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March 19, 2012

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And you may not be able to get a mortgage, either.

Not to mention the excitement of earthquakes.

Establish and/or strengthen environmental protections around well sites

Why am I thinking of how Augustus Caesar restored the Republic?

On a broader scale, this legislation reminds me of the railroad land grants from the 1860's and 70's. Except, of course, this time, it's not the funny-talking brown savages whose interests are being steamrollered.

Were I the Count, I'd manage something clever about smallpox blankets, or possibly a Heartland Farmers' Reservation. As it is, I'm just hitting my head on the keyboard.

I particularly enjoyed this video about what fracking does to drinking water.

The trouble with seeing it as a problem of localities not being able to opt-out is that the problems caused by fracking (such as geological changes and water pollution, among other things) cross state lines. In fact, problems like this are increasingly national, or international, in scope.

I'm glad that the EPA is studying this. It's troubling to me that with all of the worrisome issues about fracking, we're fracking first and answering later. It's my understanding that natural gas is a cleaner energy source (at its burning stage) than other fossil fuels, so it's may be worth figuring out how to get it out of the ground. I don't really understand why people aren't up in arms against polluting the drinking water though.

The trouble with seeing it as a problem of localities not being able to opt-out is that the problems caused by fracking (such as geological changes and water pollution, among other things) cross state lines.

I agree that it is much more than a local problem. The Marcellus Shale covers several states, it would be good if its development was managed at an at-least-regional level.

The other issue with addressing it purely at a local level is that most of the entities involved in developing it are not, remotely, local in scale. Tyrone PA doesn't have the resources to go toe to toe with the extraction industries.

And I'm not picking on Tyrone, it's just the first west-central PA town name that came to mind.

All of that said, the jurisdiction in which individual people have the greatest influence is the local one. There are, no doubt, some towns or counties where folks would prefer to place stronger restrictions on development than the feds, state, or any given regional compact would. That's no longer available to them in PA.

There's a carrot and stick, if you play nicely you get some of the fees. But for some folks that isn't going to be a good deal.

The water table issues should be no surprise to anyone. They've been fracking out west for a number of years, and everything folks are seeing and/or afraid of in the Marcellus have already been seen in WY, CO, etc. See here.

Since the evil hand of the federal government was not mentioned once by the author, none of this could possibly be true.

There are, no doubt, some towns or counties where folks would prefer to place stronger restrictions on development than the feds, state, or any given regional compact would.

But then that turns into the NIMBA problem, that sometimes exists with desirable projects. For whatever reason (perhaps because it's too "scientific" to talk about) energy versus the environment is hardly discussed in national elections. Everyone shares in the benefits of energy production (with huge profits for energy development corporations), but the environmental cost falls more harshly on the people who live near the development site. (Also, the job benefits are local, which is why places like Louisiana and Texas have managed to put up with the environmental devastation.)

The "environmental justice" movement seems to have been taken up by the EPA, but I doubt that the Republican Congress has it as a funding priority. This issue might be worth my spare research time.

"I don't really understand why people aren't up in arms against polluting the drinking water though."

Money.

I was just back in PA last month (my mother is suffering from dementia and I try to head back every other month or so to help care for her; she lives in an upscale suburb just north of Pittsburgh) and the subject of fracking came up once between a brother and me.

First of all, western PA at the very least, and this holds doubly true for rural PA, never participated in the real estate boom and so waving extractive cash in the face of a rural landowner has a certain Pavlovian logic and outcome.

Not to mention the fact that a couple of my brother's friends who live in the aforesaid upscale neighborhood and have done very well in life own rural property as well in an absentee sort of way, and off they go to drill.

One place you won't find a rig is on their or their parents' property in the now twice aforesaid upscale neighborhood, where the same folks have installed borough rules also regulating, in quintuplicate, whether their neighbors can down a tree on their own property.

Besides, when horizontal drilling enables your neighbor to invite a drilling pad on to their property right across the property line, and the land man and his crew from Texas sit at your kitchen table and follow up your refusal to allow drilling on your land by breezily letting you know (removing the toothpick from their surly mouth and pointing with it to the rig across the way in your neighbor's pasture) that the resource underneath your chair will be tapped anyway, whether you like it or not, what to do?

