Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Press Release re CPNY: Coalition forms on Marcellus shale gas drilling in NYS

Joint Press Release Sent by EarthWorksAction and the Coalition to Protect New York:

On June 19, 2010, nearly 140 individuals and representatives from 60 grassroots, regional, and national organizations in four states gathered in Binghamton to share information on legal, scientific, economic, policy, health, and family issues related to hydraulic fracturing for methane gas, or "fracking."

Participants in the Coalition to Protect New York are unified by knowledge of the extensive evidence that gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing with toxic chemicals harm water supplies, property values, community infrastructure, the environment, and human health.

At the gathering, people from neighboring states who are living with dire consequences of this process gave testimony, urging New Yorkers to halt fracking and avoid problems that have arisen nationwide. The practice hasn't yet been permitted in New York, and two different bills are currently before the state legislature that would impose a moratorium while certain stipulations are met.

"Many organizations statewide have developed expertise and made great strides; by working together, we can achieve even more in educating the public, assisting landowners, and fostering sound public policies," said Jack Ossont of Yates County, an event organizer. "We need to stop the rush to drill, which would endanger communities across New York." He lauded the many volunteers who labored to convene the statewide summit.

Workshops were led by experts from around New York and as far as West Virginia. Keynote speakers were Anthony Ingraffea, Professor of Engineering at Cornell University; Wes Gillingham, Program Director at Catskill Mountainkeeper; and Julia Walsh, founder of

Weston Wilson, a retired whistleblowing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency engineer, paid a surprise visit. In 2004, an EPA study declared that hydraulic fracturing poses no threat to drinking water a conclusion Mr. Weston and others contend is scientifically unsound and resulted from Bush administration pressure to omit critical data. The study greatly contributed to exemption of the gas industry from Safe Drinking Water Act requirements to disclose the toxic chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

U.S. Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-22nd District) was another surprise visitor; he encouraged strong oversight of the gas industry and protections for communities, including through passage of the FRAC Act. The bill, which Mr. Hinchey introduced, would require disclosure of the many toxic chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and give the EPA authority to regulate the process.

"We all came to Binghamton with the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in mind, and the commitment to preventing such tragic events from ever happening in New York," said Wes Gillingham of Catskill Mountainkeeper. "Today's gathering signifies a new phase of collaboration and effectiveness in ensuring that the gas industry doesn't continue to degrade quality of life across the Marcellus Shale region."

Maura Stephens of Tioga County, another event organizer, said, "We don't blame people who have signed leases. Gas companies don't reveal the potential frightening consequences. But now we know, and we owe it to everyone to share this information. We want to keep our state beautiful, safe, toxin-free, and livable. Many of us feel we are fighting for our very lives."

Thursday, June 03, 2010

A New Gulf War: Lessons from Mesopotamia

Could we be witnessing the U.S. version of the destruction of the Marsh Arabs’ habitat?

Remember how outraged we were in August 1990 when Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein invaded his much smaller neighbor, Kuwait?

In response, the United States and about 33 nominal UN allies waged what the George H.W. Bush administration and US media dubbed the Gulf War (or Gulf War I or Persian Gulf War). It lasted less than six months.

We resoundingly defeated our former friend, teaching him a stern lesson -- and then leaving him to his own devices.

Environmental Gulf War I
Saddam Hussein drained the marshes down south in Iraq, near the Gulf, to drive out rebellious Marsh Arabs and starve them to death or kill them outright.

A half million people lived there, fishing and either farming or raising water buffalo. In just a short time, when Saddam’s armies were done, only a few thousand remained. The birds and fish disappeared, too, their habitat destroyed.

Those marshes were already drying up before Hussein’s army invaded; some 30 years of drainage of the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers (which originate in Turkey) by Turkey and Iran as well as Iraq was helping desertify the marshlands, as were other Iraqi government policies.

Hussein just hastened the region’s demise, the assassination of its wildlife and ecology, and the murder, incarceration, or displacement and dispossession of its people.

I’d say this qualifies as genocide.

The United States and the rest of the world vaguely expressed outrage, but there was little coverage in the media and nobody did anything to help the Marsh Arabs or reverse the environmental and economic damage to the wetlands.

It wasn’t until 2004 that a huge international project, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars, was begun to remove dams. By 2006 about half the Marsh Arabs’ homeland was successfully re-flooded, and a few species seemed to be recovering slightly; some people returned to the area to try to reclaim their way of life.
But a drought over the last three years, in which the region received only 30 to 40 percent of previous rain levels, has turned those wetlands back into deserts and made them too hostile an environment for people and wildlife.

