Patricia DeMarco Ph.D.

"Live in harmony with nature."


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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. http://www.pacourts.us/assets/opinions/Supreme/out/J-127A-D-2012oajc.pdf)

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!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

SOURCES
[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. http://www.epa.gov/osw///nonhaz/industrial/special/oil/state_summaries_040114.pdf
 [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.
[4] http://www.epa.gov/radiation/tenorm/about.html
[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 ■ http://www.ogap.org
Earthworks 1612 K St. N.W., #808 ■ Washington DC 20006 http://www.earthworksaction.org
[6] Frack Tracker. Year to date data as of May 1, 2015. http://www.fractracker.org/map/us/pennsylvania/ Accessed June 19, 2015.

Report and analysis of West Virginia Landfill Disposal of Fracking Waste http://www.fractracker.org/2015/08/landfill-disposal-wv-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: https://www.earthworksaction.org/media/detail/senators_representatives_act_to_close_halliburton_loophole_in_the_safe_drin#sthash.WUm3rKkK.dpuf


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A Reflection on the “Energy for the Power of 32” Conference

Energy for the Power of 32 Conference was organized to establish a baseline and catalyze a regional energy plan and strategy for the 32 contiguous counties encompassing western Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia.  The preparations included a regional compilation of the Energy Flows in a Sankey diagram of Production, Consumption, Net Imports/Exports, and Losses.  the full report and analysis can be found at www.energy4p32.org

Regional Energy Flow showing Production, Consumption, Net Imports/Exports, and losses is a critical starting point for analysis. The three issues that emerge from this set of data are:

  1. the dominance of coal for electricity generation and as an export product
  2. Net exports (1,470 Trillion Btu) far exceed the regional consumption of energy for all uses (520 trillion Btu).
  3. The largest sources of “Unused Energy” result from electricity generation and transportation, Both sectors rely predominantly on technologies from the 1800’s- the Rankine cycle thermoelectric steam turbine and the internal combustion engine.

Data showing the global context creating an impetus for a change in our energy system was not allocated to a regional profile. Data adapting the EPA Sankey diagram on greenhouse gas emissions[1] to a regional profile would be helpful in isolating principal targets for change. Coal combustion for generating electricity is the most significant source of greenhouse gas emissions in the region.

A large data void exists in the failure to present, or even discuss, the ecosystem service components of the economy. There were some presentations about health effects and costs related to loss of productivity associated with pollution. However, the positive attributes derived from ecosystem services such as water purification, oxygen generation, food production through photosynthesis etc were not included. To the extent that the strategic plan seeks metrics and indicators to track economic conditions forward, it is essential to include metrics that reflect the health of the environment, our life support system. Measures for clean air, water quality, soil fertility and species diversity reflect not only quality of life conditions but also the resilience and sustainability of conditions upon which the economy ultimately depends. The failure to consider such parameters in economic development planning has largely contributed to the climate changing circumstances we are facing today. The classic papers of Robert Constanza et al. may be helpful in addressing this critical component of a regional strategic plan.[2] [3]

A second major omission in this discussion may be due to the absence of the presentation on environmental justice that would have been covered by Mustafa Ali. It is critical to recognize that the options for future development in energy are not limited by technology, but must be shaped by choices grounded in the ethics and values of our society. It is an ethical criterion to preserve our life support system for future generations, and indeed this is a part of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article 1, Section 27, the Environmental Rights Amendment.[4] It is an ethical criterion to transition from a resource extraction based economy to a value adding economy, a legacy of manufacturing and innovation well rooted in our region’s history. It is an ethical criterion to establish conditions that reflect social equity among workers past and future. It is an ethical criterion to plan for a healthier solution to our energy requirements than we have done in the past.

Establishing an energy system that provides for a robust economy requires that we recognize the absolute need to rapidly move away from burning fossil fuels, in all aspects of our economy. In our region, the conditions are not favorable to take maximum advantage of the natural flows of renewable and sustainable energy. The myth that renewable energy is insufficient to serve our needs must be addressed directly. The flow of solar energy to the surface of the earth exceeds our current and projected needs by many orders of magnitude. [5] The energy uses in the region for all sectors – residential, commercial, industrial and transportation – require only 520 trillion Btu. The Unused (wasted) portion to deliver this amount of energy in useful form 1,400 trillion Btu, represents the compelling reason to change our system. If we focus on the work that needs to be delivered, rather than the replacement of the fuels that are mostly being wasted in the current system, the options are far more exciting.

