August 30, 2012

The Gas Bag strategies for defusing hydrofracking opposition

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - A website called Energy in Depth started popping up in my emails about hydrofracking recently. Usually the emails were because someone was commenting about some outrageous opinion columns printed on the site purporting to be news.

I won't provide the link here because the people that run it likely use the number of hits to show their bosses how much traffic they generate as they ask for more money.

A new way to heat homes - light the faucets on fire

EID is a gas industry mouthpiece which pretends that it is presenting the news and facts about natural gas exploration and drilling but in fact spends most of its time ridiculing anyone who criticizes any aspect of the gas industry.

EID is supported by the oil industry, too. They are all sleeping the same rather rumpled, toxic bed.

The stories/columns are quite sophomoric and make wild claims about the wonderfulness of natural gas, dismissing any assertions that there have been toxic spills or water pollution or nasty incidents of any kind.

But in the past few days, I allowed myself to get sucked into reading some of the posts and responding a few times.

Then I realized that is a major part of the EID strategy: Get concerned citizens busy replying to stories posted by the morons who write for the website. (My apologies to morons everywhere for that crack. These people aren't stupid, just mean-spirited.) If the fracking opponents are spending time  posting on the website, responding to some snotty, inaccurate or lie-filled post, they are not writing letters to legislators, researching the ongoing chemical spills or talking to their neighbors about the dangers of hydrofracking.

Tom Shepstone, gas industry flack
Tom Shepstone, the man in charge of the public relations site (and other efforts to discredit anyone asking questions) is a gas industry consultant and told me - in a comment on the EID website - that my assertion that they were trying to suck off activists' time was ludicrous.

I don't think so. I think Shepstone and his klan of gas baggers is all about trying to get the opponents of hydrofracking from focusing on fighting in ways that matter such as trying to stop the gas companies from continuing to buy politicians while they blithely pollute the groundwater.

So, adios EID. Rest in peace, preferably near a concrete hydrofracking pad or adjacent to one of those naturally occurring methane puddles which are growing in such great numbers where hydrofracking is taking place.

August 21, 2012

Kingdom of Tonga next stop for the Backpack Journalists

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - The dateline in a few weeks on this blog (and my column for the Finger Lakes Times newspaper) will not read Watkins Glen. It will read:
 VAVA'U, Kingdom of Tonga.

Admiral Fox and I will be traveling there to attend a sailing regatta and festival (LINK: Tonga Sailing Regatta) about which we will be publishing stories and photos in several magazines. There might even be some video postings for publication involved, too.

The whole thing started in June when Captain Clarence Harvey of the sailing vessel Lotus (yes, the Lotus, the ship we raced in the Banderas Bay race the past three seasons) forwarded me a notice from the group putting on the regatta. The group was looking for a journalist to come, sail, (and eat, drink and be merry, I believe) and then publish about the experience later in whatever publications or video outlets might be interested.

A flurry of emails later and our tickets are booked, we are in a mad scramble to get proper footgear and clothing - while also figuring out how to pack all the needed computer and camera gear.

Oh! And I am learning how to say, "I would like a cold beer, please," in polite Tongan.

The majority of the population of the island nation does speak English so if my Tongan doesn't improve, I will not die of dehydration.

A dream assignment? Yup. And Admiral Fox has already landed a writing and photo assignment from her Zumba magazine. She will also be teaching some Zumba classes  there and posting stories and photos on her website: RoadTrip Zumba.

On my side of the writing fence, I have an overall story about the sailing regatta and festival to do and several feature ideas percolating. I was in contact with the travel writer Rolf Potts (Rolf Potts Vagabonding) who advised me not to get carried away prior to my visit, but check out every grain of sand while in the islands for stories and articles to do later.

Who knows? We just might have to stay in the island paradise a few extra days (or weeks, or months, or years) to see all of what Tonga has to offer. I have wanted to travel in the South Pacific ever since watching the television program, Adventures in Paradise in the early 1960s. (Adventures in Paradise, first episode...).

One feature idea I am considering is swimming with whales. You read correctly. It seems that the whales in the waters around the islands of the Kingdom of Tonga don't mind a little company in the water.

We'll see. It could be instead of my diving in, I'll take some great video and stills of Admiral Fox swimming with these leviathans. Maybe she can teach them a couple of underwater Zumba moves while she is down there.

She is going to be certified soon in Aqua Zumba, after all.

How do you say, I am your friend, in Whale?

August 18, 2012

Inergy protest in Watkins Glen draws more than 200 people

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - A rally in Watkins Glen - against the proposed Inergy propane storage project - drew more than 200 people Friday who heard heated speeches and then took their protest to the streets of downtown Watkins Glen in a march that drew a lot of interest from local residents and tourists.

Inergy - a Missouri-based corporation - wants to store propane and natural gas in salt caverns in the Town of Reading, just north of Watkins Glen. Opponents have a detailed litany of safety issues with the proposal, few of which have been addressed by local or state officials.

Opponents also believe that the facility would be a disaster for the rapidly growing - and successful - tourist industry.

As a nice capstone to the many issues already uniting the protesters, Inergy went to the state Supreme Court this past week to demand that its property tax bill be cut in half - while simultaneously touting all the fiscal advantages the surrounding area will enjoy if the project is approved.

Those fiscal advantages would likely include having to lay off local schoolteachers and police.

It seems the concept of cognitive dissonance is alive and well in Missouri at Inergy.

