Fracking

In Marianna: What Can You Do When Fracking Is Your Neighbor?

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On Thursday, February 7th, a community meeting was held in the Marianna Volunteer Fire Hall titled “What Can You Do When Fracking is Your Neighbor?”. The meeting was hosted by a series of organizations, some local; some from farther away, including The Environmental Health Project, Earthworks, The Environmental Integrity Project, and the Clean Air Council.

The Borough of Marianna is a small rural community located in the southeastern region of Washington County, Pennsylvania. Washington County has the most fracked wells in the state of Pennsylvania, with 1,146 currently. According to FracTracker, there are presently no wells drilled within the borders of Marianna; however, fracking development surrounds the rural community and will be moving within the borough soon enough.

The sponsoring organizations gave several different presentations, all of which demonstrated different ways residents can engage and preempt potential hazards to their health and land as a result of fracking development occurring nearby. As stated earlier, fracking has been prevalent in the surrounding community for quite some time now and will be on the increase in the coming years.

Sarah Rankin, with The Environmental Health Project, provided a plethora of information for community members. The organization’s purpose is to collect data from individuals living near well sites regarding health impacts and changes due to fracking in their area. To do so, community members who are impacted can answer a health assessment questionnaire available here, with an opportunity to control “how and with whom [their] information is shared.” The organization uses this data to consult with individuals about ways they can mitigate health impacts based on their symptoms. They also use collected data to produce and spread information to educate people about protecting the health of the communities affected in the region. In addition, they provide their research findings to health care providers and public officials who are making decisions around fracking in the region. Residents living within a 3-mile radius of a fracking operation can request an air or water monitor from EHP to be used in their home free of cost. EHP monitors the air and water quality within the homes of residents and uses the data to mitigate any health impacts of those individuals and/or to present information to the DEP to request mitigation. EHP also suggests that, particularly for individuals with private water supplies (i.e., a well or spring), community members regularly monitor their water for conductivity based on the locality’s standards for water consumed.

According to EHP,  “Research is mounting on the emissions from Unconventional Oil and Gas Development (UOGD) at all stages and on health effects experienced by nearby residents. Many of the toxic chemicals that have been found in air and water samples around UOGD operations have well known adverse health effects. For example, benzene is a known carcinogen (cancer-causing), toluene is a neurotoxin, and hydrogen sulfide irritates the lungs and can cause asthma. Noise and light pollution is associated with hearing loss, sleeplessness, and other health issues. Prolonged stress can also lead to significant health problems like heart disease, cancer, and depression..”  

The Environmental Health Project also offered information regarding the health of workers in the industry, citing that “People who work in the unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD, commonly called “fracking”) industry have an annual fatality rate of 27.5 per 100,000, which is more than seven times higher than the rate for all US workers.” Workers are regularly exposed to wastewater, silica, diesel, lead and various other chemicals. EHP suggests that workers visit their website to learn more about their rights as employees, and/or discuss their experience with an EHP representative.

Earthworks is a national organization that conducts research across communities affected by fracking development. According to Leannn Leiter, Earthworks uses a FLIR GF320, a camera used across the industry to identify emissions, leaks, and “events that occur during routine oil and gas operations, or because of faulty equipment, accidents, and intentional releases by operators.” Earthworks has invested a lot of resources to building out their FLIR operation, which can be utilized by communities seeking reliable, visual data to support their efforts to protect themselves and others from harmful emissions. The camera displays the release of hydrocarbons, a compound of hydrogen and carbon, such as any of those which are the chief components of petroleum and natural gas, not just heat. This is useful for community members because the organization uses this technology to respond to the concerns of local people. Earthworks encourages residents to pay attention to odors, changes in vegetation and wildlife near their homes, changes in the sounds coming from facilities as well as changes in operation, as these are examples of potential increases in emissions. Much of what Earthworks uncovers is due to faulty equipment and/or increased emissions as a result of something on a site that can be fixed. You can report these concerns to Earthworks at 202-887-1872, extension 130, and you  can learn more about the work Earthworks is doing in our region by checking out their publication “Country living, dirty air,”  which includes research from Washington County.

Lisa Graves-Marcucci, with the Environmental Integrity Project, explored the prevalence of piecemeal permitting in the oil and gas industry whereby original permits for minor emissions are distributed in a series. These minor emissions permits are then later amended to actually include much greater emissions levels. This denies right-to-know opportunities for the community, public notices, and an actual understanding of the impacts of an entire operation. The organization also presented on issues of zoning in our region: given that much of rural Pennsylvania is not zoned, major industrial sites are popping up legally in agricultural communities.

To close out the meeting, Lois Bjornson described the work of the Clean Air Council and projected a number of photographs of the various impacts of hydrofracking, including the wells and pipelines associated with it.   

As a CCJ Community Organizer, it was pleasing to see a turnout of 15-20 people in the space. I look forward to engaging more with rural communities like Marianna, where community members are facing the direct impacts of the oil and gas industry. I am interested in pursuing more meetings that look like the one held at the Marianna Volunteer Fire Department and having the opportunity to engage in conversations with more rural community members.

Tour Reflection by Alexandra Cheek

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Alex is a geology student at California University of Pennsylvania who is interning with The Center for the spring semester. Last week, she went on CCJ’s “Fracking and the Coalfields” tour with Executive Director Veronica Coptis. Below are her reflections on the experience.

An Afternoon in the Coalfields

We were standing in Enon Cemetery on a snowy, overcast morning. There amongst the gravestones and coal, I listened to Veronica tell the story of the Bailey Mine Complex that loomed over us with its twinkling lights and industrial clatter. As the largest underground mining operation in North America, the Pennsylvania Mining Complex (Bailey, Harvey and Enlow Fork) longwall mining operation is just about the size of Manhattan, but underfoot. We discussed “clean coal”, which, spoiler alert, doesn’t exist, and how intertwined southwestern PA’s people and politics are with the coal industry.

Over the course of the afternoon, we navigated through Greene and Washington counties, following well traffic all over rural southwestern Pennsylvania. Looking out the window were signs that directed the different energy corporations down the winding, crumbling, nearly single lane country roads to their respective well pads. If you weren’t in the direct path of a brine or water truck though, you could look in almost any direction and see the familiar shape of a drilling rig in the distance. We visited valley fills with their earthen dams holding back surface mining refuse, on the hillsides stark gaps in the trees where pipelines were constructed. I can’t imagine that most of the residents within these counties could have envisioned the long term effects that mining or the shale gas boom would have on the infrastructure, air quality or the landscape in their towns, let alone the not too distant future environmental impacts.

As a geology student, resource extraction and the positive and negative impacts associated with them is something that’s discussed pretty regularly, though it’s not quite the same as visiting an area that has truly been affected by it. As we hit one of our last stops, Ryerson Station State Park, Veronica talked about the emotional ties that she and many others in the area have with the park and the grief they experienced after the loss of Duke Lake. If you’re not familiar with the story of Duke Lake, in 2004 the 62-acre lake needed an emergency drawdown after cracks occurred in the dam as a result of subsidence from longwall mining operations. Duke Lake had been a hub of activity for many residents who enjoyed fishing there during the summer.

After the tour, I tried to imagine what it would be like to look out my window or drive down the road and every day encounter all of these impacts and not feel totally despondent. Or perhaps even worse, not realize the full impact on my health or environment because it’s all I’ve ever known. It’s not by chance that this type of development occurs here, and the fact that this area is abundant in resources isn’t the only reason. The areas where extraction is occurring most are often areas of poverty, without access to educational resources to make the decisions at hand or the legal resources/support to make them aware of their rights or defend them when necessary. Going on the tour gave me a personal insight to the issues that are the norm in Washington and Greene County. If you have the opportunity to chat with a CCJ team member or request a tour, I would strongly recommend doing so.


Tour Reflection from Mimi Wahid

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Mimi Wahid is an intern from MIT working with The Center for the month of January. Last week, she went on CCJ’s “Fracking and the Coalfields” tour with Executive Director Veronica Coptis. Below are her reflections on the experience.

Coalfields Tour Reflection: What does it mean to be undermined?

As an intern at the Center for Coalfield Justice, I’ve heard a lot about undermining these past few weeks. I’ve been told about what happens when creeks and streams are undermined: sometimes the creekbed fractures, the water drains, the groundwater systems are affected. Something geologically permanent can disappear overnight. I’ve seen images and videos about what happens when a building is undermined: the foundation cracks, walls can shift, properties are abandoned. Something formerly sturdy can become unsafe. I’ve started to understand what the economic and environmental impacts of undermining—meaning, mining underneath structures and water sources—are. But on the tour of the coalfields I took last week, I saw what it looks like when an entire community is undermined: when a community’s power is weakened, when their strength is removed from underneath them like a seam of profit-producing coal, when respect, trust, and security are piped away like wet natural gas.

