By Ada Carr
At least 24 people have died and a federal disaster has been declared in West Virginia after heavy rains flooded several towns, prompting search and rescue operations. Both Virginia and West Virginia have declared states of emergency due to the devastating event that has been described as "complete chaos."
"Roads destroyed, bridges out, homes burned down, washed off foundations," said Greenbrier County Sheriff Jan Cahill. "Multiple sections of highway just missing. Pavement just peeled off like a banana. I've never seen anything like that."
West Virginia climatologist Kevin Law told USA Today that this is the third-deadliest flooding event on record for the state. A November 1985 flood that killed 38 ranked second-worst, and the 1972 Buffalo Creek flood that killed 125 was the worst in state history, the report also said.
The news came one day after at least 12 confirmed tornadoes touched down in northern Illinois, Indiana and Ohio Wednesday evening and Thursday morning, the National Weather Service said. Tens of thousands were left without power across the Midwest as a derecho swept through the region, leaving a trail of damage from Illinois all the way to Virginia.
Here are the latest impacts from these storms:
Flooding claimed at least 24 lives in West Virginia.
Sixteen people died in Greenbrier County, at least 15 of them in the town of Rainelle, according to the Associated Press. Greenbrier is the only county where people are believed to still be missing.
Six other deaths were reported in Kanawha, as well as one each in Jackson and Ohio counties.
Eight-year-old Emanual Williams died Thursday at a West Virginia hospital after he slipped into a creek in Ohio County and was swept away by raging waters, The Intelligencer reported. Williams is the only fatality to be identified by authorities so far.
Saturday a news release from Tomblin's office announced that a federal disaster declaration was approved for assistance in Kanawha, Greenbrier and Nicholas counties. The declaration provides people in those counties with individual assistance for emergency medical support, housing and a number of other immediate needs.
Sunday the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) began accepting applications for aid from residents in the three hardest hit counties, AP reports.
With the help of 200 National Guardsmen, local crews in eight counties continue to perform swift water rescues, search and rescue efforts and health and welfare checks, AP also reports.
The governor said he planned to fly around the hardest-hit areas, but was unable to because all the state aircraft are being used for rescues.
Saturday officials announced the PGA Tour scheduled for July has been canceled due to the flooding. According to AP, the Old White TPC golf course at the Greenbrier Resort has suffered extensive damage and is "beyond reasonable repair to conduct the tournament."
In Sulphur Springs, Belinda Scott sustained burns over two-thirds of her body after her flooded home exploded. Before the incident, Scott called her husband to tell him their house was filling up with water. She had fled to the attic to wait when she smelled natural gas. Then, the house exploded.
Scott was able to break a vent and get out onto a porch and into a tree, which she clung to for hours before being rescued by state police.
Gov. Tomblin expanded a state of emergency to 44 counties as heavy rain continued into the evening, WSAZ.com reported. Tomblin also authorized the deployment of the West Virginia National Guard to assist local emergency responders.
Some areas of the state are "probably looking at flooding that's going to be the worst in 100 years," said the governor's communications director Chris Stadelman.
Hundreds of people became stranded at the Elkview Crossings Mall after the overpass bridge into the shopping annex was washed away by floodwaters. Some had to sleep in their cars or at businesses overnight.
One of the people rescued, Eric Blackshire, opted for a hotel room.
"It was kind of like a hurricane party," he told AP. "I guess you could call it a flood party. There were lots of beers being drank last night."
Blackshire and others were transported to safety Friday by Pinch Volunteer Fire Department firefighters. They used a rope to guide people down a hillside as crews worked to build a gravel road on the shopping plaza's backside.
The Kanawha County Emergency Ambulance Authority says they are estimating about 500 people are stuck in the plaza. Tomblin said crews are working to build a gravel road to reach those who are trapped.
White Sulphur Springs residents were left reeling as heavy flooding encroached the city, West Virginia Metro News says. Significant flooding knocked a home off of its foundation and it caught on fire, WSAZ-TV reported. The burning house was seen floating down Howard's Creek.
One resident posted a heart-wrenching update to Facebook, saying, "Please pray for our neighbors. They are trapped in their attic with small children. Our other neighbors are on their kitchen counter..it has washed away the barn..cars..buildings. .flooded houses ... My sister has lost her pets … it is devestating … please pray for our small town..'
“We surely need your prayers, because there's a lot of people hurting right now," Jim Justice, owner of the Greenbrier Resort, said during an interview on The Weather Channel.
In the town of Richwood, where a flash flood emergency was declared, homes and buildings were evacuated as water levels rose quickly Thursday afternoon, according to the Associated Press. Mayor Robert Johnson said the damage will be extensive in the wake of the storms.
"We pretty much live in a bowl, and the bowl filled with water, certainly," he told the AP.
FLOOD EMERGENCY IN RICHWOOD, WV NOW! https://t.co/lxeSgSXn1U— Bryan Hughes (@Bryan Hughes)1466715200.0
Several water rescues were underway Thursday near Jordan Creek, WSAZ reports. High water covering roads was reported in Marmet, Belle and Chesapeake.
The town of Clendenin also experienced severe flooding, and according to local reports, the town was only able to be reached by helicopter Thursday night.
FLOOD EMERGENCY: Clendenin,WV can only be accessed by helicopter. Worst flooding in almost 20 years. Ctsy: Sug Sams https://t.co/m6xZKhRxfY— Bryan Hughes (@Bryan Hughes)1466725762.0
Officials say three emergency workers were injured during a water rescue in Alleghany County.
Botetourt County Battalion Chief Andrew Moore said by telephone Friday that one worker fell in the water during a rescue in Alleghany County on Thursday night. He says the worker is in critical but stable condition. He says two other workers hurt while rescuing their colleague received minor injuries and were released from a hospital.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe tweeted Thursday night that a state of emergency has been declared, allowing state agencies to bypass some time-consuming procedures to quickly help local governments.
Residents of downtown Covington, as well as low-lying areas of the city, were evacuated Thursday night to established shelters, WDBJ reported. Evacuations were ordered as the Jackson River neared record levels.
Roads were closed and several house fires were sparked by lightning as the storms pushed through the Commonwealth.
According to the Roanoke Times, a handful of roads were closedby flooding in Covington and Alleghany County, and a few other roads were shut down in Botetourt County, the state Department of Transportation said.
House fires were blamed on lightning in Read Mountain, Goode and Thaxton, the report added. No injuries were reported in those incidents.
As many as 18 reports of tornadoes came in Wednesday night, and NWS survey crews conducted damage surveys along 3 separate supercell paths Thursday morning.
An EF2 tornado was spotted in Marseilles-Seneca Wednesday night, according to NWS. Two separate EF1 tornadoes were also reported that same night in West Brooklyn and Cissna Park.
Shortly before 10:30 p.m. CDT, a large tornado moved into the town of Pontiac, Illinois. The tornado, which the NWS has preliminarily rated an EF2, was left an 11-mile damage path.
The tornado ripped off the side of a Shell gas station, tossing mangled metal and wood around, ABC7 reports. Some pieces shattered the windows of parked cars. The glass hit one person, but the injuries were minor.
