The “GreenPlan” Agenda Against Natural Gas Lacks Objectivity
A consulting planner from a group known as GreenPlan, Inc. appeared before a meeting of Otsego County’s Natural Gas Advisory Committee recently to present a generic proposal for a study of the potential impacts of natural gas. If we use previous such studies as a measure, they seem a lot more focused on making the case for natural gas opposition than anything else.
The planners who constitute the GreenPlan list of associates are, no doubt, talented individuals who are more than technically competent to do planning work for any community. What they offered Otsego County as examples of their work respecting natural gas impacts, nonetheless, suggest more advocacy than objective analysis. There can be no doubt about the preconceived opinions of natural gas development held by their clients or the determination of GreenPlan to give its client what they desired. When the consultant firm starts out by improperly describing the target of their research as “heavy industry,” a term weighted with prejudice and almost screaming “dirty, dirty, dirty,” it’s not difficult to project what the results will be. Objectivity doesn’t stand a chance in such circumstances.
GreenPlan did a Land Use Analysis: Heavy Industry and Oil, Gas or Solution Mining and Drilling for the Town of Middlefield, Otsego County, New York, in June of last year. It also published, in December of last year, a similar study entitled Community Impact Assessment: High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for the Tompkins County Council of Governments (which includes the Town of Dryden). It’s worth noting that the latter was funded by the Park Foundation, whose agenda on natural gas development needs no explanation, having been detailed on this blog numerous times. Check out this post for a quick refresher.
Putting aside the motivations of GreenPlan, the Park Foundation or any of the other principals in the Middlefield and Dryden debacles (now on appeal), let’s just take a look at some of the statements from these two documents, starting with Middlefield, and test them for accuracy and objectivity (emphasis added and our comments in italics):
Excerpts from the Town of Middlefield Study
“At the time this Land Use Analysis was prepared, there were no operating heavy industries, oil, gas or solution mining and drilling operations in the Town. It is the intent of the Town to prevent the establishment of such uses.” (Page 2)
Well, so much for independent professional judgment. The Town of Middlefield obviously knew what it wanted and GreenPlan delivered. The conclusion was determined before the work was performed.
“The planning, environmental, engineering, and legal literature is filled with documentation of the effects of heavy industry including mining activities such as those involving oil, gas and similar operations.” (Page 2)
How’s that for unbiased perspective? The only citation offered to support this conclusion is a statement indicating there are 1,200 superfund sites in the United States — but no attempt is made to indicate how many of them, if any, relate to natural gas development. GreenPlan simply adopts a guilt by association stance — heavy industry is bad, mining might be heavy industry and natural gas might be considered mining. This is, plainly put, demagoguery.
“Oil and gas operations have likewise accounted for impacts to the same environmental conditions from the processes of drilling, stimulation, produced water, separation and dehydration, gas compression, production, refinement, delivery and use. Some of the substances known to be released directly by oil and gas operations include but are not limited to hydrogen sulfide, diesel fuel, methane, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylenes (BTEX), nitrogen oxides, toxic metals, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, radionuclides, heavy metals, and sulfur dioxide. Otsego County has been fortunate to have largely escaped the severe impacts of heavy industrial activities to date.” (Page 3)
Once again, the bias is thick enough to cut with a knife, no sources are cited, and all we have are undocumented assertions with no context. We also have yet another sleight of hand to somehow suggest natural gas extraction is heavy industry.
“Heavy industry has been defined by the American Planning Association as “A use engaged in the basic processing and manufacturing of materials and products predominately from extracted or raw materials, or a use engaged in storage of, or manufacturing processes using flammable or explosive materials, or storage or manufacturing processes that potentially involve hazardous or commonly recognized offensive conditions.” The U.S. Department of Labor, in the Standard Industrial Classification Manual, includes Industry Group 131 (Crude Petroleum and Natural Gas) and Group 138 (Oil and Gas Field Services) under Division B: Mining. Most other heavy industrial operations are classified in Division D:n Manufacturing. Examples include primary metals, chemicals, and petroleum. These would fit the general category of heavy industry.” (Page 11)
Notice the definition employed by GreenPlan does NOT include natural gas extraction but, rather, the later processing and manufacturing of materials and products from it. Also, notice how the authors attempt to equate oil and gas with mining and then mining with heavy industry to lead the reader to the false conclusion natural gas extraction is “heavy industry.” Moreover, the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) has been largely replaced with the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), and neither it nor the SIC system included any category called “heavy industry.” What GreenPlan is engaged in here is something called sophistry. Look it up.
“The hydrofracking solution that remains underground (typically 30-70%) has the potential for migration into groundwater depending on rock composition and specific site characteristics. Research has shown that hydrofracking fluids can make their way into local wells, as can methane from the hydrofracking process. Well failures, such as inadequate or cracked well casings can allow fracking water to leak out and potentially contaminate drinking water water supplies. New research indicates that hydraulic fracturing fluids have entered local wells in gas development areas from Wyoming to Dimock PA, to Colorado, contaminating water supplies.” (Page 32)
The bolded statements in this paragraph are simply false. Here is what Mark Zoback, Professor of Geophysics at Stanford University and member of the Secretary of Energy Committee on Shale Gas Development, said in August, 2011: “There have been fears that hydraulic fracturing fluid injected at depth could reach up into drinking water aquifers. But, the injection is typically done at depths of around 6,000 to 7,000 feet and drinking water is usually pumped from shallow aquifers, no more than one or two hundred feet below the surface. Fracturing fluids have not contaminated any water supply and with that much distance to an aquifer, it is very unlikely they could.” Not only that, but Duke University in its 2011 study of Dimock and other areas, said “We found no evidence for contamination of drinking-water samples with deep saline brines or fracturing fluids.” Also check out this post for the facts on Wyoming.
