Marcellus Shale

Did the EPA Crucifixion Campaign Include New York?

Recent revelations regarding the deliberate attempts by a regional EPA administrator to “crucify” the oil and gas industry raise troubling questions about EPA political agendas in other regions.  One of these is New York Region 2 out of New York City, which commented on New York’s Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) with a long list of complaints seemingly designed to undermine the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.  Our Rockefeller-funded anti-natural gas friend Walter Hang notes “EPA Region 2 submitted nearly twice as many pages of critical comments regarding the Revised Draft SGEIS than the original 2009 draft SGEIS.”  Was there an attempt by EPA Region 2 to join the crucifixion campaign?  Let’s take a look.

EPA Region 2 has offered 26 pages of comments on the SGEIS, a large number of which were either picayune or innocuous.  Here are just two examples:

The photos at the end of Chapter 6 would be more informative if there were pictures capturing what the landscape looked like before the well pads were installed.

As an aside, we recommend calling the latter a “GHG emissions mitigation plan” rather than a “GHG emissions impacts mitigation plan,” because the plan should be about mitigating (i.e., reducing or minimizing) emissions of greenhouse gases, not about mitigating the impacts of such emissions.)

Do we really need to borrow money from our grandchildren to pay EPA staffers to advise what pictures should be included in a state planning document that is only peripherally related to EPA responsibilities?

The answers are self-evident.  Yet, here we are wasting precious resources, all borrowed, to insert the the EPA into matters that wouldn’t be relevant in the slightest to the agency’s mission but for the  fact New York happens to have a state statute pertaining to environmental review.

The EPA’s substantive comments on the SGEIS, are also problematic on several fronts.  Consider this one:

Transportation Impacts – It should be noted that if re-fracturing wells after a few years becomes standard practice in New York, truck traffic will be fairly continuous and if so should be treated as a continuous source of emissions. Also, the NYSDEC should document the estimated number of trucks that will be needed per year for general well maintenance.

Setting aside the fact there is no basis for assuming there will be any re-fracturing of wells, why is EPA even looking at what are, at best, tangential impacts of hydraulic fracturing – just one of several processes involved in natural gas development?  Why is EPA concerned with truck traffic pertaining to well maintenance?  Fracturing doesn’t necessarily require much trucking if the water is piped in from fresh water retention areas, after all, and truck traffic associated with well maintenance in on the order of the number of dough deliveries to the local pizza shop.

The answer is obvious – it isn’t the fracturing process or its impacts EPA is addressing here.  No, what’s in the back of its mind (if a bureaucracy can be said to have a mind) is the appropriateness of natural gas development as an industry and it is precisely to this point the agency’s comment is directed.  This is a fundamental problem.  If EPA can decide the worthiness of an entire industry and judge it by its truck traffic, we are all in trouble.  EPA is setting itself up as the final arbiter (or should we say abattoir) of all land uses and super planner of all development.  New York State, sadly, may have such power, but EPA most certainly does not.  The fact it chooses to opine on such subjects suggests the agency views its mission as being without limits.  That should scare everyone.

If any further evidence of this tendency toward mission creep is necessary, it is found in this comment:

Since the New York State Public Service Commission has the regulatory authority over the construction and operation of the natural gas gathering lines, in order to ensure a full discussion of these impacts, the New York State Public Service Commission should become a cooperating agency and the New York State Public Service Commission-related issues should be integrated into the finalization of this document. At a minimum, the document should outline how the environmental impacts of this associated infrastructure would be analyzed and mitigated. Collaboration mechanisms in the future between the NYSDEC and the New York State Public Service Commission may also provide the opportunity to coordinate actions in order to minimize the amount of flaring of gas between the time of opening a well and the construction of gathering lines as well as to site well pads as much as possible near existing pipeline infrastructure to minimize surface disturbance.

Since when does public utility regulation have anything to do with hydraulic fracturing, the subject of the SGEIS?  New York State has hosted natural gas development for nearly 200 years and has overseen fracturing for decades.

How is it the combination of horizontal drilling and higher volume fracturing is suddenly an excuse to re-evaluate the entire industry and everything connected with it?

Are we going to re-evaluate the publishing industry when the New York Times establishes a new printing plant or the computer industry every time Apple comes out with a new product line?

Yet again, the answer is clear.  A double standard is being applied.  The evaluation of the environmental impact of one process is being used to judge an industry simply because it involves a subject where such demagoguery resonates.  EPA is involving itself in anything, and everything, even remotely connected to environmental impacts – simply because it thinks it can.  It wills itself to power without consultation, in other words, as it has in Dimock and attempted to do with the Marc-1 pipeline.

