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Fossil Fuel Infrastructure / Fracking Campaign 12-15 to 9-16

‘Fractivists’ Increase Pressure on Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders in New York

Hillary Clinton last week in Purchase, N.Y.
Credit Hilary Swift for The New York Times

A nasty row that erupted between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders over oil and gas industry donors last week is catapulting the issue of climate change into the race for the Democratic presidential nomination as it moves to New York, where an army of activists upstate is driven by opposition to drilling.

Mrs. Clinton has moved steadily left on the issue, under pressure from Mr. Sanders and his progressive allies, but she continues to come under assault, posing new challenges for her as the race moves to more liberal Northeastern states.

Last week, her mask of composure slipped when she angrily replied to a Greenpeace activist in Purchase, N.Y., “I am so sick of the Sanders campaign lying about me.”

Climate change is a powerful issue for voters in the Democratic base almost everywhere. But it has especially inspired grass-roots progressives in upstate New York, who fought — and won — a yearslong battle against fracking for natural gas.

Even after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo banned fracking statewide in 2014, many activists — who call themselves fractivists — remain on the front lines of climate fights, and many are skeptical about Mrs. Clinton because of views she held in the Obama administration and earlier, as a New York senator from 2001 to 2008.

Concerned about her prospects upstate, she plans a heavy schedule of campaigning in the region before the April 19 primary, realizing she can no longer count on voters there as confidently as when she earned their support in her two Senate races, when she focused largely on economic issues.

“We now have literally thousands of fractivists who are battle-tested, who understand the politics of these issues,” said Walter Hang, an activist in Ithaca, N.Y. “And they have zero inclination to give away their vote without firm commitments.”

Both the Clinton and Sanders campaigns are said to have studied the progressive Democratic primary challenge to Mr. Cuomo two years ago by Zephyr Teachout, an unknown law professor who won a surprising 33 percent by challenging Mr. Cuomo from the left, partly by highlighting her staunch opposition to fracking.

Ms. Teachout carried counties on the Pennsylvania border and in the Finger Lakes region, where grass-roots anti-fracking groups mobilized voters.

The fracking battle is over, but the activism remains. Mrs. Clinton’s supporters are frustrated that climate activists are skeptical after she rolled out an ambitious renewable energy plan last year, more aggressive than Mr. Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

On Sunday, Mrs. Clinton defended her record on climate issues in Congress and as secretary of state, and said the Sanders campaign’s claims had been debunked. “I feel sorry sometimes for the young people who, you know, believe this,” she said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “They don’t do their own research.”

Supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders at a campaign event on Saturday in Eau Claire, Wis.
Credit Eric Thayer for The New York Times

Since the start of the campaign, Mrs. Clinton has moved strikingly to the left on climate issues, including opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, offshore drilling and, indeed, most forms of fracking, a drilling technique also known as hydraulic fracturing.

In a debate last month in Flint, Mich., she said she would severely regulate fracking.

“By the time we get through all of my conditions,” she said, “I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue to take place.”

But Mr. Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, had a snappy retort: “My answer is a lot shorter. No, I do not support fracking.”

The absolutism of Mr. Sanders’s position on this and other climate issues — as well as the fact that Mrs. Clinton arrived at her views under pressure from the left — has made many activists mistrustful of her and supportive of Mr. Sanders.

Alarmed by reports of potentially catastrophic polar ice melting and other disruptions, many environmentalists believe only a rapid transition to renewable energy is acceptable.

“We’re in the middle of a climate emergency, and have to keep all the fossil fuels in the ground,” said Sandra Steingraber, a scholar in residence at Ithaca College and an activist who supports Mr. Sanders. “Hillary Clinton has definitely shifted her positions. Whether she shifts them again should she become the Democratic candidate in a general election and softens them, that’s the question I hear people wondering about.”

As secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton pioneered a program to promote fracking around the world, as a way to encourage the use of cleaner-burning natural gas and to reduce Russia’s political leverage from its huge gas resources.

Fracking involves pumping water and chemicals deep in the ground under high pressure to blast rock and release gas or oil. The technology unleashed a United States energy boom beginning a decade ago, including the conversion of many coal-fired power plants to cheaper — and cleaner — gas.

Natural gas provides 33 percent of the nation’s electricity, up from 18 percent in 2005, according to the United States Energy Information Administration.

Mr. Obama has championed natural gas as crucial to his Clean Power Plan, seeking to cut by a third greenhouse emissions used to generate electricity by 2030.

Many energy analysts say that an outright ban on fracking, before wind and solar power are feasible at scale, will drive the country back to coal.

“Why not use a relatively clean fuel that’s low cost until it’s not needed,” said Alan Krupnick, a senior fellow at Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan research group in Washington.

He said Mr. Sanders’s call for an outright fracking ban, and Mrs. Clinton’s support for regulations so tough drilling would largely cease, were both unrealistic because most fracking is regulated by states, not Washington.

Mrs. Clinton’s step back from fracking is just one of several reversals on energy and environmental issues she has made since coming under pressure from progressives. Her decision to oppose the Keystone XL pipeline came in September, after she had avoided the issue repeatedly over the summer.

Her position on offshore drilling has also evolved. As secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton was asked to comment on an Interior Department proposal to expand offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean and in the Gulf of Mexico. In a January 2012 letter, provided to The New York Times by the Republican National Committee, she wrote to the interior secretary, Ken Salazar, that the State Department had no comments to offer on the plan.

Now, as a presidential candidate, she has been a vocal opponent of offshore drilling. Last year, after the Obama administration moved forward with plans on new drilling in the Arctic and off the southeastern Atlantic coast, Mrs. Clinton came out against the plans, a move that was seen as an effort to court the progressive wing of her party.

The spat between the two campaigns over donations from the oil and gas industry, which quickly overheated last week, came as polls have tightened in New York, which Mrs. Clinton once led by a large margin.

On Friday, Mr. Sanders demanded that Mrs. Clinton apologize for accusing his campaign of lying by saying she took large sums from fossil fuel donors.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the Clinton campaign has received about $308,000 from individuals who work for oil and gas companies, less than 1 percent of her total donations.

The Sanders campaign points to a Greenpeace analysis claiming that in addition, oil and gas lobbyists directed more than $4.5 million to her campaign and to a “super PAC” supporting her.

But the lobbyists represent numerous industries, not just oil and gas, and the suggestion of a quid pro quo is shaky: Mrs. Clinton has pledged to end subsidies to the fossil fuel industry to pay for her ambitious climate plan.

Although fracking and other climate issues may sway primary voters in New York, they seem less likely to in the next delegate-rich state to vote, Pennsylvania, which has a large fracking industry developed under former Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat. Last month in Ohio, which has also benefited from the energy boom, Mrs. Clinton easily defeated Mr. Sanders

Republican candidates have promised to make Democrats’ tough stands against fossil fuels an issue in November. Donald J. Trump has said he can win New York as the Republican nominee because of the economic cost of the fracking ban, which he opposes. Last month he said that thanks to fracking, people across the border in Pennsylvania drove around in Cadillacs.

Environmentalists 'hammering away,' opposing fuel pipelines through New York state

Horseheads would be the site of a new compressor station if the DEC approves a permit for the New Market Dominion pipeline.

Opponents of a pipeline expansion that would flow through vast portions of New York want the Cuomo Administration to deny a key permit that could halt the upgrade.

The New Market Dominion pipeline is one of a dizzying array of fuel pipelines that flow through New York, in many cases taking natural gas from hydrofracking sites in other states to markets in New York and other places.

The pipeline, which is largely regulated by the federal government, is trying to expand its capacity and to build more powerful compressor stations at three sites along its route in the Southern Tier and Central New York.

But opponents says Governor Cuomo’s Department of Environmental Conservation has the power to shut the project down, because the pipeline company needs the DEC to sign off on a key water quality certification, as well as three air quality permits for the upgrades to the compressor stations.

Walter Hang, with the Ithaca-based Toxics Targeting, said his group already found instances where the existing pipeline violated state pollution standards. He said the state environmental agency should issue a new certification.

“Unfortunately the existing pipeline has already caused enormous water quality violations that were never cleaned up to state standards,” said Hang.

There’s already precedent for the state to reject the water quality permits. Cuomo’s environmental agency earlier this year denied a similar water quality certification for the Constitution pipeline, which was to be a newly-constructed line stretching across vast sections of Upstate New York.

Hang is one of the leaders of the anti-fracking movement that led to a ban on hydrofracking in New York State in late in 2014. He said he and others are turning up the heat on the Cuomo Administration during an extended public comment period that ended September 12th, writing letters and making phone calls.

“We’re just hammering away,” said Hang who said Cuomo’s claims as a climate change activist are in jeopardy if he issues the permits.

Hang said his group is seeking a “moratorium” on all fossil fuel project approvals anywhere in New York.

Dominion is not asking for a new pipeline, but instead requesting approval for an upgrade.

Lisa Marshall, who lives in Horseheads said that still means a big change. She said the new line would carry up to 112 million cubic feet of gas per day. “If you can imagine a football field a half a mile into the air, that’s the volume of gas they’re talking about,” Marshall said.

Marshall lives just a few blocks from the Horseheads compressor station. She said 50 homes, two day care centers, a group home for disabled people and many elderly citizens live within half a mile of the site. “A lot of them are concerned about safety, they’re concerned about the noise, ” Marshall said. “They’re concerned about their property values.”

Marshall said she and other advocates have learned, through the fracking fight, that applying political pressure can work. “If the governor hears us and feels like there’s enough of us that are upset about this, then maybe he’ll do something,” Marshall said. “That’s our hope.”

A spokesman for the Department of Environmental Conservation said the proposal does not involve building a new pipeline, and instead seeks to “modify an existing compressor station,” and create two new ones.

Spokesman Sean Mahar said the public comment period was already extended to “ensure the public had adequate opportunity” to help the environmental agency in its review. And he said all comments will be “considered prior to making any final determination.”

There’s currently no exact timetable on when a decision will be made.

Possible Soil Contamination At Old Salt Mine Site

SENECA LAKE (WENY)-- A local environmental database firm is publishing information regarding concerns about oil contamination at an old salt mine on Seneca Lake. Walter Hang from Toxics Targeting told us today that a now-banned practice involved injecting toxic fuel into an old salt mine, to protected the it from dissolving towards the earth's surface. He claims this outdated practice could be the reason for oil contamination of Seneca Lake.

"No one knew where this oil was originating until Crestwood U.S Salt kindly wrote me, and that's how come this is a very important disclosure of a historic legacy of toxic contamination that the community never knew about," says Hang.

Walter Hang says he received a letter from Crestwood U.S. Salt earlier this month, that identified a technique called oil padding, that is no longer used - although it was a common practice back in the 1970's. In 1975, a well owned by International Salt Company contained 40-thousand gallons of number two fuel oil. In February of that year, there was an incident that led to oil getting into Seneca Lake. In 1995, NYSEG discovered contaminated soil in the same area. Hang says once this oil is in the ground, it's virtually impossible to get out. That's why he wrote Governor Cuomo a letter, asking to investigate other wells along the Seneca Lake area.

"The question is: are any of the other wells leaking, and are they also polluting Seneca Lake, the source of drinking water for the local residents," Hang says.

Hang says the contamination is attributed to the oil padding technique, which was once commonly used. This is a method involving fuel injections into salt mines to keep the roof from collapsing.

WENY reached to Crestwood, which took over the property in 2008. They tell us the #49 well, where the 1975 spill originated, is in no way connected to their proposed L-P-G storage project.

In a statement, Vice President Brad Bacon says-"The DEC staff has called out opponents of propane storage for referencing facts and principles that are unproven or irrelevant. The fact is, the DEC has all of this information at its dispoal, and its experts undeniably support the mertis of our propane storage proposal."

For DEC letters regarding Crestwood's Propane Storage Project, click on this link: 22 2016 LPS to CALJ%5B8%5D%5B12%5D%5B2%5D.PDF?dl=0 or this link: reply brief%2C Finger Lake LPG Storage.pdf?dl=0.

For more information about the 1975 spill, click on this link:

DEC Documents Reveal Undisclosed Oil Leaks Into Seneca Lake in 1975

Seneca Lake is one of the most popular tourist destinations in New York.

"Oh it's beautiful; absolutely amazing," said Aaron Whitinger.

Amazing: the way local environmental advocates want to keep it. On Thursday, they raised concerns about potential contaminants in the lake.

"Forty thousand gallons of No. 2 fuel oil," said Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting.

Toxics Targeting has released old documents that reveal 40,000 gallons of fuel oil was injected into a salt mine outside of Watkins Glen. According to the documents, the oil may have leaked into the lake in 1975.

"Now we know that some of these spills impacted the lake," said Hang. "This is a very remote area, so people may not have noticed the oil was present."

The leak was a result of a practice known as oil padding, which was common at that time, but is no longer used. The information was not disclosed to the public, though the DEC was aware of the leak.

Crestwood LP, the company that took ownership of the salt mine in 2008, said in a statement, "The DEC staff has called out opponents of propane storage for referencing facts and principles that are unproven or irrelevant. The fact is, the DEC has all of this information at its disposal, and its experts undeniably support the merits of our propane storage proposal."

They call the allegations irrelevant since the alleged spill occurred 40 years ago. But Toxics Targeting says that, since 1975, there have been several other spills, including as recently as 2003.

"If there are persistent sources of oil, they've gotta be cleaned up," said Hang.

Seneca Lake is the largest of the Finger Lakes, and the deepest lake in New York State. It's also the main source of drinking water for people living in Watkins Glen.

"This is an incomparable lake. This is one of the most famous and most valuable bodies of water in the entire world, and it warrants the highest level of protection. There should be absolutely no degradation of water quality in Seneca Lake," said Hang.

In the meantime, Toxics Targeting has asked Governor Andrew Cuomo to implement stricter laws aimed at protecting the lake from harmful contaminants.

The well where the 1975 spill originated is not connected to Crestwood LP's proposed LPG storage project.

Senators urge consideration of gas concerns

New York Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand

READING (9/7/2016)--U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D-New York) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) submitted another letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) with concerns about Crestwood's underground natural gas storage in the town of Reading. The letter, dated Aug. 19, urges FERC to give full consideration to the safety and environmental concerns brought up by several groups and citizens in the area surrounding Seneca Lake. This comes following a decision by FERC in May to grant the project a two-year extension on construction that was initially approved in 2014.

"We would like to restate the concerns raised by our constituents since the Commission's issuance of the construction certificate in 2014," according to the letter. "These include the adverse impacts this project could have on public health, safety, the environment and quality of life currently enjoyed by many in this area. In addition, the federal government is considering new regulations to address the safety of natural gas storage that, if applied to this facility, could have substantial impact on a variety of constituent concerns and the way this facility would operate."

The letter also lists several groups that filed an appeal to FERC's decision in June, stating the commission did not consider critical safety concerns related to the project. The appeal also provided new information on safety that was not available when the certificate issued, arguing the extension of time was not justified and the commission should not permit Arlington to proceed until these issues are addressed.

"We are also aware that many of our constituent groups including Gas Free Seneca, Finger Lakes Wine Business Coalition, Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association, and many surrounding towns and counties have come together to file an appeal to FERC halting this project until the serious environmental and safety issues they have raised are properly addressed," according to the letter. "We ask that you give this appeal appropriate and thorough consideration."

FERC had originally granted the construction permit authorizing construction in 2014, but the project has been delayed while waiting on the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to come to a decision on the the liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) portion of the project. This also comes after Crestwood announced they would be scaling back the LPG project while eliminating train and truck distribution at the site.

"We are extremely grateful to Senators Schumer and Gillibrand for listening to their constituents and lending their support," said Joseph Campbell, president of Gas Free Seneca. "We know that FERC has come under great scrutiny for rubber-stamping all gas related projects, so we hope that hearing from our senators will encourage FERC to carefully consider our appeal."

The senators' letter also comes shortly after Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting, Inc., an environmental database firm in Ithaca, released U.S. Salt spill information obtained from the DEC. Hang claims many spills were never cleaned up to state standards even though they caused petroleum contamination and brine discharges that affected Seneca Lake. The information Hang provided included 17 different spill events spanning from 1974 to 2016 of varying amounts of brine or oil, the largest of which being the spilling of 470,000 gallons of brine in 1980. Hang also submitted a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office urging him to deny all gas storage petitions at the site.

"This information documents that New York authorities are unable to prevent or clean up toxic spills," Hang said.

Gas Free Seneca Co-Founder Yvonne Taylor said there have been seven spills listed in Hang's information in the eight years Crestwood owned the property. While two of these spills appear to be a duplicate report (dated March 16, 2016) for the same incident, the spills during this timeframe amount to 5.25 gallons of oil and 7,654 gallons of brine since Crestwood took over, according to Hang's information.

"That's not really good odds," Taylor said. "[...] It doesn't bode well for increasing gas storage over there. The human error and equipment failure they are already experiencing, it gave us great pause."

Meanwhile, Crestwood representatives highlighted the investments that have been made in the facility to help improve the plant's operation.

"We cannot speak to incidents that occurred before we bought U.S. Salt in 2008," Crestwood Vice President Brad Bacon stated. "We knew that significant catch-up investment would be required, and we have spent tens of millions to upgrade and modernize the plant operations. Although our goal is an incident-free workplace, the incidents that have occurred since we finished replacing the brine pipeline system in 2013 have been minor. Despite what this group would like you to believe, there is nothing nefarious or catastrophic here -- the state's experts had this data before strongly endorsing our propane storage project."

Proposed gas pipeline expansion in Tompkins raises climate change fears

Photo by Michael Smith/The Ithaca Voice

ITHACA, NY - On Tuesday, the Tompkins Legislature passed a resolution requesting the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) hold a public hearing for a proposed natural gas pipeline expansion in Ithaca.

Plans are in the works to expand the Dominion New Market Pipeline, which runs through a compressor station on Ellis Hollow Creek Road in Dryden. Ithaca environmental group Toxics Targeting recently revealed that there were uncleaned spills along this pipeline, including in Ithaca.

The project would expand on that station and others along the pipeline, to allow for greater pressure and volume of natural gas to be moved through the pipeline. This would most likely involve hydro-fracked gas being moved other states, like Pennsylvania, through New York and into markets further east, like Massachusetts.

The resolution proposed by the legislature called on the DEC to provide for a public hearing in Tompkins County before issuing any approvals. Hearings in three other affected areas have already occurred.

More than a dozen residents spoke during the public comment period, all stating their opposition to the project. While concerns were expressed about the potential safety issues associated with the pipeline expansion, for many who spoke the primary concern was much broader -- the impact of continued use of natural gas on climate change.

"By building infrastructure that enables other states -- Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio -- to move its fracked gas through New York State, we are still enabling, in fact encouraging that to happen elsewhere," said Susan Molter of Ithaca.

Pamela Mackesey, a former Tompkins County legislator, was one of several who urged the legislature to take an even stronger stance on the issue, and amend the resolution to state that the legislature was officially opposed to the project. Mackesey spoke about how during her time in the legislature, the county took a strong stance against fracking and she felt that the same approach was needed here.

"We visibly moved New York State toward a more environmentally responsible that didn't include destruction and deterioration of our amazing environment. It feels as if there isn't that focus and intensity now," Mackesey said. "This is a part of the same battle.... This is an unrelenting effort by a large a powerful industry to get its way in New York State. Vigilance is what we need, and a clear stance about where we stand."

Why not officially oppose the pipeline?

Two additional amendments were added to the resolution. The first asked that the DEC perform a study on the capacity of the pipeline to withstand the additional pressure and volume that would be generated by the expansion. The second requested a similar study on the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions from the expansion.

While sympathetic to the requests for a harder stance, legislators Dooley Kiefer and Anna Kelles both stated that they felt that adding that language to the resolution would undermine the whole thing. They reasoned that if the county was already on record as opposed to the pipeline, the DEC would have little reason to follow through and hold a hearing here.

"What we want is for them to come so we can have the greatest influence, because no phone call or letter will be as powerful as saying something in person," said Kelles.

Kelles attempted to find a middle ground by proposing an amendment that would state the legislature was opposed to the project if the requested public hearing and studies weren't completed, but that amendment failed with four in favor and ten opposed.

The final resolution, with the two amendments requesting studies, passed unanimously.

"A bunch of keystone cops"

However, legislator Mike Sigler expressed a number of issues with the way the arguments against the pipeline were framed. In particular, Sigler said he felt that people were perhaps being too dismissive of the regulatory agencies and companies behind these projects.

Sigler said that it wasn't as if the people who would build the pipeline would out of their way to make a leaky or malfunctioning pipeline, and it wasn't as if the agencies charged with environmental protection didn't care about the environment.

"This idea that the DEC is just a bunch of keystone cops running around and they don't know what they're doing, and we know better than they do... and FERC, they're just a bunch of appointed people who paid their way into those jobs, they don't know what they're doing either," Sigler said.

"I gotta tell ya, I'm at a loss. Who do I believe? ... These guys, this is what they do. I can't believe the people in the EPA have any less concern about the environment than our planning department here in Tompkins County. That's a big stretch. And I haven't lost that much faith in our government that I can make that leap."

19 spills in 32 years: Ithaca firm details U.S. Salt discharges into Seneca Lake; Crestwood downplays findings

This is an aerial photo of the Crestwood/Con-Edison natural-gas-storage site in the Schuyler County town of Reading. It was taken in 2012.
It was taken in 2012.

READING — An Ithaca firm specializing in environmental database services says Seneca Lake has been polluted by south-end brine spills and petroleum releases repeatedly over the past 40 years.

In releasing the information obtained from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting Inc. is asking the state to deny issuing the permits Crestwood Equity Partners LP needs to store natural gas and propane on 576 acres north of Watkins Glen.

Officials from the Houston-based company, which bought the site in 2008, downplayed Hang’s findings.

“We cannot speak to incidents that occurred before we bought U.S. Salt in 2008,” Crestwood vice president Brad Bacon wrote in an email to the Times.

“We knew that significant catch-up investment would be required, and we have spent tens of millions to upgrade and modernize plant operations. Although our goal is an incident-free workplace, the incidents that have occurred since we finished replacing the brine pipeline system in 2013 have been minor.

“Despite what this group would like you to believe, there is nothing nefarious or catastrophic here. The state’s experts had this data before strongly endorsing our propane storage project.”

Hang wrote Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a letter dated Sunday asking him to reject Crestwood’s application and impose a moratorium on new fossil-fuel projects.

“Many spills were never cleaned up to state standards, even though they caused extensive petroleum contamination, resulted in huge brine discharges of up to 470,000 gallons, polluted groundwater or directly impacted Seneca Lake,” Hang said. “Citizens who want to preserve Seneca Lake will be shocked to learn about massive pollution spills reported over the course of four decades at the giant salt mine and gas storage facility in Reading. This information documents that New York authorities are unable to prevent or clean up toxic spills that have polluted one of the most famous lakes in the world.”

Hang listed information on each of 19 spills or discharges from U.S. Salt, International Salt and Akzo Salt from 1974 to 2016. He wrote that the DEC has a responsibility and obligation through the federal Clean Water Act to establish and implement a policy which protects existing water quality from being degraded.

“Given that mandate and other legal requirements to safeguard New York’s water quality, I respectfully request that you deny hydrocarbon storage permit applications pursuant to the New York State Oil, Gas and Solution Mining Law and related state approvals required for methane and LPG facilities to be built and operated in Reading by Arlington Storage Co. LLC, Crestwood Equity Partners LP, Stagecoach Gas Services LLC, Finger Lakes LPG Gas Storage LLC or other inter-related corporate entities,” he said.

