Friday, December 13, 2013

Secret Trade Deal Undermines Environmental Protection -- How Is That Possible?

Before our nation was aware of the hazards of fracking and shale gas development the drilling industry was working quietly behind the scenes with Vice President Cheney and others to craft a series of loopholes and to pass the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that would help the industry evade the oversight of U.S. federal environmental protection laws.  The same is happening today – but this time the focus is on undermining U.S. laws as well as the laws of 12 other nations, and this time we have a chance to stop them.

Not only are the gas drillers hard at work behind the scenes crafting new protections for themselves, but so are other major corporate interests.  And when all is said and done, if we let them, bans on fracking, made in America labels, protections from the importation of contaminated foods or products made abroad in violation of child labor laws are among the many protections and rights our communities and country now have that will fall when industry demands.

What body of enforceable law could so solidly strip our communities from these vital protections? 

A new trade agreement called the Trans Pacific Partnership that is being negotiated in secret between the United States and 12 nations from the Pacific Rim including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.  While China is not currently party to this secret dealmaking, it is believed that they and others will eventually become a part of the pact. 

The deal is so secret that not only is the public prohibited from reading its terms, but so too are the members of Congress.  Thankfully there have been some leaks to give us a glimpse behind the curtain (e.g. WikiLeaks secured and released the Intellectual Property Rights Chapter  It is also reported that there are 29 Chapters to this supposed trade agreement many of which have nothing to do with regulating trade but instead focus on limiting environmental, food safety, health and other community protections.  Overall, there is enough information to know that the Trans Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement  (TPP) is a bad deal for the people of the United States and it should be rejected by Congress when it finally has a chance to give it an up or down vote.

The TPP is certain to include an Investor-State Dispute Resolution provision which will allow corporate entities and investors to bring claims for significant monetary payouts against any signatory-nation who they feel have interfered with their corporate/investor benefits under the treaty – that includes the United States.   So if there is a law that prevents a corporation from pursuing a toxic waste facility, dangerous development, water and cyanide intensive mining, or a fracking and drilling project, under the TPP that corporation/investor could bring a claim against the signatory-nation before an international arbitration tribunal and have millions of dollars in damages leveled against them (for specific stories go to: – not only does this pose an unfair burden on a country where the government is trying to protect its residents, but it will also motivate that country to go after the state or municipality impeding the corporate project and force it to revoke its environmentally protective laws or regulations.   

So, for example, if a foreign corporation or investor is prevented from drilling in a New York community that has legally passed a ban on fracking and shale gas development, that corporation can bring an Investor-State Dispute action against the United States and receive millions in damages, with the United States government likely to then bring a legal action against the New York community and force them to remove their protective ban.

This is happening already, under another trade agreement with a similar provision – North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) -- a private drilling company is about to sue Canada for $250 million because of a ban on fracking passed by the Province of Quebec which was enacted to allow them to study the dangerous process.  (To see a copy of the Nov 8 Notice of Intent to Submit a Claim to Arbritration: It is easy to see similar suits being filed based on local bans in New York, Colorado and elsewhere.

Allowing foreign interests to capitalize off the destruction of the U.S. environment for their own economic gain is economic colonization. Unless the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement includes an explicit provision that preserves the environmental legal authorities of our federal, state, local and regional governments to ensure foreign industrial and/or corporate activities do not harm the quality and health of our environment it would result in nothing short of the economic colonization of the United States. 

What can you do?  Contact your Congressional Representatives, both in the House and the Senate, and tell them you want three things:  For them to ….

