ACTION: Save the Susquehanna River Basin from Fracking
Mark your calendars for March 15, when the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) meets in Harrisburg, Pa. to vote on dozens of water withdrawals (many billions of gallons over four years) for fracking. The written comment period is closed, but it is now time to call the Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York governors, and the Obama administration, to urge “no new permits” for water withdrawals for fracking in the Susquehanna Basin. SRBC should not even consider one permit without a cumulative impact study, let alone approving hundreds of permits for billions of gallons of consumptive water use for fracking.
A fraction of the water contamination cases within the Susquehanna River Basin so far includes the 17 families whose drinking water was contaminated by Chesapeake Energy in Bradford County; the families evacuated due to the Chesapeake blowout last April; at least 19 families with contaminated water in Dimock, Pa.; another 13 families in Susquehanna County including Susan Breese; and Sherry Vargson, whose experience was summarized in the current Rolling Stone Magazine this way:
“I discovered I could light my water on fire,” she says. “And I still can.” To demonstrate, she walks over to the faucet in her kitchen, lights a match and turns on the faucet. Whoosh! A flame shoots out like a blowtorch.
Vargson stopped drinking the water after she discovered the methane—but tests showed that her water also contained elevated levels of toxic chemicals like radium, manganese and strontium. Chesapeake agreed to supply Vargson with fresh drinking water, delivered to her door in five-gallon jugs once a month, but it denies any responsibility for the elevated methane levels. Tom Darrah, a Duke geologist who has examined Vargson’s well for a new study, finds that difficult to square with the facts. “Anyone who has seen the data I have and thinks this much methane in her well is from natural sources has their head in the sand,” he says.
If you’d like to read expert comments and share them with the governors, President Obama, and their respective commissioners, here is a link to expert arguments including a stream ecologist and hydrogeologist Paul Rubin. Delaware Riverkeeper Network submitted these comments to New York regarding their statewide Environmental Impact Study; they are equally and directly relevant to the SRBC process, since SRBC has similarly not performed any cumulative study of the impact from these withdrawals, which are permanently lost due to consumptive use (injected underground after being poisoned with chemicals, most of the water stays underground and what returns to the surface is “flowback,” even more poisoned with heavy metals, radioactive materials, and volatile organic chemicals / hydrocarbons, as well as toxic levels of salt and the chemical additives used in fracking).
In addition to a broad network of smaller grassroots organizations, including Protecting Our Waters, now calling for a halt on any further permits for water withdrawals in the beautiful, vital and critically endangered Susquehanna River Basin, larger and longer-established organizations are weighing in strongly at this time:
- Given all the detrimental impacts of gas development on the environment and communities, Susquehanna River Basin Commissioners need to take action and stop additional permitting and other actions that accelerate shale gas development.
- It is inappropriate for SRBC to authorize more water withdrawal permits and implement new shale gas regulations without first performing the scientific studies necessary to ensure that decisionmaking is comprehensive and informed.
- Read the full Sierra Club, Earthworks and Riverkeeper statement here.
If you would like to attend the meeting in Harrisburg, here are the specifics:
What: SRBC Meeting
When: Thursday, March 15 at 8:30 a.m.
Where: North Office Building, Hearing Room 1 (Ground Level), North Street (at Commonwealth Avenue) Harrisburg, Pa. 17120
POW’s Greater Philly Trainpool / Carpool Coordinator: Sarah Lowry, [email protected], (201) 214-2580
If you can’t make it Harrisburg on March 15, call the commissioners in advance:
What: Call all four voting members of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) by Wednesday, March 14 at 5 p.m.
The Ask: Urge the governors of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and President Obama, through his Army Corps of Engineers Commissioner, to vote NO on any further permits to withdraw water for fracking in the Susquehanna River Basin. We stand united for a moratorium on water withdrawals.
Why: The SRBC plans to approve many billions of gallons of water withdrawals for fracking at their March 15 meeting, further accelerating the already rapid pace of high-volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing in the watershed. Surface and drinking water already contaminated by methane and toxic chemicals in multiple locations in the watershed has not been remediated (because it can’t be remediated). SRBC has not undertaken any cumulative impact study of fracking’s life cycle impacts on the Susquehanna River and Chesapeake Bay, which is already in critical condition and can’t take any more abuse. Ninety percent of the water in the northern Chesapeake Bay comes from the Susquehanna River. Animal and human health is at risk, and the State of Pennsylvania doesn’t even have a mechanism for residents to report health impacts from fracking.
When families’ water supplies are destroyed, they cannot even take care of their children and animals safely, let alone sell their homes. Finally, when the industry does settle a lawsuit and pay medical bills or buy devastated properties, they force a legal gag order of silence. An industry with this many toxic secrets to keep must be prevented from doing any further damage. The SRBC holds the reins for the Susquehanna River Basin, a gigantic and irreplaceable watershed. Call the commissioners now.
Call-in Days: Call any and all when you are able. To add zest, an alliance of grassroots groups has designated days:
- MONDAY: Md. Gov. O’Malley.
