Nel's New Day

January 30, 2020

Health on Downward Slide under DDT

While many people fixate on the impeachment trial of Dictator Donald Trump (DDT), he is further destroying health care while causing illnesses. After polling shows that Democrats received higher approval for healthcare than Republicans, DDT attacked his HHS Secretary Alex Azar. Then he tweeted:

“I was the person who saved Pre-Existing Conditions in your Healthcare. I will always protect your Pre-Existing Conditions, the Dems will not!”

DDT fought to take healthcare protections for people in his repeal-and-replace proposals and in his support for a federal lawsuit that removes pre-existing protections in healthcare. When DDT couldn’t repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), he moved to take Medicaid from millions of people by giving states block grants for Medicaid that caps federal funding for coverage. The badly named “Healthy Adult Opportunity” allows states to turn away qualified applicants, deprive people of needed medication, and limit health benefits. Medicare/Medicaid administrator Seema Verma, who wants to remove as many people as possible from Medicaid, said, “This policy is about helping people achieve the American Dream.” Her argument is that people who can’t get Medicaid is a “good outcome” because “they don’t need the program anymore.” DDT’s plan will force many people out of nursing homes.

The GOP and DDT hope that they can wait until after this year’s election to deal with the Affordable Care Act so people won’t know that they will lose their health care with no replacement by electing GOP control. A majority of the Supreme Court has helped by denying a request to expedite the challenge to the ACA from the House of Representatives and Democratic-led states. 

A serious problem with current healthcare in the U.S. is that it allows health insurance that provides little more than “thoughts and prayers”—and the purchasers don’t know that the companies may not pay for their medical costs. “Traditional” insurance has legal requirements because of the ACA, but “alternative” coverage doesn’t have these regulations, many of them from “faith-based” providers. This fake insurance will expand with DDT’s possible new rules with workplace Health Savings Accounts. Denial of payment can come from “lifestyle” choices, “preexisting conditions” prevented in traditional insurance, and caps in coverage. For example, the Aliera plan requiring purchasers to belong to a religious group and oppose abortion, appears to have coverage. One client, however, was told to “trust in God” when the company refused to pay the $200,000 for back surgery after it told the purchaser that the cost was covered. “Faith-based” healthcare sharing “ministries” take monthly contributions from over a million people and work like GoFundMe programs. These inexpensive plans use misleading—sometime fraudulent—advertising because DDT’s executive orders give them that permission.

The religious plans were exempted from the ACA individual mandate to get votes from Democratic senators representing conservative states, and DDT succeeded in repealing the individual mandate in 2017. He also took executive action to promote insurance with substandard coverage, and the plans flourished with little or no oversight. They can refuse any claim and define “pre-existing” any way they wish, such as a broken arm. Preventative and mental health care are also not covered. Their customers lack any recourse because of no regulations and the contracts they sign.

Even people with traditional insurance pay higher premiums than anticipated from the ACA because the law lost the individual mandate that everyone have health insurance. “Healthy” people decide to not get health insurance, with their assumption that they will never need it. When they need care, they go to emergency rooms and leave the costs to the hospitals or the government.

An increasing number of people with traditional health care can’t afford medical care such as visits to doctors and medication. A study published in JAMA Internal Medicine reports that more people in the U.S. lack funds for medical care than twenty years ago. Problems come from the rise of “narrow networks, high-deductible plans, and higher co-pays.” Between 1998 and 2017, the share of adults 18-64 unable to visit doctors increased from 11 percent to 16 percent, and those with health insurance, the share rose from seven percent to almost 12 percent. Adult Canadians reported only 1 percent of adults over 45 with a chronic disease unable to meet medical needs because of high costs compared to 18.7 percent in the U.S.

Last year, 25 percent of people in the U.S. said that they or a family member postponed treatment for a serious medical condition in the past year because of cost, compared to 19 percent in the previous year. Another 8 percent reported a delay for a less serious condition, bringing the total to one-third of the U.S. population. The percentage tied that in 2014, the first year of complete ACA implementation.

Meanwhile, health insurance and drug industries make a huge profit. Insurance premiums increased 22 percent since 2014 and 54 percent in the past decade while wages remained largely flat. Deductibles increased by 36 percent since 2014 and 100 percent in the past decade. In 2018, people in the U.S. borrowed $88 billion for healthcare costs, and healthcare costs–the leading cause of bankruptcies–force 530,000 people to annually go into bankruptcy. 

Many people prefer for-profit “Medicare Advantage” plans because they get dental and eye coverage that people on traditional Medigap plans lack. This year, the program added even more “advantages” to help older people. Those who use these plans, however, may be unfamiliar with government audits showing that Medicare Advantage plans pose “an imminent and serious risk to the health of… enrollees” and overcharge taxpayers by $10 billion a year. Another report shows that the plans are not submitting accurate claims data, and they may be paid for services that they provide.  Last year, six senators described wrongdoings by several corporations including UnitedHealth Group, Aetna, Cigna and Humana—tens of billions of dollars in overcharges, failure to cover required care, inaccurate provider directories, etc.

Conservatives argue against single-payer health care with two primary reasons—they want freedom to not have health care and the system costs too much. In just 2017, U.S. insurers and healthcare providers spent $812 billion on paperwork and other administrative activities, according to a study reported in the Annals of Internal Medicine. These costs are 34.2 percent of U.S. total national health expenditures in that year and twice what Canada spends on healthcare administration in the same year. U.S. insurers and providers pent $2,497 per person on healthcare administration in 2017 compared to Canada’s cost of $551 per capita. The study found that “Medicare for All” could save over $600 billion per year, just on bureaucracy.

While DDT removes healthcare from people, he makes health worse in the United States. For decades, health professional believe that exposure to radiation can cause cancer; now DDT wants to “relax” regulations for radiation in the U.S. to “have a positive effect on human health.” According to a witness at a congressional hearing, exposure to radiation and other carcinogen that stress the body makes people healthier by putting bodies’ repair mechanisms work better, like exercise and exposure to sunlight. DDT’s transition team member Steven Milloy, who supports this idea, also denies human-made climate change and any health risks from tobacco. Milloy, a Fox consultant, also supports the use of pesticide DDT and asbestos.

DDT makes people sick in other ways. Anxiety, depression, and anger are the highest since 2007. People in the U.S. have a 20 percent higher stress rate than most of the 143 countries in the 143 countries in the Gallup poll, including Venezuela and Rwanda. For the first time, counselors see patients in therapy because of politics.

A report from the New York University Law Schools State Energy and Environmental Impact projects that the rollback of about 100 environmental protection rules will cause, in the next decade, “1,630 more incidences of premature deaths, 120,000 additional asthma attacks, and 140,000 missed school days and 48,000 lost work days.” The EPA estimates an additional 300 to 1,500 human death each year from air pollution.

A 2019 study shows that fracking is tied to skin, genital, and urinary diseases. Researchers theorize that drilling activity may be related to risky sexual behaviors. Disruptions to buried bacteria and chemical exposures in drinking water may be an affect. Other studies show links to cardiovascular and respiratory issues such as asthma.

DDT has also scrapped regulations to define “organic” beef, pork, and chicken and loosened inspections for pork which can also affect health.

A major problem from DDT’s focus rejection of education about sexual and reproductive health is the spike in rates of STI (sexually transmitted infections) within the United States. For example, gonorrhea infections increased by 82.6 percent within a decade. Almost half the states lack both sex education and HIV education, and Title X funding has been taken from many health care providers. DDT’s administration increased the budget for abstinence-only programs by 67 percent although these programs don’t work.

Much less health care with increased illness. What can go wrong?

April 10, 2017

People Fight against Climate Change

Filed under: Climate change — trp2011 @ 8:29 PM
Tags: , , , , ,

With his bombing of Syria, Dictator Donald Trump (DDT) may (or may not!) slow down his destruction of the United States. Congress won’t be revoking any orders from President Obama within two weeks because they’ve left town on their junkets. Meanwhile, the environment is winning in some areas of the United States.

