Friday, June 28, 2013

June 28: Dear editorial staff and owner of all the Irving Press - Wunnerful, Wunnerful, Wunnerful News!


You know all you editorial people, how you've been working so hard to give us faithful readers both sides of the shale gas debate? And how you've done such a good job checking with experts from the shale gas companies and from UdeMoncton? But we also know how you've found it just about impossible to get anything newsworthy out of those terrible, anti-shale gas rabble-rousers? My goodness, even Environment Minister Craig Leonard, always trying to be fair and honest, couldn't even find any anti-shale gas people in the whole state of North Dakota. Well.......
 
Do I  have a great story that you can run in all your newspapers! It was sent to me by a reader who saw it in the Financial Post. You've heard of the Financial Post?  It's generally considered pretty hot stuff in the business world. 
 
Then you can run it on your front page. No charge.
 
To read it, just go to the end of this post. Give me a call if you have trouble with any big words like "hydraulic" or "regulators".  (Financial Post writers can get awfully snooty with their choice of words.)
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Meanwhile, let us spare a moment for today's Moncton TandT.

Page 1. "Elsipogtog wants to keep protests peaceful". Yes, here's a story that says there has been violence over shale gas leading to over 30 arrests. Allison Toogood, the reporter who turned in this gem, shows promise of being another Brent Mazerolle "communications specialist" (spin doctor).

Yes. There were over thirty arrests. But - well - to call them "responses to violence" is - well - not to waste time - it's called lying. Few, if any, of those arrests were caused by protester violence. The charges - all of them or at least most - were "mischief", a catch-all term which means they were standing around when the police moved in on them.

So far as I know, not a single one of the people arrested struck a police officer (or anybody else) or even tried to. The other violence, cutting of trees, etc. did happen. But nobody yet seems to know who did it or why. It could have been thugs hired by the shale gas company so that reporters like you could brand shale gas protesters as dangerous people. That would help the shale gas company to use violence against protesters. (It's been known to happen in other such incidents going back for a hundred years and more.)

The reporter covers herself by acknowledging that no protester violence has been proven - but the implication is clear; and it's hammered home in the last paragraph of the story in which a quotation is used to place the blame for all violence on the protesters - and on them as a group.

That's called unethical reporting.
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The only news story I saw worth reading was in C3 (Group calls for health board votes). The story is well balanced and well written.
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But, oh my, it's astonishing to read a newspaper that has no significant news about the plundering and destruction of Africa that is being forced on that unhappy continent, especially by France and the US.

They also missed on a story that China is trying to force North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons stockpile. That's pretty suprising, considering that China (and Pakistan) are where North Korea got most of its nuclear know-how in the first place. In fact, there's now a wide-open market in nuclear weapons that covers much of Africa and Asia. And not just for sale to governments but to anybody who can come up with the price. No questions asked. And it's been going on for years. - with the help of American governments going all the way back to Ronald Reagan. (More on that on some Sunday when I have time.)

The editorial isn't offensive, just trivial and boring.

Norbert wallows in misery while still refusing to recognize why New Brunswick's development has been slow. It has a lot to do with the climate of fear and illegitimate interference of money power in this province. But Norbert's never going to say that. He lives off it.

Alec Bruce talks about the passing art of political oratory. There's some truth in what he says. But there are problems. Great orators very seldom actually say anything.Worse, great orators can inspire quite terrible events. Adolph Hitler was a man whose career was made possible by his powers of oratory and drama. Worse, he actually believed what he said._

Even David Suzuki's column, this time on bicycling, is a pretty weak cup of tea. Then we have Michael Sullvan't column....
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In his first three columns, I had hopes he might be a diamond in the rough - very, very rough, but maybe a diamond somewhere deep down. It's looks as though I was dead wrong.

Today's column is so childish, so ignorant of politics, so biased, so ignorant even of the meaning of words that I could do a whole blog on it without touching more than a fraction of its nonsense. He's an all too common type. His idea of a conservative is anyone who agrees with him - though he will admit that some liberals can be good - if they act like what he calls conservatives.

In fact, he has not the faintest idea what a conservative or a liberal is. There are so many like him, living in a cartoon world of good conservatives and evil liberals (or vice versa)

He thinks Stephen Harper is a wonderful leader. We'll forget, for the moment, his massive destruction of almost all environmental protection and research in Canada, his open contempt for democracy...
We'll even pass lightly over his support for free trade (an idea which actually originated in the Liberal Party, and which conservatives viciously opposed for well over a century. We'll also forget the enormous damage that it has inflicted on employment in the US, and which is certain to hit us like a sledge-hammer.)

