Shale Game

WHEN I MOVED MY FAMILY FROM a cabin in the woods outside of Ithaca, New York, into a house in a nearby village, it felt like a faith healing. I could walk again. A sidewalk stretched from my door out to a craggy maple tree and then connected with another sidewalk that headed down the block toward Main Street. Here was a track, upon which the wheels of a double stroller could roll, that linked me to coffee, library books, postage stamps, hardware displays, bank tellers, and a bus line. Hallelujah.

Out in the woods, foxes and newts had roamed our backyard, but I myself wasn’t doing much roaming. The road that connected me and my children to the rest of the world was ditched on both sides and carried trucks and a 50 mph speed limit. Nobody was going to be tricycling along it, and trips to obtain cash, band-aids, or wallboard nails involved car-seat buckles, tantrums, and drive-through windows.

But now I sat on my front stoop and grinned. To be sure, the village sidewalks — century-old slabs of stone — were neither plumb nor true, but this was evidence that they had outlasted a generation of street trees whose roots must have lifted them and then, in dying, set them down uncrumbled but askew. Looking at the misalignments, I tried to guess where trees had stood in 1840. From a geologist neighbor, Bill Chaisson, I learned that our sidewalks are a form of shale — the mother of slate — created from marine sediments. That’s when I noticed the marks of a vanished ocean on the walks’ rippled surfaces.

And it is this vanished ocean — and a deeper layer of shale called the Marcellus — that has now placed the Finger Lakes region of New York, known for waterfalls, vineyards, and dairy farms, at the center of a looming epic battle over a new form of energy extraction known as high-volume slick water hydrofracturing. Or, to use the world’s ugliest gerund: fracking. There are four stories to tell about it.

The geological story goes like this: Four hundred million years ago — before the Earth knew trees — the Acadian Mountains eroded into a nameless sea. Its silt sank into a trough in the ocean floor, together with the remains of mollusks, squids, and sea lilies. Under pressure, this graveyard turned into shale, forming a chalkboard the size of Florida. And the plankton and animals trapped inside became bubbles of methane. Because eroding mountains shed elements, this trough also captured uranium, mercury, arsenic, and lead. And so, in a bedrock layer that ranges from 2 to 200 feet thick, at a depth of 1 to 2 miles below the Earth’s surface, at a temperature that ranges from 140 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit, extending for some 600 miles throughout West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York, the shale’s rock, methane, and heavy metals have remained locked together. Underlain by brine. Overlain by drinking-water aquifers.

Geologists refer to the Marcellus Shale as New York’s ancient basement. Nevertheless, it comes blistering out of the ground in the little village of Marcellus — sixty miles and three finger lakes east of my village. That community became its namesake.

The engineering story goes like this: The Marcellus Shale holds the largest natural gas deposit in the United States. (What geologists call methane, energy companies call natural gas.) Drilling for gas by fracturing shale is an established practice, but, before the twenty-first century, capturing an effervescence of gas bubbles dispersed within a horizontal formation like the Marcellus was not profitable.

Enter slick water hydrofracking.

For this method, a drill bores down and then turns sideways. Explosives are detonated along the horizontal pipe, shattering the shale bedrock above and below. A pressurized slurry of water, sand, and chemicals goes down next. The water forces open the shattered rock, the sand grains keep it open, and the chemicals inhibit corrosion, kill algae, and reduce friction so that the released gas can flow up the pipe. Some of the water and chemicals forced into the fractured shale flows back up. And some of the water and chemicals — 40 to 85 percent — stays in the ground.

A single fracking operation requires drill rigs, a compressor station, a network of pipelines, an access road, 2 to 8 million gallons of fresh water, 10 to 30 tons of chemicals, and about 1,000 tanker truckloads of water and toxic waste. About 4,000 wells are envisioned for my county alone.

The environmental story goes like this: In New York state, fracking represents the industrialization of a rural landscape and foodshed. If it goes forward, fracking will usher in the biggest ecological change since the original forests here were cleared. Road-building and pipe-laying will accelerate habitat fragmentation. Spills and seepage of toxic contaminants, including methane, into drinking-water supplies have been documented in other states and will certainly be an ever-present threat in the Finger Lakes region as well. Beyond this lie the unknowns.

