Marcellus Shale drilling is harming Pennsylvania’s environment, New York Times reports

A New York Times expose today reveals a thoroughly corrupt system that is effectively allowing natural gas drilling to destroy Pennsylvania’s environment.

The in-depth report comes at a time when the number of Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania are expected to increase from 6,400 today to no fewer than 50,000 in 2031.

Natural gas drilling wastewater
What the waste water looks like. Thumnail of the photo by Jessica Kourkounis.

The article, by Ian Urbina, reveals that, in a process that defies belief, radioactive waste water from the drilling process is being sold to municipalities in our state to use for de-icing roads, because the waste water is high in salts.

Natural gas is extracted from the Marcellus Shale formation in our state by injecting millions of gallons of water to break up rock and release the natural gas. The problem is that 10 to 40 percent of that water comes back to the surface within two weeks of its use. And at that point it is contaminated with salts and radioactive elements including barium and strontium.

One partial solution to this problem has been for drilling corporations to capture this waste water and reuse it at new drilling sites. This is a flawed solution, however, because it leads to waste water with even higher concentrations of contaminants, and the water is not reusable forever—it must eventually be disposed. Adding insult to injury, the New York Times reports that “the total amount of recycling in the state is nowhere near the 90 percent that the industry has been claiming over the past year.” It gets worse:

In the year and a half that ended in December 2010, well operators reported recycling at least 320 million gallons. But at least 260 million gallons of wastewater were sent to plants that discharge their treated waste into rivers, out of a total of more than 680 million gallons of wastewater produced, according to state data posted Tuesday. Those 260 million gallons would fill more than 28,800 tanker trucks, a line of which would stretch from about New York City to Richmond, Va.

On March 11, 2009, a meeting was held between natural gas drilling industry officials and “state regulators and officials from the governor’s office.” The subject of the meeting was a modest proposal requiring drilling corporations to track each load of waste water from the extraction site to the disposal point. Without that requirement, drillers could dump the waste water on the side of the road and no one would be the wiser. What happened during and after that meeting is horrifying:

After initially resisting, state officials agreed, adding that they would try to persuade the secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection to agree, according to the notes. In the end, the state’s proposed manifest system for tracking was not carried out.

Three of the top state officials in the meeting — K. Scott Roy, Barbara Sexton and J. Scott Roberts — have since left their posts for jobs in the natural-gas industry.

The article, “Wastewater Recycling No Cure-All in Gas Process,” is required reading for all Pennsylvanians.

Give it a read and leave your thoughts here.

(While I could not have anticipated the details of this ongoing disaster, I told you so.)

Freedom spreading

I can’t embrace the mantra, “Think globally, act locally.” Once we start thinking globally, it’s hard to constrain ourselves to acting only locally.

Still, incredible things are happening in the Middle East, and here we are, most of us unable to leave Lancaster to hang out in Egypt for a while. It looks as if I may have to be content acting locally after all, even as my thoughts are elsewhere.

So where should our minds be at this historic moment? How should we be acting in response? Here are my initial thoughts.

This is something to get excited about, not to fear

25 BahmanThe popular uprisings in the Middle East are massively important and of lasting significance. In Egypt, the military (which is in control until elections are held, months from now) will be unable to wrest real power from the people. The people are too energized, informed, and coordinated. So far, the indications are that the military realizes this. They’ve already convened a panel to rewrite the constitution.

Across the entire region, the zeitgeist has changed radically. Tunisia inspired Egypt, which is inspiring Yemen and Bahrain. Iranian supporters of the popular opposition in Tunsia and Egypt gathered yesterday to celebrate those countries’ victories, but when as many as 350,000 people turned out, they couldn’t help but revive their aspirations for a free Iran.