Incidentally, Canada's (relatively) healthy financial condition, despite Sullivan's claims) has nothing to do with Harper policy. It has to do with Canadian banks that have always been far better regulated (by government law) than American banks.

He says Harper has shown leadership by cutting off funds to corrupt native councils. It's hard to know where to start with this one.
1. Harper has cut funding THAT HE OWES BY TREATY to native peoples. It's not his money. It's not our money. It's theirs.
2.Most native councils already open their salaries and their books to the government. Harper knows that. So why is he, a man whose own party is awash in corruption, greed, and illegal behaviour making such an issue of the native case?

Answer - He is appealing to the idiot brigade that makes up so much of his political support. He is appealing to their bigotry. It's the same thing he's doing with prison terms when he lengthens them despite the evidence this is not only costly but also actually increases crime. Every village idiot in Canada thinks this is a great idea. That's why Harper can get elected.

In the case of native peoples, it's even worse. Harper is making a pitch to bigotry, and bigotry against a people classified (in many minds) as a racial group. That is called racism. I don't know whether Harper himself is really a racist. But those are the people he's trying to win over with his 'crackdown'.

And obviously it works for Mr. Sullivan.

He has defended our Arctic sovereignty? Like hell he has. His policy has been the same as the Liberals. Make noise. Send up a couple of patrol ships. But allow American ships to ignore our claims to sovereignty. The only time an American ship in the Arctic was stopped for trespassing on our sovereignty was by an angered goup of Inuit and their dogs who stood on the ice to block an American icebreaker.

It's a disappointment. but the reality appears to be that Mr. Sullivan knows nothing about politics or economics, or even about the meanings of the words the throws around so loosely. He is simply a self-righteous and intolerant cartoon character who lives in his own cartoon world.

So the TandT is sure to keep him.

And now....today's feature.
 
 
 
 
 

‘They’ve bought everyone’s silence’: Drillers paying out fracking settlements to land owners on one condition — keeping quiet
Jim Efstathiou Jr. and Mark Drajem, Bloomberg News
Thursday, Jun. 6, 2013

A worker switches well heads during a short pause in the water pumping phase, at the site of a natural gas hydraulic fracturing and extraction operation run by Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc., outside Rifle, in western Colorado. Brennan Linsley/AP Photo
Chris and Stephanie Hallowich were sure drilling for natural gas near their Pennsylvania home was to blame for the headaches, burning eyes and sore throats they suffered after the work began.
The companies insisted hydraulic fracturing — the technique they used to free underground gas — wasn’t the cause. Nevertheless, in 2011, a year after the family sued, Range Resources Corp. and two other companies agreed to a US$750,000 settlement. In order to collect, the Hallowiches promised not to tell anyone, according to court filings.
The Hallowiches aren’t alone. In cases from Wyoming to Arkansas, Pennsylvania to Texas, drillers have agreed to cash settlements or property buyouts with people who say hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, ruined their water, according to a review by Bloomberg News of hundreds of regulatory and legal filings. In most cases homeowners must agree to keep quiet.
The strategy keeps data from regulators, policymakers, the news media and health researchers, and makes it difficult to challenge the industry’s claim that fracking has never tainted anyone’s water.
“At this point they feel they can get out of this litigation relatively cheaply,” Marc Bern, an attorney with Napoli Bern Ripka Sholnik LLP in New York who has negotiated about 30 settlements on behalf of homeowners, said in an interview. “Virtually on all of our settlements where they paid money they have requested and demanded that there be confidentiality.”
Energy Transformation
Because the agreements are almost always shrouded by non-disclosure pacts — a judge ordered the Hallowich case unsealed after media requests — no one can say for sure how many there are. Some stem from lawsuits, while others result from complaints against the drillers or with regulators that never end up in court.
“We are transforming our energy infrastructure in this country from burning coal for electricity to potentially burning a lot of natural gas,” Aaron Bernstein, associate director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health, said in an interview. Non-disclosure agreements “have interfered with the ability of scientists and public health experts to understand what is at stake here.”
Gas Alliance
Confidentiality agreements are included in settlements for many reasons and don’t constitute an admission of fault, according to an industry spokesman.
“The practice is common in every type of litigation in every industry,” Dan Whitten, spokesman for America’s Natural Gas Alliance, a Washington-based industry group, said in an e-mail. “It is often the case that it is less burdensome to settle — even on claims that have no merit — than to go into a protracted court battle.”
One driller, Southwestern Energy Co. of Houston, said it agreed to settle a class-action complaint of water contamination in Arkansas last year only if the agreement remained open so there would be no suspicion.
“If we had a confidentiality agreement, everybody would have thought ‘oh gosh, what did Southwestern do here. They got away with something and just paid these guys a pittance,’” said Mark Boling, Southwestern’s general counsel. The US$600,000 the company paid three families was a fraction of what the legal fees would have been to see the case through, he said.
Legal Threat
Another driller, Encana Corp. of Calgary, took a different approach, threatening legal action to keep details of a case out of view of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
Laura Amos believed gas drilling near her home in Silt, Colorado, about 160 miles (257 kilometres) west of Denver, was to blame for a tumor she developed. Encana, which owns the well, disagreed that fracking made her sick. Yet the company bought her 30-acre property in 2006 for US$310,000, according to public records.

