Sunday, September 14, 2014

Selling Out a Movement to Guarantee a Seat at the Sacred Table of the Status Quo: Pennsylvanians Against Fracking

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee, State Gamelands 75, PA


What follows are two items--intimately connected. 

First is an email exchange between myself and a representative from Food & Water Watch --an organization that claims to be anti-fracking but, in advocating for a moratorium that has no chance of becoming a reality, and in supporting the Democrat candidate for governor Tom Wolf who is avowedly pro-drilling, cannot make that claim with any force or consistency. 

The significance of Food and Water Watch here, however, is two-fold:

(1) FWW is one of the organizational conveners of a new coalition--Pennsylvanians Against Fracking (PAF, Pennsylvanians Against Fracking)--which cannot claim with any force to be against fracking. Indeed, they cannot coherently claim to support any position other than that conciliatory to the will of the Democratic Party--a party that, despite its hollow insistence to the contrary is as comfortable as the Republicans with 

(a) the ongoing liquidation of the state's ecological assets,
(b) the destruction and basic human rights violations of communities, and
(c) the surveillance of the Commonwealth's citizens

It's also interesting to note that there appears to be no website for PAF other than a Facebook page whose single post links to a Marcellus Drilling News story applauding the cooperation between the gas industry and anti-fracking activists (The One Issue on Which Anti- and Pro-Drillers Agree | Marcellus Drilling News). Indeed, the article presumably approved by PAF is a cheerlead for Breathe Easy Susquehanna County--a group which advocates sitting down with the gas companies to work out "best practices" for continued drilling.

(2) FWW--Colorado recently sold out Coloradans who they'd led to believe were in good hands because FWW had promised to champion a "statewide ballot initiative to bolster the authority of communities to ban oil and gas extraction." FWW not only caved to pressure intended to protect the seats of Democrats, but like Congressman Jared Polis, they were willing to settle for "feel good" measures like convening a stakeholder group that includes gas company representatives as if they were community members toward regulating--but not empowering communities towards self-determination.  What the Colorado case shows is that FWW is not about banning fracking--but about whatever pretense to regulation will insure it stays in the good graces of a two party system that is really a no party system (How Congressman Jared Polis and Food and Water Watch sold out Colorado | Colorado Statesman).

Indeed, if FWW were interested in achieving a ban--if this were PAF's goal--they'd join Shale Justice--the PA coalition and 5013c that vets applicant organizations for mission statements consistent with its mission. The fact, however, is that aspirant Big Greens (little greens) like PAF and its faux-coalition members cannot take this principled stand and keep their place at a table at which compromise is routinely served up along with deals--just like the one Polis agreed to.

The email exchange below is important in that it illustrates the emergence from within the anti-fracking movement of a new breed of appeaser/collaborator, really an old breed of opportunist who sees in the ongoing crisis the opportunity to cash in on the momentum this movement has generated over the last six years. But what makes this exchange particularly significant is that no one in this new faux-coalition could possibly believe that a moratorium on drilling is even remotely possible--and so we are left to wonder what are its real objectives. 

Here's the correspondence:

FWW:  

Hey Wendy-

I just left you a voicemail to this effect and am writing this email to follow up. It seems like you have a bunch of concerns and I wanted to try to address them over the phone, but without that route right now I'll start things off with this email.

I don't know where your information on this coalition is coming from but there are a bunch of things you've assumed that are just not true.

1.  Pennsylvanians Against Fracking will allow any group to join- anyone can fill out our online form, but we make follow up calls to any entity that signs on to verify who they are, and we also regularly
look over the list to make sure member organizations are appropriate. We will be creating a website, and we'll be listing members on that website, and there is no way you'll see CSSD [The Center for Sustainable Shale Development] or anything like that signed on. I don't know where that assumption comes from.


2.  Pennsylvanians Against Fracking is working to get Democrats elected and get a seat at their table- This is a coalition of 501c3 nonprofits that will not do any electoral activity, period. After the election, we'll be working to put pressure on whoever is elected to put a moratorium on fracking. I don't understand where the assumption that this coalition is in the pocket of Democrats comes from.


3.  The CELDF OpEd attacking Food & Water Watch- if you can explain to me how Food & Water Watch can be implicated in the backstabbing deal cut by Rep Polis, go for it, but the piece is just flat out baseless. Please explain to me how any of the article referenced is relevant to this situation. You write that you "have much more to say about this latest attempt to co-opt the anti-fracking movement." I'd appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me- we can disagree, but I'd like you to at least have your assumptions straight before making public statements.. There's no reason why a vibrant, robust anti-fracking movement can't have multiple coalitions pushing for different viewpoints.


Wendy Lynne Lee:

Let me address your points:

1. The sign on does not stipulate any vetting process whatsoever, so there is no way of knowing whether or what this is. Moreover, in so far as the principle conveners include both Food and Water Watch and Berks Gas Truth, there is no reason to believe that this coalition stands exclusively for a ban on fracking or its infrastructure. Indeed, if THAT were its goal, there already exists a coalition representing that position--Shale Justice. Why not simply join an already existing 5013c with grant backing?  Also, a follow up call is not a vetting process in any meaningful sense. At Shale Justice they ask for a mission statement, and it must affirm their commitment to the primary message. You make no
claim whatsoever about criteria for the sign-on, so you have no principled way of excluding CCSC, COGENT, BESC--or any other faux anti-cracking organization.

2. Working to get Democrats elected is precisely what we should NOT be doing, Sam. Tom Wolf is PRO-FRACKING. There are virtually NO Democrats who are anti-cracking, and this notion that electing Democrats will make some difference towards the end os a nightmare that many of us LIVE is
 fool-hardy at best. I appreciate you clarifying that point for me--but it is on that point precisely that you will receive the most criticism from folks like me. The argument made out by the Dems for a severance tax is ABSURD and it will HARM people. By leveling a tax upon which funding for education and other social programs will be based INSTITUTIONALIZES the gas industry. They will become part of the funding infrastructure of the state--there could be no better gift to them--and that is what YOUR
candidates support.

3. Thank you for making it clear that the real aim of this coalition is to get a seat at the table. That is a prescription perhaps for advancing the career aspirations of coalition members, but it is not a principled
stand to end fracking. And it will NOT achieve a moratorium. I voted with the Dems when it was still rational to think that achieving it could make a difference. That time is LONG past. The move to gain a seat at the table is nothing but conciliatory--and it will harm us all.

4. The CELDF article is very relevant because it demonstrates how clearly FWW is NOT about empowering communities, NOT about achieving a ban, and NOT about the defense of civil liberty--but, as you say, its about getting seats at the table for its own functionaries--and that's it.

