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Does an Old EPA Fracking Study Provide Proof of Contamination?

A 24-year-old EPA report uncovered this week adds to a list of examples of how water supplies are polluted in natural gas drilling areas and provides the strongest articulation yet by federal officials that fracking has caused the contamination.

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A 24-year-old EPA report uncovered this week adds to a list of examples of how water supplies are polluted in natural gas drilling areas. (Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)

This post has been updated with the industry's response.

For years the drilling industry has steadfastly insisted that there has never been a proven case in which fracking has led to contamination of drinking water.

Now Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization engaged in the debate over the safety of fracking, has unearthed a 24-year-old case study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that unequivocally says such contamination has occurred. The New York Times reported on EWG's year-long research effort and the EPA's paper Wednesday.

The 1987 EPA report, which describes a dark, mysterious gel found in a water well in Jackson County, W.Va., states that gels were also used to hydraulically fracture a nearby natural gas well and that "the residual fracturing fluid migrated into (the resident's) water well."

The circumstances of this particular well are not unique. There are several other cases across the country where evidence suggests similar contamination has occurred and many more where the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing have contaminated water supplies on the surface. ProPublica has written about many of them in the course of a three-year investigation into the safety of drilling for natural gas.

But the language found in the EPA report made public Wednesday is the strongest articulation yet by federal officials that there is a direct causal connection between man-made fissures thousands of feet underground and contaminants found in well water gone bad. The explanation, presented in the EPA's own words, stands in stark contrast to recent statements made by EPA officials that they could not document a proven case of contamination and a 2004 EPA report that concluded that fracturing was safe.

"This is our leading regulatory agency coming to the conclusion that hydraulic fracturing can and did contaminate underground sources of drinking water, which contradicts what industry has been saying for years," said Dusty Horwitt, EWG's senior counsel and the lead researcher on the report.

A spokesperson for the EPA would not directly address the apparent contradiction but said in an email that the agency is now reviewing the 1987 report and that "the agency has identified several circumstances where contamination of wells is alleged to have occurred and is reviewing those cases in depth."

The contamination debate has intensified as tens of thousands more wells are being drilled in newly discovered shale gas deposits across the country. The EPA and some scientists have long warned that when rock is hydraulically fractured, there is an increased risk of contaminants traveling through underground cracks until they reach drinking water. Many geologists have countered, however, that migration over thousands of feet is virtually impossible.

Although the EPA, along with West Virginia officials, concluded that fracturing caused the contamination studied in its 1987 paper, the documents from the agency's investigation contain many of the same ambiguities that have allowed the industry to continue to deny a link between water contamination and fracking. In the West Virginia case, for example, officials did not collect chemical samples of the drilling fluids used for fracturing and therefore could not test the contaminated water for the presence of those chemicals. Officials noted that they did not have sufficient time to fully investigate that case.

"No one at the time tested the gel to see its chemical composition so you can't know for sure where it came from," said Horwitt.

Such scientific stumbling blocks have prevented regulators from reaching more definitive conclusions in several cases that have roused concern about fracturing.

In 2006 — according to a ProPublica report — a residential drinking water well in Garfield County, Colo., spewed gas and polluted water into the air after a nearby gas well was hydraulically fractured. Tests detected a chemical called 2-butoxyethanol (2-BE), commonly used in hydraulic fracturing, in the drinking water well. The EPA never studied the case, and Colorado officials did not pursue an in-depth investigation before the gas company reached a multimillion-dollar settlement with the homeowner that included nondisclosure agreements.

In 2009, when the EPA began investigating a pattern of residential well water contamination in Pavillion, Wyo., the agency identified a close chemical relative of the 2-BE compound identified in the Colorado case. It is also likely that 2-BE was used in fracking in Pavillion, but the EPA's investigation is ongoing, and the agency has not decided whether fracking was the cause.

In many of the contamination cases ProPublica has documented across the nation — including dozens in which methane contamination reached water wells and at least a thousand in which water was otherwise contaminated in fracking areas — the drilling industry and environment officials have blamed well construction, rather than the fracking process. The industry has used this finding to argue that better well construction is enough to make drilling safer and to argue against federal regulation of fracking.

In the case studied in the EPA's 1987 report, Horwitt said, nothing in the record indicates that there was a leak or other problem in the well casing, leaving an abandoned well as the likely pathway for contaminants to migrate into drinking water. There are millions of such abandoned wells around the country.

The industry group Energy In Depth disputes the clear-cut language of the EPA's 1987 report and arguing that state regulators were far less certain about the cause of contamination in West Virginia than the EPA's summary report conveyed. "It says an awful lot about fracturing’s record of safety that the best these guys could come up with after studying the issue for an entire year is a single, disputed case from 30 years ago that state regulators at the time believe had nothing to do with fracturing," said Lee Fuller, vice president of government relations for the Independent Petroleum Association of America, in a statement published on EID's website. "Three decades later, the technology today is better than it’s ever been, the regulations are broader and more stringent, and the imperative of getting this right, so that we can take full advantage of the historic opportunities made possible by shale, has never been more apparent."

Last year the EPA launched its first comprehensive study into the effects of fracking on drinking water. Its findings are due out in late 2012.

ProPublica's Nick Kusnetz contributed to this report.

Barry Schmittou

Aug. 4, 2011, 12:34 p.m.

If the EPA found that fracking killed thousands of babies every year I don’t think they would do anything because the U.S. leaders souls are owned by wealthy greeders and corporations with no conscience.

To prove this ... evidence proves mothers of new born babies can be attacked too. The DOL and DOJ are aware that Judges wrote MetLife’s consultant Dr. Gary Greenhood ignored a foot that Ms. Joanne Vick broke in five places when she developed a severe medical condition after child birth.

Another Judge wrote that Dr. Greenhood ignored MRI’s that evidenced brain lesions and Multiple Sclerosis of Ms. Jacquelyn Addis.

The DOL and DOJ have done nothing to stop this during the Bush and Obama administrations, even though evidence proves multiple insurance companies are committing identical crimes in five different types of insurance and the patients may die while they wait for their case to get to Court !!

