Saturday, December 7, 2013

Penn State's "MarcellusByDesign" Has Design Flaw

MarcellusByDesign Has Design Flaw 
                                                             By Ann Pinca 
Laporte, Pa.  - A MarcellusByDesign workshop held December 4 in the courtroom of the Sullivan County Courthouse fell far short of the expectations of many looking for an opportunity for real discussion and public input on the physical impacts of natural gas development.
Presented by landscape architecture professors and students from Penn State University, the workshop was a component of a larger National Science Foundation (NSF) grant project, "Marcellus Matters: Engaging Adults in Science and Energy," under the direction of Michael Arthur, professor of geosciences and co-director of the Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR). The stated goals of the workshop were:
  • Familiarize citizens with the scope and potential benefits of planning in landscape protection
  • Identify the roles that citizens can play in planning
  • Empower citizens with the knowledge they need to participate in planning
  • Identify potential goals and priorities for participatory
    Students presented ideas to preserve ridgeline views like this one in
    Elkland Township.
Brian Orland, Director of Interdisciplinary Programs, a
nd Timothy Murtha, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, were the
facilitators for the workshop, aided by twelve undergraduate students and one graduate student. The program consisted of individual student presentations and three break-out sessions incorporating hands-on activities.
Student presentations included many topics, and to their credit, the students' work reflected that they had invested much time, effort, and creativity to the problems selected to solve in terms of landscape architecture. Topics ranged from strategies to protect ridgeline views and reduction of visual impacts of infrastructure to storm water run-off prevention. Included were a few promising sustainability measures the county could better use to avoid the inevitable boom and bust cycle that natural gas development will bring.
But most presentations were about cosmetic fixes, and simply disguising industrial infrastructure is not what people concerned about health impacts from pollution are concerned about. A less visible compressor station or condensate tank disguised by camouflage-type painting may better blend in with the landscape, but does not in any way reduce its impact: it is still there and so is the pollution.
The imposing M1S Compressor Station better blended into the background when different paint techniques were digitally applied to photos - but it was still there.
Likewise, other student projects on pipeline placement and mitigation techniques that may lessen the overall visual effect of pipeline corridors 
still do not take away the very real problems of forest fragmentation or
the species population isolation, stream chemistry changes, edge  
habitat and invasive species problems that the hundreds of miles of pipeline anticipated for Sullivan County will bring.
Hands-on break-out sessions included to allow public input were troubling. Designed mainly to rate or rank areas of the county most important to protect, the activities forced participants into a  "Sophie's Choice" situation, making them choose which area to save and which to condemn to industrial destruction. 
The only redeeming feature of the hands-on activities was direct interaction with the students. They appreciated hearing the concerns of the citizens to provide a better understanding, since, as one student said, "We don't live here." While encouraging to know that college students are at least looking into the problems facing citizens in rural areas of gas development, it can only be hoped that they understand the real issues, even through the lens of a landscape architecture class.
In the end, there seemed little presented at this workshop to assuage the worries of those in Sullivan County faced with the infliction of an aggressive, pollutant industry on the rural beauty of their homeland, other than that the damages might be covered up through landscaping visual tricks. Suggestions that the oil and gas industry will cooperate with landowners in infrastructure placement and design as suggested in this workshop seem unlikely, especially since most would include added costs.
Sadly, the likely reality seems more "business as usual," like what came up shortly after the workshop at the county planning meeting, when a resident asked if there was anything known about the placement of a particular gathering line and no one could answer his question. He just wondered, he said, since the actual location had been under dispute for some time and 
was now staked out across his front lawn--and the pipeline crew had been there working on it that morning.
Students used crowdsourcing to determine the most important view in Sullivan County. Their results showed that the view of the Loyalsock Canyon Vista was #1.
My comments:

But most presentations were about cosmetic fixes, and simply disguising industrial infrastructure is not what people concerned about health impacts from pollution are concerned about. A less visible compressor station or condensate tank disguised by camouflage-type painting may better blend in with the landscape, but does not in any way reduce its impact: it is still there and so is the pollution. *Cadaver cosmetics!
"the inevitable boom"  *Who decided that this was inevitable? Tom Corbett, Ed Rendell, or some corporate hack from Texas who has no vested interest or personal attachment to Pennsylvania?  

"The only redeeming feature of the hands-on activities was direct interaction with the students. They appreciated hearing the concerns of the citizens to provide a better understanding, since, as one student said, 'We don't live here.'"  *The students admitted they were unaware of, and not at all informed of the negative public health, safety and environmental issues. Fortunately, they agreed that the health and environmental concerns should take precedent over the 'cosmetics' and were eager to learn more. Many of them asked for links to organizations, citizen groups, and reports on these more serious issues, and asked to have access to the findings of the Sullivan County Listening Project that is already underway and should be completed and made publicly available by March 2014.
"In the end, there seemed little presented at this workshop to assuage the worries of those in Sullivan County faced with the infliction of an aggressive, pollutant industry on the rural beauty of their homeland, other than that the damages might be covered up through landscaping visual tricks." *Superficial camouflage designed to distract from the bigger environmental, public health, and way of life issues.  
"Sadly, the likely reality seems more "business as usual," like what came up shortly after the workshop at the county planning meeting, when a resident asked if there was anything known about the placement of a particular gathering line and no one could answer his question. He just wondered, he said, since the actual location had been under dispute for some time and was now staked out across his front lawn--and the pipeline crew had been there working on it that morning." *Still no evidence of transparency and co-operation from this industry. 
One has to question why this presentation of the cosmetic and superficial and not the public health and environmental.
The answers are quite simple:
1) To address these other very real concerns would be an admission by the industry and their political cheerleaders that these issues are real.
2) The industry needs to distract from, and downplay these issues because there really is no remedy for them.
3) Research programs at all institutes of higher learning rely on "outside funding" from the corporate world, and the oil and gas corporations are not going to fund colleges, universities, or research programs that are counterproductive to their "bottom line", or that may cause their shareholder investment to drop-off.
Now, if this was a true and honest presentation that actually dealt with the truly substantive issues of unconventional gas development, these are the questions that would, and should have been addressed, and must be addressed:

- How the hell are you going to assure desirable forest regeneration when you are creating edge habitat EVERYWHERE!!!!! (all trees are not created equal).

