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Thursday, June 19, 2014

How Low Can You Go UPDATE

Or, They Want to be Close to You, Part Deux

Stream (ephemeral): A watercourse that flows during and shortly after periods of high precipitation. Ephemeral stream water quality is often a concern because the short-lived pools often are the site of reproduction for amphibious organisms and some air-breathing fish. For the purposes of this program, ephemeral streams are combined with intermittent streams.

Photo and definition from Watersheds: A Decision Support System for Nonpoint Source Pollution Control

From Ohio:

Fish kill in eastern Ohio might be linked to fire at fracking well

The state is investigating a fish kill in an eastern Ohio creek near where a fire occurred at a shale-well fracking site on Saturday.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources learned yesterday of the fish kill in Possum Creek in Monroe County, said Jason Fallon, an agency spokesman. Fallon said he did not have details about the extent of the kill. “I can’t confirm if it’s related to the gas-well fire,” he said.
Phillip Keevert, director of the Monroe County Emergency Management Agency, said Division of Wildlife agents were inspecting the creek yesterday and confirmed that a kill occurred.
The Eisenbarth well pad caught fire on Saturday because of a malfunction in hydraulic tubing, authorities said. Fire spread to about 20 trucks lined up on the well pad, triggering explosions that spewed clouds of black smoke.
The trucks that caught fire are used in hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking. Statoil North America operates eight wells on the pad.
At the height of the fire, 20 to 25 families that live within a mile of the site were evacuated. They were allowed to return home on Saturday evening.
A number of area residents reported the fish kill yesterday. Jack Shaner, deputy director of the Ohio Environmental Council, said he has been told that the kill stretched for a few miles.
Shaner said he suspects that chemicals used in fracking ran into the creek when firefighters extinguished the blaze.
“It sounds like it was not just smoke and not just fire, but a major fish kill,” he said. “Both the company and state agencies owe the public a full public accounting of what went wrong and how they are going to prevent future occurrences.”
Statoil North America officials could not be reached for comment.
All 17 of the company’s Ohio wells are in Monroe County, state records show.

Hmmmm, wonder how far away that creek is from the wellheads?

Friends, when the  Mining and Energy Commission (MEC) ( as currently constituted) started their second day of deliberation on the rule package poised to go to public comment and public hearing on June 16,  Chairman Jim Womack said "Welcome back everyone to the second day of  fun here with  the Mining and Energy Commission."  One must keep a sense of humor despite the seriousness of the matter at hand, and I am glad that the Chairman can do so.

On to the meat of the discussion.There has been significant quibbling amongst the family about setbacks (see an earlier blog post They Want to Be Close to You). The argument began in earnest during the May 2014 meetings, with reports that "somebody" was not happy with the proposed setbacks from water bodies. (Apparently a Lee County landowner). Commissioner Charles "Industry Won't Come Here" Holbrook wanted much shorter setbacks, with variance authority to zero on certain streams, citing the lack of "white space" on GIS maps available for the development of  natural gas in Lee County. There was a lot of back and forth;several Commissioners took issue with the idea and with Holbrook's stance-with Commissioner Amy Pickle reminding the other commissioners that setbacks are designed to protect safety, public health and welfare, and the environment and stated "[We are ] rulemaking by anecdote." This issue was tabled for further investigation until the June cycle of meetings.

 On June 15, another draft of the setback rule, a "compromise" if you will,  was presented by MEC Chairman Jim Womack,  again sparking vigorous debate. Commissioner Pickle went through a great deal of research overnight and these are some of the eloquent remarks she  made on the 16th:

"Two main points, we haven't done enough research, in looking at the ecology or hydrology of what we're proposing to mitigate a risk for. We're not going to be able to do it in the time frame that we have. I am resistant and...dislike making decisions about a number based on increasing percentage of "white space" in a single area of the state, when we are setting state-wide standards. I am resistant ...I will say in justification for my comments and general recalcitrance yesterday, that I am resistant to changing these numbers to try and achieve a policy objective that's not fully informed by the science. So, I appreciate folks wanting to reach a compromise and finding a middle ground. I am-based on the review, the very limited review, of the science am ok with going down to 100 feet of intermittent streams, with the understanding, and the call-out to the public that we need a lot more information, and that making this decision without that information is not the preferred policy process. But zero is not a viable scientifically based option, either. We pick a number for the setback, and we pick a minimum (the audio recording was unintelligible here) on which we know from a basic review of buffer science is about right."

You can listen to the audio from the June 5th and 6th meetings here:

Yet again, a standard was reduced, and an appointed Commission will have the power to weaken it even further. This is being done, to accommodate an industry using a highly intrusive process which is causing multiple problems in virtually every state it is operating in. When will it be the people's turn to be accommodated? From where I sit- protecting public health and the environment are not much of a priority for some decision makers.