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RFK Jr. writes: "The industry's worst actors have successfully battled reasonable regulation and stifled public disclosure while bending compliant government regulators to engineer exceptions to existing environmental rules. Captive agencies and political leaders have obligingly reduced already meager enforcement resources and helped propagate the industry's deceptive economic projections. As a result, public skepticism toward the industry and its government regulators is at a record high. With an army of over 40,000 highly motivated anti-fracking activists in New York alone, popular mistrust of the industry is presenting a daunting impediment to its expansion."

Environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (photo: Santa Clara University)
Environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. (photo: Santa Clara University)



The Fracking Industry's War on the Truth

By Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Reader Supported News

20 October 11

 

The fracking industry's war on The New York Times - and the truth.

uperb investigative journalism by the New York Times has brought the paper under attack by the natural gas industry. That campaign of intimidation and obfuscation has been orchestrated by top-shelf players like Exxon and Chesapeake, aligned with the industry's worst bottom feeders. This coalition has launched an impressive propaganda effort carried by slick PR firms, industry-funded front groups and a predictable cabal of right-wing industry toadies from cable TV and talk radio. In pitting itself against public disclosure and reasonable regulation, the natural gas industry is once again proving that it is its own worst enemy.

I confess to being an early optimist on natural gas. In July of 2009, I wrote a widely circulated op-ed for the Financial Times predicting that newly accessible deposits of natural gas had the potential to rapidly relieve our country of its deadly addiction to Appalachian coal and end forever catastrophically destructive mountaintop-removal mining. At that time, government and industry geologists were predicting that new methods of fracturing gas-rich shale beds had provided access to an astounding 2,000-5,000 trillion cubic feet of natural gas in the lower 48 - enough, they claimed - to power our country for a century.

These rich reserves might have allowed America to mothball or throttle back our 336 gigawatts of mainly antiquated and inefficient coal fired electric plants, replacing them with underutilized capacity from existing gas-generation plants. That transition could reduce US mercury emissions by 20%-25%, dramatically cut deadly particulate matter and the pollutants that cause acid rain, and slash America's grid-based CO2 by an astonishing 20% - literally overnight! Gas could have been a natural companion for wind and solar energy with its capacity to transform variable power into base load, and could have been a critical bridge fuel to the new energy economy rooted in America's abundant renewables.

American-sourced natural gas might also have helped free us from our debilitating reliance on foreign oil now costing our country so dearly in blood, national security, energy independence, global leadership, moral authority, and treasure amounting to $700 billion per year - the total cost to our country of annual oil imports - in addition to two pricey wars that are currently running tabs of $2 billion per week.

My caveat was that the natural gas industry and government regulators needed to act responsibly to protect the environment, safeguard communities from irresponsible practices, and to candidly inform the public about the true risks and benefits of shale-extraction gas.

The opposite has happened.

The industry's worst actors have successfully battled reasonable regulation and stifled public disclosure while bending compliant government regulators to engineer exceptions to existing environmental rules. Captive agencies and political leaders have obligingly reduced already meager enforcement resources and helped propagate the industry's deceptive economic projections. As a result, public skepticism toward the industry and its government regulators is at a record high. With an army of over 40,000 highly motivated anti-fracking activists in New York alone, popular mistrust of the industry is presenting a daunting impediment to its expansion.

I sit on the New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo's High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Advisory Panel. I, and the other panelists, are charged with developing recommendations to the Commissioner regarding rules that will hopefully safeguard New Yorkers from the kind of calamities caused by the natural gas industry to communities just across our border with Pennsylvania. We spend much of our time sorting truth from the web of myths spun about fracking by fast talking landsmen, smarmy CEOs and federal regulators.

Recent studies have raised doubts about many of the industry's fundamental presumptions;

  • For example, releases of methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas, may counterbalance virtually all the benefits of CO2 reductions projected to result from substituting gas power for coal. Robert W. Howarth, Renee Santoro, Anthony Ingraffea, Coal to Gas: The Influence of Methane Leakage. Climate Change Letters. DOI 10.1007/s10584-011-0217-3.


  • The human health impacts of gas extraction on local communities may rival those associated with coal. A new study by the Centers for Disease Control finds that breast cancer rates have dropped in every county in Texas, but have increased in the six counties with the heaviest natural gas air emissions.