A few weeks ago, DDT signed a number of orders to exacerbate climate change with the excuse that it would create jobs and save money. The bad news for him is that the increase of clean energy is moving along like a speeding train. In the United States, clean energy jobs outnumber oil and gas jobs by more than 2.5 to 1, a ratio that grows each year. Only nine states have more jobs in fossil fuels than in clean energy. Massachusetts is currently considering a bill that would mandate the state obtain all of its energy—electricity, transportation, and heating—from renewable resources by 2050, and 25 U.S. cities are committed to transitioning to renewable energy, some of them making this decision after the presidential election. Ironically, the top five wind-energy producing congressional districts have GOP representatives in Congress.

Last year, one in every 50 new jobs in the nation was in the solar industry that employs 260,000 people, double that from 2010 employments. Coal mining jobs number under 100,000 although the National Mining Association, a trade group, counted 195,494 coal-mining jobs in 2012 that included miners, support activities, and transportation. That high number has shrunk in the past five years. Since 2012, the world has brought more power online from renewables than fossil fuels.

Last year, the European Union had 86 percent of its electricity capacity from renewable sources, and Canada gets more than 80 per cent of its power from emissions-free sources and nearly two-thirds from renewable energy. India hopes to add 175 gigawatts of renewable electricity in five years, the equivalent of Canada’s entire electrical system. China adds enough solar panels to cover three soccer fields every hour. Planning to become the world leader in clean energy, China will invest $361 billion in renewable energy and create 13 million clean energy jobs by 2020.

Earlier this spring the utilities that own the massive 2,250 megawatt Navajo Generating Station in Arizona, one of the biggest polluters in the nation, will close it by 2019. Even better, the utilities may be out by the end of the year because the plant can’t keep running unless the Navajo Nation agrees to extend the lease.

In Alaska, PacRim Coal suspended all its permitting processes for a proposed $600 million Chuitna coal mine because it lost investors. The state’s largest strip mine would have destroyed 30 square miles of salmon river and forest. Cheap natural gas and growth of renewable energy is causing coal mines to stall throughout the nation.

Low oil prices have caused Exxon to leave 3.5 billion barrels of its fuel in the tar sands, following the same practice as that of other companies such as ConocoPhillips, Statoil, and Royal Dutch Shell. Instead, Statoil plans to develop a gigantic offshore wind farm off the coast of New York State.

Washington state blocked plans for the nation’s biggest coal export terminal. The Millennium Bulk Terminals project, proposed for Longview, that would export Montana and Wyoming coal to Asia.

Pawnee (OK) is filing a class-action lawsuit against dozens of fossil fuel companies, accusing them of knowingly causing destructive earthquakes by injecting wastewater underground. Since the fracking frenzy in the state, Oklahoma has had thousands of earthquakes with almost all of them traced to the process. Most of the homes in the town, population 2,300 , have been damaged from cracks in walls, foundations, and storm shelters to short-circuited electrical outlets. A 2015 study by the U.S. Geological Survey indicated that fossil fuel production is causing these earthquakes.

The Pawnee Nation is also suing after an earthquake damaged near-century-old tribal buildings.

For the first time, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection admitted a correlation between fracking and earthquakes.

Maryland’s GOP governor, Larry Hogan, has signed a bill to ban hydraulic fracturing in the state. The law follows New York that banned fracking in 2015 and Vermont in 2012. Florida is considering a ban. Environmentalists in Maryland are moving on to protect the Chesapeake Bay where DDT wants to cut over 90 percent of federal funding to restore the bay.

Small California towns are defeating fossil fuels:

  • Benicia rejected a huge crude-by-rail project from Texas’ petroleum giant Valero after it wanted to send Bakken crude through the town.
  • Oxnard is fighting California Energy Commission plans to put a large gas-fired power plant on a local beach. Now choked with power plants, landfills, and a toxic waste Superfund site, the town plans a deindustrialized beach and restored coastal wetlands.
  • Santa Paula, near Oxnard, has decided to oppose a gas-fired plant after a company sets their sites on that town following Oxnard’s rejection.
  • Arvin elected a 23-year-old councilman as mayor because he promised to protect the city’s water and air. A future plan is to ban fracking.
  • San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors rejected a Phillips 66 crude-by-rail plan to bring oil into its Nipomo Mesa refinery in a location that had long supported refinery projects.

The importance of developing renewables is growing throughout the United States.

  • An increasing number of people in the United States oppose opening federal land for oil exploration, now 53 percent up from 34 percent just five years ago.
  • Another Gallup poll shows that 59 percent of the people are more concerned about protecting the environment and limiting human pollution that energy production cost.
  • Over 70 percent prefer the development of alternative energy to that of oil, gas, and coal; and about two-thirds favor higher emissions standards, including the enforcement of regulations. Only 35 percent of the respondents favor fracking.
  • Among voters, 78 percent think climate pollution should be regulated and/or taxed.
  • A new survey from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication found that large majorities of registered U.S. voters want the federal government and businesses to do more to address climate change.
  • Most voters think the U.S. should transition to using more renewable energy and fewer fossil fuels.
  • Renewable energy is heavily supported across party lines, with 85 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of Independents, and 76 percent of Republicans agreeing that the U.S. needs more of it.
  • Sixty-nine percent of U.S. voters also want their country to participate in the Paris Agreement, a landmark climate deal reached by nearly 200 nations last year.
  • And 66 percent say the U.S. should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions whether other countries join in or not.

Looking to the future, the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum is now solar powered because it saves money.

A recent NASA study by NASA shows that rising sea levels may be almost eight inches during the past century, almost twice what they thought it would be.   One place at great danger if nothing is done to slow down climate change is DDT’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach County (FL). One of DDT’s budget cuts is the $73 million program Sea Grant along with $177 million for other NASA projects to protect communities. Other places that will probably be underwater by 2100 are AG Jeff Sessions’ hometown, Mobile (AL), and Ben Carson’s Detroit will lose drinking water to toxic algal blooms. But they’re all old and don’t care because they’ll be dead by then.

May 13, 2016

Hopeful Environmental News


GOP presumptive heir has campaigned on the position that he will let his advisors tell him what to do, and his newest advisor in helping him draft energy policy is climate change skeptic and drilling advocate Rep. Kevin Cramer from North Dakota, a major oil drilling state. Cramer stated that his white paper will show the dangers of burdensome taxes and over-regulation. Trump will present these ideas at an energy summit in Bismarck (ND) later this month. According to Cramer, the earth is cooling, not warming.

While Trump’s train chugs on, environmentalists have recently received good news.

Methane gas: The EPA announced new rules to significantly reduce methane emissions from new oil and gas facilities as well as those undergoing modifications. It’s a first step in this area because the direction, finalized later this year, is only for these wells on federal lands and not for existing ones. The regulations will cover only 25 percent of the oil and gas equipment. Methane gas worsens smog, asthma iin children, and cardiovascular disease while increasing premature death.

Fracking: The industry has suffered a $4.2 million jury award over alleged groundwater contamination from fracking. Cabot Oil and Gas Co. is supposed to give the money to families in Dimock (PA). Popular support for fracking is also shrinking to 36 percent of people in the nation last March from 40 percent the prior March. Federal regulators are also working on new environmental rules for the industry that has experienced a long price slump. The oil and gas industry is under much greater scrutiny that at the beginning of its boom ten years ago.

Renewable energy: Last Sunday morning Germany got 90 percent of its electricity demand from renewable power. Obviously, this doesn’t happen all the time: the country averages 30 percent of the country’s power from solar, wind, hydropower, and biomass. Yet that average is over 230 percent higher than in the United States that gets only 13 percent of its electricity from these energy sources. At the fourth-largest economy in the world, Germany’s $3.7 trillion GDP is higher than any European country or US state. As clean energy grew in Germany so did its economy. The country, with about as much sunshine as Alaska, outpaces the U.S. in solar although the U.S. has four times the population of Germany. German individuals drive the “energy transition” because the government opened the market to utilities, businesses, and homeowners. In contrast, the U.S. restricts clean energy through high taxes and fees on its installation and use, much of these restrictions from control on solar energy by fossil-fuel owning Koch brothers. Florida is just one example.

