I HAVE COME to believe that extracting natural gas from shale using the newish technique called hydrofracking is the environmental issue of our time. And I think you should, too.
Saying so represents two points of departure for me. One: I primarily study toxic chemicals, not energy issues. I have, heretofore, ceded that topic to others, such as Bill McKibben, with whom I share this column space in Orion.
Two: I’m on record averring that I never tell people what to do. If you are a mother who wants to lead the charge against vinyl shower curtains, then you should. If the most important thing to you is organic golf courses, then they are. So said I.
But high-volume slick water hydrofracturing of shale gas — fracking — is way bigger than PVC and synthetic fertilizer. In fact, it makes them both cheaply available. Fracking is linked to every part of the environmental crisis — from radiation exposure to habitat loss — and contravenes every principle of environmental thinking. It’s the tornado on the horizon that is poised to wreck ongoing efforts to create green economies, local agriculture, investments in renewable energy, and the ability to ride your bike along country roads. It’s worth setting down your fork, pen, cellular phone — whatever instrument you’re holding — and looking out the window.
THE ENVIRONMENTAL CRISIS can be viewed as a tree with two trunks. One trunk represents what we are doing to the planet through atmospheric accumulation of heat-trapping gasses. Follow this trunk along and you find droughts, floods, acidification of oceans, dissolving coral reefs, and species extinctions.
The other trunk represents what we are doing to ourselves and other animals through the chemical adulteration of the planet with inherently toxic synthetic pollutants. Follow this trunk along and you find asthma, infertility, cancer, and male fish in the Potomac River whose testicles have eggs inside them.
At the base of both these trunks is an economic dependency on fossil fuels, primarily coal (plant fossils) and petroleum (animal fossils). When we light them on fire, we threaten the global ecosystem. When we use them as feedstocks for making stuff, we create substances — pesticides, solvents, plastics — that can tinker with our subcellular machinery and the various signaling pathways that make it run.
Natural gas is the vaporous form of petroleum. It’s the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of fossil fuels: when burned, natural gas generates only half the greenhouse gases of coal, but when it escapes into the atmosphere as unburned methane, it’s one of the most powerful greenhouse gases of them all — twenty times more powerful than carbon dioxide at trapping heat and with the stamina to persist nine to fifteen years. You can also make petrochemicals from it. Natural gas is the starting point for anhydrous ammonia (synthetic fertilizer) and PVC plastic (those shower curtains).
Until a few years ago, much of the natural gas trapped underground was considered unrecoverable because it is scattered throughout vast sheets of shale, like a fizz of bubbles in a petrified spill of champagne. But that all changed with the rollout of a drilling technique (pioneered by Halliburton) that bores horizontally through the bedrock, blasts it with explosives, and forces into the cracks, under enormous pressure, millions of gallons of water laced with a proprietary mix of poisonous chemicals that further fracture the rock. Up the borehole flows the gas. In 2000, only 1 percent of natural gas was shale gas. Ten years later, almost 20 percent is.
International investors began viewing shale gas as a paradigm-shifting innovation. Energy companies are now looking at shale plays in Poland and Turkey. Fracking is under way in Canada. But nowhere has the technology been as rapidly deployed as in the United States, where a gas rush is under way. Gas extraction now goes on in thirty-two states, with half a million new gas wells drilled in the last ten years alone. We are literally shattering the bedrock of our nation and pumping it full of carcinogens in order to bring methane out of the earth.
And nowhere in the U.S. is fracking proceeding more manically than Appalachia, which is underlain by the formation called the Marcellus Shale, otherwise referred to by the Intelligent Investor Report as “the Saudi Arabia of natural gas” and by the Toronto Globe and Mail as a “prolific monster” with the potential to “rearrange the continent’s energy flow.”
In the sense of “abnormal to the point of inspiring horror,” monster is not an inappropriate term here. With every well drilled — and thirty-two thousand wells per year are planned — a couple million gallons of fresh water are transformed into toxic fracking fluid. Some of that fluid will remain underground. Some will come flying back out of the hole, bringing with it other monsters: benzene, brine, radioactivity, and heavy metals that, for the past 400 million years, had been safely locked up a mile below us, estranged from the surface world of living creatures. No one knows what to do with this lethal flowback — a million or more gallons of it for every wellhead. Too caustic for reuse as is, it sloshes around in open pits and sometimes is hauled away in fleets of trucks to be forced under pressure down a disposal well. And it is sometimes clandestinely dumped.
By 2012, 100 billion gallons per year of fresh water will be turned into toxic fracking fluid. The technology to transform it back to drinkable water does not exist. And, even if it did, where would we put all the noxious, radioactive substances we capture from it?
HERE, THEN, are the environmental precepts violated by hydrofracking: 1) Environmental degradation of the commons should be factored into the price structure of the product (full-cost accounting), whose true carbon footprint — inclusive of all those diesel truck trips, blowouts, and methane leaks — requires calculation (life-cycle analysis). 2) Benefit of the doubt goes to public health, not the things that threaten it, especially in situations where catastrophic harm — aquifer contamination with carcinogens — is unremediable (the Precautionary Principle). 3) There is no away.
This year I’ve attended scientific conferences and community forums on fracking. I’ve heard a PhD geologist worry about the thousands of unmapped, abandoned wells scattered across New York from long-ago drilling operations. (What if pressurized fracking fluid, to be entombed in the shale beneath our aquifers, found an old borehole? Could it come squirting back up to the surface? Could it rise as vapor through hairline cracks?) I’ve heard a hazardous materials specialist describe to a crowd of people living in fracked communities how many parts per million of benzene will raise risks for leukemia and sperm abnormalities linked to birth deformities. I’ve heard a woman who lives by a fracking operation in Pennsylvania — whose pond bubbles with methane and whose kids have nosebleeds at night — ask how she could keep her children safe. She was asking me. And I had no answer. Thirty-seven percent of the land in the township where I live with my own kids is already leased to the frackers. There is no away.
I just saw “Gasland” on cable. Horrific- if those living in the eastern aquifer don’t stop it, NYC w/ be drinking methane soon.
OMG! My own brother believes that some of the people that have explosive gases in their well-water is a hoax and that we, as so-called ‘extreme environmentalists, don’t have our facts straight! How do we fight this monstrous calamity?
