DEP Manipulates Law on Fracking Complaint, Leaves Family Without Water
It’s day one and Christine Pepper’s family has no water. There’s no water for the family to drink, to shower or wash their clothes so they’re making calls to inlaws and saving single gallon plastic jugs. It’s day one, and the Pepper family has 45 days until they know what’s happened. It started when Christine splashed water on her face from the kitchen faucet and a burning sensation shot through her skin. “It felt like my face was on fire for 20 minutes,” she said. Later red bumps developed. Not shortly after there was no water at all. The Pepper's spring-fed well, which had produced water for more than 50 years, went completely dry.
“I’m not saying we’ve never had low water," explains Christine’s husband Cory, "but it always comes right back, but it’s stayed dry for two weeks. And ... I’ve never seen it! I’m 42, I’ve lived here 42 years, and my Dad was 18 when he bought this house.”
The Peppers live on Southside Road in Leroy Twp. Bradford County, where Public Herald reported on drinking water problems in the documentary Triple Divide. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has pending Gas Migration Investigation (GMI) cases throughout the area, with Leroy Twp. being famous for two GMI’s in the last three years: the Atgas 2H well blowout in April 2011, and the Morse 5H well subsurface problems in 2012. Both wells are within three miles of each other.
Cory and Christine Pepper live 1,000 feet from the Morse 5H well and 3 miles from the Atgas 2H well, each operated by Chesapeake Energy Corporation.
According to DEP, the Morse 5H well is currently in “inactive status” due to regulatory procedures. But, there’s a second well on the pad—the 3H—which the Peppers were told was put into production the same week their well went dry. “They opened up the [3H] well and the next day we have problems,” told Cory, who happens to work locally for the gas industry but has been skeptical that fracking had anything to do with stories of water contamination in the area.
The phrase “opened up” is another way of saying the gas well went “on line” or into production. Essentially, the company pulls a plug and the gas is released, ready to go to market. When Cory saw his family’s spring dry up, and found out that the 3H well had been put online, he and Christine did the only thing to do; they called DEP to submit a complaint. Once a homeowner submits a drinking water complaint the Department has 45 days to make a determination about whether oil and gas activities have impacted the water supply. The complaint gets a number, the Pepper’s is #302587, and day one for DEP starts on the receipt of the complaint. But it’s hardly ever cut and dry. Christine talked to DEP on a Friday but as Cory puts it, “They told her it was an inconvenience for them to come out and test it on a Friday. So, they came out Tuesday [Feb. 11]. That was day one with DEP.”
As Christine recalls, “DEP came that day [Tuesday] and told me that bare minimum it would be 45 days to several years before they come up with a conclusive decision. And the one gentleman told me that it was highly unlikely it had anything to do with the drilling over there.” The Pepper family is no stranger to DEP or impacts from fracking. Christine’s mother is Carolyn Knapp, and Carolyn has spent years educating Bradford County about the impacts from drilling while criticizing DEP for how they handle water complaints. So since this isn’t Carolyn’s first water rodeo, Christine had her mother act as the liaison for her complaint.
Public Herald started collecting DEP complaint files when they first became available in Spring 2013; in previous years no one could access complaints. DEP files complaints into two categories: water complaints and general complaints. Water complaints deal mostly with drinking water. General complaints deal with everything else; however that doesn't mean that general complaints don't also deal with water. As of June 2013 Public Herald found Bradford County had 285 water supply complaints. Of those, 10 complaints were filed for Leroy Twp., seven being water complaints. The remaining three general complaints have at least two concerning drinking water from spills; one involving a 4,700 gallon spill of hydrochloric acid, a component of fracking fluid, on July 4, 2013.
To see all of the Bradford County complaint files visit Public Herald’s new #fileroom website. Carolyn knows about these complaints, “The neighbors have had … ” Christine interjects, “black water, no water, methane water.”
Now that Christine is having to communicate with DEP she’s beginning to experience the stories her mother talked about. “I felt like they were questioning my integrity. DEP made me feel like I was wrong for believing [the well pad] has anything to do with it. And said if I wasn’t going to cooperate they weren’t going to help me … completely disregarding the fact that I have no water.”
Herein lies one part of the problem with complaint investigations: DEP's discriminatory attitude and treatment of citizens who report water problems. As Carolyn explains, "A lot of other people would say forget about it, and it’s not worth the hassle.”
“There should be a provision in the law that requires them to supply water,” says Carolyn. “They don’t understand for 45 days what it’s like to live out of a bottle.” But there is a provision. Pennsylvania Act 13 provides the “presumption of liability” clause under section 3218 which holds the industry liable for supplying water to nearby complaints and gives DEP 45 days to conduct and complete an investigation.
“Operators found to have impacted a water supply within the time and distance provisions of the presumption of liability must supply temporary potable water until the supply is restored or replaced.” (DEP)
However, DEP personnel changed the meaning of the law and told Carolyn in an email that the Department cannot provide Christine water and the presumption of liability only applies once DEP makes a determination before or after the 45 days.
Then on Feb. 28, Department personnel Jennifer Means sent Carolyn another email stating that DEP can require a company to provide a temporary water supply on day one of the complaint under the presumption of liability, but only for complaints of pollution.
But Carolyn never questioned the need for sampling of the water supply. She questioned how it could be done if there was no water. Carolyn told DEP on day one of the complaint that the problem was both pollution and diminution.
Means emphasized to Carolyn how the department has no evidence leading them to believe the Morse gas well could of caused Pepper’s water complaint. Chesapeake Energy made the same statements in a separate email.
Yet Public Herald uncovered documents that the Morse well has a dangerous history which the department is fully aware of but chose to ignore as evidence. Recently, the Leighton family who live near the Peppers, sued Chesapeake Energy for drinking water contamination related to the Morse 5H well. Their case references some of these problems:
The Morse 5H well is also responsible for blowing out and impacting a creek down the road on Tim Pepper's farm [Cory's brother], an incident documented in Triple Divide. With the Leighton’s case, Tim Pepper’s creek blowout, and other incidents happening within the past two years, DEP has evidence on the Morse well for the presumptive clause. But, instead they’ve left the Pepper family without water and manipulated the law.
“If they took care of the landowners and the local people you’d be so much further ahead, but they won’t. And that’s what pissed me off,” Cory protests. If the Peppers water supply turns out to be safe to drink, it doesn't restore their trust in the department or Chesapeake Energy. For complaint #302587 Christine affirms, “It’s not just my life I’m concerned about; it’s their life.”
Christine Pepper's sons watch as dirty water drips from the faucet. photo: jbpribanic
Leighton Family Lawsuit Against Chesapeake Energy Involving Morse 5H Well
Morse Well Plat
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
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The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.
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Solar geoengineering would involve injecting reflective aerosols from high-altitude planes into the layer of the upper atmosphere known as the stratosphere, which stretches between 10 to 50 kilometers (6 to 31 miles) above Earth's surface. The idea is that the aerosol particles would reflect a small amount of sunlight away from the planet, reducing the amount of heat trapped by greenhouse gases and mitigating some of the effects of climate change.
The planned Stratospheric Controlled Perturbation Experiment will send a balloon carrying scientific instruments in a gondola into the stratosphere. The instruments will release a small amount of material — likely ice or mineral dust — to form a kilometer-long plume of aerosol particles (left). Modified airboat propellers will allow the gondola to maneuver above the plume (middle) and lower instruments into the plume to take repeated measurements of how the particles spread through the stratosphere (right). ADAPTED FROM J.A. DYKEMA ET AL / PHILOSOPHICAL TRANSACTIONS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY A 2014
David Keith envisions using multiple approaches to combat climate change. The red line shows how the impacts of climate change would worsen with a business-as-usual scenario of unabated burning of fossil fuels and other greenhouse gas emissions. Aggressively cutting emissions bends that curve, and removing carbon from the atmosphere offers further cuts, but there are still consequences from the already high levels of carbon dioxide. In this scenario, solar geoengineering would lessen the impact from existing atmospheric carbon dioxide, effectively carving the top off the curve.<p>Some people think we should use it only as a get-out-of-jail card in an emergency. Some people think we should use it to quickly try to get back to a preindustrial climate. I'm arguing we use solar geoengineering to cut the top off the curve by gradually starting it and gradually ending it.</p><p><strong>Do you feel optimistic about the chances that solar geoengineering will happen and can make a difference in the climate crisis?</strong></p><p>I'm not all that optimistic right now because we seem to be so much further away from an international environment that's going to allow sensible policy. And that's not just in the US. It's a whole bunch of European countries with more populist regimes. It's Brazil. It's the more authoritarian India and China. It's a more nationalistic world, right? It's a little hard to see a global, coordinated effort in the near term. But I hope those things will change.</p>
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