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   Viewpoints  



Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan speaks out:

http://www.pressconnects.com/article/20111023/VIEWPOINTS02/110230311

Effects of fracking go beyond upstate N.Y.
5:05 PM, Oct. 21, 2011  | 
Written by Mayor Matthew T. Ryan

State Sen. Thomas W. Libous recently expressed displeasure with other legislators, including a colleague from his own party, for offering opinions about hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

Libous said he wants state Sen. Greg Ball, a Putnam County Republican, to keep quiet about the downsides of fracking. "We're not going to frack in his district," Libous said, "We're going to frack in mine."

This suggests that the senator doesn't want a wide-ranging debate about what would be the most radical change in land use since settlers cleared the forests to establish farms.

As things stand, drillers can lease land anywhere in the county, even in residential areas, and drill under some properties without the owners' consent through a form of eminent domain. This involves literally flattening three to five acres, then drilling for weeks (or more) at a time, with stadium lighting 24 hours a day, noise levels comparable to airports and 24/7 traffic by heavy tank trucks. The process climaxes with the fracturing of shale under the extremely high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of water contaminated by dozens of chemicals, including carcinogens and endocrine disruptors.

Meanwhile, millions of gallons of "flowback" fluid — which picks up benzene, arsenic, radiation and other hazards underground — return to the surface. But there is no municipal treatment plant in our entire state that is capable of treating this waste.

Indeed, it will take tens of billions of dollars to replace the state's aging wastewater infrastructure. As we have seen with a structural collapse at the Binghamton- Johnson City sewage plant, these facilities are no longer performing adequately. And as a group of 59 scientists recently told Gov. Andrew Cuomo, municipal treatment systems can't filter out most of the chemicals in fracking wastewater.

Libous seems to think others should not sound a warning even if they see an oncoming train wreck. But fracking will affect taxpayers all across the state, upstate and downstate.

Consider this:

» Although the Department of Environmental Conservation has ostensibly taken drilling in the New York City and Syracuse watersheds off the table, legislators from those areas still need to pay close attention. The DEC has reserved the right to revisit this issue, and the industry can "flip" the leases it still holds in these watersheds.

» The industry is shopping for municipalities outside the Southern Tier to accept hazardous waste, whether because they are so destitute or they are unaware of the fallout this waste can create. (No doubt, Libous can set the record straight about the recent Press & Sun-Bulletin report of a plan to establish a frack wastewater treatment facility at the former IBM campus.)

» Fracking likely will extend well beyond the Marcellus. The Utica Shale, for example, is a deeper and far larger formation that underlies even more of New York — all the way into Canada. Nobody knows where the next geological hot spot will be a few years from now.

» Taxpayers have been subsidizing the oil and gas industry more than any other sector of the U.S. economy for decades. Whether we're paying to increase DEC staffing, cleaning up new Superfund-type sites, or dealing with massive damage to roads and bridges, all New Yorkers will bear some of the fracking burden. For instance, on July 26, a leaked document from the state Department of Transportation revealed heavy truck trips could increase by 1.5 million per year as a result of Marcellus drilling, costing state taxpayers $211 million to $378 million more annually.

So, it is quite appropriate for Ball to worry about precedents being set on Libous' turf. And since Libous' district includes the city I serve, I certainly have standing to ask him about the merits of fracking. I therefore invite Libous to have a public conversation with me on this very subject. He is a bona fide power broker and one of the gas industry's best friends. Let's hope he can find the time to publicly share what he knows. As he must surely agree, this isn't his district — it belongs to all of us.

Ryan is mayor of Binghamton.


When it comes to support for drilling, follow the money

Written by  Donald McKinley Allen,  April 1, 2011,  pressconnects.com

http://www.pressconnects.com/article/20110402/VIEWPOINTS02/104020304/When-comes-support-drilling-follow-money?odyssey=mod|newswell|text|FRONTPAGE|s

The March 28 Guest Viewpoint illustrates much of what is wrong with claims supporting hydraulic fracturing.

Virtually all the information put out to support the pro-fracking position comes from individuals or organizations with an economic stake in fracking the Marcellus Shale — often a significant one. The pro-fracking entities such as lease holders, oil and gas conglomerates, some politicians who get money from pro-fracking stakeholders all stand to benefit economically from fracking being allowed.

They use words such as "safe," "proven" and "jobs" as if they were facts. However, a broad range of individuals and groups, such as university scientists, medical organizations, state and federal agencies charged with environmental protection, and millions of concerned citizens all have voiced informed opinion, backed by on-the-ground evidence. The process of drilling for natural gas that uses hydraulic fracturing to break the shale through pressurized injection of water containing toxic chemicals is, in fact, a direct cause of a range of environmental contamination.

These varied public and private groups do not have an economic stake in allowing or banning fracking. The protection of the environment and the health and safety of the people who live there, along with the water supply of millions downstream in the Marcellus, is their only interest. They won't get rich if the environment is preserved.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection had nothing to gain by saying that drilling for natural gas caused the contamination of the water supply of more than a dozen homes in Dimock. However, Cabot Gas and all the drilling supporters have a lot of profit to lose if they concede their liability — so Cabot signs consent orders and promises cash payments to avoid a court judgment but continues to claim any contamination of the water was, is and will not be their fault.

The politicians and citizens of New York City and downstate will not make money by insisting on banning fracking in their water supply; but they would like to be sure (maybe) that their aquifer and surface water supply isn't contaminated by methane, toxic fracking fluid or radioactive fracking wastewater. Many now realize the only way to truly guarantee their water supply is to ban fracking state- or even region-wide, because no one knows for certain where all the water comes from or goes to in and under the ground.

Scientists from all over the country get no economic benefit by joining to sign petitions asserting the dangers and risks that fracking has or will create in several different states, including Texas, Wyoming, Colorado, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and New York. The governments of Delaware and Maryland have no monetary motive in considering banning fracking in their states. They are just fulfilling their sworn governmental duty to protect their citizens from harm.

Isn't it obvious why people should believe the anti-drillers motivated by sincere concern for everyone's environment rather than the pro-drillers concerned only with personal profit?

Allen is a Town of Maine resident.


A Fracking Education

http://www.pressconnects.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=201010180328

by Donald Allen  -  October 18, 2010, 12:10 pm - Pressconnects.com

The other day at the Broome County hearing on Gas Leases I learned two things. One was that, when the County provides an opportunity for County and area citizens to voice their opinion on an issue with an extremely important impact on virtually every resident's life, the County only sends one Acting Commissioner to hear it all. The County Executive and staff, along with the members of the Legislature, don't care to bother to show up and hear anything.

