Monday, December 28, 2009

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Democrat/Gazette December 21, 2009, editorial advocating saving sale-barn land for Fayetteville National Cemetery pleases majority of veterans and neighbors, but the problem is that saving Town Branch homeowners from flooding downhill from the cemetery is still being ignored: VA already at work preparing to dredge and fill wetland and pipe stormwater directly to Hill Avenue and thus to the 11th Street bridge on the Town Branch

Please click on individual photos to ENLARGE view of wetland area along the north edge of the Fayetteville National Cemetery being prepared for dredging and filling for grave sites. The depressional wetland developed over centuries because it is above a bedrock karst area where groundwater sinks into the underground caverns and aquifers and reduces surface-water flooding. When it is piped to the Town Branch it will further aggravate the flooding danger between Ellis and Van Buren avenues already created by the University of Arkansas' failure properly to manage stormwater on the campus and by paving and development along Martin Luther King Boulevard and on the Aspen Ridge/Hill Place project.

Save acres for vets

Now buy the land for the cemetery

Monday, December 21, 2009
LITTLE ROCK — LIKE WARM Arkansas Christmases, dry eyes after It’s a Wonderful Life, and little boys from the Natural State scribbling “LSU gear” on their annual wish lists, some things are just not meant to be. That’s the way it seems with the controversial student apartments that apparently won’t be built in south Fayetteville. You know, where Washington County’s historic livestock auction house operated until June.
A lawsuit that sought to override the city’s denial of a rezoning request seems to be kaput. Campus Crest developers of North Carolina wanted to buy the property from the auction house’s owner, Bill Joe Bartholomew, and build 500 apartments on the property. But the drawn-out legal ordeal surrounding this purchase became just too much to bear. Mr. Bartholomew now wants his suit dismissed.
The proposed sale to Campus Crest became a flashpoint for veterans and others last summer. They wanted to secure the site across Government Avenue from the city’s National Cemetery so they might preserve the sacred nature of that location. They basically argued that more student apartments in an overbuilt Fayetteville wasn’t an appropriate use of the land. They had a point. The former auction barn parcel does provide an ideally located space to enlarge this rapidly filling cemetery.
Fayetteville’s council denied Mr. Bartholomew’s request to rezone his property. The rezoning would have sealed the sale and enabled Campus Crest to purchase and develop the property. That’s when Mr. Bartholomew filed his suit against the city.

This latest development means the corporation that oversees the cemetery’s operation, Congress, the national office of Veteran’s Affairs, and veterans’ organizations need to find a way to purchase this property. The space needs to be preserved and protected as a final resting place for our veterans in the decades to come.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Mineral oil one of the choices to replace diesel in the rock-fracturing process that sends natural gas to the surface

Energy Industry Threatens Water Quality, Sways Congress with Misleading Data
By Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica
Posted on July 9, 2009, Printed on December 17, 2009

The two key arguments that the oil and gas industry is using to fight federal regulation of the natural gas drilling process called hydraulic fracturing -- that the costs would cripple their business and that state regulations are already strong -- are challenged by the same data and reports the industry is using to bolster its position.

One widely-referenced study (PDF) estimated that complying with regulations would cost the oil and gas industry more than $100,000 per gas well. But the figures are based on 10-year-old estimates and list expensive procedures that aren't mentioned in the proposed regulations.

Another report (PDF) concluded that state regulations for drilling, including fracturing, "are adequately designed to directly protect water." But the report reveals that only four states require regulatory approval before hydraulic fracturing begins. It also outlines how requirements for encasing wells in cement -- a practice the author has said is critical to containing hydraulic fracturing fluids and protecting water -- varies from state to state.

One recommendation in that report flies in face of industry's assertion that its processes are safe: hydraulic fracturing needs more study and should be banned in certain cases near sensitive water supplies.

Hydraulic fracturing -- where water and sand laced with chemicals is injected underground to break up rock -- is considered essential to harvesting deeply buried gas reserves that some predict could meet U.S. demand for 116 years.

In 2005 hydraulic fracturing was exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act, based on assurances that the process was safe. But a series of ProPublica reports has identified a number of cases in which water has been contaminated in drilling areas across the country, and EPA scientists say they can’t fully investigate them because of the exemption.

Now, Congress is considering legislation to restore the Environmental Protection Agency's oversight of the process. And industry -- leveraging its money and political connections -- is using the recent reports to fight back.

Since January at least five studies have been published making the case that state laws(PDF) are adequate and that new regulations could hamper exploration (PDF), raise fuel prices and eliminate jobs. Three of the studies were paid for by the Department of Energy and produced by consulting firms that also work with the industry. One of the DOE reports (PDF) was written by the same person who authored a study for the Independent Petroleum Association of America (PDF)

The industry argues (PDF) that federal oversight would amount to a redundant layer of bureaucracy that is not needed because states already require the same environmental safeguards that might be required by the EPA, and that those safeguards are effective.

"We don't think the system is broke, so we question the value of trying to fix it with a federal solution," Richard Ranger, a senior policy analyst at the American Petroleum Institute, told ProPublica in May. "So proceed with caution if you are going to proceed with regulating this business because it could make a very significant difference in delivering a fuel that is fundamental to economic health."

How many gas wells does your state have? Click to find out.Industry reports say that if federal regulations are applied to hydraulic fracturing, more than a third of onshore gas wells would be closed and oil and gas companies would spend $10 billion complying with the law in its first year. The federal government would lose some $1.2 billion in revenue.

