Where Will Shale Oil Go This Year?

330px-Marcellus_Shale_Gas_Drilling_Tower_1_crop

A horizontal drilling rig for natural gas in the Marcellus formation in eastern Lycoming County, Pennsylvania.

How did the oil industry get to tap Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale without a severance tax? Will that change in 2015?

A detailed look at the lobbying effort by Allegheny Front shows the dimensions of the fight:

An investigation by the Allegheny Front and 90.5 WESA found the oil and gas industry spent heavily on lobbying while the state was writing regulations for shale gas. The industry spent $34 million on lobbying in Pennsylvania since 2007, according to the Pennsylvania Department of State’s lobbying disclosure database. That includes a high of $9 million in 2012, the year Act 13 passed. The money was spent by 27 companies that have drilled unconventional wells or are ‘board members’ of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, and five trade associations.

Compare that to the state’s largest environmental groups — who spent about $1.5 million dollars combined in that period — and $330,000 in 2012.

Flogging the oil industry for doing what comes naturally is important but solves only part of the problem. Supervision by the Public Utility Commission (PUC) has been removed from Act 13 by the Robinson Township case in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which restored local zoning control of oil and gas development. This ruling presumably deprived the oil industry of a significant part of their hard-bought legislative package.

The election of Tom Wolf as Governor reopens the oil and gas severance tax topic, and as a result, the question of local zoning versus control by the PUC, or a different body, will be back on the table too. And one reason the oil industry does so well in the legislative process is that the environmentalists are a true Tower of Babel. Their seriously-held positions range from reasonable up to and including extreme back-to-nature advocates.

In searching for useful middle ground, we need to peel away those who hope to cancel Pennsylvania’s and the nation’s amazing good fortune to have uncovered useful shale oil. This resource has changed our position in the world – going from heavily dependent on imported oil, to potentially becoming a major exporter of petroleum and gas. And the shale has changed the economy of much of the rust belt in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Some public, who do not live in shale country, are willing to mail in a check to fight the shale. But realistically, revoking development of the Marcellus is not on the table and will not happen.

So the need going into 2015 is to find a sensible program of oil and gas taxation and regulation that keeps the baby healthy, and the bathwater that comes from shale development healthy too.

Photo Display on Fracking at Gershman Y

The Open Lens Gallery of the Gershman Y, Broad and Pine Streets in Philadelphia, has on display a series of photographs from the Marcellus Shale Documentary Project, from now until February 14, 2013, on the drilling for natural gas in Pennsylvania.

Photographs by photographers Noah Addis, Nina Berman, Brian Cohen, Scott Goldsmith, Lynn Johnson, and Martha Rial, displayed in the lobby of the Gershman Y, show the effects of Hydraulic fracturing, or “Fracking,” on communities and residents where it takes place.

More after the jump.
Photographs include one of the former Sunoco refinery at Marcus Hook, where the natural gas would be refined and transported; pictures of a three year old girl, Sylar, whose parents claim their tap water has been contaminated by gas drilling; contaminated water from a kitchen faucet; a woman who lives without water for bathing or drinking because the water in the community has been contaminated; a lobbyist for the natural gas industry standing, talking on a cell phone next to an anti-fraking activist holding a sign; a farm couple giving their horses bottled water to drink; and the Susquehanna River as it goes through communities affected by drilling.

“Fracking” is the practice where a well is drilled into the earth, and millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals — identified as carcinogens, pesticides, biocides, neurotoxins, and endocrine disrupters — are pumped into the ground to force the natural gas out. Opponents of fracking have complained of emissions of natural gas into the air and contamination of water, and of people in these regions affected by such health problems as asthma, stroke, and cardiovascular disease.


Fracking Comes Closer to Home

— by Hannah Lee

This weekend, I showed the 2010 documentary film, Gasland, to members of my shul. It was planned as a Tu B’Shevat educational event before the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a natural-gas drilling policy last week and before Governor Tom Corbett signed the bill last night. Pennsylvania now joins more than 25 states in imposing a levy on natural gas drillers.

More after the jump.
Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, involves new technology, using horizontal drilling/high volume hydraulic fracturing that is different from conventional drilling and is much riskier. In horizontal drilling, the drill bit is turned sideways to penetrate long distances from the vertical well. Massive amounts of water are pumped into the ground at extremely high pressure to fracture the rock According to Dr. Mirele Goldsmith of Jews Against Hydrofracking, the industry is resorting to this type of drilling because deposits accessible by conventional drilling have been used up. This method uses benzene, diesel, and formaldehyde as some of the hundreds of chemicals that are extremely hazardous to human health.

