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Friday, August 15, 2014

Pennsylvania's growing pipeline problems

Natural gas pipeline development is a big issue in Pennsylvania, and the growing pains aren’t over. By a long shot. In addition to habitat fragmentation and risks to public safety, water quality and aquatic habitats, these lines risk cultural resources and maybe even agricultural productivity.

No part of Pennsylvania is likely to be spared as this spider web of pipelines is spun across the face of Penn's Woods – even places where no drilling is taking place. These areas stand between well fields and more lucrative gas markets, and will be crossed. Such as:

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer

Recently, I did an email interview on this issue with my friend Roger Cohen, who blogs here. The interview was split into 2 parts. Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2

LancasterOnline reported on the interview here.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Chemists, health experts weigh in on unconventional natgas drilling

Chemists have raised red flags on fracking chemicals, and a group of environmental health researchers has issued critically important recommendations on efforts to ensure the safety of communities near natural gas drilling operations, in two new studies.

Characterizing compounds used in hydraulic fracturing: A necessary step for understanding environmental impacts, was unveiled yesterday at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.  It was prepared by team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and University of the Pacific, and finds that out of nearly 200 chemical compounds commonly used in hydraulic fracturing, there's very little known about the potential health risks of about one-third of them - and eight are toxic to mammals. 

It also exposes the spin behind industry claims about many fracking compounds being food-additives, which doesn't negate the need for treatment of drilling wastewater.

Meanwhile, Environmental Health Research Recommendations from the Inter-Environmental Health Sciences Core Center Working Group on Unconventional Natural Gas Drilling Operations has been published in Environmental Health Perspectives. The study makes these suggestions, according to a University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine news release: 
  • Baseline ground water quality data should be taken before drilling begins and be monitored over the lifetime and abandonment of the gas-producing well.
  • Ambient and occupational air quality should be measured at active drilling sites and be compared with baseline measurements in adjacent areas without drilling operations.
  • An environmental epidemiological study should be performed to determine whether an association exists between health outcomes data and water quality in private drinking wells in communities with and without hydraulic fracturing.
  • An environmental epidemiological study should be performed to determine whether air pollution associated with [unconventional natural gas drilling operations] increases the incidence of respiratory illness and cardiovascular disease.
  • Community-based participatory research principles should be embraced in designing and conducting studies on environmental and health impacts of [unconventional natural gas drilling operations] so that a range of community perspectives are addressed. All stakeholders (individual/community/industry/advocacy groups/decision makers) should be engaged early to foster multi-directional communication and accountability.
The issues of chemical use in fracking and public health are inextricably linked.  The data gaps on fracking chemicals and their use need to be filled - and the subject must be much more tightly regulated.  The recommendations by health experts must be embraced – and funded – by policymakers.

And the business case to squeeze the water and chemicals out of the process altogether must be pressed.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

US EPA posts studies done for its fracking/drinking water study

The US Environmental Protection Agency continues to show the work in its Study of Hydraulic Fracturing and Its Potential Impact on Drinking Water Resources.  

EPA scientists are conducting original research as part of that important study.  The agency has posted online several new published, peer-reviewed papers that will contribute to its assessment. EPA says that future papers will be posted as they become available.

This study continues to be a model of transparency.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Harvard Law School publishes updated landowner's guide to fracking

Harvard Law School's Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic has published an updated version of its A Landowner's Guide to Hydraulic Fracturing.  The clinic says that it's:
aimed at landowners across the country and contains information relevant for property owners who are considering whether to sign a lease to allow either oil or gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing, including proposed lease language. 
The Guide:
  • Highlights some of the key environmental and health risks associated with hydraulic fracturing; and
  • Provides recommendations for how a landowner can incorporate provisions into a lease to reduce or mitigate those risks. 
The land rush in Pennsylvania is for the most part over (except, egregiously, on public lands). Still, a comparison of existing leases to Harvard's document might be very illuminating. And for landowners here and across the country who are considering leases, this guidance is invaluable.