Dear cousin, can we talk?

Dear Cousin –

Gump Meme from Marcus

Since you made public on Facebook this post based on a scene from the movie “Forrest Gump,” may I also comment publicly back to you, perhaps toward some serious dialogue?

As you may have seen in my blog post entitled “He Did It. Trump Broke My Family” (which I shared on Facebook without specific identification of my family members), I am very upset over the “zero tolerance” policy that separates immigrant children from their families. In fact, to the extent that you support that policy, then we need to talk about the barrier that creates between us. As of August 9, 2018, there were still 559 children separated from their parents in what will be remembered as one of the most shameful episodes in American history.

For my Clark family, embedded in the Catholic faith, that policy should be understood as morally wrong and an affront to the teachings of Our Lord. Jesus said a lot about welcoming the stranger, especially in Matthew 25:31-46. That passage, which we read at my late wife Claire Marie’s funeral back in 1990, is known somewhat ominously as “the judgment of nations” and ends with these words: “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’”

Is our nation ready to be judged by this standard? Yes, I know there are countless acts of individual charity by millions of caring Americans, but I think Jesus had justice on his mind when he spoke those words. Are we ready to subject our public policy – be it on immigrants or abortion – to a standard of justice such as this one?

In addition to what Jesus said, the “zero tolerance” policy denies United States of America legally-approved access to asylum for people fleeing dangerous situations, punishing desperate people for even trying. Our Attorney General and President have lost in court over their attempt to ignore or twist the law that applies to asylees.

As for abortion, Jesus said nothing about that specifically, although I agree with one biblical scholar who says “There’s an impetus in the Bible toward the protection of the innocent, protection for the weak, respect for life, respect for God’s creation.” I like that part of the Bible most of all. And so, it is our Catholic teaching developed over the time since Jesus was here with us that abortion is morally wrong – and we Catholics must consider the church’s teaching on this carefully. However, I offer the qualification that it is not for me as a Catholic to oppose, as a matter of law, the choice for an abortion – given the multiple complications possible. There is also the fact that not all faith traditions or conscientious persons of faith agree that life starts at conception and therefore abortion is wrong. You might want to consider, for example, a Jewish position on abortion. It is as complex as the issue itself, which is precisely what a blanket prohibition of outlawing abortion refuses to recognize.

That is ironic because many proponents of making abortion illegal have a lot to say about attacks on their religious liberty, but they fall silent about religious liberty when it comes to prohibiting the choice for abortion. Here they want to impose their religious belief on others and deny to others the liberty of exercising their religiously-informed consciences. If we are to live as some of our founders fleeing religious persecution intended, in a pluralistic society of many faith traditions, and not live in a theocracy governed by a slice of people calling themselves Christians who rule over us, then we must constantly affirm and negotiate religious liberty as it applies to how we govern ourselves, given the differences between us.

There is this, also. At the heart of it all this is a matter of individual conscience as to whether to carry a child to term, based on often complicated and very individual circumstances. Even our Catholic faith assigns a high priority to the individual’s conscience on all matters. In that sense it is the woman’s conscientious choice before God, if she believes in God, as do many who choose an abortion. A Catholic woman would have to consider the church’s teaching in coming to a conscientious decision, but the Catholic teaching opposing abortion (or for that matter, the condemnation of abortion by some evangelical Protestants) cannot be the “law of the land” without trampling on the deeply- and conscientiously-considered choice of women, Catholics and non-Catholics and non-believers alike.

Perhaps I can see things this way because my Dad was brought up in a Protestant faith tradition that was based on a “personal relationship” with God, or Jesus Christ, and a direct one at that, not mediated by any church hierarchy. He believed that one stood before God without need of any intercession by a church authority. He did convert to Catholicism, on behalf of Mom, but not until after his Church of God mother died, to spare her feelings. To the extent that he took on some of the top-down “rules” of the church after becoming Catholic, that had mixed results in terms of his remarrying, but that is another matter to discuss with you at another time.

So, here is how I see the abortion issue as a moral choice, in the broader “respect for life” context. We Christians have not done a very good job of convincing our fellow Americans that we respect life – given our quietude on perpetual war, our atrociously high military budgets such as the $717 Billion FY2019 budget that President Trump just signed (“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” – said President Eisenhower), our failure to maintain a real safety net for people in poverty or the elderly (such as massive cuts being proposed for Medicare, Social Security, food stamps and affordable housing), our silence in the face of police violence unfairly directed at African-Americans and other people of color, our support for the death penalty (although Pope Francis is trying to guide us away from that), and too little concern over a climate crisis that threatens all life on this Earth.

You do not have to agree with me that this list I just made is about “respect for life,” but many of our fellow citizens do, wanting to see a public policy that protects the poor and elderly and infirm among us, and they are not even Christian. That is why some see it as hypocritical for Christians to oppose abortion while allowing these other assaults on life to go by. In that sense we have not won the argument in the political square that would reduce abortions. We are trying to get to respect for life on the cheap – asking for what the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called in another context “cheap grace” (“the grace we bestow on ourselves”). We want to say that we respect the life of the unborn but then turn around and enact public policies that put lives of the living at risk of grave suffering and even death.

Winning the political fight on abortion, including by any politically coercive means necessary when it comes to Supreme Court appointments (see the blocking of Merrick Garland and now the fast-tracking of Brett Kavanagh), is a “cheap grace” form of self-gratification in my view, if we cannot show the Love of Christ in respect for life across the whole range of issues that I mentioned. If we showed what Cardinal Bernardin once called “a consistent ethic of life,” then we would be dealing with the matter of procreation and child-bearing in that context of love and a supportive, fully pro-life society – which would reduce abortions to a minimum, but also provide that they be safe and legal for any woman who decided that was her best choice. Yes, we can outlaw abortion again, make it criminal, but it will not solve any of the problems that underlie choices to have an abortion. That will take a more holistic approach to exhibiting our respect for life, including welcoming the stranger and standing against the forced separation of immigrant parents from their children.

Given that, Forrest Gump in this meme you have shared does not know what he is talking about, and he really should not have such words put into his mouth because his character was wiser than this meme conveys. The simplistic and false equivalency between “freaking out” over zero tolerance policy and “freaking out” over making abortion illegal again is meant as a pejorative accusation of hypocrisy against people with whom you disagree (if the posting of this meme means you are okay with taking children from their parents and in favor of making abortion legal). Moreover, the meme infers that people are acting only emotionally in both cases (“freaking out’), when in fact those who oppose zero tolerance and support legal abortion do so on deeply-considered principles and after having given both issues a great deal of thought.

Thus, as often happens in divisive political rhetoric these days, the accuser (of “freaking out”) is in fact the one who is showing by memes like this that it is they who are “freaking out.” The meme accuses others of the very behavior it exhibits. If I am wrong about that, then write back and tell me how you justify from the Gospels that we have been hearing all our lives that we should not welcome the stranger or that we have a right to separate parents from their children when they come seeking asylum from us. Think about those 559 or so children still unable to be with their parents. And while you are at it, tell me why we Catholic Christians get to tell other people – get to tell women, to be more specific – with their different deeply held religious or ethical principles, that we will strip them of their ability to choose an abortion according to the lights that guide them?

Surely you must have thought through these issues before you shared a meme such as this? Sorry to go on and on about a meme, but it just struck me as dangerous thinking to reduce our differences and our need to dialogue to this kind of false equivalency broadside.

Can we still dialogue about such matters?



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He Did It. Trump Broke My Family

In 1981 my aunt Sister MJ, a Benedictine nun, spiritual matriarch of my Alabama family on my mother’s side, a woman known for her unconditional love of her nieces and nephews, decided to reinstate our family reunion. Through the summers of the 1950s and 1960s we had gathered in the back yard of our grandparents’ house in a small central-Alabama town. We called them “Daddy C” and “Mama C.” The reunions had lapsed after Mama C died in 1970. Then after Daddy C died in 1980, Sister MJ decided to start them up again. (Note: names are truncated here as a kindness to, and out of respect for, my deceased family members and living cousins.)

I wrote a poem for the 1981 occasion entitled “Backyard Reunions at Daddy C’s and Mama C’s House” It began like this:

Those years seem all suffused with light, that backyard in the heart of Alabama all filled with light. Light off the white boards of the house. Light penetrating the green leaves of the bean stalks in the garden. Light lovely and soft in the pecan tree branches that towered high above the yard, or ghostly pale, where it shone through the dried bass head our grandfather had tacked to the clothesline unnumbered fishing trips before.

The poem went on to celebrate games of “burnout” where we boys threw a baseball as hard as we could into each other’s mitts. Drinking soda pop from metal garbage cans filled with ice. Stuffing ourselves on half-chickens and corn ears wrapped in tinfoil taken from Daddy C’s barbecue pit. Enjoying fresh garden string beans with bacon fat from Mama C’s stove.

The reunions also reminded us that our family was a “Gold Star” family, evidenced by the picture of our Uncle Rene in his cocked Navy hat hanging on the living room wall. He was Daddy C’s firstborn son, 25 years old, a Ship’s Cook 3rd Class, when he perished in 1943 after his ship was sunk in the Solomon Sea by a Japanese torpedo, his body lost forever.

And how, every year we came to hear the story of the broken window pane, the one that Uncle Rene broke as a boy, before going off to war. And how, when Rene never returned, Daddy C just refused to repair that window – just let it be.  And how I would steal glances at that crack, a silver curve of light marking an unbroken line of grief.

After recalling more memories of “a community composed of flesh and faith” that was created in that back yard, a community I thought would endure forever, the poem ended so:

Life given and understood in the small details of that backyard. Details measuring, like the silver crack in the window pane, an unbroken line of love.

That is how I have thought of my family all my life. Never to be broken. That is how I wanted my own children and their children to think of my mother’s family, as well as cousins on my father’s side, all our Alabama cousins, all “our people.” The mother of my children is buried in a Birmingham cemetery alongside my parents, and recently my sister. Alabama has remained for me the place to go home and be with my family.

That all changed after Donald Trump became President of the United States.

Of course, fissures had been there before; every family has them. They showed up during the horror of the ill-gotten Iraq War, when one cousin’s son spoke at our 2005 reunion about being deployed to guide bombing runs into Iraq, a war I resisted as part of Military Families Speak Out. Yet I could understand that. He was a young man on fire to serve his country, acting on trust that his president would not deceptively send him to war. I had been there myself at his age. It was post-9/11.

Cracks grew wider in 2009 as cousins began sharing online Fox News reports delegitimizing a dark-skinned President, accusing him of being a closet Muslim, not even an American. Later there was the “Blue Lives Matter” retort to “Black Lives Matter.” Then later still the NFL “take a knee controversy” which Trump successfully re-branded as being about dishonoring the flag and disrespecting the military, not about unarmed black men dying from police violence. One cousin reacted this way: “When I got a new President, that was when I took a knee, to THANK GOD!  Donald Trump Is My President and I stand with pride for my Country my Flag the National Anthem and all the service men and woman then and now.”

I could deal with all that. We could thrash out our differences and each conclude that the other was badly misinformed. And besides, what difference could politics make in terms of breaking the deeper bonds of family between us?

Then came Trump’s explicitly racially-charged “zero-tolerance” immigration policy, stripping babies and young children from their immigrant parents seeking asylum. While I had grieved over President Obama’s record deportations and his sad, brief move toward incarcerating families (which the courts stopped), Obama had not built his immigration policy upon an overtly racist framework sold as necessary to repel “rapists” and “criminals” coming from “s***hole” countries. Obama was dealing with all bad options rooted in 20 years of bipartisan Congressional inaction on immigration. Trump was exciting his base with red-meat racist canards.