5. The Civil Rights Movement could not brook BOTH a movement to end segregation and find some middle ground where African Americans could, say, go in the front door of the diner--but not vote. Ending segragation was all or none--either you were on board with that objective or you weren't. It would never have been remotely morally defensible to liberate some of the concentration camps during WWII--but sacrifice some others to the NAZIS. We will either come together as an international community to stem the tide of climate change--or we will all suffer, some far more than others, from the failure. The anti-fracking movement cannot brook BOTH the demand a BAN on the gas companies and simultaneously negotiate the terms of our surrender to them through regulation. So, no--there is room for many differing strategies, but there is NOT room for different objectives when those objectives stand directly contrary to each other. If you're for a ban, you cannot settle for regulation. If you're comfortable with the regulation required for getting a seat at the table, you have wholly jettisoned the struggle for a ban.

Perhaps you will label this "purist," but what it is is clear-headed and principled. I have no other agenda than to end fracking. Folks who are angling for a seat at the Democratic Party table do.


FWW:

And we are NOT working to get a seat at the table.

Wendy Lynne Lee:

[L]et me make this simple: if your sign-on orgs were interested in achieving a BAN, you'd have all requested admission to Shale Justice. You didn't. Ergo, your objectives must be something else, and THAT can be derived from other actions and inactions. Just to trouble shoot--I am no longer in Shale Justice--I rotated off the executive board months ago to pursue other scholarly projects. So, I have no vested interest here either. I do have an interest in the truth and in insuring that people are not misled. Hence, my FB post.

FWW:

This isn't about picking teams. There are many reasons why this coalition needed to be created. No coalition was working exclusively on a statewide level to stop fracking in Pennsylvania. My sense is Shale Justice has a much more expansive mission than that (local, state, national, international)- and that's Great. But what Shale Justice Coalition is and has been is not what Pennsylvanians Against Fracking aims to be.

As far as the other items-

1. Do we need to stipulate a vetting process? Once we have a list of members posted, you can tear it apart. But to insinuate we're designing this coalition to let the CSSDs of the world in is absurd.


2. We agree here. We want to stop fracking.


3. This coalition is about building power to stop fracking, period.


4. My question was more specific- I asked if you could explain to me how we can be implicated in the Polis deal. We fought hard for that ballot measure, and for several bans across the state. And we fought hard to keep Polis from stabbing us in the back. Can you explain to me how we "sold out Colorado?"


5. This is a straw man. We're not arguing for regulation. We're arguing for a halt to fracking as a means to get to a permanent ban. As far as the comparison with the civil rights movement, we must have studied different civil rights movements because the one I'm familiar with was chock full of diversity of strategies, tactics, and yes- objectives.


Wendy Lynne Lee:

This IS about picking teams--you can either be on the team that takes a principled stand against fracking OR you can be on the team that's willing to settle for regulation--but you CAN'T be on both teams; they're mutually exclusive.

Shale Justice is BOTH a statewide organization AND works in other states as well--indeed, we MUST seek to be expansive--otherwise we're not only acting merely parochially, we're broadcasting the message that we'd be comfortable with drilling elsewhere--just not here.

You're correct the PAF's aims are not those of SJ's--but that is what I find both troubling and misrepresented. PAF is not exclusively against fracking--that is a misrepresentation of its mission and the participatory orgs--including FWW.

1. Yes--you do need a vetting process. Otherwise any org CAN and will sign on--without it you represent nothing and no one. My suggestion of CSSD is not absurd--what prevents them from becoming a sign on? Where DO you draw the line?

2-3. I have no reason to think you want to stop fracking; indeed, supporting Democrat candidates--which is clearly where BGT stands--will not only not stop fracking--it will institutionalize it in the form of a tax base. If PAF wanted to stop fracking, it could not include FWW or BGT--neither of which have taken any such no compromise stand consistently.

4. I am going to leave Polis for now--but will return to this question tomorrow.

5.  Not a straw argument at all--my point is that the only objective worth defending in, for example, the civil rights movement was the one that ended segregation.

This really is pretty simple. If PAF's objective was to end fracking, its orgs would not have sought to reinvent the wheel, but would have joined SJ. Perhaps there are reasons of which I am not aware why its members opted against this obvious choice--but none of these can have anything to do with objectives.


FWW:

As far as FWW's mission, clearly we can represent ourselves as against fracking because we apparently made it through SJC's vetting process.

1. I didn't say we don't need a vetting process, I said we don't need to share one [Emphasis--WLL]. I'm much more concerned with getting stuff done than worrying about who we're going to have to keep out of this coalition.

2-3. Who are the democratic candidates anyone is supporting?

4. Okay, eager to hear your response. I respect your opinion but this specific point is unquestionably a baseless attack on our organization.5. In retrospect sure. But there were all sorts of more radical and more moderate objectives within the movement. It oversimplifies the movement to say there was only one objective, or one worth fighting for. That diversity allows movements to thrive, and if we tear each other down we're really not going to get anywhere. There are ways to constructively criticize our movement from within.


Wendy Lynne Lee: 

It's irrelevant whether you made it through SJ's vetting process in the past. You would not now, and you did not decide to join. I can only assume that this is because you do not really stand for a ban--otherwise you would have signed on. This argument is hurting you, not helping you.

1. So--you think PAF can have a vetting process that is SECRET? WOW! So PAF is really a secret society with a public face? And the ends--whatever they are--justify these nefarious means? WOW!

2. BGT is clearly on the side of trying to persuade Tom Wolf on the moratorium. Or, let me rephrase that, BGT is clearly on the side of using the argument for the moratorium as a ploy to get invites to Tom Wolf functions. Moreover, if PAF is not about getting DEMS elected, what is its reason for being--the elections are just around the corner. Don't you think it obvious what this timing implies? And AGAIN--if PAF is about gaining a ban, THAT is Shale Justice.

5. No--you are simply wrong here. Just as there could be only one morally defensible objective for the civil rights movement--ending segregation. there is only one here--ending fracking. PAF does not and cannot stand for that. You confuse "objectivrs" with "objectives worth defending" and with "inconsistent objectives." To promote regulation is to promote fracking.

SO Pennsylvanians Against Fracking is essentially a SECRET SOCIETY--like Skull and Bones--that has no publicly accessible vetting process--but chooses its members according to private criteria (or none at all). And this really says it ALL: PAF exists to advance its objective of insuring its own people have a seat at the table in a Tom Wolf administration. And THAT isn't about fracking at ALL even if PAF claims otherwise. THAT is a psuedo-coalition that's merely using fracking as a hot-button issue to gain cache at that table. If any of its organizations were serious about seeing fracking banned, they would have joined Shale Justice. They didn't--so we can only conclude that they have other objectives--Ones that we will be no more privy to than their secret selection process--might as well just call that FRIENDS OF SOME FOLKS LOOKING TO ADVANCE THEIR POLITICAL CAREERS. This is dishonest, and it hurts people.

FWW:

I don't see a moratorium as a means to regulation. I see it as a means to stop fracking, and a step towards banning fracking. I believe we state that in the coalition letter.

As far as why this coalition serves a unique purpose, I'd argue that it's practically unfeasible to run campaigns at every level of decision-making, and that to accomplish any goal, ban/moratorium/regs/whatever, you need to focus resources on one of those levels. That's what PAF is doing. That may be parochial, but the levers through which we make change happen are parochial.


