pennsylvania

Mon, 2012-11-26 06:59Sharon Kelly
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Pennsylvania's Top Environmental Regulator Champions Drilling Industry at Shale Conference

When Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer stepped to the mic at a shale oil and gas conference earlier this month, he offered one of his most candid descriptions to date of how he sees his mission as a regulator. His job, he said, is to protect the state not from the potential misdeeds of drillers but from those of the EPA.

EPA has completely lost its concept of the rule of law,” Mr. Krancer charged, adding that he would remain watchful against any effort by the federal government to usurp state authority over hydraulic fracturing.

It was a small window into the mind of the top environmental regulator in a state now famous as ground zero of the current drilling boom, where the shale industry has enjoyed a virtually unprecedented bonanza.

Mr. Krancer described how foolhardy he thought it was to assume that the industry needed policing.

We’ve been doing this safely in the United States for years and years and years,” he said with regards to hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Along these lines, he dared his listeners to walk up to any American rigworker and to look that worker in the eye and tell say to his or her face that they shouldn’t be trusted to do their job safely.

Actually, I don’t recommend that you do take that challenge,” he added, to knowing chuckles from the audience of shale gas industry representatives.

Fri, 2012-11-23 13:58Steve Horn
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Fracking Your Future: Campus Drilling Extends Far Beyond Pennsylvania

The oil and gas industry plans to perform hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on college campuses in Pennsylvania, just as it currently does in close proximity to K-12 schools nationwide

But as NPR demonstrated in a recent report, that's just the tip of the iceberg.

“More than a dozen schools in states as varied as Texas, Montana, Ohio and West Virginia are already tapping natural resources on college campuses,” the report explains. “The University of Southern Indiana recently started pumping oil.”

Like Pennsylvania - which has seen higher education budget cuts totaling over $460 million since Republican Gov. Tom Corbett took office in 2010 - nearly all of these states have faced massive cuts in their most recent budgets. 

Texas, led by Republican Gov. Rick Perry, saw a $1.7 billion funding cut in its most recent budget cycle. Indiana, led by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, was hit with $150 million in higher education cuts in its most recent budget.

Montana, led by Democratic Governor Brian Schweitzer, was handed $14.6 million in higher education cuts in the most recent budget. And West Virginia, led by Democratic Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, saw $34 million evaporate from its higher education war chest in its most recent budget cycle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The content of the report is exactly as it sounds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The answer, in a word: ALEC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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