The U.S. Coast Guard is accepting comments through Fri., Nov. 29, on a proposal to permit the hauling of shale-gas extraction waste via river barges.
Much of the waste would come from Pennsylvania and its Marcellus Shale gas fields. The waste is currently transported from drilling sites to disposal facilities by truck and rail.
Activists oppose the measure, citing potential hazards to the water supply.
Fracking waste is known to contain toxic chemicals like benzene and radioactive materials. And because of trade-secret privileges, industry has not revealed many of the chemicals in the fracking fluid to the public.
For more information on the proposed rule change, see here. This site also includes information about submitting comments.
A local social-justice group yesterday announced its push to get local institutions to stop investing in fossil fuels. And it had company: the world’s best-known proponent of such disinvestment.
At an afternoon press conference at Station Square, McKibben touted the rapid growth of the disinvestment movement. It began only about a year ago, but McKibben says it is now active on the campuses of 380 colleges and universities. “Eight or nine” colleges have agreed to stop investing in fossil-fuel companies, and cities including Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Providence, R.I., have taken the pledge, he said. So has at least onemainline church.
As he spoke, McKibben was surrounded by local activistsholding up banners for the Sierra Club and anti-fracking groups including marcellusprotest.org.
“There is no issue more critical than climate change,” said Wanda Guthrie, chair of the Thomas Merton Center Environmental Justice Committee, in a statement. “The state of our planet’s climate affects every other issue, including peace, justice, economic development, civil rights and more. Divestment from fossil fuels, although a little late, is a good way to begin to address this critical issue.”
An expected 10,000 young activists from around the U.S. will visit Pittsburgh this weekend for this biannual gathering on environmental and social justice.
Power Shift is organized by the Energy Action Coalition, which consists of the youth arms of some 30 organizations, including the Sierra Club and Greenpeace.
“Youth” means college age and younger, but everyone is welcome to attend the four-day slate http://www.wearepowershift.org/program/agenda of talks — by prominent folks like Bill McKibben, of 350.org, and Gasland director Josh Fox — plus workshops, activist training and even night-time concerts by nationally known musicians.
The conference runs Friday through Monday, when it closes with a rally and march.
It's the first time Power Shift has taken place outside Washington, D.C. EAC's Whit Jones says Pittsburgh was considered ideal partly because of its proximity to so many destructive energy practices, including fracking for natural gas and mountaintop-removal coal mining.
Registration is $80 for youth and students, $100 for “young professionals” and $150 for “movement supporters,” but full and partial scholarships are available. Online registration is closed, but you can register on-site at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.
The conference covers a range of environmental issues, including fracking, the Keystone XL pipeline and divestment, but is heavily concerned with issues relating to climate change.
Other speakers include Sierra Club director Mike Brune; Kim Wasserman, who successfully worked to retire two dirty coal plants in Chicago; Kandi Mossett, a Tribal Campus Organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network; youth immigration activist Hareth Andrade; and Pittsburgh mayoral candidate Bill Peduto.
Performers include Big K.R.I.T., Idle Warship (Talib Kweli and Res), Spank Rock, Nosaj Thing and Ninjasonik. For a complete list, see here.
The concluding March for a Green Economy stars at 10 a.m. Monday with a rally at Allegheny Landing Park, located on the Allegheny River between the Sixth and Seventh Street bridges, on the North Side.
The Energy Action Coalition's Jones tells CP that the march, which begins at 11 a.m., will proceed to Oakland, stopping along the way at sites of corporations who support especially destructive fossil-fuel extraction (including PNC, for its backing of mountaintop-removal coal mining) and other peaceful-protest targets.
Dr. Michael Abesamis, an assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Emergency Medicine, speaks tonight at the Carnegie Science Center on “Medical Effects of Hydraulic Fracturing.”
Fracking for natural gas is big business in Southwestern Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the U.S., but critics say its health impacts have not been sufficiently studied. Abesamis’ free talk, which runs 7-9 p.m., is part of the Center’s Café Scientifique.
According to a press release, Abesamis “has direct experience evaluating and treating patients who have been exposed to chemicals or solvents at the Medical Toxicology Outpatient Clinic at UPMC Presbyterian. … He will also share current findings and research to evaluate the overall impact of fracking.”
Doors open for the talk at 6 p.m. Dinner is available for purchase, and there’s a full cash bar.
The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority today submitted its Wet Weather Feasibility Study to the Department of Environmental Protection and Allegheny County Healthy Department.
The plan, according to agency leaders, will ultimately reduce combined sewer overflows — which occur when storm water and sewage overload the sewer systems and flow into waterways untreated. It also spells out efforts to bring the PWSA system into compliance with the Federal Clean Water Act and Pennsylvania Clean Streams Act. Alcosan has proposed its own plan to come into compliance with its own federal consent decree to reduce CSO.
And as part of the study, PWSA and city officials today touted many green infrastructure projects included in the proposal.
"This plan is our guidebook," said city councilor Bill Peduto, at a press conference held this morning in Larimer. "We have a blueprint to be able to take us through the combined sewer overflow project which is going to be the largest public works project of our time in this city, of our time on this earth, and gives us the pathway to make us a model of sustainability."
According to the PWSA, if the study is implemented as-is, combined sewer overflow volume and frequency could be reduced by 95%. The plan proposes a number of projects — touted as a "gray" and "green" investments. The gray investments — or infrastructure projects like storage tanks, pipes and screens for the CSO output, will average $3.8 million per year over the first 12 years and cost a total of $165 million over 20 years.
Proposed green projects include stream restoration of Saw Mill Run, mitigating run off on Route 19 and alleviating flooding on Route 51 and Edgebrook. And the agency says it will invest $2.5 million a year for the next four years for green infrastructure.
