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Bird’s eye view of a sand mine in Wisconsin. Photo by Ted Auch 2013.

7 Sand Mining Communities, 3 States, 5 Months – Part 1

An Exploration of Sand Mining Impacts: Lasalle County, IL by way of Chicago’s South Side
By Ted Auch, Great Lakes Program Coordinator

When it comes to high-volume hydraulic fracturing (HVHF), frac sand mining may be the most neglected aspect of the industry’s footprint. (HVHF demand on a per-well basis is increasing by 8% per year.)

To capture how this industry is changing several sand mining communities, I recently took a road trip to visit, photograph, and listen to the residents of this country’s primary frac sand areas. In total, I visited 7 sand mining communities in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan.

This multimedia perspective is part of our ongoing effort to map and quantify the effects of silica sand mining on people, agriculture, wildlife, ecosystem services, and watersheds more broadly. Below is my attempt to give the FracTracker community a sense of what residents are hearing, seeing, and saying about the silica sand mining industry writ large.

Chicago’s South Side

Before heading to Illinois’ frac sand epicenter of Lasalle County, I couldn’t help but catch the South Shore Line out of Millennium Station. This station can be seen as you head south to the Hegewisch neighborhood on Chicago’s impoverished South Side, an area of greater Chicago-Gary, Indiana that has largely been forgotten by politicians in both states. Chicago_KCBX_BP

ChicagoLand_Income_Hardship

Figure 1. Average income per capita and Hardship Index (0-100 with 100 being the worst) for Chicago’s neighborhoods with Hegewisch highlighted in the city’s southeast corner.

This situation is a shame because collectively Hegewisch and the city of Whiting, IN are home to one of the largest – and getting larger – collections of oil refineries and oil sands infrastructure in the United States.

For an estimation of how difficult it is to live in various Chicago neighborhoods, see Figure 1, left.

This proliferation has not been without its dangers, including a compressor station explosion at BP PLC’s massive1 Whiting Refinery in August 2014. Unfortunately, that incident was just the latest in a long line of mishaps at this facility. The “operational incident,” as BP called it, rocked already stressed neighborhoods like MarkTown, IN – the aborted company town planned for steel maker Clayton Mark. MarkTown is on the National Register of Historic Places and is an example of a community that is being erased from the face of the earth in the name of Hydrocarbon Industrial Complex expansion. For those interested in architecture preservation, MarkTown’s rapid erasure is being conducted by BP itself and in the process we are losing an example of Conservatively Radical architect Howard Van Doren Shaw’s distinct English-style Tudor homes and urban planning. Residents speculate BP “may be buying up the properties because of concerns about liability.” The company counters they are just trying to create additional green space for residents.

KCBX_BP_POV

NAmerican_Ports_Refineries

Figure 2. Average daily oil refinery production per day across North America’s 152 Oil Refineries along with North American ports.

Luckily for everyone, operations following the aforementioned recent explosion were only “minimally impacted as a result of the incident and the refinery continue[d] to produce products for customers.” However, the more chronic concern is the tight supply-demand relationship between BP’s refinery and their Koch KCBX neighbor. Koch has made repeated headlines – and many neighbors turned enemies including the Southeast Environmental Task Force and its fearless leader Peggy Salazar – with its handling of the refinery’s annual production of 600,000 tons of petcoke a development Chicago Magazine called Mountains of Trouble. Petcoke is a byproduct of the refinery’s increased acceptance and processing of tar sands from Alberta Canada. Levels of production are likely to increase given BP’s completion in November 2014 of a “$4-billion revamp…to boost its intake of Canadian crude oil from 85,000 bpd to 350,000 bpd.”

Given how interconnected the hydrocarbon industry is, I thought it would be worth collecting some photos of the aforementioned infrastructure. When I saw that Koch KCBX’s terminal was also storing large amounts of silica sand, however, the connection between my next target(s) in LaSalle County was made even more obvious.

LaSalle vs. Chicagoland: A Tale of Two Worlds

Lasalle County, Illinois is situated approximately 50-60 miles south-southwest of Chicago. When you try to compare demographics and commerce, however, it is worlds away.

Chicagoland encompasses nearly 10,900 square miles – 9.5 times the area of Lasalle County. While Chicago’s population is expanding by 95,681 people per year, LaSalle’s is shrinking by 2,734 per year (Table 1). Chicagoans, though not South Siders, are making more than two times that of LaSalle County residents (with the latter actually falling nearly $4,700 below the state average). Predictably the demographics of Chicago reflect more and more those of the US, while LaSalle is typical of rural America with a population that is 93% white and only 3.3% foreign born. Thirty-five percent of Chicagoans are likely to achieve a bachelor’s degree, while only 16% of LaSalle County residents are likely to do so. Rates of poverty and more specifically child poverty, on the other hand, are significantly higher in Chicago. Finally, LaSalle is one of the country’s preeminent farming counties; it ranks #4 in the state and #126 nationally thanks to the value of agricultural commodities produced amounting to $448.5 million net of farm subsidies. See Table 1.

La Salle County, IL Silica Sand Mines & St. Peter Sandstone Geology

Figure 3. La Salle County, IL Silica Sand Mines & St. Peter Sandstone Geology

Chicago_Vs_LaSalleCounty_Comparison

Table 1. Chicagoland and LaSalle County, Illinois summary demographics, economic prosperity, and agricultural productivity.

Photos from the Tour

The above contrast was made crystal clear as I traveled down Interstate 80 westbound towards exit 90 and LaSalle’s County seat Ottawa (pop. 18,562). Upon arriving in Ottawa I drove west on Madison Street to the first target of our expedition: U.S. Silica Company’s mine and processing facility at the corner of Madison Boyce Memorial Drive. Upon arriving, however, it became clear that I would not find a suitable location to photograph the company’s mine; the perimeter had been fenced off and mounded up to the tune of 10-15 feet. So I got back in our rental car and drove to the mine’s southern perimeter adjacent to the Bear Den Bar and Grill and the Vine St.-Fern St.-15th Ave. neighborhood where there was clear line of site. It was here that I got some of the best photos of the mine’s scale and scope with respect to land-use, reclamation, and hydrology.

US_Silica_OttawaCo

Below is a sample of some of those images as well as several I took further down Route 34 between U.S. Silica’s active mine and a “reclaimed” Ottawa Silica Co. mine on the banks of the Illinois River.

After snapping several hundred shots of these two mines I headed to the I & M Canal State Trail between Utica and Ottawa emanating out of Buffalo Rock State Park and hiked east towards the Northern edge of U.S. Silica’s mine alongside a CSX railroad and recently constructed spur feeding into the mine’s loading terminal. The hope was that I would get a closer look at the mine but it turned out the angle was different but not better.

From the back of U.S. Silica’s Ottawa mine I traveled approximately 7 miles west to Unimin’s North Utica mine and a short dirt road off of 2803rd Road on the northern edge of the mine.

Unimin_NorthUtica

It was here that I photographed the mine’s reclamation plots, active mine pits, and developing water transport mechanisms. However, more importantly it was from here that I noticed off in the distance a bright red silica sand grain-size separator.

Curiously I did not – but do now – have this nascent and relatively small mine posted on our Frac Sands Mines and Related Facilities map at the time. Upon arriving at this site I found that the mine was owned and operated by a company called Northern White Sand a small mom & pop operation out of Utica, IL.

Unimin_NorthUtica_NorthernWhiteSand

The photos I took of this mine were primarily from atop a vegetated berm to the southwest of the mine’s primary footprint. This vantage point allowed us to get some great shots of the types of infrastructure/equipment typical of this sized mine including the aforementioned modular grain-size separator, conveyor belts, retention ponds, and the pyramid-like piles of powdery white silica sand so desired by the HVHF industry.

Our final stop on the LaSalle County silica sand mine tour landed us in Troy Grove 13 miles north of North Utica by way of Interstate 39. It was here that I visited several vantage points around Technisand’s MBI Manley Bros. silica mine. The expanse included the site’s mixture of old and new processing infrastructure, what appeared to be an alluvial fan derived from sand waste and associated wetland, and the mine’s far reaches alongside a Chicago and North Western Transportation Company (CNW) railroad.

