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Brook Lenker at the 2017 Climate March in Washington DC

Rise for Climate – September 8, 2018

FracTracker is pleased to join thousands of other organizations across the U.S. and around the world participating in Rise for Climate – a global day of action on Saturday, September 8th – to demand our leaders at every level of government commit to building a fossil fuel free world. We encourage all of our partners, supporters, followers, and website users to find and participate in an event near them.

The time has arrived for renewable energy, heightened efficiency, and smart policies that reduce carbon emissions and encourage healthy and just economies. With unequivocal science and data on our side, the swift, frightening realities of climate change must be shared loudly and boldly. The clean energy path to prosperity must be illuminated in the public’s eye. A recent analysis by E2 shows the country had nearly 3.2 million Americans working in wind, solar, energy efficiency, and other clean energy jobs in 2017. These jobs outnumber fossil fuel jobs 3 to 1. Working together, we can add to these numbers and accelerate the transition off fossil fuels.

Rise for Climate is a chance to demonstrate your concern, speak your mind, and resolve to fight for a habitable future. FracTracker staff will be out, too, doing their part. From San Francisco to Lansing, NY and Harrisburg, PA, we’re leading and engaging in activities – because it’s too important to stay home.

What are you doing tomorrow? The future is now.


By Brook Lenker, Executive Director, FracTracker Alliance

Community Sentinel Award for Environmental Stewardship

2017 Community Sentinel Award for Environmental Stewardship Recipients

Award to be presented to three environmental stewards addressing oil and gas impacts at reception held in Pittsburgh, PA, November 18th

WASHINGTON, DC – October 5, 2017 – Three community advocates were recently selected by a panel of judges to receive the 2017 Community Sentinel Award for Environmental Stewardship, presented this year by Americans Against Fracking, Earthworks, FracTracker Alliance, Halt the Harm Network, and Stop the Frack Attack – sponsored by the 11th Hour Project. Award recipients were chosen because of their steadfast determination to highlight and address the impacts of the oil and gas industry in communities across the United States. The 2017 Community Sentinel Award winners are:

  • Ranjana Bhandari – Arlington, Texas
  • Frank Finan – Hop Bottom, Pennsylvania
  • Ray Kemble – Montrose, Pennsylvania

This year’s recipients, nominated by their peers, have lead campaigns to prevent wastewater injection wells from being permitted near drinking water reservoirs; documented fugitive air emissions using their own personal FLIR cameras; and fought cancer and legal attacks from oil and gas companies simultaneously.

These awardees truly represent the heart of local heroes working tirelessly to safeguard their communities from fracking and its collateral impacts, while at the same time encouraging a national transition to safer, renewable forms of energy…

… remarked Brook Lenker, Executive Director of FracTracker Alliance, the organizer of the award partnership.

Recipients were selected by a committee of community defense leaders: Bill Hughes of Wetzel County Action Group, West Virginia; Pat Popple of Save the Hills Alliance, Wisconsin; Sierra Shamer of Shalefield Organizing Committee, Pennsylvania; Dante Swinton of Energy Justice, Maryland; and Niki Wong of Redeemer Community Partnership, California.

The three recipients will each be awarded $1,000 for their efforts and recognized at an evening reception at the Omni William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Saturday, November 18, 2017 during the People vs. Oil and Gas Infrastructure Summit.

Learn more about the third annual Community Sentinel Award for Environmental Stewardship, or purchase tickets to the reception for $40 (includes award ceremony and reception, heavy hors d’oeuvres, and a drink).

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About FracTracker Alliance

FracTracker Alliance is a national organization with regional offices in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Washington DC, and California. The organization’s mission is to study, map, and communicate the risks of oil and gas development to protect our planet and support the renewable energy transformation. Learn more at fractracker.org.

Stock photo - European Renewable Energy Tour 2018

Participate in a European Renewable Energy Tour with FracTracker & Ecologic Institute

Next spring, join FracTracker Alliance and Ecologic Institute on a unique and timely European Renewable Energy Tour. Witness the incredible – and essential – energy revolution happening in Europe in an immersive, holistic way.

