Journalism in the Public Interest

Why Gas Leaks Matter in the Hydraulic Fracturing Debate

Methane contamination is a bellwether issue in discussion of the safety of hydraulic fracturing, because where methane goes, other chemicals can go, too.


(Abrahm Lustgarten/ProPublica)

Last week's article about a hydraulic fracturing clause that was included in the Senate's drilling accountability bill sparked a lively debate on ProPublica's website about why methane contamination from drilling is relevant to a discussion of environmental risks of fracturing. In response:

Methane migration is a critical part of the discussions of underground contamination risks from drilling and hydraulic fracturing because it demonstrates that a pathway exists for contaminants to move through the substrata to the surface or into water supplies. In many of the cases described in ProPublica's articles, methane -- which was proved to be thermogenic and not from biological decay -- is believed to have moved from thousands of feet underground, or travelled several miles laterally, sometimes from the same layer of gas being exploited for energy.

Fracturing consists of injecting water and (usually secret) concoctions of chemicals deep underground, where it fractures the rock and releases the natural gas deposits. One of the most influential explanations why fracturing presents no risk hinges on the assertion that the deep isolation and many layers of rock and earth effectively seal off the fracture zone from the surface -- that it is impossible for chemicals, water, gas or anything else to move from thousands of feet below into shallow aquifers.

But the consistent and widespread detection of methane migration from unnatural causes -- in places including Colorado, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New York -- shows that it is not impossible, that in fact there are underground pathways for such movement. And if methane can move, it's an indicator of other substances' ability to migrate as well.

Many of the methane migration cases have been traced to flaws in the cementing and casing of the wells, as many of our articles have explicitly explained. Research shows that others may have migrated directly through underground faults and fissures.

Scientists we ask about these issues consistently make two points:

1. The pressure of hydraulic fracturing inside a well structure exerts great force that can exploit cementing problems. In other words, a crack in the cement or casing might be fine until the pressure of hydraulic fracturing forces substances through it.

2. It doesn't matter whether contaminants reach aquifers through a spider web of geologic cracks created by hydraulic fracturing, or in the spaces alongside the well bore that was pushed through the earth. Contaminants are reaching water supplies as a result of the processes and pressures being exerted underground.

The question of whether hydraulic fracturing is responsible for this contamination, and whether it is causing other contamination, remains unanswered. Neither our articles, nor anyone we have spoken with, has claimed to have reached a conclusion on that point. That is why the Environmental Protection Agency conducting two simultaneous studies of these issues -- one in Pinedale, Wyo., which will attempt to assess a specific pattern of contamination there, and another broad national study meant to evaluate the potential risks of fracturing. These are the first studies we are aware of that have engaged a scientific process to study these issues.

Two things are clear now, however:

1. Hydraulic fracturing is the only aspect of the complicated drilling process where basic standards for safe operations are not set by the federal government.

2. If fracturing were regulated, for instance, under the Safe Drinking Water Act -- the federal law that regulates every other type of underground chemical injection -- the law would likely require the sort of well integrity tests and localized pre-drilling geologic analysis to ensure that underground faults and fractures could not reach water supplies. It would also likely require that well casing and cementing be solid enough to withstand the pressures exerted by the fracturing process, and thus prevent the well from leaking methane, or chemicals, or anything else.

I saw on a video a man who ran water from his tap, and lit it up having flames come shooting out.

Imagine drinking, washing clothes and dishes and bathing in that water.

Oh boy, where to start!

“And if methane can move, it’s an indicator of other substances’ ability to migrate as well.”

Interesting theory … but like much of what you write, not entirely accurate. Liquids tend to be much more viscous than gas. Methane, for example is about 1 to 2 orders of magnitudes less vicious than water (if memory serves me). Along with the surface tension of a liquid, this means that gasses can find their ways through passages that liquids cannot.

This principle is simple enough to demonstrate with a balloon. Fill a balloon with air and one with water. Controlling for temperature, compare them in a few days and see if there is a change in volume between the two.

What was left out are the many cases cited by opponents of gas drilling, Josh Fox comes to mind, the source of the gas was biological and not from drilling activities.

“The question of whether hydraulic fracturing is responsible for this contamination, and whether it is causing other contamination, remains unanswered. Neither our articles, nor anyone we have spoken with [3], has claimed to have reached a conclusion on that point.”

No to sound like a jerk Mr Lustgarten but that’s a load of bull. In nearly every article you have written on the subject, you arrange source material to lead any reasonable reader to believe that hydraulic fracturing (not just activities related, but the fracturing process itself) is behind allegations of watershed contamination.

Just one of many examples:
“In July, a hydrologist dropped a plastic sampling pipe 300 feet down a water well in rural Sublette County, Wyo., and pulled up a load of brown oily water with a foul smell. Tests showed it contained benzene, a chemical believed to cause aplastic anemia and leukemia, in a concentration 1,500 times the level safe for people. Sublette County is the home of one of the nation’s largest natural gas fields, and many of its 6,000 wells have undergone a process pioneered by Halliburton called hydraulic fracturing [2], which shoots vast amounts of water, sand and chemicals several miles underground to break apart rock and release the gas. An investigation by ProPublica, which visited Sublette County and six other contamination sites, found that water contamination in drilling areas around the country is far more prevalent than the EPA asserts.”
Now how the hell could ANOYNE read that and not come to the conclusion that hydraulic fracturing isn’t involved in Sublette County’s benzene contamination?
Interestingly enough, you did have to backtrack BIG TIME when Dave Kopell called you to the mat for your repeated distortions and bait and switch games. Recall what your source Mark Thiesse said about your distortions of his interview:

“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

How many other sources have you done this with?

“1. Hydraulic fracturing is the only aspect of the complicated drilling process where basic standards for safe operations are not set by the federal government.”

