Saturday, December 29, 2012

Open Letter to the Oil and Gas Industry

I couldn't help it...

Dear Oil and Gas Industry,

After centuries of living with and around the technology and chemicals that your industry has helped develop, we have decided that we have had enough. The word “chemical” and anything related to it is no longer something we feel comfortable about. Since your industry utilizes and produces chemicals in large quantities, you are no longer welcome.  Don’t get us wrong, we completely understand the role that chemicals have in our lives. However, by dividing them into good and bad chemicals, we can get rid of what we feel are the bad chemicals.  We will utilize our innate sense of toxicology, our feelings and our opinions to determine which are good and which are bad. Then, we will redefine the word “chemical” to only mean the “bad” chemicals.
If we feel or if it is our opinion that a substance is safe and is useful; we will call it by its name. For example, milk, water, iPads, caffeine, aspirins, IV  tubing, hand soaps, shampoo (actually most personal care products), and gasoline (at the gas station, only) are all useful and from now on they will no longer be associated with the word chemical.
Chemicals by our definition are substances that people in white lab coats deal with; they are produced in large menacing factories that have smoke billowing from smoke stacks. They are extracted from the deep bowels of the earth or are harvested in large quantities on the surface; both processes scar and damage Mother Earth. Mother Earth needs to be honored and protected. Therefore, chemicals are substances that have to be avoided.  They are dangerous and toxic.  Form what I read in the newspaper and see on TV, they are associated with cancer; and NOBODY likes cancer.
The word technology is still acceptable, unless it has anything to do with chemicals. Then the process can no longer be associated with the word technology. It has to be known by whatever name we feel we should call it. For example, “fracking” is more fitting and we like that word better than the words “hydraulic fracturing” which sound too mundane.
So, please, you are not welcome here. We can do without you and your chemicals.
John and Jane Q Public

A Reality Check: Hazardous Wastewater Treatment

Forget about rationality, subjectivity, objectivity, apologist studies, and the rest of the words used to describe various points of view, opinions and rhetoric. How about one simple word – Reality! Chemicals are everywhere. In our homes, in industry, in agriculture, in our cars, virtually everywhere; look around you. This offers numerous pollution opportunities.
According to the USEPA the average U.S household generates more than 20 pounds of household hazardous waste annually. While all industrial facilities are regulated on how and where they should dispose of waste, households are not. EPA developed a household waste EXEMPTION. The exemption allows us to perform our routine maintenance tasks around the house without applying for a disposal permit. It allows us to have solvents, paints, pesticides, fertilizer, rodent poisons, grease, oven cleaners, drain openers, used oil, antifreeze, batteries, lighter fluids, cosmetics, nail polish, insecticides, household cleaners…. all defined as hazardous in our homes. Based on 20 pounds of hazardous waste per household and there are 7,482 households in Schuyler County (Census 2006-2010) then approximately 150,000 lbs. of hazardous waste produced is produced annually. This doesn’t even include the sanitary waste which may contains metabolized and un-metabolized highly stable and hazardous pharmaceuticals that end up in septic systems and wastewater treatment plants. This is a definite, this is reality; not a potential, not a probable, this is happening. Our homes may as well be mini-industrial facilities.
Cuyahoga River Burning (image NOAA)
Somehow, we have taken care of all this exempted household waste and our waterways are not degrading. 
Environmental history shows us that the Clean Water Act (CWA) arose out of need to end the degradation of our national waterways back in the early 1970s (remember the Cuyahoga River burning?). 

Monday, December 10, 2012

"Devastation" "Toxic" and other buzz words

Toxic has to do with poisons/toxins... Toxic has to do with concentrations, exposure length, exposure route, and related health effects. 
I didn't make this up; Paracelsus said it...

"All things are poison, and nothing is without poison; only the dose permits something not to be poisonous."

So, your coffee… hopefully at the concentration you are drinking it at... isn’t a poison or isn’t toxic (apparently that is an arguable point).  So, is flowback toxic? Produced water toxic? Are the chemicals used to stimulate shale toxic?  Toxic to who or to what? What are the concentrations used?  Will anyone be exposed? How will they be exposed? At what concentrations will they be exposed at? Will is cause a health effect? Many questions, many different answers…  Is it simply easier to say toxic when information is complex then to spend the time & effort looking/learning? Believe it or not, there are people that have been working on these questions for a long time; they do it with every industry that has waste water.