  • The US Geological Survey just slashed its estimate on the amount of gas in the Marcellus Shale by 80%, raising doubts about all the industry's positive economic projections about jobs, royalties and revenues. Industry based those projections on resource estimates that the federal government has now jettisoned.


  • Meanwhile, local communities are finding the costs of irresponsible drilling to be ruinous. Contaminated well water, poisoned air, nuisance noise and dust, diminished property values and collapsing quality of life are often the predictable collateral damage of gas-shale development in the rural towns of the east. Barth. The Unanswered Questions About the Economic Impact of Gas Drilling in the Marcellus Shale: Don't Jump to Conclusions. March 2010. Accessed 8/10/11; Christopherson & Rightor. How Should We Think About the Economic Consequences of Shale Gas Drilling? May 2011. Accessed 8/10/11;Stephen G. Osborn, Avner Vengosh, et al., Methane Contamination of drinking water accompanying gas wells drilling and hydraulic fracturing, PNAS Early Edition, April 14, 2011; Riverkeeper, Fractured Communities (Sept. 2010).


  • In a devastating admission, the industry now acknowledges that it absolutely cannot afford to pay localities the costs of roads damaged from the thousands of truck trips per wellhead, leaving those ruinous costs to local taxpayers, many of whom will see no benefits from the shale boom, but only declines in their quality of life.


  • With several notable exceptions, like Southwest Energy, the industry has demonstrated a disturbing fervor for secrecy while advocating regulatory policies that favor the most irresponsible practices and the worst actors.

The shale gas industry's campaign against The Times illustrates the difficulty in getting solid information upon which to base a regulatory scheme. The Times is doing an unusually rigorous job at covering this extremely important and complex issue. The paper's ongoing series on natural gas drilling is one of the strongest pieces of investigative journalism this year from any news venue. Thankfully, The Times is covering this extremely important topic with rigor and balance. But it is also going the extra mile in the level of documentation it provides to bolster its stories, a move that raises the bar on public-service journalism.

In an era when few papers or news outlets are still willing to take on very powerful interests, The Times has pursued very difficult questions about one of our country's richest and most aggressive industries. At a time when accessing documents through open records requests faces an obstacle course of daunting roadblocks, the series has spent nearly a year using these flawed tools to collect and publish an extraordinary trove of original documentation. Archives published by The Times include thousands of pages obtained through leaks and/or public records requests. The Times reporters provide page-by-page annotations explaining the documents so that the reader can sift through them in guided fashion.

Among the revelations uncovered by The Times' admirable reporting;

  • Sewage treatment plants in the Marcellus region have been accepting millions of gallons of natural gas industry wastewater that carry significant levels of radioactive elements and other pollutants that they are incapable of treating.


  • An EPA study published by The Times shows receiving rivers and streams into which these plants discharge are unable to consistently dilute this kind of highly toxic effluent.


  • Most of the state's drinking water intakes, streams and rivers have not been tested for radioactivity for years - since long before the drilling boom began.


  • Industry is routinely making inflated claims about how much of its wastewater it is actually recycling.


  • EPA, caving to industry lobbyists and high level political interference reminiscent of the Bush/Cheney era, has narrowed the scope of its national study on hydrofracking despite vocal protests from agency scientists. The EPA had, for example, planned to study in detail the effect on rivers of sending radioactive wastewater through sewage plants, but dropped these plans during the phase when White House-level review was conducted.


  • Similar studies in the past had been narrowed by industry pressure, leading to widespread exemptions for the oil and gas industry from environmental laws.


  • The Times revealed an ongoing and red-hot debate within the EPA about whether the agency should force Pennsylvania to handle its drilling waste more carefully and strengthen that state's notoriously lax regulations and anemic enforcement.


  • The Times investigation also explodes the industry's decade-old mantra that a "there is not a single documented case of drinking water being contaminated by fracking." The Times investigation of EPA archives exposes this claim as demonstrably false.

