* For articles and updates or to just vent, visit us on facebook;
* To view past updates, reports, general information, permanent documents, and meeting information http://westmorelandmarcellus.blogspot.com/
* Our email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
* To discuss candidates: http://www.facebook.com/groups/VoteProEarth/
* To contact your state legislator:
For the email address, click on the envelope under the photo
* For information on PA state gas legislation and local control: http://pajustpowers.org/aboutthebills.html-
To read former Updates please visit our blogspot listed above.
WMCG Thank You
Contributors To Our Updates
Thank you to contributors to our Updates: Debbie Borowiec, Lou Pochet, Ron Gulla, the Pollocks, Marian Szmyd, Bob Donnan, April Jackman, Kacey Comini, Elizabeth Donahue, and Bob Schmetzer.
Tenaska Air Petitions—Please sign if you have not done so:
Please share the attached petition with residents of Westmoreland and all bordering counties. We ask each of you to help us by sharing the petition with your email lists and any group with which you are affiliated. As stated in the petition, Westmoreland County cannot meet air standards for several criteria. Many areas of Westmoreland County are already listed as EPA non-attainment areas for ozone and particulate matter 2.5, so the county does not have the capacity to handle additional emissions that will contribute to the burden of ozone in the area as well as health impacts. According to the American Lung Association, every county in the Pittsburgh region except for Westmoreland County had fewer bad air days for ozone and daily particle pollution compared with the previous report. Westmoreland County was the only county to score a failing grade for particulate matter.
The Tenaska gas plant will add tons of pollution to already deteriorated air and dispose of wastewater into the Youghiogheny River. Westmoreland County already has a higher incidence of disease than other counties in United States. Pollution won’t stop at the South Huntingdon Township border; it will travel to the surrounding townships and counties.
The action to Tenaska and State Reps: http://tinyurl.com/stoptenaska
The hearing request to DEP: http://tinyurl.com/tenaskahearing
If you know of church groups or other organizations that will help with the petition please forward it and ask for their help.
*** WMCG Group Meeting We usually meet the second Tuesday of every month at 7:30 PM in Greensburg. Recently we have adjusted this schedule. Email Jan for details and directions. All are very welcome to attend.
***Boston Art Show Utilizes Local Voices-- July 11, 2014 through January 5, 2015
Open to the public, Boston Museum of Science
Several of us spoke to artist Anne Neeley about water contamination from fracking. Excerpts of what we said about our concerns regarding fracking will play in a loop along with music in the background as people view Anne’s murals of water. The show is not exclusively about the effect of fracking on water and includes other sources of pollution. (see sites below).
Some of us were fortunate to see photos of Anne’s murals. They are beautiful and very thought provoking. Jan
ANNE NEELY WATER STORIES PROJECT: A CONVERSATION IN PAINT AND SOUND
July 2014 – January 2015, Museum of Science, Boston
David G. Rabkin, PhD, Director for Current Science and Technology, Museum of Science, Boston, MA
Visit these sites for images and more information:
TAKE ACTION !!
***Letters to the editor are important and one of the best ways to share information with the public. ***
***TRI (Toxic Release Inventory) Action Alert-Close the Loophole:
“We need your help!! Please send an email to the US EPA urging them to "Close the TRI Loophole that the oil and gas industry currently enjoys".
We all deserve to know exactly what these operations are releasing into our air, water and onto our land. Our goal is to guarantee the public’s right to know.
Please let the US EPA know how important TRI reporting will be to you and your community:
Mr. Gilbert Mears
Docket #: EPA-HQ-TRI-2013-0281 (must be included on all correspondence)
Some facts on Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) – what it is and why it’s important:
What is the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI)?
Industrial facilities report annually the amount and method (land, air, water, landfills) of each toxic
chemical they release or dispose of to the national Toxics Release Inventory.
Where can I find the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI)?
Once the industrial facilities submit their annual release data, the Environmental Protection Agency
makes it available to the public through the TRI’s free, searchable online database.
Why is this important?
The TRI provides communities and the public information needed to challenge permits or siting
decisions, provides regulators with necessary data to set proper controls, and encourages industrial
facilities to reduce their toxic releases.
Why does it matter for oil and natural gas?
The oil and gas extraction industry is one of the largest sources of toxic releases in the United
States. Yet, because of loopholes created by historical regulation and successful lobbying efforts,
this industry remains exempt from reporting to the TRI—even though they are second in toxic air
emissions behind power plants.
What is being done?
In 2012, the Environmental Integrity Project filed a petition on behalf of sixteen local, regional, and
national environmental groups, asking EPA to close this loophole and require the oil and gas
industries to report to the TRI. Although EPA has been carefully considering whether to act on the
petition, significant political and industrial pressure opposing such action exists.
What is the end goal?
Our goal is to guarantee the public’s right to know. TRI data will arm citizens with powerful data,
provide incentives for oil and gas operators to reduce toxic releases, and will provide a data-driven
foundation for responsible regulation.
What can you do?
You can help by immediately letting EPA know how important TRI reporting will be to you and your
Send written or email comments to:
Toxics Release Inventory Program Division, Environmental Protection Agency
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20460
Docket #: EPA-HQ-TRI-2013-0281 (please be sure to include in all your correspondence)
From: Lisa Graves Marcucci
Environmental Integrity Project
PA Coordinator, Community Outreach
***Cool Video--Colbert and Neil Young Sing About Fracking
***Link to DEP’s Water Violation List
“The link lists 250 water supplies across PA compromised by fracking...the tip of the iceberg, since the DEP can't be depended on to know about or report on the actual number of spills. The spread of fracking across the state is reflected in when and where these spills occur, so you'll find the arrival of fracking (and the inevitable spills) here in Westmoreland County on page six, with spills in Donegal in 2013 and 2014.”
***Link to Shalefield Stories-Personal stories of those affected by fracking http://www.friendsoftheharmed.com/
***To sign up for Skytruth notifications of activity and violations for your area:
*** List of the Harmed--There are now over 1400 residents of Pennsylvania who have placed their names on the list of the harmed when they became sick after fracking began in their area. http://pennsylvaniaallianceforcleanwaterandair.wordpress.com/the-list/
All articles are excerpted and condensed. Please use links for the full article. Special thanks to Bob Donnan for many of the photos.
Note From Group Member: “Just remember, however, that an overlay cannot change the underlying zoning district. For example, a residentially zoned area may have an overlay applied that enhances its characteristics as a residential area but cannot create a use incompatible with residential zoning.”
***200 Holes Found In Pit Liner
PA seeks record $4.5m fine on 'leaking' frack pit In Tioga County
“DEP is pursuing a record $4.5m fine against a gas driller over what they describe as a major case of pollution from a leaking waste pit.
The DEP announced that it is seeking the penalty against EQT Corp. The acting DEP secretary, Dana Aunkst, said EQT has been uncooperative during the investigation and “fails to recognize the ongoing environmental harm” from its leaking impoundment in Duncan Township, Tioga County.
EQT says it dealt promptly with the leak and accuses state regulators of trying to grab headlines. EQT is suing the agency over its interpretation of Pennsylvania’s Clean Streams Law.
The impoundment held wastewater from the fracking process. Environmental regulators say more than 200 holes were found in the impoundment’s lining. They say streams, springs and vegetation were harmed.”
***DEP Frack Air Studies Leave Out Or Mis-Report On 25 Chemicals
Don Hopey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Three widely cited state studies of air emissions at Marcellus gas development sites in PA omit measurements of key air toxics and calculate the health risks of just two of more than two dozen pollutants.
State regulators and the shale gas drilling industry over the past four years have repeatedly used the regional studies to support their positions that air emissions from drilling, fracking wastewater impoundments and compressor stations don’t pose a public health risk.
The revelations about the shortcomings of the state DEP short-term air sampling reports are contained in sworn depositions by two DEP air program employees who worked on them.
Those documents were filed in a Washington County Common Pleas Court civil case in which three families allege that air and water pollution from Range Resources’ Yeager drilling and 13.5-million gallon fracking wastewater impoundment in Washington County made them sick.
In a parallel case, now before the state Environmental Hearing Board, one of those individuals, Loren Kiskadden, has appealed a DEP ruling that myriad spills and leaks at the Yeager drill site and impoundment did not contaminate his well water supply a half mile away.
“The DEP’s willingness to allow Pennsylvania’s citizens to continue to rely upon what it knows to be an inaccurate air study is unacceptable and completely contrary to the department’s obligations to the public,” said John Smith, who with his wife, Kendra Smith, is representing Mr. Kiskadden in the case before the EHB and the property owners in the civil case.
According to the Washington County court documents filed in August, concentrations of 25 airborne chemicals that the DEP’s field laboratory truck parked near the Yeager drill site in rural Amwell Township measured were mis-reported or not reported to administrators in Harrisburg who wrote the air quality report for southwestern Pennsylvania in December 2010.
Linda Hreha, a chemist in DEP’s mobile analytical section who did the air sampling on which all three of the state’s regional air quality reports are based, testified in her deposition on Dec. 5, 2013, that she measured but did not report elevated concentrations of air contaminants at the Yeager impoundment, including 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene at 550 parts per billion; methane at 1.2 parts per million; and methyl mercaptan at 1 part per million, twice the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommended exposure limit.
Because the depositions indicate DEP used the same data reporting procedures for shale gas pollution reports in 2011 in the North-central and Northeast regions of the state, the validity of those reports are also called into question.
In all three reports, the DEP failed to calculate the health hazard for 25 of 38 chemicals it tested for but still concluded that the levels of those air pollutants that the shale gas development sites emitted were not likely to trigger air-related health concerns, she testified.
Not only did the DEP not calculate the vast majority of chemical hazards, but its determination that public health would not be harmed was not made by anyone with training in medicine, toxicology or environmental or occupational health, according to Nick Lazor, chief of the DEP’s Air Quality Monitoring Division, who oversaw production of the reports and was deposed on Jan. 17, 2014.
Although the DEP air pollutant sampling was supposed to be following protocols from air testing done in Texas’ Barnett Shale gas and oil field, Mr. Lazor testified in his deposition that the department couldn’t test for two chemicals, acrylamide and glutaraldehyde.
The first is a carcinogen and the second a potent toxin.
Both have been used in hydraulic fracturing fluid and were detected in emissions at Barnett shale gas drilling and fracking sites in Texas.
Though the DEP acknowledged in the shale gas air pollution reports and again Sunday in response to questions that the reports were intended to provide only a “snapshot” of air contaminants on the day they were measured, state environmental officials in Republican and Democratic administrations and drilling industry spokesmen have used them more broadly to allay public health concerns and justify regulatory restraint.
Michael Krancer, Gov. Tom Corbett’s first DEP secretary, referenced the studies in testimony opposing federal regulation of the shale gas industry before U.S. House committees in November 2011 and May 2012 in Washington, D.C., and before a state House Policy Committee in February 2012.