Hang maintained that of the dozens of pollution releases over the past 32 years, most of the spills were never cleaned up in compliance with state standards — and some caused widespread groundwater contamination.

“Others simply dissipated in Seneca Lake without any remedial effort whatsoever, even though heavy soil sheen reportedly spread up to 1.5 miles,” he wrote. “With all due respect, I believe it would be irresponsible to grant approvals for massive new fossil fuel infrastructure projects that can potentially cause irreparable harm to New York’s environmental and public health while perpetuating New York’s addiction to natural gas, LPG and other fossil fuels.”

Seneca Lake, the largest and deepest of the 11 Finger Lakes, provides drinking water for more than 100,000 people, including residents of Geneva and Waterloo.

Where things stand

Houston-based Crestwood Equity Partners LP has two projects in the works for its 576-acre site in the Schuyler County town of Reading.

The first is a joint venture that involves Consolidated Edison. The plan, called Stagecoach Gas Services, would expand natural gas storage in abandoned salt caverns on the site. Earlier this year, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted an extension for construction on the expansion to begin.

Meanwhile, Crestwood has scaled back its proposal to store liquefied petroleum gas in other salt caverns. Their revised plan includes propane but not butane, eliminates one of two brine ponds, and takes a rail and truck transportation hub out of the equation. The DEC has yet to rule on Crestwood’s application for a permit.

Environmentalist Says 18 Spills Documented At Crestwood

WENY (Watkins Glen, NY) -- A local environmental firm is looking into the history of spills at Crestwood Midstream.

Toxics Targeting says they obtained Department of Environmental Conservation documents about spills that have occurred at the proposed Liquid Petroleum Gas storage site.

An environmental database firm in Ithaca, Toxics Targeting, released information they say they obtained from the Department of Environmental Conservation about previous spills at the site of Crestwood Midstream's proposed Liquid Petroleum Gas storage facility.

Their documents show 18 spills have occurred dating back to 1974.

However, Crestwood has owned the property since 2008.

"So over the course of more than 40 years we've seen the release of petroleum. We've seen releases of brine, which is toxic. It can kill vegetation. It can kill fish. Many of these problems were never cleaned up to applicable state standards. Much of the contamination impacted Seneca Lake," said Walter Hang, President of Toxics Targeting.

Of the 18 spills, Toxics Targeting says some were minor and affected the surface of Seneca Lake.

They say other spills released upwards of 470-thousand gallons of brine.

"So given those problems and given the state's inability to prevent problems and to clean them up to applicable state standards, we're today calling on Governor Cuomo not to authorize any gas storage permits at this site," said Walter Hang, President of Toxics Targeting.

Now just last week, WENY News exclusively obtained a letter from the DEC that said quote "department staff continues to assert that the project meets all applicable environmental statutory and regulatory standards."

WENY News reached out to Crestwood who said:

"We cannot speak to incidents that occurred before we bought US Salt in 2008. We knew that significant catch-up investment would be required, and we have spent tens of millions to upgrade and modernize the plant operations. Although our goal is an incident-free workplace, the incidents that have occurred since we finished replacing the brine pipeline system in 2013 have been minor. Despite what this group would like you to believe, there is nothing nefarious or catastrophic here - the state's experts had this data before strongly endorsing our propane storage project."

Opposition to Gas Storage & Related Activities Continues


An Ithaca-based environmental data collection agency known as 'Toxics Targeting' released data it says is compiled from New York State DEC data outlining chemical spills in Seneca Lake. The data released by company president Walter Hang on Monday goes back to nearly 40 years ago.

The data compiled is from the area of the gas storage facility in Reading and the salt mines just south of the facility on Rt. 14.

Hang claims the state DEC was unable to clean the spills to New York's standards.

"The data I'm releasing today totally refute that assertion. New York state DEC has no ability to continue to prevent these massive contamination problems or to clean them up so they have no impact on public health. This is proven by their own data," said Hang.

Based on the findings, Hang and others are calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to put a moratorium on all gas related activities in New York.

Lifton urges New Market pipeline hearing in Ithaca

The former CNG Transmission Station on Ellis Hollow Creek Road, now owned by Dominion. The station has been the site of a petroleum spill of unknown scope, according to new data.
(Photo: NICK REYNOLDS / Staff Photo)

State Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton and an Ithaca environmental activist are calling on the state Department of Environmental Conservation to hold a hearing in Ithaca regarding the proposed Dominion New Market Pipeline expansion.

Last week, the DEC agreed to extend the comment public period from Aug. 5 to Sept. 12 on the air quality discharge permit.

That decision came within days of Walter Hang, of Toxics Targeting Inc., of Ithaca, revealing a series of unremediated petroleum spills dating to the 1990s along the proposed pipeline’s route — including two in the Town of Dryden.

Hang and Lifton, D-Ithaca, want the public comment period to be extended on the water quality certification portion of the permit as well.

Dominion already has approval for its water quality certification for a large-scale pipeline upgrade, according to a Notice of Complete Application issued by the DEC, but the matter is still not finalized, pending review by the Army Corps of Engineers, Hang said.

The New Market Pipeline’s route will utilize the route of a former CNG Transmission pipeline purchased by Dominion and involve the construction of two compression stations to be built and upgrades to another, adding 33,000 horsepower of compression power.

Public hearings may be held in the communities where those three sites — in the towns of Horseheads, Brookman Corners and Sheds — are located, though it is unclear where the hearings will be held. No dates have been announced.

The hearings would be limited to addressing air discharge permit concerns, rather than issues of water quality, which Hang said could derail the project.

In Lifton’s letter, she urged a hearing be held in Ithaca — as the project includes the Borger Compressor Station on Ellis Hollow Creek Road, just outside the Town of Ithaca — and that the comments include water quality as well as air discharge.

Hang said previous spills along the route could prompt the rejection of the proposal, based on its noncompliance with the Clean Water Act. Though investigations on most were closed, at least one spill of an unknown quantity of material in Frankfort was open as late as July 29 after 16 years of not meeting cleanup standards, despite the state investigator’s comments saying contamination on the site still existed.

According to the DEC, historic contamination of the site was discovered by laboratory analysis during voluntary site assessment and not a recent “spill” when it was reported in 2000, after which nearly 2,700 tons of soil was excavated and disposed of.

Though some contamination remained, little more could be done, wrote DEC Media Relations Officer Kevin Frazier in an email to The Ithaca Journal, and the site was put in the inactive file. After seeing media coverage suggesting the site wasn't properly cleaned, DEC Senior Spill Responder Mark Tibbe reviewed the case and determined the spill could be closed.

In a statement, Dominion Transmission said it has no outstanding site remediation or cleanup projects in New York state, as highlighted on the DEC’s publicly available yet heavily redacted Spill Incidents Database Search website. The company said it notifies the DEC within the required time frames and then evaluates and cleans up spills; only after that can the DEC administratively close the spill.

Ithaca man reveals spills along Dominion pipeline route

Walter Hang, of Ithaca-based environmental research group Toxics Targeting.
(Photo: Nick Reynolds / Staff Photo

A series of petroleum spills along the proposed Dominion New Market Pipeline — including two in the Town of Dryden dating back to the 1990s — could threaten to derail the entire $158 million project, a local activist said.

With days left in the pipeline's public comment period, Walter Hang, president of Ithaca research group Toxics Targeting, said Friday he believes a number of petroleum spills at several transmission stations along the pipeline's route from Horseheads to Schenectady could put the project in jeopardy due to a violation of the Clean Water Act.

A full listing of the spill locations and the nature of each spill can be found here.

While Hang said the spills that occurred on the sites have not been cleaned up and don't meet cleanup standards imposed by the DEC.

Dominion Transmission said it has no sites in New York State needing cleanup — even those inherited by CNG — and they "disagreed with (Hang's) contention the sites weren't cleaned up properly," said Dominion spokesman Frank Mack.

"It would be Dominion's responsibility for making sure we're up to code," Mack said. "From our perspective, we've worked with the New York DEC and all issues have been accounted for."

Dominion Transmissions released this statement:

The New Market Project is a New York project that would be built by New York contractors for New York customers. The project will serve National Grid and the growing need to supply natural gas to its customers both in upstate New York and downstate New York. New York localities will benefit from the local property taxes of about $66 million over a 15-year term, based on the value of the infrastructure investment.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the project April 28, 2016, after 23 months of evaluating all environmental, health and safety concerns associated with the project. This approval confirmed the conclusions from the FERC’s environmental assessment, finding that the project would not have any significant impact on humans or the environment.

Citing spills from as long ago as the early 1990s, Hang noted the causes of the contamination at the pipeline's transmission sites across the state are varied. Penalties were never recommended when the spills occurred. Some were caused by human error, such as an overfilling of a tank while others, Hang said, were due to aging infrastructure, naming rupturing of pipes and tanks as some causes.

"Everything you can imagine could go wrong with these pipelines does go wrong," Hang said.

Hang said he believes the new information could prompt the denial of the project's Section 401 Water Quality Certification under the Clean Water Act, which mandates it is unlawful to discharge any pollutant into navigable waters.

The former CNG Transmission Station on Ellis Hollow Creek Road, now owned by Dominion. The station has been the site of a petroleum spill of unknown scope, according to new data.
(Photo: NICK REYNOLDS / Staff Photo)

Earlier this spring, the state Department of Environmental Conservation rejected water quality permits for the Constitution natural gas pipeline that would stretch 124 miles from Pennsylvania and into Broome, Chenango and Delaware counties in the Southern Tier, ending in Schoharie County, 80 miles southwest of Albany.

The project "fails to meet New York state’s water quality standards," the DEC said in a statement issued in April.

The Constitution Pipeline is appealing the decision in the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

"That 401 cannot be granted by the EPA unless it can be proven the project will not cause groundwater contamination," Hang said of the proposed Dominion Pipeline. "We have a situation where this is an existing pipeline and obviously the state has been unable to prevent these problems or clean that up, a critical part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's conditional approval."

Residences within the vicinity of the former CNG Transmission station on Ellis Hollow Creek Road rely on well water, Hang noted. Threats to the drinking water supply were predicted to be minimal in Hang's report of the pollution's impacts acquired through a Freedom of Information request from the EPA. However, he said some wells in the area could be susceptible to contamination as the spills miss clean up standards and are unknown in terms of scope.

The site also borders a wetland, which Hang said would contribute greatly to its consideration of 401 approval.

Over the years, the criteria for meeting clean-up standards have become more stringent than they have in the past, he said.

With conditional approval from the Federal Energy Commission already in hand and the pipeline's infrastructure already complete save for two compression stations to be built and one to be improved, Dominion's New Market project will add 33,000 hp of compression power to its pre-existing six state network of natural gas pipelines .

Hang's group is working to compile signatures to present to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's office before the public comment deadline ends, which is Aug. 5.

Dominion acquired the sites to be used in the pipeline — along with the existing right of way — from CNG when it purchased the company in a $6.3 billion deal in 1999. The spill documented at the Ellis Hollow Creek Road site was reported the previous August and since, has not been cleaned up and its scope, uninvestigated, Hang said. According to recordings with the DEC, the spill recorded at the CNG transmission station was only about 1 gallon.

In an additional statement by Dominion, the company said all incidents in question are classified as “closed” by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and for all reportable spills, Dominion Transmission notifies the DEC within the required time frame and thoroughly evaluates and cleans up the spill. As of now, the company has "no outstanding site remediation or clean-up projects in New York State," the statement said.

A map of the Dominion New Market Pipeline, detailing upgrades needing to be made along the route. (Photo: DOMINION)

Frankfort spill argument against pipeline expansion

A spill from the Dominion Transmission natural gas pipeline on Higby Road in Frankfort is one reason some environmental advocates are asking the state to turn down Dominion’s New Market Project, a proposed expansion of the pipeline’s capacity.

A review of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation records uncovered the spill, which was reported in 2000 and led to the excavation of more than 2,600 tons of dirt, said Walter Hang, president of the Ithaca-based Toxics Targeting, an environmental database firm.The case is not marked as closed.

“In your area, one site had almost 3,000 tons of contaminated dirt removed and the DEC investigator remarks said plain as day that there’s still contamination in a ditch … 3,000 tons of contaminated dirt is a very large pollution hazard,” Hang remarked.

That’s why Hang, who uncovered eight other violations he deemed significant along the pipeline, thinks state law obligates the state to turn down Dominion’s application for water quality certification for the expansion.

Dominion wants to add two new compressor stations to the 50-year- old, 200-mile pipeline, in Georgetown and in Veteran, and to expand the existing compressor station in Minden. The pipelines runs from Horseheads to the Capital District. Dominion did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company states online that the expansion is needed to meet the demand for natural gas by National Grid customers upstate. Inspections, safety features and 24/7 monitoring would keep the pipeline safe, the literature argued.

The project, which Dominion had hoped to start in March, has received approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, but needs air and water quality approvals from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

DEC announced July 27 that the deadline for public comment on the proposed expansion will be extended from Aug. 1 to Sept. 12 and that it will schedule hearings on the issue.

Otsego 2000, a nonprofit group working to protect the Otsego Lake region, has opposed the Dominion expansion, arguing that it does not use the latest technology to protect the environment and the public, and that increasing flow over old pipes is too big a risk. An expansion of the Brookman Corners compressor station in Minden would pump an extra 100,000 pounds of greenhouse gases into an unusual atmospheric situation at the bottom of two valleys, said Nicole Dillingham, president of the board.

“It’s a very low point so even though they have a smokestack to take the emissions up and disperse them, they will not really disperse. They will cling to the valley,” she said.

Dominion, DEC Say Pipeline Is Safe

Route of the Dominion gas pipeline south from Ellis Hollow Creek Road.
(Photo: Bill Chaisson)

The Ithaca Times followed up on a protest by Walter Hang of Toxic Targeting by contacting representatives from Dominion Transmission and the New York State Department of Conservation (DEC) for responses. Hang opposes the upgrading of a natural gas pipeline that runs through our region.

On July 29 Hang called a press conference on Ellis Hollow Creek Road near the Borger Station of the Dominion natural gas pipeline. The distribution company is in the process of going through the permitting process to build the “New Market expansion,” so-called, Dominion says, because there is increasing demand for natural gas in the Capital Region, which is served by National Grid. The expansion consists of adding a total 33,000 horsepower of compressor power at three locations along the route of the pipeline, although not the Dryden station, where the proposed work does not require permitting from the New York State Department of Conservation (DEC).

Hang used the Freedom of Information Law to get access to complete records of 114 accidents along the pipeline, including the pre-2000 period when it was owned by Consolidated Natural Gas (CNG). The data accessible to the public is full of redactions; Hang’s report included the full record kept from the DEC database. He made seven accident reports available to the media; two of them described incidents at the Borger Station that occurred in 1991 and 1998.

The 1998 report documented the spilling of 1 gallon of “unknown petroleum” and stated that the cleanup operation did not meet the standards of the Clean Water Act. Hang’s argument is that Section 401 of the act is quite clear that no pipeline may be expanded or upgraded if it has experienced spills that have not been cleaned up to standards stipulated by the Clean Water Act, which means drinking water supplies may not be affected.

The 1991 report states that the cause of the spill was “tank overfill” but lists the amount spilled as 0 gallons. It also states that it is unknown as to whether the cleanup met standards. In comments at the bottom of the report it is noted that the concern is whether PCBs have gotten into the soil surrounding the buried tank (the report is associated with its removal) and contaminated groundwater. The residents of Ellis Hollow Creek Road draw their drinking water from wells supplied by groundwater.

The final comment on the report, added a month after the incident, notes that no PCBs were found upon testing of soil samples from the site.

The reports from other sites along the pipeline described larger spills, but followed the similar pattern of apparently not having met cleanup standards.

“The mandate is that they must absolutely guarantee that there are no problems for groundwater,” said Hang on July 29. His general statement regarding gas pipelines was “anything that can go wrong, does go wrong.”

Dominion Transmission representative Frank Mack said that the gas distribution company’s environmental technicians looked at the DEC database and found that all the spill incident cases were declared to be closed.

“We’ve had some accidents,” Mack said, “some so minor that there’s not even an environmental impact, but if we have a drop spilled, we always call the DEC because the state has more stringent guidelines that the feds do.”

Mack said that from Dominion’s perspective all the incidents that Hang described had been taken care of. “But you should call the DEC to verify this,” he said.

Mack said that Dominion had received certification for the New Market project from FERC on April 28 and that they also have the Section 401 water certification permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. They were still waiting for approval of their air quality permit from the DEC. (Compressor station motors vent to the atmosphere.) “We applied almost two years ago,” he said of the DEC process. “We’ve provided them with everything they need.”

The Virginia-based Dominion representative described the demand for gas in Albany and Schenectady as “huge” and it would be used to heat the homes and businesses of National Grid customers. Further compression of the gas in the pipeline would make possible transmission of greater volumes without adding pipe (there are already two, running parallel).

Kevin Hale, the chief emergency response coordinator for the DEC and a hydrogeologist who has worked for the department for 20 years, admitted that their database was not perfect. When he double-checked on whether or not incidents had met cleanup standards, he was able to find records indicating that they had been, although the public database FOILed by Hang did not indicate it.

The reports themselves appear contradictory on the face of it. The category of the 1998 Borger Station spill was said to be “Possible petroleum release with minimum potential for … drinking water contamination …” Yet the data sheet also indicates the “Resource(s) Affected” to be “groundwater.”

“The initial information rarely proves to be completely accurate,” said Hale. “We get 14,000 phone calls a year, and we do triage to find out what needs a response. Half the time it’s someone complaining about their neighbor.” In the case of the 1998 incident the caller was an employee of the environmental consulting agency who was overseeing the removal of a tank.

As for whether or not cleanups meet standards, when supplied with the DEC spill numbers, Hale said that his records showed that they had met standards.

“Petroleum is biodegradable,” the hydrogeologist said, qualifying this by stipulating that it be in the presence of oxygen. Groundwater is oxygenated. “We essentially ‘lance’ it and Mother Nature takes care of the rest. A year or two after a spill things are back to normal.”

He described products like #2 heating oil and diesel as having little ability to have health and environmental impacts. One of Hang’s reports, however, showed a spill that included benzene. Hale said benzene was more dangerous because it was water-soluble and could therefore cross the cell membrane in organisms.

“Groundwater moves in feet per day,” Hale said. “As long as we’re talking about naturally-occurring hydrocarbons [which includes benzene], by the time they reach 50 feet away from the spill we can’t measure them in groundwater.”

As of Aug. 10 there was no record at the DEC’s Environmental Notice Bulletin of approval for the Dominion permit.

Group cites Dominion spills in asking pipeline permit denial

An environmental advocacy and consulting group is calling on the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to deny Dominion Transmission's request for a water quality certification permit that is necessary to upgrade the company's pipeline.

Walter Hang, who runs Toxics Targeting, used New York's Freedom of Information Law to compile a list of seven spills that he says occurred on the Dominion pipeline since 1991.

"There is no way that the government and the DEC can certify that the new market pipeline expansion project will not cause water quality violations because the existing pipeline has caused numerous water quality violations that were never cleaned up," Hang said.

Many of the spills occurred when the company was called CNG Transmission, and much of the spill information is incomplete.

One spill occurred Nov. 29, 1993, in East Greenbush and caused a "heavy sheen" of petroleum on Rensselaer County's Papscanee Creek, according to the documents obtained by Hang.

The DEC report says that "without action, there is a potential for a fire/explosion hazard ... contamination of drinking water supplies, or significant release to surface waters."

The report states that a consent order was signed March 15, 1995, and a penalty was paid, although the report states that it is unknown whether the cleanup of the spill met DEC standards.

According to the report, zero gallons of petroleum were spilled, but Hang said this is often the case on old reports, which needed to be filed in two hours and often do not include a gallon amount.

In a statement, Frank Mack, a spokesman for Dominion, said the company has "no outstanding site remediation or clean-up projects in New York State.

"In response to all reportable spills, we notify the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation within the required timeframes, evaluate and clean up the spill," Mack said.

Dominion's New Market Project would modify the 200-mile Dominion pipeline, which passes through the Capital Region, to allow more gas to flow through it at a higher rate of speed.

Hang, who advocates for a moratorium on all pipeline projects, said pipeline modifications like this "are not for New York. They're for Pennsylvania fracked gas to reach new markets in New England."

Hang will include the Papscanee Creek spill in his report, which will be released to the public Friday morning at a news conference in Ithaca.

The DEC and Dominion didn't immediately respond to requests for comment.

Proposed Pipeline Project Meets Resistance from Local Environmentalists

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Local environmental groups are speaking out about the new proposed expansion of a pipeline that would run through the Southern Tier and Mohawk Valley.

Dominion Transmission is currently working on their New Market project, which would build two new compression stations. One would be in Chemung County, the other in Madison County.

Opponents say that Dominion has a history of water contamination across the state from Ithaca to New Hartford. They're urging Gov. Cuomo to intervene and deny the New Market project a water quality certification.

If that happens environmentalists say they would then want to clean contaminated areas.

"We are now working with citizens and communities all across the state where these problems were never reported to the public and we're trying to work with them to make sure that these problems get cleaned up without further delay," said Walter Hang, Toxics Targeting president.

The New Market project is currently in a public comment period which ends August 5th.

Environmental group releases record of spills at pipeline proposed for expansion

Unused pipe.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

ALBANY — A gas pipeline proposed for expansion has been beset by a series of spills dating back to the early 1990s, according to documents obtained by an environmental group.

Dominion's New Market project calls for upgrading an existing pipeline by adding 33,000-horsepower of compressor stations. Two new stations would be built in Central New York — in Madison and Chemung counties — and an existing station in Montgomery County would be upgraded. The existing pipeline brings gas fracked in Pennsylvania into New York near Elmira and runs to Schenectady.

In the last 25 years, the project has seen at least seven spills, according to state Department of Environmental Conservation documents obtained by Toxics Targeting, an Ithaca-based environmental database firm run by fracking opponent Walter Hang. The spills were caused by the failure of an underground pipeline collar, the release of oil from equipment and the overfilling of a tank. Over the years, about 3,000 tons of contaminated soil have been removed from the pipeline, according to the documents.

Hang, who is set to release his findings on Friday, said the results show that the DEC must reject the expansion.

“This project cannot be allowed to proceed because it has already caused pollution problems and waterways have never been properly cleaned up,” he said. “The law is very clear.”

Pipelines are generally considered to be a safer means of transporting gas and oil than by train, ship or truck. However, DEC officials have increasingly scrutinized their construction after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s fracking ban.

The state is considering extending a public comment period on the New Market expansion and may also hold public hearings on the project, DEC spokesman Sean Mahar said.

"The New Market Utility Project is a proposal to develop two new compressor stations and to modify an existing compressor station — not to expand or develop new pipelines," Mahar said in a statement. "The Comment period ends on August 5th, and DEC will review all comments received at that time."

Dominion complies with the law and reports all spills when they happen, spokesman Frank Mack said. The company also completes all required cleanup and not have outstanding site remediation projects in New York, he said.

"(Dominion Transmission) also has a robust environmental program, and believes in not only complying with the letter of the law but also the spirit and intent," he said in a statement.

New York has become more dependent on natural gas in the last decade. The state’s independent grid operator recently determined that more natural gas infrastructure is needed to maintain reliability in the future. Public Service Commission staff recently acknowledged that natural gas is necessary for economic development in the state. Meeting those needs requires more pipeline infrastructure.

Nonetheless, the administration took the unusual step of rejecting water quality permits for a Constitution pipeline in April after years of indecision. The state’s delays on the Dominion project already are longer than is typical for pipeline proposals, though it’s unclear if it will lead to another rejection.