But advocates for the federal legislation say the industry is misleading the public into a false choice between the economy and the environment.

"We are all for using science-based information," said Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "But the underlying information doesn’t really tell the story they claim it does."

Nonetheless, the arguments have gained traction in Congress and have eroded support for new regulation.

Rep. Dan Boren, D-Okla., told his fellow members in a recent hearing that "these folks are laying people off -- people are hurting in my district." Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., who sponsored legislation to regulate fracturing in 2008, but declined to add his name to this year's bill, told ProPublica that "developers may have legitimate concerns about the impact that removing the exemption may have on their ability to find and extract oil and gas."

To keep the legislation alive, Diana DeGette, D-Colo., its main sponsor, has shifted gears to seek environmental studies and hearings rather than a quick passage into law.

"The opposition has been throwing out scare tactics and mischaracterizations of what she is trying to do," said DeGette's spokesman, Kristofer Eisenla. "Unfortunately the oil and gas guys came out of the barn storming."

Fuzzy Numbers

The study that has received the most publicity (PDF) is also among the most misleading.

The report, which evaluates the costs of regulations for the oil and gas industry, was written for the Department of Energy by a consulting company also used by the energy industry, Advanced Resources International, or ARI. It contains a table (PDF) listing seven specific processes it says would be mandated under the proposed federal regulations, and what those processes would cost -- a total of $100,505 per well. Among the listed items is "state of the art" fracture imaging, at a per-well average cost of $37,500, and three-dimensional fracture simulation, at a cost of $7,500.

But a footnote reveals that these figures are based on memo sent to a DOE official by another consulting firm in 1999. The report’s author said they haven’t been updated to reflect technological advances or substantial shifts in the drilling business over the last decade.

Furthermore, none of the tests listed in the table are mentioned in the text of Safe Drinking Water Act, the federal law that would apply to hydraulic fracturing, according to an EPA spokesperson in Washington. And they aren’t mentioned in the bill being floated in Congress either.

"It's a sense of magnitude of the impacts, not a sense of absolute accuracy," said Michael Godec, Vice President of ARI and author of the report. The regulatory requirements were interpolated on a "bad-case" scenario, he explained, because the federal laws are not specific. "We took some liberties. You have to make some assumptions about what might be required."

One of the industry reports raises serious questions about the construction of the pits used to store toxic drilling waste and what happens when dangerous fluids are spilled.Godec believes that many of the processes listed in the report are already being practiced to a greater degree than they were in 1999, meaning that even if they were required they may not be additional burdens at all. But he said that anecdotal conversations with drilling companies confirm that the report’s conclusions are still “about right.”

Godec said he did not obtain recent cost figures from drilling companies, which are closely guarded. Halliburton -- one of the largest hydraulic fracturing service providers -- did not return calls from ProPublica for comment about the expense of the procedures listed.

Asked whether the age of the data was a concern, Godec said it had been discussed with Nancy Johnson, the DOE official who commissioned the report. He said he was instructed that the report was needed quickly, that the budget was limited and that he should move forward because "this is a hot topic and people are testifying."

Nancy Johnson did not return calls for comment and the Department of Energy's office of fossil energy did not make its officials available for an interview after repeated requests. It said, through a spokesperson, that the Department did not author the report.

Godec also produced a similar report on costs and state gas regulations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America that was published in late April. Titled "Bringing Real Information on Energy Forward," (PDF) that report also makes the case that state regulations of drilling practices are effective. Godec says his company’s work is impartial and his conclusions would have been the same whether he was contracted by the oil and gas industry, or the federal government.

Even if the costs Godec laid out in the DOE report were up-to-date and accurate, it’s doubtful they would have the devastating financial impact the industry claims.

The estimated expense of regulating hydraulic fracturing amounts to between one and three percent of the total cost of drilling a new well when factored into operating costs estimated by financial analysts at Deutsche Bank. If all the testing that Godec includes is factored out, the regulations would cost the industry just $4,500 per well, according to his report, or just six hundredths of a percent of the cost of establishing a typical new well.

“I think at the end of the day it’s unlikely to have a real huge impact,” says John Freeman, a senior vice president for energy equity research at the investment bank Raymond James. “It’s a lot of fuzzy stuff that I can’t get my hands around. This just seems to be more of a soft number that I frankly have more of a hard time connecting the dots on.”

State Regulations Leave Gaps

In May the Ground Water Protection Council, a group made up mostly of industry representatives and state oil and gas regulators, released the first comprehensive review (PDF) of oil and gas regulations across 27 of 31 drilling states it surveyed. The report, paid for by the DOE, concluded that most states have requirements to encase wells in cement and protect groundwater, and that a majority also require they be notified after hydraulic fracturing takes place.

"The study confirms what the industry has been saying (PDF): that regulation of oil and gas field activities, including hydraulic fracturing, is best accomplished at the state level," the American Petroleum Institute said a press release about the study.

But the GWPC report -- which focuses on what regulations are in place, rather than what may be missing -- raises important points that are downplayed in its summary. It reveals that regulatory oversight is inconsistent from state to state and has substantial gaps. It also says hydraulic fracturing requires "comprehensive" further study "to determine the relative risk" and to determine best practices.

In fact, the report calls for some of same measures found in the congressional bill the industry is so hotly contesting.

See where states stand on regulating oil and gas.Regarding fracturing in areas close to the surface or near shallow aquifers, the report reads: "States should consider requiring companies to submit a list of additives used in formation fracturing and their concentration." It also says that shallow fracturing very close to certain drinking water aquifers "should either be stopped, or restricted to the use of materials that do not pose a risk of endangering ground water and do not have the potential to cause human health effects."

A close examination of the appendices (PDF) attached to the research also showed that 21 of the 31 states listed do not have any specific regulation addressing hydraulic fracturing; 17 states do not require companies to list the chemicals they put in the ground; and no state requires companies to track how much drilling fluid they pump into or remove from the earth -- crucial data for determining what portion of chemicals has been discarded underground.

"The tone is that in general states do an adequate job of protecting water," said Michael Nickolaus, the report's author, special projects director for the GWPC and former director of Indiana's state Oil and Gas Division. "There are certain gaps in certain states ... it’s not a hundred percent world."

The GWPC report does not name the states that lack more stringent regulations, a detail that is important because one or two states can account for a large proportion of the drilling in the United States. To extract that information from the report would require analyzing all the state regulations included in the appendices (PDF) and repeating much of the GWPC's original research. Nickolaus also declined to name the states in an interview with ProPublica, saying that the GWPC was obliged to protect its members.

Nickolaus says well construction -- especially the cementing process that keeps drilling fluids and gas from seeping into groundwater -- is more important than the fracturing issue. But according to the report, state regulations about cementing are sometimes vague and often don't specify standards that makes the protection fool-proof.

While most states have regulations that protect drinking water near the surface, a third don’t require that the cement casing extends far enough to completely isolate wells from geologic layers and the deepest aquifers, according to the report. Twenty-two percent don't require the cement to harden before the well is used for fracturing, and don’t test cement quality and consistency -- one of the surest ways to protect against contamination.

Abrahm Lustgarten is a former staff writer and contributor for Fortune, and has written for Salon, Esquire, the Washington Post and the New York Times since receiving his master's in journalism from Columbia University in 2003.

© 2009 ProPublica All rights reserved.
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Damning New Evidence Raises Concerns About Threats to New York's Water from Gas Drilling
By Byard Duncan, AlterNet
Posted on December 11, 2009, Printed on December 17, 2009

Shortly after Laurie Lytle and her husband purchased a home near Geneva, NY in September 2006, they noticed a yellow flier tucked in their door frame. Chesapeake Energy, one of the nation's largest developers of natural gas, had come knocking, wondering if the Lytles were interested in leasing their land for exploration. "Sign with Chesapeake Energy," Lytle recalled the flier saying: "We can give you money for not doing much."

Lytle threw it out. When she found an identical flier in the same spot a few days later, she threw that one out, too.

It wasn't long before Chesapeake ditched the paper and sent a representative to the Lytles' home -- a guy named Ivan. The amount of money he was willing to pay increased every time the couple voiced their doubts about drilling -- every time they told him his sum was "a joke." First it was $289 for the lease. Then it was more. Then more. At the end of three weeks' negotiations, Chesapeake had upped its offer to approximately $4,000, Lytle said.

"They really were pushing to get the deal done," she told me. "They really wanted us to sign."

The Lytles did eventually sign, on Feb. 7, 2007, with one contractual addendum: Were they to experience any problems with their drinking water, the responsibility would fall on Chesapeake to cover the damage. The company agreed, and for months no drilling took place. Then October came, cloudy and cold. Chesapeake finally began exploration, employing a technique called hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking for short), which involves shooting millions of gallons of water and chemicals deep underground to break up rock formations and release natural gas. Just one day after the drilling started, Lytle noticed that something had gone wrong with her water quality.

"I went to go to the bathroom and the toilet water was gray," she said. "There was sediment in it."

She called Chesapeake, which told her to wait a few days for the hazy residue to clear. When it didn't, the company cut her a check for the "damages": $273.17 for the installation of a depth filter, and $150 to cover five months' rental of said depth filter. In total, Chesapeake dished out $423.17. The Lytles' settlement was petite in its monetary value, but large in its political implications. New York has thus far not counted itself among the cluster of states (Alaska, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, Texas, Wyoming and Pennsylvania) to report cases of water contamination near fracking sites. According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation's (DEC) Web site, "The types of problems reported to have occurred in states without such strong environmental laws and rigorous regulations haven't happened here." This may no longer be the case.

Additionally, the Lytles' problem has significant repercussions for New York's exploitation of the Marcellus Shale, an enormous, goldfish-shaped rock formation that stretches from Syracuse to northern Tennessee and is believed to contain 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. A contentious issue, Marcellus drilling has already hit snags in Dimock, PA, where 14 families recently filed suit against Cabot Oil and Gas for allegedly contaminating their water; and in central New York, where anti-fracking signs adorn many front yards and drilling has been mired for months in a complex approval process.

This process (the state has completed a draft Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement, or dSGEIS, to determine whether or not hydrofracking in the Marcellus is safe) was most recently complicated by findings that allege decades of negligence on the part of New York's DEC. According to a November study conducted by Toxics Targeting, an Ithaca, NY-based environmental research company, there have been 270 cases of oil and gas spills in New York over the last 30 years -- 65 of which have yet to meet cleanup standards.

One incident, which occurred in Freedom, NY in 1999, involved equipment faults on a drill rig. In a matter of minutes, methane gas migrated more than 8,000 feet (the state only mandates that drills be 1,000 feet from a public water supply, or 150 feet from a private well), bubbling up in nearby ponds. It seeped through neighbors' fields. Twelve families had to be evacuated.

