The production of fracking waste in the Appalachian Basin puts public health and safety at risk.
Fracking produces more than just oil and gas — billions of gallons of highly toxic waste are also created in the process. Regulatory loopholes have led to limited oversight into how this waste is tracked and treated, putting public health and safety at risk.
The maps below explore issues related to fracking waste from the Marcellus and Utica Shale regions of Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and West Virginia.
This mapping platform is an evolving tool based on available data — yet the opaqueness of the fracking industry limits our ability to map and analyze the full scope of the problem of fracking waste in the Appalachian Basin.
Unfortunately, even after sifting through thousands of data points, we’re left with many outstanding questions — what are the chemical components of the waste created? Where is it all sent? Where are its byproducts sent? What facilities are being planned and proposed? How much illegal dumping occurs?
The production of fracking waste in the Appalachian Basin will continue to create environmental and public health threats for decades after the industry leaves the region. Wells can continue to generate wastewater for years and contaminated equipment sent to landfills will leach toxins into the environment. Furthermore, with the industry’s history of failing to restore land after it has been used for oil and gas operations, we can expect abandoned fracking sites to become an increasing source of pollution in the Appalachian Basin in the coming decades. It’s imperative that the public have access to accurate and detailed data on fracking waste to protect the health of workers and residents.
By Erica Jackson, Community Outreach & Communications Specialist, FracTracker Alliance
https://www.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Utica-and-Marcellus-shale-plays-feature.jpg16673750Erica Jacksonhttps://www.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Fractracker-Color-Logo.jpgErica Jackson2021-01-15 17:36:502021-01-15 17:47:11Fracking Waste in the Appalachian Basin – A Story Map
In this article, we’ll take a look at the current trend in “re-branding” incineration as a viable option to deal with the mountains of garbage generated by our society. Incineration can produce energy for electricity, but can the costs—both economically, and ecologically—justify the benefits? What are the alternatives?
Changes in our waste stream
In today’s world of consumerism and production, waste disposal is a chronic problem facing most communities worldwide. Lack of attention to recycling and composting, as well as ubiquitous dependence on plastics, synthetics, and poorly-constructed or single-use goods has created a waste crisis in the United States. So much of the waste that we create could be recycled or composted, however, taking extraordinary levels of pressure off our landfills. According to estimates in 2017 by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), over 30 percent of municipal solid waste is made up of organic matter like food waste, wood, and yard trimmings, almost all of which could be composted. Paper, glass, and metals – also recyclable – make up nearly 40 percent of the residential waste stream. Recycling plastic, a material which comprises 13% of the waste stream, has largely been a failed endeavor thus far.
Why say NO to incinerators?
They are bad for the environment, producing toxic chlorinated byproducts like dioxins. Incineration often converts toxic municipal waste into other forms, some of which are even more toxic than their precursors.
They often consume more energy than they produce and are not profitable to run.
They add CO2 to the atmosphere.
They promote the false narrative that we can “get something” from our trash
They detract from the conversation about actual renewable energy sources like wind power, solar power, and geothermal energy that will stop the acceleration of climate chaos.
Nevertheless, of the approximately 400 million tons of plastic produced annually around the world, only about 10% of it is recycled. The rest winds up in the waste stream or as microfragments (or microplastics) in our oceans, freshwater lakes, and streams.
According to an EPA fact sheet, by 2017, municipal solid waste generation increased three-fold compared with 1960. In 1960, that number was 88.1 million tons. By 2017, this number had risen to nearly 267.8 million tons. Over that same period, per-capita waste generation rose from 2.68 pounds per person per day, to 4.38 pounds per person per day, as our culture became more wed to disposable items.
The EPA provides a robust “facts and figures” breakdown of waste generation and disposal here. In 2017, 42.53 million tons of US waste was shipped to landfills, which are under increasing pressure to expand and receive larger and larger loads from surrounding area, and, in some cases, hundreds of miles away.
How are Americans doing in reducing waste?
On average, in 2017, Americans recycled and composted 35.2% of our individual waste generation rate of 4.51 pounds per person per day. While this is a notable jump from decades earlier, much of the gain appears to be in the development of municipal yard waste composting programs. Although the benefits of recycling are abundantly clear, in today’s culture, according to a PEW Research Center report published in 2016, just under 30% of Americans live in communities where recycling is strongly encouraged. An EPA estimate for 2014 noted that the recycling rate that year was only 34.6%, nationwide, with the highest compliance rate at 89.5% for corrugated boxes.
Figure 3. Percent of Americans who report recycling and re-use behaviors in their communities, via Pew Research center
Historically, incineration – or burning solid waste – has been one method for disposing of waste. And in 2017, this was the fate of 34 million tons—or nearly 13%– of all municipal waste generated in the United States. Nearly a quarter of this waste consisted of containers and packaging—much of that made from plastic. The quantity of packaging materials in the combusted waste stream has jumped from only 150,000 tons in 1970 to 7.86 million tons in 2017. Plastic, in its many forms, made up 16.4% of all incinerated materials, according to the EPA’s estimates in 2017.
Figure 4: A breakdown of the 34.03 tons of municipal waste incinerated for energy in the US in 2017
What is driving the abundance of throw-away plastics in our waste stream?
Sadly, the answer is this: The oil and gas industry produces copious amounts of ethane, which is a byproduct of oil and gas extraction. Plastics are an “added value” component of the cycle of fossil fuel extraction. FracTracker has reported extensively on the controversial development of ethane “cracker” plants, which chemically change this extraction waste product into feedstock for the production of polypropylene plastic nuggets. These nuggets, or “nurdles,” are the building blocks for everything from fleece sportswear, to lumber, to packaging materials. The harmful impacts from plastics manufacturing on air and water quality, as well as on human and environmental health, are nothing short of stunning.
FracTracker has reported extensively on this issue. For further background reading, explore:
A report co-authored by FracTracker Alliance and the Center for Environmental Integrity in 2019 found that plastic production and incineration in 2019 contributed greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to that of 189 new 500-megawatt coal power plants. If plastic production and use grow as currently planned, by 2050, these emissions could rise to the equivalent to the emissions released by more than 615 coal-fired power plants.
Just another way of putting fossil fuels into our atmosphere
Incineration is now strongly critiqued as a dangerous solution to waste disposal as more synthetic and heavily processed materials derived from fossils fuels have entered the waste stream. Filters and other scrubbers that are designed to remove toxins and particulates from incineration smoke are anything but fail-safe. Furthermore, the fly-ash and bottom ash that are produced by incineration only concentrate hazardous compounds even further, posing additional conundrums for disposal.
Incineration as a means of waste disposal, in some states is considered a “renewable energy” source when electricity is generated as a by-product. Opponents of incineration and the so-called “waste-to-energy” process see it as a dangerous route for toxins to get into our lungs, and into the food stream. In fact, Energy Justice Network sees incineration as:
… the most expensive and polluting way to make energy or to manage waste. It produces the fewest jobs compared to reuse, recycling and composting the same materials. It is the dirtiest way to manage waste – far more polluting than landfills. It is also the dirtiest way to produce energy – far more polluting than coal burning.
Municipal waste incineration: bad environmentally, economically, ethically
Waste incineration has been one solution for disposing of trash for millennia. And now, aided by technology, and fueled by a crisis to dispose of ever-increasing trash our society generates, waste-to-energy (WTE) incineration facilities are a component in how we produce electricity.
But what is a common characteristic of the communities in which WTEs are sited? According to a 2019 report by the Tishman Environmental and Design Center at the New School, 79% of all municipal solid waste incinerators are located in communities of color and low-income communities. Incinerators are not only highly problematic environmentally and economically. They present direct and dire environmental justice threats.
Waste-to-Energy facilities in the US, existing and proposed
Activate the Layers List button to turn on Environmental Justice data on air pollutants and cancer occurrences across the United States. We have also included real-time air monitoring data in the interactive map because one of the health impacts of incineration includes respiratory illnesses. These air monitoring stations measure ambient particulate matter (PM 2.5) in the atmosphere, which can be a helpful metric.
What are the true costs of incineration?
These trash incinerators capture energy released from the process of burning materials, and turn it into electricity. But what are the costs? Proponents of incineration say it is a sensible way to reclaim or recovery energy that would otherwise be lost to landfill disposal. The US EIA also points out that burning waste reduces the volume of waste products by up to 87%.
The down-side of incineration of municipal waste, however, is proportionally much greater, with a panoply of health effects documented by the National Institutes for Health, and others.
Dioxins (shown in Figures 6-11) are some of the most dangerous byproducts of trash incineration. They make up a group of highly persistent organic pollutants that take a long time to degrade in the environment and are prone to bioaccumulation up the food chain.
Dioxins are known to cause cancer, disrupt the endocrine and immune systems, and lead to reproductive and developmental problems. Dioxins are some of the most dangerous compounds produced from incineration. Compared with the air pollution from coal-burning power plants, dioxin concentrations produced from incineration may be up to 28 times as high.
Federal EPA regulations between 2000 and 2005 resulted in the closure of nearly 200 high dioxin emitting plants. Currently, there are fewer than 100 waste-to-energy incinerators operating in the United States, all of which are required to operate with high-tech equipment that reduces dioxins to 1% of what used to be emitted. Nevertheless, even with these add-ons, incinerators still produce 28 times the amount of dioxin per BTU when compared with power plants that burn coal.
Energy Justice Network, furthermore, notes that incineration is the most expensive means of managing waste… as well as making energy. This price tag includes high costs to build incinerators, as well as staff and maintain them — exceeding operation and maintenance costs of coal by a factor of 11, and nuclear by a factor of 4.2.
Figure 12. Costs of incineration per ton are nearly twice that of landfilling. Source: National Solid Waste Management Association 2005 Tip Fee Survey, p. 3.