Dominion has accused the Cuomo administration of unnecessarily delaying an approval of air quality permits for the project — the process has dragged on for more than two years. In addition, company officials have said such delays are unique to New York.

Environmental Group Weighs in on Proposed HHDS Compressor

Ithaca (WENY) -- As WENY News reported earlier this week, there is a pending project with Dominion Transmission, Inc. called "New Market Project" involving the construction of a new compressor station in the town of Veteran, near Horseheads.

The compressor station would be an expansion of an existing Dominion Pipeline which runs through Ithaca, Horseheads, Syracuse and Albany. It would be used to transport natural gas to National Grid, which provides New York, Rhode Island and Massachusetts with natural gas and electricity for homes and businesses.

Walter Hang with Toxins Targeting, Inc. says the environmental risks are too great, and is calling on the public to take action by sending a letter to Governor Cuomo.

"Toxics Targeting is posting at a wide variety of documented spills involving the existing Dominion Pipeline and its various compressor stations. This is based on the Department of Environmental Conservation's own data and it shows very clearly that in many instances these releases [spills] were never cleaned up to state standards," Hang says during a press event.

Many of the spills cited by Toxics Targeting Inc. are from CNG Transmission - the company which operated the pipeline prior to Dominion. Dominion Transmission spokesperson Frank Mack says the leadership changed after the purchase.

"It used to be Consolidated Natural Gas, or CNG, and Dominion Resources purchased CNG back in 2000," Mack says.

"At this time, DTI has no outstanding sites that need to be cleaned up in New York State. Everything is up to speed," Mack adds.

Mack also says the "New Market Project" came about after National Grid says it needed to meet a higher demand of customers.

For Walter Hang, an alternative to the proposed project would be to simply cut down on energy use.

"New York already has more than enough natural gas, more than enough electricity. We have ample supply, according to the most recent report, for about a decade. And the key thing is, we're now really focused on reducing energy demand," Hang says.

Walter Hang goes on to say even if there is a small spill or leak, it can have a lasting impact.

"It's just a never-ending battle to eliminate the contamination hazards we've inherited from decades gone by."

To view details of the project, click here:

Local environmentalist: Cuomo should help stop pipeline expansion

ITHACA — A local environmentalist is urging the community to tell Governor Cuomo to deny a key certification for a pipeline expansion project.

Walter Hang, the president of the Ithaca firm Toxics Targeting, held a press conference Friday. He explained why his company has drafted a letter that asks the governor to deny a required water quality certification for the New Market project.

“The existing Dominion pipeline has had a whole array of very serious contamination releases related to its operation, and we believe that these problems, which were never cleaned up to state standards in many instances, will require the governor to deny a Section 401 Water Quality Certification,” Hang said.

Hang says if the governor doesn’t deny it, the authority to approve will be given to a federal commission.

“Because if the governor doesn’t deny it within one year of the notice of complete application then the governor would lose that privilege of making a decision and then that authority would revert to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that’s already granted conditional approvals,” Hang said.

Public comment on the proposed project ends August 5th. Hang says he has already collected over 100 letters to the governor.

Gas pipeline facility in Ithaca has uncleaned spills; now they want to expand it

Photo by Michael Smith/The Ithaca Voice

ITHACA, NY - A plan to expand the 200-mile Dominion natural gas pipeline that runs through Ithaca is in the works, but local activists are gearing up to fight it.

On Friday, Toxics Targeting, Inc., an environmental database firm in Ithaca, released a report detailing hazardous substance spill profiles obtained from the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) under the Freedom of Information Law. These profiles detail 13 incidents of toxic contamination involving the existing Dominion New Market pipeline -- two of them in Ithaca.

Walter Hang, CEO of Toxics Targeting is rallying environmental activists to try and shut down the expansion on the grounds that these pipelines are unsafe. Earlier this year, Toxics Targeting released a similar report, detailing 114 pipeline incidents -- leaks, spills, ruptures, explosions and other accidents that he says resulted in contamination of nearby waters, damage to the environment and even fatalities.

The two spills at the Ithaca location were relatively minor compared to some of the other incidents from the previous report. That is to say, nothing caught fire or exploded.

However, there is still a major concern about these spills -- they weren't cleaned up.

In one incident in 1998, "unknown heavy petroleum" had been dumped and affected nearby groundwater. The DEC report clearly notes that the cleanup standards were not met.

The other incident occurred in 1991, with waste oil found contaminating the soil after a tank was removed. The report says it is "unknown" if that was cleaned up properly.

"The danger is, if you have a historic dumping site, then the contamination can migrate under the ground. So it could very likely migrate into the adjoining wetlands areas."

"These contamination problems don't go away. The contamination is very persistent," Hang said, referencing other contamination issues in Ithaca such as Ithaca Gun, Nate's Floral Estates and Stone Quarry Apartments. "That's why these sites really should've been re-mediated in strict compliance right off the bat."

The expansion planned for pipeline would include adding new compressor and cooler units to existing facilities like the one in Ithaca, as well as adding two new stations across the state.

Hang is aiming to block the New Market pipeline expansion by calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo to deny a Section 401 Water Quality Certification for the project. Basically, this certification shows that a project does not carry the risk of contaminating local water quality.

Hang says his data shows that they already have done just that, and so it is the governor's duty to deny the certification. His website includes a form letter that can be sent to Cuomo if you want to support the cause.

Hang says he has already collected over 100 letters to the governor. Toxics Targeting used the same approach and same legal precedent to successfully block the Constitution Pipeline, another major pipeline project planned for Pennsylvania and New York.

The public comment period ends on August 5.

Lifton: Ban more fossil fuel development in NY

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, and Walter Hang of the Ithaca-based Toxics Targeting Inc., announce in Binghamton on July 7, 2016 an initiative to halt further fossil fuel infrastructure development in New York.
(Photo: Jeff Platsky/Press & Sun-Bulletin)

Stop further fossil fuel development in New York, say 22 state legislators who are asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to halt New York's reliance on "highly polluting" energy sources.

On Thursday, Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, unveiled a campaign to convince Cuomo to "adopt a moratorium on state approvals for new pipelines, compressor stations, power plants, gas storage facilities" and other fossil fuel-related development.

She introduced the proposal during a press conference in front of the Binghamton State Office Building, accompanied by Walter Hang, an Ithaca-based environmental activist who led a successful effort in New York to ban natural gas drilling using hydraulic fracturing.

Lifton's request comes as the New York Independent System Operator, which operates the state's electric grid and coordinates the distribution of adequate electric supplies from Montauk to Niagara Falls, expresses concern about the adequacy of the state's natural gas infrastructure.

The member of the Assembly majority called on Cuomo to shape an aggressive energy conservation program to drastically reduce usage in a strategy to cut carbon emissions. She called projections that New York will soon rely on natural gas for 70 percent of its electric generation capacity "very bad news for global warming."

An initiative to place a moratorium on fossil fuel infrastructure build-out met a swift and bitter reaction from the New York State Business Council, which called the plan "unworkable."

"Climate change occurs on a global scale, not on a local scale," said Darren Suarez, director of government affairs for the Business Council. "This could put every industrial expansion plan in jeopardy."

Today, 57 percent of all proposed generating capacity use natural gas, according to a report from NYISO. In the coming years, reliance on natural gas for electric generation will only rise before sufficient supplies of renewable energy sources come on line, gas transmission line operators said.

"The growing demand for natural gas by power generators, coupled with the uncertainty over the likelihood of future natural gas infrastructure expansion, raises strategic concerns over the gas system's ability to keep pace with the needs of natural gas utilities serving residential, commercial and industrial customers," NYISO said in its recently released report on power needs in New York.

Recently New York rejected the Constitution Pipeline that would bisect upstate New York from Pennsylvania to the Capital District. Development of a natural gas and propane storage and distribution hub on Seneca Lake is still in limbo and facing fierce opposition by environmentalists.

New York is the largest consumer of natural gas east of Louisiana, accounting for 5 percent of the nation's consumption.

Lifton could offer no estimate for the cost of a "demand-side" energy management program, saying she is still fleshing out the details of the proposal. Keys to the effort include conservation through weatherization and a comprehensive plan to increase the energy efficiency of every utility customer class.

"In its current format, there's no way the (Cuomo) administration can embrace this," Suarez said.

Letter to Governor Cuomo calls for moratorium of fossil fuel infrastructure


A number of state lawmakers are looking for more action from Governor Cuomo to prevent more investment in fossil fuels.

Ithaca-area Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton has inked a letter to the Governor to call on a moratorium of fossil fuel infrastructure.

She says the Cuomo should not grant any permits allowing companies to expand their fossil fuel footprint.

Instead, Lifton says more should be done on the demand side to retrofit homes and businesses with energy efficient enhancements.

She says there is even more research out there that points to the harms of fossil fuels.

"Dr. Bob Howarth out of Cornell is telling us that methane is a huge problem. Methane in the short 20 year window is 104 times more potent as a greenhouse gas compared to carbon dioxide," said Lifton.

Expanded fossil fuel infrastructure projects include pipelines, compressor stations, power plants and gas storage facilities.

Over 20 Senators and Assembly members have signed the letter.

Activists call for Fossil Fuel Infrastructure Ban in NY

A number of environmental activists and 22 members of the State Legislature are calling on Governor Cuomo to prohibit permits for new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton from Ithaca joined environmental firm Toxics Targeting in Binghamton Thursday to call for the moratorium. They say natural gas is currently involved in almost 60 percent of the state's energy capacity - a number that could rise.

"We now need to make a deliberate decision to say, 'Sorry, fossil fuel. You've done your job for a while. We didn't understand for a long time the harm you were causing but now we know and we've got to say goodbye,'" said Barbara Lifton, NYS Assembly (D-125th District).

Governor Cuomo has set a goal for the state to meet 50 percent of it's energy need through renewable sources by 2030.

Fossil fuel infrastructure targeted

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton spoke about a moratorium on fossil fuel infrastructure in Binghamton earlier this month.

Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D/WFP-125th District) and 21 other state lawmakers are asking Governor Andrew Cuomo to impose a statewide moratorium on permits for new pipelines, compressor stations, power plants and gas storage facilities. Earlier this month, Lifton penned the sign-on letter to the governor outlining environmental and health concerns.

“We need to stop rolling out new major fossil fuel infrastructure,” Lifton told Tompkins Weekly last week. In her letter, Lifton notes that these facilities have caused explosions and fires, and discharge toxic pollutants into the air. In addition to environmental hazards, they perpetuate New York’s dependence on highly polluting gas, oil, coal and other fossil fuels that contribute to global climate change, the letter states.

“We have learned over the past 10 years that methane is a huge contributor to climate change,” Lifton says. “According to Dr. Robert Howarth at Cornell University, methane is 104 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.” One-third of all methane emissions in the U.S. derive from natural gas and petroleum systems. Methane is emitted at all stages of natural gas production, from drilling to processing, storage, transmission and distribution.

“If we want to bring down the amount of carbon quickly, and stop contributing to global warming, the best thing we can do is to stop throwing methane into the atmosphere,” Lifton says. Rather than waiting for the federal government to make policy, Lifton feels that New York can take the lead in what she calls the “new green revolution”.

The first step is to stop creating ways to burn more fossil fuels and focus on decreasing the demand. Cuomo understands this, Lifton says, citing his State of the State “Built to Lead” address. In that speech, Cuomo explains that the least expensive and most effective way to meet New York State’s energy goals is to reduce the energy consumption in New York’s homes, businesses and institutions. That can be achieved by making these buildings more energy efficient.

That increased energy efficiency means lower utility bills for customers and lower operating costs for businesses. It means putting less carbon into the atmosphere. Lifton’s only criticism: why set the bar so low? “Cuomo’s plan is aimed at one-sixth of the homes in New York”, she says. “Why not 50 percent?”

While Lifton is collecting signatures from lawmakers, Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting in Ithaca, encourages citizens and environmental groups to sign on to the same letter hosted at his website ( As of July 18, there were nearly 900 signatures. Many of these, Hang explained, are from people who don’t want fracked gas in New York.

“There are about a dozen major pipeline proposals, power plant proposals, and compressor station proposals all over the state,” Hang says. “They are moving toward approval.” One of these is Dominion’s $158 million New Market pipeline expansion project that includes a huge new compressor station. The transmission pipeline cuts through Ithaca, Ellis Hollow and Dryden, and would convey gas from Pennsylvania to New England and beyond. He questions the need for infrastructure that will ensure continued fossil-fuel use for the next 50 years.

According to a New York Independent System Operator (NYISO)’s report, “Power Trends 2016,” the state has plenty of energy for the next decade. The report predicts that future use will be flat or go down. We don’t need additional fossil fuels that contribute to pollution and climate change, Hang says.

One person who doesn’t support a moratorium on fossil fuel infrastructure is State Senator Thomas O’Mara (R/C/I-58th District). He is the chairman of the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee and, while he believes New York should continue focusing on short- and long-term strategies to develop more clean energy sources, he contends the moratorium isn’t the way to do it.

In an email comment, O’Mara said the moratorium is “an unworkable proposal that would be a job-killer.” He feels it would further drive manufacturing and other private-sector economic growth out of the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and produce skyrocketing energy costs for consumers.

O’Mara characterized the call for a moratorium on fossil fuel infrastructure as unbalanced and unreasonable action that, he said, “would jeopardize local and statewide jobs, workers, employers, consumers and communities from ever being able to survive the economic decline and struggle that’s still confronting upstate New York.”

Lifton disagrees. Focusing on renewable energy, constructing energy efficient buildings and insulating homes and government buildings means work for New Yorkers. “Tens of thousands of jobs,” she estimated. “Good local jobs.”

As for costs, Lifton concedes that renewable energy comes with a higher price. But so does continuing reliance on fossil fuels. Noting the enormous costs of climate disasters, she believes we can’t afford to keep burning gas and oil. “We’re still cleaning up after Sandy,” she notes.

Fractivists call for prohibiting all forms of fracking

Local fractivists are calling on Governor Cuomo to prohibit all forms of fracking, not just methods that involve water.

Walter Hang, President of the environmental firm Toxics Targeting, held a news conference today to discuss the latest developments involving waterless fracking.

These proposed methods would utilize gelled propane, a form of Nitrogen foam as well as other materials.

A Tioga County energy group recently applied to the State's DEC to approve gelled propane fracking in the Town of Barton.

According to the DEC's response letter, the application was incomplete and needs revisions.

However, Hang says the measure could still be approved without an extensive environmental study.

"We're exposing the myth that Governor Cuomo banned fracking in New York. The truth is, he only prohibited hydrofracking and even that definition is so poorly worded that we're not even sure if it would sustain a challenge," said Hang.

Hang has sent a number of letters to Cuomo's office urging him to prohibit all forms of fracking in New York.

He also calls for a full environmental analysis of the effects of waterless fracking.

State asks for more information on potentially allowable fracking plan

Anti-fracking protesters outside the Empire Plaza Convention Center.
(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

ALBANY — The state Department of Environmental Conservation is requesting more information about a proposal to frack for natural gas in the Southern Tier using propane and sand rather than water.

The energy industry and environmentalists agree the proposal has the potential to bypass the ban on fracking that Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered in December 2014. The ban applied to high-volume hydraulic fracturing, which uses large volumes of water mixed with sand and chemicals to create fractures in rock that release gas.

Under the proposal by Tioga Partners LLC for test wells on a hay and corn farm in Tioga County, the fracking would be done using liquefied petroleum gas and sand instead of water to split the rock. The gelled propane would be recaptured as a gas when it rises back to the surface.

Last month, the DEC issued a notice of incomplete application for the proposal and requested additional information on such things as truck traffic, the length of the fracking process and the number of storage tanks that would be required. Linda Collart, the DEC’s regional mineral resources supervisor, also wrote in the notice that the production phase of the process would be a “potential contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Collart said the department is trying to “make a determination if this relatively unique fracturing technology that has not heretofore been subject to a full environmental analysis has the potential to cause significant adverse environmental impacts.”

Some environmental advocates say there are too many loopholes in the state’s fracking ban and that the Cuomo administration needs to close them.

"Governor Cuomo should heed the requests of thousands of New Yorkers who asked his administration to make sure that all forms of shale fracking are included in our state's high-volume hydraulic fracking prohibition," said Walter Hang, an anti-fracking activist who runs Toxic Targeting. "It would be inconceivable and irresponsible for the Governor to permit propane fracking without first conducting a comprehensive State Environmental Quality Review as required by law.”

It’s unclear when the DEC will make a final determination on the proposal, but energy groups did not attack the state’s fracking ban in court, as some had expected.

Tioga Energy Partners LLC, wants to site the project on a 53-acre tract owned by five Tioga County farm families. The proposed drilling would take place in the Utica shale formation.

“We are outside of the state's ban," Adam Schultz, the legal counsel for Tioga Energy Partners, told the Ithaca Journal when the idea was first proposed last year. "The state banned high-volume hydraulic fracturing, but that's not what we're doing."

New York has the biggest shale reserve of any state that has banned fracking. After banning fracking, the Cuomo administration has also started to reject applications for natural gas infrastructure, including the Constitution pipeline in the Southern Tier.

Toxics Targeting Fights Waterless Hydraulic Fracking

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -- Toxics Targeting is fighting against waterless hydraulic fracking.

The environmental group released the Department of Environmental Conservation notice of incomplete applications for propane fracking. The group says Governor Andrew Cuomo banned fracking in New York, but allowed a loophole for waterless hydro fracking.

Toxics Targeting drafted a coalition letter with more than 1,000 signatures. They plan to ask the governor to include waterless hydraulic fracturing in the state's hydro fracking prohibition.

"Clearly this fracking technology, which uses highly flammable explosive propane, should be studied before it's even considered to be allowed to proceed in New York," said Toxics Targeting President Walter Hang.

Toxics Targeting is asking the governor for a comprehensive state environmental quality review before any permits are issued for waterless hydraulic fracking.

Activist Takes Aim at Gel Propane Fracking

An anti-fracking activist says he will continue to pressure Governor Cuomo to explicitly ban another form of the drilling practice.

Walter Hang from Toxics Targeting is pointing to a communication from the state's Department of Environmental Conservation to Tioga Energy Partners. That group has proposed waterless fracking with gel propane. Cuomo has technically only banned high-volume hydraulic fracturing. Hang says he will pressure Cuomo to ban all forms of fracking.

"I think in the short run propane fracking is not happening. The question is whether or not it could be allowed to proceed without any kind of comprehensive environmental review. Activists are going to do everything we can to make sure that doesn't happen," said Hang.

Hang says over 1,000 people have signed on to his letter to Cuomo asking him to ban all forms of fracking.

Sanders wins support from New York's climate movement

NOTE: The following news article is in Danish. An English translation follows.

English translation of above
Until recently has climate politics not played an important role in the Democrats' primary elections. But it is in New York's primary election, where a grassroots movement is closing around Bernie Sanders's demand for a nationwide ban on fracking.

(Picture caption)
Bernie Sanders has broad support among the climate movement, among other things as a follow-on to his opposition to fracking and the fossil energy industry. Here the demokratic candidate meets voters in Syracuse, New York, where there is a primary election on Tuesday.

Five years ago everything pointed to that that state of New York would follow other states' track and five energy companies permission to extract natural gas from "skifer"?-layers in the onetime industrial city Binghamton with help of the controversial and potentially very environment-damamging technique of fracking.

The local climate activist Adam Flint had together with several others in Binghamton just started the non-profit group Southern Tier Solar Works, that had as its purpose to promote green energy sources and ecological land use.

"We understood immediately that fracking in this nature-beautiful part of New York would carry a large risk for pollution of the ground water and air and other things like gas explosions. So we laid our plans on ice and began to fight fracking," explains Flint.

Some few activists' opposition to fracking developed in short order to a grassroots movement of 'fracktivists' all over the northwest corner of the state of New York, that stretches from Pennsylvania in the south to the border of Canada in the north.

The movement became carried further by the activist Walter Hang, whose group, Toxics Targeting, for years had brought the state authorities' lacking assurance against pollution of groundwater and other types of industrial pollution into the light of day.

"We could document a long list of examples through the years that neither the political authorities or those responsible in industry had done sufficient to stop pollution and clean up after," relates Walter Hang from his office in the university town Ithaca.

The development of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale layer in this corner of New York would with certainty lead to more pollution and more industrial accidents.

After some years the movement of 'fractivists' scored giant victory. Governor Andrew Cuomo declared in a speech the 17th of December, 2014 that he would declare a ban on fracking for the whole state.

A national ban

That was the first and up to now the only time that an american state has laid down a ban against fracking. In the rest of the USA is fracking permitted. In the north of Pennsylvania - an hour's car drive from Binghamton - one can find 7000 bore holes. Many of them are today unused, because the price of natural gas has fallen abruptly in later years.

Adam Flint remembers that day, when governor Cuomo communicated his decision. "It was unimaginable, that we had won," says he.

Flint tells his story, shortly after senator Bernie Sanders has spoken to 5000 people in an indoor stadium Monday morning in Binghamton.

The democratic presidential candidate is received with an ear-deafening greeting, that could raise the roof over the sports hall. The next-largest applause is given to Sanders's promise that he as president would issue a declaration that bans fracking in all USA's 50 states.

The democratic socialist, that regularly thunders against the fossil energy industry and "matadors" on the Wall Street stock exchange, has in his opposition against fracking found a topic that wakes a grassroots movement to action in that part of New York.

Polls show that Sanders is well behind Hillary Clinton in New York City and its surroundings, but he stands equal with her in the northern part of the state, that is also called Upstate New York.

But in 'upstate' one finds only a third of the democratic voters, so unless Sanders's most loyal voter group, the young americans, in a very large number stream to the ballot box in the city during the primary election Tuesday of next week, it will be impossible for him to beat Clinton.

New York is a state that Sanders must win, if he is to have a chance to catch up to Clinton's lead in the delegates to the party congress in July.

For that reason, Sanders in the beginning of this week held voter meetings in Upstate New York, where he in three large cities attracted 10-15000 people. The last couple of days he and Clinton have spent in New York City. Wednesday evening 27000 voters met up at a meeting with Sanders in Washington Square Park on Manhattan - a record.

In the same park by New York University, Barack Obama had 20000 onlookers during the election battle in 2008. Clinton's voter meetings encompass seldom more than a couple thousand people.

Clinton's strength

Even in Binghamton is is far from certain, that Sanders will win. The city has through several decades lost thousands of jobs in industry, that have moved to the south states and later to Mexico and Asia. Unemployment and poverty - especially among black families - is still higher than average for New York.

"Hillary stands pretty strong in this part of New York, because many democrats are of fairly moderate persuasion, and her support from black voters is large. She did what was possible, politically seen, to improve our economy, as she was New York's senator from 2001 to 2009," says Binghamton's earlier democratic mayor Matt Ryan.

In spite of that is Ryan himself a fervent supporter of senator Sanders.

As mayor of Binghamton until 2013 Ryan attached himself completely unexpectedly to the grassroots movement against fracking, with great risk for his political career.

"But after having informed our city residents carefully about the danger of fracking, we were successful according to the pools to get a half over on our side. We could among other things point to how destructive fracking has been for the environment in Pennsylvania in the last five years," explains the ex-mayor.

Perhaps the most decisive breakthrough for the movement against fracking came in 2014, when the unknown law professor Zephry Teachout from Fordham University in New York City ran against governor Cuomo in the democratic primary election and won 33 percent of the votes.

