As the Trump administration moves full speed ahead on boosting the oil and fossil fuel industry, opposition to increased pipeline construction is cropping up in different communities around the country.
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As the Trump administration moves full speed ahead on boosting the oil and fossil fuel industry, opposition to increased pipeline construction is cropping up in different communities around the country.
A new report from Food & Water Watch documents how a Scottish energy billionaire's dangerous plan to ship gas liquids across the Atlantic is linked to a controversial pipeline currently under construction across Pennsylvania.
A federal judge has reversed last year's unanimous jury decision that awarded $4.2 million to two Dimock, Pennsylvania families who claimed that Cabot Oil & Gas Corp contaminated their water supply during fracking operations near their homes.
A report prepared by Key-Log Economics for the Sierra Club and Appalachian Mountain Advocates was released Monday, detailing what it calls the true costs of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. The proposed fracked gas pipeline was approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on its former chair's final day—just before the commission lost its quorum.
The Atlantic Sunrise project would clear cut its way through 10 Pennsylvania counties, impacting 2,000 acres of forested land and crossings hundreds of wetlands and water bodies. The proposed route includes nearly 200 miles of new pipeline which would supply gas exports out of Maryland and gas plants in North Carolina and Florida.
"From the beginning, communities along the pipeline's route and activists stood up to the corporate polluters behind this project and FERC, demanding their homes be protected from this dirty and dangerous project," said Ann Pinca, who lives in Lebanon County, which would be affected by this pipeline.
"FERC's failure to listen to the people and account for the true costs of this pipeline—not to mention recognize the lack of need for it—now puts tens of thousands of men, women and children at risk of not only polluted air, but spills and explosions."
The red lines show the proposed Atlantic Sunrise expansion. The light blue lines are the existing Transco system.Williams
The report states that FERC overstated the pipeline's economic benefits while discounting or ignoring its costs, including the effects of the pipeline on property values; loss of environmental benefits like flood control, clean water and wildlife habitat; economic damages associated with increases in greenhouse gas emissions; and public health costs due to the release of toxins and smog-forming pollutants.
"The report makes even more clear that, while the damage that this pipeline would cause to private property and the environment is very real, any benefits to the public are illusory," said Ben Luckett, an attorney with Appalachian Mountain Advocates.
The report estimates the pipeline's total costs (the initial cost plus the discounted value of all future annual costs) at between $21.3 and $91.6 billion. The one-time costs (ecosystem services lost during construction) are estimated to be $6.2 to $22.7 million, while annual costs for this diminished ecosystem service productivity would total approximately $2.9 to $11.4 million per year. Using a 2.5 percent discount rate, the annual cost associated with the social cost of carbon from the project's greenhouse gas emissions would be $2.3 to $3.5 billion per year.
The report cautions that the estimates are conservative and do not include the value of landscape preservation or damages to natural resources, property and human health in the event of a leak or explosion. The report does not quantify estimates in property value losses, but it does analyze what it calls FERC's failure to include realistic estimates in its analysis, citing the "well-established negative impact" of pipelines on property values.
"FERC failed to recognize the true cost of the pipeline and the people won't only be saddled with the pollution it will generate, but also the huge economic costs associated with its construction and operation," said Thomas Au, conservation chair for the Pennsylvania Chapter of Sierra Club.
"And once the transition to clean, renewable energy is complete, communities will still have to live with these stranded assets left scarring our forests and towns. This pipeline should've been rejected at the beginning and should not be constructed."
Air pollution from compressor stations built along the pipeline's proposed route would cause more than 7,500 people to experience adverse health effects, including respiratory illnesses, sinus problems, vision impairment and severe headaches. This is in addition to the nearly 20,000 homes and more than 45,000 people who would live in the pipeline's evacuation zone.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has long been tied to environmental risks such as spills. The frequency of spills, however, has long been murky since states do not release standardized data.
Estimates from the U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) vary wildly.
"The number of spills nationally could range from approximately 100 to 3,700 spills annually, assuming 25,000 to 30,000 new wells are fractured per year," the agency said in a June 2015 report. Also, the EPA reported only 457 spills related to fracking in 11 states between 2006 and 2012.