This quote from ProPublica’s article about injured War Zone Contractors provides evidence of corporate evil that’s allowed in the U.S. :

“Labor officials can recommend cases for prosecution to the Justice Department–but have only done so once in the past two decades, according to Labor officials”

Huge energy corporations are destroying our earth !! There is no clean coal !! The oil industry cannot be trusted !! Fracking should be banned !!

Solar, wind and other natural sources could supply most of our needs, but they will not be properly utilized until the U.S. government assigns the profits to wealthy people.

If true this represents a horrendous record of safe practices by the gas industry …. one well out of a million, absolutely atrocious! I cannot reiterate the “if” part strongly enough considering Urbana has been publicly chastised by his own editor not once but twice in the past month over his creative reporting on the gas industry.

From what I have read, the formation that was fractured was not known to have potable water supplies at that depth and that any drilling activity would have caused the (alleged) contamination. And I say alleged because an EWG report on this same issue (released the same day as the Urbana article coincidentally enough) noted that the West Virginia lab contracted to study the water samples did not conclude that hydraulic fracturing caused the contamination. I wonder why that didn’t make it into Urbana’s final article.

And what are the odds that ProPublica, The NY Times, and the EWG all released a “major investigation” on this topic all on the same day. A more conspiratorial mind might see some coordination here.

Barry Schmittou

Aug. 4, 2011, 1:45 p.m.

Mike,

I would much rather see ProPublica, the New York Times and EWG working together than see the gas industry lobbyists’ pumping our politicians full of cash and gifts so they will drag their feet and avoid taking proper action. Of course we won’t see most of the gift giving because it often occurs behind closed doors !!

Your comment also conveniently leaves out this quote from ProPublica :

“In many of the contamination cases ProPublica has documented across the nation — including dozens in which methane contamination [7] reached water wells and at least a thousand in which water was otherwise contaminated in fracking areas — the drilling industry and environment officials have blamed well construction, rather than the fracking process. The industry has used this finding to argue that better well construction is enough to make drilling safer and to argue against federal regulation of fracking [8].”

I can’t imagine why ProPublica would fabricate such a statement. I also can’t imagine how you can take your position unless you have industry connections.

If you google search non prosecution agreements 2010 gibson dunn you can see the list of 32 bid rigging and fraudulent corporations who evaded prosecution in 2010, and if you look at 2004 through 2009 and SEC agreements you will see how multiple corps have received multiple non prosecution agreements for the same crimes, including MetLife, JP Morgan, Prudential, and Unum Insurance. JP Morgan rigged municipal contracts in 31 states, and no one was prosecuted.

I believe the U.S. government is being controlled by evil corporations with no human conscience, and that most definitely includes the gas and oil industry !!

@ Barry Schmittou

ProPublica hasn’t documented jack, let alone “at least a thousand” cases of contamination stemming from HF. David Kopel did a pretty thorough job at destroying that talking point nearly 2 years ago and caught Lustgarten with his pants down.

Or to quote Mark Thiesse, one of the sources Lustgarten used, who later said his interview as completely taken out of context by Lustgarten.

I was one of the folks (I’m with the WY Dept of Env Quality) interviewed for this article by Mr. Lustgarten. I spent several hours on the phone and around a dozen follow up emails to try and help him write a factual article. Unfortunately he seemed to have his own agenda. The one error that was most blatant from my perspective was the “20 mile long plume” that he mentions. I must have told him 5 times that it was individual impacts to separate water wells due to water well drilling practices – not related to oil and gas drilling at all – but that did not make it into his article that way.

I shouldn’t take a weatherman to tell why Lustgarten has been blowing so much hot air on this topic. It has greatly benefited his career and prominence as a journalist, scoring him interviews on NPR with Teri Gross even earning him a Polk award.

We can debate this issue until the cows come home, or get sold, or keel over ... ‘til then, let’s Test, Baby, Test! and let the drillers wait, and pay. KeepTapWaterSafe.org

bruce ritchie

Aug. 4, 2011, 3:21 p.m.

Mike H., we have heard your BS after virtually every ProPublica article on fracking.  You repeat the same narrow lines that sound like the words of a lawyer.  Who cares if the problems came from “fracking” or one of the dozen other procedures that surround that whole extraction effort?  Who cares about one more casing, put around the other three four or more casings that also failed?  Who cares that it wasn’t the fault of “fracking” but the fault of a spill, or the cement job?  Those comments of yours just indicate how little you care about those people who live near the gas extraction and have their water and health ruined.  I wouldn’t trust you as far as I can throw a bulldozer.  Besides, if the pressure wasn’t there, the cement/casing would not have failed, so why is the pressure not to blame?  How about blaming the decision to extract with those procedures (high volume horizontal slick water hydrofracking) when you don’t even have a good picture of the underground faults, or good accounting for old wells nearby? 
    Anyone who listens to you, and then listens to Tony Ingraffea knows which person to believe.  It ain’t YOU.

bruce ritchie

Aug. 4, 2011, 3:28 p.m.

As I have pointed out before, Mike H., you don’t even have the courage to list your whole name. Why are you so afraid to list your FIRST and LAST name. You may as well list yourself as “annonymous.”

@ Liz R.,
You incorrectly assume that if we test baby test and wait to drill baby drill, only the gas companies lose out. I can tell you that every consumer of natural gas from residential users to industrial users will pay more as well. And yes, that includes you Liz.

@ bruce ritchie
If you want to cling to your irrational emotionally based opinions then be my guest but you don’t get to manufacture whatever facts fit your argument dejour.

Recently, Chesapeake (CHK) was fined in Bradford County, PA for allowing a well to blowout and contaminate surface and USDW.
http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/17/us-chesapeake-dep-idUSTRE74G61M20110517

This happened during the well completion or otherwise known as the act of fraccing the well. Its not the first case of this happening either.

Suppose I show up at court and say I didn’t actually wreck into that car because I was really texting at the time of the accident and I just happened to be behind the wheel with my foot on the gas.

Think that would stand up in a court of law? No.

The industry just wants to play word games to protect something that is lucrative for them and dangerous for everyone else.

So…Mike H sidesteps the “list your full name” issue.  Jab…Dodge…
Typical.
How about a baseline test for all water sources up to a mile from proposed drilling at drillers’ expense?  What would be the problem with that, Mr. Mike H?
Hmmm, consumers pay a little more for gas so we can all be safe from contaminated water, the source of all life?  Small price to pay.
Where do you live, Mr. Mike H?  Betcha they’re not drilling next to your home.