“Zero-tolerance” purposely designed to break up families – that is when Trump broke my family. How can I break bread, much less Holy Communion at the closing Mass of our reunions, with people who justify the detention of innocent children in cold cages under Mylar blankets? Why should my son and his children go to the reunion of a family that tolerates this?

Yes, I know, it is not everyone in my family, but the burden falls on us who know what Trump is doing to challenge with love our cousins who appear to be blindly following him. Silence is complicity when innocent children are being harmed like this, and it is our country that is doing it, and it is being justified in a specifically racist way that is not a silent dog whistle but a bullhorn amplifying the racist, fear-mongering justification. History tells us we all come to a very bad end if we remain silent in a time like this, and that means being unafraid to let our families know what we think and how we feel.

So it stands for now. Trump has broken my family. The loss feels very deep to me. It is not clear to me how we mend it back together, even with the abiding love I still hold in my heart for all my cousins.

Postscript: The house where Daddy C and Mama C lived was sold three decades ago. I went by to see it one summer. Of course, the new owners had fixed that cracked window.

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More than X’s and O’s on These NFL Players’ Minds

Memo 4 players sent NFL commissioner Roger Goodell & NFL Response

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The Vietnam War – My Story, What is Yours?

Watching “The Vietnam War” documentary surfaces the old memories, despite whatever flaws the documentary may have as history or memory or even film making. Not that I have the horrid memories depicted in the film, thankfully, and God bless and help the veterans of that unjust and unnecessary war who do suffer still from those memories, as well as the families of millions of Vietnamese that we brutally slaughtered, but my memories are not theirs because I am fortunate enough to not have to carry that burden around for the rest of my life.

The film has men and women who came of age in those days telling their story. Below is my Vietnam story, in a nutshell, which every man (and woman) of my age must tell – in answer to the questions: “What did you do in the Vietnam War?” or “How did you handle the draft?” or “Where were you 1965-1974 in the Vietnam War era?”

For people of a certain age who read this, what is yours?


I was in seminary 1967-68, having passed on a chance to go to West Point with a conditional appointment from Senator John Sparkman of Alabama. As a son of the South, God and Country were pretty much equivalent for me, and service was service, whether as priest or soldier. Since the diocese of Mobile-Birmingham did not have its own seminary (Catholics were only 2% of the Alabama population), I was sent to the diocesan seminary in Catonsville, MD. Yes, that Catonsville, MD where, not far from the seminary, on May 16, 1968 Fathers Daniel and Philip Berrigan, with seven other people (“The Catonsville 9”), burned draft files with homemade napalm, after which some guys at the seminary who had their draft files at Catonsville went down and voluntarily reconstructed them. I had noticed what happened down the street from me at the draft board, of course, because it made a lot of news, Catholic news, but I was focused on Senators Eugene McCarthy and Bobby Kennedy and the 1968 election as a means to get out the war, and my idealism took a major blow on June 6, 1968 when I woke up to find that Bobby Kennedy had been struck down after winning the California primary.

After Martin Luther King, Jr.’s and Bobby Kennedy’s deaths in early 1968, while I was finishing up freshman year at the seminary, and after witnessing the smoke from afar as Baltimore burned after King’s assassination, the life-goes-on-as-usual of the seminary and America, where a graduation ceremony was happening on the very day when Kennedy’s body went cold, when everything should have stopped with Bobby’s death, I felt, and we were all singing and endless “Na na na nah” from “Hey, Jude” as the top song of 1968, and the social turmoil of resisting authority that was present even in seminary life, such as boycotting classes over a dispute with the Rector’s heavy-handed discipline, which I did not understand at all, it was then that I became deeply disillusioned and quit the seminary, telling Dad, a career Army man, that I was going to join the Army.

I know, that does not make sense. Why would I support either McCarthy or Kennedy to end the war, and then sign up for it? I was 19. Does that explain it? I was brought up in a military family? Does that? Maybe it was that summer of 1968 when I saw another underbelly of the American experience while selling encyclopedias to poor families who could not afford them, and kind of falling for one of the young women who was on our sales team, only to find myself in a hotel in Mississippi while a couple of guys laughed as they listened through the wall to our boss having sex with “Peggy.” Then going back to the Catonsville seminary for a week to start sophomore year, but quickly realizing that my heart was not in that anymore and I did not really know what I wanted to do next.

That was the Fall of 1968, a year in which 16,592 American soldiers would die in Vietnam. Dad said “No, you’re going back to college” (his message, not necessarily his exact word), and so I did in January 1969, deferred from the draft while in college. I worked my way through the “D’s” of the college catalogue (University of Delaware, University of Dayton, and University of Dallas), looking for a humanities curriculum that might help me make sense of what it means to be a human being. Yes, I really thought like that.

It would not be until 1971, the day after I graduated from the University of Dallas, a bastion of right wing Catholics at the time (which educated some major leaders of the American Right, like classmate L. Brent Bozelle III, founder of the Media Research Center), which Playboy magazine listed as one of the safest conservative colleges to which parents could send their children in those days when 400 colleges nationally were holding “Vietnam Moratorium” boycotts and strikes and marches against the war (Mom probably hoped that Playboy was right), it was in May, 1971 that I entered the Army, by that time having been classified by the draft board as 1-AO Conscientious Objector with a middle-range draft number (151) who volunteered for the draft as a CO, moving to the head of the line, who would not have to carry a rifle, instead being slated to be trained as a medic, still attracted to being a hero, to being “a good American like my Dad” as the poem by a Vietnam Veteran says.

Why that? Why after protesting the war at University of Dallas? Why after throwing off my gown and tossing my mortarboard hat onto the stage, like a dangerous Frisbee, when the Baccalaureate professor/speaker, dressed in his foppish white suit and snakeskin cowboy boots, who had been chosen to be our speaker by the 1971 graduating class conservatives, almost as a joke and payback to the “liberals” like me, got up and gave a defense of America’s involvement in Vietnam? Why then?

Dad was still not happy with my choice to go to the Army, but I remember him as overall supportive of me. Mom was proud, I believe. Maybe Dad was still the answer to why I went to the Army. Maybe it was losing my college love and then another in a rebound relationship, and being somewhat adrift personally. But why did I refuse to go after a Danforth Scholarship for which Sister St. John, my favorite professor, wanted to recommend me? That might have gotten me to graduate school and avoided altogether any service in the military.

I really do not have the answers to my questions. I just know what I did. I volunteered for the draft under the 1-AO classification.

In the Army I came face to face with the dispirited and demoralized “lifers” who had committed to a military career, good men like my father. I saw my father in them in their faces, which appeared to me weary and demoralized, revealing the damaged integrity of being caught up in the Vietnam debacle – or was I reading that into them? Impossible to know. I did know this, however, that the Army was broken. I saw new recruits acting out to get kicked out of the Army; but by contrast, at first, I was so “gung ho” myself that I won the American Spirit and Honor Award for my basic training class of 80 men down at Fort Polk, LA, becoming the class sergeant and marching men (with guns) all over the base to the sound of my cadences (I have a big voice), some of which were, oddly, anti-war cadences. It did not matter as long as the men marched. And there I was, marching them. And there I was, a CO who had never lifted a fist in anger at anyone in my life, never been in a fight at all (still have not), facing down an angry soldier who wanted to hurt me, but refrained from doing so because I had those class sergeant insignia protecting me.

After Fort Polk I was off to Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio for medic training, where I continued to do well enough that I was selected to go to the United States Army Airborne School at Fort Benning (the place of my birth) after medic training and learn to jump out of airplanes, which was considered to be an opportunity offered only to “elite” soldiers. I had done a loyalty and commitment interview to get that, a fact that left the officers who conducted it quite mad at me as things later turned out.

Only later would I come to such a crisis of conscience about the Vietnam War, which was still killing men in 1971 (almost 2,400 Americans that year), that I applied for full release as a 1-O status CO. Maybe it was after reading the motto of the medical corps – “”To Conserve Fighting Strength” – and learning that principles of triage would require me to let men die if they could not get up to fight, focusing instead on those who could still protect the fighting unit.

There is more. It has to do with a religious vision (nothing else to call it) that I had at the time, very much like the vision that Trappist monk Thomas Merton had at the corner of 4th and Walnut in Louisville, Kentucky, which he describes in his book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, only mine took place on the street in San Antonio. I will write about that more at some point, but it was the moment when I saw for myself, realizing generally but not in specifics, that some sort of suffering lay ahead for me, and that it would be a privilege of my faith to undergo that suffering – it was then that I believe I saw  the God within everyone on the street around me that day, all of them beaming and translucent with some sort of light coming from within them, right down to the baby in a carriage, and I knew for certain that humans have a Soul, that we are Good, that we are made of Light, or whatever we wish to call it, that we are Life, not Death.  And I felt a peace about whatever was to come next, which I was still in the process of discovering.

So at some point I entered the process of lining up my dad and my own personal army of priests I knew from the University of Dallas (one of whom was an anti-communist Hungarian Cistercian priest who attested to my true belief, with which he vehemently disagreed, which could only help me), to plead my case of being a true conscientious objector who should be released to alternative service. I felt it was a sure thing that I would be released, but after much anguish I felt I had to speak out in some way more than that; especially, it seemed to me, because I knew how to speak out as a college graduate, while the other guys, every bit the CO I had become, some of them rural guys from Tennessee and elsewhere with only high school educations, were throwing furniture out of 4th floor windows or refusing to have their hair cut or coming up with other disobedient ways  to say “Hell, no” to the Army and the war, bringing much trouble into their lives.

I recall – is it a true memory? – being moved by the words of Isaiah to do more than just get myself out of the Army. (“The Lord GOD has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to answer the weary a word that will waken them.” Isaiah 50:4)

And so I protested in ranks, wearing a small cross on a chain outside my uniform, gift of a Catholic retreat weekend that I had attended and which I later conducted while at University of Dallas, which I had worn under my T-shirt next to my chest until then, and doing that to object to the Vietnam War, and in order, quite deliberately and with forethought, to say “No” to Sergeant Brown when he ordered me to put it inside, and then to the Captain who gave me the same order, and to take that “No” to its logical conclusion and thus get to know what the Army stockade at Fort Hood looked like from the inside out, but not before being quarantined in barracks as I awaited court martial, where I sat up a small devotional altar with candles and scriptures next to my bunk (that was a little bit weird) and read Daniel Berrigan’s book “No Bars to Manhood,” and from where I would hurl my American Spirit and Honor Award as far out on to the yard as I could, no longer wanting any part of it.

And I remember feeling as I went behind the chain link and concertina wire at the stockade, after riding with two MPs from San Antonio to Killeen, Texas with my hands and arms cuffed behind me (they were sympathetic to my pain, but following protocol), that I was the freest man in the world and that everyone outside the wire fencing were the ones who were in prison. It had rained and the wire fencing glistened with the raindrops and I was at peace. My story was being told on national radio (Elizabeth McAlister heard it in NYC), and on the front page of the San Antonio News with Father Art Moser of the Newman Center at the University of Texas standing beside a very skinny me, and on the hospital radio where my mom was recuperating from cyst surgery in Huntsville, Alabama (she was mortified and embarrassed by my action), while my dad was being interviewed by the Huntsville Times and standing behind my act of conscience, pointing out that the Army had over-reacted since they were about to release me anyway. No TV coverage. The Army information officers had made sure after the courts martial that national TV not get me on camera with my little cross dangling outside my uniform.

I was sentenced to four months but served only one as my 1A-O conscientious objector status was granted and the Army did not want to feed me anymore, so they cut me loose.

My life by that time had forever been changed by those days. From West Point candidate to Army prisoner in five years, with ample opportunities to avoid military service at all, but drawn by some ineluctable force to go there.