The other thing I learned is that, since I am not a member of any Gas Lease group devoted to supporting and promoting Fracking for economic gain, and thus I didn't stand to make a buck from it, I must know nothing about Fracking! In fact, I really didn't quite understand what a lot of the Pro-Fracking folks were saying.

Now I want to save the world from the horrors of coal, oil and any other kind of carbon-based fossil fuel that is heating up the planet, as much as the next guy. But I couldn't figure out how burning natural gas as a “transition” fuel was better than taking all of the time and energy being used to promote Fracking for Gas, than putting the time, energy and T Boone Picken's Federal subsidy into real non-polluting, renewable, Friends of the Planet, energy like Sun, Wind and Ocean Hydroelectric?

So I asked the guy next to me, who swore he loved the natural things about the environment as much as I do. And he was wearing a suit; which seemed to make him smarter and more reliable than people like me in cargo pants. His response was immediate, positive and condescending.

He said; “Yes, my friend and neighbor, you obviously don't know much about science, technology and the special language used when talking about Fracking.”

I said; “I've done a fair amount of research, read extensively on the subject and have an advanced degree in communications from a major New York City university.”

He said; “You have been reading the wrong stuff, probably put out by scientists and experts who don't agree with us.”

I said; “You mean information that is not Gasser approved?”

He said; “Right, and don't call us Gassers. We prefer Friends Of Natural Gas or FONG for short. The problem is, you learned what little you know in the City; you must be a weekend, gentleman farmer. But if you want to get yourself properly educated I'll tell you where to go”

I said; “Actually I used to have a beef farm in the area and I've lived here full-time for over forty years. But I would like to learn Frack-Speak, so where do I go?”

He smiled, and said; “Frack U.”

I said; “I beg your pardon!”

He said; “The College of Natural Gas Drilling & Profiting, better known as Frack U.”

So off I went to one of Frack U's three campuses. They are located in Houston, TX, Denver, CO, and Hell, MI. It was too hot in Houston and Denver, but I heard it would be a cold day in Hell when they were telling the truth about Fracking, so I went there.

The course in Frack-Speak was taught by instructors from the law firm of Dewey, Cheetem and Howe. One was a woman named Ima Mendacious who taught the legal and economic part or “legonomics” as she called. The other was a gentleman named I. R. Trickily, he taught the language skills. The name of the course was Obfuscation and Duplicity for Fun & Profit. And boy was the man from FONG right; I really learned a lot.

The first thing I learned was that I didn't really know the FONG definition of Fracking. I had thought that the drilling, the injection of the secret ingredient fluid, the 60,000 PSI, the extraction of some of the dirty fluid, the wondering where to put it, the digging of miles of pipe, the compressing gas down the line and then cashing the check were all part of the Fracking process. But oh No, was I wrong. Fracking is actually only the part where the Fracking fluid is put under tremendous pressure and breaks up the shale in which the gas is trapped. Everything else is not Fracking.

So when one of the other students asked; “What about the methane found in wells in Dimock, PA, wasn't that caused by Fracking?”

Professor Trickily jumped up and corrected the student; “No, the methane was released by Drilling. Drilling isn't Fracking, Drilling is the same as if you were drilling a water well, which could release methane too!”

Another student piped up; “But well-drilling is making one small hole in the ground. Looking for gas involves making thousands of very large holes, doesn't that make gas drilling more likely to cause contamination?”

Professor T; “Doesn't matter, drilling is Drilling, not Fracking.”

I also learned that when FONG says; “We have been drilling for gas and Fracking all over the place for 60 years.”, what they really mean is that they have been drilling vertical wells and using a little Fracking fluid for 60 years, but the up to 16 horizontal leads from each vertical shaft which uses millions of gallons of water per well, is something only being used for about ten years and never in as dense a matrix of water supplies as in the proposed Marcellus Shale Play. But that's the advantage of Frack-Speak, it slices and dices the words and recombines them with a finer, more exclusive meaning imparted.

I also learned why they call it the Marcellus Shale Play, because it's all part of the unconventional, experimental deep well, high pressure, slippery fluid Fracking process which is seen as a game to play by the multi-nationals who are manipulating the FONG.

I summoned up all the nerve I could from my City childhood and foolishly asked; “is it really true that a Fracking company has never been proven to pollute anyone's drinking water with Fracking fluid?”

Miss Mendacious took that one; “Yes absolutely. Proven means having actually been convicted in a court of law of contaminating someone's well. If it looks like there is any kind of a case in which or a possibility that we could be found guilty, we hurry up and settle out of court. We do whatever it takes to make the well owner accept our offer of water and cash to shut up, and make them sign a non-disclosure agreement, which if they break, we come after them with all our guns blazing and they lose everything. Remember lack of proof of guilt, does not equal innocence, but it keeps our record technically clean.”

Professor Trickily jumped up and corrected the student; “No, the methane was released by Drilling. Drilling isn't Fracking, Drilling is the same as if you were drilling a water-well, which could release methane too!”

 Another student piped up; “But well drilling is making one small hole in the ground and looking for gas involves making thousands of very large holes, doesn't that make gas drilling more likely to cause contamination?”

Professor T; “Doesn't matter, drilling is Drilling, not Fracking.”

I also learned that when FONG says; “We have been drilling for gas and Fracking all over the place for 60 years.” What they really mean is that they have been drilling vertical wells and using a little Fracking fluid for 60 years, but the up to 16 horizontal leads from each vertical shaft which uses millions of gallons of water per well, is something only being used for about ten years and never in as dense a matrix of water supplies as in the proposed Marcellus Shale Play. But that's the advantage of Frack-Speak, it slices and dices the words and recombines them with a finer, more exclusive meaning imparted.

I also learned why they call it the Marcellus Shale Play, because it's all part of the unconventional, experimental deep well, high pressure, slippery fluid Fracking process which is seen as a game to play by the multi-nationals who are manipulating the FONG.

I summoned up all the nerve I could from my City childhood and foolishly asked; “is it really true that a Fracking company has never been proven to pollute anyone's drinking water with Fracking fluid?”

Miss Mendacious took that one; “Yes absolutely. Proven means having actually been convicted in a court of law of contaminating someone's well. If it looks like there is any kind of a case in which or a possibility that we could be found guilty, we hurry up and settle out of court. We do whatever it takes to make the well owner accept our offer of water and cash to shut up, and make them sign a non-disclosure agreement, which if they break, we come after them with all our guns blazing and they lose everything. Remember lack of proof of guilt, does not equal innocence, but it keeps our record technically clean.”



