The Fracking Boom is a Fracking Bubble

by Walter Brasch

Gas prices have plunged to the low $2 range-except in Pennsylvania.

In Pennsylvania, the prices at the pump are in the mid-$2 range.

That’s because Gov. Tom Corbett and the legislature imposed a 28-cent per gallon surcharge tax. Until 2019, Pennsylvanians will be paying an additional $2.3 billion a year in taxes and fees-$11.5 billion total-to improve the state’s infrastructure. In addition to the increased tax on gas at the pumps, Pennsylvania motorists will also be spending more for license registrations, renewals, and title certificates.

For far too many years, the state’s politicians of both major parties, preaching fiscal austerity-and hoping to be re-elected by taxpayers upset with government spending-neglected the roads, bridges, and other critical problems.

What the state government doesn’t readily acknowledge is that much of the damage to roads and bridges has come from increased truck traffic from the fracking industry.  

The state roads, especially the section of I-80 that bisects the northern and southern halves of the state, were already in disrepair, as any long-haul trucker can attest. The addition of 40-ton fracking trucks on two-lane roads, highways and the Interstates, has added to the problem.

“The damage caused by this additional truck traffic rapidly deteriorates from minor surface damage to completely undermining the roadway base [and] caused deterioration of several of our weaker bridge structures,” Scott Christie, Pennsylvania’s deputy secretary of the Department of Transportation, told a legislative committee in 2010. Since then, the damage has increased in proportion to the number of wells drilled into the state.  There are about 7,100 active gas wells in the state, with the cost of road repair estimated at about $13,000 to $25,000 per well.  The fracking truck traffic to each well is the equivalent of about 3.5 million cars on the road, says Christie.

Although corporations drilling into Pennsylvania have agreed to fund repairs of roads they travel that have less than two inches depth of asphalt on them, the fees don’t cover the full cost of repair.  Had the state imposed an extraction tax on each well, instead of a much-lower impact tax, there would have been enough money to fund road and bridge repair without additional taxes for motorists. Every state with shale oil but Pennsylvania has an extraction tax.

Gov.-elect Tom Wolf, who supports fracking, says he wants the state to begin to impose those extraction taxes. The politicians, who benefitted from campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, claim the industry-and all its jobs-will leave the state if the taxes are too high.

There are several realities the oil/gas industry knows, but the politicians, chambers of commerce, and those who believe everything politicians and corporations tell them don’t know or won’t publicly admit knowing.

First-As long as it’s economical to mine the gas, the industry won’t leave the state, even if they have to pay a 5 percent extraction tax, which is at the low end of taxes charged by other states.

Second-Tthe expected $1 billion in extraction tax per year, even if the legislature approves, should not be expected. The industry has already found most of the “sweet spots,” and production will likely fall off in 2015, leading to less income to the state and to leaseholders.

Third-Like a five-year-old in a candy shop, the industry salivated at the newly-found technology and gas availability and overdrilled the past four years, leading to a glut and falling prices. End of the year prices are about $3.17 per million cubic feet, down almost 30 percent from November.

Fourth-Falling prices have led to drilling not being as profitable as it could be.

Fifth-The OPEC countries have not lowered their own production of oil, and the reason for the lower  gas prices at the pumps is not because of the shale gas boom, but because of the plunging price of oil per barrel, which has declined by about 40 percent since Summer. Once oil prices fell beneath about $70-73 per barrel, American shale frackers found themselves unable to compete economically.

Sixth-To compensate for lower prices in the United States, the megacorporate drilling corporations have begun to find alternative ways to make money. One way is to build a massive maze of pipelines, and send natural gas to refineries in Philadelphia and the Gulf Coast, changing the gas into the extremely volatile liquefied natural gas (LNG), putting it onto ships, and exporting it to countries that are willing to pay more than three times what Americans are paying for natural gas. However, there is an unexpected twist. The OPEC low-cost oil has led to a severe drop in Russia’s economy and value of the ruble. Gazprom, the Russian-owned world’s largest gas supplier, is now forced to drop its own prices to be competitive, and has been developing plans to provide gas to Europe and Asia, especially China where American gas is headed, at a price that makes it uneconomical to do long-term contracts.

Seventh-The banks and investment lenders are getting testy. Because of overdrilling, combined with inflated estimates of how much gas really is in the Marcellus Shale, corporations have found themselves in trouble. Many corporations have begun cutting their drilling operations; others have already left the state, burdened by debt to the lending institutions; some corporations have sold parts of their operations or declared bankruptcy.

