You are browsing the archive for fracking.

by brasch

Passing Gas to the Consumer

9:42 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

Gas prices at the pump during the July 4th extended weekend were the highest they have been in six years. This, of course, has little to do with supply-and-demand economics. It has everything to do with supply-and-gouge profits.Untitled

Over the past decade, the five largest oil companies have earned more than $1 trillion in profits. Last year, the Big Five—BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell—earned about $93 billion in profits. Their CEOs last year earned an average of about $20 million. Included within the profits is $2.4 billion in taxpayer subsidies because it’s hard to make a living when your hourly wage, assuming you work every hour of every day, is only $2,283.

“We have been subsidizing oil companies for a century. That’s long enough,” President Obama said more than a year ago. The Senate disagreed. Forty-three Republicans and four Democrats blocked the elimination of subsidies. Although the final vote was 51–47 to end the subsidies, a simple majority was not enough because the Republicans threatened a filibuster that would have required 60 votes to pass the bill. A Think Progress financial analysis revealed that the 47 senators who voted to continue subsidies received almost $23.6 million in career contributions from the oil and gas industry. In contrast, the 51 senators who had voted to repeal the subsidies received only about $5.9 million.

For a couple of decades, the oil industry blamed the Arabs for not pumping enough oil to export to the United States. But when the Arab oil cartel (of which the major U.S. oil companies have limited partnerships) decided to pump more oil, the Americans had to look elsewhere for their excuses. In rapid succession, they blamed Mexico, England, the Bermuda Triangle, polar bears who were lying about climate change so they could get more ice for their diet drinks, and infertile dinosaurs.

This year, the oil companies blamed ISIS, a recently-formed terroristic fringe group composed primarily of Sunni Muslims, who have opposed Shia Muslims for more than 14 centuries. Think of the Protestant–Catholic wars in Ireland. Because ISIS was laying a path of destruction through Iraq, the oil companies found it convenient to declare that oil shipments were threatened, and then raise prices, salivating at their good fortune that terrorists had come to their financial assistance during the Summer holidays.

However, because the oil companies have laid a thick propaganda shield upon the America people to make them believe that fracking the environment and destroying public health, while yielding only temporary job growth, will lead to less dependence upon the Arab nations and lower costs to Americans, the Industry has to come up with some excuses to drill the taxpayers.

Through deft journalistic intrigue and a lifetime of investigative reporting, I was able to obtain insider information from the ultra secret Gas and Oil Unified Greedy Excuse Maker sub-committee (GOUGEM). I have not been able to verify the transcript, but in the developing tradition of 21st century journalism, that doesn’t really matter.

“We have a problem,” declared the GOUGEM Grand Caliph “We have run out of excuses. Last year, we had to find excuses not only for the Summer vacations, but also to justify our surreptitious funding of the Benghazi investigation.”

“There must be a hundred different ways to nail Obama for this year’s increase,” declared the Sunoco representative.

“What if we claim that Obamacare caused gas prices to go up for ambulances,” said a newly-appointed representative from the Hess Corp.

“Tried it last year, but we couldn’t get much traction,” said the Grand Caliph. “Only Fox, Limbaugh, and some guy broadcasting through a tin cup from his room at Bellevue picked it up.”

“Afghanistan!”  shouted the Marathon representative. “We’ve gotten good mileage from blaming the war for the cost of gas.”

“Yeah,” said the Tesoro rep sarcastically, “while we’ve been reaping enough excessive profits to build a water park at every one of our executives’ McMansions. I’m afraid the American people after 13 years have finally caught on to that scam.”

“If not Iraq and Afghanistan,” how about a new war? We invade Switzerland,” the ConocoPhillips rep suggested, “and claim we’re protecting the world from weapons of mass Swiss Army Knives. Every Republican and a few Democrats will back us on that.”

“It only works if there’s oil in Switzerland,” said the Shell rep, “and since we haven’t developed the technology to frack the Matterhorn, we’ll have to find another reason to raise gas prices.”

The BP rep suggested that the oil companies claim gas price increases were necessary because the price of Dawn detergent, used to clean oil-slicked marine mammals, went up.

The Chevron  rep said they could blame the Treasury Department for their underhanded tactics in locating the companies’ tax-free stash in the Caymans.  “How could anyone complain about us needing more income to pay our lawyers?” she declared.

The Valero rep wanted to blame the Veterans Administration. “We say we had to wait so long to get permission to raise gas prices that we had to do it ourselves,” he brightly said, and tagged that suggestion with the explanation that the companies could then claim they were being self-sufficient and not dependent upon the government. “The conservatives will love us,” he righteously declared.

After a few moments of idle chatter, something committees have perfected, the Exxon Mobil rep spoke up. “We don’t need an excuse.”

“You been inhaling too many fumes?” the Shell rep asked.

“Slip on a grease spot in one of your garages?” asked the Murphy Oil rep.

“We’ve always had an excuse,” the Shell rep whined. “Without an excuse, the motorist might not buy our gas.”

“Oh, they’ll buy,” said the Exxon Mobil rep confidently. “We’ve bought out and eliminated most of the alternative fuel sources, public transportation is in the pits, and no one walks. That leaves cars, and they all run on what we decide they run on.”

“So what’s your point?” asked the BP representative.

“It’s as simple as 1-2-3,” the Exxon representative stated. “One. We’re Big Business. Two. We’ve already bought the Republican-controlled Congress. Three. We don’t need to justify anything.”

