But the Sunoco controversy comes as statewide attitudes seem to be shifting against Corbett: The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down Act 13’s local zoning controls in December, and the governor now faces bipartisan calls to close a massive budget deficit in part by extracting more from gas producers through a new, higher tax on the value of their gas.
The fight against extreme energy extraction, now ongoing in hundreds of communities across the United States and the world, expanded to include another significant victory on Monday night in the town of South Portland, Maine. Townspeople and Maine environmental groups organized a “relentless 18-month campaign,” as the Los Angeles Times put it, resulting in a near-unanimous City Council vote (6-1) passing a Clear Skies Ordinance preventing the export of crude oil from South Portland’s waterfront.
The new Maine victory follows upon the use of tactics as diverse as tree-sits, nonviolent direct action blockades, massive marches on Washington, and even a blockade of the Douglas Channel in British Columbia made of yarn knit by members of the indigenous Gitga’at Nation. In particular, activists from Texas to Maine, from Nebraska to British Columbia, are expanding their tactical toolkit — now including this old-fashioned community organizing win — in campaigns to stop pipelines from exporting dirty, climate-destroying oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada.
In “Maine Town Fights Plan to Use Pipeline to Export Oil Sands Crude,” the Los Angeles Times captured the significance of the Maine battlefront, and the atmosphere in South Portland, right before Monday night’s vote:
Tom Blake, like thousands of his neighbors in this coastal town, is used to living alongside the oil industry. Tank farms cluster in neighborhoods, by the park where families watch the movie “Frozen” on a summer night, next to schools and senior citizens apartment buildings. As a child, Blake, the town’s former mayor, used to jump into high snow drifts from the massive oil tank next door.
Now, after decades as a New England hub for importing crude oil and distributing fuel, South Portland is enmeshed in a dispute with the oil industry that echoes far beyond southern Maine.
On Monday night, the South Portland City Council, including Blake, is expected to pass an ordinance that would prevent the export of crude oil from the waterfront. The product of a relentless 18-month campaign by residents and Maine environmental groups, the measure is a response to plans by Portland-Montreal Pipe Line, or PMPL, to reverse the flow of its import pipeline in order to export oil sands crude from Canada, the same petroleum that would run through the controversial Keystone XL pipeline in the Great Plains.
“This isn’t an anti-Portland pipeline company measure,” Blake said. “It’s anti-dirty oil.”
Maine State Representative Diane Russell (D- Portland) sent an email to Moveon members describing the victory, framing it as “one hell of a punch,” but warning that the struggle isn’t over.
Protecting Our Waters is publishing Rep. Russell’s email in full below, for several reasons. First, because the South Portland victory is a critical one in the particular fight against tar sands oil extraction. Second, because a victory against a new fossil fuel export pipeline anywhere is a victory — and a model — for fights against fossil fuel export pipelines everywhere. Third, because the South Portland City Council vote increases the positive cumulative impact of the current string of wins against extreme energy extraction, from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision overturning the core of Act 13, to the New York high court upholding the Dryden and Middlefield fracking bans. Finally, amidst the sheer effort of it all, one of the best antidotes to burnout is to fully observe, understand, and celebrate every victory along the way. So here is Rep. Russell’s summary:
Last night, a small Maine town delivered one hell of a punch to people who support transporting Tar Sands oil from Canada. Let me give you a little history on this remarkable victory.
I live right on Casco Bay, a beautiful ocean vista, home to a vibrant working waterfront. The Fore River empties into the bay and provides the deepest port on the East Coast, meaning ships and freighters routinely deliver or pick up goods. South Portland sits on the other side of the Fore River, just across the bridge. In addition to having its own vibrant working waterfront, South Portland is the end point to a gas pipeline that currently sends crude oil north to Canada. People are concerned that one day, that pipeline will be reversed and Tar Sands oil will be transported South, endangering our air quality and Casco Bay.
It’s important to know that South Portland is essential if crude oil ever is to be piped to the East Coast as it’s the exit to the only pipeline coming from Canada on the East Coast. And, the East Coast is by far the highest population density. The very fact that so much money was spent on this otherwise minor, small town referendum, demonstrates just how essential it is to access that pipeline, and just how real concerns are that the direction of the pipeline could be reversed.
Last year, citizens collected petitions to place an ordinance on the ballot. Although there are currently NO plans to reverse the course of the pipeline, this small ordinance referendum in a small coastal town found itself at the heart of the Tar Sands battle. In fact, more than $600,000 was spent on the election. Environmentally sensitive voters lost that referendum by a very slim margin. Immediately after the election last November, the City Council placed a one-year moratorium on importing Canadian crude oil while it studied the matter.
Last night, after months of testimony and work, hundreds of people showed up to a City Council hearing in support of the new proposed Clear Skies Ordinance. The effort was worth it because the City Council voted 6-1 in support of zoning changes that will block the potential export of Canadian crude oil through their end of the pipeline. This was a huge victory, and demonstrates clearly the power of individuals who stand up for the safety of their town.
The fight’s not over; industry representatives are already planning to collect signatures to repeal the City Council decision, but for now environmentally concerned people have won a remarkable victory.
Follow the play-by-play on Twitter at #SoPoME ~ and I’ve included some relevant articles. Feel free to share widely!
- LA Times: Maine town fights plan to use pipeline to export oil sands crude
- Portland Press Herald:South Portland Approves Law Barring Tar Sands Oil
- Bangor Daily News: South Portland council casts ‘historic’ vote to block tar sands exports
Keep up the fight!
Of all the biggest environmental news stories breaking right now, the Al Jazeera coverage of the Mariner East pipelines — the ones Sunoco Logistics is aggressively trying to ram through Pennsylvania to export fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale to Europe and Asia — is the biggest breakthrough.
You can cut straight to the story, “The gas company that says it can take your back yard,” here. Now. And read it straight through, while thinking about what you can do to stop the Mariner East pipeline(s). Or check out this overview and excerpts first.
The reporter, Evan C. Hill, covers in considerable detail the manipulative way Sunoco Logistics has bullied Pennsylvanians trying to hold onto their land. Some of those who began resisting Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East Pipeline early on, are still resisting. Some gave way in the face of Sunoco’s enticements, pressure, threats and persistence.
But more are joining in the resistance, from grassroots organizers to high-powered lawyers, every day.
The story is well written. It’s complete, from the bigger picture of pipelines overall to Sunoco Logistics and Range Resources’ export plan, right down to the particular pump station in Chester County which is, so far, generating the most resistance. The author has done his homework.
SUNOCO LOGISTICS: “The gas company that says it can take your back yard”
Here’s the opener:
NORTH STRABANE, Pa. — For more than a decade, the country around Ronald and Sallie Cox’s home, 25 miles south of Pittsburgh, has been an unchanging landscape of rolling green foothills. Sitting atop a modest promontory, their property is ringed on three sides by a border of woodland, and to the east, the ground slopes down into a neighbor’s horse paddocks.
The Coxes built their home in 2001, and they’ve paid to maintain their enviable slice of exurban Pennsylvania. When Ronald, a financial adviser at Prudential, grew fed up with the way his wraparound backyard deck shifted every time he sat down for an evening drink, he spent around $30,000 to rip it out and replace it. You could probably land a plane on the new one, he jokes.
