Summary of Public Meeting on Protecting Our Waters
Temple University, December 10, 2009
“We’re fighting for our lives.”, according to Al Benner of P.O.W.
(Protecting Our Waters, Philadelphia) Robert Ryan, Ph.D., a hydrologist at
Temple University, said that gas companies are considering drilling 25,000
gas wells in Pennsylvania, though others predict more. These many wells
mean that 125,000 acres of land will become impermeable since each well
sits on a 5 acre concrete slab. This means that there will be increased
runoff and water will not be returned to streams to replenish them. There
will be more erosion, and the water quality will worsen for oxygen will be
depleted and fish and other wildlife will suffer.
“What Is Clean Water Worth?” asked Barbara Arrindell, the founder of
Damascus Citizens. Into the 1.5 to 9 millions of gallons pumped into each
well will be hundred of toxic chemicals and salt. This brine injected into
the earth will be 3-6 times more salty than the ocean. Presently, we have
no way to treat this water.
When we put the wastewater in “dry lakes”, it leaks and moves
deep into the ground, polluting any water below the surface. The EPS lists
240 highly toxic chemicals being used. Since the gas companies won’t
divulge the chemical makeup of what they inject into the ground, we don’t
know the quantity or combinations of chemicals. Dr. Theo Colborn, an
endocrine specialist, analyzed the chemicals where spills had occurred and
polluted wells to gather data. She found 900 mg. per liter of bromide, a
precursor to carcinogenic chemicals, in private water wells near the gas
wells. This is 10,000 times higher than what is considered a safe level.
There are 20 tons of toxic chemicals for every million gallons of water.
One gallon of toxic chemicals can contaminate one million gallons of water.
We know PCB’s travel 200 miles, so we know these other toxic chemicals are
coming our way.
It would cost $20 billion to build a water filtration system in N.Y. No
wonder the gas companies just want to dump their wastewater into our rivers
and streams instead. Gas drilling or “fracking” is economically feasible
only with public subsidies like this. Remember, these companies may be gone
in 5 years, by the time citizens recognize their water has become
undrinkable. Already Pittsburgh has had three bottled water alerts in one
year, meaning their public water is not safe. In North Texas many
communities can’t use their water; bottled water must be brought in. Like
polluters in the past, they will transfer ownership or go bankrupt so
cannot be held responsible when billions of dollars are needed for cleanup later. Meanwhile Halliburton gets a royalty on every well when their chemicals are used.
The question was asked, “What is local?” since gas drilling may seem far
away. Sixty percent of Philadelphia’s water comes from the Delaware River
where the gas companies want to dump hundreds of millions of gallons of
toxic wastewater. The other 40% comes from the Schulykill which also would
be polluted. The Delaware River Basin Commission is having hearings with
the gas companies, hoping for approval to dump water by March.
We can learn from other locations who have had drilling, like Jonahs,
Wyoming. They had a drop of 50% in wildlife, an increase in crime, loss of
businesses, a drop in property values, accidents like wildfires, more
traffic, a loss of tourism and hunting and a greater need for emergency
services, to name a few.
Some consider that “wastewater” is no longer water; it is industrial
fluid. And it is volatile, which means we shall be breathing in these
carcinogenic fumes. Not only do we inhale the toxic additives; we shall be
inhaling diesel fumes since it takes 800 gallons of diesel fuel to run each
well every day. People near wells report illnesses. Some have been
diagnosed with brain lesions, which are irreversible and have symptoms like
M.S. Not only do people in Philadelphia get their water from the Delaware
River, but we also will be breathing the toxic air, which can travel 200
Wes Gillingham of Catskills Mountainkeeper reminded participants that the
Catskills is only one of ten places in the Northeast that has over 50,000
acres of wilderness. Globally it is important to have contiguous wild
areas. It is a pristine. He says not to believe the regulators when they
say, “We have everything under control.” or “We have the best regulations
already.” They disregard any cumulative impact because doing a cumulative
study is too difficult. Thus, there is no monitoring of wells, of the
ozone, of the health impact, or changes under ground. And they don’t map
the discharge. Twenty-seven environmental organizations have asked the
governor of N.Y. to throw out the generic impact statement on the present
study and start over again. Though they have hired experts, they are
confused by the 800 page document.
People have been lied to across the U.S. by the gas companies.
Chesapeake said they had no interest in drilling in the N.Y. watershed;
then three days later filed requests to drill there. Geologists report that
these companies make geologically incorrect assumptions about the impact of drilling. Unfortunately, the state of PA and the EPA have made a formal
partnership to dispose of the highly toxic contaminants.