By unanimous agreement, the gas bag cartel declared there would be a 10-cent a gallon hike by the end of Summer—and no excuse.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest books are the critically-acclaimed Before the First Snow, a journalistic novel; and Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation of the health, environmental, economic, and political effects of horizontal fracturing.]
Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

Scientists Predict Increased Rain, Floods for Northeast

9:26 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

 

Residents of the Mid-Atlantic and New England states will experience increased rainfall and floods.

Residents of the Mid-Atlantic and New England states will experience increased rainfall and floods if data analysis by a Penn State meteorologist and long-term projections by a fisheries biologist, with a specialty in surface water pollution, are accurate.

Paul Knight, senior lecturer in meteorology at Penn State, compiled rainfall data for Pennsylvania from 1895—when recordings were first made—to this year. He says there has been an increase of 10 percent of rainfall during the past century. Until the 1970s, the average rainfall throughout the state was about 42 inches. Beginning in the 1970s, the average began creeping up. “By the 1990s, the increase was noticeable,” he says.  The three wettest years on record since 1895 were 2003, 2004, and 2011. The statewide average was 61.5 inches in 2011, the year of Tropical Storm Lee, which caused 18 deaths and about $1.6 billion in damage in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, and devastating flooding in New York and Pennsylvania, especially along the Susquehanna River basin.

Dr. Harvey Katz, of Montoursville, Pa., extended Knight’s data analysis for five decades. Dr. Katz predicts an average annual rainfall of about 55 inches, about 13 inches more than the period of 1895 to 1975. The increased rainfall isn’t limited to Pennsylvania, but extends throughout the Mid-Atlantic and New England states.

Both Knight and Dr. Katz say floods will be more frequent. The industrialization and urbanization of America has led to more trees being cut down; the consequences are greater erosion and more open areas to allow rainwater to flow into streams and rivers. Waterway hazards, because of flooding and increased river flow, will cause additional problems. Heavy rains will cause increased pollution, washing off fertilizer on farmlands into the surface water supply, extending into the Chesapeake Bay. Sprays on plants and agricultural crops to reduce attacks by numerous insects, which would normally stay localized, will now be washed into streams and rivers, says Knight.

Pollution will also disrupt the aquatic ecosystem, likely leading to a decrease in the fishing industry because of increased disease and death among fish and other marine mammals, says Dr. Katz.

Another consequence of increased rainfall is a wider spread of pollution from fracking operations, especially in the Marcellus Shale.

Most of the 1,000 chemicals that can be used in drilling operations, in the concentrations used, are toxic carcinogens; because of various geological factors, each company using horizontal fracturing can use a mixture of dozens of those chemicals at any one well site to drill as much as two miles deep into the earth.

Last year, drilling companies created more than 300 billion gallons of flowback from fracking operations in the United States. (Each well requires an average of 3–5 million gallons of water, up to 100,000 gallons of chemicals, and as much as 10 tons of silica sand. Flowback is what is brought up after the initial destruction of the shale.) Most of that flowback, which once was placed in open air pits lined with plastic that can tear and leak, are now primarily placed into 22,000 gallon steel trailers, which can leak. In Pennsylvania, drillers are still allowed to mix up to 10 percent of the volume of large freshwater pits with flowback water.

In March 2013, Carizo Oil and Gas was responsible for an accidental spill of 227,000 gallons of wastewater, leading to the evacuation of four homes in Wyoming County, Pa. Two months later, a malfunction at a well, also in Wyoming County, sent 9,000 gallons of flowback onto the farm and into the basement of a nearby resident.

Rain, snow, and wind in the case of a spill can move that toxic soup into groundwater, streams, and rivers. In addition to any of dozens of toxic salts, metals, and dissolvable organic chemicals, flowback contains radioactive elements brought up from deep in the earth; among them are Uranium-238, Thorium-232, and radium, which decays into radon, one of the most radioactive and toxic gases. Radon is the second highest cause of lung cancer, after cigarettes, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

A U.S. Geological Survey analysis of well samples collected in Pennsylvania and New York between 2009 and 2011 revealed that 37 of the 52 samples had Radium-226 and Radium-228 levels that were 242 times higher than the standard for drinking water. One sample, from Tioga County, Pa., was 3,609 times the federal standard for safe drinking water, and 300 times the federal industrial standard.

Radium-226, 200 times higher than acceptable background levels, was detected in Blacklick Creek, a 30-mile long tributary of the Conemaugh River near Johnstown, Pa. The radium, which had been embedded deep in the earth but was brought up in flowback waters, was part of a discharge from the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility, according to research published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Increased rainfall also increases the probability of pollution from spills from the nation’s decaying pipeline systems. About half of all oil and gas pipelines are at least a half-century old. There were more than 6,000 spills from pipelines last year. Among those spills were almost 300,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil from a pipe in Arkansas, and 100,000 gallons of oil and other chemicals in Colorado.

Increased truck and train traffic to move oil and gas from the drilling fields to refineries along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts has led to increased accidents. Railroad accidents in the United States last year accounted for about 1.15 million gallons of spilled crude oil, more than all spills in the 40 years since the federal government began collecting data, according to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. Many of the spills were in wetlands or into groundwater and streams.

