Skip to content

Sen. Scarnati Turnaround on Shale Gas Drilling in His Home Watershed: “The Bore Hole Will be Abandoned”

August 13, 2014

State Senator Joe Scarnati (center) and State Representative Matt Gabler visited the Flatirons Marcellus Shale drilling site in the Brockway watershed in 2011. Photo: 1490 newsblog.

Big news. Good news. Remember when Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon, the largest fracked gas producer in the U.S., decided to sue the frackers because he didn’t like their activities in his Texas backyard?

At the time, we thought perhaps we should deliver some pizza to Rex Tillerson’s legal team to show our support and solidarity. But we were too busy tracking workers’ deaths in the shalefields at the time, so we never got around to it.

Now in a similarly contradictory move, Pennsylvania State Senator Joe Scarnati, Republican from Jefferson County, has announced — proudly — on his own website, on August 11th, 2014, that the watershed in his own backyard will be protected from water contamination from fracking:

Flatirons Development, LLC, has agreed to discontinue Marcellus drilling operations of the Brandon-Day well which is located upstream of the Brockway Borough Municipal Authority Rattlesnake Reservoir.  The existing bore hole will be abandoned, sealed and reclaimed to eliminate the possibility of watershed contamination.

This is a huge turnaround for a Pennsylvania state senator who has denied the possibility of water pollution from drilling and fracking for the past five years, frustrating the bejesus out of his constituents.  Scarnati, the PA Senate’s President Pro Tempore, is a powerful and controversial figure.

Sen. Joe Scarnati actually authored the highly anti-democratic Act 13 — the law that imposed a gag order on physicians and which, if not overturned,  would have stripped municipal rights from towns all across Pennsylvania, preventing them from protectively zoning or regulating any aspect of shale gas operations. That includes well pad construction, drilling, and fracking right through compressor stations, waste impoundments, and pipelines.

It’s not as if Sen. Scarnati’s turnaround means he will become an approachable, community-oriented advocate for clean air and clean water. He shows no particular sign of caring about fracking-impacted communities beyond his back yard. In fact, he was furious when Act 13’s municipal rights-stripping clause was overturned by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Jenny Lisak of Pennsylvanians for Clean Water and Air (PACWA) reports:

Several of us in his district happened to have a meeting with him right after the Supreme Court announced their decision, and he was angry. 

Nonetheless, Senator Scarnati’s public statement this Monday, “Statement on Flatirons Ending Marcellus Drilling Operations at Brandon-Day Well,” expresses only pride and self-satisfaction at his contribution to convincing a fracking company, Flatirons, based in Commerce, Colorado, not to drill the Marcellus Shale well that impacts the watershed Scarnati draws from at his home and at his office:

“This recent decision by Flatirons Development to stop plans for drilling at the Brandon-Day well is a good and responsible decision for our community.  Earlier this year after taking part in numerous discussions and meetings regarding this well, I reached out to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to express serious reservations with permitting any further drilling at the proposed site or any nearby site which could potentially compromise the reservoir.

“Toby Creek Watershed Association President Bill Sabatose and members of the Toby Creek Watershed have done an outstanding job monitoring the process surrounding this well and working to make sure the watershed remains clean.  This decision is a strong testament to the successful teamwork of area residents, local leaders, DEP and Flatirons to do what is in the best interest of our community to ensure public safety and protect our natural resources.”

Anatomy of a Victory

Commissioner William Sabatose

Bill Sabatose. Photo: PA Fish and Boat Commission

Senator Scarnati has traditionally been so hard for his constituents to reach that even on the other side of the big, 67-county state of Pennsylvania, I’ve heard the breadth and depth of frustration experienced by those who steadily worked at educating him about high-volume slickwater horizontal hydraulic fracturing in deep shale, and its impacts on water, air, health, climate and communities. He seemed like Teflon. A wall. A fortress of denial. A loyal servant to the fracking industry. So, how did this turnaround come about?

Clearly the work of Toby Creek Watershed Association President Bill Sabatose, whom Scarnati himself credits for sounding the alarm about Marcellus Shale fracking in the Brockway watershed, is critical. But a victory on this scale is never the work of just one person or organization. We notice three elements contributing to the turnaround.

Turnout

First of all, turnout. Repeatedly, no matter the weather, no matter the frustration level, no matter the perceived hopelessness or powerlessness, people — ordinary people, smart people, dedicated and informed people — turned out to public hearings about Flatiron and the Brockway Watershed. As the Punxsatawney Spirit reported on February 24th, 2012, in “Brockway Residents Question Flatirons’ Proposal:

BROCKWAY — Wednesday night, more than 150 people attended a public hearing to voice their concerns about a gas company’s proposal to drill in Brockway borough.

Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-25), state Rep. Sam Smith (R-66) and state Rep. Matt Gabler (R-78), called the meeting to give Brockway residents the opportunity to get answers from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Flatirons Resources, the company whose proposal has caused dissatisfaction for local residents.