“This is my house, it’s my safe zone; nobody’s going to bother me,” he says. “It was worth it for the peace of mind.”
But in late 2012, someone bothered the Coxes. A representative of oil and gas transporter Sunoco Logistics Partners — a “landsman” sent by the company to scout and buy access to their property — came to their front door and told them that Sunoco was going to dig a pipeline under their woods.
“And I went: ‘No you’re not,’” Cox says.
Here’s its political middle, with a fantastic quote from PA state senator Andy Dinniman (emphasis added):
Perhaps more importantly, Sunoco’s gambit for public utility status and the ensuing legal battle, which is likely to play out for months and could involve the state’s appellate courts, may determine whether other private energy companies pursue a similar strategy in the future, potentially accelerating the development that has already altered the physical and economic landscape of the country’s gas-rich states.
“If Sunoco wins its case, we’ll have even less ability for questions involving [pipe]lines within the state,” says Andy Dinniman, a three-time Democratic state senator whose district is laced with pipelines and who has pushed for more oversight and transparency in the industry. “What it’s really going to turn out to be is the political muscle and political contribution muscle of the Marcellus Shale industry versus a larger and larger citizen protest, and I just hope the citizens win.”
And here is, not its end, but the core of what it exposes: While Sunoco Logistics has tried to shift strategy in order to appear “as if” they are transporting fracked gas from the shalefields of western Pennsylvania for “public benefit,” the wolf is still in sheep’s clothing. It’s exports, all the way:
In the months after the Mariner East project began, both Sunoco and Range Resources, a Texas-based drilling company that has agreed to provide 40,000 barrels of gas per day to Sunoco, said they expected to ship at least half of their wet gas to hungry markets in Europe. Range signed a 15-year contract with INEOS, a Swiss petrochemical producer, for its ethane.
But after the wave of resistance this spring, Sunoco appeared to shift its strategy. The company dropped its legal team, from the Harrisburg-based firm McNees Wallace & Nurick, and hired new attorneys from Philadelphia-based Blank Rome.
The new lawyers filed an amended petition in May, pointedly stating that Sunoco now intended to ship at least 5,000 barrels of propane per day — roughly 7 percent of the project’s capacity — to a destination in Pennsylvania before it reaches the Marcus Hook refinery and export terminal.
The change in plans was aimed at meeting “heightened demand…that arose from severe supply shortages” over the past winter, Sunoco wrote.
But lawyers and other Sunoco critics have dismissed the promise as a meaningless gimmick, not least because they doubt that the Mariner pipelines could siphon propane out of the liquid gas mix that early in the process, before reaching the terminal.
It also seems likely that export remains on Sunoco’s mind.
During a conference call with financial analysts in early May to discuss Sunoco Logistics Partners’ first-quarter performance, CEO Michael Hennigan said that a new plan by a competitor to build an ethane plant in Texas “shows that ethane is gonna export from the Gulf Coast” and reinforces “the thesis that we’ve been saying, [which] is that the barrels that are up in the Marcellus and Utica [shales] should really get to the European and Asian markets at the closest possible port.” Sunoco’s plan to pipe wet gas to its facility at Marcus Hook was a competitive way to do so, he said.
So don’t rest easy without reading all of this incredibly important expose about Sunoco Logistics, pipelines, everything you ever wanted to know about “wet gas,” the dangers of ethane and propane pipeline explosions, and the growing resistance — read it at the source. The Gas Company that Says it Can Take Your Back Yard.
Whatever you do, don’t let Sunoco Logistics actually take your back yard. Because everyone’s back yard is connected. And because this is what an exploding natural gas liquids pipeline actually looks like:
Activists March on Obama Energy Commission to Demand a Halt to Fracked Gas Exports
Chants of ‘Stop Cove Point’ echo through the streets of Washington, D.C. as federal regulators weigh the first proposed East Coast LNG export terminal
WASHINGTON, DC—Anti-fracking and climate activists from across the Mid-Atlantic region and beyond joined a first-ever “people’s march” on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Sunday afternoon to protest the gas industry’s push to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) from U.S. coastlines. With a key decision nearing on the Cove Point export terminal proposed in Lusby, Md., just 50 miles south of the White House, protesters are calling on President Obama and FERC to halt approval of all LNG export projects and instead promote true clean energy solutions.
“We’re here today to stand up for clean air, drinking water and real solutions to the climate crisis,” said Sandra Steingraber, PhD, New York-based biologist, author, and science advisor to Americans Against Fracking. “With LNG exports, the only things Americans get are terrifying new health and safety threats, worsening climate instability, and higher heating bills, all so that the gas industry can make bigger profits from fracking us.”
Sunday’s protest united well over a thousand people from New York to Maryland to Louisiana, including many who would see firsthand impacts from the gas industry’s proposed export build-out. The rally began near the U.S. Capitol and culminated with a mile-long march to the doorstep of FERC. Marchers carried a 100-foot-long “Stop Cove Point” pipeline prop and giant banners depicting the chain of harmful impacts that proposed LNG export terminals would trigger—from expanded fracking wells to new pipelines and compressor stations to enormous amounts of planet-warming pollution.
Speakers repeated a common theme: FERC is endangering public safety and undermining President Obama’s own climate action plan by moving to rubber-stamp LNG export projects without comprehensive reviews of their human health or environmental impacts.
“For far too long, FERC has served as a facilitator for the oil and gas industry, rather than a regulator for the public good,” said Craig Stevens, a sixth-generation landowner Silver Lake Township, Pa., who has disaster blowouts in his backyard creek from pipeline installation, and water, air and land contamination. “Private drilling corporations, private pipeline companies, and now private LNG facilities make all the money, while people suffer the consequences.”
“President Obama can’t solve the climate crisis while overseeing a massive expansion of fracked gas infrastructure,” said Tim DeChristopher, a climate activist who served two years in prison for non-violently disrupting an illegal oil and gas auction on public lands in Utah in 2008. “As long as our political leaders continue to fail to offer an energy plan that is appropriate for the climate crisis, we have to resist every new project that would lock us into decades of more dependence on fossil fuels.”
Signs in the crowd reading “Obama: Gas Exports = Worse than Coal,” echoed findings of accumulating studies—including by the U.S. Department of Energy—that exporting fracked gas from the U.S. to Asia would likely be worse for the climate than if Asian countries burned their own coal. Yet FERC has refused to account for this data in its environmental reviews of the Cove Point facility and two LNG export projects recently approved in Louisiana. This omission could serve as one of many potential grounds for lawsuits.
“We’re here today to deliver a ‘people’s’ environmental impact statement to President Obama and FERC,” said Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus. “Any project that makes climate change significantly worse has no place on a livable planet, from Cove Point to Keystone XL. No matter what FERC decides in the near-term, the people will triumph in the long-term. We’ll keep fighting until wind turbines and solar panels crisscross our coastlines, and LNG facilities like Cove Point are defunct monuments to a dinosaur industry.”