Wendy Lynne Lee:

There was a time--now long past, as I have said already--when a moratorium might have had some positive effect. I VOTED with the Dems for that moratorium. I was at that Democratic Committee meeting with Karen Feridun speaking to the resolution. But that time is past for several reasons:

1. Tremendously much more damage since that time has been caused by this industry. We simply do not NEED a moratorium to "study" the damage. It's right in front of us every day. Hence THAT argument for a moratorium now sounds absurd.

2. If any sufficiently substantial number of Democrats were going to sign onto a moratorium--they would have already. They've had plenty of time. They didn't. They're not going to now (a) be) See (1), and (b) they do NOT want one.

3. The fact is that "the moratorium argument" is nothing more at this point than a device for leveraging this "coalition." None of you can seriously believe it stands a whisper of a chance--so I cannot take it seriously as anything other than a device for getting yourselves invited to Tom Wolf events, and subsequently getting yourselves seats at the Democrat administration tables. I think, in other words, this use of the moratorium argument simply a cynical ploy.


As for "practically unfeasible to run campaigns at every level of
decision-making...," that you string out goals "ban/moratorium/regs/whatever" is telling. It suggests you really don't get the Grand Canyon of difference between these utterly incompatible goals. Moreover, at least for one of them--the BAN--you had a coalition. If THAT was what you were after in PAF, you would have joined Shale Justice. That you continue to return to this theme only implies all the more that there are other reasons FWW didn't join Shale Justice--and that you don't want to lay these out for public inspection. I can only assume that this is because your objectives are NOT a ban.

The "levers through which we make change happen" are not necessarily parochial. we will not stem the tide of climate instability with any such approach. Moreover, what you really mean--as is clear from the context--is that you think change must be made through legislative/regulatory/within the laid out channels of law. But that law--as CELDF shows so clearly--is crafted FOR the corporations--not for either communities or private persons. It is a prescription for more of the same--fracking, CAFOs, Walmarts, etc. And I am sure you know that.

So, again, PAF is a cynical ploy to make sure its people get their seats at the tables of that legislation--but that will yield no moratorium--much less a ban--and you cannot NOT know it.

FWW:

I'm not going to engage in any discussion with you while you post my emails, out of context and misconstrued, publicly. In the midst of our ongoing conversation to boot. Good luck, Wendy.

I hope CELDF gives you an answer to my question on that OpEd that's satisfactory for you.


Wendy Lynne Lee:

[T]his is a PUBLIC media. None of us have any reason or right to assume otherwise. Moreover, I have nothing to hide, and I assume you don't either. I posted your missive ver batim--no misrepresentation, no deletions, no additions. And then I posted my response. If you weren't worried about the strength of your arguments, there'd be no problem here.

FWW:

You posted my comment without my immediate correction that there should be
a NOT in the second point, and you posted your comment knowing that my
intention was to communicate the opposite of what you responded to. That
is misleading, and out of context of where our conversation was at that
point in time.

I have nothing to hide, but I do generally assume that email
communications will not be shared publicly. I have nothing to hide, but
I'm not okay with 1 on 1 email conversations being shared without my
consent. Someone said something about civil liberties?

I think we're done here, but if you decide you actually want to know what
happened in Colorado you can call me. And please contact me by phone for
any future communications I don't feel comfortable communicating with you
by email.


Wendy Lynne Lee:

First, the fact is that you spoke the truth in the first post. I am more than happy to post the entire exchange--and let people judge for themselves. None of us have any justification in assuming that email is private. And none of us gets to demand consent. No civil liberties are violated in any fashion here--that is absurd--because you haven't the right to assume privacy, the right to consent--nope.

**********************

And there you have it. I think this exchange fairly epitomizes the implosion in the Pennsylvania anti-fracking movement--an implosion ignited not by any ideological divide, but by the hi-jacking of its momentum by those who aspire to be the sponsors of, as Chris Hedges likely rightly puts it, "the last gasp of the climate change liberals." "There will be no speeches. There is no list of demands. It will be a climate-themed street fair," where those more interested in advancing their own fame and fortune replaces substance--at the cost of us all  (Chris Hedges: The Last Gasp of Climate Change Liberals - Chris Hedges - Truthdig).

Just like Pennsylvanians Against Fracking--anyone can join the People's Climate March.

Not just anyone can join the real resistance. For that--you have to have some guts.  I'll be there with a camera--on the look out for actions that might actually matter-- PopularResistance.Org, for example:
“The march is symbolic,” said Kevin Zeese of Popular Resistance when I reached him by phone, “but we are past the time of symbolism. What we need is direct action against the United Nations during the meeting. This should include blockades and disruption of the meeting itself. We need to highlight the fact that the United Nations has sold out to corporate interests.
A bit too scary for folks who are looking forward to that cup-o-joe with Tom Wolf. But then again, why should the United nations be the only faux-representative of the people to sell out?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Fractured Shakespeare (Or Hamlets Under Gas-Sault), David Ira Kagan

Photo Wendy Lynne Lee
Conrad Weiser State Forest


It's a pleasure to be able to post David Ira Kagan's very creative version of a speech from Shakespeare's Hamlet--one we might also title "To Frack or Not to Frack."

The writer is a friend and ally whose vigilance in the preservation of the ecologies and wildlife--especially snakes--liquidated by this invading army of an industry exemplifies the sort of action to which we should all be committed. 

A modern-day-world version of  “Hamlet,” Act 3 
To frack, or not to frack: that is the question:
Whether ‘tis better in the ground to leave the gas
Within the shale offering vast fortune,
Or to frack risking a sea of troubles,
And by fracking endure them. To drill, too deep—
Drill more—and by our wells’ wealth to say we end
Our heartaches, but bring on the earthquakes
That ground is prone to! ‘Tis a consummation
Demonically to be wished. To drill, too deep—
Too deep—perchance pollute our streams: ay, there’s the rub,
For in that pollution what screams may come
When we have fouled our waters, air and soil,
Must give us pause. There’s the consideration
That makes calamity of so much fracking:
For who would bear the salt and toxins of brine,
The fracker’s wrong, the gas-man’s arrogance,
The pangs of fragmented forests, the law’s delay,
The insolence of corporate officers, and the spurns
That citizen faith in the unworthy gas industry takes,
When he himself might a fight make
With a drawn dagger? Who would frackers bear,
To wince and weep under a withered life,
But that the dread of imprisonment after defiance
(The gloomy jailhouse, in whose cells
The sentenced rot) paralyzes the will,
And makes us rather bear the fracker’s ills we have,
Than chance others that we know not of?
Thus corporations’ powers can make cowards of us all;
And thus the anti-fracker’s resolution
Must be strengthened with the well-padded cast of thought,
And resistance to great greed and graft,
With this regard should soar and swell
And burst bravely into action.
David Ira Kagan

                                     

Monday, September 1, 2014

Fracking in the Chihuahuan Desert: A Letter Requesting Support from Anti-Fracking Activists in Mexico