Just last month, Travis Windle, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry lobbying group, cited the air monitoring studies when he questioned the objectivity of Yale University researchers whose study found greater numbers of illnesses near shale gas drilling sites.
Also last month the DEP, in a letter to the Mars Parent Group, twice referenced the short-term studies to justify its decision to approve a permit for R.E. Gas Development LLC, a subsidiary of State College-based Rex Energy, to drill and hydraulically fracture a Marcellus Shale gas well a half-mile from the Mars Area School District campus and its 3,200 students in Middlesex Township, Butler County.
Local residents, the Clean Air Council and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network have appealed that permit decision to the state Environmental Hearing Board.
“Speaking as a parent, it’s a concern that the DEP continues to rely on studies done in 2010 and 2011 and shown to be inaccurate, incomplete and inconclusive,” said Amy Nassif of the Mars Parent Group, to whom the DEP letter was addressed.
“Those studies don’t consider vulnerable populations like our children and aren’t applicable to what’s going on around the Mars School District campus in 2014.”
S. Craig Lobins, who wrote the letter and is the DEP’s northwest district oil and gas manager, declined a request for comment.
Morgan Wagner, a DEP spokeswoman, did not address questions about the department’s use of the reports to justify its siting decision near the Mars schools.
She said the DEP has been a leader in implementing strict emissions controls for shale gas development and is working on a new long-term air pollution monitoring study that will be finished this fall.
“There certainly is a big question about whether the DEP did a good job on those studies,” said Joseph Minott, an attorney and executive director of the Clean Air Council, a Philadelphia-headquartered environmental organization that is an appellant in the appeal of the Rex Energy permit filed with the state Environmental Hearing Board.
“A cynic would say the DEP did what it wanted to do with the air studies to get the result it wanted, and it wanted to prove the pollution was minimal and set the testing protocol to get that result.”
By Don Hopey Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Public Trust in PA Regulators Erodes Further Over Flawed Fracking Air Study
“DEP detected high concentrations of certain chemicals—but those results weren't included in the final study released to the public. The DEP also failed to assess the potential health risks of 25 of the monitored chemicals.
Raw data showing high concentrations of certain pollutants at gas operations and health risks of 25 chemicals were left out of the state's studies.
By Lisa Song, InsideClimate News Oct 23, 2014
Pennsylvania regulators used flawed methodology to conclude that air pollution from natural gas development doesn't cause health problems. The revelation has further eroded trust in an embattled state agency.
The news was first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The paper cited court documents that show how air quality studies conducted by the Department of Environmental Protection in 2010 and 2011 failed to analyze the health risks of 25 chemicals. The studies also didn't report some instances where high pollutant levels were detected.
The evidence came from statements of two DEP scientists who were deposed in a lawsuit. Their depositions call into question the report's conclusion that the air sampling found no health risks from shale development.
The DEP "did not identify concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air-related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities," the study's executive summary said.
Two later DEP air-sampling studies from 2011 used the same methodology. All three reports have been cited by Pennsylvania regulators and industry to support drilling activity.
"It's a really serious mess," said toxicologist David Brown of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, which helps residents whose health may be impacted by natural gas development.
Brown has worked at various health agencies throughout his career, including the Centers for Disease Control and the Connecticut Department of Public Health, where he was chief of environmental epidemiology and occupational health.
"Probably the most important thing health and environmental agencies do is to maintain trust," he said. Now that the DEP has broken that trust, "I don't think it's fixable."
When InsideClimate News asked the DEP to comment, agency spokeswoman Morgan Wagner responded with a letter that the DEP sent to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Wednesday. The letter criticizes the Post-Gazette article, but doesn't challenge its main finding about the data left out of the DEP reports.
The DEP has faced years of criticism for its handling of the Marcellus Shale boom.
"The gas industry is treated with kid gloves," said George Jugovic Jr., a former DEP official who is now chief counsel of the environmental group PennFuture. Jugovic said that leniency applies to both the current administration under Republican Governor Tom Corbett, and the previous administration of Democratic Governor Edward Rendell.
A July audit by Pennsylvania's Auditor General's office faulted the agency for poor communication with citizens, a lack of transparency and weak industry oversight on the issue of water protection from natural gas development.
Two months later, the Auditor General's office followed up with a separate document that warned citizens not to rely on data posted on DEP's website, because it often contains self-reported data from shale gas operators that aren't reviewed for accuracy.
Nadia Steinzor, eastern program coordinator of the environmental group Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project, said the recent revelations about the DEP’s air studies have made her even more skeptical of the agency's actions.
"They make me question DEP's ultimate motivations," she said. The next time the agency releases a study, "we and others have to take a really hard careful look at [the] methodologies they use."
Both of the DEP employees deposed, Linda Hreha and Nicholas Lazor, were involved in the studies. Their depositions, taken in Dec. 2013 and Jan. 2014, were filed as part of an air and water pollution case against drilling operator Range Resources.
The DEP has cited the flawed studies as recently as September 2014 in a lawsuit filed by citizens trying to block several gas wells near schools and homes in Middlesex Township. In response to the plaintiffs' concerns, the DEP wrote a letter that referenced its 2010 study, saying the "short-term, screening level air quality sampling initiative…did not identify concentrations of any compound that would be likely to trigger acute air emission-related health issues."
Range Resources, the company involved in the lawsuit that brought the depositions to light, lists the Pennsylvania studies (among others) to show how "air quality surrounding natural gas development...is safe."