Turnout continued to build. Residents in at least four counties within Scarnati’s district protested at two of his offices in July 2013, as part of a statewide call for a fracking moratorium: 

One Senator received protesters from four counties at two different locations simultaneously. Senator Scarnati, who has accepted cash and gifts from the gas industry and ignored his own constituents harmed by gas drilling, was besieged by a rally in western Pennsylvania in Jefferson County, generating television coverage here: “Protesters Take to Senator’s Offices.” Scarnati staff also met simultaneously with moratorium advocates in Wellsboro, Tioga County, at a meeting organized by Protecting Our Waters.  From Channel 10:

BROCKWAY, JEFFERSON COUNTY –  About 30 people protesting fracking met outside of Senator Joe Scarnati’s office in Brockway. The protesters were from across Clearfield, Jefferson and Elk Counties.

“We came out to try to tell Joe Scarnati that we would like him to enact a moratorium on fracking for many, many good reasons, primarily for the protection of our air, water and land” said protester Mike Kamandulis.

Education

Second of all, education: hard-hitting, specific, science-based, repetitive. Here, Jenny Lisak is among several voices commenting on the long-term process:

There may be good reason to keep sharing information and educating, even though most times we feel quite inefficient and unsuccessful in this fight.

I often send Scarnati the same information I am compulsive about sharing on our local listserve, prefacing with ‘I’m not sure you are seeing the same information as I am but as a constituent I am seriously concerned about …’

I have also sent him the “List of the Harmed.” I think we should all share the news we are so appalled by with our legislators. I suspect they don’t see the news we see.

Sabatose, who is on the Fish and Boat Commission, sees and hears a lot of the drilling-related impacts. Sabatose also owns Brockway Analytical, [which] does water testing for nearby communities and industry.

BACWA (Brockway Area Clean Water Alliance), whose members belong to Brockway’s municipal water authority (as well as others), have been very active in educating Brockway citizens about the risk and impacts to their water supply. Some of them are on our local listserve. Our group (PACWA) helped BACWA have a showing of Gasland 1 at the firehouse in Brockway a few years ago and a few months ago we showed Gasland 2  in Brockway with the help of  Doug and Briget Shields and Elk County CARES (Scarnati did not attend either event).

Scarnati is also hearing from others in his district who are coming to him with their issues about traffic, fumes, noise, property rights, seismic testing, water contamination, injection wells, etc. Two injection wells (one in Elk, one in Clearfield County) in his district are being fought by his constituents.

Could Scarnati have watched the expose Triple Divide and learned of the contamination in Potter County, which is in his district? The infamous blowout and subsequent water contamination in Moshannon State Forest, Clearfield County, was in his district. So are the methane migration problems in Tioga County; the high levels of aluminum found in a local water source which began bubbling, foaming and drying into pure white flakes in Elk County; the extensive water contamination problems in McKean county; the road destruction in all of his district; the illegal dumping of flowback on township roads in Jefferson County, and on and on.

Local residents held at least one demonstration outside Senator Scarnati’s home office in the fall of 2013, with several organizations participating, demanding that Scarnati protect water and air from shale gas fracking operations.

Sandra Folzer, PhD, is among those who have made sure to visit Senator Scarnati at some of his other offices, not just his home office in Brockway. Folzer, a homeowner in heavily fracked Tioga County and recently retired from teaching at Community College of Philadelphia, plans to praise Scarnati directly for protecting Brockway’s Rattlesnake Reservoir from fracking:

I have been to Scarnati’s office in Wellsboro several times in past to protest fracking. I shall call, and possibly visit, to tell him of my support for this action.

Attitude

If the folks in Scarnati’s district had given up or given in, history might be different and that well bore might not be being abandoned and sealed as you read this. But folks didn’t give up and didn’t give in. Folks kept their assertive attitude, individually and collectively. Jenny Lisak, also a Protecting Our Waters Board member, again:

The more you think about it, how is it possible that Scarnati could come to any conclusion other than that this is a very dangerous and destructive industry? He should be protecting the water supplies for all of us. Will he do the right thing and protect us all?

I can’t take any credit for his announcement except as part of a larger community of concerned citizens but  I’d like to think the chipping away by all of us voicing our concerns is having the positive outcomes we’re striving for!

Stephen Cleghorn, PhD, a sociologist, farmer, writer, and longtime fracking opponent who also lives in Scarnati’s district, has also let Scarnati know his views, in person, in public meetings, and by email. Twitter adds another element of condensed communication potential: Cleghorn reports,

I tweeted as soon as I saw Scarnati’s announcement from his website:
@senatorscarnati Good decision, Joe. Thank you. Now please extend same protection to all Pennsylvanians.

TEA

There’s more to this story, of course, but that’ all for now. Add in your comments if you like, below. And the next time you find yourself tempted to contemplate what appears to be your own powerlessness or despair in the face of extreme energy extraction corporations, remember this victory and pour yourself a cup of old-fashioned TEA: Turnout, Education, Attitude.

