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Photo by Garth Lenz, iLCP - for Ethane Cracker article about risk and disclosure

Understanding in Order to Prepare: Ethane Cracker Risk and Disclosure

By Leann Leiter and Lisa Graves Marcucci
Maps and data analysis by Kirk Jalbert

Highly industrialized operations like petrochemical plants inherently carry risks, including the possibility of large-scale disasters. In an effort to prepare, it is incumbent upon all stakeholders to fully understand the risk potential. Yet, the planned Shell ethane cracker and additional petrochemical operations being proposed for Western Pennsylvania are the first of their kind in our region. This means that residents and elected officials are without a frame of reference as they consider approving these operations. Officials find themselves tasked with reviewing and approving highly complicated permit applications, and the public remains uncertain of what questions to ask and scenarios to consider. Often overlooked in the decision-making process is valuable expertise from local first responders like police, fire and emergency crew members, HAZMAT teams, and those who protect vulnerable populations, like emergency room personnel, nursing home staff, and school officials.

Steam cracker at BASF's Ludwigshafen site. Photo credit: BASF - for risk and disclosure article

Example of cracker producing ethylene, located at BASF’s Ludwigshafen site. Photo credit: BASF

In the first article in this series , we tried to identify the known hazards associated with ethane crackers. In this article, we look more closely at how that risk could play out in Beaver County, PA and strive to initiate an important dialogue that invites valuable, local expertise.

In keeping with the first article in this series, we use the terms vulnerability and capacity. Vulnerability refers to the conditions and factors that increase the disaster impact that a community might experience, and capacity consists of the strengths that mitigate those impacts. Importantly, vulnerability and capacity frequently intertwine and overlap. We might, for example, consider a fire station to be a site of “capacity,” but if it lies within an Emergency Planning Zone (discussed more below), an explosion at the plant could render it a vulnerability. Likewise, “vulnerable” populations such as the elderly may have special skills and local knowledge, making them a source of capacity.

Emergency Planning: Learning from Louisiana

FracTracker got in touch with the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana, to learn how a community already living with Shell-owned and other petrochemical facilities manages risk and disclosure. The Emergency Manager we spoke with explained that they designate a two- and a five-mile area around each new facility in their jurisdiction, like ethane crackers, during their emergency planning process. They call these areas “ emergency planning zones ” or EPZs, and they maintain records of the vulnerabilities and sites of capacity within each zone. In case of a fire, explosion, or other unplanned event at any facility, having the EPZs designated in advance allows them to mobilize first responders, and notify and evacuate everyone living, working, and attending school within the zone. Whether they activate a two- or a five-mile EPZ depends on the type of incident, and factors like wind speed and direction.

Based on those procedures, the map below shows similar likely zones for the proposed plant in Beaver County, along with sites of vulnerability and capacity.

Ethane Cracker Hazard Map

View Map Fullscreen | How FracTracker Maps Work

The map helps us visualize the vulnerability and capacity of this area, relative to the proposed ethane cracker. It includes three main elements: the Shell site and parcels likely to be targeted for buildout of related facilities, two Emergency Planning Zones (EPZs) around the Shell facility, and infrastructure and facilities of the area that represent vulnerability and capacity.

vacant-parcels

Vacant parcels near the site

It is important to note that the proposed ethane cracker in Beaver County is merely the first of an influx of petrochemical spin-off facilities promised for the area, potentially occupying the various empty parcels indicated on the map above as “vacant properties” and presented in light gray in the screenshot left.

Each new facility would add its own risks and cumulative impacts to the equation. It would be impossible to project these additional risks without knowing what facilities will be built here, so in this article, we stick to what we do know – the risks already articulated by Shell, lessons learned from other communities hosting petrochemical industry in other parts of the country, and past disasters at similar facilities.

Vulnerability and Capacity in Beaver County

Red, blue, and green points on the map above and in the screenshot below stand in for hospitals like Heritage Valley Beaver; fire and emergency medical services like Vanport Volunteer Fire Company; police stations like the Beaver County Sheriff’s office; and daycares and schools like Center Grange Primary School.

Transportation routes, if impacted, could challenge evacuation. Potter Township Fire Chief Vicki Carlton pointed out that evacuations due to an event at this facility could also be complicated by the need to stay upwind, when evacuations would likely move in a downwind direction. This map lacks drinking water intakes and other essential features upon which lives depend, but which nonetheless also sit within this zone of vulnerability.

points-within-epzs

Points within EPZS

Vulnerability/capacity within 2-mile zone:

  • 1 hospital
  • 5 police stations
  • 10 fire/EMS stations
  • 23 schools/daycare facilities
  • 47,717 residents*

When expanded to 5-mile zone:

  • 2 hospitals
  • 9 police stations
  • 23 fire/EMS stations
  • 40 schools/daycare facilities
  • 120,849 residents*

*Note: For census tracts that are partly within a zone, a ratio is determined based on the percentage of land area in the tract within the zone. This ratio is then used to estimate the fraction of the population likely within the zone.

Stakeholders’ Right to Know

No person or community should be subjected to risk without the opportunity to be fully informed and to give meaningful input. Likewise, no group of people should have to bear a disproportionate share of environmental risks, particularly stakeholders who are already frequently disenfranchised in environmental decision-making. “Environmental justice” (EJ) refers to those simple principles, and DEP designates environmental justice areas based on communities of color and poverty indicators.

Presented as blue fields on the map and shown in the screenshot below, several state-designated EJ areas fall partially or entirely within the 2- and 5-mile EPZs (a portion of two EJ areas home to 2,851 people, and when expanded to five miles, two entire EJ areas and a portion of seven more, home to 18,679 people, respectively).

EJ Areas and Emergency Planning Zones around the Site

EJ Areas and Emergency Planning Zones around the Site

The basic ideas behind environmental justice have major bearing in emergency scenarios. For example, those living below the poverty line tend to have less access to information and news sources, meaning they might not learn of dangerous unexpected emissions plumes coming their way. They also may not have access to a personal vehicle, rendering them dependent upon a functioning public transportation system to evacuate in an emergency. Living below poverty level may also mean fewer resources at home for sheltering-in-place during a disaster, and having less financial resources, like personal savings, may lead to more difficult post-disaster recovery.

