Prescription for the gas patch: protect first, drill later

By Nadia Steinzor

October 5, 2012

No matter how much our world changes, one saying reminds every generation about what matters: “If you have your health, you have everything.” Which is why for so many people living in the nation’s oil and gas patches, so much is at stake when air and water quality decline and a mix of symptoms set in.

Reports of health problems from these communities keep increasing—alongside the wells drilled, impoundment pits, and equipment like compressor stations. There’s a big timing mismatch underway, with the pace of oil and gas activities far outstripping the science, regulations, and policies needed to safeguard communities and the environment.

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Protecting America’s Richest Fishery: Alaska’s Bristol Bay

By Bonnie Gestring

October 4, 2012

The rivers and streams of Bristol Bay, Alaska support the largest wild sockeye salmon fishery in the world, and supply nearly 50% of the world’s commercial sockeye salmon.

Every year, millions of wild salmon make the epic journey from the ocean to the rivers and streams that feed Bristol Bay to reproduce -- supplying the world with healthy seafood, a feast for hungry bears, eagles and beluga whales, and roughly 14,000 jobs along the way.

Now, plans for a massive open pit, copper and gold mine, known as the Pebble Mine, put the future of the fishery in question. If developed, the Pebble Mine would be the largest open pit mine in North America, straddling the headwaters of two of the most important salmon spawning rivers.

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Rally at the Rotunda: PA residents gather to defend local rights

By Nadia Steinzor

October 3, 2012

It’s practically become a tradition: organizations and citizens gather at the State Capitol in Harrisburg to decry actions taken by elected officials who seem more interested in doing the gas industry’s bidding than what’s right for communities and the environment.

At yesterday’s rally, participants demanded that the legislature revoke Act 13, which gutted local zoning rights over oil and gas operations and would allow facilities even in residential and agricultural areas. When it passed last February, Earthworks and our allies quickly denounced it as another big gas giveaway. As predicted, the backlash was swift and strong—culminating in a lawsuit brought by Delaware Riverkeeper Network and several municipalities that was largely upheld by the state Commonwealth Court (a state Supreme Court ruling is expected this fall).

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A new kid in town

By Gwen Lachelt

October 2, 2012

When I fly across country I try to get a window seat so I can get a bird’s eye view of America. In the past 30 years that view has changed. Vast landscapes, once agricultural land, public land or neighborhoods, have been transformed into industrial zones for oil and gas production. For as far as the eye can see, large portions of Wyoming, Colorado, North Dakota, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and other states, are now industrial grids of well pads, pipeline corridors, compressor stations and roads. Sometimes it’s hard to see the homes, schools, farms, ranches, and in my part of the world, the Navajo Chapter Houses, for the oil and gas infrastructure.

In New Mexico, a state with tens of thousands of oil and gas wells already, the bird’s eye view is changing, dramatically. Layered on top of historical oil and gas fields is a new and more intensive development – shale. Once thought too deep and too expensive to produce, advances in horizontal hydraulic fracturing have allowed companies to tap shale oil and gas reserves thousands of feet below the surface. These wells require more land, more water and more chemicals for drilling and fracking. And apparently, they require bigger pits for drilling and fracking wastes. Actually, in southeastern New Mexico, they don’t call them pits anymore. They call them Frack Lakes.

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Public health isn’t a numbers game - a response to John Hanger

By Nadia Steinzor

September 28, 2012

The most fundamental truth uncovered in Earthworks’ just-released report Breaking All the Rules: the Crisis in Oil & Gas Regulation, is that states are falling tragically short in enforcing their own oil and gas development rules.

It is good to see that John Hanger, ex-Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), does not argue that truth.

But even if the numbers shift a bit in some months, the key question that was the impetus to this research remains:

"Can the public have confidence that their health, air and water are being protected?”

Citing different numbers does not even begin to answer this question because the Pennsylvania DEP addressed its enforcement inadequacies in the same manner that allowed the problem to develop in the first place: DEP looked at the amount of drilling as something outside their control, and defined their ability to govern that drilling in terms of the limited resources available to them.

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