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August 22 2012

23:50

Hundreds of Concerned Citizens Protest Governor Andrew Cuomo's Plans To Frack New York

Over 350 concerned citizens turned up at New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s policy summit today to protest his risky plan to allow hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in New York. The state has had a moratorium on the dangerous shale gas drilling technique since 2008, but Governor Cuomo is expected to announce the green lighting of fracking in sections of New York in the coming weeks.

New Yorkers concerned about threats to their drinking water and public health showed up en masse to deliver their message to Cuomo in person at a summit geared toward exploring a possible 2016 run for the White House. The gathering drew several Clinton administration veterans.

CREDO Action and New Yorkers Against Fracking organized the protest "to send a clear message to Gov. Cuomo that if he hopes to count on the support of New Yorkers and environmentalists for a future presidential run, he must say no to fracking New York."
 

Gov. Cuomo, don't frack New York,” said Zack Malitz, Campaign Manager of CREDO Action. “We have a moratorium against fracking in place now, and Gov. Cuomo lifts it at great peril to his political future. If Cuomo wants the support of New Yorkers who care about clean water, their health and the environment when he runs for president in 2016, he should abandon his plan to frack New York.”


David Braun of New Yorkers Against Fracking, a coalition of over 160 organizations across New York that supports a ban on fracking, says that "Governor Cuomo has a choice between dirty fracking and safe renewable energy. We are here on behalf of millions of New Yorkers who want Cuomo to represent the interests of our communities and not those of the oil and gas industry."

Huffington Post New York reporter Inae Oh has more quotes from folks who attended the gathering.

Below are some photos of the protest, courtesy of Credo. View more at http://www.flickr.com/photos/credopolicysummit/


  

March 30 2012

17:50

Oil Industry Lobbyist / Mushroom Farmer Claims Family Farms Need Fracking

Because apparently the only way for small American farmers to sustain themselves is not with crops they produce, but by letting the good 'ole gas man tap the reserves under their land.

"Agriculture and industry go together, if you want prosperity in these little towns, you need balance, that's the story of my family."

So said Karen Moreau on Fox & Friends, refering to the New York moratorium on fracking. Moreua claims to be from the "last family mushroom farm" in Feura Bush, NY and was on the show to talk about how fracking would be an economic rainbow to many small farms in the state, if only those pesky regulators would stop getting in their way.

The story Moreau neglected to tell on Fox & Friends was that she's the executive director for the New York State Petroleum Council, a division of the American Petroleum Institute. Translation: less so "family farmer" and more so "industry lobbyist".

Moreau is the President and co-founder of The Foundation for Land and Liberty (FLL), a litigation organization formed to "protect private sector legal rights, so that land ownership remains a fundamental right derived from natural law".

The foundation is mainly a property rights group that formed to provide legal assistance surrounding development issues to land owners in the Adirondacks. Moreau has a background in law, specifically in agriculture and rural economic development. She has been previously caught spinning facts and forgetting pertinent information in her New York Post opinion articles.

read more

March 17 2012

17:35

February 08 2012

20:28

The Business of Risk – Insuring Against Climate Change

When it comes to assessing risk, the insurance industry is one of the leaders in the field. Whether it is health insurance, car insurance, or homeowner’s insurance, the industry is forced to analyze every possible scenario for a given person or structure, and impose a fee based on the likelihood of events for the situation. So when an entire industry that bases their profitability on reducing risk starts factoring climate change into their equations, it's probably a good idea to pay attention.

Earlier this month, insurance commissioners in three separate U.S. states began mandating that insurance providers include the risk of climate change disasters in their risk equations, and develop and disclose their plans to deal with climate-related catastrophes. These plans will be laid out in surveys that insurance companies will provide to insurance commissioners in their respective states.

The three states that have made these new rules are California, New York, and Washington State. Previously, many states had only required the largest insurance companies to have climate plans, but the new rules, which could spread across the United States to climate change-vulnerable places like Florida and Texas, require all insurers to adjust for climate change disasters.

The New York Times lays out why the industry is taking on climate change issues:

read more

January 23 2012

20:14

EPA Comments On New York's Environmental Impact Assessment: Hey...You Missed A Few Things

On the heels of receiving over 40,000 citizen comments on their environmental impact assessment, it looks like the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is also getting flack from the EPA on their fracking proposal.

The EPA's concerns echo those being shouted from the rooftops (or at least outside local town halls) for months from New York and Pennsylvania residents and advocacy groups, who are alarmed about the inherent risks to public health and drinking water that fracking imposes. The other looming question is whether the DEC can handle such a lofty task, seeing that they've experienced budget cuts and layoffs over the past couple of years.

Mainly, there are major concerns over drinking water buffer zones, wastewater treatment plans, those pesky earthquakes that seem to hang out near fracking-related sites, and the radiation hazards that could threaten workers and nearby residents.

The EPA boasts that their regulations prohibit gas drilling wells within 1 mile of public water supply areas while the DEC is only proposing 150 feet. That's less than one New York City block (the smaller ones), half the length of a football field, or roughly the distance between you and the next-door neighbor whose bathroom horrifyingly has no blinds (although to be honest, there's no adequate buffer zone for that).

