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Waterkeeper Alliance

By Donna Lisenby

Any kid can tell you when Harry Potter takes off his invisibility cloak, he goes from invisible to visible in seconds. Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and other environmental leaders came together in Charlotte, NC, Tuesday to pull the cloak of invisibility off of toxic water pollution from coal-fired power plants across the U.S.

Waterkeeper Alliance, Sierra Club, Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice and Clean Water Action led the carefully planned, highly coordinated release of a hard hitting national report, Closing the Floodgates: How the Coal Industry Is Poisoning Our Water and How We Can Stop It.

Waterkeeper Alliance President Robert F. Kennedy, Jr, Sierra Club Beyond Coal Campaign Director Mary Anne Hitt, Environmental Integrity Project Executive Director Eric Schaeffer and Catawba Riverkeeper Sam Perkins show boatloads of reporters an illegal discharge of toxic heavy metals from the Duke Energy Riverbend coal ash pond. The ash pond pond dam at Riverbend leaks at least five bright orange colored streams of waste into Mountain Island Lake daily. Photo credit: Waterkeeper Alliance

And since seeing is believing, they took five boat loads of reporters and news crews up to a bright orange stream of polluted coal waste flowing into Mountain Island Lake, the drinking water source for more than 800,000 people in Charlotte, Mount Holly and Gastonia.

That one-two punch of a detailed technical report coupled with a trip to see the toxic pollution flowing from a coal-fired power plant into a public drinking water reservoir took the invisibility cloak off this hidden pollution problem.

The story was covered by news media outlets all over the country, from Muskogee, OK, to Florence, AL, to the Charlotte Business Journal to New Bedford, MA. It was was also covered by local news stations in Charlotte who showed a great video of Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. taking on the coal industry with his local Catawba Riverkeeper, Sam Perkins, who demonstrated the high volume of pollution from Duke Energy:

The environmental groups have plans to keep the industry from slinking back under the invisibility cloak they have been hiding under for the past 31 years. To help highlight the report’s findings and raise awareness about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) critical new coal plant water pollution standards, many local events will be held across the country.

Environmental groups took five boat loads of reporters to see this foully polluted stream of waste leaking from the Duke Energy Riverbend coal-fired power plant coal ash pond dam. Photo credit: Waterkeeper Alliance

From a “toxic lemonade stand” in Pennsylvania to a “Miss and Mr. Toxic Water Swimsuit Competition” in Missouri, and from a kayaking trip outside a coal plant in Oklahoma to a fish-less fish fry in Illinois, activists from coast to coast will be calling for the EPA to finalize the strongest possible standards to protect American families from dangerous toxic water pollution.

If you think it is past time for the U.S. to stop the unlimited discharge of arsenic and other poisons in our waterways, tell the EPA to choose option five during the public comment period on the proposed new rules. Help us keep the truth of their pollution visible so it can be stopped.

Visit EcoWatch’s COAL and WATER pages for more related news on this topic.

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Environment Massachusetts

Graphic courtesy of Corporate Europe Observatory

This morning, more than 11,000 residents called on Beacon Hill to ban the dirty drilling process of fracking, in petitions presented by Environment Massachusetts and its allies at a statehouse news conference. The petitions show wide support for H.788, a bill introduced by Rep. Kocot (D-MA) and Rep. Provost (D-MA) to ban fracking and the processing of its toxic wastewater in the commonwealth.

“In states like Pennsylvania, we have already seen fracking contaminate drinking water and make nearby residents sick,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment Massachusetts. "Residents looking at this track record have one message for their legislators today: keep this dirty drilling out of Massachusetts."

Local concern about fracking has grown since the U.S. Geological Survey identified shale gas deposits in the Pioneer Valley last December. Moreover, as New York mulls large-scale fracking next door, drilling operators could soon view Western Massachusetts as a convenient dumping ground for toxic fracking wastewater.

"In light of the threats to our environment and to our health, we cannot allow fracking—or its toxic waste—to come to Massachusetts," said Rep. Provost, sponsor of H.788.

