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

Slow recovery

Nearly every night on the news, there is coverage of devastation in some US state due to flood, wildfire, mudslide, tornado, hurricane, or ice/snowstorm. Solemn footage of some reporter surrounded by a tangle of building debris or downed trees and powerlines. If the disaster is widespread enough, the coverage may even go on for a couple of weeks. Invariably, though, the reporters and national attention move on to the next disaster scene, masking the truth that recovery, if possible, takes months or years.

I drove today though one of the neighborhoods in my town which was most severely affected in the September 2011 flood of the Susquehanna and its tributaries in the Southern Tier of New York. We had received ten inches of rain when the remnants of tropical storm Lee fell on ground already saturated by the fringe of hurricane Irene days before. First, there was flash flooding of the creeks, followed by record flooding of the Susquehanna. Some photos we took are here:

  https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2019747698814.2103178.1397554070&type=1&l=f4365bbc43

 https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.2016067046800.2103029.1397554070&type=1&l=3df89ce2ba

You won’t see any of the neighborhood pictures here because it was cordoned off. Not even residents were allowed in for days. Even after the river had receded and water had been pumped out of houses and basements, storm water and sewage from the broken infrastructure system flowed into the basements, re-filling them. Some houses had to be pumped out four or five times.

Some houses were condemned. Some were repairable, but homeowners, many who had lived in their homes for decades, weren’t able to withstand the stress of rebuilding and worrying if it would happen again. A few properties were abandoned, while others were sold to speculators for pennies on the dollar. Some people were able to repair their homes with the help of federal flood insurance, while others relied on non-profits, friends, relatives, and savings to rebuild. Other homes were put on the market, some in a livable state and some not, but buyers were hard to come by.

There had initially been a tussle in Washington over funding FEMA’s response to Irene/Lee, but that was resolved. New York’s state government was very little help to us.

It wasn’t until the federal funding battle after Superstorm Sandy that New York State went to bat for us so that our area finally was able to get buyouts for some of our damaged properties, getting partial compensation to property owners and funds for the towns to tear down the houses and convert them to green space. It was too late for many of the affected homeowners, but it has helped some, and transformed the neighborhood into what I saw today.

The street is a patchwork of occupied houses with tidy lawns next to homes for sale – some repaired and some, surrounded by tall grass and overgrown shrubs, still in their flood-damaged state – next to lots where houses were recently leveled, covered in straw to protect grass seed, next to  larger-than-expected expanses of lawn where the demolitions were long enough ago  for the grass to have grown in. The nursing home that flooded is still sitting empty; they are building a new home in another part of town.

It still saddens me every time I drive through. For the neighborhood, nearly three years later, recovery continues, but it will never be complete.

 

Buffalo News fracking story comment

We are watching a recording of the Eurovision competition, so I decided to write a fracking comment on this:  http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/environment/a-border-tale-of-boom-and-bust-20140510

I live in Broome County in a town that borders PA. This article is misleading on a number of fronts, a few of which I will point out.

First, the PA counties are much more sparsely populated than the NY counties. Even if NY permitted HVHF, the number of jobs gained would be a drop in the bucket in terms of unemployment rate and might be offset by jobs lost in other sectors, such as tourism. The population density also would cut down how many wells could be drilled because there would need to be a lot of setbacks from homes, businesses, water sources, etc. In Broome County, the only part of the county that might be viable as methane prices rise is the southern part, which also has the highest population density and is served by a sole source aquifer.

Norse did not go bankrupt because of failed Marcellus leases. Most of its leases were for the Utica and other non-shale formations.It was engaged in vertically fracked wells and conventional wells; it just wasn’t very successful at it.  http://www.cedclaw.org/news/norse-energy-whats-happening . Also, remember that vertical fractured wells in the Marcellus could have been drilled. A company could even have applied for a horizontal well if it had completed a site-specific environmental impact statement at its own expense, as other kinds of companies do for their projects.

Because I live on the PA border, I’ve seen the impacts on PA neighbors. For people who have lost their water wells, who have been driven out of their homes due to health impacts, whose homes have lost value due to noise and other kinds of pollution, who have been unable to re-finance mortgages or sell their homes because banks won’t take the risk of drilling operations to the property value, who have seen their royalty payments drop by 50, 70, even 90% due to companies’ deducting large amounts for expenses, discovering that mechanic’s liens have been placed against their deeds because drilling companies failed to pay their sub-contractors, who were victims of the increased traffic accidents, especially with industry trucks, who were victims of the increase in crime, including sexual assault, who lost their long-time rental home when the rents tripled – no statistics on job growth can make up for the losses they have suffered. I don’t want those stories repeated in my New York community.

Comment on Forbes fracking piece

Re-posting a comment I made to this Forbes piece:  www.forbes.com/sites/lorensteffy/2013/11/29/new-yorks-fracking-hypocrisy-underscores-energy-illiteracy/?fb_action_ids=10201093779532116&fb_action_types=forbessocial%3Acomment&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582

It’s a lot more complicated than Mr. Steffy lets on in this piece. I live in the Southern Tier of NY right along the PA border and know that the vast majority of the Marcellus and the Utica in NY is too shallow, too thin, and/or thermally overmature to drill with the current prices for methane. (For more information, view the recordings of a recent panel at Cornell: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJ4sBXNT-ETp0aZilXGWBikMJgNoTeW2K ) Most of the drilling now is in wet gas areas, as the liquid hydrocarbons are drawing higher prices than the dry gas (methane), which is what is in NY and northern tier PA.

Many rural folks who have wells nearby do not benefit from the methane. Most of their homes do not use natural gas and are not on distribution lines for it. The low price of methane does not benefit them but it does drive down any royalties they may get.

NYC folks who are converting to natural gas heat instead of oil are benefitting by lowered costs at the moment, although if large-scale LNG exports begin, domestic prices are sure to rise.

Meanwhile, both rural and urban folks are suffering the effects of climate change, which is caused by ALL fossil fuels. Unconventional fossil fuel extraction, processing, transport, and use are all implicated in methane emissions, which adds to the carbon footprint.

Instead of building out all the infrastructure needed to support unconventional fossil fuel drilling and use, we should build renewable energy infrastructure. It is technologically possible to go to renewable sources without a fracking “bridge”. Read more about a plan to do this in NY and elsewhere here: http://thesolutionsproject.org/

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.