Monday, March 29, 2010

Marcellus Shale Well Drilling is Highway to Hades for Pennsylvania

World Family,
This may look like a post for Pennsylvanians, but actually it is for 23 U.S. states, and anyone who cares about environmental responsibility and natural resources. For years, Falcon has been talking about alternate energy and global environmental responsibility. Many would think that natural gas (nat gas) would be a part of that formula: after all, it has less emissions than coal for sure, and is domestically available. Local is good, right?

Well, traditional gas wells have their problems, and it certainly isn’t as simple as the industry would like you to believe; but the recent explosion in unconventional well extraction, aka horizontal well drilling popular to extract gas in the Marcellus Shale…well, that has millions of problems, and it starts with the millions of gallons of water that it takes to perform the extraction.

Each frac of each well takes about a million gallons of water to operate. This is not the last ditch effort before a well goes dry employed in the past since the turn of the 20th century to get that last bit of gas out; this is going 5,000-10,000 feet below the surface of the earth, making a hairpin turn and then blasting water (called hydrofracking) to break up the shale and release the gas. The cracks are filled with sand. There can be up to ten fracs per well. This year alone, there are nearly 5, 200 permits under consideration for the commonwealth!

You may wonder, World Family, where the water comes from. Here is one of the biggest problems (I did mention millions of problems). The water is simply taken from streams, ponds, creeks, and rivers (which brings up an interesting fact: water is a resource that belongs to everyone in this state, not a government entity who has permission to give it away en masse), hauled away in trucks, and used, and then when it is filled with frac water (a combination of a litany of highly toxic chemicals and Total Dissolved Solids -TDS- a fancy term for heavy duty salt, four times saltier than the water in the ocean) and deposited back into rivers, streams, and ponds. Of course, all of the water isn’t recovered, less than half in most places, depending on topography. In Pennsylvania, the soil and sedimentary layers, along with quartz, limestone, oh, and radium (yes, Marcellus Shale contains radioactive radium) make the landscape hard to predict, and even harder to recover frac fluids. If one recovers 50% of the frac waters, that is impressive. The rest of that water stays in the ground…and permeates. Where it goes is obvious, even to the scientifically challenged, but oil and gas companies will tell you that there is ‘insufficient evidence’ that the fluids migrate. So have you ever seen totally contained fluids in soil? Me either, it moves, that is kind of the point. So, groundwater is impacted, and so are aquifers…to think that they won’t be or can’t be is idiotic.

Here is what I can tell you. Falcon works in risk assessment. Once upon a time, I did consulting work for the Department of Energy. I can tell you a LOT about how to remediate things out of water: organics, chemicals, TNT, even radionuclides, but it is very, very hard to remove that which is contaminated underground, and it is very difficult to improve the quality of water that is not only TDS contaminated, but also highly acid, like fracwater can be.

That is what happened to Dunkirk Creek in the late August-September of 2009. Someone dumped a lot of fracwater into the creek and killed everything: 155 species, gone. In just 20 days, it was a dead zone, except for a very interesting algae, not indigenous to the region, that gave away the very equipment from Texas that was used to dump the contaminated water. The pH was extremely low. Need a comparison. Take a can of soda (pH of around 2.0) and pour it into your bathtub water. Wanna get in? No? Well, neither does anything else. I am not even talking about the HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) that is probably in that can of soda as well.

Which brings up another problem I have not heard discussed anywhere except in my nearly 4 times a week lectures and workshops in various places around PA, NY, WV, and OH: what about everything else in the water? What happens when those chemicals used in fracwater (of which we have no list or concentrations because the oil and gas industry doesn’t have to tell us) combine with some other things in our water, like…xenobiotics (fancy word for pharma drugs that people like to dump down their toilets when they are out of date, or just used and expelled in the usual fashion, if you know what I mean), HFCS, or a variety of other substances? What happens? Who is responsible for remediation and clean-up? What happens when animals and humans ingest this combo-water? We don’t know. And here is something even scarier…
No one and nothing. Yes, you understood me correctly. Well, here is the starting point. You can get angry at the person or family that allowed the drilling on their land that is effecting your drinking water miles away, and you may want to sue them, but they don’t have any real money-they were paid junk by the gas companies. That $100,000 that looked so good to them at the beginning won’t cover squat as they and their children and their animals get sick, or the frac pond in their backyard overflows during a slow moving rainstorm, runs into their neighbors yards and contaminates everyone’s sewer and wells. Don’t look at the oil and gas companies: they are exempt. That was a gift from the Bush Administration back in 2005.

You can get mad at your municipality for not remediating the water, but they don’t even know what’s there (unless someone’s running water from their faucet catches on fire-then, they might have a clue that there is at least natural gas leaking into the system, but maybe not anything else. Yes, that has happened, and continues to happen). The municipality is responsible to the sewer authority (here in Allegheny County, it is ALCOSAN) to clean up anything they know about…but how do they know? No one is required to tell. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP in PA) can only do so much because the laws are not in place to protect the resources, but you would think that we a name like the Department of Environmental Protection, they would certainly do more than they do…which in this issue, is frankly, no offense, not much. They are trying to change regulations, but not fast enough. Permits are being issued with language clearly stating that water will be transported out of the various basins that are protected (a clear violation of Commerce laws), but no one is halting permits on the basis of those indications. Since the water of the commonwealth belongs to the people, and the water is being used without the people’s permission, then who is responsible?

Right now, no one and nothing…not unless the people begin to make their elected officials, and those who are appointed to do various jobs involving environmental responsibility live up to their mission statement. Does it feel like a horror movie yet? It does to me. It is a waking nightmare for millions of people, and we can’t wake up from it.

Hey, but it’s all worth it, right? We get energy independence! Not so fast. Many of those oil and gas companies touting American presence are increasingly being acquisitioned by foreign interests. The same BS that happened in oil will happen in gas-it already is. And about those jobs…the industry itself says it will only make 25-27,000 in the next 5 years…that is in the entire state! Wow…isn’t that like the population of a Pittsburgh neighborhood? We could employ 5 times that in alternative energy, and those would be union jobs, with good training, good pay, and we would still be able to drink the water!

There has been one other thing (like these aren’t enough to worry about) that has concerned me, and when I have brought it up in lecture, sometimes I get a strange look. Today, however, my email box was full with people who heard the same thing I did: that there was an earthquake in WV. Yes, this region is actually capable of having earthquakes, but hadn’t for a real, real long time. I have been concerned that based on the soil’s constitution, the number of holes already in PA (like Swiss cheese) and the combinations of other types of fossil fuel acquisition, along with ground gases (methane, radon, gas leaks, and a partridge in a pear tree) that we could have major upsets to groundwater, seismic activity, and even underground explosions if the proverbial ‘perfect storm’ of wrong conditions came together.

Here’s my question for the oil and gas industry: has anyone ever calculated the actual cost of what it takes to do horizontal well drilling? The answer would be no. No one included the cost to resources, to agriculture, to forestry, to hunting, to fishing, to quality of life. It’s time that those concerns were made part of the equation. I know, that may be uncomfortable for some, but it must be done. Water is our sacred currency. It is the key to life. I am not willing to sacrifice my state and 22 other states of this country to become a dead zone so someone else can make a dollar. It is not acceptable. It is not negotiable.

Is the industry truly aware of the risks? Most of them probably aren’t, but some are aware enough to have sold their acres of mineral rights to other companies (we will call them suckers) to remove themselves from the liability and possible inglorious lawsuits yet to come when large waterways are impacted and the drinking water of millions becomes effected. That could happen as early as this summer, 2010. Dominion sold their land because they didn’t want the liability-they are happy providing the lines for transport. Consol bought it, thinking it will all be okay. Hmmm…

So, what are the options? What are the solutions? Well, first of all, there needs to be a moratorium on all additional permits. Let me say it plainly:


Pennsylvania will be enough of a guinea pig and its natural wildlife and pristine streams subject to lab rat techniques while this issue is examined by the DEP and now, EPA. Yes, it is time to let scientists, not activists, lobbyists, or corporations look at the science and risk involved in this process. They must be objective, lucid scientists whose soul has not been bought by the devil (like one geologist told me, “ it’s a fine practice, just don’t ask me about the water”-yeah, right). There can be plenty of looking over each other’s shoulder; an improved system of checks and balances is desired.

