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  Several days ago I posted a diary pointing up a story from the Albany Times Union with this catchy headline: Toxic gas-drilling technique - "Hydrofracking'' plan raises questions about water safety in state. It seems there's a new technique that can get natural gas out of shale that's now economically viable - but with significant risks of poisoning ground water in a watershed that supplies millions.

  Since the original TU article, there have been several followup stories. (more below the fold)

  If you go to the first diary I posted about this, you can find out quite a bit about the risks of the drilling technique: toxic chemicals in the water supply, toxic run off, surface water drained in large amounts, and tricky leasing deals. Further, it's not just about New York State: the rock layer in question stretches across several states in the eastern U.S. while the technique can be (and has been) used anywhere suitable deposits of gas bearing rock are to be found. Where it has been used, it's not been good to put it mildly.

  The Times Union ran a follow up story 7/23/08 about the bill sitting on the governor's desk that would 'unleash the hounds' so to speak by setting up a 'legal' framework to let the gas companies drill. Here's a relevant chunk of the piece:

The bill, which overwhelmingly passed both the Assembly and Senate last month, is decried by groups like the New York League of Conservation Voters, which warns that waste water from the technique, known as "hydrofracking" could taint groundwater with a brew of hydrocarbons and other toxic chemicals.

Natural gas companies are racing to lock up drilling rights in the state as the price of natural gas increases along with other fossil fuels. The companies hope to drill in an area of western New York and the Southern Tier where underground gas deposits are trapped in a deep layer of rock known as Marcellus shale. Marcellus shale could contain enough natural gas to supply two years of U.S. demand, energy experts say.

Hydrofracking involves drilling underground up to 9,000 feet into shale formations. A high-pressure injection of water, sand and chemicals is sent down the well, where it fractures rock and releases the gas bubbles, which are drawn up through the well.

The water -- up to 6 million gallons for each well -- is then extracted and stored in open pits for later treatment as toxic wastes. The U.S. Department of Energy lists produced water from gas drilling as among the most toxic of any oil industry byproduct.

emphasis added

An editorial in the paper the same day had some advice for Governor Paterson, who replaced Eliot Spitzer as governor only a few months ago. Slow down, governor advises Paterson to not be in a hurry on this, despite revenues the state really needs with a slowing economy.

...The state doesn’t know exactly what’s in the water, although it says it eventually will. It doesn’t know how or where the contaminated water will be treated. It hasn’t determined where all the water will come from, or what impact that demand will have on the environment or drinking water. Nor are state officials aware of hundreds of instances in other states where toxic chemicals from such operations have contaminated water supplies.

The state admits it may need more legislation and resources to properly regulate this new industry, but even that is still under review. In other words, New York isn’t sure it has adequate authority or manpower to oversee a process that it’s all too ready to streamline.

Local governments, meanwhile, have yet to assess the impact of this sudden burst of activity on roads, air quality and water supplies. They haven’t even figured out how to tax the operations.

So, what did Governor Paterson do? He signed the bill. He made a lot of promises and issued some directives - but that's a long way from actually having a working, well thought out plan of action.

ALBANY -- Gov. David Paterson signed a law Wednesday that makes it easier for natural gas companies to use an environmentally risky underground drilling technique, promising his administration will also give regulators more power to prevent damage that has occurred in other gas-producing states.
"This new law will ensure greater efficiency in the processing of requests to permit oil and gas wells, while maintaining environmental and public health safeguards," said Paterson in a statement.

Natural gas companies are racing to lock up drilling rights in the state as the price of natural gas increases along with other fossil fuels. The companies hope to drill in an area of western New York and the Southern Tier where underground gas deposits are trapped in a deep layer of rock known as Marcellus shale.

However, the environmental protections that the governor promised are not contained in the law. Rather, they consist of future plans for beefed-up regulations at the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Paterson ordered the DEC to update a 16-year-old regulation -- a generic environmental impact statement that addresses gas drilling -- to reflect the perils of the current drilling technique, known as hydrofracking.

emphasis added

It's hard to describe this as anything other than a capitulation to the energy industry. The Federal Government can not be relied on to provide oversight, not under Bush, and certainly not with John McCain and the whole GOP pushing a "drill everywhere" agenda to make up for decades of failure on energy policy. Paterson may have made promises, but bluntly speaking he has yet to demonstrate either the political clout or the determination to do anything besides chow down on the anticipated revenues. New York State's well documented addiction to big money interests rather than sound public policy is on display here.