 

 

 

Dr. Poune Saberi: “Fossil fuels are dead”

August 10, 2014

On July 30, 2014, Dr. Poune Saberi traveled from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C. to testify at a public hearing on the EPA Clean Power Plan. Others have traveled farther to testify at EPA hearings, like the retired coal miner who traveled 1,300 miles from Harlan County, Kentucky, to testify in Denver, Colorado, pleading, “We’re Dying, Literally Dying For You To Help Us.” Others earned headlines for testifying from a faith-based perspective: “At EPA Hearing, Religious Leaders Call Carbon Pollution ‘An Affront To God.’

Dr. Saberi’s quiet authority stems from her work as a doctor and public health researcher; it generated no headlines. But when a physician who has witnessed sudden death and the struggle for life connects that witnessing to the fight for our climate, the resulting testimony is powerful and cogent. Read on:

EPA Clean Power Plan Testimony

Pouné Saberi, MD, MPH

July 30, 2014

Washington, DC

There is a Dakota saying that goes like this: “ When you find yourself riding a dead horse, dismount.” (1)

My name is Dr. Poune Saberi and I am a physician in Occupational and Environmental Medicine and a faculty member at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. I am here to say: fossil fuels are dead and we must dismount.

The Clean Power Plan (2) is a key life-saving move and I want to thank EPA for their initiative. I want to tell you about a first encounter with a patient that I will never forget. The initial visit started out routine, but when I asked if she had any children, her eyes welled up and she began telling me the story of her 17 year old son destined for college with scholarship, raised as an only child by this single mother. One day she received a call that he had an asthma attack and was taken to the emergency room. This time the asthma attack proved to be fatal and she never even had a chance to speak to him before he stopped breathing.

Forty-four percent of all asthma hospitalizations are for children. (3)  I practiced primary care for ten years before specializing in Occupational and Environmental medicine. I have seen the wide spectrum of patients hurt by exposure to outdoor air pollution. Seeing the alarmingly rapid and shallow breathing of an infant is not an experience you would want to voluntarily take part in. It is heart breaking when the vulnerable among us unfairly take a large hit from our actions.

Unacceptable Sacrifices

At the other end of the spectrum are the workers in the fossil fuel industry. I live and work in Pennsylvania where methane gas development has exposed many of the workers to volatile organic compounds, silica sand and radioactive material. A 26-year-old worker died in southwestern Pennsylvania when a methane gas well exploded. This is why I am here today. When industry focuses on profits over health, it is up to us to raise our voices against these unacceptable sacrifices.

August 6, 2014: DEP Details Cause Of Fatal Greene Co. Gas Well Fire. Photo: Pittsburgh CBS Local

I commend EPA for introducing this rule. However, this is just an introduction – an introduction to a promising direction as a society if we all agree to make the efficiency proposal much more stringent and the focus on non-combustibles much more robust.

Here are the strong points of the Clean Power Plan:

  • The co-benefits. That means when CO2 is reduced many other air pollutants are also reduced, like SO2, NOx and Hg. These outdoor pollutants are considered carcinogenic. Therefore, when there are less of them, there is less lung cancer, less bladder cancer, less memory loss.
  • Less carbon dioxide means lower utility bills. That is always good for everyone’s pockets.
  • Lowering CO2 equals lowering green house gases in the atmosphere and addressing the impacts CO2 has on global heating. Less ocean acidification helps fisheries; less extreme weather patterns help agriculture and commerce. And lastly, mitigating climate change will have its own health benefits by reducing the ferocity of floods, tornadoes and hurricanes.

There are many things in our world today we cannot fix. This one we can.

Here is what I believe this rule has ignored:

  • Focusing on downstream CO2 emissions from power plants and ignoring upstream impacts of coal and gas production is like a doctor just treating the bruises without acknowledging the domestic violence happening at home. There is a high risk of health exposure and environmental hazards at each step of extraction, production and transport. We must consider the entire life cycle of energy production.
  • Non-combustion sources of energy production like solar, wind and geothermal will help the states reach the CO2 reductions faster and earlier with less GHG production. Switching coal power plants to natural gas or nuclear is like switching from one addictive drug to another. The problem has not been addressed. Natural gas and nuclear are not viable alternatives to coal.
  • Non-combustible energy production is a labor-intensive economy and creates many jobs. The occupational hazards are minimal and the sun and wind resources are not siphoned off like fossil fuel leading to boom bust cycles. Conversely, coal miners and oil and gas workers have some of the most dangerous jobs in the US. Switching away from these jobs to jobs that are much less hazardous, workers and laborers will benefit by staying healthy, as well as continue to be proud financial providers for themselves and their families.

 

In summary, we must phase out coal, not transition to natural gas or nuclear, and we must fully embrace non-carbon, non-combustible sources of energy.

