An Open Letter to BarackObama.com

Here is my open letter to Jon Carson, who sends out fundraising emails from Organizing for America, the President Barack Obama grassroots fundraising machine listed online at BarackObama.com.  OFA wrote begging for more money to push the Affordable Care Act. That’s fine. I signed up for ACA. I’ve even donated to help make it happen. I’ve even donated to help Democratic Party candidates win. But I’m sick of these appeals, especially when OFA makes this ask as though their current campaign to save the push the Affordable Care Act is a defining moment for America.

“In 20 years, when we’re looking back at this defining moment for health care reform, what will you say you did?” – OFA asks.

My response to OFA:

Dear Mr. Carson:

In 20 years I’ll say I resisted President Obama on his misguided “all of the above” energy policy, got arrested trying to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, and spoke out against the President’s ignorant support for fracking. Whether this health care works out or not is not the main thing. ACD (Anthropogenic Climate Disruption) is the main challenge of our times and this presidency, not ACA (the Affordable Care Act). Yes, I have taken advantage of the ACA, but only as I continue to mourn the lack of leadership that caused the failure of the public option, which is what we were promised in the Obama platform during the original campaign; just like he promised that we would be “the generation that finally frees America from the tyranny of oil” yet allows fracking for oil and gas all across this country and more than likely will approve the Keystone XL pipeline to carry the dirtiest oil on the planet.

By end of this September I’ll be on the public option of Medicare, a gift from a more gifted Democratic president of old.  When we have a clean energy path to the future and “Medicare for All,” then we’ll really be able to get excited about our political leadership.

Sincerely,

Stephen Cleghorn

Reynoldsville, PA

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Why I Sent the John Hanger Campaign $100 Today

With the Democratic primary just three months away, the differences between the Democratic Party candidates for Governor are beginning to emerge. The forums are helping to delineate the priorities and specifics of each. While I believe that there are some good choices in the field, and that any of the Democrats (with the exception of Max Myers[1] and Jo Ellen Litz[2]) will be much better for Pennsylvania, for its people, for its environment, and for the Earth’s climate, than another four years of Governor Corbett, I still support John Hanger for Governor. Other progressive agenda items very much matter to me, too, as I have written before, especially single payer healthcare that Hanger supports, but with this post I go back to the related environmental issues of global warming, energy policy and fracking for shale gas. We live in a deteriorating climate and we are causing the rapid extinction of species, perhaps someday our own. So while I squarely support the progressive agenda across a host of issues, I put the sustainability of our planet for life as the top issue for this election cycle and many more yet to come.

Here is the big deal, even more so than me supporting John Hanger. The governor we have for the next four years will come from either the Democratic Party or the Republican Party, so I continue to urge that people get involved and vote Democratic. I cannot be persuaded at this time to enhance the chances of a Corbett victory by voting for the Green Party, much as my own views are in sync with that party’s positions.

Now back to Hanger. I have not heard a compelling argument from anyone in the anti-fracking movement as to why John Hanger cannot make a good governor even though he clearly does not support a general moratorium on shale gas drilling.

I watch as my email and Facebook accounts fill up every day with petitions to protect state parks and forests against fracking, and petitions to outlaw open-aired, plastic-lined and leaky impoundments for fracking waste.  Hanger supports both of these positions. If we get him as governor, we get those policies implemented, or at least a champion in the governor’s office who will resist a Republican legislature that wants to give the forests to the frackers and remove protections for the creatures that live within the forests. Not only that, Hanger was there and largely responsible when the moratorium for state forests was enacted. We also get a governor with a comprehensive set of proposals to regulate much more seriously the shale gas industry, something which the other candidates say they will do without providing as many of the specifics as Hanger has done on his website.

Here is another thing to recommend Hanger. Much of the data we use in the anti-fracking movement that concerns environmental violations and determinations of water contamination by shale gas drilling come out of a system that Hanger put in place at DEP.  He built up the capacity of DEP to inspect well operations and he wants to build it up even more.

Much of the renewable energy capacity we have in Pennsylvania traces back to Hanger’s efforts. Hanger presided over the writing of Pennsylvania’s Climate Action Plan which he is serious about taking off the shelf and making it happen. He is firmly on record as to significant achievable goals for renewable energy.

In addition, Hanger is seeking most of his financing in small contributions from what he calls a “peoples’ campaign.” Some will scoff at that, but it strikes me as much better than Tom Wolf bankrolling all those slick commercials we are seeing these days. So I am sending him another $100 today. I do that not because I “hope” to see him do good things (as I acted on “hope” when I sent contributions to President Obama who promised to stand up to Big Oil), but because I know he has the skills and experience to accomplish good things on energy and environmental issues and his campaign platform is based on specifics, not hopeful rhetoric.

Hanger has said he will not take campaign contributions from gas companies or energy-industry PACs.  He supports public financing and a $5 million limit on spending for the primary portion of the election season. Who else in the Democratic Party field has been as clear on this issue? He will accept limited contributions from personal friends in the energy industry, of which he has made many over his public career.  It is hard to fault him for that.

If John Hanger cannot promise to work for a general moratorium, then at least he is taking steps that could build the case against shale gas drilling to the point that the public will demand a moratorium. One way he will do that is by establishing an ombudsman’s office to receive and investigate citizen complaints about gas drilling. To remind my readers as to what an ombudsman is, here is the definition:  “An official appointed to investigate individuals’ complaints against maladministration, especially that of public authorities.” The ombudsman can take on the DEP leadership and by extension the Governor. Citizens harmed by drilling would have an advocate inside government who could not be ignored.

Have any of the other candidates suggested that they will create a new office for citizen complaints to be received and taken seriously? Correct me if I am wrong, but I have not seen that from anyone else.

Thus today I send the Hanger for Governor Campaign another $100 to go along with the “money-where-my-mouth is” $250 that I sent a while back. That pretty much taps me out on my fixed income for this primary season. If John Hanger succeeds in getting the rank and file of progressive Democrats really involved, he can take it from here without me. Meantime I will wake up every day trying to get the general moratorium on fracking that we need.


[1] My objection to Max Myers is that he is not forthcoming about where he stands on the progressive social issues of women’s rights, reproductive choice, and marriage equality. He does support a moratorium on fracking, but too much in social progress may have to be given up to get to that one objective; his background suggests a man who has a religious agenda for his politics, and we don’t need that.

[2] My objection to Jo Ellen Litz is that she is simply not qualified to be governor and not knowledgeable about core progressive issues, as evidenced in her forum performances; she seems a nice lady, a true civic activist, and a person I might like to know, but not a person to take on the office of Governor.

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Meet President Obama? Sadly, No Thank You.

Today I got one of those seemingly endless emails sent to me by www.barackobama.com, also known as “Organizing for Action.” It purports to be a political organizing site, but is really best understood as a political dot com, with all its commercial intent as a licensed business entity quite evident in the domain name that it uses.

It was “authored” by David Axelrod, former campaign chief and political adviser to President Obama.  Ostensibly it was sent out to get me to sign my name to support the Affordable Health Care Act enrollment over the next couple of months, which I am happy to do, especially since I am benefitting from that Act. Of course I knew that I would be steered to a fundraising page for taking my time to do that. No big surprise there. But I was also offered a chance to meet the President for signing up online to help.

Strangely, that offer bothered me, a lot, and so I launched the following email back into the netherworld of info@barackobama.com, which I believe is staffed by a robot, but I have no proof of that. But even if it is Mr. Axelrod’s robot monitoring replies that are not really requested, much less read, I just had to send back the following:

“I used to want to meet the President, but since he has shown his true colors as a lapdog of Big Oil, I shall pass on this opportunity. Tell him to meet me and thousands of others who will march to shut down the White House if he approves the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Maybe when he sends me to jail I will fall into a category to which he might pay attention. Meet us in jail, Mr. President. You might discover your own true heart when you see the people who once loved the hope you offered to lead our nation and the world away from climate disaster. Now we must create our own hope by resisting you. Maybe if you meet us in jail you can feel that joy of doing the right thing against all odds that you seemed to have felt at one time, but now appear to have forgotten altogether.”

Okay, I was angry. I should not have called him a “lapdog.” I should have said this: “But since he has shown his true colors as an eager proponent of ever more extreme forms of fossil fuel extraction like fracking for shale gas or offshore drilling, or tars sands development” and so forth. Point is, I have no desire to meet this man I once held in such high esteem, unless it were to tell him how much he disappoints me, but that is not really a good reason for meeting someone.