  • oppose the passage of fast track legislation which would allow the President to negotiate and sign this agreement before coming to Congress for a vote, would allow the President to write the implementing legislation for the agreement, and allows the President to seek passage of his unilaterally drafted legislation in an up or down floor vote which would forbid any and all amendments and greatly limit any debate -- for helping sending your letter go to;
  • take action to force public disclosure of the TPP negotiating documents immediately, now, while there is still time for elected official and public review, comment and input;
  • ensure the TPP includes a provision that explicitly preserves the environmental legal authorities of our federal, state and local governments as well as the legal authority of commissions like the Delaware River Basin Commission that are the result of congressionally approved interstate compacts; and
  • oppose the TPP when it comes up for a vote unless the reservation of environmental legal authority is included – no tinkering with terms, although it is likely the approval process won’t even allow that if a process called Fast Track is applied – but a straight, across the board NO.

Watch as the Delaware Riverkeeper asks the Delaware River Basin Commission to step up and send its own letter:

Originally written by me, Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper, as guest blogger for Maria Rodale, CEO of Rodale, posted at 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Shale Gas – You Can’t Make it Safe

We are hearing a lot today about making shale gas drilling safe.  The problem is that this statement
starts from a false premise – that you can make this highly destructive industrial practice safe – the truth is you can’t make it safe.  There are so many destructive elements of shale gas development that even if you remedy some or all of the harms of one element of the process there are many more to do harm.  And at its core shale gas is just another fossil fuel that will emit global warming emissions and prevent this country from quickly transitioning to better sustainable energy options like solar.

It requires 2 to 9 million gallons of water to frack a well.  Over 80% of this water remains under ground, removing it from our water cycle and use by present and future generations for drinking, bathing, growing crops, and supporting nature.   In just about 1/3 of the Delaware River watershed experts said there could be as many as 64,000 wells.  If only 50,000 of those were drilled at an average of 5 million gallons per well that means 250 billion gallons of water used and 200 billion trapped under ground, just from that one portion of one watershed.

To that water is a confidential recipe of chemicals, many toxic, such as hydrochloric acid, muriatic acid, biocides, glutaraldehyde, and ethylene glycol.  While the industry loves to say that only ½ to 2% of the frack fluids is these chemicals, in just one frack job of 5 million gallons that still adds up to 25,000 to 100,000 gallons of chemicals – that’s a lot!  Once that frack water circulates under ground as part of the fracking process it picks up other contaminants from the earth’s geology such as Barium, Strontium, Benzene, Toluene, Mercury, Methane, lots of total dissolved solids that can make the water as much as 5 times saltier than sea water, and Radioactive Materials including Uranium–238, Radium-226 and 228, and Thorium–232.  So the pure water originally drawn from surface water streams and fresh underground aquifers becomes highly, highly contaminated. 

The water that remains under the earth has the potential of polluting underground water supplies in the short term or the near term, either by flowing through existing or created cracks in the geology over time, or by climbing to our freshwater aquifers through failing casings of the boreholes drilled.   The cement and steel used to case the boreholes to prevent contamination themselves have a limited life of only 80 to 100 years in the best of circumstances, so pathways through the boreholes are just a matter of time. But when they fail, pollution can be almost instantaneous and the damage is essentially irreversible.

The water that comes immediately back to the surface of the earth during the drilling process is highly
toxified and yet most of these wastes are exempt from regulation under our hazardous waste laws, and we do not have good technology or treatment plants for handling the waste.  As a result, a major strategy for disposing of frack waste is to find a sealed underground cavern for disposal – once again taking that water out of the natural cycle.  Waste that has been taken for disposal at water treatment plants is creating other concerns because of the lack of technology for proper treatment --  for example, contaminating streams with radioactive material.  Sediments in Blacklick Creek in Pennsylvania were recently found contaminated with radium at concentrations 200 times above background level downstream of just such a wastewater treatment plant where frack waste had been discharged.  This is above radioactive waste disposal threshold regulations and raises the specter of the bioaccumulation of radioactivity in fish and the food chain.

Accidents during the drilling and fracking process are inevitable. In 2011 alone, the Pennsylvania
Department of Environmental Protection issued more than a thousand notices of violation to natural gas operators within the Marcellus Shale region. These accidents include a wide array of violations, including surface spills, blowouts, improper casing construction, erosion and sediment control failures, faulty pollution prevention, failures in site restoration, improper waste management, and wastewater impoundment construction failures.