I rode in the front seat of Veronica’s car and listened as she told stories of the region. As we drove through Greene County, Veronica pointed to her right at a valley she used to play in with her siblings. She told us about how, in what felt like an overnight transformation, her favorite place to recreate on turned into a coal refuse disposal area. Sudden and dramatic transformations of land were present all throughout the tour. New roads cut through previously forested hillsides to accommodate heavy truck traffic. Valleys transformed into toxic hills as they were filled in with coal refuse. Our tour began at the Bailey Mine Complex coal preparation plant, where our attention was directed to the massive silos that store coal. Across the horizon, Veronica gestured towards two fracking well pads that, apparently, didn’t exist a few years ago. She explained that, before the wells were built, she used to point out this view as an example of the beautiful, undisturbed forests that CCJ fights to protect. In just a few years, the tour stop transformed from a message of hope to an example of the presence and power of the extraction industry.

While on the tour, I tried to imagine what it would feel like to watch the landscape around me transform; to see strips of trees clearcut to make way for pipelines, valleys filled with toxic refuse, and skies cluttered with towering cranes. I wondered how this might affect my sense of security in my home and on my land. I imagined that it would be difficult to feel powerful if I couldn’t predict or influence the changes in the air I breathe, the earth beneath my home, the water sources I drink from. On the tour, Veronica told us about the various resources, like coal and natural gas, that are extracted from Washington and Greene counties. But the tour also made me wonder about the intangible things that have been extracted: it seemed as though residents’ rights to clean water, sense of security on their land, and confidence in the region’s economic future had been removed as well. It made me wonder if there even exists a fair compensation for extraction of this scale and kind.

Going on CCJ’s “Fracking and the Coalfields” tour made me think more critically about what it means to be undermined. The tour showed me the effects of longwall mine activity through visible changes, like the empty bed of Duke Lake and the boarded up farmhouses that lined our drive. But it also showed me examples of undermining in another sense: places where the extraction industry has subverted, weakened, and removed power from residents. It reminded me of the importance of building and retaining power in communities affected by extraction. And it gave me deep respect for those with the strength to envision a different, more just, future for the coalfields.


Petrochemical Projects Given Green Light over Holiday Break

A drone’s eye view of the Mark West facility in Houston, PA, where the PA leg of the Falcon pipeline will begin.

A drone’s eye view of the Mark West facility in Houston, PA, where the PA leg of the Falcon pipeline will begin.

The PA Department of Environmental Protection issued water permits (Chapters 102 and 105) for the PA leg of the Falcon Pipeline to be built, run, and operated by Shell. This pipeline will carry ethane, a natural gas liquid, from Houston, PA’s MarkWest facility to the Ethane Cracker Plant in Beaver County. Concerned residents from Washington, Allegheny, and Beaver Counties - all of which will be impacted by the Falcon - raised concerns at a series of public hearings hosted by the DEP in early 2018. In its permit decision, the DEP issued responses to these concerns.

Slightly west of us, the OH Environmental Protection Agency issued the air permit for the PTT Global Chemicals Cracker Plant to be built in Shadyside, OH. Like the plant in Beaver County, PA, this cracker plant will take ethane and use heat to crack the molecules into ethylene and polyethylene, which is used to make plastics. Because of its location so close to the Ohio/West Virginia border, residents of both states attended the public hearing to express their concerns with the plant. The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks, and Freshwater Accountability Project have joined together to challenge the permit.

While the content of both permits is troubling, the manner in which they were issued was equally concerning. Agencies have a tendency to issue hot-button permits when they think people aren’t watching: The PTTGC permit was issued on December 21, and the Falcon permits were issued on December 20, 2018. This move is akin to the Trump administration’s release of a dire climate report on Black Friday - it is an obvious attempt to ensure that the people most concerned about an issue are distracted and unable to rally the public. This is cowardice in its most undemocratic form. If decision-makers are truly making decisions that are lawful and viewed to be what’s best for the people they serve, why the secrecy and circumvention of public input?

If these projects and the backroom dealings that allow them to move forward concern you, sign up here to join a growing coalition of individuals and organizations fighting to put people over petro. We need your voice in the fight.


EJ Groups Gather to Discuss Breaking Free From Plastics

CCJ attended a gathering in Pasadena, TX from November 5-7 to meet with other environmental justice groups working to fight against petrochemical expansions and buildouts. Our Campaign Manager, Sarah, attended the gathering, which brought together people from across the country, from the Gulf South to the West Coast.