 

I will end by pleading that this administration transition from being a world leader in pollution to being a world leader in energy solutions.

 

Thank you.

Pouné Saberi, MD, MPH

 

Notes:

1. Dakota people: The saying, “If you are riding a dead horse, dismount” is widely attributed by multiple sources both to the Dakota and to the Lakota people.  The word Dakota means “ally” in the Dakota language, and the Dakota also refer to themselves as Ikce Wicasas (“Free people”) and Dakota Oyate (“Dakota people”)[3]

2. EPA’s original document spelling out their Clean Power Plan:  http://www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-06/documents/20140602ria-clean-power-plan.pdf

3. “The Burden of Children’s Asthma: What Asthma Costs Nationally, Locally, and Personally” From pediatricasthma.org, downloaded  from http://www.pediatricasthma.org/about/asthma_burden

4. General source: Q&A: EPA Regulation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Existing Power Plants | Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, downloaded from http://www.c2es.org/federal/executive/epa/q-a-regulation-greenhouse-gases-existing-power

5. General source: Georgetown Climate Center Summary of the EPA’s Proposed Rule to Limit GHGs downloaded from http://www.georgetownclimate.org/

6. Retired Coal Miner To EPA: ‘We’re Dying, Literally Dying For You To Help Us’ downloaded from http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/07/31/3465941/health-concern-epa-hearings/

Impoundments Leaking: Breaking News Reinforces Three Major Reports on Fracking

August 7, 2014

Photo: KDKA Channel 2, from CBS Pittsburgh

Finally, possibly feeling some sting from the thrashing given it recently by Pennsylvania’s Auditor General, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) has done a little tiny something.
                                                                                                                                                                                  They have issued one (one!) Notice of Violation to Range Resources, one of the most polluting fracking companies known to Pennsylvania and Texas combined. Apparently, the persistent leaks from Range’s fracking wastewater impoundments became too much for even DEP to continue to overlook.
                                                                                                                                                                                  PA DEP’s response to constant leaks from the open pits DEP itself has approved to hold fracking flowback, is dismally understated. The pits typically contain biocides, carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors, toxic levels of salt, and radioactive materials — a combination of toxic materials used in drilling and fracking, and naturally occurring materials from deep underground, such as the intense salt and the Radium 226.
                                                                                                                                                                                   If DEP was to uphold its mission to protect our ecosystem, thereby protecting public health, all open fracking flowback pits lined with plastic would be banned. Closed-loop systems would be required, and a moratorium would be put into place instead of one more impoundment being approved.
                                                                                                                                                                                   But the industry, PA DEP, and the EPA have failed to ban fracking flowback pits. The impoundments leak constantly in Pennsylvania and pose long-term risks even where acute impacts are not immediately observed. Due to this and other failures, the pressure to stop fracking Pennsylvania is again on the rise.

New report: Pennsylvania prioritizes fracking at expense of law, health, environment

Today, Earthworks released their report, Blackout in the Gas Patch, a year in the making, clearly documenting the degree to which Pennsylvania prioritizes fracking at the expense of law, public health, and the environment.
                                                                                                                                                                                  “Blackout in the Gas Patch” follows quickly upon the heels of the Department of Health scandal; the Auditor General’s Report; and the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking (Unconventional Gas and Oil Extraction). The Compendium, published in July with 15 categories of harm and 300 references, is by far the single most complete catalogue of scientific studies documenting fracking’s harms to date.
                                                                                                                                                                                  As if to underline exactly what these reports are all saying, yesterday the news broke about three leaking fracking waste pits in Pennsylvania. As reported by CBS in Pittsburgh yesterday, “DEP: 3 Range Resources Frackwater Impoundments Are Leaking”

MARIANNA, Pa. (AP) – The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has issued a violation to Range Resources because a fracking wastewater impoundment has leaked, contaminating groundwater and a nearby stream in Washington County.

Range Resources spokesman Matt Pitzarella says the company plans to close the Yeager impoundment in Amwell Township, but says there’s no evidence the pollution has affected nearby homes.

Matt Pitzarella, repeatedly at the center of disputes himself — for example, the controversy in which he misrepresented his own education — may have forgotten that the New York Times published a devastating account of pollution, with health impacts and many animal deaths, due to a fracking waste pit in Amwell Township. That waste pit has the same name — Yeager — and is on the same road — McAdams — as the one reported yesterday to be leaking, yet Pitzarella went public claiming that there was “no evidence” that the frack pit had affected nearby residents.

Of course, Pitzarella worded his denial, above, in a very certain way. He said there’s no evidence the pollution has “affected nearby homes.” Maybe that means he thinks that no bricks have been harmed. Goats, horses, dogs, got sick, aborted their young, and died — but, homes weren’t affected. Household water turned black — but, the home itself stayed upright. Stacey Haney’s son got sick, neighbors experienced blisters inside their noses, nosebleeds, nausea and more — but still, the actual homes were not affected, right Pitzarella?

