by guest blogger, Maya K. van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper
Reading about the ravages of gas drilling, or fracking, often leaves people feeling despair, helpless to act to protect themselves, their kids, or their community. So before this blog jumps into another aspect of the drilling process, I want to begin on a positive: Across the nation, communities are getting active and taking actions that are successfully protecting them from fracking. For example, in the Delaware River basin, tens of thousands joined forces and secured a moratorium on drilling that has held for more than two years; in New Jersey, legislators are passing legislation to keep drilling waste and fracking out of that state; in New York, citizen action seems to have sent a strong message to the Governor that he needs to rethink his plan to open up that state to drilling; and in Pennsylvania, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and seven townships joined forces in a legal action that struck down Pennsylvania’s pro-drilling legislation, called Act 13.
The key is to take the unsettling things we know about the harms of fracking and to use them to strengthen our resolve and help embolden ourselves and our communities into action. So here’s a new piece of knowledge to help in that endeavor.
When people hear about the proliferation of gas drilling happening in the U.S., the word “fracking” often comes to mind. But another word needs to join the drilling vocabulary: pipelines. The spread of gas drilling and fracking also means more pipelines. Every gas well that’s fracked and drilled requires approximately 1.6 miles of pipeline—and that is just to get the gas from the well pad to the interstate line that cuts its swath from community to community to community, linking all that potential harm together.
The Problem with Pipelines
Pipelines are known to emit methane. Almost 1 percent—with some estimates being as high as 10 percent—of the gas drilled from a well is lost during the storage and transmission of extracted gas. And methane is the second largest contributor to climate change; it’s 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in warming the Earth.
Every pipeline brings with it a cut across the landscape. Virgin forests, residential communities, pristine waterways, and productive wetlands all must give way when a pipeline comes through.
Forests cut or fragmented so a pipeline can run through cannot sustain the sensitive wildlife that needs deep mature woods to survive. The cutting of forests means that rainfall once captured by the trees’ leaves and soaked up by their roots and the forest soil now runs off, contributing to pollution, erosion, and flooding downstream. Streams are “open-cut” to lay pipes across. Wetlands are drained and become lined with grass so they can no longer sustain the quantity and quality of life they once did. And that is if the pipeline company does a good job.
To move gas through a pipeline requires compressors, so communities are burdened with loud polluting compressors spaced as closely as every 40 to 100 miles, emitting a variety of air pollutants and lots of loud noise. In Dish, Texas, high levels of carcinogenic and neurotoxic air pollutants have been recorded near compressor stations.
And despite the campaigns of the gas drilling companies sending the message that we need to undertake these extreme extraction practices in order to wean our country off foreign sources of fossil fuels and keep gas prices low, the truth is that many of these pipelines are, or will be, taking this gas to liquefied natural gas facilities that will transport the gas overseas, preventing it from being here for domestic use and causing the price of gas in the United States to rise. In fact, the gas drilling industry is already building and pursuing facilities that will take as much as 20 percent of the U.S. supply of natural gas to foreign countries—and the practiced are just getting started.
So even if you are spared the construction and drilling of gas wells in your community, don’t be surprised if you find yourself faced with a proposal for a pipeline through your community or your favorite forest or woods, or neighbor to a 15,000-horsepower compressor, or downstream of a wastewater plant discharging fracking waste, or dealing with drilling companies who want to suck millions to billions of gallons of water out of your local waterways.
What Can You Do?
Raise your voice. We need a change of direction in our state capitols and in Washington if we are to succeed in protecting our communities from the gas drillers, the pipeline companies, and the liquefied natural gas facilities. They have made their voices heard in the halls of Congress and state capitols, so let’s make sure the voice of the people is heard even louder. Pay a visit to your state or federal legislator.
Write a letter. The Delaware River Basin Commission has the power to ensure its legal review of all pipelines that would cross over or through the Delaware River or any portion of its watershed. But so far they have chosen not to enforce their jurisdiction. If you want to write a letter to help protect the drinking water of over 17 million people from the damage and pollution caused by pipelines now would be a great time to chime in.
Ask Obama to veto HR 2606/SA 2869. The Coalition Against the Rockaway Pipeline Rockaway Pipeline (CARP) has been fighting federal legislation allowing Williams/Transco to build a pipeline in Gateway National Recreation Area, the country’s oldest urban national park. The proposed pipeline will run under Jamaica Bay, past a wildlife refuge home to over 300 species of birds, including some listed as Endangered or Threatened; under a public beach used by thousands; and into a gas metering and regulating station built directly adjacent to the largest community garden on the East Coast. The legislation as amended, HR 2606/SA 2869, is waiting final approval in the House. Please call on President Obama to veto this legislation if it comes to his desk— sign CARP’s petition.
Get connected. Your local and regional water, air, and energy organizations can alert you when a gas drilling operation or activity is proposed for your community. This way you can join with others to speak out in defense of your kids and community. Grassroots efforts to stop these operations are working across the country. Make sure your voice is heard.
Maya K. van Rossum is the Delaware Riverkeeper, and has lead the Delaware Riverkeeper Network (DRN) since 1994. The DRN is a regional nonprofit advocacy organization that monitors the river and all of its tributaries for threats and challenges, and advocates, educates and, litigates for protection, restoration, and change.