Josh Fox's open letter to the Delaware River Basin Commission

Publication Date:
April 15, 2011
First Published In:
Written By:

Delaware River Basin Commission-

I am writing to the Delaware River Basin Commission in fierce and passionate opposition to permitting large scale industrial gas drilling anywhere in the River Basin.  The Delaware River basin is a watershed area, a national treasure and should not be industrialized by large scale gas drilling.

The process will destroy property value, fragment and fracture the land, contaminate water resources, pollute air quality, create a public health crisis, it will significantly harm the tourism industry in the region and make the area unfit to live in.

I am the filmmaker of the Academy Award nominated documentary GASLAND and I am a resident of the Delaware River Basin in Milanville, PA.  I have called Milanville my home since I was born in 1972.  I live just off of Calkin’s creek, a tributary to the Delaware a few miles from where the stream enters the river.  The property across from my land, which borders the stream has been leased.  I have been living with the stress that my property will be turned into an industrial drilling zone for three years now.  I have no confidence whatsoever in the gas industry’s ability to drill for gas while maintaining the quality of life, water, or air that exists in my area.  I also have no confidence in the DRBC’s ability to regulate this industry, because the regulations you have put forward are inadequate, and cannot be enforced.   I asked Carol Collier personally during her press conference on Februrary 22nd in Honesdale, PA how many gas wells would the current DRBC regulations allow for.  She said that if these regs were adopted, she expected the river basin to have 22,000 gas wells in the next 30 years.  Quite simply, 22,000 gas wells in the Delaware River Basin would destroy the health and character of the region, make it unliveable, make homes impossible to sell and forever destroy one of the last pristine river basins in the world.  My dream of raising a family in the river basin and contributing to the life and community of the region will be shattered forever.

I think that the commission knows exactly what I have to say, because I have testified many times in person at public comment sessions and this three years of protest has been utterly exhausting and stressful.  I will endeavor here to address the problems with allowing such large scale industrial drilling in the basin once again.

I should also note that although my film has been attacked by the gas industry, it is 100% true investigative journalism, based on fact, science and vetted citizen testimony.  I have published my responses to the many specious and misleading attacks on the film at my website www.gaslandthemovie.com  at this address: http://1trickpony.cachefly.net/gas/pdf/Affirming_Gasland_Sept_2010.pdf

Fracking is a whole-scale industrialization process that pumps millions of gallons of toxic material directly into the ground. Thousands of documented contamination cases show the harmful chemicals used have been turning up in people's water supplies in fracking areas all over the map.

I have traveled all across the country and found that in every place I have gone, the gas industry has destroyed people's quality of life.  It is utterly irresponsible, against the will of the majority of the people and against the current culture and character of the area for whole scale industrial development of any sort, especially gas drilling.

I will oppose gas drilling if approved, by every legal and peaceful means available to me.

I made the film GASLAND out of a genuine care and love for the state of Pennsylvania, for Wayne County, for Damascus township and for the Delaware River.  The film was designed to bring to light something that residents of the river basin and the DRBC were by and large overlooking --  the extreme harm and danger of Fracking for Natural Gas, as it was taking place across the nation.  To make the film, myself and a dedicated team of five people were working for no pay, day and night, without a major media company behind the film and without any assurances that anyone would see the film outside of the Delaware River basin. 

The film GASLAND has been thoroughly vetted, fact checked, verified and backed up by true journalistic review and science and we stand behind it 100%.

GASLAND has helped forge a movement of in Pennsylvania, New York, and increasingly worldwide. Millions of people saw the film when it aired on HBO.  In addition,  I have toured to over 120 cities in the United States.  Everywhere I go, I hear the complaints, concerns, outrage and dismay of the citizens facing the driller's invasion.  Everywhere I go, people want to know what is happening to the Delaware River Basin.  If the river basin is drilled it will be a tragedy not only felt by the residents, but by a worldwide audience.

Apparently, the whole world knows there is something terribly wrong with Hydraulic Fracturing for Natural Gas.  The proposed regulations ignore that body of knowledge and evidence.  New York state has moved into a bi-partisan moratorium on fracking, Quebec has imposed a de-facto moratorium on shale drilling, the Maryland state house is on the verge of passing a similar moratorium, 20,000 protesters marched in France last week against shale drilling, Australian farmers are revolting and locking their gates against gas exploration, the New York Times reported that radioactive gas drilling waste was being dumped directly into Pennsylvania’s drinking water sources, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Pro-Publica news organization reported thousands of cases of contamination across the country, CNN and 60 minutes has reported numerous case studies on families whose health have been harmed and whose water has become undrinkable due to drilling and yet the DRBC refuses to acknowledge that this activity is not appropriate for the river basin whatsoever. 

By the Pennsylvania DEP's own account, one well out of 32 wells in Dimock caused an area of contamination that was nine square miles wide.  From my experience and from the detailed reports of thousands of contamination cases across the country, and the industry's own track record of failure, Dimock is no exception.  What does it mean for Pennsylvania if you replicate Dimock across the basin? The effects on the river basin would be dire.  Mass migration out of the region, permanent chemical contamination and a situation of large scale industrial development, the type of which the region has never seen.

If these regs are approved and the river basin is drilled you will make a Dimock of the region.

Additionally, the regs fail to address any industrial sites that will be created by the gas industry in addition to the well sites.  The gas industry will install and create many other industrial sites that are hazardous to health, destroy quality of life and violate the social contract.  These include, massive development of pipeline infrastructure, which will carve up our woods, fragment the region and destroy the landscape, compressor stations which run 24 hours a day which are incredibly noisy, permanent and emit hazardous amounts of volatile organic compounds and other toxic emissions, mini-refineries which may vent off toxic hydrogen sulfide and have no air emission controls.  Each well site will require an enormous about of trucking. Each well site requires 1100 truck trips, which will destroy our roads, make transportation impossible and will fill the region with noise 24 hours a day.

I will point out just a few examples out of the tens of thousands of affected people whose lives have been ruined by drilling.  Please, listen to the people in GASLAND.  Listen to Louis Meeks, the Vietnam veteran rancher from Pavillion, Wyoming who has had such terrible water and air contamination that his health is in serious decline.  Please listen to Pat Farnelli and Ron Carter of Dimock, PA, who have not made the money that they were promised by the industry only to see their town and lives ruined.  Please listen to Amee Ellsworth, who has confirmed thermogenic methane in her water and who was so terrified that her house would explode when she was in the bathroom that she was showering in the dark because she was afraid that a spark from her lightbulb would ignite her water.  Kim Weber, a resident of the Grand Mesa area of Colorado, lives on the banks of the Colorado river, which supplies water to much of the south west.  Her land was contaminated by the driilling process, her water was ruined, and she now suffers from brain lesions caused by toxic poisoning, along with several of her neighbors who also have brain lesions.  The ground water in her entire town has been despoiled.  I interviewed her neighbor Curtis Meacham who was surrounded by ponds that had turned black.  His well water smells like burning plastic and if he waters his plants with it his plants wilt and die.  He can no longer sell his property because of the destruction of the water and he is suffering from chronic respiratory illness.   Listen to these honest Americans, from all walks of life, from all across the political spectrum, from red states and blue states, from wealthy backgrounds and from poor, from the cowboys and ranchers to the New York City liberals and the Texas Tea Party folks and everywhere in between.  Please hear us out.

There is no feasible or appropriate way to do this kind of industrial activity in the region, it will create despair, civil unrest, contamination and the permanent despoiling of the region.

