Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In the beginning

A hot-off-the-presses HCIN bulletin:

Greetings from the Hampshire County Independent Network.

First the big news: Yesterday, Hampshire County Commissioner Steve Slonaker introduced a motion at the county commission meeting to adopt the resolution drafted by HCIN, to establish the Hampshire County Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Advisory Committee. You’ll find the resolution’s draft text at the end of this email.

The name was cut-and-pasted from a similar committee created nine months ago in Garrett County MD, whose pioneering effort did a great deal to assure our commissioners that this is the exactly right thing to do. Commission president Bob Hott had already shown his great concern about the recent introduction of the process of hydraulic fracture in Hampshire County by attending HCIN’s “Gasland” screening last week, and we knew from our conversations with them that the other commissioners were equally concerned about the many unanswered questions surrounding this practice.

The only thing that kept the resolution from being adopted on the spot was the ever-conscientious nature of Commissioner Dave Parker, who wanted the county prosecutor to make sure that the language was legally convoluted enough to pass muster. So the motion was tabled until the next county commission meeting, and unless the gas industry can come up with enough money to buy off Bob Hott—highly unlikely with a man of that integrity—I’m confident the resolution will be passed on February 8th.

The trying-not-to-let-them-get-a-word-in-edgewise presentation was done by yours truly, with the truly substantive information coming from Brent Walls of Potomac Riverkeeper, who did such a great job conducting the question and answer session after we showed “Gasland” last week, and HCIN’s in-house expert on the natural gas issue, Jim Dodgins, who riveted the commissioners’ attention with his account of the strange things that happened to his water well, when the first fracked gas well in Hampshire County was being drilled nearby. Anyone who wants a thorough understanding of what this issue means to this county can do no better than reading Jim’s articles on the subject in the Hampshire Independent.

Besides the list of distinguished citizens we had suggested who might reflect the broad range of stakeholder interests that should be represented on the committee, I think what may have sealed the deal was the far-off look the commissioners got in their eyes when I told them that no one else in the state was doing what they were considering. We pointed out that this could be a model that leads the way to a pragmatic solution to the largely-uninformed public panic that sometimes results when the Halliburton fracking team comes to town (did you know, there is what is known as the “Halliburton loophole” from the Clean Water Act, which exempts companies from having to report what specific toxic chemicals they are leaving like so much garbage in the earth—meaning over half of the millions of gallons they inject?). It’s my observation that a sense of leadership is the inspiration that drives many people to seek public office, and if you want people to do something, give them something they already want to do.

I don’t have to tell you we’re beaming pretty brightly at HCIN. We have our crack staff of 100 monkeys typing furiously and randomly 24/7, right here in the basement at HCIN headquarters. There’s no bedtime for Bonzo here! And just as the laws of probability indicate, every once in awhile they produce something mildly acceptable to a government agency. We couldn’t be prouder of our slightly more hairy cousins. The bananas are on us, guys!

Meanwhile, in other news…

I’m presuming, based on the cookies I’ve placed in your computers (it kind of feels like being in the NSA in the control room at the Hampshire Independent), that most of you have read Windy Cutler’s detailed report on the post-Gasland discussion last week, so I won’t go into that. As even you slackers who haven’t been checking into party headquarters may have seen in the Hampshire Review and Cumberland Times-News, the evening was an outstanding success, with a near-capacity crowd at the library, despite terrible weather.

Since I don’t want anybody to “have an accident,” as they say, worrying about at what strength I’m going to point my sometimes dangerously unpredictable pen at them, I’ll just somewhat prosaically thank the people whose more-than-generous contribution of their time (no filthy lucre changes hands at HCIN, thank you very much) made the evening such a wonderful and informative community experience:

Head librarian Amanda Snyder, Pat Henson and the rest of the hardworking staff at the public library in Romney; award-winning artist and photographer Jan Dodgins, for on-the-spot photojournalism and the most excellent business cards she designed and produced for HCIN; Charlie Streisel, Chuck Sherry and Steve Bailes, for technical wizardry; Potomac Riverkeeper and their Upper Potomac Manager, Brent Walls, the kid brother we can’t seem to get rid of; the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization and West Virginia Sierra Club, for the flyers they sent us to distribute; the Hampshire Review and Cumberland Times-News, for the extensive coverage they’ve given this issue and our event; and the band of unusually loose cannons I travel with, Bill Arnold, Windy Cutler, Dorothy Kengla and Jim Dodgins, for everything they know they did.

Speaking of Windy, she’s assumed command of the HCIN email guerilla team, daily assaulting the West Virginia legislature with phone calls demanding they ignore all that gas industry money waving in their faces and do what’s right for the people. There are already over fifty in-county citizens on the list, with an infinite number of openings, and if they ever decide to have a party, you might be sorry you didn’t join them because simply everyone else will be there. If you feel like getting down and dirty and mixing it up with the pols, and want to “get civic,” as we like to say here at HCIN, send Windy an email at, and she’ll keep you posted on the latest shenanigans in Charleston. I’m glad to be relieved of the duty, so I can go back to my usual job of staring slack-jawed at the computer.

Speaking of which…as my wife’s friends all know, I already spend way too much time on the Internet. And being a somewhat notorious paranoid (just google “paranoid shift”), I’ve always thought of Facebook as just another Pentagon data mining program. But let’s face it: in an era of total information awareness (no matter what they choose to call it), when the NSA reads all our emails and listens to all our phone calls, and their massive computers are programmed to hit “transcribe” every time they register any key word that smacks faintly of dissidence, and utterly shameless TSA agents feel perfectly free to grope your spouse’s genitals, isn’t everything a Pentagon data mining program, really…including this very email?