Postlude: Before I had protested in ranks in the Army, I had gone out to hear Sister Elizabeth McAlister (three times! so much that she took me for an Army spy in my uniform) as she talked about her impending trial with Father Phil Berrigan and six other defendants in Harrisburg, where they were facing serious charges for their resistance to the Vietnam War. She moved me deeply. During the course of the courts martial I met two Paulist priests (Art Moser and his classmate Ed Guinan) who would inspire me to go back to the seminary (the Paulists this time) after the Army and ultimately redirected my life (after leaving a seminary for the second time) to service of the inner-city poor and homeless of Washington, DC in the Community for Creative Nonviolence, CCNV, that Ed and some fellow Paulists had founded, and resistance to what was left of the war as I became part of the “Catholic Left,” entered into marriage with a CCNV member running a soup kitchen and with her three children, and otherwise  setting me on that path of life (anti-war activism and homeless services at the core of it) for decades to come.

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Francie’s Eulogy, Handel’s Messiah and Faith Renewed

Yesterday made two weeks since my sister Francie died.  Yesterday marked one week since I had read the following words from the Book of Job 19:25-26 at the start of Francie’s funeral Mass:

But as for me, I know that my Vindicator lives,
  and that God will at last stand forth upon the dust;
Whom I myself shall see:
  my own eyes, not another’s, shall behold God,
And from my flesh I shall see God.

Then yesterday, at the kind invitation of a new friend in Baltimore, Elizabeth and I found ourselves at a performance of Handel’s Messiah by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. After the “Wow” part of the Hallelujah Chorus was over, the part we all recognize, the Messiah continued to its Part 3 and I heard these words, a different translation of Job 19: 25-26 than the one I had used:

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand
at the latter day upon the earth.
And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.

I was unprepared for what happened next as the Messiah continued toward the sound of the trumpets:

For now is Christ risen from the dead, the first fruits of them that sleep.   (I Corinthians 15: 20)  Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. (I Corinthians 15: 21-22)  Behold, I tell you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. (I Corinthians 15: 51-52)  The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption and this mortal must put on immortality. (I Corinthians 15: 52-53)  Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” (I Corinthians 15: 54)  O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (I Corinthians 15: 57)

I have heard this all my life. I proclaimed it one week ago as we celebrated Francie’s life and carried her body to her grave. Yet throughout her funeral Mass I had maintained control. I had prepared and uttered the words and listened to my cousin Father Marcus proclaim this same belief in something bigger, something more, a Love everlasting, that goes back to Job and is heralded by Saint Paul in his first letter to the new believers in Corinth. I had seen the sadness on Marcus’ face as he sat down at different times in the Mass, and thought it unusual for him to show such sorrow, accounting it to his deep and lifelong feelings for his younger cousin, but as for me I had complete mastery over the words as I read from the Book of Job to start off our readings.

I read with conviction, but did I really believe? I shed not a tear while I attended to my duties. I wanted other people to cry for my sister, but not me.

Not so last night at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

When Part 3 of the Messiah came and the words of Job appeared before me again, I lost control.

The tears came down. My breath increased as I tried not to convulse and reveal to the people around me that I was crying. Elizabeth noticed. She handed me a tissue. She had her own memories of a lost one closing in on her at that time, too, as the trumpet, the glorious trumpet, sounded. She had understood what set me to crying. All that was just too much and I had to stare up at the ceiling and listen to the Soprano, the Bass, the Alto and the Chorus continue with the words of Saint Paul, the trumpet drawing me and all of us higher into a transcendent moment.

Then I realized in that music, I actually do believe that Francie lives! And Claire Marie! (My first wife who died at 43 from cancer.) And Mom and Dad! And Lucinda! (My second wife who died of cancer at 61.) And Sister Mary Jude! (My beloved aunt and Benedictine sister who was my exemplar of unconditional love.) Through that moment of unexpected connection with what I had just read a week ago, I could cry for Francie and all my lost ones, whether it be from grief or joy I cannot say for sure.

Faith pierced me in those moments. It was not wordsmithing or planning a beautiful liturgy, things at which I am good and over which I have control. It was grief pulling my faith forward from my flesh itself.

In that moment I felt myself to be connected with the One that the prophet Isaiah called “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” (A phrase which occurs earlier in the Messiah.)

Does it take great sorrow to draw nearer to the One from which we come, the One to whom we go? Can such a question even be asked outside of a Faith already received? Are we not all to become, the longer we live, men and women of sorrows, all too acquainted with grief? Is that the communion that counts most of all?

I had not expected Handel and his music to move me to tears, but ended up thankful that he and his music had done so.


My eulogy for Francie – Nov 26, 2016

When I sat down to write this eulogy, the very first thought that came to mind was, “Help me, Francie, please help me.” As I gazed at her big smile on the funeral program that you have in your hands, I was reminded how much she had helped me over the years, through the crises of deep loss and affairs of the heart that marked my life. So why shouldn’t she help me now with a few words to remember and honor her?

I thought of hundreds of emails she had composed to me that ran deep with insight and wisdom gained at great cost, which she was sharing with me, and how they were all mine to have, evidence of the special love between us. And I was reminded of all the conversations I had with her friends and family these past couple of months, some of you sitting here today, in which you told me how essential she had been to your life’s journey, how her friendship, her laughter and her smile had enriched your lives. She was all yours in those special times, a friend indeed. She could be such a very dear friend to those she loved.

Listening just now to that song “This Is To Mother You,” I am moved to memory of when Francie brought the song home from the “Woman Spirit Rising” retreat that she had just attended at Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman. Among a circle of other women at that retreat, she had shared “a safe place to tell our own stories, to do truth telling, and to share hopes and dreams.” There were stories of brokenness, shared between a diverse group of women from all walks of life, all needing healing and joy to burst forth within and between and among them.

“Everyone has some sort of mothering energy in their life,” she wrote to me in an email of September 28, 2015, telling me how much the retreat had meant to her. The retreat happened to fall at the beginning of what was to become for her fourteen very difficult months of chemotherapy, body rebellion, multiple invasive procedures, seeking out of holistic health supplements, hospital stays and finally her death in hospice care at home, attended by her brothers, especially her brothers Dave and Rich who were with her for the final three months.  The retreat and this song were very much a part of preparing Francie to endure her suffering.

While traditionally we speak of God as Father, I got the impression that Francie and these women were in touch with God as Mother, God-within as fully known by their female nature, hearing “Her” say to those gathered, through this song:

All the pain that you have known
All the violence in your soul
All the ‘wrong’ things you have done
I will take from you when I come
All mistakes made in distress
All your unhappiness
I will take away with my kiss, yes
I will give you tenderness

When Francie came out of the retreat she wrote about what was most important to her, putting it this way: “After all is said and done, be kind to yourself and others. Love yourself. Be who you are.”

About one year later, in the hospital as we spoke about her obituary and funeral service, part of which she planned (it was her choice to use Psalm 91), I asked her about how she saw her life and what was most important to her. “I always loved to make people laugh,” she said. “Say ‘Thank you” and ‘I love you’ more often.” “Know that God is in everything.”

You have these words to take with you on the prayer card.

For all of you who knew her, you know that Francie’s passion in her life was the exploration of human spirituality, the search for God-within. Hers was a life given over to service, healing and beauty – whether as nurse or massage therapist healing the body, or as trusted friend to many whose lives were changed for the better, or as an artist in her paintings, some of which we have here today. I draw your attention to one in particular, her self-portrait here beside her body, evidence that, as serious as she was, she could laugh at herself.

I also draw your attention to the image on the front of her prayer card, a traditional image of a guardian angel watching over children who are crossing a dangerous bridge. She asked for that to be on her prayer card and she recited for me the prayer she had learned as a child.

Angel of God/ my guardian dear/ to whom God’s love/ commits me here./ Ever this day/ be at my side,/ to light and guard,/ to rule and guide./ Amen.

We can think of Francie that way as our lives move forward. Pull out her prayer card now and then and read her words on the back. Know that if you loved her and she loved you, she is that angel beside you now, acting on God’s love of you “to light and guard, to rule and guide.”


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Post-Election Homily, Fr. Joe Muth, Baltimore, MD – Nov 12-13, 2016

Thirty-Third Sunday of the Church Year, 2016

Malachi 3: 19-20a

Second Letter to the Thessalonians 3: 7-12

Luke 21: 5-19

Good Morning!  Today you have come into church after a week of amazing changes due to the National Election on November 8.  I am glad we are in church, because in here we are not Democrat, Republican, Green Party, Independent, or Tea Party.  We are Church!  And now more than ever before we begin to understand what it means to be Church.

The readings this weekend are so timely.  We hear from the prophet Malachi that “the day is coming, blazing like an oven…but for you who fear my name, there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays.” From Luke we hear, “Take care not to be misled.  Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am he’ and ‘The time is at hand’.  Do not follow them…Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom…By patient endurance you will save your lives.”

Patient Endurance!!  How did God know that we needed this particular phrase at this time?  It is an important spiritual phrase for us to hear.  But it is also very difficult to hear about “patient endurance” when many of us feel so impatient.  When we are so weary of racist language, abusive language, anti-immigrant language, anti-Muslim language, anti-women language, anti-LGBT language.  When we thought we were way beyond this as a nation, and now feel like we haven’t moved or changed at all.

We have made a great effort in the Church of St. Matthew and the Church of Blessed Sacrament to treat all people who come into our communities with dignity and respect.  We believe we are united in our mission and blessed with diversity.  We believe that God has called us to “serve people in all conditions and circumstances.”  Even our recent Pastoral Plan from the Archdiocese tells us that our mission priorities are the “outsiders, the disenfranchised, and the strangers.”   When our church words and the Word of God give us this direction, and the society around us is opposite this call, then some action has to be taken.

This week, as your Pastor, I contacted the two Mosques that we have been connected to in the last year, and Pat Jones, the Director of IOSC (St. Matthew’s Immigration Outreach Service Committee), contacted them also.  They thanked us for our kind and encouraging words and the principal of the Al Rahmah School said, “You have always reached out to me in difficult times and I am very grateful.”  They were worried what to tell their children about the election, because the children were scared.   The IOSC has also received calls from immigrants who are scared about what may happen to them.

Our contacts with the Mosques are important, but as important as these actions are they are too small, and our small churches should not be the only ones speaking and acting this way.  The Bishops, the larger church in the nation should be acting and speaking out.

I love the church and have been born and raised up in the Catholic Church.  But I am disappointed in the Catholic Church throughout this country of ours.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail says that:

 There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love….I see the Church as the Body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through the fear of being nonconformists…the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for this century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned to outright disgust.

We need a new Church.

So I want you to know brothers and sisters, at our churches of St. Matthew and Blessed Sacrament we are going to continue to do what God asks of us, even if it may seem unorthodox to the larger church or the outside world.  God has given us a great responsibility.  We, as a Church, do not belong to any political party.  However, we do stand in the midst of all the parties. We have a unique opportunity to bring together opposing sides, if we are willing to let go.  We reach out our hands in all directions and welcome all we touch and see.

Therefore, we must remember who we are as church.

1) We are immigrants, and we will continue to make our church communities safe places where all our families can find a home and raise their children;

2) We are Gay and Lesbian people, and we will continue to accept and love each other so that we all have a place to worship God in safety, with dignity and respect;

3) We are people of many colors, countries, languages, and cultures, and we will continue to make this a church of welcome by sharing food, prayer, and life together;

4) We are people of disabilities.  We stand with people who are disabled in body, mind, or spirit, and treat them with respect, patience, and understanding;

5)  God has given us the wisdom to be connected to the Muslim community this year, and we will continue to learn from them, share with them, and pray with them.  We will let them know that we are safe communities, and we are not afraid of their culture or their faith, but want to embrace their story, too.

