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.

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