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Fracking Cracks the Public Consciousness in 2011

The year brings a bumper crop of studies, intensifying health concerns, and a landmark development when environmental regulators conclude hydraulic fracturing likely caused groundwater contamination for the first time. 

(Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)

This is part of our year-end series, looking at where things stand in each of our major investigations.

This was the year that "fracking" became a household word.

It wasn't just that environmental concerns about the underground drilling process finally struck a mainstream chord -- after three years of reporting and more than 125 stories. For the first time, independent scientific investigations linked the drilling technique with water pollution, and a variety of federal and state agencies responded to the growing apprehension about water contamination with more studies and more regulation.

The most important development -- and perhaps a crucial turning point -- was in December. In a landmark finding, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that hydraulic fracturing was the likely culprit in a spate of groundwater contamination that had forced residents to stop using their water in dozens of homes in central Wyoming. The agency had been investigating since 2008.

Earlier in the year, a study published through the National Academy of Sciences determined that in Pennsylvania, private water wells in close proximity to fracked gas wells were 17 times more likely to be contaminated with methane gas.

Those studies are separate from a national research project the EPA has undertaken to assess the risks fracking poses to water resources. The agency is examining five case studies across the country and is now estimating that some of its report will be complete by the original 2012 deadline and the rest will continue into 2014.

The study is meant to help Congress and regulators determine whether fracking should be regulated like other similar processes under the Safe Drinking Water Act and whether companies that frack should be forced to disclose the details about the chemicals they use.

Last winter, the Obama administration -- which has repeatedly referred to natural gas as a bridge fuel and encouraged its development -- urged the Department of Energy to conduct its own assessment of fracking's safety on a quicker timeline than the EPA.

In a matter of months, a DOE panel determined that the environmental risks were substantial and needed to be addressed in order to safely develop more natural gas resources. The panel raised concerns that pollution could have serious health consequences for those who live close to drilling operations.

Indeed, a report published by ProPublica in September found that residents in drilling areas across the country complained of serious health symptoms ranging from skin lesions to tumors, and that health and science organizations had yet to develop any comprehensive system for studying such problems.

While water pollution is one concern, many of the health effects reported are believed to be related to air pollution and emissions released in the natural gas development and drilling process.

Earlier in the year, a ProPublica investigation found that the EPA had grossly underestimated the amount of methane that seeps out of pipelines and drill rigs as gas is produced, and reported that the agency was doubling its calculations. Our analysis of the new emissions levels showed that they threaten to offset the relative advantages presented by cleaner-burning natural gas over oil and carbon in combating climate change and reducing carbon emissions.

In some cases, government officials didn't just debate fracking and call for additional study. They enacted real changes in how drilling is overseen.

The EPA announced that the drilling industry would have to comply with tough new industrial emissions standards. Then it said that it would issue new rules governing how wastewater from fracking is disposed of; this addressed concerns first raised by ProPublica in 2009 that in eastern drilling areas, which cannot inject waste into underground wells the way the industry does in the west, chemical-laden waste is winding up in river systems, and then drinking water. In December, Colorado implemented the toughest law yet requiring comprehensive disclosure of frack fluids, following similar but weaker laws in Texas and Wyoming.

This was also the year fracking went global. While France banned fracking outright and South Africa enacted a temporary moratorium, multi-national energy companies began exploring shale reserves in Poland, Argentina and China.

Closer to home, New York state officials continued to inch closer to allowing drilling to take place in the coveted Marcellus Shale. After a multi-year process and its own temporary moratorium on some fracking activity, New York finished up the latest version of its environmental review and has signaled that it intends to begin permitting more drilling early next year.

According to the state's environmental assessment, no fracking will be allowed on state lands, and the process will be severely limited within the New York City watershed.

Still, the state's chief environmental regulator, Joe Martens, told ProPublica he is confident the drilling can proceed safely, and that he does not expect there will be much to learn from the EPA's research into the issue. New York's draft plan is in its final stage of public review, and is expected to be completed on Jan. 11, 2012.

Staff reporter Nicholas Kusnetz contributed to this report.

And then there was the Penn State study that compared baseline pre drilling water samples to post drilling water samples in over 200 water wells adjacent to drilling operations, the first of its kind, and found no water contamination. Seems to me like thats a pretty important study to leave out ... that is unless your objective is to convince the reader that hydraulic fracturing is unsafe, regardless of the facts.

