Not a good night for the Extreme Extraction Profiteers: Presentation and Debate at University of Pittsburgh, Greensburg, 4.10.13

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Beaver Run reservoir is the source of drinking water for 150,000 people.

CNX/Consol has as many as twelve fracked well pads on the hills the surround Beaver Run.

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Reported in 2011 by Truthout:

“But the gas operations were hardly a secret. Besides being visible by air, records obtained by SolveClimate News in response to requests reveal that the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, the local water utility, had leased the watershed in 1999 precisely to cash in on drilling opportunities.The agency gets a 12.5 percent payment rate on the gas produced by wells on the reservoir. Utility officials say leasing Beaver Run allows it to raise money for infrastructure upgrades without increasing customer rates. Despite the money that drillers are dangling, documents and interviews show that Westmoreland County appears to be the only local water authority in the state to have leased acreage to drillers. Many others are being courted, though. And before they follow Westmoreland County’s lead, local advocates want regulations to bar drilling in watersheds that provide a primary drinking water source.”

Beaver Run has already seen one “frack fluid” accident, August 2012. And despite the fact that DEP insists that the bentonite spill did not pose a threat to drinking water, they also acknowledged that they did not know how much spilled, and bentonite–though non toxic in itself–does in fact suffocate aquatic life, and thus presents its own specific kind of drinking water hazard:

“The seepage began because drillers nearby bored through a previously unknown spring in Bell Township, said officials at the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County. The 5,000-acre reservoir straddles Bell, Washington and Salem townships. The substance was a grout that included the clay bentonite — a mix that drillers call liquid cement, officials said.  Consol officials reported the leak to state inspectors, who are reviewing details. Authority officials said then there were no signs the substance got into the drinking water supply.”

(Also see: http://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2012/09/05/pipeline-construction-spill-caught-on-camera/)

Moreover, CNX–Consol–has a horrific record of environmental violation, particularly with respect to coal mining–and we have no reason on earth to think they’ll get it any closer to right with fracking. In fact, we have every reason to think they’ll behave in just as negligent a way as they always have:

1.”Legal claims were filed in June in U.S. District Court in Abingdon, Virginia on behalf of two landowners by attorneys seeking class action status to represent thousands of property holders in six southwest counties” in 2010. [40] EQT Corp. and Consol Energy are being sued for allegedly drilling thousands of wells in southwest Virginia’s coalbed to remove methane gas without obtaining legal claim to the resource from the landowners, contending the mineral rights were held by the coal companies. “An attorney for the landowners estimated the companies realized billions of dollars from southwest Virginia drilling while the escrow account totals about $26 million from 800 individual accounts. In Buchanan County alone one year, Consol’s gas subsidiary, CNX Gas Co., realized $1 billion in revenues from natural gas drilling.”[41] Landowners are asking for billions in back royalty payments.”

2. “A Mt. Pleasant, Pennsylvania family filed a lawsuit against Consol Energy for underpayment of methane gas royalties. They are seeking class-action status, which could include more than 1,000 plaintiffs. “The plaintiffs said they entered into separate lease agreements with the company under which they would receive royalties based on the amount of gas collected each month from their land. The company is accused of breaching the leases by taking “volumetric deductions” and calculating royalties using a price that was less than the price paid to the companies.”[43] The family leased oil and gas rights to Dominion Exploration & Production Inc. for property in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Consol acquired Dominion’s rights to the lease in 2010.”

3. “Consol has paid $29,428,489 in coal mining fines between 2000 – 2009. 20,899 violations and 23 deaths have also taken place in CONSOL mines since 2000, tying its fatality record with that of Massey Energy.”

4. “n September 2010, several thousand fish washed up along the banks of Dunkard Creek in Monongalia County, West Virginia. “Environmental officials in Pennsylvania and at the federal Environmental Protection Agency say mining discharges from Consol Energy’s Blacksville No. 2 mine created the conditions for the algae to bloom.”

5. “On September 7, 2011, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission filed a complaint against Consol Energy over discharges from two coal mines in West Virginia – Blacksville 2 Mine and Loveridge 22 Mine – saying the discharges killed thousands of fish, mussels, salamanders, and other wildlife along a 30-mile stretch of the tributary, Dunkard Creek, in 2009. The commission is seeking compensatory damages for lost aquatic life and angling opportunities as well as punitive damages to deter future pollution.

