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August 03 2012

12:00

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 heavilized 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."

Marcellus Shale Frackers Utilize the "Delaware Loophole" 

The New York Times story also demonstrated that the shale gas industry has become an expert at utilizing the "Delaware Loophole" tax haven to dodge taxes, just as it is a champion at dodging chemical fluid disclosure and other accountability to the Safe Drinking Water Act, thanks to the "Halliburton Loophole." The latter is explained in great detail in DeSmogBlog's "Fracking the Future."

Utilization of the "Delaware Loophole" is far from the story of a few bad apples gone astray for the industry. As Wayne explains, the use of this "onshore tax haven" is the norm.

More than 400 corporate subsidiaries linked to Marcellus Shale gas exploration have been registered in Delaware, most within the last four years, according to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a nonprofit group based in Harrisburg that studies the state’s tax policy.

In 2004, the center estimated that the Delaware loophole had cost the state $400 million annually in lost revenue — and that was before the energy boom.

More than two-thirds of the companies in the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry alliance based in Pittsburgh, are registered to a single address: 1209 North Orange Street, according to the center.

These fiscal figures, as Wayne points out, predate the ongoing shale gas "Gold Rush" in the Marcellus. SEIU of Pennsylvania has calculated $550 million/year in lost tax revenue in the state from the shale gas industry due to the loophole.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives set out to tackle the "Delaware Loophole" quagmire in the spring of 2012, but merely offered half-measure legislation that would have allowed corporations - including the frackers - to continue gaming the system. Coryn S. Wolk of the activist group Protecting Our Waters summarized the bill in a recent post:

In March, 2012, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives created a bipartisan bill, HB 2150, aimed at closing corporate tax loopholes. However, as the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center noted in their detailed opposition to the bill, the bill would have cost Pennsylvania more money by soothing corporations with major tax cuts and leaving the loopholes accessible to any clever accountant.

Tax cheating in Delaware goes far above and beyond the Marcellus Shale. All of the oil and gas majors, with operations around the world, take full advantage of all Delaware has to offer.

"Piping Profits"

If things in this sphere were only limited to shale gas companies operating in the Marcellus Shale, the battle would seem big. Big, but not insurmountable.

Yet, as the Norway-based NGOPublish What You Pay points out in a recent report titled, "Piping profits: the secret world of oil, gas and mining giants," the game is more rigged than most would like to admit.

How rigged? Overwhelmingly so.

The report shows that ConocoPhillips, Chevron, and ExxonMobil have 439 out of their combined 783 subsidiaries located in well-known tax havens around the world, including in Delaware. All three companies maintain fracking operations, as well, meaning they benefit from both the Halliburton and Delaware Loopholes.

Adding BP and Shell into the mix, Publish What You Pay revealed that the five majors have 749 tax haven subsidiaries located in Delaware out of a grand total of 3,632 global tax haven subsidiaries. This amounts to 20.6-percent of them, to be precise.

These figures moved Publish What You Pay's Executive Director, Mona Thowsen, to conclude, “What this study shows is that the extractive industry ownership structure and its huge use of secrecy jurisdictions may work against the urgent need to reduce corruption and aggressive tax avoidance in this sector."

Tax Justice Network: $21-$32 Trillion Parked in Offshore Accounts

A recent lengthy report titled "The Price of Offshore Revisited" by the Tax Justice Network reveals just how big of a problem tax havens are on a global scale, reaching far beyond Delaware's boundaries.

As Democracy Now! explained,

[The] new report…reveals how wealthy individuals and their families have between $21 and $32 trillion of hidden financial assets around the world in what are known as offshore accounts or tax havens. The conservative estimate of $21 trillion—conservative estimate—is as much money as the entire annual economic output of the United States and Japan combined. The actual sums could be higher because the study only deals with financial wealth deposited in bank and investment accounts, and not other assets such as property and yachts.

The inquiry…is being touted as the most comprehensive report ever on the "offshore economy." 

The Democracy Now! interview below is worth watching on the whole, as oil and gas industry "offshoring" is but the tip of the iceberg.

Photo CreditGunnar Pippel | ShutterStock

Exhaustive Study Finds Global Elite

July 27 2012

10:30

Exposed: Pennsylvania Act 13 Overturned by Supreme Court, Originally an ALEC Model Bill

On July 26, the Pennsylvania Supreme 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.

PA Act 13, Originally an ALEC Model Bill 

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is in the midst of hosting its 39th Annual Meeting this week in Salt Lake City, Utah. ALEC is appropriately described as an ideologically conservative, Republican Party-centric "corporate bill mill" by the Center for Media and Democracy, the overseer of the ALEC Exposed project. 98 percent of ALEC's funding comes from corporations, according to CMD**.

ALEC's meetings bring together corporate lobbyists and state legislators to schmooze, and then vote on what it calls "model bills." Lobbyists have a "voice and a vote in shaping policy," CMD explains. They have de facto veto power over whether their prospective bills become "models" that will be distributed to the offices of politicians in statehouses nationwide.

A close examination suggests that an ALEC model bill is quite similar to the recently overturned Act 13. 

It is likely modeled after and inspired by an ALEC bill titled, "An Act Granting the Authority of Rural Counties to Transition to Decentralized Land Use Regulation." This Act was passed by ALEC's Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force at its Annual Meeting in August 2010 in San Diego, CA

The model bill opens by saying that "…the planning and zoning authority granted to rural counties may encourage land use regulation which is overly centralized, intrusive and politicized." The model bill's central purpose is to "grant rural counties the legal authority to abandon their planning and zoning authority in order to transition to decentralized land use regulation…"

The key legal substance of the bill reads, "The local law shall require the county to repeal or modify any land use restriction stemming from the county’s exercise of its planning or zoning authority, which prohibits or conditionally restricts the peaceful or highest and best uses of private property…"

In short, like Act 13, this ALEC model bill turns local democractic protections on their head. Act 13, to be fair, is a far meatier bill, running 174 pages in length. What likely happened: Pennsylvania legislators and the oil and gas industry lobbyists they serve took the key concepts found in ALEC's bill, ran with them, and made an even more extreme and specific piece of legislation to strip away Pennsylvania citizens' rights.

There were many shale gas industry lobbyists and those affiliated with like-minded think-tanks in the house for the Dec. 2010 San Diego Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force Meeting where this prospective ALEC model bill became an official ALEC model bill. They included Daren Bakst of the John Locke Foundation (heavily funded by the Kochs), Russel Harding of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy (also heavily funded by the Koch Family Fortune), Kathleen Hartnett White of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (again, heavily funded by the Kochs), Mike McGraw of Occidental Petroleum, and Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center (a think tank that sits under the umbrella of the Koch Foundation-funded State Policy Network).