The chemicals found in fracking fluid are unknowns both because their formulations are proprietary (Halliburton et al.) and because radioactive materials, heavy metals, and brine, freed at last from their subterranean chambers, combine with the chemicals in the flowback water. Where will it be treated? How will it be stored? We do know that fracking fluid contains benzene, a known carcinogen. Of the 300 other chemicals that are suspected ingredients of fracking fluid, 40 percent are endocrine disrupters and a third are suspected carcinogens.

The nature of government oversight is unknown because fracking is exempt from federal environmental regulations, including the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Superfund law.

The impact on agriculture and public health is unknown because a cumulative impact assessment has not been done. Dust, noise, traffic, diesel emissions, ozone, soil compaction, light at night, methane plumes. How will these affect asthma rates, pollination systems, cancer risk, the growth rate of alfalfa?

There are also more elusive unknowns. Can fractures in the Marcel Shale radiate upwards? Could they connect with other passages, faults, fissures, and channels? Could they crack an aquifer? Can shattered bedrock safely contain toxic chemicals for 430 million years?

The human story goes like this: The Marcellus Shale could be worth a trillion dollars. It may provide enough natural gas to supply the nation’s consumption for 2 years. Or 11 years. Or 20 years. Or 100 years. Leasing your land to a gas company can get you out of debt. It can allow you to retire.

Across the border in Pennsylvania, fracking is going full tilt, but, at this writing, there is a de facto moratorium in New York, as we await the release of a state review. Meanwhile, a pipeline has been laid from Corning to Rockland County, and millions of dollars are being spent quietly issuing leases. In my village, 14 percent of the land is already leased to gas companies. In the county, 40 percent. “The shale army has arrived,” said a representative from an energy company. “Resistance is futile.” And, indeed, in December 2009, ExxonMobil purchased a large natural gas company, a decision widely viewed as a game-changing commitment to fracking technology.

Nevertheless, at a recent meeting at my village firehouse, candidates for board and mayor declared their opposition to fracking. A public meeting about fracking at the village library included lively discussion about a community on nearby Keuka Lake that had turned away fracking wastewater trucked in from Pennsylvania. An older man in the audience declared passionately, “We have to be ready to lie down in front of the trucks.” On the way home, walking on an unbroken sidewalk made of shale above an as-of-yet unshattered bedrock made of shale, my son said, “We shouldn’t wreck this place down, right, Mom?” And his words drew a battle line across my heart.

Sandra Steingraber is the author of Living Downstream and several other books about climate change, ecology, and the links between human health and the environment. She was an Orion columnist for six years. Author photo: Laura Kozlowski.


  1. Very thought provoking article. I couldn’t help but notice the many parallels to the Deep Horizons project in the Gulf, not the least of which is Halliburton involvement. I very much hope that rural New Yorkers will not allow this (hydro) fracking nightmare to be literally rammed down their throats. Sounds like a disaster in the making for their pristine aquafers and surrounding resources

  2. My family came from Finland around 1890 in the Ithaca area.I follow developments in the local paper.I would like to know how much wind/solar could be used as local sources of energy.They do seem to understand that fraking and destroying the pristine water supply to the huge population of NYCity would be a bad idea! Great writing about this..

  3. I’m writing from rural north eastern pennsylvania, an old coal area with a lot of support for natural gas drilling. I just wanted to say thank you for the article and I hope to see more articles and continued discussion on the topic. Fighting against fracking is a steep up hill battle.

  4. Readers might also wish to look at Ted Williams’ article in Audubon Magazine’s Jan/Feb 2010 issue. Eastern Canada is receiving lots of attention from gas companies, to what end remains to be seen. The above article highlights specific threats as well as the serious, but more general one of ‘energy sprawl.’ This development is something to monitor and regulators need to apply lots of precautionary principles before opening up vast tracts of land to this use. The rush to profit in Pennsylvania is scary and sure to reap unwanted consequences in the long run.