- How are you going to correct the problem with nutrient loading of streams after you cut down "only 2%" of the forest? We are not talking about sediment and erosion - we are talking about changes in stream chemistry when they change deep forest into open field.

- How are you going to maintain viable populations of interior forest dwelling critters like neotropical migrants and amphibians?

- How are you going to prevent population isolation and genetic inbreeding from critters that avoid road and ROW crossings due to predation threat and moisture gradients?

- How are you going to provide for viable corridors for wildlife migration when you are creating a grid of pads, roads, and pipeline ROW's?

- Why are you trying to convince us that ubiquitous species - species that exist everywhere due to human disturbance (deer, raccoons, groundhogs) are a fair exchange for deep forest species?

-What is your restoration plan for interior forest, what is the timeframe and where is the funding source?

- Never mind "beautification" - How the HELL are you going to assure the forest structure and function - the very ecosystem services that drive our economy are going to remain viable!!!

- Is Penn State, the DCNR, or the gas industry going to control invasive species along all this new edge habitat for the LIFE of the OPENING???

- Who is going to pay me to control the invasive species on my property when it migrates off your damn pipeline ROW???

- Mr. Penn State LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT - how are you qualified to address forest sustainability issues? Or is your job just to "greenwash" i.e. throw green paint on a building riddled with termites?

- What about the impact on climate change/climate instability that increased methane leakage and our continued use of fossil fuels?
I brought up some of these issues at the PSU/MBD presentation, and although Prof. Orland conceded that my questions and concerns were indeed legitimate, and did not, or could not dispute them, he respectfully reminded me that the focus was on the "visual impacts".
Therefore, I challenge PSU, the Sullivan County Energy Task Force, the Sullivan County Planning Commission, and our local elected officials to hold public presentations that specifically address the very real issues, concerns, and questions I've put forth in this email, if they are to maintain any credibility.
I shall continue to push these issues via email listserves, social media forums, affiliated organization websites, and at upcoming political debates until they are thoroughly and adequately publicly addressed.
John Trallo
Executive Committee,
Shale Justice Coalition
*Contribution by Kevin Heatley
Bio-habitat Restoration Expert 

Friday, November 22, 2013


These production figures are taken directly from industry reports and the PA/DEP data base, and from campaign finance disclosures. (*The 2013 financial disclosures won't be available until a few weeks before the 2014 primaries.) 
(*I'm guessing that's a bit more accurate than the MDN blog, or the industry's press releases to "friendly" media outlets.) 
But first, here's a really interesting figure. It's the dollar amount in fines levied against the industry for various violations $ 4,585,557.00: the total amount of penalties assessed in Pennsylvania to date.  
(Wow!) That's $22,541,443 less than they paid for the legislature... in "campaign funds" of course, and that's even not counting the $1,833,275 in "lobbying expenditures".  

New Report: Natural Gas Industry Has Spent More Than $23 Million to Influence PA Elected Officials update details $774,000 in new contributions; $6.8 million in new lobbying in 2011 and 2012 
HARRISBURG, PA--The natural gas industry and related trade groups have now given nearly $8 million to Pennsylvania state candidates and political committees since 2000, according to new research by Common Cause Pennsylvania and Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania. Top recipients of industry money given between 2000 and April 2012 were Governor Tom Corbett (R) with $1,813,205.59, Senate President Joseph Scarnati (R-25) with $359,145.72, Rep. Dave Reed (R-62) with $137,532.33, House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Turzai (R-28) with $98,600, and Sen. Don White (R-41) with $94,150.
Total contributions from natural gas interests between 2000 and 2012: $8 million
Total lobbying expenditures by natural gas interests between 2007 and 2012: $15.7 million
View the data online or download the data sheet.
After reaching an all-time annual high of $1.6 million in 2010, the new study found that contributions declined to $560,800 in 2011. Lobbying expenditures surged during this same period, however, with $5 million being spent in 2011, an increase of $1 million from 2010. An additional $1.8 million was spent in the first three months of 2012, bringing the total since Q1 2007 to $15.7 million.
“The industry has largely had its way in Pennsylvania and has spent millions to put their friends in the state legislature and the Governor’s mansion,” said James Browning, Regional Director of State Operations for Common Cause. “The industry’s focus now is on protecting these investments and maintaining access to key elected officials.” 
“Pennsylvania politicians sold gas companies the right to pollute Pennsylvania’s land, air, and water for bargain basement prices,” said Josh McNeil, Executive Director of Conservation Voters of PA.  “For their $23 million political investment, gas companies avoided hundreds of millions in taxes that could have paid for thousands of teachers, roads and desperately needed environmental protections.” 
Pennsylvania continues to be one of just 11 states that fail to limit campaign contributions, and the state’s failure to require electronic filing of campaign finance reports has resulted in delays by the Pennsylvania Department of State in making these reports available on its website. According to Common Cause, less than half of the reports due to be filed by all candidates at the end of last March were available on the DOS website as of April 20, just four days before the April 24 primary. is a collaboration of Common Cause PA and the Conversation Voters of PA
Production Drop-Off Data:
Average Per-Day Production in 6 Month Segments - entire State of Pennsylvania

The graphs below display the average per-day production values
   for wells as they progress through 3 years of production.

3,503 - qualifying wells used in average per-day production calculations

70 % - percentage drop in production over 36 month period
                                                Show/Hide Statistical Criteria

Average Per-Day Production in 6 Month Segments
          Based on production data up to Jun 30th, 2013
 PA DEP Well Inspections and Cited Violations for the Entire State

46,130: the total number of inspections reported in Pennsylvania to date.

Lycoming County is the county with the highest number of inspections to date (6218 ).