I just moved from Alaska, where it is almost a free-for-all for these
Big Oil corporations… the state of Alaska actually pays for their equipment and their Oil islands in the oceans, doesn’t tax them and then the oil companies sell it back to Alaskans for more than they sell the gas overseas…but that’s okay because an Alaskan get $1000 a year from investments of the Permanent Dividend Fund…money from Big Oil that is reinvested into Monsanto, Wells Fargo, etc. etc. etc. It’s a nightmare!)
I now live in the Appalachian area, where many mega-wealthy have ‘cabin-mansions’. I’m sure that many people invested in this type of calamity actually live or vacation right down the street from their own destructive investments.
I am also a new mom and I’m overwhelmed by this information to top off everything else that is secretly kept away from the mainstream media. Thank you Orion for giving me something plausible to send to people to read. We can only continue to educate ourselves and quit supporting these addictions to oil/gas, and synthetic living.
The biggest problem I see is how to heat my home? Hot water baseboards seem non-existent in this day and age…time to change this! In Alaska the old homesteads used hot water conduits through the wood-fired oven/stove in the kitchens….there are ways, but what will be practical?
In a sense this is similar to MPG in the new cars today. Every product made is geared towards the support of Big Oil and any new technology that doesn’t support Big Oil gets blasted off the market immediately. My Honda cars 10 and 20 years ago got 55 MPG and today, 30 MPG is supposed to be great? And Hybrids only get 55 MPG…
I wish someone could tell me that my son will have a natural world left to play in that is safe as he grows up. I did not get this emotion until I had a child of my own. Sadness and oppressive feelings regarding the issue of what’s left for the next generations are colossal understatements.
I have been organizing to educate folks in Otsego County and NYC for
3 years about the onslaught of hyddraulic fracturing. Your article is another plea for some sanity which does not exist with our fossil
fuel industry. The industry is after all of our geology! They will stop a nothing short of a grassroots revolt against fracking.
We are working hard in western PA, I live in Pittsburgh & one of our city council members is introducing legislation to ban drilling in the city, it’s hope that this will spark and inspire other cities & towns in PA to follow suit. On Nov. 3 we are holding a Marcellus Protest in Pittsburgh & invite citizens from throughout the Marcellus region to attend. Marcellus money can buy a lot of things. It cannot buy our VOTES.
In 1962, I was a teenager and our water well in NW PA became contaminated with oil well shale and methane. For more than two years, my family struggled with collecting drinking water in glass jugs, and doing our laundry and bathing in relatives’ homes. When the plug was opened gas would escape from the top of our jet pump, and could be lit–with the flame rising from the basement to the floor joists. There were no guidelines or safeguards requiring the oil and gas industry to correct this. It was hell.
granted, this process has problems….what do y’all suggest as an alternative to heating your home?
And how much are y’all willing to pay?
I don’t know if votes will do much to stop this. I’ve heard that there are virtually no regulations for fracking, that it has been under the radar in this regard and I don’t see this changing. Really, this is a nightmare. There have been a few articles on it in various publications I read on a regular basis but most people still know nothing about it. Honestly, what people are doing to the Earth in the name of profit, in the guise of providing us with the energy we supposedly demand in our daily lives, is evil, there is no other word for it. I say “supposedly” because there are other options, there are other technologies, and I know in my heart that given other choices most people would make the decision to change. Of course money to make those changes is an issue that can’t be ignored. And there it is: money again. I’m so sick of living in a world where everything boils down to money, whether it be corporate profits, my own inability to afford to install energy-saving/energy producing technology (that does exist but it’s rather expensive). It’s so disheartening. I had so much more belief in possibilities twenty years ago. Now, not so much.
See, there you go: “How much are y’all willing to pay?” I’d pay whatever it took, if I had the $ but I don’t. Here in Maine, we use mostly oil, propane, and wood to heat our homes. But I see the rest of the country, and the Earth, being destroyed by this technology (along with oil, propane, and even wood, I know), but in my personal circumstance the money to install, for instance, an on-demand hot water heater which would dramatically cut my sister’s and my use of propane, doesn’t exist. We don’t have it and we can’t borrow it. And even if we could borrow it, I have no idea how we’d pay it back. So if y’all have $ in the bank, then do something about it. But if y’all don’t then there’s a systemic issue here than needs to be addressed if the rest of us are to actively participate in transforming our own personal lives and choices. Like I said, it all boils down to $ $ $, and this is what absolutely must change. And it has to change in our mindsets too, otherwise there really is no hope.
If the EIR included “true cost of operations” and the offsets required to mitigate the toxic consequences truly calculated, it would be too expensive to pay, and it wouldn’t happen. But as long as political expediency rules, the golden law applies.
The golden law supersedes the golden rule nowadays. Make the oil company CEOS and the major stockholders live in the cracking fields, drink the water, and raise their children there.
The other suggestion- sue! Sue them all every one. The remedies are 3x plus punitive damages.
Energy is supplied to meet demand. How many times do you walk into an empty room in your house where a light is on? Do you want coal to keep the lights on?
I am absolutely horrified by the gas drilling going on around me and worried sick. I am doing everything I can think of to help raise awareness and to lobby my government officials for some strong new legislation to regulate this industry as well as a severance tax. I am fighting for a one year moratorium similar to the one in New York, but it seems to be such an uphill battle. I am exhausted and this is like a second full-time job to me. I worry about my grandchildren and what kind of horrors they will face, due to all of this toxic poisoning of our environment. We won’t get anywhere without massive public outcry. Everyone, and I mean everyone, must hound their state officials on this issue and demand they listen and do something. It is most difficult to be heard over the huge piles of money spent by the gas industry on lobbying and with campaign contributions. But, votes are what matter and we need to tell them they won’t get our votes if they don’t regulate this industry and bring our antiquated laws up to date with this new technology. If they are unopposed, get out and vote and DO NOT VOTE for them, bring down their numbers of votes to show them you mean business! Don’t stop. I won’t, not until I keel over. This is government sponsored terrorism in my opinion- they are supporting the poisoning of our water and air supplies.
If you don’t have a good candidate to vote for in your district – WRITE in your own name.
Wouldn’t it be something if 20% or more of the vote went to a variety of write ins? The crystal clear fact would remain: a sizeable # of voters chose someone other than the industry shill/candidate.
