Dear Governor Cuomo

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I sent this letter to New York Governor Cuomo today on the election and shale drilling and equal protection and climate change and science and more.  I know it is overly long – although I could have written much, much more – but I am proud that I managed to get this done before the election, despite the disruption that recent family health issues have caused. I decided to write this today, even though I have 385 email messages to view, so apologies to anyone awaiting a personal email.
JC

Dear Governor Cuomo,

The election is eight days from today, but I do not think I will be able to vote for you because you are not doing enough to protect the health and safety of all New Yorkers equally.

I live in Vestal and I and my Southern Tier neighbors are at risk from the health and environmental impacts of shale gas production, processing, transport, and waste disposal, a risk from which you have not protected us.

Some of the impacts that have already occurred are road damage in Vestal from the overweight trucks transporting drilling supplies to sites in Pennsylvania, inability to get mortgages on leased land, crime associated with gas industry workers staying on the NY side of the border, leaking pipelines, increased truck traffic, light and noise pollution, airborne silica sand along rail lines and during trucking transfers, and an explosion at a Windsor compressor station.

Other impacts are probable but not being tested, such as degradation in air quality.  Some impacts are obscured by the lack of tracking of the fossil fuel industry.  For example, waste products are shipped by truck without the exact composition being known, so that if they are disposed of at a landfill the effects on the leachate are unknowable.  Given that some of this leachate is treated in Endicott, this is a local concern as well as a regional one.  Meanwhile, it is still legal to spread drilling wastewater on roadways in New York, despite the fact that we know that Marcellus wastewater is often high in radium, which is a radioactive, toxic element known to bio-accumulate and cause serious health problems, including cancer.

Other impacts are, of course, global in scope.  The latest readings of atmospheric carbon dioxide are at record highs and we know that humans burning fossil fuels have been the driving force in that.  Also, the atmospheric methane level is at a record high.  Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, 86 times more potent in a twenty year timeframe. After a long period of stability, atmospheric methane levels began rising in 2007, coinciding with “shale boom.”  Several new scientific studies say that replacing coal or diesel fuel with fossil methane will not help our climate situation.  Shale development will not cut the risk of the next record flood here in Vestal or the next superstorm roaring up the Atlantic coast.

I have been trying to follow the DEC’s SGEIS and regulatory process for years now.  I say “trying” because the process itself is obscure.  Besides the obvious problem of the Minerals division trying to promote fossil fuel production while also trying to regulate it, there is the larger problem that the DEC’s work has been hidden from the public for years now. Because there has been a large number of independent, peer-reviewed scientific research studies published in the last two years, the last publicly available draft of the SGEIS is totally outdated, but we have no idea whether or not the DEC has been continuing to update the SGEIS as these new scientific studies and data from other states who are drilling have become available.

The obscurity of the process has been compounded by the DOH “review” of the the health findings of the DEC’s work.  Although this has been referred to as a study, it is not.  A real health study would follow the national/international guidelines of a health impact assessment (HIA) and would be conducted as a clearly defined, public process. It would consider health impacts on different groups of people, such as children, the elderly, and pregnant women/infants. It would look at the interplay of exposures to many different substances and the interactions among them. It would look at impacts for those in close proximity to wells and related infrastructure and those further away, including air quality, possible food and water exposures, and climate impacts.  It would also consider socioeconomic changes, such as rates of crime and homelessness, property value, cost of living, stresses on community services, and gains and losses in different job categories.

The economic section of the draft SGEIS is particularly outdated and unrealistic, having been built on what we now know are totally impossible expectations, that the industry could get economically viable amounts of gas anywhere in the Marcellus and Utica.  The price of methane is so low that it is unlikely anywhere in New York can presently produce shale gas economically, with the danger that small companies would take that risk using borrowed money and leave behind wells that cause pollution that the state would need to clean up when the company goes bankrupt.  New York already has thousands of leaking, abandoned wells awaiting proper plugging; we should not compound the problem with even limited amounts of shale drilling.

