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by brasch

Jumping Aboard Fracking’s Fossil Fuel Carousel

1:15 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

 

 

by Walter Brasch

 

Two Pennsylvania legislators who have taken money from—and enthusiastically supported—the natural gas industry have teamed up to now praise coal.

State Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Williamsport), chair of the Environmental Resource and Energy Committee, and Rep. Tim Solobay (D-Canonsburg, Pa.) are co-chairs of the newly-established Coal Caucus.

It’s a strange move on their part, since both have praised natural gas as the economic future of Pennsylvania.

Yaw, in his first run for the Senate in 2008 accepted only $3,700 in campaign contributions from energy companies; the largest were $1,000 donations from Anadarko Petroleum and Chesapeake Energy. In his first re-election campaign in 2012, he received no contributions from the shale gas industry. He didn’t need it. Yaw leased 148 acres in Lycoming County to Anadarko, and was receiving royalty checks.

In March 2013, now in his second term, Yaw introduced two bills to expand natural gas usage in the state. When asked by WNEP-TV about a possible conflict-of-interest, Yaw replied he had signed his lease with Anadarko in 2006 before he was elected to the Senate; but in 2011, he renewed that lease for an additional five years.

“Conflict of interest is the most easily-thrown-about concept when you can’t think of anything else to say,” said Yaw.  However, Eric Epstein of Rock the Capital, a watchdog on state government, countered Yaw’s cavalier attitude. “You can not simultaneously promote and regulate an industry, if you have the ability to pass and sponsor legislation that will increase your quarterly dividend.”

A week later, outside a meeting closed to the public to discuss issues related to Anadarko’s request to drill in Loyalsock State Forest, Jim Hamill of WNEP-TV again asked Yaw to discuss his ties to the shale drilling industry and about his possible conflict of interest. “No, and I don’t know what part of N-O you don’t understand. Last week we talked and you turned it into a totally negative article, something that should have never been done,” Yaw testily replied.

Among Democrats, Solobay received the most money from Big Energy, $60,325, according to Common Cause.

Act 13, which pretends to regulate the natural gas industry and the recently-developed process of hydraulic horizontal fracturing, better known as fracking, was signed on Feb. 14, 2012, by an enthusiastic Gov. Tom Corbett. It was a Valentine’s Day gift to Big Energy. The law is largely based upon language created by the conservative lobbying group, American Legislative Exchange Council  (ALEC), and supported by Big Energy, the Republican-controlled state legislature, Gov. Corbett (who had taken more than $1.8 million in campaign donations from Big Energy),  and the state’s conservative Chambers of Commerce. It was largely opposed by the Legislature’s Democrats, environmentalists, and persons in the health professions.

Fourteen months after Act 13 was passed, and with citizen protests increasing against fracking, Solobay declared he was frustrated “when people spin and challenge every bit of information and action out there with the sky-is-falling mentality.” He said the protestors “enjoy spreading fear and uneducated comments,” and erroneously stated, “A majority of the negative voices out there are paid activists [who] do nothing but spread false rumors and scare people.” He could easily have been talking about Big Energy, which has developed a massive public relations campaign that is adept at use of the mass media to spin the benefits of fracking while overlooking its health and environmental effects.

Some of those “false rumors” Solobay had claimed were spread by environmentalists might have come from the coal industry, which had been the primary provider of fuel for more than a century before being challenged first by nuclear energy and then by natural gas when horizontal fracking allowed gas extraction and distribution to became profitable in the Marcellus Shale.

Because of all the praise and attention state legislators were giving the gas industry and the attacks upon coal, coal executives had to believe they were now relegated to the role of an orphan in a Dickens novel. But they still had some influence, and that influence soon became apparent.

Never missing opportunities to seize votes and political contributions—and possibly realizing that the Marcellus Shale was becoming less profitable—Yaw and Solobay spun around and founded the Coal Caucus. First praising the gas drillers, Yaw then gushed, “Since the Industrial Revolution, coal has also fueled our economy having created hundreds of thousands of jobs. Collaboratively, we can change the dynamic of coal as an energy resource. . .  . This Coal Caucus will serve as a champion for increased investment in coal and coal-driven technology.”

Solobay—who had received room and transportation from Consol Energy to the SuperBowl in 2011, not long after he had announced a grant to Consol for $529,156—was equally effusive in praising the coal industry: “Coal is critically important to our effort to reduce dependence on foreign fuels. In addition to being a major employer in Pennsylvania, the industry provides consumers with protection from energy shortages and price spikes.” Substitute “gas” for “coal” and you have almost a duplicate of Solobay’s views before he became the co-chair of the Coal Caucus.

