Clean Air and Pure Water

Definition of PURE
“Free from impurities or adulterants”

(Republished blog from November 16, 2019)

Our Pennsylvania Constitution — Article I, Section 27 — begins with “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment.” Watching 15 years of fracking decimate western Pennsylvania leads me to believe that one sentence resembles everything that fracking is not.

Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania   Article I, Section 27 — Declaration of Rights —  Natural Resources and Public Estate

Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Article I, Section 27 — Declaration of Rights —
Natural Resources and Public Estate

It was the dumping of liquid frac waste at local sewage plants (Public Owned Treatment Works or POTW’s) that really grabbed my attention 10 years ago. To think, that as far as our state and nation had come with cleaning up the air and water, how could this ever be permitted?

Municipal Authority of McKeesport  was taking 80,000 gallons per day of frac wastewater, which would be equivalent to about 20 of these tanker truckloads, per day! The authority liked getting 5-cents per gallon, adding to their revenue stream. This POTW is located next to the Monongahela River, the source of our tapwater. It was years later we learned how much  radioactive, water soluble Radium 226  (Ra226) was contained in this fracking waste, and Ra226 has a radioactive half-life of  1,600 years !

Image: Municipal Authority of McKeesport was taking 80,000 gallons per day of frac wastewater, which would be equivalent to about 20 of these tanker truckloads, per day! The authority liked getting 5-cents per gallon, adding to their revenue stream. This POTW is located next to the Monongahela River, the source of our tapwater. It was years later we learned how much radioactive, water soluble Radium 226 (Ra226) was contained in this fracking waste, and Ra226 has a radioactive half-life of 1,600 years!

Radium 226 has a half-life of 1,600 years!   “The gift that keeps on giving.”

Image: Radium 226 has a half-life of 1,600 years! “The gift that keeps on giving.”

Drink up!

No one else in our area seemed to know (or care) anything about all this river dumping. After living through the aftermath of what Agent Orange (AO) did to so many of my comrades following the Vietnam War, with many of them killed by the war — after the war, it was definitely time to act. The lessons I learned from the AO saga was to document the issue and raise awareness first, write and call legislators, and never let up, all while realizing how long it might take for at least a partial remedy.

About 20 years after the Vietnam War ended, a huge study was finally conducted by the National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine. Initial and ongoing work has linked a long list of illnesses to AO exposure, with veterans finally receiving the care they needed and deserved, two decades after the war ended.

So here we were, 20 years after that, playing another game of Russian roulette with crazy chemical combinations, many of which were hidden under the veil of being “proprietary.” It was totally unbelievable for me to see them dumping that toxic waste into POTW’s along the Monongahela River, the source of my family’s drinking water, and the source of drinking water for the South Hills of Pittsburgh.

How could this possibly be allowed?

This chart from FracFocus  shows how many frac chemicals weren’t full disclosed when this Marcellus well was fracked, hidden behind the veil of a  “proprietary”  classification, and lacking  CAS numbers  that provide their full “DNA fingerprint.” A large portion of these chemicals are endocrine disruptors.

Image: This chart from FracFocus shows how many frac chemicals weren’t full disclosed when this Marcellus well was fracked, hidden behind the veil of a “proprietary” classification, and lacking CAS numbers that provide their full “DNA fingerprint.” A large portion of these chemicals are endocrine disruptors.

Raising awareness

My first goal of “raising awareness,” and drawing the necessary outrage, took far longer than I ever imagined it would, several years actually, through multiple outlets. It finally took a lawsuit by environmental groups, including Clean Water Action and Earth Justice, to bring any improvement. It felt like a grindingly-slow process, and to further take a stand (literally) and do my part, I volunteered to be a standing witness.

Our 2008 annual water report  showed the effects of the “super salty” Marcellus shale brine being dumped into the Monongahela River, creating what one reporter referred to as “ chunky water .” Ongoing problems with rising total trihalomethane levels necessitated a switch to chloramination. Now, the water company has to perform a “chlorine burn” once a year, throughout our South Hills water system, to clean-up anything the chloramine may have left behind, since it’s not as effective a disinfectant (or disinfestant) as chlorine.

Image: Our 2008 annual water report showed the effects of the “super salty” Marcellus shale brine being dumped into the Monongahela River, creating what one reporter referred to as “chunky water.” Ongoing problems with rising total trihalomethane levels necessitated a switch to chloramination. Now, the water company has to perform a “chlorine burn” once a year, throughout our South Hills water system, to clean-up anything the chloramine may have left behind, since it’s not as effective a disinfectant (or disinfestant) as chlorine.

