8:36 am in Uncategorized by brasch
by Walter Brasch
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This is a special Earth Day edition of my weekly social issues column, Wanderings. The information is from my latest book, Fracking Pennsylvania, an overall look at the nature and consequences of high-pressure horizontal hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking. Even if you are not a Pennsylvanian or living in the recent boom in the Marcellus Shale, fracking is destroying the health of people, livestock, pets, and wild animals; it is impacting the environment and ecological diversity. It is going on across the country, and is about to expand into the urban and agricultural areas of central California. If you don’t want your wine, lettuce, or hundreds of other fruits and vegetables to be methane-tinged or to hold traces of radioactive and toxic waste, you might wish to oppose the development of fracking in California.
The history of energy exploration, mining, and delivery is best understood in a range from benevolent exploitation to worker and public oppression. A company comes into an area, leases or buys land in rural and agricultural areas for mineral rights, increases employment, usually during a depressed economy, strips the land of its resources, creates health problems for its workers and those in the immediate area, and then leaves.
It makes no difference if it’s timber, oil, coal, nuclear, or natural gas. All energy sources are developed to move mankind into a new era; all energy sources are developed to bring as much profit to corporations as quickly as possible, often by exploiting the workers.
Before the settlement of Pennsylvania in the 1680s, more than 20 million acres of forests covered almost all of the land. During the latter half of the nineteenth century, the lumber industry had clear-cut several million acres, leading Pennsylvania into an era that rivaled even the Gold Rush in California. By World War I, the companies had stripped the land, taken their profit, and then moved on, leaving devastation in their wake. Only when the people finally realized that destroying the forests led to widespread erosion and flooding did they begin to reforest the state. Almost a century after the lumber companies denuded the forests, the natural gas industry, with encouragement from the state, have leased more than 150,000 acres of forests for wells, pipelines, and roads.
Between 1859, when an economical method to drill for oil was developed near Titusville, Pa., and 1933, the beginning of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” Pennsylvania, under almost continual Republican administration, was among the nation’s most corrupt states. The robber barons of the timber, oil, coal, steel, and transportation industries, enjoying and contributing to the Industrial Age of the 19th century, essentially bought their right to be unregulated. In addition to widespread bribery, the energy industries, especially coal, assured the election of preferred candidates by giving pre-marked ballots to workers, many of whom were immigrants and couldn’t read English.
When the coal companies determined underground mining was no longer profitable, they began strip mining, shearing the tops of hills and mountains to expose coal, causing environmental damage that could never be repaired even by the most aggressive reforestation program. Pennsylvania is the only state producing anthracite coal, and is fifth in the nation in production of all coal, behind Wyoming, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Texas.
John Wilmer, an attorney who formerly worked in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), in a letter to the editor of The New York Times in March 2011, explained that “Pennsylvania’s shameful legacy of corruption and mismanagement caused 2,500 miles of streams to be totally dead from acid mine drainage; left many miles of scarred landscape; enriched the coal barons; and impoverished the local citizens.” His words are a warning about what is happening in the natural gas fields.