Know too that PA is cashing out. The population is declining, along with the tax base (not that Governor Corbett gives a crap about the tax base). Also, whether they know it or not, folks live on a water table and next to streams and rivers (the entire area for a long time was a tailing pond) still tasty from decades of coal strip mining and heavy metal and acid leached from a now much reduced manufacturing base.

All of that has its bad and good aspects, but the point is that Governor Corbett and company, as proxies for private industry, want to prohibit transparency (and increased taxes on extraction, which might fund transparency) this time around too, for the same f*cking reasons as last century.

I see now that PA doctors may not disclose their suspicions regarding the effects of chemical fracking to their very patients, and no doubt this extends to your fetus as well -- all of this a sort of rancid parody of Arizona's proposed law prohibiting doctors from letting expectant mothers know about suspected birth defects in their fetuses -- or Texas' and other new state laws regarding the opposite -- that women seeking abortions must have all manner of invasive procedures done to their very own mineral rights, and the outrage some on the Right espouse regarding the gummint getting between one's doctor and one's very own fundament, as described at length without so much as a pause for commas by our forefathers.

Of course, one can foresee PA resident Rick Santorum, as a proxy for the entire malign edifice of the prostate olympics now carrying the torch from primary state to primary state, mandating full inspections of her vaginal wall to preserve life in all its forms and some simultaneous exploratory laying of pipe up her keester because we must free our Nation from the scourge of imported energy (insert, if you will, whatever bullsh*t Gingrich stats regarding the likelihood of that happening, ever) because obviously a little fracking right next door to the fetus with only a perineum in between is little cause for concern.

May I see those images? No! Or Yes! ... but who cares what you think.

A law could be passed enabling the resulting two-headed babies to vote twice in elections, but lest you believe that might ameliorate the problem, consider what would would happen if one of the heads owned land rich in natural gas and the other was a limp-wristed environmentalist who held every glass of water up to the light to ascertain whether it might catch on fire.

You'd have a tie, broken by the marginal dollar. And it's now illegal to hold that glass of water up to the light! Now, spread your legs and let's have a good looksee.

I blame Obama. After all, because so much drilling has occurred under his Administration, the price of natural gas is at unheard of lows, so low that Chesapeake Energy, one of the biggest drillers in the Marcellus and the Bakken and so on is reducing their drilling production and closing wells because we MUST, I say, must, lower the price of energy in this great Nation of ours, unless the price gets too low, in which case never effing mind.

It's so low that some people are thinking about powering the American truck and auto fleet with a cleaner fuel .. natural gas, and we can't have that -- clean sources of power are unAmerican.

Tear down that bunting!

A horse is a horse, but that was me, as if you ...

But then that turns into the NIMBA problem, that sometimes exists with desirable projects.

That's true, but IMO there's a legitimate place for NIMBY/NIMBA issues in the debate. If anyone should have a voice, it's the folks who have to live with the nasty end of the stick.

"I don't really understand why people aren't up in arms against polluting the drinking water though."

Money.

Cherchez l'argent. You'll never go wrong.

NIMBY, right. That was the acronym I was looking for.

Anyway, I have a NIMBY thing going on right now, where I'm the NIMBY. I sincerely believe that a public project that is affecting my neck of the woods is bad for a lot of reasons, and I've paid attention to those reasons more than other people have who are not similarly geographically situated. There are a lot of people like me who have been very active about opposing the project and have fended it off for many years. Interestingly, even though the majority of the local population opposes the project, their political representatives (in closely divided votes) have voted for it. (Local government is, in my experience, seemingly more corrupt than state, which is more corrupt than federal government. Perhaps it depends on where you live and what issues you care about.) Ironically, the only thing that might save us from the project happening is federal environmental regulation (ironic, that is, from the point of view of those who think local people should manage their own business).

And that seems to be where the solution will lie for fracking: the EPA. I hope they get there soon.

It is my (admittedly limited) understanding that fracking consumes a LOT of water. That water is full of various substances that may be harmful to people (we don't actually know, apparently, because the companies don't have to disclose the chemicals?). That's over and atop the petroleum hydrocarbons that we know are harmful if consumed (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes, etc).

I have very little faith that proper care will be taken to prevent contaminating groundwater - either via the fracking process itself or (perhaps even more likely, IMO) via wastewater seepage from containment ponds/tanks. If/when contamination occurs, then there will be denial, delay, and finally grudging payment of some cleanup costs, by those entities that are still in business (some, no doubt, will be out of business, or have no assets, or something else that conveniently means there's no money).

