slips for this $3.8 billion project come from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but the state has had a couple opportunities to weigh in. Already the Public Service Commission (PSC) gave the go-ahead for Dominion to build the 130-megawatt power plant needed to liquefy the fracked gas. In its April ruling, the PSC listed numerous hazards and said the facility “will not provide net economic benefit to Maryland citizens,” but whatever. The PSC said Dominion would have to pay $8 million a year for five years into a fund for renewable energy, energy efficiency and greenhouse gas mitigation and another $8 million over 20 years to help low-income residents pay for their rising — thanks to the exports — heating bills.

Last week, Dominion needed permission from the BPW for a wetlands-disturbing pier. Cove Point residents seized that opportunity to tell O’Malley, who had so far been silent on Dominion’s plans, that this facility has them fearing for their lives. Lusby resident Tracey Eno, however, noticed that O’Malley kept nodding off and at one point walked out. “I’m sorry that the governor stepped out because this is really for him. Should I wait?” she asked. She was told to continue, although she backtracked when he returned.

In the end, Dominion got its permit. But not before O’Malley said he believes that natural gas can be a “bridge” fuel to the future of renewable energy, while “in the meantime” the environment is safeguarded at every stage with the “highest and best standards.”

How has the governor reached a conclusion that any standards — even “highest and best” — will be sufficient before having seen a report from his appointed advisory commission? His 2011 executive order instructed the 15-member panel to determine whether and how fracking could be done without unacceptable risks to health, safety and the environment. In fact, in April 2013, Secretary Robert Summers of the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) assured Marylanders that a decision about fracking had not been made. In an open letter posted on the advisory commission’s website, Summers wrote that the department “recently received many emails from people who have been told that the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission assumes hydraulic fracturing is inevitable and is rushing to enact regulations to pave the way for gas development. This is not true. No decision has been made about whether hydraulic fracturing should be allowed in Maryland, and MDE is proceeding methodically and cautiously to develop stringent regulations that will protect Marylanders in the event hydraulic fracturing is allowed.”

Although the advisory commission is nearing the end of its work, numerous state studies remain unfinished, including on health effects, traffic and an assessment of risks. The commission has yet to evaluate the economic study that calculated job growth but failed to quantify a key downside: the effect on tourism and the environment. And the state, in its “interim final best practices report” says it’s only “considering whether it is feasible” to require frackers to estimate and purchase offsets for climate-disrupting methane emissions. (It would calculate those emissions based on methane’s carbon footprint over 100 years — about 30 times as powerful as CO2 — instead of over 20 years — about 85 times as powerful. Even though the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says “there is no scientific argument” for selecting the 100-year time frame. So, that’s already not the “highest and best” standard.)

Moreover, no study has emerged showing fracking can be done safely. To the contrary, evidence is mounting that fracking poses grave threats to public health and safety, water, air, farm animals and pets, industry workers, soil and agriculture, and climate. The Concerned Health Professionals of New York has compiled the research to date in a 70-page report. “The pace at which new studies and information are emerging has rapidly accelerated in the past year and a half: the first few months of 2014 saw more studies published on the health effects of fracking than all studies published in 2011 and 2012 combined,” the report says.

News reports last week from fracked Pennsylvania and Ohio have not been reassuring. Pennsylvania’s auditor general concluded in a 118-page report that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was “unprepared to meet the challenges of monitoring shale gas development effectively.” Eugene DePasquale, the auditor general, said in a news release: “There are very dedicated hard-working people at DEP but they are being hampered in doing their jobs by lack of resources — including staff and a modern information technology system — and inconsistent or failed implementation of department policies, among other things. … It is almost like firefighters trying to put out a five-alarm fire with a 20-foot garden hose. There is no question that DEP needs help and soon to protect clean water.”

DePasquale also said DEP had failed to “consistently issue official orders to well operators who had been determined by DEP to have adversely impacted water supplies.”

Based on information from an open records request, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette also reported that “oil and gas operations have damaged Pennsylvania water supplies 209 times since the end of 2007.”

And in Ohio, news comes that Halliburton withheld complete information about its secret fracking brew for five days after a fire and explosions in June sent toxic chemicals into a tributary of the Ohio River, threatening the drinking water supply for millions of people and killing 700,000 fish.

Governor O’Malley, however, appears to be looking the other way. Perhaps at campaign checks from America’s Natural Gas Alliance. Without bothering to wait for his commissioners to issue a report, the governor has decided that fracking can be made safe for Marylanders. One might wonder whether his shale advisory commission has been a charade all along.

O’Malley — and the shale commission — could offer far better protection for Marylanders and our environment by heeding the warnings of Cape Breton University President David Wheeler. In Nova Scotia, Wheeler is head of a panel, not unlike Maryland’s advisory commission, that is considering whether to recommend lifting a two-year moratorium on fracking. Over the last couple months, the panel has issued 10 “discussion papers” described as rosy toward industry. And yet Wheeler concluded last week that the moratorium should be extended. “We need more research in a couple of particular areas before anyone could take a view on whether this is a good or a bad idea in any part of the province,” he said. Nor, he said, should seismic testing and exploratory drilling be allowed without community consent. “And we’re saying communities are not in a position to give permission to proceed because there’s not enough knowledge. We’re a long way from that.”

–elisabeth hoffman

typhoon haiyan

Super Typhoon Haiyan, which hit the Philippines as a Category 5 storm, killed thousands and caused widespread destruction, is not unrelated to fracking, the TPP, KXL, Cove Point, compressor statons and climate change.//NOAA photo

But wait. There’s more.

If the Myersville compressor station is connected to exporting LNG from Cove Point is connected to more fracking is connected to a poisoned planet is connected to climate change is connected to all of us having to take on the extra job of making governments do their job, then this whole fracking mess is connected to the Trans Pacific Partnership. At least, I think it is. Hard to know because the whole thing is top secret. top secret image

The Trans Pacific Partnership is a wide-ranging deal among the United States and 11 other nations bordering the Pacific that would break down the few remaining barriers to free trade, mostly by undermining environmental and health regulations and labor protections. President Obama missed recent talks in Asia about the TPP because of the government shutdown, but Secretary of State John Kerry went in his stead. The TPP is high on Obama’s agenda, and his goal is to have it completed by the end of the year.

“It’s not really about trade, it’s not really free or about freedom and there’s not much agreement about it … so it’s a misnomer,” Lacey Kohlmoos from Public Citizen said.  Over the summer, Kohlmoos, along with Leslie Morrison from Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Ilana Solomon from Sierra Club spoke at several town halls about the TPP. “It’s designed to break down all trade barriers, but what is a trade barrier has changed definition,” Kohlmoos said. The TPP is a “corporate tool of unprecedented power.”

What is known about the TPP has been leaked. Of its 29 chapters, only five are about trade. “The other 24 chapters either handcuff our domestic governments, limiting food safety, environmental standards, financial regulation, energy and climate policy, or [establish] new powers for corporations,” Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said on a recent Democracy Now! segment.

A few legislators who asked to review the treaty have been allowed to look at specific chapters but can’t take an aide, take notes, make copies, make a phone call or talk about it. The text is to be released four years after the agreement takes effect — or if talks collapse. Corporations, including Halliburton, Chevron, the Gas Technology Institute, General Electric, Monsanto and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, have a seat at the negotiating table, but environmental, labor and health groups do not. More than 600 corporate advisers have been working on the TPP for the last four years.

“It’s NAFTA on steroids,” Kohlmoos said.

halliburton rule image

The Halliburton loophole, corporate Wild West
on display.

