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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.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


“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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


“My voice by itself carries very little weight, but when I join my voice with my immediate neighbors, with the larger community that I live in, we all together have a voice that’s loud enough for our elected officials to hear,” said Marie McRae.

“Every community across this nation can do what Dryden did,” added Joanne Cipolla-Dennis.

“You have to care about each other. That’s the American Dream: you count on your neighbor.”  

First Nations Oppose Northern Gateway Pipeline: “We Will Take Our Fight to the Land, Sea and Courts”

June 22, 2014
northern gateway pipeline protest yarn

Northern Gateway Pipeline Protest: Boats of Gitga’at Nation move out to blockade Douglas Channel in British Columbia with “Chain of Hope” made from yarn. Photo: Huffington Post

While the Canadian government’s controversial June 17th endorsement of the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline is “tepid,” according to the Economist, which noted that the flat five-paragraph statement lacked any ringing praise for the project, First Nations opposition is fierce.

The Northern Gateway pipeline would destroy habitat for the “Spirit Bear,” rare black bears with white or creamy fur. Photo: North American Bear Center.

Enbridge, already responsible for the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history (as of 2010), wants to build the $6 billion, 1,200km (730-mile) Northern Gateway pipeline to take 525,000 barrels a day of tar sands bitumen to Kitimat, on the Pacific coast of British Columbia (BC), for shipment to Asia.

At least 23 First Nations, plus 8 councils and alliances, have already gone on record vowing to stop the Northern Gateway pipeline. Crude oil tankers are illegal under First Nations law, according to the Coastal First Nations Great Bear Initiative’s June 16th statement Unwanted Pipeline, Unwilling Province:

“Our people have lived on this coast for 10,000 years,” said Art Sterritt, Executive Director of Coastal First Nations. “Over that time we developed laws and protocols to keep human impacts on the landscape in balance. Those laws are still in effect. Crude oil tankers are banned in our territories under First Nations law.”

First Nations have also declared the Enbridge pipeline project to be “effectively dead,” because it can’t meet the 209 conditions laid out for its approval. On June 17th, when the Canadian government announced its approval for Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline, First Nations leaders declared that the government’s approval is meaningless:

“It’s an approval in name only. This project is dead,” said Art Sterritt, Executive Director of the Coastal First Nations. “The project can’t proceed with these conditions. We’ve been clear there is no technology to clean up an oil spill and the dispersant that is used causes more damage than the oil itself.”

Sterritt said.  “We’ve spent millions of dollars developing a sustainable economy. We’re not going to risk it by allowing oil tankers in our waters. It is those living on BC’s coast that will bear all the risks of an oil spill.”

Haida Nation Rejects Northern Gateway Decision

Haida Nation Flag

The Haida Nation issued their own statement on June 17th:

“We will uphold our responsibilities and Haida laws to protect our territory,” said President of the Haida Nation, Kil tlaats’gaa, Peter Lantin. “We will not allow the Northern Gateway tanker and pipeline project to proceed.”

The Haida Nation is rooted in 10,000 years of co-existence with Haida Gwaii and holds unceded Title and Rights to the marine area proposed for the tanker routes. The Haida Nation has opposed the project since its announcement in 2005. Northern Gateway’s safety record, the potential of an oil spill and increased tanker traffic threaten the environment that is the basis of a healthy economy.

“We will take our fight to the land, sea and courts to uphold and protect Haida territory, and to ensure clean water, clean air, and a healthy way of life for future generations,” he said.

Chain of Hope; “We Will Not Back Down”

The Heiltsuk Nation also issued a June 17th statement declaring that they will continue to oppose the Northern Gateway Pipeline project. Heiltsuk Chief Marilyn Slett said, “This decision represents the end of another round in a long fight to protect our lands, waters and resources. We will not back down.”

By June 20th, the first direct action blockade had already been carried out by First Nations people.
Members of the Gitga’at First Nation successfully stretched a crochet “Chain of Hope” across the Douglas Channel as a symbol of their opposition to the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline and oil tankers project. A flotilla of boats from the community began the journey at 2 pm after inclement weather delayed their launch. Gitga’at women paddled a canoe across the channel in the pouring rain, carrying a giant spool of multicolored crochet wool, interspersed with mementos and fishing floats with messages written on them.
douglas channel

The 2.5 mile Chain of Hope blockade required a lot of crocheting: all ages participated in defense of clean water, clean air and intact communities. Photo: Beacon News

“The community came together and everyone crocheted, to show our full support for the Gitga’at way of life, to stand up for our coast, the whales, our traditions, our food and for the future Gitga’at that will use our territory for generations to come,” said Jodi Hill, a member of the Gitga’at First Nation and Chain of Hope participant. “We stand today to take care for generations we will never meet, just as our ancestors stood up for us. The crochet line means something to us all now. We won’t stand for Enbridge or the government that supports them.”