My lack of faith, disturbing thought it might be to some, is grounded in 13 years of doing my job (long-tail pollution/haz waste claims).

I don't have much to add other than an anecdote about someone I know through work who has a hunting cabin on some land in north/central PA he purchased with some friends years ago. They are absentee owners, in that they don't live there, and they stood to make quite a bit of easy money by allowing a driller to drill on their land - up-front money and what could be characterized as "royalties" thereafter.

I'm curious to know how that all turned out upon reading this post.

Russell, I read the link to the article about Pavillion WY. Here is some of what the article says:

1. the EPA released a draft study that tentatively linked groundwater contamination in Pavillion with fracking.

2. The study was the first time the EPA scientifically tied fracking to groundwater contamination.

3. The EPA found traces of glycols, methane and other unidentified chemicals in two monitoring wells the agency dug for the purpose of investigating pollution claims.

4. The EPA data has been questioned by the industry, which asserts that the agency is confusing contamination with naturally occurring gas.

Is it significant that this is the first study to find something even 'tentatively linked' to fracking and that the findings are at the 'trace' level? Is there some other evidence of confirmed ground water contamination as a result of fracking? I do acknowledge that the local leader of the local concerned citizens alleged that the water "would put sores on your head", but that isn't exactly the scientific method.


Is it significant that this is the first study to find something even 'tentatively linked' to fracking and that the findings are at the 'trace' level?

When discussing environmental pollution, we're almost always talking about "trace" amounts. The acid rain generated by coal burning power plants in the midwest that nearly destroyed ecosystems in the northeast was caused by quantities of sulphur dioxide measured in parts per million.

Is there some other evidence of confirmed ground water contamination as a result of fracking?

Before we ask that, perhaps we should consider whether this question could ever be answered. I know of a few lawsuits that been filed alleging ground water contamination, but in general companies don't disclose lots of information needed to make this determination and many state EPAs aren't eager to find out.

Finally, if you read this, you'll see some evidence from the US Forestry Service that fracking chemicals, when given directly to trees are pretty damn toxic. What sort of guarantees can fracking operations make about to what extent said fracking chemicals will remain dispersed once injected into the earth?

Some history regarding the EPA and hydraulic fracturing, and the fossil fuel industry generally.

A list of incidents of compromised groundwater linked to fracking.

My point here is that folks have been having significant issues with water quality correlated with fracking for a number of years.

That claim doesn't need to meet the standard of iron-clad, double-blind, scientifically proven cause and effect for folks to want more due diligence done before it comes to their town.

The fact that it's happened, a lot, should really be enough.

I'm not sure which article you were reading, McKinney. The New York Times article states "But the suite of chemicals found in two test wells drilled at the site, the report said, could not be explained entirely by natural processes. The agency’s analysis of samples taken from deep monitoring wells in the aquifer indicated the presence of synthetic chemicals, like glycols and alcohols consistent with gas production and hydraulic fracturing fluids, benzene concentrations well above standards in the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards, and high methane levels."

As russell's history link points out, there haven't been many EPA studies of groundwater related to fracking. The first EPA study came out during the Bush administration in 2004, and was based on pre-existing literature, interviews with "industry experts" and citizens who had reported local groundwater contamination. It doesn't appear that any actual ground water testing was done. (Let's remember that the Bush and Cheney weren't strong enforcers of environmental laws.)

So no wonder this was the "first time." It was the first time a responsible EPA actually took the trouble to test anything. And what they came out with was that there were toxic chemicals in the ground water that exceeded safe levels.

the Bush and Cheney weren't strong enforcers of environmental laws.

Fracking is specifically exempted from the Clean Water Act, at least as of 2005, at the urging of Richard Bruce Cheney.

I'm not sure which article you were reading, McKinney.

The last link in Russell's 8:45. I was quoting directly.

Thanks, McKinney. With all respect to russell, I think that the New York Times article is a better description of the study, but the study itself is linked from the NYT article in case you'd like to figure that out for yourself.

I hope that the dangers of fracking are minimal, and it appears from the article that russell cited that the Obama administration hopes so too. I enjoy my current lifestyle, which involves the use of fossil fuels, and it would be great for everyone if we could have natural gas as a "bridge fuel" to the time when we're relying on renewable, nonpolluting energy sources.

