EPA Study Probably Won't Prove That Fracking is Unsafe, Though It May Be

By The Intersection | June 25, 2011 5:09 pm

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., a research scientist and aspiring policy wonk, who recently moved to D.C. to get a taste of the action

Recently, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson stated that there is no evidence that the “fracking” process has lead to contamination of ground water. In response to a question from the U.S. House Oversight Committee, she said,

“I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water, although there are investigations ongoing.”

The term “fracking” refers to a process of extracting natural gas from wells drilled deep below the Earth’s surface. The technique is officially known as hydraulic fracturing and involves pumping a water-based fluid into a well under high pressure so as to cause the formation of cracks in deep rock layers. The cracks and the chemical ingredients in the fracture fluid facilitate more efficient extraction of the natural gas.

Critics of the process have made claims that hydraulic fracturing has contaminated aquifers and other water sources with ingredients from toxic fracking fluid in areas where natural gas drilling is occurring. A documentary entitled “Gas Land” recently sensationalized the story by showing scenes in which drinking water had become flammable. Here’s a famous scene from the movie:

The problem with the critics’ argument is there is insufficient evidence to prove that the contaminated water is indisputably due to fracking. The process has been used for many years and has not been scrutinized until recently. Despite the scrutiny, no one has carried out thorough investigations to determine whether the process is likely to lead to water contamination. Sure, there have been cases where it is suspected that the process has contaminated ground water. Indeed, I have blogged about it here at The Intersection, but with no analysis of the ground water prior to drilling, one cannot be sure that the contamination is directly caused by the fracking industry.

Personally, even though the evidence is sparse and inconclusive, I still believe the risks of contamination are too high for us to continue drilling for natural gas without significant oversight and regulation. A recent blowout in Bradford County, Pennsylvania has contaminated the immediate surrounding areas and three private wells with chemical-laced water. I feel strongly that fracking is unsafe as it is currently being carried out.

Fortunately, the Obama administration has made it a priority to take a look at the hydraulic fracturing industry. On Thursday, the EPA announcedthe seven natural gas drilling sites where it will conduct case studies. The investigations will look at the impact of hydraulic fracturing on local drinking water.

The sites include drilling in Haynesville Shale in DeSoto Parish, La., Marcellus Shale in Washington County, Bradford and Susquehanna, Pa., Bakken Shale in Kildeer and Dunn Counties, N.D., Barnett Shale in Wise and Denton Counties, TX, and Raton Basin in Las Animas County, Colo.

Here are my concerns about the EPA’s plan:

First, there is little or no evidence that the toxic ingredients in fracking fluid have contaminated drinking water directly from the below-ground wells. Dangerous chemicals like benzene and acrylamide are known to be part of the fracking mixture, but legislation has protected the industry under intellectual property rights from fully revealing the contents. Therefore, investigators have been unable to do proper testing for all the chemicals contained in the mixture. Regardless, it seems that the fracking fluid and, in fact, the fracking process is not the problem.

There are numerous physical arguments against the possibility that fracking fluid will find its way into drinking water during the hydraulic fracturing process. The pressures at those depths are so high it is unlikely the chemicals will be able to flow upward into the aquifer. Also, the permeability of the shale is so low it seems unlikely the chemicals will penetrate the rock. Of course, there is the possibility that the cracks created by the process could connect with natural cracks in the rock formations leading to a direct connection between the well and the aquifer, but this is statistically unlikely. My point is that if the EPA focuses on the fracking process alone it is unlikely that they will find a connection between drilling and contamination at the 7 selected sites.

As described in the PNAS paper, the problem of contamination is most likely due to leaky gas-wells, not the hydraulic fracturing itself. The EPA investigators will need to look at the wells as well as the fracking process. However, because the sites have been announced ahead of time, the drillers can take special precautions to ensure high quality wells are drilled and that the concrete is poured properly so as to avoid any leaks or spills. If so, investigators may not find any contamination.

Second, there are millions of natural gas wells across the country. Very few of them have been linked to any contamination. Statistically, for the EPA to choose only 7 wells, I believe it is highly unlikely they will find a correlation between drilling and contamination.

For me, the issue of water contamination due to the fracking process is not simply a yes or no question. It is a matter of risk. We must ask ourselves if we are willing to risk the possibility of water contamination occurring in our neighborhood. Given that few of the natural gas sites across the country have caused contamination, I think it is unlikely that the EPA study will demonstrate a direct correlation between hydraulic fracturing and water contamination. If this is the case, this study will do more harm than good by providing evidence, albeit faulty, for the gas industry to argue that fracking is safe. The real question is whether you are willing to take the risk of having undrinkable water. Are you?

I guess we can be thankful that the fracking process as it is being done today is very different from the plowsharing process proposed in the 70′s.

Let’s keep our eyes on this study and hope that it yields the results we need.

Follow Jamie Vernon on Twitter or read his occasional posts at his personal blog, “American SciCo.”

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Uncategorized

Comments (58)

  1. Drew

    I grew up in Bradford County, PA. I’ve been told by others that, as seen in Gasland, methane frequently does impact drinking water near drilling sites but that it is only temporary. I wish I could give sources or links to back this up–but that issue seemed very ho-hum to others when I brought it up in conversations. The folks I was speaking too were liberals, environmentalists and more informed than me. I have been more interested in the earthquakes this types of drilling caused in Arkansas.

  2. Nullius in Verba

    I could argue with a number of points, but I’m not going to because this is a good attempt at a balanced article and I like to encourage that sort of thing. (And we discussed this topic at length previously. Chris linked a very good video on the subject.)

    I can’t resist mentioning this one though: “The real question is whether you are willing to take the risk of having undrinkable water. Are you?” Methane isn’t toxic. (If it was, flatulence would probably kill you.) The risk is that methane build-up in confined spaces without adequate ventilation is an explosion risk. With awareness and some simple precautions, there’s no risk to human health from gas contamination. (That’s not to say there are no other issues.)

    Nevertheless, not bad.

  3. MrGata

    What the frack? BSG anyone? :)

  4. 1985

    As usual, everyone is completely missing the main point.

    Lots of talk about oil dependency, profits, contamination, etc.; very little about truly recoverable reserves, decline rates and EROEI. So it happens that those things alone make shale gas an exercise in futility which makes the whole debate futile too, but neither side sees it. Very illustrative of the way our collective thinking works (or, more precisely, doesn’t work).

  5. Chris Mooney

    To me the real question is, if “fracking” itself–in the limited definition of the word–isn’t causing the contamination, or at least if that’s implausible, then why are people anti-fracking?

  6. Jamie, do you think the new Texas law on disclosure of fracking materials will impact the EPA study in Denton County?

    ===

    1985 …. do you have numbers on EROEI to back up your claim its an exercise in futility? As long as the ratio is 1.1 or better, then it’s not futile. 1.1:1 may be a lot worse than 3:1, let alone 10:1, but it’s not futile; and, I suspect it’s a lot better than 1.1:1.

