It’s day one and Christine Pepper’s family has no water. There’s no water for the family to drink, to shower, or wash their clothes so they’re making calls to inlaws and saving single gallon plastic jugs. It’s day one, and the Pepper family has 45 days until they know what’s happened. It started when Christine splashed water on her face from the kitchen faucet and a burning sensation shot through her skin. “It felt like my face was on fire for 20 minutes,” she said. Later red bumps developed. Not shortly after there was no water at all. The Pepper's spring-fed well, which had produced water for more than 50 years, went completely dry. “I’m not saying we’ve never had low water," explains Christine’s husband Corey, "but it always comes right back, but it’s stayed dry for two weeks. And... I’ve never seen it! I’m 42, I’ve lived here 42 years, and my Dad was 18 when he bought this house.”
We at Public Herald get crushes kind of often. Our latest one is on Mission & State, a new in-depth journalism project in Santa Barbara, California. Like so many other great connections, we discovered M&S because of fracking. Yes, thanks to that highly controversial and dangerous drilling process formerly known as horizontal slickwater hydraulic fracturing, we’ve met some really amazing people. Fracking is only one part of Mission & State’s coverage of news in and around Santa Barbara, which finds itself atop the oil and gas rich Monterey Shale, a bedrock formation with average depths of over 11,000 feet underground according to National Geographic. Check out Mission & State’s coverage of the ‘urchin and caviar’ politics surrounding the fracking debate in California.
Triple Divide, a fracking documentary the Scranton Times Leader called “a bombshell that could reverberate across the state,” is headed to New York for a month of screenings and discussion with the journalists who created it, Melissa Troutman and Joshua Pribanic, visiting towns from western New York to the Big Apple. New York is the third leg of the documentary’s national tour across shale regions of the United States and will be at the Wellsville Creative Arts Center on January 24th at 8:00 p.m. Wellsville is directly downstream from the documentary’s namesake, the triple continental divide in Potter County, Pa. where the Genesee River is born. It’s also where the Allegheny River in with New York. Reviews of Triple Divide call it the only documentary on the controversial subject of fracking capable of speaking to all sides. “Even if you have differences, you have to find common ground to speak about this,” says a Pennsylvania organic dairy farmer in the film.
What was once a laborious, mishandled process for public access to information about oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania still is... but in the past several years it’s improved ever since unconventional shale drilling (a.k.a. fracking) hit the Keystone State like a rototiller on steroids. And despite a sleek new mapping tool recently launched by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the real secret in the sauce — fracking sauce that is — is still as elusive as ever. frac_focus_depState and federal regulations continue to allow drillers to keep their fracking mixtures “trade secrets” while also permitting them to pump the poisons into the ground. Sure, some companies report some of the chemicals they use on “Frac Frocus” (Frac Focus) which DEP links to under the Resources tab of its data tool, but what's a recipe without all the ingredients? DEP doesn’t control the laws leaders write, it can only enforce them — or not. (For those details see “File Review” below.) So no fracking chemical listings for the well in your backyard, kids. But at least DEP’s Oil and Gas Mapping system does have the state’s Exceptional Value (EV) and High Quality (HQ) waterways as an optional data layer (Check the link for more about drilling waste burial near these sensitive water supplies).
Hot of the press in most of rural Pennsylvania are promises on economic opportunity from fracking, but Triple Divide a new documentary by filmmakers and journalists Joshua Pribanic and Melissa Troutman questions its impacts. The film covers a two-year analysis of fracking by investigative news nonprofit Public Herald and is touring across the Commonwealth this November. “People can expect to witness a side of fracking they’ve never seen before by watching Triple Divide,” said Pribanic. The film is the first of its kind to reveal illegal burials of potentially radioactive waste in Exceptional Value Watersheds. It highlights new concepts regarding an issue dubbed “The Pressure Bulb” referring to the unregulated force needed to frack a well, and uncovers a ‘predrill scandal’ where the industry is allowed to dismiss its own science.
Over a handful of Governor Tom Corbett's own administration have resigned more than a year before the end of the governor's first term, for reasons that remain partly cloudy at best. Department of Public Welfare Secretary Gary Alexander left March 2013. Inspector General Kenya Mann Faulkner left the month before Alexander. Turnpike CEO Roger Nutt left October 2012. And then there's the leadership upheaval at Pennsylvania's environmental agencies: the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) in charge of oil and gas extraction and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) in charge of conservation and management of forests, parks and other natural areas. DCNR has limited authority to manage oil and gas fracking on state land, since DEP issues the permits under its own set of policies and procedures. In June, then head of DCNR Richard Allen was fired after an email to his wife Patricia who then worked at DEP reached the Governor's desk. The email contained potentially-racist comments toward a high-ranking staff member of DEP, whom Allen also called a "B****" in the email. Sources say that the staff member has since quietly left DEP without announcement. Mrs. Allan has also left DEP but still works for the state. Governor Corbett has since replaced Michael Krancer as head of Environmental Protection with environmental expert Chris Abruzzo, former Chief Deputy Attorney General. Aburzzo supervised the state's Drug Strike Force and also serves as Derry Township Supervisor in Hershey, Pa.