Skyline of Richmond, Virginia

FRACKING: Corruption a Part of Pennsylvania’s Heritage

03.22.12


by WALTER BRASCH


(part 3 of 3)

The history of energy exploration, mining, and delivery is best understood in a range from benevolent exploitation to worker and public oppression. A company comes into an area, leases land in rural and agricultural areas for mineral rights, increases employment, usually in a depressed economy, strips the land of its resources, creates health problems for its workers and those in the immediate area, and then leaves.

It makes no difference if it’s timber, oil, or coal. In the 1970s and 1980s, the nuclear energy industry promised well-paying jobs, clean energy, and a safe health and work environment. Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, Fukushima Daiichi, and thousands of violations issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, have shown that even with strict operating guidelines, nuclear energy isn’t as clean and safe as claimed. Like all other energy industries, nuclear power isn’t infinite. Most plants have a 40–50 year life cycle. After that, the plant becomes so radioactive hot that it must be sealed.

In the early 21st century, the natural gas industry follows the model of the other energy corporations, and uses the same rhetoric. James M. Taylor, senior fellow at the Heartland Institute, claims on the Institute’s website, “The newfound abundance of domestic gas reserves promises unprecedented energy prosperity and security.”

The energy policy during the eight years of the George W. Bush–Dick Cheney administration was to give favored status to the industry, often at the expense of the environment. In addition to negating Bill Clinton’s strong support for the Kyoto Protocol, signed by 191 countries, to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, former oil company executives Bush and Cheney pushed to open significant federal land, including the 19 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), to drilling that would disrupt the ecological balance in one of the nation’s most pristine areas.

A study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), published in 2004 concluded that fracking was of little or no risk to human health. However, Wes Wilson, a 30-year EPA environmental engineer, in a letter to members of Congress and the EPA inspector general, called that study “scientifically unsound,” and questioned the bias of the panel, noting that five of the seven members had significant ties to the industry. “EPA’s failure to regulate [fracking] appears to be improper under the Safe Water Drinking Act and may result in danger to public health and safety.”

The following year, the Energy Policy Act of 2005—on a 249–183 vote in the House and an 85–12 vote in the Senate—exempted the oil and natural gas industry from the Safe Water Drinking Act. That exemption applied to the “construction of new well pads and the accompanying new roads and pipelines.” The National Defense Resource Council noted that the EPA interpreted the exemption “as allowing unlimited discharges of sediment into the nation’s streams, even where those discharges contribute to a violation of state water quality standards.” The exemption became known derisively as the Halliburton Loophole, named for one of the nation’s major energy companies, of which Cheney, whose promotion of Big Business and opposition to environmental policies is well-documented, had once been the CEO.

Bills introduced in the U.S. House (H.R. 2766) and U.S. Senate (S. 1215) in June 2009 to give federal regulatory oversight under the Safe Water Drinking Act to hydraulic fracturing languished. New bills (H.R. 1084 and S. 587), introduced in March 2011 in the 112th Congress, are also expected to die without a vote.

The natural gas industry has a long history of effective lobbying at the state and national level. America’s Natural Gas Alliance has four former Congressmen as lobbyists, according to research by the Center for Responsive Politics (CRP). Through various political action committees (PACs), the industry has contributed about $238.7 million in campaign contributions, about three-fourths of it to Republican candidates, since 1990, according to the CRP. For the 2008 election, the gas and oil industry contributed $27.4 million, including contributions from individuals, PACs, and soft money, according to CRP data. Total contributions for the current election cycle, as of mid-March, are $20.6 million, with almost 90 percent of it going to Republicans.
At the federal level, the top recipients of oil and gas contributions during the current election cycle, according to the CRP, are former presidential hopeful Gov. Rick Perry of Texas ($833,674), Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst of Texas ($650,850), presidential hopeful Mitt Romney ($597,950), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell ($264,700), and Sen. John Barasso of Wyoming ($225,400), a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Every one of the top 20 recipients is a Republican.

Barack Obama, although significantly more environmental friendly than his predecessor, had opened up off-shore drilling just prior to the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast in April 2010. He has repeatedly spoken against the heavy use and dependence upon fossil fuels, and sees the expanded use of natural gas as a transition fuel to expanded use of wind and solar energy. Nevertheless, he has still received funding from the natural gas industry. During the 2008 presidential campaign, he received $920,922 from the oil and gas industry, according to data compiled by the CRP. His opponent, Sen. John McCain, according to CRP, accepted $2,543,154.

In contrast, the 1.4 million member Sierra Club, since August 2010, has refused to accept any donations from the natural gas industry. The Sierra Club, which has actively opposed the development of coal as an energy source, had received $27 million since 2007 from Chesapeake Energy. By 2010, “our view of natural gas [and fracking] had changed [and we] stopped the funding relationship between the Club and the gas industry, and all fossil fuel companies or executives,” says Michael Brune, Sierra’s executive director.

Mixed into Pennsylvania’s energy production is not only a symbiotic relationship of business and government, but a history of corruption and influence-peddling. Between 1859, when an economical method to drill for oil was developed near Titusville, Pa., and 1933, the beginning of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal,” Pennsylvania, under almost continual Republican administration, was among the nation’s most corrupt states. The robber barons of the timber, oil, coal, steel, and transportation industries essentially bought their right to be unregulated. In addition to widespread bribery, the energy industries, especially coal, assured the election of preferred candidates by giving pre-marked ballots to workers, many of whom didn’t read English.

In a letter to the editor of The New York Times in March 2011, John Wilmer, a former attorney for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), explained that “Pennsylvania’s shameful legacy of corruption and mismanagement caused 2,500 miles of streams to be totally dead from acid mine drainage; left many miles of scarred landscape; enriched the coal barons; and impoverished the local citizens.” His words serve as a warning about what is happening in the natural gas fields.

Pennsylvania’s new law that regulates and gives favorable treatment to the natural gas industry was initiated and passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett. The House voted 101–90 for passage; the Senate voted, 31–19. Both votes were mostly along party lines.

In addition to forbidding physicians and health care professionals from disclosing what the industry believes are “trade secrets” in what it uses in fracking that may cause air and water pollution, there are other industry-favorable provisions. The new law guts local governments’ rights of zoning and long-term planning, doesn’t allow for local health and environmental regulation, forbids municipalities to appeal state decisions about well permits, and provides subsidies to the natural gas industry and payments for out-of-state workers to get housing but provides for no incentives or tax credits to companies to hire Pennsylvania workers. It also requires companies to provide fresh water, which can be bottled water, to areas in which they contaminate the water supply, but doesn’t require the companies to clean up the pollution or even to track transportation and deposit of contaminated wastewater. The law allows companies to place wells 300 feet from houses, streams and wetlands. The law also allows compressor stations to be placed 750 feet from houses, and gives natural gas companies authority to operate these stations continuously at up to 60 decibels, the equivalent of continuous conversation in restaurants. The noise level and constant artificial lighting has adverse effects upon wildlife. As a result of all the concessions, the natural gas industry is given special considerations not given any other business or industry in Pennsylvania.

Each well is expected to generate about $16 million during its lifetime, which can be as few as ten years, according to the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center (PBPC). The effective tax and impact fee is about 2 percent. Corbett had originally wanted no tax or impact fees placed upon natural gas drilling; as public discontent increased, he suggested a 1 percent tax, which was in the original House bill. In contrast, other states that allow natural gas fracking have tax rates as high as 7.5 percent of market value (Texas) and 25–50 percent of net income (Alaska). The Pennsylvania rate can vary, based upon the price of natural gas and inflation, but will still be among the five lowest of the 32 states that allow natural gas drilling. Over the lifetime of a well, Pennsylvania will collect about $190,000–$350,000, while West Virginia will collect about $993,700, Texas will collect about $878,500, and Arkansas will collect about $555,700, according to PBPC data and analyses.

State Sen. Daylin Leach, a Democrat from suburban Philadelphia, says he opposed the bill because, “At a time when we are closing our schools and eliminating vital human services, to leave billions on the table as a gift to industry that is already going to be making billions is obscene.” State Rep. Mark Cohen, a Democrat from Philadelphia, like most of the Democrats in the General Assembly, agrees. The legislation, he says, “produces far too little revenue for local communities, gives the local communities local taxing power which most of them do not want, because it pits one community against the other, and gives no revenue at all to other areas of the state.”

The new law is generally believed to be “payback” by Corbett and the Republican legislators for campaign contributions. The industry contributed about $7.2 million to Pennsylvania candidates and their PACs between 2000 and the end of 2010, including $860,825 to the Republican party and $129,100 to the Democratic party, according to data compiled by Common Cause. In addition, the natural gas industry contributed about $1.6 million to Corbett’s political campaigns during the past 10 years, about $1.1 million of that for his campaign for governor, according to Common Cause. Rep. Brian L. Ellis (R-Butler County), sponsor of the House bill, received $23,300. Sen. Joseph B. Scarnati (R- Warren, Pa.), the senate president pro-tempore who sponsored the companion Senate bill (SB 1100), received $293,334. Of the 20 Pennsylvania legislators who received the most money from the industry since 2001, 16 are Republicans, according to Common Cause.

Rep. H. William DeWeese (D-Waynesburg, Pa.), received $58,750, the most of the four Democrats. DeWeese, first elected in 1976, had been Speaker of the House and Democratic leader.

It’s possible that the significant campaign contributions didn’t influence Pennsylvania’s politicians to rush to embrace the natural gas industry and its controversial use of hydraulic fracking. It’s possible that these politicians had always believed in fracking, and the natural gas industry was merely contributing to the campaigns of those who believed as they do. However, with the heavy amount of money spent by the natural gas lobby and, apparently, willingly accepted by certain politicians, there is no way to know how they might have voted had no money or lobbying occurred.

Tom Corbett’s first major political appointment after his election in November 2010 was to name C. Alan Walker, an energy company executive, to head the Department of Community and Economic Development. The Pennsylvania Progressive identified Walker as “an ardent anti-environmentalist and someone who hates regulation of his industry.” A ProPublica investigation revealed that Walker had given $184,000 to Corbett’s political campaign.

Shortly after taking office, Corbett repealed environmental assessments of gas wells in state parks. The result could be as many as 2,200 well pads on almost 90 percent of all public lands, according to Nature Conservancy of Pennsylvania.

Corbett’s public announcements in March 2011, two months after his inauguration, established the direction for gas drilling in Pennsylvania.

In his first budget address, Corbett boldly declared he wanted to “make Penn¬syl¬va¬nia the hub of this [drilling] boom. Just as the oil com¬pa¬nies decided to head¬quar¬ter in one of a dozen states with oil, let’s make Penn¬syl¬va¬nia the Texas of the nat¬ural gas boom. I’m deter¬mined that Penn¬syl¬va¬nia not lose this moment.” Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley would later boast, “The Marcellus [Shale] is revitalizing our main streets in downtowns.”

Within the budget bill, Corbett authorized Walker to “expedite any permit or action pending in any agency where the creation of jobs may be impacted.” This unprecedented reach apparently applied to all energy industries. That same month, Corbett created an Advisory Commission, loaded with persons from business and industry. Not one member was from the health professions; of the seven state agencies represented, not one member was from the Department of Health.

Between 2007 and the end of 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued 1,435 violations to natural gas companies; 952 of those violations related to potential harm to the environment. In March, Michael Krancer, the new DEP secretary, also a political appointee, took personal control over his department’s issuance of any violations. By Krancer’s decree, every inspector could no longer cite any well owner in the Marcellus Shale development without first getting the approval of Krancer and his executive deputy secretary.

“It’s an extraordinary directive [that] represents a break from how business has been done” and politicizes the process, John Hanger told ProPublica. Hanger, DEP secretary under the Ed Rendell administration, said the new rules “will cause the public to lose confidence entirely in the inspection process.” He told the Scranton Times-Tribune the new policy was the equivalent of every trooper having to get permission from the state police commissioner before issuing a traffic citation. Because the new policy is so unusual and broad “it’s impossible for something like this to be issued without the direction and knowledge of the governor’s office,” said Hanger. Corbett denied he was responsible for the decision. Five weeks after the Krancer decision was leaked to the media, and following a strong negative response from the public, environmental groups, and the state’s media, the DEP rescinded the policy—which Krancer claimed was only a three-month “pilot program.”

“When state agencies say they will ‘regulate’ or ‘monitor’ hydraulic fracturing to reduce known threats, we should not accept this as a guarantee of any kind,” says Eileen Fay, an animal rights/environmental writer. Fay argues that because of legislative corruption, it is a responsibility of citizens to protect their own health and environment by “putting pressure on our legislators.”

In February 2012, Corbett proudly signed Act 13, a merger of the House and Senate bills.

HB 1950 had initially included a provision to provide up to $2 million a year in funding to the Department of Health for “collecting and disseminating information, preparing and conducting health care provider outreach and education and investigating health related complaints and other uses associated with unconventional natural gas production activity.” That provision, strongly supported by numerous public health and environmental groups, was deleted in the final bill.

The Pennsylvania Constitution (Article I, section 27) declares: “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”

However, unlike New York state, which placed a moratorium on well permits while it is evaluating the health and environmental risks, Pennsylvania has rushed to embrace the natural gas industry and its use of fracking, apparently disregarding its own Constitution. The Susquehanna River Basin Commission has routinely approved requests from drillers to remove millions of gallons of water each day from the river, although the commissioners have not requested any health impact statements or undertaken a complete cumulative impact study, according to Iris Marie Bloom, an environmental writer and activist. Because of the nature of the Marcellus Shale deposit in Pennsylvania, as opposed to neighboring states, natural gas companies have to transport the wastewater to other states for re-use or disposal or take it to sewage treatment plants. The plants then discharge the treated wastewater into the state’s rivers. However, present methods can’t remove the salt and some other chemicals and radioactive elements. Currently, about 11 million gallons of wastewater a day are taken from the Susquehanna for fracking operations; about three times that amount is anticipated when fracking reaches its peak in the state, according to Paul Swartz, Commission executive director. In contrast, the Delaware River Basic Commission has put a moratorium on taking water from that river until studies have been completed.

Pennsylvania is “handing out permits almost like popcorn in a theater,” says Diane Siegmund, a psychologist from Towanda. Between Jan. 1, 2005 and March 2, 2012, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued 10,232 permits, and denied only 36 requests.

Siegmund is frustrated by what she sees not only as state government’s acceptance of fracking but of numerous local governments in the Marcellus Shale region from speaking out on behalf of the preservation of health and the environment. When she went to the Bradford County commissioners with stacks of research about problems with fracking, “all they did was to thank me and claim it’s not their problem.” She says residents are beginning to believe that local governments are operating in collusion with the energy companies.

But it isn’t just governments. The issue of fracking has divided towns like Dimock, Pa. In November 2009, 15 residents sued Cabot Oil and Gas, charging that the company contaminated their drinking water. Tests conducted by the DEP during the last years of the Ed Rendell administration had revealed there was higher than expected methane gas in 18 water wells that provided drinking water to 13 homes near the drills. The build-up of methane gas had also led to well explosions and DEP warnings to citizens to keep their windows open. Among the provisions of a consent order, the state required Cabot to provide fresh water to families whose water had been affected by the excess methane gas. Cabot denied its fracking operation was responsible for the elevated levels. On Nov. 30, 2011, after the DEP, now under the Tom Corbett administration, declared the water to be safe to drink, Cabot stopped delivering water.

And then something strange happened. The town of Binghamton, N.Y., about 35 miles north, said it would provide a tanker of fresh water. However, the supervisors of Dimock Twp., supported by most of the 140 residents who attended the meeting, most of them with some economic ties to the natural gas industry, refused the offer. According to reporting in the Scranton Times-Tribune, when Binghamton mayor Matthew T. Ryan asked “Why not let people help?” he was rebuffed by one of the township’s three supervisors who snapped, “Why should we haul them water? They got themselves into this. You keep your nose in Binghamton.”

