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Friday, March 16, 2012

The Pennsylvania gas law fails to protect public health

For this very reason, the GOP in PA needs to be voted out of office!! They have screwed us all.
Our legislators punted when it was time to protect us, say Pitt experts BERNARD GOLDSTEIN and JILL KRIESKY (from the Post Gazette)
Sunday, March 11, 2012

Gov. Tom Corbett recently signed a bill that goes beyond just ignoring concerns about the potential human health effects of Marcellus Shale drilling, it retains some of the worst aspects of industry secrecy about proprietary hydrofracking chemicals while making unethical demands on physicians.
Imagine a physician caring for a child whose illness might have been caused by long-term exposure to a proprietary fracking chemical while playing near a drill site. Assume that after signing a legally binding nondisclosure agreement, the physician is given the identity of the chemical and comes to believe it caused the illness. What can the physician tell the families of other neighborhood children who play in the same field?

Under the newly enacted law, copied almost verbatim from a controversial Colorado law, a physician may receive information about a proprietary chemical used in the fracking process, but the physician must agree to not reveal this information to the public. The law also allows the company to keep secret from physicians information about agents that come up from the ground during drilling, such as natural gas constituents -- which themselves can be toxic -- and naturally occurring toxic agents such as arsenic, barium, brine components and radioactive compounds dissolved in flowback water. Nor can public health authorities begin with knowledge of a secret chemical and ask whether there is an increase in an illness that the chemical is known to cause.

Drillers should have an affirmative duty to know what dangerous chemicals they are introducing into the environment. Instead, the bill is laced with excuses: "the vendor didn't tell us" or "it was unintentional" or "it must be due to a chemical reaction." But chemicals inherently react with each other -- that is their nature. By making ignorance an excuse, the law absolves drillers from doing their homework.
This legislation was under consideration when drilling in the commonwealth began in earnest, and it was intensely studied by the governor's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission -- a commission charged with protecting the environment and citizens' health and welfare. Moreover, citizens testified at public hearings time and time again that they are concerned about possible health impacts on themselves and their families, neighbors and friends.

Yet the governor's 32-member commission included no health professionals, and the seven state agencies involved did not include the state Department of Health.

Not surprisingly, the commission's few health-related recommendations failed to make their way into the final legislation. Neither did the governor's recommendation to provide Marcellus Shale impact funding for the Department of Health; 19 other state agencies, subagencies and commissions received funding, including the Pennsylvania Boat and Fish Commission. It appears that our state politicians are concerned about the impact of shale gas drilling on boats and fish, but not on humans.

Rather than providing health personnel with direction on how to prepare for potential exposures to toxic chemicals in the air, water or soil, or to accidents similar to those that already have occurred, the law sets up an obstacle course that health care providers must navigate to secure information about proprietary chemicals -- information needed to diagnose and treat patients. This obstacle course also presents an ethical dilemma for a doctor who treats a child exposed by playing too close to a Marcellus Shale drilling site. It is a breach of a physician's responsibilities not to report a public health threat, as well as a contradiction of established public health practice and law.

This law would have looked different had public health officials been consulted. Legislators and industry lobbyists seeking streamlined and stable regulations to aid their companies' planning and pursuit of profits should recognize that it's in everyone's best interests to research and prepare for the public health risks that come with drilling. The statistically significant disease clusters that will inevitably arise in communities with Marcellus Shale drilling, whether caused by the drilling or not, will generate fear, media attention, declines in property values and lawsuits.

Industry is liable for any adverse effects caused by the millions of gallons of chemical-laden water that flows back to the surface after each frack. Perhaps individual companies are hoping that their particular mixtures will not cause noticeable harm or that they will make their money before tort liabilities catch up with them. But hydrofracking will likely go on in Pennsylvania for decades, and depending on toxic tort suits to protect the public presupposes that we must wait until people get sick.

The usual engineer's response to just about every technology problem that has resulted in environmental or human health problems is to say that had they only known there was a potential problem, they could have designed the technology to avoid the problem. For this discussion to take place in the case of the unconventional development of Marcellus Shale gas, we need health professionals at the table to prevent adverse health effects, and we need to put them there now.

Dr. Bernard Goldstein is emeritus professor in the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health's Department of Environmental and Occupational Health (www.publichealth.pitt.edu). Jill Kriesky is senior project coordinator at the school's Center for Health Environments and Communities.

$1B Marcellus pipeline proposed

March 02, 2012|By Andrew Maykuth, Inquirer Staff Writer
Since the Marcellus Shale boom took off, much of the natural gas produced in Pennsylvania has been shipped through existing pipelines to Northeastern markets such as New York City.
But a partnership of three companies on Thursday proposed building a $1 billion pipeline that would transport fuel from Northern Pennsylvania to markets in Central and Eastern Pennsylvania, as well as Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington.
"We think it would be beneficial to Pennsylvania to have gas produced in the state consumed in the state," said Hugh J. Gallagher, a spokesman for UGI Corp. of Valley Forge, one of the partners in the proposed project.

Regulators Say Fracking Wastewater Well Caused 12 Earthquakes in Ohio

by: Mike Ludwig, Truthout | Report
Ohio regulators confirmed late last week what many observers already suspected: a fracking wastewater disposal well caused 12 earthquakes near Youngstown last year as the state threw open its doors to the controversial oil- and gas-drilling technique.
All the earthquakes were clustered less than a mile from an especially deep well where fracking fluids are stored as wastewater underground after being used for drilling. Earthquakes are extremely rare in the area.
The largest earthquake, a 4.0-magnitude seismic event that was felt across the Youngstown area, occurred on December 31, just one day after regulators shut down the suspect disposal well. The next day, outspoken fracking proponent Gov. John Kasich put a moratorium on wastewater injection in the vicinity of the well, which will continue under new rules issued by regulators.
Anti-fracking activists and Ohio State Rep. Bob Hagan, a Democrat from the area, quickly lashed out last month at Kasich, who has enjoyed considerable campaign contributions from fracking companies and signed a bill last year allowing oil and gas firms to drill in state parks.
"Fracking" is short for hydraulic fracturing, an environmentally controversial oil- and gas-drilling technique that involves pumping millions of gallons of water and chemicals underground to break up rock and release fossil fuels. Some of the water returns as a wastewater brine contaminated with fracking chemicals and underground materials, so fracking companies often pump the brine into underground wells for permanent storage.
The discovery of massive natural gas reserves under Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, along with the development of enhanced horizontal fracking techniques, has prompted an oil and gas rush in the region. A lack of federal regulations has left states like Ohio scrambling to catch up.
Evidence gathered by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) suggests that fluid from the injection well intersected an unmapped fault and caused movement that created earthquakes. The ODNR also issued with their earthquake findings new rules for wastewater disposal that regulators claim will be some of the nation's toughest.
The new rules prohibit new wastewater wells from being drilled into the deep Precambrian basement rock layers, and drillers will be required to install high-tech monitoring equipment.
The ODNR claims that earthquakes have been linked to only six of the nation's 144,000 injection wells, which take in 2 billion gallons of wastewater each day. But the trembling ground in Ohio and other states, such as Arkansas, did not sit well with residents and environmentalists. The Ohio Environmental Council (OEC) applauded the new rules, but criticized regulators for allowing drillers to cause earthquakes in the first place.
"Although it is a very rare thing for an injection well to cause an earthquake, there have been other confirmed earthquakes caused by deep injection wells in other states over the past few years," wrote OEC Law Fellow Grant Maki. "During that time, Ohio kept on drilling these wells at a faster and faster pace. If you continually play with fire, you will, eventually, get burnt. We commend ODNR for taking this necessary action. However, we should have done these studies before injecting millions of gallons of high-pressure fluid into the 'basement rock.'"
Several states are debating what to do with the millions of gallons of sometimes-toxic wastewater left over from fracking. Last year, regulators in Pennsylvania had to demand that fracking companies stop sending wastewater to public treatment facilities.
The ODNR said it prefers underground wells to other disposal methods. Underground wells have not caused any subsurface groundwater contamination since the state began using them in 1983. Prior to that time, wastewater was stored in surface pits that damaged the environment.