A Model That's Been Passed and Proposed Elsewhere

The Act Granting the Authority of Rural Counties to Transition to Decentralized Land Use Regulation model bill has made a tour to statehouses nationwide, popping up in Ohio, Idaho, Colorado, and Texas. The model passed in some states, while failing to pass in others.

Here is a rundown of similar bills that DeSmogBlog has identified so far:

Ohio HB 278

Long before the ALEC model bill was enacted in 2010, Ohio passed a similar bill in 2004, HB 278, which gives exclusive well-permitting, zoning, and regulatory authority to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR). Ohio is home to the Utica Shale basin.

Mirroring ALEC's model, HB 278 gives the "…Division of Mineral Resources Management in the Department of Natural Resources…exclusive authority to regulate the permitting, location, and spacing of oil and gas wells in the state.."

Could it be that the ALEC model bill was actually inspired by HB 278? It's very possible, based on recent history.

As was the case with ALEC's hydraulic fracturing chemical fluid "disclosure" model bill (actually rife with loopholes ensuring chemicals will never be disclosed), ALEC adopted legislation passed in the Texas state legislature as its own at its December 2011 conference.

Idaho HB 464 

Idaho's House of Representatives passed HB 464 in February 2012 in a 54-13-3 roll call vote. A month later, the bill passed in the Senate in a 24-10-1 roll call vote. Days later, Republican Gov. Butch Otter signed the bill into law.

Key language from HB 464 reads

It is declared to be in the public interest…to provide for uniformity and consistency in the regulation of the production of oil and gas throughout the state of Idaho…[,] to authorize and to provide for the operations and development of oil and gas properties in such a manner that a greater ultimate recovery of oil and gas may be obtained.  (Snip)

It is the intent of the legislature to occupy the field of the regulation of oil and gas exploration and production with the limited exception of the exercise of planning and zoning authority granted cities and counties…

The Democratic Party State Senate Minority Office was outraged about the bill's passage. 

"[HB] 464 establishes Idaho law governing oil and gas exploration and development including limits to local control over the location of wells, drilling processes, water rights and the injection of waste materials into the ground," reads a press release by the Idaho State Senate Minority Office. "[HB 464] preempts local land-use planning statute dating back to 1975. Counties will have little input in the permitting process whereby well sites are selected (or restricted) and no role in planning and zoning."

Sound familiar? Like PA Act 13 and the ALEC model? It should.

Full-scale fracking has yet to take place in Idaho, though the race is on, with Idahoans signing more and more leases with each passing day. Thanks to gas industry lobbyists' use of ALEC's model bill process, the industry will have far fewer hurdles to clear in the state when the race begins. 

Colorado SB 88

The Demoratic Party-controlled Colorado State Senate struck down an ALEC copycat bill, SB 88, in February 2012.

The Bill Summary portion of SB 88 explains the bill concisely, mirroring, once again, PA Act 13 and the ALEC Model Bill: "…the Colorado oil and gas conservation commission has exclusive jurisdiction to regulate oil and gas operations, and local regulation of oil and gas operations is preempted by state law."

Colorado sits atop the Niobrara Shale basin. Like Pennsylvania, it has seen many cities successfully move to ban fracking, making the goal of a bill of this nature all the more obvious.

From Colorado Springs to Boulder County, cities and counties across Colorado have passed measures against fracking,” Sam Schabacker of Food and Water Watch told the Colorado Independent at the time SB 88 was struck down. “This bill is an attempt by the oil and gas industry to strip local governments of what little power they have to protect their citizens and water resources from the harms posed by fracking.” 

Far from a completed debate, as covered in a June 2012 follow-up story by the Colorado Independent, things are just getting underway on this one in The Centennial State.  

I don’t know where it goes from here. I suspect there is a happy medium and there is a compromise that can be reached,” Democratic Party State Senate President Brandon Shaffer told the Independent. “I also suspect next year additional legislation will come forward on both sides of the spectrum. Ultimately I think the determination will be made based on the composition of each of the chambers. If the Democrats are in control of the House and Senate, there will be more emphasis on local control.”  

Former Sen. Mike Kopp (R) was one of the public sector attendees at the Dec. 2010 Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force Meeting where the ALEC model bill passed. 

Texas HB 3105 and SB 875

In May 2011, TX SB 875 passed almost unanimously. The bill essentially calls for the elimination, in one fell swoop, of the common law of private nuisance in Texas.

SB 875's key operative paragraph explains,

[Entities] subject to an administrative, civil, or criminal action brought under this chapter for nuisance or trespass arising from greenhouse gas emissions [have] an affirmative defense to that action if the person's actions that resulted in the alleged nuisance or trespass were authorized by a rule, permit, order, license, certificate, registration, approval, or other form of authorization issued by the commission or the federal government or an agency of the federal government…

Texas — home to the Barnett Shale basin and the Eagle Ford Shale basin — played a dirty trick here, but what else would one expect from the government of a Petro State?

The ALEC model bill calls for a transition from centralized power by local governments to individual property rights under the common law of private nuisance, a civil suit that allows those whose private property has been damaged to file a legal complaint with proper authorities. Now, under the dictates of SB 875, even these rights have been eviscerated.

Perhaps Texas exemplifies a realization of the oil and gas industries' ideal world: legal rights for no one except themselves.

"This [bill allows] the willful trespass onto private property of chemicals and or nuisances, thus destroying the peaceful enjoyment of private property, which someone may have put their life savings into," Calvin Tillman, former Mayor of Dish, Texas and one of the stars of Josh Fox's Academy Award-nominated documentary film, "Gasland," wrote in a letter. "Therefore, private citizens would have no protection for their private property if this amendment was added."

HB 3105's key language, meanwhile, makes the following illicit (emphases mine): 

the adoption or issuance of an ordinance, rule, regulatory requirement, resolution, policy, guideline, or similar measure…by a municipality that..has effect in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the municipality, excluding annexation, and that enacts or enforces an ordinance, rule, regulation, or plan that does not impose identical requirements or restrictions in the entire extraterritorial jurisdiction of the municipality…or damages, destroys, impairs, or prohibits development of a mineral interest

This bill, unlike SB 875, never passed, though if it did, it would do basically the same thing as PA Act 13 and the ALEC model. If it ever does pass, however, it would mean that Texans would have literally no legal standing to sue the oil and gas industry for wrongdoing in their state.

ALEC's Bifurcated Attack: Erode Local Democracy, Strip Federal Regs,

Coming full circle, though PA Act 13 was struck down, for now, as constitutional, that doesn't necessarily mean ALEC copycat versions like it won't start popping up in other statehouses nationwide. 

Sleep on this for awhile. There's more to come.