Local expertise

FracTracker recently consulted with the Emergency Management Director for Beaver County, Eric Brewer, and with Potter Township Fire Chief Vicki Carlton. Both indicated that their staff have already begun training exercises with Shell -including a live drill on site that simulated a fire in a work trailer. But when asked, neither reported that they had been consulted in the permit approval process. Neither had been informed of the chemicals to be held on site, and both referred to emergency planning considerations as something to come in the future, after the plant was built.

Unfortunately, the lack of input from public safety professionals during the permit approval stage isn’t unique to Beaver County. Our emergency management contact in Louisiana pointed to the same disturbing reality: Those who best understand the disaster implications of these dangerous developments and who would be mobilized to respond in the case of a disaster are not given a say in their approval or denial. This valuable local expertise – in Louisiana and in Beaver County – is being overlooked.

All Beaver County first responders who spoke with FracTracker clearly showed their willingness to perform their duties in any way that Shell’s new facility might demand, hopefulness about its safety, and a generally positive relationship with the company so far. Chief Carlton believes that the ethane cracker will be an improvement over the previous facility on the same site, the Horsehead zinc smelter, though a regional air pollution report characterizes this as a trade off of one type of dangerous pollution for another. Director Brewer pointed to the existing emergency plans for the county’s nuclear facility as giving Beaver County an important leg-up on preparedness.

But the conversations also raised concern about what the future relationship between the community and the industry will look like. Will funds be allocated to these first responders for the additional burdens brought on by new, unprecedented facilities, in what amount, and for how long into the future? Chief Carlton pointed out that until Shell’s on-site fire brigade is in place two or three years from now, her all-volunteer department would be the first line of defense in case of a fire or other incident. In the meantime, her fire company has ordered a much-needed equipment upgrade to replace a 30-year old, outdated tanker at a cost of $400,000. They are formally requesting all corporate businesses in the township, including Shell, to share the cost. Hopefully, the fire company will see this cost covered by their corporate neighbors who use their services. But further down the road? Once all is said and done, and Shell has what they need to operate unfettered, Chief Carlton wonders, “where do we stand with them?”

Waiting for disclosure of the risks

Emergency preparedness and planning should be a process characterized by transparency and inclusion of all stakeholders. However, when it comes to the Shell ethane cracker, those who will share a fence line with such operations have not yet been granted access to the full picture. Currently, the DEP allows industrial operations like the proposed ethane cracker to wait until immediately before operations begin to disclose emergency planning information, in the form of Preparedness, Prevention, and Contingency (PPC) plans. In other words, when permits are up for approval or denial prior to construction, permit applicants are not currently required to provide PPC plans, and the public and emergency managers cannot weigh the risks or provide crucial input.

Shell’s Acknowledged Risks
According to public information provided by Shell

Sampling of Shell’s Disastrous
Petrochemical Precedents

Fire and Explosions

Shell’s Deer Park, Texas, 1997:
Blast at chemical plant

Leaks

Shell’s Deer Park, Texas refinery and chemical plant, 2013:
Harmful air pollution and benzene leak

Equipment Failures

Shell’s Martinez Refinery in California, 2016:
Equipment failure event; Shell’s refusal to reveal gases emitted

According to Shell, possible risks of the proposed Beaver County petrochemical facility include fire, explosion, leaks, and equipment failures. More than mere potentialities, examples of each are already on the books. The above table presents a sampling. Shell also points out the increased risk of traffic accidents, not explored in this chart. It is worth noting, however, that the proposed facility, and likely spin-off facilities, would greatly increase vehicular and rail traffic.

The ethane cracker in Beaver County plant has not yet been constructed. However, Shell operates similar operations with documented risks and their own histories of emergency events. Going forward, the various governmental agencies tasked with reviewing permit applications should require industrial operations like Shell, to make this information public as part of the review and planning process. Currently they can relegate safety information to a few vague references and get a free pass to mark it as “confidential” in permit applications. Strengthening risk disclosure requirements would be a logical and basic step toward ensuring that all stakeholders – including those with special emergency planning expertise – can have input on whether those risks are acceptable before permits are approved and site prep begins.

Until regulations are tightened, we invite Shell to fulfill its own stated objective of being a “good neighbor” by being forthcoming about what risks will be moving in next door. Shell can and should take the initiative to share information about its existing facilities, as well as lessons learned from past emergencies at those sites. Instead of waiting for the post-construction, or the “implementation” stage, all stakeholders deserve disclosure of Shell’s plans to prevent and respond to emergencies now.

In our next article, we will explore the infrastructure for the proposed Shell facility, which spans multiple states, and sort out the piecemeal approval processes of building an ethane cracker in Pennsylvania.


Sincere Appreciation

Emergency Managers and First Responders in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana and Potter Township and Center Township, PA.

Lisa Hallowell, Senior Attorney at the Environmental Integrity Project, for her review of this article series and contributions to our understanding of relevant regulations.

Kirk Jalbert, in addition to maps and analysis, for contributing key points of consideration for and expertise on environmental justice.

The International League of Conservation Photographers for sharing the feature image used in this article.

The image used on our homepage of the steam cracker at BASF’s Ludwigshafen site was taken by BASF.


By Leann Leiter, Environmental Health Fellow for FracTracker Alliance and the Southwest PA Environmental Health Project and Lisa Graves Marcucci, PA Coordinator, Community Outreach of Environmental Integrity Project

With maps and analysis by Kirk Jalbert, Manager of Community-Based Research & Engagement, FracTracker Alliance

Interview with Therese Vick – Sentinel Award Winner

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

Therese Vick is a highly-regarded community organizer with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League in North Carolina. A big part of her work is serving BREDL chapters in Stokes, Anson, Lee, and Chatham counties – all frontline communities threatened by shale gas extraction. In these communities, she offers organizing assistance, training programs, and strategic campaign planning for local groups. Watch-dogging state regulatory agencies is also a significant part of Therese’s work, about which she publishes extensively on in her blog, From Where I Sit: Reports From The North Carolina Mining and Energy Commission Meetings. Therese lives in Raleigh, NC, with her cats Savannah and Charity, and a very opinionated bunny named Stella.

