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A useful post is now up at Boatrocker, which has the agenda, minutes and documents from the last meeting, and more info about Task Force members.

Well worth perusing if you want to be up on local developments for the May 10th meeting:

http://boatrocker.wordpress.com/2010/05/06/centre-county-natural-gas-task-force-info/

The first meeting of the full Centre County Natural Gas Task force has been scheduled for May 10 at 4 p.m. at the Bald Eagle Area High School Cafeteria.
Evidently there was an April 12 public meeting, which even some subcommittee members did not know about.
They will continue to discuss current legislation for taxing natural gas extraction in PA.  Road maintenance agreements will also be discussed at the upcoming meeting.
I think much more needs to be on the agenda, don’t you? How about local ordinances?

Laugh or cry?

The fact that gas will be extracted in Pennsylvania means absolutely nothing for whether local people will benefit from it. Let me repeat: It means nothing.

To understand why, you simply have to look at the history of oil, coal, and gas extraction. Are profits in fact distributed to the people who have to suffer the devastating side effects? Or do outsiders drain profits and leave messes behind?

We do have democratic processes that tip the scale one way or the other: appropriate taxes on mineral extraction, effective regulation, and public participation in decision making. These tools are our safeguards. When one of them is lacking, we see inequality and injustice grow: political, economic, environmental, social.

Here’s a paragraph from Elizabeth Burns, whose Rancho los Malulos contains stunning documentation of a historical legacy of irresponsible and exploitative resource extraction that continues into the present on the south Texas ranch where she lives:

No one cares if oil companies steal from large land owners. People think, “Well, they are large land owners, they deserve it.” What they don’t realize is that ExxonMobil, El Paso and Chevron are stealing much much more from poor people of South Texas. Read the court ruling. The poorest and sickest counties in the whole United States. Counties full of hungry, sad, disenfranchised folks, poisoned by PCB’s, mercury, lead, radioactive slag and contaminated ground water. (compliments of ExxonMobil, El Paso, and Chevron) In the words of Carl Richardson, (Enterprise Pipeline’s head landman) “The oil business has been kind to you. You have no right to complain.” Yes, the oil business has indeed been kind to South Texans. That is why we are the wealthiest and healthiest area in all of the USA. Go District 4!!

If oil and gas are in fact so great for the economy, why wouldn’t McKean and Warren counties be the greatest and most prosperous counties in all of Pennsylvania? Why wouldn’t Oklahoma and south Texas and Saudi Arabia and Nigeria be the greatest places to live in all the world?

The presence of mineral resources alone guarantees nothing. In fact, it can invite speculation, greed, exploitation.

Hear Ecuador’s  Alberto Acosta on Democracy Now discussing the gap between a richness in natural resources and the poverty that can accompany extractive practices.

The SEC permits oil and gas companies to book proved reserves as capital assets

A lot of people I’ve talked to have expressed concerns about their elected representatives getting contributions from oil and gas or personally benefitting from natural gas development.

Compounding the problem, a lot of communities have organized committees to deal with Marcellus development issues by appointing “stakeholders” to the boards. Instead of defining stakeholders as community members with long-term interests in the quality of life for all people in the area, these committees amplify the voices of those who would gain most from this development. When they do good work, they ask, how can we train workers for this new industry? How can we make this process go more smoothly?

But seldom do they ask, is this even good for our community at all?

In one recent example, Lehman Township in Luzerne County agreed to let EnCana begin Marcellus drilling in the township though some residents wanted their supervisors to vote no.

Only one of the supervisors could put forward the motion, because “two of the supervisors, Ide and Sutton, have personal ties to gas drilling. Ide leased some of his own land for gas drilling, and Sutton consults property owners concerning drilling.” The third member presented the motion, and the other two seconded it.

I highly recommend a blog post I stumbled on called “Gas Drilling, Conflict of Interests, and Lobbying.”

It focuses on New York law, but perhaps Pennsylvania has some similar guidelines? According to New York’s Commission on Public Integrity,

As a general matter, recusal  would be required if the facts and circumstances suggest that the subject trustee has a substantial, personal interest in the outcome of the BID budget vote.  Even the appearance of such an interest would require recusal, in order to maintain public confidence in  government.

This is a problem a lot of Pennsylvania communities need to address head on. Both of the lawyers the blogger consulted “strongly recommended that  the public should attend those local board meetings and ask each board member, on the record, to clarify the leased  status of their and their family’s  real property holdings.

Unanswered Questions About The Economic Impact of Gas Drilling In the Marcellus Shale: Don’t Jump to Conclusions

by Jannette M. Barth, Ph.D.

The paper was prepared for New York. Too bad no such report was available for Pennsylvania before drilling started. From the intro:

The studies used to support the claim that drilling will bring economic benefits to New
York are either biased, dated, seriously flawed, or simply not applicable to the region that
would be affected. Such studies are not a valid foundation on which to base legislative or
regulatory actions.

I also like the firm debunking of “An Emerging Giant: Prospects and Economic Impacts of Developing the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play,” aka “the Penn State study.” To wit:

The report is an exercise commissioned by the natural gas industry to try to prevent the State of Pennsylvania from imposing a severance tax on natural gas. An intelligent lawmaker should not take this study seriously.

Read the report

We Care

This weekend, I went with dothemountain to visit with some people I had talked to on the phone.

I can write lovely and accurate articles about their problems–and I will in the coming weeks–, but there’s nothing like seeing these people and places and SMELLING the air there, that bring the pain and the scope of the problem into perspective.