Part two of DeSmog's investigation on ALEC's dirty energy agenda will show that, along with pushing for the erosion of local democracy as we know it today, ALEC has also succeeded in promulgating legislation that would eliminate Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) power to regulate greenhouse gas emissions - another Big Business giveaway of epic proportions.

If anything is clear, it's this: statehouses have become a favorite clearinghouse for polluters to install the "Corporate Playbook" in place of democracy.

Stay tuned for Part Two of DeSmog's investigation, coming soon.

(**Full Disclosure: Steve Horn is a former employee of CMD and worked on the ALEC Exposed project)

Image Credit: Center for Media and Democracy | ALEC Exposed

April 03 2012

12:59

The Farce Of The "Golden Age Of Gas"

Oil and gas industry insiders revealed earlier this year the high probability that we're headed into a shale gas bubble. But that's not what the industry's CEOs and PR departments want you to hear.

"The reality of at least 100 years’ worth of shale gas abundance has been supported by virtually every credible third-party expert…The collective market cap of these energy leaders approaches $2 trillion – ask yourself: do I believe Rolling Stone and Arthur Berman or the world’s biggest and most successful energy companies?"

So spouts off Chesapeake Energy in a press release earlier this month responding to a Rolling Stone article which likened fracking to a huge industry Ponzi scheme. Arthur Berman is an energy consultant based in Houston, and not swayed by the industry's vibrant plumage they are putting on display to the nation.

The energy companies want the public to believe in the "Golden Age of Gas"- as it has been dubbed- where the supplies are bountiful and the profits are high. While it's true that there have been economic booms in some areas that have gas reserves, the numbers are showing that these booms will not be long lived. Meanwhile, the falling price of gas along with the inherent public health risks and environmental devastation that comes along with it makes the gas rush less profitable in the long run. But the gas industry wouldn't have you believe that.

read more

March 09 2012

22:44

Fracking: Ohio Establishes Tough Regulations After Disposal Wells Cause 12 Earthquakes

State officials have determined that at least 12 earthquakes that occurred in Ohio last December were caused by the injection of brine into hydraulic fracturing disposal wells.  As a result of its findings [pdf], the state has established the nation's "toughest regulations" for the fracking disposal wells.

Brine is a toxic by-product of the fracking process.  According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the safest way to dispose of it is to store it in underground wells.  However, as residents of Youngstown, Ohio discovered, this technique can cause seismic shifts — the largest of the 12 earthquakes registered 4.0 on the Richter scale.

Geologists were skeptical the earthquakes were caused by the drilling of disposal wells and the subsequent injection of brine; but after in-depth research concluded this process did indeed facilitate the quakes: 

"After investigating all available geological formation and well activity data, ODNR [Ohio Department of Natural Resources] regulators and geologists found a number of co-occurring circumstances strongly indicating the Youngstown area earthquakes were induced. Specifically, evidence gathered by state officials suggests fluid from the Northstar 1 disposal well intersected an unmapped fault in a near-failure state of stress causing movement along that fault."

So, the state has decided to adopt strict regulations in regards to brine disposal wells. Today, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced a set of regulations which it believes will eliminate any future occurrence of fracking induced earthquakes. 

read more

January 14 2012

21:46

Radionuclides Tied To Shale Gas Fracking Can't Be Ignored As Possible Health Hazard

Comic books tell us that it's cool to be a superhero. Sometimes those superheroes started out as everyday citizens that became irradiated and suddenly transformed into epic, superhuman, ninja-fighting dynamos with abilities and powers that far outweigh regular human abilities, such as remembering anniversaries, calculating your own taxes, being able to answer every Jeopardy question, or tetrachromacy.

However, we know in real life that radiation, especially at dangerous levels, can cause burns, hair loss, ulcers, chromosomal deterioration, weakened immune systems, and cancer in the form of leukemia when it concentrates in the bones. Radiation is more likely to destroy our genetic code than to alter it to give us invisibility superpowers.

So why is radiation not more prevalent in the discussion about fracking? We've learned over the past couple of years about other health impacts from fracking - such as the hundreds of cancer-causing chemicals used in the fracking process and the health effects such as lost sense of smell and taste, headaches, respiratory problems, and cancers reported by citizens near oil and gas drilling sites. News coverage of fracking dangers often focuses on the threat of water contamination, the toxic fluids used in fracking operations and how it isn’t always disposed of properly, and the all-time favorite made world-famous by "Gasland": flaming water.

Yet we don't hear a lot about how oil and gas fracking can concentrate existing radionuclides, presenting the risk of human contact through disposal or handling, posing another possible health risk for the public and workers in the industry.

In the Marcellus Shale region, the particular nuclide in question is Radium-226. Radium comes from uranium, which naturally exists in the shale-rich geology of the northern Appalachian Basin. In fact, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,

"The Marcellus is known to contain concentrations of [naturally occurring radioactive materials] such as uranium-238 and radium-226 at higher levels than surrounding rock formations."

Other studies [PDF] show that the particular levels of radiation in the Marcellus Shale are up to 20x higher than background levels. While uranium is quite insoluble, radium is not. It preferably binds to water, which is particularly worrisome if it leaks into groundwater or contaminates any of the millions of gallons of water used in the fracking process.

Normally a person's skin serves as a protective barrier against natural environmental sources of radiation, but if a person drinks or bathes in contaminated water, where it can enter internally through the mouth or exposed and sensitive areas like the eyes, then the risk of internal damage is heightened. Ingesting or inhaling radiation in significant amounts can wreak havoc on internal organ systems.

Briny water usually concentrates the highest amount of radionuclides. This means that radionuclides will collect in the chemical-laden water used in fracking when it comes in contact with radioactive rock from the Marcellus, or when mixing with brine water stored within the Marcellus shale. Since fracking fluid is often used several times, this can cause radium to concentrate in the fluid and possibly the pipes.

If the fracking fluid is deposited in a landfill, it can continue to irradiate not only any groundwater in the area but also potentially any vegetation grown over a closed landfill. Furthermore, while landfills designed to receive contaminated water are built to contain potential toxics, they are not built to contain radiation.

And if the trucks that transport the contaminated fracking fluid ever leak along the way, it can end up contaminating roadways as well. Radium-226 sticks around for 1600 years before it decays, and when it does, it produces radon gas.

The Environmental Impact Statement from the New York Department of Environmental Conservation acknowledges that radiation levels are naturally higher in the Marcellus, but NYDEC doesn't outline an adequate plan to deal with the possible radiation. Most of the document discusses their plans to measure for radiation after the wells are in place and to follow current radiation regulations.

That might sound reasonable, except for that fact that NYDEC’s last investigation into naturally occurring radioactive materials occurred in 1996 and was conducted on well sites that did not operate via the horizontal directional drilling and fracking methods that are now the status quo technique in the Marcellus and other shale basins around the country.

