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.


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.


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.


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. Response to PA Gas Well Accident Took 13 Hours Despite State Plan for Quick Action
    by Nicholas Kusnetz
    ProPublica, April 26, 201

    When Chesapeake Energy lost control of a Marcellus Shale gas well in Pennsylvania on April 19, an emergency response team from Texas was called in to stop the leak. By the time the team arrived more than 13 hours later, brine water and hydraulic fracturing fluids from the well had spewed across nearby fields and into a creek.

    Why did a team have to be called in from Texas, as the Scranton Times Tribune has reported? That’s what we’re trying to figure out.

    According to a plan that Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection announced in August 2010, a Pennsylvania-based emergency response crew should have been available to handle the blowout. The plan was created after Texas crews had to be called in to deal with two serious gas drilling accidents last summer. The first was a blowout at an EOG Resources well in Clearfield County on June 3 — it took the Texans 16 hours to arrive at that site. The other was a fire at a Huntley & Huntley well in Allegheny County that killed two workers on July 23 — the emergency responders showed up 11 hours later that time.

    John Hanger, the DEP’s former secretary, said at the time that the delay was unacceptable.

    “When an accident occurs, we cannot wait 10 or more hours for a crew to fly in from halfway across the country,” he said in a news release.

  2. The problems with fracking are pretty obvious. What is particularly galling, however, is that Republicans insist that industries engaging in inherently dangerous activities should enjoy immunity from liability for their actions. Not only are people then unable to secure compensation for damages to their persons and property, but any incentive for an industry to act responsibly is eliminated. Strict liability in tort ought to apply to these activities.

  3. Natural Gas Drilling Is at a Crucial Turning Point
    by Abrahm Lustgarten
    ProPublica, April 21, 2011

    ProPublica has been covering gas drilling since 2008. When The Guardian asked us to participate in a series it is running about hydraulic fracturing and natural gas, we wrote this analysis of how Europe might learn from the problems we’ve uncovered in the United States.

    First, a wave of new natural gas drilling swept across the United States. Mountain and pastoral landscapes were transformed into landscape-scale factories that optimistically promised a century’s worth of clean-burning fuel and a risk-free solution to dependence on imported oil. In 2008, it seemed the ultimate win-win in an era of hard choices.

    Later, more sobering facts began to complicate things. The drilling relies on an invasive process called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” that uses brute force and dangerous chemicals to crack open the Earth and extract the gas from previously unreachable deep deposits.

    Where the drilling and fracturing happened, water wells sometimes became contaminated. Waste pits leaked into aquifers. Large quantities of fresh water were used. Mountain glaciers and Wyoming valleys became shrouded in smog. Reports began to emerge that natural gas might cause almost as much greenhouse gas pollution as coal.

    Now the industry is at a crucial point. Even as the hard lessons have come into focus, the myriad opportunities presented by this vast fuel source have made its development inevitable.

    In the United States, President Barack Obama stands firmly behind expanded natural gas use and the local economic development it brings. In the next 10 years, the United States will use the fracturing technology to drill hundreds of thousands of wells in cities, rivers and watersheds. Drilling – along with fracking – is fast expanding across Europe, South Africa and Russia. And it will not stop while oil prices are at record highs, the Middle East is in turmoil and nuclear energy is bogged down by global distrust after the Fukushima crisis.

    The industry and governments need to figure out how to scale up gas drilling safely and how to learn from the mistakes in the United States where the fracturing technology was first put to commercial use. The problem is that despite their head start, U.S. scientists and regulators have not answered crucial questions about the risks.

  4. PA Fracking Fluid Blowout Sparks Outrage: Citizens Join Marcellus Shale Oil and Gas Litigation Group in Demanding Temporary Drilling Moratorium
    In Response To Chesapeake Energy’s April 20th Gas Drilling Accident In Northeast Pennsylvania, Concerned Individuals Are Joining Forces with the Marcellus Shale Oil and Gas Litigation Group At A Good Friday Press Conference, Calling Upon Community Leaders To Stand Up For Safety And Protect The Rights, Lives And Property Of Local Residents.
    Scranton, PA (PRWEB) April 21, 2011

  5. Inhofe Claims Fracking Has ‘Never’ Contaminated Water Supply One Day After Spill Contaminates Stream
    Think Progress, 4/21/2011

    Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is perhaps Congress’ most reliable defender of dirty energy and evangelizer against the “hoax” of global warming. This morning, he took his message to Fox News host Brian Kilmeade’s radio show, where he extolled the virtues of hydraulic fracturing, a method of extracting natural gas known widely as “fracking.” Fracking is a relatively new and untested technique, but Inhofe insisted that there’s nothing to worry about, as he claimed fracking has “never poisoned anyone” nor ever contaminated groundwater:

    INHOFE: [There’s] never been one case — documented case — of groundwater contamination in the history of the thousands and thousands of hydraulic fracturing. […]

    KILMEADE: Senator, has it ever poisoned anybody?