We stand against abusive language, sexist language, racist language.  We honor the women of our communities and support them in their quest for recognition, and their dreams to achieve their highest potential, however and wherever God may call them.

Malala Yousafzai, the young girl from Pakistan shot by the Taliban because she spoke out for the education of girls, she became the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Winner; she said about her assassin, “If one man can destroy the world, why can’t one girl change it?”  And she said, “When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful’.

Some people have cautioned me in the past.  Fr. Joe, be careful, you might get in trouble.

They have said you don’t want to be tagged as a trouble-maker.  When Rosa Parks was asked if she sat down on the bus because her feet were tired, she said, “The only tired I was…was tired of giving in.”

I am an old man and I would much rather be seen as a trouble-maker for justice, a trouble-maker for compassion, a trouble-maker for love, than a silent uninvolved voiceless Pastor.

Love is still the most powerful gift we have!!

We are about to move into the Advent Season where we celebrate the Coming of the Gift of Love in Jesus.  Jesus was born into a violent divided world. He died. Love survived! So, I am not in despair!  I am not afraid!  I have hope because I know we will not be divided by those who wish to keep us apart.  The prophet Malachi reminds us “there will arise the sun of justice with its healing rays”, and Luke, “By patient endurance you will save your lives”, and I add, and the lives of those entrusted to your care.

I am Fr. Joe Muth, and I approve of this message!!!

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The One-Year Anniversary of Laudato Si’- – Where is Bishop Zubik?

(Dateline: June 21, 2016)

 Saturday, June 18 marked the one year anniversary of the release of an encyclical that was intended to get the entire world, especially the Roman Catholic world, talking about and taking action on climate change as a moral imperative.

About a month before the anniversary I asked a diocesan official if Bishop Zubik would be doing a special event to mark the anniversary of Laudato Si’ – On Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis’ path breaking encyclical about climate change. Here is what she said:

 “Typically, the Church marks significant anniversaries of Papal Encyclicals, such as the 25th or the 50th” she said, adding this: “I am not sure of definitive plans at this point.”

“I wish you the very best in your noble endeavor to care for God’s creation,” she said.

All across the world in the week leading up to the anniversary, and especially in poor communities likely to be hit hardest and first by climate change, Catholics gathered as part of the Global Catholic Climate Movement to mark the anniversary, committing to take action toward sustaining the planet for future generations. However, in the Diocese of Pittsburgh there will be no such public acknowledgement of the anniversary of Laudato Si’ according to the diocesan official with whom I have been communicating for several months.

An Associate General Secretary of the General Secretariat of the Diocese of Pittsburgh had called me into her office last February after I circulated to parishes in the diocese a blog post about the experience I had at St. James Catholic Church in Sewickley.

My pastor at St. James had told me emphatically “end of discussion” as I pressed him on why we could not have a study group on Laudato Si’ or a sermon or two about it.  He said that he would preach on the subject only when the Bishop and the Vicars of the diocese told him to do so.

Obviously the topic is a sensitive one in an area built on fossil fuels. This region of western Pennsylvania is going full bore on building a new cracker plant in Monaca and stringing pipelines to carry fracked gas to export terminals to sell it abroad. These kinds of economic development projects will lock in dangerous and polluting shale gas extraction for the next 50 years.

Many people in fossil fuel industries are pillars of their local Catholic parishes and major contributors to church coffers, so this is a sensitive topic indeed.

When we met six months ago, the official and I started our meeting with prayer, and we ended it with prayer. In between we talked about how the diocesan website resources on Laudato Si’ were good insofar as their content, although (in my view) were not enough to reach the people of the diocese.

“Who reads the diocesan website?” I asked. “Where is the Bishop Zubik’s letter on the encyclical to be read from the pulpits?” We brainstormed about how the bishop might make an address to Catholic schoolchildren to communicate the essential themes of the Pope’s encyclical. That was encouraging.

Then she sent me away with some pastoral letters that the bishop had sent to parishes of the diocese as examples of his leadership. I read through those. I searched the PDFs for a single mention of climate change. Nothing there.

Next came weeks of silence as I pressed the official about marking the anniversary with an event to be convened by Bishop Zubik, as we had discussed.  Finally she answered that the bishop did have the Vicar General share information with pastors to assist them in marking the anniversary.

I asked her if I could see the email that the Vicar General had sent out, but she was not at liberty to share it. “Is it a state secret?” I asked her, but now she has gone silent again.

As to the answer she did give me, the problem with marking the encyclical’s anniversary at 25 years from its release (2040) is that the planet is warming rapidly. “We are currently headed into uncharted waters when it comes to the rate of climate change we are now seeing” says Michael Mann at Penn State’s Earth System Science Center.  Arctic warming is expected to rise by 1.1°F per decade by 2040. Sea levels will continue to rise and cause widespread flooding and loss of coastlines.

“Present climate is warming to a level associated with significant polar ice-sheet loss in the past.” Dr. Andreas Dutton, a geochemist at the University of Florida, states that “Once these ice sheets start to melt, the changes become irreversible.”

It is time, past time, for Bishop Zubik to do his own pastoral letter on climate change. Pope Francis needs his help. We all need his leadership.

See also:

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Laudato Si’ Falls Among Thorns at St. James Catholic Parish in Sewickley, PA

“As for the seed sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful.” (Matthew 13:22)

Hundreds of world leaders just met last month in Paris to discuss climate change. They came up with a framework for continued discussion and action to limit dangerous warming of the Earth’s life-sustaining climate.

However, at one Catholic parish in the wealthy Pittsburgh suburb of Sewickley, PA, where you can still find natural gas lanterns burning 24/7 at the entry sidewalk to homes, there will be no discussion of climate change anytime soon.

St. James Parish, the church that announces itself as “the love of Christ in the heart of Sewickley” has other things to do with Christ’s love than discuss the issue of which Pope Francis has said: “If I may use a strong word, I would say that we are at the limits of suicide.”

After repeated entreaties to the church’s pastor Father Thomas Burke to allow me to help form a discussion group on the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si’, the word came down to me emphatically:

“End of discussion. I was ordained a priest not to be an environmentalist,” he told me.

I do not think he meant it quite the way his grammar indicated, but in his own way he spoke a real truth. Priests are not normally prepared by their training in a manner that they might hear the message of Laudato Si’. This may be especially true of priests in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where fossil fuels and industries built upon fossil fuels have been kings of the economy, and thus essential to the collection plate, for more than a hundred years.

Sewickley swarms with Cadillac Escalades, GMC Yukons, Hummers, Mercedes Benz sedans and SUVs, Audis and BMWs. It is quite a bit like one big open air luxury car showroom, which makes it a veritable thicket of fossil-fuel-nourished thorns among which the seed of the Pope’s climate change encyclical must try to grow.

The U.S. Congressman Keith Rothfus (R) lives across Walnut Street from the church’s rectory and is a prominent member of the parish. What is his view about climate change? “I do not believe it’s man-made and I am not convinced that it is a fact.”

He “believes” this despite NASA science that “The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880… (and) the 10 warmest years in the instrumental record…have now occurred since 2000.” Just recently the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that 2015 is ending up even hotter than 2014. NASA and NOAA may have the facts, but the Congressman has his beliefs, none of which are likely to be challenged at the church he attends.

My dialogue with Father Tom began in March 2015 when I read the church’s pastoral plan and saw no mention at all of addressing climate change. As we communicated, I discovered a decent and gentle man, a good shepherd of his flock, but one who was not going to take the lead on a contentious issue like climate change that might offend some of his parishioners.

Father Tom told me: “We had our recent Vicariate Meeting with Bishop Zubik and our focus right now with the Priests in the Diocese of Pittsburgh is ‘On Mission for the Church Alive!’ in which parishes are starting to work together to look at ministries and staff and clergy distribution. If I get a directive from Bishop Zubik to focus on environment issues or to preach on the Pope’s Letter, then I will do what I am asked from my superiors. My main task is to focus on parish life and the liturgy and evangelization.”

“What about what the Pope is saying?” I asked. Imagine the evangelizing power of a church taking the lead on climate change to save God’s Creation for future generations. Is not saving future generations of earthly species, including humankind, as pro-life as we can get?

Instead Congressman Rothfus’ wife will be leading a bus of parishioners who will go to the March for Life in Washington, D.C. on January 22 to defend the unborn. The bus is likely to be packed, yet as much as they are sincere about protecting the unborn already gestating, will they even think of these words from Pope Francis?

“The children who die of hunger or from bombings, the immigrants who drown in search for a better tomorrow, the elderly or the sick who are considered a burden; the victims of terrorism, wars, violence, and drug trafficking, the environment devastated by man’s predatory relationship with nature – at stake in all of this is the gift of God, of which we are noble stewards but not masters.”

This is not likely a legislative agenda that her husband Congressman Rothfus will support.

I looked into what Father Tom told me is the priority of the Pittsburgh Diocese. “The Church Alive!” at its heart is a capital campaign, something which all institutions do. It supports many good programs and services like Catholic Charities. However, it seems not to intersect at all with the Pope’s encyclical that is primarily about social justice in a world deteriorating from human greed, a world dying from our excessive and selfish emissions of greenhouse gases.

At this moment there is no effort to educate the clergy and adult Catholics in the Pittsburgh diocese about climate change. Something really big appears to be missing from the priorities of the diocese. It is not the fault of Father Tom; let me be clear about that. He is a good guy by just about any metric of what a pastor should be.

A priest at Duquesne University wrote to Bishop Zubik on June 29, 2015 asking how the Diocese planned to make the content of Laudato Si’ known throughout the parishes. It took until November 3, 2015 (4 months!) for the Director of the Diocese’s Office of Marriage, Family and Life (an odd choice) to respond to the priest by noting the Laudato Si’ resources that the Diocese has posted on its website, including a memo from the bishop.

Basically the Diocese was saying that they had touched that base and no more needed to be done.

In lieu of any action by Bishop Zubik, some priests took it upon themselves to hand-deliver copies of the encyclical to the parishes in the Diocese – a mission of spiritual mendicancy to beg the pastors to take a look at what the Pope was saying. I cannot think of another papal encyclical that became a beggar’s burden to distribute.

Bishop David Zubik’s priests are awaiting his leadership on Laudato Si.’ The seriousness of the climate change issue that compelled the world’s leaders to gather in Paris requires more than the one memo about the Pope’s encyclical that Bishop Zubik published on the Diocese’s website. When will we hear from him? When will his priests be directed to make sure every Catholic knows how to access the resources for study and reflection that he has posted on his website? Would it be too much to ask for a letter to be read from the pulpits at Mass?

CONTACT: J. Stephen Cleghorn, PhD
Currently worships at St. James Parish
Sewickley, PA
Cell – 814-932-6761

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“The Fracking Revolution: Good or Bad for Pennsylvania?” – A Debate

“The Fracking Revolution: Good or Bad for Pennsylvania?”
– An Earth Day 2015 Debate

On April 22, Earth Day 2015, I went to Lebanon Valley College to take part in a debate on fracking. It was called “The Fracking Revolution: Good or Bad for Pennsylvania?” Hosted by LVC history professor Michael Schroeder, the debate put me up against Kevin Lynn, Communications Director for the Linde Corporation, a company providing pipeline and other construction services to the shale gas industry.

Debate title page

That debate can now be seen online at this link.

At the debate I promised Mr. Lynn that I would provide him with sources behind the statements I was making. That is what the following does. Starting with a letter to Mr. Lynn, I lay out a host of resources that cause me to be calling for a ban on fracking.