Once again, more bull.

“the law would likely require the same sort of well integrity tests and localized pre-drilling geologic analysis to ensure that underground faults and fractures could not reach water supplies. It would also likely require that well casing and cementing be solid enough to withstand the pressures exerted by the fracturing process, and thus prevent the well from leaking methane, or chemicals, or anything else.”

Are you trying to lead the readers into believing that current practices don’t include well integrity tests? The API has issued a guideline for well construction and testing. Do you know of any drilling companies that don’t follow it? Are there drilling companies that follow no guidelines? Wouldn’t it make sense that they follow something considering the large investment the have in the well and the potential for litilagation should something go wrong?

Did you even ask these questions to Cabbot (or any of the other drillers you spoke with) or was this piece of information not relevant to your hit piece.

One documented bad casing in Dimock Pa, out of the tens of thousands that have been drilled, does not a crisis make.

But you know what the most ridiculous part of this conversation is, and one of the most humorous I think, is the way that you cite your own work as some kind of self validation. Please look up circular reference some time.

You know…. I find the spin of this artical very disheartening.  I am new to ProPublica because I have been searching for sources of information that are true…. unbiased… and agenda-free.  Now I see that I may as well look somewhere other than ProPublica to find an honorable publication

And Theo Colborn as your credible expert source? Seriously? Colborn is such a nutjob that she thinks fluoride in water is the likely cause of my 350lb aunt’s adult onset diabetes.

Oh don’t get me wrong, Colborn certainly comes to the table with some credentials, and you probably even have a copy of “Our Stolen Future” up on your shelf Mr Lustgarten, but she’s an absolute nut who peddles junk to the naive.

Rise above the fray and continue investigating and reporting on this very real threat to safe drinking water.

Bruce ritchie

Aug. 2, 2010, 4:49 p.m.

Mike without a last name,
      Tell the people around dimock pa that their contaminated drinking water is not a crisis, and pray you don’t get a shovel upside your head! Out of your own words you speak volumes!  I am sure that a couple of percentage points of your precious millions being wasted on caution and safety would be a severe crisis to you. That’s why you fight so hard. Hey, when are you gonna come outta the bushes and tell us your last name so we can see who you’re connected to?   
                            Bruce Ritchie

Casing failure…Silt, Colorado…Encana.

Water from that still coming up in the creeks, after several years…still able to light on fire.

steve zimmett

Aug. 2, 2010, 5:22 p.m.

I saw this movie about 2 months ago:Gasland is a film documentary about the dangers caused by hydraulic fracturing of gas wells being drilled in shale plays across the US. It was on HBO

In answer to Mike H.:

Yes, liquids are more viscous than gases. However, when methane makes it into the water supply, that demonstrates that an open pathway exists—this is in contradiction to gas industry assurances that no such pathway exists. Besides, a well that is ruined by methane (as opposed to the fracturing fluids) is still ruined—ask the people in Dimock and all over “Gasland.”

In Dimock, PA the methane that entered multiple water wells was found to be thermogenic, so it wasn’t coming from shallow biogenic sources. Nor is Dimock the only place where methane migration became a problem when gas wells were drilled.

Well integrity tests and similar measures do not matter if the industry is self-policing. That has been amply demonstrated by BP’s actions in the Gulf of Mexico. Here in NY we only have about 17 inspectors, and only three or four of them actually go out in the field. We’re going to end up with a “self-regulating” situation—i.e. little or no actual regulation in the field where it counts.

Since the fines are relatively low in comparison to the costs of keeping equipment at a drilling site, it may make economic sense for the gas industry to pollute and then pay the fines whenever something goes wrong rather than taking a careful, measured, more time-consuming approach to their work.  As far as litigation is concerned, the well-heeled industry will try to blame the problem on subcontractors or settle out of court for a pittance with families who are in desperate economic straits because the drilling has ruined their water and rendered their homes worthless.

Of course, there is always the chance (a rather high chance in the densely populated Northeast) of a worst-case scenario that turns into an economic disaster for the gas company in question. But that is no guarantee that the companies in question will behave prudently (again, take a look at BP’s example). I have already seen shale gas wells in PA being drilled right next to homes and schools and busy roadways. The shale gas industry seems to laugh at risk. Sooner or later, this attitude may finish some of the companies engaging in shale gas drilling. Unfortunately, along the way it is harming countless innocent bystanders.

Its great to see Lustgarten state unequivocally that his research does not provide any conclusive evidence that hydraulic fracturing is associated with methane migration or groundwater contamination.  Thank you for that clarification.

Predrilling water testing is likely to produce some really great data - it will confirm that widespread stray methane gas in exists areas where no drilling has occured. It surprises me that very little water quality data is aggregated for public use.  I suspect that people will refuse to sign mineral leases - precisely because they know pre-drilling baseline testing would establish that their water is not fit for human consumption.

We see stray methane gas in areas where the aquifer is in reasonable proximity to the reservoir / source rock (anywhere along the PA or NY Lake Erie / Lake Ontario shoreline).  Standard water well construction includes a methane vent (again - in areas where no drilling has occurred).

We see ecoli where the water is in close proximity to animal waste (dairy, feedlot).

If you get a chance to travel to Marcellus NY (where the Marcellus Shale outcrops), bring a rock hammer.  Its makes for a great field trip.  Methane odor is clearly detectable when the shale is broken.  This is at the surface.  The shale plunges into the earth at a rate of approximately 50’ per mile as you head south.  It’s really cool.

Hard to know where to start.

But; I cannot help but think of that Bible verse that goes something like this…heard it all my life, but not sure where to find it…but here goes: ‘The sins of the father will affect seven generations’.

