Three conservation organizations have released their 2014 environmental scorecard, giving Pennsylvania lawmakers poor grades for protecting the environment in which we all live.
[pullquote]Place the right industry near the creek and the effect of all that work is gone.[/pullquote]
The report had been delayed to await the results of a Senate vote on a House initiated bill that essentially makes voluntary previously mandatory requirements that developers protect the state’s high value waterways as they pursue corporate profits. The Senate approved, and as I write this the bill awaits the signature of Gov. Tom Corbett, R-Marcellus, to turn it into law.
One of the highlights of a week-long conference I recently attended in Chattanooga, Tenn. was a bus trip a few miles north, to the Kingston Fossil Plant, one of 11 coal-fired electricity generating plants owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The plant burns coal to turn water into steam to drive generators to provide electricity to about 540,000 homes.
It also was the site, in the early morning of December 22, 2008, of a massive release of coal ash into nearby rivers and a lake. Without warning – at least without warning considered by plant managers, an 84-acre pile of ash broke loose to befoul the waters below – and above – the plant. The ash mass hit the Emory River with such force the downstream flow could not immediately absorb it, so the ash, and the river it rode, flowed backward several miles, and created “ashbergs” in the watercourse.
Well before most Pennsylvania residents were aware of a natural gas industry north of the Gulf of Mexico, it was taking root in the Commonwealth. “Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster,” by Walter M. Brasch, is the story of that enterprise.
The narrative begins in 2000, when Mitchell Energy, with help from the U.S. Department of Energy, finally proved that extracting natural gas from shale a mile and-a-half below the state’s surface was a practical – read profitable – undertaking.
The TV reporter stands in Manhattan, NYC, telling us the temperature where she is standing is 97F. A couple blocks away, in Central Park, it’s only 92, she says.
What she does not mention is Central Park is an island of trees and grass. She is standing, sweating, amid pavement, buildings and motor vehicles together pouring rivers of heat into their already oven-like ambiance. Continue reading →
(First published in the Gettysburg Times, 7/12/2013)
While the nightly TV news blathers on about fires in the west and floods in the northeast, with barely a mention what might be causing the growing catastrophes, a battle of a different, though related, sort may be brewing in the Pacific Northwest.
Many roads in Pennsylvania, especially in the western part of the commonwealth, are lined with billboards touting efforts to keep jobs and blaming the EPA for regulating jobs out of existence. Many of us believe the claims. Either we know a family that has lost at least one coal mining job, or we watch the evening news that every now and then mentions EPA Clean Air regulations causing electricity generators to switch to natural gas. Continue reading →
Nuclear power is clean, government-regulated, and safe – until something goes wrong. In a 92-minute documentary titled “Atomic States of America,” co-directors Don Argot and Sheena M. Joyce trace the development of nuclear power – and what have turned out to be some of its attendant risks.
“The risk/reward is so different in nuclear power that one bad day at one facility can wipe out decades of good days at dozens of other facilities,” says David Lochbaum, a nuclear engineer and Senior Member of Union of Concerned Scientists.
Citing a lack of regulations to complain about, a U.S. District Court judge Monday ruled against a requirement for a full environmental review of fracking in the Delaware River Basin.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania townships await a ruling by that state’s top court that may determine whether traditional municipal control over zoning applies to the controversial method of producing natural gas from deep underground shale.
A National Petroleum Council report chartered by the U.S. Secretary of Energy says fossil fuel-powered engines will be the motive power for the nation’s transportation machine for the foreseeable future.
Ya think? Gasoline-powered vehicles sold this year will need gas at least 10-12 years from now to keep them tooling down the road.
I’m watching an old black and white movie on television, “Cow Country,” made in 1953. It’s about times economic change in the 19th Century West, and cattlemen having a rough time adjusting.
Their situation was like oil companies of the 21st Century saying wind and solar will not work – because it’s easier and more profitable to keep doing what they’re doing than figure out how to do something new.
King Coal loudly proclaims its place in our society, from the employment it claims to offer to the electricity it sends to our homes. Billboards along the Interstate insist that coal – often referred to as “clean coal” – is the way to go for continued prosperity and energy independence.
But the billboards and television commercials leave out some established, and troubling, truths their supporters hope we will not notice lurking behind those huge signs.