I would just start telling him how I had campaign workers living at my farm house for two months in late 2008 when he ran for President, or I might add up all the money I have sent to his two campaigns for President or to the Democratic Party, but their robots probably know that already, so what’s the point?  That would be a bad conversation to have with the President because it would only deepen my sense of having been a big fool to believe him in the first place.

So if I win the lottery to meet the President, I will ask that it be passed on to the next person drawn from the bucket.  For now I must get this onto my tiny little blog, and then I must send the URL into the Twitter and Facebook ether in case anyone is listening out there. Maybe others would care about my humble and deeply mournful opinion of President Barack Obama. Then I must get back to the work of joining with the tens of thousands that he will need to send to jail if he approves a pipeline to facilitate the biggest, dirtiest energy project on the planet, the massive carbon bomb that is Canadian tar sands development. At least if he is going to kiss the butt of Big Oil, I suppose we could say, the man has the ambition to do it in the biggest way possible.

Sorry, there I go getting angry again. Perhaps nonviolent civil disobedience in the presence of true climate action heroes will calm me down and provide some true inspiration. Perhaps, despite President Obama, we can pass on a decent world to our grandchildren. So I will look to those who get ready to march across this nation, beginning on March 1 in the Great March for Climate Action. http://climatemarch.org/  I will organize to greet them as they come near Pittsburgh.

I need to meet with people who know what’s happening with our climate and are acting to end the fossil fuel era. President Obama is not yet counted in that number.

Mr. President, if you want to prove me wrong, come to Wilmington, California on March 1, 2014 and take those first steps with the Great March for Climate Action. See how you can inspire again. While you are at it (whimsily I say) ask Pope Francis to meet you there.

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PA’s List of the Harmed (updated, still “disappeared”)

When the PACWA (Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air) “List of the Harmed” (compiled by Jenny Lisak) first came out on May 10, 2012 at my farm, I wrote about it – but it bears writing about again. Jenny long ago separated the list into a comprehensive one of people, animals and environment harmed by fracking across the United States and one showing the Pennsylvania cases only. I want to give a shout-out again to that list so it continues to get wide circulation. I think every candidate for governor should respond to what is on this list. Do they think, as the gas industry says, that the list is nothing but “anecdotes proving nothing”? Here is the link to the latest version of the list for PA: http://pennsylvaniaallianceforcleanwaterandair.wordpress.com/the-listpennsylvania/

I’d also like to post again the introduction I did for this list on that day when I declared my farm to be off-limits to and “forever inviolate of” shale gas drilling. My anger about how people who get hurt by fracking just “disappear” from the news and get steam-rolled by the gas industry has not abated one bit since May 2012. “The disappeared ones” (some will recognize the term from repressive regimes in Chile and Argentina that killed their opposition in secret) are among us here in PA, their suffering officially “disappeared” by the press and governmental authorities and courts.

Here’s what I wrote about that on May 10, 2012 when the cases on the list numbered just over 100 across the country. Jenny documents 333 cases in PA alone as of today. Incredibly, now documenting all stories related to fracking for and transporting fracked oil and gas, the general list is approaching 5,000 people affected. Say what they may, this goes far beyond anecdotes. Yet each of these incidents gets enough ink to show up on the list, but the people and their harms are set aside as though acceptable collateral damage. So here again are my comments from May 10, 2012:

The Harmed, the Sickened, the Dead and the Disappeared

Accounts of the impacts of shale gas drilling on people and animals

Compiled by J. Lisak of Pennsylvania Alliance for Clean Water and Air

pacwa@ymail.com

Introduction by Stephen Cleghorn

May 10, 2012

This is a compilation of well over a hundred cases that have appeared in the press about people and animals living in gas fields who have become sick and even died from exposure to air and water contamination associated with gas field facilities.  More than half of these cases, by number of people affected, are from the Pennsylvania gas fields above the Marcellus Shale.

These cases have been assembled by citizen activists who are part of a small grassroots organization, with no resources other than their computers and thousands of hours of volunteer time trying to find what they can about the impacts and risks of “high volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing of long lateral well bores from multi-well pads” to extract methane and other hydrocarbons from tight shale formations (an entire process above and below ground that the public has come to know simply as “fracking.”)

