When I started the research for this blog post I was certain I was going to prove that biofuels were what we should be using to replace the natural gas that is produced by fracking. It is renewable and far safer for people and the environment.
The research does not substantiate my theory. I will have to change my belief to include other renewable energy producers like solar, wind and hydropower. However, there is a problem with each of these to a much lesser extent than hydraulic fracturing (fracking) to reach the gold that is beneath the surface in natural gas pockets.
This is particularly important to residents in Pennsylvania because our state is the number one producer of the gold these companies are drilling for. It is called the Marcellus Shale line that runs from Ohio to New York to Virginia, encompassing nearly all of Pennsylvania. It is in shale lines like this that the gas is found.
The problem those of us who see biofuel as a solution are facing is selling the idea of switching to these when we have become a nation that is so dependent on oil and natural gas. I will go into this in more detail as I continue.
We have also grown into a nation that looks at the bottom line when we see opportunity to increase that bottom line. I remember when fracking was a fairly new concept to most people in PA. Many land-owners were sold on the idea of making a lot of money selling their mineral rights to the big gas companies who were looking for the gold beneath their land.
Others were rightfully more skeptical, and holdouts breathed a sigh of relief that the gas mining was on someone else’s land. Unfortunately, the sigh of relief was short-lived for too many as they realized while many of their neighbors were reaping the benefits of the money paid them, they were sharing in the negativity gas drilling created. While they didn’t share in the monetary benefits they did share in the health and environmental hazards.
In a paper by medical and other concerned professionals recently presented to PA Governor Wolf many of those issues were broken down in great detail. You can find this paper here, however, I must warn you what was said to me when I received my copy, it is good reading if you can’t sleep!
I will do my best to condense and simplify the details found in that paper.
Although I have oversimplified the statements in the paper, this can give you an overview of what is found in more detail in the paper. Another good source, though not as current as the above mentioned paper, is one by the Natural Resource Defense Council. That can be found here.
As I stated at the beginning, my original intent was to show how fracking wasn’t needed. Much depends on the people of this country and their dependence on oil and natural gas.
I am old enough to remember a time when families had one car and that car was shared by all drivers in the home. Only the wealthy had a car for each family member. Of course, back then gasoline prices were so cheap it would be a welcome expense if the prices were that modest today. Even for a family that has four or five cars.
Another example of change is how many communities are switching from oil as a means of heating their homes to gas. Gas is cleaner and less costly. When we purchased our home we were told we had to convert to gas due to local ordinances.
This is understandable when you not only consider cost, but the environment. During my newspaper days I interviewed a man who could not sell his home because an oil tank had leaked and contaminated his soil. Excavation to remove the contaminated soil was not an option, and since the amount of time it would take for the contaminate to dissipate was next to never in his lifetime, he was stuck.
Electric heating was at one time thought to be the best and cleanest method for home heating. Unfortunately, there are two problems presented by this theory. One, most people can’t afford the heating bill for electric heat. An example is that we pay roughly $140 a month for gas to heat our home and use for cooking. A neighbor with an equivalent home pays an average of $400 a month to heat and cook with electricity. Yes, it is less during the summer, but it still is not even close to the little we pay.
One must also consider that much of the electric generated is produced by fossil fuel generating plants, which again adds to our dependency on dirty, unhealthy energy.
Now for the biofuel part of this. It has taken us a very long time to go full circle when you consider when Henry Ford created his Model T Ford, it was fueled with peanut oil. Only later was that changed to gasoline because gas was a more economical choice.
Biofuel can today be used to replace diesel and home heating fuel. However it is important to remember that the source of this “renewable” fuel is important. If we want to consider the environment, destruction of the natural rainforests should not be considered for this purpose. These are too important to destroy. You can find out more about this here.
However, with farmers concerned about recent trade tariffs reducing their ability to sell their products like corn or soybean, there is the opportunity for those commodities to be used in the production of biofuel. In fact, many other crops can be used not only to create biomass, the term for the plant based products used in the production of not only oil but also other products like pellets that can be used to heat homes much like wood pellets.
The Catch-22 is that it takes energy to create these products, making it unrealistic to think we could convert to them in an instant. Also, there are not many production sites for that purpose. In a comparison to fracking sites which have produced 5 trillion cubic feet per year over the last two years from their nearly 8,000 wells in PA, there are only a few plants that manufacture biomass products. You can see the comparison on Biofuel Atlas that will also map out other fuel sources.
The solution may be a combined use of fuels such as is used in what is called co-firing, where coal and biomass are both used. It takes much more biomass to produce the same amount of energy as coal, so this combination may be a good solution until such a time as we can make a complete transition. If you want to know more about co-firing you can read about it here.
Still, I am certain there will be a growth in the use of biofuels in the future. The pros far outweigh the cons.
Biofuels in the form of oils and other lubricants can be made from a large variety of plant life. For the purpose of this article I will use soybeans as an example. One bushel of soybeans (60 pounds) yields about 1.4 - 1.5 gallons of crude oil which can be processed into about 1.2 - 1.4 gallons of B100 biodiesel. However, it can be a way of recycling otherwise useless products like used restaurant oils and fallow from animal sources. It can even be made from used coffee grounds. More things are being tested every day.
Biomass used for the production of pellets and briquettes can also come from a variety natural and recycled sources. Wood Crest Farm in Wapwallopen, PA has been a case study for Penn State Extension Services. Planting switchgrass they produce about 3 tons of cut grass per acre. With several things factored in, they end up with a total production of 2.7 tons of pellets per acre. You can read more a more detailed account on this here.
