Saturday, March 24, 2012

Blue Dog Tim Holden-- Pennsylvania's Corrupt Fracking Monster


Now that Blue Dog Tim Holden's district has changed appreciably-- from a Republican district where he was comfortable voting a conservative line to a solid blue Democratic district where he's a fish out of water-- he would rather not be seen as the face of fracking. Oops... too late. Have you visited FrackingHolden yet? That's where you can help Blue America to cover the 17th district with billboards like this one:

We also have lovely electronic billboards. So far our boards are all around Hazelton and Pottsville in Schuylkill County, the heart of Holdenland. Please help us get more up all over this huge district that snakes from south-central Pennsylvania all the way into the Poconos up north. Again, you can do that here. Meanwhile, everyday, there's more and more news coming out about how dangerous fracking is for Pennsylvania residents-- the same people who are being asked by Holden to send him back to Congress. Friday Lee Fang posted about a direct encounter with Holden in DC (that included the video up top). And Thursday Christine Shearer interviewed Claire Sandberg, Water Defense Executive Director, about the fracking disaster in Dimock in neighboring Susquehanna County. Despite dangerously high levels of explosive methane, heavy metals and hazardous chemicals, the EPA says there are no health concerns. Well, there sure are for people in Dimock and it's "raising renewed controversy over the increasing growth of unconventional gas drilling and fracking and the uncertainty around health and safety regulations." Many voters are putting 2 + 2 together and figuring out that Holden sold them down the river for hefty campaign contributions from lobbyists and natural resources and energy corporations.
Although the deep drilling process was in many ways new - particularly the cocktail of chemicals, sand and water used to break up the shale and release the gas in what has become known as "fracking"-- gas drillers received exemptions from seven federal regulations that apply to other industries, including the Clean Water Act; the Clean Air Act; the Superfund law; and, most notoriously, the Safe Drinking Water Act, due to the "Halliburton loophole" in the 2005 Energy Policy Act. Regulation and oversight were largely left to individual states, many of which were already overburdened, underfunded and under staffed.

...Some people living near drilling sites started talking about changes to their water and various health ailments. A 2009 ProPublica report concluded that "Pennsylvania was largely unprepared for the vast quantities of salty, chemically tainted wastewater produced by drilling operations in the Marcellus [Shale]." A New York Times review of internal EPA and industry documents concluded that more than 1.3 billion gallons of wastewater was produced by Pennsylvania wells from 2008 to 2011 and "most was sent to treatment plants not equipped to remove many of the toxic materials in drilling waste." Ohio was reinjecting drilling wastewater back into the ground, much of it from Pennsylvania, which was later linked to a series of small earthquakes in the previously non-seismically active area of Youngstown. The 2010 documentary "Gasland" featured the now iconic scene of a resident near a drilling site lighting his tap water on fire, with director Josh Fox later saying, "What if that had caused a larger fire-- how would you put it out?" The state of New York successfully pushed that year for a temporary moratorium on fracking. High levels of ozone near drilling sites were found in Utah and Wyoming. In 2011, the EPA released raw data indicating groundwater supplies in Pavillion, Wyoming contained high-levels of cancer-causing compounds and at least one chemical commonly used in hydraulic fracturing. That same year, the EPA also released a new greenhouse gas report on natural gas that doubled its previous estimates for the amount of methane gas that leaks from loose pipe fittings and is vented from gas wells, particularly from the hydraulic fracturing of shale gas, while the New York Times later raised questions about the amount of shale gas reserves.

Meanwhile, an EPA investigation is underway in the Pennsylvania town of Dimock. In 2009, after investigating an explosion at a water well, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) determined that Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation was allowing methane and other contaminants to seep into nearby groundwater. Affected residents filed a lawsuit. Under pressure, EPA Region 3 intervened to conduct studies of water in the area. After receiving the preliminary results of 11 of the 61 planned water samples, the EPA announced on March 15, 2012, that the results "did not show levels of contamination that could present a health concern." The agency did say it will perform additional sampling at two homes where arsenic was detected. Regardless, most media stories ran with headlines such as BusinessWeek's "EPA Clears Water in Pennsylvania Fracking Town After Complaints."

