For the Environmental Justice Listening Tour

PA DEP Environmental Justice Listening Tour

A Guide to Current EJ Rules and Potential Changes

by Kirk Jalbert, Manager of Community-Based Research & Engagement, FracTracker Alliance
and Veronica Coptis, Executive Director, Center for Coalfield Justice

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will be hosting a nine-stop “listening tour” to hear residents’ perspectives on environmental justice (EJ). These sessions begin in the western part of the state on April 12th and 13th. The complete list of dates and locations of these meetings can be found here. The DEP will also be accepting written comments, which can be either mailed or emailed to DEP-OEJ@pa.gov.

The EJ listening tour follows on the heels of events in May 2016, when environmental advocacy groups questioned the well pad siting practices of oil and gas drilling company Range Resources, causing the DEP to announce it would revisit its EJ policies. Such changes would include reassessing how EJ zones are designated and what kinds of development triggers additional scrutiny by the DEP’s Office of Environmental Justice. We wrote about this story, and detailed how present EJ rules fail to account for oil and gas development in June 2016.

The following guide is meant to provide helpful information to residents in preparing for the listening tour. We first offer a summary of PA’s present EJ policies, followed by a commentary on what gaps we believe exist in those policies, and conclude with some reflections on EJ policies in other U.S. states and what we might learn from them in reassessing our own state’s EJ laws.

Listening Sessions Format

Each environmental justice listening tour will include opening remarks from Acting Secretary McDonnell, followed by a brief presentation from the Office of Environmental Justice, and then will open to receive testimony from the public. Verbal testimony is limited to 3 minutes for each witness. Organizations are asked to designate one witness to present testimony on their behalf. Verbal comments will be recorded by a court stenographer, and transcripts will be made available to the public at a later date.

The DEP Office of Environmental Justice has offered a set of eight questions to guide comments in the listening tour sessions. They are as follows:

  1. What environmental justice concerns are most pressing in your community?
  2. Do you feel that the current definition of an environmental justice community (20% poverty and/or 30% minority) properly represents the needs of your community and the Commonwealth at large?
  3. Do you feel the DEP is engaged with marginalized communities to ensure that they have a voice in the decision making process? How can the DEP be more engaged with these communities?
  4. What tools have you used to find out information on DEP permitting/enforcement actions?
  5. What ways can the DEP be more effective at sharing information with the public?
  6. How can the DEP be more effective at receiving public input?
  7. What resource(s) is your community lacking that the DEP can provide that would assist in efforts to ensure environmental equity?
  8. What additional steps can be taken by the Department to effectively reach out to these vulnerable communities to ensure that their concerns are taken into consideration?

Summary of Existing EJ Policies

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, environmental justice is “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” This same definition is used by the DEP.

In 2004, the DEP codified this EJ definition in the Environmental Justice Public Participation Policy. EJ designations are defined by the DEP as any census tract where 20% or more of the population lives in poverty and/or 30% or more of the population identifies as a minority. Designations are based on the U.S. Census Bureau and by the federal poverty guidelines.

Below is a map of current EJ designated census tracts in PA that also shows the counties where listening tour sessions will be held. When zoomed in to regional scale, EJ areas can be clicked to see their current poverty and minority percentages. The locations of oil and gas wells and permits are also visible at the regional scale.

Map of current EJ areas (based on 2015 census data) shown in teal, with listening tour counties outlined in red

View map fullscreenHow FracTracker maps work

Of note in the 2004 policy are the kinds of permits that trigger a potential EJ review – specifically: industrial wastewater facilities, air permits for new major source of hazardous air pollution, waste permits for landfills and incinerators, coal mining permits and coal refuse facilities, and/or concentrated animal feeding operations. The policy also allows for review of “opt-in permits” the DEP believes warrant special consideration, but we have found no evidence to suggest that this option has been historically used.

When a project triggers EJ review, the DEP “strongly encourages” the applicant meets with community stakeholders prior to submitting their permit, with the idea that additional public outreach makes project details more apparent. The applicant is also encouraged to produce “plain language” information sheets, online and in print form, regarding the proposed activity.

Issues with Existing PA EJ Policies

A complete list of what may occur when a project triggers EJ review can be found here. The following table is a breakdown of where we see deficiencies in PA EJ policies that need to be addressed:

Existing Policy Issue Possible Solutions
EJ Definition
EJ areas defined by 20% poverty/30% minority indicators.EJ ensures meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income.
Many communities are just outside poverty/minority thresholds, or are spread across multiple census tracts experiencing concentrated industrial activities.

Disproportionate exist due to other factors besides poverty and race.

DEP should go beyond the census tracts, as well as account for other factors such as the “working poor”, homeownership rates, assisted school lunches rate, disability and elderly populations, and language barriers.

Reviews should factor in “cumulative impacts” of more developing relative to existing industrial burdens.

Regardless of “age and gender” should be added to EJ protection language.

Trigger Permits
Limited kinds of “trigger” permit types are listed in the Public Participation Policy as eligible for EJ review.
Permits outside of these categories are also degrading the communities and being targeted to environmental justice communities. Oil and gas extractions, pipelines, and other infrastructure are not currently considered trigger permits but are impacting many environmental justice areas. DEP should oil and gas permits to the trigger list. All permits, even of seemingly lesser severity, should trigger review to see if they contribute to cumulative impacts to already burdened community.
Permit Notifications
DEP program staff must notify the Office of EJ when a permit “trigger” EJ review and report the details of the proposed activity.
Currently not all DEP program staff are alerting the EJ office of trigger permits, and many are not education on EJ policies. More training and funding needs to be allocated to make sure that trigger permits are not overlooked or mishandled.
Public Education
Requiring the distribution of “plain language” information sheets regarding the proposed activity and permit conditions. Public notices are to be placed in widely read publications in print and online.
Does not always happen or the information produced is inadequately written or poorly distributed. Public notices are put in the legal sections of paper, often initial meetings are not even publicly noticed if the company is the only one organizing the meeting. Enforce this requirement and include real infographics as much as possible. Consult with local community groups to determine what communication tools work best.