But now, a new study suggests that fracking-related spills occur at a much higher rate.
The analysis, published Feb. 21 in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, revealed 6,648 spills in four states alone—Colorado, New Mexico, North Dakota and Pennsylvania—in 10 years.
The researchers determined that up to 16 percent of fracked oil and gas wells spill hydrocarbons, chemically laden water, fracking fluids and other substances.
For the study, the researchers examined state-level spill data to characterize spills associated with unconventional oil and gas development at 31,481 fracked wells in the four states between 2005 and 2014.
"On average, that's equivalent to 55 spills per 1,000 wells in any given year," lead author Lauren Patterson, a policy associate at Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, told ResearchGate.
North Dakota reported the highest spill rate, with 4,453 incidents. Pennsylvania reported 1,293, Colorado reported 476 and New Mexico reported 426. The researchers created an interactive map of spill sites in the four states.
Although North Dakota is rich in oil, the state's higher spill rate can be explained by varying state reporting requirements. North Dakota is required to report any spill larger than 42 gallons whereas requirement in Colorado and New Mexico is 210 gallons.
Patterson points out that the different reporting requirements are a problem.
"Our study concludes that making state spill data more uniform and accessible could provide stakeholders with important information on where to target efforts for locating and preventing future spills," she told ResearchGate. "States would benefit from setting reporting requirements that generate actionable information—that is, information regulators and industry can use to identify and respond to risk 'hot spots.' It would also be beneficial to standardize how spills are reported. This would improve accuracy and make the data usable to understand spill risks."
The reason why the researchers' numbers vastly exceeded the 457 spills estimated by the EPA is because the agency only accounted for spills during the hydraulic fracturing stage itself, rather than the entire process of unconventional oil and gas production.
"Understanding spills at all stages of well development is important because preparing for hydraulic fracturing requires the transport of more materials to and from well sites and storage of these materials on site," Patterson explained. "Investigating all stages helps to shed further light on the spills that can occur at all types of wells—not just unconventional ones."
For instance, the researchers found that 50 percent of spills were related to storage and moving fluids via pipelines.
"The causes are quite varied," Patterson told BBC. "Equipment failure was the greatest factor, the loading and unloading of trucks with material had a lot more human error than other places."
For the four states studied, most spills occurred in the the first three years of a well's life, when drilling and hydraulic fracturing occurred and production volumes were highest.
Additionally, a significant portion of spills (26 percent in Colorado, 53 percent in North Dakota) occurred at wells with more than one spill, suggesting that wells where spills have already occurred merit closer attention.
"Analyses like this one are so important, to define and mitigate risk to water supplies and human health," said Kate Konschnik, director of the Harvard Law School's Environmental Policy Initiative in a statement. "Writing state reporting rules with these factors in mind is critical, to ensure that the right data are available—and in an accessible format—for industry, states and the research community."
Earthquakes in Pennsylvania are usually rare but fracking operations triggered a series of small temblors in Lawrence County last year, officials at the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) announced in a Feb. 17 report.
Hilcorp Energy Co., a Texas-based oil and gas company, was fracking a pair of wells in the Utica Shale when seismic monitors detected five earthquakes measuring between 1.8 and 2.3 on the Richter scale between April 25-26, 2016.
"Our analysis after doing the review... is that these events are correlated with the activity of the operator," DEP Acting Secretary Patrick McDonnell told Penn Live.
While the tremors were too small to be felt by humans or cause any damage, they are the first quakes in the state to be blamed on fracking. Pennsylvania happens to be the second largest natural gas-producing state in the country.
"At least within Pennsylvania, this is the first time that we have seen that sort of spatial and temporal correlation with [oil and gas] operator activity," Seth Pelepko, chief of well-plugging and subsurface activities for DEP's oil and gas management program, told Allegheny Front, a western Pennsylvania public radio program.
"No faults identified along portions of the well bore where these seismic events were detected," Pelepko continued.
Hilcorp spokesman Justin Furnace said operations were immediately suspended after learning about the tremors. Fracking and stimulation operations have since been discontinued at the well pad indefinitely.
The DEP said that Hilcorp was using a technique known as "zipper fracturing" at the time, which involves the concurrent fracking of two horizontal wellbores that are parallel and adjacent to each other.