The Yeager fracking waste impoundment on McAdams Road. Source: Texas Sharon, “Customize Your Water Data Reporting

The New York Times, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and other sources do make it harder to hide the evidence Pitzarella says does not exist. Several Washington County, PA families sued Range Resources over contamination from the Yeager shale gas operation, including particularly the waste pit, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in May 2012.

An even higher profile story, The Fracturing of Pennsylvania, from the November 20th, 2011 New York Times Sunday Magazine, reported that Stacey Haney, her neighbor Beth Voyles, and their families live in Amwell Township, in Washington County, Pennsylvania, near a Range Resources fracking waste pit:

A month later [after Voyles's boxer had died after drinking from puddles related to gas drilling], Haney’s dog, Hunter, also died suddenly. Soon after, Voyles called Haney to tell her that her barrel horse, Jody, was dead. Lab results revealed a high level of toxicity in her liver…

Voyles’s boxers began to abort litters of puppies; six were born with cleft palates. They died within hours. Others were born dead or without legs or hair. Unsure what to do, Voyles stored 15 of the puppies in her freezer. (Range Resources says it was never notified about the puppies.) By December, Boots, the grand-champion goat, aborted two babies. Haney had to put her down the day after Christmas.

What was going on with the animals? Where were the toxic chemicals in their blood coming from? Haney feared that the arrival of the gas industry and the drilling that had begun less than 1,000 feet from her home might have something to do with it.

The New York Times piece loops around through long passages describing the generally pro-drilling atmosphere at that time in rural southwestern  Pennsylvania. But then it takes the reader through the process the Haney and Voyles families had to go through to discover the huge Range Resources fracking flowback pit virtually in their backyards. Emphasis added:

About a year before Haney’s dog died, in the summer of 2009, she began to notice that sometimes her water was black and that it seemed to be eating away at her faucets, washing machine, hot-water heater and dishwasher. When she took a shower, the smell was terrible — like rotten eggs and diarrhea. Haney started buying bottled water for drinking and cooking, but she couldn’t afford to do the same for her animals.

Later that summer, her son, Harley, was stricken with mysterious stomach pains and periods of extreme fatigue, which sent him to the emergency room and to Pittsburgh’s Children’s Hospital a half-dozen times. “He couldn’t lift his head out of my lap,” Haney said. Early in November of the following year, after the animals died, Haney decided to have Harley tested for heavy metals and ethylene glycol. While she waited for the results, Haney called Range Resources and asked that it supply her with drinking water. The company tested her water and found nothing wrong with it. Haney’s father began to haul water to her barn.

A week later, on Haney’s 41st birthday, Harley’s test results came back. Harley had elevated levels of arsenic. Haney called Range Resources again. The company delivered a 5,100-gallon tank of drinking water, called a water buffalo, the next day. “Our policy is if you have a complaint or a concern, we’ll supply you with a water source within 24 hours,” Pitzarella of Range Resources said. He added that the company has “never seen any evidence that anyone in that household has arsenic issues.”

Company policy at Range Resources is clearly: Deny everything (always). Admit nothing (ever).

Although she was able to work 40 hours as a nurse and care for two kids and a small farm, Haney wasn’t feeling great, either. So a few months later, she had herself and Paige tested too. Their tests results showed they had small amounts of heavy metals like arsenic and industrial solvents like benzene and toluene in their blood. Dr. Philip Landrigan of Mount Sinai said that the results show evidence of exposure, but that it was difficult to determine potential health effects at the levels found. But he added: “These people are exposed to arsenic and benzene, known human carcinogens. There’s considered to be no safe levels of these chemicals.”

…Soon Haney and her kids began to notice that even outdoors it smelled a lot like the shower — a combination of sweet metal, rotten eggs and raw sewage. Talking to neighbors, Haney learned that atop a hill, about 1,500 feet from her home and less than 800 feet from that of her neighbor, Beth Voyles, there was an open, five-acre chemical impoundment filled with chemically treated water.

Haney figured out how to navigate Google Earth on her son’s computer. (She doesn’t own one, nor does she have an e-mail address.) There was her gravel driveway and her house hidden under the canopy of maple trees. And there was the six-football-field-square black pond that dwarfed her neighbor’s silver-roofed house. The grass surrounding the pond looked dead.

The nightmare continued for the Haney and Voyles families. In fact it continued long past the publication of the New York Times piece, until Stacey Haney was forced out of her home altogether — a truly desperate situation for a working nurse and mother with so many animals to care for.

