after trial

After the trials, the We Are Cove Point protectors, their supporters and attorney Mark Goldstone reviewed the day. Missing is Steve Norris, who was sent directly to jail.

Steve Norris, a retired professor from North Carolina, is stuck in the Calvert County Detention Center for the next few days. That is not his chief concern, though. And he’s expressed no remorse for his crime.

steve at kiewit

Steve Norris (above) and Clarke Herbert (below) used bike locks to attach their necks to door handles at a Dominion contractor’s office.

Norris was found guilty Monday of trespass on Dec. 3 for putting a bike lock around his neck and through door handles at the offices of IHI/Kiewit, a construction contractor for Dominion’s planned fracked-gas liquefaction and export facility in Lusby. Before sentencing at his District Court trial, Norris told Judge Michelle R. Saunders that he is “extremely, extremely worried” about what the future holds for his five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Another grandchild will be born this summer, a child who will be Norris’ age in 2086. Continuing to put carbon into the atmosphere will be a “disaster for the planet and a disaster for my grandchild,” he said. “I’m doing everything — in a nonviolent way,” he said. “We’ve been losing this battle,” he said, because Dominion has millions
and “we are lucky to have $10,000.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the $3.8 billion facility in September, and Dominion began construction while an appeal is in the works.

clarke herbert at kiewitNorris was the only defendant jailed among the 20 people sentenced Monday for charges related to actions in November and December designed to raise awareness of the threat to public safety from Dominion’s planned facility in Lusby and its connection to climate change. Most —including Clarke Herbert, who also locked his neck to door handles at Kiewit — received 20-day suspended jail sentences, some with credit given for time served; three years of unsupervised probation, during which they must obey all laws; and $157.50 in fees ($100 fine and $57.50 in court costs). Norris, who had several similar prior charges in other jurisdictions, was taken directly to jail from the courtroom and will be released Thursday at 6 a.m.

Tracey Eno, a co-founder of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community and a defendant as well as a witness in two cases, said she feels “satisfied” with the results. “Everyone was very professional and prepared. Our attorney, Mark Goldstone, is to credit for this. He held numerous conference calls with us in advance. I feel we got our points across: The democratic process has failed; this is a life or death situation; we are opposed to climate change and will do what it takes to create a public spectacle, increase awareness and create pressure for change.”

Early in the afternoon, Goldstone started arguing a “necessity defense,” explaining that the defendants’ actions were to prevent a greater harm. “We’re not getting into that,” Judge Saunders said. And yet with each pre-sentencing statement and some testimony, the defendants “got into that,” creating a court record of all that is at stake.

Many wore red cloth bands around their arms or neck. The cases involved the Dec. 3 lock-in at Kiewit; a Nov. 4 group dash to the top of a pile of dirt at a Dominion construction site and the unfurling of a banner that said “WE > DOMINION PROFITS”; and a Dec. 1 action outside Dominion’s construction site when protesters linked arms and sat in front of a gate. As Eno testified about the Dec. 1 action, the actions were all designed to publicize the “dangerous gas refinery in my neighborhood.” Signs and red T-shirts often say “We are Cove Point” because, Eno said, “Dominion has stolen our community’s name, which is Cove Point. We — the people — are Cove Point.”

the hill of dirt

At the top of a pile of Dominion’s construction dirt, a Calvert County sheriff confronts Cove Point protectors.

Some of the defendants told Judge Saunders that they preferred jail time, but she stuck with the suspended sentences and lengthy probation. Several said they would not likely be able to stay on the sidelines.

“I dedicate my life to this struggle,” said Charles Chandler, who had walked and camped from Ithaca, N.Y., to Cove Point —360 miles over 27 days — and who wore a bright orange jacket with his website in large block letters on the back: PeaceWalker.net.  “You’ll probably see me again. I plan to participate in unlawful, peaceful protest. If we just hold signs on the sidewalk, the corporations will just keep rolling on over us. … We’re condemning our children and future generations to a garbage planet.” Without climate justice, there is no peace, he said.

As a public school teacher in North Carolina, Greg Yost said, he tries to weigh his responsibility to his students against the knowledge that his students “face climate change throughout their lives.”

prpotest at the gate

Protectors, including Greg Yost at left, link arms at a Dominion gate.

“We are aware of the science, that three years is the time frame” before climate tipping points are reached, if they have not already been passed, Yost said. “I have work to do with my students. I have work to do with climate change. Nonviolent protest is all we can do. I will be back in front of you. I have work to do.”

“I care about the community,” Michael Clark said. “We are experts on living through human-induced climate change. I did what I did in celebration and defense of life. And I refuse to pay the fine.”

“I can’t sit passively while [Dominion’s facility] is built,” Kelsey Erickson said.

Elizabeth Conover said her state, Pennsylvania, is being destroyed by fracking, and the infrastructure for fracking “is creeping south … and Cove Point is the terminus.”

Dr. Margaret Flowers, a co-director of Popular Resistance who for 15 years was a practicing pediatrician, called on Judge Saunders to help expose the secrecy around Dominion’s project. She said the company lied about the number of people nearby, about the families across the street and the 2,365 homes, 19 home day-care centers and two elementary schools within 2 miles that have no evacuation route.