Photo David Lauer

According to the American National Park Service, the Chihuahuan Desert is among the most important ecosystems in the world for determining the effects of climate instability. With respect to what the Chihuahuan Desert Network refers to as vital signs--seeps and springs, groundwater, rivers, upland vegetation and soils, invasive exotic plants, and landbirds--the fact is that desert ecosystems are the canaries in the coal mines of climate change:


The Chihuahuan Desert Network is currently developing protocols to monitor several vital signs that may reflect current and future impacts of climate change. This brief offers a summary of how Chihuahuan Desert Network monitoring will detect future change. (Climate Change and the Chihuahuan Desert). 
Besides being essential to monitoring climate instability, the Chihuahuan Desert is simply a magnificent ecosystem:


[It is] bordered on the west by the extensive Sierra Madre Occidental range, along with overlaying northern portions of the Sierra Madre Oriental. On the U.S. side it occupies central and southernNew Mexico, the portion of Texas west of the Pecos River, and southeastern Arizona; on the Mexican side, it covers the northern half of the state of Chihuahua, along with the majority of Coahuila, north-eastern Durango, the extreme northern part of Zacatecas, and small western portions of Nuevo León. With an area of about 362,000 km2 (139,769 sq mi), it is the third largest desert of the Western Hemisphere and the second largest in North America, after the Great Basin Desert.[1] (Chihuahuan Desert - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Photo David Lauer

It's thus particularly insane that any company would  imagine fracking it. Yet, here we are--from the El Paso Times:


Mexico energy officials said Chihuahua and three other northern border states are ripe for fracking, a controversial and widespread method that is used to extract shale gas and oil from the ground. 
Pemex (Petroleos Mexicanos), the state-owned oil company, previously identified Tamaulipas, Coahuila and Nuevo Leon, in addition to Chihuahua, as the states where fracking could be used to obtain new energy sources. The other Mexican states that officials identified are Puebla, Oaxaca and Veracruz.
Mexican officials said Pemex has drilled nearly 30 exploratory wells along the border with Texas, near Ojinaga and Presidio. In Texas, fracking is taking place in the Eagle Ford oil field that straddles the border with Mexico. 
According to the Texas Railroad Commission, the oil and shale gas field is about 50 miles wide and 400 miles long and has an average thickness of 250 feet. Eagle Ford is a rich energy source that is responsible for creating new jobs in Texas...
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the Mexican government approved constitutional reforms last year that ended the 75-year monopoly of the Pemex state-owned oil company.
The reforms will allow foreign companies to invest in oil and gas production and development at a profit, and petroleum giants such as Exxon, Shell and Chevron are lining up to offer their services and expertise.
(Fracking may be coming to the Chihuahua border, Mexican officials say - The Daily Planet).
Photo David Lauer



It's hard to know even where to begin here--and I will have more to say later. But for right now, it is very clear that there is resistance to this potential for ecological holocaust among the Mexican people: 


Foes of fracking came together in Mexico with the Mexican Alliance Against Fracking (www.nofrackingmexico.org), an organization that compiled more than 10,000 signatures against fracking. The petition failed to persuade Mexican federal legislators last month from forbidding this method of obtaining oil and gas under Mexico’s energy reforms. The group noted that Germany and France have banned fracking.  (Fracking may be coming to the Chihuahua border, Mexican officials say - The Daily Planet)

I am also honored to be able to bring you a letter from my friend and fellow activist David Lauer of Chihuahua Vs. Fracking--who also took these gorgeous pictures of the Chihuahuan Desert. 

David has a specific request: If you represent a group, coalition, or organization that can send your own brief letter of support for Chihuahua VS. Fracking, that would be exceptionally helpful.

Please send those letters to David Lauer: dalauer@hotmail.com

Alternately, you can post your letter to the Chuhuahua VS. Fracking Facebook page (and make sure to "like" it): https://www.facebook.com/chihuahuaVSfracking

This is a fantastic opportunity to do something in support of our friends internationally, and to defend one of the most beautiful, fragile, and important ecosystems on the planet.


Photo David Lauer

Here's David's letter:


Chihuahua vs. Fracking To all U.S. anti-fracking organizations: We send you greetings and solidarity from Chihuahua, Mexico´s largest state, bordering on New Mexico and Texas, home to a vast array of endemic desert flora and fauna.  The Chihuahuan Desert is number three in biodiversity in the world, and is now firmly in the sights of the fracking industry. The Mexican Constitution was recently “reformed,” though many of us would say that it was deformed, to allow foreign oil corporations to “invest” in what has been a national industry until now.  One provision allows all types of land to be effectively expropriated in order to encourage the production of hydrocarbons.
Photo David Lauer
 Faced with the depletion and contamination of our scarce water resources, the long-term threats to our sources of clean, safe drinking water, the threats to agricultural production and to the water the desert needs to survive ecologically, we became convinced that any possible benefits fracking may offer in the short term, are grossly outweighed by the environmental, social, health and economic costs it implies over time. 
 As citizens, it is our duty to ensure that we, our children, our children’s children, and all future generations will have access to clean water and a healthy environment.   For these reasons and others, we came together and formed a citizens collective in order to educate our fellow citizens about what fracking is, why it is being imposed on us and what its implications are for future life along the border region; for example, few studies have addressed how environmental degradation drives emigration. Our organization, Chihuahua vs. Fracking, is part of the National Mexican Anti-fracking Alliance, and has also entered into contact with organizations in Argentina and other parts of the world.  Our collective is made up of several local and national organizations and concerned individuals who are committed to breaking the barrier of media silence by taking the information directly to the people through workshops and other activities.  We wish to be considered as members of your movements and invite you to become part of our struggle, because together will become much stronger.  In this war of public opinion, laws, information and counter-information we all need to be interconnected just like the water that flows through us and into the clouds.
Photo David Lauer
 In the near future we hope to organize important events and would like to be able to invite people with direct experience with fracking and its consequences to come and share what they know and understand with the public at large.  We also have a constant need for the latest information on the subject so that we can integrate it into our workshops.  Our movement is in its early stages and has already created a reaction in the media and in government circles.   We need to be efficient, intelligent and relentless if we are to stop this tragedy before it ever gets started.  
 Our next action will be to make a courteous, public presentation of information regarding fracking to César Duarte, the Governor of the State of Chihuahua, because his press declarations demonstrate that he is blissfully unaware.  Other members of the Alliance will repeat our initiative all over the country on the very same day. If you agree with our request for membership, please send us a copy of your logo, the name of your organization, contact information and anything else you would wish to ask us or share with us, then copy our logo from this letter and we will be bound in solidarity. I was commissioned by the organization to enter into contact with US groups.  You can write back to me directly and I will relay your messages in Spanish to members of our collective. 
 We also want you to know that other organizations exist who deeply appreciate the sacrifices you have already made, the information you have gathered and everything you have done to stop fracking.  Together we will prevail. 
In solidarity,  
David Lauer


Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Corporatization of American Democracy: Slickwater Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing and the Extortion of “The Good American”


Below is an updated, white paper style, version of a somewhat older paper. It includes a bibliography for more convenient sourcing, and updated examples of my argument that advertising for the natural gas industry is both a cynical ploy to manipulate concession to the industry's destruction of our air and water--and thereby a wholesale debauchery of the promise of American democracy. As the years of the liquidation of our forests, farms, and fen have worn on, and reports of water and contamination become ever clearer, natural gas industry propaganda has become even more desperate to appeal to patriot-saturated fear-mongering over "national" security" and "energy independence"--both of which are actively undermined by the industry's hell-bent-for-leather exports to a global marker where the highest bidder determines the price of that gas.


