Journalism in the Public Interest

Four Big Takeaways From This Week’s Fracking Talk

In case you couldn’t make it, or don’t have time to watch the hour-plus recording, we pulled out the highlights.

Monday night, we hosted an in-depth discussion on the perils and promise of fracking at NYC’s Tenement Museum. In case you couldn’t make it, or don’t have time to watch the hour-plus recording, we pulled out the highlights.

(Need a primer on fracking? Check out our musical explainer: My Water’s On Fire Tonight.)

1. The public debate does not mirror the debate in the regulatory agencies. Stu Gruskin thinks it should.

Stu Gruskin, former executive deputy commissioner at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, would like to see a better-informed

public debate that mirrors the “objective,” nuanced discussion in the regulatory agencies. He thinks the current “philosophical” debate does a “great disservice” to the public. He cites the Midwest quakes as a perfect example of the public’s misunderstanding of the subtleties of fracking.

2. Some say the media’s fracking coverage is biased, but Abrahm Lustgarten thinks it emphasizes the real concerns.

“No one denies the economic benefits are happening,” Lustgarten said. “[But] It doesn’t take a lot of scrutiny ... to come up with a whole slew of concerns. From a reporter’s perspective, the question is, ‘Where do I start?’ Not, ‘Do I put those concerns aside and talk about the minority who reap an economic benefit?’”

3. How a sound well is supposed to work.

Southwestern Energy’s Mark Boling shows the mechanics of a functioning well – and a not-so-functioning well. He also reviews necessary regulations, and brings up an issue he thinks deserves more attention: moving water by pipe as much as possible.

4. Collaboration among industry, the public, environmental groups and regulators is key to making fracking as safe as possible, according to industry and regulatory representatives.

Gruskin mentioned it here, while talking about what New York state regulators need to do their jobs:

And Mark Boling mentioned it here. “If you’re looking for a sound bite, it’s collaboration, innovation and regulation,” he said. “And I believe it’s in that order.” He cited as an example the EPA’s Natural Gas STAR Program.

To explore fracking further, check out our collection of nine of the best pieces of watchdog journalism on the issue, and our ongoing series of stories.


What can we say about the lead video clip, of Mr. Gruskin saying, in effect,  that the “public “debate” really should mirror the regulatory debate.

And, in effect, that the concerned citizens out there just dont get it.

Damm glad the citizens didnt and havent followed his advice.

1. He isn’t listening to the same “public debates that I listen to.

2. Maybe, just maybe, the regulatory debate should mirror the public debate, at least somewhat.

3. Not all of us “public are dumb rural manure kickers

4. I remember when, in 2008,  Mr. Gruskin and all the rest of the DEC officials were going around upstate NY telling everyone that the legislation then in play for high volume horizontal hydrofracking was just fine, and health and safety would be nicely protected by the DEC regulators.

5. Wow, were they wrong: drilling had just started in NE Pennsylvania at that point and pretty soon things started happening: Norma Fiorina’s well exploded on New Year’s Day, 2009; bingo, methane migration from bad gas wells was vividly demonstrated.
  PA needed to entirely revamp their regulations, add lots of regulatory staff, learn that dumping drilling waste into public sewers and raw into rivers was a bad idea, and the list goes on.

  And they still have methane migration issues from bad gas wells.

6. NY would have been just like PA if, in 2008, the NY regulatory debate was, as Mr. Gruskin would have it, left to the regulators.

7. What Gruskin, an attorney, not a technical expert in hydrocarbon extraction issues, is saying is akin to saying: ‘war should be discussed and decided upon by the warriors, they are the ones who understand. War is of course legal and so just leave it to the experts.

8. We all know where that often gets us.

  I was one of the “public” that began to raise the alarm in NY about high volume horizontal hydrofracking for shale gas.

  Damm glad I did.

  And damm glad that the regulators were not the only ones listened to.

Stanley R Scobie, Senior Fellow, Physicians, Scientists, and Engineers for Healthy Energy, Binghamton and Ithaca, NY

Thanks for your input, I respectfully disagree, however, with much of what you say.

