US Fracking Tour – Day 4 – Pennsylvania

Wednesday 9th

Vera Scroggins, our courageous tour-guide

Vera Scroggins, our courageous tour-guide

Tour of Frack sites

Today was a highlight of our visit to Pennsylvania – a tour of the areas being fracked with Vera Scroggins as our guide, a truly remarkable lady who is being sued by industry but keeps on showing people the impacts of fracking from a community viewpoint. Cabot, a fracking company, has taken out an injunction against her, she cannot stand on company owned ground, cannot stop within 100 feet of a driveway leading to a wellsite or within 30 feet of a boundary fence. Nevertheless, she brought us into rural areas being fracked and introduced us to individuals who are being severely impacted by fracking operations.

First to describe the countryside. Susquehanna County at first sight is one of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen – rolling hills, deciduous forests, rivers and farmlands. Dairy farming is big here, and logging of forests. The houses are generally big, with chapboard walls and well maintained. The roads are country roads, networking throughout the land. However, the traffic is far greater than one would expect – large trucks travel at high speeds throughout the area, a symbol of the industry that has drastically invaded this county. Our tour guide told us that while we were travelling on main roads, most side lanes ended in a well pad, hidden from view by the trees. It is only from above that one can get an idea of how invasive the fracking industry is.

Susquehanna River

Susquehanna River

First stop was to Mrs Page, who is one of the few householders in her community who have refused to lease their land to the fracking company. She wanted to protect her property but has found that she is impacted very badly nonetheless with her land covered from time to time with a fine dust, connected with drilling activitiy. Nobody knows what is in this dust but people have histories of allergies and respiratory diseases. Mrs Page has several pipelines snaking around her property and a pig located feet from her boundary.

Dimock

Next stop was to Dimock where we met Ray, an amazing character, ex-military, who has had his life ruined by fracking. He worked on a frack pad for 3 years and has been left with serious skin rashes and respiratory problems. Ray literally has had to evict company personnel and state troopers from his property at gun-point! His water has been contaminated and he trucks in water from Montrose every week. He filled a bucket with water from his well, the smell was indescribable. Someone said that it was like a decaying skunk! The stress of his situation is having a really bad impact on his health and Ray is getting very tired of the fight that he can’t win.

His neighbour is Bill. Bill’s water, which we also saw, has high levels of methane . We saw it bubbling through the water but did not dare to try to light it! Cabot have supplied him with a treatment system that we examined. It looked impressive, including a sprinkler system to remove any gases, two kinds of filters to remove particles, chlorine treatment (as if there were not already enough contaminants in the water), UV lamps to sterilise the water and ozone treatment for odour removal. What was not addressed was the contamination by heavy metal salts that dissolve in the water! This would need active carbon filtration that we didn’t spot. Bill did not drink the water but fed it to his animals and used it for showers etc. The family drank bottled water.

What was truly obvious was that the nearer the houses were to the fracking sites, the poorer they appeared. Fracking money has not filtered through to those communities, country folk who had no idea what they were letting themselves in for when they signed leases. Many have left the area, dairy farms have disappeared, tourism also has suffered.

Pittsburgh

AFTER OUR TOUR, we had our lunch on the bus and spent six hours getting to Pittsburgh, where we had dinner with Riana Rippel, Director of Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project. This is an NGO funded largely by the Heinz Foundation. Riana dealt with the public health impacts of fracking. In Washington County, near Pittsburgh, there is a real problem with health records, even asthma records are “very patchy”. Health records are not kept if they are related to fracking. Environmental health is not taught in any detail to trainee medical personnel and the Health Project must deliver training to them as an extra. Federal funding is not available in many areas to do wider research.

“With regard to talk of better regulations, you cannot impose “one size fits all” on this industry. Every area is different, every well is different. Major players can sign up to better regs but the work is largely sub-contracted to smaller players who may not be compliant. Whereas there may not be major catastrophes, there are thousands of incidences of spills and contaminations. Spot checks are no good, there is no comprehensive monitoring by EPA of wells, pipelines, compressors. We need the capacity 24/7 to monitor what’s going on.”