When producing biofuels or biomass there is little waste. What is not used can provide feed and/or bedding for farm animals. A huge pro is, of course, biofuel is not only renewable, but it is cleaner than traditional oil and fossil fuels.
Perhaps the biggest pro of all is that it is healthier to produce and use for both people and the environment. In fact, the plants grown help change the carbon dioxide in the environment to healthy oxygen, making breathing easier and being kind to our fragile ozone
Rainforests should not be used in the production of biofuels in that it is removing vital sources of carbon dioxide converting plants and further destroying our ozone.
There are many who say we are better off using many of these oil producing sources, such as corn and soybeans, for food than for fuel.
The use of fertilizers and pesticides can create hazards of their own.
It may seem to be a frustrating time with a President and head of the EPA who do not believe in climate change, but the fact is, whether you believe or not, it is an exciting time in the field of energy and renewable energy is the hot topic among those of us who are climate change believers.
Renewable is a very broad term in that it can include solar, wind, hydro and biomass energy. These are forms of energy that are growing at an amazing rate, not the least of which is biomass. Even some of the most well known petroleum companies are jumping on the bandwagon. Exon-Mobil is working to develop biofuels from algae, and companies like Sheetz are willing to make biofuel available to PA drivers.
A huge drawback to the use of biofuels and other renewable energy sources may actually have a lot to do with the people we elect to look out for our best interests. In my next blog I will cover more on the way legislators may be impeding the renewable energy progress.
I want to offer my sincere gratitude to the following people for their assistance in this blog post by responding to my many questions and providing pertinent articles for my research:
Karen Feridun, Founding member of Pennsylvanians Against Fracking & Founder of Berks Gas Truth
Susan L. Brantley, Distinguished Professor of Geosciences, Director, Earth and Environmental Systems Institute
Kelly Mumford, Membership and Public Education Intern, Natural Resources Defense Council
David Yoxtheimer, P.G., Extension Associate, Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research
posted by Pam Garlick
A year ago almost to the day, in one of the early blogs I wrote for Indivisible Berks, I talked about Martha the last passenger pigeon. Passenger pigeons once existed in such large numbers that there are historical records of them darkening the sky for hours as they flew by. But in the span of just decades the number of pigeons went from billions to zero. Martha and the rest of her species went extinct in 1914, an event that was due to over-hunting by humans and most likely completely avoidable. Not long after in 1916, The Migratory Bird Treaty Act between the U.S. and Great Britain (acting on behalf of Canada) was enacted then codified in 1918. Its purpose was simple: to protect birds from humans. To be more specific, it protects birds from being hunted for their feathers, which were in huge demand due to ladies’ fashions of the day.
Fast forward 100 years. The Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 is still in place to protect birds from over-hunting, but it won’t protect our avian friends from the Trump Administration. Birds of all feathers now have a serious predator in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Zinke is “reinterpreting” the law (I’m feeling generous) and his new interpretation could have serious consequences.
There have been numerous books written and I’m sure countless law school courses on the theory of legal interpretation. Interpretation is inherent in the way law is practiced in this country and in many others. But there’s a big difference between interpretation and distortion. Take, for example, a recent response I received from Senator Toomey’s office. The letter I sent called on him to ask for the resignation of Scott Pruitt. The response I received was a diatribe about “excessive” regulations and how they’re hindering business, and “impeding job creation”, and blah, blah, blah. “I have been encouraged by Administrator Pruitt's commitment to undo Obama-era regulations that imposed onerous compliance costs and undermined economic growth,” Toomey wrote. Then he (or the staffer who typed it) predictably brought up the Waters of the US rule, which is harming Pennsylvania farmers according to Toomey and “would have placed federal bureaucrats in charge of practically every irrigation ditch, isolated pond, and non-navigable waterway across the state.”
Toomey’s description of Waters of the US’s mandate is completely false, but many people subjected to the law such as ranchers and developers have been parroting his line. Last February as Trump was overturning the Obama era rule, NPR’s Morning Edition interviewed Ellen Gilinsky, an EPA employee. “There's a lot of bloodshed over this rule that didn't need to be,” she said. Gilinsky has travelled the country talking to farmers and ranchers finding that the law is misunderstood and not as onerous as some would have them believe. It’s all a matter of misinterpretation.
Getting back to Ryan Zinke. Like his cronies Scott Pruitt and Ben Carson, Zinke is also spending recklessly with $139,000 in tax payer dollars to replace office doors and using costly charter and military flights for travel. In spite of the fact that he’s head of the Department of the Interior whose mission is “protecting America’s great outdoors”, Zinke’s been reassigning senior Department of Interior officials because of their stance on climate change. What I’m trying to say is despite all the time he spends in state parks, Zinke’s no boy scout.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act has protected more than 1,000 species of migratory birds like chickadees, indigo buntings, and harlequin ducks. Under the law, it’s prohibited to trap, kill, or possess these wild birds without proper permits. Violations of the law can lead to fines or as much as 6 months in jail.
Just before he left office in January 2017, President Obama revised the treaty to include “incidental wounding, killing, or trapping” of birds as well as intentional acts. An incidental wounding or killing could include an event like a bird flying into a wind turbine and suffering fatal injury or being trapped in an oil waste pit. In terms of interpreting law, previous administrations often prosecuted industries for similar violations, but the Obama administration in a more formal move issued a legal opinion on the matter.
