Trucks and more Trucks

April 14, 2011 Leave a comment

Took a ride up rt. 287 to Ansonia PA, Tioga Co.
Stoped at the Darling Run Access and biked down along Big Pine Creek to the Owassee. That’s the name of the rapids on a turn in the creek in the upper part of the PA grand canyon.

We then drove west to Potter Co. and down rt. 44. This is all yesterday, Sunday. If we passed one water tank semi, we passed a hundred. They are hauling the water to the gas wells for fracking the shale viens. The serenity of the beautiful mountain roads has been prettty much destroyed. Along with the roads. The mountain road stretch of rt. 44 coming down from Fin, Fur, and Feather to Waterville has been crushed and semi rebuilt over the last couple months. There again, yesterday, Sunday that stretch was one tanker semi after another.

I stopped by my favorite fishing blog the other day, and one of the posts had this in it. Traffic–all of the traffic–Trucks for the water, cars and trucks for the people driving to the well sites, the waste hauler trucks, the well equipment, the chemicals.  Chesapeake Energy has stated that they don’t have enough trucks so they are bringing in 5,000 more from Wyoming. This is just going to get worse everyone.

5,000 additional trucks; for just one company. That is a mind-numbing thought;  can you imagine the fuel usage for those 5,000 trucks; the carbon emissions for those trucks, and just the smell of the diesel fumes? These trucks aren’t just in operation from 8-5, but rather they are on the road 24×7. All of this additional  traffic is also wreaking havoc on the infrastructure. Yes, I know the Gas industry pays for the repairs, and often leaves them better than they were; but at what cost? We need to look at the bigger picture.

Recently, Cornell University published a study showing that the Natural Gas extraction from Fracking may actually contribute to Climate Change, and it’s easy to see why–but not just from all of the increased traffic, but with the venting of Natural Gas to the atmosphere. Methane is a far more hazardous greenhouse gas; and while we don’t have any actual numbers, it’s possible that up to 7.6% of the total volume of a well is vented to the atmosphere. Some wells actually burn or ‘flare’ the gas; and while that’s not as hazardous; there are still greenhouse gases being contributed.

Our water is in danger, our air is in danger; we’re killing out planet. When do we all start caring? When do we all say ENOUGH!?

Is Water the Next Oil?

April 7, 2011 Leave a comment

A few years ago, I published this article on another site. I felt a need to publish it again here.

 

Oil. When the price of a barrel of oil rises, we shudder. Every time the price of gasoline goes up a few cents, we complain. We hear about the profits of Exxon, Shell, or other oil companies and we curse the ground on which their offices sit. We are certain that nearly every country in the Middle East has their wealth tied to this “Black Gold.” We all know there is a finite amount of oil in the world, yet we still take it for granted. There is another finite material on Earth we all take for granted, too – although we don’t really track its daily cost fluctuations. That material is water. Unlike oil, water is easier to reassemble. Water changes its state from liquid to gas, or is split into its atomic components only to be recombined in animal respiration or by some other process. It is still in finite supply, but unlike oil, it is much easier to return to a usable state. Here in the U.S., most of us are spoiled. Water is usually always there; whether it’s a simple walk to the tap, or a stop at the local mini-mart, we have it when we want it. Water.

Of all of the issues in the world today, from endless wars to global warming, there is none more powerful than access to clean, safe drinking water. While our planet may be mostly water, less than 3% of it is fit for human consumption.  Of that 3%, only about 1% exists outside of glaciers — although, with the glaciers melting faster than predicted,  that may not be true in a few years. Water rights are the fuel for problems in Darfur,  and it is easy to see similar situations arising elsewhere as the demand for clean water increases.

Drought conditions over the past several years in the U.S. have taken their toll on multiple communities.  In 2007, the usual spring water source for Orme, a tiny town in Tennessee, dried up early and for a longer time than normal. The residents survived on trucked water from a fire hydrant across the state border and three hours of access to their water tank per night.  Large metropolitan areas also suffered from drought conditions. Atlanta was  in the news a few years ago because their reservoirs were at a critical level.  Conditions such as these could lead to a financial climate that will allow for major players in the water game to profit immensely. Back in 2000, the World Bank estimated the value of the world water market to be $1 trillion, even though only 5% of the world population received their water from private companies back then.  In their words, the potential for profit was “unlimited.”

How Do Water Companies Make Money?