In specific, the regulations are inadequate in the following ways:

  1. No regulations should be approved without a proper cumulative impact study of the effect of  22,000 gas wells and the corresponding pipelines, compressor stations, refineries, truck trips injections wells, waste impoundments, access roads will have on the river basin as a whole
  2. There are no restrictions on harmful fracking chemicals.  No limitations or disclosure required for proprietary chemicals.  No restriction on carcinogenic, nerotoxic or endocrine disrupting chemicals.
  3. There is no appraisal of human health risk in the region from drilling.  Please see the Garfield County/Battlement Mesa health study which details health impacts in a similar river basin in Colorado.  The report can be found here:http://www.tcgasmap.org/media/Health%20Risk%20Assessment%20Garfield%20Ritter%209-10.pdf
  4. There is no enforcement capability within DRBC, PA or NY DEP, local law enforcement or citizen or federal groups.
  5. There is no adequate inspection capability for gas wells.
  6. There are no standards for well casing depth
  7. There are no standards for well casing cement
  8. There are no standards for well casing pressure tests
  9. There are no standards or limitations on frack pressures
  10. There are no standards or limitations on frack depth, multi-stage fracks, no frack length monitoring.
  11. No assessment for how much frack liquid is left in the ground relative to total water injected.  No monitoring of wastewater left in the ground or reporting of how much is brought to the surface.  There is no adequate tracking of waste.
  12. Companies are not required to report drilling logs, drilling mud records, frack chemical records, depths, frack pressures, directional drilling locations to the public.
  13. There are no regulations for drill cutting disposal or storage.
  14. There are no regulations for drill pit lining disposal.  (PA allows these pits and liners to be buried on site)
  15. There are no regulations or restrictions on drilling muds, which are injected before wells are cased.  Drilling muds are often synthetic and/or petroleum products.
  16. Inadequate assessment of violations and fines.  What happens to these companies if they are in violation of the regs or are found to have caused substantial harm?  What are the penalties?  Can these penalties be severe enough to actually stop companies from continuing to pollute, or will they just pay the fines as a cost of doing business without changing their ways.
  17. There are no requirements for clean up of accidents, spills, gas migration, chemical contamination.
  18. There are no requirements for chemicals used during the life of the well such as anti-freezes, Glycol Ethers, methanol, etc, which are used on site throughout the life of the wells to keep the pipes from freezing.
  19. There are no adequate standards for condensate tank lids, pressure valves or caps.  Condensate tanks leak volatile organic compounds or release them into the air via pressure valves.  No assessment has been made of the effects of those releases on humans, plants, aquatic life, water quality, air quality etc.
  20. There is no emergency plan for spills, blowouts, well casing failure, pipeline leaks.
  21. There are no safeguards for natural springs or spring houses (Many people, including myself use spring houses which are located near roads in many cases, for water)
  22. There are no regulations on spreading wastewater on roads near residential areas, natural springs, streams or the river itself.
  23. No adequate program to examine contaminants in wastewater.
  24. No adequate treatment program or facilities to deal with the enormous quantities of wastewater.
  25. No enforcement capability for illegal or inappropriate dumping of wastewater (which has been documented by both the NY Times, Gasland, pro-publica as many other sources as a typical practice within the industry)
  26. No compensation for landowners who have properties adjacent to drill sites whose land value will be destroyed by drilling.
  27. No regulation of wastewater impoundments, flowback pits.
  28. No assessment of the effects of chemical and volatile organic compound evaporation on plants, animals, infrastructure, water sources, aquatic life, etc.
  29. No assessment of what truck traffic will do to critical infrastructure (roads and bridges)
  30. Totally inadequate setbacks from water sources including springs, streams and the river itself.  Wells should be required to be set back one mile or more from water sources.
  31. No water monitoring program to check the health of groundwater, streams or the river itself for contaminants related to gas development
  32. There are no standards for hours of operation of drilling—no enforcement of noise or light ordinances.  No assessment of noise or light pollution on animal populations.
  33. There are no noise level standards for drilling, compressor stations, refineries etc.