Eighth-The jobs promised by the politicians, the various chambers of commerce, and the industry never met the expectations. Gov. Tom Corbett claimed 240,000 additional jobs. The reality is the increase in jobs is about one-tenth of that; more important, most of the full-time jobs on the rigs and well pads are taken by workers  from Texas and Oklahoma who have extensive experience in drilling; most of the other jobs are temporary, and layoffs have already begun.

Ninth-The fracking boom for Pennsylvania is more like the housing bubble.  At first, the availability of mortgages looked like a boom. However, a combination of greedy investors and lending institutions with almost no governmental oversight, combined by a client base of ordinary people who were lured into buying houses with inflated prices they couldn’t afford, led to the Great Recession.  Those who didn’t learn from the housing bubble guaranteed the fracking boom would become a fracking bubble.

Tenth-The continued push for fossil fuel development, and more than $4 billion in governmental subsidies, slows the development of renewable energy, while escalating the problems associated with climate change and brings the world closer to a time when global warming is irreversible.

Finally, but most important-The fracking industry doesn’t acknowledge that this newer process to extract gas, which has been viable less than a decade, is destroying the environment, leading to increased climate change, and putting public health at risk, something that dozens of independent scientific studies are starting to reveal. It was a 154-page analysis of public health implications, conducted by the New York Department of Health, and based upon scientific and medical studies, that led New York this month to ban all drilling-and infuriate many politicians and some landowners who were expecting to make extraordinary wealth by leasing mineral rights beneath their land to the gas companies. Of course, they didn’t look to their neighbor to the south to learn the wealth promised was never as much as the royalties delivered and that many landowners now say they should never have given up their mineral rights and the destruction of the land and farms that came with it.

Until prices stabilize, Americans are paying lower prices for gas at the pump; Pennsylvanians are also paying lower prices, but not as low as the rest of the country.

And the politicians and industry front groups continue to foolishly claim there are no environmental or health effects from horizontal fracking, only blue sky and rainbows of riches.

[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning journalist and the author of 20 books, is a specialist on the effects of fracking. His critically-acclaimed book, Fracking Pennsylvania, is now in its second edition. The book is available from Greeley & Stone Publishers; Amazon; Barnes & Noble; or local independent bookstores.]

   

Arsenic-Laced Coffee Good for You

by Walter Brasch

You’re sitting in your favorite restaurant one balmy September morning.

Your waitress brings a pot of coffee and a standard 5-ounce cup.

“Would you like cream and sugar with it?” she asks.

You drink your coffee black. And hot. You decline her offer.

“Would you like arsenic with it?” she asks.

Arsenic? You’re baffled. And more than a little suspicious.

“It enhances the flavor,” says your waitress.

“I really don’t think I want arsenic,” you say, now wondering why she’s so cheerful.

“It really does enhance the flavor-and there’s absolutely no harm in it,” she says.

“But it’s arsenic!” you reply. “That’s rat poison. It can kill you.”

“Only in large doses,” she says. “I’ll add just 150 drops to your coffee. It tastes good and won’t harm you,” she says, still as cheery as ever.

“But 150 drops is deadly!” you reply, looking around to see if you’re on “Candid Camera.” You’re not, and she’s serious.

“It’s really nothing,” she says, explaining that 150 drops, when mixed with five ounces of coffee is only 0.5 percent of the total. She explains that 99.5 percent of the coffee-about 2,800 drops-is still freshly-brewed coffee.

Ridiculous?

Of course it’s ridiculous.

But the oil and gas industry want you to believe that 99.5 percent of all the fluids they shove into the earth to do horizontal fracturing, also known as fracking, is harmless. Just fresh river water. Move along. Nothing to see here.

As to the other half of one-percent? They tell you it’s just food products. Table salt. Guar gum (used in ice cream and baked goods). Lemon juice. Nothing to worry about, they assure you.

The Environmental Protection Agency, in 2013, identified about 1,000 chemicals that the oil and gas industry uses in fracking operations, most of them carcinogens at the strengths they shove into the earth. Depending upon the geology of the area and other factors, the driller uses a combination of fluids-perhaps a couple of dozen at one well, a different couple of dozen at another well. But, because state legislatures have allowed the companies to invoke “trade secrets” protection, they don’t have to identify which chemicals and in what strengths they use at each well. Even health professionals and those in emergency management aren’t allowed to know the composition of the fluids-unless they sign non-disclosure statements. Patients and the public are still kept from the information.