Energy Justice Network and others have pointed out that the amount of energy recovered and/or saved from recycling or composting is up to five times that which would be provided through incineration.
The myth that incineration is a form of “renewable energy”
Waste is a “renewable” resource only to the extent that humans will continue to generate waste. In general, the definition of “renewable” refers to non-fossil fuel based energy, such as wind, solar, geothermal, wind, hydropower, and biomass. Synthetic materials like plastics, derived from oil and gas, however, are not. Although not created from fossil fuels, biologically-derived products are not technically “renewable” either.
Biogenic materials you find in the residual waste stream, such as food, paper, card and natural textiles, are derived from intensive agriculture – monoculture forests, cotton fields and other “green deserts”. The ecosystems from which these materials are derived could not survive in the absence of human intervention, and of energy inputs from fossil sources. It is, therefore, more than debatable whether such materials should be referred to as renewable.
Although incineration may reduce waste volumes by up to 90%, the resulting waste-products are problematic. “Fly-ash,” which is composed of the light-weight byproducts, may be reused in concrete and wallboard. “Bottom ash” however, the more coarse fraction of incineration—about 10% overall—concentrates toxins like heavy metals. Bottom-ash is disposed of in landfills or sometimes incorporated into structural fill and aggregate road-base material.
How common is the practice of using trash to fuel power plants?
Trash incineration accounts for a fraction of the power produced in the United States. According to the United States Energy Information Administration, just under 13% of electricity generated in the US comes from burning of municipal solid waste, in fewer than 65 waste-to-energy plants nation-wide. Nevertheless, operational waste-to-incineration plants are found throughout the United States, with a concentration east of the Mississippi.
According to EnergyJustice.net’s count of waste incinerators in the US and Canada, currently, there are:
207 closed or defeated
Figure 14. Locations of waste incinerators that are already shut down. Source: EnergyJustice.net)
Precise numbers of these incinerators are difficult to ascertain, however. Recent estimates from the federal government put the number of current waste-to-energy facilities at slightly fewer: EPA currently says there are 75 of these incinerators in the United States. And in their database, updated July 2020, the United States Energy Information Administration (EIA), lists 63 power plants that are fueled by municipal solid waste. Of these 63 plants, 40—or 66%—are in the northeast United States.
Regardless, advocates of clean energy, waste reduction, and sustainability argue that trash incinerators, despite improvements in pollution reduction over earlier times and the potential for at least some electric generation, are the least effective option for waste disposal that exists. The trend towards plant closure across the United States would support that assertion.
Let’s take a look at the dirty details on WTE facilities in three states in the Northeastern US.
Review of WTE plants in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey
A. New York State
Operational WTE Facilities
In NYS, there are currently 11 waste-to-energy facilities that are operational, and two that are proposed. Here’s a look at some of them:
The largest waste-to-energy facility in New York State, Covanta Hempstead Company (Nassau County), was built in 1989. It is a 72 MW generating plant, and considered by Covanta to be the “cornerstone of the town’s integrated waste service plan.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s ECHO database, this plant has no violations listed. Oddly enough, even after drawing public attention in 2009 about the risks associated with particulate fall-out from the plant, the facility has not been inspected in the past 5 years.
Other WTE facilities in New York State include the Wheelabrator plant located in Peekskill (51 MW), Covanta Energy of Niagara in Niagara Falls (32 MW), Convanta Onondaga in Jamesville (39 MW), Huntington Resource Recovery in Suffolk County (24.3 MW), and the Babylon Resource Recovery Facility also in Suffolk County (16.8 MW). Five additional plants scattered throughout the state in Oswego, Dutchess, Suffolk, Tioga, and Washington Counties, are smaller than 15 MW each. Of those, two closed and one proposal was defeated.
Closed / Defeated Facilities
The $550 million Corinth American Ref-Fuel, was proposed for Corinth, New York. It was designed to take 1.27 million tons of New York City waste/year, even more than what is planned for the CircularEnerG plant. It was defeated ~2004. Population of 864 in immediate vicinity of plant, 98% white, income $59K.
Fire Island, Saltaire Incinerator closed. Took 12 tons/day. It was opened in 1965s, but not designed to produce energy, just burn trash. There was a population of 317 in immediate vicinity of plant, 93% white, income $123K.
The Long Beach incinerator processed 200 tons per day of solid waste. This plant was operating in 1988, but closed in 1996.
The Albany Steam Plant closed in 1994. When it was operational, it took in 340-600 tons of trash per day. Environmental justice issues were plentiful at this plant, with over 99% of the area as African American, according to the LA Times coverage of the issue.
CircularEnerG, was a 50 MW plant proposed in Romulus, on the former Seneca Army Depot, in the middle of largely white Seneca County, New York. However, the nearest large population to the proposed site was the 1500-prisoner capacity Five Points Correctional facility, swaying the demographics to nearly 52% African American in the highest impact zone. More broadly, the facility was in the heart of the Finger Lakes wine region, known for its extraordinary scenery, clean lakes, and award-winning wines. This facility was broadly opposed by nearly all the surrounding municipalities and counties, and mired in controversy about improper procedures and a designation by a local zoning officer as a “renewable” source of energy in its early filing papers.
Local advocacy groups, Seneca Lake Guardian (an affiliate of the Waterkeeper Network), and the Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition worked exhaustively with the legal group, Earthjustice, to stop the project.
Figure 15. Map of regional governments and organizations opposed to construction of Romulus waste-to-energy incinerator in New York State
In March 2019, after state lawmakers, along with Governor Andrew Cuomo came out against the trash incinerator, the special use permit application for the facility was withdrawn.
Plans were also in development for a garbage-to-gas plant in the Hudson River community of Stony Point, New York. The company, New Planet Energy, had hoped to construct the gasification plant that would accept 4,500 tons of waste daily, brought in each day by approximately 400 trucks, according to an article in Lohud, May 1, 2018. However, the owner of the property eventually backed out of the proposal shortly after the publication of the article, following an uptick in criticism about the project about environmental and traffic safety concerns. This property is also currently an active Superfund site.
Proposed WTE Facilities
In New York State, there are currently two proposed WTE facilities.
New York State has rejected the designation for WTE facilities since 2011. As of the latest reports, the company is pushing ahead with its plans, despite the widespread dislike for the project. A bill in the State Legislature has been introduced to block the project. Green Waste Energy has been proposed for Rensselaer, NY. This trash-burning gasification plant would accept 2500 tons of trash per day. However, in August 2020, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) denied the air quality permit for the facility. The developers may appeal this decision.
In New Windsor, NY, a project called W2E Orange County has been under consideration. Most recent news coverage of this project was three and a half years ago, so it is possible this project is not moving forward. The parent company of the project, Ensorga, appears to have contracted its operations to West Virginia.
Operational WTE Facilities
In Pennsylvania, six WTE facilities are currently operating. Two have been closed, and six defeated.
Proposed WTE Facilities
In Pennsylvania, there are currently no WTEs under consideration for construction.
Closed WTE Facilities
Chester Resource Recovery #1 was used from the late 1950s to 1979. The neighborhood is over 64% African American. This was one of three incinerators used here.
Westmoreland County WTE plant, which opened in 1986 and burned 25 tons of solid municipal waste per day, has been closed due to financial unviability, and lack of need for the steam that was produced, according to a report drafted in 1997. It was located in a densely populated area, and provided steam to a nursing home, jail, and low-income housing.
Defeated WTE Facility Proposals
Elroy trash-to-steam plant was located in a densely populated section of Franconia Township, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. It was to handle 360 tons of waste per day and was located on the grounds of a rendering plant. The application for this plant was withdrawn in June, 1989. Citizens for a Clean Environment successfully defeated this project.
The Plasma Gasification Incinerator, located in Hazle Township, Pennsylvania, was proposed to burn 4,000 tons of trash per day. The median income in the immediate vicinity of the site is $46K. The application for this project was withdrawn.
The Pittston Trash Incinerator in a very low-income area of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, was designed to burn 3,000 tons of trash per day. This project was defeated.
The $65 million Delta Thermo Muncy facility, which would have burned municipal waste and sewage sludge, was defeated in December, 2016. Citizens in the Energy Justice Network and Stop the Muncy Waste Incinerator organized and passed a set-back ordinance that made it impossible for the plant to locate there. This proposed plant, would have been located in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. The plan there was to decompose trash and sewage through a hydrothermal technique to create pellets, which would then be burned to yield energy.
Originally proposed in 2007, the $49 million Delta Thermo Allentown plant has been fought for many years by Allentown Residents for Clean Air. If built, it would generate 2 MW of energy, and receive 100 tons of municipal waste each day and 50 tons of sewage sludge. The plant is located in a densely-populated, predominately Hispanic neighborhood. There has been no news on this project in over four years, so this project appears to have been defeated.
Glendon Energy proposed building an incinerator in Northampton County, Pennsylvania. This proposal was also defeated.
C. New Jersey
Operational WTE Facilities
And in New Jersey, there are currently four operating WTE facilities. Essex County Resource Recovery Facility, is New Jersey’s largest WTE facility. It opened in 1990, houses three burners, and produces 93 MW total.
Three WTE facilities are currently proposed in New Jersey. Jefferson Renewable Energy Trash Incinerator (Jersey City, New Jersey) is designed to produce 90 MW of power, accepting 3,200 tons/day solid waste, plus 800 tons/day construction/demo waste.
Delta Thermo Sussex is designed to burn both municipal solid waste and sewage sludge. And DTE Paterson would accept 205 tons of waste/day. The price tag to build this small facility is not so small: $45 million.
