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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

University Of Texas Fracking Study Has Industry Ties According To New Report

From Huffington Post

This piece comes from Scientific American

by David Wogan

Remember that study out of The University of Texas last February that concluded there wasn’t a direct link between fracking and groundwater contamination? It caught flack for seeming to being too easy on the fracking industry by suggesting that there wasn’t a direct link between cracking shale and groundwater contamination. The study was great news for an industry fighting a PR battle over a politically-charged issue.
However, financial ties to the fracking industry were never mentioned in all of the announcements about the study, and not known until a new study put out Monday by the Public Accountability Initiative. The study’s leader, Dr. Charles “Chip” Groathas significant financial ties to the fracking industry, to the tune of a couple of million dollars. From State Impact Texas:
Groat, a former Director of the U.S. Geological Survey and professor at the Jackson School of Geosciences at the University of Texas at Austin, also sits on the board of Plains Exploration and Production Company, a Houston-based company that conducts drilling and fracking in Texas and other parts of the country. According to the new report (and a review of the company’s financial reports by Bloomberg) Groat received more than $400,000 from the drilling company last year alone, more than double his salary at the University. And one of the shales examined in Groat’s fracking study is currently being drilled by the company, the report says.
Since 2007, Groat has received over $1.5 million in cash and stock awards from the company, and he currently holds over $1.6 million in company stock, according to the PAI report.
It’s hard for me to read this news because I have taken courses from Dr. Groat and value his wealth of experience. But this is damaging to himself and the University.
The purpose of research institutions is to help push the human race forward by making breakthroughs and advancements that benefit everyone, not just a select few with financial interests. At least that’s what I think.
Scientists already have a hard enough time keeping up a good reputation, with the Climategate nonsense or the Solyndra theatrics. Isn’t this news just one more data point that reinforces the ridiculous view that researchers are fabricating issues (like climate change!) in elaborate campaigns for research grants that fund the luxurious lives of tenure track professors? Give me a break. But try telling that to someone at a political rally, let alone at a School Board meeting in Texas. But I digress.
Ties to industry are common at research universities. It’s common in the engineering disciplines for research to be funded by an industry partner. That relationship is an explicit contract that the university offers some additional brainpower and expertise to overcome some technical challenge, or perform some fundamental science, and is in turn rewarded by funding several grad students for a couple of years.
But this differs because there is an appearance that financial gain was to be had. I don’t think it matters, as Dr. Groat has said, that the research was paid for with university funds. Over a million dollar in stocks constitutes a conflict of interest. What does this say for the integrity of The University of Texas and other universities and labs as research institutions? TheUniversity’s ethics policy specifically draws attention to research:
It is the policy of the University of Texas that research is conducted with integrity and free from any actual or apparent institutional or personal conflict of interest. An employee of the University who applies for grants or cooperative agreements from the federal government for research or other educational activities or who otherwise submits a proposal for sponsored research funding from any entity must insure that there is no reasonable expectation that the design, conduct, and reporting of the research will be biased by any significant financial interest of an investigator responsible for the research or other educational activity.
Shouldn’t these ties have been disclosed to the public? Where was the University’s due diligence? Did they not know a prominent faculty member was pocketing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year? At the very least, Dr. Groat should have removed himself from the study.
Private industry brings a lot of knowledge, experience, and funding, all things that are useful in research. And it is reasonable to expect that leading researchers will have contacts in industry, or serve on boards or on advisory positions because of their knowledge. But where do you draw the line and distinguish between an appropriate relationship, and one that one that compromises the goal of providing unbiased research?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Broadcast Premiere of THE SKY IS PINK and Artists Against Fracking