The first step in any attempt to make any process safer is to acknowledge the process’s shortcomings and failures. But the gas industry won’t admit to shortcomings and failures. Instead the industry tries to cover up shortcomings and failures with secrecy, denials, and creative word games. Meanwhile, more and more lives are being ruined and the environmental damage continues to pile up.

At this point it is impossible to believe anything the gas industry says and that is the industry’s own fault.

Peter Snowden

Aug. 4, 2011, 5:12 p.m.

I am a potential investor in oil and gas and have no axe to grind and have been following Pro Publica independent of the fracking issue.  I really appreciate having Pro Publica going after these kinds of issues.  So I was very upset about the Wyoming interviewee’s comment about Lustgarten having his own agenda.  It brings into question all of the fracking reporting and Pro Publica’s reputation. 
Let’s be serious, my suspicion here without all the facts is that the industry is pushing hard to get any questions about fracking to disappear so they can jump on this opportunity as soon as possible.  This is especially annoying because there are enough natural gas reserves at stake here to make a very large dent in our dependence on oil produced by our enemies in the Middle East, and this is hugely important. But not so important that we should run over local water supplies and endanger lives. 
The big issue is whether there is a way to do this cleanly.  The size of these natural gas finds here and in Canada is such that the supply will keep prices of natural gas low compared to other energy costs for decades!  So there is room to spend money on doing it right.  If our country actually had a fracking energy policy (yes, I did mean to use the other F word), it would be investing money now in answering this cost to do clean fracking question.  I smell a rat.  I suspect the EPA is not doing its job here because of the weight of campaign contributions from the fracking industry.  Lustgarten might get some respectability here if he followed the money.
And God forbid that someone from the industry actually think more than one quarter ahead and take a proactive stab at coming up with a clean way to frack. 
In conclusion, this whole fracking issue is hugely important not just because of the enviro issue, but also because it could be the way to get us independent of middle east oil.  Our government has really let us down here and the likely suspect is big campaign contributions to Dems and Reps.  So, EPA, start doing your fracking job. And thank God for Pro Publica, EWG and all the other investigative journalists.  If we didn’t have them, we would be completely screwed.  And, Lustgarten, please don’t try to spin this again.  In your job, cred is it.

Mike H:  MarkThiesse was part of WY Environmental Quality board and, as such, had a vested interest in presenting the state governments position on fracking and the millions of dollars the industry brings into a job strapped and tax strapped state. I happen to consider any comments by Thiesse to be suspect.
Most state environmental protection agencies are underfunded (as in WY) and understaffed, and the revenues anticipated from gas drilling can overrule extensive testing and regulating. Ditto for the EPA. What this means is that citizenry is mostly at the mercy of the drilling companies except where and when the fracking fractures and leaks are revealed and punished (millions in PA).

Pete Snowden: Keep following pro-publica and any other media. Please be well informed. Always consider your sources, whether it is an overzealous journalist and/or an ardent supporter of the gas drilling industry (as in Mike H). You’re right that there is a vast resource here that could impact energy usage and costs but please do not assume this means prices will be low. The national and international companies who are actively drilling have already petitioned the Feds for permission to export the gas to China (that is communist china) and other countries. WHY? because these countries are willing to pay higher rates to get our gas. This means that domestic providers will have to pay more for gas and, in turn, you and me the consumer.  The second message behind the petitions to export: gas drilling and fracking and environmental risk are not at all about US security or reducing US dependency on imports: It is ONLY ABOUT PROFITS.

All that said: The fracking industry has done harm and there is evidence to back that up. I am opposed to drilling as it is currently carried out. I would support a moratorium as in teh Delaware River watershed, until the processes and chemicals are reviewed and properly regulated at the Federal level and there is a reasonable expectation of safe drilling, NOT 100% JUST REASONABLE SAFETY.

L. Dwayne Sudduth

Aug. 4, 2011, 7 p.m.

@Pete Snowden. The oil/gas industry has no desire to keep prices low—because of investors. T.Boone Pickens himself has said the price needs to rise. I live in PA and am an outdoorsman and angler and I am appalled at the destruction of prime forest and agriculture lands to support the ‘Gas Boom’. I know anglers from the area being fracked who are reporting fish kills, lower numbers of crayfish, insect larvae and other benthos in streams, rivers and lakes surrounded by gas wells. I’ve heard from hunters that deer meat is tainted by chemicals found only in frack fluids. The 10-40% of remaining fluids with their cocktail of chemicals and minerals that come up from underground are being dumped in water and wastewater plants, or even right on the roadbeds to keep down dust. The whole scene is devastating and appaling.

The list of excuses by the gas companies and even more disturbing,the excuses and benefits touted by the politicians in Pennsylvania are just unbelievable. I was an avid hunter fisherman and just enjoyed the outdoors in one of our greatest natural resources in PA ,the Allegheny Natural Forest but starting in 2002 they transformed the forest into a oil and gas production facility,forever changing it for the worse! The politicians said there was nothing they could do because the state didn’t own the mineral rights. Now less than 10yrs later the remaining large tracts of state forest lands in North-Central PA, which the state does own the mineral rights were leased off to gas companies,the politicians who campaign contribution who were heavily padded by the gas companies, simply refuse to acknowledge the fact that they violated the Pa. Constitution Article 1 section 27 ! We were told this would create lots of good paying jobs for area residence,but I have frequented the area many times in the last year only to find the job sites and hotel rooms filled out of state workers and mostly Mexicans and a fair share of Guatamalions that only make Min. wage and everyone there knows they dont really even pay that! So how comes after all the illegal activities ,not to mention the long term enviromental effects can anyone in our state beleive anything these filthy politicions and gas company representitives say!

To Peter Snowden: Keep in mind that you cannot necessarily trust the gas industry’s estimates of the amount of extractable shale gas in the U.S.

Also note that when the industry claims that we have 100 years’ worth of natural gas in this country, that assumes that we will continue using natural gas at the current rate—in other words it assumes no growth in energy demand and it assumes that we will not substitute natural gas for oil or coal. Drop those assumptions, and the supply shrinks accordingly.

