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There will be more disasters
COUNTY LINE, BY DAVE LANGE
There will be more disasters
As gushing oil continues its assault on the environment and economy in the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding states after British Petroleum's Deepwater Horizon rig exploded and killed 11 workers on April 20, the cozy relationship between the industry and government is becoming clearer by the day.
BP has a long history of safety violations and previous deadly disasters. But employees of the Minerals Management Service, the federal government agency that is supposed to enforce regulations that should have prevented the worst calamity yet, have been taking gratuities from oil and gas companies and propositioning them for high-paying jobs.
Predictably, politicos who benefit from dirty money in their campaign treasuries hailed the recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs. Federal Elections Commission, which declared that corporate-bought elections are a matter of free speech.
Don Blankenship, chief executive officer of Massey Energy, did just that with $3 million of his own money to defeat an incumbent West Virginia Supreme Court justice in 2004. The stacked state court proceeded to overturn a $50 million verdict against Mr. Blankenship's corporation.
In early April, 29 West Virginia miners were killed by a methane gas surge into Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine. The U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration had issued 1,342 violations against the mine since 2005. But government officials, who are is supposed to protect workers and the environment, which has been denuded by mountaintop mining, had their palms greased to look the other way.
Ohio Senate President Pro-Tempore Tom Niehaus, R-New Richmond, who represents a district southeast of Cincinnati, where there are few oil and gas deposits, is responsible for recently passed Ohio Senate Bill 165. He happens to be a regular beneficiary of campaign contributions from the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, which essentially wrote the bill.
S.B. 165 effectively prevented more stringent safety regulation of the drilling industry sponsored by state Sen. Timothy J. Grendell, R-Chester, whose district encompassing Geauga and Lake counties and a corner of Cuyahoga County has been overrun by oil and gas wells in residential neighborhoods.
One of those neighborhoods happens to be the English Drive area of Bainbridge Township, where methane gas migrated from a drilling operation in December 2007, causing one home to explode and contaminating the water wells at dozens of others. Very fortunately, nobody was injured.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources, Division of Mineral Resources Management, which depends on the industry for its revenue stream and at the same time is responsible for its regulation, responded to the English Drive incident by issuing new conditions for such operations. Later, the state agency declared that the responsible driller, Ohio Valley Energy, of Austintown, had not followed the regulations already in effect.
Eventually, the driller was compelled to install a city waterline to residents who could prove that their water wells were ruined by the methane gas. Other homeowners in the area were denied. Their Geauga County government told them they would have to pay the guilty oil driller in order to connect to the waterline and give them peace mind.
Meter readings indicate that methane gas continues to migrate through the area. But the state and county governments are more likely to protect the oil and gas industry's pocketbooks than the public's safety.
There will be more disasters.
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