Water utilities vary in the U.S. – some are municipal and others private. The largest two private utility companies, listed according to the number of consumers they have are:

  • American Water – Serves 15 million customers, in 1600 cities in the US and Canada
  • United Water– Serves 7 million customers and is owned by Suez-Ondeo, a French  company

In the U.S., the mostly municipally owned water utilities tend to view water as a birthright rather than as a commodity. Many of these municipal utilities need help with modernization, upgrades and major maintenance. According to the EPA, the cost of needed upgrades and replacements to pipes and infrastructure alone will exceed $500 billion by 2019.  While rate hikes are frequently granted in exchange for infrastructure improvements, it is always after the fact – which requires an outlay of monies from the water utility or loans to be taken out in order to pay for the improvements. This is often met with opposition from residents who fear the impending water (and sewer, because they are frequently intertwined) rate increase. Mistrust also ensues when water systems are sold to private firms who are viewed as less committed to the residents as the municipal authority would be. These fears have led to the proposition of a “partnership” in which the private company manages the utility and is responsible for operation and maintenance, and the municipality (public company) retains ownership.

These “public-private partnerships”  are supposed to allow both parties to benefit. The municipality contracts out the management and maintenance, often at substantial cost savings because the municipality keeps the revenue generated by the utility, less the amount of the contract. Issues sometimes arise outside of the scope of the contract, but most are handled per an agreed fee schedule. While the private partner has to operate and maintain the facility for the contractual payment amount, the public-private relationship creates greater profit potential for the private management entity than owning the water utility outright, as most states limit the capital expenditure returns for municipalities at or near 10%, and profits upwards of 20% are not uncommon. The managing company is not dependent upon utility rates, nor are they usually governed by utility commissions, who are responsible for rate caps. These public-private partnerships are governed only by the level of savings they are able to generate from cost-saving measures such as automation using SCADA Systems, which are used to control, acquire and transmit data back to a central location. Also, many times numerous utilities are owned by one company, so they are able to centralize purchasing and administrative duties, resulting in lower supply cost and simplified administrative operations. This can lead to staff reductions – in many cases consisting of hourly staff (who are paid overtime) as well as union staff (who have more contract negotiating strength at contract time) – and thereby reduce cost.

These public-private partnerships are not without their pitfalls. For example, in Atlanta in 2002, deficiencies were revealed in the public partnership with Suez/United Water. These ranged from violations of federal drinking-water standards, to maintenance problems (e.g., broken security cameras, gates, etc.), or even to open manholes and water-main leaks that went un-repaired for weeks. There were numerous instances of residents waiting months for basic repairs, and when repairs were made, water was reported to be brown and dirty for days afterward. In fact, United Water failed to complete more than half of all required repairs in 2001. Even worse, collection rates dropped from 98% to 94%, costing the city millions of dollars in revenue. The end result was the dissolving of the contract early in 2003, sixteen years early.

Atlanta wasn’t the only city to have issues with United Water partnerships. Other examples include:

  • Milwaukee – Repeated sewage spills into Lake Michigan and even into residents’ homes resulted in Milwaukee resulted in  their wastewater contract being awarded to Veolia Water North America, rather than renew with United Water.
  • Buenos Aires – Following the Argentina economy collapse, Buenos Aires charged high consumer rates while cutting off citizens who were unable to pay – all while as the utility polluted water sources. The Government eventually took back the Water Utility in 2006, owed to “very serious” contractual breaches, a lack of agreed upon investments and the “existence of high levels of nitrate in water that was allotted for human consumption” .
  • Jersey City – United Water diverted $1.2 million worth of the Jersey City’s water to other communities without paying for it.

American Water has had its problems, as well. Within California cities, ratepayers grappled with large increases and declining service.

There have been success stories with these same firms. United Water has had a successful contract with the city of Indianapolis for management of their Advanced Wastewater Treatment facility since 1994, and has had their contract extended recently until 2017, and American Water Works has been successful with several DBO (Design/Build/Operate) contracts. Overall, however, the success has been marginal at best.

Profits for Investors and Corporations

The regulated water utilities also look for other innovative ways to generate profits outside of the typical contracts and water facility ownership. Water utilities typically generate future net income, rather than a positive cash flow. One way to generate immediate profit, however, is through surcharges some states grant for infrastructure improvements that can be immediately added to the water bill paid by consumers. While there are surcharge caps, it is still money up front.Another method used is an IPO, which takes the company public on the U.S. stock market. This is where investors have shown interest, because during the last twenty years the water industry has outperformed Exxon, Wal-Mart and Home Depot. Other profit-generating methods include selling service contracts on the consumer’s water line running from the street to the home, leasing land for cellphone towers, and even by tapping into other lines such as septic treatment and hauling services. Other companies that are not principally “water companies” are also getting involved in the water industry. For example, an equity arm of Macquarie Bank purchased Thames Water from RWE in 2006 and AIG’s Highstar Equity purchased Utilities, Inc. in 2005.

