Archive for February, 2013

To Whom It May Concern,

I am writing to inform you about an issue that is challenging one of the few serious green spaces left in the Lehigh Valley. I know there are bigger challenges in the state of Pennsylvania, such as Fracking and bituminous coal mining. Nevertheless, this issue affects the Appalachian Trail, which to my thinking is a national landmark.

Blue Mountain Ski Resort in Monroe County, Pennsylvania, has decided to build a water park that will like be within 1,000 feet of the Appalachian Trail. As somebody who has hiked many sections of the A.T. (including the entirety of the Pennsylvania trail), I find this an egregious breach of wild space, which will significantly diminish the quality of the trail. To my knowledge there are no other sections so significantly impacted by development, as to be, for all intents and purposes, a commercial zone.

This not only diminishes my hiking experience as a Pennsylvanian, but more importantly the experience of through hikers on the last great woodlands trail in Appalachia. It comes as little surprise that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has made a conscious choice not to value such a landmark, and this is not the first major threat to the integrity of this section. In recent years a motor car speedway has been proposed nearby, windmills have been sought atop the ridge, and of course the New Jersey Zinc SUPERFUND site exists just across the street from the proposed water park.

I have talked to local organizations such as the Lehigh Gap Nature Center (a partner in the SUPERFUND cleanup efforts), the Appalachian Mountain Club (who hires a ridge runner for this section) and the ATC, but all have said the zoning fight was fought years ago and nothing can be done. That is why I am now coming to the Sierra Club.

I am in the twillight of being a Pennsylvanian. I will be moving to Vermont in April for a conservation position. Nevertheless, this has been my home for a long time, and I have had formative memories on that very section of trail. It will never cease to matter to me.

More than just my own experience, I believe that the trail helps to preserve habitat for Pennsylvania wildlife, which in recent years has been ever more stressed due to the constant residential and industrial development of the commonwealth. (The Kittatiny Ridge is a known raptor migration corridor, culminating a Hawk Mountain in Kempton, Pa). Furthermore, it preserves forested lands, in an area where forest cover is critically low due to agriculture.

I do sincerely hope it is not too late. If there is anything that can be done, your help would be greatly appreciated.


Glenn Nelson

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It is egregious for the Pennsylvania DEP to deliberately hide the most recent round of water tests, relating to hydrolic fracturing sites in the state, from the public. The only reason for such an action, one would have to assume, is that the DEP has something that is worth the political capital to hide. To then punt the issue by saying it will not meet with “unfriendly” environmentalists is either immaturity on a large scale or, more simply, the DEC is acting in defense of itself, by hiding what environmentalists such as engineering professor Dr. Ingrafia of Cornell University suggests: That Methane migration is occuring, because it is not avoidable. Even if there is only a 2% rate of failure, which is what the industry claims, we must consider that there are thousands of wells. If 2 out of 100 of those wells fail, and we’ve drilled 8,982 wells, then we will have almost 80 failed wells. Is that an acceptable rate of failure? For 80 communities in the State of Pennsylvania to have Methane and potentially other chemicals (some of which are radioactive) migrating into their well water, is that just collateral damage?

In fact, the state of Pennsylvania has seen more than just well failures. For the almost 9,000 wells, we’ve had over 3,000 violations. That means almost 1/3 wells is violating the laws we’ve established to regulate the Marcellus and most scientists and engineers I have talked to believe our regulatory system to be insufficient. How many violations would there be if it were sufficient? How many would we need to say enough is enough?

More than just lacking the environmental oversight necessary to keep our communities safe, we are lacking financial oversight of the companies involved. Chesapeake has been probed by the SEC and was found to be over-estimating its reserve holdings. If this creative accounting continues, the whole thing has the potential to turn into a financial mess the scale of which would rival the housing crisis. Investors being defrauded by those with the most risk (the drilling companies). Investment banks then defrauding its consumers with assurances that energy based securities are safe investments. Its another game of pass the buck, till it ends with the tax payers… This is especially dangerous when you consider that in other shale formations such as the Barnett Shale in Texas, the average well life is between 7 and 11 years, NOT 50. Considering that the state of Pennsylvania does not require the wells to be capped, and the companies cannot be held accountable for the mess via the SUPERFUND law, it is likely that we the TAXPAYERS (and the ones who pay your salaries), will be on the hook for the whole mess, from the cost of capping the well and cleaning the toxic waste site left behind, to the cost of cleaning up the books of the likes of Chesapeake.

The cost/benefit analysis of this becomes even more dubious when we realize that 1/8th of the gas in the Marcellus has been already promised to China. With that gas going overseas, what benefit will Pennsylvanians ever see from the environmental mess we are making of our state?

But what we do to our state does not only effect us. Methane when it burns is released as Carbon, which is a known greenhouse gas. We know that Carbon, when released into the atmosphere, becomes unstable when heated by the Sun’s radiation. We know that to stabilize, the Carbon atoms will release heat and that some of it goes into space and some of it back to Earth. So this release of Carbon is problematic in and of itself. Beyond that, however, we know that Methane is 3 times as efficient in its greenhouse effect. By drilling so prolifically for Methane and having it migrate or at times spew unburnt into the atmosphere we are contributing massively to global warming.

That is not all. There is another danger, this one getting back to our water again… Pennsylvania has been drilling for gas for 100 years. In this 100 years, we’ve drilled many wells, walked away from them, and forgot completely where they are. Already it has occurred that a fracking site in Texas, located near a derelict well built the underground pressure up, causing the derelict well to spew fracking fluid for two weeks before being contained. This is a very real danger in Pennsylvania, on top of all the normal hazards.

My assumption is that the reason the DEP has decided to withhold information from the public, is that it is aware of such hazards, and does not wish for them to become public knowledge. Why? Because there will be litigation and in time the glut will have to be over. Once the necessary causalities are reported, the state will have little choice but to acknowledge that this process is unsafe, it is killing fish, it is killing wildlife and it is likely contributing to health related deaths in human beings. I am sure you will doctor the reports sufficiently before releasing them, because that is how the state had complied in bank fraud in the housing crisis, that is how it complied in prolonging the unadulterated smoking of cigarettes without warning labels or public smoking bans, and that is how it covered up the Mai Lai massacre. But, I am confident that these things will come out. When they do, there will be a glaring question. How do you sleep at night, knowing that you contributed to chronic health problems and deaths amongst your constituents? How do you justify poisoning the environment for future generations? You are responsible for our health and safety and you’ve neglected us in a way that, outside of politics, would be considered criminal.

(On the road to a well site every 1/4 mile).

While we slept, many new sites have been drilled: http://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/drilling/

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