Bill H.788 would protect the commonwealth from both of these threats by both banning fracking and its wastewater. Last year, Vermont already enacted a similar law, and New Jersey legislators voted overwhelmingly for a ban on fracking waste (and citizens there are calling for an override of Gov. Chris Christie’s veto).

Laced with cancer-causing and even radioactive materials, fracking wastewater has contaminated drinking water sources from Pennsylvania to New Mexico. For Western Massachusetts, such threats are heightened by the fact that many communities in the Pioneer Valley rely on groundwater as their sole source of drinking water.

"The quantity and quality of our existing water supply is invaluable and irreplaceable," declared Mayor Michael Tautznik of Easthampton. "Gambling our water against the known dangers of this dirty drilling is a loser's proposition."

Today in Greenfield, in solidarity with the petitions gathered by Environment Massachusetts and CREDO, local residents showed their opposition to fracking through community art. Alongside the Climate Summer team, a group of youth traveling exclusively by bicycle throughout the state focused on climate action, local Greenfield community members demonstrated their concern for fracking coming to their community through visual art on the town common.

In addition to impacts on the local environment, fracking and the processing of gas releases methane—a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide.

"It turns out that fracking contributes to global warming in a major way,” observed Dorian Sosnick Williams, an organizer with A Better Future Project. “If Massachusetts is serious about combating climate change, we cannot allow fracking here."

Rumpler ended the petition delivery with praise for all 14 co-sponsors of H.788: “By sponsoring a ban on fracking, these legislators are standing tall against the oil and gas industry. And today, thousands of their constituents are standing with them.”

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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Sign the petition today, telling President Obama to enact an immediate fracking moratorium:

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Earthworks

Pavillion-area citizens, landowners and environmental groups today condemned Gov. Mead’s (R-WY) announcement that the state is assuming control from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the investigation into groundwater contamination by fracking-enabled oil and gas development near Pavillion, WY.

Natural gas drilling equipment on the Pinedale Anticline, WY. Photo credit: Richard Waite, Flickr

In the announcement, the Governor congratulated EPA and Encana—the company operating in the Pavillion area—for working with him to “chart a positive course” for the investigation.

“We went to the EPA for help after the State of Wyoming and Encana refused to address the public health impacts of unbridled development in the Pavillion area," said Pavillion farmer John Fenton. "Now Encana has bought its way back in and is working with the state on a strategy to cover up the mess they’ve created."

"Our government’s priority is clearly to protect industry rather than Wyoming citizens, our health and our property values. Gov. Mead, the Obama administration and Encana have decided what is best for our community without consulting us,” Fenton continued. “We were presented with Mead’s vague plan at the same time it was released to the public. Unlike the other stakeholders, we bear the brunt of living in the toxic mess that has become our community, but our input has been thrown out with EPA’s investigation. This is a sad day for our country.”

This decision continues a nationwide pattern of Obama Administration walkbacks of the EPA investigations whose preliminary results indicate fracking-enabled oil and gas development presents real risks to public health and water. Similar actions have occurred in Parker County, TX, and Dimock, PA.

“It seems clear that the White House’s 'all of the above' energy policy means fracking’s impacts on communities are being ignored,” said Earthworks' energy program director Bruce Baizel. “All across the country, whether it’s Wyoming, or Texas or Pennsylvania, it appears the EPA is being politically pressured to back off sound science that shows fracking-enabled oil and gas development is a risk to public health. With these decisions, the Obama administration is creating more opposition to fracking, not less.”

Pavillion, WY, resident Louis Meeks' well water contains methane gas, hydrocarbons, lead and copper, according to the EPA’s test results. When he drilled a new water well, it also showed contaminants. The drilling company Encana is supplying Meeks with drinking water. Photo credit: Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica

“Gov. Mead said earlier this week that change should be driven by elected officials and agencies, not the people,” said Don Nelson, a farmer and rancher near Keene in western North Dakota, on behalf of the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

“This attitude is exactly why those of us who have to live with drilling and fracking have so little confidence in our regulatory agencies and elected officials. They only listen to the oil and gas industry, not to the local people. The same is true in North Dakota. And now EPA is backing down too and another investigation into groundwater contamination from oil and gas development is being swept under the rug. Why would anyone believe the oil and gas industry or the state regulatory agencies when they say drilling and fracking are safe?”