Americans (Actually) Hate Fracking

http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/view/191948

by Donald McKinley Allen , October 11, 2010
In his recent Wall Street Journal article – Americans (Sort Of) Love Fracking – Holman Jenkins (sort of) got just about everything wrong. Almost every sentence was phrased to imply a negative about the Anti-Fracking positions and a positive regarding the Pro-Fracking or Gasser (as it´s commonly known) positions. As a forty plus year resident of the prime proposed Fracking area of South Central New York, just above the PA. border, I know a lot of Antis, a lot of Gassers, and a whole lot about the Southern Tier´s people, economy and environment.

As to the question "Do the locals want a boom?" the complete answer depends on who you ask. The 6% or so of the population that are Leaseholder partners with the Gas Companies definitely want their own personal boom of royalties. Among the other 94% of residents about 60% of them are Anti-drilling. Although only a percentage of them are actively demonstrating; to imply from this that the Gassers outnumber the Antis is absolutely wrong. As for the 40% of the rest of the non-lease holders, more and more of them are joining the Anti camp daily, as the dangers and problems of Fracking unfold in PA. If the issue were put to a referendum vote right now; Fracking would be voted down by at least 5 to 1. The vast majority of the locals do not believe there will be any boom. In Northern Tier of PA., the Gassers delivered 10% of the 3000 promised local jobs; dozens of family´s water wells have been contaminated (as determined by the PA Dept. of Environmental Protection); roads have been ruined and not repaired forcing PA. to issue hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines (many as yet unpaid); and a laundry list of spills, accidents, mistakes, and explosions all as a result of Fracking. In New York the vast majority of locals do not see a few profiting at great a cost to the majority as a boom and they don´t want any part of it.

The community of people who have environmental concerns about Fracking aren´t using it as a "saleable controversy to raise donations"; they see it as the environmental crisis it really is. And they will not be blinded to the dangers of Fracking by the promise of riches. Many of them are landowners who have turned down six figure Gas Leases because they are committed to doing the right thing for their friends, neighbors and future generations.

When saying "The EPA is moving in, keen to regulate fracking under the Safe Drinking Water Act" Mr. Jenkins seems to not realize that the EPA isn´t just "keen" to protect human health through protection from and regulation of sources of water contamination; that´s its required job as delineated in its mission statement.

If Hollywood is making anti-fracking movies, maybe it´s not because they want to jump on a trendy train, but because some people think a movie can bring an issue of broad importance to a national audience. If the Susquehanna and Delaware River watersheds are contaminated it is not just a local problem. These watersheds provide the potable water supply for New York City, Philadelphia and 30 million U.S. citizens. If these watersheds are damaged, it will cost all of America uncountable billions to even attempt a remediate of the situation.

Fracking may divide neighbor against neighbor as Mr. Jenkins says. But most of the Leaseholders are not the penurious locals; many are people who own large tracts of undeveloped land bought as investments, who have been paid ten times more than the land is worth at current market value for leases by the Gasser Companies, with no appropriate increase to their taxes. There are a few farmers that don´t make a lot of money farming, but the problems of the dairy industry are responsible for that. In any business some participants make big money and some make less. But remedying a few farmers´ situations so that they can make their escape to the West Coast of Florida and giant petrochemical companies can gain billions by risking the poisoning of many people´s property is not a reasonable solution. The majority of those who stand to lose if Fracking is allowed to proceed as planned are not just "weekend residents and gentleman farmers" as Mr. Jenkins implies, they are the 250,000+ teachers, doctors, factory workers and the whole range of people found in rural, small town and small city New York plus the 30 million people downstream whose water will be poisoned.

The Texas investment firm, which Mr. Jenkins cites, says "The gold-rush-like endeavor called shale drilling will morph from trial and error into a more institutional affair…" But who in their right mind would take a chance on the consequences of all the "errors" before Fracking has morphed? And what is so great and reassuring about the business style and safety of the "institutional" petrochemical industry? We now know the giant petrochemical conglomerates are even more dangerous, by virtue of their size and distance, in their irresponsible, short cut, bottom line focused, cavalier way of doing business than were ever imagine.

The cardinal error statement in Mr. Jenkins´s article is; "Those who value pastoral poverty and bucolic quietude over all the grubby commercialism will just have to adjust" followed by several examples of what was presented as comparable unpleasant changes that people, in some cases, have learned to put up with. It presupposes that changes that economically benefit a few must be accepted by the many whose lives will be made much worse.

But the assumption that money can buy the power to have its way at the expense of the majority of the population is sometimes erroneous. There are several examples of an environmental disaster in the making that has been stopped after the smart money had bet it was a sure thing. The inability of the nuclear power industry to find anywhere that will allow its toxic waste to be permanently stored is why the "clean energy" moguls of that industry have not been able to capitalize on the need for alternatives to carbon based fuels as a an energy source. The dangers of radioactive waste far outweigh any benefit that can be gained.

The same is true of Fracking. The multiple dangers to human health through environmental pollution are so many along with no mediation protocols even being proposed; put Fracking in the same class of non starters as other toxic waste producing energy industries. Worse, all the money touted as coming from Fracking is actually small potatoes and even referred to as "transitional" in the carbon based fuel world. Risking the environmental well being of tens of millions of Americans in several of the East Coast´s major cities may be just another quick buck to investment firms in Texas, but in New York and rest of the watershed it is fast penny wise and pounds foolish consequences, to the highest degree.

That´s why any Americans that know the whole story actually hate Fracking; it is so bad for so many. The committed, concerned and rational have stopped bigger bullies than the Gasser before, and there are more than 30 million reasons why they can and will stop Fracking from destroying the irreplaceable human and natural environment above the Marcellus Shale play. Politics is should be about throwing money around to help the few against the many, but should be part doing public business for the general welfare and the greater public good. The Gassers should watch their toes.



The Whole Fracking Enchilada

http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/5839

Violating the bedrock, the atmosphere, and everything in between
by Sandra Steingraber
Published in the September/October 2010 issue of Orion magazine

I HAVE COME to believe that extracting natural gas from shale using the newish technique called hydrofracking is the environmental issue of our time. And I think you should, too.

Saying so represents two points of departure for me. One: I primarily study toxic chemicals, not energy issues. I have, heretofore, ceded that topic to others, such as Bill McKibben, with whom I share this column space in Orion.

