Jun 17

Comments on Proposed Chesapeake Bay LNG Export Facility

On June 16th, 2014 we submitted this technical comment letter detailing why the proposed Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) Export Facility in Lusby, MD cannot move forward because of significant flaws in its environmental review.

The comment letter was submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the federal agency with authority over proposals to export and import natural gas. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, FERC is the federal agency that is responsible for assessing the environmental impacts of LNG export proposals pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

The proposal to export LNG from the Chesapeake Bay via the existing, Lusby MD import terminal is bad news for upstream watersheds and communities like the Susquehanna. This is because LNG export from the Chesapeake is specifically tied to development of shale gas reserves like the Marcellus and Utica, shale reserves which underlay much of the Susquehanna River Basin and Pennsylvania.

Development of these shale plays is and continues to occur via the use of hydraulic fracturing, an inherently polluting industrial practice that, in order to extract shale gas, disturbs wide swaths of intact forest, meadow, and farmland, disturbs headwater creeks and vital fisheries habitat, and threatens groundwater supplies with its deep-earth injections. Furthermore, its infrastructure – like new and expanded pipelines, compressor stations, and the like – is already converting valuable cropland and threatening public safety and well-being throughout the downstream Lower Susquehanna. For instance, the proposed, controversial Lancaster Co. natural gas pipelines are part and parcel of helping bring gas from upstream watersheds to the export facility in the Chesapeake.

These and other environmental impacts associated with shale gas development in the Susquehanna and Mid-Atlantic are what FERC’s environmental review should have considered. Unfortunately, FERC has turned a blind-eye to these types of impacts, and refused to consider them as it moves forward in trying to authorize LNG export from the Chesapeake Bay. In fact, FERC not only refused to consider impacts to upstream communities like the Susquehanna, it also refused to even perform a robust study, choosing to perform an abbreviated review – called and Environmental Assessment – instead of a thorough, probing review – called an Environmental Impact Statement.

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper will continue its strong, science-based advocacy to ensure decisionmakers rightfully consider the full-range of impacts that an LNG export facility in the Chesapeake will mean for upstream communities and watersheds like the Susquehanna.

 

May 19

Env’tl Review Document Released for Proposed Maryland LNG Export Facility

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) released its environmental review of the proposed Liquefied Natural Gas export facility at Lusby, MD on May 15, 2014.

We at Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper have been watch-dogging the proposal to export LNG from the Chesapeake Bay since its beginning in 2011. Why?  Because the fracking happening in upstream communities like the Susquehanna will directly support downstream supply and demand, especially LNG export demand to foreign nations. Unfortunately, the nexus between upstream gas production and resulting impacts from fracking and its infrastructure are not issues that FERC’s new environmental review document examines.

Your Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper, Michael Helfrich, had this to say about the Cove Point LNG Environmental Assessment:

“LNG facilities like the one proposed for Cove Point are intended to ship America’s natural gas off to foreign lands,” said Michael Helfrich, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper. “Gas drillers can ship American gas overseas in order to make more money, increase the price of natural gas for us, and our communities and environment get ravaged by the shale gas ‘gold rush,’ including thousands of miles of new pipelines through the upstream watersheds like the Susquehanna Watershed. FERC’s failure to recognize and address the nexus between upstream impacts and downstream LNG export in its environmental review of the Cove Point export proposal not only threatens community and environmental health, it also throws the idea of American energy independence out the window.”

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper will continue to monitor and engage in the Cove Point LNG export permitting process to ensure FERC does its job and protects not just gas producers’ bottom line, but that FERC takes into account the negative economic, social and environmental costs that we in upstream communities have and continue to experience as a result of fracking.

Click here to read our press release on FERC’s release of its EA.

Click here to read the EA.

Apr 01

Saying “NO” to Fracking Drill Cuttings in Road Paving

Oil and gas operators face a growing challenge in handling and disposing of the increasing volumes of solid and liquid waste they produce. However, this challenge should not be a reason to allow dangerous subtances that threaten health and the environment to be used in ways that can have unknown consequences for the public and waterways.