In the Trump administration’s reversal, accidental actions that lead to migratory birds being killed will no longer be considered illegal. “Interpreting the MBTA to apply to incidental or accidental actions hangs the sword of Damocles over a host of otherwise lawful and productive actions, threatening up to six months in jail and a $15,000 penalty for each and every bird injured or killed,” said Daniel Jorjani, the Interior Department’s principal deputy solicitor and a former Koch brothers adviser
One of Zinke’s main gripes is that the Obama interpretation unfairly targeted the fossil fuel industry over green energy. “Every energy source has its consequences,” Zinke said at a Senate energy committee hearing after Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) asked why the administration is looking to cut funding for renewable energy projects. “Wind chops up birds,” he said. But David O’Neill, chief conservation officer at the Audubon Society said, “You can’t be against renewable energy, wind and solar, if you are for protecting birds. And you can’t be for protecting birds and be willing to effectively gut the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. While wind energy is a fairly minor contributor to bird mortality, climate change poses a massive threat.” The Audubon Society noted in a 2014 report that “more than half of North American bird species could lose more than 50 percent of their current range by 2080 because of climate change.”
I’m not sure what it is exactly that Zinke has against birds. Maybe he watched too many Hitchcock movies as a kid. Don’t forget, this is the same guy who reversed the federal ban Obama issued the day before Trump’s inauguration on using lead ammunition in national parks and wildlife refuges, which scientists say kills up to 20 million birds and animals each year because of lead poisoning.
Sensing a trend here? The current administration seems to live by the “If Obama did it, repeal it” mantra. And when it comes to interpreting the law, Zinke, Pruitt and their respective departments are taking great liberties with the environment. But remember, they were hired by the guy who says climate change is a Chinese hoax. Pardon the cliché, but you know what they say-birds of a feather…
posted by Amy Levengood
I have a confession. I don’t like numbers. When people start talking figures and statistics, I tune out. But here’s one that caught my attention: $56,765. No, it’s not a payout from my NCAA bracket; I don’t gamble or have a NCAA bracket. And it’s not the amount of money gone from my retirement account after this past Friday’s rocky day on Wall Street. (As far as I know-I’m afraid to look.) $56,765 is the pay raise that senior counsel Sarah Greenwalt was supposedly promised by EPA administrator Scott Pruitt.
$56,765. Let that sink in. Now let’s put that into a little perspective. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2016 the median household income in the United States was $59,039. Unless you’re Latinx, then it was $42,500 or black with $39,490. If you’re a woman age 45-54, your median income was estimated at $44,252. (Of course if you’re a man in that same age group, it’s 20% higher.) $56,765 is more than half of the total average yearly salary of a government employee. What can you do with $56,765? It could almost pay for you to go to Harvard for a year. You could get yourself and some friends 3,547 pizzas with a few slices to spare, and a retired couple could pay for over 4 years worth of supplemental health insurance, not including dentures. You get my point.
The stories swirling around Scott Pruitt continue to come out, each one more egregious than the last. What’s happening at the agency is nothing short of criminal. But we’re not surprised, are we? Like a lot of things with this administration, we knew what we were getting going in. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt opposed abortion rights, same-sex marriage, the Affordable Care Act, and described himself as a “leading advocate against the EPA's activist agenda”. Pruitt wasn’t kidding. As OK AG, he sued the EPA 14 times. He’s also a climate change denier who doesn’t believe carbon dioxide emissions contribute to global warming. Another clue that putting Pruitt at the helm of the EPA would be like putting Count Dracula in charge of a blood bank is that fact that he received significant campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry in his bid for attorney general in Oklahoma.
From the outset, Pruitt with Trump’s blessing has been not so quietly dismantling the agency he represents. It’s what they really mean when they talk about “draining the swamp”. I had the opportunity recently to speak to two individuals who just retired from long careers in government; one of them in the National Park Service, the other at the EPA. Their stories were chilling but similar. Both lamented what was happening within their respective agencies. One talked of dramatic cuts in funding to clean up Superfund sites and legal maneuvering that would serve to benefit the polluters. Lack of science-based decision making was also a common complaint. Worst of all, putting that outrageous $57, 765 raise aside, there are rumblings of cuts in salaries, benefits, and pensions. All of which leads to dedicated public servants leaving or retiring early. In turn, job seekers may ask themselves, “Do I really want to work in that environment?” The agencies can’t fill positions, positions get cut, and the agency shrinks and fails. Call me paranoid, but it sounds like a plan.
Astronomical pay increases for two of his cronies are just some of the charges leveled at Pruitt. As of this writing, there are reports coming out that emails have surfaced showing he lied about knowing of the raises. Pruitt is also under fire for his extravagant expenditures as EPA administrator, such as chartered private jets, a larger than normal security detail, and a $43,000 sound proof booth in his office that he claims protects him from eavesdroppers. There are also possible ethics violations being looked at having to do with Pruitt’s rental fee of $50 a night for a luxury townhouse owned by lobbyists representing industries regulated by the EPA. The list goes on and on, but remember-I’m an arithmophobic, and these babies are truly scary.
posted by Amy Levengood
The abandoned Armorcast building in Birdsboro, PA. photo courtesy of Tom Kirsch https://opacity.us/
PCBs, Asbestos among Contaminants on Proposed Power Plant Site in PA
by Karen Feridun, Founding member of Pennsylvanians Against Fracking & Founder of Berks Gas Truth
Originally published in the HuffPost 12/09/2017 10:25 pm ET
A controversial natural gas power plant proposed in Berks County, Pennsylvania, is raising new concerns in the wake of a court document filed by the company aiming to build the plant that states, “Recent analyses and surveys have demonstrated significant remaining contamination of PCBs and other hazardous substances at the site.” On November 21, Birdsboro Power LLC filed the suit against the federal government in an attempt to recover costs under sections of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980, or CERCLA.