If fracking for oil and gas gets the green light from Governor Cuomo, New Yorkers may actually need a superhero to save us from the multitude of risks that fracking presents, and the risk of radioactive contamination is one scary consequence that deserves greater scientific scrutiny.

December 31 2011

21:21

The Year In Dirty Energy: Fracking

The practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has taken center stage this year as one of the most important environmental threats facing North America (and increasingly in other parts of the world). Thanks to inadequate state oversight and Dick Cheney's hamstringing of EPA oversight with the Halliburton Loophole, fracking has expanded through the United States incredibly rapidly over the past few years. In 2011, fracking faced much closer scrutiny as scientists, researchers and affected communities continue studying water, air and property impacts reported in areas where the controversial unconventional energy drilling is taking place.

Fracking awareness received a huge boost this year with “Gasland,” a documentary film which earned director Josh Fox an Academy Award nomination. Featuring interviews with landowners and families affected by fracking, the film is helping to bring the issue to the mainstream.

DeSmogBlog has published dozens of posts detailing the latest information available on fracking over the several years. 

In May 2010, DeSmogBlog released an extensive report, Fracking The Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Water, Health, and Climate, delving into many of the health, environmental and climate threats posed by the fracking boom.  


Here is a small sample of important fracking coverage this year from DeSmog and other outlets:

An excerpt from Fracking The Future:

Since the Reagan era, those charged with protecting health and the environment have instead worked with the gas industry to minimize public awareness of its practices, and to hide the early warning signs regarding the inherent dangers of drilling deeper into the Earth for fossil fuels. State agencies have been pressured to accommodate the industry’s increasingly dangerous drilling techniques, and have largely enabled the poor, unmonitored practices common in the industry today.

The gas industry is investing millions of dollars each year to restrict oversight to the state level and thwart all federal involvement. The number of gas industry lobbyists has increased seven-fold in recent years, exhibiting the dangerous political sway the dirty energy industry exercises in Washington and at the local level across the nation.

Industry front groups like Energy in Depth (EID) play a pivotal role in the dissemination of misinformation and efforts to attack and silence those who attempt to call polluters to account.

ProPublica reported on the link between fracking and infamous “flammable drinking water”:

A new peer-reviewed study from Duke University shows that drinking water in areas within a half-mile of fracking wells can become contaminated with dangerous levels of methane - enough to catch on fire if lit. The report says that the levels of methane in some areas of Pennsylvania and New York are so great that they pose a significant fire and explosion hazard.

Fracking linked to groundwater contamination:

The EPA found that fluid from a shale gas well more than 4,000 feet deep contaminated well water and that the incident was “illustrative” of pollution problems associated with oil and gas drilling. With now-uncharacteristic candor, the EPA report outlines how the contamination occurs: “During the fracturing process…fractures can be produced, allowing migration of native brine, fracturing fluid and hydrocarbons from the oil or gas well to a nearby water well. When this happens, the water well can be permanently damaged and a new well must be drilled or an alternative source of drinking water found.”

More on groundwater contamination:

The tables turned on the gas industry today with the release of a new report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) connecting the dots between fracking and groundwater contamination in the state of Wyoming, located in the heart of the Niobrara Shale basin.

The report is sure to leave many saying, "Well, duh!" and also asking, "What took them so long?" The perils of fracking for gas in the Niobrara Shale were made famous long ago by Debra Anderson's documenary "Split Estate."

The Wyoming report comes on the heels of a large citizen action involving a water delivery to 12 Dimock, Pennsylvania families, led by "Gasland" Director Josh Fox and actor Mark Ruffalo. The action centered around another case of water contaminated by Cabot Oil and Gas. Cabot was delivering clean drinking water since 2008 to the families after it contaminated their water, but recently, the Pennsylvania DEP ordered that Cabot was no longer responsible for transporting water to these families.

Fracking has even been linked to earthquakes in the U.S. and the U.K.:

New reports are surfacing that link fracking to earthquakes that occurred in January in Oklahoma. According to a new study by the Oklahoma Geological Survey [PDF], fracking is linked to 50 mini-earthquakes that occurred on January 18, 2011 in Oklahoma.

The occurrence of so-called “induced seismicity” – seismic activity caused by human actions – in conjunction with fluid injection or extraction operations is a well-documented phenomenon. However, induced earthquakes large enough to be felt at the surface have typically been associated with large scale injection or withdrawal of fluids, such as water injection wells, geothermal energy production, and oil and gas production. It was generally thought that the risk of inducing large earthquakes through hydraulic fracturing was very low, because of the comparatively small volumes of fluid injected and relatively short time-frame over which it occurs. As the controversy over hydraulic fracturing has heated up, however, researchers and the public have become increasingly interested in the potential for fracking to cause large earthquakes.

But this is hardly a new phenomenon. Studies show that fracking practices in the 1970s had caused similar seismic activity in Oklahoma, according to E&E News.

So, with all of the health, environmental, climate and even seismic threats posed by fracking, why hasn't the federal government stepped in with a national moratorium until these impacts can be assessed by scientists?

The answer is simple: Dirty Money. DeSmogBlog has followed the industry money trail all year, and here is what we’ve found:

Pennsylvania, a hotbed for fracking activities, has been flooded with dirty energy industry money:

The gas industry spent $3.5 million last year attempting to convince Pennsylvania lawmakers of the benefits of drilling the state’s deposits of unconventional gas. According to lobbying disclosure reports filed with the Department of State, the lobbying blitz to influence public policy was orchestrated by a collection of 22 companies, the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA).

The increasing lobbying activity in Pennsylvania demonstrates the industry’s continued efforts to expand unconventional drilling, despite growing public concern over the inherent risks of dirty fracked gas. The oil and gas industry is focusing its efforts primarily on confusing the public and influencing politicians, not on making their operations safe for public health and the environment.

New York State was also under attack from a barrage of corporate polluter cash:

Those who were wondering the motive behind NY Democratic Governor Anthony Cuomo's decision to lift New York's moratorium on fracking now have a better sense for his enthusiasm: campaign cash.

Companies that drill for natural gas have spent more than $3.2 million lobbying state government since the beginning of last year, according to a review of public records. The broader natural gas industry has been giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign accounts of lawmakers and the governor…The companies and industry groups have donated more than $430,000 to New York candidates and political parties, including over $106,000 to Mr. Cuomo, since the beginning of last year.

State governments weren’t the only to be influenced by fracking cash – the federal government, all the way up to the top of the Executive Branch, found that companies with a financial interest in fracking can be quite generous:

In an under-reported move on May 5th, the Obama administration announced the members of a government panel created to study the practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), and determine if there are ways, or even a necessity, to make it safer for the environment and public health. Unfortunately, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the administration stacked the panel with oil and gas industry insiders.