I think the questions “what do yâ€™all suggest as an alternative to heating your home? And how much are yâ€™all willing to pay?” deserve our attention. As someone who has worked for decades to keep coal in the ground I know that if we don’t have alternatives, the coal will be used. Same with natural gas.
Efficiency is the game changer. Renewables work to displace electricity, but unless we pick up the pace renewables are too slow, and they don’t matter to natural gas unless we learn to build and retrofit buildings so that heating needs are small enough that it makes sense to displace them with electric heat.
Fracking and Marcellus separate the folks who care about imports from the folks who care about climate. That hurts. But at the same time we have a massive potential to increase utility efficiency programs for both electricity and natural gas. In 2009, for the first time, the combined effect of new efficiency and new renewables was greater than all new growth in consumption would have been if it hadn’t all been lost in the noise of the Great Recession. We may never see more coal used in the U.S. than was used in 2007.
But we can triple the rate of efficiency merely by raising all states to the level of the four best ones. That will save almost $20 billion per year, and some of those savings can be used to build new renewables.
At the same time, and more directly pertinent to natural gas, we can build zero energy buildings today. Current building standards cause builders to substitute efficient appliances for good insulation and windows. If we start with the “envelope” (insulation and windows and some other stuff) and do it right, we may not need to worry about the fact that some key appliances are pretty close to maximum efficiency.
This in turn depends on working with the electric and natural gas utilities – paying them well enough that they actually want to see real net savings. It’s easy to do in principle, because the efficiency potential is huge, but consumer groups and industry get all hot and bothered when you talk about paying a larger return to a utility, even if the larger return is a specific function of savings the utility has created.
The utilities have the ability to work with builders in a way that would make everyone happy, if we can just concentrate on building a systematic approach that actually reduces the need for natural gas.
All of this won’t stop development of the Marcellus Shale with fracking. But it may limit the damage to the point where our kids don’t curse us and our communities aren’t filled with refugees from Florida and Louisiana, or what will be left of those states.
There are lots of technologies which allow us to replace fossil fuels. But there is only one path that I know of which allows us to do so fast, and for less money than we will spend on energy otherwise. Lawmakers need to be pressed to increase state efficiency standards, expand them to fully include natural gas utilities, and to explore other economic shifts to ensure that the utilities make less money doing the wrong thing and more money doing the right thing.
To those of you whose comments seem to indicate that you believe in some sort of compromise that would safely oversee and effectively enforce regulations on this widespread plan forÂ high volume hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus Shale, or believe that the monetary profits might outweigh the inevitable devastation……You are out of your fracking minds… you are not seeing the forest for the trees… nothing short of a total ban on high volume hydraulic fracturing will stop the greed, corruption, disasters and cover ups that will follow the gold rush. Maybe you can redistribute wealth, but you CAN NOT redistribute health……
This country is aiding and abetting the oil and gas industry by an obscene amount of tax incentives and write offs to drill. Incentives and write offs that only that industry has. They can’t lose–and that is on top of the fact that they were given exemptions to the clean air and water acts by the previous administration. In PA the mineral rights were severed from the surface of the land a long time ago, with the mineral operators given “dominant rights” over the surface owner. This industry can’t lose. The homeowner and landowner have no rights–except the “privilege” to pay taxes.
I have been following the http://www.architecture2030.org site for several years, and recommend it as a central point regarding energy efficiency/the built environment and some well documented projections/scenarios. 50 major municipalities have adopted the codes, with more coming online as we speak. The industries have been rewarded by scofflaw administrations, drawn from deep in the belly of the oil company’s worst devils, and placed in charge of –wink-wink– “regulation” (nudge, haw, haw, hardee, haw, heehaw) unfortunately, until this criminal conspiracy against good hard working american citizens is treated appropriately, we are stuck in these hand-wringing victim situations.
It’s pretty obvious what has to happen to defend our land, our rights, our citizenship. Do we have what it takes to take back our country?
I am currently living in the heart of Marcellus shale country in northeast Pennsylvania. All of our local politicians and power-brokers have been bought-off by the gas industry. We have already suffered through contaminated well water (Dimock, PA) and the land adjacent to reservoirs which serve over one-hundred thousand people has been leased for drilling. We are badly in need of grassroots supporters and so I ask all of you to visit our website: http://www.gdacoalition.org
Here in NY too many politicians are telling us they have our back — they’ll be sure not to allow fracking UNTIL it’s proven safe. But, as Sandra Steingraber so clearly explains, how can science or the EPA or anyone every show that fracking is safe? The toxic chemicals will destroy our water, forests, rural farms, our farming communities, and wildlife… To have passed a “temporary moratorium” on fracking (which will expire April 2011) is just a way of confusing those of us who are not closely following. What has to happen is a thorough cost analysis — and a change in our hearts, minds and lifestyles that we will never forget. Watch this 12-min short that brings Native/Indigenous voices to the forefront of this issue:
The Unfractured Future
Dissatisfied with the candidates on your ballot?
Write in a. a name of your choosing or b. Josh Fox
Nov. 3 Marcellus Protest in Pittsburgh: marcellusprotest.org
Thanks for posting this video, Tracy. I’ve shared it on my FB page.I have friends and family in New York State, and have talked with them about fracking. Only a few seem to really get how devastating it is.
Inj 2004, Mr. Cheney developed an energy strategy for the US by meeting with oil and gas men behind closed doors. Shortly therafter, a Republican Congress and President voted to remove oil and gas industries from assessment by the EPA and expempted them from the clean water and air regulations. We need to expand our energy policies and practices at personal and national levels, and we need to rememember which political party has espoused pursuit and developement of terribly toxic energy.
Is cheap but ultimately fatal energy affordable?
Consider this: those in favor of developing gas and oil oppose increase in health availability, both in terms of insurance and research. Make us sick and let us die. At least they are consistant.
I thought the tar sands in Alberta were bad, until I read this! Is there no stopping the greed anymore? Where has all the common sense of our government leaders gone? I think it’s high time we all march on our governments until they listen to reason.
New York state is broke–we need the revenue gas companies would bring in. And as a sidenote–just maybe if the farmers would receive a decent price for the food they produce-they wouldn’t have to lease their land just to stay in business. In this area they say no to everything–from Madison Square Gardens, softball fields to windmills–It’s either grow or die and this area is dying fast.
