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Sunday, May 13, 2012


FRACKING 
INSANE
Mini-Earthquakes
Not a Good Plan 
Green - Shale gas Fracked  
Brown - Tight gas Fracked 
Red - Onshore Conventional
Blue - Lower 48 Offshore  
Black - Coalbed Fracked

First there was the Westward Expansion, next the Gold Rush, then the Wildcatter Oil Boom. Now we’ve got the Natural Gas Fracking Boom, with all the irrational exuberance and then some, of these former booms. The natural gas industry, in close association with the Department of Energy (DOE) and our lawmakers (of every political party) has embarked on a very ambitious plan, as evidenced in this Energy Information Administration (EIA) graph showing projections of usage of various sources of natural gas through the year 2035. Natural gas (mainly methane gas, but also propane, butane, benzene, etc.) is a “fossil fuel” that takes many thousands of years to produce, and thus is considered a “non-renewable resource”, as opposed to hydro-electric, wind, and solar power, which are “renewable resources”. When energy executives in the 70’s and 80’s confronted the fact that natural gas (along with coal and oil) was “non-renewable”, which meant that they might actually someday run out (and the execs might not continue to enjoy the profits), it apparently sent them into a panic. Rather than accept the fact that they would run out someday, and pursue other technologies, they instead committed themselves to finding new sources of fossil fuels, and so, even if they could drill some new wells, if they couldn’t get enough natural gas through “conventional” means, they’d have to find it through “unconventional” means, thus the cataclysmic expansion of “fracking”. They planned to drill tens of thousands of horizontal “hydro-fracturing” wells, (13,000 a year currently), which are “completed” by a process involving millions of gallons of water, and sand, and tens of thousands of gallons of dangerous toxic chemicals, and radioactive isotopes for tracers, which pressurized to the max will pulverize the rock, magically yielding millions of cubic feet of precious natural gas.

Rather than risk a set-back caused by the pesky environmentalists, the industry, in close cooperation with the DOE and our lawmakers, decided to go on the offensive (a good sports strategy). In 2005, the Bush/Cheney administration (Cheney’s Halliburton is the pioneer of fracking) introduced and passed an Energy Bill, which exempted fracking nationwide from compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 (we’re not aware of any other business before or after getting this exemption), not to mention dozens of other state laws and regulatory processes, and eminent domain, (“compulsory integration“), and zoning laws, that have been changed to allow the unbridled growth of this industry. It’s as if our lawmakers declared our desperate need for natural gas a National Emergency. They’re certainly acting like that in the suspension of the laws that protect our environment, and in their dealing with any federal, state, or local law or situation that would stand in their way.

If there really was a National Emergency, and we needed this natural gas for our very survival, we would still question this bizarre exemption from the laws that protect us and our environment. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as well as numerous state environmental agencies, are supposed to protect the water and air that we Americans and our children drink and breathe (from those that would harm us in the name of profit), and yet, all of these agencies seem to have suspended operations, when it comes to fracking.

But there is no National Emergency. We were amazed to find in our research that there is no shortage of natural gas in this country. In fact, partially due to the warm winter we just experienced, and also due to the newly developed sources, there is such an oversupply, that they are running out of places to store it (salt caverns, tanks, etc.). Wholesale prices are at a 10 year low, hovering around $2.00/mmBtu (million British thermal units-translates to 1000 cubic feet), whereas a year ago the price was in the $5.00-$6.00 range, and the 10 year high in 2006 was close to $15.00/mmBtu. So suddenly, natural gas at around $2.00 isn’t so profitable. On top of this, the cost of the start-up equipment and construction, the cost of fracking each well numerous times, with all the associated costs of the chemicals and proppant (sand) and dealing with the waste water disposal,  is higher than estimated, and the yield and longevity of each well is less than was originally estimated by their experts. So the stock prices and “shareholder value” of these companies are diminishing. (Note that, other than Shell Oil, most of these players are not the big oil companies, and we wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll be seeing some bankruptcies over the next few years.) And then the ugly specter looms in the background of well-minded American citizens waking up to find that there is no emergency, and that they don’t have to allow the industry and their politicians to continue to intimidate them and poison them and their children. And what about long term liability?

All of this casts doubt on the viability of the entire fracking scheme, but those exuberant boom-minded energy execs are slow to realize the landscape is changing. My guess is that they will “take the ostrich approach”, and continue on their current strategy of expansion at all costs. Even though it is an insane strategy, they will rationalize it in their desire to meet projections for future demands, as shown in the graph at the top of this page.

