Monday, February 28, 2011

Fracking in NYT

The number one emailed article at the New York Times, as of this writing, is yesterday’s blockbuster article about the dangers of hydraulic fracture, or fracking, in drilling for natural gas. The Times got a look at a lot of documents that haven’t been released, and delivers a devastating portrait of the dangers of a basically unregulated system—dangers to the environment and public health “greater than previously understood.” The article continues:

“The documents reveal that the wastewater, which is sometimes hauled to sewage plants not designed to treat it and then discharged into rivers that supply drinking water, contains radioactivity at levels higher than previously known, and far higher than the level that federal regulators say is safe for these treatment plants to handle.

Other documents and interviews show that many E.P.A. scientists are alarmed, warning that the drilling waste is a threat to drinking water in Pennsylvania. Their concern is based partly on a 2009 study, never made public, written by an E.P.A. consultant who concluded that some sewage treatment plants were incapable of removing certain drilling waste contaminants and were probably violating the law.

The Times also found never-reported studies by the E.P.A. and a confidential study by the drilling industry that all concluded that radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.

But the E.P.A. has not intervened. In fact, federal and state regulators are allowing most sewage treatment plants that accept drilling waste not to test for radioactivity. And most drinking-water intake plants downstream from those sewage treatment plants in Pennsylvania, with the blessing of regulators, have not tested for radioactivity since before 2006, even though the drilling boom began in 2008.”

The Charleston Gazette also had a couple of op-eds about fracking in the Marcellus Shale region, including a subtly scientific look at the political process by S. Thomas Bond, an organic chemist and retired professor at Salem College. Here’s how it concludes:

“Marcellus wells require millions of gallons of water in the fracturing process, and environmentalists worry about it because the 20 percent ‘flowback’ has high total dissolved solids. Returning to the surface, ‘flowback’ water can carry substances, including radioactive substances, dissolved in the high temperature and high-pressure conditions at the bottom of the well.

Until some sort of law is provided and enforced a ‘wild west’ condition prevails.

The companies deny adverse effects of drilling and the lessees and the public assert damage. There is no standard. Consideration of future generations is largely ignored.
Another condition making the Marcellus a good investment is the concentration of the abundant available capital in the United States now in a few institutions. It is hard for these institutions to make direct investment because of long planning times for big projects, such as power plants, large mines, major airports, etc. And it takes forever to get the money back. Major sources of investment money are forced to disperse funds to intermediate investors, such as to smaller banks to loan for houses or smaller business. Investment in the Marcellus industry allows larger amounts to go to relatively fewer firms, ideal from the standpoint of large investing institutions.”

--Michael Hasty

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Report from Madison

This is a firsthand report early yesterday morning from the capitol building in Madison, Wisconsin, where union workers have been staging a protest against the governor's attempt to strip them of collective bargaining rights. It was forwarded to us by our friends at WV Citizen Action Group. -MH


I just made a day trip yesterday (Friday) to Madison, and just got back to Chicago a few minutes ago (it's 1:10 am on Saturday morning as I begin to write this) after driving most of the way in snow. These comments are hasty, and I'm tired, but wanted to share my impressions before going to bed. If you deem them worthy, please feel free to circulate widely!

I went up specifically to support Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), who have mobilized to support the workers' struggle against Governor Scott Walker. I didn't contact any colleagues at the School for Workers, nor did I contact any unions. Thus, not much should be read into my comments. But, still, I thought they might be worth sharing.

There were no major events scheduled Friday--and there is a major mobilization later today (on Saturday).

Some thoughts/comments:
First, it IS inspiring to walk inside the Capitol building in Madison. I've never been inside before, and it is truly a beautiful building. And the halls were filled with passionate, determined, chanting protestors, from a myriad of unions. The walls are covered with posters, many referring--sometimes in the most unfavorable terms--to Governor Walker. A lot of obscene references to the Koch Brothers, as well as Walker being a "prostitute" for the Kochs--and a lot of play on their name (which apparently is pronounced "coke"). Many references to the prank call that Governor Walker responded to as if the caller was David Koch. There are literally thousands of messages from around the world posted on the walls. IVAW put up big posters that said call the Wisconsin National Guard and ask them not to harass protesters.

There were people on the bottom floor, where drumming was going on all day, and where there was an open microphone--anyone could come to the mic and tell their story! And people on the bottom were"mc-ing" the events throughout the day, leading inspired chants, singing, etc. Lots of high energy, and great chants--such as "This is what democracy looks like"--"Solidarity Forever!" was sung many times.

There were many people there, mainly from unions--and there were a wide range of unions, both public sector and private. People kept coming into the building, staying a while, and then leaving, so no telling how many people came through today, but the place stayed pretty full all day. This was joined by people outside, ringing the building, and then even more people walking around the Capitol on the sidewalks.

Above them, on the second level, there were people hanging over the railing, trying to hear what they were saying on the first floor. Many banners--"Tax the Rich"; one from the prison guards that said something like "We keep the criminals locked up, now lock up this criminal;" a few references to Jesus; etc., etc. These banners were generally hand painted or hand printed. My 10 year old son, who went with me, especially liked the one comparing Walker to Valdemoort(sp?)--I probably screwed that up, but you get the idea!

And on the third floor--both the second and third were open in the center, so you can see down to the first floor--were even more people. Word during the afternoon was that the police were planning to try to clear the Capitol about 4 pm, and I noticed State Troopers heading up to the third floor a little after three. It didn't look good. However, nothing happened. In the evening, the State Troopers were gone, and ordinary people were lining the rails.

People were incredibly friendly and inspiring. Wide range of people--from babies to people in their 80s, if not older. The crowd was almost all white, but this is Madison. Nonetheless, there was a nice sign hanging that condemned racism, and people seemed to treat each other with great respect.

There were so many people who came in from out of state that one man carried a sign that said, "I live here." I saw people from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union from the West Coast, along with members from the United Transportation Union #100, with their distinctive jackets that said, "We move New York!"

Incidentally, people were being very neat and keeping the Capitol clean. There were signs asking people not to write on the bathroom walls. There also were signs saying, "This is a peaceful protest."

One thing in the back of at least some of our heads was what about the cops? They had not been armored-up, and were pretty approachable; they were relaxed. Still, there were apprehensions about them coming in and trying to clear the Capitol. However, the highlight of the evening was when 50-75 people came marching in, carrying signs saying "Cops for Labor" and "Deputies (as in Deputy Sheriffs) for Democracy!"

They marched around the second floor rotunda--where I was at the time--and people were thanking them, and some even gave them "high-fives." It was clear they liked the approval. Other cops told us that they weren't going to try to remove the protesters last night. (Obviously, I don't know what the plan is for tonight--or the future.)

There was some concern for the safety of the building in light of large numbers of people using it. The cops told us they were expecting 80-100,000 people to attend the rally today. It seems clear that the protesters are NOT leaving any time sooner.

All in all, a very inspiring day.

But some specific comments that might generate discussion:
-- Almost everyone in the building appeared to be union members. With
few exceptions, no participation of the left (and I include here the anti-war left) nor students--the latter especially shocking since this is the home of the University of Wisconsin. One reason I heard was, because the unions had never supported the anti-war movement--and I have no idea if this was true or not--the left wasn't going to support the unions. Whether true or not, the left is making a big mistake by staying away: people ARE trying to make sense of this idiot governor, and what he's doing to people's lives.

-- My sense--and this needs to be researched, and confirmed or rejected--is that while there were a large number of union members present, the large number of them present were there on their own or with a small group of co-workers, and not brought there in a unified group by their union. I didn't see any identifiable union leaders there. I didn't see many union jackets or t-shirts over jackets: I did see some AFSCME and SEIU items, and some teacher union items, but not in general,

-- The member of IVAW that I'm closest to, and had been there since Wednesday, traveling to Madison after participating in the protest in Indianapolis, said he could find no apparent leadership of the protest. Basically, it looked like the one with the microphone (theMCs) were the leaders. I didn't see efforts to launch workshops or do educational work on any general basis. The place was high on emotion,but no observable (to an outsider, anyway) rational direction. and/or discussion.

My sense--again, this is just from me--is that the narrowness of business unionism that remains is hindering development of solidarity with other groups/sectors. We've got to find ways to expand this thinking into social justice unionism.

But it was also clear that this mobilization was being done by rank-and-filers and low-level staffers, and not upper echelon "leaders."

I'm exhausted and must quit. Hope this provides some food for thought.

Kim Scipes
National Writers Union, Chicago
Author: "AFL-CIO's Secret War against Developing Country Workers: Solidarity or Sabotage?" (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2010).

Saturday, February 26, 2011


The investigative website Pro Publica, which has done a lot of work on gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region, posted a long and remarkable overview of the issue of hydraulic fracture this week, which is well worth reading. It centers on the story of a Vietnam vet in Sublette County, Wyoming, whose water was poisoned by the process. Here's a few representative paragraphs, along with the link. -MH

"In 1999 there had been fewer than 35 producing wells in the Pinedale drilling field, which had hitherto seen little activity aside from ranchers running cattle and the nearby crossing of the Oregon Trail. By 2008, there were more than 1,100, and EnCana, Shell, BP and other companies were lining up to participate in the drilling of 4,400 more Sublette County wells on the ocean of sagebrush.