Furthermore, apparently the impact assessment includes a clause that allows trucks to spread salts from "produced water" (the water that comes back up after fracking), over roadways during inclement weather during the winter months. EPA urges them not to do that, and in fact states:

"It is unclear why this distinction was made by the NYSDEC as produced water will have higher concentration of natural contaminants…".

That's nice that the DEC is attempting to embrace the whole "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra, but it's kind of missing the point if you sprinkle the roads with salt extracted from water that has previously contained over 600 toxic chemicals. 

And on the radiation? The EPA is concerned that the data they are using in the impact assessment is outdated, since radioactive materials in Pennsylavania have been found to have higher radiation counts than expected, and that the DEC hasn't taken into consideration all the potential points along the way where radiation could concentrate and contaminate local land and water resources.

Even so, the document also advises that homeowners preemptively test their water supply (through water quality testing facilities of their choosing) to "remove any concerns about the water testing results being biased."

This "vote of no confidence" should really spark people to question whether this process can be adequately regulated, even with all the pitfalls and obstacles to continually overcome and oversee. People that continue to say wind and solar are too expensive clearly do not calculate all the external costs associated with fossil fuel extraction. This is why algebra is important- because when the equation doesn't add up, the x and y you are solving for is often the cost to people's health and livelihoods, as well as the long-term or irreversible damage to the surrounding ecosystems and the global climate.

Read the EPA's statement here.

January 14 2012

21:46

Radionuclides Tied To Shale Gas Fracking Can't Be Ignored As Possible Health Hazard

Comic books tell us that it's cool to be a superhero. Sometimes those superheroes started out as everyday citizens that became irradiated and suddenly transformed into epic, superhuman, ninja-fighting dynamos with abilities and powers that far outweigh regular human abilities, such as remembering anniversaries, calculating your own taxes, being able to answer every Jeopardy question, or tetrachromacy.

However, we know in real life that radiation, especially at dangerous levels, can cause burns, hair loss, ulcers, chromosomal deterioration, weakened immune systems, and cancer in the form of leukemia when it concentrates in the bones. Radiation is more likely to destroy our genetic code than to alter it to give us invisibility superpowers.

So why is radiation not more prevalent in the discussion about fracking? We've learned over the past couple of years about other health impacts from fracking - such as the hundreds of cancer-causing chemicals used in the fracking process and the health effects such as lost sense of smell and taste, headaches, respiratory problems, and cancers reported by citizens near oil and gas drilling sites. News coverage of fracking dangers often focuses on the threat of water contamination, the toxic fluids used in fracking operations and how it isn’t always disposed of properly, and the all-time favorite made world-famous by "Gasland": flaming water.

Yet we don't hear a lot about how oil and gas fracking can concentrate existing radionuclides, presenting the risk of human contact through disposal or handling, posing another possible health risk for the public and workers in the industry.

In the Marcellus Shale region, the particular nuclide in question is Radium-226. Radium comes from uranium, which naturally exists in the shale-rich geology of the northern Appalachian Basin. In fact, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,

"The Marcellus is known to contain concentrations of [naturally occurring radioactive materials] such as uranium-238 and radium-226 at higher levels than surrounding rock formations."

Other studies [PDF] show that the particular levels of radiation in the Marcellus Shale are up to 20x higher than background levels. While uranium is quite insoluble, radium is not. It preferably binds to water, which is particularly worrisome if it leaks into groundwater or contaminates any of the millions of gallons of water used in the fracking process.

Normally a person's skin serves as a protective barrier against natural environmental sources of radiation, but if a person drinks or bathes in contaminated water, where it can enter internally through the mouth or exposed and sensitive areas like the eyes, then the risk of internal damage is heightened. Ingesting or inhaling radiation in significant amounts can wreak havoc on internal organ systems.

Briny water usually concentrates the highest amount of radionuclides. This means that radionuclides will collect in the chemical-laden water used in fracking when it comes in contact with radioactive rock from the Marcellus, or when mixing with brine water stored within the Marcellus shale. Since fracking fluid is often used several times, this can cause radium to concentrate in the fluid and possibly the pipes.

If the fracking fluid is deposited in a landfill, it can continue to irradiate not only any groundwater in the area but also potentially any vegetation grown over a closed landfill. Furthermore, while landfills designed to receive contaminated water are built to contain potential toxics, they are not built to contain radiation.

And if the trucks that transport the contaminated fracking fluid ever leak along the way, it can end up contaminating roadways as well. Radium-226 sticks around for 1600 years before it decays, and when it does, it produces radon gas.

The Environmental Impact Statement from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation acknowledges that radiation levels are naturally higher in the Marcellus, but NYDEC doesn't outline an adequate plan to deal with the possible radiation. Most of the document discusses their plans to measure for radiation after the wells are in place and to follow current radiation regulations.

That might sound reasonable, except for that fact that NYDEC’s last investigation into naturally occurring radioactive materials occurred in 1996 and was conducted on well sites that did not operate via the horizontal directional drilling and fracking methods that are now the status quo technique in the Marcellus and other shale basins around the country.

If fracking for oil and gas gets the green light from Governor Cuomo, New Yorkers may actually need a superhero to save us from the multitude of risks that fracking presents, and the risk of radioactive contamination is one scary consequence that deserves greater scientific scrutiny.

January 03 2012

19:05

It's Organic, but Is It Natural?