The Cove Point terminal, one of 14 under FERC review, has faced particularly fierce opposition because it would be the first on the East Coast, threatening to drain massive pools of gas from the Marcellus shale region for export to Asia, where it fetches higher prices. The $3.8 billion facility, proposed by Dominion Resources, would also be the first gas liquefaction plant ever built directly next to a densely populated residential neighborhood. Hundreds of homes are in the potential “consequence zone” for fire and explosion catastrophes. During a recent public comment period, more than 150,000 comments were submitted to FERC opposing the project.
Rachel Heinhorst, a mother of three and teacher from Lusby who lives in the home closest to the Cove Point site addressed the crowd on Sunday. “I know money is the power behind this project,” said Heinhorst. “But what about my family, and families who have already lost lives or been displaced because of gas terminals like the one Dominion desires? FERC and President Obama, please hear us. We do not deserve to live in fear of an explosion, of the water we drink, of the air we breathe.”
Yesterday’s rally is part of a swell of grassroots activism that has emerged in recent years to resist fracking, and to challenge Obama administration policies that support it. Many in Sunday’s crowd have already faced the toxic impacts of fracking, or are actively fighting unwanted pipelines or compressor stations in their towns. They vowed to continue the fight to hold their political leaders accountable.
“Here in the Gulf, we know all too well the meaning of the word ‘sacrifice.’ Our families, our ecosystems, our life-sustaining waters, have been the lamb at the altar of these ruthless industries for far too long,” said Cherri Foytlin, author, advocate, speaker and mother of six, who works for climate justice in South Louisiana. “The end to this ritual is what the president holds in his hands. Will he divest his support from these greedy industries of the past, and help us invest in a viable future for generations yet to come?”
More than 40 national, state and community-based groups endorsed the July 13th rally. Organizing groups included Berks Gas Truth, Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Energy Action Coalition, Environmental Action, Earthworks, Food & Water Watch, Greenpeace, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club, Waterkeepers Chesapeake, and 350.
Philadelphians Say NO to Oil Trains As Canadians Lost in Derailment Disaster Last Year Are Remembered
Councilman Curtis Jones and Residents Call for Change and Protection
Philadelphia, PA – Activists gathered today along the train tracks adjacent to the Schuylkill River in Philadelphia to call for protection of local communities, clean air and water supplies from dangerous oil trains that barrel through the City every day.
A moment of silence and the reading of the names of the 47 people who died in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, a year ago in a fiery train accident marked the opening of the program with a message that the City must not suffer the same fate. After speakers were heard, the group marched through the Park, led by people representing each of the 47 lives lost.
Speakers included: Reverend Stephen Keiser; Tracy Carluccio, Delaware Riverkeeper Network; Mary Donahue, Clean Water Action; Jess Gould, West Passyunk Neighbors Association; Kevin Poole, Northeast Grays Ferry Residents Association, Inc.; and Philadelphia City Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr.
The group staged their event at the Schuylkill Banks Trail Park at 25th and Locust Streets next to the rails used by CSX Corporation for transporting 190,000 barrels of crude oil every day to Philadelphia Energy Solutions’ (PES) refinery in South Philadelphia.
In January of this year, seven cars of a CSX train derailed on the Schuylkill Arsenal Railroad Bridge, leaving an oil tank car dangling over the Schuylkill River for a week, a major catastrophe narrowly averted. Accidents occur regularly throughout the U.S., escalating with the production of Bakken shale oil from North Dakota. In fact, more oil was spilled in rail accidents in the U.S. last year than in the previous 4 decades, according to federal statistics.
And yet safety and emergency preparedness is lagging terribly behind the ramp up in domestic oil extraction. PES and CSX Corporation plan to expand crude-by-rail through Philadelphia by 50% before the end of the year, making Philadelphia more vulnerable than ever to disaster.
Mile-long trains rumble through the City’s neighborhoods, over the river on the Schuylkill Arsenal Railroad Bridge and the crumbling 25th Street Bridge without warning twice a day – the train schedule is kept secret for “security reasons”, according to Emergency Management officials.
Councilman Curtis Jones, Jr. spoke about the dangers for City residents and the importance of preventing catastrophe in Philadelphia. Pastor Stephen Keiser memorialized those lost in Quebec and neighborhood organizations and environmental groups spoke of the need to stop allowing the oil companies to serve their needs above the public’s.
Organizers of the event, a coalition of local groups (see list below), are calling for the dangerous trains through the populated City to stop, for effective emergency preparedness and the release and dissemination of critical emergency response information to the people of Philadelphia, and for sweeping change of oil transport at the federal regulatory level.
For instance, a petition is being circulated calling for a ban of the outdated and unsafe DOT111 tank cars known as “Pepsi cans on wheels” which are known to puncture and explode due to substandard construction and the high volatility of Bakken crude oil.
The groups are advocating for fossil fuels to be replaced by clean, renewable and energy efficient power sources. The event is part of a national Week of Action exposing a myriad of crude-by-rail problems with the ultimate message “Keep oil off the rails and in the ground”. (www.stopoiltrains.org)
“What is truly evil about the train disaster in Lac-Mégantic is the fact that this disaster could have been prevented if human life and safety were valued as highly as maximum profits. The derailment of an oil tanker over the Schuylkill River in January should alarm every Philadelphian and make us realize that what happened in Quebec last year could very easily have happened here. Pennsylvania has the resources to ensure that energy can be produced and transported safely, without catastrophic risk,” said Stephen Keiser, Pastor, Lutheran Church of the Holy Communion, Philadelphia.
“There is a growing awareness of the crude oil that CSX trains are carrying through our neighborhoods at an increasing rate. We cannot ignore the harm and loss of life that other crude oil derailments have caused across the U.S. and Canada. It is by shear fate that no one has been seriously injured. It is only a matter of time. We are scared and much must be done to assure our safety and alleviate our fears,” said Jessica Gould, President of West Passyunk Neighbors Association.
“We don’t have to look far to see the kinds of derailments occurring and what they can do to destabilize neighborhoods and communities. Whether it’s in Delaware or New Jersey or Pennsylvania, we have seen recent instances when accidents happen and they have unintended consequences that are drastic and long term for communities,” said Curtis Jones, Jr., Philadelphia City Councilman.
“Because of the recent immense influx of crude-by-rail transportation on this aging infrastructure in Philadelphia, we’re concerned about the ability of the rail network to handle it, and our city’s ability to prepare for and respond to an accident. It is only a matter of time before the City is tested with a disastrous derailment,” said Mary Donahue, Program Organizer with Clean Water Action.
“Philadelphia gets a double whammy from shale oil because layered on top of the risk of exploding tank cars, emergency evacuations, and air and water pollution these oil trains bring polluting fossil fuel to the refineries, terminals, and ports that make up the Philly Frack Hub. These menacing oil trains have got to be stopped and families and community health put first,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
“The people of Pennsylvania have a constitutional right to clean air and clean water. God forbid a derailment happens; it would be the sum of all fears for communities here. CSX has a responsibility to operate safely but the 25th Street Bridge is a crumbling hazard, along with other dangers. We need our quality of life, and our environmental and economic life in the City improved and people protected from these trains,” said Kevin Poole of Northeast Grays Ferry Residents Association.
“Ticking time-bombs should not be rolling by our schools and neighborhoods on a daily basis. We need to free ourselves from our fatal addiction to fossil fuel, whether it’s carried by oil-bomb trains or pipelines. Another world is possible, a just, ecologically sustainable world, but we can’t build it on a dead planet”, said Cynthia Bertrand Holub of Rising Tide Philly.