And:

The panel, handpicked by Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, is directed to investigate the safety of shale gas development and to make recommendations for both improvements to the process as well as ‘best practice’ strategies that can act as recommendations to relevant agencies.

Scientists from 22 universities in 13 states voiced their concerns over the partiality of the panel, which they claim is “performing advocacy-based science.” As the letter outlines, 6 of the 7 panel members still have strong financial ties to the oil and gas industry, like the panel chairman John Deutch, who received more than $1.4 million from two leading gas companies, Chinere and Slumberger between 2006 and 2009 alone. Deutch currently sits on the board of directors at Chinere.

As such, the group worries that the panel will in fact “serve industry at taxpayer expense rather than serving President Obama and the public with credible advice.”

Alternet’s Scott Thill has laid out the financial issues, as well:

Thanks to the United States' morally bankrupt political system and its Supreme Court's reality-defying ruling on Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the fracking lobby's power of the purse is greater than it has ever been.

That power was depressingly dissected in Common Cause's recent report, Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets, which explained that earnings junkies like Exxon, Koch and more have paid House and Senate politicians on select energy and commerce committees nearly $750 million over the last decade to smother regulatory oversight of the expanding fracking practice, whose complete chemical components still remain a relative mystery. It was evidently money well spent. During that lobbying stretch, the Environmental Protection Agency scientifically linked fracking with water poisoning in Wyoming, and probably isn't far from siding with the increasing ranks of those who blame fracking for earthquakes from Oklahoma to Ohio to England. And yet beyond manageable fines and stock devaluations, no one from the industry has yet to seriously face the music for groundwater contamination and worse.

For that, you can thank the industry's "Halliburton loophole," so named for former Vice-President Dick Cheney's insistence that his former company's fracking be stripped of EPA regulation. Years and billions later, money still talks and safety still walks in our peak oil century tapping, like veins, what fossil fuel deposits we have left, from natural gas to tar sands. And they do so in a decidedly nonpartisan fashion.

Buying political favors is just what the public knows about – stuff that the industry isn’t trying to hide. It’s the tactics that the public didn’t necessarily know about that really make you cringe.

Excerpt from Gas Fracking Industry Using Military Psychological Warfare Tactics and Personnel In U.S. Communities:

At the “Media & Stakeholder Relations: Hydraulic Fracturing Initiative 2011” conference in Houston, Matt Pitzarella, Director of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs at Range Resources, revealed in his presentation that Range has hired Army and Marine veterans with combat experience in psychological warfare to influence communities in which Range drills for gas.

At that same conference, Matt Carmichael, External Affairs Manager at Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, suggested three things to attendees during his presentation:

“If you are a PR representative in this industry in this room today, I recommend you do three things. These are three things that I’ve read recently that are pretty interesting.

“(1) Download the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual [audible gasps from the audience], because we are dealing with an insurgency. There’s a lot of good lessons in there, and coming from a military background, I found the insight in that extremely remarkable.


The Counterinsurgency (COIN) Field Manual [PDF] devotes an entire chapter to PSYOPs, confirming its utility as a major element of a counterinsurgency campaign. The COIN manual is the current U.S. military doctrine in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

PSYOPs is the military short-hand for “psychological operations,” used extensively in U.S. wars abroad, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. Much of this work is carried out by Army reserve personnel, who travel from village to village dropping leaflets and offering financial incentives in an attempt to convince residents not to support the insurgency. This often entails using psychological tactics to "win hearts and minds."

Read that full story: Gas Fracking Industry Using Military Psychological Warfare Tactics and Personnel In U.S. Communities

In addition to reporting on the disturbing use of psy-ops by the fracking industry, Brendan DeMelle helped expose the lies of fracking proponents by dissecting the industry talking points on fracking.

There were a few positive stories this year with regards to fracking:

Big news erupted across the Northeast with an announcement that fracking in the Delaware River Basin, a pristine watershed that supplies water to over 15 million people, would be suspended. The Delaware River Basin Commission was set to vote on whether or not to permit 20,000 fracking wells in the area on Monday, November 15th. However after enormous citizen backlash, the DRBC realized they did not have the votes to push the practice through.
The U.S. EPA is poised to enact the first ever rules on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) with a proposal that would allow the agency to regulate the practice under the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air route was chosen by the agency, as the U.S. Congress prohibited their attempts to regulate the practice of fracking under the Clean Water Act in 2005.

Once the EPA sets a date for implementation, the gas industry will have 60 days to submit any complaints or input on the new rules. While the date is not currently set, the American Petroleum Institute has already asked the EPA to delay implementation until at least August 2012.

For more on the villains and heroes in this year’s fracking bonanza, check out this report from Food and Water Watch.

The battle to protect our environment and personal health from the harmful impacts of fracking is just beginning. But as long as public awareness continues to grow and communities continue speaking out against dirty reckless fuels, perhaps common sense will prevail and we can turn our sights toward developing a clean energy future.

December 11 2011

23:32

"Raising Elijah": An Interview With Ecologist and Author Sandra Steingraber

Q: In light of your new book Raising Elijah: Protecting Children in an Age of Environmental Crisis, which raises the specter of raising children in troubled times, both environmentally and ecologically, are you surprised that natural gas corporations have been producing public relations and propaganda materials like coloring books (recall Talisman Energy's Terry the Fracasaurus, and Chesapeake Energy's coloring books), going into schools and giving scholarships, etc.? 

A: Not at all. This is an attempt at deflection and drawing attention away from the bad public relations problems the industry has. It is hypocritical and cynical to go into communities, do fracking (see DeSmogBlog's Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate), and then do these types of things.

For example, there are increased rates of crime, drug abuse, and motor vehicle accidents in areas in which fracking takes place. Roads in areas in which fracking is taking place are full of 18-wheelers hauling around toxic chemicals. It is a stunning move, based on all of these things.

For the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition and Chesapeake Energy’s corporate sponsorship of it, it is the ultimate case of cynicism, based on what they do on a daily basis. For them to get involved shows that they’re trying to deflect attention away from what they’re actually doing to cause these things in the first place.

The idea that they’re aligning themselves with the breast cancer movement is creepy and is like cigarette companies getting involved in fighting against cancer, while they are the ones also causing it.

Q: Why do you think these corporations are stooping so low, and why now? What type of reputation do these natural gas corporations have, at-large, in an area like the Marcellus Shale, for example?

A: Public opinion is deeply opposed to gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale in upper state New York and the anti-fracking resistance movement is solidifying and growing there. Therefore, partnerships with chartiable organizations are an attempt to alter public opinion.

That said, doing this is expensive for corporations, so it is a sign of desparation on their side of things to make fracking look like a warm and fuzzy and friendly thing. They want a different kind of association. When you hear name of their company, they hope you have warm, fuzzy feelings about them, when, in actuality, they’re actually going to come in and destroy the community.