What is known is that among the most common chemicals in fracking fluids, in addition to arsenic, are benzene, which can lead to leukemia and several cancers, reduce white blood cell production in bones, and cause genetic mutation; formaldehyde, which can cause leukemia and genetic and birth defects; hydrofluoric acid, which can cause genetic mutation and chronic lung disease, cause third degree burns, affect bone structure, the central nervous system, and cause cardiac arrest; nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide, which can cause pulmonary edema and heart disease; radon, which has strong links to lung cancer; and toluene, which in higher doses can produce nausea, muscle weakness, and memory and hearing loss.

Each well requires an average of three to eight million gallons of water for the first frack, depending upon the geology of the area. Energy companies drilling in the Pennsylvania part of the Marcellus Shale, the most productive of the nation’s shales, use an average of 4.0-5.6 million gallons of water per frack. That’s only an average. Seneca Resources needed almost 19 million gallons of water to frack a well in northeastern Pennsylvania in 2012; Encana Oil & Gas USA used more than 21 million gallons of water to frack one well in Michigan the following year. A well may be fracked several times (known as “restimulation”), but most fracking after the first one is usually not economical.

After the water, chemicals, and proppants (usually about 10,000 tons of silica sand) are shoved deep into the earth, most have to be brought back up. Flowback water, also known as wastewater, contains not just chemicals and elements that went into the earth, but elements that were undisturbed in the earth until the fracking process had begun. Among the elements that are often present in the flowback water are Uranium-238, Thorium-232, and Radium, which decays into Radon, one of the most radioactive and toxic of all gases.

Wastewater is often stored in plastic-lined pits, some as large as an acre. These pits can leak, spilling the wastewater onto the ground and into streams. The waste water can also evaporate, eventually causing health problems of those living near the pits who can be exposed by inhaling the invisible toxic clouds or from absorbing it through their skin. In the eight years since drilling began in the Marcellus Shale, about 6.5 billion gallons of wastewater have been produced.

Many of the pits are now closed systems. But that doesn’t prevent health problems. Trucks pick up the wastewater and transport it to injection wells that can be several hundred miles away. At any point in that journey, there can be leaks, especially if the truck is involved in a highway accident.

Assuming there are no accidents or spills, the trucks will unload flowback water into injection pits, shoving the toxic waste back into the ground, disturbing the earth and leading to what geologists now identify as human-induced earthquakes.

Now, let’s go back to the industry’s claim of innocence-that 99.5 percent of all fluids shoved into the earth are completely harmless. Assuming only five million gallons of pure river water are necessary for one frack at one well, that means at least 25,000 gallons are toxic.

Would you like cream and sugar with that?

[Dr. Brasch, an award-winning social-issues journalist, is the author of 20 books. His latest book is the critically-acclaimed Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster, an overall look at the economics, politics, health, and environmental effects of fracking.]

   

Scientists Predict Increased Rain, Floods for Pennsylvania

by Walter Brasch

Pennsylvanians 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.]

The Fracking Prostitutes of American Colleges

(part 2 of 3)

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

by Walter Brasch

Two of the reasons Pennsylvania has no severance tax and one of the lowest taxes upon shale gas drilling are because of an overtly corporate-friendly legislature and a research report from Penn State, a private state-related university that receives about $300 million a year in public funds.

Opponents of the tax cited a Penn State study that claimed a 30 percent decline in drilling if the fees were assessed, while also touting the economic benefits of drilling in the Marcellus Shale. What wasn’t widely known is that the lead author of the study, Dr. Timothy Considine, “had a history of producing industry-friendly research on economic and energy issues,” according to reporting by Jim Efsathioi Jr. of Bloomberg News. The Penn State study was sponsored by a $100,000 grant from the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an oil and gas lobbying group that represents more than 300 energy companies. Dr. William Easterling, dean of Penn State’s College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, said the study may have “crossed the line between policy analysis and policy advocacy.”

The Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR), a part of Penn State, announced that with funding provided by General Electric and ExxonMobil, it would offer a “Shale Gas Regulators Training Program.” The Center had previously said it wasn’t taking funding from private industry. However, the Center’s objectivity may have already been influenced by two people. Gov. Tom Corbett, who accepted more than $2 million in campaign funds from oil and gas company personnel, sits on the university’s board of trustees; billionaire Terrence (Terry) Pegula, owner of the Buffalo Sabres hockey team, was CEO of East Resources, which he had sold to Royal Dutch Shell for $4.7 billion in July 2010. Pegula and his wife had also contributed about $380,000 to Corbett’s political campaign. On the day Pegula donated $88 million to Penn State to fund a world-class ice hockey arena and support the men’s and women’s intercollegiate ice hockey team, he said, “[T]his contribution could be just the tip of the iceberg, the first of many such gifts, if the development of the Marcellus Shale is allowed to proceed.” At the groundbreaking in April 2012, Pegula announced he increased the donation to $102 million.

The Shale Technology and Education Center (ShaleTEC) program at the Pennsylvania College of Technology, a branch of Penn State, was established “to serve as the central resource for workforce development and education needs of the community and the oil and natural gas industry,” according to its website.

With an initial $15,000 grant from the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) planned to establish certificate and academic programs for workers either already employed by or intending to enter jobs that provide services to Marcellus Shale companies. In a news release loaded with pro-Corbett and pro-industry appeal, college president Stephen M. Curtis announced in November 2012, “The goal is to support the supply chain now serving energy companies and offer specialized career training that connects residents to the high-pay, high-demand career paths.” John Braxton, assistant professor of biology and an ecologist, said CCP “must not be used as a PR puppet for shale gas fracking companies,” accurately noting that the fracking industry “got a free publicity ride” by the administration’s hasty decisions. Within two weeks of CCP’s announcement, the faculty union (AFT Local 2026), which represents the college’s 1,050 faculty and 200 staff, condemned the decision to establish the Center “without the consideration or approval of the faculty, and with total disregard for established College procedures for instituting new academic curricula.” In a unanimous vote by the Representative Council, the faculty declared, “the natural gas drilling . . . industry and peripheral and related industries present unacceptable dangers and risks to public health, worker safety, the natural environment, and quality of life.” Curtis left CCP in Summer 2013; the proposed program was never developed, and remains unfunded.

In April 2011, Gov. Corbett had suggested that the 14 universities of the State System of Higher Education (SSHE) could allow natural gas drilling on the campuses that sit on top of the Marcellus Shale. The ensuing Act, passed by the Republican-controlled legislature, includes clauses to compromise the universities’ academic integrity. In exchange for supporting fracking, the new act allows the university where the gas is extracted to retain one-half of all royalties; 35 percent would go to the other state universities; 15 percent would be used for tuition assistance at the 14 state universities. California and Mansfield universities have already begun to profit from fracking.

In a secret negotiation revealed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Student Association of California University signed over mineral rights on 67 acres. The lease includes a confidentiality clause.

The Marcellus Institute at Mansfield University is “an academic/shale gas partnership,” designed to educate the people about the issues of natural gas production. The university holds summer classes for teachers and week-long camps for high school students to allow them to “Learn about the development of shale gas resources in our region and the career and educational opportunities available to you after high school!”

The university’s associate in applied sciences (A.A.S.) degree in natural gas production and services, begun in Fall semester 2012, was fast-tracked, submitted and approved in less than six months rather than the 12-18 months normally required for approval. The university “will take as many students as we can,” said Lindsey Sikorski, the Institute’s director, although only one new faculty position was approved. The SSHE administration encourages larger class sizes and fewer permanent professors. The program, Sikorski says, “is not one of advocacy for the industry, and all sides will be considered.” The program has not received any grants from the industry; Sikorski said she “doesn’t want there to be any conflicts of interest” that would “compromise the integrity of the program.” However, the reality is that energy companies and their lobbying groups may eventually fill a financial hole created by Corbett cutting higher education funding and the system’s chancellor refusing to protect academic integrity in the state-owned universities. (Neither Chancellor John Cavanaugh nor his successor, Frank Brogan, responded to repeated calls.)

The union that represents the state system’s 6,000 faculty passed a resolution in September 2013 opposing drilling on campuses, stating that the campuses “are not appropriate locations for [fracking] given the environmental and health hazards of the fracking process.”

[Next week: Compromising academic integrity at other American universities.]

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications. He is author of 20 books, including Fracking Pennsylvania, a critically-acclaimed in-depth investigation of the process and effects of high volume hydraulic horizontal fracturing throughout the country.]