The debate is somewhat slow in developing, especially since Mr. Lynn started off by reading, and continued to read, from papers he had brought to…well, read. His message to the audience seemed to be that we needed to be schooled on the point that “We are energy pigs here in America, and we are not about to reduce our energy use, and I am one of the guys that makes sure you get the energy you want.”

My response to Mr. Lynn starts with a letter asking him to think more deeply about how we are relating to Nature and to Mother Earth these days. I share that response here so that others may access the resources that I was referencing as we debated. Hopefully these notes & sources will be of use to others as we continue our work to ban fracking.

– Stephen Cleghorn


Dear Kevin –

I promised in our debate that I would follow up with sources of the “facts” that I stated as we talked. In fact I said “I can see my email to Kevin getting quite large because there are studies behind every single number that I have used.”

Well, here is that email (Word version is attached, too.) The stack is pretty high.

I am sending this to our debate convener Michael Schroeder, too, in hopes that he can make it into a Google document that gets posted with the debate video so that people watching the debate can find out why I said what I did.

I hope you will do a similar document of resources for the points you made. I think it would be good for people watching our debate to have the sources we each brought to the table either on paper or in our heads.

Let me say right off that it’s a big world of data and studies out there, and it is a well established fact that adults when they argue about something they perceive to be true always look for the information that affirms their point of view. Yet I believe I have sincerely tried to see this issue from both sides since I did my original PowerPoint on the case for a moratorium. (The link to that PowerPoint is included in the notes below.)

I sought out Dr. Engelder for his ideas about fracking, and I actually hope he is right in his recent study that “Capillary tension and imbibition sequester frack fluid in Marcellus gas shale” ( ), but I also read the “Reply” that states “there is evidence for natural migration of brine and subsequent dilution in shallow drinking water aquifers. The timing of emplacement and the rate of brine migration remain open and important questions in continuing efforts to determine risks” I have more about that in reference below, but here is the “Reply” to Dr. Engelder. ( ).

The Engelder piece and the “Reply” brings me back to what I say most often about the risks of this industry – there is no scientific consensus that irreparable environmental harm cannot happen as a result of this kind of drilling for natural gas. That is why I consider the practice and the industry (corporations and people) to be fundamentally irresponsible in going forward with it given the current state of the science about it.

By the way, Range Resources (like other companies) has pretty much admitted as much about their ignorance of what is happening down below in its SEC filing for investors, where they have to inform them of risks. See the last sentence especially that states: “As we begin drilling to deeper horizons and in more geologically complex areas, we could experience a greater increase in operating and financial risks due to inherent higher reservoir pressures and unknown downhole risk exposures” (emphasis added).

My older brother is an engineer and his comment on fracking, after reading the Range Resources statement and much else about the unknowns for unconventional drilling for shale gas, is that “You cannot manage a process if you do not know what it is that you have to manage.” Dr. Anthony Ingraffea – a deeply qualified expert and teacher of “fracture mechanics” – essentially says the same thing in his lecture “Facts on Fracking” ( ) in which he says that the industry has “models” of what goes on down below, but they are only models. He describes fracking mechanics in terms of “linear chaos theory” as to how cracks in the shale are propagated. I do not pretend to understand this fully, but the sense of it in his lecture is that the engineers do not really know how the cracks in the shale will propagate, and perhaps they will extend beyond the shale and drilling fluids (and gas) could find its way into what the industry calls the “overburden” of rock strata, then perhaps to groundwater sources. He thinks that is “unlikely,” but not “impossible.”

That sounds altogether too risky to me and I think it a good example of the “hubris” exhibited by humans in the ways we think we can “manage” and “control” the physics, biology and hydrology of our Earth to get some relatively cheap fossil fuel.

Be that as it may, you asked me for sources and here they are. By no means have I worked through every moment of our debate as I simply cannot devote that kind of time to it right now.

However, I hope you will find that I have addressed the points that most concerned you. I look forward to seeing your reply.

Lastly before beginning, I want to point out what may be the basic difference in perspective between us. You brought it up when you quoted “I was once like you are now” – from the Cat Stevens song “Father and Son.” Your mention of that lyric was sort of condescending, but not a deal breaker in a debate, so I just let it go by. I knew the full lyrics are much more subtle than you saying to me, like a father saying to his son “Grow up!”

The inference of the lyric as you used it in our debate was this: “I used to think like you do, but now I know better. I have become more realistic about the need for this energy, and at the same time more pessimistic about people being able to do without it or make the changes necessary to create a new world, much as I might like to see that new world.”

Here are the full lyrics from the stanza in the song from which you drew:

“Father and Son” by Cat Stevens

I was once like you are now
And I know that it’s not easy
To be calm when you’ve found
Something going on.
But take your time, think a lot
Think of everything you’ve got
For you will still be here tomorrow
But your dreams may not.

Okay, true enough, it is hard for me to be calm based on what I have found going on with fracking, and all manner of other extreme and profligate use of fossil fuels when we should and do know better. But unlike the father in the song, I am not ready to advise myself to settle for losing my dream that we may be able to sustain this planet for future generations.

In the end I felt like we were debating around the edges of the real debate, which is really about what sort of dream we have for this Earth. I cannot be happy just “thinking of everything I’ve got” from the industrial era that is now threatening to deprive my children and their children of the enjoyments of life and Nature that I have enjoyed.

I suppose you could say that as I have grown older I have become more idealistic, not less, despite the evidence of sorrow and despair, more focused on the “Dream of the Earth” as Thomas Berry writes about that in his book of that title, more convinced that what he taught is the key to our survival – “The universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects.”

You and I were debating on points of “mechanistic science” that seems to offer no more hope for the world than yet another technical solution, some sort of big CO2 sucking machine (geo-engineering) to restore a habitable atmosphere, or some sort of yet to be discovered “fix,” when I believe the real hope lies in a change of consciousness and spirit, reclaiming the way a child perceives Nature, the very perception the father in the Cat Stevens song is telling him to abandon. It is just that abandonment that I refuse to do.

Instead as I said in this video about the conservation easement on my farm, the one that asserts that Nature has rights greater than my property rights (the easement is posted on my farm’s website), I think we need a paradigm shift in how we see Nature. Like Chief Seattle once said (paraphrasing here), “We belong to the Earth. The Earth does not belong to us.”

At the same time I have been trained as a scientist (albeit a social scientist), and that means I must be prepared in debates such as we had to stick to facts and not talk about dreams. So now I return to that and provide the sources I promised to provide you and others listening in on us.

J. Stephen Cleghorn, PhD
Punxsutawney, PA


References & notes:
Debate on Fracking with Kevin Lynn as Lebanon Valley College

KEVIN: “Have to see some proof, some statistics.”

A few words first about formatting these notes:
1) I will use KEVIN or STEVE to preface what were statements made in the course of the debate, usually paraphrased;

2) I will use CLEGHORN to preface comments made to carry along these notes as connective tissue or add to what I said in the debate (usually taken from my notes to prepare for the debate);

3) More or less broad categories of ISSUES debated will have a title in CAPS and will be set off by ++++++ signs so that you and readers will know where they are at in the discussion;

4) When is use the word FACT it is because I presented this in the debate, and do so again in these notes, as a FACT that is based on science and studies.

5) Italicized words are direct quotes from the source being referenced.

That said, the issues are not arranged in order of priority. This is not a paper so much as a collection of notes related to what we talked about at Lebanon Valley College.

So here we go with some proof and statistics (if you read the studies).


ISSUE: GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE, NATURAL GAS AS A BRIDGE FUEL to a cleaner energy future. Is natural gas a “bridge fuel” or does the investment in oil & gas infrastructure commit us to fossil fuels & detract from the effort to develop renewable energy sources? What about fugitive methane from fracking practice and infrastructure as a fact that hastens climate change?

KEVIN: questions the 5% methane leakage that negates the greenhouse gas benefit of burning natural gas for electricity generation. “I’m not afraid of the truth.” Show me the studies.

STEVE: Yes, NG burns cleaner, but then we must look at life cycle analysis of how fracking puts methane, a potent greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

FACT: science says about 5% loss from newly built infrastructure and practices of (High Volume Slickwater Fracking (HVSF). So here are some studies having to do with methane migration, right now and very likely far into the future as well casings inevitably fail.

CLEGHORN: Science is not completely settled yet as to raw methane emissions, with estimates of leakage running between 2% and 17%, but the facts are a far cry from industry PR about how NG is a “bridge fuel.” Best estimates of methane emissions (from flaring, leaks thru the infrastructure) is about 5% – which negates the climate change benefits of burning NG for electricity as compared to coal. And that does not even count the thousands of old shallow wells that are leaking methane, and it does not consider the industry’s own estimate that about 50% of the concrete & steel casings in their wells will develop leaks within 30 years and we will have methane coming up into the atmosphere and water tables. Methane is much more potent as a greenhouse gas on a 20-year horizon and we do not have 20 years to get global warming under better control. Better controls are being required now, but the industry lacks credibility in saying that that this is a contribution to reducing greenhouse gases. Yes it is at the point of burning this fuel (versus coal) for electricity, but that is about all. The lifecycle analysis of this industry’s impact on climate change tells another story altogether.

My source on the 5% “best estimate” is Dr. Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University, a man who understands this industry as well as anyone out there, who says in this article: “‘I think the best estimate right now is somewhere around 5 percent’—an amount, he says, that would be more than big enough to doom the idea of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to a clean energy future.”

There is now an excellent PowerPoint update (on video) on the work of Dr. Robert Howarth and Dr. Anthony Ingraffea about the greenhouse gas impacts of fracking. It is entitled “Still a Bridge to Nowhere” and is chock full of numbers you will want to see:

CLEGHORN: The Mother Jones article referenced above mentions “green completions” as one way to reduce the methane emissions, and some companies like EQT are doing that, which helps for sure, but we read also in the article that follows that the American Petroleum Institute is fighting the EPA on making green completions and other tougher regulations the norm. “The American Petroleum Institute and other industry groups are challenging the new rules in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington.”

CLEGHORN: So the debate goes on and, I would say, the industry always drags its feet (except from some companies like EQT) if cleaner technology costs it money. In my view the verdict is pretty much in that this extreme form of fossil fuel extraction is no bridge to the future of renewable energy sources. Lifecycle analysis of the totality of the fracking enterprise shows that methane migration exceeds 5% of what is brought up from the shale, after which its benefits for reducing greenhouse gases is wiped out. In addition, the global warming and climate change data essentially recommend leaving the remainder of fossil fuels in the ground and moving rapidly to a renewable energy grid, distributed energy systems and so forth. Those will cost a lot of money to make happen, and the money for that is being choked off by the huge subsidies going to the oil and gas industry.



KEVIN: “Show me. Show me a well that has failed.”

CLEGHORN: The statement I made about 50% of casings failing within 30 years came from this report put out by Schlumberger.

Click to access brufatto_2003.pdf

CLEGHORN: Upon second look I see that it was in reference to casing failure in offshore drilling, which may be riskier than onshore. But this is still industry data. Granted, the technology may have improved by now, but the risk is still too high as we see below. Dr. Anthony Ingraffea says in his lecture “The Facts of Fracking” that fracking is not yet a steady-state technology, being made up as the industry encounters different geologic conditions, basically a kind of open air “experiment” happening where we live. Even Dr. Engelder agrees with Ingraffea on that, but argues that Pennsylvanians need to be willing to let the industry “experiment” until they get it right.

See: The Facts of Fracking

FACT: Andrew Gould, CEO of Schlumberger, once (in 2010) said this: “I don’t think the actual optimum technology set for producing shale gas has yet been defined. At the moment, we’re doing it by brute force and ignorance.”