First, the reason that permits have not been issued so far in NY is that the regulators, including me—who you seem to suggest are inept—decided to rely upon the objective expertise of professional DEC staff, as well as an unprecedented amount of substantive public participation, to ensure in a comprehensive and deliberate manner that the environmental issues were addressed before any permits were issued. I will argue until the end of time that this was the correct approach.

The 2008 legislation you refer to in fact had nothing to do with the substance of the permitting process, rather, it allowed for larger well spacing units, and as history has borne out (contrary to some of the claims at the time) that change did not result in permits being issued for high volume hydraulic fracturing. That you refer to the 2008 legislation, however, does tend to prove my general point—the lack of precision on the part of advocates on both sides of this controversy has resulted in a very black and white, divisive and polarized public debate of an issue that is actually quite complex and nuanced.

Your statement that I somehow suggest that the public are “dumb manure kickers” is absurd and somewhat offensive to me, considering my argument is that the public would be better served by more education and less advocacy in the debate—I would personally prefer that the public hear more intellectually honest, objective, and precise positions, instead of the half-truths, exaggerations, and generalizations that have too often dominated the discussion on both sides of the issue. As somebody who has spent an enormous amount of time engaging with the public about this issue, it is rather strange for me to be accused of not being respectful of the public.

History disproves your argument that NY would be like PA if in 2008 if it was just left to the regulators—in fact, it was left to the regulators, and we decided to “think first, drill later” because it was the right thing to do. Believe it or not, our decisions were based upon an objective and carefully considered analysis of the issues.

Considering that back in 2008 we very deliberately put in a place a process that placed a high value on public participation and transparency, I don’t agree with your characterization that I am arguing that we should leave the public out of the decision-making. We didn’t just leave this to the experts, DEC invited the public into the discussion, listened to what everybody had to say, and took that into account in the various draft documents. To use your analogy, DEC has said “let everybody talk about the war to help us make the best decisions we can.” In contrast,the public debate outside the regulatory process has become so polarized that for many people it’s simply a question of being “for” or “against” fracking. In my remarks I was comparing that perspective to the DEC process, which is designed to objectively solve complex issues and problems in a way that ensures public health and environmental safety—with the opportunity for people who care about this to help.

Finally, I should point out that in my presentation I said the public debate was “disconnected” from the regulatory process, and I did not say that one should necessarily “mirror” the other, that’s just how the blog author decided to present it ... my point was that the way the issues are being discussed in the very divisive public debate is fundamentally different from how the regulators are required to consider the issues, and I think the general public would be better served if there was more education and objectivity in the public debate, instead of competing groups saying almost anything to try to persuade people to be “for” or “against” fracking.

Alex Stromeyer

April 15, 2012, 9:58 p.m.

A correct well? Drilling so deep has so many hazards,and variables,the chances of a long lasting well (more than 30 years) is almost nil.The rock sub strata shifts,the pipe seal leaks,the amount of leaks now is usually 30% and higher with new wells.

Air degradation is an issue not even mentioned.10% and more of the gas is lost from the fracked shale to leaks in the well seal,the well head,and compressor stations.The lost gas adds ozone to the air in gas development areas,and causes higher CO2 in the atmosphere.

A shame we can’t get natural gas from another, cheaper source, like gasifying garbage.

Yeah, “gasify” is a real word.  Basically, burn fibrous stuff (wood, traditionally, but most garbage should work) in an oxygen-starved environment.  It produces mostly methane.

We don’t like to talk about it, because after the city gaslights were replaced, the people who used it were generally enemies under an oil embargo, like Germans under the Nazis or South Africans under Apartheid.

However, if you want a safe, “correct” source of methane?  That’s it.  And it works on small and large scales.

Alternatively, most methane we find comes from incomplete digestion.  Dollars to donuts, there’s a bacteria or fungus in some wells that’s eating the coal and oil and “passing” the natural gas we find.  The person who finds that bug, with the tiniest bit of business sense, is going to get very rich very quickly.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:

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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