 

The Fracking Prostitutes of American Colleges

(part 1 of 2)

by Walter Brasch

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.)

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning journalist and professor emeritus of mass communications. He is author of 20 books, including Fracking Pennsylvania, a critically-acclaimed in-depth investigation of the process and effects of high volume hydraulic horizontal fracturing throughout the country.]

 

Act 13 Struck Down

The state Supreme Court this afternoon declared Act 13 unconstitutional.  This law was passed for the Marcellus shale gas industry to bypass local zoning regulations and force every community to permit gas drilling.  The Court held that it violated the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania constitution.  Chief Justice Castille was joined in the majority opinion by Justices Todd, McCaffery and Baer.  My friend Jordan Yeager was the attorney who argued the case before the Court.  A press release says the following:

“The Court has vindicated the public’s right to a clean environment and our right to fight for it when it is being trampled on. Today the environment and the people of Pennsylvania have won and special interests and their advocates in Harrisburg have lost. This proves the Constitution still rules, despite the greedy pursuits of the gas and oil industry. With this huge win we will move ahead to further undo the industry’s grip of our state government,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.

“This is a great historic victory for local democracy, for public health, and for the health of our environment. The shale gas industry overreached, greedily wanting to operate without respecting local concerns and without playing by the same set of rules everyone else has to play by. The Corbett Administration and the General Assembly went along with it and tried to give away our rights to the gas industry. The Supreme Court has made it clear that what they were trying to do violates our state Constitution. It’s a great day for the Constitution and the people of the Commonwealth”, said Jordan Yeager, counsel for the plaintiffs.

“The gas industry tried to take over every inch of every municipality in Pennsylvania for drilling, regardless of the zoning rights of local governments and the residents they represent. The industry and their backers in Harrisburg overreached when they thought they could literally takeover the state, turning it into one big drilling and gas infrastructure site. We fought this law because it was illegal and because it spelled ruin for public health and the environment, even though we, as plaintiffs, didn’t have nearly the resources our powerful and well-funded opponents had. This proves, when you have the law and environmental rights on your side, it’s worth fighting and you can win,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

Six-State Study Finds Industry Supporters Exaggerated Jobs Impact of Shale Drilling

By Chris Lilienthal, Third and State

Drilling in the six states that span the Marcellus and Utica Shale formations has produced far fewer new jobs than the industry and its supporters claim. In fact, in Pennsylvania, shale-related employment accounted for less than half a percent of total nonfarm employment in 2012 (as the figure to the right shows).

These findings come from a new report released today by the Multi-State Shale Research Collaborative — a group of research organizations, including the Keystone Research Center and Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, tracking the impacts of shale drilling.

As Frank Mauro, Executive Director of the Fiscal Policy Institute in New York and one of the authors of the report put it: "Industry supporters have exaggerated the jobs impact in order to minimize or avoid altogether taxation, regulation, and even careful examination of shale drilling."

The Marcellus and Utica shale formations span six states: New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, and Virginia.

To be clear, shale drilling has created jobs, particularly in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and cushioned some drilling-intensive areas in these states from the worst effects of the Great Recession and the weak recovery. The number of actual shale jobs created, however, is far below industry claims. Shale employment remains a small share of overall employment and has made little difference in job growth in any of the six states studied.

Natural gas development in these states from 2000 to 2008 was largely fueled by high commodity prices. As prices have declined more recently, gas drilling activity has slowed while development of higher-priced oil has accelerated.

Recent trends are consistent with the boom and bust pattern that has characterized extractive industries for decades. It also points to the need for state and local policymakers to collaborate to enact policies that serve the public interest.

You can check out the full report and press release here. We'll be back here next week with more findings from the report.

An Injunction Against the Truth

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.

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.

[Assisting on this column was Staci Wilson. Dr. Brasch’s latest book is Fracking Pennsylvania, an overview of the economics, health, and environmental impacts of fracking.]

 

More Fun With Shale Jobs Numbers

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

Last week, the Marcellus Shale Coalition trumpeted a new claim on the shale drilling industry’s positive impact on Pennsylvania jobs:

Raymond James analysts crunched the numbers, and between 2005 and 2012 almost 90 percent of the job growth in Pennsylvania at that time came from oil and gas jobs … That’s the highest percentage of any state, according to analysts Pavel Molchanov and J. Marshall Adkins, who based the math off data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As meaningless statistics go, this is one of the more meaningless.