Q: Can you explain a bit more about your book, Raising Elijah, and in particular, what role you see your new book playing in combating this benevolent role the gas industry ruthlessly tries to portray for itself? Also, can you explain what personally motivated you to write such a book?

A: Benevolent is the perfect adjective. These new partnerships are like an abusive spouse who’s trying to deflect attention away from his actual crime by funding a home for people who’ve suffered domestic abuse. The best way to solve the problem of carcinogens in the air is not to put them in the air in the first place. The best way to prevent children from being abused is to create an actual sustainable community and healthy ecosystem.

My book has been in the works for 8 years and I wanted to continue where I left off in the last book. This one takes a look at how exposure to environmental toxics impacts childhood development.

Fracking was not originally on my radar, but it was hard to ignore come 2007 and 2008. I learned more and more about it and was eventually asked to speak on panels on the topic. It is the biggest threat to childrens’ health that I’d ever encountered. The final chapter in book is entirely devoted to fracking.

Beating fracking is the environmental cause of our time. We are standing at a cross-roads — easy fuels are gone, and energy extremism is all that’s left. Mountain top removal is one, tar sands crude is another, offshore drilling is the third, and fracking is the fourth.

Fracking hits home the closest. It is occurring in 34 states, often in densely populated areas. The possibility of it exposing people to these toxins is immediate and the possibility that we’ll contaminate water, air, and food are also great.

Air contamination is also a guarantee, via compressors. Chances are, we’ll blanket the northeast in smoggy air, which already was dirty air to begin with, with regular ozone alerts. Surface and ground water and food resources are now also all at risk. The dairy industry is huge in New York, but now that is also at risk.

The Marcellus Shale basin is now a radioactive place, and thus, all of this stuff is now in peril. There needs to be a public conversation about this, if only because of the costs of helping children from cradle to grave. Asthma, for example, is a very expensive problem and leading cause of absenteeism in schools. It will become more common with fracking - much more common.

The Environmental Impact Statement done by the New York Department of Environmental Protection was also a sham, with public health impacts not even discussed. There was nothing in it on any of the scores of environmental and ecological costs associated with fracking that will arise in the future.

All of this is the explanation for why I wrote the book. The secrecy the industry enjoys makes it hard for researchers to go as deep as they possibly could if there were no veil of secrecy. It is hard to say exactly what kind of chemicals people are inhaling and consuming.

Q: You recently won the Heinz Award, given for significant achievements benefiting the environment, which earned you a $100,000 award and afterward, you wrote that you would devote that money to fighting fracking in upstate New York.

Bearing that in mind, can you explain, based your own experiences and personal convictions, as well as the lessons taught in your book, what type of activism is best geared toward defeating fracking?

Put another way, what form of activism gets the movement to ban fracking the best bang for its buck and do you see more nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience in the anti-fracking movement’s future?

A: $100,000 is NOTHING to the big boys in the corporate natural gas world. The only way money will work if it will also embolden others to do big things. The only reason I’m even going public with the fact that I’m investing money in the fight against fracking is to inspire other people to start fighting back.

We’re at the 11th hour now. The moratorium was here before, but now that’s over. Now is the time if you don’t want to be fracked. As a cancer survivor, whatever money I have ends up going into paying medical bills. When you live in an area surrounded by frackers, what point is it to even try to do that if the water, air, community, etc., will be gone and destroyed and the area becomes a toxic wasteland?

So, what better use of money than to defend and protect this place? I couldn’t think of better thing to do, with even more of a public platform, to highlight lunacy of fracking. I want others to feel that they shouldn’t give up before they start the fight. Self-defeatism is what’s beating us — learned helplessness — beats us even more than the formidable power of natural gas industry.

Whatever I can do to get people out of that place — if you want to be the hero, now’s your chance. I hope to use the money to open up space for speech, and not silence.

One suggestion is to put all eggs in one basket, but it is probably better to spread it around. The fight of townships to ban fracking locally — see Dryden case study — is one option. There’s also fight at state level with regards to Cuomo. 

The international human rights movement is also against dependence on fossil fuels. There is also the example of the civil disobedience that was used to stop the tar sands pipeline. There are fights everywhere, which go from the global level all the down to village level.

I am, in short, still in the thinking stage about funding and where it’ll all end up.

November 29 2011

23:06

To Understand What's Happening with Fracking Decisions in New York, Follow the Money

In a November 25 article titled, "Millions Spent in Albany Fight to Drill for Gas," The New York Times reported:

Companies that drill for natural gas have spent more than $3.2 million lobbying state government since the beginning of last year, according to a review of public records. The broader natural gas industry has been giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaign accounts of lawmakers and the governor…The companies and industry groups have donated more than $430,000 to New York candidates and political parties, including over $106,000 to Mr. Cuomo, since the beginning of last year, according to a coming analysis of campaign finance records by Common Cause.

Those who were wondering the motive behind NY Democratic Governor Anthony Cuomo's decision to lift New York's moratorium on fracking now have a better sense for his enthusiasm: campaign cash.

Back in June, I wrote,

Despite the copiously-documented ecological danger inherent in the unconventional drilling process and in the…gas emissions process, as well as the visible anti-fracking sentiment of the people living in the Marcellus Shale region, Cuomo has decided it's 'go time.' Other than in New York City's watershed, inside a watershed used in the city of Syracuse, in underground water sources deemed important in cities and towns, as well on state lands, spanning from parks and wildlife preserves, 85% of the state's lands are now fair game for fracking, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).

It is clear that Cuomo did not have science on the top of his priority list when making his decision to lift the moratorium. 

But as any good reporter knows, possibly one of the most crucial tenets of good jouranlism is to follow the money, which is just what the Times and Common Cause did. 

What we are seeing is the concerted application of really a substantial amount of money to try to move public policy into a pro-fracking stance. It is a tremendous amount of pressure on our state government," said Susan Lerner, Executive Director of Common Cause New York, to The New York Times.

Common Cause and The New York Times, then, have shed more light as to why Cuomo decided to make this decision and the light is colored green, the color of money

November 13 2011

16:59

In the Marcellus, Getting Her Hands Dirty

Curious to know whether radioactive elements in her clay are a natural part of the rock, an artist consults geologists.

October 31 2011

11:38

The Fracking Divide: Who Will Prevail in N.Y.?

A new poll shows that New York State residents are almost evenly divided on natural gas drilling. Opposition is stronger upstate, but the question remains whether it is potent enough for New York to do what no state has done: turn away the gas industry's favored technology.

