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Thursday
Apr122012

Congressman Holden under attack from PACs

Already facing a test from within his own party, Pennsylvania's longest-tenured congressman has a new set of voices challenging his bid for an 11th term. And they're coming from far outside of the state.

Democrat Tim Holden, who is facing Lackawanna County attorney Matt Cartwright in the 17th District primary, is under attack from political action committees based in Texas and California.

The Campaign for Primary Accountability, a Dallas-based Super PAC, says it plans to spend six figures on "full spectrum warfare" again Holden. The PAC, which campaigns against incumbent congressmen on both sides of the aisle, aims to use radio, television, the Internet and direct mail to target Holden, spokesman Curtis Ellis said.

Holden, a conservative Democrat, is also facing scrutiny from Blue America, a smaller PAC created in 2005 by three liberal bloggers. Blue America launched a billboard campaign against Holden throughout the district, including a billboard on Route 33 nearPalmer Township.


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The new 17th District will cover part of Northampton County, including the Easton and Slate Belt regions as well as Nazareth,Bethlehem Township and a sliver of Bethlehem beginning in 2013. Some Democrats in the Easton area have already questioned whether Holden is liberal enough to represent the city.

With Holden trying to introduce himself to a district vastly changed under the state's new congressional map, the negative advertisements could hurt his image with new voters, said Thomas Baldino, a political science professor at Wilkes University.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., a Scranton native, will campaign in the city with colleague Holden this weekend.

Holden's campaign condemned the influence of Super PACs, political organizations that cannot make contributions to candidates, campaigns or parties and must spend contributions independently. Super PACs, which are allowed under a 2010 Supreme Court Decision, give corporations, unions and other organizations the ability to spend unlimited money in an effort to sway the outcome of elections.

"Tim Holden is firmly opposed to Super PACs and believes that voters are supposed to decide elections, not corporations from outside the 17th District," campaign manager Eric Nagy said.

The Campaign for Primary Accountability's television commercial airing in the Scranton and Wilkes Barre area denounces Holden for receiving campaign donations from '"Wall Street" and voting in 2000 to let corporations exclude foreign income from their gross income for tax purposes. It criticizes his past votes to increase congressional salaries and his vote in 2010 to extend former President George W. Bush's tax cuts.

Founded last year by conservative construction mogul Leo Linbeck III, officials running the Super PAC say congressional elections are rigged by strategically drawn boundaries that favor one party.

Holden's newly shaped district did become more Democratic, though it was drawn by a Republican majority in the state legislature. Laureen Cummings of Lackawanna County is the lone Republican running.

With one party disadvantaged by the district lines, opponents from the other party still have little chance of defeating incumbents in primary elections because of disparities in campaign finances, Ellis said. The Campaign for Primary Accountability, which had $1.6 million on hand at the end 2011, is meant to be an equalizer.

"We're not concerned with Democrats versus Republicans," Ellis said. "We're concerned about the Washington insiders versus the people."

Nagy dismissed the notion that Holden is a Washington insider, saying he returns to Schuylkill County on the weekends. Holden is from St. Clair, a small town near Pottsville, and was county sheriff before joining Congress.

The Campaign for Primary Accountability has already targeted two incumbents who were unseated in their primaries — Republicans Don Manzullo of Illinois and Jean Schmidt of Ohio. In Pennsylvania, the PAC is also campaigning against U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-18th District.

Blue America, on the other hand, is spending money to campaign against only two incumbents — Holden and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., treasurer Howie Klein said. The House recently passed a Ryan budget that would restructure the tax code and cut domestic programs.

The PAC reported $19,000 on hand in its latest Federal Election Commission report and had spent $12,000 in the first quarter of 2012. Its billboard, which says "Fracking's Got a Friend in Pennsylvania," refers to Holden's vote to remove some regulations on natural gas drilling. It's just one issue in which the PAC disagrees with Holden, who has also been criticized by liberals for voting against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Holden says he did so because the law costs too much.

Holden has defended his voting record, saying conservative votes were a reflection of his former district, which had a Republican majority. Holden has long been a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a fiscally conservative group of House Democrats. He is anti-abortion and opposes gun control.