CCJ previously attended a Break Free From Plastics gathering in Houston, but the consensus from that meeting was that environmental justice groups were not proportionally represented in the space, so groups like GAIA and TEJAS with support from Earthworks arranged this meeting. Groups like Portand Citizens United, 5 Gyres, and Louisiana Environmental Action Network attended the EJ gathering. Break Free From Plastics is a global coalition that raises awareness of plastics pollution and the connection between each stage of the plastics production process, from fracking to ocean dumping.

One theme that was constant throughout this gathering was that the same few players - Exxon, Shell, Formosa, etc - are seeking to rapidly expand. More than $200 billion in investments by 2025 will spur more than 300 new or expanded projects within the U.S. Almost all of these projects, though, are designed to support exports of natural gas liquids (NGLs) used for the production of plastics.

These investments, however, do not come without an Achilles heel. Awareness is growing around the climate crisis, and countries, cities, and corporations around the world are reconsidering their use of single-use plastics and of fossil-fuel-based plastics in general. Lego, for example, is testing to find recyclable and plant-based alternatives for its colorful blocks by 2030 and is changing its business practices to eliminate contributing to landfills by 2025 by eliminating the little plastic bags within its boxes. Industry consultants McKinsey & Company theorize that modest improvements in recycling and more efficiency in packaging will result in a decreased 2.3 million barrels per day of hydrocarbons, whether from oil or gas, being used in the petrochemical industry. Single-use plastic bans and recycling requirements in the European Union are crucial to ensuring that those modest targets are hit and provide leverage for them to be exceeded. While recycling is not a true “fix” to the plastics problem, the organizing efforts of groups to address the consequences of plastic are clearly catching on.


What can you do to help stop the petrochemical buildout in Appalachia and stand in solidarity with those groups battling it out in Texas and Louisiana? Join our petrochemical mailing list (different from our CCJ mailing list) to take action, or donate!

Demonstrations Impact Shale Insight Conference

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Concerned residents from throughout the Appalachian region gathered in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, October 23 and Wednesday, October 24 for two connected actions designed to counter the Shale Insight Conference.

Conference attendees arrived at Howl at the Moon, a Pittsburgh dueling piano bar, to a red carpet entrance and eight petrochemical zombies, each dressed up and personified a different problematic element of the petrochemical industry. One zombie, for example, carried a fishing pole that had fished a Coke bottle out of the water - a reference to the fact that in a recent Break Free From Plastics brand audit, Coke is 2018’s #1 polluter of beaches in the world. Another wore a necklace of K-cups around her neck, which speaks to the fact that our “reliance” on single-use plastics is an industry-conditioned initiative.

The next morning, the major day of action began at Point State Park with a native-led water ceremony. Participants in the ceremony bought water from upstream of their homes to be blessed, and the water was then put back. Following the ceremony, participants walked along Liberty Avenue, stopping at the EQT building so that a member of the SayNo2EQT Campaign could speak to the company’s clear efforts to buy goodwill within communities. The group continued on to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail outside of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center for a rally, which highlighted indigenous land rights and protecting water for all people from the petrochemical buildout plans.

CCJ is excited to have participated in the planning for these actions, and honored to have our communities invited into the native communities’ sacred ceremony on Wednesday morning. The themes that all speakers explored - of leading with love, of being dedicated to protecting our water and air, and of joining together to support each other in struggle - were important to hear. We look forward to continuing to work with our partners, to connect with new allies, and to doing work that protects our region across a range of issues.

A petrochemical zombie walks Penn Ave. in downtown Pittsburgh. Photo: Sarah Martik

A petrochemical zombie walks Penn Ave. in downtown Pittsburgh. Photo: Sarah Martik

Organizers Build Relationship and Trust at Grassroots Organizing Summit

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CCJ recently hosted the Grassroots Organizing Summit with Mountain Watershed Association in Mount Pleasant, PA. Community organizers, frontline community members from the tri-state region attended along with allies in the gulf coast and native communities resisting fossil fuels for many years. The weekend was spent learning and growing alongside other Grassroots Organizers from around the region.  We built relationships, trust, and learned the importance of grounding our strategies in racial justice through a workshop from the Catalyst Project. The Catalyst Project helps to build powerful multiracial movements that can win collective liberation.  

This gathering was crucial in these racially-charged times in which we live and work.  It is important to recognize our privileges and ensure we are inclusive of everyone's lived experiences  From an economic workshop, we learned that the owning and professional classes, which hold 89% of the wealth in the United States, are predominately white. While the poor and working class have the highest amount of people of color there are also many white folks too and more people than the wealthier classes who are controlling our government and economy. By working together across race, we have the power to redefine our economy, communities, and democracy.