In January 2012, after declaring that the water “contains levels of contaminants that pose a health concern,” the EPA decided it would bring water to residents in Dimock. The response by Cabot was that the EPA was wasting taxpayer money in its investigation of Cabot environmental and health practices. The response by Pennsylvania’s DEP was almost as inflammatory as the water in the taps. Michael Krancer, DEP’s head, not only disagreed with the EPA findings, he called the agency’s knowledge of fracking to be “rudimentary.”

In mid-March, following preliminary tests on several of the wells serving Dimock residents, the EPA found that the water “did not show levels of contamination that could present a health concern.” However, it acknowledged arsenic, some metals, and potentially explosive methane gas remained in the water. A ProPublica investigation revealed that four of the five water samples it obtained showed methane levels exceeding Pennsylvania standards.

We are deeply troubled by Region 3’s rush to judge the science before testing is even complete, and by their apparent disregard for established standards of drinking water safety,” said Claire Sandberg, executive director of Water Defense. She questioned why EPA Region 3’s handling of the Dimock case differed from how other EPA regional offices handled similar cases in Texas and Wyoming when it didn’t release the information until all testing was completed. Dr. Ron Bishop, professor of biochemistry at SUNY/Oneonta, told ProPublica, “Any suggestion that water from these wells is safe for domestic use would be preliminary or inappropriate.”

The extraction of natural gas has also led to the development of other industries—and the exploitation of the people. In Jersey Shore, Pa., about 20 miles west of Williamsport, Aqua PVR bought a 37-unit mobile home village, with plans to build a water withdrawal plant to provide up to three million gallons a day to the natural gas industry. The day the purchase was completed on Feb. 23, 2012, Aqua told the residents their leases were terminated “immediately,” according to reporting in the Sun-Gazette. The company gave residents until May 1 to leave. To sweeten what may be seen as a callous corporate action, Aqua said it would give $2,500 to each resident who moved by April 1, and $1,500 if they moved by May 1. However, as the Sun-Gazette reported, the cost to move each mobile home ranged from $5,000 to $12,000. Many of the residents lived in the village more than a decade; one was there 38 years. The newspaper reported that most trailer parks in the area were already at maximum occupancy, and others would not accept the older trailers.

“Residents are afraid to speak up,” says Diane Siegmund, who points out there is “a lot of fear” among the residents, those whose lives are being uprooted, those whose health is being compromised, and those whose economic benefits may be compromised if fracking operations are reduced.

“As long as the powers can keep the people isolated and fragmented,” says Siegmund, “the momentum for change can never be gained.” The experience in Dimock and Jersey Shore is seen throughout the Marcellus Shale region.

It’s not unreasonable to expect people who are unemployed or underemployed to grasp for anything to help themselves and their families, nor is it unreasonable to expect that persons—roustabouts, clerks, truck drivers, helicopter pilots, among several hundred thousand in dozens of job classifications—will take better paid jobs, even if it often means 60 hour work weeks under hazardous conditions. It’s also not unreasonable to expect that families living in agricultural and rural areas, who are struggling to survive, will snap at the lure of several thousand dollars to lease mineral rights and some of their land to an energy company, which will also pay royalties. But what is unreasonable is that government allows corporations to flourish at the expense of the people and their environment.

The Sierra Club urges that the country needs “to leapfrog over gas whenever possible in favor of truly clean energy. Instead of rushing to see how quickly we can extract natural gas, we should be focusing on how to be sure we are using less—and safeguarding our health and environment in the meantime.”

Christopher Portier, director of the National Center for Environmental Health, calls for more research studies that “include all the ways people can be exposed [to health hazards], such as through air, water, soil, plants and animals.”

In November 2011, the Advisory Board of the U.S. Department of Energy concluded: “The public deserves assurance that the full economic, environmental and energy security benefits of shale gas development will be realized without sacrificing public health, environmental protection and safety.”

When the history of natural gas exploration in Pennsylvania is finally written, the story will be that it was a cheaper, cleaner energy source, and that it temporarily helped some people in rural areas, and brought some well-paying jobs into the state. But history will probably also record that the lure of immediate gratification led Pennsylvania’s politicians to willingly accept political donations that led them to sacrifice their citizens’ health and the state’s environment.

[Assisting on this series, in addition to those quoted within the articles, were Rosemary R. Brasch, Eileen Fay, and Dr. Wendy Lynne Lee. Dr. Walter Brasch is an award-winning social issues journalist. His current book is Before the First Snow, a critically-acclaimed novel that looks at what happens when government and energy companies form a symbiotic relationship, using ‘cheaper, cleaner’ fuel and the lure of jobs in a depressed economy but at the expense of significant health and environmental impact. The book is available at amazon.com and from the publisher, Greeley & Stone.]

FRACKING: Health, Environmental Impact Greater Than Claimed

03.20.12

By WALTER BRASCH

(This is Part 2 of 3. Part 1 looked at a state gag order on physicians; Part 3 examines why Pennsylvania is giving special consideration to the natural gas companies.)

The natural gas industry defends hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, as safe and efficient. Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, a pro-industry non-profit organization, claims fracking has been “a widely deployed as safe extraction technique,” dating back to 1949. What he doesn’t say is that until recently energy companies had used low-pressure methods to extract natural gas from fields closer to the surface than the current high-pressure technology that extracts more gas, but uses significantly more water, chemicals, and elements.

The industry claims well drilling in the Marcellus Shale will bring several hundred thousand jobs, and has minimal health and environmental risk. President Barack Obama in his January 2012 State of the Union, said he believes the development of natural gas as an energy source to replace fossil fuels could generate 600,000 jobs.

However, research studies by economists Dr. Jannette M. Barth, Dr. Deborah Rogers, and others debunk the idea of significant job creation.
Barry Russell, president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, says “no evidence directly connects injection of fracking fluid into shale with aquifer contamination.” Fracking “has never been found to contaminate a water well,” says Christine Cronkright, communications director for the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Research studies and numerous incidents of water contamination prove otherwise.

In late 2010, equipment failure may have led to toxic levels of chemicals in the well water of at least a dozen families in Conoquenessing Twp. in Butler County. Township officials and Rex Energy, although acknowledging that two of the drilling wells had problems with the casings, claimed there were pollutants in the drinking water before Rex moved into the area. John Fair disagrees. “Everybody had good water a year ago,” Fair told environmental writer and activist Iris Marie Bloom in February 2012. Bloom says residents told her the color of water changed (to red, orange, and gray) after Rex began drilling. Among chemicals detected in the well water, in addition to methane gas, were ammonia, arsenic, chloromethane, iron, manganese, t-butyl alcohol, and toluene. While not acknowledging that its actions could have caused the pollution, Rex did provide fresh water to the residents, but then stopped doing so on Feb. 29, 2012, after the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said the well water was safe. The residents vigorously disagreed and staged protests against Rex; environmental activists and other residents trucked in portable water jugs to help the affected families. Jospeh P. McMurry of the Marcellus Outreach Butler blog (MOB) declared that residents’ “lives have been severely disrupted and their health has been severely impacted. To unceremoniously ‘close the book’ on investigations into their troubles when so many indicators point to the culpability of the gas industry for the disruption of their lives is unconscionable.”

In April 2011, near Towanda, Pa., seven families were evacuated after about 10,000 gallons of wastewater contaminated an agricultural field and a stream that flows into the Susquehanna River, the result of an equipment failure, according to the Bradford County Emergency Management Agency.
The following month, DEP fined Chesapeake Energy $900,000, the largest amount in the state’s history, for allowing methane gas to pollute the drinking water of 16 families in Bradford County during the previous year. The DEP noted there may have been toxic methane emissions from as many as six wells in five towns. The DEP also fined Chesapeake $188,000 for a fire at a well in Washington County that injured three workers.

In January 2012, an equipment failure at a drill site in Susquehanna County led to a spill of several thousand gallons of fluid for almost a half-hour, causing “potential pollution,” according to the DEP. In its citation to Carizzo Oil and Gas, the DEP “strongly” recommended that the company cease drilling at all 67 wells “until the cause of this problem and a solution are identified.”

In December 2011, the federal Environmental Protection Agency concluded that fracking operations could be responsible for groundwater pollution.

“Today’s methods make gas drilling a filthy business. You know it’s bad when nearby residents can light the water coming out of their tap on fire,” says Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation. What’s causing the fire is the methane from the drilling operations. A ProPublica investigation in 2009 revealed methane contamination was widespread in drinking water in areas around fracking operations in Colorado, Texas, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania.

The presence of methane in drinking water in Dimock, Pa., had become the focal point for Josh Fox’s investigative documentary, Gasland, which received an Academy Award nomination in 2011 for Outstanding Documentary; Fox also received an Emmy for non-fiction directing. Fox’s interest in fracking intensified when a natural gas company offered $100,000 for mineral rights on property his family owned in Milanville, in the extreme northeast part of Pennsylvania, about 60 miles east of Dimock.

“Some of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing—or liberated by it—are carcinogens,” Dr. Sandra Steingraber told members of the Environmental Conservation and Health committee of the New York State Assembly. Dr. Steingraber, a biologist and distinguished scholar in residence at Ithaca College, pointed out that some of the chemicals “are neurological poisons with suspected links to learning deficits in children,” while others “are asthma triggers. Some, especially the radioactive ones, are known to bioaccumulate in milk. Others are reproductive toxicants that can contribute to pregnancy loss.”

An investigation by New York Times reporter Ian Urbina, based upon thousands of unreported EPA documents and a confidential study by the natural gas industry, concluded, “Radioactivity in drilling waste cannot be fully diluted in rivers and other waterways.” Urbina learned that wastewater from fracking operations was about 100 times more toxic than federal drinking water standards; 15 wells had readings about 1,000 times higher than standards.
Research by Dr. Ronald Bishop, a biochemist at SUNY/Oneonta, suggests that fracking to extract methane gas “is highly likely to degrade air, surface water and ground-water quality, to harm humans, and to negatively impact aquatic and forest ecosystems.” He notes that “potential exposure effects for humans will include poisoning of susceptible tissues, endocrine disruption syndromes, and elevated risk for certain cancers.” Every well, says Dr. Bishop, “will generate a sediment discharge of approximately eight tons per year into local waterways, further threatening federally endangered mollusks and other aquatic organisms.” In addition to the environmental pollution by the fracking process, Dr. Bishop believes “intensive use of diesel-fuel equipment will degrade air quality [that could affect] humans, livestock, and crops.”

Equally important are questions about the impact of as many as 200 diesel-fueled trucks each day bringing water to the site and then removing the wastewater. In addition to the normal diesel emissions of trucks, there are also problems of leaks of the contaminated water.

“We need to know how diesel fuel got into some people’s water supply,” says Diane Siegmund, a clinical psychologist from Towanda, Pa. “It wasn’t there before the companies drilled wells; it’s here now,” she says. Siegmund is also concerned about contaminated dust and mud. “There is no oversight on these,” she says, “but those trucks are muddy when they leave the well sites, and dust may have impact miles from the well sites.”

Research “strongly implicates exposure to gas drilling operations in serious health effects on humans, companion animals, livestock, horses, and wildlife,” according to Dr. Michelle Bamberger, a veterinarian, and Dr. Robert E. Oswald,a biochemist and professor of molecular medicine at Cornell University. Their study, published in New Solutions, an academic journal in environmental health, documents evidence of milk contamination, breeding problems, and cow mortality in areas near fracking operations as higher than in areas where no fracking occurred. Drs. Bamberger and Oswald noted that some of the symptoms present in humans from what may be polluted water from fracking operations include rashes, headaches, dizziness, vomiting, and severe irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat. For animals, the symptoms often led to reproductive problems and death.

Significant impact upon wildlife is also noted in a 900-page Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) conducted by New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, and filed in September 2011. According to the EIS, “In addition to loss of habitat, other potential direct impacts on wildlife from drilling in the Marcellus Shale include increased mortality . . . altered microclimates, and increased traffic, noise, lighting, and well flares.” The impact, according to the report, “may include a loss of genetic diversity, species isolation, population declines . . . increased predation, and an increase of invasive species.” The report concludes that because of fracking, there is “little to no place in the study areas where wildlife would not be impacted, [leading to] serious cascading ecological consequences.” The impact, of course, affects the quality of milk and meat production as animals drink and graze near areas that have been taken over by the natural gas industry.

Research by a team of scientists from Duke University revealed “methane contamination of shallow drinking water systems [that is] associated with shale-gas extraction.” The data and conclusions, published in the May 2011 issue of the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, noted that not only did most drinking wells near drilling sites have methane, but those closest to the drilling wells, about a half-mile, had an average of 17 times the methane of those of other wells.

Before a Congressional hearing, Michael Krancer, Gov. Tom Corbett’s DEP secretary, claimed studies that showed toxic methane gas in drinking water were “bogus,” and specifically cited as “sta¬tis¬ti¬cally and tech¬ni¬cally biased” the Duke University study. Two of the study’s researchers fired back. In an OpEd article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Robert Jackson and Avner Vengosh suggested, “Rather than working to discredit any science that challenges his views, the secretary and his agency should be working to get to the bottom of the science with an open mind.”

As if water pollution wasn’t bad enough, fracking operations may also impact the air and increase greenhouse gas levels. A team of researchers from Cornell University determined that the leaking of methane gas into the air from fracking operations could have a greater negative impact upon the environment than either oil or coal. In the May 2011 issue of the peer-reviewed Climatic Change Letters, environmental biologist Dr. Robert Howarth, engineer Dr. Tony Ingraffea, and ecology researcher Renee Santoro, conclude, “The footprint for shale gas is greater than that for conventional gas or oil when viewed on any time horizon, but particularly so over 20 years. Compared to coal, the footprint of shale gas is at least 20% greater and perhaps more than twice as great on the 20-year horizon and is comparable when compared over 100 years.”

The response by the industry and its political allies to the scientific studies of the health and environmental effects of fracking “has approached the issue in a manner similar to the tobacco industry that for many years rejected the link between smoking and cancer,” say Drs. Bamberger and Oswald. Not only do they call for “full disclosure and testing of air, water, soil, animals, and humans,” but point out that with lax oversight, “the gas drilling boom . . . will remain an uncontrolled health experiment on an enormous scale.”

Dr. Helen Podgainy, a pediatrician in Coraopolis, Pa., says she doesn’t want her patients “to be guinea pigs who provide the next generation the statistical proof of health problems as in what happened with those exposed to asbestos or to cigarette smoke.”

[Assisting on this series, in addition to those quoted within the articles, were Rosemary R. Brasch, Eileen Fay, Dr. Bernard Goldstein, and Dr. Wendy Lynne Lee. Dr. Walter Brasch’s current book is Before the First Snow, a critically-acclaimed novel that looks at what happens when government and energy companies form a symbiotic relationship, using “cheaper, cleaner” fuel and the lure of jobs in a depressed economy but at the expense of significant health and environmental impact. The book is available at amazon.com and from the publisher, Greeley & Stone.]

FRACKING: Pennsylvania Gags Physicians

03.18.12

by WALTER BRASCH
(Part 1 of 3)

A new Pennsylvania law endangers public health by forbidding health care professionals from sharing information they learn about certain chemicals and procedures used in high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing. The procedure is commonly known as fracking.

Fracking is the controversial method of forcing water, gases, and chemicals at tremendous pressure of up to 15,000 pounds per square inch into a rock formation as much as 10,000 feet below the earth’s surface to open channels and force out natural gas and fossil fuels.

Advocates of fracking argue not only is natural gas “greener” than coal and oil energy, with significantly fewer carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur emissions, the mining of natural gas generates significant jobs in a depressed economy, and will help the U.S. reduce its oil dependence upon foreign nations. Geologists estimate there may be as much as 2,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas throughout the United States. If all of it is successfully mined, it could not only replace coal and oil but serve as a transition to wind, solar, and water as primary energy sources, releasing the United States from dependency upon fossil fuel energy and allowing it to be more self-sufficient.