As far as Wyoming is concerned it was found that the terrain there is totally different than in other parts of the country where drilling occurs. Wells drilled there were much more shallow and closer to the surface and the groundwater table. This is not the usual hydrofracking procedure. Wells in other areas are drilled a mile or more deep into the ground—- well below the water table.

It’s amazing that NY State’s most senior environmental regulator with a dignified history (although quickly dwindling) in environmental work, would make a comment like ...“he (Martens) is confident the drilling can proceed safely, and that he does not expect there will be much to learn from the EPA’s research into the issue.” This is really an ignorant statement.

Hydrofracking is intrinsically contaminating and cannot be done safely. Regulations will not make it safe. None of the proposed NYS DEC draft regs would have caused the water contamination problems in PA to have been avoided.

Thanks to Lustgarten for his Pulitzer Prize worthy work on this subject.

Joe Levine, Co-founder
Damascus Citizens
NYH2O

You refer, of course to the study commissioned by the Marcellus Shale Coalition which paid $110K for results they wanted to hear. The MSC is made up of oil and gas execs.

For some reason you neglected to include that information in your reply to the article. http://mediamatters.org/blog/201107250008

BTW…Here’s a list of some of the board members of the Marcellus Shale Coalition from their website:

Board Members

  AkA Energy Group
  Anadarko Petroleum Corp.
  Atlas Energy, L.P.
  Burnett Oil Company
  Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation
  Carrizo Oil & Gas, Inc.
  Chesapeake Energy Corporation
  Chevron
  Chief Oil and Gas LLC
  CONSOL Energy
  Energy Corporation of America
  Enerplus Resources USA
  EOG Resources, Inc.
  EQT Corporation
  EXCO Resources (PA), LLC
  Hess, Inc.
  Hunt Marcellus Operating Company, LLC
  Inflection Energy, LLC
  J-W Energy
  MarkWest Liberty Midstream & Resources, LLC
  Mitsui E&P USA
  Newfield Exploration Company
  NiSource Gas Transmission & Storage
  Novus Operating, LLC
  Penn Virginia Oil & Gas Corporation
  Pennsylvania General Energy Company, LLC
  PDC Mountaineer, LLC
  PVR Midstream
  Range Resources
  Rex Energy Corporation
  Seneca Resources Corporation
  Shell Appalachia
  Southwestern Energy
  Statoil
  Sumitomo Corporation of America
  Talisman Energy USA, Inc.
  Tenaska
  Triana Energy
  UGI Energy Services
  Ultra Resources
  Williams Companies
  XTO Energy, Inc.

http://marcelluscoalition.org/about/full-members/

When I visited my Dad, 15 years ago, he died from Cancer.
He had moved into a small town in Illinois, Marine Illinois.

When I drew some water from the tap, it was “smelly” a chemical type smell. The toilet had a “black Ring” from whatever was in the water. They could not drink or consume the water coming out of their tap.

I asked why. Seems the water became contaminated from the Oil Wells, over the years, that had leaked into the water system. The black was crude oil chemicals.

Wonder why we have the EPA?

I was talking to a friend of mine, telling me about the plight of the ranchers in keeping water in a reservoir. The elevation is about 5000 feet and lots of rock. The river was diverted to an Irrigation lake that was dug out of a field. After the lake filled up, withink a week all the water “disappeared” into the ground. Seems that the area is filled with “cracks in the underlying rock”, and disturbing the years and years of nature’s natural “barrier to water disappearing into the ground”.

Every time an effort was made to divert water, from the river disturbing natures natural “fill of sediment in the cracks”, another leak occurred and the water disappered.

Word of warning, the Gas Companies are “cracking those rocks” disturbing what mother nature filled over centuries to develop natural pools of water, that as a result of “cracking or fracking the rock” could make the underground water disapper for ever besides allowing gas to escape into the cavities where water was once there.

Wonder why the EPA was established?

Once ground water disappears, for irrigation, it might be gone forever, as the natural reservoir barrier will be shattered, and not repairable.

Anything for Profit, the Oil companies could care less, they just move on to another bit of land and screw that up.

The Penn State study was supported and funded by the oil and gas industry. Of course the results would be pro-fracking.

i would like to hear from the folks in Pavillion Wyoming about what it is like to not have drinking water from the tap, have to open your doors and windows to shower and be able to entertain your guests with flammable water.  After 50+ years of oil drilling in the area this only happened after fracking started. Coincedence?