Europe’s energy policies are set to reduce dependence on foreign providers of fossil fuels, and substantially reduce the region’s climate change footprint.  In addition to learning how select European cities are expanding their renewable energy portfolios, the goal of this trip is to stimulate and inspire new perspectives and connections that will accelerate a better energy future in the United States.

Save the dates: May 27, 2018 – June 2, 2018

The full price of the tour ($1990.00*) includes all site visits, meetings, admission fees, 14 meals (except alcoholic beverages), accommodations, and in-Europe travel from Copenhagen, to Hamburg, to Berlin, to Frankfurt. The fee includes a small donation to both partnering organizations. International flights to Copenhagen and from Frankfurt (back to the U.S.) are not included. Financial assistance may be available. Contact us for more information.

The deadline to buy your tickets has been extended to December 31, 2017. We hope you will join us for this unique, 7-day educational experience. 


Renewable Energy Tour Summary

  • Dates: May 27 – June 2, 2018
  • Stops: Copenhagen | Hamburg | Berlin | Frankfurt
  • Draft itinerary

Timeline

  • Deposit due December 31, 2017: $995 (Extended)
  • Balance due March 1, 2018: $995
  • Or – pay in full by December 31, 2017: $1,990
  • A $300 discount on the full price of the tour is available for people who would like to opt for double occupancy accommodations.

Price Includes

  • All lodging *
  • 14 meals
  • In-Europe train tickets **
  • Group taxi and bus fares
  • Guided services
  • Entry fees for all tours
  • Financial assistance may be available. Contact us for more information.

* Double occupancy receives a $300 discount. Select the Double Occupancy option when purchasing your tickets.

** Airfare to and from Europe is not included in the total price of the trip. Participants should book their flights to arrive in Copenhagen, Denmark on May 27th, departing for the US from Frankfurt, Germany on June 2, 2018.

Contact Information

Brook Lenker, Executive Director, FracTracker Alliance
lenker@fractracker.org or (717) 303-0403

The deadline to submit your deposit online is December 31, 2017.

Community Sentinel Award for Environmental Stewardship

Nominations being accepted for 2017 Community Sentinel Award for Environmental Stewardship

The impact of the oil and gas industry is visible in almost every community across the United States. As such, the thousands of volunteers working in their communities and cherished places to observe, measure, document, report, address, and limit impacts caused by activities of the oil and gas industry are invaluable. Their actions and advocacy make a tremendous difference in the collective fight to prevent environmental and public health harms from extraction and encourage a national transition to safer, renewable forms of energy.

To honor these environmental stewards, in November 2017 the Community Sentinel Award for Environmental Stewardship will again be awarded to three individuals whose noble actions exemplify the transformative power of caring, committed, and engaged people.

Each awardee will receive $1,000 to perpetuate their efforts and will be recognized at an evening reception in Pittsburgh, PA on November 18, 2017 hosted by FracTracker Alliance and Stop the Frack Attack. Travel to and from the reception (and associated costs) will be supported for the award recipient and a guest.

Sept 1 Update

Submissions are currently being reviewed.

Want to learn more about community sentinels? Hear from last year’s award recipients – Alma Hasse, Alex Lotorto, & Vera Scroggins: Podcast Interviews

Timeline

  • August 1: Nomination period opens
  • September 1: Nomination period closes and judging begins
  • September 22: Winners notified
  • November 18: Award ceremony and reception

If you have any questions about the award or the award ceremony to be held on November 18th, please contact FracTracker: info@fractracker.org.


Award Presenters

2017 Community Sentinel award presenters

Award Sponsor

11th Hour Logo - Community Sentinel award sponsor

 

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.

Re-imagine Beaver County meeting - Photo by Sophie Riedel

Mapping a new vision in PA: Alternatives to petrochemical development

At a Re-Imagine Beaver County gathering in Pennsylvania earlier this month, static maps became dynamic in the hands of those who live in and around the region depicted. Residents of this area in the greater Pittsburgh region gathered to depict a new vision for Beaver County, PA. This county is currently faced with the proposal of a massive Shell-owned petrochemical facility – also called a “cracker” – and further build-out that could render the area a northern version of Louisiana’s “Chemical Corridor.” Participants at this event, from Beaver County and beyond, were encouraged to collectively envision a future based on sustainable development. The picture they created was one that welcomes change – but requires it to be sustainable and for the benefit of the community that makes it happen.

Re-Imagine Beaver County Group Mapping - by Sophie Riedel

Figure 1: Participants study a map of Beaver County. Photo credit: Sophie Riedel.

Re-Imagine Beaver County Participants

Panelists from municipal government, organic agriculture, and leaders and entrepreneurs of sustainable initiatives started off the event, sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania and endorsed by the Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Committee. After an hour, the room of 60 or so participants dove into the lively de- and re-construction of large format maps of the area. They were invited to markup the maps, created by Carnegie Mellon University graduate student of the School of Architecture, Sophie Riedel. Each table worked from a different base map of the same area – centering on the confluence of the Ohio and Beaver rivers, including the already heavily-industrialized riverside and the site of Shell’s proposed petrochemical facility.

Massive shell processing plant under construction in Beaver County PA and across the Ohio River from the town of Beaver. This massive processing plant, near residential areas, schools and hospitals, will be a serious threat to the health of the those living in the region.

Figure 2: The site of the proposed petrochemical facility in Beaver County (on left) and the Ohio River that participants hope to see reinvented as a recreational waterway buttressed by public parks. Photo credit: Garth Lenz, iLCP.

Much more than a thought exercise, the gathering represented a timely response to a growing grassroots effort around the proposed petrochemical inundation. Changes are already underway at the site, and those who live in this region have the right to give input. This right is especially salient when considering the risks associated with the petrochemical industry – including detrimental health impacts on babies before they are even born, asthma exacerbation, and increased cancer rates.

Charting a new vision

The re-invented Beaver County would be one of increased connectivity and mobility, well-equipped to provide for local needs with local means.

Many ideas included on the maps reflected a longing for transportation options independent of personal vehicles – including better, safer, more connected bike trails and walking paths, use of existing rail lines for local travel, and even the inventive suggestion of a water taxi. These inherently lower-impact means of transport coincide with preferences of millennials, according to several of the panelists, who want more walkable, bikeable communities. Ushering in such sustainable suggestions would welcome more young families to an area with an aging population. More than just about moving people, transportation ideas also included ways to get locally grown foods to those who need it, such as the elderly.

sophie-riedel-visioning-map-close-up

Figure 3: Participants modify maps to reflect a new vision. Photo credit: Sophie Riedel.

The value of beauty was a subtheme in many of the ideas to connect and mobilize the population and goods, ideas which often held a dual aim of protecting open space, creating new parks, and offering recreation possibilities. Participants ambitiously reimagined their river, the Ohio, from its current status as a closed-off corridor for industrial usage and waste, to a recreational resource for kayaking and fishing walleye.

Participants marked up the maps to show the resources that help sustain this community, and voiced a strong desire for development that would enable additional self-reliance. These forward-thinking changes included increased agriculture and use of permaculture techniques, and community gardens for growing food near the people who currently lack access. Ideas for powering the region abounded, like harnessing wind power and putting solar panels on every new building.

Participants were firm on local sourcing for another key resource: the labor required for these efforts, they insisted, must come from the local populace. Educational programs designed to channel learners into workers for sustainability might include training to rebuild homes to “greener” standards, and programs aimed at bringing a new generation of farmers to the fields. Perhaps a nod to the world-wide plastic glut that a petrochemical facility would add to, suggestions even included local ways of dealing with waste, like starting a composting program and establishing more recycling centers.

Whose vision?

