Wednesday, November 3, 2010

GOP Takover in Pennsylvania and What It Means for Fracking for Natural Gas

Our new Governor-elect, Tom Corbett

Posted by: Noel Jones

As much as the news last night was about Republicans taking back the U.S. House, an even more sweeping Republican takeover was happening in Pennsylvania's State Assembly, as reported today by Amy Worden in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Not only did Tom Corbett beat Dan Onorato in PA in the bid for Governor, but the Republicans now control both the state House and Senate. Fasten your seat belts everybody, it's going to be a wild ride. 

Make no mistake, Corbett's victory was not even close--according The New York Times interactive election map, Corbett trounced Onorato by 10 full points, winning all but five counties including Allegheny County (the Pittsburgh area), which is where Onorato is the County Executive. Pennsylvanians have sent a message loud and clear--they want Republicans to fix our economy.

As Americans, we tend to have very short attention spans, and attach our current conditions to whomever is in power. As an example, we get angry at President Obama and the Democratic majority when the recession and deficit caused by eight years under George Bush and Dick Cheney proves to be a hole so deep that it doesn't go away within two years of electing President Obama. The irony is that the hole is even deeper than anyone imagined, and when the Republicans can't fix it in just two more years, they will have to get ready for the blame, and Obama will likely be re-elected in the backlash.

But here in Pennsylvania, the election of a Republican Governor and a Republican majority in both chambers of the State Assembly, carries one very specific danger: 50,000 natural gas

pads in the Delaware Watershed, which provides drinking water to 15 million people, have been awaiting the green light from Harrisburg, and the Delaware River Basin Commission to start drilling. Republicans across the board (and some Democrats, Dan Onorato being one of them, so I'm not sure we would have been safer if he had won) have been touting natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale as the golden egg that will solve all our problems--from joblessness, to economic development, to plugging holes in the general budget. To the Republicans credit, they talk less about plugging holes with it, and more about cutting waste (get ready for some deep cuts) than the Democrats do, but what is really terrifying is how this gold rush has seemingly caused their eyes to glaze over with dollar signs, leaving no space in their brains for heath risks and environmental testing to establish whether or not the practice of "fracking"(hydraulic fracturing) the shale for gas is even safe to begin with.

34 families in Dimock, PA, just two hours north of us are sick, and receiving monthly tanks of water from the gas companies because their clean drinking water has been destroyed, along with their property values. Families in Colorado, New Mexico and Texas have been made sick and left behind now, and they have to pay to haul their own water from miles away.

Each "frack" of a well requires up to 7 million gallons of water sucked from our rivers and streams. Each well can be fracked up to 12 times. The water is mixed with over 596 known chemicals, among them neurotoxins, carcinogens and endocrine disruptors before being blown down the well under high pressure. The force of the pressure breaks up the shale and releases the gas, and then the toxic water comes back up, while some stays underground. Sometimes the chemicals and gas seep into nearby water tables, and they get sick and dizzy, lose motor function, get cancer and sometimes lesions on the brain. Farm animals hair falls out in clumps (and the meat gets sold anyway). The toxic water is poured into open pits to evaporate into the air for people and animals to breathe, or to leak back into the ground to poison soil and groundwater. Sometimes the trucks take the toxic water and spray it on the roads, where it runs off into the ditches and into water sources. There are 50,000 of these new wells waiting to be drilled near our drinking water source, the Delaware River.

Governor-elect Corbett, our new Senator-elect, Pat  Toomey, (a former derivatives trader on Wall Street) and Representative Dent, who was in office during the Bush years, are all pro-drilling and have voiced no concerns over the risks to our drinking water. In 2005, long before Obama was elected,  Dick Cheney decided it was a good idea to exempt natural gas companies from the Safe Drinking Water Act, meaning that they have been free to drill without regulation from the EPA since 2005. They started out West (in areas that are now so barren and drilled they looked like the circuit board of a computer--see my earlier post for an arial photo) and now they are here, waiting on 50,000 new well pads to drill next to our water source.

There are two movies out about the catastrophe headed our way. GASLAND, by Josh Fox of Milanville, PA, won the special jury prize for documentaries at The Sundance Film Festival this year, and the film is  now available on NetFlix. It looks at the general crisis, while Split Estate, by Debra Anderson, which focuses on the fact that in some states, the Big Gas doesn't even have to lease your land and trick you into signing, or force you to sign through land pooling--they can just claim that you only own the surface of your land, and that they have bought the mineral rights under your land from the state, and therefore you cannot stop them from drilling on your land to get what's "theirs.

Please watch these films if you haven't already, and start writing to the Delaware River Basin Commission, telling them that we, as a state, have the ability to bring the gas companies back under the provisions and oversight of the Safe Drinking Water Act, and that we want a moratorium on all drilling until environmental tests are completed and stringent safety standards established. We also need to be writing our elected officials.

Republicans at the state level tend to fall into two camps: those that acknowledge that there should at least be a severance tax on drilling, as PA is the only state in the union that doesn't collect one from Big Gas (hence, why PA is so attractive, aside from the Shale itself), and then there are those Republicans who think that Big Gas should be able to drill without PA collecting a tax at all. Then, there's Senator Bob Mensch.

I endorsed Bob Mensch in this election as he is an independent thinker and the only Republican at the state level that I've heard or read about who seems genuinely concerned about both the environment, and the safety risks that gas drilling poses. He has also proven himself to be very accessible to constituents. Please email Senator Mensch to voice your concerns over health risks associated with natural gas drilling and your desire for a moratorium until environmental studies can be completed and safety standards established.


michael molovinsky said...

noel, disappointed in your post. as you well know, there also was no environmental concern from the democrats in power. i wish you well in continuing your battle against hydrofracking, but would hope you keep it non-partisan.

noel jones said...

michael, thanks for posting, but as i have posted before there HAS been concern from Democrats on this issue--Bob Freeman co-sponsored four bills with regard to hydrofracking--a moratorium on drilling in floodplains, another in state forests, and another for within 2500 feet of any drinking water source. he stopped short of supporting Phyllis Mundy's (also a Democrat) request for a statewide moratorium (like New York citizens managed to secure) on new drilling until studies can be completed, but she has other Democrats signed to the bill.

i also complimented Sen. Bob Mensch, a Republican, who seems to be taking the environmental dangers and risks to human health and life seriously.

this is a HUMAN fight that has nothing to do with parties.

what concerns me about these three Republicans (Corbett, Toomey and Dent) is that we have heard zero from them on concerns about health risks--only positives about what an economic boon drilling will be to our state. at least Mensch has expressed a desire to do it right, test first, and drill when safety standards are in place.

all Corbett, Toomey and Dent have expressed with regard to drilling is excitement about potential revenues, in the form of a severance tax on drillers, and how much economic development they think it will generate.

the problem is, economically speaking, right now almost all of the new jobs are going to people outside of PA, and the economic development (new restaurants, etc. that crop up near drilling sites) will be short-lived because as soon as they get all our gas, they'll be gone, and our environment will be destroyed. Who wants to go hunting, hiking or fishing around a bunch of gas wells? Who wants to ration their water for cooking, cleaning, drinking and bathing from a 500 gallon tank on their porch?

Big Gas does not care whether we are Democrats or Republicans, they just care about making money off our state, and do not care if it makes us sick or kills us.

hopefully if enough people get involved in letter-writing campaigns and rallies, these men we have elected will take a break from the gold rush mentality and do the right thing to protect their constituents from this assault on our health and property values.

michael molovinsky said...

noel, you wrote;
" But here in Pennsylvania, the election of a Republican Governor and a Republican majority in both chambers of the State Assembly, carries one very specific danger: 50,000 natural gas..."

under a democratic governor and state house, despite a few motions, there was no moratorium. the local one only exists because of the delaware river commission. even o'bama today mentioned natural gas in his speech today. you're correct to be fearful of harrisburg, but not because of the election or change in power

Anonymous said...

Just want to say that everybody has it wrong re this election. The Teaparty failed. They didnt get their most prominent candidates elected and due to the diversions they provided in their hatred of Obama and the confusion they perpetuated on the uninformed, they have enabled a true march to serfdom by allowing corporate interests to gain leadership of the House. If the teaparty only were the libertarians that they set out to be...perhaps we would just be going backwards on an interesting ride. We will find out what kind of bitterness Pa is really capable of when it discovers that guns and the bibles cant stop an Inc.

noel jones said...

michael, i understand what you're saying, and i am no fan of rendell, who not only did nothing about hydrofracking, but seems very pro-car and anti-rail and whose office hired an israeli contractor with $103K of taxpayer funded homeland security money to spy on activists fighting hydrofracking (among other DANGEROUS activist groups, like animal rights groups), for which the state is now getting sued, and guess who will get to pay that bill--of course! the taxpayers.

you are also right that it is a major problem that our current president has not directed the EPA to provide oversight to natural gas drillers, or to conduct environmental studies. a few senators proposed the FRAC Act which is making its way through congress, but has a good chance of getting killed by pro-corporate republicans and democrats in the house. hopefully, there will be enough republicans and democrats with a conscience to actually pass that one, but it will take some diligent letter writing to Dent (and to Toomey) to get that message through for PA with any success. if those two cared about the health risks of fracking, they would have said so already, but all we've heard is how many jobs it will create...i fear they are exercising wishful thinking and blinded by the money.

noel jones said...

Anon 7:09--you said:

"We will find out what kind of bitterness Pa is really capable of when it discovers that guns and the bibles cant stop an Inc."

well put--but i'm hoping we can wake everybody up before it's too late--hydrofracking is truly a universal human issue--my gun-toting NRA buddy from the local pub gets it, as do my liberal friends--everybody gets that it's Big Gas coming to make money off the little guy's land, destroying it, our clean drinking water and our health in the process.