I remember reading about some elections past, that people were employed to make comments, write letters, supposedly as ordinary citizens. But were in fact paid employees, whose job was to appear only as ordinary citizens. I wonder, after reading some comments here, showing great expertise, that some are being paid in some way or other to post here, to defend this industry. Maybe some “truth in advetising” would be appropriate here.

And in reading some of these comments; it seems that faulty cement; broken pipes etc exhibit a lack of knowledge etc. about how to drill for this gas in a safe way.

I live on Long Island; an island made up almost entirely of sand left from the glacial age. Spread across this island are a number of glacial lakes.
I have heard from a number of sources, that dye tests done in the Connecticut River, has shown that these dyes have appeared in these lakes. The point here is that no one knows how this happens, but water can go places we cannot find or understand, underground rivers etc. And what seems innocent in one place can affect somewhere else all too easily.

So, if there is demonstrated lack of knowledge, and/or methods or equipment used to drill for this gas cannot do it safely; why is it being allowed. Perhaps a ten/twenty year moritorium would be an answer; so the gas and oil scientists can devise systems that can drill safely in this shale.

Also I wonder if these posters who are defending this drilling; live on land that is being drilled upon, and are getting their water from wells adjacent to these gas wells?  If they are not perhaps they should, because then what they say will have first hand experience behind the words. As it is: the only first hand experience is faulty equipment and drilling methods, as they so aptly say in their postings.

And as for the seven generational thing I mentioned. About the time of BP’s oil spill, was a story about another major spil 20-30 years ago farther down in the Gulf, off of Mexico. It seems that area around that spill had been a major shrimp supply area. And that area today….well; the shrimp are not back yet…just as we are moving into that second generation since the spill….maybe in another 100 years, the shrimp will be back?

So if the technology does not exist to do this safely; why is it being done?  And in New York State, there is an aquifier that supplies ten or more million people. Who pays for that when it is messed up?

So Pro Publica keep writing.

The fracturing process literally destroys the underground and allows methane to move pretty much unrestricted - into water supplies, fields, into the air.

I hope the EPA realizes the necessity of its role in regulating such an archaic drilling technique.

Anyone that mistakes my demand for precision to infer a lack of concern is wildly off base.

I take water quality issues very seriously. 

Lustgarten states unequivocally that none of ProPublica’s articles have found conclusive causal links between hydraulic fracturing and contamination.

But the teaser for the article:
“Methane contamination is a bellwether issue in discussion of the safety of hydraulic fracturing, because where methane goes, other chemicals can go, too”
implies the opposite conclusion. 

Anyone that has read my threads know that I keep trying to move the conversation to the fundamentals of proper well drilling and completion:
1.  Pre-drilling baseline testing
2.  Strong casing design / centralization standards
3.  Proper cementing technique

We aren’t against regulation-  we just want regulation to be based on science - not fear. 

We all need energy.
And we all need clean water.
We can have both.

David Stein

Sharon Wilson

Aug. 2, 2010, 7:43 p.m.

Keep reporting. Don’t waste time replying to the industry shills.

Victor Kovacs

Aug. 2, 2010, 8:56 p.m.

The obfuscation from the industry shills reminds me of all the Hooker Chemical apologists in the late `70’s who tried to talk their way out of the contamination of Love Canal. If fracking is so safe then let’s regulate it under ALL the EPA regs. Let’s test EVERY well and make sure that NO contamination is taking place, either in the aquifer or in the groundwater. Too expensive? Then build a windmill instead. Last time I checked, wind energy didn’t require tanker truckloads of carcinogens to be pumped into the ground to make them work.

Barbara Allard

Aug. 2, 2010, 9:06 p.m.

David, if you seek public discourses and policies based on science, not fear, please ask the oil and gas industry to stop insisting that regulation will lead to a loss of jobs.

Speaking of which:  Are oil and gas industry jobs really the type of 21st century employment the youth of today should aspire to? Who wants to work around loud, smelly diesel-powered generators, toiling in the summer’s heat and winter’s cold, handling toxic chemicals and simulating earthquakes for 12 hours at time?

I really do not understand the debate.  Gasland shows the air pollution caused by the practice.  And the soil.  The danger not only to humans, but ecosystems and countless species.  So IF it also contaminates water, for any reason…3 strikes and you’re out.  Not to mention the wasting of precious water resources in the “fracking” alone. 4 million gallons a frak, contaminated and unavailable for drinking, bathing, or agriculture.  Not to mention the waste water that pollutes even organic crops and is used to hydrate our dairy cattle.  This is our country.  The fat cats have gotten away with murder long enough.  We need a concensus.  They own the equipment.  And the devastating technology.  And the brass ba88s to be drilling in pristine places. And here in Ohio on SCHOOLGROUNDS, all with the promise of some free or discounted gas, and a few palms greased.  Bypassing residents and lining the pockets of small school boards.  And our government and these companies are one-in-the-same.  Halliburton loopholes.  Deregulation.  Utter disregard for private property rights and human life, let alone the health of our rivers.  No amount of money will replace the necessities of clean air, soil and water.  You don’t sh*t where you eat.  Don’t drill where we live!

As more studies are conducted I am convinced that a corollary will be found to support the conjecture of the premise of this article.

As a daughter of West Virginia I am concerned about the possibility of fracturing and the release of ever more methane in to coal vanes. After viewing a map showing where gas well drilling is located, they track where many of the coal mines exist.

Anyone with information on this? Am I wrong to assume that this could present a problem to existing coal mines?

Victoria Switzer

Aug. 3, 2010, 7:39 a.m.

I am a resident of Dimock-it was proven that the gas that migrated into over a dozen homes was “production” gas. That said, we have always felt the bigger issue was what else would follow? We will never drink from our water wells again. We also had a round of soapy, foamy water in April of this year. Surfactant? Defoamer? Throw in the number of spills or"incidents” that occur with the daily operations of this industrialization of rural PA and it makes for quite a mess.

