‘Fracking’: Myth Meets Realties


A natural gas rig side by side with homes in Washington County, PA | B. Mark Schmerling

Fractured Lives

Detritus of Pennsylvania’s Shale Gas Boom

By Edward Humes

Progressive America Rising via Sierra Club

The supple hills of southwestern Pennsylvania, once known for their grassy woodlands, red barns, and one-stoplight villages, bristle with new landmarks these days: drilling rigs, dark green condensate tanks, fields of iron conduits lumped with hissing valves, and long, flat rectangles carved into hilltops like overgrown swimming pools, brimming with umber wastewater.

Tall metal methane flaring stacks periodically fill the night with fiery glares and jet engine roars. Roadbeds of crushed rock, guarded by No Trespassing signs, lie like fresh sutures across hayfields, deer trails, and backyards, admitting fleets of tanker trucks to the wellheads of America’s latest energy revolution.

This is the new face of Washington County, the leading edge of the nation’s breakneck shale gas boom. Natural gas boosters, President Barack Obama among them, have lauded it as a must-have, 100-year supply of clean, cheap energy that we cannot afford to pass up. However, recent data suggest that supplies of shale gas may last for only 11 years and that the extreme measures needed to recover it may make it a dirtier fuel than coal. But that hasn’t slowed the dramatic transformation of gas-rich regions from rural Pennsylvania to urban Fort Worth, Texas.

Driving this juggernaut is the amalgam of industrial technologies collectively known as "hydraulic fracturing," or "fracking," which releases the gases (the main component of which is methane) hidden deep within layers of ancient, splintery shale. With five major shale "plays" concentrated in eight states, and more under development, America has been transformed from a net importer of natural gas into a potential exporter.

Perched atop the 7,000-foot-deep Marcellus Shale formation, which undergirds most of Appalachia, Washington County not only boasts enormous reserves of methane but also leads the state in producing far more frack-worthy "wet gas" products: propane, butane, ethane, and other valuable chemicals that can mean the difference between a money pit and a money gusher. Although central Pennsylvania has more wells, this wet gas makes Washington County, in industry parlance, a "honeypot."

The lure of million-dollar payouts has led many farmers, homeowners, school boards, and town commissions to lease out their subterranean energy wealth. Royalty payments on leases so far have topped half a billion dollars statewide–money that, for some, is literally saving the farm.

"An unprecedented economic impact," Matt Pitzarella has called it. He’s spokesman for the leading driller in this part of the state, Texas-based Range Resources, which in 2004 fracked the first successful Marcellus Shale wells–at the time a shot in the dark and now believed to be tapping the second-largest natural gas field in the world. Pitzarella ticks off stories of poor families who hit the gas-lease lottery and are now able to afford college tuition, new cars, and home makeovers.

But unlocking half-billion-year-old hydrocarbon deposits carries a price, and not everyone shares in the bonanza. For every new shale well, 4 million to 8 million gallons of water, laced with potentially poisonous chemicals, are pumped into the ground under explosive pressure–a violent geological assault. And once unleashed, the gas requires a vast industrial architecture to be processed and moved from the wells to the world. Imagine the pipes, compressors, ponds, pits, refineries, and meters each shale well in Pennsylvania demands, planted next to horse farms, cornfields, houses, and schools. Then multiply by 5,000.

Continue reading ‘Fracking’: Myth Meets Realties

GOP Rep Lets the Cat Out of the Bag

Pennsylvania Republican: Voter ID Laws Are

‘Gonna Allow Governor Romney To Win’


By Annie-Rose Strasser

June 25, 2012 – This weekend, Pennsylvania Republican House Leader Mike Turzai (R-PA) finally admitted what so many have speculated: Voter identification efforts are meant to suppress Democratic votes in this year’s election.

At the Republican State Committee meeting, Turzai took the stage and let slip the truth about why Republicans are so insistent on voter identification efforts — it will win Romney the election, he said:

Continue reading GOP Rep Lets the Cat Out of the Bag

Free medicines for all starting in October 2012

Free medicines for all from October

Kounteya Sinha, TNN Jun 23, 2012, 01.51AM IST

NEW DELHI: India’s ambitious policy to provide free medicines to all patients attending a government health facility across the country will be rolled out from October.

Strongly backed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself, the free-medicines-for-all scheme — being referred to as the “real game changer” — has received its first financial allocation of Rs 100 crore from the Planning Commission for 2012-13.

The entire programme, however, is estimated to cost Rs 28,560 crore over the 12th five year plan.

At present, the public sector provides healthcare to 22% of the country’s population.

The ministry estimates that this will increase to 52% by 2017 once medicines are provided for free from 1.6 lakh sub-centres, 23,000 primary health centres, 5,000 community health centres and 640 district hospitals.

The ministry has sent the National List of Essential Medicines, 2011, (348 drugs which includes anti-AIDS, analgesics, anti-ulcers, anti psychotic, sedatives, anesthetic agents, lipid lowering agents, steroids and anti platelet drugs) to all the states to use as reference.

Continue reading Free medicines for all starting in October 2012

Confronting a Future of Lost Decades

by Randy Shannon

Two years ago we showed that the current crisis was unavoidable as long as the banks controlled state power in the major industrial countries. In “Japan’s Lost Decades: the US Sequel” the political and economic way out of this crisis was set forth on this blog. This agenda is still relevant and waiting to be fulfilled by popular action.