I find it somewhat heartening that some people in the natural gas industry are arguing for transparency. Most of the fuel sources upon which we current depend have an environmental cost. It would be nice if, at the very least, we could evaluate the costs, so that we can try to reduce them, and allocate them so that no one pays the costs beyond their fair share.

We need to do better to allocate the destructive aspects of our policies fairly. This is true with the environment as well as for national security, and everything else. That's what taxes are for, by the way. That said, the environment deserves special caution because there is life (tipping my hat to the "culture of life") that will be lost forever without careful stewardship. We've been incredibly lousy stewards.

It is interesting to me that in most of the NIMBY kind of projects I can think of (off the top of my head nuclear waste storage, nearly any energy project, many freeway/road projects) the players in the argument are neatly reversed from our previous federalism/local control discussion. [Please note, this is not an observation that applies to only the environmentalist side of the discussion. *BOTH* sides seem to flip on these kind of issues.]

I don't have anything to add more than that (knowing nothing about fracking).

Could you expand on that comment Sebastian? I'm not sure it holds true but would like to hear more.

It is interesting to me that in most of the NIMBY kind of projects I can think of (off the top of my head nuclear waste storage, nearly any energy project, many freeway/road projects) the players in the argument are neatly reversed from our previous federalism/local control discussion.


I think there's a lot more NIMBY-ism in the US because just about any development project in any American city is subject to the local neighborhood groups. I'm dealing with this now in my church. Basically, you can't do any development in our city without securing some sort of approval from the relevant neighboorhood groups.

If you don't get their approval, they'll sue you and they'll show up at every meeting screaming, fighting you every step of the way. That means they show up at planning board meetings, at dept of parking and transportation meetings, at historical commission meetings. They'll even try to apply for landmarks to property they don't own in an attempt to slow you down and bleed you dry. In the US, we give an enormous amount of power to these people. In my experience, their contribution has been completely negative.

As a liberal, I think this institutional structure is a disaster. For me at least, I think that makes my views on federalism pretty consistent, for whatever that's worth.

If climate change ends our civilization, I think neighborhood groups will be at least as responsible as gas companies. Building densely cures many ills, but neightborhood groups in cities around the country have made that impossible.

I think NIMBYism is as American as it gets.

I'm pretty sure it was in the Constitution, but was removed before ratification by those who realized acronyms had not been invented yet, along with emoticons.

I hinted at an example in my comment way upthread wherein folks I know want to practice plenty of NIMBYism and tight local control in their own upscale neighborhoods regarding fracking and other matters in PA, but are happy to side with Governor Corbett and others in favor of removing local control over fracking for the rest of the State, especially where they might own local property.

In the Keystone Pipeline controversy, President Obama and the Federal government are the villains to many because of his decision to postpone the decision to go ahead AT THE REQUEST of Republican Nebraska Governor Mike Heineman and Republican Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns, hardly fans of Federal involvement in anything.

I would suppose liberal Barbara Streisand would be vehemently opposed to situating a homeless shelter in her neighborhood and would invoke strict local control to prevent that, but I'll bet too that she would be happy to have State and Federal involvement in mandating homeless shelters in other neighborhoods around the country.

American don't have principles; we have interests ... and other principles when it suits us and our attorneys.

And then we kid each other.


American don't have principles; we have interests ... and other principles when it suits us and our attorneys.

And then we kid each other.

I don't believe I've ever read a better or more succinct description of American politics.

".....the players in the argument are neatly reversed from our previous federalism/local control discussion.

It strikes me there is nothing remotely "neatly" about it.

It depends.

Whose ox is getting gored?

So I'm reading this book, The Tyranny of Dead Ideas at the library tonight, and don't I come across this:

Tax debates may be the purest example history offers of the truth of Ambrose Bierce's wonderful line in The Devil's Dictionary, where he defines politics as "a strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles; the conduct of public affairs for private advantage."

Sound familiar?

(And just last night, my wife was watching a PBS documentary about the whaling industry, during which they quoted a passage from Moby Dick I had just read on the hopper a few days before. Plates of shrimp abound for us Repo Men.)

Whose ox is getting gored?

