Shocked and Persuaded


Separating Fact From Fiction

The Curious Case of the Shrinking Utica Shale Play

So the Utica shale oil and gas field seems to be shrinking before our very eyes and we took a look at the data to separate Ohio Department of Natural Resources expectations from the reality on the ground.

Here is a link to that piece and various other efforts from my colleagues at FracTracker including our effort to map the complete inventory of oil & gas wells here in the US.

Needless to say our regulators are woefully behind the times in keeping tabs on oil & gas productivity and their efforts are more lagging than leading.

Not So Happy Valley

We are on the verge of finding out that one of the greatest and most disgusting coverups of all time was committed in State College, PA by none other than Joe Paterno and his minions and it will extend vertically and horizontally across the state. This is the case of a college football program ripping a page out of the playbook of The Vatican and they will come up similarly soiled. I strongly recommend everyone reading this read the Grand Jury account to see the extent of former Paterno assistant coach Jerry Sandusky’s predation. Please consider reading the account of Sandusky-Grand-Jury-Presentment and then ask yourself if – and I stress if – this was relayed to Paterno then he needs to leave his position and Penn State has so much explaining to do that it should have started decades ago. I don’t usually find myself attracted to these kinds of stories but this one speaks to the loss of innocence, sports corruption, and administrative capture in supposedly above-reproach academic institutions. There is even the possibility that a murder or permanent relocation of Centre County, PA District Attorney was linked to his failure to prosecute Mr. Sandusky at a time that no doubt would have prevent some of Sandusky’s most horrific abuses of power.

This is  sad story because you have a man in Joe Paterno that presumably for many many years lived an exemplary life only to be swallowed up by the temptations of absolute power and the image he had commendably created. He had a predator in his midst that he felt should simply be relieved of his keys and access to the locker rooms. This is vintage Catholic Church stuff but in this case you have a legacy that will be remembered for facilitating countless acts of sexual molestation by Mr. Sandusky. I found the Grand Jury PDF extremely hard to read but more importantly found myself amazed that apparently Mr. Paterno read the same thing….AND DID NOTHING!

Mr. Paterno is probably the most important man in the history of the state of Pennsylvania and that is not an overstatement. He represented the right way to comport yourself as a coach and member of the community. Was it all a lie? Probably not but at the very least Mr. Paterno’s errors of omission proved equally perilous relative to Mr. Sandusky’s errors of commission. Penn State Athletic Director Tim Curley and vice president for business and finance Gary Schultz are being charged with perjure for their failure to report what they were told by a graduate assistant coach to the appropriate authorities. Immediately upon silencing himself the aforementioned GA was promoted again and again and again. I wonder why? Looks like a duck, walks like a duck…

Sadly Penn State students continue to chant “We Want Joe” and “Joe Pa-Ter-No” in support of their beloved coach. That is fine but I hope they understand this is not a game and very serious allegations are currently being investigated with the potential to render their support of Joe Pa looking childish at best and completely insensitive to the condition of the victims at worst. I would suggest they focus on their classes and hope that all of these horrible allegations are a bad dream. Innocent until proven guilty but the trend line is heading in the wrong direction.

Juiced! (aka Chart of the Day)

How bout this for proof? In full disclosure I am a diehard Yankees fan and I have no doubt that we benefitted from the juice with respect to Giambi, Sheffield, Kevin Brown (Benefit?). However, our core Mariano, Derek, Posada, O’Neill, etc were and will always be class acts.

Anyway to the data for your enjoyment.


Ms. Foxx Meet Laramie, WY

A couple of weeks ago the debate around a hate crimes bill was brought before the House and was approved by a vote of 249 to 175. The bill is designed to give those that are victims of such crimes new federal protections and is largely due to the courageous and resolute work of the family of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old University of Wyoming student, who was brutally tortured and left for dead in 1998. His story was recently revived by the “Laramie Project”, which forced the community to, in the words of Reggie Fluty a Laramie policeman as reported by Patrick Healy in The Times ( “…just, as a community, get slugged before you wake up and grow up…I don’t think we’re all grown up, but I think people are trying.” Getting back to the bill in congress it defines hate crimes as though motivated by race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. Seems harmless enough right? However, Representative Virginia Foxx, a Republican of North Carolina, stated on the floor of the House that Mr. Shepard’s death was “a hoax” and did so while the Shephard family was in attendance.