“There’s nothing I can do about that,” Judge Saunders said, and those concerns “are not for this forum.”

“I disagree,” said Flowers, who was acting as her own attorney. “You could allow the necessity defense” and call in experts to testify. “I appeal to you as a leader in the community to not allow this severe lack of democracy to take place. … I see the truth. … I ask you to bring that truth to light.”

At that, several spectators applauded but were immediately told to be quiet.

The only other break from courtroom decorum came during one of the brief recesses. A group of half a dozen or so people started singing “We shall not be moved,” prompting evictions from the courtroom of several people — including Norris, whose case had yet to be heard.

The defendants fell mostly into two camps. They were retired and feared for the future of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Or they were young adults, facing a decidedly bleak future — unless they and others intervened.

“I’m motivated by this really serious fear of what the future holds,” said 20-year-old Elias Weston-Farber, who is often the videographer at civil disobedience actions. “Science is telling really important things about our economy and our way of getting energy,” he said.

Berenice Tompkins said she acted to prevent far greater crimes: “the theft of my future and of future generations to thrive on this Earth.” Many people have urged her not to have children, she said. “My children, your children will not be safe as a result of what Dominion is doing,” Tompkins said. “I implore you to consider that … I am acting out of love. This is the only way I can act to express that love.”

“I’m terrified by what I’m seeing,” Deborah Wagner told the judge. The people of Cove Point have gone unheard; even Gov. Martin O’Malley fell asleep at a Board of Public works hearing regarding a Dominion permit, said Wagner, a grandmother with a background in science and nursing. “This isn’t right. I’m really afraid for future generations. I can’t not be there.”

Some charges were dropped along the way. When prosecutor Michael Gerst, assistant state’s attorney, argued during the case of the dirt pile that “protest does by its nature draw attention and that is the definition of disturbance of the peace,” the judge indicated that Goldstone needn’t bother to counter: “You’re going to win that,” she told the defense attorney.

In the bike lock cases at Kiewit, Kevin Zeese, an attorney and co-founder of Popular Resistance, testified for the defendants that his role at that action was as police liaison to prevent escalation. The goal was to get an image of Norris and Herbert locked to the doors, “to let the world know Kiewit is involved in this dangerous project.” The action lasted perhaps 20 minutes, until police cut the locks. Only two doors were blocked, so no one was trapped in the building, he said. Passersby were handed literature and were watching and interested. Gerst, the prosecuting attorney, argued that people and businesses “stopping their normal daily activity” was a disturbance to the peace. But Goldstone, who wore a “We the People” tie with writing from the U.S. Constitution, successfully argued that protests are designed to create an informed electorate. “It’s not a crime for people to speak out or for people to stop and find out what is going on.” Norris, who was acting as his own attorney in the case, said Gerst’s claim was similar to “blaming civil rights’ protesters for the violence [committed] by the people who didn’t like it.” Judge Saunders dropped all but the trespass charge in that case.

Cases against three defendants — Tracey Eno, Leslie Garcia and Martine Zundmanis — were put on a ‘stet’ docket; in return for no verdict, they agreed to obey all laws, stay off Dominion property, have no contact with Dominion employees and periodically discuss plans for protests and “escalation” with the sheriff’s office. While the other trials were in progress, Eno said, she was attending one of these meetings with the sheriff’s department and a Dominion official. They asked her if she had heard rumors about explosions. Eno said she “explained that the [Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community] vision is to protect the health, safety and quality of life of the citizens of Calvert County. Many of our members practice yoga and meditation.”

This morning, Eno spoke at the Calvert County Commissioners’ meeting, her 19th presentation to the officials about the hazards of the Dominion project.

defenders

We Are Cove Point protectors, many with red arm or neck bands, prepared for trial with their supporters.

— elisabeth hoffman

UPDATE: Steve Norris was released from jail Wednesday morning, a day early. He reports that he had great conversations with his fellow inmates about Cove Point.

 

500Snake-Oil-Ad

We have until Feb. 9 to tell the state’s Department of the Environment (MDE) what we think of proposed regulations for fracking in Maryland. And we have only to look at the “assumptions” listed in the regulations to know they are little more than snake oil, offering no protections from this industry.

Here are three key assumption used for these regulations:

E(1).  “There will be positive economic impacts to environmental consultants and laboratories for the additional work that will be required by the regulations.”

Of course, we will also see “positive economic impacts” for physicians who treat people complaining of rashes, headaches, shortness of breath or hair loss. As some of the chemicals used in fracking and the emissions from well pads and compressors are known endocrine disrupters and carcinogens, we might years hence also see “positive economic impacts” for oncologists or hospitals treating babies with birth defects. These regulations are positive only in the sense that hurricanes are positive for builders and car crashes are positive for lawyers.

E(3). “There will be positive economic impacts to real estate professionals and tourism related businesses in Garrett and Allegany Counties as a result of replacing the existing regulations with these more stringent regulations.” 

