Author pens book critical of gas industry

Walt Brasch did not plan on writing a book on the natural gas industry.

He felt compelled to do so. The longtime Bloomsburg University professor had been busy in his retirement writing books and columns on various subjects.

His 16 other books include “The First Snow,” a novel capturing the flavor of the 1960s revolution that swept America, and “Sinking the Ship of State, The Presidency of George W. Bush,” a book critical of the Bush Administration.

Brasch is unapologetic about where he stands on most issues.

With “Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster,” Brasch demonstrates why the natural gas industry is bad for the state.

Given his often counter-cultural leanings, Brasch was asked if the book is an even-handed fair account of the industry.

“I am a journalist who wants to find where the truth is at,” he said.

Brasch is quick to note he conducted numerous interviews for the book and relied on countless sources.

He referred to the thirty-one pages of footnotes found in the back of the book.

The author writes about the environmental degradation brought from the gas industry, including the impact on drinking water sources, forest lands and roads.

While acknowledging the industry brings with it good-paying jobs, the economic boom, he said, is one that will fail to sustain the state.

“I do predict that the industry will collapse in two to five years,” he said. “They drilled too much, too fast. It’s like the housing bubble.”

Brasch said drilling came before proper regulations were in place. Beyond that, he’s not sold on the natural gas industry as a panacea to the nation’s energy woes.

“We should be looking at renewable energy sources,” he said. “They are doing it in Europe.”

Brasch uses part of his book to look at some of the collateral damage caused by the natural gas industry. For example, Chapter 5 covers the sad saga of the Riverdale Mobile Home Village near Jersey Shore, where residents were evicted in 2012 from the trailer park after it was sold to Aqua-PVR, which planned to use the site as a pump station to withdraw water from the nearby Susquehanna River for the gas industry.

Many of the residents, who were living at or below the poverty level, talk about their frustrations, the utter helplessness in having their homes suddenly sold out from under them. The eviction did spawn state legislation favorable to mobile home tenants.

Among its provisions were that residents be informed within 60 days of any decision to close a community and allow them at least six months to leave it when the closure notice is made.

Brasch is unsparing in his contempt for government agencies regulating the gas industry, which he claims are in bed with the drilling companies.

“DEP (Department of Environmental Protection) senior officials I found to be arrogant and unwilling to be forthcoming,” he said.

The DEP, he said, is poorly manned and simply fails to properly regulate the drilling.

Brasch said he was unable to talk with many gas workers who were afraid to go on record with anything disparaging to say about the industry.

He writes about the politicians, including Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who has received millions of dollars in campaign donations from the gas industry.

The book posed its share of challenges. He spent much of 2012, he said, writing, rewriting, interviewing people and researching the gas industry.

Among what he found to be most appalling are the regulatory exemptions of gas drilling. Act 13 was the law passed in 2012 that assesses fees on drillers, with revenues split among the state and local communities where drilling takes place. It’s the regulatory aspects of Act 13 that Brasch finds most repugnant.

“In most states, health care professionals may request specific information, but the company doesn’t have to provide that information if it claims it is a trade secret or proprietary information, nor does it have to reveal how the chemicals and gases used in fracking interact with natural compounds,” Brasch writes.

“If a company does release information about what it used, health care professionals are bound by a non-disclosure agreement. That agreement not only forbids them from warning the community about water and air pollution that may be caused by fracking, but also forbids them from telling their own patients what the physician believes may have led to their health problems.”

Brasch said it was after reading Act 13 and writing several articles about the gas industry that he felt he had to put together a book. He said there exists a lot of information on the gas industry, but his book provides a single source for readers to turn to for answers.

“I combine history with contemporary social issues and politics,” he said. “This was my major work for a year.”

Brash will be at Otto Bookstore 5 to 8 p.m. Friday to sign copies of his book, “Fracking Pennsylvania: Flirting with Disaster.”