Friday, April 22, 2016

Fracking - Not for the rich

As of 2013, over 15 million Americans lived within a mile of a shale well – roughly one out of every 20 U.S. residents.

Fracking companies deliberately keep their wells away from the “big houses” of wealthy and potentially influential people, a top executive from one of the country's most prominent shale drilling companies told a gathering of attorneys at a seminar on oil and gas environmental law earlier this month, according the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“'We heard Range Resources say it sites its shale gas wells away from large homes where wealthy people live and who might have the money to fight such drilling and fracking operations,' said Patrick Grenter, an attorney and Center for Coalfield Justice executive director, who attended the lawyers’ forum,” the Post-Gazette reported. “A handful of attorneys in the audience confirmed that account,” and added that the Range Resources official had prefaced his remarks by saying “To be frank”.

My personal take on it, and I don’t think there’s another way to interpret it, is that people with fewer resources to challenge the industry are the ones being targeted for well development,” Logan Welde, a Clean Air Council staff attorney present when the Range Resources VP made his comment, told the Pittsburg Post-Gazette. “I don’t really think it’s a secret that the industry is doing this, but to be so bold to publicly state that is just so brazen and just shows how confident the industry is in the state.”

“No matter how you estimate proximity, it always came up as exposure was significantly, much higher” in low-income Pennsylvania communities, Yelena Ogneva-Himmelberger, a Clark University assistant professor who published a paper last year that concluded that active fracking wells are “strongly associated” with poverty in the state, told Scientific American.

In 2004, Range Resources was the first company to drill in Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale – but it has racked up a string of environmental violations so severe that state regulators slapped it with a record-breaking $4.15 million fine in 2014, followed the next year by an $8.9 million fine over a different incident.  The company has also repeatedly been sued by landowners – and not just in Pennsylvania, but also in their home state of Texas. It made international headlines when a gag order – part of a $750,000 settlement agreement between the company and a family over a contaminated 10-acre farm in Mount Pleasant, PA – barred two children from speaking about fracking for life (a ban that the company later repudiated, after the settlement terms were unsealed and made public). It's also involved in a high-profile legal battle in Texas, where the company is suing Parker County homeowner Steven Lipsky over a video showing Mr. Lipsky's flaming water well, claiming that the video is defamatory.

In 2011, at a media relations conference for the fracking industry, Range's public relations director, Matt Pitzarella revealed that the company's communications strategy involved hiring combat veterans with PSYOPs experience to influence communities in the U.S. Pitzarella told the crowd:

“…looking to other industries, in this case, the Army and the Marines. We have several former PSYOPs folks that work for us at Range because they’re very comfortable in dealing with localized issues and local governments. Really all they do is spend most of their time helping folks develop local ordinances and things like that. But very much having that understanding of PSYOPs in the Army and in the Middle East has applied very helpfully here for us in Pennsylvania.”

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