Water

Trailer Talk's Frack Talk: New York Attorney General Threatens to Sue Feds If They Don't Study Impact of Fracking

"We can't afford to get this wrong even once." Delaware River Basin residents talk about their fracking concerns.

On Monday, April 18 New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman demanded that the Feds commit to a federal study of the safety impacts of drilling and fracking in the Delaware River Basin or he'll sue.

"Both the law and common sense dictate that the federal government must fully assess the impact of its actions before opening the door to gas fracking in New York," said Attorney General Schneiderman. "New Yorkers are correctly concerned about fracking's potential dangers to their environment, health and communities, and I will use the full authority of my office, including aggressive legal action, to ensure the federal government is forced to address those concerns."  

The public comment period ended on April 15 for the Delaware River Basin Commission's (DRBC) proposed regulations for natural gas drilling. On April 14th environmental and community groups representing residents of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York and Delaware hand-delivered a record-breaking 35,000 letters to the DRBC in Trenton to tell the DRBC to extend a moratorium and protect the Delaware, which that provides drinking water for over 9 million people, from from gas drilling.

Do you know where your water comes from and what impact un-regulated gas drilling could have on it?

Trailer Talk's Sabrina Artel spoke with concerned citizens and activist groups at the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) meeting and public hearing last July 14th in West Trenton, New Jersey at the Volunteer Fire House where hundreds of people gathered from both sides of the issue. There was a strong presence from Friends of Natural Gas and other pro-drilling groups who consist of pro-drilling landowners and leaseholders as well as landowners opposed to drilling. Buses of both pro- and anti-fracking gas drilling groups packed the firehouse for this volatile meeting about gas drilling in the watershed.

People traveled for hours coming from Artel's neighborhood in the Sullivan County Catskills, Delaware and Broome county, the Finger Lakes, NYC, parts of NJ and from all over PA, including Wayne County, the Damascus Township and Philadelphia. As water has no boundaries and the Delaware River travels through these three states supplying millions with drinking water, the decisions of the DRBC are critical.

Below is the transcript from the rally (and you canlisten to it here) for a gas drilling moratorium in the Delaware River Basin organized by the Delaware River Keeper Network and numerous other environmental and grassroots groups. Artel spoke with participants of the rally including Pat Carullo of the Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, Sullivan County NY residents including actor Mark Ruffalo, members of Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, neighbors traveling on buses hosted by Catskill Mountainkeeper, recordings from statements made to the DRBC and more.  

If the current draft regulations are implemented, Marcellus Shale gas extraction will put the water that is used by millions of people at risk. Here are some of the many voices speaking out to protect our water.

Sabrina Artel: With Trailer Talk's "Frack Talk -- the Marcellus Shale Water Project," we're exploring the impact of natural gas drilling and fracking on our water resources, and the issues being debated in our neighborhoods throughout the United States and globally. We're facing a complete shift in the shale regions as the largest-ever concentration of gas lies beneath our feet. Who are we, and what decisions will we make?

As I traveled to Trenton, New Jersey, I imagined George Washington at the Battle of Trenton in 1776 thinking about the American Dream -- thinking about our collective rights and about our individual rights. Hundreds gathered at a local fire hall for the Delaware River Basin Commission's public meeting and hearing to determine what would be allowed in this Marcellus Shale gas play. It was announced during the meeting that permission would be granted to Hess Corporation to drill two exploratory wells in Wayne County, Pennsylvania.

In addition, the Commission also approved Stone Energy Corporation's request to withdraw 700,000 gallons of water per day from the West Branch of the Lackawaxen River.

So, it was a day of highs and lows, of cheers and jeers. There was a contentious atmosphere between community members in this battle that is occurring for those living on the shale.

We have arrived in Trenton, New Jersey. People are gathered. I see placards; I see various signs. "Protect Our Water -- Stop Fracking America." I'm going to find out who's here. And this is for the DRBC meeting at the Fire Department in Trenton, New Jersey.

Will you share what you are doing here? I see you're holding a sign, "Protect Our Water -- Stop Fracking America."

Steve: I'm from Hortonville.

Artel: What brings you 3-plus hours away from your home in Sullivan County, New York? Here we are in Trenton, New Jersey.