This isn't just a New York State problem. Anywhere in the U.S. where there's some untapped gas or oil deposits, there will be a similar rush to cash in on energy industry promises by revenue-starved governments in a declining economy.

  The nature of extraction industries is such that they inherently can not be trusted to 'do the right thing.' They exist to exploit finite resources, extract them with as little expense as possible, sell them for as high a price as the market will bear, take their profits, and walk away when the resources are all used up. Preventing environmental damage, cleaning up after themselves, following health and safety regulations - these are all things that reduce the bottom line. They have a huge incentive to act badly, and only regulation by government effective enough AND vigilant enough to enforce that regulation can hold them in check.

Well, we've all seen how that's worked out in practice lately. But, in case you needed another horrible example, the Times Union had a headline front page story today laying out how the Federal and State governments allowed hundreds thousands of pounds of extremely toxic mercury to be broadcast into the air for years. It seems while coal burning power plants have had to start cleaning up their act on this, cement plants have been slipping through the cracks.

ALBANY -- Federal environmental officials failed to stop cement plants from releasing unsafe levels of toxic mercury despite repeatedly being sued by environmentalists for disobeying federal law, according to report issued Wednesday.

Such lawsuits led the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to reveal this year that cement plants sent nearly 23,000 pounds of mercury into the air nationwide -- more than double what the agency had reported just two years earlier, according to the report by Earthjustice and the Environmental Integrity Project, two not-for-profit environmental groups.

The report also named the Lafarge North America cement plant on Route 9W in Ravena, just west of the Hudson River, as the nation's fourth-largest emitter of mercury among cement plants.

The plant emitted 400 pounds of mercury annually from 2004 through 2006, a figure first reported in February by the Times Union. It is the state's largest source of mercury, equivalent to emissions from four of the state's largest coal-fired power plants.

emphasis added

America faces huge challenges - too many of them of our own making - and not the least of our problems is that the government that takes our tax money, sends our kids off to war, and rules over us isn't really our government at all. Not judging by whose interests it seems to protect best anyway. We have a shot at turning things around this election, but it is a battle that never ends.

Many thanks to the Times Union for picking up this story from Pro Publica and WNYC, and running with it.

Originally posted to xaxnar on Thu Jul 24, 2008 at 04:58 PM PDT.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (10+ / 0-)

    I live upwind from that cement plant, but can always use some tips in case I need chelation therapy down the road. That, and really hope my well water doesn't get any crappier than it already is with sulfur.

    "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

    by xaxnar on Thu Jul 24, 2008 at 04:59:58 PM PDT

  •  They are doing this now in Arkanasa. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, feelingsickinMN
  •  Oh, frack (6+ / 0-)

    Hold onto this topic--this is a tough time to break into the diary cycle with a diary about water. But it's an important topic, so don't give up.

    Tired of violent language from right-wing pundits? Buy my book: Outright Barbarous

    by Jeffrey Feldman on Thu Jul 24, 2008 at 05:09:00 PM PDT

  •  They are doing this now in Arkansas. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MrSandman, marina, xaxnar, appletree

    They have diverted the Little River to get the water. It is being pumped to 14 hydrants around the drilling areas. They are selling it as the the water just runs off and is wasted, AND local fire stations can tap the hydrants in emergencies.

    They are not talking about the toxic run off.

  •  Gist me baby. I cannot read all that. (0+ / 0-)
  •  Senators who pass frack bills are fracking idiots (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    espresso, marina, xaxnar

    The arguments for fracking being safe make less sense than arguments about magic ferries being responsible for the morning dew on your front lawn.  Basically, these fools pump all kinds of crud deep into the earth where, you know, most of our drinking water resides.  And then they tell us that "it's perfectly safe."  Right.  So the mud and sand and god-knows-what-other-toxic-sludge just gets up and goes back home when it's all over?  No way. The surface level ugliness of fracking is not even the  half of it.  This story is about gas companies destroying water to bring in more money on carbon fuel that will do more harm than good.

    And this is in a watershed that less than 20 years ago was in deep trouble. God bless our elected officials in Albany.  If they could just figure out how to think their way out of a paper bag, we might stand a chance.