The driver of a semi parked at the gas station suffered a dislocated shoulder after the winds blew his truck over into its side, the station said.
Storm spotters reported seeing power flashes before much of the town of 12,000 lost power, and chasers who followed the storm into Pontiac saw destroyed mobile homes at a trailer park. According to the fire chief in Pontiac, two children inside a mobile home suffered minor injuries, WGN reports.
North of Ottawa, an EF0 tornado was confirmed by the NWS. The twister had maximum winds of 90 mph, measured 100 yards wide and stayed on the ground for 4.5 miles.
In the town of Seneca, fire crews were responding to reports of people trapped in a home, but nobody was believed to be injured inside the dwelling.
Driver of this semi, overturned by the tornado, suffered a dislocated shoulder. #Pontiac #Tornado @ABC7Chicago https://t.co/TsUp7PEftt— Laura Podesta (@Laura Podesta)1466684747.0
This is a strong argument for why you shouldn't take cover in a car when a tornado is about to hit. #Pontiac https://t.co/RaeqvuoA4h— Tonya Francisco (@Tonya Francisco)1466684784.0
The night began when a tornado was observed briefly near Amboy by trained spotters at about 7:15 p.m. CDT Wednesday night. The second tornado was reportedly in progress just minutes later in Lee County, near the towns of Paw Paw and Compton. The NWS reported tree damage in Compton.
Tornado!! 730 east of amboy, IL ~10 Miles. @NWStornado @NWSChicago @JWSevereWeather #tornado #ilwx https://t.co/uwYdixEpUU— Ethan Mulnix (@Ethan Mulnix)1466642022.0
"I was thinking I was going to die. I was really thinking that something bad was going to happen. It was just bad. I was about to cry," Eason said. "The rain... I couldn't even see when I was driving, the road.
A home in the north Chicago suburb of Evanston is "uninhabitable" after a lightning strike sparked a fireWednesday evening, CBS Chicago reported. A neighbor called to report the two-story home had been struck by lightning and fire crews arrived to find smoke coming from the eaves with the attic on fire, the fire department said. No injuries were reported.
The storms then marched toward Chicago, and at Soldier Field, some 50,000 soccer fans attending the Copa America semifinal game between Chile and Colombia were asked to clear the stands and seek shelter Wednesday evening, according to the AP. The teams were allowed to play the first half, but storms moved in at halftime, forcing stadium officials to activate the storm safety plan.
@PaulKonrad @WGNNews The neighborhood kids love the new lake in Palatine. #GetOffMyLawn! https://t.co/aDeu4janfr— Jennifer Murphy (@Jennifer Murphy)1466646667.0
Severe storms rolled eastward through Indiana late Wednesday evening, damaging several buildings, a radio tower and downing numerous trees across the state.
A tornado spotted 5 miles south-southeast of Huntington was rated EF1 by NWS. It was quickly followed by another tornado, rated an EF2, which traveled in the same area just minutes later. The second tornado crossed the path of the first, according to the damage survey.
A large outbuilding on a farm near Brookston containing several tractors, a combine and other farm equipment had its roof completely ripped off, WTHR reports.
Storm damage southeast of Brookston #INwx https://t.co/4PEdvdr1Sq— WTHR.com (@WTHR.com)1466684961.0
The high winds during knocked over a radio tower in Russiavilleearly Thursday morning.
"Just all of a sudden it was raining sideways and blowing so hard, you couldn't see in front of your face," Russiaville Town Marshal Roger Waddell told Fox 59. "We heard tree limbs snapping and I heard some stuff blowing around."
Check this out. A radio tower down in Russiaville. Damage to some RV's but otherwise blocking roadway. https://t.co/9SBzNjr7SM— Joe Melillo (@Joe Melillo)1466673156.0
The tower, which was mostly used for a broadband internet service, landed on some power lines and was resting on the roof of an RV business.
The Indianapolis Power & Light Company reported Thursday morning that more than 10,000 customers were without powerin the Indianapolis area.
The NWS has confirmed a pair of EF0 tornadoes hit the Buckeye State during the severe weather outbreak, with damage surveys ongoing. One tornado was confirmed in Fayette County, east of the Washington courthouse, while the other occurred in Clinton County, southwest of Wilmington.
No injuries have been reported, WLWT.com said, but photos and video from the area showed a variety of damage to trees, wires and some buildings between Waynesville and Wilmington. Trees were also reported down on houses in West College Corner, Madison Township and Hyde Park.
Around 34,000 Duke Energy customers were left without power at one point during the storm.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Lorraine Berry, Raw Story
In New York's Southern Tier, local newspapers are investigating the connection between a local racetrack owner's sick foals and the fracking fluids present on his farmland. The Ithaca Journal featured a report by Tom Wilber in which he investigated the ongoing issue with foals being born without the ability to swallow—17 of them so far—on the breeding farm of Jeff Gural, owner of the Tioga Downs, Meadowlands Racetrack and Vernon Downs.
The foals have survived, although all of them have had to be transported to Cornell's School of Veterinary Medicine, located 50 miles north in Ithaca, New York. An earlier study by Cornell professor Robert Oswald and Cornell veterinarian Michelle Bamberger linked the presence of the byproducts of hydraulic fracturing to numerous animal deaths and stillbirths. Their research included 24 case studies of multiple farm animals who had either been killed outright by the cocktail of chemicals or later proved unable to successfully reproduce after exposure.
The vets are conducting their own study of what may be causing the epidemic of horse birth defects. The veterinary team cite the presence of a gas well adjacent to Gural's land that was drilled by Chesapeake Appalachia LLC as the “prime suspect" in the Gural farm problems. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection confirmed that the farm's water is contaminated, although they failed to cite Chesapeake as the cause.
Gural is on record as a supporter of gas shale exploration in the Southern Tier. He still is. “It created jobs in Pennsylvania, and look what it's done for the price of gas," he said in an interview. But he is mad that so far, companies have not had to disclose what comprises fracking fluid because of the so-called “Halliburton Loophole."
“That they don't have to tell you what chemicals they are using is ridiculous," says Gural, although he is quick to blame the lobbying power of the gas and oil industry rather than holding Chesapeake liable.
Scientists at Cornell are conducting a two-year study on Gural's farm to investigate links between the plethora of deformed foals and fracking fluids. Foals with the inability to swallow, a condition called “dysphagia," were born on other properties–but all of their pregnant mothers had drunk water at Gural's farm at some point in their pregnancies.
New York has resisted a lobbying effort by the gas and oil industry to allow fracking along the Southern Tier. Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the state in December of 2014. Pennsylvania approved fracking with very little investigation of possible health hazards, and this latest case is one of many that have demonstrated that their rush to judgment may be environmentally costly in ways that will offset the economic benefits of the practice.
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Like many other plant-based foods and products, CBD oil is one dietary supplement where "organic" labels are very important to consumers. However, there are little to no regulations within the hemp industry when it comes to deeming a product as organic, which makes it increasingly difficult for shoppers to find the best CBD oil products available on the market.