Q: To start, can tell us a little bit about your background and what brought you to the world of environmental advocacy work?

Therese: Well, I actually started out in a small town in Eastern North Carolina, working at a pharmacy. This was back in the very early ‘90s and a proposal for the world’s second largest hazardous waste incinerator landed on our county about six miles from my home. And this is a county that had no hospital. We had a volunteer fire department, but we had no haz-mat, none of that kind of infrastructure. That’s how I got involved in grassroots environmental work. I was a volunteer for years. Then I came on staff with Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League (BREDL) and was supported by a local organization – the North Hampton Citizens Against Pollution -through a small grant. I left my job at the drug store after about 15 years and went to work on a bunch of different issues, not just the hazardous waste incinerator, which we eventually defeated. I worked with BREDL for about three and a half years, then went back to work with my husband in his business and raised my kids but stayed active with local community groups off and on. I came here to the Triangle to complete my education in psychology and human services. I called the executive director of BREDL to let them know I was living here in Raleigh; I knew that they came to Raleigh sometimes. They offered me a job, I graduated, and I came back to work for BREDL. So that’s kind of how I ended up where I am right now. I have been volunteering and working on grassroots environmental issues for over 20 years.

Q: Now that you are back with Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, what sorts of projects have you been working on?

A: It can change from one day to the next, but my biggest areas of work are on fracking, of course, disposal of coal ash, and air quality in particular. I’m also working on pipelines. The Atlantic Coast Pipeline is proposed to go through North Carolina. My co-worker and I are working with communities opposing that. And we work on myriads of other issues. We are community organizers, but we not only doing the organizing, we do a lot of research and technical assistance and watchdog regulatory agencies and things like that as well. That is another big part of my job, is public records and investigations and things like that.

Q: You also do a lot to communicate your findings to the public by way of your blog, From Where I Sit. How do you think that work has made a difference in helping community to understanding the political landscape of gas development?

A: How that blog came about was, I was attending many, many meetings. I can’t even tell you how many, I would say 100 meetings of the Mining and Energy Commission and their various committees, which were very hard to sit through and very frustrating. I wrote this really sarcastic report to our executive director and it was kind of funny too. He said, you know what, you need to start writing a blog before you lose your mind. So that is where it started. It was fun, but also serious. It’s a good organizing tool. In the court of public opinion, it is a good tool for communities to use and to let the general public know that this is something good we are doing for the community, for our community. I mean, it’s something that has to be done because we are just not being protected like we should be. And I don’t see that changing any time soon.

Fighting for Government Transparency

Q: How has all of this work that you are involved in shaped your feelings on the importance of making information and data available to the public?

A: Back in the ‘90s there were these proponents of the incinerator who were very assertive about how we needed the incinerator and how it was going to help the state and all of this stuff. People just had never known them to be active politically so they knew something was going on – all the proponents said, “oh we have nothing to gain from this, nothing. We just think it’s a good idea and blah, blah, blah.” So when I went to the state to do a file search, the first one I had ever done, nervous as I could be, and I found three options from three of the biggest proponent land owners with the company – they were selling their land to the company for the hazardous waste incinerator. Nobody knew this. And I so I paid my 25 cents a page, copied them, and hurried back home from Raleigh to the little town I lived. Long story short, it was a really big story. It was a statewide story and I got some threats, some anonymous threats, and I had a lawyer that call me saying I had no right to those documents. I ended up hanging up on him. Anyway, that kind of got me hooked on the power of having information.

Q: Have you found a similar sense of importance in working with oil and gas related data? I know, for instance, you have done a lot of writing about Halliburton having deep political ties in your area.

A: Well the Halliburton one, Greenpeace did some reporting on that piece and it got national attention. Most of the Mining and Energy Commission stuff is pretty mundane, but this one commissioner was not careful. I requested specific information about if they had met with certain individuals—all the commissioners, it was a request to all the commissioners. I wanted calendar entries and all that stuff. It took them a little bit to get me the information. But then this one commissioner he had it all in a folder that was marked Halliburton. I was stunned. There was this guy, Bowen Health, and he was a registered lobbyist for Halliburton. And this Commissioner, George Howard, he was on the Mining and Energy Commission. He had this folder marked Halliburton. Now, compared to other places of the country we had a pretty strong chemical disclosure law. And Halliburton essentially nixed that. They got that backed up. But this commissioner, he had a calendar entry on December 5th, 2012, from 5:30-6:00pm, there with Bowen Health, the Halliburton lobbyist. All of the commissioners had just maintained, over and over and over again, “We haven’t had any contact with Halliburton.” That is what led me to request the records and there it was, just in black and white. And, I tell you what, it made some of them really mad at him.

Q: What would you say, at this point, is the biggest challenge moving forward with this work?

A: I think the current anti-regulatory frenzy at the state level, the lack of care and concern for public health and the environment at the state level, and the rush to exploit oil and gas in North Carolina at any cost. Those would be the three biggest challenges you have to battle every single day. You’ve got the same philosophy at the head of the environmental agency that you have in the governor’s mansion and in the legislature. People that don’t—at least say they don’t—believe in climate change. People that think that fracking is fine. People that think that offshore drilling is great. Conservative folks, and I’m not political, but that’s one thing that kind of astounded me at the beginning of this. Forced pooling is legal in North Carolina, and it has been since the ‘40s. The fact that people who consider themselves believers in personal and private property rights support, or don’t repeal, that law just was stunning to me. I’m seeing the same thing with imminent domain and the pipelines. So the fact that all this stuff can be ignored, and with the legislature, the governor, and the Department Environment and Natural Resources having that same philosophy, makes it difficult, but not impossible.

Q: So how do you overcome the challenges of anti-disclosure and anti-regulatory sentiments?

A: You have to continue to try to expose what is going on. And, actually, I have got a huge request that I have been going through on coal ash that has some of what I was just telling you about. You have to expose what is going on to educate the public. You have to develop strategic plans within the bigger organization and at the community level, because you just have to be prepared for whatever comes next. And working at the grassroots is the most important thing – folks working in local communities with their local governments, that is the most important thing.