There are alternatives for fossil fuel and we must accelerate the implementation of efficiency (our most effective and least costly method) to reduce the demand side of the sheet by about 80% from current (US) levels. This reduction in demand should be implemented in tandem with support for implementation of a variety of renewable sources of energy to fill in the remaining 20% of demand.
There are no alternatives to water, so any technology (like fracking) that irrevocably pollutes groundwater should be prohibited, regardless of the possible gain gas supply, corporate profits or state tax revenues.
Affected communities should look into having a session of the “Democracy School” in your area to alert the citizens to the power they have to control what goes on in their municipalities. Dozens of communities in central PA have passed laws that prohibit dumping of toxic waste by corporations and have done so by defining corporations as “non-human” and (therefore) not entitled to any protections of the US constitution (such as the Interstate Commerce clause). Perhaps the same strategy can be applied to this situation. More information at CDLDF.org
I made a mistake on the web address for the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund. The correct address is: CELDF.org
I have been supporting the “No Fracking in NY” Facebook page from the start. I know folks in Pennsylvania who have been afflicted by “fracking”. I hope that we can all stick together and stop the fracking in NY before the water supply of 12 million people in the NY/NJ area are without clean water. I have contributed to the Catskill Clean Energy website. I have sent petitions to our representatives. What else can we do to make sure this doesn’t destroy our environment and our physical well-being?
Here’s an alternative.. millions of acres set aside for solar energy and it’s being wasted… why isn’t the current administration doing more to STIMULATE this project???
AP IMPACT: Feds fail to use land for solar power
Good news for all you folks that do not have an alternative for natural gas! There is a glut of gas in inventory, like a 75 year reserve!
We can stop drilling now and have plenty of time to create new safe technologies to extract our gas from under ground. In fact the gas trapped under ground will safely wait for us to get it right. Rather than poison our environment getting it all now, lets leave some for our kids to get later and with cleaner technologies they will develop!
There is another side of this horrific plague,
Our family may not want to be involved in this massive control of mineral rights to your property BUT if 60% of a certain area near your property is signed up for mineral rights leasing, they can take the gas from beneath your property anyway.
do you realize the thousands of gallons of “Potable” that means clean water that is needed to drill one well, per day???
This water is usless and gone forever from our safe access for drinking.
sucked from our rivers, lakes and ponds, never to be returned to us….how much are y’all willing to pay for fresh water for your selves, family, and livestock.The cost of clean water will be deferred to us from food processing that needs water to produce. Virtually all foods will cost more due to filtration and or distillation plants.
One Gas Drilling company responded with “Let them take the water from the air”…while he rakes in the profits from the FREE water that used to be one of our
God Given rights.
This is very scary news indeed. I am wondering what kind of grassroots organizing is being worked on to notify our legislators that this is NOT the alternative we want to sustain our dependence on energy consumption. Any ideas where to connect with a project like that? I would like to get my children’s school social action project linked to a project that will help us move away from toxic alternatives like this one.
Very well-written article. I look forward to your presentation, “Living Downstream”,October 13th 7pm (6pm potluck) at the Park Church in Elmira. My only point of disagreement is the “couple million gallons” of water per well is closer to 5.6 million approximately (stated by Chesapeake Oil).
OK. No gas stove for me.
Ouch. That hurts as it’s my dream but this is way too big. Gotta walk the talk.
Well then, what about flying around on those big jets??? that’s a no no of sorts…maybe a big cut back is in store.
I haven’t even finished the article and I’m totally impacted by all the implications here.
Thank you, thank you for your diligence in making this information available – foundit on facebook.
The problems associated with obtaining Natural Gas from Hydraulic Fracturing of shale or condensed sand is a pretty simple issue. â€œPROFIT vs the Common Goodâ€. It took a company with the political and industrial pull of Halliburton to develop this Gas Drilling technique…Why? A certain amount of â€œcover upâ€ and â€œdrag your buttâ€ technique was needed to slip this past the â€œCommon Folkâ€.
If this method of drilling was developed with the plan of an environmentally safe outcome there would not be sufficient profit to induce all the â€œHooplaâ€ that it has received. If there were proper precautions and planning to create little impact to the land, air, fresh water bodies and oceans, it would not be profitable. With the correct sanctions and laws to protect our streams, rivers, artisan wells, from miss use and some shameful contamination in the future, the profit would be reduced. With the correct enforcement of toxic waste abatement and the guaranteed containment of theses known toxins at the drill site (and afterwards) the profit would be minimal. If the cost of extracting Gas in this method included the cost of properly and conscientiously abating the huge amounts of toxic chemicals created in this process, the procedure would not be profitable. If the cost of the drilling process included the cost of the eroded equipment caused by not using the toxins necessary to stop the erosion of the equipment…it would not be profitable.
So these toxins are the constant waste product of the drilling process. Horrific chemicals are added to millions of gallons of water to protect the drilling equipment from erosion while drilling down into the shale and then â€œPressure washâ€ the cracks and fissures so the gas can be released. Some of that once fresh water (and chemicals) is lost into the shale forever and the rest is placed in evaporation ditches lined with plastic. The water evaporates with some of the chemicals into our air and onto our trees and food crops. Animals ingest the chemical dust that blows from the vats edges. People breathe in the dust and chemicals in the air. People and livestock and wildlife are exposed to various degrees of methane, and many other toxic chemicals. The un burnt Gas that is bubbling out of the nearby rivers and streams (that can be lit like a propane torch)ends up damaging the ozone layer as it travels through the air.
Although the Politicians are seduced with the promise of â€œmany jobsâ€ (it is a known fact that most of the employees of the drilling companies are trained for this particular trade. These persons follow the company to various drill sites and uproot their families to accompany them as well). These jobs may register as â€œNewâ€ in that county that has the latest site, but really many of them are just â€œimported persons with existing jobsâ€.
The Politicians and Business owners are seduced with the promise of growing small towns only to suffer increased debts and taxes. With fast temporary growth comes the destruction of streets, fresh water, bridges, the entire infrastructure. Thousands of noisy, heavy laden trucks spewing gaseous fumes throughout the day wear out the Highways and asphalt throughout the towns. Schools, Libraries, Hospitals etc. are overburdened and expanded while the drilling is on and then abandoned after the nearby drilling sites are exhausted.