Unfortunately, just such a rationale is being used by the fracking industry to justify a recent application to “beneficially re-use” fracking drill cuttings as constituents in road paving. Drill cuttings are a mixture of soil, rock, and other subterranean matter brought to the surface during drilling of the wellbore. Generally, drill cuttings are considered earthen material, which is excluded from the definition of solid waste.

However, drill cuttings are considered a solid waste when they come in contact with contaminated sources common to the drilling process. Drilling muds are routinely used to lubricate the drill and help remove cuttings from the wellbore. A mixture of chemicals and other constituents are generally present in the drilling muds.  Once drill cuttings come into contact with drilling muds and other sources of contaminants (e.g. oils and chemical additives), then the cuttings are considered contaminated and need to be managed as a solid waste.

Disposal of fracking wastes, particularly drill cuttings, is a big issue in the Susquehanna Watershed and Pennsylvania. In 2012 Pennsylvania landfills accepted an estimated 785,000 tons of drill cuttings. Another 81,000 tons were shipped across the border into New York.

Because fracking shale gas involves the use of dangerous, toxic and hazardous substances that threaten water quality and human health, drill cuttings and like byproduct need to be properly disposed of! That is why we submitted this comment letter to the Pennsylvania DEP explaining why science, common sense and the law all weigh heavily against allowing fracking drill cuttings in road pavement.

Mar 14

Comments on Proposed Changes to Pennsylvania’s Oil & Gas Rules (Ch.78)

In mid-December 2013, the Pennsylvania DEP issued proposed changes to the state’s oil and gas regulations, known as Ch. 78 of the Pennsylvania Code. Act 13, the oil and gas law passed by the legislature in 2012, required the DEP to make these changes. The changes are also necessary because older regulations concerning conventional drilling are outdated and inadequate given the different type, scope, and pollution impacts arising from shale gas development.

We joined two different advocacy comment letters pinpointing key gaps and needed improvements in the proposed Ch. 78 revisions.

 

First, we joined Earthjustice in filing this comment letter which, in a very thorough, science-based fashion, examines each part of the proposed rule changes. Several key points made in this letter include:

  • pre-drill water testing and policies for restoration and replacement of contaminated water supplies
  • improvements to fracking pits and wastewater impoundments
  • improvements to drill cutting and waste material disposal rules

 

Second, we joined the Environmental Integrity Project in filing this comment letter. This letter specifically addresses two primary areas of concern commonly overlooked in fracking regulation:

  • tracking and remediation of abandoned and orphaned wells
  • improved requirements concerning seismic testing

 

Each of the comment letters above identifies important improvements that science and common sense demand, and which are vital to protecting the ecological health and aesthetics of the Susquehanna Watershed. Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper continues to oppose further, increased shale gas fracking in the Susquehanna and Pennsylvania because, as currently practiced, fracking is an inherently polluting industrial activity that threatens water quality, fisheries and community health.

 

Mar 12

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Update 3-12-14

Howdy River Folks,

As always, we are busy as can be representing your interests in the Susquehanna Valley and Chesapeake Bay Watershed.  We’ve been working on our top five priorities: smallmouth bass die-offs in the Susquehanna and other Chesapeake tributaries; effects of fracking on our waterways; effects of Susquehanna sediment on the Chesapeake Bay; the Chesapeake watershed pollution reduction plan (TMDL); and the expansion of Lancaster’s landfill on the banks of the Susquehanna.  Here are some updates, and a request for action.