  5. From the catastrophic oil gush in the Gulf, to the devastation of Canada’s boreal forests, fresh water and greenhouse gas limits for tar sand extraction, to the plundering of indigenous homelands and wildlife habitat in South America, and the removal of mountaintops in Appalacia to get at coal seams–to name but a few of the environmental insults inflicted on the biosphere to support our profligate energy consumption–we’ve become like that trembling nicotine addict ransaking the house in search of a smokeable butt, the crack addict robbing his own parents or the neighbor kids to fund his next fix. As rediculous as those obvious addicts, but far more damaging to our progeny, ourselves and other species. Truly, as Aldo Leopold phrased it, “we are remodeling the Alhambra with a steam shovel.” Only far, far worse.
    Good for those resisting this newest assault on Mother Earth. May they find all the support they deserve and help restore sanity to this nation’s energy policy and mindfulness to every America’s consumption habits.

  6. This is a critical issue that touches me close to home — I too live in the Marcellus Shale area of the Finger Lakes. Your article was very well done.
    The idea that we would continue to risk the health of our planet and so many lives (fish, plants, animals, humans…)for a nonrenewable energy source that contributes to global warming is unbelievable. When will we move on to clean power? I for one, will be fighting for the earth, and saving a species known as Man. I too, will be writing and reporting on this in the coming months.

  7. I am an environmental consultant, hiker, camper, and generally love the outdoors. I of course am concerned with the potential impact of gas exploitation on large areas of our country, includeing my home state, Pennsylvania. I thought your article was good and presented most of the facts as I know them clearly. However, I am not aware of an “exemption” from the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and Superfund for fracking activities. I seriously doubt that this is an accurate statement. Can the author provide a reference for this statement?

  8. I am not the author but suggest you check out numerous on-line sources and publications including No Fracking Way: Ban Hydrofracking in NY by John Zeiger February 8, 2010 at that states:

    “Even though there are many good environmental laws on the books, the gas companies have managed to wriggle out of most of them like worms. Gas and oil companies are exempt from the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Superfund Law.”
    I don’t think the info is wrong, but could all this be hearsay?

  9. @Tom Marks:

    Hard to believe, but true. My org works the issue. Learn more at

    In a nutshell, Dick Cheney and Halliburton threw their weight behind a loophole that was consequently passed as part of the 2005 Energy bill.

  10. I think the US has used the resources of third world countries and now the powers that be(Haliburton,Chesapeake) have plans to turn the US into a third world country..I hate to see beautiful upstate NY destroyed and lots of other places(the gulf,Appalachia,Alaska,all lakes have mercury warnings..then there is global warming killing so many pine trees in the Rockies…plains topsoil destruction…more Nukes coming

  11. Below is an excerpt from the website of Earthworks with information about high volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing..and it gives an explanation of the exemptions of this specific gas drilling technique from EPA law..It is indeed shocking to learn of this exemption until you understand that Dick Cheney pushed it through Congress with the 2005 Energy Act.

    The Halliburton loophole

    Despite the widespread use of the practice, and the risks hydraulic fracturing poses to human health and safe drinking water supplies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) does not regulate the injection of fracturing fluids under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The oil and gas industry is the only industry in America that is allowed by EPA to inject known hazardous materials — unchecked — directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies.

    This exemption from the SDWA has become known as the “Halliburton loophole” because it is widely perceived to have come about as a result of the efforts of Vice President Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force. Before taking office, Cheney was CEO of Halliburton — which patented hydraulic fracturing in the 1940s, and remains one of the three largest manufacturers of fracturing fluids. Halliburton staff were actively involved in review of the 2004 EPA report on hydraulic fracturing.

  12. talks about fracking..and alternative energy .

  13. I respect the writer’s point of view, but I was a petroleum geologist in Oklahoma. Let me quote Rick Bass in his 1989 book, Oil Notes, “Someday I am going to drill my own oil wells. There is no geologist who does not dream of this. It is what you are after: doing it for yourself and not for another. It will be fun. I will do it a little differently. Sometimes it takes awhile for the woods to close back in after you’ve drilled. When we are through, Elizabeth and I will plant wild roses and lespedeza and fast-growing grasses where we have been. It will look prettier than before…..I’m not going to put up with any of this rusty cable and and wire scraps and tin cans and mess lining the road. It’s going to be like a park wherever I drill…” I know that there are responsible oil and gas companies who do their best to get the oil and protect the environment. John Rehm Salem, Oregon

  14. @John Rehm:

    I agree with you!