Though Cartwright has never held public office, he's campaigning as a member of the "Democratic wing of the Democratic party."

"If it were up to me, I would be having a diatribe on the billboard," said Klein, who regularly writes about Holden on his blog DownWithTyranny. "There are no other races in the country that are pitting a particularly bad Blue Dog against a real progressive."

Cartwright's campaign has distanced itself from the PACs.

"We see it more as a referendum against Tim Holden and not necessarily a campaign in support of Matt," campaign manager Shane Seaver said.

http://www.mcall.com/news/local/easton/mc-pa-17-holden-superpac-20120412,0,6123619.story

 

Thursday
Apr122012

Ohio Fracking: State Agency Proposes Rules For Drilling In State Parks

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A state natural resource agency's proposed rules for drilling in state parks would require natural gas and oil companies to stay at least 300 feet — the length of a football field — from campgrounds, certain waterways and sites deemed historically or archaeologically valuable.

Documents on proposed rules were released by the state Department of Natural Resources this week after the Ohio chapter of the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit claiming the agency ignored repeated requests by the group to review them.

The proposals for drilling leases also includes an 89-page report listing "best management practices" on topics like site restoration and guidelines for emergency and pollution incidents. Other proposals include state approval before companies could store drilling waste in pits and an agreement on the locations of all drilling equipment.

Eastern Ohio is in the midst of a natural gas boom as developers seek to capture rights to Utica Shale deposits. The state passed a law in September that opened its parks and other state-held lands for drilling, and officials have been developing leasing terms for drilling companies.

Opponents say they're concerned about the environmental impact of the drilling, which includes hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking." The process involves drillers blasting millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to break up rock deposits.

Supporters of the law say there's a potentially vast reservoir of oil and gas in the Utica Shale, which lies below the Marcellus Shale, where oil companies in Pennsylvania have drilled thousands of wells in search of natural gas and oil.

But natural gas drilling has become a contentious issue in Pennsylvania, where public health advocates have criticized a new law that will limit accessible medical information on illnesses that may be related to gas drilling. It takes effect April 14.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 130 bills have been recently introduced in 24 states to address fracking. It includes a range of topics like waste treatment, disposal regulations and requirements to publicly disclose the composition of fracturing fluid chemicals. At least nine states have proposed fracking suspensions or studies on their impact.

It's unclear whether the 300-foot buffer rule in Ohio will be applied above ground or below. A message left for a natural resource agency spokesman was not immediately returned Thursday morning.

Jed Thorp, the Sierra Club's Ohio chapter manager, said the proposals are inadequate. He said he's hopeful state lawmakers will eventually reverse the law.

"When people go to a state park, they don't want to see fracking, or hear fracking, or smell fracking," he said in a statement. "They want to relax."

Thorp also said the Sierra Club, which filed its lawsuit Monday, won't drop its suit. He said the agency failed to follow the state's public records law by ignoring requests for the documents as far back as October.

Monday
Apr092012

We're fracking our way to a warmer and less stable world

It's worrisome but not surprising that the push for unconventional fossil fuels has overshadowed in media coverage and public debate the accelerating global warming that is taking place. It's not too hard to understand why. ExxonMobil and other transnational oil and gas corporations want it that way. They reject the best scientific evidence of global warming as "uncertain" or mount major efforts to discredit the very idea of global warming.

Wikipedia has a 13-page chapter on "Scientific opinion on climate change" in which the principal organizations of scientists from around the world (e.g., Academies of Science, Earth Science, Meteorology and Oceanography) concur with the view that "the Earth's climate system is unequivocally warming and it is more than 90 percent certain that humans are causing it through activities that increase concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels."

So what's the point? Sure, the odds are not good that the best science will prevail over big oil. There's not much time to build more ecologically compatible energy systems than we have. But you keep learning, talking, acting, and know that there are people just like you in communities across the country and the world. Time will tell whether it coalesces into something big enough to effectively challenge the powerful, institutionalized forces in the society and to build sustainable and just societies.

Click to read more ...