So how did the earthquakes happen? As Penn Live explains:
Four wells were drilled to depth of about 7,900 feet in that location.
Evidence indicates that induced earthquakes occur when the separation between Utica Shale and basement rocks is lessened during drilling operations. That means, when someone drills too close to basement rocks, there can be earthquakes.
Pelepko said that seems to have been the case in Lawrence County, where the basement rock is shallow compared to other areas in the state.
The distance between Utica Shale and basement rocks were between 2,500 to 3,000 feet at the fracking site.
The DEP has since given a number of recommendations to Hilcorp, including the discontinuation of zipper fracturing near gas wells in North Beaver, Union and Mahoning Townships where the earthquakes occurred. Additionally, the company must shut down operations and notify the DEP should any earthquake larger than 2.0 or three successive quakes between 1.5 and 1.9 in magnitude occur within a three-mile distance of a wellbore path.
Earthquakes caused by fracking a well are uncommon. However, the notorious spate of earthquakes in Oklahoma, which were caused by the disposal of large quantities of fracking wastewater into underground wells, are rampant. The disposal of wastewater produced from fracking, has led to the alarming increase of earthquakes with magnitude-3 or larger by nearly 300 times, or 30,000 percent in north-central Oklahoma alone. In 2014, more than 5,000 earthquakes were reported.
Guess what was found in Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) filing cabinets after gas operators drilled 10,027 fracking wells over the last 12 years? Only 9,442 citizen-reported fracking complaints. And 44 percent of those are drinking water-related. Pennsylvania's DEP finally released the complaints to Public Herald, an investigative journalism nonprofit. There's much to learn from Pennsylvania's now-public 9,442 fracking complaints as legislators decide to frack or not to frack in Western Maryland.
As fracking took off in 2008, so did the number of citizens lodging water, air and land fracking complaints with the DEP.
A year ago, we reported that Pennsylvania's drinking water contamination due to fracking appeared to be much higher than previously reported. To date, Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) reports only 284 positive water contaminations for the 10,027 fracking wells drilled. That three percent figure seems pretty low.
What hasn't set right with many is that Pennsylvania's official water contamination rate is starkly different than what citizens report on-the-ground. Thousands of news stories, YouTube videos and social media posts report an entirely different story of serious fracking water issues, rampant air pollution, land destruction and negative health issues.
In rural communities, many homes rely on private water wells, not municipally-supplied water. The new natural gas drilling process called fracking drills through surface water aquifers to access natural gas found miles underground in shale rock basins.
The Now-Public 9,442 Pennsylvania Fracking Complaints Reveal:
1. The volume of citizen complaints is alarming, shocking even. For every fracking well drilled, one homeowner, business or gas operator called in an issue.
2. Water well complaints make up 44 percent of DEP complaints. The DEP is the"911 dispatch" center for citizen oil and gas issues. Ninety-six percent of these water complaints were dismissed. The current number of water complaints is higher as the DEP put methane migration and other water issues under different complaint categories; those cases are additional to the 4,108 reported so far.
3. Water contamination is indeed widespread and systemic: Total complaints and water complaints are scattered throughout Pennsylvania's fracking fields and aren't concentrated in one area.
A tally of the fracking wells drilled, total and water-related fracking complaints by EPA region in Pennsylvania. Public Herald and DEP
4. Complaint ratios worsen over time: As fracking grew in Pennsylvania, gas operators should have reduced the negative impacts to land, air and water over time. This data suggests that as fracking continues, complaint ratios increase.
Because this citizen-complaint data was never studied year-over-year, the opportunities to develop best practices, share learning, conduct scientific studies and possibly reduce future harm were eliminated. Sadly, Pennsylvania DEP and Gov. Wolf were touting that fracking is safer by reporting lower violations. DEP failed to ever report the real volume of citizen complaints.
As older conventional drilling was replaced by fracking in 2010, complaints-to-wells drilled grew at an increasing rate. Fracking is different and worse than conventional drilling. Source: Public Herald / Pennsylvania DEP
Why Was This Complaint Data Never Made Public?
Public Herald is reporting a series of articles analyzing the DEP's 12-year suppression of citizen fracking complaint data.