Paul Schmidt Esq, a lawyer representing plaintiffs suing in Dimock, PA,
said we need to be distrustful. He represents 45 families who live
close to the gas wells whose groundwater has been contaminated. He said
there are numerous health problems, people’s life savings are gone yet they
can’t live in their homes. There are many other groups elsewhere with
similar complaints. Groundwater pollution, spills, and other problems are
happening everywhere. The gas companies say they are not polluting wells
and streams, only because they are not testing them. It is very difficult
to sample streams and rivers accurately because we don’t know the
composition of the chemicals used.
The EPA is NOT taking care of us And the DEP said our concerns had no
merit. While gas companies do not need a permit to inject toxins into the
ground to get the gas, they do need a permit to inject the chemicals back
into the earth after they have resurfaced. The EPA is considering allowing
companies to do so.
Gas companies are exempt from regulations for toxic runoff if it is in an
area under 5 acres, which is why their well pads are just under 5 acres.
Bob Wendelgass, director of PA’s Clean Water Action, believes 100,000
wells are planned in PA. These will use tremendous amounts of clean water.
This writer estimated that 100,000 wells x 3,000,000 gallons (a low
estimate since each well takes between 1.5 and 9 million gallons of water)
= 300,000,000,000 gallons of fresh water which will be converted into toxic
industrial chemicals. That is 300 billions of our precious fresh water
which will be polluted.
Large areas in PA will be in grave danger as a result. We don’t have
enough fresh water to dilute all the fracking fluids. Our sewerage plants
can’t handle these harsh chemicals, and the gas industry doesn’t want to
treat the water. They want the public to pay for any treatment. Thus, PA’s
DEP needs standards for discharge since the waste fluids contain large
amounts of salt, toxic chemicals and radioactivity. Unfortunately these
multimillion dollar companies have enormous resources to lobby against any
regulations. The comment period for standards of discharge ends in
February. Thus, attendance at the hearing in Allentown on Dec. 17 at 5pm
at the Lehigh County Government Center, 17 S. 7th Street is so important.
Michel Boufadel, Chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering
Department at Temple, spoke of the long term effects of drilling. As a
hydrologist and geologist, Dr. Boufadel has been working on the
Exxon-Valdez spill for twenty years and it is still not cleaned up.
He demonstrated how brine, the drilling fluid which is 3 to 6 times more
salty than the ocean, has a higher density than fresh water. Brine is 20%
heavier, so it moves downward into the earth more rapidly, potentially
polluting our aquifers. It sinks to the bottom and spreads. We need to look
at the persistence of contamination which will continue over many years,
well after the gas companies depart. Any study of impact will take years
though we should do studies to quantify the risk.
Tracy Carluccio, director of the Delaware Riverkeepers, said the east and
west branches of the Delaware meet at Hancock. The Schulykill is a
tributary. They flow for 330 miles before reaching the ocean. Five percent
of the U.S. population drinks from the Delaware River, which is being
threatened. Eight million live downstream and 15-17 million people rely on
the Delaware River for their water. The headwaters of the Delaware River
are on the Marcellus Shale. The Delaware is the largest free flowing river
east of the Mississippi. New York uses 800 million of gallons each day.
This is “consumptive use”, meaning this water doesn’t come back. Thus,
there should be an analysis of every major action on the Delaware in order
to ascertain the impact downstream, especially in Philadelphia. Yet, there
is no mention of any analysis of the impact of dumping into the Delaware,
no analysis of the cumulative effect. We must force the issue to prevent
damage. The dumping of industrial fluids into the Delaware should not move
ahead before an analysis of effect is done. Samples of salt and
radioactivity taken in N.Y. were over safe levels. All this “wastewater”
or industrial fluid is definitely coming here to Philadelphia, for there is
not enough water to dilute it. The Schulykill river is already chemically
challenged with TDS’s (Total Dissolved Solids). How will we deal with all
the carcinogenic bromide by-products, the salt, and the radioactivity?
Reverend Dr. Horace Strand, director of the Chester Environmental
Partnership, was the last speaker. His group is supported by the University
of Pennsylvania, Swarthmore, Lincoln and now Temple. Chester, a poor area,
has the fourth largest incinerator in the U.S. Previously his group sued
the EPA because there were so many waste facilities in Chester. It went all
the way to the Supreme Court, but was dismissed when one of the companies
When Strand learned that a wastewater treatment plant in Chester had been
granted a permit for waste disposal, which would bring trucks into the
community daily, delivering 50 million gallons of toxic water, he was
shocked because of their close relationship with the DEP. He wondered how
they were not informed. The community organized and bombarded the press to rescind this permit. They succeeded because of the pressure from so many
community groups working together. Temporarily, they have succeeded but
fear that the gas companies will try again. They want the companies to put
into writing that they will not pursue this in the future.
Our Pennsylvania Constitution says “The people have a right to clean air,
pure water, and the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and
esthetic values of the environment.’ (Article 1. Section 27) Unfortunately,
some have forgotten these rights or choose to ignore them.
Reported by Dr. Sandra Folzer
Websites for information on gas drilling: