Saturday, October 2, 2010

PA Chief of Homeland Security resigns over monitoring gas drilling activists

Appearing in yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
By Tom Barnes:

HARRISBURG -- State Homeland Security Director James F. Powers Jr.-- under pressure for a heavily criticized contract -- today announced he's resigning from state government.

There were numerous calls for Gov. Ed Rendell to fire Mr. Powers, ever since word got out two weeks ago about a $103,000 contract Mr. Powers signed with the Institute for Terrorism Research and Response a year ago. Civil libertarians, state Sen. Jim Ferlo, Pittsburgh Councilman Doug Shields and others were angry about a so-called anti-terrorism contract he agreed to.

It led to tracking and monitoring of many protest groups around the state, including gay/lesbian parades and protests against Marcellus Shale drilling. Mr. Ferlo and Mr. Shields said he should be fired for violating people's constitutional right of free speech.

Mr. Rendell was sharply critical of the contract, which he canceled, calling it a severe lapse in judgment. But Mr. Rendell refused to fire Mr. Powers and said today that Mr. Powers decision to leave is his own. The governor praised Mr. Powers for serving the country during a 30-year career with the Army.

The director said he was resigning "with deep regret'' but said all his actions during his four years with Homeland Security were meant to foster "the security and wellbeing of the commonwealth citizenry -- our greatest resource.''

He earlier had apologized for unintended consequences of the contract and said he hadn't meant to infringe on anyone's rights. He said he was trying to protect public safety by keeping a watch out for terrorist attacks.

Click HERE to read the original article on the Post-Gazette's website.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Dimock *finally* gets public water. Cabot continues to deny responsibility.

Kudos to the DEP for not waiting until this fiasco plays out in court before doing the right thing.  While it's no shock that Cabot continues to deny any wrongdoing whatsoever, now the fight begins to make sure they are ultimately held accountable (legally and fiscally) for what happened in Dimock.  PA residents should not have to fund a $12 million dollar project because of Cabot's negligence.

[Note: this article, written by Matt Hughes, appeared Oct 1, 2010 in the Times Leader of Wilkes-Barre.  Click HERE to see the original article which includes photographs.]

Amid drilling fight, Dimock gets public water.  The state, which will fund the project, says Cabot Oil & Gas contaminated wells.

DIMOCK – Residents of Dimock, the Susquehanna County community at the center of a nationwide debate over natural gas drilling, will soon be connected to a public water supply, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger announced Thursday. The state-funded project will connect Pennsylvania American Water’s Lake Montrose treatment plant to 18 homes in Dimock.

For two years, drinking water for 33 Dimock residents has been supplied by Cabot Oil & Gas Corporation, the natural gas drilling company that DEP says contaminated the water wells of some Dimock residents with methane and natural gas.

More than 100 reporters, photographers, filmmakers, spokespersons and residents of the Susquehanna County community packed the tiny Dimock Baptist Church to hear the announcement.

Hanger said DEP will fully fund the project, now slated to cost $11.8 million, though the department still insists that Cabot foot the bill. Hanger said DEP will pursue litigation against Cabot if necessary to recoup the cost of the project, but that the department did not want to wait any longer to provide a permanent source of clean drinking water to Dimock residents.

“We have had people here in Pennsylvania without safe drinking water for nearly two years,” Hanger said. “That is totally unacceptable. It is reprehensible. We have given Cabot every opportunity to resolve this matter.… We’re not going to wait to go through long legal proceedings with Cabot to get this started.”

A new 12-inch transmission main will transport water approximately 5.5 miles from the Pennsylvania American Water’s Lake Montrose plant south along state Route 29 into Dimock. Approximately seven miles of 6-inch distribution mains will connect the main to the homes of 18 families. Other Dimock residents seeking connection to the water supply may also contact Pennsylvania American Water about gaining access, Pennsylvania American Water President Kathy Pape said.

Pape said the project, which will also involve the installation of pressure regulating systems, hydrants and water treatment systems, will take 18 months to complete once ground has been broken. The company is also waiting on a state grant to come through before that happens, however, and Pape said work on the project will most likely not begin for a few months.

On Wednesday, Cabot published full page ads in several newspapers around the Dimock area, and also sent out press releases and 29-page letter defending the company. In those documents, Cabot denies responsibility for water well contamination in Dimock and claims that DEP is waging a public relations war against the company.