"That was a shock for the governor. He won 1 million fewer votes in Upstate New York compared to the primary election in 2010. A large part of Zephyr Teachout's voters were democrats, that sympathized with the movement against fracking," says Walter Hang from Toxics Targeting.

Letter to the candidates

The surprising support for the unknown democrat, that was up against a relatively popular governor, can be explained with Teachout's decision to back up the movement's demand on a ban against fracking.

"In the beginning of the campaign she knew only a little on the environmental consequences of fracking involved in the extraction of natural gas in the shale. But we educated her in the subject and arranged a lot of voter meetings. That bore fruit," explains Hang.

In connection with the primary campaign in New York has Toxics Targeting in a letter requested all presidential candidates for a promise to support a nationwide ban against fracking. Up to now no one has answered.

"That confirms that neither Clinton nor Sanders are willing to go so far. What we hear from Sanders is just political chitchat," says Walter Hang.

But there is an important difference between the two democratic presidential candidates. During the campaign has Clinton's environmental stance become more progressive.

She has turned against the oil pipeline Keystone XL and oil drilling near USA's coast and has said that she as president will tighten the regulation of fracking technique to such a level, that "fracking will only take place few places in the USA."

Sanders has in contrast without condition blessed the american climate movement's demand for a phasing out of the the fossil energy industry in the USA. Climate activists therefore trust in him. In contrast, they don't in Clinton.

Sanders proposes fracking ban

Clinton, Sanders face off on fracking; Cruz bashes Kasich: 2016 Presidential Buzz

Hillary Clinton campaigns at a rally in Syracuse last week. (Ellen M. Blalock |

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are facing off over a hot-button issue in New York politics: fracking, according to the New York Times. Pressure from Sanders has been pushing Clinton steadily left on the issue, but she continues to face criticism. Climate change and opposition to fracking are especially important issues to the Democratic base in New York, which votes later this month. Clinton, who represented the state in the U.S. Senate, is looking for a big win. Activists are ready, the Times said. "We now have literally thousands of fractivists who are battle-tested, who understand the politics of these issues," Walter Hang, an activist in Ithaca, told the paper. "And they have zero inclination to give away their vote without firm commitments."

Ted Cruz wants John Kasich out of the race, according to the New York Times. He has been ramping up his calls for Kasich to drop out. Cruz is favored to win today's Wisconsin primary, which could provide him some momentum against Donald Trump. Cruz has been airing attacking ads against Kasich's record as governor of Ohio and has said he doesn't believe Kasich can win. Kasich called Cruz a smear artist.

A new poll found that Americans are deeply dissatisfied with the state of affairs in the country and anxious about the future, according to CNN. The Quinnipiac University poll, out today, found majorities described themselves as "under attack" and agreeing with the sentiment that "public officials don't care much about what people like me think." Those feelings were especially strong among supporters of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, CNN said. Voters also expressed feelings of economic uncertainty and said they want a leader who is "willing to do or say anything" to solve the nation's problems.

Trump is staring down a loss in Wisconsin, according to Politico. He had a bad week, with numerous controversial statements dominating the conversation, and his rival Ted Cruz is in firm control. More than 40 delegates are at stake in the state, which has a "winner-take-most" system. That means the statewide winner will pick up a big chunk of the total. Still, Trump is far ahead of his rivals in New York, the next state to vote. The primary here will award 95 delegates.

Protesters arriving at Chelsea Clinton event in Ithaca

Photo by Jolene Almendarez/The Ithaca Voice

ITHACA, N.Y. -- Protesters from several organizations have begun arriving at Coltivare Restaurant in downtown Ithaca to protest presidential candidate Hillary Clinton's stance on various national issues.

Many of the supporters -- about two dozen and growing as of about 7:30 a.m. -- said they are representing various groups from the Tompkins County area.

"It's not really a Sanders rally," said protester Richard Franke, though he said many of the protesters would likely vote for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

He said he was at the rally to protest Hillary Clinton's foreign policies.

"Her judgement on Middle East issues has shown, again and again, to be very faulty," he said.

Photo by Jolene Almendarez/The Ithaca Voice

Specifically, he and fellow protester Barbara Chasin, from the town of Ithaca, said they are against the drone program and civilian casualties from bombings in the middle east.

Chasin added that the two are also against Clinton's "uncritical support or Israel."

Anti-frackers and people who want to encourage the United States' move away from dependence on fossil fuels are also turning out in huge numbers.

Theresa Alt, who currently lives in Collegetown but has resided in the area for almost 40 years, said she is at the event to raise awareness about the different take on such issues between Clinton and Sanders.

"The important thing is us getting this county off fossil fuels as fast as possible," she said. "There's a real difference (between candidates) on this extremely central issue."

She said Sanders has advocated for the elimination of fracking while Clinton has called for more strict regulation, instead.

Bernie Sanders Focuses on Climate Change at Binghamton Rally

BINGHAMTON (WENY) -- Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke to a crowd of 5,000 supporters Monday morning in Binghamton.

He discussed issues from criminal justice reform, to health care accessibility, and free college tuition. The crowd most passionately responded to Sanders' dire warning of the need to address climate change.

"There would be more drought, more floods, more extreme weather, more rising sea levels, more acidification of the ocean. And it also means more international conflict as people fight over natural resources," Sanders says.

"Climate change is real and so is global warming. I believe it 100 % and I love that Bernie Sanders acknowledges the climate change and that global warming is happening. And we need to take this to heart. This is our planet. We live here. We share it together," says Pierre Agosto, who currently lives in Binghamton with his young daughter.

New York's primary is next Tuesday April 19th. As far as poll numbers go: a Monmouth University poll released today puts Sanders at 39% among New York Democrats, compared to Clinton who ranks up 51%.

New York energy policy now an issue in Clinton-Sanders contest

A supporter of both candidates for the Democratic nomination.
(AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

ALBANY — Hillary on fracking. Bernie on Indian Point.

Energy policy in New York has entered the national conversation as the media focuses on the state's April 19 presidential primary, one of the most competitive in years.

In recent days, the candidates have weighed in on the closure of Indian Point and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s fracking ban, and advocates are now making an aggressive push to get the campaigns of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton to come out against the proposed Constitution pipeline.

The pipeline would run from Pennsylvania to Schoharie County in upstate New York and would deliver natural gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale in the Keystone State. Opponents have urged the state to deny necessary water quality permits for the project, which would effectively kill it.

Sanders is clearly appealing to the anti-fracking movement, which helped drive support for Zephyr Teachout in her unlikely challenge to Cuomo in the 2014 Democratic gubernatorial primary. In national debates, Sanders has said he would not support fracking, while Clinton has given a more-nuanced response, describing how she would regulate it more strongly.

Environmentalists in New York are a significant voting block with a history of being active at the polls, said Robert F. Kennedy Jr., the environmental activist and founder of the Pace Environmental Law Center. He said he had written a letter to both campaigns to ask the candidates to take a position on the Constitution pipeline, but has yet to hear from either.

“I think we should get both Hillary and Bernie to take a stand on Constitution,” he said. “There’s 50,000 people in New York state that identify themselves as fracking activists. It’s one of the most powerful environmental, or any kind of public movement, that we’ve ever seen in New York.”

Protestors plan to “bird dog” the candidates to press them to oppose Constitution at every event in the state in the next 10 days, said Walter Hang, an Ithaca-based activist. He said environmental groups will continue to “crank up the heat” until they get a response.

“This could really be a game changer because the race is so incredibly tight,” he said. “The candidates are trying to get every single vote that they can.”

It's likely that the environmental vote will be split in the Democratic primary, but not evenly. Hang guessed that more anti-fracking activists — the so-called "fractivists" — support Sanders, but said many others are longtime fans of Clinton from her days as a U.S. senator representing the state.

And though Cuomo has endorsed Clinton and acts as her surrogate, his energy policy is more in line with Sanders' positions. Cuomo banned fracking and Sanders is strictly anti-fracking. Cuomo, one of the first to endorse Clinton's presidential bid, wants to shut down Indian Point, as does Sanders. Clinton urged a "realistic" look at whether that was possible.

Other environmental issues figure to play a role in the campaigns. The Sanders campaign is planning a rally on clean energy and and climate action in Kingston for Saturday, with a voter canvas to follow. Clinton included a passing reference to the Hoosick Falls water crisis and the need for clean water protections in her stump speech outside Albany this week.

That same day, Sanders made his call for closing Indian Point, calling it a “catastrophe waiting to happen.” He singled out the recent discovery of faulty bolts as evidence the plant was dangerous.

Clinton, in response, gave a more complicated response after a dig at Sanders just learning about the issue. She said she supported greater safety protections at Indian Point, but said it was important to be “realistic” about shutting down a plant that provides about a quarter of the power needs for the New York City area.

Sanders’ position is popular with environmental groups, who have pressed for the plant’s closure for many years. Still, the prominent climate scientist James Hansen, who gained fame after sounding the alarm over global warming in the 1980s, criticized Sanders and said shutting down the plant would increase the need for more fracked gas.

“For the sake of future generations who could be harmed by irreversible climate change, I urge New Yorkers to reject this fear mongering and uphold science against ideology,” he said in a statement.

Clinton’s comments on Indian Point hardly constituted an endorsement of the plant. But Indian Point opponents are planning a rally on Monday in Chappaqua, where Clinton lives, because she did not call for an outright closure.

Opponents Hope they Can Stop a Third Pipeline

Robert Kennedy Jr speaks at a rally against the now defunct Constitution pipeline at the state Capitol on April 5th.

In the past week, two major natural gas pipelines have been scrapped in New York. A third, which would expand a line that is near the Indian Point Nuclear Power plant, is still scheduled, but opponents are putting pressure on Governor Cuomo to use his persuasive powers with the federal government to stop the expansion.

Opponents of new pipelines carrying natural gas extracted from hydro fracking have been having a good week. First, Kinder Morgan announced it would not build a planned pipeline through portions of New York State and New England, saying market conditions were no longer favorable. The project faced opposition in several states. Then, on Earth Day ,Governor Cuomo’s environmental agency denied a key permit to the Constitution pipeline, which would have traversed Pennsylvania and upstate New York, saying it could not guarantee that the water near by would be safe. It also condemned tree cutting that had already occurred on the proposed pipeline’s path, which happened even before the permit was denied.

Walter Hang, with the group Toxics Targeting is very happy.

“It was just a stunning victory,” said Hang, who says it’s the first time a major pipeline has been blocked by a state through what’s usually a pro forma permit process .

Among the opponents of the Constitution pipeline are the former brother in law of Cuomo, Robert Kennedy, Junior, who led a rally on the steps of the Capitol earlier in April.

“Stop this abomination!” Kennedy said, to cheers.

The anti-pipeline activists would like to be three for three. They are asking Governor Cuomo to help stop a third major pipeline- the expansion of the Algonquin Incremental Market pipeline. It would nearly double the size of a pipeline that runs very near the Indian Point Nuclear power plant.

Cuomo is not a fan of the pipeline’s expansion, but states have very little control over the decisions of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has authority over the multi state projects. Nevertheless, the governor has written a letter to FERC, questioning the safety of the venture, and says he’s directed four state agencies , including the departments of Environmental Conservation, Health, and Homeland Security to conduct at “comprehensive safety review “. The governor asked construction be halted until the review is concluded.

Cuomo’s request to halt the pipeline project near the nuclear plant was denied. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said Indian Point’s owners, Entergy, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission had done their own study and found that the pipeline expansion is safe.

The governor has long been an opponent of the Indian Point nuclear power plant itself, saying it’s too close to the population of greater New York, with 20 million people.

Cuomo’s environmental agency did issue water quality permits for the Algonquin pipeline in May 2015, the same permits it denied to the constitution pipeline last Friday.

Hang, with Toxics Targeting, hopes the governor can find some way to rescind those permits.

“I’m sure he could take effective action if he wanted to,” Hang said.

Hang says the denial of the water quality permit in New York for the Constitution pipeline can serve as an inspiration to other states who may also be facing opposition to proposed pipelines.

Some in the state’s business community have another view, though. The state’s Business Council President says she’s disappointed that “fear mongering” influenced the decision to deny the permits.

Constitution Pipeline to Take Legal Action

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -- "Shock. I was stunned. I literally couldn't believe it. I was enormously relieved," said Toxics Targeting President Walter Hang.

It's a feeling many clean energy advocates shared in the wake of Friday's decision regarding the Constitution Pipeline.

The state DEC rejected the water quality certificates needed to move the project forward. Members of Citizen Action of New York believe their message was heard loud and clear.

"It was an incredible organizing effort that helped make this happen," said Isaac Silberman-Gorn, Citizen Action of NY community organizer, "and open the door for the governor to look at the signs, look at the real impacts and do the right thing and really lead the country."

Developers say they were taken aback by Friday's decision, saying "We worked in good faith with the NYSDEC for years, so this decision comes as a surprise and is contrary to our dialogue and collaborative effort to address concerns."

Denying the project will prevent more than 700,000 trees from being cut down and prevent more than 100 homes from being demolished. But opponents of the pipeline say their battle is long from over.

Constitution Pipeline announced Monday that they remain committed to the project and will pursue legal action, saying, "We believe NYSDEC’s stated rationale for the denial includes flagrant misstatements and inaccurate allegations, and appears to be driven more by New York State politics than by environmental science."

"The fracktivists who have been working so hard to make sure the Constitution Pipeline didn't proceed are not in any way going to take our foot off the pedal. We're going to keep pushing," said Hang.

Pipeline developers claim more than 2,000 direct and indirect jobs and millions of dollars of revenue for the region will be delayed. Now people on both sides will prepare for the next stage of the debate, likely in a courtroom.

Constitution Pipeline investors vow legal fight

Supporters of the Constitution Pipeline rally Thursday in Binghamton.

ALBANY -- The investors behind the proposed Constitution Pipeline vowed Monday to fight a state agency's decision to deny them a crucial permit, accusing the state of "flagrant misstatements."

The Constitution investors, led by energy-infrastructure company Williams Partners, issued a statement Monday saying they will "pursue all available options" to overturn the state Department of Environmental Conservation's decision Friday, which effectively blocked the pipeline from moving ahead in New York.

The proposed 124-mile pipeline would carry natural gas from northeast Pennsylvania fracking fields to Schoharie County, cutting across eastern Broome, Delaware and Chenango counties along the way.

“In spite of NYSDEC’s unprecedented decision, we remain absolutely committed to building this important energy infrastructure project, which will create an important connection between consumers and reliable supplies of clean, affordable natural gas," the investors wrote in a joint statement. "We believe NYSDEC’s stated rationale for the denial includes flagrant misstatements and inaccurate allegations, and appears to be driven more by New York State politics than by environmental science."

The DEC denied a water-quality permit application from the Constitution investors, raising concerns about the pipeline's impact on various waterways and accusing the company of withholding detailed plans the state was seeking.

In a letter to the pipeline backers, DEC Chief Permit Administrator John Ferguson said the state agency had requested site-specific plans that showed how deep the 30-inch pipeline would be at each of the 251 streams the pipeline would cross.

The agency never received that analysis, Ferguson wrote.

"Absent this information and the information described above, the Department cannot determine whether additional water quality impact avoidance, minimization or mitigation measures must be taken to ensure compliance with water quality standards in water bodies associated with this infrastructure," he wrote.

The Constitution investors pushed back Monday, saying they "did not refuse to provide a comprehensive analysis of pipe depth."

"Completely contrary to NYSDEC’s assertion, we provided detailed drawings and profiles for every stream crossing in New York, including showing depth of pipe," the company wrote.

In a statement Monday, DEC spokesman Sean Mahar said the agency's letter "outlined a number of failures of the applicant to present adequate information for the state to determine New York’s water quality standards would be met."

Those opposed to the pipeline included a network of opponents of large-scale hydraulic fracturing, the technique paired with natural-gas drilling that Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration banned in late 2014.

Walter Hang, an Ithaca-based organizer who helped lead anti-fracking activists who called in and emailed their pipeline concerns to the Cuomo administration, said his goal is to stop any and all expansion of fossil fuels in New York.

"New York now has literally thousands of highly experienced grassroots fractivists who take highly effective political action in their own communities as well as throughout the state as part of extensive anti-fracking and pipeline opposition campaigns," Hang said. "This organized force has successfully focused intense pressure on Governor Cuomo and is growing stronger with each hard-fought victory."

Constitution Pipeline developers vow to fight New York permit rejection

(AP/WBNG Binghamton) Developers of the Constitution Pipeline say they'll challenge the legality of New York's rejection of a critical permit for the 124-mile conduit from Pennsylvania's shale gas fields to eastern markets.

The pipeline company said Monday that the Department of Environmental Conservation's denial letter includes ``flagrant misstatements and inaccurate allegations'' and is driven by politics.

"We believe this is an important piece of infrastructure that hasn't changed. The federal government agreed with us--this is a needed and important piece of infrastructure,” said Chris Stockton, a spokesman with Constitution Pipeline.

The DEC on Friday denied a water quality permit, saying the project fails to meet standards that protect hundreds of streams, wetlands and other water resources in its path.

The company had planned to start construction at the end of summer.

On Monday, leaders of local activist groups celebrated the decision--but also noted the fight is far from finished.

"We are going to continue to document these problems. We are going to continue to hold the governor's feet to the fire,” said Walter Hang, Toxics Targeting President. "He has to enforce the law and he has to protect the environment and public health."

NY pipeline opponents flex muscle

ALBANY – With one natural-gas pipeline effectively rejected and another pulled off the table last week, anti-pipeline activists are flexing their political muscle in New York.

The activists, many of them opponents of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, are pointing to the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s Friday rejection of a key permit for the proposed Constitution Pipeline as a symbol of their collective might.

But the investors behind the proposed pipeline vowed Monday to fight the DEC’s decision, accusing the state of "flagrant misstatements” and hinting at what is likely to be an eventual court battle.

The Constitution investors, led by energy-infrastructure company Williams Partners, issued a statement Monday saying they will "pursue all available options" to overturn the state DEC's decision Friday, which effectively blocked the pipeline from moving ahead in New York.

The proposed 124-mile pipeline would carry natural gas from northeast Pennsylvania fracking fields to Schoharie County, cutting across eastern Broome, Delaware and Chenango counties along the way.

“In spite of NYSDEC’s unprecedented decision, we remain absolutely committed to building this important energy infrastructure project, which will create an important connection between consumers and reliable supplies of clean, affordable natural gas," the investors wrote in a joint statement. "We believe NYSDEC’s stated rationale for the denial includes flagrant misstatements and inaccurate allegations, and appears to be driven more by New York State politics than by environmental science."

The DEC denied a water-quality permit application from the Constitution investors, raising concerns about the pipeline's impact on various waterways and accusing the company of withholding detailed plans the state was seeking.

The decision came just days after Kinder Morgan, a Houston-based company, scrapped plans to build a natural-gas pipeline connecting the Albany area to Massachusetts.

In a letter to the Constitution Pipeline backers, DEC Chief Permit Administrator John Ferguson said the state agency had requested site-specific plans that showed how deep the 30-inch pipeline would be at each of the 251 streams the pipeline would cross.

The agency never received that analysis, Ferguson wrote.

The Constitution investors pushed back Monday, saying they "did not refuse to provide a comprehensive analysis of pipe depth."

"Completely contrary to NYSDEC’s assertion, we provided detailed drawings and profiles for every stream crossing in New York, including showing depth of pipe," the company wrote.

In a statement Monday, DEC spokesman Sean Mahar said the agency's letter "outlined a number of failures of the applicant to present adequate information for the state to determine New York’s water quality standards would be met."

Those opposed to the pipeline included a network of opponents of large-scale hydraulic fracturing, the technique paired with natural-gas drilling that Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration banned in late 2014.

Walter Hang, an Ithaca-based organizer who helped lead anti-fracking activists who called in and emailed their pipeline concerns to the Cuomo administration, said his goal is to stop any and all expansion of fossil fuels in New York.

"New York now has literally thousands of highly experienced grassroots fractivists who take highly effective political action in their own communities as well as throughout the state as part of extensive anti-fracking and pipeline opposition campaigns," Hang said. "This organized force has successfully focused intense pressure on Governor Cuomo and is growing stronger with each hard-fought victory."

Some, now, are focusing their efforts on other pipeline projects, including the Algonquin natural-gas pipeline project that cuts through Westchester and Rockland counties.

The project is already underway in New York and three other states, and the Cuomo administration’s bid to halt construction in New York was rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission last month.

In a letter sent earlier this month to FERC Secretary Kimberly Bose, 38 state lawmakers asked the federal commission to halt construction of the pipeline so the state can complete a safety analysis of the project and its proximity to the Indian Point nuclear power plant in Buchanan, Westchester County.

“We demand that FERC respect New York’s authority and jurisdiction in this matter and stop construction of the (Algonquin) project immediately until the State’s independent safety analysis is completed,” reads the letter, which was organized by Assemblywoman Sandra Galef, D-Ossining, and Sen. Tony Avella, D-Queens.

Environmental activists celebrate Constitution Pipeline decision


Environmental activists are celebrating the state's decision to deny the Constitution Pipeline.

Walter Hang, founder of the environmental database firm Toxics Targeting, held a news conference Monday in Binghamton to thank New York State for denying Constitution's water quality certification.

The certificate, which is required for the project to move forward, was rejected by the DEC on Friday.

Constitution would be a 124-mile natural gas pipeline that would transport fracked gas from Susquehanna, Pennsylvania through Broome, Chenango, Delaware and Schoharie counties.

Hang says the decision could halt other pipeline projects as well.

"This decision to kill the Constitution Pipeline is going to set a very powerful precedent. Everyone realized that these fossil fuel infrastructure projects have huge environmental and public health consequences. The fact that New York has actually denied the Constitution Pipeline, I think is a landmark decision," said Hang.

Constitution released a statement Monday afternoon saying it is committed to pursuing the federally approved pipeline project.

The company says the denial halts the creation of 2,400 jobs related to the industry.

Hundreds Rally For Constitution Pipeline

The battle over the Constitution Pipeline continues. This afternoon hundreds rallied in favor of the project in downtown Binghamton.

The 124-mile pipeline would carry natural gas from Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania to Schoharie County in New York. However, the state has until the end of the month to grant what's called a Section 401 Water Quality Certification for the project to move forward. Opponents say the state can't guarantee the pipeline won't effect water quality, and therefore can't grant the certification.

Broome County Executive Debbie Preston, who supports the pipeline, says the project would lead to 2,400 direct or indirect jobs in the Southern Tier and $2.1 million in tax revenue to Broome County.

"Everyone needs to understand how much communities, landowners, and businesses in the Upstate New York area need the Constitution Pipeline. It's basic infrastructure that is necessary to move natural gas and it's what we live on," said Scott Kurkoski, attorney for the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York.

"Thousands of people have written Governor Cuomo stating the Water Quality Certification for the Constitution Pipeline must be denied because the state simply lacks the ability to fulfill the onerous requirements of the Clean Water Act," said Walter Hang, President of Toxics Targeting

A spokesperson for the Constitution Pipeline has said the project will use the latest technology to ensure it's safety. If the state does nothing by the end of the month the ability to move the project forward would go to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has already approved the pipeline.

Gas Pipeline Opponents Hope to Influence NY Presidential Primary

Robert Kennedy Jr. is the attorney representing the opponents of the Constitution pipeline, through the Pace (University) Environmental Litigation Clinic, which he founded.

Fracktivists, as anti-hydrofracking activists are called, hope to play a role in New York’s presidential primary. They are asking Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, as well as Republican candidates, to take a stand against the Constitution pipeline and other natural gas pipelines that, if approved, could criss- cross the state.

More than 200 fracktivists held a rally to oppose natural gas pipelines in New York, and to call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to ban them.