The US economy has begun a new cyclical downturn. This is the first recession since 1937 that has occurred before a full recovery. As in 1937, part of the reason for this second dip is the growth of political power among the reactionary bankers and the Republican Party. This group has thrown roadblocks in the way of real economic stimulus.

The article below shows that the political leaders and the financial media finally are face to face with the reality that the current course is unsustainable. The central banks cannot break out of their narrow mind-set. Their only solution is to print money and lower interest rates. As bankers, they see the solution as saving the banks at the cost of a stable and prosperous society.

We must move forward with nationalizing the zombie banks, imposing a carbon tax and a financial speculation tax, investing in a green new deal to rebuild and solarize the infrastructure, end the wars and retool the military industrial complex to build mass transportation.

Every day that passes without action is lost. This results in lost lives, lost hopes, and a lost future generation. The graphic of construction employment shows the gravity of the situation.

Central Banks Commit to Ease as Threat of Lost Decades Rises

By Simon Kennedy and Rich Miller
Jun 25, 2012 11:11 AM ET

Central bankers are finding it easier to support their economies than to spur expansion as the prospect of Japanese-like lost decades looms across the developed world.

Continue reading Confronting a Future of Lost Decades

If Obama’s Health Plan Goes Down, Then What?

In Health Care, Give the People What They Want: Medicare for All

By Robert Scheer
Common Dreams

June 21, 2012 – The nutty thing about the health care debate that will play a prominent role in the next election is that most Americans want pretty much the same outcome: to control costs without sacrificing quality. And that’s not what either major-party candidate is offering.

Few think that Obamacare, a Romneycare descendant that contains the same kind of individual mandate the then-governor of Massachusetts signed into law, will get us to that desired goal. Nor would Mitt Romney, who has been reborn as a celebrant of the old, pre-Obama system with a few nips and tucks.

As the nation awaits a Supreme Court ruling on the constitutionality of the Obama health care approach, a new Associated Press-GfK poll suggests that the vast majority of Americans want Congress to come up with a better plan. They know that the current system is unsustainable. Only a third of those polled favored the law President Barack Obama signed, but according to the AP, “whatever people think of the law, they don’t want a Supreme Court ruling against it to be the last word on health care reform.” The article continued, “More than three-fourths of Americans want their political leaders to undertake a new effort, rather than leave the health care system alone if the court rules against the law, according to the poll.”

Continue reading If Obama’s Health Plan Goes Down, Then What?

General Order Number 3

U.S. Army Major General Gordon Granger
Abraham Lincoln, author of the Emancipation Proclamation

“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer.”

Major General Gordon Granger, United States Army

June 19, 1865, Galveston, Texas

Allegheny County Election Board Votes Suit against Voter ID Law

Split election board to contest Voter ID law

June 19, 2012 4:35 pm
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John DeFazio, Director of USW District 10 and Chair of Allegheny County Board of Elections

By Len Barcousky / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Divided along party lines, Allegheny County’s election board voted this afternoon to file a lawsuit challenging the state’s new Voter Identification law.

Board chairman John DeFazio and county Executive Rich Fitzgerald, both Democrats, voted to sue, while Heather Heidelbaugh, the lone Republican on the three-member board, voted against the measure. Both Mr. DeFazio, of Shaler, and Ms. Heidelbaugh, of Mt. Lebanon, serve on the election board because they are at-large members of county council.

“We should be making it easier to vote,” Mr. Fitzgerald said. “This legislation [the Voter ID law] is trying to deny that right and make it more difficult for people to vote.”

The measure, which takes effect with the Nov. 6 general election, requires that all voters have some form of state-approved photo identification when they come to the polls.

Ms. Heidelbaugh noted that the bill was passed by two houses of the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Tom Corbett.

“This suit is sour grapes by an elected official who doesn’t like the new law,” she said.

County solicitor Andrew Szefi said the lawsuit likely would be brought on behalf of both the election board and the county.

The heart of the county’s argument would be that the state constitution sets just four requirements for voting eligibility: minimum age, U.S. citizenship, residence in Pennsylvania and a specific election district.

The new requirement that voters show photo identification before they can cast ballots should have been imposed via constitutional amendment, he said.

Mr. Szefi estimated it would take the county law department about a week to prepare the lawsuit, which will be filed in Commonwealth Court.

The county has standing to bring the suit, because it pays elections costs and will have to spend additional money to train poll workers to enforce the photo ID rule, Mr. Fitzgerald said.

Len Barcousky: lbarcousky@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1159.

Kentucky Miner Wins Reinstatement In Whistleblower Case

Charles Scott Howard, Kentucky Miner, Wins Reinstatement In Whistleblower Case

Charles Howard

Kentucky miner Charles Scott Howard lost his job at Cumberland River Coal Co. last May, after years of butting heads with management over safety issues at the mine. Now, more than 13 months later, Howard may suit up and head back into the mine, whether his employer likes it or not.

A federal judge ordered Friday that Howard’s company immediately reinstate him at the mine and pay a $30,000 fine for discriminating against a whistleblower. The sharply worded decision said managers at Cumberland River, as well as its parent company, coal giant Arch Coal, went to great lengths to find a reason to fire Howard after he brought his mine to the attention of federal safety officials.

“It is obvious that [Cumberland River] worked diligently to end Howard’s employment,” wrote Margaret A. Miller, an administrative law judge for the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. “The discrimination against Howard ran through [Cumberland River] and its parent, Arch, at the highest management levels.”


Continue reading Kentucky Miner Wins Reinstatement In Whistleblower Case