Excellent rebuttal of Marcellus industry claims by Adrian Kuzminski, Moderator, Sustainable Otsego, Cooperstown, NY – (Remarks at the National Press Club, Newsmaker Press Conference, Washington, DC on May 24, 2011)
My name is Adrian Kuzminski. I’m the Moderator of Sustainable Otsego, an advocacy group in the Cooperstown, NY, area. We have played a key role in the growing grassroots resistance to fracking for natural gas in the Marcellus shale region. As part of this effort, we have brought together a collection of documents, “Frack Facts,” which covers most aspects of gas extraction from leases to pollution problems to effects on economics and property values. This collection, periodically updated and expanded, currently has hundreds of items running to over 2000 pages.
This document was originally undertaken at the request of Congressman Michael Arcuri in 2008. Earlier versions of it were submitted to the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and to the EPA during their recent public comment periods on gas drilling. Copies are available here today. My remarks are based on the findings presented in these documents. Our conclusion is that the practice of fracking for natural gas should NOT be allowed to go forward.
Let me go through the major pro-industry arguments one by one, and point out why they fail:
1. “We have an insatiable appetite for energy and need to find replacement resources for oil.”
Natural gas is not a replacement resource for oil; it is an extension of oil, with all its problems. It is a polluting fossil fuel apparently as bad if not worse than oil and coal. The methane gas which escapes during the full cycle of production and distribution ends up polluting groundwater locally, and compounding the greenhouse effect globally. A recent Duke university study of drilling in PA and NYS show methane frequently migrating thousands of feet to contaminate drinking water. Methane is a worse greenhouse gas than CO2 by many orders of magnitude.
Robert Howarth’s recent research at Cornell — based on data from the state-of-the-art Russian gas system — shows unacceptable levels of methane emissions from wellheads, compressors, and distribution lines. There is nothing “clean” about natural
gas; it’s just another fossil fuel.
We should be putting our diminishing investment capital into conservation and sustainable, decentralized, renewable energy sources. Investment in a dead-end technology like fracking starves out the sustainable renewables of the future, leaving us that much worse off. The short-term benefits go
mainly to a few leaseholders and the gas companies. Every dime invested in natural gas is a dime in T. Boone Pickens’ pocket, and that’s a dime denied
to desperately needed renewables. We can no longer afford to subsdize an obsolete oil and gas industry which provides energy and profits only at the
cost of cannibalizing our most basic resources, both locally and globally.
We shouldn’t have to choose between water and energy. Shale gas development and subsidies to increase gas use are bridges to nowhere.
2. “We need national energy independence and the Marcellus shale will help provide it.”
Just as Greshem’s law tells us that ‘bad money drives out good money,’ so in ecological economics bad energy drives out good energy. A bad energy like
natural gas requires us to sacrifice more and more of our environment to keep our over-consumptive lifestyles going a little longer; in effect, we are burning the furniture in the house to stay warm. That’s not energy independence; that’s energy suicide, whether the fossil fuel comes from Pennsylvania or Saudi Arabia. We’re addicted to bad energy for a good reason: because there isn’t enough good energy to keep all the lights on. To get to energy independence we need conservation, rationing, and downsizing of our fossil fuel lifestyle, plus all-out investment in renewables. It’s going to be rough.
3. “Marcellus gas is an economic shot in the arm to depressed rural economies who need it most.”
Who wants to buy a house in a gas field? Realtors report residential buyers avoiding leased areas. Many banks will not give mortgages on leased
property, and many insurance companies will not cover for damages from gas extraction.
Fracking for natural gas compromises property rights through “compulsory integration” and other unfair leasing practices. It leaves communities to
pay for a host of direct and indirect costs of a degraded environment. It puts water and air at serious risk of long-term and permanent pollution. It
introduces a transient but intensive, widespread heavy industry on a massive scale. This immediately compromises public health, tourism, recreation,cultural and educational settings, residential development, organic agriculture, and other value added industries depending on clean water, air,
and soil, not to mention community life in gereral.
Fracking for natural gas replaces steady economic activity with a destructive boom and bust cycle, in the process reducing property values and the tax base, while raising mitigation costs for local governments. All of this is a drain not a boost to the economy.
In my part of NYS, where Cooperstown is an international tourist destination, many prominent businesses and institutions have seen the threat
and called for the outright prohibition of fracking. These include the Ommegang brewery, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce, the medical staff of Bassett Healthcare, and the Board of Trustees of the Village of Cooperstown. In typical language, Cooperstown
“unanimously supports all efforts to stop natural gas drilling and hydrofracking in New York State.” These reactions are similar to many others across NYS and the Northeast.
In sum, the transient jobs and short-term tax opportunities the industry promises do not appear to compensate for the multiple losses the industry
brings to the community.
4. “Drilling allows farmers to continue farming instead of going bankrupt.”