I have to wonder why so angry Ms. Foxx? What is it about this bill you that seems so anathema to you and your right-wing colleagues? It says on your website that you are a lay leader in your church and I am wondering if such animosity towards those that don’t look like you, believe what you believe, and sleep with the people you have slept with was cultivated at your church. You voted against money for victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Voting Rights Act in 2006. Why? What is your problem and by association the right-wing’s problem with people that aren’t you in the strictest sense? Okay I think I get it you don’t like those that fall into the categories mentioned above and that is well within your rights as an American citizen. However, what I can’t understand is why you think that an individual has the right to inflict harm on someone because the victim is different? Is it that you think the aforementioned are virulent strains of H1N1 that will spread to your district(s) or possibly your grandchildren? Come on you know better right? Right? Do you think that if you promote the ability of all to vote in this country it will lessen your chances of reelection? Maybe it will but maybe it won’t if you simply reach out to those on the other side of the track/aisle and let them know that philosophical differences are no reason for the clear hatred that came to the surface in your speech.

You and your colleagues need to understand that the chickens will come home to roost eventually and someone in your district or town or even closer will be subjected to the horrible crimes Mr. Shephard undeservedly was on the receiving end of and at that moment Ms. Foxx I hope you don’t invoke the word hoax when consoling the families who on that sad day will not be some far-off liberals but rather your constituents. We aren’t asking you to like or even approve of these people we are simply asking you to consider whether physical or philosophical differences are worthy of torture or worse yet death? Please answer no as it is only a matter of time before such crimes, if ignored, reach the 5th district of N.C., because I am sure you haven’t weeded out all minorities although it seems from your words you may try if given the chance. On the surface Ms. Foxx how different do you really think Laramie, WY and say Boone or Mount Airy, N.C. really are from each other and the rest of the country? I am sure the folks in Laramie thought the same prior to October 12th, 1998. Stop spending so much of your energy on hating and a little more on understanding your neighbors. I think your grandkids and the 5th District of N.C. will eventually thank you for such a transformation.

Yellow Birch


Yellow Birch was first described in 1803 by the French botanist André Michaux. It is a third of the maple-beech-birch troika – the northern extent of the mixed mesophytic Appalachian and Allegheny forests – characterizing New England and northern Great Lakes. Its northern limit is 48-49N covering 9% (≈74 M ha) of eastern US forests and 183 M ha of Canada.

yellow-birch-mapGreat Lakes Colonization initiated during the late Holocene period (4,000 YBP) peaking 3,500-2,000 YBP. In the presence of hemlock both sugar maple and yellow birch are subordinate across their range. Yellow birch and sugar maple exert a strong influence on plant biodiversity, with equitable mixes of the two yielding the greatest diversity across a range of site conditions. The largest yellow birch communities are in southern Québec & Ontario, New Brunswick, upper Michigan, and New York. It is the official provincial tree of Québec where it is commonly referred to as merisier or wild cherry in French. Québec also contains 50% of the species total volume. Preferred climates include winter and summer temperatures of -40°C and 28°C, precipitation of 1,240-1,300 mm yr-1 with half as snowfall, and growing seasons of 60-150 days. Yellow birch occurs between 550-800 m in New England relative to sugar maple and beech with respective peaks of 600-650 and < 600 m, with optimum growth at 671, 549, and 549 m.