Robert Kennedy Jr. is the attorney representing the opponents of the Constitution pipeline, through the Pace (University) Environmental Litigation Clinic, which he founded.

In a speech to the cheering crowd on the steps of the Capitol, Kennedy says the present system favors what he calls the “dirtiest fuels” from “hell.”

“Rather than the cheap green wholesome and patriotic fuels from heaven,” Kennedy said.

The very politically involved fractivists are hoping to play a role in the presidential primary in New York as well. They want Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to go on record against building more pipelines for fossil fuel-based energy. Kennedy , who did not say who he backs in the primary, says he has also written both campaigns, asking for their views on the issue. He says the movement already convinced Cuomo to ban fracking in New York.

“These are people who vote,” said Kennedy, who added that it takes devotion to stand outside in 20-degree weather to hear speeches, then march several blocks to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for another demonstration.

“There’s two things that drive politics in our country. One is money and the other is intensity,” Kennedy said. “You’re looking at intensity right here.”

In 2014, many fracking opponents voted for Zephyr Teachout against Cuomo in the Democratic primary, and Teachout won several upstate counties where fracking had been proposed. Teachout was against the natural gas extraction process.

Shortly after he won re-election, Cuomo outlawed fracking in the state. Cuomo, who is the ex-brother-in-law of Kennedy, has so far not taken a position on the pipelines. His environmental agency says it will review the pipeline permits and make a decision based on “sound science.”

The Democratic candidates for president voiced their views on fracking in a March 6 debate on CNN. Clinton told Anderson Cooper that she supports fracking only when local governments approve, when companies reveal what chemicals they are using in the fracking fluids, and if they can prove they are not polluting the water or the land.

“By the time we get through all of my conditions, I do not think there will be many places in America where fracking will continue,” Hillary said.

Sanders’ answer:

“My answer is a lot shorter,” Sanders said. “No, I do not support fracking.”

For Walter Hang, an Ithaca-based fractivist with the group Toxics Targeting, says that’s not enough. He says while Sanders’ positon on fracking is much more to his liking than Clinton’s, he wants to know more about the related pipeline debate and is conducting a petition drive.

“These candidates have to spell out their positions much more clearly,” Hang said. “They’re sophisticated, they’re knowledgeable and they need to know what’s going on before they cast their votes on April 19.”

Tensions over the issue were highlighted recently when a Greenpeace supporter questioned Clinton at a rally in New Paltz about donations from fossil fuel companies. She displayed frustration, saying she was “sick” of Sanders supporters lying about her record. The Greenpeace member was not connected with the Sanders campaign.

Hang and other fractivists are planning to hold demonstrations outside Clinton and Sanders events in New York over the next couple of weeks as the primary date approaches.

Both Sides of Constitution Pipeline Debate Seek Action Before Deadline

Proponents of the Constitution Pipeline are calling on New York State to give it's final approval to the project before it's too late.

New York must grant what's called a 401 water certification before construction can begin in the state. The state has until the end of the month to grant the certification. The roughly 124-mile pipeline begins in Susquehanna County in Pennsylvania and runs through the Southern Tier into Schoharie County. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission - or FERC - approved the project in December of 2014.

"Right now I have over 200 people who are out of work waiting to go back to work. This project actually would employ about 200 of my laborers. This project would mean full employment if we could get it underway," said David Marsh, Business Manager of Laborers' Local 785.

"There are over 300,000 miles of interstate pipeline running across the country delivering the energy we need. This pipeline will deliver over 750,000 decatherms a day, enough energy to heat over 3 million homes. Obviously in the Southern Tier and across New York state we see that growing demand for energy," said Mike Atchie, Manager of Public Outreach at Williams Companies.

If New York doesn't grant the certification FERC could have the authority to move the project forward. The company wants to begin construction this summer to have service ready in the second half of 2017.

Not everyone is in favor of the pipeline project. One critic says a recent report by State Comptroller Tom Dinapoli and his own research show the state has been lax in oversight of pipelines and cleanup when things have gone wrong. He says the state can't grant the 401 water certification unless it can guarantee the pipeline project will not harm water quality, something he says is not possible.

"All the existing transmission pipelines have had problems including at least 114 fires, explosions, toxic discharges, massive ruptures that have caused water quality hazards that were never cleaned up," said Walter Hang, President of Toxics Targeting.

Hang has sent letters to the five remaining major-party Presidential candidates asking them to clarify their position on the pipeline. He feels it could be an issue during the April 19th primary if the race tightens before then.

Delays continue as Constitution Pipeline remains dormant in New York

Binghamton, NY (WBNG Binghamton) Construction of the Constitution Pipeline is on hold once again in New York.

Even with federal approval for the Constitution Pipeline back in December 2014, officials can't move forward with the project until the section 401 water quality certification is passed in the state.

Officials from the pipeline are still confident the pipeline will be built.

"At this stage, we have contractors selected, we have pipe in the area stored, we are working with the local unions and workforce to get them geared up for the project," Constitution Pipeline Manager Mike Atchie said.

Officials from the constitution pipeline got together at the Metro Center in Binghamton Tuesday.

"We just let the public know that this project is going to be built safely, it's going to be built by local labor who these are trained folks who are environmentally conscious," LiUNA Leader Dave Marsh said.

An environmentalist with the organization Toxics Targeting, Walter Hang, says this pipeline is dangerous and that the water quality certification should not be granted.

"They routinely blow up, they routinely fail and basically the law is really clear, the governor cannot grant the section 401 water quality certification," Hang said.

Toxics Targeting launched a new petition to stop the pipeline.

An online letter asks all presidential candidates on the New York primary ballot to sign the pledge to oppose the pipeline.

"We're writing respectfully to all the presidential candidates who are coming to New York on April 19 to see what their fate is," Hang said. "We're telling them, 'if you don't sign a pledge to oppose the constitution pipeline, then you're not going to receive probably a favorable reply from tens of thousands of fracktivists who are so concerned about these issues'."

Pipeline officials say they''re confident the water quality certification will be granted by the end of April.

In fact, they are hoping to start constructing the pipeline in the summer and have it finished by the second half of 2017.

State audit: Pipeline oversight too lax

The Constitution Pipeline, now under construction and pictured in January 2015, will bring natural gas from the fracked fields in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania to eastern and southern parts of New York. The pipeline is awaiting approval from New York regulators. The state comptroller's office has criticized the state Public Service Commission for lax oversight of the existing pipeline network.

After finding operators of natural gas pipelines failed to report six incidences involving safety hazards last year, state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is advising regulators to improve their reporting process and upgrade their data management systems.

In an audit released Tuesday, DiNapoli also called for the Public Service Commission to improve risk assessment of the state’s 92,000 miles of pipeline, and to better verify the qualifications of the operators who run them.

Between 1995 and 2014, New York had 194 pipeline “incidents” resulting in 23 fatalities, 123 injuries and $77 million in property damage, according to the report.

But the audit focused on recent incidences of reporting and disclosure. It found commission staff does not verify information provided by pipeline operators during field audits, lacks a process to identify instances where operators don't provide required notifications, and fails to analyze all available data to identify potential high-risk areas.

During a review covering the first eight months of 2015, the comptroller’s office found six of 950 “gas-related instances” that pipeline operators did not notify to the commission, according to the audit. The incidents, reported in the media, involved evacuations, road closures, the closure of a business, and other situations that left businesses and residents without gas for several days.

The incidents were in Yorkville, Guilderland, Albany, Buffalo, Manhattan and Long Beach, according to a spreadsheet from the comptroller's office. Most of them were gas leaks and ruptures, though one involved an interruption in service to residents in Manhattan.

DiNapoli’s report — critical though not scathing — focused mostly on the need for improvements in documenting issues.

“When DPS (the Department of Public Service) is not notified of reportable incidents involving a gas pipeline, it cannot properly carry out its monitoring responsibilities,” the report stated. “DPS cannot ensure the operators performed all required actions to correct problems, nor can it respond to public inquiries of the incident adequately or in a timely manner.”

Though the audit raised no explicit issues with the way regulators carried out inspections or issued violations, it noted that the Public Service Commission “relies almost exclusively on the operators to report any accidents and incidents.”

New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office, criticized the Public Service Commission's oversight of natural gas pipelines. (Photo: AP)

Commission officials said problems have been or are being addressed. By the time the audit was released, the agency had documented and investigated two of the six unreported incidences noted by the audit, according to a written response to the audit from Public Service Commission Chairwoman Audrey Zibelman.

The agency also has subscribed to an electronic news feed “expected to provide staff with real-time information,” and revised a manual “to clarify that the annual audit letters sent to all operators should include all accidents that met reporting criteria, including any that were not reported by the operators as required.”

DiNapoli’s report comes as the state faces intense scrutiny on plans to expand pipelines to bring shale gas from Pennsylvania to markets in New York and New England.

Several projects awaiting state permits have become the focus of campaigns by regional activists opposed to shale gas development. These include the Constitution and the North East Energy Direct projects proposed from Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania to New York’s Capital District.

Other controversial projects include Dominion’s New Market Project from the Pennsylvania border southwest of Elmira to Schenectady, and a proposal by Crestwood Equity Partners, of Houston, to store liquid propane in abandoned salt mines on the southwest shore of Seneca Lake.

Walter Hang, an environmental database specialist and activist from Ithaca, said the audit validates arguments that pipeline opponents have been making to deny pending permits on the grounds of public safety and environmental protection.

“This carries tremendous weight, and the governor can’t ignore it,” Hang said.

Zibelman characterized the findings of the audit as minor.

The agency “is committed to ensuring all opportunities for improvement are thoroughly assessed and … enacting, where beneficial, appropriate changes to its operations.”

Should Cuomo Halt Constitution Pipeline?

On the heels of a state Comptroller report that says New York has fallen short in it's oversight of pipelines, one person is asking Governor Cuomo halt the Constitution Pipeline project.

Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting wants Cuomo to deny what's called a 401 Water Quality Certification. He says this denial would grind the project to a halt. He worries that if Cuomo doesn't deny the certification by the end of April the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has already approved the project, will grant the certification itself.

"Even the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission admits there are going to be unavoidable pollution hazards. And the record is New York State does not require them to be cleaned up," said Walter Hang, President of Toxics Targeting.

In a statement a spokesman for the pipeline project says pipe will be monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with remotely operated shut-off valves. The project will also feature thicker steel pipe than required by industry regulation and more frequent inspections than required by law.

Constitution Pipeline controversy following state safety audit

(WBNG Binghamton) A local environmental database firm is asking Gov. Andrew Cuomo to stop construction of the Constitution Pipeline after New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli released a new Pipeline Safety Oversight Audit Tuesday.

Toxics Targeting President Walter Hang said the audit should convince Governor Andrew Cuomo to stop the Constitution Pipeline Project in its tracks.

"You have to face the reality that New York does not have an effective means of preventing these pipeline disasters or cleaning them up to state standards," said Hang.

The audit found between 1995 - 2014, New York had 194 pipeline incidents which resulted in 23 fatalities, 123 injuries and $77 million in property damage.

Constitution Pipeline Spokesman Christopher Stockton told Action News the project is proposing a transmission pipeline. He said transmission pipelines are less hazardous than other pipelines.

"Transmission pipeline incidents are extremely rare," said Stockton. "The majority of those incidents which are noted relate to the smaller diameter pipes that service peoples' homes and businesses. The transmission pipelines are actually the safest way to transport energy, and incidents on transmission pipelines are much more rare."

But Hang argues that when there is a pipeline incident, the state doesn't do enough to ensure proper clean-up is done.

"You can see according to the state's own data in many cases these massive contamination releases simply never get cleaned up to state standards," said Hang.

In order to proceed, the Constitution Pipeline must receive a Water Quality Certification.

"If the Governor denies that section 401 Water Quality Certification, the Constitution Pipeline Project would be killed dead," said Hang.

Stockton said the company is optimistic it will receive the certification by the end of April.

Hang said if Cuomo does not grant the certification before the end of April, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission may do so.

The Constitution Pipeline project has been designed with safety as a cornerstone," said Stockton. "We are committed to maintaining the highest standards of safety, utilizing construction and operational procedures that exceed already stringent industry regulations."

Stockton said the regulations include:
· Pipe will be monitored 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with remotely operated shut-off valves
· Installing thicker steel pipe than required by industry regulations
· More frequent inspections than are required by law, including regular inspections with highly-sophisticated internal inspection tools
· Inspection of the integrity of 100 percent of the welds on the pipeline

Audit says N.Y. pipeline oversight is lax

Tom DiNapoli

With the federal government relying on state regulators as "the first line of defense" in ensuring the safety of natural gas pipelines, New York's Department of Public Service must provide better oversight of the 91,181 miles of transmission infrastructure, an audit has determined.

The audit from the office of state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli found that from 1995 through 2014, New York had 194 pipeline "incidents," resulting in 23 fatalities, 123 injuries and $77 million in property damage.

The audit concluded that the Department of Public Service, the staff arm of the Public Service Commission, relies on information it gets from pipeline operators when it makes field visits, but does not verify that information.

The state regulators have also not set up a process for identifying instances where operators fail to notify them of incidents as required, the audit said.

In a third criticism, the auditors wrote that that Department of Public Service "does not perform analyses of all available data to better identify potential high-risk areas."

The report called attention to the March 2014 gas explosion that rocked the East Harlem neighborhood of New York City, killing eight people and injuring 70 more. The audit said federal investigators subsequently determined that the state DPS "had not adequately utilities to ensure operators who were fusing pipelines were properly qualified."

Since the Comptroller's audit, the state regulators have revised its plan to ensure its evaluations of pipeline operators at intervals that do not exceed five years and will include reviews of training, testing and on-site field evaluations, the report said.

While the new audit pointed out that the regulators have conducted all inspections required and followed up on violations, it suggested that it could do a better job incorporating data from outside sources "to better predict high risk areas in an effort to prevent incidents."

A Public Service Commission spokesman, James Denn, said the audit confirms the department has been fulfilling all requirements.

"We are proud of the fact that New York’s gas safety regulations are among the most stringent and best in the nation," Denn said. "With monitoring efforts even more stringent than federal requirements, we have a ‘best-in-class’ safety program in this critical industry."

Denn added: "This months-long state audit found us fundamentally in compliance with our oversight of the utilities’ maintaining public safety."

Walter Hang, an anti-fracking activist and founder of the Ithaca research firm Toxics Targeting, said the comptroller's report should be seen as further evidence that state agencies are not prepared to allow further expansion of gas infrastructure, such as the proposed Constitution Pipeline and Northeast Energy Direct pipeline projects.

"This echoes what thousands of citizens are telling Gov. Andrew Cuomo: to deny the Section 401 Water Quality Certificate" now being sought by the Constitution Pipeline planners, Hang said.

Both the Constitution Pipeline and NED would cut through Delaware and Schoharie counties, running just east of Interstate 88.

An advocate for the gas drilling industry, Marcellus Drilling News, slammed the comptroller's audit, contending the report was biased and lacked context by failing to delve into the number of railroad incidents and bridge accidents that have taken place during the time frame examined for pipeline incidents.

"When you stack up pipelines against any other form of transportation, pipelines are the safest mode of transport — by far," Marcellus Drilling News said on its web site.

FRACKED GAS HIGHWAYS: Pipelines feed demand, rattle neighbors

Dunbar Road compression station in Windsor.
(Photo: ANDREW THAYER / Staff Photo)

When mapped, they look like highways cutting across upstate New York, connecting Albany to areas near Binghamton, Elmira, Ithaca and the Pennsylvania state line.

They carry names sounding like railroad lines of a century ago: the Dominion, Williams, Constitution and Millennium.

These commercial rights of way, however, carry a single commodity – highly-pressurized natural gas from fracking in Pennsylvania to feed the energy appetites of New Yorkers and others in the Northeast.

Plans to expand pipelines and their compressor stations to deliver the Pennsylvania gas have been hailed as a bonanza of cheap energy, tax revenues and jobs. But – like fracking – the growth of the pipelines also has generated widespread controversy.

And some residents have found life near the natural gas thoroughfares to be downright distressing.

In the summer of 2012, lightning struck gas that was venting from a compressor station off Dunbar Road in Windsor, igniting a 10-story flame jetting from the hillside. Sirens wailed and lights flashed as caravans of emergency responders made their way through the countryside and urged people in nearby homes to evacuate.

“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” recalled Frank Engelder, who watched the scene from distance out the picture window of his home on Dunbar Road. “They never really tell you much about that place. But I knew there was a lot of gas under that hill and it was under a lot of pressure.”

Since then, there have been four fires and several close calls reported at five compressor stations that push gas upstream to the Millennium Pipeline in Windsor from well fields in Susquehanna County over the Pennsylvania border.

While the Windsor fire — one of two in recent years at the Dunbar station — caused harrowing moments for the 40 or so residents who live nearby, the most relentless complaints have been about noise, fumes and leaks. The controversy has raised questions about how effectively the industry is regulated.

“We’re just asking that they come into compliance with what they already have before they start adding on,” said Jerry Henehan, a resident who has organized Concerned Residents of Windsor, a group seeking more oversight of the station off Dunbar Road. “The state is not watching over this, and the town is coddling them.”

With a group of about 20 residents, Henehan is fighting a local battle with broad regional stakes. The conflict, which has erupted in frequent outbursts at town board meetings, is not unique to Windsor.

State approval is pending for more pipelines and compressor stations along routes traversing Chemung, Broome, Tompkins and a dozen other upstate counties as they feed hubs in the Capitol District with Pennsylvania gas.

As with highway expansion, the development of pipelines has historically been a fight mostly engaging residents along the routes whose lives are disrupted, while people who live elsewhere gladly reap the benefits. Unlike highways, and akin to railroads, pipelines are not public property, though all three are recognized as essential assets to serve public needs.

The battlefield over pipelines is changing, however, with the fight over global warming, the future of energy development and the role of fracking, the technology providing access to vast petroleum and gas reserves in Pennsylvania and across the country.

In New York, pipeline expansion has become the target of well-organized regional political action campaigns that, having stopped fracking, now aim to shut down the new projects to deliver and store fossil fuel.

Several projects approved by the federal government now await state permits. They include a plan by Crestwood Equity Partners, of Houston, to store liquid propane in abandoned salt mines on the southwest shore of Seneca Lake, a project targeted by regional activists.

“We still share a common goal,” said Sandra Steingraber, an Ithaca College ecology scholar speaking at a recent rally in Albany. “We want an end to New York’s ruinous dependency on fracked gas, along with all of the hateful, harmful infrastructure that comes with it.”

Steingraber, a high-profile figure in the anti-fracking movement, is leading a civil disobedience campaign to blockade the Crestwood site, resulting in hundreds of arrests over the last 15 months.

National attention on the issue of storing and piping natural gas recently has focused on an unstoppable gas leak in Porter Range California. The leak from the Southern California Gas Co.'s Aliso Canyon storage facility, which started in October, has sent thousands fleeing their homes, degraded air quality and boosted greenhouse gases.

In Broome County, Windsor Town Supervisor Carolyn Price, who lives about 10 miles away from the Dunbar compressor station, campaigns on the other side: supporting shale gas development.

Price has appeared in a YouTube video plugging the economic benefits of the Constitution Pipeline, which would run through the Southern Tier on its way from Pennsylvania to the Capitol District of New York. She also lead a group of Southern Tier officials who, angered by New York’s fracking ban, threatened to secede from New York and become part of Pennsylvania.

The Dunbar Station “is all thoroughly regulated,” said Price, sitting in a town hall meeting room in front of a stack of paperwork and correspondence from state agencies. “We need all types of energy. Gas and pipelines are a part of that.”

Owned and operated by Williams Partners LP of Tulsa Okla., Dunbar is an example of the dozens of stations needed along pipeline intervals to regulate the pressure and keep gas flowing from the prolific Pennsylvania gas fields to consumer markets throughout the northeast.

This station has the footprint of a small shopping plaza. Instead of shops, the space is filled with 10,000 horsepower compressors, pipes, tanks, valves, exhaust stacks, flares and an assortment of heavy equipment.

As both supply and demand grows, so does the Dunbar Station. Williams now is working on a second 16-inch diameter pipeline from Pennsylvania and additional compressors, each the approximate size of a locomotive, to bring the number to five. The station pushes gas into the Millennium Pipeline, which runs west to east across the Southern Tier and then veers downstate.

This and other projects are driven by 18-percent growth in natural gas consumption since 2009 in New York, the fourth-largest natural gas consumer in the country behind Louisiana, California and Texas. Some of the lines will also feed growing demand in New England.

The concentration of industrial activity in otherwise bucolic regions along the way is good for some people. In Windsor, the Williams operation produces 16 percent of the town’s tax revenue, construction jobs and cheap energy for gas-burning homes and power plants both locally and regionally.

Paperwork stacked in the Windsor town hall includes a review last fall by the state Public Service Commission that determined environmental impacts of the station’s upgrade to be “minimal or short-term in nature” and "the facility will pose no undue hazard" to nearby residents.

The PSC also determined the need to “provide New York and other northeast markets with an additional supply of regionally-produced natural gas” to be “clear and undisputed.”

“If the Public Service Commission says there is a need and it can be operated safely, we need to support it,” Price said.

Concerned Residents of Windsor find little comfort in the regulatory paperwork or assurances.

The first fire at the Dunbar Station was caused by workers venting pressure at the plant, a periodic practice known as a “blowdown.” Gas jetting from the station drew a lightning strike.

Though the resulting fire was “spectacular,” according to a subsequent PSC report, “all safety systems functioned as designed and there was no property damage or personal injury that resulted from the incident, in spite of what can be considered an unusual set of circumstances: a direct lightning strike on the vent stack during a gas release.”

Lightening ignited gas vented from a compressor station in Windsor (Photo: Provided)

The report did not question the practice of venting gas in a lightning storm.

In January, 2014 a fuel line failed and gas sprayed over hot turbo-chargers and exhaust manifolds, according to state records. The fire, contained and extinguished by firefighters, caused $3 million in damage and gave local residents another scare.

Across New York’s border with Pennsylvania, three fires over the course of 28 months damaged Williams’ compressor stations feeding the same gas pipeline.

Williams spokesman Joe Horvath declined to say whether the number of fires at the company’s facilities is out of the ordinary.

“We regularly work with neighbors and local stakeholders to understand their concerns and make sure they understand our operations,” he said in an email. “Safety is our first priority and we use leading technology to keep our facilities safe. We also work closely with local first responders to ensure they understand our facilities and procedures.”

A compressor station at a pipeline in Susquehanna County moves Pennsylvania’s gas to New York. (Photo: Tom Wilber / Staff photo)

Records show regulators can be left out of the loop.

In March 2012, miscommunication between workers caused a gas leak and explosion at a compressor station in Springville Township, Susquehanna County, reportedly felt in homes miles away. The cause was “human error,” according to records at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

On the Friday after the Springville accident, Pennsylvania regulators asked Williams “not to resume operations at the facility until the department had the opportunity to conduct a more thorough inspection on Monday.”

The company hired its own contractor to evaluate the building that Friday. Concluding the structure was sound, Williams bypassed the damaged engines to keep gas flowing into the transmission lines without consulting with state regulators, according to records on file with the Pennsylvania DEP.

By 1 a.m. Monday morning the company got the compressors working and brought the entire station back on line — hours before state inspectors arrived on site.

Inspectors accepted William’s insistence on powering up before the state could evaluate the site as a simple misunderstanding.

According to a state report: “The Department acknowledges that Williams asserts that the company did not understand that the Department’s communication request that the company not resume operations until the department had an opportunity to perform an inspection of the facility.”

