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. Cities, the new hydrofracking victims
    Despite devastating health risks, both parties are pushing to allow more drilling near urban areas
    Salon, 11/22/11

    On the relatively rare occasions that city folk and suburbanites previously had to think about oil and gas drilling, many probably conjured images of grasshopper-esque rigs dotting remote landscapes like Wyoming’s mountain range, Alaska’s tundra or Oklahoma’s wind-swept plains. Most probably didn’t equate drilling with the bright lights of their big city, but they should have because urban America is fast becoming ground zero for the same fights over energy that have long threatened the great wide open.

    With our nation’s still unquenchable (and still highly subsidized) thirst for fossil fuels, the false comfort of NIMBY-ism and the fairy-tale notions of “safety in numbers” is quickly vanishing in our cities, as controversial oil and gas exploration projects creep into metropolitan areas. Incredibly, this geographic trend is accelerating just as new drilling techniques are evoking serious concerns about excessive air pollution and about adverse effects on limited water supplies — problems that have plagued rural energy-producing regions for decades, but are sure to be even worse as they hit densely populated areas.

    This year, worries have been particularly acute when it comes to hydraulic fracturing (aka “fracking”) — the process of pumping water, sand and potentially toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release natural gas.

    In May, Duke University documented disturbingly high levels of methane in groundwater near fracking sites in Pennsylvania. Weeks later, the Environmental Working Group uncovered a 1987 agency report confirming that fracking contaminated well and groundwater in West Virginia. For decades, the industry had been able to deny this critical case study and insist fracking was perfectly safe because, as the New York Times notes, the case’s details “were sealed from the public when energy companies settled lawsuits with landowners.” Now, though, the oil and gas industry cannot issue such denials with impunity — especially considering an even more recent EPA finding that the aquifer in Pavillion, Wyo., contained “high levels of cancer-causing compounds and at least one chemical commonly used in hydraulic fracturing,” as ProPublica reported earlier this month.

    Yet, despite these findings, and despite at least some factions within the oil and gas industry finally acknowledging the validity of drilling critics’ health and safety concerns, various state governments are lately helping the oil and gas industry move fracking ever closer to major cities.

    In Pennsylvania, for instance, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is pushing a multistate commission to accelerate fracking in the heavily populated Delaware River Basin, even though his state was hammered by a devastating fracking-fluid spill in 2009, and despite news that wastewater treatment plants might not be fully removing fracking chemicals from the two rivers that provide drinking water for Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Likewise, in super-suburban New Jersey, Republican Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a permanent ban on fracking.

  2. FYI:

    White House Could Cast Decisive Vote to Permit 20,000 Fracking Wells in Delaware River Basin
    Democracy Now, 11/11/11

    This week the Delaware River Basin Commission released draft regulations to allow for the natural gas drilling technique hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, in the river’s watershed, which provides water to 15.6 million people in New York City, Philadelphia and New Jersey. The proposed plan would allow for some 20,000 gas wells to be developed in the watershed. A vote on the regulations is set for Nov. 21 and could prompt a battle between activists and the White House, which holds a seat on the commission and may cast the deciding vote. We speak with Josh Fox, whose documentary about fracking, “Gasland,” was nominated for an Academy Award, and play an excerpt of his new video about the possible impacts natural gas fracking could have in the Delaware River Basin.

  3. Fracking for Support: Natural gas industry pumps cash into Congress
    Common Cause

    Natural gas interests have spent more than $747 million during a 10-year campaign – stunningly successful so far – to avoid government regulation of hydraulic “fracking,” a fast-growing and environmentally risky method of tapping underground gas reserves, according to a new study by Common Cause.

    A faction of the natural gas industry has directed more than $20 million to the campaigns of current members of Congress and put $726 million into lobbying aimed at shielding itself from oversight, according to the report, the third in a series of “Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets” reports produced by the non-profit government watchdog group.

    “Players in this industry have pumped cash into Congress in the same way they pump toxic chemicals into underground rock formations to free trapped gas,” said Common Cause President Bob Edgar. “And as fracking for gas releases toxic chemicals into groundwater and streams, the industry’s political fracking for support is toxic to efforts for a cleaner environment and relief from our dependence on fossil fuels.”

    The study – which includes inserts for the fracking-heavy states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan – found that the natural gas industry focuses its political spending on members of the Congressional committees charged with overseeing it. Current members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have received an average of $70,342 from the industry; Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, the former committee chairman, has collected a whopping $514,945, more than any other lawmaker.

    What’s more, the industry’s political giving also heavily favors lawmakers who supported the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which exempted fracking from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Current members who voted for the bill received an average of $73,433, while those who voted against the bill received an average of $10,894.