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By Earthworks, Food & Water Watch, Our Longmont, Sierra Club
Today, the Colorado Supreme Court struck down the rights of Coloradans to protect their health, safety and wellbeing from fracking through the use of local bans. The justices denied residents their “right of enjoying and defending their lives and liberties; and of seeking and obtaining their safety and happiness" as outlined in the Colorado Constitution, by determining that oil and gas development is pre-empted by the state.
This decision overturns the democratically enacted measure to ban fracking passed overwhelmingly by Longmont residents in 2012 and strips all Coloradans of their Constitutional right to say “no" to fracking in their communities in order to prevent problems inherent in fracking, including air pollution, health complications, water contamination and reduced property values.
"It is beyond comprehension that the Colorado Supreme Court still fails to recognize the rights of people to live in a safe and healthy environment," Kaye Fissinger, president of Our Longmont, said. "The state has declared that fostering oil and gas development is in its interest. That the court apparently equates a government interest superior to human rights is a severe slap in the face. Our country's founding fathers are most certainly turning over in their graves."
In 2012, residents in Longmont passed a city charter amendment, Measure 300, which banned fracking and the disposal of its waste products, including injection wells within city limits, to protect homes, schools and public parks. The local ban passed with an overwhelming 60 percent majority despite being outspent 30-1 by the oil and gas industry. Gov. Hickenlooper and the oil and gas industry sued Longmont over this democratically enacted measure.
“Today's decision deals a devastating blow not just to Longmont residents, but to all Coloradans who have been stripped of a democratic process that should allow us the right to protect our health, safety and property from the impacts of this dangerous industrial activity," Lauren Petrie, Rocky Mountain region director with Food & Water Watch, said.
After appealing the District Court's ruling in 2015, the Colorado Court of Appeals petitioned the Colorado Supreme Court to hear this case. In an unprecedented decision, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed to hear this case and listened to oral arguments in December 2015, leading to this historic decision.
“Straight out of Orwell's Animal Farm, the Colorado Supreme Court just decided that the oil and gas industry is 'more equal' than other industries," Earthworks energy program director Bruce Baizel said. “Turning democracy on its head, today's ruling prohibits local communities from deciding whether and how to balance their health against the fracking industry's profits."
Physicians, Scientists & Engineers for Healthy Energy conducted an analysis of peer-reviewed studies on the impacts of fracking and shale gas development. It found that 21 of 25 papers published on the health impacts show potential risks or actual adverse outcomes, including increased incidence of cancer and birth defects associated with living in close proximity to oil and gas wells. The group's survey also showed that 33 of 48 water quality studies find either the potential for, a positive association with or direct evidence of water contamination. In addition, 30 of 34 focused on air quality found elevated levels of air pollution and that children are especially vulnerable to exposure to such pollution, according to the scientists.
As these inherent harms of fracking become ever-clearer, Gov. Hickenlooper's failed task force—formed in 2014 as a way to keep several anti-fracking measures off the ballot—has left municipalities frustrated as proposals to drill continue to encroach closer to homes and schools. In Adams County, a recent proposal to drill several new mega-facilities could place fracking wells within 100 feet from homes and a middle school. The governor's task force has failed to provide Coloradans with a way to protect their homes, families and futures from this dangerous, industrial activity.
“As a retired RN I am horrified that we continue to allow this toxic industry to operate next to our homes and schools," Karen Dike of the Sierra Club Rocky Mountain Chapter said. “The Colorado Supreme Court ruling discounts the inherent rights of the people of this state to have clean air to breath, fresh water to drink, land free of contamination and safe places to live, go to school and work. The ruling places profit of corporations before people and will allow the continuing toxic onslaught of this dangerous industry."
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By The Climate Mobilization
When establishment civil society groups and politicians gather Friday to cheer the signing of the Paris agreement as a “historic" achievement that will avert global catastrophe, a group of climate emergency protesters will stage a “mass death" and collapse scenario outside the United Nations to demonstrate the reality of the future the agreement locks in.
The protesters will act out the collapse of global civilization that will occur if humanity remains on the Paris agreement's non-binding emissions trajectory toward a world 3.5 C hotter than the pre-industrial period.
More specifically, they will enact the mass starvations the agreement ensures, erect grave stones for the nation-states that will collapse under the stress of extreme drought and water scarcity and play the government and civil society bureaucrats who pretend that the situation is under control and that business-as-usual reforms can protect humanity and the natural world.
Speakers will include Theravadan Buddhist monk Bhikkhu Bodhi and the Climate Mobilization's Founders Margaret Klein Salamon and Ezra Silk. All of the speakers will call for an emergency, World War II-scale mobilization that eliminates global net greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and restores a safe and stable climate by drawing down all excess carbon dioxide and cooling the planet from the dangerously high temperatures reached in recent months and years.
The Paris agreement calls for net zero greenhouse gas emissions at some point “in the second half of this century" and does not directly cover aviation, shipping or agriculture, which collectively account for, at minimum, between a quarter and a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. In the first three months of 2016, global average temperature anomalies approached and surpassed the limits called for in the agreement, rendering its gradual emissions trajectory irrelevant and dangerous.
“The Paris agreement is historic in the sense that the Munich Agreement was historic—a catastrophic act of appeasement meant to maintain business-as-usual arrangements," said Climate Mobilization Deputy Director Ezra Silk. “Leading economists argue that climate change could cause at least as much destruction as World War II—and the non-binding Paris agreement paves the way for that future. It's time to stop waiting for another climate 'Pearl Harbor' and to mobilize all available resources to save human civilization."
The Climate Mobilization is sponsoring the event with the support of the People's Climate Movement New York. Since last fall, the Climate Mobilization has pressured all Democratic and Republican presidential contenders to endorse a WWII-scale mobilization to restore a safe climate. Last week, Bernie Sanders embraced the idea at the CNN debate held at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which played a pivotal role in the World War II home front mobilization of the 1940s.
“Of course the [Paris] agreement is a step forward, but you know agreements and I know agreements, there's a lot of paper there," Sanders said. “If we approach this, Errol, as if we were literally at a war—you know, in 1941, under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, we moved within three years, within three years to rebuild our economy to defeat Nazism and Japanese imperialism. That is exactly the kind of approach we need right now."
Climate voters who #FeelTheBern—let's call on @BernieSanders to champion the WWII-scale mobilization America needs! https://t.co/PxxYVL2B90— Climate Mobilization (@Climate Mobilization)1458062578.0
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Since April 2014, 10 fracking infrastructure projects have been canceled or delayed.
Here's the list:
April 2014: The Bluegrass Pipeline in Kentucky was stopped by a court decision upholding landowners’ rights against the use of eminent domain to take their land for private profit.
November 2015: The Port Ambrose liquified natural gas (LNG) project was vetoed by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The project was proposed by Liberty Natural Gas off the shores of New York and New Jersey.
BREAKING: @NYGovCuomo Vetoes Port Ambrose LNG Project https://t.co/MVIn17Km9C #NoLNG @MarkRuffalo @riverkeeper @350 ⊕https://t.co/GSzm3ADeA9— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1447356170.0
March 2016: The Jordan Cove LNG export terminal and 223-mile Pacific Connector pipeline in Oregon were rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), signifying FERC’s first gas infrastructure rejection in 30 years.