To read about the possibility that the industry is overestimating the amount of economically extractable shale gas, google “Arthur Berman” “Why The Marcellus Shale Will Disappoint.”

Edmund Singleton

Aug. 5, 2011, 3:39 a.m.

Let me see, we are going to put a harmful mix of chemicals into ground water in order to produce energy and jobs, then later start drinking energy and jobs, how nice…

We certainly cannot leave our national debts on our progeny, but its fine to deny them potable water. After all, America has never had a problem with water supplies.

@ Wes B

Thiesse is lying … How convenient. And if Thiesse was lying and, as you claim, he has a vested interest in O&G development, why did Lustgarten misrepresent him?  Why not just say this is what Mark Thiesse and here are his potential or alleged conflicts of interest?

@ Mary Sweeney

Gas reserves and projections of how long they will last are not fixed on present day consumption patterns but take into account future growth as well. Anyone even remotely familiar with this know that.

Michael Hiner

Aug. 5, 2011, 10:27 a.m.

btw: I am not Mike H

Most of the comments I read here are like hornets swarming after the nest has been knocked to the ground.

First of all as a geoscientist—you all need to take a couple of geology classes before you start pounding on the table about cause and effect.  If the general readership of Probulica would like an informative class on the subject, maybe we could all work with Propublica to arrange that.  Maybe choose a location in PA?  We could put together a two or three day workshop, and bring in Industry and Academic experts (notice the attemtp for balanced investigation) to layout the geology, the physics, and the history.  We could also start a true process of breaking down all of the purported information into proper categories.  I think that would be a sound and supportive approach to investigative journalism, and it would help all of us understand the issues, and the mechanics of the problems.

There are some real issues out there, but there is so much hyperbole (smoke) that it is hard get the facts straight as I follow these articles.  There are too many people who say no drilling at any cost, and they are usually the ones who support all of the endless lawsuits.  There are also those who beieve sincerely in the transition to alternative energy.  Bully for them—but please do the economics.

Then there are the victims of a contamination problem, and the opportunists who want to drive the so-called wooden stake into the heart of the energy industry.  I would say to Probulica help us build a forum to examine the facts.  Just the facts mam…  And as for those who get documented with true contamination problems, lets take the problems apart and lay the blame where it belongs, either by technology type and failure, geological failure, mis-identified chemcials and pre-existing conditions (almost medical, smiling to self), or antagonistic opportunist either from the green-side, or the industry side. 

Truth, is what we really want out of all of this.  From the comments I have read, many of you are still at home plate swinging and missing because you don’t have the facts (knowledge and research and expertise).  As a result WE are all experiencing road rage, when a few turn signals and grounded facts would get all of us pointed in the right direction.

Transparency—I work in the energy industry.  Most of us in the industry have families too, and we many times also live in the communities that are affected.  We also grew up and matured in our education and work environments to do everything possible to be safe.  Remember it affects our kids too. 

So Propublica—can you help organize us all to get on the same page?

Foolish to believe that we will ever get energy independence from fracking.  They are exporting the gas overseas.  It’s going on the world market.  Their goal is to have it up for speculation just like oil is now.  Watch those home heating bills go through the roof.  I called my gas provider because I had a ridiculously high gas bill for summer.  I only use the gas dryer 5 times a month for 50 min. each time.  No other gas is used in my house.  Yet my bill is $36.  I could go to the laundramat and pay $5.  I asked to be released from my contract of 7.99 per mfc.  Said I wasn’t on contract, they just automatically renewed it from when I used to be on contract.  Earlier in the year the non-contract price was just over 4 per mfc.  They told me the current price was over 6 per mfc, the previous month had been 5.39 per mfc.  So hear we are, in the middle of summer, where demand is at it’s lowest, and the price is rising.  And they are fracking in 32 states and have been for a few years.  We know that China, Saudi Arabia, India and others are buying up stakes in these drillers.  Where do you think the gas is going?  Yet, O&G keep running ads on TV how we’ll be energy independent.  Then where the drilling is being done we find that the states like OH and PA are barely taxing the drillers, and taxpayers are left to deal with the contamination, crumbling roads, polluted air, traffic jams and 24 x 7 noise the comes along with slick-water horizontal hydraulic fracturing.  People in this country had better wake up.  These politicians have sold us out.

@Barry Schmittou, et al:  Coal is dirty, oil from the middle east probably funds terrorists or makes “royal” families wealthy, oil from Canadian oil sands screws up their landscape and water, BUT…

Solar power is far from economical and battery technology isn’t up to speed yet, so it doesn’t work so well when the sun doesn’t shine;

Hydroelectric power really screws up a river’s ecology, and isn’t so reliable during a drought (check out the level of Lake Mead);

But so-called wind energy, ho boy, there’s a money pit if I ever saw one.  The wind blows well when you need it less, in the spring and fall.  And when it doesn’t blow at all, where does the electric power come from?  Traditional sources, based on fossil or nuclear fuel.  They have to be available to meet most of this country’s power needs for when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine.  If it were not for massive tax dollars poured into those wonderful wind energy corporations, there wouldn’t be any wind facilities built.  I can’t imagine many folks thinks a mountaintop covered in wind turbines looks nice, not to mention the environmental impacts that would be necessary to meet our ‘alternative energy goals’.  Stick wind energy where the sun doesn’t shine.

@ Minnie

Foolish to believe that we will ever get energy independence from fracking.  They are exporting the gas overseas.  It’s going on the world market.

Not so, the US hasn’t the capacity to liquefy gas for export. Any more strawmen?

Barry Schmittou

Aug. 5, 2011, 11:35 a.m.

Dan,

Your et al only has three words that can be honestly connected to me and they are “coal is dirty”

You said solar power is far from economical. That is true because Big Oil and Coal and other energy giants have made sure that funding to develop solar is supressed !!

You remind me of Mike H. who wrote that he is with “WY Dept of Env Quality”

This does not give him credibility. If it is true it just proves my point that Government agencies are controlled by wealthy businesses that do not care how many lives they destroy !!

As I mentioned in my first comment, the DOL and DOJ did nothing after seeing Judges quotes that prove MetLife’s consultant Dr. Gary Greenhood ignored a foot that Ms. Joanne Vick broke in five places when she developed a severe medical condition after child birth.

Another Judge wrote that Dr. Greenhood ignored MRI’s that evidenced brain lesions and Multiple Sclerosis of Ms. Jacquelyn Addis

Here’s more evidence that proves Big Businesses deadly crimes are being protected on the State level too :

WFAA TV wrote :

“a remarkable number of Texans committed suicide because they could no longer endure the pain caused by their injuries and they had been repeatedly turned down for worker’s comp care.”

“doctors’ medical files are “stripped” of records important to the possible approval of workers’ comp claims”

(end of quotes)

WFAA revealed that the Texas Workers Comp Commissioner had worked as a lobbyist for an insurance company, and WFAA wrote this quote about the complete lack of insurance company prosecutions :

“the number of insurance companies referred since 2000? Zero.”
(end of quotes from WFAA)

Tennessee also has zero insurance companies and employers convicted !!

Here is an exact quote from a letter I received from Karen Alexander of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation’s Special Workers Comp Fraud Unit :

” The other question that you asked is why there are only press releases on employees who have been prosecuted. So far, only employees have been successfully prosecuted.”

I am blind in one eye and had surgery on the other so I will probably not post anymore on this thread. I see there are many comments from people who understand the corruption and destruction the oil and gas industry is responsible for, and I will trust them to do their best to stand up for freedom and justice for all.

I usually spend a lot of my day praying because I think our world leaders are so out of control God is our only hope !!

Mike H:
Reread my comment. Didn’t accuse Thiessen of lying only having vested interests and, perhaps, an industrial bias. This is a bias he displayed with the Meeks family and other Encana plaintiffs in WY. If you read a little further you’ll find I also warn against overly zealous opponents.

As to Minnie’s comment, the Fed has already been petitioned for permission to export gas from Marcellus filed. Why? Because the prices offered are higher. If permission is granted then we can expect to see domestic prices rise as well. Now that may be business as usual but it dispels the perception that Marcellus shale gas (or Bartlett, etc) will provide for US energy security.

It is expected that w/i 4-5 years the US will be exporting LNG and if only 10% of the US domestic gas production is exported then the US will be the LARGEST LNG EXPORTER. The Freeport Terminal in TX is already undergoing upgrading so they can produce LNG. The Freeport Terminal is already exporting current supplies of imported LNG because there is a surplus of gas in the US. Foreign and domestic drilling companies operating here are investing in a LNG facility in the DR. 

And now if will again read my post you will find that I am a supporter of drilling but only if properly regulated at the federal level not the state/local level. I have no wish to drink water contaminated by drilling blowouts in NY nor does WV wish to drink water contaminated by blowouts in Bradford or Fayette or Washington counties. And it needs to be properly taxed and bonded to insure companies don’t simply walk away from capped non-producing wells (PA taxpayers have a long hx of being screwed by coal companies walking away from abandoned poisonous mines).

I point to TX as an example in taxation and regulation (TX has really weak environmental rules for fracking but they are the strongest in the country). TX tax structure has not driven the industry yet they are taxed by teh state and are taxed by individual counties and not only are real estate taxes levied on the surface value of the property there is an additional tax on the mineral resources below the surface.

@Mr.Hiner   I’m in PA, bub. It is no surprise a supporter of fracking wants to hold a seminar there. What’s even more silly is you’re asking ProPublica to do the dirty work your employers have tried to pull off for years. Tell us again, Mr.Hiner, where is America’s largest source of natural gas AND how great is the demand for it? One more question, being “green energy” is a long ways away from feasibility, what is the state of conversion to natural gas to fulfill our energy needs?

As its Oil and Gas Liaison, I investigated contaminated wells in Garfield County and found that nearly 100 gas wells were not constructed according to regulatory standards, which themselves are inadequate. This is just the tip of the iceburg, as pits were allowed to be covered over with hydrocarbon wastes in them, and pipelines are strewn about w/o adequate regulatory oversight by county, state or federal governments. My exposure of problems in the gas patch led the industry to exert pressure against me and I was fired.  If you want to know what it’s like to live and work in the political world of “Gasland” read my novel. Search Amazon for “Judy Jordan Henry’s Law.”

2002, projected wells to be drilled and hydraulically fractured in the Marcellus Shale…in New York State 300, in Pennsyvania 200. This was to get their foot in the door, their drill bit in the ground, what a joke of an estimate! Just like the total “retrievable gas” estimate for all of North America!

2011, West Virginia has presently got 150,000 wells with a projection of 20,000 new wells to come (the 2002 estimate 200).

I don’t care if you are down 5,000 ft, 7,000 ft or 9,000 ft, you punch that many holes in the ground in that small an area,  a lot of that crap is coming back up, all the way to the surface!

Imagine what the secret projection is for Marcellus in New York and Pennsyvania…at least 20,000 each!

Note: Canada, the Province of British Columbia already provides 20 trillion with a “T” gallons of fresh water to the industry…watch these guys they are quick! This is your fresh, potable,back up water I’m talkin’ about!

Julieann Wozniak

Aug. 6, 2011, 12:53 p.m.

The goal of Big Gas is to make as much profit as possible with as little regulation as possible. they do, in fact cut corners and use casing materials that cannot stand up to the enormous pressures generated by the fracking process. Their subcontractors hire workers on the cheap, make them work twelve-hour shifts and don’t provide them with even minimal safety gear, and turn them loose on an unsuspecting public with a minimal amount of training. Already the whining and lobbying has started about EPA’s “job-killing” interference. Big Gas, despite its rosy TV propagandizing, has little respect or consideration for the citizenry living around their operations, just like the coal barons of my grandfather’s day. We’re an impediment to profit, an inconvenience, and they don’t particularly care that we BEGGED EPA to intervene on our behalf, since PADEP has existed, historically, to protect extractive industry and not the people or the environment.

In answer to Mike H’s objections to my earlier post: the oft-quoted 100-year supply of natural gas means 100 years at CURRENT rates of consumption. No one has to take my word for this—they can simply google “shale gas” “100 years” and start reading for themselves.