Governor, you say over and over that the science must decide, but that you are not a scientist. You say that scientists disagree.  The actuality is that industry-funded science is presented and used in a way that makes it seem that shale drilling is safe, while independent science presents data and possible explanations for that data which show that there are environmental and health impacts occuring. A recent example of this is the media coverage of a recent federal Department of Energy study of a single PA deep shale well for eighteen months, which showed that fracking chemicals had not reached an aquifer 3,000 feet distant, which is being touted as “proof” that “fracking” doesn’t pollute water.  Meanwhile, a PNAS study of the official DEP records of PA wells drilled from 2000-12 which covers tens of thousands of wells and their failure rates (Abstract here: http://psehealthyenergy.org/site/view/1217 with link to full report) shows that leakage rates for new shale wells in Northeastern PA are significantly higher than those for conventional wells and for shale wells drilled in the rest of the state. Leaking wells equals methane migration into groundwater, soils, and/or through faults, wellbores, or cracks equals pollution of the water, land, air, and atmosphere. The fact that NE PA is particularly vulnerable to leaking shale wells is disturbing for those of us in the border area of New York as the Marcellus geology here is similar. Yet this much larger study is not getting the press attention of the DOE study which is much less helpful in assessing the situation in New York.

The situation is sadly reminiscent of the doctors and scientists in the employ of the tobacco industry who swore to Congress that smoking did not cause cancer, while independent doctors and scientists were raising public health alarms not only about smokers’ health but also about those exposed to second-hand smoke or in utero tobacco exposure.

For you or any governor to authorize shale gas drilling in the Southern Tier would be like deciding to lift the smoking ban here while continuing to protect other parts of the state.  Our health and well-being here in Vestal is every bit as important as your health in Albany or the health of my sister in NYC or my daughter at ESF in Syracuse.  With the current scientific literature, there is no way that the DEC and DOH can say that unconventional shale gas drilling and its attendant processes are safe. We in the Southern Tier are due protection from its risks equal to those in other regions.

Your television ads tout “Next-Gen energy” here in Broome County and we are justifiably proud of that. Do not compromise that pride by also saddling us with the outmoded 19th and 20th century fossil fuel dependence that is worsening global warming. It’s time to back up your rhetoric after Sandy about combating climate change with action.  NO to new fossil fuel development and infrastructure!  YES to renewable energy, clean energy storage, and energy efficiency initiatives!  YES to equal health and environmental protection for everyone!

Sincerely,
Joanne Corey

On being a NY fracktivist

My sign - side one
My sign – side one

I spend a fair, some might say inordinate, amount of time on the fight to keep fracking out of New York State and to limit and end its use elsewhere. I frequently write comments on articles about it, a small fraction of which I share here at Top of JC’s Mind or on Facebook.  (For those who don’t know, fracking is the shorthand name for a process that extracts liquid and gaseous hydrocarbons from rock by using a mix of water, sand, and chemicals at extremely high pressure to fracture the rock.  Tons of information about environmental and health effects are available here: http://concernedhealthny.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/CHPNY-Fracking-Compendium.pdf )

I also attend events, rallies, and meetings when I can.  Fracktivists (or fractivists, a spelling I don’t use as often because people sometimes glance at it and read it as fascists, which takes their mind in a totally wrong direction) in New York have taken to showing up with signs asking for a ban on fracking whenever Governor Cuomo appears in public, usually on his way to an event that has restricted access.  This bird-dogging, as it is called, has become even more important in the run-up to the November election.

While Cuomo claimed that, as governor, he would keep an open public calendar, he has taken to keeping his schedule secret until the last possible moment. Thus, it wasn’t until late Wednesday evening that we got word that the governor would be arriving at Binghamton University at 11:00 AM Thursday.  Isaac, our intrepid community organizer – did you know that community organizers can become president some day? – quickly got the word out and about twenty of us showed up, signs in hand, to greet the governor’s motorcade and chant “Ban Fracking Now!”

