Friday, March 27, 2009

IGNORANCE WE CAN COUNT ON

Asking for safe water
BY JAMES LOEWENSTEIN, STAFF WRITER, THE DAILY REVIEW
Published: Friday, March 27, 2009 3:14 AM EDT

TOWANDA — A Towanda resident on Thursday urged the Bradford County commissioners to take action to address the fact that hydraulic fracturing, which is used in gas drilling in Bradford County, is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Large quantities of water, which are used to hydraulically fracture the Marcellus Shale during gas drilling, contain chemicals, many of which can cause cancer, Towanda resident Donna Hemingson said in an interview.
She said she was concerned that this chemical-containing water could contaminate the water table in Bradford County.

The 2005 Energy Policy Act, which was crafted by Vice-President Dick Cheney and others who had worked for Halliburton, "exempts the hydraulic fracturing process — which is owned by Halliburton — from the requirements and regulations of the Safe Drinking Water Act," Hemingson told the commissioners.

In light of the exemption that has been granted to the hydraulic fracturing process, "what have you commissioners done to ensure that we, the people, under your watch, have safe drinking water, and what recourses do we have to rectify the negative consequences — and there are going to be negative consequences, and there already have been — to our health, property values, and publicly shared environment?" Hemingson asked.

Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko began to respond to Hemingson by saying that damage to roads and the preservation of safe drinking water are two of the biggest issues related gas drilling.

But Hemingson interrupted McLinko, saying: "We have no recourse legally (under the Safe Drinking Water Act, if a problem should develop), because they are exempted."

"I am not aware of that (exemption)," McLinko then told Hemingson.

"Yeah, they are exempt," Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith said.

"Oh boy, you should be aware of it, that there is no legal recourse," Hemingson told McLinko.

"I know there has been trouble in Susquehanna County, but has there been trouble locally?" McLinko asked Hemingson.

"There has been trouble across the country," Hemingson replied.

McLinko later told Hemingson: "I understand there is a big concern for drinking water. I think we should look at the way our water wells are constructed. The way water wells are put in the ground today, they can more easily become contaminated from a septic field or something, than from gas wells. Because there are many, many instances where the double-lined and double-grouted gas wells are sealed way down below the aquifers."

McLinko also told Hemingson that the commissioners can’t do anything about the Safe Drinking Water Act.

"But as commissioners, is there some way you can put forth some kind of push to get the DEP and the EPA to look into this?"

"There is something we can do," McLinko said. "If injustices have been done, we could put companies’ feet to the fire as best we can."

"But that’s all after the fact," Hemingson said.

Hydraulic fracturing involves the injection of large quantities of water under high pressure into well bores to fracture the Marcellus Shale and release the gas in the shale.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or e-mail: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.

TIME NOW FOR A BIT OF BACK STORY:

1. With regard to McLinko's outrageous admission above, we noted this follow-up comment:
" Regarding McLinko's saying he is unaware that fracking is exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act:
I have been emailing important gas/water news and information to Mr. McLinko, and our other commissioners... . This is news and information the people in charge of making decisions NEED to know.
It is not surprising that McLinko didn't know something as basic as the fact that the oil and gas industry is exempt from SDWA regulations.
On March 9th, in response to one such mailing I sent out, to my horror, Mr. McLinko replied: Please remove me from your mailing list…………….Thank you."

2. In August of last year, Bradford County taxpayers sent their commissioners on a fact finding mission to Wise Co. Texas, which they deemed similar to Bradford County in many ways.
Seeking information that would help keep his constituents safe, Mark Smith contacted well known environmental activist Txsharon, who arranged for local people to talk to the Bradford County Commissioners about how gas drilling has affected their lives. For the complete story, CLICK HERE.

"It's too bad the Bradford County, PA Commissioner's fact finding trip turned into fluff finding or McKlinko would have known about Big Oil [and Gas]'s MANY exemptions from our federal environmental laws," said Txsharon on her blog http://txsharon.blogspot.com today.
With regard to McLinko's comments about water well construction nowadays, i.e., "The way water wells are put in the ground today, they can more easily become contaminated from a septic field or something, than from gas wells," Txsharon notes: this is the line given by industry and McKlinko learned it when he came here and got his complimentary hard hat.

