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.

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