Here’s a lady in Texas who’s been fighting these frackers for years: http://www.texassharon.com/

Liz, KeepTapWaterSafe.org

Dec. 29, 2011, 1:29 p.m.

Thank you, ProPublica, for staying on this vital issue! Here in Pennsylvania, we need more public discourse and less industry propaganda.

Abrahm Lustgarten

Dec. 29, 2011, 2:15 p.m.

@Trudy B: The issue of Pavillion’s similarity, or lack thereof, to other geological environments comes up frequently and so could use to be clarified.

It’s important to understand that there is no such thing as a “typical” fracking environment. Geological circumstances are distinct everywhere. Wells may be fracked at 13,000 feet, or 1,000 feet. A deep well may be in a karst, or cave, environment that is unsafe while a shallow well may be confined and safer. Geologic layers are not uniform and horizontal like the layered cake depicted in many drawings. They are heterogeneous and twisted and convoluted and difficult to predict.

In Pavillion the wells in question were drilled to over 3,000 feet. The fracking history in question happened at roughly 1,700 feet, more than 1,200 feet below the bottom of most drinking water wells, not at the same depth at all, and below even the depth of the deep monitoring wells installed by the EPA.

In New York state, most people assume we are only talking about Marcellus wells and that those wells are all thousands of feet deep. The Marcellus formation itself breaches the surface near Syracuse. A quick search of state DEC records online will show anyone who looks that numerous gas wells have been drilled into various formations at shallow depths too—comparable to those in Wyoming. Many of those wells have also been “stimulated,” or fractured.

Pavillion is a teaching point, not a generality that can be applied everywhere. But it’s lessons are still applicable.

In response to someone else who wrote they would like to know what the people of Pavillion feel like, have a read of this article I wrote earlier in the year: http://www.propublica.org/article/hydrofracked-one-mans-mystery-leads-to-a-backlash-against-natural-gas-drill/single

David Shulman

Dec. 29, 2011, 2:17 p.m.

I wish you would end your jihad against fracking. It seems to me you would rather burn coal with all of its attendant vices than to allow fracking to proceed. Fracking is far safer for health and the environment than coal!, Think about it.

D Shulman

Your use of the word jihad is at best unfortunate, but I believe you’re well aware of that.

The fact is that fracking is dangerous, threatens human health and is a grave threat to our most important resource…water.

Coal is also a filthy poisonous pollutant that we need to leave behind as quickly as possible. There are other choices.

The sun is shining, the winds are blowing, the tides ebb and flow with predictable regularity and all we lack is the will take advantage of what they offer.

unreceivedogma

Dec. 29, 2011, 3:03 p.m.

“this addressed concerns first raised by ProPublica in 2009”

Abrahm, the way I would put it is that activists first raised it, and you first covered it, but outside of that, thank you for your dedicated and outstanding work on this issue over the last 3 years.

Mike H, Penn state is bought and paid for by O+G. That’s why no one takes it seriously.

Btw, the Philadelphia Water Board just recently announce that along with Martens, it too thinks that “drilling can be done safely”.  Not good news for the Delaware River Watershed.

Stephen Cleghorn

Dec. 29, 2011, 4:38 p.m.

Abrahm, thank you for your great work on this issue. However, I do wonder about why Pavillion, WY is being mentioned in this summary as the only place where fracking has been associated by the EPA with pollution of a groundwater aquifer. Was it not also reported by the EPA as having occurred in West Virginia in 1984, as detailed in a 1987 EPA report?  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/04/us/04natgas.html?pagewanted=all 

That would be in the Marcellus region, with geology very similar to what we have here in Pennsylvania and New York, correct?

This quote from that NYT article is quite telling: “Dan Derkics, a 17-year veteran of the environmental agency who oversaw research for the report, said that hundreds of other cases of drinking water contamination were found, many of which looked from preliminary investigations to have been caused by hydraulic fracturing like the one from West Virginia. But they were unable to learn more about them.”