Closed WTE Facilities
Two WTE plants in New Jersey are no longer in operation. These include Fort Dix, which opened in 1986 and burned 80 tons of trash per day; and Atlantic County Jail, which opened in 1990 and burned 14 tons of trash per day.
Throw-aways, burn-aways, take-aways
Looming large above the arguments about appropriate siting, environmental justice, financial gain, and energy prices, is a bigger question:
How can we continue to live on this planet at our current rates of consumption, and the resultant waste generation?
The issue here is not so much about the sources of our heat and electricity in the future, but rather “How MUST we change our habits now to ensure a future on a livable planet?”
Professor Paul Connett (emeritus, St. Lawrence University), is a specialist in the build-up of dioxins in food chains, and the problems, dangers, and alternatives to incineration. He is a vocal advocate for a “Zero Waste” approach to consumption, and suggests that every community embrace these principles as ways to guide a reduction of our waste footprint on the planet. The fewer resources that are used, the less waste is produced, mitigating the extensive costs brought on by our consumptive lifestyles. Waste-to-energy incineration facilities are just a symptom of our excessively consumptive society.
Dr. Connett suggests these simple but powerful methods to drastically reduce the amount of materials that we dispose — whether by incineration, landfill, or out the car window on a back-road, anywhere in the world:
Building Reuse, Repair and Community centers
Implementing waste reduction Initiatives
Building Residual Separation and Research centers
Better industrial design
Interim landfill for non-recyclables and biological stabilization of other organic materials
Connett’s Zero Waste charge to industry is this: “If we can’t reuse, recycle, or compost it, industry shouldn’t be making it.” Reducing our waste reduces our energy footprint on the planet.
In a similar vein, FracTracker has written about the potential for managing waste through a circular economics model, which has been successfully implemented by the city of Freiburg, Germany. A circular economic model incorporates recycling, reuse, and repair to loop “waste” back into the system. A circular model focuses on designing products that last and can be repaired or re-introduced back into a natural ecosystem.
This is an important vision to embrace. Every day. Everywhere.
For more in-depth and informative background on plastic in the environment, please watch “The Story of Plastic” (https://www.storyofplastic.org/). The producers of the film encourage holding group discussions after the film so that audiences can actively think through action plans to reduce plastic use.
https://www.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Waste-to-Energy-facilities-in-the-US-feature-.jpg16673750Karen Edelsteinhttps://www.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Fractracker-Color-Logo.jpgKaren Edelstein2020-10-19 15:11:492020-10-20 17:32:13Incinerators: Dinosaurs in the world of energy generation
On August 3, 2020, New Yorkers rejoiced in Governor Cuomo’s signing of legislation to protect the Empire State from Pennsylvania’s fracking waste. Although New York State has banned high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” within its borders, a fracking waste loophole allowed numerous landfills to received both solid and liquid waste products from drilling operations just south of its border, according to records from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP).
What has been at stake
A regulatory loophole in New York State’s laws exempted drilling waste from scrutiny as hazardous materials. Therefore, solid and liquid wastes from drilling operations — including many constituents which are considered secret or “proprietary” — were sent to landfills, and in some cases, spread on roads and walkways in the state. Municipalities were provided with very little understanding of the risks those materials might be posing to air and water quality in and around landfills. Until the signing of this legislation, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has considered road-spreading of waste brine from both conventional and unconventional oil and gas wells that was spread on roads a “BUD,” or a beneficial use determination.
Nevertheless, research has shown that produced water from fracking operations can contain tens to thousands of times the allowable drinking water concentration limit of radium, strontium, barium, lead, arsenic, and other elements. Human health impacts of all phases of drilling operations were explored in a recent paper by Wollin et al. (May 2020).
Water that flows to the surface from oil and gas wells, so-called ‘produced water’, represents a mixture of flow-back, the injected frac fluid returning to the surface, and the reservoir water present in natural oil and gas deposits. Among numerous hazardous compounds, produced water may contain bromide, arsenic, strontium, mercury, barium, radioactive isotopes and organic compounds, particularly benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes (BTEX). The sewage outflow, even from specialized treatment plants, may still contain critical concentrations of barium, strontium and arsenic. Evidence suggests that the quality of groundwater and surface water may be compromised by disposal of produced water.
Carcinogenic and radioactive wastes that are brought to the surface with both conventional and unconventional drilling technologies can have toxic impacts on human health and the natural environment, impacting the endocrine, nervous, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems, as well as air and water quality. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, more than 75 percent of the chemicals used in fracking are associated with harm to human organs, while 25 percent are tied to cancer and other genetic mutations.
How could this be allowed?
Although the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA)—passed in 1976—specifically safeguards human and environmental health, an amendment to the Act in 1980 exempted from regulation all waste from oil and gas exploration, development, and production. Despite close to 40 years of federal oversight of pollution created by countless industries, oil and gas operations have been subject to far more lax regulations. And although states can pass their own regulations to supplement the federal rule-making, this had not occurred in New York State.
The lead-up to the legislation
The recent legislation to close the fracking loophole in New York State was sponsored in 2019 by Senator Rachel May and Assemblyman Steve Engelbright. Lawmakers had been deadlocked on the issue since 2011, but through much hard work, political and public will, and a favorable complement of elected officials, after the bills finally passed both the New York State Senate and Assembly, they could move to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk, where they were signed into law in early August, 2020. According to EarthWorks, all oil and gas waste will be
Subject to laboratory analysis to determine whether it has the characteristics of hazardous waste (i.e., ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, and toxicity)
Subject wastes to clearer, stronger management regulations like processing, tracking and marking of loads, recordkeeping with a manifest system, reporting to DEC, and specific requirements for clean up in the case of a spill
In addition, the law ensures that waste is disposed of only at facilities equipped to safely handle it.
Now, even wastes like brine from conventional drilling operations must undergo laboratory analysis to determine whether they have characteristics consistent with hazardous materials.
Here’s a look back at our history of accepting fracking waste from Pennsylvania into New York State.
Visualizing a long history of oil and gas waste coming to New York State from Pennsylvania
FracTracker has annually mapped the flow of drilling waste from Pennsylvania to New York State.
Since 2011, nearly 29,000 barrels of fracking liquid waste (drilling fluids, fracturing fluids, produced waters, etc.), along with close to 645,000 tons of solid waste (drill cuttings—some of it radioactive, sludge, contaminated soils, etc.) from Pennsylvania drilling operations have been disposed of in New York State. For more references on radioactivity in drilling materials, explore this resource. Drilling waste reports available from 2010 through the present show a steady decline in waste sent to New York State, beginning in 2011. Nonetheless, New York’s landfills have received as much as 11,548 barrels of drilling waste, and 214,168 tons of solid waste in a given year.
PA DEP’s records are far from complete prior to 2016, however, with disposal destinations unknown for close to 2/3 of liquid waste (see yellow portions of the bar chart in Figure 1) generated between 2012 and 2015.
In more recent years, waste products were accounted for more accurately, as well as shipped to injection wells in Ohio.
On a relatively smaller scale, one can also see how West Virginia’s acceptance of Pennsylvania’s fracking waste has skyrocketed in 2018 and 2019, particularly in comparison to states other than Pennsylvania and Ohio (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Pennsylvania’s liquid unconventional drilling waste disposal by state (excluding Pennsylvania and Ohio), 2010-2019
In general, records indicate more solid waste disposal occurring within Pennsylvania over time, with Ohio accepting varying quantities from year to year, and New York State steadily receiving less over time (Figure 3).
Now that the regulatory loophole has been closed, these numbers should drop to near zero. Data about waste coming from Pennsylvania to New York in the first half of 2020 support that assertion (Figures 4 and 5).
FracTracker applauds New York State for closing the fracking waste loophole and in doing so, continuing to set high standards to protect its residents from the human and environmental impacts created by oil and gas extraction. We hope that other states will follow suit, and develop their own stringent standards to protect human and environmental health, in particular where federal legislation like RCRA has fallen woefully short.
https://www.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/TAuch_Infrastructure-FrackPad_ImpoundmentPond_AccessRoad-PineCreekWatershed_PA_LightHawk_Aug2019-Feature.jpg8331875Karen Edelsteinhttps://www.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Fractracker-Color-Logo.jpgKaren Edelstein2020-08-28 15:38:042020-08-28 15:38:04New York State Closes the Fracking Waste Loophole
By Kim Fraczek (Sane Energy Project), with input and mapping by Karen Edelstein (FracTracker Alliance)
Despite overwhelming concern about the impacts of fossil fuels on climate chaos, pipeline projects are springing up all over the country in an effort find markets for the surplus of fracked gas extracted from the Marcellus region in Pennsylvania. New Yorkers are directly impacted by these problematic supply chains. The energy company, National Grid, is proposing to raise New Yorkers’ monthly bills in order to complete a new, 30-inch high-pressure fracked gas transmission pipeline through Brooklyn, New York. National Grid euphemistically named the 350-psi pipeline the “The Metropolitan Reliability Pipeline Project.” Gas moving through this pipeline is destined for a National Grid Depot on Newtown Creek, which divides Brooklyn from the borough of Queens. National Grid plans to expand liquefied natural gas (LNG) storage and vaporizer operations at the Depot. The Depot expansion will also facilitate trucking transport of gas to and from North Brooklyn to destinations in Long Island and Massachusetts.
For an industry explanation on how vaporizers work, click here.