If you take a look at the same graph, you’ll note that fracking is not limited to the shale rock formations, where the experts predict the biggest growth (green on the graph - sedimentary rock deep underground that contains natural gas). Tight Gas, or Tight Sands Gas (brown on the graph) also has to be drilled and fracked, in order to harvest it. The third kind of gas that is sometimes fracked is Coalbed Methane (black on the graph) from abandoned coal mines and coal seams that until 1989 was simply ignored.

So, let me show you a map of the territory. It’ll make it easier for you to understand what fracking is and how it threatens our health and the health of our planet.

Schematic depiction of hydraulic fracturing for shale gas, showing potential environmental effects.

First they drill the well 5,000 – 20,000 feet deep with a right angle turn so that much of the drilling (the next 2,000 – 10,000 feet) is horizontal. Then they are ready for the ”completion” phase, where the actual fracking occurs. They send millions of gallons of toxic fracking fluid (over 90% water, but highly toxic, acidic, and carcinogenic) and sand down the well with tremendous pressure (15,000psi, pounds per square inch). To give you reference, an anti-personnel bomb in Afghanistan yields a pressure of 500psi – 1/30th of fracking pressure - and can be heard up to 100 miles away. And the fracking fluid is so toxic, that if it were a bomb, it would be illegal to use in warfare under the rules of the Geneva Convention. They also introduce radioactive isotopes into the fracking fluid so they can trace their progress, as if this were an overgrown biomedical experiment. Then they induce “flowback”, and pump out as much of this toxic mixture as they can (typically more than 50% is never recovered), and collect it in ponds or tanks for eventual disposal. And they repeat this process in the same well again and again, up to 16 times, or until they are satisfied with the gas yield. Next, in order to get rid of these millions of gallons of toxic waste water, their garbage, they inject the equivalent of a 30 acre lake with very high pressure down into the bottom of deep “injection wells”, which they claim will never reappear, due to gravity. Well, what about pressure from seismic activity, and what about the pressure from the next lake-size injection? And, if there aren’t enough licensed injection wells near the fracking wells, they truck it in hundreds of tanker trucks from Pennsylvania to Ohio, for an example, (or truck it to sewage treatment plants that inadequately treat it and then release it into our rivers).

As campers who routinely camp in pristine National and State Forests with no facilities, we realize how difficult it is for us to keep the wilderness clean, but our desire not to pollute is magnified by the surrounding beauty. Simply washing the dishes while camping can be a problem. Here they are dealing with millions of gallons of toxic fluids and waste water in the middle of the woods with no infrastructure to help them. The opportunities for contamination of the groundwater are endless, whether at the surface, the subsurface as the wells cross the aquifers (underground flows of water), or from the depths of the fracking wells or injection wells.  And besides this routine pollution, accidents will happen, and it’d be na├»ve to think otherwise. Also, out of over 10,000 new managers hired annually, even if 9,500 of them are exemplary and highly responsible, you’ve got to believe that some will take shortcuts, either because they misinterpret the direction of upper management, or through disregard of environmental or safety rules to improve the bottom line, and to make themselves look good. And a few bad managers can do an awful lot of harm.

The EPA, which found no evidence of groundwater contamination from fracking in their admittedly flawed report back in 2004, (clearing the way for the suspension of the Safe Drinking Water Act when it comes to fracking) made no findings regarding the well water pollution issue until December 8, 2011, when they, after years of allegations and lots of evidence from fracking locations all over the country, finally admitted that water from wells near Pavillion, Wyoming were contaminated with chemicals used in fracking and with high levels of methane and benzene (a known carcinogen). The EPA insists this draft finding is specific to Pavillion, Wyoming, and shouldn’t be construed to relate to the industry, and yet here is a letter dated February 7, 2012, from the Railroad Commission in Texas (PDF) (a powerful organization that controls all fracking in Texas), listing the names of 10 US Senators as added weight, that is extremely critical of the EPA’s finding and is designed to intimidate the EPA from future similar findings contrary to their interests.