Can this type of drilling be done safely? Well, at the turn of the 20th century, no one thought so. That deep extraction has serious implications, especially with chemicals that have huge health impacts. Can well linings be made securely enough, and wells allowed to cure long enough to be safe, not prematurely used causing cracks? Maybe, but that doesn’t stop the migration of contaminated water left in the soil. Can this process be done without those chemicals? Probably, but not as effectively. Even the remediation plants in the state can’t keep up with the amount of contaminated water, and even if you have a phytoremediation site (3 pools with various beds of indigenous substrate designed to remediate what we know is there: TDS, heavy metals, etc.) for every municipality in the commonwealth, there is no telling what happens when all of these chemicals meet each other in the open river, or meet xenobiotics, or for that matter, the pH problem. Taking water and replacing that water with contaminated water and thinking nothing will go wrong is ridiculously foolish.
It already has. It will continue until several steps are taken.

One: All chemicals (including the proprietary ones) must be identified in concentration and frequency to the DEP and EPA. No one can treat the water if they don’t know what’s really in it.

Two: Algae could become our friend in bioremediation to correct pH, but we can’t do that without more research. That we just don’t have yet. Only one percent of the world’s algae has been researched for bioremediation that could also allow the algae to be used as biofuels, in certain instances (obviously, heavy metals must be attenuated or incineration employed, and that is probably still not a comfortable place for most people to be).

Three: More regulation (duh) needs to be in place BEFORE this process continues. My personal opinion is that other techniques and other fuel sources be introduced to companies that just can’t get out to the fossil fuel mind. There are other areas that they could employ that would make more money with less risk: biofuels (that are not food), sites that could be natural bioremediations and those plantings used for biofuels, since they would be inert if they were phytodegradators (ok, I know…too much science now, but I want to present solutions so that you know there are other options out there), and that has a trifecta: cleans up the mess, remediates the air, reduces carbon footprint. Yes! Employs more people, for less risk, improves the bottom line for the company, and makes for happy shareholders: by shareholders I mean those that hold those pieces of paper, and those that swim, fly, walk on two legs and four, because we are all ‘share holders’. We all have a stake in what happens to our resources.

Everyone: stand up. Put down the remote, and start to pay attention to what is happening to your resources. Maybe you can’t get your head around climate change. Can you get your head around the fact that it is time to make your politicians (public servants, remind them of that), your corporations, and your community work more effectively for you? Get selfish! These are your resources we are talking about! New York residents-are you ready to have horizontal well drilling effect the drinking water of 16 million people? Are you willing to risk that future-not 30 years away, but more like three-to a process that we clearly know doesn’t have enough regulation, and all the severance taxes in the world won’t save if there is even a small catastrophe?

ACTION: Write the EPA and let them know you support their investigation of this process, and you want vociferous attention paid to how this industry impacts your community, your state, and your planet.

This is my last post in my position as chair of my nationally recognized non-profit, who has a history of fighting for environmental issues. My last day is March 31. I will still belong to the organization, but I will not be a Water Chair who must defend the organizations’ decision to say that this kind of drilling is fine as a bridge fuel. It isn’t. It is the highway to Hades. I cannot and will not defend that position to anyone. Many, many people have told me they think that this group has lost its focus, and forgotten its origins of protecting wildlife, conservation, exploration, and sustainability. I would agree. They have decided to make one type of fossil fuel very evil (and it has its problems, believe me) in favor for another that has just as many drawbacks when ALL of the risk is added up. I got tired of people asking me if this organization had lost their minds. I am a scientist before an activist, and I am a sister of the earth before I am anything else.

My people go back centuries in these, the oldest mountains on earth. I know these rivers and streams, as did my grandmothers and grandfathers before me. I want this land, these hills, valley, and streams to be beautiful for my grandchildren’s grandchildren. I will defend them. There is no compromise of one devastating environmental practice over another devastating environmental practice. If they both suck, they both suck. Let’s do something that doesn’t suck. We have the technology, and we have the ability to start today.

Let’s begin…so that we and all that we love can continue.