Two: I’m on record averring that I never tell people what to do. If you are a mother who wants to lead the charge against vinyl shower curtains, then you should. If the most important thing to you is organic golf courses, then they are. So said I.

But high-volume slick water hydrofracturing of shale gas—fracking—is way bigger than PVC and synthetic fertilizer. In fact, it makes them both cheaply available. Fracking is linked to every part of the environmental crisis—from radiation exposure to habitat loss—and contravenes every principle of environmental thinking. It’s the tornado on the horizon that is poised to wreck ongoing efforts to create green economies, local agriculture, investments in renewable energy, and the ability to ride your bike along country roads. It’s worth setting down your fork, pen, cellular phone—whatever instrument you’re holding—and looking out the window.

THE ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS can be viewed as a tree with two trunks. One trunk represents what we are doing to the planet through atmospheric accumulation of heat-trapping gasses. Follow this trunk along and you find droughts, floods, acidification of oceans, dissolving coral reefs, and species extinctions.

The other trunk represents what we are doing to ourselves and other animals through the chemical adulteration of the planet with inherently toxic synthetic pollutants. Follow this trunk along and you find asthma, infertility, cancer, and male fish in the Potomac River whose testicles have eggs inside them.

At the base of both these trunks is an economic dependency on fossil fuels, primarily coal (plant fossils) and petroleum (animal fossils). When we light them on fire, we threaten the global ecosystem. When we use them as feedstocks for making stuff, we create substances—pesticides, solvents, plastics—that can tinker with our subcellular machinery and the various signaling pathways that make it run.

Natural gas is the vaporous form of petroleum. It’s the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of fossil fuels: when burned, natural gas generates only half the greenhouse gases of coal, but when it escapes into the atmosphere as unburned methane, it’s one of the most powerful greenhouse gases of them all—twenty times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat and with the stamina to persist nine to fifteen years. You can also make petrochemicals from it. Natural gas is the starting point for anhydrous ammonia (synthetic fertilizer) and PVC plastic (those shower curtains).

Until a few years ago, much of the natural gas trapped underground was considered unrecoverable because it is scattered throughout vast sheets of shale, like a fizz of bubbles in a petrified spill of champagne. But that all changed with the rollout of a drilling technique (pioneered by Halliburton) that bores horizontally through the bedrock, blasts it with explosives, and forces into the cracks, under enormous pressure, millions of gallons of water laced with a proprietary mix of poisonous chemicals that further fracture the rock. Up the borehole flows the gas. In 2000, only 1 percent of natural gas was shale gas. Ten years later, almost 20 percent is.

International investors began viewing shale gas as a paradigm-shifting innovation. Energy companies are now looking at shale plays in Poland and Turkey. Fracking is under way in Canada. But nowhere has the technology been as rapidly deployed as in the United States, where a gas rush is under way. Gas extraction now goes on in thirty-two states, with half a million new gas wells drilled in the last ten years alone. We are literally shattering the bedrock of our nation and pumping it full of carcinogens in order to bring methane out of the earth.

And nowhere in the U.S. is fracking proceeding more manically than Appalachia, which is underlain by the formation called the Marcellus Shale, otherwise referred to by the Intelligent Investor Report as “the Saudi Arabia of natural gas” and by the Toronto Globe and Mail as a “prolific monster” with the potential to “rearrange the continent’s energy flow.”

In the sense of “abnormal to the point of inspiring horror,” monster is not an inappropriate term here. With every well drilled—and thirty-two thousand wells per year are planned—a couple million gallons of fresh water are transformed into toxic fracking fluid. Some of that fluid will remain underground. Some will come flying back out of the hole, bringing with it other monsters: benzene, brine, radioactivity, and heavy metals that, for the past 400 million years, had been safely locked up a mile below us, estranged from the surface world of living creatures. No one knows what to do with this lethal flowback—a million or more gallons of it for every wellhead. Too caustic for reuse as is, it sloshes around in open pits and sometimes is hauled away in fleets of trucks to be forced under pressure down a disposal well. And it is sometimes clandestinely dumped.

By 2012, 100 billion gallons per year of fresh water will be turned into toxic fracking fluid. The technology to transform it back to drinkable water does not exist. And, even if it did, where would we put all the noxious, radioactive substances we capture from it?

HERE, THEN, are the environmental precepts violated by hydrofracking: 1) Environmental degradation of the commons should be factored into the price structure of the product (full-cost accounting), whose true carbon footprint—inclusive of all those diesel truck trips, blowouts, and methane leaks—requires calculation (life-cycle analysis). 2) Benefit of the doubt goes to public health, not the things that threaten it, especially in situations where catastrophic harm—aquifer contamination with carcinogens—is unremediable (the Precautionary Principle). 3) There is no away.

This year I’ve attended scientific conferences and community forums on fracking. I’ve heard a PhD geologist worry about the thousands of unmapped, abandoned wells scattered across New York from long-ago drilling operations. (What if pressurized fracking fluid, to be entombed in the shale beneath our aquifers, found an old borehole? Could it come squirting back up to the surface? Could it rise as vapor through hairline cracks?) I’ve heard a hazardous materials specialist describe to a crowd of people living in fracked communities how many parts per million of benzene will raise risks for leukemia and sperm abnormalities linked to birth deformities. I’ve heard a woman who lives by a fracking operation in Pennsylvania—whose pond bubbles with methane and whose kids have nosebleeds at night—ask how she could keep her children safe. She was asking me. And I had no answer. Thirty-seven percent of the land in the township where I live with my own kids is already leased to the frackers. There is no away.



Bait and Switch

Norse Energy spokesman Dennis Holbrook makes a lot of apple/orange juice, trying to convince Chenango County that the horizontal-drilled, high-volume hydrofracturing  (HD/HVF) technology that makes the Marcellus Shale such a plum for gas corporations, has been going on safely for decades.

I challenge Holbrook to dispute this fact:  there has been not one HD/HVF well in the Marcellus or any other shale body in New York.  Ever.

Holbrook tries to pull the wool over by conflating Norse’s two current drilling practices (drilling horizontal wells in sandstones,  and fracturing vertical wells in shale) as if they “added up”  to horizontal-drilled, high-volume hydrofractured wells in the Marcellus Shale (HD/HVF).  They don’t and here’s why:

The Herkimer sandstone formation that Norse has horizontal-drilled in Chenango and Madison counties is a porous stone which itself produces no methane, but which has – over geologic time – absorbed methane from neighboring  shale formations. These sandstone wells requires no fracking.  A single square mile filled with 80-acre Herkimer drilling units would require not a drop of frack fluid nor produce a drop of toxic flowback.  But a single square-mile HD/HVF Marcellus drilling unit, containing typically eight 4000-foot well bores on one pad, would require 32,000,000 gallons of fracking fluid.  That’s a bait-and-switch.

