Grasping for straws that stir the drink.

Month: January, 2012

Money in the bank? Stephen Colbert wins South Carolina primary

Youngstown, Ohio — Newt Gingrich may have won the GOP South Carolina primary Saturday night, but when it came to money spent and votes earned, Stephen Colbert topped the entire Republican field.

Stephen Colbert, er, Herman Cain, finished fifth in South Carolina, but spent the fewest dollars per vote.

Colbert and his Super PAC, The Definitely Not Coordinating With Stephen Colbert Super PAC, spent about $17,600 on ad time in the Palmetto State, according to published media reports.

Even if that total is a conservative estimate, Colbert, whose name did not appear on the South Carolina ballot — he urged supporters to vote for former GOP candidate Herman Cain, whose name remained on the ballot — spent far less per vote than any other GOP candidate.

Colbert and a pro-Colbert Super PAC spent about $2.80 per vote for the 6,000-plus votes Cain received, according to unofficial vote counts.

Cain, the first major candidate to drop out of presidential contention in December, did not participate in voting in Iowa or New Hampshire. He still received more votes in South Carolina than former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann — combined.

Perry, who dropped out days before the primary, and a pro-Perry Super PAC spent about $2.5 million, or about $1,000 per vote.

Mitt Romney, who along with pro-Romney Super PACs spent about $4.6 million in South Carolina and finished second in votes, finished dead last in votes-per-dollar among candidates still in the race.

Romney spent about $28 per vote for about 165,000 votes.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul and pro-Paul Super PACs spent about $22 per vote. Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and a pro-Santorum Super PAC spent about $17 per vote.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, the winner of the primary, and a pro-Gingrich Super PAC spent about $9.75 per vote.

Total ad spending in South Carolina topped $13 million.

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You can’t drink money — or well water, apparently

Youngstown, Ohio — Columbus resident and fracking protester Jenny Morgan last week serenaded the Ohio Statehouse with her song, “You Can’t Drink Money.”

It was a reference to the possible water contamination from fracking for natural gas and oil, a billion-dollar industry.

But new data shows that many Pennsylvania water wells aren’t contaminated as a result of fracking.

They’re just poorly constructed.

According to data from Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences, 40 percent of all water wells in Pennsylvania “fail to meet at least one safe-drinking water standard.”

“While proper well construction does not completely eliminate water-quality problems, it clearly plays a role in preventing surface contaminants from getting into wells,” said Bryan Swistock, senior water resources extension associate at PSU with more than two decades of water-well experience. “Our research has shown that inadequate water-well construction is a contributing factor to the failure of some private wells to meet safe-drinking-water standards.”

Coliform bacteria was found in nearly one-third of water wells; E. coli bacteria, which originate from either animal or human wastes and thus represent a more serious health risk, were found in 14 percent of water wells.

This poses a health issue, especially in a time when many residents are fearful that chemicals from fracking will find their way into water wells.

Fracking is a process in which water, chemicals and sand are blasted into rocks thousands of feet below the ground to unlock natural gas and oil.

The drilling industry has come under fire for its reluctance to publicly disclose the chemicals used in the process, which, if spilled on the surface, can possibly contaminate water wells, even more so if the wells are poorly constructed like in Swistock’s study.

Swistock’s analysis also screams for the need for residents to get their water wells tested, not just prior to fracking to set a water quality baseline, but also to protect their health regardless of any drilling activities.

As it pertains to fracking, the Environmental Protection Agency is doing just that. It had previously selected seven locations gearing up for fracking activities for an environmental study.

But landowners shouldn’t rely on the EPA.

Christopher Baronzzi, an attorney with the Youngstown law firm Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell, said all landowners — including those with water-protection clauses in leases — should conduct baseline-water tests before any drilling activity.

But as the stats in Pennsylvania show, the real threat could be poorly constructed and maintained wells, and it’s in a landowner’s best interest to get his or her well water tested on a regular basis.

Sure, it will cost a little money — around $100 for a basic test here in Mahoning County.

But as Morgan implies in her anti-fracking song, wait too long and you won’t be able to drink that water, or your money.

There’s much more on this subject at

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Frack Attack: How Plunderbund failed to tell the whole story

Detroit — Detractors of fracking claim the controversial process will destroy land, contaminate drinking water and ruin life as we know it.

Fracking, of course, is the process in which water, chemicals and sand are blasted into rocks thousands of feet below the ground to unlock natural gas and oil.

They hark on the drilling industry’s secrecy — which, to an extent, is a problem — and demand full transparency.

Transparency is a trait that everyone can accept.

But at last check, transparency is not a one-way street.

When the blog Plunderbund published a story about violations at well sites in Ohio, I prematurely applauded the article.

Then I read the story.

“… we found that 693 gas and oil wells in Ohio failed inspections performed by ODNR inspectors last year, resulting in 1,625 distinct violations.

Violations for Failure to legibly identify well (347 violations) were most frequent, followed by Nonproduction wells that need to be plugged or placed in temporary inactive status (251 violations).

It’s all accurate information, and the investigation appears to be thorough, even breaking down the violations by type and county.

But the article fails to put those violations into context. In 2011, 693 gas and oil wells failed inspection.

Ohio has nearly 68,000 wells.

That means that 1 percent of all Ohio wells failed an inspection last year.

To compare the irresponsibility of the natural gas and oil industry, which in Ohio was 1 percent, to everyday life, read this.

That’s right, 14 percent of licensed Ohio drivers have an OVI conviction.

What’s the more deadly scenario here?

For those of you still reading who don’t know my background and think I’m an industry schill, I urge you to read this, this, this, this and this.

Does natural gas and oil drilling cause contamination?


I can’t recall a single industry individual who hasn’t acknowledged that contamination can, and does occur, when a driller makes a mistake.

But put it in context.

The evidence, from last year at least, indicates the problems were few and far between.

Whether the Ohio Department of Natural Resources can fulfill its obligations moving forward — it currently has about 30 well inspectors — is still up in the air.

Plunderbund will be watching. I will be watching.

But as we demand transparency from the industry and state regulators, we must adhere to the same principles.

There’s much more on this subject at

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Media mistakes injection wells for fracking

Detroit — Ohio’s decision to ban a handful of brine-injection wells — and Saturday’s 4.0 magnitude earthquake — has caused some confusion regarding the oil and natural gas drilling frenzy.

Many Mahoning Valley residents have taken to Twitter, Facebook and have even called local politicians calling for a statewide ban on fracking, mistakenly believing that the process has caused 11 Valley earthquakes this year.

Who is to blame for this misinformation? The national media.

NPR, CBC, and Bloomberg have recently implicated fracking as the cause of the Valley quakes.

Fracking is a process in which water, chemicals and sand are blasted into rocks thousands of feet — in the case of the Utica Shale, about 6,000 feet — below the ground to unlock natural gas and oil. Fracking is an extraction process.

Vertical fracking has been around for more than a half-century. Horizontal fracking is a relatively new technology that allows drillers access to untapped natural gas and oil reserves.

Injection wells are the opposite; the fluid used in the fracking process is injected deep into the ground, sometimes as deep as 9,300 feet in Ohio.

In the case of the 11 Valley earthquakes this year, fracking is not the cause.

The nearest horizontal fracking operation is in Milton Township, about 20 miles west of Youngstown.

There is no horizontal fracking going on in the immediate Youngstown area.

There was, however, one fully-functional injection well, on Ohio Works Drive in Youngstown.

That well was shut down by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources on Friday. There are between 176 operating injection wells and 194 permitted injection wells in Ohio. There are about 68,000 gas wells in Ohio.

There’s much more on this subject at

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