Saturday, January 25, 2014

Letter to Benjamin Bratton: "We Need to Talk about TED"

Dear Professor Bratton,

I wanted to take a moment to say "Thank you!" for "We need to talk about TED" ( Someone I care about was recently invited--and under fairly arbitrary and little-vetted circumstances--to give a TEDx talk ( I was immediately suspicious, in part because I have worked--indeed, fought--for years to keep the humanities at my institution from being suffocated by TED-like substitutes for substantive, engaging, pedagogy--the sort you wished could go on lots longer than 18 minutes. I have taught philosophy at Bloomsburg University for nearly 21 years--and being witness to the erosion of the liberal arts in higher education has led many of my generation of academics to wonder whether the humanities education necessary to equip citizens to do the hard work of a democracy is simply dying on the vine--or was more mythology to begin with.

I tend to the latter.

Several years ago my own administration sought to institute a "transformation" of our general education requirements. The "new" Gen-Ed offers students a kind of TEDx experience of a "humanities" represented to them as a menu of "McCredits" on their way to job-focused majors cast as the "real" purpose of higher education. "[T]aking something with value and substance and coring it out so that it can be swallowed without chewing,"--that is exactly what our new "humanities" is posed to become--and it has driven me to think about early retirement from a profession I otherwise love. I aggressively led the charge to retain the integrity of our liberal arts programs (and was more grateful than ever for tenure)--but against the TEDx allure of "quick, cheap, easy, packaged McKnowledge" there seems to be little defense. Now I have gone "gorilla" and I very deliberately craft courses that offer students texts and tools for the critique of the institutions--government, corporate, "educational"--that would convince them that "freedom" is a row of "Duck Dynasty" CD choices at Walmart, or that education is just a necessary evil on the way to a career you can stand until the weekend arrives--when you drink 'til Monday, then do it all again. Last semester I taught an entire lovely term on The Communist Manifesto and its implications for the 21st century--good and bad. It was a blast. We all actually learned something. But like our new "humanities" programs, TEDx isn't about learning--that would involve real thinking and the possibility that one might be wrong--and you don't get all that much spiritual confirmation out of that.

I was particularly impressed by your question "But have you ever wondered why so little of the future promised in TED talks actually happens?" I think the question is not as much whether some of the ideas are right or wrong--some seem very compelling; others inspiring-sounding, but too vague to be meaningful, others just plain insipid. I think the question is whether actually creating the conditions for change is what TED is about at all. I think the answer here is plainly NO. Part of what makes the whole TED world-view, if it makes sense to call it that, so ready-for-satire is that, it stinks of a weird kind of Noblesse Oblige--important smart folks (or folks who are invited to think of themselves as important--however smart) who hold forth for 18 minutes on something that IS potentially of great value, allegedly making it more accessible to a wider audience--but without having pointed out that what's being made so available has been "cored out," potentially distorted, watered-down, bastardized, and sanitized to the point where all that's left is a sandwich of sound bytes that tastes sort of good, but once its gone, it's just, well, gone. That, I think, is naught but a prescription for, as you put it "civilizational disaster."

I think you're right on the dollar when you suggest that on the TED "worldview" if we talk long enough about world-changing ideas, the world will change--and that this is demonstrably false. I could not know this more clearly in my own life as an organizer in the Pennsylvania anti-extreme fossil fuel extraction movement. We have lots of "talkers"--many who REALLY have had some horrific experiences with the gas companies destroying their lands, their wells, their property values. It's not my aim to demean this. But if I have learned anything it's that however compelling are these stories, however galvanizing, they don't actually offer us meaningful avenues of real change. That argument for real change requires that folks do a LOT more than tell their stories, including telling them as a TEDx talk. It's easy-peasy to nod approvingly about how fucked-up things are, and then go out to dinner at an Olive Garden. It requires that we take risks, that we undertake the inconvenient, the unpopular, the sometimes turgid and not much for sexy work of, say, movement building, door to door, municipality to municipality if what we want is real change. And, as you imply, coming out of an 18 minute talk feeling like things are all OK is more akin to the manipulations and extortions of, say, EST than it is to any really meaningful communication.

Honestly, I don't want folks to feel good. I want them to get off their asses and DO something. There's nothin' about TEDx that I can see that gets folks to THAT.

Quite to the contrary.

I have lots more to say about your essay--I just really enjoyed it--in that sort of dark, vindicating sort-a-way. But I'll suffice for now with just a couple of one (or two)-liners on the specifics;

About T- for-Tech: It seems to me that critical theorists like Walter Benjamin, Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and to some extent Jean Baudrillard make similar points about "cultural de-accelleration"--and that this too is right on. "Placebo technoradicalism" is just that, a largely blind faith in the techno-fix without much by way of any critical evaluation of what the tech is for--other than insuring we can just do faster, cheaper, more of the same. In this respect, much of that tech is deployed to inherently conservative ends--and some of it--improved surveillance tech, for example, is deployed (quite literally) to both conservative and arguably fascistic ends. "Our machines get smarter and we get stupider."