ImageDead fish began surfacing on Sept. 8, 2009, after illegally high levels of total dissolved solids and chlorides turned Dunkard Creek brackish and fostered a toxic golden algae bloom that is more common to southern coastal waters. About 42,997 fish representing 40 species, from black bass to muskellunge, were killed along with 15,382 freshwater mussels, including the rare snuffbox variety, and 6,447 mudpuppies, the complaint states. People who lived along the creek recounted watching fish bleed to death from their gills and mussel shells pop open. Because so many adult fish were killed, it will take years for aquatic populations to recover, according to the claim.”

And these are merely samples of Consol’s environmental record–a record good enough for Westmoreland County Commissioner, Tyler Courtney and WPX spokesperson Susan Oliver of WPX–Williams–panelists at the 4.10.13 University of Pittsburgh, Greensburg debate over fracking.

Among the many ironies on parade that night is this:

Westmoreland County upheld a fishing ban at beaver Run due to public health concerns–but allowed Consol to construct fracking operations which could directly impact the watershed.

But not only despite Consol’s record and the shoddy record of her own corporation–Williams (WPX), Oliver is not worried. in fact, she defends the claim that fracking doesn’t contaminate water sources like reservoirs and aquifers even though WPX is at this moment being sued for the contamination of an aquifer:

“A Susquehanna County family whose well water contains high levels of methane and metals filed suit against a natural gas drilling company in federal court Monday alleging drilling damaged their water and property. Tammy and Matthew Manning of Franklin Twp. said WPX Energy and two associated companies contaminated the aquifer through spills and poorly constructed gas wells in a complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Citing state Department of Environmental Protection violations documented at six natural gas wells on two WPX well pads, known as the Hollenbeck and Depue, the family argued that the companies were negligent in drilling and operating the wells. The Mannings, whose two daughters and three minor grandchildren also live at the home and are included in the lawsuit, have said their water became discolored and began periodically erupting from their well in December. DEP tests that month found barium at twice the state’s safe drinking water limit and aluminum and iron at 10 times the standards set for aesthetic reasons. Methane concentrations found during state tests in December and March exceeded the point when water can no longer hold the gas, which can then collect in enclosed spaces and pose an explosion risk. The department has not determined the cause of the methane or metals. Its investigation into the Manning water supply and two others in the hamlet of Franklin Forks is ongoing.”

WPX, of course, denies all wrong-doing. Indeed, that’s the interference that “spokespersons” like Oliver are paid the big bucks to run: “WPX spokeswoman Susan Oliver said Monday that the company does not comment on litigation. “We’ve been very responsive to the residents who have had questions or concerns in the area and are working cooperatively with the DEP,” she said, “even though we have no reason to believe that our activities are connected to the problems they’ve experienced.” (http://thetimes-tribune.com/news/gas-drilling/franklin-forks-family-sues-driller-1.1298360).

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The presentation and photo-exhibit I offered to my U. Pitt audience that night wasn’t about WPX or CNX–but it hardly matters. the stories are all the same. My aim was to leave nothing but scorched ground where EXCO stands. And that’s not at all hard to do. EXCO’s tale of environmental carnage, gross negligence, and obscene profiteering is much like that of its fellows–just a different part of the Marcellus Shale Play:

http://ragingchickenpress.org/2013/02/09/pretending-to-forget-whats-right-under-our-feet-until-the-ground-gives-way-excos-marcellus-gambit-the-sago-mine-disaster-and-the-price-of-natural-gas/

http://blog.shaleshockmedia.org/2013/01/13/war-in-the-forests-of-frackland-exco-well-pad-sullivan-county-davidson-townshippa/

One thing was absolutely clear: the pro-frack panelists had not read the presentation, did not come prepared, and believed they were going to just ride roughshod–playing to a hospitable, under-informed audience–over myself and the other panelist, Jules Lobel, law professor, U. Pitt. Because the pro-extreme extraction panelists simply had no defense or response to my excoriation of EXCO, they didn’t respond to my specific arguments at all. What they did do was trot out the platitudes and talking points we all know by heart: The frack-cocktail is like “dish detergent,” there’s never been an aquifer/well/reservoir contamination,” “frack-gas is a bridge fuel,” “free enterprise is the American way.”

All of it thoroughly criticized, and thoroughly absurd.

During the debate, Oliver consistently referred to Professor Lobel as “Professor” and to myself as “Miss”–a textbook example of (like Racheal Colley of Energy in Depth) the co-opting of women to make extreme extraction appear more palatable–and to discredit the opposition wherever possible by resorting to whatever stereotypes might be effective–in this case liberal, hippy, woman, mere philosopher.

How trite. How offensive, and how disappointing. Oliver, who has benefitted mightily from the feminist movement would, apparently, happily trade in those hard won gains for the WPX bonus dollars.