“Our local, state, and federal officials have an absolute obligation to protect us from the lethal threat and from the toxic spills into our waterways, from shale oil and gas ‘bomb trains.’ We join in protest and outrage, and remain committed to hold decision-makers’ feet to the fire until residents’ water, air, and climate are protected, the bomb trains halted, and a safe energy economy is built,” said Iris Marie Bloom, Founder, Protecting Our Waters.
Groups participating in the event include (alphabetical order):
Clean Water Action (CWA) is a million member national environmental organization with 17 statewide offices including Pennsylvania. CWA’s mission is to protect the environment, public health, economic well being, and community quality of life. http://www.cleanwateraction.org/pa
Delaware Riverkeeper Network is a nonprofit advocacy organization with 15,000 members throughout the watershed states working to defend the entire 13,539 square mile Delaware River Watershed. http://www.delawareriverkeeper.org
Northeast Grays Ferry Residents Association, Inc. is a registered 501 c3 nonprofit organization that believes in equal opportunity, public health and safety, economic development and fights poverty to enhance the quality of life for the people of Northeast Grays Ferry.
Philadelphia Interfaith Power and Light (Phila IPL) is a Chapter of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power and Light (PA/IPL), communities of faith responding to climate change as a moral issue.
Protecting Our Waters, a Marcellus Shale regional grassroots group with a strong base in Philadelphia, fights to protect water, air, public health, climate and communities from all phases of shale gas and oil extraction, processing, transportation and use. www.protectingourwaters.com
Rising Tide is a grassroots network of unpaid activists focused on direct action targeting the funders and profiteers of dirty energy projects. https://www.facebook.com/PhillyRisingTide
South Philadelphia Rainbow Committee is a grassroots community group in Southwest Philadelphia, concerned with bringing an overall sense of security and self-awareness to the City of Philadelphia.
West Passyunk Neighbors Association is working to strengthen our community and improve our neighborhood’s way of life, 18th to 25th, Passyunk to Mifflin https://www.facebook.com/wpnaphilly
Press may contact:
Delaware Riverkeeper Network
Phone: 215-369-1188 x 104
Clean Water Action
Phone: 215-545-0250 x 206
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/SUE OGROCKI
Suddenly, the good old days — you know, when Arkansas had only had about 900 earthquakes linked to the re-injection of fracking wastewater — seem almost nostalgic, as the number of quakes, the amount of damage, the number of states impacted, and the scientific studies keep growing.
Think Progress reported yesterday, July 7th, 2014:
More than 2,500 small earthquakes have hit Oklahoma in the past five years, and nearly all of them can be linked to the process of drilling for oil and gas, according to a recent study published in the journal Science.
The study, led by Cornell University geophysics professor Katie Keranen, is the latest of many scientific studies showing a probable connection between earthquakes and drilling-related activity across the country. Specifically, the quakes are linked not to the fuel extraction itself, but to a process called “wastewater injection,” in which companies take the leftover water used to frack wells and inject it deep into the ground.
Scientists increasingly believe that the large amount of water that is injected into the ground after a well is fracked can change the state of stress on existing fault lines to the point of failure, causing earthquakes. Keranen’s study analyzed four prolific wastewater disposal wells in southeast Oklahoma City, which collectively inject approximately four million barrels of wastewater into the ground each month.
The research showed that fluid from those wells were migrating along fault lines for miles, and Keranen’s team determined the migration was likely responsible for earthquakes occurring as far as 22 miles away.
The link between earthquakes and wastewater injection from fracking is not definitive. As Jennifer Dlouhy in Fuel Fix notes, the research lacks necessary data on sub-surface pressure, which is rarely accessible.
However, Oklahoma is not the only place in America that has seen an unprecedented increase in small- to medium-sized earthquakes at the same time that fracking has increased in the area. A sharp increase in earthquakes corresponding with increased fracking activity has been seen in Ohio, Arkansas, Texas, and Kansas.
The quakes have been relatively small for now, but some scientists have warned that seismic activity stands to get stronger and more dangerous as fracking increases.
“I think ultimately, as fluids propagate and cover a larger space, the likelihood that it could find a larger fault and generate larger seismic events goes up,” Western University earth sciences professor Gail Atkinson said at a Seismological Society of America conference in May.
Read the full story here: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/07/07/3456931/oklahoma-frackquakes/.
And don’t forget to take action to stop fracked gas exports, stop the shale oil trains, and generally step it up. Because the powers that be are not hearing us yet. After “frackquakes,” we should not have to invent one more word to describe this extraordinary damage.
The emerging scandal about Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) employees being instructed not to return calls from citizens concerned about — or experiencing — health impacts from Marcellus Shale gas drilling, and being discouraged from attending meetings about shale gas drilling, continues to escalate. As it escalates, the Corbett administration spin machine is going into overdrive, hoping that the scandal will just blow over during 4th of July celebrations if they play it right.
First the Corbett administration attempted to distract the public by flat out denying the existence of documents demonstrating the policy of silencing DOH employees and discouraging them from responding appropriately to the reality of health impacts from shale gas operations.
That tactic didn’t work too well because those documents, it turns out, actually exist.
Then the governor tried to spin the documents. Then it tried avoiding questions. Then it tried to claim that DOH was doing the opposite of what it actually was doing. As of a July 2nd press conference, Corbett’s spokesman claims that DOH was encouraging employees to respond appropriately to health concerns about fracking. In fact, the DOH policy made it difficult to impossible for anyone impacted by fracking to log a complaint at all, and the policy towards employees suppresses the normal level of professional responsiveness to which any resident of Pennsylvania is normally entitled.
As the administration of Pennsylvania Governor Corbett shudders in profound discomfort, observers may long for some straight-shooting language debunking the Corbett spin machine.
Former Pittsburgh City Councilman Doug Shields, the driving force behind the Pittsburgh ban on fracking, provides that language, calling a spade a spade.
On July 4th Doug Shields sent the note below to Tony Norman, a columnist and Editorial Board member at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He gave Protecting Our Waters permission to publish it, so here is the straight talk, combined with background on the depth of denial over at PA DOH:
Happy 4th of July to you. I was just curious as to why there isn’t much coverage at the Post-Gazette, or much to say by the Editorial Board, on this emerging story regarding the PA Health Department’s suppression of public health complaints related to fracking.
So, I thought I would ask you since you are on the editorial board. All in all, it is a pretty crappy deal.
June 19, 2014 ~ Former State Health Employees Say They Were Silenced on Drilling (StateImpact PA):
Retired PA Dept. of Health retirees say there was a “buzz word list” related to complaints regarding fracking related complaints and employees say there were told to not respond to these citizen complaints. Also they need permission to attend any public meetings related to fracking (particularly those on public health) The PA Health Department denies it all.
Two retirees with the Department of Health have said that because of the department’s policies, they and their colleagues concluded they were not supposed to respond directly to public health concerns or attend forums about drilling.
“The Health Department initially denied the existence of both the drilling “buzzwords” list and the employee permission form. A spokeswoman called the two retired employees’ claims “erroneous.”