HUGE VICTORY! #FERC Denies #JordanCove #LNG Export Terminal & Pacific Connector https://t.co/g0DH8JY3Zm @sierraclub https://t.co/XYsPkartYZ— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1457794986.0
March 2016: The Republican-dominated Georgia legislature voted overwhelming for a one-year moratorium on any new gas pipelines, setting back efforts to build the Palmetto Pipeline.
March 2016: FERC announced a seven month delay on making a decision about the Penn East pipeline in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and a 10 month delay for the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
April 2016: The Oregon LNG company announced that it's ending its years-long effort to build an export terminal and pipeline.
April 2016: Kinder Morgan announced it is suspending its efforts to build the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, which would have run from Pennsylvania through New York into Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
April 2016: Dominion Resources announces that the start time for beginning construction on the Atlantic Coast pipeline, going from West Virginia through Virginia into North Carolina, is being moved back from this fall to summer 2017.
April 2016: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation rejected the application of the Constitution Pipeline company for a water quality permit, a permit it must have in order to begin construction.
Gov. Cuomo Rejects the Constitution Pipeline, Huge Win for the Anti-Fracking Movement https://t.co/kArrW17d0h via @ecowatch— Mark Ruffalo (@Mark Ruffalo)1461411919.0
“We are actually experiencing the clean energy revolution, it’s really happening right now,” I said to my wife when I heard the news about the Constitution Pipeline.
It's very significant that the movement against fracking and fracking infrastructure projects is winning these victories, but it does not mean we can take a break. As of March 24, FERC's lists 58 interstate gas pipelines on their website.
New #pipelines in a decarbonizing world: like new buggy whip factories to celebrate the car. https://t.co/e4RvBCX0Ww https://t.co/VvtxUUMUhi— Environment Hamilton (@Environment Hamilton)1460734723.0
We need to gain strength from these victories and, with the wind shifting from a headwind to being more at our back, step up our pressure on FERC, and the gas and pipeline industry. Join Beyond Extreme Energy from May 15 to May 22 in Washington, DC for the Rubber Stamp Rebellion.
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By Max Phillips
The Greens New South Wales mining spokesperson Jeremy Buckingham called on governments today to stop the spread of coal seam gas (CSG) and for the true impact of fugitive emissions to be independently assessed after the video of methane gas burning through the Condamine River in Queensland, Australia went viral with millions of views and global media coverage.
“The methane gas bubbling through the Condamine River could be just a very visible tip of the iceberg when it comes to fugitive emissions and huge quantities of gas that could be venting into the atmosphere because of unconventional gas extraction," said Greens MP Buckingham.
“The Greens want a ban on unconventional gas, but at the very least, government should stop the expansion of unconventional gas until the true extent of fugitive emissions is understood. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, so significant fugitive emissions caused by coal seam gas extraction could undo efforts to reduce emissions in Australia.
“Depressurizing the coal seams to allow the gas to flow may well be causing gas to migrate up natural or fracked pathways, or water bores or abandoned wells, to seep out of the ground. Farmers complain of gas in their water bores, while people living near gas fields report health complaints," Buckingham continued.
The phase 2 report of the by CSRIO (funded by GISERA gas industry group), Characterisation of Regional Fluxes of Methane in the Surat Basin, Queensland, found (page V):
- The peak concentration perturbations in these regions ranged from less than 20 parts per billion (ppb) to almost 20 parts per million (ppm) or more than 10 times background levels.
- A number of abandoned or "legacy" boreholes were found to be leaking CH4. The leakage rate from some of these boreholes was significant (~100 L min-1).
- One of the leaking abandoned boreholes located during the project was partially filled with concrete to mitigate gas emissions. While this reduced any safety hazard associated with an open borehole, CH4 continued to be emitted via diffusion through the soil around the concrete plug, although at a considerably reduced rate.
The Queensland Department of Natural Resources Coal Seam Gas Compliance Unit commissioned a study that concludes “free" gas is formed during CSG production, which then migrates from areas of high pressure to low pressure, and that CSG production produces free gas in the Walloon Coal Measures that can migrate approximately 10km "up dip" from the nearest CSG production well.
Researchers at Harvard University used satellite retrievals and surface observations of atmospheric methane to suggest that U.S. methane emissions have increased by more than 30 percent over the 2002–2014 period. While the authors said there is too little data to identify specific sources, the increase occurred at the same time as America's shale oil and gas boom.
Research by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the University of Colorado in the U.S. has shown leakage of methane in gas fields of between 4 and 9 percent.
The video of Buckingham lighting gas bubbling through the Condamine River has been viewed 4.2 million times on his Facebook page, with many millions more views on other social media pages and global media coverage since last Friday night.
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By Max Phillips
So much methane gas is now bubbling up through the Condamine River in Queensland, Australia that it exploded with fire and held a large flame. Gas seeping into the river began shortly after coal seam gas operations started nearby and is growing in volume and the stretch of river affected is expanding in length.
Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham travelled to Chinchilla in South Western Queensland to investigate the impact of the coal seam gas industry on the environment as part of the Greens' campaign to ban fracking and unconventional gas in Australia.
“I was shocked by the force of the explosion when I tested whether gas boiling through the Condamine River, Qld was flammable," Buckingham said. "So much gas is bubbling through the river that it held a huge flame for over an hour."
Methane was first discovered bubbling through the Condamine River near Chinchilla in 2012 where coal seam gas wells had been drilled by Origin Energy nearby. There are hundreds of wells in the immediate area, with three companies—Origin Energy, QGC and Arrow Energy—all operating coal seam gas fields nearby.
Locals say the river has never bubbled like this historically. Government investigations found (page 19) that the source of the gas was “consistent with gas originating from Surat Basin geological formations." The concern is that depressurising the coal seams for gas extraction has caused methane gas to flow up other cracks, fissures, bores, to the surface—such as through the Condamine River. This is directly polluting the river and the air, but also methane is a potent greenhouse gas and these fugitive emissions are a major concern.
Not only is the gas bubbling becoming more intense recently, but it is spreading to a greater length of the river. Origin Energy, which operates wells in close proximity to the gas seep, has installed some monitoring pipework, and the Queensland government has put stakes on the river bank to mark each visible seep.
“Explosive gas boiling through a river shows just how damaging fracking and unconventional gas extraction can be," Buckingham said. "We should be going with clean renewable energy and banning fracking and unconventional gas in Australia. The era of fossil fuels is over."
“I do not want to see this happen to the Namoi River, or any other river in NSW [New South Wales], or anywhere else, which is why unconventional gas should be stopped. The fact that this is happening in the Murray Darling Basin is a national disgrace."
Chinchilla local resident, John Jenkyn, who lives next door to the QGC Kenya gas field and gas processing facility said: “Anything that contaminates the underground water is a terrible thing. Depressurising the aquifers to extract the coal seam gas seems to have made the gas flow out beneath the Condamine River and it's now spreading further.
“Over the last few years there more and more patches of bubbles have appeared on the river and the pressure of the gas has increased to the point where it is like an over-sized spa bath. It's a river, it shouldn't be doing that."
Karen Auty, Chinchilla resident and activist against unconventional gas, said: “It's deeply troubling to see contaminated water ways and to see water bores blow out with gas or fail and ground water levels drop. We're all deeply concerned about the water.
