Thursday, January 24, 2013

Lawsuit Aims to Stop Unregulated Fracking in California

     In their latest action to stop dangerous fracking, the Center for Biological Diversity went to court this morning to require California regulators to enforce existing laws to protect people, wildlife and the environment from fracking. Fracking, a rapidly expanding method of oil and gas extraction, is happening at hundreds of wells across California.
     The lawsuit, filed in Alameda County, says fracking has been allowed to expand without legally required oversight, including compliance with existing oil and gas regulations that would require disclosure of all fracking chemicals, as well as engineering studies and tests to evaluate the potential for underground migration of fracking fluids. State regulators would also need to ensure that fracking is conducted in a way that prevented damage to life, health, property, and California's water and other natural resources.
     More than 600 wells in at least nine California counties were fracked in 2011 alone, and recent advances in fracking techniques are driving a growing interest in the Monterey Shale, a geological formation holding an estimated 14 billion barrels of oil. California regulators cannot continue ignoring the risks of this dangerous practice.
     As usual, the people of California are taking the lead in showing the rest of the nation how to progressively respond to new developments and environmental threats. We should all give them our heartfelt support.

New Adventure Novel on Fracking

    You've seen the Matt Damon movie and the two documentaries, pro and con, on fracking. Are you ready now to immerse yourself in a good adventure yarn about it?
    A new novel, entitled Deep Ecology and authored by yours truly, is available digitally on I believe it is the first fiction novel to deal with the subject of fracking.
    In it, a Big Energy corporation is experimenting with drilling the first fracking facility on the continental shelf in the Pacific Northwest. Because the horizontal wells extend out below the sea floor, it is wrecking havoc with the marine life. Killer whales go mad and start attacking humans. An ancient covenant between the "People of the Sea" - orcas - and the "People of the Forest" - Native American Indian tribes - is broken, and the medicine man of the Kwakiutls is determined to fix it.
    He enlists the aid of a powerful and clandestine environmental group known only as "The Council" to end the fracking and discourage further facilities from disrupting the West Coast.
    In this modern "David v. Goliath" story, the eco-warriors take on the vastly superior resources of the corporations to defend the Earth. Along the way they must contend with violence, murder, and even man-made earthquakes.
    Deep Ecology is a fast-paced read with clear lines drawn between the Good Guys and the Bad. Anyone with pro-environmental sympathies should enjoy it. Those without a Kindle can download the Apple Store's Kindle app to make it readable in Apple's format. It is available for both purchase or sampling of the first two chapters here:  .

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Univ. of Penn to lead a national effort to study health effects of fracking.

PHILADELPHIA – A coalition of academic researchers in the United States is preparing to shine a rigorous scientific light on the often emotional debate over whether using hydraulic fracturing to drill for natural gas is hazardous to human health.
Some five years after the controversial combination of fracking and horizontal drilling in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania and surrounding states got under way, a team of toxicologists from the University of Pennsylvania is leading a national effort to study the health effects of fracking.
The university’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicologywill investigate and analyze reports of nausea, headaches, breathing difficulties and other ills from people who live near natural gas drilling sites, compressor stations or wastewater pits.

The aim is to bring academic discipline to the unresolved national debate, which pits an industry that denies any link between fracking and environmental contamination against those who assert that fracking poisons air and water with natural and man-made chemicals that can cause cancer, birth defects and other illnesses.
“There is an enormous amount of rhetoric on both sides,” said Trevor M. Penning, head of the Penn toxicology center and the driving force behind the Environmental Health Sciences Core Center Hydrofracking Working Group. “We felt that because we are situated in Pennsylvania, we had a duty to get on top of what was known and what was not known.”
Determining whether fracking fluid is dangerous to health is challenging if the chemicals and their combinations are not fully disclosed, he said. The teams will also look at whether air quality is dangerously affected by the flaring of waste gases, and whether the industry’s extensive use of diesel fuel for trucks, drills and compressor stations is polluting the air near gas installations to unhealthy levels.
“We don’t know if the levels we are dealing with are hazardous,” he said. “We think it’s unsafe, but we don’t know it’s unsafe.”
Awaiting financing is a plan to use a Harvard University mapping tool to correlate natural gas installations with reports of sickness and a proposal to study the health outcomes of targeted populations by examining billing data from insurance companies.
Asked why academics are only now proposing a systematic study of fracking’s health effects about five years after the shale boom began in earnest in Pennsylvania, Dr. Penning replied, “Politics.”
With a strongly pro-industry administration led by Pennsylvania’s Republican governor, Tom Corbett, and a Republican-controlled legislature that has recently approved a gas-drilling law friendly to industry, state financing has not been available for research into whether drilling activities have negative health effects, Dr. Penning said.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sean Lennon and Yoko Ono Join Fracking Protest

     John Lennon's son Sean and his mother Yoko appeared in Albany, New York, last Friday to join protestors who have been campaigning against hydraulic fracturing, or"fracking," according to The New York Times .
     Lennon and Ono have been speaking out against fracking since last summer, founding Artists Against Fracking. The famous pair visited with N.Y. Governor Andrew Cuomo after the protest rally and dropped off over 200,000 anti-fracking testimonials at the state dept. of Environmental Conservation.
    "Fracking kills, and it doesn’t just kill us," said Ono. "It kills the land, nature and, eventually, the whole world." John Lennon bought a house in the Catskills that is now threatened by the construction of a natural gas pipeline. "He loved it there because we had our own well water," said Lennon of his father. That house was my dad's house and still is, so I'm sure he would’ve been on our side." 
     The support from such imminent and socially conscious artists as the Lennons is certainly welcome, and can go a long way in increasing puplic awareness of the environmental threat posed by fracking. I urge other artists to consider joining their Artists Against Fracking organization.