Goodness folks, I see we have two debate sites going here!  So, I shall add a tid-bit from the past. The good U.S. Scientists at one time, put dye markers into the water in New York/Pennsylvania where rivers went under ground. Where did it (the dye mark water) resurface? Kentucky/Tennessee! Seems that there is a constant fed aquifer under the ground, that stretches down the Eastern Seaboard. I wonder if the EPA has done any quality control testing in any of the out flows?  Now, this would imply that the Fractionating process in New York/Pennsylvania could be hidden because of this aquifer. Granted, I’m sure that the chemicals used would be diluted, bit have they even been thought of? 

The other point I would like to make is, what happens to the; for lack of a proper name, “soup-witches brew-waste by-product”, is it left in the ground, or is it brought back to the surface, stored in those rubber/plastic lined ponds? Further, how is this “brew” reprocessed so as to make it harmless to both “humans & the environment?

I have read the comments here & at the other site here, where it seems we get both factual & otherwise comments. I don’t think that anyone who doesn’t agree with the process are driven by the “bogyman” though some may be, but the ones who are pro drilling, strike me as either shills or gosh, trolls.

I think everyone?, will agree that, to take the Industries word, that it’s O.K. people, we got it covered, is to say that B.P. didn’t have a well blow-out in the gulf, that’s really just extra mud coming to the surface. As I have stated already @ the other site here, the easy finds are a thing of the past, the really hard ones are what is left, and the O & G people have shown by their track record that “Safety” takes a back seat to the search & production, that they also have the money to stall, whether in court, buy off the regulators, water down the rules, etc. Also, the Politicians don’t really about what goes on, as they believe their own B.S., won’t listen unless thousands-hundreds of thousands of voices are raised. It’s time that renewable sources are put on fast track to get away from the destructive quest of the O & G quest.

Yes, indeed.  A little common sense goes a long way——which would make Voltaire a genius, given his observations.

Clearly, the people are powerless to act, and the inevitable shall occur.  How unfortunate for the young people of the world.  Truly, how unfortunate for the world itself——we are bad stewards and will end the lives of many species who would otherwise live. 

At 60, I am glad I am not 20.

I still remain unconvinced however that the incidents of water contamination are due to the actual process of fracking rather than the improper handling of waste water and contaminants on site.

First, a clarification for some of the cackling hyenas. I don’t know about any other poster here, but I have absolutely zero conflicts of interest on this subject. I am just a casual observer with a technical background.

Now, to some more meat.

Lustgarten claims that the “scientists” he spoke to made two repeated points about hydraulic fracturing:

1.  Pressure tests on well casings are potentially inadequate because drilling pressures are high and can exacerbate cementing issues
2.  Wells are contaminating groundwater supplies either through the annual region between the wellbore and the casing or through the casing itself.

Let us examine both of these beginning with the first. It would have been good to give a more detailed explanation of what kind of testing well casing are put through before they are put into service. Minor details to be sure, but how else is the reader going to make an evaluation on whether or not current practices are adequate? It also would have been good to see context, i.e. how many wells have been drilled and how many have had established methane contamination into the water table?

Welds have been known to fail under design conditions even after being X-ray inspected under various ASME inspection codes, but would any reasonable individual think that there is a procedural deficiency if this occurrence is one in a million? Of course not, context means a lot when evaluating information like this.

From what I have read, in Pennsylvania there have been two widely reported cases involving …. What ….. 6 wells? While it sucks to be those landowners, if we put this in context there have been 350,000 gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania in the past 100 years or so and over 120,000 are still producing. In addition, 11,000 of these are as deep or deeper than those in the Marcellus Shale. With this in mind, would a reasonable person conclude that hydraulic fracturing operations in Pennsylvania are particularly dangerous? Think about it, 6 (or hell even 60) out of 120,000 active wells have had documented issues. If the numbers are different, I’d be more than pleased to see them.

The report on Norma Fiorentino’s house explosion Lustgarten cited in a previous article indicated that there were no VOC’s present in any of the water samples they took during the course of their investigation. Naturally, since this fact undermined your continual assertion that fracturing fluids are migrating into water tables, this was left out.

To Lustgarten’s second point, if by “contaminants” he means “methane gas”, then yes, there have been several documented wells out of 120,000 that have contaminated the water table with methane and ONLY METHANE. Regardless of how many times Lustgarten tosses grenades like “EPA finds fracking chemicals in Pavillion Wyoming water wells” or “benzene show up in drinking water near Texas gas field” he knows damn well that there is no confirmation that this contamination was from the hydraulic fracturing process specifically. So he continually bombards the reader the buzzwords like “gas well” “fracking” “drilling” “contamination” “drinking water” “endocrine disruptor”, and lets the individuals he interviews make the specific allegations that fracturing fluids are responsible for contaminants, which kinda sorta demolishes his claim that “Neither our articles, nor anyone we have spoken with [3], has claimed to have reached a conclusion on that point”.

If Lustgarten wants to make the case that incidents of water contamination are due to improper handling of waste water and contaminants on site then he would have a much stronger case. Just so long as he were to include all the relevant information: how big was the spill, how dangerous was the material, how often does it happen, what’s the likely impact. That’s a bit more difficult to do, not nearly as sensationalistic, and won’t win him and Polk awards.

Lustgarten claimed that the “scientists” he spoke with make these points, but it has been demonstrated by David Kopell who contacted some Lustgarten’s sources that with at least three of your sources he took them out of context or failed to relay relevant and important information that they were trying to get across. 

Make no mistake Mr Lustgarten, I have grown rather tired of peddlers of disinformation as of late, and I plan on picking everything you write apart piece by piece from here on out.