Steve: I am concerned about the threat to the water quality and the quality of life in the entire area, and because of what's recently happened in the Gulf Coast. I'm doubly concerned that the big money will overpower common sense and good sense. And I'm seriously worried about what could happen in our area here. I do not want to see this area destroyed -- especially the quality of the water.

Artel: Thank you so much.

Teresa Stimfeld: I live in Central New Jersey, and I also happen to be Chair of the Central New Jersey Sierra Club group. And we get our drinking water from the Delaware River, and therefore we realize that without a full and comprehensive moratorium, our drinking water is personally at risk, as well as risking the actual wild and scenic value of the Delaware River, and 750,000 acres of land in Pennsylvania that will actually be damaged if we allow natural gas development to occur before the national EPA has actually produced their study. So, we need a full and comprehensive moratorium from the DRBC until then.

Artel: Actor Mark Ruffalo. They're drilling a test well in Pennsylvania just across the river from Mark's house in Callicoon, New York.

Mark Ruffalo: I'm here trying to keep hydrofracturing companies from extracting water from the Delaware River, and also trying to get a moratorium on gas drilling in the DRBC -- Delaware River Basin. I live in Callicoon on the Delaware, which is right on the PA border. I've got three kids.

Betty Tatum: I'm a volunteer with the Riverkeeper network, and I'm pleased to be here because I'm very, very interested and committed to fighting for clean water for our children, our grandchildren and future generations.

Artel:When did you become involved?

Tatum: In January, and I've been doing almost nothing else since then. I've been working very hard and supporting the Riverkeeper and other organizations in preventing the disaster of fracking in our watershed.

Jim Walsh: I'm the Eastern Region Director for Food and Water Watch.

Artel: All right. So, could you share with us what that organization does? And you just handed me a pamphlet, "Not So Fast -- Natural Gas -- Why Accelerating Risky Drilling Threatens America's Water."

Walsh: We just released this report today. It's a comprehensive report on the natural gas industry and the process of hydrofracking, and that goes into the aspects of all the money and lobbying that the industry puts behind this practice, that ultimately we're very concerned will destroy drinking water for millions of people.

Artel: How long has this study been going on, and what are you finding?

Walsh: We've seen numerous accidents where people's homes have actually exploded because of leaks of natural gas near where these sites have happened. Numerous people's tap water has been set on fire who have wells near where these things are happening. As well as, there's been reason to believe that the contaminants ... the chemicals that are used in hydrofracking are actually finding their way into people's wells and drinking water. And we know if they get into ground water, they can also get into surface water and spread the contamination even further.

Artel:Where do you live?

Walsh: I live in New Brunswick.

Artel: What kinds of studies are these, and where are you testing water, and things like that?

Walsh: Well, we were looking at existing research and actually compiling it into a comprehensive report on the entire industry.

Announcement: All of you are very interested in this issue, as we are. Unfortunately, we are over the limit in terms of the number of people that the fire marshal will allow to stay in this building. So, at this point, I'd like to ask everyone who does not have a seat to exit the building. [APPLAUSE AND BOOS] You will all still have an opportunity to speak to the extent that we can have public comment and public dialogue. I would please ask you to voluntarily exit. We will allow more people ... We would like to come up with a process where, as public dialogue occurs, we can have people exchange -- come in and out.

Artel: All right. Here are the people who weren't able to be inside because of fire codes, so people are waiting, waiting for people to get up, to rotate sitting inside this fire hall.

Would you like to share anything with me, what your feelings are about the drilling and where do you came from?

Nancy Janyszeski: I'm the supervisor of Nockamixon Township. We have a proposed gas well, and the DRBC today granted our request for a hearing. The permit has been granted for our well, and it is an exploratory well, so we are asking them to review that and to reconsider that, and to not grant a permit for an exploratory well. We are one of several. We are asking them to reconsider the permit that they've granted to a test/exploratory well. They have a moratorium on the drilling, and then they included all of the test wells in the moratorium, but we were not included; we were grandfathered. Nockamixon is in upper Bucks County; it's not in the Marcellus Shale. We are the only proposed well in Bucks County.

