Thursday, October 31, 2013

Clean Harbors Spells Frack-Tastrophe for the Citizens of Sunbury: Sold Down the Susquehanna by Mayor Dave Persing

UPDATE: This is a piece drafted in February 2013--but as the Pennsylvania elections are approaching, it seems a good idea to remind the voters of Sunbury, PA that they DO have better choices than the erstwhile and corrupt Dave Persing:


You have to wonder whether Sunbury mayor, Dave Persing, really has any very good idea—or even a glimmer of moral compass—about what might be involved in the Clean Harbors construction of a Marcellus Shale Waste Processing Facility smack-dab in the middle of that small city.

Planned for the long-idled and stunning eyesore, the Knight-Celotex fiberboard thermal insulation plant shuttered its doors and declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April, 2009 (Knight-Celotex files for bankuptcy » News » The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA), but had stopped operations way back in November 2008—well over four years ago.

The 22-acre site was then purchased by John Moran of Moran Industries Warehouse and Distribution Services (Moran Industries) via a subsidiary company—JDM Acquisitions —for $525,000 in April of 2011—two years after the bankruptcy.

But as early as January, 2011, it was clear that Moran meant every word of his company slogan, “Whatever It Takes,” foregoing the inconvenience of applying for a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) permit for the removal of materials from the Celotex site prior to demolition:

City officials continued to clash with representatives of a Watsontown company over Moran Industries’ unwillingness to disclose what it is doing and what the company intends to do at the former Celotex site in Sunbury.

In what should be run-of-the-mill activities related to demolition of the former fiberboard manufacturing plant, city officials are scrambling to see what and why Moran Industries is hauling materials to the Sunbury site and loading it on rail cars to be shipped to Ohio.

Moran representative, Jeff Stroehmann, attended last week’s city council meeting and informed the board nothing was going to take place at the site until demolition was complete, but as of Sunday, a parade of dump trucks have been in and out hauling materials in and sending scrap out. Stroehmann said Tuesday that workers are loading rock chips onto trains, something that would not require any special permitting from the state… [Councilman Todd Snyder]: “We have been in contact with DEP and they are just as surprised about any of this and they have told us they are launching their own investigation.”

City officials in dark over activities at former Celotex site » News » The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

Even Dan Spadoni of DEP—known far more for protecting the hydraulic fracturing industries than for protecting the environment (DEP Permit Hearing: Moxie Patriot Power Plant, Clinton Township, Lycoming County, PA,1.3.13 ), was forced to acknowledge that Moran Industries “does not have any permits on file with DEP.” As reported in the Daily Item, 1.20.12, “Sunbury mayor Dave Persing was growing frustrated on Wednesday because he wasn’t getting any answers” (City officials in dark over activities at former Celotex site » News » The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA).

But Persing’s frustration appears rather short-lived—one day short-lived to be precise. By 1.21.12, Persing declares “the city is safe.” On the basis of what evidence? Nothing other than the word of a representative for Moran Industries, Jeffery Stroehmann:

It’s a trial run, Persing said he was told.

“A representative of the developer advised City Council in a public meeting of a trial experiment of transferring materials from the site to a destination in Ohio,” Persing said Thursday.
That representative — Jeffery Stroehmann, of Moran Industries, Watsontown — said it is pure rock chips that are being removed.

And, “That’s it,” Stroehmann said Tuesday.

The rock chips are being dug up and sent on rail cars to Ohio, said Stroehmann, whose company earlier said it would consider using the site to process Marcellus Shale-related materials.
“It is only rock chips. It is not frack water, and there is no such thing as frack mud,” Stroehmann said. “We are in compliance to everything, and we don’t need any permits to do what we are doing.”

Persing was unaware the hauling experiment would begin as quickly as it did.

“Clearly, this trial happened much faster than City Council anticipated, and we experienced many more trucks than we anticipated,” he said.

The Marcellus Shale industry is making a huge impact in Pennsylvania and will for many years, Persing said.

“The development of this new resource is moving faster than expected and has created a ‘rush to get involved’ throughout the entire state, which is moving faster than government generally works,” he said. “It is our hope that the City of Sunbury can benefit from this new resource for future years.”

Mayor Persing: ‘The city is safe’ » The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

There are several things to notice about these comments. First, Persing’s declaration that the city is safe is not the result of any investigation—DEP or otherwise. This is nothing but the reassurance of the company—the same company responsible for having failed to apply for a DEP permit—Moran’s. What mayor—responsible for protecting the public welfare—would accept such a flimsy explanation especially concerning a site in the middle of the city surrounded by residential neighborhoods?

Second, Stroemann insists that all that’s being transported on this “trial run” are wood chips, that Moran doesn’t need a DEP permit. Stroemann then follows this up with an excuse premised on the rapidly developing Marcellus Shale industry that “is moving faster than government generally works.” In other words, Persing is offered two utterly inadequate excuses—either “no permit needed,” or “need to move to fast, so skipped permit,” and, stunningly, he accepts them both with nary a whimper. Persing doesn’t even appear to see the effective admission that Moran Industries deliberately skipped the permit application in order to get the jump on the frack-waste transport and processing market. Not an iota of this narrative should inspire confidence in the citizens of Sunbury that John Moran is concerned about public safety, or that his plans to sell the Celotex site to Clean Harbors for frack-waste processing has anything to recommend it other than big bucks bulging from his pockets.

In fact (third), Persing doesn’t blanche at the possibility that the site might be utilized to “process Marcellus Shale-related materials” despite the fact that the transport and processing of such materials would pose a demonstrably massive environmental and health hazard—right in the middle of his city. “[I]t’s only rock chips. It is not frack water, and there’s no such thing as frack mud,” says Stroemann—and Persing buys this, apparently without research or additional inquiry, despite the fact that rock chips are defined by the fracking industry itself as part of the solid waste regulated as toxic (process Marcellus Shale-related materials). Moreover, drilling mud is simply another name for the highly toxic fluids being proposed for storage at the Celotex site.

What Dave Persing doesn’t seem to have much of a bead on is the process which produces the highly toxic materials he’d apparently be happy to store on the authority of a company that doesn’t bother with DEP approvals because such inconveniences are an obstacle to getting the jump on the money. But the waste proposed for the Celotex site is the refuse of slickwater horizontal hydralic fracturing:

The process of hydro-fracking begins at the well pad with the drilling of a vertical well. After the well has been drilled, a larger drill rig creates the horizontal drilling bore, and drilling mud is used to cool and power the drill. Depending on the chemical content of the drilling mud, drill cuttings can be deemed hazardous waste when combined with this mud. This initial phase can take up to two months. Once the well is drilled, dried, cased and grouted, fracking begins. After the cement casing is installed, a perforating gun sends down electrical currents that fracture the rock. Fracking fluid, a mixture of water and highly toxic chemical additives, is then injected at high pressure to both maintain and induce fractures in the gas-bearing formation, thereby increasing permeability and facilitating the release of trapped gas. A pressure of up to 15,000 pounds per square inch may be employed during multi-stage fracturing events. This is a pressure range typically associated with bombs and military armaments. Each well requires between 2-7 million gallons of fracking fluid. To make this fluid, water is obtained from local surface or ground water sources. To date, most fracking operations have used on-site fresh or low salinity water. Approximately 10 to 50% of the fracking fluid returns to the surface during the drilling process as flowback water, which is estimated to contain between 9%-35% of the initial fracking chemicals injected. Flowback water contains high levels of total dissolved solids (TDS or salts), metals and naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) from the drilling process, which is stored in open lagoons. Flowback generates the largest amount of waste from the gas wells. It can be reused to fracture additional wells, injected into underground disposal wells, treated or stored in open lagoons for dilution and reuse. Open lagoons are prone to liner failure, evaporative spread of volatile chemicals and direct human and animal contact. The hydro-fracking process takes approximately 4 months to complete from preparation to waste disposal.

Chapter 1: Extraction | Cooper Union

“The Marcellus Shale industry is making a huge impact in Pennsylvania and will for many years, Persing said.” Yes it is, Mayor Persing. “[H]ighly toxic chemical additives,” 2-7 million gallons of fracking fluids. Indeed, Mayor Persing is apparently willing to make Sunbury into an “open lagoon” for materials that contain “high levels of total dissolved solids (TDS or salts), metals and naturally occurring radioactive material.”