    ===

    Chris/5 … the NOISE, for one thing.

    The noise of fracking itself, first. (I’ve been on an oil fracking site.) Second, the amount of traffic and the noise from that.

    Aside from water pollution worries, it’s clearly noise pollution.

    And between traffic and fracking machinery, etc., you then have air pollution.

    Plus, many people don’t realize they don’t own the mineral rights beneath their feet, so they get angry and frustrated when, all of a sudden, Chesapeake or whomever just shows up.

    ===

    Nullius … you mean there’s no risk to human health from methane from gas contamination.

  7. Incredulous

    Many of the people against fracking are purely against any oil and gas development in any form and just use anything they can get any mileage out of to promote their viewpoint. The depths at which they are drilling are thousands of feet below any aquifers. If it were connected to aqufiers, the oil and gas would have dissipated long ago. There are many places where oil and gas naturally percolate to the surface. They are pretty easy to find. The gulf coast is one example.

    If you believe you can hear the fracking, you are hallucinating. Even when they use explosives for other things, when it is thousands of feet below ground, you don’t hear anything at ground level. Yes, heavy machinery is noisy. The noise from the engines on the pumps is no where near the noise from other things we take for granted daily. The noise around the many airports we have is much worse. Train yards are the same thing.

    Now, the other side is that the surface handling and casings can leak and cause contamination. No argument there. We have many places all over the world horribly contaminated by oil and gas. More likely from storage facilities than production. They are also predominantly from many years ago. Modern production takes great care to avoid contamination. Partly from people being more aware and conscientious. Partly because the potential for multi-millions and billions in expenses to clean up a site are not good for companies economically.

    The likely source for the gas in the video is either leaks from casing or pipelines or natural seepage. Fracking just doesn’t do that. It is like saying you got a nosebleed from an enema.

  8. Gaythia

    Chris Mooney@5, to the neighbors with wells, it isn’t “in the limited sense of the word” that matters. It is whether or not their own water source is contaminated, or may be contaminated at some point in the future, as a result of the drilling process in its entirety.

    The State of NY Department of Environmental Conservation (http://www.dec.ny.gov/energy/46288.html) has published the following diagram as to the process necessary to meet their states regulations for a properly drilled and cased well to protect groundwater aquifers: http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/materials_minerals_pdf/gwprotection.pdf I think that it is safe to assume that this process has not been followed in all instances. Note the possibility shown in this diagram of contamination originating in intermediate rock layers.

    Another issue may be past mining history. Some areas have been mined, for coal, or drilled for natural gas previously. The fracking process could seep upwards through these pre-existing channels and boreholes, even if the new well were cased properly.

    This link: http://geology.com/usgs/marcellus-shale/ reprinted from a USGS fact sheet, 2009-3032 , explains how extensive the fracking process can be:

    “An initially vertical drillhole is slowly turned 90 degrees to penetrate long horizontal distances, sometimes over a mile, through the Marcellus Shale bedrock. Hydraulic fractures are then created into the rock at intervals from the horizontal section of the borehole, allowing a substantial number of high-permeability pathways to contact a large volume of rock”

    The link above also contains a cross sectional diagram of the Marcellus Shale bedding in Ohio and Pennsylvania, demonstrating that these are not in idealized horizontal layers. Mountains and streams create additional complexity. http://geology.com/usgs/marcellus-shale/marcellus-shale-depth-lg.jpg

    In response to a point raised by Jamie Vernon above regarding the need for groundwater data predating the drilling, according to the source below, there is, at least in some cases, evidence that water analysis data prior to drilling does exist.

    ““The industry is sitting on hundreds of thousands of pre and post drilling data sets,” said Robert Jackson, one of the Duke scientists who authored the study, published May 9 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Jackson relied on 68 samples for his study. “I asked them for the data and they wouldn’t share it.””
    http://www.propublica.org/article/gas-drilling-companies-have-the-water-quality-methane-risk-data

    I agree with Jamie Vernon that this is a matter of risk, and that sadly, the EPA efforts are not likely to put the numerous and complex issues involved to rest. Other issues also need to be considered. Jamie’s blowout example above, and data from the USGS fact sheet regarding wastewater disposal demonstrate other contamination problems.

    Here in the west, water supplies are limited. Again, from the USGS fact sheet 2009-3032: “Drilling requires large amounts of water to create a circulating mud that cools the bit and carries the rock cuttings out of the borehole. After drilling, the shale formation is then stimulated by hydraulic fracturing, which may require up to 3 million gallons of water per treatment (Harper, 2008). Many regional and local water management agencies are concerned about where such large volumes of water will be obtained, and what the possible consequences might be for local water supplies”

    In my opinion, all of the above issues deserve extensive investigation.

  9. Incredulous, most ppl don’t live that close to airports. In fact, at least compared to oil fracking … basically nobody lives that close to airports. Ditto on train yards.

    And, really, “fracking just doesn’t do that”? And, you have proof of that how?

    And, just because we have pollution already … ohh, so what’s a bit more?

    And, really, on companies spending that much to clean stuff up? Guess you don’t live near the Houston Ship Channel, where oil refineries continue to get regularly cited for all sorts of pollution problems.

    If we’re going to have bullshit, at least sugar-coat it more.

  10. 1985

    6. SocraticGadlfy Says:
    June 25th, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    1985 …. do you have numbers on EROEI to back up your claim its an exercise in futility? As long as the ratio is 1.1 or better, then it’s not futile. 1.1:1 may be a lot worse than 3:1, let alone 10:1, but it’s not futile; and, I suspect it’s a lot better than 1.1:1.

    That kind of argument points out that you actually don’t understand EROEI at all.

    You don’t just need it to be positive, you need it to be highly positive for it to make sense because society is living on the difference between the EROEI number and 1. If the EROEI is 1.1:1, then you need to be producing 10 times as much of the stuff as if the EROEI is 10:1. Of course, these things are very high to estimate but the general thinking is that you need a total societal EROEI of at least 5 (probably more if the society is very complex) in order to sustain a society.