Resident Testimonials

So now that I have outlined my tour of La Salle County I thought it would be helpful to share some of the stories residents told me during my travels and later by way of email.

Anna Mattes – La Salle County, IL

I live in LaSalle County, Illinois where I have prime farmland and Starved Rock State Park… the crown jewel of Illinois. I already have a fine farming industry and plenty of tourism as Starved Rock is visited by two million people annually. LaSalle County already has forty two quarries, gravel pits and sand mines. If I allow anymore the county will look as though it has been bombed. Empty sand pits will never produce food ever again. No amount of reclamation will restore this land to be productive…Each mine uses one million gallons of water daily. The LaSalle County Board has enlisted the USGS to do a hydrology study to determine how much water I have in our aquifer for municipalities and farming. Presently I have a moratorium in place on sand mines thru July 2016 and I hope forever. As a woman, wife and mother I am charged with the continuity of life. It is my job, profession, to raise healthy children, make a healthy breakfast and pack a nutritious lunch for my husband so he can do his job, and it generally falls to women to care for the elderly in families. With out clean air, pure water, healthy food what is the quality of life? Fracking is a dangerous business and I need to take better care of Planet Earth. Please do your part, I’m a Master Gardener and I’m doing my part.

Thomas Skomski – Wedron, IL

I am a resident of Wedron who has been severely impacted by Wedron Silica; and I want to report that there are many more problems associated with the influx of sand mines in LaSalle Co. than named in your recent article. In order to be fair to other residents who will be negatively affected by proximity to any sand mine I believe it is important to inform them and all concerned on the unmentioned problems associated with living near a sand mine. For example: the mountains of sand that are produced migrate everywhere the wind takes the particles. As I all know the winds are frequently fierce in this part of the country. One neighbor describes how in the morning when he sets his coffee cup down on his front porch and goes into his house to get the newspaper that he returns to find a layer of white sand covering his coffee. Another neighbor vacuums the sand off her living room rugs weekly while her husband regularly has to clean out sand-filled gutters. I do know that enabling pollutants on private property is technically criminal trespass. At the last EPA hearing in Wedron a retired mine employee admitted that Wedron Silica uses 100 million gallons of water per hour in sand processing. Some of this water is recycled. Since I have not confirmed those statistics, I prefer sticking to the fact that the mine has reversed the flow of the ground water. Who knows what the unseen consequences of that reversal might be? The toxic plume that Wedron Silica is in part responsible for creating migrates wherever the ground water moves. As a result of the threat of my well being poisoned my land, 23 acres has been devalued by the county to $1.00. All my five buildings are worth 40% of what they were before nine wells were poisoned in Wedron. Those wells were so toxic with benzene that water came out of the faucet orange and you could not breath it let alone use it to wash anything. Wedron Silica has begun buying homes in Wedron which will allow them to pursue their wealth with no concerns- BUT what about the water which I all know is in limited supply and susceptible to being polluted? So in summary, please include the human costs involved in a mine opening near you. My wife and I moved to the country to enjoy the solitude and quiet of living on a farm in our retirement years. The quality of our lives has been diminished, in addition the noise is disturbing; trains come in at all hours incessantly blowing their horns and the semi traffic is constant. Finally, I have heard a lot of what I consider negative criticism about the EPA. Having experienced this monumental problem directly it is perfectly clear to me that without the resources of a pro-environment organization I would be hard pressed to stand up to a corporation with multi billions in assets.

Ashley Williams – LaSalle County, IL

The nickname the “Silica Sand Capital of the World” has quickly transformed into a curse rather than a blessing for the citizens of LaSalle County, IL. Here, the frac sand industry continues to proliferate, endangering the health and safety of the people and local environment. Our precious life vessels: our air, water, and soil are under siege by a nexus of power that seeks to intimidate us into quiet submission, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit by and let that happen.

Footnote

  1. This facility alone processes nearly 2% of all oil in North America on a daily basis. This facility is the seventh-largest refinery in the United States and the largest outside of the Gulf Coast.
Drilling rig in Ohio, December 2015

Ohio Shale Country Listening Project Part 1

Listening Project Partners: CURE, OOC, & FracTracker

The below industry quote divides the world into two camps when it comes to horizontal hydraulic fracturing: those who are for it and those who are against it:

Fracking has emerged as a contentious issue in many communities, and it is important to note that there are only two sides in the debate: those who want our oil and natural resources developed in a safe and responsible way; and those who don’t want our oil and natural gas resources developed at all.
– Energy from Shale (an industry-supported public relations website)

The writer imagines a world in black and white – with a clear demarcation line. In reality, it is not so simple, at least not when talking to the people who actually live in the Ohio towns where fracking is happening. They want the jobs that industry promises, but they worry about the rising costs of housing, food, and fuel that accompany a boomtown economy. They want energy independence, but worry about water contamination. They welcome the opening of new businesses, but lament the constant rumble of semi-trucks down their country roads. They are eager for economic progress, but do not understand why the industry will not hire more locals to do the work.

In short, the situation is complicated and it calls for a comprehensive response from Ohio’s local and state policy makers.

Through hefty campaign contributions and donations to higher learning institutions, the oil and gas industry exerts undue influence on Ohio’s politics and academic institutions. Many media outlets covering the drilling boom also have ties to the industry. Therefore, industry has been able to control the message and the medium. Those who oppose oil and gas in any way are painted as radicals. Indeed, some of Ohio’s most dedicated anti-fracking activists are unwavering in their approach. But most of the people living atop the Utica Shale simply want to live peacefully. Many would be willing to co-exist with the industry if their needs, concerns, and voices were heard.

This project attempts to give these Ohioans a voice and outsiders a more accurate representation about life in the Utica Shale Basin. The report does not engage in the debate about whether or not fracking should occur – but, rather, examines the situation as we currently find it.

Listening Project Summary

The Ohio Shale Country Listening Project is a collaborative effort to solicit, summarize, and share the perspectives and observations of those directly experiencing the shale gas boom in eastern Ohio. The project is led by the Ohio Organizing Collaborative (OOC)’s Communities United for Responsible Energy (CURE), with support from the Ohio Environmental Council (OEC), FracTracker Alliance, and the Laborers Local 809 of Steubenville. Policy Matters Ohio and Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services offered resources and time in drafting the final policy recommendations.

Over the course of six months, organizers from the Laborers Local 809 and OOC worked with a team of nearly 40 volunteers to survey 773 people living in the heart of Utica Shale country. Respondents are from eastern Ohio, ranging from as far north as Portage County to as far south as Monroe County. A small number of respondents hail from across the border in West Virginia and Pennsylvania, but the overwhelming majority are from Carroll (321), Columbiana (230), Jefferson (70), Harrison (30) and Belmont (28) counties.

Respondents were asked to talk about their family and personal history in the community where they live, their favorite things about their community and what changes they have noticed since the arrival of shale gas drilling using horizontal hydraulic fracturing or fracking. They were also asked to describe their feelings about oil and gas development as either positive or negative and what they believed their community would be like once the boom ends. Finally, respondents were also asked how concerned or excited they are about 11 possible outcomes or consequences of fracking.

Summary of Recommendations

  • Create incentives for companies to hire local workers; and increase transparency about who drilling and subcontracting companies are employing
  • Tax the oil and gas industry fairly with a severance tax rate of at least 5%; use this revenue to support affected communities to mitigate the effects of the boom and bust cycle
  • Increase the citizen participation in county decision-making on how additional sales tax or severance tax revenue is spent and how the county deals with the effects of the drilling boom
  • Increase transparency around production and royalties for landowners and the public
  • Set aside funding at the local level for air and water monitoring programs
  • Mitigate noise and emissions as much as possible with mandatory sound barriers and green completion on all fracking wells
  • Create mechanisms to protect sensitive areas from industry activity
  • Levy municipal impact fees to address issues associated with drilling
  • Better protect landowners during leasing negotiation process and from potential loss of income due to property damage

Conclusion

The more shale gas wells a community has, the less popular the oil and gas industry appears to be. Carroll County is the most heavily drilled county in Ohio, and more than half the respondents said they view the drilling boom negatively. Moreover, many residents say they are not experiencing the economic benefits promised by the oil and gas industry. They see rent, cost of gas, and groceries rising as the drilling and pipeline companies hire workers from out of state and sometimes even out of the country. Residents see more sales tax revenue coming into their counties but also see their roads destroyed by large trucks. They say they are experiencing more traffic delays and accidents than ever before. Ohioans love their community’s pastoral nature but are watching as the landscape and cropland get destroyed. As it is playing out now, the boom in shale gas drilling is not fulfilling the promises made by industry. Locals feel less secure and more financially strapped. Many feel their towns will soon be uninhabitable. It is up to state and local governments to hold industry accountable and make it pay for the impacts it creates.

