Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."

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“The Petrochemical Invasion of Western PA- Its environmental consequences and what can be done about it” presented by the Isaac Walton League of America

Tuesday, January 15, 2019 at 7:00 pm

Unitarian Universalist Church of the South Hills (Sunnyhill)

1240 Washington Rd. Mt. Lebanon, PA 15228.


Matt Mehalik, Executive Director of the Breathe Collaborative and its communications platform, the Breathe Project The Breathe Collaborative is a coalition of local residents, environmental advocates, public health professionals and academics with a common commitment to advocate for the air the Pittsburgh region needs in order to be a healthy, prosperous place. For more information about the Breathe Project and detailed information about the Shell Appalachia Petrochemical Facility see

Patricia DeMarco, IWL Member, Author: “Pathways to Our Sustainable Future – Global Perspective from Pittsburgh“, Forest Hills Borough Council, 2016-2020

Robert Schmetzer, Chairman of the Beaver County Marcellus Community / BCMAC . and Citizens to protect the Ambridge Reservoir. CPAR. 

Terrie Baumgardner – Beaver County activist, Field Organizer for Clean Air Council, volunteer with Beaver Marcellus Community and Citizens to Protect the Ambridge Reservoir. 

Thaddeus Popovich – Co-founder Allegheny County Clean Air Now, Protect Franklin Park, Climate Reality Project 

A major part of this event will be a discussion between audience activists, and the presenters. Please join us for this excellent educational event.

Sponsored by:  The Izaak Walton League of America, Allegheny County Chapter, Harry Enstrom (Green County) Chapter

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Fracking: Health Effects and Worker Safety

Fracking: Health Effects and Worker Safety

By Patricia M. DeMarco

{Summary of remarks at The Battle of Homestead Foundation screening of “Gaswork” by Josh Fox on August 25, 2016}

Hydraulic fracturing (Fracking) for natural gas is touted as the centerpiece of American energy leadership for climate change and economic security. Sadly, this entire industry rests on “The Haliburton Loophole” in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, which grants exemptions from seven major federal statutes intended to protect public health and the environment, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Toxic Release Inventory provisions. The Fracking Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act to close the Haliburton Loophole has been introduced by Senator Casey (D) PA, every year since 2011 with bipartisan support, but has been kept in committee without a hearing.

Fracking Pollution Sources:

Fracking pollution occurs at all stages of the process: site access and preparation, material transportation, drilling operations, production and processing, gas compression, pipelines, and combustion at the final point of use. Between 2005 and 2016, 137,000 wells have been drilled in 20 states. The industry operates in rural areas of the country, separating the various components of the industrial process to avoid consolidated review of environmental impacts. In many jurisdictions, as is true in Pennsylvania, local government entities are limited in what restrictions they can place on fracking activities. Unfettered by normal environmental and health protections, the industry has expanded rapidly.

In spite of industry assertions of safe practices, evidence of widespread environmental and health harm is accumulating.

  1. Climate Effects. Approximately 4% of the gas produced by fracking is lost through leaks and flaring at the well site, equivalent to 100 million tons of carbon dioxide. Fossil methane is a potent contributor to the greenhouse gases that cause climate change with a 105 times greater impact than carbon dioxide over 20 years.
  1. Surface water and groundwater pollution. Groundwater pollution occurs from well casing leaks, estimated to have a 5% per year failure rate, and leaks through the fractured rock.(Ref) Water contaminants can be mobilized from older pollution sources such as mine drainage from the hydraulic fracturing shocks. Surface water pollution can occur from several paths including discharges and spills at the well site, wastewater disposal, and transportation spills.

Water pollutants associated with fracking disharges include carcinogens such as benzene, toluene, butoxyethanol, and zylene; toxic chemicals including boric acid, methanol, dissolved methane; and 120 endocrine disrupting chemicals such as naphthalene. (Ref)

  1. Air pollution. Drilling gas wells, producing the gas, and completing the wells releases fine particulates, and volatile organic compounds. These also come from spills on site, produced water evaporation pits, flaring gas at the well site, surface transfers, compression stations and processing facilities. In addition, thousands of diesel truck trips for hauling sand, chemicals and materials contribute to local air pollution.
  1. Ground pollution. Produced water from the fracking wells, labeled “Dirty water” legally can be discharged onto the roads for dust control or ice control. Sludge from evaporation pits goes into landfills and some produced water can be added to municipal waste in landfills. The process of developing access roads and pipelines has fragmented habitat in forests and parks, degraded farmland, and contributed to land erosion. Common contaminants include heavy metals such as arsenic and lead, bromides, radioactive isotopes of radon, boron, uranium and chromium, and chlorides from heavy brine.