    What the EROEI of shale gas is actually unknown – there has been so far no study done on the subject, which is absolutely criminal when you think about. Why would anyone invest so heavily in a technology before making sure the thermodynamics is right? Well, because unfortuantely everybody involved is thermodynamically illiterate. But anyway, while we don’t know what the exact EROEI is, we know very well that it has to be much lower than conventional gas, just because you have to move giant quantities of water around, produce the fracking chemicals, generate high pressures and high temperatures for massive volumes of liquid, etc. None of those you have to do with conventional gas, and none of these calculations include the energy that will have to be expended to tackle the consequences of the release of CO2 and methane due to the production and burning of the gas (and shale gas releases a lot more methane than conventional gas)

    But I mentioned three factors in my post above – truly recoverable reserves, decline rates and EROEI that combined make shale gas an exercise in futility, and the former two are actually just as big factors as EROEI itself. Recoverable reserves have been massively overstated and the decline rates from wells are like nothing seen before in the industry. If it costs you $10M to drill a well and it declines by 85% in the first year, you better be producing serious amounts of gas during that first years. And the places where this is possible aren’t that many even though the shale formations are huge. Cost, while not absolutely, is also correlated with EROEI – if it costs you more money to produce the gas than it itself costs, than the EROEI probably isn’t very good (it may still be positive but not very much so)

  11. Incredulous

    #9 SocraticGadfly

    The vast majority of drilling doesn’t take place in the immediate vicinity of where people live either. Even when it does, they come in and work for a few weeks and then move on. The well then is quietly producing for years and they come in occasionally and do maintenance every once in a while with a workover rig that is about the size of a garbage truck. Unless you are in the immediate area where you should wear hearing protection, it is nowhere near as loud as most bars with live music or the cars that go down my street with their stereos thumping or my neighbor’s Harley or the leaf blowers from hell that everyone seems to have. They annoy me too but it is not like they are focusing acoustic death ray weapons that will make your ears bleed and stun small animals. Unfortunately, the entire world is not a nice quiet place with just the buzzing of bees and singing of birds.

    The transportation and storage is a completely different set of problems. Incidentally, I have lived in Houston and I do agree that the ship channel is a sewer. I specifically stated that the transportation and storage has been the source of the majority of the contamination. It is also totally unrelated to fracking.

    As to proof of what fracking is and does, it was pretty well covered in basics by the original post. But apparently, you have already made your mind up and nothing would convince you otherwise.

  12. Nullius in Verba

    “Why would anyone invest so heavily in a technology before making sure the thermodynamics is right? Well, because unfortuantely everybody involved is thermodynamically illiterate.”

    Bet you they’re not!

    They’re certainly not economically illiterate. EROEI is normally managed by mechanisms of price and profit. Energy invested has to be bought on the energy market, with other people’s profits and taxes added. If that’s a bigger number than the energy you’re selling, you’ll make no profit. If the margin is slim, you’ll likely make more profit doing something else. The only way you could ever operate such a business is with heavy government subsidies.

    Since they have evidently figured that they’re going to make a profit, they’ve definitely done an implicit EROEI calculation – and more. I suspect they could tell you a rough EROEI if they wanted to. It’s not usually something they’re obsessed with.

    Anyway, most EROEI estimates I’ve seen are festivals of double-counting and wild guesswork. If you follow the chain of indirect costs far enough, you can get to any number you want. It depends on your agenda.

    The other thing to remember is that energy invested is not a fundamental physical constant. With experience, innovation, and ingenuity it reduces over time, so what was once uneconomic becomes marginal, and what was once marginal becomes profitable, then easy. A lot of the expansion in energy reserves has been due to expansion in what is economically extractable from known resources. That the long-run price of energy has been decreasing indicates that supply is expanding faster than demand.

    “Both the jayhawk and the man eat chickens; but the more jayhawks, the fewer chickens, while the more men, the more chickens.”

  13. 1985

    13. Nullius in Verba Says:
    June 26th, 2011 at 4:25 am

    Bet you they’re not!
    They’re certainly not economically illiterate. EROEI is normally managed by mechanisms of price and profit. Energy invested has to be bought on the energy market, with other people’s profits and taxes added. If that’s a bigger number than the energy you’re selling, you’ll make no profit. If the margin is slim, you’ll likely make more profit doing something else. The only way you could ever operate such a business is with heavy government subsidies.

    Are you ever going to be able to realize the immense stupidity of what you just wrote? I highly doubt it.

    The world is not governed by the imaginary laws of economics, it is governed by the laws of physics . The economics may look right in the short run due to the amount of uncoupling between real energy and entropy costs and cost measured in $ signs, and due to hidden subsidies. But no amount of economical or technical ingenuity can beat entropy. Grow up.

    Since they have evidently figured that they’re going to make a profit, they’ve definitely done an implicit EROEI calculation – and more. I suspect they could tell you a rough EROEI if they wanted to. It’s not usually something they’re obsessed with.
    Anyway, most EROEI estimates I’ve seen are festivals of double-counting and wild guesswork. If you follow the chain of indirect costs far enough, you can get to any number you want. It depends on your agenda.
    The other thing to remember is that energy invested is not a fundamental physical constant. With experience, innovation, and ingenuity it reduces over time, so what was once uneconomic becomes marginal, and what was once marginal becomes profitable, then easy. A lot of the expansion in energy reserves has been due to expansion in what is economically extractable from known resources. That the long-run price of energy has been decreasing indicates that supply is expanding faster than demand.

    See my first sentence above, it has to be repeated here too

    One thing you are actually somewhat right about is the importance of how far down the chain one goes. But this only supports my point above – what really matters is the total EROEI that a society is running on, whether you can calculate it or not (with the future costs included). The problem is that this is not how the market operates – the market consists of agents that are completely ignorant of the big picture and who take short term decisions that often run directly against what the wise thing to do in the long run would be. Hardly a reason to be confident in the ability of the system to prevent collectively suicidal behavior.

    And I have absolutely no idea where you got the absurd idea that energy has been getting cheaper (ever looked at oil prices in the last 10 years?). You seem smarter than the level necessary to believe such nonsense so you must be deliberately lying. Not a nice thing.

  14. Isn’t saying
    “fracking is dangerous”
    kind of like saying
    “driving a car is dangerous”?

  15. Paul

    I thought one company had developed a non-toxic fracking fluid, using biologically-sourced compounds in place of non-biological organics like benzene or acrylamide.

  16. The Intersection

    @5 Chris – I know we’ve talked about this, but it’s worth noting here. The contamination of the water supply from fracking is unlikely or should I say rare. Having said that, reasons to oppose fracking are:
    1) potential for leaky wells – you can’t perform hydraulic fracturing without drilling a well. If the well is defective, the fracking process will likely contaminate at least the immediate environment, if not the water supply.
    2) potential for spills – the Bradford County, Pa. spill will likely be considered a serious environmental issue. Others like it will be no more acceptable than the BP spill.
    3) storage of fracking waste – similar to the storage of nuclear waste, anytime you keep the stuff on hand, there is risk of leaks and spills.
    4) fracking fluids left underground – after a well has been fracked, the chemicals remain underground. To me, this is like leaving land mines all across the country. If the ground shifts or cracks expand, there is potential for contamination.