Doug Shields continues:
Then, the PA Department of Health reverses course and, lo and behold, there was a buzz word list and, a “permission to attend form” after all. But the poor, uneducated PA Dept. of Health employees simply “misunderstood.” They aren’t dumb and, they know what “guidance” means.
PA Health Department Policies on Drilling Meant to Guide Not Silence (StateImpact PA)
Michael Wolf, state Secretary of Health, said in an interview with StateImpact Pennsylvania this week that the goal was not to stifle the agency’s roughly 1,400 employees, but to ensure “that we are speaking with one voice.”
Doug Shields again: Yeah, one voice saying “gas is good” no matter the cost.
July 2, 2014 ~ Now, the spin cycle deepens. Gov. Corbett says he didn’t know anything about it. Well, not really, he refused to talk but rolled out the press spokesperson instead to utter the usual nonsensical blather.“At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Governor Tom Corbett refused to answer questions about allegations state health department employees were silenced on the issue of natural gas development.After the press conference, Corbett spokesman Jay Pagni initially refused to comment on the matter, but later said the Governor’s office was not involved in creating the policies:“The Department of Health shared, as information to us, that they sent these documents as a means to inform staff of an emerging public health issue,” he said. “If you get a question that involves something that has to do with natural gas drilling, know that it’s a public health issue, and report that up the chain through your supervisor. That’s it.”
Doug Shields debunks the spin:
“I will go out on a limb here and say that that is total BS. So now, fracking is a public health issue in the Corbett administration? Or, is it not?
What’s up with that? No real coverage in the Post-Gazette. No real response by any members of the State Assembly. It is getting a bit deep in the BS tank don’t ya think?Malfeasance (a deliberate act) in office is an impeachable offense. From what I can see here that is what has been going on.The same is true here in Allegheny County. Since when did the Allegheny County Health Department do “economic benefit” studies on fracking? Or any public health studies?”June 18, 2014 ~ Allegheny County Dept. of Health’s Director, Karen Hacker, MD, MPH, says this in a City Paper interview:“There’s the public health benefit of natural gas … But I think here there is certainly financial benefit, absolutely. Right now, the health costs of fracking – it’s very amorphous. And unfortunately, given the longevity of fracking, it’s really quite surprising there isn’t better data out there.”
Doug Shields comments on Dr. Hacker’s surprise:
“Not surprising at all, Dr. Hacker, when no one is collecting it. Her comments are without foundation in either science nor fact. Not a good thing to hear coming from the County’s top public health official. On one hand she says there is no data to review and on the other she says it’s [fracking is] good for our health.
“It isn’t surprising at all, given the fact that public health officials have to toe the line, with both Governor Corbett and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald at the helm, or lose their jobs.
Where’s The Health Data?
In response to growing concern and public outcry about the way natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale affects the health of residents, Secretary of Health Eli Avila told Lieutenant Governor Cawley and the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission the state needs to take steps to address those concerns.
“In order to refute or verify claims that public health is being impacted by drilling in the Marcellus Shale, there must be a comprehensive and scientific approach to evaluating over time health conditions of individuals who live in close proximity to a drilling site or are occupationally exposed,” Avila told the Commission.
From Keystone Politics.com: “Avila Wants to Track Fracking’s Health Effects“
Mr. Avila said his department has received “several dozen” similar calls in the past year, often from those who believe their health condition is a result of unsafe drilling practices. The agency needs a “comprehensive and scientific approach” to evaluating those concerns, he said.
“We investigate them all individually now,” Mr. Avila said. “It would be great to put them all together, to get to the root cause, if there is a root cause or linkage.”
From Public Source: “With No Health Registry PA Doesn’t Know Impact of Fracking on Health“:
How will anyone in the state know the possible health impacts of hydraulic fracturing unless information is collected?
A health registry “is a critical issue that needs to be addressed,” said Dr. Ralph Schmeltz, an endocrinologist and former president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society.
Three years ago, the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission recommended that just such a registry be created to track people near fracking operations who reported they believed they were sick because of fracking.
“The most timely and important initiative that the Department [of Health] can undertake is the creation of a population-based health registry,” Dr. Eli Avila, the state’s secretary of health at the time, told the commission.
Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Eli Avila… stepped down Thursday from Gov. Tom Corbett’s Cabinet.
Avila wants to pursue other interests and spend more time with his wife and children,who were unable to relocate and have continued to live in Albany, N.Y., since he took the helm of Health Department in Harrisburg early last year, the governor said in a statement.
Doug Shields’ observation is succinct: (“spend more time”…the standard reply).
Don’t Let Doug Shields Carry This Ball Alone!
Has your local newspaper, TV station, or favorite national thinking person’s mag (The New Yorker? Harpers? The Nation?) covered the PA DOH scandal yet? We bet they haven’t. So dust off your cell phone and your computer as soon as the smoke has cleared from your own July 4th celebrations, and write and call them until they do. Because Pennsylvanians — and all residents of shale country, everywhere — are humans, not guinea pigs.
New York State’s highest court granted the anti-fracking movement one of its most spectacular victories this Monday, June 30th. The Court of Appeals ruled that towns have the authority to ban gas drilling within their borders, in a 5 – 2 decision. The towns of Dryden, near Ithaca; and Middlefield, near Cooperstown, banned fracking in order to protect the health, environment, and character of their communities.
“The ruling may lead the oil and gas industry to abandon fracking in New York,” Bloomberg reported, assessing the significance of the court decision even while Governor Cuomo debates whether to lift New York State’s six year-old moratorium on horizontal hydraulic fracturing for shale gas.
The New York Times acknowledged the “far-reaching implications” of the court decision, and included this quote from Dryden’s town supervisor, Mary Ann Sumne:
The oil and gas industry tried to bully us into backing down, but we took our fight all the way to New York’s highest court.” She added, “I hope our victory serves as an inspiration to people in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Florida, North Carolina, California and elsewhere who are also trying to do what’s right for their own communities.
Standing out from the saturation coverage, Earthjustice provides the strongest narrative about the energetic grassroots commitment behind this special victory. Earthjustice is the environmental organization whose managing attorney, Deb Goldberg, provided legal representation enabling Dryden to win when the billionaire-owned oil and gas company, Norse Energy, appealed Dryden’s ban.
Please enjoy Earthjustice’s photoessay, below. It’s more than just a compelling account complete with faces full of determination and, in the end, joy. It’s a recipe for social change, a tribute to persistence, and a reminder that we all have more power than we know.
DRYDEN: THE TOWN THAT CHANGED THE FRACKING GAME
Photoessay reposted with permission from Earthjustice
When the oil and gas industry came to the small town of Dryden, NY (population: 14,500) with plans to start fracking, things didn’t turn out quite how they expected. Scroll down to find out how a group of neighbors turned the tables on a powerful industry—and changed the fracking game forever. (15 photos + comments)
The small town of Dryden is located in upstate New York, nestled among farms and rolling hills. Parades down Main Street, picnics at nearby Dryden Lake, and the famed annual Dryden Dairy Day—celebrating community and local farmers—are all hallmarks of the close-knit town.
Marie McRae has farmed in Dryden for nearly 30 years. She loves her peaceful plot of land. “I tell people that at night, it’s so quiet you can almost hear the Milky Way.”