Fracking Democracy: Why Pennsylvania's Act 13 May Be the Nation's Worst Corporate Giveaway

Pennsylvania's Republican leaders have given the natural gas industry unprecedented power to overrule local government and drill anywhere.
Pennsylvania, where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were signed and where the U.S. coal, oil and nuclear industriesbegan, has adopted what may be the most anti-democratic, anti-environmental law in the country, giving gas companies the right to drill anywhere, overturn local zoning laws, seize private property and muzzle physicians from disclosing specific health impacts from drilling fluids on patients. 
The draconian new law, known as Act 13, revises the state’s oil and gas statutes, to allow oil companies to drill for natural gas using the controversial process known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking, where large volumes of water and toxic chemicals are pumped into vertical wells with lateral bores to shatter the rock and release the hydrocarbons. The law strips rights from communities and individuals while imposing new statewide drilling rules.
“It’s absolutely crushing of local self-government,” said Ben Price, project director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, which has helped a handful of local communities—including the city of Pittsburgh—adopt community rights ordinances that elevate the rights of nature and people to block the drilling. “The state has surrendered over 2,000 municipalities to the industry. It’s a complete capitulation of the rights of the people and their right to self-government. They are handing it over to the industry to let them govern us. It is the corporate state. That is how we look at it.”
“Now I know what it feels like to live in Nigeria,” said recently retired Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields. “You’re basically a resource colony for multi-national corporations to take your natural resources, take them back to wherever they are at, add value to them, and then sell them back to you.”
Needless to say, Pennsylvania’s top political leadership—Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and Republican-controlled legislature—see Act 13 as a pro-business, clean-energy bill creating jobs, revenue and improving environmental laws surrounding drilling. That the 174-page bill was essentially rammed through the legislature over objections from local officials, environmentalists and a handful of legislators who said it not only turned “300 years of local zoning upside down,” but exposed the state to liability from wells, was irrelevant. “This growing industry will provide new career opportunities that will give our children a reason to stay here in Pennsylvania,” Corbett said, when signing the bill into law on February 14. It takes effect 60 days later.
“A lot of local officials, Republicans and Democrats, have begun to drill into this bill and… are really coming to the conclusion that in their zeal to carry the water for the gas and oil industry people, that they really overreached,” said Shields, who predicted that it was only a matter of weeks before the first legal challenges were filed. “This is really wrangling them. Maybe they are all for oil and gas drilling. And maybe they don’t care about the environment. But they sure as heck care about their power.”
Money Talks, Republicans Walk
Pennsylvania’s history has been filled with energy booms, busts and boondoggles. The nation’s first large coal mines were there. The first oil wells were drilled in Pennsylvania in 1859. The nation’s first nuclear power plant opened there in 1957. The nation’s worst commercial nuclear accident occurred there in 1979. In between these cycles, this largely mountainous and farming state has struggled economically. This is especially true in the rural areas whereupwards of 200,000 wells remain from decades of drilling and mining. 
The oil and gas industry has always known that almost all of Pennsylvania except for its southeast corner sat above three formations of shale, known as the Marcellus, Devonian and Utica, which contain some of the world’s largest natural gas reserves. (These same formations extend into eastern Ohio and western New York.) A decade ago, the US Geological Survey released estimates of these reserves, suggesting a sizeable portion of America’s natural gas needs could be met if they were tapped. Pennsylvanians saw the prospect of millions in investment capital pouring into their beleaguered state.
The USGS announcement prompted a major restructuring by American gas producers who saw a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Texas-based firms such asRange Resources began dumping thousands of acres of other drilling leases and came into the state with a multi-prong strategy to make new fortunes. Initially, the industry started approaching property owners to lease their land for long-term drilling. Then it targeted the legislature to rewrite the state’s oil and gas laws.
The industry needed the legislature to rewrite those laws because a 2009 decision by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upheld municipal rights to write zoning laws that excluded oil and gas drilling if it did not fit the community’s “character” and “special nature.” The oil and gas industry did not want to file a suit every time it wanted to drill. By late last year, private companies such as Range Resources acquired 125,000 acres of leases in Washington County, its executives reported in a recent conference call to Wall Street analysts. In total, the firm has 790,000 acres under lease, mostly in Pennsylvania. 
In that call to analysts, Range Resources’ executives described the enormous financial stakes in Pennsylvania—which have driven the state’s current political response. 
The return on investment on some Marcellus wells was “73% to 99%,” senior managers boasted. The fracking wells cost about $4 million each. In contrast, Act 13’s new impact fee, which the state is charging to offset costs such as wear on roads and bridges, is about $50,000 per well, apart from other state-required bonds. The firm’s officers, who sold other gas holdings to focus on Pennsylvania, predicted, “in 2012, our organic growth target is expected to be 30% to 35%” and “if we chose to live within cash flow, we can still grow at 15% to 20% a year.” 
These profit margins are among the largest of any major American industry, even if they have been inflated to lure investors. The firm is worth “more than $10 billion,” the executives said. Yet it is only one of the large gas companies that have come into the state, where, as of January 12, the Department of Environmental Protection has issued 5,751 permits and 2,891 wells have been drilled. 
Pennsylvania’s Republican leaders did not need to be pushed to comprehensively rewrite its oil and gas laws in nearly 30 years. Working with the industry, they drafted a 174-page bill they touted as moving Pennsylvania toward energy independence while protecting the environment. Their legislation was presented to legislators in January, quickly passed largely on party lines, and was signed within weeks. The bill’s critics were ignored. Democrats said they could not muster the votes to stop it. 
“This was all done in the backroom—and it was written by the oil and gas industry,” Shields said, pointing to fine print such as the confidentiality strictures for doctors who treat any patient that might be exposed to drilling fluids. “Where the hell does physician confidentiality come from? There isn’t a legislator up there that would ever have thought of that. But a good corporate lawyer will figure that out because they don’t want that to affect them in lawsuits. They know we will be coming because they know we will have spills and accidents and people are going to get hurt. They don’t want to give them a leg up.”    
Creating Corporate Rights
Act 13 does many things to elevate the rights of gas companies above the civil rights of people and communities. To start, it revokes local zoning authority to discourage oil and gas development, stating, “this section pre-empts and supersedes the local regulation of oil and gas operations” (page 162). Municipalities can adopt some rules on how drilling is to be done, but they cannot say no to drilling. Moreover, the law tells municipalities that they must revise their local ordinances to allow drilling if they want to receive payment under the new per-well impact fee. 
But pre-empting local zoning is only the start of Act 13’s heavy-handed approach. The law empowers the state’s Public Utilities Commission—a body of appointed, not elected officials—to overturn local zoning, and to determine if a community is eligible to share in impact fee revenues. Moreover, if a gas company or any individual does not like a local law that affects drilling, that “aggrieved” party can go to the PUC and the board will be required to “determine whether it violates” the new state oil and gas law (page 167).
In other words, the PUC will use state authority to help the industry achieve its aims.
“What they are saying is if you don’t allow us to do what we want in your communities that you won’t share in the benefit monetarily—so it is almost like a bribe,” said Steve Karas, Forest Hills Borough vice-president, whose community, like nearby Pittsburgh, recently adopted a local ordinance asserting environmental and community rights. “We are not against natural gas. We are not against drilling. We are against the imposition of something that we feel has not been proven safe yet. We talk about public safety all the time in meetings… Part of the public safety is not allowing toxic chemicals to A, poison our water supply, and B, not be treated correctly.”  