The paddlers laid a crochet chain more than 11,000 feet long (about 2.5 miles) from Hawkesbury Island to Hartley Bay.
“This chain is made of wool, but it’s stronger than steel,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. “First Nations will do whatever it takes to protect our communities from the dangers of oil spills because we have everything to lose. The BC and Canadian governments ignore this message at their own peril.”
Gitga’at territory encompasses approximately 7,500 square kilometres of land and water, including a major portion of Douglas Channel, which is the proposed route oil tankers would have to travel to get to and from Kitimat.

Together, the 23 First Nations and 8 councils/alliances issued this statement on June 17th:

First Nations Going to Court United Against Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Project

Federal and Provincial Governments Disregard Indigenous Title and Rights

Today, we unequivocally reject the Harper Government’s decision to approve the Enbridge Northern Gateway tanker and pipelines project and First Nations will immediately go to court to vigorously pursue all lawful means to stop the Enbridge project.

We have governed our lands, in accordance to our Indigenous laws, since time immemorial. Our inherent Title and Rights and our legal authority over our respective territories have never been surrendered.

Our inherent rights are human rights constitutionally enshrined, judicially recognized and embodied in international legal instruments including the United Nations’Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

This project, and the federal process to approve it, violated our rights and our laws. We are uniting to defend our lands and waters of our respective territories. Our rights and laws compel us to act.

Enbridge’s Northern Gateway tanker and pipeline project exposes all communities from Alberta to the Pacific Coast to the undeniable risk of pipeline and supertanker oil spills. First Nations and the majority of British Columbians believe this project poses an unacceptable risk to the environment, the health, the safety and livelihoods of all peoples throughout this province.

We will defend our territories whatever the costs may be.

Council of the Haida Nation

Gitanmaax Band Council

Gitanyow Hereditary Chiefs



Gitxsan (Delgamuukw)




Lax kw’alaams




Neskonlith Indian Band

Office of the Wet’suwet’en

Saikuz First Nation

Takla Lake


Tsetsaut / Skii km Lax Ha

Tsleil-Waututh Nation

Wet’suwet’en First Nation

Williams Lake Indian Band



Carrier Sekani Tribal Council

Coastal First Nations

St’at’imc Chiefs Council

Tahltan Central Council

YinkaDene Alliance


BC Assembly of First Nations

First Nations Summit

Union of BC Indian Chiefs


Media inquiries, please contact:

kiltlaats’gaa Peter Lantin, President of the Haida Nation 250-626-7804

Chief Arnold Clifton, Gitgaat, 778-884-1215

Chief Councillor Ellis Ross, Haisla, 250-639-9361

Art Sterritt, Coastal First Nations, 604-868-9110

Douglas Neasloss, Kitasoo/Xaixais, 250-839-1255 ext 209

Chief Garry Reece, Lax kw’alaams, 250-625-3293

Chief Councillor Marilyn Slett, Heiltsuk Tribal Council, 250-957-2381

Nek’t (George Muldoe), Wilp of Delgamuukw, 250-842-6627

Chief Judy Wilson, Neskonlith Indian Band, 250-320-7738

Tribal Chair Terry Teegee, Carrier Sekani Tribal Council, 250-640-3256

Grand Chief Edward John, First Nations Summit, 778-772-8218)

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of BC Indian Chiefs, 250-490-5314

Sarah Thomas, Tsleil-Waututh Nation, 604.358.3371

Courtney Daws, BC Assembly of First Nations, 604-922-7733


White House Meeting Logs: Big Rail Lobbying Against “Bomb Train” Regulations

June 19, 2014

As advocates and residents at risk from oil bomb trains gear up for a July 9th commemoration — and protest — of the deaths and destruction last year in Lac Megantic, DeSmogBlog continues to investigate the hypocrisy of the oil by rail industry. These latest revelations from the White House Meeting Logs are an eye-opener for everyone working to protect communities from flaming tank cars full of blazing Bakken Shale oil. Reblogged in full from DeSmogBlog:


Justin Mikulka and Steve Horn's picture

White House Meeting Logs: Big Rail Lobbying Against “Bomb Train” Regulations It Publicly Touts

Lynchburg, Virginia Oil Train Explosion

Lynchburg, Virginia Oil Train Explosion

The Obama White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) has held the majority of itsmeetings on the proposed federal oil-by-rail safety regulations with oil and gas industry lobbyists and representatives.

