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New York’s Camel’s Nose on Fracking

12:29 pm in Economy, Energy by TobyWollin

Under the tent (photo: Adam Foster | Codefor/flickr)

Well, it’s finally happened – NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the DEC are basically caving to two bodies of people: rural landowners who are in trouble because the dairy industry is in trouble and energy interests.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration is pursuing a plan to limit the controversial drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing to portions of several struggling New York counties along the border with Pennsylvania, and to permit it only in communities that express support for the technology…Even within that southwest New York region — primarily Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga Counties — drilling would be permitted only in towns that agree to it, and would be banned in Catskill Park, aquifers and nationally designated historic districts…It would be contingent on hydraulic fracturing’s receiving final approval from state regulators, a step that is not a foregone conclusion but is widely expected later this summer. Department of Environmental Conservation regulators last year signaled their initial support for the drilling process around the state, with exceptions for environmentally sensitive areas like New York City’s upstate watershed. – Cuomo Plan Would Allow Fracking in Limited Area – for now

I live in Broome County and I can tell you that counties that border northern PA are already feeling the negative effects of the fracking/natural gas drilling that is going on just over the border in PA:
– Road damage from drilling trucks
– Increased crime
– People coming in and buying up all the housing to use to rent to out of state drilling workers
– Contaminated water (because rivers and creeks do flow north)

Yes, I realize that there are a lot of people in the area who are asset rich and income poor and the offers from energy companies look really good. But the corporations that end up doing the drilling are NOT the companies that signed the leases – they are packaging those up and reselling them to other drilling companies. And the drillers are not hiring local people for jobs – that is an outright delusion. The workers are being brought in from other states such as Texas and Oklahoma to do the work. We have no regulations on the books to protect townships and municipalities from damage from drilling companies and their equipment; we have no regulations on the books to protect landowners whose water supplies get contaminated because their neighbors leased their gas rights. As a matter of fact, in New York, if your neighbor has a gas lease and the drilling company decides to start drilling at the edge of your neighbor’s property, because fracking is a vertical and then horizontal process, the drillers can be drilling into your property, you wouldn’t know it and you have no legal recourse against them or your neighbors. When your water supply becomes contaminated, you have no legal recourse against the drilling company or against your neighbor.

And why do I call this ‘the camel’s nose”? Well because of this: The Marcellus Shale is attached to an even deeper and actually more ‘attractive’ geologic formation called the Utica Shale, which extends even farther north, east and west. Once the DEC gets away with this, the Utica Shale is next.

This is horrific. The Working Families Party has a petition going to Gov. Cuomo and the DEC here Petition Please sign.

If Fracking Is Benign, How Come PA’ers Can’t Find Out What’s Making Them Sick?

10:34 am in Energy by TobyWollin

(image: Khadijah's Artworks/flickr)

Oh, my friends in Pennsylvania (I know you are my friends because “you’ve got a friend in Pennsylvania’, right?), what Tom Corbett and the Repubs in the legislature have done to you on fracking. Again.

Physicians and others who work with citizen health issues may request specific information [from the drilling companies in terms of what chemicals they use], but the company doesn’t have to provide that information if it claims it is a trade secret or proprietary information, nor does it have to reveal how the chemicals and gases used in fracking interact with natural compounds.

If a company does release information about what is used, health care professionals are bound by a non-disclosure agreement that not only forbids them from warning the community of water and air pollution that may be caused by fracking, but which also forbids them from telling their own patients what the physician believes may have led to their health problems.

A strict interpretation of the law would also forbid general practitioners and family practice physicians who sign the non-disclosure agreement and learn the contents of the “trade secrets” from notifying a specialist about the chemicals or compounds, thus delaying medical treatment.

The clauses are buried on pages 98 and 99 of the 174-page bill, which was initiated and passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed into law in February by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. New PA Law Gags Doctors

In other words, if you live in an area where fracking is taking place, and you start having symptoms which you think might have something to do with your being exposed to chemicals which might have been used in fracking, your doctor or any other doctors involved in your treatment can ask for information on chemicals that companies drilling in your area use in fracking. But they don’t have to tell anyone and in order to get that information, your doctor will have to sign a legally binding NDA which will prevent him from passing on that info. I can see the scene in the hospital or doctor’s office now….

“Well, Mrs. Murphy, I think I know what your problem is and what might be causing it.”
“Oh, doctor – what can it be?”
“Well, Mrs. Murphy, I can’t tell you that myself. Why don’t you try guessing, like in the fairy tale, ‘Rumplestilskin’?
“Oh, this is a game? Let’s see…. Is it benzene or toluene or xylene, or ethylbenzene?”
“Sorry, Mrs. Murphy – only one chemical guess at a time and you only have two guesses left…”
“Doctor, how can I be treated if no one can know what caused this?”
“Well, Mrs. Murphy, we’ll just keep throwing something at it until something sticks.”

Just a reminder for anyone who cares, but in 2005, “the Bush/Cheney Energy Bill exempted natural gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act. It exempts companies from disclosing the chemicals used during hydraulic fracturing. Essentially, the provision took the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) off the job. It is now commonly referred to as the Halliburton Loophole.” Congressional Report on Fracking.

