An Update from American Rivers

Julie Slavet
Jun 4, 2010

Please read the following press release from American Rivers regarding the press event that took place on Wednesday. Sarah was there representing TTF, along with the President of our Board, Gerry Kaufman, who is quoted below. It’s long, but chocked-full of important information about protecting the Delaware River.

American Rivers Names Upper Delaware River Most Endangered in U.S.

Philadelphia Leaders to DRBC: Cease Construction on Exploratory Wells; Deny Water Withdrawal, Drilling Permits

Industry Response:  Unconventional Drilling, Conventional Obfuscation Strategies

Iris Marie Bloom

Philadelphia:  June 3, 2010

The Upper Delaware River, the drinking water source for 17 million people across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, is at risk from shale fracking for natural gas, a process that poisons groundwater and creates toxic pollution.  This threat landed the Upper Delaware in the number one spot in America’s Most Endangered Rivers 2010, a report released yesterday by the national nonprofit group American Rivers.

In Philadelphia yesterday, American Rivers spokesperson Liz Garland opened a press conference at City Hall, “In shining the spotlight on gas drilling in the Upper Delaware River, we chose a time when preventive action is still possible.  The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) is making major decisions right now which will affect the fate of this river, and the people who drink this water have a chance to weigh in on that decision.”

Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, said, “The Delaware River is the longest free flowing river east of the Mississippi, much of it designated Wild and Scenic.  Many, many people have worked and billions of dollars have been spent to bring the Delaware back to life after decades of abuse.  As we face the advent of gas drilling in the Upper Delaware River Watershed, we face the possibility of losing everything.”

Philadelphia City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who introduced a successful resolution earlier this spring calling on the DRBC to ban shale gas drilling until an Environmental Impact Statement is assessed for the Delaware River Watershed, drew parallels to the Gulf disaster. “The BP rig which blew up was an exploratory well.  It had special exemptions.  We have to learn something from this.  The DRBC is exempting exploratory wells right here in our watershed, which supplies our drinking water.  The have to stop letting companies drill without a DRBC permit, and they should deny the Stone Energy water withdrawal permit, and all drilling-related permits, until we have the Environmental Impact Statement.  We don’t need a disaster here.”

Albert Appleton, former Commissioner of New York City Department of Environmental Protection, asserted, “If the true environmental costs, including construction, extraction, and cleanup, were included in the cost of drilling, this fossil fuel would be unaffordable and drilling impractical.  This is not something we need, and it’s not something we want.  This stuff is not clean-burning at all.  This is not green, and if it goes forward, it will make it even harder to get to the green energy economy.  We can build that economy right now.  We are being asked to risk our clean water, environment, and public health, and for what?”

“If the Delaware River Basin Commission does not carry out its mandate to protect the waters of the Delaware River, New York and Pennsylvania will have an economic, social, and public health disaster of unprecedented dimension,” Appleton concluded.

After elected representative, officials, and professional environmentalists concluded their remarks, community leaders had their say.  “As we know from the coal mine and Gulf disasters, accidents happen, particularly when short cuts are taken to increase profits, and those accidents will endanger Philadelphia’s drinking water,” commented Gerry Kaufman, a spokesman for Protecting Our Waters.

Dennis Mulligan, a lawyer, commented, “BP said the environmental damage in the Gulf of Mexico would be ‘very, very modest,’ and the gas companies are giving us the same empty assurances.  We don’t want bottled water advisories telling us we might not want to drink our tap water, as already happened in Pittsburgh due to Marcellus Shale waste.”  Mulligan lives near the Delaware River in New Jersey and directs a agency serving immigrants and refugees in Philadelphia: “I count on clean Delawre River water in both states,” he said.

Reverend Jesse Brown, a longtime public health advocate, emphasized, “This gas drilling presents an unacceptable risk to public health, and it also puts us on exactly the wrong road: extracting even more fossil fuel instead of investing in renewable energy.”

“Let’s wait til the studies are in,” concluded speaker after speaker at Philadelphia’s press conference responding to the American Rivers designation yesterday.  State Representative Gregory S. Vitali, Philadelphia Water Department Director of Watersheds Howard Neukrug, Cliff Westfall of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, Jim Black of Clean Air Council, and Robert J. Ryan, Ph.D, P.E., of Temple University’s Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, also spoke.

Unconventional Drilling, Conventional Obfuscation Strategies

Gas industry public relations spokespeople responded to the designation of the Upper Delaware River as endangered by providing assurances of the industry’s long experience and clean record.

“I don’t know how they can conclude that, when hydraulic fracturing has never harmed a drop of drinking water,” said Jim Smith, spokesman for the Independent Oil and Gas Association of New York. “In 60 years of hydraulic fracturing across the country, more than a million wells have been fracked, including 14,000 in New York,” he said in a Times-Leader story by Mary Esch on June 2.