Cobie Bean (1969-2014)

First I want to recognize one of our great volunteers, and one of my closest friends, Cobie Bean.  Cobie was a volunteer with us from the earliest creek clean-up I organized in 2002.  More recently, she was standing up for her Wrightsville/ Long Level community against the expansion of the Lancaster landfill.  She was a friend and gift to all river-lovers and all who knew her.  She passed away unexpectedly in her sleep late last month.  We will miss her hard work and sunshine.  Thank you to her friends and family that asked mourners to donate to Stewards of the Lower Susquehanna in lieu of flowers.  Read more about the landfill expansion that Cobie was opposing here: http://www.lowersusquehannariverkeeper.org/2013/08/the-best-choice-for-the-susquehanna-river-choose-to-re-open-creswell-landfill/

Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, Smallmouth Bass, and new pollution from fracking

We need your HELP on this one.  Please join us in commenting on the proposed Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement. This is a voluntary agreement between the states, D.C. and federal government about what they are willing to do to protect our waterways and the bay. Unfortunately, the draft that is out for comment is deficient in content, including nothing about protecting our river and the Shenandoah and Potomac from what is killing our smallmouth bass, or the increasing runoff pollution caused by all of the new dirt roads, pipelines, and well-pads associated with the rapid growth in natural gas drilling. In addition to content, the “Agreement” has an opt-out clause where even if they sign the agreement, they can say they don’t want to actually do what the Agreement says. Please read our comments on our website and send your own (the address to send them to is on our letter). A copy of the draft Agreement is also available at the link below. Deadline for comments is this Monday, March 17th. http://www.lowersusquehannariverkeeper.org/2014/03/lower-susquehanna-riverkeeper-aims-to-correct-faulty-chesapeake-bay-watershed-agreement/

Conowingo Re-Licensing and Research

On January 31st, working with EarthJustice and Waterkeepers Chesapeake, SOLS filed nearly 50 pages of comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission demanding that FERC require the re-establishment of the American eel in the Susquehanna ( a key species in the ecosystem), proper passage for these migratory fish, a plan for Exelon to commit to further studies and plans to address sediment build-up at Conowingo Dam, and the re-opening and improvements of recreational fishing opportunities at the catwalk below the dam.  Read our extensive comments here:

Comments to FERC relicensing of Conowingo Dam

Meeting with SRBC on how they regulate water withdrawals for fracking

On March 6th SOLS organized a meeting between the staff of SRBC and a group of concerned organizations including the League of Women Voters, Sierra Club of PA, PennFuture, EarthWorks, and the Responsible Drilling Alliance.  During this two-hour meeting we learned a great deal about the processes and monitoring that SRBC has in place to protect our waterways from impacts of withdrawals of water.  From our side we explained that the withdrawals are still the “gateways” to all of the other negative impacts that shale gas development causes such as the erosion and fragmentation from land use changes from forests and farmlands to well-pads, dirt roads and pipelines.  These impacts fall under PA DEP oversight, and they are not doing their jobs to protect our waterways and communities.  We also told them that we will continue to pressure them to do an overall Environmental Impact Study of every aspect of the natural gas fracking industry, including effects of projected growth.  DEP should be doing this, but they refuse, so we believe the SRBC is the next responsible party. This pressure for SRBC to do the needed studies continues to grow as we build evidence of DEP’s many failures to protect us.

Doing your part

If you agree with the direction that we are going, we need your help.  Send us your contact info and your interests so we can send you information specific to your interests.  If you are not yet a member, please become a member at http://www.lowersusquehannariverkeeper.org/join-us/become-a-member/ .  You can also make contributions (and save paypal charges) by sending donations to us at: SOLS 2098 Long Level Rd Wrightsville, PA 17368.  We recognize that most people don’t have time to commit to these issues themselves, and that’s why we are here every day, working for you, your children, and your communities.  We take no government funding, so our work will only continue if you believe in it, and can share a little of your “green energy” with us.

Thank you.

From the Mighty Susquehanna, 

                                                        Michael Helfrich

                                                        Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper

Mar 12

Comments to FERC Relicensing of Conowingo Dam

Comments to FERC Relicensing of Conowingo Dam

Please click the link below to read comments from The Stewards of the Lower Susquehanna, The Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper and the Waterkeepers Chesapeake

SOLS FERC Conowingo Comments

Mar 07

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper aims to correct faulty Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper aims to correct faulty Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement

Please send your own comments in (address provided in our letter).  It is very important that they hear from individuals, as they are only counting any group sign-ons or petitions as a single comment.