After all, the liners of such facilities are prone to failure, truck accidents along the busy (and often very narrow) routes going in and out of Sunbury along the Susquehanna River will occur, and any one of them could be just as ugly as this gem from Watson Township, September, 2012:

WATSON TOWNSHIP — A truck hauling waste water for a company in the natural gas industry wrecked in Lycoming County Wednesday afternoon. The crash sent thousands of gallons of “residual water” spilling into Pine Creek at the scene along Route 44 north of Jersey Shore. It happened around 12:30 p.m. Wednesday. The Minuteman Environmental Services driver somehow crashed into a rock wall in Watson Township on his way to a gas well site, according to state police. Fire officials said the truck was hauling a full load in excess of 4,600 gallons of the treated waste water that contains high salt levels and some chemicals used in the fracking process. Hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” is the process of using liquid to break up underground shale to extract natural gas. Firefighters placed booms in Pine Creek to catch any contamination. A detour was expected to be in place for hours after the crash.

Crash Spills Fluid from Gas Drilling into Creek | — Scranton / Wilkes-Barre / Hazleton

Rock walls, flood walls, folk’s living room windows, the Susquehanna River—there is nowhere a crash like this doesn’t have consequences that will redound far and wide given the carcinogenic load it dumps. And when you consider the long hours these drivers are expected to pull down, “somehow crashed” is just an ordinary day in Frackland (For Oil Workers, Deadliest Danger Is Driving – Enter Clean Harbors Environmental Services who applied for a permit to build a “waste processing facility” (waste transfer station) in Sunbury in February, 2012:

Clean Harbors Environmental Services of Norwell, Mass. has applied for a permit to build a “waste processing facility” in Sunbury (Northumberland County), PA. The facility will accept up to 1,000 tons of Marcellus Shale drill cuttings, drilling mud and other materials per day. Although the waste is not toxic, some local officials are concerned and upset that the state DEP alone will make a decision about whether or not to approve the permit (Sunbury has no say in the matter). Sunbury mayor David Persing supports the new facility.

Marcellus Waste Processing Facility Planned for Sunbury, PA | Marcellus Drilling News

The notion that this waste will be non-toxic is ludicrous on its face: “The waste will include drill cuttings, drilling mud, plastics, batteries and other materials that will be hauled to the former Celotex site on North Front Street in Sunbury by Clean Harbors. Any liquid waste would go through one of two processes of consolidation and solidification.” But Mayor Persing remains undaunted, if willfully ignorant:

Everyone is talking about frack water coming in, but nowhere in the permit does it say anything about ‘frack water,’ but frack water waste,” he said. “The industry is so regulated currently if we find some wrong waste, DEP can track where it came from due to its composition. There is nothing corrupt going on here. The city won’t allow that.

It’s actually hard to know where to start with a claim like this. The notion that DEP has anything remotely like the capacity to track “wrong waste” is only made more laughable by the claim that the fracking industry’s waste disposal is regulated in Pennsylvania, or for that matter anywhere in any adequate fashion:

A class action lawsuit filed in Arkansas this week [10.7.12] has uncovered some very frightening information about the enormous amounts of potentially very toxic waste being generated by the oil and gas industry and how poorly it is regulated. According to a recent investigative report by ProPublica, oil and gas producers have injected 10 trillion gallons of liquid waste underground into more than 150,000 waste disposal wells in 33 states. According to ProPublica, this is often happening even when the operators know the waste disposal wells are out of compliance and could leak… The lawsuit and the ProPublica report add to the growing evidence that oil and gas waste in the U.S. is not sufficiently regulated. Not only are the rules too weak, thanks to Congress giving the industry a free pass to pollute years ago, but those on the books are not being enforced. Both state and federal regulators are overwhelmed. Even when violations are found, the penalties are so small that they are not an incentive for companies to clean up their act.

More Evidence that Fracking Waste Is Poorly Regulated | The Energy Collective

In other words, with respect to waste disposal wells, there’s practically no regulation, and even where there’s the pretense, the fines are so minor, they function effectively as a “get out of jail free” card to the industry. Think this gets any better with waste disposal processing plants—like the one proposed for Sunbury? Think again. A body no less highly esteemed that the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC) is so certain that cities and towns are not prepared for the construction of such sites that they strongly recommend to New Yorkers that the state maintain its moratorium on fracking until far greater regulatory oversight is firmly in place: “States such as New York that are considering fracking should not move forward until the available wastewater disposal options are fully evaluated and safeguards are in place to address the risks and impacts identified in this report” ( How then are companies like Moran Industries allowed to get away with the claim that what they’re transporting is non-toxic? From the NRDC report:

State regulations govern the handling, storage, and transport of shale gas wastewater prior to its ultimate disposal. Oil and gas wastes are currently exempt from the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which generally regulates the handling and disposal of waste. A 1980 amendment to the statute exempted oil and gas wastes from coverage under RCRA for two years. In the meantime, it directed the EPA to determine whether regulation of those wastes under RCRA was warranted. In 1988, the EPA made a determination that such regulation was not warranted. Consequently, oil and gas wastes remain exempt from the hazardous waste provisions of RCRA. This means that natural gas operators transporting shale gas wastewater, along with the POTWs, CWTs, and any other facilities receiving it, are not transporting or receiving “hazardous” wastes and thus do not need to meet the cradle-to-grave safeguards established by RCRA regulations. In the absence of federal regulations, states regulate the handling, storage, and transport of shale gas wastewater. In Pennsylvania, wastewater from industrial operations is classified as nonhazardous, and it must be managed and disposed of in accordance with the state’s Solid Waste Management Act.

In other words, that waste isn’t non-toxic; it’s “non-toxic”: exempted from any regulation that would identify it as such—no matter how hazardous, explosive, carcinogenic, bio-cidal, neurologically perilous, or otherwise dangerous it is. How handy for John Moran, Clean Harbors—and the mayor who would be king of “his” city, Dave Persing. Ready to move to Sunbury? Think the property you already own anywhere near the Celotex site is likely to retain its value once Clean Harbors has set up shop? Apparently Mayor Persing thinks so. In fact, he’s so comfortable with Clean Harbors he apparently doesn’t want to bother them with the inconvenience of a visit to the Sunbury Zoning Board. As reported by the Daily Item, 4.9.12:

Two Sunbury councilmen asked why Mayor David Persing wants to clean up the city, then allow 1,000 tons of residual waste to be brought into the community.

In a heated debate about a proposed waste transfer station that Clean Harbors Environmental Services, of Norwell, Mass., wants on the former Celetox site, now owned by Moran Industries, Councilmen Todd Snyder and Joe Bartello said they wanted to protect city residents.

The debate began after Bartello informed the council he was going to send a letter to Clean Harbors informing company officials they must appear before the Sunbury Zoning Board.

Bartello told council he wanted to inform the company it would be violating city zoning ordinances because of dust, refuse matter, smoke, odor, gas, fumes and noise.
“They haven’t even begun anything yet,” Councilman Jim Eister said. “How can we tell them what they are doing?”

Snyder exploded.

“They have made it clear what they want to do at the site,” he said. “I have real concerns with why we are not worrying about the residents of Sunbury on any of this. We say we are going to clean up blighted properties and yet we are going to allow 1,000 tons of trash from Clean Harbors in our city. Why is that?”

Clean Harbors may accept 1,000 tons of Marcellus Shale industry-generated residual waste per day. Waste will be in liquid and solid form.

Sunbury council splits on plan for former Celotex site » News » The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

And here’s the really skanky part: the very next day, the Daily Item reports that our intrepid Mayor Persing had in fact met with John Moran and together they undertook a 20 minute walk through the Celotex site. Persing insisted that 20 minutes wasn’t enough time to talk about anything else other than what was on the site. Yet, in the same article, Persing also insists that he knows that “a hundred trucks a day go down Front Street with much worse materials on them.”

How does Mayor Persing know that? Answer: he doesn’t. Dave Persing hasn’t spent a half second researching frack waste, the relevant failure of governing regulation, or Clean Harbors’ record of environmental disaster. If he had, he might have found himself a bit less sanguine about whether to trust the corporation’s claims. From a 2007 report:

A Norwell company has agreed to spend over $1.7 million to settle allegations of violations at its hazardous-waste facility in Braintree. The US Environmental Protection Agency said the Braintree facility of Clean Harbors Inc., a hazardous-materials management and disposal services company, was in violation of nearly 30 regulations from both the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act. The violations included inadequate waste characterization, failure to properly maintain hazardous waste tanks, inadequate secondary contaminant for waste containers, and improper storage of incompatible waste, the EPA said. Additionally, inspections found that many of the company’s hazardous-waste tanks were deteriorating. Resulting EPA monitoring showed releases of emissions that contribute to smog coming from some of the tanks. The EPA issued an administrative order in July 2007 ordering Clean Harbors to address many of the issues that “could have posed a danger to human health or the environment,” a release said… In addition to infrastructure upgrades, Clean Harbors will pay $650,000 in civil penalties for the 2007 violations. Additionally, the company will spend $1,062,500 on 1,400 trees in low-income and historically disadvantaged environmental justice areas in Boston to settle a complaint filed by the US Department of Justice on behalf of the EPA, regarding the numerous hazardous waste management and emergency planning violations at the company’s Braintree facility.

Clean Harbors to pay over $1.7 million to settle alleged violations in Braintree – Braintree – Your Town –

Let’s highlight and translate: “inadequate waste characterization”: Clean Harbors lied about what it was “processing”; “failure to properly maintain hazardous waste tanks, inadequate secondary contaminant for waste containers, and improper storage of incompatible waste”: Clean Harbors doesn’t give a tinker’s damn about safety. “Clean Harbors will pay $650,000 in civil penalties for the 2007 violations. Additionally, the company will spend $1,062,500 on 1,400 trees in low-income and historically disadvantaged environmental justice areas in Boston”: Clean Harbors picks on poor folks in poor and/or blighted neighborhoods for its operations knowing that the people who live there won’t likely put up much of a stink about the pollution to which they’re being exposed—in this case for decades before the EPA acted. Unconvinced? Think the Massachusetts case is an anomaly? Hardly. Clean Harbors means nothing but environmental hazard and labor abuses from Massachusetts to California (

And whether Mayor Persing gets that last point or not, that’s why Clean Harbors picked Sunbury, a Pennsylvania city with one of the highest unemployment rates in the Commonwealth—11% in 2010, a dwindling tax base, a school district—Shikellamy—that has the highest number of students who live in families in poverty, a poverty rate of 18.1% (, and an all but abandoned site that a guy like John Moran just can’t wait to sell them so he can make a little more moola to take his buddy—the eminently corrupt Governor Tom Corbett—on vacation (Natural-gas exec paid for Corbett 2011 vacation). Hell’s bells, if Moran can work the “fast-moving” Marcellus Shale industry to his advantage fast enough, he’ll be able to beat the $79, 750 campaign donation he made to Corbett’s 2008 bid for the governorship, and buy himself the kind of guarantee we’ve come to expect from extraction industry appointments like DEP head Michael—I never met a fracker I didn’t like— Krancer, namely, that the only thing regulated with respect to Clean Harbors will be the Sunbury citizens’ right to live their lives protected from toxic exposures.

Turns out, moreover, that John Moran is a very special guy.

No wonder Persing felt lucky to get that 20 minutes stroll through scenic Celotex. Not only did Moran’s wife, Ann, get appointed by Governor Corbett in 2011 to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission in exchange for that chunk of donation-change (denials by Corbett representatives notwithstanding) (Businessman’s wife appointed to commission » The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA), Moran’s got his own version of the Halliburton Loophole in the special exemption of the Clean Railroads Act (2008) that exempts oil and gas waste transport near rail stations. What a lucky break for the guy who stands to make raft-loads of cash transporting frack-waste to Clean Harbors Sunbury facility:

This oil and gas loophole is now having real impacts. According to a recent article from Pennsylvania from Below, the residents of Sunbury, Pennsylvania are discovering what a dirty and risky problem the CRA loophole can be. Without warning to nearby residents or local officials, a company called Moran Industries opened an oil and gas waste transfer facility in January, 2011 at a site with an old rail connection in their neighborhood. Residents report that trucks filled with natural gas production waste now rumble through their neighborhood, where the waste is loaded onto railcars at the site before being transported to Ohio. The material looks like a combination of soil and rock, and has a strong chemical odor. The residents want answers about what is contained in the waste, but have no way of knowing if it contains hazardous chemicals. Given the presence of highly toxic substances in natural gas waste, including the naturally-occurring radioactive materials in Pennsylvania’s natural gas fields, their concern is legitimate…Moran claims the site is being operated by or on behalf of Norfolk Southern Railroad. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been investigating the site for almost a year, but has yet to determine on whose behalf it is being operated. If the DEP finds that Moran Industries is not operating on behalf of a railroad, then the site would be subject to state regulation. But the DEP has not made any indication when its decision will be made. Meanwhile, trucks full of oil and gas waste continue to unload at the site without oversight.

Another Loophole for the Oil and Gas Industry in the Clean Railroads Act | Amy Mall’s Blog | Switchboard, from NRDC

Advice to Moran: Probably better make that check out to the Corbett 2014 Campaign a tad bit bigger—it’s blood money, of course, but he’s earned it.

In the grand scheme of things what’s pretty clear about Mayor Persing is that he’s just out of his league. I have no reason to think he’s got the backs of his fellow Sunbury citizens. But even as the political mercenary he apparently fancies himself, Persing isn’t very good. He just doesn’t get it that he’s being used as a cheer-leading pawn to smooth out the way for a vulture industry that preys on cities just like his, and that prey on the aspiration-to-look-important he obviously harbors (no pun intended). But he’s not alone. Were I a Clean Harbors board of investors member reading the minutes of, for example, the 4.9.12 Sunbury City Council meeting I’d be peeing myself with glee at the stunning lack of even rudimentary knowledge of the fracking process, the waste disposal process, the carcinogens, the radioactive materials, the biocides, the Halliburton loopholes—and the money I’m about to make on the back of that ignorance (

Thing is, the Sunbury City Council has no excuse for ignorance about a project that is going to expose its citizens rich and poor near and farther away along the Susquehanna River to the massive hazard posed by the woefully misnamed Clean Harbors.

With that environmental violation history how is it that any of these council members can sleep at night? But then again, this is the same city council who, at their 2.11.13 meeting defended Louie Gohmert, Republican House Representative of Texas for his willingness to deny basic Habeas Corpus rights (not to mention climate change)—and it was painfully clear that Mayor Persing had no more comprehension of these issues than he does of the frack waste disaster coming to Sunbury.

Indeed, I don’t know that I have ever been to a city council meeting where the effort to conceal the mutual-hand-washing corruption was done so poorly as it was between fellow councilman James Eister and Mayor Persing over what a head-nodding audience clearly recognized as a hazardous eye-sore of a property owned by Eister.

If the smug, patronizing treatment of audience members who had the temerity to challenge a council rife with “old boy” style internal collusion is par for the course in Sunbury, I can’t imagine what the scurrying to hide from responsibility will look like when something really bad happens—like a spill, a leak-an accident at Clean Harbors.

Conceal, denial, extort, dismiss seem to be the name of the game on this city council—tragically peopled by players who want to treat the construction of a frack waste processing site as if it were the building of a daycare center. Note carefully—I’m not claiming that this necessarily includes all of the council members. But it absolutely does so if the one or two who appear to have some inkling of the frack-tastrophe that could be coming don’t “grow a set” and actually do something to stop this train-wreck—literally.

Woe be to the citizens of Sunbury if they allow this to happen—and shame on anyone who votes for Dave Persing for anything ever again.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

“Pinelands” Does Not Mean “Pipeline”: Don't Gas the Pinelands Wins 1.10.14

Update from Garden Island, "Panel rejects NJ Pinelands natural gas pipeline," (

"PEMBERTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) — Officials have rejected a plan to build a natural gas pipeline through New Jersey's Pinelands, and the company behind the project isn't sure what its next move will be.
South Jersey Gas wants to build a 22-mile pipeline to connect with a power plant that's switching from coal to natural gas.
The pipeline would run through the Pinelands, which are protected by state and federal law. The idea is pitting business and labor unions against environmentalists.
The proposal was rejected Friday by the New Jersey Pinelands Commission, which fell one vote short of approving it. The commission is tasked with protecting the ecologically fragile region while supervising responsible economic development within it. Gas company spokesman Dan Lockwood says it is considering its options."

The vote was 7-7--close, but at least for now, the Jersey Pine Barrens will not become the latest casualty of the fracking industry.

Congratulations to Don't gas the Pinelands! (, who, according to Georgina Shanley, is calling for the immediate resignation of the Executive Director of Pinelands Commission Nancy Wittenberg and Counsel Stacey Roth they tried to sell the Pinelands for $8million.

Congratulations also to Kevin Heatley, Shale Justice Coalition, for the excellent presentation in which he showed just what sort of damage this would have generated.

South Jersey Gas Company wants to run a 22 mile pipeline (carrying fracked gas) through the New Jersey Pinelands – an internationally designated UNESCO Biosphere Reserve (

It is supposedly protected by the Pinelands Commission but the commission has been compromised and is about to allow an exemption to the Comprehensive Plan. South Jersey Gas claims they are using it to change the BL England coal plant over to gas. But the plant is located on Egg Harbor – next to the Ocean. It’s an easy speculation what that location portends–global transport.

This is not rocket science.

This is a moral imperative.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hike and Climb to the "Keyhole," Long's Peak, Colorado

Like all sets of photographs, this set comes with a story--one I hope you'll all find at least amusing, and perhaps even gratifying.