    But you don’t write laws/regulations for the good actors, you write them for the bad.

    Requiring an industry (the whole industry) to behave is not the same thing as trying to prevent it from operating.

  15. Although often overlooked, the landman is perhaps one of the most important elements of the oil and gas exploration and extraction process. A landman is an agent that represents oil & gas companies in negotiations with landowners: their job is to get the best terms for the company for the lowest price.

    Anyone reading this who has been approached by a landman or thinks that they may should go here and check this resource out: it’s a consumer reports of sorts on individual landmen that will give you a sense for how to deal with them and also understand just exactly who you’re dealing with, beyond the person’s business card:


  16. Thank you for one of the best and most heartbreaking articles I’ve ever read in Orion. (I’ve been a subscriber to the print edition for quite a few years now.) This atrocious technology has been ongoing in the West (think Utah redrock area) and now is coming to our more populated regions. Yes, we’re all living downstream. . .

  17. Much of the hundreds of millions in tax rebates to oil and gas companies is for deep drilling. The idea is that deep wells require tax rebates to even be drilled in the first place. False!

    “The Economics of Deep Drilling in Oklahoma” is a research document produced
    in 2005 by Mark C. Snead, PhD, Director, Center for Applied Economic Research, Spears School of Business, OSU, Stillwater.

    In this published study, Dr. Snead summarized on page 8: “In short,a deep well is estimated to produce approximately 6 times the economic impact of a typical well drilled less than 15,000 feet deep.”

    My conclusion: the hundreds of millions in tax rebates for wells deeper than 15,000 feet should be discontinued immediately if not sooner!! Corporate power is not human tho..even tho the Supreme Court thinks so..

  18. Thank you for this beautifully written article on a topic that is very important to me. I sent it to my family to explain – far better than I could with my own description – why I have been working to stop gas drilling.

  19. The striking similarity between Shale Game and the public television story, Gasland, is that the story is pretty bare of details. I looked for information from a gas drilling website about the Marcellus Shale and their story is pretty thin, also. I read your war cries about hydrofracking and their cries about reviving the New York economy with new ‘petro-dollars’ and I don’t see much room for consensus. You have Prius cars that need gas. The oil and gas people (Them, it is always, “Them” or “Us”) want more fuel and employment.

    There is more to oil and gas drilling than hydro-fracking. You should know terms like “non-conventional drilling”, “drilling mud”, “mud engineer” and “down-hole motors”. You should know about “cement bond logs” and “pay zones”.

    I suggest that local official and residents obtain tours of an operating drilling rig. Listen to the drilling foreman describe the workings of the “blow-out preventer” and find out about the safety drills and how often it is tested. You should be guided up into the “dog house” and look at the driller and his helpers running the drill and moving the “pipe tongs” around the “turntable”. You should watch the “derrick man” muscling the “drill stands” in the “tower”. Meet the “Tool Pusher” and the “mud engineer” and see how the engineer makes sure that the drilling mud has the right “mud weight” and “Vis” to keep the hole clean and “safe”. Visit the “mudloggers” in their trailer and see the “hot wire” and the “gas chromatograph”. Look at the cuttings that have come up out of the well and see how the crew knows how deep they are.

    You need good information and you don’t have it. I see two camps of You and Them and all of you can do better.

  20. @John Rehm
    your two comments read like an apology for the oil and gas industry, a defense of the indefensible using a “shoot the messenger” with techno-jargon bullets. Of course we citizens can protest the poisoning of our drinking water and the ravaging of our landscapes–even if we are ignorant and unworshipful of the technology.

    There is more than sufficient information about the perils of hydro-fraking to give legitimacy to this essay.

    I admire Rick Bass’s writings, but to suggest all oil and gas people (including Wyoming’s own Dick Cheney or BP’s corner-cutting executives?)share his humanity and ecological perspective–and will, therefore, return their environmental messes to “park like beauty” and extract all the toxic chemicals from the befouled water table is the truly “thin” part of your argument. We need to live with less–a la Bill McKibben’s “Deep Economy” or David Korten’s “Agenda for a New Economy.”