“On the surface, wastewater is often stored in open pits at the well site where it may be allowed to evaporate.” (Page 33)
A reader of the New York State DEC’s SGEIS knows closed-loop tank systems are going to be required in virtually every circumstance (see page 7-37 for example or §750-3.4 of regulations). Open pits are not even an issue in New York, nor is it even the standard industry practice at this point.
“A taller rig with a larger footprint and substructure and 170 feet in total height, can be used for drilling consecutive wells on a pad. On well pads with multiple wells, the equipment noted above is on the site for up to three years for one with six to eight wells and from four to eight months per well with one well per pad.” (Page 50)
“The Town Board commissioned GREENPLAN to prepare a Land Use Analysis to estimate full build-out of gas wells that could be developed, along with an assessment of potential impacts on the Town’s environment. The Town Board also asked GREENPLAN to analyze whether a ban on heavy industry, gas, oil and solution drilling would be in the Town’s best interests. Almost 50 gas companies are vying for the rights to lease land in Middlefield and elsewhere throughout the Marcellus region. The Town is among many other similarly affected communities throughout the 95,000 square mile six state area. Gas companies are moving fast to create the infrastructure needed for full production. GREENPLAN completed the Land Use Analysis to aid the Town Board in its decision-making. The Town Board adopted amendments to its Comprehensive Plan and Zoning regulations to prohibit heavy industry based, in part, on GREENPLAN’s Analysis. The full report with our findings can be downloaded below.”
There’s more. The Tompkins County study, which repeats some of the above word for word, includes the following additional statements:
Excerpts from the Tompkins County Study
“It has been well documented that some businesses in the oil and gas industry have used their financial resources to pay “experts” to question the science associated with fossil fuel use. Due to the skepticism associated with these sources, they have been used with caution in this Impact Assessment since their reports and other documents are not routinely independently reviewed (see the third bullet below) and can consist of unproven statements.” (Page 1)
This self-serving statement ignores, of course, the fact the Tompkins County study was itself financed by the Park Foundation, which is one of the single largest funders of anti-gas activity across the spectrum of media, environmental organizations, research institutions and other advocacy groups. Using Park Foundation money to suggest others are biased due to their sources on money is not especially convincing.
“The potential loss in value of homes in affected areas was not factored into the State’s analysis. The potential risks associated with properties located near gas wells, that may be unable to obtain mortgages from banks or homeowners insurance, are additional concerns that have been documented. Homeowners who have signed leases may find themselves in technical default of their mortgages, making it difficult for them to sell or refinance their home. There are other economic consequences associated with gas development activities that will be summarized later in this Assessment. The state’s Revised dSGEIS made no attempt to address this issue in its analysis of economic effects.” (Page 37)
These are, once again, undocumented assertions. We have addressed these matters here, here, here, here and here, for example.
“According to Ronald Bishop, Ph.D, CHO of the Chemistry and Biochemistry Department at the State University of New York, College at Oneonta, if future impacts may be inferred from historical performance, then the cumulative chemical and biological impacts from the gas industry in New York may be predicted for projects of any scope by combining incident statistics with documented health and environmental impacts. Dr. Bishop has researched incident statistics and inferred that 10,000 gas wells would produce sediment run-off into nearby waterways of at least 80,000 tons per year. Such a level of gas well development would reasonably be expected to generate about 1,200 citations for serious regulatory violations and at least 200 incidents of groundwater contamination in the short term. Over a century, about 1,600 leaking gas wells should be anticipated.” (Page 44)
Extrapolating existing data to project future violations is not exactly scientific, especially when the history of technological improvement in oil and natural gas development is nothing short of spectacular. Moreover, the source here, Ronald Bishop, who is cited elsewhere in the Tompkins County report, is a committed anti-gas activist involved in the effort to get the Town of Middlefield’s ban enacted. Quoting activists as your experts while simultaneously questioning any industry source leaves us — and likely any impartial observer — puzzled to say the least.
“Natural gas is being widely advertised and promoted as a clean burning fuel that produces less greenhouse gas emissions than coal when burned. While less carbon dioxide is emitted from burning natural gas than from burning coal per unit of energy generated, the combustion emissions do not tell the whole story. Howarth’s study (in conjunction with Renee Santoro and Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell) found that when there was a complete consideration of all emissions from natural gas, including the full range of emissions of greenhouse gases from using natural gas obtained by hydrofracking, that they are 2.4-fold greater than are the emissions just from the combustion of the natural gas. A video of a gas well being finished in Pennsylvania graphically shows the extent of emissions. When the total emissions of greenhouse gases are considered, greenhouse gas emissions from hydrofracking obtained natural gas are estimated to be 60 percent more than for diesel fuel and gasoline.” (Page 77)
Howarth’s work has been debunked so many times, it lacks even an iota of credibility. Our favorite rebuttal, however, comes from another Cornell professor, Dr. Larry Cathles. You can read it here. And, that video? Well, you’ll find this video response pretty revealing.
So, what we have from GreenPlan are two very flawed reports, with many shared errors, that serve a very specific anti-gas agenda and have very little to do with real planning. Form your own opinion, but it seems this is a case of not biting the Park Foundation hand that feeds you.