The industry’s estimate is that the U.S. may have about 2000 Tcf of recoverable natural gas. U.S. current consumption is about 22 Tcf per year. These figures are easy to check not just at environmental sites, but also at industry sites and government sites.

Michael Hiner

Aug. 6, 2011, 9:28 p.m.

Hey Joe Cass—ahhh heck.  I marvel at the engineering marvels that are being constructed on evey canyon rim in Texas. (where nobody is filing lawsuits for noise abatement, yet)  They kind of harken back to the old days several decades ago when pump jacks were everywhere.  Probably more dead birds from windmills than pump jacks though.
me thinks—

Simple questions—
Can a high pressure frack propagate 5000-9000 feet?
Does the frack have to interact with a fault to create the contamination?
What are the differenct rock layers the frack propagates through?
What do the microseismicity recordings show for the frack propagation?
What are the anisoptropy estimates for each area?
What were the well and frack orienations to the anisoptropy fields?
How extensive and how big are the fualts in the areas of concern?

Is casing failure a more likely candidate for the documented cases of contamination?    I would like a breakdown on the 1000 documented cases.

There is a mountain of research and documentation on these issues.

I suggest PA, where there are some problems being reported and the public deserves a decisive and thoughtful examination of the facts, cause and affect, and public discourse on solutions.  There are probably fewer drilling engineers per capita in PA, than in Texas, and therefore less dissemination of technical knowledge and information through the communities. 

My goodness I am sometimes weary of the horrific claims of big oil and big gas, destroying America.  Just about every retirement fund in the country has big oil and big gas in their portfolios.  So, I would assume a lot of those evil profits go to 401k’s and retirees in the way of stock price.  Kill the proverbial goose, kill a significant egg in the nest…

We may have a gas surplus, but at the current rate of regulation growth, one could easily imagine that it might become more cost effective to import LNG from developing countries who are desperate for revenues.  Another question then—is it better to cheaply import LNG from a country with weak environmental regulation and enforcement, with a theoretical detriment to local ecology?  Or, would it be better to ensure a strong and productive market with equally good regulation (not taxed to death), with far less detriment to local and global ecology?

Julieann—nearly every field job in the oil and gas industry across the country, and much of the world is on a 12 hour shift, and running 24 hours a day, non-stop.  Drilling procedures require careful attention to details.  I am guessing there might be a causal safety impact related to increasing the number of shift changes.  Just guessing.

Michael Hiner stated that “—nearly every field job in the oil and gas industry across the country, and much of the world is on a 12 hour shift, and running 24 hours a day, non-stop.  Drilling procedures require careful attention to details.  I am guessing there might be a causal safety impact related to increasing the number of shift changes.  Just guessing.”

I agree that drilling procedures require careful attention to detail: that is precisely why 12-hour shifts are not a good idea. Human beings are not machines, and fatigue and detailed work are not a good mix. If there are problems at shift change, then procedures should be developed for smoothly passing the work off to the next shift with minimal interruption. Another idea might be for the gas industry to quit working at night so that all of the poor souls living in the area can get some sleep before they have to report for their own jobs in the morning. And yes, I know this would increase the price of gas and that’s fine with me since we are paying those costs right now anyway in the form of increased health costs, environmental cleanup, devaluation of residential property, etc.

Mr. Hiner:

“Can a high pressure frack propagate 5000-9000 feet?”

Are you saying that all shale being fractured is at these depths? 


“So, I would assume a lot of those evil profits go to 401k’s and retirees in the way of stock price.  Kill the proverbial goose, kill a significant egg in the nest…”

Isn’t that assuming that the industry projections are correct? It wouldn’t be the first time that an energy industry inflated claims of reserves.
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=940DEFDE1F3DF93BA35750C0A9639C8B63

Its not just the NYT questioning shale gas either, the SEC appears to be getting involved as well as industry publications.
http://www.ifandp.com/arti​cle/0012305.html

Lots of portfolios contained Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns and we see how those eggs hatched.

PA spelled Pennsylvania, my apologies to all Pennsylvanians.

MH, ya just don’t get it, this is the most predictable stock market bubble, since the Dot Com bubble. Natural Gas is $3.95 this morning, according to Exxon ya break even @ $7.00 not $6.00. The billions and billions spent up front are gone, the return is coming in away below expectations…New York State has $3 billion of their State Employees retirement fund invested. The jig is up…the horse is out of the barn…the only thing left to see who gets away and who gets left holding the bag?

Apache in Canada, a strike they had to have in Elgin, New Brunswick in a can’t lose spot…a clean miss, twice. Cost ‘em $25 mill and they had to forfeit a $100 million commitment to Corridor.  Who knows what’s where?

Michael Hiner

Aug. 8, 2011, 12:30 a.m.

Hi Mary,
Sadly drilling rig costs run 24 hours a day, and therefore the crews generally run around the clock.  Once you start a drilling operation you cannot easily just close a valve and go home for the day.  The Earth does not allow that kind of luxury.  Things blow up, burn, and people die.  It may seem that 12 hours shifts are grueling, but I would have to ask why police, fire, EMS, nurses, also work similar shifts.  Yes, there is an efficiency to the money people for running two shifts instead of three.  But back to drilling—there are technical issues and economic issues.  It takes a lot of pages of writing to break that down.

We can decide as a society to curtail operations anywhere in the US, but in doing so we need to understand the cost to our society.  Such as the empty promises of saving Alaska oil for the future, but never the honesty to put the future on a tangilble 15 year timeline.  Every election cycle the politicians beat on their chests to wait and save it for the future.  For lack of a national strategy our industry gets strangled and we continue to import whatever is cheaper in the market, and sell ours to the highest bidder.  Too much irony.

Canucnik,
I was wondering about that as well.  But if anyone ever tells you that any oil and gas drilling is a can’t lose proposition, check their credentials.  No financial advisories from me.

Back to drilling and geological issues—my family asks the same questions as everyone else.  Generally, most people do not understand the mechanics of drilling operations.  If it was simple developing countries would not be asking American and European companies to come to their lands and teach the technology.

Michael Hiner

Aug. 8, 2011, 9:51 a.m.

