Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

The nation’s other non-BP disasters

Surely, the BP disaster deserves the obsessive coverage it has received (thus far). But at the risk of missing some other important stories, I want to briefly address two somewhat overlooked catastrophes – one that has already taken place, and one that possesses the potential to be horrific, but we still have time to stop.

Many Americans would be surprised to hear there’s another domestic oil spill – in Salt Late City. (via)

Chevron says a hole the size of a quarter caused their pipeline to rupture around 33,000 gallons of oil into the creek.

The manager of Chevron’s refinery in the Salt Lake City area said Monday that the company believes the rupture in the 10-inch pipeline was caused by an electrical arc that traveled through a metal fence post. Mark Sullivan says the arc acted like an electrical torch, causing the hole.

Sullivan couldn’t say how long the pipeline was leaking before Chevron was notified of the problem Saturday morning. But Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker says residents could smell the odor of petroleum overnight Friday.

The spill has coated about 300 birds at area creeks and ponds, and the oil is possibly threatening an endangered fish.

Chairman of the Salt Lake City Council,  J.T. Martin, calls the event a horrible tragedy.

“The whole river corridor is contaminated. It is a major catastrophe for this area and for the city.”

State water quality scientists were taking samples to determine oil concentrations. Depending on amounts, the spill could disrupt the food chain for the long term, killing bottom-dwelling invertebrates that feed fish, said Walt Baker, director of the state Division of Water Quality.

…Crews had positioned absorbent booms throughout the contamination path and, as a precautionary measure, on the Jordan River as far north as the Utah Fairpark, said Jeff Niermeyer, the city’s director of public utilities.

“We do not want it to get into the Great Salt Lake,” Freitag said. There, the lack of a current could allow oil to accumulate and affect even larger bird populations at the world-class flyway. However, he said, the oil appear to be stopped in the Jordan River.

River activist Jeff Salt planned to check out the Jordan River on Saturday night.

“What happens with the Jordan River that’s of concern is the water feeds into the duck clubs and to Farmington Bay Waterfowl Management Area,” he said. “Hopefully, there are preventive measures being installed at the key locations along the Jordan River to contain the oil before we get to the wildlife areas.”

Residents were urged to avoid affected areas of the Jordan River, while Liberty Park and Red Butte Creek were expected to remain closed at least through today.

We’ve already seen how well those booms works in Louisiana. Rachel Maddow reported from the delicate marshlands that many of the booms are “Snarled up in marshes, not protecting the shorelines, blown over by tiny little winds, tiny little waves, bamboo pickets to hold the boom in place that don’t hold it in place…”

The sad truth about these kinds of ecodisasters is that companies like BP and Chevron don’t have a fully effective way to clean up their mess. That’s why regulation is so important, which brings me to this second story about the Marcellus Shale.

A while ago, I wrote about an incredible video posted at the website of Toxic Targeting, an environmental watchdog group that maps toxic sites on a lot-by-lot basis. The video showed a disabled Vietnam veteran lighting his tap water on fire. The water, and the tap, have been located in his Candor, New York home since 1962.

He lives above this thing, the Marcellus Shale, which is a formation few people know about, but which has a huge impact on their water and gas supplies. It’s basically a giant rock formation that extends from New York all the way down to Tennessee. Industry first became interested in the Marcellus Shale when scientists realized there was gas inside the pores of the rock.

I first saw Walter Hang, President of Toxic Targeting, explain in an interview with Democracy Now a new process called “slick water hydrofracking” which was developed to extract the gas. However, the extraction involves tremendous amounts of water, and it’s incredibly polluting. The water that comes out of the ground has toxic chemicals, petroleum compounds, and it’s actually radioactive.

Huge corporations like ChesapeakeFortunaTalisman, and Hess benefit from slick water hydrofracking, but the process is potentially polluting the drinking water of 15 million people, including 9 million New Yorkers.

Now, two gas wells are planned near 67 homes in Pennsylvania.

The industry noise began with a “blowout” on June 3 at a Marcellus Shale well outside Penfield in rural Clearfield County. That well, adjacent to the Moshannon State Forest, spewed natural gas and drilling wastewater contaminated with toxic chemicals into the air for 16 hours.

On Monday, drillers hit a pocket of methane in an inactive deep mine, causing an explosion and fire that flared 50-feet high for four days, destroyed a drilling rig and burned all seven workers on the well pad, located in a farm field near Moundsville in West Virginia’s northern panhandle.

Okay, team. Good start. At least no one died, so that’s cause for celebration, and full steam ahead, BP-style!

Anyway, that’s what I say. But for some reason, the townspeople are spooked.

“We’re horrified by the possibilities of that happening here,” Ms. Borowiec said about Marcellus Shale wells planned for a pad 1,500 feet from homes in Upper Burrell. “The more research we do the more horrific it is, and I don’t think a lot of people know what’s going on.”

Now, they want all kinds of “safety standards” and “environmental regulations.” Chucklesnort. Don’t these idiots realize they live in America? We go commando, baby.

But Dr. [Conrad Dan Volz, assistant professor for Environmental & Occupational Health at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health and director of the school’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities,] said the recent accidents should raise a red flag, noting that there have been leaks and fires at Marcellus Shale drilling operations in Pennsylvania as well as blowouts in other gas shale areas around the country. That should preclude locating gas wells on school properties — under consideration by some Pennsylvania districts — and state-owned forests, parks and properties, he said.

“This is a public health issue, and there should be careful deliberations, not only by the state Department of Environmental Protection but also the Department of Health, which is on the hook for public health and would be derelict if it doesn’t act quickly to deal with this,” Dr. Volz said.

Look, someone tell Dr. Feelgood that the prospect of exploding the little fiery corpses of schoolchildren into the stratosphere shouldn’t stand in the way of social progress. That’s no reason to let something dangerous happen, like allowing the formation of unions or strict regulatory processes.

By the way, Pennsylvanians will be footing the bill for their own radioactive demise.

Pennsylvanians are only slowly becoming aware that we are under siege. More than a thousand Marcellus Shale drill sites are in the works, with tens of thousands more poised to descend on Penn’s Woods, its towns and neighborhoods, threatening to poison water tables, suck streams dry, pollute the air with ear-splitting noise and toxic fumes — all without meaningful regulation, without meaningful taxation.

Like coal, which successfully resisted a severance tax, leaving taxpayers and volunteer associations to wrestle with the social and environmental damage wrought by more than a century of exploitation, gas drillers enabled by politicians expect Pennsylvania to remain the only major gas-producing state without a severance tax. These deep-drilled deposits of natural gas will be severed from the commonwealth forever without compensation and with little or no enforceable liability for the devastation wrought on the land, water and air. We cannot allow this to happen!

Without labor protections, community protections, landowner protections and public health protections, we cannot allow this toxic invasion to proceed.

In the words of John Cole:

Because, you know, if we tax [corporations] they’ll move overseas. Wait, what?

Erm, right.

It’s not too late to stop the next great national tragedy that is totally preventable through strong regulation and the formation of unions to protect workers’ rights. However, corporations aren’t going to lead the way on this one. Regulation and unions both slow down the rush to profits. Theoretically, a Democratic president is supposed to be an ally to these protective measures. Emphasis on the “theoretically.”

What the administration (and the media) have demonstrated is they’re much more likely to ignore the Marcellus story until an explosion happens, killing workers. Then, everybody will gnash their teeth and wail to the sky, crying “Why? How did this happen?”

28 Responses

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  1. Nate Bear said, on June 15, 2010 at 8:07 am

    Great article.

    Shortly, I am going to make sure my state legislator are aware of how fukt up shit is and how pissed that makes potential voters like me.

  2. Sue said, on June 15, 2010 at 10:40 am

    Oval Office Setting Won’t Make Obama’s Gulf Oil Spill Speech –

  3. Becoming Dead said, on June 15, 2010 at 11:23 am

    Thanks so much for posting this. People (including myself) need to know that the BP spill is not an isolated fluke.

  4. mwarren06 said, on June 15, 2010 at 11:31 am

    Excellent article. Thanks for sharing this. I passed it along and got this back:

    It’s too bad the guy only talks about how “cheap” and economical it is but fails to realize the long term environmental and health costs.

  5. naughtymonkeys said, on June 15, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    Thanks for this. People should be more aware of the catastrophes the worthless mainstream media ignores.

    Meanwhile, you might be interested in a new documentary about hydrofracking, Gasland — I’m not connected to the director or being paid to do this in any way, just happened to see a short tv piece about it and was shocked by the whole process and little we’re hearing about it.

  6. […] Surely, the BP disaster deserves the obsessive coverage it has received (thus far). But at the risk of missing some other important stories, I want to briefly address two somewhat overlooked catastrophes – one that has already taken place, and one that possesses the potential to be horrific, but we still have time to stop. Many Americans would be surprised to hear there's another domestic oil spill – in Salt Late City. (via) Chevron says a hole t … Read More […]

  7. Ginny said, on June 15, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    I knew about that mine in PA that has been burning for decades but this is news to me. We really are working our way towards oblivion…it’s too bad we have to take the entire planet down with us.

    I heard that a large majority of the environmental organizations are all on an oil payroll…so there are no real watchdogs for us. What’s your advice??

  8. unlikezebrastripes said, on June 15, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    It’s easy to focus on the Bp spill, this is a very informative post that reminds there are tragedies occuring across the nation. The cost of doing business for these dirty energy companies has gotten way too high, environmentally & socially.

  9. David W. King said, on June 15, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Here’s one that seemingly has for the most part flown under the radar. Cyndi Lauper has recorded a Blues album. This is the album she says she has always wanted to do but was told by some white Blues artists until now that she was too young to know what the Blues is all about. She was seen performing a number from this album on the Celebrity Apprentice. Walking across the boardroom table in front of Trump, she acted as though she still had it–did she ever really have it. This is all that is needed, another over the hill rocker retiring to perform the Blues with a bunch of white Blues performers performing to half empty venues of card carrying AARP members.

  10. Justin said, on June 15, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    This is crazy. I was literally on the main site because I was interested in creating a blog-type thing with some friends and this was the first link. I remember you telling me about this at your restaurant on Saturday, and I meant to look it up but completely forgot. This is such a weird coincidence.

    Great piece, too! You use mixed media formats really well, and I love your writing!

    BTW: here’s another toxic superfund issue, but I think the NYTimes has given it some coverage it in the past:

    And here’s a think-tank piece about Oil Shale formations which mentions the Green River site that I was telling you about.

  11. drush76 said, on June 15, 2010 at 3:05 pm

    I wondered how long it would take Americans to realize how much their previously complacent attitude toward the exploitation of our natural resources would effect the environment. You can’t just blame the politicians and businessmen for this. We’re all to blame, because we allowed it to happened.

  12. rob los ricos said, on June 15, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    thanks for this excellent, well-researched and well-documented article! i’m reposting it on my blog, as you will shortly see…

  13. […] reposted from allison kilkenny’s blog – unreported […]

  14. WORLD AFRICAN CONGRESS, WAFCO said, on June 15, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    WORLD AFRICAN CONGRESS, WAFCO wishes to thank Allison Kilkenny for posting this article that is very eye-opening and informative. The authorities concerned ought to read this article and start now to take action to plug these two disasters before they get out of hands like BP is now. CHAIRMAN IKOKWU BENNEY, WAFCO

  15. thebackroadslesstraveled said, on June 15, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    The Bush administration pulled almost all funding for the EPA leaving a skeleton crew. There are no large organizations serving as watch dogs. We the people must be the watch dogs and make sure the people we elect will actually DO SOMETHING.

    Great article.

  16. […] The nation’s other non-BP disaster (via Allison Kilkenny: Unreported) Posted: June 15, 2010 by AA in WordPress 0 Surely, the BP disaster deserves the obsessive coverage it has received (thus far). But at the risk of missing some other important stories, I want to briefly address two somewhat overlooked catastrophes – one that has already taken place, and one that possesses the potential to be horrific, but we still have time to stop. Many Americans would be surprised to hear there's another domestic oil spill – in Salt Late City. (via) Chevron says a hole t … Read More […]

  17. Justin Wooley said, on June 15, 2010 at 7:46 pm

    Great post. While the spill in the gulf does indeed deserve all the attention it’s getting (and maybe more,) it’s important not to forget the problems we have here on our own American soil.

  18. postcardsfromagastronome said, on June 15, 2010 at 8:05 pm

    With your permission, I would like to re-post this to my facebook. This was so well written. Thank you.