But OIRA meeting logs reviewed by DeSmogBlog reveal that on June 10, theAmerican Association of Railroads (AAR)and many of its dues-paying membersalso had a chance to convene withOIRA.

Big Rail has talked a big game to the public about its desire for increased safety measures for its trains carrying oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”)in the Bakken Shale. What happens behind closed doors, the meeting logs show, tells another story.

At the June 12-13 Railway Age Oil-by-Rail Conference, just two days after rail industry representatives met with OIRA, American Association of Railroads President Edward Hamberg, former assistant secretary for governmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), made the case for safety.

“Railroads believe that federal tank car standards should be raised to ensure crude oil and other flammable liquids are moving in the safest car possible based on the product they are moving,” said Hamberg.

The industry also wants the existing crude oil fleet upgraded through retrofits or older cars to be phased out as quickly as possible.”

Yet despite public declarations along these lines, proactive safety measures were off the table for all four of Big Rail’s presentations to OIRA.

Though private discussions, the documents made public from the meeting show one consistent message from the rail industry: safety costs big bucks. And these are bucks industry is going to fight against having to spend.

Massive War Room

Those present at the June 10 OIRA meeting included representatives from AAR, the American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association, Union Pacific,Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF), CSX CorporationNorfolk Southern and theDOT.

Akin to the gargantuan war room in the film “Dr. Strangelove,” 26 people took part in the session.

Scene from “Dr. Strangelove”; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Invitees included Meredith Kelsch, senior attorney for DOTOrest Dachniwsky, associate general counsel for BNSFRobert Schmidt, senior manager of operations and casualty analysis for Union Pacific; and Richard Theroux, who has worked at the Office of Management and Budget — parent of OIRA — for nearly three decades.

“19th Century Technology”

The heading on the first slide of CSX’s presentation for OIRA stated, “ECPbrakes are expensive and do not offer material safety advantages.”

ECP is industry shorthand for Electronically Controlled Pneumatic brakes, currently considered the best available brakes in the business.

At a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) hearing in April, Richard Connor, safety specialist for DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), gave a presentation comparing the conventional air brake system used on most freight trains to the ECP brakes passed over by CSX.

I’m not sure with the audience if you all understand how the current air brake systems on our freight trains out there operate today, but it’s basically 19th century technology,” said Connor.

Connor also described the performance of the brakes in an emergency situation as “painfully slow” in comparing ECP’s response time to that of the conventional braking system.

One of the biggest advantages of ECP is that signal to apply your brakes…is going at the speed of light…it’s a much quicker signal,” he said.

Connor also discussed how ECP would “offer material safety advantages” over current technology in an oil train accident, even if expensive.

For the purpose of why we would want ECP on, say, a unit train like these oil trains, [it’s] to reduce the impact of a derailment or reduce the damages caused by a derailment of these types of trains,” explained Connor.

[The purpose] is you get a much quicker application, you reduce that kinetic energy involved with that train.”


BNSF serves as the Queen Bee in the oil-by-rail world.

Owned by major Obama donor and one of richest men on the planetWarren BuffettBNSF has already held two meetings with OIRA in recent weeks.

Warren Buffett (L), President Barack Obama (R); Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

When asked about the first two meetings, BNSF spokeswoman Roxanne Butler told EnergyWire, “[BNSF] believe[s] the next ­generation tank cars should exceed the 2011, stronger new standard known as the CPC­-1232 tank car.”

But BNSF avoided the topic of tank cars in its third meeting with OIRA and stuck to another topic instead: train speed. Namely, BNSF told OIRA that reducing train speed costs them money.

And one of the final slides in a presentation given by AAR on train speed is titled “Far Reaching Economic Impacts.”

That slide details what AAR says will be the negative impacts to the greater economy if oil trains are required to slow down on the tracks.

But what of the costs of oil trains traveling at normal speed or above that derail and spill their cargo, increasingly resulting in major explosions?

At the April NTSB conference, Gregory Saxton, chief engineer for rail tank manufacturer Greenbriar, responded to a question about how much of an issue speed was in a derailment involving tank cars.

Kinetic energy is related to the square of velocity. So if you double the speed, you have four times as much energy to deal with,” argued Saxton. “Speed is a big deal.”

Unattended “Bomb Trains” 

In its meeting with OIRA, Big Rail also argued that regulations designed to ensure that oil trains are always attended by a crew are too costly.

As an industry presentation delivered to OIRA says, doing this will “significantly drive up costs.”

The train accident that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, which exploded into a massive fireball, was unattended. The cost of cleaning up the aftermath of that disaster may total up to $2.7 billion and taxpayers will foot that bill.

Lac-Mégantic disaster from outer space; Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

According to the same presentation, between salary and fuel costs for idling trains, it would cost $105.64 per hour to pay a crew to attend oil-by-rail trains along their journey.

