Before the residents of Dimock, Pennsylvania made the fateful decision to lease land to Cabot Oil & Gas Company for hydraulic fracturing, they enjoyed safe drinking water without much thought. That all changed after the drilling began in 2008. Almost overnight the water from eighteen wells became contaminated with methane—and potable drinking water became a precious commodity.
According to Tanya Somanader of ThinkProgress.org, “Dimock residents’ water started turning brown and making them sick, one woman’s water well spontaneously combusted, and horses and pets mysteriously began to lose their hair.”
Even more disturbing than the water contamination itself is the fact that Cabot recently was successful in petitioning the state DEP to stop providing bottled water to those affected by fracking. Until that ruling, Cabot had been ordered to provide safe drinking water to eleven families.
Now that the residents are not receiving water paid for by the gas giant, they have little options to turn to. Cabot quoted the families an absurdly high price of $100 a day to continue providing water to them.
The situation has gained national attention. A group of anti-fracking advocates, which includes the Hollywood actor Mark Ruffalo, began bringing water from the state to those Dimock residents left in limbo. The group met with New York governor Andrew Cuomo to discuss the situation in Pennsylvania because New York is considering opening up the state to the same type of fracking that has polluted the wells in Dimock. The advocates are urging Cuomo to visit Dimock so he can see first-hand the consequences that can occur when hydraulic fracturing goes wrong.
For now, the volunteers are trucking hundreds of gallons of water to the Dimock families. While well intended, that is surely a fix that is temporary at best. That DEP ruling must be revisited. Hopefully with additional site assessments, the contaminated well water will prove to be as harmful as it is unsightly and the decision will be overturned.
New Bedford, Mass. residents who find themselves neighbors with a heavily-contaminated property are fearful that the impending cleanup will cause them harm as dangerous particles are spread about in the process. They are concerned that the safety and health programs put in place are not sufficient to protect them and their families.
The town is waiting on the official go-ahead to begin remediating the Parker Street Waste Site, an area that through site assessments, soil sampling and air quality testing, was found to contain significant levels of PCBs. PSWS is the place where a number of homes were razed. According to Ariel Wittenberg of SouthCoastToday.com, “The homes on those lots were demolished in 2010 and the properties have been vacant since, surrounded by chain-link fences and considered dangerous eyesores by neighbors and environmental activists.”
Led by Boston University associate professor Wendy Heiger-Bernays, a few neighbors are asking that a special dust prevention fence be added to the cleanup proposal. She said, “This type of fence is more than a chain-link fence, it has a type of fabric that will block the dust from migrating. You don’t want the dust blowing around uninhibited.”
Michele Paul, who is the director of the Environmental Stewardship Office, defended the current proposal which uses a different tactic to protect the surrounding properties from the toxic waste removal. Speaking on the decision to use water to weigh down the poisonous sediment, Paul stated, “The spraying is meant to prevent PCB levels in the air from reaching a stage that would require work to stop altogether. The safety measures are sufficiently protective. Instrument monitoring and active sprays prevent fugitive dust from being generated rather than having to capture it, as would be the case with the fabric. Whatever we do out there is going to be protective to the neighbors.”
PCBs are a man-made substance resilient to acid, bases, and heat, and have been banned in the U.S. since the 1970s. Low levels of exposure to the material are almost universal, as it has been discovered in breast milk, bodily tissues, and fat cells of humans nationwide. According to GreenFacts.org, “Since 1929 around 2 million tonnes of PCBs have been produced, about 10% of which still remain in the environment today”.
The problem with human contact with PCBs is the accumulation effect. Just as the outside natural environment has a hard time breaking down the substance, so does the human body. When PBC levels become troublesome, people may suffer from a number of related ailments including an impaired immune system and cancer.
In response to Paul’s defense of spraying the sediment, Heiger-Bernays said, “When it comes to digging up hazardous waste sites near where people live, it doesn’t hurt to be conservative. Frankly, if I was living there, the two things I would want are monitoring and a fence.”
As neighbors worry that toxic dust and its effects on their health, and particularly that of infants who are especially susceptible to PBC contamination, the cleanup is moving forward as planned. Likely if budget and timeframe allowed, the fence would be a possibility, but for now it seems as though the worries will continue unabated—until the site is completely remediated.
A Wisconsin-based automotive parts manufacturer, Madison-Kipp, has recently settled two class action suits filed by neighboring homeowners. The settlements include a total payout of $7.2 million as well the promise to perform any potential necessary environmental cleanup.