In 2007, she was approached by a representative of the oil and gas industry, known as a landman, who wanted to lease her land to drill for gas. She told him no. Over the next year, the landman hounded McRae, approaching her six more times. He told her even if she didn’t lease her land, they would still drill. Signing the lease was the only way she could protect her farm, he said. So Marie signed the lease.
She had no idea what would come next. Her lessons and her journey were just beginning.
Deborah and Joanne Cipolla-Dennis are a happily married couple living in Dryden. They had recently moved to town after searching far and wide for a tolerant, rural community where they could build their dream home.
Soon after they had begun construction on their energy efficient home made with all green materials, they too were approached by the oil and gas industry. The couple refused to sign the lease. Not long after they turned down the industry, they met Marie. Marie shared her story and suggested that they join with her and other neighbors to learn more about the oil and gas industry’s plans for their town.
Marie, Joanne and Deborah learned that Dryden was just one of many places being targeted as part of a nationwide oil and gas rush sped along by what was then a little-known technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The process involves mixing water and chemicals together and shooting them deep underground to release gas and oil from the bedrock. The process has been linked to air and water contamination, industrial explosions, even earthquakes.
“The more I learned, the more I couldn’t believe what I had done by signing the lease. I had to find a way to stop them from coming and ruining our town,” McRae said.
“The industry kept saying: ‘We have the power; you have none. We are coming. Get out of the way or leave,'” said Joanne Cipolla-Dennis. “At the meetings we were trying to figure out if there was anything we could do. We were like deer in headlights.” But word was spreading about a way that towns could fight back. Two lawyers from a nearby town had done some research into New York state law—and what they found was promising.
“There was a way to help our town, but we had to act quickly.”
David and Helen Slottje are a husband and wife team of lawyers who moved from Boston to a neighboring town to Dryden. They learned about fracking and feared that the process would damage their new community. The oil and gas industry had argued that local communities could not regulate industry operations, but after careful research the Slottjes discovered municipalities could use local zoning laws to keep oil and gas industry activity out of communities altogether.
“We couldn’t regulate the industry, but we could tell them they couldn’t be here at all,” said Helen. “It was sort of an ‘emperor has no clothes’ moment.”
The Slottjes explained to Marie and other members of Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition that the first step was to gather signatures on a petition calling for a fracking ban in their town. The petition would show local officials how many people in town were concerned about the process.
“I thought the industry was so powerful and that there was nothing I could do,” said McRae. “Then I learned there was something I could do just by talking to my neighbors.”
When the petition was delivered and the town board members saw the number of signatures, they knew they had to pay attention. “We had enough signatures to win an election, and that’s why our board paid attention to us,” said Joanne. The signatures were from all parts of town and from across the political party spectrum.
After receiving the petition, holding a public comment period, and debating through hours of meetings, the bipartisan board voted unanimously to ban fracking in Dryden. It was a huge victory for the town and for all of the people who had worked so hard to protect it.
Six weeks after Dryden’s vote, a billionaire-owned oil and gas company sued to overturn the town’s fracking ban. When the company lost and appealed, Dryden leaders came to Earthjustice for legal representation. “The people of Dryden stood up to defend their way of life against the oil and gas industry,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg.
“The town has a very strong case. Previous courts have ruled that localities retain their longstanding power to regulate land use, including by prohibiting industrial activities such as gas development in their communities. We’ll do everything we can to ensure this victory stands.”
After Dryden passed their ban more than 170 other towns in New York followed suit. The fate of those towns—and many more that hoped to pass bans—hung in the balance as the case advanced through the legal system.
The federal government and many state governments have been slow to respond to public health and environmental threats posed by the nation’s new oil and gas drilling boom, which has been enabled by fracking. This has left local communities as an important line of defense.
As the Dryden case advanced, winning in two lower courts, other communities started to take action. In addition to the more than 170 towns in New York, communities in Colorado, Pennsylvania, Texas, Ohio and California have all taken action to protect their local communities from fracking.
After her legal research helped communities throughout New York stand up to the oil and gas industry using local zoning laws, Helen Slottje was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize. Also known as the “Green Nobel Prize,” it is the top honor that an environmental activist can receive.
The Dryden case made it all the way to Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court.
Helen and David Slottje’s legal research had paved the way for Dryden’s law on fracking and Deborah Goldberg was fighting to keep it on the books.
Goldberg argued that the New York State Legislature had not, in a 1981 law, granted the oil and gas industry the right to override long-held zoning powers of municipalities. “The idea that this industry would get the extreme and unprecedented right that no other industry has ever received in the state of New York simply because we want to promote the oil and gas industry” makes no sense, she said. “We’re not promoting it at all costs.”
The questions from the court justices were rapid-fire and tough. But drawing on her nearly 25 years of courtroom experience, Goldberg stood strong. Prior to the case, more than 50 municipalities, 25 businesses, 10 law professors and numerous environmental groups had all filed friend-of-the-court briefs on behalf of Dryden in the case.
On June 30, 2014, the Court of Appeals handed down a landmark decision, ruling that New York municipalities have the right to keep fracking out of their borders, a victory for Dryden and communities across the state. The town of Dryden had fought fracking. And, at long last, they had won.
Dryden’s victory set a statewide precedent upholding the rights of local communities to use their zoning powers to ban or limit fracking. The success bolsters efforts in communities across the country—from Pennsylvania to California.
“My voice by itself carries very little weight, but when I join my voice with my immediate neighbors, with the larger community that I live in, we all together have a voice that’s loud enough for our elected officials to hear,” said Marie McRae.
“Every community across this nation can do what Dryden did,” added Joanne Cipolla-Dennis.
“You have to care about each other. That’s the American Dream: you count on your neighbor.”
First Nations Oppose Northern Gateway Pipeline: “We Will Take Our Fight to the Land, Sea and Courts”
While the Canadian government’s controversial June 17th endorsement of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is “tepid,” according to the Economist, which noted that the flat five-paragraph statement lacked any ringing praise for the project, First Nations opposition is fierce.
Enbridge, already responsible for the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history (as of 2010), wants to build the $6 billion, 1,200km (730-mile) Northern Gateway pipeline to take 525,000 barrels a day of tar sands bitumen to Kitimat, on the Pacific coast of British Columbia (BC), for shipment to Asia.
At least 23 First Nations, plus 8 councils and alliances, have already gone on record vowing to stop the Northern Gateway pipeline. Crude oil tankers are illegal under First Nations law, according to the Coastal First Nations Great Bear Initiative’s June 16th statement Unwanted Pipeline, Unwilling Province:
“Our people have lived on this coast for 10,000 years,” said Art Sterritt, Executive Director of Coastal First Nations. “Over that time we developed laws and protocols to keep human impacts on the landscape in balance. Those laws are still in effect. Crude oil tankers are banned in our territories under First Nations law.”
First Nations have also declared the Enbridge pipeline project to be “effectively dead,” because it can’t meet the 209 conditions laid out for its approval. On June 17th, when the Canadian government announced its approval for Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, First Nations leaders declared that the government’s approval is meaningless:
“It’s an approval in name only. This project is dead,” said Art Sterritt, Executive Director of the Coastal First Nations. “The project can’t proceed with these conditions. We’ve been clear there is no technology to clean up an oil spill and the dispersant that is used causes more damage than the oil itself.”