A sandstone well is drilled once, never fractured and the gas is gone;   shale wells can be fractured multiple times, using increasing amounts of fracking fluids each time, to get decreasing amounts of gas. That’s a bait-and-switch.

Similarly, vertical wells drilled thru the thin Marcellus shale encounter only ~150’ of shale available for fracking, and are legally limited to using 80,000 gallons of fracking fluid per well.  So, a fully built-out square mile of vertical Marcellus wells (at the legal 40-acre spacing) will therefore yield ~2400 feet of frackable shale and is legally limited to using (80,000 gallons X 16 wells/ sq mile) 1,280,000 gallons of fracking fluid.  On the other hand, horizontal well bores in that same thin layer in PA are commonly 4000 feet long on an eight-well pad: a total of 32,000 feet  of frackable wellbore, requiring  ~ 32,000,000 gallons of fracking fluid.  That’s a bait-and-switch.

Horizontal-drilled, high-volume hydrofracturing  (HD/HVF) in the Marcellus Shale creates twenty-five (25) times the length of frackable wellbore as those created by a fully built-out vertical Marcellus field. That’s twenty-five times the drill cuttings, twenty-five times the flowback wastewater, twenty-five times the truck-traffic for water haulage and twenty-five times the flowback disposal.  Horizontal-drilled, high-volume hydrofracturing  (HD/HVF) in the Marcellus Shale requires fracking fluid that is thirty-five (35) times the legal limit for vertical shale wells, ignoring subsequent re-fracturing. The no-frack Herkimer sandstone experience is irrelevant.  It’s a bait-and-switch.

Don’t buy a used car from this man.

by Mike Bernhard, chair
Chenango County Green Party  
c/o 534 Chase Road
Afton NY 13730



Another BP Spill



frackcountryblues.png

Courtesy of  FrackCountryBlues.com



MarquilGrannisCartoon.jpg

Cartoon courtesy of MARQUIL at EmpireWire.com



Information is power


The River Reporter online,  Narrowsburg, NY
editorial comment: Information is power
Volume XXXVI No. 18, May 6-12, 2010

Possibly the most persistent recurring theme in our conversations last week with officials from Bradford County, PA, a hotbed of natural gas drilling activity (see page 1), was the importance of communication. Repeatedly, they would mention one problem or another that had arisen and then been resolved via communication with the gas drilling companies. The importance of having individual, personal contacts with those companies was key.

The other point that was notable was that in all cases except those involving roads, the counterparty to the drilling companies was the individual property owner. With regard to one issue after another, the officials emphasized the extent to which local municipalities and agencies are virtually powerless with regard to drilling activity. If there is to be any mitigating influence, it must be through the individual lease or lessee.

The importance of information was also apparent in our conversations, having a crucial influence on the effectiveness of leases signed and therefore on the quality of life for the lessee. One property owner leased his large farm, expecting to see wells drilled off somewhere in the woods, only to find out that the drilling company had decided that the best place to put its first well was 300 feet from his front door. Only then did he refer back to his lease to check the language. Sure enough, 300 feet from the house (the state minimum) was allowed. (Incidentally, we suspect that this is just the kind of fine print that the property owners’ associations in our own area have taken care to pay better attention to; certainly, from that point of view this area is better prepared for the advent of gas drilling than Bradford was.)

So, not surprisingly, information is power, and communication�or its opposite, the withholding of information�are ways of wielding it. But here’s the hitch: despite the fact that, by the estimates of the officials we spoke to, 85 to 90 percent of Bradford County land has been leased, lessors account for only 20 percent of the population (again by their estimates); the rest either don’t have enough land to lease or don’t want to.

That means that the vast majority of Bradford County citizens have to rely on the actions of the major landholders, and how they deal with the gas drilling companies. If the individual landowners who have leased their land are savvy, public-spirited and signed good leases, the degradation of air and water quality, noise and light pollution and habitat destruction will be at least partially mitigated. If not, the 80 percent have to suffer without any sort of compensation or opportunity for input.

In what kind of society does the wellbeing of the majority of the population depend on the private decisions of the major landholders? It sure isn’t a democracy. In fact, it sounds an awful lot like medieval feudalism.

In his letter in our April 22 issue, Mike Uretsky said that the Northern Wayne Property Owners Association is involved in activities such as pushing for responsible regulations and oversight and working with environmental, planning and zoning officials, but that it does these things out of the limelight, “since it feels that effective collaboration is best achieved away from public shouting matches.”

The reluctance to get involved in the vitriolic exchanges that can become part of any community discussion about matters of such magnitude is understandable. But again, we are left with a picture of a privileged group of landed individuals making decisions for the rest of us without our knowing what they are and without having any influence over how they shape our lives.

In this game, information is power, and communication is one way of wielding it. So is withholding it. At the moment, some stakeholders�the people who live here but don’t own enough land to lease or don’t want to lease�are being kept at a heavy disadvantage in that regard. Some ways have to be found to level the playing field.

One thing that became clear in our survey of the Bradford countryside, still in the very early stages of development, is the tremendous and all-enveloping impact the incursion of this industrial activity into our rural area will have. Change of this magnitude ought not to be inflicted on a majority of the population without their at least being given access to information and a point of entry into the conversation. We challenge all the many groups who hold the information�and the power�with regard to natural gas drilling, from the drilling companies themselves and their contractors, to property owners’ associations, the county task forces, cooperative extensions and regulatory agencies, to reach out and create some sort of representation for the 80 percent or so who have been left out so far. Surely they should have some input into the conversation that is shaping the future of the entire community.



EmpireWireStrikesBack.jpg

Hydrofracking explained: Cartoon courtesy of MARQUIL at EmpireWire.com



Gas Drilling, Conflict of Interests and Lobbying


April 11, 2010
Gas Drilling, Conflict of Interests and Lobbying
Breathing Is Political  lizbucar @ 3:59 pm
Since publishing  Breathing’s March 20, 2010 coverage of  the Town of Delaware’s  Board meeting,  I’ve been fielding questions about local public officials’ potential conflicts of interests.  Essentially,  residents on both sides of the River are worried that some local public officials are either blocking or supporting local zoning changes and/or Board resolutions because those officials  have leased,  or are considering leasing,  their own gas mineral rights.