A question for readers: Does it matter to you if your organic produce was grown hundreds or thousands of miles away?

December 11 2011

23:32

"Raising Elijah": An Interview With Ecologist and Author Sandra Steingraber

Q: In light of your new book Raising Elijah: Protecting Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis, which raises the specter of raising children in troubled times, both environmentally and ecologically, are you surprised that natural gas corporations have been producing public relations and propaganda materials like coloring books (recall Talisman Energy's Terry the Fracasaurus, and Chesapeake Energy's coloring books), going into schools and giving scholarships, etc.? 

A: Not at all. This is an attempt at deflection and drawing attention away from the bad public relations problems the industry has. It is hypocritical and cynical to go into communities, do fracking (see DeSmogBlog's Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate), and then do these types of things.

For example, there are increased rates of crime, drug abuse, and motor vehicle accidents in areas in which fracking takes place. Roads in areas in which fracking is taking place are full of 18-wheelers hauling around toxic chemicals. It is a stunning move, based on all of these things.

For the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition and Chesapeake Energy’s corporate sponsorship of it, it is the ultimate case of cynicism, based on what they do on a daily basis. For them to get involved shows that they’re trying to deflect attention away from what they’re actually doing to cause these things in the first place.

The idea that they’re aligning themselves with the breast cancer movement is creepy and is like cigarette companies getting involved in fighting against cancer, while they are the ones also causing it.

Q: Why do you think these corporations are stooping so low, and why now? What type of reputation do these natural gas corporations have, at-large, in an area like the Marcellus Shale, for example?

A: Public opinion is deeply opposed to gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale in upper state New York and the anti-fracking resistance movement is solidifying and growing there. Therefore, partnerships with chartiable organizations are an attempt to alter public opinion.

That said, doing this is expensive for corporations, so it is a sign of desparation on their side of things to make fracking look like a warm and fuzzy and friendly thing. They want a different kind of association. When you hear name of their company, they hope you have warm, fuzzy feelings about them, when, in actuality, they’re actually going to come in and destroy the community.

Q: Can you explain a bit more about your book, Raising Elijah, and in particular, what role you see your new book playing in combating this benevolent role the gas industry ruthlessly tries to portray for itself? Also, can you explain what personally motivated you to write such a book?

A: Benevolent is the perfect adjective. These new partnerships are like an abusive spouse who’s trying to deflect attention away from his actual crime by funding a home for people who’ve suffered domestic abuse. The best way to solve the problem of carcinogens in the air is not to put them in the air in the first place. The best way to prevent children from being abused is to create an actual sustainable community and healthy ecosystem.

My book has been in the works for 8 years and I wanted to continue where I left off in the last book. This one takes a look at how exposure to environmental toxics impacts childhood development.

Fracking was not originally on my radar, but it was hard to ignore come 2007 and 2008. I learned more and more about it and was eventually asked to speak on panels on the topic. It is the biggest threat to childrens’ health that I’d ever encountered. The final chapter in book is entirely devoted to fracking.

Beating fracking is the environmental cause of our time. We are standing at a cross-roads — easy fuels are gone, and energy extremism is all that’s left. Mountain top removal is one, tar sands crude is another, offshore drilling is the third, and fracking is the fourth.

Fracking hits home the closest. It is occurring in 34 states, often in densely populated areas. The possibility of it exposing people to these toxins is immediate and the possibility that we’ll contaminate water, air, and food are also great.

Air contamination is also a guarantee, via compressors. Chances are, we’ll blanket the northeast in smoggy air, which already was dirty air to begin with, with regular ozone alerts. Surface and ground water and food resources are now also all at risk. The dairy industry is huge in New York, but now that is also at risk.

The Marcellus Shale basin is now a radioactive place, and thus, all of this stuff is now in peril. There needs to be a public conversation about this, if only because of the costs of helping children from cradle to grave. Asthma, for example, is a very expensive problem and leading cause of absenteeism in schools. It will become more common with fracking - much more common.

The Environmental Impact Statement done by the New York Department of Environmental Protection was also a sham, with public health impacts not even discussed. There was nothing in it on any of the scores of environmental and ecological costs associated with fracking that will arise in the future.

All of this is the explanation for why I wrote the book. The secrecy the industry enjoys makes it hard for researchers to go as deep as they possibly could if there were no veil of secrecy. It is hard to say exactly what kind of chemicals people are inhaling and consuming.

Q: You recently won the Heinz Award, given for significant achievements benefiting the environment, which earned you a $100,000 award and afterward, you wrote that you would devote that money to fighting fracking in upstate New York.

Bearing that in mind, can you explain, based your own experiences and personal convictions, as well as the lessons taught in your book, what type of activism is best geared toward defeating fracking?

Put another way, what form of activism gets the movement to ban fracking the best bang for its buck and do you see more nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience in the anti-fracking movement’s future?

A: $100,000 is NOTHING to the big boys in the corporate natural gas world. The only way money will work if it will also embolden others to do big things. The only reason I’m even going public with the fact that I’m investing money in the fight against fracking is to inspire other people to start fighting back.

We’re at the 11th hour now. The moratorium was here before, but now that’s over. Now is the time if you don’t want to be fracked. As a cancer survivor, whatever money I have ends up going into paying medical bills. When you live in an area surrounded by frackers, what point is it to even try to do that if the water, air, community, etc., will be gone and destroyed and the area becomes a toxic wasteland?