She continues, and it is worth repeating:
I've written about the exemptions many times. The Domestic Drilling Agenda: How We Can Protect Ourselves From the Environmental Devastation

Oil and gas enjoys broad exemptions from our environmental laws.

* Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act

* Resource Conservation and Recovery Act

* Safe Drinking Water Act

* Clean Water Act

* Clean Air Act

* National Environmental Policy Act

* Toxic Release Inventory under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act

There is plenty county commissioners can do to protect citizens from oil & gas. One thing our commissioners could have done before they allowed Wise County to have the most injection wells of any other county, is adopt a resolution to protest every injection well permit like Hood County, TX commissioners did. They can also place load limits on roads so the trucks can't pass. There are many different ways commissioners can take better measures to protect their citizens. If nothing else and at the VERY LEAST they can be responsible enough to educate themselves on the issues! They are RESPONSIBLE for making good decisions for their constituents!

Right now they could adopt a resolution to repeal the SDWA exemption as I have requested of Wise County, TX commissioners <-crickets chirping->. Municipalities, counties, communities, groundwater districts and many other organizations all across the country are adopting resolutions. If you want a copy of such a resolution, contact me.

All I can say is: I feel your pain Bradford [County] residents. Our commissioners don't know about the SDWA either.

In a subsequent post, Txsharon commented further:
I don't think the commissioners can be expected to know everything about drilling. It's a complicated issue. But they can be expected to be open to learning the TRUTH from multiple sources, not be arrogant about taking information and for the love of God don't repeat the industry propaganda.

6 comments:

  1. Well, heck. You can't expect an important guy like McKlinko to read emails from you pesants about frivolous things like safe water. Gheez, give the guy a break.

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  2. The Daily Review article reveals an astounding lack of knowledge on the part of a county commissioner- McKlinko- who holds public office and should be looking out for the basic safety of his constituents at ALL times. We now know that he and others from Bradford County, including Mark Smith and John Sullivan, were given at least two opportunities to learn the facts. They received e-mails from a local citizen who cares about the detrimental effects of gas drilling. A couple of weeks ago, McKlinko asked to be removed from the list. What's more, they were given the opportunity to speak with Wise County, TX, residents while on their fact-finding trip last fall, and they declined to do so. I wonder what decisions would have been made if the commissioners had taken the time to listen with an open mind to people who have walked the walk in Texas. Is it too late to avert mass destruction of the environment and the people's health in Bradford County? Why haven't the commissioners advocated for their constituents at the state level? Why haven't the commissioners told their constituents about the negative aspects of gas drilling? There may have been a passing comment or two, but for the most part, the fantastic "benefits," mainly money, of drilling has been the big story. Hiding behind flimsy legalese just doesn't suffice. Authority or no authority, they could have raised hell with those who do hold the authority. We're not buying the, "Our hands are tied" excuse.

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  3. Do people write letters to the Editor at the Daily Review? After that stunning article in Friday's paper about McKlinko and the commissioners' meeting, I thought there might be a response or two. I haven't seen anything yet.

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  4. Peacegirl,
    Comments to the Daily Review article are attached below. People are finally beginning to wake up, albeit most are in their infancy. Most comments reflect peoples disgust with the situation and our local politicians, although the gas industry always has a few off the wall comments from their illiterate employees. Have fun reading.

    No fan of drilling wrote on Mar 27, 2009 6:06 AM:
    " Good try, Donna. As you know, the commissioners have done nothing, absolutely nothing, to try to protect us. Instead, they have leased the county land for even more drilling. Of course, McLinko is unaware of the Safe Drinking Water Act exemption. He is unaware of Cheney and Halliburton and the 2005 Energy Policy Act. Not knowledgeable of the past or having foresight for the future, this little dialog shows that there is little hope that our leadership will assist us in any way with future problems. Now we are going to look at the way our water wells are constructed? Hold feet to the fire? Sure. McLinko is more likely to be warming his own tootsies with the money he gains from his gas buddies, once he figures out where to get his piece of the pie.