  34. There are no standards for disclosure or testing for Hydrogen Sulfide or VOCs that may be emitted from wells
  35. No assessment of the use of biocides on aquatic, animal, plant or insect life on the region whether injected or evaporated
  36. No assessment of methane discharge (vented, flared or fugitive emissions) on on aquatic, animal, plant, human or insect life or on the biodiversity of the region.
  37. No requirements for pipeline easements, construction, placement or pipe/pipe coupling standards
  38. No assessment of civil unrest, citizen outrage, mass migration, property value, psychological damage, rise in crime, influx of transient work force or any of the social costs that are well documented with massive industrial gas drilling.
  39. No requirements for seismic testing or its impacts on aquatic, animal, plant or insect life or underground streams, aquifers and rivers
  40. No requirements for the assessment of natural underground fractures, abandoned wells or other migratory pathways for gas and or harmful chemicals
  41. No assessment of probably seismic disruptions
  42. No program for assessing or monitoring the hauling, treatment, disposal or spillage of naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORMS) in wastewater, flowback water, condensate, gas emissions, particulate matter or its effects on aquatic, animal, plant, human or insect life.
  43. Refusal to acknowledge the sustained and passionate outcry on behalf of the majority of residents of the river basin against industrial gas drilling in the river basin.
  44. No standards for fact checking for fraud/misinformation among gas company representatives home visits or presentations to the public about the nature of industrial gas drilling.
  45. Inadequate public comment period to address these regs, it should be extended or reopened
  46. No adequate appraisal period for drilling—No way to check in with the citizens of the region or assess what is happening once it has begun.  An outside independent review of the effects of gas drilling on the region should be done at least once every six months to assess how the project is going and address public comments
  47. No assessment of what 22,000 gas wells will do to downstream, downwind and down river communities and individuals dependent on clean water from the Delaware river such as Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey (Trenton/Camden)
  48. No assessment on the cultural/character changes to the region
  49. No assessment of what will happen to organic farm certification in the region.
  50. There is no assessment of what will happen to tourism, or summer camps in the region
  51. Inadequate set backs from houses, schools, campsites, recreation areas scenic areas, etc.
  52. There is no appraisal for wind patterns, peaks and valleys.
  53. There is no appraisal of fog patterns (which can be quite dangerous to drivers) in the region on truck traffic, or on flowback pits, emissions, chemical evaporation, etc.
  54. No adequate fund or fee for increased use of local services such as hospitals, ambuances, fire departments etc due to increased population and activity.
  55. No fund/insurance assessment for increased loss of property/life due to increased truck traffic.
  56. No reporting requirements for venting events from condensate tanks, compressor stations, pipelines, well pads.
  57. No restrictions for waste materials to clean pipelines or well bores
  58. No maintenance requirements for well bores, pad sites, or any gas drilling infrastructre over a period of several years.  No maintenance requirements for well casings.
  59. No assessment of gradation of hills, valleys, seasonal runoff streams for well pad placement.  There is no requirement for placement of impoundments or wastepits near graded slopes or valleys so that run off is contained.
  60. No requirements for clean up/remediation of spills, pad sites, toxic materials, etc.
  61. No requirements for baseline testing for ALL fracking chemicals used in the region.  Gas Companies should be required to do baseline testing for ALL fracking chemicals used in each well for ALL domestic water wells, rivers, streams and springs in a 5 mile radius from each well site before any drilling is to occur and each year for 10 years there after and every 2 years for the following 20 years after drilling.  Citizens should not have to bear the cost or the difficulty of baseline testing, or with subsequent water testing for years and years down the line.  This extensive testing is the only way to insure that the water of the region is safe for decades into the future.
  62. LLC's should not be allowed to drill in the River Basin.  Any company which is created to have limited liability should not be allowed to drill in the region.  Companies must have long-term financial and legal liability if they are to risk the watershed with this practice.