In reply to Mike H:

Let’s just back up for a minute and consider what we’re talking about: our WATER SUPPLY. Water is not a luxury: it is an absolute necessity. For most of their long existence on this planet, human beings made do without fossil fuels, but every single human being who ever lived needed water and lots of it.

Once an aquifer is contaminated, it is difficult or even impossible to clean it up. In the Northeast we have entire villages that are dependent on well water. In some cases that water is coming from a sole source aquifer. If a village well is contaminated, just coming up with an alternate water source could be incredibly costly, never mind the medical costs and human suffering if the contamination makes people sick. 

The fact is, we do not know how often contamination occurs when high volume hydrofracturing is used in horizontal wells, and this, by itself is cause for grave concern. Independent (i.e. not funded by the gas industry) research on this issue is lacking. One of the reasons it is lacking is that the industry has been keeping its fracturing fluid formulas secret, which makes it all but impossible to accurately track what is going on. Another problem is that high-volume slick-water hydrofracturing has not been in use long enough for us to have empirical evidence of what happens 10 or 15 or 50 years down the line. Yet another problem is that what happens in Texas may not be the same as what happens in NY or PA: geology, hydrology, population density, etc. all vary from one place to the next.

It is also important to consider that, since shale gas wells deplete rapidly, we are likely to end up with several hundred thousand shale gas wells if we are serious about using these wells to meet a significant fraction of U.S. energy needs. When you are drilling that many wells, even a small accident rate is worrisome, particularly when a high fraction of the wells are in densely populated areas and/or near private and public drinking water sources.

It is also ridiculous to concentrate just on the fracturing—the whole shale gas extraction process should be more closely examined, particularly since a very large number of wells are anticipated.
Maybe water is being ruined because of shoddy well construction. Maybe it’s being ruined because hydrofracturing puts so much pressure on the well casings that they cannot realistically be expected to remain intact in 100% of wells. Maybe it’s okay to fracture a well once, but not multiple times. Maybe the cement in the well casing will break down over time no matter what you do. Maybe water is being ruined because contaminants are moving through fractures in the rock. Maybe those fractures are naturally occurring. Maybe they are manmade. Maybe there aren’t many problems now but there will be huge problems further down the road as the fracturing fluids move underground. Questions abound. They all need to be answered BEFORE we decide whether or not shale gas makes sense. Conducting a huge experiment with the water supplies of millions of people is absolute insanity. 

We have a responsibility to protect our water not just for those who are here now, but for future generations. Endangering a water supply that has to last us FOREVER in exchange for a temporary source of energy is a very bad gamble to take, even if the odds of losing are low. And we do not yet know what those odds are. Any reasonable person would say it was time to put on the brakes. 

One more thought: admitting that it “sucks” to be one of the landowners whose water is ruined doesn’t do anything to help those people whose water is ruined. (BTW, I am not one of those people—yet, anyway. I live in NY and still have good water.) Those who lose their water to drilling should not be pushed aside like disposable collateral damage, nor should they have to spend the rest of their lives stuck in worthless homes, drinking tepid water from water tanks. Nor should they have to spend the rest of their lives in litigation. It is not acceptable for industry to simply run roughshod over these people and deprive them of a basic necessity of life. “Not acceptable” means we are not going to put up with it. You can count on that.

Mary Sweeney

Let me repeat, there is no evidence that the hydraulic fracturing process is responsible for groundwater contamination. Furthermore, after reading the Ohio DNR Division of Mineral Resources Management’s report on the Bainbridge Township gas contamination, there is evidence that even when a faulty well is leaking gas into the water table, there is evidence that drilling fluids ARE NOT making their way into the water table.

This particular case study seems to be unique, because as I have been saying in all my comments, unless allegations of contamination are compared against a baseline they are meaningless. Scientifically speaking of course. Well, the Ohio DNR Division of Mineral Resources Management’s report on the Bainbridge Township gas contamination includes baseline data.

The report three rather startling findings not mentioned anywhere in Lustgarten’s reporting on the subject:

Based upon review of water quality data, the DMRM has determined that ground water has not been contaminated, polluted, or affected by oilfield brine.

Based upon review of water quality data, the DMRM has determined that ground water has not been contaminated, polluted or affected by hydro-fracture fluids.

The DMRM has determined that there is inadequate evidence to conclude that natural gas migrating through the aquifers has altered inorganic ground water quality, or has resulted in contamination, pollution or affectment of public water supplies.

Wonder why these conclusion never made it into the article. You’d think that with Lustgarten’s obsession with linking hydraulic fracturing activities activities to groundwater contamination (not just the methane contamination), he would have mentioned this.

Interestingly enough, if I read the report right, the methane contamination seems to be fairly localized and with the exception of the well house blowing up, samples of dissolved methane showed the LEL concentration to be extremely low.

As to your point about litigation, I do believe that restitution has been made to the effected parties, correct?

I believe that Mike H is referring to an incident in Bainbridge, Ohio in which nearby drilling caused methane to enter a home (I believe the gas accumulated in the basement of the home, if memory serves). An explosion ensued, causing extensive damage to the home. The elderly couple who lived in the home were upstairs, in bed. They were jolted awake by the explosion and found bits of plaster, etc. falling down around them. Imagine their fear at that moment. Miraculously, they were unharmed. The home could not be saved and ended up being demolished. I believe I read in one article that the elderly gentleman still returns to the site to work in his garden.

Mike H takes the above incident and uses it as evidence that no fracking fluid entered the water. (Talk about trying to make lemonade with a really, really big lemon.) First, I don’t know what tests were performed. In order to search for all possible contaminants, one would have to know what the fracking ingredients were. One would also have to test repeatedly, over a long period of time, to see if the fluids might be slowly migrating into the water. But, leaving all of that aside, even if we assume, for the moment, that no fracking fluid made it into the water in the Bainbridge incident, we can hardly use this incident as an example of the benign effects of gas drilling.