We need to get on “the right side of history,” as many are saying. Here’s what we mean by that: People are meant to be free. Each of us is born with inherent worth and rights. Totalitarian rule, communism, and fascism ignore that worth and deny those rights. Self-governance is the only viable option for guarding those rights and making room for all individuals, families, and communities to reach their full potential. When the natural order of things is constantly steering history toward freedom and democracy, oppression is an uphill battle, always doomed to eventually fail.

Whatever Glenn Beck might say, the new societies we’re watching emerge aren’t some kind of Islamist caliphate. Instead, they’re secular democracies. As reported in the New York Times:

The Muslim Brotherhood, the outlawed Islamist movement that until 18 days ago was considered Egypt’s only viable opposition, said it was merely a supporting player in the revolt.

“We participated with everyone else and did not lead this or raise Islamic slogans so that it can be the revolution of everyone,” said Mohamed Saad el-Katatni, a spokesman for the Brotherhood. “This is a revolution for all Egyptians; there is no room for a single group’s slogans, not the Brotherhood’s or anybody else.”

The Brotherhood, which was slow to follow the lead of its own youth wing into the streets, has said it will not field a candidate for president or seek a parliamentary majority in the expected elections.

The Muslim Brotherhood will be a political party, not a ruling oligarchy.

I’m with Tom Friedman (who has been in Cairo throughout the events) in being convinced that Islamism is not the future, but rather something that has now been toppled in Egypt:

The message coming out of Cairo will be: We tried Nasserism; we tried Islamism; and now we’re trying democracy. But not democracy imported from Britain or delivered by America — democracy conceived, gestated and born in Tahrir Square.

Even the very conservative Weekly Standard declares, “Fears of a Muslim Brotherhood Takeover are Overblown”:

The chance that Islamists will capture the Arab uprisings is slim unless anti-democratic, oil rich Arab dynasties like the Saudi and other Gulf monarchs, or their Iranian rivals, are allowed to pour billions of dollars into the coffers of their respective proxies, as they did in Gaza, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. The West can prevent this from happening, but even if it does happen, whoever seizes power in the countries in revolt will be forced to remember the fate of the ousted rulers they replaced.

On the question of whether we’re looking at lasting change, my favorite insight so far comes in the form of a letter to the editor of the New York Times:

To the Editor:

Judging by the images of Egyptians cleaning up after their uprising, I think it’s fair to conclude that they are ready for democracy.

Glenn Alan Cheney
Hanover, Conn., Feb. 13, 2011

Technology is a huge piece of what’s going on

My belief that we’re looking at permanent change in the Middle East is due in large part to my understanding of technology.

To understand modern life, it’s requisite to grasp the concept that technology is not morally neutral. Different technologies are predisposed to certain uses. Broadcast television is predisposed to addressing the least common denominator—on TV, success is easier and greater if you’re dumbing things down than if you’re trying to raise the level of intelligent discourse. Automobiles are predisposed to increasing individualism and isolation—with a car, you’re far more independent and can live further from the people who know you.

In this way, technology in the form of television and automobiles is not neutral. It’s not just “what we make of it,” because different technologies lend themselves to certain uses.

In the same way, the Internet and mobile networks, along with the social technologies that are built on them, are not simply “whatever people make of them.” Saying that it’s up to people to decide whether or not they’ll use Facebook and Twitter to  organize revolutions is like saying it’s up to people to decide whether or not they’ll use a hammer to drive in nails. Facilitating discourse is what social techologies want to do, in the same way that driving nails is what hammers want to do.

Facebook, Twitter, e-mail groups, and text messaging systems want to be used to facilitate discourse among empowered citizens. The people of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Iran have a lot to talk about—specifically, decades of frustrations and aspirations they’ve been unable to express or pursue.

I dare you: arm an entire nation with hammers and try to keep them from hammering stuff. Arm an entire nation with social technologies and try to keep them from talking about freedom, organizing protests, and establishing self-governance. Just try.

The imperiled despots in the Middle East are rushing to block these networks and communication platforms. That tactic won’t work—people will be infuriated, and a complete shutoff is impossible.

