Summer Camp & Outdoor Recreation Areas Not Acceptable for Fracking?

by Duane Nichols on January 27, 2018

Fracking chemicals by the diesel truck load

Hydrofracking and Jewish Summer Camp

From an Essay by Rabbi Wallace Greene, Jewish Link of New Jersey, January 25, 2018

Now it is freezing and snowy, but summer camp enrollment is taking place. Parlor meetings often feature a video tour of the camps’ facilities. Here are the bunks, the dining hall, the waterfront, the baseball field and … the natural gas drilling operation?

There are about 30 Jewish camps located in the Marcellus Shale area covering New York and Pennsylvania — four of those camps signed leases that would open up fracking operations at the camps. Hess, the company leasing the property to begin drilling at the summer camps, claims the lease terms make sure drilling can’t “unreasonably interfere” with operations. But Hess will be allowed to drill while camp sessions are under way and fracking operations could come to within 500 to 1,000 feet of camp structures. Meanwhile, environmental concerns over natural gas fracking grow stronger.

After continuing reports from communities about groundwater contamination, researchers at Duke University tested 68 private groundwater wells around the country sited close to fracking operations and found that 85 percent had levels of methane 17 times higher than wells located more than a kilometer away from drilling sites. A New York Times investigation also found that 130 wells around the country were discharging waste water with levels of radiation 100 to 1,000 times the accepted legal limit.

The Marcellus Shale is rich in shale and natural gas. It sits beneath both New York’s Catskill Mountains and Pennsylvania’s Poconos, the dual epicenters of Jewish (and non-Jewish) summer camps. Four Jewish summer camps (B’nai B’rith’s Perlman Camp in Lake Como, Pennsylvania.; Camp Nesher in Lakewood, Pennsylvania, and Camp Shoshanim in Lake Como, both New Jersey Y camps; and Camp Morasha in Lake Como) are reported to have signed leases with the Hess Corporation that could allow the deep-bore drilling technique—criticized by many experts as damaging to the environment—at their campgrounds. Environmentalists worry that this toxic water could escape from the wells and taint nearby water supplies. The dairy farmers are very concerned about every aspect of raising cows who give untainted milk.

Jewish wisdom and values oppose selling rights to the land in ways that will poison the earth, the air, the water and crops. Everyone supports increasing our energy independence, but in ways that also protect the environment. Fracking needs more study and refinement. It’s a shame that the camps couldn’t wait until the science is completed before signing their leases. As a country, we clearly need this energy source, yet our kids need fresh air and clean water. The camps have no business allowing this. It is surprising that their liability insurers are not more concerned.

The gas industry says that fracking is safe, and has made many promises to safeguard the camps. If that is true, why are the companies that use this technique trying to avoid regulation? In 2005, lobbyists for the natural gas industry persuaded Congress to exempt fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act. Other key environmental laws also contain exemptions for gas drilling.

Farmlands and forests are impacted when natural gas is extracted from the Marcellus Shale. The transportation of heavy equipment impacts municipal roadways. When heavy equipment travels over farmland, soil compaction occurs. Soil compaction is caused by tire pressure and this can have an effect on plant production. Soil compaction is also caused by axle loads, which reduce productivity for decades. Forest lands can also be affected by Marcellus drilling. To drill, a large number of trees may need to be cut down to build access roads. Shrubs and flowers may also need to be taken down for roadway access.

The water that is used for drilling can come from various places such as rivers, lakes, private water sources, municipal water and recycled fracking water. This water, used in drilling, is contaminated and is hauled away to be treated. It cannot be returned to its source. Another major concern is water contamination. Drilling through aquifers can contaminate water supplies.

Natural gas production does not exist without consequences. Its extraction from the Marcellus shale impacts air quality and releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Potential sources of air pollution vary on the phase of the drilling stage. In the early phases, the air can be polluted by drilling rigs and fracking engines that are fueled by diesel or gasoline.

Air pollution also comes from the truckloads of water carried to the drilling site and the water being hauled away. Once the drilling stage is completed, production begins—which includes compressor engines and condensate tanks. Unintended leaks can also occur from drilling equipment that is worn, rusty, corroded or not properly installed.

Air quality is an issue that needs a closer look with the increase of natural gas drilling and production. Although there is some disagreement on the extent of air pollution, it is suggested that more emphasis be placed on air-quality monitoring.

There are many environmental impacts associated with hydraulic fracturing, or “hydrofracking.” Among them are water consumption, wastewater disposal, use of toxic chemicals, substantial truck traffic, air pollution, noise from the loud, 24-hour hydrofracking operations, potential groundwater and well water contamination, deforestation, roadbuilding and surface water runoff from these large industrial sites. The cumulative effect of these impacts may indeed transform entire communities—turning previously rural, agrarian areas into “fractured communities.”

Hydraulic fracturing requires up to 3 to 8 million gallons of water per hydrofrack, and typically each well is hydrofracked many times. The water must be trucked in (involving millions of truck trips), stored on site, and the wastewater disposed of properly (nearly all of the fracking fluid injected returns to the surface, bringing with it materials from underground including brines, heavy metals, radionuclides and organics).

Even though the gas industry claims that toxic chemicals represent less than 1 percent of hydrofrack fluid, the U.S. Geological Survey explains that a typical 3 million gallon hydrofrack produces 15,000 gallons of chemical waste. In existing Marcellus wells outside of New York this waste is stored on site in large holding ponds until trucks haul it away. Disposal of wastewater is a problem—there are no disposal sites.

Money is a potent force, but it cannot replace polluted streams and rivers, nor can it replace what is still an idyllic summer in the Catskills and the Poconos for countless numbers of children.

>>> Rabbi Wallace Greene, PhD, and his family have spent many summers at camps in the Poconos (PA) and the Catskills (NY).


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: