Mr. Weaver joined the Department in 2007 and became press secretary in 2008. Recently, he was handling a great deal of Marcellus Shale-related information for the press â in which capacity I exchanged several emails and phone calls with him (He was, just to put it out there, quite cordial, responsive, and helpful).
It's not unusual that as the Rendell administration winds down, we're seeing higher-ups leave their posts for positions in the private sector. But it's not a bad idea to keep an eye on where they're winding up â especially given the recent spate of officials leaving the Rendell administration to work in natural gasâ after that administration was exceedingly friendly to and well-financed by that industry.
So where did Mr. Weaver go? We don't know. Do you?
DEP spokesman and acting Press Secretary Tom Rathbun said only that:
"Neil has gone to work for a private firm that is not involved in the Oil & Gas industry," and that "It is a public relations position and not related to lobbying."
Last summer, I threw upon the Clog what I thought was a casual question: is canvassing exploitative?
You know who we're talking about: the youngish, idealistic, earnest folks asking if you've got "a minute for the environment," or somesuch, that you see all over Center City especially during the summer.
The origin of the question was a personal experience with a friend who had moved to Philly to work not as a canvasser herself, but as a manager of other canvassers. Her work stories were eyebrow raising, to say the least: she'd work 60, 70-hour weeks; she'd work weekends; she was required to put in what she characterized as mandatory "volunteer" time; she'd get sent out of town for trainings and have to sleep on a colleague's couch.
The little post drew considerable response, including a links to a veritable mountain of writing on the topic, ranging from worker treatment issues to the canvassing model of fund-raising itself and the companies and organizations behind it.
It being about as summer as summer gets right now I thought it high time for some follow-up.
So I'm putting out the call: canvassers, field managers, directors former, current, friends-of, and especially those of you based in Philadelphia lend me your tips, tell me your stories.
Comments are always welcome below (don't mind our troll it's harmless, and amusingly incoherent), but also feel free to contact me directly by email, especially if you have a story worth a little chat time.
To those currently employed and a little nervous: we can certainly talk about anonymity.
I do not envy the Environmental Protection Administration right now.
In 2004, it conducted a study into Marcellus Shale drilling, which concluded that the âEPA did not find confirmed evidence that drinking water wells have been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing.â
That 2004 study was used to enact the so-called "Halliburton Loophole" which exempted Marcellus Shale drillers from complying with a slew of environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act.
What you may be thinking is: If drinking water is not contaminated by hydraulic fracturing, why would gas drillers need to be exempted from environmental regulations?
It's a good question. And a whistleblower came forward from the EPA to offer an answer: the study was âscientifically unsound.â
A subsequent study by ProPublica just to throw one example out there (because there are many) found more like 1,000 examples of groundwater contamination from Marcellus Gas wells instead of zero.
This spring, the EPA acknowledged or at least implied that they may have overlooked some stuff in 2004 study. And in response, officials within the EPA have scheduled a series of four public gatherings nationwide aimed at understanding public concerns over issues related to drilling for natural gas buried a mile into the earth.
Those four locations were: Fort Worth, Texas on July 8; Denver, Colo. on July 13, Bunghamton, N.Y. on Aug. 12; and last night at the Hilton Garden Inn, about 15 miles south of Pittsburgh.
Why 15 miles south of Pittsburgh? Because there's a major boom out here. Thousands of wells are being contracted in the more rural counties outside Allegheny County, and drilling leases have been signed not only within Allegheny County (where Pittsburgh sits), but actually within the City of Pittsburgh.
Which concerns some people. Ron Gulla is one of them.
Gulla sold pieces of his land to various drilling companies years ago. He pulled in some major cash as much as $20,000 per month in the early 1990s and then he got hit with reality: Not only was his drinking water turning into sludge, and not only was his house beginning to smell of kerosene and gasoline and other chemicals, but his take from the Marcellus Shale wells on his rural property was depreciating alarmingly year by year. Why? Because his neighbors were also selling their mineral rights and also smelling the unpleasant odors of commerce and also washing their faces at night with stinking watery mud seeping from their faucets. In short: The bubble had burst, and all that remained was severely unclean tap water and landowners who didn't really know what they had gotten themselves into.