A primary reason for increased rainfall (as well as increases in hurricanes, tornadoes, ocean water rises, and other long-term weather phenomenon) is because of man-made climate change, the result of increased carbon dioxide from fossil fuel extraction and burning. It’s not a myth. It’s not a far-fetched liberal hoax invented by Al Gore. About 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists agree we are experiencing climate change, and that the world is at a critical change; if the steady and predictable increase in climate change, which affects the protection of the ozone layer, is not reduced within two decades, it will not be reversible. Increased rainfall and pollution will be only a part of the global meltdown.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and emeritus professor. He is a syndicated columnist, radio commentator, and the author of 20 books, the latest of which is the critically-acclaimed Fracking Pennsylvania, an overall look at the effects of horizontal fracturing. He is a former newspaper and magazine reporter and editor and multimedia writer-producer.] Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

More Fracking Prostitutes at American Colleges

6:58 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 [Part 1: Lackawanna College, a two-year college in Scranton, Pa., accepted a $2.5 million endowment from Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. to strengthen that college’s programs and ties to the oil and gas industry. Part 2: Problems with academic integrity in other Pennsylvania colleges.]

An overhead view of Indiana State University stadium surrounded by grassland and trees

Indiana State University’s campus may soon feature fracking wells.

Among the mission statements of the University of North Dakota Department of Geology and Geological Engineering is that it “strives to develop in its engineering graduates keen insight and abilities to design an environmentally sound and sustainable future for humanity.”

Like most college mission statements, it’s a broad and vague goal, one that may not reflect reality. The Department is one of the better ones in the country, especially in training students to work in areas of gas and oil exploration and processing. However, their training—and research by the faculty—may be tainted by an industry bias, fueled by a $14 million gift.

The Department is now the Harold Hamm School of Geology and Geological Science. Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, the ninth largest oil producer in the United States, provided $5 million to the renamed School; his company provided an additional $5. The other $4 million came from the Industrial Commission/Oil and Gas Research Program, a merger of the state of North Dakota and several gas and oil corporations.

Continental Resources, which had revenue of $3.65 billion and a net profit of $764.2 million in 2013, had opened up the oil shale in North Dakota, site of the Bakken Shale, and is currently the top producer of oil production in the country. Continental, which uses the controversial practice of high volume hydraulic horizontal fracturing (known as fracking) to extract the oil, predicts to produce 62.5–65.5 million barrels of oil, an increase in production of 26-32 percent.

UND isn’t the only college to benefit from the oil and gas industry.

In West Virginia, Bethany College and West Liberty University signed mineral rights leases, claiming the money from royalties would help improve programs and provide for new buildings. The University of Texas at Arlington, sitting above the Barnett Shale, has 22 wells on a single pad site at the edge of campus. At Indiana State University, president Dan Bradley, a petroleum engineer who touts fracking as “a freight train on steroids,” has permitted wells and pipes on campus.

Against significant student and community opposition, the University of Tennessee opened its 8,000 acre Cumberland Research Forest to the natural gas industry. The 20-year lease includes a $300,000 a year payment plus at least 10 percent royalties. The university stated it was entering into the agreement in order to “conduct unbiased, scientifically sound research.” However, because the research is funded by the natural gas industry, the ethical probability of a conflict of interest must be raised. If the university makes money from the industry, and a portion of that money is targeted for faculty research, how impartial can that research be?

Politicians who take substantial contributions from the oil and gas lobbyists tend to be the ones who vote against human services and education budget increases. By dangling possible income from mineral rights leases, they blur the distinction between professors and corporate shills.

Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

The Fracking Prostitutes of American Colleges

8:05 am in Uncategorized by brasch

Lackawanna College proudly claims its Cabot-endowed School is “focused on its vision of becoming a nationally-recognized, first in class program in the field of petroleum and natural gas technology.”

By Walter Brasch
(part 1 of 2)

Lackawanna College, a two-year college in Scranton, Pa., has become a prostitute.

The administration doesn’t think of themselves or their college as a prostitute. They believe they are doing a public service. Of course, streetwalkers and call-girls also believe they are doing a public service.

Lackawanna College’s price is $2.5 million.

That’s how much Cabot Oil & Gas paid to the School of Petroleum and Natural Gas, whose own nine building campus is in New Milford in northeastern Pennsylvania.  On the School’s logo are now the words, “Endowed by Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation.”

That would be the same Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation that has racked up more than 500 violations since it first used horizontal fracking to extract gas in the Marcellus Shale almost six years ago.

That would be the same company that was found to be responsible for significant environmental and health damages in Dimock, Pa.

It’s the same company, fronted by four lawyers, that managed to keep a peaceful grandmother anti-fracking activist not only off its property, but away from Susquehanna County’s recycling center, a hospital, grocery stores, restaurants and 40 percent of the county where Cabot has mineral rights leases.

Several major gas and oil companies and suppliers—including Anadarko, BakerHughes, Chesapeake Energy, Halliburton, Noble Energy, Southwestern Energy, Williams Midstream, and others—have also contributed scholarships, equipment, and funding to the School. The School’s mission includes creating “a campus that is focused and dedicated to the oil and gas industry.”

Lackawanna College proudly claims its Cabot-endowed School is “focused on its vision of becoming a nationally-recognized, first in class program in the field of petroleum and natural gas technology.” There is no question the School is fulfilling its promise. A $500,000 outdoor field laboratory simulates a working gas field; all students are required to complete internships.

Richard Marquardt, the School’s executive director, has B.S. degrees in petroleum engineering and business management, as well as a long history of work in the industry. The eight other full-time faculty also have engineering degrees and significant industry experience. Fifteen adjunct faculty also have significant industry experience.

By Fall semester, the School will have about 150 full-time students. Students major in one of four programs—petroleum and natural gas technology, natural gas compression technology, petroleum and natural gas measurement, and petroleum and natural gas business administration.

