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by brasch

Pennsylvania Senate Committee Says Pigeon Shoots Are Animal Cruelty

9:05 am in Uncategorized by brasch

 

A multi-colored pigeon on a window stoop outside a large building.

Pennsylvania may finally ban pigeon hunts.

HARRISBURG, Pa.—There is a remote possibility that Pennsylvania will finally ban the cruel practice of live pigeon shoots when the state senate reconvenes in September. Pennsylvania is the last state where pigeon shoots are legally held.

Rep. John Maher had written an amendment to an animal cruelty bill that would ban the killing, serving, and eating of dogs and cats. The amendment to ban pigeon shoots was sponsored in the Senate by Stewart J. Greenleaf, the committee chair; and Richard Alloway, a lifelong hunter.

The Judiciary committee had voted 10-4 to send the bill to the full Senate. Voting to send the bill to the Senate were all five Democrats and five of the nine Republicans. Voting against the bill to ban killing and eating dogs and cats, and to ban pigeon shoots, were Republican senators John H. Eichelberger Jr., John R. Gordner, Gene Yaw, and Joseph B. Scarnati III (R-Brockway), the Senate president pro tempore. Gordner later claimed he voted against the bill because he objected to how the amendment was added at the “last minute.” However, the amendment, following long-time Senate rules that have applied to legislation for decades, had been circulated to members at least 24 hours before the vote. In the committee meeting, Gordner did not speak out about what he considered to be a problem with “last minute” amendments, and quietly voted “no” on a voice vote.

The vote to advance the bill came following a furious last-minute lobbying effort by the NRA, which has consistently supported pigeon shoots. The leadership, as opposed to most of the membership, wrongly believes that banning animal cruelty by guns is a “slippery slope” that not only violates the Second Amendment but will lead to gun control bans.

“The Judiciary committee took the first step to ending this horrifying and cruel practice,” says Heidi Prescott, senior vice-president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), who has been campaigning to end this practice for almost three decades. “The public favors replacing live pigeons as targets with clay pigeons,” says Prescott, who does not oppose trap or skeet shoots.

Following a second reading, the bill was scheduled for a vote, June 29, but was delayed because the Senate was still grappling with the 2014-2015 budget bills, due by July 1. Even if the Senate does vote to ban pigeon shoots, the bill is likely to have significant opposition in the House, which is far more rural and conservative. Pennsylvania, even though it is in the industrial North, is known to be an NRA-friendly state.

However, more than three-fourths of all Pennsylvanians want to see an end to pigeon shoots, according to a statewide survey by the independent Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Co. About four-fifth of all residents say the practice is animal cruelty.

Organizers of this blood sport place pigeons—many of them emaciated—into small cages, and place people with 12-gauge shotguns only about 20 yards away. The spring-loaded traps open, and the shooters open fire. Most of the birds are shot standing on their cages, on the ground, or flying erratically just a few feet from those who pretend they are sportsmen.

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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

The Sounds of Silence — Political Style

7:31 am in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

A hush has fallen over our house.

It began late Tuesday night and, if we are fortunate, will last at least a week.

Drat these Robocalls!

Drat these Robocalls!

But it will return. We have no illusions that there will be continued quiet.

That’s because we are in the middle of yet another election cycle.

It’s not as bad as it was in 2008 or 2012 when we were getting five to ten robocalls every day from Democrats, Republicans, Friends of Democrats, Friends of Republicans, Chambers of Commerce, and unions.

During those years, almost every TV ad was someone praising his own political legacy or attacking her opponent for something that may or may not have been better placed in one of the supermarket tabloids that informed us about Elvis sightings and politicians influenced by aliens. At least by putting most of their ad budgets into television, they were able to keep ad salesmen from losing their lofty prestige and falling into the abyss of wages earned by news directors.

The candidates are using their money and public platform to express their opinions, no matter how absurd.

In Arizona, a rancher who thought he should become a member of Congress claimed, “If you look at the fiascos that have occurred, 99 percent of them have been by Democrats pulling their guns out and shooting people.”

In Florida, a state representative claimed those who support the concept of an educational common core have a not-so-hidden agenda—they want to “attract every one of your children to become as homosexual as they possibly can.”

And in Pennsylvania, we learned that incumbent Gov. Tom Corbett, running unopposed in his party, brought 150,000 jobs to the state; it was a remarkable feat considering that when he took office, the state was 13th in job growth and in less than four years, even with the “economic boom” in gas drilling, had plunged to 41st among all states. Corbett then added the spice—his administration made significant increases to the educational budget, a claim that even members of his own party had trouble not bursting out in uncontrollable waves of gagging laughter. Of course, Corbett had to do something since his popularity is about 17 points below that of a Nigerian scam artist.

The cost to convince us to vote for a particular candidate is in the range of the gross national product of a small industrialized nation. Already, Congressional candidates have spent about $330 million, while Senate candidates have spent about $175 million, according to Open Secrets.

In Pennsylvania’s District 13, in the southeastern part of the state, candidates for Congress have spent almost $4 million. And it’s only sixth among all 435 districts.

Leading the spending is Ohio’s 8th district where Speaker of the House John Boehner, first elected in 1991, is running for re-election. He won the primary this month with about 70 percent of the vote. Apparently, he’s looking at a vigorous general election, since he’s already raised about $12.9 million, the largest amount in the country for a House campaign. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is a distant second with $5.3 million; in third is House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), with a paltry $5 million.

Leaders in the Senate campaigns, according to Open Secrets, are Ed Markey of Massachusetts ($16 million), Cory Booker of New Jersey ($14.5 million), and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate minority leader ($12 million).

Open Secrets also reveals that in this election cycle special interests and lobbying groups have helped make sure the candidates are bathed in green ink. Contributions to Republicans have already come from securities and investment companies ($33.5 million), real estate ($21.4 million), the oil and gas industry ($16 million), the insurance industry ($13.8 million), manufacturing industries ($10.2 million), pharmacy and health care ($8.3 million), and commercial banks ($9 million).

The Democrats have already received funding from law firms ($36 million), the entertainment industry ($10 million), building trade unions ($6.8 million), public sector unions ($ 6.7 million), and environmental groups ($1.3 million). Hundreds of millions of dollars are coming to both the Democrats and Republicans for the general election; the third parties, no matter how strong their candidates and public policy positions, will be campaigning with spare change.

India, which provides much of America’s telemarketing and tech services, may be on track to out-America America. The cost of the Indian election is expected to be about $5 billion this year, second only to the $7 billion cost of the 2012 election in the United States.

Thanks to special interests and lobbies, and their generosity in promoting American’s version of democracy, if the past is the future, voters will experience non-stop robocalls and TV ads for the next six months, some of the calls outsourced to New Delhi, possibly by flag-waving All-American, Constitutionalist patriotic politicians whose loyalties are to the mother’s milk of politics rather than to the people who will elect them.

[Dr. Brasch has been covering politics and social issues more than four decades. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, which includes a chapter about the influence of the oil and gas lobby upon politicians.]
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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

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.”

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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.]
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by brasch

No Honor in Killing God’s Dog

1:28 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

by Walter Brasch

A week before the opening of the Olympics, 759 Pennsylvanians paid $25 each to participate in a sport that would never be a part of any international competition.

These Pennsylvanians carried shotguns, whistles, and electronic calls; most also used dogs to search out their prey.

The prey was coyotes. A “reward” of $100 was paid for each coyote killed; whoever killed the biggest coyote in each of the three-day hunt received $250. Most of the coyotes killed weighed 30–40 pounds, about the size of a Brittany Spaniel; the largest weighed 51 pounds.

This hunt was organized by District 9 Pennsylvania Trappers Association, which covers seven counties in the north-central part of the state. Other hunts are organized by community organizations and volunteer fire companies in several states. January and February, the months when most organized hunts take place, is when the coyotes breed; gestation period is about two months.