It is worth taking a look at the EPA source document for the case of fracking-related contamination in West Virginia. Scroll down to pages IV-21 and IV-22. Here is that document as provided and highlighted by the New York Times. See:
http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/us/drilling-down-documents-7.html

The Environmental Working Group has a study dedicated to this issue of whether or not unconventional drilling for natural gas has been related to water contamination:
http://static.ewg.org/reports/2011/fracking/cracks_in_the_facade.pdf

As you have reported, there are many issues to consider in deciding whether this unconventional drilling already has negative public health and environmental impacts and whether it poses unacceptable risks to the environment and health over the long term.  As an organic farmer in western PA the investigation of all the risks - technical and human—associated with this type of energy extraction has consumed much of my time over the past 18 months.  I have gathered my concerns and research together into a PowerPoint presentation that makes the case for a moratorium on drilling in my state of Pennsylvania.  Your readers may be interested in taking a look: http://go.to/stopmarcellus

@ Bob Higgins, Kristy, unreceivedogma
Association fallacy

Guilt by Association is a fallacy in which a person rejects a claim simply because it is pointed out that people she dislikes accept the claim. This sort of “reasoning” has the following form:  It is pointed out that people person A does not like accept claim P. Therefore P is false It is clear that sort of “reasoning” is fallacious. For example the following is obviously a case of poor “reasoning”: “You think that 1+1=2. But, Adolf Hitler, Charles Manson, Joseph Stalin, and Ted Bundy all believed that 1+1=2. So, you shouldn’t believe it.”

Say what you will about who funds the Marcellus Coalition (ironically enough, both propublica and mediamatters are Soros funded organs) but the science is sound. They had baseline data, collected samples, sent said samples out for analysis and compared against the baseline. All the data and methodology was published and is currently being peer reviewed. All the huffing and puffing about who funded what doesn’t undercut the results.

Argue the methodology or the conclusions based of the data if you want (or can, as the case may be), but logical fallacies make you look like ignorant, uneducated, drones who bleat whatever data plays into your confirmation bias.

Mike H
Thanks for that measure of condescending creepiness.

I will maintain that studies like this funded by those with a large financial interest in the results are tainted. I don’t believe I’m alone in this thinking.

At the risk of appearing an “ignorant, uneducated drone” I will continue to express my disdain for this type of funding for so called scientific research.

It’s important to understand that there is no such thing as a “typical” fracking environment.

There is “typical” by region and the preliminary results from Pavilion do not necessarily apply to any area outside of Pavilion. The EPA was very clear on this point.

Geological circumstances are distinct everywhere. Wells may be fracked at 13,000 feet, or 1,000 feet. A deep well may be in a karst, or cave, environment that is unsafe while a shallow well may be confined and safer.

Hydraulic fracturing of shale formation, like is being done in the Marcellus, Niobrara, Devonian, Barnett, etcetera are “typically” deep and hydraulic fracturing of coal seam formations is “typically” shallow relative to the depth of drinking water aquifers. The vast majority of your reporting has been on the former and its disingenuous to conflate the two as they each have unique risks associated with them. This is the same bait and switch that Dave Kopell called you out for.

Geologic layers are not uniform and horizontal like the layered cake depicted in many drawings. They are heterogeneous and twisted and convoluted and difficult to predict.

The geology may not be as neat and pretty as the power point slides suggest, but that doesn’t take away from the fundamental impermeability of these layers. We know these layers are impermeable (hydrogeologicaly speaking) because the gas has been locked in these layers for several hundred million years. Hence the name “Devonian” as in Devonian era.

In Pavillion the wells in question were drilled to over 3,000 feet. The fracking history in question happened at roughly 1,700 feet, more than 1,200 feet below the bottom of most drinking water wells, not at the same depth at all, and below even the depth of the deep monitoring wells installed by the EPA.

Not exactly. From the EPA abstract:

Hydraulic fracturing in gas production wells occurred as shallow as 372 meters (1220’) below ground surface with associated surface casing as shallow as 110 meters (360’) below ground surface. Domestic and stock wells in the area are screened as deep as 244 meters (735’) below ground surface. With the exception of two production wells, surface casing of gas production wells do not extend below the maximum depth of domestic wells in the area of investigation.

Contrary to what you stated,  HF operations took place less than 500’ below water wells, not the 1200’ you claimed, and the casing on the gas wells are as shallow as 360’, well above the depth of drinking water wells in the area.

In New York state, most people assume we are only talking about Marcellus wells and that those wells are all thousands of feet deep. The Marcellus formation itself breaches the surface near Syracuse. A quick search of state DEC records online will show anyone who looks that numerous gas wells have been drilled into various formations at shallow depths too—comparable to those in Wyoming. Many of those wells have also been “stimulated,” or fractured.

Its all relative to the depth of the water table. Last I checked, they don’t drill 700’ water wells in Syracuse NY.

@ Bob Higgins

Maintain whatever you want … it’s a great exercise in cognitive dissonance.

Marc W. McCord

Dec. 29, 2011, 7:42 p.m.