Who is a part of this vision, both in creating it and living it out? Inevitably, the selection of panelists and the interests of the audience members themselves influenced the vision this group crafted. The question of inclusion and representation found articulation among many participants, and the hosts of the event welcomed suggestions on reaching a broader audience moving forward. Looking around the room, one man asked, “Where are all the young people, and families with kids?” Indeed, only several members of this demographic were present. Though indicative of the racial makeup of Beaver County, the audience appeared to be primarily white, meaning that the racially diverse communities in the region where not represented. Others pointed out that going forward, the audience should also include those residents struggling with un- and underemployment, who have a major stake in whatever vision of Beaver County comes to fruition. Another said he would like to see more elected officials and leaders present. Notably, Potter Township Board of Supervisors Chairperson, Rebecca Matsco, who is a strong advocate for the proposed petrochemical project in her township, was present for the first half of the event.

Local means for meeting local needs

People who welcome petrochemical development in Beaver County might believe that those who voice concerns about the proposed Shell plant aren’t forward-thinking, or simply oppose change. Quite in contrast, participants at Re-Imagine Beaver County went to work reinventing their community with optimism and enthusiasm. They didn’t seem to be resisting change, but instead, wanting to participate in the process of change and to ultimately see benefits to their community. For example, discussion of solar power generated substantial excitement. According to panel speaker Hal Saville, however, the biggest challenge is making it affordable for everyone, which suggests that the estimated $1.6 billion in tax breaks going to Shell for the petrochemical plant could be better allocated.

A key narrative from supporters of the ethane cracker centers on the pressing need for jobs in this area, though some locals have expressed concern about how many of Shell’s promised jobs would go to residents. Whoever gets hired, these jobs come with serious dangers to workers. Participants at this event proposed alternative initiatives – both ambitious and small – for creating jobs within the community, like providing “sprout funds” to encourage new business start-ups, and launching a coordinated effort to rehab aging housing stock. These ideas suggest that the people of this region feel their energy and ingenuity would be best spent making Beaver County a better place to live and work, in contrast to producing disposable petrochemical products for export around the world. The fact that so many participants emphasized local means for meeting their needs in no way downplays the need for good jobs. Rather, it points to the fact that people want jobs that are good for them and for the future of their community.

Moving the vision forward

Where do we go from here? Can the momentum of this event draw in greater representation from the region to have a voice in this process? Will these visions become animated and guide the creation of a new reality? Broader and deeper planning is in order; participants and panelists alike pointed to tools like comprehensive community plans and cleaner, “greener” industrial policies. More than anything, the group articulated a need for more deliberation and participation. As panelist and farm co-owner Don Kretschmann put it, when it comes to change, we need to “think it through before we go ahead and do it.”

The maps themselves, bearing the inspirations scrawled out during the event, have not reached the end of the road. From here, these maps will accompany an upcoming exhibition of the artworks in Petrochemical America, which locals hope to bring to the greater Pittsburgh area in the coming months. League of Women Voters, for their part, continue to move the vision forward, inviting input from all on next steps, with an emphasis on pulling in a broader cross-section of the community.

To voice your vision, and to stay in the loop on future Re-Imagine Beaver County events, contact reimaginelwvpa@gmail.com.


Many thanks to Sophie Riedel for sharing photographs from the event, and to the International League of Conservation Photographers and the Environmental Integrity Project for sharing the aerial photograph of the Shell site from their joint project, “The Human Cost of Energy Production.”

By Leann Leiter, Environmental Health Fellow

 

A Fresh Look at Oil and Gas Drilling from Europe

By Ted Auch, Kyle Ferrar, and Samantha Rubright with Max Gruenig

Fourteen days is not nearly enough time to fully understand the complex differences between oil and gas drilling issues and policies in the United States and several European Union countries. The EU’s drilling policies, geography, and the industry’s level of activity are quite distinct from those of the States in some cases. Still, as part of the Our Energy Solutions project, four staff from FracTracker Alliance and Ecologic Institute attempted to understand and share as many lessons-learned in Europe as we could in the first two weeks of September. Our interest covered all aspects of oil and gas development, but focused on those relating to the use of stimulation techniques (hydraulic fracturing – fracking) in unconventional reservoirs. Even with significant differences between the US and EU, there is still much to be gleaned in sharing our regulatory approaches, community concerns, and environmental challenges.