Saturday, March 27, 2010


Hello everyone, Dove here! Earth Hour happens TONIGHT from 8:30pm to 9:30pm EST! During this hour, people, organizations, and businesses all across the globe will be turning off their lights. I will be participating as well, from my dorm room here at SCAD. Every student here has been notified about Earth Hour. I already try to reduce the amount of electricity I use in my dorm, and tonight, I will be turning everything off, including unplugging most of my electronics (because just having something plugged in but off can still consume electricity, costing you hundreds over the course of months and years!).

THANK YOU to those who have already participated in Earth Hour in your respective time zone. I encourage everyone across the globe to continue the wave of conservation in their time zone tonight. It's easy and it's fun! Light some candles and relax or read. Turn on some flashlights, and tell ghost stories with your kids! If the weather is nice, go outside and look at the stars! If many in your area are also participating, there probably aren't as many lights blotting out the sky's celestial bodies. If you have an outdoor fire pit, roast some marshmallows! There's so much that you can do with this hour! Enjoy it!

This is just one easy thing that all of us can do to help the cycle of conservation and keep our natural resources and habitats lush and bountiful for centuries to come! Ideally, this kind of thing should be done every day, but maybe we can all try to do this once a month. Imagine the impact that would have if everyone on Earth committed to THAT! Our wallets would be much fuller, and our Earth would be greener, that's for sure!

Happy Earth Hour!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Take A Stand for Civility

Hey World Family,
Please take a moment, no matter where you are, to sign this petition, and send a strong, clear message. Thank you.
Thanks to our Brother Benjamin Todd Jealous, and our sister Anita for bringing this to our attention.

Falcon and Dove

You may have heard by now that over the weekend some opponents of health care reform used shocking racist and personal epithets against members of Congress who disagreed with their position and supported the bill.

Last Saturday, while Representatives filed through a House office building on their way to watch President Obama deliver a health care speech, some extremist protesters turned vicious. Civil rights legend and Georgia Congressman John Lewis was repeatedly called "ni**er" by the crowd, while fellow Congressional Black Caucus member Emanuel Cleaver was spat on. Longtime NAACP champion and openly gay Representative Barney Frank was called a "fa**ot." This is not only outrageous behavior -- it is un-American.

Stand with Representatives Cleaver, Lewis and Frank. Sign our Petition today and let it be known these outrageous personal attacks have no place in our nation's political discourse. Saturday's incident is just the latest evidence that a lack of civility is undermining our democratic process. Last August protesters painted a swastika on the district office of Georgia Representative David Scott. Later that fall Congressman Joe Wilson shouted, "You lie," as President Obama delivered a speech before the joint Houses of Congress. These sorts of outbursts serve only to bully our elected officials and undermine our democracy.

Like many of the hot-button political issues of our day, health care reform has inspired passion in supporters and opponents alike. Indeed, it is this passion that kept us determined to keep fighting for reform, even on the days when it looked like we might not win. While the NAACP respects the passions that inspire political movements of all kinds, we know that when civility breaks down, communities of color are often the first to be hurt.

Please, join me in signing the civility petition today. Stand alongside Representatives Cleaver, Lewis and Frank, and take a stand for civility in our political discourse.

Benjamin Todd Jealous
President and CEO

Monday, March 22, 2010

Bridgestone Safety Scholars

Hello Students!
Falcon, here with some great scholarship news!

If you are age 16-21 and planning on attending college or already there, here is a great scholarship opportunity!

It's simple: Make a video under 55 seconds long about driving safety, and you could qualify to win a scholarship for $5,000!!!

Three students will qualify for the big money:)

From our friends at Bridgestone:
Grab your camera – it’s time for the fourth annual Safety Scholars Video Contest, now accepting entries until July 1. This is your chance to jump in the director’s chair and show how we can all be safer behind the wheel. If you’ve got a compelling, creative idea related to safe driving, make a short video (25 or 55 seconds) about it, and submit it here:

Your video could be broadcast on television by Bridgestone Americas as a public service announcement on stations around the country. Ten finalists will win a new set of tires.

Okay, so Falcon called Bridgestone offices yesterday, and got all the important details you won't find anywhere else, so here are the answers to all the big questions.

First, you must be between 16-21 yearsw of age and be a licensed driver. If you are going to win tires, you should be a driver, right?

