Fracking Comes Closer to Home

By Hannah Lee

This weekend, I showed the 2010 documentary film, Gasland, to members of my shul. It was planned as a Tu B’Shevat educational event before the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a natural-gas drilling policy last week and before Governor Tom Corbett signed the billlast night. Pennsylvania now joins more than 25 states in imposing a levy on natural gas drillers.

Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, involves new technology, using horizontal drilling/high volume hydraulic fracturing that is different from conventional drilling and is much riskier. In horizontal drilling, the drill bit is turned sideways to penetrate long distances from the vertical well. Massive amounts of water are pumped into the ground at extremely high pressure to fracture the rock According to Dr. Mirele Goldsmith of Jews Against Hydrofracking, the industry is resorting to this type of drilling because deposits accessible by conventional drilling have been used up. This method uses benzene, diesel, and formaldehyde as some of the hundreds of chemicals that are extremely hazardous to human health.

In 2009, the filmmaker, Josh Fox, learned that his home in the Delaware River Basin was on top of the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation containing natural gas that exists across Pennsylvania and huge stretches of the Northeast. He was offered $100,000 to lease his land for a method of drilling developed by Halliburton and he soon discovered that this was part of a 34-state drilling campaign, the largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history. More than 3,000 such wells have already been drilled in Pennsylvania.

Tap water on fire

Fox traveled to communities where the contamination of their drinking water has caused illnesses from headaches to asthma to the loss of hair in their animals. In Dimock, PA, the residents are able to light their tap water on fire. Contaminated water from fracking has been identified in Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio as well as Pennsylvania.

The State House voted 101-90 for the bill on Wednesday, February 8, after a 31-19 vote in the State Senate on Tuesday. As signed by Governor Corbett, the bill exacts a new fee on natural-gas drillers. The bill also: establishes a 500-foot setback between wells and buildings; requires a 300-foot setback between wells and waterways; and prohibits local governments from using zoning ordinances to ban gas drilling, and allows drilling in all zones.

Pennsylvania is the largest natural-gas-producing state that had not imposed a levy on drilling. The new bill will add a tax, beginning with a per-well fee between $40,000 and $60,000 in the first year after a well is drilled, which will decline to between $5,000 and $10,000 per well by the 15th and final year. The fee will vary with the cost of gas per year and will be set by the Public Utility Commission, which regulates utility companies

B’nai B’rith’s Perlman Camp in Lake Como, PA

The Forward reported last summer that of the 30 Jewish summer camps that sit above the Marcellus Shale, four camps in Wayne County, PA, had signed leases with Hess Corporation. The New Jersey YMHA-YWHA Camps received $400,000 for a lease on property that houses two summer camps. The B’nai B’rith Henry Monsky Foundation received a bonus of $115, 248 upon signing.  In Pennsylvania, there are already wells within 2 miles to 320 daycare facilities, 67 schools, and 9 hospitals, cites Dr. Goldsmith from state documents. She reports that more than 50 rabbis have signed a letter, sent to the Delaware River Basin Commission, about their concerns about fracking.

The Representatives from the Philadelphia area who voted for the Marcellus Shale “local impact fee” measure were:

  • Philadelphia: John Taylor (R)
  • Bucks County: Paul I. Clymer (R), Gene DiGirolamo (R), Frank Farry (R), Bernie O’Neill (R), Scott Petri (R), Margaret Quinn (R), Katherine M. Watson (R)
  • Chester County: Warren Kampf (R), Tim Hennessey (R), John Lawrence (R), Duane Milne (R), Chris Ross (R), Dan Truitt (R)
  • Delaware County: Bill Adolph (R), Steve Barrar (R), Joe Hackett (R), Tom Killion (R), Nick Miccarelli III (R), Nick Micozzie (R.)
  • Montgomery County: Bob Godshall (R), Kate Harper (R), Thomas Murt (R), Tom Quigley (R), Todd Stephens (R), Marcy Toepel (R), Mike Vereb (R)

Voting against the bill were:

  • Philadelphia: Louise Williams Bishop (D), Brendan Boyle (D), Kevin Boyle (D), Vanessa Lowery Brown (D), Michelle Brownlee (D), Mark Cohen (D), Angel Cruz (D), Maria Donatucci (D), Dwight Evans (D), Babette Josephs (D), Bill Keller (D.), Michael P. McGeehan (D), John Myers (D.), Michael O’Brien (D), Cherelle L. Parker (D), Tony Payton (D), James Roebuck (D), John Sabatina Jr. (D), W. Curtis Thomas (D), Ron Waters (D), Rosita Youngblood (D),
  • Bucks: Tina M. Davis (D), John Galloway (D.), Steven J. Santarsiero (D.)
  • Chester: Margo Davidson (D.), Thaddeus Kirkland (D.), Greg Vitali (D.)
  • Montgomery: Matt Bradford (D.), Tim Briggs (D.), Lawrence H. Curry (D.), Pam DeLissio (D.), Mike Gerber (D.)