This particular day of hiking turned out to be one of the hardest--and likely best--days of my life outdoors.

It began at 3AM, and a short drive from Estes Park, CO to the trailhead Ranger Station at Long's Peak. The moon was full, the air chill, and it was amazingly quiet. The photographs are in order of the day.

My hiking companion, Jack, knew the trail, and we set out. I was immediately grateful that I had thought to bring a hiking back pack, long jeans, my heavy University of Oregon Track hoodie, trail sneakers, and a water bottle. The trail to the Keyhole--the 12,000 or so foot "keyhole" shaped giant rock formation which serves as entry to the final ascent to the summit of Long's Peak ( arduous to say the least. Rocky, steep, and jagged on all sides--there is no just walking. This is all hiking-climbing in one way or another.

The sun coming up over the Rockies is--well, there's no word for this. "Splendiferous" comes to mind. But so does "tearful," "heart-breaking" and "riotously beautiful." Photographs cannot capture the boisterous magnitude of these mountains, their wildlife, their trees and flowers. No image can intimate the color. Look at the first few pictures. The trees back-lit by the upcoming Sun. The mountains just hinting their emergence in the deep distance.

We hiked up and over for some hours while the sun came up over those tremendous peaks.

I photographed vistas and flowers--the big and the small--and all of it was breath-taking.

But "breath" itself was also on my mind. I was struggling--TRYING--but struggling with altitude sickness--trying to get enough air, and trying to staunch a nose bleed. I was pretty damn determined that something silly like breathing and having to use my hoodie for a kleenex was not going to interrupt one second of this awesomeness.

Jack and I arrived at the "Boulder Field," and a very intimidating trail warning sign that reminded me of the sign just before you entered the witches forest in the Wizard of Oz--the one about how you should go back. Go back now.

"Boulder" and "field" does not do any of what we were about to encounter justice. In fact, "encounter" doesn't either.

The "boulders" are automotive sized, jagged, sharp, and lacerating rock-weapons that lurch and jut out of the belly of the mountain. It’s easy-peasy to imagine them as alive and desirous of nothing but the blood splashing out of your head as you plummet into a fissure to your demise. They're the ENTIRE world while you're trying to clamor over them without shredding your hands and knees, and it's clear--especially when you can't breathe--that they want to eat you.

And this is no “field” unless by “field” what you mean is sharply inclined mine-filed of almost ludicrously proportioned projectiles.
Unless what you mean by “field” is the reverse of any image you have ever had from, say “Little House on the Prarie.” This is no shoeless dancy-roll up a hill. This ain’t no dance at all. This is something more like a grip-of-death climb where you move very quickly from “I got this” to “Jesus H. Christ!” to “”Dignity, Schmignity, all I want now is to live—and not here.”

Longs Peak - Keyhole Route - Rocky Mountain National Park

That I reached the Keyhole—a towering rock formation at about 12,000 feet—is truly miraculous. Or something. I was heaving and tingling, and realizing that absolutely no amount of marathon training is a substitute for rock-climbing training, and I did not have anything like the latter.

But what happened next is the real story: While the details don’t matter, I became separated from my climbing companion, and I found myself half hovering, half clinging to the rock face just a few feet under the precipice of the keyhole. I was there for nearly two hours in hopes of resolving the separation, and I began to shiver. Hard. I was freezing—and the wind. Oh. My. God. The Wind. Ripping. Tearing. Freezing. Fierce. And I could not move without risking falling. A gazillion feet. I began to feel that weird kind of sleepy that you feel when you’re just that cold. I determined that I had to get down off the boulder field.

I could not feel my hands or feet.

I had to take off my sock-gloves because I could not risk sliding down a sharp rock-sword.

And I began the climb down.


No, I mean ALONE.

The world has never appeared so enormous, empty or foreboding to me. It was at once so shamelessly gorgeous—stark and massive. But it was also too big. I could fall, and no ne would know. I could fall and no one would see. Or hear.

I didn’t climb down. I scrabbled, lurched, scooted, scraped, crawled, and cried my way down the Boulder Field.

I have never been so happy to have another 7 miles of arduous hiking in front of me in my life.

Have never cared so little that my best jeans were destroyed.

And I have not in a long while thought this much or clearly or deeply about just how unbelievably much I love my children, my mom, my people, my animals.

And I think about that stuff pretty often. After all, that’s what the anti-extraction war is about.

I warmed up. Finally. And was a little bit better able to breath. I was dehydrated and a bit desolate when I happened upon a wide swathe of Elk in a pasture just above timberline—swaddling about in an actual field of flowers and clover with their babies. They snorted and Ballyhooed, lumbered from this patch to that. I wanted to be home, and I wanted to be right where I was at 11,000 feet. I could almost feel the Elk’s warmth. As the color began to return to my face, as I took a last swig from my Gatorade bottle, I began to reflect on what had happened. I was OK. I was not hurt. I was OK. I began to sing to myself, and finally found my way back into the lush piney forest just under timberline. I laughed a little, realizing that I was singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in my dad’s best Louis Armstrong impersonation. “Singing Satchmo in the Rockies” I said out loud to no one. And I remembered just how much I loved everything.

The end.

Hike/Climb to the keyhole, long's peak, colorado, 7.22.13

John Hanger–Right off the Rack (Wendy Lynne Lee and Kevin Heatley)

The following captures a likely dialogue between myself, Wendy Lynne Lee, and Kevin Heatley, both of Shale Justice. The event is democratic gubernatorial candidate, John Hanger’s, visit to a Shale Justice sponsored meeting at Bloomsburg University on September 3rd organized by Shale Justice Executive Committee member, John Trallo. The piece may be very fruitfully read in correspondence with the amazingly mangled announcement of the event in Marcellus Drilling News (Shale Justice Coalition Plans to Gate-Crash John Hanger Appearance | Marcellus Drilling News), and the excellent analysis of both the MDN total botch and the Hanger event itself by Dory Hippauf (HANGER AND THE UGLY CHOICES | Shale Justice).

Heatley’s essay appears as primary text in bold, and mine appears in the quotation marks, italicized.

Another evening event in Shale Gas country. Instead of relaxing on the deck watching the dragonflies of late summer buzz across the pond, I am traveling to another community event.

Despite my better judgment, I feel compelled to behave like an engaged citizen. Another character flaw I struggle to overcome.

Another evening in Shale Gas country—instead of heading home from school to sneaker-up and go run hills, I am dashing about psychotically to secure treats, get a classroom door open, move desks, and make coffee for another community event for the movement to ban fracking. I don’t have time for “better judgment.” Right now I am just struggling to overcome fatigue and select fancy soda.

Tonight’s outing involves a Q&A session with former DEP director, professional lawyer, and gubernatorial hopeful, Mr. John Hanger. John (I always use first names as I enjoy the false sense of familiarity that political figures project, even when they have no idea who the hell you are) has graciously agreed, at the request of the subversive Shale Justice Coalition, to travel to Bloomsburg and discuss his candidacy. The public meeting is attended by approximately 20 people, including an undercover gas operative (Slim Jim grease in breast pocket – dead giveaway).

Tonight’s outing involves arranging a classroom, some fruit salad, carrot sticks, upscale chips, and glass bottled sparkling beverages to maximize the “civil” of civil exchange between a gubernatorial candidate and voters who will assuredly not vote for him—a candidate who might be commended for being willing to walk into the fire of polite but determined opposition—except for that his entire presentation was an exercise in the scorched earth rhetoric of “I don’t suck as much as the other guy even though I will let the gas companies screw you” bracketed by two distinctive appeals to emotional extortion. I, however, will call Mr. Hanger “Mr. Hanger” because the familiarity implied by first name address leaves me feeling a little skeezy, and because he played a bit of fake deferral to me as “Professor Lee.” Two can play that game.

John has dressed in legal casualwear – white shirt, dark slacks, polished black loafers and a full democratic-blue tie. I take note of that, not because I intend to judge him based on appearance, but because I know that the vast majority of voters will make their final choice of elected leader based upon a complete and thorough intellectual analysis of camera presence. Think Kennedy versus Nixon. As a slight man, in his late fifties with a nasal tone to his speech, I am hoping John has some kick-ass platform positions.

Didn’t notice much other than the Democratic-Party-Blue tie—interesting choice for a guy who, in response to my question about why he opposed the 115-81 Democratic Committee vote for a six year moratorium on fracking, answered by way of classic deflection—the “Red Herring” that none of us agree with everything our parties stand for, so there “nothin’ to see here folks” about his refusal to endorse a major party platform. Except, of course, that there is. Because the moratorium would fundamentally alter the way Pennsylvania deals with an industry that’s poisoning our water, destroying our air quality, converting our communities into fractious war zones, selling off our public lands and their endangered inhabitants, and turning a country side once called the land of a thousand shades of green into an industrialized dead-zone a single shade of gray (and not the sexy adderondackskind), his position matters very much indeed. And Mr. Hanger’s right off the rack industry-sharpened lines is the wrong one.

