The slightly disheveled, soft-spoken, gosh-howdy demeanor of Rex Energy representative Duane Maust is typical of the carefully crafted image that Big Gas presents in its relentless campaign to con people into selling out their rights - and in some cases, their livelihoods or even their lives. Duane's colleagues were less able to conceal their discomfort as they lied to the school board and to the assembled residents of MASD. To anyone who took the time to read the body language of the other Rex people, it was crystal clear that they're not as comfortable with lying as Duane. The water-test guy weaseled out of the questions addressed to him by failing to mention that although his company does extensive testing at the behest of drillers and DEP, DEP's protocol has carefully, intentionally, and cynically omitted reporting over half of the toxic chemicals that they find in homeowners' well water after drilling has contaminated it. The young man who presented the company line - now widely acknowledged to be false - that their drilling had never contaminated a water supply, was visibly shaken by the spotlight. I was disappointed that no board member was well enough informed to ask the obvious follow-up question about the entire Butler County community of Connoquenessing Woodlands, whose water supply has been poisoned as a result of the shale-gas drilling that surrounds their community, or about the refusal of the drilling company to continue to provide water to the devastated members of the community, even though the drillers admitted culpability.
The Rex geologist, who was able to tell you how long most laterals are, carefully avoided discussing the fact that the many existing abandoned coal mines, shallow gas wells, and naturally occurring but unidentified geologic faults in our area provide migration pathways through which millions of gallons of toxic chemicals will begin to seep toward the surface, the instant they complete the fracking process. These are the chemicals that they hope to pump under enormous pressure into the laterals that pass under MASD property - and roughly 80% of those chemicals will remain deep underground, long after the well has run its full gas-production cycle and been capped. Long after your lease has expired. Long after Rex Energy has gone out of business. But our children and grandchildren may still be living in this area when those chemicals finally migrate up into our aquifers, poison our fresh-water supply, and render Adams and Middlesex Townships uninhabitable.
The "produced water" or "flowback" following the fracking process also contains radioactive components that sometimes spill at the drill site or during truck transportation, and even when handled properly, must be transported far away and injected into deep underground storage facilities (not yet proven to be safe, either, but proven to trigger earthquakes in areas that have never in human history experienced earthquakes). Trucks bearing this radioactive material are increasingly setting off radiation alarms at dump sites. The trucks are being turned away and forced to travel across state lines for disposal. And the drivers of these trucks are, all the while, exposed to many hours' worth of exposure to radiation intense enough to set off alarms at dump sites. Think about that, as you evaluate Big Gas claims that they create great jobs.
Even your own solicitor's representative was oddly - perhaps tellingly - testy, defensive, and unwilling to make eye contact when asked by your own board members about indemnification. Indemnification sounds comforting until you realize that in this case, it applies to a nearly zero probability of legal actions taken against MASD until long after Rex has folded their tent and crept far out of legal reach. And the REAL problems that will arise - perhaps 10 or 20 years down the road - are going to be problems that your $1 million windfall couldn't begin to address, even if you put it all in escrow now, to be used against future claims, such as loss of water supply, destruction of the environment, and catastrophic loss of property value.
The loss of water supplies and property values, although high-probability eventualities, are longer-term problems that will likely peak here in Adams and Middlesex long after your terms as school-board members are completed. The more immediate issues, which the community will begin to feel as soon as this industrial process starts to ramp up less than a mile from our schools, are noise, truck traffic, and - most important of all - air pollution. Big Gas is fond of asserting that they "know how to do it safely." Perhaps some of them do, at the intellectual level. The problem is that everywhere in the country where this technology is currently being employed, it is NOT being done safely - and there's no evidence that the proposed well less than a mile from our schools will be the first, shining example of Big Gas finally getting it right in their desperate rush to apply this poorly understood, evolving technology. Air pollution will come in the form of the toxic chemicals that are both leaked and intentionally vented during and after the drilling process at every site like this that has ever been drilled. There are emissions of volatile organic compounds and other toxins that are well-known carcinogens and endocrine disruptors. There are unburned hydrocarbons and additional toxins that are produced by flaring and by the myriad diesel engines that power trucks, drilling equipment, compressors, pumps, and electric generators at every drilling site.