    Only the public can see what is happening here. County, state, and national leadership is blinded by the light of the gleaming gold, almost within their grasp. We may still have a chance with our new national government. With Cheney gone and so many Bush policies being undone, how about trying Obama next? He's got his hands full, but he might listen. I'm sure he's hearing it from elsewhere in the nation, and he seems like a logical person. "

    Scott wrote on Mar 27, 2009 8:00 AM:
    " How can Commissioner McClinko be unaware of the exemptions the gas companies enjoy from clean air and water standards? That fact has been explained in many readers' responses in this forum. As an elected official, and one who is admittedly devoted to promoting the gas drilling in the county, he should take the necessary steps to keep himself informed about ALL aspects of this issue.To be honest, I don't know what Ms. Hemingson expects county officials to do, as this is a federal exemption. The federal government has tried in every way possible to make oil and gas extraction a priority - and the public and the environment be damned. They don't care about our water. They care about reducing our dependence on foreign energy and about corporate profits. "

    Toby wrote on Mar 27, 2009 8:08 AM:
    " This individual is showing the almost total lack of common sense knowledge that is enslaving our area that only breeds FEAR because of not knowing the TRUTH. "

    Concerned wrote on Mar 27, 2009 8:53 AM:
    " Mr McLinko actually suggested that the water wells be lined and grouted, which won't work if you still want water. I think the commissioners and state reps. need to remember their sacred trust to protect the people of Bradford County and not the interests of the gas companies. I fear some of them have forgotten who they work for. "

    Too Late wrote on Mar 27, 2009 9:42 AM:
    " I think if one of the Commissioners or their families faced an adverse situation from gas well drilling, they'd realize how important these issues are; that they should have already been addressed. They can't drink natural gas, sleep in leftover pollution and thrive of the illusional royalties. When their families have health problems from living with poor air quality (which hasn't been mentioned yet), they can't take that to the bank. "

    Edith Masterman wrote on Mar 27, 2009 9:42 AM:
    " It is noteworthy that with the thousands of persons in this county at risk, one solitary woman (for whom, three cheers) shows up at the meeting to confront the Commissioners on this issue. Then drilling champion McLinko swats her down, or attempts to.

    McLinko's knowledge of drilling is limited strictly to the "benefits". Asking him proactively to protect our drinking water is akin to asking the devil to bow down to Almighty God. It is NOT going to happen.

    While I do not agree with Mr. McLinko, at least he makes his odious position clear and you know where he stands. Sullivan, on the other hand, is as much for the drilling as McLinko, but he remains silent. What a courageous leader he is!

    Smith, I suspect, cares about our water but, as usual, he is alone and not able to help us.

    One political aspect of all this puzzles me. First, our water is at risk, any sane person recognizes and acknowledges that. And that nobody cares about us individual homeowners is equally clear. Our sacrifice, as offerings to big gas, is already baked into the cake. Protecting us would cost the big gas companies too much money.

    But there are huge agricultural interests in this county - big money operations - that are at great risk from loss of water for their livestock. This is the source of my puzzlement. I am not saying, as regards size and monetary value, that the ag operations rival big gas. Nothing rivals big gas. But still, the larger ag operations in Bradford County have combined value up in the tens of millions of dollars. They are well established in our county, some for a number of years. Loss of clean water would quickly put these operations out of business. Jobs, profits, and livelihoods would be lost.

    I really don't know what's going on in this arena. My suspicion is the ag folks simply do not comprehend the magnitude of the threat. It is a pity. "

    Anne wrote on Mar 27, 2009 9:47 AM:
    " That's right, the 2005 Energy Policy Act left it up to State and local officials to protect their constituents' water from pollution caused by gas drilling. This means you Doug, and Tina as well. And it means passing legislation regulating pollution caused by drilling BEFORE the harm occurs. Not planning on complaining after the "injustices have been done." "

    local wrote on Mar 27, 2009 10:18 AM:
    " People need to get their water tested BEFORE drilling has taken place to ensure that it wasn't contaminated prior to this. I think many will find their wells were already contaminated. It can happen very easily. "

    laura h wrote on Mar 27, 2009 11:21 AM:
    " THANKS, Donna, for asking these questions. We need answers to this BEFORE, not AFTER a problem. HELLO, Commissioners? These and a lot of other concerns need to be addressed - and SOON - before damage is done. This isn't JUST about money. Let's hear weekly progress reports from your 'gas committee' and let's make sure these issues are included! "

    Local Resident wrote on Mar 27, 2009 3:59 PM:
    " If McLinko knows nothing about the exemption of the Safe Drinking Water Act regarding fracking these wells then he is probably not smart enough to hold anyone's feet in a fire.