Now we are expecting a long awaited study by the EPA (large PDF) of potential impacts of fracking on drinking water resources nationwide, of which we were officially notified in November, 2011. Take a look at this response from the Presidents and CEO’s of 8 oil and gas industry associations (PDF) designed to delay and intimidate the EPA from coming out with any findings of groundwater pollution from fracking. Hopefully, the EPA will not just take into account the evidence from the “stakeholders”, as suggested in this arrogant industry letter, but will also hear the abundance of anecdotal, medical, and scientific evidence from the community, which is being plagued by everything from flammable water coming out of faucets, to brown smelly water, not to mention the radioactivity and real health issues, like skin rashes and cancer.

On May 4, 2012, the Obama administration through the Bureau of Land Management of the Department of the Interior issued a proposed rule regulating fracking on public and Indian lands, (approximately 3,400 of the 13,000 new wells drilled annually - wells fracked on private property are regulated by the states). Chemical names (but not formulas) used in the fracking fluid on public and Indian lands will now have to be revealed, but rather than 30 days prior to drilling, as the government originally proposed before months of talks and industry pressure, now the chemicals will not have to be disclosed until after the fracking has been completed. Once again, the government continues to endorse and support the fracking industry.

 ( “A report released in December 2011 by Common Cause notes that the fracking industry gave $20.5 million to current members of Congress and has spent at least $700 million on lobbying over the past decade.”)

As recently as April 18, 2012, the EPA issued its first ever ruling on air pollution from fracking. It found that the air is being polluted by smelly, leaking methane (a greenhouse gas 20 times worse for global warming than carbon dioxide), and by various hydrocarbons including cancer causing benzene and other VOC’s (volatile organic compounds). The ruling is that the fracking industry must put in measures to reduce these emissions to specific levels. The problem with this first ever EPA ruling on air pollution from fracking is that they’ve given the industry almost 3 years, until January 2015, to comply.  Well, what about the respiratory problems and the health of the locals who are breathing the air now and for the next few years? Apparently the EPA has decided under industry pressure that the health of the local citizens can wait.

Despite all the disappointments with the EPA, many of the environmentally-minded were excited about the prospects of the FRAC Act (Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals) which was reintroduced in the US Congress on March 22, 2011, actually being brought to a vote and passed into law. Though this was unlikely, given the power of the Energy Lobbies over our lawmakers, the FRAC Act would have reapplied the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 to the fracking industry, which was exempted from it by Bush/Cheney in 2005. The Act would have also compelled the fracking companies to fully reveal the chemical contents of the fracking fluids, without hiding behind the cloak of the chemicals being “proprietary”, even when it comes to doctors treating individuals for exposure. Unfortunately, the FRAC Act died in committee, but we still hear of attempts to revive it.

We recently learned about a brave technician, Paul Hetzler, who resigned from the state environmental agency responsible for regulating fracking in New York. In a letter sent to an upstate newspaper, Hetzler warned that fracking “as it's practiced today will contaminate our aquifers...If you were looking for a way to poison the drinking water supply...you couldn't find a more chillingly effective and thorough method of doing so than...hydraulic fracturing." He called the plan for removing New York’s ban on fracking “insane”. We also heard from an unnamed union rep at New York’s Department of Conservation who “warned that the under-staffed agency lacks the capacity to monitor the gas drilling industry or cope with the kind of industrial accidents that could result if Gov. Cuomo's fracking plan goes forward”. That brings up an important point. With so many new wells, is oversight even possible?

And then there’s the subject of earthquakes. We do have evidence of numerous earthquakes (of 3.0 up to 4.7 on the Richter scale) caused by injection wells related to fracking in Arkansas and Ohio. Although the supporters of fracking are quick to point out that tremors happen all the time, we have seen the incidence of tremors subside in these areas by over 50% when these injection wells were shut down. Although we have no reports of earthquakes caused by fracking itself, we do know that fracking, with its 15,000psi high pressure, rock splitting punch, causes “micro-seismic” activity. We have proof that the industry owns and uses, (and is looking for better), equipment for monitoring micro-seismic activity. Perhaps all of this micro-seismic activity from all of the new fracking in a concentrated area could resonate into real seismic activity someday, especially if it takes place near an unknown fault line.

Despite all the evidence, despite all the warnings, these industry execs seem hell-bent for fracking. And they’re preparing for the protesters they expect. At a meeting this past winter, Matt Carmichael, Manager of External Affairs for Anadarko Petroleum suggested to a group of industry public relations execs that they download the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual, because “we are dealing with an insurgency”.  We also heard that Matt Pitzarella, Director of Communications for Range Resources, bragged about how his hiring of former military “psy-ops” (psychological operations) personnel helped in their big success in Pennsylvania. For your information, a veteran member of another psy-ops team, who has run operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, tells us that everyone in psy-ops and intel knows that “you’re not supposed to target Americans. It’s what you learn on day one." The Department of Defense has deemed it illegal for the military to practice psy-ops, mind games, on Americans. But, whether it is illegal or immoral, it’s clear that the fracking industry considers any opposition the enemy.