Much of the land in Sublette County is owned by the federal government, which meant that the Environmental Protection Agency — not just state regulators — was charged with conducting an environmental review before drilling is allowed. As part of that review, in 2007 EPA hydrologists sampled a pristine drinking water aquifer that underlay the region. What they found was a show-stopper: frighteningly high levels of benzene, a known carcinogen, in 88 separate samples stretching across 28 miles...

In the past, water contamination in drilling fields had been blamed on outdated practices — the messy mistakes of the 1950s. But drilling in Pinedale was relatively new. In this modern field, any contamination linked to drilling also had to be linked to contemporary practices.

For perhaps the first time, federal officials charged with watching over the nation’s drinking water in the oil and gas fields were alarmed. 'I had to change my paradigm on how the industry was operating,' Oberley said. 'That’s kind of where I said, This needs a better look.' "

Friday, February 25, 2011

Roundup micro-pathogen discovered

This is a letter posted by the people at Farm and Ranch Freedom, who are working to preserve family farms, and who confirmed the authenticity of this very disturbing letter with the writer. I've highlighted important sections in bold. -MH

January 16, 2011
Dear Secretary Vilsack:

A team of senior plant and animal scientists have recently brought to my attention the discovery of an electron microscopic pathogen that appears to significantly impact the health of plants, animals, and probably human beings. Based on a review of the data, it is widespread, very serious, and is in much higher concentrations in Roundup Ready (RR) soybeans and corn—suggesting a link with the RR gene or more likely the presence of Roundup. This organism appears NEW to science!

This is highly sensitive information that could result in a collapse of US soy and corn export markets and significant disruption of domestic food and feed supplies. On the other hand, this new organism may already be responsible for significant harm (see below). My colleagues and I are therefore moving our investigation forward with speed and discretion, and seek assistance from the USDA and other entities to identify the pathogen’s source, prevalence, implications, and remedies.

We are informing the USDA of our findings at this early stage, specifically due to your pending decision regarding approval of RR alfalfa. Naturally, if either the RR gene or Roundup itself is a promoter or co-factor of this pathogen, then such approval could be a calamity. Based on the current evidence, the only reasonable action at this time would be to delay deregulation at least until sufficient data has exonerated the RR system, if it does.

For the past 40 years, I have been a scientist in the professional and military agencies that evaluate and prepare for natural and manmade biological threats, including germ warfare and disease outbreaks. Based on this experience, I believe the threat we are facing from this pathogen is unique and of a high risk status. In layman’s terms, it should be treated as an emergency.

A diverse set of researchers working on this problem have contributed various pieces of the puzzle, which together presents the following disturbing scenario:

Unique Physical Properties
This previously unknown organism is only visible under an electron microscope (36,000X), with an approximate size range equal to a medium size virus. It is able to reproduce and appears to be a micro-fungal-like organism. If so, it would be the first such micro-fungus ever identified. There is strong evidence that this infectious agent promotes diseases of both plants and mammals, which is very rare.

Pathogen Location and Concentration
It is found in high concentrations in Roundup Ready soybean meal and corn, distillers meal, fermentation feed products, pig stomach contents, and pig and cattle placentas.

Linked with Outbreaks of Plant Disease
The organism is prolific in plants infected with two pervasive diseases that are driving down yields and farmer income—sudden death syndrome (SDS) in soy, and Goss’ wilt in corn. The pathogen is also found in the fungal causative agent of SDS (Fusarium solani fsp glycines).

Implicated in Animal Reproductive Failure
Laboratory tests have confirmed the presence of this organism in a wide variety of livestock that have experienced spontaneous abortions and infertility. Preliminary results from ongoing research have also been able to reproduce abortions in a clinical setting.

The pathogen may explain the escalating frequency of infertility and spontaneous abortions over the past few years in US cattle, dairy, swine, and horse operations. These include recent reports of infertility rates in dairy heifers of over 20%, and spontaneous abortions in cattle as high as 45%.

For example, 450 of 1,000 pregnant heifers fed wheatlege experienced spontaneous abortions. Over the same period, another 1,000 heifers from the same herd that were raised on hay had no abortions. High concentrations of the pathogen were confirmed on the wheatlege, which likely had been under weed management using glyphosate.


In summary, because of the high titer of this new animal pathogen in Roundup Ready crops, and its association with plant and animal diseases that are reaching epidemic proportions, we request USDA’s participation in a multi-agency investigation, and an immediate moratorium on the deregulation of RR crops until the causal/predisposing relationship with glyphosate and/or RR plants can be ruled out as a threat to crop and animal production and human health.

It is urgent to examine whether the side-effects of glyphosate use may have facilitated the growth of this pathogen, or allowed it to cause greater harm to weakened plant and animal hosts. It is well-documented that glyphosate promotes soil pathogens and is already implicated with the increase of more than 40 plant diseases; it dismantles plant defenses by chelating vital nutrients; and it reduces the bioavailability of nutrients in feed, which in turn can cause animal disorders. To properly evaluate these factors, we request access to the relevant USDA data.

I have studied plant pathogens for more than 50 years. We are now seeing an unprecedented trend of increasing plant and animal diseases and disorders. This pathogen may be instrumental to understanding and solving this problem. It deserves immediate attention with significant resources to avoid a general collapse of our critical agricultural infrastructure.

COL (Ret.) Don M. Huber
Emeritus Professor, Purdue University
APS Coordinator, USDA National Plant Disease Recovery System (NPDRS)

Marcellus bills advance

Yet another up-to-the-minute update from the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization:

Although our chances of passing legislation to address problems with both Marcellus Shale and other gas well drilling were starting to dim this week, as things currently stand, there are two bills still in play.

After several strengthening amendments were adopted by a House Judiciary subcommittee, one version spent a couple of days being almost too good to be true. Unfortunately, many of the changes adopted by the subcommittee were not considered in the final version of the bill advanced by the full Judiciary Committee.

However, HB 2878 still includes several good provisions including:
-A requirement that drillers give surface owners at least 30 days notice before coming onto the land to survey for proposed well sites, access roads or other work requiring disturbance of the surface.
-A requirement that drillers offer to meet with surface owners prior to surveying, to explain their preference for locations of well sites, impoundments, access roads, and pipelines.
-For horizontal wells, increasing the distance gas wells must be from dwellings and water wells, from 200 to 1,000 feet.
-For horizontal wells, the presumption of water well contamination or loss is expanded from 1,000 feet to 2,500 feet, and pre-drilling testing parameters are expanded to include chemicals known to be commonly used in hydraulic fracturing.

We understand there will be a request to waive the bill's second reference to the House Finance Committee.

We are less enthusiastic about the pared down version of the DEP bill (SB 424) that was advanced by the Senate Energy, Industry and Mining Committee. That bill is now headed to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The fact that there are two bills still alive, means legislators are serious about passing something this session.

Thanks to everyone who made calls and sent e-mails, etc. for helping us to get to this point!
Watch for more details on what's in and not in these two bills, and be prepared to make more calls, etc. to keep the momentum going.

-- Julie Archer
WV Surface Owners' Rights Organization
1500 Dixie StreetCharleston, WV 25311
(304) 346-5891(304) 346-8981 FAX

Open letter to WV legislators

Dear West Virginia Elected Officials,

The headline on February 21st read: "Senate Endorses Tax Credits for Gas Industry Development."

Please reconsider giving a tax break to Marcellus Shale drillers, before learning about horizontal drilling with toxic chemicals lethal to humans, water and air, and until you truly know the facts and consequences to human health. Pushing this through the legislature because it will bring jobs to West Virginia is not in the citizens' best interest. The drillers have no regulations and are not obligated to report toxic spills.

Is it in the best interest of your voting constituents to shelve the bill that would consider all factors relevant to hydro fracturing, because it is too lengthy to read before the vote, AND at the same time offer tax credits for this unregulated, potentially hazardous method of extraction?

Peace and blessings, Nadine Miller RN
Romney, WV
"Deeds of giving are the very foundations of the world"- The Torah
"Service is the rent you pay for living" ~Malaak Compton-Rock

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Marcellus bill update

Today's update from the tireless folks at West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization:

Despite the dim prospects reported yesterday in the Charleston Daily Mail, the Marcellus Shale legislation is still alive.

The full House Judiciary Committee did not take up the bill this afternoon. However, the subcommittee reconvened and adopted several more strengthening amendments, and the bill is on the House Judiciary Committee agenda for this morning's meeting.

If you haven't already, please call or e-mail House Judiciary Committee members right away and urge them to pass a strong Marcellus Shale bill. [See yesterday's update here at the Independent for contact information.]

Some of you who are on other lists will have heard about a bill moving from the Senate Energy, Industry, and Mining Committee (EIM). This bill could start moving later, but for now we want to concentrate on the House bill. We have more friends in the House, and a strong showing in the there will put us in better position when (or if) one or more bills pass and the two houses reconcile the final product. If one of your senators is on EIM, feel free to call, but contact delegates first.

Thank you!

-- Julie Archer
WV Surface Owners' Rights Organization
1500 Dixie Street
Charleston, WV 25311
(304) 346-5891(304) 346-8981 FAX

Special HC Dem meeting

Notice of a special meeting, sponsored by the Hampshire County Democratic Executive Committee:

Monday, February 28, 2011, 7 p.m.
Location: Health Department in Augusta

Guest: Valerie Brady Rongey
Vice Chair, Washington State Democratic Executive Committee

This is our opportunity to discuss with an experienced and enthusiastic Democrat from another state, the importance of reinvigorating our Democratic Party on a state and local level, to share experiences and strategy, what works and what doesn’t, how to make the most effective use of our time, our people, and our resources.

Some important considerations are:
· communicating philosophy and policy
· registering voters
· recruiting candidates
· supporting those candidates
· fundraising
· getting out the vote

2010 Candidates, whether you won your seat or not, are encouraged to come share with the group your experiences and your opinions as to how we could be a more effective political party.

If you are planning to attend, please email, or call Windy at 304-492-5185, Dorothy at 304-496-7168, or Bob at 304-496-7449. However, a response is not necessary to attend.

--Windy Cutler

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Marcellus bill advances

The latest update from West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization:

On Monday night, the Marcellus Shale legislation cleared its first hurdle, when a House Judiciary subcommittee voted to report the bill to the full committee for further consideration.

We had assumed that the bill would need forced pooling in order to overcome industry opposition, and that could still be the case. However, the subcommittee unanimously voted to remove the pooling provisions. They then went on to adopt a series of amendments that strengthened the bill, which is a combination of HB 2878 and HB 3042, and address problems with both Marcellus Shale and other (conventional) gas well drilling. There are several other amendments pending, and indications are that most of these are also intended to strengthen the bill.

The full House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to meet tomorrow, Wednesday, February 23 at 1PM, and is likely to take up the bill then--although there are concerns about the industry pushing back (especially those who want pooling) and trying to kill the bill.

To keep this from happening, please contact House Judiciary Committee members now and ask them to pass a strong Marcellus Shale bill. (See contact information below.)

The clock is ticking and the bill may have to clear to the House Finance Committee too. So watch for additional updates and plan to make more contacts later in the week.

Thanks for your support!

House Judiciary Committee members:

Tim Miley (D - Harrison), ChairPhone: (304) 340-3252

Mark Hunt (D - Kanawha), Vice-ChairPhone: (304) 340-3392

John N. Ellem (R - Wood), Minority ChairPhone: (304) 340-3394

Patrick Lane (R - Kanawha), Minority Vice-ChairPhone: (304) 340-3275

Larry W. Barker (D - Boone)Capitol Phone: (304) 340-3149

Bonnie Brown (D - Kanawha)Phone: (304) 340-3106

Mike Caputo (D - Marion)Phone: (304) 340-3249

Michael T. Ferro (D - Marshall)Phone: (304) 340-3111

Barbara Evans Fleischauer (D - Monongalia)Phone: (304) 340-3169

John R. Frazier (D - Mercer)Phone: (304) 340-3396

Linda Longstreth (D - Marion)Phone: (304) 340-3124

Mike Manypenny (D - Taylor)Phone: (304) 340-3139

Harold Michael (D - Hardy)Phone: (304) 340-3340

Clif Moore (D - McDowell)Phone: (304) 340-3189

John Pino (D - Fayette)Phone: (304) 340-3170

Meshea Poore (D - Kanawha)Phone: (304) 340-3248

Doug Skaff Jr. (D - Kanawha)Phone: (304) 340-3362

Danny Wells (D - Kanawha)Phone: (304) 340-3287

Troy Andes (R - Putnam)Phone: (304) 340-3121

Bill Hamilton (R - Upshur)Phone: (304) 340-3167

Lynwood "Woody" Ireland (R - Ritchie)Phone: (304) 340-3195

Carol Miller (R - Cabell)Phone: (304) 340-3176

Jonathan Miller (R - Berkeley)Phone: (304) 340-3147

John Overington (R - Berkeley)Phone: (304) 340-3148

Kelli Sobonya (R - Cabell)Phone: (304) 340-3175

-- Julie Archer
WV Surface Owners' Rights Organization
1500 Dixie StreetCharleston, WV 25311
(304) 346-5891; (304) 346-8981 FAX

Budgets and collective bargaining

Much of the controversy surrounding the budget bills in Wisconsin and Ohio (and perhaps others) concerns the insistence that banning collective bargaining would help the budget. It is questionable how collective bargaining itself could affect the deficit. But the following item provides a comparison of budget gaps from states with, and without, collective bargaining for public employees.

From Policy Matters Ohio:

"We found that on average, the budget gaps of states with and without collective bargaining for public employees are similar in 2011:

The 9 states with no collective bargaining rights for any public employees face an average budget shortfall of 16.5 percent in the current fiscal year, while the 15 states (including the District of Columbia) with collective bargaining for all public employees face an average budget shortfall of 16.2 percent.

For the 42 states (including the District of Columbia) with some (or all) collective bargaining rights for some (or all) public workers, the 2011 budget gap averages 16.6 percent.

The 31 states (including the District of Columbia) with collective rights for state workers face an average budget gap of 17.6 percent while those without rights for state workers face an average budget shortfall of 15.1 percent. These numbers are all very close.

The point is, the right of public workers to unionize is not driving the fiscal crisis of states."

Policy Matters Ohio, 12/30/10

--Windy Cutler

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Fracking news

A few articles in the news this past weekend on hydro-fracked gas drilling and other energy-related obscenities:

The Charleston Gazette had a good wrap-up of the Marcellus bill moving through the WV House of Delegates on Sunday, by AP writer Larry Messina. The latest news, just on the wires this morning (and not in the article), is that the “forced pooling” provision in the bill has been dropped. I’ll post an update from our friends in Charleston on this issue as soon as we get it.

Will Bunch at the Philadelphia Daily News has a blog post about how the new governor of Pennsylvania, Republican Tom Corbett, who received at least $875,000 from the oil and gas industry in 2010, has overturned the moratorium on fracking declared in that state as one of his final acts in office by former governor Ed Rendell. Here’s the account Bunch lifted from his own paper:

“Gov. Corbett has made good on his promise to reverse one of Ed Rendell's last acts as governor: he has rescinded an effective moratorium on natural gas drilling on state lands.

The Pittsburgh Business Times reports today that the Rendell document called “Policy for the Evaluation of Impacts of Oil and Gas Development on State Parks and State Forests” has been rescinded and erased from the Department of Environmental Protection website.

The four-month-old policy required environmental impact assessments be conducted by the Department of Conservation and National Resources before a driller could apply for a permit with the DEP.”

Finally, yet another governor in the pocket of industry and in the news in a big way is Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who seems to have no qualms about baring his fascist fangs at his own employees, whose collective bargaining rights he’s trying to remove in a now-infamous anti-union showdown.

As it turns out, a little-noticed provision in the same bill that guts workers’ rights, also allows the governor to sell off Wisconsin’s power plants in a no-bid secret process that may just benefit the biggest money men behind the Tea Party movement, the notorious Koch brothers, who already have a number of energy contracts with the state.

--Michael Hasty

Monday, February 21, 2011

One person, one vote

A bulletin from West Virginia Citizen Action Group:

Act Now to Support One Person, One Vote!

One person, one vote, is one of the most sacred tenets of our democracy. So why doesn’t it apply to electing the President? In presidential elections, West Virginia is a backwater that mostly gets ignored. This could change if WV joins the National Popular Vote Compact.

The National Popular Vote bill (HB 2378), advanced by the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, would address this problem by making every vote equal, and guaranteeing the Presidency to the candidate who gets the majority of votes in all 50 states combined.

Most people know that the presidential candidate with the most votes can sometimes lose the election. But even worse, West Virginia voters are virtually ignored every election. The reason is because of our state “winner take all” rule for awarding electoral votes. Candidates of both parties have no incentive to campaign in states where they are comfortably ahead or hopelessly behind. They would rather pay attention to “swing states,” where the result actually matters.

Go to to write your delegate(s) now and ask them to support the National Popular Vote bill (HB 2378). When you get copies of your e-mails forward them to us at so we know how many contacts our Delegates are getting!

With the National Popular Vote bill, our state would join an interstate agreement to award its electoral votes to the Presidential candidate who gets the most popular votes in all 50 states. The agreement would only take effect once passed by states representing a majority of the Electoral College. Seven states have already passed the law.

Even after elections are over, the issues that matter to West Virginia just aren’t on the radar like they are for important swing states. With a national popular vote, candidates will be forced to campaign in all fifty states and address a wider spectrum of concerns. And they won't be able to write off West Virginia.

Help assure that every vote is equal and every state matters in every presidential election. Write your representative and tell them to support HB2378, and to pass National Popular Vote in West Virginia.