The state’s approach becomes clear here. MDE is comparing the proposed regulations to existing regulations for conventional gas drilling. It is not comparing the regulations to the safety we have now, the safety of not fracking. With these regulations, the state is willing to gamble with the Western Maryland tourism industry, whose growth, according to the state Office of Tourism, is outpacing all other regions of the state.

state-commissioned economic study said it didn’t have enough evidence to calculate the harm to Western Maryland’s tourism business. But it said Garrett, in particular, “is considered one of the most diverse and fastest growing counties in the Appalachian region,” with tourism and demand for second homes a key part of that growth (p. 77-78). It also concluded that: “nonresidents may have more flexibility to 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” (p. 91).

In other words, tourists would likely go elsewhere if they spot replacement water supplies — water buffaloes — on the front yards, or have to hike within a few hundred feet of frack towers, or kayak down a river while compressors drown out the birds, or sit on the deck listening to 24-7 flaring (allowed for up to 30 days under these regulations), or drive while stuck behind a caravan of water trucks. Vacationers won’t like that much. Residents would have to put up with all that, too. Where would they go during an out-of-control frack fire? Or even, as the Southwest PA Environmental Health Project reports, during the middle of the night if indoor pollution monitors spike?

frack towers

Some Garrett business owners are not reassured. Lisa Jan and Elliott Perfetti of Moon Shadow Café and Blue Moon Rising have posted on the company’s website a call to push back against fracking:

“While industry experts and local legislators continue to perpetuate false informational campaigns about the economic benefits and supposed safety of the practice, real science has prevailed in New York and should do so here in Maryland. While we have been publicly silent to this point, that time has ended. Our business, the livelihoods of our employees and their families, and the sanctity of our precious fresh air and clean water require a fight. … [W]e will not be silent any longer.”

They ask others to join them:

“All those who want to live in a clean fresh environment with opportunities for an active outdoor lifestyle and some of the best schools in the country, move here, join our fight and create the future of western Maryland based on an ethos that values health and happiness more than money!!”

In August, the Garrett County Board of Realtors called for a ban on fracking in the Deep Creek watershed. The Realtors group cited research showing that property values near drilling activity fall as much as 27 percent. The Deep Creek Lake watershed provides about 60 percent of the real property tax base to the county, the Realtors group said, generating more than $24 million in tax revenue. “The placement of even a few gas well pads could have a negative effect on that revenue and make it more difficult for many property owners near gas wells to sell their property,” the group said in a news release.

“My family chose to invest in Mountain Maryland — by relocating here, planting a vineyard and building a business — because it is clean, green, and safe,” said Nadine Grabania, who owns Deep Creek Cellars with her husband, Paul Roberts, a member of the state’s Marcellus Shale advisory commission. “We thought our supposedly progressive governor would make protecting the health, safety and livelihoods of all Marylanders a priority, yet the regulations he put forward do not even reflect the recommendations of his own environmental agencies. Neither are they based upon any evidence that fracking can be done safely. Had we known our state and local leadership would do so little to protect its people and its economic drivers, we would have invested elsewhere. Clearly, we would be safer if we had gone to New York.”

Linda and Mike Herdering, who recently sold their Husky Power Dogsledding business, said the new owners haven’t decided whether to stay in Garrett County, in part because of the possibility of fracking. In a letter to a local newspaper, the Herderings said, “In their stated opinion, the negative environmental impact of the fracking process and the massive industrialization that it requires would not be conducive to the dogsledding experience they wish to continue to provide.”

“This fracking proposition flies in the face of the entire Deep Creek brand,” advertising executive and illustrator Mark Stutzman of Mountain Lake Park told the state’s shale advisory commission in December, when the public had a last chance to comment on the final report on fracking by MDE and the Department of Natural Resources. “We are being steamrolled,” he said.

F(1). “The regulations will minimize the impacts from drilling to public health, safety, the environment and natural resources in these two Counties. By minimizing these impacts, the general citizenry of the two Counties will benefit from enhanced public health protection and safety, including better protections for air quality and sources of drinking water. Additionally, the natural environment of the two Counties will be better protected, including forests, rivers, streams and other water bodies, wildlife, flora and fauna.”

This is the most cynical and dangerous of the assumptions. These regulations don’t minimize harm from drilling; these regulations would permit harm from drilling.

In a report for the state’s Marcellus Shale advisory commission, the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health (MIAEH), part of the University of Maryland’s School of Public Health, found high or moderately high likelihood of harms to public health in seven of eight areas. Regulations have not been shown to alleviate these harms.

health summary

Local health departments could be on guard for “clusters of symptoms,” suggested Clifford Mitchell, M.D., a member of the state’s Marcellus Shale advisory commission and director of the state’s Environmental Health Bureau. The western counties will also need a health surveillance system, starting now, lest we “squander this opportunity,” according to Donald Milton, M.D., Dr.P.H., a member of the MIAEH team. So, the plan clearly is to set this experiment in motion in yet another state and document the damage.

The emerging science on fracking shows harm to public health, water quality and air quality. A recent analysis of peer-reviewed studies, found this:

  • 96 percent of all papers published on health effects indicate potential risks or adverse health outcomes.
  • 87 percent of original research studies published on health outcomes indicate potential risks or adverse health outcomes.
  • 95 percent of all original research studies on air quality indicate elevated concentrations of air pollutants.
  • 72 percent of original research studies on water quality indicate potential, positive association, or actual incidence of water contamination.
  • And the science is just beginning: About 73 percent of all available scientific peer-reviewed papers have been published in the past 24 months, with a current average of one paper published each day.