The company reports that in 2016, a survey of the property found asbestos materials in 16 buildings, unspecified hazardous materials located throughout the site, PCBs and other unspecified contaminants at levels higher than state health standards, and PCB-, VOC-, and SVOC-laced water in sumps and pits at levels higher than state health standards.
The news comes as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) prepares to wrap up the public comment period on its Environmental Assessment of the DTE Birdsboro pipeline that would be built to supply gas from the Texas Eastern pipeline to the power plant. Federally-regulated pipeline projects are often subject to a far more in-depth review known as an Environmental Impact Statement, something environmental advocates had called upon the Commission to conduct for this project. The regulators opted for the lesser review and concluded therein that, “Based on the analysis contained within this EA, we have determined that if DTE constructs and operates the proposed facilities in accordance with its application and supplements and our recommended mitigation measures, approval of this proposal would not constitute a major federal action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.”
No mention of PCBs, asbestos, or any other contaminants on the site where construction would connect the pipeline to the power plant were made in FERC’s assessment. In fact, the Commission rebuffed issues raised during the phase of the project when the scope of the environmental review is determined, stating, “The Birdsboro Power Facility is not under the Commission’s jurisdiction; therefore, comments that question the need for the Birdsboro Power Facility are outside the scope of this EA and are not considered or evaluated further.” FERC’s refusal to consider the cumulative impacts of the pipelines they approve is nothing new, but one end of the pipeline under review this time would be constructed on the contaminated site.
Since the 18th century, iron and steel were forged on the site in the small town of Birdsboro, named for the William Bird who built the first iron forges there. During World War II, the U. S. military contracted with the Birdsboro Steel Foundry and Machine Company to supply steel for the U.S. Navy and later to manufacture tanks for the U.S. Army. It was one of the places that helped build Sherman tanks. The company’s contract ended in 1975. Early on, the government had acquired the property, but an iteration of the company called Birdsboro Corp. continued to operate a commercial business on the property until 1988 when it filed for bankruptcy. Armorcast, L.P. owned the property from 1992 until it was sold to the company now known as Birdsboro Power, LLC. The company claims in its court filing that the contamination occurred during the period that the government owned the property.
According to the filing, between 2004 - 2009, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) “conducted investigation and remediation activities pursuant to Formerly Used Defense Sites (FUDS) program.” According to the resulting Final Closure Report, “remedial activities” were done to address the following:
· 5 above ground storage tanks
· 7 underground storage tanks
· 77 capacitors
· 22 transformers
· 15 oil-filled switches
· 2 voltage regulators
· 550 sq. ft. of PCB contaminated concrete
· A mercury spill
· 13,980 feet of piping
· 6,024 feet of asbestos insulation
· 600 sq. ft. of asbestos debris
· 17,000 pounds of calcium carbide
· 4 open pits
The filing continues, “In October 2009 (after completion of the Army Corps clean up), Environmental Standards, Inc. (ESI) prepared a Phase I Environmental Site Assessment of the site for the Berks Redevelopment Authority. ESI found evidence of 12 Recognized Environmental Conditions (“RECs”) at the Site, and also noted the presence of asbestos materials (which are excluded from the definition of RECs under ASTM standard 1527-05).”
Environmental advocates trying to get a complete read on what contaminants remain on the site have been unsuccessful. The court filing provides the most complete record to date. In 2006, 2009, and 2011 local media reported on asbestos on the site, usually referring to clean up underway or completed. In June 2016, the Berks County Planning Commission referred to areas of concern that included “asbestos containing materials”. But in December 2016, a local television station reported that the demolition of the stacks on the site was being held up. According to a Notice of Violation issued by the DEP, no Asbestos Abatement and Demolition/Renovation Notification Form had been filed. The company was going to have to postpone demolition, that is, until the contractor in charge of bringing the stacks down told the DEP that two of the stacks had already been loaded with explosives, so the stacks came down the next day for safety reasons. In its response to the notice, the company said it did not file the required form because it did not believe the regulation applied to stacks due to the fact that stacks alone would not constitute a ‘facility’ and were proven to not contain asbestos containing materials, according to testing results they claimed to have. But that doesn’t square with the concerns raised by the county planners in June.
The possibility of asbestos on the site did not deter the DEP from giving the company the air quality permits required for final approval of the power plant project. The agency is currently preparing to issue the water quality certifications and authorizations for the pipeline and other parts of the project.
We still don’t have all the answers about what exactly is on that site, but we are getting a very clear picture of what the world was like before modern environmental protections were in place — an industrial site laden with PCBs and asbestos, just 200 feet from the nearest residence, where workers were exposed to a mercury spill at least once and countless other contaminants every day. These are not only the protections that the current administration is rolling back as fast as it can, but the ones that our regulators have tended to ignore far too much of the time, the ones they’re ignoring in Berks County right now.
Scott Cannon (video still)
by Karen Feridun
Originally published in the HuffPost 09/27/2017 02:14 am ET
The chapel built on land owned by Lancaster County nuns on the proposed path of Williams’ Atlantic Sunrise pipeline has received worldwide attention. It’s one of the all-too common stories of private citizens losing their land to corporations building fossil fuel pipelines for their own gain.
A lesser-known story is set in Dallas, Pennsylvania, where a landowner farther north on the same route was presented with two options by Williams – they’d either bisect his organic farm and, thus, destroy it or they’d run the pipeline next to the road, affecting his water well and a 100-year old barn built with chestnut timbers, a material that is hard to come by these days.
Dale Wilkie had put a lot of work into his barn, but couldn’t risk his entire farm. He figured he could relocate the barn.
That was back when he thought he’d be compensated. The estimates he’d been required to provide to Williams and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission put the replacement value of the barn at $450,000 to $475,000. But once the eminent domain proceedings were done, Williams refused to pay up.
