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The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Gasland, BP and The Summing Up

Gasland So, my day job had me doing some research on media outlets in Pennsylvania and I kept coming across stories about HBO's latest documentary, Gasland, which premiered last night.

It was a [controversial] hit at Sundance, and has since been covered by the Wall St. Journal, the New York Times, and the Daily Show among others. I've set my DVR to record it.

Gasland was directed by Pennsylvania-native Josh Fox and documents his multi-state investigation of natural gas companies' use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. The process involves pumping large amounts of water deep underground, fracturing rock to release natural gas. It also leads to natural gas leaking into the water supply, gas blow-ups, and according to Fox, an industry that "won't take responsibility for their actions." Sound familiar? Here's a preview:

Later in the day, I chatted with another Pennsylvania native who told me about Centralia, PA. Have you heard of it? A mine exploded (underground) here in 1962 and THE FIRE IS STILL BURNING. The town failed to install a fire-resistant clay barrier between an open trash pit and the mine, and when trash haulers proceeded to dump coal burners there...boom. Centralia's population has dwindled from over 1,000 residents in 1981, to 12 in 2005, and 9 in 2007. All properties were claimed under eminent domain and all buildings were condemned in 1992; the town's zip code was revoked in 2002. It is now a ghost town. 

Centralia [Photo via veender]

And then there is BP, which has been covered ad nauseum, but like the above show a troubling pattern in human history. From William Falk, editor-in-chief of The Week:


"In moments of distress and panic, it is tempting to succumb to ideologies that promise a single, simple solution to the mess that is the human condition. Communism was blinkered like that, but so, in its purest form, is free-market capitalism. While drilling in 5,000 feet of water, the capitalists at BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig made a considered decision to forgo some troublesome safety measures, to save time and about $10 million in costs. Why not risk a small fine when millions of gallons of oil were waiting? It must have seemed like the smart play at the time... This is the problem with Adam Smith’s “invisible hand’’: To work its corrective magic, it depends on occasional disastrous mistakes, depressions, death, and widespread suffering... Regulation, too, often falls short of the ideal. Consider the case of Bernie Madoff, who ran his monstrous Ponzi scheme for two decades, right under the noses of the SEC. Even after a whistle-blower came to the agency with proof that Madoff’s “investment fund’’ was a scam, the regulators did nothing...That leaves us, I'm afraid, back where we started: groping our way forward, with no surefire solutions to human fallability."

From EJ Dionne, op-ed columnist at the Washington Post:
Dionne_author-photo "Deregulation is wonderful until we discover what happens when regulations aren't issued or enforced. Everyone is a capitalist until a private company blunders. Then everyone starts talking like a socialist, presuming that the government can put things right because they see it as being just as big and powerful as its Tea Party critics claim it is. But the truth is that we have dis-empowered government and handed vast responsibilities over to a private sector that will never see protecting the public interest as its primary task. The sludge in the gulf is, finally, the product of our own contradictions."

From W. Somerset Maugham, The Summing Up (1938):

Thesummingup "So long as men are cursed with the sense of possession, and that I presume is as long as they exist, they will wrest what they can from those who are powerless to hold it. So long as they have the instinct of self-assertion, they will exercise it at the expense of others' happiness. In short, so long as man is man he must be prepared to face all the woes that he can bear." (p. 187)

6/23 Update: 3 more soundbytes I came across today that I needed to include here:

1) News from today that a northeastern Pennsylvania school district has reached a five-year gas lease agreement with a company that drills in the lucrative Marcellus shale field.

2) Attorney Eugene C. Kelley's blog post: Are We Doomed to Repeat History With the Marcellus Shale Deposits in Northeastern Pennsylvania?

3) Historian Margaret MacMillan, in Dangerous Games, "History should not be written to make the present generation feel good but to remind us that human affairs are complicated."



Thanks for stopping by, Pat. I appreciate the comment and hope my small post does bring some additional attention to it. I can't believe that just last week that school district entered into another lease agreement with these guys. Crazy.


As a fellow Centralia afficionado, kudos for bringing it to people's attention again. Yep, still going. I put you up on Digg and Buzz. great job.


So true, Laurie. Thanks for reading :)

Laurie Krieger

That's why I practice Nichiren Buddhism which focused on people becoming "cause awakened." In my practice cause and effect are simultaneous and over time we learn to look closely at the causes we are making and why we are making them. We try to move into enlightened states that affect our actions when in the worlds of greed, hunger, animality and so on. We make mistakes, sure, but I think a lot of people who put cause and effect in the center might think about the consequences of their actions and desires a little more carefully.

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