  21. Many have heard the details from experienced gasland experts like Dr. Tony Ingraffea , Chaired Professor of Cornell University’s Rock Fracture Group at the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Professor Ingraffea has demonstated in his presentations (readily available on Marcellus UTube) that the potential risks to the environment from this technology are argument enough to stop and reevaluate its acceptance in NY State. If his 35 years of exposure to geological formation studies have led him to a reluctance to endorse this technology, should we really believe those who stand to gain such handsome booty from our lands? Kudos to Sandra Steingraber for her eloquence and courage to question the powerful fossil fuel interests who don’t have ours in mind.

  22. In Oklahoma they are putting up silos for storage of waste that goes deep into the earth.The trucks are on these rural highways 24/7’I do not think anyone is keeping track of all the stuff that is being injected a mile or so underground.I would imagine it adds up.Our Congress person live close to one and he does not know what they are injecting.It may just be from oil..I heard they want to inject nuclear material..Be easier to so solar and stop dreaming of McMansions..

  23. I live in Birmingham, AL, one of the coalbed methane meccas of the world. The noblesse oblige with which the coal and power companies determine my fate and the fates of everyone living here is amazing…and we could make Alabama Power take us seriously just like that, but enough of us has to make the commitment to change the balance of power and to stick with it. It will be like back in the days of the UMW: residents in massive numbers will have to stop going to work, turning on the lights, you name it to force change to happen. Or maybe a massive failure of the watershed will come first…

    Down here it’s the race issue and education, among other things, that keeps people preoccupied and not thinking about energy and env…even though it’s the poor neighborhoods, white and black, that take the hit when it comes to toxic waster, emissions, dumping.

  24. I feel that due to everyone posting here lacking a basic understanding of hydrology, geology, and natural gas extraction methods. I must comment.

    The slurry of water, sand, and chemicals that prevent fines migration(the move movement of clay particles that clump together and seal up pore connections) is not even as toxic as the water found in the formations you will be fracturing. The brine in any gas or oil reservior is meteoric(rain) water that has seeped into those formations over millions of years and contains many salts, including barium salts that were picked up by the undersaturated meteoric water is it percolated through the rocks above. This water is not potable. Also to the gas reserviors that are being drilled today are all at least 1500 feet below surface level. They have to be to have the necessary lithostratic pressure to allow gas to flow at an economic rate, even with hydrofracturing to increase the connectivity of pore space. You well water source will never be more than 300 ft below the water table, because at that point meteoric water will begin to pick up Sodium and Barium ions from the rocks to the point that it is considered non-potable brine. There is no way to propogate a fracture vertically through several hundred feet of rock to your ground water source. Even if the fracture propogated upward it would follow the first plane of weakness it contacted, namely the horizontal boundary with the bed above it.

    They cannot dump untreated brine water in Pennsylvania or New York. By state law they have to take it to a brine treatment plant were the brine is left to sit and evaporate in a sealed pit. The salts are then removed to a landfill designated for chemical disposal or sold to chemical manufactures as a source of barium. The same thing goes for frac slurry, although it is always disposed of after drying since it is contaminated by kaolinite and other clays from the formation and the sand is no longer fit to be used for fracing.

    The only concern you should have is that due to the large amount of water needed to fracture a shale they could overdraw a small stream if they used it as the sole source of water. Watershed management is a county issue in Pennsylvania, so it is up to the counties to decide how much can be withdrawn from each stream each month. So it may take up to a year to store up the water needed for a significant Marcellus operation involving multiple wells.

    Also like any construction project the clearing of a well site can cause increased turbidity in nearby streams as exposed soil is carried into the streams by rain. There are soil barriers that are emplaced by law to prevent this, but sometimes a wayward tree stump or rock will roll down the hill and a breached barrier will not be noticed. If you notice increased turbidity in a stream contact the fish and game commission, they will then check your report and forward the finding to the DCNR and they will contact the lease holder. DCNR’s fines are high and it is cheaper to replace the barrier than to pay them. I have see this problem dealt with no less the thirty times.

  25. It is good to learn what people in the field have to say..the biggest sustainability groups in Oklahoma has a frequent commentator from one of the big power companies… for the cost if the Iraqi war every house in the US could have had a solar panel..We have a couple of solar panel and I like having a little backup..