Mr. Higgins, just ignore Mike H. He is an apologist for the O&G industry who constanrtly lies and obfuscates to make falacious points. He is devoid of any integrity, and he will begin circular arguments to deflect any conversation from its central topic.

I keep telling him that denial is not a river in Egypt, but his head is so far up his gashole that his brain has been permanently damaged by his own methane vapors. Personally, I have ceased addressing anything he says because to do so is an exercise in futility.

There are none so blind as those who refuse to see. Mike H does not have eyes for seeing the truth because it contradicts what he wants to believe, and to him that is all that really matters.

Marc W. McCord

Thanks, I spotted the boy from across the room, another third grader with a brief case looking for someone to impress.

He may grow up to be a useful tool for someone with money. A dream come true.

Christine Miller

Dec. 29, 2011, 9:38 p.m.

I support the message, and I guess there’s nothing like a catching jingle. But the poet in me really resents “obvious message songs.” And I agree with those above also that moderation is needed since natural gas is the safest most plentiful heating source. Care and moderation. Can you feel it?

@Christine Miller

The safest, cleanest, most plentiful heat source in our little corner of the universe is dumping terrawatts of power on us every second.

Unable to find the will to collect and use what we’re given for free we insist on reinventing it in the form of fission driven teakettles or poisoning ourselves with carbon fuels.

We just need to get smart, others are and they will rapidly leave us to cough and die in our own coal dust.

To; Abrahm Lustgarten:

Regarding the Marcellus Shale formations near Syracuse, NY. Yes, they are close to the surface. It is so close that it is visible along the highways.
There is not, nor has there ever been drilling in those areas. I live near there and travel those roads almost every day. They don’t hydrofrack when it is that close to the surface. And there has never been any vertical drilling there either.

stan voedisch

Dec. 30, 2011, 1:07 a.m.

I read an article in Scientific America and learned a great deal about the real truths of fracking and its’ potential for water contamination. I won’t cover any of the specifics or even pose any of the debates in my comment. Instead, I will offer up a simple suggestion that the researchers in this article proposed. Require the drilling companies to include a tracer chemical in their cocktail injection and end all of this wasteful litigation. If the tracer shows up in the fresh water source, then the mystery is solved. For some reason these companies have refused to do this… gee I wonder why?

As in so many contemporary dialogues, especially in America, the declaiming and hollering leaves little room for listening or reasoning.  Instead of HF, yes or no, what about agreeing that HF can be permitted when it can be done right, with minimum damage to the environment?  Let’s establish a moratorium with the purpose of bringing this revolutionary and rudimentary process to a state of maturity.  The industry knows where advances can be / should be made.  Almost every report from the players says that we’re getting better at it over time.  Each update makes the claim that we are learning more with every well.  That’s good news, but cold comfort to the citizens whose water supplies have been permanently ruined during the learning swerves.

Clearly, technical and process improvements are possible in:  1) the chemistry and handling of fracking fluids, 2) the control, handling, and disposal of flowback, 3) the energy consumption and pollution from escaping methane and from the many trucks, drill rig engines, compressors, and more trucks – all diesel powered (and this is certainly one of brightest ironies of this quest for clean natural gas), 4) improvements in well drilling, casing & capping (of particular concern in their impact on typical fresh water wells, aquifers, and watersheds), and, finally, 5) resource protection through buffer zones, reduced water use & waste, spill prevention, and bonding for environmental reclamation.

A number of problems might not be understood for decades and so cannot be reliably mitigated during such a moratorium.  These include a) seismic activity from injected liquids, b)  long term migration of injected chemicals within and beyond the Devonian region (the Ordovician for Utica Shale), c) eventual concentrations of NORM-type radioactive elements, and d) a certain degree of unanticipated harm to the environmental, typical whenever minerals & hydrocarbons are extracted.

But the moratorium can be an opportunity for both operators and monitoring agencies to learn how to operate effectively and safely.  We need to do an efficient job in mining the resources within the shale formations.  And this means that the hydraulic fracturing process be brought to a higher level of maturity, and the onus should be on the industry to prove to the regulators and the citizenry that these and similar challenges are being addressed and that this revolutionary process will be carried out with the highest regard for correct operations and careful stewardship of the areas they are exploiting.  This means taking responsibility for doing it right and paying for the damages when it is done wrong.  It is the industry which needs to demonstrate that they are ready.  Rather than denying that the process has risks and claiming that it does not impact the environment, they should be the ones to make it safe.  They need to be responsible to the people whose communities, water supplies, air quality, and property values are at stake.  It’s time for those on the front lines to establish the rules. 