Governor Mead’s announcement indicates that the state would cease peer review of EPA’s investigation, essentially ignoring it.

“The state of Wyoming is already on record, through action and inaction, as denying that Pavillion’s groundwater contamination is a cause for concern,” said area ag-producer Jeff Locker. “They are throwing out a conscientious science based study by EPA that cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. The Governor’s plan postpones any conclusions for at least another year. It’s hard to believe that they’re trying to get to the bottom of the problem, they’re hoping this whole thing just goes away.”

Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.

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Sign the petition today, telling President Obama to enact an immediate fracking moratorium:

John Messeder

It has been a rough week for the shale industry. Earthquakes have been tied to a deep wastewater injection well and resulted in, among other things, demonstrations on the lawn of the Ohio Statehouse. And residents in rural central New York are organizing door-to-door petition drives to halt hydraulic fracturing —if not in their state, at least in Madison and Oneida Counties.

A recently completed study by two Cornell University researchers indicates the process of hydraulic fracturing deep shale to release natural gas may be linked to shortened lifespan and reduced or mutated reproduction in cattle—and maybe humans.

Fracking (the colloquial name for hydraulic fracturing), involves drilling a well about 8,000 feet down, and then up to about 13,000 feet horizontally. Three to five million gallons of fresh water, specially formulated sand and up to 250,000 gallons of chemicals, some of them highly toxic, are poured into the well at great pressure, breaking the deep shale and releasing the coveted gas.

Without knowing exactly what chemicals are being used, and in what quantities, it is difficult to perform laboratory-style experiments on, say lab rats. But farm animals are captive, surrounded by electric and barbed wire fences.

And when fracking wastewater is spilled across their pasture and into their drinking water, and they start dying and birthing dead calves, one can become suspicious that there is a connection.

Which is what the Cornell researchers found during a year-long study of farm animals, based primarily on interviews with animal owners and veterinarians in six states: Colorado, Louisiana, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.

“Animals can nevertheless serve as sentinels for human health impacts,” the report, titled Impacts of Gas Drilling on Human and Animal Health, notes. “Animals, particularly livestock, remain in a confined area and, in some cases, are continually exposed to an environmental threat.”

The report has been produced by Robert E. Oswald, a biochemist and Professor of Molecular Medicine at Cornell University, and Michelle Bamberger, a veterinarian with a master’s degree in pharmacology.

In one case, an accidental release of fracking fluids into a pasture adjacent to a drilling operation resulted in 17 cows dead within an hour. Exposure to fracking fluids running onto pastures or into streams or wells also reportedly led to pregnant cows producing stillborn calves, goats exhibiting reproductive problems and other farm animals displaying similar problems. Farmers reported effects within one to three days of animals consuming errant fracking wastewater.

“Of the seven cattle farms studied in the most detail, 50 percent of the herd, on average, was affected by death and failure of survivors to breed,” the researchers noted.

Other examples seem to confirm animal health problems after exposure to fracking wastewater. Animals exposed to it have the problems; animals separated from it —most of them, anyway, do not.

The report points out a major difference between company and non-company observers. Area residents and conservation groups look at the existing evidence and try to err on the side of “let’s be careful, here.”

Gas exploration companies – some of them, anyway, like Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. in its recently won bout with residents of Dimmock, Pennsylvania—head for court and demand that they be released from responsibility because there is no “proof” their process is problematic. Others, such as Encana, simply demand the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) avoid “moving too quickly” to make connections between toxic emissions and people becoming ill.

When mothers in the Denver, Colorado area complained that fracking near their homes was making their children ill, Encana said it has been fracking in the area since 2006 with no problems. “Health claims based on anecdotal data and not sound science can’t be substantiated,” Encana reportedly told the parents.

Fracking—the kind that, for instance, breaks up shallow rock formations to increase water flow into a well—has been around a long time. The problem is, fracking a mile and-a-half down to release natural gas and other compounds is relatively new technology. It likely will be years before someone leaks internal memos showing the companies knew, or suspected, what they are doing was hazardous to human health.