John starts with some background history; 29 years working on energy issues as a lawyer, community activist, and regulator. He tells of a transformative event – the death of three people in Philly who were too poor to afford safe heating and burned to death in a fire while using candles. This is disturbing to everyone in the room and I can see that one of the attendees is anxiously seeking the missing Slim Jims as comfort food. John has done a good job of demonstrating compassion during the lead-in segment. This is not to imply it is not genuine, merely that it is good public relations building.

Mr. Hanger moves very quickly to soften up his audience for his “Call me Mr. Regulator, yeah some people are gonna get hurt, but hey we all drive cars” industry pitch with just the right strategy of emotional manipulation—a family that burns to death moving him to take action to “stop that kind of thing.” Good for Mr. Hanger. Or not. However disturbing the story might be to the audience and to “Mr. Slim Jim,” it’s apparent street-cred. social justice gold for Mr. Hanger turns out to be just one of his tinny-tools for pitting some pretty vulnerable folks against others, namely folks who can’t afford to heat their houses (and end up using candles) against folks who, um, can’t afford to heat their houses (and end up driving tanker trucks for the gas). In effect his argument is “The only way to make sure folks can heat their houses is to make sure they’ve got access to cheap fuel, and if that means some other folks are gonna have to get really hurt, well, we’ve all got to suck that up.” Except of course we don’t all suck that up. And all the industry folks are sucking up is money ready to off-shore or spend-up elsewhere. After all, why would they spend their moola in an industrialized shit-hole?

But John makes a tactical error early on – gauging his audience as potentially hostile to his lack of support for a moratorium on unconventional gas drilling, a moratorium supported by his own political party, he assumes a defensive posture. For the next 45 minutes he uses classic logical fallacies in an attempt to “explain” his resistance to a moratorium. First is the use of the false equivalency, a technique whereby different choices are presented as fundamentally “the same”. John emphasizes repeatedly during his presentation that all energy comes with negative impacts. Dead bats with windmills, dead rivers with coal, and dead aquifers with natural gas (my observation, not his). In essence, John implies that all our energy choices are going to screw someone somewhere and that the solution is to try and screw the least number of people and then compensate them if possible. WOW, now that is a positive motivational message for the masses, especially if you want to start a riot.

Mr. Hanger miscalculates the savvy of his audience early on. Besides deploying logical fallacy as an instrument to extort consent, he also promotes a campaign platform that is fashioned entirely out of negative claims that are either distorted in their presentation or just false on the facts:

Coal and oil are really bad. Natural gas extraction is less bad. So natural gas extraction is actually good.
The Corbett administration is really bad. I, John Hanger am less bad. So I, John Hanger, am actually good.
Climate change is really bad. Methane emissions and leaks—measured in a funky short-sighted way—makes it less bad that Co2. So methane emissions and leaks are actually good.
The trouble with this approach is that (a) our frack-savvy Shale Justice-n-Friends audience can see right through it—and did, and (b) as an election platform, it leaves rather a lot to be desired—like positive claims about what a candidate is going to do. Mr. Hanger’s platform, as far as I can see is this: “Vote for me! I’m the guy who will try to get some regulations that will poison you less! Dirty your air less! Destroy your communities less! Have you suffer cancer less! Yeah! Or less!” But of course “regulation” is nothing but code for “minimal control over the rate, speed, mind-blowing severity, and permanence of harm.” So that “less” is pretty cold comfort. Indeed, dying in a house fire because you were using candles to survive a Winter night is frickin awful. But burning down the whole damn house called earth so that a few folks can live in gigantic well-heated houses wherever they damn-well want off the shale—that’s just insane. Mr. Hanger may well have convinced himself that a platform that shills it up for the Good Old Boys of Anadarko is good for the poor folks he patronizes, but the rest of us know better.

Throughout the rest of his presentation John then works under another logical fallacy – the false dichotomy. This is the “either/or” proposition where a limited number of options are given in an attempt to narrow the choices and direct the decision of the target audience. John uses this technique both to justify his support for unconventional gas, “gas is bad but coal is worse” and for his own candidacy “the other candidates are worse than me”. What is particularly puzzling is John’s repeated contrasting of his positions with those of Tom Corbett. As Corbett’s approval rating is just slightly higher than Jerry Sandusky, it seems meaningless to create a comparison. John might as well have contrasted his candidacy with that of a corpse.

Indeed. Comparing oneself to Tom Corbett as a campaign strategy is kind of like insisting that because you didn’t personally, say, turn over Anne Frank to the NAZIs, you deserve to be the next German Chancellor. Nope.

While John knew his audience would not appreciate his lack of support for the party moratorium platform, he must not have realized the intellectual rigor with which they would respond to his rationalizations. When presented with contrasting evidence and his use of logical fallacies, he became defensive. While the meeting was congenial and respectful, John’s discomfort and inability to directly address key issues was apparent.

Mr. Hanger would have been better off had he brought some helpful interference-thugs. At least then, one of them could have texted to the Slim Jim industry mole that things were getting too hot and too smart for their candidate and faked some exit strategy. Instead, Hanger not only went on defense, but in so doing doubled down on the “I’m not the guy who’s gonna tell ya that people aren’t going to get hurt and that their aren’t going to be costs.” The trouble was that he never really countered with any of the benefits. In fact, even Mr. Hanger contests some of the wilder inflated job claims—so who is making out here? Why shouldn’t we all just see this as wholesale concession thinly veiled by a weak-ass promise to help us out when we get cancer, or lose our wells, or our kid gets asthma? And that is all, of course, a lie. John hanger can’t cure cancer, de-toxify a contaminated well, or fix a sick kid’s lungs.

Of particular concern was John’s use of the shared culpability argument – the idea that, since we all use energy to exist we are all responsible for the devastation incurred from nuclear power, coal extraction, and oil & gas drilling. What is conveniently ignored in that rationale is that we do not all consume at the same level. Some of us are more culpable than others. And the corporate transnationals and political elite that offer us no viable choices but death by axe or death by hanging, are the most culpable of all.

“Shared Culpability.” As if my occasionally less than stellar kitty-box cleaning was comparable to Michael Vick’s penchant for dog-fighting. As if my driving a Honda FIT was comparable to some gas executive’s purchase of a fleet of stretch HUMMERS. As if my somewhat lazy ‘tude about turning my compost was comparable to dumping frack waste. Seriously.

By the end of the evening I am willing to give John the benefit of the doubt.

Benefit of the doubt? Not so much. Though I highly esteem my colleague in anti-fracking action, Kevin Heatley, I’m afraid that Mr. Hanger precluded this option at both the beginning—and especially the end—of his performance for Shale Justice. Let me put this as forthrightly and compassionately as possible—no easy marriage: I wholly appreciate and empathize with Mr. Hanger’s loss of his son. I cannot even fathom the pain and anguish this must have caused, and the suffering he must surely still endure. I would be smashed to bits the size of grains of sand. But having said that, to raise this death—to effectively deploy it—as a strategy for making oneself electable, the best candidate in virtue of being the least noxious and the grieving father is deplorable. Mr. Hanger should be ashamed—and I hope he never uses this smarmy tactic ever ever again. For his own sake. I was embarrassed for him. I cannot support a candidate that willfully ignores the precautionary principle either, but even more I cannot support a candidate who willfully exploits the death of his child for political gain.

While I cannot support a candidate that willfully ignores the precautionary principle, a concept that demands we hold back on further natural gas extraction until the science is clear, I can acknowledge his support for renewable energy and social justice to be both honest and noble efforts. However, John then, in apparent desperation, struggling to salvage the room, brings up a personal tragedy that his family experienced last year. This was extremely inappropriate and bordered on manipulation. Politicians would be well advised to keep pictures of the kids, the wife, or wives, the hubby, and the lovable Pug, at home. My vote will not be based upon how much you love your family or how much they love you. It will be based upon the potential impact of your policies. We already have enough incompetent but good family men and women in office.

And I can only interpret Mr. Hanger’s applause for renewables as posturing and pandering until he becomes a lot more courageous about ending fossil fuel extraction and takes seriously the real harms that he only pretends to care about. Or—perhaps he does care. But it’s no better a surmise because then we must conclude he’s not that bright—and I do think Mr. hanger is bright. Bright enough to position himself between the gas industry and the citizens they are in knowing, calculative fashion harming with “regulation.” Such citizens may be “refugees,” but, well, beware the educated embattled engaged refugee. We have formed a movement.