A second round of New York Times stories showed that within the natural gas industry and among federal energy officials, there were serious and disturbing reservations about the economic prospects of shale gas:

  • Government and industry officials made sure that all of their reservations were discussed privately and never revealed to the American public. Internal commentary by these officials is striking because it contrasts so sharply with the excited public rhetoric from the same agencies, lawmakers, industry officials and energy experts about shale gas.


  • Many industry experts have reservations over whether the wells produce as much gas as industry is claiming and whether companies may be misleading investors, landowners and the public about the true costs of shale gas.


  • Shale gas wells often dry up faster than companies expected - sometimes several decades faster than predicted.


  • Rather than coming clean, the companies downplay how much it costs to keep these wells flowing and overstate how much profit companies can make by these wells.


  • Furthermore, only a small percentage of the land in each shale gas field turns out to be highly productive, even at the start. Nevertheless, companies routinely pretend that all of their acreage will be equally promising.


  • These emerging issues also sparked private discussion among federal energy experts, who expressed grave concern that their agency's predictions were too heavily influenced by the natural gas industry's over-optimism. The Times found that the EPA was heavily reliant on data provided by companies with shale-gas industry ties.

The science writer for the Knight Ridder Journalism website summed up the significance of the Times' revelations about the industry's ballyhooed economic prospects: "From here, it appears that the Times and [the series' principal author] Mr. Urbina are calmly saying we should learn a lesson from the dot-com bubble and the housing bubble, suggesting investors and regulators and gov't planners step with care and not be blinkered by all the money that's pouring in."

The organized attack on the Times and its reputation by well-financed industry spin machines is illustrative of the perils and real challenges facing public-service journalism today.

The Times' piece has been the target of massive industry blowback. Industry-funded front groups like Energy in Depth, an army of slick PR firms, and former regulatory officials like PA DEP Commissioner John Hanger - now on industry's payroll, have artfully manufactured deceptive talking points and posted blogs that are parroted by journalists looking for an industry response to the Times' coverage, and then emailed as "facts" to the industry's supporters and its indentured servants in Congress.

Ironically, many of the attacks against the series have claimed that the articles were poorly sourced or under-researched. Yet, The Times has not printed a single factual correction. This is certainly an admirable reporting record for a series that has been running in the paper for nearly a year. This is because, despite massive efforts by the industry to find errors, no critic has been able to identify a single fact that The Times actually got wrong. The Times posted thousands of pages of closely annotated original-source documents along with its news articles.

Rarely has a series had such wide-reaching and immediate impact. The New York Times articles have led to major changes in how the industry as well as state and federal regulators are handling one of America's most important energy issues.

Documents uncovered by The Times have already been put to use in litigation by injured parties seeking to force some treatment plants to stop handling the frack wastewater. The Times' series has also pressured the EPA to begin a review of treatment plant permits (signaling the agency's possible intent to prohibit plants from discharging treated waste into rivers without comprehensive testing for shale gas contaminants). Healthy skepticism raised by the series has dampened some of the thrilled exuberance among Wall Street bankers ecstatic about the latest gold rush, federal lawmakers in the thrall of industry money, and in hard-pressed rural communities seduced by hollow promises of massive royalties, local prosperity and abundant jobs.

As our panel grapples with these complex and difficult problems, we have found that the principal impediment to going forward with recommendations regarding regulations that could allow fracking in our state is a general mistrust of the claims we are hearing from industry and federal regulators. Revelations from The Times series and elsewhere have cast doubt upon all the industry's assurances about fracking, and have complicated the task for those of us charged with advising the regulatory agencies on developing rules that could allow the industry to proceed while safeguarding the public interest.

For many of us on New York State's fracking panel, the one bright light has been the presence of Southwest Energy's Vice President and General Counsel Mark Boling. Boling is bullish on shale gas but his passion for public disclosure and a rigorous and rational regulatory framework, his candor about the perils of certain practices and his honest assessments of the costs and benefits of gas-shale extraction have inspired trust and confidence among his fellow panelists. Boling's candor may have made him a pariah in his industry, but the panel's confidence in his integrity is the one thing that might allow us to go forward with recommendations regarding a regulatory scheme that could allow certain kinds of fracking to proceed in New York State. None of us wants to be in the position of getting seduced by sweet and lofty promises that quickly turn into a sour gas and impoverished communities.

Gas-fracking flacks routinely make extravagant promises about bringing jobs and income to the depressed rural communities. If those jobs and royalties don't come - the way they have not come for people in Bradford County, Pa. - New Yorkers will be justifiably angry, as they wonder why the government and our panel did not protect them when there were so many warning signs.

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Comments   

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+69 # Michael_K 2011-10-20 18:21
To my great astonishment, even the crypto-fascist government of "Le Petit Nicolas", in France, has heard the environmental evidence and rescinded all fracking licenses in France. I guess EXXON-Mobil didn't lavish enough bribes on the politicos?
 
 
-60 # MidwestTom 2011-10-20 22:31
When people speak of problems with fracking they speak mainly of PPennsylvania, a state with literally thousands of undocumented poorly plugged wells drilled, many of which were drilled over 100 years ago. Almost all of the new shale zones are located approximately 2 miles below the surface. There is no evidence of one shale fracing job coming to the surface. In Pennsylvania frack jobs on more shallow wells have broken into abandoned wells whose existence was unknown in a very few cases. Do not paint the whole country with the same brush.
 
 
+17 # LeeBlack 2011-10-21 13:30
It's Colorado and Texas also.

Duke University researchers: “we document systematic evidence for methane contamination of drinking water associated with shale gas extraction.”
 
 
0 # noitall 2011-10-21 13:37
Ok Mr. Objective.
 
 
+28 # CL38 2011-10-21 13:43
Are you a Republican or from the Tea Party?

Nothing that you said, whether it's true or not, negates the concerns of Robert Kennedy and the scientists studying this issue.

This is another greedy corporate disaster for the country,if we don't head it off now.
 
 
+10 # pazyluz 2011-10-21 16:09
si, 23,000 wells in CO, deformed animals, cancer, contaminated groundwater, air, rent Gasland.
 
 
+51 # Barkingcarpet 2011-10-20 23:00
If there is a hell, there will be a special place reserved for frackers and their enabling supporters.

Oh well, I guess that money is more important than health, or life.

Fracking is one of the most evil, toxic, polluting, and wastefully destructive practices we inflict on nature.

It is unregulated and toxic and wreaking great harm which will be causing sickness for many generations.

Time to put the real crooks in jail folks.
 
 
+43 # BLBreck 2011-10-20 23:21
Thank you! This information needs to get to all the people of the world so they know the truth about fracking, not the propaganda by the oil and gas companies! I sent the NYT article to my representatives , the president, and have passed it on to many friends. Send this info to as many people as you can.
 
 
+50 # CL38 2011-10-20 23:28
Robert Kennedy, Jr. has long been a strong, outspoken public advocate. Thank you for your groundbreaking work.
 
 
+36 # jwb110 2011-10-21 00:16
These companies always cry the we cannot compete when we have to abide by these harsh regulations. Compete with who? They are a Cartel.
What they mean is that their salaries may suffer, their bonuses might be less than 7-8 digits.
If there was a god these bastards would be dead in their tracts. They crap al over their god's magnificent creation. Abuse their fellow man and while crying some Christian belief that their god wants it this way and never read the part where their Christ says that you cannot serve two master, god and mammon.
I read your book boys. You ought to try it there is some good advice in it much of it to do with avarice.
 
 
+40 # TomDegan 2011-10-21 04:27
SUGGESTED VIEWING:

Gasland

This film was made by a private citizen whose life was directly affected by fracking. It is available on DVD and is as eye-opening as anything I've ever seen.

http://www.tomdegan.blogspot.com

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY
 
 
+27 # futhark 2011-10-21 04:30
Get Josh Fox's excellent documentary "Gasland". He follows in the footsteps of Michael Moore to track down the truth behind all the fracking flim-flam. Highly recommended! It is available on Netflix.
 
 
+29 # fredboy 2011-10-21 06:54
Just learned today that the Florida senate and house have new bills to allow commercial fertilizer sprayers to do as they wish and ignore local laws that protect the waters. Fertilizer is already killing the waters here, creating harmful algal blooms rancid with very dangerous bacteria. And industry/GOP/te a types deny proven science, backed by the University of Florida and its industry-funded studies. Warn your friends and neighbors--if you come to Florida, stay out of the water.
 