The DEC's record of another mishap -- this one from Dec. 16, 2002 -- pretty much speaks for itself:


The DEC has defended its existing standards, even in light of evidence from Walter Hang, president of Toxics Targeting. Less than 300 spills out of 300,000 potential incidents is a good percentage, said Dennis Harrar, chief of the department's emergency response spills unit. "In the scheme of things, this is not really a problem," he recently told a local paper. But Hang disagrees. Cases like these, he argues, illustrate serious problems with both the DEC and its template for Marcellus drilling.

On Dec. 9, Hang issued a petition to New York Governor David Paterson, urging him to completely scrap the state's dSGEIS. The letter, whose 6,061 signatories include Congressman Eric Massa, New York Assembly Representative Barbara Lifton and Ithaca Mayor Carolyn Peterson, calls on Paterson to go back to the drawing board: "The "slickwater, horizontal drilling, hydrofracking" required to break up and release gas from the highly impermeable rock requires vast quantities of water and generates a wide array of toxic concerns," they argue.

"The largest problem is that [the sGEIS] is based on the assumption that the existing regulations adequately protect the public," Hang told me. "They don't."

"It's a complete theoretical model," he added. "It's an idealized model of what's supposed to happen."

One signature on Hang's petition came from Laurie Lytle, who has recently begun to worry that the filter Chesapeake helped install may not be catching some of the chemicals used in hydrofracking. Chesapeake tested her water in early 2008, but didn't disclose a complete list of its "proprietary" chemical ingredients. Lytle has been drinking her water for about two years now -- "a nice long time for those chemicals to be affecting my body and my family's bodies."

"I want to know what's in the water, and how it might be affecting my health and my property values," she said, holding a Chesapeake brochure that claims, "Property values can be positively correlated with production."

"I think I was misled in one respect."

Byard Duncan is a contributing writer and editor for AlterNet.

© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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Heartbreaking Stories Warn New Yorkers of What May Be in Store if the State OKs Controversial Gas Drilling
By Maura Stephens, AlterNet
Posted on December 10, 2009, Printed on December 17, 2009

I live and work in Marcellus shale ground zero -- central New York State, just south of the Finger Lakes, one of the biggest and best watersheds in the hemisphere. My home is in economically challenged, mostly rural Tioga County, and I work inTompkins County. Almost all our neighbors for several miles around have signed gas leases. I participate regularly and actively as a client, colleague, patient, or volunteer with businesses, organizations, and institutions in 19 other New York counties.

I have been economically poor and landless, economically comfortable and landless, comfortable and landed, and poor and landed. I've been rural, suburban, and urban. And I've spent most of my adult life paying state and local taxes in New York State (and a whole lot of national taxes, most of which have gone toward things I do not condone). I am a farmer, writer, editor, actor, and educator. My spouse, who was laid off a couple years ago and has been underemployed and looking for work ever since, and I struggle to make ends meet. Yet we love this part of the world and have been glad to call it home. This is all by way of showing we are stakeholders in this region, dubbed "Marcellus shale" for the natural gas reserves hidden underground. Because we care a whole lot and wanted to learn firsthand, my spouse and I recently traveled around West Virginia and Pennsylvania, talking to people whose lives have been affected by the same sort of hydrofracturing (or "fracking"), a technique used in drilling for natural gas that is likely to soon take place in New York State.

Most of these Pennsylvanians told us they rue the day they signed the gas leases. Some of them "inherited" gas leases -- or bought property on which there was a mineral rights lease they were unaware of -- and now are paying the consequences.

Their stories were heartbreaking. This is some of what they told us, including several things not mentioned in other articles I've read about fracking:

1) There is no longer any privacy on their own property. Posted signs are a thing of the past; there's no way to guarantee that anyone would pay attention to them. The gas drillers have access to leased land 24/7, 365 days a year, because there is always something to deal with on a gas pad. The land owners no longer have privacy or the ability to walk at will on their own property. One woman told us she and her teenage daughter feel like prisoners in their home. They used to walk around in bathing suits or pajamas in the privacy of their 100-plus-acre farm. That's no longer an option -- they stay inside with the blinds drawn even on nice days because they never know when and where a stranger will be walking around the property.

2) The gas companies can pretty much do as they please. There is no consultation with the landowners about placement or size of the pads, or the numerous roads that have to be cut into the property, or drainage fields, or pond sites, or planned building sites. One farmer, who had dreamed of this since his elder son's birth in 1983, gave his son and new daughter-in-law three acres on which to build a house, on a lovely corner of his farm. The newlyweds were just about to begin building the home they'd designed when the gas company decided to drill on the very same spot. The family had no way of fighting the gas company, which refused to change its drilling location. The young man and his bride were forced to rent an apartment in town. Subsequently the drilling contaminated the well that provided drinking water to the family and farm animals. And although the site did not yield gas, the land is no longer usable for farming or placing a home. The farmer, incidentally, had bought the land in the early 1980s without realizing a gas company held mineral rights to it via a 1920s lien.

3) The gas companies do not respect the land. The gas companies have in numerous documented cases torn out mature stands of trees -- 20, 30, 60, 80 years old -- leaving the tree carcasses scattered about the land. "These guys just don't care," one landowner told us, close to tears. "They treated my farm like a garbage dump. They moved their bowels in the woods and left their filthy toilet paper behind. They threw all their rubbish around -- plastic bottles, McDonald's bags, you name it. I used to always kept this place manicured. It's been my pride and joy. But now, it's a rubbish heap. I'm still finding junk they left around, long after the fracking ended."

