Fracking Already Affecting Property Values

When I first learned about natural gas hydrofracturing, or “fracking” my major concern was the safety of water supplies and the effect on property values.  Time is proving those concerns to be justified.  Fish in the Susquehanna River are being found with lesions and the five million gallons of water required to drill each well is depleting our water in exchange for gas.  Forests are being depleted at an alarming rate.  The earth has but a fixed amount of fresh water for our survival but we’re poisoning much of it so we can make jobs.  This is insane since we can’t drink jobs.

Kim McEvoy is a victim of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania.  Her water is now unfit for consumption and she and her family must carry all of their water to their home from elsewhere and have now decided to sell their house.  The problem is that without access to clean, potable water it isn’t worth much on the market.

Butler County is in the Marcellus shale region being exploited for cheap gas and jobs mostly filled by people from Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana.  Other than truck drivers racing up and down country roads destroying them with drilling debris, water and pipeline supplies the exchange of water for jobs hasn’t benefited many Pennsylvanians.  The trade-off simply isn’t worth the cost:

“If it had pub­lic water today, I could prob­a­bly sell it for $120,000,” said War­rene. “Right now with no water, we got it listed at $87,900. It’s not gonna sell because other houses in the area with­out water are sell­ing for between $15,000 and $30,000.”

But War­rene says houses with pub­lic water are ris­ing in value, because res­i­dents want a secure water source.”If it had pub­lic water today, I could prob­a­bly sell it for $120,000,” said War­rene. “Right now with no water, we got it listed at $87,900. It’s not gonna sell because other houses in the area with­out water are sell­ing for between $15,000 and $30,000.”

But War­rene says houses with pub­lic water are ris­ing in value, because res­i­dents want a secure water source.

If Kim gets sick state law now prevents her doctor from telling her what fracking chemicals may have caused her ailments.  Recent legislation now imposes such a gag order on doctors putting state lawmakers between her and her doctor.  Talk about big government…

Gas drillers don’t even have to disclose what toxic chemicals they use for fracking.  The idea of fracking is to force water at high pressure thousands of feet into the earth to explode and release the natural gas trapped in the shale formation.  Sand is injected to seal the area so toxic water doesn’t escape and get to water aquifers.  The problem in Pennsylvania is that thousands of orphaned oil wells and coal mines also penetrate these regions underground and no one knows where they are.  Sand may not be able to seal such large openings allowing poisoning of water supplies.  As water is lost so are property values.

The theory that jobs are more important than humans, than property values, than preserving our fixed amount of water necessary for life, is outrageous.  Ask Kim McEvoy if it was worth it in Butler County.

Fracking Has A Friend in Pennsylvania: Tim Holden

Howie Klein’s Blue America PAC (he’s the treasurer there) is targeting Congressman Tim Holden for his votes supporting fracking.  Klein, originally from Monroe County, follows Pennsylvania politics closely and Blue America has targeted Tim Holden’s conservative, anti-progressive votes this year because of a major challenger.  Matt Cartwright, a Scranton W-B attorney, is mounting a serious race against Holden and basing some of it on Holden’s support for the Bush-Cheney Energy Task Force which gave legal protection to energy companies drilling for natural gas in Pennsylvania.

Billboards paid for by Blue America went up in northeastern PA, Holden’s new District:

Holden, in his personally acerbic manner, issued a press release calling Blue America a Super PAC.  It isn’t.  Holden’s quote:  “I’m being attacked “from the left by a Hollywood record company executive with Blue America PAC.”

Blue America has been around much longer than Citizens United allowed Super PACs and is a progressive, grassroots, netroots oriented effort.  Klein is the former president of Reprise Records.  The 19 year incumbent Congressman can’t seem to keep his facts straight but that’s nothing new.  He explained his vote against Obamacare by citing non existent cuts to Medicare.

Klein responded on his blog Down With Tyranny!

I retired from my job at Warner Bros almost a decade ago and work full time running by blog, DownWithTyranny, exposing corrupt politicians on both sides of the aisle, like Holden. But, for Holden’s sake, I’ll give a brief run-down of my experience as “a Hollywood record company executive.” I started a small, independent label called 415 in San Francisco in 1978, on of the country’s first “alternative rock” labels.

Howie cites many Pennsylvania bands and musicians he helped over the years, the many contributions of music to American culture, and how some of his friends moved tot he Poconos because they followed his love for the region.

Tim Holden has really stepped in it this time.  Howie has the ability to reach out to countless rock musicians who can contribute to Blue America and educate the new constituents there as to Holden’s real record.  That’s what Tim is really afraid of:  voters finding out he isn’t a real Democrat.