July 12 2011

21:30

Stephen Colbert Skewers Talisman Energy Over Gas Fracking Coloring Book

Stephen Colbert devoted a must-see segment of The Colbert Report last night to the subject of hydraulic fracturing (fracking), mocking gas company Talisman Terry for its coloring book propaganda, "Talisman Terry's Energy Adventure" [PDF] and generally eviscerating the gas industry's efforts to greenwash fracking in the wake of widespread public concern over water contamination and other threats posed by the industry's drilling operations.

Colbert's team certainly had fun mocking Talisman's "Friendly Fracosaurus" character, revealing some "bonus pages" of the dinosaur facing his "violated ancestors" and committing suicide - frackicide? - by lighting a cigarette in the shower.  These references were surely amusing to viewers of Gasland and other followers of the fracking controversy.

Watch the video:

Video courtesy of The Colbert Report.

June 23 2011

22:58

Economic Benefits of Unconventional Gas Drilling Overblown by Industry PR

A new poll suggests that Pennsylvanians are supportive of unconventional gas drilling in their state. Not because it is safe, but because they are convinced the economic benefits outweigh the risks to public health, water supplies and the environment. This kind of reasoning indicates that gas industry rhetoric is having an impact: advertise the benefits, downplay the risks, convince people that you know what you’re doing and there’s nothing to worry about.

And this is just what the industry has done. 

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pennsylvanians are a receptive audience to the extensive public relations campaigns waged by gas interests to confuse the public on the contentious issue of unconventional gas drilling. Between Exxon Mobil’s commercials, Chesapeake Energy’s first-person testimonials from “true Pennsylvanians,” and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association’s billboards lining the highway, industry is leaving no public opinion stone unturned.

Pennsylvania is at the forefront of the gas drilling bonanza since it sits atop the coveted Marcellus Shale, so the oil and gas industry sees every reason to invest in winning public confidence. 

The Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), an industry group with over 200 member companies, is dedicated to improving the reputation of the industry and influencing public policy to cater to gas interests. With companies paying membership dues between $15,000 and $50,000, the Coalition can afford to buy the opinion of respectable public figures like Pennsylvania’s former Governor turned-lobbyist Tom Ridge, who receives $75,000 a month from MSC to give speeches and guided tours of gas drilling sites.  He recently tried to convince Stephen Colbert that he’s “not a lobbyist” but DeSmogBlog quickly revealed that Ridge is definitely registered as a lobbyist in Pennsylvania.  

The Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) and its industry funded offspring, Energy in Depth (EID), tag team with the MSC to construct a portrait of energy security dependent on unconventional gas drilling, while attempting to keep fracking - the industry’s Achilles heel right now - out of the spotlight.

The industry’s large PR expenditures and advertising outlays are about more than achieving popularity; these efforts are ultimately designed to influence public policy. “They need to distract the public from the problems,” according to Pennsylvania’s Sierra Club director, Jeff Schmidt.

Energy in Depth’s recent report on the ’shale revolution’ highlights the economic benefits of unconventional gas production in Pennsylvania, including the hiring spree created by the dirty gas boom. The Marcellus Shale Coalition makes the same boast, reporting accelerated hiring rates across the state. The Coalition’s president, Kathryn Klaber, embraced the figures, saying “people who were out of work and now have jobs thanks to Marcellus development are more than statistics.”

But industry critics point out that the June report from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry is misleading, intended to equate ‘hiring’ increases as job creation. But new hires do not equal new jobs and are often account for job replacements after workers have quit or been fired.

These industry groups, eager to downplay the environmental risks associated with gas drilling, tend to exaggerate the related economic benefits without telling the public about issues like out-of-state workers landing the jobs and taking their pay home, and expenses incurred by local governments related to damage to infrastructure such as roads, not to mention the high cost of responding to contamination incidents, blowouts and other industry mistakes. 

And it’s worth remembering the historical lesson that the economic effects of a temporary industry ‘boom’ are almost always followed by the bust, a fact the gas pushers don’t bother to discuss. 

Numerous reports highlight the cavalier optimism of gas production projections, the problems of dwindling returns in aging wells and, importantly, the irretrievable environmental damage associated with unconventional gas drilling.

These reports, while intending to make a long-term contribution to public policy, are often hard pressed to compete with industry-funded PR. 

Gas interests have a remarkable financial advantage over independent experts, environmental organizations and citizen led initiatives. In 2009, the MSC spent a total of $1.8 million on its PR initiatives while the IPAA has an $8 million budget, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The battles currently being fought over unconventional gas drilling legislation leave the future of government oversight of gas fracking uncertain.  Uncertainty is never a good feeling for dirty energy’s Wall Street financiers, so the stakes are high for the industry to protect its cash cow (even if the real cows are dying from reckless industry practice). 

Tom Hoffman, executive of Carbon Communications Consultants, suggests that gas companies have to strike while the iron is hot. “It is important for them to continue to tell their side of the story because there are still decisions being made by policymakers.”

Strike they will, but a growing chorus of public opposition will continue to counter the rush towards another fossil fuel disaster.

 

 

21:26

Fracking and Water: E.P.A. Zeroes In on 7 Sites

The agency plans case studies on natural gas drilling's effect on drinking water in Pennsylvania, Texas, Colorado, North Dakota and Louisiana.

June 21 2011

21:53

Talisman Energy Targets Children with "Friendly Fracosaurus" Gas Coloring Book

“Hello, my name is Talisman Terry, your friendly Fracosaurus. I am here to teach you about a clean energy source called Natural Gas.” 

In an effort to target children in the unconventional gas debate, Calgary’s Talisman Energy has released a coloring book starring the company’s new spokesman, Talisman Terry. The Fracosaurus narrates the production cycle of unconventional gas, presenting a utopian picture of the fuel source that has galvanized communities around the world concerned over threats to water and health from gas drilling.

Following Talisman Terry, children are simplistically introduced to the complex issues of unconventional drilling, pipeline construction and land reclamation. Presented in before, during and after drilling images, the gas drilling process is introduced as a gentle engagement with a natural environment. Post-drilling, a fountain-like rainbow appears in the distance and an eagle soars over an innocuous-looking wellhead.

Not surprisingly, there is no mention of hydraulic fracturing, for which the authors offer this substitute: “Because natural gas is lighter than air, it will rise up to the earth’s surface when it is set free from underground rocks.”

There is no mention either of Talisman’s poor drilling track record.

The Post-Gazette reports that the coloring books are handed out at company picnics in Pennsylvania where last year alone the Department of Environmental Protection cited Talisman for 150 drilling violations.

This is a fraction of Talisman’s abysmal drilling record overall. An additional report released by the non-profit Clean Water Action found Talisman responsible for 153 environmental violations in the Marcellus Shale in 2010, the second highest for any drilling company.