Infrastructure associated with horizontal hydraulic fracturing. Images from Ted Auch and FracTracker’s Oil & Gas Photos Archive:

Inception & Evolution of the Listening Project

The Ohio Shale Country Listening Project started in February 2014 with a conversation between Ohio Organizing Collaborative (OOC) staff and a veteran organizer who once worked on mountain top removal in a large region of West Virginia. The OOC organizer lamented the difficulty of organizing across a large geography around a specific issue – in this case, fracking. How do you find out what the people want without dictating to the community? The more experienced organizer immediately responded: What about a listening project? She connected OOC to the Shalefield Organizing Project in Pennsylvania whose organizers helped OOC think through what a listening project might look like in Ohio.

The project took on several iterations. First, OOC planned to focus the listening project solely on Columbiana County, which at the time was the third most fracked county in Ohio. Next, community leaders in Carroll County, the most heavily drilled county in the state, suggested the project also focus there. Eventually, as it became clear that the shale play was moving further south in Ohio, the project expanded into other counties such as Belmont, Harrison, and Jefferson. While attending a public hearing on pipeline construction in Portage County, OOC staff met an organizer from the Laborers Local 809 out of Steubenville. The organizer expressed interest in joining the project. Meanwhile, OOC had been in discussions with the Ohio Environmental Coalition (OEC) about the need to share the stories of people living in the middle of a fracking boom. OEC agreed to join the project. Finally, FracTracker also came into the fold, eager to assist in analyzing and mapping data gathered during the effort.

ListeningProject_Volunteer

A listening project volunteer surveys a shopper at Rogers Open Air Market

OOC staff solicited the help from about 40 volunteers to form the “Listening Project Team” who surveyed their friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors. Volunteers met four times over the course of six months to discuss the project and strategize about how to reach more people with the survey. Most of the volunteer team came from Columbiana and Carroll Counties. The Laborers Local 809 also distributed the surveys to their members. Members of the team canvassed neighborhoods, attended local festivals, set up a booth at Rogers Open Air Market (photo left) and distributed an online version of the survey through Facebook and email. OOC staff spoke at college classes at Kent State-Salem and Kent State-East Liverpool, and solicited input from students in attendance.

Listening project respondents by location

The project’s initial goal was to hit a target of 1,000 – 1,500 survey responses. In the end the team fell short of this number, but were able to reach 773 people living in the Utica Shale area. This barrier is mostly due to the rural nature of the communities surveyed, which makes it more difficult to reach a large number of people in a short timeframe. The most responses came from Carroll County – 321 surveys. Columbiana County represented the second largest group of respondents with 230 surveys. Seventy people from Jefferson County, 30 people from Harrison County, 28 from Belmont County filled out the survey. The final 80 responses came from Mahoning, Stark, Summit and Tuscarawas Counties. Finally, nearly fifty responses came from Pennsylvania and West Virginia residents who live along the Ohio border (see Figure right). We promised survey respondents that all names and information would be kept confidential with survey responses presented only in aggregate.

Trust vs Uncertainty in Argentine Communities

By Sam Rubright, MPH, CPH – with contributions from Ana Wieman and editing by Cecilia G. Flocco, PhD

While the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is a globally critical issue (link updated in 2018) with significant implications for the oil and gas industry, the same industry encounters on-the-ground challenges in many places where extraction occurs. Argentina is now experiencing those challenges firsthand.

Argentina, South America’s 3rd largest economy, could have 801.5 trillion cubic feet of wet shale gas (more than unproven US reserves), and 27 billion barrels of tight oil.1 Oil and gas companies are excited about the prospects. Argentina has even started to produce its own sand for the hydraulic fracturing process in an attempt to reduce the cost of drilling and attract investors. Already, however, community concerns about environmental health and safety are rising to the surface.

Allen, Argentina

Allen is a city in the Río Negro (“Black River”) province of Argentina, located at the northern edge of the Patagonia region. It is known for its rich fruit production and hosts approximately 27,000 inhabitants as of the most recent census.2,3 Allen is also home to shale oil and gas drilling currently being conducted by Yacimientos Petrolíferos Fiscales (YPF), Argentina’s renationalized energy company.

On July 21, 2015, two separate incidents occurred near Allen. In the first case, a violent decompression at the well4 triggered what was likely a blowout. The spray that resulted caused hydrocarbons to be deposited into a lagoon that flows into the Black River, the province’s namesake and one of the main water sources for the arid Patagonian plateau. Clean up efforts took place immediately, although there was a lack of awareness that a rural community, Calle Ciega #10, lives very close to the drilling activity.5 Less than 24 hours later, Ysur, a YPF contractor, damaged an aqueduct near the town, leaving coastal area residents without drinking water.6

Mirroring community concerns near drilling operations in the US, residents of Calle Ciega #10 have felt the effects ever since the industry came to town; living near such intense industrial activity, they say, has put them all on edge. They worry about everything from cracking foundations, fire and explosions, potential gas leaks, to the heavy truck traffic. Organic farmers are even having trouble selling their produce due to the proximity of oil and gas operations to their fields. The uncertainty of it all is the biggest problem; residents have gone so far as to protest the recent incidents by blocking access to one of wells in the area (EFO 250).7 The neighbors’ concerns were brought to a civil court by Rio Negro province’s Ombudsman, action resulting in ordering environmental impact investigations and in ceasing activities at the well (EFO 280).8

Below you will find some photos from Allen, showing the trucks that transport water for the drilling, a warehouse for sand and ceramics, the well where there were two explosions in recent history, and piping that goes into a neighbor’s yard – Submitted by Ana Wieman:

Trust vs Uncertainty

Argentine communities are fighting a battle between trusting that the industry and government will properly manage oil and gas operations and being left in the dark about public health and safety risks. In addition to the incidents in Allen, a major cyanide spill from a gold mine9 in San Juan province in September (exploited by Canadian Barrick Gold Corp.) has added fuel to public concerns about how Argentine natural resources, as well as the response to incidents and information, are being handled. Inconsistent messages elevate community tensions, leaving a trail of doubt and uncertainty in their wake.

“Vos y yo, bebemos la misma agua.” = “You and I, we drink the same water.”
– Facebook sentiment by Elvio Mendioroz, Argentina


Footnotes and Additional Resources

  1. World Shale Resource Assessments. (2015). US EIA
  2. Rio Negro Province Census (2010)
  3. Geographic coordinates: 38°58′00″S 67°50′00″O
  4. Excavadora dejó dos barrios sin agua (Excavator left two neighborhoods without water). (2015). Rionegro.com.ar
  5. EFO well 280 located between the rural road 11 and Route 22
  6. Escape de petróleo cayó a una laguna en Allen (Escape of oil fell to a lagoon in Allen). (2015). Rionegro.com.ar
  7. Allen: “La vida cambió para peor” alertan vecinos por petrolera (Allen: “Life changed for the worse” Neighbors alert the oil company’s presence). Rionegro.com.ar
  8. La Justicia buscará determinar el posible impacto ambiental del pozo EFO 280. (The Justice will determine the possible environmental impact of well EFO 280). (2015). defensoriarionegro.gov.ar
  9. Cyanide Spill Resources:
    1. Argentina: El cianuro llega al río (Argentina: Cyanide reaches the river). (2015). Biodiversity in Latin America and the Caribbean.
    2. Jáchal y San Juan reclaman la prohibición de la minería a cielo abierto tras el derrame de cianuro en la mina de Barrick Gold (Jáchal and San Juan demand the ban on open pit mining after the cyanide spill at Barrick Gold mine). (2015). lavaca.org.
    3. Por el derrame de cianuro en San Juan, piden incluir los delitos ambientales en el Código Penal (For the cyanide spill in San Juan, they ask to include environmental crimes in the Penal Code). (2015). Cronista.com.
    4. Derrame de Cianuro en San Juan (Cyanide spill in San Juan). (2015). About the cyanide spill in the Veladero mine, San Juan – TV news show
    5. Jáchal, cuando ya nadie te nombre (Jáchal, when no one will say your name – anymore). (2015). De Tierras y de Utopias Viaje Documental – From Lands and Utopies, documentary of the spill in Jáchal that resulted in years of existing water problems
    6. Jorge Lanata’s interview with Simón Ernesto about the spill in Veladero. (2015) by Canal Zeta y Cero, Argentina

Please note: Many of the resources we accessed to write this story, as well as most correspondence, were in Spanish. Please alert Sam to any translation errors: malone@fractracker.org.