The depositions reveal a series of mistakes made by the DEP. To begin with, the report's raw data show the agency detected high concentrations of certain chemicals—but those results weren't included in the final study released to the public. The DEP also failed to assess the potential health risks of 25 of the monitored chemicals.
In his deposition, Lazor said none of the DEP employees who prepared the 2010 report were trained in epidemiology, medicine, or environmental or occupational health.
Although the agency consulted with an epidemiologist from the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the epidemiologist only saw a copy of the final report—not the raw data behind the study.
The DEP studies were criticized even before the depositions came to light. In 2011, the environmental group GASP (Group Against Smog and Pollution) noted that the DEP air monitoring instruments could only detect some pollutants at extremely high levels unlikely to be found in the atmosphere. In one case, the agency's minimum detection limit for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) was 198 parts per billion—18 times higher than the state's average NO2 concentration of 11 parts per billion.
Earthworks' Steinzor said the studies do have some value. They were—and still are—among the few studies conducted by regulatory agencies on the air impacts of shale development. Also, they ultimately convinced the DEP to do another long-term air quality study in the Marcellus. Those results have not been released to the public.
Brown, the Environmental Health Project scientist, said the latest news has seriously damaged the DEP's reputation in future work. "I don't know how an agency redeems credibility once they've lost it at this scale."
And one specifically about Washington County:
***Inspection Regs Change
Fewer, Not More, Well Inspections Proposed
By Laura Legere / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“The DEP is proposing a new policy to standardize the way it handles oil and gas well site inspections, enforcement actions and complaints that drilling has damaged water supplies.
Some of the provisions might give people “heartburn,” a DEP official said.
The proposal lowers expectations for how frequently well sites will be inspected and requires, rather than requests, drilling companies to temporarily replace potentially disrupted water supplies within the radius of their wells where the law presumes the company is to blame.
The draft policy addresses several issues raised in a withering audit of the department’s oil and gas program released in July by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale — but not necessarily in the way the auditors recommended.
Mr. DePasquale urged DEP to update its inspection policy to include mandated inspections at critical drilling stages and over a well’s lifetime.
The department’s current inspection policy, which was developed more than 25 years ago, says regulators intend to inspect well sites during as many as 16 separate stages of development, including roughly nine times between when the drill bit hits the ground and when the well begins producing oil or gas.
The department is not meeting those goals, which were always “aspirational” and are no longer “necessarily appropriate,” Mr. Klapkowski said.
“I think we’re probably lucky at this point if we’re getting to these well sites two to three times in that time frame, based on the number of inspectors we have and the number of well sites,” he said.
The new proposal lists 12 key occasions when regulators aspire to conduct inspections, but in somewhat opaque language it instructs district offices to “ensure that all wells are inspected at least once” in accordance with the schedule — not once at every stage.
It also drops the current guidance to inspect every well at least annually.
“What it says is that it has to be inspected at least once,” Mr. Klapkowski said. “I think some people are going to have a little bit of heartburn with that, and I expect we’re going to get a significant amount of public comment on that issue.”
DEP spokeswoman Morgan Wagner said in an email that it is the agency’s goal to inspect a well each time one of the 12 key stages occurs. The department “is confident it has the positions necessary to conduct approximately 27,500 inspections annually,” she said, including about 10,500 annual inspections for new wells. There were about 2,100 new wells drilled last year.
The new draft policy also lays out steps and schedules for regulators to respond to water supply complaints so inspectors in different regional offices follow the same procedures.
Mr. DePasquale’s audit criticized DEP for late, confusing and inconsistent communication with people who complained of water supply disruptions related to drilling. The audit also reprimanded the agency for failing to issue enforcement orders every time oil and gas operations damaged water supplies, saying that without such official actions “violations can be dealt with ‘off the books’ and away from the public’s scrutiny.”
DEP has improved the consistency of its communications — it is now department practice to issue a letter in every case rather than making phone calls, as some inspectors did in the recent past.
In the draft policy, DEP also commits to issuing a formal violation notice every time it ties a water supply disruption to drilling. Violation notices are recorded in the agency’s online compliance databases, which means the public can learn about them more easily than if they were only kept in paper files.
But DEP does not intend to issue an order — a higher, more resource-intensive level of enforcement — in cases when a water supply has already recovered on its own or been replaced, when a water supply owner withdraws the investigation request or when the drilling company and water supply owner reach a settlement.
“It will be documented that the determination occurred. A notice of violation will be issued. But we’re not going to issue that order,” Mr. Klapkowski said.
DEP’s proposal for automatically requiring companies to provide temporary replacement water for some disturbed supplies is already raising eyebrows in the industry.
“There’s got to be a way for an operator to take an action without admitting guilt,” Mr. Waite said after the meeting. “That’s not in there. In fact, the opposite is in there.”
State law presumes drillers are responsible for water supply pollution within 2,500 feet of shale gas wells during six months or a year after drilling. Companies can rebut that presumption by showing that the pollution already existed or was caused by something else, among other defenses.
In an issue alert published on Oct. 6, K&L Gates attorneys R. Timothy Weston and Tad Macfarlan wrote that “the suggestion that PADEP can and should ‘advise’ an operator to provide a temporary water supply even if the operator can firmly rebut the presumption of liability” goes beyond the language of the state’s revised oil and gas law, known as Act 13.