The interview itself is interesting and I recommend you read it. Here are just two questions and answers:
Christine Shearer: One of the issues that has been raised around drilling has been methane leakage, but many companies have argued that the methane is not due to unconventional drilling, which they say occurs too far down to leak to the surface. What does Water Defense say to this argument?

Claire Sandberg: The industry likes to state that their number one safety precaution is thousands of layers of impermeable rock and that essentially there is no possible way for the methane to get into the ground water. And we know that the available science conclusively debunks that. The only peer-reviewed study that has been done on groundwater contamination from fracking has found that it occurs a majority of the time, so there is something really wrong here if methane is getting into the groundwater a majority of the time, often at explosive levels of methane.
At the same time, the industry does have a point that a lot of the contamination is not from the actual fracking itself-- the process where you are injecting chemicals deep into the ground. A lot of the contamination is just from drilling and I think a lot of people are discovering - and this is part of our message with Water Defense-- that the risks to water and health are just endemic to drilling and to fossil fuels and it is not specific to fracking. In general, this is the way these companies operate; it is how they have operated around the world, it's "pump and dump." The difference now is that, for the first time, the impacts of fuel extraction are literally in millions of Americans' backyards. And increasingly, it is extreme fossil fuels, more devastating kinds of extraction as we run out of the easier-to-access sources of fossil fuels, but ultimately these problems are inherent to fossil fuels. We need to move to a renewable energy economy.     
Christine Shearer: In 2009, Pennsylvania state regulators detected methane and benzene in Dimock, Pennsylvania, which they determined was leaking from Cabot Oil and Gas pipelines. Is that what led to the current EPA investigation of water in the area?

Claire Sandberg: The Pennsylvania DEP had investigated claims for a number of years on potential contamination related to fracking and there is a lawsuit ongoing [against Cabot]. And under the previous administration of Ed Rendell, the DEP found Cabot's activities to be at fault for contamination and the DEP was going to force Cabot to pay for construction of a water pipeline to provide replacement water for eleven families on Carter Road in Dimock. Then, when Tom Corbett got into office-- who received more than $1 million from the gas industry during his campaign-- the plans for the water pipeline were scrapped. And then a few months later, this past fall, the DEP said Cabot no longer had to provide water delivery, which the families had been getting for several years. So, in the fall, Dimock residents came up to New York to talk about fracking and were facing the threat of not having clean water, so Water Defense started organizing water deliveries [to Dimock] and calling on the EPA to intervene. And as a result of the pressure, the EPA did step in and say they were going to provide water delivery for the families and also do water testing throughout the whole town. So it was really a result of the pressure that EPA became involved.

Back to Holden for a moment. If you had to pick one specific thing about him that you feel is absolutely the worst move he made as a Pennsylvania Democratic congressman-- other than his role in enacting the Halliburton Loophole-- which would it be?
* his vote against Health Care Reform
* his 6 Votes to give himself a Pay Raise
* his vote for the anti-Choice Stupak Amendment
* his vote for the Bush Tax Cuts for the rich
* his vote for the Defense of Marriage Act
* his vote to please Wall Street contributors by repealing parts of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933
* his vote to enact DADT
* his vote for the so-called Balanced budget Amendment
* his vote against the DREAM Act

UPDATE: And How Corrupt Is Tim Holden?

Abramoff, who funneled plenty of cash to Holden, defines bribery as taking money from special interests whose issues you vote on. That also defines Tim Holden's entire political career. But there are other forms of corruption-- and he plays all the angles. Blue America has been railing against Republican Buck McKeon for paying his wife inordinate amounts of restricted, regulated money to act as though she were his campaign treasurer. This isn't legal-- and Holden is doing the same thing, only his nepotism is in favor of his sister. This just broke today:
A Washington watchdog group that issued a report on nepotism in Congress cited U.S. Rep. Tim Holden for using campaign money to pay his sister to be campaign treasurer.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said Kathleen Kanish earned $18,791 during the two years leading up to the 2008 election and another $17,810 during the 2010 election cycle from Friends of Congressman Tim Holden, the congressman's chief campaign committee.

Holden's spokesperson dismissed it as a small amount of money that doesn't matter. Who do they think they are, Mitt Romney?

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