Publish additional notice outside of newspaper in widely read publications, flyers in local businesses, community centers, and church bulletins. Require applicants to do direct mailing.

Updated the “eFacts notification system to include more information and send email notices to interested parties when updates in non-technical language.

Applicant Public Meetings
DEP “strongly suggests” applicants meet with all stakeholders, before applying for permit, as well as throughout the permitting process.
Not all stakeholders are being brought into conversations and often DEP allows the applicant to decide who these people should be. Applicants are often not transparent about their plans. Meetings do not occur at all stages of the process. It should not be up to the applicant to control the process and do outreach. DEP should ensure that all interested parties are engaged in the permitting process.

Meeting should be held during the entire permitting process. This should be required, not “strongly suggested.” A meeting should occur after a permit is administratively complete and again after technical review is done but before a decision is made. Many changes happened during technical review and this gives communities the opportunity to weigh in on the final project and understand its timeline.

DEP should always participate in these meetings and make themselves available to answer questions from the community.

DEP Public Meetings
DEP holds an informal public conference within 30 days of receiving the application to inform residents of EJ area designation and the nature of project.
These meetings frequently are not able to answer people questions and residents are told to wait for additional information. The format of these meetings do not allow for dialogue, which prevents the community from learning from each other. The DEP needs to hold the informal public conferences in discussion formats so residents can ask questions together and receive answers in person, not just take notes and tell residents they will receive a written response. DEP staff responsible for reviewing the proposal must be present at the meetings to answer questions.
Public Comments
DEP accepts comments from EJ communities.
These comments are often not taken into consideration, or given very little weight during the permitting process. Instead, the comments are merely noted for the record. Create a formal process for integrating comments from community experts who are often best able to provide information about how a project will impact their community.
DEP Availability
DEP will maintain presence and be availability to residents throughout permitting process.
DEP staff are available during public meetings but are otherwise unavailable until there is a permit decision.

Inadequate continuing public oversight of how EJ policies are administered across the state.

Actively provide updates on the permitting process and changes to the application. The burden should not be on an EJ community to stay up date on the permit, but should be the DEP and applicant’s responsibility.

DEP staff responsible for reviewing the proposal must be available to the community to answer questions. DEP should also prioritize filling its regional Environmental Advocate staff positions currently vacant in many of its districts.

Convert the DEP Citizen Environmental Justice Advisory Board (EJAB) to a full committee, with the power to oversee EJ permits under review and influence state EJ policies. Hold quarterly EJAB meetings in different DEP regions on a rotating basis.

Reflections on other states’ EJ policies

States that use poverty and race indicators differently:

  • Connecticut: Uses income below 200% of the federal poverty level (“working poor”).
  • Illinois: indicates low-income and/or minority population as being “greater than twice the statewide average.”
  • Massachusetts: Defines by census “block group” rather than census tract, which can identify pocket EJ areas that might be lost in larger census tracts.
  • Texas: For income indicator, uses census block group and income below 200% of the federal poverty level.

States that go beyond poverty and race indicators:

  • California: Considers existing disproportionate environmental burden. Also, demographics include “low levels of homeownership, high rent burden…or low levels of educational attainment.”
  • Connecticut: includes a “distressed community” indicator, defined as whether it is eligible for HUD grants, or experienced layoffs/tax loss due to a major plant closing.
  • Georgia: includes language for elderly and disabled populations “The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) encourages the involvement of people with disabilities in the development and improvement of transportation and paratransit plans and services.”
  • Massachusetts: Uses linguistic isolation, defined as “25% or more of households having no one over the age of 14 who speaks English only, or very well.”
  • New Jersey: Communities can file a petition to be recognized as a vulnerable.

Example of better public participation affordances:

  • New Jersey: When a community is designated EJ, a task force is formed to develop a unique “Action Plan” after consultation with residents, local, and county government, that will address environmental, social and economic factors affecting their health or environment. This task force monitors Action Plan implementation, and advises development projects to reduce impacts.

Conclusions

Environmental justice rules came into existence in order to deal with the burdens of large polluting facilities like landfills, incinerators, and coal mines. Race and poverty measures are, without question, two very important indicators that have provided for the fair treatment of people of all races, income, and cultures in these instances. However, if we are to properly assess how residents are disproportionately impacted across a range of environmental burdens in the state, other indicators of marginalization should be included. The Center for Coalfield Justice suggests a few in a report titled Community Indicators of Environmental Justice: A Baseline Report Focusing on Greene and Washington Counties, Pennsylvania.

Fair treatment in EJ communities should also mean offering mechanisms for meaningful input that allow residents to shape the ultimate direction of proposed projects, as well. Finally, current EJ policies are very limited in only addressing future projects, whereas issues such as how disadvantaged communities, struggling with legacy problems such water, air, and soil pollution, are left to other agencies to deal with.

We encourage residents of Pennsylvania to attend an environmental justice listening tour session to share their perspectives, and how the DEP can better fulfill its mandates to protect vulnerable communities.


Photo: Clairton Coke Works, by Mark Dixon, Blue Lens, LLC.

The Dakota Access Pipeline: An Uncertain Future

By Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance
Eliza Czolowski, Program Associate, PSE Healthy Energy

 

Since April 2016, demonstrators in North Dakota have been protesting a section of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) being built by Dakota Access LLC, a construction subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners LP. The proposed pipeline passes just 1.5 miles north of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Lands, where it is planned to cross Lake Oahe, the largest Army Corps of Engineers reservoir created on the Missouri River. The tribe argues that the project will not only threaten their environmental and economic well-being, but will also cut through land that is sacred.

Given how quickly circumstances have changed on the ground, we have received numerous requests to post an overview on the issue. This article examines the technical aspects of the DAPL proposal and details the current status of protests at Standing Rock. It includes a discussion of what the Army Corps’ recent denial of DAPL’s permits means for the project as well as looks towards the impacts of incoming Trump administration. We have also created the below map to contextualize DAPL and protest activities that have occurred at Standing Rock.

