In conversation…

I spent Thursday – Saturday in Tioga County and had so many intense conversations about drilling issues that I’m still reeling a bit. I shared the Nature Conservancy maps with clients, family, and the organization formerly known as MSCET and talked to them about how do we plan, given that information? Now back in Buffalo, I’m processing those conversations and adding in the news that I missed.  As I near graduation and bar review, I’m frustrated by the necessity of shutting down my work and intellectual life , and looking forward to what happens in August & September. Where will I be living? What will I be working on? Who with? The moderator of a googlegroup I participate in just asked what we’d like to see the list do… this is what I want to focus on:

Hello! I’m from Blossburg, Tioga County, and am finishing up my last semester of law school at the University at Buffalo. I’d like to see more community information workshops and presentations to help local communities educate themselves and make decisions about their (our) future. What information do borough council folks and township supervisors need? Planning & zoning boards? School boards? What does the best community & economic research say about what other communities have faced and which are successful? How do we balance and mitigate the benefits, harms and risks to our communities? Or do we find out that we’re all going to lose and we should be massively emigrating? What about building mass social movements to challenge corporate power? What has worked and why?

I want to explore all these questions, have the information usable and accessible to our communities, and create opportunities for facilitated community dialog.

——

I want to recognize the passing of Jim Bogazcyk. He’s been a cornerstone of Blossburg’s social and political life for a long time and this is an unexpected and very sad loss. From 7th grade math to the board of Blossburg Improvement Association, Jim and I had a productive and sometimes contentious  relationship. My thoughts are with the Glenda and the rest of the Bogaczyk family.

Summary of PA political issues

I wrote this just before Chris McGann wrote his very nice summary, in response to an audience member’s comment on my presentation last week.

Thanks for the presentation.  I learned a lot.  I knew about the controversy, but I didn’t really know too many facts.  It sounds like a classic externality problem.  I am surprised how little politicians are doing.  I know the industry is strong, but the social and environmental costs seem so high.

Is this how Terry Pegula made his money?  Do I have to stop cheering for the Sabres?

Yep, all about the externalities.

In Pa., where there are no campaign finance laws, Corbett took in $835,000 from the industry, the leading state senator (Scarnati, who is my area’s senator) took in $117K. C. Alan Walker, the new head of the Dept. of Community & Economic Development, is an old coal industry guy who did all he could to avoid acid mine discharge cleanup. He donated lots to Corbett’s campaign, got the secretaryship, and now also has the power to push permits thru any process where there might be jobs involved. Not that the Dept of Environmental Protection is paying much attention to permits – 35 minute average to review, and no extra review for high quality streams, which is required by law. DEP Sec’y Krancer just issued an order requiring him or his deputy to review every notice of violation that site inspectors write before they are issued, an unprecedented action. The governor put together a Marcellus Shale Advisory Council that is 13 industry-connected business people, four weak, non-shale-focused environmental groups, and 12 government people, including Walker & Krancer. The industry is *that* strong.


Yes, Terry Pegula’s East Resources owns a majority of the leases in Tioga County, which he sold for $4.3Bn to Royal Dutch Shell last summer, and his environmental record is not to be envied.

 

Peak oil, climate change, and ostriches

I gave another presentation today, this time to my 20-person finance transactions colloquium at UBLaw. I had stayed up ridiculously late reading about risk communication (see Baruch Fischhoff) because I’m intrigued by it, but also cramming for the presentation. It’s one of the strands going through my head right now – activism & social movements vs. facilitating good decision-making: are they compatible? Anyway, I stayed up too late reading and preparing for the presentation, which makes me a little raw and cranky, and my prof was fascinated by the basic drilling stuff so I ended up speaking on that for 40 minutes (badly slicing into classmate Audrey’s presentation time, my apologies!!).

One of the questions that came up was “Well, if this is so environmentally harmful, what do you propose that will be better?” I said, “hydroelectric, solar, wind…” “No, economically feasible!” *rolling eyes* Dude, if I had another two hours I could explain the subsidies that the oil & gas industry receive through both the tax code and regulatory exemptions, you might catch a clue that unconventional oil & gas are not economically feasible. Last semester you tried to tell me we could shoot nuclear waste into space *headdesk*  Now I’m a big scifi nerd, but even I know that’s an absurd suggestion. There’s no resolution to the nuclear waste problem, nor is there a resolution for Chernobyl, Three-Mile Island or Fukushima Dai-ichi. Too many lives at risk for unsustainable energy production.