Q: If there was one thing that you would communicate to people or groups that are getting off the ground to deal with similar problems in other parts of the country, what would you say to those individuals?

A: We only have to last one day longer than they do. In other words, don’t give up. If you need to take a little break then take a break, but try to celebrate along the way because it’s hard work. It’s very, very hard work and it can be very depressing and stressful, especially when you are living in a targeted community or you are living with a problem. Try to have fun when you can find it.

Q: Is there anything else that you would like to mention that is important to you personally?

A: I just wanted to say – about the Community Sentinel Award – I wanted to lift up the communities that I work with. Over time they become friends, and they are the heroes. They are the heroes, and I couldn’t do the kind of work that I do without them.

Politics and Campaign Financing

O&G Politics & Campaign Financing

By Ted Auch, OH Program Coordinator, FracTracker Alliance

Anyone who has been paying attention to the domestic shale gas conversation knows the issue is fraught with controversy and political leanings. The debate is made only more complicated by the extensive lobbying to promote drilling and related activities. It would be nice to look at shale gas through a purely analytical lens, but it is impossible to decouple the role of politicians and those that fund their campaigns from the myriad socioeconomic, health, and environmental costs/benefits.

As such, this article covers two issues:

  1. Who Gets Funded: the distribution of oil and gas (O&G) funds across the two primary parties in the US, as well as the limited funds awarded to third parties, and
  2. Funding Allocation to a Specialized Committee: industry financing to the Committee on Science, Space and Technology1 the primary house committee responsible for:

…all matters relating to energy research, development, and demonstration projects therefor; commercial application of energy technology; Department of Energy research, development, and demonstration programs; Department of Energy laboratories; Department of Energy science activities; energy supply activities; nuclear, solar, and renewable energy, and other advanced energy technologies; uranium supply and enrichment, and Department of Energy waste management; fossil energy research and development; clean coal technology; energy conservation research and development, including building performance, alternate fuels, distributed power systems, and industrial process improvements; pipeline research, development, and demonstration projects; energy standards; other appropriate matters as referred by the Chairman; and relevant oversight.

Politics and Campaign Financing

Fig. 1. Relevant Oil & Gas PACs, Institutes, and Think Tanks – as well as Koch Industries and subsidiaries offices (Orange). Click to explore

1. Letting the Numbers Speak

“When somebody says it’s not about the money, it’s about the money.”

The above quote has been attributed to a variety of sources from sports figures to economists, but nowhere is it more relevant than the politics of shale gas. The figures below present campaign financing from O&G industry to the men and women that represent us in Washington, DC.

Data Analysis Process

To follow the shale money path, FracTracker has analyzed data from the: a) total contributions and b) average per representative across Democrats and Republicans. Our Third Party analysis included five Independents in the Senate as well as one Green, one Unaffiliated, one Libertarian, and two Independents in the House.

Results

Annual Senate compensation relative to average US Income Per Capita

Fig. 3. US Senate Salary (Late 18th Century to 2014) & Average American Salary (1967-2013).

There are sizable inter-party differences across both branches of congress (See Figures 2a-b). In total, Democratic and Republican senators have received $18.1 and $48.6 million from the O&G industry since data collection began in 1990. Meanwhile, Third Party senators have received a total of $385,632 in O&G campaign finance. It stands to reason that the US House would receive more money in total than the senate, given that it contains 435 representatives to the Senate’s 100, and this is indeed the case; Democratic members of the House received $28.9 million to date vs. $104.9 million allocated to the House’ GOP members – or a 3.6 fold difference. Third Party members of the House have received the smallest allotment of O&G political largesse, coming in at $197,145 in total.

To put this into perspective, your average Democratic and Republican senator has seen the gap increase between his/her salary and the average American from $27,536 in 1967 to $145,171 in 2013 (Figure 3).

These same individuals have also seen their political war chests expand on average by $151,043 and $412,007, respectively. Third Party senators have seen their campaign funds swell by an average of $64,272 since 1990. Meanwhile, the U.S. Capitol’s Democratic and GOP south wing residents have seen their O&G campaign contributions increase by an average of $50,836 and $188,529, respectively, with even Third Partiers seeing a $38,429 spike in O&G generosity.

Figure 2a

Figure 2a. Total funding received by both branches of the US legislative branch

Average funding received by oil and gas industry

Figure 2b. Average funding received by oil and gas industry

Location is a better predictor of whether a politician supports the O&G industry than his/her political affiliation. At the top of the O&G campaign financing league tables are extraction-intensive states such as Texas, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Alaska, California, and Louisiana. (See Figures 4a-h at the bottom of this article for Average Oil & Gas Contributions to US House Representatives and Senators across the US.)

2. Committee on Science, Space and Technology

The second portion of this post covers influences related to the Committee on Science, Space and Technology (CSST). There is no more powerful group in this country when it comes O&G policy construction and stewardship than CSST. The committee is currently made up of 22 Republicans and 18 Democrats from 21 states. Thirty-five percent of the committee hails from either California (6) or Texas (8), with Florida and Illinois each contributing three representatives to the committee. Almost all (94%) of the O&G campaign finance allocated to CSST has gone to its sitting GOP membership.

The top three recipients of O&G generosity are all from Texas, receiving 3.2-3.5 times more money than their party averages – totaling $1.93 million or 37% of the total committee O&G financial support. The next four most beholden members of the committee are Frank Lucas and Michael McCaul (TX, $904,709 combined), Cynthia Marie Lummis (WY, $400,400), and Kevin Cramer (ND, $343,000). The average Democratic member of the CSST committee has received 12.8 times less in O&G funding relative to their GOP counterparts; Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex representatives Marc Veasey and Eddie Bernice Johnson collected a combined $130,350 from industry. Interestingly a member of political royalty, Joe Kennedy III, has collected nearly $50K from the O&G industry, which corresponds to the average for his House Democrat colleagues.

See Figures 5-6 for totals and percentage of party averages of O&G campaign funds contributed to current member of the US House CSST.

Total Oil & Gas campaign funds contributed to current member of the US House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.

Figure 5. Totals

Total Oil & Gas campaign funds contributed to current member of the US House Committee on Science, Space and Technology as percentage of party averages.