Yup. Ditto for E-for-Economic.

And on the other side of this, I have had some really testy interaction with the eco-primitivists--Derrick Jensen (Endgame)--who insist that if we simply "return" to some mythical ideal of our "roots" sans high tech that all will be well. Of course, as Jensen argues, someone will need to blow up the Hoover Dam to get THAT ball rolling, and it can't be him. He's the "visionary." As per usual, other folks get to do the dying--and we don't wanna talk about that; it's not the stuff of a TED-Kumbaya moment. I find both of these perspectives absurdly naive (and snotty), and both seem to think no further than a "we" who looks like an "us" that's pretty damn white, pretty damn privileged, and pretty damn male. Makes my blood boil.

"The placebo is worse than ineffective, it's harmful." This, I think, is the most important point you make--TED and TEDx are not just distracting--they're distracting in ways that encourage us to remain complacent--to just "carry on" re-posting on our FB pages, checking our cell phone news apps. And even worse--it encourages those suckered by the TED worldview to settle for, as you put it "affectation" over substance, Mc'Knowledge over the productive discomfort of critical evaluation, sitting on our asses while "others" do the messier work of change. All the while the climate warms, GMOs continue to dominate access to (bad) food, factory farming proceeds with nary a whimper from the dinner party at Olive Garden, and folks are comforted by stupidities like "if you've got nothing to hide, you needn't worry that your government surveils you" and the like--by the truckload.

So, thanks Professor Bratton--your essay wasn't exactly cheery, but it made me feel less like I'm the crazy.


Monday, January 20, 2014


According to the mission statement:

Shale Justice is a coalition of organizations whose aim is to coordinate our efforts, our regionally specific issues, our visions, our talents, and our hard work to end extreme forms of industrialized fossil fuel extraction which poses serious threats to our air, our land and our water (

Fact is, however, we are so much more. In our first year we have accomplished the things that could be expected from any emergent coalition of organizations united around a single mission--in this case to see an end to all forms of extreme industrialized fossil fuel extraction, including fracking, unconventional oil extraction, tar sands mining, and mountain top removal. We have written organization and membership by-laws, secured nonprofit status from our mother organization OUE (Organizations United for the Environment), written and secured grant funding, recruited member organizations--all the things required to exist as a coalition.

But there's so much more--and more to do We have some of the most committed organizations and talented people in the movement to end extreme fossil fuel extraction. And they have offered these talents--writing, logo design presenting, research, protest orchestration--just to name a few, on their own time, at their own expense, with their own expertise.

Here's one example: we participated--and even had the opportunity to register one proxy vote--for the Democratic Party Moratorium into which Karen Feridun of Berks Gas Truth has put so much time and effort.

But while Shale Justice supports a moratorium, this is not because we think there needs to be "more study" to determine whether fracking is safe.

It's not.

We know it's not, and the moratorium is simply a strategy to buy us organizing time on the way to an outright ban.

Our message to the industry is: go home. Take your rigs, your derricks, your tankers, your chem-trucks, your reckless 'tudes, your money, and all of the rest of your shit, and just go home.

Then, do something else. Because until extreme extraction is banished from everywhere, we cannot disband. But unlike the BIg Greens, we don't exist just to pay our staffers either. We exist to actually accomplish something, and when that's done, we'll go home too.

As one of the founding members and executive committee members of Shale Justice, I want to take a moment to say THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!!!! to everyone and every organization who has participated in making this coalition work. And to that end, I offer an incomplete, but entirely loving photo-montage of the first year of one of the fastest growing coalitions in Pennsylvania--and everywhere extreme extraction threatens ecological integrity and human rights.


What became the Shale Justice Coalition grew out of a first, wildly well-attended meeting at Bloomsburg University that included a number of organizations, including the Responsible Drilling Alliance (who, at that time, was considering a mission change to Reject Drilling Alliance) the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition (GDAC), and the Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition, the Pennsylvania Green Party, and Marcellus Earth First--among a number of other groups and individuals.

The work of democracy is hard--but what has emerged from this effort is a coalition of genuine grass roots organizations committed to addressing the specific issues confronting their regions and communities--frack pads, pipeline, compressors, etc--with clear sites set on an eventual ban of all things fracking.

Since that time, we have grown to include a number of other organizations, including Gas Free Seneca, Berks Gas Truth, Fracking Free Ireland, and Frack Off UK among others. We have also forged relationships through the talents of our members with other grass roots organizations including the Climate Change Action Network fighting Dominion's plans to construct an export facility at at Cove Point, Maryland, the excellent activists who successfully thwarted a plan to construct a natural gas pipeline through the sensitive New Jersey Pine Barrens ( and the Stone Crab Alliance fighting the Dan A. Hughes Company plan to undertake unconventional oil drilling in the Western Everglades of Florida (.