An Encana fracking site in Colorado. Brennan Linsley/AP Photo
Amos’ complaint and the existence, though not details, of a settlement and non-disclosure pact were disclosed in filings with the oil and gas commission. In December, the agency subpoenaed Amos to testify about a rule it was considering to require water tests. Matt Sura, an environmental attorney in Boulder, Colorado, who represented conservation groups that were seeking Amos’ testimony, said an Encana attorney told him the company would sue Amos if she talked. She didn’t want to face a lawsuit from Encana and Sura said he asked the commission to withdraw the subpoena.
‘Relevant Testimony’
“She had really relevant testimony,” Sura said in an interview. “Because they’ve bought everyone’s silence, they often state that they haven’t damaged anyone.”
In filings with the commission, Amos said gas drilling on a neighbour’s property in 2001 caused her water well to blow out “like a geyser at Yellowstone.” Two years later she said she developed health problems that her doctors could not explain and she believes were related to the drilling.
The commission had concluded that Encana was responsible for methane in Amos’s well, though it said it found no evidence of fracking fluids in her water. Encana disputed the finding yet agreed to a US$99,400 fine and to monitor the well until methane levels dropped.
“Encana settled the Amos case as it had been an issue a predecessor company had been working with since 2001 and rather than continue with a lengthy and costly process, Encana decided to settle,” said Jay Averill, a spokesman for Encana, in an e-mail. He didn’t respond to a question about why the company sought to keep Amos from testifying to the commission.
Amos declined to comment on any aspect of the case when contacted by telephone.
Horizontal Drilling
“Why are they settling all these cases?” Deborah Goldberg, managing attorney with the environment group Earthjustice, said in an interview. “There’s obviously information that they don’t want to get out there.”
Michael Gerrard, director of the Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, said corporations often insist on confidentiality.
“Companies don’t want other potential plaintiffs to know how much money the companies were willing to pay for a settlement,” he said in an e-mail.
Advances in fracking and horizontal drilling have lowered energy prices, created thousands of jobs and helped reduce emissions blamed for global warming. President Barack Obama has highlighted the benefits of natural gas, including jobs created in the industry, in major speeches.
The technology, in which millions of gallons of water and chemicals are forced underground to free trapped gas, has brought drilling operations to within hundreds of feet of schools, homes and farms. With that has come complaints of drinking water contamination — which the industry has forcefully denied.
No Contamination
“There has never been a case of groundwater contamination as a result of hydraulic fracturing,” Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group representing the oil and gas industry, said in an April 23 interview with Bloomberg Radio.
There has never been a case of groundwater contamination as a result of hydraulic fracturing
Such claims rest in part on viewing fracking in isolation from the drilling that precedes it and the disposal of wastewater that follows. Defined narrowly, fracking is the step in the middle in which water and chemicals are forced underground to break up rock and free gas and oil.
Regulators in Pennsylvania, however, have linked gas and oil drilling with about 120 cases of water contamination from 2009 to 2012, according to documents obtained through a state right-to-know request. The documents don’t say if it was the fracking stage that was to blame, as opposed to faulty drilling or waste disposal.
Public Concern
“At the end of the day the public is less concerned with the niceties of whether it’s coming from the fracturing of the shale or whether it is coming from the failure of the well casing because as far as they’re concerned, it’s all hydraulic fracturing,” Mark Brownstein, chief counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund in New York, said in an interview.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is conducting a long-term study of the potential impact of fracking on water.
Settlement terms in the Hallowich case were unsealed over the objections of the driller, Range Resources, by Washington County Common Pleas Court Judge Debbie O’Dell-Seneca who said companies failed to show they’d suffer harm to trade secrets or reputations if the records were open.
Hallowich Case
MarkWest Energy Partners LP and Williams Cos.’s Williams Gas unit joined in the June 2011 agreement, which included the transfer of the Hallowich home in Hickory, about 25 miles (40 kilometres) southwest of Pittsburgh. The family received US$594,820, including US$10,000 for each of their two children. The rest of the US$750,000 went to attorneys’ fees, according to court documents.
Unlike most settlements, the deal required court approval because minor children were parties to the case. That put the settlement in court, where newspapers and public interest groups challenged an order sealing the case.
“We support the judge’s decision to release the file, which now clearly shows that the state’s extensive investigations clearly proved that there were no environmental or health impacts,” Matt Pitzarella, a spokesman for Range, which is based in Fort Worth, Texas, said in an e-mail. The problems the Hallowiches experienced were from the nuisance of drilling and related activities nearby, he said.
‘Can’t Talk’
As part of the settlement, the Hallowiches signed an affidavit stating there is no medical evidence that their symptoms are related to gas drilling. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection had said it “cannot conclude” that drilling contaminated the water, a finding the family disputed in its lawsuit. They alleged the agency refused to adequately investigate and outsourced some of the testing to Range Resources itself.
The Hallowiches declined, through their attorney, to discuss the case.

