OnePA EJ Team Learns about Environmental Injustice in PA Coalfields

 CCJ Executive Director, Veronica, describing the Coal Refuse Disposal Area or toxic valley fills to One PA Environmental EJ Team. 

CCJ Executive Director, Veronica, describing the Coal Refuse Disposal Area or toxic valley fills to One PA Environmental EJ Team. 

On Earth Day we want to challenge you to learn about the impacts to our environment and people's health in your region. This year we provided a coalfield tour to One Pennsylvania's Environmental Justice Team to help show folks living in Pittsburgh how fossil fuel extraction just a short drive outside the city impacts not just the climate but also city's air and water quality. The attendees were shocked at the scale of the impacts on people and saw many connections to their communities where corporations are also putting their profits before people. At the Center for Coalfield Justice, we are excited to continue bridging the divide between our communities and communities in Pittsburgh. Together we can achieve healthy communities with thriving economies where all our folks have access to clean water, clean air, outdoor spaces, and healthy jobs. Make a donation today and support bringing rural and urban communities together

Ordinance Struggles in the Mon Valley

 CCJ Board member and Clean Air Council representative Lois Bower-Bjornson giving part of the presentation in California Borough. 

CCJ Board member and Clean Air Council representative Lois Bower-Bjornson giving part of the presentation in California Borough. 

Residents of West Pike Run Township and California Borough are at various stages of the zoning ordinance process, attempting to create protective safeguards around homes, schools, and farms from unconventional oil and gas development, or “fracking.”

Last month, CCJ and Clean Air Council teamed up through our work with Protect Our Children to host an informational meeting in California Borough. Residents there can expect a draft ordinance allowing “fracking” activity within Borough lines for the first time to be released soon: this draft has yet to be released to the public.

A longer-running campaign has been ongoing just across the municipal line in West Pike Run Township, where Protect West Pike Run Township members, who are all concerned, local residents, have been speaking up in support of a 1,000 foot setback distance from the edge of a well pad. Their current ordinance follows state standards of a 500 foot setback from the wellbore. Residents have also raised numerous concerns about super well pads, which would be permitted well pads that take up 30 acres of land and can hold upwards of 20 wells per pad. With the 1,000 foot setback distance, one such proposed super well pad would not be permitted on land owned by residents who do not want it, easing the burden on them to fight for their rights.

Both of these campaigns, while at various stages, are ongoing and could use support. If you’re interested in supporting or joining with these residents, contact Sarah Martik at 724-229-3550 x.1 or at smartik@coalfieldjustice.org

Community Members Question New Mining Permit

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Residents of Donegal Township in Washington County attended an informal public conference hosted by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to ask questions about the Tunnel Ridge Mine expansion permit. According to representatives of Alliance Resource Partners the mine seeks to start longwall mining early as October 2018.

Residents were concerned about possible subsidence damages and potential water issues, and they had questions about operational logistics. The DEP stated that the subsidence would occur immediately after the structural supports were removed during the longwall mining process and that the coal company would be responsible for all subsidence damages caused by longwall mining.  The DEP also claimed that the mining should not cause significant problems to the water in the Township, but if it did, the coal company would be required to provide water to impacted residents.

  • It is important if you are close to mining operations you document any and all damages to your property.  Even if your property is not directly on top of the area to be mined, the mining company is responsible for mining-induced damages on your property.

  • It is essential to report any issues with subsidence as soon as you witness them. Coal companies have a history of fighting damage claims made significantly after their mine passed through an area.

  • A pre-mining survey of all structures, water sources and air quality is recommended.

One quizzical resident asked the DEP how many permits they have denied in the last few years.  “Several,” was the answer, but with no examples to support that claim. Revisions to permits have been mandated by the DEP and permits have been suspended, but denials seem non-existent.

Residents of Donegal and West Finley Townships should check the maps provided by the DEP to check if any of their structures or land will be undermined.  Residents should know their rights before mining occurs. Please contact Sarah Martik at 724-229-3550 x.1 or smartik@coalfieldjustice.org for questions or assistance.