“As local residents we want to know whether it is safe to live among all these gas wells and infrastructure, what are the impacts on our health?"
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In a win for climate activists and the anti-fracking movement, and a blow to fossil fuel polluters and the federal regulatory agencies that enable them, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) denied a key permit to companies seeking to build a 124-mile fracked gas pipeline.
The Constitution Pipeline Project—a joint venture between four oil and gas companies—was proposed to transport fracked natural gas from Susquehanna County in Pennsylvania through Broome, Chenango, Delaware and Schoharie counties in New York to existing interstate pipelines. The pipeline route would have crossed hundreds of streams and wetlands, including those supplying drinking water to families along the proposed route. Using the power granted under the Clean Water Act, DEC officials rejected the companies' permit application, citing damage the project would do to water supplies along the pipeline route.
"Today is an incredible Earth Day! Thank you again to Governor Cuomo and the Department of Environmental Conservation for putting the protection of our precious water and the public health and safety of New Yorkers ahead of the special interests of the oil and gas industry," Mark Ruffalo, advisory body member of New Yorkers Against Fracking, said. "This is what real climate leadership looks like."
The nonprofit environmental law organization Earthjustice has been staunchly opposed to the project and represented a coalition of groups—Catskill Mountainkeeper, Riverkeeper, Clean Air Council, Delaware-Otsego Audubon Society, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and the Pennsylvania and Atlantic chapters of Sierra Club—in pipeline approval proceedings before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC.)
Last month FERC gave the go-ahead to pipeline developers to clear-cut 20 miles of trees along the pipeline's planned route through Pennsylvania. Pointing to the fact that New York State had not yet issued a permit, Earthjustice and other environmental groups called FERC's move premature and illegal. New York's rejection of the project today bolsters support for criticism of FERC as an agency that rubber stamps fossil fuel infrastructure projects.
Trees Cut as Maple Syrup Farmers Lose #EminentDomain Battle Over #ConstitutionPipeline https://t.co/0dfFWUx7tt @MarkRuffalo @joshfoxfilm— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1457013404.0
The DEC's decision comes as world leaders gathered in New York City to sign the historic Paris climate agreement. More than 170 countries, including those responsible for the bulk of the world's climate pollution, signed the commitment to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees.
Here's what Earthjustice attorney Moneen Nasmith had to say about today's announcement:
“Today in New York City, world leaders gathered to sign the COP 21 climate agreement. Today in Albany, state leaders displayed precisely the leadership necessary to help us meet the goals of this historic climate treaty—by choosing to protect New York State's waterways and reject a massive fossil fuel infrastructure project.
“The 124-mile Constitution pipeline, planned to run through five counties and two states, and hundreds of waterways is the sort of massive fossil fuel investment that would have locked our region into continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels and irreparably damaged precious water resources at a time when we need instead to be protecting these resources and speeding the transition to 100 percent renewable energy for all.
“World leaders and our leaders in New York State are doing what's necessary. Unfortunately their efforts are undermined by rogue agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission which is failing to do its job and evaluate the environmental and climate impacts of the massive fossil fuel infrastructure projects it approves. FERC is an outlier agency that, with every day, is exposed as being drastically out of step with its peers. It's time for fossil fuel industry enablers and apologists to step aside and let the rest of us continue the work necessary to solve the climate crisis and transition our society to 100 percent renewable energy."
“Governor Andrew Cuomo's smart decision to reject the Constitution Pipeline sends a clear message: New Yorkers' health and safety will not be sacrificed for fossil fuel industry profits.
“Just a year after his monumental decision to ban fracking statewide, Cuomo has clearly embraced the urgings of thousands of grassroots activists: Clean, renewable energy is the only responsible path forward for New York. This latest act by the governor against fracked gas infrastructure sets a bold example for all public officials in America: Environmental leaders don't frack, and they don't tolerate new fracking infrastructure either.
“The Cuomo administration set a goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. The state would not be able to meet that by swapping out one fossil fuel for another. That's what new pipelines and gas-fired power plants would do—and why rejecting the Constitution pipeline was the only sensible option."
The world needs maple syrup, not climate chaos: 7 Arrested at 'Pancakes Not Pipelines' Protest at FERC https://t.co/Ba3W3KFWea via @ecowatch— Sandra Steingraber (@Sandra Steingraber)1458853255.0
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Yesterday afternoon, in an old vaudeville music hall in downtown Kingston, New York, Bernie Sanders' campaign held a rally "for clean energy and safe climate" to build support for the presidential candidate and mobilize the Hudson Valley, Catskills and Southern Tier to fight climate change in advance of New York's Democratic primary election on April 19.
Sanders himself was not on hand—nor was he part of the billing. Nevertheless, more than 1,000 people packed the damp, chilly hall to standing room only capacity to hear from anti-fracking leaders, as well as organizers from the campaign itself, who instructed the audience members in the art of door-to-door canvassing, signed them up for tours of duty, and, when the rally ended, sent them out into the community to knock on doors, phone bank and turn out the vote.
Spirits were high. Excitement was palpable. Chants and ovations were loud and long. It was a moment when elements of the grassroots anti-fracking movement in New York State joined hands with the larger political groundswell behind the Sanders campaign.
Serving as master of ceremonies, environmental justice organizer Anthony Rogers-Wright set a tone of urgency.
“We must abolish the system of oppression known as climate change ... We are out of time. We have to get radical ... We are talking about keeping our planet alive. Our children are our landlords; we are renting from them."
So good to see @ARdubbs108 on fire at Pro-#BernieSanders Anti-#fracking rally in Kingston NY And @joshfoxfilm And... https://t.co/V7tSwAShTO— Bill McKibben (@Bill McKibben)1460227678.0
Wright pointed out that fracking disproportionately harms people of color, especially in California where 90 percent of fracking wells are located within one mile of communities of color. A come-from-behind win for Bernie in New York, observed Wright, would serve as wind in the sails of Bernie's later primary race in California, as well as bolster anti-fracking efforts there.
Kelleigh McKenzie, a local delegate from the Kingston area who has been organizing for Sanders in the region, said that with Sanders' campaign, “a political movement has arrived in the Hudson Valley" that stands against “the suicide economy," which fracking and other forms of fossil fuel extraction enable.
The recurring themes of the day—the generational and racial inequities of climate change; the lateness of the hour that makes incremental solutions and half-measures ineffectual; the need for bold political leadership; the multiple perils that fracking poses for climate, water and public health—were made by several speakers, including tribal rights attorney and Honor the Earth campaigns director Tara Houska, 350.org founder Bill McKibben (participating via Skype) and anti-fracking activist and filmmaker Josh Fox.
@joshfoxfilm picking that banjo for #BernieSanders in #Kingston #BernNY @BernieSanders @HV_CANY @CANY_NYC https://t.co/exVml72POw— CJ (@CJ)1460229787.0
I also addressed the crowd. Here is a transcript of my remarks:
Hi everybody. My name is Sandra Steingraber and I occupy the anti-fracking wing of the climate justice movement.