Figure 6. Percentage of party averages

 “Don’t Confuse Me With The Facts”

In addition to current do-nothing politicians beholden to the O&G industry, we have prospects such as Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joni Ernst going so far as to declare that the Koch Brothers various Political Action Committees (PACs) started her trajectory in politics. Promising “ ‘to abolish’ the Environmental Protection Agency, she opposes the Clean Water Act, and in May she downplayed the role that human activities have played in climate change and/or rises in atmospheric CO2.

In Ohio it seems realistic to conjecture that OH Governor John Kasich, bracing for a tough reelection campaign, is wary of biting the PAC hands that feed him. He has also likely seen what happened to his “moderate” colleagues in states like Mississippi and Virginia, and in the age of Citizens United and McCutcheon he knows that the Hydrocarbon Industrial Complex will make him pay for anything that they construe as hostile to fossil fuel business as usual.

Close to the Action

Groups like the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity, Randolph Foundation, and American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)2 are unapologetically wedded to continued production of fossil fuels. Nationally and in OH, politicians appear to be listening more to the talking points and white papers of such groups than they do their own constituents.. Therefore, it is no coincidence that DC and its surrounding Virginia suburbs has been colonized by industry mouthpieces, energy policy and economic academic tanks, philanthropies, and Political Action Committees (PACs). See Figure 1 for more information.

Know Your Vote

So when you go to the polls on November 4th, remember that politicians are increasingly beholden not to their constituents but to the larger donors to their campaigns. Nowhere is this more of a concern than US energy policy and our geopolitical linkages to producers and emerging markets. More to the point, when offered an opportunity to engage said officials make sure to bring up their financial links as it relates to how they vote and the types of legislation they write, massage, customize, or outright eliminate. As Plato once said, “The price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” Our current selection of politicians at the state and federal level are not evil, but data on O&G politics and campaign financing presented herein do indicate that objectivity with respect to oil and gas legislation has been at the very least compromised.


Figures 4a-h. Average & Total O&G Industry Contributions to US House Representatives and Senators across the US mainland and Alaska

Average Total
Democratic Representatives

Average Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Democratic Representatives

Fig. 4a

Total Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Democratic Representatives

Fig. 4b

Democratic Senators

Average Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Democratic Senators

Fig. 4c

Total Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Democratic Senators

Fig. 4d

Republican Representatives

Average Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Republican Representatives

Fig. 4e

Total Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Republican Representatives

Fig. 4f

Republican Senators

Average Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Republican Senators

Fig. 4g

Total Oil & Gas Industry Contributions to Republican Senators

Fig. 4h


References

  1. This committee’s minority leader Ms. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) recently proposed the H.R.5189 – Energy and Water Research Integration Act of 2014 with an as yet to be published summary.
  2. …along with like-minded entities like the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Chamber of Commerce’s PAC. These PACs and foundations tend to fund and greatly benefit from frackademic shops like Northwestern University’s Northwestern Law Judicial Education Program and George Mason University’s Law and Economics Center.

Florida Citizens Seek Drilling Industry Transparency

By Maria Rose, Communications Intern, FracTracker Alliance

Pamela Duran waited impatiently in front of a Hampton Inn in Naples, Florida on Wednesday, June 25, 2014, with her husband Jaime, and several of their community members.  They had to wait several days for a press conference with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regarding natural gas drilling in their home town of Collier County.  The original meeting had been postponed and rescheduled from the day before.

Seeking Transparency

Pamela, Jaime, and community members intended to ask the DEP, headed by Secretary Herschel T. Vinyard, about future gas drilling plans in Collier County.  However, when the Durans and other community members asked to speak with the DEP at the Hampton Inn, they were asked to leave.  In an attempt to seek answers to their questions, they then invited the DEP to meet with them outside the Hampton Inn.  The DEP refused, and instead held a closed meeting 20 miles away in Rookery Bay.  Only a select few members of the press were allowed to attend, forcing the Durans and the rest of the concerned community members to return home without answers to any of their questions.  Jamie said:

We were told to move out to the curb—kind of literally being kicked to the curb—and weren’t able to meet with the DEP… There hasn’t been an exchange of ideas;  there’s no back and forth.  They only had a few people from the media which is not a press conference.  The DEP said they’re committed to transparency, but it seems more like they’re committed to invisibility. We get nothing but smoke and mirrors.

Adding Confusion to the Mix

Drilling in Florida. Photo: WeArePowerShift.org

The frustration over transparency and communication with the DEP and Collier County’s Board of Commissioners stemmed from the lack of information and confusion surrounding the recent surge of nearby drilling activity.  Natural gas drilling in Florida has occurred on and offshore since the 1940s, but concerns related to the more intense impacts of  unconventional oil and gas drilling and its associated activities  have only recently surfaced.  Currently, drilling issues are contained to southwest Florida, where seismic testing is being conducted around the Collier and Hendry counties, and outside of Naples.  These areas overlay the Sunniland basin. The fossil fuel rich layer of shale found here makes companies like Dan A. Hughes eager to invest in the area.

In April of 2013, the Durans received a letter from a company called Total Safety.  Total Safety was conducting a contingency plan for the drilling company, Dan A. Hughes.  The letter contained limited information.  The Durans were only told that they were in an evacuation zone and had to provide information to Total Safety for safety precautions.  According to Pamela notes, “We were one of the first homes to get a letter… They didn’t even tell us then, that Dan A. Hughes was a drilling company.  We didn’t know what kind of evacuation zone it even was. We thought it was hurricanes at first. The commissioners didn’t even know.”

Pamela was so surprised that she called the police, and discovered that they were unable to provide sufficient information. It wasn’t until speaking with Jennifer Jones, a representative from Total Safety, that she learned that her family and 45 others were within a one mile-radius evacuation zone around a planned well pad.  The risks of hydrogen sulfide leaks, fires, and explosions, among other things, made it necessary to have an evacuation plan for these families.  At this point, Dan A. Hughes had not yet applied for a drilling permit, but would most likely be drilling by October of 2013.  Pamela noted that,  “This was the first time we’d heard of any drilling. And I was totally overwhelmed by the problems we thought might occur.”   If approved, Dan A. Hughes would be drilling within 1,000 feet from the Durans’ home.