Hydraulic Fracturing Health Concerns

Fracking environment and health effects come from the environmental disruptions of the process, the chemicals used in the slick water hydraulic fracturing process, and the contaminants that are extracted from the shale and brought to the surface with the gas. The most pervasive health effect comes from degradation of the environment and the systems that generate fresh water, fertile ground and the biodiversity of species that support life on Earth. Fracking uses about 500,000 gallons of fresh water per well, causing stress on watersheds, domestic and agricultural water needs, especially in drought stricken areas.

About 649 chemicals are associated with the fracking process. Of these, 75% cause acute skin, eye and respiratory irritation; 40-50% affect the brain, nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems and kidney functions; and 37% are known endocrine disruptors. 25% of the most common fracking chemicals cause cancers and mutations that may take years to emerge. Those most clearly associated with fracking include silicosis, lung cancer, liver cancer, leukemia, Hodgkins lymphoma and reproductive disorders. These are especially of concern because they increase the incidence of birth defects, low birth weight, miscarriages and stillbirths. These kinds of health effects are reported at statistically significant elevated levels among populations within a mile of fracking operations, potentially affecting about 9.4 million Americans.

About 170 thousand workers in the oil and gas industry are exposed to harmful chemicals as part of their regular work experience. Fatal injuries occur at a rate seven times higher than the rate for general industrial workers. Trucking accidents happen when the driver is overcome by exposure to volatile organic compounds during transport of wastes with no cautionary hazard placards. Workers suffer from strange painful rashes and neurological disorders without any idea of what caused them. NIOSH reports that 47% of workers at 111 sites they examined were exposed to levels of fine silicone dust at ten times the allowable level. Many suffered from silicosis and lung cancers from inhaling the fine sand used for propant in fracking. Workers exposure to benzene levels far in excess of the 0.1parts per million standard for occupational exposure was found at 88% of work sites. Most of the workers in the fracking industry are not represented by a union, have no advocate for their health and safety, and often are facing few alternatives to working in dangerous and unhealthy conditions.

Because of the Haliburton Loophole, the fracking health exposures to both the public and the workers are legal, but it is not ethical or morally right to allow such a broad segment of the population to be affected so harshly.

(See for the slides of this presentation.)


Data Sources:

OSHA Info Sheet “HAZARD ALERT: Silica Exposure during Hydraulic fracturing” March 25, 2016.

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It May Be Legal, but It Is Not Right!


Hydraulic Fracturing (fracking) for recovery of fossil reserves of natural gas from deep shale formations proceeds under the National Energy Act of 2005 which granted exemptions from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, certain provisions of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and provides proprietary information protection to industry that allows the contents of the fracking fluid to be kept confidential, even from the workers or their physicians.[1] Hydraulic fracturing to develop fossil natural gas reserves is going on in 39 states, including the Marcellus Shale Formation in Western Pennsylvania.

The industry touts this process as safe and clean, and has seduced politicians and landowners with promises of profits and “clean energy” for the future. The Pennsylvania DEP is investigating radioactivity and boron salts in Ten Mile Creek, a tributary of the Monongahela River which supplies drinking water to millions.  Across the country, reports of health effects thought to be attributed to hydraulic fracturing are piling up.

With 9,134 fracking wells developed in Pennsylvania, and 16, 216 permits to drill already granted,[2] the consequences of this heavy industrial activity begin to manifest in sinister ways. As with so many industrial developments, the focus is on the profits and the product not on the waste stream, the by-products or the side effects of the operation. Every state where fracking is occurring faces the environmental and health complications of fracking wastes. We are setting up the conditions for a looming disaster.

There are no provisions in the federal or state laws to protect watersheds, residential areas, schools, community and business centers, or sensitive wildlife or historic and cultural landmarks. Some communities have adopted zoning limitations.[3] The PA Supreme Court has upheld the ability of local communities to require local zoning restrictions on the location and extent of hydraulic fracturing under the provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution Article 1, Section 27, which takes precedence over State Act 13 restrictions. (Robinson Township vs Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

All of the processes associated with hydraulic fracturing to extract fossil methane have volatile organic compound air emissions, including benzene, a known carcinogen. Air pollution occurs from leaking valves, spills, evaporation from collection pits or open ponds, and leakage from bore holes.

Wastewater is dealt with in one of several ways, including but not limited to:

  • Disposal by underground injection (Ohio, West Virginia)
  • Treatment followed by disposal to surface water bodies, or
  • Recycling (with or without treatment) for use in future hydraulic fracturing operations.

The water that flows back from the hydraulic fracturing process to the surface with the produced gas contains not only the initially injected fracking fluid but also materials extracted from the shale rock. [4] This includes minerals such as Boron salts and radioactive isotopes of Uranium.

Flowback Water and Produced Water from hydraulic fracturing is classified as a “Special Waste” under EPA regulations, which means this material can be co-mingled with municipal solid wastes, or used for dust control or ice control on highways. The state regulations addressing wastewater management are summarized in this EPA white paper.[5] However, analysis of fracking wastewater in storage pits revealed 400 chemicals that are not in the fracking fluid; 98% of these are listed on the US EPA’s 2005 CERCLA (Superfund) list and 73% are on the 2006 EPCRA List (List of reportable toxic chemicals.)[6] EPA reports that the flowback water and produced water contain minerals, dissolved hydrocarbons, radioactive compounds, and a high level of salinity from salts dissolved from the rock. TENORM radioactive materials are naturally occurring radionuclides that have been concentrated or exposed by human activities such as mining and hydraulic fracturing. It has the potential to cause elevated exposure to radiation.[7]  Are we setting up the “Superfund Sites” of the future?

Treatment and Disposal of the Fracking Waste waters occur in three ways: The material can be stored in open, lined pits to allow hydrocarbons to evaporate (air contamination) then sludge can be de-watered, with the liquid going to a sewage treatment facility and the sludge solids going to landfills; the material can be mixed with municipal solid waste to be disposed in landfills under certain conditions; the material may be spread on construction site or roads for dust control or ice control. That means this material can be distributed, legally, onto the land where it can be washed into the surface water and seep into the groundwater without restriction or treatment.

This process is technically legal, because of the “Haliburton Lophole” exemption, but that means the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act intended to protect the public from harm have been suspended to support this rapacious industry.  In 39 states, the gas extraction industries contaminate the air and water with impunity, and regulators wring their hands and pretend to care.
We MUST change the law.

Senators Casey (D-PA) and Schumer (D-NY), and Representatives DeGette (D-CO), Polis (D-CO) and Hinchey (D-NY) introduced bills in the Senate and House to close the so-called “Halliburton Loophole” in the Safe Drinking Water Act that exempts hydraulic fracturing, and to require the public disclosure of hydraulic fracturing chemicals. The Halliburton loophole authorizes oil and gas drillers, exclusively, to inject known hazardous materials — unchecked — directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies. It passed as part of the Bush Administration’s Energy Policy Act of 2005.

“Energy development needn’t threaten our drinking water and public health — but under the Halliburton loophole, it does,” said John Fenton, a rancher negatively impacted by drilling activity, and member of the Pavillion Area Concerned Citizens in Wyoming.(8) The bill did not pass in either the House or Senate.

It is time to re-assert the proper priorities of our laws.  Citizens have mounted legal challenges to the fracking process, but the law sets this industry above common sense, above prudent practice, and beyond the reach of protections for public health and safety.  Is the almighty dollar really so precious that we can justify compromising the health and safety of workers, children, and future generations?

It is time to rescind the special considerations for an industry that shows no conscience in extracting fossil fuels to the detriment of present and future generations.  Destroying water supplies, introducing contaminants deep underground where they will be moving in unpredictable ways for hundreds of years is not a sound base for our energy policy. We have better choices!

Demand accountability from your elected Senators and Representatives.  Elect Congress Members who care about the PUBLIC INTEREST and are willing to stand up for public health and safety over special considerations for multinational corporations motivated only by instant profits.

Fracking my be legal, but it is not right!


[1] Otton, J.K,, 2006, Environmental aspects of produced-water salt releases in onshore and estuarine petroleum-producing areas of the United States- a bibliography: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File report 2006-1154, 223p.
[2] Patrick M. Kelly, P.E. Environmental Engineer Office of Resource Conservation and Recovery. Review of State Oil and Natural Gas Exploration, Development, and Production (E&P) Solid Waste Management Regulations. EPA File Memorandum, April 1, 2014.
 [3] Theo Colborn, Carol Kwiatkowski, Kim Schultz, Mary Bachran. “Natural Gas Operations from a Public Health Perspective.” Human and Ecological Risk Assessment: An International Journal. Vol 17, No. 5. Pages 1048-1049. September 20, 2011.
[5] (This study provides a comprehensive analysis of the exemptions and limitations, with citations to the authorizing legislation.) Renee Lewis Kosnik, MSEL, JD. The Oil and Gas Industry’s Exclusions and Exemptions to Major Environmental Statutes. Oil and Gas Accountability Project. Earthworks. © October 2007 Oil & Gas Accountability Project OGAP P.O. Box 1102 ■ Durango, CO 81302 ■
Earthworks 1612 K St. N.W., #808 ■ Washington DC 20006
[6] Frack Tracker. Year to date data as of May 1, 2015. Accessed June 19, 2015.

Report and analysis of West Virginia Landfill Disposal of Fracking Waste

[7] City of Pittsburgh Hydraulic Fracturing zoning ordinance. Ordinance supplementing the Pittsburgh Code, Title Six, Conduct, Article 1 “Regulated Rights and actions,” by adding Chapter 619: Ordinance supplementing the Pittsburgh Code, Title Six, Conduct, Article 1 “Regulated Rights and actions,” by adding Chapter 619 entitled “Toxic Trespass Resulting from Unconventional Natural Gas Drilling.”
(8) – See more at:

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Thank a Farmer this Thanksgiving

In this week of Thanksgiving we celebrate the bounty of the earth and the robust harvest delivered by the farmers who serve the land. In Western Pennsylvania we are blessed with an abundance of fertile agricultural land, enough to sustain the population within 120 miles of the cities.

Pennsylvania has seven million acres of agricultural lands, about half in Western Pennsylvania. We have 481 organic farms in Pennsylvania, about 10% of the USDA Certified Organic Farms. In addition there are many other farms practicing sustainable agriculture that have not completed organic certification yet. The National Farmland Trust has identified nearly all of Western Pennsylvania agricultural land as threatened because of the development pressure from urban encroachment, and from gas development. We are losing agricultural land at the rate of 125 acres per day.

The organic certification requires separation from industrial activities and any synthetic substance not specifically authorized for organic use. The National Organic Program (NOP) regulations specify the processes by which organic food may be produced. They do not directly prohibit industrial activity on or near the property, but certified farms could be affected by nearby drilling operations.

Primarily, the regulations bar the use of “prohibited substances,” require distinct boundaries and buffers to prevent the unintended application of prohibited substances to the crops or pasture, and require that measures be taken to prevent organic products from contact with prohibited substances. Because the definition of prohibited substances is very broad, including all synthetic substances unless otherwise permitted and selected non-synthetic substances,1 contact with pollutants from nearby drilling operations, or the lack of appropriate buffers, may jeopardize a farm’s certification.  The regulations also require that production practices “maintain or improve the natural resources of the operation, including soil and water quality.”2

Again, land application of polluted water may be interpreted as a violation of this section.  Farmers who do not own their mineral rights are especially concerned, as noted by Stephen Cleghorn of Paradise Gardens and Farm:

“In our case, at the very least, we
would lose for years, if not forever, the 5-10 acres carved out of our farm by a well pad if
that happens. If we find our water threatened from above or below, we could see the
entire operation decertified, losing our livelihood.”

Many farmers have sold or leased their mineral rights without fully understanding the extent of industrial activity that would take place with Marcellus Shale drilling, compared to the older technology associated with shallow well drilling.

Also of interest is that the National Office of Homeland Security (yes, those guys) have directives to protect our nation’s food production resources from terrorists, disasters and emergencies. Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio are declared as “Critical Foodshed” which is being touted as a model for the nation.

The gas fracking industry is operating under a federal exemption from the protection the Safe Drinking Water Act provides to communities. In Pennsylvania, the Oil and Gas Act requires that property owners provide access to mineral rights, even if such development compromises their basic livelihood, even if it compromises the community watershed. The contaminants may take years, even decades, to penetrate from the depths to the groundwater, or from surface spills to the groundwater.

As citizens we should demand precaution in going forward with Marcellus Shale development. We must insist on preventive actions that can deflect the environmental and health effects evident in other locations where hydraulic fracking has been going on for several years. Is it really our intention to salt the fertile ground as Romans did in ancient times to guarantee the starvation of their enemies?

Choices we are making today directly affect the options available to our grandchildren. What can we do now to preserve the choices available to them and for future generations? We can choose to protect fertile ground, especially organic farms and drinking watersheds, from incursion of contaminants injected to extract natural gas.

The abundance of our earth flows from a fragile, living ecosystem, easily poisoned and rendered sterile by carelessness and greed. So, in this Thanksgiving harvest time, thank a farmer!

Patricia M. DeMarco, Ph.D.
With collaboration of Stephen Cleghorn Paradise Gardens and Farm
and Gregory Boulos, Blackberry Meadow Farm


1 7 CFR § 205.105
2 7 CFR § 205.200