Not voting:

    • Chester: Curt Schroder (R.)

 

Honoring Our Veterans

By Hannah Lee

Today we observe Veterans Day.  May we all remember and honor the service given to our country by these brave men and women in uniform.  They upheld the values of our country and, as young as they were when sent into service, they gave it all they had.  We owe it to them to remember their service.

Photo of memorial tablet from The Forward

On October 18th, I attended a ceremony dedicated to the 14 Jewish chaplains who’d fallen during service to the United States.  Their names are engraved on a plaque that was on exhibit that day at the National Museum of American Jewish History and a week later was installed on Chaplains Hill at Arlington National Cemetery.  The moving moment for me was the sight of the aged veterans, in full military regalia, snap to attention and salute the flag while we recited the Pledge of Allegiance.  Being a child of the 60’s, I grew up in an era when we distrusted authority (and anyone over 30).  Saying the Pledge was perfunctory and maybe also ironic.  Singing the national anthem invariably induced some jokester to call out, “Play ball.”  But it was no joke for these veterans of America’s wars.  They remember their fallen comrades and why they were posted to foreign lands, regardless of whether it was the right strategic move.  The values they upheld were of civic and religious freedom (and the “pursuit of happiness” which our religious forefathers did not mean the right to shop until we drop).

 

The 14 Jewish chaplains include:

  • World War II: Rabbi Alexander Goode; Rabbi Herman L. Rosen; Rabbi Henry Goody; Rabbi Samuel D. Hurwitz; Rabbi Louis Werfel; Rabbi Irving Tepper; Rabbi Nachman S. Arnoff; and Rabbi Frank Goldenberg;
  • Cold War Era: Rabbi Solomon Rosen; Rabbi Samuel Rosen;
  • Vietnam and Southeast Asia: Rabbi Meir Engel; Rabbi Joseph Hoenig; Rabbi Morton H. Singer; Rabbi David Sobel.

Recently, when I attended a private tour, “Journey on the Silk Road” at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Cynthia John, who’d created this tour, referred to the Holy Roman Empire (quoting Voltaire, says my young friend) as “not holy, not Roman, and not even an empire.”  Later, I asked John to elaborate but she only had time to say that the Mongols, who’d transformed far-flung agrarian societies into an urban one based on commerce, were an example of a real empire.  Nobody loves his emperor, but people have managed to forge strong allegiances to other entities, whether a religious icon, a culture, or a sports team.

My Rabbi has said that one can deduce much about other people’s values by their passions.  So, what do we know about people who wear apparel– even religious garb– emblazoned with an athletic team’s name? That they value sportsmanship or the thrill of victory (or maybe the agony of supporting the underdog team)?  Just how different are the various teams from each other?  A similar example of artificial distinction occurred during the recent political discussions about gerrymandering in my state, when I heard one woman express her wishes thus: we should just use rectangles in drawing our electoral districts, because then we would be sure that they are fair (or at least, not subject to political jockeying for power).  When I was first introduced to maps as a child, the states with the straight lines were the easiest to remember and to draw.  But, they do not connote any real distinction between the bordering states.  More socially relevant were the rivers and mountains which may have contributed to variations in dialect, climate, and terrain.

At the museum ceremony, Rabbi Lance Sussman of Keneseth Israel Congregation spoke about the historical role of Jews in the American military, from Asher Levy petitioning to serve in the militia in New Amsterdam in 1657 (appeal initially denied, later granted) to the Jews who served in the American Revolution to a Jew being in the first graduating class at West Point (one of two graduates!).  In World War II, there were 500,000 Jews in the American Army, compared to a half million Jews who were conscripted in the Soviet Army.  One overlooked fact by revisionists who question the minor public role of American Jewry in the rescue of Jews from Nazi-controlled lands is that American Jews served at double the percentage of its share of the national population.  Their view was that the best way to help was to ensure victory for the Allieds, to defeat the Nazis.  These Jews served with bravery and distinction.  Of the 14 rabbis honored, Rabbi Alexander D. Goode was one of four chaplains (including Reverend George L. Fox, Reverend Clark V. Poling, and Father John P. Washington) who gave up their lifejackets when their ship, the USS Dorchester foundered and later sank in 1943.  They were honored as “the Four Immortal Chaplains” and were depicted on a U.S. postal stamp in 1943.

U.S. postage stamp

We do not have mandatory military service, so most Americans feel distant from our soldiers and other members of the armed forces.  A contrasting case in point was the Israeli public’s view of the release of Gilad Shalit, held captive as a political prisoner in Gaza for 5 1/2 years by Hamas militants.  Israelis overwhelmingly approved of the deal that exchanged one Israeli soldier for 1,027 Palestinian and Israeli Arab prisoners.  With mandatory national service, every Israeli is but one degree of separation from an active Israeli soldier.  The negotiations for Shalit’s release were based on a tacit promise to all Israeli parents that their government would watch over their soldiers.  Their government would not forget them in captivity or in memorial.