We are honored to be of service to these splendiferous activists and organizations. And man-o-man, have we done some stuff and been some places! Just to give you an idea:

Here's Deirdre Lolley, Marcellus Earth First!, waiting in line to speak to the recently resigned CEO of EXCO, the beleaguered Doug Miller. We have been present at almost too many hearings to even count--everyone of them important. We have spoken out against legislation that would vitiate protections for endangered species, make waterways even more vulnerable to contamination, forfeit even more of the rights of communities and provate property owners, allow the industry to use acid mine drainage for frack fluids, make getting information about industry records more difficult--and so much more.

Shale Justice has also been supportive of our fellows from Milford Pennsylvania and the surrounding region fighting to prevent the construction of the Tennessee Pipeline. Indeed, it is our view that pipeline infrastructure is one of the most important front-lines of the anti-extraction movement. From Maine to New Jersey to Pennsylvania to Maryland to Louisiana to Texas to Florida--and everywhere else LNG export facilities are being planned, we say, this is a battleground we must not lose, and we are with you in your fight to prevent that forfeiture of vital ecology and human communities from transpiring--especially when the only beneficiaries are energy giants whose wallets are already fattened with money from the exploitation of your yards, your forests, your waterways, and your public treasures.

And we are simply awed by the work of the Delaware River Keepers, Protecting Our Waters, and the Clean Air Council. It's honestly hard to know where even to begin thanking the folks whose work this past year has been instrumental to this movement, but suffice it to say this much: the vast majority of the grass roots organizers, writers, photographers, and activist of this movement are women--as opposed to the mostly paid, mostly affluent, mostly white men of the Big Greens--like the woefully compromised Sierra Club. It's also impossible to name all of the women and men whose contributions have been so vital--but vital is the only word that describes this unpaid, brain-breaking, crucial labor.

Our members have spoken out at churches, photography exhibits, music concerts, films, Summer craft exhibits--anywhere that we can reach folks whose lives are likely to be impacted by extreme extraction--and, given climate change--that is everywhere. Here, for example, is Shale Justice member Rev. Leah Schade educating an ecumenical audience organized by Protecting Our Waters Iris Bloom in Philadelphia, March 2013.

Here's Gas Free Seneca's Yvonne Taylor (she's in the bright green coat) working to organize a freezing early March 2013 crowd inspired by the civil disobedience of Professor Sandra Steingrabber in Watkin's Glen New York in their struggle to prevent Inergy from utilizing salt caverns on Lake Seneca for LNG storage--a fight so far successful.

The excellent John Trallo, Shale Justice Executive Committee with members of Marcellus Earth First! in front of the Department of Environmental Protection offices in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, Earth Day, April 22nd, 2013.

Sue Laidacker, Shale Justice Executive Committee, May 2013 at our nation's capital to support an action organized by Food and Water Watch in Maryland. We cannot really emphasize enough the importance of collective action across state borders, regions, class, ethnicity, religion. If ever there was a struggle in which we all have a stake, ending the monopoly of Big Gas is surely that struggle.

When you look into the faces of these citizens, you see old and young, white, black, the well-to-do, the economically marginalized, women and men--you see America--but also something more, a global ecology poised either to take the plunge into the chaos of global warming or turn back from the global disaster precipitated by forest fragmentation, water and air pollution, community displacement, disease borne of toxic exposure to carcinogens, endocrine disruptors, neuro-toxins, and other agents--and war.

As I have put it now a thousand times: if we do not end extreme extraction, we will find ourselves at war over access to the remaining clean water that we destroyed to derive the fuel with which we power the weapons we will use to prosecute that war. And that threat is so real and so palpable, that Shale Justice has been right there with our many sister organizations and coalitions--even standing up to President Obama's pro-frack Big Gas bridge fuel argument.

Moreover, the struggle to end fracking expands to helping communities fight other polluting non-renewable energy sources, for example, the En-Tire tire burning power plant defeated in White Deer Township, Pennsylvania. We have recently joined forces with the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF; to sponsor an incarnation of Democracy School at Susquehanna University, and to help empower communities to determine for themselves what is in the best interests of their residents.

The crowds are getting bigger. Consider this audience organized by a number of organizations, including the Shale Justice Coalition, over Anadarko's (Kerr McGee's) plans to frack the Loyalsock State Forest. And our commitments are getting deeper and more resolved. After all, Nelson Mandela didn't settle for a little apartheid. So why on earth should we settle for a little cancer? A little neurological damage? A little childhood asthma? There's no such thing as a little acceptable slavery--and there's no such thing as a little acceptable ecological destruction--not when the necessary conditions of life depend on the air and water the industry is content to destroy.

These examples are merely a sample of the work Shale Justice is crazy proud to have participated in over the past year. We are looking forward to a 2014 that grows our coalition. We now have a speaker's bureau, a wicked busy calendar of events, and a commitment that makes 2013 look like the baby steps of a toddler just learning how to walk.