Can these challenges be addressed within the current permitting and monitoring process?  Perhaps some of them can.  But this is too big and too important a concern to be controlled by government agencies, strapped as they are by financial short-falls and out of their league in terms of technology and salesmanship.  It is time for a grass roots approach.

What we need are pre-fractural agreements, contracts between gas drillers and those
land owners & communities where they hope to drill, establishing trust funds to reimburse for environmental damage, water & air resource problems.  And the agreements must be predicated on the industry using technology and processes that will minimize that impact, not just the fastest way to get whatever they can and make the most money.  If there is no contamination of previously tested water sources, no spills, no long term atmospheric degradation, no failures to reclaim the land as agreed, then the funds revert to the company.  Forced pooling will require additional set-asides for the protection of those property owners included. 

Communities will have the right to limit drilling where it may impact town water supplies or other aspects of the infrastructure.  Town or regional road maintenance and emergency services whose response would be required in the event of major accidents—they would be bonded to cover payments for additional personnel, for their training, for enhanced response capabilities, as well as for infrastructure maintenance.  Government agencies can help in this work, advising and counseling best practices.  And larger scale coordination will be required in routing primary and secondary gas piping.  But we need the industry and those who are stakeholders in the lands and waters of our states to establish a working relationship to efficiently and safely recover the available natural gas, both in Marcellus and in Utica shale.

If the Frackers are so sure of their ‘clean bill of health’ then let them put their money where their mouth is.
Gov should hold them to their responsibility for their actions by taking serious real money guarantees which are held for 25 years - before they start drilling.
The possible loss of this money would firstly discourage dangerous practices and secondly could be used for clean up any possible damage or mess.
Refundable AFTER 25 years if there are no issues of course…

Our thirst for cheaper energy and jobs is greater than our thirst for clean water and air .

Paul Morgan—-You sound like you know what you are talking about. If only the political pressure to “do it now” were not there we could take your more reasonable position. Whenever there is energy to be found the “drill baby drill” mantra of Sarah Palin’s starts among the polticians without taking some time to make it safe.

DavidG

When you can’t breathe and the tissues in your body dry to dust nothing else really matters.

@Mark A

Exactly. Put the liability and risk where it belongs, on the companies seeking to gain a profit from use of the process and the land.

The public always gets stuck with the superfund sites, the environmental destruction, the economic damage, and the loss of jobs resultant from the criminal excess and negligence of business.

Stuck with everything that is but the profits.

Mike H:  The President of Penn State said the study you cite crossed the line from science to political advocacy and should be cited as a Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) study, not Penn State.  Penn State has a stained history on accepting huge grants from MSC members as it appears much like bribery for desired “science”.

I am tired of the oil and gas companies taking over my beloved state of Wyoming….

Gudrun Scott RN

Dec. 30, 2011, 1:21 p.m.

The wholesale price of gas dropped to only $4 when it was $6 earlier—in fact the Governor Cuomo Adisory panel has advised this month that the price is too low to pay for inspectors to proceed and bring enough cash to pay for DEC and DOH to be functioning.  Also the companies themselves would rather wait before drilling starts and wait til the wholesale price is up to that $6.  However, the 5 year leases in NY were signed around 2007 and now they will expire unless drilling gets started now.

Gov Cuomo, decide with your voters:  Go right ahead and let those leases become expired—- if the oil companies were offering a fair deal, the public will sign up again with leases—- won’t they???

Timing is everything… I hope the fossil fuel companies will be stopped from drilling unconventional shale period.  We had 15 catastrophic climate events in NY in 2011 as classified by NOAA and reported on PBS news on Dec 28, 2011 and that does not include the earthquake in Virginia possible stimulated by fracking and possibly could have shook up the nearby nuke plant—still 12 catastrophic events when the average number of events is 4 and the second most events occurred in 2008 when NOAA counted 8 events.

Each event in the USA alone of burrying traffic for days in snow, deadly tornadoes, deadly and expensive floods, dustblowl dryness that killed cattle and crops and raging fires the insurance companies are getting nervous- billions of dollars in damages.

We the public want an all out fight against global warming NOW.  MIT study showed that we can still win back the planet to lower Carbon dioxide global warming if we start NOW—if we continue to ignore the warning signs- if we listen to the polluters, we will fowl our own nest and will not be able to hand it to the next generation in 20 years intact- SHAME!!!.

