No Fracking Way

One Fracking Mess After Another

by Chip Northrup on June 4, 2012

Dr. Robert Meyers has put together a nice compendium of reports and studies that help debunk the notion that fracking shale gas wells is an envrionmentally benign exercise

When we are now learning that it is a remarkably effective way to contaminate groundwater and poison the air.  

His site addresses the cover-ups of the industry’s problems – including the political payoffs and propaganda used by fracking shills.

One Fracking Mess after another . . . 

 This site attempts to sort through conflicting claims in order to present objectively the facts on the effects of hydro-fracturing and to provide thorough documentation for every claim.  I welcome any corrections or comments on this page (email me at  I have spoken on this issue to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioner’s National Conference, the Penn State Marcellus Shale Law Symposium, the Sustainable Energy Fund Green Bag Lunch Series, the EPIC Frac Event, and the Grey to Green Festival, and would be glad to speak to other groups.

 Just Water and Sand
The natural gas industry would like us to believe that the fluid used in hydro-fracturing is harmless.  Energy in Depth (a public relations shill for the oil and natural gas industry) has prepared “A Fluid Situation” that shows a “typical solution” used in fracking.  According to this document, fracking solution is 95.51% water and sand, with only a few harmless chemicals thrown in (for example, citric acid and table salt).  This statement obscures the fact that this percentage is by weight: the reality is that there are approximately 20 tons of chemicals added to each million gallons of water, and the typical frack job involves 4-7 million gallons of water (“Affirming Gasland” p. 14).

 Furthermore, the list of 15 chemicals in “A Fluid Situation” is far from complete.  In June 2010, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released a list that allegedly contains every chemical that is used in hydro-fracturing operations (DEP, “Chemicals Used by Hydraulic Fracturing Companies“).  But even if this list is comprehensive (which some question), the chemicals they do include are alarming.  A few worth mentioning are ethylbenzene, ethylene glycol, glutaraldehyde, isopropanol, and methanol.  According to the Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX), many of the chemicals on Pennsylvania’s list have been linked to cancer or other health problems (respiratory, reproductive, brain and nervous system, kidneys, immune system, gastrointestinal and liver, endocrine, developmental, cardiovascular, and blood).

 Contaminated Water and Exploding Houses
The natural gas industry would insist that none of this is relevant because the fracking fluid is thousands of feet underground, safely barricaded from aquifers by cement casings.  Energy in Depth’s “Frac versus Fiction” claims that opponents of hydro-fracturing have been trying to establish “a credible (and growing) track record of danger.  Unfortunately for them, in hydraulic fracturing they’re running up against a technology that in 60 years of service has yet to be credibly tied to the contamination of drinking water.”

Unfortunately, this just isn’t true.  There have been many incidents of water contamination and even buildings exploding because of natural gas hydro-fracturing operations.  The most common problem is methane migration due to defective casing.  According to the Pittsburgh Geological Society’s article “Natural Gas Migration Problems in Western Pennsylvania” methane migration occurs when natural gas escapes “from the reservoir rock, coal seam, pipeline, gas well, or landfill.  If the gas migrates through the bedrock and soil, it can result in an explosion capable of damaging property and causing loss of life.” 

  • In April 2004 the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) fined Encana Oil and Gas a record $371,200 for contaminating water supplies in West Divide Creek, Colorado.  COGCC found methane, benzene, toluene, and m,p xylenes in wells, and  blamed Encana  for “inadequate cementing of the well,” which “resulted in a loss of well control” (COGGC, “West Divide Creek Gas Seep” (4/14/04), COGCC, “Notice of Hearing” [8/04]).
  • In December 2007 the basement of a home in Bainbridge Township, Ohio exploded.  Fortunately, the owners, Richard and Thelma Payne, who were asleep upstairs, were not injured.  Subsequently, 19 area homes were evacuated because of natural gas.  The Report by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources(9/1/08) concluded that the explosion and contamination was caused by “inadequate cementing of the production casing” by the drilling company, Ohio Valley Energy Systems, which led to migration of natural gas into natural fractures in the bedrock below the drilling casing.
  • In February 2009 Cabot Oil & Gas was responsible for methane contamination of nine water wells in Dimock, Pennsylvania.  Methane built up in the well of Norma Fiorentio and when the pump switched on, it blew up the concrete foundation of the well house  (PA DEP “Notice of Violation” [2/27/09]).  The Pennsylvania DEP has blamed the problems on “defective casing and cementing” (DEP, “DEP Reaches Agreement” [11/04/09]).  On April 15, 2010 the DEP fined Cabot $240,000 for violating the November agreement and suspended their drilling operations in PA until they resolve the Dimock contamination (DEP, “DEP Takes Aggressive Action” [4/15/10]).  Recently, the DEP and Cabot came to a settlement, whereby Cabot will pay $4.1 million to the residents of Dimock and $500,000 to the state to offset the costs associated with investigating this incident.  This settlement does not affect the federal lawsuits that the residents of Dimock have filed, but some residents believe that Cabot is trying to use it to scuttle the lawsuit  (DEP, “Dimock Residents” [12/16/10], “Dimock Residents” [12/18/10]).
  • In April 2011, the DEP ordered Catalyst Energy to cease all drilling and hydro-fracturing operations in 36 of its non-Marcellus wells in Forest County, PA.  The DEP confirmed that two private water supplies had been contaminated by natural gas migration and elevated levels of iron and manganese (DEP, “DEP Orders Catalyst” [4/4/11]).
  • In May 2011, the DEP fined Chesapeake Energy $900,000 for contaminating wells in Bradford County.  DEP determined that because of improper well casing and cementing in shallow zones, natural gas from non-shale shallow gas formations had experienced localized migration into groundwater and contaminated 16 families’ drinking water supplies (DEP, “DEP Fines Chesapeake” [5/17/11]).
  • The Scranton Times-Tribune has reported that DEP records suggest ongoing problems with the cement casings that are the best protection against methane migration (Times-Tribune, “DEP Inspections” [9/18/11]).