DEP spokesman Neil Shader said the miscommunication “was determined to be an accident.” No citations were issued.

While the fires in Windsor, N.Y. caused harrowing moments for the 40 or so residents who live within a mile of the Dunbar station, other issues crop up on a routine basis.

In controlling the flow of gas in pipelines, compressor stations are permitted discharge a range of greenhouse gases and impurities. Some are toxic.

In Windsor, the station annually discharges up to 9.5 tons of benzene, 49 tons of volatile organic compounds, 95 tons of nitrogen oxides and 99 tons of carbon dioxide. Residents also have complained about the recurring smell of mercaptan, a non-toxic but pungent additive to detect leaks.

The most relentless complaints, however, involve noise.

At random times of day or night blowdowns bleed excessive pressure from the lines. Residents compare the sound to a jet engine or locomotive. There are other mechanical sounds that come and go without warning and many are short-lived.

But the most bitter complaints involve a continuous low-frequency thrumming that the machinery produces day and night.

Low-frequency noise might not register as outright loudness. Think of the noise from the thumping bass in the car that pulls up in traffic around you. You might not be able to tell which car it’s coming from, but you can feel it. In homes, it can be sensed as a kind of vibration resonating in windows or objects.

How and where noise from a compressor is heard or felt can depend on topography, wind, atmospheric conditions and seasonal buffers such as leaves on the trees and snow, as well as activity at the compressor station at any given time. The low-frequency noise may not register on a decibel meter.

Complaints are well documented in public comments on the permit application for the expansion of the Dunbar plant.

A sampling shows 45 respondents supported the project and 38 opposed it. Of respondents living within a half-mile of the station, however, 20 opposed the project and one supported it. Documented noise complaints ranged from a “jet engine” to “loud grinding sound all evening” to “loud and pulsating.”

The perception varies. Price, who lives well out of earshot of the compressor station, has investigated some of the complaints near the site. She compared the noise to “a waterfall sound” or “noise from the highway.”

In a recent audit, town code officer David Brown investigated two dozen noise complaints over a six-week period last year and determined they were all “unfounded,” meaning they did not register at the town’s decibel limit of 40 during the day or 38 during the night, according to a report he submitted to the town board in October. The town ordinance is based on background or “ambient” noise plus certain allowances above that.

Price said the town has worked with the state and Williams to address problems.

“The company [Williams] has been accessible and responsive,” she said. “I have found the people at the Public Service Commission to be hard-working and diligent. Everybody is trying to work together.”

West Windsor Fire Chief Jerry Launt, who responded to the lightning strike and coordinated the evacuation, said “everybody has a different tolerance.” He added: “Some things that some people find scary, others do not. Some people’s hearing is better than others. Some people’s sense of smell is better.”

Launt is doubly interested in complaints, he said, because he is the fire chief, and he has two family members who live by the compressor station.

Over the years Williams has taken steps to reduce the noise, including enclosing the engines and installing silencers on the venting stacks. The noise problem has improved, although it remains an issue.

In a July 26, 2013 letter, Williams’ attorneys asked that the state to exempt the company from the town’s noise ordinance because “limits are unreasonably restrictive." State officials have proven sympathetic. A resulting order from the commission ruled the town’s ordinance “unreasonably restrictive” given limits in noise-reduction technology and the commercial demand for gas.

The PSC advised the town to repeal its ordinance or the state will not acknowledge it. In return, the commission asked Williams to continue upgrades to reduce noise within technological limits.

PSC spokesman Jon Sorensen said the federal noise standard for compressor stations is 55 decibels. The standard the state will apply to the Dunbar Station — 40 decibels at night — will make it “one of the quietest compressor stations in the state.”

The Windsor board will hold a hearing on the repeal of the noise ordinance in March, Price said. Henehan said he plans to be there with other CROW supporters. "The question is, why would they repeal it?" he said.

Hal Smith, another resident who lives within a mile of the station and has spoken at town board meetings, has his answer: "The lesson is, an oil and gas company with unlimited legal resources is pretty much going to call the shots."

Many town board meetings throughout upstate New York will be busy with pipeline matters in coming months and years. With work on the Williams expansion under way, approval is pending for three other pipeline projects in New York. The Constitution and the Kinder Morgan projects would follow a common route from Susquehanna County to New York’s Capitol District.

To the west, the Dominion’s New Market Project would upgrade an existing line running from the Pennsylvania border southwest of Elmira to Schenectady. The Dominion project would include new compressor stations in the towns of Veteran in Chemung County and Georgetown in Madison County and a pipeline spur to the Town of Dryden in Tompkins County.

The effectiveness of the New York DEC, which lost more than 22 percent of its staff due to budget cuts since 2008, remains a salient point in both the fracking and pipeline controversies.

An evaluation by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli in 2014 noted that the agency’s responsibilities continue to grow while staffing shrinks, and urged “consideration by policy makers and the public of whether the DEC has the resources necessary to carry out its critically important functions.”

Critics in the environmental field are pushing for reform. Walter Hang, an environmental database specialist and anti-fracking activist, recently uncovered 114 cases of pipeline explosions, fires, spills and releases in the DEC’s spills database since the 1980s, many of them still unresolved.

Hang said his findings, which include both oil and gas pipelines, is hard evidence that the “DEC does not have the requisite regulatory system to prevent these problems or make sure they get cleaned up when they happen. They don’t have it now and they didn’t have it years ago when they had far more staffing and were under much less pressure.”

Hang cites examples in DEC records where “some form of failure in the pipeline” in 2004 caused a blast that leveled a home on Parker Schoolhouse Road in Harpersfield, Delaware County and released 357,000 gallons of gas that burned for 18 hours. In the Town of Gilboa, Schoharie County, 100 homes were evacuated in 2010 after a 140,000 gallon gas leak. And in Candor, a spill contaminated a wetland along the Millennium Pipeline in 2010. None of the sites meet cleanup standards, according to the files.

In addition to methane, a greenhouse gas, the contents of pipelines can contain a condensate of various toxic substances, including volatile organic compounds, and additives, including ethylene glycol. Hang said the record shows pollution spilled from machinery and pipelines violate the federal Clean Water Act.

DEC spokesman Sean Mahar said the 114 spills Hang earmarked are a small percentage of the thousands of spills the agency addresses annually. Agency officials “quickly and effectively respond to all spills reported to the DEC’s spill reporting hotline, and report all activity on the DEC’s Spills Database,” he said. While it is the DEC's duty to responds to spills, Mahar added, other federal and state agencies oversee operations.

Hang, president of the Ithaca based Toxics Targeting, led several hundred protesters in an anti-pipeline rally in Albany during Governor Cuomo’s recent State of the State address. Such rallies, supported by mainstream and grass-roots organizations that comprise Governor Cuomo’s political base in the Hudson Valley and Finger Lakes regions, have become routine but effective. Having won the fracking ban, they show no signs of letting up in the campaign against fossil fuel.

Others, who have lived with natural gas pipelines as a feature in the countryside for their entire lifetime, see the expansion as no big deal.

Town of Veteran Supervisor William Winkky said some residents had concerns over issue with the compressor station planned in his town as part of the Dominion project, but they were cleared up after some informational meetings with company representatives.

“People had misinformation,” he said. “A lot of the negativity disappeared after the meetings."

Plans in the Town of Veteran call for an 11,000-horsepower station with four buildings and a network of turbines, tanks, valves and processing equipment similar to the one in Windsor.

“It’s just a pumping station,” Winkky said.

Drilling downturn hits Marcellus Shale industry hard

Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale industry has been struggling in the face of low commodity prices.

The sound of humming drill rigs has been tapering off lately. It’s been happening for a while, but this year, the industry is going through a particularly rough patch. Drillers are laying off workers and cutting spending in the face of low natural gas prices.

One prime example is Cabot Oil and Gas. Earlier this month, the company announced plans to cut its 2016 capital budget by 58 percent, compared to last year. It’s also scaling back to operate just one rig. That’s a pretty big deal, according to Stephen Beck, who analyzes U.S. oil and gas plays for IHS.

“The noteworthy thing about Cabot is that it’s located in some of the best areas of the Marcellus in Northeast Pennsylvania,” he says. “The wells in these areas are some of the most economic wells in the Marcellus.”

Other major companies have also announced cuts this year. Southwestern Energy laid off over nearly 40 percent workforce—including about 200 jobs in Appalachia. Range Resources recently cut 55 jobs and Chesapeake Energy saw its stock plummet as it fended off bankruptcy rumors after hiring a restructuring firm.

The downturn has rippled through related industries too. Clayton Bubeck is with the Lancaster-based engineering firm, Rettew. He says the Marcellus boom was a shot in the arm just at the right time in 2008. Despite the Great Recession, Rettew was able to open new offices and their workforce more than doubled to nearly 500 people.

But suddenly, nearly all their business was oil and gas.

“We really didn’t understand what that cyclical nature was going to be maybe as well as we should have,” says Bubeck.

In 2014 Rettew decided it needed to diversify in order to insulate itself from the booms and busts of the industry. Today, the company has just under 400 employees and does about half its business in the energy sector overall—including some growing renewable industries.

“That’s just the way oil and gas is. It’s a commodity-based industry. It’s capitalism. When they’re making money, they’re doing work,” says Bubeck. “And when the prices are down, they retract. They do it to themselves. They knew the more they drilled, the more product they’d put on the market, and that drove the price down.”

Marcellus gas production peaked last year then started to slide. There are now just 19 rigs running in Pennsylvania.

“It’s really difficult for them to justify keeping all the rigs out there,” says Lynn Westfall, director of the Office of Energy Markets and Financial Analysis for the U.S Energy Information Administration.

Since production declines rapidly from wells, companies have to keep drilling new ones to keep up the pace.

“That’s why production is going down,” says Westfall. “The new wells aren’t making up for the loss from the old wells. The other problem is logistics. There’s just not enough pipeline capacity to get it out.”

And less gas means less work. The most recent figures from the state Department of Labor from the second quarter of 2015 show a loss of more than 2,262 oil and gas jobs, compared to the same period the previous year.

The slump is also hurting state coffers. Royalties from drilling on Pennsylvania forest land have dropped sharply this year, and gas companies will pay less in impact fees—which have become an important source of revenue for local governments.

But as an analyst watching this all play out, Beck says it’s key to remember one thing.

“The important thing is the industry does go through these boom and bust cycles as everyone knows and the industry will get through this low price period as well.”

Governor Tom Wolf is still advocating for a new severance tax on production. Last year, his proposal didn’t get enough legislative support. This year, his administration expects his new plan would bring in $217.8 million dollars—a fraction of the billion dollars they’d hoped for last year. Republican lawmakers, who have long opposed such a levy, are starting to signal they may be open to enacting one this time around.

Concerns Over Plans For Pipeline Expansions


The natural gas industry has caused controversy in our area for a number of years, but with recent plans for pipeline expansions and increased initiatives by those opposing them, the debate could soon reach new heights.

Windsor Resident Jerry Henehan says, "We don't support anything that's going to disrupt our lifestyles."

Floid Bronson, also of Windsor says, "Have you ever heard the terminology not in my backyard? There you go."

The town of Windsor has multiple natural gas pipelines that run through it. And with pipelines, come compressor stations every 40 to 100 miles.

Windsor Town Supervisor Carolyn Price says, "Will there be a point where the people that are complaining are happy?"

Approximately 50 residents that live near the compressor station have formed an organization they call C.R.O.W--Concerned Residents Of Windsor--to address a number of issues they have identified with natural gas expansion in their town.

Crow Spokesperson Jerry Henehan says, "That was done in reaction to problems we were having including an explosion."

Price says, "The report described it as a fire. You will talk to people who will use the word explosion, but it was not an explosion."

She says during a venting of gas as the compressor station in the summer of 2012, a bolt of lightening struck, sending a giant fire ball into the air and striking fear in nearby homeowners.

Price says, "I believe people really aired on the side of caution evacuating."

Aside from safety, concerned residents of Windsor are also worried about potential health related impacts.

Henehan says, "We have a number of people including some children that are being exposed to toxic emissions that we don't even know what they are."

But the number one complaint about the compressor station in Windsor?.....

Henehan: "It's sort of that uhhhhh uhhhh."


Henehan says, "It's probably not good for your hearing either and several of our residents have developed a ringing in their ear and we believe that could also be a source of that problem."

Price says, "There have been complaints of a hum and sometimes when I've been up there I've heard it, it's in the distance, it's not like it's close to listen and you say that must be the compressor station but it's not loud."

Windsor residents who live near the compressor station have mixed feelings about it.

Windsor resident Floid Bronson says, "The noise problem...I don't think we have one."

Bronson's property borders that of the compressor station. He says noise is not an issue and that Williams, the company that owns the station, has been a good neighbor.

He says, "I think they've been good neighbors, they've helped the town out a lot, they worked with people in the area to try and make them happy."

The natural gas industry has provided jobs to the people of Windsor and pays 16% of the town's taxes. Still, those who oppose the project say efforts should be focused elsewhere.
Henehan says, "We could be giving those same jobs to building solar energy or building some other sort of renewable energy which might be even more beneficial."

As plans for new pipelines are currently in progress throughout our area, Henehan worries many more communities will soon face the same struggles Windsor has.

He says, "We're kind of the guinea pigs in this thing and we would like to see that evaluated so that other communities don't have to go through what we've gone through."

Walter Hang, whose company Toxic Targeting claims to have mapped more than 700,000 known and potential toxic sites throughout the state of New York is advocating the stoppage of pipeline expansions until it is proven the projects will not cause harm to communities or the environment.

Hang says, "Major pipelines have already been proposed throughout Central New York including very close to all Elmira and Binghamton. All these activities should be brought to a halt before further disasters occur."

Henehan says that before any more pipelines are put in, state officials need to thoroughly asses and eliminate any potential hazards.

He says, "If some of the things can be improved or some of the hazards eliminated, we should do that before they expand, not wait until we've got a spider web of pipes under upstate New York and somebody says, oh by the way...this isn't good for the health of these people."

The Anti-Frackers Return

From the Morning Memo:

Last year, for the first time in a long time, the highly energized and organized anti-fracking movement gathered in Albany on State of the State day to cheer – rather than jeer – Gov. Cuomo.

After years of protesting the governor in hopes of pressuring him to reject the controversial natural gas drilling method in the Marcellus Shale, advocates instead “demonstrated” to show their appreciation for Cuomo’s decision to heed their call and institute a ban (albeit not a permanent one) on fracking.

But, as with so many things in Albany, that was hardly the end of the story.

The anti-fracking community has turned its attention to a proposal to allow drilling with gelled propane rather than water in Tioga County, which proponents say is not specifically prohibited by the state’s ban.

They’re also opposed to the proliferation of natural gas pipeline projects at various stages of development across New York, which would bring fracked gas into and through the state from outside its borders.

Advocates are again planning on demonstrating outside the State of the State address this year, which is being combined for the second year running with the executive budget proposal. Both will be unveiled on Jan. 13.

In an email to fellow fracktivists, longtime organizer and Ithaca-based anti-drilling advocate Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting, urged a big turnout on speech day, writing: “It is imperative that we show our political strength on that day if we want to build on all our advocacy and organizing success to win major new victories in the coming year.”

Hang told protestors to get to the concourse early to stake out good protesting positions, bring as many signs and props as possible and be ready to “yell your heads off.” He reminded any potential protest attendees that they would have to clear security in order to access the plaza, which could be a time consuming process.

“If we can win these fights, it would have a cataclysmic impact on shale tracking and fossil fuel infrastructure across New York, Pennsylvania and the entire northeast,” Hang wrote. “We would set yet another critical environmental protection precedent that could be replicated coast-to-coast.”

Pipelines, loopholes at center of fight over fossil fuels in Tompkins

ITHACA, NY - Hydrofracking may be prohibited in New York State, but activists say loopholes in the ban and a growing network of gas pipelines and other infrastructure still threaten the environment in Tompkins County.

Walter Hang, of the environmental watchdog company Toxics Targeting, recently implored a veritable army of "fractivists" to journey to Albany and protest at Governor Andrew Cuomo's "State of the State" address.

The focus of this protest was the Constitution Pipeline, a proposed natural gas pipeline that would carry fuel from Pennsylvania through several New York Counties. The Constitution Pipeline wouldn't run through Tompkins County, but is symbolic of the greater battle over fossil fuel infrastructure throughout New York.

It's also related to similar proposed projects like the West Dryden Pipeline, which has already been the subject of significant debate.

Concerns are being raised about the safety of these pipelines. From Department of Environmental Conservation data, Hang compiled a list of 114 pipeline incidents - leaks, spills, ruptures, explosions and other accidents that he says resulted in contamination of nearby waters, damage to the environment and even fatalities. These incidents date back as far as the late 1980s.

Due to the laws governing water quality in New York State, the activists are hoping to prevent the pipeline on the grounds that it would pose a significant risk of water contamination, which Hang says sometimes is not cleaned up properly.

Beyond the safety issues, Hang says there's another reason for fighting the pipeline. "If we succeed," he said, "we will completely change the way that New York prepares to get rid of fossil fuels." He further noted that the state had been "shockingly ineffective" at actually implementing any sorts of alternative energy programs.

According to Hang, only 4.3 percent of all energy in state is produced by alternative sources.

Fracking by any other name

The heated battle over hydraulic fracking seemed to draw to a close with Governor Cuomo's prohibition on the practice in December 2014. However, as Hang is fond of saying, "The devil's in the details."

New York's ban on fracking prohibits any operation that would use of over 300,000 gallons of water for fracking. It doesn't, however, say anything about the use of gelled propane, one of several technologies that have been proposed as alternatives to hydrofracking.

A project is currently progressing in the town of Barton in Tioga County, and according to a WBNG Binghamptom report, it is seeing a great deal of support. A similar proposal was also advanced in the town of Candor. Both towns are just 30 minutes south of Ithaca.

Gelled propane produces less flowback of contaminated water, according to Hang, but an Environmental Impact Statement released last year by the DEC determined that "waterless fracking methods would not eliminate the public hazards" of fracking.

The economic picture in Tompkins County is different from that in many of its neighboring counties, which may make it a less likely target for would-be fracking operations. However, between constant protests at the Seneca Lake gas storage facility, the divide over the West Dryden Pipeline, and the potential for new fracking operations just 30 minutes from Ithaca, a fight over fossil fuel infrastructure seems unavoidable.

Will The Constitution Pipeline Help or Harm The Community?

At least 100 people in support of the Constitution pipeline held a rally Saturday in efforts to advance the project.

The Joint Landowners of New York held the rally at the River Club in Afton where shared their thoughts on how this natural gas pipeline will benefit the community.

Supporters say it will bring many jobs to the area.

"The point of today is to make sure that everyone understands that the communities along the pipeline route want this pipeline. There are tremendous community benefits; there will be $13 million dollars in economic impact, over 2400 jobs," says Scoot Kurkosvi, attorney for the Joint Land Owner Coalition.

"Oil and gas pipelines are the key to the modern economy. They literally are the way to carry oil and gas to homes and factories across our nation. When you strangle the development of oil and gas pipelines, you shut down our economy," says Fill the Gas Odessey director Aaron Price.

Yet the president of Toxic Targeting is against this. He says that data shows these pipelines will contaminate the water supply and put the community at risk for potential explosions.

"The federal Clean Water Act is absolutely crystal clear. The Section 401 Water Quality Certifications can only be provided when the Department of Environmental Conservation deems that the project will not violate water quality standards." says Walter Hang, president of Toxic Targeting.

The status of the Constitution Pipeline is still pending.

WRFI - The Forecast - Walter Hang Interview- 1/6/2016

Battle over Pipelines as State Certification Looms

One of the main opponents of fracking is now setting his sights on proposed pipeline projects in New York.

Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting has documented 114 spills in the state. That's data he says proves the state shouldn't grant what are called Section 401 water quality certifications that projects need to move forward in New York.

This includes the Constitution Pipeline. A spokesperson for that project says the pipeline company has worked with the Department of Environmental Conservation for the past three years to ensure the safety of the project.

"These have probably been granted on a wish and a prayer but now we're going to basically require the Governor to enforce the law and the law is very strict and very onerous," said Hang.

"There's thousands of miles of pipe in New York that operate reliably every single day. The National Transportation Safety Board says that pipelines are actually the safest and most efficient way to transport energy," said Christopher Stockton, Spokesperson for the Constitution Pipeline.

Stockton expects the state to make it's decision on granting the 401 certification soon. Hang says pipelines have caused water quality hazards that have never been cleaned up.

Activists speak on fracking hazards


Opponents of hydrofracking are warning the public about numerous accidents, spills and disasters that have taken place across the State.

Walter Hang of Toxics Targeting held a news conference at the Broome County Library to present what he calls disturbing findings.

He says there have been a number of fires, explosions, and ruptures as a result of natural gas, crude oil and petroleum pipeline infrastructure in New York.

Hang also says toxic discharges have not been cleaned to state standards.

As a result, Hang says hundreds of homes have been evacuated and eventually demolished.

Toxics Targeting, an environmental database firm, released a three-hundred and fifty-eight page summary for one-hundred and fourteen incidents that have taken place.

Hang says even the most reliable equipment used in the industry isn't foolproof.

"The bottom line is that you can have the best technology but that doesn't mean that's it's not going to fail. That's exactly what we've seen time and time again in New York based on the DEC's own data. It's not just one or a little spill, there are literally thousands of these spills," said Hang.

In addition to releasing the findings, Hang has also sent a letter to Governor Cuomo.

It would request that all pending Water Quality Certification applications for new natural gas, petroleum and crude oil infrastructure projects be denied, including the proposed Constitution Pipeline.

'Toxics Targeting' against proposed pipelines

(WBNG Binghamton) A local environmental database firm is calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to deny certification for new and expanding natural gas pipelines.

On Thursday, Toxics Targeting presented 114 cases of what it calls "clear evidence" that the Department of Environmental Conservation cannot manage the negative effects of pipeline spills.

The group is demanding the governor to deny 401 Clean Water Certification for the proposed Constitution Pipeline, Northeast Energy Direct Pipeline and the proposed expansion of the Dominion Pipeline.

"The bottom line is you could have the best technology but that doesn't mean it is not going to fail,” said Walter Hang, of Toxics Targeting Inc. “That is exactly what we have seen time and time again in New York based on the DEC's own data."

Hang says Toxics Targeting has already sent a letter to the governor asking to deny the request.

The group says it has not yet heard back.

Environmental Advocates Call on Governor to Deny Pending Oil Projects

BINGHAMTON, N.Y.-- Fires, explosions, spills, ruptures, and toxic discharges. Toxics Targeting President Walter Hang said there are more than 100 documented incidents of these across the state of New York.

"Time and time again, at pipelines all across the state of New York, there have been uncontrolled releases that have caused water quality hazards that were never cleaned up to the applicable standards," he said.

That's why he and hundreds of others signed a letter for Governor Andrew Cuomo, asking him to fix compliance issues and deny pending applications for natural gas, crude oil, and petroleum infrastructure projects.

"These are not emotional appeals; we're not yelling at him and saying he's bad," Hang said. "We're basically pointing out his obligations under the law. We're using his own agency's data and the proof is in the pudding. That's a very powerful way to shape public policy on these matters."

"I think it's unfortunate that some groups feel the need to try and sensationalize and create unnecessary fear in New Yorkers," said Chris Stockton, Constitution Pipeline spokesman. "The fact is, there are thousands of miles of pipeline which safely operate and reliably transport gas and other fuels in New York every other day."

Stockton said people have to take this documentation for what it is.