Fracked on McAdams Road

Back to the “Fracturing of Pennsylvania” from the New York Times: note the line, “next door on McAdams Road,” since yesterday’s WTAE reporting on the leaking waste pit operated by Range Resources is identified as being on McAdams Road:

When Voyles told Range Resources she had developed blisters in her nose, it offered to put her up in a hotel, as it does for all nuisance complaints, but she didn’t want to leave her dogs and horses behind. (Range later said that it had no record of the complaint.) Next door on McAdams Road, Haney and her kids began to have intense periods of dizziness and nosebleeds. Of the three, Harley was the worst off. Haney took him to their family physician, Craig Fox, in the nearby town of Washington. Like most local doctors, Dr. Fox had never seen such symptoms before.

Haney says that Dr. Fox’s advice to her was unequivocal: “Get Harley out of that house right away. I don’t want him anywhere near there, even driving by, for 30 days.” So Haney took Harley to a friend’s house in Eighty-Four, a town named for the lumber company. She took her daughter to her parents’ house in Amity. Each day, she spent about four hours in the car shuttling the kids from school, to and from friends’ homes and driving to the farm to feed the animals, which were O.K. some days and vomiting or collapsing on others. Haney found a cousin willing to take her pigs, but she had nowhere to house the other animals, so they remained at the farm. She stayed home for less than an hour at a time, long enough to put a load of laundry into the washer. Every two days, she spent $50 on gas. Their farmhouse stood abandoned…

Haney is no left-leaning environmentalist; she is a self-proclaimed redneck who is proud to trace her roots here back at least 150 years. This is not the kind of fight she usually takes on. “I’m not going to sit back and let them make my kids sick,” she says. “People ask me why I don’t just move out, but where would I go? I can’t afford another mortgage, and if I default on this place, we will lose it. ”

Beth Voyles is equally frustrated. Although the results of her medical tests are inconclusive, she complains of blisters in her nose and throat, headaches and nosebleeds, joint aches, rashes, an inability to concentrate, a metal taste in her mouth. Voyles filed suit against the Department of Environmental Protection in May. Range Resources chose to join the case, because its rights are also at stake. Documents from industry sources and the D.E.P. — now a matter of public record — support the suit’s allegations of a series of structural violations and hazardous incidents surrounding the pond. They include half a dozen tears in the pond’s plastic liner (at least one caused by a deer — its carcass had to be dragged out); at least four cracks in a temporary plastic transfer pipeline leading to an open field; two truck spills, one of which contaminated a cattle pasture; and a leak in an adjacent pond that held drill cuttings. Range admits that after this leak, the level of total dissolved solids, or salts, spiked in the water. Of all these violations, the D.E.P. issued a citation for only the last. The D.E.P. declined to comment, citing the ongoing case.

In mid-July, Voyles’s 25-year-old daughter, Ashley, was riding her paint gelding, Dude, behind the chemical pond. Ashley could hear a hissing and bubbling sound in the stream. There were pools of red foamy oil slick. “It was rainbow water,” Ashley said. The next morning Haney and Voyles called in the alphabet soup of government agencies they’ve contacted over the past year to test the water in the pools: the D.E.P., the E.P.A., the Fish and Boat Commission. They also called Range Resources. Sunday, the D.E.P. spokesman, said that it was most likely decayed vegetation that gave off gas. Later, test results of the area commissioned by Range Resources revealed the presence of acetone, toluene, benzene, phenol, arsenic, barium, heavy metals and methane.

Despite the years of intense suffering and displacement experienced by families such as the Haneys and Voyles, the companies causing those impacts rarely experience any consequence at all. As CBS reported yesterday about the Yeager fracking impoundment in Amwell Township in Washington County, Pennsylvania — the one next to the Haney and Voyles’ homes:

DEP spokesman John Poister says he doesn’t know how large of a fine Range Resources could face because the extent of the pollution is still being investigated.

The DEP is also working with the company on two other impoundments where chloride has leaked into the ground.

Range has been removing polluted soil from one of those, also in Amwell, while the DEP is monitoringanother site in Cecil Township after Range tests found polluted groundwater there last month.

The polluted soil being removed so far has amounted to 11,000 tons of contaminated soil, according to this report from WTAE in Pittsburgh.

Range continues to claim, through spokesman Matt Pitzarella, that no neighboring families on McAdams Road were affected.

And PA DEP appears to be attempting to treat the issue as if salt is the only contaminant in those waste pits.

Where is the truth, and what will Range’s penalty be?

Go ahead. Call PA DEP at 1-866-255-5158 to ask why any open, plastic-lined frack pits exist in PA at all. Ask what portion of Range’s income the fine will be. Exactly what is the price for clean water, clean soil, clean air, animals that live instead of die, and public health? Is a little tiny one-time slap from PA DEP just the price of doing business for Range, which claimed $1.5 billion in revenue for 2012? What will it take to make our water sacred to us again?

Maine Victory: City Council Prevents Tar Sands Oil Exports

July 23, 2014
http://ecooptimism.com/?attachment_id=763

Tar Sands oil extraction: before and after. Photo: David Bergman, from Ecooptimism.

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.

