Getting Fracked Up the Loophole

I really owe Tony Hayward, the beleaguered chief exec at BP, many thanks for helping me decide what to watch on the tele last evening. If it wasn’t for his role in helping big oil destroy our southern shores, I would have never thought to watch a documentary on how the natural gas industry might just achieve a similar outcome with our nation’s precious supply of fresh water.

So while Tony was still washing the salt spray off his deck shoes and out of his hair after a weekend of yachting off the English coast, I sat down to watch the HBO premier of Gasland. This truly remarkable and troubling film by Josh Fox  explores the drilling process of hydraulic fracturing, and the effects it has on human health, wildlife  and the environment.

Among the many disturbing facts exposed in the film, in addition to faucets that spew ignitable water, is something known as the “Halliburton Loophole.” In 2005, then Vice President Dick Cheney, and a former CEO of Halliburton, was able to parley a provision into the Energy Policy Act that exempted fracking from the regulations and standards set forth by the Safe Drinking Water Act. That provision effectively stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to regulate hydraulic fracturing or to force public disclosure of the chemicals being used as part of the drilling procedure. 

Amid  the scores of toxic compounds and agents, that can turn your kid’s bubble bath into a pyrotechnic display, are known killers like benzene, xylene and ethylene glycol. In actuality, the ongoing calamity on the Gulf Coast probably poses less of a long-term threat to our wellbeing than that which is being perpetrated by the suppliers of natural gas.

In time remediation of the spill will occur via those organisms that feed on and break down the oil; but nature does not have a strategy to cope with those manmade non-biodegradable  chemicals used in the fracturing process. And if the BP model of preparation and contingency for disaster is typical of the energy industry, then it is highly unlikely that the natural gas boys have a plan or the capability to deal with the next monster that will emerge from the depths of the earth.  

Unfortunately for myself and the nearly 20 million Americans that live in and around the cities of New York and Philadelphia, that monster is lurking under the bed.

Just north of my home on the Delaware River in Frenchtown, New Jersey are vast reserves of untapped natural gas in the Marcellus Shale. These deposits lie directly beneath the river’s watershed–which also happens to be the largest source of unfiltered drinking water in the United States.

As for me, I hardy ever drink water, but according to the bartender manning the taps at Jack’s Firehouse in Philly, my next pint of locally brewed beer is dependent upon the waters of the Delaware River Basin remaining free of anything not in accordance with the Reinheitsgebot of 1516: sort of the German equivalent of our Clean Water Act which states that the only ingredients allowed in the brewing of beer are hops, yeast, malted barley and good water.


So pour me another  pint of IPA, and for all our sakes–hold the benzene, xylene and ethylene glycol.

The staff at American Public House Review applaud the superb work of Josh Fox, and we recommend that before you take your next sip of water or next gulp of air–see the film Gasland!

Posted by: Chris Poh

A Nation Rising

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States by Howard Chandler ChristyBy the spring of 1787, less than four years after the signing of “The Treaty of Paris” which formally ended British hostilities in America, the new nation was already facing an internal crisis of such proportions that the demise of democracy in the New World seemed imminent. In response those that had crafted the Declaration of Independence and the Articles of Confederation agreed to hold a convention at the Philadelphia State House. Their goal was to strengthen the articles of governance so that the intense differences between the states might be resolved.

Through most of that summer the delegates argued, cajoled and deliberated over several state and individual initiatives designed to stabilize the American government. The harvest of their cultivation and compromise would be our Constitution. Benjamin Franklin made this astute observation about the document.

“There are several parts of this Constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them. … I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. … It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies…”

 The ultimate success of that convention may be attributed to the hand that guided those proceedings. For three months George Washington presided over what was at many times an extremely contentious affair. And when an accord was finally achieved and it was time to ink the deal, once more it was the words of Benjamin Franklin that defined the moment. As he stood waiting to attach his signature to the final draft, he made this comment about the half sun carved onto the backrest of the mahogany armchair that Washington had occupied while overseeing the Convention.The Rising Sun Chair

“I have often looked at that picture behind the president without being able to tell whether it was a rising or setting sun. Now at length I have the happiness to know that it is indeed a rising, not a setting sun.”

As American Public House Review begins its third year of publication we thought it would be fitting to spend an extended amount of time in the city where our forefathers conceived and constructed our democracy. During our two-year sojourn to America’s historic taverns we have been witness to many of the same attitudes and conditions that threatened the wellbeing of this nation in 1787. But like those men that came to Philadelphia during that long sweltering summer over two hundred years ago, we believe that when good-natured rational people gather to address their concerns and disputes – democracy shall prevail.

Following the signing of the Constitution on September 17th, many of the delegates repaired to the City Tavern for a hearty meal and ample celebratory refreshments. According to George Washington, they “dined together and took cordial leave of each other.”

in that same spirit our staff will spend some quality time in some great chairs throughout this fine city. Because like Doctor Franklin we are of the same opinion that America is not in her decline – but we are in fact a “Nation Rising.” Just don’t ask us to rise before last call.  

Check out these featured locations in the current issue of American Public House Review:                            

Posted by: Chris Poh

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