Tom Friedman’s favorite blogger on global warming-Joe Romm-PhD in physics and worked in our government in the 1990s I’m finding good arguments to use and spread the word from his blog:  http://thinkprogress.org/author/Joe

Fracking is emperically problematic to human health, the environment, and to public safety. In addition to water table contamination, toxic waste pools, and methane release, earth quakes apprear to have increased in frequency and magnitude in areas where fracking is taking hold. Fracking is not empirically the answer to the US energy problem. I join those who have expressed serious concerns about the safety of fracking technologies and methods.

This is Hilarious, they’re going to turn more than half the country into a toxic wasteland. You think this is safe, just read the 5 page investigation that the NYT did, and it’s based on the gas industries own reports, released under the Freedom of Information Act, so it’s not bull. And what’s really funny about all of this, we don’t even need this energy. Rossi’s energy catalyzer technology is clean as all hell, and way cheaper than any source of energy we’ve got. And it’s been tested in front of a bunch of skeptic scientists. But of coarse you’ve got some people trying to write it off. The U.S. won’t even give him patent protection. These oil and gas cronies own our politicians. But they patented it in Italy. They should be throwing money at this guy left and right. But instead we’re giving the nuclear industry permits to build more nuke plants. And of coarse taxpayers will have to pick up the tab. Unbelievable!

When my daughter came home with a bent fender on the car she said, “Gee Dad nobody’s perfect.”

If you drill your fracking well through the water layer in a manner that is perfect then you are OK.  But to quote my daughter “Gee Dad nobody’s perfect.”

Can we afford to turn over our world to processes that have such potential for damage when we do not have to?

Great reporting.  And the linkage to polluted drinking water should resonate with anyone.  Well, almost anyone.

You gotta ask yourself one question though. How come all this natural gas drilling and fracking when natural gas prices are at record lows.

Did you know the our largest exports last year were gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel?

And we’re paying $3.50 per gallon to subsidize the export of our fuel to the same countries we exported our jobs to.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Just to make sure you know. Probably most of the pollution of ground water and potable water happens during the actual drilling process not just the fracking process.

In northeastern Colorado they are taking the mud off the end of the last hole and using it to drill surface with. That actually fermenting mud has to push back into the water formations because its simply heavier than water.

And the Pavilion Wyoming is a different deal in that ENCANA used liquid CO2. So Ecana didn’t exactly frac that country. They blew it up.

Eric

Like “War Memorial Stadium” becoming “Johna Field.”

Been there. Seen that.

Mike H. Though I respect your right to sound off, your argument is not sound.  Penn State has publicly denounced the validity of their own study.  And even mainstream science is now disputing original claims that coal is cleaner than natural gas, once the cost to the environment of procurement is taken into account.

When Halliburton initially sent out e-mail job alerts for chemical engineers to frack the Marcellus shale for natural gas in Pennsylvania, their website contained a section above “Jobs” entitled “Halliburton Scandal” where they revealled that everywhere they fracked shale for natural gas, they contaminated ground and surface water.  (Former Republican Governor Tom Ridge was hired by them to be a consultant, and he recommended that they be honest and open with state residents about fracking to gain their trust.).  I received 2 such seperate e-mail job alerts for 667 chemical engineering jobs in Muncy and Montgomery to frack Marcellus shale for natural gas here in northcentral Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania is the first and only place where “treated” toxic acid frack soup is allowed to be directly discharged into rivers and streams where communities downstream pump it out, chlorinate it making it exponentially more toxic (It contains radioactivity and carcinogens/tertogens/mutagens.), and drink it.  The fracking chemicals are a proprietary secret and so is the supposed “treatment” process.
Halliburton pays blowback “water” handlers a $400.00/week bonus because of the unhealthy nature of the toxic acid frack soup shooting back up out of the bore holes that have just been made Superfund-eligible hazardous industrial chemical dumps.
In Al Qaeda’s wildest wet dreams, they couldn’t poison this state’s drinking water resources with impunity like Halliburton, Chesapeake, and other frackers are doing.

@Jeffrey Hill

Thanks for your post. To me the mere fact that fracking got an exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act from the congress in 2005 was ample evidence that the industry was well aware of the dangers involved and just bought their way through.

Constance Blackwell

Jan. 3, 2012, 6:34 a.m.

Thank you for your reporting - but I do want to add that there is a method of Fracking that has been perfected by a little Canadian company GasFrac - that Husky Oil has contracted to do their work -
it does not poluted ground water - because of their method -
what of course it does not solve is the earth quakes -

Constance Blackwell,

I do not believe that, not even for an inch. First, and foremost because most of the pollution of ground and potable water sources occurs during the actually drilling not just during hydraulic facturing.

And second, and more importantly, even if they used potable water to frac with, the gas, oil, and petroleum based chemicals in the gas formation are still present and can find their way to water sources.

Marc W. McCord

Jan. 3, 2012, 11:39 a.m.

Constance, GasFrac uses LNG as their frac fluid, and most of it is recoverable. It can be re-used to frac other wells or sold on the commercial market. That technique has been known to many of us for a couple of years now.

But, as to earthquakes, MOST of them have been related to deep injection wells into which flowback and produced water have been injected for disposal rather than from the actual frac’ing process itself. I do not claim that no earthquake has ever been caused by frac’ing, but the vast majority of earthquakes related to O&G exploration and production were from injection well activities which would be eliminated if the GasFrac process was used as an industry standard.

Like Steve H said, the very act of drilling a hole in the ground pollutes any aquifer through which the drill bit penetrates, so using the LNG process would NOT prevent contamination of drinking water resources.

the very act of drilling a hole in the ground pollutes any aquifer through which the drill bit penetrates

I see .... so this means we should also be demanding a moratorium on drilling water wells.

Bob Higgins is right about the CHENEY Exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act which was concocted in those secret meetings with energy companies which he held when George W. Bush was first elected to the presidency.  (Satan won’t let Dick Cheney die because he doesn’t want the competition.)

The Pa. Dept.of Fatherland Security during the administration of Democratic Governor Ed Rendell had Wackenhut to compile lists of the identities of citizens publicly speaking out against fracking of the Marcellus shale for natural gas in the Commonwealth and branded those opposing the asinine practice as “environmental terrorists”—isn’t that a hoot.  Rendell feigned ignorance when publicly confronted with the fact.

Josh Fox’s video entitled “Gasland” is excellent.  I highly recommend it for everyone to see it.  He’s from Dimock, Pa. in Monroe County in the northeast corner of the state, and he, his family, and their neighbors experienced the poisoning of their drinking water by frackers.  There are up to 750 different fracking chemicals used, 650 of which are carcinogenic, teratogenic, and/or teratogenic, and this was determined by an extremely brave woman chasing fracking chemical tanker trucks and reading the placards on them identifying the contents of the tankers.

(When I was a student of chemical engineering at Penn State in the mid-1970s, we were taught about tertiary oil recovery involving the pumping of carbon dioxide or steam down the bore holes to reduce the viscosity of the oil trapped between the rock particles.  It did no environmental harm because the CO2 made the ground water sparkling or carbonated water and the steam condensed as pure water.  The drilling during the 1970s oil boom in western Pennsylvania, on the other hand, did great harm because it drained pools of underground aquifers or allowed oil to contaminate them ruining many farms.)

The Clearfield blowout has been one of the worst fracking accidents.  It rained toxic acid frack soup so a square mile had to be evacuated and a no flyover zone established temporarily to prevent possible ignition of the natural gas plume by planes fly overhead.

There have been 3 Cease & Desist Orders issued by Pa DEP to frackers in the Tioga, Lycoming, and Bradford County area of the state of which I’m aware.  For the most part, our Republican teabagger governor Tom Corbett allows the frackers to police themselves.  (There were massive cutbacks in the state government workforce, especially including Pa DEP, when the Wall Street megafraud scandal burned the state’s moneymanagers in Harrisburg a couple of years ago.).
The Meadville office of Pa DEP located in the northwestern part of the state is the only one in charge of enforcement so it takes a day before anything can be done to stop the environmental damage.

State forests are open to the frackers because the state desperately needs the revenue, but the Republican-dominated legislature and teabagger governor refuse to tax the wealth being extracted anywhere in the state or require the frackers to license their vehicles in the state.
At least our governor did listen to the citizenry and further prohibit the fracking of the Delaware River Basin which supplies Philadelphia with its drinking water.

(NOTE:  The frackers use a lot of high explosives for the supposed hydraulic fracturing of shale.  This is where the earthquake danger really originates.)

Micheal Koombs

Jan. 3, 2012, 6:04 p.m.

Obama could make everyone stop using gas if he would just sign one of His orders. I wish He would I just walk places.

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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