You see where this is going? Stories like that have ended up in outlets like CNN, the New York Times, Reuters pretty much everywhere.
âEPA is developing a research study to examine the potential relationships between [hydraulic fracturing the process by which Marcellus Shale is extracted from the ground] and drinking water. A key goal of the EPA study is to generate data and information that can be used to assess risks and ultimately to inform decisions.â
Part of that approach involves what the EPA calls âstakeholder input.â Which is what last night's romp was all about.
Hundreds of people signed up some traveled from as far as Albany and Virginia to speak publicly at the meeting about any anxiety related to Marcellus Shale drilling.
A lot of these speeches were nearly identical, but each represented some very real concerns.
Jay McDowell, for example, is a landowner with property surrounded by Marcellus Shale wells. He says: âMany businesses have managed to abuse financial, environmental and economic conditions. Day by day, they empty their residual waste trucks into the creeks and streams surrounding my home. What they are drawing out of and putting into these waters is unknown to most. As an individual, if I were to do the same, I would no doubt be arrested and pulled away from my family.â
Another example concern came from Faith Bjalobok, a local university professor, who scolded the EPA for thinking of economic concerns above environmental ones.
âMy concern is the poisoning of our water and the lack of regulation,â she says. âNothing against our local officials, but they lack the knowledge base to make regulations [for Marcellus Shale drillers]. I am calling on the EPA to impose a moratorium until an objective scientific study not funded by the industry can be performed. âLater, she says: âPennsylvania has another very rich resource: our rural nature, our agriculture, and our farms. They stand to be endangered by fracking. The EPA was designed to protect the environment, not to create jobs.â
This went on and on. In total, 125 people spoke at the EPA meeting. Each had a two-minute time limit. And while most of the commentary came from folks who either lived on property that was negatively affected by Marcellus Shale drilling, or were concerned about how widespread drilling would harm the region's clean water sources, a few representatives from companies like Halliburton and the American Petroleum Institute came forward to offer their version of The Sentence,and to make points like this one, made in the conservative Pittsburgh Tribune-Review yesterday:
â[An] industry-backed study shows that drilling for Marcellus shale natural gas in Pennsylvania and West Virginia could generate $1 billion a year in taxes and indirectly support 100,000 jobs during the next decade as investments filter through the local economy.â
But most of the folks last night didn't really want to hear that.
Ned Mulcahy, an attorney with Three Rivers Waterkeeper, helped to summarize the meeting and his hopes for the EPA study, which is set to conclude in 2012:
âThe EPA is on the cusp of losing all credibility as a regulatory agency,â he said. âAnd it has been put into a lot of minds that they are not to be trusted. But this is a chance they have to earn back some modicum of public trust. And I really do think they will do that.â
One problem, he said, is that the study is going to take two years. And so if the EPA really does have concerns about the safety of hydraulic fracturing and if they really do want to study how Marcellus Shale wells influence the environment shouldn't they put a moratorium on drilling until the study's complete?
Probably, but they won't. The Marcellus Shale play is a moving train.
âIf they want to clean house, they can,â he said. âThe EPA can make companies stop drilling if they want to.â But a more realistic expectation is that âthe study will produce data that would lead regulatory decisions to be done with water protection as an utmost concern, that it would require drillers to drill in areas that have been determined to be geologically isolated, and that drilling will generally be done in ways that won't amount to human health threats.â
âAnd that's about the best we can hope for,â he says.
While a state House bill, sponsored by state Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), that would ban further leasing of state forest for Marcellus Shale gas drilling lingers in the state Senate, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has quietly supplied supporters of the bill and, for that matter, opponents and those undecided with new data showing the impact of current drilling, and the potential impact of any more drilling on state forest land.
"There are proposals, that the governor is supporting, to have a moratorium on additional leasing of state forest land. What we wanted to do is make accessible to the public the thinking about the future of leasing of state forest in [that] context," DCNR Secretary John Quigley told me over the phone today.
Quigley says the idea is to show "that there are limits to the amount of leasing that can be sustained and that we're probably there."
They've posted a small mountain of highly-technical documents much more than I can sift through on my own. So, readers: help yourself and please report back anything you find that seems worth reporting either by email, or by posting a comment below.
That said, the feature presentation a 46-page .pdf slide show gets the main point across: Using a map of the state's forests, the presentation shows a step-by-step layering of drilling sites and potential drilling sites along with factors that DCNR says should render land ineligible for drilling like sensitive and wild areas and areas identified as "priority" forest patches.
Now take out everything already leased and which cannot sustainably be leased, and you get this:
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has just released its report on the explosion of a Marcellus Shale drilling well in Clearfield County. You can view it here.
I haven't had time to look it over yet, so stay tuned: but your input, readers, is always welcome and needed. Email tips, suggestions, etc.
In other news: opinion being divided over whether to keep "FrackTrack" or find another name, we're delaying action until next week.
|Photo | Neal Santos|
|Supporters of the Delaware River deepening, like the longshoreman pictured,
say it'll keep the ports competitive. Environmentalists, as well as officials from
New Jersey and Delaware, disagree.
Here's your chance to be heard.
Starting today at 6 p.m. and again tomorrow at the same time, the public can weigh in on the Army Corps' Delaware River deepening project in the Longwood Room at Delaware State Universitys Bank of America Building in Dover, Del. The project began months ago, but Delaware, New Jersey and various environmental groups are trying to block future work through lawsuits. The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control will be taking down public input from this week's two meetings.
At the last public meeting on the Delaware River dredging, in 2001, hundreds showed up. We'll keep you posted on how hot these two meetings are.
Gas industry wants power to force landowners to allow drilling, and donated to lawmakers who now support it
Introducing our new series "Fracktrack" ongoing coverage of the Marcellus Shale gas drilling industry in Pennsylvania. Copy or bookmark this link to check for future updates or send us an email for notifications.
When Harrisburg passed a state budget two weeks go, the legislature included in that budget a theoretical tax on the production of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania theoretical, because the tax still doesn't exist, except in theory: the details have yet to be worked out, and the gas industry, unsurprisingly, is lobbying hard for concessions.
Last Friday, I began hearing rumors that chief among those concessions desired is the power to implement "forced pooling," essentially, the power to force reluctant landowners to lease or open their land for drilling, whether they want to or not.
Sure enough: this weekend, the Scranton Times-Tribune reported that two state representatives Marc Gergely, D-35, Allegheny County, and Garth Everett, R-84, Lycoming County have co-sponsored a bill which would do just that.
The piece quotes Kathryn Klaber of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, explaining that the law's intent is to ensure that gas development is "not a crazy quilt" and adding that, although models for such laws exist in other state, the Marcellus Coalition has "not found another state's pooling statute that stands out as a model for what they would like to see in Pennsylvania."
Meanwhile, a (very) cursory examination of Pennsylvania campaign finance records by CP shows that both representatives sponsoring the bill have received contributions from the gas industry:
Rep. Gergely received at least $6,000 from Allegheny Energy PAC in two donations last summer, at least $1,500 in donations including $1,000 donated just a few months ago from Chesapeake Energy Corp, one of PA's largest drilling companies.
Rep. Everett received donations from Chesapeake also: a $500 donation and two tickets to the Phillies, worth (according to Everett's campaign) $140.
A letter, headed up by the Campaign for Clean Water and signed by more than a dozen representatives of environmental groups is calling on the legislature to oppose so-called "forced pooling":
Forced pooling not only will require landowners to sign leases they do not want to sign, but it does this for the sole purpose of the gain of a private entity. Some landowners have decided they do not want to lease their mineral rights after deliberative consideration. The oil and gas industry would like the General Assembly to overturn the landowners' decisions. This essentially extends the concept of eminent domain but instead of using private property for the public good, it takes private property for private gain.
Perhaps to thoughtfully alert media outlets perhaps to keep us chewing our fingernails to pieces in anticipation all weekend (who wouldn't?) the office of Philadelphia City Controller Alan Butkovitz informed the media today that Mr. Butkovitz will unveil this Monday his "investigation" of the city's BigBelly Solar Compactors.