 "Devastated" PA Countryside (Taken 08/10/2012)

My thirty minutes on “Up with Chris Hayes” went as expected. I am not really one for interviews/panels etc. I prefer talking to people one on one; to that end I met some great people had some great conversations off the air. Chris was cordial.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

Reality Check- Are We Guinea Pigs for Hydrocarbon Development?

Opponents of hydrocarbon development say that we should wait until gas development can be done 100 percent safely. 

Reality check:  If we had waited for transportation to be 100% safe, we would still be waiting. No automobiles, no trains, no planes… nothing. Opponents also claim that companies and regulators that support the development of hydrocarbons treat communities as a giant lab experiment with the residents being guinea pigs.
Experience shows that regulations, safety and best practices evolve with technology,knowledge and experience. Did anyone complain about being a guinea pig when they were little as they rode in the back of a car standing on the hump between the seats… with no seat belt and a solid metal dash board? Were we guinea pigs for future generations or victims of time?

1960 Child Car Seat

Friday, November 2, 2012

Unraveling the Common Denominator to the Health/Environmental Impact Preconception

Green Plan’s Ted Fink, the author of two CommunityImpact Assessments (CIA), paid a visit to Otsego County’s Natural Gas Advisory Committee meeting on Friday October 26th. His visit which was set into motion by a County Board Member, who had hoped Fink could persuade the committee that a similar Assessment would benefit Otsego County. Fink utilizes a “build-out” analysis to depict how much land within the county or town could be impacted by gas development under current zoning regulations. According to my understanding, a build-out analysis is a tool that can be used to evaluate the demands that a future development project could have on the land. It has been used effectively for brick and mortar structures such as housing developments, and new roadways, but only recently has it been used to chart the impact of natural gas development.  A build-out analysis is normally paired with different development scenarios that can then be utilized to determine what land use patterns a community would prefer to see. If utilized properly, without bias, a CIA can be a very useful tool for localities who wish to see the overall big picture and plan accordingly.

How some people see gas development in their backyards.
 Scroll down to see a more realistic picture

However, I am very skeptical of Green Plan’s Community Impact Assessments. Not because of the funding sources but because of the land use assumptions applied. 

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Focusing on Prevention – Mitigating Scenarios that Represent Public Health Risks

Opponents of gas development went to the NYS Officials armed with their list of 20 Reasons Summary Report as to why natural gas development should not go ahead. The list makes many assumptions. The biggest - the report does not take into account that a conclusive health assessment requires more than a portion of an exposure assessment.  

Risk assessments (health or environmental) are done to identify risk. This is the first and most important step in maintaining safe work-spaces and communities.

EPA Image/How much pollutant do people inhale over a specific period of time helps determines the potential or lack thereof of health effects

Missing from the report is a discussion on what has been done to improve the processes to control or eliminate the risk.  Leaving out these strategies creates an illusion that nothing is or has been done to mitigate the concerns raised by the exposure assessment.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Real People, Real Jobs Rally – October 15, 2012

Remarks by Uni Blake; Town of Maryland, Otsego County

Today, I speak as mother, and as a woman of the Shale Country. I speak driven by the scientist in me, who has been in search of answers and solutions.

The one thing I do not speak as--- is an activist. I am here because I feel obligated to speak up. I am here calling on the state to take a stronger leadership role. In your silence people have manipulated facts in an attempt to compensate for the lack of information - Information that YOU hold.

When Science is Unimpressive - Bring on the Anecdotes

While the general public may find anecdotal evidence highly compelling, most scientists are suspicious of data the rests on anecdotes. The idea that research can be based solely on pooling more than one anecdote to create data is problematic - more than one anecdote is simply just – more anecdote(s) not data.  

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Responding to Questions about My Testimony etc.

Question from Blog Reader:
(did not leave email address)

What is a way to contain the flowback fluids if not in an open pit? In Arlington TX, urban drilling the top flow during flowback (before the Green Completions equipment is used) is held in open hatch flowback tanks, and the steamy white wafting clouds leave the site. How to contain that?

Is there sufficient technology to keep the frac sand from becoming airborne and leaving the padsite?
 Isn't that a health hazard for risk of silicosis?

What is the "setback" distance for drill sites near people?

Can you also send me the link to the DEP N Central Region health study
 that you said on the video link found no health effects cause they had dry gas?

There was also mention in that video of a review of the workers health that did not find illnesses...can you please
 email the link to me?

Thank you for your questions:
Here are some of the references you requested.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Which of the Chemicals Used in the Hydraulic Fracturing Process is the Most Toxic?

Contrary to popular media there is no simple answer to this question. While the website The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TDEX) offers a comprehensive excel spreadsheet of the products, chemicals, and their health effects, it fails to mention the variety of factors that are important in determining what will make the identified chemical toxic to the public. 

Will There Be Wide Spread Health Problems?

There is a general assumption that because of the nature or the toxicity of the chemicals used in natural gas development there will be widespread health issues. To explain why this assumption is wrong, we need to first define the word "toxicity."
Toxicity is defined by the Agency of Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (a federal agency) as the “degree to which a substance is poisonous or can cause injury.” The key word here is “degree,” it is the reason why the answer is simple not.  The degree is the “how toxic.”

No Exposure means No Toxicity

Friday, April 6, 2012

Using Fear to Communicate Risk

Our fear for cancer has caused more suffering than cancer itself. Rachel Carson in her book Silent Spring, told us that the toxic chemicals that we fear are no longer in our nightmares or at the factories over the hill but that these chemicals are now all around us- touching everything we do; the air we breathe, the water we drink and soil we plant in.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Looking at the issue of using natural gas well brine on roads

This was correspondence written in response to a discussion where a legislative body wanted to ban the spread of natural gas brine of roads.

This issue needs to be looked at objectively as with any other decision making process regarding the management of wastewater. It means looking at permit limits or standards; in this case, specifically the role of standards for human health protection. Standardized values remove emotional subjectivity from the decision making processes and rely on scientific values. As with any issues that rely on science, there have been too many decisions are being made on emotion and not facts.

Impacts to Health are the Reason that the use of brine is questioned

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Anecdotal Evidence versus Scientific Evidence: The Battle over the Shale Health Syndrome

The controversy about the health effects of natural gas exploration and development or “fracking” has taken center stage.  It is mostly about anecdotal evidence that correlates to natural gas development activities. Most environmental health experts agree that correlation does not imply causation.  When someone claims that their illness is caused by an activity that is occurring within their proximity, we need to look not only at the biological relationship between the chemicals present but also at the exposure risk- how is the person coming in contact with the said chemical and then rule out or rule in the chemical as the cause.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Protecting Our Water - Protecting Our Health - Baseline Water Tests

If you are on a public water supply and you turn on your faucet for a drink of water, you expect a consistent level of water quality; free of contaminants. If you are on a private well and you turn on your faucet, you really do not know what to expect.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Talking about Shale Health

There is a lot of information online about environmental health issues related to Marcellus Shale Development. Sifting through it and finding credible information is difficult: everyone appears to have some bias or the other. This does not make it any easier to discern the truth from the fiction.

This ongoing controversy surrounding the health impacts of natural gas exploration, especially in New York State has consumed many people's lives; even though New York State has yet to see any of the controversial gas exploration, many folks still considered the development as a potential threat to our picturesque valleys.
Elk Creek and Schenevus Valley

We look across the Stateline into Pennsylvania to give us an idea what our health prognosis will be when and if gas exploration and development arrives. For those who can't make the journey to see firsthand, the internet becomes our window. What we see online coupled with the unknown has triggered an unprecedented scale of people searching for information on environmental health related to shale development.

Turning to the web

According to the Pew Research Center Survey from May 12, 2011, of the 74% of adults polled, 80% have “looked online for information about any of the 15 health topics asked about” which translated to more than half of all adults.  People are turning to the web for information more than any source. While this may have many benefits there are some downsides. For one, not all information online is true, nor is it all reliable nor does it have any value.

Fragments of information drawn from the internet paint an incomplete picture.

Something to think about… Print books and journal articles have keepers of the information; editors, proofreaders and peer reviewers who are competent on the subject matter being published.  Not anyone can write a useful and a well-used text book, however anyone can write an article online and write it on any subject matter- there are no gatekeepers.  People present their personal opinions as fact and substantiate their opinions with opinions found elsewhere online. All this fragmented information is then put together and presented as a researched factual article or story.

Before you take my word for it, ask yourself, is the internet or the print media the best place to find the factual information you are looking for? My preference, for the most part is my well used and well-worn books written by experts and professionals in the field and for the larger part I rely on the people who I have looked up to, the people who have the time tried information; my mentors.