For those who haven’t yet deleted, I’ll continue…I may be a stodgy old computer-illiterate neoLuddite, but gosh darn it, even I can recognize that, in the age of Tunisian Twitter rebellions, if you want to keep pace, you must do as the Tunisians. So our flagship website, the Hampshire Independent, is seeking a qualified candidate to operate a Facebook page.

The ideal candidate would be an anarchist skateboarder with a nose ring, so computer-savvy she can embed a video on her iPhone at the top of a midair loop while simultaneously fending off sneak cyberattacks by the intelligence community (including their private contractors). Failing that, anyone who has ever collapsed in hilarity as they imagined me laboriously typing yet another 356-character URL because I still haven’t figured out how to create a you-know-what hyperlink, is welcome to apply. County residents will be given priority.

I’d like to almost conclude this epic (we’re not quite there yet, for those of you who have been crossing your legs and need a break) on a personal note—if my comrades in the HCIN politburo will forgive this flagrant breach of party discipline. My folk and gospel quartet, the Time Travelers, is one of only three local bands chosen to appear with an all-star country and bluegrass lineup at this year’s Wappocomo Festival on the South Branch River on June 25th. I hope you local fans of the group can make it. They had over three thousand people in the audience last year, so as you can imagine, we’re both honored and thrilled.

Of course, since our Republican mandolin player (who’s pretty strong-willed, for a girl) doesn’t allow me to say anything overtly political from the stage, I have to keep my big mouth as shut as propriety and principle will allow. But that probably works out better for me, rotten tomatoes-wise, given the audiences we face.

We’ll get back to you after the next county commission meeting with a report on the courage, foresight and Mount Rushmore-esque vision of our county commissioners, as they lead a truly historic populist struggle against the mighty captains of transnational industry sipping legislators’ blood in their cocktails. (I would hate to think of writing the chillingly terrible alternative. Just saying.)

Anyway. By the time I add the draft resolution to this email, it will be over half the length of the US Constitution, so we all might as well just go ahead and form a new government! Just kidding, of course. (Heh, heh.)

Being the world’s foremost living radical pantheist (Just google it if you don’t believe me. Admittedly, there’s not much crowd to contend with. Pantheists are harder to organize than anarchists. I mean it’s exactly opposite the point. But I specialize in seeking honors that no one else really cares about. I’ll duke it out with Spinoza for the all-time championship posthumously.) (I’m being immodest. Please forgive me.), I am sometimes inappropriately unserious. But I hope, in the time until the next HCIN bulletin arrives, you will find a moment to seriously ponder the words we have inscribed over the entrance here at HCIN:

“Changing the world through absurdity, one step at a time.”

Seeya in a couple weeks.


Resolution of the Hampshire County WV Commission
The Hampshire County Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Advisory Committee

January 25, 2011

The Hampshire County government, being the branch of government closest to the people, is the first line of protection of the people’s security and well-being, and the branch of government most responsible for administering order in the case of any major threat to public health, or in the event of any catastrophe; and

The introduction of new technologies, including the process known as hydraulic fracturing, into the exploitation of natural gas in the Marcellus shale region, which includes much of Hampshire County, has raised questions among scientists about whether the possible effects of these technologies on the environment, and on the health and property of the population, have been sufficiently researched; and

The uncertainty of the effects of the process of hydraulic fracturing has led the government of New York State to declare a moratorium for six months on its use; and the government of the city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to declare a ban on the use of the hydraulic fracturing process within the city limits; and

Every agency and department in the Hampshire County government, especially those administering public health and safety, has the potential to be seriously affected by the possible adverse consequences of the process of hydraulic fracturing, which consequences remain the subject of intense scientific investigation and research; and

The Hampshire County government, especially in its administrative and planning functions, has the responsibility of maintaining a public order that encourages county economic development, and that protects the health, security, property and property rights of the citizens of Hampshire County, West Virginia,

Therefore, be it resolved,
That a majority vote of the Hampshire County WV Commission shall establish the Hampshire County Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Advisory Committee; and

That said Committee shall consist of between four and twenty citizens of Hampshire County WV; and that the membership of said Committee shall, as far as possible, reflect the broadest range of public interest, with every stakeholder group represented, including the gas industry, landowners, small business owners, farmers, public health representatives, environmentalists and other concerned citizens; and

That said Committee, at the conclusion of six months from its establishment, shall present a preliminary report to the Hampshire County WV Commission, with recommended guidelines for any actions the County Commission, within the parameters of its authority, should undertake to prepare Hampshire County citizens to face the consequences of the projected increase in natural gas development within the county borders and in neighboring counties; and at the conclusion of eighteen months, shall produce a final report, with recommendations; and

That said Committee shall undertake a campaign of public information and public awareness, to prepare Hampshire County citizens to adapt and respond to whatever changes increased natural gas development, and the introduction of new resource extraction technologies, may have upon the lives and property of county citizens; and

That said Committee shall continue in an advisory capacity, indefinitely, at the pleasure of the Hampshire County WV Commission; and

That the termination of said Committee shall occur only by a majority vote of the Hampshire County WV Commission, and after a public hearing,

Upon this signature,

Robert Hott, President, Hampshire County WV Commission
David Parker, Commissioner
Steven Slonaker, Commissioner
--Michael Hasty

1 comment:

Jim D said...

GASLAND, WED. 2/2 11:00 PM HBO.