Protect PT Experts Shine at Hearing

January 17, 2017

The January 12th continuation hearing on Huntley & Huntley’s Poseidon Well Site being heard by Penn Township Zoning Hearing Board featured testimony from experts on public health and environmental testing. Dr. Ranajit Sahu and Dr. Beth Weinberger, testifying on behalf of Protect PT, answered questions from Ryan Hamilton, legal counsel for Protect PT.  Representation for Monroeville-based Huntley & Huntley had an opportunity to cross-examine.


Dr. Chris Long, a scientist specializing in air pollution exposure and inhalation risk for Gradient, a Cambridge, Mass. consulting firm, testified on behalf of Huntley & Huntley. On cross examination, Long said, “I tried to be comprehensive in my review,” and that he relied on a “rich nucleus” of data available on the Marcellus shale region and monitoring being conducted by Pennsylvania DEP and West Virginia University.


From the perspective of the audience, it seemed that Long was “cherry picking” studies that benefited industry and ignored newer studies. For example, Long cited a 2013 study by Dr. Michael McCawley, “WVU Air, Noise, and Light Monitoring Study” that stated “Concentrations were highly variable from site to site but generally VOC concentrations were low and below levels of concern.” However, Dr. McCawley and others published a subsequent study in 2016 that cited his 2013 study and found: “In Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, 25 percent of grab samples from well pads and associated infrastructure contained benzene levels that exceeded the EPA cancer risk level (Macey et al. 2014; U.S. EPA 2015c). McCawley, working for the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection in May 2013, obtained air samples 625 feet from the well pad center... Benzene levels exceeded the ATSDR minimum risk level (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 2014) for acute exposure…


When Dr. McCawley testified at the Penn Township Public Hearing on August, 17, 2016, he said: “For air emissions, there is no adequate setback distance. You can not rely on setback distance to protect the population.”  In that testimony, McCawley also said “You can’t ignore truck traffic as part of the industrial operations.”


Long said there were limitations to using surveys of people for research. He also said potential constituents of natural gas drilling, such as benzene, H2S (sewer gas, landfills) and PM2.5 (dust, smoke, exhaust) are already ubiquitous in the air.


Dr. Sahu, click here for video of testimony an environmental, mechanical and chemical engineering consultant from Alhambra, Calif., was surprised and “somewhat shocked” to hear Long’s assertions about the ubiquitousness of existing toxins, and called the statement “irrelevant.” “In risk assessments, we look at the incremental risk due to a project, and we take great pains to distinguish between what are called voluntary risks and involuntary risks,” Sahu said. “There’s a difference between facing risk and taking risk. A lot of us take risks in our day-to-day life, but we do that because we expect a return -- a reward -- something. That is different from facing involuntary risk; risk that is impacting me for which I get no benefit. One has a risk benefit attached to it, the other has only risk and no benefit attached to it, and you cannot commingle the two.”  


Sahu discussed the reports reviewed for his testimony, including Poseidon’s Preparedness, Prevention and Contingency (PPC) Plan, which he didn’t find useful because it was too “generic.” Sahu repeatedly stressed the importance of site-specific studies because of differences caused by terrain and wind and weather and said the only one done for Poseidon was an air modeling and hydrologic study. He said the study is “constrained in scope” and “doesn’t help with a site-specific analysis.”


Sahu said there were no studies done on emissions from wastewater storage tanks to be used at Poseidon. “That’s one of the striking things about this assessment, and how it has come to this stage without any quantification of air emissions from any of the operations that will be inheritably part of the well pad installation and all the stages, including production, which I might note is slated to go on for 30 to 100 years, according to the applicant. Please, get away from the notion -- if you can -- that monitoring studies, no matter how well done for other instances, can truly inform what’s likely to happen at this particular site. There simply is no contest,” he said to the board.


Sahu said there was a lack of plans and testing provided for a gun firing range close to proposed operations. “I know from many studies I have done on firing ranges that quite naturally there are obviously spent casings and there is lead fumes that deposit there,” Sahu said, adding he thought Huntley & Huntley’s plans would avoid the firing range. "But what I heard today made me even more concerned. If you are going to have an infiltration basin on a portion of that, unless you can tell me that all of the lead that is there is insoluble lead, you have leaching of lead to groundwater. That’s what an infiltration basin is. You put water in so it infiltrates back in the ground. There is lead all over the place. And there are many, many lead compounds that are soluble lead compounds. What do you think is going to happen to them? They’re going to infiltrate.


Dr. Beth Weinberger, click here for video of testimony a research and communications specialist with Southwestern Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, described shale drilling as a “new area of inquiry.” Weinberger reiterated the need for site-specific monitoring and added that continuous monitoring was crucial to detect “peaks” of activity that can pose health risks. “The crux of the exposure problem is that wells go through different stages and they emit a variety of things in a variety of combinations, and whether an individual or household is impacted has to do with what’s coming off the site,” she said. “I would say that the monitoring of natural gas operations up to this point is largely inadequate, and it’s because there’s great variation in emissions off of even a single site. There’s also variation between sites, among sites from different locations, and so the monitoring that needs to be done needs to be continuous.”


Weinberger discussed a study by Dr. Peter Rabinowitz at Yale School of Medicine that states little is known about the environmental and public health impacts of unconventional gas extraction. In the summer of 2012, Rabinowitz studied 492 people in Washington County who use well water and live within one kilometer (.621 of a mile) to two kilometers from gas wells. At the time, Rabinowitz said there were 624 active gas wells in Washington County. “They found both respiratory and dermatologic symptoms were significantly more prevalent in those closer to wells than those further from wells,” Weinberger said. “I think there’s a real building of evidence that there are health effects, and so I think the thing to do is to better understand what about those emissions is causing health effects.”

The hearing, which lasted four and a half hours, was continued until 6:30 p.m. January 25, at which time standing witnesses will be heard.

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