Decades ago, hunters killed off the wolf population. Ever resourceful, coyotes filled the void. In Pennsylvania, as in most states that have coyotes, every day is open season. Last year, more than 40,000 coyotes were killed in Pennsylvania, about half of all coyotes killed throughout the country. However, eliminating coyotes is impossible. When threatened by predators, including humans, coyotes will breed and overproduce. When not threatened, they maintain the size of their packs.

In literature, the coyote is the trickster, not unlike Br’er Rabbit who could out-think (and scam) any other animal. Among Native Americans in the southwest, the coyote was revered as “God’s Dog.”

Those who trap rather than shoot coyotes use leg-hold traps and neck snares, which causes severe injuries, pain, and suffering,” according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Another problem with traps is they often capture domestic animals. But there is even a greater problem than the traps.

“Because coyotes are nocturnal animals, and look like dogs at night, people hunting coyotes will kill domestic pets,” says Sarah Speed of the HSUS. She says there are “thousands of cases” of what is dismissed as “mistaken identity.”

Coyotes pose no threat to humans, and will avoid human contact when possible.  Contrary to hunter claims, coyotes usually avoid killing deer and elk, except in extreme winter when food is scarce. To the coyotes, size does matter, and scoring dinner of mice and berries is far easier than taking down an eight-point buck.

Those who kill coyotes claim coyotes, one of the most intelligent and resourceful of all animals, kill fawns, causing severe stress to the deer families. So, like the true humanitarians they are, these citizens of a state founded by a man opposed to killing, spin the fiction they are not only preventing an overpopulation of coyotes, but are also saving fawns, cottontails, mice and, apparently, fruits and berries, coyote favorites in the summer, from the coyote population. The Pennsylvania Game Commission says there is no evidence coyotes have any significant impact upon the deer population.

Farmers say they don’t like coyotes because they kill hens, which produce eggs and then are slaughtered. Coyotes deprive not only Colonel Sanders from income but also sports fans from the thrill of slobbering barbecue sauce over their hands and mouths during “Wing Nite Mondays.”

Most hunters who kill deer say they do so to provide their families with meat; they say the skin provides for warmth. They don’t say why they have a testosterone-fueled need to stuff a buck’s head, complete with antlers, and display it like a trophy. Nevertheless, coyotes have no meat value. Although their fur can yield a maximum of $40 a pelt, women aren’t salivating for a Valentine’s Day gift of a coyote stole.

Hunters whose intelligence and ability to survive in the woods aren’t as good as a coyote’s can still kill them. Several game farms offer special hunts. For $399 a day, pretend-hunters can sign up with Kansas Predator Hunts for “guided and all-inclusive” hunts that includes lodging, food, and a guide to do everything except to take the actual shot.

Many hunters refuse to kill coyotes. Mark Giesen of Northumberland, Pa., a hunter for 40 years, refuses to hunt coyotes or anything that does not have meat value. He says he believes incentivized killing, where people are paid to kill animals, “whether it’s coyotes or pigeons, is wrong and very unsportsmanlike.”

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives, composed of part-timers who earn a minimum of $82,026 a year plus as much as $159 a day when they are actually in Harrisburg, passed a bill, 111-78 in December, which would pay a $25 bounty for every coyote killed. The Senate has not yet voted on the legislation. Because there is open season on coyotes, more than 40,000 a year are killed, and numerous wildlife officers are on record as saying that bounties are not effective in controlling the coyote population, the bill appears to be little more than a special welfare program to benefit hunters and trappers. The cost to the state, which is already in financial distress, will be up to $700,000 a year for the bounties, plus additional administrative costs to process a program that adds another layer of bureaucracy and still not solve a problem that doesn’t exist.

Camilla Fox of Project Coyote told The Wildlife News that “Killing coyotes and wolves for fun and prizes is ethically repugnant, morally bankrupt, and ecologically indefensible. Such contests demean the immense ecological and economic value of predators, perpetuating a culture of violence and sending a message to children that life has little value.”

For whatever reason people say they kill coyotes, it has nothing to do with sport or ecological necessity, and everything to do with the sheer joy of killing.

