Apr 6
Health Threat?
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Pitt Prof May Launch Health Study

  • Do natural gas drilling and related industry operations threaten the health of residents in Clearville and other parts of Pennsylvania?
  • Are there higher levels of arsenic in drinking water because of gas industry operations?
  • Are reports of animals dying related to these same gas industry operations?
  • Are government watchdogs doing anything about this – at either the state or federal level?

A professor from the University of Pittsburgh wants to find out.

From the front page of the Bedford Gazette comes news that a University of Pittsburgh professor spoke with about 40 residents in Clearville, PA, about conducting a study to look into the potential health side effects of natural gas drilling and operations in the area.

The community meeting on March 29 was organized by Wayne and Angel Smith who are members of our landowners group fighting Spectra Energy, according to the March 30th Bedford Gazette news article.

The discussion was led by Dr. Conrad Volz, Assistant Professor and Director of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC) at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.  Volz has impressive academic and scientific credentials.  Here is a link to his Pitt website:

He was assisted by Charles Christen, Director of Operations for CHEC at the University of Pittsburgh.

Volz’s goal is to collect data and comments from residents about their experiences with gas well drilling and operations in the Clearville area.  This information will be included in a “published document that will be used to attract the interest of foundations that hopefully will fund the study,” according to the Bedford Gazette.

Dr. Volz spoke about harmful substances and practices of gas companies that are potentially injurious to human health and safety.  For example, on the subject of arsenic, according to the article:

“Using local testing results, he [Volz] pointed out several of about a dozen test results showed arsenic beyond the state’s allowable levels.”

While Spectra Energy’s Steckman Ridge Project is an underground natural gas storage facility, it involves the drilling of injection wells.  In addition, Spectra Energy has been approved by FERC for “fracking” operations in these wells.

Many Clearville residents are not satisfied with the so-called “watchdog” role of government at both the state (PA Department of Environmental Protection) and federal level (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission).

Some have filed “right to know” requests with the DEP, under the state’s “Open Records Law.”

Since the Bedford Gazette has a limited online presence, I am posting two jpg files of the front-page article written by Elizabeth Coyle, Associate Editor.

Bedford Gazette, March 30, 2009

Bedford Gazette, March 30, 2009; Click on image to enlarge.

Bedford Gazette, March 30, 2009; Click on image to enlarge.

Bedford Gazette, March 30, 2009; Click on image to enlarge.

Apr 3
Words vs. Deeds
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Energy Companies — Polite Words vs. Good Deeds

For landowners who are puzzled about the behavior of energy companies and their representatives, the following anecdote might be helpful.

It is based on a recent conversation I had with Joe Ramsey, who is a Group Vice President in charge of “Project Execution & Process” for Spectra Energy.

He was calling from Calgary in the province of Alberta, Canada; and he wanted to answer questions I had raised about Spectra Energy’s process for investigating itself with regard to landowner complaints about behavior.

As we trolled through our conversation, he said that Spectra Energy has tried to be responsive to me and they do not understand why I “keep coming after” them.

Some at Spectra Energy might consider this a logical question.  In fact, it is an astonishing question because it suggests that Spectra Energy sees itself as the aggrieved party. As I noted last year to the former CEO and CFO of Spectra Energy, the corporate culture there confuses superficial courtesies with integrity; and it is puzzled when polished manners do not result in an embrace by landowners.

In other words, the company confuses polite words with good deeds.

As I explained to Mr. Ramsey, landowners did not initiate a legal assault against Spectra Energy.  It came after us, filing three civil actions in federal court (Johnstown, PA) in the process.

But there’s more to the culture gap between energy companies and landowners.

In January, for example, Spectra Energy sent a proposed “Stipulation and Order” (part of the legal battle we are now fighting in federal court) that read in part:  “This stipulation does not in any way affect the rights of Mr. and Mrs. Benard to seek just compensation in the above-referenced action for the taking of the easements or any other rights, claims or defenses that may be asserted in this action.”   [Emphasis added]

Like a superficial courtesy, that statement of principle turns out to be a platitude because the company filed an injunction asking the judge to forbid property owners from presenting various economic loss arguments as they sought just compensation because the jury would be “confused, misled and distracted … and waste time.”  (This is an excerpt of the actual wording presented to the judge.)  Presumably, there is no point in Spectra Energy’s Yale-educated lawyer talking down to Pennsylvania jurors.

The “keep coming after” question and the attitude behind it reveal much about the corporate culture and value system at Spectra Energy.  For example, how many members of its board of directors and its leadership team have ever been on the receiving end of an eminent domain taking in federal court?

Irrelevant question — not at all.  It underscores a blind spot in the corporate culture.  This cultural preference for polite words vs. good deeds is pervasive throughout the company.  For example, Spectra Energy declares its commitment to “embracing diversity and inclusion” in its corporate charter — while its 11-member leadership team is nearly all white with two white females and one African-American male.  And its 11-member board of directors is all white males with the exception of one African-American female.

The difference between the charter declaration and the lack of diversity is the difference between a principle and a platitude.  It is one more illustration how energy companies confuse words with deeds.

Finally, is it possible that Spectra Energy’s opponents “keep coming after” it because it “keeps coming after” them?

We stand on different sides of a principle (property rights).  Eminent domain is increasingly a hot topic in states across the country.  Even the Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) has launched an interactive website as part of its “fight for changes in eminent domain law that empower rather than imperil residents of the Lone Star State.”

Here is the TFB website:

Got to love those Texans, don’t you?

Sep 19

1st Court Decision on September 19 — Smaller Eminent Domain Case

Spectra Energy has filed not one, not two, but three legal actions against property owners. This is all part of its CEO’s commitment to build “mutually beneficial relationships.” [See link on “Transparency.”]

Judge Kim R. Gibson of the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (Johnstown, PA) ruled on access to surface rights on five properties.

To avoid any confusion, this is not the “big” eminent domain case (which is the second legal action filed by Spectra Energy against property owners). We’re still waiting for that case to move through the system.

On Sept. 19, 2008, the judge granted Spectra Energy the right to take “immediate possession of and entry onto the [five] properties owned by the Defendants.”
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