Unanswered Questions

Who really profits from these Public/Private Partnership deals, though? Like oil, water is becoming a “hot commodity” in the early 21st century in terms of profits, but unlike the other “hot commodities”, water is absolutely vital for life. With all of the pressures on our water supply–from Agricultural  to Industrial and even the Pharmaceuticals we use to stay healthy, should we trust clean, safe water will continue to be readily available?

Categories: Uncategorized

Centralization of Authority

April 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Over the past few weeks, we have seen Governor Corbett centralize authority over the issuance of Marcellus Shale Permits and the inspection/violation/citation process into the hands of two people; essentially emasculating the PADEP and possibly removing any ‘teeth’ the well inspectors might have. This is both a depressing and frightening state of affairs; and has led me to writing my State and Federal elected officials with the following:

I am writing to you today to express concern over recent decisions that have been made by the Governor of the State of Pennsylvania and offices under his authority regarding the Marcellus Shale drilling that have far-reaching consequences for the citizens of PA. I am not opposed to energy independence; nor am I opposed to the safe operation of Marcellus Shale drilling; but I feel that recent events have been contrived to circumvent legal processes that have been in place to ensure the safety of the aforementioned drilling operations; and to protect the citizenry of the State of PA, and the environment from harm that may be caused by dubious operations of said drilling facilities.

The specific decisions I am referering to are:

1. Governor Corbett’s decision to allow the Director of Community and Economic Development, C. Alan Walker, to circumvent the permit process for new Gas Wells if he feels the PADEP or other agencies are not issuing permits fast enough. This process should be a methodical one; given the damage than can result from a poorly operated well. We’ve seen the results of this already; areas and individual who have had their water wells contaiminated after drilling operations began nearby. To allow a single individual the ability to circumvent this process with a proverbial ‘stroke of a pen’ seems irresponsible on the part of Governor Corbett.

2. The recent decision within the Department of Environmental Protection that has centralized the issuance of any Marcellus Shale-related enforcement and permit approvals, including notices of violations, with senior DEP management.  Those clearances would come from the Deputy for Field Operations, Executive Deputy for Programs and final clearance from the Secretary of DEP. The reason given was to ensure ‘consistency’ within the agency; but this removes the inspectors ‘teeth’ (so to speak) and actually could inhibit them from doing their duty—or worse; it could emasculate them to the point that they aren’t being diligent enough when inspecting the wells. Between January of 2008 through October of 2010, there were over 2,000 violations at Marcellus Shale wells here in PA. If the inspectors do not have immediate authority to ensure that the well operations are being safely performed; then the safety of our citizens may be in jeopardy.

It is my fervent hope that your office would be able to look into these matters and suggest corrective actions to be undertaken to protect the Citizens of PA from possible abuses that could arise from the centralization of authority these decisions have created.

Thank you for your time,

L. Dwayne Sudduth

I hope this does some good–but I realize that it takes more than one person writing to goad our elected people into action. Perhaps by spreading this around, many citizens will write and our elected officials will be encouraged to act.

Operation FracNET

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment

(Thanks to PA Environmental Digest for this post)

During an inspection sweep conducted by the PA State police  131 Frac Waste Water hauling trucks were placed out of service. The breakdown included:

  • Troop A (Cambria, Indiana, Somerset and Westmoreland counties), 140 inspections; 27 vehicles placed out of service; no drivers placed out of service; 72 citations;
  • Troop B (Allegheny, Fayette, Greene and Washington counties), 194 inspections; 26 vehicles placed out of service; one driver placed out of service; 72 citations;
  • Troop C (Clarion, Clearfield, Forest, Elk, Jefferson and McKean counties), 94 inspections; eight vehicles placed out of service; three drivers placed out of service; 25 citations;
  • Troop F (Cameron, Clinton, Lycoming, Montour, Northumberland, Potter, Snyder, Union and Tioga counties), 180 vehicles inspected; 37 vehicles placed out of service; one driver placed out of service; 123 citations;
  • Troop P (Bradford, Sullivan, Wyoming and part of Luzerne counties), 57 inspections; 21 vehicles placed out of service; seven drivers placed out of service; 25 citations; and
  • Troop R (Lackawanna, Pike, Susquehanna and Wayne counties), 66 inspections; 12 vehicles placed out of service; two drivers placed out of service; 104 citations issued.

We need more sweeps like these to aid in ensuring that these Gas Operators are operating within the guidelines set forth by PADEP and other agencies.

I’ll just take my toys..

