December 28, 2013

Roy Wehrle Speaks at Decatur Fracking Hearing

Over the next week I'm going to post text and video highlights from the final three hearings on the tentative fracking regulation proposed for Illinois. I'll start off with comments from noted central Illinois environmentalist and community leader Roy Wehrle. He spoke at the Decatur hearing, where roughly 400 people attended and only one spoke in favor of fracking. I asked Roy to send me his notes and you can see the video from Illinois Times.

Roy Wehrle, Professor of Economics at UIS Emeritus, speaking as a member of Illinois People’s Action and Fair Economy Illinois:  formerly an economic adviser for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson
Thanks you – two points this evening:  Probability of Damage and VOCs

l. Probability of Harm.
What is not well understood by the public is that though the probability is low for any one bad thing happening in fracking, the probability is much higher that something bad will happen.  In other words, the probability in one fracking field may be quite low for each of these occurrences:  radioactive contamination, leakage of methane or benzene into the aquifer, and an earthquake.

But what is most important is not the likelihood of each event but of any serious event taking place. And the latter probability is always a good deal higher than the former. Assume there are eight possible bad consequences that could occur in a fracking field, and each has a probability of 1/10 or 10% of happening.  It turns out that the probability that one of these bad things will happen is 83%.  None of us would like to live in a neighborhood with those odds of bad things occurring. Quite a difference, 10% and 83%.  I will hand in a memo setting forth the mathematics of estimating such a one-in-a-series-occurring events.

 II.  Volatile Chemical Compounds
First, three quick points on chemistry.  First, volatile means that the substance boils at a low temperature so that volatile liquids boil and hence evaporate at low temperatures, even below zero. Volatility is how we smell most things. Maybe that is how the talking trees in C. S. Lewis’ masterpiece Narnia talked to each other.

Second, volatility is a stealth process.  Liquids and gases escape invisibly during the drilling and also the subsequent fracking process and also when volatile liquids are stored on the drilling pad and moved from the pad.  Though invisible to our eyes, an infrared camera shows plumes of these gases moving into the air at drilling sites.

Third, ground-level ozone smog is created by volatile chemicals combining with the nitrous oxides from exhausts, all baked in sunlight.  When these volatile chemicals, often called smog precursors, combine with Nitrous Oxide they produce ground-level smog. Many volatile chemicals and compounds are smog precursors.

As many as 100 different chemicals are used in the combined drilling/fracking process by the various drillers, many are volatile and many of these chemicals damage human health directly while others become the smog that damages human health by slowly eating away at the tissue of the lungs, as described by Dr. Theo Colburn.  He tells us that, unlike other bodily tissues, damaged lung tissue cannot be repaired by the body.

So how serious are these volatile chemicals and compounds, these VOCs, to human life and happiness?  VERY.  Consider first smog and other air pollutants which now engulf major Chinese Cities and killed prematurely 1.2 million Chinese in 2010.  Now smog is found in our countryside where fracking takes place. There are many other damaging health effects from VOCs including: irritation to eyes, ears and nose, headaches, damage to kidneys and liver and to nervous and immune systems, cancer of various forms, impairment of mental processes including memory loss, and loss of coordination, dizziness.

Heart rending accounts by individuals who have breathed in these toxic chemicals are as real as real can get, and well documented in Pennsylvania, Colorado, Texas and North Dakota. The following web site gives testimony from 1,100 people whose lives were besmirched by VOCs and other fracking caused pollution.  VOCs are toxic invaders of schoolrooms, houses and businesses, unwelcome and unseen, until eyes smart and burn. The proposed IDNR rules do not protect our citizens from these toxic trespassers.

It is essential that each well site be carefully monitored for escaping VOCs and that  all transportation of materials containing VOCs be monitored. As the draft rules now read, firms do not have to mitigate escaping VOCs if it is not cost effective or proves economically unreasonable. One asks in wonderment:  "Why does this regulation only consider the producers’ costs and not the costs in damage to the people and wildlife? The costs to the public must be recognized and estimated using the various studies that are available.  The costs of asthma, neurological damage, endocrine damage to the immune and reproductive system and many more health effects must be counted in as public costs.  These costs are every bit as real and morally more important than the remediation costs to the producers.

Protection and remedial steps should be added to the final rules:  a) monitoring escaping volatile gases and setting limits on these, b) requiring remediation where harmful gases are escaping requiring VOC abatement technologies be used where feasible, c) forbid storage of volatile liquids in open pits, d) require manifests for all haulers taking away produced water and other liquids containing VOCs and toxic chemicals showing quantity, origin and destination of the transit, e) require that the well be capped and terminated when the VOC regulations are breached or the VOC emissions exceed a set ceiling.

Finally, you all know the saying: “If it seems too good to be true, it isn't”. I would add a sister saying which goes “If many things could go wrong, one will”.  Thank you kindly for your attention.