Again man stepped in to make matters worse. Drainage of both the Tigris and Euphates upriver in Turkey and northern Iraq has caused a 40 to 60 percent drop in water flow into Iraq and Syria in the last few years.

Turkey claims
the water belongs to Turkey. But Turkey, Syria, and Iraq (and Iran to a much lesser extent) share these fragile and diminishing water supplies and are suffering severe water shortages.

The region is warming, like most of the planet. The ongoing drought is probably its new “normal” rather than an aberration.

Iraq remains occupied and, like Syria, has an unstable government. Iraq’s human-built infrastructure is still shattered. Oil exploitation, by BP and others, continues unabated.

And preposterously, the entire area’s population is growing, despite the loss of probably a million Iraqis to war and violence.

Water wars look increasingly possible.

Back in the USA
Now to the United States, where Gulf of Mexico marshlands are being assaulted by BP oil and further poisoned by toxic dispersants. We’re already seeing massive ecosystem destruction, wildlife kills, and livelihood losses, and inevitably we’ll soon see widespread mental health problems and the breakup of families and communities.

A kind of genocide, too, one might argue.

Just like Saddam Hussein and his minions did, BP CEO Tony Hayward and his executive staff are getting away with murder.

BP is still running the “cleanup operation,” which everyone knows is a sham, just as Saddam Hussein was left to “clean up” after the Gulf War.

BP has insisted, even against EPA orders, on using a highly toxic dispersant (in a procedure that has never been tried before) that is less effective than others. (There’s a good reason for this: BP owns the company that makes Corexit, and Corexit breaks the oil particles into smaller particles that make it harder to see how much oil BP has unleashed.) The United States and the world community looked away when Saddam Hussein used nerve gas and other toxins to combat the rebels in 1991.

BP has not allowed the low-paid cleanup workers who are standing in broiling sun while raking oil-soaked sand 12 hours a day to wear face masks, let alone the full haz-mat protection suits they should be provided. Bush I ordered U.S. soldiers to stand by as Saddam Hussein’s army helicopters strafed Shiite communities with sarin and other chemical weapons.

Today, fishers, boaters, and residents of Gulf of Mexico shore communities are being forced to construct homemade barriers to try to save their beautiful beaches and coastal marshes. Many of them, no doubt, will flee the region, just as hundreds of thousands of the Marsh Arabs and 1991 rebels who survived Saddam’s slaughter became permanent refugees.

BP has banned journalists, camera wielders, and the public from vast areas where they could be documenting the crude spill. In 1991, Saddam kept journalists out of the rebel areas, and Bush I was eager to keep them out as well. Bush didn’t want the U.S. public to know about the brutal repression of the rebels, who were rebelling because he had urged them to. It was easier to let Saddam crush them; their religion made the U.S. uncomfortable, and they might have formed an alliance with Iran that was unfavorable to U.S. interests. As Barry Lando wrote in Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, from Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush (Other Press), "Anonymous government figures, wise in the ways of Realpolitik, were making statements such as, 'It is far easier to deal with a tame Saddam Hussein than with an unknown quantity. ' "

If the journalists at Grist, Mother Jones, and other good news organizations keep on this story, and the rest of us step up the pressure to make oil and gas companies accountable and transparent in all their actions, and if enough people continue working on the cleanup in a sensible way, perhaps the marshlands of southern USA will survive.

It will take all these actions together. The alternative is unthinkable but not impossible. They could end up like the marshlands of southern Iraq: permanently uninhabitable.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Marcellus Shale: Are the Risks Worth the Rewards?

"Update: PEMA urges residents to prepare now for possible flooding.”

“DEP directs gas drillers to replace water.”

“Man killed by fall off Towanda drilling rig.”

I read these three stories in that order. The first two were in the Pike County [Pennsylvania] Courier, the third in the Binghamton [New York] Press & Sun Bulletin. The headlines of the first (get ready for a flood) and third (a man died in a gas-drilling accident) are self-explanatory. The second, about “replacing” water, went like this:

“The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) . . . ordered Schreiner Oil and Gas Co. to provide a permanent solution to water supply issues at two homes the company’s drilling activity impacted near Hedgehog Lane, McKean County.

“DEP previously determined that the company, based in Massillon, Ohio, was liable for affecting the water supplies of homes. . . . mong the contaminants identified were total dissolved solids, chlorides, manganese, iron, dissolved methane and ethane gas.”

Does this not terrify everyone who lives in the huge gas-drilling and potential gas-drilling region? (The Marcellus Shale encompasses large swaths of New York State, almost all of Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, and parts of Maryland, Virginia, Tennessee, and Kentucky. A total of 31 or 32 states have deposits of so-called “natural” gas, more properly termed “fossil-fuel gas.”)

Here are some facts:

1) The horizontal, slick-water hydraulic fracturing process of gas drilling (“chemo-fracking”) uses and releases numerous toxic chemicals — carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, naturally occurring radioactive materials.

2) Accidents happen.

3) People make mistakes.

4) Floods occur.

Anyone who has ever experienced a flash flood knows that you’re going to run for your life and your loved ones' lives first, and for your most expensive and/or most precious possessions next.

Even if gas companies had our best interests at heart — and you’d have to be a total naïf to think they do — there is simply no way to protect us from all these toxins that would go streaming into our water systems in the event of a flood, let alone the inevitable accidents and mistakes that will occur.

Because they will.

In the cases where the gas companies have to “replace” water, what are we talking about?

You can’t “replace” water that has been contaminated with poisons. You can bring in huge “water buffaloes” with 300 or 500 gallons of “fresh” water from elsewhere (and who is monitoring that water? Where does it come from?) to resupply a family with drinking, cooking, and bathing water, but the ground is still contaminated.

The vegetables and flowers and shrubs in the family’s garden are still reliant on that water for survival. The squirrels, bunnies, and raccoons . . . the chickadees, warblers, and woodpeckers . . . the frogs, fish, and turtles . . . the crickets, bees, and peepers . . . the family cat and dog . . . all drink the water from that contaminated ground. Toddlers in sandboxes eat the dirt. Kiddie pools and grown-ups’ pools, bird baths, ponds, streams, rivers, and lakes . . . all can be contaminated from just one spill.

You can’t “replace” bad water with good. Period.

There is not enough recompense in the world to mitigate this kind of permanent damage to a person’s home and property or to our surrounds, or to our own health and our children’s health.

It is up to communities to decide if the risks are worth the riches that will go to the gas companies and to a few members of the communities.

Let’s think about these risks for a moment: Someone in my community will die because of fracking. It’s inevitable. The man who was killed on a gas rig in Towanda, Pennsylvania, has a name: Greg Allen Henry. He was from Athens, Tennessee. He was 31 years old and was killed when he fell from a rig and suffered massive head trauma.

Are the risks worth the rewards? How many lives are worth how many dollars? The job (remember the many promised to Pennsylvanians and New Yorkers) came, no doubt, with pretty good pay to bring a Tennesseean so far from home. But was it enough for Greg Henry's family? Will it help ease their grief?

Will you be getting free energy for life, if you lease your land and it’s fracked? Will you ever feel safe drinking the water? Will the royalty fees cover the loss of your home’s value? Where will you go if you are forced to leave your valueless home? What will happen to the investments of time, equity, sweat, and tears—let alone cash—you’ve poured into it? How much money is enough? Are the risks worth the rewards?

Is a Tennessee man’s life worth as much as a Towanda child’s life? If your child drinks contaminated water today and develops cancer in five years, will a gas company come forward to help you pay for your child’s chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and hold your hand while you wait for the latest medical test results that will tell you if she will live or die?

Whose risks? Whose rewards?

Are the risks worth the rewards?

Every community must come up with its answer.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Nuclear Power Lobbyists, Marcellus Shale Gas Lobbyists

My response to a story in Mother Earth: “Nuclear Power and the Lobbyists Behind It”

Find it at

The gas industry is equally aggressive in its marketing to Congress members and the public. That's why you may think natural gas is a safe, clean fuel that will save us from reliance on dirty fuels such as coal and oil (that nasty "foreign" oil) and make the USA "energy independent." When an industry is spending upwards of $120 million to convince us, it's likely to get the message across to many who don't know better.

Natural gas is being extracted in 31 states. In the Marcellus Shale, stretching through 7 states from New York to Tennessee, and elsewhere, it's being extracted via slick-water horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or "chemo-fracking," a messy, destructive process that involves mixing many highly toxic chemicals (neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors, carcinogens) and millions of gallons of water to blast through rock to get the gas. Nothing clean about the process or the waste it leaves (and no safe way to dispose of it), which poisons watersheds.

Ya can't drink gas.

Let's demand an end to such highly dangerous energy sources. We need to get on solar, wind, and geothermal now, as we simultaneously transform our transportation system from the individual motor vehicle to a national high-speed public transportation network.

In doing so, our national health costs will go down, green jobs will be created, we'll have fewer car-related headaches (and accidents). We'll all benefit!

Nuclear & fossil fuels: No
Renewable & sustainable energy: Yes

It's that simple.