pennsylvania

Sun, 2012-10-21 06:00Steve Horn
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Fracking in PA Poisoning Communities as Floodgates Open for Drilling on Campuses, Public Parks

Pennsylvania recently passed Act 147 - also known as the Indigenous Mineral Resources Development Act - opening up the floodgates for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on the campuses of its public universities. As noted in a recent post by DeSmog, the shale gas industry hasn't limited Version 2.0 of “frackademics” to PA's campuses, but is also fracking close to hundreds of K-12 schools across the country, as well.  

We noted the devastating health consequences of fracking close to a middle school/high school in Le Roy, New York, where at least 18 cases of Tourette Syndrome-like outbreaks have been reported by its students. This has moved Erin Brockovich's law firm to investigate the case, telling USA Today, “We don't have all the answers, but we are suspicious. The community asked us to help and this is what we do.”

Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability's just-published report, “Gas Patch Roulette: How Shale Gas Development Risks Public Health in Pennsylvania, makes the case that the decision to allow fracking on PA's campuses has opened up a Pandora's Box stuffed with a looming health quagmire of epic proportions.

Tue, 2012-10-16 22:46Steve Horn
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New Gas Industry Astroturf: Landowner Advocates of NY Buses Activists to Albany Pro-Fracking Rally

A pro-fracking rally held on Oct. 15 in Albany, NY was described by about a dozen local media outlets as a gathering of roughly 1,000 grassroots activists from all walks of life.

All came out to add their voice to the conversation regarding the extraction of unconventional gas from the Marcellus Shale basin in New York state. But the marchers weren't concerned landowners worried about losing their water supplies or property values. Their demand: to lift the current moratorium on fracking, which was prolonged by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Sept. 30.

One rally attendee, Doug Lee, described the ongoing fracking moratorium as a “communist act” to the Albany Times-Union. Another described anti-fracking activists as “well-funded and organized activists masquerading as environmentalists, who often do not need to make a living in our communities.” Republican Sen. Tom Libous, observed that Hollywood stars Mark Ruffalo and Debra Winger weren't on the scene, telling them to “Stay in Hollywood. We don't want you here.”

Unmentioned by any of the news outlets that covered the event was a crucial fact: these weren't actual “grassroots” activists, but rather astroturf out-of-towners bused in from counties all across the state. Their journey was paid for by the legitimately “well-funded” oil and gas industry, which raked in profits of $1 trillion in the past decade

According to the Associated Press, the pro-fracking rally and march were organized by a brand new front group called the Landowner Advocates of New York formed in the immediate aftermath of the recent Cuomo decision to stall on opening the fracking floodgates.

Thu, 2012-09-27 13:58Steve Horn
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Regulatory Non-Enforcement by Design: Earthworks Shows How the Game is Played

Earthworks Oil and Gas Accountability Project published a scathing 124-page report this week, “Breaking All the Rules: the Crisis in Oil & Gas Regulatory Enforcement.”

The content of the report is exactly as it sounds.

That is, state-level regulatory agencies and officials often aren't doing the jobs taxpayers currently pay them to do and aren't enforcing regulations on active oil and gas wells even when required to under the law.

This is both out of neglect and also because they're vastly understaffed and underfunded, meaning they literally don't have the time and/or resources to do proper inspections.

And on those rare instances when regulatory agencies and the regulators that work for them do enforce regulations on active oil and gas wells, Earthworks demonstrated that the penalties for breaking the rules are currently so weak that it's merely been deemed a tiny “cost of doing business” by the oil and gas industry.

Thu, 2012-09-20 07:00Brendan DeMelle
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Deepening Doubts About Fracked Shale Gas Wells' Long Term Prospects

This month, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released its bi-annual report on how much natural gas has been produced in the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation which stretches underneath much of Appalachia. Investors were shocked because the production numbers seemed far lower than expected.  Watched closely by market and energy analysts, the report sparked a heated debate about the oil and gas industry's excited rhetoric about fracked shale gas as the cure-all to many of America's energy and jobs needs.

But the story quickly got complicated. The report was released despite lacking data from the state’s second largest driller, Chesapeake Energy, and state regulators never flagged the omission. The amount of gas flowing out of Pennsylvania had actually climbed dramatically.

It was a major flaw, and suddenly the searing spotlight of the media honed in on questions about whether regulators were keeping accurate track of how much gas the wells in their state really produce. How could they overlook such a massive error? Can the public be sure that the updated tally gives an accurate picture of how these wells are performing?

If regulators make mistakes in tracking energy production in their state, how reliable is the companion to that report, which tracks the toxic waste produced by these same companies?