The main agriculture growth in the Marcellus region has come from the small-scale, organic, locavore movement, for whom drilling is death. A gas well puts nearby water and air at risk, something neither organic farmers
nor the value-added industries they support can tolerate. If agriculture has a future it’s in this new non-industrial, specialty, boutique kind of
farming, the kind we see in Europe, for example, or read about in the Leisure section of the New York Times, where local varieties, quality, and
high environmental standards are the key.
The old-time dairy industry in the Northeast died a generation ago, a victim of a punishing national
milk-pricing system and mega-farming in the mid-West, and it’s not coming back anytime soon. Most leased land in the Marcellus region is not under
cultivation; much of it is held by absentee owners. Those gas royalty checks will be great for a few lucky leaseholders in rural communities — if their
wells come through as predicted. Little if any of this money is going to be invested in agriculture.
5. “Industry CAN extract gas safely under the watchful eye of our regulators.”
If drilling is so safe, why does the industry insist on exemption from environmental review? The fracking process uses very high pressures — many thousands of psi — to forcefully release gases trapped in shale; these gases and fracking residues can follow fissures and faults to reach and contaminate groundwater.
This concern, confirmed by the recent Duke University study, was a principal reason for NYC to call for a ban on fracking in its upstate NY watershed.
They did so on the basis of the Hazen and Sawyer study, perhaps still the most thorough independent study done of fracking in the Marcellus shale
region. If fracking is too dangerous for NYC’s watershed, then why isn’t it too dangerous for the whole Marcellus region?
Millions of gallons of toxic wastewater are produced by each fracked well. As reported in a recent New York Times series, this water is a permanent
hazardous waste, often containing radioactive residues and other toxins for which there is no satisfactory purification or disposal option: either it
will be diluted into surface waters, or injected underground.
Dr. Theo Colburn of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange has identified many of these chemicals not only as carcinogins but as endocrine disruptors.
Endocrine disruptors are unusual stealth toxins: tolerable at higher doses, but increasingly dangerous as doses get smaller and smaller, even when not
detectable; no safe thresholds have been found.
Not only methane but other volatile organic compounds are emitted in the vicinity of the production and distribution of natural gas, compromising air quality. Ground-level ozone concentrations in rural areas with fracking —
previously pristine, like Wyoming — now rival those of metropoitan areas.
Until now, deregulation and defunding pushed by the industry have left state and federal agencies unable to effectively monitor gas industry activites,
let alone regulate them. By exempting itself from public accountability for its actions, the industry — ironically — has only succeeded in underminingits own credibility.* So far fracking has not been done safely, and apparently can’t be, and there is no “watchful eye.”
Some concluding points:
The true long-term harms and costs of natural gas extraction, considered cumulatively, decisively outweigh, in our assessment, any short-term
benefits. Yet these direct and indirect costs are conspicuously ignored or dismissed by the industry. Defunding and deregulation have ensured that few
objective studies of natural gas extraction have been done, allowing the gas industry to claim, as the tobacco industry used to do, that harms are
Individually, fracking harms are as well documented as can reasonably be expected. If they have not received the attention they deserve it is because
the industry has kept the dots from being connected. But when you connect them, the rationale advanced for public policy promoting natural gas as an energy source using current technologies disappears.
Indeed, reports of the baleful consequences of drilling have become so widespread as to be undeniable. Thousands of incidents — spills, contaminations, blowouts, etc. — are now on record. In upstate New York, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere in the drilling areas, awareness of these multiple harms has galvanized local citizen responses into a widespread,
grassroots movement against fracking.
The national public should know that local communities in the frontline of gas development in New York State, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere are mounting an impressive resistance. This is an unreported grassroots revolution, an outbreak of populist democracy, of people fighting to take back their communities. Given the failures to date of federal and state governments to protect local comunities, municipalities are taking matters into their own hands.
NYS has home rule which allows cities and towns to prohibit uses such as heavy industry, including fracking for natural gas, through local zoning and
land use laws. A number of towns in NYS — in Otsego, Tompkins, and Sullivans counties, among others — have begun passing or improving such ordinances, which effectively prohibit fracking within their borders. The cities of Buffalo NY and Pittsburgh PA, and a number of PA townships, have also banned fracking within their borders.
In sum, the entire issue of natural gas and other fossil fuel production needs to be reframed. The conventional financial analysis of profit and cost
fails to calculate the true costs involved. In addition to conventional marketplace calculations, we need to determine the oil and gas industry’s longer term ecological and social costs. Though we don’t have all the tools needed to make these calculations definitively, the approximations we have gathered in our document collection strongly suggests that the industry, if it continues to develop, will do more harm than good.
[*Editor’s Note: The Marcellus Shale Coalition is launching a big public relations campaign, attempting to reverse the flow of public opinion against fracking. Most recent blitz was this May 27 collection of toxic waste. Credibility is indeed a problem for the frack-advocates.]