That analysis was one of two key documents handed to Gov. Andrew Cuomo a week before he decided, at the advice of his acting health commissioner, that fracking would not be safe for New Yorkers. The other document was the Concerned Health Professionals of New York’s updated summary of the evidence of fracking’s risks and harms. In New York, public health experts were allowed to make the call.

In Maryland this month, a coalition of 61 health, environment, faith and advocacy groups citing the same analyses, called on the state Legislature to approve a long-term moratorium on fracking in Maryland. A group of public health experts and other scientists also called for a lengthy moratorium in Maryland following a daylong conference at Baltimore’s University of Maryland School of Nursing in September.

The responsibility for the proposed regulations falls not to MDE, but to its boss, Gov. Martin O’Malley, who — on his way out the door  — decided that Maryland could “balance” the risks and rewards of fracking. Even though that is what other states have said, to disastrous results. “Based on the available evidence, there is no reason to believe Maryland would be an exception,” Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Health Energy wrote to O’Malley after he decided fracking was ok.

Unfortunately, industry’s thumb has always been on that balance scale, outweighing (except in New York) the accumulating evidence and warnings from the public health community. Including two reports last week: The fracking industry is dumping and spilling ammonium and iodide — toxic to fish, ecosystems, and by extension, human health — into Pennsylvania and West Virginia waterways; and West Virginia is studying a threefold increase in gas-industry worker fatalities from 2009 to 2013, during the fracking boom.

O’Malley chose to ignore that his advisory commission was sharply divided on whether fracking was safe for Marylanders. That commission was to decide “whether and how” fracking could be done safely. The commissioners never decided the whether. And now O’Malley’s self-described “gold standard” regulations are likely to be pared back by Governor Hogan, who sees Western Maryland as a fracking “gold mine.”

In recommending that New York not allow fracking, acting Health Commissioner Howard Zucker found too many gaps in research, likely harms to public health, and too little evidence that regulations would prevent harm to public health and the environment.

“Would I live in a community with [fracking] based on the facts that I have now? Would I let my child play in a school field nearby? After looking at the plethora of reports behind me … my answer is no,” Zucker said. And Cuomo concurred: I would agree with your conclusion that if your children should not live [near fracking], then no one’s child should live there.”

Fracking is not safe for New Yorkers. It’s not safe for Marylanders. Or Pennsylvanians, or West Virginians, or Coloradans, or Texans, or Ohioans. Or anyone. Regulations are merely a way to make those with power appear to be safeguarding the public while doing no such thing.

Comments about the regulations may be sent to Brigid Kenney, senior policy adviser, Maryland Department of the Environment, 1800 Washington Blvd., Baltimore, MD, 212340-1720, or call (410) 537-3084 or email brigid.kenney@maryland.gov or fax to 410-537-3888.

— elisabeth hoffman

 

 

 

the fracking rebellion

November 13, 2014

wendy lynne lee photo of trio

Penni Laine, Maggie Henry, and Alex Lotorto from Pennsylvania help block FERC entrances to protest the agency’s approval of infrastructure for fracked gas. //photo by Wendy Lynne Lee

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.

blockadia by minister erik r mcgregor 2

Protesters used huge portraits of harmed families and a miniature town to block the front entrance to FERC’s offices.//photo by Erik R. McGregor

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.”

swings by penn johnson

Protesters hold a photo of an empty swing with three frack towers nearby. //photo by Penn Johnson @ Spencerhjohnson.com

DEAR FERC photo

A protester holds up a poster with the abbreviated list of demands for FERC.//by John Abbe

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 marcellus.advisory@maryland.gov 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.

–elisabeth hoffman

ferc face the families

FERC: Face families you hurt.//photo by Erik R. McGregor

 

 

 

A new sign outside the state's monthly Marcellus shale advisory commission meeting. //photo by Savage Mountain Earth First!

A new sign outside the state’s monthly Marcellus shale advisory commission meeting. //photo by Savage Mountain Earth First!

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.

Kayaks on the shore of Deep Creek Lake.//photo by Crede Calhoun

Kayaks on the shore of Savage River Reservoir.//photo by Crede Calhoun

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:

health summary

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.

water graphiccumulative graphic

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:

No backpacks

No bags

No packages

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.

Security guards check bags outside the monthly shale advisory committee meeting.//photo by Savage Mountain Earth First!

Security guards check bags outside the monthly shale advisory committee meeting.//photo by Savage Mountain Earth First!

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.

Comment on the health study by Oct. 3 here or send an email to dhmh.envhealth@maryland.gov

The official comment period for the economic study is closed, but send emails to marcellus.advisory@maryland.gov

–elisabeth hoffman

 

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

IMG_1781

Among those blocking the entrances at FERC are, starting at second from left, Mike Bagdes-Canning, Ann Bristow and Gina Angiola.//photo by elisabeth hoffman

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.)

