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.

1 comment:

Wendy Lynne Lee said...

Brief addition:On John Quigley's Blog today, he posted the following: "Troubling StudyFracking in PA Increases Infant Health Risks" (

I posted the following oin Quigley's blog as comment:

Given this troubling report, why would anyone sit down to compromise with the gas industry? Seems crazy--but that's exactly what a group from one of the hardest hit counties has done--Breathe Easy Susquehanna County. Will they now renounce their new found friendship with an industry that damages babies? Is the prospect of damaged newborns sufficiently "real" for them?

Seriously, what does it take to demand a BAN--dead babies--is that not enough? If not, what would be?