Interview with Craig Stevens – Sentinel Award Winner

Kirk Jalbert, FracTracker’s Manager of Community Based Research & Engagement, interviews Craig Stevens, one of FracTracker’s 2015 Community Sentinels Award Winners.

CraigStevens&MarkRuffalo

Craig Stevens (on right) with actor Mark Ruffalo

Craig Stevens is a 6th generation landowner from Silver Lake Township in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. Craig and his neighbors have experienced first-hand the truck traffic, noise, air pollution, and water contamination issues that often accompany shale gas extraction. Beginning in 2011 Craig began arranging tours of Susquehanna Co. to share affected residents’ stories with the press. This work has attracted citizens, journalists, elected officials, and celebrities from all over the world who now see Susquehanna Co. as an example of what could happen in their own backyards. We spoke with Craig about his work.

Q: Perhaps we can start by telling the readers your story, how you come back to Pennsylvania and how this led to your advocacy work related to oil and gas development?

Craig: Well, I was born in California in 1960, lived there for 46 years. Then my dad got sick in 2006; he was diagnosed with terminal esophageal cancer. My brother and sister and I ended up inheriting the ancestral 115-acre property. I had visited there my whole life, every couple of years, but I knew nothing about oil and gas or coal or any extraction methods and pretty much grew up at the beach in Southern California. Nobody in the family wanted to keep the family property, so I moved up here in January of 2010. The first thing I did was to check the deed to make sure that it had been transferred to our names. That’s when I found a gas lease for the property. On my father’s deathbed, he told us not to have anything to do with the industry, that he had refused to sign a lease. But then I did my research and found out Chesapeake Energy had signed my 95 year old grandmother, who was living in a nursing home, to a ten year oil and gas lease. My grandmother was a tenant but did not own the property. In Pennsylvania, and many other states, you can’t transfer mineral rights to anybody that’s a life tenant because that is part of a real estate deal. But they did it, they recorded it on our deed, tying up all of our mineral rights and giving it to Chesapeake Energy.

The second thing that got me fired up was when I was riding my three-wheeler and found a company had staked out a half-mile area right down the middle of our property. They were looking to put in a 16-inch pipeline without our permission or knowledge. So I pulled all the stakes out, went into town, and found the company. They right there offered me money. They said, well, we are going to put this in and we appreciate it if your family signed up, because we need to get this gas to market. After I refused their offer they told me all my neighbors had signed along the route already and I was going to be holding things up. Then they said, the state wants us here and they are going to give us Certificate of Public Convenience, so we are going to take your property either way. So that was my introduction to the gas industry.

Q: You have said in the past that we need to think about how we deal with shale gas extraction’s impacts as a matter of helping each other deal with civil and human rights abuses. Can you explain what you mean by that?

A: I was raised always to think globally, but act locally. Because everything that happens in our lives happens in our backyard and that is where things go. I was very politically active from a young age. My father got us all politically active. My older brother and my younger sister, at 10 years old, 8 years old, we were going to city council meetings and town council and county commission meetings, just because my dad was interested in what was going on in his community. Back then my neighbors in Dimock, PA, were having a problem. So I thought, I better find out what’s happening. Not only help them, because they are having a problem that doesn’t look like it’s resolved, but also to help prevent it from coming to Silver Lake Township. I always try to help people that are having a problem, especially with big people and bullies. So it was natural for me to stand with them and I started to tell my own story at the same time.

The Citizens’ Perspective

Q: Tell me about some of the projects you have been involved in that bring the public into shale gas debates. For instance, I know you organize regular tours of gas fields. Who attends these tours? What do you think they learn from visiting gas communities?

A: We’ve had 40 sitting assembly members and 8 state senators from New York State visit Susquehanna Co. We have had hundreds of mayors and town supervisors and country commissioners come and see first hand from a citizens’ perspective. We have had 60 countries come and send their public television stations. One of our tours was with Sean Lennon, Yoko Ono, Susan Sarandan, Arun Gandhi (Gandhi’s grandson) and Josh Fox. They had 35 journalists with them, including Rolling Stone. When they come we tell these people, also go take an industry tour, so they can see the other side. We encourage it because we don’t want them to think we are just bashing them and that they don’t get to defend themselves. Our thing was, if we highlight what is happening in our little neck of the woods then we could educate by showing the truth and affect the debate. Of course we were attacked viciously by the oil and gas industry, and by Energy in Depth, but also by the local elected officials that were pro-gas.

Q: This obviously requires a community effort. How have people and organizations in the area come together through these actions, and have they been able to develop more power by not just working as individuals?

A: Well here is the interesting thing. When I moved here, there were about 50 people that would show up at public meetings to discuss their first-hand experiences. These were people from Dimock, PA, and other surrounding areas. Besides that, there really was no collective organizing in Northeastern Pennsylvania. But we found that, by telling our stories, we brought the interest of organizations like New Yorkers Against Fracking and Mark Ruffalo’s group, Water Defense. They started to adopt us. I and other families started to travel all over, not only in New York but also in New Jersey and Ohio, to educate people. I realized that I was meant to take these stories further out. I took them to all these State Houses — North Carolina, Florida, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Ohio. In California I was allowed to go and sit with the Governor’s entire Cabinet in his executive office. I was very proud to go there since I grew up in California.

Q: In the bigger picture of protecting our environment, why do you think it’s important for concerned citizens to get involved in these kinds of activities?

A: I have four children who will not live on the same clean planet that I did; as dirty as we thought it was in the ‘60s and ‘70s when I grew up, this is going to make that look like the heyday of environmental cleanliness. I’m doing this because I really believe this is a generational suicide we’re experiencing. By not telling this story, I would be complicit. When people see the gas company’s commercials and hear the radio ads, it sounds like the truth because it’s coming from credible people. By facing up to these giants, and showing people that you can do it and win like in New York, that can start a grassroots fire all around the world. And that has happened if you look at what is happening in England and Poland and Spain and France and Germany. We are proud to be part of that movement.

Q: What would you say is the most valuable insight you have learned from working with people fighting the gas industry?

A: The most valuable lesson for me is that people power trumps corporate power. People sometimes just don’t realize that they have an inner strength – that an average person who knew nothing about this five and a half or six years ago can get involved and become leaders. I’m more excited today than ever. I went to Florida. They have some very bad chemical non-disclosure bills. Right now we have 15 counties and 35 cities in Florida that have passed resolutions for bans of fracking for oil or gas in Florida. Maryland is safe until October of 2017 because of their moratorium. So what we are doing is working. I try to remind people, and everyone out there should know this, that you are a federal citizen, the same you are a citizen of the state or Commonwealth or republic that you live in. You are protected constitutionally and legally as a federal taxpayer. So the federal government can’t just throw us to the wolves of these individual states. They have to act. If they don’t, then they need to step down and let somebody get in there that has the health and safety of their citizens at the top of their list of what they are supposed to be doing every day in their position of power.

 

 

Florida resolutions against oil drilling

Florida resolutions opposing unconventional oil drilling

By Karen Edelstein, Eastern Program Coordinator

Florida, where there has long been an interest in drilling for oil, has recently come into the cross-hairs for unconventional extraction several miles beneath the state. Oil drilling has had spotty and elusive success in the Sunshine State, but new technologies like hydraulic fracturing – fracking – could potentially provide access to those energy resources. Currently, Florida is in a gray zone, however, with no clear regulatory authority over unconventional drilling, but no clear mandate to prevent it either.

History

Florida well. Source: www.naplesnews.com

Dan Hughes well adjacent to Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge Source: www.naplesnews.com

In 2014, fracking came to the forefront when the Florida Department of Environmental Protection disclosed that in 2013, the Dan A. Hughes Company filed for a permit to use unconventional drilling techniques to rework an existing conventional well in Naples without a thorough review of the plans by regulators, and fracked the well later that year. As a result, the permit was revoked. Hughes had leases on 115,000 acres of land for additional wells, much of which was in environmentally sensitive areas of the Florida Everglades, bordering the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge and Big Cypress National Preserve. After legal pressure from the State of Florida, as well as environmental groups Preserve our Paradise, the Stone Crab Alliance, and South Florida Wildlands Association, the company abandoned their plans for drilling in the area. FracTracker covered this story in a previous blog entry.

A plan to regulate fracking in Florida was unveiled in November 2014. A slate of regulations was drafted by the Orange County League of Women Voters and students in the Environmental and Earth Clinic at Barry Law School, and drew upon examples from 14 states that had already grappled with the issue. While this plan specifies how, when, and where fracking may occur in Florida, it also leaves open the option for communities to ban the practice within its bounds altogether. Democratic Senators Darren DeSoto and Dwight Bulland introduced a bill (SB 166) in the 2015 legislative session that would ban fracking entirely, but they also emphasized the need for rules to be in place governing the practice, were that ban to be overturned. That bill did not advance beyond the Senate’s Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee, but was reintroduced in August 2015, with additional components that would also prohibit well stimulation.

In April 2015, two bills were presented on the floor of the State Senate and House of representatives: one to create regulations on the practice of fracking (SB 1468), and another that would permit non-disclosure of fracking chemicals by industry (SB 1582). Both bills passed in committee in April 2015, and are set to move on to further consideration by the full House and Senate.

In late April 2015, a bill (HB 1205) passed in the Florida House that would allow fracking to continue, but would put a moratorium on the practice until a study and regulations were in place. HB 1209, would also have exempted industry from disclosure of fracking chemicals. Because the Senate did not take up discussion on either bill and due to an early adjournment of the House, however, neither the Senate nor the House moved ahead on either bill during the 2015 Legislative session.

Using a similar strategy to New York State, which successfully banned high volume hydraulic fracturing for gas in June 2015, dozens of communities across Florida have taken to passing resolutions against unconventional drilling within their municipal bounds. The resolutions cite concerns about water quality, habitat protection, and impacts on endangered species that may result from this technology that aims to extra oil from rock layers more than 14,000 feet below the surface.

In July 2015, the Bonita Springs, Florida (Lee County) took their resolution one step further; the city council unanimously approved a ban on fracking within the city limits. Collier Resources, owner of thousands of acres of land within Bonita Springs, vigorously objected, and threatened lawsuits against the city’s decision. The company is predicting that the ban will be overturned by statewide legislation that permits fracking to occur. Meanwhile, Estero Village, also in Lee County, plans to take up legislation for a similar ban this month, with a vote expected on December 16th, 2015.

On the cusp of this vote, the concerns of dozens of communities across Florida have been registered in local resolutions opposing hydraulic fracturing within their municipal boundaries. Meanwhile, bills that would remove the rights of local municipalities to regulate fracking (HB 191 and SB 318) are also proceeding through legislative channels and will be taken up by the Florida State Legislature when it reconvenes in January 2016.

Florida Resolutions Map

This map shows the locations of those communities, most recently updated November 2016. Click here for a full-screen view with map legend.

Community activists in Estero Village are in a race against time to pass this ban; opposing legislation is before the Florida State Legislature that would make it so that only the state, not municipalities, can exercise authority over oil exploration.

The 2016 legislative session will present many important debates and votes on this important issue.

Sources

Frac

Interview with Dorina Hippauf – Sentinel Award Winner

Kirk Jalbert, FracTracker’s Manager of Community Based Research & Engagement, interviews Dorina Hippauf, one of FracTracker’s 2015 Community Sentinels Award Winners.

dorina_hippauf

Dorina Hippauf is the Chair of the Research Committee for the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition (GDAC) of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, and a contributing member of the Shale Justice Coalition. When a landman came knocking on her door in 2010, offering riches in exchange for a gas lease, Dory took the old saying of “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t” to heart. This was the starting point that led to her dedicated exploration of the industry’s practices and the creation of the Shale Players project, which now contains over 10,000 entries of who is connected to who in the industry. Dorina is one of three recipients of the 2015 FracTracker Community Sentinels Award. Here we talk with Dory about her work to connect the dots between board rooms, lobbyists, PR firms, astroturf organizations, and government agencies that promote the agendas of the gas industry.

 

Q: Dorina, perhaps we can begin by your telling me a bit about what brought you to advocacy work related to oil and gas development?

Dorina: What got me into the whole issue of gas drilling was, one, when I was driving to work, I would see flares on hillsides and I didn’t really understand what was going on.  You know, there were big, large flames and my first thought was, something is on fire. Then I realized that from the way it was flaming, it was contained. But I still didn’t know what was going on. And then we had a land man come knock on our door and start offering us a lease. And we only have three quarters of an acre. Originally he was offering $1,000 an acre and when we said we only have three quarters of an acre, he dropped the price to $750. Everything just didn’t sound right. So I started doing some online investigating. I came across the GDAC, which is a local grassroots group in our area. I started attending meetings and I got involved from there.

The big driller here that was signing everybody up was Encana, which is of course based out of Canada. They did three test wells in our area. All three came up dry. Basically we are right at the edge of the productive end of the Marcellus Shale. Encana, shortly after they finished up the last test well, released everybody from their leases and left town in 2011. But I remained active with GDAC because I realized they have to get the gas to market. We’re located along the Transcontinental Pipeline, an ideal place for them to connect to gas hubs for gathering lines. So I knew the whole issue of gas drilling wasn’t going to be over with just Encana leaving our area.

 

The Shale Players Project

Q: I know that one of the projects that you were instrumental in founding was the Shale Players project. Tell me more about that project, how it began, and what its status is presently?

A: I was at a GDAC meeting and somebody was talking about Encana and the question was asked, who is Encana? So I started Googling them and getting some information and this lead to other connections and I realized that just jotting things down on a piece of paper wasn’t going to give the whole picture. A lot of these companies are all interconnected one way or the other. I created this spreadsheet that grew into the Shale Players project. I have lists of the executives that work at these companies, the Board of Directors, politicians that are connected to them, other front groups, trade agencies, Astroturf, PR firms, and lobbying groups. It has grown to over 10,000 entries now.

Dorina explains Shale Players in her video “Connecting the Dots”

Q: How have you disseminated your findings and what are some of the results that you have seen come from this research?

A: Anyone who wants it, I give it to them. It’s also online on Google Docs. What I hope to do eventually is find someone that is able to put this into a format so it’s searchable online. So that when you type in somebody’s name or a company, it shows all of those connections. I update the online version every three or four months. As for what we’ve done with the results, the Public Accountability Initiative used it when they did their expose on Pennsylvania and gas drilling. Walter Brasch also cited a lot of my work in his book Fracking Pennsylvania. Other groups are using it because they go looking for information on a company that they may be dealing with.

Q: You also do a fair amount of blogging too, correct?

A: Yes, my blog is Frackorporation. When I blog, I usually try to show the connections to the genealogy of some of these organizations to give people a better idea of who they are really dealing with. So many people are looking for a single villain to blame. But it’s all interconnected. And that’s what I’m trying to show people, that this is more than just drilling and fracking and dealing with one company, it also extends to the whole issue of lobbying, the citizen united decision, and with unlimited donations to candidates. A lot of money gets passed around. Alec is involved, the Koch brothers are involved. A lot of big names.

 

 

We’re in for the long haul

Q: How do you think your work has made a difference in the public’s understanding of the political and economic landscape of the gas industry?

A: Well, to some extent, it discourages people because they see how large and involved it is. But on the other hand, it also makes them angry and they realize that you have to deal with this issue on a lot of different levels, both in terms of environmental impact, getting the community involved, and that its important to get involved politically. Also, it helps them to determine who to contact if they want to write a letter to a company. Too often we will just send it to the spokesperson who is just reading a script, but that is not whose attention you want to get. Also, the shareholders, they often don’t realize what the company is really doing. If you own one share of a company, you can go to their meetings and make a lot of noise.

Q: So this really is about building community and not just about collecting data. This relates to another project you are involved in called the Shale Justice Coalition. Can you tell me more about the Coalition?

A: The Shale Justice Coalition is a coalition of grassroots groups. Our overall objective is to stop the practice of fracking and to promote alternative energy as a better option. We have members in four or five in the states now as well as some from England and Ireland. Lots of information gets passed around as a result of the coalition — things that are going on in Ohio that we may not know about, things that are going on in New York — we try to share the information, get people interested and make them more aware of the bigger picture of the industry. Many of these groups will get a hold of me personally and ask me to write up a blog post about what is going on in their area. The media is not paying attention. With the Seneca Lake gas storage project there was some emails that were uncovered where Crestwood was telling its employees to boycott all businesses in the towns surrounding the lake that opposed the storage facility. Local groups had tried to get it to reporters who put it on the back burner and didn’t follow-up. I blogged about it, then it got picked up on social media, then the papers finally picked it up. Yeah, I mean, sometimes you have to rattle the cages.

 

 

Q: How has this work changed your perspective on the role of making information and data available to the public, in terms of making for better environmental protection?

A: It’s important to get this information out there, to make it readily accessible, easy for people to find and to use. I always thought when I first started this, that I could find one website where I could do a search on companies specifically for fracking and gas and oil drilling. But there wasn’t any. So in a way, with the Shale Players project, I’ve had to fill that niche. Also, a lot of the information I tend to find online I don’t know where they got their information. I take great pains to make sure whatever I put out there has the source link to it, so people can go and look for it themselves.

Q: So what is next for you Dory? What kind of new projects are you planning?

A: At the moment we are fighting the pipelines. I’ve been going around doing presentations at the request of organizations. Talking about what is going on with FERC and how the FERC process works. Letting people know what they need to be aware of the easement agreements and that they do have to negotiate. Just saying “no” to the easement and taking it to the point of imminent domain, if that is the course the company takes, isn’t enough. You have to show good faith and some attempt at negotiating an easement. Otherwise, when you go before the judge, he’s going to side with the company. Unfortunately, I think with these pipelines, unless we get more action from people, these pipelines are going to go through.

 

 

Q: Is there anything that you would communicate to other people and groups that are trying to get off the ground to deal with issues related to oil and gas?

A: Yes. One of the biggest things I keep hearing from people is that, when we have meetings or presentations or newspaper articles or whatever, we are only preaching to the choir. But what these groups have to realize is that the choir is growing. Every pipeline and every gas well sparks a new group of concerned people. So, the choir is growing and people are listening. It does get discouraging. It feels like you are losing at Whack-a-Mole. You are not going to get your cookies right now. And there is no one magic bullet that is going to fix everything. You have to deal with FERC, you have to deal with DEP, you have to deal with the government agencies that are involved. You have to consider who your legislators are. And you just can’t get discouraged. Take a break, stay off the computer for a week, recharge your batteries, and get back into it. You are in it for the long haul and you have to be able to make that commitment.

Q: Do you have any concluding thoughts for our readers?

A: People need to get local and be vocal. Tip O’Neil said, all politics are local and that is where it’s going to start. It’s like that movie, Groundswell. That’s grassroots. It starts from the bottom up to make real change. You can’t look at the federal government to fix it for you and the state government isn’t going to fix it either. You have to start locally and building the momentum there. And don’t give up.

Volunteers counting trucks supplying a new well pad in PA

3 Community ‘Sentinels’ Honored with FracTracker’s Environmental Stewardship Award

By Brook Lenker, Executive Director

In my earlier conservation work, I was always inspired by the activities of certain volunteers. Whether it was a guy who touched the lives of scores of kids through his outings and mentorship or a watershed maven who was the queen of planting and restoration, there are people who go above and beyond to make a difference, help others, and heal the planet. Some call them saints, others call them stewards, but whatever you call them they deserve our praise.

In this spirit, FracTracker Alliance created an award – in partnership with the Halt the Harm Network – to honor three ‘sentinels’ amongst the thousands of volunteers across the United States working in their communities and cherished places to observe, measure, document and report impacts caused by activities of the oil and gas industry. In the complex universe around these issues, volunteers fill regulatory gaps in oversight and do extraordinary things. Everyday insights from citizens lead to the discovery of problems unnoticed or ignored, to enforcement and remediation, and to new perspectives and initiatives for environmental protection. Whether mapping or monitoring, capturing photos or video, a sentinel is someone watching tirelessly, caring boldly – an indispensable ally in informing science, understanding, and action.

Community Sentinel Nominations

The nomination process launched in July and closed on August 17th, with 27 nominations received from around the country but especially the Northeast. The nominee lineup was a tour de force:

  • Ling Tsou, United for Action – New York, NY
  • Craig Stevens, Food & Water Watch, NYAF, PAF and other organizations – Herndon, VA
  • Diane Sipe, Marcellus Outreach Butler – Evans City, PA
  • Therese Vick, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League – Raleigh, NC
  • Vera Scroggins – Brackney, PA
  • Jim Rosenberg, Fayette Marcellus Watch – Grindstone, PA
  • Kel Pickens, Stop Fracking Payne County – Stillwater, OK
  • Dick Martin, Pennsylvania Forest Coalition – Boiling Springs, PA
  • Leatra Harper, Freshwater Accountability Project – Grand Rapids, OH
  • Michael Fitzgerald, The Finger Lakes Times and Subject2Change Media – Watkins Glen, NY
  • Dory Hippauf, Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition – Dallas, PA
  • Frank Finan, Breathe Easy Susquehanna County – Hop Bottom, PA
  • Karen Edelstein, FracTracker Alliance – Lansing, NY
  • Dana Dolney, Friends of the Harmed – Pittsburgh, PA
  • John Detwiler, Marcellus Protest – Pittsburgh, PA
  • Malinda Clatterbuck, Martic Soul – Holtwood, PA
  • Anne Marie Garti, Stop the (UN) Constitutional Pipeline – East Meredith, NY

An esteemed panel of judges carefully considered the outstanding choices without pause to geography. Judges included:

  • Paul Feezel – Chair, Carroll Concerned Citizens
  • Julie Weatherington-Rice – Senior Scientist, Bennett & Williams
  • Jennifer Krill – Executive Director, Earthworks
  • Francisco “Paco” Ollervides – Leadership Development Manager, River Network
  • Ben Stout – Professor of Biology, Wheeling Jesuit University & FracTracker Alliance Board of Directors
  • Phil Pritchard – Retired, Nature Conservancy et al  & FracTracker Alliance Board of Directors

Award Recipients

In the end, in what were admitted to be very difficult decisions, three winners were chosen.

Dory Hippauf, Therese Vick, and Craig Stevens became the first recipients of the Community Sentinel Awards for Environmental Stewardship. Let’s make the ground shake with seismic applause! In the weeks to come, FracTracker plans to highlight each of these conservation heroes, sharing their experiences and inspiring others.

The Community Sentinels will be duly recognized at a FracTracker Film Night event in Mechanicsburg, PA on Saturday evening, September 12 where they will receive very special artisan-made awards fit for proud display. If you can, please join us for this celebration.

