Public Comment Philadelphia City Council Jan 27, 2011 from Mark Schmerling; photojournalist
B. Mark Schmerling, Documentary Photographer
P.O. Box 753, Bryn Athyn, Pa. 19009
215 495 5223
Delaware River Basin Commissioners
West Trenton, NJ 08628
January 26, 2011
My purpose in writing to you is simple– to implore you to continue the moratorium against Marcellus Shale gas drilling in the entire river basin. The reasons are many and serious.
As a documentary photographer, I have already learned about the widespread contamination of both groundwater and drinking water wells from the entire cycle of coal. In my travels to southwest Pennsylvania, to meet with residents negatively impacted by the consequences of drilling, or being sickened by toxins emitted from recently-constructed nearby compressor stations, it is shocking that our elected officials have let this predatory industry into my beloved state. I challenge you to show me a more precious resource than pure groundwater.
I’ve seen the lines of trucks driven by workers who have invaded these rural areas, the menacing drill rigs and pads. I’ve met individuals whose blood contains phenol and benzene from living near compressor stations. I’ve witnessed the awful chemical stench from one such station, just part of the immense infrastructure that is turning some of our Edens into wastelands.
I’ve met landowners whose cattle have died and/or delivered still-born calves, from the adults having drunk water contaminated by the drilling. Arsenic and other heavy metals have infiltrated drinking water wells and water used by cattle. Surviving beef cattle eat, but don’t gain the normal weight. I’ve seen black “water” in a family’s toilet tank— water which one Pa. DEP representative didn’t think was tainted.
This much is certain: We got along without gas from any of these deep shale deposits; we can continue getting along without it. Prolonging our fossil fuel addiction when renewable energy is so much more healthful, and produces greater and sustained employment, produces energy for the U.S. (as opposed to huge amounts of both coal and gas being shipped abroad), is criminally irresponsible. Natural gas is not a bridge fuel. Relying on it only prevents us from rapidly transitioning to renewable energy sooner, with more jobs, better health, safer water for drinking and for wildlife, and fewer taxpayer subsidies. Keeping drillers out of state forests and similar land will help maintain our tourist industry, keep more jobs in forestry and in the hardwood industry. In addition, the cycle of natural gas drilling releases immense amounts of CO2.
It is also evident that our environmental regulatory agencies have insufficient personnel and pitifully little mandate from most politicians to protect our environment and our health. It is no accident that former Halliburton CEO Dick Cheney, a man whose dictionary excludes the term “conflict of interest,” helped Congress jam through the so-called Halliburton Loophole in 2005, excluding the oil and gas industries from major portions of the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. If hydraulic fracturing is so safe, why is this? If it’s so safe, why does legislation allow companies like Halliburton to hide the contents of the fluid? Those 596 ingredients don’t include fresh vegetables, whole grain, pure water, or even jelly donuts.
I’ll let you speak with Ron Gulla of Hickory, Washington County, Pa., whose farm was poisoned and hijacked by Range Resources. Ron has no place to live now, because his land, like that of others, in unfit for habitation. You can talk with Phyllis Carr of southwest Fayette County, who, along with her grandchildren, has become ill from the poisons coming off a nearby (350 feet away!) compressor station. You can talk with Wayne and Angel Smith of Clearville, Bedford County, whose cattle have either died or have stunted growth, whose water contains arsenic (only since a gas well and compressor station were constructed nearby). Or, meet Sandy McDaniel, also of Clearville, who has suffered severe health problems from mercaptan, and who knows what else, coming off the same compressor station near her home. Or, meet Terry Greenwood of Daisytown, Washington County. Terry and his wife bought their farm in 1988, and have never signed a lease for gas drilling. However, someone signed a lease in 1921, and the Greenwoods are suffering for it, with fields damaged for road-building, and with three of the farm’s four water sources either poisoned or otherwise put out of commission. The drilling company provides some water—not the pure water the farm once produced—and not enough to keep the beef production going. Two years ago, Terry’s cows delivered ten stillborn calves, after the cows drank water coming off a well site on the farm. Or, you can meet Steph Hallowich, whose family has been sickened, and their land and home made valueless by their proximity to a complex of wells, compressor stations and other legacies of this bridge to nowhere fuel.
This, folks, is merely the very tip of the iceberg. This is what will happen in the Delaware River Basin if the moratorium is lifted. This is my drinking water potentially being poisoned, and that of millions of other residents of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey and Delaware.
We have the sun and the wind, and the technology now, to power our homes, cars and industries from them. Please, do not let a greedy and corrupting industry bleed the life out of this magnificent resource, and its millions of residents. I implore you keep the current moratorium on Marcellus Shale gas-drilling in the river basin. Go with science, not politics.
Thank you very much.