To share some of their stories, we are collaborating on a photo blog called “The Faces of Frackland.” Everyday, we’ll show you the picture of someone whose life has been impacted by gas drilling.

We want to show you the farmers, activists, fishers, hunters, environmentalists, organizers, landowners with split estates or never-ending leases, neighbors, family, pets and animals, outdoor people, people who are sick, and other citizens like you who care what happens to our air, water, and land.

http://pafaces.wordpress.com/

I’m still trying to track down a story that possibly involves this well. I’ve heard that in late 2008, a spring went turbid near Pine Glen (…Burnside, Snow Shoe) and that there were concerns about the aquifer. It was never reported to the PA DEP. If anyone has more information, please contact me.
It also bears repeating that while Engelder is a PSU professor, he also doubles as a paid consultant to the gas industry. The figures cited by the CEO are also figures the industry paid for.

COUNTY WELLS TAP MARCELLUS GAS

Centre Daily Times (State College, PA) – Thursday, December 11, 2008
Author: Nick Malawskey nmalawsk@centredaily.com

STATE COLLEGE — The first natural gas extraction wells drilled in Centre County are showing promise, placing the county in a very positive position as commercial interest in the Marcellus Shale natural gas reserve increases. The shale occurs in the subsurface beneath much of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York and has the potential to be the largest natural gas field in the United States. One of the first wells in the area to explore the shale — owned by Exco Resources near Snow Shoe, was planned for 3,500 feet.

“And here’s the punch line for Centre County,” Penn State professor Terry Engelder said Wednesday at a natural gas summit. “Exco said it was going to drill to 3,500 feet … in fact they only went to 1,700 feet and hit a fault.” That fault allowed for the extraction of gas — 1,800 feet higher than expected and at a rate of 1 million cubic feet a day, according to the company’s third quarter results statement.

Exco has had “really, really good results,” from the well, results on par with those in other areas of the state that are producing high quality wells. That means Centre County is “very, very well positioned,” for future exploration, Engelder said.

Even as the economy slows down, the exploration of the Marcellus Shale region is expected to increase, said Range Resources CEO John Pinkerton. Range Resources, Exco and Rex Energy are three companies that are exploring the Marcellus Shale in the region. Pinkerton said the recession is having an effect on the exploration — speculation and investment are slowing down, the price of gas is decreasing — but he said he still expects 2009 to be a busy year for the industry.

Demand for alternative energy is focusing attention on natural gas and the Marcellus Shale. But instead of pushing for new leases, Pinkerton said he expects the number of lease offers to decline in 2009 as extraction companies shift their focus to developing drilling operations to provide a return on their investments.

Still, in the long run, the resource could create up to 100,000 jobs and an nual revenue for the state in excess of $8 billion, he said. “It will have a huge impact in terms of economics,” he said, as new projects bring direct and indirect jobs into the Pennsylvania economy.

Pinkerton admitted he did not know how much gas might be underneath the Appalachia region of the United States, but Engelder did hazard a guess. Engelder said new studies indicate that the Marcellus Shale region may have enough natural gas to provide 363 trillion cubic feet of gas to the United States — seven times his estimate of earlier this year.

“There’s a lot of gas out there,” he said. That number, he admitted, doesn’t mean much to most people. Instead, he used the example of a CATA bus, running on the natural gas found in the shale region. “How far would a CATA bus go? … About 88 percent of the way to Alpha Centauri,” he said. “That’s your headline.

On March 16, Katherine Watt wrote an oped in the CDT entitled “Raise a voice over shale drilling plan.” It was perhaps a bit more “rhetorically forceful” than I would have written it, but the CDT has printed little from its perspective.

On the 30th, Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango), chairman of the state Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committee, wrote a response:

Natural gas is a cleaner, abundant fuel available right here in Pennsylvania. We cannot talk about reducing our reliance on foreign energy sources without committing to developing our own indigenous natural resources.

She then called CATA’s natural gas buses “a model for what the future in transportation may look like” and asserted that “Pennsylvania has some of the strictest well drilling, casing and construction standards in the nation.” HA!

In the comments section, Watt provided the real reason White repeats industry talking points as if they are facts.

Here’s Watt’s response, in the CDT comment section:

I’ll respond later to Senator White’s assertions above, but in the meantime, wanted to offer some financial context to her argument.

According to public campaign finance records (http://www.campaignfinance.state.pa.us/ReportSearch.aspx), Senator White ran virtually unopposed in the 2008 campaign in District 21. She had $44,834 on hand on May 12, 2008 (30 days post primary). By December 31, 2008, after the election, her campaign had a balance of $63,875.

During that campaign cycle alone, she accepted contributions of at least $32,500 from executives and political action committees at the following corporations (I stopped digging for information when the donations fell under $500, which was where Allegheny Energy’s contributions began showing up):

Rosebud Mining Co. (coal) – $5,000
Parkwood Resources (coal) – $5000
Consol Energy & CSX Gas – $2,000
Pennsylvania Coal PAC (coal) – $2,000
Pennsylvania Power & Light (utility) – $5,000
First Energy PAC (utility) – $3,000
Sunoco PAC (oil & gas) – $2,500
Alliance Coal – $1,000
Valier Mining (coal) – $1,000
Foundation Coal – $1,000
PBS Coals Inc. – $4,000
Amfire Mining (coal) – $1,000

As chair of the Energy and Environment Committee, she knows where her support lies, and it isn’t with the people drinking water contaminated by two centuries of permitted and “regulated” coal, oil and gas mining in Pennsylvania.

It’s information people need to know.