Video Details Shattering Flaws of Science vs. Political Science in NY Fracking Review
On June 14 Frack Action released a video that details many shattering flaws and inadequacies in the Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) review of fracking and Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS), and questions the gas industry’s possible influence over the DEC Mineral Rights Division. Under the veil of a bad dream, the video takes the form of a puppet show, with the gas industry playing the part of the puppet master and the DEC Mineral Rights division as the gas industry’s puppet.
The release of Frack Action’s video comes in conjunction with the New Yorkers Against Fracking coalition’s rally outside of Gov. Cuomo’s office from 12–1 p.m. today, June 14. The noon rally is part of a New Yorkers Against Fracking statewide day of action. They will rally for a ban in front of Gov. Cuomo's office in the New York State Capitol and demand that it's not okay to turn any part of New York into a sacrifice zone. Frack Action will also deliver a copy of the video script to the governor, Frack Action’s statement about DEC's relationship with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 2, and the June 13 Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Health Energy/Environmental Working Group technical document detailing the top 10 flaws of the SGEIS.
Mixing dark humor with hard facts and science, the video touches on the questionable nature of the public comment review process, many of the egregious flaws and inadequacies in the SGEIS, as well as key concerns about fracking that the DEC has not studied. The puppet show, a dream, is introduced by questioning how more than 13,000 public comments from 2009 took 20 months to review yet more than 66,000 comments on the recent SGEIS could be finished in less than a third of that time.
With the gas industry asking questions of the DEC Mineral Rights Division puppet, the video tackles many key concerns that have been raised about fracking. One such issue addressed is radon from the highly radioactive Marcellus Shale (radon being the #1 cause of lung cancer among non-smokers). Many scientists, as well as the EPA, have raised concerns about serious health ramifications from radon traveling with Marcellus Shale gas into people's homes and lungs. The video highlights how the DEC has dealt with the issue.
The release of this video follows what has been a week of revelations about the DEC’s inadequate and flawed review of fracking. First, Jon Campbell of Gannett News Service wrote a breaking article about NY DEC's relationship with EPA Region 2 that brings to light a number of issues, chief among them DEC's seeming aversion to the science and grave concerns raised by EPA Region 2 (see Frack Action’s statement). Then on June 13, leading scientists from Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Health Energy (PSE) and the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a technical document detailing the top 10 flaws of the SGEIS.
For example, the scientists took issue with the DEC's proposal to only drill in areas of deeper shale, a plan revealed on June 13 in the New York Times that appears to perpetuate what the scientists call "seemingly arbitrary, unscientific thinking behind the published draft plan." They note that state officials claim they can prevent pollution by limiting drilling to areas in the Marcellus Shale near the Pennsylvania border where the shale is at least 2,000 feet deep. The PSE/EWG report solidly refutes this faulty science.
In a news release, A.R. Ingraffea, president of Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy and a professor of engineering at Cornell University who specializes in rock fracturing, said, “In light of the recent call by the U.S. Department of Energy for much more empirical scientific information about the safety of high volume hydraulic fracturing for shale gas, and the limited amount of solid scientific support for the program proposed for New York, it would be reckless and irresponsible to proceed with drilling at this time."
The developments this week are in line with a pattern that previously prompted Peter Kiernan, who served as counsel to ex-Gov. Paterson, to say on Feb. 28 on Capitol Pressroom that the only science on fracking is “political science.”
Regarding the developments this week and with the release of Frack Action’s video, John Armstrong of Frack Action said, “Gov. Cuomo has said that his decision on fracking will be based on science, not emotion. We hope that the governor will recognize that the DEC’s review of fracking couldn’t be farther from being the best science on which he has said he will base his decision, and that the best available science is in fact quite decisive that fracking cannot be done without jeopardizing the health and well being of New Yorkers.”
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
The annual Ig Nobel prizes were awarded Thursday by the science humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research for scientific experiments that seem somewhat absurd, but are also thought-provoking. This was the 30th year the awards have been presented, but the first time they were not presented at Harvard University. Instead, they were delivered in a 75-minute pre-recorded ceremony.