Those are all valid questions that need honest answers. But the most important questions raised in the controversy were largely overlooked.

Fri, 2012-08-03 05:00Steve Horn
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Delaware Tax Haven: The Other Shale Gas Industry Loophole

Most people think of downtown Houston, Texas as ground zero for the oil and gas industry. Houston, after all, serves as home base for corporate headquarters of oil and gas giants, including the likes of BP America, ConocoPhillips, and Shell Oil Company, to name a few.

Comparably speaking, few would think of Wilmington, Delaware in a similar vein. But perhaps they should, according to a recent New York Times investigative report by Leslie Wayne.

Wayne's story revealed that Delaware serves as what journalist Nicholas Shaxson calls a “Treasure Island” in his recent book by that namesake. It's an “onshore tax haven” and an even more robust one than the Caymen Islands, to boot.

The Delaware “Island” is heavily utilized by oil and gas majors, all of which are part of the “two-thirds of the Fortune 500” corporations parking their money in The First State.

Delaware is an outlier in the way it does business,” David Brunori, a professor at George Washington Law School told The Times. “What it offers is an opportunity to game the system and do it legally.”

The numbers are astounding. “Over the last decade, the Delaware loophole has enabled corporations to reduce the taxes paid to other states by an estimated $9.5 billion,” Wayne wrote

“More than 900,000 business entities choose Delaware as a location to incorporate,” explained another report. “The number…exceeds Delaware's human population of 850,000.”

Fri, 2012-07-27 03:30Steve Horn
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Exposed: Pennsylvania Act 13 Overturned by Commonwealth Court, Originally an ALEC Model Bill

On July 26, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court** ruled PA Act 13 unconstitutional.*** The bill would have stripped away local zoning laws, eliminated the legal concept of a Home Rule Charter, limited private property rights, and in the process, completely disempowered town, city, municipal and county governments, particularly when it comes to shale gas development.

The Court ruled that Act 13 “…violates substantive due process because it does not protect the interests of neighboring property owners from harm, alters the character of neighborhoods and makes irrational classifications – irrational because it requires municipalities to allow all zones, drilling operations and impoundments, gas compressor stations, storage and use of explosives in all zoning districts, and applies industrial criteria to restrictions on height of structures, screening and fencing, lighting and noise.”

Act 13 – pejoratively referred to as “the Nation's Worst Corporate Giveaway“ by AlterNet reporter Steven Rosenfeld – would have ended local democracy as we know it in Pennsylvania.

“It’s absolutely crushing of local self-government,” Ben Price, project director for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), told Rosenfeld. “It’s a complete capitulation of the rights of the people and their right to self-government. They are handing it over to the industry to let them govern us. It is the corporate state. That is how we look at it.”

Where could the idea for such a bill come from in the first place? Rosenfeld pointed to the oil and gas industry in his piece.

That's half of the answer. Pennsylvania is the epicenter of the ongoing fracking boom in the United States, and by and large, is a state seemingly bought off by the oil and gas industry.

The other half of the question left unanswered, though, is who do oil and gas industry lobbyists feed anti-democratic, state-level legislation to?

The answer, in a word: ALEC.

Tue, 2012-05-29 14:31Farron Cousins
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Fracking Industry Trying To Keep Doctors Silent About Chemical Dangers

Polls conducted in recent years show that close to 80% of Americans trust their doctors. They believe, rightly so, that their personal doctors are looking out for their patients’ best interests, and that doctors will do what is necessary to get patients healthy. But what happens when a doctor is legally bound to keep vital health information away from not just their patients, but from the general public? Under new laws being pushed by the fracking industry, we’ll soon have an answer to that question.

Earlier this year, Mother Jones reported on a new law in Pennsylvania that allows doctors to have access to the secret fracking formulas that the dirty energy industry is pumping into the ground, but they are legally required to keep that information private. From the Mother Jones report:
  

There is good reason to be curious about exactly what's in those fluids. A 2010 congressional investigation revealed that Halliburton and other fracking companies had used 32 million gallons of diesel products, which include toxic chemicals like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, in the fluids they inject into the ground. Low levels of exposure to those chemicals can trigger acute effects like headaches, dizziness, and drowsiness, while higher levels of exposure can cause cancer.

Pennsylvania law states that companies must disclose the identity and amount of any chemicals used in fracking fluids to any health professional that requests that information in order to diagnosis or treat a patient that may have been exposed to a hazardous chemical. But the provision in the new bill requires those health professionals to sign a confidentiality agreement stating that they will not disclose that information to anyone else—not even the person they're trying to treat.
 