The first lawsuit, filed in October 2011, was heard in federal court and involved 33 homeowners with properties adjacent to the Madison-Kipp plant. The suit alleges that the manufacturer did not demonstrate an effort to research the environmental impacts of its processes and failed to conduct proper environmental cleanup of contamination over a 15-year period. Homeowners specifically cited the release of tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, which seeped into the groundwater. The poisoned groundwater then contaminated soil and becoming a vapor that ultimately leached into the plaintiff’s homes. It is important to note that PCE is a known carcinogen to human beings.
The federal case settled for $4.6 million or approximately $82,000.00 per household after legal fees. Madison-Kipp will also remove the top foot of soil from each of the 33 properties and replace it with new soil to deter any future environmental concerns. The affected homes will also have a “sub-slab depressurization system” installed in order to draw out any additional contaminated gases that may lurk in the soil beneath the house, possibly leading to vapor intrusion.
A second lawsuit was filed in November 2012 in the state courts by an additional 52 homeowners. These neighbors allege that environmental contamination from the Madison-Kipp plant has endangered their health and significantly lowered their property value. The case settled for $2.6 million or an estimated $32,000.00 per homeowner after legal fees. The payout will also be based upon the assessed value of each of the 52 homes. These homes will also receive the same depressurization system to decontaminated property soil.
Despite the recent settlements, Madison-Kipp does not admit to any of the allegation and states that they settled to prevent future conflict with their neighbors. The plant also promises to make continued efforts to clean up possibly affected areas and looks forward to having a positive relationship with its neighbors in the future. The manufacturer has a long way to go in order to obtain this relationship, since now that the class action suits have been settled, individuals can also file suit. Individuals neighboring the plant may now sue Madison-Kipp for any health problems or injuries they sustained due to chemicals exposure.
Fracking has become a highly controversial practice in recent history due to the uncertain consequences that it may have on the environment. The injecting of water and sand at extremely high pressures in order to release oil from shale has already been linked to earthquakes and water contamination, but a recent study in Pennsylvania has exposed a new danger; methane gas.
The discovery came after measurements were taken by airplanes flying over the Marcellus Shale. The planes recorded extremely high levels above one area in southwestern Pennsylvania. This location is the site of several gas wells. The most surprising discovery was that the gas wells we not yet being fracked, but were still in the drilling process. Upon further testing, levels 100 to 1,000 times the normal concentration of methane were discovered in this area.
The discovery of high methane levels is of concern since it is a dangerous greenhouse gas that can have devastating effects on the planet’s atmosphere. Methane has the potential to warm the atmosphere thirty times more than carbon dioxide would over a century.
Researchers explain that the Pennsylvania sites are what have become known as “fat tails” or “super-emitters.” These well sites are most likely emitting so much methane do to improper drilling methods. Either drillers hit coal pockets near the ground’s surface or a method called underbalanced drilling was used. This method of drilling allows all of the gases to reach the surface.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected set drilling well emissions standards in the near future, and is currently conducting studies on what standard levels should be set at. The EPA is conducting both top-down and bottom-up studies. Both of these methods involve calculating emissions based on a different scientific formula and should help the EPA reach a realistic environmental regulation for the gas industry to comply with.
If your state sat atop a vast reserve of pure gold−silver even−much of which was readily accessible, you’d likely put the pressure on your local lawmakers to allow companies to dig, baby, dig. (As if they’d need the pressure.)While not exactly pots-o-gold, natural gas reserves offer a substantial economic opportunity to states lucky enough to be geographically located on top of them.
The challenge lies not in trying to find the opportunity, but in how to reach the opportunity without throwing the environment and public health to the wind.
Maryland is the latest state to join the great fracking debate. The debate is intense and the end result will be huge; The Old Line State sits on top of as much as 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. As the Washington Post reports, about 50 trillion of those cubic feet are able to be recovered using fracking methods currently used in other states.
The economic benefits are plenty: neighboring Pennsylannia, which has liberally engaged in hydraulic fracturing on a deal-with-the-problems-as-they-arise basis, has seen nearly thirty thousand jobs added to the payroll and 240 million in tax revenue. The projection for the next eight years “would top $12 billion,” a Pennsylvania State University study showed. There is also the point that natural gas is one of the cleanest, most efficient fossil fuels available for human use.
In spite of all evidence that drilling for natural gas can get a much needed income stream flowing, the reality of reaching that deep-lying clean liquid gold is not a good one. A safe method of fracking has eluded the natural gas industry. Pennsylvania’s leap of fracking faith has not come without problems. The Washington Post reports that a list of violations by drilling companies includes “91 violations of the state’s Clean Streams Law, 155 violations for discharge of industrial waste onto grounds and into waters, and 212 faulty pollution-prevention practices.”
Representative Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery) has led the efforts in the state’s General Assembly to halt any applications to drill in the natural gas rich Marcellus Shale. She’s not alone though. Heavy pressure from state residents and environmentalists alike has urged lawmakers to follow suit.