If he had to lose his barn, Wilkie thought he’d donate the wood to the non-profit Hillside Farms, a conservation organization in Trucksville, Pennsylvania, where it could be used to repair buildings. But the barn had already been taken by Williams. The company wouldn’t allow the wood to be donated.
Bear in mind, this is the same company that took down hundreds of maple trees on a property in Susquehanna County to create a right-of-way for its proposed Constitution pipeline. The line had all of the necessary permits on the Pennsylvania side thanks to our Department of Environmental Protection’s never-ending rush to do the bidding of the industry. New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation understands its job is to protect environmental resources and the people who rely on them, so weeks after the trees came down in Pennsylvania, New York denied the permit needed on its side of the route. Williams recently lost its appeal of New York’s decision. In petulant behavior typical of bullying pipeline companies, Williams left the felled trees scattered on the property. They’re still rotting in place today. Williams has no respect for nature or, as Wilkie’s story reveals, history.
The barn is still standing, although demolition could occur at any time. Videographer Scott Cannon has produced a short video interview with Wilkie in which he tours the barn.
A campaign calling on FERC to intervene was organized earlier this week. Organizers are gathering petition signatures and urging people to call FERC commissioners, as well as Williams’ headquarters.
Dr. Anthony Ingraffea of Cornell University shows a slide of a well pad atop Pennsylvania’s Endless Mountains in some of his presentations. He asks the audience why drillers would choose to put it there. The answer? Because they can. We have been victims of the oil & gas industry’s hubris for more than a decade in Pennsylvania. Enough is enough.
Pennsylvania Needs a Ban on Fracking, Not a Severance Tax
by Karen Feridun
Originally published in the Daily Kos Aug 01, 2017 7:12pm EDT
The severance tax on shale gas extraction is on the table in Pennsylvania … again. Only this time, it has a chance of passing. The state Senate has already voted for a budget that includes a small severance tax in exchange for the gutting of the DEP’s authority over shale gas development. (DEP, it would be a lot easier to defend you if you’d actually work in the best interest of the public and the environment once in a while. See Mariner East 2. See Auditor General’s report. See flawed air quality study. See fracking waste landfill records. See unexplained drop of $8.9 million fine. See water contamination records. See the Woodlands. See the Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force.)
The House has yet to vote on the tax. They’ve generally been more resistant to a severance tax than the Senate has been, so it’s probably just to make a point that an alternative has been offered as part of a “People’s Budget”, SB 566, a severance tax with “no strings attached.”
Pennsylvania doesn’t need a severance tax, with or without strings. It needs a ban on fracking. And imposing a severance tax is the best way to ensure we’ll never get one. For those operating in the bubble of climate denial that has ensconced the state capital, that isn’t at all troubling. For everyone else, it is terrifying.
Of course, there are plenty of reasons besides climate change to call for a ban on fracking in Pennsylvania. Just look at the areas of the state where fracking has ravaged communities to get all the impetus for a ban you could possibly need. That’s what New York and Maryland did. Visits by elected officials from those states, in addition to reviews of the science that includes LOTS of data from Pennsylvania, informed their decisions to ban fracking. Maryland did it with the public support of their Republican governor and bipartisan support in the legislature. Fracking bans elsewhere around the globe have followed visits by elected officials to Pennsylvania, as well. No sitting governor of Pennsylvania since fracking began has visited an impacted community.
Consider the fact that Governor Wolf has done everything within his power to expand the market for shale gas since taking office. I provided the short list in a piece I wrote recently after Wolf’s disingenuous appeal to Trump to keep the U.S. in the Paris climate agreement. Incidentally, Wolf has yet to join the United States Climate Alliance that formed immediately after Trump made good on his plan to pull out of the agreement. How could he possibly join? Since he was sworn in, his Department of Environmental Protection has issued gas drilling permits at the rate of one every hour and fifteen minutes during business hours. And that’s without a severance tax. Imagine how much harder he’d work to create a need for the gas if he finally got the tax Dems have been dreaming of all these years.
But the tax itself makes no sense in a state where the industry has been given every imaginable tax break thus far. Here’s an excerpt from my original case made against the severance tax based on a report from the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center. “The drillers are already dodging most taxes imposed on them. They take advantage of the Delaware Loophole that allows them to shift profits out of state. When they do file in state, they structure themselves as LLCs and LPs so they can pay at the personal tax rate of 3% instead of the corporate tax rate of 9.9%. Oil and gas reserves are not subject to property taxes, as are other mineral deposits. Drillers are exempt from local business privilege taxes. State and local hotel taxes are waived on all those rooms rented long-term by the imported workers from Texas, Oklahoma, and elsewhere. Many drillers are exempt from local earned income taxes. A host of federal tax incentives significantly reduce the federal income taxes, and in turn, the state income taxes the companies pay regardless of how they file. Range Resources, the second largest driller in the state, had a federal tax rate from 2005 – 2008 of 0.4%. Why aren't our elected officials working to enforce existing tax laws rather than create new ones?”
I continued, “What makes anyone think that the industry that is so good at dodging taxes isn't going to dodge the severance tax?”
At the end of a meeting I helped organize with Governor Wolf, members of his cabinet at the time, impacted Pennsylvanians, and scientists, I told Wolf that he’s wanted to ignore one side of the balance sheet on fracking, the one that adds up what fracking is costing us. I wasn’t just talking about the incalculable cost of lives lost, properties destroyed, and water contaminated beyond reuse.