Shale gas development consumes not only vast quantities of water but also acres of land for well pads, pipelines, and access roads.  Prior to drilling, space must be cleared and graded to construct the well pad and to accommodate all necessary equipment.[1] Each well pad requires the clearing and grading of, on average, 3.1 acres, while the construction of associated infrastructure (access roads, impoundments, pipelines, and compressor stations) necessary for future well site construction, drilling, and gas exportation consumes another 5.7 acres, for a total of almost 9 acres per well pad.[2]

In Pennsylvania, the Nature Conservancy has estimated that nearly two-thirds of well pads targeting the Marcellus Shale will be developed in forested areas, necessitating the clearing of 38,000 to 90,000 acres.[3] An additional 60,000 to 150,000 acres of forest area will be lost to pipeline construction and right-of-way maintenance in order to accommodate the delivery of the gas from well site to end user.[4] Compressor stations along the pipelines, which occupy an average of five acres each, are likely to number in the hundreds.[5] In New York, deforestation will occur on a similar scale, with losses in forest cover of up to 16% says the Nature Conservancy.[6]

Heavy truck traffic on rural roads, especially unpaved roads, that were not built to withstand hundreds or thousands of truck trips also leads to significant erosion, sedimentation and community problems.

Contrary to the folk tales the gas companies spin, shale gas development is not about energy independence, increased jobs, or protection from climate change.  Currently there are at least 20 applications for liquefied-natural-gas (LNG) export facilities in the U.S. pending before the federal government.[7] The gas companies want the exports overseas because they can sell the gas for more than 4 times the price as they can capture here in the U.S.

It is almost daily that new research emerges showing the harms of shale gas for our communities, our country and our earth.   Among the most recent scientific findings is that as much as 9% of the methane[8] -- one of the most potent greenhouse gases known to man -- produced while drilling for gas is lost to the atmosphere.  That 9% coupled with all the methane emitted during the transport of gas through pipelines, storage and use of the gas means that shale gas is a more potent contributor to climate change than any other fossil fuel – 21 to 33 times more potent than carbon dioxide if you look over a 100 year period; if you look over the next 20 years when it is the most crucial that we reduce damaging emissions it is over 72 times more potent.[9]  So shale gas, when you take into consideration all of the construction activities, including truck trips burning dirty diesel, compressor stations, deforestation and the release of methane to the atmosphere is increasingly found to be not better than coal  -- and no matter how you slice it is certainly not better than solar or other sustainable options – for saving us from climate change.

Creating “green” fracking fluids, reusing frack wastewater to the degree it can be, reducing leaks in pipelines to try to reduce the release of methane, for example, cannot and do not avoid the array of harms and vast levels of devastation shale gas development inflicts.  It’s not a matter of managing the harm – in the parlance of best management practices – because the damages are uncontrollable and inevitable.  The only truly safe path is to abandon the folly that is shale gas and fracking and instead to invest in truly protective and reliable energy options such as solar and other sustainable options.