Coal terminals: A five-year struggle between coal and Native Americans has resulted in denial of federal permits for the biggest proposed coal terminal in North America at Cherry Point (WA). The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined that the project would violate the nation’s treaty obligations to protect Lummi fisheries and ancestral lands. The project would have overloaded the capacity of BNSF railways by adding 16 trains per day and increase the possibility of rail collisions by 22 percent through Cowlitz County and Washington. The increase in train activity would cause road delays at between four to six crossings. The company behind the project, Millennium Bulk Terminals, is still hoping to have a terminal at Longview (WA), but it had to pull its proposal when it was discovered that the company planned to ship 60 million tons of coal annual instead of the 5.7 million tons on the applications. Since Millennium applied for permits in 2012, Arch Coal, a minority shareholder, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

New clean electric generation in the United States: Last year, wind turbines and solar panels accounted for more than two-thirds of all new electric generation capacity added to the nation’s grid in 2015. The other third was natural gas fueled by natural gas. It was the second year that U.S. investment in renewable energy outpaced that of fossil fuels. The cost of emissions-free wind energy, the cheapest energy source, has dropped by two-thirds in the last six years. Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas—home states to GOP lawmakers fighting the curtailment of climate-warming carbon emissions—benefited the most from clean energy. In the past ten years, coal has dropped from providing half the nation’s electricity to one-third, and large banks will no longer finance new coal mines or coal-fired power plants. U.S. coal mines not employ only 56,700 people down from a peak of times that many employees; solar employs more than 210,000 workers, and wind energy has another 77,000 employees.

This week, the EPA issued a report that Monsanto’s Roundup, made with glyphosate, doesn’t cause cancer, but it pulled the report, marked FINAL, with the excuse that they weren’t finished. The question is whether they were being pressured by business because evidence is growing that the product is carcinogenic, as the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies the product.  Four Nebraska farmers agree with WHO and are suing Monsanto, claiming that its project gave them non-Hodkin’s lymphoma. Monsanto made $4.8 billion from Roundup sales last year, and more than 85 million pounds of glyphosate was applied to U.S. crops in 2007, more than double the 85 million pounds in 2001. Glyphosate is applied to “Roundup-ready” crops that are genetically modified to resist it and used on more than 100 varieties of crops in commercial agriculture. The complaint states:

 “Glyphosate is found in rivers, streams, and groundwater in agricultural areas where Roundup is used. It has been found in food, the urine of exposed persons, and in the urine of urban dwellers without direct contact with glyphosate.”

Last year California was the first state to label Roundup as a carcinogen, and Monsanto sued the state to fight this designation. Cancers most associated with glyphosate exposure are non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other blood cancers, including lymphocytic lymphoma/chronic lymphocytic leukemia, B-cell lymphoma, and multiple myeloma. The farmers’ lawsuit isn’t the first: Monsanto faces at least 700 lawsuits against Monsanto or Monsanto-related entities regarding cancer caused by PCBs that the company manufactured until the late 1970s. California federal judge Vince Chhabria has also refused to dismiss a lawsuit about Monsanto’s causing cancer with Roundup.

More and more media sources no longer have journalists but instead rely on press releases from companies who benefit from lying about science. Even most existing journalists aren’t well enough trained in science to spot misinformation.  In an attempt to disseminate accurate scientific information, a group of scientists are now fact-checking scientific information in the media through a new project called Climate Feedback. They started on a small scale over a year ago and are now crowdfunding $30,000 to build the project’s capacity with new weekly feedbacks. Associate Editor Daniel Nethery said:

“Several aspects of the online media environment make it particularly conducive to the spread of misinformation. In the race to attract the most clicks, editorial standards may suffer, qualified journalists who carry out rigorous research may become cost-ineffective, and eye-catching headlines — ‘click bait’ — can trump more sober reporting of the facts.”

Nethery and co-founder Emmanuel Vincent plan to hire a dedicated editor and encourage accurate science writing through a Scientific Trust Tracker to guide readers sources with “journalists with integrity.” An example of their work can be found in their analysis of James Taylor’s article in Forbes, “2015 Was Not Even Close To Hottest Year On Record.”

Climate Feedback will need a lot more money in this election cycle!

February 2, 2016

Good News Despite Iowa Caucus

The Iowa caucus yesterday was a disaster for country that claims to be a democracy. Want to vote for a presidential candidate? Go to a corner and get counted. Want to decide on a delegate? Toss a coin. Want to have somebody run a caucus? Pick somebody who just showed up to vote and is clueless about structure and responsibilities?  Then there’s the winner. Marco Rubio came out first to declare himself a victor because he got third place for the Republicans—something accurately predicted by polls.

Then there’s the super PAC called Black Americans for a Better Future. Every donor is white. Of the $417,250 received in donations, $400,000 came from Robert Mercer, hedge-fund sugar daddy for Ted Cruz. The sole beneficiary of the super PAC is Raynard Jackson, a GOP black political consultant based in Washington, D.C. The money is  for events encouraging blacks to join the Republican party.

While the Iowa caucus controlled media content, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) admitted that he and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC), current chair of the Benghazi investigation, created the attack on Hillary Clinton to keep a Democrat from being elected president. They hope that the committee’s persecution and pushing Clinton’s emails can cause her to lose to “a devout socialist who wants to nationalize almost everything in America,” according to Issa. That can be the rationale for concentrating on her emails and overlooking other high-profile leaders  who use private servers for their government emails.

While House members constantly attack Clinton and repeal health care, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) protects his party members by doing nothing for the next nine months. No decision about ISIS, no criminal justice reform legislation, and probably no trade deals. Sens. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) claim that the Senate doesn’t even need to pass a budget, despite the GOP complaints about the Dems in the same position. McConnell plans to string out the 12 annual appropriation bills to appear that he’s doing something.  Of the 34 seats up for re-election in the Senate, 24 are held by Republicans including Johnson and Portman. Losing five of those seats turns the majority in the Senate back to the Democrats.

People of the United States did experience a victory last Friday. For a few months, the United States won’t be giving out any new permits to frack for oil or gas off the California coast in the Santa Barbara Channel off Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, where Exxon Mobil and other oil companies operate platforms. The settlement from the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles also requires the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to analyze the environmental dangers of offshore fracking and acidization under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). After the deadline of May 28, 2016, the public has at least 30 days to review and comment on the assessment.

Over 200 cases of fracking in state and federal waters off California have rubber-stamped permits from federal regulators, and the oil industry dumps over 9 billion gallons of wastewater into the ocean off the California coast every year. At least ten fracking chemicals routinely used offshore kills marine life, including otters and fish. Some of the many fish species that could be harmed by fracking pollution include white seabass, sand and kelp (calico) bass, lingcod, sheephead, ocean whitefish, yellowtail, bonito, barracuda, yellowfin tuna, sculpin, yellow croaker, barred surfperch and dozens of species of rockfish.

The settlement could affect oversight of all federally permitted offshore fracking, including that in the Gulf of Mexico which has never had any environmental review. The Marine Life Protection Act of 1999 could protect these species, but it has never been fully implemented and enforced, with no protection for ocean pollution, fracking, oil drilling, oil spills, military testing, corporate aquaculture, and all human impacts other than sustainable fishing and gathering.

A state panel to determine so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California between 2009 and 2012 was led by a oil industry lobbyist. Catherine Reheis-Boyd, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force as her industry fracked the waters with little or no government oversight. State officials promised to review the “marine protected areas” every five years but changed to 10-year reviews.

Conservatives angry about protecting the ocean are also going to be furious about Facebook’s announcement that it will ban users from selling guns on both its main site and its photo-sharing site Instagram. Licensed gun dealers can still post with the requirement that they do not conduct purchases on the site, but it applies to the private gun sales not requiring background checks in most states.

Facebook rules cover gun parts and ammunition as well as guns. Federal laws don’t cover guns if they are 80 percent or less complete, like an “unfinished lower receiver.” In this way, people can buy “incomplete” guns without serial numbers or background checks, and people can buy these parts and put them together for an untraceable gun. Some websites even sell the machines to complete receivers with the promise that buyers can build unserialized firearms legally in your own home. The federal government can’t block this, but Facebook can decide what it doesn’t want to sell—such as marijuana, pharmaceuticals, or other potentially illegal objects.