This is a basic simple problem of â€œPROFIT vs the Common Good â€œand should be â€œBANNEDâ€until regulations can catch up to the dangers incurred by this terrible way to extract gas from the earth.
This entire article and that gasland “documentary” gave me an aneurysm.
Firstly hydrofacture, including that of the Marcellus Shale, cannot contaminate your aquifers. Even the shallowest sandstones being fractured in Pennsylvania are 1500ft below surface level, it has to be that deep or the pressure will be to low for the well to “rock up”, resulting in low pressure in the gas pipeline and a lack of flow along the line. Your potable water is from no more than 300 ft below surface level. Any fracture induced in the gas bearing formations cannot propagate upward into your aquifers. If fracture does propagate upward it will be stopped by the bed above the formation being hydrofacted because the horizon between two different beds of rock is a plane of weakness. The fracture will propagate along that plane. To reach your potable water let alone the surface the fracture would have to pass hundreds of these bedding planes, not to mention that that no fracture has the kinetic energy to propagate 1000 ft. Also you already have saline brine contaminated by Barium salts, Cesium, and heavy metals just below your “fresh water aquifers”. These saline aquifers are full of meteoric(rain) water that has seeped through the rock over hundreds or thousands of years and dissolved salts and metals from the rock above as it moved through.
Secondly the vast majority of water used in the hydrofracing process immediately comes back up the bore hole and is deposited into a double plastic lined(PA State Regulation) pit. This water is then pumped back into trucks for disposal at a brine treatment plant were it is allowed to evaporate in another plastic lined pit. And no, there is no chemical used in the clay/check or slicking agent that has a low enough vaporization pressure that it can evaporate and pollute the air. The pits also have a fence and usually a bird net so animals don’t drink from them. Any frac fluid that remains in the formation will be captured by the brine tank at the well site along with any water produced by the well. According to state and federal regulations you cannot dump frac fluids or gas well water, it has to be taken to a treatment facility. The casing is cemented directly into the rock and plugs all pore space surrounding the well bore.
There will always be 800 feet of steel pip and a cement casing surrounding a well bore, this is specifically to prevent any gas or fluid from leaking into the water table. Although this itself is unlikely since the gas will flow toward the area of lowest pressure, ie the wellhead(which is at atmospheric pressure) rather than into the aquifer which is under at least several dozen Bars of pressure.
You may not drill within 300 feet of a well or 600 feet of a surface water source in the State of Pennsylvania. This is to ensure against contamination.
In the gasland documentary one individual had gas dissolved in his well water. Since this is unlikely to be leaking from the well even if it had a cracked casing This is likely to be coal bed methane. It is possible that during the drilling they encountered a thin vein of coal and the gas from the coal bed is traveling up into his reservoir if the coal directly underlies his reservoir and the case is somehow cracked at that exact point. Note that under State law contamination of potable water through unexpected equiment failure during drilling is a finable offense unless an alternative supply is provided at the gas extractor’s expense. I you are concerned about this companies will gladly sign a contract to drill as many water wells as you require before you lease your property for drilling. This is a very common procedure.
Another individual interviewed in “Gasland” displayed the classic symptoms of carbon dioxide poisoning. It is likely that her residence is on top of a strip mine, deep mine, or unmined coal bed that is undergoing oxidation. She can have a fan duct intstalled in her basement or understory at State expense to alleviate this problem. The fan can vent her carbon dioxide during periods of high temperature so that the heat inversion does not trap the C02 in her house.
For Dorothea Poggi
Contamination of streams by methane seeps is common in Pennsylvania. Streams often erode into coal beds.
There are valid concerns about the amount of water needed to fracture the Marcellus shale(10^6 gallons), especially if the water is with drawn from local streams with low monthly flow. That is why many counties in Pennsylvania are have capped monthly with drawls from certain streams, since they are very protective of their trout streams. Likewise do to the size of Marcellus well sites(necessary for the number of pumping and water trucks that need to be parked) there must be increased erosion control measures like dirt nets and sedimentation screens to prevent sediment from adversely increasing the turbidity of nearby streams.
There are concerns with gas extract, and they have been well known for decades, but none have anything to do with hydrofracturing.
We, in QuÃ©bec are looking your way. A month ago no Quebecers knew about this. Then we heard about dismal rights to drill given in the last 2 years to gas companies. In a public relation stunt, those private companies are, only now, organizing meetings which almost turn into riots. Quebec government had no choice but to organize BAPE public hearings, (Bureau D’Audiences Publiques en Environnement) which produce a respected unbiased enquiry report. But the government, at its risk, can go forward despites a BAPE recommendations againt a project.
Maybe when God locked that gas down under the ground He knew what He was doing. Maybe we should respect that.
At some point, it’s imperative that those citizens wishing to have safe living conditions be accorded equal respect to those who would plunder our birthright, poison our wells for profit, and cast the blame on the victims.
Having more power doesn’t make one more righteous.
Might makes right irrelevant.
@anon2 “And the mighty then cleft the mountains asunder, laid waste to the land, cast oil upon the oceans, and fouled grievously our great bounteous mother earth.”
If man endures, what difference does it make?
It is better to be gods of the wastes then worms of the rich soil.
Gods of the wastes seems like a definition of the type of hubris that conflates mankind’s worst termite qualities with ‘mastery” and “creation”. Unless I missed the memo, each and all of us end with the worms of the rich soil.
The question is whether that soil will indeed remain rich…
… and whether we will recognize the “man” that endures amid natural devastation as anything human. Etymology — that is, the root of our culture and our thinking — recognizes the close relationship of humus and human.
Sorry! The OED does not support (now that I look it up) this folk etymology. And my impulse to conflate Human and humus is naive optimism. The human is the self-directed, self-centered, acquisitive and careless as much or more than it is the ecologically sensitive and humble. Excuse my haste.
The problem in New York is that there is literally no place to put the “flowback” from the frack. No treatment facilities, no disposal wells. In fact the closest disposal well that will take flowback is in Ohio, and charges 20 cents a gallon to pump it down a hole. The Marcellus in New York has been tested to particularly rich in radium. So horizontal hydrofracking of shale is not a good idea for New York any time soon.