As for “restitution,” I don’t know what sort of settlement the Bainbridge couple received, but I am sitting here wondering what sort of restitution one can make for blowing up someone’s home while they are sleeping in it. And if one of those people had been seriously injured or killed, what sort of restitution would make up for that?

As for Dimock, PA, the situation there remains unresolved. After more than a year and a half, they still have no permanent water supply to their homes.

Mary Sweeney

You don’t have to assume anything, the entire report and study is online and Lustgarten even used it as source … what he didn’t do is reference the study’s conclusions which kinda sorta demolished his argument. I’d post a link, but I cannot. Google: “Report on the Investigation of the Natural Gas Invasion of Aquifers in Bainbridge Township” to find it. Methodology and complete results are listed in the report.

I never claimed that what happened in Bainbridge is evidence of the “benign effects of gas drilling”. I was using it as an example of the worst case scenario, that has been documented, to illustrate that even under this catastrophic scenario it was demonstrated that NO fracturing fluids made their way into the water table. Oh yeah .. and they even have a pre drilling baseline to confirm this.

As for restitution and people dying … fair enough! Lets ban planes, because they crash and like people. Lets ban trains because they too kill people. Lets ban bridges, because they have been known from time to time to collapse and kill people. Lets not forget about hotels …. they have burned to the ground on occasion and killed lot of people.  See where I am going with this? Every activity has an associated risk and sometimes that risk includes death. We have to determine what associated level of risk we will tolerate, both individually and a society, on any given activity before we abandon it. If you are going to come back and say ANY risk is too high then I cry “shenanigans”! Complete elimination of risk is impossible.

Mike H.  Just when I thought that you might be open eyed, you prove me wrong. As I noted before, “There You Go Again”. Hiding behind the: “There isn’t any evidence”! Unless I’ve missed something here, there hasn’t been any real extensive testing done. So, I would challenge you to show us if indeed there are no residuals in any aquifer, be it in New Your, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wyoming, even down to Kentucky/Tennessee/Georgia, where the water that travels underground through the great Aquifer down the Atlantic seaboard. I’m sure that you can produce such Scientific evidence, can’t you?


Your argument from ignorance is duly noted. A tribute to the reality based community!

Clearly two facts surface

1. One can not rely on industry to always meet regulations or exceed current regulations if they are aware more needs to be done.

2. Where controversy exist there is surely a boogie in the well.

3. If the ordinary person sees or experiences a problem then you can bet one exist.

I suspect that the Scientist will have a lot to say about number 3 above. I would just say on which side does the Scientist receive renumeration?

Mike H. Well, if that’s the way your going to be, then Are you really who you think you are ?, Or are you just a lowly shill or troll? I didn’t insult you, I only asked for some scientific back up. You sound like someone who has been backed into a corner through your own mouth, sort of like the guy who lets his mouth write checks his ass can’t cover.


If I offended you I am sorry. If you want scientific evidence then read the Ohio DNR. It had baseline measurements and took numerous samples from local wells and found nothing. Its all there in black and white.

We have non-potable potty mouths among us. Perhaps taking something for gas would help.

Mike H., you didn’t offend me, but it was the way you expressed yourself. I did say on an earlier post, that I was impressed by your words. That still stands, but this whole series of back & forth, does bring out emotions from everyone.  So, don’t take it to hart, though you might give some thought to some who don’t have at their disposal, more factoids, be they good or otherwise.

To pgillenw: I take it that your comment was directed to MOI? Please explain yourself. You might also state whether you are male or female, perhaps whether you are over or under 30 40 50 years of age?  The dialect indicates someone who?

Patrick Walker

Aug. 4, 2010, 7:12 a.m.

Slick water hydrofracking in shale is a relatively young technology of which we have very limited experience. Given the sheer force required, as well as the volume of toxic chemicals involved and the unsolved problems of what to do with the wastewater, I see every reason not to be rushing ahead with this process; I’m alarmed beyond words that the industry projects 168,000 wells in PA in five years and 785,000 in ten. At up to 18—or is it more?—frack jobs per well, the probable number of accidents seems intolerable, even if the risk is 0.1%. And who has solid empirical data to support even that low a figure?

We should be profliferating not wells, but both research and public scientific debates between industry and non-industry researchers.

Besides, no citizen of a democracy should be forced without consent to live with the negative community impacts of this technology. Some may argue property owners’ right to make whatever contracts they wish, but clearly there have to be limits. No one has a right to use private property to test H-bombs; the cumulative effects of drilling so many wells may make this example less extreme than it sounds. But extreme scenarios aside, why should citizens of a democracy (in theory, anyway) be forced to accept what, on the scale projected, amounts to a totalitarian remake of the state they live in. To lease signers here, we need to apply Kantian ethics—what if everybody did it? The answer is that our state is turned into Gasland. Loving the beauty and variety of my state—its relative exemption from the monotone ugliness of overindustrialized strip-mall America, I see no reason whatsoever to give my consent—which, BTW, I have not even been asked.

Victor Kovacs

Aug. 4, 2010, 9:14 a.m.

The handwriting is on the wall. NY State Senate took a first step towards a moratorium on fracking in this state and the momentum is just beginning. So a friendly reminder to Mike and David and all the other shills and tools of the oil and gas lobby, it’s time to update the old resume and find a new line of work. You do what you do for money and we do it because we want to save our water and our natural resources and you have zero public support on this. The only pro-frackers are the ones paid to support it and we outnumber you now and our numbers are growing daily. The truth is out and you’ve lost.


As I have stated before I have ZERO financial interest one way or the other in O&G exploration. I do what I do because of rampant misinformation on this subject propagated by individuals like Lustgarten and Fox.

If gas development stalls because of this, then everyone loses. The people of New York look to be the first victims of this campaign.