This year, we're not just walking, we're charging into this struggle to end extreme fossil fuel extraction.

Our mission:


If your idea of a "special place" is the planet, and you'd like to participate in one of the most important and meaningful human rights and ecological stability movements of the 21st century, join us.

Happy First Anniversary Shale Justice!

Wendy Lynne Lee, Executive Committee
Shale Justice/

All photoographs, Wendy Lynne Lee:

Shale Justice Anniversary "It's Going to be a Gas!" Bash:

Monday, January 13, 2014


Hearing: 1.13.14, 6-9PM, Pennsylvania College of Technology, Klump Academic Center, One College Avenue, Williamsport, PA, 17701.

Talking Points from The Delaware Riverkeepers:

Comments on proposed changes to Pennsylvania’s oil and gas regulations. Ch. 78, PA Code:

My name is Wendy Lynne Lee, Shale Justice Coalition. I’d like to begin by reiterating that the public comment period must be expanded to 120 days minimum with more hearings in frack-affected counties. This expansion is crucial not only to insuring that affected people and communities get to be heard, but because being heard is a bulwark of a democracy, however much this state and its agencies routinely ignore it just as they ignore the science relevant to the hazards posed by fracking and its associated infrastructure.

As opposed to commenting on each of the stipulated changes proposed for Ch. 78, I’d like to address the very idea that hydraulic fracturing from well-head to compressor, to pipeline, to export depot, to LNG transport tanker, can be regulated sufficiently to guarantee the ecological integrity, species diversity, human health, property value, or the constitutional right to clean air and water. While perhaps no regulation can offer guarantee against accident, the now well-documented hazards posed by fracking have clearly been shown to be substantial whether or not accidents occur. Hence it is equally clear that no regulation can be adequate to make this process of industrialized extraction safe.

We know that the intent of the industry is not to make fracking safe, but to make it as inexpensive, expeditious, and profitable as possible. Today’s hearing on Senate Bill 411, legislation that would render immune to liability the use of acid mine drainage as frack water, SB 1047 that would gut and politicize the process by which species are listed as endangered, or SB 259 that would allow old leases to be treated as newly negotiated, even if the leaseholder declines to permit fracking on her property or didn’t know there was an old lease, make plain that regulation in Pennsylvania is written by and crafted for oil and gas. Because fracking is inherently unsafe, the proposed changes to Ch. 78 are inconsistent with Article 1, section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Given, moreover, the clear legislative pattern we must assume that the intent of the changes is consistent with SB 411, SB 1047, and SB 259—to act to facilitate the interests of the oil and gas industries.

What the “proposed changes” really encapsulate, therefore, are the negotiated terms of our surrender to these industries. We at Shale Justice have no interest in acceding to this forfeiture of our autonomy as citizens or our recently reaffirmed right to clean air and water. We’d like to thank Chief Justice Castille for his role in the over-turning of Act 13. To accede to any of these “proposed changes” runs directly contrary to that 4-2 Supreme Court decision.

Here’s why:

To wrestle over the details of changes to Ch. 78 presumes that fracking will continue. Many are resigned to this grim possibility. Otherwise, we’d not be haggling over who’s responsible for pre-drill water testing, the use of open pits for frack waste water, the definition of fresh water, the disposal of brine, or the status of orphaned wells. Make no mistake: the industry will cry foul that such regulatory changes will cost them too much money, that they are somehow the injured party. But the facts are that these proposed changes are nothing but crumbs offered to appease us, to convince us that the agencies charged with protecting our air and water actually act to do so. The language here follows the pattern of SB 411 that aims to convert acid mine drainage into “beneficial use” even though its primary effect is to relieve the industry from liability for contaminated water. It follows SB 1047’s absurd argument that “endangered” is best determined via economic matrices. It follows SB 259 that empowers the industry to access more land for drilling under the guise of making royalties more transparent. We cannot afford to accede one more inch to oil and gas drilling. Can you imagine what our country-sides, forests, rivers and trout runs will look like if the proposed Dominion export depot at Cove Point Maryland is completed? 7000 wells will become 100,000, and with it we will become a fossil fuel extraction colony owned and operated by multinational corporations.

I urge you say no to more “regulation.” Why on earth should we surrender our autonomy, our communities, and our health to a rate of harm? Just as there’s no such thing as a little pregnant, there’s no such thing as a little cancer, a little asthma, a little bran damage. Many things are negotiable. Some are not. Just as there could be no compromise on apartheid or slavery, there can be none when the stakes are climate change. Whether we like it or not, our responsibilities are global. Hence there’s also no such thing as a “special place” unless what we mean is the planet.

My yard’s a special place.

So is yours.

Saturday, January 11, 2014


I have mostly stopped wondering what lengths the natural gas industry is willing to go to insure they meet their objectives: fracking as much gas as they can possibly get out of the ground, getting it into pipeline, shunting it to export depot, and then off to the global markets as fast as they can--and before we in the "sacrifice zones" really comprehend the full extent to which we have become an extraction colony gas factory for folks who already have made more money from fossil fuel "development" than "god"--yet not so much money that they don't want more.