4,632: the total number of violations reported in Pennsylvania to date.

Susquehanna County is the county with the highest number of violations to date (841 ).

$ 4,585,557.00: the total amount of penalties assessed in Pennsylvania to date.

Show/Hide Statistical Criteria

Graph: PA DEP Well Inspections and Cited Violations per County for the State of Pennsylvania
          Pennsylvania Counties in Alpabetical Order
          Based on data from Nov. 16th, 2013
          © MarcelluGas.Org - All right reserved - Contact MarcellusGas.Org for reprint information.

Return to top
Graph: PA DEP Well Inspections and Cited Violations per Year for the State of Pennsylvania
          Based on PA DEP compliance data from Nov. 16th, 2013

Monday, September 30, 2013

Sustainable Shale Development: The “Middle Ground” That’s Newspeak for Fraud

Sustainable Shale Development: The “Middle Ground” That’s Newspeak for Fraud

The Fraudulent “Logic” of the “Middle Ground”
Among the most pernicious and calculative strategies for extorting consent currently in fashion with the natural gas industry and their public relations agents—particularly the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD)—is what I’ll call the “argument for the middle ground.” There are several varieties of this brand of rhetorical extortion, but the basic structure of such an “argument” goes like this:
 The truth can be counted on to lay somewhere in “the middle,” where “the middle” is invariably some “compromise” between opposing factions, and where “everyone” can feel good that their interests have been met more or less in that “middle.” This “truth” via consensus can then be promoted as “reasonable,” and “just” and anyone who seeks to counter it with opposing facts or a challenge to its reasoning can be cast as irrational, an extremist—even a terrorist if they persist in pointing out evidence contrary to “the middle ground” or to the “consensus” alleged in its defense. The “middle ground,” in other words, is newspeak for fraud.
The trouble with this form of reasoning is that it’s specious and extortive to its core. Truth is entirely independent of the interests of any party. Truth doesn’t care whether folks get their way. Truth is not the product of consensus. Truth is what is supported by an objective evaluation of the facts where the facts have been presented honestly—without exaggeration, cherry-picking, or other distortion—and where evaluation steers clear of fallacious, biased, or interested “reasoning.” Truth does not present itself to us for approval. When the facts do not support what we want to believe, we should change our minds—even if it’s hard. And that’s it.
This is not to say that getting to the truth is always easy, or that even on its honest pursuit we don’t sometimes draw the wrong conclusions. But it is to say that if what we are ultimately after are ways in which to improve the human condition, have some say in our future, and even care about the world beyond ourselves, we are far better off to pursue truth than consensus. Indeed, in gas industry newspeak “consensus” is just a way to paper over fraud, “middle ground” a strategy for coercing consent to being defrauded out of the future—all the while being led to think one’s just acting as a rational agent.
And this big fat fraud is dependent on the big fat lie that there exists such a thing as “sustainable shale development.” Never mind that natural gas is a fossil fuel such that “sustainable shale” is oxymoronic on its face. Never mind that, just like “environmental” and “green,” “sustainable” has been appropriated by an industry willing to resort to pretty much any strategy to discredit, neutralize, and terrorize anyone who stands in the way of drilling for dollars. Nope—unlike “environmental” and “green, each of which retain the odor of a rearguard action to mitigate damage already done, “sustainable shale” offers an opportunity to reclaim the myth of endless energy, endless growth, endless development, and even the myth that everyone will benefit.

 Sustainable Shale Development: The Big Fat Lie
Far more than a mere bridge to the real sustainables—solar and wind, for example—natural gas is now promoted as the sustainable fossil fuel; it’s the “green” alternative, the “middle ground” where we can return guiltlessly to our staggering levels of consumption without being nagged by the potential consequences for all those “others” whose whining about things like “climate change” can be neatly dismissed as “alarmist” “tree-hugger bull shit.” “Clean burning natural gas,” is the old propaganda given a new lease on life as “sustainable shale.” Oh, it may have had a bumpy start while the industry was “getting it right” with its new-fangled horizontal hydro-fracking technology—but “getting it right” through (industry drafted and codified) “regulation” and (industry approved) “better laws” is just the “middle ground” we need to magically transform a fossil fuel into a sustainable—or at least to convince us that anyone who refuses to believe in magic is just an irrational Negative Nancy.
In  Of Aristotle and Anadarko: Why “Better Laws” Will Never be Enough | Raging Chicken Press, I argued that by effectively wielding the recession to extort the survival-first instincts of what I’ve called the Big Fake Greens (the Environmental Defense Fund, The Sierra Club, the Audubon Society) and their would-be colleagues in the “Little Fake Greens” (The Responsible Drilling Alliance, the gubernatorial campaign of John Hanger, PennFuture), the natural gas industry has masterfully executed a Vichy France style occupation of “the truth” including the wholesale debauchery of terms like “regulation,” “legislation,” “law,” and “best practices.” Just as the French determined that their survival far outweighed the survival of their Jewish citizens or their national and cultural integrity, so too have organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund determined that their survival far outweighs that of those impacted by slickwater horizontal hydraulic fracturing or the value of not being associated with, say, one of the world’s top ten human rights violators—Chevron (Big Oil Firms Accused of Human-Rights Abuses in Burma – TIME) and Shell (Global Exchange Top Ten Corporate Criminals List | Global Exchange). want to know how the trampling of human rights and environmental devastation get green washed? Ask, say,  Andrew Place at CSSD (
What makes so putrid a bargain palatable is the appeal to the “middle ground,” the fraudulent logic upon which “shale” can be magically transformed into “sustainable” and truth exchanged not merely for “truthy-ness,” but for something more sordid: the Big Fat Lie that the future of shale development will leave anything in its wake other than a few very wealthy white people behind the walls—cyber and cement—of their off-shore bank accounts, and the remainder to face rising seas, catastrophic flooding, un-farmable desert, species extinction—starvation, disease, and war.
Where flag-waving appeals to knee-jerk patriotism have failed to adequately hi-jack our better judgment to the belief that corporations have our best interests at heart, shaming us into believing that we’re irrational buffoons if we don’t sign onto the “middle ground” stands a better chance of successful extortion.
It appeals, after all, not merely to the patriotism of some—but to the desire to be seen as rational by all. To appropriate the vocabulary of rational exchange is—if we allow it—a coup for the gas industry; it is to accede not only to the destruction of water, soil, and air quality, but to a “reason” whose only objective is to bamboozle us, shame us, and silence us while they extract the last square inch of natural gas and sell it to the highest bidder. By the time we return to our senses, it will be too late.
The industry, of course, would have us dismiss dire predictions about wars fought over access to water as paranoid hyperbole. They work hard to divide and conquer us by luring, for example, folks looking for acceptable candidates for the Pennsylvania governor’s office to endorse John Hanger on the argument that regulation to enforce “best practices” will create jobs while protecting the environment—the middle ground. But consider what this really means: the best of all possible practices for flaring gas wells must assume that less immediately detectible harm isn’t harm, that a slightly mitigated contribution to climate change isn’t a contribution to climate change.
 Satellite view of US at night showing North Dakota, home to shale gas, is aglow at night
What “best practices” means, in other words, is “acceptable casualties and collateral damage, just maybe not you, at least not right now.”
 Anyone who endorses a candidate with that as their effective campaign slogan is no better than the German family who stands idle witness to the cattle train rolling down the track with its human cargo to the NAZI concentration camps. Why? Because what we know on copious reiterations of hard evidence is that “best practices” is gas industry code for “whatever we can get away with.” That is the industry’s “middle ground.”