Residents and taxpayers who have raised the issue of conflicts of interest believe they are being  disenfranchised by representatives who are supporting or opposing  public policy for the benefit of themselves and drilling interests rather than in protection of  the public’s health and welfare.

As a result, I’ve asked two attorneys whether or not New York State’s  county, town, zoning and planning board members who have leased or are considering leasing their gas mineral rights should recuse themselves from not only voting on drilling issues but from participating in their Boards’ discussions of  gas drilling  issues.  In response, both attorneys  strongly recommended that  the public should attend those local board meetings and ask each board member, on the record, to clarify the leased  status of their and their family’s  real property holdings.

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In an  April 2, 2008 press release,  the Franklin County, NY District Attorney made an announcement which may apply to our local  public officials who have signed gas leases:

“Over the past three months the Franklin County District Attorney’s Office has been examining allegations of certain improprieties including self-dealing, conflicts of interest and violations of statutes on the part of various local elected officials in Franklin County.

The recently disclosed unethical conduct by our state’s highest elected official has heightened the need for a closer review of all available ethical safeguards in order to reestablish and maintain the Public’s confidence in our elected officials.

This week, copies of General Municipal Law, Chapter 24, Article 18, Section 805-a and 806, are being sent to all Town, Village, School District and other regulatory boards in Franklin County in an effort to fully apprise elected officials of the prohibited conflicts of interest of Municipal Officers and their employees. Each governing body is also being urged to adopt and/or update their respective Code of Ethics and to consider working with the Franklin County Legislature to adopt a standard code throughout the County.

Our investigation has revealed several contracts, easements, lease option agreements, cooperation memoranda and other types of documents which disclose relationships existing between elected officials and certain third parties in Franklin County (as well as other elected officials in other Counties) which, when allegedly coupled with certain decision making and board action, may be in violation of General Municipal Law (GML) 805-a(1)(c) and (1)(d). If such violations have occurred, these public officials may also be in violation of Penal Law Section 195.00, Official Misconduct and/or Penal Law Section 200, (Bribery Involving Public Servants and related offenses). (Bold added for emphasis.)

We are presently urging all elected officials to examine any and all employment relationships, contracts, contractual arraignments, agreements, leases, easements, payments, agreements for future services, fees, compensation, financial arraignments and other related matters which would fall under the prohibitions of GML 805-a(1)(c) and (1)(d) and to consider as required by law, full disclosure to the public and recusal from voting or participation in legislative decisions in any events where a public official has or may have a financial interest. (1992 N.Y. Op. (Inf.) Att’y Gen. 31) (Bold added for emphasis.)

Through these proactive steps and full compliance with the law, we can attempt to restore and maintain the public’s confidence in our elected officials.  The New York State Attorney General’s Office, in the informal opinion cited above specifically stated, “even the appearance of impropriety must be avoided in order to maintain public confidence in government.”

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According to New York State’s  Commission on Public Integrity:  “Lobbying” or “Lobbying activities” on the local level are defined as any attempt to influence the passage or defeat of any local law, ordinance, resolution or regulation by any municipality or subdivision thereof or adoption or rejection of any rule, regulation, or resolution having the force and effect of local law, ordinance, resolution or regulation or any rate making proceeding by any municipality or subdivision thereof.”

Breathing Note:  Commonsense dictates that if a member –  or the family of a member  –  of one of our local county, town, zoning and/or planning boards has leased mineral rights to a drilling company, that member will benefit from either “the passage or defeat of any local law, ordinance, resolution…”  which also  benefits gas drilling interests.  Further, commonsense dictates that a member who has leased his or her property to gas drilling interests and then supports or opposes local policy for the benefit of gas drilling interests  may be, effectively or apparently,  functioning as a lobbyist for those drilling interests rather than as an advocate for  the public’s interest.

Sections 805-a and 806 of New York State’s General Municipal Law are the most usually-cited statutes governing official conflicts of interest. (Section 806 explains the parameters of local codes of ethics and can be read in full here.)

Section 805-a reads:

    * 1. No municipal officer or employee shall:
    * a. directly or indirectly, solicit any gift, or accept or receive any gift having a value of seventy-five dollars or more, whether in the form of money, service, loan, travel, entertainment,  hospitality, thing or promise, or in any other form, under circumstances in which it could reasonably be inferred that the gift was intended to influence him, or could reasonably be expected to influence him, in the performance of his official duties or was intended as a reward for any official action on his part;
    * b. disclose confidential information acquired by him in the course of his official duties or use such information to further his personal interests;
    * c. receive, or enter into any agreement, express or implied, for compensation for services to be rendered in relation to any matter before any municipal agency of which he is an officer, member or employee or of any municipal agency over which he has jurisdiction or to which he has the power to appoint any member, officer or employee; or
    * d. receive, or enter into any agreement, express or implied, for compensation for services to be rendered in relation to any matter before any agency of his municipality, whereby his compensation is to be dependent or contingent upon any action by such agency with respect to such matter, provided that this paragraph shall not prohibit the fixing at any time of fees based upon the reasonable value of the services rendered.
    * 2. In addition to any penalty contained in any other provision of law, any person who shall knowingly and intentionally violate this section may be fined, suspended or removed from office or employment in the manner provided by law.

Over the years, Attorney Generals in New York State  have issued opinions which may be salient to local concerns that public officials with gas drilling conflicts are not  recusing themselves  from either voting or  discussing drilling  issues that come before them.  Several of those Attorney General Opinions are included below:

    * In Opinion 2002-9  re  Conflict of Interests :

“…if a member of a village’s Board of Trustees, who owns property within the Business Improvement District of the village, has a substantial direct personal interest in the outcome of the Board of Trustees’ vote on the Business Improvement District’s annual budget, recusal from participating in the Board of Trustees’  deliberations and voting on the Business Improvement District’s annual budget is the appropriate course of action.”

“As a general matter, recusal  would be required if the facts and circumstances suggest that the subject trustee has a substantial, personal interest in the outcome of the BID budget vote.  Even the appearance of such an interest would require recusal, in order to maintain public confidence in  government.” (Breathing Note:  If a public official’s property has been leased and will be affected by proposed legislation or changes in legislation, would the same recusal requirement exist?)  (Bold added for emphasis.)

    * In Opinion 96-17  re:  Section 806:

“Public officers have responsibility to exercise their official duties solely in the public interest.  1985 Op Atty Gen (Inf) 101.  They should avoid circumstances which compromise their ability to make impartial judgments and must avoid the appearance of impropriety in order to maintain public confidence in government.”