The Durans and several of the neighbors who received similar letters met with the Colliers in late May of 2013 . The Colliers were a family that owned the surrounding land for several generations, including the mineral rights.  The concerned residents expected to have an open dialogue and had two requests:

  1. They wanted the well to be moved so that none of the neighborhood residents would be in an evacuation zone, and
  2. They wanted the drilling company to use farm roads instead of the residential roads to avoid traffic and noise.

The Colliers denied their request, but attention had been brought to the issue, and citizens began to resist drilling in the area.  Pamela commented, “The disregard for human life out here is atrocious. This has become such a big issue because we the citizens decided we’re not just going to sit and take it.”

As the drilling became more and more prominent in the area, the Durans noticed a change in the atmosphere around the neighborhood. Pamela reports that some intimidating activities have occurred, such as workers in Dan A. Hughes’ trucks video-taping certain houses, or cars parked outside of houses for excessive amounts of time.  All of this behavior is new for the area.  Pamela asks, “There are people here in the neighborhood with cars parked in the front or side of their property, and after they call the police, they find out it’s a private investigator. Who hires private investigators?”

Cease and Desist?

The biggest issue arose at the end of 2013. On December 30, 2013, the Dan A. Hughes company began to use acid fracturing to stimulate the Collier Hogan well. In Florida, there is no special permission required to begin fracking.  However, the company had assured a very concerned public and the county commissioners that there would be no fracking.   As a result of this violation, the DEP issued a cease and desist order on January 1 of 2014.   Dan A. Hughes, however, continued to frack until the process was finished.  It wasn’t until April 8, 2014 that the DEP issued a consent order to Dan A. Hughes along with a fine of $25,000 for unauthorized fracking.  All of these details were not released to the public until the consent order was issued in April.  Dr. Karen Dwyer, a resident of Collier County, notes that there have been many opportunities since January to share such information; between January and April.  There was an EPA hearing, a Big Cypress Swamp Advisory Committee meeting, various Collier county commissioner meetings, and several Administrative Judge hearings where the information could have been released to the public.  According to Dr. Dwyer:

The DEP just sat on this information while everyone else was looking closely at other aspects of the Dan A. Hughes drilling.  We’ve had all these meetings looking at how reliable they are and what their training has been, but the DEP never said that Dan A. Hughes had been under this investigation.  That was wrong of the DEP.  Decisions were being made to allow [drilling] while this serious issue was going on, and we didn’t know.

Triggering Resistance

Since then, Collier County’s resistance to gas drilling has taken off.  On April 22nd, the county commissioners voted unanimously to challenge the DEP’s consent order for Dan A. Hughes to drill, which is the first challenge of gas drilling in the area.  Senator Bill Nelson called for a federal review of Dan A. Hughes on May 1st.  The next day, the state called for Dan A. Hughes to cease all of their new operations in Florida.  Two weeks later on May 13th, the county commissioners voted to challenge the Collier-Hogan well, targeting a much more specific project. The commissioners began the legal process of challenging Dan A. Hughes’ consent order on June 10th, insisting on public meetings.

Even though they have seen progress, citizens like Dwyer and the Durans do not feel that change is happening rapidly enough. For example, the state has ordered all of Dan A. Hughes’ new operations stopped, but there are still old wells that can keep producing since their inception occurred prior to this new order. Also, once the commissioners filed their challenge on Dan A. Hughes, they were unable to talk about it publicly. Because of this development, issues surrounding a lack of transparency and communication have resurfaced.

Environmental and Social Justice Concerns

At times, Pamela said she feels like the combination of the Collier County’s geography and demographics have made it an easy target for resource extraction companies.  She describes the area as a multicultural town with many immigrants—Jamaican, Mexican, Hatian, Peruvian, Columbian, and more—and a community comprised of older retirees and very young families building up savings.  These demographics, she feels, may give off the impression that the residents will not come together and fight for their rights.  Speaking to the comments directed at Colliers from the more populous Naples community, Pamela responded by saying, “This is the first time I’ve felt people think we’re poor.  It’s not like we’re an urban location with super poor people surviving on welfare, but yes, lots of people here are foreign, and we don’t have much material wealth.”

According to the Durans, the surge of gas drilling activity in Collier County has drastically altered the day-to-day lifestyle of many of its residents.  Pamela and Jaime have dedicated much of their time to fighting the companies and following discussions surrounding the issue, which takes up a significant amount of their time. Pamela notes:

For the past 14 months, our lives have been on hold, dedicating the past months to stopping drilling.  We wanted to do certain things to our house, but we’ve put it on hold.   Why invest in a home if we might have to leave it for health reasons later? I’m not going to stay and watch us get sick.

Dwyer has similar feelings on the issue.  He is concerned about the human rights aspect of the problem, such as equal access to clean water and air, as well as the difficulty of communicating with large corporations.  Dwyer would like to see the state and federal government buy the mineral rights from Collier Resources and set that land aside as a reserve, which is what it was prior to drilling. Feeling that the drilling will most likely be permitted, Dwyer believes that companies should concentrate on improving procedures and communication.

Dwyer recognizes that even though resisting the industry has proved to be frustrating, she now knows about the issues surrounding gas and is determined to continue informing as many people as possible and is continuing an open dialogue with the county commissioners.  She feels that progress towards stopping gas companies can be made when more people know about the problems that are occurring.

Learn more about the unique aspects of drilling in Florida.

The interviews that served as the basis for this article were conducted in the summer 2014. This article is an update to an article we wrote in 2013. Read more.

Photo by Evan Collins and Rachel Wadell

These Fish Weren’t Playing Opossum (Creek)

A First-hand Look at the Recent Statoil Well Pad Fire

By Evan Collins and Rachel Wadell, Summer Research Interns, Wheeling Jesuit University

Statoil well pad fire 2205-crop

Monroe Co. Ohio – Site of June 2014 Statoil well pad fire

After sitting in the non-air-conditioned lab on a muggy Monday afternoon (June 30, 2014), we were more than ready to go for a ride to Opossum Creek after our professor at Wheeling Jesuit University mentioned a field work opportunity. As a researcher concerned about drilling’s impacts, our professor has given many talks on the damaging effects that unconventional drilling can have on the local ecosystem. During the trip down route 7, he explained that there had been a serious incident on a well pad in Monroe County, Ohio (along the OH-WV border) on Saturday morning.