Artel: What kind of shale is it?

Janyszeski: We are Lockatong and Diabase. We're on a different shale than the Marcellus.

Artel: So, what would be different, then, about the exploration from the Marcellus Shale exploration?

Janyszeski: We've been doing it longer. The proposed well started in 2005. The first well in Nockamixon was in 1984. In recent history and in long-ago history, it was in 1890. We are not included in some of the legislation that they're putting in place. We're not in the Marcellus Shale, so we keep trying to have a voice and make sure that it's understood our concerns are the same as everybody else's.

Artel: Is it that same technique, though, of horizontal fracturing? The fracking or not? What is the difference?

Janyszeski: The issue is, there is no official Pennsylvania DEP definition of "test/exploratory well." Since there is no definition, you don't know if it's going to be a horizontal or a vertical well, so you don't know when they get the permit for a test well exactly what they're going to do. And once they have the permit, once they drill the well, they're already in place.

Artel: Are you saying that you're concerned that you don't know what kind of exploration it will be? Or, you want them just to be able to go ahead no matter what?

Janyszeski: No. There needs to be a regular permit granted where they need to do an environmental impact study; they need to do a storm water management study; they need to follow all the regulations for a permit that's not for a test well. That's what they need to do. "Test well" just simply means come in and drill a well. That's it. They don't have to do anything. They don't have to answer to anybody; they don't have to follow any protocol.

Artel: How do you feel, then, about natural gas drilling? Are you concerned about the problems that you're seeing in your state of Pennsylvania?

Janyszeski: Absolutely. I think we need responsible drilling. I think we need to slow it down. I think we need to do and make sure that we're not going to harm the environment. So, yes.

Artel: Thank you so much.

Pat Carullo: The National Parks Service, the federal government, has written a letter to the DRBC insisting that they regulate all wells. Just like the exploratory well in the Gulf, they are allowing up to 10 exploratory wells. That's unacceptable. And what we're learning now, since we're out here talking in the parking lot, is that the room is mostly occupied by pro-drillers, and most of the people here seem to be opposed to drilling. So, I'm proposing that this meeting be shut down immediately because it's not a viable public meeting. Nonetheless, the meeting is continuing.

This is the day and these are the issues that we need to address in order to protect the Upper Delaware Watershed. If these exceptions, exemptions and exclusions moves forward, there'll be no way to protect the watershed, which has multiple layers of federal protection. So again, the federal government has the National Parks Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service. The Interior Department has asked the DRBC to properly regulate these wells; nonetheless, the DRBC has not responded to their request. Our lawyers are present inside, and our members from the Damascus Citizens are present inside. By the time you hear this on the radio, you'll be able to go to damascuscitizens.org and you'll be able to find out what's happening in real time right here.

I'm one of the founders of Damascus Citizens, and we're doing everything we can -- we and the community -- everything we can to really protect what is a precious national treasure from this "Drill, Baby, Drill" total unregulated, total exempted, total excepted operation that's being rammed down our throats.

Artel: Pat, could you share with me how you were part of the founding of Damascus Citizens -- when that began, and what this grassroots organization that has really had a large impact on slowing things down, on educating the public, on all kinds of things ... so, how you became involved, when that was, and how you see the role of Damascus Citizens?

Carullo: I remember from this period, which was two and a half years ago now, I was in my kayak and just trying my best to be in nature, be in the Upper Delaware, and enjoy it. And then I heard ... somehow there was this scheme, this program, this process called "hydrofracking," and the more I learned, the more I couldn't believe what I was hearing. This was two and a half years ago. I was hearing that one industry -- the gas and oil industry -- is exempt from every single federal environmental law on the books. I couldn't believe it. It's true.

Then I heard that they were using millions of gallons of water for each well. I said, "How can that be? This is our water." Then I heard that they were mixing secret toxic chemicals, and now we know because of Dr. Theo Colborn's work that there are up to 1,000 secret toxic chemicals. Why are they secret? Because they're exempt from the Right to Know Act. And, that they were going to drill up to 50,000 of these wells in the Upper Delaware.