I was talking about the costs that are difficult, but possible to calculate. I was talking about the legacy costs of maintaining all of the wells as they are decommissioned. They will join the hundreds of thousands of wells, many dating back more than a century that must be maintained every 25 years to prevent even more climate-killing methane from leaking into the atmosphere. A Carnegie-Mellon study a few years ago put the price at capping one Marcellus well at $100,000. There are currently about 10,000 in the ground, thousands more already permitted, and nearly 100,000 more guaranteed to come if we start taxing drilling with any success. By the way, since 2013, the state has plugged 93 of the old pre-Marcellus wells or 23.25 per year. At that rate, using a conservative estimate of 500,000 old wells, it will take the state 21,505 years to cap all of them once.
I was talking about the costly public health crisis the state has chosen to ignore. In 2014, retired Department of Health whistleblowers recalled a buzzwords list that had been given to staffers with verbal instructions to disengage with anyone using the words and phrases on the list in filing health complaints. The words included fracking, Marcellus, skin rash, hair falling out, water contamination. Wolf promised during his campaign to establish a health registry. It was a too-little-too-late proposal when the priority was not to count sick people, but to help sick people. Those people are still awaiting help. The state’s active avoidance of dealing with health impacts for more than a decade will make it tough to calculate those costs.
I was talking about the costs of the climate impacts here in Pennsylvania and beyond. The atmosphere doesn’t care where the emissions are coming from. When we finally fall from the climate precipice we’re now clinging to, it will be because states like Pennsylvania and elected officials like Governor Wolf and every legislator who has failed to ban fracking pushed us.
Still think a severance tax is the answer?
David Mano, a resident of Chester County’s West Whiteland Township, holds a sample of water taken from his well after the local aquifer was punctured by drilling for the planned Mariner East 2 pipeline. photo John Hurdel/StateImpact PA
"Toomey Offers No Help to Constituents Dealing with Energy Transfer Partners’ Damage"
by Karen Feridun
originally published in HuffPost 07/28/2017 05:45 pm ET
During May and June, Energy Transfer Partners, formerly Sunoco, spilled an estimated 220,000 gallons of drilling mud at sites in 12 Pennsylvania counties during Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) for its proposed Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline. The vast majority of the mud, 160,000 gallons, was spilled during five different incidents in Cumberland County. In Chester County, one of the incidents punctured an aquifer, contaminating the private water supplies of nearby homeowners. None of the 61 incidents across the state was disclosed to the public by either the company or the state’s Department of Environmental Protection. In fact, the vast majority of residents near the Chester County spill said at a public meeting that they learned about it from neighbors. Two people learned about it from local television news reporters doing interviews.
Suffice it to say, Pennsylvanians are pretty upset about it, some so much so that they decided to share their concerns with Senator Pat Toomey.
In a response to one constituent dated July 26th, Toomey wrote:
Thank you for contacting me about the Mariner East 2 pipeline. I appreciate hearing from you.
As you know, the proposed Mariner East 2 pipeline would transport natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica Shale Formations in Ohio and western Pennsylvania to the Marcus Hook Industrial Complex outside of Philadelphia. Because the proposed pipeline would cross state boundaries, the Mariner East 2 must receive approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and obtain various state and local permits before construction can begin.
I understand the importance and affordability of natural gas in Pennsylvania and the need to expand our pipeline infrastructure in an environmentally-safe manner. With the enactment of commonsense policy reforms, natural gas production can kick start our energy security and continue supporting thousands of workers and families in Pennsylvania. Please know that my staff and I pay close attention to pipeline constructions projects in Pennsylvania, and I will keep your thoughts in mind as the Mariner East 2 pipeline progresses through the approval process.
Thank you again for your correspondence. Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance.
Considering that he and his staff “pay close attention to pipeline construction projects in Pennsylvania,” it’s hard to understand how they missed that the pipeline is under construction. To be fair, Senator Toomey has been busy trying to strip millions of Americans of their health coverage. He hasn’t had time to keep up with the headlines in major media outlets across his state or U.S. News & World Report or Reuters or the text of the letter to which he is responding. For instance, a story that received broad coverage a day before Toomey replied was the state Environmental Hearing Board’s decision to halt all drilling on the route pending a hearing.
It is surprising, though, that he didn’t know that the pipeline would carry natural gas liquids (NGLs), not natural gas, given his statement in Sunoco’s press release when Mariner East 2’s predecessor, an 80-year old pipeline renamed Mariner East 1, started moving NGLs last year. “U.S. Senator Pat Toomey said: ‘As an early supporter of this effort, I’m pleased that the Mariner East project has been completed. Connecting Delaware County to Western Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale development will help grow our Commonwealth’s economy and support good-paying jobs for many Pennsylvanians. It also is an important step towards America’s energy independence and expanding our role as a global energy exporter.’”
He was not exaggerating when he called himself an early supporter. Back in 2011, when Mariner East was still on the drawing board, Toomey threatened to delay the America’s Cup World Series unless a waiver granted to the boats in that race would also be granted to the foreign tankers that would move ethane from Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania to Texas. Under the Jones Act, only U.S. flag ships can carry cargo and passengers from one U.S. port to another. Since no U.S. ships were capable of carrying NGLs, foreign carriers needed the waivers Toomey helped them get.
How pipelines are regulated in this country is a mystery to most people, so his error in stating that approval for the pipeline from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was required would be more understandable if not for another big news story in Pennsylvania back in 2013. In order to reverse the flow of Mariner East 1, the 80-year old pipeline that had carried gasoline and other products east to west, Sunoco needed to build a lot pumping stations and valves along the route. After bullying homeowners with threats of taking their land by eminent domain, something the law allows for certain federally-regulated pipelines, Sunoco discovered that theirs was not considered a federally-regulated pipeline since only the last half-mile is under a part of the refinery that sits in Delaware. Sunoco then applied to the Public Utility Commission for Public Utility Corporation status even though its intentions to ship the gas to other parts of the country or the world for profit were clear. What followed was a protracted, hard-to-miss legal battle that continues still.