Using those predicted rates, that means it would take 25 million hours of financial compensation for crews to equal the projected clean-up costs in Lac-Mégantic.

Behind Closed Doors

The rail industry offers up claims about how much it cares about safety when speaking to the public. But behind closed doors, the June 10 OIRA meeting makes clear that public relations pitch goes by the wayside in favor of hard-nosed lobbying muscle to avoid accountability.

“With all of the oil-by-rail derailments in the past year, accompanied by deaths, fireballs, spills, toxic smoke and multiple large-scale evacuations, you’d think it’s high time for the concerns of ordinary people to be top priority,” Iris Marie Bloom, founder of Protecting Our Waters and oil train critic, told DeSmogBlog.

“These meetings reveal the opposite is happening: rail and oil industries are lobbying overtime and getting repeated access to their friends in high places while regular people, whose lives are at risk, have no access at all.”

Photo Credit: @jakeholla | Twitter

Arlington, Virginia: Resolution to Prohibit Fracking in Potomac River Watershed

June 18, 2014

Arlington, Virginia water quality treatment process. Photo:

Virginia is the latest state to join the fight to protect downstream water drinkers from upstream fracking operations. Yesterday Arlington, Virginia, right across the river from Washington, D.C., weighed in powerfully when the Arlington County Board unanimously passed the “Resolution Concerning Horizontal Fracturing in the George Washington National Forest.”

The Resolution calls for horizontal fracturing to be prohibited in the forest in order to protect the Potomac River Watershed, and particularly to protect the approximately one million residents of Arlington County, the District of Columbia, the City of Falls Church, and a portion of Fairfax County, who drink Potomac River water treated by the Washington Aqueduct.

Here is the full text of the resolution as it passed yesterday. Copycat actions are welcome and encouraged.

Resolution Concerning Horizontal Fracturing in the George Washington National Forest

WHEREAS¸ the George Washington National Forest is located in the Potomac River Watershed and plays a vital role in protecting downstream water quality; and

WHEREAS¸ the Potomac River is the sole raw water source for water treated by the Washington Aqueduct Division of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, serving approximately 1 million residents of Arlington County, the District of Columbia, the City of Falls Church and a portion of Fairfax County; and

WHEREAS¸ Arlington County purchases its water from the Washington Aqueduct and distributes it to the over 210,000 residents that live in Arlington and hundreds of thousands of others who work and play in our community on a daily basis; and

WHEREAS¸ the Potomac River flows to the Chesapeake Bay, a vital estuary for which Arlington continues to invest substantial sums to protect from pollution; and

WHEREAS, the United States Forest Service is currently in the process of updating its George Washington National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan, which will direct natural resource management for the forest for the next 10 to 15 years, including the possibility of mining the Marcellus Shale by horizontal hydraulic fracturing; and

WHEREAS¸ horizontal fracturing is currently exempted from many of the requirements of the federal laws that protect our nation’s water supply, such as the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act; and

WHEREAS, at the request of the United States Congress, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is conducting a research study on the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas on drinking water resources; and

WHEREAS¸ numerous other stakeholders have expressed their concerns with horizontal fracturing in the George Washington National Forest, including the EPA, the National Park Service, and many of the localities in our region that depend upon the Potomac River for their water supply; and

WHEREAS, the August 2011 Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Draft Revised Land and Resource Management Plan for the George Washington National Forest, developed by the United States Forest Service, states “concern about the development of gas resources in the Marcellus shale formation led to Plan direction that horizontal drilling would not be allowed on any federal leases.  This restriction is based on concerns about the impacts of extensive hydraulic fracturing associated with horizontal drilling on water quality, the unknown potential for developing the Marcellus shale formation on the George Washington National Forest, and the limited experience with horizontal drilling in the immediate vicinity of the GWNF.”


  1. Expresses our concern about the potential impact of horizontal fracturing in the George Washington National Forest on the Potomac River Watershed, and therefore the quality of Arlington County’s water supply, and;
  2. Supports the United States Forest Service’s proposal, contained in the George Washington National Forest Draft Forest Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, to prohibit the use of horizontal fracturing in the George Washington National Forest.

Ripples of Celebration

Congratulations to the Arlington County Board. We expect to see more resolutions like this one throughout the Potomac River Watershed!