Our Riverkeeper addresses the biggest fault in the Agreement.  “It also appears that in this section the jurisdictions’ “commitments” to the Agreement fall short.  In fact, this section contradicts the definition of commitment. Merriam-Webster defines “to commit”, in the relevant definition, as to “obligate” or “bind”.  … “Discretion to participate” is not a commitment.  This lack of commitment causes a  conflict with potential funding of jurisdictions. Section 117(e) of the Clean Water Act directs the Environmental Protection Agency to issue grant money to the Agreement signatories to   implement programs in the Agreement, but only “if a signatory has approved and committed to implement all or substantially all aspects of the Chesapeake Bay Agreement.”   As the draft Agreement stands, upon signing the Agreement, none of the signatories would approve and commit to implement all or substantially all of the Agreement. ”

Click here to read the Draft Chesapeake Watershed Agreement

Click here to read SOLS comments on Watershed Agreement

Jan 15

Response Letter to SRBC Concerning Drilling Pollution In Pennsylvania

Since fracking began in the Susquehanna River Basin, Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper has been an unrelenting voice for the key role of science in all decisionmaking. We’ve said time and again that allowing any type of industrial-style development, let alone fracking, without first doing the requisite scientific analysis of potential impacts unnecessarily risks community and waterway health. In particular, we’ve advocated for years that the Susquehanna River Basin Commission – the interstate compact agency with authority over a river basin stretching through three states and which provides half of the Chesapeake Bay’s freshwater – needs to take the initiative and conduct a basin wide, cumulative study of fracking’s impacts.

Today we submitted this letter to the SRBC, the latest in a string of comment letters pointing out technical deficiencies in Pennsylvania’s water quality regulatory programs. As a member jurisdiction of the SRBC Pennsylvania is obligated to do its part in protecting water quality, a role that – as this letter illustrates – it is largely neglecting in regards to shale gas development. We believe the facts presented are sufficient evidence for the SRBC to take the initiative and, in an open, transparent fashion and in partnership with stakeholders, create and conduct a meaningful cumulative impact analysis of shale gas development’s impacts to water resources of the Susquehanna River Basin.

Families, communities and waterways of the Susquehanna and Chesapeake Bay deserve nothing less than the proactive scientific investigation that informs strong rules which protect human and ecological health.

Jan 10

PADEP’s Proposed Stream Crossings Permit Threatens Susq Watersheds

Proposed Revisions to PA General Permit GW-8 Sacrifice Watershed Protection in favor of Easy Permit Approvals

in November 2013, DEP published notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin of its proposal to significantly modify the Chapter 105 General Permit 8 (GP-8). Currently authorizing only temporary road crossings of streams and wetlands, the proposed and expanded permit would authorize the construction and removal of temporary pipelines that could remain in place for up to two years. It would also allow large-capacity (up to 24 inches in diameter) pipelines to carry “pollutional materials,” a term that is not defined but presumably would include fracturing and flowback fluids.

The proposed GP-8 would allow pipelines to be constructed through an unlimited number of wetlands and streams, including Exceptional Value waters, with no restrictions on the length or area of wetland or stream impacts. Like all General Permit registrations, GP-8 activities would not be published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, thus greatly reducing the opportunity for public review and input. This all means that the Susquehanna River Basin, which is already experiencing significant degradation of its headwaters streams and wetlands due to intensive shale gas related industrial development, would be further compromised by yet another “sanctioned” method of pollution.

Because the proposed GP-8 seems intended to satisfy industry’s wish for expedited approvals at the expense of water resource protection we submitted this technical comment letter illustrating proposed GW-8’s deficiencies. Waterways, wetlands and communities of the Susquehanna deserve better than the proposed GW-8 permit.