The Marcellus Shale—which extends beneath the Allegheny Plateau, through southern New York, much of Pennsylvania, east Ohio, West Virginia, and parts of Maryland and Virginia—is one of the nation’s largest sources for natural gas mining, containing as much as 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, and could produce, within a decade, as much as one-fourth of the nation’s natural gas demand. Each of Pennsylvania’s 5,255 wells, as of the beginning of March 2012, with dozens being added each week, takes up about nine acres, including all access roads and pipe.

Over the expected lifetime of each well, companies may use as many as nine million gallons of water and 100,000 gallons of chemicals and radioactive isotopes within a four to six week period. The additives “are used to prevent pipe corrosion, kill bacteria, and assist in forcing the water and sand down-hole to fracture the targeted formation,” explains Thomas J. Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research. However, about 650 of the 750 chemicals used in fracking operations are known carcinogens, according to a report filed with the U.S. House of Representatives in April 2011. Fluids used in fracking include those that are “potentially hazardous,” including volatile organic compounds, according to Christopher Portier, director of the National Center for Environmental Health, a part of the federal Centers for Disease Control. In an email to the Associated Press in January 2012, Portier noted that waste water, in addition to bring up several elements, may be radioactive. Fracking is also believed to have been the cause of hundreds of small earthquakes in Ohio and other states.

The law, known as Act 13 of 2012, an amendment to Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, requires that companies provide to a state-maintained registry the names of chemicals and gases used in fracking. Physicians and others who work with citizen health issues may request specific information, but the company doesn’t have to provide that information if it claims it is a trade secret or proprietary information, nor does it have to reveal how the chemicals and gases used in fracking interact with natural compounds. If a company does release information about what is used, health care professionals are bound by a non-disclosure agreement that not only forbids them from warning the community of water and air pollution that may be caused by fracking, but which also forbids them from telling their own patients what the physician believes may have led to their health problems. A strict interpretation of the law would also forbid general practitioners and family practice physicians who sign the non-disclosure agreement and learn the contents of the “trade secrets” from notifying a specialist about the chemicals or compounds, thus delaying medical treatment.

The clauses are buried on pages 98 and 99 of the 174-page bill, which was initiated and passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly and signed into law in February by Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.

“I have never seen anything like this in my 37 years of practice,” says Dr. Helen Podgainy, a pediatrician from Coraopolis, Pa. She says it’s common for physicians, epidemiologists, and others in the health care field to discuss and consult with each other about the possible problems that can affect various populations. Her first priority, she says, “is to diagnose and treat, and to be proactive in preventing harm to others.” The new law, she says, not only “hinders preventative measures for our patients, it slows the treatment process by gagging free discussion.”

Psychologists are also concerned about the effects of fracking and the law’s gag order. “We won’t know the extent of patients becoming anxious or depressed because of a lack of information about the fracking process and the chemicals used,” says Kathryn Vennie of Hawley, Pa., a clinical psychologist for 30 years. She says she is already seeing patients “who are seeking support because of the disruption to their environment.” Anxiety in the absence of information, she says, “can produce both mental and physical problems.”

The law is not only “unprecedented,” but will “complicate the ability of health department to collect information that would reveal trends that could help us to protect the public health,” says Dr. Jerome Paulson, director of the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Dr. Paulson, also professor of pediatrics at George Washington University, calls the law “detrimental to the delivery of personal health care and contradictory to the ethical principles of medicine and public health.” Physicians, he says, “have a moral and ethical responsibility to protect the health of the public, and this law precludes us from doing all we can to protect the public.” He has called for a moratorium on all drilling until the health effects can be analyzed.

Pennsylvania requires physicians to report to the state instances of 73 specific diseases, most of which are infectious diseases. However, the list also includes cancer, which may have origins not only from chemicals used to create the fissures that yield natural gas, but also in the blow-back of elements, including arsenic, present within the fissures. Thus, physicians are faced by conflicting legal and professional considerations.

“The confidentiality agreements are worrisome,” says Peter Scheer, a journalist/lawyer who is executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. Physicians who sign the non-disclosure agreements and then disclose the possible risks to protect the community can be sued for breech of contract, and the companies can seek both injunctions and damages, says Scheer.

In pre-trial discovery motions, a company might be required to reveal to the court what it claims are trade secrets and proprietary information, with the court determining if the chemical and gas combinations really are trade secrets or not. The court could also rule that the contract is unenforceable because it is contrary to public policy, which places the health of the public over the rights of an individual company to protect its trade secrets, says Scheer. However, the legal and financial resources of the natural gas corporations are far greater than those of individuals, and they can stall and outspend most legal challenges.

Although Pennsylvania is determined to protect the natural gas industry, not everyone in the industry agrees with the need for secrecy. Dave McCurdy, president of the American Gas Association, says he supports disclosing the contents included in fracturing fluids. In an opinion column published in the Denver Post, McCurdy further argued, “We need to do more as an industry to engage in a transparent and fact-based public dialogue on shale gas development.”

The Natural Gas committee of the U.S. Department of Energy agrees. “Our most important recommendations were for more transparency and dissemination of information about shale gas operations, including full disclosure of chemicals and additives that are being used,” said Dr. Mark Zoback, professor of geophysics at Stanford University and a Board member.

Both McCurdy’s statement and the Department of Energy’s strong recommendation about full disclosure were known to the Pennsylvania General Assembly when it created the law that restricted health care professionals from disseminating certain information that could help reduce significant health and environmental problems from fracking operations.

[Part 2 looks at the health issues and research studies. Part 3 looks at the truth behind why Pennsylvania has given advantages to the natural gas industry. Assisting on this series, in addition to those quoted within the articles, were Rosemary R. Brasch, Eileen Fay, Dr. Bernard Goldstein, and Dr. Wendy Lynne Lee. Walter Brasch’s current book is Before the First Snow, a critically-acclaimed novel that looks at what happens when government and energy companies form a symbiotic relationship, using ‘cheaper, cleaner’ fuel and the lure of jobs in a depressed economy but at the expense of significant health and environmental impact. The book is available at amazon.com and through the publisher’s website, http://www.greeleyandstone.com]

Philadelphia CLUW Benefit for Women Against Abuse

03.18.12

by John Mason

The Philadelphia chapter of the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW) held its annual benefit event to support Women Against Abuse, a shelter for battered women and children staffed by UAW members, at the assembly hall of Workers United, 22 South 22nd Street, on Thursday, March 15, 2012.

People attending the event brought donations of cash, toiletries, diapers, gift cards ( no Wal-Mart), linens, towels, pillows, blankets, stationary supplies, 2012 calendars, and laundry detergent, among other things; a fifty-fifty drawing took place. Refreshments were served.

Part of the program was the film Union Maids, a documentary of three women working to organize unions in Chicago during the Great Depression of the 1930’s.

Kathy Black, President of Philadelphia CLUW, greeted everyone, saying, “This is our fourteenth annual benefit (for Women Against Abuse), which provide the only shelter services exclusively for victims of domestic violence in our city, and it’s staffed by UAW women.”

Jeannine L. Lisitski, Executive Director of Women Against Abuse, spoke of the center’s work: “Now, more than ever, “she said, “your support really allows us to continue our life-saving services. Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of government funding cuts. This type of community support is really important to us, and important towards working to end family violence in out community.”

Women Against Abuse, said Lisitski, is raising funds for a three-million dollar rehabilitating and expanding its housing; she added. “We’ve seen the requests for safe housing go up, skyrocket, over the past few years.”

Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton- Latest data indicates region’s unemployment rate still highest in Pennsylvania

03.16.12

MARCH 2012 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Latest data indicates region’s unemployment rate still highest in Pennsylvania

BY PAUL LEESON
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, February 11th- According to labor data provided by the Pennsylvania, Department of Labor and Industry, the region’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 8.9 percent, decreasing three-tenths of a percentage point from the previous report, which was released approximately four weeks before. The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) includes Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wyoming Counties. Twelve months ago the unemployment rate for the region was 9.6 percent.