    How can the preservation of safe drinking water be one of the biggest issues related gas drilling if the man hasn't done his homework.

    He knows about the exemption. He is lying. "

    Karen Korell wrote on Mar 27, 2009 4:10 PM:
    " Regarding McLinko's saying he is unaware that fracking is exempt from the Safe Water Drinking Act:
    I have been emailing important gas/water news and information to Mr. McLinko, and our other commissioners, as well as to Tom Fairchild, Tony Ventello and the editor of this paper. This is news and information the people in charge of making decisions NEED to know.
    It is not surprising that McLinko didn't know something as basic as the fact that the oil and gas industry is exempt from SWDA regulations.
    On March 9th, in response to one such mailing I sent out, to my horror, Mr. McLinko replied: Please remove me from your mailing list…………….Thank you. "

    H2O Info wrote on Mar 27, 2009 4:46 PM:
    " Exerpt From The SFWA in Colorado.

    Hydraulic fracturing, which shoots vast amounts of water, sand, and chemicals several miles underground to break apart rock and release natural gas, has been considered safe since a 2004 study by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that it posed no risk to drinking water. After that study, Congress exempted hydraulic fracturing from the Safe Drinking Water Act. Today, fracturing is used in nine of every 10 natural-gas wells in the United States.


    Over the last few years, however, a series of contamination incidents has raised questions about that EPA study and ignited a debate over whether the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing may threaten the nation's drinking-water supply. More than 1,000 cases of contamination have been documented by courts and state and local governments in Colorado, New Mexico, Alabama, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.


    In one case, a house exploded after hydraulic fracturing created underground passageways and methane seeped into the residential water supply. In other cases, the contamination occurred not from actual drilling below ground but on the surface, where accidental spills and leaky tanks, trucks, and waste pits allowed benzene and other chemicals to leach into streams, springs, and water wells.
    http://www.waterinfo.org/node/2750

    You can go to this site for the whole article. "

    Jack Hobson wrote on Mar 27, 2009 6:07 PM:
    " Karen

    What a revealing story! McLinko's awareness is limited to items favorable to his cause. And his cause is turning this county into an unlivable pincushion.

    As far as McLinko or Sullivan being aware of writings here . . . forget it. Neither has the mental horsepower to locate the on/off switch on a computer. Both see mice as tiny four legged creatures with tails that you catch in traps. And keyboards, to those guys, are found only on pianos.

    Smith is obviously much different, but as somebody already has written, he is alone. The thing bothering me most is I see no candidates for Commissioner on the horizon, not in either party, who will defend the people. And we are probably going to need two of them. Smith will run against and defeat Pickett for Rep in the next election, if she even runs. She is so silent on all this I think she must want out.

    This is not a Republican or Democrat thing. This is a priority thing. Right now the drillers and gas companies are the priority. That MUST change, and the people, our lives and our remaining in our homes, must become the priority. "

    Farmer wrote on Mar 27, 2009 6:33 PM:
    " Edith

    First, I agree with you. We are at risk, small and large operations both. But the smaller farms, or the farmers, have their eyes on the bonus and royalty money. That is keeping them silent. There's a few who really want to farm no matter what. Those farmers have a big problem. But most of us will gladly quit if we get enough money from the drilling. It is not the easiest life you know.

    Now on the big operations, first there's not so many. But I have to agree with you on those. They are ag people not gas people or engineers. Some of those operations are not even owned by ag people. They are owned by business people who live outside Bradford County. They most likely do not see the risks yet. But your right they can't stay in business without good water and lots of it. They have to water their livestock.