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Deal With The Devil

"Has the devil offered a bargain? Fracking, the controversial practice of using high-pressure water and chemicals to release energy trapped miles beneath the surface has the singular potential to make the U.S. energy independent within 10 years. America could produce more energy than Saudi Arabia, but at what cost?
This viral image of flaming tap water is part of the debate about whether fracking is worth the cost.
This viral image of flaming tap water is part of the debate about whether fracking is worth the cost.

An energy independent America is a laudable goal. Affordable fuel for cars and homes, cheaper raw materials for manufacturing, and hundreds of thousands, if not millions of new jobs could put more Americans to work than at any time in the past two generations. 

Exporting our energy could bring billions, if not trillions into our economy, reducing our deficit and if wisely spent, rebuilding America into the world's most technologically advanced, clean and sophisticated societies. 

We would be number one again, but is this just the devil whispering in our ear?

The costs of fracking are unknown. Industry leaders say it's negligible, that fracking is harmless. It's energy we can now obtain, thanks to advances in technology. It's jobs for Americans and food on our plates. It's a bright new dawn for America.

At the same time, detractors say the real impacts are unknown. Studies have been hampered by interference from politicians and drillers. Environmentalists and concerned citizens say that fracking consumes and contaminates water, pollutes the air, and even causes earthquakes. 

Then, there's the moral question if the likely increased consumption of fossil fuels is the direction our nation ought to move in the first place. Shouldn't we be weaning ourselves from fossil fuels, rather than doubling down?

Before we can answer these questions, we need to know the facts, and those are difficult to come by, since the debate over fracking is hyper-charged with emotion and politics. 

The reason this debate comes to the fore is because it has been acknowledged that fracking is now capable of releasing massive amounts of pent-up energy from shale reserves in the U.S. Once harvested, this energy would make the United States the world's largest petroleum producer, even greater than Saudi Arabia. The United States could export energy rather than import it. Most importantly, the timetable is less than a decade. 

This has legions on both sides, drawing lines for a battle that has implications far beyond the wells we might drill. 

The first problem stems from the lack of solid scientific information on the practice of fracking. Investigators have repeatedly alleged that political and private interference has prevented them from gathering proper data required to complete their assessments. Without those assessments, it becomes more a matter of conjecture than anything, if fracking is harmful.  

Initial opposition to this practice came from people concerned about their water supplies. Concern began to grow in areas where fracking was being practiced affected people insisted their water was being contaminated by the injected chemicals. 

Subsequent studies have in fact revealed that occasional leaks do occur, especially in cases where the wells have not been properly drilled. 

Fracking also demands the use of large quantities of water. Extracting gas from a single well could require an average of five million gallons of water. This will return about 4 billion cubic feet of gas, although these figures will vary based on a number of factors. 

While fracking does not always contaminate water, it still consumes mass quantities of it. Freshwater is a limited quantity and any water used for fracking will be unavailable for human use, potentially forever. It's a significant trade, particularly in regions beset by drought. 

In addition to consuming water and injecting chemicals which can sometimes leak into water supplies, fracking can also release methane and other greenhouse gasses into the air. Typically, this is also a result of mistake, but as with all such projects, mistakes do happen. Consider the infamous BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  

Fracking has also been shown to cause earthquakes, although minor ones, in both the U.S. and UK.  Some European countries, concerned about these environmental impacts have even banned fracking altogether. 

Finally, the cheapening of fossil fuels will naturally encourage their use and divert urgency and capital away from renewable research, which will eventually be needed no matter what course the nation takes. Although, the wealth extracted via fracking could be so great that ample revenues could be earmarked via legislation to ensure renewable research continues apace. 

There are a number of scientific and ethical questions that need to be resolved before the nation begins to pursue fracking as an energy solution. 

It must first be determined if the harms caused by fracking are truly significant. If they are significant, then it must be decided if they are worth the returns, which admittedly are substantial. However, if the harms are so great as to make the practice unethical, then no matter what the promise is, we must reject it. 

A deal with the devil is never worth it, no matter how rich and sweet is sounds. "
... I think this is an accurate metaphor. "Deal with the Devil", indeed!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Longmont, Colorado shows the way

Powerful energy companies like the fictional one in “Promised Land” are strong-arming landowners for drilling rights; the slick lines their leasing representatives use are echoed in the film’s dialogue. Like the fictional residents of McKinley, everyday people are unconvinced by the industry spin, asking tough questions and taking a stand. From coast to coast, some 300 communities have passed measures limiting fracking — from improved protections to outright bans.
In November, the people of Longmont, Colo., voted by a wide margin to ban fracking — rejecting a well-financed industry campaign against the measure. Rather than accept the will of the people, the lobbying group for Colorado’s energy industry sued the town, saying that residents had no right to ban the controversial practice. But in recent rulings, three courts — two in New York and one in Illinois — have rejected similar arguments and upheld local communities’ rights to self-determination.
In one case, in which Earthjustice attorneys are representing the town, an energy company owned by an individual with a net worth of $7.5 billion pressured the residents of Dryden, N.Y. (population 14,500), into signing lease agreements before they understood the risks of fracking.

Read more:

Interested in a fictional novel about fighting Fracking in the Pacific Northwest? Check out