In 2009, the filmmaker, Josh Fox, learned that his home in the Delaware River Basin was on top of the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation containing natural gas that exists across Pennsylvania and huge stretches of the Northeast. He was offered $100,000 to lease his land for a method of drilling developed by Halliburton and he soon discovered that this was part of a 34-state drilling campaign, the largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history. More than 3,000 such wells have already been drilled in Pennsylvania.

Fox traveled to communities where the contamination of their drinking water has caused illnesses from headaches to asthma to the loss of hair in their animals. In Dimock, PA, the residents are able to light their tap water on fire. Contaminated water from fracking has been identified in Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio as well as Pennsylvania.

The State House voted 101-90 for the bill on Wednesday, February 8, after a 31-19 vote in the State Senate on Tuesday. As signed by Governor Corbett, the bill exacts a new fee on natural-gas drillers. The bill also: establishes a 500-foot setback between wells and buildings; requires a 300-foot setback between wells and waterways; and prohibits local governments from using zoning ordinances to ban gas drilling, and allows drilling in all zones.

Pennsylvania is the largest natural-gas-producing state that had not imposed a levy on drilling. The new bill will add a tax, beginning with a per-well fee between $40,000 and $60,000 in the first year after a well is drilled, which will decline to between $5,000 and $10,000 per well by the 15th and final year. The fee will vary with the cost of gas per year and will be set by the Public Utility Commission, which regulates utility companies.

The Forward  reported last summer that of the 30 Jewish summer camps that sit above the Marcellus Shale, four camps in Wayne County, PA, had signed leases with Hess Corporation. The New Jersey YMHA-YWHA Camps received $400,000 for a lease on property that houses two summer camps. The B’nai B’rith Henry Monsky Foundation received a bonus of $115, 248 upon signing. In Pennsylvania, there are already wells within 2 miles to 320 daycare facilities, 67 schools, and 9 hospitals, cites Dr. Goldsmith from state documents. She reports that more than 50 rabbis have signed a letter, sent to the Delaware River Basin Commission, about their concerns about fracking.

The Representatives from the Philadelphia area who voted for the Marcellus Shale “local impact fee” measure were:

  • Philadelphia: John Taylor (R)
  • Bucks County: Paul I. Clymer (R), Gene DiGirolamo (R), Frank Farry (R), Bernie O’Neill (R), Scott Petri (R), Margaret Quinn (R), Katherine M. Watson (R)
  • Chester County: Warren Kampf (R), Tim Hennessey (R), John Lawrence (R), Duane Milne (R), Chris Ross (R), Dan Truitt (R)
  • Delaware County: Bill Adolph (R), Steve Barrar (R), Joe Hackett (R), Tom Killion (R), Nick Miccarelli III (R), Nick Micozzie (R.)
  • Montgomery County: Bob Godshall (R), Kate Harper (R), Thomas Murt (R), Tom Quigley (R), Todd Stephens (R), Marcy Toepel (R), Mike Vereb (R)

Voting against the bill were:

  • Philadelphia: Louise Williams Bishop (D), Brendan Boyle (D), Kevin Boyle (D), Vanessa Lowery Brown (D), Michelle Brownlee (D), Mark Cohen (D), Angel Cruz (D), Maria Donatucci (D), Dwight Evans (D), Babette Josephs (D), Bill Keller (D.), Michael P. McGeehan (D), John Myers (D.), Michael O’Brien (D), Cherelle L. Parker (D), Tony Payton (D), James Roebuck (D), John Sabatina Jr. (D), W. Curtis Thomas (D), Ron Waters (D), Rosita Youngblood (D),
  • Bucks: Tina M. Davis (D), John Galloway (D.), Steven J. Santarsiero (D.)
  • Chester: Margo Davidson (D.), Thaddeus Kirkland (D.), Greg Vitali (D.)
  • Montgomery: Matt Bradford (D.), Tim Briggs (D.), Lawrence H. Curry (D.), Pam DeLissio (D.), Mike Gerber (D.)

Not voting:

  • Chester: Curt Schroder (R.)

Fracking and Fukushima: Obcene Efforts to Subjugate the Earth

— Rabbi Arthur Waskow

What is just happening in Japan and what is on the verge of happening in Pennsylvania have a deep connection.

In the one, it might seem that disaster flowed from a small-scale decision:  that it was “impossible” for a tsunami to get higher than x feet. That decision led to placement of emergency generators for the nuclear power plants in ways that made them vulnerable to being knocked out when a monster tsunami did in fact sweep across northern Japan.

Result: already as I write (5:30 a.m., Eastern US time, Tuesday March 15) radiation at medium levels is venting onto nearby regions of Japan, carrying the seeds of cancer and death that have forced the Prime Minister to tell residents to stay indoors. In the next week, God forbid, there may be a full melt-down of one or more of the damaged plants, rendering large areas of Japan (and possibly Korea, depending on wind currents) as uninhabitable as the Chernobyl melt-down rendered parts of Ukraine, while increasing the rate of cancer deaths in a larger swathe of Europe.