And of course by that time, it will be too late for our air, soil, and water.

You know, that stuff we depend on for life.

What's clear is that the gas industry wasted no time at all finding ways around Act 13--the bill that made the entire state into an EZ-Frack bonanza for the drillers all the while making it impossible for us to find out what made us sick if we're fortunate enough to live down stream, downwind--or anywhere within the relevant region.

And that's anywhere when what we're talking about is climate change.

So, long before Act 13 was found unconstitutional, the natural gas industry was buying off legislators on both sides of the isle, crafting bills to advantage themselves, gutting laws that make some part of the fracking infrastructure a teeny bit more difficult or expensive, and making sure to cover their tracks, by, in the case of SB 411, appropriating a vocabulary reserved to people who actually do good things to themselves as green-washing cover for the damage they're about do.

SB 411 is just one more version of what I have been calling cadaver cosmetics (

1. The actual cover up of the deforestation, water contamination, soil erosion, etc. caused by fracking via the cosmetic use of green paint, high fencing, grass seed, and straw (short of commandeering public roads and just scaring us away).
2. The figurative cover-up affected through the appropriation and frack-friendly transformation of language like "environmental," "green," "regulation," "middle ground," "realism"--and in this case "good samaritan" and "beneficial use."

Either way, they're trying to make a cadaver look like it's alive all the while they--like the vampires they are--suck out the blood, the bone marrow, and the life from Pennsylvania's rural communities, state forest lands--even Pennsylvania state college and university properties (

SB 411 is just one more strategy for the cadaver cosmeticians. As reported at the Delaware River Keeper:

SB 411’s scope of liability protection includes: “any person who uses and any person who allows the use of or provides mine drainage, mine pool water or treated mine water, as part of a water pollution abatement project, including a mine operator or water pollution abatement project operator that provides for payment or otherwise treated mine drainage for hydraulic fracturing or other development of a gas well, industrial or other water supply or other beneficial use of the water.”

The bill defines “other beneficial use” as, “Any use of water for a purpose that produces any economic, environmental, ecological, or other benefits, including irrigation, silvaculture, cooling water, flow maintenance and augmentation, consumptive use makeup, and any other use of water deemed to be a beneficial use under common law.” (

In other words "beneficial use" may now be defined as the use of one highly polluting mining process to the ends of another highly polluting mining process--acid mine drainage for frack water.

Imagine what that will look like when it's done!

To give you an idea, here's a acid mine drainage:

"Acid mine drainage is one of mining's most serious threats to water. A mine draining acid can devastate rivers, streams, and aquatic life for hundreds, and under the "right" conditions, thousands of years.

How does it form?

At metal mines, the target ore (like gold, silver, copper, etc) is often rich in sulfide minerals.

When the mining process exposes the sulfides to water and air, together they form sulfuric acid.

This acid can and often does dissolve other harmful metals and metalloids (like arsenic) in the surrounding rock.

Acid mine drainage can be released anywhere on the mine where sulfides are exposed to air and water -- including waste rock piles, tailings, open pits, underground tunnels, and leach pads.

Acid drainage is often marked by "yellow boy," an orange-yellow substance... that occurs when the pH of water drops low enough so that previously dissolved iron precipitates out.

Harm to fish & other aquatic life

Acid mine drainage can have severe impacts on fish, animals and plants. Many impacted streams have a pH of 4 or lower -- similar to battery acid.

For example, acid and metals runoff from the Questa molybdenum mine in New Mexico has harmed biological life in eight miles of the Red River.

Perpetual pollution

Acid mine drainage is especially harmful because it can occur indefinitely -- long after mining has ended. Hardrock mines across the western United States may require water treatment in perpetuity.

For example, government officials have determined that acid drainage at the Golden Sunlight mine will continue for thousands of years.

Water treatment can be a significant economic burden if a company files for bankruptcy or refuses to cover water treatment costs.

For example, acid runoff from the Summitville Mine in Colorado killed all biological life in a 17-mile stretch of the Alamosa River. The site was designated a federal Superfund site, and the EPA is spending $30,000 a day to capture and treat acid runoff.

- See more at:

So, what's in frack water? Just to review:

500,000 wells in the United States; average of 8 million gallons of water per frack, per well; up to 18 times a well can be fracked.

That's 72 trillion gallons of water and 360 billion gallons of chemicals like Benzene, Diesel, biocides, surfactants, neuro-toxins, endocrine disrupters, and carcinogens.