“They have even gone so far as to say that they signed these under duress,” Hanger said, later adding, “the last time I checked, (Cabot President Dan O.) Dinges is not a 90-year-old widow sitting in a nursing home who is incompetent to sign a legal document … he is fully capable to sign documents without counsel, but he had counsel.

A Cabot spokesman, George Stark, attended the meeting but was not allowed to speak by Hanger.

“I am not interested in hearing from Cabot at this point,” Hanger said.

Stark spoke outside the church following the meeting, saying Cabot is investigating all its options and would schedule meetings with DEP to discuss the matter. Stark said Cabot would like DEP to consider other, less expensive measures to deal with the problem, such as drilling new water wells, refurbishing and reconditioning existing wells and installing water filtration systems.

“We understand what is being laid on the table today, but we still believe there are other options,” Stark said.

Josh Fox, the filmmaker who put Dimock at the center of the national debate over natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing in his documentary Gasland, also attended the meeting and staged a small demonstration highlighting the precedent he thinks Hanger’s announcement may set.

Fox distributed signs depicting water towers, each labeled with the name of a different Pennsylvania community, including Towanda, Lenox, and Clearville, followed by the phrase “needs municipal water.”

“It looks like this is setting a trend in Pennsylvania, that once this drilling starts, you’re going to have municipal water coming in,” Fox said.

Fox said there have been “significant reports” of water contamination near gas drilling sites in other parts of the state, and asked Hanger whether the state would also connect those areas to a municipal water supply.

Hanger responded that, in a worst case scenario, DEP would need to take similar action, but said that confirmed reports of contamination are rare, and that other companies have been much better than Cabot at resolving the contamination in those cases.

“We have companies that are actually solving problems, as opposed to denying problems,” Hanger said.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

SPLIT ESTATE documentary wins Emmy Award, special rebroadcast upcoming on Planet Green

SPLIT ESTATE wins an Emmy for "Outstanding Individual Achievement in a Craft: Research."

Imagine discovering that you don't own the mineral rights under your land, and that an energy company plans to drill for natural gas two hundred feet from your front door. Imagine having little recourse, other than accepting an unregulated industry in your backyard. Split Estate maps a tragedy in the making, as citizens in the path of a new drilling boom in the Rocky Mountain West struggle against the erosion of their civil liberties, their communities and their health.

Zeroing in on Garfield County, Colorado, and the San Juan Basin, this clarion call for accountability examines the growing environmental and social costs to an area now referred to as a "National Sacrifice Zone."

This is no Love Canal or Three Mile Island. With its breathtaking panoramas, aspen-dotted meadows, and clear mountain streams, this is the Colorado of John Denver anthems -- the wide-open spaces that have long stirred our national imagination.

Exempt from federal protections like the Clean Water Act, the oil and gas industry has left this idyllic landscape and its rural communities pockmarked with abandoned homes and polluted waters. One Garfield County resident demonstrates the degree of benzene contamination in a mountain stream by setting it alight with a match. Many others, gravely ill, fight for their health and for the health of their children. All the while, the industry assures us it is a "good neighbor."

Ordinary homeowners and ranchers absorb the cost. Actually, we all pay the price in this devastating clash of interests that extends well beyond the Rockies. Aggressively seeking new leases in as many as 32 states, the industry is even making a bid to drill in the New York City watershed, which provides drinking water to millions.

As public health concerns mount, Split Estate cracks the sugarcoating on an industry touted as a clean alternative to fossil fuels, and poignantly drives home the need for real alternatives.

Watch the trailer for the documentary, and don't miss a special airing October 16 at 10 p.m. on Planet Green.

Press release as published on PLANET GREEN'S website. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

House passes SB1155 to tax gas companies!

PennFuture Praises State House for Passage of Natural Gas Severance Tax That Helps Funds Growing Greener, Urges Senate to Consider Bill Immediately to Keep the Promise Made to the Citizens.

HARRISBURG, Pa.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture) today praised the Pennsylvania House of Representatives for its passage of SB 1155, a significant extraction tax on deep natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation that also funds Growing Greener, local governments impacted by drilling, wildlife management agencies, hazardous sites cleanup and county conservation districts, and the General Fund. The measure passed by a vote of 104 to 92. This action allows the tax to be considered by the State Senate before it adjourns for the year.