Fri, 2012-05-25 10:44Steve Horn
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Public Accountability Initiative Produces New Report on SUNY Buffalo's "Shill Gas Study"

The Public Accountability Initiative (PAI) has upped the ante on DeSmogBlog's reporting on what we coined a “Shill Gas Study” recently conducted by SUNY Buffalo.

In our critique of the “study” we pointed out the fact that all of the authors and nearly the entire peer review board of the study, other than one person, was or has been connected to the oil and gas industry.

The study, published by the brand new SUNY Buffalo's Shale Resources and Society Institute and titled “Environmental Impacts During Shale Gas Drilling: Causes, Impacts and Remedies,” was also, as we pointed out, based on likely purposefully flawed methodology. We wrote:

The Shale Resources and Society Institute ”study“ concluded that between Jan. 2008-Aug. 2011, ”1,844 of the [Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)] violations [by the gas industry], or 62 percent, were administrative and preventative in nature. The remaining 1,144 violations, or 38 percent, were environmental in nature.”

Left out of the study is the fact that, as a May 10 Cleveland Plain Dealer report shows, a majority of wells are not even inspected in the state of Pennslyvania by the DEP. In 2009, the DEP inspected 23% of its wells, 24% in 2010 and 35% in 2011, with 84 hired inspectors to examine what grew to 69,000 wells by 2011 in the state.

Taking our reporting a step further, PAI published a study this week titled, “The UB Shale Play: Distorting the Facts about Fracking,” which offered additional critiques of the methodology of SUNY Buffalo's “study.” PAI explained in a press release:

Wed, 2012-05-02 10:04Steve Horn
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ALEC Wasn't First Industry Trojan Horse Behind Fracking Disclosure Bill - Enter Council of State Governments

19th Century German statesman Otto von Bismarck once said, “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.”

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), put on the map by the Center for Media and Democracy in its “ALEC Exposed” project, is the archetype of von Bismarck's truism. So too are the fracking chemical disclosure bills that have passed and are currently being pushed for in statehouses nationwide.

State-level fracking chemical disclosure bills have been called a key piece of reform in the push to hold the unconventional gas industry accountable for its actions. The reality, though, is murkier.

On April 21, The New York Times penned an investigation making that clear. The Times wrote:

Last December, ALEC adopted model legislation, based on a Texas law, addressing the public disclosure of chemicals in drilling fluids used to extract natural gas through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The ALEC legislation, which has since provided the basis for similar bills submitted in five states, has been promoted as a victory for consumers’ right to know about potential drinking water contaminants.

A close reading of the bill, however, reveals loopholes that would allow energy companies to withhold the names of certain fluid contents, for reasons including that they have been deemed trade secrets. Most telling, perhaps, the bill was sponsored within ALEC by ExxonMobil, one of the largest practitioners of fracking — something not explained when ALEC lawmakers introduced their bills back home.

The Texas law The Times refers to is HB 3328, passed in June 2011 in a 137-8 roll call vote, while its Senate companion bill passed on a 31-0 unanimous roll call vote. Since then, variations of the model bill have passed in two other key states in which fracking is occuring.

Like dominos falling in quick succession over the following months, ColoradoPennsylvania and, most recently, the Illinois Senate passed bills based on the ALEC model. Louisiana also has introduced a similar bill. 

Mon, 2012-04-23 14:20Steve Horn
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Rendell and Ridge: From "Militant" Labelers to Terrorist Enablers

A new chapter has been added to the shale gas industry's eco-terrorism, counterinsurgency and psychological operations saga.

In March, NBC News investigative reporter Michael Isikoff revealed that many prominent U.S. public officials are on the payroll of the People's Mujahedin of Iran (MEK), a group labeled by the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization. These U.S. officials are lobbying hard to remove the MEK from the list.

Under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, after the recent Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project decision – a controversial decision itself – it is a federal crime to provide “material support” for a designated terrorist organization. But legal niceties are apparently of nil concern to those on the dole of the MEK, a list that includes several big name political figures, according to a report written by former Bush Administration attorney and RAND Corporation analyst Jeremiah Goulka. A sample is below:

  • Former Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA)
  • Former Gov. Tom Ridge (R-PA), who was also the former head of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under President George W. Bush
  • Former NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was also a Republican primary candidate for President in 2008
  • Former Gov. Howard Dean (D-VT), formerly the head of the Democratic National Committee and a Democratic primary candidate for President in 2004  

Many other powerful people are on the bipartisan list, as well. 

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