Sep 13

With LNG Export Approval, DOE Shortchanges American Public, Ignores Economic and Safety Concerns

With LNG Export Approval, DOE Shortchanges American Public, Ignores Economic and Safety Concerns Cove Point project would hike energy costs, threaten public safety, harm Chesapeake Bay

WASHINGTON, DC – The Department of Energy announced today it had granted conditional approval to the Dominion Cove Point LNG facility to export liquefied natural gas to non-free trade agreement countries, pending an environmental review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

The $3.8 billion project would transform a sleepy natural gas import facility on the Chesapeake Bay into a massive export hub and hasten the already hectic pace of fracking for natural gas in the nearby Marcellus and Utica shale regions.

But as recently as last week, FERC regulators were raising concerns with Dominion about the safety of the project pointing to the potential for a “fireball” connected to on-site chemical storage. And while economic benefits of the project are heavily in dispute, all experts agree that it would raise domestic energy prices.

Dominion still faces major hurdles before the project can proceed. The company needs approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has yet to complete its environmental review. Dominion also needs approval from Maryland utility regulators as well as more than 60 permits and approvals. There is still pending litigation over whether Dominion has the right to build this facility or if it breaks an earlier legal agreement with Sierra Club.

The following are statements from groups that have aligned in opposition to this project:

“Dominion managed to convince the Department of Energy that exploiting the people of the Marcellus and Utica shale regions for the sake of the oil and gas industry was a good idea. But they’ve still got a long way to go before they can convince the rest of us that we should pay higher fuel prices, sacrifice our safety, and threaten public health. Dominion should be prepared to face stiff resistance at each remaining step in their ongoing approval process,” said Jocelyn D’Ambrosio, associate attorney with the non-profit environmental law group Earthjustice.

“DOE’s decision to authorize DCP’s proposed LNG export plan, even though conditioned on yet-to-be-performed environmental reviews, smacks of poor decisionmaking. Instead of choosing to examine the propriety of LNG export programmatically, across the nation, DOE appears to be allowing each proposed export facility to take a substantial step forward without the type of reasoned analysis the public and affected communities deserve. Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper will continue to demand that DOE reconcile the negative impacts that LNG export entails for upstream communities like the Susquehanna before any final authorizations take place,” said Guy Alsentzer of Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper.

“The U.S Department of Energy does not speak for the Marylanders who would pay the price of exporting fracked gas from Cove Point. Let’s be clear: Dominion still has a steep hill to climb in receiving the necessary federal and state permits. Marylanders will be mobilizing every step of the way to challenge their plans, which threaten to virtually cover our region in new pipelines, processing plants and fracking wells,” said Mike Tidwell, Director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network.

“Today’s DOE approval shows once again that the oil and gas industry does not care about domestic energy independence, which is what they sold the American public. They only care about profits even when it harms local communities, fractures our most pristine forests and risks our local rivers and drinking water supplies,” said Robin Broder of Potomac Riverkeeper.

“With the Department of Energy (DOE) today conditionally authorizing Dominion Resources to export gas from a liquefied natural gas terminal in Cove Point, Maryland, it is deeply disappointing to see that Secretary Moniz persists in leading the nation and the world to into a dirty energy future. It’s a bad deal all around: for public health, the environment, and America’s working people.  The Sierra Club has been granted party status in this docket, and will hold DOE to its commitment to fully review environmental issues before deciding whether to issue final authorization. We will also monitor all other permits and approvals that the Cove Point Facility will require, and will take action as necessary.  Additionally, Sierra Club continues to seek enforcement of a decades-old agreement between the Sierra Club and Dominion Cove Point LNG which clearly prohibits expansion of this facility to allow for exports.  The Sierra Club intends to hold Dominion accountable for complying with the commitments it made to protect the Cove Point environment,” said Deb Nardone, Director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Natural Gas Campaign.

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