“This is a reasonable and robust tax”
“Thanks to heroic effort by Representative Kate Harper (R-Montgomery) insisting that SB 1155 include substantial revenue for Growing Greener, and the support of both Democratic and Republican House members, the House has kept its promise to the citizens to pass a bill by October 1,” said Jan Jarrett, PennFuture’s president and CEO. “Now it’s up to the Senate. We urge the Senate to act quickly, and preserve both the significant tax in this legislation and the money for Growing Greener, local communities and the other specified agencies.

“This is a reasonable and robust tax,” continued Jarrett. “It allows the drilling industry to flourish, while compensating the citizens for the use of the state’s natural resources. We have had daily reminders of the risks to our environment and local communities from drilling, so it is only fair that a portion of this new tax revenue go to environmental protection and local communities.

“Many of our elected officials, particularly Representatives Dave Levdansky (D-Washington, Allegheny) and Camille ‘Bud’ George (D-Clearfield), helped create the general framework in this bill, and it must be retained in the Senate,” said Jarrett.

“All eyes now turn to the Senate,” said Jarrett. “We call on the Senate to keep the robust tax on drilling in this bill and the split of this new revenue. Our environment, our communities, and our citizens depend on it.”

PennFuture is a statewide public interest membership organization that works to protect and promote Pennsylvania’s environment and economy. PennFuture’s activities include litigating cases before regulatory bodies and in local, state and federal courts, advocating and advancing legislative action on a state and federal level, public education, and assisting citizens in public advocacy. PennFuture was dubbed “the state’s leading environmental advocacy organization” by the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Click HERE to view the original release as it appeared on Businesswire.

Weeklong radio series on all aspects of Marcellus drilling

This week, WHYY, a public broadcast network serving southeastern PA, southern NJ and all of Delaware, is running a series of discussions on all aspects of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale.  According to their WEBSITE, the show airs weekday mornings and evenings from 10-12.  If you aren't located in their broadcast area, fear not!  You can listen live on your computer via streaming audio by clicking HERE.  (Note that you may be prompted to install or update your computer's version of media software in order to listen).  If you have Sirius-XM radio, the show will air on the Sirius-XM channel NPR Now 134 and NPR Talk Sirius 135.  You may also download podcasts of the shows after they've aired via their WEBSITE.  The site includes selected show summaries, selected transcripts, photographs, links for further research.

Topics for discussion are as follows:

The Shale Game Part 1: County vs. County
Monday, September 27, 2010
Susan Phillips and Kerry Grens take you to two counties in northeastern Pennsylvania that have reacted to gas drilling in drastically different ways.

The Shale Game Part 2: Water
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Natural gas has been trapped deep below the surface of Pennsylvania for eons. But only in the past two years has the industry begun in earnest to tap the rich gas reserves of the Marcellus Shale — a layer of rock thousands of feet down that runs from New York to West Virginia. Gas companies sunk nine hundred wells into the Pennsylvania Marcellus this year. With this new area in play, residents have a lot of questions. The most frequently asked: what will be the impact on their water. In part two of our series The Shale Game, WHYY's health and science reporter Kerry Grens searches for the answer.

The Shale Game Part 3: Jobs
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Pennsylvania's natural gas rush has environmentalists and residents worried about contaminated drinking water wells, increased truck traffic, exploding well heads and potentially toxic spills. But the counterpoint all along has been jobs, jobs, jobs.

The Shale Game Part 4: Social services
Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Shale Game Part 5: Regulatory issues
Friday, October 1, 2010

Thanks to MH for passing along the info!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Look Before you Lease (and after too): workshops this weekend!

This weekend, Earthworks' Oil and Gas Accountability Project will be holding workshops for landowners considering leasing or who have already leased, and anyone concerned about surface owner rights, leasing, and the impacts of gas development. Gas drilling is taking off across the Marcellus Shale region, and many landowners and communities wonder what it means. Spend time with experts in mineral leasing and accounting, corporate accountability, and gas development regulations. Learn about the leasing process, industry tactics, and what leasing means for you, your neighbors, and community.