With one debate before next Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary, media will be consumed by presidential candidates. At least that state uses real ballots. Both parties debate next week—Dems on February 11 and GOP on February 13—before decisions on a Democratic candidate in Nevada and the GOP candidate in South Carolina on February 20. The two parties can’t even vote on the same day in those states: Democrats wait another week to vote in South Carolina and the GOP won’t caucus in Nevada until February 23. Four weeks from today is Super Tuesday with a solid dozen states. Maybe that will produce a decision—or not.

Martin O’Malley on the Democratic side and Mike Huckabee on the GOP side have both dropped out. Huckabee, who won the Iowa caucus in 2008, said, “The voters are sick of me.” In the 2012 Iowa caucus, the first winner was Mitt Romney. After Iowa GOP decided they made a mistake, they selected Rick Santorum and then went on to declare Ron Paul the real winner. The next dropout may be John Kasich who said that he’ll be gone if he doesn’t do well in New Hampshire. No one knows what Donald Trump will decide.

Ted Cruz’s campaign has outdone Trump’s outrageousness by spreading the news during the Iowa caucus that Ben Carson was planning to drop out of the race. Later Cruz apologized, calling it a “mistake” but said that it was “fair game” to update his “grassroot leaders” that “Dr. Carson was not carrying on to New Hampshire and South Carolina.” Twenty minutes after the caucuses began in Iowa, Rep. Steve King (R-IA), the Cruz campaign’s national co-chair, tweeted, “Carson looks like he is out. Iowans need to know before they vote. Most will go to Cruz, I hope.”

Cruz had already gained the ire of Iowa’s secretary of state after Cruz sent mailers that misrepresented state election law. A warning of a “voting violation” in capital letters at the top of the page was followed by that statement that people were receiving notice “because of low expected voter turnout in your area.” The flier continued, “Your individual voting history as well as your neighbors’ are public record. Their scores are published below, and many of them will see your score as well. CAUCUS ON MONDAY TO IMPROVE YOUR SCORE and please encourage your neighbors to caucus as well. A follow-up notice may be issued following Monday’s caucuses.” After that were a list of names, letter grades, and percentage scores.


The highlight of my week will be the Democratic debate on MSNBC Thursday, February 4–if it happens. Moderator Rachel Maddow will moderate, and Fox can watch to see how debates should be run. It’s still up in the air because Bernie Sanders first said he wanted the debate, but now he says he won’t debate unless Hillary Clinton agrees to his conditions on future debates.

And the joke that the U.S. calls democracy continues.


October 17, 2015

Fracking May Destroy the Country

Filed under: Environment — trp2011 @ 8:52 PM
Tags: , ,

Michael Steele’s war cry of “Drill, baby, drill” became the mantra during Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign after the former RNC chair delivered it at the 2008 GOP convention. The slogan changed to “Spill, baby, spill” after the gigantic BP Deepwater Horizon disaster that killed 11 people and dumped almost 5 million barrels into the Gulf of Mexico. Trailing Donald Trump and Ben Carson at 13 percent as well as failing to bring in donations, presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) may move to a slogan of “Frack, baby, frack!” In Ohio he called for reversing EPA regulations on fracking and greenhouse emissions, allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling, nullifying President Obama’s international climate change accord, and immediately allowing the Keystone XL Pipeline to be finished.

Rubio’s wish list would dismantle Obama’s carbon pollution rules, speed up approval of natural-gas export terminals,  and stop environmental groups from suing the government. Solar and wind energy would disappear. In returning to total dependence on fossil fuels, he called opponent Hillary Clinton “an outdated leader” whose policies are a misguided attempt at “changing the weather.”

Like changing his views on immigration, Rubio has “evolved,” or perhaps a better term is “regressed” in his positions on fossil fuels. Florida state legislature Speaker Marco Rubio listed clean energy as a priority in 2007. He predicted that greenhouse gas emissions were inevitable and called on Florida to become “an international model of energy efficiency and independence” and the “Silicon Valley” of clean energy. He modified this approach in his party’s rebuttal to the president’s 2013 State of the Union speech by retaining interest in solar and wind energy with a focus on extracting fossil fuels. Now he has entirely dropped clean energy.

More than 270,000 wells have been fracked in 25 states, and over 10 million people live within one mile of a fracking site that damages health, water, land, and air. The third edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking includes over 100 studies showing why areas such as the state of New York were right to ban fracking.


  • People living near fracking made 27 per cent more hospital visits for treatment for heart conditions than in other areas (Study of drilling in Pennsylvania between 2007 and 2011)
  • Cardiology and neurological in-patient prevalence rates were significantly higher in areas closer to active wells.
  • Hospitalizations for skin conditions, cancer and urological problems also increased with proximity to wells.
  • Prenatal exposure to fracking chemicals may interrupt hormonal functioning including lower male fertility in adulthood with low sperm count and enlarged testicles.
  • Premature births are 40 percent higher among women in areas of intense drilling, and women’s pregnancies are 30 percent more likely to be “high-risk.” Premature births are linked to breathing problems, cerebral palsy, hearing and vision impairments, neurological disabilities, and infant deaths. (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health)
  • People living near natural gas wells are more than twice as likely to report respiratory and skin conditions. (Yale University)
  • Higher levels of cancer-causing chemicals are in drinking water near fracking sites. (Texas researchers)

In an effort to stop studies in Oklahoma, billionaire oil tycoon Harold Hamm tried to persuade the University of Oklahoma to fire scientists studying the link between fracking and earthquake frequency and threatened to get the Oklahoma Geological Survey moved from the school. Hamm served as an adviser on energy policy on Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

Rubio may not understand the dangers of fracking to life if he follows only publications from the oil and gas industry. Although a new set of research shows that Texas methane emissions are 50 percent higher than estimated, Energy in Depth from the fossil fuel industry said that rising emissions are falling because of the paltry voluntary efforts. Texas claims that it needs to regulations to remedy the problem, but that state is failing while Colorado, Ohio, and Wyoming are taking steps toward leak detection and repair requirements for oil and gas operations.

Even the patent holder on a device that measures methane emissions thinks that it could be faulty by underrecording leakage rages. The sampler must be frequently recalibrated as methane levels rise above the capacity of the first sensor on the device.

Perhaps Rubio will agree with the EPA’s study concluding that found no “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources.” Data for the poorly designed study came from the oil and gas industry that blocked direct monitoring of fracking operations. No baseline water testing was allowed before the final tests. One study of southwestern Pennsylvania fracking wells last year found that the wells released methane at rates 100 to 1,000 times higher than estimates by the EPA. Methane concentration of residential water wells at Pennsylvania homes one mile from fracking wells was six times higher than in homes located farther away from wells.

Maryland has banned fracking for 30 months while it determines regulations for the practice, but Oklahoma has banned bans on fracking after Texas told cities and towns that they were forced to permit fracking. Campaign donations trump fracking problems in Oklahoma as in Norman where hundreds of thousands of people have potentially tainted drinking water after careless disposal of fracking wastewater. The new law also prevents any city policies to ensure the water is safe.

No one may be protected from unsafe drinking water because of the Halliburton Loophole in the Energy Policy Act of 2005. Named after then-Vice-president Dick Cheney’s corporation, the provision exempts fracking from key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act and allows the oil and gas industry to conceal the ways that they pollute on a grand scale. The same law also made the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) able to rubber-stamp federal, state, and local decisions about fossil fuels from accountability to Congress and the White House.

Despite Oklahoma’s bans on bans, the state Supreme Court has determined that people subjected to earthquakes caused by oil and gas operations can sue the company for damages. The industry wanted cases resolved by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) instead of the courts. Oklahoma has a seriously growing problem with fracking earthquakes with an unprecedented average of ten a day. Before fracking started in 2009, the state annually averaged two quakes of greater than 3.0 magnitude.