That’s for anyone feeling nostalgic about the ‘good old days’ of 2000-2008.

Could Shale Gas Reignite the US Economy?

12:05 pm in Economy, Energy, Financial Crisis by TobyWollin

You can't drink money (image: SS&SS)

Aunt Toby’s short answer: No.

Aunt Toby’s longer answer: Hell no.

“On the economic potential of the nascent shale revolution, even some career environmentalists sound impressed, if cautious. “This thing is a potential game-changer,” says Fred Krupp, president of the New York-based Environmental Defense Fund (EDF). Shale production in the U.S. has increased from practically nothing in 2000 to more than 13 billion cubic feet per day, or about 30 percent of the country’s natural gas supply. That proportion is heading toward 50 percent in coming years.

The U.S. passed Russia in 2009 to become the world’s largest producer of natural gas. An Energy Dept. advisory panel on which Krupp sits estimated in August that more than 200,000 jobs, both direct and indirect, “have been created over the last several years by the development of domestic production of shale gas.” At a moment of 9.1 percent unemployment nationally, additional decently paid work is just one potential benefit. “Natural gas burns cleaner than coal, emits less in the way of greenhouse gases, and avoids mercury and other pollutants from coal,” Krupp points out. “So this could be win-win, if—and this is a big ‘if’—we do it the right way.

Since we have this going right at our doorsteps here, just over the PA border, I can tell you what shale gas production does do:

1) It makes jobs for gas workers who are brought into the area from outside (in PA, most of the people working are from Oklahoma and Texas). These folks buy food and gas so there is a bit of sales tax revenue there. However, a lot of that money is going back home to THEIR families.

2) It makes work for people in construction because the gas workers absorb any and all available rental housing. When the new housing is created, then local people needing it can find housing – but the new housing is much much more expensive to rent since local people have been priced out of the market.

3) It makes work for road crews who have to constantly repair all the damage that the drilling rigs and trucks do to local roads. Local governments have to then go after the drilling companies and try to get them to pay.

4) It makes work for the people who install ‘buffalos’ which are large fresh water tanks which are required when drilling activities (and negligent crews) cause ground water contamination.

5) It makes work for firefighters when negligent drilling crews cause explosions and fires at drilling sites.

6) It makes work for local law enforcement when drilling crew members clash with local residents in places like bars (there have been at least 2 murders in counties close to me under these circumstances).

What shale gas production does not do:

1) it does not make jobs for local residents. They are not hired on drilling rigs because – this is not an industry that we have had before; so our people frankly do not have the skills (whether or not the crews brought in from OK and TX to do the work DO is another issue entirely. They have shown already that they know how to dump fracking brine in National forests, cause explosions, poison farmers’ water and cattle).

2) It does not make energy any cheaper for local residents. It is not was if drilling and production companies have agreements with local communities that they will set up a pipeline to some sort of storage facility and allow local residents to get cheap gas. In the area just south of us, pipeline companies are scrambling to get the Millenium and other pipelines done so that the Marcellus can be made accessible so that energy companies can buy and sell this stuff by itself or sell it to electric generators.

3) It does not make the real estate any more valuable; as a matter of fact, because of rules giving drillers the right to horizontally access the land of people who have not signed lease agreements (yes, this IS true here in Upstate NY), land is actually less valuable. Why would anyone buy a piece of property where they do not have rights to keep it and the water supply on it safe?

4) It does not conserve the natural beauty of property. When a holding pond leaks or spills (which actually has happened quite often in PA), it not only ruins the water supply and can kill livestock – it also kills anything growing on the land as well.

So, who will benefit?

The energy companies (and by the way, natural gas prices right now are highly depressed because of the oversupply of Marcellus gas from PA, OH, and WV coming into the market. No one is storing this stuff and waiting for higher prices later) are able to buy very cheap gas now for either natural gas supply or to use to produce electricity. Too bad the industrial economy is so depressed that no one needs it. What they will probably do is liquify it and put it on tankers bound for China.

The drilling companies will do well.

Some individuals will do well.

The communities will not.

And in the case of Pennsylvania, I can tell you that the commonwealth has already in a bunch of cases allowed drilling companies to vacate agreements to provide safe drinking water, to repair roads and bridges and so on, leaving the damage to local and state taxpayers. Oh, and Pennsylvania STILL has not figured out a system of fees and fines on this.

Guys – the horse is out of the barn already. Krup’s comment about ‘if we can do it the right way’ is totally moot. Companies like Cabot Energy and Chesapeake have been doing shale gas production through fracking for years (oh and there were four 4+ on the Richter scale earthquakes in Oklahoma recently; don’t tell me this is NOT from the fracking that is going on down there). You’d think they’d know how ‘to do it the right way’ already.

They don’t and they don’t have any control over the negligence of the crews.

But they sure don’t want to have to pay for it once it’s happened; and once the brine hits the water table, it’s pretty hard to stuff it ‘back in the barn.’