Toomey continues his flawed response with the perfunctory references to energy security and jobs. The ethane being moved through Mariner East 1 is now being shipped to Scotland and Norway where it is cracked open to extract ethylene used to make single-use plastics, like plastic shopping bags. Nowhere in any of that is a shred of anything that comes close to being a boon to energy security. And the jobs claim? Every single pipeline company touts wildly exaggerated job creation numbers knowing they are red meat to elected officials and a desperate populace. The impressive numbers always refer to the number of temporary jobs that will be supported, not created, during construction. After the pipeline’s built, the number drops to about 20 – 25 jobs, even for pipelines that cross a state like Mariner East 2.
His letter made the rounds on Facebook where some who didn’t believe they could think less of him now do. “Please don’t hesitate to contact me in the future if I can be of assistance,” he writes in his closing. No worries, Senator Toomey, not much chance of that happening.
Karen Feridun is the Founder of Berks Gas Truth, a grassroots community organization opposed to shale gas drilling. She represents her organization on the steering committees of Americans Against Fracking, the Stop the Frack Attack Network, and Pennsylvanians Against Fracking, a coalition she co-founded. She is working with an international team planning the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on Fracking in the US and UK in 2017. In December, she spoke about the plans for the tribunal at an international conference on fracking held in Paris in conjunction with COP21. Her organization has coordinated several statewide campaigns including one that led to the PA Democratic State Committee to vote in favor of a statewide moratorium on fracking. Her organization has tabled at Farm Aid twice and, via the Guacamole Fund, at Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash concerts. She has written and spoken frequently on issues related to shale gas development and related infrastructure. She has written and spoken frequently on fracking and related infrastructure issues.
Workers in OH assess a spill by Rover Pipeline affecting approx. 500,000 square feet of wetlands. photo Ohio EPA
Mitch McConnell is getting desperate. He has failed time and time again to get a healthcare bill passed and needs to get *something* done, so he’s conjured up a plan to move on the Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017, a.k.a. the energy bill (S. 1460), without sending it to committee first. That’s right. The 850+ page bill would go straight to the full Senate for a vote. Word is that it could happen as early as this week.
It probably doesn’t take a vivid imagination to picture what a GOP energy bill looks like. Yes, it’s fossil-fuel friendly. Keep going. Yep, it has a renewable energy section that doesn’t mention wind or solar. Good! What else? Offshore exploration for even more fossil fuels, you say? Bingo! Increased fossil fuel extraction on public lands? It’s in there! It’s got all those things and more!
Some of the wonkier issues that are nonetheless terrifying include expanding the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) authority over natural gas infrastructure. The Commission currently reviews proposed interstate natural gas transmission pipeline projects. Even though FERC is really in the business of regulating energy markets, it was tasked years ago with studying the potential environmental impacts of the projects as they’re proposed. In 30 years, FERC has said no to exactly one pipeline and that was days after being sued by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network for conflict of interest. The FERC website provides a list of all the projects it has approved in the past twenty years. In that time, it has approved 450 pipelines.
For more than a year, a coalition of more than 200 organizations has called for a Congressional investigation into abuses of power at FERC. Among the issues cited by the coalition is the use of eminent domain bypipeline companies when the goal is not serving the public good, but fattening their own bottom lines. The companies can take private property under the law, but FERC takes it many steps farther by allowing those companies to take land so they can do some preparatory work, like felling trees to create rights-of-way, long before the pipelines are approved. Of course, that seems logical enough, given that FERC’s approval is almost guaranteed before the project is even proposed, but state environmental agencies must issue a set of water permits before a pipeline can be built. If the state denies the permits, however, the pipeline project is dead, but much of the damage to the landscape has already been done.
The energy bill would make all other agencies involved in pipeline approvals defer to FERC and would require all decisions by other agencies within 90 days. Pipeline approvals often last years and they still get it wrong. (See Rover Pipeline)
The bill also expedites the review of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) export terminals. The big problem here is that the government should not be enabling the industry’s ability to develop a new market for natural gas given that we MUST leave 80% of fossil fuels in the ground if we have any chance of averting climate disaster. If you’ve seen a proliferation of pipeline projects in your area, it’s not because there are huge natural gas shortages happening all over the place. It’s because the very openly-stated goal of the industry is to export natural gas to the highest bidder overseas. Since it’s hard to put gas on a ship, it’s got to be liquefied first. The process is an incredibly dangerous one, as is shipping the gas once it’s in liquid form, yet the GOP wants to cut the review process for the export terminals to a mere 45 days. Even if climate was not the issue, rapid approvals of LNG terminals would be cause enough for concern.
There’s a lot more to the bill and none if it’s good. Suffice it to say that this bill is to the planet what Trumpcare is to your body. You must continue to speak up and show up the way you have to defeat every bad iteration of the healthcare bill to let your Senators know that they must vote "NO" on S. 1460 whenever McConnell brings it to the floor.