An agreement was reached before the case ever reached court, with pressure on the Pa DEP from the EPA, helping matters along. The final resolution wasn’t perfect, but it drastically improved matters – frackers were asked (not told??) by the Pa DEP to quit dumping their frac waste into POTW’s along our waterways. Some treatment plants were ‘grandfathered’ — so that was yet another disturbing aspect — leaving it far from being a total ban on this insane situation.

Image: Wastewater tankers on Interstate 79 near Southpointe labelled “RESIDUAL WASTE”

Fast forward to a news story by Brad Hundt of the Observer-Reporter:

Shapiro declines to confirm a grand jury investigation into natural gas industry
November 14, 2019 – Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro refused to comment this week on whether his office is conducting a criminal investigation of the natural gas industry and its activities in Washington County and elsewhere. Media reports earlier this year indicated an investigative grand jury in Pittsburgh was probing potential “environmental crimes” committed by natural gas drillers and that at least one Washington County resident had testified before the grand jury. Shapiro reiterated his view, though, that Pennsylvania residents “have a state constitutional right to clean air and pure water.”

OBSERVER-REPORTER

Indeed, and there is no doubt his investigation will find plenty of fertile ground, or more likely, poisoned ground and water, for a wide-ranging in-depth investigation. We’ve seen other investigations of a similar nature, come and go, as hopes were raised and later dashed. Residents from Pennsylvania weren’t the only ones who were hugely disappointed by the collapsed EPA investigation years ago, that centered on places like Pavilion, Wyoming. Who pulled the rug out? Scuttlebutt said the order came all the way from the top. The utter shock and disappointment lingers in the Marcellus gas patch like sewer stench.

So this is our latest, and perhaps last great hope, that a full investigation will be completed, and guilty parties will be prosecuted before the end of Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s term, one year from now. It wouldn’t be surprising to see convictions at every level, from drilling service companies, to drilling executives, to politicians, to employees of the Pa DEP. Surely, that must be the reason the Pa DEP hired criminal defense attorneys earlier this year.

Please AG Shapiro, wrap-up this investigation with a big, red bow first. Pennsylvanians have been waiting for ‘frac justice’ for far too long!
Bob

UPDATE: PRESS RELEASE

Josh Shapiro, Attorney General

June 26, 2020 | Topic: Criminal

HARRISBURG—After announcing the ndings of the 43rd Investigating Statewide Grand Jury, Attorney General Josh Shapiro and the grand jurors have received national and statewide praise from grassroots organizations and people across Pennsylvania for the report detailing systematic failures of government oversight in protecting Pennsylvanians against the impacts of fracking.

Tom Torres, Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter Director:
“The Sierra Club thanks Attorney General Shapiro for demanding changes to the fracking industry and calling out its long history of putting their prots over Pennsylvania’s air, water, and people. We appreciate the work of Shapiro and the grand jury to establish these recommendations and we demand that Governor Wolf implement them immediately. “The days of fracking companies running roughshod through our Commonwealth are over. Governor Wolf should take action immediately.”

Mark Szybist, National Resources Defense Council:
“The veil is nally being pulled back on the fracking industry’s careless, all too often illegal actions. The Attorney General’s report conrms that the state’s existing regulations don’t do enough to protect Pennsylvanians living near fracking sites or the land and water resources they depend on. It’s a travesty that Pennsylvanians have had to suffer the consequences of lax protections for so long. We look forward to reviewing the proposal for overdue changes that will help keep communities safe, boost the state’s oversight, and hold big polluters accountable – no matter their connections in the legislature.”

Joseph Otis Minott, Esq., Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council:
“Attorney General Shapiro’s diligent work with the Grand Jury to investigate the Pennsylvania shale gas boom has yielded a monumentally important report. For over a decade, the fracking industry has run roughshod over the people of Pennsylvania. The Grand Jury’s report reveals the tragic consequences of our state government’s hands-off approach to fracking.”

PennFuture:
“This is an industry that has shown, time and again, that it doesn’t care about our health, or the health of our shared environment.”

Breathe Project:
“Thank you Attorney General Shapiro for bringing these ndings and recommendations to protect our health,
community, and rights.”

Environmental Defense Fund’s Energy Program:
9/7/2020 AG Shapiro, Grand Jurors Praised for Report on Fracking Impacts, Government Oversight – PA
“With [the] new report, the Pennsylvania Attorney General surfaces critical environmental and policy issues around oil and gas development – including the need for action to protect PA communities, environment and climate.”

Office of Attorney General
https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/taking-action/press-releases/ag-shapiro-grand-jurors-praised-for-report-on-fracking-impacts-government-oversight/

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