March 25, 2011 Leave a comment

(With thanks to Susquehanna River Watch for posting this information)

So, the Susquehanna River Tournament Trail has decided to take its’ toys elsewhere on the Susqy this summer as all of their tournaments are being held North of the Sunbury Fabridam; with one being held in Willamsport. The PFBC, in its’ belated wisdom, has made the main stem of the Susquehanna (as of this writing; there is an April meeting where this may change) south of Sunbury into a ‘catch and release’ fishery; along with several miles of the major Tributary the Juniata.

Please don’t get me wrong; I’m not ‘anti-tournament’—I’m not a tournament angler because I fish to relax; I get enough competition in the daily grind. The only person I want to beat fishing  is myself. However, some of  the members of this group have been quite vocal in their opposition to the new rules. Their cry is that the tournaments aren’t to blame; all the fish are alive when they are released and that pollution is to blame for the problems with the Smallmouth Bass population on the Main Stem of the Susquehanna. I don’t disagree with this premise; in fact I am a firm believer that there are multiple reasons why there are issues. Combined Sewer Overflows are a horrendous problem; lawn and agriculture runoff is an issue, the chemicals humans put in their bodies to combat everything from osteoporosis to depression; even the chemicals we treat our roads with in the winter so that ice and snow are melted are all issues with the river as well. However, tournaments play a role as well. Depending upon the study you read; tournaments can account for a mortality of 5% to 40%. If 100 fish are caught (and typically they will be among the largest fish), the chance of losing  between 5 and 40 fish in an already injured fishery seems foolish to me.

I agree with the new PFBC rules–because they are an excellent and easily handled set of rules given the current climate in Harrisburg with regard to the state budget. They are not a panacea however. The real fix will come when the other issues are addressed; however this will take time and will cost millions to fix in Harrisburg alone. Of course, the burden for this will fall on the residents of the city; who are already overburdened, given their economic climate.  The other issues–lawn/ag runoff and chemicals used by humans will also cost millions to deal with; both in terms of enforcement of regulations and developing methodologies for removing the chemicals.

The response to the rule changes  by the SRTT  was to move their tournaments north of the Fabridam.  Many of their membership live in the area of the Main Stem around Harrisburg and south; and now they are driving an hour and a half north of Harrisburg to conduct their Tournaments. Towing their boats behind trucks that get 25mpg or less; and polluting the air (and ultimately the river they claim they care for) just to compete with one another seems  like an irresponsible action to me. They were advised by the PFBC about paper tournaments, but according to their website, paper tournaments “won’t work”. I would like to know their reasons for this; many tournaments—Kayak Tournaments for one–are held annually and are paper tournaments.

Personally, I believe their actions are like the stereotypical child who cries ‘Fine, I’ll just take my toys and go somewhere else’.  Not exploring the option of conducting Paper Tournaments seems to me to be an irresponsible action by the SRTT; adding the pressure of their tournaments to an area that is already fished heavily just adds to that feeling of irresponsibility. I disagree with their reaction.

Categories: Pollution, Tournaments

Reaping the Riches

March 22, 2011 Leave a comment

I can’t say it any better than this editorial does. Who does Governor Corbett think he’s fooling?

Categories: Uncategorized

Waste Dumping

March 20, 2011 Leave a comment

A waste hauler and his company were charged Thursday with dozens of criminal counts for what prosecutors said was years of dumping millions of gallons of wastewater from natural gas drilling, sewage sludge and restaurant grease into streams and mine shafts.

Seventy criminal counts were filed against a Waste Hauler (Allan’s Waste Water Service Inc.) and ninety-eight more against  the owner Robert Allan Shipman. His company has been accused of ordering drivers to open valves at night or during rainstorms at natural gas drilling wells; dumping the wastewater into nearby creeks; and also of ordering drivers to dump wastewater into a floor drain with a direct connection to a nearby stream.

These offenses took place between 2003 and 2009; and would result in higher profit–regardless of the environmental damage. The accused was allegedly overcharging his customers by over $250,000.

His alleged actions may have helped with the polluting of Dunkards Creek, and contributed to a 30-mile fish kill; as he was accused of dumping at a brine disposal well named Morris Run. This same well was fined in 2009 by the EPA for lax security and improper logging  of truck coming and going from the well.The well was shut down after the fish kill, which resulted from a algae bloom caused by an increase in salinity of the well.

If this one  has been caught, how many others are out there who haven’t been?

Waste Dumping on the road from a waste truck Of course, this isn’t a shot of one of the alleged trucks, but it shows a truck dumping waste water right on a road.

Categories: Uncategorized