Oh, no problem, James, they’ll just dump it all in the Susquehanna and let it flow unhampered down through Pennsylvania and Maryland into the Chesapeake Bay and out to sea. It’s probably not even in their plans to “store” hazardous waste water when they have a free river to destroy! The fish are already being killed in the Susquehanna, I’ve heard from friends in PA. If we don’t stop them they will destroy all our rivers & streams.
Actually since the Marcellus producer usually only owns the deep mineral rights while another owns the shallow mineral rights, they are planning on injecting the frac fluid into old shallow wells(~2000ft) as a kind of water flooding. Basically the old wells that have withdrawn the gas from their reserviors are used to inject water into the reservoir, driving gas to other wells and increasing there total production volume and lifetime. This lets the Marcellus producer get rid off their frac water, while making a little money and helping a shallow gas producer by providing a cheap water flood.
There were some concerns that the clay from the Marcellus shale could clog the pores of sandstone reservoirs, a process know as “fines migration”. But the clay/check solution they and to prevent fines migration when fracturing the Marcellus also prevents it from occuring in the sandstones. They are already doing this in McKean Co. Pennsylvania.
Also radon is already a common contaminant in shallow gas produced from sandstones. It and propane are separated from the methane at distribution points by a density separation process. And radon is constantly given off by the shales found in the ground of Pennsylvania and New York, hence the imporatance of getting a radon detector for your basement. The total amount of radon added to the atmosphere by gas production is currently 0.1% of the amount of natural radon that seeps out of the ground in Pennsylvania everyday. So it’s not a significant atmospheric contaminant.
The primary concern when fracing the Marcellus is the amount of water needed, which could complication water use polices during periods of drought unless water is stockpiled during the winter months for the fracing procedure.
For anyone who thinks this is ok…. we have alternatives to natural gas; we can live without it. However, we can not live without water. My wife and I stop one of these companies from coming into our homes. It was amazing how many lies they told to try and get people to sign.
A Chinese oil exploitaion company, CNOOC Ltd., just agreed to pay more than $1Billion for 33% interest in an oil shale project in Texas.
If one had any question regarding the “protection” of our natural resources, think about the implications this signals.
Thanks everyone for your comments. Want to continue the discussion in real time?
Then please plan to join Sandra Steingraber, the author of this piece, and Orion staffers 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
Please correct the date on this post, and on your outgoing email for Sandra Steingraber’s call-in….
I saw Gaslands at a local theater in central PA (State College), and am extremely concerned about the tremendous environmental damage –past, present and future– of fracking. Everything written in the article is also demonstrated in that documentary. The scariest aspect is that the damage could persist for decades and will NOT be easily reversed. How can we get our friends, neighbors AND legislators to recognize that the damage caused by fracking will be far more costly than the benefits of the natural gas? We MUST learn to pay more for our energy AND to decrease our use of energy. Even ‘green energy’ sources have some problems. Humans cannot continue to use the amount of energy that we have been consuming. That is the bottom line.
Scary stuff, but when “It’s all about the money,” seems that polluting our water supplies means nothing.
The key term in the article – “International investors”.
Landowners are simply being used as pawns and bought off for what amounts to peanuts by mega-Corporate in their endless pursuit to increase their bottom line.
Those who think they are simply leasing mineral rights to these LLC’s are in for a rude awakening when they not only pollute their water supply, but also turn their idyllic countrysides into 24/7 construction/truck zones for the rest of their lives.
It’s often times hard to fathom, but it seems people will do anything for a buck these days without giving a second thought to the consequences of their actions.
i live in fayette county pa ilived here for 45years five years ago our lives has changed .when the gas industy put a compressor station and two marcellus wells just 250ft away from me my neihgbors put this in .i could not stop them no matter what i done . now we sufer the sickness that comes with these two things that took over our lives .my daughter and i sit and cry at night when the choldren go to bed so they wont see the hurt it caused us .the childre suffer from headache burning throats bones hurting and a rash the doctors cant cure . why was this left happen to us . the noise from the compresor station sounds like a train going around the house but never stops my grand ghildren in the last 3years scream when they talk to you its the noise that they leve with every day .you cant move when you spent every thing you had on the place you call home .this is what we our forced to live with at times my daughter says mom i wish god would take us from this place the days our harder to get up to. iam afraid the gas is going to put us asleep one of these nights we allready had tow scares from the gas wells so pray for us to be set free form this place we call hell. like governor ridge said the gas industy is going any where .get used to it . only he doesnt live this life with us he has the means to get away .ill leave you with this dont let the gas industy move in and take your life and destory what god gave all of us to enjoy .
November 3, at 1 p.m., in front of the David Lawrence Convention Center.
Everyone is welcome.
I live in Susquehanna County, PA, which used to be the poorest county in the state and is now expected to be the richest because of the aggressive fracking of Marcellus Shale. What breaks my heart and infuriates me is the denial: wealthy owners of second homes up here insisting to one another that this desecration of the Earth and threat to all life will bring about jobs… or they proudly insist that THEY will be drilling horizontally, not vertically, as if an invisible poison is better than a visible one. Pennsylvania cares only about money, not life, not land.
Thank you Trebbe Johnson, for your thoughts about hydro-fracking… You live in a beautiful place, and it’s sad to hear that you have to watch it being abused. The beautiful, peaceful river that your county is named for is also being attacked, and I feel your pain. My mother’s family came to Columbia County before the Revolutionary War, and love for those “Endless Mountains” is in my bones. I live in New York, because Mom’s family moved away because in the 1920’s there were no jobs, but our “home” will always be in NE Pennsylvania, or, “Penn’s Woods”. I’m sorry you have to witness this destruction, and I hope that New Yorkers will stick together and not let it happen to our Catskills and our beautiful lakes and streams upstate. Your voice is heard here in New York. It’s sad that it wasn’t heard in your state.
To those who defend hydraulic fracturing for whatever reasons I say to you that you are either incredibly naive or incredibly uneducated.
We can live without natural gas and oil. We cannot survive without clean air and clean water. By 2012, fracking will consume somewhere on the order of 48-500 BILLION gallons of fresh water per year than can NEVER be used again by humans, animals or plants due to excessive contamination by toxic and carcinogenic chemicals that science has shown no solution for purifying. That water is lost forever at a time when fresh water sources are scarce and getting more so by the day.