So, if I was a fiction writer, I couldn't come up ... Bernie Madoff couldn't come up with a scheme like this. But here we find ourselves. As we speak, we have this propaganda double-speak that's going on. The DRBC says that there's a moratorium. Only one problem -- there are wells being drilled today, right now -- wells being drilled now. So, how is there a moratorium? Nonetheless, right now, we find ourselves at a precipice. The federal government has asked the DRBC to properly enforce what is a 1955 Supreme Court decision to protect the Upper Delaware ... special protection waters. The Wild and Scenic Act, which is an Act of Congress, which protects the Upper Delaware. Nonetheless, the DRBC is allowing these wells to be drilled.

We will challenge this as far as we possibly can, and the community's been very, very helpful in this regard. We've raised tens of thousands of dollars; we have the very best legal team; we have the very best team of experts and scientists. And we need to stop this madness before it gets out of control.

Artel: And, what for you does "home" mean? What does it mean to be able to be on the Delaware River? To be in upstate New York? To be in that Delaware River Valley region?

Carullo: You'll make me cry. Now you'll make me cry. For me -- and let me frame this so your listeners understand from my standpoint what it is we're dealing with. This is a global issue. Look at what's happening in the Gulf of Mexico. This is a national issue. Look at how we've limited the choices we have, thereby fixing our addiction to fossil fuel. This is a regional issue. For me, being in the river is a sublime experience, and the river is a regional treasure. And there are eagles and there are all sorts of wildlife. For me, this is a local issue. Our roads will be destroyed; there will be noise pollution, air pollution, water pollution, contamination ... people will lose their property values.

For me, most of all, it's a profound personal issue. For me, the notion of these wells being drilled as we speak, even though the federal government has asked this DRBC to stop, and the DRBC has not responded to their request ...

You know, the Interior Department understood their role in the Gulf. Now they're trying to do the right thing, and the DRBC is being non-responsive. Business as usual ... "Drill, Baby, Drill." For me this is a profound personal issue. This is about the eagles, it's about the fish, and it's about me and it's about the river.

And if we don't prevent this from happening in the watershed -- if we ruin the Gulf of Mexico and kill it, and if we ruined the watershed and kill it, our species is doomed.

So, folks, this is when we all step up, right now. Step up and get it done. And we're here today, in Trenton, just like George Washington was. We need to win one time; we need to win one place and the entire Ponzi scheme will unwind right here, because that's all it is -- a Ponzi scheme. As a matter of fact, we learned yesterday -- when you now air this and maybe somewhat later -- we learned yesterday that Cabot Oil is unloading, auctioning off, all of its leases in the Upper Delaware. We learned this just yesterday. 12,000 acres in Wayne County being offloaded; 5,000 acres in Pike County being offloaded; 4,000 acres in Sullivan County being offloaded. It's being auctioned on the international auction block. Why? Because they know there are hundreds of people like me and like you who will just look at the facts, and the more you look at the facts, the more you look at the science ... and even the industry itself says ... when the EPA looks at this they're going to find this whole scheme to be a carcinogenic nightmare, and it'll stop. But until that time we've got to protect the river.

So, for me it's all of those issues, and it's all happening in real time.

Raymond Gray: I'm here to fight for clean water. Basically, I believe that everybody has the right to walk to their kitchen sink, turn on their tap and not have to worry or wonder about what's in there, and I can do that right now. In the future, I may not be able to say that.

Artel: Where do you live?

Gray: I live in Freehold, New Jersey, and I have a home in Galilee, Pennsylvania. That's the concern I have, mostly for Galilee. We could have issues show up here in New Jersey also. I have children, and you never know. You don't want to have to worry about what's coming out of your tap. It could affect health issues, and there's a lot of other issues involved, too. There's air pollution; noise pollution. And that's basically why I showed up here today, to fight for all of those things.

Artel: Have you fought for something before in this kind of way? Have you felt that what's at stake, as it is now as you're talking about this possibility of the water contamination, air pollution, health issues, not being able to even turn on our tap and drink water -- have you felt that there's been anything else so far in your life as important to fight for?

Gray: Not until this time in my life have I ever had to worry so much about an issue this great. We all need water to sustain life. If there's no clean water, the land is broken; you cannot stay there. And they could bring you water, but how long is that going to last, and will they do it forever? I doubt that.