Send them a quick e-mail here:

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sun salutation

From the Times of India:

WASHINGTON: Surya Namaskar (Sun salutation), that has been practiced in India for years, has now found a whole lot of takers in the US, with several cities endorsing this ancient Indian exercise for its health benefits.

Over 10,000 people participated in the public Surya Namaskar exercises held in 225 cities in 40 states in January, according to Hindu Swyamsevak Sangha (HSS), which organizes the annual 'Health for Humanity Yogathon'.

Mayors of Tampa in Florida, Milpitas (California), Cupertino (California), Normal (Illinois) and Bloomington (Illinois) declared "Health for Humanity [also known as Surya Namaskar Yajna] Day," and encouraged their residents to participate in the locally held Yogathons….

Surya Namaskar yoga routine integrates simple postures of well-balanced movements in ten steps with an easy breathing technique, to provide immense health benefits for everyone from beginners to yoga enthusiasts, HSS said in a statement today...

--Submitted by Swami Ramachandrananda

House Marcellus hearing

The latest update from the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization:

On Thursday, February 17th, more than 100 people from across the state packed the House Chamber to urge lawmakers to pass tougher regulations for Marcellus Shale and other gas well drilling. The House Judiciary Committee held the hearing to seek input on two comprehensive bills (HB 2878 & HB 3024) it is considering.

Marcellus Shale development is resulting in what can only be described as “the industrialization of rural West Virginia.” Because our oil and gas drilling laws have not been updated in nearly 30 years, this new boom in drilling (and the new technologies associated with it) is largely unregulated. There are also many problems with other (conventional) gas well drilling that need to be addressed.

We greatly appreciate all the folks who traveled to Charleston to share their personal stories and concerns and to show their support. They include SORO members Roberta Faulkes, Grace & Tom Lynch, George Monk & Molly Schaffnit, Elizabeth Mow, Paul Phillips, Nancy Powers and Eleanor Sporh. (There were so many people in attendance who share our interests, my apologies to any other SORO members who I may not have recognized and failed to mention. Please let me know if you were there.)

Thanks also to those of you who sent comments to share with the committee. Many of them were read by volunteers and all were submitted to the committee for its consideration. Special thanks go to Steve Conlon, Bill Hughes, Ed Wade, Marty Whiteman and Sara Wood who came from Wetzel County to talk about how their lives have been affected by Marcellus Shale drilling.

Marty, a farmer and surface owner, told committee members that some of his farmland had been rendered useless by gas companies.

"When they came in, they told us we would not be affected at all, that this would be a minor inconvenience. It's been devastation. I'm the sacrificial lamb when it comes to all this," he said. "I thought this was America. I thought you when you bought a piece of property, you actually did own it."

Marty's daughter Sara spoke about how her 4-year old son was the first one to notice a foul odor coming from one of the gas wells near their home last August. Shortly after, their house became engulfed in a cloud of toxic gas. Several other families nearby complained about strong odors, vapors and health problems.

Air quality is a major issue in Wetzel and other counties experiencing heavy drilling activity. Many of the processes involved with this development release nitrogen oxide (NOx), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other potentially harmful substances into the air. However, DEP claims to have no authority to regulate emissions from gas well sites. And unfortunately, this issue is not addressed in either of the bills being considered. The DEP bill (HB 3024) contains general environmental protection performance standards that require drillers to control particulate matter, but this is the only mention of air quality issues in either bill.

After the hearing Sara told a reporter with WCHS-TV, "I'm tired of bathing my son in water and him breaking out in rashes." She says natural gas drilling around her Wetzel County home is making him extremely sick. "We don't drink our water. We don't know if it's polluted or not, but we're not going to take the chance," she said.

Special thanks also to Spencer Wooddell who talked about how high levels of methane had been discovered in several water supplies on his family farm since drilling began nearby. One drilling site is right on the the Wooddell's property line, about 200 feet from one of their water wells and a natural spring. However, some of the affected water sources are as far as 2,400 feet from the well site.

Currently, drillers are only required to do pre-drilling tests for water wells and some springs within 1,000 feet of where a gas well enters the ground. The proposed Judiciary bill (HB 2878) would require the operator to conduct a pre-drilling test of the water supply, upon written request of any landowner residing within 5,500 feet but farther than 2,500 feet of a proposed gas well using hydraulic fracturing. Under the bill, testing parameters would also be expanded to include chemicals or chemical compounds commonly used in hydraulic fracturing.

An industrial spill at the site next to the Wooddell farm polluted their land in Taylor County. The spill went unreported to the DEP until the Wooddell's mechanic noticed lime on their property and hay bales, from their fence line leading up to the well site.

Turn out for the hearing was great, and it was covered well by the media, but we must keep the pressure on.

Many of you have your own stories that exemplify the need for legislation to protect citizens and the environment from Marcellus Shale and other gas well drilling. If you haven't already, please contact your legislators and tell them about what happened to you. Tell them what you think needs to be done to address problems related to both Marcellus Shale and conventional drilling. Visit and click on "Take Action" to send a quick e-mail. The Judiciary Committee will resume its work on the bills next week, and the deadline for bills to be out of committee is fast approaching.

A note about "forced pooling": In addition to the public hearing, there has been significant coverage of the issue of forced pooling. And as highlighted in a Charleston Daily Mail article, the issue has the potential to derail the bills currently being considered by the House Judiciary Committee.

Forced pooling is a good idea if and only if the statute offers proper protections for all interested parties and if the statute is part of a variety of other reforms needed to protect surface owners and the environment. If it's done right, forced pooling for all gas wells, whether they are “shallow,” “deep” or horizontal, is a fairer and a more economically efficient way of producing resources that are not confined to the boundaries of an individual driller’s or mineral owner’s property (or rights). It keeps unnecessary wells from being drilled on the surface, and ensures that mineral owners whose gas is currently being legally stolen (under the "Rule of Capture") are compensated.

The provisions proposed in the DEP bill (HB 3024) are not good. They would allow drillers to force huge horizontal well sites on fee and surface owners, and eliminate well spacing for some vertical Marcellus wells. They also fail to ensure that unleased/forced mineral owners are paid what a lessee would get.

However, a committee substitute is being crafted that combines parts of both bills. We are working to make the pooling provisions as protective of surface and mineral owners' interests as possible, so that we don't have to sacrifice other provisions needed to protect citizens and the environment. The political reality is such that any bill that passes the legislature this session that provides for better regulation of oil and gas drilling will likely contain pooling provisions.

-- Julie Archer
WV Surface Owners' Rights Organization
1500 Dixie StreetCharleston, WV 25311
(304) 346-5891(304) 346-8981 FAX

Saturday, February 19, 2011

100 years of natural gas?

The shale gas industry's claim that toxic fracking extraction technologies have supposedly given us 100 years of natural gas, is exaggerated.

"Conventional" supplies of "unnatural gas" in the US are in decline and will not be available for electricity generation in the not-too-distant future. Exponential growth of consumption is also ignored by these public relations claims, since 100 years of current consumption would not be 100 years of supply if consumption continues to increase, something rarely considered in any discussion of resource availability.

An example is what happened with the natural gas supply in New Mexico earlier this month. A severe cold snap threatened unnatural gas supplies, and the state had to shut down some large users until it warmed up.

Natural gas supply claims of "100 years" are based on grossly exaggerated claims for "fracking" of shale gas. Geologist Art Berman's analysis suggests this estimate has been exaggerated by an order of magnitude. Most shale gas wells are short term producers; they decline much faster than regular wells. The claims are being exaggerated by companies who want to boost their stock values, and Wall Street plays along because if there is a huge amount of natural gas, then there will be more economic "growth" than there will be if these companies are lying.

I have a number of technical articles about this exaggeration linked at

To date, most of the environmentalist objection to fracking has been based on the obvious toxic impact of using poisonous solvents that contaminate groundwater. But the depletion of fuels that keep homes warm in the winter should also be an environmental concern. If we had any sense as a society we would reduce military spending and redirect it toward a nationwide and global "transition town" type effort.

Renewable energy could power a much smaller, steady state economy. That is the lesson I've learned from using solar power for twenty years. Relocalization of food production is probably the single most important response to finite fossil fuels, even more important than thinking about increasing supplies of any form of energy (as important as supply side approaches may be in the near term).

The future of natural gas is not about burning more of it to offset coal combustion or prevent nuclear reactor construction. Instead, the future of unnatural gas is a mix of the following "Sophie's Choices":

- Shale Gas: a desperate effort to maintain supplies; toxic "fracking" and exaggerated supplies.
- Offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, since onshore supplies are in sharp decline. The only reason any oil and gas company would want to drill in deep waters is that the easier oil and gas is long past their peaks. Much of Texas's natural gas is now coming from offshore wells or the Barnett shale deposits. The low hanging fruit has been eaten.
- Liquid Natural Gas terminals, including proposals on the Oregon coast largely intended to supply fuel for power generation in California. Note that most of the world's commerce in LNG goes to Japan and Korea, two highly industrialized countries that do not have domestic fossil fuel supplies (oil, natural gas, coal).
- Coal bed methane. This has toxic impacts to water supplies, although perhaps not as severe as shale gas fracking.
- The proposed natural gas pipeline from Alaska to the Midwestern US. The Alaska Pipeline is in steep decline with about a third of the oil flow it had at its peak in 1988 (21 years ago). But there is still considerable natural gas on the North Slope and the Arctic offshore resources are more likely to be natural gas than oil. Natural gas cannot be shipped through the existing Alaska Pipeline so industry is pushing construction of a very long pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to central Canada and then to the lower 48.