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The audience, however, was not nearly as dumb as the pro-frack panelists counted on them to be, and what was most telling were the gentlemen from the audience who said afterwards to me that they were beginning to realize that they had been sold a bill of goods by people–just like Susan Oliver, and even worse (because we expect her to be a mercenary shark), Tyler Courtney–folks elected him–and he has sold them literally down river.

Beaver Run Reservoir is the drinking water for 150,000 people.

You get a sense that you’ve struck a real nerve when the opposition resorts to ad hominem.

In the 4.11.13 Tribune Review, I am characterized by the Marcellus Shale Coalition as “an Occupy Wall Street activist” who has no expertise relevant to fracking, and that U. Pitt should have gotten an engineering professor from their own ranks.

Translation: “We don’t like being criticized. And we don’t like it when the truth comes out about how dangerous, polluting, and charlatan is our industry. We also don’t like it when you call us extreme industrialized extraction. That’s harsh. We’d prefer “fracing,” or better–your silence.”

You’re not going to get that from me. Ms. Oliver, Mr. Courtney. And you should both be ashamed of your membership in what amounts to an occupying corporatist army.

It was quite a night, but it was not a good night for the extreme extraction profiteers.

Wendy Lynne Lee

http://www.flickr.com/photos/wendylynnelee/

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19 Comments on Not a good night for the Extreme Extraction Profiteers: Presentation and Debate at University of Pittsburgh, Greensburg, 4.10.13

  1. thanks, Wendy, for standing up to them and their sick games. I like your characterizatin of them as “extreme, extraction profiteers” and would add: extreme users and abusers of humanity needing criminal charges.

  2. Ms Lee filled her Honda Civic, which is made of plastic (made from fracking) and steel (made in a plant powered by fracking), filled it up with gasoline (made from fracking) and drove across the state on a oil soaked gravel pathway (made from fracking), blowing out a stream of benzene and other other carcinogens all along the way that other motorists were forced to inhale.

    Again, Ms. Lee got into the pile of fracking, filled it up with fracking, and drove it across state on a path made of fracking, to attend a conference to tell everyone how evil fracking is and how anyone that condones it is evil. And as the final delicious dollop of irony on top of this hypocrisy milkshake, she sits on her computer, made of fracking, powered by fracking, impossible without fracking, getting ready to read us all the riot act.

    You condone fracking every day, Ms. Lee. And your ACTIONS speak much louder than your WORDS, no matter how long your wandering, nonsensical, reality-devoid “I’m-in-love-with-the-sound-of-my-own-voice” diatribes are.

    I wonder if the length of your rants are a consequence of the guilt that comes from knowing just how much of a hypocrite you are. You’re a smart lady, there must be some part of you that has a hard time reconciling the hypocrisy. It’s so thick you’d need a chainsaw to cut through it. I wonder if your rants are more to convince yourself moreso than anyone else.

    There is a world right now that exists without fracking. You could live in it if you wanted to. You could purchase a piece of land and commit to living your life devoid of anything that has anything to do with fracking. But you haven’t. I suspect because we all know what that life would look like.

    Until you are committed enough to live that life yourself, you should really stop trying to forcibly make that decision for everyone else.

      • That’s of little consequence, because all of those things are CURRENTLY a result of fracking. We live in the present.

        But fracking is the buzz word that you all hate, so I used it. Delete it and insert “fossil fuels” if it makes you feel better.

        My point stands.

  3. Dear Mr. Knapp,

    I have made correction to this erroneous position on a number of occasions and can hardly be held liable for your willful ignorance on these matters.

    But, out of courtesy to others, I will lay this absurd argument to rest one more time:

    The only hypocrisy here is your own. Here’s why: the industry to which you claim allegiance–fossil fuels–has come over many years to so completely dominate every aspect of human life and endeavor that there is no way to avoid its use. Indeed, we ALL bear some responsibility for allowing this form of global fascism to permeate everything we consume in every way we consume it, and I assure you I know far more about in just what this consumption exists than do you. I know, for example, that the decay rate of plastics is so slow that even our fundamental biologies have been infiltrated and altered. I know that the Frankencorn proferred to us by the thoroughly fascist likes of corporations such as Monsanto is itself so soaked in petrochemicals that we cannot avoid eating it–even if we do not eat corn.

    Your claim that we could chose to go primitive and avoid the consumption of fossil fuels is an absurdity on its face. Indeed, there is absolutely no such lifestyle that can escape the reach of Big Energy. The best any of us can do is mitigate its use, fight for what will require either a revolution or a catastrophe to incite real change, and actively encourage others to join us.

    And that is the path I have chosen–the only honorable one.