So, what better use of money than to defend and protect this place? I couldn’t think of better thing to do, with even more of a public platform, to highlight lunacy of fracking. I want others to feel that they shouldn’t give up before they start the fight. Self-defeatism is what’s beating us — learned helplessness — beats us even more than the formidable power of natural gas industry.

Whatever I can do to get people out of that place — if you want to be the hero, now’s your chance. I hope to use the money to open up space for speech, and not silence.

One suggestion is to put all eggs in one basket, but it is probably better to spread it around. The fight of townships to ban fracking locally — see Dryden case study — is one option. There’s also fight at state level with regards to Cuomo. 

The international human rights movement is also against dependence on fossil fuels. There is also the example of the civil disobedience that was used to stop the tar sands pipeline. There are fights everywhere, which go from the global level all the down to village level.

I am, in short, still in the thinking stage about funding and where it’ll all end up.

December 02 2011

21:34

Smeared But Still Fighting, Cornell's Tony Ingraffea Debunks Gas Industry Myths

Cornell University Professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea made waves in April 2011 when they unveiled what is now known simply as the "Cornell Study."

Published in a peer-reviewed letter in the academic journal Climatic Change Letters, the study revealed that, contrary to the never-ending mythology promulgated by the gas industry, unconventional ("natural") gas, procured via the infamous hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process, likely emits more greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere during its life cycle than does coal. DeSmogBlog documented the in-depth details of the Cornell Study in our report, "Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate."

Since the report was published, the Cornell Study has receieved serioius backlash from the gas industry, in particular from Energy in Depth, the industry's go-to front defensive linebackers on all things fracking related. DeSmogBlog revealed earlier this year that Energy in Depth is an industry front group created by many of the largest oil and gas companies, contrary to its preferred "mom and pop" image. 

Dr. Anthony Ingraffea wrote a must-read piece this week for CBC News, "Does the natural gas industry need a new messenger?

In his article, Dr. Ingraffea discusses and debunks many key gas industry myths, which he explained "always have at least a kernel of truth, but you have to listen to the whole story, carefully, not just the kernel."

"With decades of geopolitical influence and billions of dollars on the table, it is not surprising that the gas industry has perpetuated…myths to keep the public in the dark, regulators at bay, and the wells flowing," Ingraffea writes.

Let's review four of the myths exploded by Dr. Ingraffea:

Myth One: "Fracking is a 60-year-old, safe, well proven technology"

Dr. Ingraffea writes:

Yes, fracking is 60 years old. But using this shorthand obscures the truth that what’s at issue here isn’t really just fracking. It's the entire process of coaxing gas from shale using high-volume, slickwater fracking with long laterals from clustered, multi-well pads.

Myth Two: "Fluid migration from faulty wells is rare"

Ingraffea dismantles this one:

Fluid migration is not rare. For example, industry researchers Watson and Bachu, in a Society of Petroleum Engineers paper in 2009, examined 352,000 Canadian wells and found sustained casing pressure and gas migration…Most recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found benzene, methane and chemicals in water-monitoring wells in Pavilion, Wyoming…

Myth Three: "The use of clustered, multi-well drilling pads reduces surface impacts"

Ingraffea:

Such pad sites are large and growing, up to 10 acres or more. Newer sites, in Canada, are bigger than 50 acres, and each will leave behind clusters of wellheads and holding tanks for decades.

Cluster drilling facilitates and prolongs intense industrialization and leaves a larger, more concentrated, and very long-term footprint, not a smaller and shorter one.

Myth Four: "Natural gas is a 'clean' fossil fuel"

This one would be laughable if so many people did not believe it. As the old adage goes, "A lie can travel halfway 'round the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

Ingraffea on this whopper:

NASA climate scientist Drew Shindell’s work, published in the prestigious journal, Science, shows that methane – natural gas – is 105 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a global warming contributor over a 20-year time horizon, and 33 times more powerful over a century.

He proceeds to explain that methane gas is prone to leakage, which is not taken into account when proponents tout gas as a "clean" source of energy:

Leaks happen routinely during regular drilling, fracking and flowback operations, liquid unloading, processing, and along pipelines and at storage facilities.

The rate of leakage is anywhere from 3.6 per cent to 7.9 per cent of the lifetime of production of a shale gas well, which means from three to 200 per cent greater leakage rate than from conventional gas wells.

Exposing Other Mythology, Making a Plea For Truth 

Dr. Ingraffea also discusses other myths the gas industry relies upon on a daily basis, including "jobs created," "gas for energy independence," gas as a "bridge fuel" toward renewable energy, among others. All of these lies and misdirections have been debunked on multiple occasions, by numerous sources.

Concluding where he began his article, Ingraffea makes a plea to his readers: "keep asking questions, dig for the truth, and you’ll get the whole story."

November 29 2011

23:06

To Understand What's Happening with Fracking Decisions in New York, Follow the Money

In a November 25 article titled, "Millions Spent in Albany Fight to Drill for Gas," The New York Times reported:

Companies that drill for natural gas have spent more than $3.2 million lobbying state government since the beginning of last year, according to a review of public records. The broader natural gas industry has been giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign accounts of lawmakers and the governor…The companies and industry groups have donated more than $430,000 to New York candidates and political parties, including over $106,000 to Mr. Cuomo, since the beginning of last year, according to a coming analysis of campaign finance records by Common Cause.

Those who were wondering the motive behind NY Democratic Governor Anthony Cuomo's decision to lift New York's moratorium on fracking now have a better sense for his enthusiasm: campaign cash.

Back in June, I wrote,

Despite the copiously-documented ecological danger inherent in the unconventional drilling process and in the…gas emissions process, as well as the visible anti-fracking sentiment of the people living in the Marcellus Shale region, Cuomo has decided it's 'go time.' Other than in New York City's watershed, inside a watershed used in the city of Syracuse, in underground water sources deemed important in cities and towns, as well on state lands, spanning from parks and wildlife preserves, 85% of the state's lands are now fair game for fracking, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

It is clear that Cuomo did not have science on the top of his priority list when making his decision to lift the moratorium. 

But as any good reporter knows, possibly one of the most crucial tenets of good jouranlism is to follow the money, which is just what the Times and Common Cause did. 

What we are seeing is the concerted application of really a substantial amount of money to try to move public policy into a pro-fracking stance. It is a tremendous amount of pressure on our state government," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause New York, to The New York Times.

Common Cause and The New York Times, then, have shed more light as to why Cuomo decided to make this decision and the light is colored green, the color of money

01:39

Are New York Lawmakers Poised To Throw Upstate Residents Under The Fracking Bus?

Despite last week’s temporary win protecting the Delaware River Basin and its inhabitants from natural gas fracking, the debate rages on in New York State. Lawmakers, industry lobbyists and concerned landowners have debated for over a year about whether or not to open up the state to the Marcellus Shale fracking bonanza.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s stated commitment to vote no in the Delaware River Basin vote was promising, but it is offset by the fact that he has assembled a secretive 18-person “fracking panel” which Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter recently alleged is comprised of many “strongly self-interested and industry-biased” individuals. Some environmental groups are concerned that this panel seems rigged to give the green light to fracking in New York.



At previous public hearings, tensions have already run high with both supporters and opponents lining up hours beforehand to ensure their turn to speak out on this highly contentious issue.



Most of the proponents of gas fracking continue to argue the economic mantra of job creation and domestic energy security, even though multiple reviews have debunked the gas industry’s lofty job projections. Food & Water Watch released a report indicating that many of the jobs created would likely be short-term and favor contract workers from outside the state. Other watchdogs of industry rhetoric, including Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), point out that the industry's rush to export gas from the fracking boom will lead to much higher gas prices for Americans, contradicting the industry's alleged commitment to domestic energy security.

There are also important questions about just how much gas there is underneath New York to warrant such extreme energy development.  After a recalculation of the resource potential of the area, geologists at the U.S. Geological Survey dropped their estimate of the recoverable gas by a quarter. They determined that the amount of reasonably recoverable gas would only meet US demand for four years instead of sixteen.

Residents who had initially accepted gas leases have since voiced their regret, stating that the lease payments from industry weren’t worth the impacts on their land, water and communities.



Meanwhile, citizens concerned about fracking in upstate regions question the fact that Governor Cuomo is adamant about protecting New York City’s watershed, yet he seems dead set on allowing fracking upstate, in effect creating ‘sacrifice’ zones that would imperil water supplies for upstate communities in favor of protecting city residents.


"I resent the fact that the water of New York City and Syracuse is deemed by the DEC to be more important than the rest of the state," State Senator James Seward (R-Milford) told The Daily Star newspaper of Oneonta, NY.



"What's the difference between New York City kids and my kids?" Kim Jastremski of Cooperstown said at one meeting, according to the Wall Street Journal.



Even more discomforting is a page on the DEC’s website attempting to explain “What We Learned From Pennsylvania”. It not only passively admits that mistakes were made in PA, but also seems to loosely translate the problem as, “we screwed up there” but “next time we’ll make it better.”

NYDEC Commissioner Joseph Martens believes that fracking can be undertaken safely in certain areas despite reports questioning the effectiveness of any of the state’s proposed regulations.



Perhaps the Commissioner and Governor should visit the DEC website more often. Ironically, there’s a whole page dedicated to NY State’s watersheds entitled, “We All Live in a Watershed" that shows every inch of the state belonging to some kind of watershed. If that’s the case, and Governor Cuomo actually intends to stand by his word of “keeping fracking out of the watershed,” he should clarify why he’s leaving most of the state’s watersheds vulnerable to contamination from fracking upstate.



Next add NYC Mayor Bloomberg to the mix, whose $50 million donation to the Sierra Club to take on Big Coal is laudable, but some have questioned whether it was, in part, a strategic attempt to gain support for gas extraction by pitting dirty coal against “clean” gas.

“At least natural gas is better than coal!! Do you really want coal?” Mayor Bloomberg said recently, trying to turn this into some kind of false, fossil fuel Sophie’s choice.

It’s true that gas-fired power plants release less carbon dioxide, but that’s only part of the picture. Studies that have attempted to take into account the full life-cycle impact of gas development, including potent methane emissions into the atmosphere during the drilling and transportation phases, indicate that gas may in fact pollute the air much more than coal and oil.