9.27.13: Widener University, School of Law– Marcellus Shale Development and Pennsylvania: What Lessons for Sustainable Energy?
To date I have seen no more pristine example of the argument for the “middle ground,” that is, no more wholesale propaganda for this fraud, than the September 27th 2013 Widener University School of law, Environmental Law Center  “conference” devoted to pitching Marcellus Shale development as “sustainable,” (Environmental Law Center).
With very little exception, both the content and the structure of the “conference” could only be described as a calculated attempt to legitimate the new ideology of sustainable fossil fuels. Indeed, I’ve put “conference” in scare quotes because where the format rules out any possibility of challenging interaction, where questions must be written down, delivered by proxy, and screened for submission, and where every moment of the day is scheduled to minimize conflicted conversations, there is no conference.
Widener Law – Marcellus Shale Development Livestream
The unmistakable presupposition of the “conference” itself was that there is a safe, acceptable, rational “middle ground” for shale development. The possibility that it ought not to be done at all was precluded in the “conference” title—and reinforced in spades by virtually all of the presentations. Just a few disturbing highlights:
  1. Scott Perry: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), argued that natural gas production was “too important to be left to the feds,” that regulations in PA were “way ahead on the environment,” that “we [in PA] had filled in every gap left by the federal government,” and that fracking was good for the environment. It’s genuinely hard to know where to begin here—but perhaps just one recent news article—I’ll bet Colorado thinks they have the best laws too: Fracking and Flooding in Colorado: The More We Know the Worse It Gets – EcoWatch: Cutting Edge Environmental News Service. But if that seems to far from home, consider: this is the same Scott Perry–DEP agent–who offered nothing but cold comfort to the residents of Dimock who continue their lawsuit against Cabot OIl and Gas for methane contamination of their wells (Dimock | StateImpact Pennsylvania). Indeed, “good for the environment,” probably doesn’t sit all that well with Norma Florentino–whose water well exploded, or Scott Ely who describes his water as “close to Drano” (DEP lets Cabot resume Dimock fracking – News – The Times-Tribune).
  1. Andrew Place: Corporate Director of Energy and Environmental Policy at the natural gas extraction and midstream corporation EQT (EQT Manager Promotes Sustainable Fracking Development ), and EQT representative to the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD). Place argued for the full spate of “best practices” implying that industry really wants to preserve the environment. But it’s hard to take Place very seriously. After all, he couldn’t better epitomize the revolving door of government and gas industry if he tried: “Prior to taking his post at EQT in 2011, Place was at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, as deputy secretary in the Office of Energy & Technology Deployment” (The face behind the Center for Sustainable Shale Development – Shale Reporter : Industry). And of course there’s the recent case of the EQT gas worker killed in a frack pad blast in West Virginia. Clearly, “best practices” for place is code for “acceptable casualties,” (West Virginia EQT Explosion Kills Worker At Taylor County Natural Gas Well Pad).
  1. John Hanger: While Hanger talks a good game about how he’s a “renewable energy guy,” he’s not. In fact, what becomes abundantly clear in his stump speech—presented on the “Energy, Climate Change, and Ethics” panel—is that he’s not only bought the absurd claim that natural gas is somehow for Americans, but even were that true, he’s clearly willing to sell out folks who are not his voting constituents to climate change. Hanger likes to tell a story about poor inner city folks who die in a fire because they can’t afford to heat their house—as a justification for continued fracking—but he apparently gives nary a thought to the suffering of the developing world poor facing the consequences of global warming (John Hanger–Right off the Rack | Raging Chicken Press). Hanger epitomizes what Widener Law School’s Don Brown described as the American tendency to privilege American interests above any others regardless the cost—so long as it “ain’t us.” This too, of course, is just another version of the middle ground—a “truth” defined in the interest of supporting a “conference” that’s really just a promotional video for CSSD, who is itself provided “technical support” by Mr. Hanger’s employer, Eckert Seamans (Chevron, Shell, Enviros Set Fracking Standards · Environmental Management & Energy News · Environmental Leader), a fact that puts Hanger—who supports CSSD (John Hanger’s Facts of The Day: The Center For Sustainable Shale Development Changes Fundamentally Shale Production Because Gas Certified As Sustainably Produced Will Soon Be Demanded By Gas Consumers). Does this put Mr. Hanger in bed with one of the world’s most horrific human rights abusers, Chevron. Yes. Does a possible Hanger candidacy make very real Brown’s claim that climate change is a “civilization challenging” dilemma? Indeed it does. But in the “middle ground” where fracking is “good for the environment,” where “industry cares about our forests and communities,” and where groups entirely in the tank for the gas like CSSD can promote themselves as “responsible,” we all live in Vichy, France, we’re all acceptable casualties–unless, of course, you’re in The Good Ole’ Boy Extraction Club: The Pseudo-Patriotic and Pervasively Patriarchal Culture of Hydraulic Fracturing (Why Breast Cancer is the Canary in the Fracking Coal Mine) | Raging Chicken Press. “Conferences” like the Sustainable Shale Shindig at Widener function to propagandize the “middle ground” by acting as a seal of approval, a “father knows best” imprimatur to hydraulic fracturing. Indeed, its professors wrote the “Citizen’s Guide” to getting the most out of your lease while the gettin’ in good (, transforming “environmental” into a full-scale exculpating green wash for cradle to grave natural gas production.
There were exceptions on the “conference” roster—the panels on public health and community sustainability. But listening to almost the only women on the program talk meaningfully about real health disasters and disease resultant from shale extraction was a surreal experience. They, after all, are utter outliers to a “middle ground” that cannot accommodate evidence that puts the lie to the safety of fracking. The audience listened politely, and the “conference” promptly returned to its fraudulent premises.
There is much more to say about the Widener Environmental Law Center Frack Gas Propaganda Shindig—but the upshot is clear enough: if you can successfully wield the legitimating power of an academic venue—especially a law school—you can advance an agenda that, in this case, is the gas industry’s masquerading as environmentally responsible. Under the ever-thinning robes of academic regalia you can apparently advance what amounts to corporate fascism festooned not with the recognition of scholarly achievements, but with the Logos of Chevron, EQT, Consol, PennFuture, Shell—CSSD.  In academia we call these university/corporation “partnerships.” But this is good old fashioned prostitution. A university creates a “center” that acts as corporate liaison to a rightly suspicious public. The “center” then instantiates the “middle ground” through its academic credentials, its atmosphere of reasoned dialogue, its parade of mostly white male experts and scholars. It sponsors an ideology—in this case “sustainable shale”—propagandized as that which only the daft and ignorant would reject.
And voila! The unsustainable becomes endless. The polluting becomes good for the environment. Disease becomes health. Water becomes clean and plentiful. The warming planet becomes a paradise. The poor become rich. Grass becomes trees. The animals rejoice, the sky turns the pink and rosy color of a forever sunrise on humanity.
Except that this is a frack well brimming with bull shit. If this is the agenda of the Widener University Environmental Law Center, we can only conclude that, like many of its analogues in United States higher education, it exemplifies the extent to which university education has become corporatized—serving the needs of industry over education—and co-opted to the revolving door of government, industry, and now Frack-U. With one caveat: the Environmental Law Center appears—like CSSD—to have been created—not merely co-opted—for just this purpose.  But we shouldn’t find this surprising. It’s the new “middle ground” where truth is magically transformed to support insanity, and where monsters like Chevron and Shell get to decide what counts as sustainable: fossil fuels (Chevron, Shell, Enviros Set Fracking Standards · Environmental Management & Energy News · Environmental Leader).