As the news spreads, water protectors already active in the hard work for clean water are celebrating. Robin Broder, a board member of Waterkeepers Chesapeake, commented:

“As a long time resident of Arlington,  I am proud that the Arlington County Board recognizes the importance of the George Washington National Forest to the protection of the headwaters of the Potomac River. As a clean water advocate,  I applaud the Board for helping the people who live downstream from the forest connect with the source of their drinking water,  the Potomac River. “

Well Warned: Arlington, Texas

If Arlington, Virginia residents want more information about fracking we suggest they study impacts in Arlington, Texas, well documented by veteran writer Sharon Wilson:

Arlington Flowback Misery Day Four

Arlington Divided by Chesapeake Energy Fracking Site

Chesapeake Energy Sickens Arlington Residents Again

Chesapeake Vents Fracking Flowback, Putting Another Arlington Community at Risk

Sickened Arlington Residents Challenge Chesapeake Energy

A Gaping Hole in Arlington, Texas On Top of Fracking

Arlington, Texas is just one of thousands of places which now show how important preventive actions like this really are.  Thanks to the Texans for warning the Virginians… and the Pennsylvanians… and the New Yorkers… who just overwhelming passed a three-year statewide fracking moratorium! The momentum is building.




Action Alert: Say NO to Sunoco Logistics Hazardous Gas Liquids Pipeline and Their Bid for Public Utility Status

June 5, 2014

Say NO To Pipeline Politics!



Monday, June 9, 2014 is the Public Utility Commission (PUC) filing deadline for comment on Sunoco Logistics application for Public Utility Status — not post-marked, but in PUC’s hands!

If granted public utility status, Sunoco Logistics will gain the ability to exercise Eminent Domain over the municipalities and citizens of Pennsylvania to build their controversial Mariner East pipeline. Don’t let the PUC give Sunoco Logistics a free pass on a volatile natural gas liquids pipeline project without being subject to local zoning ordinances and approvals. The Mariner East  is a high-pressure, high-volume pipeline with numerous pump and valve stations. Many townships are up in arms, understandably, and residents are demanding greater transparency and adequate time for public review.

Mail Your Letter to PUC Chairman, Robert Powelson TODAY.

Use the links HERE or customize this sample letter:   Read more…

SOS Susquehanna: Press Conference Call Today, 1 pm

June 5, 2014

Media Advisory: June 5, 2014

Contacts:  Nathan Sooy, Clean Water Action: 717-585-2700

Joanne Kilgour, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter: 717-232-0101

Kristen Cevoli, PennEnvironment: (215) 732-5897

Tri-State Alliance Demands Governors Authorize Susquehanna Natural Gas Cumulative Impacts Study through SRBC:

Campaign Urges Focus on Shale Gas Drilling, Waste, Infrastructure 

Blue Heron along the Susquehanna River. Photo: Bucknell University.

WHAT: Groups in three states call on NY, PA and MD governors, Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC), to demand a comprehensive study of shale gas operations’ cumulative impacts on water quality in the Susquehanna River Basin. The groups are holding press conferences in conjunction with meetings of the SRBC in their member state. The Pennsylvania event coincides with Thursday’s meeting of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission in Entriken, PA..

WHO: Environmental, faith-based, civic, and human rights groups: Clean Water Action, Sierra Club PA Chapter, Sierra Club MD Chapter, Protecting Our Waters, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future, Berks Gas Truth, PennEnvironment, League of Women Voters, PA

SPEAKERS:   Guy Alsentzer, Attorney, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper

Joanne Kilgour, Chapter Director, Sierra Club/Pennsylvania Chapter

Nathan Sooy, Clean Water Action/Pennsylvania

Kristen Cevoli, PennEnvironment

Jennifer Quinn, Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture)

Susan Carty, Pa League of Women Voters

Karen Feridun, Berks Gas Truth

Iris Marie Bloom, Protecting Our Waters

Michael Helfrich, The Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper

WHERE: Call in to participate – 800-509-6344    Access Code:  3387374#

WHEN: Thurs. June 5th at 1 PM EST.

 More information:   Nathan R Sooy

Central Pennsylvania Campaign Coordinator
Clean Water Action

(717) 233-1801 office

(717) 585-2700 cell

Oil Trains Letter: “President Obama Should Demand Immediate Action!”

June 4, 2014

Oi train derails and catches fire in Lynchburg, Virginia; spills into James River. Photo: Blue Virginia.

Today’s New York Times carries a strong response to their understated editorial, “Time to Move on Dangerous Tank Cars.”   Correctly identifying the scope of the problem as much bigger than old tank cars, Noah Greenwald asserts, “even stronger tanker cars are prone to puncture, leading to explosive, life-threatening fireballs and spills.” Here’s his letter in full:

To the Editor:

Re “Time to Move on Dangerous Tank Cars” (editorial, May 30):

Stronger tanker cars for transporting highly volatile crude oil will not alone protect our citizens, rivers or wildlife from this unchecked risk.