    Agriculture has always been our leading industry here. That's all changing now. Without pure water there will be no more agriculture, small or large. People years ago used to say they liked the farms here. Today I guess the farms don't matter. "

    Mark Smith County Commissioner wrote on Mar 27, 2009 9:17 PM:
    " Hello All,
    The fact is the Commissioners do not regulate the environment. We have no funding, personnel or any other resources to do so. It is the state and federal government issue. We couldn't afford to do it regardless.
    Thats not to say we can't advocate for our residents. The fact is that all of us do, but we all have different opinions about it and I certainly have different opinions than Mclinko.
    Even though you don't see it in the papers everyday the Commissioners office deals with natural gas issues every single day whether it be resident issues we direct to the right government agency or dealing questioning state agencies and trying to keep up with the changes that are going on.
    One of the most important issues right now is how do we get money back to our local governments to deal with the large impact of this industry. Right now there is no source besides the local tax base of property owners we have. There are all kinds of opinions about if and how that revenue travels back to the local governments. But it is an issue we are involved in advocating for or against, depending on how one looks at it. I've been serving on the County Commissioners Association Natural Gas Task Force and also sit on the County Commissioners Association board of directors. There is a lot of time being spent on natural gas statewide at the commissioners level. Tomorrow, for intance I leave for our Commissioners meeting in Harrisburg. At the beginning of April I have the opportunity to testify in front of the state senate policy committee on natural gas related issues. Then the second week of April our Natural Gas Advisory Committee along with Penn State Coop Extension are doing a presentation on injection wells (press release to come this coming week).
    Keep in mind that besides all the natural gas issues there is still a 700 employee, $57 milliion dollar county for us administrate.
    I can say I share the frustration of anyone who is not happy with the inaction at the state level, legislatively or regulatory.
    I did get the opportunity to talk to Senator Yaw last night at the Farm Bureau dinnner. I believe he is genuine in his efforts to make things happen from the state to ensure we get what we need here in our localities. But he just started.

    Too Late,
    All my family lives here, I grew up here, I love it here.

    Karen,
    Thanks for the e-mails, I'm open to read whatever you send me. "

    Disgusted with polititions at all levels wrote on Mar 27, 2009 10:01 PM:
    " Pretty amazing Doug knows nothing about the exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act since I personally sent him an EMAIL alerting him to all the environmental travesties associated with this type of drilling. It was probably ignorant of me to assume an elected official would actually care about citizens concerns. Elected officials at all levels appear to be concerned with one thing ......$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$! "

    Dunn wrote on Mar 27, 2009 10:38 PM:
    " Test your water BEFORE they drill! The drillers are obligated to test your water before drilling if you are within (??) feet of a well sight. But they won't. My well has become nasty and strong with sulpher and iron within a short time after they started drilling nearby. "Not our problem." they said, and that was the end of it.

    'Nuff said. "

    Jon Black wrote on Mar 27, 2009 11:22 PM:
    " H2O

    You don't have to be a genius to understand it. I think even the average person can get this. First, water is incompressible. That's how they can frac in the first place. The frac fluid does not compress. So a pressure pulse applied up at the top of the well is transmitted all the way to the end of the line, a mile below ground.

    But this means that during fracing the entire well is under pressure, very high pressure. A mile below ground that pressure fractures the shale, sure enough, as intended. But further up the well shaft much closer to the surface, that same pressure can force frac fluid, including the chemicals everybody is concerned about, into the water table through natural fractures in the rock.

    This is not all that tough to envision. The pressures used to fracture the shale are very, very high. Of course, once the poison frac fluid gets into the water table, heck, that's the end or our drinking water right there. You and me and the farm animals, whatever, we're all drinking the stuff. And the gas companies won't even disclose what chemicals they are using. This makes testing our water nearly impossible, because nobody knows for sure what to test for.

    I hope the gas companies buy Robert Packer Hospital a new cancer wing. They're gonna need it. "

    concerned wrote on Mar 28, 2009 5:39 AM:
    " I was going to suggest that any elected official who pulls down gas royalties be impeached. Silly me, they won't need the job and will be able to buy a new home far away with their plunder. "

    donna hemingson wrote on Mar 28, 2009 8:47 AM:
    " Local governments can do alot. I don't know how much has been done but I don't think most of this has been done ie baseline data collected on air, water and soil. I don't think there are any permanent air quality monitors in the area..or at least DEP would have used them to prove how safe our air really was when Craftmaster issues were trying to be addressed. Do we have emissions monitoring of road dust from truck traffic thru our towns and on our roads? ...what about ozone levels as well. A Canadian study showed up to 900 different cmpds could be used for designing a fracing compound.. how do we know what compounds we need to test our wells for? Isn't chemistry about chemicals combining to make new compounds under certain conditions? Also studies show that contaminants emitted from industry into the air end up in the topsoil. Seems we may be breathing, drinking and eating the gas drilling business if we don't have some strong regulations for environmental safety "

    Sandy wrote on Mar 28, 2009 9:16 AM:
    " You will all learn that DEP is a lot less effective than elected officials are counting on. I ask, again, that this newspaper do an article on the best procedure for getting all water, wells/ponds/streams, on one's private property tested. I was told that the Penn State tests do not hold up in court because one collects his own water sample. A private company that sends a person to your property to collect the sample is needed. However, it must be a company that is willing to stand behind the findings should an individual have to take a gas company to court...i.e. a water company that is not in the pocket of the gas compny. Drinking water for humans is clearly not the only water issue. If the earthworms die, so does the soil. "

    Vinographer wrote on Mar 28, 2009 9:31 AM:
    " Turn the water into wine and everything will be just fine. "

    Greenie wrote on Mar 28, 2009 11:32 AM:
    " Ms. Hemingson may have a touch of monomania with regard to carcinogens. Didn't she raise some bogus hue and cry a couple years ago about chemicals at local industries causing a higher than normal cancer rate in our area. Let's not forget the story of the little boy who cried wolf. Ms. Hemingson's credibility is suspect. "

    ask a roughneck wrote on Mar 28, 2009 4:35 PM:
    " Tell ya what the next time you are out and about talk to one of the guys who operate on one of the drilling rigs. The put the the chemicals in the groud ask them. When you see a fracking truck make a stop at the store talk to those guys make friends with them and get the info from those who are preforming the jobs!!

    Hello there is your knowledge base, everyday people just like you and me. "

    Drill Drill Drill wrote on Mar 28, 2009 5:52 PM:
    " Every water well within 1000 feet of a drilling operation has to be tested by the drilling company before and after drilling. That is PA law. Also, all wells are drilled to a depth of 600 feet and cased with concrete. If any of your aguafers are below 300 I would be very surprised.

    If a company comes and asks to test your water or even if you know a well is being drilled near by have your water tested before and after the drilling. You'd be surprised what your drinking right now. "

    a voice of reason wrote on Mar 28, 2009 9:35 PM:
    " Because the gas companies are exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act there isn't alot you can make happen even if you can prove the water turned bad after nearby drilling. That's why it's so important to write to your congressmen now and ask them to support H.R. 7231: To repeal the exemption for hydraulic fracturing in the Safe Water Drinking Act. Do it real soon too cause the congress is going to reconvene again on March 30! "

    Re Tina Pickett wrote on Mar 29, 2009 12:57 AM:
    " Unfortunately, Tina Pickett has not been so silent afterall. She and Dave Reed [R-Indiana] co-chair the House Republican Energy Task Force, which this week unveiled "Energize PA", a plan to expand natural gas drilling to 390,000 additional acres of state forest land!
    See http://splashdownpa.blogspot.com (There Goes the Neighborhood) for the full announcement as well as PennFuture's critical response, calling it the height of fiscal and environmental irresponsibility. "

    H2O Info wrote on Mar 29, 2009 9:17 AM:
    " Here is a great opportunity to call / write your state and congressional people. Tell them that you would like to see action taken to protect you and your family.
    Pickett
    Carney
    Casey
    Yaw "

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  5. If the commissioners had contacted me when they visited Wise County, I would have told them about the exemptions. I had several local people--not oil & gas people, but just regular folks--lined up to meet them. I even had Calvin Tillman, Mayor of DISH, TX, lined up to meet them. You can meet Mayor Tillman here:

    Deep Dish - A look at a town crisscrossed with pipelines I hope your town doesn't get Deep Dished.

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  6. I am so sorry that the Bradford County group didn't take advantage of your tour. I know you would have entertained them while educating them, and they would have had much more fun. Most importantly, they would have seen the real world.

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