This newly-discovered complaint data calls into question the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) fracking water study. After the EPA's original "fracking is safe" preliminary conclusion, the final report said there could be water issues in certain situations.
Did the EPA ever see these 9,442 citizen complaints? Adding to this mess, several thousand complaint records are missing. Over three years, Public Herald scanned 6,981 paper complaints before the DEP emailed the nonprofit 9,442 complaints. What happened to the almost 3,000 complaint records?
This data would have been invaluable to scientist, health professionals, citizens and communities to know, study, plan and adapt. How many people got sick even though authorities knew water wells were getting contaminated? Dr. Stolz explains, "Suppressed information from Pennsylvania regulators makes it very difficult to know the truth about these incidents," he said.
What Happened to the 3,824 Citizens Who Called In and Their Water Complaint Was Dismissed?
The DEP determined that 96 percent of the fracking water complaints were not caused by nearby gas operations. Were they bogus calls?
"You're telling me that there are thousands of people in Pennsylvania that want to fool the DEP? I can't accept that," said Dr. John F. Stolz to Public Herald. Dr. Stolz is a Professor of Biology at Duquesne University and through his Center for Environmental Research and Education has been providing free water tests for citizens who claim water damage.
Friends of the Harmed's Dana Dolney delivers weekly water to a Pennsylvania homeowner whose well was claimed to be ruined by fracking. There's no financial restitution or government support available for fracking damage. Homeowners either work with the offending gas company, sue or rely on charity.
What Will the Future Look Like?
If there is a minimum level of inherent damage involved with fracking, as the data suggests, what will fracking look like with 20,000 fracking wells in a region? What will happen to Western Maryland's tourism and rural landscape?
My answer. Actual West Virginia commode after nearby fracking trashed private well water. Plaintiff lost their lawsuit even though plaintiff had a taped phone call confession that frackers had ruined water.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Baltimore Fishbowl.
By Liza Bayless
Five years ago, when Lankenau Medical Center was confronted with evidence that it was serving the unhealthiest county in Pennsylvania, the hospital decided to embrace the findings with an unconventional approach: building a half-acre organic farm on its campus to provide fresh produce to patients.
The Deaver Wellness Farm at Lankenau Medical Center. Lankenau Medical Center
The teaching and research hospital just outside Philadelphia was in the midst of its own patient health needs assessment in 2011 when the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released findings about health outcomes in Pennsylvania counties. Lankenau is officially located within Montgomery County, one of the state's healthiest, taking into account factors including obesity rates and access to reliable sources of food. But the campus is adjacent to and receives many patients from Philadelphia County, ranked the least healthy of all 67 counties.
"That was really telling because it showed that we were serving a really diverse patient population," said Chinwe Onyekere, associate administrator at Lankenau, of the study's revelations. The findings showed that the hospital's patients had widely varying access to healthy food and nutritional knowledge.
With more than 1.5 million people, Philadelphia is one of the largest cities in the country and consistently named one of the unhealthiest. In 2010, 32 percent of its adults and about 25 percent of its children were obese. The same year, 13 percent of the city's adults had diabetes, and Philadelphia County ranked highest among the country's largest counties for chronic illnesses like cardiovascular disease and hypertension.
Across the nation, about half of Americans are estimated to have some kind of chronic disease stemming from health risks including lack of exercise, obesity, smoking and unhealthy eating. Treatment for these illnesses, which include asthma, heart disease or diabetes, has accounted for more than 75 percent of hospital admissions and physician visits in recent years.
This has caused some hospitals to look for ways to address health needs before a patient's condition has deteriorated so much that a hospital visit is necessary. At Lankenau, that meant providing its patients with a source of healthy food.
Students learn about fresh produce at the Deaver Wellness Farm. Lankenau Medical Center
Because the doctors, nurses and other staff were not farming experts, the hospital paired with Greener Partners, a nonprofit advocate for local food systems in Pennsylvania, to build and maintain what would become the Deaver Wellness Farm. Onyekere, who heads community needs programs for the hospital, oversees the project.