So, I offer a big thank you to all the known enemies of the State at Shale Justice for getting John to come up to Bloomsburg and speak to the disenfranchised overburdened who live on the shale. And I would also like to thank John Hanger for being one of the only candidates willing to engage an audience of future refugees. But let the two major parties be advised – shale gas is a game changer, just not in the way the industry claims. The illusion of choice based upon the old two party paradigm is disappearing. Ignore the seismic groundswell of opposition and you will never collect your royalties.

Kevin’s right. Shale gas is a game changer. A party system that has always been a sham is exposed all the more so for its internal corruptions and corporatist self-aggrandizing objectives. But the real change in the game is not about parties or industries. It’s, as Kevin says, about the seismic groundswell of resistance that knows neither party nor state nor country borders. All it knows is shale. That is to say, it knows everything that is represented by the potential destruction of this last bastion of fossil fuel extraction—and because that is called climate change, it knows that game-over is about far more than royalties.

Sustainable Shale Development: The “Middle Ground” That’s Newspeak for Fraud

The Fraudulent “Logic” of the “Middle Ground”

Among the most pernicious and calculative strategies for extorting consent currently in fashion with the natural gas industry and their public relations agents—particularly the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD)—is what I’ll call the “argument for the middle ground.” There are several varieties of this brand of rhetorical extortion, but the basic structure of such an “argument” goes like this:

The truth can be counted on to lay somewhere in “the middle,” where “the middle” is invariably some “compromise” between opposing factions, and where “everyone” can feel good that their interests have been met more or less in that “middle.” This “truth” via consensus can then be promoted as “reasonable,” and “just” and anyone who seeks to counter it with opposing facts or a challenge to its reasoning can be cast as irrational, an extremist—even a terrorist if they persist in pointing out evidence contrary to “the middle ground” or to the “consensus” alleged in its defense. The “middle ground,” in other words, is newspeak for fraud.

The trouble with this form of reasoning is that it’s specious and extortive to its core. Truth is entirely independent of the interests of any party. Truth doesn’t care whether folks get their way. Truth is not the product of consensus. Truth is what is supported by an objective evaluation of the facts where the facts have been presented honestly—without exaggeration, cherry-picking, or other distortion—and where evaluation steers clear of fallacious, biased, or interested “reasoning.” Truth does not present itself to us for approval. When the facts do not support what we want to believe, we should change our minds—even if it’s hard. And that’s it.

This is not to say that getting to the truth is always easy, or that even on its honest pursuit we don’t sometimes draw the wrong conclusions. But it is to say that if what we are ultimately after are ways in which to improve the human condition, have some say in our future, and even care about the world beyond ourselves, we are far better off to pursue truth than consensus. Indeed, in gas industry newspeak “consensus” is just a way to paper over fraud, “middle ground” a strategy for coercing consent to being defrauded out of the future—all the while being led to think one’s just acting as a rational agent.

And this big fat fraud is dependent on the big fat lie that there exists such a thing as “sustainable shale development.” Never mind that natural gas is a fossil fuel such that “sustainable shale” is oxymoronic on its face. Never mind that, just like “environmental” and “green,” “sustainable” has been appropriated by an industry willing to resort to pretty much any strategy to discredit, neutralize, and terrorize anyone who stands in the way of drilling for dollars. Nope—unlike “environmental” and “green, each of which retain the odor of a rearguard action to mitigate damage already done, “sustainable shale” offers an opportunity to reclaim the myth of endless energy, endless growth, endless development, and even the myth that everyone will benefit.

Sustainable Shale Development: The Big Fat Lie

Far more than a mere bridge to the real sustainables—solar and wind, for example—natural gas is now promoted as the sustainable fossil fuel; it’s the “green” alternative, the “middle ground” where we can return guiltlessly to our staggering levels of consumption without being nagged by the potential consequences for all those “others” whose whining about things like “climate change” can be neatly dismissed as “alarmist” “tree-hugger bull shit.” “Clean burning natural gas,” is the old propaganda given a new lease on life as “sustainable shale.” Oh, it may have had a bumpy start while the industry was “getting it right” with its new-fangled horizontal hydro-fracking technology—but “getting it right” through (industry drafted and codified) “regulation” and (industry approved) “better laws” is just the “middle ground” we need to magically transform a fossil fuel into a sustainable—or at least to convince us that anyone who refuses to believe in magic is just an irrational Negative Nancy.

In Of Aristotle and Anadarko: Why “Better Laws” Will Never be Enough | Raging Chicken Press, I argued that by effectively wielding the recession to extort the survival-first instincts of what I’ve called the Big Fake Greens (the Environmental Defense Fund, The Sierra Club, the Audubon Society) and their would-be colleagues in the “Little Fake Greens” (The Responsible Drilling Alliance, the gubernatorial campaign of John Hanger, PennFuture), the natural gas industry has masterfully executed a Vichy France style occupation of “the truth” including the wholesale debauchery of terms like “regulation,” “legislation,” “law,” and “best practices.” Just as the French determined that their survival far outweighed the survival of their Jewish citizens or their national and cultural integrity, so too have organizations like the Environmental Defense Fund determined that their survival far outweighs that of those impacted by slickwater horizontal hydraulic fracturing or the value of not being associated with, say, one of the world’s top ten human rights violators—Chevron (Big Oil Firms Accused of Human-Rights Abuses in Burma – TIME) and Shell (Global Exchange Top Ten Corporate Criminals List | Global Exchange). Want to know how the trampling of human rights and environmental devastation get green washed? Ask, say, Andrew Place at CSSD (

What makes so putrid a bargain palatable is the appeal to the “middle ground,” the fraudulent logic upon which “shale” can be magically transformed into “sustainable” and truth exchanged not merely for “truthy-ness,” but for something more sordid: the Big Fat Lie that the future of shale development will leave anything in its wake other than a few very wealthy white people behind the walls—cyber and cement—of their off-shore bank accounts, and the remainder to face rising seas, catastrophic flooding, un-farmable desert, species extinction—starvation, disease, and war.

Where flag-waving appeals to knee-jerk patriotism have failed to adequately hi-jack our better judgment to the belief that corporations have our best interests at heart, shaming us into believing that we’re irrational buffoons if we don’t sign onto the “middle ground” stands a better chance of successful extortion.

It appeals, after all, not merely to the patriotism of some—but to the desire to be seen as rational by all. To appropriate the vocabulary of rational exchange is—if we allow it—a coup for the gas industry; it is to accede not only to the destruction of water, soil, and air quality, but to a “reason” whose only objective is to bamboozle us, shame us, and silence us while they extract the last square inch of natural gas and sell it to the highest bidder. By the time we return to our senses, it will be too late.

The industry, of course, would have us dismiss dire predictions about wars fought over access to water as paranoid hyperbole. They work hard to divide and conquer us by luring, for example, folks looking for acceptable candidates for the Pennsylvania governor’s office to endorse John Hanger on the argument that regulation to enforce “best practices” will create jobs while protecting the environment—the middle ground. But consider what this really means: the best of all possible practices for flaring gas wells must assume that less immediately detectible harm isn’t harm, that a slightly mitigated contribution to climate change isn’t a contribution to climate change.

What “best practices” means, in other words, is “acceptable casualties and collateral damage, just maybe not you, at least not right now.”

Anyone who endorses a candidate with that as their effective campaign slogan is no better than the German family who stands idle witness to the cattle train rolling down the track with its human cargo to the NAZI concentration camps. Why? Because what we know on copious reiterations of hard evidence is that “best practices” is gas industry code for “whatever we can get away with.” That is the industry’s “middle ground.”

9.27.13: Widener University, School of Law– Marcellus Shale Development and Pennsylvania: What Lessons for Sustainable Energy?

To date I have seen no more pristine example of the argument for the “middle ground,” that is, no more wholesale propaganda for this fraud, than the September 27th 2013 Widener University School of law, Environmental Law Center “conference” devoted to pitching Marcellus Shale development as “sustainable,” (Environmental Law Center).

With very little exception, both the content and the structure of the “conference” could only be described as a calculated attempt to legitimate the new ideology of sustainable fossil fuels. Indeed, I’ve put “conference” in scare quotes because where the format rules out any possibility of challenging interaction, where questions must be written down, delivered by proxy, and screened for submission, and where every moment of the day is scheduled to minimize conflicted conversations, there is no conference.