KEVIN: You tell me 6% of wells fail at installation. I read this stuff everyday…and I’m not finding anything to back up those statements…I’d like to see the facts first.”

STUDY: Assessment and risk analysis of casing and cement impairment in oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania, 2000–2012 Dr. Anthony Ingraffea study shows that the problem of leaking wells begins with the drilling and had gotten worse over time:
“Unconventional wells spudded in the NE region since 2009 (2,714 wells) show a similarly high rate of occurrence (9.18%).”

More here on the Ingraffea study:
“Pennsylvania state inspectors’ records show that the steel or cement well casings were compromised in up to 9.1 percent of the active oil and gas wells in the state that were drilled since 2000, with a higher risk coming from the newer wells drilled since 2009.”

CLEGHORN: Then there is this from Dr. Marc Durand of Canada (more references in my PPT), which is admittedly more theoretical in nature:

“The drilling of wells and the fracturing of the homogeneous rock is a totally irreversible operation with no technical solution to restore the shale to its original impermeable state. These gas wells closed off at the end of commercial exploitation become potential conduits for the gas leaks. For these structures, as all structures made of steel and concrete, there is the fundamental question of their life span – from which follows the question of what will happen when their state of degradation can no longer withstand the pressure of the gas. This pressure in the reservoir will grow slowly but continually while the well structures will continue to degrade. These two phenomenon will in time become manifest on the surface in the growing number and increasing flow of methane leaks. The management of these buried works will cost colossal sums.”



CLEGHORN – this study says this is the “first case published with a complete story showing organic compounds attributed to shale gas development found in a homeowner’s well” – but that is not true. My PowerPoint refers to cases in West Virginia and Pavillion, WY where fracking chemicals were found in drinking water sources. Later in these notes I have a reference about EPA withdrawing its results from Pavillion, purportedly due to political pressure.)

Fracking Chemicals Detected in Pennsylvania Drinking Water
Accessing full report requires subscription to New York Times

EPA Finds Compound Used in Fracking in Wyoming Aquifer
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.

EPA’s Water Contamination Investigation Halted In Texas After Range Resources Protest
Now a confidential report obtained by The Associated Press and interviews with company representatives show that the EPA had scientific evidence against the driller, Range Resources, but changed course after the company threatened not to cooperate with a national study into a common form of drilling called hydraulic fracturing. Regulators set aside an analysis that concluded the drilling could have been to blame for the contamination.

Cracks in the Façade by the Environmental Working Group (the WV case)

Click to access cracks_in_the_facade.pdf

A former EPA official who worked on the 1987 report and asked not to be named said that the agency was aware of other cases of groundwater groundwater pollution involving hydraulic fracturing but did not include them in the report because the details were sealed under confidential legal settlements reached between affected property owners and energy companies. The 1987 document noted that such settlements often presented hurdles for the EPA’s investigation.

Other studies of note on this topic of slow pollution over time:

Research done by Dr. Michel Boufadel at the University of Pennsylvania, whose computer models tell him that gas and fluids could rise thousands of feet through the substrata, enough to reach abandoned wells (or cracked well bore) and get into groundwater. A spill from a frac fluid pond could leave a 200 year legacy of groundwater contamination:

The work of Dr. Marc Durand, honorary professor of engineering geology, Earth Sciences Dept. Univ. of Quebec who has made a case that the ubiquitous drilling into the shale (as is necessary to get the gas out economically) will leave behind (in PA alone) more than 150,000 well bores whose “long term behavior” is unknown.

CLEGHORN: This issue of fluid and gas migration is related to Kevin questioning whether any study had ever shown that gas from the shale had gotten into wells or groundwater supplies.

KEVIN: “The gas signatures don’t match”
STEVE: There was Duke University study showing methane in groundwater with chemical signature of shale gas.
KEVIN: “I’ve never seen that. I read this stuff every day.”

Methane contamination of drinking water accompanying gas-well drilling and hydraulic fracturing

Click to access pnas2011.pdf

In active gas-extraction areas (one or more gas wells within 1 km), average and maximum methane concentrations in drinking-water wells increased with proximity to the nearest gas well.
Both our δ13 C-CH4 data and δ2 H-CH 4 data (see Fig. S2 ) are consistent with a deeper thermogenic methane source at the active sites and a more biogenic or mixed methane source for the lower-concentration samples from nonactive sites (based on the definition of Schoell, ref. 14).”

CLEGHORN: The Duke study had a follow-up, saying that well casing failures were the likely cause of methane migration from the shale, not fracking itself (in other words it came up the well bore, not through the rock above the shale.

There is both good news and bad news in their follow up when they write:

“Methane leaking from faulty well shafts is not an irreversible ecological problem because wells can be plugged. If they are not sealed, Vengosh said, the industrial chemicals used in fracking could eventually work their way up toward drinking water sources, though that migration could take decades.” Here is the complete article:

Duke scientists: Faulty wells, not fracking, contaminated drinking water in Texas, Pennsylvania

CLEGHORN: “Decades” is not geologic time, but human time, and the following study indicates that we should be concerned about what we are passing on to our grandchildren.

New Study Predicts Frack Fluids Can Migrate to Aquifers Within Years
“The models predict that fracking will dramatically speed up the movement of chemicals injected into the ground. Fluids traveled distances within 100 years that would take tens of thousands of years under natural conditions. And when the models factored in the Marcellus’ natural faults and fractures, fluids could move 10 times as fast as that.”



FACT: 2012-2013 PA subsidies to Oil & Gas were $3.2 Billion

FACT: this industry standing in the way, gobbling up 10X the subsidies as compared to renewables.
This is a more recent article than the one in my online PPT, but same story:

FACT: Governor Corbett shut down Project Sunshine
Corbett cuts PA Sunshine Program to $0.” (goes all-in on gas)
From DEP website: PA Sunshine Residential/Small Business Solar PV Program is closed *As of November 25, 2013, the PA Sunshine Program has $0 available for payment of rebates. AND

From here:
Back in 2010 we wrote pretty extensively about the benefits of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Program. “At the time, that program was huge, with a budget of $100 million pushing solar throughout the state. The good news is that the Pennsylvania Sunshine program was a smashing success, helping to exponentially raise Pennsylvania’s solar energy production capacity. The bad news is that the program was such a success that the solar portion of the Pennsylvania Sunshine program is (at least temporarily) full. In 2013, the program ran out of funds and has yet to be revived, leaving Pennsylvania with no state solar rebates.”

KEVIN: Asked me if I thought we could get to all renewable energy sources within the next couple of decades. I said “Yes” if we had the will to do so, but “No” as to right-now realities of our public leaders being owned by oil and gas interests and the public not demanding renewables or wanting to curb energy use. This study speaks to how it could be done.

A Path to Sustainable Energy by 2030


Corbett defunds science to assess shale gas impacts:

“Gag orders” are a common outcome of court cases where the industry thinks that the facts of the case are not in their favor, so at the advice of its lawyers and risk assessment consultants the industry settles with plaintiffs and requires them never to speak of the facts or the nature of the settlement, otherwise they will lose the settlement. The records are sealed by the courts. This is a STANDARD BUSINESS PRACTICE that withholds important data from the public.

From “The Global Anti-Fracking Movement We see here that a risk assessment consultant for the industry makes it very plain that it is best to settle for money as “the least costly curse of action” rather than “conceding the debate” on the harms of fracking, as in Dimock, PA
P 4: “(G)etting a better deal from the gas industry concretely implies maximising direct settlement compensation. Yet, as in the Dimock case, settlement – rather than conceding the debate and fueling anti-fracking sentiment – may be the least costly course of action.”

Gas Drilling Companies Hold Data Needed by Researchers to Assess Risk to Water Quality
“The industry is sitting on hundreds of thousands of pre and post drilling data sets,” said Robert Jackson, one of the Duke scientists who authored the study, published May 9 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Jackson relied on 68 samples for his study. “I asked them for the data and they wouldn’t share it.”

(STEVE: On top of all this, working on behalf of the oil and gas industry, we have people in Congress trying to kill the EPA ad even trying to kick the science advisers out of EPA (which is to say nothing of the 150+ members of Congress who deny that climate change is happening.)

House Passes A Bill That Restricts Scientists From Advising The EPA

(PIOGA is objecting to non-voting members to the DEP technical advisory board.)

Industry group considers legal action over new drilling rules
“PIOGA objects to an effort by the administration to add four new, non-voting members to a technical advisory board that is guiding the Department of Environmental Protection on a major update to oil and gas regulations. The new members include representatives from academia and environmental groups.”

(STEVE: so much for this industry wanting to be guided by science.)



KEVIN “Bad for our health? I need to see some numbers.”

CLEGHORN: There are too many sources of facts to reference here. I will only touch upon a few resources for the facts on public health impacts that are easily obtained.

As I mentioned in the debate, I very much recommend you take a look at “The List of the Harmed” by my neighbor and organic farmer Jenny Lisak. She has compiled reports from all over the country about people who have been harmed by fracking operations. This is her list for Pennsylvania alone. She has 503 cases listed here as of this date. You can read through them and make of it what you will.
List of the Harmed – Pennsylvania

This compendium by Concerned Health Professionals of New York (CHPNY) health is a growing bibliography of studies on health impacts:

Click to access CHPNY-Fracking-Compendium.pdf

“In the five months since the Compendium’s original release, dozens of additional investigative reports and research papers have been published that clarify, corroborate, and further explicate the intractable problems that natural gas extraction via hydraulic fracturing brings with it. As documented by the study citation database maintained by Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, three fourths of the available studies on the impacts of shale gas development have been published within the past 24 months. The number of peer-reviewed publications doubled between 2011 and 2012 and then doubled again between 2012 and 2013.”

(STEVE: Based in part on what the CHPNY collated in its Compendium, this is what New York State concluded, that public health risks are too great to proceed.)

New York’s Health Impacts Report: A Public Review of High Volume Fracturing for Shale gas Development

CLEGHORN: Kevin claimed in the debate that New York’s decision to ban fracking was all about New York politics and Cuomo’s re-election. However, this report and the decision to ban fracking came out after the election. It is an essential document being studied worldwide and should not be so easily shoved aside as a political document.

FACT: There is actual blocking by the industry and its political allies of finding out what the impacts are:

Fracking’s Health Calamities Left to Fester

CLEGHORN: The industry has long suppressed the creation of a Health Registry in Pennsylvania, calling upon its well-funded legislators like my State Senator Scarnati, to make sure no serious money gets committed to finding out if shale gas activities, practices and infrastructure are causing people to get sick:

The PA Department of Health under Corbett appears to have screened out health reports that might be injurious to the industry:

As for the ProPublica source I quoted regarding health impacts (slide 132 in my online PPT), that was from a video interview with Abraham Lustgarten that I can no longer find online in which he said “Same stories, different people, thousands of miles apart” in referring to people near gas facilities reporting loss of smell and taste, nosebleeds, onset of asthma and shortness of breath, skin rashes and lesions, sever headaches, nausea and vomiting. The following report by Lustgarten shows the seriousness of the health issues in the gas fields:

Excerpt from the article: “Exemptions from federal environmental rules won by the drilling companies have complicated efforts to gather pollution data and to understand the root of health complaints. Current law allows oil and gas companies not to report toxic emissions and hazardous waste released by all but their largest facilities, excluding hundreds of thousands of wells and small plants. Many of the chemicals used in fracking and drilling remain secret, hobbling investigators trying to determine the source of contamination. The gas industry itself has been less than enthusiastic about health studies. Drillers declined to cooperate with a long-term study of the health effects of gas drilling near Wallace-Babb’s town this summer, prompting state officials to drop their plans and start over.”