As your editorial correctly suggests, stronger federal regulations are needed immediately to counter the large increase in shipments of crude oil by rail. But as demonstrated in the recent accident in Lynchburg, Va., even stronger tanker cars are prone to puncture, leading to explosive, life-threatening fireballs and spills.

Inexplicably, the Coast Guard and the Environmental Protection Agency have failed to meet their legal duty to update response plans to account for these spills and explosions.

We know that trains will continue to derail. And with billions of gallons of explosive crude oil moving by rail across the country, we know that these dangerous accidents will continue to threaten our communities and natural resources. President Obama should demand immediate action.

Endangered Species Director
Center for Biological Diversity
Portland, Ore., May 30, 2014

Noah Greenwald’s contribution is an excellent example for the rest of us. Haven’t written your own letter about the oil trains disasters to your local, regional, statewide or national media outlets? The effort is worth it, because the regulators consistently downplay the actual dangers from the oil trains. The media also fails to connect the dots: this shale oil comes from Bakken Shale fracking and flaring, resulting in climate devastation, even as climate change is more and more recognized as Public Enemy #1. Try it your way: speak up. Speak out. Connect the dots. Stop the oil bomb trains.

EPA Action 12 Noon Today: Hold Coal Companies Accountable!

June 4, 2014

Today in Philadelphia, from 12 noon to 1 pm, activists are confronting the Environmental Protection Agency to demand it do its job, “putting an end to the cycle of surface mining and water pollution.” Here’s the alert from the Sierra Club:

Appalachia is locked into polluted water, and the EPA has the key
Join Us – Wed, June 4, 12:00 noon to 1:00 pm
EPA Region 3 Headquarters at 17th & Arch in Philadelphia

A coal ash pond pollutes the Ohio River. Hidden cameras exposed this pollution in March; Earthjustice and Sierra Club issued this press release about the pollution.

Coal companies need to be held accountable for the pollution it generates and monitored to make sure they abide by the rules and regulations of the Clean Water and Air Acts. The Virginia and West Virginia Departments of Environmental Protection are tasked with enforcing these rules, but often state agencies are not up to the task, or have a conflict of interest when trying to accommodate economic growth while protecting natural resources. That’s where the EPA comes in. The EPA needs to oversee state agencies and assist in the permitting process to put an end to cycle of surface mining and water pollution.

Tell the EPA to stand up to coal companies and state agencies. WE WILL STAND WITH YOU!
 Philadelphia is home to the region 3 headquarters of the EPA, which is responsible for all of Virginia and West Virginia. We are helping to give a voice to the people of Appalachia.
You’ve no doubt heard about the chemical spills in West Virginia. The coal ash spills in North Carolina and Virginia. (News stories here) And the toxins that are in groundwater in Appalachia are part of everyday life, but this is not acceptable.
Help us make some noise at the EPA today! Stand with the Sierra Club, Rising Tide and other environmental groups to show our support for the communities of Appalachia.
[You are welcome to join us for the march. Bring something to make some noise.]
Jim Wylie
Sierra Club Volunteer


If you missed participating in this event, you can still support it by writing a letter to the editor about it after the fact, or calling your federal legislators to urge them to make sure EPA does its job. If you’re reading this, chances are you are using electricity, and chances are good that coal is involved. So it’s all our job to step up the pressure on the EPA!

Sunoco Mariner East Pipeline is a “Recipe for Disaster”

June 2, 2014

Mariner East Pipeline: Sunoco Logistics plans to pipe high-pressure, volatile natural gas liquids (NGLs) from Pennsylvania’s fracking sacrifice zones to export from the Delaware River. Source: Observer-Reporter.

Across Pennsylvania, resistance is growing to Sunoco Logistics’ Mariner East Pipeline from multiple perspectives:

  • Engineers and industry insiders assess the explosion risk from the re-purposed pipeline as a “recipe for disaster”.
  • Landowners and municipalities oppose Sunoco’s twisted attempt to use “public utility” status to evade local zoning regulations and to use eminent domain for land grabs,.
  • Environmental groups are disturbed by the climate impacts of the pipeline, which would export more than 50% of its contents (volatile fracked gas liquids, ethane and propane) overseas.
  • Community and environmental groups oppose the large-scale cumulative impacts on water, air and land from the fracking, refinery processing, pump stations, storage and export facilities which are all part of the Mariner East project.
  • Public health and human rights advocates are angered by the air pollution and drinking water contamination in communities impacted by fracking from cradle to grave, exemplified by the massive toxic smoke released by the MarkWest refinery in Houston, Pennsylvania, which is the western starting point of the Mariner East pipeline.