A fracking protester in California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
“My clients signed a confidentiality agreement,” Peter Villari, their lawyer, said in an interview. “They can’t talk to you.”
In the end, settlements undermine the industry’s credibility, Robert Kennedy Jr., president of the environment group Waterkeeper Alliance, said.
“The industry is asking us to trust it on the one hand, at the same time it’s gagging people who get sick so that they’re not allowed to talk,” Kennedy said in an interview. “Local doctors, the medical community and citizens who are in these areas need to know.”
Ruggiero Case
The outcome of Tim and Christine Ruggiero’s case remains secret — though it didn’t start out that way. For a time, they detailed their travails on a timeline posted online.
The Wise County, Texas, couple had their well water tested in September 2009 before Aruba Petroleum drilled on their property, according to the timeline. The water was found safe to drink. In October, Christine Ruggiero saw a black liquid shooting from the drilling rig and had their water tested again. Those tests showed chemicals linked to gas exploration and fracking such as benzene and acetone, according to the consultant’s report, which was posted online by the anti-fracking website Earthworks.
Tim Ruggiero wrote a blog post on Earthworks in January, 2012, saying: “Our ordeal living in Gasland has ended,” a reference to the 2010 film that documents alleged environmental damage from fracking.
In an interview, he would only say, “The matter has been resolved.” Public records show Aruba, which is based in Plano, Texas, in late 2011 bought his home in Decatur, about 44 miles (71 kilometres) north of Fort Worth. The recorded sale price was US$10 “and other considerations,” according to the deed.
Safety Limits
The EPA tested the Ruggieros’ water and found no evidence of contaminants above the safe-water drinking limits, Jim Lovett, an Aruba executive, said in an interview. An EPA spokeswoman declined to release the results.
“All I’m allowed to say is the dispute has been settled,” Lovett said.
After Jeff and Tina Richardson complained that gas drilling ruined the well water at their home in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, about 100 miles (160 kilometres) northwest of Scranton, Royal Dutch Shell Plc gave them bottled water and paid for a hotel room to shower in. The couple is asking for much more.
Water tests conducted after East Resources Inc. drilled the well revealed methane levels as high as 31 milligrams per litre. The U.S. Interior Department recommends monitoring when levels rise to 10 milligrams, and immediate action at 28.
Shell Purchase
In a May 16, 2012, letter, Pennsylvania regulators said gas drilling had impacted Richardson’s water. Shell provided replacement water even though regulators never directly linked the company to issues with the family’s drinking water, according to Kelly op de Weegh, a spokeswoman for Shell, which is based in The Hague and bought the gas well from East Resources in 2010.
The couple lives in an area where methane naturally seeps into aquifers, op de Weegh said.
Chesapeake Energy Corp. provided a similar explanation after agreeing to pay US$1.6-million to buy three families out of their homes in Terry Township, Pennsylvania, about 50 miles (80 kilometres) northwest of Scranton. The settlement included payment for the properties plus other compensation.
Chesapeake, which is based in Oklahoma City, settled even though there were no water tests at the affected homes before drilling, the company said in a statement.
‘Bring Closure’
“The pre-drill testing that we do have in the area shows that a significant percentage of the residential wells had measurable methane levels prior to any Chesapeake drilling activity in the area,” according to the statement. Chesapeake “has entered into the settlement so the families and the company could bring closure to the matter.”
Richardson declined Shell’s offer of a water filtration system, which he said doesn’t guarantee chemicals used in fracking will be removed. When the couple turned down the offer, Shell stopped paying for hotel showers.
The Richardsons are now seeking a way out of the “dream” house they built in 1993 where today, they only use tap water to flush the toilets.
“We thought we did everything right to protect ourselves,” Richardson, who is 60 and works for a financial services company, said in an interview. “We’re asking for a settlement. At this point they’re refusing to buy us out. I don’t know if I’m ever going to feel safe drinking the water.”
www.bloomberg.com

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