About the Incident

Hydraulic tubing had caught fire at Statoil’s Eisenbarth well pad, resulting in the evacuation of 20-25 nearby residents.1 Statoil North America is a relatively large Norwegian-based company, employing roughly 23,000 workers, that operates all of its OH shale wells in Monroe County.2 The Eisenbarth pad has 8 wells, 2 of which are active.1 However, the fire did not result from operations underground. All burning occurred at the surface from faulty hydraulic lines.

Resulting Fish Kill?

Photo by Evan Collins and Rachel Wadell

Several fish from the reported fish kill of Opossum Creek in the wake of the recent well pad fire in Monroe County, OH.

When we arrived at Opossum Creek, which flows into the Ohio River north of New Martinsville, WV, it smelled like the fresh scent of lemon pine-sol. A quick look revealed that there was definitely something wrong with the water. The water had an orange tint, aquatic plants were wilting, and dozens of fish were belly-up. In several shallow pools along the creek, a few small mouth bass were still alive, but they appeared to be disoriented.  As we drove down the rocky path towards the upstream contamination site, we passed other water samplers. One group was from the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health (CTEH). The consulting firm was sampling for volatile organic compounds, while we were looking for the presence of halogens such as Bromide and Chloride. These are the precursors to trihalomethanes, a known environmental toxicant.

Visiting the Site

After collecting water samples, we decided to visit the site of the fire. As we drove up the ridge, we passed another active well site. Pausing for a break and a peek at the well, we gazed upon the scenic Appalachian hillsides and enjoyed the peaceful drone of the well site. Further up the road, we came to the skeletal frame of the previous Statoil site. Workers and members of consulting agencies, such as CTEH, surrounded the still smoking debris. After taking a few pictures, we ran into a woman who lived just a half-mile from the well site.  We asked her about the fire and she stated that she did not appreciate having to evacuate her home. Surrounding plants and animals were not able to be evacuated, however.

Somehow the fish living in Opossum Creek, just downhill from the well, ended up dead after the fire. The topography of the area suggests that runoff from the well would likely flow in a different direction, so the direct cause of the fish kill is still obscure. While it is possible that chemicals used on the well pad ran into the creek while the fire was being extinguished, the OH Department of Natural Resources “can’t confirm if it (the fish kill) is related to the gas-well fire.”3  In reference to the fire, a local resident said “It’s one of those things that happens. My God, they’re 20,000 feet down in the ground. Fracking isn’t going to hurt anything around here. The real danger is this kind of thing — fire or accidents like that.”4

Lacking Transparency

WV 2014 Photo by Evan Collins and Rachel Wadell

Run by Statoil North America, Eisenbarth well pad in Monroe County, Ohio is still smoking after the fire.

Unfortunately, this sentiment is just another example of the general public being ill-informed about all of the aspects involved in unconventional drilling. This knowledge gap is largely due to the fact that oil and gas extraction companies are not always transparent about their operations or the risks of drilling. In addition to the potential for water pollution, earthquakes, and illness due to chemicals, air pollution from active unconventional well sites is increasing annually.

CO2 Emissions

Using prior years’ data, from 2010 to 2013, we determined that the average CO2 output from unconventional gas wells in 2013 was equal to that of an average coal-fired plant. If growth continued at this rate, the total emissions of all unconventional wells in West Virginia will approximate 10 coal-fired power plants in the year 2030. Coincidentally, this is the same year which the EPA has mandated a 30 percent reduction in CO2 emissions by all current forms of energy production. However, recent reports suggest that the amount of exported gas will quadruple by 2030, meaning that the growth will actually be larger than originally predicted.5 Yet, this number only includes the CO2 produced during extraction. It does not include the CO2 released when the natural gas is burned, or the gas that escapes from leaks in the wells.

Long-Term Impacts

Fires and explosions are just some of the dangers involved in unconventional drilling. While they can be immediately damaging, it is important to look at the long-term impacts that this industry has on the environment. Over time, seepage into drinking water wells and aquifers from underground injection sites will contaminate these potable sources of water. Constant drilling has also led to the occurrence of unnatural earthquakes. CO2 emissions, if left unchecked, could easily eclipse the output from coal-fired power plants – meaning that modern natural gas drilling isn’t necessarily the “clean alternative” as it has been advertised.

References

  1. Willis, Jim ed. (2014). Statoil Frack Trucks Catch Fire in Monroe County, OH. Marcellus Drilling News.
  2. Forbes. (2014). Statoil.
  3. Woods, Jim. (2014). Fish Kill in Eastern Ohio Might be Linked to Fire at Fracking Well. The Columbus Dispatch.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Cushman, John H., Jr. (2014). US Natural Gas Exports No Better for Climate than China’s Coal, Experts Say.
There are strong public opinions in some cases related to drilling. This map shows municipal movements in New York State against unconventional drilling (as of 06/13/2014)

Public Perception of Sustainability

By Jill Terner, PA Communications Intern, FracTracker Alliance

There are strong public opinions in some cases related to drilling. This map shows municipal movements in New York State against  unconventional drilling (as of 06/13/2014)

There are strong public opinions in some cases related to unconventional drilling. This map shows municipal movements in NY State against the process (06/13/2014)

In the previous two installments of this three part series, I discussed how sustainability provides a common platform for people who support and deny the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and natural gas from the ground. While these opposing sides may frequently use sustainability in their rhetoric, the term has different connotations depending on which side is presented. The dynamic definition of sustainability makes it a boundary object, or a term that many people can use in shared discourse, all while defining it in different nuanced ways1. This way, the definition of sustainability alters between groups of people, and may also change over time.