National Grid Depot is located on the western bank of Newtown Creek. Source: Google Maps
National Grid is asking the New York State Public Service Commission (PSC) to approve:
A charge of $185 million to rate-payers in order to finish the current pipeline phase under construction in Bushwick. Pipeline construction would continue north into East Williamsburg and Greenpoint (other sections of Brooklyn)
$23 million to replace two old vaporizers at National Grid’s Greenpoint LNG facility
$54 million to add two new vaporizers to the Greenpoint LNG facility
$31.5 million over the next 4 years to add “portable LNG capabilities at the Greenpoint site that will allow LNG delivered via truck to on-system injection points.” National Grid is currently seeking a variance from New York City for permission to bring LNG trucks onto city property. Currently, this sort of activity is illegal due to high risk of fires and explosions.
Impacts on the community, resistance to the pipeline
Pipelines also present risks of catching fire and exploding. On average, a 350-psi gas pipeline has an evacuation radius of approximately 1275 feet. FracTracker Alliance created the interactive map, below, using 2010 census data to show population density in the neighborhoods within this blast zone. According to FracTracker, there were 614 reported pipeline incidents in the United States in 2019 alone, resulting in the death of 10 people, injuries to another 35, and about $259 million in damages.
There is widespread community opposition to this pipeline, LNG expansion, and trucking proposal because it will:
Threaten the health and safety of nearly 153,000 people living in the evacuation zone. Concerns include air quality impacts from fugitive methane that could especially impact those with asthma, and functional logistics around safe evacuation in the event of a leak or explosion.
Within the evacuation zone, using federal data, FracTracker determined that there are also:
Opponents of this pipeline project also raise objections that the pipeline will:
Become a stranded asset leaving residents to foot the bill for the pipeline as city and state climate laws are implemented
Contribute carbon monoxide and methane to the atmosphere, thereby accelerating climate change and its impacts on coastal metropolises like New York City
National Grid is currently constructing Phase 4 of the pipeline. However, public pressure and concern about COVID-19 safety measures forced them to stop construction on March 27, 2020. After Governor Cuomo issued an executive order to halt all non-essential work, neighbors reported the company was not mandating personal protective equipment (PPE) nor social distancing for its workers.
Additionally, funding to build north of Montrose Avenue in Bushwick through to Greenpoint—neighborhoods in northeastern Brooklyn on the border with Queens that make up the fifth phase of the pipeline construction—is pending a decision by the Public Service Commission. The approval of the fifth phase of the pipeline would allow it to reach the LNG facility at Greenpoint.
Generalized map of Brooklyn neighborhoods. Source: Wikipedia.
The current National Grid rate case proceeding is in its last stage of discovery, testimony, cross-examination, and final briefs from parties to the rate case. The Administrative Law Judges overseeing the proceeding will review all parties’ information, and make a recommendation to the Public Service Commission, a five-person panel appointed by New York State Governor Cuomo to regulate our utilities. This decision will most likely happen at the monthly meeting on June 18, 2020, where they also may make a decision on National Grid’s Long Term Plan proceeding that could determine the future of LNG expansion in North Brooklyn.
What are the broader economic and political concerns for stopping this, and other new pipeline projects?
This project is not about “modernizing” our system for heating and cooking. This is about an expansion to charge rate-payers an increase and to grow profits for National Grid’s shareholders.
This is a transmission pipeline, not a gas distribution line. It will not service the affected community where the already trafficked main thoroughfares and already stressed trucking routes for local businesses will be dug up.
Gas pipelines are not safe. According to the United States Pipeline and Hazardous Safety Materials Administration (PHMSA), between 2016 and 2018, an average of 638 pipeline incidents per year resulted in a total of 43 fatalities and 204 injuries . The cost to the public for these incidents over those three years was nearly $2.7 billion. [For more analysis on national pipeline incidents, see FracTracker’s February 2020 article.]
Fracking exacerbates climate change. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Over a 20 year period, it contributes 86 to 100 times more atmospheric warming than equivalent amounts of carbon dioxide. Climate change is destroying Earth’s ability to sustain life.
This project holds New York State back on our renewable energy goals. We should be mandating any gas pipelines should be replaced with geothermal energy, along with energy efficiency measures in our buildings.
The industry coined the term “natural” gas to create the sense that it is clean, but the extraction, transport and burning of this gas creates air pollution, disturbs ecosystems, contaminates drinking water sources,and disproportionately affects lower income communities and communities of color.
A report authored by Suzanne Mattei, former DEC Region 2 Chief, notes National Grid does not have gas supply constraints–the situation where consumer demand exceeds the supply. Mattei contends that this is a manufactured crisis to maintain business-as-usual, keep us hooked on fossil fuels, and charge rate-payers for construction well after the lifespan of this pipeline. This makes local constituents pay for the company’s stranded assets. National Grid themselves report that they are able to handle yearly peak demand through existing supplemental gas sources. What’s more, the EIA expects for natural gas demand to remain flat over the course of the next decade, refuting National Grid’s claim that their massive pipeline project is necessary to respond to the few hours of peak demand experienced each year.
This is actually a substantial project, which avoided more stringent permitting and discussion by breaking the work into five separate projections, a process known as “segmentation”. The North Brooklyn Pipeline project is disguised as a local upgrade by segmentation, while in reality, it is a much larger project leading to an LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) depot, CNG (Compressed Natural Gas) and other fracking infrastructure facilities in Greenpoint.
National Grid is requesting almost 185 million ratepayer dollars over the next three years to complete the project.
As gas prices continue to drop and renewable energy technologies are more accessible and wide-spread, the whole equation that relies on a fossil fuel-based economy becomes more desperate and unsustainable. Many communities are also saying “no” to new pipelines in their communities, so industry is looking to ship fracked gas over land by truck. Another method for disposing of surplus gas is to compress it into LNG (liquefied natural gas) and ship it to international markets by boat.
For more updates on the North Brooklyn Pipeline, check Sane Energy Project’s website. If you live in the New York/Metropolitan area and want to get involved in this fight, there are numerous ways in which you can work with Sane Energy. Click here for details.
https://www.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/North-Brooklyn-Pipeline-demographics_1.jpg9142242Guest Authorhttps://www.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Fractracker-Color-Logo.jpgGuest Author2020-05-18 09:00:212020-05-15 16:11:52New Yorkers mount resistance against North Brooklyn Pipeline
We’ve recently updated the New York State Oil and Gas Well Viewer with data up to 2020. The map and data below show that conventional gas drilling in New York State has decreased significantly since the first decade of 2000, but drilling for oil in western New York has increased in the past few years. In part thanks to the fracking ban in New York State, less than 1% of the wells in New York State have been drilled unconventionally.
Currently, there are more active gas wells in New York State than all other types combined. Fewer than 1% of the wells in the New York State database have been drilled directionally or horizontally. And only a fraction of those were gas wells. Since 2014, high-volume hydraulic fracturing has been banned, due to health and environmental concerns.
Western New York State was once a very active region for oil drilling, but today, only 21% of all oil wells are still active. Additional well types include brine solution mines. Many of these mines, once a large enough cavern has been dissolved, are later converted into storage mines for gas.
Well type, as of 24 January 2020
Status = Active
Status = Other (includes plugged and abandoned, unlisted/unknown, converted, voided/expired permit, etc.)
6,721 (58% of all active wells)
4,214 (13% of “other” categories)
3,581 (31% of all active wells)
13,217 (40% of “other” categories)
840 (7% of all active wells)
146 (<1% of “other” categories)
165 (1% of all active wells)
311 (1% of “other” categories)
138 (1% of all active wells)
593 (2% of “other” categories)
Other (145 geothermal, 7724 category not listed)
85 (1% of all active wells)
7,784 (23% of “other” categories)
36 (<1% of all active wells)
4,186 (13% of “other” categories)
4 (<1% of all active wells)
2,786 (8% of “other” categories)
Patterns in Well Drilling
Well drilling in New York State was at a high point between the mid-1960s and the early 1990s. After another peak in activity in the first decade of the 21st century with conventional gas drilling, activity has dropped off sharply.
Figure 1. Oil and gas wells in New York State per year, 1990-2020. Data from NYS DEC.
A Potential Uptick in the Past Few Years
While gas drilling in New York State has tapered off dramatically, drilling for oil in Cattaraugus County in western New York has increased significantly since 2017.
Figure 2. Oil wells drilled in Cattaraugus County, New York, 2018-19. Data from NYS DEC.
Nearly every one of the 169 new wells drilled in New York State during 2019 was an oil well within 5 miles of St. Bonaventure in Cattaraugus County. We’ll be following up shortly with a more in-depth analysis of the issues and risks associated with this oil “boom” in the upper reaches of the Allegheny River of New York State.
https://www.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/New-York-State-Oil-Gas-Well-Viewer-2020.jpg12081966Karen Edelsteinhttps://www.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Fractracker-Color-Logo.jpgKaren Edelstein2020-03-11 12:07:052020-03-13 10:14:05New York State Oil & Gas Wells – 2020 Update
Natural gas compressor stations (1,367) – Facilities built along a pipeline route that pressurize natural gas to keep it flowing through the pipeline.
Crude oil rail terminals (94) – Rail terminals that load and unload crude oil (liquid hydrocarbons that have yet to be processed into higher-value petroleum products).
Liquefied natural gas import/export terminals (8) – Facilities that can a) liquefy natural gas so it can be exported as LNG (liquefied natural gas) and/or b) re-gasify LNG so it can be used as natural gas. Natural gas is transported in a liquid state because it takes up less space as a liquid than as a gas.
Natural Gas Underground Storage (486) – Locations where natural gas is stored underground in aquifers, depleted gas fields, and salt formations.
Petroleum Product Terminals (1,484) – Terminals with a storage capacity of 50,000 barrels or more and/or the ability to receive volumes from tanker, barge, or pipeline. Petroleum products include products “produced from the processing of crude oil and other liquids at petroleum refineries, from extraction of liquid hydrocarbons at natural gas processing plants, and from production of finished petroleum products at blending facilities.”