Since the farm's launch in 2015, it has provided more than 4,000 pounds of organic food to hospital patients at no cost. The produce is used for educational demonstrations and served in the hospital cafeteria. From its community needs assessment, Lankenau's staff learned that many of its patients, especially from West Philadelphia, lacked access to and nutritional knowledge of fruits and vegetables. So Lankenau now facilitates pop-up markets in internal medicine and the OBGYN practice wards.
While patients wait for appointments, medical assistants bring in fresh kale, broccoli, tomatoes, eggplant, arugula and other produce for them to select. The hospital also provides recipes, and, during an appointment, physicians use the produce to show how a patient can make healthier lifestyle choices.
In the Lankenau waiting rooms, hospital employees lead nutrition courses and food demonstrations. An employee might bring in the materials for a carrot salad, discuss the nutritional significance of each of its ingredients and then chop and assemble the salad in front of patients. Afterward, patients are given the ingredients and a recipe to try at home.
For years before the farm, health educators employed by the hospital ran roughly 14 programs in a health education center with two classrooms in the middle of Lankenau's facilities. Seven thousand to 10,000 students from kindergarten through 12th grade took courses each year in physical health, like nutrition, as well as social health issues, like bullying and harassment.
Now, part of the mission of the farm is to serve as what Onyekere calls a "learning laboratory" for classes about healthy eating, and to create a hands-on experience for students to learn about nutrition, gardening and building healthy behaviors.
Outside the hospital, Lankenau—in partnership with The Food Trust and the Philadelphia Department of Public Health—incentivizes healthy food buying by providing coupons called Philly Food Bucks. These coupons for fresh fruits and vegetables are valid at more than 30 farmers markets and are given to patients who express the desire for better access to healthy foods.
"From the moment the patient walks into the door to the moment they leave the office, that whole experience is focused on improving their health," Onyekere said.
Drew Harris, director of health policy and population health at Thomas Jefferson University's College of Population Health, said that only recently have health providers begun to take accountability for addressing food insecurity among their patients. A former practicing doctor with a specialty in diabetes, he remembers having a very different philosophy about chronic diseases and overall patient health.
"Like many doctors, I probably blamed the patients for not getting well," he said. "I didn't really ask the question: Did they have the ability to follow the diet they were supposed to follow as a diabetic?"
Harris eventually became interested in the wider issues that led to chronic illness. While some patients are never taught health literacy, he said, for others "challenges in life can intervene."
"Not having food security—not knowing where your next meal is going to come from or whether you can purchase everything you need to purchase when you need to—is a major challenge," he said.
What's more, the tools for patient treatment taught in the medical profession have been so focused on prescriptions and procedures, Harris said, that doctors do not always learn the importance of stressing to their patients things like how to create a balanced diet and where to access those foods—knowledge that could keep people out of the hospital in the first place.
Though food insecurity is not a new issue, he thinks medical education is just starting to take a more holistic approach.
"There's a much stronger incentive to worry about why patients are not getting better and what we can do to avoid them getting sick in the first place, and a lot of it has to do with their social environment, their access to healthy food," he said.
Still, Harris stresses the need to pressure health providers. "Holding the medical profession more accountable for results—the quality of the care they provide—is going to make a difference," he said.
Onyekere estimates that Lankenau has provided farm produce to about 400 patients so far, and the hospital is about to launch a survey of patients to better understand the program's impact. Although she said patients have expressed that the farm is making a difference and raising awareness of how to incorporate healthy choices into daily life, the research survey will be a valuable resource for other health providers considering similar initiatives.
Going forward, Lankenau plans to grow the farm with four additional raised beds. Though this year's yield far exceeded initial expectations, staff took that as a sign that it can further increase production. Onyekere said Lankenau is also looking to donate its food to additional community partners, like local food banks.
Lankenau is not the nation's only hospital-run farm. Others include St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor and Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, both in Michigan; and St. Luke's University Health Network in Pennsylvania. But Onyekere is aware of none that have so extensively incorporated their own organic food into hospital life.
If America is to confront its growing chronic health epidemic, that integration is key, and, as these hospitals show, is already happening. "We're beginning to move from the patient outward to look more at the neighborhood and the larger environment in which that patient lives," Harris said.
Reposted with permission from our media associate YES! Magazine.