Steve Norris and Kendall Hale

Steve Norris, as Uncle Sam, and Kendall Hare, as Lady Liberty, block an entrance at FERC. //photo by e. hoffman

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.”

alex and frack map

Alex Lotorto, blocking an entrance at FERC, shows a map of land leased for fracking in Bradford County, PA.//photo by e. hoffman

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.”

ann hauled away

Ann Bristow, a member of Maryland’s Marcellus shale advisory commission, is escorted from FERC in handcuffs.//photo by e. hoffman

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.

gina in cuffs

Gina Angiola is arrested at FERC.//photo by e. hoffman

“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.’ ”

rally by cccan

The marchers head for FERC. //photo by Beth Kemler at CCAN.

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

gina and ann at ferc

Ann Bristow and Gina Angiola help block one of the entrances at FERC.//photo by e. hoffman

IMG_1749

Ron Meservey and Diane Wittner, dressed as drill rigs, played a support role in the arrest action at FERC.//photo by e. hoffman

warning about arrests by tom jefferson

A Homeland Security officer warns protesters that they will be arrested if they don’t leave. //photo by Tom Jefferson

 

 

 

 

 

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mike cuffed

Mike Bagdes-Canning gets the cuffs, along with 24 others, for civil disobedience at FERC.//photo by Tom Jefferson

 Mike Bagdes-Canning is a husband, father, grandfather, retired teacher and vice president of Cherry Valley Borough in Butler County, PA. He was one of 25 people arrested Monday morning for blocking entrances at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or rather the Fracking Expansion Rubber-stamp Commission. He also attended the Stop Cove Point rally and march to FERC on Sunday. In this guest blog post, Mike explains that we are all living in frontline communities and that our struggles are the same. — elisabeth hoffman

BY MICHAEL BAGDES-CANNING

As a frontline resident in the shalefields of Pennsylvania, the rally on Sunday and the action on Monday were as much about us in Pennsylvania as about the people at Cove Point.

Cove Point and the other export facilities are critically important to those of us in extraction communities because once the gas is available on a global scale, it will command a “global price.” Shale gas is very expensive to produce, and it is not profitable to extract at the moment. That will change if it hits the global market. The dire circumstances we find ourselves in now will be viewed as the good old days.

mike for blog post

“Extreme energy threatens us all.”//photo by Tom Jefferson.

In addition, though, we are all from frontline communities. Creating a world market for LNG would be devastating to humanity and much other life as we know it. That point was made at the rally. It wasn’t an accident that my friend Cherri Foytlin from the Gulf region was a speaker — we, all of us, need to be in this fight. Your fight is my fight, my fight is your fight.

This all became very personal for me today. I spent the entire morning with some of the folks I’ve been working with — trying to keep drilling away from a school campus that serves 3,200 kids. They had a hearing with our Department of Environmental Protection (DEP — we call it Don’t Expect Protection).  I was there as a member of the media: I document shale stories for the movement. I was kicked out of the meeting because our law does not serve the people. It serves the corporations. Then I had to deliver my friend, photographer Tom Jefferson, back home to Pittsburgh. Tom wasn’t allowed into the meeting either. Finally, after spending most of the day on the road, I was grateful to be heading home to my piece of heaven — Cherry Valley. At a little after 7 p.m., after being away from home for 11 hours, I turned onto my road, and about a half-mile south of my driveway, I came upon a crew doing seismic testing, one of the initial steps in the drilling process. There was a sign in the road that said, “Lane closed.”  I got out of my car and stormed past the flag-man, pulled out my camera and started to document. They told me that I had to leave; I told them I wasn’t going anywhere. THIS IS MY HOME!  They told me to back away, it wasn’t safe. I told them that I wasn’t going anywhere, they weren’t welcome here. They had to think I was a raving lunatic — and I was. Even now, hours later, I’m angry and already contemplating my next steps. The arrest in D.C. will not be my last.

Gabriel Echeverri, a young man I met at Shalefield Justice Spring Break, spoke to my heart when he told Maryland shale advisory commissioners, “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.”

Karen’s and my home is surrounded by properties that have been leased. Some of our immediate neighbors have not leased, but the folks that adjoin them have. We are a small island in a vast sea of leased properties.

Both major political parties have betrayed us. Our government serves those who would destroy us. It’s up to us to draw a line in the sand.

Day in and day out, I deal with folks who have been harmed, folks who no longer feel at home in their homes. Today, I find myself joining their ranks. My peace has been yanked from me.

There is, however, a difference between me and those people I work with, the folks I’ve come to call friend, neighbor. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard: “What can we do? They’re so big, and we’re so small.” I know what I can do. I can fight within the broken system we’ve been given. I can put my body in front of machines.  I can turn to my network of frack-fighters. I can gain inspiration from my heroes on the frontlines — people like Janet, who despite being without water for over three years and in ill health, has single-handedly carried a water bank serving others without water. I can gain inspiration from folks willing to put themselves in harm’s way.

This fight is not mine any more than Cove Point is a fight for Marylanders. I don’t care where you’re from, your home is in danger. Extreme energy threatens us all.

I’m not asking you to come to fight fracking in Pennsylvania. I don’t care where you are, you’ve got a battle to fight where you are. If they aren’t extracting, they’re transporting, or processing, or burning, or disposing of the waste. I want you to fight your fight because you will then be supporting me in my fight. Your victories will be my victories. We’ve got to fight the extreme energy industry at every step of its death cycle. We’ve got to be prepared to meet them wherever they are. My thoughts turn to our friends on the Great March for Climate Action. I’ve followed their progress and know that they, more than I, are seeing just how our struggles are one. At the foot of West Virginia’s Blair Mountain, filmmaker Josh Fox (“Gasland”) said that mountaintop removal and fracking were just two heads of the same monster. I’ve come to realize that the monster has many heads.