 Despite these incidents, industry representatives continue to insist that hydro-fracturing has never been linked to water contamination.  Energy in Depth’s “Frac versus Fiction” concludes about the Bainbridge incident, “Allegations suggesting the Bainbridge incident was caused by hydraulic fracturing are simply not supported by either the facts on the ground or DMRM’s report.  Instead, this incident was the direct result of several poor decisions made by the operator.”  The industry’s attempt to blame “operator error” rather than hydro-fracturing, is like arguing that drunk driving itself isn’t dangerous–the accidents associated with drunk driving are due to operator error.  As the record above indicates, operator failure in hydro-fracturing operations is an increasingly common occurrence. 

Another obfuscation by the industry is to separate “hydro-fracturing” from the drilling process.  Since the demonstrated cases of contamination have been from faulty casings, rather than the stage when high pressure is used to fracture the rock, they can claim that “hydro-fracturing” is not to blame.  But of course this distinction is absurd unless there is a way to get the pipes underground without drilling.

The industry also claims that tests have shown that the methane in the water in places like Dimock was biogenic methane, produced near the surface by decaying organic matter, not thermogenic methane from deep layers such as the Marcellus.  They point out that there have been incidents of burning faucets in Dimock even before the gas industry began drilling.  But once again, this is a distortion of the truth.  The initial tests at Dimock “fingerprinted” the problem as biogenic methane.  And there’s no question that biogenic methane has been a problem in that area for years.  But the issue isn’t what kind of methane–the real question is how did it get in people’s water supplies?  A report prepared for the natural gas industry by Reservoir Research, points out that methane migration can occur from either gas or water well drilling.  That report notes, “occasionally, a cement job has an incomplete bond with the walls of the well, and that can be big trouble, because contaminants can then leak into water supplies” (Reservoir Research “Frac Attack,” p. 11).  At Dimock, the DEP concluded that the faulty casings allowed the well pressure to push existing biogenic methane into aquifers.  Furthermore, subsequent tests at Dimock have fingerprinted the gas as thermogenic, from the Devonian formation, where the hydro-fracturing is taking place (Damascus Citizens, ” Affirming Gasland ,” p. 8-11).

And methane migration isn’t the only problem caused by hydro-fracturing.  To me, the most serious problem–and the one that is impossible to regulate–has been the series of spills and accidents that have spewed chemicals into our streams and forests.

The Pennsylvania Natural Gas Industry Wall of Shame (The industry’s violations can be accessed at the DEP’s “Oil and Gas Compliance Report.” Note the euphemistic name–of course, this is a report on the industry’s non-compliance with the DEP regulations).

