What Corbett's slick fracking ad doesn't say


Political punditry drives me crazy -- well, for a lot of reasons...but especially when they something won't happen for no other reason than because it never happened before. You probably know about Pennsylvania's bizarre streak since it allowed governors to run for two terms at the end of the 1960s -- every incumbent governor has run for re-election, every one has won, and the voters have even alternated Democrats and Republicans every eight years. So some pundits have a hard time accepting the notion that Gov. Tom Corbett won't get re-elected in 2014.

To me, the past is irrelevant. What does matter is that I've never seen an incumbent win re-election with as terrible numbers as Corbett. You can't really compare Corbett to people like Tom Ridge or Ed Rendell who each had 40x more charisma. And there's other extenuating circumstance. Nobody -- and I mean nobody -- was paying attention when Corbett got elected in 2010. And nobody guessed that he would govern not as "an institutional Republican" (a phrase I've heard more this week than the previous 54 years) but as a slave the Tea Party...which doesn't even seem that grateful. Heh, indeedy.

But there is one thing.


Tom Corbett, as a pro-business, pro-fracking, pro-business (did I mention that already?) Republican, is still going to raise a ton of money despite his Red-Lobster-bottomless-shrimp poll numbers. He's going to use that money to have smart people make slick, creative ads. And you're going to be seeing those ads constantly on your TV -- maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life until November 2014.

He's got a new Internet ad called "Planet," and it's very good technically. If you like that Pennsylvania is creating a fleetload of natural gas, you'll be...energized. He credits the industry with 200,000 jobs, and I'm not here to quibble that those jobs were mostly created before Corbett took office as governor. It's got that cool "In a world..." narration and lots of pictures of autumn trees and placid streams. Because I'm so fair and balanced, you can watch it at the bottom of this post. But there's a side of the story that's not being told.

I saw this the other day -- it's a fascinating aerial look at how fracking has scarred the landscape in some of Pennsylvania's most beautiful, once unspoiled areas. Here's a couple of before-and-after shots, and some of the background:

In Butler County alone, the study found that fracking and conventional drilling — and the road-building required to service 109 drilling sites — had disturbed 325 acres of forest by 2010. Compared to a decade earlier, there were 36 more patches of forest in the county, and the average size of each patch was smaller — a change that the researchers said was mostly due to the drilling boom.

Even Beaver County, which is relatively untouched by frackers save for a couple drilling sites in its northeastern corner, endured 13 acres of disruption during the same period. Forests in Lackawanna and Wayne counties were also heavily affected by fracking despite being home to a small number of drilling wells.

It’s not just the acreage of disturbance that causes concern. It’s what all that drilling and road building do to the forests in between. Whenever habitat is broken up into smaller pieces, the theory of island biogeography tells us that the area’s biodiversity plummets. That’s because some wildlife can only survive deep in the woods — far away from its edges.

OK, but as any resident of the state known as "Penn's Woods" could probably tell you, fracking's not the first human activity that's gobbled up woods around these parts. But fracking has also done some things to Pennsylvania that we crazy humans have never done before -- like dumping millions of gallons of water laced with radioactivity into our streams and rivers, sometimes through our sewage treatment plants.

Hard to believe? Check this out:

Fracking may be contaminating a Pennsylvania river with radioactive waste, a Duke University study to be published this week shows.

Scientists found elevated levels of radioactivity in river water at a site where treated fracking wastewater from oil and gas production sites in western Pennsylvania’s Marcellus shale is released into a creek...

Duke researchers looked at sediment samples collected downstream of the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility in Indiana County, Penn., and found that radium levels were 200 times greater in those samples when compared to those collected upstream of the plant. The plant processes fracking flowback water — highly saline and radioactive fluid that is returned to the surface as part of the fracking process.

Researchers have long been concerned about concentration of bromide, chlorides and other contaminants being discharged from the Josephine Brine Treatment Facility. One researcher, Conrad Volz, former director of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at the University of Pittsburgh, testified before the U.S. Senate in 2011 about the high level of contaminants in Josephine’s effluent.

You might even say it glows. And these revelations come on top of concern that methane released in the fracking process is releasing global warming, that poorly constructed well casings are causing methane and other toxins to pollute water supplies, that other VOCs (volatile organic chemicals) are polluting the air, etc., etc.

Pennsylvanians are pretty smart -- many know about the gains that Corbett's ad touts, and they know the many scars the process has caused -- and that fracking has been poorly regulated, especially in recent years. Almost all of the candidates running to replace Corbett have said they will be much tougher on fracking, that they would seek more revenue for taxpayers and tougher regs, maybe even a moratorium. Most voters already associate Corbett with fracking, and he is massively unpopular. It takes a lot of guts for him to run this commercial -- just not the kind of guts that wins elections.