And now I find, jarringly, that what I always knew but never really acknowledged has come to pass: My home is in danger. I’ve been there to support others, but now I feel very vulnerable, unsafe, fearful. It’s not a pleasant place to be and it’s uncomfortable to admit that I’m not ready for it. In my dealings with others, I’ve always assumed that I’d be ready, and now I find that working with others has not prepared me for what I’m facing.

My involvement in this movement has made me a better person (though I’m betting that seismic crew didn’t think so).  I am inspired by all my friends in this fight. Send me your energy, fight your fight.

mike with signs

As police helped FERC employees get around the blockade, Mike tried to cover as much ground as possible. //photo by elisabeth hoffman

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.’ ”

savage mountain earth first

Savage Mountain Earth First! logo.

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.

–elisabeth hoffman

 

Dr. Donald Milton

Dr. Donald Milton says Maryland will be in a unique position to collect data on human health effects if fracking is permitted.//photos by Mike Bagdes-Canning

About all that’s left between us and fracking is a state-commissioned health study that’s big on dangers and disruptions, gaps and shortcomings, but nevertheless seems willing to list some recommendations and hope for the best.

That’s not enough.

Public health scientists at the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health (MIAEH) recently unveiled their final progress report during a meeting at Garrett College. They explained some of the health burdens Garrett and Allegany county residents would have to bear if the state permits fracking in the Marcellus Shale that lies deep under their land.

Dr. Sacoby Wilson

Dr. Sacoby Wilson said cancer and infant deaths could increase if fracking were permitted.

The infant mortality rate, for example, in those counties is already higher than in the rest of the state. “With additional industrial activity … you could see an impact on infant mortalities,” Dr. Sacoby Wilson said. Translation: More babies could die. Garrett and Allegany also have a higher percentage than the rest of the state of elderly, who would be particularly vulnerable to increased air pollution. Children, pound for pound, breathe more air than adults, putting them at greater risk as well. Rates of some cancers are already higher in these counties than the rest of the state. “We could see an increase in cancer from exposure to pollutants,” Dr. Wilson said.

Much, however, remains unknowable, the public health researchers said. Dr. Donald Milton said that research on the effects of fracking is new, less than 10 years old, and extremely limited. And much was beyond the scope of the report and data available, including a cumulative risk assessment. If Maryland allows fracking, it “will be in a unique position to collect some of these things,” he said.

The question, then, is whether Western Marylanders have consented to be test cases for this data collection.

Unless changes are made in the final report, the state seems ready to continue the experiment on people and communities witnessed in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Texas and Colorado, with predicable results.

Deciding whether Maryland should allow drilling is not part of the health report. Once completed in the next week or so, the health report will be used by the state’s Marcellus Shale advisory commission and state Departments of the Environment (MDE) and Natural Resources (DNR) to help determine whether fracking can be done “without unacceptable risks of adverse impacts to public health, safety, the environment and natural resources,” according to Gov. Martin O’Malley’s executive order.

So, instead of saying yes, no or wait for more research, the Maryland scientists created a scorecard of sorts for public health hazards. The higher the score, the greater the harm.

Dr. Amir Sapkota

“So, absence of investigation [or] absence of data is not equal to absence of harm,” Dr. Amir Sapkota said.

First, they collected baseline public health information for the two western counties and reviewed scientific literature and other reports on fracking and health. They also monitored noise near compressor stations and in homes in one county in West Virginia. With that science as the backdrop, Dr. Amir Sapkota explained, each selected impact “earned” points, based on whether the hazard affected vulnerable populations, how long the exposure was likely to last, the frequency of exposure, the likelihood of health effects, the severity of the health effects, whether the hazard was communitywide or localized, and whether setbacks would lessen the harm. Impacts with the highest score, 15 to 17 points, would have the most ill effects on public health. They were color-coded red. Stop. Other items were in the medium hazard range (yellow) and some, with scores of 6 to 9 points, would carry no or a low health hazard (green).

the scorecard

For example, one hazard the group evaluated was the potential for poor air quality and exposure to volatile organic compounds, or VOCs. The researchers found elevated levels of VOCs near frack operations in West Virginia; and they had looked at studies that show harms from exposure to such VOCs as benzene, butadiene, formaldehyde, and one showing an association between proximity to frack wells and congenital heart defects and neural tube defects in babies. (That Colorado study is here. In addition, a 2013 working paper by a Cornell researcher in Pennsylvania found low birth weights and APGAR scores in babies born to mothers within 2.5 kilometers of frack sites, and Princeton and Columbia University researchers, in a study presented in January at the American Economic Association, again found that proximity to a fracking site increased the risk for low birth weights and APGAR scores. )

Based on the resulting score, the group concluded there was “high likelihood” that changes in air quality from fracking would be a hazard to public health. Red. Stop.