Another fracking-related air-pollution issue is one that is already dramatically affecting gas-field workers, and will soon be producing symptoms in communities near fracking sites: the use of silica sand as a "proppant" agent. The angular shape of silica sand crystals, which makes it suitable for injection along with the toxic chemicals into cracks in shale rock to hold it open after fracking is completed, is exactly the property that also makes it the perfect agent to produce silicosis, a deadly lung disease, in humans. Universally inept handling of silica sand during transportation and at drilling sites is allowing it to enter the atmosphere and be inhaled by unprotected and unsuspecting citizens and gas-field workers.
Duane Maust blithely asserted that you won't even know the laterals are there, deep under your feet. But you asked the wrong question. You should have asked if the noise associated with drilling, fracking, and production will be disruptive to the business of running a school district. The answer to that, if he'd been willing to be truthful, would have been "yes." In fact, people living within a mile of these drilling sites are frequently subjected to noise levels that prevent them from sleeping at night, even with their windows closed. He would also have been compelled to comment on the ground-shaking explosions that will occur directly beneath your schools when the laterals are actually "fracked," which is the process by which they fire depleted-uranium projectiles into the sides of the lateral boreholes, to fracture the gas-bearing shale. That's depleted uranium as in "the munitions that have produced radiation sickness in Gulf-war soldiers who had to handle those munitions." This facet of their process only adds to the hazard presented by the naturally occurring radioactive elements that are also brought to the surface in "produced water."
Another family of lies that landmen like Duane are skilled in delivering with a straight face has to do with "inevitability." They say, "Everyone around you has signed, so you might as well go along." In fact, Duane was lying to you when he said that everyone in the entire yellow area on his map has signed leases with Rex. It's simply not true, but it's the most-often-used falsehood uttered by landmen. Another aspect of the same lie is "The well will be drilled anyway, so you might as well benefit." Don't take it for granted that the well "will be drilled." The permit hasn't even been issued yet, and the economic viability of this well if you refuse to lease is not a foregone conclusion. Another lie used to prod the gullible and uncaring into signing leases is the false sense of urgency instilled by drillers' assertions that they're about to start drilling, and you need to respond to their offer quickly - "Hurry - get one before they're all gone!". Like, by next week.
Just so you know, the residents and taxpayers of MASD who attended your 4 March meeting and who strongly oppose both drilling in general and your signing of this lease in particular are only a small proportion of the people here and elsewhere in your immediate sphere of impact who are actively working to prevent the destruction of our lives and our environment by this greedy industry.and their egregiously misused technology. Your board president mentioned the presence here of both risks and benefits, but she may not fully appreciate the dramatic difference between those to whom the benefits accrue and those upon whom the risks - both short-term and long-term - will fall. To think of this issue as one of balancing risks and benefits is to miss the point entirely, especially for a school district that is not destitute, and is considering acceptance of huge risks on the community's behalf in exchange for what, in the grand scheme of things, would be a trivial windfall.
I hesitate to bring it up because it's non-technical and risks getting into the 'argumentum ad hominem' realm, but it's not lost on the community that the land on which this proposed drilling site would be located is owned - and was eagerly leased - by a former president of your very school board. And it's likely that individual board members will soon be asked which of you has leased personal land for drilling, and might therefore derive personal financial benefit from expanded gas drilling in the area. Think of these issues as examples of your need to avoid "the appearance of evil."
If you truly take seriously your roles as stewards of our children's future and of our community, you MUST take a stand for our children and our environment and reject this and all future lease proposals until and unless the technology for shale-gas extraction has been proven to be safe. The deluge of slick, industry-generated TV ads ASSERTING that it is safe do not in any way comprise that proof. Duane's unsupported assertions do not comprise that proof. The overwhelming and steadily growing body of evidence of human tragedy and environmental destruction that have followed in the wake of shale-gas development around the country do, in fact, represent proof to the contrary.
If you're not willing to reject the Rex lease proposal outright at this time, I urge you to at least delay the decision until you've done some REAL research into the long-term implications of allowing this technology to creep under our school district's property, and until you've heard from more residents who are determined to protect our kids, our environment, and our property values.
This is not about a million dollars. It's about the future health and safety of our community.