I had asked a classmate to read that Art Berman article that I struggle to comprehend and he wrote back that yeah, it shows that natural gas is under-priced and that demand for petroleum products is inelastic. I decided to challenge his assumption that demand is inelastic – if domestic demand declined by 15 percent between 1976 and 1985, then why can’t we do that again? (Sorry, only cite I have is my dear Archdruid who I’m sure has proper documentation.) Conservation is politically and economically impossible, if I listen to my classmate. *blink*

Between the two exchanges, I  want to wave my freak flag and fully acknowledge that I’m a crazy backwoods hippie, that I believe in wearing sweaters. Oh, yeah, but I’m gonna have a law degree in about 34 days, which somehow seems incompatible.

So, yes, I believe in peak oil, just as I believe in climate change. Once you get the basic concepts, they immediately unravel the ideology of endless growth and endless consumption which underpin all U.S. economic and foreign policy.

And market solutions are not gonna fix it, says BP.

BP says business won't take care of externalities unless forced.

 

Note to classmate Laura: PUSH Buffalo has it right – they’re tackling the sustainability issue in the here and now, house by house, lot by lot. It’s incredibly important work to figure out how to create a livable, affordable, net-zero housing, with an eye to re-creating the city in a green, economically viable, flexible way. The West Side is going to be an amazing place to live.

George Carlin, The American Dream: You Have to be Asleep to Believe It.

 

Excellent map of projected wells

The Nature Conservancy has created a beautiful interactive map showing where unconventional natural gas wells are expected to be sited. Mass industrialization of Tioga County is the result.

http://maps.tnc.org/paenergy/

I created a couple of Tioga County-specific images:

 

This seems to be a follow up to their study released in November about the impacts of energy development (natural gas & wind, mostly) in PA. Press release. Study & documentation site.

 

Key findings:

  • About 1,800 Marcellus natural gas wells have already been drilled or permitted in Pennsylvania, and as many as 60,000 more could be built by 2030 if development trends continue.
  • By the end of 2010, approximately 500 wind turbines were generating energy on Pennsylvania’s Allegheny Front and Appalachian ridges, and between 750 and 2,900 more would need to be built by 2030 to meet the state’s renewable energy goals.
  • The cumulative impacts of both natural gas and wind could result in development in the majority of Pennsylvania breeding habitat for the vulnerable black-throated blue warbler and in most of the watersheds of the state’s remaining healthy brook trout streams.
  • About 40 percent of the most ecologically valuable large forest blocks in Pennsylvania — as identified by a recent study conducted by Conservancy scientists and partners — could see impacts from energy development

 

Cute video from Earthjustice: Things Find a Way

Howarth & Ingraffea: Shale gas worse than coal for GHG

Cornell professors Tony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth and researcher Renee Santoro have just published an important peer-reviewed paper looking at the life-cycle of unconventional shale natural gas production versus coal in its impacts for greenhouse gases and climate change. This video is not nearly as cute as the Earthjustice video below, but way more important. Here’s an overview of the paper (PDF) and here is the paper itself (PDF).

Natural gas has been widely touted as a clean energy source that will help the U.S. transition to renewable energy options while lowering greenhouse gas emissions relative to other fossil fuels. While it is true that end-use combustion of natural gas emits markedly less carbon dioxide (CO2) than other fossil energy sources, methane (CH4) losses during modern gas exploration and development, as well as processing, transmission and distribution may fully negate these CO2 savings. A full accounting of modern gas development indicates that natural gas may actually exacerbate, rather than mitigate, global climate change. [emphasis added.]

Howarth, R. W., R. Santoro, and A. Ingraffea. 2011. Methane and the greenhouse gas
footprint of natural gas from shale formations. Climatic Change Letters, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-
011-0061-5

Presenting at UB Law Conference

I’ll be presenting at this conference on Tuesday afternoon:


Hydrofracking: Exploring the Legal Issues in the Context of 

Politics, Science, and the Economy

March 28-29, 2011 at University at Buffalo Law School

I also gave a presentation at the UB Law school on March 1, “What the Frack? An overview of unconventional natural gas drilling and its community impacts” that was well received, although I spent the next week grieving. (I posted about it on my main blog.) The talk was sponsored by the University at Buffalo Lawyers Guild and Themis Bar Review.
I will be attending the Cornell Environmental Law Society’s 2011 Energy Conference next week, probably with some funding from the UB Student Bar Association and the Buffalo Environmental Law Society.
What the Frack-themis.jpg

What is the Susquehanna River Basin Commission?

The SRBC is an interstate compact authorized under Article I, Section 10 of the U.S. Constitution

No State shall, without the Consent of Congress, lay any Duty of Tonnage, keep Troops, or Ships of War in time of Peace, enter into any Agreement or Compact with another State, or with a foreign Power, or engage in War, unless actually invaded, or in such imminent Danger as will not admit of delay.”

 

Established in 1971 by Public Law 91-575, the SRBC is made up of Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, and the federal government. The governors or their delegates represent the states and the federal government delegates someone, currently the Secretary of the Army gets to decide who is the federal representative.


Purpose:

 

This comprehensive planning administered by a basin wide agency will provide flood damage reduction, conservation and development of surface and ground water supply for municipal, industrial, and agricultural uses, development of recreational facilities in relation to reservoirs, lakes and streams, propagation of fish and game, promotion of forest land management, soil conservation, and watershed  projects, protection and aid to fisheries, development of hydroelectric power potentialities, improved navigation, control of the movement of salt water, abatement and control of water pollution, and regulation of stream flows toward the attainment of these goals; …

 

 


Public Law 91-575 gives the consent of Congress (as required by Art. 1, Sec. 10) and describes the scope of the compact. The text of the PL isn’t available (free) online as far as I and a UBLaw librarian can find, but the SRBC site gives the full text of the compact, which is the law: http://www.srbc.net/about/srbc_compact.pdf

H7147479.JPG
© 2009 Heidi I. Jones. Pine Creek in Tioga County is a tributary to the West Branch of the Susquehanna River

(I compared it to a copy published in HeinOnline. The SRBC version includes updates.)


Public Law 110-114 designates the Secretary of the Army as the federal rep and authorizes federal funding. (2007)
Here’s the funding section of the Compact (p.24)
13.20–Capital Financing by Signatory Parties; Guarantees.

(a) The signatory parties shall provide such capital funds required for projects of the commission as may be authorized by their respective statutes in accordance with a cost sharing plan prepared pursuant to Article 12 of this compact; but nothing in this section shall be deemed to impose any mandatory obligation on any of the signatory parties other than such obligation as may be assumed by a signatory party in connection with a specific project or facility.

 

(b) Bonds of the commission, notwithstanding any other provision of this compact, may be executed and delivered to any duly authorized agency of any of the signatory parties without public offering and may be sold and resold with or without the guaranty of such signatory party, subject to and in accordance with the constitutions of the respective signatory parties.

 

(c) The commission may receive and accept, and  the signatory parties may make loans, grants, appropriations, advances, and payments  of reimbursable or nonreimbursable funds or property in any form for the capital or operating purposes of the commission.

 

For comparison purposes, here’s the Delaware River Basin Compact.

Rhetoric vs. Reality

This is an excellent piece deconstructing gas industry rhetoric about safety. It’s something I kind of wanted to write, but I’m glad someone else did so I don’t have to. Please read it.

DeSmogBlog extensively reviewed government, academic, industry and public health reports and interviewed the leading hydraulic fracturing experts who challenge the industry claims that hydraulic fracturing does not contaminate drinking water, that the industrial fracking fluids pose no human health risk, that states adequately regulate the industry and that natural gas has a lighter carbon footprint than other fossil fuels like oil and coal. 

Below are ten of the most commonly repeated claims by the industry about the ‘safety’ of hydraulic fracturing and unconventional natural gas development, along with extensive evidence showing their claims are pure rhetoric, and not reality. 

Buffalo bans natural gas exploration & extraction

Buffalo Common Council passed an ordinance amendment tomorrow, Feb. 8, that bans natural gas exploration and extraction.  In this post, I’ll examine the amendment and look at whether and how New York state home rule applies and what court challenges it might face. BuffaloGasExtractionOrdinanceFinal0001 (1).pdf

The ordinance, a new chapter in the Buffalo City Charter, will ban the following activities in the City of Buffalo:
  • exploration for natural gas;
  • extraction of natural gas; and
  • storage, transfer, treatment or disposal of exploration and production wastes.
Additionally, it defines “natural gas exploration and production waste products” as hazardous wastes under Chapter 235, and denies DEC permitting authority.
Justification: To preserve and protect the public health, safety and welfare of the residents and neighborhoods of Buffalo.
Authority: 
Sec. 10(ii)(a)(11) of the Municipal Home Rule allows municipalities to enact ordinances for “The protection and enhancement of its physical and visual environment.”
Here’s a series of articles from Artvoice about the Buffalo Sewer Authority possibly accepting frack waste water:
The articles are focused on the sewer authority situation, dismissing Marcellus shale drilling as a distant concern. They’re not seeing the importance of the Utica shale, which is likely to be exploited with and after the Marcellus and is under Buffalo. Remember, frack waste water can be radioactive and contains other cancer-causing agents like benzene, touluene, xylene, and formaldehyde. Good stuff to put in the Niagara!
Michelle Kenneally and Todd Matthes  wrote a much better summary of the NYS position than I could, so go read this.