    I believe the process needs to be closely overseen and highly regulated. The Gas Industry should not have a green light for putting chemicals in the ground without adequate tests to prove they won’t lead to environmental impacts.
    ——————
    @6 SocraticGadfly – I don’t believe the Texas disclosure law will affect the EPA study. I’m fairly sure the EPA has been granted access to the ingredients of the fracking fluid. Though the information may not be released to the public, the EPA should be able to do the appropriate tests for contaminants.
    ——————
    @2 Nullius in Verba – Though Methane may not be toxic and I did not say that it was, it is an explosion risk. I’d like to ask you, “What concentration of methane would you find acceptable in your drinking water?” 0.1, 1, 10, 100 mg CH/L? At some point, I think even you will find Methane to be an undesirable contaminate in your drinking water, toxic or not.

  17. Nullius in Verba

    #15,

    Most industrial processes have the potential to pollute, and industrial accidents happen. Are you applying a uniform risk-based standard to all cases?

    For that matter, the ground is full of “chemicals” – that’s where we mine most of them from. Are the ones people put there somehow different from naturally occurring ones?

    “I’d like to ask you, “What concentration of methane would you find acceptable in your drinking water?””

    Any. It wouldn’t bother me in the slightest.

    I currently have methane gas supplied to my house for cooking. It’s an explosion risk, too. Most of my furniture is flammable, there could be a fire. I have windows I could fall out of filled with glass I could break and cut myself on. I eat food that if not eaten in time could go off and poison me, chopped up with kitchen knives that I could injure myself with. Everyday life is filled with dangers – but if there is a simple means of avoiding them, I take precautions and carry on.

    If there was gas in my water supply at levels that posed a potential danger, I’d have ventilation and treatment installed to remove it. Otherwise I’d ignore it.

  18. The Intersection

    @16 Nullius in Verba – You have proven yourself time and again to be an unreasonable, insincere and illogical commenter. Obviously, you do not care to have serious discussions, but rather petty child’s play. Do not expect any future responses from me.
    Jamie Vernon

  19. Nullius in Verba

    I thought we were having a serious discussion?

    And I’m perfectly sincere. If you can show me where I’m being unreasonable or illogical, I’d welcome it.

    All industry poses a risk of pollution/danger, as do many everyday activities and natural events. You can’t exclude every possibility of harm and still live, so there has to be a threshold risk that is acceptable. The question is, do you set a risk-based standard and then judge each case on the facts, or do you shift standards from relaxed to impossible depending on the subject?

    Fracking, as you say, has not been demonstrated to pose any actual risk. The chemicals are not particulaly dangerous, and unlikely to get into the water anyway (as you said). The only example of contamination found – leaving aside the dispute over that – has been methane, which is not toxic and with suitable precautions poses no significant risk.

    On a logical, reasonable, risk-based assessment – there is no reason for alarm. People just don’t like fracking.

    I had assumed from your article above that you was interested in a balanced look at the actual risks, and you was open to the possibility that the risks might be exaggerated. I’ve explained that methane contamination is not a significant risk – it certainly doesn’t render the water “undrinkable”. You asked whether there was a threshold level I would find unacceptable – I’ve told you honestly that there isn’t. What little danger there is is minor compared to everyday life, which I accept as routine.

    And now you tell me that I’m being unreasonable and illogical?! You don’t even say in what way. What answer would I have to give, to meet the standard?

    Well, if you’re not going to answer, there is little I can do to resolve the question. But it seems such a shame when people with different worldviews can’t even talk to one another. :(

  20. Gaythia

    (@17, I was in the process of composing this when I saw your response to 16. I still think this is worth answering, in part because this is the sort of response that people with this well problem are sometimes receiving from the industry).

    @16 Having gas (methane) coming at you out of your shower or faucets is quite different than having gas (propane?) piped into your house directly connected to a burner for a furnace or stove. A process could be devised to vent the most volatile components in a manner that would reduce the explosion hazard. But would “reduced” be enough for a good nights sleep? Additionally, it would be highly likely that other compounds would be dissolved or contained in the water that should not be swallowed or inhaled.

    @15 I believe that surface storage of fracking wastewater is a recent phenomena that has arisen from increasing regulation of previous methods of disposal. At least up to this point, some companies have just looked for towns and other venues willing to accept it, or (as you mentioned) re-injecting it back underground. If one town blocked dumping into their municipal wastewater treatment plant, some in the industry just went down the road or across state lines to find a town that would. Monitoring and differing standards for reporting have been a problem. See for example: http://www.cantonrep.com/fracking/x13266588/Pennsylvania-tries-to-track-fracking-wastewater. States downstream from Pennsylvania’s fracking sites, such as in the Deleware river basin have become alarmed http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2011/03/rift_over_gas_drilling_roils_w.html. Wastewater recycling facilities are now being put into place. Arkansas became concerned about re-injection after some small earthquakes: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704076804576180803749643790.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

    I believe that much of the problem here has been that the oil and gas industry has rushed to get wells “fracked” before the needed regulations were in place. I know that here in Colorado, there have, in the recent past, been industry representatives speaking at local venues like Rotary meetings about some wonderful new process for increasing natural gas yields using “almost pure water”. It has taken a while for the facts to catch up to the hype.

    As a side note, you mentioned the “Plowshares” program above. As your link notes, here in Colorado, some natural gas leases are near the Rio Blanco test site. The most recent DOE report I am aware of (www.lm.doe.gov/Rio_Blanco/RBL00000006.pdf) simply states that the potential for migration of contaminants (radionuclides) is being modeled, although existing data indicates that migration has not yet occurred (see table 4.1).

  21. Gaythia

    Jamie, I have a comment, which I assume got hung up based on too many links.
    As I stated there, I do believe that there is a rationale for addressing Nullius in Verba’s assertions on the hazards of methane.

    People in cities do live with natural gas (methane) piped under the streets and into their houses. Even in earthquake country. Sometimes with disastrous consequences, usually with no harm done. People in rural areas, (where wild fires are a real hazard) may have propane tanks out back. Again, this usually works out.

    Does this mean that having methane, and other contaminants, leaking into your home via your water pipes is ok? While it might seem that the answer would be obvious, there is a substantial effort out there to get people to believe otherwise:

    http://mediamatters.org/research/201105120017

    This is why I think that the matter should be addressed head on and not just shoved aside.

  22. TB

    ‘Enron moment’: Insiders sound alarm amid a natural gas rush
    The New York Times

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43539470/ns/business-us_business/t/enron-moment-insiders-sound-alarm-amid-natural-gas-rush/

    Cracking may not be as profitable as claimed.

    If so, what other claims are suspect?

  23. The Intersection

    @21 Gaythia – I just want to thank you for posting comments here. The information you have provided is very helpful in thinking about the issue of hydraulic fracturing as a means to extract natural gas.

  24. Gaythia

    Now the numbering system is all jumbled!

    @Paul I think you need to be careful in distinguishing biological from non biological sources of what us chemists would call an “organic” compound. By “organic” what we mean (roughly speaking) is compounds with lots of carbon in them. These are exactly the sorts of compounds frequently derived from petrochemicals which the general public might think of as decidedly “non-organic”.

