Sunday, May 20, 2012

What the Frack Pennsylvania?

AP Photo
Environmental protesters in Harrisburg protest the state's
"frack-friendly" policies.

Don't you love it when someone agrees with you?

All I can say is it's about time.

About a year ago, when the Marcellus Shale debate was a little hotter, I recall Dulcie Flaharty, the executive director at Montgomery County Lands Trust, talking to the Pottstown Regional Planning Committee.

She got into what I will politely call an animated discussion with Kurt Zebrowski, who is a member of the committee from New Hanover Township, about Marcellus Shale.

This map shows where Marcellus Shale is located.
There's none in Rhode Island
Zebrowski argued that if Pennsylvania enacted an "extraction tax" on the well drillers, LIKE EVERY OTHER STATE WHERE IT OCCURS, that the drillers would go elsewhere.

And I remember thinking: "Like where?! They have to go where the resource is. They can't drill in Marcellus Shale in Rhode Island, where there is none."

But I remember thinking something else as well:

"Why, having invited the coal mining industry in with open arms a century ago, and now finding our taxpayers paying the clean up the mess they left behind, would we not require this generation's equivalent from paying up front?"

The answer, as it so often does, comes from campaign finance records.

But don't take my word for it.

RED ROCKS: This photo of iron oxide on dead streams in PA is the
one NPR used to remind its readers that we've been through this
before, with the coal industry. And we're still paying.
Here are some "fast facts" from the National Institute on Money in State Politics web site which did the digging newspaper people used to do. (Click here to find out more.)

  • Fourteen Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission members and several of their spouses contributed a combined total of $442,347 to Corbett's campaigns for attorney general (2004, 2008, 2010) and governor (2010).
  • Almost all contributions to Gov. Corbett from Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission members came from either current or former oil and gas executives and lobbyists.
  • In the 2010 election, donors from the oil and gas industry favored Tom Corbett by more than 10:1, giving his campaign $1.3 million while only contributing $130,300 to his opponent, Dan Onorato.
  • Energy sector donors contributed a combined $768,438 to the legislators sitting on the House and Senate Environmental Resources & Energy committees.
Mercury Photo by John Strickler
 Ed Rendell speaking in North Coventry in 2010
So forgive the cynicism, but color me unsurprised to find out that Pennsylvania has dragged its feet on regulating and taxing this fast moving industry.

I remember our former Gov., Ed Rendell, when he came to North Coventry in 2010 to speak just before his term was up, warning that if an extraction tax was not enacted before Corbett was sworn in, little or no action would occur for the first five years, "because that's when the majority of the gas is extracted."

And now, the venerable National Public Radio, in this excellent report, has begun to look into the pollution we can all look forward to when these companies dissolve, leave town and leave taxpayers to pay for cleaning up the mess -- just like the coal companies did.

As it turns out, the danger is not so much what they pump into the ground, to fracture rock that used to be sea bed, but what's in it when it comes back out.

The wastewater was first -- did you guess? -- just dumped into streams. Then sent to wastewater treatment plants, which are not set up to take care of the chemicals and minerals found within.

The real risk from fracking is the wastewater.
Now, they're trying to recycle it. But eventually, it will have to be disposed of.

This is the quote that caught my eye: "Are we really going to let this happen to Pennsylvania again?" asks David Yoxtheimer, a hydrologist at Penn State who grew up here. "Are we going to make sure that we have enough money and that these companies' feet are held to the fire to make sure that once their operations are done, they put everything back together, tidy it up, and make it look like nothing happened there in the first place?"
I think we all know the answer to that question.

If you have any doubts about where the government's loyalties lie in this matter, read this lead paragraph from a March 27 article in The Atlantic magazine.:

Under PA law, doctors now cannot
tell their patients about the dangers
they face from fracking and what
might have made them sick.
"Under a new law, doctors in Pennsylvania can access information about chemicals used in natural gas extraction -- but they won't be able to share it with their patients. A provision buried in a law passed last month is drawing scrutiny from the public health and environmental community, who argue that it will "gag" doctors who want to raise concerns related to oil and gas extraction with the people they treat and the general public."

The magazine continues: "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."

See if you can guess what kinds of symptoms people whose water may have been polluted by fracking are experiencing?

There has been talk about whether imposing an extraction tax would help plus some of the hole in Pennsylvania's budget, and it's a legitimate discussion.

But for my money, and soon enough, it will be my money paying for it, I think any money the Commonwealth collects from these companies should right into a fund to pay for the clean-up and health problems we all know are coming.

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