“Chaos is merely order waiting to be deciphered” ― José Saramago, The Double 

London, England Meetings

The House of Commons meeting was held in Parliament, just below London's Big Ben

The House of Commons meeting was held in Parliament, just below London’s Big Ben. Photo by Sam Rubright

Our European tour started in London with Ecologic Institute’s Max Gruenig. The first stop was a meeting with University of Salford Professor of Regeneration and Sustainable Development Erik Bichard outside of The Palace of Westminster. Erik has worked extensively to understand and chronicle common threads that weave together community response(s) to hydraulic fracturing (fracking) proposals. Much of Erik’s research in the UK has focused on the efforts of the leading shale gas extraction company in the EU, Cuadrilla Resources, to employ hydraulic fracturing technologies, as well as local oppositions to this development. The major points of contention are in Lancashire County, Northwest England and Balcombe in West Sussex. Erik pointed to the fact that Cuadrilla admitted their claims that the 4% decline in UK energy cost was a result of Lancashire oil and gas exploitation were significantly overstated. Such manipulative statements appear to be cut directly from North American energy’s playbook.

House of Commons meeting, London

House of Commons meeting, London. Photo by Sam Rubright

We then attended a spirited Fracking with Nature Meeting at The House of Commons hosted by 21st Century Network and convened by MP Cat Smith (photo right). Many, if not all, of the attendees were concerned about the negative impacts of fracking and oil and gas development in general, but perhaps the event’s purpose self-selected for those attendees. We found the conversations to be very advanced considering that the UK has not seen nearly the same level of oil and gas activity as the US. Most questions centered on the potential for fracking to negatively impact ground water, followed by the induction of earthquakes. Air quality was not discussed as often, despite the serious risks that oil and gas air pollutants pose to health, and the frequency and severity of ambient degradation reported in the US. With the UK’s move to cut subsidies for renewables and a push toward fracking, these concerns may soon become a reality.

We later met with one of the speakers at the House of Commons meeting, Damien Short LLB, MA, PhD, Director of the University of London’s Human Rights Consortium[1] and the Extreme Energy Initiative.[2] NGO’s, we learned, are on the forefront of the issue, debating the need to prioritize community health over corporate profits. They have had quite a lot of success on this front, despite Tory projections.[3] The past state of UK politics under the direction of PM David Cameron, was supportive of extractive industries and corporate interests, blocking any attempt to introduce regulations. Even with the defeat of David Cameron’s administration, new “fast-tracking” rules to accelerate permits for fracking passed in August.[4] The overwhelming victory of democratic socialist Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the opposition Labour Party – means that the tenure of the current fracking moratoria in North Yorkshire, as well as in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland[5] could be brief.

Our time in London was filled with several other meetings, including one with Greenpeace UK’s new fracking coordinator, Hannah Martin. During our meeting she indicated that while Greenpeace was sympathetic to the views and tactics of Mr. Corbyn, they were concerned that his election would further divide Labour. In her opinion this change could allow the oil and gas sympathetic – and united – Tories to expedite their vision for fracking in the UK.

Regardless of the similarities between community concerns and industry tactics, however, one difference between the UK and US was crystal clear; no matter their view on the use of fracking, Brits support a substantial Petroleum Revenue Tax (PRT) rate to the tune of 50-60%. The PRT will fall to 35% in January, 2016, however. This latter figure is a sizeable decrease but would still be 40% higher than the average in the US.  California for example, the fourth largest producing state, does not and has never levied a severance tax.[6] Unfortunately, the UK is seeing similar conflict of interest issues and deliberate attempts to de-democratize the rule-making around fracking, as demonstrated in a recent move to prevent a proper parliamentary debate about drilling under protected areas in the UK.

Brussels, Belgium Workshop and Meeting

After the European Commission meeting

Geert, Max, Kyle, and Ted after our meeting with the European Commission in Brussels. Photo by Sam Rubright

The next phase of OES Europe took us to Brussels to host a community workshop and meet with members of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment. Both events brought to light many concerns and questions about drilling’s safety.

The European Commission is currently drafting a best available techniques reference document (BREF) regarding hydrocarbon extraction for the European Union to consider in December 2015. The recommendations will build upon the “Minimum Principles,” published in January, 2014.[7] Representatives from the European Commission asked us about a variety of concerns that have arisen from drilling in the US, and how Europe might have similar or different experiences. The Commission was most interested in environmental health risks and research focused on exposure to air pollutants, as well as other degraded environmental media (drinking water, soil, etc.). We also shared figures about water consumption, land use, and waste management. It was immediately apparent that the lack of high quality publicly accessible data in the US is making it very difficult for the Commission to make well-informed decisions or policy recommendations. This meeting was arranged by Geert De Cock, of Food and Water Europe, and – interestingly – was one of the first times that the European Commission met with non-industry representatives. (Several major oil and gas players have offices near the European Commission’s in Brussels.)

Rotenburg (Wümme), Germany Workshop

Presentations during Rotenburg Germany workshop, Sept 2015. Photo by Kyle Ferrar

Max presenting during the Rotenburg Germany workshop, Sept 2015. Photo by Kyle Ferrar

Our next stop in Germany was Rotenburg. Lower Saxony also has a long lineage of drilling, with the first well drilled in 1953 and the majority of natural gas development dating back to the mid 1980’s. Currently, this is an area were unconventional oil and gas drilling (fracking) is being heavily proposed and lobbied.

This workshop was by far the most well attended event. A variety of groups and stakeholders, including the town’s mayor, were in attendance and extremely well informed about environmental and public health risks that drilling could pose. They’ve been dealing with a series of environmental health concerns for some time, including high mercury levels in drilling waste and cancer clusters of questionable origin. A systematic statistical analysis has even suggested that cases of Non-Hodgkin lymphoma are higher in an area heavy with oil and gas wells and development.

See maps below for more information about drilling in Germany and Europe at large.

Unconventional gas production, conventional gas drilling, fracking and test boring in Europe
Map by Gegen Gasbohren (Against Gas Drilling)

View Gegen Gasbohren’s map fullscreen

A dynamic map similar to the one above was created by us to show simply where unconventional drilling is occurring in the UK and Netherlands:
View FracTracker’s map fullscreen

Rotenburg Field Tour

The following morning we set out with a local advocate, Andreas Rathjens, to tour over eight different oil and gas drilling sites and facilities in and around Rotenburg. This area is vey rural and a major agriculture hub, hosting 162k people, 200k cows, and 600k pigs according to our guide.

In recent years Germany has received very positive scores for its environmental policies and shift toward renewables. However, this tour highlighted some of the country’s lingering and poorly-regulated drilling history, which experienced a sharp increase in development here in the 1980’s. The pictures below will give you an idea of the issues that German residents are is still seeing from the country’s older oil and gas drilling operations. Click to enlarge the photos:

Rotenburg, Germany surface water runoff pond on a gas well pad in production

This pit is used to capture rainwater and runoff from the well pad. Since runoff from the pad will carry with it any contaminants spilled on the site, runoff must be quarantined for removal and proper disposal. Unfortunately, these tanks are rarely pumped and drained, and the runoff instead spills into local streams in small watersheds. Such is the case with this tank, with the spillway visible in the lower left corner of the photo.

IMG_0063

This site was recently renovated to improve the drainage off of the wellpad. The drainage leads to an excavated waste pit used as an overflow catchment.[8] In these types of waste pits pollutants evaporate into the air and percolate into groundwater sources. The waste from drilling in this region is known for its high levels of mercury.

Andreas showing us the site where he says 80,000 metric tonnes of solid waste from oil and gas drilling was mixed with residential waste and then disposed of in a field on top of a hill. Residents have tested the site and found troubling levels of arsenic and radioactive elements, but to Andreas’ knowledge no governmental or company testing has been done to-date.