[ticket sales closed]

I’m gratified for the chance to meet and honor these dedicated individuals and lift up the names of all the nominees. I also appreciate the time and thoughtfulness of the nominators who presented such worthy candidates. While this was the inaugural year for the Sentinel Awards, we intend to give them annually and continue to affirm the good performed by good people in communities near and far.

Proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline route

An urgent need? Atlantic Coast Pipeline Discussion and Map

By Karen Edelstein, Eastern Program Coordinator

This article was originally posted on 10 July 2015, and then updated on 22 January 2016 and 16 February 2016.

Proposed Pipeline to Funnel Marcellus Gas South

In early fall 2014, Dominion Energy proposed a $5 billion pipeline project, designed provide “clean-burning gas supplies to growing markets in Virginia and North Carolina.” Originally named the “Southeast Reliability Project,” the proposed pipeline would have a 42-inch diameter in West Virginia and Virginia. It would narrow to 36 inches in North Carolina, and narrow again to 20 inches in the portion that would extend to the coast at Hampton Roads. Moving 1.5 billion cubic feet per day of gas, with a maximum allowable operating pressure of 1440 psig (pounds per square inch gage), the pipeline would be designed for larger customers (such as manufacturers and power generators) or local gas distributors supplying homes and businesses to tap into the pipeline along the route, making the pipeline a prime mover for development along its path.

The project was renamed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) when a coalition of four major US energy companies—Dominion (45% ownership), Duke Energy (40%), Piedmont Natural Gas (15%), and AGL Resources (5%)— proposed a joint venture in building and co-owning the pipeline. Since then, over 100 energy companies, economic developers, labor unions, manufacturers, and civic groups have joined the new Energy Sure Coalition, supporting the ACP. The coalition asserts that the pipeline is essential because the demand for fuel for power generation is predicted more than triple over the next 20 years. Their website touts the pipeline as a “Path to Cleaner Energy,” and suggests that the project will generate significant tax revenue for Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia.

Map of Proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline


View map fullscreen – including legend and measurement tools.

Development Background

Lew Ebert, president of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, optimistically commented:

Having the ability to bring low-cost, affordable, predictable energy to a part of the state that’s desperately in need of it is a big deal. The opportunity to bring a new kind of energy to a part of the state that has really struggled over decades is a real economic plus.

Unlike older pipelines, which were designed to move oil and gas from the Gulf Coast refineries northward to meet energy demands there, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline would tap the Marcellus Shale Formation in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania and send it south to fuel power generation stations and residential customers. Dominion characterizes the need for natural gas in these parts of the country as “urgent,” and that there is no better supplier than these “four homegrown companies” that have been economic forces in the state for many years.

In addition to the 550 miles of proposed pipeline for this project, three compressor stations are also planned. One would be at the beginning of the pipeline in West Virginia, a second midway in County Virginia, and the third near the Virginia-North Carolina state line.  The compressor stations are located along the proposed pipeline, adjacent to the Transcontinental Pipeline, which stretches more than 1,800 miles from Pennsylvania and the New York City Area to locations along the Gulf of Mexico, as far south as Brownsville, TX.

In mid-May 2015, in order to avoid requesting Congressional approval to locate the pipeline over National Park Service lands, Dominion proposed rerouting two sections of the pipeline, combining the impact zones on both the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail into a single location along the border of Nelson and Augusta Counties, VA. National Forest Service land does not require as strict of approvals as would construction on National Park Service lands. Dominion noted that over 80% of the pipeline route has already been surveyed.

Opposition to the Pipeline on Many Fronts

The path of the proposed pipeline crosses topography that is well known for its karst geology feature—underground caverns that are continuous with groundwater supplies. Environmentalists have been vocal in their concern that were part of the pipeline to rupture, groundwater contamination, along with impacts to wildlife could be extensive. In Nelson County, VA, alone, 70% of the property owners in the path of the proposed pipeline have refused Dominion access for survey, asserting that Dominion has been unresponsive to their concerns about environmental and cultural impacts of the project.

On the grassroots front, 38 conservation and environmental groups in Virginia and West Virginia have combined efforts to oppose the ACP. The group, called the Allegany-Blue Ridge Alliance (ABRA), cites among its primary concerns the ecologically-sensitive habitats the proposed pipeline would cross, including over 49.5 miles of the George Washington and Monongahela State Forests in Virginia and West Virginia. The “alternative” version of the pipeline route would traverse 62.7 miles of the same State Forests. Scenic routes, including the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Scenic Trail would also be impacted. In addition, it would pose negative impacts on many rural communities but not offset these impacts with any longer-term economic benefits. ABRA is urging for a programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) to assess the full impact of the pipeline, and also evaluate “all reasonable, less damaging” alternatives. Importantly, ABRA is urging for a review that explores the cumulative impacts off all pipeline infrastructure projects in the area, especially in light of the increasing availability of clean energy alternatives.

Environmental and political opposition to the pipeline has been strong, especially in western Virginia. Friends of Nelson, based in Nelson County, VA, has taken issue with the impacts posed by the 150-foot-wide easement necessary for the pipeline, as well as the shortage of Department of Environmental Quality staff that would be necessary to oversee a project of this magnitude.

Do gas reserves justify this project?

Dominion, an informational flyer, put forward an interesting argument about why gas pipelines are a more environmentally desirable alternative to green energy:

If all of the natural gas that would flow through the Atlantic Coast Pipeline is used to generate electricity, the 1.5 billion cubic feet per day (bcf/d) would yield approximately 190,500 megawatt-hours per day (mwh/d) of electricity. The pipeline, once operational, would affect approximately 4,600 acres of land. To generate that much electricity with wind turbines, utilities would need approximately 46,500 wind turbines on approximately 476,000 acres of land. To generate that much electricity with solar farms, utilities would need approximately 1.7 million acres of land dedicated to solar power generation.

Nonetheless, researchers, as well as environmental groups, have questioned whether the logic is sound, given production in both the Marcellus and Utica Formations is dropping off in recent assessments.

Both Nature, in their article Natural Gas: The Fracking Fallacy, and Post Carbon Institute, in their paper Drilling Deeper, took a critical look at several of the current production scenarios for the Marcellus Shale offered by EIA and University of Texas Bureau of Economic Geology (UT/BEG). All estimates show a decline in production over current levels. The University of Texas report, authored by petroleum geologists, is considerably less optimistic than what has been suggested by the Energy Information Administration (EIA), and imply that the oil and gas bubble is likely to soon burst.

Natural Gas Production Projections for Marcellus Shale

Natural Gas Production Projections for Marcellus Shale

David Hughes, author of the Drilling Deeper report, summarized some of his findings on Marcellus productivity:

  • Field decline averages 32% per year without drilling, requiring about 1,000 wells per year in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to offset.
  • Core counties occupy a relatively small proportion of the total play area and are the current focus of drilling.
  • Average well productivity in most counties is increasing as operators apply better technology and focus drilling on sweet spots.
  • Production in the “most likely” drilling rate case is likely to peak by 2018 at 25% above the levels in mid-2014 and will cumulatively produce the quantity that the Energy Information Administration (EIA) projected through 2040. However, production levels will be higher in early years and lower in later years than the EIA projected, which is critical information for ongoing infrastructure development plans.
  • The EIA overestimates Marcellus production by between 6% and 18%, for its Natural Gas Weekly and Drilling Productivity reports, respectively.
  • Five out of more than 70 counties account for two-thirds of production. Eighty-five percent of production is from Pennsylvania, 15% from West Virginia and very small amounts from Ohio and New York. (The EIA has published maps of the depth, thickness and distribution of the Marcellus shale, which are helpful in understanding the variability of the play.)
  • The increase in well productivity over time reported in Drilling Deeper has now peaked in several of the top counties and is declining. This means that better technology is no longer increasing average well productivity in these counties, a result of either drilling in poorer locations and/or well interference resulting in one well cannibalizing another well’s recoverable gas. This declining well productivity is significant, yet expected, as top counties become saturated with wells and will degrade the economics which have allowed operators to sell into Appalachian gas hubs at a significant discount to Henry hub gas prices.
  • The backlog of wells awaiting completion (aka “fracklog”) was reduced from nearly a thousand wells in early 2012 to very few in mid-2013, but has increased to more than 500 in late 2014. This means there is a cushion of wells waiting on completion which can maintain or increase overall play production as they are connected, even if the rig count drops further.
  • Current drilling rates are sufficient to keep Marcellus production growing on track for its projected 2018 peak (“most likely” case in Drilling Deeper).