As important as it is for Cuomo to see us wherever he goes, it is equally important that members of the press talk to us.  We had three television stations, public broadcasting radio, and the local newspaper taking interviews.  We were happy that Dr. Sandra Steingraber was among our number that day.  She is a biologist and public health expert who is currently at Ithaca College, a nationally and internationally known expert in toxic impacts of industrial pollution who is spending the lion’s share of her time and effort these days in the fight against fracking.  All the media outlets interviewed her.  Here is a sample of coverage that we received:  http://www.binghamtonhomepage.com/story/d/story/fractivists-protest-gov-cuomos-visit/34621/XNJzJy-Dkk-O7Wrr4WZOig.

We have been at this for several years and may be at it for several more.  It’s tough to fight an industry that spreads its huge wealth around to politicians to keep our country using polluting, climate-killing fossil fuels, but we have to keep fighting because it is so important to our present and future.

My sign - side two
My sign – side two

Groundswell Rising LTE

Below is a follow-up letter to the editor of the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin based on this blog post.

The link to the letter to the editor itself is:  http://www.pressconnects.com/article/20140406/VIEWPOINTS03/304060005/Letter-Documentary-shows-results-fracking, but I have printed it below to keep people from getting tangled up in the subscription process for the paper.

I am assiduously avoiding looking at the comments, as I know a few locals will tear into anything I write, so I am sparing myself the aggravation.

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With over 70 other local residents, I recently watched “Groundswell Rising,” a new documentary on the effects of the fracking industry on individuals and communities and their response to it. Much of the film focuses on Pennsylvania, showing the noise, light, air and water pollution — and the health problems many have experienced as a result.

The most powerful segments show ordinary folks telling stories of how their lives have been changed by the industry moving into their backyards. These stories, along with a growing body of science, obligate Gov. Andrew Cuomo to stand up to the gas industry and protect New Yorkers.

Even though the people already affected will never be able to regain what they have lost, they have banded together to become the “groundswell rising,” fighting for their own health, their right to clean air and water, and their communities and ours.

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PS  I hate writing with a 150 word limit. 😉

This week in NYS IBM news

On Monday, Governor Cuomo lauded IBM for keeping 3,100 jobs in the Hudson Valley and adding 500 in Buffalo. On Thursday, IBM carried out yet another round of lay-offs in the US, including Poughkeepsie and Endicott NY. No speeches from the Governor on that.

Endicott, the birthplace of IBM, is just across the Susquehanna from me. In a perverse twist on decimation, IBM now employs less than 10% of the people it once did in Endicott. Decimation would be knocking out every tenth person; instead, IBM has knocked out nine, (usually) keeping the tenth.

It’s happened over time. Sometimes, IBM sold a division to another company. The workers get transferred to the other company, but their employment there doesn’t tend to last very long because the new company wants the contracts, not the experienced workers whom they deem too expensive. Other times, IBM off-shored the jobs. It adds insult to injury to have your last weeks of work spent trying to train a new grad in India to do the job for which you spent years developing your skills. In recent years, it seems to be that corporate America’s answer to everything is to cut costs to drive up the earnings per share, regardless of what this does to your ability to deliver quality products on time. There are only so many cuts you can make before you run into difficulties with not having enough skilled people to complete the job, even though the remaining workers do lots of (unpaid) overtime.

In Endicott, the situation is exacerbated by the fact that IBM has not done much hiring here in the past 20+ years. Most of the cuts now involve workers with over thirty years of experience, who wind up being bridged into retirement. What goes with them are critical skills and knowledge base which haven’t been able to be transferred to younger workers because there aren’t many around.

IBM’s mantra for decades was THINK. The corporate leaders seem to have forgotten that. IBM made its name because it was loyal to its workers and they were loyal to IBM. IBM invested in their training and well-being and the employees innovated, obtained record number of patents, and made great products. IBM on a corporate level is making itself into just another company chasing some number for the next quarter and not thinking about the long-term future for themselves, their employees, the communities, and their customers. Will they remember their heritage before it is too late?