The U.S. may the greatest threat to the success of these democratic revolutions

Again, Tom Friedman:

In some ways, President Barack Obama did the Egyptian revolution a great favor by never fully endorsing it and never even getting his act together for how to deal with it. This meant in the end that Egyptians know they did this for themselves by themselves – with nothing but their own willpower, unity and creativity.

The United States’ Middle East policy has, for generations, been preoccupied with “stability” in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen, etc. In The American Prospect, Matthew Yglesias writes:

The first problem with the U.S.’ foreign-policy approach with these states is that you can’t just count on unpopular regimes staying in power forever. And the second problem is that the longer the U.S. government stays in bed with kleptocrats, the more severe popular discontent against the United States becomes. It’s an untenable and counterproductive posture, and obviously so.

So what should our foreign policy be? I think there’s only one real option right now: Our role is to stay out of these countries’ business except when it comes to helping citizens establish democratic governments that we will acknowledge as legitimate and sovereign.

That’s crudely put, I know. We’ll never completely stay out of anyone’s business, because the business of all Middle East nations is intimately tied to our business. But still, it’s the essence that’s important. Egypt doesn’t need our help toppling an oppressive regime. They need our help with matters of diplomacy. We can help facilitate the process by which they will form their own government. We have the muscle to keep would-be despots at bay—telling Egypt’s military to back off, if it comes to that. We also have the expertise and third-party standpoint necessary to aid diverse groups as they create a new government, whatever help they may need. And then, at the end, we can lead the world in recognizing the new Egypt and other new democracies as sovereign nation-states.

The other thing we can do? Help to spread unhindered access to the Internet and to mobile networks in these countries. The only agenda we would be pursuing is empowering people to gather information and share it freely.

So what we can do in Lancaster?

I’m not entirely sure, but here’s what’s on my list right now:

  • Get inspired to fight for our own democracy, which is in peril (see Bob Herbert’s column on this subject)
  • Encourage elected officials to pursue a sensible policy that favors the people of the Middle East above all else
  • Follow the evolving story intelligently, and let the people of the Middle East know they have the support of the American people
  • Learn Arabic

How do you think we should be reacting to the news from the Middle East? What’s the appropriate response from our community here in the U.S.?

An overview of Lancaster city’s branding debacle

I know some people read this blog to get a sense of the major topics of conversation in Lancaster. I hardly provide day-by-day coverage, but at the same time when something dominates our ongoing “community conversation,” I want to share that. In most cases, I’m forthright with my opinions. In this case, I don’t have strong ones, so I’d like to focus on recapping the current situation.

The sequence of events in this public conversation

A city authentic
The "official" jpg of the logo is now this version which features a red, rather than orange, version of the rose. The tag line is "A city authentic."

As best I can piece together, three weeks ago, on August 11, a mass e-mail went out (from Lancaster Arts, someone suggested, but it’s not on their newsletters archive), with the subject line, “Exciting news for downtown Lancaster!” It contained an announcement of key branding elements to be used in an official capacity by Lancaster city. The guts of this e-mail were shared on, a privately-run forum site that serves as the replacement for the TalkBack forums on, which were closed earlier this year, by a 46 year-old male who reveals himself only under the code name “Citydweller.” He posted a jpg of the logo and shared that the new tag line was “A city authentic.” The overwhelming tone of the active discussion thread which followed was negative. Early on, someone even remarked that her neighbor thought it looked like a Nazi swastika. ( has mockingly adopted “A forum authentic” as its new tag line.)

Lancaster city held an event this past Wednesday (August 25) at the failed Pennsylvania Academy of Music building to announce officially the new brand identity. Larry Alexander reported on the event for the Intelligencer-Journal. The reaction to the story on was typical stuff—grumpy and eager to move off-topic.

On or near August 11, Lancaster County resident Shelley Castetter, an independent journalist who runs, began researching what led up to this announcement of the city’s rebranding. This research culminated in an article headlined “City Authentic, Logo Not So Much,” which she published on August 28 as the start of a new thread on the LancTalk forums. This article revealed that the logo is a near-exact reproduction of an early-twentieth-century rose design by Dard Hunter, a key figure in the American Arts and Crafts art movement.

A city authentic early
Just yesterday, however, the official jpg of the logo featured an orange version of the rose.

The next day, someone operating under the code name “lilmissmoxieful” posted a video to YouTube demonstrating that the city’s new logo is an exact duplicate of Hunter’s design, simply turned 180 degrees and given a different color. The video cast all the blame on Moxie House, a two-person Lancaster Township-based design/marketing firm that helped the city develop its new brand and codify its new brand standards. Shelley’s article made clear, however, that Moxie House did not create the logo itself.

Instead, Bernie Harris reported for the Intelligencer-Journal yesterday, the logo design was given to Moxie House by city officials. The article made no reference to the earlier work of Larry Alexander, Shelley Castetter, or the response in the forums. It did, however, include a direct quote from an interview the reporter had with Dard Hunter III, the artist’s grandson:

“I don’t remember anybody asking. Had they done so, I certainly would have given my blessing,” said Hunter, who has previously given permission for the rose’s use for non-commercial purposes.

There was a little reaction to the story on Shelley Castetter is clearly offended that her reporting was not cited in the Intelligencer-Journal article.

The Dard Hunter rose
The original rose designed by Dard Hunter

Where’d the logo come from?

So how did the logo get in the hands of Lancaster city officials? A sign company suggested and provided it for certain signs and banners that have been around town for at least a year. City officials first filed to register a copyright on the image with the U.S. Copyright Office, then opted to instruct Moxie House to use that as the city’s new logo. Even though a trademark on the image (flipped 180 degrees) is held by Dard Hunter Studio, the copyright office apparently approved the city’s request to register its copyright of the image. (I can only assume that if it went to court, the court would view this as an error on the part of the copyright office and overturn Lancaster city’s claim to owning any rights related to the image.)

I poked fun at the situation last night by uploading to Facebook an version of the full logo where the words “The City of Lancaster: A City Authentic” remained in tact but the logo had been replaced by an orange Nike swoosh turned 180 degrees.

Kelly Watson (soon to be Kelly Kautz) posted a thoughtful blog entry on the subject this morning, followed by a post this afternoon including quotes from her conversation with Deb Brant of Moxie House.

The city has now added a PDF to the brand page of its site declaring, “The rose graphic was created by artist Dard Hunter and is  used with permission.”

What I’m finding most interesting and inspirational is this bit from the city’s “brand toolbox“(pdf) which advocates the use of particular terms that are seen as brand-consistent. One of the terms is “civic dialogue,” and here’s what the “toolkit” says about it: “An aspirational trait, civic dialogue is an exciting opportunity for our city. Generally defned, ‘Civic dialogue creates conditions for people to participate in shaping their environment. It is intentional and purposeful. Civic dialogue explores the dimensions of the civic or social issue, working toward common understanding in an open-ended discussion.  It engages multiple perspectives on an issue, including potentially conficting and unpopular ones rather than promoting a single point of view.'” The quotes is attributed to Ruth J. Abram, founder of New York’s Lower East Side Tenement Museum.

So, a) what did I miss or get wrong, and b) what do you make of all this?

Edit: Oh, and apparently there’s a song to go with this brand identity.

Edit 2: You’ll notice I prefer to use “Lacaster city” rather than “the City of Lancaster.” I’m unlikely to get brand-consistent on that one.

Out-of-Towner Intell Obit Junkies Must Pay

Another national news story is brewing in our town. This time it’s about a news agency itself—the (take a long breath) Intelligencer Journal–Lancaster New Era. Yesterday they rolled out a new online paywall they believe will net them $10,000 to $500,000 a year.

What’s this paywall, and who will it affect? It’s a $20/year charge to out-of-towners who read Lancaster obituaries like they’re going out of style.

As reported by Bill Mitchell of the Pointer Institute:

Monday morning, the website for a midsized paper in southeastern Pennsylvania became the first to go public with the paid content system of Journalism Online, the startup engineered by Steve Brill, Gordon Crovitz and others.

LancasterOnline, which serves the Intelligencer Journal-Lancaster New Era, began informing people who live outside Lancaster County and read its online obituary listings that visiting the obits page will cost $1.99 a month after they’ve viewed seven pages each month. Annual subscriptions cost $19.99.

Paywall message for LancasterOnline obituaries
Screenshot of the notice all obituary readers now see when they visit

Media analysts seem to think this is one of the most ridiculous ideas they’ve heard when it comes to online revenue models. For instance, Mark Potts writes:

Are they serious? Are there really that many people people visiting the Lancaster site to read obits? Really?

The folks in Lancaster claim to have done the math that proves there’s a substantial out of town audience for obits, though it’s based on a lot of guesswork (and probably proves, once again, that journalists really aren’t that good at math). Notably, Lancaster seems to base its projections on traffic numbers from the not-so-reliable Google Analytics rather than on data from the site’s internal logs, which would be much more precise. That seems odd.

According to Mitchell’s story, LancasterOnline estimates that 100,000 out-of-market visitors to the site read obits each year. And the site reckons that more than 10 percent of them do it—yes, read obits—several times a week. Okaaaay. Taking the math further, Lancaster estimates that nearly 90,000 visitors to the site read the obits at least once a week, and 17,692 visitors read the obits four times a week.

These numbers are preposterous. Remember, this is little LancasterOnline, not or I find it hard to believe that Lancaster has that sort of constant, repeat traffic to its obits—or else it’s got an audience with a truly obsessive fascination with grazing news about local deaths.

He’s joined by Steve Buttry, who writes:

If I were seeking to kill off newspapers (I’m not), I would try to persuade them to charge people to read obituaries online. Apparently that’s the plan of Journalism Online, a profiteer seeking to cash in not only on newspapers’ death wish but on the deaths of their readers.

Journalism Online’s sucker in this fantasy-based paywall experiment is the Intelligencer Journal-Lancaster New Era (oh, the irony in that name; I will call it the Old Era for purposes of this blog).

David Brauer joins in:

Laugh if you want — and I’ll admit, I’m tittering — but any small-town newspaper publisher will tell you obits are a pretty big deal for readers. In this case, LancasterOnline is making money coming and going (if you’ll pardon the pun): they charge survivors to place death notices, and now they’ll charge out-of-towners to read them.

(When the younger generations start dying, we’ll just inform everyone via social networks.)

This sure sounds like a low-revenue road test to me, but Lancaster Online’s editor thinks they can squeeze $100,000 out of the oldster demographic that keeps up regularly with far-flung deaths.

All I have to say is that the people who came up with this scheme are nothing like the cultural creatives who are engineering Lancaster’s future. This is preservationist, reactionary, and, I suspect, based on data that is (excuse the pun) dead wrong.

Lancaster County Convention Center reaches 1-year mark

Laura Duran, the Lancaster County Convention Center’s PR consultant, reports today on her blog that the convention center will be celebrating its one-year anniversary on Friday.

Since the official ribbon cutting on June 18, 2009, the integrated facility has been host to more than 850 events by more than 300 different organizations. More than 300,000 people have been through its doors to attend events or stay at the hotel. Additionally, two dozen new restaurant, retail, and service businesses have opened in the Downtown core and Northwest quadrant of the city since the opening.

Which events have you attended at the convention center, and what was your experience? At the one-year mark, does it seem to you that downtown Lancaster is better off now that it has this facility and these events?