"They're using 40 years worth of data, and I only counted three incidents or leaks that were related to interstate natural gas transmission pipelines, and none of those appear to have involved injuries," Stockton said. "We invest a lot of time, resources, and dollars making sure our pipelines operate safely and that they don't leak."

While Stockton doesn't believe there's a reason for the uproar, advocates are confident the governor will take a good look at the research. They hope he makes a decision similar to the one he made a year ago, banning fracking in the state.

The Promise of Fracking - Pt. 1

The Promise of Fracking


Nowhere did the promise of fracking Marcellus Shale shine brighter than the banquet hall of the Binghamton Regency in late May of 2008.

Spread before farmers on fine china over white linen was a feast of tenderloin tips, roasted vegetables, and chocolate mousse. They ate as they awaited turns at the “signing table.” Dinner was hosted by XTO Energy, the Texas drilling company seeking mineral rights to 50,000 acres in eastern Broome County.

That afternoon, and at two later banquets, XTO paid $110 million to 500 landowners for mineral rights to their land. For some, the single XTO check was more earned than in years of farming.

Gas prices were nearing an all-time high, and XTO was on a quest to tap the northern reaches of the mother of shale gas formations, extending from New York’s Southern Tier through Pennsylvania and parts of Ohio and West Virginia.

To many, these were just the beginnings of the promise coming true.

First came the promise of leases worth millions. Then came the promise of jobs from drilling and related business. Royalty checks on natural gas flowing from tens of thousands of wells would further enrich landowners. Economic prosperity. Clean energy.

A Broome County study in 2009 projected gas extraction would generate $15 billion over 10 years, support more than 16,000 jobs and result in $792 million in salaries and wages and $85 million in state and local taxes.

The promise seemed too good to be true. And, for New York, the promise wasn’t enough.

After a long review, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration a year ago found environmental risks outweighed potential economic gains in New York State. The decision isn’t necessarily permanent – a new political administration could embrace the promise of fracking, the extraction of petroleum from bedrock by injecting the ground with pressurized chemical solutions and sand.

While New York politicians and regulators weren’t sold on the promise, those in Pennsylvania have embraced it. In the seven years of fracking just across the state border, about 9,500 wells have been sunk on rolling farmland.

In terms of sheer production, the Marcellus has exceeded all expectations. Of all the nation’s natural gas “pay-zones” enabled by unconventional development, none has been prolific as the Marcellus Shale. Since 2007, Marcellus production is more than twice the next two largest natural gas formations, each in Texas.

For many, the promise of fracking in Pennsylvania came true.

Some landowners have received life-changing windfalls. Pennsylvania communities have benefited with an infusion of cash for housing, hospitals, roads and public safety, and cheap abundant fossil fuel is now flowing into New York markets.

But hindsight in Pennsylvania shows initial economic projections and job estimates were grossly inflated, much of the wealth has left the area, industry has alienated some of its most supportive allies, economic returns remain precarious as prices fall and regulators have failed to protect the public against predatory exploitation.

Ultimately, the impact of the gas rush might be judged more favorably if not measured against such inflated expectations.

In Pennsylvania, is the best already over, or is even more to come? How long can the economics of shale be sustained, and at what cost?


* Pennsylvania Labor Department inflated figures to make shale gas industry job outlook stronger than it is.

* Industry is generating millions of dollars in “impact fees” to small-town economies to buy good will near drilling sites in lieu of a more costly state tax.

* Fracking has brought both a rise in crime and influx of money to help rural poverty and public safety.

Handshake Means Nothing


Walter Brooks, of Springville Pennsylvania, was on the front line of the Marcellus gas rush. He was among the first owners to be approached by landmen, the first to lease his land, and the first to experience the consequences.

In 2006, Brooks, thinking nothing would come of it, signed a standard industry lease that gave Cabot Oil and Gas of Houston Texas mineral rights to his 212 acres for just $5,300, or $25 an acre. This amounted to less than a tenth or less of what landowners would get once word got out that they were sitting over trillions of cubic feet of natural gas.

“If only I knew,” Brooks said in a recent interview. “But you could say that about a lot of things.”

As Cabot began drilling wells on his land, the farmer held hope that royalties would make things right.

When the water supplying the family farmed turned brown shortly after the start of drilling, Brooks said, the company immediately delivered water to his house, and the problem cleared up soon after that. That didn’t bother him. But his patience is now being tested with the way Cabot does business.

“You better get it on paper,” he said. “Word of mouth and a handshake means nothing to these guys.”

The complaint is widespread. In Pennsylvania, lawsuits and investigations over business practices are as much a part of the shale gas story as landmen, roughnecks and striking it rich.

When the land rush began, disputes tended to be over exploitive leasing practices. Now, with the flow of gas, Brooks and other landowners face an endless battle over deductions companies take from royalty checks.

While it is established in convention and practice that landowners do not pay to produce gas, case law has not settled the issue of who pays “post-production” costs of preparing and transporting gas to market.

Post-production costs typically are spelled out in the fine print of leases, vary from case to case and is open to wide interpretation. Landowners complain that the costs often show up as arbitrary and unaccounted deductions from their share of the bounty.

“We would like there to be accepted standards and basic rules that they would have to follow,” said Jackie Root, a landowner in Tioga County, lease negotiator and president of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Association of Royalty Owners.

In 2013, a group of Pennsylvania landowners filed a suit against Chesapeake Energy, a company headquartered in Oklahoma City with Marcellus operations centered in Bradford County. But arguing the nuances and complexities of lease fine print with company attorneys has proven an ambitious legal undertaking.

“For landowners to go to court to file a class action suit every time their royalty payments come up short – it puts them in a situation where they have to decide: ‘do I give it to the gas company or to the attorneys?’ ” Root said.

Root and her organization support a bill designed to clarify Pennsylvania’s 1979 Guaranteed Minimum Royalty Act, which landowners claim the industry is exploiting. The industry, proficiently equipped to handle both legislation and litigation, has so far successfully lobbied to keep the changes in the Act from a vote in the Pennsylvania legislature.

Industry officials say the debate over post-production costs are a contractual matter between landowners and business. “They get what they negotiate,” said Cabot spokesman George Stark. “There is nothing untoward. When price of gas is high, the fee isn’t so noticeable. But it is a fixed fee, and it looks bigger when the royalties go down.”

Landowner complaints spurred an investigation by Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane. However, that has been weighed down by Kane’s own morass: she lost her law license, faces criminal charges and possible legislative dismissal following a scandal involving leaked documents.

The fight over post-production costs is testing the trust of some of the industry’s strongest allies. Despite their complaints, Brooks and Root– like many who receive income from the industry and support gas development as a matter of principal– bristle at the argument that fossil fuel development is an ecological disaster.

Root called New York’s ban “a crime” and a result of “an insane activist movement.”

Job Numbers Mislead


As Brooks drove his red Ford pickup over his land to survey operations on a recent fall afternoon, he turned onto a gravel access road framed by an open gate with a padlock dangling from the latch. At the top of the hill were six wells.

Brooks wondered aloud who might be on his property: Likely a Cabot worker but this could be “friend of foe,” Brooks said, noting that he got along better with some than others.

As he drove to the top, a large man stepped out of a truck, donned a Cabot hard hat and greeted him cordially as “Mr. Brooks.” The farmer’s demeanor eased as he recognized worker Matthew Faux.

Faux personifies the fulfillment of the natural gas promise. He graduated from Montrose High School in 2009 and worked in a local stone quarry. About that time, the gas boom took off. He landed a job with Guy Parish, a local contractor that fixed tractors and sold mulch to farmers.

Parish had quickly adapted his Montrose agricultural business to meet the gas industry’s needs. He began hiring semi-skilled young men like Faux – with mechanical aptitude and experience with equipment -- who could drive trucks and operate heavy equipment, serve as roustabouts and plumbers and didn’t mind working 12-hour night shifts and heavy lifting.

Jobs were now becoming scarce, however, as Cabot began $500 million in cutbacks in capitol expenditures in Susquehanna County due to a market glut and falling natural gas prices.

Conversation at the well site turned from the status of the Brooks wells to the status of pipelines. The well fields were connected to regional markets, but they needed more lines to bigger markets. Without them, industry expansion will be choked off.

Faux said it was just a matter of time before the Constitution pipeline – now awaiting permit approval in New York State – would connect to major markets to the northeast. Things would pick up then. The industry was counting on it.

Despite the cutbacks, Faux, who has a year-old daughter and a fiancé, is not worried. He just bought a trailer and is saving for a house. When he graduated from high school he said he “couldn’t imagine owning a new vehicle or anything like that … I think I will be long retired and they will still be doing stuff here.”

The promise of jobs rising from fracking has been the mantra ever since the rise of drilling coincided with the onset of the deep recession in 2008. Soon after, an industry report published by Penn State University projected shale gas development would create more than 175,000 statewide jobs over the course of a decade – most of them blue collar.

With the veneer of academic credibility, the report made huge headlines, even though the university administration later distanced itself from the findings after an internal review found authors Timothy Considine and Robert Watson failed to disclose funding and “may have well crossed the line between policy analysis and policy advocacy.”

Still, the promise was reinforced by official numbers released from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor under the administration of former Gov. Tom Corbett. Industry jobs reached 230,000 in 2014. Corbett rounded the number up to 250,000 in some of his speeches.

Economists, checking the math, complained the Department of Labor was misleading the public by counting every worker in steel, construction, government regulatory agencies and certain other sectors regardless of whether they had anything to do with shale gas development.

Under current Gov. Tom Wolf, the Department of Labor switched to accepted methodology and projected jobs fell to under 90,000 – just over 1 percent of the state’s total number of jobs.

John Hanger, director of planning and policy for Gov. Wolf, characterized the revised figures as representing an “important” contribution to the state’s economy. But, regarding the previous calculation, “frankly, it was truly absurd,” he said.

For everyone like Faux who found employment with the drilling boom, there are hundreds like Eric Williamson, a licensed plumber from Kunkletown in Monroe County, Pa.

About the time Faux landed the job with Cabot, Williamson donned his best suit and tie and drove two and a half hours to a job fair at the River Inn in downtown Towanda. He found a line of more than 200 people in the parking lot drawn by the fracking promise: engineers, plumbers, machinists, laborers, truck drivers and a legion of other job seekers, nearly all of them men.

Hundreds more packed in shoulder-to-shoulder inside, all waiting for a brief moment to shake hands and pitch their credentials to representatives from Chesapeake Energy and various contractors. After several hours of standing in line, Williamson got his turn.

“I was sure I would at least get a call after that, but I never did,” recalled Williamson, who had been out of work for two years and now works for a plumbing and heating company unrelated to gas production.

The glowing promise of jobs has since dimmed

When Faux first came to work for him at the height of the gas rush, Guy Parish had 40 workers. Now he is down to 25, and he expects he will be back to four or five as he shifts his business from the needs of gas drilling back to agriculture.

“The rumor mill has it that the work will be back when they get the pipelines in,” Parish said. “If it doesn’t, I will move on. It was good while it lasted.”

Leaking Wealth


At the height of the leasing frenzy in New York in 2009, Barb Fiala, Broome County Executive at the time, called shale gas development the “the next IBM” – the company that once employed more than 10,000 people in the village of Endicott and supported tens of thousands of jobs elsewhere in the Southern Tier.

Fiala’s administration was so confident in the promise that it budgeted $5 million in lease and royalty revenue expected from county property for two years in a row. Like the Pennsylvania Department of Labor projections, Fiala’s IBM analogy and budget projections were gross miscalculations.

While fracking’s economic gains may boost local economies, the greatest financial benefits go to stakeholders far from Pennsylvania.

Two of the largest operators in Northeast Pennsylvania, Cabot and Chesapeake, are headquartered in Texas and move operations and crews throughout the country based on changing dynamics of energy markets and production costs.

When a manufacturer moves into a community, a plant is built or renovated, local workers get steady employment and local businesses provide goods and services.

When a natural gas driller moves in, the initial burst of economic activity is strong but tapers off after wells are established and hooked to pipelines. Far fewer workers are needed to keep the wells running.

Economists call this funneling of income and resources out of an area “leakage,” and studies have shown that small rural communities in general and northern Pennsylvania drilling communities in particular tend to suffer from it the most.

As head of regional economic development agency Progress Authority, Tony Ventello is focused on figuring out ways to incorporate the bonanza of gas into local economies over the long-term rather than relying on dynamics tied to the ebb and flow of demand from distant markets and drilling crews that come and go.

“The big question is – how can we use this asset to build our local economies?” said Ventello, whose agency evolved from the Central Bradford County Economic Development Authority and the Towanda Area Industrial Development Corp.

Perhaps the most impressive example of this regionally is a multibillion complex to turn Marcellus Shale natural gas into feedstock for chemical production – an ethane cracker plant – that Shell Oil Co. is proposing for Beaver County near the prolific gas fields in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Northern Pennsylvania has no equivalent to this, as of now – and there are still some question of whether the cracker plant will get built in Beaver County. But Ventello points to many smaller success stories.

Fracking has allowed schools, hospitals, housing complexes and government buildings to convert to natural gas to upgrade antiquated systems. The Susquehanna County Court House, once powered by a hodgepodge of coal, electric and oil requiring paid help on weekends and holidays to shovel coal and empty ashes, has been refurbished with a natural gas system.

Athens and North Towanda now have filling stations for natural gas vehicles, and more gas–fired electric generating plants are coming on line throughout the region.

The political calculation that has allowed fracking in Pennsylvania, however, is different than in New York, where environmental and health risks are weighty considerations.

Fiala left her position as Broome County Executive to accept a position from Gov. Cuomo as commissioner of the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. More recently, with Cuomo’s endorsement, she made an unsuccessful bid for the state senate. Whether due to politics or through lessons learned in Pennsylvania, the promise of shale gas has lost its luster for her. Fiala now supports New York’s decision for a ban.

“I don’t know what the balance sheet was in Pennsylvania,” Fiala said recently. “In New York, we have found a lot of the environmental issues outweigh the economic issues. A lot of people have benefited but a lot of people have suffered."

No Gas Shortage


The future of the fracking promise in Pennsylvania will depend on demand for natural gas. Fracking has made gas so cheap and so abundant, it overtook coal as the top source of U.S. electric power generation for the first time ever last spring

“The scale of this resource is just incredible,” said Hanger, Pennsylvania’s planning director who sees the current lull as part of the cyclical nature of the industry. Even with low prices, he said, advancing experience and economies of scale inherent continue to drive down production costs, making drilling viable at lower prices. And despite record production, there is no sign of the resource depletion.

Terry Engelder, a geologist at Penn State, was featured in a Time Magazine cover story as the first to calculate the amount of gas in the Marcellus back in 2008. His early projections of 490 trillion cubic feet of “technically recoverable” gas and 227 trillion cubic feet of “economically recoverable” gas raised eyebrows and was seen by critics as hype to draw investment into the industry.

Unlike many other projections made about the promise of fracking, Engelder’s projections appear to be realistic. The biggest part of the reserve is in Pennsylvania, which produced more than 4 trillion cubic feet in 2014 alone. Even as drilling has subsided, production remains enormous. Below the Marcellus is the Utica formation, which has produced impressive results with the early exploration.

Both the Marcellus and the Utica extend under the Southern Tier of New York. Their economic viability remains uncertain, and they will not likely be explored anytime soon given cut backs at existing sites in Pennsylvania.

As for the future?

“Of course, maybe we (America) do not need more natural gas,” Engelder said earlier this month. “The transition to renewables will not be made because we have run out of natural gas.”

The Promise of Fracking - Pt. 2 - The Environment - Lessons from Pennsylvania


Without warning, a New Year’s Day explosion blew a massive cement cover off a residential water well in northern Pennsylvania and destroyed the plumbing in the hole.

The explosion on Norma Fiorentino’s seven acres in Dimock, Pennsylvania, just south of Montrose, marked the start of 2009 with a bang. In many ways, it also would become symbolic of problems with the promise of fracking, and environmental side effects cropping up across rural Pennsylvania.

The shale gas boom was taking off in woods and fields around the Fiorentino homestead – about 20 miles south of the New York border – where Cabot Oil & Gas had leased property to drill into the Marcellus Shale, one of the most prolific gas-producing formations in the country.

What happened to the Fiorentino water and hundreds of other water wells near drilling sites in Pennsylvania would fuel concerns and eventually contribute to the 2014 fracking ban in New York.

The Dimock explosion embodied issues – lack of disclosure, regulatory breakdowns and plenty of spin – that would become the crux of a controversy.

Since the gas rush began in 2007, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has logged about 260 cases of water pollution caused by the drilling. A true total is unknown because of a long-held practice of drilling companies to settle complaints about water quality privately with landowners near gas well operations.

“The biggest problem that Pennsylvania confronted was there were no rules in place on the front end of this,” said Auditor General Eugene DePasquale in an interview earlier this month. “There was no process. It was everyone for themselves and the state has been playing catch up ever since.”

To reach the Marcellus gas, operators had to drill through the water table. And to ease concerns among skeptics, the industry promoted the notion fracking had never polluted a single-water well. When natural gas – known as methane when in the ground – leaked into the Fiorentino well, the company and the industry stood by that claim.

The state of Pennsylvania was taking a learn-as-you-go approach to managing a shale gas boom unprecedented in scope and intensity.

One of the biggest lessons had to do with who controlled the information to assess and address problems. State inspections relied heavily, sometimes exclusively, on industry reports. Many of these reports were incomplete, and some were not filed until after problems began appearing.

An audit by DePasquale’s office released in 2014 found lapses ranging from bad bookkeeping to bad judgment. Nearly 8 percent of inspection reports were incomplete and 29 percent included errors in dates, names, locations, results and permit numbers. In 14 of 15 cases of polluted water, the DEP sought voluntary compliance rather than order drillers to fix the problem.

With the release of the audit, DePasquale likened the state’s regulatory efforts to “firefighters trying to put out a five-alarm fire with a 20-foot garden hose.”

He concluded: “There is no question that DEP needs help and soon to protect clean water.”


* Pennsylvania Labor Department inflated figures to make shale gas industry job outlook stronger than it is.

* Industry is generating millions of dollars in “impact fees” to small-town economies to buy good will near drilling sites in lieu of a more costly state tax.

* Fracking has brought both a rise in crime and influx of money to help rural poverty and public safety.

Culture of Deference


In the time after Norma’s water well explosion, DEP investigations showed methane escaped Cabot’s pressurized gas wells and contaminated an aquifer that supplied the Fiorentino well and at least 17 others.

Independent tests arranged by property owners found other chemicals in the drinking water, including solvents and petroleum distillates. Some people complained about rashes, stomach problems and headaches, although they had no proof drilling was making them sick.

The burden of proof was high.

Although Cabot spokesman George Stark refused to comment for this article, the company has made its position clear in the past: Methane is naturally-occurring phenomenon in water supplies and sometimes water wells go bad due to natural circumstances. When they do, nearby drilling operations can become scapegoats.

In a full-page advertisement that ran in regional papers in 2010, Cabot CEO Dan Dinges stated: “Cabot does not believe it caused these conditions and intends to fight these allegations through its scientific findings.”

Cabot blamed the problem on naturally occurring methane in the ground. The driller offered water filtration systems and bottled water to the affected families, which some accepted. In other cases, homeowner’s deemed Cabot’s filters ineffective and unreliable. At least 32 of the residents complaining of water problems sued in a legal battle of more than three years, ending in a 2012 settlement that was not publicly disclosed.

Since the Fiorentino well exploded, requirements legislated with Act 13 in 2012 have strengthened reporting requirements on paper. The question remains whether the DEP, which DePasquale recently characterized as “radically understaffed,” has the resources to oversee one of the country’s most powerful industries, or the political will and legal wherewithal to enforce sanctions against it.

Pennsylvania state regulators have long advocated “working with the industry” rather than cracking down, a point of pride in the administration of former Gov. Tom Corbett. DEP files documenting water complaints are full of form letters from state officials assuring homeowners the agency was “working with [company name] in an effort to resolve the matter.”

Anti-fracking activists contend the record shows a culture of deference within the DEP, putting industry interest over public welfare. “It’s like if somebody robs a bank, the police say they won’t punish them if they put the money back,” said Steve Hvozdovich, Pennsylvania Campaigns Coordinator for Clean Water Action, an environmental group.

Complaints about the DEP’s oversight are not limited to fracking critics.

When discussing fracking, MaryAnn Warren, a Susquehanna County Commissioner, enthusiastically points to the many benefits gas drilling has brought to northern Pennsylvania, including boosting business for local hotels and restaurants, creating construction jobs and providing money ranging from housing to capital improvements for local government projects and buildings.

At the same time, she said the DEP needs to rely less on industry reports and more on close inspection of all critical phases of drilling and fracking.

“They [energy companies] came in like cowboys,” she said. “Things were unruly and unregulated, and they [the DEP] didn’t know what they were doing.”

Things have improved but not enough, she said. “They need to be on site more … They need more boots on the ground. They need to be more proactive than reactive.”

That could be a tall order in a Pennsylvania political culture sympathetic to a powerful gas industry lobby with continual complaints about the burden of regulation and taxation.

Current Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf advocates a severance tax on the industry, but the Republican-controlled General Assembly opposes replacing the present impact fee program with the potentially more lucrative tax. Meanwhile, Wolf has been stymied in his attempt to restore funding to the DEP’s budget, cut during the Corbett administration.

The DEP’s 100 inspectors are tasked with overseeing 131,283 active oil and gas wells. Since 2006, the agency has issued more than 20,000 permits for the larger and more complicated unconventional gas wells.

“There is no way they can keep up given the volume of permits that have been issued,” said Nadia Steinzor, eastern program coordinator for Earthworks, an environmental lobbying group.

In some cases, pollution from gas drilling has turned into high profile cases and large penalties. This summer, an $8.9 million penalty was assessed by the DEP against Range Resources, of Fort Worth, Texas.

The penalty came after Range refused to fix a methane leak from a cement casing on a natural gas well that polluted water in Lycoming County in central Pennsylvania, according to the DEP findings. Range denies the finding and is appealing the fine.

But environmental groups say fines are discretionary, come too infrequently, reserved for serial offenders, and small compared to the money and health and environmental issues at stake.

“For every one of the high-profile cases, there are hundreds of other violations that remain unresolved and unaddressed,” Steinzor said.

Water problems in Dimock, where the well cover blew off the Fiorentino family well, have proven to be chronic.



Every Tuesday is water delivery day for Ken Morcom and Kim Grosso, owners of a hog farm off State Route 2023 in Dimock, about a mile and a half from the Fiorentino property, which now sits vacant after Norma used her settlement money to move to a small house in Elk Lake.

Morcom recalls the day they stopped using their farm’s well water, shortly after Cabot Oil & Gas fracked a nearby gas well in 2013.

“I came home one night and turned on the faucet and it was coming out brown as coffee ... They [the DEP] knew it was caused from the gas pressure underneath the water table forcing it up through the well,” he said.

Already a common and persistent problem, methane from another gas well – this one near Morcom’s farm – was leaking into the water table, the DEP determined.

Methane is not acutely toxic. But it can cause explosions when it seeps into enclosed spaces – with sometimes fatal results. In 2004, gas from drilling operations collected in the basement of the Harper residence in Jefferson County in western Pennsylvania. Charles Harper, his wife Dorothy, and their grandson Baelee were killed when the furnace kicked on and triggered an explosion, according to DEP records.

As methane escapes faulty well casings and pushes through the ground, it can stir up unhealthy or toxic elements such as brine, arsenic and heavy metals.