Admission to the School’s rigorous academic programs “is highly competitive,” with students needing a strong science and math background prior to acceptance, says Marquardt. The students earn an associate in science degree upon completion of the two-year program. “It is focused on a very specific market,” says Marquardt, providing personnel at a level between the vocational training programs and the B.S. engineering programs. The placement rate is over 90 percent, says Marquardt.

In their fourth semester, students take a course in “Leadership, Ethics, & Regulations,” which explores “the holistic environment in which the Petroleum and Natural Gas industry operates, including the effect of corporate leadership on the company’s credibility and reputation; real world ethical issues  . . . and the relationship of the industry to federal, state, and local governments, including regulatory agencies.”

The development of the process of high volume hydraulic horizontal fracturing (commonly known as fracking) was the result of brilliant engineering by Mitchell Energy during the 1990s. Less than a decade ago, it became the most prevalent way to extract oil and gas. But, with the new technology has come significant problems.

An associate’s degree doesn’t mean the students, no matter how prepared they are to work in the shale gas industry, will be exposed to the issues, reports, and scientific studies that suggest fracking causes significant environmental and health problems, major concerns of those who oppose the process of horizontal fracking. After all, Cabot wasn’t going to invest in a college program that presented all sides of the issues. Nor is Cabot likely to invest anything more if the college expands its program to require that students also take classes in renewable energy, and the health and environmental effects of fracking.

But, that really doesn’t matter. Cabot paid $2.5 million, and other gas supplier, extraction, and development companies donated scholarships, funds, and equipment to make sure the students receive what may be one of the nation’s best possible educations to be prepared to work in the gas fields. They didn’t put money and resources into a program that would ask some of the most important questions—“What are the major effects to the health and environment from what we are doing?” “What should we be doing to develop new technology that doesn’t threaten the health and safety of the people?” and “Is fossil fuel really the best way to assure the production of energy.

[Next week: Other colleges that may have been compromised by accepting corporate donations.) Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

Anti-Fracking Activist Can Now Go to the Hospital (update)

6:10 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

 

Vera Scroggins will now be allowed to go to her hospital, supermarket, drug store, several restaurants, rehabilitation therapy – even the recycling center.

Vera Scroggins of Susquehanna County, Pa., will now be allowed to go to her hospital, supermarket, drug store, several restaurants, and the place where she goes for rehabilitation therapy. She can also go to the county’s recycling center, which is on 12.5 acres of land the county had leased to Cabot Gas & Oil Corp., one of the largest drillers in the country.

Common Pleas Court Judge Kenneth W. Seamans, Friday, revised a preliminary injunction he issued in October against the anti-fracking activist. That injunction had required the 63-year-old grandmother and retired nurse’s aide to stay at least 150 feet from all properties where Cabot had leased mineral rights, even if that distance was on public property. Because Cabot had leased mineral rights to 40 percent of Susquehanna County, about 300 square miles, almost any place Scroggins wanted to be was a place she was not allowed to be. The injunction didn’t specify where Scroggins couldn’t go. It was a task that required her to go to the courthouse in Montrose, dig through hundreds of documents, and figure it out for herself.

The injunction, says Scott Michelman of Public Citizen was “overbroad and violates her constitutional rights to freedom of speech and freedom of movement.” Public Citizen, the Pennsylvania ACLU, and local attorney Gerald Kinchy, represented her Monday when she sought to vacate the order. At that hearing, Cabot wanted the buffer zone extended to 500 feet, but couldn’t show any reason why 500 feet was necessary.

Seamans’ revised  order prohibits Scroggins from going within 100 feet of any active well pad or access roads of properties Cabot owns or has leased mineral rights. Land not being drilled, but which Cabot owns mineral rights, is no longer part of the injunction. That 100 feet separation is still far more than most injunctions call for; even abortion clinics typically have 15 feet exclusion zones to prevent violence, according to the brief filed in Scroggins’ behalf. Although Seamans agreed that his preliminary order may have been broad and violated Scroggins’ First Amendment rights, the revised injunction probably still violates her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

When Scroggins first appeared in court in October, she didn’t have lawyers. She had been served papers to appear in court only the Friday before the Monday hearing. That day, she faced four lawyers representing Cabot. She asked for a continuance, but Seamans refused to grant her one. Seamans told Scroggins that to grant a continuance would inconvenience three of Cabot’s lawyers who came from Pittsburgh, more than 250 miles away. He also told her she might have to pay travel and other costs for the lawyers if she was successful in getting a continuance.

 

And so, Cabot presented its case against Scroggins.

The lawyers claimed she blocked access roads to Cabot drilling operations. They claimed she continually trespassed on their property. They claimed she was a danger to herself and to the workers.

Scroggins agreed that she used public roads to get to Cabot properties. For five years, she has led tours of private citizens and government officials to show them what fracking is, and to explain what it is doing to the health and environment. But, with rare exceptions, she was always polite, never confrontational. And when she was told to leave, she did, even if it sometimes took as much as an hour because Cabot security often blocked her car.  Cabot personnel on site never asked local police to arrest her for trespassing.

Scroggins tried several times to explain that while near or on Cabot drilling operations, she had documented health and safety violations, many of which led to fines or citations. Every time she tried to present the evidence, one of Cabot’s lawyers objected, and Seamans struck Scroggins’ testimony from the record. Cabot acknowledged Scroggins broke no laws but claimed she was a “nuisance.”

Scroggins tried to explain that she put more than 500 short videotapes online or onto YouTube to show what fracking is, and the damage Cabot and other companies are doing. Again, Seamans accepted Cabot’s objection, and struck her testimony.

And that’s why Cabot wanted an injunction against Scroggins. It had little to do with keeping a peaceful protestor away; it had everything to do with shutting down her ability to tell the truth.

The original injunction, and possibly the revised injunction, violated her rights of free speech by severely restricting her ability to document the practices of a company that violated both the public trust and the environment, according to citations filed by the state’s Department of Environmental Portection. According to the brief filed on her behalf, “The injunction sends a chilling message to those who oppose fracking and wish to make their voices heard or to document practices that they fear will harm them and their neighbors. That message is loud and clear: criticize a gas company, and you’ll pay for it.”

The preliminary injunction also violated her Fourteenth Amendment rights of association and the right of travel; Scroggins couldn’t even go to homes of some of her friends, even if they invited her. That’s because they had leased subsurface mineral rights to Cabot. However, Cabot never produced a lease, according to what her attorneys presented in court, to show that “it had a right to exclude her from the surface of properties where it has leased only the subsurface mineral rights.”

Not everyone agrees with Scroggins or her efforts to document the effects of high volume hydraulic horizontal fracturing, known commonly as fracking. Many consider her to be a pest, someone trying to stop them from making money. Hundreds in the region have willingly given up their property rights in order to get signing bonuses and royalties from the extraction of natural gas. Their concern, in a county still feeling the effects of the great recession that had begun a decade earlier, is for their immediate financial well-being rather than the health and welfare of their neighbors, or the destruction of the environment.

The anti-fracking movement has grown from hundreds slightly more than a half-decade ago to millions. Where the oil and gas lobby has been able to mount a multi-million dollar media campaign, the people who proudly call themselves “fractivists” have countered by effective use of the social media and low-budget but highly effective rallies. Where the oil and gas lobby has been able to pour millions of dollars into politicians’ campaigns, the fractivists have countered by grass-roots organizing and contacting government officials and politicians, promising them no money but only the truth.
Vera Scroggins never planned to be among the leaders of a social movement, but her persistence in explaining and documenting what is happening to the people and their environment has put her there. Cabot’s “take-no-prisoners” strategy in trying to shut her voice has led to even more people becoming aware of what fracking is—and the length that a mega-corporation will go to keep the facts from the people. No matter what Seamans did to reduce the sweeping impact of the original order, or what will happen May 1 when Scroggins and Cabot will again be in court, Cabot has lost this battle.

[Dr. Brasch’s current book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation into the process and effects of horizontal fracking, and the collusion between politicians and the oil and gas industry. The 466-page critically-acclaimed and fully-documented book is available from Greeley & Stone, Publishers; Amazon.com; Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores.] Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

An Injunction Against the First Amendment

6:48 am in Uncategorized by brasch

Vera Scroggins never planned to be among the leaders of a social movement, but her persistence in explaining and documenting what is happening to the people and their environment has put her there.

Vera Scroggins of Susquehanna County, Pa., will be in court, Monday morning.

This time, she will have lawyers and hundreds of thousands of supporters throughout the country. Representing Scroggins to vacate an injunction limiting her travel will be lawyers from the ACLU and Public Citizen, and a private attorney.

The last time Scroggins appeared in the Common Pleas Court in October, she didn’t have lawyers. That’s because Judge Kenneth W. Seamans refused to grant her a continuance.

When she was served papers to appear in court, it was a Friday. On Monday, she faced four lawyers representing Cabot Oil and Gas Corp., one of the nation’s largest drillers. Seamans told the 63-year-old grandmother and retired nurse’s aide that to grant a continuance would inconvenience three of Cabot’s lawyers who came from Pittsburgh, more than 250 miles away. He also told her she might have to pay travel and other costs for the lawyers if she was successful in getting a continuance.

And so, Cabot presented its case against Scroggins.

The lawyers claimed she blocked access roads to Cabot drilling operations. They claimed she continually trespassed on their property. They claimed she was a danger to the workers.

Scroggins agreed that she used public roads to get to Cabot properties. For five years, Scroggins has led tours of private citizens and government officials to show them what fracking is, and to explain what it is doing to the health and environment. But she was always polite, never confrontational. And when she was told to leave, she did, even if it sometimes took as much as an hour because Cabot security often blocked her car.  Cabot personnel on site never asked local police to arrest her for trespassing.

But now, Cabot executives decided to launch a mega-attack, throwing against her the full power of a company that grosses more than $1 billion a year and is the largest driller in the region.

In court, Scroggins tried several times to explain that while near or on Cabot drilling operations, she had documented health and safety violations, many of which led to fines or citations. Every time she tried to present the evidence, one of Cabot’s lawyers objected, and the judge struck Scroggins’ testimony from the record. Cabot acknowledged Scroggins broke no laws but claimed she was a “nuisance.”

Scroggins tried to explain that she put more than 500 short videotapes online or onto YouTube to show what fracking is, and the damage Cabot and other companies are doing. Again, Seamans accepted Cabot’s objection, and struck her testimony.

And that’s why Cabot wanted an injunction against Scroggins, one that would forbid her from ever going anywhere that Cabot has a lease. It had little to do with keeping a peaceful protestor away; it had everything to do with shutting down her ability to tell the truth.

Four days after the hearing, Seamans issued the temporary injunction that Cabot wanted. It forbid Scroggins from going onto any property that Cabot owned, was drilling, or had mineral rights, even if there was no drilling. The injunction didn’t specify where Scroggins couldn’t go. It was a task that required her to go to the courthouse in Montrose, dig through hundreds of documents, and figure it out for herself.

