Lesson (re)learned

I am a member of the New Yorkers Against Fracking online rapid response team, as well as being on several other list-servs on the topic of high-volume hydraulic fracturing. My main mode of service to the cause is through commenting on articles and blogs, often using links to scientific findings to fight misinformation.

The topic is very contentious, both in my local area, unfracked Broome County NY along the fracked PA border, and inter/nationally. Especially in our local press comments, I am frequently accused of fear-mongering, or called a liar or stupid or similar, or asked personal questions in a hostile manner. I do not name-call in return, but often defend myself with documenting links to the facts that back up my commenting. I will not answer personal questions, which sometimes leads to badgering. I try not to let it bother me, but it does, especially when the commenter is local, as I use my real name and photo so these people could recognize me when I am out at a rally and several of them have a track record of harassing fracktivists in public.

Earlier this week, I spent way too much time in a back and forth commenting battle with someone who decided to branch out from my support of a local PA woman who leads citizen tours of local wellpads, compressor stations, and affected households to making all kinds of assumptions/accusations about my support of every other thought this woman has ever expressed. I patiently tried to explain that this woman had not been accused of any wrongdoing and I was not going to condemn her – which really set him off and led to a string of his questioning my judgment and my own values. It got ugly quickly and he was throwing around Hitler and cannibalism and child molestation, among other unsavory topics. And all these comments were landing in my inbox because they were through disqus. I realized I had to disengage and I wrote to the online publication in which the article appeared, asking them to remove my original comment and the string of replies. Then, I posted to my Facebook timeline about it to help calm down and my friends came to the rescue to support me. It’s now several days later and the comments have stopped, although I haven’t checked to see if our commenting has been deleted from the site. I’m still feeling a bit insecure because, while I know this person lives in my area, I’m not sure who it is, as he wasn’t using his real name. It’s known that several of the very vocal drilling proponents comment under multiple names, so it could very well be someone that I have seen disrupting local press conferences and rallies.

So now I am trying to get my equilibrium back with my commenting and trying to find the line between clearing up misinterpretations and “feeding the trolls.” It really bugs me not to clear up unfounded accusations, half-truths, and lies; I know that I won’t convince the person lobbing the attacks, but I want other readers to have access to accurate information. But I need a rest for now. I am continuing to comment, but not responding to replies. I’m actually trying not to even look at replies, by not posting to Facebook – which is the responding mechanism for Gannett papers, supposedly to keep things civil – or subscribing to follow posts. I should probably update my disqus preferences so that I don’t get emails from replies from them, either.

I’ll go this way for a while, or maybe permanently, if I have really (re)learned my lesson.

 

Global Frackdown

I attended the Binghamton event for Global Frackdown yesterday. It was a great local event, one of 22 in New York State, which was the most of any state and more than any other country. We had a few gas supporters there, but I chose not to strike up a conversation with them. One disadvantage of our local paper using Facebook as a comment platform is that my name and face could be recognized by some of the people who are nasty to me online; I had my daughter with me and was not in the mood to have her exposed to someone trashtalking her mother. I was particularly upset that the pro-frackers chose to start using a bullhorn/siren to disrupt the first young, female college student who spoke, rather than the three men who spoke before her.

As part of the run-up to Global Frackdown day, I had written a brief comment to this piece on the Huffington Post:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-ruffalo/global-frackdown_b_4121582.html. I have been having an exchange with another commenter. Below is his comment and an extended version of my reply. (I had to break it in two and edit it to fit HuffPo’s word count.)

Feynmanscat:  They had a about 100 people. They also had supporters in that group. How does Oil & Gas affect people in Binghamton?

Me:  There were a handful of drilling supporters there, who tried to disrupt the speakers with a bullhorn, which wasn’t too swift of them, given that the mayor of Binghamton was there, so police arrived quickly. Permits were granted for the Global Frackdown event, and, while all were welcome to attend with their signs, none are allowed to disrupt a permitted event.

The effects in the Binghamton area are more from gas development than oil; given our geography, there is little oil or even natural gas liquids in our rock strata. There are some conventional gas wells in our area and significant gas infrastructure, including the Millennium pipeline, which, even though it is new, has had problems with faulty welds and leaks. Our county borders PA, where high volume horizontal hydrofracking is underway. The current impacts include increased truck traffic; transport and disposal of drill cuttings in NY landfills, some of which exceed the allowed amount of radioactivity for conventional landfill disposal; transport and treatment of wastewater, which also needs special handling; increased air pollution; and tensions within the community between those who favor opening NY to HVHF and those who do not.

Potential areas of concern include the hash that the NYSDEC has made of the environmental impact statement process for HVHF, including the current problems with the secretive health review that was belatedly thrown at DOH Commissioner Shah; the compulsory integration statute that would force unwilling landowners to allow drilling under their land if only 60% of a 640-acre spacing unit is leased; the status of local bans, moratoria, and zoning regulations; pipeline and compressor stations build-out, including the extensive use of eminent domain for the profit of private companies rather than for public works; the possible permitting of LNG facilities; the possibility that the current moratorium on HVHF would be lifted and expose our communities to negative environmental, health, and social impacts; and the risks of global climate change, particularly the increase in flooding danger, as we have suffered two historic floods in our area in 2006 and 2011, from which we are still recovering.

Letter to President Obama

As predicted, things got hectic, but I have been wanting to share the following letter that I sent to President Obama after his visit to Binghamton University to talk about higher education. Of course, we fracktivists took the opportunity to talk about the perils of unconventional fossil fuel development. We rallied on campus, had speakers, and held signs and chanted as the presidential motorcade passed. Because we did not have a forum to meet the president directly, I wrote a letter after the event. I realize the president won’t see it, but hope it will get be another addition to the growing file of opposition to fossil fuels, especially unconventional ones.