Some local Maryland businesses have also expressed their concerns about allowing hydraulic fracturing in the area. They raise the issues of increased industrial traffic, environmental damage, and decreases to property values.
In the meantime, two companies which have leased land in western Maryland with intentions of starting the fracking process have had their plans delayed. Proposed legislation would also levy a tax onto each acre the companies lease. Money raised by the tax would help the DEP conduct a study on the safety of drilling in the Marcellus Shale.
Perhaps it is prudent to stop and take a breath before diving into fracking head first. Time after time, the pattern in this country (the world for that matter) regarding capitalizing on natural resources has been to act first; deal with consequences later.
The clock is certainly ticking for regulators and environmentalists, however. Safety studies can only hold back the floodgates of revenue for so long. There is a clean, safe, renewable fuel sitting under the state of Maryland and it’s only so long before someone finds a way to drill out this golden opportunity.
For those unfamiliar with the environmental situation in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, here’s a quick glimpse. The small town of just over 11,000 people has grappled for decades with a toxic legacy left behind by industrial giants like DuPont. Hazardous waste left behind from company operations has caused widespread ground and water contamination as well as vapor intrusion—with lingering nasties like lead, mercury, and carcinogens TCE and PCE.
The cleanup of Pompton Lakes has been slow-going and unfruitful. Most residents are growing more and more concerned about the health of their families and the value of their properties. According to Joe Tyrell, of NJspotlight.com, “In December 2009, the state Department of Health and the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry suggested that there was a ‘cluster’ of cancers in the scenic community.” Subsequent studies have verified this statement.
Now, a good number of residents are pushing for the federal government to designate a former munitions plant, where much of the contamination is found, as a Superfund site. Those in favor believe the Superfund status would speed up the remediation process which has been moving at a slug’s pace. Previous attempts to gain the status have been unsuccessful. EPA spokesperson Bonnie Bellow says this year, the agency is “going to listen very carefully to what the community has to say at the rally and the hearing.”
Some Pompton Lakes residents are not hoping for the same outcome. The main reasoning is the belief that a Superfund status brings a certain stigma. These people have suffered dramatic losses in home value and don’t want the extra negative attention. Reports Tyrell, they still “hold out hope that DuPont might redevelop or sell the plant site for a golf course, hotel, or conference center.”
Whichever the outcome of the Superfund hearing, everyone can agree it’s high time to have their town cleaned up and appreciated for its natural beauty, not for DuPont’s slimy property history.
As a second part to the dual Southington middle school contamination story, here is a new environmental issue that threatens to burst the renovation budget’s bubble. In addition to the PCB contamination found in the building materials of JFK Middle School and DePaulo Middle School, it was discovered that in 1980, an oil tank at the latter school leaked into the ground causing land pollution by upwards of thousands of gallons.
According to Andrew Ragali of the Record Journal, “As the town prepares to renovate its two middle schools, the cost of cleaning up the oil has become a major issue. The town is also grappling with the possibility of spending millions to clean up PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) at DePaulo and Kennedy Middle School.”
This past Friday, after all the students and faculty left for the weekend, Hygenix—an environmental consulting firm—pumped oil from the ground at DePaulo to try to figure out how much oil leaked from the tank over three decades ago. Not only must the company determine how much oil escaped, but also whether or not the tank is still leaking. The second part will require additional pumping. Ragali explains, “If oil is found during follow-up monitoring, it probably means the oil tank, which is underground near one of the wells, is still leaking.”
Pumping done on Friday removed an estimated few hundred gallons “of a mixture of oil and other substances” said Ragali. Ongoing work will involve extracting the remaining oil that was never cleaned up in 1980. The environmental consulting firm is optimistic about the remediation.
Peter Antonucci, a consultant with Hygenix, said, “It’s not as bad as we thought it was. The soil is well-packed so the oil isn’t traveling far.” In the near future, he expects the company to go back for follow-up testing and better allow Southington officials to stick a price tag on the cleanup efforts.
Homeowners in the Cumberland County subdivision in Gray’s Creek, North Carolina will almost all soon connect to a municipal water main that will provide them with reliable, potable drinking water. This wasn’t the case until recently, as neighbors dealt with water contamination originating from a nearby, now-defunct gas station.
Although only one property was officially found to have a contaminated well, roughly 100 homes in the same Southpoint neighborhood were invited to link to the public water utility. After 40 homes initially expressed interest in hooking up, 62 have ended up doing so and others are still welcome to.
The old gas station was a sore spot for neighbors because although underground gasoline was left behind and the state of North Carolina knew for decades about the risk of contamination, nothing was done to protect the environmental safety of the area. One homeowner had his water tested and found hazardous materials. According to Gregory Phillips of FayObserver.com, “The contamination at Southpoint was bad enough at one home that the state installed a filter and started supplying the occupants with bottled water.”
