OldArchive / Rick's Report

On The Abuse of Unfamiliar Words as Scare Tactics


We get many emails and a few phone calls every week from anti-gas-industry advocates and activists. We get just as many from bloggers and gas-drilling supporters who devote ample time to “exposing” the anti-gas agenda. Webster’s dictionary defines activism as “the doctrine or policy of being active in doing things with energy and decision” and an advocate as “a person who speaks or writes in support of something,” apparently without as much “energy and decision.” I have often interchanged the two terms and will likely continue to do so.

What bothers me about the information posted and copied to the Rocket-Courier by those on both sides of the fence is the misuse or overuse of big words or catch phrases that are geared to grab the attention of and stoke the fears of their recipients.

This past week, there were two incidents involving Laser Northeast Gathering, a company boring under stream beds and roads in Susquehanna County in order to install one of many pipelines that will carry natural gas from completed pad sites to markets. Both occurrences involved the release of drilling mud into Laurel Lake Creek near Snow Hollow Road in Silver Lake Township. Apparently, a significant amount of drilling mud ruptured upward into the streambed on both July 29 and Aug. 2. Even after the extra mud, which is recycled for reuse, was vacuumed up and otherwise contained with a series of booms, a pair of environmentalists thought they were the first to “expose” this latest “disaster” because they were able to “sneak” into the woods surrounding the stream on a day when the pipeline crew was not present.

What they encountered and filmed was a site and situation that had obviously been addressed quickly and professionally. The mud was not sucked up to prevent the media or amateur sleuths from finding the “truth.” The truth is that the company reclaimed as much of the drilling mud as they could because they wanted to use it again. The other truth is that the bentonite that bloggers and the videographers in question kept citing as though it were a toxic chemical additive sure to wreak havoc on the ecosystem is actually a natural clay that has been used for thousands of years as a bonding agent, sealant, and natural filter capable of removing heavy metals and other naturally occurring toxins from water.

Bentonite is a key ingredient in cat litter. It is used to seal old wells, line landfills, and to add another layer of protection for the underground storage of nuclear waste. It is used as a barrier around newly installed landscaping in urban settings to control rot growth and limit damage to sidewalks and other infrastructure. Bentonite is sold in liquid, powder, and capsule form by herbal remedy companies as an “intestinal tune-up.”

The undercover investigators, who, incidentally, wore flip-flops into the forest, kept repeating the term “blow-out” as they panned their camera back and forth across the creek. Sorry, Ladies; you didn’t discover the latest Chernobyl. This was not a blow-out, which you want so badly to link with the LeRoy Township incident, which did produce unanswered questions.

And, the cover-up that these women and bloggers keep implying is unsubstantiated because there was nothing to hide. There are two aspects to the video that make this clear. When there has been a serious industrial accident, neither the company involved nor local authorities will allow public or unrestricted media access to the site. If the companies involved were indeed doing something unscrupulous at that location, trust me, you would not have been able to obtain the footage that you did. This reality is further supported by the two crew members from another industry-related company that happen upon you in the video and try to explain to you in a totally non-confrontational manner what you are most likely looking at.

For many residents, pipeline construction is a new phase of natural gas production that can be fascinating, frightening, or frustrating, depending mostly on how accepting the individual has been of the initial exploration and drilling phases. Since it seems that the human race is more adept at expressing fear than fascination, anti-gas advocates have buoyed what I see in these videos and emails as an overreaction to a normal part of the boring operations. It will likely happen again.

As for the lack of fish and a few dead crayfish in the stream bed, we just endured a heatwave and weeks without sufficient rainfall. Laurel Lake Creek was likely nearly dry until recent rains made the stream flow again. As for the milky water you discovered, take a walk up the stream that runs along Overton Road out of New Albany in Bradford County after a heavy thunderstorm, and you will undoubtedly be alarmed. A small waterfall about a half mile up the trail that runs along the stream opposite the roadway is nicknamed Buttermilk Falls because of copious amounts of natural clay along the stream bed that makes the creek milky white every time it rains.

“If a small amount is in the stream, it is very visual and can appear like a greater amount,” stated DEP spokesperson Daniel Spadoni. He noted that 890 of 900 gallons of spilled mud was recovered from the first accident and 475 of 500 gallons was recovered after the subsequent incident. The operation was shut down by DEP, and its oil and gas program staff took numerous water samples. Although the water will be tested for the presence of various elements, Spadoni was confident that only bentonite was released into the stream, which, while designated an “exceptional value watershed,” is not a public water source.

Bentonite—not a word we use every day, but also not a word to fear. There are many aspects of this industrial era of which we should be concerned, and I promise to try to investigate as many of them as possible. But to allow oneself or a group of people to get carried away with every new situation without doing some simple research is to dilute the circumstances that truly demand our attention. I am currently more alarmed by a recent increase in deaths and injuries due to industry-related traffic accidents.

To see the video in question, log on to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-RSLrKs4cvE&feature=related. The video was uploaded in two segments, the latter of which is tagged to the first.

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