    The report comes as the Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to publish new, preliminary findings about the potential dangers of fracking in 2012, giving the industry a powerful incentive to increase political spending now in an attempt to shape public opinion and the debate over fracking in Congress, as well as affect the outcome of the 2012 congressional elections.

    “Thanks to the Supreme Court and its Citizens United decision, the natural gas industry will be free to spend whatever it likes next year to elect a Congress that will do its bidding,” Edgar said. “The industry’s political investments already have largely freed it from government oversight. Controlling the flow of that money and other corporate spending on our elections is critical to protecting our environment for this and future generations.”

  4. AY,

    ProPublica is one of the best sites to check out for updates/new stories about fracking. Fracking is one of the subjects of ProPublica’s investigations.

  5. EPA Finds Compound Used in Fracking in Wyoming Aquifer
    by Abrahm Lustgarten
    ProPublica, Nov. 10, 2011

    As the country awaits results from a nationwide safety study on the natural gas drilling process of fracking, a separate government investigation into contamination in a place where residents have long complained that drilling fouled their water has turned up alarming levels of underground pollution.

    A pair of environmental monitoring wells drilled deep into an aquifer in Pavillion, Wyo., contain high levels of cancer-causing compounds and at least one chemical commonly used in hydraulic fracturing, according to new water test results released yesterday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

    The findings are consistent with water samples the EPA has collected from at least 42 homes in the area since 2008, when ProPublica began reporting on foul water and health concerns in Pavillion and the agency started investigating reports of contamination there.

    Last year — after warning residents not to drink or cook with the water and to ventilate their homes when they showered — the EPA drilled the monitoring wells to get a more precise picture of the extent of the contamination.

    The Pavillion area has been drilled extensively for natural gas over the last two decades and is home to hundreds of gas wells. Residents have alleged for nearly a decade that the drilling — and hydraulic fracturing in particular — has caused their water to turn black and smell like gasoline. Some residents say they suffer neurological impairment, loss of smell, and nerve pain they associate with exposure to pollutants.

    The gas industry — led by the Canadian company EnCana, which owns the wells in Pavillion — has denied that its activities are responsible for the contamination. EnCana has, however, supplied drinking water to residents.

    The information released yesterday by the EPA was limited to raw sampling data: The agency did not interpret the findings or make any attempt to identify the source of the pollution. From the start of its investigation, the EPA has been careful to consider all possible causes of the contamination and to distance its inquiry from the controversy around hydraulic fracturing.

    Still, the chemical compounds the EPA detected are consistent with those produced from drilling processes, including one — a solvent called 2-Butoxyethanol (2-BE) — widely used in the process of hydraulic fracturing. The agency said it had not found contaminants such as nitrates and fertilizers that would have signaled that agricultural activities were to blame.

    The wells also contained benzene at 50 times the level that is considered safe for people, as well as phenols — another dangerous human carcinogen — acetone, toluene, naphthalene and traces of diesel fuel.


    FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – The battle over gas drilling is now being compared to elements of an actual battlefield.

    Energy industry officials were caught on tape at a conference in Houston using military terms to describe their opposition. One company says it uses ex-military psychological operations experts in its community plans.

    The comments came as companies were meeting to talk about strategies for overcoming concern over practices like hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

    But industry activist Sharon Wilson, who recorded the comments, said it may have just created more concern.

    “I had just a moment of sheer terror,” Wilson said.

    The first line came in a presentation from a representative of Anadarko Petroleum.

    “Download the US Army/Marine Corp counter insurgency manual. Because we are dealing with an insurgency,” he said.

    Matt Carmichael went on to recommend attendees read Rumsfeld’s Rules, from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

    In another session, referring to those comments about the military, Range Resources Matt Pitzarella said, “We have several former psy-ops (psychic-operations) folks that work for us at Range, because they’re very comfortable dealing with localized issues and local governments.”

    “Really all they do is spend most of their time helping folks develop local ordinances.”

    Some energy and business experts who spoke to CBS11 said there is no conspiracy by energy companies in using military psy-ops experts. Experiences in a war zone, they said, can go a long way to dealing with emotional issues here at home.

    The Army’s website classifies psy-ops and public relations as different specialties. It describes psy-ops as influencing reasoning and, ultimately, the behavior of governments, groups and individuals.

    Calvin Tillman, the former mayor of the Denton County town of Dish who had difficulties with the industry, said he wasn’t surprised to find the industry turning to military psychological experts to deal with government.

    “If you have a certain problem, or if you have a certain concern, they know how to make you feel at ease with what’s going on,” Tillman said.