GASLAND. A Film By Josh Fox
Artists Against Fracking join the fight for New York
Dear friends,
This week we are excited to announce the broadcast premiere of THE SKY IS PINK and the launch of ARTISTS AGAINST FRACKING.
On Monday at 6pm Regional News Network (RNN) will present the broadcast premiere of THE SKY IS PINK   on The Richard French Live show, followed by an interview with me.
If you don't have RNN watch THE SKY IS PINK here: 
On last Friday’s Jimmy Fallon Show the world was introduced to ARTISTS AGAINST FRACKING, by Sean Lennon and Yoko Ono in an amazing performance which you can see here:
ARTISTS AGAINST FRACKING is an extraordinary new website and initiative pioneered by Sean Lennon, energizing the support in the fight against fracking of more than 100 of the most compelling artists in the world including Leonardo DiCaprio, Lada Gaga, David Geffen, Deepak Chopra,  and many more.  The list of artists against fracking is growing daily and signifies a huge boost to the movement at a moment where every source of support and influence is needed.  I am heartened by the efforts and good will of these folks who are joining us in this fight and I know you will share my gratitude in counting these remarkable artists amongst our numbers. 
Please take a moment to visit the new website and lend your voice to this amazing effort.
Read more:
New York has reached a state of emergency. Governor Cuomo is expected to announce his administration’s decision on fracking shortly and if the advance word on the street is any indication, then we have plenty to be worried about.  The idea that five downstate counties will be sacrificed is untenable and we are prepared to do everything necessary to ensure that the communities in Broome, Chemungo, Chenango, Steuben and Tioga counties will not be exploited and that the natural gas industry is not provided with easily challenged regulations that invite an eventual onslaught on New York State.
Please sign on and send a letter to Governor Cuomo at Artists Against Fracking, please keep forwarding and posting THE SKY IS PINK everywhere you can and help keep New York safe.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Minnesota Amish vs. Fracking

From Truth-out.com

Friday, 13 July 2012 By Steve HornDeSmogBlog | Report

"History," the old adage goes, "repeats itself." And this is precisely the reason why we learn it.
Exhibit A: Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), a landmark First Amendment Court battle royale. The case's facts, as summarized byOyez, are as follows:
Jonas Yoder and Wallace Miller, both members of the Old Order Amish religion, and Adin Yutzy, a member of the Conservative Amish Mennonite Church, were prosecuted under a Wisconsin law that required all children to attend public schools until age 16. The three parents refused to send their children to such schools after the eighth grade, arguing that high school attendance was contrary to their religious beliefs.
The Court was tasked to answer the following question: Did Wisconsin's requirement that all parents send their children to school at least until age 16 violate the First Amendment by criminalizing the conduct of parents who refused to send their children to school for religious reasons?
Unanimously, the Court decided the Wisconsin education law on the books at that time, for the Amish specifically, was a form "compelled association." Therefore, it was ruled an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment's "freedom of association" clause.
Fast-forward 40 years, and the following questions arise: Is history repeating itself in Minnesota's Amish communities where frac sand mining is occurring? Is the age-old cliché coming to fruition once more?
Winona Daily News: "Amish Speak Out Against Frac Sand Facility"
Shawn Francis Peters, author of the book The Yoder Case: Religious Freedom, Education, And Parental Rights, lays out the facts and circumstances behind Yoder eventually making its way to the High Court.
In his book, he explains the special concerns of the Amish community: "[N]early all the Amish who settled in the New World shared a well-defined set of core beliefs, with an unwavering commitment to separation from the world being among the most important" (14).
The key demand by Amish, Peters explains, was a demand to avoid all forms of "worldliness." He wrote,
The…Amish were reluctant to provide their children with extensive formal schooling…[S]chooling that went much beyond the elementary level…was perceived as a grave threat to the faith…The Amish believed that if their children attended public schools for too long, the youngsters would be inculcated with worldly values (28-9).
As DeSmogBlog recently explaned in its short documentary film "Sand Land," the race is on to mine for the prize of frac sand. The fine-grained sillica sand, predominantly located in western Wisconsin and in bordering Minnesota, is needed to extract shale gas, commonly referred to as "fracking," in shale basins located in every crevice of the globe.
The Winona, Minnesota-area, it turns out, possesses a heavy concentration of Amish citizens. It is also now part of "Sand Land" and the frac sand industry's "land grab."
Does the industry's ongoing "land grab" clash with the fundamental tenets of Winona's Amish population? As it turns out, quite possibly.
In a story published July 5, the Winona Daily News explained the industry's game plan in the area: "About 10 miles from the cluster of Amish farms, Faribault, Minn.-based Farm2Rail has proposed building a 300-acre rail yard that would serve as a washing and loading facility for frac sand, as well as for grain."   
Critics say the plan is an affront to the Amish way of life. 
Lee Zook, an Amish expert and retired professor of sociology at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, told the Daily News, "Having a large industrial installment next to this kind of typical, idyllic, kind of farming community, is going to be extremely disruptive in terms of not only transportation, but also just noise levels."
Zook also explained to the Daily News that it's no small thing that the Amish community in Winona has decided to stand up and fight back. 
Many times, when they run into conflict with regulations and so forth, they end up resisting those on a very quiet basis rather than making any kind of protest,” he said. “So for them to go to meetings and voice concerns about this, is kind of an interesting way of, kind of a change.”
These observations shared by Zook echo those of Peters, who in his book wrote,
[N]early all the Amish who settled in the New World shared a well-defined set of core beliefs, with an unwavering commitment to separation from the world being among the most important….[I]f state authorities prosecuted them for holding such beliefs, the Amish would not resist” (Peters 14).
Yet, rare as it was, when a fundamental tenet of the Amish belief system was under attack, leaders of the Amish community in Wisconsin chose to stand up and fight back.
Their legal case ascended all the way to the Supreme Court — and they won. 
"The past is never dead. It's not even past."
Could history be repeating itself in Winona? Is it possible that the frac sand "land grab" is unconstitutional under the First Amendment's "Freedom of Religion" clause? In other words, is the burgeoning industry preventing the Amish community from fully practicing its religion?
The debate, of course, is in its infancy. Yet, that said, history offers many important lessons for those willing to read it.
As novelist William Faulkner once wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Does Fracking Pollute Water?

Can fracking pollute water? Study tries to answer from the Timesonline.com

A new study being done by the Department of Energy may provide some of the first solid answers to a controversial question: Can gas drilling fluids migrate and pose a threat to drinking water?
A drilling company in southwestern Pennsylvania is giving researchers access to a commercial drilling site, said Richard Hammack, a spokesman for the National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh.
The firm let scientists conduct baseline tests, allowed tracing elements to be added to hydraulic fracturing fluids and agreed to allow follow-up monitoring. That should let scientists see whether the drilling fluids move upwards or sideways from the Marcellus Shale, which is 8,100 feet deep at that spot.
"It's like the perfect laboratory," Hammack said.
Hammack said he believes this is the first time such research has been done on a commercial gas well.
"Conceptually, it sounds like a really great idea," said P. Lee Ferguson, a Duke University civil and environmental engineering professor who is not involved with the project. "I have wondered about this since I started thinking about fracking. Which compounds are mobile and which aren't?"
The Marcellus Shale is a gas-rich rock formation thousands of feet under large parts of Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and West Virginia. Over the past five years, advances in drilling technology made the gas accessible, leading to a boom in production, jobs, and profits _ and concerns about pollution.
The gas is pulled from the ground through a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in which large volumes of water, plus sand and chemicals, are injected deep underground to break shale apart and free the gas.
Environmentalists have claimed the fluids associated with drilling could rise and pollute shallow drinking water aquifers. The industry and many government officials say the practice is safe when done properly, but there have also been cases where faulty wells did cause pollution.
Ferguson cautioned that no single study will answer all questions about fracking and the potential for pollution.
"The complicating factor is some of the compounds don't act in the same way underground," he said of fracking fluids, as well as the fact that there are substantial differences in geology throughout the Marcellus region.
Hammack said the study is designed to see whether the fracking fluids or naturally occurring salty brine from deep underground reach a testing area located at about 4,000 feet.
"We're just looking for any indication of communication between the two zones," he said.
If the fluids do rise, more research will be needed, he said. If they don't reach the 4,000-foot level, there will be no need to test drinking water aquifers, which are closer to the surface.
Other researchers have asked the same question, but have done so using computer simulations or testing not involving commercial wells. Both methods mean there's considerable uncertainty about the accuracy of the projections.
For example, a study released by other Duke researchers this week suggested that deep, salty brine fluids could migrate upwards through natural pathways, but made no estimate of whether that might take years, decades or centuries.
Hammack said the new project took off after he told someone in the industry about research DOE hoped to conduct.
"They said, `We have that exact situation,'" Hammock said of the response from the firm, which he didn't identify.
Hammack said the monitoring will go on for at least a year, but that the department will release information earlier if there's proof the fluids migrate to the upper testing level. Some background data from the research is also expected to be available later this year.
Patrick Creighton, a spokesman for the industry's Marcellus Shale Coalition, said in a statement that the industry supports partnering with universities, government agencies and others to protect the environment.