In fact, the Pennsylvania DEP slapped a $240,000 fine on Cabot Oil and Gas for contaminating drinking water in Dimock, PA, this spring.  Cabot was ordered to cap several wells and provide drinking water permanently for fourteen of the affected families, who had been forced to buy their own drinking water for over a year after unconventional gas drilling began.  The DEP action was one of the most punitive in Pennsylvania history.

Last year, a New York Times series documented hundreds of incidents of water contaminated due to drilling; ProPublica and Toxics Targeting have also reported on water contamination incidents.  Filmmaker Josh Fox’s documentary, GASLANDS, shows health impacts from gas drilling out West and in Pennsylvania.  Because the industry is exempt from major provisions of federal environmental regulations including the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Superfund Law, Safe Drinking Water Act, and wastewater treatment laws, the EPA has had difficulty studying the safety of hydraulic fracturing.  The EPA has now launched a new two-year study of hydraulic fracturing, acknowledging that their 2004 study, which only looked at fracturing in shallow, or conventional, formations, was flawed.

The industry claim that “we’ve been fracturing for 60 years” is technically true but clearly designed to obfuscate a more important truth.  Fracturing in unconventional formations such as shale only began in 2002, and only began in earnest after the Halliburton Loophole of 2005 granted the industry multiple exemptions from federal environmental laws.  Compared to conventional drilling, unconventional gas drilling uses about 67 times more water and toxic chemicals, and the flowback waste from deep underground is much more dangerous and difficult to treat.  Unlike conventional brine, flowback contains, in addition to the original toxic fracturing chemicals, arsenic, Radium 226, and is five times saltier than the ocean due to ancient ocean deposits underground.

Because much of the toxic contamination comes from inevitable spills and accidents, creating fish kills and wildlife deaths as well as long-term contamination of streams and wetlands, the industry public relations spokespeople parrot the phrase, “hydraulic fracturing,” to mean the fracturing process itself rather than other aspects including fracking chemicals transportation, mixing, other stages of drilling, flaring, waste storage, flowback reuse, transportation, and disposal.  Aside from direct toxic chemical contamination and methane migration, there are cumulative negative environmental impacts to air, climate, land, and ecosystems as a whole.

The industry’s success in winning exemptions, delaying studies, and ensuring that permits are expedited at breakneck speed in Pennsylvania has puzzled some.   Common Cause released a study, “Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets,” on May 11, 2010, elaborating on the campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania.  The report sheds light on the industry’s sheer might.

“This industry has an enormous financial incentive to exaggerate their confidence, minimize risk, and provide unrealistic assurances to the public,” commented Brady Russell, another of the speakers in Philadelphia yesterday.  Russell, Director of Clean Water Action’s southeastern Pennsylvania office, gave an anecdote of receiving a public rebuttal from a Chesapeake Energy spokesperson who said that Russel’s account of the 17 cows who died in Louisiana after drinking fracking fluid was wrong.  “That wasn’t fracking fluid, that was ethylene glycol,” the Chesapeake Energy spokesman claimed.

Brady Russell, being a fact-checker, went back and did his research.  Official Louisiana state documents showed that the cows died, bellowing and bleeding from the mouth, after drinking fracking fluid.

In Pennsylvania, farmers in Clearville and Hickory have reported losing over 100 head of cattle due to drilling operations (Weekly Press, April 2010: “Shale Shame.”  Out  West, veterinarians and ranchers report losses of goats, and mares have difficulty reproducing due to the endocrine disrupting impacts from gas drilling (Amy Mall, NRDC columnist; GASLANDS footage).  In Dimock, Norma Fiorentino reported that local wildlife disappeared after drilling started.  “They’ve all left, rabbits, deer, they’re all gone from here now,” she told a reporter last month, on May 15th.

Senator Casey, Congressman Sestak Speak Up for Delaware River

Senator Bob Casey, co-sponsor of the FRAC Act, a bill which would restore the Safe Drinking Water Act and require drilling companies to disclose exactly which chemicals they are using and injecting underground to fracture the shale, releasing natural gas, sent a representative, Kurt Imhof, to the gathering.  Congressman Joe Sestak issued a statement, which read in part:

“I would first like to commend the work of American Rivers, Protecting Our Waters, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and Damascus Citizens for Sustainability for their efforts to educate the public on this important issue.  The Commonwealth is blessed with an abundance of natural resources. We should never have to sacrifice our health and safety, clean air and water, natural lands, and communities to companies seeking access to our natural wealth. I applaud efforts, such as this, to bring to light the very real risks of underregulated development.  I am not convinced we currently have strong enough environmental, health, and property safeguards — and I am not satisfied that people will have the access to just compensation should even the best safeguards fail.”

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