Mr. Klapkowski said that although he expects DEP will receive “a vigorous and thoughtful set of comments” on the proposal, the final version will likely be in place by the end of the year.”
Laura Legere: email@example.com://powersource.post-gazette.com/powersource/policy-powersource/2014/10/28/Severance-tax/stories/201410280011
***Murrysville Council Gets Update On Task Force
“Municipal planner Allen Cohen updated council last week on the deliberations of Murrysville’s Marcellus Shale Task Force. Mr. Cohen’s report laid out eight options the task force is considering to regulate drilling sites in the municipality.
•.Keep the overlay district as mapped in the original oil and gas drilling ordinance.
• Modify the overlay district to eliminate potential areas of concern.
• Eliminate the overlay district and allow drilling as a conditional use in areas zoned rural-residential (R-R) on parcels meeting minimum size requirements.
• Permit drilling only in the business district (B) on parcels meeting minimum size requirements. Heavy manufacturing is currently allowed in the business district on parcels with a minimum 10-acre site.
• Create new areas in the municipality suitable for drilling and rezoning them as resource recovery districts.
•. Create additional areas in business zones or create new Industrial zones suitable for drilling.
• Combine some of the above options
• Conclude that no area in Murrysville is compatible with oil and gas drilling
The municipality has no industrial or resource recovery zone classifications and regulates gas and oil drilling by identifying suitable areas in other zones. Called an overlay district, the approach is used in other communities, but legal opinions of its effectiveness vary. Mr. Cohen’s report included comments by attorney John Smith regarding the use of the overlay approach. Serving as a panelist for the Pennsylvania Bar Institute Mr. Smith said oil and gas overlay districts have potential legal hurdles.
“Property owners rely on the zoning classification of their property, which may be changed through an overlay to allow different uses. A mineral extraction and gas overlay district that allows for industrial oil and gas operations outside of industrial zoning districts, subjects nonindustrial areas to industrial activities. If the purpose of zoning is to place like uses together, then how can an industrial use be extended into nonindustrial areas” he said.
Elanor Sharp of Shady Drive urged council to follow the lead of Upper Burrell, which in October approved restricting of fracking to industrial zones. She said council will eventually have to address the question of whether the overlay district is legally defensible.
“As a concerned resident, I am of the opinion that Murrysville should drop the overlay concept and restrict fracking surface operations to industrial zones” she said.
However, Mr. Cohen cautioned council that creating a drilling ordinance is not a one-size-fits-all process.
“Be careful not to take another community’s approach and say it is ours,” he advised. “ The task force is focusing on what is good for Murryvsille. We are fact finding in order to present options in a balanced manner. All of the options must be defensible in a court of law. And it is undecided law right now.”
Councilman David Perry said council will “consider options from zero drilling to expanding the overlay district.”
Still, he noted, it will be a year before any action is taken.”
Tim Means, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org. http://www.post-gazette.com/local/east/2014/10/23/Murrysville-Council-gets-update-on-drilling-study/stories/201410230054
***Washington County Judge Reaffirms Court Order For Range Resources
“Oct 22 – A Washington County Court judge reaffirmed her opinion that Range Resources should be compelled to release a full list of chemicals and additives, including proprietary substances, used at an Amwell Township drill site that is the subject of ongoing litigation.
President Judge Debbie O’Dell-Seneca upheld her previous Court of Common Pleas order for Range to disclose chemicals used at the Yeager well site. The order was issued as part of a lawsuit involving three families who allege that Range’s operations contaminated their drinking water.
Range appealed the June 11 court order, and O’Dell-Seneca’s opinion will head to the state Superior Court to decide the matter on appeal.
O’Dell-Seneca wrote in her opinion that Range’s “allegation that this Court erred in ordering the disclosure of this information is rendered moot by defendant’s recent claims that it has, in fact, complied with this court’s order.”
Several Range attorneys argued in court last month that the plaintiffs – Stacey Haney and her two children; Beth and John Voyles and their daughter; and Loren and Grace Kiskadden – know enough information about the products and additives Range used in fracking to conduct tests of their water supply. Range’s counsel said the “chemical families” were released for all proprietary products that were not named by manufacturers, and thus the families could determine whether or not chemicals in their water match those found in Range’s products.
O’Dell-Seneca wrote that Range’s argument that the pertinent information was not in its possession is “immaterial” because Range served subpoenas on non-party entities in Texas – where Range’s headquarters are located - in compliance with a previous court order issued January 22.”
“It appears that this court’s order of June 11, 2014, is not overly burdensome,” she wrote.
*** Health Risks of Frack Pits-Study Continues
A West Virginia study will help Americans inside the fracking boom understand the dangers of exposure to VOCs.
“When Mary Rahall discovered that oil and gas waste was being stored in open-air ponds less than a mile from a daycare center outside Fayetteville, W. Va., she started digging for information about the facility's air emissions and protections for a nearby stream.
She wasn't satisfied with the answers she got from state regulators and politicians, so the mother of two set out to find a scientist who could help. Eventually her questions found their way to William Orem, a chemist at the U.S. Geological Survey office in Reston, Va., and he began collecting air and water data at the site last fall.
Orem's small study could have implications far beyond Fayetteville, because it's among the first scientific efforts directed at how air emissions from oil and gas waste could be affecting human health. He suspects waste disposal might turn out to be "the weakest link of all" in the oil and gas extraction and production cycle.