  19. allisonkilkenny said, on June 15, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    Thanks and of course. Post away.

  20. natinanorton said, on June 15, 2010 at 10:51 pm

    Very informative post!

    It never ceases to amaze me how many important stories are overlooked by the media, not to mention how much corruption you can get away with when you’re a big corporation. The flat out dishonesty is nauseating. I’m afraid, however, as long as there’s money to be made we’re gonna be asking ourselves ‘Why” for generations to come.


  21. hannahfergesen said, on June 15, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    This is incredible – I feel lucky to have a way of learning about these potential disasters through something like wordpress, because I have heard nothing about it until now. I am amazed at how these companies are allowed to get away with these things, how they can disregard the huge numbers of people who will most certainly be hurt by their actions. Thank you for such an informative article – I will be passing this on.

  22. gregw89 said, on June 16, 2010 at 3:29 am

    This is great to know, as no mainstream media has even mentioned this thing. Toxic waters are a problem through much of the developed world, but are not talked much about. Though my water here in California isn’t the worst, I still took the liberty of placing a purifier over my faucet. I feel much more healthy and safe doing so.

  23. soratothamax said, on June 16, 2010 at 3:29 am

    Agreed.This is also an important disasters. there are big tornadoes and earthquakes happening everywhere! That’s why it’s important that you posted this up. I wish I could make this kind of impact with my words.

  24. clearville said, on June 16, 2010 at 6:32 am

    We know the lies, looting and onshore polluting which is covered up and protected by the government. We have asked the new president to start making these environmental robbin hoods to start paying for their environmental theft for riches.

    We had prewater tests before drilling. The only link to pollution in the spring fed fish pond in the middle of the forest is the industrial activity which took place on ridgetops using fracturing chemicals. Geysers shot up; algae grew and the pond became a bubble bath of toxic 2 buthyethanol; acrylonitrile and other poisons which fish bioaccumulate. The poison from the chemicals settled in the sediment and the surface has a shiny oil sheen with bubbles.
    The government needs to stop offshore and onshore drillling until we can be 100% guaranteed it will be safe. You cannot clean dirty water, air and soil.
    Freeze BP assets – Get on the drilling rig (don’t believe the bandit) more of this story
    at http://clearville.wordpress
    videos showing some of the fracking activity on once forested ridgetops

  25. Barry Lauterwasser said, on June 16, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Let me lay a few things out for you all from the perspective of an entrepreneur, and businessman of over 30 years.

    Corporations thirst for big profits. Why? Because huge fund managers own big stakes and can control that share price. They put enormous pressure on these executives for profits. And in the end why each executive is driven by them. So when you buy into a fund, look at what shares they own, because if you own a fund that owns BP, you’re part of the problem. And when corporations can’t earn profits legitimately they often resort to cutting corners and finger crossing. We don’t like it, but that’s the reality we live in, and it’s nothing new.

    America is the most spoiled nation on Earth. Our thirst for cheap oil not only for fuel but for convenience in packaged goods is a big part of the problem. Stop buying bottled water and bottled sodas. Use the tap or buy your soda in larger quantities. Look at the packaging we waste, then throw into a landfill. CD packaging, consumer goods. How much oil do we throw away every day for our convenience.

    We can point fingers all day, but these companies are giving us what we want… cheap this, cheap that, conveniently placed at our local retailer. 1 million iPads in a month…to folks that didn’t even need them, but wanted them…. it’s our whole attitude towards the Earth…tragedies take place around the world every day, but no one really cares….how much oil spewed into the air and back onto the ground in the oil fields of Kuwait…far far more than is spilling into our gulf.

    Where were we all then? How much do we really care about the Earth, or is it just our backyards that we really care about…

  26. call2write said, on June 17, 2010 at 1:01 am

    Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    Excellent article, very well written and informative!! Thank you!

  27. […] Surely, the BP disaster deserves the obsessive coverage it has received (thus far). But at the risk of missing some other important stories, I want to briefly address two somewhat overlooked catastrophes – one that has already taken place, and one that possesses the potential to be horrific, but we still have time to stop. Many Americans would be surprised to hear there's another domestic oil spill – in Salt Late City. (via) Chevron says a hole t … Read More […]

  28. […] The nation’s other non-BP disasters […]

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