Between 2008 and 2010, Talisman was cited for 65 violations in Pennsylvania, where the company operated 121 wells, according to a report released by the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association.

Talisman is also responsible for several serious contamination incidents of public land in Pennsylvania. The Department of Environmental Protection fined the company $3,500 after a routine inspection found the company discharging toxic flowback fluids into a nearby ditch which connected to a branch of Sugar Creek.

The DEP fined Talisman an additional $15,506 for spilling used fracking fluid into an unnamed tributary that drains into the Tioga River, a cold water fishery. In a separate incident, the DEP charged the company $24,608 for a large diesel fuel spill, between 50 and 200 gallons, that contaminated farm land in the Armenia Township of Bradford County. The spill contaminated 132,000 gallons of water and 3,800 tons of soil.

After a well blowout occurred in Tioga County, spewing toxic wastewater into the surrounding public forest, the DEP cited Talisman for numerous environmental violations. The blowout, considered by some critics to be a ‘release’ rather than an accident, caused Talisman to suspend its North American unconventional gas operations for eight days.

This kind of child-directed industry PR is nothing new, as we saw with Encana’s cupcake gas well.

Hopefully these children will grow up to hold companies like Talisman to their own publicized standards, rainbows included.

June 20 2011

20:08

N.Y. Legislature Tightens Rules on Water Withdrawals

A bill requires that users like power plants, natural gas drillers and water bottlers obtain a state permit before withdrawing 100,000 or more gallons a day.

June 09 2011

20:28

Actors Wade Into the Fracking Debate

Ethan Hawke, Mark Ruffalo, Zoë Saldana and others sing the praises of New York State's water supply while making tea, fly-fishing and, in the case of Mr. Hawke, taking a bath.

April 19 2011

23:49

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

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.<!--break-->

As a result of this shocking discovery, today the Pennsivania Department of Environmental Protection ordered Marcellus Shale gas drillers to stop trucking wastewater to 15 treatment plants in the state.

The industry's admission that dirty gas fracking is causing drinking water contamination is long overdue, and welcomed.  Now the state of Pennsylvania has every reason to place an immediate halt on fracking operations until the gas industry is held accountable for its damage to the state's water supply. This troubling news is yet another reason why fracking for unconventional gas needs to be banned nationwide until the gas industry can prove it isn't causing damage to public health, water supplies and the global climate.

Photo credit: David Turnbull

April 12 2011

13:01

Fugitive Methane Stirs Debate on Natural Gas

A new study suggesting that unconventional natural gas development is worse than coal for the climate brought a quick response from the gas industry.

April 11 2011

17:25

Wanted: Frack Busters (Costume Preferred)

Campaigners against hydro-fracking in New York State urge like-minded people to don superhero costumes like a cap and goggles.

March 25 2011

17:19

Maryland House Votes For Moratorium On Shale Gas Development And Fracking

Maryland’s House of Representatives voted 98-40 for HB 852, a de-facto moratorium on hydraulic fracturing and Marcellus Shale drilling in the western part of the state. The bill passed the House after five amendments attempting to block it were handily rejected.

Known as the Maryland Shale Safe Drilling Act of 2011, the legislation seeks to restrict shale gas development and the dangerous drilling method of hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) until 2013 and the completion of a major two-year drinking water and environmental impact assessment.

Jessie Thomas-Blate of American Rivers, an environmental conservation group, notes that the risky fracking process creates a very briny wastewater that could potentially contaminate nearby drinking water supplies permanently.

As Thomas-Blate points out, "If you contaminate people's water, you can't go back." <!--break-->

Marcellus Shale drilling has already begun in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia – but not in Maryland. And since 2008, gas drilling interests have eagerly filed permits with the Department of the Environment seeking to exploit the shale deposits in the state’s Allegany and Garrett counties.

Chairwoman of the Maryland House Environmental Matters Committee, Maggie McIntosh (D-Baltimore), rightly describes the urgent need for this fracking moratorium:

“Drilling in the Marcellus Shale is not like drilling for natural gas in any other form that we have known…We’ve got a lot of questions to answer.”

Earlier in March, the Town Council for the western Maryland town of Mountain Lake Park voted unanimously to ban the drilling of new gas wells within the small town of 2,100 residents.

Working with The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), the town created a Community Bill of Rights for Mountain Lake Park that “removes legal powers from gas extraction corporations within the town.”

Mayor Leo Martin describes his town’s decision:

“The people have rights.  Corporations can’t be licensed to take them away.  Our town government is responsible for the health, safety, and rights our citizens. When the county, state, and federal governments fail in their duties it is our duty to take action.”

The risks that come with dirty gas drilling and fracking in particular are of deep concern to Maryland residents. In 2008, speculators promised the moon to Garrett County landowner Dennis Buckel and his neighbours to allow gas drilling on their land. While waiting for the state to decide on the permitting, Buckel and others heard about what happened to Craig and Julie Sautner in Dimock, Pennsylvania, who had accepted the gas companies’ tempting offers.

Recently the Sautners’ claimed in a federal lawsuit that “they developed skin rashes and nearly passed out while showering because of fumes in the water.” With some 100 wells dug in their community and surrounding area, residents were suddenly able to light their tap water on fire.

Julie Sautner describes the plight of her family and that of her neighbours brought on by gas drilling:

“Farmers who think that this is an easy way out, it's absolutely not. You're trading your health and your water. We can't move. Nobody wants to buy our house."

Now Buckel and other Maryland residents are understandably concerned about their own properties and health if they were to allow gas drilling:

"We need to know what's in that fracking fluid…Sure we'd like to have the lease, but we don't want to mess up the water."

A great deal of momentum is building against shale gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing since last year’s release of the film Gasland which depicted many families facing a similar situation to the Buckel’s.

Additionally a recent New York Times investigative series Drilling Down has also drawn more attention to the dangers of current gas drilling practices in the Marcellus Shale region. Importantly, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also in the midst of its own extensive study of fracking, with the early results expected in 2012 (and final results in 2014).

Today, the Maryland Shale Safe Drilling Act of 2011 had its first reading in the Senate Committee on Education, Health and Environmental Affairs. While there is support in the Senate for the moratorium, the oil and gas lobby is working overtime, and according to the bill’s lead sponsor Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery), they “have been working the issue harder in that chamber.”

With the recent proposed fracking ban in New Jersey, and the fracking moratorium in place in the province of Québec  (where a multi-year study is also taking place), Maryland lawmakers made an excellent first step to protect their water, environment and health from gas drilling. But the battle is just beginning. The gas industry will put every ounce of pressure it can on the Senate not to pass the bill.

Yet again, polluter lobbyists are threatening to overturn a much-needed safeguard to hold the reckless gas industry in check. Hopefully the Maryland Senate will see through their smog and vote to protect the state’s water and health.

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