In all of the years I've watched Peak Energy issues, I have never heard either the champions of more drilling in Alaska nor its most vocal foes mention how Alaska's oil production peaked 11 years after it started and now it is mostly over. Here in Oregon, if you use oil in Oregon, or eat food transported by truck, train or plane in Oregon, then you use Alaska oil. There are some nice food relocalization efforts underway in the region but the oil will be gone by the time we are able to feed ourselves without outside food shipments.

Geologist Art Berman, who's done some pioneering studies of the shale gas industry, states it's likely the "100 years" claim is in part a scheme to inflate stock values (of the drilling companies). His analysis of the Barnett Shale near Dallas suggests wild exaggeration of the supplies, but as long as there is PR-like "100-year supply" in the media, that keeps the stock values up, and also keeps up confidence that the stock market as a whole is in good shape. Shale gas wells do not have a long lifespan; they deplete much faster than "conventional" gas drilling wells.

The existing "conventional" natural gas is dropping off. That is the primary motivation for fracking shale gas. I'm against shale gas, regular gas, hot air from all flavors of politics. But the reality is Peak Everything - Peaked Oil, Peak Natural Gas, even Peak Coal is on the near-term horizon. There's not enough fossil fuel to keep "growth" going, but there is enough to further foul air and water.

A "not in anyone's backyard" approach makes more sense to me -- uniting communities opposed to more nukes with those challenging shale gas fracking. I don't support pitting one poisonous technology against another.

The fact that industry would resort to increasingly dirty, expensive, energy-intensive means to extract fossil energy shows that the low hanging fruit is on the wane. Industry's response is shale gas, LNG, offshore drilling, mountaintop removal, and more nuclear power (despite Peak Uranium).

The environmentalists merely point out these techologies are toxic (true) without mentioning depletion, the limits to growth, and the fact that renewable energy is less energy-dense than fossil fuels (that is the reason we use fossil energy). I've used photo-voltaic solar cells for twenty years. It's great, but it's not physically possible to replace the fossil energy with renewables, especially on the energy downslope we are now inevitably on.

Natural gas is not going to be a "transitional" fuel since it is in decline in the US. Shale gas will be very temporary, and natural gas is overused. We will need to reserve some of the remaining gas to keep northern cities from having their pipes freeze in the winter. Running natural gas for electricity was a strategic mistake (a perspective you won't hear from most "environmental" groups).

Replacing some of the natural gas in the electric grid is one of the primary (hidden) motivations behind liquidating forests and tree farms for biofuel electricity.

It's particularly sad that the toxic impact of fracking is a permanent pollution problem for a very short term supply boost.

Geology is not subject to politics.

--Mark Robinowitz Peak Choice: Cooperation or Collapse

Friday, February 18, 2011

Fracking tagged to Arkansas quakes

Fracking possibly causing earthquakes in Arkansas. Arkansas cities feel an unexplained surge in earthquakes.

--Submitted by Dorothy Kengla

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hampshire County Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Advisory Committee

At their February 8th meeting, the Hampshire County Commission adopted the resolution that HCIN drafted, and established the Hampshire County Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Advisory Committee, the first committee of this nature created in West Virginia.

The commission appointed a distinctly masculine list (counter to HCIN's suggestion) of distinguished citizens to the committee, plus (much to my surprise) yours truly. They tasked county development director Les Shoemaker and myself with organizing the committee. Les and I (some of you may recall that we were the first co-antagonists in the Hampshire Review's "Thinking Locally" column) will meet today to get started.

The committee was modeled after a similar committee in Garrett County MD. Maryland seems to be way ahead of West Virginia in its concerns about the environmental and public health effects of the hydro-fracking process. An editorial in yesterday's Cumberland Times-News applauded the go-slow approach of Maryland lawmakers, whose humane sense of responsibility is a distant cry from the back-slapping industry cronyism of most of West Virginia's legislators.

There is perhaps no more loyal servant of resource-extraction industry than our present "acting" governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, whose craven genuflection to his lords in the coal industry is legendary. He might be more accurately named a "pocket" governor, since everyone in Charleston seems to know whose pocket he is in.

Yesterday's Charleston Gazette carried the story (also reported on WV Public Radio and elsewhere) that acting governor Tomblin has created a state "task force" to advise him on Marcellus shale drilling. As would be expected from Tomblin, the task force is dominated by representatives of the gas industry. But interestingly enough, he also appointed a token environmentalist to the panel, Don Garvin of the WV Environmental Council, to make it seem as if all "stakeholders" are being represented.

This little move is fraught with implications. Of the several people I talked with about this yesterday, not a single one disagreed that Tomblin's conjuring up of his industry-heavy task force is a direct reaction to our county commission's establishment of the gas advisory committee the week before.

The clue comes not only from the acting governor's feeble attempt to make it seem as if all sides are represented (as the HC county commission actually did), but also in a statement from Delegate Tim Manchin, found in yesterday's Hampshire Review, to the effect that people in "northern counties" were not welcoming the fracking process with the same open arms that the lords of industry have been accustomed to--in a state that has been the model for Third World corporate colonization ever since West Virginia seceded from its mother state, the only state in our nation's history to do so.

The reason Wheeling was our first capital is that we are a state founded by northern industrialists, and crafted to their liking.

They don't like the natives getting uppity, and that's exactly what they see happening in Hampshire County--local officials thinking for themselves. The reason the statement from Delegate Manchin is notable is that he received an award at WVEC's annual dinner last Wednesday night in Charleston, honoring people for their environmental achievements. I performed a few songs after the awards ceremony with bass player Chuck Sherry (who pluralized himself as "the Archangels"), and got a brief opportunity to chat with Delegate Manchin (with whom I'd worked before, on the attempt to change our county government). He is well aware that there are other counties in this region interested in following the example of the Hampshire County Commission and establishing their own Marcellus advisory committees--which means that everyone else in Charleston knows, too.

It seems to me that Tomblin's task force is a deliberate psychological operation, designed to neutralize any political energy that comes from the county level that resists the gas industry's insane process of injecting millions of gallons of poisonous chemicals under the ground and then just leaving them there (how small of a soul do you have to have to not see that as a problem?).

Co-opting the energy of "inferiors," and confusing average citizens by replicating bureaucracies, are both tried-and-true imperial strategies, and that is exactly the strategy Tomblin is pursuing here on behalf of the people who fill his pockets with contributions, in this oh-so-important political year for Earl Ray. Pocket governor, indeed.

In related news, a few of us from HCIN attended the Hampshire County Planning Commission's presentation last night by WVU extension agent Michael Dougherty on the issue of zoning. Dougherty had high praise for this county's deliberate approach to planning issues (citing as examples the county's comprehensive plan and subdivision ordinance), and recommended the same deliberate approach to zoning, should they think it is necessary in what remains (last I saw) the third-fastest growing county in the state. There are two more presentations planned, with Dougherty scheduled to return for the March and April planning commission meetings.

--Michael Hasty

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Luddites and windmills

When Daniel Boone goes by at night/The phantom deer arise/And all lost wild America is shining in their eyes.
--Stephen Vincent Benet, 1898-1943

Mineral County, Montana, the third smallest county in that state, yet larger than Rhode Island. Population 3500, with 1500 of those in the county seat of Superior, which is 60 miles west of Missoula and 47 miles east of the Idaho state line. Where I lived in the '80s.

They tell me there were once tens of thousands of inhabitants, up those canyons, mining silver. And that the first Gideon Bible was placed in a local hotel, no longer extant but with a plaque on the building where that hotel once stood. What need here for this major dual-lane highway, I-90, to carry traffic east to west between the mountain ridges, which a traffic counter recorded as 6000 plus a few hundred, one busy day in June? But it had to be built, so people could get quickly from St Paul to Seattle, even though local residents could have continued to get along just fine with the old country road.

While I was exclaiming over the beauty of the terrain through which passed the highway, a local rancher pointed out to me how the highway cut through and divided farms and ranches, and he explained that when a civil engineer saw that same terrain, he saw highways and clover leafs. To him, that would be beauty.

Just so would I, looking at property to buy for retirement in the country, immediately envision a given site for a garden. If it wasn’t there, I moved on. When I visited this place where I ultimately settled, I envisioned that garden, right there, on that level site above a gentle rise from the pond and creek and field, big enough to accommodate several thousand square feet of enclosed garden, good drainage and no frost pockets. Sunny exposure, just the right distance from the house, beside the driveway so that it would be easy to access with tractors and loads of manure. I could just see it—the fence, the corn and tomatoes and beans and apple trees, yes. To me, that would be beauty.