  • On February 2, 2009 Cabot spilled 100 gallons of diesel fuel at Dimock, PA (DEP, “2009 Marcellus Violations–violation #575007“; iStockAnalyist, “Trucking Firm Ordered” [2/24/09]).
  • In May 2009 a leaking waste water pipe from a Range Resources gas well polluted a tributary of Cross Creek Lake in Washington County, PA.  The spill killed fish, salamanders, crayfish, and aquatic insects (Pittsburgh Post Gazette “Waste from Marcellus” [6/05/09]; DEP, “2009 Marcellus Violations–violation #564165“;  Range Resouces Report).
  • On October 22, 2009, PA DEP fined Cabot $56,650 for three separate spills of a water/liquid gel mixture into Stevens Creek and a wetland near Dimock, PA.  The spills totaled 8,000 gallons (DEP, “DEP Fines Cabot” [10/22/09]; DEP “2009 Marcellus Violations–violations #572252, 572258“).
  • On January 20, 2010 the Pennsylvania DEP fined M.R. Dirt $6000 for spilling 7 tons of “gaswell drilling wastewater sludge” in Avis, PA.  The dump truck driver drove away even though he saw the spill (DEP “DEP Fines M.R. Dirt” [1/20/10]).
  • On February 1, 2010 the Pennsylvania DEP fined Fortuna Energy $3500 for various infractions at a Bradford County site, including the discharge of fracking fluid into a tributary of Sugar Creek (DEP, “DEP Fines Fortuna”  [2/1/10]; DEP “2009 Marcellus Violations–violations #565284-87, 564580-88, 569257-61“).
  • On March 15, 2010, a foamy substance, was detected running into Pine Creek, near Waterville.  The DEP has determined that the substance was Airfoam HD, a chemical used in the drilling process.  The substance came from a drilling site run by Pennsylvania General Energy.  Almost a year later, the DEP fined the company $28, 960 (DEP, “DEP Fines“; “2010 Marcellus Violations–violations #583315-38“).
  • On March 26th, 2010, Anadarko Petroleum spilled 8,000 to 12,000 gallons of synthetic-based mud at a drilling site in the Sproul State Forest in Clinton County (DEP, “2010 Marcellus Violations–violations #583988, 584932, 584934“; LH Express, “Drilling Mud” [4/9/10]).
  • On March 31, 2010 a site in Washington Country that was being used to collect wastewater by Atlas Energy caught fire (, “Fire Near Hopewell” [3/31/10]).
  • On April 23, 2010, The Pennsylvania DEP fined Stallion Oilfield Services of Canondale, PA $6,500 for operating an illegal fracking water transfer station.  Inspectors found a 450 square foot area where fracking water had spilled onto the ground (DEP, “DEP Fines Stallion” [4/23/10]).
  • On May 13, 2010, PA DEP fined Rex Energy of State College, PA $45,000 for various environmental violations at its Clearfield County site (DEP, “DEP Fines Rex” [5/13/10]; DEP, “2010 Marcellus Violations–violations #595298-99, 583061“).
  • On May 14, 1010, PA DEP fined Range Resources $141,175 for spilling 250 barrels of fracking fluid into a high-quality waterway in Washington County in October 2009.  Range failed to report the spill immediately (DEP, “DEP Penalizes Range” [5/14/10]; DEP “2009 Marcellus Violations–violations #573283-4, 574350“).
  • On June 15, 2010, Anadarko Petroleum discharged 150 gallons of hydraulic fluid onto the ground at a drilling site in Centre County (DEP, “2010 Marcellus Violations–violations #589566, 589952“)
  • On June 3, 2010, a gas well that was being fracked by EOG Resources in Clearfield County experienced a blowout and raged out of control for 16 hours, shooting fracking fluid and gas 75 feet into the air.  EOG, whose spokesperson insisted that protecting the environment is of “utmost importance” to the company, waited five hours before contacting the Department of Environmental Protection (Centre Daily Times, “Gas Spews” [6/4/10]).  The PA DEP has determined that the accident was caused by “untrained personnel and the failure to use proper well control procedures,” and they fined EOG and its contractor C.C. Forbes $400,000 (DEP, “Independent Report” [7/13/10] DEP, “2010 Marcellus Violations–violations #589126-31, 589901-02“).
  • On July 1, 2010, the PA Department of Agriculture quarantined 28 cows after they came into contact with drilling wastewater from a leaking containment pond that was part of a drilling site operated by East Resources in Tioga County (DEP, “Cattle from Tioga County” [7/1/10]; DEP, “2010 Marcellus Violations–violations #588949-50“).
  • On August 2, 2010, the DEP fined Talisman Energy USA $15,506 for spilling 4,200-6,300 gallons of used fracking fluid into an unnamed tributary of the Tioga River in Bradford County (DEP, “DEP Fines Talisman” [8/2/10]; DEP “2009 Marcellus Violations–violations #5777167, 577585-87“).