Hopefully, through dedication, awareness and advocacy we can grow and change the dynamic between white people and people of color.  We all live under the same stars and stripes, and they shouldn’t mean different things to different people. This gathering is the first of many we will need to have to shift our economy away from fossil fuels and plastics to one where all people are respected and have the ability to thrive.


CCJ Speaks Out at DEP and in California Borough

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On Thursday, September 6, 2018, the Center for Coalfield Justice bookended their day by making public statements and public comments on issues related to unconventional oil and gas development.

The day began at an event at the Department of Environmental Protection’s Southwest Regional Office in Pittsburgh, where the Breathe Project organized a press event to draw attention to the Falcon pipeline permits. The Falcon, which would transport natural gas liquids to the Shell Ethane Cracker Plant in Beaver County, PA, is still undergoing review by permit engineer Dana Drake, despite over 101 deficiencies found within the initial draft of the permit. Shell’s responses, as we’ve seen, remain inadequate. Our Campaign Manager, Sarah Maritk, spoke at the event, encouraging the DEP to stop wasting resources to permit this unnecessary infrastructure, saying “Continuing to issue deficiency letter after deficiency letter after deficiency letter to a multi-billion dollar corporation that should know what it’s doing and that has argued that it is capable of constructing and operating this pipeline is an absolute waste of taxpayer funds.” A video of this action is available online through NoPetroPA.

Want to take action and ask the DEP to #DenyTheFalcon? Send a letter via this link!

The day concluded in California Borough, where council members held a second public hearing for a revised draft of their proposed zoning ordinance. CCJ members and supporters spoke out about the lack of protective measures related to setback distances from compressor stations and well pads to protected structures. CCJ staff attorney, Sarah Winner, educated the Borough about the importance of considering Article I, Section 27 (the environmental rights amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution), while CCJ member and Borough resident reminded the Council that the decisions they make today have real consequences, saying “This isn’t like choosing who gets to play first base in Pony league. If something happens, you are the ones that have to live with it.”

To stay updated for to get involved in the campaign in California Borough, please email Sarah Martik at smartik@coalfieldjustice.org.



Register for Washington PA People's Climate, Jobs, and Justice March

On September 8, thousands of rallies will be held in cities and towns around the globe to demand a world with clean air and energy, healthy, family-sustaining jobs, and thriving communities that work for all of us.

The Center for Coalfield Justice and Washington County United are bringing these issue home in Washington, PA to demand our local officials take action on economic, environmental, and social justice starting at 10 AM downtown in Washington and concluding with a cookout.

Private companies and corrupt politicians have been benefiting off our community's resources and labor for too long. We can have a living wage, sustainable jobs that do not treat working-class families and families of color as disposable, but we need the political will to get there. If you are tired of not having access to quality jobs, education, and a healthy environment join us in the streets to demand action!

We can change the national narrative that the coalfields, small towns, and rural communities are happy with the status quo. Together we can create the change needed in our community.

Register to attend the march and stand up for justice in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Want to help with outreach, making art, or speak at the event contact Nick at nick@coalfieldjustice.org.

Registration Open for Grassroots Organizing Summit

Register now for the Grassroots Organizing Summit starting Friday, October 12th through Sunday, October 14th at the Laurelville Retreat Center in Mount Pleasant, PA.  The Summit seeks to connect community organizers across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, and Virginia working on petrochemical, fracking, and fracked-gas infrastructure. The Summit also seeks to better prepare emerging organizers and to reinvigorate seasoned organizers to face the challenges presented by the shale gas and petrochemical buildout in the Appalachian region. The Summit will hold equity as a core value and emphasize three areas of collaboration: skill & knowledge building, organizing strategy, and relationship & trust building.

The planning committee for the Summit is made up of representatives from the following organizations: Center for Coalfield Justice, Mountain Watershed Association, Protect PT, Marcellus Outreach Butler, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Sierra Club Ohio Chapter, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter, and One Pennsylvania.

If you are interested in applying please take a look at this page.  We will accept applications on a rolling basis, but we cannot accept any applications later than Monday, September 17, 2018. Priority will be given to applicants from directly impacted communities and grassroots organizations. Childcare and scholarships for attendance & travel will be provided for all who request support.

If you have any questions, please reach out to Nick Hood (at 724-229-3550 ext. 104 or nick@coalfieldjustice.org).  We look forward to seeing you at the Summit!