Less than a month after the OCC ordered companies to shut down or decrease usage of five saltwater disposal wells near Cushing, an earthquake of 4.5 hit the area a week ago. The day before, an earthquake of 4.4 magnitude hit just 80 miles away. Thus far, regulators have issued rules for only 23 of the state’s 3,500 wells.

One-fifth of the U.S. commercial crude oil storage capacity is located near this earthquake site, and the 87 million-barrel capacity is almost full because low oil prices are causing the energy industry to hoard the crude. Steve Agee, an economist and Dean of the Meinders School of Business at Oklahoma City University, said that the supply of crude has outpaced worldwide demand, drastically bringing down oil prices that hover around $50 a barrel up from $37.75 in August. Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates, said that the national inventory of 457.9 million barrels is the highest in almost 80 years.

Oklahoma isn’t alone in earthquake problems: Kansas joined Oklahoma to have 42 earthquakes of 2.5 magnitude in one week—17 percent of the earthquakes in the world—up from 1.5 of these quakes each year. The water, sand, and toxic chemicals shot into the bedrock at extremely high pressures destabilizes the bedrock, reactivates long-dormant fault lines, and causes man-made earthquakes. The Oklahoma/Kansas area of Woodford shale sits above the mid-continent rift, a billion-year old fault line buried more than a mile below the surface. As the number of earthquakes grows, the area of occurrence increases, going as far as Oklahoma City which has no main fracking wells. The earthquakes are also becoming more powerful with the potential to provide significant local damage—such as blowing up the 87 million barrels of oil at Cushing.

At the same time, air pollution travels hundreds of miles into states with little or no fracking. Ethane measurements increased by 30 percent between 2010 and 2013 in Washington, D.C. Maybe Marco Rubio is not as safe as he thinks he is.

March 14, 2015

Fracking Affects Everyone

Until this year, large oil and gas corporations have successfully hidden the contents of its fracking fluid, the chemicals that is added to water and sand to release oil and gas. All people knew was that it caused health problems and probably deaths from the pollution of water, soil, and air. In 2013, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a law requiring disclosure of these chemicals and established air and water monitoring near fracking sites. This month the state stopped some drilling because it threatened drinking water sources, and officials admitted that they violated federal law because they hadn’t protected water sources from fracking pollution. A report stated that, in addition to excessive amounts of carcinogenic chemicals, the wastewater carried thousands of times more radioactive radium than considered safe by the state’s public health goals. The reporting in some areas is incomplete, and records are missing.

These chemicals cause health problems from headaches and nausea to benign and malignant tumors. Families living near a fracking site in California found black water smelling of sewage pouring out their taps. One woman reported that her dog has cancer and one of her daughters has skin issues. The Golden State Water Company has vouched for the water’s safety although it has not done any tests.

A Texas of University study found 18 times the safe amount of arsenic in U.S. drinking water. The closer the source to fracking sites, the higher the levels of arsenic. Investigators also found excessive amounts of other deadly chemicals such as selenium, strontium, ethanol, and methanol. Toxic chemicals and gas found in Wyoming led to residents being advised to no longer drink tap water or shower/bath in an unventilated room. The EPA research study has been turned over to the state of Wyoming where its funding comes from the company under investigation for the contamination.

The U.S. Geological Survey has also found that fracking is the main reason for the great increase in earthquakes throughout the central United States, something that other studies have long indicated.  From 1975 to 2008, Oklahoma averaged one to three earthquakes of magnitude 3 or greater a year. That number began to skyrocket with 564 quakes with a magnitude of 3 or greater in 2014, almost six times as many as the year before. Nineteen were magnitude 4 or over. With a 22,900-percent increase in tectonic events since 2008, Oklahoma now has three times as many earthquakes as California. Oklahoma scientists have known about the link between fracking and earthquakes for at least five years but kept quite to keep in gas and oil industry happy. These earthquakes are moving across the border into Kansas, and a new study again shows that fracking is causing earthquakes in Ohio.

Municipalities in Ohio can also not protect themselves from fracking through local ordinances as New York state has done in the past. The state Supreme Court ruled by a 4-3 vote that the state has “exclusive authority” and that cities and counties can neither ban nor regulate fracking through zoning laws or other restrictions. For now, oil and gas companies have won in Ohio.

Fracking is also rapidly depleting the water supply in the United States. One well requires 4 million gallons, the same consumption as 3,000 families for ten years. The U.S. has 1.1 million wells. Parts of California are suffering the worst drought in 1,200 years, and last year frackers poured more than 3 billion gallons of polluted drinking water into aquifers in just that state.

Of the nearly 40,000 oil and gas wells drilled since 2011, three-quarters were located in areas where water is scarce, and 55% were in areas experiencing drought. Fracking those wells used 97 billion gallons of water, half of this water in Texas which expects to double production in the next five years. In the heart of Texas, local aquifer levels have dropped by up to 300 feet over the last few years, and many west Texas reservoirs are at 25-percent capacity. Twenty-nine communities across Texas could run out of water in 90 days.

After municipalities tired of taking their fracking concerns to a deaf Texas legislature, Denton passed a ban on fracking. Legislators are now trying to move any control to the state where “the expertise is,” according to state Rep. Phil King.

Ohio has also suffered from a number of explosions from fracking. In December 25 families were evacuated for at least three days because of a natural-gas leak that crews couldn’t stop and could explode at any time. Last May, a blowout spilled oil into a Ohio river tributary, a source of drinking water for residents. The next month, a fire at a Halliburton fracking site blew up trucks while thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals spilled into a Ohio river tributary, killing 70,000 fish. A well rupture in October caused 400 families to be evacuated. That was a few days after a worker at a fracking site was burned and a pipeline ignited several acres of woods. Ohio law doesn’t require fracking companies to reveal the chemicals that they use.

Almost a year ago, Colorado investigated a spike in fetal abnormalities such as low birth weight and congenital heart defects on the state’s western slope near a large number of natural gas wells. Although the state reported that it found no connection between the wells and the fetal abnormalities, glaring gaps existed in their examination, including a lack of water testing. Scientists affiliated with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) have determined that oil and gas operations on Colorado’s front range are pumping almost seven times more benzene into the air than previously estimated.

Health problems, water shortage, food contamination, earthquakes, explosions—these are a few of the problems from fracking. And there are more:

  • Housing Crisis: As a large number of people move to small towns for work at the wells, property owners double or triple the rents, forcing life-long residents to leave their homes.
  • More Public Assistance: New money in small towns drives up inflation, leaving formerly self-sufficient people no longer able to provide for themselves.
  • Traffic Jams: Trucks making thousands of trips to haul away hazardous material monopolize streets, and emergency vehicles may not get to critical areas in a timely fashion.
  • Truck Crashes: Some of the highest rates of vehicle accidents occur in fracking towns, especially on rural roads. Crashes are especially disastrous when trucks carry waste material and natural gas, annually costing fracking counties an additional $28 million.
  • Increased Crime and Arrests: Transient natural gas workers tend to cause more trouble; law enforcement officers in fracking towns have reported a 17-percent increase in disorderly conduct arrests.
  • Alcoholism: Bored workers with time and money to spend drink more, resulting in a spike in bar brawls and less safe communities. Officers also see a 12-percent jump in public intoxication arrests.
  • Sexual Assault: Popular fracking in North Dakota has led to one of the highest single men to women ratios in the country with 20 percent more single men than available women in fracking towns. Spikes in sexual assault cases have led to women being harassed and followed in public.
  • Sexually Transmitted Infections: Rural Pennsylvania hospitals found an increase of over 30 percent in rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea after fracking arrived, a 60-percent higher infection rate than in non-fracked areas.

People who live in areas where they don’t directly suffer from air and water issues, proximity to explosions and earthquakes, and loss of land may think that fracking is not their problem. Yet companies are going farther afield to dump radioactive waste, as North Dakota ships it to places such as Idaho, Colorado, Utah, and Montana.     Even worse is the way that the radioactive waste permeates the entire food and water supply across the nation. Exposed animals and fish have made their way into the food system, and vegetables and fruit are grown in contaminated soil. Eating food contaminated with radium and other heavy metals leads to cancer and other health problems. Fracking is a problem for everyone.

