Fracking Impact Closing in on Connecticut: Spectra Algonquin Project in Development
Dec 28, 2013 07:39PM
● By Ellen Weininger
Public awareness of the serious health and environmental impacts of hydro-fracking is growing across the country, yet many people are still under the impression that these negative impacts are confined to areas where “fracking” operations are conducted. As the expansion of natural gas infrastructure sweeps across the tri-state area, we are quickly learning that the infrastructure, the new gas supply and other components of shale gas production bring health and environmental threats very close to home. Connecticut residents are mobilizing through social media and other means to demand that state legislators enact legislation to ban the acceptance of hazardous radioactive fracking waste in the state, including Don’t Waste Connecticut at Facebook.com/DontWasteCT.
For those who may be new to the conversation, hydro-fracking or “fracking” involves the high-pressure injection of a highly toxic brew—millions of gallons of fresh water mixed with hundreds of chemicals and sand—into well bores to crack open shale. Ten to forty percent of this toxic mixture returns back to the surface with the natural gas, along with additional contaminants including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), heavy metals, high levels of chlorides and bromides and radioactive elements like radon and radium.
The full life cycle of shale gas production involves clearing large swaths of land and creating a vast infrastructure of pipelines and giant compressor stations to bring the natural gas, primarily composed of methane, to our homes, schools and other buildings. Natural gas pipelines are subject to leakage and explosions, and compressor stations emit high levels of highly toxic pollutants twenty-four hours a day.
One might think that federal laws such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act would protect citizens from these highly polluting activities, but all these natural gas-related operations were exempted from these and other federal environmental laws under the Energy Act of 2005. So there are no laws on the books to protect us.
Highly-contaminated radioactive gas drilling waste from gas extraction operations can potentially cause irreversible damage to air, water, soil and food supplies, and yet there is no safe disposal plan in place for the billions of gallons of hazardous radioactive gas drilling waste that are produced.
Gas drilling waste from the Marcellus Shale, which underlies Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York, could potentially contain high levels of radium-226 and radium-228, which are known carcinogens. Radium-226 has a half life of 1600 years and is linked to anemia, cataracts, bone, liver and breast cancers and death. Radon, a decay product of radium, is considered the leading cause of lung cancer in non-smokers nationwide. The Marcellus Shale is known for its significantly higher levels of radium and its decay product, radon, and other radioactive materials. For more background information, visit WasteFreeCT.org.
In July 2013, Connecticut’s Governor Malloy signed into law energy legislation clearing the way for Connecticut’s three natural gas utility companies and Spectra, a Houston-based energy company, to connect 280,000 customers over the next ten years. This new legislation will position Connecticut as a new market for natural gas from the Marcellus Shale region and a potential recipient of highly contaminated radioactive gas drilling waste. This massive rollout of a natural gas expansion will increase demand for fracking and will pipe potentially high levels of radon gas to Connecticut consumers. Twenty to thirty percent of homes in Connecticut already have an indoor level at or above 4 piC/L, the EPA-recommended mitigation level.
The traditional natural gas supply from the Gulf Coast, which has very low levels of radon to begin with, takes four or more days to reach the Tri-State Area, allowing sufficient time for radon decay to take place because it takes 3.8 days for radon to begin to decay. In contrast, U.S. Geological Survey data indicates radon levels in the Marcellus Shale may be 20 to 80 times greater than current Gulf Coast levels—and this new gas supply would travel in much shorter time. This shorter transport time is inadequate for radon to decay prior to delivery, increasing the risk of public exposure to high levels of this known lung carcinogen.
Data indicates gas delivery from wellhead to each gas appliance like kitchen stoves could increase current levels of radon exposure by a factor of 20 to 80 times or more; however, the cumulative impact of multiple exposures from several gas appliances in one dwelling is unknown. There are no safe levels of radon exposure, and children, the elderly and those already health-compromised are particularly vulnerable to its effects.
This rollout of a natural gas expansion includes the proposed Spectra Algonquin pipeline slated for New York’s Westchester, Rockland and Putnam Counties, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) held two scoping meetings on the proposal—one in Westchester County, New York on September 30, 2013 and one in Danbury, Connecticut on October 1, 2013—with negligible communication to public officials and the general public.
One of many concerns about the proposed pipeline is that it would intersect with a proposed underground high-voltage transmission line just a few hundred feet from the Indian Point nuclear power plant’s spent fuel pool, and in close proximity to the Ramapo fault line. The project would also involve replacing its existing 26-inch diameter pipeline with a 42-inch high pressure pipeline between Ramapo and Fairfield County. Explosions by natural gas pipelines can cause extensive damage, and pipelines also leak methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. With inadequate pipeline regulation and oversight and Spectra’s history of safety issues, this pipeline project poses a serious threat to public health, safety, property values and the economy.
The new Spectra Algonquin project would include the expansion and construction of five compressor stations, which are loud and operate continuously, with each one emitting tons of toxic pollutants a year. Health problems associated with compressor station releases include respiratory and neurological problems, headaches, skin lesions and bloody noses, among others. The impact could be critical for citizens of the Tri-State Area, where air quality is already unacceptable according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.
Although the U.S. Energy Information Administration projects a steady decline in demand for natural gas through 2040, gas infrastructure projects are proliferating. Given the glut of natural gas and cheap energy prices domestically, one could surmise that natural gas exportation is the ultimate goal commanding a much higher global price. Expanding and building new gas infrastructure unwisely invests in dirty fossil fuels at a time when we should be fast-tracking our investment in and expansion of clean, renewable energy infrastructure instead.
Ellen Weininger is the educational outreach director of Grassroots Environmental Education, a science-based, environmental health non-profit with offices in Port Washington and Rye, NY, and Westport, CT. For more information, visit GrassrootsInfo.org.
Take Steps to Protect your Family and Community
• Demand that your state legislators enact legislation to prohibit the acceptance of hazardous radioactive fracking waste in Connecticut, or the use of fracking waste and its constituents in commerce. Visit Facebook.com/DontWasteCT for more information.
• Test your home’s radon level now, as a baseline, in case that level increases later in the new natural gas supply from the Marcellus Shale.
• Demand that your state legislators enact legislation to continuously monitor and limit radon levels in the natural gas supply to consumers below EPA action levels.
• Contact your local and state health departments for further guidance regarding radon gas exposure from gas-fueled appliances in your home.
• Do whatever you can to save energy, and utilize renewable energy resources.
• Urge schools, businesses and government to do the same.
• Please visit SAPE2016.org for more background information and action steps regarding the Spectra AIM pipeline project.
Contact FERC about the Spectra AIM project at FERC.gov. Comments should refer to Spectra Algonquin Incremental Market Project Docket # PF13-16 and should be
addressed to Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary.