PENNSYLVANIA — Investigative news nonprofit Public Herald has won $35,000 to tour its investigative documentary Triple Divide about fracking in the Marcellus Shale across the United States. Public Herald is one of eight winners in the first round […]
It’s day one and Christine Pepper’s family has no water. There’s no water for the family to drink, to shower, or wash their clothes so they’re making calls to inlaws and saving single gallon plastic jugs. It’s day one, and the Pepper family has 45 days until they know what’s happened. It started when Christine splashed water on her face from the kitchen faucet and a burning sensation shot through her skin. “It felt like my face was on fire for 20 minutes,” she said. Later red bumps developed. Not shortly after there was no water at all. The Pepper's spring-fed well, which had produced water for more than 50 years, went completely dry. “I’m not saying we’ve never had low water," explains Christine’s husband Corey, "but it always comes right back, but it’s stayed dry for two weeks. And... I’ve never seen it! I’m 42, I’ve lived here 42 years, and my Dad was 18 when he bought this house.”
We at Public Herald get crushes kind of often. Our latest one is on Mission & State, a new in-depth journalism project in Santa Barbara, California. Like so many other great connections, we discovered M&S because of fracking. Yes, thanks to that highly controversial and dangerous drilling process formerly known as horizontal slickwater hydraulic fracturing, we’ve met some really amazing people. Fracking is only one part of Mission & State’s coverage of news in and around Santa Barbara, which finds itself atop the oil and gas rich Monterey Shale, a bedrock formation with average depths of over 11,000 feet underground according to National Geographic. Check out Mission & State’s coverage of the ‘urchin and caviar’ politics surrounding the fracking debate in California.
My name is Joshua Pribanic. I am here to submit comment as the Editor-in-Chief of Public Herald and as the co-director of the documentary on fracking, Triple Divide. Public Herald is an investigative news nonprofit, and while we advocate for truth and justice for all, we are not an activist organization, academic institution, or political entity. We are for truth and creativity in the public interest. My comments here are mostly my own editorial but also part of what’s in the 90 minutes of Triple Divide, where myself and Melissa Troutman report on how DEP and industry are handling the negative impacts of fracking. I want to first comment on the background and purpose of the proposed regulations. In hindsight, the purpose of the proposed regulations are first an overall admission to the public that fracking is a new technology which needs to be regulated differently, and secondly that DEP regulations used to protect the public resources from fracking for the past 10 years have been pathetically out-of-date. In fact, the proposed regulations tonight are stated by DEP to quote “be on the forefront of the curve” for how the Department will protect Pennsylvania’s resources. This accomplishment really deserves an applause [sarcasm] (applaud here)! However, after what I know about researching DEP’s GMI case files, or what’s riddled throughout DEP’s complaint files, these regulations are nothing more than a freshman level attempt to regulate fracking. A case in point is the proposed Abandoned oil and gas well section, § 78.52a. The regulations would require that an operator identify abandoned oil and gas wells within 1000ft of their vertical and horizontal wellbore, report the findings, then use “sensory monitoring” of the abandoned wells to alert DEP when and where a problem may occur. So, I had to check my calendar on this one to be sure I was still in the 21st century since the sensory monitoring proposed is not something from a mechanical measuring device, but is instead akin to a “sniff test” by industry workers. A sniff test. Not an air monitoring device, not a water monitoring device inside the abandoned well, but a sniff test. It’s a proven fact that abandoned wells in Pennsylvania act as pathways for both biogenic and thermogenic gases, and EPA research dating back to a 1989 study on Class II Injection Wells found that abandoned wells will often communicate with nearby injection wells resulting in the transmission of contaminants to the surface. But these are not problems that can be effectively monitored visually, or even by the expert nose of Scott Perry. Gases are invisible. The over 250,000 abandoned wells will have cracked casings and cracked cementing, where fluids can escape before reaching the surface. And when gases from nearby fracked wells communicate with the abandoned well they’ll be released into the atmosphere undetected by the new “highly trained visual monitor guy.” The public deserves to have regulations that are in fact, “on the forefront of the curve.” This proposed regulation is a hangman solution leaving the public resources tied to a noose, vulnerable to reactionary measures and further contamination. The regulatory solution here is simple. When an abandoned well is located DEP should plug it. Afterward, it can be monitored using the best science available for detecting gas emissions at the surface. Before I finish I want to read this beautiful passage under the section § 78.62 on the disposal of residual waste, or pits. Section § 78.62: “Disposal of residual waste—pits. The proposed amendments to this section clarify that solid waste generated by hydraulic fracturing of unconventional wells or processing wastewater under § 78.58 (relating to onsite processing) may not be disposed of in a pit on the well site. However, residual waste, including contaminated drill cuttings, can be disposed of in a pit on the well site. I repeat for all the homeowners in the room with well pads on their property or for wells on public lands, “residual waste, including contaminated drill cuttings, can be disposed of in a pit on the well site.” A.k.a. it’s buried; it’s buried without your permission or you knowing about it. But it’s fine [sarcasm] since it’s required to be buried 20” above the Seasonal High Water Table.
Whether you're 101 to the subject or a seasoned veteran, these 10 chapters from Triple Divide will give you an exclusive understanding of fracking in the United States. 1. Triple Divide There's a place where your water is born. Do you know where it is? For the Triple Divide "Everything is Downstream" and it's where millions of Americans' water is born. 2. Fracking 'Fracking' is now a household word that means a process where extreme pressure and fluids are pumped into the ground to break apart [sedimentary] shale rock and release trapped fossil fuels. Here's a 101 excerpt from Triple Divide, narrated by Mark Ruffalo. 9. The Judys Right now radioactive waste pits made up of drilling mud and cuttings are being buried behind peoples homes, on public land and on farmland that grows tomorrow's crops. It's what's called an 'Alternative Waste Approval' (or, OG71 in DEP files) and you should know if it's happening near you or your seasonal high water table.
Hot of the press in most of rural Pennsylvania are promises on economic opportunity from fracking, but Triple Divide a new documentary by filmmakers and journalists Joshua Pribanic and Melissa Troutman questions its impacts. The film covers a two-year analysis of fracking by investigative news nonprofit Public Herald and is touring across the Commonwealth this November. “People can expect to witness a side of fracking they’ve never seen before by watching Triple Divide,” said Pribanic. The film is the first of its kind to reveal illegal burials of potentially radioactive waste in Exceptional Value Watersheds. It highlights new concepts regarding an issue dubbed “The Pressure Bulb” referring to the unregulated force needed to frack a well, and uncovers a ‘predrill scandal’ where the industry is allowed to dismiss its own science.