A small mistake, yes? —  misgauging the power of a possible earthquake and tsunami. As minor as the small mistake that turned the BP oil well in the Gulf of Mexico into an ecological and economic disaster.

But neither one was exactly a “mistake.” The whole nuclear energy system, and the whole system of deep-sea oil drilling (now again permitted in the Gulf), and the whole system of  “fracking” for natural gas that endangers the drinking water of millions of Americans  — all are the result of a far more profound transgression.

More after the jump.
That transgression is the pursuit of power to control the earth and other human beings that has run amok. Has become not mere “control,” but subjugation. And has brought Plagues upon the Earth and all Humanity, as tyrannical Pharaoh brought plagues upon ancient Egypt.

All life on Earth is the result of a Dance between control and community. Eco-systems are ways in which any given species restrains itself from overwhelming its surroundings, encouraging other species to co-exist with it in a biological community- not using as much power to control as it might, so that it can continue to live in the longer run.

(For example: an amoeba might gaily multiply itself into proliferous plurality, gobbling up all the sugary water in the vicinity – until there is no more sugar and too many amoebae, who then all abruptly die.  But if the amoebae learn to limit themselves and leave space for other life-forms, what emerges is a eco-system. Fewer amoebae at any one moment, but they can live on into the future.)

In human culture, knowing when to Do and when to Pause, when to restrain one’s self, when to encourage a community instead of gobbling up all wealth and power for one’s self, is   crucial. All the great traditions tried to teach this wisdom. Indeed, it was made them great, able to live across millennia.

When some human institution of Power-Over over-reached, ran amok – like Pharaoh, the Babylonian Empire, Rome – the corrective came in a great new surge of community – new kinds of community. But Modernity has become an adventure in Over-reaching, Over-powering, far beyond any previous imperial power.

And the result has been General Electric’s convincing Japanese governments that its expertise could overpower earthquakes and tsunamis, that nuclear energy was more “profitable” than wind or solar energy could ever be, that the “cost” of a billion dollars each for these brittle power plants was better spending than conserving energy in the first place, learning to live within limits, encouraging decentralized arrays of sun and wind power that lived in the nooks and crannies of the Earth instead of trying to dominate it.

And the spending was better – for General Electric. And for BP. And for Massey Coal. But not better for the Earth or human earthlings.

And now let’s look at the other obscene word  —  “fracking” — in the same light. It’s slang for “hydrofracturing” —  that is pouring tons of chemicalized and pressurized water into shale rock that has within it natural gas that can only be accessed by fracturing the rock.

But this means that the water table is poisoned. Watching the film Gasland, one sees drinking water flaming up – literally burning – when a match is touched to it.

Obviously, thank God and the wisdom of our Congress, such processes that poison the drinking water of millions of people are forbidden by the Clean Water Act.

But — Vice-President Chaney and the Big Oil conglomerates he worked for persuaded Congress to exempt oil and gas companies from the provisions of the Clean Water Act.

How did they pull this off? With money, of course. Money in campaign contributions, money in lavish lobbying (of judges, not only Congress).  This money was not wasted. It was an investment, mere millions paying off in multibillions of profit.

And what did the exemption mean? That the fracking companies don’t even report what the chemicals are they are putting in the water.  Independent researchers, working on shoe-strings, have isolated some of them: cancer-producers among them. And that the fracking companies expect enough profits  to make it worth their while to buy state governors and legislatures.

So in Pennsylvania, not only is there no regulation of fracking but not even taxes on the fracking profits.
The companies plan tens of thousands of fracking wells in the Marcellus Shale region. In the shale region itself, some wells that have watered farm families for generations are already poisoned. It may take a generation for Philadelphians to start dying of the cancer-causing chemicals that seep into their drinking water.

Just as it took the Fukushima nukes a generation to start poisoning the Japanese people.

“Frack you!” say the oil companies. “Fukushima you!” says General Electric.

What we need is the birthing of a new kind of community, just as ancient wandering Hebrews responded to Pharaoh with Sinai, as Biblical Israel responded to Rome with both Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, as the Arabian tribes responded to the tyrants of Mecca with Islam.

A planetary community.

Rabbi Phyllis Berman and I concluded that that was the crucial wisdom we need to learn from the story of Exodus, when we wrote Freedom Journeys: The Tale of Exodus and Wilderness Across Millennia.   For more information on the book, and on the Interfaith Freedom Seder for the Earth, please see the Shalom Center website.

But it’s not just us, or that book. More, of course, to come.

Blessings of shalom, salaam, of a deeper, fuller freedom for the Earth and all Humanity.