So, I'm fighting for clean water, my property rights, my rights as an American to live in a clean environment. That's why I'm fighting.

Jane Prettyman: I'm from Honesdale, and I'm speaking in support of points already made by Damascus Citizens, and I wanted to make a point of my own about the future, actually. A former New York City water commissioner observed that, "Gas fracking is not economically viable without being subsidized through the externalization of its environmental costs." This means that we and our environment pay the costs by degradation of our air, land and water. This could be mitigated by regulation; however, gas drillers and hydraulic fracturing cannot be effectively regulated to control violations, spills and pollution. Look at the many gas companies with records of violations as long as my arm. They pay the fines and spill again. It's like "Fine, Baby, Spill."

Since the spills are going to happen, and since fines or denial of permits appear not to offer serious disincentive to recklessness by the gas companies, I urge the DRBC to do a comprehensive EIS to compare hydraulic fracturing with green technologies, green drilling technologies -- they do exist -- that would not use toxic chemicals and would use very little water. Since regulation is almost useless, we must reduce the risk. And this, I believe, should be your future mandate to explore.

Susan Sullivan: I am a landowner and a taxpayer from Narrowsburg, New York. I live three miles from the Delaware, within the Basin.

I want to quote the findings of the Impact Assessment of Natural Gas Production in the New York City Watershed, done on behalf of the New York City Dept. of Environmental Protection. This is scientific information that we know. Once we know something, we can't not know it.

What this study said is, "The site preparation on the surface is likely to increase erosion and runoff into the reservoirs. The well bore, which acts as a conduit between geological formations, can allow previously isolated contaminants to flow into shallow ground water or surface water. The stimulation of the well introduces hazardous chemicals into the watershed. Water withdrawals for hydrofracking may have direct water supply operational impacts. The hydrofracking process creates enormous volumes of industrial wastewater that cannot be effectively treated by conventional processes."

I think the Delaware Watershed is as important as the New York Watershed. I think my well is as important as the New York City water supply. Thank you.

Neil Fitzgerald: I'm an organic farmer, and everybody talks about how this is going to bring jobs to the area. I on occasion need to use the Delaware River for irrigation, and I have six employees. And if the river gets polluted and if fracking is done -- and it doesn't matter under what form -- it will be polluted. Then I'm out of business, and six other people no longer have jobs. That's all I have to say. [APPLAUSE]

John Roth: I'm from Milanville, Pennsylvania. I live on Calkins Creek, a half-mile downstream from the proposed Crum test well. Calkins Creek runs past the well site there, and just one mile past my house empties into the Delaware River.

I'm urging you to fulfill your mandate to protect the special protection waters of the basin, and require an environmental impact study. In light of what has happened with the test well disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, I find it incredulous to believe that this commission would act in any way other than one of extreme caution, thoroughness, and care to make sure that any devastating irreversible event does not occur as a result of hydrofrack drilling or any "test well drilling."

The intense media scrutiny and sad images from the Gulf have provided clear and vivid examples of what can happen when governing bodies entrusted by the public fail to exert full power of their authority to properly plan, properly oversee, and properly regulate an industry engaged in complex and dangerous operations -- an industry whose only bottom line is the bottom line -- an industry that alone enjoys exemptions from all important federal environmental regulations.

There won't be sensational film footage of fracking fluids or methane leaking into underground aquifers like the images we've seen from the Gulf, but you, commissioners ... you can prevent potential environmental damage like we've seen in Dimock and other parts of the country.

An environmental impact study must be performed before any drilling takes place. Exploratory or test wells can have similar adverse impacts on the Delaware's special protection waters that production wells can have. Please stop the work moving forward on the test wells already permitted, such as the Crum site. The gas isn't going anywhere. We can't afford to get this wrong even once.

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Sabrina Artel is the creator and host of Trailer Talk, stories from America's kitchen table. Her weekly radio show explores community engagement through conversations about culture, politics, the arts and the environment. To find out more about Trailer Talk's Frack Talk Marcellus Shale Water Project please visit Trailer Talk.