The industry's waste isn't subject to regular air monitoring, because in 1980s the energy industry lobbied Congress and the U.S. EPA to exempt most of it from hazardous waste laws, even though it can contain benzene and other chemicals known to affect human health. In a recent story about waste pit emissions in Texas, InsideClimate News discovered that, nationally, there's little data or regulatory oversight regarding air quality at oil and gas waste disposal sites.
A handful of short-term air studies involving drilling wastewater—the most toxic form of drilling waste—have been conducted. But most were designed to determine how the emissions contribute to ozone, not how they might directly affect public health. Orem's waste pond study is apparently the first prompted by local health and environmental concerns and the first to collect continuous air sampling over many months.
Rahall said the foul stench from the ponds at the Danny Webb Construction facility, outside Fayetteville, sometimes drifted into town. "It smells like it's going to explode," she said.
Orem hasn't smelled anything, but he has heard similar complaints from other residents.
"Whether those [citizen] concerns are justified or not is still unclear," he said.
Orem hasn't begun analyzing his data. When he does, he said the following questions will serve as his guide: "Is there a problem? Is there not a problem? If there is a problem, what are the contaminants of concern?"
Short-term studies of waste-pond emissions in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming between 2009 and 2013 have either focused on how the emissions contribute to ozone (a major respiratory irritant), or to test air-monitoring equipment that could be used by the EPA. But several of these studies have produced data and anecdotal evidence that the emissions can reach levels that might trigger health problems.
*A 2009 EPA report examined emissions data collected near three evaporation ponds operated by a drilling company in Western Colorado. The goal wasn't to gauge the risk to human health but to test equipment and measurement techniques the agency could use to track emissions from oil and gas or similar industries, according to EPA spokesman Richard Mylott.
While benzene, toluene and xylene levels were generally below risk levels established by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the EPA found that a few of the measured concentrations exceeded those guidelines, particularly downwind of the ponds.
In their introduction to the report, the authors said there was an "immediate need" to better understand emissions from volatile organic compounds (VOCs), including benzene and toluene, from oil and gas waste pits. Depending on the concentration and length of exposure, these chemicals can cause a range of ailments, from headaches to neurological damage and cancer.
*In 2011, Gabrielle Petron, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist working at the University of Colorado, was trying to determine whether emissions from two well sites in northeastern Utah were causing a rise in winter ozone. During the course of their work, Petron and her team of researchers discovered "out of this world" levels of benzene and toluene coming from small ponds of untreated wastewater near the well sites. At one point, the vapors were so thick that Petron felt nauseous and moved her team out of the area.
"You had to go upwind of the ponds," she said. "You could not stand to be in the downwind emission stream."
*Robert Field, a University of Wyoming scientist, had a similar experience when he led a winter ozone study funded by his school and state and federal regulators. Field and his co-researchers spent three winters in the Upper Green River Basin taking air samples near hundreds of wells in a rural area where oil and gas production is the main industry. There was also a wastewater recycling facility with large open ponds, where liquid waste from fracking and other processes evaporates into the air.
Field said he often smelled a strong chemical odor at the fence line of the facility. "You don't want to breath this pollution," he said.
Air monitoring data he collected close to the facilities found concentrations of toluene and xylene that far exceeded levels found in urban areas. This chemical signature, characteristic of oil and gas wastewater, was also present in air Field measured about three miles downwind of the facility.
Field's team also found occasional spikes in benzene. About half of the 20 samples taken near the facility in 2012 exceeded health guidelines set by the California EPA for short-term benzene exposure (9 parts per billion). One sample had a benzene concentration of 109 parts per billion. (Neither Wyoming nor the federal EPA has short-term guidelines for benzene).
Field said the data show VOCs from the facility, most likely from the large treatment and storage ponds, contribute significantly to the area's ambient air quality. The impact of the facility's emissions was an unexpected discovery, he said.
Results from the study were published as a discussion article by the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics. Although the study wasn't designed to address human health effects, Field said he hopes scientists studying waste health effects will take notice of his findings.
*Last winter Seth Lyman, an environmental scientist who directs the Bingham Entrepreneurship and Energy Research Center at Utah State University, measured air emissions from ponds at disposal sites and other oil and gas facilities in northeastern Utah's shale region. The air quality testing was part of an ozone study supported by a Uintah County group and the Trust Lands Administration. Some of the ponds had frozen over and had very low levels of VOCs. But some air samples taken from ponds that didn't freeze exceeded California's EPA standard for short-term benzene exposure.
Lyman recently received federal funding to extend his study of air quality near industry waste ponds, and also to test the air near pits containing solid waste.
*A third winter ozone study in Utah, by NOAA scientist Carsten Warneke, took short-term samples of air downwind of three oil and gas waste ponds. It has also been published on the Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics website. Benzene levels at two sites were low, but they exceeded California's standards at a third site.
Promising Study Underway in West Virginia
Orem, who is conducting the West Virginia study, was already searching for an oil and gas disposal site to test when a scientist at West Virginia State University told him about Mary Rahall's concerns about the Fayetteville disposal site. Orem had previously studied the chemical profiles of produced water at shale and coal-bed methane drilling sites across the country. "We jumped on it as soon as we heard about it," he said.
His team set up four air monitors around the site. The facility's owner wouldn't let him install a monitor at the ponds, so he positioned one as close "as legally possible," he said. He installed the other three further away, to track how chemicals in the air might travel and identify any other sources of emissions.
The monitors are equipped with foam discs that continuously absorb volatile organic compounds from the air. He swaps out the discs every couple of months.