Standing Rock Protest Map


View map fullscreen | How FracTracker maps work

Background

DAPL is a $3.78 billion dollar project that was initially slated for completion on January 1, 2017. The DAPL is a joint venture of Phillips 66, Sunoco Logistics, and other smaller fossil fuel companies including Marathon Petroleum Corporation, and Enbridge Energy Partners. Numerous banks and investment firms are supporting the project and financing the related infrastructure growth, including Citi Bank, JP Morgan Chase, HSBC, PNC, Community Trust, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, ING, Tokyo-Mitsubishi, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, SunTrust, Us Bank, UBS, Compass and others.

Its route travels from Northwestern North Dakota, south of Bismarck, and crosses the waterway made up of the Missouri River and Lake Oahe just upriver of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Area. From North Dakota the pipeline continues 1,172 miles to an oil tank farm in Pakota, Illinois. DAPL would carry 470,000 barrels per day (75,000 m3/d) of Bakken crude oil with a maximum capacity up to 570,000 barrels per day. That’s the CO2 equivalent of 30 average sized coal fired power plants.

As documented by the NY Times map, in addition to the Missouri River and Lake Oahe, the pipeline crosses 22 other waterways that also require the pipeline to be drilled deep under these bodies of water. But Standing Rock portion is the only section disputed and as of yet unfinished. Now the pipeline project, known by the protesters as “the black snake,” is over 95% complete, despite having no official easement to cross the body of water created by the Missouri River and Lake Oahe. The easement is required for any domestic pipeline to cross a major waterway and because the land on either side of the Army Corps Lake Oahe project is managed by the Army Corps (shown in the protest map). An easement would allow Dakota Access LLC to drill a tunnel for the pipeline under the federally owned lands, including the lake and river.

Safety & Environmental Racism

Proponents of the project tout the opinion that pipelines are the safest method of moving oil large distances. Trucking oil in tankers on highways has the highest accident and spill rates, whereas moving oil by railways presents a major explosive hazard when incidents do occur. Pipeline spills are therefore considered the “safe” alternative. On November 11, Kelcy Warren was interviewed on CBS News, claiming Dakota Access, LLC takes every precaution to reduce leaks and that the likelihood of a leak is highly unlikely. The problem with comparing the risk for each of these transportation methods is that rates of incidence are the only comparison. The resulting hazard and impact is ignored. When pipelines rupture, they present a much larger hazard than trucks and trains. Large volumes of spilled oil result in much greater water and soil contamination.

We know that pipelines do rupture, and quite often. An analysis by the U.S. DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in 2012 shows that there have been 201 major incidents (with volumes over 1,000 gallons) related to liquid leaks in the U.S. over the last ten years that were reported to the Department of Transportation. The “average” pipeline therefore has a 57% probability of experiencing a major leak, with consequences over the $1 million range, in a ten-year period. FracTracker’s recent analysis of PHMSA data shows the systemic issue of pipeline spills: there have been 4,215 pipeline spill incidents just since 2010 resulting in 100 reported fatalities, 470 injuries, and property damage exceeding $3.4 billion! The recent (December 12) spill of 176,000 gallons of crude oil into a stream just 150 miles from the Standing Rock protest site highlights the Tribes’ concerns.

A previously proposed route for the DAPL would have put Bismarck—a city that is 92% white—just downriver of its Missouri River crossing. This initial route was rejected due to its potential threat to Bismarck’s water supply, according to the Army Corps. In addition to being located upriver of Bismarck’s water intake, the route would have been 11 miles longer and would have passed through “wellhead source water protection” areas that are avoided to protect municipal water supply wells. Passing through this “high consequence area” would have required further actions and additional safety measures on the part of Dakota Access LLC. The route would also have been more difficult to stay at least 500 feet away from homes, as required by the North Dakota Public Service Commission. The route was changed and pushed as close to Sioux County as possible, the location of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.

Protests: The Water Protectors

The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe has taken an active stance against Bakken Oil Development in the past. In 2007, the Reservation passed a resolution to prevent any oil and gas development or pipelines on the Tribal Lands. However, deep concerns about the safety of DAPL led protesters to begin demonstrations at Standing Rock in April, 2016. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe then sued the Army Corps in July, after the pipeline was granted most of the final permits over objections of three other federal agencies. Construction of it, they say, will “destroy our burial sites, prayer sites and culturally significant artifacts.” A timeline of The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s litigation addressing DAPL through this period can be found on the EARTHJUSTICE website.

Photo by Derrick Broze

Photo by Derrick Broze/cc

In August, a group organized on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation called ReZpect Our Water brought a petition to the Army Corps in Washington, D.C. stating that DAPL interferes with their ancestral land and water rights. The Tribe sued for an injunction citing the endangerment of water and soil, cultural resources, and the improper use of eminent domain. The suit argued that the pipeline presents a risk to Sioux Tribe communities who live near or downstream of the pipeline. The Missouri River is the main water source for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. In September, members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota finally made headlines.

Federal Injunction

On September 9, District Judge James Boasberg denied the Standing Rock Sioux Tribes preliminary injunction request to prevent the Army Corps from granting the easement. The Judge ordered Dakota Access to stop work only on the section of pipeline nearest the Missouri river until the Army Corps granted the crossing easement. The excavation of Standing Rock burial grounds and other sacred sites, where direct action demonstrators were clashing with Dakota Access security and guard dogs, was allowed to continue. Later that same day, a joint statement was released by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Army:

“We request that the pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity within 20 miles east or west of Lake Oahe.”

In the map above the 20-mile buffer zone is shown in light green. Regardless of the request from the three federal agencies to pause construction, Dakota Access’s parent company Energy Transfer Partners LP ignored requests to voluntarily halt construction. Dakota Access LLC has also disregarded the instructions of the federal judge. The Army Corps declared Dakota Access LLC would not receive the easement required to cross the waterway until after 2016, but that has not stopped the company from pushing forward without the necessary permits. The pipeline has been built across all of Cannonball Ranch right up to Lake Oahe and the Missouri River, which can be seen in the map above and in drone footage taken November 2, 2016 showing the well pad for the drill rig has been built.