    Let me put this another way: We all have but two choices:

    1. To mitigate our uses of fossil fuels as best we can under the circumstances we are faced with–a civilization whose material premises are so pervasively saturated by fossil fuel consumption that we have actually managed to alter the temperature of the planet–a catastrophe for which our children will pay dearly, and is at this point irreversible. We may be able to slow the charge of climate change, but we will not prevent the cascading effects of its increasingly severe weather events, its vanishing shore lines or its forcible migrations of millions of human beings and nonhuman animals. We will not escape the extinctions it is bound to usher into the next century. To choose this path is to chose to fight, and such a fight is not merely about winning and losing; it is about the example we set for future generations of human beings faced with the tragedy of the commons we have left them. It is about conscience. it is about living in some fashion consistent with a moral imperative which demands that we not despoil any more than we cannot avoid the only world we have: this planet, this time, this place.

    2. Or we can capitulate to a “morality” that abandons the future for a present defined by smug “entitlement.” Such a path is arduous in the sense that it requires copious quantities of denial, self-deception in the face of the facts, and a kind of arrogant bravado that translates all too easily into the hackneyed, shrill, and ultimately sterile ejaculations about “hypocrisy.”

    I have chosen the first. Indeed, I have chosen to fight to prevent catastrophe.

    You have chosen the second, and in so doing have opted to trade the prospect of a livable future for the short-lived material wealth of your private present. Indeed, you’ve chosen your pompous sense of entitlement over the future of your own children and grandchildren–capitulation is no morality at all.

    And that, Mr. Knapp, is shameful.

    Professor Lee

    • How’s the air up there Ms. Lee? How many mental hoops does one have to jump through to be able to rationalize this as some sort of absurd argument on my part? You demand a world without natural gas and oil drilling. You equate it to rape. You equate it to genocide.

      And then you turn around and without cloud of conscience pull your pile of fracking up to the pump, fill it up full of fracking, and hand a nice big fat wad of cash over to the oil companies that you despise. If fracking = genocide, every time you fill your tank you’re pumping bullets from an automatic weapon into a crowd of innocents.

      There is no valid way to rationalize this. None whatsoever. You are weighing the comfort of your own lifestyle against your distaste for drilling companies, and you’re picking the former. You said so very aptly above. It’s a choice about “going primitive”. Thank you so much for helping me to make my point. Fossil fuels are the difference between “primitive” and the comfy modern lifestyle you enjoy. I don’t blame you for not wanting to give that up. Nobody wants to give that up. But you need to own your decision.

      How many tons of noxious contaminants have you personally emitted into the air that would have been avoided if you made the decision to live a fossil-fuel free lifestyle? Carcinogens that your neighbors and their children are forced to injest into their bodies? If fracking is genocide and/or rape, how many bodies lay at your feet, Ms. Lee? How many souls have been shattered as a consequence of Wendy Lee’s unquenchable thirst for oil and gas?

      Instead of leading by example and encouraging others to “divest” from the fossil-fuel lifestyle, you yourself happily engage in it, while throwing stones at the people that make it possible for you to make that choice!

      Your claim that its inescapable is bunk. Malarkey. A self-serving fib. You say: “Indeed, there is absolutely no such lifestyle that can escape the reach of Big Energy.” Absolute nonsense. There are many people that live a fossil fuel free lifestyle today, many aren’t even trying to as some sort of political gesture. They just live off the beaten path, choosing a self-sustaining lifestyle and living off the land.

      To be frank, I find it nauseating. You feel as if you are in some sort of position to pass down judgement because of what exactly? Because you whine on the internet about how bad gas drilling is? You occasionally show up at some sort of rally? You camped out at Riverdale for a couple of days? None of that means a hill of beans if you continue to go right back to the oil companies you denigrate whenever you need another fix.

      You want that gasoline to be waiting for you at the pump, nicely refined and convenient for your use. And you absolutely vilify the people that make it happen for you.

      That is the definition of hypocrisy. Your rhetoric has to match your record if you expect to have any sort of credibility. And yours certainly doesn’t. Your words are more tainted than frackwater water if you can barely stop slurping up fracking byproducts long enough to spit them out.

      So when you launch your attacks at me, I can only assume that you’re winking at me to let me know that despite your verbal onslaught, you really want me to continue working hard to keep that oil and gas flowing your way so you can keep living your comfy lifestyle and aren’t forced to go “primitive”.

      Very truly yours,

      Mike Knapp

  4. Hahahahaha!

    Mr Knapp, you really just don’t get it do you? You somehow think that folks who–and I certainly respect them–are living off the grid are LIVING OFF THE GRID.