Monday, September 16, 2013

Pa. the gas industry lies and the fracking boom goes bust

Gas Industry Lies: 

Local jobs, royalty checks, energy independence, environmentally safe drilling, cheap domestic fuel prices... not in Pennsylvania. So far, each and every industry talking point promise and prediction has proven to be false, if not an outright lie. 

With the market price down and a gas glut in the US, this strengthens the case for a moratorium now, and keep it in place until independent, comprehensive, public health and safety studies can be completed, peer reviewed, and made public, so then we the people can decide to ban it in this state "IF" it can not be proven to be done safely. 

There are those who say that "a moratorium, or a ban is not realistic because the industry is already here and what we need are more regulations". My response to that is: "A Moratorium is a reality in NY, MD, NC, and IL. A ban is now a reality in VT. Where have 'better regulations' ever worked to make this safe? Given the facts and these examples, a moratorium, or a ban are the only realistic options that have been proven to actually work!."

This is why I can not, and will not support, campaign, or vote for any candidate, from any political party, for any public office, that will not support and commit to signing a moratorium if elected... and neither should anyone else. 

There is no energy crisis that requires further extraction of this resource now, or in the immediate future, that is unless we want PA to become a third-world extraction colony for overseas markets.  
John Trallo
Shale Justice Coalition
Our Mission: Shale Justice is a coalition of organizations whose aim is to coordinate our efforts, our regionally specific issues, our visions, our talents, and our hard work to end extreme forms of industrialized fossil fuel extraction which poses serious threats to our air, our land and our water.

Pa. fracking boom goes bust
Posted: September 12, 2013

IT WAS JUST a couple of years ago that fracking was booming in upstate Pennsylvania's Bradford County, and Janet Geiger, a retired hospital worker living on a 10-acre spread near the New York border, could count on getting a $300 to $400 check every month from the gas giant Chesapeake Energy Corp., which was drilling under her land.

But both the gas and the checks - with the financially ailing Chesapeake now claiming big deductions - dwindled until finally, in March, a check never showed up. "I thought the mail had gotten lost," said Geiger, 74, but after a week she finally reached someone with the Oklahoma gas driller who explained "they didn't have a buyer [for the gas] that month."

But Geiger said that she'd already seen the signs of a slowdown, that rural streets once clogged with the massive trucks of the drilling firms were mostly empty now, while new motels that had been hastily thrown up or expanded to accommodate a flood of out-of-state workers had only a couple of cars in the parking lots.

It's been a little more than two years since a then-new Gov. Corbett famously pledged to make Pennsylvania "the Texas of the natural-gas boom" - but already it's beginning to look as if the governor was all hat and no cattle, at least on this issue.