Petroleum Ports (242) – A port that can import and/or export 200,000 or more short tons of petroleum products a year.
Natural gas import/export pipeline facility (54) – A facility where natural gas crosses the border of the continental United States.
Crude oil pipelines – major crude oil pipelines, including interstate truck lines and selected intrastate lines, but not including gathering lines.
Natural gas liquid pipelines – Also referred to as hydrocarbon gas liquid pipelines, they carry the heavier components of the natural gas stream which are liquid under intense pressure and extreme cold, but gas in normal conditions.
Natural gas pipelines– Interstate and intrastate natural gas pipelines. Due to the immensity of this pipeline network and lack of available data, this pipeline layer in particular varies in degree of accuracy.
Petroleum Product Pipelines – Major petroleum product pipelines.
Recent Pipeline Projects – Pipeline projects that have been announced since 2017. This includes projects in various stages, including under construction, complete, planned or canceled. Click on the pipeline for the status.
Processing & Downstream
Natural Gas Processing Plants (478) – Plants that separate impurities and components of the natural gas stream.
Chemical plants (36) – Includes two types of chemical plants – petrochemical production and ammonia manufacturing – that report to EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program.
Ethylene Crackers (30) – Also referred to as ethane crackers, these petrochemical complexes that converts ethane (a natural gas liquid) into ethylene. Ethylene is used to make products like polyethylene plastic.
Petroleum Refineries (135) – A plant that processes crude oil into products like petroleum naphtha, diesel fuel, and gasoline.
Power Plants (9,414) – Electric generating plants with a capacity of at least one megawatt, sorted by energy source.
Wind Turbines (63,003) – Zoom in on wind power plants to see this legend item appear.
Shale Plays (45) – Tight oil and gas shale plays, which are formations where oil and gas can be extracted.
Solar Energy Potential – Potential solar energy generation, in kilowatt-hours per square meter per day – averaged annually.
This map is by no means exhaustive, but is exhausting. It takes a lot of infrastructure to meet the energy demands from industries, transportation, residents, and businesses – and the vast majority of these facilities are powered by fossil fuels. What can we learn about the state of our national energy ecosystem from visualizing this infrastructure? And with increasing urgency to decarbonize within the next one to three decades, how close are we to completely reengineering the way we make energy?
Natural gas accounts for 44% of electricity generation in the United States – more than any other source. Despite that, the cost per megawatt hour of electricity for renewable energy power plants is now cheaper than that of natural gas power plants.
The state generating the largest amount of solar energy is California, while wind energy is Texas. The state with the greatest relative solar energy is not technically a state – it’s D.C., where 18% of electricity generation is from solar, closely followed by Nevada at 17%. Iowa leads the country in relative wind energy production, at 45%.
The state generating the most amount of energy from both natural gas and coal is Texas. Relatively, West Virginia has the greatest reliance on coal for electricity (85%), and Rhode Island has the greatest percentage of natural gas (92%).
With 28% of total U.S. energy consumption for transportation, many of the refineries, crude oil and petroleum product pipelines, and terminals on this map are dedicated towards gasoline, diesel, and other fuel production.
Petrochemical production, which is expected to account for over a third of global oil demand growth by 2030, takes the form of chemical plants, ethylene crackers, and natural gas liquid pipelines on this map, largely concentrated in the Gulf Coast.
The “power plant” legend item on this map contains facilities with an electric generating capacity of at least one megawatt, and includes independent power producers, electric utilities, commercial plants, and industrial plants. What does this data reveal?
In terms of the raw number of power plants – solar plants tops the list, with 2,916 facilities, followed by natural gas at 1,747.
In terms of megawatts of electricity generated, the picture is much different – with natural gas supplying the highest percentage of electricity (44%), much more than the second place source, which is coal at 21%, and far more than solar, which generates only 3% (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Electricity generation by source in the United States, 2019. Data from EIA.
This difference speaks to the decentralized nature of the solar industry, with more facilities producing less energy. At a glance, this may seem less efficient and more costly than the natural gas alternative, which has fewer plants producing more energy. But in reality, each of these natural gas plants depend on thousands of fracked wells – and they’re anything but efficient.
The cost per megawatt hour of electricity for a renewable energy power plants is now cheaper than that of fracked gas power plants. A report by the Rocky Mountain Institute, found “even as clean energy costs continue to fall, utilities and other investors have announced plans for over $70 billion in new gas-fired power plant construction through 2025. RMI research finds that 90% of this proposed capacity is more costly than equivalent [clean energy portfolios, which consist of wind, solar, and energy storage technologies] and, if those plants are built anyway, they would be uneconomic to continue operating in 2035.”
The economics side with renewables – but with solar, wind, geothermal comprising only 12% of the energy pie, and hydropower at 7%, do renewables have the capacity to meet the nation’s energy needs? Yes! Even the Energy Information Administration, a notorious skeptic of renewable energy’s potential, forecasted renewables would beat out natural gas in terms of electricity generation by 2050 in their 2020 Annual Energy Outlook.
This prediction doesn’t take into account any future legislation limiting fossil fuel infrastructure. A ban on fracking or policies under a Green New Deal could push renewables into the lead much sooner than 2050.
In a void of national leadership on the transition to cleaner energy, a few states have bolstered their renewable portfolio.
Figure 2. Electricity generation state-wide by source, 2019. Data from EIA.
One final factor to consider – the pie pieces on these state charts aren’t weighted equally, with some states’ capacity to generate electricity far greater than others. The top five electricity producers are Texas, California, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.
In 2018, approximately 28% of total U.S. energy consumption was for transportation. To understand the scale of infrastructure that serves this sector, it’s helpful to click on the petroleum refineries, crude oil rail terminals, and crude oil pipelines on the map.
Transportation Fuel Infrastructure. Data from EIA.
The majority of gasoline we use in our cars in the US is produced domestically. Crude oil from wells goes to refineries to be processed into products like diesel fuel and gasoline. Gasoline is taken by pipelines, tanker, rail, or barge to storage terminals (add the “petroleum product terminal” and “petroleum product pipelines” legend items), and then by truck to be further processed and delivered to gas stations.
China leads the world in this movement. In 2018, just over half of the world’s electric vehicles sales occurred in China. Analysts predict that the country’s oil demand will peak in the next five years thanks to battery-powered vehicles and high-speed rail.
In the United States, the percentage of electric vehicles on the road is small but growing quickly. Tax credits and incentives will be important for encouraging this transition. Almost half of the country’s electric vehicle sales are in California, where incentives are added to the federal tax credit. California also has a “Zero Emission Vehicle” program, requiring electric vehicles to comprise a certain percentage of sales.
We can’t ignore where electric vehicles are sourcing their power – and for that we must go back up to the electricity generation section. If you’re charging your car in a state powered mainly by fossil fuels (as many are), then the electricity is still tied to fossil fuels.
Many of the oil and gas infrastructure on the map doesn’t go towards energy at all, but rather aids in manufacturing petrochemicals – the basis of products like plastic, fertilizer, solvents, detergents, and resins.
Natural gas processing plants separate components of the natural gas stream to extract natural gas liquids like ethane and propane – which are transported through the natural gas liquid pipelines. These natural gas liquids are key building blocks of the petrochemical industry.
Ethane crackers process natural gas liquids into polyethylene – the most common type of plastic.
The chemical plants on this map include petrochemical production plants and ammonia manufacturing. Ammonia, which is used in fertilizer production, is one of the top synthetic chemicals produced in the world, and most of it comes from steam reforming natural gas.
As we discuss ways to decarbonize the country, petrochemicals must be a major focus of our efforts. That’s because petrochemicals are expected to account for over a third of global oil demand growth by 2030 and nearly half of demand growth by 2050 – thanks largely to an increase in plastic production. The International Energy Agency calls petrochemicals a “blind spot” in the global energy debate.
Petrochemical development off the coast of Texas, November 2019. Photo by Ted Auch, aerial support provided by LightHawk.
Investing in plastic manufacturing is the fossil fuel industry’s strategy to remain relevant in a renewable energy world. As such, we can’t break up with fossil fuels without also giving up our reliance on plastic. Legislation like the Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act get to the heart of this issue, by pausing construction of new ethane crackers, ensuring the power of local governments to enact plastic bans, and phasing out certain single-use products.
“The greatest industrial challenge the world has ever faced”
Mapped out, this web of fossil fuel infrastructure seems like a permanent grid locking us into a carbon-intensive future. But even more overwhelming than the ubiquity of fossil fuels in the US is how quickly this infrastructure has all been built. Everything on this map was constructed since Industrial Revolution, and the vast majority in the last century (Figure 3) – an inch on the mile-long timeline of human civilization.
Figure 3. Global Fossil Fuel Consumption. Data from Vaclav Smil (2017)
In fact, over half of the carbon from burning fossil fuels has been released in the last 30 years. As David Wallace Wells writes in The Uninhabitable Earth, “we have done as much damage to the fate of the planet and its ability to sustain human life and civilization since Al Gore published his first book on climate than in all the centuries—all the millennia—that came before.”
What will this map look like in the next 30 years?
A recent report on the global economics of the oil industry states, “To phase out petroleum products (and fossil fuels in general), the entire global industrial ecosystem will need to be reengineered, retooled and fundamentally rebuilt…This will be perhaps the greatest industrial challenge the world has ever faced historically.”
Is it possible to build a decentralized energy grid, generated by a diverse array of renewable, local, natural resources and backed up by battery power? Could all communities have the opportunity to control their energy through member-owned cooperatives instead of profit-thirsty corporations? Could microgrids improve the resiliency of our system in the face of increasingly intense natural disasters and ensure power in remote regions? Could hydrogen provide power for energy-intensive industries like steel and iron production? Could high speed rail, electric vehicles, a robust public transportation network and bike-able cities negate the need for gasoline and diesel? Could traditional methods of farming reduce our dependency on oil and gas-based fertilizers? Could zero waste cities stop our reliance on single-use plastic?