[1] See, e.g., New York State Dep’t of Envtl. Conservation, Revised Draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement on the Oil, Gas, and Solution Mining Regulatory Program: Well Permit Issuance for Horizontal Drilling and High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing to Develop the Marcellus Shale and Other Low-Permeability Gas Reservoirs 5-10 (2011), available at
[2] The Nature Conservancy, “Pennsylvania Energy Impacts Assessment Report 1: Marcellus Shale Natural Gas and Wind,” November 5, 2010, at 10, available at . The range of numbers reflects low, medium, and high shale gas expansion scenarios over the next 30 years of 6,000, 10,000, and 15,000 new well pads.
[3] Id. at 29.
[4] The Nature Conservancy, “Natural Gas Pipelines,” Excerpt from Report 2 of the Pennsylvania Energy Impacts Assessment, December 16, 2011, at 5, available at
[5] Id. at 5-6.
[6] The Nature Conservancy, “An Assessment of the Potential Impacts of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF) on Forest Resources,” Dec, 19, 2011, at 4, available at
[7] See North American LNG Import/Export Facilities, Office of Energy Projects.
[8] Methane Leaks Erode Green Credentials of Natural Gas, Nature International Weekly Journal of Science, Jan. 2, 2013.  See also R. Howarth, D Shindell, R. Santoro, A. Ingraffea, N. Phillips, A Townsend-Small, Methane Emissions from Natural Gas Systems, Background Paper Prepared for the National Climate Assessment, Reference number 2011-0003, Feb. 25, 2012.
[9] R. Howarth, D Shindell, R. Santoro, A. Ingraffea, N. Phillips, A Townsend-Small, Methane Emissions from Natural Gas Systems, Background Paper Prepared for the National Climate Assessment, Reference number 2011-0003, Feb. 25, 2012; R.W. Howarth, R. Santoro, A. Ingraffea, Methane and the greenhouse-gas footprint of natural gas from shale formations, Climatic Change, June 2011, Volume 106, Issue 4, pp 679-690.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Will PA’s KEEP Program Keep Kids in the Dark?

Written by Maya K. van Rossum
First posted Sept 30, 2013 
on Mom's Clean Air Force Blog/Website:

I have often heard from my educator husband that power companies will pay for the creation and printing of textbooks so they can rewrite history about the impacts of their industry.  Now it looks like the state of Pennsylvania is getting in on the act – this time possibly brainwashing middle schoolers about clean energy. 

 The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) has announced a new program called KEEP which stands for “Keystone Energy Education Program.”  The agency describes KEEP as a “series of free workshops, geared to middle school building teams” where “participants will learn about and explore energy issues.”

While I believe children as young as middle school should be thinking about the serious issues surrounding energy development, I am concerned about any political agenda being a part of the programming. And I question the ability of the PA DEP to provide good information about the most beneficial energy options for present and future generations.

Michael Krancer, who recently left the position of PA DEP Secretary, is on record questioning the level of scientific understanding and agreement regarding climate change:  “There is no uniformity within the scientific community on how much the warming is occurring,” said Krancer to State Impact, “And there’s no agreement about how much is attributable to the human part of it and how much is attributable to other factors.”

E. Christopher Abruzzo, the Acting Secretary of PA DEP, is not on record as a climate change denier. In fact, he has no record on environmental issues at all. Abruzzo may be an able prosecutor (he served previously in the Attorney General’s office), but he has no environmental expertise. Abruzzo is Governor Corbett’s man at PA DEP; he remains in the role as the Governor’s Deputy Chief of Staff even as he assumes the role of Acting Secretary at PA DEP.  He was recently nominated by Corbett to assume the leadership of DEP permanently.

There are good people at PA DEP trying hard to protect Pennsylvania’s natural resources. But budget cuts have drastically reduced staffing levels, and the hands of regulators have been tied by permitting windows that don’t allow time for thoughtful consideration of environmental impacts. Individuals are afraid of losing their jobs if their decisions delay pet projects of connected corporations. And if the recent leadership at the agency is any example, I’m afraid I see the potential for KEEP to be used to indoctrinate a new generation into supporting the current administration’s short-sighted path for our energy future – reliance on shale gas.

In fact, while the DEP description of KEEP is that it will: “will focus on teaching about and tracking energy efficiency in the school building and in the homes of the community” under this heading two of the eight topics for the “full day energy workshop” are:  (√) Energy extraction technologies and (√) Electricity generation technologies, including geologic resource extraction and renewable resources.  Shale gas and fracking are clearly among the priority areas of their clean energy focus.

