Danger, Will Robinson! Danger!

Sign identifies Range Resources drill site and DCNR permit for five million gallons a day water useLower-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.

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“Poverty-stricken” Shell Oil offered $2B taxpayer handout to set up in Pa.

Shell oil stands to gain two billion in tax incentives to build a 400-job plant near Pittsburgh

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.

The plant will benefit from Act 16 of 2012,  a bill the Pa. General Assembly adopted to exempt the giant firm from paying state income and property taxes for 15 years. Continue reading

Limiting soft drinks to 16-ounces is a gimmick, not a solution

A cup of unsweetened ice is a drink of choice for someNew York Mayor Michael Bloomberg this week proposed soft drink sales be limited to 16-ounce containers. Indeed!

I don’t even like soda much, and I’ll accept that being overweight is less healthy than being at an ideal weight – whatever that is. But there are better ways of fighting obesity than insulting us overweight folks and limiting the size drink we can buy.

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Some Marcellus-related companies may be boosting profits by importing illegal workers

A quarter mile from a Marcellus Shale job site, WV union workers protest imported laborers

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.

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Lucky find in a town beside the interstate

A youngster gazes through his reflection at cupcakes and other pastries behind the glass case
I didn’t know there was a Boonsboro, Md., until Granddaughter had a soccer game there. (I think her team came very close to winning.) All that running around made several of us hungry, so we headed into town to see what was available, preferably not something with a name we’d recognize.

We like to experiment with local places, and we found one, right there on North Main Street – the Icing Bakery and Café. I had a bowl of chicken rice soup, a couple of us had hot sandwiches, and the little guy in the picture had some of his dad’s. Lunch topped off with cheesecake cupcakes.

Follow the link to Icing Bakery

Consumers demand may be restoring an endangered species

Customers crowd around to inspect a display of fresh produce at a farm market
The 2011 Census of Agriculture by Statistics Canada reveals the past five years have seen a 10 percent reduction in the number of farms in our northern neighbor’s inventory.
But the average farm size has increased by about seven percent. In one province, the number of farms is down 17 percent, while the average farm size is up 15 percent.
A similar phenomenon has been taking place in U.S. agricultural areas. What’s up with that?

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While we continue to subsidize fossil fuels, at least one American industrial giant invests in green technology in, of all places …

Masdar, a city in the middle of a desert with zero carbon emissions
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

Sometimes it takes us all

A row of 300-foot tall wind turbines visible from the Pennsylvania turnpikeWind 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.

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Late may not be better than never

50-foot wide pipeline path cuts through Loyalsock forestLast month, the EPA announced new regulations that will require natural gas drillers to capture the methane they ordinarily allow to escape before they cap their well. The new rules take effect in 2015.

Last week, the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, announced proposed regulations that would require drillers to tell us what chemicals they are pumping into the ground – and sometimes spilling onto the ground and into our waters – to release natural gas by fracturing shale thousands of feet underground.

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Computers are good at step-by-step, but only a human can be, well, human

r-pod camper and Jeep Grand Cherokee tow vehicle in campgroundWe had picked up the Messeder Space Pod in Myrtle Beach on a Thursday afternoon and headed home. Somewhere a little south of Petersburg, Va., we decided to start looking for a place to pull in for the night.

So we asked Sally G, our faithful GPS, to find one. She found several. We picked the closest one and dialed the phone number. A fellow whose gravelly voice came from National Geographic’s “Swamp Men,” only friendlier, listened patiently while I described where I was – some exit off I-95, northbound toward home.

“It’s not that I don’t want your business,” the proprietor said, “but I’m over on (Interstate) 85, and that’s pretty much out of your way.”

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Replacing humans with machines not necessarily a cost savings

NASA photo of Alan Shepard's launch of first US astronaut into spaceThe Messeder Space Pod (for want, at present, of a better name) finally is ready to go. My co-pilot in life and other travels went visiting her sister a couple months ago, and came home in love with an r-Pod, a small (18-foot) camper trailer not much bigger than the original space capsule that carried Astronaut Alan Shepard from Cape Canaveral to a wet spot in the Atlantic Ocean.

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Speaking of bullies – a case in point

A field of plowed furrows awaits planting the new year's cropVermont residents would like to know what the heck is in their food. So they went to their legislature to ask for a law, and it looked for a time that their request would be honored. Unfortunately, Monsanto – the poster child for Genetically Modified groceries – informed the state that should it have the effrontery to pass such a law, the agricultural mega-corp would sue.

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Hydroelectric power – an alternative to burning dead carbon lifeforms

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.

And some of the dams probably would be cost effective to upgrade and equip. … Continue reading …

EPA regs not to blame for refinery shutdowns

One of the real reasons East Coast refineries are shutting downAccording to several sources, including the refinery owners, the U.S. EPA is not the source of their woes – unless we count a planned 25 percent increase in U.S. vehicle gas mileage scheduled by 2015. … Continue reading …

Bullying: We rail against it, but do little to actually stop it

I graduated Eighth Grade in ceremonies held at the local Grange hall, next to the town fire station, at the other end of Church Street, where the town’s only church stood.

It was in the two-room school house, and on the way home from it, I learned about bullying, … Continue reading…

So many colors in a rainbow

First Born's kids play on a Civil War battlefieldGoogle has started a new, free, travel opportunity. It’s called the Google Art Project, and offers young people of all ages opportunity to visit places many will never have opportunity to see – for instance, Freer Gallery of Art (Smithsonian), Denver (Colorado) Art Museum, Hong Kong Museum of Art. Point your browser to www.googleartproject.com and start admiring.

Art, one of my college professors said, is the history of the tribe. To which I add, that and fiction. In both, the creators get to show life as they see it, without their stories being approved by Texas and California school districts.

“But the little boy said…
There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower and I see every one”

(From “Flowers are Red,” by Harry Chapin, 1978)

When my son started school, … Continue reading …

Big Brother wants your Facebook password

A growing number of employers would like your Facebook login filled in.I was in Florida a couple weeks ago, and purchased a SunPass – like an EZ-Pass to most of the rest of the East Coast states, except EZ-Pass doesn’t work in Florida. They have their own thing going down there, and they’re not sharing.

Of course, one can drive the Florida Turnpike without a SunPass. The state also has Photo Billing, with which it has replaced humans in toll booths. Gone is the toll-taker with whom you could have a slow-down and human contact on a long trip via interstate highway. Instead, you go speeding through (no need to slow down in Florida) beneath an array of cameras and have your picture taken.

And if your car does not have a working SunPass, the registered owner of your license plate will get a bill from the state – plus a couple bucks “administration fee.”

We have become inured to cameras following us around. Banks have them, as do most retail stores. They’re in casinos, … Continue reading …

Just how much does a gallon of gas cost, anyway

We may pay $3.95 at the pump, but the actual cost is much higher.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 …

Wind off the Gitche Gumee (Lake Superior) and the other Great Lakes could power U.S. homes

Wind from the Great Lakes could supply the U.S. with more electricity than 700 nuclear power plants, according to a statement Friday by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The DOE made the claim while announcing a Memorandum of Understanding between the department and five states – Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and Pennsylvania – that could lead to creation of the requisite generating facilities. The agreement, DOE said, is part of the Obama Administration’s “all of the above” approach to U.S. energy independence.

“President Obama is focused on leveraging American energy sources, including increased oil and gas production, the safe development of nuclear power, as well as renewable energy from sources like wind and solar, which is on track to double in the President’s first term,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, during a telephone conference call with reporters Friday. … Continue reading …