Dory Hippauf, whose “Connecting the Dots” series details political and financial ties between politicians and the oil and gas industry, says Pennsylvanians have been shoved onto a Fossil Fuel Carousel and are now supposed to believe that the “dirty” coal energy that politicians said would be replaced by “clean” natural gas energy isn’t so dirty any more.

What is really dirty is the hypocrisy of politicians who fly like moths to the nearest financial light.

[Dr. Brasch’s latest book is the critically-acclaimed Fracking Pennsylvania, a look at the economics, health, and environmental effects of fracking, and the connections between the oil/ gas industry and politicians.]

 

 

by brasch

Fracking America’s Food Supply

8:13 am in Uncategorized by brasch

By Walter Brasch

 

Fracking—the process the oil and gas industry uses to extract fossil fuel as much as two miles below the ground—may directly impact the nation’s water supply, reduce water-based recreational and sports activity, and lead to an increase in the cost of food.

The cocktail soup required for each well requires about two million pounds of silica sand, as much as 100,000 gallons of toxic chemicals, and three to nine million gallons of fresh water. There are more than 500,000 active wells in the country.
Dec 04  Occupy
In 2011, the last year for which data is available, Texas energy companies used about 26.5 billion gallons of water.  Energy companies drilling Pennsylvania used the second greatest amount of water, followed by Colorado and Arkansas. Nuclear plants, which use more water, can recycle most of it. Because frack wastewater is toxic, oil and gas companies can’t recycle the contaminated water.

The water is provided by companies that draw up to three million gallons a day from rivers and lakes, by individuals who sell water from their ponds, and by municipalities. Steubenville, Ohio, is tapping one of its reservoirs to sell up to 700,000 gallons of water every day for five years to Chesapeake Energy, one of the largest players in the fracking industry.
However, fresh water is not unlimited.

Beginning about five years ago, the water in the nation’s aquifers has been decreasing significantly. The depletion since 2008, according to Leonard Konikow, a research hydrologist at the U.S. Geological Survey. is about three times the rate as between 1900 through 2008.

Significant reductions in water availability are now common for the 1,450 mile long Colorado River, which provides water to about 40 million people in California and the southwest, including the agriculture-rich Imperial Desert of southeastern California. Lake Mead, a part of the Colorado system, provides water to Las Vegas and the Nevada desert communities; its water level is close to the point where the Department of the Interior will declare a water shortage and impose strict water-use regulation.

The depletion of the rivers, lakes, and aquifers is because of population growth, higher usage, climate change, and a severe drought that has spread throughout the Midwest and southwest for the past three years.

The Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES), basing its analysis upon more than 25,000 wells, reports almost 47 percent of wells that use fracking were developed in areas with high or extremely high water stress levels; 92 percent of all gas wells in Colorado are in extremely high-stressed regions; In Texas, 51 percent are in high or extremely high stress water regions.
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by brasch

Standing Tall for Landowner Rights

8:06 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

END EMINENT DOMAIN ABUSE

End Eminent Domain Abuse

Julia Trigg Crawford of Direct, Texas, is the manager of a 650-acre farm that her grandfather first bought in 1948. The farm produces mostly corn, wheat, and soy. On its north border is the Red River; to the west is the Bois d’Arc Creek.

TransCanada is an Alberta-based corporation that is building the controversial Keystone Pipeline that will carry bitumen—thicker, more corrosive and toxic, than crude oil—through 36-inch diameter pipes from the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast, mostly to be exported. The $2.3 billion southern segment, about 485 miles from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf Coast is nearly complete. With the exception of a 300-mile extension between Cushing and Steele City, Neb., the rest of the $7 billion 1,959 mile pipeline is being held up until President Obama either succumbs to corporate and business pressures or blocks the construction because of environmental and health concerns.

When TransCanada first approached Crawford’s father in 2008, and offered to pay about $7,000 for easement rights, he refused, telling the company, “We don’t want you here.” He said the corporation could reroute the line, just as other pipeline companies in oil-rich Texas had done for decades. TransCanada increased the offer in the following years, but the family still refused. In August 2012, with Dick Crawford’s daughter, Julia Trigg Crawford now managing the farm, TransCanada offered $21,626 for an easement—and a threat. “We were given three days to accept their offer,” she says, “and if we didn’t, they would condemn the land and seize it anyway.” She still refused.

And so, TransCanada, a foreign corporation exercised the right of eminent domain to seize two acres of the farm so it could build a pipeline.

Governments may seize private property if that property must be taken for public use and the owner is given fair compensation. Although the exercise of eminent domain to seize land for the public good is commonly believed to be restricted to the government, federal law permits natural gas companies to use it. To get that “right,” all TransCanada had to do was fill out a one-page form and check a box that the corporation to declare itself to be a “common carrier.” The Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas in Texas, merely processes the paper, rather than investigates the claim; it has admitted it has never denied “common carrier” status. In the contorted logic that is often spun by corporations, TransCanada then declared itself to be a common carrier because the Railroad Commission said it was, even though the Commission’s jurisdiction applies only to intrastate, not interstate, carriers.