We only have one environment – when we destroy it, then we make ourselves extinct as a species, and we will be relegated to the fate of the dinosaurs.
I understand the need for cheap, domestic energy, but I do not buy into the idiocy of killing our planet and all of its inhabitants for the sake of natural gas just because it is cheap and it is here. That sort of myopic thinking is precisely why those supporting fracking do so without a concern or understanding of what this industry does to quality of life, health, property values, water, air and soil purity and the very survival of humans as a species on this planet.
Hear, hear, Mark McCord! Well said! If only this common sense could be communicated to our legislators.
I live in North Eastern Pennsylvania where the Marcellus Shale industry has leased land all around me. I am passionate about the environmental issues resulting from natural gas extraction, however I seem to be in the minority in my own neighborhood.
People have leased their land for the almighty dollar and are keeping their heads in the sand regarding the real dangers of fracking. I did my best to educate myself and my neighbors, however, the land lease agents “talk a good talk” and people up here believe what they are being told is the truth. It is far from the truth. Thank you for being straight forward regarding the process of fracking and the real dangers that this presents.
Marie, I’m sorry that your voice was not heard when it came to the drilling by the frackers. That was the fault of the state government. Allowing them to drill without regulation and to override the wishes of those who didn’t agree was unconstitutional according to the PA Constitution. In NY, we’re hoping that our legislators will do what’s right and strictly regulate and protect our forests and our water supply. Our new Attorney General is stepping up to the plate and says he supports a ban on drilling until it is “proven safe”. That’s not quite 100%, but at least he has given us partial support when others won’t even commit to that much. I hope we will be able to keep the drillers at bay.
When the legislators, regulators and officials responsible for our health safety and security report to their corporate ‘benefactors’ and ‘sponsors’ you get results like this.
All y’all can moan and wail all ya want about lack of response and so on, but until you either can buy them for more money, or demonstrate unity and coherence, y’all will be drinking methane.
That’s the state of the union, buds.
Chevron/texaco announces purchase of Atlas Energy to better exploit the Marcellus Shale area in SW Pennsylvania.
If you missed the conference call on fracking for gas with Sandra Steingraber that Orion hosted recently, you can hear the full audio here, any time, just click on the link under October 27, 2010:
A number of good ideas and resources were shared, plus the author gave us a reading from her forthcoming book relative to fracking, which was really great.
It pertains mostly to Texas and the Barnett Shale, but there is also nationwide coverage of frac’ing issues on the new website i just put on-line at http://fracdallas.org/.
Text and video content is welcome and will be appreciated. I want this website to be a clearinghouse for frac’ing information and resources.
Dear Eric, Thank you for the link to the program about “fracking” and its effects on upstate NY and NYC’s water supply. I have sent a link to the program to all my friends and to former associates at MetLife who belong to our MetLife Veterans Association. I hope they will all forward it to their friends, so that we can all benefit from the information provided by you and Ms.Steingraber.
It has certainly added to my understanding of this situation, which I instinctively knew was a huge danger to our future well-being. Now I feel more qualified to discuss it on Facebook, where I support the “Don’t Frack with NY’s Water Supply” page.
Ruth Cavanaugh, NYC Resident
Thank you for clearly laying out the horror that fracking creates.
Now we have to get everyone engaged in the issue.
We need a poster child for the health effects of fracking.
People can be moved out of passivity when they see the threat to their children and grandchildren.
If anybody needed another example of the dangers of hydraulic fracturing, then here it is:
To you disbelievers out there, read it and weep!
If anyone believes that pouring toxic chemicals into the ground, and disrupting the shale formation is a good idea, perhaps the millions of acre feet of water polluted forever – per well! may shake the belief the oil companies have residents’ safety and well being in mind.
I have been an active environmentalist mostly through education for the past 25 years. I used to be a birder with Theo Colburn in Colorado before she wrote her book our stolen future. What she wrote was horrible but you could protect yourself to some extent. What you are talking about is insidious because we don’t know where it is and there is no way to protect yourself. This is the one that I think every environmental group should take to the mat. We need a massive community to community educational effort.
So far, we have successfully stopped XTO Energy from getting gas well permits for Dallas, and we are hopeful that the city will vote a 6-month moratorium against issuing any drilling permits at the January City Council meeting.
Just a couple of days ago the EPA issued a substantial and imminent hazardous warning of potential explosions at homes in Parker County, Texas because of a contaminated aquifer and at least two private water wells. This issue arose in August, but to this day neither Texas Commission on Environmental Quality nor the Texas Railroad Commission (which is responsible for all oil and gas drilling and production in the state) has seen fit to act in the interest of citizens who are threatened.
There is a link to the story on my website at http://fracdallas.org/, along with a video showing fire shooting from a water hose like a flame thrower. Of course, Range Productions, the drilling company, is claiming that nothing they did caused this methane migration into the aquifer even though no problems ever occurred until after they fracked a nearby well.
Communities need to band together and fight this intrusion into our health and safety because there is strength in numbers. And, for the sake of ALL humans, animals, plants, the environment and the planet STOP VOTING REPUBLICAN!
These problems can be directly traced to the Republican attitude of supporting big oil and gas over the welfare of citizens because oil and gas are huge GOP contributors, and the GOP has placed their own people in positions of management and administration rather than staffing those positions with professional people who understand the issues and take an objective approach to safe drilling, production and delivery.
Responding to comment #71 (Marc W. McCord),
You made some great comments and they were worth reading, until you brought your political views into the discussion. This is an environmental issue, not a political campaign. There is plenty of support from Republicans as well as Democrats and other parties. I am not a Democrat, and I have been fighting alongside others to ban hydrofracking here in NY for nearly two years. We do have support from both sides, although it is a constant battle trying to get some of them to see past the piles of oil & gas money being thrown at them. If you do any real research into the matter, you will find that the current administration has hugely supported and made deals with the oil and gas industry all along, not to mention their exemption from regulations, and is now (actually the day after midterm elections) claiming to go forward with natural gas exploration, (drilling/hydrofracking) all in the name of bipartisanship. I hope you are successful in the fight to ban hydrofracking in Texas, because we over here in NY are learning a great deal everyday, as we read about the alarming number of violations, accidents, and devastation spreading from coast to coast, as a result of the toxic fracking road to clean energy. If you feel that one party or another is to blame, then I would suggest that you write, call, email, and see them in person, talk to them and not at them, and provide them with the facts that prove your case. Be Well.