Victor Kovacs

Aug. 4, 2010, 1:57 p.m.

Mike, if you are telling the truth then that makes this even more sad and tragic. At least I can understand David’s desire to poison the water and destroy the environment because he makes a good living at it. To defend hydro-fracking and the negative impact it has on the lives of ordinary citizens without even the excuse of being paid to spout the lies of the Oil and Gas lobby makes your actions even more unconscionable.

Since you’re such a technical whiz and you love to give of yourself so freely why don’t you devote your time and energy to the cause of renewable energy and actually contribute to the betterment of the lives of those around you? Wouldn’t your mother be more proud of you if you weren’t shilling for an industry that only destroys life?

Oh, FYI, gas development in NYS is stalled and will never happen. Cabot Oil is pulling out of PA and this is just the beginning. Hydro-fracking is finished and those citizens who still have clean water will be glad that we stood up to the corporations who have no regard for their rights, their land or their lives.

It’s never too late to get on the right side of this. You don’t have to be a tool all your life.

Patrick Walker,

Well said.

“Mike H”, who do you work for?  Encana?  Chesapeake?  Cabot?  EOG Resources?  Chief O&G?  It’s nice of you to come here and spread your company’s propaganda, the same lies that these companies fed to land owners to get them to sign leases.  However if you plan winning an internet comment argument, you might want to find some naive elementary school kids to argue with, because you aren’t fooling anyone here.

To Daimon Paul,  Excellent question. 

To Mike H. just what do you imply by the 2nd para to Victor about the People of New York look to be the victims of this campaign? Aside from your repeating the “No evidence” prevalent in the O & G argument, there are still questions to be answered about “Safety”, that still haven’t been addressed. Water to drink being the most important. It takes water to do this kind of operation, won’t you agree? That chemicals are & sand/ceramics go into the brew too, begs the question: what happens to the disposal of same after the fracturing process? The moratorium imposed in New York State isn’t unreasonable, in light of some of the negative instances that have come to light, regardless of where. The questions being asked today, is in response to complacency, taking the industries word for it, throwing up the money/employment/clean energy issue, especially in these days of chaos in our country. The record shows beyond a doubt that the O & G industry leaves a mess for someone else to clean up, usually @ taxpayers expense. When industry preaches “Trust Us” but refuses to say what is in the brew, (trade secrets) B.S., then they should be required to post bond for the potential worth of each hole they bore as good faith in their so stated safe procedure. What say you to that, Mike H.?

I live in Lousiana where oil & gas (that all of you in the northern and east coast) use a lot of.  You fuss and cuss about all the side effects of extracting this commodity, but you don’t want it in your back yard.

I say don’t do it then; but go back to horse & buggy days and see how you like it.  See how you like it when it’s cold up there and you don’t have any heating oil.

The track record on these wells is pretty darn good.
Yes, I have lots of friends and family who work in the industry.

Norman, “what happens to the disposal of same (frac water) after the fracturing process? “

Not sure what happens in other areas, but two things happen in the Piceance Basin in Colorado.  1. The water is recovered over time, stored in lined ponds, and reused in frac operations.  2. A couple of different technologies are being employed in the area that clean up the water and allow it to be discharged (under state quality permits, pretty tight permits btw) and/or reused.

Jackie,  what do they do with the waste products down there in Louisiana? [S] What do you think of the recent B.P. fiasco? Don’t misunderstand my questions as an attach upon you or your values, but I can’t help but ask, as the whole World has been focused upon the Gulf. Your State is taking a beating from this. As to your comment about going back to the horse & buggy days, this has always been a phrase of the O & G industry, which does cause me to ask.

Norman, the people of New York will have to pay the consequences for the moratorium. Some of those consequences are positive, like the warm fuzzy feeling all the Manhattanites will get for doing something “good for mother earth”. Considering the lack of evidence, against groundwater contamination (as well as evidence from well failures in Ohio that even when a there was a loss of containment of gas, there was no associated loss of containment of fracturing fluid) from the fracking process, this seems to be the extent of the positives.

The negatives, on the other hand, include less natural gas supply for residential, power and industrial customers, less royalty revenue for landowners, fewer jobs, and less tax revenue for local and state governments.

On the whole, I think it’s a losing proposition for New Yorkers.

As far as the government having to clean up after O&G producers, can you point to a specific incident where gas drilling caused some kind of damage and the government had to pick up the tag for its cleanup? Remember, this conversation is about gas drilling, not what happened with Macondo. I realize juxtaposing the two is good for the guilt by association track, but its not relevant to this conversation.

As far as bonding goes, I don’t think that would be an unreasonable request. This might already be the case, you would have to ask someone else about that.

Victor Kovacs

Aug. 5, 2010, 11:27 a.m.

Jackie, I don’t want us to go back to horse and buggy days any more than I want us to go back to the land baron and rail baron days of unregulated corporate monopolies. The Oil and Gas Industry has served it’s place in the history of the development of the human race, that is without question. It has provided jobs and incomes to millions of Americans and it still does. Through the last half of the 20th century we, as a people, became increasingly aware of the environmental damage caused by the Oil and Gas Industry and laws were passed to balance the needs of Americans for affordable energy with protection of our ecology. The 2005 Energy Bill created a loophole that allowed hydraulic fracturing to operate outside of The Clean Water Act of 1972. In the process of fracking, known dangerous chemicals, including benzene and toluene are introduced into the ground using millions of gallons of water which is now contaminated with the chemicals. Instead of persuing this dangerous and unregulated industry practice we would all be better off if we would move toward developing energy independence from polluting energy industries. Oil and Gas dependence did not spring up overnight and it will not be ended overnight but polluting our watersheds with known carcinogens when no one, not even the brilliant technocrat Mike H, knows the long term effects is a risk I’m not willing to take. That is why millions of Americans oppose fracking.

