Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Pipe Dreams

On Friday, April 22 officials from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced the denial of the Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification for the proposed Constitution Pipeline. Their reason: these certificates fail to meet New York State's water quality standards. You can read the full decision, outlined in a letter by John Ferguson, Chief Permit Administrator here (pdf).

The Constitution pipeline, a partnership between Williams Partners, Cabot Oil and Gas, Piedmont Natural Gas and WGL Holdings, was approved by FERC in December 2014. The proposed pipeline would transport gas from Susquehanna County, PA to Schoharie County, NY along a 124-mile route. In NY, Constitution proposed nearly 99 miles of new right-of-way for the 30-inch diameter pipeline, rather than co-locating within existing rights-of-way.

Stream bank clearing for pipelines harms trout habitat
DEC told the media that the agency had requested “significant mitigation measures” to limit impact on the 251 streams along the route. Many of those streams are unique and sensitive ecological areas, including trout spawning streams, old-growth forest, and undisturbed springs, which provide vital habitat and are key to the local ecosystems.

In addition, DEC requested that Constitution provide a “comprehensive and site-specific analysis of depth for pipeline burial to mitigate the project's environmental impact”. According to DEC’s announcement last week, Constitution failed to do this, providing only limited analysis for 21 of the 250 streams. The problem, notes DEC, is that pipes not buried deep enough can become exposed, and any action to correct problems could further affect streams and water quality. 

On Monday, April 25 Constitution Pipeline Company accused DEC of making “flagrant misstatements” and “inaccurate allegations” in defense of its permit denial. In a statement to the press, the pipeline company said DEC’s decision “appears to be driven more by New York State politics than by environmental science”

The company claims that they worked closely with DEC staff for more than three years to make sure that water quality concerns would be adequately addressed. “Completely contrary to NYSDEC’s assertion, we provided detailed drawings and profiles for every stream crossing in New York, including showing depth of pipe.  In fact, all stream crossings were fully vetted with the NYSDEC throughout the review process.” You can read their entire statement here.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Public Forum on FERC this coming Thursday

If you've been paying attention to news on various pipeline projects in the region, then you've heard about cutting sugar maples for a pipeline that may or may not ever happen, and the eminent domain fights happening in PA and other states. Or you've heard about the Keystone pipeline leaking, and others blowing up.
What does this have to do with FERC? The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has a role to play in deciding who has rights to put in pipelines and where - and therefore, who really has a "right" to the land in question. 

Learn more about FERC and land rights at a forum later this week in Elmira:
“Are You Being FERCed?,” sponsored by People for Healthy Environment,  Food and Water Watch, We Are Seneca Lake and the Finger Lakes Sierra Club, is a public forum set for April 21 to discuss land rights and the role of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in deciding who has rights to the land.
The forum will be held at 6 p.m. Trinity Episcopal Church, 304 N. Main Street, Elmira.
Topics for discussion will include riparian rights, eminent domain, the expansion of gas industry infrastructure, and FERC.
A discussion will follow with panelists Rachel Treichler, Yvonne Taylor, Joseph Campbell, and Keith Schue. Refreshments will be served.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Oklahoma Sets New Earthquake Record

Last year Oklahoma recorded 857 quakes.  That’s more than all the remaining states (excluding Alaska) combined.
The previous year (2014) Oklahoma had a record-setting year logging in 585 quakes, after the 2013 record-setting year with 106 quakes. 

To end the year, a series of 2.9 or greater earthquakes shook the Edmond area, the northeast part of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area. Those quakes have at least one state legislator up in arms. “This has been going on for five years,” says State Rep. Richard Morrissette (D. 92). “At what point are we, the policy makers, going to address this issue and take it seriously? We need to shut these wells down.”

Morrissette claims the state’s Corporation Commission has the authority to act, but is doing nothing. "This is a preventable disaster that our policy makers at 23 and Lincoln and the Corporation Commission refuse to address, because they're afraid politically to act," he told local news reporters.

Or it could be that the energy companies are refusing to comply with the Commission’s directives. On December 2, the state sent out letters to six energy companies ordering them to reduce waste water disposal or shut their wells down all together. One company, Sandridge Energy, has refused to close the six problem wells.

letter to policy holder re: earthquakes
Residents left with cracked foundations and other damage wonder who’s going to pay. Some insurance companies have already said they will not offer coverage for man-made earthquakes, such as those caused by injection or fracking. Others will, but require their clients to buy endorsements to their homeowner’s policies.

You can read more about fracking-related earthquakes here and here.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Fracking Lowers Home Values by $30 K says Duke Study

A study published just this month in the American Economic Review shows that fracking can cause steep drops in home values in some neighborhoods. The study examined home sales in 36 Pennsylvania counties between 1995 and 2012. The analysis controlled for potentially confounding variables such as effects of the Great Recession and the benefits homeowners may receive in the form of lease payments.