  26. HARRISBURG, Pa. — State environmental regulators worked Sunday to get to the bottom of what caused a natural-gas well to spew explosive gas and polluted water for 16 hours last week before it could be brought under control.


    Neil Weaver, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection, blamed a failure on the well’s blowout preventer, a series of valves that sit atop a well and allow workers to control the pressure inside. Investigators are trying to figure out what caused the malfunction.

    The Thursday blowout is the latest in a string of accidents connected by regulators to the rapidly growing pursuit of the rich Marcellus Shale gas reserve that lies beneath much of Pennsylvania and upstate New York.

    It seems likely the Pennsylvania blowout will enter the debate in the Capitol, where legislators are battling over the merits of an extraction tax and tighter regulations on an industry that has spent several billion dollars and drilled more than 1,000 wells in Pennsylvania in just a couple years.

    State Rep. David Levdansky, D-Allegheny, said such oil problems could bring increased interest in a moratorium on leasing public land for gas drilling and a severance tax that could largely fund existing environmental protection and cleanup programs. Levdansky is a leading environmental advocate.

    Weaver declined to discuss whether investigators have found anything so far or whether well driller EOG Resources Inc. of Houston committed any violations that could lead to fines or any other penalties.

    An EOG spokeswoman said Sunday the investigation into the cause is ongoing, and the company had no light to shed on the blowout.

    Crews evacuated the site Thursday night and didn’t regain control over it until just past noon Friday. No one was injured, the gas didn’t explode and polluted water didn’t reach a nearby waterway, officials said.

    The blowout sent highly pressurized gas and polluted water 75 feet into the air. Huge tanks were required to cart off chemical- and mineral-laced water collected on the grounds of the private hunting club where the well had just been drilled.

    There are no homes within a mile of the heavily forested site, officials say. However, some Marcellus Shale wells are within view of homes, farmhouses and public roads.

    A nonfunctioning blowout preventer also figured into the massive oil spill off the coast of Louisiana. The oil rig’s blowout preventer was supposed to stanch the flow of oil if a catastrophic failure occurred, but didn’t.

  27. “drilled more than 1,000 wells in Pennsylvania in just a couple years.”
    That is somewhat disingenuous, since most of the wells drilled each year are for Devonian sand plays. And I’s like to point out that almost all wells undergo fracing today, as it increases recovery rates to 70%-80% of the formation gas within the first 40 years, for sandstones at least shale wells are expected to produce more gas for a longer period. This description of a blow out while the pumping is different than the accident in the gulf. This occured while fracing, all they did is shut off the pumps and let the water down the bore hole come back up. The water that is introduced into the formation takes weeks to slowing work its way back out of the poor space. Which is means it only ejected about 17,000 gallons of total flow might be possible, assuming a 8 inch diameter pipe and the the Marcelus being 45000 feet below the surface. Although I imagine that most of that backed up into the water trucks’ tanks and only. 17,000 gallons sounds like a lot but, in all honesty its not a significant spill.
    Still I am always supprised when someone acts like a these accidents are due to negligence that was supposed to save the company money. That clay-check solution isn’t cheap, the rig is down, they probably lost a couple baffles, and if there was a back up into the tank then they lost a valve. I’d say they lost 50 grand and 5 grand each day that the operation is shut down. So accident due to equipment failure, is always more costly for the company than trying to make sure there are no defective valves.
    tldr: accidents are accidents, they will happen.

  28. Thank you for the thoughtful article.

    In response to the comment from Anonymous , June 16th, 2010 (they said “By state law they have to take it to a brine treatment plant were the brine is left to sit and evaporate in a sealed pit.”) – this is not true – the plants use an OPEN AIR pit in the beginning of the treatment process. The first “experimental” plant from the Hydro-Recovery company ( is being built in Blossburg, PA as we speak. They clearly state in the description of their process that an open pit will be used.

    …of course, they also claim that bringing all of this highly contaminated water into the borough for treatment is going to raise property values. Ha!

  29. I thought no one was concerned about the 2 areas on Oklahoma where fraking takes place.I have found out that the Osage Nation is tryng to do something..But there are not any investigative reporters in the state to interview them and give info to the citizens..