Normally the DOL releases labor market data approximately every four weeks however, due to their annual extensive review of workforce information, the agency will delay the release of the monthly statistics till the middle of March.

The unemployment rate in Pennsylvania is 7.6 percent, decreasing by two-tenths of a percentage point from the previous report. Pennsylvania has a seasonally adjusted civilian labor force of 6,351,000 with 485,000 not working and 5,865,000 with employment. The national unemployment rate is 8.5 percent, decreasing by two-tenths of a percentage point from the previous report. The unemployment rate does not include civilians who unemployment benefits have expired and stopped looking for work.

There are 13,097,000 civilians in the nation reported to be unemployed. That number does not include civilians that have exhausted their unemployment benefits and have stopped looking for work.

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton MSA continues to have the highest unemployment rate among the 14 MSA’s within Pennsylvania.

Wyoming County has the lowest unemployment rate within the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre MSA at 7.9 percent. Wyoming County’s unemployment rate decreased by eight-tenths of the percentage point from the previous report and dropped by one and seven-tenths of a percentage point from twelve months ago.

There are 1,100 civilians in Wyoming County without employment, decreasing by 100 from the previous report and dropping by 300 from twelve months ago. Wyoming County has a civilian labor-force of 14,100.

Luzerne County has the highest unemployment rate in the MSA at 9.1 percent, decreasing by four-tenths of a percentage point from the previous report and dropping by seven-tenths of a percentage point from twelve months before. Luzerne County has the largest civilian labor-force in the MSA at 159,200, unchanged from the previous report and dropping by 600 during the past twelve months.

Lackawanna County unemployment rate is 8.6 percent, decreasing by two-tenths of a percentage point from the previous report and dropping by seven-tenths of a percentage point from twelve months ago. Lackawanna County has a civilian labor force of 105,900, unchanged from the previous report and dropping by 400 during the past twelve months

Local defense contractors attempting to hold-on to workers

03.16.12

MARCH 2012 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Local defense contractors attempting to hold-on to workers

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, February 17th- Cuts in the United States defense budget has resulted in lay-offs at the General Dynamics Land Systems plant in Eynon, Lackawanna County.

The United Auto Workers of America (UAW) Union Local 1193 represents the workers employed at the plant, which reconditions parts for the M1A1 Abrams tank. The tank was used in combat in Irag and Afghanistan.

Local 1193 had approxiamtely 200 members at the Eynon facility in 2010, however more than 50 workers have been laid-off, many fearing permanently, due to cut-backs in defense spending in Washington, DC.

“There is talk about shutting down the program for four years and then restarting it. We doubt that would happen. The restart costs would be unbelievable and our members would need to find other jobs,” Ken Klinkel, President of Local 11993 told the newspaper in a previous edition.

The Department of Labor (DOL) Rapid Response Team met with the dislocated workers of the plant.

The Rapid Response Team includes officials which represent agencies that assist laid-off or soon to be laid-off workers in gaining new employment, signing-up for unemployment benefits, and explaining to them other programs that are available to help them with the job loss.

Mr. Klinkel told the newspaper the tank was heavily used during the war in Irag, but with the “pull-back” of American forces in the middle-east, funding for the tank program has been cut.

Mr. Klinkel stated with problems currently on-going with Iran, which has threatened to attack American ships and has stated would attempt to stop oil from being shipped from the region, now is not the time to make further cuts to the Abrams tank program.

Defense cuts also affected the General Dynamics Corporation ammunition plant in Scranton. The workers of the plant are represented by the International Association of Machinists (IAM) Union Local Lodge 847.

The plant however has been successful in gaining other contracts, such as providing “elbows” used in drilling for natural gas, to keep workers employed during the military cut-backs.

Lehigh Valley unemployment rate decreases three-tenths of a percentage point to 8.4 percent

03.04.12

MARCH 2012, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Lehigh Valley unemployment rate decreases three-tenths of a percentage point to 8.4 percent

BY PAUL LEESON
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

LEHIGH VALLEY, February 7th- According to labor data provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, Center for Workforce Information and Analysis in Harrisburg, the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) seasonally adjusted unemployment rate is 8.4 percent, decreasing by two-tenths of a percentage point from the previous report. The Metropolitan Statistical Area includes Lehigh, Northampton, and Carbon Counties of Pennsylvania and Warren County, New Jersey. Twelve months ago the unemployment rate for the region was 9.2 percent.

There are fourteen Metropolitan Statistical Area’s in Pennsylvania and the Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton Metropolitan Statistical Area is tied with the Philadelphia MSA for the second highest unemployment rate.

The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton MSA has the highest unemployment rate in Pennsylvania at 8.9 percent.

The State College MSA has the lowest unemployment rate in Pennsylvania at 5.1 percent. The Lebanon MSA has the second lowest unemployment rate in Pennsylvania at 6.0 percent and the Lansaster MSA has the third lowest unemployment rate at 6.6 percent. The Altoona MSA has the fourth lowest unemployment rate at 6.7 percent.

The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in Pennsylvania is 7.6 percent, decreasing by three-tenths of a percentage point from the previous report, which was released approximately four weeks ago. There are 485,000 Pennsylvania residents without jobs, but that number does not include residents that have exhausted their unemployment benefits and stopped looking for work.

Pennsylvania has a seasonally adjusted workforce of 6,351,000 and 5,865,000 of them have employment. The national seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was reported to be 8.5 percent, decreasing by two-tenths of a percentage point from the previous report.

The Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton MSA has the third largest labor force in Pennsylvania with 416,400 civilians, decreasing by 3,000 during the past twelve months. The Philadelphia MSA has the largest labor force at 2,948,000 with 248,000 not working; the Pittsburgh MSA has the second largest labor force at 1,231,100 with 85,200 without jobs; the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre MSA has the fourth largest civilian labor force in the commonwealth at 279,200 with 24,800 civilians without jobs. The Harrisburg/Carlisle MSA has the fifth largest labor force at 279,000 with 19,300 unemployed civilians.

There are 13,097,000 residents nationally unemployed but counting workers that have exhausted their unemployment benefits or have been unable to find full-time work there are more than 17.5 million Americans without jobs. After workers have exhausted their unemployment benefits they are no longer counted as unemployed unless they continue to apply for work.

Carbon County has the highest unemployment rate in the MSA at 10.4 percent, decreasing by four-tenths of a percentage point from the previous report. Carbon County has a civilian labor force of 31,100 with 3,200 residents without jobs.

Northampton County has the lowest unemployment rate within the MSA at 8.1 percent, decreasing by two-tenths of a percentage point from the previous report. Northampton County has a civilian labor force of 151,000. Northampton County has 12,200 residents without jobs.

Lehigh County has a unemployment rate of 8.4 percent, decreasing by three-tenths of a percentage point from the previous report. Lehigh County civilian labor force is 175,200, with 14,700 of them without employment.

Painters Union withdraws labor complaint against employer

03.04.12

MARCH 2012, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Painters Union withdraws labor complaint against employer

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

REGION, February 17th- The Painters and Allied Trades International Union (PATIU) District Council 21, which members work within the construction trade industry, have withdrawn their labor complaint filed with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region Four office in Philadelphia that alleged a Lehigh Valley employer violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRact).

In the January edition of the newspaper it was exclusively reported that PATIU District Council 21 filed Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charges against Valley Wide Painting and Decorating, 2222 West Columbia Street in Allentown, alleging the company violated the National Labor Relations Act.

The newspaper discovered the labor complaint while reviewing the information filed at the National Labor Relations Board office in Philadelphia. The Union News is the only member of the local media that reviews and publishes the information.

According to the ULP, District Council 21 alleged Valley Wide Painting violated Section 8(a), subsections (1) and (5) of the NLRAct. The complaint was filed on behalf of the Union by PATIU District Council 21 office in Drums, Luzerne County. District Council 21 Business Agent Ken Kraft was identified on the ULP as the contact representative for the union.

