No Fracking Way

What the Natural Gas Industry Isn’t Saying

by Dory Hippauf on February 24, 2013

quietBy now, most of us have seen at least one TV commercial produced by Energy Tomorrow.  Energy Tomorrow is a public relations project of the American Petroleum Institute (API), and is similar Energy-in-Depth, a project the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) without the blog posts.

Other natural gas related projects of API include: Energy Citizens, We are Energy Nation, Energy From Shale, Vote 4 Energy, Energy Answered, Who Owns Big Oil, and Gas Prices Explained.

The API’s public relation projects all give a rosy, life is good with gas picture with actress and former Miss Hawaii World beauty queen Brooke Alexander strutting purposefully on the recording set.   What is not mentioned in these commercials is the downside, not even a tiny disclaimer racing at breakneck speed at the end.

What is NOT in the API commercials

Laurel Peltier examines the downside in How fracking’s catch-22 shields the natural gas industry and throws citizens under the bus (2/21/13).

In 1989, Dusty and Tamera Hagy bought 81 rural acres in Jackson County, West Virginia.  Twenty-one years later, the Hagys sued 4 natural gas drilling firms alleging the natural gas wells drilled on their property in 2008 contaminated their drinking water and caused physical harm

The Hagys’ water contamination lawsuit demonstrates how the natural gas industry has built a near-perfect “federal legal exemption’s framework” that when combined with lax or absent state regulations and the legal system’s high costs, inherently approves of citizen collateral damage with no restitution.

Excerpt:  The 2005 Energy Policy Act’s strategy was to provide the U.S. with “an abundant, domestic and affordable sources of fuel.”  Since 2005, the gas industry has been unhampered by federal regulations and the newer shale gas drilling has grown quickly; U.S. natural gas from shale reserves has grown from 1 percent to 35 percent of the U.S. supply. This new supply of 8.5 trillion cubic feet of gas has forced natural gas prices down by 50 percent, even spurring coal-based electrical plants to convert to natural gas.

The least known exemption though, the 1986 Toxic Release Inventory of Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act, may offer the natural gas industry the biggest shield from liabilities and the greatest obstacle for parties alleging fracking water contamination.

In response to the Bopal, India disaster, when Union Carbide released a harmful gas into an urban area which killed over 20,000 people, Congress required industries to list harmful chemicals on the Toxic Release Inventory to the EPA. The EPA collects and then disseminates that information to the public and local governments.

Yet, oil and gas companies were exempted from the Toxic Release Inventory, therefore chemical disclosure is different for each of the 29 fracking states.  To boot, shale gas production, or fracking, is concentrated in relatively gas-friendly states: Texas, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, West Virginia, Colorado and North Dakota, listed in order of gas production volume.

Again the question needs to asked “If fracking is so safe, why does the industry need these exemptions?”   You can ask, but they won’t tell.   This question has never been answered by the industry, by the any of the industry’s PR projects or front groups, by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (DEP), by any state’s Environmental Protection departments.

Peter Foster’s article “Now for the downside of fracking” (2/22/13)

Excerpt: Every morning, when he opens his bedroom curtains, the first thing that David Headley sees is a gas well. It sits less than 200 yards from his front door and it is a constant reminder of what Mr. Headley says is the ‘‘pure hell’’ of living with fracking.

Excerpt: Mr. Headley points to the well-head, which is submerged under a foot of murky rainwater that is bubbling gently, like a witch’s brew. ‘‘See. You can see the thing is leaking,’’ says the former car body-shop owner, who bought his farm in 2006 but chose not to purchase the gas rights – a move he now bitterly regrets.

‘‘What’s really coming out of that well?’’ he asks. ‘‘Is it safe? We just don’t know.’’

He shows photos of the creek beneath his house that was turned milky-white last year after a drilling accident.

There are pictures of dead fish and his son’s leg with a livid-red rash, of the well’s collection tanks venting plumes of an unknown gas into the air. A once-clear spring a few hundred feet below is now so full of methane that the water dances with flame when Mr. Headley applies a match to its surface.

Excerpt: From a safe distance, the arguments for fracking in the US seem irresistible – abundant cheap energy, a million new jobs and a pain-free fall in carbon emissions – but for those who are unlucky enough to find themselves close to the drilling and processing sites, the experience can be miserable.

A study of air emissions from natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania, just released by the Rand Corporation think tank, illustrated the gap between those macro- and micro-level experiences. It found that while the total emissions were less than that of a single coal-fired power plant, in areas where drilling was concentrated the emissions were ‘‘20 to 40 times higher’’ than regulations permitted for a single minor source.

The industry, understandably, prefers to focus on the bigger picture, rather than these individual cases. A statement this week by the industry umbrella group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, noted the contribution of the gas industry to lowering emissions nationwide and contrasted that with the ‘‘relatively minimal and short-term environmental footprint’’ of the local industry.

But even those local people with a substantial financial interest in the fracking business – the best wells can generate royalties of $20,000 a month – admit to having doubts and concerns. Thomas Rich, a local farmer, has 13 wells on his 1,500 acres but will not allow drilling on the 200 acres that immediately surround his homestead.

‘‘I want to keep that land ’pure’. The wells are unsightly, they can make noise and they don’t smell good,’’ he admits. ‘‘Everyone’s getting scared now. First it was earthquakes; then water contamination; and recently there have been all these reports about radiation in the newspapers. The truth is, the industry has a big, big PR problem.’’

Spin vs Reality

Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) touted a recent report how natural gas has reduced air pollution levels in Pennsylvania.

What MSC failed to mention is air pollution in the areas where natural gas activities are occurring, air pollution is UP, way up.  The natural gas activity resulting in the air pollution increases in these counties is not just from the drilling/fracking, it includes emissions from compressor stations, glycol dehydration plants, metering stations, gathering lines, main pipelines etc.

Northern Tier counties top state list of Marcellus air pollution  
Excerpts: Bradford and Susquehanna counties led the state in the volume of air pollution released by companies producing and processing gas from the Marcellus Shale in 2011, according to data published this week by the Department of Environmental Protection.

The Northern Tier counties ranked first and second in nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides and total shale-related air pollution tallied in the first-ever statewide inventory of the industry’s emissions. They ranked second and third after Washington County for emissions of volatile organic compounds.

The data also show that Marcellus Shale operations are now significant emitters in rural counties with few other so-called point sources of air pollution.

The 2,600 tons of shale-related nitrogen oxides emitted in Bradford County in 2011 dwarfed the 235 tons of NOx pollution emitted from all other facilities in the county that year, according to DEP data. And without the 2,440 tons of shale-related NOx emissions in Susquehanna County, DEP’s facility emissions report for the county includes just one source: a compressor station on the Tennessee Gas Pipeline that emitted 17 tons of NOx in 2011.

It is important to note, the report data is from 2011, and a whole ‘nuther year of drilling and industrialization of these counties has occurred.  More well pads, more compressor stations, more pipelines all pumping more pollution.  What will the air pollution levels be at the end of this year and the next and the next?

This is a slow moving, largely ignored environmental disaster in process.   The enormity and impact on our communities, our lands, our air, our water, and our health won’t be fully realized for years.

The natural gas industry and their supporters stress the short term “gain” and ignore the long term “pain”, we shouldn’t be doing the same.


©2013 by Dory Hippauf 

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

deb February 24, 2013 at 7:24 am

Fracking compares to the Bhopal Disaster quite well. That disaster is termed a “Chronic Disaster”. Just read this book by Dr. Kim Fortun.

The difference is this. Fracking pollution is so much more widespread. Hazardous pollutants are being spread “INTENTIONALLY” across state lines, into creeks and streams, onto our roadways and into and under our ground near drinking water resources.

We are being “INTENTIONALLY POISONED” by the very people that are supposed to be protecting us!!!


William Huston March 6, 2013 at 9:16 pm

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