    INHOFE: It’s never poisoned anyone.

  6. Elaine,
    How can the drilling fluid reach the stream, but there were no adverse effects?? Some deputy director as a Pinocchio nose!

  7. Pennsylvania Fracking Spill: Natural Gas Well Blowout Spills Thousands Of Gallons Of Drilling Fluid (VIDEO)
    The Huffington Post
    First Posted: 04/20/11 02:52

    Thousands of gallons of fracking fluid have spilled following an accident at a natural gas well in Pennsylvania, WNEP reports.

    The Chesapeake Energy well in Bradford County lost control late Tuesday night.

    From WNEP:
    “The well blew near the surface, spilling thousands and thousands of gallons of frack fluid over containment walls, through fields, personal property and farms, even where cattle continue to graze.”

    Francis Roupp, deputy director of the county emergency management agency, told AP that there were no injuries, and that although fluids have reached a small stream, “no adverse effects” have been reported.

    Roupp suggests a cracked well casing could be the culprit behind the fracking spill, but that certain details won’t be known until the situation is under control. reports that seven families have been evacuated as a result of the spill.

  8. “In addition to congressional inquiries, the US Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a multi-year study to determine whether fracking poses harm to drinking water supplies.”

    MULTI-YEAR ?!!!???


    Former Clerk of Court Marcus Woodrow Kitchens entered a guilty plea…

    his source for the narcotics supplied to the confidential source was Marcus Woodrow Kitchens (Kitchens), the elected Clerk of Court for Spartanburg County and that Kitchens obtained the drugs from the evidence room at the Spartanburg County Courthouse …

    a third individual, John Truman Poole, Jr., brought Lanford and Kitchens together for purposes of this drug transaction during discussions at a local bar in the weeks leading up to Lanford’s trip to Florida to sell the drugs removed from the courthouse evidence room.

    Poole, a former part-time and full-time Spartanburg County Magistrate and private banker at the time, knew both Lanford and Kitchens. Poole also knew that Lanford made frequent business trips to Florida and believed that Lanford may know someone in Florida that would buy drugs….


    A justice of the West Virginia Supreme Court and a powerful coal-company executive met in Monte Carlo in the summer of 2006, sharing several meals even as the executive’s companies were appealing a $50 million jury verdict against them to the court.

    A little more than a year later, the justice, Elliott E. Maynard, voted with the majority in a 3-to-2 decision in favor of the coal companies….

  11. Pennsylvania’s GOP Governor Lets Gas Industry Have Its Way With Public Parks
    Robert S. Eshelman
    The Nation
    April 19, 2011

    Situated amidst the bucolic forests and Appalachian peaks of southwestern Pennsylvania, Ohiopyle State Park offers one of the best settings for outdoor recreation in the country. One and half million people visit the park each year to hike, hunt and fish, kayak, and contribute millions of dollars to the regional economy.

    By coincidence of geology and biology, though, Ohiopyle also sits atop a highly coveted portion of one of the largest natural gas deposits in the world — the Marcellus Shale formation. All sorts of aspirations and mythologies have been bestowed upon the extraction of millions of years worth of decayed organic matter (i.e. natural gas) that lies a mile below ground, such as creating 200,000 new jobs in Pennsylvania and helping to wean the nation from oil imports.

    Last October, outgoing Democratic Governor Ed Rendell sought to slow the pace of the natural gas industry’s scramble for Marcellus riches — and address growing concerns about the environmental and public health impacts of drilling — by signing an Executive Order prohibiting the issuance of any new drilling leases on public lands.

    But newly elected Republican Governor Tom Corbett has pledged to overturn Rendell’s moratorium. Since taking office in January, Corbett has rolled back environmental oversight of natural gas drilling on public lands.

    “The whole concept of a public commons is under threat,” says John Quigley, who was head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) under Governor Rendell. DCNR is the agency tasked with overseeing the state’s public parks and forests, which is recognized as the best-managed in the country.

