A collection of 37 organizations, at least six of which are directly or indirectly funded by the Park Foundation, have developed a program to generate comments on New York State DEC’s proposed new regulations on hydraulic fracturing. It’s called 30 Days of Fracking Regulations and is an exercise in soapbox scaremongering – a silly one.
There is always a serious question as to whether one is wise to draw attention to the moves of opponents. It can simply provide more exposure for them to make their arguments, after all, and many avoid doing so for that reason. We don’t generally adhere to that philosophy, preferring instead to debunk the poor arguments with facts. Moreover, when the opposition is making wild claims offending all sense of reason, it only makes sense to put them out front as examples of error. Such is the case with the “30 Days of Fracking Regulations” campaign intended to encourage comments on New York State DEC’s proposed new natural gas regulations.
This campaign, heavily encouraged by Josh Fox and his Park Foundation funded Gasland initiative (see page 11), has a website where various aspects of the regulations are discussed, accusations are made and suggested comments to DEC are then offered. That, in itself, is a good technique, if one has the facts to offer, but what we see instead is a series of undocumented assertions, claims and speculation that doesn’t begin to offer meaningful comment usable by anyone. Additionally, Fox is using his Facebook page to promote the website with daily posters taking public discourse to new lows on each publication.
Let’s look at some of these posters and associated claims:
A Seismic Shift from One Argument to Another
This one (to the left) is intended to demagogue the natural gas issue with residents of the Big Apple, for example. The message accompanying the image is as follows:
What’s wrong with today’s reg? EVERYTHING: An inadequate protection on a sacred watershed, unequal protections between upstate and downstate, and old leaky aqueducts that can be fracked around or under, risking catastrophic collapse. These are just other FRACKING PROBLEMS.
This appeal to fear is combined with a link to the 30 Days of Fracking Regulations website page for the day, which cites the proposed DEC regulations and proceeds to outline a basis for comments. It’s well-written, but engages in a much more subtle form of demagoguery. It is suggests, for example, two lines of attack; one for downstaters and one for upstaters. If you’re a downstater you are supposed to allege the prohibition of natural gas development in the New York City water supply reservoir watersheds or within 4,000 feet of them (the watershed, not just the reservoir) is wholly inadequate and threatens disaster. If you’re an upstater, though, you’re told to raise the issue of why New York City is protected and you’re not. The dichotomy in this line of reasoning seems not to have occurred to these folks.
They are, of course, trying to say hydraulic fracturing shouldn’t be permitted anywhere and no DEC standard will meet their standard. Still, when you admit New York City is getting eight times as much of setback as deemed necessary scientifically in, not only the rest of New York State, but virtually anywhere else in the U.S. and then complain about it being inadequate, you don’t come off especially well. You look downright silly, in fact.
What’s interesting about this page and every page of the website is that it never provides a link to the full regulations. The authors only pull out selected parts to make their case, such as it is. That’s convenient, because Section 750-3.5(c)(1) states the following:
the top of the target fracture zone, at any point along any part of the proposed length of the wellbore, for HVHF must be deeper than 2,000 feet below the ground surface and must be deeper than 1,000 feet below the base of a known freshwater supply
This means any fracturing taking place within 4,000 feet of any reservoir watershed or near water supply infrastructure outside the watershed will also take place a little less than one-half mile below the surface. We know given the depth of the Marcellus Shale in productive areas, this distance is, as a practical matter, almost certain to exceed a full mile. There is simply no geophysical basis for concluding there’s a threat to New York City’s water supply system (see our earlier piece on this subject), yet we get a specter of doom from Fox and company.
Science Is A Matter of Investigation, Not Resolution
The December 18 edition of 30 Days of Fracking Regulation included a resolution from the well-regarded Basset Healthcare Network stating the following:
We hereby resolve that the hydrofracking method of gas drilling constitutes an unacceptable threat to the health of our patients, and should be prohibited until such time as it is proven to be safe. We resolve as well that the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency over all such activities should be restored.
This was trumpeted as evidence of health impacts, but the resolution included not one fact or piece of supporting evidence, just a declaration Bassett willed itself to believe. The institution simultaneously made statements that were demonstrably not true, beginning with the notion EPA ever regulated hydraulic fracturing. It didn’t. Likewise, Bassett’s contention “contamination of ground water … has already been demonstrated in numerous locales with similar geology, such as Pennsylvania” is untrue. There is no instance in Pennsylvania or or elsewhere in the U.S. where groundwater has been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing.
Nevertheless, this is all beside the point. The real issue is this; science is a matter of investigation, not the resolution of some political or institutional entity. It’s also worth noting the New York Times, reveals the New York State Department of Health has actually investigated and assembled a report indicating hydraulic fracturing can be done safely. That report states the following in fact (in separate sections with emphasis added):
By implementing the proposed mitigation measures included in the Supplemental GElS, the Department expects that human chemical exposures during normal HVHF operations will be prevented or reduced below levels of significant health concern. Thus, significant adverse impacts on human health are not expected from routine HVHF operations. When spills or accidents occur, the Department has identified numerous additional mitigation measures, including emergency-response planning, setbacks and buffers, so that significant exposures to people and resources on which they rely are unlikely.
Existing and proposed mitigation measures designed to minimize and human health impacts from exposure to NORM are identified and discussed in detail in section 7.7 [of the SGEIS]. With those measures in place, potential significant adverse impacts on human health from NORM exposure are unlikely.
With the proposed mitigation measures in place, human exposure levels to HVHF-related air contaminants would be reduced below established health-based standards or guidelines.
So, this Bassett can howl at the moon all it wants and pass all the resolutions it wants, but the Department of Health, after reviewing the science, says hydraulic fracturing is safe. And, it didn’t take a vote to decide the science. It investigated.
No More Burbling, Please!
When we saw a reference to “fracking fluid that continues to burble up from the hole after the well is attached to a pipeline and is producing gas” in yesterday’s edition of 30 Days of Fracking Regulations, we pulled a dictionary to learn more about the word “burble” and here’s what we found (emphasis added):
1. To speak at length but with little meaning or purpose.
2. Said of a stream, etc: to make a bubbling murmuring sound.
3. To say something in a way that is hard to understand, especially very quickly or incoherently.
While we realized the author of that post intended something along the lines of No. 2, as it wasn’t quite the right word, it did strike us that No. 1 and No. 3 almost perfectly describe the post, the series and much of what we see coming from the natural gas opposition as a whole. This post, in particular, is a rambling, incoherent complaint that implies natural gas operators just dump stuff wherever they’d like and the analogy with pizza deliveries is hardly compelling.
Once again, however, it is the big point that is being lost in this burbling diatribe, for the flowback and produced water isn’t being dumped at all, given today’s technology and best management practices. It isn’t being injected underground as waste either. Nor is it being treated and discharged into streams. No, it’s being recycled, after some treatment, to fracture new wells. Several companies are either at or near recycling 100% of their hydraulic fracturing water, reducing draws on fresh water sources and mitigating other impacts as well. This story, of course, doesn’t fit the natural gas opposition template of scare, baby, scare so it gets little attention from the likes of the Catskill Mountainkeeper or other Park funded entities intent on keeping upstate New York available on the cheap for purchase by their wealthy patrons. But, it happens to be truth, which, in the end, typically prevails over silliness.
Want to See Something Really Scary?
The same sort of observations can be drawn regarding each and every one of the regulation posts and posters associated with this campaign. It is a shallow set of arguments that generally consist of throwing up a bunch of baseless accusations and fears around the citation of some particular feature of the proposed DEC regulations. There is no real analysis; just a lot of scaremongering. There’s something a lot more scary than this, though. It’s the death of upstate New York from lack of economic lifeblood. The Southern Tier and Western New York are slowly dying unless something is done to revive the economy. The answer stands before everyone willing to see it. It’s natural gas development and we know it can be done safely. Will Governor Cuomo allow residents to seize this opportunity? Or, will he force them to face something really scary, like economic collapse?