The law also gives the industry the power to seize private property for any part of a drilling operation. On page 65, it states, “a corporation empowered to transport, sell or store natural gas or manufactured gas in the Commonwealth may appropriate an interest in real property” for “injection, storage and removal” of hydrocarbons. However, it does not require the industry to notify any town government of leases it has acquired or of a future interest in using any property—for say, a pipeline or processing facility. Neither homeowners nor other businessmen seeking to develop property are protected if the gas industry intends to use their land. 
“That’s what really concerns them,” Shields said. “Let’s say I have a developer who wants to put a shopping plaza or strip mall in my township. Say one party owns the surface—and it is a split estate and someone else owns the mineral rights. You don’t have any notice of what’s going on with leasing activity. No one is sending you a copy of the lease or the deeds. And you are moving down the road with your developer and then all of a sudden the oil and gas company comes in and says, “Oh, you can’t do that. We’re gonna drill here,’ or, ‘We’re gonna put two pipelines through that land.’ And you have nothing to say about it anymore as a local official.”  
Late last year before it became law, the legislation’s critics included David Sanko, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, who said in December, “We oppose the total elimination of local control, including land use. Instead, we support the maximum possible retention of local decision-making authority to provide for the reasonable development of natural resources consistent with law.” 
However, by early February and an approaching statehouse vote, Sanko’s organization changed its tune. He wrote to legislators saying, “We are equally pleased to have been able to thwart the 'nuclear-like' attack on local land-use decision making which would have resulted in a statewide, one size fits all total pre-emption of local decisions.” A call asking Santos to explain this reversal and interpretation of the law went unanswered. 
The law also prevents heath professionals from discussing medical impacts. On page 99, it requires oil and gas companies to tell medical professionals what chemicals are used in drilling fluids—but only after they sign “a statement of need and a confidentiality agreement.” However those details—the chemicals in drilling fluid and medical significance—it states a page later, are secret and “shall not be a public record.” 
“I know exactly why that is in there,” said Shields. “That makes it extremely difficult to bring a civil suit if the information is locked away behind confidentiality agreements. A physician can’t release information during discovery. They can’t even tell another patient that they are dealing with the same thing. They can’t go to a public health official and disclose it—this lady has benzene in her blood, or methyl-whatever. He can’t do it.”  
Constitutional Overreach?
These controversial aspects raise many constitutional issues that could become avenues for legal challenges, Shields and others have said. For example, empowering the PUC to override laws created by local officials raises serious jurisdictional issues. Additionally, giving eminent domain power to one industry raises constitutional questions about equal treatment under law, just as the confidentiality rules for physicians may violate their speech rights as an unconstitutional prior restraint.    
The law takes effect April 14. But before then it is almost certain that not only environmental groups but aggrieved municipalities will sue to challenge sections of it and try to keep it from taking effect, Shields said. And while the law is seen as a pro-industry "model" for other states, CELDF’s Price predicted there would be a growing backlash once more Pennsylvanians learned how their civil rights have been subordinated to industry.
“The tables are turned,” Price said. “Americans aren’t used to being treated like they are the indigenous people being colonized. But that’s what’s happening.”
Meanwhile, the industry sees few obstacles to drilling anywhere in the Keystone State. 
“As you know, Pennsylvania recently passed legislation, which adopts an impact fee, better regulatory uniformity and enhanced environmental protection and safety regulations, all of which we believe are positive for the communities where we operate and for continued development of out acreage in Pennsylvania,” Jeffrey Ventura, Range Resources CEO, told Wall Street analysts in the February 22 call. Those were the briefing’s only remarks about the state’s politics. 
The industry and state’s GOP leaders are assuming that the legal and political questions have been dealt with. But they are wrong. Though it is a long shot, a handful of towns and cities have been adopting community civil rights ordinances to keep drilling out of their locales. These are not the same as zoning laws—and they also say Pennsylvania’s state constitution is on their side.  
“Pittsburgh is going to be the Gettysburg in this fight,” Shields predicted. “This will be the place where it will all go down.”