You should be accepted to a college, trade school, or you can be a junior and apply...unless you are a Home School student. If you are, apply when you have an acceptance to college, okay?

Undergraduate and graduate students may apply!!!

The scholarship can be used for ANY COLLEGE EXPENSES THROUGH YOUR UNIVERSITY!!!!

This is HUGE, students! That means, tuition, books, computers, materials...any school related education expenses, including housing and that all important meal plan can be paid for with this scholarship!

So...ENTER NOW! The deadline is July 1, 2010.
For more information:

Thanks to Michael and Courtney for giving us the heads up on this great opportunity.

This is an important time of year for our college hopefuls. Keep your heads, gang! Stay positive, and remember, there is always a PLAN B-make it work for you! Take advantage of every opportunity!

Remember your scholarship aggregator:

Free, and lots of scholarships are available for you! DO it!

Falcon and Dove

World Water Day

Brothers and Sisters,
Monday, March 22 is World Water Day, and this year World Environment Day events held by the United Nations will be held in Pittsburgh, PA June 5. Their theme this year is also water.

It is ironic that during this time when world organizations are focused on the ever increasing crisis in water world wide that Pennsylvania's water quality would be challenged.

Right now, Marcellus Shale horizontal well drilling is threatening the water quality of the entire commonwealth. Here's why:
It is completely unregulated-thanks to a 2005 decision by the Bush Administration to stop regulating oil and gas operators through the Clean Air and Water Acts.

It takes a million gallons of water, per frack, to operate a horizontal well. There can be up to 10 fracks per well! That is 10 million gallons of water per year per well, and there are 5,200 well permits up for consideration for 2010! It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that this is a problem. All that fresh water comes from the rivers and streams unabated. No one asked our permission to use it, yet the water of Pennsylvania belongs to the people-that is what our charter says.
The water that is recaptured is contaminated with extremely high levels of salt-4 times saltier than the ocean, and very acid pH. It is toxic to nearly everything, except certain forms of algae.

It is also contaminated with radium...yes the same thing that produces radon gas. PA residents are already adversely effected by radon, and lung cancer from radon is a top killer in some regions of the state. All this to garner a small amount of natural gas that will not be U.S. autonomous-foreign companies are already buying into the shares, so the same thing that happened in oil production will happen in domestic gas production...only this time, our collective water quality will be destroyed in the process.

This is not a small problem. There are a variety of 72 chemicals being added to that water, but we don't know how many or in what concentrations, because the companies are not required by law to reveal that information. Municipalities who think they will make tax revenue on this type of drilling will find themselves in deep to the sewer authority who will require that water remediated before it hits the plant. Right now, it is being dumped untreated, right back into our rivers.

Anyone who wants to write a horror story, here it is, and this one is very real.
Call write, or loudly complain in the most public way to your local and state and federal officials: this is our resource, water is sacred, you cannot continue to violate our rights in this manner.
Falcon and Dove

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

SWPA Flooding Concerns: Tips for Everyone

Hello Family,
As you know, a slow moving stormfront can play havoc for us here in Southwestern PA. We are expecting some rain for the next few days, and that along with rising temperatures has the National Weather Service, and some local officials concerned that flooding could occur.

Falcon has some tips for EVERYONE, regardless of where you live, because stationary water and stormwater runoff are a problem everywhere.

First- if you live in a flood prone area, clear your basement or ground floor of as many valuables as you can.
Keep fresh water bottles on hand ( enough for 3 days or more) and have food, medicines, etc. on higher ground and bagged to keep moisture out.

Second-make a pass through your property and community today while it is dry. Remove loose debris from areas where is could collect in rising waters and become a real problem. Check the sewers in your neighborhood. Make sure they are clear of debris and trash. Those items could block sewers, cause streets to pond and put lives at risk. It could also cause water to back up into basements and yards.

Three-get sandbags for areas around your home prone to flooding.
Get battery operated radios or crank radios and chargers in case the power goes out.
Keep a medical kit for cuts and bruises handy. Check flashlights, and CHARGE YOU MOBILE PHONES!!! Keep them charged.

Four-let family and friends know where you are and what you are doing. Social networking is very handy for that. If you haven't heard from someone, when you safely can, check on them, particularly if they are elderly or living alone.