On November 4 the Army Corps requested Dakota Access LLC voluntarily halt construction for 30 days; then on November 8 (Election Day), Dakota Access ignored the request and announced they would begin horizontally drilling under the waterway within weeks. On November 14 Dakota Access filed a lawsuit against the Army Corps arguing that permits are not legally required. Later that day, the Army Corps responded with a statement that said any construction on or under Corps land bordering Lake Oahe cannot occur because the Army has not made a final decision on whether to grant an easement. In the issued statement, Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy said “in light of the history of the Great Sioux Nation’s dispossession of lands [and] the importance of Lake Oahe to the Tribe,” the Standing Rock Sioux tribe would be consulted to help develop a timetable for future construction plans. The Army Corps has since denied the easement entirely.

Violence Against Protesters

Law enforcement has used physical violence to disrupt demonstrations on public lands and to prevent direct action activities as protesters aim to shut down construction on private land held by Energy Transfer Partners LP. Since September 4, law enforcement agencies led by the Morton County Sheriff’s Department have maintained jurisdiction over the protests. Officers from other counties and states have also been brought in to assist. Morton County and the State of North Dakota do not have the jurisdiction to evict protesters from the camps located on Army Corps land. Well over 500 activists have been arrested.

The majority of clashes with law enforcement have occurred on the roadways exiting the Army Corps lands, or at the access points to the privately owned Cannonball Ranch (shown on the map). Morton County has spent more than $8 million keeping direct action protesters from shutting down excavation and construction activities along the path of the pipeline. Meanwhile, the state of North Dakota has spent over $10 million on additional law enforcement officials to provide assistance to Morton County.

DAPL protests from in-depth documentations at: https://vimeo.com/189249968

DAPL protests from video by UnicornRiot/cc

The first violent confrontation occurred on September 3 after Dakota Access bulldozed an area of Cannonball Ranch identified by the Tribe as a sacred site hosting burial grounds. At that time, the site was actively being contested in court and rulings still had not been made. The Tribe was seeking a restraining order, known as a “preliminary injunction” to protect their cultural heritage. Direct action demonstrators put themselves in the way of bulldozers to stop the destructive construction. In response, Dakota Access LLC security personnel assaulted protesters with pepper spray and attack dogs. The encounter was documented by Democracy Now reporter Amy Goodman.

October 27, the Morton County Sheriff’s Department reinforced with 300 police from neighboring counties and states, raided the frontline camp site making mass arrests. In response, demonstrators reinforced a blockade of the 1806 bridge, shown in the map above. The most violent clash was witnessed on public lands on November 20, 2016 at this bridge, which demarcates Army Corps land. The Police forces’ use of “non-lethal” bean bag rounds, rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray, water hoses, LRAD, and explosive flash grenades on peaceful demonstrators has been criticized by many groups. Fire hoses were used on protesters in freezing conditions resulting in dozens of demonstrators needing treatment for hypothermia. In total 300 people were injured according to a release from the standing rock medic and healer council.

Most recently, the Army Corps has targeted the Standing Rock Demonstration by determining that it is no longer safe to stay at the Sacred Stone and Oceti Sakowin camps located on Army Corps property. North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple has frequently blasted the Army Corps for not removing the protesters.

As of December 5th, federal authorities consider the protesters to be trespassing on federal lands, leaving protesters vulnerable to various citations and possible arrest. The Army Corps has also said that emergency services may no longer be provided in the evacuation area. The Army Corps has jurisdiction on Army Corps lands, and only federal authorities can remove the protesters from federal lands. There are now more than 5,000 activists demonstrating at Standing Rock, and an additional 2,000 U.S. veterans joined the protest this past week for an action of solidarity. Nevertheless, U.S. authorities have said that there are no plans to forcibly remove activists, despite telling them to leave.

Victory and an Uncertain Future

Perhaps as a result of this mass outcry, the Army Corps announced on December 4th—only a day before trespassing claims would be imposed—that Dakota Access LLC’s permit application to cross under the Missouri River and Lake Oahe had been denied. Jo-Ellen Darcy, the Army’s Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, announced:

“Although we have had continuing discussion and exchanges of new information with the Standing Rock Sioux and Dakota Access, it’s clear that there’s more work to do…The best way to complete that work responsibly and expeditiously is to explore alternate routes for the pipeline crossing.”

To determine alternate routes, the Army Corps has announced it will undertake an environmental impact statement which could take years to complete. While this is a major victory for the “water protectors” demonstrating at Standing Rock, it is not a complete victory. Following the Army Corps’ announcement, the two main pipeline investors, Energy Transfer Partners LP and Sunoco Logistics, responded that they:

“…are fully committed to ensuring that this vital project is brought to completion and fully expect to complete construction of the pipeline without any additional rerouting in and around Lake Oahe. Nothing this Administration has done today changes that in any way.”

In fact, prior to the Army Corps denying the easement, numerous democrats in congress called for President Obama to shut down the pipeline. While President Obama has not heeded these calls to shut down the project entirely, he also has not given the green light for the project either. Instead the President stated that the situation needed to be handled carefully and urged the Army Corps to consider rerouting the pipeline. “We’re monitoring this closely and I think, as a general rule, my view is that there’s a way for us to accommodate sacred lands of Native Americans…. I think right now the Army Corps is examining whether there are ways to reroute this pipeline,” the President said.

trump keystone

The Corps decision to conduct a lengthy environmental impact statement is encouraging but, ultimately, the Trump administration may have the final say on the DAPL easement. President-elect Trump has voiced support for the easement in the past, and on December 5th, just one day following the Army Corps’ decision, Trump spokesman Jason Miller commented:

“That’s something we support construction of, and we will review the full situation in the White House and make an appropriate determination at that time.”

Energy Transfer Partners LP CEO Kelcy Warren donated $103,000 to the Trump campaign and the President-elect has investments in Energy Transfer Partners LP totaling up to $1 million according to campaign financial disclosures. President-elect Trump has made it clear that pipeline projects, specifically the Keystone Access Pipeline rejected by President Obama, will be allowed to move forward along with additional fossil fuel extraction projects.

