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Fracking: Boom or Doom
Denise Grollmus, Village Voice
Ask someone like Jon Entine, a science writer for Ethical Corporation, to describe the sort of person who claims hydraulic fracturing presents a pollution nightmare in waiting, and you quickly find yourself pummeled with talk radio invective: “ideological blowhard,” “leftist loony,” and “upper-middle-class lefties.”
But none apply to Fred Mayer…
The first time he heard of fracking was in 2008. It’s a natural gas drilling process in which millions of gallons of water—mixed with sand and more than 596 toxic chemicals—are pumped into shale formations 8,000 feet belowground, the pressure fracturing them to release the natural gas they hold inside.
Decades ago, Shell Oil attempted to drill on Mayer’s property in hopes of retrieving the river of black crude that resides just under the rock formation. “They never were able to do it,” he says. “They couldn’t get through the rock, so they gave up.”
Shell eventually sold its lease to Fortuna Energy. Mayer thought nothing of it until 2008, when his neighbors started getting leasing offers from gas companies that had a new way of drilling that could get through the thick layers of shale just fine. Only this time, they were in search of natural gas, often heralded as the greenest fossil fuel.
Mayer gave Fortuna a call, only to find that his father had leased their property for just $4 an acre. Since Dad had passed away, Mayer told Fortuna that the agreement was null and void. Fortuna countered with a new offer: $600 an acre. Mayer soon received a check for $58,200, with a promise of more to come.
But it wasn’t long before Mayer received another surprise—this one less pleasant. One morning, he turned on his kitchen sink. Instead of water, the tap hissed with gas. Mayer grabbed his lighter, held it to the faucet, and watched it burst into flames.
Although Fortuna had yet to drill on his property, the company was already at work six miles to the west. Mayer called the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to file a complaint in January 2009. His case was assigned to an investigator, though no one actually came out to investigate.
“[Our] staff concluded that the gas in Mr. Mayer’s well was naturally occurring and that no investigation was warranted for several reasons,” says Emily DeSantis, a department spokeswoman. Not only was Mayer’s residence more than a mile away from the nearest drilling, DeSantis says, but also “naturally occurring methane is commonplace throughout the state.”
Mayer knew better, of course. His water hadn’t become flammable until Fortuna began drilling nearby. More than three years later, he can make every faucet in his house dance with flames. He can’t drink from his own tap. Sometimes the gas pressure builds up so much that it blasts coffee cups from his hands while he does the dishes.
Still, Mayer was less upset by the contamination than he was about not making money from it. About the time he signed his lease, then-governor David Paterson watched as drilling devastated neighboring Pennsylvania, where thousands of contamination complaints have been filed. In one incident near Pittsburgh, toxic wastewater ended up in the Monongahela River, leaving 850,000 residents without drinkable water. So Paterson banned fracking in New York…
It doesn’t seem to matter that in the past decade fracking has left behind a widening trail of health and environmental disasters. Or that research indicates the influx of money and jobs promised by these companies falls far short of their claims. New York landowners still whisper stories of overnight millionaires just over the border.
That’s because people are desperate to flee the pressure of another disaster, the one created by the housing crash. The difference is that fracking could imperil more than pocketbooks. There’s no shortage of scientists and public health officials who warn that large-scale contamination might leave millions of people without usable water…
Yet the natural gas industry has spent $747 million lobbying state and federal officials over the past decade, allowing it to continue drilling in 34 states. Few Americans are any richer. But a whole lot more have horror stories to tell.
(19 September 2012)
Deepening Doubts About Fracked Shale Gas Wells’ Long Term Prospects
Brendan DeMelle, DeSmogBlog
This month, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released its bi-annual report on how much natural gas has been produced in the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation which stretches underneath much of Appalachia. Investors were shocked because the production numbers seemed far lower than expected. Watched closely by market and energy analysts, the report sparked a heated debate about the oil and gas industry’s excited rhetoric about fracked shale gas as the cure-all to many of America’s energy and jobs needs.
But the story quickly got complicated. The report was released despite lacking data from the state’s second largest driller, Chesapeake Energy, and state regulators never flagged the omission. The amount of gas flowing out of Pennsylvania had actually climbed dramatically.
It was a major flaw, and suddenly the searing spotlight of the media honed in on questions about whether regulators were keeping accurate track of how much gas the wells in their state really produce. How could they overlook such a massive error? Can the public be sure that the updated tally gives an accurate picture of how these wells are performing?
If regulators make mistakes in tracking energy production in their state, how reliable is the companion to that report, which tracks the toxic waste produced by these same companies?
Those are all valid questions that need honest answers. But the most important questions raised in the controversy were largely overlooked.
The amount of natural gas produced from all the fracking going on in Pennsylvania matters not just for the state’s residents, its land-use regulations, its waste disposal capacity, and its water use limits. Unconventional gas production data from the Marcellus Shale matters for the nation as a whole because national energy policy is being crafted based on certain long-term assumptions about shale drilling and the price of natural gas.
The oil and gas industry has propagated a vision that fracking unleashes vast amounts of gas which then flows relatively steadily for decades. But a growing mountain of evidence suggests that nothing could be further from the truth. Shale gas wells dry up, sometimes long before they have produced enough gas to cover the costs of drilling and fracking them.
In the oldest shale formation, Texas’s Barnett shale, many aging wells have had to be re-fracked multiple times to keep them from running dry. Re-fracking costs millions of dollars and requires millions of gallons of water.
A review last year by the New York Times found that less than ten percent of 9,000 Texas shale wells had recouped their estimated production costs within their first seven years…
(20 September 2012)
Gazprom Rethinks Shale as European Gas Prices Sink
Pat Davis Szymczak, Ben Priddy, Oil & Gas Eurasia
Gazprom has admitted it might yet adjust its attitude towards shale gas, as Russian policy makers assess new dangers to the country’s petro-dollar economy. First, Russia’s Economic Ministry warned that the increasing supply of shale gas on world markets will start hurting Gazprom’s pipeline sales to Europe in 2014. And it seems Gazprom might now be weighing the pros and cons of jumping onto the shale gas bandwagon.
“Gazprom had undervalued the importance of shale gas, but is starting to look at it seriously,” Dow Jones quoted Deputy Economy Minister Andrei Klepach as saying last week. Gazprom’s top managers have for years said that shale gas production would never threaten demand for Russian gas. Now, they’re not so sure…
(July/August 2012 edition)
Britain’s bosses back shale gas to cut imports
Henning Gloystein, Reuters
Britain must begin shale gas exploration to ease its growing dependency on imports, the Institute of Directors (IoD) said on Friday.
Without the development of new domestic gas resources, Britain’s import costs for natural gas could rise from $8.5 billion (5.2 billion pounds) today to more than $11 billion by 2015 as North Sea supplies dwindle and Norway struggles to fill the gap, Reuters research showed this week.
Britain was a net exporter of gas until 2004, but a steady decline in output over the past few years has made it more reliant on imports, mostly from Norway and, increasingly, Qatar.
The only way to offset the effects of this increasing dependency on imports is to begin shale gas exploration in Britain, the IoD said in a report…
(21 September 2012)
Fracking banned by Quebec government
CP, The Vancouver Sun
The new Parti Quebecois government hasn’t wasted any time hinting about a long-term ban on the shale gas industry.
Quebec’s new natural-resources minister, Martine Ouellet, says she doesn’t believe the controversial method of extracting natural gas from shale, known as “fracking,” can ever be done safely.
She made the remarks Thursday on her way into her first cabinet meeting, less than 24 hours after she was named to cabinet…
(20 September 2012)