Sterritt said. “We’ve spent millions of dollars developing a sustainable economy. We’re not going to risk it by allowing oil tankers in our waters. It is those living on BC’s coast that will bear all the risks of an oil spill.”
Haida Nation Rejects Northern Gateway Decision
The Haida Nation issued their own statement on June 17th:
“We will uphold our responsibilities and Haida laws to protect our territory,” said President of the Haida Nation, Kil tlaats’gaa, Peter Lantin. “We will not allow the Northern Gateway tanker and pipeline project to proceed.”
The Haida Nation is rooted in 10,000 years of co-existence with Haida Gwaii and holds unceded Title and Rights to the marine area proposed for the tanker routes. The Haida Nation has opposed the project since its announcement in 2005. Northern Gateway’s safety record, the potential of an oil spill and increased tanker traffic threaten the environment that is the basis of a healthy economy.
“We will take our fight to the land, sea and courts to uphold and protect Haida territory, and to ensure clean water, clean air, and a healthy way of life for future generations,” he said.
Chain of Hope; “We Will Not Back Down”
The Heiltsuk Nation also issued a June 17th statement declaring that they will continue to oppose the Northern Gateway Pipeline project. Heiltsuk Chief Marilyn Slett said, “This decision represents the end of another round in a long fight to protect our lands, waters and resources. We will not back down.”
“The community came together and everyone crocheted, to show our full support for the Gitga’at way of life, to stand up for our coast, the whales, our traditions, our food and for the future Gitga’at that will use our territory for generations to come,” said Jodi Hill, a member of the Gitga’at First Nation and Chain of Hope participant. “We stand today to take care for generations we will never meet, just as our ancestors stood up for us. The crochet line means something to us all now. We won’t stand for Enbridge or the government that supports them.”
Together, the 23 First Nations and 8 councils/alliances issued this statement on June 17th:
First Nations Going to Court United Against Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Project
Federal and Provincial Governments Disregard Indigenous Title and Rights
Today, we unequivocally reject the Harper Government’s decision to approve the Enbridge Northern Gateway tanker and pipelines project and First Nations will immediately go to court to vigorously pursue all lawful means to stop the Enbridge project.
We have governed our lands, in accordance to our Indigenous laws, since time immemorial. Our inherent Title and Rights and our legal authority over our respective territories have never been surrendered.
Our inherent rights are human rights constitutionally enshrined, judicially recognized and embodied in international legal instruments including the United Nations’Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
This project, and the federal process to approve it, violated our rights and our laws. We are uniting to defend our lands and waters of our respective territories. Our rights and laws compel us to act.
Enbridge’s Northern Gateway tanker and pipeline project exposes all communities from Alberta to the Pacific Coast to the undeniable risk of pipeline and supertanker oil spills. First Nations and the majority of British Columbians believe this project poses an unacceptable risk to the environment, the health, the safety and livelihoods of all peoples throughout this province.
We will defend our territories whatever the costs may be.
Council of the Haida Nation
Gitanmaax Band Council
Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs
Neskonlith Indian Band
Office of the Wet’suwet’en
Saikuz First Nation
Tsetsaut / Skii km Lax Ha
Wet’suwet’en First Nation
Williams Lake Indian Band
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council
Coastal First Nations
St’at’imc Chiefs Council
Tahltan Central Council
BC Assembly of First Nations
First Nations Summit
Union of BC Indian Chiefs
Media inquiries, please contact:
kiltlaats’gaa Peter Lantin, President of the Haida Nation 250-626-7804
Chief Arnold Clifton, Gitgaat, 778-884-1215
Chief Councillor Ellis Ross, Haisla, 250-639-9361
Art Sterritt, Coastal First Nations, 604-868-9110
Douglas Neasloss, Kitasoo/Xaixais, 250-839-1255 ext 209
Chief Garry Reece, Lax kw’alaams, 250-625-3293
Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett, Heiltsuk Tribal Council, 250-957-2381
Nek’t (George Muldoe), Wilp of Delgamuukw, 250-842-6627
Chief Judy Wilson, Neskonlith Indian Band, 250-320-7738
Tribal Chair Terry Teegee, Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, 250-640-3256
Grand Chief Edward John, First Nations Summit, 778-772-8218)
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, 250-490-5314
Sarah Thomas, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, 604.358.3371
Courtney Daws, BC Assembly of First Nations, 604-922-7733
As advocates and residents at risk from oil bomb trains gear up for a July 9th commemoration — and protest — of the deaths and destruction last year in Lac Megantic, DeSmogBlog continues to investigate the hypocrisy of the oil by rail industry. These latest revelations from the White House Meeting Logs are an eye-opener for everyone working to protect communities from flaming tank cars full of blazing Bakken Shale oil. Reblogged in full from DeSmogBlog:
White House Meeting Logs: Big Rail Lobbying Against “Bomb Train” Regulations It Publicly Touts
The Obama White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has held the majority of itsmeetings on the proposed federal oil-by-rail safety regulations with oil and gas industry lobbyists and representatives.
Big Rail has talked a big game to the public about its desire for increased safety measures for its trains carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)in the Bakken Shale. What happens behind closed doors, the meeting logs show, tells another story.
At the June 12-13 Railway Age Oil-by-Rail Conference, just two days after rail industry representatives met with OIRA, American Association of Railroads President Edward Hamberg, former assistant secretary for governmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), made the case for safety.
“Railroads believe that federal tank car standards should be raised to ensure crude oil and other flammable liquids are moving in the safest car possible based on the product they are moving,” said Hamberg.
“The industry also wants the existing crude oil fleet upgraded through retrofits or older cars to be phased out as quickly as possible.”
Yet despite public declarations along these lines, proactive safety measures were off the table for all four of Big Rail’s presentations to OIRA.
Though private discussions, the documents made public from the meeting show one consistent message from the rail industry: safety costs big bucks. And these are bucks industry is going to fight against having to spend.
Massive War Room
Those present at the June 10 OIRA meeting included representatives from AAR, the American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association, Union Pacific,Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), CSX Corporation, Norfolk Southern and theDOT.
Akin to the gargantuan war room in the film “Dr. Strangelove,” 26 people took part in the session.
Invitees included Meredith Kelsch, senior attorney for DOT; Orest Dachniwsky, associate general counsel for BNSF; Robert Schmidt, senior manager of operations and casualty analysis for Union Pacific; and Richard Theroux, who has worked at the Office of Management and Budget — parent of OIRA — for nearly three decades.
“19th Century Technology”
The heading on the first slide of CSX’s presentation for OIRA stated, “ECPbrakes are expensive and do not offer material safety advantages.”
ECP is industry shorthand for Electronically Controlled Pneumatic brakes, currently considered the best available brakes in the business.
At a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) hearing in April, Richard Connor, safety specialist for DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), gave a presentation comparing the conventional air brake system used on most freight trains to the ECP brakes passed over by CSX.
“I’m not sure with the audience if you all understand how the current air brake systems on our freight trains out there operate today, but it’s basically 19th century technology,” said Connor.