    * In Opinion 96-27  re:  Section 806:

“Public officials should not, however, accept positions or become involved in outside activities which conflict with their official duties.  Every local government is required to promulgate a code of ethics providing standards for officers and employees with respect to disclosure of interest in legislation before the local governing body, holding of investments in conflict with official duties….”

    * In Opinion 99-42  re Section 806:

“A member of a board of assessment review who owns property before the board for review is obligated to recuse himself from participating in board proceedings with respect to that property to preserve the validity of action taken by the board and maintain public confidence in the integrity of government.”  (Breathing Note:  If a public official’s property has been leased and will be affected by proposed legislation or changes in legislation, would the same recusal requirement exist?)

    * In Opinion 95-2  re:  members with conflict of interests recusing  themselves from all Board deliberations “with respect to that matter or applications”:

“We have found that members of local bodies, including planning boards, with conflicts of interests in a particular application or matter before the body, should recuse themselves from taking any actions with respect to that matter or application.  Op Atty Gen (Inf) No. 9-38; 1988 Op Atty Gen (Inf) 12, 124; 1988 Op Atty Gen (Inf) 115, 117.  We have stated that members with conflicts of interests must recuse themselves from participating in any deliberations or votes concerning the application creating the conflict. Op Atty Gen (Inf)  No. 90-38.   The board member’s participation in deliberations has the potential to influence other board members who will exercise a vote with respect to the matter in question.  Further, we believe that a board member with a conflict of interests should not sit with his or her fellow board members during the deliberations and action regarding the matter.   The mere presence of the board member holds the potential of influencing  fellow board members and additionally, having declared a conflict of interests, there would reasonably be an appearance of impropriety in the eyes of the public should the member sit on the board.”

“Thus, it is our view that once a board member has declared that he or she has a conflict of interests  in a particular matter before the board, that the board member should recuse him or herself from any deliberations or voting with respect to that matter by absenting himself from the body during the time that the matter is before it.”

    * In Opinion 97-5:

“A member of the city council…if the interests of his or her employer are affected by matters before the council, recusal is that appropriate course of action.”  (Breathing Note:  If a member’s income is impacted by  his Board’s action, how can it matter whether that income derives from an employer or a gas lease?)

 


Greenwashing


Gas and drilling not clean choices
Environmental risks too great; alternative fuels a better option


http://www.pressconnects.com/article/20100328/VIEWPOINTS02/3280301/1120/Gas-and-drilling-not-clean-choices  
(Press and Sun Bulletin, Binghamton, NY, March 28, 2010, 12:00 am)

Natural gas is marketed as a clean fuel with less impact on global warming than oil or coal, a transitional fuel to replace other fossil fuels until some distant future with renewable energy. Some argue that we have an obligation to develop Marcellus Shale gas, despite environmental concerns. I strongly disagree.

Natural gas as a clean fuel is a myth. While less carbon dioxide is emitted from burning natural gas than oil or coal, emissions during combustion are only part of the concern. Natural gas is mostly methane, a greenhouse gas with 72 times more potential than carbon dioxide to warm our planet (per molecule, averaged over the 20 years following emission). I estimate that extraction, transport and combustion of Marcellus gas ? together with leakage of methane ? makes this gas at least 60 percent more damaging for greenhouse warming than crude oil and similar in impact to coal.

The most recent method of hydro-fracking is relatively new technology, massive in scope and far from clean in ways beyond greenhouse gas emissions. The landscape could be dotted with thousands of drilling pads, spaced as closely as one every 40 acres. Compacted gravel would cover three to five acres for each. New pipelines and access roads crisscrossing the landscape would connect the pads. Ten or more wells per pad are expected. Every time a well is "fracked," 1,200 truck trips will carry the needed water.

Drillers will inject several million gallons of water and tens of thousands of pounds of chemicals into each well. Some of this mixture will stay deep in the shale, but cumulatively, billions of gallons of waste fluids will surface. Under current law, drillers can use absolutely any chemical additive or waste, with no restrictions and no disclosure. Recent experience in Pennsylvania indicates regular use of toxic, mutagenic and carcinogenic substances. Out of 24 wells sampled there, flow-back wastes from every one contained high levels of 4-Nitroquinoline-1-oxide, (according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation). It is one of the most mutagenic compounds known. Flow-back wastes also contain toxic metals and high levels of radioactivity extracted from the shale, in addition to the materials used by drillers.

Industry tells us that surface and groundwater contamination is unlikely, since gas is deep in the ground and drilling operations are designed to minimize leakage. Nonsense. The technology is new and understudied, but early evidence shows high levels of contamination in some drinking water wells and rivers in other states.

Accidents happen, and well casings and cementing can fail. The geology of our region is complex, and water and materials under high pressure can move quickly to aquifers, rivers and lakes along fissures and fractures. Flow-back waters and associated chemical and radioactive wastes must be handled and stored at the surface, some in open pits and ponds unless government regulation prevents this. What will keep birds and wildlife away from it? What happens downstream if a heavy rain causes the toxic soup to overflow the dam? What happens to these wastes? Adequate treatment technologies and facilities do not exist.

What about government regulation and oversight? The DEC is understaffed,underfunded and has no history with the scale and scope of exploitation now envisioned. Federal oversight is almost completely gone, due to Congress exempting gas development from most environmental laws, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, in 2005.

We can be independent of fossil fuels within 20 years and rely on renewable green technologies, such as wind and solar. The constraints on this are mostly political, not technical. We do not need to sacrifice a healthy environment to industrial gas development. Rather, we need to mobilize and have our region provide some badly needed national leadership toward a sustainable energy future.


Robert Howarth is the David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology & Environmental Biology at Cornell University. An internationally known expert on environmental issues and water quality, he has worked on the consequences of oil and gas development for over 30 years. The viewpoint is his own and should not be construed as a position of Cornell University.