Bloomberg has also referred to natural gas as an “alternative” energy source, attempting to equate this dirty fossil fuel with wind, solar and other renewables. While it is an “alternative” energy in that it is a difference choice from coal, it is still a filthy form of reckless energy that threatens our water, air quality and the global climate.



Many citizens are waking up to the fact that the gas fracking rush is not a true solution to our energy problems. Switching from coal to gas still leaves us addicted to dirty fossil fuels, when the real solution is to focus on transitioning to a truly clean energy future that will create better jobs and safeguard our communities against the pollution threats that all fossil fuels pose.

The fireworks are sure to continue at public hearings this week in Loch Sheldrake and New York City on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively. 



October 13 2011

20:12

Name That Green Space in Queens

New York City invites residents to submit a name for a parking lot in Queens that is being converted into an oasis of wetlands, plantings and nice benches.

September 20 2011

14:06

Can the Paddlefish Sustain Itself?

So far, efforts by Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia to put paddlefish back into the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers have produced underwhelming results.

August 25 2011

14:31

Hurricane Irene, Climate Change, and the Need to Consider Worst Case Scenarios

In May of 2005, a few months before Hurricane Katrina, I wrote an article that nobody noticed. It was entitled “Thinking Big About Hurricanes: It’s Time to Get Serious About Saving New Orleans.” In it, I talked about how devastating a strong hurricane landfall could be to my home city:

In the event of a slow-moving Category 4 or Category 5 hurricane (with winds up to or exceeding 155 miles per hour), it’s possible that only those crow’s nests [of lakefront houses] would remain above the water level. Such a storm, plowing over the lake, could generate a 20-foot surge that would easily overwhelm the levees of New Orleans, which only protect against a hybrid Category 2 or Category 3 storm (with winds up to about 110 miles per hour and a storm surge up to 12 feet). Soon the geographical “bowl” of the Crescent City would fill up with the waters of the lake, leaving those unable to evacuate with little option but to cluster on rooftops—terrain they would have to share with hungry rats, fire ants, nutria, snakes, and perhaps alligators. The water itself would become a festering stew of sewage, gasoline, refinery chemicals, and debris.

Afterwards, the article was passed around furiously and I was hailed for having some sort of deep insight. I didn’t: The danger was staggeringly obvious and I was only channeling what many experts at the time knew.

With all eyes now focused on Hurricane Irene, which threatens a series of U.S. east coast landfalls, it is time to think seriously once again about worst case scenarios—and also, about how global warming could amplify them. And no, I am not saying that Irene threatens to bring about a worst case, that global warming caused Irene, or taking any other silly reductionist position.

Rather, I’m saying that Irene focuses our attention on our serious vulnerability, and we need to seize that moment--because too often our default position is to act like nothing bad is going to happen.

There are several places in the United States, besides New Orleans, where a strong hurricane landfall could be absolutely devastating. These include the Florida Keys, the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area, Tampa Bay/St. Petersburg, and Houston/Galveston. But they also include some east coast locations, and chief among these is New York/Long Island.

This last is currently within the forecast cone for Irene. That’s not saying that the storm portends anything like a worst-case scenario for New York City—it seems likely to be pretty weak by then, forecast tracks often change, etc—but it still could be bad if it goes directly at Manhattan. Simply put, there is a lot of wealth and personal property along that path.

The precise impact of any storm depends upon innumerable factors that cannot be known in advance. This include the storm's size, speed, angle of approach, and much else. So I am not forecasting anything about Irene--I'm just saying it's time to look at worst cases in general.

What's the worst case for New York City, as the world warms and sea levels rise? Here's what I wrote in my 2007 book Storm World:

Even as we act immediately to curtail short term vulnerability, every exposed coastal city needs a risk assessment that takes global warming scenarios into account....Scientists at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York have been studying that city's vulnerability to hurricane impacts in a changing world, and calculated that with 1.5 feet of sea level rise, a worst-case-scenario Category 3 hurricane could submerge "the Rockaways, Coney Island, much of southern Brooklyn and Queens, portions of Long Island City, Astoria, Flushing Meadows-Corona Park, Queens, lower Manhattan, and eastern Staten Island from Great Kills Harbor north to the Verrazano Bridge.” (Pause and think about that for a second.)

We live in a presentist country that rarely pays attention to long term risks or worst case scenarios, until it is too late. That’s what happened to poor New Orleans—and it’s only a matter of time until it happens somewhere else. When it comes to hurricane disasters in particular, rising sea levels make the risk steadily worse over time, whether or not hurricanes themselves get much stronger.

So what are our major coastal cities doing to protect themselves? That’s the question we should all be asking right now.

August 03 2011

18:39

Federal Government Asks Judge To Dismiss New York State Fracking Lawsuit

The U.S. government is asking a federal judge in New York to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the state of New York against the government that was seeking to demand a complete review of the environmental damage caused by hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The federal government claims that New York state does not have the grounds to file a suit as they have “no evidence” of injury and they do not have the authority to sue the federal government.

Sandra Levy, an Assistant U.S. Attorney, wrote to District Judge Nicholas Garaufis, telling him that the suit was barred because the federal government has “sovereign immunity,” and therefore, federal agencies cannot be sued by states.