Of course! Technology evolves at lightning speed. Thirty years ago we didn’t know what fracking was and we didn’t have smart phones. The greater challenge lies in breaking the fossil fuel industry’s hold on our political system and convincing our leaders that human health and the environment shouldn’t be externalized costs of economic growth.
https://www.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/National-map-feature-3.png400900Erica Jacksonhttps://www.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Fractracker-Color-Logo.jpgErica Jackson2020-02-28 17:35:142020-10-19 14:23:46National Energy and Petrochemical Map
There are many courageous and determined individuals to be grateful for within the environmental movement. At the 2019 Community Sentinel Awards for Environmental Stewardship, we were graced with the presence of many such leaders, and celebrated four in particular as this year’s award winners. From those fighting LNG export terminals on the West Coast, to those resisting fracking expansion in the Marcellus Shale and other formations, to those shutting down petrochemical expansion in the Gulf Coast – thank you, Sentinels.
2019 Community Sentinel Award Reception
The Program on October 22nd
The 2019 reception and ceremony coincided with the oil and gas industry’s three-day Shale Insight Conference. The fighters and victims of dirty energy and petrochemical development were recognized as we opposed the nearby perpetrators of these harms. The event featured the keynote speaker Andrey Rudomakha, Director of Environmental Watch on North Caucasus, and inspirational emcee David Braun of Rootskeeper.
You can watch the full 2019 Awards Reception here:
More About the Awardees
Mr. Ron Gulla has been a pivotal voice in fighting unconventional oil and gas development in Pennsylvania and beyond. After natural gas development destroyed his property in Canonsburg, PA in 2005, Mr. Gulla became an outspoken advocate for citizens and landowners facing the many harms of fracking.
Mr. Gulla knows the industry well, having worked as an equipment supplier for various oil and gas operations. Like so many, he believed the industry crusade that touted energy independence and its promise of becoming a “shalionaire.”
Four unconventional gas wells were installed on Mr. Gulla’s property from 2005 to 2008. As a result, his water source and soil were contaminated, as well as a nearby stream and pond. He immediately began speaking out about his experiences and warning people of the potential dangers of fracking. Soon, people from all over the state were reaching out to him to share their stories.
Mr. Gulla became a central figure in informing and connecting people who were desperately looking for help. He has documented individuals’ stories for health studies and appropriate regulatory agencies, testified in front of the PA Department of Health and other official bodies, and he was instrumental in organizing letter campaigns with other affected landowners addressed to local district attorneys. These efforts resulted in a statewide investigation into many of these cases. He also has coordinated with local, state, and national news agencies to expose these critical issues.
Mr. Gulla proactively engaged the media and brought like-minded people together to tell their stories. Without his relentless efforts, much of the progress made in exposing the oil and gas industry in Pennsylvania would not have been possible.
Ms. Sharon Lavigne lives in the epicenter of the oil, gas, and petrochemical facilities in Louisiana. She is the founder of RISE St. James, a faith-based environmental and social justice organization dedicated to protecting St. James Parish from these toxic, cancer- causing industries. Her work is a matter of life or death — the 20 acres of land that Ms. Lavigne inherited from her grandfather is dead center of what is known today as “Cancer Alley.”
The 4th and 5th Districts of St. James Parish are majority Black neighborhoods, and they were the only districts to be covertly rezoned from residential to “residential/future industrial.” The environmental racism could not be more pronounced. Ms. Lavigne is fighting to protect the health of all residents living along the 85-mile long Cancer Alley, from those in New Orleans to those in Baton Rouge. Industry and elected officials are intent on wiping historic Black communities off the map, but with Ms. Lavigne’s leadership, residents are rising up to protect their health, their home, and their future.
At the heart of Ms. Lavigne’s work with RISE St. James is the demand for a moratorium on oil, gas, and petrochemical industry in St. James Parish. The district where Sharon lives has 2,822 people and 12 petrochemical plants — one plant for every 235 residents. Despite these staggering ratios, Formosa Plastics is trying to build a 14-plant petrochemical complex less than two miles from Ms. Lavigne’s home.
After working tirelessly over the last year to educate and mobilize other residents, Ms. Lavigne and RISE St. James members recently celebrated their biggest victory yet: blocking a $1.5B Wanhua petrochemical plant from moving into St. James Parish and operating within a mile of residents’ homes. In Ms. Lavigne’s words, “This is our land, this is our home, and we are standing up together to defend it. St. James is rising.”
Ms. Allie Rosenbluth is a dedicated community activist who has spent years coordinating a huge grassroots rural coalition opposing Pembina’s proposed Jordan Cove LNG export terminal and Pacific Connector fracked gas pipeline in southern Oregon. She also recently traveled to Poland as a COP 24 delegate with SustainUS, a youth-led justice and sustainability advocacy group.
For over a decade, the Jordan Cove LNG project has been threatening southern Oregonians with the prospect of a 36-inch pipeline stretching across four rural counties, 229 miles, and over 180 state waterways, ending in a massive methane liquefaction and export terminal in Coos Bay. Ms. Rosenbluth has worked incredibly hard to ensure that all those opposed to the project gets a chance to speak with their elected representatives about the project and make their voice heard in local, state, and federal permitting processes. She has coordinated efforts to generate tens of thousands of comments in state and federal agency comment periods to review the various environmental impacts of the project. This turnout has surpassed public participation records in such permitting processes.
Ms. Rosenbluth’s efforts helped lead to a May 2019 denial from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality on a Clean Water Act permit needed to build the project, underlining the importance of state authority to defend water quality under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, which the Trump Administration was simultaneously trying to weaken. She also helped mobilize over 3,000 rural Oregonians to attend four public hearings on the State Lands review of the project. Ms. Rosenbluth’s masterful coalition-building has helped unify people of all political persuasions, races, and ethnicities across the state to unify their opposition to fracked gas infrastructure in Oregon.
Ms. Melissa Troutman is co-founder of the investigative news nonprofit Public Herald as well as a research and policy analyst for Earthworks. Her work as a film director and journalist has redefined the landscape and narrative around fracking w, and her community organizing has led to major wins against the industry.
Ms. Troutman’s Public Herald publications have seen widespread coverage. Her work has been referenced in the books Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America by Eliza Griswald; Legal Rights for Rivers: Competition, Collaboration and Water Governance by Erin O’Donnell; and Sustainability and the Rights of Nature: An Introduction by Cameron La Follette and Chris Maser. Her work has been cited in over 20 academic studies to date. Furthermore, Ms. Troutman has produced three award-winning documentary films on fracking: Triple Divide (2013), TRIPLE DIVIDE [REDACTED] (2017), and INVISIBLE HAND (2019). Her films continue to play an important role in the narrative surrounding fracking and democracy.
In 2017, Ms. Troutman uncovered that 9,442 complaints related to oil and gas operations were never made public by the state. Her analysis of drinking water complaints revealed official misconduct by state officials that left families without clean water for months, even years. Consequently, Public Herald called for a criminal and civil investigation of the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection. In 2018, Ms. Troutman’s reporting on an untested fracking wastewater treatment facility at the headwaters of the Allegheny River was used by the Seneca Nation of Indians to shut down the project.
Ms. Troutman’s tireless efforts are an inspiration to the environmental movement in Pennsylvania, across the country, and beyond.
Check out the Community Sentinels in action | Reception slideshow
On March 25, 2019, Bill Hughes of Wetzel County, West Virginia, passed away at age 74. Mr. Hughes, an environmental defender extraordinaire and former FracTracker colleague, served on the County solid waste authority, where he consistently pushed back on accepting the radioactive waste of the fracking industry. For nearly a decade, Mr. Hughes documented and disseminated photographic evidence of the activities and effects of shale gas development, and in turn educated thousands of people on the negative impacts of this industry. Mr. Hughes also shared information via gas field tours, PowerPoint presentations to groups in five states, op-ed pieces written for news media, and countless responses to questions and inquiries.
His legacy lives through the multitude of lives he enriched – from students, to activists, to everyday people. Bill was an omnipresent force for good, always armed with facts and a pervasive smile.
April Pierson-Keating of Buckhannon, West Virginia, passed away on September 28, 2019, at age 52. Mrs. Pierson-Keating was the founder and director of Mountain Lakes Preservation Alliance, and a founding member of Preserve Our Water Heritage and Rights (POWHR). She was a board member of the Buckhannon River Watershed Association, the cancer research group ICARE, and the WV Environmental Council, and she was also a member of the Sierra Club, the WV Highlands Conservancy, and Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition (OVEC). When one met Mrs. Pierson-Keating, one could not help noticing and absorbing her passion for environmental preservation.
Mrs. Pierson-Keating received the Buckhannon BEST Award on May 14, 2019 in recognition of her commitment. Mayor David McCauley stated: “Mrs. Keating is a supreme protector of our environment. She is a lobbyist for clean water at both our state and federal governments, a participant in Buckhannon’s Community Unity & Kindness Day, the Equality March, the Science March, and other awareness activities… April Keating has helped us all in our B-U community to be happier and healthier in many ways.”
Ricky Allen Roles
Ricky Allen Roles passed away at age 61 at his ranch in Silt, Colorado, on November 22, 2018. Mr. Roles was an adamant anti-fracking activist and spent many years fighting for safer oil and gas drilling and fracking regulations. He tirelessly fought to protect our earth’s sacred water and soil for the health and wellness of all living creatures. He is featured in books such as Fractivism and Collateral Damage, and documentaries including the Emmy Award winning film Split Estate and Oscar-nominated and Emmy-Award winning Gasland. He also bravely testified before Colorado’s Congress on the dangers of fracking.