While we’re on the subject of public relations, let’s not miss the fact that the energy industry is spending millions of dollars on a comprehensive campaign involving websites like NaturalGas.org and Energyfromshale.org and many others, as well as social networking sites, where they endeavor to win the hearts and minds of Americans, so the people will realize that gas is “clean energy”, and that fracking is the way to go, and that it’s safe.  It isn’t – burning gas may be cleaner than coal, but still has a huge carbon footprint. The energy industry is also supporting front groups like EID (Energy in Depth) and Energy Citizens, who pretend to be private citizen groups, and whose job it is to attack people and organizations concerned about the dangers of fracking and the toxic chemicals used. A primary target of EID has been the Emmy Award winning documentary, “Gasland” by Josh Fox, a documentary, which EID does everything possible to discredit.  The movie's about what it’s like to be living in a location with fracking.

The people most affected by fracking, the people in the vortex, are, for the most part, country people, who’ve lived in these rural communities for generations. While many of the young people were moving off to the big city, these were the people who chose to stay, who opted for the country way of life. Now in the past 10 years or less, the fracking industry is threatening that way of life. At first, most people tried to be positive, focusing on jobs and any good that might come of it.  But it doesn’t take long to change your attitude, if when you walk outside in the morning and take a breath of fresh air, all you smell is the stink of gas. With 400 tractor trailers and heavy equipment transports rolling by your house every day raising up dust and exhaust and noise, and the ugly specter of what’s in those trucks, and the muffled fracking explosions in the background, and when your well water, which was fine for decades, turns brown and smells of gas and chemicals, and your real estate value has gone to hell, it’s hard to remain positive. And if you go to your neighbors for sympathy, people you’ve known all your life and with whom you go to church, they act like strangers, and you get ostracized in the name of job opportunities, in the name of progress.. And if you go to the politicians who you’ve known forever and with whom you've always shook hands, or dare to complain to any governmental board or agency, they treat you with utter disdain and ridicule, and discredit you for not being a team player. You feel like you’re living in a sci-fi horror movie. It’s hard to believe this could be happening in America.

And it’s not just the local people who are being affected. The employees who work at these wells are at ground zero when it comes to contact with the toxic chemicals and radioactive isotopes, and I’m sure they’re not wearing all the requisite protective equipment. Liability issues loom everywhere.

Now, we’ve talked enough about human beings who are pro and con fracking. Now let’s talk about Mother Earth and her innocent creatures that are being threatened. If you think about it, the whole process of fracking is very similar to rape. They are literally raping Mother Earth. And the potential affect on her creatures, the wildlife, could be devastating. Even more than humans, they depend on groundwater for their survival, and their entire food chain can become poisoned. And our pets can be affected, too. The whole nightmare scenario is too much to bear.

We encourage you to do your own research, to draw your own conclusions, and to get involved. Remember, there is no National Emergency. There is no need to suspend our environmental laws or our rights to a safe environment. At least for now, we have an overabundance of natural gas, and we should be concentrating our efforts on developing renewable resources and new technologies, and not on finding every last square foot of gas, and every last gallon of oil.


Here’s an interesting video from ABC’s Nightline that shows a lot, including footage from the earthquakes in Arkansas.



This is a great animated rap music video of My Water’s On Fire Tonight (The Fracking Song), produced by students at NYU for ProPublica.org, a website that has been in the forefront of good reporting on fracking. The music video’s amazingly thorough. You’ve got to check it out.







2 comments:

  1. Thanks for keep working so hard on this.
    Fracking is CRIMINAL.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fracking is insane, irresponsible and inconsiderate to our only home; anyone who could witness or even visualize the devastation of the underground by such a primitive and brutal method of extraction would be appalled and call 911 for help! Anyone who would submit the basement of their home to such violence would be diagnosed insane and locked-in for their own good and that of their neighbours. Unfortunately, we only react to what we see and fracking, like ocean drilling, is literally an underworld operation that can, as such, proceed in all impunity. No-one will EVER be able to repair the damage done to our planet by fracking.

    ReplyDelete