And that's just the frack--not the emissions from the compressors, the idling trucks, the pipeline explosions (Sissonville, West Virginia, anyone? None of this is pretty. But the real issue, as the Delaware Riverkeeper points out, is that

The groups’ letter points out that SB411 eliminates liability under the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Act for possible spill and release in the transport and use of mine drainage water, the Solid Waste Management Act, and liability in the discharge of industrial waste or pollutants under The Clean Stream Law, when using AMD as specified in the Bill. (

That's beneficial alright--for the natural gas industry! And that, of course, is the whole purpose--a double benefit for the natural gas industry:

1. Immunity from liability under the Hazardous Sites Clean-Up Act and the Clean Streams Act.

2. The appearance of the Good Samaritan--isn't it nice that the gas companies are going to use that nasty water for their nasty fracking?

Let's review what a Good Samaritan really does:

The parable of the Good Samaritan is a parable told by Jesus and is mentioned in only one of the gospels of the New Testament. According to the Gospel of Luke (10:29–37) a traveller (who may or may not be Jewish[1]) is beaten, robbed, and left half dead along the road. First a priest and then a Levite come by, but both avoid the man. Finally, a Samaritan comes by. Samaritans and Jews generally despised each other, but the Samaritan helps the injured man. (

Now let's lay out the gasser's version of the parable:

According to the Gospel of, say, WPX the streams of Pennsylvania were indeed beaten, robbed, and left half dead by the coal mining industry. First a gas company representative--like Helen Humphies--comes along and then a government official--say, Patrick Henderson--and both avoid looking at the streams (after all, they have champaign luncheon later that day with their friends in Big Coal). Finally, the Good Samaritan comes by, say, Anadarko's Mary Wolf, who generally hates the streams and other water ways of the Commonwealth, but has a vision with the sound of "cha-ching" ringing through it. The Anadarko Good Samaritan says to the acid mine drainage damaged stream, "We will syphon your waters off and away to a drill site, where we will contaminate you far further, and we promise we'll not leave you for half dead. We'll finish the job."

How about that for a caring response to our already eroded stream beds and polluted water? Why leave half-dead what you can just leave for dead?

Here's the simple take-away: don't be suckered by this latest gambit to bamboozle you into thinking that fracking and all of its nasty infrastructure is safe.

It isn't.

And the fact that the gassers are going to such lengths to convince you that it is should be the first clue to the big lie.

SB 411 is just another version of cadaver cosmetics: the effort to cover up in manipulative rhetoric what they won't be able to cover up in our streams: death.

So, please, sign the petition:

Thursday, January 9, 2014

From Marie Cusick, State Impact: "Scientists document gas development disturbing forest ecosystems"

Here's our Department of Conservation and Natural Resources at work--denying Right to Know requests about when their eight million dollar report on the effects of gas drilling on forests will finally be done!

Thanks, however, to Shale Justice's Kevin Heatley for making the effects clear--and he didn't cost 8 million dollars!

From Mr. Heatley: "“Everything from the noise and the traffic to the lighting, to the pad placements, to the pipeline construction to the road expansion,” he says. “This is all industrial infrastructure. It’s inherently incompatible with sustainable forest management.”


And right along with that forest fragmentation goes the habitat for species of animal that don't do well near people--that need contiguous forest to thrive. Hence, it's no wonder at all that the gas companies want to do away with protections for endangered species--what State Rep. Jeff Pyle mistakenly calls "game species"--It's also no wonder that he's bought lock, stock, and frack-fluid barrel by the industry.

For more on the connection between Mr. Pyle's intrepid legislation to gut PA's endangered species act (SB 1047/HB 1576), forest fragmentation, and the now largely overturned Act 13, please see:

Sunday, January 5, 2014

"Realism" is Frack-Speak for "So long as I get mine...": Marcellus Drilling News and the Breathin' Easy "Total Commitment" of John Hanger's Good NIMBYs

In October, 2013, Marcellus Drilling News reported that Victoria Switzer, "Starlet of Gasland II," "leaves anti-drilling behind," and "adopts realism" (

What’s this…one of the stars of Gasland II, someone who trash-talked the shale drilling industry in Dimock, PA has changed sides? Yep. Well, sort of. Victoria Switzer has given up what she calls “tunnel vision” and has adopted “realism.” She says, “Realism is good.” She no longer calls for a halt to drilling in PA and instead wants to ensure it’s done safely–by working with industry and regulators. Welcome to logic and sanity! Glad to have you on our side. Watch out Josh Fox: Switzer is not the only former anti-driller now whistling a different tune…

What's immediately remarkable about this quote is the reference to "trash-talking" the shale gas industry--as if Switzer, who MDN now refers to affectionately as "Vickie," and Gasland/Gasland II maker Josh Fox never really had a leg to stand on with respect to the claim that Cabot Oil and Gas was responsible for, say, an 8,000 gallon drilling fluids spill along with the contamination of drinking water wells in Dimock, Susquehanna County.

Let's review:

Pennsylvania environment officials are racing to clean up as much as 8,000 gallons of dangerous drilling fluids after a series of spills at a natural gas production site near the town of Dimock last week.