These citizens are paying attention.  They are seeing the stories reported here and many others not reported here as evidence of grave harm to the environment, humans and animals.  However, these stories come and go in the press.  Only a very few attract extended follow-up investigation from the media.  If the story is too damaging to the gas industry, the PR apparatus rises up and acts to destroy the credibility of people who are reporting that they are sick or their water has gone bad.  The gas industry says “you cannot prove that we caused this,” and the people affected say, “My water and health was fine, my animals were fine, before the drilling came, but now they are ruined.”  That is called “both sides of the story.” 

After the “he said/she said” moment has passed, after the richly endowed gas industry PR machine has done its work of sowing doubt and confusion, after people have been silenced by nondisclosure agreements from ever speaking of their problems again, after officials responsible for looking into these matters say they cannot say for sure what made people’s water go bad or made them sick, then the press moves on.

They leave behind the people living with “water buffalos” – if they are lucky – to have some clean water.  They leave behind farms ruined, livestock buried and composted.  They leave behind and forget about the ones whose health is ruined.  Some people move out of the gas fields for the safety of themselves and their families.  Some have become so depressed that suicide was their way out. 

These are Pennsylvania’s new “disappeared ones.” Until there is a serious, ongoing, peer-reviewed scientific study of cause-and-effect, the industry can cry “All anecdotes!” The press will say, case by case, “End of story.”  But there will be no such study in Pennsylvania because legislators refuse even to fund a health registry to collect the data.  The new Pennsylvania law known as Act 13 prohibits doctors from sharing with other doctors at professional conferences what they find out in treating people sickened by exposure to drilling chemicals. There can be no gathering of essential public health and veterinary health information because the power of the gas industry over state legislators prohibits it. 

These are the “disappeared” people and stories from the gas fields of Pennsylvania and other gas “fracking” fields of America.  Attention must be paid to them.

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Six Reasonable Reasons PA Should Enact a 2-Year Moratorium on New Permits for Shale Gas Drilling in 2015

Six Reasonable Reasons PA Should Enact a 2-Year Moratorium on New Permits for Shale Gas Drilling Upon Taking Office in 2015

(Excerpted and revised from my January 20, 2014 post; more details available in that. Upon further reflection, this revision is re-titled and re-orders the priority of good reasons for a 2-year moratorium. It also revises the suggestion that a Democratic governor could do this upon taking office. The fact is that the law allows giving out permits like candy so long as the application is in order, and only the legislature can change that. Senator Ferlo has proposed legislation for a moratorium. Perhaps these six reasons can assist him in talking to his colleagues about enacting a moratorium:  http://www.senatorferlo.com/press-release-senator-ferlo-announces-fracking-moratorium-legislation )

Reason #1:  There are at least two years of work to be done in overseeing, regulating and cleaning up the current system of 7,500 unconventional wells that are already in some stage of production. In many cases these are performing badly with severe negative impacts on the environment. DEP is overwhelmed and Governor Corbett and the state legislature have given the gas industry too free a hand.  Additionally, it could take two years to deal with a backlog of almost 8,000 permits for wells not yet drilled.  It is impossible to deal with problems of the old while so much new is coming into the system. New permits should be suspended for two years at the least.

Reason #2: Peoples’ good faith and trust in government can be gained back, at least in part, by such a moratorium. The state let the gas industry in too soon and too fast. The new governor must show the courage to enact a reasonable pause in the drilling while the state does the work that should have been done before drilling ever got permitted. To be intellectually honest, that 2-year moratorium should be open to the possibility that this kind of shale gas extraction cannot be made safe enough to continue.

Reason #3: There is a fundamental issue of fairness in how some parts of the state are now protected from unconventional drilling for shale gas while others are exempted. There are good reasons for a study of environmental impacts in the South Newark Basin area or the Delaware River Basin, and those reasons should apply to the rest of the state, otherwise much of the state is relegated to being a huge experimental zone. That is not fair.

Reason #4: A comprehensive public health study must be completed in areas of the state where drilling is most intense. Geisinger Health System along with many partners has begun work on that. It will take 3-5 years to complete Phase 1 of the study. The new governor should support that study with public financing and any useful state data. As the study rolls out, the new governor should initiate a public hearing process so that Pennsylvanians are educated about the health impacts of shale gas development. 

Reason #5: The EPA study of hydraulic fracturing and its potential to cause irreparable harm to groundwater aquifers will be coming out in 2014 or 2015. Why not wait until that study appears and is thoroughly vetted through peer review and a public hearing and comment process?