Anti-Falcon Support at DEP Hearings

Nearly 500 concerned residents of Beaver, Washington, and Allegheny Counties gathered on April 3, 4, and 5 in their respective counties to raise their concerns over the Falcon Pipeline. CCJ attended the hearings in Beaver and Washington Counties to represent our members and supporters.

Specific to Washington County, CCJ is concerned that the pipeline will be built in an area where subsidence places the integrity of the pipeline at a greater risk, and therefore would place those living in the pipeline’s path at a greater risk. In 2015, an ATEX pipeline in West Virginia ruptured, causing an explosion which damaged the nearest house 700 feet away. Subsidence in Washington County can be difficult to predict for two reasons: first, a lot of mining within the county happened a long time ago, and mine maps for these legacy areas are not always accurate and are sometimes nonexistent; also, if mining utilized room and pillar techniques, the surface may not have subsided yet, meaning that the subsidence event could still happen. Washington County also has large karst formations, which are responsible for the sinkholes that are a growing problem with the Mariner East pipeline. Karst also allows pollutants to travel swiftly and widely, meaning that a spill in a karst-heavy area would affect a larger area than in an area where there is no underlying karst. These more localized issues, coupled with the broader effects to the Pittsburgh region, raise the question of whether Shell can safely build, operate, and maintain this pipeline.

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One of CCJ’s major concerns over the proposed plans for the Falcon Pipeline is the fact that, should the pipeline leak and contaminate the headwaters of the Ambridge Reservoir, 30,000 people would be without safe drinking water. The lack of safe drinking water is already an issue that affects so many across the country, whether by lead pipes or de-watered wells, and it is unconscionable that we would add to this crisis by permitting an unnecessary pipeline.

While anti-Falcon residents were in the majority at these hearings, a group of pro-Falcon residents were also in attendance. Predominantly industry representatives or union workers, stressed the importance of new jobs for reviving the Rust Belt. “Jobs” was not the only pro-Falcon claim made at these hearings: check out our infographic to see just what was said and how the major points were not quite accurate.

 

 

Center for Coalfield Justice, Sierra Club File Appeal of Mine Threatening State Park Again

 Confluence of Polen Run with North Fork Dunkard Fork above the Bailey Mine 5L Panel.

Confluence of Polen Run with North Fork Dunkard Fork above the Bailey Mine 5L Panel.

Greene County, PA--The Center for Coalfield Justice (CCJ) and the Sierra Club filed an appeal of a permit issued by Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that would allow Consol Pennsylvania Coal Company (Consol) to mine underneath another stream within Ryerson Station State Park despite the anticipated damage. This is the fourth time the groups have been forced to file an appeal of permits for Consol’s Bailey Mine East Expansion.

In the meantime, the groups are asking the Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) to halt mining in the park while the appeal is being considered. Back in 2017, the EHB forbade Consol from mining within 100 feet of Kent Run inside Ryerson Station State Park while it heard an appeal of the company’s controversial permit to expand its Bailey Mine due to Consol and DEP predicting significant damage, notably subsidence and flow loss, to the stream.

“It is unconscionable that the only state park in an environmental justice community is being sacrificed for the temporary benefit of this one company, yet again,” Veronica Coptis, Executive Director of Center for Coalfield Justice and resident of Greene County said. “Consol has already destroyed much of Polen Run outside of the park with previous mining activity. We are asking the Environmental Hearing Board to prevent that same damage inside Ryerson Station State Park.”

Last August, the EHB ruled in favor of the two groups on a similar appeal. The court said that it was a violation of the Pennsylvania Constitution and Clean Streams Law for the DEP to issue a permit when the activity was predicted to result in significant stream damage or pollution. The EHB also ruled that it is not lawful or constitutional for the DEP to authorize stream damage even if the company commits to “restoring” a stream by completely reconstructing it. In spite of that ruling, DEP has now approved a new permit amendment under the same stream, Polen Run which had previously denied Consol’s request to mine beneath this portion of Polen Run because it concluded that longwall mining would cause significant damage and the proposed mitigation technique, streambed grouting, would not be successful in restoring the stream. That decision followed a review period of approximately seven years from the time Consol submitted its application.  

