Brendan DeMelle

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Brendan DeMelle is Executive Director and Managing Editor of  He is also a freelance writer and researcher specializing in new media, politics, climate change and clean energy. He has served as research associate for Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., researcher for Ring of Fire Radio, researcher for Laurie David and, law and policy analyst for Environmental Working Group, campus organizer for Connecticut Public Interest Research Group, environmental justice associate for EPA Region 10, among other positions in his career. DeMelle has provided writing and communications services on a wide range of topics, with a demonstrated ability to simplify complex and technical issues into concise, accessible language for general public consumption. 

His work has appeared in Vanity Fair, The Huffington Post, GristEnergyBoom, The Washington Times and other outlets, including a peer-reviewed article in the Journal of Rural History about the social and ecological impacts of the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project. He graduated from St. Lawrence University with a BA in Sociology and Environmental Studies in 1998, and lives in Seattle, Washington with his wife Anne.

Check Out Earthjustice's Fracking Video Short "Things Always Find A Way To Happen"

Earthjustice released a great video short earlier this month explaining the threats posed by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) for unconventional gas, including water contamination, an exploding house, dead livestock, and health impacts on residents living near fracking operations, to name a few. 

It’s a great brief overview of the reasons why the lax oversight of fracking and other unconventional gas industry practices deserves immediate and intense scrutiny from public health and safety officials. Just last week, we witnessed Chesapeake Energy’s fracking well blowout in Bradford County, Pennsylvania - which eerily took place one year after the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico - contaminating local waterways and properties with drilling chemicals. That well blowout is thankfully now under control and awaiting a permanent plug, but it serves as another reminder of how ill-prepared the gas industry is to respond to such emergencies, and to prevent them in the first place.

Watch the Earthjustice short:

Cue the 'Junk Shot': Chesapeake Ready to Cram Plastic and Tires Into Fracking Blowout in PA

Reuters has more details on Chesapeake’s just-announced suspension of fracking at its unconventional gas operations throughout Pennsylvania due to an ongoing blowout.

Apparently, since their emergency response efforts have so far not worked to stop the well blowout, Chesapeake is getting ready to - you might want to sit down for this - launch a ‘top kill’ junk shot of “a mix of plastic, ground up tires and heavy mud to plug the well.” 

What, no golf balls? 

Chesapeake Energy Suspends ALL Fracking in Pennsylvania After Blowout On Eve of BP Anniversary

Chesapeake Energy announced today the total suspension of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) at its Pennsylvania unconventional gas drilling operations, citing the still out-of-control blowout at one of its Bradford County wells as the reason to cease the controversial practice.

According to the brief Associated Press piece about this development, Chesapeake has slowed down the flow rate of the chemical-laced water at the Canton-area disaster site, but the company has not been able to get the well completely under control.

As DeSmogBlog reported yesterday, this unconventional gas well blowout - which occured almost exactly a year after the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico - is an eery reminder of the lax oversight of the oil and gas industry’s increasingly dangerous drilling practices as it reaches for dwindling fossil fuel reserves beneath the Earth’s surface to feed our dirty energy addiction.

Chesapeake’s suspension of fracking operations in Pennsylvania is a wise and welcomed step, and it should raise the question about the safety of the fracking boom taking place nationwide and around the globe.

*UPDATE: Reuters has more details on the fracking suspension and blowout response, including Chesapeake’s preparations for a ‘top kill’ junk shot. Now where have we heard that strategy before?

Gas Industry Admits Water Contamination in Pennsylvania, Drillers Told To Stop Fracking Wastewater Delivery To POTWs

Photo credit: David Turnbull

Pennsylvania news outlets reported two major developments in the controversy over fracking and unconventional gas today. The president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition has admitted publicly that fracking has contaminated local drinking water supplies in Pennsylvania.

And PA governor Tom Corbett has ordered gas drillers to stop taking fracking wastewater to public water treatment facilities (POTWs).

Carnegie Mellon University Professor Jeanne VanBreisen was first to discover high levels of bromides in drinking water sourced from rivers that have received treated fracking wastewater. Bromide is a salt also found in drilling wastewater from fracking operations.

The news is extra worrisome because bromides, when combined with chlorine at water treatment plants, can create bromates trihalomethanes, which are linked to bladder cancer, miscarriage and still births.

"Fracking" Shale Gas Emissions Far Worse Than Coal For Climate - Cornell Study

**UPDATE: The Cornell paper is now available in final, published format here: “Methane and the greenhouse-gas emissions footprint of natural gas from shale formations.”[PDF]

The Hill reported this morning on a groundbreaking report from Cornell University researchers confirming that shale gas recovered through high volume hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” will produce even more greenhouse gases than the burning of coal in the next two decades - a critical window in which society must reduce emissions to combat climate change. While natural gas is often viewed as a “cleaner alternative” to conventional fossil fuels - and is often promoted as a “bridge fuel” by environmentalists and politicians alike - the new Cornell report explodes this myth.

Gas is not just a “bridge to nowhere,” it turns out to be a highway to hell. The Cornell study makes clear that the widely-held perception that gas is the “cleaner” darling of the fossil fuel trio is a myth. With total methane emissions factored in, shale gas turns out to have the greatest climate impact of all the fossil fuels.

Contrary to popular belief, gas is just as polluting as coal in the long term - and far worse in the near term due to the higher warming impact from methane when it is first released to the atmosphere during the controversial fracking stage.  This news is certain to rattle policymakers in Washington who have promoted gas as a solution to our energy crisis. The Cornell paper is a game changer, and its release this week should command the attention of everyone concerned about our energy future.