The recent effort by the PA DEP to delete a peer reviewed paper by Dr. Robert Howarth, the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology at Cornell University, from a state report on how Pennsylvania will be impacted by climate is yet another example of why PA DEP’s KEEP program should be received with skepticism.  Dr. Howarth’s published paper challenges the assertion that natural gas is not a significant contributor to climate change and suggests that that it could be as harmful a contributor to climate change as coal. 

Education is about providing facts, science, well-rounded information and helping students to become critical thinkers with the capability to assess and analyze data.  If PA DEP is not allowing its own documents to include studies with which it disagrees for political reasons, and has among its leadership climate change deniers, how can it be trusted to educate our children about energy options in a fair and balanced way? 

Since the 2008-2009 fiscal year, PA DEP’s annual budget had been slashed by one-third. Rather than investing in programs for educators who are already trained and capable of creating their own energy curricula, perhaps PA DEP should invest its limited resources in enforcing our environmental protection laws and carrying out environmental protection programs.  Investing in strong environmental programs would better serve the goal of safeguarding our children’s health and future. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Army Corps Against Fracking?

Who said the following about fracking and drilling the watershed of another river that serves as a primary drinking water supply?
  • “Safe water supply is essential to life . . .”
  • “Our needs for a safe, reliable water supply involve both issues of water quantity and quality.’
  • “Long-standing interstate agreements for the . . . Watershed, to which we have been a signatory, have addressed water quantity and quality protection as essential to properly managing this key natural resource.”  “[A]ny action that could vitiate the effects of these agreements would be unwelcome.”
  • “[S]trongly supports the selection of an Alternative that prohibits the use of horizontal fracturing (hydrofracking) for natural gas development . . .”
  • “[E]nough study on the technique has been done and information has been published to give us great cause for concern about the potential for degradation of the quality of our raw water supply as well as impact to the quantity of the supply.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers!

Neversink River, just below NYC drinking water reservoir
The Washington Aqueduct, a division of the Army Corps’ Baltimore District, made these statements on October 17, 2011 when responding to a request for comments on a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the George Washington National Forest.  The Washington Aqueduct is a federally owned public water supply providing drinking water for approximately one million people living in and around the District of Columbia.  The drinking water supply for the Aqueduct, and therefore Washington, D.C., begins in the George Washington National Forest.

The Army Corps made these comments to inform the decision about whether or not to open the George Washington National Forest up to drilling and fracking.

Why is the Army Corps so committed to protecting Washington, D.C.’s drinking water supply yet it sits on the fence when it comes to our Delaware River? The Army Corps has gone so far as to suggest that economic claims for drilling in our watershed could be more important than protecting the water 17 million people drink.

What do I think is the difference?
1.  The Washington Aqueduct is the President’s water.
2.  Damage to the Washington Aqueduct water supply will be blamed directly upon the Army Corps.

The Army Corps clearly knows drilling and fracking aren’t safe for communities and water — let them act like an army and stand in defense of all of the waters we as a nation drink, rather than let the water be poisoned by an invading industry that is happy to sacrifice U.S. citizens, residents and visitors just to make another dime.

Here is the key text drawn from the letter for those who would like to see more:
“Promoting and engaging in watershed protection efforts is as important to Washington Aqueduct as is selecting the best treatment technologies.  Our needs for a safe, reliable water supply involve both issues of water quantity and quality.  Long-standing interstate agreements for the Potomac River Watershed, to which we have been a signatory, have addressed water quantity and quality protection as essential to properly managing this key natural resource.  As a result, any action that could vitiate the effects of these agreements would be unwelcome.  Safe water supply is essential to life; the needs of the water treatment and supply utilities that rely on the Potomac River for source water must be given primary consideration.”

“Washington Aqueduct strongly supports the selection of an Alternative that prohibits the use of horizontal fracturing (hydrofracking) for natural gas development within the Forest.  Although studies on the technique are still needed in order to fully understand the potential impacts on drinking water, enough study on the technique has been done and information has been published to give us great cause for concern about the potential for degradation of the quality of our raw water supply as well as impact to the quantity of the supply.”