The Corporatization of American Democracy:
Slickwater Horizontal Hydraulic Fracturing and
the Extortion of “The Good American”

Of all the potential crises that threaten to undermine the grand experiment called “America Democracy,” I’ll argue that those which pose the greatest danger involve the emergence of the Too-Big-To-Fail Big Energy corporation’s bank-rolled gambits called “shale play,” that is, horizontal, slickwater, hydraulic fracturing for shale-bound natural gas. Sponsored by some of the biggest and most morally compromised industries flying the American flag—Exxon, Shell-Mobil, Chesapeake, Halliburton, BP, Chevron, PVR, Cabot, Williams—the threat posed to clean water, breathable air, private property, public lands, and community integrity is becoming more and more clearly established at the same time such corporations are posting record profits and donating millions to the political campaigns of policy-makers. It’s thus no surprise that such corporations appeal to the patriotic sentiments of citizens, that they exploit what I’ll call the rhetoric of “the good American” to extort consent.
Consider, for example, Chesapeake, who advertises itself as “America’s Champion of Natural Gas” who’s “fueling America’s future,” or Exxon, who just bought Canadian drilling corporation, Celtic Exploration Ltd, for $2.59 billion1, and who insists that hydraulic fracturing is “the process [that is] is helping America unlock our vast supplies of domestic energy” despite the fact that the corporation’s stated goal is to ship natural gas not to American sites of use, but to global markets—especially the Asian pacific.2 Or Cabot, who sponsors Mom, apple pie, baseball, flag-waving events in Susquehanna County, PA—near Dimock,3 one of the major film sites for Josh Fox’ Gasland).4 Or lastly, consider FrackNation, the industry-funded Phelim McAleer and Ann McElhinney film which appeals to image after image of American flags and flag-waving Americans to directly attack Gas Land, and to promote natural gas development5.
These examples are a dime a dozen, and their rhetoric resonates not only with Americans, but particularly with those American who live in the most environmentally vulnerable locations for fracking, folks living in rural counties and municipalities like Columbia County, PA. Right now, we are twenty-five minutes downstream from a 7,800 gallon chemically drilled frack operation, 45 minutes from several compressor stations, including the Central new York Oil and Gas (CVYNOG) Janet Hock Road, Davidson Township, Columbia County site I’ve been photo-documenting for the past several years.6 We’re 20 minutes from a fracking-water withdrawal station on Route 11 directly adjacent to the Susquehanna River, one hour from an enormous water withdrawal near a Jersey Shore site that required the evictions of 32 economically vulnerable families thanks to Aqua America7. We live directly on Williams Partner’s Transco Pipeline, now the site of a new proposed FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) application for an expansion called the Atlantic Sunrise8.  Moreover, the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) is now open for business to fracking corporations via SB 367 that makes state lands—including campuses—available to all forms of mineral extraction and their infrastructure operations.9
Over the last several years, fracking and its multiplying ancillary enterprises, compressor stations, dehydration stations, water withdrawals, chemical manufacturers, explosive manufacturers, spill clean-ups, trucking enterprises, plastic lining makers, engineering business like Larson Design10, sand transport services, drill bit makers, etc., have promoted themselves as a kind of panacea for the recession—and in some cases as the answer to restoring revenue to cash-strapped municipalities and other public-sector institutions (like PASSHE) suffering under the governor’s steep budget cuts. Revenues to date from Act 13’s impact fee is $630 million from all corporations engaged in fracking in PA as of 201411. Sounds like a fair chunk of change, but when you consider that (a) this represents nearly 30 corporations including Chesapeake, Exxon, and Cabot, (b) this is for the entire state, (c) a single accident can exhaust any municipality’s entire share, (d) even the more modest among these corporation’s profits may well be into the billions by the time export depots like Cove Point Maryland’s are operative, and lastly, (e) that until parts of the Act 13 law were overturned as unconstitutional in July, 2014, it preempted virtually all local decision-making in municipalities, it becomes very clear that the cost to environment, human and nonhuman health, community integrity, roads and bridges, and public institutions like schools, nursing homes, and town parks, outweigh benefits accruing to a very few.12  Even the promise of jobs is only as reliable as the boom to bust cycle of the extraction industry’s history, particularly when the facts are that this promise is a hollow one—even during the boom.13 When you factor in that the real cost in risk and accident for many gas well workers is among the highest in the nation, (especially for truck drivers),14 that the gas boom has generated a virtual renaissance in work for lawyers pursuing accident claims,15 the gap between the real beneficiaries—lawyers, CEOs, shareholders—and those who bear the real costs—everyone else—becomes obvious.
The language of “energy independence,” “energy security,” “free enterprise,” “the entrepreneurial spirit,” and even “national security” were quickly appropriated by corporations like Chesapeake who promise “Cheap, Abundant, and American” in their advertising and who insist that they can be trusted because, after all, they’re American too. Those who dared to challenge this appeal to patriotism were cast as un-American,16, anti-capitalist, anti-progress Luddite enemies of the state,17 an image easily promoted through industry propaganda to further justify the state’s legislative usurpation of the prerogatives and responsibilities of townships and municipalities to regulate “shale play” via Act 13. Films like the American Petroleum Institute’s “Truthland,”18 and aggressive advertising websites pretending to offer expert testimony and advice like Energy in Depth19 are saturated in patriotic images and slogans which make clear that fracking is the American way—and that anyone who questions the authority of either state governments who subsidize the industry or the industry itself is ripe for target as, for example, a “socialist,” or “Communist.” Or worse. As reported in Common Dreams March, 2012,20 anti-fracking activists are increasingly the targets of FBI surveillance (even as reports of “eco-terrorism” are on the decrease), and the use of state and local police to insure industry prerogatives is becoming commonplace.21
            Despite the obvious risks, however, a growing movement of activists, fracktivists demanding not a moratorium but a ban, has begun to take hold in Pennsylvania, galvanized by a first-hand experience and an informed understanding that fracking threatens not only the environment in its aesthetic and recreational dimensions, but the very water, air and soil necessary to life, that it threatens a way of life—especially for rural and semi-rural Americans. It’s ironic that many of these folks would not identify as environmentalists. In fact, notions like “sacrifice for country” are for them powerfully persuasive in light of their rural, military, and working class experience. Nonetheless, as the evidence of the real risks of fracking mounts regarding the safety of the process, the pollutants involved, the damage to community infrastructure, the long-term health effects, and the destruction of hunting lands/fishing waterways, even some of the staunchest of patriots have begun to find themselves at town hall meetings sitting across from Big Energy executives—but not on their sides.
To be clear these risks include at least the following sixteen items:
1. The toxicity of the chemicals involved in the fracking process itself, and the veritable certainty that these will migrate eventually along fissures in well-casings into ground water.22
2. The necessity of deep injection wells for the permanent disposal of wastewater that is no longer usable by human beings.23
3. The actual earthquakes the USGS associates with deep injection wells, and the potential dangerous fissures to well casings caused by a repeating pattern of seismic activity.24
4. The already patent environmental destruction, pollution and noise hazards caused by compressor stations, transmission lines, and water withdrawal facilities near public schools, hospitals, and other community assets.25
 5. The nearly complete absence of regulation in “Class One” rural areas with respect to the construction and monitoring of transmission lines in and out of compressor stations.26
6. The destructive consequences for the sensitive ecologies and endangered species.27
7. The potential extinction of whole species of microorganism—some of which likely remain uncatalogued or even undiscovered—and who make their home in shale deposits.28
8. The actual erosion of roads and bridges due to increased heavy truck traffic.29.
9. The actual emission of diesel and other carcinogens from trucks idling for long periods at frack sites, water withdrawal stations, and compressor stations.30
10. The risk of carcinogen exposure to human and nonhuman health from the frack site wastewater deposit pools and from compressor stations.31.
11. Community conflict destined to erupt between those who lease and those who refuse to lease, some of whom now claim they’ll have to be shot before the state can take their land under the guise of recognizing the lease of mineral rights to energy corporations.32.
12. The erosion of private property rights by those who would decline a gas lease and who are then subject to compulsory condemnation, forced pooling, and the appeal to eminent domain by the state--all in the interest of allowing the gas corporations to not only frack on such properties, but construct roads, waste pits, and transmission lines in and out of a fracking operation.33
13. The effective neutering of municipalities and township boards to govern the infrastructure of their communities under, now overturned, Pennsylvania’s Act 13 that would have shifted the power to determine fracking operations from the municipality to the State Attorney General’s Office.34
14. The actual use of fracking wastewater as road de-icer in winter despite its carcinogenic properties.35
15. The harmful effects of Act 13’s gag order which prevents physicians from releasing vital information to patients exposed to frack fluids in the event of illness.36.
16. The potentially hazardous effects for neighboring towns, municipalities, and even states of items 1-15.

While it is important to be clear about these hazards, my aims here are not about—at least directly—the hazards per se—all of which are well established and publicly available. My claim is that fracking is a concrete, visually compelling epitome of the much bigger crisis of American democracy, namely, the corporatization of state and federal government through, among other tactics, appropriation of the patriotic and thereby disarming discourse of the “good American.” The consequences of this appropriation include not only a fundamental and potentially irrecoverable corruption of the very language and imagery of the public good, but substantial risk to the conditions upon which this good depends—clean water and breathable air.

Unlike other current dimensions of the crisis—the collapse of the banks, or the wreckage of the housing markets, for example fracking endangers the conditions of life itself, not only in terms of toxins and other irrecoverable pollutants, but in virtue of
(a) the permanent removal of water from rivers, ponds, and lakes, and
(b) the concentration of pollutants in the what water remains.
Fracking effectively converts a necessary condition of life into a marketable and unrecyclable commodity, and it’s no real wonder that this demands a propaganda campaign that can either conceal this fact or make sacrifice to it seem worthy and honorable—even a patriotic duty. The cynical and mercenary appropriation of catch-phrases like “national security” and “standard of living” reveals an industry whose key decision-makers know the dangers of their production processes, and thus know that their “justificatory” rhetoric must include a strategy for neutralizing those who would organize to resist it. What better strategy than the appropriation of the “good American” against which—especially in the contemporary political climate—those who resist can be cast as “Leftists,” environmental whackos,”  “tree-huggers,” “Communists,” or “un-American”? As anti-patriots against whom the police, the National Guard and the Army can be deployed? Traitors to country who can, if necessary, lose their lives for the sake of “national security”? Or at least arrested and detained.37
On March 9, 2012 President Obama signed into law a bill, H.R. 347,38 that makes protests at political events at which Secret Service agents are deployed to protect anyone one present illegal—even if the presence of the agents is unknown to the protesters. The bill effectively makes even non-violent protest subject to police harassment since the protesters have no way of knowing whether they are in violation of the law. Not only, then, does government have a new means by which to repress dissent, it will have one more tool for identifying the Good American—he or she who does not engage their first amendment rights at all:
The US House of Representatives voted 388-to-3 in favor of H.R. 347 late Monday [2.6.12], a bill which is being dubbed the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011…Under the act, the government is also given the power to bring charges against Americans engaged in political protest anywhere in the country…In the text of the act, the law is allowed to be used against anyone who knowingly enters or remains in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so, but those grounds are considered any area where someone — rather it’s President Obama, Senator Santorum or Governor Romney — will be temporarily visiting, whether or not the public is even made aware. Entering such a facility is thus outlawed, as is disrupting the orderly conduct of “official functions,” engaging in disorderly conduct “within such proximity to” the event or acting violent to anyone, anywhere near the premises. Under that verbiage, that means a peaceful protest outside a candidate’s concession speech would be a federal offense...39
The critic might, of course, object arguing that protests in isolated settings like remote forests or deserts are still an option, but this, of course, defeats the purpose of bringing public awareness to the issues connected to fracking. Though perhaps at first blush not obviously tethered to the corporatization of government, such a bill
(1) effectively criminalizes protest—including that engaged by anti-fracking activists—since there is no way of knowing whether a Secret Service detail might not be present at a politically sensitive event attended by CEO’s of  Big Energy corporations, and
(2) makes dissent against government sanctioned corporate policy that much more unlikely—protecting corporations under the guise of protecting the public.
            Consider, for example, a recent event at Kutztown University, Kutztown PA, where Lt. Governor of Pennsylvania Tom Cawley defended the claim that state universities should be willing to “work with the gas companies” who may want to drill on college campuses in the state. Among the members of the audience were anti-fracking protesters, one of whom, Sean Kitchen (who stood with his back to the Lt. Governor and his panel), made the claim that “[w]hat you're saying is that you endorse poisoning college students across the state?” In combination with an increasingly dominant national rhetoric that identifies the good of corporations with the economic health of the country, protesters like Mr. Kitchen are not only likely to be criminalized but, in fact, worse—cast as outside American citizenship. Laws that effectively criminalize protest send a clear message: the place of a citizen is acquiescence. To protest government sanctioned corporate enterprise is to take up a position against the government. The good American does not behave this way.40
Such a democracy, I suggest, is not merely in crisis; indeed, to the extent that the very narrative of citizenship has been co-opted to ends having naught but coincidentally to do with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and everything to do with profits and share-holder portfolios, “democracy” has itself become just another advertising slogan: we are free to wave our flags while bulldozers take down our trees and tear up our land to make room for access roads, frack pads, compressor stations, and transmission lines. In fact, if you’re lucky enough to live in a class one region of Pennsylvania—fewer than ten houses per a square mile—you’re free to imagine yourself in a kind of Wild West. No regulations govern the construction of gas transmission lines where you live at all. And according to the new national patriotic narrative, only he or she who fails to have the nation’s interests at heart or who simply does not understand the immense benefits to the economy would deign to complain that this is not “freedom,” much less stand and accuse the gas industry of poisoning American citizens for profit.
Such a citizen-dissenter is not Aubrey McClendon, the CEO of the nation’s largest energy corporation, Chesapeake Energy, who deploys the rhetoric of the Good American at least indirectly by appealing to economic and energy security. As reported by Jeff Goodell of The Rolling Stone “To hear him [McClendon] tell it, the cleaner-than-coal fuel he produces will revive our faltering economy, free us from the tyranny of foreign oil and save the planet from global warming.”41 McClendon’s appeal to love of country, however, conceals a very dark underside, one surely about “country” and “love,” but not about democratic decision-making, much less the good of his fellow citizens. Goodell continues:
[W]hat McClendon leaves out is the real nature of the business he's in. Fracking, it turns out, is about producing cheap energy the same way the mortgage crisis was about helping realize the dreams of middle-class homeowners. For Chesapeake, the primary profit in fracking comes not from selling the gas itself, but from buying and flipping the land that contains the gas. The company is now the largest leaseholder in the United States, owning the drilling rights to some 15 million acres – an area more than twice the size of Maryland. McClendon has financed this land grab with junk bonds and complex partnerships and future production deals, creating a highly leveraged, deeply indebted company that has more in common with Enron than ExxonMobil. As McClendon put it in a conference call with Wall Street analysts a few years ago, "I can assure you that buying leases for x and selling them for 5x or 10x is a lot more profitable than trying to produce gas at $5 or $6 per million cubic feet."42