  30. to Tioga County, PA Gas Watch
    What I meant by sealed was that the pit has a double lining with and rim to prevent any of the brine from entering the ground. Of course it is open to the air, otherwise the water would not evaporate. I’ve seen several small treatment plants that are used for normal frac water(rather than marcellus), they put up a chain link fence to keep the deer out so they don’t ingest the barium salts. It may kill a few birds, but what are a few song birds to 80 Tcf of gas? Or you could but up a net, if you absolutely can’t stand the though of a few birds being poisoned. A wide mesh net would keep raptors and turkey out, and frankly we could stand to lose a few robins.

  31. To Comment Nos. 33 and 34: In Oklahoma, oil and gas companies frac all over the state. The “pay zones” are a few tens of feet thick if you are lucky and the porosity is almost invisible. The pores contain gas, oil and formation water. Fracking causes interconnections between the pores an admits the fuel to the surface. If any political entity, a state, a town an agency is considering regulation of fracking, they probably see income in it. Sorry, that is just human nature.

    About dead birds and poisoned deer. No, I didn’t see dead animals in the frac pit. I have seen a stray duck or two swimming in one, but it didn’t stay. Trucked in water usually doesn’t include minnows. I am sorry to be snide, but the people in Oklahoma have been used to fracking since the 1950s. Work is done carefully there and transgressors are penalized.

  32. John Rehm

    No of course not, that frac water and brine that comes of from the brine takes is barley poisonous, it will only kill the birds if they drink it, and bathing in it shouldn’t be a problem. The only problem brine water presents is if you dump it into a stream it can kill some macroinvertabrates like mayfly larva, since they are very sensitive to pH, but they have never done that since the 70s so no big deal.

  33. Just out of curiosity do any of you heat w/ natural gas or drive cars or use electricity? If you do, you support this. My other question: Ever seen an actual solar plant and the space it and other “green” technologies require along with the associated enviornmental impact?

  34. To the author Beautiful piece. I wish PA had taken a similar stand as NY
    @Anonymous What gas company do you represent? I’ll be sure to tell the citizens of Dimock that they just lack the basic understanding of hydrology, geology etc etc

  35. No son, we shouldn’t wreck this down, and with your help and encouragement, we won’t let that happen. And yes, we may have to put our bodies in front of trucks, or block roads, or chain ourselves to rigs, and otherwise make sure the world knows we won’t allow this to happen. Justice has a long history of appearing much quicker when masses of people organize in our own names, in our own communities and begin to realize that nothing is impossible unless
    WE decide it is impossible. Remember, we’ll all live better when we all live better.

  36. Fraccing CBM is a huge issue in S W Va. We have been saddled with an unfair/unconstitutional Gas and Oil Act since 1990 and the results have not been pretty. We have upwards of 4,000 CBM wells in a 5 county area and Billions have been made (by large out of atate companies)

    There is ongoing litigation, but we have just seen the tip of the iceberg on CBM developmant.

  37. You use an acronym, CBM. What is CBM? I have searched for the meaning in previous comments, but your comment is the first. Please inform the readership.

  38. John: CBM refers to coal bed methane, and the practice of fracking for gas in coal beds in the West. It has the same kinds of impacts as fracking in the east, groundwater and surface pollution-wise. Orion did a series of features on this in 2006, see here:

    Orion magazine

  39. I’m writing from northeast Ohio where gas industry reps are in a frenzy to lease any and all lands, no matter what. Uninformed property owners see this as a windfall because NO ONE is talking about the true, devastating effects this will have on our environment, our property values and our way of life. Thank you for your thoughtful insights.

  40. Thanks everyone for your comments.

    Want to continue the discussion in real time?

    Please plan to join the author of this piece for a live discussion of the thorny environmental and human health implications of ‘fracking’ on October 27th. More information and call-in details:

    Hope you can join us!

    Erik, Orion magazine

  41. Some of these comments people are saying here on this issue really seem to make me look at this in a whole new way. I do enjoy the responses though.

  42. What are we going to drink after they frack our aquifers? Who will stand up for their great, great grandchildren and their right to clean air and water?
    Jesse Colin Young

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