On Aug. 21, 2012, the day before Judge Bill Harris of Lamar County rendered his decision on Crawford’s complaint, the sheriff, with the judge’s signature, issued a writ of possession giving TransCanada the right to seize the land. The next day, Harris issued a 15-word decision, transmitted by his iPhone, that upheld TransCanada’s rights. In Texas, as in most states, the landowner can only challenge the settlement not the action.

Crawford’s refusal to sell is based upon a mixture of reasons. The Crawford Farm is home to one of the most recognized Caddo Nation Indian burial sites in Texas, and the 30 acre pasture that TransCanada wants to trench represents the southern most boundary of this archeological site. Both the Texas Historical Commission and TransCanada’s archeological firm concur that  the vast majority of this 30 acres pasture in question qualifies for the National Registry of Historic Places. An archeological dig undertaken after TransCanada showed up to seize the land recovered 145 artifacts in just a 1,200 foot by 20 foot section, and three feet deep. But the executive director of the Texas Historical Commission recently sent a letter stating that no new artifacts had been found in the slice of land TransCanada planned to build.

Another reason Crawford refused to be bought out was that she didn’t want TransCanada to drill under the Bois d’Arc Creek “where we have state-given water rights.” That creek irrigates about 400 acres of her land. “Any leak, she says, “would contaminate our equipment, and then our crops in minutes.” It isn’t unreasonable to expect there will be an incident that could pollute the water, air, and soil for several miles.

During the past decade, there were 6,367 pipeline incidents, resulting in 154 deaths, 540 injuries, and more than 56 injuries, and $4.7 billion in property damage, according to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. A report released a year ago by Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute concludes that economic damage caused by potential spills from the Keystone pipeline could outweigh the benefits of jobs created by the project. In the past three years, there have already been 14 spills on the operational parts of the Keystone Pipeline.
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by brasch

You Can’t Wash Away Fracking’s Effects

8:27 am in Uncategorized by brasch

José Lara just wanted a job.

Appalachia Resist protest

A recent protest and blockade by Appalachia Resist! at a fracking waste site.

A company working in the natural gas fields needed a man to power wash wastewater tanks.

Clean off the debris. Make them shining again.

And so José Lara became a power washer for the Rain for Rent Co.

“The chemicals, the smell was so bad. Once I got out, I couldn’t stop throwing up. I couldn’t even talk,” Lara said in his deposition, translated from Spanish.

The company that had hired him didn’t provide him a respirator or protective clothing. That’s not unusual in the natural gas fields.

José Lara did his job until he no longer could work.

At the age of 42, he died from pancreatic and liver cancer.

Accidents, injuries, and health problems are not all that unusual in the booming natural gas industry that uses horizontal hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, to invade the earth in order to extract methane gas.

Of the 750 chemicals that can be used in the fracking process, more than 650 of them are toxic or carcinogens, according to a report filed with the U.S. House of Representatives in April 2011. Several public health studies reveal that homeowners living near fracked wells show higher levels of acute illnesses than homeowners living outside the “Sacrifice Zone,” as the energy industry calls it.

In addition to toxic chemicals and high volumes of water, the energy industry uses silica sand in the mixture it sends at high pressure deep into the earth to destroy the layers of rock. The National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH) issued a Hazard Alert about the effects of crystalline silica. According to NIOSH there are seven primary sources of exposure during the fracking process, all of which could contribute to workers getting silicosis, the result of silica entering lung tissue and causing inflammation and scarring.  Excessive silica can also lead to kidney and autoimmune diseases, lung cancer, tuberculosis, and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). In the Alert, NIOSH pointed out that its studies revealed about 79 percent of all samples it took in five states exceeded acceptable health levels, with 31 percent of all samples exceeding acceptable health levels by 10 times. However, the Hazard Alert is only advisory; it carries no legal or regulatory authority.

In addition to the normal diesel emissions of trucks and trains, there are numerous incidents of leaks, some of several thousand gallons, much of which spills onto roadways and into creeks, from highway accidents of tractor-trailer trucks carrying wastewater and other chemicals.

The process of fracking requires constant truck travel to and from the wells, as many as 200 trips per day per well. Each day, interstate carriers transport about five million gallons of hazardous materials. Not included among the daily 800,000 shipments are the shipments by intrastate carriers, which don’t have to report their cargo deliveries to the Department of Transportation. “Millions of gallons of wastewater produced a day, buzzing down the road, and still nobody’s really keeping track,” Myron Arnowitt, the Pennsylvania state director for Clean Water Action, told AlterNet.

