Friday, October 21, 2011

Why Occupy Wall Street MUST be Occupy Well Street too

My response to Tony Calderelli. The entirety of this charged exchange can be found here:

Tony Caldarelli on October 20, 2011 at 5:13 pm

Pro Publica and Vanity Fair . . . Really? Really! Why would anyone bother with information stated by senior members of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United States Geological Survey (USGS) when you can reference Vanity Fair? I am not the Tony Caldarelli who is a driller, I am the Tony Caldarelli who is a Geologist, so I actually have some understanding of what is going on under the surface of the earth. Without doing the calculus required to explain Darcy’s Law, or going into a diatribe about the Principle of Buoyancy, let me state it like this. If fluids like frac water (and it is almost entirely water and sand with trace amounts of other dilute chemicals) could migrate up from 6 or 7 thousand feet deep, up to the freshwater aquifers tens of feet deep, the the natural gas and oil that the other Tony Caldarelli would be drilling for WOULDN’T BE THERE. Wells have been fraced for 60+ years and now all of a sudden it is a problem, why? Here is why. Because the Shale Gas industry is a game changer in the world energy market, so foreign energy produces (OPEC, the Russians)are stirring up and funding well meaning but uniformed individuals like MS Lee to try shut down shale exploration and maintain their stranglehold on the world energy market. Around Bloomsburg where Ms Lee teaches, there are plenty of gas wells that have been fraced. North Central PA is a working gas field and has been for a long time but it is beautiful, with wonderful natural environments including some of the best trout streams (Trout are an “indicator species” for pure water) in the country. The Oil Creek Valley was destroyed by the early oil industry (who paid attention to the environment in 1860?) but now it is a beautiful state park and Oil Creek is a wonder trout stream where I saw the heaviest hatch of mayflies (another “indicator species,” in this case Ephemerella dorothea)I have ever seen (to include Montana, Idaho etc). Having worked in higher education for almost a quarter of a century, I have encountered many people who choose to express uniformed opinions well outside their discipline and areas of expertise. I’m sure Ms. Lee can give a rousing lecture on whether or not existence precedes essence, but when it comes to understanding Geology . . . ummmmm, not so much.

Wendy Lynne Lee's Response to Mr. Tony Caldarelli:

1. Among the most remarkable aspects of Mr. Caldarelli's responses to my posts concerning hydraulic fracturing--fracking (and besides his obvious agitation)--is his glaring omission of either credentials or employer. He says he's a geologist. Well and good. He also claims he works in higher education--but again, does not say at what institution or in what capacity. Perhaps he's the "leadership trainer" at Universal Well Services who earned a B.S. in geology from Juniata College in 1982. I don't know. If he is, however, a B.S. alone does not qualify Mr. Caldarelli to refer to himself as a geologist, and if he is this "Tony Caldarelli" we must weigh what he says carefully since he has an obvious interest in the continuation of fracking--it's paying his "leadership trainer" salary. I, on the other hand, have absolutely no vested monetary interest in the argument that we should--indeed MUST--ban fracking--although, as I readily acknowledge, I have a moral, political, and philosophical investment in the end of this environmentally devastating form of profiteering.

2. In point of fact, the articles I site from Pro Publica (, Vanity Fair (, The New York Times (, and a number of other news sources are widely acknowledged to be among the most well-researched and objective thus far on this issue. It is the EPA, the industry funded Penn State report, and the United States State Department that are the subject of extensive criticism with respect to pro-industry bias.

But should Mr. Caldarelli still be in need of further confirmation about the dangers of this process, he need only consult Scientific American:, whose reference to Cornell University fracking experts, professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea make quite clear that the fracking process itself may be MORE polluting even than coal production--particularly given the chemical used and the fracking's current immunity from regulation under the Clean Drinking Water Act; in other words, massively polluting. From yet another Scientific American article: "A widely distributed study out of Cornell University suggested gas could be just as dirty as coal when the energy-intensive process of extraction is included. When burned, gas produces about half of the carbon emissions of coal. Still, the process of drilling for oil and gas releases into the atmosphere methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas" ( While the industry insists that technology exists to control greenhouse gas emissions, such claims should warrant little but incredulousness from any thinking person given the horrendous record BIG GAS and BIG OIL to date. What is quite clear on the evidence is that fracking "will exacerbate the effects of global warming" ( According to the Cornell Study: "We looked at the greenhouse gas in comparison to conventional natural gas,” Howarth said. “Our research showed that carbon dioxide is only part of the problem, and natural gas, which is mostly methane, is far more potent. Even small leakages have a large footprint, leading to our conclusion that natural gas actually has a bigger impact on global warming" (

3. Mr. Caldarelli misrepresents both Bloomsburg and Northcentral Pennsylvania with respect to fracking. He is correct that DRILLING has been with us for some time--notably to significant negative environmental effect--but the process properly called fracking is a relative newcomer to the region as a drilling METHOD. Why Mr. Caldarelli should want to misrepresent these facts, I have no idea--other than that he hopes to perpetuate the myth that no serious environmental consequences will come from fracking, a claim clearly and demonstrably false.

4. The notion that the only issue with respect to the safety and consequences of fracking has to do with the geology of drilling as also false. Even IF this drilling process could be made safe (and it cannot), this point has no bearing on the massive collateral damage wrought on roads, bridges, and communities as the direct result of fracking. Damage for which there is demonstrably little compensation and plainly no adequate restoration. To take a case in point, consider Dimmock, Pennsylvania where residents whose aquifer was destroyed by fracking have now been denied future access to water buffaloes thanks to a governor--Tom Corbett--who, in the pockets of the natural gas industry, has released Cabot from this responsibility and, to add insult to injury, will likely allow the corporation to continue fracking in Dimmock. This example, moreover, puts the lie to Mr. Caldarelli's "geologically informed" claims and only hints at one variety of collateral damage--the COMMUNITY of Dimmock, a town whose property values have tanked, whose residents are moving out if they can, and whose property tax base to support its public schools will surely suffer.

5. Mr. Caldarelli also ignores another source of serious danger to environment and health, namely, the construction and potential accident hazard posed by transmission lines and compressor stations. Consider, for example, the pipeline explosion and fire in San Bruno, California, September of 2010, or the fact that children living near compressor stations have been shown to be highly susceptible to nosebleed--traceable to the emission of formaldehyde, an established carcinogenic byproduct of combustion engines ( In addition to the potential hazard posed by toxic leakages anywhere along these pipelines--some thousands of miles long--is that of noise pollution from compressor stations and trucking traffic, and the arguably unconstitutional use of eminent domain laws to infringe on private property rights (for example:

I could, of course, go on to detail the many and serious forms of collateral damage that will be the byproduct of fracking unless it is banned--not regulated--BANNED. I could talk about the plainly false claim that fracking will brings jobs to Pennsylvania--when not only is it true that as much as 70% of these jobs are filled by imports, but so many in fact that there were few if any apartments or motel rooms available for Hurricane Lee flood victims.

I could point out that since fracking has come to Pennsylvania, unempolyment has increased: "[t]he state's unemployment rate rose for a forth straight month in September while payrolls shrank...the state jobless rate increased to 8.3% in August" (Press Enterprise, 10.21.11). I could point out that all the while unemployment is rising, BIG GAS CEOs like Chesapeake's Aubry McClendon are raking it in to the tune of 112.5 million dollars.

But the long and short of it is the same: fracking is so potentially calamitous to environment and health that no number of jobs can possibly make up for it--plus the jobs claim is just a lie to protect Mr. McClendon's big bucks.

As for the rousing lecture on Jean Paul Sartre's "existence precedes essence," you bet. Mr. Caldarelli, I can certainly deliver it. I'll be teaching Phenomenology and Existentialism next term. Please consider signing up. But be advised. My name is not "Ms. Lee." It is "Professor Lee" or "Dr. Lee," and it is VERY telling that you opt not to accord me the recognition of earned title. I do not pretend to be a geologist--but I DO know a good deal about fracking and its collateral consequences. You, on the other hand may (or may not) be a geologist, but what you're clearly not is interested in objective fact and reasoned argument.

Wendy Lynne Lee

Monday, October 3, 2011

Of Flooding and Fracking

To the editor,

Every time I drive or walk down West Main, or out to Espy, or to Town Park, I am struck first by the staggering damage flooding and endless rain can cause, and second by the resilience, tenacity, and generosity of Bloomsburg’s people, especially in a crisis, who have volunteered their time, energy, and dollars to help folks they don’t even know.

I know why I love my town:

the sheer contrast of one lightless, rain-soaked, morning drive to the elementary school shelter compared to so many I’ve taken down a Main Street glowing with life is indelibly stamped onto my memory, onto my very understanding of what it means to live in this beautiful region as a resident of its “only town.”

As we quickly learned, the crisis of these past weeks only began with the 32.7 ft. rise of the Susquehanna, the flooding of Fishing Creek, etc. The real crisis is what follows, some of it stunningly visible—like houses washed off their foundations and cavernous gullies cut through paved streets—some of it’s quite invisible, at least at first.

This latter comes in the form of health hazards like mold, like exposure to toxins and other forms of industrial waste polluting the Susquehanna and its tributaries. Dawning rubber gloves, FEMA footwear, and masks became de rigueur for anyone mucking basements, tearing down saturated drywall, or getting the toxic-sludged remains of folks photo albums and Christmas ornaments to the curb—a job as heart-breaking as it is dangerous.

And dangerous it is.

The American Rivers Organization, a non-partisan advocate for our waterways, reports the Susquehanna is the most endangered river in the country. In addition to the massive industrial, medical, and household waste already demonstrably present in the shiny sludge with which we’re familiar, waste fluids from hydraulic fracturing—fracking—threaten further contamination:

• “…limited facilities for treating the highly toxic wastewater that results from the extraction process and few government regulations to prevent it from seeping into rivers like the Susquehanna, which provides drinking water for more than six million people.”

• “In the Marcellus Shale region in Pennsylvania alone, drilling companies were issued approximately 3,300 gas-well permits in 2009 compared with 117 in 2007.”

• “…ground water pollution in Susquehanna County resulting in loss of a community's drinking water, a blowout in Bradford County that went uncontrolled, allowing toxic fracking chemicals to flow into the Susquehanna...”

• “A natural gas well blew out during fracking operations, sending thousands of gallons of toxic fluid — containing hazardous chemicals, some potentially cancer-causing — over fields and into Towanda Creek, which feeds the Susquehanna River and supplies water for millions of people in the area.”

What will the next flood be like?

The one that happens once fracking is in full-swing as I’ve detailed in my previous three letters? Can we really afford to be scraping THAT sludge off our salvageables? Are we willing to brook THAT for the few jobs that will come of the gas boom?

What adds insult to injury—what makes it personal—is that an industry poised to make billions from something that offers us little but cancer, destroyed property values, obliterated roads and bridges, and community division—brags on its propaganda website—The Marcellus Shale Coalition—about corporate donations to communities affected by Hurricane Lee. A million dollars total from eleven corporations compared to Chesapeake’s chief executive officer Aubry McClendon’s $112.5 million take-home pay last year—the biggest CEO package in the U.S.—should leave us nothing but cold.

If we don’t muster our collective voices and demand fracking be BANNED, we’ll won’t just be cold. We’ll be fools.

Wendy Lynne Lee

600 words