For several hazards, such as soil contamination or effects on food, the study group lacked enough information to devise a score. (Although research published in the journal of Environmental Science & Technology is ominous). In addition, studies that link exposure to illness require three to five years for a study and another couple years to publish the results, Dr. Sapkota said. He also noted the “gap in time — between when exposure happens and when you get sick — of months, years, even decades.” Therefore, “absence of investigation [or] absence of data is not equal to absence of harm,” Dr. Sapkota said. At that, applause went up from the audience of about 50 in the college auditorium.

On the scorecard, the risk of earthquakes was low, because Maryland is not going to allow injection wells. Instead, the state would be content to send its toxic and radioactive waste to other states that haven’t caught on yet (although West Virginia seems about to catch on).

Also ranking high, or red, on the hazard scorecard were public safety and worker safety. With fracking, Dr. Sapkota said, come: truck traffic (1,000 roundtrips per well fracked; 6,000 roundtrips for a well pad with 6 wells); more accidents; delayed 911 response time; deteriorating road conditions; unsafe roads for pedestrians, drivers and children; more crime (for example, the report says, arrests rose 17 percent in heavily fracked areas of Pennsylvania and 32 percent in Battlement Mesa, Colo.), more cases of sexually transmitted diseases (up 32 percent in Pennsylvania and 217 percent in Battlement Mesa). Workers are at higher risk of developing lung cancer and silicosis from exposure to silica dust in frac sand. And increased use of medical services, by insured or uninsured workers, “would strain the existing healthcare infrastructure, likely leading to decreased quality, availability, and access to services,” the report said.

public safety and occupational health

Oddly, the researchers ranked as medium the potential harm to water quality, even though a large percentage of the population relies on well water. Contributing to the score were one point each for “likelihood of health effects” and “magnitude/severity of effects.” A ‘1’ means “unlikely” and “little/no evidence that exposure is related to adverse health outcomes.” And yet an Associated Press report found hundreds of complaints about water contamination in at least four states. Pennsylvania has failed to inform residents when fracking polluted private wells. And risk analysts found that disposal of contaminated wastewater  (from truck accidents, leaking casings, surface spills, fracturing fluids traveling through underground fractures; and disposal at treatment plants) poses a substantial potential risk of river and other water pollution. And a University of Missouri researcher found higher levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (linked to infertility, cancer and birth defects and other health problems) in surface and groundwater in Colorado.

water graphic

Even a point more in those categories would have us in the red zone.

The scientists also cited Avner Vengosh’s Duke University study that found methane concentrations much higher in water wells within a kilometer of fracking operations and dismissed an industry-funded study that found otherwise. “We felt like that conclusion was not supported,” Dr. Sapkota said, “particularly given the large conflict of interest involved.” Dr. Milton noted at one point that methane — aside from its explosive qualities — wasn’t much of a health threat, but it often traveled with things that are, such as benzene and hydrogen sulfide. “We can’t write prescriptions of what should be monitored,” he said. “The community needs to develop it.”

cumulative graphicNoise also was ranked medium; it leads to stress and disturbs sleep. The group singled out noise from compressor stations, because they remain in a community much longer than fracking operations.

Each harm builds on the others, creating a sum that scientists don’t yet understand. “It’s an emerging field, and we are still trying to figure it out … how to quantify cumulative risks,” Dr. Sapkota said. Because some people might benefit while others are harmed, disruption of social fabric, of community peace, is also a factor and adds to stress, he said. And yet, inexplicably, the cumulative effects ranked in the medium range. Presumably, how the points were assigned will be part of the full report.

the doctors’ prescriptions

The study group included a number of recommendations to lessen the harms, such as soil and air monitoring; 100 percent recycling of frack fluids; prohibition on using flowback water for road deicing or dust suppression; community panels to address noise and odor complaints; and an increase in state and local patrols to monitor truck traffic and to keep trucks off the road when school buses are transporting children. The researchers said proppants and engineered nanomaterials should be disclosed and trade secret chemicals “acknowledged.” They recommended that local governments train emergency and medical personnel and “consider health infrastructure as a high level priority when appropriating local government revenues derived from [shale gas development] and engage in long-term planning.” (The counties collect production taxes only after the gas is flowing through a pipeline, though, so the source of money for training in advance is a big question.) They also suggest engaging local communities  “in monitoring and ensuring that setback distances are properly implemented.”

Dr. Sapkota said after the presentation that the recommendations can’t eliminate the hazards. Public safety will take a hit.

from the audience

Every speaker from the audience voiced grave concerns about gaps in the panel’s scope and in available research. Jim Guy from Oldtown in Allegany County criticized the “cavalier conversation” about “a lot of people getting sick. … My question is this: Who is going to be accountable for all this?”

Asked about the public health threat of climate change from leaking methane, Dr. Sapkota said that was a concern but outside the scope of the group’s review. (Two new reports have highlighted that risk, one by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the other by Anthony Ingraffea at Cornell University.

The health care system faces huge burdens, said Rebecca Ruggles, director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network. “Nobody seems to be putting a price tag on that. … It’s the cost of doing business in this community, and then who is going to bear it?”