I was asked at what depth are the wells that are being fracked.  There are public domain maps of the Marcellus Shale that provide a rough, very rough estimate of the depths to the tops of the formation.  But the numbers are not absolute and they don’t have sufficient geological infill. I will come back with a depth range.

There was another question about gas reserve estimations and the revelations of dwonward revisions in the past.  The estimations change with every new round of technology innovation.  It is not an exact science, and not like doing an inventory where you can touch the product.  It has to remembered that accounting rules also change for how “potential” reserves are calculated.

I oftent try to tell people—imagine you have a 6 inch pipe in the ground, and you are going tell someone you know what the rocks look like that are 2 miles aways.  (in your mind lay this virtual pipe along a road).  Then you have to make models and estimates of what the rock is like in 1-2 mile radius.  It is not easy.

What I’ve noticed over the last few decades?  The value of the word “independent” - when used in phrases such as “Independent Petroleum Association” - has declined in an almost inverse relationship with the growth of “Big” this and that and the related concentration of wealth in America.

Michael Hiner

Aug. 9, 2011, 12:59 a.m.

Replying back on the drilling depths—

The central part of the trend in the Marcellus is down about 7000 feet.  The average thickness is approximately 200 feet, and the shale is bounded by tight limestones.  The assumption is the fracking process is designed to stay within the bed thickness and not propagate out of the bounding limestones. That would be the general assumption.  I guess we need a state resources board water table map as well.

Stay tuned (at least until they cut me off)
Kind regards,
Michael

Alex Stromeyer

Aug. 9, 2011, 10:11 p.m.

I suggest this site :  http://www.marcellusgas.org/
It has all the data and updated often for all of Pa.

From the experience of land owners in Pa,the eye witness accounts of water wells ruined is broad,not narrow.,it seems to be a matter of when not if.

Bio gas from livestock farms is used in Europe,California,and elsewhere..Much of the drilling is done on farmland.The farms like allowing wind generation of electricity could also produce gas.

Polluting once perpetual clean potable water sources is a moral crime.If the limestone isolation theory was true,how’d the water wells for so many become gas vents? or worse,polluted from the fracking fluids like diesel fuel,and over 200 endocrine disruptors?.

Michael Hiner

Aug. 10, 2011, 3:13 p.m.

Hi Alex,
There is nothing more disturbing than to see a water tap catch on fire.  The reason I posted the open questions was to challenge and point to a process for breaking down the data.  Saying the damage is only from fracking doesn’t cut it technically.  Especially when there are additional viable hypotheses.  Our problems arise from the probability that the cause of contamination is from a non-unique and dependent set of variables.  Plain English—more than one cause.  I have that site you mentioned.

I might visit Pennsylvania the week before or after Labor Day.

The obstacle to solving some of the problems is all the sabre rattling for lawsuits.  Everyone is bringing their A-game and red zone defense because there is no trust, and no precedent to do things differently.  Good efforts and intentions get slammed, and smashed.  And as a result of that communication canyon there is little data available.

Michael Hiner emoted 23 minutes ago:  “Everyone is bringing their A-game and red zone defense because there is no trust”

Now there is an investment the hydrocarbons industry has gotten a return on:  100 years spent ensuring that there is absolutely no reason to trust them is now yielding significant dividends.

Michael Hiner

Aug. 10, 2011, 4:14 p.m.

Good afternoon ibsteve2u,
30 years in the industry and none of my colleagues believe as you do.  Honestly we have many of the same concerns and beliefs.  Many of us have also been shouted down by gentle persons who figuratively scream in our ears that we are bad and don’t care.  The broad net that is cast allienates and silences all reasonable voices.  Over the years those of us in the industry have heard the I told you so phrase too many times.  Attempts to converse with people who have anti-oil industry agendas has usually led to general (large net) remarks about naivete, and foolish beliefs that the other side could care to be reasonable.  No money in that bet or hidden agenda.  Sound familiar.

Technology is so different now, there is no comparison to what can be accomplished and is performed today as compared to 15, 20, or 30 years ago.

It is like saying you believe all cars with 4 barrel carburetors or flat-head eights are bad and the auto industry should be punished now, today, immediately.  The comment is not in sync with the technology.
Kind regards,

Michael, as softly as possible, I say “Big Oil and Gas, as a corporate group, are bad and don’t care.”  There may be individuals that care, but they are in a minority and obviously don’t care that much or they’d be employed elsewhere.  I don’t have an “agenda”, but what I see happening here in northcentral Pennsylvania is heartbreaking.  A gas worker with a friendly southern drawl recently said, “I’m sorry for what we’re doing to you folks up here.”

But on another note… Hydraulic fracturing of the Marcellus shales has not caused an obvious significant problem yet, although one wonders what causes deep methane to migrate to home water wells near ‘fracked’ gas operations.  I can’t explain it, but near here there’s methane bubbling up through the bottoms of creek beds as well as those impacted shallow water wells.  Are we seeing just what is obvious?  If there’s gas just a few hundred feet down, as evidenced by the gas in water wells, and gas bubbling up in creeks, doesn’t it imply there’s gas migrating through rock crevices and soil and erupting pretty much everywhere near a ‘fracked’ gas well?

john werneken

Aug. 12, 2011, 1:38 p.m.

I’ve had flaming tap water and flaming steam radiators as well (natural gas cross-connection to domestic water line). Not funny. Given fracking depths I would doubt those kind of things from fracking but then again a massive expansion of any method may reveal something rare often enough that it indeed becomes a problem.

Energy for the modern world along with increasing technical capabilities and off world resource exploitation are probably the three keys to human survival, peace, freedom, and prosperity. I’d say the game is well worth the candle and hope fracking booms…until such time as the marginal cost of doing more fracking equals or exceeds the value achieved. THAT’S the kind of regulation that works.

I swear a lot of folks have moved from NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard!) to BANANAS…Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything Stupid!

What you don’t hear from the hydrocarbons industry?  “Hey, it is so safe that we will carry the insurance necessary to indemnify us from all possible damages in perpetuity.”

Curiously enough.

Michael Hiner

Aug. 12, 2011, 5:25 p.m.