From a previous DeSmogBlog post detailing the specifics of the lawsuit:

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of New York has filed a lawsuit against the federal government for failing to properly study the effects of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) before granting permits to gas drillers. The lawsuit seeks to stop fracking in the Delaware River Basin until a comprehensive analysis of the dangers is performed by the government.

Schneiderman warned Washington last month that he would file suit if the government didn’t take immediate action to study the effects of fracking. Schneiderman says that federal officials have failed to assess the fracking process properly, and that the environmental protections for the Delaware River Basin have not been evaluated by government officials to determine if they are adequate to address the fracking boom. Independent studies have shown that fracking fluids contain numerous toxic chemicals, and that the potential to contaminate water supplies is enormous.

Currently, standards for the Delaware River Basin would allow as many as 18,000 new gas wells in the coming years, and the majority of these will employ the controversial fracking method. These rules allow companies to create new gas wells without having to adhere to any environmental standards that other industries follow in the area.


In his original complaint, Schneiderman pointed out that hundreds of clean water violations have been reported as a result of the more than 2,000 gas wells that have been drilled in Pennsylvania, and that the state of New York has spent a staggering $1.5 billion to help protect their own water supply from fracking pollution.

The federal government’s request is a horrible blow to American citizens and to the environment, and will set a dangerous precedent for any fracking lawsuits that arise in the future.

July 20 2011

22:22

Electricity Demand Soars in Mid-Atlantic States

Grid operators in the mid-Atlantic region, New York State and New England predict that they can cope with the heat wave.

June 16 2011

22:15

The Case for a Ban on Gas Fracking: Food and Water Watch Report

 

Last month, DeSmogBlog released Fracking the Future, an in-depth report on the threats posed by unconventional gas drilling and the efforts of the gas industry to limit state and federal oversight of the process. A review of independent scientific research showed that under no conditions can unconventional gas drilling be considered safe, nor can the oil and gas industry’s army of PR front groups and apolgists be trusted to give an accurate portrayal of the true risks associated with the fracked gas boom.

The report concluded that current state oversight is inadequate to hold the rapidly growing gas industry accountable and, given the dangers associated with unconventional gas production, an immediate moratorium on hydraulic fracturing is necessary and overdue.

In its new report, the nonprofit Food and Water Watch renewed these claims, calling for a reinstatement of federal statutes like the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act over unconventional drilling and, more forcefully, calling for a nationwide fracking ban. 

Entitled The Case for a Ban on Gas Fracking, the new report details the rapid growth of the risky unconventional gas fracking frenzy gaining momentum across the U.S. In the four-year span from 2004 to 2008, gas wells in America increased by 41 percent, to over 52,000. This steady increase of drilling across the country is accompanied by an unsettling encroachment of gas wells into residential areas. The report cites Pennsylvania as an example, where over 3000 unconventional wells and future well sites sit within two miles of 320 day care centers, 67 schools, and 9 hospitals. <!--break-->

The report finds that despite industry suggestions to the contrary, fracking is inherently dangerous. The opportunity for irreparable damage to drinking water supplies, air quality and human health presents itself at nearly every stage of the process. 

Food and Water Watch catalogues numerous well-documented instances of air pollution, water contamination and negative effects on human health due to fracking operations. Some of the worst dangers are associated with the heavy chemicals used throughout the process and toxic wastewater, which post-fracking is laced with additional toxic contaminants from the underlying rock. The report details how nearly no water treatment facilities can cope with the billions of gallons of wastes produced in the process.

Compounding the hazards associated with fracking are the underfunded, overextended and often industry-friendly state enforcement agencies. Even where existing laws were updated to more effectively reflect the risks associated with unconventional drilling, there is little to indicate that state regulators are prepared to monitor and enforce these laws adequately. 

States stand to profit too much by maintaining the current backslapping culture of industry appeasement. The report draws on the connection between state revenue and insufficient regulation. In Pennsylvania, for example, where $1.1 billion in gas drilling related revenue accrued between 2006 and 2011, officials are twice as likely to issue warnings than impose fines. Officials often have the conflicted responsibility of both fostering and moderating the industry.

Beyond the state level, there is significant pressure to limit federal oversight. Although a growing consensus is rallying for the restoration of federal environmental statutes like the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act over unconventional drilling, little progress has been made on this issue. The report outlines how industry lobbying has steadily increased, combatting measures to protect public health and safety. The fracking moratorium in New York, for example, has caused a surge of lobbying activity, over $1.2 million dollars worth in 2010 alone.

Despite the reticence of lawmakers on the issue, Food and Water Watch lists ten studies and investigations from the last 18 months, each of which point to the dangers associated with fracking, especially to human health, and the inability of officials to capably monitor the process. While officials levied several injunctions against drilling companies, the report notes that because of weak oversight, nearby communities remain vulnerable.

The rush to produce unconventional gas is putting the public at an unacceptable risk, the report concludes. A nationwide ban on fracking is the only measure that can truly secure public air and water against industry contamination.

Read the full report, The Case for a Ban on Gas Fracking

 

June 01 2011

18:10

New York Attorney General Sues Over Lack Of Fracking Studies

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman of New York has filed a lawsuit against the federal government for failing to properly study the effects of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) before granting permits to gas drillers. The lawsuit seeks to stop fracking in the Delaware River Basin until a comprehensive analysis of the dangers is performed by the government.