4) There's light and noise nonstop. "No amount of money can buy you sufficient sleep," said a farmer. "It's bright and loud, all the time. Not that I'd sleep anyway. All I do is worry about the land and the water and what we are going to do."

5) Their property has lost its value. "We can't drink our water," said the same farmer. "We can't reclaim the land. They're putting my farm out of business. The land is worthless. Nobody would want it, like this."

6) They can no longer fish in their streams and ponds. So many of these waterways have been poisoned by fracking waste, runoff, spillage, or dumping, that fishers are afraid to eat the fish they catch. One farmer, who told us he'd planned to stock his farm pond with seven varieties of fish that he would raise and sell to other landowners, has lost this income stream because his pond was polluted by fracking.

7) The water is dangerously unsafe. "A primary reason we chose to live in this area," says a woman from central New York, "is that is has abundant clean water. The western half or two-thirds of the United States, and the Southeast -- the entire rest of the country -- has precious little water. But we have always had plenty of fresh, safe, available water. Now we are threatened with gas fracturing, or 'fracking.' The contaminants released in the fracking process are carcinogenic (cancer-inducing) and even radioactive. Everyone around here depends on our wells for safe drinking water. Now how can we ever drink our water again? City water is no safer."

The Department of Environmental Cconservation (DEC) identified at least 14 different petroleum distillates used or proposed for use in New York fracking. Research done by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group, which monitors the safety of public health and the environment, demonstrates that petroleum distillates can contain benzene, a known carcinogen, as well as toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, and other dangerous chemicals. The EPA says that all of these substances are toxic in water at very low levels.

An article in the Ithaca Journal said that, "Radioactive waste from the Marcellus is an issue state regulators will have to anticipate as they draft new rules for tapping the massive natural gas field under the Southern Tier. An analysis of wastewater samples by the Department of Health found levels of radium-226, and related alpha and beta radiation that are up to 10,000 times higher than drinking water standards, according to a memo the agency sent to the Department of Environmental Conservation."

We've spoken to farmers who had their drinking water analyzed and found some of these toxic chemicals in it. No wonder they will not drink the water from their own wells, or allow their children to do so. The levels of benzene, a petroleum distillate, to be used in hydrofracking in New York, per the DEC's draft supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement (dsGEIS), range from 140,000 times the levels deemed "safe" by the EPA to 18.6 million times the safe level. Thus, as Environmental Working Group points out, "if 800 gallons of petroleum distillate were to contaminate a water supply, "depending on the benzene concentration, it would likely take somewhere between 112 million gallons (800 X 140,000) and 14.9 billion gallons (800 X 18.6 million) of water to dilute the benzene to EPA's safe level. If 6,400 gallons of petroleum distillate were to contaminate a water supply, it would likely take somewhere between 896 million and 119 billion gallons of water to dilute the benzene to EPA's safe levels." Where would all this water come from? And where would the contaminated billions of gallons of water be disposed? There simply is no good answer to either question.

8) There is no transparency by the gas corporations. In 2006 Republican-led Congress removed hydraulic fracturing from any regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, and since 1980 many thousands of wells have been exempted from the Clean Air Act, which limits emissions of more than 180 toxic pollutants, many of which are emitted by gas companies. The gas companies managed in 1988 to get exemptions from the 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which established a cradle-to-grave hazardous waste management program, as well. Last spring, with a new Congress, the energy industry launched a concerted lobbying effort to fight proposed tightening of federal oversight, claiming that any changes in the exemptions would mean loss of jobs and lower tax revenues.

There are other laws from which gas companies are largely exempt: The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), which holds most other industries accountable for cleaning up hazardous waste (this is the law that created the so-called "Superfund" to be used to clean up contaminated sites; the fund was initially financed via taxes on the chemical and petroleum industries, but Congress abandoned those taxes and now pays for these cleanups out of general funds. Thus the fund is too small to meet cleanup needs. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA, 1969), which shifts to the public the burden of proof that activities by certain oil and gas drilling companies are unsafe.

Out West, a doctor trying to save the life of a nurse who'd come in contact with the clothing of a gas-fracking worker tried to get a list of the chemicals so he'd be able to pinpoint what had made her ill. The company that made the fluid refused to identify it, citing trade secrets. Even in the face of imminent death to someone contaminated by their chemical witches' brew, the gas corporations show their true colors: The bottom line is all that matters. Our health and the health of our families come in a distant second, and our environment -- our air, water, soil, and surroundings -- do not matter in the least. Why do gas companies (a) refuse to divulge the chemical contents of their materials and (b) fight to gain and keep exemptions from health- and environmental-protection bills?

In the last couple of months, around Dimock, Pennsylavania, Cabot Oil and Gas, one of the fracking companies, has caused numerous spills and contamination of water wells and waterways. A court ordered Cabot to pay several fines for these transgressions. But the fines amount to just a couple hundred thousand dollars -- pennies to a corporation that stands to gain billions from its fracking operations. Fifteen brave Dimock families are suing Cabot for ruining their water and posing a threat to their health.)

9.) The tension between neighbors -- those who have signed a lease and are sticking with it and those who have either signed and regretted it or never signed -- is ugly. One landowner, the only one in a long row along a rural road in Tioga County, New York, has been threatened and shunned by neighbors because his holding out caused the gas companies to build their pipeline around his and neighbors' land. This meant the neighbors could not collect any royalty fees from the gas companies -- the incentive that, despite the dangers, excites so many lease signers.