The parameters of Orem's study have shifted since he began his work. Danny Webb Construction's operating permit was renewed in February, but on the condition that the ponds be closed. When environmental groups appealed that decision, the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection revoked the permit, although an injection well used to dispose of wastewater deep underground still operates at the site.
Orem had gathered five continuous months of air quality data while the ponds were up and running. He continued collecting data during and after the reclamation process, which involved removing the waste and liners and backfilling the depressions with dirt.
Meanwhile, Orem is trying to expand his understanding of the air and water issues surrounding oil and gas production waste. He's searching for additional disposal sites to monitor, as well as active drilling sites that have on-site waste storage and disposal.
This article is part of an ongoing investigation by InsideClimate News and The Center for Public Integrity into air emissions created during oil and gas production. CPI's Jim Morris contributed to this report.
***Infant Deaths Near Drill Sites Spawn More Research
“Over a dozen infants died in this oil-booming basin last year. Was this spike a fluke? Bad luck? Or were these babies victims of air pollution fed by the nearly 12,000 oil and gas wells in one of the most energy-rich areas in the country?
Some scientists whose research focuses on the effect of certain drilling-related chemicals on fetal development believe there could be a link.
Questions about drilling's possible effect on infants and the unborn aren't confined to this northeast corner of Utah. Late in 2013, an unusually high number of fetal anomalies in Glenwood Springs, 175 miles away in Colorado, were reported to state authorities. A study found no connection with drilling.
Concerns have been raised in other areas of heavy drilling, but no clusters have been documented. No dots have been connected. But there are some in the scientific and medical communities working to try to make a connection.
"I suspect it is real — that there is a relationship," said Susan Nagel, PhD, a University of Missouri School of Medicine researcher who is focusing her studies on fracking-fluid chemicals that affect hormones.
Scads of medical studies have concluded that air pollution can harm embryos. Drilling is a documented contributor to that pollution. It is a given that some of the harmful chemicals released in drilling, like benzene, toluene and xylenes, can cross the placental barrier and cause heart, brain and spinal defects.
"Suffice it to say that air pollution from drilling is a part of it," Dr. Brian Moench said of the Vernal-area deaths.
Moench, a Salt Lake City-based anesthesiologist and president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, admits that establishing a scientifically solid link between dead babies and drilling pads is complicated.
Air pollution is often a stew of chemicals and particles from multiple sources. In Vernal, diesel pickups and fracking rigs roll down Main Street spewing fumes.
Oil field-support businesses, with their tanks of fluids and fuels, string out for miles. A coal-fired power plant sends a plume of smoke high in the air.
A recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric administration study showed dangerously high levels of ozone in the Uintah Basin around Vernal. Last winter, ozone levels spiked well beyond the safe level set by the Environmental Protection Agency — worse than the highest ozone days in Los Angeles. The study blamed the oil and gas industry.
"I think we pretty clearly have an air-quality problem, but we try not to freak out," said Seth Lyman, an air-quality researcher with Utah State University in Vernal. "But I think there is a low probability (that) air quality is bad enough to impact infant mortality."
There was another factor last year: An explosion occurred east of Vernal on March 1, 2013, at a business that handles and cleans fracking equipment. The blast blew debris over a half-mile area. No one knows what it might have blown into the air. No measurements were taken.
Uintah County Commissioner Mike McKee said that wasn't a concern, just as drilling rigs aren't. He cited a county study done several years ago to determine if there was a spike in asthma cases in Vernal, as some residents feared. The study found there was not.
"People complaining about our air are from out of the area, from what I am seeing," McKee said.
One of the most vocal is Moench.
Moench took it seriously this year when Vernal midwife Donna Young told him that she had researched obituaries and was alarmed by the high numbers of dead babies.
Young and Moench were able to convince the TriCounty Health Department in Vernal to work with the state on a study to determine if Young's trend figures are correct.
Moench said that people who aren't looking at the possibility of a connection "have blinders on."
Nagel is in Moench's corner.
In two phases of research, she has gathered samples in Colorado's Garfield County and is currently exposing pregnant mice to fracking fluids in her lab. She will be looking for effects on the offspring.
Nagel said it is too early to have results, but she won't be surprised if there are effects from hormone-harming chemicals called "endocrine-disrupters."
"Mechanistically, from what we know about endocrine-disrupting chemicals, it is highly plausible," she said about linking the chemicals to fetal problems.
Part of the reluctance of residents around Vernal to ascribe any ill effects to energy-field pollution could be tied to the average $3,963 average monthly nonfarm wage in Uintah County — the highest in Utah.
Young said she benefits from that and has no bias against the industry in spite of receiving threats and suffering vandalism after she started talking about the infant deaths. Many of the fathers of the babies she delivers work in the oil fields.
"I just really, really want to find out what is going on," said Young, who now insists that all her pregnant patients use air and water filters.
It was midwives who also raised concerns and triggered the study in Garfield County this year. They had noticed a higher-than-normal number of anomalies in fetuses during ultrasounds and reported that to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The study found no common denominator in 22 cases and determined the midwives may have erred in their use of ultrasounds and in record-keeping.
The Utah Department of Health is now working on a study. Epidemiologists initially are using birth and death certificates to determine if there truly was a spike in infant deaths, as Young's numbers show.
Her numbers show an upward four-year trend in infant deaths: One in every 95.5 burials in Uintah County in 2010 was a baby, according to Young. In 2011 it was one in every 53. In 2012, one in every 39.7. And in 2013 the number jumped to one in every 15.