The agency  has bought into, and helped advance, the use of “fracturing” as a term to define the natural gas industry, which is false.  It is, effectively, doing the exact same thing anti-natural gas advocates do.  Nevertheless, saying it’s so doesn’t make it so.

EPA has no business involving itself in matters of state public utility regulation or using its comments on fracturing as an excuse to insert itself into every aspect of natural gas development.

Even worse, EPA would use this excuse to go backwards, as the following comment indicates:

EPA Region 2 supports the NYSDEC’s decision to prohibit high volume hydraulic fracturing operations within the areas listed in Section 3.2.4.  However, EPA Region 2 is still concerned that drilling of wells where high-volume hydraulic fracturing will not be employed will still be allowed by NYSDEC in these sensitive areas. Given that many of the same risks discussed in the revised dSGEIS are present when any well is drilled and hydraulically fractured in these locations regardless of whether high-volume or low-volume hydraulic fracturing is used, it appears inconsistent to prohibit one activity and not the other.

Clearly, the historical record (no pollution of any water supply) means nothing to EPA.   It suggests any opportunity to restrict natural gas development is one that should be taken, even if means prohibiting activity safely conducted within New York State for decades, regardless of scope or previous environmental impact studies.

This is just the beginning of the extrapolation of one issue into many by EPA, however.  The following comment stretches things even further:

A comparison of the maximum concentrations of several chemicals (arsenic, benzene, bis(2)ethylhexylphthalate, chromium (VI), and tetrachloroethylene) found in the flowback water samples reveals that they are greater than EPA’s risk-based screening values for tap water.  This indicates that there could be potential health-related problems for individuals who may ingest drinking water containing these concentrations over a lifetime of exposure if the flowback water is determined to be a source of drinking water contamination.

Furthermore, a comparison of the maximum concentrations of benzene and chromium (VI) found in flowback water reveals that they can be greater than EPA’s Removal Action Levels – chemical-specific concentrations for individual contaminants in drinking water that may be used to support a decision by EPA to undertake a removal action. This suggests that there could be potential health-related problems for individuals exposed to drinking water contaminated by flowback water over the short term (acute exposure).

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson Testifies Before Congress on Hydraulic Fracturing

This entire comment assumes flowback water will somehow contaminate drinking water when there is no evidence of this occurring and New York is requiring the use of closed loop systems that completely segregate flowback water.  Moreover, it takes this false assumption even further by raising the specter such contamination could occur continuously over a lifetime!

Maybe someone should tell Region 2 officials that EPA’s own administrator, Lisa Jackson, acknowledges there is not a single proven case of hydraulic fracturing contaminating a water supply anywhere in the nation. She said this just last month, and, yet, Region 2 advises New York to take action as if it might produce continuous contamination.  Could there be a more irresponsible statement than this?  It’s hard to think of one, except maybe for that whole crucifixion thing.

No one suggests drinking flowback water but to insinuate it is a potential source of lifetime contamination of drinking water is beyond even the wildest claims of our friends on the other side.

There are many more examples of such overkill in the EPA comments but one more will suffice to illustrate the point:

In EPA’s original December 30, 2009 comments, EPA stated that the invasive species issue should include potential invasive species that can be carried by equipment transported from other drilling locations because of a possibility that golden algae (prymnesium parvum) that may have been transported on equipment potentially contributed to a fish kill in Dunkard Creek. While the revised dSGEIS in Section on page 7-97 does recommend best management practices be instituted and incorporated into the required invasive species mitigation plan to reduce the risk of transferring invasive species, a larger issue that was determined from Pennsylvania’s investigation was that dissolved solids created conditions that helped the golden algae bloom. The NYSDEC must ensure that freshwater streams do not become brackish enough to support the golden algae, regardless of whether or not golden algae are an invasive species. The species is of concern because of its ability to produce a toxin that can cause fish kills. Although it can exist in waters without being harmful, according to an article in the Texas Water Resources Institute’s txH2O magazine for winter 2011, the algae caused major fish kills in five of Texas’ river systems.

Readers will recall the Dunkard Creek fish kill was falsely blamed on the natural gas industry and hydraulic fracturing until further study by EPA, Pennsylvania DEP and others revealed otherwise. Yet,  EPA Region 2 not so cleverly resurrects the issue with this comment and implies the industry could still, somehow be responsible.  It suggests, not for the first time, connections that don’t exist and so manages to contaminate the image of an industry (pun intended) with nothing more than speculation, not unlike natural gas opponents.

Is this any way for a federal agency to act?  No, it is not.  EPA Region 2 may not be guilty of crucifixion, but it is surely biased and uninformed about the natural gas industry and the regulation of that industry over many years by the State of New York.  It is simply another agency of activists looking to impose its will, without regard to law or the separation of state and federal responsibilities, on an industry, and a state, that actually know what they’re doing.  Enough already!

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