    Wilson says the recordings prove activists aren’t just paranoid about industry tactics.

    “If they would drill better, if they could do this right, then they wouldn’t have to employ such extreme measures,” he said.

    In a response to using the term “insurgency,” The Woodlands-based Anadarko Petroleum released this statement to CBS 11:

    “The reference was not reflective of our core values. Our community efforts are based upon open communication, active engagement and transparency, which are all essential in building fact-based knowledge and earning public trust.”

    Range Resources did not respond to calls or emails requesting comment.

  7. So how can anyone cause an earthquake? If this were the case, don’t you think the US or other countries would be using it as a “weapon”? You are uninformed people who are just anti everything. I live in central PA where unemployment is at its highest. We need these jobs. You people who live in rose-colored philly are just uninformed.


    Drilling Down
    One Tainted Water Well, and Concern There May Be More
    Published: August 3, 2011


    For decades, oil and gas industry executives as well as regulators have maintained that a drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that is used for most natural gas wells has never contaminated underground drinking water.
    Enlarge This Image
    Jim Wilson/The New York Times

    Carla Greathouse was the author of the Environmental Protection Agency report that documents a case of drinking water contamination from fracking.
    Interactive Feature
    Documents: A Case of Fracking-Related Contamination
    Contamination From Drilling
    Drilling Down

    Articles in this series examine the risks of natural gas drilling and efforts to regulate this rapidly growing industry.

    Complete Series »

    Enlarge This Image
    Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

    Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, has said that there are no reported cases of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated from hydraulic fracturing.
    Readers’ Comments

    Share your thoughts.

    Post a Comment »
    Read All Comments (118) »

    The claim is based in part on a simple fact: fracking, in which water and toxic chemicals are injected at high pressure into the ground to break up rocks and release the gas trapped there, occurs thousands of feet below drinking-water aquifers. Because of that distance, the drilling chemicals pose no risk, industry officials have argued.

    “There have been over a million wells hydraulically fractured in the history of the industry, and there is not one, not one, reported case of a freshwater aquifer having ever been contaminated from hydraulic fracturing. Not one,” Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of ExxonMobil, said last year at a Congressional hearing on drilling.

    It is a refrain that not only drilling proponents, but also state and federal lawmakers, even past and present Environmental Protection Agency directors, have repeated often.

    But there is in fact a documented case, and the E.P.A. report that discussed it suggests there may be more. Researchers, however, were unable to investigate many suspected cases because their details were sealed from the public when energy companies settled lawsuits with landowners.

    Current and former E.P.A. officials say this practice continues to prevent them from fully assessing the risks of certain types of gas drilling.

    “I still don’t understand why industry should be allowed to hide problems when public safety is at stake,” said Carla Greathouse, the author of the E.P.A. report that documents a case of drinking water contamination from fracking. “If it’s so safe, let the public review all the cases.”

    Eric Wohlschlegel, a spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute, dismissed the assertion that sealed settlements have hidden problems with gas drilling, and he added that countless academic, federal and state investigators conducted extensive research on groundwater contamination issues, and have found that drinking water contamination from fracking is highly improbable.

    “Settlements are sealed for a variety of reasons, are common in litigation, and are done at the request of both landowners and operators,” Mr. Wohlschlegel said.

    Still, the documented E.P.A. case, which has gone largely unnoticed for decades, includes evidence that many industry representatives were aware of it and also fought the agency’s attempts to include other cases in the final study.

    The report is not recent — it was published in 1987, and the contamination was discovered in 1984. Drilling technology and safeguards in well design have improved significantly since then. Nevertheless, the report does contradict what has emerged as a kind of mantra in the industry and in the government.

    The report concluded that hydraulic fracturing fluids or gel used by the Kaiser Exploration and Mining Company contaminated a well roughly 600 feet away on the property of James Parsons in Jackson County, W.Va., referring to it as “Mr. Parson’s water well.”

    “When fracturing the Kaiser gas well on Mr. James Parson’s property, fractures were created allowing migration of fracture fluid from the gas well to Mr. Parson’s water well,” according to the agency’s summary of the case. “This fracture fluid, along with natural gas was present in Mr. Parson’s water, rendering it unusable.”

    Asked about the cause of the incident, Mr. Wohlschlegel emphasized that the important factor was that the driller and the regulator had not known about the nearby aquifer. But in comments submitted to the E.P.A. at the time about the report, the petroleum institute acknowledged that this was indeed a case of drinking water contamination from fracking.

    “The damage here,” the institute wrote, referring to Mr. Parsons’ contaminated water well, “results from an accident or malfunction of the fracturing process.”

    Mr. Wohlschlegel cautioned however that the comments provided at the time by the institute were not based on its own research and therefore it cannot be sure that other factors didn’t play a role.

    In their report, E.P.A. officials also wrote that Mr. Parsons’ case was highlighted as an “illustrative” example of the hazards created by this type of drilling, and that legal settlements and nondisclosure agreements prevented access to scientific documentation of other incidents.

    “This is typical practice, for instance, in Texas,” the report stated. “In some cases, the records of well-publicized damage incidents are almost entirely unavailable for review.”

    Bipartisan federal legislation before Congress would require judges to consider public health and safety before sealing court records or approving settlement agreements. …and the article continues

  9. PA Officials Issue Largest Fine Ever to Gas Driller
    May 17, 2011
    by Nicholas Kusnetz

    Pennsylvania officials fined Chesapeake Energy more than $1 million on Tuesday, the state’s largest fine ever to an oil and gas company. In a statement, the Department of Environmental Protection said Chesapeake’s drilling operations [1] had contaminated water supplies for 16 families in Bradford County.

    The announcement came just days after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett, who took office in January, has issued far fewer [2] environmental fines than its predecessor.

    “It is important to me and to this administration that natural gas drillers are stewards of the environment, take very seriously their responsibilities to comply with our regulations, and that their actions do not risk public health and safety or the environment,” DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said in the statement [1] on Tuesday.

    The fine also cited Chesapeake for a fire at a well site that injured three workers in February. The announcement didn’t mention the blowout [3] at a Chesapeake well in Bradford County last month. That accident leaked a still-undisclosed amount of brine and hydraulic fracturing fluid onto nearby fields and into a creek. The department issued Chesapeake a notice of violation [4] for that incident and is continuing to investigate.

    The DEP said the water contamination in Bradford County, which occurred last year, was caused by failures in the casing and cement that surround gas wells, allowing methane to leak into water wells from shallow gas formations. Chesapeake issued a statement saying the company agreed to pay for water treatment for the affected families. The company also said it has enhanced its casing and cementing designs.

  10. rafflaw,

    Are members of the oil and gas industry lying? Maybe…maybe not. They said the gas could be safely removed–they didn’t say it wouldn’t cause flammable drinking water.

  11. Elaine,
    It can’t be true. I just saw an advertisement on the TV from Exxon that said the natural gas can be safely removed! The oil and gas industry can’t be lying…can they??!

  12. Scientific Study Links Flammable Drinking Water to Fracking
    by Abrahm Lustgarten
    ProPublica, May 9, 2011

    For the first time, a scientific study has linked natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing with a pattern of drinking water contamination so severe that some faucets can be lit on fire.

    The peer-reviewed study, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, stands to shape the contentious debate over whether drilling is safe and begins to fill an information gap that has made it difficult for lawmakers and the public to understand the risks.

    The research was conducted by four scientists at Duke University. They found that levels of flammable methane gas in drinking water wells increased to dangerous levels when those water supplies were close to natural gas wells. They also found that the type of gas detected at high levels in the water was the same type of gas that energy companies were extracting from thousands of feet underground, strongly implying that the gas may be seeping underground through natural or manmade faults and fractures, or coming from cracks in the well structure itself.

    “Our results show evidence for methane contamination of shallow drinking water systems in at least three areas of the region and suggest important environmental risks accompanying shale gas exploration worldwide,” the article states.

    The group tested 68 drinking water wells in the Marcellus and Utica shale drilling areas in northeastern Pennsylvania and southern New York State. Sixty of those wells were tested for dissolved gas. While most of the wells had some methane, the water samples taken closest to the gas wells had on average 17 times the levels detected in wells further from active drilling. The group defined an active drilling area as within one kilometer, or about six tenths of a mile, from a gas well.

    The average concentration of the methane detected in the water wells near drilling sites fell squarely within a range that the U.S Department of Interior says is dangerous and requires urgent “hazard mitigation” action, according to the study.

  13. PA Gov Suggests Universities Tap Into Shale Deposits Under Campuses
    Eric Lach | April 28, 2011

    Ah, college. All-nighters. Ultimate frisbee. Fraternities. Fracking.

    According to The Erie Times-News, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) is telling state universities that an answer to their financial troubles lies literally under their feet. Speaking at Edinboro University in Northwestern Pennsylvania on Thursday, Corbett told the Pennsylvania Association of Councils of Trustees that six campuses in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education sit on the Marcellus Shale Formation, which could be tapped for natural gas.

    Corbett’s 2011-2012 budget proposal, according to the Times-News, “includes $2 billion in cuts to education and a 50 percent reduction in aid to colleges and universities.”

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