FRACKING Health, Environmental Impact Greater Than Claimed

(This is Part 2 of 3. Part 1 looked at a state gag order on physicians; Part 3 examines why Pennsylvania is giving special consideration to the natural gas companies. Parts 1 and 2 are currently available at http://www.walterbrasch.blogsp…

             The natural gas industry defends hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, as safe and efficient. Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a pro-industry non-profit organization, claims fracking has been “a widely deployed as safe extraction technique,” dating back to 1949. What he doesn’t say is that until recently energy companies had used low-pressure methods to extract natural gas from fields closer to the surface than the current high-pressure technology that extracts more gas, but uses significantly more water, chemicals, and elements.

           The industry claims well drilling in the Marcellus Shale will bring several hundred thousand jobs, and has minimal health and environmental risk. President Barack Obama in his January 2012 State of the Union, said he believes the development of natural gas as an energy source to replace fossil fuels could generate 600,000 jobs.

           However, research studies by economists Dr. Jannette M. Barth, Dr. Deborah Rogers, and others debunk the idea of significant job creation.

           Barry Russell, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, says “no evidence directly connects injection of fracking fluid into shale with aquifer contamination.” Fracking “has never been found to contaminate a water well,” says Christine Cronkright, communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

           Research studies and numerous incidents of water contamination prove otherwise.

           In late 2010, equipment failure may have led to toxic levels of chemicals in the well water of at least a dozen families in Conoquenessing Twp. in Bradford County. Township officials and Rex Energy, although acknowledging that two of the drilling wells had problems with the casings, claimed there were pollutants in the drinking water before Rex moved into the area. John Fair disagrees. “Everybody had good water a year ago,” Fair told environmental writer and activist Iris Marie Bloom in February 2012. Bloom says residents told her the color of water changed (to red, orange, and gray) after Rex began drilling. Among chemicals detected in the well water, in addition to methane gas, were ammonia, arsenic, chloromethane, iron, manganese, t-butyl alcohol, and toluene. While not acknowledging that its actions could have caused the pollution, Rex did provide fresh water to the residents, but then stopped doing so on Feb. 29, 2012, after the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said the well water was safe. The residents vigorously disagreed and staged protests against Rex; environmental activists and other residents trucked in portable water jugs to help the affected families. The Marcellus Outreach Butler blog (MOB) declared that residents’ “lives have been severely disrupted and their health has been severely impacted. To unceremoniously ‘close the book’ on investigations into their troubles when so many indicators point to the culpability of the gas industry for the disruption of their lives is unconscionable.”

           In April 2011, near Towanda, Pa., seven families were evacuated after about 10,000 gallons of wastewater contaminated an agricultural field and a stream that flows into the Susquehanna River, the result of an equipment failure, according to the Bradford County Emergency Management Agency.

           The following month, DEP fined Chesapeake Energy $900,000, the largest amount in the state’s history, for allowing methane gas to pollute the drinking water of 16 families in Bradford County during the previous year. The DEP noted there may have been toxic methane emissions from as many as six wells in five towns. The DEP also fined Chesapeake $188,000 for a fire at a well in Washington County that injured three workers.

           In January 2012, an equipment failure at a drill site in Susquehanna County led to a spill of several thousand gallons of fluid for almost a half-hour, causing “potential pollution,” according to the DEP. In its citation to Carizzo Oil and Gas, the DEP “strongly” recommended that the company cease drilling at all 67 wells “until the cause of this problem and a solution are identified.”

           In December 2011, the federal Environmental Protection Agency concluded that fracking operations could be responsible for groundwater pollution.

           “Today’s methods make gas drilling a filthy business. You know it’s bad when nearby residents can light the water coming out of their tap on fire,” says Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation. What’s causing the fire is the methane from the drilling operations. A ProPublica investigation in 2009 revealed methane contamination was widespread in drinking water in areas around fracking operations in Colorado, Texas, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania. The presence of methane in drinking water in Dimock, Pa., had become the focal point for Josh Fox’s investigative documentary, Gasland, which received an Academy Award nomination in 2011 for Outstanding Documentary; Fox also received an Emmy for non-fiction directing. Fox’s interest in fracking intensified when a natural gas company offered $100,000 for mineral rights on property his family owned in Milanville, in the extreme northeast part of Pennsylvania, about 60 miles east of Dimock.

           Research by a team of scientists from Duke University revealed “methane contamination of shallow drinking water systems [that is] associated with shale-gas extraction.” The data and conclusions, published in the May 2011 issue of the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, noted that not only did most drinking wells near drilling sites have methane, but those closest to the drilling wells, about a half-mile, had an average of 17 times the methane of  those of other wells.