The spills, which occurred at a well site run by Cabot Oil and Gas, involve a compound manufactured by Halliburton that is described as a "potential carcinogen" and is used in the drilling process of hydraulic fracturing, according to state officials. The contaminants have seeped into a nearby creek, where a fish kill was reported by the state Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP also reported fish "swimming erratically."

The incident is the latest in a series of environmental problems connected to Cabot’s drilling in the Dimock area. Last winter, drinking water in several area homes was found to contain metals and methane gas that state officials determined leaked underground from Cabot wells. And in the spring, the company was fined for several other spills, including an 800-gallon diesel spill from a truck that overturned. (

Apparently 2009 is ancient history for Switzer who, in the name of "realism," conveniently forgets that even John Hanger--Democratic Party contender for the 2014 governor's race--admits that "mistakes caused in gas drilling by Cabot [Oil and Gas] caused methane to pollute the water wells of 18 families" ( Hanger's band-aid solution to the methane contamination, an "extension of a water line to the families," also failed, and as opposed to drawing the right conclusion, namely, that the law clearly favored the gas companies over the rights of citizens and communities, Hanger essentially gave up. The then head of DEP knew that Department of Environmental Protection regulations utterly failed to protect the 18 families in Dimock, and he did nothing to change the law. Indeed, this is as much as John Hanger wanted from Cabot--and this is what John Hanger thinks is enough:

[T]he Consent Order included not issuing for a period any new drilling permits to Cabot statewide; stopping Cabot from drilling and hydraulic fracturing in the Dimock area; requiring Cabot to plug or repair gas wells to stop the source of the methane migration; install machines at each of the 18 water wells to get methane out of the water; to provide water deliveries to the 18 families impacted; and substantial fines that eventually added up to more than $1 million. (

A million dollars in fine amounts to nothing more than a light slap on the wrist even if Hanger had achieved it--and of course he didn't. Moreover, absolutely nothing in this Consent Order actually prevents future methane contamination of drinking water. Nothing raises any question whatsoever about the hazards of fracking itself. Nonetheless, "Vickie" Switzer has become one of Hanger's most adoring supporters--and that makes sense since both are "realists," which seems to be code for "not looking beyond the law," "not asking the critical question whether the law is just," and "not paying attention to the fact that the industry has, in flat fact, written the law for themselves."

Both have conceded to living in a world where it is enough that regulation controls--to some very limited and laughably inadequate extent (see Dimock)--the rate of harm from hydraulic fracturing, compressor stations, pipeline, waste tanker, waste pit, truck traffic, etc. Note carefully that "rate" in no way implies "amount."

Fact is, there's no reason on earth to believe that the amount of harm will be one iota different.

Where the consequences are climate change, notions like "amount" don't really even make any sense. We will all be affected by climate change--and just because there are a tiny few who may be in a position to mitigate those effects for themselves, say, by holing up in their "dream homes," does not mean that that smattering bit of mitigation comes free.

It's not. In fact, it's bought directly at your expense. After all, you may not have the time, the leisure--or even the John Hanger--to deploy to get the gas companies to utilize their "best practices" to diminish your chances of cancer or neurological damage or asthma or endocrine disease. Plus, the money they're spending to appease starlets like Vickie is money they'll be looking to make up somewhere else--like cutting corners drilling under your "special place," say, your yard.

While folks like Vickie are chattin' it up with the gas companies, distracting all of our attention away from the real issues, the gas companies are frackin' away--and converting Pennsylvania into a deforested mineral extraction colony for LNG export. While Vickie's busy being "realistic," the gas companies are too--all the way to the very real deposits they're off-shoring, the real moola they're spending to make sure they are protected from the carcinogens, endocrine disrupters, and other toxins to which you and your family may be exposed.

In fact, what Vickie Switzer clearly regards as "realistic" is "controlling the rate of harm to her, her family, her neighbors."

And that ain't you.

My name is Victoria Switzer, and I live in Gasland. I also live in the real world. I am here today to offer my total commitment and support for John Hanger's bid for the Democratic nominee for Governor of my Commonwealth, my Penn's Woods.

But Vickie's Penns Woods aren't your Penns Woods, and while she's retiring to her "dream house" to "paint, write and make jewelry," it's clear that the Not-in-My-Back-Yard--NIMBY--argument that the natural gas industry decries against you when you refuse to sign a gas lease isn't the same NIMBY argument when Vickie--and her "total commitment" friends at Breathe Easy Susquehanna County (BESC) settle down for a cup-o-joe with their new friends at Cabot Oil and Gas.

Except it is exactly the same--with this caveat: when Vickie decides that she doesn't want to fight the gas anymore, and wants to delude herself that John Hanger's interest in her and in Dimock amounts to anything other than political expediency, she forms an entire organization--BESC--to effect her--and Cabot's--vision of the good NIMBY, the NIMBY who, behind the very thin veil of "realism," gets into bed with the same companies that may very well destroy your water wells, your property values, your children's health, your animal's health, your community, and you.

