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.
If you're not angry about what the gas industry and its profiteering shills are doing to areas with shale gas, you probably haven't seen Triple Divide; an excellent investigative report on the unsavory underbelly of this beast in PA. Of the fifty some area residents who gave up their Saturday afternoon to attend the showing I'd arranged in Blossburg, one left about two thirds through the film. He was clearly very upset and disgusted as he approached the filmmakers and me near the concession stand where we stood watching. He said something about the futility of opposing the industry which would get away with whatever it wanted. As an afterthought he turned and ironically added, "You're doing a good job."
On January 9, 2013, in otherwise quiet Highland Township in Elk County, Pennsylvania, officials signed a community rights bill into law stopping the deposit of fracking waste within the township. Seneca Resources, the drilling and fracking arm of National Fuel Gas of Williamsville, N.Y., had planned to inject its “production fluids” (oil and gas drilling and fracking waste) into an injection well about 2,200 feet from Crystal Springs — a main source of water for James City — according to the Kane Republican. Injection wells have a history, both long and recent, of failing to contain waste and increasing the risk of exposure to drinking water supplies. So, residents of Highland Township asked their municipal officials to say “No.” A Community & Environmental Rights Movement Highland Township is the latest on a list of over 140 other communities that have said ‘no’ to factory farms, waste incinerators, corporate water withdrawals, and now fracking by passing rights-based ordinances. Marsha Buhl, president of the Highland Township Recreation Association, collected signatures from more than 230 township residents in order to ban the injection well.
With high-profile activists like Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon taking a stand against fracking, the controversial drilling practice has been pulled from the periphery and placed in the public's main line-of-sight at a scale sparking movement from Hollywood. Promised Land, a film starring Matt Damon as a salesman for a natural gas company, hits theaters tonight, lending cinematic drama to the issue of fracking. While the large-scale exposure is valuable, Melissa Troutman, co-creator of another film on fracking, is careful to iterate an important fact, "Promised Land is a story, but this [Triple Divide] is a true story." Triple Divide, a documentary by Joshua Pribanic and Melissa Troutman of Public Herald, carefully investigates the effects of fracking in the Marcellus Shale Region of Pennsylvania from the ground up, focusing its lens on the true accounts of neighbors who have lost their water well to contamination from drilling, and farmers, like the ones in Promised Land, who have lost their land to pollution from a nearby well pad. In their first live interview about the film, journalists Joshua and Melissa discussed Triple Divide and the impact of fracking with Stefanie Spear, Founder and Editor of EcoWatch, a news service designed to promote and build a community of grassroots environmental activism. You can watch the full interview above or at EcoWatch.