10) The tension within families is palpable as well. "My whole family is ready to commit me," a Pennsylvania man, the father of two young children, told us. "It's gotten so I don't trust anyone anymore. These gas companies lie, the DEP lies, the state lies, everyone lies. I used to be a trusting kind of person. Not anymore. And I'm so tense, I never sleep. This place was our dream, and now it's just about worthless. It's eating me up, and my wife is losing patience with me. I don't blame her. All I can do is fight to make sure this doesn't happen to other families. Otherwise I couldn't live with myself." On so many fronts, this practice of hydrofracking is simply too dangerous to pursue. We can live without the natural gas.

Contrary to corporate spin (even progressive radio host Stephanie Miller has been touting it), natural gas is not a clean alternative to coal and oil. It is also neither renewable nor sustainable. The reserves in the Marcellus shale will last only a few years at best, but the damage done to the environment and to our health will last for decades, even generations. Extracting it is just too dangerous. So let's do something else. We've got to pump up our activism on this front. We cannot allow gas and oil companies to dictate that we drink poison and allow our homes, property, landscapes, and health to be ruined. Let's get those gas companies and all their thousands of employees to focus their energy and resources on finding a truly sustainable, truly clean energy source, and developing affordable ways to bring it to millions.

Many of us are already committed to eliminating the overuse of energy in our daily lives and in our workplaces. Together we can create a sustainable energy infrastructure based on renewable, truly clean energy sources -- solar, wind, geothermal, and possibly biofuels. Together we can keep our water, farms, forests, fields, vineyards, streams, waterfalls, lakes, creeks, ponds, soil, rolling hills, small towns, quaint villages, and precious way of life safe and unspoiled so that our children, their children, and future generations will be able to breathe the air and drink the water without fear. We've made a lot of mistakes, for which our children and grandchildren and future generations will be paying the price. They deserve a better world, not a depleted, ugly, frightening one. Please, please, let's not screw this up, too.

Join thousands of other individuals, elected officials, entrepreneurs, institutions, and organizations in signing a coalition letter to New York Governor David Paterson asking him to ban hydrofracturing gas drilling in New York State. Hurry -- the deadline for public comment on the Department of Environmental Conservation's draft supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement is December 31, 2009.

Writer Maura Stephens lives in the hills outside Spencer, New York. She wrote this using voice recognition software.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

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Save Copenhagen: Real Deal Now!
With only 3 days left, the crucial Copenhagen climate summit is failing.

Tomorrow, world leaders will arrive for an unprecedented 60 hours of direct negotiations. Each one will have to decide whether to step forward as heroes, or fail us all. But they will only act if we do.

Around the world a global movement has been building towards this moment. Now it's time for one last, massive push -- with a global public outcry for a real deal that will stop catastrophic climate change. In the next 72 hours we can build the largest petition in history. Sign below, tell friends, and Avaaz will help deliver the petition directly to leaders inside the Copenhagen summit:

Petition to the 110 Presidents and Prime Ministers negotiating in Copenhagen:

We call on each one of you to make the concessions necessary to meet your historic responsibility in this crisis. Rich countries must offer fair funding, and all countries must set ambitious targets on emissions. Do not leave Copenhagen without a fair, ambitious and binding deal that keeps the world safe from catastrophic global warming of 2 degrees.
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I just joined over 11 million people in the world's largest-ever campaign to keep us all safe.

There has never been a more important time to add your name - our message is being delivered to leaders at the Copenhagen climate summit later this week.

Please add your voice now at


With three days to go, the crucial Copenhagen summit is failing.

Tomorrow, the world's leaders arrive for an unprecedented 60 hours of direct negotiations. Experts agree that without a tidal wave of public pressure for a deal, the summit will not stop catastrophic global warming of 2 degrees.

Click below to sign the petition for a real deal in Copenhagen -- the campaign already has a staggering 10 million supporters - let's make it the largest petition in history in the next 72 hours! Every single name is actually being read out at the summit -- sign on at the link below and forward this email to everyone!

An Avaaz team is meeting daily with negotiators inside the summit who will organize a spectacular petition delivery to world leaders as they arrive, building a giant wall of boxes of names and reading out the names of every person who signs. With the largest petition in history, leaders will have no doubt that the whole world is watching.

Millions watched the Avaaz vigil inside the summit on TV yesterday, where Archbishop Desmond Tutu told hundreds of delegates and assembled children:

“We marched in Berlin, and the wall fell.
"We marched for South Africa, and apartheid fell.
"We marched at Copenhagen -- and we WILL get a Real Deal.”

Copenhagen is seeking the biggest mandate in history to stop the greatest threat humanity has ever faced. History will be made in the next few days. How will our children remember this moment? Let's tell them we did all we could.

With hope,

Ricken, Alice, Ben, Paul, Luis, Iain, Veronique, Graziela, Pascal, Paula, Benjamin, Raj, Raluca, Taren, David, Josh and the whole Avaaz team.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fasting activists inspiring others in Copenhagen to hang tough and demand Climate Justice NOW!

"I support Climate Justice Fast!" sent you a message on Facebook...‏
From: Facebook (
Sent: Sun 12/13/09 4:23 PM
To: Aubrey James Shepherd (
Anna C Keenan sent a message to the members of I support Climate Justice Fast!

