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.]

   

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.]

 

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.]

 

Standing Tall for Landowner Rights

by Walter Brasch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crawford and her attorney, Wendi Hammond, have challenged TransCanada’s right to seize public property, arguing not only is TransCanada, which had net earnings of $1.3 billion last year, a foreign corporation, but it also doesn’t qualify as a “common carrier” since the benefit is primarily to itself. However, the Texas Court of Appeals may not rule until after the pipeline is laid down and covered. And even if it does rule for Crawford, TransCanada is likely to appeal. “They have far more lawyers and funds than we have,” says Crawford, who held a music festival last month to help raise funds. Additional donations have come from around the world, many from those who aren’t immediately affected by oil and gas exploration, transportation, and processing, but who understand the need to fight a battle that could, at some time, affect them.

“The company basically goes to court, files condemnation petitions, says, ‘We are common carrier, have the power of eminent domain, we are taking this property.’ And that’s all there is to it,” says Debra Medina, of WeTexans, a grassroots organization opposed to the seizure of private land by private companies.

At least 89 Texas landowners have had their properties condemned and then seized by TransCanada. Eleanor Fairchild, a 78-year-old great-grandmother living on a 300-acre farm near Winnsboro, Texas, also protested the seizure of her land. She and her husband, a retired oil company geologist now deceased, bought the land in 1983. TransCanada planned to bisected her farm, which includes wetlands, natural springs, and woods.

In October, Fairchild and activist/actor Darryl Hannah raised their arms and stood before bulldozers and heavy equipment that were about to dig up the farm. Both women were arrested and charged with criminal trespass. Hannah was also charged with resisting arrest.

TransCanada isn’t the only oil and gas company that uses and bends eminent domain laws.

Chuck Paul, who lost about 30 of his 64 acre horse farm because of required easements by the natural gas industry, told the Fort Worth Weekly, “The gas companies pay a one-time fee for your land, but you lose the right to utilize it as anything more than grassland forever. . . . You can never build on those easements. They took my retirement away by eminent domain.”

In Arlington, Texas, Ranjana Bhandari and her husband, Kaushik De, refused to grant Chesapeake Energy the right to take gas beneath their home, although Chesapeake promised several thousand dollars in payments. “We decided not to sign because we didn’t think it was safe, but the Railroad Commission doesn’t seem to care about whose property is taken,” Bhandari told Reuters. Chesapeake seized the mineral rights and will capture natural gas beneath the family’s homes. Between January 2005 and October 2012, the Railroad Commission approved all but five of Chesapeake’s 1,628 requests to seize mineral rights, according to the Reuters investigation.

The Texas Supreme Court, in Texas Rice Land Partners and Mike Latta v. Denbury Green Pipeline-Texas (2012), had previously ruled, “Even when the Legislature grants certain private entities ‘the right and power of eminent domain,’ the overarching constitutional rule controls: no taking of property for private use.” In that same opinion, the Court also ruled, “A private enterprise cannot acquire unchallenged-able condemnation power . . .  merely by checking boxes on a one-page form and self-declaring its common-carrier status.” However, Texas has no public agency to set standards for seizing property by eminent domain.

Texas isn’t the only state that has a broad eminent domain policy that allows Big Energy to seize private property.

Most states’ new laws that “regulate” fracking were written by conservatives who traditionally object to “Big Government” and say they are the defenders of individual property rights. But, these laws allow oil and gas corporations to use the power of eminent domain to seize private property if the corporations can’t get the landowner to agree to an easement, lease, or sale. In Pennsylvania, Act 13 allows the natural gas industry to “appropriate an interest in real property [for] injection, storage and removal” of natural gas.

Sandra McDaniel, of Clearville, Pa., was forced to lease five of her 154 acres to Spectra Energy Corp., which planned to build a drilling pad. The government, says McDaniel, “took it away, and they have destroyed it.” According to Reuters, “McDaniel watched from the perimeter of the installation as three pipes spewed metallic gray water into plastic-lined pits, one of which was partially covered in a gray crust. As a sulfurous smell wafted from the rig, two tanker trucks marked ‘residual waste’ drove from the site.”

In Tyrone Twp., Mich., Debora Hense returned from work in August 2012 to find that Enbridge workers had created a 200 yard path on her property and destroyed 80 trees in order to run a pipeline. Because of an easement created in 1968 next to Hense’s property, Joe Martucci of Enbridge Energy Partners said his company had a legal right to “to use property adjacent to the pipeline.” Martucci says his company offered Hense $40,000 prior to tearing up her land, but she refused. Hense says she had a legal document to prevent Enbridge from destroying her property; Enbridge says it had permission from the Michigan Public Service Commission.

This week, heavy machinery rolled onto Julia Trigg Crawford’s farm. Crossing an easement and into a barbed wire enclosure that separates the land TransCanada seized from the rest of the farm, the bulldozers and graders are peeling away the topsoil of a 1,200 foot strip. Hundreds of wooden ties, now stacked like matchsticks a story high, brought by 18-wheelers crossing the agricultural land that Crawford and her family work, will be placed as tracks for more equipment.

On the farm is an old and creaky windmill, ravaged by time and a few shotgun shells. “But it’s still standing there,” says Crawford who may be a bit like that windmill. She’s a 6-foot tall former star basketball player for Texas A&M who is now standing tall and proud in a fight she says “began as a fight for my family,” but has now become one “for the people, for the landowners who wanted to stand up and fight for their rights but didn’t think they could.”

[Dr. Brasch is an award-winning syndicated columnist and professor emeritus of mass communications and journalism. Some of the information in this column appears in Fracking Pennsylvania, an in-depth overview of the effects of the fracking process upon health, the environment, agriculture, and worker safety; the book also has a broad discussion of the collusion between the energy industry and politics, and presents the truth about the economic effects.]