It turns out, in other words, that even the patriotic rhetoric of “cheap and abundant” natural gas is simply a cover story for the acquisition and marketing of land—land that used to be rural America. This rhetoric demotes the national interest, the common good, to transferable real estate. To identify the good of this corporation with the health of the country is to identify the health of the country not with the freedom of its citizens, not with the stability or strength of its democratic institutions, but with its market value—fifteen million acres in McClendon’s case. The state, moreover, has not only become an enthusiastic player in what Arthur Berman, respected energy consultant, calls a Ponzi Scheme, it is now engaged in the erection of laws—including laws that criminalize protest—aimed at protecting what now must be called America, INC.
This is death-by-profiteering for the country and for its citizens—literally—and no industry more pointedly epitomizes it than Big Energy. Corporate appropriations of patriotic rhetoric are, of course, by themselves nothing new. It’s also nothing new that the “good American” is expected to lay down her/his life for the sake of country or national interest. Such is the oath of the soldier. It’s not even new that such soldiers have been co-opted to fight and die in wars for the sake of preserving and advancing corporate interests wrapped—also literally—in the flag. Such is the case in Iraq. What is new, however, is that because the process for extracting natural gas in the Marcellus or Utica Shale Formations involves massive quantities of an essential resource—water—whose contamination requires its permanent exclusion from any use other than fracking, “sacrifice” can only be measured in terms of what lack of access to clean water means for those who are dependent on that access, namely, human beings, farm animals, wildlife, crops, forests, etc—in other words, living things.  It is at least a crisis for democracy that, as good Americans, we are being asked to sacrifice not merely clean water but water per se. That the rhetoric of this sacrifice should be cast in the language of “energy security” by entities that stand to make billions of dollars not only from it but from the enormous swaths of land required to pursue it, is more than a crisis; it is, I think, either the democracy’s death sentence or, if we’re lucky, its clarion call to foment revolution.
To cast as un-American—and to codify this as law—those who’d resist the assault on access to clean water not only discourages the exercise of a basic right to freedom of expression, but makes effectively traitorous the public recognition of facts. One is not required for the sake of being a good American merely to lay down for one’s country, but to die for an instantiation of “country” owned and operated by corporations. The “good American” consents not merely to being fracked, but to those specific kinds of death which accrue either to the consumption of contaminated water or—for those even less fortunate—to lack of access even to that. While fracking corporations deny the mounting evidence for the connection between, for example, fracking and cancer, compressor station emissions and asthma, they insist, for example that the physician nondisclosure section of Pennsylvania’s Act 13 which prevents doctors from revealing the composition and amount of chemicals present in frack fluids making their patients sick is rightly protected by proprietary rights statutes. Moreover, as of this writing there are no studies that track possible health effects to fracking operations, compressor stations, compressor station explosions, open waste pits, land-fills that take frack “cake,” or other varieties of exposure. Hence, it’s no surprise that fracking-promoters insist that no ill health effects will follow from fracking,43 and some even insist that fracking will improve water quality.44
One response, of course, to my argument is that there are lots of dangerous fossil fuel extraction processes, and that some danger just is the price we have to be willing to pay for energy. This premise, however, is faulty—we only have to pay this price if we insist on our current levels of consumption, refuse to develop alternatives, and forego conservation. But the state and corporations like Chesapeake are not the only players in this genocidal drama, and, I suggest, would not be able to legitimate their own dictatorial program without the cover of other complicit institutions, particularly the university. As fracking corporations “partner” with universities to conduct the basic science (at tax-payer’s expense), develop extraction methods, and provide expertise and basic labor (in the form of graduate students), so does the state promote the university as a undemocratic institution no longer acting as a public trust. But as the recent case of Penn State’s participation in an industry-sponsored and disputed study of the economic benefits of natural gas production shows, “public trust” is itself part of an advertising campaign designed to protect the image of a public research university, while its commitment to unfettered inquiry and critical investigation die on the vine.45 As the watchdog group, Food and Water Watch document:
Reports out of Penn State and the Public Policy Institute of New York project tens of thousands of jobs will be created as a result of natural gas development; the MSC calls for hundreds of thousands. Two reports released today by the watchdog group Food and Water Watch show that those projections are optimistic at best, and based on flawed numbers. They refute the last point the natural gas industry used to defend its practice of drilling wells and releasing underground methane gas using sand, water, and chemicals, in rural and wild areas.46
Moreover, the lion’s share of the profits likely to accrue to fracking are already destined for foreign markets: “the major players in shale gas are multinational oil and gas companies with plans to export U.S. shale gas outside of the U.S., likely to Asia.”47
A particularly striking example of the use of patriotic rhetoric to promote industry objectives, as if these were consistent with the university mission, comes in the person of Penn State Professor of Geoscience, Terry Engelder, “father of Marcellus Shale” who describes the state-university-corporation alliance this way:
Engelder doesn’t just talk up the Marcellus Shale. “I have to make a bit of a sales pitch for Penn State,” he says. He repeatedly points out the quote, “symbiosis between the gas industry and Penn State,” and asked them to invest in research at Penn State, quote, “The type of research that’s necessary to answer some of these questions that are going to be so critical to the future of Marcellus development,” the type of research that he, himself, will be doing… Engelder has started a research project. 10 oil and gas companies are paying about $40,000 each so students can map the Appalachian Basin, showing companies where best to drill. Engelder also has a multimillion dollar project to help engineers figure out, among other things, how much pressure they need to frack wells. Penn State depends hugely on industry money, and not just on the oil and gas industry, on pharmaceutical companies, and on weapons manufacturers, and on the government. All major research universities do, not just Penn State. But Penn State’s got one of the oldest and best gas and petroleum engineering schools in the country. Without industry money, the school might not survive. Flip through this year’s awards banquet program for the Energy and Mineral Engineering students, and it’s an industry roster. They’re getting money from Chesapeake Energy, Consol Energy, Chevron, BP, ConocoPhillips, Marathon Oil. Some of these students will go on to work for these companies, and make lots of money, and give it back to Penn State, which is great for the university. But if you take a close look at how some of these donations work, you can see how entwined the university is, not just with the gas industry, but also with state government, and how all three of them are united on the topic of drilling.48