    And you really truly have no idea what things–like human bodies, the bodies of animals, and the bodies of plants–are made of.

    You also haven’t the faintest notion of the extent to which our lives–no matter HOW we live–are permeated by institutions whose own existence is utterly dependent on petrochemicals.

    And you really don’t seem to know that absolutely every once of water you drink, every morsel of food you consume, every iota of air you breathe has had some truck with this industry you’d so blithely promote.

    As I said, there are two kinds of people, those whose conscience leads them to do the very best they can to mitigate the damage, combat the continuing destruction, and leave something to the future of people and to creatures other than themselves–and then there are people like you who convince themselves that because no one can divorce themselves entirely from the shit hole Big Energy has made of the world, none should have to try.

    What nauseates you is the effort it must require to convince yourself that you are entitled to continue your participation in ecocide. But denial is denial–at least your friends on the rigs who suggest that I should kill myself to avoid using fossil fuels are honest about what it would take.

    Professor Lee

  5. Your rhetoric doesn’t match your actions. One of them is lying, which is it?

    Obviously, it’s your rhetoric. Its much easier to talk the talk than to walk the walk.

  6. And when you don’t have an argument, just go for repetition. You KNOW this movement is growing, Mr. Knapp–and that’s why you have to keep plugging away at the same old bad arguments. It’s all you’ve got–AND it isn’t working. Must be rough to be you guys these days.

    • Are you serious? Even the people that scream like banshees about how evil we are continue to be loyal cash-paying customers!

      What chance does the cause have if you, Wendy Lee, supposedly one of the loudest and most committed anti-fracking voices, can’t even take a stand and live a fossil fuel lifestyle?

  7. Dear Mr. Knapp:

    When you become better educated about what it would actually mean to be fossil fuel free, please let us all know.

    But you’ll need to do it quickly since–given the complete permeation of every aspect of living organisms of fossil fuels in some aspect or another–fossil fuel-free is now incompatible with the existential conditions of life.

    Removing oneself from fossil fuels would–quite literally–require suicide.

    I’ll look forward to your public demonstration of your expertise in bio-chemistry.

    Dr. Lee

  8. Are you so obtuse as to actually believe this line, or is this just the best defense you can offer for your wanton hypocrisy?

    You are a happy, ravenous consumer of the product you staunchly demonize.

    Like I’ve said, I have family that hold philosophy degrees. I’m quite experienced at dissecting bullshit wrapped up in complex little “philosophic” riddles designed to obfuscate and distract. The fact is you have a choice. You can choose to live a life without consuming any of the products that are a byproduct of your hated industries. You can choose to not financially contribute to these companies. You can choose to be a part of the “solution”, instead of being part of the problem.

    But, like just about everyone else in Western civilization, you enjoy the cushy lifestyle that these companies deliver to you and you don’t want to give it up. You obviously value that more than you have distaste for gas companies.

    I applaud you for admitting it, in so many words. But keeping that in mind, If you actually want to effectuate change you’d be working to make sure that the gas industry is properly regulated, has proper oversight, that the myriad of environmental benefits gas offers are maximized while minimizing local and environmental impacts, while working to support the development of long term, carbon-free alternatives.

    That’s what I do. That’s what rational, reasonable, reality-bound folks do. You should give it a try. I know it won’t satiate you rebellious side, but everybody has to grow up some time!

  9. Ah, Mr. Knapp,

    Here’s what I get: YOU are so afraid that WE are gaining ground that YOU just keep hammering at what even YOU know is a ridiculous argument.

    And now YOU–because you are clearly losing ground–are just getting more angry.

    At this point YOU are trying as hard as your balled up little fists can muster to convince YOURSELF that you have the moral high ground.

    But the more you protest that you have this high ground the more I AND ALL OF US KNOW you have forfeited it.

    You just don’t know the difference between justification and capitulation–you think the former is the latter.

    Or worse–you DO know, and you don’t care because YOU want to hold onto your vacuous comforts without guilt.

    Sorry buddy, you don’t get to inflict that kind of excuse mongering on the rest of us.

  10. What is ridiculous about a person making the overt decision to boycott things made of or powered by fracking?

    People boycott things all the time. It’s a classic tactic.

    Assuming you’re not delusional, you know you have no rational, respectable answer to this question that doesn’t make you look like a total idiot. That must be really painful.

  11. Awesome answer!

    You really put me in my place. My head is still spinning. You totally made a fool of me. ROFL. All that schooling and you come back with a response that struggles to attain a 5th grade level.

    I guess when you know when you’ve been beat, there’s not much left to say.

    See you at the gas pump, Ms. Lee! It was a pleasure doing business with you.

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