Widener Law – Marcellus Shale Development Livestream

The unmistakable presupposition of the “conference” itself was that there is a safe, acceptable, rational “middle ground” for shale development. The possibility that it ought not to be done at all was precluded in the “conference” title—and reinforced in spades by virtually all of the presentations. Just a few disturbing highlights:

Scott Perry: Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), argued that natural gas production was “too important to be left to the feds,” that regulations in PA were “way ahead on the environment,” that “we [in PA] had filled in every gap left by the federal government,” and that fracking was good for the environment. It’s genuinely hard to know where to begin here—but perhaps just one recent news article—I’ll bet Colorado thinks they have the best laws too: Fracking and Flooding in Colorado: The More We Know the Worse It Gets – EcoWatch: Cutting Edge Environmental News Service. But if that seems to far from home, consider: this is the same Scott Perry–DEP agent–who offered nothing but cold comfort to the residents of Dimock who continue their lawsuit against Cabot OIl and Gas for methane contamination of their wells (Dimock | StateImpact Pennsylvania). Indeed, “good for the environment,” probably doesn’t sit all that well with Norma Florentino–whose water well exploded, or Scott Ely who describes his water as “close to Drano” (DEP lets Cabot resume Dimock fracking – News – The Times-Tribune).

Andrew Place: Corporate Director of Energy and Environmental Policy at the natural gas extraction and midstream corporation EQT (EQT Manager Promotes Sustainable Fracking Development ), and EQT representative to the Center for Sustainable Shale Development (CSSD). Place argued for the full spate of “best practices” implying that industry really wants to preserve the environment. But it’s hard to take Place very seriously. After all, he couldn’t better epitomize the revolving door of government and gas industry if he tried: “Prior to taking his post at EQT in 2011, Place was at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, as deputy secretary in the Office of Energy & Technology Deployment” (The face behind the Center for Sustainable Shale Development – Shale Reporter : Industry). And of course there’s the recent case of the EQT gas worker killed in a frack pad blast in West Virginia. Clearly, “best practices” for place is code for “acceptable casualties,” (West Virginia EQT Explosion Kills Worker At Taylor County Natural Gas Well Pad).

John Hanger: While Hanger talks a good game about how he’s a “renewable energy guy,” he’s not. In fact, what becomes abundantly clear in his stump speech—presented on the “Energy, Climate Change, and Ethics” panel—is that he’s not only bought the absurd claim that natural gas is somehow for Americans, but even were that true, he’s clearly willing to sell out folks who are not his voting constituents to climate change. Hanger likes to tell a story about poor inner city folks who die in a fire because they can’t afford to heat their house—as a justification for continued fracking—but he apparently gives nary a thought to the suffering of the developing world poor facing the consequences of global warming (John Hanger–Right off the Rack | Raging Chicken Press). Hanger epitomizes what Widener Law School’s Don Brown described as the American tendency to privilege American interests above any others regardless the cost—so long as it “ain’t us.” This too, of course, is just another version of the middle ground—a “truth” defined in the interest of supporting a “conference” that’s really just a promotional video for CSSD, who is itself provided “technical support” by Mr. Hanger’s employer, Eckert Seamans (Chevron, Shell, Enviros Set Fracking Standards · Environmental Management & Energy News · Environmental Leader), a fact that puts Hanger—who supports CSSD (John Hanger’s Facts of The Day: The Center For Sustainable Shale Development Changes Fundamentally Shale Production Because Gas Certified As Sustainably Produced Will Soon Be Demanded By Gas Consumers). Does this put Mr. Hanger in bed with one of the world’s most horrific human rights abusers, Chevron. Yes. Does a possible Hanger candidacy make very real Brown’s claim that climate change is a “civilization challenging” dilemma? Indeed it does. But in the “middle ground” where fracking is “good for the environment,” where “industry cares about our forests and communities,” and where groups entirely in the tank for the gas like CSSD can promote themselves as “responsible,” we all live in Vichy, France, we’re all acceptable casualties–unless, of course, you’re in The Good Ole’ Boy Extraction Club: The Pseudo-Patriotic and Pervasively Patriarchal Culture of Hydraulic Fracturing (Why Breast Cancer is the Canary in the Fracking Coal Mine) | Raging Chicken Press. “Conferences” like the Sustainable Shale Shindig at Widener function to propagandize the “middle ground” by acting as a seal of approval, a “father knows best” imprimatur to hydraulic fracturing. Indeed, its professors wrote the “Citizen’s Guide” to getting the most out of your lease while the gettin’ in good (, transforming “environmental” into a full-scale exculpating green wash for cradle to grave natural gas production.

There were exceptions on the “conference” roster—the panels on public health and community sustainability. But listening to almost the only women on the program talk meaningfully about real health disasters and disease resultant from shale extraction was a surreal experience. They, after all, are utter outliers to a “middle ground” that cannot accommodate evidence that puts the lie to the safety of fracking. The audience listened politely, and the “conference” promptly returned to its fraudulent premises.

There is much more to say about the Widener Environmental Law Center Frack Gas Propaganda Shindig—but the upshot is clear enough: if you can successfully wield the legitimating power of an academic venue—especially a law school—you can advance an agenda that, in this case, is the gas industry’s masquerading as environmentally responsible. Under the ever-thinning robes of academic regalia you can apparently advance what amounts to corporate fascism festooned not with the recognition of scholarly achievements, but with the Logos of Chevron, EQT, Consol, PennFuture, Shell—CSSD. In academia we call these university/corporation “partnerships.” But this is good old fashioned prostitution. A university creates a “center” that acts as corporate liaison to a rightly suspicious public. The “center” then instantiates the “middle ground” through its academic credentials, its atmosphere of reasoned dialogue, its parade of mostly white male experts and scholars. It sponsors an ideology—in this case “sustainable shale”—propagandized as that which only the daft and ignorant would reject.

And voila! The unsustainable becomes endless. The polluting becomes good for the environment. Disease becomes health. Water becomes clean and plentiful. The warming planet becomes a paradise. The poor become rich. Grass becomes trees. The animals rejoice, the sky turns the pink and rosy color of a forever sunrise on humanity.

Except that this is a frack well brimming with bull shit. If this is the agenda of the Widener University Environmental Law Center, we can only conclude that, like many of its analogues in United States higher education, it exemplifies the extent to which university education has become corporatized—serving the needs of industry over education—and co-opted to the revolving door of government, industry, and now Frack-U. With one caveat: the Environmental Law Center appears—like CSSD—to have been created—not merely co-opted—for just this purpose. But we shouldn’t find this surprising. It’s the new “middle ground” where truth is magically transformed to support insanity, and where monsters like Chevron and Shell get to decide what counts as sustainable: fossil fuels (Chevron, Shell, Enviros Set Fracking Standards · Environmental Management & Energy News · Environmental Leader).

The moral of my story is simple, and as clear as I have been throughout this catastrophe for my state, my region, my country and my world:

To resist compromise when the compromise requires acceding to a clear and pernicious evil–and especially when that evil is thinly cloaked behind pseudo-moralisms like “middle ground,” “regulation,” “reason,” is not an exercise in the demand for moral purity; nor is it recalcitrance or stubbornness or myopia, it is an clarion call to conscience.

Education Matters More Than Money: The APSCUF Anti-Extraction Resolution

After considerable protracted debate over a long Summer, the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty—APSCUF—decisively passed by a vote of 68-31 a position statement with respect to SB 367—the PA Frack U Bill—and more generally the state university union’s position with respect to hydraulic fracturing—fracking—on state university properties.

It had been nearly a year since the “indigenous mineral resource development” bill had been debated and passed as Act 147 investing university presidents with the authority to decide whether a fracking—or coal, or oil—mining operation can proceed on Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) campuses—including campus quads, outside classroom windows, next to sports fields, or wherever else the industry determines is the most expeditious location for a drill head, a compressor station, a waste hauler parking lot, or pipeline (

The text of the position statement reads as follows:

A motion was advanced to LA [Legislative Assembly] in April 2013 stating: Therefore, be it resolved, EUP Legislative Assembly delegates request the executive council to develop a position statement opposing fracking on Pennsylvania State System Properties. This motion will return to the floor at the pending LA in September.