The “symbiosis” to which Engelder refers is precisely another unholy alliance.  In a piece titled “The Unholy Alliance of Big Energy, Big University, Big State: My Exchange with Terry Engelder”, I put the point this way:
This is not the story of a university; it’s the story of a university beholden to an industry that has come to dictate key aspects of the university’s mission. Penn State has effectively forfeited its responsibility to act as an independent agent for the public good, and uses the professorial status of one of its celebrity own—Terry Engelder—to legitimate it…Professor Engelder is beholden not to Penn State (other than to legitimate his status), but to those corporations who fund his research into the Marcellus Shale, who fund his graduate student’s future careers, who donate enormous sums to his university—and to his place in history. Engelder’s own claim was that “the discovery [of natural gas] could be worth $1 trillion.” To be clear: I am not claiming that Professor Engelder profits monetarily through his association with the Natural Gas Industry. He may; he may not. I don’t know. What I am claiming is that Engelder epitomizes the forfeiture of academic integrity consequent on the corporatization of the university—and that in the end this impugns Penn State as a public trust. This could not be better represented than in Engelder’s own words concerning the abuse of the state’s eminent domain, takings, and mineral rights laws to appropriate private property through forced pooling: “I suspect that if the commission were to word their recommendations for pooling in a clever enough way, this would provide political cover for the governor himself…Engelder knows that his appeal as a university academic offers the best possible propaganda to the industry and, as a bonus, offers cover to a state government—the Corbett administration—that’s as deeply compromised by fracking dollars as are its appointments to key agencies and positions hail from Big Energy.49
Key to my argument here, however, is the rhetoric Engelder deploys to legitimate this alliance. He explicitly appeals to the true patriot’s willingness to sacrifice for the nation’s “energy security”:
”This [fracking] is a new technology. The gas industry is learning as they go along and we need to give them a chance to get it right.” He then quoted John F. Kennedy, telling those of us in the audience to “ask what we can do for our country” and thanking us for our patriotism for living in the heart of what he called ‘the sacrifice zone.”50
The appeal to John F. Kennedy is especially striking, given that the language he used about what one can do for her/his country was directed not at the forfeiture of our rights, but rather at instantiating democratic principle in the form of service. To suggest that allowing the appropriation and potential contamination of one’s land and water counts as such a service or that the offer of a chance “to get it right” is somehow owed to the fracking corporations betrays, I think, precisely the perversity of this unholy alliance.
            Engelder recognizes the violation of property rights suffered by landowners and farmers, but regards the sacrifice as “necessary,” in other words, essential to the American way of life. “If we want to talk about sacrifice, then we look to Dimock,” he said, referring to the best-known Pennsylvania site for drilling accidents”51 
To characterize the irreparable losses of Dimock citizens as “sacrifice,” as if the their deliberate and collective will were to give up their water, opens the door to genocide. Here’s why: The citizens of Dimock were not asked whether they wanted to make this sacrifice. It was, in fact, forced on them. It’s irrelevant whether the gas industry—Cabot in this case—intended to contaminate their wells. It didn’t. What’s clear is that Cabot knew this was possible, and continued to frack regardless. This is the story of every fracking operation, every compressor station, every transmission line, and every water withdrawal station: unlike even the pollution produced by coal, hydraulic fracturing destroys water in massive and irreplaceable quantities. To cast this kind of violence in the language of patriotic sacrifice—to draft laws to reinforce it—is at once to recognize it as violence—recast as sacrifice—and to conceal it behind the good American—she or he who lays down her land to a Ponzi scheme, his water to a deep injection well, and her life to an America owned by folks like Aubrey McClendon.
            To bring this point home one more time: SB 367 (sponsored by Republican Don White who received received over $94,000 in campaign contributions from the industry52) authorizes PASSHE university presidents, under the advisement of the chancellor, the option of leasing PASSHE campuses to Big Extraction. I recently argued that
[e]xtraction is merely one piece of the transmogrification of PASSHE schools, converting what is an essential public good in the creation of thinking citizens into effectively privatized for-profits whose aims are not education, but the next generation of workers laboring under the tutelage of those who can afford to send their children to far more expensive private institutions. That Cavanaugh applauds the wholesale dismantling of Antioch College and the firing of tenured professors for the sake of “cost-savings” and “efficiencies,” that his “wish list” in the on-going negotiations with the PASSHE faculty union, APSCUF (The Association of Pennsylvania College and University Faculties) is a recipe for union-busting—including the creation of a poorly paid underclass of non-tenure “lecturers,” the reclassification of department chairs as “managers,” and the conversion of “brick and mortar” classroom education into “executive model” on-line courses –makes clear that what the chancellor values is not education, but the manufacture of workers most attractive to the industries he welcomes to your kid’s campus via his presidents, or rather, your kid’s campus-factory where he or she can expect to see the liberal arts demoted to “service curricula” and programs which serve the extraction industries front-page-promoted on university websites.53
The Frack-U bill, in other words, pretends to be a way to save public education from the budget cuts the governor “had” to impose, but the facts tell a very different story, one that could spell disaster on campuses like Lock haven, Slippery Rock, Mansfield, IUP—and Bloomsburg. Imagine, for example, the disaster awaiting the student who inadvisably tries to cross Rt. 487 on some foggy morning between public school buses, fracking sand trucks, perhaps a chemical explosives crew truck, and a frack-waste hauler taking “cake” to the White Pines landfill. I have already begun to photograph this escalating traffic.
We're the biggest frackers in the world," declares Chesapeake’s Aubrey McClendon proudly over a $400 bottle of French Bordeaux at a restaurant he co-owns in his hometown of Oklahoma City. "We frack all the time. What's the big deal?”54 I think the big deal is death. Death in virtue of the “big deal.” And this, I think, epitomizes not only the crisis of American democracy—but that of a future for which “sustainability” is in danger of becoming just one more advertising slogan on the way to ecocide.


Sources

39. http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com/2012/02/houses-passes-new-bill-that-would-make.html.
46. Ibid.
47. Ibid.
49. http://www.ragingchickenpress.org/2012/02/15/the-unholy-alliance-of-big-energy-big-university-big-state-my-exchange-with-terry-engelder/.