    Think of it as an environmental counterpart to Wisconsin governor Scott Walker’s attack on public workers’ right to bargain collectively.

    Corbett’s support for the natural gas industry comes as no surprise; the oil, natural gas, and mining industries contributed $1.5 million to his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

    And with largess comes rewards. Corbett’s first appointment came in December, a month before taking office. He selected a man named C. Alan Walker to head the state’s Department of Community and Economic Development. Walker, who has contributed nearly $200,000 to Corbett political campaigns, is president and CEO of Bradford Energy Company and served as a member and past chairman of the board of directors of both the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and the Pennsylvania Coal Association.

    In addition to the appointment, Corbett granted Walker special power to “expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.” With a stroke of his pen, Walker could render environmental regulations meaningless.

    Then, in February, Corbett rolled back a key environmental hurdle for the natural gas industry, ending state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) review of drilling activities on state-owned land. Where once DEP worked in tandem with DCNR to anticipate and propose mitigation measures for potentially harmful drilling activities, now a drill operator is required only to submit a checklist confirming that it has taken adequate steps toward avoiding certain environmental impacts.

    DCNR’s budget has suffered, too. Corbett made funding of state parks contingent on the revenues that they generate from leasing natural gas. Since the 1950s, says Jan Jarrett, President of PennFuture, a state conservation group, leasing revenues went into a fund used to buy up greater amounts of parkland, for instance, or promote conservation, rather than into DCNR itself. But with this year’s budget, Corbett has used those revenues to fund the department. In other words, rather than funding the DCNR through General Fund allocations, he is making it more dependent on revenue from resource extraction.

    Jarrett is worried about this precedent. “If the department is running off of timber or natural gas lease sales, there becomes a motivation to increase the number of leases or boost revenues from resource extraction.”

    Corbett has yet to lift the drilling moratorium, but there is no regulatory hurdle stopping him.

    “To Corbett’s credit, he did not propose any additional leasing in his current budget,” says Quigley, “However, his spokespeople have indicated that the Governor thinks that the moratorium should be lifted.”

    PennFuture’s Jarrett speculates that a Corbett decision to lift the moratorium may come down to budget considerations after all. “There’s been a huge outcry over the cuts to public and higher education,” she says, describing the Governor’s primary remedy for addressing the state’s $4 billion budget deficit. “I suspect that the General Assembly will balk at the level of cuts that Corbett wants and he’ll have to give some of that money back. So he may look again to the state forest land.”

    Currently, about one third of Pennsylvania’s public lands — 700,000 acres — are leased to drilling companies. While Rendell’s moratorium put a stop to further leasing, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does not own the subsurface mineral rights to 80% of state parks. About half of the state’s 117 parks, according to Quigley, lie above the Marcellus Shale formation. So even with Rendell’s moratorium in place, the natural gas industry has wide access to the public lands, including Ohiopyle. Further weakening the state’s regulatory authority, a 2009 state supreme court decision limited DCNR’s ability to impose use conditions on public lands to which it owns only the surface rights.

    With the construction of a natural gas well pad on public land comes the need for miles of service roads and belowground pipelines that fragment both critical wildlife habitat and areas of uninterrupted outdoor recreational space. Thousands of truck trips are required for each well due to the millions of gallons of chemical-infused water that is needed to fracture the subsurface geologic formations and release the gas trapped inside. “The question,” says Quigley, “is what are the limits of resource extraction on the public lands?”

  12. Elaine,
    I can’t imagine that those wonderful mining companies could have used illegal or dangerous materials in their life saving work to destroy our environment! Great updates! 🙂

  13. US House Democrats accuse producers of using toxic fracking products
    Washington (Platts)–18 Apr 2011
    By Mark Davidson

    Fourteen oil and gas service companies injected a total of 780 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing products, including some that were “extremely toxic,” to extract natural gas from shale formations from 2005 through 2009, according to a report released over the weekend by Democrats in the US House of Representatives.

    In all, more than 2,500 fracking products containing 750 chemicals and other components were used over the period, according to the study released by Representatives Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Henry Waxman of California and Diana DeGette of Colorado.

    “Some of the components used … were common and generally harmless, such as salt and citric acid. Some were unexpected, such as instant coffee and walnut hulls. And some were extremely toxic, such as benzene and lead,” the report said.