Near where I live are several EPA superfund sites. Waste chemicals from a local industry were illegally dumped there in the early 1980s.

To this day, water is pumped from below the dump sites and sprayed into the air in an effort to “strip” it of the offending chemicals. It is an effort which likely will not be completely successful in the lifetime of anyone currently living in the county.

Instead of cutting funding for state and federal environmental protection agencies, and fighting over whether drilling creates jobs (it does) and reduces our nation’s dependency on foreign oil (probably ditto), I submit we increase funding, and do the scientific work necessary to determine which methods will protect living creatures in the vicinity.

Some fixes are being voluntarily accomplished. Some companies are capturing and reusing their wastewater, sealing off leaking wells and gas compressors, and taking other measures to contain toxic pollutants. We need to ensure the solutions that work are required and uniformly implemented.

We would create more jobs and protect our health—what politicians like to call a “win-win.”

This article was reposted with the permission of Rock the Capital.

Natural Resources Defense Council

By Kate Sinding

Used with permission of NRDC - Switchboard

Jan. 11 marks the last official moment for New Yorkers across the state to speak up and have their opinions heard about the current proposal for the expansion of fracking here. The public comment period for the state’s environmental impact study (known by its full name as the revised draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, or RDSGEIS) and proposed regulations on fracking is coming to a close.

As the deadline approaches, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is putting the finishing touches on more than 500 pages of detailed technical and legal comments—both from scientific experts and our own expert legal staff—to add to the more than 20,800 comments the state has received so far, and the thousands more expected tomorrow. (A link to our full comments will be made available as soon as they are submitted.) 

Although it would be impossible to give a complete rundown of what we will be submitting, I wanted to share just a few of our top-line takeaways.

First and foremost, although there were some notable improvements and it’s clear that the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has done some hard work since the last review, there are still significant deficiencies in both the impact study and the regulations, demonstrating that the state is not prepared to move forward with fracking.

The bottom line—when you rush, you make mistakes, and that is exactly what happened here. Not only are critical analyses still missing and/or incomplete, but the decision to release the impact study together with the draft regulations has resulted in many of the proposed mitigation measures getting lost in translation.

Since July, we’ve gathered a team of experts—covering the fields of hydrology, geology, toxicology, petroleum engineering, water quality, air quality, health and others—who have provided an in-depth review and critique of the state’s findings and have likewise confirmed that there are significant parts of the review where the state needs to go back, re-do the review properly, and reissue it for public review and comment.

On top of the issues we have previously identified, this in-depth technical analysis has identified a host of additional deficiencies. Here are just five of our most pressing new concerns, each one of which, on its own, demonstrates that the environmental review process is far from complete:

  • There’s no plan at all to deal with toxic wastewater.  The wastewater generated from fracking operations is among the worst our expert toxicologist has ever seen. Yet the state has absolutely no plan whatsoever for how the vast amounts of toxic wastewater expected from fracking operations would be managed.  We’ve seen the impacts of improper wastewater management elsewhere—including contaminated rivers from treatment in municipal sewage plants in Pennsylvania and earthquakes from improper deep well injection in Ohio—and it is inexcusable for the state not to have some plan in place before allowing new fracking here.
  • The scope of the action is too broad. The current version of the impact study and proposed regulations purport not only to address fracking in the Marcellus shale region, but also shale formations such as the much deeper Utica Shale, yet the study only directly looks at the impacts of drilling in the Marcellus. As our experts point out, every shale formation is different, and so are the environmental concerns with developing different regions. Separate shale formations demand their own environmental reviews. Until that happens, drilling in these other formations should be off the table.
  • Health risks are omitted entirely. There’s next to zero exploration of the health impacts fracking could have on New Yorkers. Yet it is increasingly recognized that a full health impact assessment is a critical component of a thorough examination of the potential risks of fracking. Just last Thursday, the nation’s top environmental health expert called out the need for comprehensive new analysis of the health risks of fracking.
  • Flawed socio-economic analysis doesn’t calculate negative impacts. The state itself has acknowledged that it needs to re-do its socio-economic analysis because of glaring omissions. Most significantly, while overstating potential economic benefits, the report includes only seven pages out of more than 250 on the potential negative economic impacts, when we know that there are real and substantial economic risks associated with fracking.
  • Fracking could be allowed in flood zones and other critical vulnerable areas. The analysis fails to consider how the effects of climate change could result in fracking operations taking place in major flood plains, including places that were under water during Hurricane Irene last year. This presents serious pollution risks, particularly as drilling is proposed to occur in and around flood-prone communities.