August 26, 2013

Dear President Obama,

I am very pleased that you came to visit my hometown, Vestal, New York, home to Binghamton University, on Friday to discuss the affordability and quality of higher education. You and I are the same age and we each have two wonderful daughters.  Another thing you, Michelle, and I have in common is that we all were lifted up and set on a service-oriented path for our adult lives by outstanding opportunities at institutions of higher learning. Obviously, the particulars of our journeys are very different; I went from the tiny town of Monroe Bridge, Massachusetts to Smith College. However, for us and countless others, the critical and creative thinking that is fostered by college/university education has been the basis for many important decisions in both private and public life.

One of the things I most appreciated about attending a liberal arts institution was the encouragement to study many subjects outside one’s major. One of my favorite departments at Smith was the geology department, in which I studied basic geology, environmental science, and meteorology and climatology. I studied those subjects because of personal interest, but, in recent years, that background has been important in my role as an engaged citizen and social justice advocate.

I was one of hundreds of New Yorkers who greeted your motorcade on the Binghamton University campus with signs asking you to ban high volume hydraulic fracturing for fossil fuels, “fracking” for short. One side of my sign pictured a traffic light with the caption, “Stop fracking. Go green energy.” I know you have called for the elimination of tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel companies for a long time and share your disappointment that they have not yet been enacted. I also know that you consider fracked methane to be a less damaging bridge fuel to the renewable energy future. I disagree on a number of grounds, but will only address climate change here.  

As you may know, if more than 3.2% of methane produced escapes into the atmosphere, methane becomes worse for the climate than coal when burned to produce electricity. Recent scientific studies show high rates of leakage from gas drilling basins. For example, this study by NOAA/CIREShttp://cires.colorado.edu/news/press/2013/methaneleaks.html shows leakage just from the drilling and immediate production in the Uintah basin in Utah at 6+%. Recent and ongoing studies have detected thousands of methane leaks from the distribution systems under the streets of Boston, Manhattan, and Washington DC. A recent report completed for Sen. Markey shows that consumers are being charged for the methane lost to leakage: http://www.markey.senate.gov/documents/markey_lost_gas_report.pdf  Methane is lost through venting and flaring, the most egregious current example being the massive venting and flaring in conjunction with Bakken shale oil drilling in North Dakota and Montana. There are also leaks in transmission lines and from gas processing and transmission activities such as compressor stations. Three examples from my own area:  1) The Millennium Pipeline was cited for methane leakage and faulty welds in 2011 even though it had only been in operation since 2009.  2) An explosion occurred at a Windsor NY compressor station on July 23, 2012 when lightning hit a vent stack and ignited methane being vented. This venting of methane was described as part of normal operations.  3) We smelled gas in the street near our Vestal home and had a patch of grass near the curb die. NYSEG confirmed a methane leak but said the wait to fix it would be months. It became an emergency situation one night during a heavy rainstorm when the methane leaking underground began to follow the lines into the basements of two of our neighbors’ homes.  Over a year, and several other emergency repairs later, the lines in the street and into our homes were finally replaced, along with some of our meters. Months later, we had an energy audit performed, which detected a leak in the fitting of our new outdoor meter. I realize these personal stories are anecdotal, but they illustrate that methane leakage is common in the distribution system and that the industry does not deem these leaks particularly important to quickly repair or to prevent from occurring in the first place.

Current evidence makes it impossible to believe the industry’s contention that only 1% leakage is occurring. Rather, it seems that the current increase in unconventional fossil fuel production, particularly of methane, is causing damaging amount of methane emissions, especially given the potency of methane as a greenhouse gas in the critical twenty year timeframe, during which we are attempting to keep atmospheric carbon below 450 ppm and total global warming below two degrees Celsius.

To achieve this goal, international climate scientists agree that the world can burn less than a third of the known conventional reserves of fossil fuel. Given that, it makes the most sense to leave unconventional fossil fuel carbon safely sequestered underground. That would mean no further development of mountain top removal coal, shale oil/gas, tar sands, coal bed methane, off-shore Arctic drilling, etc. and using a third of the remaining conventional reserves as a transitional fuel source as we move quickly to a renewable energy world.

The flip side of my sign dealt with our local role in that transition. It read,  “Binghamton U:  Proud Home to Solar Lab and SmartEnergy. Not Fracking!”  The existing Solar Lab has developed a thin-film solar cell that does not use any rare earth elements. The SmartEnergy Center is currently being built as part of the SUNY 2020 initiative and will conduct research in green energy production, efficiency, and storage technologies. Meanwhile, in the City of Binghamton, a High Tech Incubator project is underway. We hope that some of the research from the University will be used to start new companies to produce renewable energy products for New York, the United States, and the world. Broome County, the birthplace of Link Flight Simulation and IBM, has a long history of innovation and we hope to carry that legacy forward into the 21st century green economy. I also hope that we can convince Governor Cuomo to make New York a leader in renewable energy by adopting a plan such as this: http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/NewYorkWWSEnPolicy.pdf.

I truly appreciate how much you have already done to move our country toward greater energy efficiency and renewable energy production through the many green initiatives that grew out of the stimulus plan, the new CAFE mileage standards, the incoming regulations on power plant carbon emissions, the White House solar array installation, and others. I also appreciate you using the power of the presidency to bring the issue of climate change to the fore in national attention. I do, however, feel that the fossil fuel indsutry and the scientists they fund have misled you on the place of unconventional fossil fuels in the transition to the clean energy economy. I hope that you and your administration will consult with independent scientists to reassess the role of fracking and other unconventional fossil fuel extraction and, instead of “all of the above,” choose “go all in” for renewables.

Very truly yours,

Joanne Corey

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