Local Union 1269 represents PATIU members throughout the Lehigh Valley.PATIU alleged on the complaint the company failed to make payments to the union stated within the collective bargaining agreement between the parties for employees working for the painting contractor. Also, the company did not make fund payments as per the contract agreement and coerced members of the Union to drop their membership in PATIU and go to work with Valley Wide Painting as a nonunion employee.

The NLRB comfirmed that the ULP was withdrawn by the Union in January, however the actual date was not comfirmed.

The Union first filed the ULP on November 21st, 2011 but amended the complaint on November 30th, 2011.

Teamsters Union and pipeline contractors agree to extension

03.04.12

FEBRUARY 2012 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Teamsters Union and pipeline contractors agree to extension

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, February 1st- The International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) Union went on strike against and the Pipe Line Contractors Association (PLCA), and the workers returned to their jobs without reaching a new pact but the sides did agree to a three-month contract extension of the previous agreement.

According to Craig Pawlik, Secretary/Treasurer and Principal Officer of IBT Local 229 in Scranton, which had members working on the Appalachian Pipeline Contractors site near Tunkhannock and Otis Eastern Services site near Towanda, which was involved in the work stoppage, the main reason the IBT called the strike was because the group of contractors affiliated with the Pipe Line Contractors Association wanted to make major changes to their members pension plan. He told the newspaper there are approximately 70 pipeline construction companies affiliated with the PLCA.

The PLCA initial contract proposal was to withdraw from the IBT Central States pension plan, decrease Teamsters jurisdiction and the removal of classifications that would have reduced the number of their member jobs by 30 percent.

The PLCA offered to start a new defined benefit plan similar to the one that already exists with other union’s that the group has labor agreements with. In short, the PLCA proposal would do away with the IBT pension and substitute it with a 401(k) plan.

The PLCA also has labor agreements with the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), the United Association of Pipefitters and Plumbers (UA), and the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA).

The IBT members, which operate dump trucks and other vehicles that haul pipes and other materials to pipeline construction sites, went on strike on January 1st, 2012. However, the IBT did not call a national strike instead conducted a “selective work stoppage” that involved the local pipelines several weeks later.

There were around 26 members of the IBT involved in the local dispute including Local 229 members and IBT Local 401 members in Wilkes-Barre.

James Murphy, President and Business Representative of Local 401 told the newspaper the two unions shared the jurisdiction of the pipeline construction that were involved in the strike.

The IBT members returned to their jobs on January 13th following an agreement between the PLCA and the union after the two sides agreed to extend the previous labor agreement for three months. The previous contract expired on January 31st, 2011. The two parties agreed to extend the pact two other times. The full term of the recent extension will run from November 15th, 2011 to April 13th, 2012.

Pat Connors, Secretary/Treasurer and Principal Officer of Local 401, stated he was greatly disappointed with several local union officials for instructing their members to cross the IBT picket line at the Tunkhannock pipeline work site.

Mr. Connors told the newspaper the Business Manager of Local 542 admitted to Mr. Murphy at the strike site that he told his members to cross the Teamsters picket line and do their bargaining unit work.

First annual Sam Bianco Golf Tournament to be held on May 19th

03.04.12

FEBRUARY 2012 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

First annual Sam Bianco Golf Tournament to be held on May 19th

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION- February 4th- The “Sam Bianco Bianco Memorial Scholarship Fund Golf Tournament” will be held on Saturday, May 19th, 2012 at the Sugarloaf Golf Club in Sugarloaf Township, Luzerne County.

According to John Rusak, Business Representative of the United Food and Commerical Workers (UFCW) Union Local 1776, the cost to participate in the day of golfing is $75.00 per golfer. The funds raised will go to the scholarship fund named after the legendary labor leader.

“We need golfers. We have sponsors, but the course will not tie-up the club unless there are enough participants,” stated Mr. Rusak. He added at least 128 golfers are needed.

“I encourage union’s that are affiliated with the labor council to buy tickets to participate in the golf,” Mr. Rusak said.

Mr. Bianco served as President of the Greater Wilkes-Barre Labor Council labor federation, which is affiliated with the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) in Washington, DC, from 1978 to September 28th, 2010 when he passed away from complications related to cancer at the age of 88.

Mr. Bianco on the weekend before he died participated in helping pro-labor political candidates get elected during 2010 election campaign.

He was a retired District Manager of the International Ladies Garment Workers (ILGWU). The ILGWU once represented thousands of workers, mostly women, and garment shops throughout the region. Only a hand-full of shops remain today.

Also, Mr. Bianco represented the labor community on numerous boards and committees throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania including: Northeast Pennsylvania Area Labor Management Council, which recently folded; the United Rehabilitation Services; the United Way of the Wyoming Valley; St. Vincent de Paul Kitchen; and the American Red Cross Wyoming Valley Chapter.

Mr. Rusak stated the golf tournament will begin at 12 noon with registration and the cost includes golf, food and prizes.

“For all the things Sam did for the labor community and political leaders, there should be a lot of golfers at the event,” stated Gilbert Cooney, a long-time friend of Mr. Bianco and has been a member of the labor community for more than six decades.

Current Greater Wilkes-Barre Labor Council President Edward Harry, stated Sam Bianco made sure the labor federation was involved with not only the labor community but also the community at-large. “Lets hope that the labor community really comes out and supports Sam,” said Mr. Harry.

In April, 2010 the labor federation held a dinner to honor Mr. Bianco at the Genetti’s Hotel and Conference Center in downtown Wilkes-Barre. Approximately 300 people attended, which included members of the labor community, political officials and other dignitaries.

Mr. Rusak stated anyone wanting to participate or sponsor a hole they can contact him at (800) 635-6994, extension 305.

Building Trades Union’s criticizes rejection of pipeline

03.04.12

FEBRUARY 2011, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Building Trades Union’s criticizes rejection of pipeline

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

LEHIGH VALLEY, January 20th- President Barack Obama rejected a Canadian company’s plan to build a pipeline spanning the United States intended to carry oil across six states to Texas refineries on January 18th citing environmental concerns.

The 1,700 mile pipeline was to carry oil from western Canada to Texas passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. The plan was proposed by the Calgary based TransCanada which was part of the Keystone XL project and would cost around $7 billion.

The decision by Mr. Obama was praised by environmental groups and others including the American Federation of Labor and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) labor federation in Washington, DC.

Republicans and some labor organizations assailed the decision as a “job-killer” and said they would fight-on for passage of the pipeline plan.

The United States State Department said the decision was made “without prejudice,” meaning TransCanada can submit a new application once the environmentally sensitive areas is established.

The Chief Executive Officer of TransCanada said the company plans to do that.

“As the State department made clear last month, the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on the by congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment,” Mr. Obama said in a Whitehouse press released.

Mark Ayers, President of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO criticized Mr. Obama’s decision.

“Today, the words “We Can’t Wait” truly ring hollow for skilled craft construction professionals across the nation. Those are the words that have been uttered by President Obama time and time again as he states he will work around an obstructionist United States Congress to take action to address our nation’s continuing unemployment crisis. One clear opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to unemployed Americans was the approval of the construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline.

With a national unemployment rate in construction at 16 percent, it is beyond disappointing that President Obama placed a higher priority on politics rather than our nation’s number one challenge, jobs,” stated Mr. Ayers.

The Building and Construction Trades Department is an alliance of 13 national and international unions that collectively represent over 2 million skilled craft professionals in the United States and Canada.

“Envirnmental activists who are not saddied with the economic and psychological scars that accompany long-term unemployment will applaud the fact that they successfully induced the White House to block this project. Meanwhile, thousands of proud Americans throughout the heartland will once again be faced with the terrifying prospect of losing their homes and their livelihoods as they struggle to find work.

Jobs remain at the top of the list of voters concerns heading into the 2012 elections. Our members has anxiously embraced the hopeful rhetotic of “We Can’t Wait” in response to an unproductive Congress that seems incapable of acting on meaningful job creation initiatives,” added Mr. Ayers.