    During the four-year period, the service companies used fracking fluids “containing 29 chemicals that are 1) known or possible human carcinogens, 2) regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act for their risks to human health or 3) listed as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act. These 29 chemicals were components of more than 650 different products used in hydraulic fracturing,” the report said.

    As part of an investigation into the potentially harmful effects of fracking, the House Energy and Commerce Committee last year asked the 14 companies to disclose the types and volumes of the products they used in their fracking fluids between 2005 and 2009 and the chemical contents of those products. “This report summarizes the information provided to the committee,” the three lawmakers said. Waxman chaired the committee last year.

    “As a result of hydraulic fracturing and advances in horizontal drilling technology, natural gas production in 2010 reached the highest level in decades,” the report’s executive summary said. “As the use of hydraulic fracturing has grown, so have concerns about its environmental and public health impacts. One concern is that hydraulic fracturing fluids used to fracture rock formations contain numerous chemicals that could harm human health and the environment, especially if they enter drinking water supplies. The opposition of many oil and gas companies to public disclosure of the chemicals they use has compounded this concern.”

    In addition to congressional inquiries, the US Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a multi-year study to determine whether fracking poses harm to drinking water supplies.

  14. Fracking for Natural Gas With Diesel Violated Law, EPA Says
    By MIKE SORAGHAN of Greenwire
    New York Times
    April 13, 2011

    Oil and gas drillers who injected diesel fuel during hydraulic fracturing without a permit broke the law, a U.S. EPA official said today.

    The assertion by Deputy Administrator Bob Perciasepe means some companies that have acknowledged injecting diesel could be subject to sanctions under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

    It is a technical but politically charged question in the ongoing debate about regulation of the fracturing process.

    While Congress in 2005 exempted fracturing from the need to get permits under the Safe Drinking Water Act, it is not exempt when diesel is used. But companies have acknowledged using diesel in some instances. At a subcommittee hearing today, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) questioned Perciasepe on that.

    “If they didn’t get a permit, they were in violation of the law?” Udall asked.

    “Yes,” Perciasepe said.

    Perciasepe, the No. 2 official at EPA, also gingerly pointed out a shortcoming in state regulation of oil and gas drilling, noting that Pennsylvania rules have not covered all the chemicals in drilling wastewater.

    Unlike other states, Pennsylvania has allowed the wastewater that comes out of drilling wells to be disposed of at regular wastewater treatment plants, despite the presence of radioactive material and dangerous chemicals not common to sewage.

    “The state permit did not contain limits on some of the contaminants that were involved there,” Perciasepe said.

  15. ‘Fracking’ Report: Carcinogens Injected Into Wells, House Democrats Say
    Huffington Post, 04/16/11

    WASHINGTON — Millions of gallons of potentially hazardous chemicals and known carcinogens were injected into wells by leading oil and gas service companies from 2005-2009, a report by three House Democrats said Saturday.

    The report said 29 of the chemicals injected were known-or-suspected human carcinogens. They either were regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act as risks to human health or listed as hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

    Methanol was the most widely used chemical. The substance is a hazardous air pollutant and is on the candidate list for potential regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

    The report was issued by Reps. Henry Waxman of California, Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Diana DeGette of Colorado.

    The chemicals are injected during hydraulic fracturing, a process used in combination with horizontal drilling to allow access to natural gas reserves previously considered uneconomical.

    The growing use of hydraulic fracturing has allowed natural gas production in the United States to reach levels not achieved since the early 1970s.

    However, the process requires large quantities of water and fluids, injected underground at high volumes and pressure. The composition of these fluids ranges from a simple mixture of water and sand to more complex mixtures with chemical additives.

    The report said that from 2005-2009, the following states had at least 100,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluids containing a carcinogen: Texas, Colorado, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Wyoming, North Dakota, New Mexico, Montana and Utah.

  16. AP: Pa. seeks more tests for drilling pollution
    Associated Press/The Times Leader

    HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Prodded by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, Pennsylvania says it’s expanding the scope of water tests for radium and other pollutants from the state’s booming natural gas drilling industry.

    The Department of Environmental Protection’s acting secretary, Michael Krancer, tells EPA that he’s requiring additional tests by some drinking-water suppliers and wastewater treatment facilities.

    Radium, which exists naturally underground, is sometimes found in drilling wastewater that gushes from drilled wells. Krancer also says he wants to add testing stations on affected rivers.

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