Dr. Clifford S. Mitchell, a commissioner on the state’s advisory panel and director of Maryland’s Environmental Health Bureau, said the study team lacked the time and resources to do an economic study. (The state’s economic study, done by Towson University’s Regional Economic Studies Institute, didn’t include health costs either.) Dr. Mitchell said he would work up some “back-of-the-envelope calculations” for the full report.

Robyn Gilden, an assistant professor at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, wanted to know what the medical community should be tracking in patients before and after fracking. Dr. Sapkota said low birth weight and “adverse” birth outcomes are easy to track, because the information is public and the time span — 9 months — is short. Dr. Milton and Dr. Mitchell said nosebleeds and skin rashes are frequent complaints that bear watching.

The presentation has many gaps, and major research is just emerging, said Gina Angiola, a retired physician and steering committee member of the Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility. “What about asking for another three to five years?” she asked. More applause from the audience.

Mike Bagdes-Canning, who lives near fracking operations north of Pittsburgh, said he spends a good deal of time with people on the front lines of fracking. Wherever the gas industry goes, health problems follow, he says. Complaints that he commonly sees are flu-like symptoms, rashes, breathing problems, arsenic poisoning, headaches, shortness of breath, sleep disturbance, and mental health issues such as depression. “I come as your ambassador from Pennsylvania,” he said. “Don’t do what we’ve done.”

Dr. Clifford Mitchell

“Maryland is trying to distinguish itself … so we can learn from evidence about how not to do things,” said Dr. Clifford Mitchell.

In introducing the scientists involved in the public health study, Dr. Mitchell boasted that Maryland is the only state studying the health effects of fracking before proceeding. Pennsylvania might prevent its health employees from discussing nosebleeds, rashes, cancer and other concerns from fracking with frantic residents calling for assistance. But that’s not Maryland, he suggested. “Part of the reason we have gone through this process is because Maryland is trying to distinguish itself … so we can learn from evidence about how not to do things.”

Far more protective would be a warning like Dr. Jerome Paulson’s to the Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection. Citing data on birth defects and low birth weights, water contamination and stress from noise, and the vulnerability of children, Dr. Paulson concluded, “Neither the industry, nor government agencies, nor other researchers have ever documented that [unconventional gas extraction] can be performed in a manner that minimizes risks to human health.” Or the stance of hundreds of doctors and other health experts in New York who have asked for a three- to five-year fracking moratorium.

–by elisabeth hoffman

no fracking in western maryland sign

On July 4, signs greet travelers at Sideling Hill, the gateway to Western Maryland. //photo by Savage Mountain Earth First!

 

frackgassafety2

[This post is for day three of the Stop Fracked Gas Exports Blogathon and social media week. Read other posts here. Follow twitter posts #StopGasExports. The blog blitz will make clear why we need to show up for the mega rally Sunday, July 13, at FERC’s DC headquarters. Speakers include Mike Tidwell, Sandra Steingraber and Tim DeChristopher. So, be there.]

In December, I spoke briefly on the phone with a Dominion spokesman. Near the end of our conversation, I mentioned concerns about fracking. “Oh, we won’t be doing any fracking at Cove Point,” he rushed to assure me.

We know that no fracking will take place at Dominion’s Cove Point facility.

That remark, however, shows Dominion’s duplicity throughout this approval process. Its stance has been that the shale-gas liquefaction and export facility proposed for Cove Point has nothing to do with fracking. And yet, this project has everything to do with fracking. That is the only source of the gas. To approve the project is to require the fracking.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission failed us in its review of Dominion’s plans. FERC accepted Dominion’s mantra that this facility has nothing to do with fracking, in Maryland or elsewhere. Or at least nothing measurable. Because Dominion couldn’t be sure where and how many wells would be drilled, FERC concluded that all this fretting about fracking was mere conjecture. “[D]etails, including the timing, location, and number of additional production wells that may or may not be drilled, are speculative,” FERC said on page 25 of its review. “As such, impacts associated with the production of natural gas … are not reasonably foreseeable or quantifiable.”

And with that shrug of its regulatory shoulders, FERC dismissed all harm from this project of fracking, pipelines and compressor stations next to our homes and schools, parks and rivers. Even as the List of the Harmed steadily grows. Even as research mounts about the threats to our health, especially for pregnant mothers and children. Even as illness and water contamination from methane, radon and hormone-disrupting chemicals comes to light despite industry’s efforts to hide behind nondisclosure agreements. Even as health professionals repeatedly call for a fracking moratorium.

In addition, FERC’s review says that methane, which leaks at every stage of gas exploitation and transmission, is 25 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than CO2. That ratio is over 100 years, an arbitrary and useless time frame. We don’t have 100 years. Over 20 years, according to the International Panel on Climate Change, methane is at least 84 times more powerful than CO2. FERC needs to redo the math.

If FERC had conducted its highest level of review and bothered to calculate the damage to our health, economy, environment and climate from fracking millions of metric tons of gas a year to ship to Asia, the agency could not have approved this project.

Once upon a time, FERC’s approval of every energy project imaginable raised few questions. That template no longer works. Because of the twin threats from our poisoned planet and climate change, we can no longer afford to have FERC be the handmaiden to the fossil fuel industry. On Sunday, July 13, we’ll tell President Obama and FERC to get this right. 

–elisabeth hoffman