Yellow birch bark has few peers what with its shiny golden brown sheen and quite shaggy at maturity texture. The bark is quite resistant to decay so when you encounter what looks like a recently downed stem in the woods don’t be surprised if it is hollow or encasing well-decomposed material indiscernible from the forest floor upon which it lies. Conversely, leaf litter decay tends to be greatest for yellow birch, with sugar maple intermediate and beech the slowest of the forest type. Yellow birch seeds prolifically, maintaining a consistent albeit moderate seed and seedling bank in the forest floor preferring northeasterly, nutrient-deprived, mesic or moist, acid (pH < 6.3) soils of the Precambrian shield and the Spodosol or Alfisol order. Unlike its cohorts yellow birch thrives in swampy sites, along streams, rivers, on and around rock outcrops, and gentle to moderate upland slopes. Primary (>20 mm diameter) and secondary (10-20 mm) roots tend to aggregate along contours and the tree’s uphill side when growing on slopes with slight downhill sweeps. When exposed coarse roots resemble giant snakes and readily graft within- and between-trees.

Reproduction is via wind-disseminated seed and catkin bracts with sexual maturity at 35-40 years and heights of 14 m, although old-growth exceed 300 years. In New Hampshire the following dependence on advanced regeneration was described: beech > mountain maple > sugar maple and striped maple > ash and yellow birch.

Seedling success is most likely on mossy logs, advanced decay coarse woody debris (CWD) and stumps, cracks in boulders, and windthrown hummocks, because leaf litter accrual is detrimental to its survival. Specifically although anecdotally yellow birch appears to prefer red spruce logs and stumps. This pattern of stump and CWD germination along with characteristic ‘heart root’ architecture leads to unique and quite remarkable stilt roots.

yellow-birch-roots These are dramatic appendages resulting from the complete decomposition of organic substrates or root expansion in and around shallow parent material. When scratched the bark of yellow birch bark yields a pleasant wintergreen smell similar to its cousin to the south sweet birch. When in the same forest seedlings/saplings of these two prove difficult for even the most skilled dendrologist to discern.

Some of the most beautiful yellow birch specimens are at the northern temperate-boreal forest ecotone’s upper boundary on Mt. Mansfield, where the characteristic bark mentioned above gives way to what can best be described as a corrugated cardboard aesthetic and feel. I have also found some amazing examples of the stilt root phenomenon along the Forest City trail ascending Camels Hump, with these trees quite photogenic. They remind one of the all knowing sylvan oracles described in children’s books. While infrequent these “Oligarchs of the Woods” strike quite the pose surrounded by gnarly beech and occasional red spruce. When beech, sugar maple, yellow birch, and white ash establish concomitantly, the latter three outgrow beech within ten years and are more prolific within two decades. The balsam fir-yellow birch grouping of eastern Québec and northern or high elevation Vermont is classified as a climax forest. Interestingly clearcutting has been blamed for the demise of yellow birch and balsam fir throughout much eastern Canada. Noticeably large, charcoal colored, perennial, and hoof-shaped conks of Fomes fomentarius, the tinder fungus, are common on birch. The fungus also has been associated with decay in living and dead branches of dieback birches. According to Erdmann

“A decline of yellow birch and paper birch trees, called birch dieback, caused widespread mortality between 1932 and 1955 in eastern Canada and northeast United States. It affected yellow birches of all sizes, even in undisturbed virgin stands.”

Yellow birch is a primary food source for yellow-bellied sapsucker, redpolls, ruffed grouse, snowshoe hare, porcupines, moose, and deer. Moose and deer prefer seedlings in the summer and green leaves and woody stems in the fall, preferring succulent materials, with persistent localized herbivory a cause of significant decline. Birds tend prefer to feed on catkins, seeds, and buds.

In Vermont yellow birch readily colonizes abandoned skid trails and areas of significant canopy removal confirming yellow birch’s proclivity for soil or canopy perturbation. The bark contains betulinic acid, which hinders decay and is used to treat melanoma. Woodworkers speak of its utility for veneers, tools, snowshoe frames, and sledges and as the most valuable of the North American birches. Scattered Vermont landscapers have recently incorporated yellow birch in native plantings and last time I checked Cobble Creek Nursery in Bristol was working to propagate from seed Yellow Birch.

For more complete silvics of yellow birch and North American trees writ large the reader is referred to Burns and Honkala 1990


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