Over and over, we’ve told the state to slow down, yet the Fracking Express keeps barreling forward. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) rushed to push out the environmental impact study and proposed regulations after only six months in office, and the result is huge gaps in the proposed regulatory program. These are gaps that would make moving forward with new fracking not only dangerous, but contrary to the purpose of the environmental law that requires the study’s creation (the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act, aka SEQRA).

We recognize that there is significant pressure from industry to move forward, but taking the time to undertake a complete, legally sufficient consideration of the impacts of fracking is not too much to ask when the risks involved could have grave, lasting—if not permanent—effects on New Yorkers and communities statewide. One needs only to look next-door to Pennsylvania to see that’s true. Fracking is the biggest environmental issue facing New York in a generation, and Gov. Cuomo must stay true to his word that he will not authorize any new fracking unless the risks have been properly and fully evaluated, and necessary safeguards identified and implemented.

For more information, click here.

Food & Water Watch

The much-anticipated publication of the European Commission’s 2050 Energy Roadmap has identified shale gas and other unconventional gas sources as “potential important new sources of supply in or around Europe” for reducing carbon emissions from the energy sector. However, recent studies reveal that widespread shale gas development may actually worsen global climate change. Food & Water Europe conveyed disappointment Dec. 20 that the Energy Roadmap not only ignored these scientific findings, but also failed to acknowledge the many other environmental and public health risks associated with the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract shale gas. The organization cited examples of problems from fracking in the U.S., where more than 100 state and local governments have passed resolutions to ban the dangerous practice.

“Drilling and fracking for shale gas not only endangers our precious water resources, it also threatens our climate. Inexplicably, the Energy Roadmap fails to acknowledge these threats.”

The group cited the following:

  • Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency revealed that fracking most likely explains widespread groundwater contamination in Pavilion, Wyoming. Overall, more than 1,000 cases of water contamination have been reported near fracking sites in the U.S.
  • Many of the chemicals used in fracking fluid are toxic and some are carcinogenic. Scientists at the Endocrine Disruption Exchange found that 25 percent of fracking fluids can cause cancer, 37 percent can disrupt the endocrine system, and 40 to 50 percent can affect the nervous, immune and cardiovascular systems.
  • Each shale gas well results in millions of liters of toxic fracking wastewater. Accidents, spills and inadequate treatment of this wastewater further endangers water resources.
  • Beyond impacts on water, shale gas development increases heavy-duty truck traffic, noise pollution and air pollution at the expense of local communities, negatively impacting tourism and agriculture.
  • Recent scientific studies, from Cornell University and the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research, demonstrate that methane emissions from shale gas development are likely to accelerate climate change in the coming decades. This is despite shale gas being a relatively clean-burning fossil fuel.

“The dubious benefits and poor environmental record of shale gas development in the U.S. serve as a cautionary tale for Europe,” said Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch. “It is worrying that the European Commission’s Energy Roadmap perpetuates the myth of shale gas as viable bridge to a low carbon future.”

Food & Water Europe advocates for aggressive investment in the deployment of existing energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, alongside investment in research and development to further these technologies and deliver a sustainable energy future for the European Union.

For more information, click here.

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Food & Water Europe works to ensure the food, water and fish we consume is safe, accessible and sustainable. So we can all enjoy and trust in what we eat and drink, we help people take charge of where their food comes from, keep clean, affordable, public tap water flowing freely to our homes, protect the environmental quality of oceans, force government to do its job protecting citizens, and educate about the importance of keeping shared resources under public control.

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