The Download: What the frack?

Sherry Vargson lights a match, sticks it near the water coming out of her kitchen faucet, and watches as a flame shoots upward. As this multimedia story from Time magazine makes clear, the boom in natural gas exploration in Pennsylvania is having some unusual side-effects.

Pennsylvania is sitting on enormous deposits of natural gas, enough, some say, to last the country 100 years at current consumption rates. That’s great news for the country and states like Massachusetts, which rely heavily on natural gas to fuel electric power plants. If natural gas could displace coal and oil in electricity production, there could also be environmental benefits, since natural gas emits fewer greenhouse gases.

But as Vargson’s faucet illustrates, the boom in Pennsylvania drilling is raising concerns. The drilling method used to capture the natural gas is called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Companies drill down more than a mile beneath the surface into shale rock formations. They then pump a combination of water, sand, and chemicals (some of them toxic) into the well, creating enough pressure to fracture the surrounding rock, releasing the gas.

Drilling has rapidly accelerated across Pennsylvania, often without incident. But the Time story showcases several instances where accidents occurred and land and groundwater resources were contaminated. In Vargson’s case, methane gas seeped into her well, poisoning her water.

The Associated Press reported this week that Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state that allows fracking wastewater to be partially treated and then dumped into rivers and streams from which communities get their drinking water.

In a separate story, the AP also reported that Pennsylvania regulators spend little time reviewing applications for drilling permits and reject almost none. Of the 7,019 applications processed since 2005, only 31 have been rejected.

                                                                                                                                                                    –BRUCE MOHL


Attorney General Martha Coakley says she wants veto power over nonprofit board pay, and the Boston Herald cheers her on. Coakley disputes the notion that the plans are unique or more complex than other businesses, NECN reports.

MassDevelopment names a new boss who will earn a salary of $215,000, $84,000 less than her male predecessor, the Lowell Sun reports.

Lawmakers and public employee union leaders clash over how to manage health care costs.

A “legally questionable” poker room being run at Raynham Park shut down yesterday as Attorney General Martha Coakley looks into its operation. Meanwhile, The Cape Cod Times says Coakley “got it right” in recently banning some video game terminals.


Somerville Mayor Joseph Curatone is challenging Cambridge to an “Interesting Cities” throwdown after he took umbrage at comments by Cambridge City Councilor Ken Reeves calling his neighbor to the north “boring.” Via Universal Hub.

Lawrence High School suspends 24 seniors for up to five days for hacking the school’s computer system and erasing evidence they had been late or absent, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

The human resources director for Brockton schools, who’s been working for the system for 44 years and is the city’s longest tenured employee, is retiring amid a controversy that her department has not conducted state-mandated criminal background checks on teachers and staff.

Fall River officials are hauling the Florida owner of the city’s former police station into court for ignoring orders to fix safety violations in the long-neglected building.


The House votes to keep Washington open for the rest of the year, while 59 GOP members break ranks and dissent.

In a Washington Post column, US Rep. Paul Ryan explains why his vision for future federal budgets is more workable than President Obama’s plans.


Gov. Deval Patrick was in Washington yesterday ramping up his involvement in national politics and the Obama reelection effort with a focus on the federal health care reform law, which was modeled on the 2006 Massachusetts law (which was, in case you hadn’t heard, signed into law by a certain would-be GOP presidential candidate).

In a new Washington Post series on presidential candidates , Chris Cillizza outlines the pitfalls Mitt Romney has to avoid to win the GOP presidential nomination. The Globe details the ways in which the former Massachusetts governor, who touts his skills at creating jobs in the private sector, is also pretty well versed when it comes to working federal campaign finance laws to his advantage.


General Electric shelves a proposal to build locomotives at a plant in Lynn, apparently because workers wouldn’t agree to a 25 percent wage cut, the Item reports.

Wells Fargo and Bank of America top the city of Boston’s list of scofflaws who owe fines for not maintaining foreclosed properties, the Globe reports.

CommonWealth’s Paul McMorrow, in his weekly Globe column, reviews the loosey-goosey zoning and development approval process that Boston favors.

The Salem News, in an editorial, opposes a new Connecticut tax on power generated at the Millstone nuclear power plant because the bulk of the tax would be paid by municipal utilities (and their customers) in Massachusetts that own a portion of the plant.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission has charged executives at a Rockland subprime auto lender with fraud for misusing millions of investors’ dollars on personal business ventures.

The SEC is close to a settlement with Wall Street over exploding mortgage bonds.


The Gloucester School Committee approves a budget that requires another 14 layoffs, bringing the total to 42, the Gloucester Times reports.

College of the Holy Cross aims to solve town-gown tensions over drunken students in Worcester neighborhoods by allowing longer drinking hours in the on-campus pub.

Framingham considers hiring private schools bus drivers to cut costs.


Boston and its unions strike a deal that Mayor Tom Menino says will save $70 million over four years.


The numbers of homeless decline on Cape Cod.


The state will remove many of the handrails inside Big Dig tunnels following the eighth fatal accident involving a motorist in which the railings played a role, the Globe reports.


Top this: California mandates that utilities get one-third of their energy from renewable sources by 2020, the most “aggressive” goal in the country.


A federal jury in Springfield convicted a 26-year-old white man of burning down a predominantly black church hours after Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, according to an AP story on WBUR.

A Hingham blogger, who was accused of sending an email posing as a selectman, will appeal a federal judge’s ruling dismissing his complaint of harassment against the town’s former police chief.


The History of American Graffiti, a new book from Caleb Neelon of Cambridge, says many graffiti artists in Boston made their mark in the South End. WBUR has the story.