Increased Coordination

Of course, the above groups are not separate and are increasingly coordinating efforts. In particular, the June 9th PUC deadline for public comment on Sunoco Logistics’ application to evade local zoning laws by declaring itself a “public utility” has led to increased unity among the opponents. Sample letters for you to customize, print and mail are posted here in an action alert by Protecting Our Waters boosting this effort.

Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) is among the groups which have stepped in to legally intervene in Sunoco’s attempt to be declared a public utility:

“In late March, Sunoco Logistics, L.P. submitted petitions to the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) in 31 different townships, some of which are in the Delaware Watershed, along its proposed Mariner East Pipeline requesting that it be granted status as a public utility corporation. If the PUC says yes to that status change, Sunoco would be EXEMPT from local zoning for the additions of pump and valve stations.

“Sunoco’s Petitions to PUC state the Project will require the construction of 17 valve stations in 15 different municipalities, and the construction of 18 pumping stations in 18 different municipalities. DRN has filed comments and a motion to intervene with the PUC in order to challenge this dangerous request. In response to multiple interventions and objects Sunoco has filed a motion to submit an amended Petition for Exemption.  An interesting development demonstrating the power of the community attention on this important issue.”

Meanwhile, new blogs and websites opposing the Mariner East project have popped up, an indication of increasingly organized resistance from Westmoreland County in western PA and Dauphin County in central PA to Chester County in southeastern PA. The rhetoric varies from the straightforward “Just the Facts, Please” and the highly focused Chester County Community Coalition to Chester County Ramblings, which compared Sunoco Logistics pipelines to cockroaches, in their post titled “Sleazy Sunoco,” on April 30th, 2014. This argument embodies a property rights perspective:

I have learned from Chester County residents who already have the older version of the pipeline a couple of interesting things: I thought (mistakenly and incorrectly) that if Sunoco used someone’s property that they paid rent annually to the property owner. I am told they don’t. I also wondered what happened when real estate changed hands. Apparently Sunoco doesn’t pay homeowners who inherit them in their backyards anything.

So basically, letting Sunoco in is like allowing cockroaches?

An earlier post on the same site, “Will it be eminent domain and pipelines, Sunoco?” challenges Sunoco’s attempt to claim eminent domain for its pipelines. The Mariner East pipelines would  benefit only Sunoco execs and investors, since the pipelines are carrying NGLs — natural gas liquids, a product of intensive fracking in western Pennsylvania — to be exported to Norway, jacking up the greenhouse gas footprint sky-high, pun intended.

Pump Stations Ignite Protest

Residents in West Goshen, in Chester County, Pennsylvania, are “fighting mad, and battling Sunoco Logistics and its plan for the Mariner East 2 pipeline project,” reports Jeremy Gerrard of the Daily Local News:

Staff photo by Tom Kelly IV Hundreds of people pack the West Goshen Township Building to discuss the Sunoco pipeline at a meeting on Thursday, March 27, 2014. Source:

W. Goshen residents upset with gas pump station proposal By Jeremy Gerrard, Daily Local News POSTED: 03/30/14, 7:47 PM EDT |

WEST GOSHEN — Township residents are organizing against the construction of a proposed natural gas pump station, voicing outrage over possible health and safety issues from the facility.

“This doesn’t just affect West Goshen, but every community from here to Marcus Hook,” resident Tom Casey said.

Sunoco is requesting a variance from West Goshen at an April 3, 2014 zoning meeting to build a pipeline pump station with 34 foot ‘flare stack’ in a neighborhood at Boot Road and Route 202. Sunoco has similar requests in 31 municipalities across Pa as it transitions a cross-state petroleum pipeline to ethane, butane, propane liquid gas use.

Mariner East Pipeline “Recipe for Disaster”

Source: Independent Reporting on Marcellus-Shale.Us

So, aside from high-impact fracking; the toxic MarkWest refinery in Western Pennsylvania; Sunoco attempting to use  eminent domain to legalize stealing land from regular people — including farmers — along the way; polluting pump stations; and increased global warming, what else is not to like about the Mariner East pipeline?

Danger, that’s what. Protecting Our Waters already pointed out the danger of explosion here, here, and here, but even we had missed a key technical reason why this project should not go forward.