State epidemiologist Sam LeFevre said his study will crunch numbers and not delve into causes for deaths unless the numbers show a potential problem.
Besides oil-and-gas-stoked pollution, there could be many other causes.
Uintah County is 24th of 27 Utah counties in health rankings.
Twice as many residents here smoke than in the rest of Utah. More residents, in an area rife with new fast-food chains, are overweight. More residents admit to drinking heavily. There are more teen mothers and more mothers on average who don't get good prenatal care.
Dr. Karl Breitenbach, a physician who has done deliveries and prenatal and newborn care in Vernal for 27 years, was the only Vernal physician who responded to requests for comment. He said he has reviewed data through 2012 and hasn't seen any increase in baby deaths.
"I am unwilling to speculate until I see some proof that there actually is an increased rate of infant morbidity or mortality," he said in an e-mail.
While the state studies in Utah and Colorado address numbers, general research on fracking fluids and developing babies is expected to go farther.
Nagel said she is trying to establish a laboratory link that future researchers can then use as they study health effects in drilling areas.
Liza McKenzie, a research associate at the Colorado School of Public Health who has studied health effects of fracking fluids in Colorado, said she plans to do more research on the subject of fetuses and infants exposed to the chemicals.
Her earlier research showed babies born to mothers living within 10 miles of wells are at greater risk of congenital heart defects and neural tube defects. The oil and gas industry have criticized her research methods and findings.
Results from the state study in Vernal are expected early next year.
For now, infant deaths have dropped back to average. Residents are reluctant to talk about the infant-death issue. Many are focusing on a future that is filled with expanded fossil-fuel prospects. Nearly 85 percent of Vernal residents indicated in a recent survey that they welcome oil shale development.”
***Letter To Editor-PA Air Being Jeopardized
“Pennsylvania’s Department of Health seemingly has been ignoring reports of health problems linked to Marcellus Shale natural gas (“Groups: Health dept. policy on fracking falls short,” Aug. 20).
We know that Pennsylvania has a long history of dirty air and subsequent damage to public health, and that trend isn’t changing with Marcellus Shale development. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and other air pollutants from oil and gas industry activities affect our health – both adults and children – and add to our state’s poor air quality. These pollutants accelerate dangerous climate change trends and contribute to toxic smog.
We do have the technologies to reduce methane emissions and air pollutants, and they are cost-effective and available. Why aren’t we implementing them?
Cleaner air and improved public health are a win for Pennsylvanians. As a parent, reducing smog and toxic pollution are urgent issues for me and for our children’s future.
Clean air should not be optional.”
***NPR Guts Environmental Team, Leaving Only One Reporter
“How interested is the public in climate change and other environmental issues? Apparently, National Public Radio (NPR) thinks the answer is “not very.”
Many people critical of NPR have charged that its sponsorship by companies and organizations invested in fossil fuel industries has caused it to step cautiously on environmental issues. Inside Climate News reports that the media outlet generally perceived to provide thoughtful coverage of pressing issues has cut back its environmental staff from three reporters and an editor, working within NPR’s science desk, to a single reporter covering the environment part-time. Of the four working on the beat at the beginning of this year, Richard Harris and Vikki Valentine have moved to new roles at NPR and Elizabeth Shogren has left the media outlet. Only reporter Chris Joyce remains on the beat.
Inside Climate News found that, despite rising public interest, the People’s Climate March in September that drew hundreds of thousands of people and major stories such as the drought in the southwest, the number of pieces tagged “environment” at NPR has dropped since the beginning of the year from an average of the low 60s per month to the mid 40s. It found that those stories were a mix of things including pollution, wildlife, global health, agriculture and land conservation.
“Some of the critics pointed to NPR’s acceptance of short sponsorship ads from corporations, and especially America’s Natural Gas Alliance (ANGA), as proof,” he wrote. “Corporate and other business sponsorships account for 25 percent of NPR’s revenues, but in my more than three years as ombudsman, I have yet to find a single incidence in which a story was influenced by a sponsor……”
***Pennsylvania State Police May Be Tracking Fractivists- Soundtrack from WESA
By ESSENTIAL PITTSBURGH
“Are state police in Pennsylvania tracking activists for Marcellus Shale drillers?
We’ll pose that question to journalist Adam Federman who recently reported on this issue for the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia City Papers.”
http://wesa.fm/post/pennsylvania-state-police-may-be-tracking-marcellus-shale-activists - .VE-mfo_-QrA.facebook
***Waynesburg Borough Investigates Frack Water Dumped Into Sewer
“The borough's sewage plant manager noticed a milky substance right after flow meters indicated a spike in the normal amount of sewage flowing through the system. The frack water can include briny substances and traces of chemicals used in the process.
The borough hasn't accepted gas well water since 2009, when the DEP ordered sewage plants to reduce how much wastewater they processed after the Monongahela River was found to be contaminated with substances the plants couldn't properly treat. The DEP went one step further in 2011 and asked drillers not to send their wastewater to sewage plants. (This was voluntary. Jan)
"No matter how good the Waynesburg plant or any plant is, they are just not equipped to handle and treat frack water," DEP spokesman John Poister said.
The agency planned to send an inspector to Waynesburg this week to discuss the matter with officials, Poister told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
"Our investigation is just starting," he said.
Cumberledge said there are only a few spots where somebody could have dumped the water and not have been seen publicly.
Whoever dumped the frack water could also face criminal charges and civil penalties.” http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/oct/14/borough-investigates-frack-water-dumped-into-sewer/