CLEGHORN: Death by exposure to drilling, can it happen? Has it happened? This is one case where that appears to have been the case. Her story of how she became sick was told in the award-winning documentary “Split Estate.”

Woman who lived near gas fields dies
You can watch the documentary “Split Estate” to learn more about Elizabeth Mobalbi’s case, but this is what her doctor said: A physician who treated Chris Mobaldi, Dr. Kendall Gerdes of Colorado Springs, said, “When I first met her … I thought it must be some kind of Eastern European thing.” Asked if he agrees with Steve Mobaldi’s assertion that the symptoms are in some way related to exposure to gas drilling activities, Gerdes said simply, “I do.” But, he continued, this conclusion is based on his understanding of the couple and their story, and that “there’s not a lot of testing you can do that will prove or disprove that. I think that [Mobaldi’s exposure to drilling chemicals] was causative. I am simply looking at time, cause and effect relationships.”



KEVIN: “I’ll leave it to you to talk about the environmental damage of solar panels” – That was an insinuation that solar is just as bad as other energy sources in terms of environmental degradation. That insinuation is just dead wrong. I did not respond to this in debate, but here is what I see on that.

I pretty much take as my general source of information on this the Union of Concerned Scientists.
All energy sources have some impact on our environment. Fossil fuels — coal, oil, and natural gas — do substantially more harm than renewable energy sources by most measures, including air and water pollution, damage to public health, wildlife and habitat loss, water use, land use, and global warming emissions.

The chart in the Wiki article (from the IPCC Working Group) clearly shows that solar PV technology of the type I have on my barn rooftop produces about 6% to 9% of the CO2 as that which comes from electricity powered by natural gas. Even at utility scale the solar is much cleaner, but I am of the opinion that distributed solar electric generation (off the grid) would be the better way to go, although there are locations for large solar arrays (like brownfields) where it would make sense to go utility scale and keep the environmental impact low.

Debate resourcs Table from IPCCCLEGHORN: Part of my farm’s solar system is solar thermal, which has even less of an impact in its impact.

CLEGHORN: As for the trace metals and other hazardous materials used in producing solar, these are essentially the same as all electronics and we do have problems there, especially in waste disposal for discarded electronics. Solar panels last much longer than TVs, maybe about 30 years, so that helps. Once they are made they just produce, produce, produce without new inputs of coal or gas or nuclear. Lots of good information here.

There are also exciting new technologies coming around for solar that are based on nanotechnology. Just as, parenthetically, there is new technology for wind turbines that does not take up as much space nor cause harm to birds or bats (although the latter has been overblown according to actual studies of bird deaths near wind generators). And we cannot forget Elon Musk who is coming out with a home battery that can store solar electric energy and make it more practical to build distributed energy system.
“Tesla’s intention (is) to build a business selling equipment to store solar electricity for later use, offer backup power and provide electric-grid regulating services that have traditionally been performed by natural gas power plants.”

As to the environmental impact of the battery Tesla has in development, I an still looking for a good analysis on that. Lastly on this environmental impact of solar energy, none of this addresses the economic injustices of how we come about obtaining trace minerals (in Africa and elsewhere), but that is a human problem that needs a political solution.



KEVIN: We need the energy. Is there anyone in the room who thinks we will use less energy five years from now than we are using now? I would love to live on renewables, but it represents only 14.2% of power generation,, which means we have to shut off the lights and refrigerators etc six out of seven days a week if we want to live only on renewables. The problem in America is that we need a lot of energy and the renewables are not feeding the beast.

STEVE: Here is how I take issue with such statements.

This infographic pretty much sums up the potential of renewable energy sources. As I said in the debate, the fossil fuel industry is sucking up the vast majority of public subsidies for energy development and thus standing directly in the way of building what we need for the future if we are to avoid the escalating catastrophes of climate change.

By the way, Bernie Sanders, when he announced his bid to be President in Burlington, VT, he did it from the first city in America to get all its electricity from renewable energy sources.

STEVE: I said, “In 2013 worldwide more gigawatts of electricity was generated from renewable sources than from coal and oil.” I misspoke on that a bit. My focus was on the growing share of the energy market for NEW sources of electric energy, my point being that America is lagging behind because our new energy sources, such as from fracking or offshore drilling, more extreme forms of fossil fuel extraction, are out of step with what the world is doing. More new sources of electricity generation are from renewables than from fossil fuels. My source on that:
“Solar, the newest major source of energy in the mix, makes up less than 1 percent of the electricity market today but could be the world’s biggest single source by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency.”

The analysis referenced here from IEA in the Bloomberg article is here:

CLEGHORN; My point in the debate was that the world at large is moving quickly to convert to renewable sources of energy for electricity generation while America is using more extreme forms of fossil fuel extraction (fracking, offshore drilling, mountaintop removal) at a time when fossil fuels should be left in the ground.



CLEGHORN: I do not agree that our future has to be increasing energy and growth. We have altogether forgotten how to imagine and dream if that is our perspective. I mentioned some of the young people (and some of us older ones) who are doing work to transition to a less consumptive way of living. Some of that thinking revolves around “degrowth” strategies. I find this kind of thinking to be very enourgaing.

Degrowth (‘décroissance ’in French) was launched in the beginning of the21st century as a project of voluntary societal shrinking of production and consumption aimed at social and ecological sustainability.

This is not really new.

Even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr spoke of the need to move in this direction”
“We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.” – MLK Jr.

CLEGHORN: There is much work ongoing in many places around the world to learn “Earth Literacy” and live smaller, more satisfying lives than the ones we have founded on cheap fossil fuel energy. Genesis Farm is one of those places. Not only is it a place of contemplation and study, but it supports over 160 families in its Community Supported Agriculture gardens. Can such a thing become more common?



KEVIN: quoting a New York Times editorial that attributes drop in CO2 emissions to natural gas being substituted for coal in electric power generation. But is that just establishment hype?

STEVE: Yes, leaving aside the greenhouse effects of fugitive methane from extraction and transport, the use of CH4 for electricity generation is making some impact, but there are other factors that account for most of the reduction in CO2

This analysis takes issue with the sources of CO2 reductions:
Contrary to popular perception, 2012 data shows that the increased use of natural gas in the electric power sector is not the largest contributor of energy related CO2 reductions in the US over the past year.

Nearly 75% of the CO2 savings are attributable to economy-wide demand reduction driven by energy efficiency, conservation and the mild winter of the first quarter of 2012.

Then this publication from EPA says that emissions have actually increased:
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the United States increased by about 7% between 1990 and 2013. Since the combustion of fossil fuel is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, changes in emissions from fossil fuel combustion have historically been the dominant factor affecting total U.S. emission trends. Changes in CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion are influenced by many long-term and short-term factors, including population growth, economic growth, changing energy prices, new technologies, changing behavior, and seasonal temperatures. Between 1990 and 2013, the increase in CO2 emissions corresponded with increased energy use by an expanding economy and population, and an overall growth in emissions from electricity generation. Transportation emissions also contributed to the 7% increase, largely due to an increase in miles traveled by motor vehicles.

CLEGHORN conclusion – the fact that the oil and gas industry can influence the editorial board of the New York Times to buy the idea that shale gas is responsible for recent reductions in CO2 emissions is not surprising. Besides, what are we to think when EPA published information that emissions increased between 1990 and 2013?



STEVE: 32,000 jobs directly inside the industry last year (actually 31,000)

The false promise of fracking and local jobs – by Dr. Susan Christopherson, a widely recognized and honored regional economist.
“In December 2014, Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry reported that just over 31,000 people were employed in the state’s oil and gas industry.”

Renewable energy jobs would be much more plentiful than fossil fuel jobs:

Click to access green_jobs_factsheet_102208.pdf

“As many as 1 out of 4 workers in the United States will be working in RE (renewable energy) or EE (energy efficiency) industries by 2030.”

Renewable Energy ‘Creates More Jobs Than Fossil Fuels’
A new study by the UK’s Energy Research Centre (UKERC) took a deep dive into job creation claims made by proponents of renewable energy and energy efficiency, looking at the figures and projected figures for the EU from a number of angles. It came to the conclusion that in the short run, moving to renewables and ramping up energy conservation would create more jobs than the fossil fuel sector, at a rate of about one job per gigawatt hour of electricity saved or generated by a clean energy source, with the long-term picture murkier because of factors in the economy and government policy that are hard to predict.

Putting Renewable to Work

Click to access Putting_Renewables_to_Work.pdf

“an analytical job creation model for the U.S. power sector to 2030. The model synthesizes data from 15 job studies covering renewable energy (RE), energy efficiency (EE), carbon capture and storage (CCS), and nuclear power to conclude that all non-fossil fuel technologies (RE, EE, low carbon) create more jobs per unit energy than coal and natural gas.”

CLEGHORN: My view on this is that renewable energy jobs could provide a “just transition” from an economy based on fossil fuels, providing at least 1-for-1 replacement of all jobs in fossil fuels on which people rely to support their families, and very likely putting many more people to work as jobs are created at a higher rate than they are in the fossil fuel-based industries.

This is a good resource on what is meant by a “just transition” to a clean energy economy. “Lessons from Appalachia” –



CLEGHORN: I will leave the sourcing of my statements about this for another time, because in essence this is an energy policy issue. Private corporations are in charge with respect to where they sell gas extracted in America. There is no national energy policy that would keep the gas in America. And once the export capacity is built, the gas will be sold to the highest bidder, which economists and the US Department of Energy say will drive up prices for Americans. I don’t think these matters are really in dispute.



KEVIN: I am going to be inclined to believe the EPA unless I find evidence that they have been hoodwinked or bribed,

CLEGHORN: Of course such cases of political pressure on EPA to suppress facts not favorable to the industry are hard to prove, but there are extremely suspicious cases in Dimock, PA and Pavillion, WY and Parker County, TX where EPA did a U-turn on their findings when they came under pressure from the gas industry. In the TX case Range Resources threatened to pull out of a national study on fracking unless EPA backed off its finding in that case.

This is from an NRDC blogger:
Why Would EPA Hide Info on Fracking & Water Contamination in Dimock?
The Los Angeles Times published a story today reporting on a leaked document that indicates that the Environmental Protection Agency has never conveyed to the public the possibility that methane released during drilling “and perhaps during the fracking process” resulted in “significant,” and possibly long-term, “damage to the water quality” of a drinking water source for 19 families in Dimock, Pennsylvania, even though some staff believed this was the case.

Even former PA DEP Secretary John Hanger smelled something fishy in the Pavillion case:
The EPA Shockingly Retreats From Its Pavillion Fracking Investigation: Critics Will Now Pound EPA

Here is a ProPublica article that quotes John Hanger and goes into more detail:
EPA’s abandoned Wyoming fracking study one retreat of many
And here he recalls the Dimock case he investigated:

CLEGHORN: EPA’s work is politically influenced and proscribed. The EPA cannot even get access to fracking sites for its national study unless private companies allow them onto those sites (and control what EPA can see, is my guess). That is why Range Resources was able to make EPA back off on the Parker County, TX case – saying they would not cooperate with the EPA if it did not drop that case.



Earthquakes Induced by Fracking (or just waste disposal injection wells?
(On this Kevin and I agreed that earthquakes are most associated with injection wells where fracking waste is disposed, but there are signs it could also be caused by fracked gas wells that are located near undetected faults. But the second study below suggests that fracking near undetected faults could be to blame for earthquakes in Ohio.)
Does Fracking Cause Earthquakes?
“We don’t yet know why only a few of the tens of thousands of wastewater disposal wells have induced earthquakes, or whether any specific planned well is particularly likely to cause a quake. It could be because production has ramped up and the sheer quantity of wastewater has increased, or because oil and gas companies are using new techniques for injecting waste fluids.”