Mr. Roles shared how his and his livestock’s health precipitously declined with the drilling of 19 wells on his property. He experienced respiratory, immune, and nervous system problems. Despite his health problems,
he strove to create awareness of the harmful impacts of fracking in his community and beyond. With those publications, his voice, beliefs and legacy will be heard forever.
John A. Trallo Sr.
John A. Trallo, Sr., 67, of Sonestown, Pennsylvania passed away on August 13, 2019. Mr. Trallo was a dedicated environmental activist who contributed to several groups working on pressing environmental issues such as hydraulic fracturing. He was a brilliant man who earned three college degrees and a teaching certificates in two states. He asked hard questions and was adamant in keeping government officials accountable. Some of the groups he was involved with were: Responsible Drilling Alliance (RDA), Shale Justice, The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), PA Community Rights Network, and Organizations United for the Environment. Mr. Trallo left this planet a better place for future generations, and we honor his spirit by continuously working towards his noble vision.
Sponsors and Partners
The Sentinels’ program and reception requires financial support – for monetary awards, awardee travel, and many
Michele Fetting of the Breathe Project and and FracTracker Board Member introducing 2019 Sentinel Award Winner Sharon Lavigne
other costs. As such, each year we call upon dedicated sponsors and partners for resources to enable this endeavor to continue. The daily, often-thankless jobs of Community Sentinels working to protecting our health and the environment deserve no less. Thank you to this year’s incredible award sponsors: The Heinz Endowments, 11th Hour Project, Center for Coalfield Justice, and Foundation for PA Watersheds.
We extend a big thank you to the following award partners: Viable Industries, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oxfam, Rootskeeper, Food & Water Watch, STAND.earth, Halt the Harm Network, Sierra Club, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Choose Clean Water Coalition, Beaver County Marcellus Awareness Community, Mountain Watershed Association, Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, Earthworks, and FracTracker Alliance.
The following 18 people were nominated by their peers to receive this distinguished award:
Laurie Barr – Coudersport, PA
2019 Sentinel Award Winner Melissa Troutman with introducer Leanne Leiter of Earthworks
Kim Bonfardine – Elk County, PA
Kim Fraczek – New York, NY
Lisa Graves – Marcucci Washington, DC
Ron Gulla – Canonsburg, PA*
Leatra Harper – Bowling Green, OH
Maury Johnson – Greenville, WV
Theresa Landrum – Detroit, MI
Sharon Lavigne – St. James, Louisiana*
Sara Loflin – Erie, CO
Ann Pinca – Lebanon, PA
Randi Pokladnik – Uhrichsville, OH
Patricia Popple – Chippewa Falls, WI
Bev Reed – Bridgeport, OH
Allie Rosenbluth – Medford, OR*
Bob Schmetzer – South Heights, PA
Yvonne Taylor – Watkins Glen, NY
Melissa Troutman – Pittsburgh, PA*
* Denotes 2018 award recipient
Many thanks to the following judges for giving their time to review all of the nominations.
Mariah Davis – Choose Clean Water Coalition
Brenda Jo McManama – Indigenous Environmental Network
Kathleen Brophy – Oxfam
Dr. Pamela Calla – New York University
Matt Krogh – STAND.earth
2019 Sentinel Award Winner Ron Gulla
Ethan Buckner of Earthworks introducing 2019 Sentinel Award Winner Sharon Lavigne
Keynote Speaker Andrey Rudomakha, Director of Environmental Watch on North Caucasus, with translator Kate Watters, Co-founder & Executive Director
https://www.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/2019-sentinel-winner-feature-2.jpg16673750FracTracker Alliancehttps://www.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Fractracker-Color-Logo.jpgFracTracker Alliance2019-10-29 11:26:172020-07-21 11:00:17A successful 2019 Community Sentinel Award Reception- a full summary
Innovations in geospatial remote sensing technology developed by a research team at Binghamton University’s Geophysics and Remote Sensing Laboratory allow for improved detection of unplugged oil and gas wells. Implementing this technology would allow responsible agencies to more efficiently locate, and then plug, the 30,000+ undocumented oil and gas wells in New York State. Plugging these wells would help residents to assess risks of any wells on or near their property, improve air quality, and keep New York State on track to reaching its greenhouse gas emissions targets.
Dangers of Unplugged Orphan Oil and Gas Wells
In 2018, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that nationwide, there were 3.11 million abandoned oil and gas wells. Sixty-nine percent — or 2.15 million — of these wells are not even plugged. Many were drilled prior to the existence of state regulatory programs, subsequently abandoned by their original owners or operators over a century ago, and then left unplugged or poorly plugged. State and federal regulators are in the process of plugging these wells, but the process is slow; many are still unplugged today.
Anthropogenic methane is the cause of a quarter of today’s global warming, and the oil and gas industry is a leading source of these emissions. Every year, oil and gas companies release an estimated 75 million metric tons of methane globally, an amount of gas sufficient to provide electricity for all of Africa twice over. Unplugged wells are often high emitters contributing to this energy waste. A study of almost 140 wells in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Ohio found that more than 40% of unplugged wells leak methane, compared to less than 1% of plugged wells.
Unplugged, incorrectly plugged, as well as active wells can all leak methane. Methane-leaking wells are especially problematic when their locations are undocumented or unknown. Until they are located, undocumented wells that remain unplugged can continue to emit methane into the atmosphere and into drinking water. For example, in Pennsylvania, methane was detected in water samples at average concentrations six times higher in homes less than one kilometer from oil and gas wells. The potential negative impact of unplugged orphan oil and gas wells makes this a pressing environmental concern.
Of the more than 3 million problematic oil and gas wells nationwide, over 35,000 unplugged oil and gas wells may exist in New York State alone. Unplugged or improperly plugged wells that leak methane can pose direct threats to New York State residents, especially for people living nearby to these wells. Many New York State residents are unaware that they have an unplugged well on their property, and could be at risk of potential exposure to uncontrolled releases of gas or fluids from unplugged orphan wells. In one case in Rushville, New York, two dozen unplugged wells emitted methane at explosive levels. An unplugged well in Rome, New York discharged brine to the land surface for decade at a rate of 5 gallons per minute, killing an acre of wetland vegetation. If these wells had been located and assessed, property owners would be better informed and safer.
In addition to directly harming New York State residents and contributing to climate change, unplugged orphan wells also impact New York State’s ability to reach its 2030 emissions targets. New York State recently set ambitious statewide greenhouse gas emissions targets through the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act to lower emissions by 85% by 2050. However, New York State has only reduced emissions 8% from 1990-2015 levels. If New York State is to reach its emissions targets, it must continue and improve its efforts to locate, assess, and ultimately plug all its orphan oil and gas wells.
Inaccurate Records and Inefficient Detection Methods
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is responsible for task of mitigating and preventing damage caused by oil and gas wells. Unfortunately, flaws in record keeping have made it difficult to locate undocumented wells. The DEC began record keeping of oil and gas wells in 1983 and took on regulatory authority over wells drilled in the state after 1983. There are strict rules and regulations for plugging wells drilled after 1983, and wells drilled prior to 1983 must comply with applicable regulations. Nevertheless, many older wells are still unaccounted for. In their external review in 1994, staff estimated that 61,000 wells had been developed prior to 1983. However, the agency only has records on about 30,000 of them. Because accurate records do not exist for old wells, it is difficult to monitor, and even locate, them.
Click here for a full-screen view of FracTracker Alliance’s map of all known wells in New York State (data current as of October 2018, to be updated soon).
Despite inaccurate records, the DEC does try to locate, assess, and plug old wells using maps created by drilling companies in the late 1800s. A section of one such map can be seen in Figure 1. This map shows proposed oil and gas drilling sites in Cattaraugus County, New York in the late 1800s. It has been georeferenced using ArcGIS mapping software to assign present day coordinates to hand drawn features.
Figure 1. Georeferenced Lease Map, Cattaraugus County, New York
Unfortunately, these maps are not entirely reliable. Some wells may be incorrectly documented on a map as drilled when, in fact, they were merely proposed but never drilled; some wells may have been drilled but never marked on a map. Other wells may have been both marked on a map and drilled, but due to inaccurate survey technologies of the past, the location on the ground is incorrect. As a result, DEC staff are left searching on foot for wells that may or may not be there. Working with limited equipment, in dense brush, and over uneven terrain make the task of finding the abandoned wells even more problematic.
These traditional methods of detection, which include referencing lease maps and searching for wells in the field, are not only time consuming, but are also costly. Using traditional methods of well detection, between 1988 and 2009, the United States Bureau of Land Management spent $3.8 million and only successfully reclaimed 295 well sites. It is clear that on both the federal and state levels, traditional well detecting methods are expensive, cumbersome, and inefficient.
Drones Pave the Way for Oil and Gas Well Detection
Recent improvements in geospatial remote sensing technology have opened opportunities for more efficient well detection. Previously, the battery life of drones and the weight of magnetometers prevented the two technologies from being used together to locate oil and gas wells. Furthermore, because drones must be flown high enough to clear vegetative canopies, methane sensors attached to drones are too far away from the source to accurately detect the location of the well. Due to these technological barriers, the DEC and other environmental departments and agencies have had to rely on inefficient, traditional methods of well detection described above.
At Binghamton University’s Geophysics and Remote Sensing Laboratory, a research team headed by Professors Timothy de Smet and Alex Nikulin, along with graduate student Natalia Romanzo, and undergraduate students Samantha Wong, Judy Li, and Ethan Penner, is taking on the task of developing a more efficient method to locate oil and gas wells. The Binghamton University research team deployed drones equipped with magnetometers to demonstrate that a high-resolution, low-altitude magnetic survey can successfully locate unmarked well sites.