In addition to the above, I must address the overall problem of drilling conditions nationwide.  DRBC is creating regs within a totally inadequate national structure.  DRBC should not even consider formulating regulations until the following conditions have been met at the federal level

I submit these conditions on behalf of myself and the whole GASLAND team which includes several other residents of the river basin.

1. END THE FEDERAL EXEMPTIONS

We demand that the Natural Gas Industry's exemptions to the following laws be ended immediately:

  • Safe Drinking Water Act
  • Clean Water Act
  • Clean Air Act
  • Superfund Act

Natural Gas drilling should be subject to the same laws as every other Industrial, Private or Commercial sector.

2. END TO FEDERAL SUBSIDIES FOR FRACKING. 

Fossil Fuel Industries receive three times the level of Federal Subsidies as compared to Renewable Energy Sources.  This creates an unfair advantage in the marketplace for fossil fuel drilling technologies such as Hydraulic Fracturing, which undercut truly green forms of energy.

3. EXPANSION OF EPA STUDY AND CREATION OF INDEPENDENT HEALTH STUDY and EPA PERMITTING.

Fracking has never been proven to be safe.  Thousands of contamination cases, and testimonials across the country, point to a massive failure to protect water, air and human health.  Each of these cases must be investigated and damage must be assessed.

We appreciate that the EPA has just begun a study of Hydraulic Fracturing but it is under-funded and incomplete.

a)  EPA must broaden the scope of its current ecological study.  The current EPA Study is only funded through the end of this year and does not adequately address issues of hazardous emissions and overall emissions from gas drilling.

b)  EPA Ecological study must be conducted by scientists without conflict of interest.

c) A five-year parallel health impact assessment should be conducted in all of the most areas by an independent third party working alongside the EPA, either from an unbiased charitable foundation or an esteemed University.

d) Fracking should require permitting from EPA as well as state and local departments of environmental protection/planning.

4. IMMEDIATE HEALTH/ECOLOGICAL CRISIS MANAGEMENT IN DRILLING AREAS

We call upon the Federal Government to immediately address concerns of citizens in areas that have been drilled and are experiencing negative ecological and health effects.   Recommendations include but are not limited to:  1) Vapor recovery units to control emissions at existing well-sites, separators, refineries, compressor stations and condensate tanks, 2) Replacement water via municipal pipelines in areas where aquifers have been contaminated and, 3) Restoration of areas that have been industrialized with compressor stations, refineries and other gas drilling and refining machinery to a state appropriate for residential use.  Communities experiencing irreparable damage should be compensated appropriately for loss of property and physical injury.

5.  BURDEN OF PROOF-

THE GAS COMPANIES AND FRACKING PRODUCT MANUFACTURERS-

Product manufacturers must be required to disclose chemical ingredients in the products used to drill and Frack to the general public, landowners and surrounding communities in accordance with the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act.  Chemicals should be listed and made publicly available online on well-by-well basis.  If a chemical listed by the product manufacturers is found in a citizens private well or in a municipal water source, and is not found to be naturally occurring in the geology before drilling, both the product manufacturer and the drilling and extraction companies shall have the burden of proving that contamination was not caused by the drilling company. 

Independent Baseline Water Testing should be mandated for all chemicals used in drilling and paid for by companies wishing to drill in any area where people are dependent upon groundwater.  

6.  CHEMICAL PRODUCT IDENTIFICATION- BENIGN ISOTOPE ID's AFFIXED TO FRACKING CHEMICALS

Each chemical product used in Fracking for underground injection, should be tagged with a non-radioactive isotope so that it is easily identifiable if these compounds should migrate into drinking water supplies.  Each Fracking product will be required to have its own non-radioactive isotope so that there is no doubt as to the migration of such chemicals into underground water supplies.  

7. TRACKING AND REPORTING OF WASTE

Currently there is a huge problem with illegal dumping and improper disposal/treatment of drilling waste. Every drop of drilling waste, drilling fluids, produced water or drill cuttings should be identified by its contents, tracked and reported in trucks that carry hazardous waste placards and must have a detailed and outlined waste management program for disposal and/or treatment.  Contents of hazardous waste should be posted online in an easily accessible manner with waste routes and disposal sites clearly outlined.  Any truck deviating from the designated waste route should be immediately suspended and all work on the site from which waste emanated should be immediately halted.

I have the health and safety of the thousands of concerned citizens that I have met during my past three years of investigation in mind in submitting these initial recommendations to the DRBC, to the Press and to the Federal Government of the United States of America.  I urge you to please act with diligence and honesty in your appraisals and not to turn a blind eye to the massive movement across the US that is outraged at the gas drilling industry and the damage that it has caused. 

Thank you,

Josh Fox

Milanville, PA 18443

www.gaslandthemovie.com

orifox@aol.com