Andreas showing us the site where he says 80,000 metric tonnes of solid  drilling waste was mixed with residential waste and then disposed of in a field on a hilltop. Residents have tested the site and found troubling levels of arsenic and radioactive elements, but to Andreas’ knowledge no governmental or company testing has been done to-date.

Andreas and community members all conveyed their support of domestic energy production but said they were disappointed in how the oil and gas industry has conducted itself historically in the region. They are very frustrated with how difficult it is to get their concerns heard, a sentiment echoed in many boomtowns across the US. One local politician even discussed the intentionally misleading statements made by the German state governments around environmental health issues. These residents are dedicated and driven despite the barriers, however. They are investigating and studying the problems directly at times, as well as searching for other technologies that can help improve their methods – such as the use of drones to measure air quality.

Badbergen, Lower Saxony, Germany Workshop

Fracking-freies Artland hosted our next workshop in Badbergen Germany. In addition to our presentation about drilling experiences in the US, these community gatekeepers led a presentation summarizing the work and struggles that have been occurring in their region due to both historic and modern drilling. The level of community engagement and activism here was quite impressive, mirroring that of NY State’s anti-drilling groups. These members help to inform the rest of the community about environmental and drilling issues, as Exxon is now considering fracking here again.[9]

Schoonebeek Tour, Netherlands

Our final border crossing brought us to the Schoonebeek region in the Netherlands. While the Groningen gas field is by far the largest of the fields in this Western European country, Schoonebeek is the only active field being drilled unconventionally in the Netherlands.

OES-Europe-Home

Interestingly, the entire field was recently shut down by NAM Shell/Exxon JV to fix this wastewater pipeline. It was discovered that the pipeline was leaking wastewater in nine places due to corrosion caused by the high sulfur content of the wastewater.

Upon starting our tour we were informed of the fact that the Dutch have an even higher extraction tax than the UK! The Netherlands retains a 50% State Profit Share for revenue and taxes the remaining production at a rate of 20% on the first $225,000 in revenue and “25% on the excess.” In comparison, the highest production tax rate on oil and gas drilling in the US is in Alaska at 35%. Most states have significantly lower severance taxes.[10]

Political support for higher taxes on the extractives industry may be explained by the fact that the state owns all subsurface mineral rights in these European countries. Regardless of other influences on perception, such high taxes disproves the notion here in the US that energy companies “won’t do business in a state [or country] with a newly-enacted punitive severance tax.” What do the states do with this extra revenue? The Netherlands and many Northern European countries have invested these monies for the rainy day when the oil and gas supply is depleted or extraction is no longer justifiable. The best examples are Norway’s $850 billion Government Pension Fund and Netherland’s $440 billion pension fund or $169,000 and $26,000 per capita, respectively.

Additional support for severance taxes is likely due to these countries’ history with oil and gas exploration. They are familiar with the boom-bust cycles that come with the initial expectations and long-term reality on the ground. When the music stops, Europeans are determined not to be the ones left standing.


About the Our Energy Solutions Project

This trip to Europe and our previous expeditions to Florida, North Carolina, Argentina, and Uruguay are part of a larger, collaborative project with Ecologic Institute US called Our Energy Solutions. OES is creating an informed global community of engaged citizens, organizations, businesses, governments, and stakeholders to develop ideas and solutions to keep our society moving forward while preserving our planet for the future. Learn more at: ourenergysolutions.org.

On a more personal note, our sincerest thanks goes out to the many groups and individuals that we met on our Europe tour, including those we did not directly mention in this article. We are forever indebted to all of the people with whom we met on these OES trips for sharing their time and knowledge with us.