03.04.12

FEBRUARY 2011, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

Anti-union group files challenge against NLRB appointments

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM
LEHIGH VALLEY, January 21st- The anti-union National Right-to-Work foundation attorney’s have joined other pro-business groups in challenging the legality of President Obama’s recent recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The organization filed a motion in federal court on January 13th, 2012 challenging the legality of the recess apppointments to the five-member NLRB. The legal challenge is part of a larger case involving new NLRB rules that require every employer to post complete information about employee rights online and in the workplace, even if they’ve never violated federal labor law.

The organization also opposes new NLRB standards that would shorten when workers could vote whether they want to be represented by a labor union for the purpose of collective bargaining.

On June 21st, 2011, the NLRB issued a proposed rule that would potentially remove some of the frivolous litigation that anti-union employers use in union elections that often delay when the employees get to vote on whether they want to be union represented after they have requested the agency conduct an election.

Under the new rule, which is supported by President Obama, representation elections conducted by the NLRB would be held more quickly from the time a petition is filed requesting a union election.

Before a labor organization can file a petition requesting a election at least 30 percent of the employees must support the union and sign the petition requesting the NLRB conduct an election.

A labor organization must receive 50 percent plus one of the eligible to vote employees in a NLRB election to win the right to represent them in collective bargaining.

The proposal would substantially reduced the amount of time employees and employers may communicate prior to the election and will limit the hearings on voter eligibilty, the appropriateness of the unit, and election misconduct.

The United States Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC sued the NLRB to challenge the new rule because of what they termed was a new “ambush election rule.”

“When Congress wisely declined to take up the card check bill, it quickly became clear that the NLRB would work to accomplish the priorities of organized labor through whatever means necessary,” stated Randy Johnson, the Chamber’s senior vice president of Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits.

“This rule has no conceivable purpose but to make it easier for unions to win elections. While couched in technicalities, the purpose of this regulation is to cut-off free speech rights to educate employees about the effects of unionization. The elimination of these rights has long been on the wish list of organized labor and the Board has dutifully granted that wish,” Mr. Johnson told the newspaper.

However, in reality, employers often want the extra time to hire anti-union lawfirms and consultants, at the cost of thousands of dollars, that will attempt to convince the employees not to support the union or make promises to threat them better if they vote gainst unionization.

In motion papers, the Right-to-Work foundation argue that the appointees to the NLRB are not legitimate because the U.S. Senate was still in session during the holiday season, therefore there was no “recess” for the President to make the appointments.

Republicans have failed to vote on Mr. Obama’s appointments despite the fact the NLRB could not conduct business because it lack a quorum with only two standing members.

CWA applaudes ruling involving FAA union elections

03.04.12

FEBRUARY 2011, Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton edition of The Union News

CWA applaudes ruling involving FAA union elections

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSABE@AOL.COM

REGION, January 13th- The Communications Workers of America (CWA) International Union applauded the ruling of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that upheld the rule changes adopted by the National Mediation Board (NMB) in 2010 that was designed to hold union elections within the industry to the same basic principles as other elections in the nation.

Congressional Republican’s have attempted to overturn the NMB rules change by claiming that the election changes overstepped the agency’s authority, and the judicial ruling eliminates the lead rationale used by the GOP to block the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill, which caused a shutdown of the FAA in late summer 2011.

Congress did agree to a short-term funding extension that provided funds for the FAA until January, 2012. However, the issue was again front and center after congress returned from the holiday recess.

The shutdown that put nearly 100,000 people out of work and cost the United States government $400 million, was led by Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee John Mica (Republican-Florida).

The CWA stated GOP House members, including Congressman Lou Barletta (11th Legislative District), insisted that the FAA funding legislation include an unrelated union-busting provision that would change the rules for union elections overseen by the NMB.

The Republicans want a rule that would allow workers that did not cast ballots in union elections be counted as “no” votes, rather than ballots actually cast.

The CWA has targeted two dozen Republicans, including Mr. Barletta, for what the Union called, “their willingness to shutdown the FAA over a union-busting provision inserted into the House version of the multi-year FAA Reauthorization bill.”

The judicial challenge was led by the Air Transport Association, primarily Delta Air Lines.

“This court ruling demolishes the agreement that the NMB overstepped its bounds in ensuring that NMB elections count only the ballots of those who actually vote. This ruling settles this issue once and for all: Republicans cannot continue to block the upgrades and job benefits of the FAA over a provision that has force of law, fairness, and common sense behind it,” stated CWA Communications Director Candice Johnson.

Transportation Unions unhappy with FAA legislation

03.04.12

FEBRUARY 2012 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Transportation Unions unhappy with FAA legislation

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, February 2nd- The labor organizations that represent workers employed in transporation are disappointed with Democratic party leadership compromise on proposed amendments as part of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) re-authorization bill.

In late summer 2011, there was a partial shutdown of the FAA because of the failure of Congress to agree on a new re-authorization plan mostly because of several anti-union proposals introduced by Republicans.

Congressional Republican’s attempted to overturn National Mediation Board (NMB) rule changes adopted by the in 2010 that was designed to hold union elections within the industry to the same basic principles as other elections in the nation.

Congress did agree to a short-term funding extension that provided funds for the FAA until January, 2012. However, the issue was again front and center after congress returned from the holiday recess.

The amendments to the Railway Labor Act is part of the FAA re-authorization bill and according to the Communications Workers of America (CWA) Union, the new bill is a direct attack on the NMB 75 years of expertise in conducting representation elections in the air and rail industries.

The CWA stated GOP House members insisted last year that the FAA funding legislation include an unrelated union-busting provision that would change the rules for union elections overseen by the NMB. The Republicans wanted a rule that would allow workers that did not cast ballots in union elections be counted as “no” votes, rather than ballots actually cast.

Under the compromise that was reached between Democratic Senate Speaker Harry Reid, and Republican House Speaker John Boehner, new roadblocks for employees seeking union representation will be implemented.

“Despite the reports that the proposed changes represent a ‘compromise’ between Congressional leaders, the proposal is a compromise in name only and would have the effect of rewarding House Republicans’ union-busting and intransigence,” said Shane Larson, CWA Legislative Director.

The new agreement would require that at least 50 percent of employees must sign authorization cards just to have an union election. Also, management controls the lists of terminated and furloughed employees that could be counted as eligible voters.

Fired UAW Shop Steward files complaint against employer

03.04.12

FEBRUARY 2012 Scranton/Wilkes-Barre/Hazleton edition of The Union News

Fired UAW Shop Steward files complaint against employer

BY PAUL TUCKER
THEUNIONNEWSSWB@AOL.COM

REGION, January 19th- The union that represent workers employed at Bridon American Corporation, Stevens Lane in Exeter, filed a labor complaint with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Region Four office in Philadelphia, alleging the employer violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRAct).

According to the Unfair Labor Practice (ULP) charge, the United Auto Workers Union (UAW) Local 1612 represents approximately 300 workers employed at the fabricated wire products facility.

The complaint was filed by Todd Morgans, identified on the complaint as UAW Local 1612 Shop Steward on December 20th, 2011.

The Employer Representative named on the ULP to be contacted is Bob Marcaroi. Mr. Marcario position with Bridon American Corporation is Plant Management.

“On or about July 10th, 2011 the company’s agent representative, or delegate disciplined and suspended 3rd shift Union Officer Todd Morgans, an action leading to eventual termination.

The policy allegedly utilized in this case was not an active or agreed-upon company policy at the time of the alleged incident, the initial suspension, or, to the best of my knowledge, the subsequent termination. The actions of the company leave them clearly guilty of wrongful termination, discrimination, and retaliation against a Union Officer. The company is in violation of Section 8 (a)(1) in that it did knowingly interfere with and restrain Mr. Morgans from exercising rights set forth in Section 77 of the NLRA,” states the ULP.

The company is in violation of Section 8 (a)(5) in that it did interfere with the administration of a labor organization by harassing a Union agent and preventing him from adequately performing duties required of him as a Shop Steward,” continued the ULP.