Dan, John, ibsteve2u
You may be hitting quite close to source issues on this.  As I mentioned earlier, I am concerned there may be dependent variables.  A number of combinations of variables may have no impact.  But change the norm on a variable and the result could be as different as night and day.  I have to be careful on how I phrase things because it would not be responsible on my part to put out a geological or engineering hypothesis without first really breaking down the facts and working them.  But I do feel comfortable asking leading questions in search of information and knowledge.  Your second paragraph is rich information that geologists and engineers would use to help frame the problem.  I know there are people working on this.

Methane naturally seeps from buried formations in many different regions around our country.  In the South, it is not uncommon to see methane coming up from bayous, quiet streams or horseshoe meanders, ponds and lakes. Swamps.  Some of the gas may be from biogenic decomposition during the sediment burial processes.  If the gas is thermogenic (more complext molecules) from deeper source rocks it should have a different chemical signature.  That is one test.  The examples I mentioned may not be relevant to the issues in Pennsylvania.

Water quality tests recorded in the counties might have baseline information on chemical elements in water from different ares.  That is another step in a review process.

In a process for forming a hypothesis each variable can be placed in a cascading decision tree that helps narrow the possible outcomes and seperate them from outlyers.  That doesn’t mean an outlyer is wrong, but that it has to go to another branch in the tree.  Ok—in plain English, what is needed is careful systematic investigation.  The challenge as mentioned before, is trust.  If a person or company is being threatened with litigation, the individual or entity are not likely to open their files.  The threats and our very litigious societal personnas make honest and sincere research difficult.  Not impossible.  I don’t have the answers but I know how to ask questions.

ibsteve2u—it only takes one bad drilling program to tarnish relations in a community.  After that it is easy to say yep, they are all bad.  It only takes one lawsuit to close the doors and files on an E & P company.

John—In Idaho where I grew up, there were stories about the occasional flaming water tap in homes or ranches on the Columbia and Snake River plains.  Trapped gas pockets, that were not predictable.  Outlyer.

The discourse is on this subject is very good.

@Michael Hiner:  Re:  “In Idaho where I grew up, there were stories about the occasional flaming water tap in homes or ranches on the Columbia and Snake River plains.  Trapped gas pockets, that were not predictable.  Outlyer.”

Just out of curiosity:  What would be your response should someone ban fracking because somebody said they heard “stories” of flaming water taps rather than offering up documented evidence?

My point is I don’t believe offering up undocumented stories as a means of casting doubt upon documented history is beneficial to your argument.

It creates the perception that the only time the supporters of the hydrocarbon industry require scientific evidence is when the pending or suggested course of action is not beneficial to them.

Michael Hiner

Aug. 13, 2011, 7:24 p.m.

Hi ibsteve2u,

Actually the story was not to cast doubt but to layout a basis for understanding that things do happen.  I also labled the story as an outlyer.  What is documented in scientific journals for AAPG, and SEG, are analyses of shallow gas accumulations, near surface, both biogenic and thermogenic.  In fact such accumulations are considered drilling hazards.  In no way do I intend to be dismissive of what has happened.  That would be arrogant and quite frankly stupid to do so without all of the facts to work with…

A better question is where do we start with a few case histories to build the baseline and develop the facts of what went wrong?  Seems better than throwing stones.  Again, it would be nice if the journalists would chat with us and provide some information.

There have been some really disingenuous rules and decisions made by our regulatory powers, and some very quirky ones based upon speculation of what could happen.  The result is that many E&P operators just go quiet because there is no reasonable party to talk to on the other end of the argument.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some good regulations too…

Something else you might consider a deflection but an open question.  Can a shallow fault be activated by water production, gas production, both, or other natural or induced stresses?  What do the EPA and state scientists say?  Anybody know?

@Michael Hiner:  Interesting.  I would never have thought to interpret your use of the word ‘outlyer’ in:

“In Idaho where I grew up, there were stories about the occasional flaming water tap in homes or ranches on the Columbia and Snake River plains.  Trapped gas pockets, that were not predictable.  Outlyer.”

as an attempt to indicate that your entire story was an ‘outlyer’; rather, Occam’s razor suggested to me that your intent was indicating that unpredictable pockets of gas were the exception.

There is study starting up at the University of Ulster with the intent of modeling seismicity triggered by injecting fluids into rock masses; although their interest is centered on C02 sequestration, I would imagine the work will have applications within or in defending against the fracking industry.

http://www.science.ulster.ac.uk/esri/Capability-building-for-the.html

While triggering faults may be a far greater threat due to the potential for fracturing gas-bearing strata over large - potentially very large - areas, I would personally question whether seismicity poses as immediate of a threat to, say, the water supply of New York City as the potential for gases recently freed by by fracking traveling down existing geological features that have been created over the eons by the ‘normal’ movements of and under the earth’s crust.

ibsteve2u,

Also the studies of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal and injection induced seismicity from the late 60’s, 70’s…

Injection is a very important area of research to the oil and gas industry, and is studied extensively.  For all of the injection projects I have followed over the years, we never (qaulified, that I knew of) had fracturing to the surface from deep reservoirs that allowed upward migration to the surface zones (qualified, over large extents and large areas) as a result of injection.

I understand the research for CO2 injection, as one can imagine over-pressuring a reservoir and exceeding overburden stress and the compressive strength of the shale on shale fault seal.  Often—the typical CO2 injection reservoir is sandstone at substantial depth, overlain by rergional shales of substantial thickness.  The assumption is that thick shales by their sometimes ductile nature will aneal and seal fault surfaces, hence an element of petroleum system probability assignment for top seal, and holding back very significant high pressure in a producing zone.

There is an area of investigation that looks at the breakdown of baffels and barriers to reservoir continuity due to production in an interval over a period of time.  In some cases production can increase for a period of time.  Could the same happen with water production over a long period of time?

I am not trying to deflect on that last statement, but rather, thinking critically about the physics of the rocks, shallow and deep.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Fracking

Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat

The promise of abundant natural gas is colliding with fears about water contamination.

The Story So Far

The country’s push to find clean domestic energy has zeroed in on natural gas, but cases of water contamination have raised serious questions about the primary drilling method being used. Vast deposits of natural gas, large enough to supply the country for decades, have brought a drilling boom stretching across 31 states. The drilling technique being used, called hydraulic fracturing, shoots water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to break up rock and release the gas.

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