It also sounds like the Halliburton loophole for the world, with corporations making all the rules. The Halliburton loophole, you will recall, was then-VP Dick Cheney’s escape hatch for drilling companies. In secret meetings with energy executives, he exempted fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The TPP could also be called capitalism on steroids. Or, in activist and commentator Dennis Trainor Jr.’s words, a corporate coup. Economist Dean Baker has said on Democracy Now! that the TPP would “create a regulatory structure that is much more favorable to corporate interests than they would be able to get through the domestic political process in the United States and in the other countries in the pact.”

For example, any corporation that thinks its “rights” have been violated  — meaning, its profits have been diminished — by a new environmental or health regulation could sue the country involved. The judges in these so-called courts would be corporate lawyers, making corporations the plaintiff and the judge. We know how that will turn out.

The TPP “empowers individual corporations to directly sue governments—not in our courts, but in extrajudicial tribunals where three corporate attorneys act as ‘judges,’ and these guys rotate between being the judge and being the guys suing the government for the corporation,” Wallach said. “They’re empowered to give unlimited cash damages from us, the taxpayers, to these corporations for any government action— a regulatory issue, environment, health, safety — that undermines the investor’s expected future profits.”

Similar rules in effect under NAFTA already have led to one lawsuit over fracking. Under NAFTA, Lone Pine Resources, based in Calgary but incorporated in Delaware, sued Canada in fall 2012, seeking $250 million in damages, after Quebec imposed a five-year moratorium on fracking in the St. Lawrence Valley until more studies could be completed. Lone Pine claimed Canada had violated its “right to mine” for oil and gas and expropriated its profits.

And now the connection to fracking is clear. If corporations can sue for lost profits whenever governments try to protect people and the environment, if corporations have a “right to frack” and a “right to export” liquefied natural gas (LNG), such as at Dominion’s Cove Point facility, decisions will never be made in the public interest. In fact, exports would automatically be deemed in the public interest, Solomon of Sierra Club said. It would become “illegal to put any limits on exports.”

“We’d be required to conform our domestic laws to terms in TPP,” Kohlmoos said. “It really undermines our democracy.”

The countries involved are the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan — and other nations have expressed interest, including China.

Note that Dominion, via its proposed export facility at Cove Point, has contracts to supply LNG to Japan, one of the countries in the agreement. The United States doesn’t already have free trade agreements with Japan or India, but if the agreement goes through, Dominion wouldn’t need additional permission to send LNG to Japan.

Once the TPP is finalized, President Obama plans to ask to fast-track this treaty through Congress, meaning lawmakers could not amend or filibuster and would have to vote up or down within 60 days.

“Fast Track is not in effect,” Wallach said. “Fast Track is an extraordinary delegation of Congress’s authority. … So, we have to make sure that Congress actually maintains its constitutional authority to make sure that before this agreement can be signed, it actually works for us. … President Obama has asked for Fast Track, but it only happens if Congress gives it to him.”

That’s where we come in. Ask your U.S. senators and congressional representatives for their position on the TPP and express your concerns. The following are excerpts of emails about the TPP from three area lawmakers. (Several of us at HoCo Climate Change have received the same emails.)

Sen. Ben Cardin wrote:

I will not support any multilateral trade agreement that does not have robust protections for workers, consumers, and the environment, both in the United States and for our trading partners.  … [A]s a member of the Senate Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade agreements, I look forward to extensive hearings on the TPP once the agreement is transmitted to the Senate.

Rep. Elijah Cummings:

Please know that I share your concerns regarding the commitments contemplated in the TPP that may affect patent and copyright law, food safety practices, environmental stewardship, health care, telecommunications, and the Internet, among other issues. I am also concerned by the limited consultation with Congress that has occurred during the drafting of this agreement. Given these concerns, I have joined many of my colleagues in a letter to be sent to the President urging broader consideration.

Rep. John Sarbanes:

You will be pleased to know that I joined a number of my colleagues in sending a letter encouraging greater transparency and oversight in the TPP negotiation process.  I strongly believe that U. S. trade agreements should address labor rights, human rights, and environmental protection.  … Unfortunately, our trade policies have long assumed that ‘free trade’ is the same as ‘fair trade.’ That assumption has touched off a race to the bottom where American jobs are shipped overseas to countries with non-existent labor standards and thread-bare environmental protections. 