Koch Industries' Lobbying Curtain Lifted By Center For Public Integrity

The Center for Public Integrity has an in-depth look today at Koch Industries’ “Web of Influence” in Washington, revealing the immense growth in Koch’s spending on lobbyists and influence peddling over the last few years. As the CPI investigation notes, the Kochtopus’s lobbying army has its tentacles wrapped around all kinds of issues, not just its core oil business, but its wide-ranging stakes in everything from Canadian tar sands to ethanol to toxic chemicals to financial regulation (or preserving the lack thereof).

The CPI report lifts the veil on a few individual Koch lobbyists, notably Gregory Zerzan, a name that nobody outside Washington would recognize, yet who has had tremendous impact on the Hill as a Koch toady.

As the report notes:

“The money that Koch (pronounced “coke”) has spent on lobbying in Washington has soared in recent years, from $857,000 in 2004 to $20 million in 2008. The Kochs then spent another $20.5 million over the next two years to influence federal policy, as the company’s lobbyists and officials sought to mold, gut or kill more than 100 prospective bills or regulations.”

Check out the rest of the report over at the CPI website. It’s a great display of the kind of transparency needed in Washington, which remains overrun with lobbyists despite President Obama’s campaign pledge to limit their influence over federal policymaking. 

With the huge influx of Koch money into lobbying and campaign contributions - thanks to the democracy-destroying Citizens United decision - it will be hard to have an honest debate about much of anything in Congress. Polluter money prevails, for the time being, so it’s important to know which dirty money purveyors to pin the blame on for the deterioration of our democracy, public health and the environment. These days, the Koch brothers are Exhibit A.

Greenwashed Alberta Land Use Plan Protects Tar Sands and Timber Interests Over Athabascan Environment

The Alberta government released its Lower Athabasca Regional Plan (LARP) today extolling the province’s efforts to protect lands from industrial development – except it turns out the claims more closely resemble greenwash than fact. Not only are the areas set aside for protection much smaller than originally recommended by the province’s Regional Advisory Council, but they also appear to have been chosen for their total lack of potential value to the oil and gas or commercial forestry industries.

In fact, 85 percent of the newly protected areas lack any commercially viable oil, gas and timber.

The areas set aside for conservation are largely located in the rocky north of the province, and are not representative of the rich forest ecosystems found in the southern Athabasca region – the lands impacted the most by industrial timber and tar sands exploitation.

 While the government claims 16.17 percent of the lands are newly protected conservation areas, in fact only 10.6 percent are truly protected. The remaining 5.57 percent of the conservation areas allow “ecosystem forestry,” a greenwashing term for business as usual that allows industrial logging on these ‘protected’ lands.

Check Out This PBS Show Tonight, Lester Brown's Plan B: Mobilizing To Save Civilization

If you’re looking for something good to watch or record on TV tonight, tune in to PBS’s ‘Journey To Planet Earth’ series for a special called ‘Plan B: Mobilizing To Save Civilization.’ (10pm EST, or check local listings)

The program - nicely narrated by Matt Damon - is based on the book of the same name by author and environmentalist Lester Brown, and it details the impacts that climate change is having on food systems already, with troubling indications for political stability in an increasingly destabilized climate. 

As Brown points out ominously, global food shortages are already causing political turmoil in several areas of the world, and as glaciers and ice caps continue to melt, the situation is sure to get much worse.  Brown asserts that food shortages will pose the greatest threat to civilization out of all the negative consequences anticipated with climate disruption.

FRACKING HELL: The True Cost of America's Gas Rush (Video)

I recently re-watched this 18-minute video produced by Britain’s Ecologist Film Unit profiling the threats posed by hydraulic fracturing for gas in the Marcellus Shale in the eastern U.S.  It’s an excellent primer for anyone who wants to get up to speed on this issue. And, as this piece makes clear, the fracking threat and shale gas boom are not confined to the eastern U.S. by a long shot. 

In addition to the huge gas rush in the U.S. West, as well as in B.C. and elsewhere in Canada, there is a growing industry effort to bring all the pollution and contamination risks of fracking to Europe too - just beginning in the UK, Poland, France and Germany.

The piece outlines the major threats - many recently profiled by the New York Times in its Drilling Down series - from radioactive wastewater, fracking chemicals and other risks to drinking water and public health posed by shale gas development. It explains the devestating toll that gas drilling has had on families and communities across the eastern U.S. region where the shale gas boom is underway, and the consequences of letting this practice gain acceptance throughout the world.

As the LinkTV narrator asks in her preface to their re-run of the video, “The gas business may be booming, but at what price for people?”

PolluterWatch Memo to Koch PR Team: Ever Consider Making Your Astroturf A Little Less Obvious?

PolluterWatch is serving up a great tongue-in-cheek “memo to the Koch PR team” tonight, noting the obvious blunders from Koch Industries’ astroturfing and attack squad lately. The Kochtopus keeps revealing just how highly coordinated its media and blogger network is, mysteriously generating defensive and offensive pieces in quick succession at the drop of a billionaire’s hat.

If it weren’t so blatantly obvious in slinging the same mud and honey around the media Koch-o-sphere, perhaps Koch’s ever-ready defender squad might be worthy of compensation? Oh wait, New Media Strategies does get paid by Koch to blatantly and disastrously attempt to edit the Koch profile on Wikipedia. 

And even if Koch’s friends in media claim to rush to the company’s defense out of pure ideological zealotry and not for compensation, there are a few instances where that argument fails to impress.  As PolluterWatch points out, Koch’s PR team recently posted on the company’s Facebook page about a piece written by Steven Hayward that seemed to support Koch’s anti-science position on climate change and predictably tooted the old Climategate dud.