The best stories about the protest came out of the Corning Leader, written by Derek Ek and the Odessa File.

Here are the links to those two pieces:

Odessa File story and photos
Corning Leader article and photos

Also here are photos of the rally, and a short video:

Sandra Steingraber (photo by Sylvia Fox)

Elaine Mansfield

Gas Industry photographer 'covering' the rally


August 15, 2012

Friday is the time to just say NO to Inergy propane storage

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - A few weeks ago I wrote the following in my column for the Finger Lakes Times in Geneva:

The winds of war are blowing and hard to ignore this summer.
I’m not talking about the national political chatter about Iran and that nation’s potential to produce nuclear weapons.
The breezes on the back of my neck come from much closer to home from two seemingly related decisions: a pending state decision whether to allow hydrofracking for natural gas and the possible approval of a massive propane and natural gas storage project in the Town of Reading, a few miles north of Watkins Glen.

This Friday those winds will be blowing hard, right along the main boulevards of Watkins Glen, NY, with a very large demonstration and march against the proposed Inergy propane storage facility in the Town of Reading.
Protestors will assemble at 4 p.m. near the waterfront and from there, well, it's anybody's guess what will happen.
Many people have worked hard for several years to convince local officials to stop this disaster-in-the-making from moving forward. For the most part, government officials seem unimpressed and dismiss the opponents as some kind of environmental whack jobs.
They aren't.
Thousands of people have signed petitions against it and have the support of hundreds of local businesses - large and small - which are threatened with a loss of commerce if this large-scale industrial project gets the nod.

The planned project is an environmental nightmare of epic proportions. And the proponents have demonstrated they have little regard for the safety and well-being of the area and its residents.
Just in the last few months, without permits, the company has spilled many gallons of brine water - water that is much, much saltier than sea water - right into Seneca Lake. The scars of burnt grass and dying trees are visible to the naked eye from the lake.
Inergy officials merely yawn.

Part of the Inergy site

Beyond that, there is no safety plan in case of a major emergency. And even at that, Inergy has admitted in filings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that if there is a major accident/incident, it couldn't afford to clean things up and pay for all the likely claims.
And if that all isn't bad enough, on the same day that demonstrators will be demanding that the Missouri-based company withdraw its application, the company will be arguing before the state Supreme Court to get its property taxes cut in half.
Cut in half! Jaysus!
No wonder people are taking to the streets.

The winds of war will blow Friday and it remains to be seen if local government officials will wake up and see just how alarmed the local citizenry is - really alarmed - and how much the citizens want the project stopped.
Among the many scenarios protestors are worried about - with some of the millions of gallons of propane being stored in unstable salt caverns beneath the lake for Godsakes  - is that a major fire and explosion is likely.
No possible. Likely.
The video below from Toronto, Canada shows just how powerful a propane explosion is. 
If Inergy's salt caverns - or planned above ground storage - caught fire and started to explode.
Well, adios Watkins Glen - and the surrounding countryside.


August 3, 2012

The Frackers are closing in on New York State - time to act

WATKINS GLEN, New York, USA - New York State residents are expecting word from the Governor's office almost any day about whether he will move ahead and allow hydrofracking for natural gas in New York.

Hydrofracking site
If he does, New York can kiss its clean water goodbye, as well as get ready for an environmental assault that could seriously damage - if not kill - much of the growing tourist industry around the Finger Lakes.

Nothing like have a concrete natural gas well pad, industrial equipment, the smell of methane and chemicals - or a flaring gas stack - within sight of a winery where you are tasting the latest Seyval offerings.

I have been reading entreaties from activists all over the state, urging people to send a message to our governor, Andrew Cuomo, to tell him not to allow hydrofracking.

Andrew Cuomo

And so today, I got off my duff and wrote the governor. It's rumored he is courting the natural gas industry because he thinks their big bucks will help him get elected president in 2016. If he approves fracking in New York State, he won't have my vote or support for anything.

I'm still miffed that he won't support the sale of wine in grocery stores, because he owes too many political chits to the liquor lobby.

Here's the letter I sent to the Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo, Governor today:


3 August 2012

The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224

Dear Governor Cuomo:

I am writing to you today to urge that you NOT approve of any hydrofracking in the State of New York – even what might be considered small test sites.

I have been studying, writing and publishing about hydrofracking since 2005 and my conclusion is this: Hydrofracking cannot be done safely and is a clear and present threat to public health, the environment, and the economy.

Yes, the economy.

The natural gas companies that have promoted the gas-rush fever have built their entire program on faulty financial data and projections (perhaps deliberately) as most of the companies are more interested in investment and profits than actual production of natural gas. That house of cards will collapse. And when it does, I do not want New York State to be left with polluted waters, an abandoned industrial wasteland and a public health nightmare.

Far better for New York State to be a state that still has clean water, a solid tourist industry and healthy people.

It’s doubtful in future years that people will be flocking to the Barnett Shale area in Texas to vacation, or even many of the hydrofracking hot spots in Pennsylvania and Ohio where once beautiful tourist vistas have been turned into something that looks like a movie set from one of Mel Gibson’s Mad Max movies.

I urge you to resist the temptations of allowing hydrofracking, no matter how much is being offered by the powers behind it. The road to re-election, and perhaps to higher office, lies with the people who elected you in the first place.

If John McCain had stood by his principles, he would likely be President of the United States today.


Michael J. Fitzgerald, president
*subject2change Media
Watkins Glen, NY, Arroyo Seco, Jalisco, Mexico
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