The injunction violates her rights of free speech by severely restricting her ability to document the practices of a company that may be violating both the public trust and the environment. According to the brief filed on her behalf, “The injunction sends a chilling message to those who oppose fracking and wish to make their voices heard or to document practices that they fear will harm them and their neighbors. That message is loud and clear: criticize a gas company, and you’ll pay for it.”

Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

Disposable Assets in the Fracking Industry

11:45 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

 

The oil and gas industry, the nation’s chambers of commerce, and politicians who are dependent upon campaign contributions from the industry and the chambers, claim fracking is safe.

First, close your mind to the myriad scientific studies that show the health effects from fracking.

Close your mind to the well-documented evidence of the environmental impact.
Fracking
Focus just upon the effects upon the workers.

The oil and gas industry has a fatality rate seven times higher than for all other workers, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control. (CDC). According to the CDC, the death rate in the oil and gas industry is 27.1; the U.S. collective death rate is 3.8.

“Job gains in oil and gas construction have come with more fatalities, and that is unacceptable,” said John E. Perez, secretary of labor.

Not included in the data, because it doesn’t include the past three years, when the oil/gas industry significantly increased fracking in the Marcellus and other shales, is a 27-year-old worker who was cremated in a gas well explosion in late February in Greene County, Pa. One other worker was injured. Because of extensive heat and fire, emergency management officials couldn’t get closer than 1,500 feet of the wells. Pennsylvania’s Act 13, largely written by the oil and gas industry, allows only a 300 foot set-back from wells to homes. In Greene County, it took more than a week to cap three wells on the pad where the explosion occurred.

The gas drilling industry, for the most part, is non-union or dependent upon independent contractors who often provide little or no benefits to their workers. The billion dollar corporations like it that way. That means there are no worker safety committees and no workplace regulations monitored by workers. The workers have no bargaining or grievance rights; health and workplace benefits for workers who aren’t executives or professionals are often minimal or non-existent.

It may be months or years before most workers learn the extent of possible injury or diseases caused by industry neglect.

“Almost every one of the injuries and deaths you will happen upon, it will have something to do with cutting a corner, to save time, to save money,” attorney Tim Bailey told EnergyWire.

“Multiple pressures weigh on the people who work in this high-risk, high-reward industry, including the need to produce on schedule and keep the costs down,” reports Gayathri Vaidyanathan of EnergyWire.

Tom Bean, a former gas field worker from Williamsport, Pa., says he doesn’t know what he and his co-workers were exposed to. He does know it affected his health:

“You’d constantly have cracked hands, red hands, sore throat, sneezing. All kinds of stuff. Headaches. My biggest one was a nauseating dizzy headache . . .  People were sick all the time . . . and then they’d get into trouble for calling off sick. You’re in muck and dirt and mud and oil and grease and diesel and chemicals. And you have no idea [what they are] . . . It can be anything. You have no idea, but they [Management] don’t care . .  . It’s like, ‘Get the job done.’ . .  . You’d be asked to work 15, 18 hour days and you could be so tired that you couldn’t keep your eyes open anymore, but it was ‘Keep working. Keep working. Keep working.’”

Workers are exposed to more than 1,000 chemicals, most of them known carcinogens. They are exposed to radioactive waste, brought up from more than a mile in the earth. They are exposed to the effects from inhaling silica sand; they are exposed to protective casings that fail, and to explosions that are a part of building and maintaining a fossil fuel system that has explosive methane as its primary ingredient.

In July, two storage tanks exploded in New Milton, W.Va., injuring five persons. One of the injured, Charlie Arbogast, a rigger and trucker, suffered third degree burns on his hands and face. “You come to the rigs, you do what you do and you don’t ask questions,” Diana Arbogast, his wife, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“In Pennsylvania, workers have reported contact with chemicals without appropriate protective equipment, inhalation of sand without masks, and repeated emergency visits for heat stroke, heat exhaustion, yet many of the medical encounters go unreported,” says Dr. Pouné Saberi, a public health physician and clinical assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

The oil/gas industry, the Chambers of Commerce, politicians, and some in the media, even against significant and substantial health and environmental evidence, erroneously claim there are economic benefits to fracking. Disregard the evidence that the 100-year claim for natural gas is exaggerated by 10 times, or that the number of jobs created by the boom in the Marcellus Shale is inflated by another 10 times. Focus on Greene County, Pa.

Apparently, included in the “economic boom” is a small pizza shop that was contracted by Chevron to provide large pizzas and sodas to about 100 families living near the gas well explosion that cost one man his life.

Workers, like pizza boxes, are just disposable items to the oil and gas industry.

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist of more than four decades. His latest of 20 books is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth documented exploration of the economic, health, and environmental effects of fracking, with an underlying theme of the connection between politicians and campaign funds provided by the oil/gas lobby.]
Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

No Merit Badge for This Scout

7:41 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

tillerson

Rex W. Tillerson

Rex W. Tillerson, a resident of Bartonville, Texas, like many of his neighbors was upset with his city council. That’s not unusual. Many residents get upset at their local governing boards. And so they went to a city council meeting to express their concerns that the council was about to award a construction permit.