WindStax Vertical turbine- Made in Pittsburgh

WindStax Vertical turbine- Made in Pittsburgh

The work of Lovins et. al. illustrate ample ways to move toward a much less wasteful energy system focus on suiting the energy source to the energy need, and addressing appropriate technologies for the task.[6] Thus as a goal, buildings will operate in net zero profile for energy, water and waste. We have current illustrations for the realistic achievability of this approach in the Phipps Living Building example, and even retrofit examples in the innovation workplace. [7] [8]

Transportation systems will require two types of transition first, to renewable fuels, most likely recovered from wasted food sources, but also new technologies such as methane gas fired or electric engines., ultimately to hydrogen driven systems. Transportation system solutions require better integration of non-mechanized mobility options such as designing communities for easier pedestrian access to services, recreation and workplace centers. Our region was once heavily dependent on pedestrian mobility, as the many remnants of pedestrian stairways testify. Walking distances to transit was normal as recently as 1968.

Industrial and manufacturing sector presents the largest challenge, but also the largest opportunity. As a strategic goal, think about converting the raw export component of the regional economy to value added production where raw materials convert n the regional economy to finished goods. Such activity can occur as part of creating a sustainable stream of energy system supports, including the technology and communication interconnects for a distributed electric system where the load and source are balanced. New categories of utility services emerge from such an inverted paradigm of utility system including DC as well as AC segments, load leveling and voltage regulation , and storage (including not only batteries but fly wheel, compressed ait, pumped hydro storage and chemical phase change crystals.) Making and installing adaptive technologies for existing buildings can also offer increased production opportunities, such as ground source heat pump auxiliary heating/cooling systems that tap into the existing water pipes with external heat exchangers.

Transformation from fossil fueled enterprise to renewable energy flow based enterprise seems daunting and “unrealistic” according to my working group colleagues. But, many times in our history we as a country have taken on major transformations in a very short span of time, often less than a decade. The industrial mobilization that shifted production to make vehicles machines and munitions for World War II happened in a span of three years. The rural electrification of America took only five years. The shift from horse and buggy to automobile took only 20. The shift from regulated communication to unregulated and competitive communications took less than a decade. What is needed in order to mobilize this kind of capability is a clear and urgent motivating force that enables cooperation among competing interests. That force can be national security in time of war, market opportunities opened by innovative technology, or collective moral outrage.

What we cannot lose sight of in this discussion is the essential truth that the climate of the earth is changing rapidly, irreversibly, due to human activity that we can control. If we defer meaningful action to contain the conversion of sequestered carbon into atmospheric carbon dioxide, the atmosphere will no longer support aerobic living organisms…that includes people. A graph projecting 600 to 800 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was presented as if it were a normal expectation for continued practices. This cannot be construed in any way as “Business as Usual” but as a catastrophe! Every year that we delay in addressing this situation narrows our options and reduces our chances of shifting successfully away from a course of disaster. Because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for 200 years or more, our actions today determine the fate of the unborn generations who have no say in determining their fate. We must consider the legacy we are leaving to them. We have seen the accumulated damages from mining and burning coal for fifty years, including the 3,000 miles of Pennsylvania streams permanently contaminated with acid mine drainage. We must take precautions going forward to preserve, protect and if possible restore the health of the living earth we depend on for our own survival.

As you develop the formal strategic plan for the Power of 32, I urge you to seek out and consider seriously the voices who speak for the living parts of our community, our economy and our selves. If we only focus on the infrastructure and technology, we will not preserve our own survival.

Respectfully submitted,

Patricia DeMarco

[1] EPA greenhouse gas emissions by source http://www.epa.gov

[2] Constanza, Robert et. Al. “The Value of the World’s Ecosystem Services and Natural Capital. Nature. May 15, 1997. Vol 387. Pages 253-260.

[3] Hunter Lovins. Natural Capitalism. 2010. Earthscan. London.

[4] Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Article 1, Section 27

[5] NASA Chart on energy flow comparisons renewable vs fossil resources

[6] Amory B. Lovins and Rocky Mountain Institute. Reinventing Fire – Bold Business Solutions for the New Energy Era. 2011. Chelsea Green Publishers. Vermont.

[7] Phipps Living Building see http://www.Phippsconservatory.org

[8] Hartkopf and Loftness – innovation workplace Carnegie Mellon University


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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