Jim Good, interim executive director, said that rates for PWSA customers would increase by about $100 a year in about 15 years to help fund the project in combination with private sector funding and foundation money. The study, which has been in the works since 2002, cost the agency $18 million, Good said.
"The thing about green is a lot of cities have done a little bit," Good said. "We're talking about doing a whole watershed."
Environmental groups praised the plan. In a statement, Jennifer Rafanan Kennedy, director of the Clean Rivers Campaign, said that “The public has made it clear that it wants to see a plan to deal with the region’s CSO problem that includes the community benefits that come from a green approach. With this plan PWSA has made it clear they are listening to the public and that they are leading the way toward a broad approach to our wet weather issues that makes wise use of our ratepayer dollars and provides considerable ancillary benefits.”
Kathryn Klaber, CEO of pro natural-gas industry group the Marcellus Shale Coalition, will be departing the organization in the next few months, according to announcement from the group.
Klaber has led the organization since it formed in 2009. And in a press release issued today, the MSC says it will begin a nationwide search for its new leader.
The release didn't offer an exact departure date, but notes she will represent the agency in forums in Australia and London "in the coming months" as well as the MSC's annual Shale Insight conference in Philadelphia Sept. 25-26.
Citing the risk that the public will be saddled with cleanup costs from gas-drilling mishaps, a new report calls for massive increases in bonding and other financial assurances that government requires of drillers.
The 54-page report says that Pennsylvania’s financial safeguards don’t cover all possible drilling-related problems; don’t sufficiently cover those they do address; and don’t look far enough into the future, when even plugged wells might cause problems.
Such problems include not only contaminated drinking water, but also damage to wildlife habitat, stresses on local roads and bridges, release of greenhouse gasses, and emissions of air pollutants that could harm the health of nearby residents.
The report notes that currently, state regulations require drillers to secure $4,000 to $10,000 in bonds up front for single wells. Those bonds cover site-restoration and well-plugging — but not “compensation for victims for damage to property or health, provision for alternative source of drinking water in case of contamination, and full restoration of damage to public infrastructure.” And drillers are released from this assurance “one year after the well is plugged and the site reclaimed, leaving impacted residents, communities, and taxpayers on the hook for longer-term damage.”
While Pennsylvania levies a $50,000-per-well impact fee on shale-gas drillers, the report contends that proceeds are not enough to address the many impacts of fracking. Penn Environment also critiques the state’s use of “blanket bonding,” a sort of bulk-rate discount for drillers with multiple wells. The report cites a 2001 case in Wyoming in which an oil producer went bankrupt, leaving the federal and state governments on the hook for more than $3 million in clean-up costs at 120 wells.
Penn Environment recommends that states require financial assurances of at least $250,000 per well to cover plugging and reclamation; at least $5 million per well for restitution; and an assurance period of 30 years.
If those numbers sound high, Penn Environment notes that a study out of Carnegie Mellon University estimates the average cost of plugging and abandoning a gas well in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus region is about $100,000 per well. Moreover, the group cites a case in which Cabot Oil and Gas paid about $2.2 million to abandon three sites in Susquehanna County, an average of about $700,00 each.
And if raising assurances by that much sounds politically infeasible — or regulatorily implausible — Penn Environment notes that New York state already requires $250,000 in assurance for a single well. And Ohio makes drillers hold up to $5 million in liability insurance for bodily injury and damage to property for all a driller’s wells in the state.
Moreover, the group notes that this year alone, in the midst of both the gas boom and rising concern about drilling’s impact, three states — Illinois, Maryland and South Dakota —have raised their financial-assurance requirements, though not to the levels recommended by Penn Environment.
As precedent for the unwanted legacies of extractive industries, Penn Environment cites the widespread water-pollution problems caused by a century’s worth of abandoned coal mines. And the report says that the U.S. is home to 59,000 orphaned oil and gas wells, plus an estimated 90,000 or more whose status is undocumented.
The group says upfront financial assurances are crucial because of the cyclical nature of the fossil-fuel industry: Firms whose sites do damage might be unable or unwilling to pay for cleanup or restitution years from now.
About 1,700 turned out last night at at Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall to watch a sneak preview of Gasland director Josh Fox’s sequel.
Fox — who received a standing ovation just by walking onstage to introduce the film — says the Pittsburgh crowd was the largest in-person audience not only on the 23-city Gasland Part II tour (on which Pittsburgh was the final stop) but for either Gasland film.
The 2010 documentary is widely credited with helping spark widespread knowledge of, and opposition to, the practice fracking for natural gas. (It was also, predictably, widely denounced by the gas industry.) Gasland Part II, which premieres on-air on HBO on July 8, highlights not just the environmental and health risks of gas drilling, but the damage Fox contends industry influence does to democracy. (Here's CP's interview with Fox, previewing last night's screening.)
In the two-hour film, narrator Fox calls this effect “another layer of contamination” caused by drilling: “Not the water, not the air, but our government.”
Blue recycling bins have been popping up in city business districts for a while now, and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl today announced more are on the way.
An additional 80 recycling containers will be installed in Lawrenceville, Oakland, Shadyside, the Strip District and Squirrel Hill in the coming weeks, with the ultimate goal to eventually have them in every business district. The city also has received a $433,000 performance grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for its successful recycling efforts, which helped pay for the bins.
“Recycling benefits our city and its residents by cutting landfill fees, saving taxpayer money and reducing waste,” Ravenstahl said in a press release.
From 2007-2012, 78,000 tons of waste were recycled with more than 19,000 tons composted, according to the city. Such strategies — as we've noted before —have saved the city $1.9 million in landfill costs and generated $3.4 million in recycling revenue. Participation in recycling is also up — increasing from 49 percent in 2007 to 69 percent in 2012
To find your curbside recycling schedule, check here.
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