Thursday, April 21, 2011

Gas well blowout in Pennsylvania forces evacuations

CANTON, Pennsylvania, USA - A blowout at a natural gas well in Bradford County sent families packing and pollution officials scrambling to figure out the dimensions of a spill of well-related chemicals.

The well started leaking highly toxic fracking fluid into nearby Towanda Creek (noted for its trout fishing) and as a precaution, families living nearby were evacuated.

The fracking system for extracting natural gas from deep in shale rock formations, so far, is being studied in New York. Currently, it is not allowed in New York State, but is in many others around the nation.

The full story from the Elmira Star-Gazette can be read here:

A frack-up in Pennsylvania

A natural gas well site owned by Chesapeake (Photo by AP)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sac State uses riot police to evict sleeping students

SACRAMENTO, California, USA - A group of students peacefully occupying the administration on the California State University, Sacramento to protest budget cuts - and the way CSUS is cutting classes and faculty  - were rousted from their sleep at 3:30 a.m. Friday and threatened with arrest by police clad in full riot gear.

The move on the part of the police came after the students spent days trying to convince university president Alexander Gonzalez to pledge - among other things - to put a hold on more salary increases for his administrators.

Police enter, ready to arrest
He declined.

The middle-of-the-night eviction is best described by the students themselves in their online blog:

"This morning on the fourth day, April 16 at 3:24 A.M. we were met with the administration’s opposition expressed through a riot taskforce...

...At 3:24 AM there was a police officer at the front doors unlocking the entrance, when asked what was happening and why, we were told that he could not answer that question. At the same time police were assembling in a militant formation with full riot gear, batons, and a large amount of zip ties. They were approaching sleeping students from multiple directions within the building. They threatened with force that if we did not leave we would face arrest. Our police liaison met with Lieutenant Christine Lofthouse that if we did not leave the peaceful demonstration that we would face arrest...

...When the police moved in to take action there were only about 4 students awake out of 27. The campus police felt that it was necessary to wear full riot gear, and act in a threatening manner to a completely non violent student movement...

Here is a link to the student's blog about the occupation and the subsequent police action: LINKSac State students speak out

The middle-of-the-night police action was, of course, designed to ensure that there would be a minimum amount of media coverage. All the TV anchors (and their cameras) were sound asleep at that hour and so there would be no opportunity for the students to get their message out.

Ready to lock the doors
A clever move on the part of the public relations staff at the university. But did the police have to show up in riot gear? Really?

What that  cleverness on the part of the CSU, Sacramento administration has done is galvanize the students - and not just the 27 who were in the building. Across campus, students are likely talking about the president's unwillingness to take their demands seriously.

And they are pretty angry at the police tactics.

"This is only the beginning, we are committed and we will see this through. To put it in the words a fellow activist said “even though we walked away from our sit in, we have not walked away from our movement."

Friday, April 15, 2011

Gas storage on the front burner in Watkins Glen, NY

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - A proposal to use salt caverns on the shores of Seneca Lake to store propane and natural gas is drawing a lot of attention - most of it negative.

The proposal is by a mega-corporation called Inergy (LINK:Inergy website) to use the caverns owned by its subsidary, U.S. Salt, to keep propane and natural gas - and become the transportation and distribution hub for gas for the entire Northeastern United States.
U.S. Salt (Photo by Observer-Review)

The proposal currently under discussion seems relatively modest and the company has been pedaling it hard with local government officials.

But many local residents believe that if Inergy gets the approval to do this, it will be a case of the camel getting its nose into the tent.

Increases in heavy truck traffic, noise, water and air pollution are all cited as reasons to oppose the project.

And those factors are especially important to local residents who have watched the area bloom in the past 10 years as a major tourist destination for central New York.

Watkins Glen has a gorgeous downtown area, a world-class race track, natural attactions like the Watkins Glen waterway and Seneca Lake.  Added to that are more than 50 wineries around the lake that draw thousands of people ever weekend, nearly year round.

A gas-based industrial project - one that would send heavy trucks rumbling down the only highway through the center of Watkins Glen - would seem at odds with that.

Complicating the issue is the ongoing proposal to extract natural gas in the area using the 'hydrofracking' method that has been an environmental disaster in nearby Northwestern Pennsylvania.

Many local residents fear that if hydrofracking is allowed in New York (it is currently being studied), that the gas will end up being storde by Inergy on the shores of the lake.

Some believe that Inergy's project is actually counting on hydrofracking being approved as part of its business strategy for doing the project in the first place.

William Moler
An interview with Inergy's point man on the Seneca Lake project, William Moler, would seem to give pretty strong evidence that Inergy is banking on the gas from hydrofracking become part of its storage.
"The development of the Marcellus Shale has steadily increased the interest and value in its storage and transportation assets in a region that critically needs energy infrastructure to efficiently allow the Marcellus to proliferate," Moler told the Pipeline and Gas Journal last July in an interview.

The full interview and more comments about the connection between Inergy and the possibilities for hydrfracking in New York can be read here: LINK: Marcellus Shale and Inergy