Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster, by Walter M. Brasch(Published in the Gettysburg Times, 10/4/2013)

Well before most Pennsylvania residents were aware of a natural gas industry north of the Gulf of Mexico, it was taking root in the Commonwealth. “Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster,” by Walter M. Brasch, is the story of that enterprise.

The narrative begins in 2000, when Mitchell Energy, with help from the U.S. Department of Energy, finally proved that extracting natural gas from shale a mile and-a-half below the state’s surface was a practical – read profitable – undertaking.

Companies since become household names to most viewers of evening news advertising were then unknown to the general public, but they were not so unfamiliar to the state’s lawmakers. Millions of dollars were poured into campaign war chests of legislators and wannabe legislators, mostly Republicans, who, the industry hoped, would provide support and protection. The money, it turns out, was well spent.

Brasch lists the wealth the industry rained on legislative candidates, including a considerable sum on the gubernatorial quest of Republican Tom Corbett. Corbett won the 2010 election. Soon after, he convened the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, comprising the Lt. Governor and, mostly, industry representatives.

Leadership of the Department of Environmental Protection went to Corbett-for-Governor supporter Mike Krancer, who virtually halted enforcement of environmental regulations related to shale drilling.

Finally, on Valentine’s Day 2012, Corbett signed Act 13, a law written, many observers said, by the natural gas industry and passed by the Republican-controlled legislature. The new law allowed the industry to operate virtually unhampered, sharing little of its financial gain with the cash-strapped state, and prohibited municipalities from their traditional role in deciding where zoning would, or would not, allow drilling within their boundaries.

Act 13, lawmakers claimed, would establish uniformity of regulation across the state – and was almost immediately amended to exclude from drilling an area in the state’s southeastern region inhabited primarily by wealthy Pennsylvanians.

Brasch offers analysis of the numerous breaks Act 13 gave the fracking industry, then goes on to explore and document accident rates, public health risks, and effects on farm livestock.

He concludes by peering into the future, to a time when gas production, markedly slowed by a market glut and resulting financial losses, resumes as prices rise with increased demand; when coal still is king, but maybe cleaner, and no longer the only electricity-making tool in the international chest.

But it could also be a time when true alternative sources, such as wind and solar, gain a stronger foothold in the nation’s energy mix.

“Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster,” is a book about the dangers, proven and potential, of blasting deep wells for gas millions of years in the making. But more, it is a detailed description of dollar signs tattooed on the eyelids of politicians who, thus blinded to any potential physical or economic danger, cleared the way for a huge industry to operate virtually unhampered in the so-called “Marcellus Shale play.”

The book is an indispensible resource for any student of energy production history or reporter of current environmental and political affairs – or anyone who wants to know more about the natural gas industry than has been exposed by either the general media or the politicians who help protect it.

Brasch is a retired journalism professor, and remains active as an award winning social issues journalist, and author of 16 books, including “Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution,” a novel about a young woman racing to begin construction of a school on her northeast Pennsylvania land before representatives of the energy industry can take it from her.

Fracking Pennsylvania is available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other book stores, as well as from the publisher, linked from