Schneiderman warned Washington last month that he would file suit if the government didn’t take immediate action to study the effects of fracking. Schneiderman says that federal officials have failed to assess the fracking process properly, and that the environmental protections for the Delaware River Basin have not been evaluated by government officials to determine if they are adequate to address the fracking boom. Independent studies have shown that fracking fluids contain numerous toxic chemicals, and that the potential to contaminate water supplies is enormous.

Currently, standards for the Delaware River Basin would allow as many as 18,000 new gas wells in the coming years, and the majority of these will employ the controversial fracking method. These rules allow companies to create new gas wells without having to adhere to any environmental standards that other industries follow in the area.
<!--break-->
Chesapeake Energy
holds most of these leases, and has claimed that their fracking fluid is 99% sand and water, with “chemical additives” that are virtually harmless because they are also found in “everyday consumer products and cleaners.”

In April of this year, a fracking well operated by Chesapeake Energy in Pennsylvania blew, leaking contaminated water into nearby aquifers.

DeSmogBlog has put together a comprehensive report detailing the dangers of fracking, which includes exclusive interviews, analysis, and data.

April 21 2011

23:43

New Brunswick Energy Commission Recommends Expanding Unconventional Gas Development Despite Fracking Threat To Climate

The New Brunswick Energy Commission released its Public Feedback Document on the province’s 10-year energy policy plan earlier this week. Despite recent public outcry and growing scientific concern about threats to drinking water, health and the global climate posed by fracked unconventional gas, the Energy Commission recommends continuing to develop heavily polluting dirty gas, contradicting both renewable energy and carbon emission reduction goals.

The province’s Premier asked the Energy Commission’s co-Chairs William Thompson and Jeannot Volpé to engage with the public on the province’s energy future beginning in October 2010. Today’s document was developed from more than 1,400 completed surveys submitted online, over 200 public dialogue attendee surveys, more than 60 stakeholder group meetings and some 75 public presentations.

The health risks and environmental degradation (like pollution and overuse of freshwater) that comes with unconventional shale gas extracted through hydraulic fracturing (fracking) are increasingly well known. The Commissioners, regrettably, are still fully supportive of rapidly expanding this dirty gas drilling boom as an economic asset and development tool, stating:<!--break-->

Because of its competitive cost, availability, and low environmental impact, natural gas should be considered the key transition fuel as we move from using other traditional fuels toward more renewable energy sources. Natural gas should be promoted to increase its use by consumers.

Unconventional gas extraction and use is promoted by the government as an economic silver bullet, and national and international oil and gas companies are already jumping into the province feet first, betting that this gas rush will deliver massive profits for years to come.

But how “clean” is this gas really? How can the N.B. government talk about the “low environmental impact” of unconventional gas when nearly everyday we learn more about how dirty and unsafe fracked gas truly is?

New Brunswick is emerging as a key battleground since it is believed to hold North America’s largest shale gas reserves [PDF]. Moreover, New Brunswick may also connect the Maritimes and Northeast Pipelines with the TransCanada Pipeline in Québec, growing gas exports to other provinces and to the U.S. in regular, compressed and liquid forms.

The Commissioners also recommend, in contrast with the call for shale gas expansion, expanding regional environmental protections, establishing targets for addressing climate change, and expanding renewable energies like solar, wind and tidal power. Achieving these goals will become much more difficult as more government support and public resources are devoted to unconventional gas exploitation.

According to the report, the public remains concerned over the lack of factual information around their energy options and how their energy decisions may have global impacts. Shale gas is methane intensive, a much more potent global warming gas than carbon dioxide, and therefore its exploitation in New Brunswick is expected to worsen global warming.  This would counteract the province’s efforts to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions from other sources.

Raphael Shay, Climate and Energy Coordinator at Conservation Council of New Brunswick (CCNB Action), points out that the province must review the climate implications of an unconventional gas boom before expanding gas drilling.

“As we have seen from the floods, storm surges and rising costs of food, New Brunswick is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change…”

“We cannot afford to brush this issue under the rug. Our emission targets are already extremely low compared to what scientists are recommending. It is urgent that the Minister have her staff analyse the impact shale gas development will have on our climate targets as industry resumes its exploration activities this Spring.”

New Brunswick decision-makers should expand renewable energy use, bolsters climate pollution reduction targets, and follow the lead of their counterparts in putting the brakes on dirty gas fracking.

Opposition to unconventional gas drilling, particularly the fracking method, is growing across North America. In Québec, the public has turned against the gas industry, and fracking bans have been passed in Maryland and proposed in New Jersey. Additionally, a permanent ban was proposed last week in New York.

There is a public protest against dirty gas set for April 27th, 2011, in Rogersville, New Brunswick, at an open house organized by U.S. oil and gas conglomerate Southwestern Energy Co. (a.k.a. SWN Resources in Canada).

Additional feedback may be submitted by e-mail to the New Brunswick Energy Commission at energycommission@gnb.ca, until May 6. As well, public input on any of the initial 49 recommendations included in the Public Feedback Document, and particularly gas resources, may be submitted here.

Read the New Brunswick Energy Commission’s Public Feedback Document in English [PDF] and French [PDF].

April 01 2011

22:26

As E-Waste Law Kicks In, the Ideal Option Varies

Mail-backs and visits to individual retailers to dispose of electronics can be limpractical for city dwellers.
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