McConnell failed on healthcare because of you and it’s up to you to make
sure he fails on energy, too!
posted by Karen Feridun
The outdoor chapel, which was dedicated last Sunday, is open to individuals of all faiths and has its roots in “brush arbors” built by African American slaves as places of worship and in the biblical tradition of building “booths” in the wilderness. photo by Lacy Cooke/Inhabitat
An international order of Catholic women, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, have staged a unique protest to a natural gas pipeline which would run beneath land they own, a pipeline which the nuns view as a violation of their faith as well as their land ethic. The sisters, working with a grass-roots organization Lancaster Against Pipelines, have built an outdoor chapel in the middle of a cornfield in West Hempfield Township near Lancaster. The structure stands directly in the route of the proposed Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. (This would be an extension of the Transco pipeline system that already runs from Texas to New York.)
“This is not a political act,” said Sr. Janet McCann, ASC. “This is a spiritual act. We are people of faith.”
“Lancaster County, the heart of “Amish country,” is in the path of the proposed Transco-Williams Atlantic Sunrise Project, a 42” transmission greenfield gas line planned to carry fracked gas to the eastern seaboard primarily for export, according to The Roanoke Times. The pipeline would clear-cut a 35-mile-long corridor through Lancaster County’s forests and farmland and pass directly through eight historically significant Native American cultural sites. The pipeline’s right-of-way would dissect more than 50 preserved farms and at least 40 scenic waterways along its 188 miles through the center of Pennsylvania, from the Marcellus Shale region southward and ending in Lancaster County.
If completed, it will go through more than 350 waterways, 220 wetlands and would permanently fragment over 44 interior forests,” said Malinda Harnish Clatterbuck, a local Mennonite pastor and cofounder of Lancaster Against Pipelines. We believe the collective damage to the Susquehanna watershed (and therefore the Chesapeake Bay) is irreparable, and that the state needs to intervene for the future of clean water and clean waterways in Pennsylvania.”
(taken from Developers Are Trying to Build a Pipeline Through a Watershed. These Nuns Built a Chapel in Its Path. by Rose Marie Berger and Heidi Thompson, 7-11-2017)
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has approved construction on the sisters’ land under eminent domain. Three days prior to the chapel’s dedication, Transco-Williams Group sought an injunction in federal court to seize the land immediately by eminent domain, which would have thwarted the chapel dedication.
Last Thursday, the company submitted a 45-page emergency motion to federal district judge Jeffrey Schmehl in an attempt to take immediate possession of the property and get permission to deploy U.S. Marshals on the nuns and “any third parties authorized by the sisters to be on the property.” The next hearing is July 17.
“That’s why they forced these sisters into federal court this past week,” Malinda Harnish Clatterbuck said Sunday, “demanding the right to seize this land before today in a desperate effort to prevent this dedication ceremony from ever taking place. And yet, here we are.”
Although the sisters know the pipeline company might call for the chapel’s removal, they “believe that having this structure on their land, for however long, gives tangible witness to the sacredness of Earth.”
Meanwhile, Christopher Stockton a spokesman for Williams Partners, the company constructing the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline released a statement saying, "While we respect the rights of people to protest, we view this simply as another blatant attempt to impede pipeline construction."
Sounds like the sisters have made their point loud and clear.
"The more we resist the more we will find extreme recalcitrance. And it will wear us down. We need to nurture ourselves. We need to thank our Earth and thank all those powers of light and good that help us endure." -Jeanne Stewart speaking about the chapel at yesterday's Tuesdays with Toomey rally in Harrisburg
More about the Adorers of the Blood...
The chapel is in West Hempfield Township near Columbia, PA.
Threatened habitats within the area
posted by Amy Levengood
Because he believes that “we ought to be allowing local officials to make decisions that they, in their estimation, and their constituents feel are in their best interests”, Governor Wolf has exercised his first veto of 2017 to stop a bill that would ban PA cities and towns from banning or taxing plastic bags. (Yes, I had to read it several times myself.)
House Bill 1071, which involves “Prohibiting a Political Subdivision from Imposing a Ban, Fee, Surcharge or Tax on Recyclable Plastic Bags at the Point of Sale”, was passed in a 28-21 vote. It is unlikely that the Senate will be able to override the veto, but it demonstrates how the Pennsylvania legislature once again lags behind while other states are leading the pack on this issue. California, for example, enacted legislation establishing a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags in large retail stores back in 2014. Hawaii has a de facto statewide ban which started in 2011, with all of its most populous counties prohibiting non-biodegradable plastic bags. And major cities across the country, Cambridge MA, Brownsville TX, and Seattle WA to name a few, all have plastic bag bans or a plastic bag fee.
The bill was crafted in response to retail and plastic bag manufacturing lobbies arguing that a ban would add to the cost of doing business and would slash jobs. But plastic bags, apart from adding to the unsightly litter along our roadways, are harmful to wildlife, are costly to clean up, use up finite natural resources, and can take 1,000 years to decompose. Will the special interests of a handful of manufacturers across the state that this bill would have protected matter in 1,000 years?
In issuing his veto Governor Wolf cited the Environmental Rights Amendment of the PA Constitution. He also invoked the clause in the state constitution “protecting citizens' right to clean air, pure water and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment”.
While environmentalists don’t have this one completely in the bag (a total statewide ban would be the ideal) we can thank Governor Wolf for (mutedly) being on the right side of this issue.
Although Governor Wolf has taken some encouraging positions recently regarding the environment, such as condemning the White House’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement and expressing support for the U.S. Climate Alliance, he is not putting the brakes on expanding the shale gas market in the state. In fact, Wolf’s veto of HB 1071 (see above) seems in some ways to be in direct contradiction to his support of the ethane cracking industry whose plants extract the ethylene used in products such as plastic bags.
Karen Feridun describes Governor Wolf’s energy agenda as “perilous” and explains why in a recent opinion piece in The Morning Call.
Click here to read Karen’s article at Governor Wolf’s energy agenda ‘perilous’
posted by Amy Levengood