03 April 2012

Riverkeeper's Paul Gallay: Gas Industry Spin Can’t Cover Up Air, Water Problems Caused by Fracking

Paul Gallay Credit: Riverkeeper
During the 2012 Wall Street Journal ECOnomics conference, there was a March 22 Fracking-specific CEO panel, including Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon. Comments were made from the panel that downplayed Fracking risks.

During Q&A, Paul Gallay, President and Hudson Riverkeeper stood up and shared the facts he's seen regarding Fracking.

I followed up with Paul after he shared his facts, and asked if he would be writing a Formal Response, and I would share it with Clean Tech and Green Business News Readers. Here's is Paul's Formal Response. What's happening in your city and community relating to fracking?

Gas Industry Spin Can’t Cover Up Air, Water Problems Caused by Fracking
by Paul Gallay, President and Hudson Riverkeeper

It’s like some in the gas industry are living in a different universe from the rest of us, when it comes to the risks from shale gas extraction via fracking. Call it the “Spin Zone.”

At a Wall Street Journal conference last week, Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon told attendees he’s unaware of any problems resulting from the thousands of fracking wells drilled in Fort Worth, Texas in recent years. McClendon peevishly referred to the fracking-related air pollution concerns I raised at the conference as “environmental nonsense.”

Well, read on. Then decide who’s talking “nonsense”:

• In December 2011, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) reported that oil and gas operations in the Dallas-Fort Worth region emit more smog-causing volatile organic compounds (VOCs) than all cars, trucks, buses and other mobile sources in the area combined. This wasn’t true before the fracking boom: TCEQ’s data shows that VOCs from oil and gas production have increased 60% since 2006.

• Ozone, a corrosive gas that can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory diseases, is created when VOCs from petroleum operations mix with heat and sunlight. In 2011, Dallas-Fort Worth violated federal ozone standards on more days than anywhere else in Texas. Dallas-Fort Worth is a “particularly extreme” example of higher air pollution in Texas, according to David Allen, a chemical engineering professor and state air-quality program director.

• In 2010, TCEQ found elevated levels of benzene around 21 gas fields out of the 94 it tested in the Barnett Shale. According to TCEQ toxicologist Shannon Ethridge, their monitors in the Barnett Shale pulled up “some of the highest benzene concentrations we have monitored in the state.”

• In Texas, which had about 93,000 natural-gas wells in 2011, up from around 58,000 a dozen years ago, a hospital system in six counties with some of the heaviest drilling, including the Barnett Shale region, found that “children in the community ages 6-9 are three times more likely to have asthma than the average for that age group in the State of Texas.” According to Baylor University, in 2009, childhood asthma rates in the Tarrant County area of the Barnett were more than double the national average, prompting a new study to evaluate asthma and pollution sources.

Up north in the Mountain States, the problem is just as serious:

• According to a 2012 study from the Colorado School of Public Health, cancer risks were 66% higher for residents living less than half a mile from oil and gas wells than for those living farther away, with benzene being the major contributor to the increased risk. This same study reminds us that chronic exposure to ozone, prevalent at gas production sites, can lead to asthma and pulmonary diseases, particularly in children and the aged.

More about Paul Gallay:
Paul Gallay is an attorney, educator and non-profit executive working to protect community character and improve environmental sustainability. After a brief stint in private law practice, Paul served for a dozen years in the New York State Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau and at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, helping to close Fresh Kills landfill, raise standards at NYC wastewater treatment plants and bring hundreds of corporate and government polluters to justice. After leaving public service, Paul spent over a decade as an executive in the land conservation movement in New York and Maine, protecting thousands of acres of sensitive land, expanding the constituency for land conservation and promoting sustainable development practices. Now, as President of Riverkeeper, Paul fights for a cleaner Hudson and safer drinking water for over nine million New Yorkers. Paul received degrees from Williams College and Columbia Law School. He was a visiting professor of environmental studies at Williams from 2004 to 2007. Paul lives in Ossining, New York.