Oil and gas wells have a characteristic magnetic signal that is generated by vertical metal piping fixed in the ground, making them identifiable in a magnetic survey.
Figure 2a. Oil and Gas Well Detected at 40m AGL showing LiDAR Total Horizontal Derivative of the site.
The magnetic signal generated by a well is shown in red in Figure 2b. At 40 meters above ground level (AGL), tree canopies are cleared, while the magnetic anomaly of the well is distinguishable. This drone-based magnetometer method has shown promising results.
Figure 2b. Magnetic Anomaly of an Oil and Gas Well Detected at 40m AGL, showing total magnetic intensity of the site.
To further test remote sensing techniques, the Binghamton University research team worked with Charles Dietrich and Nathan Graber from the NYS DEC to compare the efficiency of different survey methods. Currently, researchers are conducting fieldwork to compare the efficiency of traditional methods of well detection, well detection via a magnetic ground survey, and well detection via a drone-based magnetic survey. This research is showing that using drones equipped with magnetometers is a more efficient way to survey a wide area where wells may be present.
Remote sensing techniques can allow the DEC to more efficiently locate, and then plug, the 30,000+ undocumented oil and gas wells in New York State. Using this new method of well detection, the DEC will be able to inform residents who have unplugged wells on their property, assess the risks of the wells, and plug harmful wells. Residents with wells on or near their property will benefit directly. In addition, and more broadly, New Yorkers will enjoy improved air quality while New York State will be more on track to reaching its emissions targets.
FracTracker thanks Natalia Romanzo for her guest blog contribution. We feel that this technology holds promise for communities impacted by drilling across the nation.
https://www.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/2018-NYS-Oil-and-Gas-Wells-feature-image-2.jpg16673750Guest Authorhttps://www.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Fractracker-Color-Logo.jpgGuest Author2019-09-17 09:00:492020-03-12 14:48:54New Method for Locating Abandoned Oil and Gas Wells is Tested in New York State
Contact: Lee Ziesche, firstname.lastname@example.org, 954-415-6282
Interactive Map Shows Expansion of Fracked Gas Infrastructure in New York State
And showcases powerful community resistance to it
New York, NY – A little over a year after 55 New Yorkers were arrested outside of Governor Cuomo’s door calling on him to be a true climate leader and halt the expansion of fracked gas infrastructure in New York State, grassroots advocates Sane Energy Project re-launched the You Are Here (YAH) map, an interactive map that shows an expanding system of fracked infrastructure approved by the Governor.
“When Governor Cuomo announced New York’s climate goals in early 2019, it’s clear there is no room for more extractive energy, like fossil fuels.” said Kim Fraczek, Director of Sane Energy Project, “Yet, I look at the You Are Here Map, and I see a web of fracked gas pipelines and power plants trapping communities, poisoning our water, and contributing to climate change.”
Sane Energy originally launched the YAH map in 2014 on the eve of the historic People’s Climate March, and since then, has been working with communities that resist fracked gas infrastructure to update the map and tell their stories.
“If you read the paper, you might think Governor Cuomo is a climate leader, but one look at the YAH Map and you know that isn’t true. Communities across the state are living with the risks of Governor Cuomo’s unprecedented buildout of fracked gas infrastructure,” said Courtney Williams, a mother of two young children living within 400 feet of the AIM fracked gas pipeline. “The Governor has done nothing to address the risks posed by the “Algonquin” Pipeline running under Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant. That is the center of a bullseye that puts 20 million people in danger.”
Fracked gas infrastructure poses many of the same health risks as fracking and the YAH map exposes a major hypocrisy when it comes to Governor Cuomo’s environmental credentials. The Governor has promised a Green New Deal for New York, but climate science has found the expansion of fracking and fracked gas infrastructure is increasing greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
“The YAH map has been an invaluable organizing tool. The mothers I work with see the map and instantly understand how they are connected across geography and they feel less alone. This solidarity among mothers is how we build our power ,” said Lisa Marshall who began organizing with Mothers Out Front to oppose the expansion of the Dominion fracked gas pipeline in the Southern Tier and a compressor station built near her home in Horseheads, New York. “One look at the map and it’s obvious that Governor Cuomo hasn’t done enough to preserve a livable climate for our children.”
“Community resistance beat fracking and the Constitution Pipeline in our area,” said Kate O’Donnell of Concerned Citizens of Oneonta and Compressor Free Franklin. “Yet smaller, lesser known infrastructure like bomb trucks and a proposed gas decompressor station and 25 % increase in gas supply still threaten our communities.”
The YAH map was built in partnership with FracTracker, a non-profit that shares maps, images, data, and analysis related to the oil and gas industry hoping that a better informed public will be able to make better informed decisions regarding the world’s energy future.
“It has been a privilege to collaborate with Sane Energy Project to bring our different expertise to visualizing the extent of the destruction from the fossil fuel industry. We look forward to moving these detrimental projects to the WINS layer, as communities organize together to take control of their energy future. Only then, can we see a true expansion of renewable energy and sustainable communities,” said Karen Edelstein, Eastern Program Coordinator at Fractracker Alliance.
Throughout May and June Sane Energy Project and 350.org will be traveling across the state on the ‘Sit, Stand Sing’ tour to communities featured on the map to hold trainings on nonviolent direct action and building organizing skills that connect together the communities of resistance.
“Resistance to fracking infrastructure always starts with small, volunteer led community groups,” said Lee Ziesche, Sane Energy Community Engagement Coordinator. “When these fracked gas projects come to town they’re up against one of the most powerful industries in the world. The You Are Here Map and ‘Sit, Stand Sing’ tour will connect these fights and help build the power we need to stop the harm and make a just transition to community owned renewable energy.”
https://www.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/YouAreHereMap2.png8191843Guest Authorhttps://www.fractracker.org/a5ej20sjfwe/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Fractracker-Color-Logo.jpgGuest Author2019-04-24 15:49:052020-03-12 14:43:43Release: The 2019 You Are Here map launches, showing New York’s hurdles to climate leadership
Roughly half of the homes in America use gas for providing heat, hot water or powering appliances. If you use gas in your home, you know that leaks are bad – they waste money, they pollute the air, and, if exposed to a spark, they could spell disaster.
Our homes, however, are only the end point of a vast production and transportation system that brings gas through a network of pipelines all the way from the wellhead to our kitchens. There are opportunities for wasteful and often dangerous leaks all along the way – leaks that threaten the public’s health and safety and contribute to climate change.
How frequent are gas leaks?
Between January 2010 and November 2018, there were a reported 1,888 incidents that involved a serious injury, fatality or major financial loss related to gas leaks in the production, transmission and distribution system, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. These incidents caused 86 deaths, 487 injuries and over $1 billion in costs.
When gas lines leak, rupture, or are otherwise damaged, the gas released can explode, sometimes right in our own backyards. Roughly one in seven of the incidents referenced above – 260 in total – involved an explosion.
In September 2018, for example, a series of explosions in three Massachusetts communities caused one death, numerous injuries and the destruction of as many as 80 homes. And there are many more stories like it from communities across the U.S. From the 2010 pipeline rupture and explosion in San Bruno, California, that killed eight people and destroyed almost 40 homes to the 2014 disaster in New York City that destroyed two five-story buildings and killed eight people, these events serve as a powerful reminder of the danger posed by gas.
The financial and environmental costs
Gas leaks are also a sheer waste of resources. While some gas is released deliberately in the gas production process, large amounts are released unintentionally due to malfunctioning equipment, corrosion and natural causes like flooding. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that 123,692 million cubic feet of gas were lost in 2017 alone, enough to power over 1 million homes for an entire year. That amount is likely an underestimate. On top of the major leaks reported to the government agency in charge of pipeline safety, many of our cities’ aging gas systems are riddled with smaller leaks, making it tricky to quantify just how much gas is lost from leaks in our nation’s gas system.
Leaks also threaten the stability of our climate because they release large amounts of methane, the main component of gas and a potent greenhouse gas. Gas is not the “cleaner” alternative to coal that the industry often makes it out to be. The amount of methane released during production and distribution is enough to reduce or even negate its greenhouse gas advantage over coal. The total estimated methane emissions from U.S. gas systems have roughly the same global warming impact over a 20-year period as all the carbon dioxide emissions from U.S. coal plants in 2015 – and methane emissions are likely higher than this amount, which is self-reported by the industry.
In most states, there is no strong incentive for gas companies to reduce the amount of leaked gas because they can still charge customers for it through “purchased gas adjustment clauses.” These costs to consumers are far from trivial. Between 2001 and 2011, Americans paid at least $20 billion for gas that never made it to their homes.
These and other dangers of gas leaks are described in a recent fact sheet by U.S. PIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group. At a time when climate change is focusing attention on our energy system, it is critical that communities understand the full range of problems with gas – including the ever-present risk of leaks in the extensive network of infrastructure that brings gas from the well to our homes.
We should not be using a fuel that endangers the public’s safety and threatens the stability of our climate. Luckily, we don’t have to. Switching to electric home heating and hot water systems and appliances powered by renewable energy would allow us to move toward eliminating carbon emissions from homes. Electric heat pumps are twice as efficient as gas systems in providing heat and hot water, making them a viable and commonsense replacement. Similarly, as the cost of wind and solar keep falling, they will continue to undercut gas prices in many regions.
It’s time to move beyond gas and create a cleaner, safer energy system.
By Meryl Compton, policy associate with Frontier Group, a non-profit think tank part of The Public Interest Network. She is based in Denver, Colorado.
Feature image at top of page shows San Bruno, California, following the 2010 pipeline explosion