Gas bill: Shale drillers got the better part of the deal

MONDAY, 13 FEBRUARY 2012 source found here.
Pennsylvania already has a love-hate relationship with Marcellus Shale gas drilling. Enthusiasm for the prospect of good jobs and generous payments to property owners who lease their land has been tempered by worries about the prospects for harm to the state's air, water, roads and quality of life.

To handle that duality, the state needed the right combination of taxation and limitation. Regulations passed last week by the Legislature -- dealing with well fees, zoning restrictions and environmental impact -- fail on both counts.
First is the question of taxation, which Mr. Corbett rejected outright. So instead the state will have a fee system, which will require drillers to pay between $190,000 and $355,000 per well during the first 15 years it is active. The governor chose to go this route rather than enact an extraction tax, even though all other drilling states have done so and the industry has not objected to the practice. That was a political calculation, not a decision made in the best interests of the state.
The next problem with the fees is the variation. The rates will fluctuate because, unlike any other tax that we know of, these fees will vary depending on the going price for natural gas. This is a good deal for the drilling companies, but people don't get this kind of flexibility when it comes to the taxes they pay.
The situation is further complicated by the kick-the-can-down-the-road approach that puts the decisions about whether to charge the fees in the hands of the 67 counties -- ostensibly in the spirit of local control. Yet the regulations take local control away from the counties on regulating the drill sites like other industrial activities.
The drilling rules aren't all bad. Penalties for environmental violations are boosted, companies must provide more public disclosure of what chemicals are used in their extraction processes and they must post higher bonds to ensure they'll clean up any damage, for instance.
But the state's complicated relationship with the Marcellus Shale industry is done more harm than good by these long-awaited, long-debated changes in the law.
Editor's Note: This is the first of two articles about Pennsylvania’s Act 13, perhaps the worst new environmental law in the nation, and the effort to stop it from taking effect. You can read the second one here.

NY Assembly calls for fracking health impact study

ALBANY, N.Y. -- Environmental and health groups are praising the New York State Assembly for including an independent health impact study of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in its budget proposal on Monday.
Numerous physicians, health organizations and environmental groups have criticized the Department of Environmental Conservation for not including a comprehensive health impact study in its environmental review of gas drilling using high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Gas drilling in New York's part of the Marcellus Shale has been on hold since the DEC review began in 2008. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and DEC Commissioner Joe Martens have said the review and new regulations are expected to be completed within a few months.
The Assembly bill would set aside $100,000 for a study by a school of public health within the state university system following a model recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Before the study, the school would have to prepare a document outlining its plans, and the public would have the opportunity to comment and suggest changes.
The study would include research into other states' experiences with fracking; estimated costs of any health impacts to the state, insurers, employers and the health care system; and a long-term plan for monitoring and mitigating health impacts.
"This study will go a long way to answer the many questions New Yorkers have about what fracking would mean for their health if this goes forward," Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, who proposed the study, said in a prepared statement. Lifton is a Democrat from Ithaca.
There is no companion bill in the Senate.
The Medical Society of the State of New York has called for a moratorium on natural gas extraction using hydraulic fracturing until scientific information on health impacts is available. Fracking stimulates gas production by injecting a well with millions of gallons of chemically treated water at high pressure to fracture surrounding shale, releasing trapped gas. There are concerns about health impacts of chemicals used in the process, handling of large volumes of highly contaminated wastewater, air pollution, and other issues.
"We have county medical societies throughout upstate and downstate that are very concerned that the health impacts have not been studied," said Pat Clancy, the medical society's vice president for public health and education.
In October, 250 physicians and medical professionals signed a letter to Cuomo calling for a comprehensive public health impact assessment.
"DEC has fully considered the impact high-volume hydraulic fracturing could potentially have on public health and our communities if it goes forward in New York," the environmental agency said in a statement. The agency said it looked at ways the public could be exposed to hazards from gas drilling and proposed guidelines and regulations to prevent that exposure.
"DEC's approach is to address the potential causes of exposure to prevent them from happening in New York state. If there are no pathways of exposure in the first place, adverse health impacts cannot occur."
A formal health impact assessment such as the one described in the Assembly bill would be far more extensive and detailed than what DEC has done. In comments to DEC on its environmental review, the Natural Resources Defense Council said DEC looked at some health issues but ignored others.
NRDC noted that there are numerous reports of health complaints among people who live near natural gas drilling and fracking operations in other states and some have been investigated by researchers or governmental agencies. Reported health issues include eye irritation, dizziness, nasal and throat irritation, respiratory symptoms, nausea, fatigue, headaches, anxiety and other ailments.
"New York State has to date failed to take a hard look at the health impacts of fracking," said Katherine Nadeau of NRDC. "By calling for an independent study of fracking's health impacts, the Assembly is leading the charge to provide state leaders with the science necessary to make informed decisions."

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