    At any rate, benzene and other polycyclic aromatic compounds do occur in nature, (as do oil and coal, for that matter) And, of course, the origins of such compounds would not affect the toxicity.

  25. Nullius in Verba

    #21,

    Good comment.

    “@16 Having gas (methane) coming at you out of your shower or faucets is quite different than having gas (propane?)…”

    Methane.

    “… piped into your house directly connected to a burner for a furnace or stove.”

    True. If the level is high enough to pose an explosion risk, then clearly additional measures need to be taken. I don’t argue otherwise.

    “A process could be devised to vent the most volatile components in a manner that would reduce the explosion hazard. But would “reduced” be enough for a good nights sleep?”

    For me, yes.

    Why does everybody find that so hard to believe?

    “Additionally, it would be highly likely that other compounds would be dissolved or contained in the water that should not be swallowed or inhaled.”

    Good point. That’s something worth looking in to. Has anyone published any evidence of it?

  26. Gaythia

    A further thought based on my answer to Paul:

    One of the confounding problems for the EPA in water analysis, particularly if they do not have “before” aquifer samples, is that many of the compounds in question are naturally occurring and might be coming from coal seams, humic acids from decaying plant materials, salts in the natural bedrock and so forth. Wells in oil shale areas might be expected to contain some of these contaminants. There might be signature differences in the fracking fluids, but these fluids would also be diluted and interact with coal seams and bedrock in ways that could materially change their composition.

    In the legal arena, “beyond a reasonable doubt” is frequently a difficult standard to achieve.

  27. Gaythia

    @Nullius in Verba, why did I picture you with a propane tank in my first response? I don’t know. As I pointed out in a later comment, natural gas is methane.

    In answer to your question above: Contaminants in natural gas, quick answer, from Wikipedia:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_gas_processing

    Natural gas is termed sweet gas when relatively free of hydrogen sulfide; however, some produced gas does contain this substance and thus is called sour gas.

    Raw natural gas typically consists primarily of methane (CH4), the shortest and lightest hydrocarbon molecule. It also contains varying amounts of:

    Heavier gaseous hydrocarbons: ethane (C2H6), propane (C3H8), normal butane (n-C4H10), isobutane (i-C4H10), pentanes and even higher molecular weight hydrocarbons. When processed and purified into finished by-products, all of these are collectively referred to as NGL (Natural Gas Liquids).
    Acid gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), hydrogen sulfide (H2S) and mercaptans such as methanethiol (CH3SH) and ethanethiol (C2H5SH).
    Other gases: nitrogen (N2) and helium (He).
    Water: water vapor and liquid water. Also dissolved salts and dissolved gases (acids).
    Liquid hydrocarbons: perhaps some natural gas condensate (also referred to as casinghead gasoline or natural gasoline) and/or crude oil.
    Mercury: very small amounts of mercury primarily in elemental form, but chlorides and other species are possibly present.[2]
    Radioactive gas: radon. Also, when radon is present, decay products of radon, such as polonium, can accumulate in specific locations within processing equipment

  28. Gaythia

    I should point out in my last comment that urban natural gas is processed and some of the contamination would be removed. This would not be true of “methane” leakage as a result of fracking or other oil and gas mining.

  29. TB

    “If there was gas in my water supply at levels that posed a potential danger, I’d have ventilation and treatment installed to remove it. ”

    At your own cost, especially if it might have been caused by local industrial activity after you moved in? I wouldn’t bear that cost, and i’d be pretty curious to see if there is some ither effects i’m not being told about.

    That’s what the problem is. What is that cost, to me, of having this done in my backyard?

    In theory, fracking (iPhone wants it to be cracking) is safe, just as in theory nuclear power is safe.

    In practice, there are failures – of industry, of regulation, of people. And you can quote statistics as to how unlikely it is something bad will happen, but people also know it’s unlikely for them to win the lottery. Yet, people win lotteries.

    So when industries and politicians fight against regulation that is at least perceived to make something safer, I believe it only increases the NIMBY impulse.

    And the first good reason to be suspicious is the secrecy behind the fracking chemicals because of the spills and blowouts.

  30. Incredulous

    #21 Gaythia

    “Arkansas became concerned about re-injection after some small earthquakes”

    Did you notice the part that said that they had been having the earthquakes before they started drilling? What is the relation? Some kind of precognition?

    Regarding the wastewater in the other articles, they are not talking about the fracking fluids other than mentioning them tangentially. They are discussing the normal brine (not that it is all salt water, that is just the technical name) that is associated with the production. Municipal waste water treatment plants are not set up for processing this water. They are quite right in refusing it. It requires special treatment. If the water was once contaminated with something and the contaminants removed, it is quite safe and reasonable to release it back into the water cycle. Having one been part of a drilling operation or sewage does not permanently taint water. That is the same line of reasoning as the homeopathic “medicine”.

    The big problem is that people are lumping together completely separate issues to make a case against fracking because they are against oil and gas in general.

  31. Gaythia

    @Jamie, I think you have a very interesting post here, worthy of further in depth discussion.

    I should probably point out my own limitations on expertise, so others can evaluate my comments above in light of that.

    It’s been a while since The Intersection has done introductions.

    I have a Master’s degree in Analytical Chemistry, an undergraduate degree in Geology, and professional experience in groundwater geochemistry (including radionuclides), hydrology, industrial quality assurance, waste stream analysis, surface chemistry (SEM, Auger) pertaining to the semiconductor industry, education and policy issues.

    I have actually never been directly and professionally involved in the oil and gas industry or its regulation.

  32. Gaythia

    @Incredulous, I think that this ties into Jamie’s statements about risk in the post above. Do you stop and evaluate, or proceed unless or until something bad (earthquakes in this case) can be absolutely linked to the fracking/drilling process? There have been instances where injection of water underground has been believed to be the cause of earthquakes. Note that I am not saying the inverse, that you stop until you can prove things to be absolutely safe. How safe is safe enough is a very difficult but necessary question.

    I agree with you that much of the liquid waste to be disposed of consists of the muds and salts associated with the drilling process and not fracking per se. As I said at some point above, I think that the problem here is that the oil and gas industry has raced ahead of our societal ability to understand and regulate it. I agree that waste treatment is possible, although, again, with “how clean is clean enough” questions. This ought to be in place before further drilling and fracking is allowed. It should be seen as part of the cost of doing business. Otherwise we have a classic “tragedy of the commons” type of situation in which those who reap economic benefits from a resource are not the same as those who suffer financial and other long term consequences.

    And, anybody out there, don’t talk to me about lost jobs. Careful regulation, and attention to environmental quality creates jobs also. Leaving a blighted landscape can kill them. Slight bias here, as I said above, I am a chemist! We thrive on these sorts of jobs.

    The drilling would not be occurring in these formations if fracking were not to be taking place. This is why I objected to Chris Mooney’s question in #5 above: “To me the real question is, if “fracking” itself–in the limited definition of the word–isn’t causing the contamination, or at least if that’s implausible, then why are people anti-fracking?”

    The public has no reason to think of “fracking” in the limited definition of the word. They are using the term in a blanket sort of way to cover the entire process that is made possible is occurring because fracking is taking place.

    The difference between fracking and previous gas wells, as I see it: The breaking up of a large area of rock underground is a new process that deserves careful evaluation before it is implemented in a given area. Natural gas extraction previously depended on “pockets”, areas in which the peculation of the gas upwards was stopped by an impermeable layer. The gas would not collect there, if the layer above were not impervious. The only thing breaking through that layer is the gas well itself. Properly case the well, confine it from a blow-out, and all should be ok. Fracking, sometimes combined with extensive horizontal drilling, depends on creating new pockets in relatively impervious rock. This is ok as long as the well is properly cased, it is true that a sufficient layer of impervious rock exists above the broken up area, and there is no possibility of leakage to the sides, due to stream cuts, uplifts or folding of the rock layers that cause them to come to, or closer to, the surface or to aquifers that are significant now or may be significant in the future. Gas companies have an interest in not paying for the work, only to have the gas ooze out someplace. On the other hand, they have less at stake personally than does a long time landowner in the area.

    I am hopeful because the two objectives (gas industry and landowners) are not in complete conflict, with proper regulations in place, attention can be paid to long term goals and not short term profits and progress should be possible. In my opinion, this will involve careful evalutations and studies and limits on when and where fracking as well as conventional oil and gas production are allowed.

  33. Nullius in Verba

    #29,

    That’s an interesting list. I was actually asking about other substances being detected in the water at risky levels, but that doesn’t matter.

    I don’t think the alkanes, the nitrogen, helium, or water vapour are an issue for toxicity. Hydrogen sulfide is certainly toxic, but easily detectable at lower concentrations. Mercaptans tend to be very smelly, too. Mercury they say is there in “very small amounts”, although they don’t quantify. I’m guessing they mean barely detectable. But radon would be a problem, although it often is anyway due to natural geology.

    Given that nobody has reported any strong smells, would you agree the biggest possible risk on that list is probably radon? Or is that more to be expected of an granitic geology than sedimentary shales? What measures are normally recommended for dealing with it when it occurs in homes?

  34. Bottom line is … a lot of the drilling, fracking aside … is “bubble” related … as in financial bubbles. See end of this comment.

    Now, responses to some specifics:

    ===

    @1985 11 – First, on the economics, all you had to do was post a link like the one I have at the bottom of this comment, which largely agrees with what you said … but is a sourced link! Otherwise, I’m a regular reader of The Oil Drum; think again before making an assumption like that; my specific EROEI ratios were used for illustrative purposes.

    ===

    @ Incredulous 13

    More than 6 million ppl live in greater Dallas/Fort Worth. Many suburbs and exurbs have been fractured (pun intended) over fracking. Think again about your “vast majority of drilling doesn’t take place in the immediate vicinity of where ppl live.” Otherwise, to riff on Johnny from another “intersection” post, maybe your tribal mind is already made up, too.

    Beyond that, you didn’t address the whole “access” issue of ppl realizing they don’t own mineral rights below their land and all of a sudden, Chesapeake can show up and boom ….

    ====

    @Nullius 14: See my link below — there’s a lot of deliberate “bubbling,” as in the speculative sense, going on, it seems. 1985 may, or may not, be right on the EROEI. Other financial factors, and actual vs. alleged reserves, though … it seems Houston, or the Barnett Shale for sure, has a problem.

    Otherwise, per Jamie’s comment, and the conspiracy theory bullshit you peddled on Chris’s post about climate change, you’re an idiot. And a willful one.

    ===

    @ Jamie 18 … I’m not as sanguine as you are about water contamination. That said, do we know, one way or the other? I’d prefer not to speculate too much on what I think is highly unknown.

    ===

    @All:

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43539470/ns/business-us_business/

    It appears that there might be some “bubbles” that stink not of bad gases like hydrogen sulfide, but stink of the retch of drumming up mney through overestimating field production, involved with all this fracking.

    Note that even gas-industry drillers admit that the Barnett Shale in North Texas is “flat.”

  35. Johnny

    I used to live near Bradford, in the center of the shale formation everyone’s drilling now in PA.

    The methane scare is a lie, in the sense that fracking is causing it. My house, and the houses of all my neighbors had natural methane leak problems in our wells, and houses, 20 years before anyone ever heard of fracking.

    We had detectors for it, so did the neighbors. Methane explosions happened all the time. Fracking had nothing to do with it.

    For the record, i think Nullius in Verba is the smartest commentator here. I think “Intersection” the poster shows a severe lack of education and manners for constantly accusing Nullius of not being serious.

    I think the poster “Intersection” doesn’t have the wits or the intelligence to carry on a conversation at this level, and is trying to brow beat the competition.

    Its not working Intersection, you look ridiculous.

  36. The Intersection

    @36 SocraticGadfly – As per the “Draft Plan to Study the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water Resources”:

    “In September 2010, EPA issued information requests to nine hydraulic fracturing service companies seeking information on the identity and quantity of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid in the past five years (Appendix C). This information will provide EPA with a better understanding of the common compositions of hydraulic fracturing fluids (e.g., identity of components, concentrations, and frequency of use) and the factors that influence these compositions. By asking for data from the past five years, EPA expects to obtain information on chemicals that are currently used as well as those that are no longer used in hydraulic fracturing operations, but could be present in areas where retrospective case studies will be conducted. The data collected from this request will also be compared to the list of publicly known hydraulic fracturing chemical additives to determine the accuracy and completeness of the list of chemicals given in Table D1.

    The chemical list from the nine companies will be combined with the list of publicly known chemical additives to provide EPA with a comprehensive list of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations. The resulting list of chemical additives will be used in two ways: First, EPA will work to determine the toxicity and estimated human health effects associated with hydraulic fracturing fluid chemical additives using methods described later in Chapter 8. Secondly, this list of chemicals will allow EPA to identify existing analytical methods—or develop new methods—to detect fracturing fluids and their degradation products in drinking water resources. EPA expects to identify a short list of 10 to 20 chemical indicators to track the fate and transport of hydraulic fracturing fluids through the environment. The criteria for selecting these indicators will include, but are not limited to, (1) the frequency of occurrence in fracturing fluids, (2) the toxicity of the chemical, (3) the fate and transport of the chemical (e.g., mobility in the environment), and (4) the availability of detection methods.”
    Jamie Vernon

  37. Incredulous

    #31 TB

    What is the acceptable limit of the probability of accidents? There is a risk of a crash every time you get into a car or an airplane. Do we just crawl into a cave and do nothing because of it? One of my undergraduate Geology professors was working on a project investigating the potential for storing nuclear waste underground in salt domes. They had to have the calculated potential for the effects of a meteor strike that could dislodge the waste. As if there is really any point of what nuclear waste would be exposed by a meteor that would disrupt the ground to a depth of 15 thousand feet. A few extra roentgens from the nuclear waste would be the least of our problems. On top of that, the odds for that strike out of 510 million square km of the earth’s surface with the precise force and trajectory is way beyond the odds of winning the lottery.