Reason #6:  Demand for Marcellus Shale gas is down and likely will stay down for 2015-2016 unless there is major new activity in exporting, a development that the new Democratic governor should resist as much as possible under current federal law. This market condition allows room to suspend new permits until more is known about the current-day and long-term impacts of drilling on the environment and public health.

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Memo to John Hanger and all candidates for PA governor: Moratorium NOW

Memo to John Hanger and all candidates for governor of PA: Why a Moratorium on Shale Gas Drilling Makes Sense…NOW

Call this, first of all, a “Memo to John Hanger,” but also call it, more broadly, “Memo to All Democratic Candidates for Governor” seeking primary votes from registered Democrats in May 2014.

SUBJECT: WE NEED A COMPREHENSIVE MORATORIUM ON ALL NEW PERMITS FOR SHALE GAS EXTRACTION, NOW - that is, when a new governor takes office in January 2015. We can forget about such a moratorium while Corbett is here and – may it never be so – if he is re-elected. (Our current “NOW” already seems like an eternity of shale gas hell.)

This memo is first of all addressed to John Hanger because I have written on this site (and taken severe criticism from some of my good friends) about what I consider his merits as the next governor of Pennsylvania. My support for Hanger is based on a broad set of progressive policies he has articulated; it is not limited to the energy and environmental issues which are my top priority. Yet even on my top priority, I think Hanger has the best experience and knowledge – coupled with the deepest passion – to move our state toward a sustainable and environmentally responsible energy matrix.  Frankly, he has some making up to do, which I think he wants to do, but that would mean very little if he did not know how to get the job done.

Truth be told, however, Hanger does not yet have the best policy position on shale gas. I am not talking about in comparison to the other candidates. I mean he still needs to move off his position of rejecting a general moratorium. He is dug in on resisting a moratorium for new permits. It is not that he is a “gasser” as some on my friends like to call him. It really comes down to the fact that, near as I can tell, he does not know how to be intellectually dishonest, which is why I consider him an awkward politician but a good man. It is my understanding he just cannot say he supports a moratorium on new permits when he sees some beneficial uses of natural gas, at least for the immediate future of the next decade or more.

I have a piece of unsolicited advice for John Hanger. Intellectual rigor and integrity are good things, but listening to the wisdom of the people is even better.  Being willing to change based on what you hear is the best we can hope for from a leader.

Yes, Hanger supports a moratorium in state forests and parks. Good, but not good enough. Yes, he supports keeping the moratorium in the Delaware River Basin because he thinks DRBC rules for drilling are inadequate as of now. Good, but not good enough. Yes, he supports a “moratorium” on bad actors, drillers whose practices show they should lose the right to operate in this state. Good, but not good enough, especially since that is just as it must be. It is true that Corbett never met a driller he did not like, but it is a rhetorical stretch to call shutting down a bad actor any sort of “moratorium.” In my opinion, the defensiveness of using the term “moratorium” in that way hurts Hanger’s chances any time he does so.

Here is how I see it. There will never be a better time for imposing at least a two-year moratorium on all new shale gas permits than January 2015 when a new governor steps into office. For that moratorium to have any intellectual and policy integrity, it should be open to the conclusion that shale gas drilling might be banned in Pennsylvania altogether. Time and study will tell on that, but a moratorium without the possibility of a ban truly would be intellectually dishonest.

Allow me to explain.

Reason #1:  There are at least two years of work to be done in overseeing, regulating and cleaning up the current system that is already in place and working so badly.  It could take two years to deal with a backlog of permits for wells not yet drilled.  It is impossible to deal with problems of the old while so much new is coming into the system.

  • —If no new permits were issued for 2015 and 2016, DEP will have its hands full in dealing with the problems of existing and planned inventory. As of January 2014 DEP shows 7,456 unconventional wells drilled, with another 7,974 already having been permitted. Under the law these permitted wells cannot be stopped. At the current rate of 55 new permits weekly, there will be another 2,900+ to be permitted in the year Corbett has remaining in his term.
  • —Corbett will likely run up that score after he is defeated. This means the next governor will inherit a system of more than 18,000 unconventional wells alone (not including tens of thousands of conventional wells) to be regulated and inspected.
  • DEP shows a rate of 89 unconventional facilities inspected each week, meaning it will take more than 83 weeks to be on-site for just one day annually at existing facilities. Even if the inspectors are doubled, there are still almost 8,000 new wells that are likely to be drilled and fracked in 2014-2015.
  •  New inspections to deal with fugitive methane migration, the number one reason natural gas contributes to global warming, will require even more effort to identify  leaks and to make certain each is stopped.
  • A woefully inadequate system for protecting air quality, reducing to near zero the number of water contamination incidents, and dealing with toxic waste will require herculean effort to reform and improve. The current system of environmental grievances must be given priority over issuing new permits for drilling.