Just so would a large scale farmer or rancher look at a piece of land and picture pastures filled with cattle, fields rolling with grain, corn, and soybeans, barns and sheds for equipment and hay. To him, that would be beauty.

Just so would a timber industry owner look at a huge virgin forest and imagine it a landscape of tree stumps. To him, that would be beauty.

Just so would a coal mining engineer look at a mountain and imagine it with the top 1500 feet removed. To him, that would be beauty.

Just so would a gas industry engineer look over flat fields underlain by Marcellus shale and imagine wells and pipes and containment tanks and holding ponds, with roads adequate for an endless stream of trucks. To him, that would be beauty.

So what are we, Luddites? That we protest all this? My electricity is provided by a coal-fired plant; I have a gas range in my kitchen to cook my food; and today a representative from a gas company is coming to give me an estimate on installing a propane gas wall heater to help heat my home, ‘cause my feet are cold.

What makes us think, anyway, that there is anything we can do or say to slay this monster?

Wendell Berry, now 76 years old, yesterday risked arrest in Frankfurt, Kentucky, to join demonstrators against mountaintop removal mining. How many square miles of mountain tops have already been removed? Soon our state will be “Wild and Wonderful” no more. Gov Manchin was prescient when he wanted to replace those signs with “Open for Business.”

Are we like Don Quixote tilting at windmills? Why are we agitating when we could be enjoying our elder years in peace and tranquility on our own little place in the sun?

But Berry says, “To accept that there is nothing to do is to despair. It is to become in some fundamental way less than human. Those of us who are protesting are protesting in part for our own sake to keep ourselves whole as human beings.”

Just so.

--Windy Cutler

Permanent war

The American self image as the indispensable nation committed to bringing liberty and justice to all has resulted in bankruptly overreaching tactics that are central tenets of the foundation of our foreign policy. This embraces a global military presence, global power projection, and global interventionism.

American politics' adherence to this creed as a matter of faith attempts to affirm and reinforce its validity.

The results are devastating in this time of monetary shortfall. The enormous costs extracted by this mentality: a Pentagon budget of $700 billion-plus, 300,000 U.S. troops deployed globally, and an overweening Pentagon divvying the world up into various commands; families destroyed by combat, sacrificed to the culture of lies and secrecy (from the Pentagon Papers of yesterday to Wikkileaks of today) that fosters constant overseas meddling.

What is ultimately disturbing (yet not surprising) is that even when there have been foreign policy debacles--Bay of Pigs, Gulf of Tonkin, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan--they have never served as the catalyst for a fundamental rethink. Our checkbook may change that! We portray ourselves as either the victim (9-11-01) or an innocent bystander whose past actions pose no relevance to the dilemma at hand.

The desire to abide by the aforementioned mindset clarifies everything from the Vietnam War (which we paid the French to start in the 50s) to 9-11-01, hindering us from comprehending that defense never figured as more than an afterthought. At stake was a thoroughly militarized conception of statecraft to which those at the center of power remain deeply wedded. This conveyed that the only permissible response to violence was more "costly" violence.

No consideration affordably permits us to consider a retrenchment from that centuried creed--to change from offense abroad to defense at home. Promising prosperity and peace using the old creed propels us toward insolvency and perpetual war, because it does take time to "pacify" entire populations.

Unfortunately, we are gripped by a perpetual militarism that is the driving force of an American foreign policy that intentionally keeps countries open, by hook or by crook, to exports and U.S. multinationals, and to resource extraction. History books can and will confirm that intention--as long as our sovereignty is permitted to last, internationally.

--Bill Arnold

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Public hearings on gas bill

The latest alert from the West Virginia Sierra Club:

Marcellus Shale Drilling Regulation Bills
WHEN: Thursday, Feb 17, 3:30 PM
WHERE: House of Delegates Chamber, State Capitol, Charleston

The House Judiciary Committee is holding a public hearing this Thursday on the two bills that would regulate the drilling of Marcellus Shale gas wells in West Virginia. This is a great opportunity to tell members of the committee what you think should be included in this important legislation, and what problems you may have experienced with drillers. Anyone can sign up to speak. The sign up period will be just prior to the hearing. Please keep in mind that you will likely be limited to 2-3 minutes to make your comments. This will be the only opportunity for average citizens to make their case.

If you are unable to join us in Charleston on Thursday, but have testimony you would like to have submitted (and perhaps read) on your behalf, please e-mail them to me at by 6PM Wednesday, February 16.

If you don't wish to speak, please try to attend anyway as a show of support for the bills and the speakers. You might want to come earlier in the day to meet with your legislators. We recommend calling them for an appointment.We will be there all day to supply you with handouts and talking points and will guide you around the capitol building.

If you can't make it to the capitol (and we know many of you are working or have previous commitments) don't forget to call or email the legislators in your district and let them know that you want serious Marcellus regulation passed this year. Letters to the editor are also a very effective way of spreading the word. We can make it very easy and painless for you by providing talking points for your letter.

Here is a document containing what the WV Environmental Council and the WVSurface Owners' Rights Organization believe to be the essential elements needed for any Marcellus Shale regulatory bill.

Here is a list of provisions that are not included in either bill that we feel should be included:
1. A public notice and comment period for each permit application to drill a well
2. An actual water withdrawal permit system
3. Elimination of the General Permit for land application of pit water
4. Prohibition of the disposal of oil and gas well waste water in underground mines
5. A ban on, or additional protections for, drilling in Karst geology
6. No burying of drilling pits on site
7. Testing of all flow-back water and drill cuttings for the presence of radioactivity
8. A comprehensive statute and rules governing seismic exploration
9.Regulation of air quality at drilling sites

It's coming down to the wire. We're just about halfway through the Legislative Session. There has been a wave of citizen response on this issue, and we need to make it a tsunami to ensure that rules are put into place this year. Thanks for all you do.

Chuck Wyrostok
Sierra Club Outreach Organizer
Toll free 877 252 0257

Out of many, One 2

In the last installment of “Independent Full Gospel Hour,” we left the world’s foremost living radical pantheist, and progressive missionary to the conservative heathens in the West Virginia hills and hollers—yours truly—in the midst of a monthly local Tea Party meeting, on a recent Friday evening, in the Bank of Romney Community Center on Main Street.

There were about thirty people, mostly men, sitting in the brightly-lit room that could have easily accommodated three times that number. We were arranged in rows of folding metal chairs that faced a podium at the front of the room, where a tall, friendly, loose-featured man with glasses was discussing the upcoming special election for West Virginia governor.

I was late getting to the meeting, and had sat down a few seats from a big older guy in a yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” scarf, who turned out to be a Tea Party regular. As it turned out, he had traveled with the local group to both the state and nation’s capitals, to let our representatives know that they were mad as heck and weren’t going to take it anymore. Other than that, the Tea Partiers appeared at a loss about what to do next, beyond working on the next electoral campaign, and writing and calling politicians.

I carry around in my vastly overcrowded head an unusual image of the contemporary world political system—what George H.W. Bush used to call the “New World Order—that so oversimplifies things that I think it must stem from my days as an editorial cartoonist on my high school newspaper—a state of mind influenced thematically by Jim Henson’s muppets (as a kid in DC, I used to watch the early muppets in a quarter-hour local TV show, “Sam and Friends”).

My image of the characters who inhabit both the higher reaches and the bureaucracy of the New World Order—which I also think of as the “Empire”—also owes a debt to the mythological iconography into which my view of “reality” has been organizing itself lately.

Just as my yoga teacher and spiritual mentor Swami Ramachandrananda was discussing in last Saturday’s class at the library,

the heightened awareness of reality that comes when you align your own breathing with the respiration of the universe (the Hebrew word for “Spirit” in the Old Testament is Ruach (spelled phonetically, as will be all the Hebrew words in this piece), which means “breath”). That level of awareness ushers you into what the Swami calls the “allegorical” world of archetypes. And it is in this allegorical world where we can get closer to the presence of God (think of it as an antechamber to your inner Holy of Holies).

In this archetypal/allegorical world, you also see “reality” more clearly. So for example, to me, the bankers and financiers who manipulate the lives of great masses of people, and invest in whatever ruthless and blood-soaked activity will squeeze a few more pennies of profit from their multibillion-dollar investments, exhibit a kind of reptilian nature that seems to emanate from what psychologists call the “reptile brain”—the oldest section of the evolved human brain, concerned solely with personal survival, without the altruism characteristic of an integrated human mind.

So I think of the world’s rulers as “Lizard” people.

On a personal level, of course, the Lizards can be perfectly charming (an outsized charm sometimes indicating psychopathology, a not uncommon trait among what the late sociologist C. Wright Mills called the “power elite”—the relatively few humans at the top of the political, corporate and academic institutional pyramid we have built of our society). But a general coldness of heart toward the suffering masses, and the massive scale of tragedy even their slightest uptick of greed can induce at an imperial/corporate level, both add a reptilian sheen to the Lizards’ basic human forms.