Here’s why: Since 2005, many states, including Pennsylvania, have created few jobs overall. Pennsylvania averaged 5,704,000 jobs in the 12 months of 2005 versus 5,746,000 for the 12 months ending August 2013 – a 42,000 increase. Given this small increase in the overall number of jobs, it doesn’t take a lot of shale jobs to account for a high percentage of this increase. In other words, 90% sounds like a lot (leaving aside whether the 90% claim is even accurate), but 90% of a small number is, well, a small number.

This leads to two other points. First, why didn’t Raymond James pick 2006? In Pennsylvania, the 12-month job average in 2006 was 5,755,000 – MORE than the most recent 12-month average number of 5,746,000 jobs. Since 2006, Pennsylvania has had no positive job growth, which might lead one to say the Marcellus Shale created infinity percent of the total growth in jobs in Pennsylvania since that year. In fact, with no overall job growth, drilling would have created infinity percent of the total job growth even if it had created just one positive job.

These 2006 calculations help answer why Raymond James started its analysis in 2005: 2005 is far enough back for overall job growth in virtually every state to be positive but small. Starting in 2006 would make the shale shares of overall job growth nonsensical in many states, including Pennsylvania (since overall growth was negative). And going back to 2003 or 2004 would increase overall job growth relative to shale job growth, and begin to convey the reality that shale is a small part of the overall economy. Nice job of cherry picking the period of analysis to fuel a preconceived narrative, Raymond James.

The second point is that Pennsylvania’s high ranking for share of jobs coming from shale since 2005 stems partly from the state’s poor recent jobs performance. If Pennsylvania’s job growth since 2010 had kept pace with national job growth over the same period, we would have roughly another 100,000 jobs today. A higher number for overall job growth since 2010 – and hence since 2005 – would make the modest number of Marcellus Shale jobs created since 2005 substantially lower than 90%.

So in a strange way the Raymond James/Marcellus Shale Coalition claim about shale job growth since 2005 is partly a celebration of Pennsylvania’s disappointing overall job growth since 2010. Does the Marcellus Shale Coalition really mean to draw attention to this?

Ed Rendell’s Frack Attack

By Sharon Ward, Third and State

Former Governor Ed Rendell got into some hot water last week with an op-ed in the New York Daily News touting the economic benefits of hydrofracking. ProPublica quickly outed the Governor for his ties to the drilling industry, and Rendell owned up to the fact that he is a consultant to Element Partners, which has investments in the gas industry. The Daily News has added a note to its web site disclosing the financial arrangement.

Rendell’s piece touts the industry’s economic benefits, repeating the claims of an IHS/U.S. Chamber of Commerce analysis that the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center critiqued back in December for overstating the employment and tax benefits of shale. 

The natural gas industry in Pennsylvania is like a new baby: it’s tiny but gets all the attention. Through a coordinated and well-financed public relations effort (remember My Range Resources?) and a legion of lobbyists, the industry has given an impression of its importance that just doesn’t square with the facts.

In 2012, the natural gas industry provided one-half of one percent of all jobs in Pennsylvania. The IHS report claims the industry contributed $900 million in state and local corporate tax revenue, one-third of all corporate taxes collected by the state in 2012, but the Department of Revenue puts the number at less than one-fifth of that amount (see Table 2).


Don Gilliland of The Patriot-News made a similar point in a column after a Chamber of Commerce event in Harrisburg in July, announcing a multi-million dollar “Shale Works for Us” public relations campaign. Gilliland ripped into the industry for stating — in a promotional effort the sponsors claimed was designed to “get out the facts” — that shale created 140,000 jobs in 2010 alone, while the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry reported just 23,618 shale jobs since 2008. (The Chamber numbers came from the infamous “Penn State” study that Penn State subsequently disowned — see here and here).

So why does this matter? The industry cleverly uses this economic promise to beat back regulation or any other attempt to limit or manage natural gas development. Gilliland cleverly gets the chamber spokeswoman Karen Harbert on record about its strategy, to use its PR effort to “ensure no hindrance or regulatory barriers” to natural gas drillers.

Rendell urges New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to seize the opportunity that gas drilling provides, but Cuomo should use Pennsylvania as a cautionary tale rather than a guide. The economic benefits of gas development in Pennsylvania have been routinely overstated, while its costs have been minimized or ignored. The hype has only served to undermine reasonable environmental and land use restrictions necessary to blunt the short-term impacts and limit long-term harm.