 
+15 # fredboy 2011-10-21 07:04
I believe it is time to call them like we see them. It is time to coin new terms to best frame and focus what is happening both with fracking and Florida water ruination. Henceforth, I plan to call the people doing this and their efforts antiEarth and antienvironment alists. These people despise and are intentionally bringing harm to our planet.
 
 
+15 # MainStreetMentor 2011-10-21 07:31
There may come a time when an eight ounce glass of water will be priced at $100.00. The problem will be, of course, there won’t be any consumable water left. What these miscreant contaminators of our natural resources don’t get: No matter how much money you may have, you can’t buy what no longer exists.
 
 
-26 # MidwestTom 2011-10-21 08:53
France does not have much in the way of natural gas reserves, their total production is is equivalent to what Knoxville Tennessee uses in a year. France gets large volumes of cheaper gas from Algeria. The fearmongers among us have a new cause in fracking. The states of OKlahoma, Texas, and Louisiana
where most oil and gas production comes from, have had fracking going on for years with not recorded incidents.
 
 
+7 # noitall 2011-10-21 13:39
Fear mongering is pretty much your party's tactic. You seem to have a lot of anecdotal 'knowledge', reads like a script from the head-nodders on Fox noise. I think that the readers of Reader Supported News are a bit more sophisticated and knowledgable than you can handle.
 
 
+17 # popsflys 2011-10-21 15:11
Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana have all bent over for the oil and gas industries. They don't "record incidents" they cover them.
 
 
+5 # popsflys 2011-10-21 15:15
Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana have long since bent over for the oil and gas industry. They don't "record incidents" - they cover them.
 
 
+5 # genierae 2011-10-23 05:39
While its true that fracking has gone on for years, this is "vertical" drilling, which is not so destructive. The new process is "horizontal" fracking which is said to be a much more disruptive procedure underground, causing countless mini-quakes because of the intense pressure. We must continue to invest in new forms of green energy, this earth can't take much more abuse.

It is vital that we support Occupy Wall Street and its spin-offs, if we want to stop the corporate rape of America and the world.
 
 
+27 # fredboy 2011-10-21 09:02
Clean water will dwarf all other issues in the future.
 
 
+24 # Bridger 2011-10-21 09:09
As a decades long resident of Sublette County, WY I know only too well what the gas industry can do to a once pristine area. We now have ozone alerts in the winter and 88 contaminated wells. The ranching and tourist based economy is gone. Our former governor designated us as a "non attainment" area almost three years ago but the EPA has yet to act. The gas industry has ruined us.
 
 
+13 # treehugger 2011-10-21 10:40
The N.G. land men are in Southern Illinois spinning their webs around a depressed populace. Another issue that comes with this is the amount of fresh ground water these operations siphon. If ground water isn't available in a community, then it becomes thousands of water trucks congesting the road ways. We in Southern Illinois are joining together to stop this madness before it gets started. MidwestTom must be a company man. Thank you Robert Kennedy Jr. for giving us more ammunition against the greedy few.
 
 
-16 # MidwestTom 2011-10-21 11:38
MiswestTom is not a "company man", but is a Chemical Engineer who has been closely involved in cleaning ip the OHio River. In that position I closely monitor what is put into out rivers and streams. Shale fracking requires large amounts of water, recent changes in the gas industry have required firms to disclosed what chemicals if any they are adding to frack water; however, the biggest changes for the good have been to emergence of new companies who have built portable water treating units that take spent frack water and clean it to a level of city supplied drinking water. These companies are now treating all large fracks in the Marcellus shale.
 
 
+5 # noitall 2011-10-21 13:41
You'd better stay out of the used car business. signed: unconvinced.
 
 
+17 # popsflys 2011-10-21 15:19
"It's difficult to get a man to understand something when his livelihood depends on him not understanding it." Upton Sinclair (I think)
 
 
+2 # Michael_K 2011-10-22 00:36
Midwest Tom is a very disingenuous person who, as an engineer, has to understand why the "Halliburton Exception" is an infamnia that is NOT being remedied as per your description... And no, companies REFUSE to disclose all the ingredients in their "fracking soup" claiming "proprietary trade secrets"
 
 
+2 # Planet-Doctor 2011-10-22 08:14
Lets talk about the lies that there has never been a bad fracking in Ohio or a well destroyed by it when even employees of the Ohio EPA openly admit its being covered up and people have seen these places first hand.
 