And then, of course, there's Marcellus Drilling News who recognizes that MDN's on "shaky ground" admitting that "there is a growing body of evidence that shows a marked increase in air pollution in heavily drilled areas–mostly from compressor plants, but also from drilling rigs, truck traffic, etc." (

Talk about understatement.

In other words, just like John Hanger, and just like the industry itself, MDN can exploit their recent convert--starlet Vickie Switzer--to simultaneously acknowledge that there is increasing evidence of harm and deny that it really matters. After all, if it's not so serious that it prevents Vickie and the folks of BESC from snuggling up to the gas, it can't really be that bad, right?

Except it really is--and that's the only "realism" that matters.

Put it this way: today, January 6th, 2014 the AP reports that the price of natural gas fell from $4.37 per 1000 cubic feet to $4.30--in just one week. Imagine the pressure to get export facilities on-line and the gas to the global markets to sell to China and to India.

That should put some reality into your realism.

Now imagine just what lengths the gas industry will go to to get the gas to market--think "BP," "Anadarko," Deep Water Horizon," and you get a little closer to reality.

Now consider just how much that gas representative sitting across the table from you with his cup-o-joe is likely to actually give a fuck about your local air emissions or water contamination problems.

Seriously, how daft and self-deluded do you have to be to buy that barrel of bull shit?

Just one more return to ancient history--2009:

According to a Material Safety Data Sheet provided to the state this week by Halliburton, the spilled drilling fluid contained a liquid gel concentrate consisting of a paraffinic solvent and polysaccharide, chemicals listed as possible carcinogens for people. The MSDS form – for Halliburton’s proprietary product called LGC-35 CBM – does not list the entire makeup of the gel or the quantity of its constituents, but it warns that the substances have led to skin cancer in animals and "may cause headache, dizziness and other central nervous system effects" to anyone who breathes or swallows the fluids. (

Nevertheless, Vickie insists that she "had to work with the industry."

“We had to work with the industry. There is no magic wand to make this go away,” said Switzer, who recently formed a group that seeks to work with drillers on improved air quality standards. “Tunnel vision isn’t good. Realism is good” (

She has that partly right--there is no magic wand to make the damage to Pennsylvania's air and water go away.

But no one has to work with the industry anymore than anyone had to work with, say, the enforcers of Apartheid. No one had to work with those who deliberately contaminated blankets given to Native Americans with small pox. No one has to concede to being silent in the face of animal abuse, child molestation, battery.

No one has to turn their back on the real or potential suffering of others.

She or he just needs a conscience and a courage that tells them when undertaking a risk is warranted--like when the stakes are as high as the planet is round, for example.

Speaking out forcefully against real harm is risky.

But what Switzer--and BESC--have decided is not that they had to work with the industry--that is nothing but excuse. What these folks decided is simply the cost is too high for them, that the welfare of folks they don't know and won't ever know wasn't worth the risk. "Realism" is that case means "puttin' my head in the sand," (or the silica, if you prefer). And that is the NIMBY's "so long as I get mine" "realism."

If we "have to work with the industry," why on earth do we pretend that we are citizens, that we live in a nation of laws designed to protect us, that we are anything other than disposable tools--that is, when we're not irritating obstacles, or, if we've had a really good day in the movement, momentary liabilities to profit?

If we "have to work with the industry," why can't we just call this what it is: corporatist fascism? That's not "radical," that's just an "is what it is."

Why, if he's elected, doesn't this make John Hanger's administration a "kinder, gentler fascism"?

It's no wonder that Marcellus Drilling News took immediate advantage of Vickie's "realism."

The only wonder is that she--the folks at BESC--don't realize they're industry tools.

This year, Switzer and [Rebecca] Roter co-founded Breathe Easy Susquehanna County, an organization that seeks to persuade companies to use advanced technologies to limit emissions. The group has won plaudits for its non-confrontational style ( /

You bet they did. Hell, following out their "total commitment" to John Hanger, BESC can't even bring itself to support the Democratic party moratorium resolution.

I acknowledge forthrightly that I am taking some real heat from within the anti-fracking movement for calling out what I regard as concession to a real moral evil. I have---not surprisingly--been accused of "dividing the movement."

But if "keeping the movement together" requires we concede to the gas industry--what's the point of having a movement at all?

What's our movement for if not to end the conversion of Pennsylvania--and everywhere industrialized extraction occurs--from a beautiful forested countryside where people want to live into wasteland where "reclamation" means green paint, grass seed, and straw?

How many years did Nelson Mandela go to prison for resisting apartheid? If he'd sat down over a cup-o-joe with the racist government of South Africa, would apartheid have ended?


Was it "realism" that governed Mandela's decision--or was it a conscience that demanded he think beyond his own fortunes?

I think Mandela would have this to say: where the right thing to do is clear, "realism" must take a back seat to conscience--even where that means your dream house and your jewelry making have to wait.

Wendy Lynne Lee

*All photographs taken by Wendy Lynne Lee except photo of Victoria Switzer and logo of Marcellus Drilling News.