You've seen these in 2009, the city replaced 700 Center City trash cans with 500 BigBelly Solar compactors. The idea, simply, is that the machines use solar-powered motors to compact the trash, requiring fewer pickups (and reducing trash overflow), saving the city money and keeping it cleaner. The machines are the result of a $2.1M contract awarded by the city to BigBelly Solar.
We don't know yet, of course, what Butkovitz will have to say about the machines.
The Office of Controller, though, tends to release these special reports when something is not working, and not vice-versa.
And there's this: when I hear people grumble about the new compactors, which I do now and then, I hear the machines described derisively as "solar-powered trash cans" a phrase that carries the implication that a "trash can" doesn't usually need power in the first place (calling them "compactors," on the other hand, emphasizes the reason for solar).
Taking all that into consideration, check out this excerpt from Butkovitz's press release:
Controller Butkovitz will release his report that investigated the circumstances a BigBelly distributor was awarded a $2.1 million sole-source contract for the Citys new solar powered trash cans.
We'll see what the report says on Monday (and we'll post it here, of course) but if I were BigBelly, I wouldn't order a cake just yet.
The recent explosion of a Marcellus Shale mine only the latest and worst in a series of spills, leaks, well contaminations, and other environmental damage resulting from the hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") method of gas drilling in Pennsylvania seems to finally have got some of our representatives questioning the pace at which fracking is allowed to develop in this state.
So far, that pace has been as fast as possible, damn the risks as evinced by the more than one thousand environmental violations racked up against the industry in just the last two years, including more than a hundred spills, according to Department of Environmental Protection documents reviewed by the City Paper.
But it looks like the pressure to keep that pace fast or increase it is mounting in the wake of the BP spill, which has investors looking at the natural gas below Pa. with new attention.
A couple of days ago, the Wall Street Journal reported that Chesapeake Energy a major player in hydraulic fracturing here is selling stock in its company like hotcakes:
"Chesapeake Energy Corp. said it has sold $900 million in preferred stock to a group of private investors, including Asian sovereign wealth funds, cashing in on heightened interest in onshore energy following the BP PLC offshore drilling disaster.
Turns out, Chesapeake isn't the only Marcellus Shale company cashing in on increasing thirst for this region's gas. Reports the Motley Fool:
The increasing presence of Asian funds clearly comes as interest in natural gas ratchets higher worldwide. Other deals have involved India's Reliance Industries forking over $1.7 billion in April to Atlas Energy (Nasdaq: ATLS) in exchange for a sizable position in the Marcellus Shale. Also, two months earlier, Japan's Mitsui paid $1.4 billion for about a third of Anadarko's (NYSE: APC) Marcellus holdings.
With this kind of global pressure to keep drilling, it becomes even more important to ask whether our state officials, legislators and the increasingly beleaguered regulators both, will be able to keep this industry in check or whether it's time for a federal agency like the EPA to take this thing over. (Currently, fracking is exempted from federal oversight by a loophole in the energy bill masterminded by former V.P. Dick Cheney).
Josh Fox's film "Gasland" an expose on deep well natural gas drilling (hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking") airs tonight, 9 PM Eastern, on HBO. Among other fascinating tidbits, the film includes footage of a homeowner in Dimock, Pennsylvania lighting his water on fire, a feat made possible by the migration of methane into his well supply after many of the small town's residents leased land for drilling.
If you're just catching up on the issue, Pennsylvania has become a unique test case in what happens when the gas drilling industry rushes headfirst into a state with (even the head of our Department of Environmental Protection has acknowledged) insufficient regulation in place.
The rush is due to a unique geologic formation known as the Marcellus Shale, which lies below much of the state. (Click here for more of our coverage of Marcellus Shale drilling.)
In light of tonight's airing, and as state lawmakers actively consider harsher regulations, a few sobering stats:
- Well permits issued so far in 2010: 1,272
- Number of permits denied, returned, or withdrawn, 2010: 15, or 1.2%
- Drilling applications submitted to DEP since 2005: 4,248
- Drilling applications denied, returned, or withdrawn since 2005: 58, or 1.3%
- Number of violations found in 2009: 638
- Number of violations recorded so far in 2010: 421
- Number of violations for illegal/improper "discharge" of toxic materials 2010: 58
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