The residents were upset that the Cross Timbers Water Supply Corp. planned to build a 160-foot tall water tower. That tower would be adjacent to an 83-acre horse farm Tillerson and his wife owned, and not far from their residence. The residents protested, and then filed suit to stop construction. The tower would store water to be sold to companies that needed it for high-volume horizontal fracturing of oil and gas wells, the process known as fracking. Each well requires three to nine million gallons of water, up to 10,000 tons of silica sand, and 100,000 gallons of toxic, often carcinogen, chemicals. The process of horizontal fracking, about a decade old, to extract oil and gas from the earth presents severe health and environmental problems; although it is touted as “clean energy,” it still contributes to global warming.

But, the residents of Bartonville weren’t concerned about the health or environmental impact, or that the protective casings that surround the pipes that go more than a mile underground have a documented failure rate of more than six percent. They weren’t concerned that the pressure of the toxic water that fractures the underground shale can cause earthquakes. They didn’t seem to be concerned that the fluids then brought up from deep in the earth contain radioactive elements, that the storage of these fluids in open-air pits can itself lead to ground and air pollution. They didn’t care that trucks that carry the toxic waste fluids can leak, or that there have been increased derailments, with explosions and fires, in the past year of trains that carry crude oil and natural gas from the fields to processing plants.

The residents, all of whom are in the visual distance to the water tower, said that construction of the water tower would impact their views. They argued that during construction and after the tower was built, there would be excessive traffic and noise.Michael Whitten, who represents Tillerson, told the Wall Street Journal his client was primarily concerned about the impact the tower would have upon property values.

Rex W. Tillerson isn’t your typical resident. He’s the CEO and the chairman of the board of ExxonMobil, the third largest corporation in the world, and the company that leads all others in exploring, drilling, extracting, and selling oil and gas. It’s also a company that has had more than its share of political, social, and environmental problems. Tillerson was an engineer when the Exxon Valdez fouled the western shore of the United States in 1989. By 2004, he was the company’s president.

In 2012, Tillerson earned $40.3 million in compensation, including salary, bonus, and stock options, according to Bloomberg News. His company that year had $453 billion in revenue, and a net income of about $45 billion, according to Bloomberg.

When you have that much money, every million or so dollars matters, especially if a large ugly tower impacts not just your view but your quality of life and the value of your property.

Large ugly rigs, the kind that go up when ExxonMobil and other companies begin fracking the earth, also affect the people. The well pads average about eight acres, all of which have to be cut mostly from forests and agricultural areas. Access roads, some of which upset or destroy the ecological balance of nature, need to be built. Other roads receive heavier-than-anticipated damage because of the number of trucks, often more than 200 a day, that travel to each well site. As early as 2010, a PennDOT official told the Pennsylvania state legislature that the cost, at that time, to fix the roads was over $260 million. Increased diesel emissions, concentrated in agricultural areas, also affect the health and safety of the people.

The noise from the traffic and from around-the-clock drilling affect the people, causing stress and numerous health issues, according to psychologists Diane Siegmund and Kathryn Vennie, both of whom live in the Marcellus Shale part of Pennsylvania. Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

No Area Safe From Fracking

2:49 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

At the time New Jersey established a ban on fracking, it seemed symbolic, much like the moratorium in Vermont, which has no economically recoverable natural gas; the Marcellus Shale, primarily in New York and Pennsylvania, doesn’t extend into New Jersey. New York has a moratorium on fracking until a health impact statement is completed. Pennsylvania. rushing to compete with groundhogs in digging up the state, has no such moratorium. Nor does the state have any plans to conduct extensive research into the health effects of fracking—Gov. Tom Corbett, the gas industry’s cheerleader, cut $2 million from the Department of Health to provide for a public health analysis.

New Jersey state quarter

No state is safe from fracking.

As it is, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie exercised his authority and partially vetoed his state’s moratorium to reduce it to a one-year ban. That moratorium expired in January.

During this past year, more evidence became public. Beneath New Jersey and extending into southeastern Pennsylvania lies the Newark Basin.

But, even then, New Jersey residents may believe they are safe. Although there was economically recoverable gas in the South Newark basin that lies beneath five counties in Pennsylvania, most of New Jersey is barren of recoverable gas in the North Newark Basin.

But, New Jersey isn’t safe, and there are four major reasons:

  1. Independent scientific studies reveal both environmental and health effects from fracking. As every elementary school child knows, air and water pollution don’t stop at Pennsylvania’s borders.
  2. Part of the Utica Shale lies below the Newark Basin, primarily beneath Sussex and Warren counties. To get recoverable gas would require significantly more water and toxic chemicals to be sent into the deeper shale, and would produce significantly more toxic wastewater, along with the resulting health and environmental problems. If drillers can see a way to profitably take natural gas from the Utica Shale, they will.
  3. Even if there is no fracking in the state, New Jersey is a prime location for compressor stations and the large underground transmission lines from the Marcellus Shale to New York.  At least once a day, somewhere in the country, is a pipeline leak or gas explosion.
  4. New Jersey is open to receiving toxic waste. Several hundred thousand gallons of frackwaste and drillings that were too toxic or radioactive to be left in Pennsylvania have been trucked into New Jersey to be processed and disposed.

“These plants aren’t designed to safely process this waste before dumping it into our rivers and landfills,” says Tracy Carluccio, deputy director of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

The New Jersey senate voted 30-5, and the assembly voted 56-19, to ban frack waste. The vote appeared strong enough to be veto proof, but, Gov. Christie vetoed it in June. The legislature hasn’t brought up a vote to override the veto, probably because some Republicans believe such an action could be politically embarrassing for themselves and the popular governor. That lack of action has left New Jersey open to being Pennsylvania’s dumping ground—and the continued butt of jokes from New York comics.