December 24, 2014

Thank you, Santa!

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This week Santa was joined by Mrs. Claus and seven elves in an environmental protest following nine weeks of protesting that saw 170 arrests. Monday’s arrests followed 28 arrests a week ago led by many prominent local musicians the day after 41 arrests led by local teachers. Crestwood Mainstream, a Texas fracking company, wants to dump two billion cubic feet of explosive methane gas in salt mines near the shores of Seneca Lake in upstate New York. The New York State DEC temporarily halted plans to stockpile propane and butane (LPG) due to ongoing concerns for safety, health and the environment, but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) gave approval for the storage despite geological instabilities, fault lines, possible salinization of the lake, and public health concerns. [Photo credit, We Are Seneca Lake.]


The unlined salt caverns, formed by decades of salt mining, date back to the Erie Canal days of New York’s history and are not designed to serve as vessels for highly pressurized, explosive gases. FERC gave approval for storage in a cavern that has had a history of instability, including a collapsed roof. Repressurizing the cavern with compressed gas can force brine or methane through cracks and fissures.

Salt caverns are more prone to catastrophic accidents than the other more common types of underground storage for natural gas or liquefied petroleum gas. Eighteen instances of catastrophic failure of underground gas storage facilities, all in salt cavern facilities, have occurred since 1972. Several have included explosions with fire and death as well as evaluations of entire towns. A 2001 explosion in Kansas came from gas migrating seven miles to Hutchinson where the methane rose to the surface in abandoned brine wells. The explosion killed two people, destroyed buildings, and required the evaluation of residents.

In trying to justify their claim that storing methane in the salt caverns was not a serious problem, Crestwood used the number of catastrophic occurrences in all types of gas storage facilities, not just salt caverns. Although a small percentage of the gas storage facilities, they account for all the catastrophic incidents. The safety of highly pressurized natural gas stored in a salt cavern beneath the bank of a large lake that serves as a drinking water source has never been evaluated. Seneca Lake is a drinking water source for 100,000 people, and salt contamination cannot be remediated. Last summer Crestwood Midstream was at fault in a million-gallon spill of toxic fracking waste into a drinking water reservoir in tribal land in North Dakota. The accident killed vegetation, poisoned the soil, and threatened Lake Sakakawea.

The area near the proposed storage is a renowned part of New York’s grape and wine industry that annually contributes $4.8 billion to the state’s economy. The Finger Lakes area was also named the #1 Lake Vacation in the world last year. Over 20 million people visit the area each year.

Among those opposing Crestwood’s actions are more than 200 businesses, more than 60 wineries, 11 municipalities (including neighboring Watkins Glen), and thousands and thousands of residents in the Finger Lakes region who are concerned about the threat it poses to human health, drinking water and the local economy, including the tourism industry.

Santa, aka Stefan Senders, explained his participation in the protests by saying, “The North Pole is melting fast due to climate change and I felt we should throw our considerable weight behind this nice bunch of folks called “We Are Seneca Lake.’ “

Sandra Steingraber, a biologist, further explained:

“As a greenhouse gas, methane is carbon dioxide’s younger and more dangerous brother. Methane is eighty-six times more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. Methane will inevitably leak from this facility as well as the surrounding pipeline infrastructure.”

santaarrested2 When he tried to block the gates of the facility, Santa and his party were charged with trespassing and disorderly conduct in front of children. As he was hauled off in handcuffs, he called out to them, “Don’t worry, boys and girls, I’ll be out of jail in time to deliver your presents.” Santa is already giving children their presents—trying to save the planet.

December 17, 2014

Don’t Frack in New York

In a first for the country, New York has tentatively banned hydraulic fracturing—better known as fracking—because of health risks. State officials concluded that the method of extracting natural gas contaminates air and water. Fracking uses water and chemicals to obtain the gas in deeply buried shale deposits. Former Gov. David Paterson issued a moratorium in 2008 which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo continued after he took office in 2011. Dozens of local governments have legally banned fracking through land use regulations, according to a state Supreme Court decision last summer.

Acting state health commissioner, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, said the review came down to one question: Would he want to live in a community that allowed fracking? His answer was no. Fracking supporters claim that the practice contributes to local economies, particularly in the huge Marcellus Shale that spreads across New York, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Opponents worried about the state’s watersheds and aquifers as well as tourism and quality of life in upstate communities.

One person well aware of fracking problems is Louis W. Allstadt, a retired executive vice president of Mobil oil. He ran the company’s exploration and production operations in the western hemisphere before he retired in 2000 and was also in charge of its marketing and refining in Japan, and managed its worldwide supply, trading and transportation operations for 31 year. In addition, he oversaw Mobil’s side of its merger with Exxon, creating the world’s largest corporation. An interview with him is here.

New studies examining the health effects of fracking indicate that this research is relatively new. The Compendium of Scientific, Medical and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking by the Concerned Health Professionals of NY examines the results of many studies for its conclusions regarding potential harm from fracking and reports:

“A significant body of evidence has emerged to demonstrate that these activities are inherently dangerous to people and their communities. Risks include adverse impacts on water, air, agriculture, public health and safety, property values, climate stability and economic vitality.”

Fortunately, the study has found a great increase in recent research, possibly one daily for the past two years, and plans to update its compendium every six months. In encouraging Cuomo to ban fracking, Dr. Larysa Dyrszka said:

“The longer we look at fracking, the more trouble we find. There is no split debate within the scientific literature.”

People who think that fracking makes landowners wealthy need to look at farmers in Pennsylvania. People who owned a great deal of land and sold at exactly the right time may have profited, but everyone else has lost, because of unexpected costs or water contamination. A member of the Bradford County Planning Commission has three shale gas wells on his land, but signing the lease meant costs for setting up an LLC ($22,000), pre-drilling water testing ($14,500), and the loss of a tax credit for farmland which raised the assessment per acre from $500 per acre to a commercial property assessment of $2,500 with taxes due retroactively. After a division of Chesapeake Energy deducted costs from his royalties, the man was paid $0.10 for the gas produced on his 359-acre farm. State law requires a minimum of 12.5 percent of the gas value produced on the land in royalties, but a 2010 state Supreme Court ruling opened a loophole allowing a diversity of costs, many times retroactive.

Another man, whose girlfriend signed a lease, cannot use the contaminated water from the well on his property. He said his first check was about $3,000 which quickly dropped to $58. The royalties have stopped because contamination forced the wells to be cut off.

In addressing the questions of economy, Deborah Goldberg, managing attorney for Earthjustice, described the negative economic impacts on communities. The boom-and-bust result of temporary industries produces growth only in “burger flipping, trailer parks, drugs and prostitution.” Meanwhile, dairy farmers and carpentry workers in Pennsylvania were negatively impacted through livestock death from toxin exposures and lumber becoming a rare commodity after it was used to fill well packs. When the oil and gas industry disappears, nothing of the former economy is left.

The failure of wells to be profitable might support a new bill to ban fracking on publicly owned lands. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) are trying to preserve lands preserved for recreation, tourism, history, and culture. Currently, 90 percent federally managed lands are available for oil and gas leasing, including fracking, with just 10 percent protected exclusively for conservation, recreation, wildlife and cultural heritage. Oil and gas companies already have leased over 36 million acres of public land and want to use another 12 million acres in national forests and land adjoining national parks.

Unfortunately, the $1.1 trillion spending bill includes a provision to streamline permitting for fracking on U.S. public lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a unit of the US Department of Interior. The BLM has failed to inspect more than half of the so-called “high priority” wells, which required more attention to prevent water and environmental contamination.

Abandoned wells are leaking huge amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 86 times more effective in trapping heat than CO2 and responsible for about 25 percent of human-created global warming. Two new studies show that unreported methane is leaking from millions of unused oil and gas wells throughout the nation. Of 19 abandoned wells investigated in northwestern Pennsylvania, all leaking methane, the Princeton University study reported that only one is on the state’s list of abandoned wells. Three of the wells emitted methane at thousands of times the levels of the other 16. A University of Texas study showed that 20 percent of the investigated sites emitted far more than the rest. The U.S. has no system to monitor wells to see which ones emit the high levels or to determine what should be done with those that are.

Last summer, California officials shut down 11 oil and gas waste injection sites and ordered a review more than 100 others in the agricultural Central Valley for fear that companies were pumping fracking fluids and other toxic waste into drinking water aquifers. The state has protected only a fraction of the waters that the federal Safe Drinking Water Act requires. Although California has been hit with a number of storms bringing water to the drought-ridden area, the rainfall doesn’t even put a dent in the state’s drought problems.

San Benito County, one of the smallest counties in California, managed to pass an anti-fracking ordinance with only $130,000 against oil companies that spent $2 million opposing the initiative. Mendocino and Santa Cruz counties, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles had already passed fracking bans. Bully oil isn’t through: they’re suing the San Benito County for $1.2 billion because of the company’s claim that they are entitled to frack under the agricultural ground, destroying the agritourism future of wineries, organic farms and small inns.

In another victory for protecting the planet, President Obama withdrew Alaska’s Bristol Bay from future oil and gas drilling. Its fishing industry generates $2 billion per year by providing 40 percent of the wild-caught fish in the United States. One of the world’s largest wild salmon runs in the bay annually provides $100 million in tourism, and the location is home to many endangered species including orcas and beluga and the North Pacific right whale. A decision on a bigger threat to the bay, the huge proposed gold and copper Pebble Mine, is still pending. [Popular culture junkies will know that Bristol Bay is the namesake of Sarah Palin’s daughter.]

New York’s ruling is hopefully just the tip of the iceberg in stopping indiscriminate pollution of the United States through fracking. San Benito County may have only 57,000 residents, but New York state has almost 20 million—and a lot more money if the fracking industry decides to sue them.

November 12, 2014

Texas Refuses to Follow Vote of the People

Elections have consequences. Republicans are very fond of saying this, but they rarely accept the “will of the people.” The November 4 election that swept more GOP candidates into the U.S. Senate also made Denton the first city in Texas to ban fracking by a 59-percent majority. Voters did this in the midst of the Barnett Shale basin where the “father of fracking,” George Mitchell drilled the first sample wells for his company, Mitchell Energy. Immediately, the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Oil and Gas Association filed lawsuits to stop the ban.

The incoming land commissioner is George P. Bush, latest in the Bush dynasty to be connected to the oil industry. The legal complaint was filed by the firm Baker Botts; James A. Baker III, a partner at the firm gave P. Bush $10,000 for his campaign. (His race was also funded by hundreds of thousands of dollars from other companies in the oil and gas industry.) Co-counsel in the lawsuit has close ties with the Texas Supreme Court and Justice Antonin Scalia. P. Bush’s father, Jeb Bush, works for Britton Hill Holdings which has investments in a fracking company.

Denton has company in banning fracking. It was one of four bans approved this month—two in California and one in Athens (OH). The Texas town may be the only place, however, where the state blithely ignores the decision of voters. Christi Craddick, the chief regulator for the oil and gas industries in Texas, will override the vote:

 “It’s my job to give permits, not Denton’s. We’re going to continue permitting up there because that’s my job.”

It’s also Craddick’s job to deny permits when warranted. Denton has one of the most mined cities in all of Texas: corporations have pumped more than $1 billion in gas from underneath the town. The campaign to keep fracking brought in over 30 times as much as the frack-banning position, $685,000 to $24,000. The massive donations from frackers make Craddick look foolish when she claimed that voters were too “misinformed” on the subject to be able to cast a vote.

Frackers declare that no one can prove that their industry is causing the pollution and health problems, but scientists have developed a way to identify when fracking wastes results in environmental contamination through tracking isotopic fingerprints of boron and lithium. The new science reveals that fracking has caused far more risks of drinking water contamination from this wastewater even after the water is treated. In 2012, fracking wells in the United States produced 280 billion gallons of wastewater, a horrifying statistic because over 55 percent of fracked wells are in drought areas.

Large corporations have attempted to keep the locations of their fracking wells secret so people cannot blame them for illness and death. Researchers on health are now obtaining this information from SkyTruth, a West Virginia nonprofit that uses satellite and aerial imagery to study the environmental impacts of oil- and gas-drilling, deforestation, mining, etc. The company has discovered 500 new fracking ponds in just Pennsylvania, up from 11 in less than a decade.

Frackers have illegally dumped almost 3 billion gallons of wastewater through at least nine injection disposal wells into central California aquifers that supply drinking water and farming irrigation, resulting in high levels of arsenic, thallium, and nitrates. Thallium is used in rat poison, and arsenic compromises the immune system’s ability to fight illness and causes cancer. Benzene, toluene, and other harmful chemicals is found at levels hundreds of times higher than what is considered safe. California has an estimated 2,583 wastewater injection wells; 1,552 are currently active.

The flowback water can also be dangerously radioactive, as can the sludge left over from drilling. Last summer, Pennsylvania was scheduled to ship its old drilling sludge to Michigan, home to 84 percent of the nation’s fresh water supply. On the other hand, Ohio just hands out permits to put all the radioactive sludge in instate dumps.

A study in September found that people near fracking wells are twice as likely to have upper-respiratory and skin problems. Earlier studies connect fracking to birth defects, higher lung disease risks, and elevated endocrine-disrupting chemical activity in groundwater.

The health impact on people also hits agriculture, causing concerns about food safety. Animals infected by toxins can pass those along through meat, milk, and eggs. In one study, half the cattle exposed to a contaminated water source died, 17 of them within one hour. Necropsies found lesions in the lung, trachea, liver and kidneys. A high incidence of stillborn and stunted calves occurred in the other half. The same number of cattle with no exposure in another pasture had no health or growth problems. High salinity in wastewater threatens crops and farming soil.

A new study has also found contaminated water from defective well production in Texas and Pennsylvania. Instead of blaming the wastewater, researchers said that the leakage comes from faulty cement casing on the wells. The newest wells, especially in northwestern Pennsylvania, provide the biggest risks. The higher failure rate may be the longer horizontal distances that puts pressure on the casings. In September, Pennsylvania released information about 243 cases of contamination of private drinking wells from fracking in 22 counties after the state Supreme Court ordered that this information be made public. In the same month, state health experts claimed that the Department of Health was telling employees not to talk to residents about fracking-related health effects.

Other scientists have discovered much greater methane emissions from fracking than the EPA previously disclosed. By 2015, the EPA will require drillers to capture methane in the completion process and turn it into liquid that can then be sold. Methane in this stage of fracking fell 73 percent. Unfortunately, the EPA reported that emissions at other stages of fracking significantly increased, and scientists found that the natural gas methane leakage is much greater than the EPA estimates. Methane is several dozen times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide.

New research also shows a much greater connection between fracking and earthquakes than earlier realized. Although fracking itself may not be a great cause, a large number of them—and those of greater magnitude—are caused by wastewater injection. In early October 2013, after fracking began in Harrison County (OH) almost 200 quakes occurred in just two days. The number of quakes diminished after fracking ended. The same thing happened in the Youngstown/Mahoning Valley region after fracking started there.

Frackers are also destroying the environment by mining sand.  One single well demands 4 million pounds of sand, precisely Northern White sand. Residents in Wisconsin and Minnesota now suffer truck traffic, silica dust, and breathing problems. The dust causes silicosis, swelling in the lungs and lymph nodes that restricts breathing. Not satisfied with the 4 million pounds per well, the industry is using extra sand because the U.S. Commerce Department lets it export unrefined ultralight oil. Individual mining operations also require between 420 thousand and 2 million gallons of water each day. A by-product of the mining is acrylamide, a carcinogenic neurotoxin.

The industry plans to expand sand mining into Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia. A by-product of the mining is acrylamide, a carcinogenic neurotoxin. Real estate values near sand mines can drop in value as much as 25 percent, and residents have to pay higher taxes for the destruction of the roads.