Exactly. Or, at least, partly. My example of my NIMBY project, for example, is one that really is (promise!!!!) wrongheaded. But I don't deny that I'm much more interested in the issue because my ox is getting gored. But, as I said, the local politicians (buttressed by business interests) want it. The local population (as measured by huge turnouts to public meetings in opposition) oppose it. The new Republican state governor supports it (whereas the former Democratic state governor opposed it.) The EPA (I hope) opposes it.

So I'm not at all on the "other side" of the federalist argument. I'm still rooting for my champion, the Feds, to save the day. (Honestly, I hope I am being consistent here, in that this project not only adversely affects me, but it's actually pretty bad. I hope that I would take it for the "team" if I thought it were actually a good thing.)

Hydrofracking is a clusterfuck. There is no other term which covers the myriad ways in which it is energy policy gone wrong. Natural gas is neither natural nor safe. Hydrofracking may or may not be directly responsible for groundwater pollution as regards the radioactive toxic brew of secret ingredients used. Irretrievably wrecking the integrity of bedrock to allow leaching of contained materials is another matter entirely.
You thought Gasland was over the top, perhaps. I wonder. Check out the Energy and Water files http://opitslinkfest.blogspot.ca/p/topical-index.html

Natural gas is neither natural nor safe.

It is both of those things actually.

radioactive toxic brew of secret ingredients used

I don't think fracking makes use of radioactive materials.

hairshirtthedonist:

I remember reading a little Bierce as an assignment in high school, roughly 622 years ago, but I don't know whether the passage you cite was among the selection.

I pick things out of the air, much like Groucho's "I have others", referring to principles, and off they go down the tubes (what tubes? Carlin wanted to know).

Among the big pile of things I did not know was that my favoritest Twilight Zone episode of all time, "An Incident at Owl Creek Bridge", was based on Bierce's story of the same name. I'd given Rod Serling credit for that all these years.

I noticed too at Bierce's Wikipedia page that he muckraked the railroad trusts' secret effort to NOT pay back the roughly $3 billion (in today's dollars) they borrowed from the Federal Government to construct the railroads --- evilrooster upthread compares our subject here to the behavior (in other ways) of the railroad trusts and our elected representatives of the people in contravention of their vaulted "principles", "people" being not you and me but those who run the joint.

Had not Bierce and his body disappeared into thin air observing Pauncho Villa's roustings (I'd like to mimic Bierce in that too, just to stem the boredom), he could lift his head from his grave today, March 22, 2012, take a quick lookaround and say "Welp, wake me again when something new happens. More sleep please, perchance to dream." and then conk out for another 110-some years.

Bierce wrote some doggerel seemingly prophesizing, in a light-hearted manner, President McKinley's assassination, which caused high dudgeon among the primitve innertubes and the Andrew Breitbarts of the day, causing gilded-aged redstater's noses to run and numerous bannings for the sharp-tongued Bierce.

I don't know who said "deja-vu all over again", but I just did.

in most of the NIMBY kind of projects I can think of (off the top of my head nuclear waste storage, nearly any energy project, many freeway/road projects) the players in the argument are neatly reversed from our previous federalism/local control discussion.

It depends.

Whose ox is getting gored?

American don't have principles; we have interests

A few things...

I agree with bobbyp, I think the 'flipping of sides' on the topic of federalism etc is not quite so clean cut.

The locus of decision making is one parameter. Other parameters are who benefits and who pays, and what the nature of the gain or harm is.

In this case, the nature of the harm is that your home may become more or less unliveable. And, that once the harm is done, the responsibility for making you whole is not very well defined.

People need to have some way of having their interests represented in public life. I'm not sure it matters all that much at what level that happens as long as it happens.

NIMBY is more or less always seen negatively - you're fine with somebody, somewhere holding the short end of the stick, as long as it isn't you - but there is also a basic, ground level of having your interests represented, in some way.

When the issue is that your tap water may become flammable, or your county may become prone to earthquakes, it's hard (for me, anyway) to find fault with folks wanting to have some kind of voice in what the hell is going on.

To the Count's point, if perhaps a little less cynically, IMVHO it's actually pretty useful to think about things in terms of competing interests.

I think that's actually the reality in most cases in public life. Certainly, we deal with each in terms of our competing interests far more often than in terms of any kind of consensus or common purpose.

Since that's the reality, we would do well to recognize and acknowledge it, and deal with each other on that basis.

There are interests on a number of sides in this issue. They should all have a place at the table. As of April, some won't.

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