If the construction company, Dakota Access LLC, continues building the pipeline they are liable to be fined. It is not yet clear whether Dakota Access LLC will “eat” the fine to continue building and drilling, or whether the Army Corps will forcefully stop DAPL. Analysts say the expense of changing the route, such as to the south of the tribal lands, would make the economics of the pipeline a total loss. It is cheaper for Dakota Access LLC to continue to fight the protest despite overwhelming disapproval of the project.

Meanwhile, protestors have refused to leave Standing Rock in fear that the Army Corp will reverse its decision and allow DAPL to proceed, despite requests by the chairman of the Sioux Tribe that demonstrators go home. Many are hopeful that, by stalling the project past January 1st—the deadline by which Energy Transfer Partners LP promised oil companies it would complete construction—the possibility exists that contracts will expire and DAPL loses support from investors.

Other Mapping Resources

This web map shows the current construction progress of the pipeline.

The New York Times website is hosting a map focusing on the many water crossings of the pipeline route.

The Guardian has a static map on their website similar to our interactive map.

Header photograph by Joe Brusky/flickr/cc

Mariner East 2: At-Risk Schools and Populations

by Kirk Jalbert, Manager of Community-Based Research & Engagement
with technical assistance from Seth Kovnant

 

In September, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) rejected a number of permits for wetland crossings and sedimentation control that were required for Sunoco Pipeline’s proposed “Mariner East 2” pipeline. According to Sunoco, the proposed Mariner East 2 is a $2.5 billion, 350-mile-long pipeline that would be one of the largest pipeline construction projects in Pennsylvania’s history.

If built, Mariner East 2 could transport up to 450,000 barrels (18,900,000 gallons) per day of propane, ethane, butane, and other liquefied hydrocarbons from the shale fields of western Pennsylvania to export terminals in Marcus Hook, located just outside Philadelphia. A second proposed pipeline, if constructed, could carry an additional 250,000 barrels (10,500,000 gallons) per day of these same materials. Sunoco submitted revised permit applications to PADEP on Tuesday, December 6th.

The industry often refers to ethane, propane and butane collectively as “natural gas liquids.” They are classified by the federal government as “hazardous, highly volatile liquids,” but that terminology is also misleading. These materials, which have not been transported through densely populated southeast Pennsylvania previously, are liquid only at very high pressure or extremely cold temperatures. At the normal atmospheric conditions experienced outside the pipeline, these materials volatilize into gas which is colorless; odorless; an asphyxiation hazard; heavier than air; and extremely flammable of explosive. This gas can travel downhill and downwind for long distances while remaining combustible. It can collect (and remain for long periods of time) in low-lying areas; and things as ordinary as a cell phone, a doorbell or a light switch are capable of providing an ignition source.

Many who have followed the proposed Mariner East 2 project note that, while much has been written about the likely environmental impacts, insufficient investigation has been conducted into safety risks to those who live, work and attend schools in the proposed pipeline’s path. We address these risks in this article, and, in doing so, emphasize the importance of regulatory agencies allowing public comments on the project’s resubmitted permit applications.

The Inherent Risks of Artificially Liquified Gas

Resident of Pennsylvania do not need to look far for examples of how pipeline accidents pose serious risk. For instance, the 2015 explosion of the Enterprise ATEX (Appalachia to Texas) pipeline near Follansbee, WV, provides a depiction of what a Mariner East 2 pipeline failure could look like. This 20-inch diameter pipeline carrying liquid ethane is similar in many ways to the proposed Mariner East 2. When it ruptured in rural West Virginia, close to the Pennsylvania border, it caused damage in an area that extended 2,000 feet—about ½ square mile—from the place where the pipeline failed.

In another recent instance, the Spectra Energy Texas Eastern methane natural gas pipeline ruptured in Salem, PA, this April as a result of corroded welding. The explosion, seen above (photo by PA NPR State Impact), completely destroyed a house 200ft. away. Another house, 800ft. away, sustained major damage and its owner received 3rd degree burns. These incidents are not unique. FracTracker’s recent analysis found that there have been 4,215 pipeline incidents nation-wide since 2010, resulting in 100 reported fatalities, 470 injuries, and property damage exceeding $3.4 billion (“incident” is an industry term meaning “a pipeline failure or inadvertent release of its contents.” It does not necessarily connote “a minor event”).

Calculating Immediate Ignition Impact Zones

It is difficult to predict the blast radius for materials like ethane, propane and butane. Methane, while highly flammable or explosive, is lighter than air and so tends to disperse upon release into the atmosphere. Highly volatile liquids like ethane, propane and butane, on the other hand, tend to concentrate close to the ground and to spread laterally downwind. A large, dispersed vapor cloud of these materials may quickly spread great distances, even under very light wind conditions. A worst-case scenario would by highly variable since gas migration and dispersion is dependent on topography, leak characteristics, and atmospheric conditions. In this scenario, unignited gas would be allowed to migrate as an unignited vapor cloud for a couple miles before finding an ignition source that causes an explosion that encompasses the entire covered area tracing back to the leak source. Ordinary devices like light switches or cell phones can serve as an ignition source for the entire vapor cloud. One subject matter expert recently testified before a Municipal Zoning Hearing board that damage could be expected at a distance of three miles from the source of a large scale release.

The federal government’s “potential impact radius” (PIR) formula, used for natural gas (methane) isn’t directly applicable because of differences in the characteristics of the material. It may however be possible to quantify an Immediate Ignition Impact Zone. This represents the explosion radius that could occur if ignition occurs BEFORE the gas is able to migrate.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) provides instructions for calculating the PIR of a methane natural gas pipeline. The PIR estimates the range within which a potential failure could have significant impact on people or property. The PIR is established using the combustion energy and pipeline-specific fuel mass of methane to determine a blast radius: PIR = 0.69*sqrt(p*d^2). Where: PIR = Potential Impact Radius (in feet), p = maximum allowable operating pressure (in pounds per square inch), d = nominal pipeline diameter (in inches), and 0.69 is a constant applicable to natural gas

The Texas Eastern pipeline can use the PIR equation as-is since it carries methane natural gas. However, since Mariner East 2 is primarily carrying ethane, propane, and butane NGLs, the equation must be altered. Ethane, propane, butane, and methane have very similar combustion energies (about 50-55 MJ/kg). Therefore, the PIR equation can be updated for each NGL based on the mass density of the flow material as follows: PIR = 0.69*sqrt(r*p*d^2). Where: r = the density ratio of hydrocarbons with similar combustion energy to methane natural gas. At 1,440 psi, methane remains a gas with a mass density 5 times less than liquid ethane at the same pressure:

ME2 PIR table 1

The methane density relationships for ethane, propane, and butane can be used to calculate an immediate-ignition blast radius for each hydrocarbon product. The below table shows the results assuming a Mariner East 2-sized 20-inch diameter pipe operating at Mariner East 2’s 1,440psi maximum operating pressure:

ME2 PIR table 2

Using these assumptions, the blast radius can be derived as a function of pressure for each hydrocarbon for the same 20in. diameter pipe:

ME2 Immediate Ignition Blast Radius

ME2 Immediate Ignition Blast Radius

Note the sharp increase in blast radius for each natural gas liquid product. The pressure at which this sharp increase occurs corresponds with the critical pressure where each product transitions to a liquid state and becomes significantly denser, and in turn, contains more explosive power. These products will always be operated above their respective critical pressures when in transport, meaning their blast radius will be relatively constant, regardless of operating pressure.

Averaging the “Immediate Ignition Blast Radius” for ethane, propane, and butane gives us a 1,300 ft (about 0.25 mile) potential impact radius. However, we must recognize that this buffer represents a best case scenario in the event of a major pipeline accident.

Additional information on these calculations can be found in the Delaware County-based Middletown Coalition for Community Safety’s written testimony to the Pennsylvania Legistlature.

Living near the Mariner East 2

FracTracker has created a new map of the Mariner East 2 pipeline using a highly-detailed GIS shapefile recently supplied by the DEP. On this map, we identify a 0.5 mile radius “buffer” from Mariner East 2’s proposed route. We then located all public and private schools, environmental justice census tracts, and estimated number of people who live within this buffer in order to get a clearer picture of the pipeline’s hidden risks.

Proposed Mariner East 2  and At-Risk Schools and Populations

View map fullscreenHow FracTracker maps work

 

Populations at Risk

In order to estimate the number of people who live within this 0.5 mile radius, we first identified census blocks that intersect the hazardous buffer. Second, we calculated the percentage of that census block’s area that lies within the buffer. Finally, we used the ratio to determine the percentage of the block’s population that lies within the buffer. In total, there are an estimated 105,419 people living within the proposed Mariner East 2’s 0.5 mile radius impact zone. The totals for each of the 17 counties in Mariner East 2’s trajectory can be found in the interactive map. The top five counties with the greatest number of at-risk residents are:

  1. Chester County (31,632 residents in zone)
  2. Delaware County (17,791 residents in zone)
  3. Westmoreland County (11,183 residents in zone)
  4. Cumberland County (10,498 residents in zone)
  5. Berks County (7,644 residents in zone)

Environmental Justice Areas

Environmental justice designations are defined by the DEP as any census tract where 20% or more of the population lives in poverty and/or 30% or more of the population identifies as a minority. These numbers are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, last updated in 2010, and by the federal poverty guidelines. Mariner East 2 crosses through four environmental justice areas:

  • Census Tract 4064.02, Delaware County
  • Census Tract 125, Cambria County
  • Census Tract 8026, Westmoreland County
  • Census Tract 8028, Westmoreland County

DEP policies promise enhanced public participation opportunities in environmental justice communities during permitting processes for large development projects. No additional public participation opportunities were provided to these communities. Furthermore, no public hearings were held whatsoever in Cambria County and Delaware County. The hearing held in Westmoreland County took place in Youngwood, nine miles away from Jeanette. Pipelines are not specified on the “trigger list” that determines what permits receive additional scrutiny, however the policy does allow for “opt-in permits” if the DEP believes they warrant special consideration. One would assume that a proposed pipeline project with the potential to affect the safety of tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians qualifies for additional attention.

At-Risk Schools

One of the most concerning aspects of our findings is the astounding number of schools in the path of Mariner East 2. Based on data obtained from the U.S. Department of Education on the locations of schools in Pennsylvania, a shocking 23 public (common core) schools and 17 private schools were found within Mariner East 2’s 0.5 mile impact zone. In one instance, a school was discovered to be only 7 feet away from the pipeline’s intended path. Students and staff at these schools have virtually no chance to exercise their only possible response to a large scale release of highly volatile liquids, which is immediate on-foot evacuation.

me2-middletown-high

Middletown High School in Dauphin County in close proximity to ME2

One reason for the high number of at-risk schools is that Mariner East 2 is proposed to roughly follow the same right of way as an older pipeline built in the 1930s (now marketed by Sunoco as “Mariner East 1.”). A great deal of development has occurred since that time, including many new neighborhoods, businesses and public buildings. It is worth noting that the U.S. Department of Education’s data represents the center point of schools. In many cases, we found playgrounds and other school facilities were much closer to Mariner East 2, as can be seen in the above photograph. Also of note is the high percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch programs at these schools, suggesting that many are located in disproportionately poorer communities.

 

Conclusion

Now that PADEP has received revised permit applications from Sunoco, presumably addressing September’s long list of technical deficiencies, the agency will soon make a decision as to whether or not additional public participation is required before approving the project. Given the findings in our analysis, it should be clear that the public must have an extended opportunity to review and comment on the proposed Mariner East 2. In fact, public participation was extremely helpful to DEP in the initial review process, providing technical and contextual information.

It is, furthermore, imperative that investigations into the potential impacts of Mariner East 2 extend to assess the safety of nearby residents and students, particularly in marginalized communities. Thus far, no indication has been made by the DEP that this will be the case. However, the Pennsylvania Sierra Club has established a petition for residents to voice their desire for a public comment period and additional hearings.

Seth Kovnat is the chief structural engineer for an aerospace engineering firm in Southeastern PA, and regularly consults with regard to the proposed Mariner East 2 pipeline. In November, Seth’s expertise in structural engineering and his extensive knowledge of piping and hazardous materials under pressure were instrumental in providing testimony at a Pennsylvania Senate and House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee discussion during the Pennsylvania Pipeline Infrastructure Citizens Panel. Seth serves on the board of Middletown Coalition for Community Safety and is a member of the Mariner East 2 Safety Advisory Committee for Middletown Township, PA. He is committed to demonstrating diligence in gathering, truth sourcing, and evaluating technical information in pipeline safety matters in order to provide data driven information-sharing on a community level.

NOTE: This article was modified on 12/9/16 at 4pm to provide additional clarification on how the 1,300ft PIR was calculated.

Drilling Bella Romero: Children at Risk in Greeley, Colorado

By
Kirk Jalbert, Manager of Community Based Research & Engagement
Kyle Ferrar, Western Program Coordinator

Weld County, Colorado, is one of the top producing shale oil and gas regions in the United States, boasting more than 12,000 active horizontal or directional wells, which account for 50% of all horizontal or directional wells in the state. To put this into perspective, the entire state of Pennsylvania has ten times the land area with “only” 9,663 horizontal or directional wells. At the center of Weld County is the city of Greeley, population 92,889. Greeley has experienced dramatic changes in the past decade as extraction companies compete to acquire oil and gas mineral rights. Extensive housing developments on the outskirts of the city are being built to accommodate future well pads on neighboring lots. Meanwhile, a number of massive well pads are proposed within or on the border of city limits.

FracTracker visited Colorado back in November 2015 and met with regional advocacy organizations including Coloradans Against Fracking, Protect our Loveland, Weld Air and Water, and Our Longmont to determine how we could assist with data analysis, mapping, and digital storytelling. FracTracker returned in June 2016 to explore conditions unique to Weld County’s oil and gas fields. During our visit we interviewed residents of Greeley and found that one of their greatest concerns was the dangers of siting oil and gas wells near schools. While there is much more we will be publishing in coming weeks about our visit, this article focuses on one troubling project that would bring gas drilling to within 1,300ft of a public school. The proposal goes before the Weld County Commissioners on Wednesday, June 29th for final approval. As such, we will be brief in pointing out what is at stake in siting industrial oil and gas facilities near schools in Colorado and why residents of Greeley have cause for concern.

Drilling Bella Romero

On June 7th, the Weld County Planning Commission unanimously approved a proposal from Denver-based Extraction Oil & Gas to develop “Vetting 15H”—a 24-head directional well pad in close proximity to Bella Romero Academy, a middle school just outside Greeley city limits. In addition to the 24-head well pad would be a battery of wastewater tanks, separators, and vapor recovery units on an adjacent lot. The permit submitted to the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) also states that six more wells may be drilled on the site in the future.

As was detailed in a recent FracTracker article, Colorado regulations require a minimum setback distance of 500ft from buildings and an additional 350ft from outdoor recreational areas. In more populated areas, or where a well pad would be within 1,000ft of high occupancy buildings, schools, and hospitals, drilling companies must apply for special variances to minimize community impacts. Setbacks are measured from the well head to the nearest wall of the building. For well pads with multiple heads, each well must comply with the respective setback requirements.

bella_romero_playground

Bella Romero’s playground with Vetting 15H’s proposed site just beyond the fence.

Vetting 15H would prove to be one of the larger well pads in the county. And while its well heads remain just beyond the 1,000ft setback requirement from Bella Romero buildings, a significant portion of the school’s ballfields are within 1,000ft of the proposed site. When setbacks for the well pad and the processing facility are taken together—something not explicitly demonstrated in the permit—almost the entirety of school grounds are within 1,000ft and the school itself lies only 1,300ft from the pad. The below figures show the images supplied by Extraction Oil & Gas in their permit as well as a more detailed graphic generated by FracTracker.

 

Youth: A High Risk Population

The difference between 1,000ft and 1,300ft may be negligible when considering the risks of locating industrial scale oil and gas facilities near populated areas. The COGCC has issued 1,262 regulatory violations to drilling companies since 2010 (Extraction Oil & Gas ranks 51st of 305 operators in the state for number of violations). Some of these violations are for minor infractions such as failing to file proper paperwork. Others are for major incidents; these issues most often occur during the construction phases of drilling, where a number have resulted in explosions and emergency evacuations. Toxic releases of air and water pollution are not uncommon at these sites. In fact, the permit shows drainage and potential spills from the site would flow directly towards Bella Romero school grounds as is shown in the figure below.

Vetting 15H post-development drainage map.

Vetting 15H post-development drainage map.

A host of recent research suggests that people in close proximity to oil and gas wells experience disproportionate health impacts. Emissions from diesel engine exhaust contribute to excessive levels of particular matter, and fumes from separators generate high levels of volatile organic compounds. These pollutants decrease lung capacity and increase the likelihood of asthma attacks, cardiovascular disease, and cancer (read more on that issue here). Exposure to oil and gas facilities is also linked to skin rashes and nose bleeds.

As we’ve mentioned in our analysis of oil and gas drilling near schools in California, children are more vulnerable to these pollutants. The same amount of contaminants entering a child’s body, as opposed to an adult body, can be far more toxic due to differences in body size and respiratory rates. A child’s developing endocrine system and neural pathways are also more susceptible to chemical interactions. These risks are increased by children’s lifestyles, as they tend to spend more hours playing outdoors than adults and, when at school, the rest of their day is spent at a central location.

At the June 7th public hearing Extraction Oil & Gas noted that they intend to use pipelines instead of trucks to transport water and gas to and from Vetting 15H to reduce possible exposures. But, as residents of Greeley noted of other projects where similar promises were made and later rescinded, this is dependent on additional approvals for pipelines. Extraction Oil & Gas also said they would use electric drilling techniques rather than diesel engines, but this would not eliminate the need for an estimated 22,000 trucking runs over 520 days of construction.

Below is a table from the Vetting 15H permit that shows daily anticipated truck traffic associated with each phase of drilling. The estimated duration and operational hours of each activity are based on only 12 wells since construction is planned in two phases of 12 wells at a time. These numbers do not account for the trucking of water for completions activities, however. The figures could be much higher if pipelines are not approved, as well as if long-term trucking activities needed to maintain the site are included in the estimates.

Vetting 15H daily vehicle estimates.

Vetting 15H daily vehicle estimates from permit

 

At the Top of the Most Vulnerable List

Bella Romero Academy has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the few schools in Colorado in close proximity to a horizontal or directional well amongst 1,750 public and 90 private schools in the state. Based on our analysis, there are six public schools within 1,000ft of a horizontal or directional well. At 2,500ft we found 39 public schools and five private schools. Bella Romero is presently at the top of the list of all schools when ranked by number of well heads located within a 1,000ft buffer. An 8-head well pad is only 800ft across the street from its front door. If the Vetting 15H 24-head well pad was to be constructed, Bella Romero would be far and above the most vulnerable school within 1,000ft of a well. It would also rank 3rd in the state for well heads located within 2,500ft of a school. The tables below summarize our findings of this proximity analysis.

Colorado public schools within 1,000ft of a horizontal or directional well

Colorado public schools within 1,000ft of a horizontal or directional well

Colorado public schools within 2,500ft of a horizontal or directional well with 5 or more well heads. There are 39 schools in total.

Colorado public schools within 2,500ft of a horizontal or directional well with 5 or more well heads. There are 39 schools in total

Colorado private schools within 2,500ft of a horizontal or directional well

Colorado private schools within 2,500ft of a horizontal or directional well

The following interactive map shows which schools in Colorado are within a range of 2,500ft from a directional and horizontal well. Additional buffer rings show 1,000ft and 500ft buffers for comparison. 1,000ft was selected as this is the minimum distance required by Colorado regulations from densely populated areas and schools without requiring special variances. Environmental advocacy groups are presently working to change this number to 2,500ft. The map is zoomed in to show the area around Bella Romero. Zoom out see additional schools and click on features to see more details. [NOTE: The Colorado school dataset lists Bella Romero Academy as an elementary/middle school. Bella Romero was recently split, with the elementary school moving a few blocks west.]

Map of schools and setbacks in Colorado

View map full screen | How FracTracker maps work

Environmental Injustice

Drilling near Bella Romero is also arguably an environmental justice issue, as its student population has some of the highest minority rates in the county and are amongst the poorest. According to coloradoschoolgrades.com, Bella Romero is 89% Hispanic or Latino and 3% African American whereas, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Greeley as a whole is 59% White and 36% Hispanic or Latino. 92% of Bella Romero’s students are also from low income families. Furthermore, according to the EPA’s Environmental Justice Screening Tool, which is used by the agency to assess high risk populations and environments, the community surrounding Bella Romero is within the 90-95% percentile range nationally for linguistically isolated communities.

Many of Bella Romero's students come from low-income communities surrounding Greeley.

Many of Bella Romero’s students come from low-income communities surrounding Greeley.

 

Implications

These statistics are significant for a number of reasons. Firstly, oil and gas permitting in Colorado only requires operators to notify residents immediately surrounding proposed well pads. This rule does not include residents who may live further from the site but send their students to schools like Bella Romero. Parents who might comment on the project would need to hear about it from local papers or neighbors, but language barriers can prevent this from occurring. Another factor we witnessed in our June visit to Latino communities in Weld County is that many students have undocumented family members who are hesitant to speak out in public, leaving them with no voice to question risks to their children.

Residents of Greeley speak out at the June 7th Planning Commission meeting.

Residents of Greeley speak out at the June 7th Planning Commission meeting

Nevertheless, at the June 7th Planning Commission hearing, Weld County administrators insisted that their decisions would not take race and poverty into consideration, which is a blatant disregard for EPA guidelines in siting industrial development in poor minority communities. Weld County’s Planning Commission claimed that their ruling on the site would be the same regardless of the school’s demographics. By comparison, another proposed Extraction Oil & Gas site that would have brought a 22-head well pad to within 1,000ft of homes in a more well off part of town was denied on a 0-6 vote by the City of Greeley’s Planning Commission earlier this year after nearby residents voiced concerns about the potential impacts. Extraction Oil & Gas appealed the ruling and Greeley City Council passed the proposal in a 5-2 vote pending additional urban mitigation area permit approval. While the Greeley Planning Commission and the Weld County Planning Commission are distinct entities, the contrast of these two decisions should emphasize concerns about fair treatment.

Conclusion

There are very real health concerns associated with siting oil and gas wells near schools.  When evaluating this project, county administrators should assess not only the immediate impacts of constructing the well pad but also the long-term effects of allowing an industrial facility to operate so close to a sensitive youth population. There are obvious environmental justice issues at stake, as well. Public institutions have a responsibility to protect marginalized communities such as those who send their children to Bella Romero. Finally, approving the Vetting 15H project would place Bella Romero far at the top of the list for schools in Colorado within 1,000ft of oil and gas wells. School board administrators should be concerned about this activity, as it will undoubtedly put their students’ health and academic performance at risk. We hope that, when the County Commissions review the proposal, these concerns will be taken into account.

Defining Environmental Justice in Pennsylvania

By Kirk Jalbert, Manager of Community-Based
Research & Engagement, FracTracker Alliance

Missing the Mark in Oil & Gas Communities

Conventional oil and gas drilling for commercial purposes has existed in Pennsylvania for over 150 years. In the past decade, drilling operations have turned to extract these resources from unconventional reservoirs, such as the deep underground Marcellus Shale formation. Proponents of the oil and gas industry’s expansion promise jobs and tax revenue for regions seeking economic revitalization. However, a growing body of research suggests that these processes also negatively impact the environment and pose significant public health risks.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. How this definition applies to residents of Pennsylvania has become a hotly contested issue as regulatory agencies have begun to investigate whether or not the oil and gas industry targets marginalized communities.

PA Environmental Justice Map

The following interactive article and map illustrates how race and poverty, the two key indicators for determining environmental justice eligibility, fail to capture the nature of the industry. It also suggests that there are other ways we might assess unfair development practices. In doing so, the goal of the article is to shed light on the complexity of environmental justice issues and to offer guidance as PA’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) assesses its policies in coming days.

environmental justice map

Feature image photo credit: Drilling rig and farm in PA by Schmerling (photodocmark@gmail.com)