Researchers found that home prices dropped by an average of $30,1676 when shale drilling occurred within a distance of 1.5 kilometers (almost one mile). That’s for homes that depend on groundwater. Homes that had water piped from a municipal source actually gained an average of $4,800.  

But, write the authors of the study, “it is important to keep in mind that our estimates do not fully capture the total costs associated with groundwater contamination risk. Owners of groundwater-dependent homes may purchase expensive water filters to clean their drinking water when faced with a shale gas well nearby [and] whole home filters can cost thousands of dollars.”

The paper is among the first to quantify the impact of fracking on property values in a wide geographic area, Christopher Timmins told the press. He’s one of the co-authors of the study and specialized in environmental economics at Duke University.

“Our results show clearly that housing markets are responding to homeowners’ concerns about groundwater contamination from shale gas development,” Timmins said. “We may not know for many years whether these concerns are valid or not. However, they are creating a real cost to property owners today.”

One thing the authors found is that the distance between a shale well and a home matters greatly for home prices. Among homes that rely on well water, a shale well located within one kilometer (0.6 mile) was associated with a 13.9 percent average decrease in home values. But if the nearest shale gas drilling site was at least two kilometers away (1.2 miles), property values remained constant.

It was in neighborhoods with a piped water supply where they found that home values rose slightly – perhaps due to royalty payments. Even so, home values rose only when shale wells were out of view.

What does this mean for homeowners?  Right now more than 15 million Americans live within a mile of the hundreds of thousands of fracked gas and oil wells that have been drilled since 2000.

A 2013 survey conducted by business researchers at the University of Denver showed a strong majority would not buy a home near a drilling site. The study, published in the Journal of Real Estate Literature, also showed that people bidding on homes near fracking locations reduced their offers by up to 25 percent

Homeowners near drilling sites often have to move because of industrial activity. One homeowner found the fumes, lights, and noise unbearable. Forced to move, they were only able to sell their Cleveland suburban home for half its appraised value.

And a Texas family found their 10-acre ranchette plunge in value from $257,000 to $75,000—a decrease of more than 70 percent – just one year after the first drilling rig went up on the property.

With all of this evidence that no one wants to live near a fracking well, why on earth would towns embrace  fracking?

Monday, November 16, 2015

Can You Hear the People Speak?

The people of Candor value their small town atmosphere. On a sunny day you can walk around the Village in less than an hour – including pauses to enjoy the views of the river, listen to birds, or stop by the farmer’s market to buy locally grown produce and locally crafted wares. It’s the sort of town where “children are cherished and raised to be good citizens, where businesses are responsible to their neighborhoods, where government is responsive to its citizenry and where neighbors strive to maintain the civility that a rural life requires.”

It is the sort of town that seeks to balance a “logical and efficient use” of natural resources with the desire to protect open space, historical sites, agricultural soils, and the aquifer which supplies everyone with fresh water.

At least it was until last week. On November 10 the town board voted to radically change wording of the proposed update to the Town Comprehensive Plan, the document that will guide development for the next decade or so. Prior to the board meeting, town supervisor Bob Riggs called the chairman of the planning board Art Cacciola into his office and insisted that language in the comprehensive plan be changed to specifically include development of oil and gas resources and, in particular, express support for the technology of fracking.

Cacciola explained that the plan needs to be generic and not that specific, as no one knows what technology will be available in the future. He also explained that the plan did not specifically name any natural resources, as advised by the Executive Director of the NY Planning Federation. Furthermore, Cacciola said, “the Executive Director said we should not include anything in the plan which is currently illegal, such as fracking.”

Apparently the town supervisor is as immune to common sense and sound advice as he is to comments from the public. That evening, after inserting his own language into the Comprehensive Plan, Riggs asked the town board to approve the newer, frackier version supporting gas extraction. [He also told Cacciola that he’d no longer be chairman of the planning board and asked for his resignation. Cacciola declined and intends to serve out his term.]

Later in the evening Riggs used the new, fracked-up version of the Comprehensive Plan to justify approval of a resolution supporting the industrialized drilling and LPG fracking of a well in the town of Barton.

Just as happened at the October town board meeting, a majority of the people who showed up to comment were against the gas-fracking resolution. “It was clear that the public comments were just for show,” said one person (who asked not to be identified). “They knew they were going to vote for the resolution.”

“My biggest concern,” said the Candor resident, “is the vast amount of scientific evidence that this activity (industrialized gas drilling and fracking) is dangerous to human health and the environment. Our town board is not seriously considering that evidence. I feel that we’re being railroaded by people who have made up their minds and are not willing to look at new research.”

And herein lies the problem. Many of those who spoke against the fracking resolution are the same age as the children of the town board members. They are the young people who are buying homes and farms in town, who are coming back to raise families of their own. They want a safe, healthy place for their children to grow up, like the town they knew. And no one is listening to them.