    Tired of violent language from right-wing pundits? Buy my book: Outright Barbarous

    by Jeffrey Feldman on Thu Jul 24, 2008 at 05:17:08 PM PDT

  •  Here in upstate NY (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MrSandman, marina, xaxnar

    there are several companies leasing/trying to lease land for natural gas drilling.   The "landmen" have visited us many times to urge us to lease our acreage, and there have been public meetings to discuss the legal ramifications of leasing.   I've heard very little here on the ground, though, about what these drilling operations do to the water supply.  We aren't going to lease our land.

    Thanks for this...and if this diary should get lost tonight among all the Obama excitement,  I hope the topic will come up again....

    Be kinder than necessary.

    by worriedgranny on Thu Jul 24, 2008 at 05:18:53 PM PDT

  •  Shortsighted (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    MrSandman, marina, xaxnar

    Poisoning your drinking water for TWO YEARS worth of gas. Brilliant plan.  I can't imagine that this project makes any kind of economic sense if the waste water ever ACTUALLY gets treated.

  •  I've been reading so much about this (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    xaxnar, worriedgranny

    Here's my story. I live in a beautiful area full of wild turkey, deer, and bear, and lots of songbirds. Yesterday I learned that the property across the creek that runs about 300 feet from my door has been leased--the whole thing, about 700 acres of forested mountain. I'm hoping they'll stay on the other side, since my side is pretty steep. But in my township alone, thousands of acres have already been signed off.

    This is a hunting and farming community about to be turned into an industrial zone.

    Here's some of what I've learned:

    In Pennsylvania, the Gas and Oil Act covers most everything. A couple of localities have tried to regulate but they have been overruled twice IIRC,as contravening the Gas and Oil Act--if local law addresses any issue covered by the Act, the Act prevails. The case has been appealed to the PA Supreme Court.

    Gas companies are permitted to drill 200 feet from a house, 100 feet from a stream. They can drill horizontally under your house, again IIRC, and there are risks of blowouts--explosions.

    Once the land is leased, the drillers get to decide where to put roads, drilling pads, etc. For the slurry that comes out of the hole, they lay down a plastic liner in a pit. The liners can develop holes and leak into the soil and water.

    There will be trucks and some heavy equipment and heavy wear and tear on roads. There will be constant noise, light and air pollution.The risk of contamination to the water supply is present. And to my knowledge, there is no recourse.

    The chemicals used, being proprietary, have to await analysis after their use if you want to find out what they are.

    I would suggest that residents of the drilling areas have their water tested as a baseline measure. I don't know how detailed or expensive a test it would take, but I've read too much aobut people complaining about water contamination, and the drillers saying "Prove it".

    I've about 800 wells planned for a 10-square mile area. Millions of gallons of water are used, anf that supply remains to be determined. The state DEP halted operations temporarily in one county when two streams were drained down to nothing. This is in an area that's been trying to replenish its trout stock by liming the creeks to counteract the acid rain effects.

    The used water from New York, I read in one article, is to be sent to Pennsylvania. All of the water treatment plants in PA have been told not to accept such water until they can show they are actually capable of treating it, wiht the toxic chemicals involved. There are only three plants in PA prepared to handle it, to my knowledge.

    Here are some links, just a couple because I've gone on way too long, and I apologize

    New York towns share drilling information.(River Reporter)

    Some videos, from an active Pennsylvania group: GasDrillingTruth.

    I really think that sticking together is the only thing we can do. There's a reason they call it a gas rush. The companies are rushing people to sign up, with little public education beforehand. And they don't care if they ruin the environment, and the community. They're in, they extract, they're out. As one person said, it's the biggest industry in the world, and it's gonna happen.

    Again, I apologize for going on so long.

    •  Thanks! (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Good comment with lots of info for what it's like for someone 'on the ground.'

      "No special skill, no standard attitude, no technology, and no organization - no matter how valuable - can safely replace thought itself."

      by xaxnar on Fri Jul 25, 2008 at 04:20:34 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I'm devastated, really, but (0+ / 0-)

        I'm still somehow hoping for the best. Our whole way of life is about to change. It feels like a huge betrayal, and I wonder how the community itself will survive as some prosper and others have to deal with the consequences of those choices. Not that I blame anyone--it's a depressed area and people have had it hard for a long time. And we need the gas. Still...

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