An authoritative source close to the project emailed me privately to emphasize a little-known aspect of the pipeline which he says makes it a “recipe for disaster”:

Mariner East will be transporting ethane and propane exclusively in the liquid state. The operating pressures required to transport liquid propane and ethane are significantly higher than the pressures used to transport refined products, like gasoline and diesel fuel. This is because gasoline/diesel are liquids at room temperature and atmospheric pressure, while ethane/propane exist as gases. The only way to keep ethane and propane in the liquid state is to keep them under high pressure.
Why does this matter? Sunoco claims to be reusing existing pipelines that previously carried refined products. This means that pipe in Mariner East will be seeing 150-200% more pressure than it has ever seen before. I’m sure that the pipe sections are rated for the increased operating pressures, but these ratings are given by pipe manufacturers for new pipe, not pipe that has been sitting in the ground for decades. When you look at the heavily populated areas that Sunoco is planning to run Mariner East through, this seems like the recipe for disaster.
If you live in Pennsylvania or Delaware, now’s a good time to start writing and calling your state and local legislators to get them on board to stop this project, which turns our communities into sacrifice zones for exports to Norway.
And don’t forget– if you’re reading this before June 7th, use this Action Alert to write the PUC yourself.





“Huge victory”: Stanford Divests $18 Billion Endowment from Coal Stock

May 8, 2014

Under pressure from Fossil Free Stanford, Stanford University announced on Tuesday that it would immediately divest its $18.7 billion endowment of stock in coal-mining companies. The New York Times commented yesterday on Stanford’s role as a national and global leader: “At least 11 small universities have elected to remove fossil-fuel stocks from their endowments, but none approaches Stanford’s prestige or national influence.”

Stanford students: hard work led to breakthrough. Photo: Fossil Free Stanford Facebook page.

Yari Greaney, 20, a Fossil Free Stanford organizer, said the group was “very proud of Stanford taking this leadership position.” Bill McKibben, leader of, emphasized that Stanford “knows the havoc that climate change creates around our planet… Other forward-thinking and internationally minded institutions will follow, I’m sure.” Maura Cowley, executive director of Energy Action Coalition, called the decision a “huge, huge victory.”

Fossil Free Stanford: Another Grad Student for Divestment.

Stanford’s focus on divesting from coal includes about 100 companies wordwide which have coal mining as their primary activity. The decision came after an advisory panel of students, faculty, staff and alumni spent about five months studying the issue before making their recommendation, Deborah DeCotis, the chairwoman of the board’s special committee on investment responsibility, told the New York Times.

Fossil Fuels Meet Criteria for “Substantial Social Injury”

The university’s decision to divest from coal hinged on three elements. First: the growing clout of the campaign to divest fossil fuel investments, which now has a base on 300 campuses. Second: Stanford’s internal guidance allows its trustees to consider whether “corporate policies or practices create substantial social injury” when choosing investments. Third: the Stanford coalition was successful in using a broad-based study group, in addition to protest and pressure tactics, to achieve consensus among students, faculty, staff and alumni, giving the trustees a solid basis for their decision. It’s likely that, having witnessed this major success, other university-based groups will emulate their tactics. While coal currently stands alone in Stanford’s decision to divest, Ms. DeCotis told the Times,

This is not the ending point. It’s a process. We’re a research institute, and as the technology develops to make other forms of alternative energy sources available, we will continue to review and make decisions about things we should not be invested in. Don’t interpret this as a pass on other things.”

“Other things” should include shale oil and gas, damaging fossil fuel infrastructure, and other aspects of extreme energy extraction, such as the uranium mining which has poisoned First Nations’ lands for many decades. The vagueness of “other things” leaves us on the edge of our seats, eager to witness Act Two as Stanford begins to take its moral responsibility to stop escalating climate change more seriously.

Looking Forward: Fracking, Earthquakes, and Divestment

Yesterday’s New York Times physically positioned its prominent coverage of Stanford’s decision, “Stanford to Purge $18 Billion Endowment of Coal Stock,” on page A15, immediately below its major story on climate, “U.S. Climate Has Already Changed, Scientists Find in Study.” But they also positioned it immediately to the left of “Scientists See Quake Risk Increasing in Oklahoma,” as if to remind alert readers that those who laughed a few years ago at the prospect of increasing frequency and intensity of earthquakes due to underground injection of fracking waste… are no longer laughing. Oklahoma has already experienced 145 “small” earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or higher this year, according to scientists with the United States Geological Survey and the Oklahoma Geological Survey. Prior to the onset of fracking waste injection wells, for thirty years — the three decades until 2009 — Oklahoma averaged only two quakes a year of magnitude 3.0 or higher. Scientists now say that the sharp rise in the number of earthquakes due to oil and gas flowback injection underground has “significantly increased the chances that a damaging quake will occur there.” Perhaps water contamination from shale gas and oil operations; massive climate-harming methane leaks throughout the extraction, processing and transportation life-cycle of shale gas; intense air pollution; and harms to public health — not to mention earthquakes — from high-volume horizontal shale fracking with multi-well pads… will soon be on Stanford’s list of fossil fuels that create “substantial social injury” as the divestment movement broadens, deepens, and wins.


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