           “Some of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing-or liberated by it-are carcinogens,” Dr. Sandra Steingraber told members of the Environmental Conservation and Health committee of the New York State Assembly. Dr. Steingraber, a biologist and distinguished scholar in residence at Ithaca College, pointed out that some of the chemicals “are neurological poisons with suspected links to learning deficits in children,” while others “are asthma triggers. Some, especially the radioactive ones, are known to bioaccumulate in milk. Others are reproductive toxicants that can contribute to pregnancy loss.”

           An investigation by New York Times reporter Ian Urbina, based upon thousands of unreported EPA documents and a confidential study by the natural gas industry, concluded, “Radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.” Urbina learned that wastewater from fracking operations was about 100 times more toxic than federal drinking water standards; 15 wells had readings about 1,000 times higher than standards.

           Research by Dr. Ronald Bishop, a biochemist at SUNY/Oneonta, suggests that fracking to extract methane gas “is highly likely to degrade air, surface water and ground-water quality, to harm humans, and to negatively impact aquatic and forest ecosystems.” He notes that “potential exposure effects for humans will include poisoning of susceptible tissues, endocrine disruption syndromes, and elevated risk for certain cancers.” Every well, says Dr. Bishop, “will generate a sediment discharge of approximately eight tons per year into local waterways, further threatening federally endangered mollusks and other aquatic organisms.” In addition to the environmental pollution by the fracking process, Dr. Bishop believes “intensive use of diesel-fuel equipment will degrade air quality [that could affect] humans, livestock, and crops.”

Equally important are questions about the impact of as many as 200 diesel-fueled trucks each day bringing water to the site and then removing the waste water. In addition to the normal diesel emissions of trucks, there are also problems of leaks of the contaminated water.

              “We need to know how diesel fuel got into our water supply,” says Diane Siegmund, a clinical psychologist from Towanda, Pa. “It wasn’t there before the companies drilled wells; it’s here now,” she says. Siegmund is also concerned about contaminated dust and mud. “There is no oversight on these,” she says, “but those trucks are muddy when they leave the well sites, and dust may have impact miles from the well sites.”

           Research “strongly implicates exposure to gas drilling operations in serious health effects on humans, companion animals, livestock, horses, and wildlife,” according to Dr. Michelle Bamberger, a veterinarian, and Dr. Robert E. Oswald,a biochemist and professor of molecular medicine at Cornell University. Their study, published in New Solutions, an academic journal in environmental health, documents evidence of milk contamination, breeding problems, and cow mortality in areas near fracking operations as higher than in areas where no fracking occurred. Drs. Bamberger and Oswald noted that some of the symptoms present in humans from what may be polluted water from fracking operations include rashes, headaches, dizziness, vomiting, and severe irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. For animals, the symptoms often led to reproductive problems and death.

           Significant impact upon wildlife is also noted in a 900-page Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) conducted by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, and filed in September 2011. According to the EIS, “In addition to loss of habitat, other potential direct impacts on wildlife from drilling in the Marcellus Shale include increased mortality . . . altered microclimates, and increased traffic, noise, lighting, and well flares.” The impact, according to the report, “may include a loss of genetic diversity, species isolation, population declines . . . increased predation, and an increase of invasive species.” The report concludes that because of fracking, there is “little to no place in the study areas where wildlife would not be impacted, [leading to] serious cascading ecological consequences.” The impact, of course, affects the quality of milk and meat production as animals drink and graze near areas that have been taken over by the natural gas industry.

           Christopher Portier, director of the National Center for Environmental Health, calls for more research studies that “include all the ways people can be exposed [to health hazards], such as through air, water, soil, plants and animals.”

           The response by the industry and its political allies to the scientific studies of the health and environmental effects of fracking “has approached the issue in a manner similar to the tobacco industry that for many years rejected the link between smoking and cancer,” say Drs. Bamberger and Oswald. Not only do they call for “full disclosure and testing of air, water, soil, animals, and humans,” but point out that with lax oversight, “the gas drilling boom . . . will remain an uncontrolled health experiment on an enormous scale.”

           Dr. Helen Podgainy, a pediatrician in Coraopolis, Pa., says she doesn’t want her patients “to be guinea pigs who provide the next generation the statistical proof of health problems as in what happened with those exposed to asbestos or to cigarette smoke.”

             [Assisting on this series, in addition to those quoted within the articles, are Rosemary R. Brasch, Eileen Fay, Dr. Bernard Goldstein, and Dr. Wendy Lynne Lee. Walter Brasch’s current book is Before the First Snow, a critically-acclaimed novel that looks at what happens when government and energy companies form a symbiotic relationship, using ‘cheaper, cleaner’ fuel and the lure of jobs in a depressed economy but at the expense of significant health and environmental impact. The book is available at amazon.com and from the publisher, Greeley & Stone.]