By some measures, unconventional drilling for natural gas, or "fracking," in the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania has dropped by more than 50 percent since its peak in 2010, the year Corbett was elected. Experts say that's because of several factors - but the biggest by far is a steep plunge in the price that natural gas was getting on the open market, in part a result of so much fracking here and elsewhere.

But regardless of the cause, the end of the fracking boom in Pennsylvania, or at least a pause, has enormous implications - economically, environmentally and politically. The latest numbers show that new jobs in energy production in the state are flat at best - which could be another headache for Corbett as he defends his record on employment in what looks like an uphill battle for re-election.

Plunging prices

"The market collapsed - it's a classic case of supply and demand," said Dave Yoxtheimer, hydrogeologist and extension associate with the Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, which closely monitors fracking. He noted that the Baker Hughes website, which traces the number of active drilling rigs, peaked in Pennsylvania at about 110 active locations in 2010 - the same year Josh Fox's documentary, "Gasland," sparked a new generation of environmental activism.

The large oil-and-gas companies like Chesapeake were flooding the zone with rigs in upstate and western Pennsylvania roughly five years ago, at a time when natural gas was fetching $13 per million British thermal units, and the U.S. was a major importer of liquefied natural gas.

But the rise of fracking technology - breaking apart shale and capturing trapped gases that once were inaccessible - brought so much natural gas onto the domestic market that the price collapsed as low as $2 per million Btu before rebounding to the current $3.30. Today, the Baker Hughes survey shows just 50 fracking wells operating in Pennsylvania, and Yoxtheimer said the bulk of new rigs instead are targeting oil, in regions such as the thriving Bakken field in North Dakota.

The falling gas prices came at the same time that environmental opposition increased and the regulatory climate toughened for fracking, which also may have played a role in slowing new drilling activity in the state.

In Wayne County, for example, two large energy companies that leased more than 100,000 acres at the height of the boom in 2009 - a move that promised to pump at least $187 million in lease payments into the Pennsylvania economy - announced earlier this summer that they now are canceling those agreements. The official reason was an ongoing drilling moratorium by the Delaware River Basin Commission, but officials also cited the depressed market for natural gas and a desire to drill instead for oil elsewhere.

Last month, the energy giant Royal Dutch Shell shocked Wall Street by taking a whopping $2 billion write-down in the value of its North American shale assets, including leases in Pennsylvania. Shell already had announced it was shifting its focus from natural gas to shale oil, and now its executives said even finding the trapped oil is harder than the company thought. Some officials have expressed concern for the future of a $2.5 billion gas-processing ethane cracker that Shell had been eyeing for western Pennsylvania, the signature economic-development project of the Corbett administration.

Mark Price, labor economist for Pennsylvania's liberal-leaning Keystone Research Center, said recent stats are beginning to show that jobs in the state's energy sector, which includes gas drilling, are starting to level off. He said one core measure of employment in the Marcellus Shale - which had risen steeply, by 10,000 jobs over 2011 - increased by only 1,000 positions last year. He said the broader energy sector, which includes more-up-to-date statistics, is posting a decline so far in 2013.

Going to Ohio

Price said that on a recent trip to Wellsboro, in far north-central Pennsylvania, "we talked to folks who knew people or who had family that had gotten jobs on rigs, and they had been asked to go to Ohio" - where drilling for wetter, more-profitable gas is booming.

"I think they've drilled and capped the wells and moved on to other states," agreed Nell Rounsaville, owner of the iconic Wellsboro Diner and another restaurant in the heart of Tioga County, although she said an increase in tourism business has offset the decline in rig workers. Advocates for fracking have touted the many spin-off jobs that more drilling would create in hotels, restaurants and other service industries.

But a decline in production may fall hardest economically on leaseholders like Sayre resident Geiger who came to expect sizable monthly payments when the gas was flowing. Now, in addition to the decline in drilling, she and her neighbors who signed leases with Chesapeake are mad that the Oklahoma-based firm - facing a cash crunch while its founder and former CEO is probed by the Securities and Exchange Commission - is taking large deductions for "postproduction costs" from the royalty checks that do come.

"We're paying for their bad management," she said.

And environmentalists who've been seeking tighter regulations or even a halt to drilling say that the new economic realities of fracking are a game-changer. David Masur of Philadelphia-based PennEnvironment said gas companies that once touted the benefits of cheap natural gas for the Pennsylvania economy are looking instead toward facilities to ship liquid gas to markets overseas, where prices are higher.

On Twitter: @Will_Bunch

Monday, September 9, 2013

John Hanger–Right off the Rack

John Hanger–Right off the Rack
Posted on September 9, 2013 by

The following captures a likely dialogue between myself, Wendy Lynne Lee, and Kevin Heatley, both of Shale Justice. The event is democratic gubernatorial candidate, John Hanger’s, visit to a Shale Justice sponsored meeting at Bloomsburg University on September 3rd organized by Shale Justice Executive Committee member, John Trallo. The piece may be very fruitfully read in correspondence with the amazingly mangled announcement of the event in Marcellus Drilling News (Shale Justice Coalition Plans to Gate-Crash John Hanger Appearance | Marcellus Drilling News), and the excellent analysis of both the MDN total botch and the Hanger event itself by Dory Hippauf (HANGER AND THE UGLY CHOICES | Shale Justice).

Heatley’s essay appears as primary text in bold, and mine appears in the quotation marks, italicized and in blue.
Another evening event in Shale Gas country. Instead of relaxing on the deck watching the dragonflies of late summer buzz across the pond, I am traveling to another community event.
Despite my better judgment, I feel compelled to behave like an engaged citizen. Another character flaw I struggle to overcome.
Another evening in Shale Gas country—instead of heading home from school to sneaker-up and go run hills, I am dashing about psychotically to secure treats, get a classroom door open, move desks, and make coffee for another community event for the movement to ban fracking. I don’t have time for “better judgment.” Right now I am just struggling to overcome fatigue and select fancy soda.
Tonight’s outing involves a Q&A session with former DEP director, professional lawyer, and gubernatorial hopeful, Mr. John Hanger.  John (I always use first names as I enjoy the false sense of familiarity that political figures project, even when they have no idea who the hell you are) has graciously agreed, at the request of the subversive Shale Justice Coalition, to travel to Bloomsburg and discuss his candidacy. The public meeting is attended by approximately 20 people, including an undercover gas operative (Slim Jim grease in breast pocket – dead giveaway).