Drivers routinely work long weeks, have little time for rest, and hope they’ll make enough to get that house they want for their families.

But fatigue causes accidents. And contrary to industry claims, workers don’t always wear protective gear when around toxic chemicals they put into the earth, and the toxic chemicals they extract from the earth. Or the toxic chemicals they drive on public roads.

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by brasch

Pennsylvania Politics Continues to Trump Health and the Environment

4:45 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

by WALTER BRASCH

Against fracking 02

(photo: Bosc d'Anjou/flickr)

Politics continues to threaten the health and welfare of Pennsylvanians.

The latest is how the Republican-dominated legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett separated one of the wealthiest and more high-tech/industrial areas of the state from the rural areas.

Less than a week before the 2011–2012 fiscal year budget was scheduled to expire, June 30, the majority party slipped an amendment into the 2012–2013 proposed budget, (SB1263), to ban natural gas drilling in a portion of southeastern Pennsylvania for up to six years. The South Newark Basin includes portions of Bucks, Montgomery, and Berks counties, and could provide at least 360 billion cubic feet of natural gas, according to estimates by the United States Geologic Survey.

Only an e-mail blast by anti-fracking activist Iris Marie Bloom and a short AP story the day before the budget was passed alerted Pennsylvanians to the amendment that gives special consideration to the suburban areas of Philadelphia.

High volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, is a process that injects under heavy pressure as much as 10 million gallons of water, sand, gases, and chemicals, many of them known carcinogens, into a rock formation as much as 10,000 feet below the earth’s surface to open channels and force out natural gas and fossil fuels. However, numerous studies have concluded that the process of fracking to extract natural gas poses significant problems to the health of citizens and their environment.

In his first budget address, Corbett declared he wanted to “make Pennsylvania the hub of this [drilling] boom. Just as the oil com­pa­nies decided to headquarter in one of a dozen states with oil, let’s make Penn­syl­va­nia the Texas of the nat­ural gas boom.”

The push by Corbett and the Republicans in the Legislature that led to the enactment of the highly-controversial Act 13 to open gas drilling was possibly not only because they favor corporate development but because it was also payback for extensive campaign contributions by the natural gas industry. Corbett had taken more than $1.6 million in contributions from persons and PACs associated with the natural gas industry, according to data compiled by Common Cause.
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by brasch

FRACKING: Pennsylvania Gags Physicians

5:44 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

by WALTER BRASCH

(Part 1 of 3)

A new Pennsylvania law endangers public health by forbidding health care professionals from sharing information they learn about certain chemicals and procedures used in high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing. The procedure is commonly known as fracking.

Fracking is the controversial method of forcing water, gases, and chemicals at tremendous pressure of up to 15,000 pounds per square inch into a rock formation as much as 10,000 feet below the earth’s surface to open channels and force out natural gas and fossil fuels.

Advocates of fracking argue not only is natural gas “greener” than coal and oil energy, with significantly fewer carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur emissions, the mining of natural gas generates significant jobs in a depressed economy, and will help the U.S. reduce its oil dependence upon foreign nations. Geologists estimate there may be as much as 2,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas throughout the United States. If all of it is successfully mined, it could not only replace coal and oil but serve as a transition to wind, solar, and water as primary energy sources, releasing the United States from dependency upon fossil fuel energy and allowing it to be more self-sufficient.

The Marcellus Shale—which extends beneath the Allegheny Plateau, through southern New York, much of Pennsylvania, east Ohio, West Virginia, and parts of Maryland and Virginia—is one of the nation’s largest sources for natural gas mining, containing as much as 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and could produce, within a decade, as much as one-fourth of the nation’s natural gas demand.  Each of Pennsylvania’s 5,255 wells, as of the beginning of March 2012, with dozens being added each week, takes up about nine acres, including all access roads and pipe.

Over the expected lifetime of each well, companies may use as many as nine million gallons of water and 100,000 gallons of chemicals and radioactive isotopes within a four to six week period. The additives “are used to prevent pipe corrosion, kill bacteria, and assist in forcing the water and sand down-hole to fracture the targeted formation,” explains Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research. However, about 650 of the 750 chemicals used in fracking operations are known carcinogens, according to a report filed with the U.S. House of Representatives in April 2011. Fluids used in fracking include those that are “potentially hazardous,” including volatile organic compounds, according to Christopher Portier, director of the National Center for Environmental Health, a part of the federal Centers for Disease Control. In an email to the Associated Press in January 2012, Portier noted that waste water, in addition to bring up several elements, may be radioactive. Fracking is also believed to have been the cause of hundreds of small earthquakes in Ohio and other states. Read the rest of this entry →