Fracking caused earthquakes in existing faults in Ohio, study says
A new scientific study has linked 77 minor earthquakes last March around Poland, Ohio, just across the Pennsylvania-Ohio state line, to hydraulic fracturing. The seismic sequence, including a rare “felt” quake of a magnitude 3.0 on the Richter Scale, was linked to active “fracking” by Hilcorp Energy Co. on a well pad about a half mile from the epicenter, according to research published online in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.

ISSUE (on the topic of WASTE which we did not discuss at the debate, but which is a huge issue related to injection wells and dumping waste through plants not designed to remove contaminants, including radioactive elements, and dumping into rivers. I will provide more sources on that is asked): SHOULD WE BE WORRIED ABOUT RADIOACTIVE ELEMENTS IN THE SHALE MOBILIZED TO THE SURFACE BY FRACKING

(STEVE note: there are many more sources about this issue, but perhaps only one will suffice for its “the hazard is currently unknown” and future studies should develop “a more detailed understanding of the accumulation of these radionuclides in higher organisms.” Why do we proceed with a process running this risk on top of all the others?)

Understanding the Radioactive Ingrowth and Decay of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials in the Environment: An Analysis of Produced Fluids from the Marcellus Shale

Click to access ehp.1408855.acco.pdf

“NORM is emerging as a contaminant of concern in hydraulic fracturing/unconventional drilling wastes, yet the extent of the hazard is currently unknown. Sound waste management strategies for both solid and liquid hydraulic fracturing and unconventional drilling waste should consider the dynamic nature of radioactive materials….Future studies and risk assessments should include Ra decay products in assessing the potential for environmental contamination in recreational, agricultural, and residential areas, as well as in developing a more detailed understanding of the accumulation of these radionuclides in higher organisms.”



(CLEGHORN: this did not come up in our debate, except when I pointed out with respect to prices that will rise when gas is exported – which the Department of Energy says will cause higher prices that fall heaviest on the poor – but this issue of where fracking is being done belongs in any overview of the full impacts of the industry. Of course we have seen this phenomenon in Louisiana and Texas for many years, so it is pretty much taken for granted that our energy supply is built on a foundation of injustice.)

Poor Communities Bear Greatest Burden from Fracking
“Fracking wells in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region are disproportionately located in poor rural communities, which bear the brunt of associated pollution, according to a new study.
The study bolsters concerns that poor people are more likely to deal with hydraulic fracturing in their community and raises concerns that such vulnerable populations will suffer the potential health impacts of air and water pollution associated with pulling gas from the ground.”


MANY OTHER ISSUES, MANY OTHER FACTS are arranged and footnoted in this (now somewhat outdated) online presentation I did:

“The Case for a Moratorium on Drilling the Marcellus Shale in PA”

CLEGHORN: This PPT is a bit dated since I last updated it in 2012. But in my view the case has become stronger to ban fracking. If you see errors of fact in this presentation, let me know and I will look into those and change the slides as necessary. I ran this by the folks at the Penn State Center for Outreach and Research, which as you know is focused on shale gas extraction, and they had no objections to facts. They only stated that some concerns about the process are still being debated in the scientific literature, and they told me I had done a good job of indicating the facts of this industry for which there is no scientific consensus, yet on the industry rolls with risks I consider to be too great.


The bottom line that I emphasize in my PPT and here is that the industry cannot meet the standard of “The Precautionary Principle” and has not yet proven, in the face of credible scientific analysis, that it cannot cause irreparable environmental harm. In some countries what the US shale gas industry is doing is illegal because those countries have established the Precautionary Principle in law.

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Rule It Out!

Testimony on PA DEP Regulations
RE: Chapter 78a Regulations for Unconventional Wells
April 29, 2015
Washington and Jefferson College Public Hearing
Washington, PA

J. Stephen Cleghorn, PhD
221 East Union Street, Apt 1
Punxsutawney, PA 15767


Good evening, I have formal testimony I am submitting on paper, but let me just hit the highlights of those recommendations for purposes of this hearing.

My first point is a process one.
It concerns the fact that many hundreds of people and dozens of organizations have been working statewide to demand tighter regulations than those that are currently proposed by DEP. My testimony includes those recommendations as they were written by others, in addition to my own original comments. I hope that they will not be discounted as a result. I have read that DEP will judge what it believes to be form letters and aggregate the recommendations contained therein as if they were recommended only once.

I hope that is not true. Many of us work on this part-time and as volunteers, so we rely upon our environmental nonprofits to cull through the regulations that DEP makes so very difficult to read in the first place, and then to focus in on the ones we want many voices to support because we have seen the harm done by current practices that too leniently regulated.

If 1,000 of us tell you 1,000 times to ban open waste impoundments, then count that as 1,000 recommendations even if we all say it the same way.

The irony is that DEP – practicing what some have called “egg-slice permitting” – will disaggregate the toxic emissions coming from 8 or 10 gas compressor stations that, because of their proximity to one another, are emitting within a small geographic area more dangerous gases like Nitrous Oxide than are generated out of 2-3 large steel mills with smokestacks. Yet DEP refuses to count these as a “single source” of pollution so they can escape EPA toxic emissions oversight.

So if you will do that for the industry, please return to the people in these hearings the courtesy of counting us each as separate people with separate comments.

So, that said, here are MY recommendations (priorities).

Number 1: Close immediately all open air frack pits and impoundments, NOW! Not within three years from when these regulations go into effect. We have been waiting 10 years for this ugly groundwater and air-polluting hazard to end. Why do we have to wait three more years?! Why does the industry get more time? Dr. Michel Boufadel at University of Pennyslvania has shown how leaking impoundments can leave a 200-year legacy of groundwater pollution. News reports have said that DEP does not even know how many such impoundments exist or where they are. Simple rule – CLOSE THEM ALL, NOW, and don’t bury them either.

Standards for frack pits and impoundments (Sections 78.56, 78.57, 78.58, and 78.59).
Mounting violations and the potential for water and air pollution have already led some companies to transition away from pits and standardize the use of closed loop systems for the storage and treatment of waste. Issues with frack pits have led to contaminated water and resulted in the largest state fines ever against a driller in Pennsylvania, both over $4 million, to Range Resources and XTO for water contamination due to leaking. DEP should amend the final regulations to:

Prohibit operators from using any open-air pits and tanks, regardless of size or location, for storage and treatment of regulated wastes, including wastewater, drill cuttings, and substances (like gels and cement) that return to the surface after fracking. The new revisions prohibit the use of production pits at shale gas well sites, an important change that should be supported. But the use of huge impoundments to service multiple wells would still be allowed. Waste should be stored and treated only in closed, aboveground systems.

Require all waste impoundments to be properly closed immediately upon the effective date of the regulations. The revisions give operators 3 years to either properly close their existing impoundments or bring them under compliance with the construction requirements in residual waste permits. This is an improvement but still puts nearby residents and the environment at risk.

Require that tanks used for the storage of waste be completely enclosed. The revisions give operators the option of using tanks “without lids” to store waste on well sites—making it more likely that polluting spills and emissions will occur.

Existing pits which contain fracking wastes, including wastewater, drill cuttings, and any other substances that returns to the surface after fracking may not be buried on-site (no “toxic teabags”).

NUMBER 2: Protect the Children. DEP should require, at minimum, a one-mile setback of oil and gas wells, waste storage facilities, and any other infrastructure from the property boundary of any school property.

Definition of public resource (Section 78.15, 78.57, 78a.15, 78.57a)
DEP has added schools to the list of public resources that require additional consideration when permitting oil and gas wells and longer setbacks of waste storage from school buildings, parks, and playgrounds. This is a positive step, but is not sufficiently protective. While there is no scientifically established “safe setback” beyond which there aren’t health risks from oil and gas development, the distances in the regulations (200 feet and 300 yards) are far too little to offer even limited protection.

To improve protection from pollution, noise, and light and safety from traffic, accidents, and explosions, DEP should require, at minimum, a one-mile setback of oil and gas wells, waste storage facilities, and any other infrastructure from the property boundary of any school property. This setback should also be applied to locations where other vulnerable populations reside, including nursing homes, hospitals, day care centers, and communities at a disproportionate risk of health impacts (such as those living in environmental justice areas where exiting pollution is already too high and people do not have the means to move away).

NUMBER 3: Not only make drillers responsible for identifying abandoned gas and oil wells before they drill, but plug them up if needed before drilling. This industry has gone along for too many years passing on its messes to be cleaned up at the cost of the public. If they want to drill, tidy up the site beforehand, at their cost. They can afford it better than the public treasury can.

Identify orphaned and abandoned gas and oil wells (Section 78.52a.)
Operators of unconventional wells are required to identify the location of old wells before drilling new ones, an important change that should be supported. An estimated 200,000 abandoned wells exist statewide. As drilling spreads and intensifies, so does the chance of accidents, blowouts, and pollution from the intersection of new wells with old ones. DEP should expand these changes and require operators to:

Identify existing wells through onsite inspection before site and well construction and drilling so that the location of a new well can be changed if needed.

Plug and seal or otherwise appropriately address abandoned and orphaned wells according to state safety standards prior to new well site construction. The state lacks funding to address the large number of old wells, so drillers should be responsible for preventing water and air pollution when accidents occur.

NUMBER 4: The Huge Waste Issue. This industry has no plan for getting rid of the 1.3 barrels of toxic waste they generate for every foot of each well bore they drill. (Call me if you want documentation on that number.) Some treatment plants not able to handle the waste still receive it because they were “grandfathered in.” Well, grandpa is dead, probably from drinking polluted water, and we must have no more flowback water going into our rivers, period. And disposal wells in the middle of communities that depend on well water are no solution, either. If EPA does not ban those, DEP should.

All waste returned to the surface must be monitored, inspected and documented weekly. Treatment and or transport to an approved waste disposal site must be documented with a paper trail.

DEP must prohibit the use of wastewater (brine) from both conventional and unconventional wells as a de-icer or dust suppressant. The practice has not been proven safe and the cumulative effects are unknown.

NUMBER 5: Transparency and access to information. DEP needs to make sure all electronic filings and reports from operators are posted to the public the same day they are completed. And DEP needs to release all data from any studies it does of radioactivity in drilling waste (fluid and solid), water and air tests, and so forth. The raw data needs to be available to outside reviewers with expertise to analyze it.

DEP proposes to require oil and gas operators to file permit applications and required reports electronically. This change would improve data, efficiency, and enforcement and should be supported. That’s good

DEP should also make sure that all electronic filings and reports made by operators are also available to the public on DEP’s website on the same day they are deemed complete by DEP. Easy and timely access to information by the public is necessary to ensure agency transparency and operator accountability.

LASTLY, a few words about the broader context on these hearings on regulations, because I, like many others here, am uncomfortable being here to suggest improved mitigation strategies that suggest that this highly complex, still experimental, deeply damaging, impossible to regulate, hubris-infused, climate- and public health-destroying industry can be made to operate in a responsible way. Here is how one person once put it, and your Secretary Quigley will recognize these words because they are his from the days you led the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. You once said:

“The cumulative impacts of Marcellus development will dwarf all the impacts on Pennsylvania of timbering and oil and coal combined. I am afraid for the future of this state. It is hanging in the balance.”

If this is still a true statement in the estimation of the DEP Secretary, and if all these new and improved regulations will not prevent this future for Pennsylvania, then this is a futile effort tonight. I would suggest that we need a ban on this dangerous practice, not improved regulations.

The only safe regulation of this industry is to RULE IT OUT!

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