Jumping Aboard Fracking’s Fossil Fuel Carousel

  by Walter Brasch   Two Pennsylvania legislators who have taken money from—and enthusiastically supported—the natural gas industry have teamed up to now praise coal. State Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Williamsport), chair of the Environmental Resource and Energy Committee, and Rep. Tim Solobay (D-Canonsburg, Pa.) are co-chairs of the newly-established Coal Caucus. It’s a strange move on their part, since both have praised natural gas as the economic future of Pennsylvania. Yaw, in his first run for the Senate in 2008 accepted only $3,700 in campaign contributions from energy companies; the largest were $1,000 donations from Anadarko Petroleum and Chesapeake Energy. In his first re-election campaign in 2012, he received no contributions from the shale gas industry. He didn’t need it. … Continue reading

Fracking America’s Food Supply

Fracking—the process the oil and gas industry uses to extract fossil fuel as much as two miles below the ground—may directly impact the nation’s water supply, reduce water-based recreational and sports activity, and lead to an increase in the cost of food. The cocktail soup required for each well requires about two million pounds of silica sand, as much as 100,000 gallons of toxic chemicals, and three to nine million gallons of fresh water. There are more than 500,000 active wells in the country. In 2011, the last year for which data is available, Texas energy companies used about 26.5 billion gallons of water.  Energy companies drilling Pennsylvania used the second greatest amount of water, followed by Colorado and Arkansas. … Continue reading

Standing Tall for Landowner Rights

by Walter Brasch   Julia Trigg Crawford of Direct, Texas, is the manager of a 650-acre farm that her grandfather first bought in 1948. The farm produces mostly corn, wheat, and soy. On its north border is the Red River; to the west is the Bois d’Arc Creek. TransCanada is an Alberta-based corporation that is building the controversial Keystone Pipeline that will carry bitumen—thicker, more corrosive and toxic, than crude oil—through 36-inch diameter pipes from the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast, mostly to be exported. The $2.3 billion southern segment, about 485 miles from Cushing, Okla., to the Gulf Coast is nearly complete. With the exception of a 300-mile extension between Cushing and Steele City, Neb., … Continue reading

You Can’t Wash Away Fracking’s Effects

José Lara just wanted a job. A company working in the natural gas fields needed a man to power wash wastewater tanks. Clean off the debris. Make them shining again. And so José Lara became a power washer for the Rain for Rent Co. “The chemicals, the smell was so bad. Once I got out, I couldn’t stop throwing up. I couldn’t even talk,” Lara said in his deposition, translated from Spanish. The company that had hired him didn’t provide him a respirator or protective clothing. That’s not unusual in the natural gas fields. José Lara did his job until he no longer could work. At the age of 42, he died from pancreatic and liver cancer. Accidents, injuries, and … Continue reading

Pennsylvania Politics Continues to Trump Health and the Environment

    by WALTER BRASCH   Politics continues to threaten the health and welfare of Pennsylvanians. The latest is how the Republican-dominated legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett separated one of the wealthiest and more high-tech/industrial areas of the state from the rural areas. Less than a week before the 2011–2012 fiscal year budget was scheduled to expire, June 30, the majority party slipped an amendment into the 2012–2013 proposed budget, (SB1263), to ban natural gas drilling in a portion of southeastern Pennsylvania for up to six years. The South Newark Basin includes portions of Bucks, Montgomery, and Berks counties, and could provide at least 360 billion cubic feet of natural gas, according to estimates by the United States Geologic Survey. … Continue reading

FRACKING: Corruption a Part of Pennsylvania’s Heritage

  by WALTER BRASCH  (part 3 of 3) The history of energy exploration, mining, and delivery is best understood in a range from benevolent exploitation to worker and public oppression. A company comes into an area, leases land in rural and agricultural areas for mineral rights, increases employment, usually in a depressed economy, strips the land of its resources, creates health problems for its workers and those in the immediate area, and then leaves. It makes no difference if it’s timber, oil, or coal. In the 1970s and 1980s, the nuclear energy industry promised well-paying jobs, clean energy, and a safe health and work environment. Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima Daiichi, and thousands of violations issued by the Nuclear Regulatory … Continue reading

FRACKING: Health, Environmental Impact Greater Than Claimed

By WALTER BRASCH   (This is Part 2 of 3. Part 1 looked at a state gag order on physicians; Part 3 examines why Pennsylvania is giving special consideration to the natural gas companies.)    The natural gas industry defends hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, as safe and efficient. Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a pro-industry non-profit organization, claims fracking has been “a widely deployed as safe extraction technique,” dating back to 1949. What he doesn’t say is that until recently energy companies had used low-pressure methods to extract natural gas from fields closer to the surface than the current high-pressure technology that extracts more gas, but uses significantly more water, chemicals, and elements. The industry … Continue reading

FRACKING: Pennsylvania Gags Physicians

  by WALTER BRASCH  (Part 1 of 3)  A new Pennsylvania law endangers public health by forbidding health care professionals from sharing information they learn about certain chemicals and procedures used in high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing. The procedure is commonly known as fracking. Fracking is the controversial method of forcing water, gases, and chemicals at tremendous pressure of up to 15,000 pounds per square inch into a rock formation as much as 10,000 feet below the earth’s surface to open channels and force out natural gas and fossil fuels. Advocates of fracking argue not only is natural gas “greener” than coal and oil energy, with significantly fewer carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur emissions, the mining of natural gas generates significant … Continue reading