The ad hoc committee, by majority, supports the position that PASSHE campuses are not appropriate locations for hydraulic fracturing (fracking), that given the environmental and health hazards of the fracking process, including all of its infrastructure and associated enterprises, its presence on PASSHE campuses is inconsistent and potentially deleterious to the PASSHE educational mission as well as to the health and welfare of PASSHE community members. A growing body of research is beginning to quantify and characterize the negative environmental, societal, economic, and ecological impacts on those close to such activities. Local impacts include but are not limited to gas migration, air pollution, and surface and near-surface water quality degradation as well as potential chronic impacts to air, water, landscapes, habitat, and ecosystems. Soeder (2012, Shale gas development in the United States) states, “Having one of these sites near a home, school or business can be distracting, inconvenient, annoying, and disruptive.” Moreover, APSCUF opposes SB 367–the Indigenous Mineral Resources Development Act–as inconsistent with the PASSHE education mission for the same reasons and because it effectively pits some PASSHE campuses against others for revenue which could accrue to the permitting of fracking operations on PASSHE lands. Such potential competition, or implementation of SB 367 in any form, could accelerate the presence of such operations–including pipeline construction, compressor infrastructure, waste management, heavy industrial truck traffic, and thereby increase exposure to pollution and hazards for members of PASSHE communities. Lastly, APSCUF takes a position against a PASSHE contribution to climate change, as induced by increased greenhouse gas emissions, as this is also inconsistent with a mission committed to the educations and welfare of future citizens of the Commonwealth.

Although the committee supports this position and acknowledges potential negative impacts to our campuses by on-campus drilling, a subset of committee members posed an alternative viewpoint that APSCUF should not offer a position on this issue but allow individual PASSHE universities to act independently in response to implementing the Act. Concern was expressed that issuing a position to oppose on-campus drilling would be viewed as a condemnation of the entire industry, a viewpoint not universally shared within the committee.

To fully appreciate the meaning of what may be the first union position taken on fracking in the Commonwealth, it’s useful to make brief review of the history, the motives, and the corruption that attended Act 147. In addition to Dory Hippauf’s fine piece “Welcome to PA Frack-U” (Welcome to PA FRACK-U), I laid out the argument against SB 367 in an October 2012 RCP piece, “The Industrialization of PASSHE” The Industrialization of PASSHE: Where the Public Good, its Students, and its Faculty are Auctioned Off to the Extraction Profiteers (Or: Extortion by Extraction) | Raging Chicken Press):

It’s sponsor Donald C. White (R-41) is a direct gas industry beneficiary to the tune of $94,150.
White explicitly compares the opportunities for gas leasing made available in SB 367 on PASSHE properties to leasing Pennsylvania game and state forest lands. He insists that the bill does not require the state to lease or sell property rights—making those decisions the province of university presidents—but this is nothing but thinly veiled subterfuge given that
Governor Corbett has bludgeoned PASSHE budgets for the last three years such that pressure for university presidents to play ball with the gas industry to make up the short-fall is a virtual guarantee of their complicity, and
The comparison with other state lands like those currently under siege by the gas companies (for example, Loyalsock State Forest) only strengthens the claim that whatever rightly counts as the people’s land—state forest, state campuses, state game lands—is absolutely for sale by a corrupt state administration which acts as a revolving door and an employment agency for the industry (Fracking and the Revolving Door in Pennsylvania | Public Accountability Initiative).

Leasing PASSHE properties to the gas industry is just one part of the strategy to convert state universities in Pennsylvania into privatized and corporatized training depots and public relations offices for industry. Whether Big Energy, Big Pharma, or Big Food, the industrialization of PASSHE is consistent with Corbett administration ideology which makes higher education the prerogative of the very wealthy all the while consigning the children of the middle and lower classes to fill the jobs requisite to an industry that fills the pockets of Corbett appointments and allies. As I made clear during the APSCUF Legislative Assembly, 9.20.13, SB 367 is manifestly inconsistent with the mission of any university: “The notion that a campus with active drill rigs competing for space with libraries, quads, and classrooms is conducive to learning, that a frack-operation is consistent with the atmosphere necessary to the free exchange of ideas, is absurd on its face.” This is true for at least three reasons:

1. The presence of a frack operation or any of its infrastructure is inconsistent with the health and welfare of the university community. The potential for carcinogen exposure, methane leak, explosion, noise, heavy industrial truck trafiic, etc. should make any parent taking the tour of a PASSHE campus think twice about sending their son or daughter to a PASSHE school.

2. The creation of university/industry “partnerships” can compromise the integrity of entire departments and programs. “Research bearing the imprimatur of Penn State, University of Texas at Austin, and University of Buffalo, for example, have all come under fire for “research” demonstrably biased to industry interests, for ignoring environmental and health concerns, and for failing to disclose their financing.” Closer to home, consider “A three group panel” discussing “environmental and operational safety of drilling for Marcellus shale natural gas” at PASSHE’s Slippery Rock University (SRU). The panelists included “health and safety manager at Advanced Waste Services Sean Decristoforo, vice president for safety and environment of Range Resources Ralph Tijerina, and James Daley, director of natural gas and energy programs of Greenhouse and Omara Inc. The mediator was Anthony Cialella, vice president for energy services for Advanced Waste Services”—all pro-fracking, all industry beneficiaries. Moreover, one of the attendees, Professor Patrick Burkhart, Geoscience SRU and committee chair for the APSCUF committee charged with drafting the APSCUF position statement on fracking insisted with respect to frack-related water pollution that “you cannot define dirty until you define clean,” and that “environmental issues are demand driven” (The Rocket : Local shale fracking under question) implying—as he reiterated at APSCUF Delegate Assembly—that economic circumstance ought to determine environmental policy—on PASSHE properties.

3. We teach our students a deeply immoral lesson about the value of human life and the integrity of the planet’s ecology when we allow operations whose contribution to water destruction, air pollution, forest fragmentation, and climate change to proceed on campus—as if our only value for their futures is as cogs in that machine.

SB 367, however, is just one piece in a suite of perverse legislations threatening to undermine not only the ecologies upon which we all depend, but the democracy we still pretend to value. SB 259/HB 1414 allows old gas and oil leases to be revived by drillers unless there is explicit language in the old lease forbidding it—and of course, there won’t be since fracking is a new technology (‎‎’s%20What%20NARO-PA%20has%20to%20say%20about%20SB%20259.pdf). The bill opens the door to forced pooling in a fashion called “sleazy” even by some in favor of drilling. SB 1047/HB 15756 effectively guts the states endangered species act making access to habitat otherwise off limits to drillers available to natural gas extraction (Endangered Species Act Proposed Changes: HB 1576 & SB 1047 | Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs). HB 1717 would “force DCNR to lease another 300,000 of state forest and park land for gas drilling, and direct the money to PennDOT to repair bridges” (

But this is just the tip of the iceberg. As I pointed out at APSCUF Delegate Assembly, once the export gas terminals at places like Cove Point Maryland come on line, the industrialization we have seen in Pennsylvania to date will look like a trip to Disney World—100,000 wells, twenty-two possible export depots from Maine to Oregon, their pipeline, their compressors, and their waste—will look more like Zombie Apocalypse than ‘It’s a Small World After All.”

All of this brings me finally to some observations about the potential Democrat party candidacy of former DEP head John Hanger who promises—with a straight face—that he will see to it that regulation will make fracking safe and natural gas cheap.

Indeed, he has duped some in the anti-fracking movement to his platform with promises that he’ll make right the wrongs they have suffered. But it is a small world after all. Besides the fact that there simply is no making right the permanent destruction of water, the generation of the conditions for cancer, and the erosion of the rural social fabric, Hanger epitomizes the perverse lie that it is possible to regulate a catastrophe in progress. Given that the regulations are themselves drafted by the very industry that benefits from no regulation at all, “regulate” can mean nothing other than “business-as-usual-concealed-with-a-bit-of green-wash.” And that is Hanger’s pitch for the development of energy alternatives—green wash. Not because he might not really mean that he’d like to see us move beyond fossil fuels, but because he has already conceded cheerily that we won’t and can’t—and he doesn’t really care. After all, if he did, he’d support the Democratic Party’s moratorium resolution—and he doesn’t. He calls it unrealistic—as if “realistic” were an acceptable concession to death-by-fracking.

So here we have another resolution with which a candidate for governor disagrees—the first Pennsylvania public union’s resolution to resist fracking operations on PASSHE properties. The value of such a resolution is not—to be really realistic—in its capacity to keep fracking off PASSHE campuses. It will not. It’s value lay in its bearing witness—when the trucks roll down our rural roads onto our campus quads, our students will know that we said NO to this egregious intrusion into their futures. Its value lay in its capacity as a tool for fomenting the only thing that will bring to an end a catastrophe that hasn’t really even begun—and won’t until pipeline and export depot are ready to begin the trans-ocean transports of frack gas to China and Japan and India. That thing is called a “revolution,” and it begins in the only place it can: every conscience of every thinking person who sees through the game of “regulation,” and recognizes that like all games of Russian Roulette, Regulation Roulette ends up with a bullet to the head—in this case that of our collective future.

So—it is a small world. But it is bigger than, say, Dimock, and it is bigger than any single college campus, and it is bigger than Pennsylvania. But it is not bigger than the shale deposits whose mining for gas represents the last gasp of a fatal addiction—and that is a world grown smaller by the day.