First, I wrote about how pro-industry groups tend to focus primarily on the economic angle of sustainability rather than a more holistic understanding when arguing that hydraulic fracturing is the best choice for local and national communities.  In my second post, I discussed how pro-environment groups see sustainability as a multifaceted entity, treating social and environmental sustainability with as much importance as economic. Here, I will focus on what can cause differences in public perceptions of hydraulic fracturing, as well as what might be done to mitigate potential confusion caused by competing definitions of sustainability.

A Few Explanations for Differing Opinions

A national survey conducted in 2013 found that by and large, people had no opinion of hydraulic fracturing.  This was probably due to the fact that the majority of respondents indicated that they had heard little to nothing about hydraulic fracturing also known as unconventional drilling. Those who did identify as having an opinion either for or against drilling were split nearly evenly*. While survey participants on both sides recognized that there could be several economic benefits related to industrial presence, they also acknowledged that distribution of these benefits might not be equitable. Additionally, recognition of environmental and social threats is correlated with a negative view of industry. The stronger a respondents’ concern is about damaging environmental and social outcomes resulting from drilling activities, the more likely they were to express negative opinions about the industry2.

What is responsible for this difference of opinion? One possible explanation lies in the level of drilling activity a given community is experiencing. In areas where hydraulic fracturing is more prevalent, residents are more likely to have leased their land to drilling companies, so they are more likely to adjust their attitude to reflect their actions. They have made a significant investment by leasing their land, so they are likely to be optimistic about the payoff3.

Relatedly, the length of time that industry has been active in an area might also affect public perceptions. When industry is relatively new, many residents of nearby communities are optimistic about the economic gains that it may bring. However, alongside this optimism, residents may also express trepidation regarding what the influx of new people and wealth might do to community integrity. Over time, though, residents of areas where industry has maintained a continued presence may have adjusted to the changes brought on by industry, or have had their initial fears mitigated3, 4,5.

Geographically speaking, proximity to a major metropolitan area may also play a role in public perception of unconventional drilling.  In counties where there are more metropolitan areas, there is the potential for an increase in negative social side effects. For example, an increase in violent crimes5, 6, uneven distribution of wealth generated by industry4, and loss of community character4, 6, might be offset by the fact that the influx of new workers makes up a smaller proportion of the county population than in less urbanized counties4.

On a broader geographical scale, state-by-state differences in opinion could be largely due to how prohibitive or permissive laws are regarding drilling. In states such as New York, where legislation demonstrates concern for the environment and safety, residents may be more likely to see sustainability as something more than just economic. On the other hand, in states like Pennsylvania where legislation is relatively permissive, residents may be more likely to see economic sustainability as most important due to the political climate4. This view is also known as the chicken/egg phenomenon: does the public’s opinion sway legislation, or does legislation drive public opinion? Either way, the differences across state lines remains.

What can be done to better inform public opinion?

Above, I mentioned a study where researchers found that the vast majority of survey participants held no opinion regarding unconventional drilling, largely due to lack of knowledge about it2. Therefore making unbiased information readily available and understandable to the public will allow them to make informed opinions on the subject. For example, having access to objective literature regarding unconventional drilling provides the opportunity to increase awareness and inform individuals about the practice of hydraulic fracturing and its potential impacts. In order to have the most impact we must first asses where gaps in public knowledge lie. Engaging in projects such as community based participatory research and then qualitatively assessing the results will reveal common misconceptions or knowledge gaps that need to be addressed through educational programs.

Also, most predictions regarding the unconventional drilling boom are based on a boom-and-bust cycles of past industries4. For example, they look at longitudinal studies where representative groups of residents within communities are followed over time, and they also focus on existing communities affected by industry identifying the social, environmental, and economic outcomes related to industry. This way, any comparisons drawn would be within the same industry, even if they were between two different cities.

Finally, the information gleaned from community based participatory or longitudinal research should be presented by an unbiased party and made easily available. Promoting transparency within biased institutions is equally important. While each entity uses the term “sustainability” to dynamically fit its rhetorical needs, few entities prioritize the same kinds of sustainability. Therefore, it is up to industry, environmental groups, and independent researchers alike to provide a transparent atmosphere of honest information so that individuals can decide which understanding of sustainability they would like to see informing the progress of unconventional drilling in their communities.

About the Author

Jill Terner is an MPH candidate at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and a native Pittsburgher. Interning with FracTracker in fall of 2013 has cemented Jill’s interest in combining Environmental Public Health with her passion for Social Justice.  After completing her MPH in May 2015, Jill hopes to find work helping people better understand, interact with, and mitigate threats to their environment – and how their environment impacts their health.

Footnotes

* 13% did not know how much they had heard about drilling, 39% had heard nothing at all, 16% had heard “a little”, 22% had heard “some”, and 9% had heard “a lot.” Of these respondents, 58% did not know/were undecided about whether they supported drilling, 20% were opposed, and 22% were supportive2.

Sources

  1. Star, S. L., & Griesemer, J. R. (1989). Institutional ecology, ‘translations’ and boundary objects: Amateurs and professionals in Berkeley’s museum of vertebrate zoology, 1907-39. Social Studies of Science, 19, 387-420.
  2. Boudet, H., Carke, C., Bugden, D., Maibach, E., Roser-Renouf, C., & Leiserowitz, A. (2013). “fracking” controversy and communication: Using national survey data to understand public erceptions of hydraulic fracturing. Energy Policy, 65, 57-67.
  3. Kriesky, J., Goldstein, B. D., Zell, K., & Beach, S. (2013). Differing opinions about natural gas drillingin two adjacent counties with different livels of drilling activity. Energy Policy, 50, 228-236.
  4. Wynveen, B. J. (2011). A thematic analysis of local respondents’ perceptions of barnett shale energy development. Journal of Rural Social Sciences, 26(1), 8-31.
  5. Brasier, K. J., Filteau, M. R., McLaughlin, D. K., Jacquet, J., Stedman, R. C., Kelsey, T. W., & Goetz, S. J. (2011). Residents’ perceptions of community and environmental impacts from development of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale: A comparison of Pennsylvania and New York cases. Journal of Rural Social Sciences, 26(1), 32-61.
  6. Korfmacher, K. S., Jones, W. A., Malone, S. L., & Vinci, L. F. (2013). Public Health and High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing. New Solutions, 23(1) 13-31.