Tar Sands Blockade: “Spectacular Aerial Tree Blockade Halts Construction in Solidarity with Idle No More First Nations Movement.” Photo: tarsandsblockade.org

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:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/15/alec-yelp_n_3763025.html

Rep. Diane Russell. Photo: DianeRussell.com, from Huffington Post.

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!

Keep up the fight!

Exposing — and Resisting — Sunoco Logistics’ Fracked Gas Exports

July 17, 2014
A worker builds part of the Mariner 1 pipeline.

A worker builds part of the Mariner East pipeline, which is at the heart of a controversy over Sunoco’s attempt to use eminent domain and skirt local zoning laws. Photo: Julia Wilkinson / Delaware County Daily Times

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):

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.

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:

Huge fire from Aug. 12, 2013 pipeline explosion in Erie, Ill. could be seen from miles away  WHBF-TV

Over 1,000 Unite to Say “No Fracked Gas Exports!”: Photos, Press Release

July 14, 2014

Marching in DC: Banner held by Tim DeChristopher and Rev Lennox Yearwood on the left and Sandra Steingraber on the right

Marching in DC: Banner held by Tim DeChristopher,  Rev Lennox Yearwood, Cherri Foyntlin on the left and Sandra Steingraber on the right. Photo: Chesapeake Climate Action Network

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.

Sandra Steingraber speaks at the Capitol

Sandra Steingraber speaks at the Capitol. Photo: Beth Kemler

“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.

20140713 Stop Fracked Gas Exports rally You Can't Drink Money

“You Can’t Drink Money”: Rally to stop fracked gas exports. Photo: Susan Yin

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.”

Tim DeChristopher speaks at Stop Fracked Gas Exports Rally

Tim DeChristopher speaks at Stop Fracked Gas Exports Rally. Photo: Beth Kemler

“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.

Rev. Lennox Yearwood speaking at Stop Fracked Gas Exports rally

Rev. Lennox Yearwood speaks: Stop Fracked Gas Exports rally. Photo: Beth Kemler

“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.”

Marching on FERC

Marching on FERC.  Photo: Erik McGregor

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.”

"No Fracking Way": Communities impacted by fracking swelled the crowd

“No Fracking Way”: Communities impacted by fracking swelled the crowd

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.

Cherri Foytlin speaks. Photo: Beth Kemler

Cherri Foytlin speaks. Photo: Beth Kemler

“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.

See more photos from the rally and march on Flickr here.
 
Click here to view the Chesapeake Climate Action news release online.
Press may contact:
For more information go to www.StopGasExports.org.

“Our Refinery Is the Problem”: Philadelphia Protests Oil Bomb Trains, Honors Lac-Megantic

July 9, 2014
No Oil Bomb Trains Banner, Philadelphia

“Our Refinery Is The Problem” banner hangs from Philadelphia’s South Street Bridge on July 9, 2014 during national Oil Trains Week of Action.

 

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.

"No Exploding Oil Trains" banner displayed as shale oil train passes by the morning of  Philadelphia oil trains action, July 9 2014. Photo: Ann Dixon

“No Exploding Oil Trains” banner displayed as shale oil train passes by the morning of Philadelphia oil trains action, July 9 2014. Photo: Ann Dixon

“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:

Tracy Carluccio
Deputy Director
Delaware Riverkeeper Network
Phone: 215-369-1188 x 104
Email: tracy@delawareriverkeeper.org

Mary Donahue
Program Organizer
Clean Water Action
Phone: 215-545-0250 x 206
Email: mdonahue@cleanwater.org

 

Scientists: 2,500 Earthquakes in Oklahoma Linked to Fracking

July 8, 2014

In this Nov, 6, 2011 photo, Chad Devereaux examines bricks that fell from three sides of his in-laws home in Sparks, Okla., following two earthquakes that hit the area in less than 24 hours. A study published Thursday, July 3, 2014 by the journal Science explains how just four wells forcing massive amounts of drilling wastewater into the ground are probably causing quakes in Oklahoma.

In this Nov, 6, 2011 photo, Chad Devereaux examines bricks that fell from three sides of his in-laws home in Sparks, Okla., following two earthquakes that hit the area in less than 24 hours. A study published Thursday by the journal Science explains how just four wells forcing massive amounts of drilling wastewater into the ground are probably causing quakes in Oklahoma.

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 OhioArkansasTexas, 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.

Doug Shields Decries PA Department of Health “Gas is Good” Policy

July 6, 2014

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.

Doug Shields speaks onstage in September 2012 in Philadelphia. Photo: JJ Tiziou

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.

PA Governor Tom Corbett, bankrolled by Chesapeake Energy since 2004. Photo: Politics USA

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.

Governor’s Office Denies Involvement with Health Department Drilling Policies (StateImpact PA):

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.”

Randy Moyer, gas drilling industry worker, experienced swollen lips and face, skin lesions, and respiratory distress so severe that his 40 doctors and eight inhalers have been unable to give him reliable relief, as a result of his on the job exposure. See The Nation, “Fracking Ourselves to Death in Pennsylvania

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.”