For more information on what you should have in case of an emergency, go to:

Peace, and stay safe.
Falcon and Dove

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Artist Tim Farrell on ECHOES this Weekend! Upcoming Concert in Pittsburgh on March 12!

Artist Tim Farrell on ECHOES this Weekend!
Upcoming Concert in Pittsburgh on March 12!

Hello Family,
Guitarist Tim Farrell, whose new CD CODAS is currently Number 4 on the ECHOES list, is coming to Pittsburgh on March 12 for a benefit concert to promote science education to young people in the extended tri-state region. I also just heard that he will be featured on the program this upcoming week:

One-check out our ECHOES broadcast on Sunday evenings from 9-11pm on WDUQ-FM, 90.5

Two-Tim’s interview and concert should air on Tuesday, March 9, but check to see when it will air where you are, or play the website.

Then you can come out Friday night in Pittsburgh (the snow will be melting, the air warming) by the confluence of the three rivers and see Tim with his buddies Ken Bonfield, and Steve Davison at the Carnegie Science Center for food (free beer!) music, and all for a good cause: science education.

Just go to this link to purchase your tickets:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Falcon and Dove: Oscar Predictions 2010

Hello World Family,
It's an annual event, and of course, this year is no different. It is time for our Oscar predictions: what we think will win, and what we wish would win.

We will keep it simple. This is a powerful year. We feel going to 10 films under consideration for Best Picture was a good idea, since there certainly are enough great films this year consider.

Best Picture-It is going to be a very tough category, but we feel AVATAR will win BEST PICTURE, although we think THE HURT LOCKER will give it a run for its money, and both are fine films. PRECIOUS is nominated, and were there not an AVATAR, this would be our choice for Best Picture.

Director-Kathryn Bigelow did a fantastic job, and of course, Lee Daniels was awesome. We would love to see Lee upset this category, but we are also fine with James Cameron getting his Oscar.

Best Actress in a Supporting Role should be Mo'Nique. She was devastatingly magnificent.

Best Actress-this is a very tough cetegory, and will probably be won by Sandra Bullock. Is it her best effort or role...well, no. This is a feel good category. Every single woman in this group did an extraordinary job this year.

Best Actor in a Supporting Role-probably Christophe Waltz

Best Actor-probably Jeff Bridges, but we would also like to give props to Colin Firth, whom we enjoy tremendously.

In technical categories, we would like to see awards for the following films: AVATAR, STAR TREK, HP: HBP, and The Secret of Kells.

Best Animation will probably be UP, but the best project this year was CORALINE.

Best Original Screenplay- It's a toss up: THE HURT LOCKER and THE MESSENGER

Best Adapted Screenplay-PRECIOUS should win-we will see

Best Visual Effects-AVATAR, period, seriously

Music-Randy Newman may get a win here for work in Disney's THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG

Best Documentary-FOOD, INC.




It is truly a wonderful year for film. See as many of these great films as you can on screen, or on DVD.

Falcon and Dove

The Earth has been Knocked Off its Axis!!! Frank Sarris dies

Hello World Family,
The Chilean earthquake 14 miles
below the surface of the earth has knocked the planet about 3 inches off where it was before.

That has made out days shorter by 1.26 millionth of a second. You probably won't notice it, but the earth spinning faster does leave one pondering...

Speaking of knocked off our axis...


Chocolate icon of southwestern PA Frank Sarris has passed away suddenly.
Falcon and Dove are very sad to hear this news, and offer our prayers and sympathy to the Sarris Family and employees and friends.

Falcon thinks of Sarris as family-many, many school and sports fundraisers, church groups, and holiday shopping have all involved Sarris.
Frank was at work yesterday! A visit to their ice cream shop and store is an annual event for our family. I had the best chocolate ice cream cone ( the size of Rhode Island on a sugar cone, I want you to know) with chocolate jimmies ( sprinkles for you non-yinzers) of my life there during last December! Absolutely awesome!!! The dark chocolate Covered apricots are one of the things dreams are made of! And then there's the giant candy castle! Oh, and all the stuffed animals and novelties! Sarris has always been a special, family owned business in Cannonsburg.
Frank-we love you dearly and will miss you muchly.
He was 78 years young.

Falcon and Dove