Mike H.,  what are your credentials for what you cite? Also, do you know what the disposition of the waste by-products are?  Can you state from experience that the chemicals used do not migrate into the aquifer? As I also stated previously, the many rivers in New York & Pennsylvania take a dip underground, emerging down South in Kentucky/Tennessee/Georgia.  You also cite 1,000’s of wells already dug, but where is the records showing that there is no migration of chemicals? You might also answer the question of the many small drillers hoping to make it big and what they do to the wast by-products? Who are you representing? Why should we believe what you say if your not forthcoming about that?

As for the taxpayers cleaning up after the O & G industry, prior to the 70’s, they just closed down shop & walked away. I believe it was in the 70’s that they were required by law to clean up after themselves. Re: all the gasoline stations that were closed, especially the independents who couldn’t afford the price tag. Also, the Superfund sites that the industry closed & walked away from. Then there are the terminals, that have/had leaking tanks, pipe lines, valves. Some of these terminals that leaked 1,000’s of gallons underground, which migrated, while others just displaced ground water leaving vast pools behind. This also took place with aforementioned gasoline stations.

Juxtaposing? Mike, until you prove that the chemicals used in Fracturing are harmless to both water, humans, the land, animals, then your going to have to live with it. The facts that the industry has been able to play their way all these years, doesn’t mean a thing today. Are you willing to take the chance of having your family living on a potentially polluted site?  Eat food grown with potentially poisoned water, drink same? These are real concerns, not just hyperbole on the public.

One other thing, your snide remarks as to the Manhattanites [s] being all fuzzy & warm about doing something good for Mother Earth, call into question your bona fides!

If the chemical brew is proprietary one can only conclude that O & G industry has something to hide.

O & G industry is not to be trusted.

Would one be stupid enough to trust BP or lets say Haliburton? I thinks not.

So I just spent about 3 hours reading through everyone’s comments from this page as well as well as several others, and would greatly appreciate it if you took some time to read mine, even though it may be a bit lengthy.

Clearly this is an issue that needs to be addressed with the necessary environmental concern and economic consideration that is not just for that of the present but also for that of future generations.  Most importantly, it needs to be approached with a clear and open mind.

The potential benefits of this shale play include…
1.  The potential for hundreds of billions if not a trillion dollars of economic stimulation (keeping in mind that much of that goes to company profits)
2.  The potential to create thousands of new jobs
3.  The development of the cleanist fossil fuel of the three, which will help to mitigate some of impact on the climate.
4.  A move towards “energy independence” (personally I don’t like this particular term)

On the other side with the potential concerns are
1.  The adverse effects of the chemicals used in fracing
2.  Potential groundwater contamination
3.  Potential for air pollution
4.  Ecosystems destruction
5.  Road degredation

To me, each side has valid points that everyone can agree on.  What seems to be the issue here if the degree to which the industry will be regulated.  You are ABSOLUTELY lying to yourself and others if you think and say that an appropriate middle-ground has been reached by all sides concerned with this issue.

Personally, I don’t see any problem with increased regulation.  I do see a problem with the exemptions the natural gas industry has from the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Superfund Law, and Clean Air Act.  If there truly is nothing to fear about the ENTIRE natural gas drilling process, then the industry should welcome this huge publicity via regulation and inspection with open arms; if anything they could finally prove to the public that the process is safe, and we wouldn’t just have to take your word for it like we believed the MMS and BP.  For an industry that touts the generation of jobs, they should support an increased regulation which would create jobs in that sector too (or does a double-standard apply?)

Additionally, if a significant portion of the public calls for a review on this process then it must be done, regardless what a few companies say.  Last time I checked, power was derived in America from the people, and the multi-million to billion dollar profits the gas companies are making can take a back seat.  It’s the “better safe that sorry” mentallity.  I mean after all, those of us who can afford insurance buy it don’t’ we for that “just-in-case” scenario?  All we’re asking for is some assurance, through a non-biased, well-funded study, that this process is safe.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Marcellus Shale we be developed.  We have too severe an addiction to fossil-fuel based energy for such a large energy source to be left untapped.  However, at the end of the day natural gas is still a non-renewable resource, and if we continue to burn in a few decades what took hundreds of millions of years to form without the intention of transitioning to a sustainable future, we WILL be in BIG trouble.  It’s not like we can just transition to a sustainable infrastructure overnight once that gas runs out.

Yes I might only be 20, but 10-15 years from now, when I am trying to start a family, seccure a job, buy a home, basically live a normal life, I want to be able to do so without worrying about that we’ve compromised our chances of a sustainable future.  Ultimately it’s not the current generation in power that’s going to have to deal with major problems of today (not that a multi-trillion dollar deficit, deteriorating US global image, lack of a renewable infrastructure, etc. etc. are enough), but it will be MY generation.  That being said, I really don’t appreciate the lack consideration for my future as we approach this issue like it’s the next California Gold Rush.

We are never going to make any progress working against each other. The only way forward is through responsible cooperation, which if done properly will generate hundreds of billions of dollars in economic stimulation.

Thank you for your time and consideration if you read all this.  I will continue to read and follow your comments.

Patrick Walker

Aug. 6, 2010, 1:13 p.m.

I see no objections to my comment (and thanks to pgillenw for your compliment). Am I to conclude that silence implies consent?

Further, if gas drilling right-here, right-now is so clearly wonderful, why was the pro-moratorium vote in the NY Senate a resounding 48-9? It seems to me the voice of democracy has forcefully spoken, and if you have a problem with that, the burden of proof is heavily on you to show the people they’re mistaken.

Problem here in PA is, our political process is SO corrupted by undue gas industry influence (as well documented by Common Cause) that we suffer “taxation without representation” and the people have never been given unbiased info or any chance to decide in light of it.

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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