In response to the pollution on Morcom’s hog farm, Cabot drilled a new water well, Morcom said. But that well also was polluted with methane percolating from the ground and stirring up sediment.

Now, the every-Tuesday water delivery is made on the doorstep – five gallons for drinking. Water for other purposes – animals, laundry and washing – is stored in large plastic holding tanks and refilled periodically by Cabot contractors.

Cabot’s Stark had no comment on this case.

The Morcom hog farm sits within a nine-square mile area where the DEP has determined drilling has polluted water wells. DEP files show 19 cases of drilling-related water pollution documented in Dimock, although that number does not appear to square with more some 32 plaintiffs who settled with Cabot in 2012.

Victoria Switzer, one of the plaintiffs who agreed to a settlement, declined to discuss the case.

But Switzer has this general advice for anybody who lives over a shale gas resource: “Suck it up and work with the company on friendly terms. You won’t get anywhere on your own, and the state is not going to help you.”

Switzer, who lives off State Route 2023 near the Morcom farm, added: “It continues to be the driller’s dirty secret: Play nice and you get water. Buck the system and you’re on your own.”

Cabot also refused to discuss the settlement.

As part of the settlement, Cabot bought the Dimock house of high-profile anti-fracking activists Craig and Julie Sautner. The ranch, located between the Morcom farm and the Fiorentino property, was valued at $167,500.

Cabot hired a wrecking crew to tear it down.

When all traces of the house were gone, the crew filled the basement with dirt and sold the 3.3-acre parcel to a neighbor for $4,000. A “land covenant,” or condition, was written into the deed: No residence could ever be built there under any circumstances.

Stark said the company maintains the mineral rights to the property. As for the surface, he said, “we thought it should be preserved for green-space.”

County records show that in 2013, around the time the Morcom hog farm’s water went bad, Cabot paid $140,000 for the 12-acre property of Michael Ely, who lived a half mile from the Sautners, and less than a quarter mile from the hog farm.

Ely also had explosive levels of methane in his water. The company removed a doublewide modular home from the lot, which now remains vacant and posted with a sign that reads “Danger. No trespassing. No smoking. Authorized personnel only.”

A similar story unfolded on Paradise Road in Bradford County, where Chesapeake Oil and Gas in 2012 paid three families $1.6 million, minus legal fees, ending years of litigation about the source of pollution in their water.

The three upscale homes, on the country road with scenery that lives up to its name, remain padlocked and vacant with security cameras stationed at the main entrances.

“The reason nobody lives there is they can’t fix the water – it’s ruined,” said Michael Phillips, a math teacher at Wyalusing Valley High School who owned one of the homes and moved with his wife and infant daughter to another neighborhood.

County records show that the Phillips’ house, which Chesapeake bought for $225,000, is now appraised at $36,902. As part of a settlement, Chesapeake bought neighboring houses at market values of $250,000 and $150,000, which are now appraised at $35,520 and $29,400 respectively. All of them are near a problem gas well.

While some affected families received enough from settlements to move, Morcom and Grosso, who support gas development as a matter of principal, are resigned to living with water problems.

“If you get a lawyer, this is done,” Morcom said, pointing to a grey shed that houses his water supply – a plastic reservoir called a “water buffalo.” “You will loose. They have hundreds of lawyers and very deep pockets.’

Ken, loquacious and upbeat, is animated when he talks about his farm, his pigs, and the economic boost shale gas has brought to the area. He, like some other gas proponents, believes the benefits of fracking outweigh the problems.

“You hear about all the negativity,” he said. “There are many positives that you don’t hear about.” Those benefits have a lot to do with the welfare of his friends who have found work driving trucks and landing construction and contracting jobs, he said.

“Some people have more patience than others,” he added “We have way more patience then most.”

But, his wife added about the every-Tuesday water deliveries: “It’s getting old.”

Better than coal?


John Hanger was DEP Secretary under the administration of former Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell when the Cabot investigation began in Dimock. In 2010, Hanger ordered Cabot to install a $12 million water line to restore water to the homes in an attempt to resolve the issue in Dimock once and for all.

But Cabot outlasted Hanger, who left office when Corbett took office. The company refused the water line, but offered landowners systems to filter their water, and cash payments worth twice the value of their property if they dropped all current and future litigation – a deal said to total just over $4 million.

After an unsuccessful run for governor, Hanger now serves as Director of Planning and Policy for Tom Wolf. Although he was a harsh critic of Cabot, Hanger defends both the DEP and shale development, which he says is good for the state and the country.

“I don’t want to understate the problem for the families who are affected,” he said. “For them the probability of impact is 100 percent.”

But, he added, fracking represents a minor environmental threat compared to run-off from agriculture, burning of coal that emits mercury and acid drainage from coal mines polluting more than 5,000 miles of Pennsylvania’s water ways.

“There needs to be an honest discussion on both ends of this [fracking],” he said. “There were those who thought it would be the end of the world and those who said there had never been a problem. We know that both of them are wrong.” He added, “It’s not fracking that’s polluting the Chesapeake Bay. It’s sewage, sedimentation and agricultural run-off.”

Don Siegel, an industry consultant and hydrology professor at Syracuse University who specialized in drilling issues, said lessons from Pennsylvania show “that small leaks and spills and assorted regulatory violations of various things happen at drilling sites, but we see no evidence of harm from these.” Damaged ecosystems “naturally repaired themselves—much like what happens after any salt spill.”

'Black Box' for fracking


The Pennsylvania DEP has been working on upgrading regulations to address health and environmental issues of shale gas development since April 2011.

Reforms, expected to be issued by the end of this year and rolled out in 2016, will be the most recent product of a contentious learning curve featuring hearings, intense lobbying efforts and more than 30,000 public comments from interested parties and the public at large.

Rules, now in draft form, are “long overdue,” said DEP Secretary John Quigley.

The overhaul deals with a spectrum of impacts, ranging from noise to public health protections including “vital considerations” for public resources like playgrounds, nursing homes, and schools.

Open waste pits would be restricted and the scope of pre-drilling surveys to establish a baseline for water quality would be increased. One important provision would require water supplies polluted by drilling to be restored to conditions better than before, or compatible with Safe Drinking Water Act standards.

With more comprehensive surveys and tests to gauge water quality prior to drilling, proving cases of water pollution will be easier, but enforcement may be still problematic.

Loopholes in federal laws allow drillers to inject the ground with undisclosed chemicals. They also provide exemptions from hazardous waste disposal laws that allow fracking waste to disposed of at treatment plants and landfills.

Not knowing the specific chemicals that drillers work with makes it hard to track problems when they show up in wells, Susan Brantley, professor of geosciences at Penn State University, said in a recent interview.

The DEP determined that the polluted water wells on Paradise Road contained methane. But the water was also curiously foamy, Brantley said, which is not typically a characteristic of methane contamination.

Using a set of instruments not typically used by commercial laboratories, Brantley and a team of researchers found traces of 2-n-Butoxyethanol, or 2-BE and a broad category of “unresolved complex mixtures” in the foamy water on Paradise Road. The elements did not appear in previous tests by the DEP or environmental consultants, and the Penn State study concluded they were from drilling additives or fracking fluids.

Although the pollutants were found in trace amounts at levels not known to pose health risks, the fact that they were there at all had important implications, Brantley said, because it showed something the industry has always denied – that chemicals injected into the ground to produce a well can end up in drinking water wells.

The study shows the need for more public disclosure, Brantley said, so testing equipment and protocols around drilling sites can be upgraded to suit the unique environmental threats that might be going undetected. “Airplanes occasionally have problems and fall out of the sky, and we don’t tolerate it,” Brantley said. “We demand science to tell us what went wrong so we can fix it. But we have to start with data … we have to put a black box on this airplane called fracking.”

Chesapeake Spokesman Gordon Pennoyer did not return calls for this article.

Chemicals stay in ground


Fracking’s environmental controversy has a lot to do with what goes into wells to stimulate gas production. It also has a lot to do with what comes out, and what remains indefinitely trapped in the ground.

Flowback, the main waste product of shale gas production, is a cocktail of the unidentified compounds injected by operators and naturally occurring elements freed by the process. What goes into each well — biocides, acids, anti-corrosives, lubricants, and friction reducers — comes out with millions of gallons of brine, metals, and radioactive material common to black shales.

Flowback goes to treatment facilities or to depleted production wells, mostly in Ohio, where it is injected back into the ground. Tony Ingraffea, a Cornell University engineering professor who specialized in the mechanics of fracking, views injections of undisclosed chemical mixtures as a catastrophic practice, whether its for production or waste disposal.

Ingraffea, formerly a consultant for the fracking industry and now one of its harshest critics, is a founder of Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Health Energy, which compiles an archive of peer-reviewed literature on fracking and other issues. “You have to go by the rules, and the gas industry is free to ignore those rules,” Ingraffea said in a recent interview. He cited the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, which has restrictions and disclosure requirements about what can and cannot be put in the ground.

Under an exemption, commonly known as “the Halliburton Loophole,” drillers and companies inject millions of gallons of pressurized fracking solution into each well to stimulate production, and they recover a fraction of it. The exact percentage is not documented and varies from well to well. The rest stays in the ground or comes out with the gas over time and is bled off into holding tanks.

From an environmental standpoint, the production wells with the un-retrieved flowback present the same risk as waste injection wells, in Ingraffea’s view, although they are not subject to the federal standards or oversight that apply to injection wells.

“Somewhere down the line, somebody will discover that Susquehanna County is sitting over a massive pool of waste that is uncontained, unconstrained and undefined,” Ingraffea said. Even under the best circumstances, cement casings that separate pressurized chemicals and gas from water tables break down over time.

Scientific consensus, including a comprehensive review of the literature by the Federal Environmental Protection Agency released earlier this year, now supports that both fracking and drilling can pollute water. But there are few reliable numbers that quantify the risks, and much is open to interpretation.

The Promise of Fracking - Pt. 3 - Impact on New York

Impact on New York

Underlying the debate over the promises and perils of fracking is an often-overlooked number: 1.35 trillion.

That’s the cubic feet of natural gas New Yorkers consumed last year, according to the federal Energy Information Association. New Yorkers use more than twice the volume of gas consumed by Connecticut and Massachusetts combined.

The economics and risks of leasing, drilling and fracking tend to headline the shale gas story. Yet the promise of fracking is as much about how gas is consumed as how it’s produced. As the top natural-gas-consuming state east of Louisiana, New York is a major player.

By enacting a ban on fracking earlier this year, the administration of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has shown zero tolerance for shale gas risks to the environment and health.

Yet New York’s appetite for cheap gas produced by the shale boom in Pennsylvania and Ohio is big and growing bigger — a jump of nearly 18 percent from 2009, according to figures from the federal EIA.

For New Yorkers looking for cheap energy, the gas boom in Pennsylvania has lived up to its promise.

The Constitution and Dominion pipelines, both of which would bisect upstate New York with routes through the Southern Tier, would carry fracked gas from Pennsylvania to a distribution hub in Albany. From there, the gas would be shipped to New York City and major northeastern markets.

Those pipelines are two of many gas infrastructure projects taking shape in New York. Crestwood Midstream Partners LP, of Houston, is proposing to repurpose salt mines on the southwest shore of Seneca Lake to store 2.1 million barrels of liquid petroleum gas (LPG). The plan, coupled with a related proposal to expand existing natural gas storage in the salt mines just north of Watkins Glen, would turn the facility into a regional distribution hub.

Just up the shore from the Crestwood site, in Yates County, Atlas Holdings, of Connecticut, proposes to recommission a coal-burning, electric-generating plant with natural gas.

“We are victims of our own success. This isn’t a bust.
The pace of infrastructure development has not kept pace with production.”

George Stark, Cabot Oil & Gas spokesman

The projects, all pending regulatory approval, face opposition from a well-organized group of fossil fuel opponents who, having stopped fracking at New York’s borders, are shifting their focus to keep Pennsylvania’s glut of fracked gas out of New York.

Sandra Steingraber, an Ithaca College scholar and a high-profile activist and organizer in the Finger Lakes region, noted that one gas project feeds another: “Seneca Lake is located upstream from natural gas infrastructure projects throughout New York state, all of which threaten to keep us tied to a ruinous, fossil fuel-dependent past.”

As production surges and prices fall in Pennsylvania, the profitability of drilling hinges on finding ways to get gas to new markets.

Cabot Oil & Gas, a Texas company that drills gas wells in Susquehanna County, has cut its $1 billion capital investment in the region — including jobs — by half, said Cabot spokesman George Stark.

“We are victims of our own success,” Stark said, adding that he expected drilling to pick up again with the laying of new pipelines in New York. “This isn’t a bust. The pace of infrastructure development has not kept pace with production,” he said.


* Pennsylvania Labor Department inflated figures to make shale gas industry job outlook stronger than it is.

* Industry is generating millions of dollars in “impact fees” to small-town economies to buy good will near drilling sites in lieu of a more costly state tax.

* Fracking has brought both a rise in crime and influx of money to help rural poverty and public safety.

Fracking in New York?


For now, the discussion of shale gas development in New York has a lot to do with pipelines, but the status of the state’s ban on fracking is still a live issue.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is reviewing a permit request from a group of landowners in Tioga County to frack a well with gelled propane in the Town of Barton. The technology is not specifically outlined in the state’s ban, which applies to water-based solutions.

If the state allows the Barton wells, it would be under policy developed in 1992 for conventional wells called the Generic Environmental Impact Statement (GEIS). In the absence of regulations, the state has traditionally used guidelines outlined in the GEIS that allow regulators discretion in granting and enforcing permits.

Applying a 23-year-old policy to today’s shale gas development flags the overall soundness of the state’s policy, according to some activists.

“The record shows that the state was woefully unequipped to handle the oil and gas industry even before anybody even began talking about shale gas,” said Walter Hang, an anti-fracking activist and community organizer.

Hang, who owns Toxic Targeting, an environmental data firm in Ithaca, cites examples of spills, methane leaks and water pollution associated with conventional wells in western New York that were never fully analyzed or factored into any of the state’s reviews.

“Things have not really changed,” he said. “The fracking ban will not do what everybody thinks it will.”

OUR VIEW: If NY permits fracking, have clear rules and taxes ready

MORE: Impact fees buy goodwill in drilling communities

The state is considering the Tioga landowners’ application as something different from the type of fracking — high-volume hydraulic fracturing — that spurred the shale boom in Pennsylvania and throughout the country.

In New York, high-volume fracking was the subject of a seven-year review that recently produced the Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (SGEIS) — an amendment to the 1992 GEIS.

“We’ve done a lot of homework. How much can you study the same issue?”

Dewey Decker, Town of Sanford supervisor

The Snyder well application could represent a workaround of the fracking ban. But it raises a larger question: With changing technology, shifting politics, more money on the table, new markets and surging demand, could a new administration rescind the ban altogether?

A “findings statement,” issued with the SGEIS in June, is the lynchpin of the ban. The statement is an interpretation of environmental and public health risks based on the most current information.

In the statement, the negative impacts of shale gas development, such as traffic and environmental degradation, are weighed against the economic returns. A primary justification of the ban, however, is “current uncertainty” about the science of fracking and its impacts on public health.

Joseph Martens, who was DEC commissioner at the time the statement was released, said a state ban could be lifted with changing technology and more complete understanding of fracking’s impacts.

Former DEC commissioner Joseph Martens says the New York fracking ban could be lifted after more studies and changes in technology.
Photo: AP

Deborah Goldberg, a senior council for EarthJustice, a national environmental advocacy firm, called the state’s existing framework an “ad hoc system that is ancient, designed for conventional wells and updated permit by permit by special consideration.” She added, “we would sue in a minute if they tried to proceed under this system.”

In short, the fracking fight would begin anew.

Landowners in favor of shale gas development are ready to take up the fight.

Dewey Decker, Town of Sanford supervisor and second-generation farmer, leased 1,150 acres in the Town of Sanford to XTO Energy for $2,400 an acre in 2008, when the potential of the Marcellus Shale in New York was drawing international attention. XTO was later bought by Exxon Mobil, while the company’s leases in eastern Broome County have been extended indefinitely.

Decker, who was $2.76 million richer after signing the lease and a firm believer in domestic energy production of all kinds, says it’s just a matter of time before the fracking ban is lifted. When it is, he is ready for gas wells on his property.

“We don’t have the public support or interest (in fracking). Not one poll shows us that (fracking) is a path we want to go down.”

Donna Lupardo, State Assemblywoman

The seven-year review that produced the state’s supplemental impact statement represents “the most sophisticated, advanced regulations in the country,” Decker said. “We’ve done a lot of homework. How much can you study the same issue?”

For now, at least, the status of the ban is not a pressing issue in Albany.

“We don’t have the public support or interest (in fracking),” said Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, who sat on an advisory board to Cuomo considering shale gas development policy.

“Not one poll shows us that (fracking) is a path we want to go down,” she said. “If somebody runs on this issue, it will not be a positive outcome.”

Different energy visions


New York’s energy policy represents an odd push-pull of demand and resistance at the core of two different energy visions.

Just as state officials consider permits for pipelines and storage projects to move fracked gas to New York markets and beyond, they also are advocating Reforming Energy Vision — a plan unveiled earlier this year by the New York Public Service Commission to break fossil fuel dependency by rebuilding the energy grid from the bottom up.

A hearing on Reforming Energy Vision drew about 100 people to Binghamton City Hall.
(Photo: File photo)

Though natural gas for home heating has an important place in the state’s broader energy plan, fossil-fuel energy plants connected to the fracking fields of Pennsylvania would eventually disappear under this vision.

Rather than depend on fossil-fuel plants, the vision supports fast-tracking a decentralized network of renewable energy sources, featuring wind and solar.

This comes with a list of ambitious goals: by 2030, reduce greenhouse emissions by 40 percent from 1990 levels, and generate 50 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources.

Drawing on a $5.3 billion Clean Energy Fund, New York communities can claim $40 million in grants to build local energy systems, called microgrids. Also in the plan: $13 million to finance solar projects in low- and moderate-income areas, improvements to cut energy use in all state buildings and a $1 billion “Green Bank” for public- and private-sector financing of green-energy projects.

Public hearings throughout the state are bringing unions, customers, renewable-energy advocates, public utilities, energy companies and other stakeholders to the table.

Anthony Belsito, an attorney with the Public Service Commission, said the plan was “a big push from the governor on down for greenhouse gas reduction.”

A hearing on Reforming Energy Vision drew about 100 people to Binghamton City Hall.
(Photo: File photo)

Belsito was speaking before more than 100 people at a hearing recently at Binghamton City Hall. Some held placards that read “No Need For More Gas.” Others, including unionized utility workers, held signs that read “New York Power. New York Jobs.”

“We have a lot of ideas, but we don’t have all the answers,” Commissioner Gregg Sayre told the group.

Critical details, yet to be worked out, involve how and how much stakeholders pay into the system. “We don’t have a sense of what that looks like now,” said Darren Suarez, director of government affairs for the Business Council of New York State, who was preparing to testify at a similar hearing in Syracuse the following night. “What some see as an investment, others see as a cost.”

At one time, renewable-energy development was all about a shortage of domestic energy. That discussion has changed since fracking opened vast new domestic petroleum horizons, including the Marcellus Shale and Utica shales underlying much of the northeast.

Now the discussion is less about running out of fossil fuel than an attempt to find a better plan for the future.

The Reforming Energy Vision project will establish new markets by saving electric infrastructure costs, reducing pollution and providing “local empowerment and resilience” in the system, said Karl R. Rábago, executive director of the Energy and Climate Center at Pace University, in a recent interview.

“The Stone Age didn’t end because we ran out of stones,” he added. “Technological shifts happen for a number of reasons, not just scarcity.”

Change of thinking


When Cornell University’s 30-megawatt natural gas-burning plant went online in 2009, it phased out the annual burning of some 65,000 tons of coal, which comes with emissions of toxic mercury, particulates and damage from mountaintop removal in Appalachian back country.

At the time, natural gas was widely touted as a “bridge fuel,” cleaner than coal and a step toward zero emissions.

Cornell’s $82 million plant was hailed by then-President David Skorton as a step in meeting a goal of no net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. At the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Bruce Nilles, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, said the national environmental nonprofit would “be holding up Cornell as a showcase” for clean energy.

“While fracked gas was once thought of as a bridge fuel, overwhelming evidence shows it is actually a gangplank to climate disaster and a threat to clean and safe drinking water.”

Michael Brune, Sierra Club Executive Director

The plant represented fulfillment of fracking’s promise for Cornell and other plants that discontinued coal. As a result, statewide natural gas generation for electricity has nearly doubled from 2003 to 2013, according to figures from the federal Energy Information Administration.

But after witnessing the impacts from fracking over seven years, many environmental campaigns are rejecting the idea that natural gas is an acceptable replacement of coal

Some 50 miles from Cornell University, more than 150 people packed the fire hall in the Village of Dresden in early November for state Public Service Commission hearings. For three hours, the majority spoke out against an application by Greenidge Generation LLC and Greenidge Pipeline LLC to repurpose the former coal plant with natural gas and build an adjoining natural gas pipeline.

This served as a stark contrast to the ribbon-cutting welcome that the Cornell plant received just prior to the acceleration of New York’s anti-fracking movement.

In six years of witnessing the environmental impacts of fracking — a brief period on the scale of long-term energy policy — the Sierra Club had gone from a shale gas backer to one of its strongest critics, reflecting a trend by environmental groups to reject the promise of fracking.

“While fracked gas was once thought of as a bridge fuel, overwhelming evidence shows it is actually a gangplank to climate disaster and a threat to clean and safe drinking water,” Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a recent email.

The turnaround is due to a growing awareness of the downside of shale gas development’s impact on water, both from drilling and waste disposal. But it also recognizes a challenge to the long-held belief that natural gas is less likely to accelerate climate change than other fossil fuels. Although it burns cleaner than coal and does not last in the environment like carbon, methane is a potent greenhouse gas.

Brune hailed the state’s fracking ban, the energy vision goals and Gov. Cuomo’s recent rejection of a proposed terminal for liquefied natural gas off the Long Island coast as “the kind of leadership we need to move the Empire State and all of America beyond fossil fuels and toward … an economy powered by 100 percent clean, renewable energy like wind and solar.”

Industry supporters argue that vision is unattainable, naive and economically backward.

New York’s natural gas infrastructure build-out “is not just some boardroom-developed plan by the industry,” said Steve Everley, senior adviser for Energy In Depth, an industry public-relations firm in Washington, D.C. “We’re seeing plans for new pipelines because consumers in the Northeast are demanding natural gas to heat their homes and to keep the lights on.”

The shift of the anti-fracking fight from gas production to infrastructure build-out, according to Everley, is sustained by “a small but loud group of ideological activists … who want to pretend that consumers will be just fine without any new pipelines.”

Regardless of the underlying dynamics, the trend for gas consumption is not likely to reverse anytime soon.

While the New York State Energy Plan, updated this year, reflects the energy vision’s goals to cut fossil fuel emissions and launch an aggressive expansion of renewable energy, it also encourages expansion of natural gas infrastructure to replace heating oil, which is dirty, expensive and a significant heating source in urban areas downstate and elsewhere.

Nuclear power –— which is tallied as renewable energy and generates about a third of the state’s electricity — is a weighty factor in New York’s energy equation. As gas prices fall, other forms of energy, including nuclear, lose ground competitively.

Cost plays a big role. In 2014, New York had the fourth-highest average electricity prices in the United States, according to the federal Energy Information Agency.

With recent reports that the Cuomo administration plans to generate half of New York’s electricity from renewable sources by 2030 as a mandate rather than a goal, more public hearings are likely in the offing over how that comes to pass and who pays.