Sifting through corporate disinformation on fracking

http://www.cornellsun.com/section/opinion/content/2011/11/07/letter-editor-sifting-through-corporate-disinformation-fracking

Letter to the Editor: Sifting through corporate 'disinformation' on fracking

November 7, 2011

To the Editor, Cornell Sun:

Re: “Letter to the Editor: Discourse on hydrofracking is hyper-precautionary,” Opinion, Oct. 6

How would it feel if, every time a person checked your driving speed, they saw two odometers that said opposite things, one of which was created deliberately to confuse them and risk their life? That’s like the situation faced by the American public today in regards to news on the environment, including the debate over hydrofracking. The corporate disinformation machine has become so ubiquitous that virtually any news item on environmental risks produces an attack by an industry front group.  As a recent example, The Sun reported that an ILR study has found that the Keystone XL Pipeline will actually reduce American jobs instead of creating them. The same article quoted a blogger for ChamberPost, the blog of the American Chamber of Congress, that disputed the numbers used in the study, adding in a sneer: “Apparently math is not a specialty at Cornell.” Fortunately, some readers will know that the American Chamber of Congress advocates for controversial industrial projects like the pipeline, and they’ll know that every word of the blog will be false or misleading. Still, The Sun felt obligated to include ChamberPost as a legitimate source of opinion — which is a mark of the disinformation campaign’s success.

But what about attacks on independent research that appear to come from independent sources and not from front groups whose job is to misinform?

Earlier this month, The Sun ran a letter denying that there are any credible risks to fracking. Among other things, the writer claimed that since only one case of contamination has occurred “among millions of wells developed in sixty years,” we must not “let ourselves be paralyzed by one-in-a-billion odds. We must act now or retreat to the caves with solar and wind power.”

If true, this would be extraordinary news for Ithaca residents and for Cornell, which has the right to lease up to 11,000 acres to oil and gas drilling. But it’s not true. As for the single case of contamination, another letter on the same page correctly points out that property owners have to sign non-disclosure statements before leasing their property for fracking — so there may be many cases of contamination that cannot be legally spoken of, despite First Amendment rights. The writer also ignores research by Cornell scientists Anthony Ingraffea and Robert Howarth, which points to the catastrophic effects of methane gas release into the atmosphere — a virtually inevitable result of hydraulic fracturing. As for returning us to the days of the cave man, solar and wind power may, in the opinion of many independent researcher, be the only safe option.   In short, the letter reads like standard corporate-funded blarney.  But here’s the twist:  the author was Dr. Gilbert Ross ’68, Medical Director of The American Council on Science and Health. A Cornellian, a doctor and a group with “science” and “health” in the name: surely an unimpeachable source.

So what is ACSH? When it was founded in 1978, the president described the Center as a non-profit, pro-consumer organization doing independent research on issues of public health. Oddly, all the Center’s “scientific” work arrived at conclusions counter to those of all other consumer advocacy groups and to the prevailing scientific consensus on topics related to public health. For example, its reports denied any link between high cholesterol levels and risk of heart attack (meaning you can eat as much junk food and sugar-enriched food as you like without worry); its report on cancer rates exonerated chemicals in the environment as a possible factor in the disease; its report on air pollution found that current levels pose no threat to health and that existing air quality controls are unnecessarily stringent; its report on 2,4,5-T (a component of Agent Orange) denied there was evidence of “any convincing relationship between the traditional use” of the herbicide “and adverse health effects in humans.” And much more.

Curious about findings like these, the well-respected Center for Science in the Public Interest reviewed the research of ACSH; its 70-page report, “Voodoo Science, Twisted Consumerism”  (1992) found that the reports were seriously flawed (in some cases “shocking” and “stunning” in their omissions and errors) and that the reports’ conclusions always favored the interests of  the corporations that contributed to the group. These sponsors included Frito-Lay, Oscar Meyer, Hershey Foods and other producers of “junk food”; companies like Bethlehem Steel, Consolidated Edison and Texas Utilities, all of which have been cited by the EPA for air pollution violations; and of course Dow Chemical and Monsanto, which manufactured Agent Orange.  Since then, the Center has become notorious for its positions (including the claim that DDT is not toxic to humans) — to the extent that The Daily Show with Jon Stewart did a send-up of its founder in 2010.

In order to grasp fully how despicable ACSH is: The false statements about the component of Agent Orange appeared at a time when thousands of Vietnam Vets, poisoned when the US government sprayed the herbicide on the forests of Vietnam, were struggling in court to receive compensation from the Federal Government. (The effects on the Vietnamese were and remain one of the major public health catastrophes of the twentieth century. An estimated 500,000 Vietnamese children have birth defects resulting from their parents’ exposure to the deadly herbicide.) The important point to grasp is that ACSH’s claims do not result from unconscious bias, or from poor judgment in its choice of sponsors, or from good intentions, or simply from shoddy work. Simply put, ACSH earns its money by lying for corporations; it has no other function. No wonder it hasn’t disclosed a list of funders since 1992. In 1991, however, the group’s list of contributors included Mobil and Shell. Its stance on fracking is therefore  unsurprising. 

ACSH isn’t important as simply another example of corporate mendacity; it’s far more important as the symptom of a grave national crisis, one that (not to be too obvious about it) may very well determine the fate of the earth. Though nobody is perfect, the only reliable way of predicting and controlling the future of our planet is through research conducted by the scientific method, independently of ideological or financial inducement — research of the sort that has made campuses like Cornell distinguished in the nation. Yet the largest effect of the corporation disinformation machine — including the politicians who are also on the payroll, like the so-called “global warming skeptics” in Congress — is to confuse the public, not just about specific issues like fracking, but about the methods and integrity of science itself. 

They get away with it, most importantly, by the collusion of the mainstream media. It’s an outrage that well-known prevaricators can appear over and over on TV and in editorial pages to “debate” their “points of view” side by side with credible experts and genuine consumer advocates. Yet most viewers are poorly protected from this sanctioned sabotage of crucial knowledge — which amounts to the denial of a fundamental democratic right. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — the freedom of speech section — states in part:  “Everyone has the right . . . to seek, receive and impart information through any media and regardless of frontiers.” It follows that citizens have the right to the most accurate and reliable knowledge available to them as citizens so that they can make informed judgments. Above all, they have the right to knowledge crucially affecting their health, safety, and well-being of themselves and their children.

They get away with it because of another reason: the silence of institutions powerful and credible enough to challenge them — including universities like Cornell, which has so far failed to speak out against irresponsible attacks on its own researchers.

So who is Dr. Ross?  When he was hired by the founder of ACSH, he had just served over a year in federal prison for medical fraud, with an added count of obstruction of justice.  (The details of scam appeared in an article in Mother Jones entitled “Calling Dr. Ross.”) In short, Dr. Ross simply moved from defrauding the government of New York to defrauding the American public — legally, and for bigger bucks.

Prof. Paul Sawyer, English

Director, Knight Institute for Writing in the Disciplines and 2011 Weiss Presidential Fellow