The Right to Know!

Do you know how to file a “Right to Know” request? Do you know why you might want to know how to do this? Since the gas drilling in Pennsylvania has taken off at full speed many people are finding the “Open Records Law” , also known as the “Right to Know Law”, a necessary way to gain information from PA state agencies in regards to state funded research studies, procedures and incidents/accidents that have taken place and/or correspondence between a state agency (like the DEP) and a drilling company.
Passed by PA legislators in 2008, the “Right to Know Law” requires that local or state agency records be presumed public. This was done to shift the burden of proof from the public to the government. So now the government must offer a compelling reason why a record need be kept secret. An example of this would be to prevent the violation of a government employee’s personal privacy or the compromising of government security. This last example of security is a very broad term that has been used  to create a gray area where government agencies are choosing what they deem to be information that needs to be secured from the public. This is in part how many of us, myself included, who have been active in seeking information about the drilling industries have been added to the Homeland Security government watch lists, but that topic will have to be a soap box for another day.
You can find “Right to Know” request forms at this website http://openrecords.state.pa.us and you can submit forms online or by email to  openrecords@state.pa.us
If you are mailing your form the old school way, via USPS, you can send it to:
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Office of Open Records
Commonwealth Keystone Building
400 North Street, 4th Floor
Harrisburg, PA 17120-0225
Some details to know after you’ve filed for information. The Office of Open Records has 5 days to reply to your request. This does not mean they need to provide you with the information you requested within those 5 days, and they often respond with a letter explaining that they have 30 more days to get the information you asked for to you. I suppose they have a lot of files to search through and a lot of folks filing for info at this point….After the initial 5 days and after the secondary 30 days they must provide you with the requested info or you can then file an appeal from the same site, http://openrecords.state.pa.us. The appeal must be filed within 15 days of the mailing days of the agencies response of within 15 days of the agencies missed deadline to respond to your request.
I know many of you have filed for information and there have been a lot of questions about how much time the Open Records Office actually has to get back to you with information. I hope this helps to clear some of that up and encourages those of you who are unfamiliar with this process to participate in it if you are seeking information about yourself or incidents in your area.
Here’s some helpful info to get you started.
What agencies can you request information from?
The Right to Know Law applies to all state agencies (DEP, DCNR, Labor and Industry, etc) the PA General Assembly (Senate and House of Representative) and state-related institutions, such as Penn State University. It also applies to the finacial records of PA courts and to all local agencies, including town councils, water and sewer authorities, school boards and zoning boards.
Example of records that are public: Name, title and salary of public officials and employees. Finalized agency meeting minutes. Communicatins between lobbyists and legislators. 911 time response logs, Internal emails.
Example of records that are not public: Social Security, driver license or employee numbers. Personal financial information. Autopsy report information other than name, cause and manner of death. Home addresses of law enforcement and judges, etc.

Just a few Faces in Frackland

It is so easy to feel overwhelmed and powerless in this struggle to get the real story about drilling for natural gas into the eyes and ears of the residents in the areas where this is happening. For this reason I decided to take a larger step in getting closer to the truth.

This past weekend I took a trip to Washington County, PA to visit some of the folks in Hickory. This is the site of some of the very first hydro-fracked wells that existed in PA.After all, some of these wells went in back in 2005 so it seems that by this point they should all be millionaires living the good life, the economy should be well on the upturn with plenty of jobs…..at least this is what the gas industry keep telling us will be.

I have to say that isn’t quite how it’s gone down for the residents there.

I met with Ron Gulla who lost his 141 acre farm due to water pollution and dirty drilling practices by Range Resources.  Terry Greenwood and his wife are also farmers who have lost at least 7 cows due to contaminated pond and spring water. They are wondering when they might get sick too. Terry’s royalties are just enough to cover the cost of him meeting with his lawyer for 1 hour per month! He stuck in a perpetual lease signed in 1921.

Hickory Pa stinks…literally! Would you like to know what the smell of toluene, benzene, butane, ethane, propane and other NGL’s (natural gas liquids) smell like? Do you know what it’s like to go out your backdoor and walk 30 feet to the top of the ridge and get hit in the face with a blast of this stuff coming from a compressor station less than a mile from your house? Stephanie Hallowich sure does. After spending about 20 minutes in her yard I felt sick to my stomach and had a headache. I can’t imagine what it’s like to have to live there!

Wayne and Angel smith live near Clearville, PA and they’ve lost livestock as well as beloved pets due to contaminated drinking water. Both Angel and her husband Wayne are sick themselves. They’ve spent over $10,000.00 on a system to treat their water which they also use to water livestock. They hope this system is working on their water problems but what’s going to clean the air that is full of contaminates from a nearby gas storage facility? Both Spectra Energy and the DEP have been called out many times to test and view these issues and each time they have turned a blind eye to the problems in this valley.

For more information on any of these people and their stories please click on their names.

In the future you will be able to find all their faces at http://pafaces.wordpress.com/

We will post a new face and new story each day. If you have a situation that you want others to hear about please contact me through a comment on this blog or directly from the site below.

http://pafaces.wordpress.com/

Gas drilling using best management practices

From the Resposible Drilling Alliance:
The Texas Oil and Gas Accountability Project has published a best management practices guide for their state’s oil and gas development. This could be a model for state’s newly under pressure for unconventional shale drilling – like Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia.
According to this guide,

“The challenge facing Texas now is not whether to increase fossil fuel production — energy companies are already on a record-setting pace as they accelerate development.
Rather, the challenge facing us today is how to protect our landowner rights, clean water, air and public health in the face of rapid energy development…


To read the article , click here:

http://earthworksaction.org/publications.cfm?pubID=444

To read the publication on best oil & gas development practices in Texas, click here: http://earthworksaction.org/pubs/Drill_Right_Texas_FINAL.pdf