There are 3 locations for the workshops:  Friday, October 1, 6-8:30 pm. Ohio Room, Kilcawley Center, Youngstown State University, Youngstown, OH · Saturday, October 2, 9:30 am-12 pm. Ulmer Planetarium, Lock Haven University, Lock Haven, PA · Saturday, October 2, 4:30 pm-7pm. Pearn Auditorium, Brennan Hall, University of Scranton, Scranton, PA.

Earthworks is a non-profit organization dedicated to protecting communities and the environment from the destructive impacts of mineral development, in the U.S. and worldwide.

For more information about these workshops or Earthworks, click HERE.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Farmers take up camera against fracking practice

"They’ve been labeled “farmers turned filmmakers,” but it’s what Jeff and Jodi Andrysick felt they had to do with their $10,000.

The couple, native Pennsylvanians, set aside the money for a multi-vendor farm market where they live in Keuka Lake, N.Y., in Finger Lakes country. But the fight against fracking became more pressing, so the money went to a high-definition camcorder.

This led to “All Fracked Up,” a documentary they made to rally people against fracking and what it could do to their areas. The couple was in Pennsylvania on Friday promoting the film, which will debut at the BTE Theatre in Bloomsburg, at 4:30 p.m. Oct. 2. Admission is $5, and they’ll host a discussion after the movie.

It all began when “a predatory gas corporation” — the Andrysicks’ lawyer advised them against using the name — tried to dump what is believed to be three-quarters of a billion gallons of toxic waste into an abandoned gas well in Pulteney, N.Y. The waste came from a drill site in Pennsylvania.

“We figured if Pennsylvania doesn’t want it there, why should we take it?” Jeff Andrysick said.

The people of the region successfully fought it back, and the Andrysicks want Pennsylvanians to know they can do the same.

“The gas corporations prey on ignorance,” said Jeff Andrysick, saying they play a smoke-and-mirrors game to get people and towns to buy into what they do."

Read the remaining text of Evamarie Socha's article by clicking here:  THE DAILY ITEM (as it appeared 9.24.2010).

Self-imposed Oct. 1 deadline for gas tax bill looming

Why don’t legislators simply pass a tax on natural gas drilling in Marcellus Shale?  

"That was the question posed to Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, at a recent meeting in his district sponsored by Trout Unlimited.  With only five days left until the legislators’ self-imposed Oct. 1 deadline and no clear movement toward passing a bill, the question is one being asked by many around the state.

“The important stuff we do is rarely simple,” said Everett.

In the course of crafting the 2010-11 state budget in June, lawmakers agreed to impose a tax on drilling in the Marcellus Shale, which is thought to be one of the world’s largest deposits of natural gas.

Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati’s office has held talks throughout the summer with both the industry and environmental interests and is prepared to make good on the promise to enact a tax this session, but tax legislation must originate in the House of Representatives.

Rep. David Levdansky, D-Allegheny, has been working on a natural gas tax for two years. “I think this is a once-in-a-career opportunity to make a real difference,” he said. “In my 26 years here, I think this is the best opportunity we have to put in dedicated funding for conservation and environmental protection programs.”

Passing a tax is possible “if we receive bipartisan support,” said Levdansky. “I think next week is do or die.”

Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Minority Leader Sam Smith, said, “The caucus is not telling anybody how to vote. ... It’s a member-by-member thing. Each member is going to weigh it on their own.”

Even Gov. Ed Rendell has expressed skepticism a tax will get passed.

House Democratic spokesman Brett Marcy said, “For the most part, we are united in our determination to get this done.” But they have been in “constant discussions” about the best method of distributing the revenue generated by a tax.

The question isn’t just the rate of tax, but what to do with the money. Leaders on both sides of the aisle have said they think some of the revenue should go to environmental programs, but which ones and in what proportion is a big question. The governor and House leaders want a majority of the revenue to go into the state’s General Fund. Rank-and-file members on both sides appear to prefer the lion’s share go instead toward environmental programs, infrastructure investments and local municipalities.

Along the northern tier, where drilling is transforming both the landscape and economy, Republican lawmakers say the time for a tax hasn’t come. “Who would have believed the counties in the northern tier would be leading the state in jobs created and lowest unemployment,” said Rep. Matt Baker, R-Tioga. “We need to revitalize the economy and create jobs, which all of this is doing right now. Maybe there’s a time and place for a competitive, modest tax, but I don’t think it’s now.”

To read the remainder of Donald Gilliland's article in The Patriot-News, click HERE (as it appeared 9.25.2010).