Fracking and politics: A toxic mix in Pa.


The exploitation of Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale has epitomized everything that’s can go wrong with fracking. Drilling companies have run roughshod over a state that has little modern experience with the oil and gas industry. Drilling companies have polluted streams with waste — some of it radioactive — and numerous residents have abandoned their wells. As Josh Fox showed in the much lauded film “Gasland,” some rural residents are now able to light their tap water on fire.

Meanwhille, Pennsylvania’s government has been all but invisible. Cases of pollution or rig explosions caused by shoddy practices have been overlooked by state regulators. And things have gotten worse since the election in 2010 of Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who received more than $900,000 in oil-and-gas campaign contributors and promised that he would turn Pennsylvania into “the Texas of natural gas drilling.” He’s OK’ed putting rigs on the state’s universities as a scheme to raise money. Meanwhile, he rejected pleas for his cash-strapped state to impose a severance tax on fracking — something that’s done in every other drilling state, including Texas., finally agreeing to just a minor “impact fee.”

That’s why it’s not so shocking to see the other side of the coin: Tom Corbett’s all too cozy ties with drillers:

Gov. Tom Corbett and his wife accepted a Rhode Island vacation last year from a businessman even as regulators from the state Department of Environmental Conservation were looking into his firm’s operation of a natural-gas waste transfer station without a permit.

The StateImpact Pennsylvania project is reporting that the governor just last month amended his original 2011 ethics filing to add that John Moran Jr. of Moran Industries had paid $1,422 to fly Corbett and his wife to a hotel in Rhode Island and put them up in a hotel for a long weekend in July of that year.

The Philadelphia Inquirer is also reporting that Moran has given more than $125,000 in campaign contributions to Corbett since 2009. As the same time, the businessman — whose main background is in trucking — plunged himself head-long in Pennsylvania’s fracking boom, calling it “a gift from God.”

Meanwhile, the state regulators who work for Corbett have been trying to decide what to do about an unpermitted waste-transfer station operated by Moran, which has infuriated local residents:

In December of last year — or five months after Moran paid for the Corbetts’ vacation — the Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, reported that Pennsylvania regulators had been investigating for more than a year Moran’s operation of the Sunbury, Pa., waste-transfer site . The facility had been shipping drilling waste by rail to a landfill in Ohio without a permit. It said that Moran had claimed he didn’t need a permit because of a loophole in federal railroad law.

Local residents had angrily complained about Moran’s operation, according to the website Pennsylvania From Below, raising questions about strong chemical odors coming from trucks entering the facility and asking what exactly was in the drill-cutting waste from Marcellus Shale fracking sites that were being transported there.

Look, at the end of the day, this is all about access. Natural gas drillers have bought and paid for Corbett’s campaign, and now they hobnob with these frackers on swank vacations. It’s little wonder that the governor does almost everything they ask for. Do you think that a farmer with flaming tap water gets that’s kind of access?

To read about Gov. Corbett’s free vacation from a gas-industry entreprenuer in the Philadelphia Daily News, go to:

To read more from the Philadelphia Inquirer, please read:

For a report on Corbett allowing gas drilling on college campuses, please go to:

 © Smith Stag, LLC 2012 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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