Fractured lives along the Susquehanna

By Halle Stockton PublicSource

JERSEY SHORE, Pa. -- On hot days, twins Amanda and Chevelle Eck splashed in the Susquehanna River behind their trailer in the Riverdale Mobile Home Park.
Anytime their mother, Deb, worked late at her discount-store job, neighbors would meet the girls at the school bus stop and treat them to popsicles.
In less than five months, that community has disappeared as residents were evicted from the park, forcing some to surrender their mobile homes.
“Basically, part of my family has been ripped away,” Eck said in early June. “And I’m not giving up my home, too.... I bought that thing with sweat and I earned every damn penny I’ve put into that place. I just don’t happen to own the ground it sits on.”
Deb Eck and her 10-year-old twins left Riverdale on July 7, towing their trailer to another mobile-home park.
In late February, Aqua America and Penn Virginia Resource Partners became the owners of the 12 acres Riverdale sits on. The partnership will use the parcel in a $50 million plan to build a water-pumping station and 36-mile pipeline with the capacity to carry millions of gallons of water daily from the Susquehanna to natural gas wells.
This small park of 32 trailers, home to an oft-ignored and marginalized population, has become yet another flash point in the national debate over the impact of natural gas drilling and the industry’s methods.
Some say it is the first example of outright evictions because of Marcellus Shale operations in the drilling hotbed of Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia.
No one asked.
The Riverdale trailer park provided affordable homes to a cluster of working-poor families and the elderly of Jersey Shore, a borough of 4,300 people between Lock Haven and Williamsport.
Most residents owned their mobile homes and paid $200 a month to lease the land.
They learned of the project that would eviscerate their community when a story ran in the local newspaper in February.
The majority had neither the desire nor the means to leave. No one bothered to ask them, they said.
The Lycoming County Planning Commission approved site plans to build a pump station on the Riverdale land on Feb. 16.
The park land owners, Richard and Joanne Leonard, sold it to the partnership for $550,000 on Feb. 23, according to Lycoming County assessment records. The land was last valued by the county assessment office at $439,890.
The trailer-park’s manager recently waved off a reporter asking for comment.
Shortly after the land sale, residents received eviction notices.
Aqua America initially offered residents a $2,500 incentive if they moved by April 1. The deal dropped to $1,500 if they packed up by May 1.
Donna Alston, Aqua America’s spokeswoman, said company officials changed their tactics when they realized the Riverdale tenants were not given adequate notice.
“As things became clear to us, because at first it wasn’t clear people would face hardship, we extended the period of time to move and we did not collect rent or water and sewer fees,” she said.
The company hired a realtor to assist in the relocations and offered $2,500 to all who moved by June 1, the construction start date.
“None of that was required,” Alston said. “The things we did were out of concern, out of compassion and out of understanding.”
Riverdale residents said rents were higher at other mobile-home parks, and quotes they obtained showed it cost $5,000 to $10,000 to move a trailer.
But fears about money, arrest and even homelessness picked off residents one by one until nine adults and four children remained after the June 1 deadline. Some of them were unable to move, while others simply refused.
The ones who left dispersed to other trailer courts, senior housing or extra rooms in the homes of family and friends. The lucky ones were able to move their trailers; many were forced to abandon their homes. At least one family wiped out their retirement savings to make the move.
Many trailers dated back to the 1970s and could not be moved without crumbling. Some were too heavy or would not be accepted elsewhere.
Eck, 50, had trouble finding a court that would take her 76-foot long trailer with metal casing. “It’s not aesthetically pleasing, I suppose,” she said. The few trailer parks that would accept her home weren’t acceptable to her.
“I did a search on the Megan’s Law website and I’m not moving there with my girls,” she said, “It’s not safe.” The website she referred to makes addresses of registered sex offenders available to the public. Eck said she also had to consider school districts for her daughters.
Several residents came back to gut their deserted homes for scrap. They stripped siding down to the fiberglass and removed appliances, carpeting and windows. The home of an elderly couple collapsed in the process. Debris littered the park.
Eric and April Daniels bought their trailer three years ago for $5,000. They spent $7,000 to transform it into a well-insulated home with new appliances and fixtures to raise Eric’s 14-year-old daughter, Alexa, and the couple’s 4-year-old, Jeanna.