Others suspected something was afoul as the quality of their water steadily decreased. “It was getting worse. You could tell,” said resident William Neasbitt.”
“We didn’t drink it,” explained Ellen Gerber, another neighbor, after her cat became ill every time he drank the water.
Now that the water main is installed, homeowners have the option to pay $50 for a tap into the line and have a meter installed. Any residents who wish to pay now and tap later pay $150, and any who don’t want to tap in at all are required to pay a $12 monthly availability fee.
Although they share frustration that the state took five years after finding out about the water contamination to take action, most Southpoint neighbors agree that it’s a relief not to have to worry anymore about the safety of the water they use every day.
There is a new trend happening in New York City and it isn’t on the fashion runways. The trend is building wind turbines on the rooftops of buildings in the city. The turbines are being used to draw in new tenants, since many New Yorker’s are actively interested in green efforts. The wind turbines set the luxury apartment building apart from similar buildings.
Most recently three wind turbines were place on the rooftop of a posh apartment building that contains 197 units in Pearson Court Square. Wind turbines were also constructed on one of the tallest buildings in Brooklyn. At least six more wind turbines are being planned for install in the near future as well.
Making wind turbines function correctly on a city rooftop does pose some interesting challenges. For one, New York City tends to be too windy at 3 to 30 miles an hour. The ideal wind speed for a turbine is about 10 miles an hour. The New York City winds also blow from all surrounding directions. Researchers developed a lower speed double helix shaped wind turbine to solve many of the above issues. This shape catches the wind from multiple directions and is also safer for birds. The double helix also results in less noise, although neighbors say that the noise from traffic far exceeds any noise created but the wind turbine.
There are several critics of these wind turbines, mainly sighting their efficiency as a sustainable energy source. Many go as far as calling the construction of these wind turbines a complete waste of money. This point becomes especially pertinent given The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority funded half of the installation process, totaling about $100,000 at one of the above apartment projects. The reason that the turbines are facing such hard criticism is that only a small amount of energy is produced. For example the newly constructed turbine at Pearson Square will only produce enough energy to power the light in the common areas. The turbines in Brooklyn power a lighting display designed to make the building unique.
Wind turbines may be the latest trend in New York City, but they actually have deep roots in the area’s history. When founded, New York was known as New Amsterdam, named after the Dutch city. The Dutch have always been known for their picturesque, windmill dotted landscapes so when they colonized they left that cultural influence.
Whether or not wind turbines are an efficient green power source in New York City, it appears that they are a trend that will be sticking around. Buildings are using the tall structures to set themselves apart from other buildings. They are tapping into a market of individuals that are environmentally minded and are attracted to all things green. There are currently no turbines in Manhattan, but the company that manufactured the Pearson Square and Brooklyn wind turbines states that they are working with multiple developers for future installations. Other non residential buildings have also chosen to partake in this environmental trend. A Whole Foods in Brooklyn now powers it parking lot lights with a turbine and a Brooklyn recycling center is installing the area’s largest turbine. Lastly, as many as six schools in New York have installed wind turbines for children to learn about sustainable green energy.
In late April, Pennsylvania made fracking history−but not exactly the kind it wants to remember. A drilling well spewed thousands of gallons of fracturing fluid, marking the first significant event in the history of U.S. hydraulic fracturing to showcase the truly dangerous side of procuring natural gas.
Critics have been clamoring for years about the risk of leaks in well casings to potentially cause the mysterious chemicals in drilling fluid to seep through the aquifer and reach local rivers, streams, and reservoirs. But the accident at the Chesapeake
Energy well in Pennsylvania’s Bradford County really drove home the fact that drilling for natural gas can be just as ripe for mishaps as say, drilling for oil, or developing nuclear energy (albeit a lot less catastrophic.) This spill fortunately caused no injuries or deaths although seven families were displaced from their homes.
C.J. Marshall reported for the Associated Press that “a well head connection failed; gas and thousands of gallons of toxic liquid escaped containment, then flowed across farm fields and into waterways.”
Natural gas exploration and drilling have the same type of risk associated with oil; when there is a leak or a spill, the environmental contamination impact can be dire. With fracturing, it is difficult to accurately measure the danger to humans and wildlife because the exact ingredients of the fluids used in the process are held so secret by the industry.
The idea of using natural gas as a fuel for current and future generations is a noble one; it is a clean fuel and it is an American fuel; the trouble is finding a safe means to reach the end. As Bradford County, Pennsylvania learned the hard way, drillers cannot be too cautious with their safety standards as the country explores this wild new frontier.