Think in terms of the David Rockefeller-Henry Kissinger-Zbig Bzoy axis. We older folks recall the serpentine charm with which then-Secretary of State Henry K flicked his power at breathless beauties, as he slid his blood-stained tentacles around their bare shoulders at society parties.

The Lizards exercise their power at the top of the global fascist pyramid through their lackeys in the second tier:

- the Puppets, the elected officials in all the Potemkin “democracies” that retain the appearance of the old global order of previously sovereign nation-states. The vestiges of democracy left from the old global system also mean, however, that there are still a few Puppets whose strings aren’t fully under the Lizards’ control—although what Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said of Congress can generally be said of all the world’s elected bodies: “The banks own the place”;

- and the Serpents, the corporate functionaries who administer the policies set by the Lizards. The Serpent class can range from discardable CEOs like Don Blankenship, formerly of formerly Massey Energy (the Empire does a lot of shape-shifting), to the nests of corporate lobbyists writhing and slithering within the marble walls of every single one of the world’s domed capitols.

With this view of the world, the left/right Puppet show that is the major topic of most of the world’s political discourse, “democracy” is an illusion—not only in the corporate propaganda systems that are the Empire’s primary means of social control, but even on the independent websites where partisans gather to analyze the world’s woes, peering through the lenses of their own biased world views.

The Lizards know that Clausewitz had the right idea: all politics is war by other means. And their first rule of operation is to keep their enemy—the world’s people, whose God-given wealth the Lizards are mostly hoarding for themselves—as divided as possible into warring camps. The contemporary United States, blasting its way into a sixth decade of culture war, is their greatest success story. Plenty of fast-food bread and a laughingstock political circus to keep the populace sated, amused and unconscious.

So it was from within this mytho-political context that I listened to the conversation of my (for the moment, anyway) fellow Tea Partiers.

They were, like most gatherings of unrelated people for an ideological event in America, a cross-section of types, from the sweet older couple who had invited me here in the first place to help them stop abortion, to the burly bearded redheaded Celt, whose appearance bespoke libertarian pothead to the core. We all have our little divisions.

The crowd was in earnest discussion of what would follow their officially non-partisan effort to elect a Republican in this year’s special election for West Virginia governor (a confusing subject in itself, as you can imagine), because the only thing they seemed capable of imagining as a political activity was electing officially non-partisan Republicans like themselves. (There were also things discussed involving intra-Tea Party dynamics that the podium guy asked us not to discuss publically, so I won’t—but I have to say it seemed like an odd request to an audience with a guy with a big silver peace sign hanging from his ear in the second row.)

They had reached a sort of impasse in the conversation when a guy on the other side of the room who’d been looking at my earring suddenly took note, staring straight at me, that there were a number of “new people” in the room, and perhaps they’d like to introduce themselves to the regulars.

It turned out that about half the people in the room were new, so I waited my turn to announce my name. I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t an immediate recoil of disgust when I said it. But it’s been eight years since my notoriously leftist column was in the Hampshire Review, and we still have a lot of new people moving into the county. And let’s face it, in a hyper-information age, even in small town America, memories are shorter than they used to be.

After all the new people had introduced themselves, now that everybody knew who I was, I raised my hand to ask a question—one of my favorite ways to “break the ice” with people (now were those Dave Barry quote marks, or what?).

“Now I’m a proud leftist,” I began, a tactic that proved quite successful in drawing the entire room’s immediate, quite focused attention. “But I hate the government as much as you guys do. But I don’t think there’s a ‘dime’s worth of difference’ (thanks, Dave!) between the two major political parties. I don’t see that there’s really that much difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. I think they’re all a bunch of puppets, working for their corporate masters.”

When I observed that I seemed to have the support of a majority of people in the room, I decided to have a little fun before I continued.

“I mean, I agree with Robert F. Kennedy’s kid (you can tell what generation I come from) that the only difference between the parties is that the Democrats are only 75 percent corrupt. But the whole system is so ‘rotten to the core’ (bows toward Florida), I don’t see where it makes any difference. I think you guys should save yourselves the gas money of having big centralized meetings like this, and you should be getting together in your neighborhoods, in neighborhood groups, because that’s what it’s going to come down to when civilization finally collapses completely in the very near future—what happens on the local, even neighborhood level.”

(I was taking not too much of a chance that this was an apocalyptic crowd, given the influence of fundamentalist preachers in this county. And nobody really knows for sure who’s going to be left behind, watching their neighbors float like so many helium-filled naked plastic bodies up to the Jesus-filled clouds, while they’ve got nothing to face but cold, hard tribulation. Always a good idea to plan ahead.)

The odd destination my little trance-like talk had arrived at, had discomfited several participants in the meeting, not least of which podium guy, who took advantage of one of my cursed inhalations to interject himself into the spell I was weaving like a spider’s web. He was the one who had organized these meetings in the first place, and he wasn’t going to watch some gosh-darned communist break it up into small-group consensus decision-making. Somebody has to be in charge, after all.

“That’s a good idea, bringing things down to the local level, which is just what we’re trying to do here,” he said, helpfully. But there was another new guy in the crowd, sitting in the row directly behind me with his obvious friend, who was upset with what I said about the two parties being alike, and the aspersions I’d cast upon corporations, whose defense this guy leapt to like a loyal friend. He and his friend were both dressed in the casual downtime sharpness of guys who make a lot of money ordering pretty young women to type things.

“Aren’t corporations people, too?” he asked. “Aren’t corporations just collections of people?”

I couldn’t believe that this guy had just given me an opportunity to ask one of my very favorite questions. I slowly turned completely around in my seat and fixed my gaze directly upon him.

“Are you familiar with the Jewish kabbalistic tradition?” I asked.

I didn’t realize, until I was debriefing myself after the meeting, that that was the point at which several people had stood up, put on their coats, and left the building—a realization that gave me a chuckle of satisfaction. I didn’t know whether they just didn’t want to hear about anything associated with Madonna, or they thought I was going to leap up like some medieval wizard and turn them all into frogs. But the haste I remember is a funny indication of how scary the truth can sometimes be.

The guy gave the usual answer—“No,” with a kind of nervous shaking of the head—so I settled into professor mode.

“The Kabbalah [sometimes spelled Qabala] is a Judaic mystical system based on the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the language in which that ancient tribe of humans described their experience of God, in what Christians call the Old Testament. In the kabbalistic system, each Hebrew letter also corresponds to a number. These numbers have cosmic properties, and legends passed down in this tradition say that the ability of rabbis to understand this system gave them magical powers.”

Those are unlikely to have been my exact words, but whatever I said, the audience was rapt.

“There are legends about rabbis sometimes making the terrible mistake of using their magic to create a superhuman being called a “golem” [probably where Tolkien got the term]. A golem was a humanoid being fashioned of dirt and magic, very powerful, and meant to be the servant of its creator. But it’s easy to lose control of a servant without a soul, and in some legends, that mistake proved very tragic.

“Corporations are the golems we have created that have now taken over our government and society. The Founding Fathers were very aware of the dangers of corporations. Did you know that Thomas Jefferson wanted an 11th Amendment in the Bill of Rights strictly restricting corporations?” I asked the guy. He didn’t. “Did you know that the original Boston Tea Party was primarily an anti-corporate riot that rose up against the British East India Company, the biggest corporation of its day?”

He didn’t know that, either, but podium guy had already decided to stem the budding riot in the room, as people started talking to each other, and reassert control of the meeting. The theme of working on the “local level” returned at points throughout the rest of the meeting, which gave me a nice glow of satisfaction.

When the meeting was over, I had a little crowd of people who wanted to talk with me, including the burly Celt, who added his email address to our list of people we alert about the natural gas drilling issue. Libertarians don’t think much of corporations, either.

I was feeling pretty good about my little meeting with the Tea Party, though it’s unlikely I’ll return anytime soon. I don’t feel like wasting energy electing Republicans, even though I may not have anything against them personally. I just think electoral politics is the Lizards’ way of diverting real political energy. But at least I do know where I can find some political allies, if I need them.

It was only 9 o’clock, it was a warmer than usual night, and I was in a happy political glow, so I decided to go somewhere I wasn’t surrounded by people plagued by varying degrees of personal rigidity. I have a biker friend I like to visit when I’m feeling particularly rowdy, so I decided to drop in at his house.

He and his wife both come from big, loud families, like I do, and the three of us like nothing better than to sit around and drink whiskey and yell at each other at the top of our lungs, trying to top each other’s stories and laughing our fool heads off. God, they’re fun.

They served me a generous shot or two of Jim Beam on the rocks, and we sat around the kitchen table with another old friend of theirs I also knew, and we rumbled our way through a conversation, probably close to a thousand pounds of humanity among the four of us, having just a helluva loud good time. We like to talk about music a lot, and interrupt each other constantly in the process.

At some point in the conversation, and I don’t recall exactly how it happened, I took my friend’s wife into the living room to show her something I’d written, on the computer. She may be a biker chick, but she is a very smart woman with a responsible job and a large heart that cares about more than herself and her immediate hers.