- TUESDAY: President Obama and Army Corps of Engineers.
- WEDNESDAY: New York Gov. Cuomo
- WHENEVER: Pa. Gov. Corbett
The Phone Numbers:
Each commissioner votes according to the governor’s preference. For extra influence call both the governor and the commissioner. Be respectful, patient, and extremely clear in delivering your message. You may have to explain a bit if you are one of the early callers.
1. Maryland Gov. Martin J. O’Malley (410) 974-3901 or (800) 811-8336
- SRBC Commissioner: Dr. Robert M. Summers, Secretary, Maryland Department of the Environment (410) 537-3084
- Email: [email protected]
- In writing: Gov. O’Malley, State House, 100 State Circle, Annapolis, MD 21401 – 1925
2. New York Gov. Cuomo (518) 474-8390 (9 – 5 a live person answers) or you may have better luck with (212) 681-4580
3. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (717) 787-2500 (8:30 AM – 6 PM live person answers)
4. President Obama (202) 456-1111
- Obama’s SRBC Commissioner: Colonel Christopher Larsen, commander, North Atlantic Division,
- U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: (347) 370-4501
- Amy Guise (who is handling the vote for Colonel Larsen), Chief Civil Project Branch, Planning Division: (410) 962-6138
Once you’ve called, consider following up with an email or snail mail letter for greater impact, and encourage groups you are part of to call and write as well. Consider educating each commissioner about specific instances of water contamination associated with hydraulic fracturing, and consider telling them about the terrible impacts on animal and human health so far. They truly may not know.
For more information, click here.
By Dana M Bergstrom, Euan Ritchie, Lesley Hughes and Michael Depledge
In 1992, 1,700 scientists warned that human beings and the natural world were "on a collision course." Seventeen years later, scientists described planetary boundaries within which humans and other life could have a "safe space to operate." These are environmental thresholds, such as the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and changes in land use.
The Good and Bad News<p><span>Ecosystems consist of living and non-living components, and their interactions. They work like a super-complex engine: when some components are removed or stop working, knock-on consequences can lead to system failure.</span></p><p>Our study is based on measured data and observations, not modeling or predictions for the future. Encouragingly, not all ecosystems we examined have collapsed across their entire range. We still have, for instance, some intact reefs on the Great Barrier Reef, especially in deeper waters. And northern Australia has some of the most intact and least-modified stretches of savanna woodlands on Earth.</p><p><span>Still, collapses are happening, including in regions critical for growing food. This includes the </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/importance-murray-darling-basin/where-basin" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Murray-Darling Basin</a><span>, which covers around 14% of Australia's landmass. Its rivers and other freshwater systems support more than </span><a href="https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/[email protected]/latestproducts/94F2007584736094CA2574A50014B1B6?opendocument" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">30% of Australia's food</a><span> production.</span></p><p><span></span><span>The effects of floods, fires, heatwaves and storms do not stop at farm gates; they're felt equally in agricultural areas and natural ecosystems. We shouldn't forget how towns ran out of </span><a href="https://www.mdba.gov.au/issues-murray-darling-basin/drought#effects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">drinking water</a><span> during the recent drought.</span></p><p><span></span><span>Drinking water is also at risk when ecosystems collapse in our water catchments. In Victoria, for example, the degradation of giant </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/logging-must-stop-in-melbournes-biggest-water-supply-catchment-106922" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Mountain Ash forests</a><span> greatly reduces the amount of water flowing through the Thompson catchment, threatening nearly five million people's drinking water in Melbourne.</span></p><p>This is a dire <em data-redactor-tag="em">wake-up</em> call — not just a <em data-redactor-tag="em">warning</em>. Put bluntly, current changes across the continent, and their potential outcomes, pose an existential threat to our survival, and other life we share environments with.</p><p><span>In investigating patterns of collapse, we found most ecosystems experience multiple, concurrent pressures from both global climate change and regional human impacts (such as land clearing). Pressures are often </span><a href="https://besjournals.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1365-2664.13427" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">additive and extreme</a><span>.</span></p><p>Take the last 11 years in Western Australia as an example.</p><p>In the summer of 2010 and 2011, a <a href="https://theconversation.com/marine-heatwaves-are-getting-hotter-lasting-longer-and-doing-more-damage-95637" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">heatwave</a> spanning more than 300,000 square kilometers ravaged both marine and land ecosystems. The extreme heat devastated forests and woodlands, kelp forests, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. This catastrophe was followed by two cyclones.</p><p>A record-breaking, marine heatwave in late 2019 dealt a further blow. And another marine heatwave is predicted for <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/dec/24/wa-coastline-facing-marine-heatwave-in-early-2021-csiro-predicts" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">this April</a>.</p>
What to Do About It?<p><span>Our brains trust comprises 38 experts from 21 universities, CSIRO and the federal Department of Agriculture Water and Environment. Beyond quantifying and reporting more doom and gloom, we asked the question: what can be done?</span></p><p>We devised a simple but tractable scheme called the 3As:</p><ul><li>Awareness of what is important</li><li>Anticipation of what is coming down the line</li><li>Action to stop the pressures or deal with impacts.</li></ul><p>In our paper, we identify positive actions to help protect or restore ecosystems. Many are already happening. In some cases, ecosystems might be better left to recover by themselves, such as coral after a cyclone.</p><p>In other cases, active human intervention will be required – for example, placing artificial nesting boxes for Carnaby's black cockatoos in areas where old trees have been <a href="https://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/factsheet-carnabys-black-cockatoo-calyptorhynchus-latirostris" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">removed</a>.</p><p><span>"Future-ready" actions are also vital. This includes reinstating </span><a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/a-burning-question-fire/12395700" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultural burning practices</a><span>, which have </span><a href="https://theconversation.com/australia-you-have-unfinished-business-its-time-to-let-our-fire-people-care-for-this-land-135196" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">multiple values and benefits for Aboriginal communities</a><span> and can help minimize the risk and strength of bushfires.</span></p><p>It might also include replanting banks along the Murray River with species better suited to <a href="https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/my-garden-path---matt-hansen/12322978" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">warmer conditions</a>.</p><p>Some actions may be small and localized, but have substantial positive benefits.</p><p>For example, billions of migrating Bogong moths, the main summer food for critically endangered mountain pygmy possums, have not arrived in their typical numbers in Australian alpine regions in recent years. This was further exacerbated by the <a href="https://theconversation.com/six-million-hectares-of-threatened-species-habitat-up-in-smoke-129438" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019-20</a> fires. Brilliantly, <a href="https://www.zoo.org.au/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Zoos Victoria</a> anticipated this pressure and developed supplementary food — <a href="https://theconversation.com/looks-like-an-anzac-biscuit-tastes-like-a-protein-bar-bogong-bikkies-help-mountain-pygmy-possums-after-fire-131045" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Bogong bikkies</a>.</p><p><span>Other more challenging, global or large-scale actions must address the </span><a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iICpI9H0GkU&t=34s" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">root cause of environmental threats</a><span>, such as </span><a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41559-018-0504-8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">human population growth and per-capita consumption</a><span> of environmental resources.</span><br></p><p>We must rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero, remove or suppress invasive species such as <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/mam.12080" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">feral cats</a> and <a href="https://theconversation.com/the-buffel-kerfuffle-how-one-species-quietly-destroys-native-wildlife-and-cultural-sites-in-arid-australia-149456" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">buffel grass</a>, and stop widespread <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-reduce-fire-risk-and-meet-climate-targets-over-300-scientists-call-for-stronger-land-clearing-laws-113172" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">land clearing</a> and other forms of habitat destruction.</p>
Our Lives Depend On It<p>The multiple ecosystem collapses we have documented in Australia are a harbinger for <a href="https://www.iucn.org/news/protected-areas/202102/natures-future-our-future-world-speaks" target="_blank">environments globally</a>.</p><p>The simplicity of the 3As is to show people <em>can</em> do something positive, either at the local level of a landcare group, or at the level of government departments and conservation agencies.</p><p>Our lives and those of our <a href="https://theconversation.com/children-are-our-future-and-the-planets-heres-how-you-can-teach-them-to-take-care-of-it-113759" target="_blank">children</a>, as well as our <a href="https://theconversation.com/taking-care-of-business-the-private-sector-is-waking-up-to-natures-value-153786" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">economies</a>, societies and <a href="https://theconversation.com/to-address-the-ecological-crisis-aboriginal-peoples-must-be-restored-as-custodians-of-country-108594" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cultures</a>, depend on it.</p><p>We simply cannot afford any further delay.</p><p><em><a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/dana-m-bergstrom-1008495" target="_blank" style="">Dana M Bergstrom</a> is a principal research scientist at the University of Wollongong. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/euan-ritchie-735" target="_blank" style="">Euan Ritchie</a> is a professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences at Deakin University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/lesley-hughes-5823" target="_blank">Lesley Hughes</a> is a professor at the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University. <a rel="noopener noreferrer" href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/michael-depledge-114659" target="_blank">Michael Depledge</a> is a professor and chair, Environment and Human Health, at the University of Exeter. </em></p><p><em>Disclosure statements: Dana Bergstrom works for the Australian Antarctic Division and is a Visiting Fellow at the University of Wollongong. Her research including fieldwork on Macquarie Island and in Antarctica was supported by the Australian Antarctic Division.</em></p><p><em>Euan Ritchie receives funding from the Australian Research Council, The Australia and Pacific Science Foundation, Australian Geographic, Parks Victoria, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC. Euan Ritchie is a Director (Media Working Group) of the Ecological Society of Australia, and a member of the Australian Mammal Society.</em></p><p><em>Lesley Hughes receives funding from the Australian Research Council. She is a Councillor with the Climate Council of Australia, a member of the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists and a Director of WWF-Australia.</em></p><p><em>Michael Depledge does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/existential-threat-to-our-survival-see-the-19-australian-ecosystems-already-collapsing-154077" target="_blank" style="">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
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