Reason #2:  Demand for Marcellus Shale methane is down and likely will stay down for 2015-2016 unless there is major new activity in exporting the gas, a development (i.e., exporting gas) any governor should resist as much as possible under current federal law.

  • —Rig counts are down and there is a glut of gas depressing price, which means that  drillers and investors have slowed down activity.
  • It can be argued that the existing system can deliver all the gas that is needed to convert American power plants to cleaner-burning natural gas over the 2015-2016 timeframe, gaining some advantage on climate change as compared to burning coal. There is no rush to get more gas flowing from the shale.

Reason #3: The EPA study of hydraulic fracturing and its potential to cause irreparable harm to groundwater aquifers will be coming out in 2014 or 2015. Why not at least wait until that study appears and is thoroughly vetted through peer review and a public comment process?

  • —There is a huge unanswered question about whether current technology for extracting shale gas is now causing (or inevitably will lead to) permanent contamination of groundwater aquifers with shale gas and/or drilling chemicals and radioactive materials from shale. Migration of these toxic substances may be happening now but not show up for decades. It is our responsibility to insure that future generations have clean water and a habitable climate.
  • We need solid, scientific answers, based on a unique study of Pennsylvania geology, to answer the question of whether it is safe to proceed at all.
  • According to DEP, well casings in Pennsylvania are failing at a rate of 6% or more as new wells are drilled, and industry studies predict that 2%-60% of all well casings might fail within 30-50 years.  Whatever the numbers, it makes no sense to continue a type of drilling that is so risky and will put an estimated 150,000 unconventional well bores into one-half the land mass of Pennsylvania that would have to hold up in perpetuity to protect water sources.

Reason #4: John Hanger has proposed (and let’s assume other Democrat candidates agree) that a comprehensive public health study must be completed in the northeast/north central and southwest areas of the state where drilling is most intense.

  • —Such studies will not be completed in 2014, perhaps not even in 2015, so it just makes good sense to ramp up funding for public health data collection and compile better information on health consequences before committing the state to new permits.

Reason #5: There is a fundamental issue of fairness in how some parts of the state are now protected from unconventional drilling while others are exempted.

  • —The DRBC has a moratorium in place now. As part of passing Act 13, the state legislature made a side deal for counties atop the South Newark Basin, the district in which Democratic candidate Allyson Schwartz lives.
  • If it is good that some parts of the state should hold off on drilling until a comprehensive environmental impact study is completed, then all the state and its entire people deserve that same consideration.  Otherwise some of us in the unprotected areas are being subjected to a mass experiment using an industrial process that is not yet “steady state” by any means and fosters environmental injustice.

Reason #6: Peoples’ good faith and trust in government can be gained back, at least in part, by such a moratorium.

  • —Starting just nine years ago in 2005, the shale gas industry invaded Pennsylvania under the banner “The Shale Army has arrived and resistance is futile.” The industry had been acting for years before that to corrupt the political system with money to pave its way. More and more of its citizens are now saying “Enough, we need a break!”
  • Support for a moratorium on new permits should come from John Hanger and Katie McGinty more than anyone in the Democratic field, both of whom were directing the Department of Environmental Protection when the Democratic governor they served gave the green light for the shale gas industry to come into the state. It was not their fault that the industry arrived or that it quickly overwhelmed the system they were charged to administer. Still, many people see them as part of the “old” oppression that should not be given a chance as governor to correct the deficiencies of the past over which they had only partial control. Their support for a moratorium on all new permits would serve as a good faith action that they are serious about allowing this drilling only if  it can be proven environmentally safe for the long haul.
  • Even so, now is NOW, and neither Hanger nor McGinty has called for a general moratorium on new permits for unconventional wells. Doing so would not only help their campaigns, but would vindicate the difficult work done by citizens to monitor this industry and provide some check on its power – a role of government which it has  failed to perform.
  • There is something to be said for a candidate changing his or her mind when confronted with new information. Although, perhaps, it is inevitable that any candidate who now comes out for a moratorium on new permits will be accused by a cynical press (and some anti-fracking advocates) as “flip-flopping” or “pandering,” that goes with the territory of running for public office and making decisions on the best available facts at hand in a given time.