Connor also described the performance of the brakes in an emergency situation as “painfully slow” in comparing ECP’s response time to that of the conventional braking system.
“One of the biggest advantages of ECP is that signal to apply your brakes…is going at the speed of light…it’s a much quicker signal,” he said.
Connor also discussed how ECP would “offer material safety advantages” over current technology in an oil train accident, even if expensive.
“For the purpose of why we would want ECP on, say, a unit train like these oil trains, [it’s] to reduce the impact of a derailment or reduce the damages caused by a derailment of these types of trains,” explained Connor.
“[The purpose] is you get a much quicker application, you reduce that kinetic energy involved with that train.”
BNSF serves as the Queen Bee in the oil-by-rail world.
Warren Buffett (L), President Barack Obama (R); Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
When asked about the first two meetings, BNSF spokeswoman Roxanne Butler told EnergyWire, “[BNSF] believe[s] the next generation tank cars should exceed the 2011, stronger new standard known as the CPC-1232 tank car.”
But BNSF avoided the topic of tank cars in its third meeting with OIRA and stuck to another topic instead: train speed. Namely, BNSF told OIRA that reducing train speed costs them money.
And one of the final slides in a presentation given by AAR on train speed is titled “Far Reaching Economic Impacts.”
That slide details what AAR says will be the negative impacts to the greater economy if oil trains are required to slow down on the tracks.
But what of the costs of oil trains traveling at normal speed or above that derail and spill their cargo, increasingly resulting in major explosions?
At the April NTSB conference, Gregory Saxton, chief engineer for rail tank manufacturer Greenbriar, responded to a question about how much of an issue speed was in a derailment involving tank cars.
“Kinetic energy is related to the square of velocity. So if you double the speed, you have four times as much energy to deal with,” argued Saxton. “Speed is a big deal.”
Unattended “Bomb Trains”
In its meeting with OIRA, Big Rail also argued that regulations designed to ensure that oil trains are always attended by a crew are too costly.
As an industry presentation delivered to OIRA says, doing this will “significantly drive up costs.”
The train accident that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, which exploded into a massive fireball, was unattended. The cost of cleaning up the aftermath of that disaster may total up to $2.7 billion and taxpayers will foot that bill.
Lac-Mégantic disaster from outer space; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons
According to the same presentation, between salary and fuel costs for idling trains, it would cost $105.64 per hour to pay a crew to attend oil-by-rail trains along their journey.
Using those predicted rates, that means it would take 25 million hours of financial compensation for crews to equal the projected clean-up costs in Lac-Mégantic.
Behind Closed Doors
The rail industry offers up claims about how much it cares about safety when speaking to the public. But behind closed doors, the June 10 OIRA meeting makes clear that public relations pitch goes by the wayside in favor of hard-nosed lobbying muscle to avoid accountability.
“With all of the oil-by-rail derailments in the past year, accompanied by deaths, fireballs, spills, toxic smoke and multiple large-scale evacuations, you’d think it’s high time for the concerns of ordinary people to be top priority,” Iris Marie Bloom, founder of Protecting Our Waters and oil train critic, told DeSmogBlog.
“These meetings reveal the opposite is happening: rail and oil industries are lobbying overtime and getting repeated access to their friends in high places while regular people, whose lives are at risk, have no access at all.”
Virginia is the latest state to join the fight to protect downstream water drinkers from upstream fracking operations. Yesterday Arlington, Virginia, right across the river from Washington, D.C., weighed in powerfully when the Arlington County Board unanimously passed the “Resolution Concerning Horizontal Fracturing in the George Washington National Forest.”
The Resolution calls for horizontal fracturing to be prohibited in the forest in order to protect the Potomac River Watershed, and particularly to protect the approximately one million residents of Arlington County, the District of Columbia, the City of Falls Church, and a portion of Fairfax County, who drink Potomac River water treated by the Washington Aqueduct.
Here is the full text of the resolution as it passed yesterday. Copycat actions are welcome and encouraged.
Resolution Concerning Horizontal Fracturing in the George Washington National Forest
WHEREAS¸ the George Washington National Forest is located in the Potomac River Watershed and plays a vital role in protecting downstream water quality; and
WHEREAS¸ the Potomac River is the sole raw water source for water treated by the Washington Aqueduct Division of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, serving approximately 1 million residents of Arlington County, the District of Columbia, the City of Falls Church and a portion of Fairfax County; and
WHEREAS¸ Arlington County purchases its water from the Washington Aqueduct and distributes it to the over 210,000 residents that live in Arlington and hundreds of thousands of others who work and play in our community on a daily basis; and
WHEREAS¸ the Potomac River flows to the Chesapeake Bay, a vital estuary for which Arlington continues to invest substantial sums to protect from pollution; and
WHEREAS, the United States Forest Service is currently in the process of updating its George Washington National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan, which will direct natural resource management for the forest for the next 10 to 15 years, including the possibility of mining the Marcellus Shale by horizontal hydraulic fracturing; and
WHEREAS¸ horizontal fracturing is currently exempted from many of the requirements of the federal laws that protect our nation’s water supply, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act; and
WHEREAS, at the request of the United States Congress, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting a research study on the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas on drinking water resources; and
WHEREAS¸ numerous other stakeholders have expressed their concerns with horizontal fracturing in the George Washington National Forest, including the EPA, the National Park Service, and many of the localities in our region that depend upon the Potomac River for their water supply; and
WHEREAS, the August 2011 Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Draft Revised Land and Resource Management Plan for the George Washington National Forest, developed by the United States Forest Service, states “concern about the development of gas resources in the Marcellus shale formation led to Plan direction that horizontal drilling would not be allowed on any federal leases. This restriction is based on concerns about the impacts of extensive hydraulic fracturing associated with horizontal drilling on water quality, the unknown potential for developing the Marcellus shale formation on the George Washington National Forest, and the limited experience with horizontal drilling in the immediate vicinity of the GWNF.”
NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, THAT THE ARLINGTON COUNTY BOARD:
- Expresses our concern about the potential impact of horizontal fracturing in the George Washington National Forest on the Potomac River Watershed, and therefore the quality of Arlington County’s water supply, and;
- Supports the United States Forest Service’s proposal, contained in the George Washington National Forest Draft Forest Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, to prohibit the use of horizontal fracturing in the George Washington National Forest.
Ripples of Celebration
Congratulations to the Arlington County Board. We expect to see more resolutions like this one throughout the Potomac River Watershed!
As the news spreads, water protectors already active in the hard work for clean water are celebrating. Robin Broder, a board member of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, commented:
“As a long time resident of Arlington, I am proud that the Arlington County Board recognizes the importance of the George Washington National Forest to the protection of the headwaters of the Potomac River. As a clean water advocate, I applaud the Board for helping the people who live downstream from the forest connect with the source of their drinking water, the Potomac River. “
Well Warned: Arlington, Texas
If Arlington, Virginia residents want more information about fracking we suggest they study impacts in Arlington, Texas, well documented by veteran writer Sharon Wilson:
Arlington, Texas is just one of thousands of places which now show how important preventive actions like this really are. Thanks to the Texans for warning the Virginians… and the Pennsylvanians… and the New Yorkers… who just overwhelming passed a three-year statewide fracking moratorium! The momentum is building.