Subject: Hunger for Survival - Thursday 17 December 2009

Hello, Climate Justice Fast supporters,

During the COP15 conference, the Climate Justice Fast here in Copenhagen has inspired people around the world to higher levels of activism, and has generated a huge number of media hits from Turkey to Japan to Greece to Korea and all around the world!

Due to the inspiration that the fasters have provided to - in particular - the 1000-strong youth activist contingent at the conference, the youth groups and a number of large environmental organisations have decided that they would like to invite their members to fast for one day - THIS THURSDAY 17 DECEMBER - in support of the CJF, and solidarity with the millions who have and will lose their lives due to the preventable and involuntary hunger, disease and conflict resulting from climate change.

We have created a facebook event here - sign up if you are willing to join the day of fasting and reflection:

Many notable climate and sustainability leaders, including Vandana Shiva, will also be joining in this fast and moral call.

“If not us then who, and if not now then when?”

One day before the Heads of State arrive to finalise the deal in Copenhagen, we are calling for all people, everywhere across the world, to join a single global day of fasting – voluntarily going without food – and personal reflection on the climate crisis, and what we as humanity need to do to solve it.

Commit to join the day of fasting by joining this facebook event - and inviting all of your friends!

Now, we must be done with trying to persuade politicians with debates and intellectual argument. They have heard it all already. Now they face a decision about what is simply morally right.

On Thursday 17th December, we will therefore not yell, but instead quiet our voices and raise up our hearts in silence, not telling our leaders what they should do, but instead use the historically symbolic and powerful act of the fast to ask our leaders to reflect on the gravity of the choices they are about to make.

*** UPDATE on the fasters ***

Sara Svensson, Anna Keenan and Paul Connor are all now on the 39th day of their fast, having started on the 6th of November. Matthieu Balle, a solar panel installer from Paris who joined us immediately after hearing about us on French radio, is now reaching his 22nd day. Daniel Lau and Michael Morphett have both bravely decided to end their fasts, following medical advice, after both passing 30 days without food - a heroic feat.

The fasters are all in high spirits and good health, and are under appropriate medical supervision.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Audubon Arkansas open house from 4 to 7 p.m. today; Environmental Action Committee at 5:30 p.m. in Room 326 of city hall

Audubon Arkansas open house from 4 to 7 p.m. today; Environmental Action Committee at 5:30 p.m. in Room 326 of city hall
The Holiday Season is a busy time so here's a little reminder about our Holiday Open House! If you have not yet RSVP'd don't forget to drop us a line and let us know your are coming! We are looking forward to seeing everyone there!

Please Join Us

Thursday, December 10, 2009
From 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at
34 East Center Street
Fayetteville, Arkansas

For the
Audubon Arkansas
Holiday Open House

The staff and board of Audubon Arkansas invite you to join us for food, refreshments, conversation and conservation. Spouses, children, and friends welcome.
Please RSVP to
Wishing You Happy Holidays!!!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Master Naturalists gaining support among young people in Arkansas

Masters of the biosphere

A corps of trained Naturalists bolster the state park system

By Bobby Ampezzan

Monday, November 30, 2009

LITTLE ROCK — Talking to Anne Massey of the fledgling Arkansas Master Naturalists must be something like meeting with Tom Hayden in Ann Arbor back in 1962, right after his Students for a Democratic Society held its first convention but before it really took off.

Don’t misunderstand - the Master Naturalists aren’t planning a sit-in beneath the Capitol dome. But the group’s president wants their ambition to be that infectious, and actually, she hopes “the government” will lean on it for assistance eventually.

“I was president of the Junior League of Little Rock,” says Massey, a woman who barely tips 100 pounds but whose favorite outdoor tool is a 6-foot pry for uprooting trees. “My expertise came from developing volunteers.”

The Central Arkansas Master Naturalists formed in 2005 under the auspices of Tom Neale, a longtime Texas Master Naturalist. Their mission is to serve public park systems through education, cleanups, biodiversity surveys, water monitoring and infrastructure projects such as trail building and maintenance. Massey was in Neale’s first Naturalists class in Arkansas.

“The first year [of Central Arkansas Master Naturalists], I took the class. The second year, I planned the curriculum. And ever since I’ve been opening new chapters.”

In January, she rallied recruits in Northwest Arkansas at the Hobbs State Park-Conservation Area, and in north-central Arkansas at Bull Shoals White River State Park. The first Northwest Arkansas class had 38 graduates.

Next January, she expects to schedule classes and open chapters in the Arkansas River Valley (including Petit Jean, Mount Nebo, Mount Magazine and Lake Dardanelle state parks) and at Cossatot River State Park-Natural Area. To do it she must have at least 15 interested people. Any fewer could be a waste of instructors’ time, she says.

This time, gathering such a quorum will try all of her organizing powers.


Last month, Massey and two of her favorite factotums, Bert Turner and Bill Toland, set off from the parking lot of Fresh Market in west Little Rock and made the mostly two-lane trip to the Cossatot River, just north of Dierks and De Queen.

At a McDonald’s, Turner set two travel mugs down on the counter and waited for coffee. An unwitting server placed two full styrofoam cups of joe next to the mugs.

“We were trying to save you two cups,” Turner barked. “We’re environmentalists!”

Were Turner a softer man, his admonition might have vanished amid the buzzers and popping grease. He is not. A retired Air Force captain,Turner is a veteran of Vietnam and Desert Storm. His words dance in the air like a hammer.

Later, in the car, a golf ball came bounding straight down the interstate as if launched from an overpass.