The group that claims it’s trying to prevent cancer, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, is partnering with fossil fuel firms that cause cancer on a breast cancer awareness campaign. Baker Hughes plans to distribute 1,000 pink drill bits to heighten awareness of cancer. The company is also donating $100,000 for a “yearlong partnership.” A spokeswoman at the Komen Foundation denies that there’s any connection between fracking and breast cancer.

pinkdrill_0Anyone who complains about the effects of fracking may be sued. The fracking company Range Resources is suing Steve Lipsky for $3 million because of his film in which he lights his water on fire. Range claims that he has defamed its reputation for environmental stewardship. The case of free speech v. big business goes to the Texas Supreme Court on December 4. Range has already settled with a family near Pittsburgh for $750,000 after they agreed that they would not say anything negative about the corporation or the entire gas formation, the Marcellus Shale. Last year, the town board of Sanford (NY) stopped any discussion about fracking at its public meetings before a lawsuit made them withdraw their order. Anti-fracking activist Vera Scoggins was barred from any Cabot Oil & Gas property that includes friends’ homes, a hospital, malls, and grocery stores—40 percent of the county.

Fracking creates illness and death, makes land unsafe, causes water shortages, raises prices for food, lowers real estate value, and destroys the infrastructure while big corporations buy off supposedly philanthropic organizations and stop free speech. Welcome to the United Corporations of America.

July 10, 2014

Fracking Loses in Court, in Science

Environmental exploitation is a sin, according to Pope Francis. His comment this week reflects earlier statements including the comparison of battling climate change to safeguarding creation.  In the United States, the lust for fuel fracking seems to be waning through new laws, court cases, and research.

Municipalities can ban fracking in New York. That was the good news from the state’s Court of Appeals on the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court sent down its Hobby Lobby ruling announcing that corporations have souls. The 5-2 decision confirmed the principle of municipal home rule giving villages and towns the right to manage their affairs without state legislative interference. The 170 anti-fracking measures throughout New York’s municipalities are no longer in limbo and can now take effect.

People in the state are still waiting for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision regarding the state’s 2008 temporary moratorium on fracking put in place by former governor David Paterson. Cuomo said that he’s waiting for a report from the State Health Department. Any decision may be moot if energy companies leave the state in disgust, which they seem to be doing.

Last spring, a Pennsylvania judge in the Washington County Court of Common Pleas ruled that corporations don’t have the right to privacy under the commonwealth’s constitution. Newspapers had sued to unseal a confidential settlement in which a family was paid $750,000 after gas drilling had contaminated their water and harmed their health. Until now, fracking companies have used secrecy agreements to hide environmental and health impacts of gas drilling.

The U.S. Supreme Court may have ruled that corporations are persons, but Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca said that corporations and business entities aren’t the same as people under Pennsylvania’s constitution. She wrote:

“There are no men or woman defendants in the instant case; they are various business entities [and are created by the state and subject to laws, unlike people with natural rights].In the absence of state law, business entities are nothing.” [If businesses had natural rights like people,] “the chattel would become the co-equal to its owners, the servant on par with its masters, the agent the peer of its principles, and the legal fabrication superior to the law that created and sustains it.”

She added that the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment “use of the word ‘person’ that makes its protections applicable to business entities” does not apply to Pennsylvania’s constitution. ” The exact opposite is derived from plain language of Article X of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

“Not only did our framers know how to employ the names of business entities when and where they wanted them… they used those words to subjugate business entities to the constitution. The framers permitted the Commonwealth to revoke, amend, and repeal ‘[a]ll charters of private corporations’ and any ‘powers, duties or liabilities’ of corporations… If the framers had intended this section [Article 1, Section 8] to shield corporations, limited-liability corporations, or partnerships, the Court presumes that they could and would have used those words. The plain meaning of ‘people’ is the living, breathing humans in this Commonwealth.”

The Court held that businesses do have legal rights protecting them from unreasonable searches and seizure of property, but that’s not the same as a right to personal privacy. “Our Commonwealth’s case law has not established a constitutional right of privacy to shield them from our laws.”

Looking at case law and rulings from other states, the judge held, “This Court found no case establishing a constitutional right of privacy for businesses, and it uncovered only one case that allowed a corporation to assert a state-based right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures in a criminal matter.”

Summing up, she said:

“It is axiomatic that corporations, companies, and partnerships have ‘no spiritual nature,’ ‘feelings,’ ‘intellect,’ ‘beliefs,’ ‘thoughts,’ ’emotions,’ or ‘sensations,’ because they do not exist in the manner that humankind exists… They cannot be ‘let alone’ by government, because businesses are like grapes, ripe upon the vine of the law, that the people of this Commonwealth raise, tend, prune at their pleasure and need.”

Her ruling made fracking companies so desperate that they started offering $50,000 to people who own land in the country to release the corporation from any liability caused by the drilling. Those who take the money cannot sue for health problems, property damage, or other issues such as noise, dust, light, smoke, odors, fumes, soot, air pollution or vibrations. It also covers not only drilling but also anything that they might do in the future including construction of pipelines, power lines, roads, tanks, ponds, pits, compressor stations, houses and buildings.

Although California’s governor, Jerry Brown, is known for being fracking-friendly, Beverly Hills has decided to ban the practice. The first municipality in the state to deny fracking, the city council unanimously decided that it would not be allowed within city limits. Carson City (CA) had already declared a moratorium on fracking, but only for 45 days.

Texas may be oil country, but last year Dallas banned fracking within “1,500 feet of a home, school, church, or well.”  That pretty much covers the entire city.

A jury has awarded a family in Decatur (TX) $2.9 million because of Aruba Petroleum’s irresponsible activities. The Parr family is not the first to suffer nausea, rashes, nosebleeds, and sight and memory impairment, but they are the first to win in court after the jury determined that fracking is dangerous to people’s health. Naturally Aruba is appealing.

New research shows that methane release from drilling operations in southwestern Pennsylvania is 100 to 1,000 times more than federal regulators had estimated. The study contributes to a body of knowledge showing that the EPA has gravely underestimated methane emissions from oil and gas operations. Carbon dioxide from fossil fuels may be the biggest problem with climate change, but methane is about 20 to 30 times more potent in trapping heat in the atmosphere. The U.S. may be producing 50 percent more methane than the EPA has assumed.

Wells leaking the most methane were in the drilling phase, a time not previously known for high emissions. The release comes from underbalanced drilling methods with a lower pressure in the well-bore than the surrounding geology that allows the capture of ethane and butane. EPA investigations are less accurate because energy companies restrict access to wells, pipelines, processing plants, and compressor stations. Colorado became the first state to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas last February.

Another study, published last week in the world’s leading scientific journal Science, has determined that the overwhelming increase in earthquakes throughout Oklahoma is directly connected to fracking and waste-water injection. Before 2008, the state averaged one earthquake of 3.0 or greater each year; in just 2014, the state had more than 230. That’s a 22,900 percent increase after fracking began. Overpressuring a fault system by injecting too much waste water causes tectonic plates in previously stable areas to slip, resulting in not just one earthquake but a number of them because of the distribution of pressures along the entire fault system. Some of these earthquakes may be as far away as 20 miles from the wells that cause the problem. Continued fracking will make the rate of earthquakes much worse.

earthquake increase oklahoma

Earlier this year, Ohio officials linked fracking to a cluster of earthquakes and is imposing new rules. Previously it was thought that earthquakes occurred when water was injected, but these earthquakes were near a site where fracking had begun. If monitors detect an earthquake even as small as 1.0, the state will suspend fracking for an investigation.

In another environmental success, TransCanada’s permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline has expired in South Dakota, and Nebraska’s permit is halted by litigation. These two events block the already-complete portions of the pipeline in Montana and Kansas. TransCanada will have to start the South Dakota application process again, this time with more unified resistance. North Dakota’s fracking boom will erase the argument that people in the U.S. need Canadian oil enough to give a company in another country the powers of eminent domain.

Since the pipeline’s proposal, TransCanada has faced huge national protests and small-scale disobedience along the path of its construction. Grassroots groups have organized and politicked all along the pipeline’s proposed route.

People can make a difference if they just keep working to save the world.


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