    If your water source is contaminated, there is legal recourse for the offending polluter to process the water to remove contamination. It happens all the time. For a while, I was working for a company doing remediation for underground storage tank leaks. Old gas stations and the like. It is not just a battle of who has the biggest lawyer. The regulatory agencies are not just some rubber stamp office looking the other way while the polluters are ignored. There are also funds through the EPA and state agencies for remediation. By far, the biggest problem is the remediation of old contamination. Modern contamination is pretty rare and dealt with rapidly. Many of the old time offenders no longer exist and we are left footing the bill. This is where the EPA Superfund comes in. Do they do enough? Not yet, they are years behind. It is not cheap.

    There are many activities that we do that have hazardous waste. Do you want to forego radiation treatment for cancer because of the radioactive waste? Do you want to go back to the death toll before we had refrigeration to keep food from spoiling? Do you want to go back to the famines before we had modern chemistry protecting our crops? Do you want to go back to a world where the average life expectancy was 35 or 40 years old? Personally I would much prefer the mortality rate we have now over the alternative. At least we don’t have entire cities and countries being devastated.

    It is easy to dream about some Utopia where everything is 100% safe. It doesn’t work that way in real life. Guess what? Even the “green” technologies produce hazardous waste. Look up the production of rare earth minerals for wind generators. Look up the production of solar cells. What about the metals and composites for building the structures? What about the pollution caused by their transportation and construction? There is no easy “safe” solution.

  38. Incredulous

    36. SocraticGadfly

    Just out of curiosity, do you envision the whole of the Dallas-Fort Worth area floating over one big pool of petroleum with a well on every block? Maybe with J.R. driving around surveying South Fork? Even with a fairly dense production area like where I live in south Texas, we are talking about the wells being miles apart. Just how loud do you think these drilling rigs are? Drilling in town is a pretty expensive proposition in comparison to out of town. Much cheaper to drill out of town and the bore horizontally to get to reserves under the town. There are a few cases the other way but that was before modern drilling techniques. The oil wells in production surrounding the state capital in Oklahoma City are mainly for show.

    As far as the mineral rights for the property you own, yes in many places they are separate from the land title. If you want them, buy them. If you don’t want to live where you don’t own the mineral rights, buy elsewhere. But let’s look at the alternative. What do you do if the mineral rights are all in microscopic lots like house lots? Your neighbor is free to take money from the operating companies and you have drilling next door whether you like it or not. It’s his property. If you restrict and say that they cannot, do they really have ownership or are you going to say that they are limited in their ownership? What recourse do you have? The net result is that instead of them being able to drill from out of town and then turn under the town, you have more drilling in town. Same with water. Say your neighbor has the rights under his property and pumps like mad and it draws down the water table. He has no incentive to restrict pumping. It’s his property. You just end up with another variation of the tragedy of the commons.

    Tying mineral rights to the surface property causes more problems than it solves.

  39. Gaythia

    Information on oil wells in Weld County, Colorado that might be of interest:

    http://dola.colorado.gov/osg/docs/oilandgas_Hatch.pdf

    SW Weld county is now part of the suburban Front Range (Denver) area. Wells are generally drilled before development goes in. But wellheads are now frequently surrounded by housing.

    See also:

    http://dola.colorado.gov/osg/oilandgasguide.htm#Overview
    State of Colorado website

    and:
    http://www.apollooperating.com/WattenbergProject.html#anchor_23
    well spacing diagram

  40. @ Incredulous 36 … I used to be a newspaper editor for a suburban Dallas chain of weeklies. I *know* that Chesapeake et al were constantly trying to expand their drilling opportunities and how much opposition it generated. I covered/reported news stories on the issue in one suburb.

    Don’t try to snow me.

    And, now that I’ve identified myself, what’s your professional background, pray tell?

    ===

    And, if Johnny thinks Nullius is the smartest person here, well, no need to give serious consideration to Johnny any more, either. And, I’ll stack a Ph.D. whose doing research at NIH vs. Nullius any time and double on Sundays, contra Johnny’s claim of “lack of education.”

    Here’s Vernon’s LinkedIn profile: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jlvernon

    ===

    So, as I said on the AGW denial post, no sense wasting more of my time on Johnny and Nullius. Bye, and enjoy the poisoned well, even if you don’t think the fracking well is poisoned, or the discussion well is being poisoned.

  41. Incredulous

    #41 SocraticGadfly

    I’m not trying to snow anyone, just putting out my opinion like everyone else. As to my background, my original degree was Geology, worked in oil industry and hated it, worked in environmental remediation and liked the work but hated the company, went back to school and got a MS in Computer Science and now I take care of computers.

    I never said that there was no opposition to oil and gas, far from it. I just see a whole lot of use but the ever present NIMBY. Of course drilling companies try to expand drilling. That is how they make money. This isn’t farming with government subsidies where they get paid not to produce. Of course there was opposition. Nobody wants to have an oil well in their back yard. They want the oil of course so they can drive and have the lifestyle they want.

    You can’t have it both ways. There is no magic bullet.

  42. Gaythia

    I think that we can do better than the dichotomies of “You can’t have it both ways. There is no magic bullet.” or “It is easy to dream about some Utopia where everything is 100% safe. It doesn’t work that way in real life.”

    But in my opinion, the must read link of the day is that given @43 above by 1985.

  43. I love this kind of hard-nosed reporting.

  44. Incredulous

    #41 Gaythia

    Development that was performed before people lived there and now it is the oil companies fault that people moved next to the wells? The reason the area developed at all was a result of that exploration. That part of Colorado would have just been ranch land and wheat farms otherwise. Many other places went through the same thing as oil and gas were developed from Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Texas, Oklahoma, as well. That particular field was developed 40 years ago. They were drilling shallow wells and did not have the capability to do directional drilling. Current technology would have maybe one well in a square mile or less. Offshore drilling platforms routinely have as many as 100 wells drilled from one location.

    The fact is, we are dependent on this form of energy. As long as there is not an alternative, we are stuck with it. At present, none of the competing technologies come close to the safety and economy of oil and gas. It is going to take a big reorganization of our infrastructure and lifestyle. There are few aspects of our modern life that don’t revolve around it. Our cities are designed around it. Our entire transportation system runs on it. To say that we can just turn around in a flash and walk away from it is just naive. I don’t know about you, but I really wouldn’t like to live in a world that resembles a Mad Max movie.

