The Bethlehem man was seething over last Sunday's discussion of two gubernatorial candidates, incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett and a top challenger, Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, a Democrat from Montgomery County.
On previous occasions, I had bashed Schwartz about as often as I had praised her, while finding almost nothing to praise in Corbett, including the time he was state attorney general. Make that especially when he was attorney general.
(My opinion of Corbett has not changed significantly since 2006, when he came to the Lehigh Valley, as attorney general, to stage a grand press conference in a bogus effort to whitewash a fatal police-on-police shooting in Easton.)
Last Sunday, I took Schwartz's side in her clash with Corbett over whether Pennsylvania should impose a "severance tax" on the gas being extracted in a drilling boom that has swept across much of the state.
Corbett, who has accepted more than $2 million in "campaign contributions" from the gas industry's robber barons, based largely in Texas, has opposed any such tax, even though all other major gas-producing states, including Texas, have it.
Last Sunday's column was prompted by Corbett's attack against Schwartz for releasing a report supporting such a tax. Although Schwartz strongly supports gas drilling, if properly regulated, the robber barons gave her only $5,500 at the time they were giving Corbett $2 million.
The Bethlehem man seemed touchy about his real name, so I'll call him W. Roth.
Most of last Sunday's column was based on cold, hard facts, such as those refuting Corbett's claims about creating jobs in Pennsylvania. So Roth focused on what he felt was an outrageous distortion of the truth — my assertion that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, now used in gas drilling was "environmentally devastating."
Roth angrily demanded that I give him specific examples of such environmental damage. I told him there are many, but I did not have them right in front of me, and I'd send him a few by email, which I then did.
My email letter began with a half-dozen online links to stories about the contamination of waterways and groundwater from fracking fluids, which are extremely toxic. (Millions of gallons of the fluids are forced underground to break up rock formations so they release gas, and much of the fluid gushes back to the surface.)
Those stories included an Associated Press account of how most states require drillers to dispose of fracking fluid safely, but Pennsylvania lets drillers "partially" treat it and then it's "dumped into rivers and streams." State officials, the AP said, could not account for millions of gallons of fluids. Other stories cited hundreds of accidents, and a New York state citizens advocacy organization documented 270 gas-drilling accidents "causing tremendous destruction to people and our environment."
I added several paragraphs of my own, including a case in which a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil was fined by federal authorities for dumping poisonous fracking fluids into a tributary of the Susquehanna River.
Roth was not impressed. He replied by email, saying his "suspicions were raised" when we had talked by telephone, "and you could not tell me of a single environmentally devastating fracking event."
He's right. During impromptu phone conversations, I try not to rattle off facts and figures without checking them first, and my subsequent two-page letter full of facts and figures apparently does not count.
Serves me right for trying to be helpful.
Three days after Roth's response, however, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a story that is sure to raise his hackles even more.
It said criminal charges have been lodged against XTO Energy for releasing about 57,000 gallons of toxic gas well wastewater in Penn Township, Lycoming County, about 70 miles northwest of Allentown.
The charges are the result of a grand jury investigation handled by current state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a political adversary of Gov. Corbett.
Actions against such polluters would normally be handled by Corbett's Department of Environmental Protection (I love to make fun of that agency's name), but the story said DEP says "its enforcement efforts are still to come."
Former DEP Secretary John Hanger cheered the grand jury findings. "Free advice to XTO — look at yourself in the mirror and ask hard questions of yourself," he was quoted as saying. Hanger is also running for governor, but based on the way he ran DEP under Gov. Ed Rendell (another recipient of big campaign contributions from the Texas robber barons), it's hard to see how he'll be any improvement over Corbett when it comes to environmental issues affecting the gas drilling industry.
The grand jury probe found that XTO Energy first tried to say the spill was the result of vandalism, but later changed that story. XTO Energy, by the way, is based in Fort Worth, Texas. (Where else?) It is a division of Exxon Mobil, the same outfit fined for dumping its fracking glop into the Susquehanna River's tributary.
When Roth writes an angry letter to Kane or to the Post-Gazette for picking on this particular set of Texas robber barons, I hope he sends me a copy.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.