The largest wind farm in the world may be coming to the Wyoming prairie. And smaller farms are in the works offshore Rhode Island and Massachusetts, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The Wyoming project would comprise up to 1,000 turbines, generating enough electricity to serve a million homes. The project, in two groups of turbines named, respectively, the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre sites, would occupy about 2,000 acres of public and private land south of Rawlins. Together, the two farms could replace two coal-fired generating plants in nearby Nevada.
The Bureau of Land Management has completed the final environmental impact statements …
“With the gas-bearing Marcellus Shale formation underlying 50 percent of the state (of New York), and with the gas industry proposing upwards of 100,000 gas wells (in the state), (Gov. Mario Cuomo’s decision to repeal a moratorium on fracking) could fundamentally transform New York.”
With that, producer/director Josh Fox opens an 18-minute video foray into the dangers of fracking for natural gas. Fox was nominated for an Academy Award in 2010 for “Gasland,” a documentary about the hazards of fracking, and is working on a full-length sequel, “Gasland 2.”
In his new short video, Fox says all the chemicals and gas often do not remain confined to the well casing and pipelines, and the industry knows the dangers they deny exist.
Lower-than-hyped revenue, plunging natural gas prices, and growing environmental concerns could spell trouble for the Marcellus Shale industry.
It’s attempt to recover corporate value could be problematic for Pennsylvanians at both ends of the state, as natural gas producers leave the northeast for the, hopefully, more profitable western hills.
While those away from the drilling fields see little effect from the industry’s efforts, those within it notice promised riches, flammable water, and eviction notices.
Shell Oil Co., a child of Royal Dutch Shell – the latter reportedly the largest oil company in Europe and second largest company in the world – is thinking about building an ethane cracker plant in Monaca Borough, Beaver County, 30-some miles northwest of Pittsburgh, Pa.
The proposed plant would be used to “crack” ethane from natural gas derived from wells drilled into the Marcellus Shale in the southwestern region of the state. The cracking process results in ethylene, used mostly in making plastics.
If Gov. Corbett has his way, Pa. taxpayers will pay Shell about $2 billion to come to the state.
A newspaper story Thursday reported a federal indictment against a Texas-based company accused of bringing illegal workers to Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale fracking fields.
Coincidentally, workers in West Virginia are staffing road-side positions, protesting the practice of some Marcellus-related companies bringing out-of-state workers to take jobs for which local workers are available.
“We have a lot of people trained to do the work,” Stephen “Vern” Montoney, of Randolph County, W.Va told me last week.
While some of our politicians and fossil fuel barons try, with varying success, to convince us we’re not digging up enough coal, oil or natural gas, the folks who we are told are selling us our oil are busy building a city that doesn’t need it.
For the first time in more than a half-century, the U.S. exports more fuel than it imports. We still are the world’s largest importer of crude oil, but a huge portion of the imported crude becomes exported product, including fuels. Continue reading →
Wind power, a Pennsylvania state politician recently said, is accomplishing one thing: spending taxpayer money.
But there is growing evidence it is doing other, more positive things, such as creating jobs and supplying the electrical grid – with considerably less risk than the Keystone State’s other burgeoning energy source.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the nation’s dams not currently being used to generate electricity could, if equipped, supply more than 12 gigawatts of power to run coffee pots, computers and cars.
One gigawatt is enough to electrify about 300,000 homes. That’s more than seven counties the size of the 100,000-person one in which I live in southcentral Pennsylvania.
The U.S. Senate this week decisively shot down a proposal to eliminate subsidies to Big Oil & Gas.
The tally was 51 senators, including two Republicans – from Maine – voting to end the subsidies, and 47, including four Democrats – from Alaska, Lousiana, Nebraska and Virginia – voting to keep them. The 100-seat senate has a nifty rule in place designed to increase the power of the minority party: 60 votes are required to pass a bill.
It’s probably coincidental that the four states whose Democrat senators opposed the repeal are heavily involved in oil production or transportation.
Pennsylvania Democrat Sen. Bob Casey voted to repeal the subsidies, and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey voted to keep them.
A report published last year said Pennsylvanians provide nearly $3 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel producers. It’s a subject that draws little media attention. … Continue reading …