[Dr. Brasch has been an award-winning journalist for four decades. His latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth investigation into the effects of the shale gas industry upon economics, health, and environment.]

Photo by Jim Nix, used under Creative Commons license

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Pets Are Nothing More Than Kitchen Chairs

6:37 am in Uncategorized by brasch

A dog peeks its snout out of a shelter cage.

A call for humane treatment of animals.

In Johnstown, Pa., two abandoned puppies died from starvation and freezing weather in an unoccupied house.

In Lancaster County, two puppies were left in a backpack in freezing weather.

In Centre County, a dog was frozen to the floor of its doghouse.

In Edwardsville, a woman abandoned 19 dogs after she was evicted from her mobile home. Seven dogs had died of starvation. The others were near death.

In Monroe County, police found three dogs, each in a plastic bag, abandoned along the side of roads. Each was dead. One had been shot.

All the cases were reported the past two weeks in Pennsylvania. These aren’t the only cases; hundreds aren’t reported.

Four years ago, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) rescued 253 dogs from the Almost Heaven puppy mill near Allentown. “It was the most horrific house of horrors I had seen,” says Sarah Speed, Pennsylvania HSUS director.

“When you walked into the kennel,” says Speed, “you got slapped by the stench of filth and disease.” The kennel had a make-shift “hospital.” “If they got better, usually without treatment,” says Speed, “they went back to the kennel; if they didn’t, they died.”

The owner had been convicted twice before of animal cruelty. This time he was given a three to six month jail sentence.

Sentences for animal abuse and cruelty in Pennsylvania are minimal. For killing or mutilating a domestic animal, the fine is usually no more than $50-$75, and jail time is usually no more than 30 days, if it’s even imposed.

The reason the penalty is so small is because Pennsylvania, like most states, believes pets are nothing more than chattel. Like a kitchen chair, an animal may be bought, sold, traded, or thrown away. Pennsylvanians may kill their own pet, and there are no charges—“as long as the death was done humanely,” says Speed. “You can choose where to allow an animal to live and when and how to allow it to die.”

For many breeders, dogs are nothing more than crops. The good crops are sold. The bad crops are destroyed.

Pennsylvania, especially in the south-central region, has a national reputation of being one of the largest “puppy mill” farm areas in the nation. Regulations passed during the Ed Rendell administration improved the conditions of the breeding kennels, and eliminated many that failed to meet minimal standards of care. When he was attorney general, Tom Corbett was vigorous in enforcing those new regulations. However, enforcement declined significantly during Corbett’s first two years as governor. Part of the problem was that he appointed an individual to head the Office of Dog Law Enforcement who had been a banker and not qualified for the position. That has recently changed with a new appointment.

Last year, Pennsylvania shut down 44 unlicensed kennels, and revoked the licenses of four kennels. But the problem, says Speed, “is the number of unlicensed kennels and breeders who used social media to sell to individuals throughout the country, and who have informal contracts with pet stores to supply puppies.”

Most cases of animal abuse aren’t reported; those that are reported usually don’t result in charges being filed. The problem, says Speed, “is that humane officers are so overburdened by the calls they take that they can only pursue the calls of the most egregious cruelty.” If you’re going to abuse an animal, says Speed, “you’ll probably get away with it.”

One of the reasons for a lack of humane officers is the cost to train, employ, and insure the officers. Those costs aren’t borne by taxpayers but by non-profit organizations.  About 70 percent of all costs for county dog wardens come from license fees. Wardens often spend their time enforcing dog licensing and kennel licensing laws.

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Pennsylvanians Support Pigeon Shoot Ban

1:54 pm in Uncategorized by brasch

By Walter Brasch

Three-fourths of all Pennsylvanians want to see an end to live pigeon shoots.

A statewide survey by the Mason-Dixon Polling and Research Company reveals not only do 75 percent of Pennsylvanians want to see legislation to ban live pigeon shoots but only 16 percent of Pennsylvanians oppose such a ban.