It took four days to tear the trailer apart.
They signed over the trailer’s title to the company for $2,500. It would have cost $7,300 to move the trailer. Now, they pay $325 more per month to rent a trailer in another court. They’ve since canceled family life insurance that cost $193 a month and they’re behind on other payments.
Eric Daniels, 43, had counted himself lucky a year and a half ago when he got a $17-an-hour job driving a truck that hauls water to natural gas wells. His view is shifting now that his home is gone and the pipeline threatens his job. More than 2,000 water truck trips had already been eliminated by the pipeline by late April, the company reported.
“This is not the way you do business,” he said. “Now I feel like an absolute refugee.”
A eulogy and a revival
A local pastor led a vigil at Riverdale on May 31.
It was the community’s eulogy. But it was also a revival, albeit temporary, because the calls to save the mobile-home park had ballooned into a protest that united its blue-collar residents with people more accustomed to defying the establishment.
Activists came from various states where drilling is taking place, and Riverdale became an intersection of causes.
“This is where environment meets social justice,” said Wendy Lynne Lee, a Bloomsburg University philosophy professor who joined other activists at a 12-day Riverdale encampment that was part of a broader “Occupy Well Street” movement.
They barricaded the park’s access roads with signs carrying messages such as, “They sold us down the river,” which prompted many Route 220 motorists and truckers to blow their horns in agreement.
The goal was to help the residents defend the space.
The bulldozers, scheduled to come on June 1, were a no-show.
The residents and the activists shared meals, cleaned up the park and chatted by campfires.
Private security guards, bolstered by 20 state police officers, showed up June 12 to shoo away the activists. There were no arrests or violence.
Lee said the situation would add fuel to the anti-fracking movement in Pennsylvania. “The end here is a beginning.”
It was also a beginning for construction of the pump station, which started the day activists left the property.
For the few residents who still live there, floodlights glare through the night on an active construction site that is surrounded by industrial fencing.
“It is not a home anymore, I can tell you that much,” Eck said.
Quality as well as quantity
Three million gallons of water a day sounds like an enormous amount to take from the Susquehanna River -- or any natural waterway.
But the Susquehanna withdrawals planned by Aqua America and Penn Virginia Resource Partners are only a fraction of water removed from all Pennsylvania water sources.
The partnership has completed 18 miles of pipeline that was carrying water, purchased from the Jersey Shore Water Authority, to drill sites by late April.
The Philadelphia-area companies plan to extend the pipeline another 18 miles to provide water to more natural gas producers.
Water is the primary ingredient of the slurry -- including sand and chemical additives -- that is injected into the rock to extend fractures and access the natural gas in Marcellus Shale formations.
The pump station on the Susquehanna will provide area natural gas wells with up to 3 million gallons of water per day -- a water volume equivalent to nearly five Olympic-size swimming pools.
The withdrawal amount was approved by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission in March and is effective for 15 years.
The state Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission also reviewed the project, according to commission’s documents.
Loss of a home
What is the value of a home?
In late June, Chesapeake Energy settled with three families in Northeastern Pennsylvania for $1.6 million after the families sued, saying they had to move because gas drilling contaminated their wells, according to the Associated Press.
Eric Daniels gazed at his deconstructed trailer as he thought about the worth of his former Riverdale home.
“It’s not a mansion or a log cabin,” he said. “We loved it. The value of a home is in the people, not the dollars.”
The Riverdale holdouts eventually struck a deal with the partnership that meant more money and more time, though residents had to keep the terms confidential. Their deadline to leave is July 12.
The residents who took the company’s initial offer of $2,500 have grumbled, and there has been talk of a civil lawsuit, but most are weary and want to move on.
Even with the better offer, resident Denise Bliler said there would still be hardship. She had checked with four other mobile-home parks that would not take her trailer because of its roof and siding materials.
“They won’t accept me, so, no matter what, they’re taking my home from me,” she said.
PublicSource is an independent, nonprofit news group that focuses on original investigative reporting about critical issues facing Pittsburgh and the western Pennsylvania region.
Reach Halle Stockton at (412) 315-0263 or hstockton@publicsource.org.