Philadelphia City Council unanimously passes resolution to sue DRBC, demand impact studies, forbid fracking for now
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday October 13, 2011
Philadelphia City Council unanimously passes Resolution to sue the Delaware River Basin Commission, demands cumulative impacts of high-volume hydraulic fracturing be studied, forbidding fracking for now
Philadelphia: At noon today, all seventeen members of Philadelphia’s City Council voted in favor of a resolution which joins the City of Philadelphia as a Friend of the Court, together with lawsuits already filed by the Attorney General of the State of New York, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and other parties, in suing the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC). Philadelphia is joining these lawsuits to require, according to the resolution passed today, “that no drilling of Marcellus Shale take place until a full environmental analysis is completed.”
“Today was a great day for democracy, science and human health in Philadelphia,” said abe [Mr. Alex Allen], Associate Director of Protecting Our Waters, after the vote. “Our representatives in City Council chose to unanimously look out for the interests of the people while resisting the persistent lobbying of the industry.”
The resolution was sponsored by Councilman Curtis Jones and Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, and co-sponsored by Councilwoman Maria Quinones Sanchez. Physician Walter Tsou, Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, Denise Dennis, whose historic land is impacted by shale gas drilling; and two activists testified in favor. About 30 supporters inside City Hall held up signs affirming, “Protect Our Water,” and “Don’t Drill the Delaware.” Councilman O’Neill, the only councilperson not present for the vote, had cast his “aye” vote before leaving the chambers. Councilman Jones’ office is now following up to ensure that the brief is filed, working with Council’s technical staff of lawyers.
Rabbi Mordechai Liebling, who testified at Council today, was delighted with the vote. “Shale gas drilling is a public health disaster in the making,” he warned.
Dr. Walter Tsou, President of Physicians for Social Responsibility, past president of the American Public Health Association and former health commissioner of Philadelphia, also testified. “As a public health physician, I have grave concerns about public health and environmental consequences of hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale region,” he said. “A cursory list of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing includes known carcinogens like diethyl benzene, ethyl benzene, formaldehyde, petroleum distillate (paint remover) and ethylene glycol, otherwise known as antifreeze. Add to that methane [migration into groundwater] and flowback [drilling wastewater] contaminated with radioactive isotopes…. Politicians have explicitly avoided the public health question because if they were really confronted with it, they would stop hydraulic fracturing.”
The resolution, which demands both a Delaware River Basin-specific cumulative impacts study and the EPA national study of the risks high-volume hydraulic fracturing poses to drinking water, includes a clause which appears to lay the groundwork to do just that for the Delaware River Basin, which supplies Philadelphia with 100% of its drinking water (the Schuylkill River is also in the Basin):
“Whereas, If the combined results of both a national EPA study and a Delaware River Basin-specific cumulative impacts study, show the potential for catastrophic risk, potential costs, and the inherent and cumulative risks to water, air, climate, farms, food, economy, fish and wildlife, human health, scenic value, and the tourism base, the City of Philadelphia will determine whether it is advisable to call for the entire Delaware River Basin to be kept off limits to unconventional gas drilling techniques.” The resolution also quotes the Pennsylvania Constitution’s famous clause ensuring that the people of Pennsylvania must enjoy “clean air, pure water,” and more.
Julie Edgar of Gas-Truth, an advocacy group which has sprung up to oppose shale gas drilling, testified in favor. After the vote she said, “Common sense advocates were pleased that the City Council of Philadelphia did the obvious right thing to support voices calling for the precautionary principle, demanding that we wait for cumulative environmental impact studies to be completed.”
Aaron Birk, a resident of West Philadelphia, was exuberant. In his testimony prior to the vote he said, “This is our chance to make history. The City of Philadelphia can stand up to an industry which wants only profit…. If we stand up to the industry, we have everything to gain.” After the vote, he commented, “There’s a lot of excitement here. Denise Dennis was fiercely articulate. (Councilwoman) Jannie Blackwell made several moving comments; she made a prayer for the occupiers, the sick and homeless and struggling people, and spoke in praise of the Occupy movement. She encouraged Council to respond to their constituents who are out in the street with serious concerns.” Today, Birk said, Council did just that, standing up to the fracking industry because, he said, “even if dollars did flow into the city, they’d dry up from public health costs and we’d be left with poisoned water.”
Late in the day on Wednesday, several Councilmembers indicated they’d been hearing a great deal from constituents in favor of passing the resolution to forbid fracking and sue the DRBC. A spokesman for Councilman Green said, “We are receiving a lot of calls in favor, and we are documenting everything.” A spokesman for Councilman Rizzo said, “We’ve gotten a lot of calls about that… I believe he’ll go that way [a yes vote].” Spokespeople in the offices of Councilman Darrell Clarke and Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller said they’d received “a large number of calls in favor.”
The Delaware River Basin Commission has stated that they expect to vote on November 21st on ending the current moratorium and opening the Delaware River Basin to fracking, the controversial technique used in “tight” formations such as deep shale using large volumes of water mixed with “mystery” chemicals, which the industry is not obliged to disclose due to exemptions from federal law. The chemicals turn fresh water into “slickwater,” the industry term for water mixed with fracking chemicals, which is injected at extremely high pressure to fracture the bedrock, using lateral drilling up to two miles long and one mile deep. Fracking releases methane, a climate-warming fossil fuel the industry calls “natural gas.” Other gas byproducts are also released; some are used to create single-use plastics, which are choking the oceans and killing marine life; and nitrogen-based fertilizer, the runoff from which is creating huge dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean.
The DRBC estimates about 20,000 gas wells would be approved. At the average rate of about 5 million gallons of “slickwater” injected per well, that would mean over 100 billion gallons of toxic fracking fluid would be injected through the aquifers of the Delaware River Basin, deep underground. Cement casing failure rate is about 12% immediately, 50% within 30 years, and 100% within 100 years, according to Professor Anthony Ingraffea, fracturing mechanics expert at Cornell University. The current rate of environmental violations at Marcellus Shale drilling sites, including spills of industrial liquids such as frack fluid, is eleven violations as day.
In 2009, seventeen cows died bellowing in agony within an hour after drinking fracking fluid which spilled from a valve left open. That fluid, according to Chesapeake Energy, which was responsible for the incident, was 99% water and only 1% fracking fluid.
Farmers in Pennsylvania have reported many deaths of cattle which they believe was caused by fracking contaminants in water, as well as stillborn calves, puppies, goats, and other animals linked to exposure to gas drilling contaminants. Fracking fluid impacts the respiratory, endocrine, reproductive, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular systems of humans and animals, according to research by The Endocrine Disruption Exchange.
Fifty-nine scientists released a letter September 15th stating that “flowback,” the wastewater which comes back up during and after fracking for methane gas, cannot be filtered by municipal water treatment systems. That letter is here.
Protecting Our Waters is a Philadelphia-based grassroots organization dedicated to protecting the Delaware River Basin, the state of Pennsylvania, and the region from unconventional gas drilling and other threats to drinking water, the environment, and public health.