Endnotes and References

  1. Dr. Short is currently advising local anti-fracking groups in the UK and county councils on the human rights implications of unconventional (extreme) energy extraction processes such as fracking.
  2. Dr. Short and collaborators were recently granted an opportunity to put fracking on trial at hearings to be held by The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT) in the UK and the US.
  3. Much of the ammunition used by the anti- or undecided fracking community in the UK – and the EU writ large – is coming from proofs of concept in states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and North Dakota.
  4. Gosden, Emily. 8/13/15. Fracking: new powers for ministers to bypass local councils. The Telegraph. Accessed 10/25/15.
  5. Strachan, Peter. Russell, Alex. Gordon, Robert. 10/15/15. UK government’s delusional energy policy and implications for Scotland. OilVoice. Accessed 10/25/15.
  6. California, instead, imposes a statewide assessment fee.
  7. European Commission. 1/22/14. Fracking: minimum principles for the exploration and production of hydrocarbons using high-volume hydraulic fracturing. Eur-Lex. Accessed 10/26/15.
  8. A practice that is supposedly now being investigated for soil contamination issues.
  9. Exxon originally wrote in the local/regional paper that there was to be no unconventional shale drilling (fracking), but now the company is reconsidering.
  10. Please note that the cited article was last updated in 2012. Some tax rates have changed since the time that the article was published, but the table still adequately represents an estimation of production taxes by state.

Oil Train Response 2015

November 13-15, 2015

Wyndham Pittsburgh University Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Coordinated by FracTracker Alliance and ForestEthics

Couldn’t make it?
Watch Friday’s Presentations
Or check out the conversation on Twitter: #oiltrain15

About the Event

Over the past few years, oil train traffic across the continent has increased rapidly with more than 500,000 rail cars moving oil in 2014 alone, according to the Association of American Railroads. The recent Lac-Mégantic, Quebec disaster and subsequent accidents illustrate the severity of this issue. There is a pressing need to determine true hazards facing our communities and to develop solutions to prevent further disasters. Across the United States and Canada, the issue of oil trains has quickly risen onto the agenda of community leaders, safety experts, researchers, and concerned citizens. There is much to discover and share about protecting people and vulnerable places from the various risks these trains pose. Oil Train Response 2015 provides two invaluable forums on this most pressing problem and provides information and insights for every audience.

November 13, 2015

Community Risks & Solutions Conference
Presented by The Heinz Endowments

November 14 & 15, 2015

Activist Training Weekend
Presented by ForestEthics

 

Conference – November 13th

Friday, Nov 13th: 7:30 AM – 5:00 PM. View Agenda

The one-day conference presented by The Heinz Endowments invites all interest groups to hear from experts about the scale and scope of this challenge, as well as updates on the current regulatory and legal frameworks; consider case studies about the actions/measures taken by various communities in response; and, participate in discussion sessions to explore solutions to better safeguard communities. Elected officials, regulators, and emergency response professionals from Pennsylvania and beyond are especially encouraged to attend to take advantage of this important learning and networking opportunity.

Training – November 14-15th

Saturday, Nov. 14th: Training 7:30 AM – 5:00 PM. Reception 6:00 – 8:00 PM
Sunday, Nov. 15th: Training 7:30 AM – 2:00 PM

A two-day training presented by ForestEthics will equip grassroots and NGO leaders from across the nation with better skills to take back to their communities, and provide critical opportunities for attendees to share winning strategies with each other. In the process of sharing, the conference will help to build both the oil train movement and support the broader environmental and social justice movements. Areas of strategic focus will include: organizing, communications, spokesperson training, data management for organizers, legal strategies, and crowd-sourced train tracking. It will also provide a structured forum for advocates fighting specific oil terminal proposals in places like Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Albany to develop shared strategies and tactics and provide all participants with the skills, knowledge and contacts they will need to carry on this work once they return home.

Oil trains are a major environmental justice issue. The conference and training will speak directly to environmental justice concerns and be inclusive of communities of color, economically disadvantaged urban and rural regions, and communities already experiencing environmental inequities. To this end, need-based travel scholarships will be provided. We are committed to developing the agenda in close consultation with our allies and attendees so that it meets their needs.

Please contact us with questions or requests: anne@forestethics.org.


Many thanks to Paul Heckbert & Randy Sargent of CMU for supplying the oil train photo (top).

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.

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