To repeat, this is a memo directed largely at John Hanger, but it is applicable to all Democratic Party candidates, and for that matter all parties’ candidates for governor. How come we cannot have a two-year moratorium on new shale gas permits as of January 2015? Why not when there are so many good reasons to take that step? 

This post will go to all of the Democrat candidates, at the least, and ask that they reply in this space. Who will have the courage to answer the question?

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EQB Testimony on Oil and Gas Regs – Indiana, PA 1-23-14

Environmental Quality Board Testimony on Oil & Gas

Regulations: J. Stephen Cleghorn, PhD

January 23, 2014

IndianaUniversity of Pennsylvania

Indiana, PA

Good evening. I am Dr. J. Stephen Cleghorn of Reynoldsville, PA. I own an organic farm up in Jefferson County. I have placed a unique conservation easement on my farm that asserts and defends the Rights of Nature – on the surface and below the surface – from violation by an extreme industrial practice such as fracking for shale gas.

We are here tonight to consider proposed regulations of shale gas extraction to better control activities that occur at the surface, but there is a fundamental flaw with that.

The problem is this: The Earth is One. It is above us in our climate, under our feet and around us as an ecosystem sustaining our lives, and below us as the deep, living biosphere. To limit these hearings on regulations to what happens on the surface of the Earth for an activity whose essential nature requires penetration far below the surface of the Earth truncates all too much the discussion we should be having.

So before addressing the proposed regulations, I’d like to speak about what happens from below that will affect surface living for generations to come.

GIVEN that oil and gas industry data show that well casings (both steel and concrete) can fail at a rate up to a 50% over just 30 years time;

  • AND given that these casings must hold up IN PERPETUITY to protect the groundwater aquifers under Pennsylvania;
  • AND that the gas industry plans to drill more than 100,000 wells for the next 50 years that will put at risk groundwater aquifers under half the land mass of PA;

THEREFORE, DEP should require that casings of the type and engineering that are failing now be immediately PROHIBITED, and cause the following to happen:

  • All casings henceforth shall employ fail-safe engineering that will prevent the degrading and failure over time so that they can contain completely, in perpetuity, all gas, fluids and shale elements from below;
  • Chemical markers and physical monitors shall be placed in every well that will provide evidence of such leakage over time and who is responsible for that leakage;
  • All gas companies shall provide a bond adequate to pay in full for whatever is needed to achieve remediation of groundwater supplies, or replacement of water supplies, when the wells leak methane or chemicals into the aquifers.

To do anything less than this is to risk irreparable harm to the water sources of the Commonwealth and to the human, animal and plant life that depend on that water.

Water is Life, and this industry poses an existential threat to us because it will inevitably ruin, as it is practiced now, the water sources by which we live at the surface.

But of course, that said, I do support the recommendations you have heard from many others about what happens at the surface:.

  • You need more than two additional hearings. These hearings should take place in every county where drilling is occurring
  • Yes, no more open frac waste pits.
  • No more burying of frac waste pits onsite.
  • Identify all pre-existing wells before site and well construction so that the location of any new well can be changed if needed, and map these on a publicly available web platform.
  • Operators must restore contaminated drinking water to a quality that meets Safe Drinking Water Act standards, no matter what the quality of the water prior to drilling.

Now, please, take off your bureaucratic hats for a moment and understand that the Earth is One and that these regulations for the surface-only activities of deep drilling deny that essential fact. This notion that we can define ourselves as touching Nature only in part and not affecting Nature and our environment in the whole is wrongheaded. It is at the very core of why we are cooking the planet and despoiling its oceans and its surfaces and its deep biosphere to the point that we will deny life itself to future generations of our own family. We must disavow that destructive tendency of ours, my friends, before it is too late.

Surely you sit where you do today because you pursued in your education and your career as environmentalists a dream of keeping our living ecosystems safe from irreparable harm at the hands of us human beings. Dream that way again before you decide on any new regulations that allow fracking to proceed. At least dream that much again, as you did when you were young.

Thank you for listening.

Sincerely,

J. Stephen Cleghorn, PhD

Reynoldsville, PA

814-427-6050

 

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