To borrow from John Muir, when we try to look at anything by itself — whether fracking, the Myersville compressor station, the Cove Point LNG export facility, the TPP, the KXL pipeline, climate change and devastating Super Typhoon Haiyan — we find it all hitched together and “hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

So, bumpy ride ahead.

For more info on the TPP, Bill Moyers has a great interview with Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism and Dean Baker of CEPR about the TPP.

Other websites opposing the secret TPP are here, here and here.

— elisabeth hoffman

 

myersville marches on

April 17, 2013

map of compressor station and town

The map shows the location of the proposed 16,000 hp compressor station in Myersville in relation to the town’s elementary school and the evacuation center at the fire station.//Information provided by Myersville resident Ann Nau.

Mighty Myersville should have caved by now.

Facing a Dominion Transmission Inc. (DTI) lawsuit, an order from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and a huge stack of documents, this rural town of about 1,600 could have been expected to back off, resigned and chastened, to await its compressor station.

But Myersville residents march on. To industry, they are the ants disturbing the picnic of abundant fracked natural gas that Dominion and company plan to lay out for the country. And so, industry is hauling out the DDT.

Last month, the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA), whose members (including TransCanada Corp.) operate 200,000 miles of pipelines, piled on. It filed a friend of the court brief in Dominion’s January lawsuit against Robert Summers, head of the state Department of the Environment (MDE). Myersville Citizens for a Rural Community (MCRC) joined that suit as an intervener. That case will be heard May 14 in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington. In a separate suit in January, Dominion also sued the town, Town Council and mayor. MCRC and the town also have asked FERC for a rehearing.

As INGAA indicates in its friend of the court filing, FERC “routinely issues” certificates for compressor stations, which, come to think of it, it did in this case as well.  In INGAA’s view, if towns can thwart a compressor station, they will soon be stopping other fracking infrastructure, such as pipelines and plants for liquefied natural gas (LNG). Myersville residents and elected officials have refused to cave, and the state Department of the Environment is backing them up.

Turns out the Myersville battle is part of a growing revolt against routine FERC approvals amid a rudderless national energy policy, all while the global temperatures soar, the ice caps melt, droughts persist, coral reefs die and the weather goes crazy.  When FERC rubber-stamps compressor stations, pipelines, LNG terminals and the rest of the natural gas infrastructure, industry gets to be the decider. FERC’s role is not to figure out whether fracking, with its expanding infrastructure, is safe or sensible public policy. It doesn’t have to look at the big picture. Its mission is to make sure the energy flows. Given a lack of energy policy beyond the current “all of the above” strategy in Washington, communities such as Myersville can’t be blamed for wondering if FERC is acting in the best interest of communities and the nation or, more likely, the industry.  (A number of environmental groups are planning a day of action April 18 outside FERC’s monthly meeting to complain about its role. More information at wethepeoplematter.org.)

A bit of background on Myersville: After scaring several other towns, Dominion finally settled on Myersville for the 16,000-horsepower compressor station that would pressurize natural gas as it passes through pipelines from fracking sites in Pennsylvania to homes and businesses in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast (and perhaps beyond. More on that later). After several hearings in Myersville, and at the urging of MCRC, the mayor and Town Council decided in August that amending the local Comprehensive Plan to allow the compressor station was not in the best interests of the town. The compressor station would be a health and safety hazard to residents, town officials decided. Furthermore, Myersville already doesn’t meet federal and state air quality standards, and this would only make matters worse.

FERC decided otherwise and in December issued a permit for the compressor station. FERC went so far as to conclude that the compressor station would benefit the town.  But even with the FERC certification, Dominion needed an air quality permit from the state. Secretary Summers, however, said his Department of the Environment couldn’t issue that permit unless Dominion had the required local zoning, which it doesn’t. Dominion maintains that FERC’s order and the federal Natural Gas Act preempt local regulations and the Clean Air Act. Myersville officials, its residents and the state disagree. Hence the lawsuits.