  • On August 17, 2010, the DEP fined Atlas Resources $97,350 for allowing used fracking fluid to overflow a waste water pit and contaminate a tributary of Dunkle Run, a high quality watershed in Washington County.  Atlas failed to report the spill to DEP (DEP, “DEP Fines Atlas” [8/17/10]; DEP “2009 Marcellus Violations–violations #577286-92“).
  • On October 7, 2010, the DEP fined Seneca Resources $40,000 for building an illegal impoundment on exceptional value wetlands in Tioga County (DEP, “DEP Fines Seneca” [10/7/10]).
  • On October 25-27, 2010, the Pennsylvania State Police inspected 1175 fracking wastewater trucks as part of Operation FracNet.  They issued 1057 traffic citations, and removed 207 trucks and 52 drivers from service due to safety violations.  Earlier FracNets yielded similar results: in September 959 citations were issued, and 208 trucks and 64 drivers were removed; in June 2010 669 citations were issued, and 250 trucks and 45 drivers were removed.  In March of 2011 731 trucks were inspected: 131 trucks and 14 drivers were removed (PA State Police, “Latest Operation FracNet” [11/09/10]; “State Police Place” [10/6/10]; “State Enforcement Blitz” [6/23/10]; DEP, “131 Trucks“).
  • On November 22, 2010, the DEP announced that it was investigating a large spill of “produced water” at a site run by XTO Energy.  The spill has been estimated to be 4,275 gallons, which contaminated a unnamed tributary of Sugar Run.  A DEP investigator discovered an open valve that was discharging the fluid from an unattended tank. (DEP, “DEP Investigating” [11/22/10]; Williamsport Sun Gazette, “Cleanup Continues” [12/15/10]; Ft. Worth Star-Telegram “Exxon Mobile Updates” [11/24/11]).
  • On January 6, 2011, the DEP fined Talisman Energy $24,608 for a “large diesel fuel spill” in Bradford County (DEP “DEP Fines Talisman” [1/6/11]).
  • On January 7, 2011, the DEP fined Chief Oil & Gas $34,000 for illegally discharging 25,200 gallons of hydrostatic testing water at a pipeline project in Lycoming County.  Chief also allowed “an unknown industrial waste” to mix with the water before it was discharged (DEP, “Chief Oil and Gas” [1/7/11]).
  • On January 10, 2011, Minuteman Environmental Services was fined $7000 for illegally dumping and storing natural gas drill cutting waste at two sites in Clinton and Union counties (DEP, “DEP Announced” [1/10/11]).
  • On January 17, 2011, a well operated by Talisman Energy blew out and for several hours discharged sand and fracking fluid into state forest lands in Tioga County (, “Talisman Cited” [1/26/11]).
  • On January 29, 2011, a truck carrying used fracking fluid from a well operated by Anadarko Petroleum, rolled off the road and spilled “a small amount” of fracking fluid above the headwaters of the South Renovo water supply in Clinton County (LH Express, “Frac Water Truck” [2/1/11]).  On February 18, 2011, a truck serving another Anadarko well in Clinton County crashed and spilled 3400 gallons of used fracking fluid into the yard of a private residence (LH Express, “3,400 Gallons” [2/22/11].
  • On February 23, 2011, three condensate separator tanks at a Chesapeake site in Washington County caught fire, injuring three subcontractors.  Chesapeake was later fined $188,000 for improper handling and management of condensate (DEP “DEP Continues” [2/25/11], “DEP Fines Chesapeake” [5/17/11], photo at upstreamonline, “Blast at Chesapeake Site” [2/24/11]).
  • On March 23, 2010, the DEP shut down Chesapeake’s operations at a well pad in Potter County.  Chesapeake failed to implement erosion and sediment controls, resulting in sediment/silt discharges into a tributary of the Galeton Borough Water Authority (DEP, “DEP Shuts Down” [3/23/11]).
  • On June 28, 2011, the DEP fined Chief Oil & Gas $180,000 for a hydraulic oil spill and an improperly maintained drilling pit at a well in Somerset County (DEP, “DEP Fines Chief” [6/28/11].
  • On July 29, August 2, and August 10, 2011 Laser Northeast Gathering Company spilled 1500 gallons of drilling mud into Laurel Lake Creek in Susquehanna County as they attempted to construct a natural gas pipeline (, “1500 Gallons” [8/10/11]).
  • On October 7, 2011, a production unit exploded at an Anadarko well site in Lycoming County (Williamsport Gazette, “No One Hurt” [10/8/11]).
  • On December 3, 2011, EOG Resources agreed to pay $93,710 to the PA Fish & Boat Commission to settle charges that it polluted Little Laurel Run, a “high-quality trout stream in Clearfield County (Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “Drilling Company Will Pay” [12/3/11]).
  • On December 26, 2011, two tractor trailers collided on Route 287 in Lycoming County, causing one of them to overturn and spill an undetermined amount of fracking fluid into Larry’s Creek (LH Express, “Crash Spills” [12/27/12].

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