Tonight’s outing involves arranging a classroom, some fruit salad, carrot sticks, upscale chips, and glass bottled sparkling beverages to maximize the “civil” of civil exchange between a gubernatorial candidate and voters who will assuredly not vote for him—a candidate who might be commended for being willing to walk into the fire of polite but determined opposition—except for that his entire presentation was an exercise in the scorched earth rhetoric of “I don’t suck as much as the other guy even though I will let the gas companies screw you” bracketed by two distinctive appeals to emotional extortion. I, however, will call Mr. Hanger “Mr. Hanger” because the familiarity implied by first name address leaves me feeling a little skeezy, and because he played a bit of fake deferral to me as “Professor Lee.” Two can play that game.
John has dressed in legal casualwear – white shirt, dark slacks, polished black loafers and a full democratic-blue tie. I take note of that, not because I intend to judge him based on appearance, but because I know that the vast majority of voters will make their final choice of elected leader based upon a complete and thorough intellectual analysis of camera presence. Think Kennedy versus Nixon. As a slight man, in his late fifties with a nasal tone to his speech, I am hoping John has some kick-ass platform positions.
Didn’t notice much other than the Democratic-Party-Blue tie—interesting choice for a guy who, in response to my question about why he opposed the 115-81 Democratic Committee vote for a six year moratorium on fracking, answered by way of classic deflection—the “Red Herring” that none of us agree with everything our parties stand for, so there “nothin’ to see here folks” about his refusal to endorse a major party platform. Except, of course, that there is. Because the moratorium would fundamentally alter the way Pennsylvania deals with an industry that’s poisoning our water, destroying our air quality, converting our communities into fractious war zones, selling off our public lands and their endangered inhabitants, and turning a country side once called the land of a thousand shades of green into an industrialized dead-zone a single shade of gray (and not the sexy adderondackskind), his position matters very much indeed. And Mr. Hanger’s right off the rack industry-sharpened lines is the wrong one.
John starts with some background history; 29 years working on energy issues as a lawyer, community activist, and regulator. He tells of a transformative event – the death of three people in Philly who were too poor to afford safe heating and burned to death in a fire while using candles. This is disturbing to everyone in the room and I can see that one of the attendees is anxiously seeking the missing Slim Jims as comfort food.  John has done a good job of demonstrating compassion during the lead-in segment. This is not to imply it is not genuine, merely that it is good public relations building.
Mr. Hanger moves very quickly to soften up his audience for his “Call me Mr. Regulator, yeah some people are gonna get hurt, but hey we all drive cars” industry pitch with just the right strategy of emotional manipulation—a family that burns to death moving him to take action to “stop that kind of thing.” Good for Mr. Hanger. Or not. However disturbing the story might be to the audience and to “Mr. Slim Jim,” it’s apparent street-cred. social justice gold for Mr. Hanger turns out to be just one of his tinny-tools for pitting some pretty vulnerable folks against others, namely folks who can’t afford to heat their houses (and end up using candles) against folks who, um, can’t afford to heat their houses (and end up driving tanker trucks for the gas). In effect his argument is “The only way to make sure folks can heat their houses is to make sure they’ve got access to cheap fuel, and if that means some other folks are gonna have to get really hurt, well, we’ve all got to suck that up.” Except of course we don’t all suck that up. And all the industry folks are sucking up is money ready to off-shore or spend-up elsewhere. After all, why would they spend their moola in an industrialized shit-hole?
But John makes a tactical error early on – gauging his audience as potentially hostile to his lack of support for a moratorium on unconventional gas drilling, a moratorium supported by his own political party, he assumes a defensive posture. For the next 45 minutes he uses classic logical fallacies in an attempt to “explain” his resistance to a moratorium. First is the use of the false equivalency, a technique whereby different choices are presented as fundamentally “the same”. John emphasizes repeatedly during his presentation that all energy comes with negative impacts. Dead bat with windmills, dead rivers with coal, and dead aquifers with natural gas (my observation, not his). In essence, John implies that all our energy choices are going to screw someone somewhere and that the solution is to try and screw the least number of people and then compensate them if possible. WOW, now that is a positive motivational message for the masses, especially if you want to start a riot.
Mr. Hanger miscalculates the savvy of his audience early on. Besides deploying logical fallacy as an instrument to extort consent, he also promotes a campaign platform that is fashioned entirely out of negative claims that are also either distorted in their presentation or just false on the facts:
  1. Coal and oil are really bad. Natural gas extraction is less bad. So natural gas extraction is actually good.
  2. The Corbett administration is really bad. I, John Hanger am less bad. So I, John Hanger, am actually good.
  3. Climate change is really bad. Methane emissions and leaks—measured in a funky short-sighted way—makes it less bad that Co2. So methane emissions and leaks are actually good.
The trouble with this approach is that (a) our frack-savvy Shale Justice-n-Friends audience can see right through it—and did, and (b) as an election platform, it leaves rather a lot to be desired—like positive claims about what a candidate is going to do. Mr. Hanger’s platform, as far as I can see is this: “Vote for me! I’m the guy who will try to get some regulations that will poison you less! Dirty your air less! Destroy your communities less! Have you suffer cancer less! Yeah! Or less!” But of course “regulation” is nothing but code for “minimal control over the rate, speed, mind-blowing severity, and permanence of harm.” So that “less” is pretty cold comfort. Indeed, dying in a house fire because you were using candles to survive a Winter night is frickin awful. But burning down the whole damn house called earth so that a few folks can live in gigantic well-heated houses wherever they damn-well want off the shale—that’s just insane. Mr. Hanger may well have convinced himself that a platform that shills it up for the Good Old Boys of  Anadarko is good for the poor folks he patronizes, but the rest of us know better.
Throughout the rest of his presentation John then works under another logical fallacy – the false dichotomy. This is the “either/or” proposition where a limited number of options are given in an attempt to narrow the choices and direct the decision of the target audience. John uses this technique both to justify his support for unconventional gas, “gas is bad but coal is worse” and for his own candidacy “the other candidates are worse than me”. What is particularly puzzling is John’s repeated contrasting of his positions with those of Tom Corbett. As Corbett’s approval rating is just slightly higher than Jerry Sandusky, it seems meaningless to create a comparison. John might as well have contrasted his candidacy with that of a corpse.