Here’s another figure from that independent survey. Eighty-three percent—that’s more than four of every five Pennsylvanians—say live pigeon shoots are an unnecessary form of animal cruelty.

Here’s why.

Organizers of this blood sport place the birds into cages, and place people with shotguns only about 20 yards away. The spring-loaded cages open, and the pretend hunters open fire. The pigeons, many of them stunned, often having been nearly starved, are then blown apart.

But first they suffer. More than 70 percent of all birds are wounded, according to data compiled by the Humane Society of the United States. If they fall onto the shooting range, teenagers take the birds, wring their necks or use scissors to cut their heads off, and stuff them into barrels. Even if the birds survive strangulation, they will die from their wounds and from suffocation. If the wounded birds manage to fly outside the shooting range, most will die a lingering and painful death. The juveniles-disguised-as-adults consider the birds litter, and don’t pick them up if they fall outside the shooting range.

Most hunters agree live pigeon shoots is cruelty. Most hunters rightfully say this is not fair chase hunting. Most hunters want to see this practice come to an end. And they have every right to want this to happen—pigeon shoots make a mockery of everything legitimate hunting stands for, and gives anti-hunting activists a huge target.

None of the birds can be used for food. Nor is there any way to make fur coats from their feathers.

Pennsylvania’s trap and skeet shoots attract many of the best shooters from around the country, and are a justifiably family-friendly sport. In contrast, pigeon shoots attract an assortment of barely-mediocre shooters, most of whom mix shooting and drinking, and openly violate the state’s gambling laws. Ted Nugent, who justifiably lives up to his “Motor City Madman” label, actively promotes pigeon shoots.

More than a century ago, the International Olympic Committee banned pigeon shooting as cruel, and declared it wasn’t a sport. Almost no country allows pigeon shoots. Pennsylvania is the only state that officially condones this practice.

So, if three-fourths of all Pennsylvanians want to see a ban on pigeon shoots, who doesn’t?

The Pennsylvania legislature doesn’t. In almost three decades, the leaders have blocked almost every attempt to put legislation up for a vote. The last time there was a free-standing bill was in 1989.

And why has Pennsylvania’s often-dysfunctional legislature not followed the will of the people and banned this cruelty?

It’s an easy answer. Politicians are ruled not by the people who elect them but by who spreads money and fear onto their souls. In this case, the NRA executives—not the membership, almost all of whom believe in fair chase hunting, but the executives—don’t want to see the end of pigeon shooting. They stupidly and wrongly claim that banning pigeon shooting violates the Second Amendment. They stupidly and wrongly claim that banning pigeon slaughter is a slippery slope to the overthrow of gun rights.

Pennsylvania’s part-time legislators who receive full-time pay buy into this because they have been bought by the NRA—and they are afraid if they get even a grade of “B” from the NRA it might affect their chances of re-election.

This legislative session, Sen. Pat Browne (R-Allentown), the Senate’s majority whip, sponsored a bill (SB 510) to ban pigeon shoots. He has 22 co-sponsors; among them are Sen. Dominic Pileggi (R-Glen Mills, Pa.), the majority leader; Sen. Jay Costa (D-Pittsburgh), the minority floor leader; and Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), the minority caucus chair. Browne also has the support of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, the Pennsylvania Council of Churches, the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association, the ASPCA, and the Pennsylvania Federation of Humane Societies.

Even if the Senate passes the bill, the vote in the House will be contentious—its leaders have been the primary blocks to keep the bill from a vote.

If our Jello-spined legislators will look at the will of the people, they will stand up to the NRA executives, vote for Sen. Browne’s bill to ban pigeon shoots, and bring Pennsylvania into line with all other states that can make a distinction between Second Amendment rights and animal cruelty.

[Walter Brasch, an award-winning journalist, for more than two decades has been covering the controversy surrounding pigeon shoots. Dr. Brasch is also the author of 18 books; his latest is Fracking Pennsylvania, which explores the financial and political connections between state politicians and the gas and oil industry.] Read the rest of this entry →

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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.]
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