INGAA and Dominion’s court filings reveal exactly what is at stake. Dominion says compressor stations are needed in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Maryland to keep gas flowing. Dominion says it will “suffer irreparable harm” if it can’t construct the Myersville compressor station.  It even claims that the harm from the compressor station to the town of Myersville is less than the harm Dominion will feel if it can’t build the facility.

INGAA also sees a bigger picture behind this Myersville nuisance. Myersville and MDE’s success in stopping this project “would mean, in effect, that a single town can veto a $112 million, FERC-approved, interstate pipeline project spanning three states” and “would provide a blueprint for every other Maryland municipality that wants to block a pipeline project and, by extension, for every other state.” INGAA notes in its filing that from 2000 to 2012, the amount of gas pipeline placed in service increased an average of 1,300 miles per year. Its members, who construct all this pipeline,  would have  to “take the added risks of a municipality-triggered state veto into consideration in planning and proposing new projects.” Whereas now, industry and FERC can ride roughshod over any town.

INGAA also notes how critical this decision will be “as public concern over enhanced natural production techniques has spilled over into movements aimed at derailing all elements of the natural gas industry, including pipelines.” It mentions Sierra Club’s  “Beyond Natural Gas” initiative, the group’s intent to block LNG export facilities because  “[t]hese terminals would be connected by hundreds of miles of pipelines, crossing state and national forests, wild and scenic rivers, sensitive wetlands, and family farms[.]”

Coincidentally—or not—Dominion has filed an application (weighing in at 12,000 pages) with FERC to expand its Cove Point LNG facility in Lusby, Md., so that it can export all this fracked natural gas to Japan and India.  Indeed, one of MCRC’s arguments with FERC is that the proposed Myersville station is oversized—because the town is being in sucked into Dominion’s plans to send excess capacity to Cove Point.

Myersville has a very different view about this compressor station. It is concerned about noise as well as air pollution from volatile organic compounds, nitrous oxide and formaldehyde. It has also compiled a list of accidents in the last couple of years at compressor stations, some of which required evacuation of residents within 1.5- or 2-mile radius. The entire town of Myersville is within two miles of the proposed station, including the  evacuation center at the fire department (one mile) and the elementary school (one mile). The surrounding area is farmland, state parks and some historic sites.

Myersville is defending its master plan in the suit. But MCRC is also taking on the entire FERC system. “The FERC scoping session is absolutely ludicrous and puts the onus on the local citizens to oppose a multibillion-dollar company and a governmental agency with no oversight,” according to MCRC secretary Ted Cady.  Dominion can do endless hours of research to counter any local points. It submitted 1,000 pages of information to FERC, including 12 resource reports, appendix, and other material, Cady said. Under the FERC process, residents, with no background in the subject, then have to review, understand, submit comments. In an arrangement that pits communities against each other, Myersville was also expected to  provide alternatives.

“They must educate themselves on the complexity of the industry and its impacts to air/water/land permitting, cultural concerns such as registered historic sites and … environmental concerns such as the Endangered Species Act, geologic fault analysis, noise safety, air dispersion analysis, etc.,” Cady wrote in a letter about the suits.

In its court filing, MCRC says INGAA and Dominion are exaggerating the doom scenario—i.e., that all towns will rise up against FERC. The courts will rule on Myersville’s unique circumstances. But towns such as Dryden and Syracuse, NY, Pittsburgh and Highland, PA, and many others are saying no to fracking, and Minisink, NY, is still fighting a compressor station there, even as construction moves ahead. Residents in Longmont, CO, call their action a “citizen uprising.” Myersville is joining in.

–elisabeth hoffman

compressor station drawing

A computerized image of how the compressor station will look. Dominion has offered to paint it to look like a barn.//Image provided by Ann Nau.