“More litter,” Massey said.

“Eighty percent of our litter is caused by 1 percent of the people, but only one-half percent of the rest do anything about it,” Toland mused. “You go back in Arkansas history, they didn’t have trash pickup” for much of the 20th century.

Welcome to this group. Other disappointments include privet, Japanese honeysuckle and the small and outdated Pinnacle Mountain State Park Visitors Center (compared to other state park visitor centers across the state).

Oh, there are plenty of delights, too. Just consider the great horned owl.

“Did you know the great horned owl is the only predator that will eat a skunk?” Toland asked the others.

This and other, probably more useful facts are all part of the billet. The Naturalists are a group of bookish outdoor enthusiasts who see the terrain as an organic museum and laboratory whose secrets need no more than a shout out from a trained guide.

That’s what they aim to be - trained guide, lab technician, museum curator.


To become a certified Master Naturalist, volunteers take at least 40 hours of in-depth natural science education on about 20 topics at Pinnacle Mountain State Park or nature centers throughout the state. (This year, there are 87 hours of instruction scheduled.)

In return, they agree to volunteer at least 40 hours in the community, at a state park or school, or for the Boy Scouts, 4-H or other youth groups. Volunteers can also put in their hours in activities like maintaining or building trails.

After their first year, Naturalists must complete 40 volunteer hours and eight advanced-training hours in each calendar year to remain certified.

This instruction isn’t like your high school trigonometry units. The classes have cool names like ichthyology, herpetology, entomology, mycology, and behind the Latin roots lurk the state’s official fish (volatilis cattuspiscis), the cottonmouth, the chigger, the psilocybin mushroom.

There’s instruction on the state parks system and Arkansas forest ecology, and survival classes such as how to build a shelter out of tree boughs before the feral dogs close in.

One of the chief duties Turner and Toland take on is trail building. With topographic maps, GPS and an inclinometer, the trailblazers set off along some public land and create a smooth walking trail where once there was only untrammeled forest floor.

“Most people think a trail is a [worn path],” Turner said. “What we focus on is making it sustainable. No puddles, erosion. There’s specification on the out-slope of the trail. It should be [a slope of] 5 to 6 percent so rain sheets off ... and 42 inches [wide] is what we shoot for.”

The two walk the proposed trail route several times. They might tweak the layout so it hugs an interesting rock outcropping. The hard work of building a trail includes raking and cutting away roots and unseating large rocks with the help of pry bars, and reshaping the sides of slopes with pickaxes.

Sound Herculean? It is in a way. Turner and Toland estimate that they can build a trail at a rate of 10 yards per man hour. When the two took on the 1.5-mile extension of the Pinnacle Mountain State Park base trail two years ago, it took three months and a team of volunteers.

“We get to see every animal, every plant, everything there is out there,” Turner said. “Tell you the truth, we get a lot of ‘Thank-yous’ out there.

“No, we do.”


At the Cossatot, Park Interpreter Steve Walker directs Massey, Turner, Toland and Ralph Weber of Bentonville along a switchback that leads from the visitor center down a couple of hundred feet to the river below. The trail’s covered with debris, and standing water also impedes hikers.

For a couple of hours the serenity among the Shumardoak and the bitternut hickory is broken by the blare of a backpack blower and the whir of a Stihl chain saw. The group rakes and chips at the ground, correcting the grade in places and smoothing it all out.

Does the park need a cadre of protectors, i.e., a Master Naturalists chapter of its own?

“No,” Walker says, “this area of the state just doesn’t have a lot going on, so we’re just trying to get stuff going on for the people.”

The park doesn’t need the work. It wants the interest.

Dorothy Cooney is interested. A 61-year-old Texas transplant, the Wickes resident called the potential kickoff of the Cossatot chapter “a well-kept secret.” For her, the volunteer duties are incidental.

“These classes, they are very detailed about the ecology of the area - animals, plants, weather, soil, water. I have a master’s degree, but the Master Naturalist program is one of the best classes I’ve ever had.”

When Toland retired in 2006 and settled in Little Rock, he intended to volunteer with Heifer International, a group with a mission he adores, but the work itself was unfulfilling.

“All of a sudden, there was an article about Master Naturalists in [the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette]. I thought, ‘This is exactly what I want to do.’ I sent in my application the very first day [for new class enrollment].

“This organization, there’s so many ... things to do you can’t get bored.”

Along with trail building, teams monitor for stream pollution, count birds and take deer surveys at night for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Naturalists lead schoolchildren into the woods and show them salamanders, snakes and crawdads - a kind of thrill Wii has yet to replicate.

The Bull Shoals White River State Park chapter is poised to record an entire inventory of plant and animal species in the river basin, says President Dwan Garrison, a project that will be a multi-year undertaking.

In the car on the ride home, Toland says that earlier this year, Texas Master Naturalists organization recorded its 1 millionth volunteer service hour. That group is twice as old - 10 - as this one, and has nearly three dozen chapters.

Massey says she hopes to add two chapters a year, an ambitious plan. And then, Toland says, “we can really start doing some serious things.”

Like holding sit-ins beneath the Capitol dome!

“Like a lot of activities with a lot of state parks to where the state park people, when they get together, they think of Master Naturalists as a vital part of their mission.”

Oh, cooperate with the Man. Right.

More information about Arkansas Master Naturalists’ new chapters and the training program is at home.arkansasmasternaturalists. org.

ActiveStyle, Pages 27 on 11/30/2009