    I am not a fan of oil production, it’s side effects, or our dependence on it. I am also not going to make them a scapegoat for the poor planning and development that the rest of our country has undergone. There is plenty of blame to pass around.

  45. TB

    @40 “What is the acceptable limit of the probability of accidents?”

    That’s the wrong question to ask. The real questions to ask is “What do you think you’re not being told?”

    There is a trust issue for industries of all kinds. I believe people don’t think they can make an informed decision because they don’t believe they’re getting all the information they need to make that decision.

    And if the public doesn’t feel they have all the information they need, then how can they adequately assess risk?

  46. 1985

    48. Incredulous Says:
    June 26th, 2011 at 11:47 pm

    The fact is, we are dependent on this form of energy.

    Correct

    As long as there is not an alternative, we are stuck with it.

    Correct

    At present, none of the competing technologies come close to the safety and economy of oil and gas.

    The safety issue aside (something that ruins the climate we depend on can not be called safe), generally correct. Other energy sources can’t drive our current civilization.

    It is going to take a big reorganization of our infrastructure and lifestyle.

    Correct

    There are few aspects of our modern life that don’t revolve around it. Our cities are designed around it. Our entire transportation system runs on it.

    Correct

    To say that we can just turn around in a flash and walk away from it is just naive.

    Correct

    I don’t know about you, but I really wouldn’t like to live in a world that resembles a Mad Max movie.

    Me neither.

    But the reality is that it is a non-renewable resource that is not going to be available in the same quantities as before in the not so distant future. And since we don’t want to live in a Mad Max world, we need to face reality and implement the necessary changes. And those changes, because of everything you listed above, include drastic downsizing of everything we do, simply because we are not going to be able to do it anyway. An orderly retreat is always better than a chaotic one.

  47. Incredulous

    #49 TB

    Fair enough. I agree that corporations are amoral. Their one and only reason to exist is to make a profit however they can. The problem is that we elect politicians who make rules that are not in the public’s best interest. These politicians made the rules that the companies don’t have to disclose everything. They also expressly made laws that create the guidelines and handle the enforcement. Attacking the corporations is just a waste of time. Like the many headed hydra in mythology, strike off one head and two more grow back. You would have thought that we would have learned something way back when they had to get the railroads and companies like Standard Oil under control. It is our elected officials that created the problems. The corporations are just a symptom.

    The biggest mistake was when we gave individual rights and status to corporations. The next mistake was made was not to make the management personally and financially responsible for the actions of the company. As it is now, if something goes wrong, they just screw the stockholders by declaring bankruptcy, give themselves a golden parachute, and move to the next company and do it again.

  48. Mike H

    I feel strongly that fracking is unsafe as it is currently being carried out.

    “Feelings” over evidence and data … I find your burden of proof rather truthy.

  49. Incredulous

    #52 Mike H

    While I don’t personally think fracking is a problem, the track records of many of these companies don’t instill a whole lot of confidence. I can fully understand why they would be leery regardless of the assurances of it’s safety.

    Take a quick look at the map of EPA superfund sites:

    http://www.gao.gov/highrisk/agency/epa/speeding-the-pace-of-cleanup-of-hazardous-waste-sites.php

    Remember, those are just the big ones. There are many more that were not big enough to qualify for the superfund and many that are under remediation by other funding sources. We are also still finding them as new construction and testing find them.

    Most of this was from problems years ago but it will take a long time for these companies and the oversight agencies to earn people’s trust.

  50. A great, great, in-depth story on one man, a Wyoming farmer/rancher, and apparent fracking-related problems, from my favorite Western mag, High Country News.

    http://www.hcn.org/issues/43.11/hydrofracked-one-mans-quest-for-answers-about-natural-gas-drilling/article_view?src=feat&b_start:int=0

    Remember, this is a Wyoming farmer/rancher, NOT an environmental conspirator.

    =====

    Incredulous, sorry for the “snow” comment. Actually, should some ppl have the mineral as well as surface rights, they STILL don’t want the money, not at the current “Price,” Incredulous. Think again, please.

    And, per my link above, the problems you mention in #54 are NOT nearly all from years ago.

    =====

    Finally, a rhetorical question to Nullius, above all, and others who claim fracking is safe, or at least not a matter of worry. Why did the big oil and gas companies fight tooth and claw in the safe fracking bill for it NOT to be under EPA oversight? “The guilty flee when no man pursueth.”

  51. Incredulous

    #54 SocraticGadfly,

    The new ones don’t end up on that list often. It goes back to when the major superfund monies were allocated to pay for cleanup where nobody was around to collect from. The superfund is the cleanup of last resort. They enacted that the companies had to put up money up front to pay for cleanup in case something happened (or by insurance). Most of these companies don’t want to have that much tied up. Especially when it may be financed by speculation and possibly over-hyped anyway.

    The reason oil companies don’t want the EPA involved is that they don’t want to be held liable. Remember, the operating company hires out the drilling, cementing, testing, transportation, and just about every other aspect of the operation. The oil companies are mostly a bunch of accountants and lawyers. They want to maintain plausible deniability. If the EPA is involved, they are then on the hook even if the problem was with one of the contractors because their pockets are deeper.

    Not to sound like a broken record, we need to remember that it is the politicians making the rules. There are no accidental loopholes or exemptions. I am just frustrated by the people pointing their fingers at the oil companies when they are just doing what the lawmakers intentionally allowed. We are not going to have any improvement until the lawmakers are cleaned up.

    BTW, I am all for people having the right to not have the minerals they own not be developed. That is one of the most fundamental rights we have.

  52. Nullius in Verba

    “Finally, a rhetorical question to Nullius, above all, and others who claim fracking is safe, or at least not a matter of worry. Why did the big oil and gas companies fight tooth and claw in the safe fracking bill for it NOT to be under EPA oversight?”

    As far as I know, it is under EPA oversight. They’re exempted from some of the paperwork, applying for individual licences from local administrators for every hole and operation. They’re not exempted from any pollution prevention requirements.

    The reason they fought for it is that the mountain of safety paperwork is expensive, and if you have to go through the entire process for every step, most of it almost identical to the previous set, it slows everything down and magnifies costs.

    Incidentally, I’m not saying fracking is “safe”. I’m saying that methane in the water is safe to drink, and I haven’t seen anything published yet to indicate a significant danger from water contamination. (I’m not saying anything about any other fracking-related issues.) I’m saying we ought to apply a risk threshold uniformly across all the things we do, that we accept a significant level of risk in everyday life, and we need to understand that some risks from industrial processes have to be accepted if you don’t want to stop it completely.

  53. Matt B.

    I’m so glad I followed the link on Operation Plowshare. It is apparently the reason that Colorado added an article (XXVI) to its state constitution that practically forbids nuclear explosions. I had always figured it was a Cold-War thing, but it was enacted in 1974, the year after Plowshare. Now I know.

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