On May 31st, 2013, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced Dr. Karen A. Hacker will be the new Health Department Director for Allegheny County. Photo: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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.

Independently yours,

Doug Shields

Where’s The Health Data?

Like a good investigative journalist himself, Doug Shields follows up with the deeper background story of how the state of Pennsylvania has steadfastly refused to collect data on the health impacts of fracking.  Here’s Doug:
“Governor Corbett’s former PA Secretary of Health tried to have some sort of scientific approach to the problem but was immediately shot down on the idea by both then Sect’y of DEP Krancer and Governor Corbett.  Never happened.”
From the New York City Legal ExaminerPA Health Secretary Wants Tracking of Residents’ Health Near Natural Gas Wells:

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.

Yet Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who appointed the commission, has made no move to create a registry, and funds for it were stripped from Act 13, a bill that rewrote the state’s oil and gas law.

After the funds for the registry were stripped, Secretary Avila was himself removed from the PA Department of Health post, although the spin around his sudden departure is genteel.
From Associated Press, “Health Department Chief Exits, Cites Family Reasons“:

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.

Health, Environment, Community Rights: All Win in Decision to Uphold Fracking Bans

July 3, 2014

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.

Countless media outlets, including Bloomberg, the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and Slate, covered the major story.

“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)

Downtown Dryden, NY.

Downtown Dryden, NY.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

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 on her farm in Dryden, NY.

Marie McRae on her farm in Dryden, NY.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

2

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 at their home in Dryden, NY.

Deborah and Joanne Cipolla-Dennis at their home in Dryden, NY.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

3

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.

 

Air pollution, traffic problems, water contamination and earthquakes have occurred in communities near fracking sites.

Air pollution, traffic problems, water contamination and earthquakes have occurred in communities near fracking sites.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

4

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.

 

Marie McRae listens to Joanne Cipolla Dennis at a Dryden Resources Awareness Coalition (DRAC) meeting.

Joanne Cipolla-Dennis at a Dryden Resource Awareness Coalition (DRAC) meeting.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

5

“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.”

 

Helen and David Slottje go over paperwork at their kitchen table.

Helen Slottje, Attorney & Goldman Environmental Prize Recipient, with her husband David Slottje

Helen and David Slottje in their upstate New York home.
COURTESY OF THE GOLDMAN ENVIRONMENTAL PRIZE

6

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.”

Marie McRae walks through town with a petition to ban fracking in Dryden.

Marie McRae gathers signatures for a petition to ban fracking in Dryden.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

7

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.”

 

The Dryden Town Board says the Pledge of Allegiance prior to a town hall meeting.

The Dryden Town Board says the Pledge of Allegiance prior to a town hall meeting.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

8

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.

Earthjustice Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg prepares for oral arguments in the Dryden court case.

Earthjustice Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg prepares for oral arguments in the Dryden court case.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

9

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.

Dryden’s efforts caught on, and communities throughout the United States began to pass similar measures, including in the highlighted states. Shale basins—areas of potential fracking—are shaded in red.

Communities throughout the United States began to pass similar measures, including in the highlighted states. Shale basins—areas of potential fracking—are shaded in red. Clockwise from top: Citizens in Longmont, CO, call for fracking bans within city limits (photo by FreeRangeLongmont.com). A rally in Dallas, TX (photo courtesy of Texas Campaign for the Environment). Los Angeles Councilmember Mike Bonin speaks at a press conference after introducing a motion to place a moratorium on fracking within city limits (photo courtesy of Mike Bonin’s office).
SHALE DATA: ENERGY INFORMATION ADMINISTRATION

10

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.

 

Helen Slottje in her backyard during the fall of 2013.

Helen Slottje in her backyard during the fall of 2013.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

11

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.

Helen Slottje and Deborah Goldberg stand on the steps of the Court of Appeals in Albany on June 3, 2014, shortly before oral arguments.

Helen Slottje and Deborah Goldberg stand on the steps of the Court of Appeals in Albany on June 3, 2014, shortly before oral arguments.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

12

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.

 

Deborah Goldberg argues before the court.

Deborah Goldberg argues before the Court of Appeals on June 3, 2014.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

13

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.

 

Residents of Dryden smile with Helen Slottje, and Earthjustice’s Deborah Goldberg and Kathleen Sutcliffe after the high court argument in Albany.

Residents of Dryden smile, with Helen Slottje and Earthjustice’s Deborah Goldberg and Kathleen Sutcliffe, after the high court argument in Albany.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

14

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.

Marie McRae and the Cippolla-Dennis' smile in streets as they hold signs in support of the Dryden fracking ban.

Marie McRae and the Cippolla-Dennis’ smile in streets as they hold signs in support of the Dryden fracking ban.
CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE

15

“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.”  

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,768 other followers