Republican governors in Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, New Jersey, and Florida have been getting a lot of media and press attention lately because of their proposals for drastic budget cuts, big tax breaks for corporations, or for their attacks on public sector workers and their unions. One newly elected Republic governor who has remained pretty much under the radar is Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania. A few weeks ago, a story about Corbett at ProPublica caught my attention. I thought it was a story worth investigating.
Last December, Governor Corbett announced his very first political appointee—a man named C. Alan Walker. Walker, an energy executive, was chosen to head the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. What’s particularly interesting about this appointment is that Corbett also gave Walker supreme authority over environmental permitting in the state of Pennsylvania.
One might ask why Corbett gave Walker such far-reaching authority. Could it be because Pennsylvania is home to a large portion of a vast underground rock formation known as the Marcellus Shale? Do you know what can be extracted from the Marcellus Shale? Natural gas. Do you know how natural gas is extracted from the shale? Through a process known as hydraulic fracturing—or “fracking.”
The Marcellus Shale
Now, as Corbett stakes much of the state’s economy on Marcellus Shale gas drilling, a paragraph tucked into the 1,184-page budget gives Walker unprecedented authority to “expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.” That includes, presumably, coal, oil, gas and trucking. (ProPublica)
FYI: Hydraulic fracturing is a process used in nine out of ten natural gas wells in the United States, where millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground to break apart the rock and release the gas. Scientists are worried that the chemicals used in fracturing may pose a threat either underground or when waste fluids are handled and sometimes spilled on the surface. (ProPublica)
And, according to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, that paragraph could enable Walker “to fast-track drilling permits if environmental regulators are balking.” The Inquirer article goes on to explain why Walker may be unsuited for his position as head of the Department of Community and Economic Development: “In 2002, he told the state he couldn’t afford to clean up polluted water flowing from 15 inactive mines that were operated by his companies. After the state won a court injunction, Walker agreed to a cleanup plan.”
The authors of the ProPublica article say it remains unclear how Governor Corbett can bestow such authority on the Department of Community and Economic Development. They question how Pennsylvania would address any legal conflicts that might arise if Walker pushed for approval of permits that might conflict with the Clean Water Act or other federal laws.
A more recent ProPublica article reports that oil and gas inspectors who police the Marcellus Shale development in the state won’t be allowed to issue violations to drilling companies that they regulate any longer unless they get prior approval from top officials. Evidently, this has raised concerns that environmental inspectors in Pennsylvania won’t be able to act independently in the future—and that regulations could possibly be overridden by the governor.
Should people in Pennsylvania be concerned by what could happen in their state because of these recent developments? Well, the EPA is doing an investigation into whether fracking can have a detrimental effect on reservoirs—and some landowners have alleged that fracking is the cause of their polluted and flammable tap water and poisoned animals.
I’m posting some videos that will provide you with more information about what’s going on with hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania and other parts of this country. But first—I’d like to make note of a few things:
- C. Alan Walker has donated $184,000 to Tom Corbett’s campaign efforts since 2004.
- Business and industry representatives outnumber environmental advocates by more than 3 to 1 on Governor Corbett’s new 30-member Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission.
- The Pennsylvania Office of Homeland Security has been tracking anti-gas drilling groups and their meetings — including a public screening of the film “Gasland,” a documentary about the environmental hazards of natural gas drilling. The office includes information about the groups in its weekly bulletins that are sent out to law enforcement agencies—and to companies that are drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale.
- Last November, the New York State Assembly voted to place a temporary moratorium on fracking in that state.
NEED TO KNOW | Actor Mark Ruffalo speaks out against fracking | PBS
Gov’t PA Homeland Security Monitors Fracking Victims
GASLAND Trailer 2010
For those who care to learn more about drilling for natural gas in Pennsylvania, here’s a link to
Documents: Natural Gas’s Toxic Waste, which was published by the New York Times in February.
Quoting from NYT: Over the past nine months, The Times reviewed more than 30,000 pages of documents obtained through open records requests of state and federal agencies and by visiting various regional offices that oversee drilling in Pennsylvania. Some of the documents were leaked by state or federal officials. Here, the most significant documents are made available with annotations from The Times.
Pa. allows dumping of tainted waters from gas boom—an Associated Press article written by David B. Caruso. It was posted at the Marcellus Shale Protest website.
- PA Governor Gives Energy Executive Supreme Authority Over Environmental Permitting (ProPublica)
- Pennsylvania Limits Authority of Oil and Gas Inspectors (ProPublica)
- A Colossal Fracking Mess: The dirty truth behind the new natural gas. Related: A V.F. video look at a town transformed by fracking. (Vanity Fair)
- Gas drillers make waves in Pa. with political contributions (Observer-Reporter/Associated Press)
- Former Bush EPA Official Says Fracking Exemption Went Too Far; Congress Should Revisit (ProPublica)
- Pa. allows dumping of tainted waters from gas boom (Associated Press/Marcellus Shale Protest)
- Pennsylvania allows gas drillers to dump pollution into drinking water supplies (The Raw Story/Associated Press)
- Regulation Lax as Gas Wells’ Tainted Water Hits Rivers (New York Times)
- How Corbett fracked Pa.’s middle class (Philadelphia Daily News)
- ‘Fracking’ Has a Friend in Pennsylvania (Newsweek)
- De facto deregulation of shale gas drilling in PA (Daily Kos)
- Commentary: Tom Corbett’s first Cabinet appointment, coal executive C. Alan Walker, lacks creativity points (PennLive)
- Corbett’s fracker-in-chief (Philly.com)
- Fracking Halliburton (Mother Jones)
- Fracking in Pennsylvania (Daily Kos)
- Investigation Confirms Pennsylvania Fracking Well Blowout Was Easily Preventable, Potentially Catastrophic (Truth-out)
- Inquirer Editorial: Corbett’s Texas rodeo (The Inquirer/Philly.com)
- EPA Subpoenas Halliburton Over “Fracking” (CBS News)
- Lawsuit: Hydrofracking fluid ruined Pennsylvania water wells (Syracuse.com/Associated Press
- Arkansas Earthquakes Decline After ‘Fracking’ Injection Well Closures (Huffington Post)
- Inquirer Editorial: Corbett’s Texas rodeo (Philadelphia Inquirer)
- E.P.A. Considers Risks of Gas Extraction (New York Times)
- Radioactive fracking wastes threaten drinking water (Workers World)
- Marcellus Shale advisory board is top heavy with representatives of business and industry (The Patriot-News)
- Corbett’s natural-gas panel begins its work (Bloomberg Businessweek)
- Documents show Homeland Security tracks anti-drill groups in Pa. (Centre Daily)
- N.Y. Assembly Approves Fracking Moratorium (New York Times)