“Yet again, our state government has failed to protect an environmental justice community, putting Consol’s profits ahead of the last remaining water resources in Ryerson,” Joanne Kilgour, Director of the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter said. “Consol received a permit that is practically identical to one the EHB overturned for an upstream section of the mine last summer. How many more times will DEP shift its duty of protecting communities and the environment onto the very people it is supposed to serve?”

Since longwall mining at the Bailey Mine destroyed Duke Lake 13  years ago, conservationists argue these streams are some of the most important remaining water features and fishing spots in the park. The activity authorized by this new permit will likely result in flow loss that would prevent aquatic life, like fish, salamanders, frogs, and macroinvertebrates (such as mayflies, dragonflies, and other insects that live in streams) from surviving in the stream. Thousands of fish have died from mining at Bailey Mine Complex in the past and thousands of future memories and experiences have been stolen from visitors of Ryerson Station State Park.

Going Solar!

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CCJ is now a partner at Solar United Neighbors of Pennsylvania, a group that helps develop and manage co-ops within communities so that people have access to solar energy at a more affordable cost. By joining together, community members are able to create a demand for a large amount products, which contractors can then order in bulk to save on cost. Because we are organizing within a geographic location, contractors also save time and money on travel, which results in an additional cost-saving for co-op members.

To get involved, join CCJ and Solar United Neighbors at an informational meeting on Wednesday, March 28 from 6:00-7:30 at W&J’s Swanson Science Center (Room 005).

For more information on Solar United Neighbors, visit their website or call our office at 724-229-3550.

The Plastics Problem

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Last week, our Community Organizer, Sarah, participated in a meeting in Houston, TX to learn more about plastics and to discuss the various ways that groups across the country can come together to support anti-plastics work at every part of the plastics chain. Here are her thoughts:

After visiting Houston, I’ve come to the daunting conclusion that it is impossible to go through everyday actions without touching or using plastic. I’m so much more aware of it now, from the various types of plastics in my Dunkin’ Donuts coffee cup to the plastics in the microfiber cloth I keep in my car to wipe the coffee I inevitably spill when trying to drink hot coffee while driving. Throughout the plastics chain, we live with varying degrees of plastics exposure, with some experiencing different elements of it than others. Because we live in the shale fields, we live with unconventional oil and gas activity in our backyards. The natural gas liquids are then sent to a “cracker” plant to be turned into plastics. At the point of sale, plastics allow processors to ship foods over long distances to be sold (think: salads and sandwiches at Starbucks that were made in Rhode Island instead of in-store). Consumers then purchase products made of or packaged in plastics, sometimes in overwhelming quantities (think: meal-prep delivery services like Blue Apron and low-priced microfiber bedsheets). Plastic is then either recycled, incinerated, or tossed in landfills or the ocean. Even some plastics that consumers think they are recycling end up being burned, contributing more carbon pollution to the air than coal-fired power plants. In the end, our water is either full of plastic bags and bottle caps or microparticles of plastic that were washed into our water systems. Like I said, it’s daunting.

This is a monster of a system that has been in place for decades. The task we now face in the Ohio River Valley is to stop another head from growing. The Petrochemical buildout that is planned for this region is designed to support an increase in plastics production and use. At CCJ, we fight it from the source by supporting communities’ efforts to keep unconventional oil and gas activity away from homes and schools while advocating for a just, sustainable future that does not rely on fossil fuels. Other groups and organizations like Break Free From Plastic, Upstream, and GAIA work to tackle the problem from other points in the chain.

The good news is this: there was consensus among the groups in this meeting that now is a real opportunity to affect change. On a nation-wide scale, people are becoming more aware of the problem, and are interested in learning more about how to tackle it. There are so many small changes you can make to your daily life that would make a difference. There are massive campaigns you can take part in to elevate your voice in favor of a cleaner earth fueled by cleaner energy. To find out more, and to take action, check out Upstream’s website or contact us at the office.