I bring you warm greetings from the snowy shores of Seneca Lake where an uprising of brave citizens winemakers, nurses, farmers, teachers, veterans, chefs, moms, dads, granddads and great grandmothers are peaceably standing up to a Houston-based gas company called Crestwood which seeks to turn our beloved lake shore into a massive gas station for the products of fracking.
It's a plan that threatens not only the climate but also a source of drinking water for 100,000 people. That contested lakeshore is our Greensboro lunch counter.
But I left the shores of Seneca Lake to join you on the banks of the mighty Hudson, not as a partisan of that struggle, nor as a co-founder of New Yorkers Against Fracking—which is how you may know me. Today, I am casting off those hats and speaking to you out of two even more fundamental identities—as a biologist and as a mother.
Biology and motherhood are deeply entwined for me. My own mother was also a biologist and, because I was her adopted daughter, she helped me to see that the whole living world—all flora and fauna contained therein—was my family tree.
Thus, my first memory is cracking open fossils with my mom on the front stoop of our home. That project gave me a sense of ancestry. By age six, I had straightened out all of my little friends on the question of where babies came from. By nine, I had my own microscope. With these gifts from my mother, came lessons about the interconnectivity of creation.
One of every three bites of food is brought to us by the efforts of insect pollinators. The oxygen in one in every two breaths of air we breathe is brought to us by the ocean's plankton via the miracle of photosynthesis.
In turn, we animals and humans exhale carbon dioxide, which has the ability to trap the sun's heat and so keeps us warm at night, preventing the oceans from freezing over after the sun goes down. It's a perfect balance between plants and animals that allows living organisms to sustain the conditions of life that make more life possible, which is why, as environmental attorney Joseph Guth reminds us, a functioning biosphere is worth everything we have.
Now that I have kids of my own and now that I make my living as a systems ecologist, here's what I can tell you:
By trying to run our economy by shattering the bedrock of our nation to exhume oil and methane via fracking, we are destroying and poisoning the nation's drinking water sources in the aquifers deep below our feet. And because methane is a such a powerful heat-trapping gas that cannot be wholly contained in the piles of rubble left behind, we are also exacerbating climate change in the atmosphere high above our heads—at a time when we urgently need to be coming up to the rescue with renewable energy.
Fracking is not safe and can't be made safe. That's what science shows, and those findings are a direct threat to my own two children, who are 65 percent water by weight. My children's safety depends on safe sources of water. Their future depends on functioning pollinator systems to provide them food and thriving plankton stocks to make oxygen for them to breathe.
Science shows pollinators and plankton stocks are now in trouble. Hence, it's my job as a mother to engage with the biological consequences of climate change precisely because it's my job as a mother to keep my kids from harm and plan for their future.
I can't do my job as a mother in a fractured America.
I can tell you what I saw in a Romanian village where I was invited to give a lecture on the public health impacts of fracking and where my 12 year old son and I were both pepper-sprayed by military police acting as a private security force for a fracking operation run by the U.S. company called Chevron.
An old woman said to me, “We waited 50 years for Americans to show up here, and you brought Chevron." It was she who explained to me the foreign policy objectives for opening eastern Europe to U.S. fracking operations.
I can tell you what I saw at the climate treaty negotiations in Paris last December. Renewable energy CEOs, and their would-be financiers, urged political leaders to give them a clear, strong signal that indicates the energy revolution has begun. At the same time, the world's climate scientists warned those same political leaders that we're out of time and that signal must come now.
As a biologist, I am looking for a presidential candidate who can be realistic about this science, which says that we cannot frack our way to climate stability.
As a mother, I am looking for a Presidential candidate who can recognize an emergency when they see one, who knows, as the poet Audre Lorde reminds us that “the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house."
As a citizen, I am looking for a presidential candidate who knows a government tasked with ensuring security and domestic tranquility, cannot do so when seawater is sloshing through New York's subway tunnels or when vineyards of wine grapes—the economic goose that lays the golden egg in my part of New York—have to compete with flare stacks compressor stations and pipelines. Or when we keep the lights on by shoveling fossil fuels into ovens and lighting them on fire and so threaten to tear up what Abraham Lincoln called our nation's “salubrity of climate" that makes agriculture possible.
In 1979, my mother and I became became co-cancer patients together. Her advice to me was, “Don't let them bury you before you are dead." She was dealt a very tough prognosis at age 46, and yet she went on to defy all prediction, outlived three oncologists, and is now 85 years old.
So, I offer my own mother's advice to the Sanders' campaign and to all of you.
We are not here to simply express our hope for a strong, clear signal on renewable energy from the executive office. We are here to make it so and change providence itself. That's the spirit that allowed New Yorkers, against all prediction, to evict the frackers from our state and ban fracking now and forevermore.
Against all prediction, fellow New Yorkers, let's help elect the nation's first keep-it-in-the-ground president, willing to defend our bedrock, our water and our climate from those who would thrown our own children under the bus to line their fossilized pockets.
Let's make it so.
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In his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
In that spirit, and as part of the ongoing civil disobedience campaign against gas storage called We Are Seneca Lake—of which I am part—seven protesters from six different New York counties declared their support for the residents of Porter Ranch, California, where a massive leak from an underground gas storage facility has sickened and displaced thousands of families and shows no sign of abating.
The seven formed a human chain across the north entrance of Crestwood Midstream on Route 14 at8:45 a.m. Monday morning. While blocking all traffic entering and leaving the facility, the group offered a statement of solidarity with the people of Porter Ranch before their arrest by Schuyler County deputies at 9:15 a.m.
The blockaders held banners that said, “Seneca Lake to Porter Ranch: Shut It All Down" and “Gas Storage Courts Disaster."
All those arrested were transported to the Schuyler County Sheriff's department, charged with disorderly conduct, and released. The total number of arrests in the sixteen-month-old civil disobedience campaign now stands at 467.
The uncontrolled gas leak at the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility—the single largest in the U.S.—was discovered on Oct. 23, 2015. California Gov. Brown declared a state of emergency on Jan. 6. Thus far, more than 2,500 families have fled their homes and more than 1,000 children have been relocated to other schools. Health officials now acknowledge they initially underestimated the scope of the gas leak and the possible attendant health risks. Self-reported health complaints include nausea, dizziness, vomiting, shortness of breath and headaches.
As We Are Seneca Lake protesters noted in their declaration of support, the massive gas leak at Porter Ranch is a problem with no end in sight and no obvious solution: “People of Porter Ranch, we know your lives were upended because no one replaced a safety valve at the bottom of the well. We don't believe we have bottom safety valves here either ... What affects you directly today could affect us directly tomorrow."
Elizabeth Peet, 48, of the Town of Hector in Schuyler County, said, “Today as we celebrate the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I am reminded that my civic responsibility includes civil disobedience while my elected officials continue to fail to protect our lake and surrounding communities from dangerous gas storage expansion."
Michael Black, 63, of Lakemont in Yates County, said, “I was born in Schuyler County and have lived on the shores of Seneca Lake for nearly a half century. I now live seven miles from Crestwood. What happens here happens to me as well. If the gas storage facility here were to leak—as is happening in southern California—I could be in danger. If it explodes I would likely be killed."
The We Are Seneca Lake movement opposes Crestwood's plans for methane and LPG storage in lakeside salt caverns and has been ongoing since October 2014.
Crestwood's methane gas storage expansion project was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in October 2014 in the face of broad public opposition and unresolved questions about geological instabilities, fault lines, and possible salinization of Seneca Lake, which serves as a source of drinking water for 100,000 people.
The seven arrested Monday were: Richard Battaglia, 53, Richford, Tioga County; Michael Black, 63, Lakemont, Yates County; Caroline Byrne, 39, Ithaca, Tompkins County; Angela Cannon-Crothers, 50, Naples, Ontario County; Kim Knight, 31, Covert, Seneca County; Stacey McNeill, 45, Ithaca, Tompkins County; and Elizabeth Peet, 48, Hector, Schuyler County.
Below is the full text of the message that I delivered to the people of Porter Ranch on behalf of We Are Seneca Lake. And you can watch my statement via video here:
Seneca Lake Stands with Porter Ranch: Shut It All Down!
In his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr. declared, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."
Today, on the national holiday celebrating the birth of Dr. King, we gather near the shoreline of Seneca Lake in New York State, on a simple driveway to make our own declaration.
This is not just any driveway. It's contested ground. In the last 16 months, there have been 460 arrests on this strip of pavement for civil disobedience in objection to the expansion of underground gas storage in old salt mines on the banks of our beautiful lake. Some of us have gone to jail.
Today, we affirm our network of mutuality with people who live three time zones away in a California community called Porter Ranch.
The wind chill on this hillside is minus one degree, and we are cold. But we know that people of Porter Ranch are suffering magnitudes more. The leak from Aliso Canyon underground gas storage facility near Porter Ranch has been pouring 1,000 tons of climate-killing methane into the air every hour for the past three months. We all share the same atmosphere.
We know it's the biggest gas leak in U.S. history. We know it's an official state of emergency. We know there is no end in sight and there is no clear way to fix it.
We know that the fumes from this single leak have sickened people and dropped birds, dead, from the sky. We know that the risk of a massive fire is so great that planes cannot fly over the site and cellphones and watches are forbidden on the site.
We know that more than 2,500 Porter Ranch families have been forced to evacuate and children have been forced to change schools.
Meanwhile, seven different efforts to plug the faulty well that is the source of the leak, has only further destabilized the situation, expanding a crater around the wellhead that threatens the possibility of a full blow-out. And the attempts by Southern California Gas to drill a relief well will take at least six more weeks—and may not work either. These are hard truths to hear. But we hear them.
And we watched closely last Friday when people gathered in front of the Environmental Protection Agency offices and urged the EPA to entirely shut down the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, which is not a specially engineered tank but simply a big hole in the ground left over from drilling and extracting oil. The people said, “Shut it all down!"
So, we want you to know that we are listening. And we, who stand right now, right here, on top of decrepit salt caverns that are slated to serve as storage vessels for massive amounts of pressurized gas echo your words back to you. Like your depleted oil field, our salt caverns were never engineered to hold natural gas either.
People of Porter Ranch, we know your lives were upended because no one replaced a safety valve at the bottom of the well. We don't believe we have bottom safety valves here either.
Seneca Lake and Porter Ranch are tied in a single garment of destiny. What affects you directly today could affect us directly tomorrow. We look at the myriad injustices that you are now compelled to endure, and we see our own future.
Martin Luther King urged us to confront injustice and bend the arc of history in another direction. And he gave us some tactics to use in our efforts. One of them is non-violent civil disobedience. That's what we are doing today. We do it to amplify your own message. And we do it in the fervent hope that we can change our story, that there will be no Porter Ranch at Seneca Lake.
We Are Seneca Lake and we join you in saying, “Shut it all down!"
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The civil disobedience movement of which I'm a part, We Are Seneca Lake, opposes the transformation of a beautiful upstate New York lakeshore into a giant storage depot for natural gas from out-of-state fracking operations.
So on Friday, six Seneca Lake defenders drove across the border to stand with our brothers and sisters in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania who oppose the seizure, via eminent domain, of the Holleran-Zeffer maple grove and its transformation into a 120-foot-wide right-of-way for the proposed 128-mile-long Constitution Pipeline.
We Are Seneca Lake defenders joined two dozen other protesters in the Holleran-Zeffer maple grove. Photo credit: Colleen Boland
This pilgrimage is one that many others have made before us ever since Jan. 29 when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a partial Notice to Proceed with tree-cutting along the Pennsylvania portion of the pipeline, which will carry natural gas from the fracking fields of northeastern Pennsylvania into Schoharie County, New York—and, from there, throughout New England, Canada and possibly to overseas markets.
After visiting the maple grove, we attended the court hearing where Judge Malachy Mannion of the U.S. District Court in Scranton was ruling on whether the five defendants were guilty of contempt of court for obstructing tree cutting on their property and whether his previous order allowing the tree-cutting to make way for a shale gas pipeline could be challenged in court.
Accompanying us on yesterday's road trip was our beloved videographer, Bob Nilsson.
Nilsson had a particularly dramatic day. First, en route to the maple farm, while filming a chainsaw-wielding group of tree cutters on a nearby property, he was charged by one of them and nearly punched out.
This is Bob Nilsson, videographer for We Are Seneca Lake. Note: his name is Bob. Not “Jeff." Photo credit: Colleen Boland
Then, later that afternoon, while Nilsson was seated in the back of the courtroom in Scranton, a witness under oath wrongly fingered him as “Jeff," an individual who was alleged to have participated in obstructing a tree-cutting crew in the Holleran-Zeffer maple grove on Feb. 10.
The witness—retired state trooper Monty Morgan who now works security for the pipeline company—claimed that he recognized the gray sweatshirt and goatee.
From up on his bench, Judge Mannion sized up our videographer's clothing and facial hair.
“Is your name Jeff? What is your name, sir?"
“My name is Bob Nilsson."
But that single case of mistaken identity may ultimately have helped to play a role in the final verdict of that hearing. The lawyer who argued the case for the defense, Mike Ewall of Energy Justice Network, went on to demonstrate that Morgan could identify none of the defendants among those who were said to have prevented workers from cutting trees in recent weeks. (Energy Justice Network is the only staffed organization in northeast Pennsylvania supporting landowners facing eminent domain).
Ruling that the lawyers for pipeline company, Oklahoma-based Williams Partners, had inadequate proof of identity, the judge dismissed the contempt of court citation against the five defendants. The five had stood accused of flaunting the judge's previous order to allow the tree cutting—which itself upheld the decision of FERC when it denied a stay on cutting the family's maple trees earlier this month. The pipeline right-of-way requires the destruction of 200 maples on this farm alone—roughly 80 percent of the family's sugaring trees.
“We consider this a victory because the judge found insufficient proof of contempt," Ewall told me after the hearing ended. “Constitution Pipeline Company is threatening this family's livelihood for a pipeline that may never be built. They still don't have FERC's permission to construct, yet they bully and intimidate landowners while offering paltry compensation for taking their land."
Megan Holleran, 29, a family spokeswoman, agreed: “This is the best outcome that we could have hoped for." She seemed visibly relieved at the ruling, noting that her mother was one of the defendants. “We still have hope that the Constitution pipeline company will wait to cut trees until they have construction permission. We will continue to ask for that."
At the U.S. District Court in Scranton, family spokeswoman Megan Holleran speaks with the landowners. attorney, Michael Ewall after the hearing that found insufficient evidence to charge five of her family members with contempt. Photo credit: Colleen Boland
But, for those who support maple sap lines over gas pipelines, the Holleran family's triumph over the contempt charge was the only good news of the day—and could prove a Pyrrhic victory in the end.
The maple trees themselves were put on the literal chopping block.
Judge Mannion reaffirmed his earlier decision to grant eminent domain status to the pipeline company and made clear in his ruling that, from here on out, he will direct U.S. marshals to “arrest and detain people interfering with tree cutting" and that “violations of this order may result in other penalties," including the costs of additional security and the costs to the pipeline company for delays.
Further, he warned the landowners that they have “an affirmative duty" to remove people from their land who intend to obstruct the tree cutting—or they themselves will be compelled to pay such costs.
Survey stakes mark the path of the proposed Constitution pipeline as it cuts through the Holleran-Zeffer family's maple grove near New Milford, Pennsylvania. Photo credit: Colleen Boland
In other words, the property owners cannot stop their trees from falling and have no right to tell the FERC-approved tree cutters to get off their land even if ...
- those trees are the basis of the family business.
- the owners do not consent to the seizing of their property by eminent domain to serve the needs of a pipeline company hellbent on fossil fuel expansion.
- the sap is already running in the sap-gathering lines, and even if the maple sugar season is heartbreakingly early this year and the emergency of fossil-fuel induced climate change hangs over us all, and any hope of survival depends on many more trees pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and much less natural gas heading to burner tips.
As the federal judge in a federal courthouse made clear yesterday, with me and an ill-treated videographer bearing witness, the rule of law dictates that the trees must fall.
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[Editor's note: Hundreds of climate activists and renewable energy advocates gathered for a State of the Climate rally and march outside of Gov. Cuomo's State of the State address in Albany Wednesday. Here below are the prepared remarks from Sandra Steingraber's speech. Shortly after, from the top of a stairway in the Capitol building, fracking infrastructure opponents unscrolled a 40-foot petition, bearing 1,000 signatures, that urgently calls on the governor to oppose the storage of dangerous, explosive LPG (propane and butane) in abandoned salt caverns under the shores of Seneca Lake. Like methane, propane and butane are the products of fracking. Along with the petition scroll, the group also delivered more than 500 letters to Gov. Cuomo's office.]
Hi, everyone. My name is Sandra Steingraber, and I bring warm greetings from the banks of Seneca Lake in New York's wine country. That's my home.
One year ago, we all came together at Governor Cuomo's 2015 State of the State address as New Yorkers Against Fracking to celebrate our singular, hard-won victory—the bold decision of our governor to leave in the ground, uncombusted, an immense amount of fossil fuel in the form of vaporous methane trapped in our state's bedrock.
We worked, united, for years, night and day, to win a state-wide ban on fracking, and together, we made history. That methane is staying in the ground.
This year, we return to Albany wearing many different hats that represent many different campaigns. Some of us are fighting to push open the door to renewable energy. Others are fighting to slam shut the door on various fracking infrastructure projects that are menacing our health and safety as well as our climate: the Constitution Pipeline; the Northeast Direct Pipeline; the Algonquin Incremental Market Pipeline; the Cayuga Power Plant; the Greenidge Power Plant; the CPV-Valley Power Plant; the Dominion New Market Project; the Chemung County landfill expansion; and compressor stations by the dozens.
It all matters. It's all important. It's all necessary.
As we disperse from a single statewide fight against fracking to a multitude of local infrastructure fights, our activism diversifies and becomes more community focused. This trend represents a return to our activist roots. During the fracking wars, before the tribes united into a statewide coalition, we were also fighting on many local fronts and in many town halls. It's how we began.
In this return to the local, we bring with us three precious things from our statewide fight. First, we bring scientific knowledge. We can now all cite chapter and verse on the global warming potential of natural gas vis-à-vis carbon dioxide over various time frames, for example. And that knowledge emboldens us.
Second, we have newfound political skills that empower us. And third, we have trusted friends from all over the state who encourage us. We know now how to stick together, reinforce each other's work, and generate synergy. Together, we are greater than the sum of our parts.
But most critically, no matter how widely distributed our individual battles are, we still share a common goal. We want an end to New York's ruinous dependency on fracked gas, along with all of the hateful, harmful infrastructure that comes with it.
We seek to replace every burner tip—from power plants to basement furnaces—with energy systems that look up—to the sun and the wind—instead of down at the graveyards of Devonian fossils.
Governor Cuomo, we want you to tell the world that New York is so done with keeping the lights on by building more crematoria for the burning of more prehistoric plants and animals, whose extraction from the ground and transportation to the flame destroys our climate, our water and our health.
An end to fossil fuels is our united goal.
And it's a goal shared by people all over the world. I met many of them in Paris last month at the U.N. climate talks where climate activists were collectively referred to as “civil society." Its members include indigenous people from South America and the Pacific Islands, grandmothers from Ireland, the knitting nanas of Australia. All together, they pressured negotiators into adopting a strong treaty based on good science.
Nevertheless, the ability to enact it, to “make it so," depends on all of us.
Our vision for New York is that our state should serve as a shining, transformational example to the rest of the world for how to create a vigorous economy with 100 percent renewable energy.
To help make it so, here's what we are doing back home at Seneca Lake. We are engaged in a David and Goliath struggle. The Goliath is a Houston-based gas company called Crestwood that wants to store fracked gases in the abandoned salt caverns along the lakeshore. Seneca Lake serves as a source of drinking water for 100,000 people. This lake is so deep that it also operates as a thermostat for the whole region, creating a microclimate ideally suited to the growing of wine grapes.
The David is We Are Seneca Lake, which is made up of local members of civil society—teachers, nurses, winemakers, mothers, grandfathers, farmers, business owners, veterans—who blockade in Goliath's driveway.
If there is no other way, we will stand in the way. Our ongoing blockade has continued for 16 months and resulted in 460 arrests. Six of these arrests happened just this Monday, involving New Yorkers from five different counties.
Always peaceful and respectful, We are Seneca Lake protesters are the girl scouts of civil disobedience, but our resolve is unrelenting. We know that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which approves all these natural gas infrastructure projects, is largely unresponsive to all other forms of citizen opposition.
When there are other ways, We Are Seneca Lake also engages in lawful activism to redress grievance. Crestwood proposes to store in the Seneca salt caverns not just methane but also LPG. That decision rests with Governor Cuomo's Department of Environmental Conservation and has not yet been made.
So, today, together with our partner, Gas Free Seneca, we will be delivering to the Governor's office over 500 letters and a petition with over 1,000 signatures. These represent only the most recent batch of petition and letter deliveries we've made this year.
We'd like to partner with all of you. We know that Seneca Lake sits upstream from the multitude of pipelines and gas plants and compressor stations that you are fighting. If our salt caverns are filled with gas, Seneca Lake will be filling those pipelines.
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