Friday
Apr062012

City Council amendment would ban oil-gas activity in water-protection area

Measure introduced despite state law that reserves oil and gas regulation to the ODNR

By David DeWitt

In an act of defiance of state law for the sake of protecting the city's drinking water, Athens City Council introduced an ordinance Monday night that bans oil and gas drilling within its wellhead protection zone.

The likelihood of companies attempting to bring the controversial horizontal hydraulic fracturing drilling technique to the wellhead protection zone is slim. Nevertheless, Ohio Revised Code relegates all oil and gas drilling and wastewater disposal regulatory authority to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Mineral Resources Management.

In introducing revisions to its wellhead protection plan in the form of an ordinance Monday night, City Council chose to include provisions banning fracking in that area anyway.

The ordinance was originally introduced with two provisions banning oil and gas drilling in the protection zone. They were then struck out. During the meeting, Third Ward member Michele Papai moved to once again include that language. It was seconded by Second Ward member Jeff Risner.

The first provision bans "drilling, mining, exploration and extraction operations, including but not limited to, petroleum gas and minerals," while the second bans "the storage and/or disposal of wastewater and other byproducts associated with drilling, mining, exploration and extraction operations."

At-large member Chris Knisely said that she has spoken to several citizens who expressed concerns about adding the provisions back in.

"It's a difficult situation, but I also know that we have a ruling from our law director from the city, who has stated that the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has the jurisdiction in this area," she said.

Lang said Monday that local government has no bigger responsibility as far as he concerned than working to do everything in its power to protect the drinking water.

"That said, the position of law director is not a policy-making position; I'm an adviser, and it is you, the members of council, that have the legislative authority vested in you," he said. "It is not the duty of a law director to tell you what you can or can not do. But I do feel it is appropriate to make sure that you are aware of the relevant laws, and I feel I've done everything I can to do that."

He distributed a copy of Ohio Revised Code to council members with the relevant passages highlighted, reading from that the division "has the sole and exclusive authority to regulate the permitting, location and spacing of oil and gas production operations in the state."

When questioned about whether the language in the ordinance is "not defensible," Lang said he wouldn't use those words, simply because he'd be obliged to defend the language if push came to shove.

"I will say that I think that certain portions of the wellhead protection ordinance are more problematic, potentially, than others," he said.

Fourth Ward member Christine Fahl expressed concern that if the questionable provisions are put forth, and a court case results, that other aspects of the ordinance will be held under injunction until the court proceedings come to a conclusion, thereby making the wellhead protection area vulnerable during that time.

The city has requested an opinion from the ODNR on whether they would ever approve a drilling request within a municipality's wellhead protection area in the first place, but Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl said Monday that the city has not yet heard back from them.

Risner said that he does not see the ODNR taking the city of Athens to court if this ordinance is passed.

"It's more likely if a company came to town and decided, 'I want to put a well here,' and they read the ordinance, then they would take us to court," he said. "The problem I would have is that if I were a company looking to drill a well, I would want to make money. Lawsuits cost money. They take time. Two-year injunctions means for two years I can't do anything. I'm injuncted, too."

He said that it doesn't seem worthwhile for a company to pursue that avenue.

"I think if we put this tool in our toolbox it's just something else that will prevent someone from coming in and (drilling)," he said. "If we don't do it, then there's really nothing."

At-large member Elahu Gosney said that his view is that the state law contradicts the city's responsibility to protect the city's water supply.

"If this is passed, the amendments may be difficult to defend it in court, but it may not," he said. "But that being said, my opinion is that we have to do an all-of-the-above when protecting our water supply."

The motion to re-include the language banning drilling activity passed 5-2 with Fahl and Knisely casting the dissenting votes.

Recent state geology reports suggest that Athens County may not see a big boom in oil and gas drilling.

 

http://blog.cleveland.com/letters/2012/04/dont_stifle_ohio_energy_produc.html

Thursday
Apr052012

Ohio is guinea pig for experiment known as horizontal fracking

I am so tired of hearing the claims from the oil and gas industry that fracking has been going on for years and is thus safe.

Hydraulic fracturing of shale with water to remove gas does indeed date back to the 1940s. However, this new type of slick water, horizontal, multi-pad injection fracking used today is no more than 10 or 15 years in age and is largely still experimental.

We are essentially guinea pigs for the industry. Now, we are talking about tens of thousands of horsepower, millions upon millions of gallons of our water, and a cocktail of hundreds of chemicals, some of them undisclosed, being injected repeatedly, day and night, below our water table.

Comparing modern fracking with the type done decades ago is like
comparing Boeing with the Wright brothers.

Then there is the argument that the chemicals they use are no different from the everyday household chemicals we have in our kitchens and bathrooms that can easily be found in deodorant, shampoo, antifreeze, black olives and even laxatives.

Please do not insult our intelligence. We do not use thousands of gallons of deodorant every single day, our radiators cannot hold thousands of gallons of antifreeze, our black olives do not contain thousands of gallons of concentrated hydrochloric acid injected into the jar at breakneck speed, and God forbid we will ever need thousands of gallons of laxatives!

Ohio is putting the cart in front of the horse with this rapid development of fracking, and I fear we may pay greatly for it as our neighbors in Pennsylvania are.

http://www.cantonrep.com/opinion/letters/x221036587/Ohio-is-guinea-pig-for-experiment-known-as-horizontal-fracking

 

Wednesday
Apr042012

Fracking Exposed: Shocking New Report Links Drilling With Breast Cancer and Women's Violence

Hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," has generated widespread media attention this year, but little has been reported on the ways in which fracking may have unique impacts on women. Chemicals used in fracking have been linked to breast cancer and reproductive health problems, and there have been reports of rises in crimes against women in some fracking "boom" towns, which have attracted itinerant workers with few ties to the community.

Toxins in Fracking Linked to Breast Cancer. Not only has the chemical cocktail inserted into the ground been shown to contaminate groundwater and drinking water, but fracking fluid also picks up toxins on its trip down to the bedrock and back up again that had previously been safely locked away underground. Chemicals linked to cancer are present in nearly all of the steps of extraction -- in the fracking fluids, the release of radioactive and other hazardous materials from the shale, and in transportation and drilling-related air pollution and contaminated water disposal.

Some reports indicate that more than 25 percent of the chemicals used in natural gas operations have been linked to cancer or mutations, although companies like Haliburton have lobbied hard to keep the public in the dark about the exact formula of fracking fluids. According to the U.S. Committee on Energy and Commerce, fracking companies used 95 products containing 13 different known and suspected carcinogens between 2005 and 2009 as part of the fracking fluid that is injected in the ground. These include naphthalene, benzene, and acrylamide. Benzene, which the U.S. EPA has classified as a Group A, human carcinogen, is released in the fracking process through air pollution and in the water contaminated by the drilling process. The Institute of Medicine released a report in December 2011 that links breast cancer to exposure to benzene.

Up to 37 percent of chemicals in fracking fluids have been identified as endocrine-disruptors -- chemicals that have potential adverse developmental and reproductive effects. According to the U.S. EPA, exposure to these types of chemicals has also been implicated in breast cancer.

The Marcellus Shale in the northeast part of the United States also naturally contains radioactive materials, including radium, which is largely locked away in the bedrock. The New York's Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) analyzed 13 samples of water, contaminated by the fracking process, as a result of the hydraulic fracturing of the shale during the extraction process. The DEC found that the resulting water contained levels of radium-226, some as high as 267 times the limit for safe discharge into the environment and more than 3000 times the limit safe for people to drink. One gas well can produce over a million gallons of contaminated water. A New York Times expose in 2011, released secret EPA documents that illustrated how this water is sometimes sent to sewage plants that are not designed to process the dangerous chemicals or radiation which in some instances are used in municipal drinking supplies or are released into rivers and streams that supply drinking water.

Emerging data points to a problem requiring more study. In the six counties in Texas which have seen the most concentrated gas drilling, breast cancer rates have risen significantly, while over the same period the rates for this kind of cancer have declined elsewhere in the state. Similarly, in western New York, where traditional gas drilling processes have been used for decades before hydrofracking came along, has been practiced for nearly two centuries, rural counties with historically intensive gas industry activity show consistently higher cancer death rates (PDF) than rural counties without drilling activity. For women, this includes breast, cervix, colon, endocrine glands, larynx, ovary, rectal, uterine, and other cancers.