Gov. Christie’s veto wasn’t justified, says Carluccio, because “the main responsibility of the State is to protect residents’ health and safety and a ban on toxic frack waste would do exactly that. The Governor’s veto is an inexcusable cop-out without legal foundation, exposing New Jersey’s communities and drinking water to just what we don’t need—more pollution.”

Just as Pennsylvania residents who live outside the Marcellus Shale shouldn’t believe they are safe from fracking’s effects, neither should the people of New Jersey believe that just because wells don’t dot their landscape they also are safe.

Dr. Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist, and the author of 18 books. His latest book, Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster, is available at local bookstores, www.greeleyandstone.com, and amazon.com.

Read the rest of this entry →

by brasch

An Injunction Against the Truth

7:22 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

 

Monday morning, Oct. 21, 2013. Vera Scroggins, a retired real estate agent and nurse’s aide, was in Common Pleas Court for Susquehanna County, Pa., to explain why a temporary injunction should not be issued against her.

the truth

the truth

Before her were four lawyers and several employees of Cabot Gas and Oil, who accused her of trespassing and causing irreparable harm to the company that had almost $1 billion in revenue in 2012. They didn’t want her on their property they owned or leased in the Marcellus Shale.

Scroggins is an anti-fracking activist, someone who not only knows what is happening in the gas fields of northeastern Pennsylvania, but willingly devotes much of her day to helping others to see and understand the damage fracking causes. Since 2010, she had led visitors, government officials, and journalists on tours of the gas fields, to rigs and well pads, pipelines, compressor stations, and roads damaged by the heavy volume of truck traffic necessary to build and support the wells. As part of her tours, she introduces the visitors to those affected by fracking, to the people of northeast Pennsylvania who have seen their air and water polluted, their health impacted. The visitors come from New York, which has a moratorium on fracking; from Pennsylvania, which doesn’t; from surrounding states and from foreign countries, who want to see what fracking is, and what it does.

And now in a court room in Montrose, she was accused of trespassing and forced to defend herself.

She asked Judge Kenneth W. Seamans for a continuance. She explained she only received by mail the papers the previous Thursday and was told she had 20 days to respond. She explained on Friday a sheriff’s deputy came to her house with copies of the same papers that ordered her to court three days later. She explained she had tried to secure an attorney, but was unable to do so over the weekend.

Judge Seamans told her he wouldn’t grant a continuance because she didn’t give the court 24 hours notice. “He said that to grant a continuance would inconvenience three of the lawyers who had come from Pittsburgh, and I might have to pay their fees if the hearing was delayed,” says Scroggins.

In four hours, Cabot called several witnesses—employees, security personnel, and subcontractors—to testify they saw her trespassing. They claimed her presence presented safety risks. “What we’ve seen is an increase in frequency and also the number of visitors she is putting in harm’s way,” Cabot’s George Stark had told Staci Wilson of the Susquehanna County Independent.

In her defense, Scroggins called three friends who had accompanied her to court. They testified she was always polite and never posed a safety risk. She says when she went onto a Cabot location, she always reported to the security or field office, and never received any written warnings or demands in the two years she was at the sites. “When I was asked to leave, I left,” she says.

Cabot personnel replied she was never a visitor, even though she frequently had amicable chats with on-site managers since 2009. They claim she was on company-owned access roads; she replied she primarily used public roads and the times her car or a chartered bus might have been on access roads they never blocked them—unlike gas industry vehicles that often keep drivers bottled up in traffic jams or set times when residents can’t use public roads, even leading to their own homes, because of heavy frack-truck traffic.

“I was blocked after going on sites and access roads several times since 2009, and kept up to an hour,” says Sroggins, “but then allowed to leave.” No police were called, she says. “If I’m trespassing, then charge me,” she remembers saying. Cabot had never charged her, nor sent her any written demands to cease her visits.

For Cabot personnel, it had to be frustrating to have to deal with what they may have thought was a nosy pest who kept showing up at their work sites, possibly endangering herself, her own guests, and the workers. For Scroggins, she was there, explaining drilling to many who had never seen a rig or well pad, videotaping what was the truth about Cabot’s operations and fracking in the Marcellus Shale.

In court, she tried several times to explain that she had documented health and safety violations at Cabot sites, many of which led to fines and citations. She tried to explain that she has put hundreds of videotapes online or at YouTube to show the damage the company, and other companies, are doing to the people. Every time she tried to present the evidence, a Cabot lawyer objected, and the judge struck the testimony from the record.

However, when Judge Seamans asked her if she wished to take the stand to testify, stated she could be charged under criminal law and advised her she had the right to not speak and possibly incriminate herself—“I stopped talking.”

That afternoon, Judge Seamans granted Cabot its preliminary injunction.

The injunction forbids her from going onto any Cabot property. It forbids her to go onto any property where Cabot has a mineral lease, even if the owner of the surface rights grants her permission. That restriction may violate the rights of the owner who retains surface rights. About 40 percent of Susquehanna County is under lease to the gas and oil companies.

“I have a lot of friends who have leased mineral rights,” says Scroggins, “this means I can’t even go to their homes if invited.” She also can’t go to the recycling center—Susquehanna County leased 12.2 acres of mineral rights to Cabot.

There may be one advantage, however. If Scroggins is ever arrested, she won’t be able to go to the Susquehanna County jail. The jail is also on those 12.2 leased acres.
[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an overview of the economics, health, and environmental impacts of fracking.]
Read the rest of this entry →