Voice of the Last Chernobyl Cleanup Survivor

4:24 pm in Energy by TobyWollin

This is really short, folks – Natalia Manzurova, probably the last surviving member of the cleanup crew from Chernobyl has a very short, pithy, memorable message with regard to nuclear power and nuclear accidents:

“What message do you have for Japan?
Run away as quickly as possible. Don’t wait. Save yourself and don’t rely on the government because the government lies. They don’t want you to know the truth because the nuclear industry is so powerful.”

Cleanup Survivor’s Message

Take it from a woman, an engineer, who for some strange, crazy, genetically-advantaged reason, is still here to lend her voice to the hundreds of others who, like her, went into the hell of Chernobyl, and who, in a strange, crazy time-traveling way, speaks for the workers at the Japanese nuclear plant, and who speaks also for the rest of us.

“..the government lies…because the nuclear industry is so powerful.”
No shit, Natalia.

Food Sunday: Food News You Can Use and Some Food Chemistry

6:53 am in Energy, Food by TobyWollin

photo: State Library of New South Wales via Flickr

OK, everyone, take out your lab aprons and silicone gloves – today, it’s food chemistry city Arizona! (ok, you two in the back – either cut that out or you’re going down to the principal. Got it?).

It’s Not All Red Tomatoes Out There: “Besides their appealing orange color and sweet flavor, there’s another reason to give tangerine tomatoes a try this year. A one-month study led by U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) scientists in California has provided new evidence to suggest that, ounce for ounce, these heirloom tomatoes might be a better source of a powerful antioxidant called lycopene than are familiar red tomatoes.”

Apparently, the sort of lycopene in red tomatoes is different than the sort of lycopene in orange tomatoes. Most of the lycopene in red tomatoes is ‘trans’, whereas the lycopene in orange tomatoes is….(yes, Fred, you can stop waving your hand now) ‘cis’ – actually it’s ‘tetra-cis’. Many times the physical properties of the ‘cis’ and ‘trans’ (for more on this, go Cis and Trans ) versions of the same molecules have very different physical properties and in the case of lycopene, the tetra-cis version in orange tomatoes is much more efficiently and completely absorbed by human bodies than the regular ol’ red tomato ‘trans’ version. SO, for people looking at starting tomato seeds or buying tomato plants this year, think out of the red and into the orange, especially the orange heirloom varieties. Orange is Better than Red

Herbal Teas: It’s not just the fragrance. Finally, human trials have been done on herbal teas, in this case some of the most popular in the country (and yes, the trials were supported by Celestial Seasonings), peppermint, chamomile, and hibiscus. Bottom line: herbal teas do show active benefits. “..chamomile tea has moderate antimicrobial activity and significant anti-platelet-clumping activity… strong antioxidant and anti-tumor actions, and some anti-allergenic potential…drinking hibiscus tea lowered blood pressure in a group of pre-hypertensive and mildly hypertensive adults.” Herbal Teas: Proof

Skippy: it’s Salmonella: Ruth Calvo is covering this food safety cuts – but remember – peanut butter is used in a lot of other items than just commercial jars of peanut butter. Think peanut better cups, peanut butter chocolate eggs (all that Easter candy around), peanut butter cookies (Nutter Butters, anyone). Seriously – think about all the peanut butter items we eat and feed to our kids and grandchildren because ‘peanut butter is a good for you food’. Right? Not when it’s contaminated it is not. Skippy Recall
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BP — For the Rest of Us: The Marcellus Shale

6:55 am in BP oil disaster, Energy, Government, State Government by TobyWollin

Okay boys and girls, it’s time for a little more "energy-based geology" courtesy of your Aunt Toby. You didn’t know that I know anything about geology, did you? Well, I had better since I live smack dab in an area which given the amount of natural gas formation there is (see map), has the potential to make the BP oil volcano pollution look like small change.

This is the Marcellus Shale formation (actually, there is another, even larger shale formation that all of the energy companies are looking at that lies underneath the Marcellus, called, interestingly enough, the Utica Shale formation, but that is a discussion for another time). Energy companies have been sending their "land men" all over Pennsylvania and Upstate New York to get landowners to sign land leases which will allow them to drill for natural gas.

Natural gas. What could be more patriotic? Our own supply of energy (cue “Hail to the Chief”). There are so many problems with this that it is only through frankly people’s poverty, lack of information, the energy companies’ "hit em fast before they get smart," local government’s suffering for tax revenues, and general greed that things have gotten going at all.

And start they have. The amount of infighting, "you got more than I did," "don’t tell me what to do with my land," "I’ve got flames coming out of my sink taps," and general hair pulling has been truly mindboggling here in New York. But I’m glad we are into fighting because at least there has been a slowdown in terms of what is happening in New York State, especially with New York City’s DEC (the water quality people who brought upstate New York the Cannonsville and other reservoirs) screaming bloody murder to protect New York City’s water and now the Delaware Watershed folks putting a hold on any drilling due to fears of water pollution from the use of "fracking fluid," a water-based liquid comprised of 80 different chemicals, many of which have been found to cause neurological damage and cancer.

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