Baseline studies are essential! Before the industry gets going, put in place safeguards, good regulations, monitoring systems. Monitor social impacts as well as health – communities overwhelmed by influx of foreign workers. Timing is a key component. “Did you have that kind of condition prior to exposure. Did fracking activity come close to you during the time that you got worse?”  This is NOT scientific research but a strong indicator for companies, lawyers and health officials.

US Fracking Tour Day 3

Tuesday 8th

This was a busy day!  Four meetings of 90 minutes each in three different venues (including the U.S. Capitol !) followed by five hour bus journey to Montrose in rural Pennsylvania. We arrived at our final destination at 11.30pm.

Sierra Club

Lena Moffit (Sierra Club) with Alexandra from Heinrich Boll Foundation

Meeting 1 was with Lena Moffitt in Sierra Club who declared the Sierra Club to be very concerned about fracking. The emphasis is on strengthening regulations and empowering communities to fight against abuses. Three aspects were mentioned

• Zoning ordinances: supporting local citizens to prevent fracking in certain areas or within certain distances from urban areas or buildings. Authorities can pass laws to stop the industry but they are then taken to court.

• Haliburton Loophole: the oil/gas industry is exempt from the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and the EPA does not have control over what is injected into the ground. “Chances of passing laws that remove loopholes are very low while the ways in which we fund our elections remain.”

• Support of New York initiative that resulted in ban on fracking in New York State.

Capitol Hill

U.S. Capitol where we met Congressman Polis’ staff

Meeting 2 was with Congressman Polis’ Aide, Jennifer George-Nichol (the Congressman was not able to meet us but Jennifer knew her stuff). The question we posed was “How does Washington deal with the issue of fracking?”

• Local control issues – cities want to impose local regs on fracking (Colerado, Texas). Push-back in Washington from local controls from some quarters, want to keep nationalised policies

• Health impacts – softer issue with support from President. Issue also tied to climate change.

• Clean energy – policy is to support clean energy. However, subsidies for renewables continue to decrease, subsidies for fossil fuels continue to increase! Result of lobbying.

• US supports ALL countries who want to develop their own energy capacity, from shale to solar. COP21 will be a great opportunity for statements from Congressmen.

Meeting 3 was with Tyson Slocum, Director of Public Citizen Energy Program. He was a real marketing guy and focussed on messages given out by the industry in comparison with the realities. “Facts are increasingly irrelevant in Public rhetoric in U.S.!” Non –commercial advertising does not require facts or the truth – depiction of oil/gas industry as clean and family-friendly. Reality is economic benefits but legacy wastes – re-injected water, flowback, changing landscaped, little financial obligation to sort contamination issues.

Recently bill was proposed to require the release of names of ingredients used in fracking fluid prior to injection. This failed because the industry lobbied hard that this could cause delay. Now still only have to tell after. Industry huge – 9 million barrels of oil is produced PER DAY!

We have to redefine the discourse. Set carbon tax – price and dividend. Set price on Carbon, reinvest into households on per capita basis.

Meeting 4 was with David Livingstone from Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. David enthusiastically dealt with the global geopolitical issues associated with oil and gas.

Shale gas Mechanism – small companies start drilling, big companies buy them over if successful. In the meantime many fail, penalties not too severe, bankruptcy laws not punitive. There’s no mandate to pursue U.S. national policy, only motivation is short-term profit.

Oil is the engine of globalisation. November 2014, fundamental shift in OPEC choice – because of lowering prices (caused by shale), OPEC had choice – lose market share by cutting back on production or keep producing. They targeted market share in order to push our shale. Big game is to keep the world hooked on oil.

New dynamics – cleap oil, U.S. now smaller importer of oil, China biggest, relies on OPEC. U.S. foreign policy towards China now very important. There’s more pressure on China to step into the role of being guarantor of key transit routes for oil. U.S. is beneficiary, no longer the leader.

Shale Gas: Most companies are operating at a loss. Relying on external injection to capital, need more capaital now. Availability of credit is crucial. Credit facilities are linked with the reserves in the oil-fields. Low oil prices lead tio low-priced reserves, which in turn leads to lower credit.

At the end of the day we were very happy to arrive at our B&B in Montrose.  Photo below.

Montrose

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