Indeed. Comparing oneself to Tom Corbett as a campaign strategy is kind of like insisting that because you didn’t personally, say, turn over Anne Frank to the NAZIs, you deserve to be the next German Chancellor. Nope.
While John knew his audience would not appreciate his lack of support for the party moratorium platform, he must not have realized the intellectual rigor with which they would respond to his rationalizations. When presented with contrasting evidence and his use of logical fallacies, he became defensive. While the meeting was congenial and respectful, John’s discomfort and inability to directly address key issues was apparent.
Mr. Hanger would have been better off had he brought some helpful interference-thugs. At least then, one of them could have texted to the Slim Jim industry mole that things were getting too hot and too smart for their candidate and faked some exit strategy. Instead, Hanger not only went on defense, but in so doing doubled down on the “I’m not the guy who’s gonna tell ya that people aren’t going to get hurt and that their aren’t going to be costs.” The trouble was that he never really countered with any of the benefits. In fact, even Mr. Hanger contests some of the wilder inflated job claims—so who is making out here? Why shouldn’t we all just see this as wholesale concession thinly veiled by a weak-ass promise to help us out when we get cancer, or lose our wells, or our kid gets asthma? And that is all, of course, a lie. John hanger can’t cure cancer, de-toxify a contaminated well, or fix a sick kid’s lungs. 
Of particular concern was John’s use of the shared culpability argument – the idea that, since we all use energy to exist we are all responsible for the devastation incurred from nuclear power, coal extraction, and oil & gas drilling. What is conveniently ignored in that rationale is that we do not all consume at the same level.  Some of us are more culpable than others.
And the corporate transnationals and political elite that offer us no viable choices but death by axe or death by hanging, are the most culpable of all. 
“Shared Culpability.” As if my occasionally less than stellar kitty-box cleaning was comparable to Michael Vick’s penchant for dog-fighting. As if my driving a Honda FIT was comparable to some gas executive’s purchase of a fleet of stretch HUMMERS. As if my somewhat lazy ‘tude about turning my compost was comparable to dumping frack waste. Seriously.
By the end of the evening I am willing to give John the benefit of the doubt.
Benefit of the doubt? Not so much. Though I highly esteem my colleague in anti-fracking action, Kevin Heatley, I’m afraid that Mr. Hanger precluded this option at both the beginning—and especially the end—of his performance for Shale Justice. Let me put this as forthrightly and compassionately as possible—no easy marriage: I wholly appreciate and empathize with Mr. Hanger’s loss of his son. I cannot even fathom the pain and anguish this must have caused, and the suffering he must surely still endure. I would be smashed to bits the size of grains of sand. But having said that, to raise this death—to effectively deploy it—as a strategy for making oneself electable, the best candidate in virtue of being the least noxious and the grieving father is deplorable. Mr. Hanger should be ashamed—and I hope he never uses this smarmy tactic ever ever again. For his own sake. I was embarrassed for him. I cannot support a candidate that willfully ignores the precautionary principle either, but even more I cannot support a candidate who willfully exploits the death of his child for political gain.
While I cannot support  a candidate that willfully ignores the precautionary principle, a concept that demands we hold back on further natural gas extraction until the science is clear, I can acknowledge his support for renewable energy and social justice to be both honest and noble efforts. However, John then, in apparent desperation, struggling to salvage the room, brings up a personal tragedy that his family experienced last year. This was extremely inappropriate and bordered on manipulation. Politicians would be well advised to keep pictures of the kids, the wife, or wives, the hubby, and the lovable Pug, at home. My vote will not be based upon how much you love your family or how much they love you. It will be based upon the potential impact of your policies. We already have enough incompetent but good family men and women in office.
And I can only interpret Mr. Hanger’s applause for renewables as posturing and pandering until he becomes a lot more courageous about ending fossil fuel extraction and takes seriously the real harms that he only pretends to care about. Or—perhaps he does care. But it’s no better a surmise because then we must conclude he’s not that bright—and I do think Mr. hanger is bright. Bright enough to position himself between the gas industry and the citizens they are in knowing, calculative fashion harming with “regulation.” Such citizens may be “refugees,” but, well, beware the educated embattled engaged refugee. We have formed a movement.
So, I offer a big thank you to all the known enemies of the State at Shale Justice for getting John to come up to Bloomsburg and speak to the disenfranchised overburdened who live on the shale.  And I would also like to thank John Hanger for being one of the only candidates willing to engage an audience of future refugees. But let the two major parties be advised – shale gas is a game changer, just not in the way the industry claims. The illusion of choice based upon the old two party paradigm is disappearing. Ignore the seismic groundswell of opposition and you will never collect your royalties.
Kevin’s right. Shale gas is a game changer. A party system that has always been a sham is exposed all the more so for its internal corruptions and corporatist self-aggrandizing objectives. But the real change in the game is not about parties or industries. It’s, as Kevin says, about the seismic groundswell of resistance that knows neither party nor state nor country borders. All it knows is shale. That is to say, it knows everything that is represented by the potential destruction of this last bastion of fossil fuel extraction—and because that is called climate change, it knows that game-over is about far more than royalties.
Kevin Heatley & Wendy Lynne Lee