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Walter M. Brasch, Ph.D.

    Latest Books: Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution

   Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting With Disaster

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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.

You Can’t Wash Away Fracking’s Effects

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José Lara just wanted a job.

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

Clean off the debris. Make them shining again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Great Recession, people become desperate for any kind of job. And the natural gas industry has responded with high-paying jobs. Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is ecstatic that a side benefit of destroying the environment and public health is an improvement in the economy and more jobs-even if most of the workers in Pennsylvania now sport license plates from Texas and Oklahoma.

The drivers, and most of the industry, are non-union or are hired as independent contractors with no benefits. The billion dollar corporations like it that way. It means there are no worker safety committees. No workplace regulations monitored by the workers. And if a worker complains about a safety or health violation, there’s no grievance procedure. Hire them fast. Fire them faster.

No matter how much propaganda the industry spills out about its safety record and how it cares about its workers, the reality is that working for a company that fracks the earth is about as risky as it gets for worker health and safety.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued Rain for Rent nine violations for exposing José Lara to hydrogen sulfide and not adequately protecting him from the effects of the cyanide-like gas.

It no longer matters to José Lara.

The effects from fracking should matter to everyone else.

 

Chester County Residents Fight Pipeline Project

Washington DC lawyer Carolyn Elefant spoke to a crowd of about a hundred people this morning about fighting a proposed natural gas pipeline in their community.  Hosted at my alma mater Owen J. Roberts High School the event was sponsored by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Berks Gas Truth and the Pipeline safety Coalition.  It began with a short film of the Hopewell Big Woods area and the protected lands, historic structures and open space which would be destroyed in the route of the pipeline.  The proposal would transport Marcellus shale natural gas to LNG terminals for export.  Even though southeastern Pennsylvania is not in the Marcellus shale region this shows how we all are potentially impacted by fracking.

A rural/suburban wealthy area known for its conservatism, northeastern Chester County has rolling hills, farms and forests amidst its McMansions.  The crowd which turned out on a winter morning had many questions for Elefant.  She gave a lengthy detailed examination of the certification process by which pipelines get approval to use eminent domain to seize the right to bury their potentially explosive transit pipes through protected areas.  

The Hopewell Big Woods is a 110 square mile area of old growth forest which has been preserved.  It includes French Creek State Park and the Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site.  It is near where I grew up and is rich with natural springs.  Ponds are everywhere with fresh water coming up from the ground to form the ponds and creeks which feed into the nearby Schuylkill River.

FERC is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and she taught the residents how their process for certifying pipelines works, where in that process to lodge concerns, the most effective method of doing so, and how to maintain pressure on the process.  This pipeline was originally planned to go through York County and down to Baltimore and Washington but local opposition moved it to this route.  That shows that local impact statements and opposition can be effective.  Almost all pipelines are approved however so much effort must be placed on routing it properly and insuring safety.  Several local Township officials were in attendance along with two Chester County Commissioners.  

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News Flash! Marcellus Shale Coalition Takes on Pennsylvania Charities

By Stephen Herzenberg, Third and State

Thanks to Citizens United, we are all the beneficiaries of unlimited corporate money in our elections – witness the onslaught of TV ads interrupting our ballgames and the fall lineup of TV shows.

In a new twist, the very groups that agitated to spend unlimited funds to promote their point of view are now critical of others who challenge them. What brings this to mind is an Associated Press story this morning that the Marcellus Shale Coalition is not happy about the funding priorities of the Heinz Endowments and William Penn Foundation.

Citizens groups and nonprofits around the nation are asking questions about environmental and health impacts of natural gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and Pennsylvania charities are funding much of the debate.

Foundations from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh have provided more than $19 million for gas-drilling-related grants since 2009, according to an Associated Press review of charity data. The money has paid for scientific studies, films, radio programs, websites and even trout fishing groups that monitor water quality.

That’s led to expressions of gratitude from those who say state and federal governments aren’t doing enough on the issue but also protests from some in the gas-drilling industry, who claim there’s bias in the campaigns…

But the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a leading industry group, criticized what it sees as a “record of bankrolling organizations and institutions opposed to the safe development of job-creating American natural gas.”

(Full disclosure: the Keystone Research Center receives funding from the William Penn Foundation and Heinz Endowments.)

What the groups, and their funders, are critical of is the unsafe development of natural gas. Since Pennsylvania’s official Marcellus policy is drill baby drill, somebody has to do the due diligence, so thank your local charity.

A related story provides heartening news that public debate can smoke out research that is simply advancing the perspective of the group that paid for the study.

A natural-gas driller’s group has canceled a Pennsylvania State University study of hydraulic fracturing after some faculty members balked at the project that had drawn criticism for being slanted toward industry.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, which paid more than $146,000 for three previous studies, ended this year’s report after work had started, said Kathryn Klaber, coalition president.

The earlier studies were co-written by former Penn State professor Tim Considine, an economist now at the University of Wyoming who has produced research on economic and energy issues under contract to trade associations. The first study, in 2009, initially failed to disclose its industry funding and was used by lawmakers to kill a state tax on gas drillers. It was characterized as advocacy for producers by groups such as the nonprofit Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center in Harrisburg…

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, a Pittsburgh-based drillers group, paid Penn State for the three economic-impact studies beginning in 2009, according to John Hanold, senior associate director of Penn State’s Office of Sponsored Programs…

Subsequent studies by other researchers have found that gas drilling created fewer than half the jobs projected by Considine in 2009.

The public needs reliable data to understand what drilling does and what it doesn’t do – information that the industry just won’t provide. Rational, independent studies funded by an unbiased government or private foundations, are in this post-Citizens United environment the antidote to unlimited, year-round campaign commercials, like the ones offered by our friends in the gas industry.