Toxins linked to Spontaneous Abortion and Birth Defects. Certain compounds, such as toluene, that are released as gas at the wellhead and also found in water contaminated by fracking have the potential to harm to pregnant women or women wishing to become pregnant. According to the U.S. EPA, studies have shown that toluene can cause an assortment ofdevelopmental disorders in children born to pregnant women that have been exposed to toulene. Pregnant women also carry an increase risk of spontaneous abortion from exposure to toluene. Wyoming failed to meet federal standards for air quality due to fumes containing toluene and benzene in 2009.

Sandra Steingraber, an acclaimed ecologist and author of "Raising Elijah" -- a book on how to raise a child in an age of environmental hazards, takes the strong stand that fracking violates a woman's reproductive rights. "If you want to plan a pregnancy and someone else's chemicals sabotage that -- it's a violation of your rights as a woman to have agency over your own reproductive destiny," she said.

Steingraber sees banning fracking as an issue that both the pro-choice and anti-abortion camps can both rally behind. She has been giving talks on why opposition to fracking should be considered a feminist issue. The author won a Heinz award -- which recognizes individuals for their contributions in areas including the environment -- for her work on environmental toxins. She dedicated the $100,000 prize to the fight against fracking.

Crimes Against Women on the Rise in Some Energy Boom Towns. Beyond concerns about cancer and toxins are other societal ills related to fracking that disproportionately impact women. Some areas across the country where fracking has boomed have noted an increase in crime -- including domestic violence and sexual assault. In Dickinson, North Dakota, there has been at least a 300% increase in assault and sex crimes over the past year. The mayor has attributed the increase in crime to the oil and "natural" gas boom in their area.

The Executive Director of the Abuse & Rape Crisis Center in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, Amy Miller, confirmed that there has been an increase in unknown assailant rapes since the gas industry moved into the region -- which are much harder to prosecute. Miller also noted that domestic abuse has spiked locally, with the cases primarily from gas industry families. The county has more than 700 wells drilled, with more than 300 of these operational, and another 2,000 drilling permits have been issued.

The Gas Industry's Pink Rig. Even though fracking and drilling are dependent on a potpourri of carcinogenic chemicals, big energy companies don't hesitate to slap on pink paint in PR campaigns championing breast cancer awareness.

In 2009, a natural gas drilling rig in Colorado was painted pink with a percentage of the daily profits from the unit going to the Breast Cancer Foundation. This and other showy gestures by the methane gas industry appear to do little to alleviate concerns about the impact that fracking chemicals and practices may be having on public health and safety.

http://www.policymic.com/articles/6465/fracking-exposed-shocking-new-report-links-drilling-with-breast-cancer-and-women-s-violence

 

Wednesday
Apr042012

Towns Fight States on Drilling

States hoping to capitalize on their energy booms are running into resistance from local officials who want to be able to police the noise and industrialization that accompany oil-and-gas drilling.

The municipalities are fighting laws that bar them from regulating drilling, enacted by state lawmakers who feared towns would stunt job-creation and a stream of tax revenue.

SHALEREG

SHALEREG
Getty Images

Cabot Oil & Gas workers develop a fracking site in South Montrose, Pa.

Last Thursday, seven towns collectively sued Pennsylvania in state court to overturn a law passed in February that prevents them from using their zoning authority to regulate oil-and-gas development. The day before, an Ohio state senator introduced legislation to grant local officials more control over where companies can drill.

Also late last week, an energy company and a landowner appealed rulings in New York state courts that towns can use their zoning power to ban gas-drilling, despite a state law that prevents them from regulating the industry. The state has temporarily blocked companies from drilling in the Marcellus Shale while regulators weigh the environmental impact.

The balance between local land-use regulation and energy development has been hard to strike in Pennsylvania, which is carved up into more than 1,000 townships, some of which worry about how drilling would affect traffic, property values and public health.

Click to read more ...

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