Fracking USA: A Post about the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, Governor Tom Corbett, C. Alan Walker, the Marcellus Shale, Polluted Drinking Water, and the Movie Gasland

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger

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.

FRACKING 101

NEED TO KNOW | Actor Mark Ruffalo speaks out against fracking | PBS

Gov’t PA Homeland Security Monitors Fracking Victims

GASLAND Trailer 2010

Recommended Reading:

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.

and

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.

Sources

126 thoughts on “Fracking USA: A Post about the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, Governor Tom Corbett, C. Alan Walker, the Marcellus Shale, Polluted Drinking Water, and the Movie Gasland

  1. […] The obvious group missing, though, are the trial lawyers, despite endless press and insurance company speculation that plaintiffs’ lawyers would be racing to file environmental contamination claims against oil and gas companies using hydraulic fracturing. After all, more than a year ago there was significant national press attention (Vanity Fair, New York Times) over contamination of water wells throughout Pennsylvania. That would, under ideal conditions, prompt government action to ensure the safety of residents, but the federal government has taken a pass — fracturing was exempted in 2005 by the intentionally misnamed Safe Drinking Water Act — and Pennsylvania’s own state government is, shall we say, highly inclined to take the gas companies’ side. […]

  2. Natural Gas Industry Pumps $1.34 Million To New York Politicians To Push Fracking
    Jan 12, 2012
    http://thinkprogress.org/green/2012/01/12/402535/natural-gas-industry-pumps-134-million-to-new-york-politicians-to-push-fracking/

    Excerpt:

    The New York State legislature is debating whether to allow hydrofracking in the state. The natural gas industry is hoping to have its say, contributing $1.34 million to state politicians and parties over the last four years, including Governor Andrew Cuomo.

    The industry is pushing for the drilling process, also known as fracking, to take place not far from the Syracuse and New York City watersheds. This has caused some concern since fracking can harm the surrounding environment, poison nearby water sources, and even cause earthquakes. But the New York Daily News reports that drillers and utilities really want this to get started:

    In pushing for state approval of hydrofracking, the natural gas industry has pumped $1.34 million into the coffers of New York politicians and their parties, a new study revealed. The donations were sprinkled around over the last four years as lawmakers and state officials debated whether to allow the controversial drilling process, formally known as hydraulic fracturing, in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale formation upstate, Common Cause New York said in its report.[…]

    Common Cause’s study included not only gas drillers and producers, but some public utilities — including Con Edison and National Grid — that have stakes in gas distribution networks, Lerner said. The bulk of gas industry donations — some 75% — went to candidates for state legislature, including $448,359 given to Republican state Senate candidates and their campaign organizations. Another $217,901 was spent on Democratic candidates for state Senate and their campaign organizations. Gov. Cuomo’s campaign committee took in $153,816 from the gas industry, according to Common Cause.

  3. Ohio Earthquake Linked To Fracking Injection
    http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2012/01/02/396294/ohio-earthquake-fracking/

    | On New Year’s Eve, a magnitude 4.0 earthquake struck northeastern Ohio, the second quake to strike the region in a week. Saturday’s earthquake, which occurred in an area not typically known for this type of natural disaster, is being traced back to fluid injection wells at a Youngstown fracking site. According to the Akron Beacon Journal, “the quake was the 11th over the last eight months in Mahoning County, all within two miles of the injection wells.” They also point out that injection wells have been linked to earthquakes in other states as well, including Arkansas, West Virginia, Colorado and Texas. Two of the Ohio injection wells in question are now being shut down.

Comments are closed.