Responding to “72”, I agree that there are SOME Republicans who oppose frac’ing, just as there are SOME Democrats and other liberals who support it, but I stand by my statements based on historical fact.
The Energy Policy Act of 2005, written by Dick Cheney and the O&G industry, gutted environmental protections under about 7 different federal laws including, but not limited to, the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.
I acknowledge that Obama is a coward on this issue, and I have dressed him down over his insane stance on this issue.
Here in Texas, it was all George W. Bush and Rick Perry who stacked the deck with Republicans at TCEQ and TRC to give the O&G industry a free reign in killing people, destroying property and polluting the air, water and soil for the sake of corporate profits. It was not done at the behest of liberals or Democrats.
I do not claim that all liberals are against frac’ing, or that all conservatives are in favor of it, but the vast majority of conservatives hate environmentalists and liberals, and have supported drilling in every one of the 34 states where it is happening while the vast majority of liberals have stood against frac’ing unless and until it can be proven safe.
You damn right I brought my political views into this discussion. Until people give up there cowardly affliction of refusing to discuss the political ramifications nothing is going to change.
I am happy that NY is taking steps to limit Marcellus Shale production, and I hope that you are successful, but please do not try to pretend that a great number of conservatives favor that moratorium because we both know that is not true.
This IS a political issue with dire environmental consequences. It should NOT be a political issue, but it is, and I am not the one who made it that way. I am merely pointing out the facts. I am sorry if the truth hurts, but that’s too bad!
Instead of jumping me, try jumping your conservative friends who support “Drill, Baby, Drill”.
Historically, we have rushed into exploiting resources without fully understanding the consequences. This has resulted in extremely negative consequences, most often but not always unevenly apportioned. This has been the traditional playground for the discussions related to use/abuse of our environment. If you drain the river, kill all the flora and fauna, and leave nothing – the ecosystem can no longer sustain one. It is this effort to understand the balance that has informed our previous three generations of citizens interested in living in reality, and understanding how to live smaller, not larger.
However, as the discourse becomes less about understanding our situation, and more vehemently about brute privilege and influence, a dangerous toxin is running through the body politic – and it’s driving the country crazy. The fracking situation is a case in point. This has the symptoms of a classic political influenza, where the victims are demonized, where the resource extractors and exploiters’ progress and survival are somehow conflated with the greater good. This is suicidal. We must stop this heedless headlong dive into poisoning our politics along with our watershed, forestry and rivers.
Corporations are not people. Stop the madness.
“This has the symptoms of a classic political influenza, where the victims are demonized, where the resource extractors and exploitersâ€™ progress and survival are somehow conflated with the greater good.”
Well said, Mr. Freeman.
The same mad rush that we are seeing with the hydrofracking situation has occurred with the push for industrial wind. Instead of relying on the scientific method, our energy decisions are being based on where the biggest money is in it for the multi-national developers — whose political lobbyists have bought the legislation that will best suit their bottom line.
Here in NYS, NYSERDA told us straight out that industrial wind is “a political agenda that has been handed down to them from Washington & Albany,” making it very clear that “it’s all about the money” — the environment, economics, and science be damned.
And by the way, Mr. McCord, your assumptions are VERY wrong. While I hate to associate myself with any party these days (as I think they are both mired in corruption), I am a pretty conservative person – as are most of the many folks here in WNY who have been battling both the hydrofracking and industrial wind mega-corporate attacks on us, and our environment, for years now.
Every day brings more proof that the leadership in this nation watched the Sopranos for leadership lessons.
However, the Sopranos were small fry in comparison to the institutionalized ‘pay for play’ of our current landscape. Look across the terrain at captive think tanks, hostage research centers, privatized prisons, mercenary armies, to professional lobbies that buy elections, and impose their fracking agendas at will.
I am glad that you are conservative AND opposed to frac’ing. In Western NY State you may not be an anomaly, but in the nation as a whole I can assure you that you ARE rare. Most conservatives in this nation are a lot closer to Sarah “Drill Baby, Drill” Palin than to those who favor protecting the natural environment.
Need I remind you of the Energy Policy Act of 2005? That piece of work was the product of Dick Cheney and his buddies in the energy industry. It was passed by a Republican-controlled US Congress and signed into law by a Republican president. Even if all Democrats, Obama included, had voted against it, the bill would STILL have passed on the strength of conservative support, and that is the larger case nationwide.
I realize that the truth hurts you, and I am sorry for that, but I am NOT wrong about this, and I defy you to show ANY proof that I am. It is a claim that you and “72” falsely make because you do not want to accept the truth.
If conservatives did not want frac’ing, then we would not have it, and it surely would not have been exempted from the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drink Water Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), the National Energy Policy Act (NEPA) and other safeguards put in place to protect our natural environment.
While there are small pockets where a few conservatives oppose frac’ing, the fact remains that in most areas conservatives overwhelmingly approve of the technique and process. Your mistake is in assuming that the attitude of conservatives where you live is representative of the entire nation, and it most assuredly is not!
Again, you are wrong — The truth does not hurt me at all. Only the truth will set us free.
The party argument is right where the progressive elites would like well-intended citizens to stay focused. Both sides are guilty of pushing ridiciulous political agendas, and it’s money and power that are guiding their decisions.
While President Obama and his Democratic majority were busy initiating the drilling moratorium in the Gulf, they were simultaneously giving billions to Venezuala (where an oil company backed by George Soros would profit handsomely) to drill off South American shores in even deeper waters. How do you reconcile that with your argument that it’s all a Conservative/Republican pushed issue?
Anybody see a hint of self-righteousness?? Maybe both sides would benefit if they noticed it.
The point exactly — both sides are guilty. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
No, my point is not that the truth lies in the middle. That may or may not be the case. The point is that we cannot talk with each other while defending to the death what we KNOW is the case. And it’s not “Stop! You’re both right.” (Remember Certs?) more like Stop–each of McCord seems most egregiously caught in this trap. He says he’s leaving this conversation, but if he’s still listening, maybe he would notice that he has an expectation and a conviction that color everything he hears.
That’s “Stop – each of you is blind and deaf to the other.”
Again, we are presented with more false choices, promoted by those who profit while limiting their civic stewardship.