 
+15 # treehugger 2011-10-21 12:02
There are still secret chemicals that are protected from disclosure to the public due to the Haliburton exclusion clause. Yesterday regulators in PA gave permission to Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. to stop delivering drinking water to residents even though their water is still tainted with unsafe levels of methane and possibly other contaminants. These same regulators found Cabot drilled faulty gas wells that allowed methane to escape into the Dimock's aquifer. Regulators are there to protect the companies and not the citizens.
 
 
-13 # happycamper690 2011-10-21 12:58
Natural gas remains a good idea with desirable benefits that, if properly regulated and managed, can do all of the things Kennedy originally suggested. We should not discard completely a good idea because bottom feeders execute it imperfectly. Until renewable energy sources can support a larger portion of our energy needs, natural gas is one of our best alternatives. Would those who object prefer nuclear? I think not.
 
 
+15 # popsflys 2011-10-21 15:08
Renewable sources CAN support a larger portion of our energy needs. They are largely reported to be too expensive when compared with petroleum, gas and coal, but that is because the comparisons are do not include the cost of military interventions, spill clean-up costs, air quality reduction, healthcare costs, petrochemical industry subsidies, for exploration, government (tax-payer) subsidized leases, and on and on. Add those to the "cost at the pump" and renewable energy sources compare quite well. "Would prefer nuclear?" doesn't even deserve an answer - it is a false choice.
 
 
0 # Planet-Doctor 2011-10-22 08:12
See my comment in this thread. I think you may like it.
 
 
+14 # shjlaw 2011-10-21 13:03
An UN-natural environmental disaster coming to a community near you!!! Brought to you in the name of the ONE and ONLY god that seems to really matter anymore: MONEY. I weep for the future of my recently born grandchildren when I imagine the environmental wasteland we are creating for them in the idiotic and shortsighted pursuit of 'smaller government" (less regulation) and short-term profits. The idea that corporations are "persons" is a legal fiction adopted to make it easier for the fictional being to make money when things go well and to escape liabilities when things go wrong. Corporations don't have consciences and don't have to drink the water they pollute in pursuit of dollars. Hell, they don't even have to pay for the havoc they wreak on real people after the harm is done. They simply file bankruptcy and continue doing more harm under a new corporate name! Can’t you smell the growing stench of methane in the air???
 
 
+5 # genierae 2011-10-23 07:23
My hometown in Ohio has recently joined the fracking craze, everyone with land is all excited about how much money they are going to make. The bad economy has made them vulnerable to predator energy companies, who are only too happy to take advantage of them. According to the above article, these small-town people will gain money in the short term, but the long-term costs will be steep. Just the road repairs that they will have to undertake, caused by the wear and tear of countless trucks back and forth to each and every well site, will be very hard for these village officials to pay for. When short-term gain takes precedence over the long-term well-being of a community, generations to come will have to pay the price. We have to stop drinking the kool-aid served up by these dirty energy companies, and demand a clean, green future.
 
 
+5 # Planet-Doctor 2011-10-22 08:11
First, no matter how clean energy is its still going to be a problem if people keep wasting it foolishly.

Second, methane itself is not bad, its excellent, its the idea of mining/drilling and transporting it long distances that leads to so much leakage. Meanwhile immense quantities of methane are already being released every single day from landfills and outdated rice growing practices.

All of this organic waste can be properly used with clean profitable reliable already existing technology that can be operational anywhere within 6 months time.

Other nations do it profitable and many more are pursuing it.

The organic waste in the US alone could provide as much as 66% of the energy needed while more properly disposing of it.

Check out the public page at www.facebook.com/ORBsystem
 
 
+4 # Robinia 2011-10-23 19:44
This all made sense right up to the end. There is no reason to make regulations for this lying, cheating, scamming, polluting industry. We should JUST SAY NO, and do something different for energy. Like, say, conserve it. Get it from the sun, or the earth. Really time to stop messing with regulations and start in with PROHIBITIONS-- Town by Town if necessary, state by state better.
 

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