Post Carbon Institute estimates that Marcellus predictions overstate actual production by 45-142%. Regardless of the model we consider, production starts to drop off within a year or two after the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline would go into operation. This downward trend leads to some serious questions about whether moving ahead with the assumption of three-fold demand for gas along the Carolina coast should prompt some larger planning questions, and whether the availability of recoverable Marcellus gas over the next twenty years, as well as the environmental impacts of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, justify its construction.

Next steps

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, will make a final approval on the pipeline route later in the summer of 2015, with a final decision on the pipeline construction itself expected by fall 2016.

UPDATE #1: On January 19, 2016, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that the United States Forest Service had rejected the pipeline, due to the impact its route would have on habitats of sensitive animal species living in the two National Forests it is proposed to traverse.

UPDATE #2: On February 12, 2016, Dominion Pipeline Company released a new map showing an alternative route to the one recently rejected by the United States Forest Service a month earlier. Stridently condemned by the Dominion Pipeline Monitoring Coalition as an “irresponsible undertaking”, the new route would not only cross terrain the Dominion had previously rejected as too hazardous for pipeline construction, it would–in avoiding a path through Cheat and Shenandoah Mountains–impact terrain known for its ecologically sensitive karst topography, and pose grave risks to water quality and soil erosion.

Mess is near Stone Lantz pad, WV. - Photo by Bill Hughes

Stream Crossings – Oil and water don’t mix

By Bill Hughes, WV Community Liaison, FracTracker Alliance

West Virginia has generously allowed the shale gas industry to occupy parts of our private land (for profit), namely the Lewis Wetzel Wildlife Management Area (LWWMA). This area is known for 13,500 acres of slopes, trails and forests, providing its inhabitants with great opportunities to hunt, fish, hike and camp.

The state of West Virginia does not own the mineral rights for the LWWMA, and the citizens of West Virginia can only manage so much; therefore, it is the responsibility of the Department of Natural Resources, on behalf of all WV citizens, to care for and manage public lands like LWWMA. With much surprise, the DNR has not only allowed oil and gas occupation of LWWMA, but has not been permitted to impose any regulation, supervision, or any other type of state-initiated enforcements. This approach is primarily due to the lack — or absence of inspectors in the Office of Oil and Gas — division of the Department of Environmental Protection. Often the inspectors that are available are simply playing catch up since the industry and market made some unexpected changes, according to DEP spokeswoman, Kathy Cosco.

Where is the reclamation?

I have been of the impression that once drilling and fracturing is done and the wells are put into production, that some form of reclamation must occur. To my dismay, no part of the drilling industry has taken responsibility for stream crossings, and clearly has no intention in doing so. Everybody has ostensibly packed their bags and gone home, leaving a mess of abandoned stream crossings behind. It is very apparent that no improvements will be done voluntarily by the companies that have created all the well pads in the area. Now the question remains: are we stuck with the stream crossings the way they are now? Or can the state order that these abandoned, inadequate stream crossings be removed?

How Not to Do Stream Crossings

The four photos below depict the deplorable, unacceptable, and disgraceful conditions of the stream crossings left behind by the drilling industry. The DNR and the State of WV have known about these conditions for years, yet have not required that any improvements to be made. Click on each poor stream crossing image to enlarge it:

Near Dry Ridge, API 47-103-02433. All of the water is flowing around the pipes.

Near Dry Ridge, WV. API 47-103-02433

Near Sees Run at Buffalo Run, WV

Near Sees Run at Buffalo Run, WV

Stone Energy well pad on Buffalo Run near Lantz Farm and LWWMA

Stone Energy well pad on Buffalo Run near Lantz Farm & LWWMA

Mess is near Stone Lantz pad, WV

Stream crossing mess near Stone Lantz pad, WV

These examples might be why some folks are more than just a little incredulous when the DNR said that it was going to lease public lands under the river for drillers to take advantage of, promising and assuring that they protect the Ohio River from any drilling-related problems. If the DNR cannot handle the size of the stream water flow, or find a better way to enforce responsible behavior from the drillers, then the Ohio River and the citizens of West Virginia are surely in trouble.

In Need of Higher Standards

The picture below is a depiction of a good stream crossing, installed by someone other than a drilling company. Is there any hope that we will ever expect drillers to do this quality of reclamation to the places we cherish and call home? From an enforcement standpoint, it is clear that these actions will not be voluntary. West Virginia’s DEP has several divisions that focus on land reclamation, environmental remediation and land restoration; however, all of these encourage voluntary action, something we don’t expect to see from drilling companies in the near future.

Buffalo Run crossing going to the William WGGS compressor station. This is what all the permanent stream crossings should look like.

Buffalo Run crossing going to the William WGGS compressor station. This is what all the permanent stream crossings should look like.

A Bird’s Eye View of Pipeline Oppositions

By Samantha Malone, FracTracker Alliance

New York State is not the only area where opposition to fracking and its related activities is emerging. A 108-mile proposed PennEast pipeline between Wilkes-Barre, PA and Mercer County, New Jersey is facing municipal movements against its construction, as well. The 36-inch diameter pipeline will likely carry 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. According to some sources, this proposed pipeline is the only one in NJ that is not in compliance with the state’s standard of co-locating new pipelines with an existing right-of-way.1

PennEast Pipeline Oppositions

Below is a dynamic, clickable map of said opposition by FracTracker’s Karen Edelstein, as well as documentation associated with each municipality’s current stance:


Click here to view map and legend fullscreen.

Additional Projects and Pushback

In Ohio, many communities are working on similar projects to prevent over 40,000 miles of proposed pipelines according to recent news reports.

And in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, municipalities are working to ban, reroute, or regulate heavily the Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline (opposition map shown below):

MA Opposition Map

Northeast Energy Direct Proposed Pipeline Paths and Opposition Resolutions in MA & NH

Why is this conversation important?

Participation in government is a beneficial practice for citizens and helps to inform our regulatory agencies on what people want and need. This surge in opposition against oil and gas activity such as pipelines or well pads near schools highlights a broader question, however:

If not pipelines, what is the least risky form of oil and gas transportation?

Oil and gas-related products are typically transported in one of four ways: Truck, Train, Barge, or Pipeline.

Truck-Spill

Drilling mud spill from truck accident

Megantic-Train

Lac-Mégantic oil train derailment

Barge-Sand

Using a barge to transport frac sand

Pipeline-Construction

Gas pipeline construction in PA forest

Trucks are arguably the most risky and environmentally costly form of transport, with spills and wrecks documented in many communities. Because most of these well pads are being built in remote areas, truck transport is not likely to disappear anytime soon, however.

Transport by rail is another popular method, albeit strewn with incidents. Several, major oil train explosions and derailments, such as the Lac-Mégantic disaster in 2013, have brought this issue to the public’s attention recently.

Moving oil and gas products by barge is a different mode that has been received with some public concern. While the chance of an incident occurring could be lower than by rail or truck, using barges to move oil and gas products still has its own risks; if a barge fails, millions of people’s drinking water could potentially be put at risk, as highlighted by the 2014 Elk River chemical spill in WV.

So we are left with pipelines – the often-preferred transport mechanism by industry. Pipelines, too, bring with them explosion and leak potential, but at a smaller level according to some sources.2 Property rights, forest loss and fragmentation, sediment discharge into waterways,  and the potential introduction of invasive species are but a few examples of the other concerns related to pipeline construction. Alas, none of the modes of transport are without risks or controversy.

Footnotes

  1. Colocation refers to the practice of constructing two projects – such as pipelines – in close proximity to each other. Colocation typically reduces the amount of land and resources that are needed.
  2. While some cite pipelines as relatively safe, incidents do occur quite often: ~1.6 incidents per day.