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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