It was a short piece I’d written originally to introduce another article. But it seemed so complete in itself, as a kind of tone poem, that I decided to title the 300-plus words, “Original intent,” and post it here at the Independent. It’s about how the concept of multiculturalism has been purposely ingrained in the very fabric of American society from the moment of its birth.

On July 4th, 1776, the Continental Congress established a committee to create our national motto—“E pluribus unum,” Latin for “Out of many, one.” The US seal they sketched out to accompany the motto graphically illustrates that the new nation was meant to embody a unity of different cultures, as well as the political unity of the sovereign 13 original states. And it is from the many different cultures that make up America that we get our own unique national sense of oneness and unity. That’s what the Founders intended.

Anyway, I thought Biker Chick would enjoy the brief experience of reading my little tone poem more if I gave her some context, especially about the last line, “Nature’s God intended for Her children to be free.” So this may seem odd, but I was telling her about the first three words of the book of Genesis, in Hebrew, which are translated into the emperor’s English as, “In the beginning, God…” This was a way of explaining to her exactly who that 18th-century Nature’s God actually is.

The first three words of the Torah (what Christians call the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament) are, in Hebrew, “Bereshyt bera Elohim…” We translate "Bereshyt bera" as “In the beginning,” but the first letter of Genesis, the Hebrew letter “beth,” the second letter in that alphabet, also has a spatial dimension, as well as temporal. It is a feminine letter that can mean “house” or “container”—which means that the first letter of the first word of the first book of the Bible is a reference to the female aspect of divinity—the nothingness out of which creation is born, just as we are born from the womb. This is an eternal moment that never ceases.

By the time we reach the third word of Genesis—our first word for “God,” Elohim—we have already descended into a lower level of divinity, because Oneness can only know itself. When we even conceive of God with our puny understanding, we are already putting form to what is by its nature a formless Being. But in order to understand God through our human minds, we have to view divinity through the prism of “archetype,” the various universal forms in which we find our own humanity—we being, as everyone admits, “children of God,” with divine DNA.

(I believe that this archetypal world is the “allegorical” level that Swami Rama keeps referring to, but we’re still working that out.)

Elohim is an interesting word for a number of reasons. In terms of its own nature, it is a masculine singular root, “El,” with a feminine plural ending. The direct implication is that God is both male and female—which in itself contradicts the general impression of most contemporary Christians, that the male aspects of the godhead are more important. And Elohim—the original concept of God in the Judeo-Christian tradition—is simultaneously both singular and plural. In Roman Catholic catechism class (where I don’t remember this topic being specifically discussed), this phenomenon would be referred to as a “mystery.”

What makes the word Elohim even more intriguing is that it didn’t originate with the Hebrew tribe, a relatively late, historically vague variation on the human animal. The word originated with the Ugarites, a tribe that preceded the uncertain arrival of the Hebrews in Canaan. They were likely swallowed up by the Hebrews in one of the latter’s many attempts to unite their fellow Canaanites under their own tribal king--a conclusion reinforced by the fact that the Hebrews adopted the Ugarite name for God, Elohim.

In Ugarite mythology, Elohim was the council of the gods and goddesses, united as one Being, but a Being with many aspects. In essence, this Ugarite/Hebrew concept of God—the seed of the Judeo-Christian God—is similar to the polytheism of ancient pagan Rome and Greece, or to the many deities of Hinduism, who are all understood to be individual manifestations of specific aspects of a Divinity united in its universal Oneness.

The pagans weren’t so simplistic that they would believe that their little tribal god or gods was the One true and universal Spirit (what Luke Skywalker thinks of as the Force)—as Yahweh, a minor thunder deity in the Ugarite pantheon who Moses helped to usurp the throne of Elohim and create monotheism, was originally to the Hebrew tribe: that is, a local tribal thunder deity, male and warlike and entirely patriarchal. The pagans simply recognized—as the early Hebrews did, which is one reason the nationalists among them had trouble separating the boys from their luscious pagan priestess neighbors—that the One God has many…let’s say, “allegorical” aspects.

So this was what I was explaining to Biker Chick before she read my piece on the computer. And when she finished reading, and had read the part about Nature’s God being pluralistic and multicultural, she knew exactly what I was talking about.

And she gave me a big smile. And she said that it was good.

--Michael Hasty

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Marcellus bills moving

The latest update from the West Virginia Surface Owners Rights Organization:

Both of the anticipated bills regulating Marcellus Shale gas drilling have now been introduced in the West Virginia legislature.

The “Hydraulic Fracturing and Horizontal Drilling Gas Act” (HB 2878 & SB 258), which was prepared by legislative staff for an interim study committee, was introduced two weeks ago. A second bill drafted by the WV Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) was introduced last Friday (2/4) in the Senate (SB 424) and Monday in the House of Delegates (HB 3042). As previously noted, both bills are long and legally and technically complex.

On Wednesday, WV-SORO representatives joined our friends at the WV Environmental Council for their annual E-Day at the Legislature. Activists and concerned citizens from around the state traveled to Charleston to urge their legislators to support legislation regulating Marcellus Shale drilling.

Several legislators are heeding the call. Acting Senate President Jeff Kessler, Senators Dan Foster and Orphy Klempa, and Delegates Tim Manchin, Barbara Fleischauer, and Mike Manypenny joined WV-SORO, WVEC and its member organizations and allies for a press conference to emphasize the urgent need for legislative action. “Do it right,” was a common theme in the remarks of these legislators.

In addition to the E-Day activities on Marcellus Shale drilling, the House Judiciary and Finance Committees held their third joint informational meeting to hear presentations from various experts and stakeholders. Previous topics covered included economic development opportunities related to Marcellus Shale development, DOH policies to address damage caused to roads and bridges, and community impacts.

The speakers at Wednesday’s meeting discussed pooling and unitization, water use and surface owners’ rights. Wetzel County farmers Marty Whiteman and Ed Wade gave first-hand accounts of what it is like to contend with the light, noise, air pollution and heavy truck traffic that have become part of everyday life for them and other residents of the county. They also urged lawmakers to consider the rights of surface owners as they craft the pending measures, to involve them in the planning of where and how well sites and access roads will be built, and to ensure they are fairly compensated.

Marty and Ed put a human face on the problem, showing the pollution and destruction caused by drillers is affecting real people, and we appreciate that they were invited and took advantage of the opportunity to come to Charleston to share their stories. Thanks Marty and Ed!

Following the informational meeting, a Judiciary Subcommittee was announced to work on HB 2878, the “Hydraulic Fracturing and Horizontal Drilling Gas Act.” The subcommittee held its first meeting Thursday morning, and we expect them to resume their work this Monday.

Finally, House Judiciary Committee members may have the opportunity to hear from other surface owners, including YOU. We've heard there may be a hearing on one or both of the Marcellus bills, so keep a sharp eye out early next week for details, and plan to come and testify if you can. It may be the only time average citizens will make their case, so we hope for a good turnout. But notice may be short.

We’ll continue to keep you posted.

-- Julie Archer
WV Surface Owners' Rights Organization
1500 Dixie Street
Charleston, WV 25311(304) 346-5891(304) 346-8981 FAX

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Marcellus presentation on 2/17

A public service announcement from the University of Maryland extension service.

The University of Maryland extension-Allegheny County will present Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Drilling in Our Community on Feb. 17 at 7 p.m. at the Allegheny County Fairgrounds.

Drilling in Marcellus shale for natural gas has already begun in the neighboring states of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The Feb. 17 program will provide educational opportunities to help property owners and environmentalists make informed land-use decisions.

This presentation will include basic information about the geology of the Marcellus shale; drilling techniques used to extract natural gas from shale, such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing; and how drilling may topographically affect communities.

Time will be spent identifying and discussing the environmental, economic, and social changes that this industry can bring, both positive and negative. A question and answer session is scheduled at the end of the agenda.

--Submitted by Windy Cutler

Friday, February 11, 2011

New EPA fracking study

The EPA has proposed examining every aspect of hydraulic fracturing, from water withdrawals to waste disposal, according to a draft plan the agency released Tuesday. If the study goes forward as planned, it would be the most comprehensive investigation of whether the drilling technique risks polluting drinking water near oil and gas wells across the nation.

The agency wants to look at the potential impacts on drinking water of each stage involved in hydraulic fracturing, where drillers mix water with chemicals and sand and inject the fluid into wells to release oil or natural gas. In addition to examining the actual injection, the study would look at withdrawals, the mixing of the chemicals, and wastewater management and disposal. The agency, under a mandate from Congress, will only look at the impact of these practices on drinking water.

The agency’s scientific advisory board [1] will review the draft plan on March 7-8 and will allow for public comments then. The EPA will consider any recommendations from the board and then begin the study promptly, it said in a news release [2]. A preliminary report should be ready by the end of next year, the release said, with a full report expected in 2014.

A statement from the oil and gas industry group Energy in Depth gave a lukewarm assessment of the draft.