CCJ joins regional response to petrochemical buildout

 This screen shot shows the planned route of the Falcon Pipeline network and its associated facilities.  The interactive map can be found here:  https://maps.fractracker.org/latest/?appid=ae3e7531eae0453abb62e10fecdf3818

This screen shot shows the planned route of the Falcon Pipeline network and its associated facilities.  The interactive map can be found here: https://maps.fractracker.org/latest/?appid=ae3e7531eae0453abb62e10fecdf3818

In November of 2017, CCJ joined a regional meeting at the People vs. Oil and Gas Summit to discuss the planned petrochemical buildout for the Ohio River valley, focusing primarily on the Shell Ethane Cracker Plant, the Appalachian Storage Hub, and the Falcon Pipeline. Various organizations throughout the region - from Pennsylvania to Kentucky - came together to identify what was known about each project, but also to plan how to move forward to protect our air and water quality.

Background Information:  

The Shell Ethane Cracker Plant in Beaver County is a proposed plant where oil and gas would be transported to be broken down into ethylene and polyethylene. Ethylene, in turn, is used to make plastics. The process of “cracking” the oil and gas to make ethylene, though, can release pollutants like nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter into the air. They also can emit volatile organic compounds that react with other compounds in the air when exposed to sunlight, causing smog. Pittsburgh’s air quality, while significantly better than it was years ago, still remains in the dirtiest 6% of U.S. cities. While legislators like to say that they are not spending money on the Cracker Plant, the tax credits to Shell Chemical will value $1.65 billion over 25 years, the largest tax break in PA history.

The Appalachian Storage Hub (ASH) is a proposed underground storage area. One hundred million barrels of natural gas liquids would be stored in a yet-to-be-built system underground, utilizing underground caverns, salt caves, and other voids. Once natural gas is extracted from the Marcellus, Utica, and Rogersville shales in West Virginia, Kentucky, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, it can be stored underground until it is ready to be sent through a pipeline network to its destination. When the Aliso Canyon storage facility had a leak in 2015, the carbon footprint is said to have been larger than the Deepwater Horizon storage leak in the Gulf of Mexico, with further-reaching consequences.

The Falcon Pipeline Network is a planned buildout of a 97.5 mile high-pressure pipeline, similar to the Mariner East 2, that would transport ethane through Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania to Shell’s Ethane Cracker Plant in Beaver County. Pipelines, particularly highly pressurized ones like this, leak: the high consequence areas (HCAs), or areas that would be affected by the vapors leaked from the pipeline, include more than 8,700 residents, 5 schools, 6 daycare centers, and 16 emergency response centers.

CCJ is working with allies to convene regional efforts to protect public health and safety from the threats posed by these projects. Not all of these projects are in our communities (the falcon pipeline cuts through northern Washington County)but we will feel the effects of increased fracking - and in some cases we already have, as we are hearing from more landowners being asked to sign leases. Our communities are already overly-extracted and the risks to water and air quality will affect the region at large. We continue to support and stand for the people who are most impacted by fossil fuel extraction and its related activities.

Shell Falcon Pipeline Permits Open for Comment at Department of Environmental Protection

Shell has applied to build a 97-mile Falcon pipeline to feed the Shell Petrochemical Plant in Beaver County. The pipeline will traverse 22 townships in Pennsylvania (including several in Washington County) and others in West Virginia and Ohio. The track record of other pipelines like the Mariner East 2 pipeline, for which DEP needed to halt construction because of many permit violations, means this pipeline should take all necessary steps to get public input and ensure public safety for the hundreds of homes, hiking and biking trails, waterways, and public drinking water sources it is planned to cross. Please take action and send this letter to the DEP permit reviewer Dana Drake and request a public meeting as well as a 60-day extension to the public commenting deadline.

Please take action now and send a letter to PA DEP: