America's Fracking Gold Rush Portends the Greatest Environmental Disaster of a Generation

America's Fracking Gold Rush Portends the Greatest Environmental Disaster of a Generation
Danny Fulgencio
Sharon Wilson, anti-fracking advocate, near Justin, Texas.

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 applies to Fred Mayer.

When a reporter arrives at his 200-year-old farmhouse on a cloudy June day, one of the first things Mayer asks is, "Do you know who Glenn Beck is? You should really listen to him. Now, that man knows what he's talking about."

The old site of the Riverdale Trailer Park in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania.
Mark Hewko
The old site of the Riverdale Trailer Park in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania.
Residents of the new Harvest Moon Trailer Park in Linden, Pennsylvania.
Mark Hewko
Residents of the new Harvest Moon Trailer Park in Linden, Pennsylvania.

The 62-year-old Vietnam vet's yard in Newark Valley, New York, is full of patriotic flags. His rotund body is covered in tattoos, with images of barbed wire wrapped around his thick arms and an Iron Cross on his left fist.

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 below ground, 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 began receiving 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. Because 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 and held it to the faucet. It burst into flames.

Though Fortuna had yet to drill on his property, the company was already at work six miles to the west. Mayer called the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to file a complaint in January 2009. His case was assigned to an investigator, though no one 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, an agency 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, he was less upset by the contamination than he was about not making money from it. About the time Mayer signed his lease, then-Gov. 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 Monogahela River, leaving 850,000 residents without drinkable water. So Paterson banned fracking in New York.

As Mayer sees it, his water is already contaminated, and he could use his 17 percent cut of Fortuna's drilling profits. According to Public Policy Polling, about half of southern New Yorkers agree, hoping current Gov. Andrew Cuomo will lift the ban so they can begin reaping the riches promised by companies such as Chesapeake Energy, Range Resources, Cabot, and Schlumberger.

It doesn't seem to matter that, over 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 many have horror stories to tell.


Sharon Wilson is often dismissed as an anti-fracking loony. Range Resources, one of the largest fracking firms in the nation, has even accused her of manufacturing false evidence in a conspiracy to defame the company.

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6 comments
ohterry
ohterry

Spoken by those who do not know to those who would not be affected. Typical liberals.

Annie570
Annie570

a. mcelroy quotes an Alberta regulator, good old Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, formerly Alberta Environment and Water, formerly Alberta Environment, formerly Alberta Environmental Protection.

 

Name changes, seems to happen whenever contamination events hit the papers in Alberta. The energy regulator seems partial to name changes as well, I suppose when they get caught spying on Albertans, it makes sense to try and shed their skins.

 http://www.canada.com/edmontonjournal/news/story.html?id=432ffc0d-206b-4550-a793-3f6ccf7c5002

 

Alberta Environment makes it sound like our water wells are all energy disasters in Alberta, but if the gas is so prevalent in our water here (which it's not), why do they have to frack it?

 

In a report published by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) 1995 and 1996 titled “Migration of Methane into Groundwater from Leaking Production Wells Near Lloydminster” 24,000 historic Alberta water well records were reviewed by the regulator, 17 (0.07%) reported “gas” present before oil and gas development (1935-53), 41 (0.17%) reported “gas” present after (1960-95).

This report is about 2 inches thick, I believe people can contact CAPP to purchase a copy.

 

Quote from a 1993 Husky report, “Could some part of the problem be attributable to ‘natural sources’ (eg swamp gas), which are using the wellbores as a conduit?”

 

- “A 2002 field study by Trican Well Service and Husky Energy reported that the percentage of leaking wells ranged from 12% in the Tangleflag area in eastern Alberta to as high as 80% in the Abbey gas field in southern Alberta32. In 2004 the ERCB reported that the number of leaking gas wells in the Wabanum Lake area increased from none in 1990 to more than 140 in 2004.33

 

- A peer reviewed paper36 published in 2009 by the Society of Petroleum Engineers co-authored by the ERCB states that the regulator ‘records well leakage at the surface as surface-casing-vent flow (SCVF) through wellbore annuli and gas migration (GM) outside the casing, as reported by industry’ and maintains information on ‘casing failures’ but that details are ‘not publicly available.’ The paper reports that ‘SCVF is commonly encountered in the oil and gas industry….high buildup pressures may potentially force gas into underground water aquifers’ and that soil GM occurs when deep or shallow gas migrates up outside the wellbore ‘through poorly cemented surface casing.’ The paper concluded that the factors affecting wellbore leakage ‘can be generalized and applied to other basins and/or jurisdictions.’”

 

More on industry’s leaks, http://banmichiganfracking.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/2012-01-12-updated-gas-migration-paper-Ernst-to-NYDEC.pdf

 

a. mcelroy says: “Thermogenic methane comes from natural gas drilling and it can be tested for as it was in Mr. Mayer's case. The article states the DEC "staff concluded that the gas in Mr. Mayer's well was naturally occurringt" meaning that he had biogenic methane.”

 

Aren’t biogenic and thermogenic methane both ‘naturally occurring?’ No one put them there. And since companies are frac’ing for both, vertically, horizontally, deep and shallow, with all the leaky energy wells, I imagine it’s a bit of a crap shoot on which one, or both, are responsible for the contamination and blowing up of water wells, water towers and homes.

 

cont'd

 

Annie570
Annie570

From “A Primer for understanding Canadian Shale Gas – Energy Briefing Note” by the National Energy Board, November 2009:

 

“…As mud turns into shale during shallow burial, generally just a few hundred metres deep, in the “nursery”, bacteria feed on the available organic matter (up to 10 per cent of the rock volume but generally less than five per cent) and release biogenic methane as a byproduct (Figure 3). Natural gas is also generated during deep burial while the shale is in the “kitchen”, generally several kilometres deep, where heat and pressure crack the organic matter, including any oil already produced by the same heat and pressure, into smaller hydrocarbons, creating thermogenic methane (Figure 3). Some of the oil and gas manages to escape and migrate into the more porous rock of conventional reservoirs. In fact, the vast bulk of the world’s conventional reserves of oil and gas were generated in and escaped from organic-rich shales. But some oil and gas does not escape, as it is either trapped in the micropore spaces or attached to the organic matter within the shale. For example, the natural gas produced from the Second White Specks Shale of Alberta and Saskatchewan comes from shallow burial (it is shallow enough that gas is still being generated by bacteria), while the natural gas from the Devonian Horn River Basin and Triassic Montney shales was generated during deep burial. The Utica Shale of Quebec has both shallow and deep sections and there is potential for both biogenic and thermogenic natural gas, respectively.

 

… Vertical wells targeting biogenic shale gas, like in the Colorado Shale, are far less expensive: the resource is shallow and the wells cost less than $350,000 each.

 

… In the Wildmere area of Alberta, the Colorado Shale is approximately 200 metres thick, from which natural gas has potential to produce from five intervals. … Furthermore, the gas produced in the Colorado has biogenic rather than thermogenic origins.

 

… Biogenic gas can be found in the Utica in shallow areas, while thermogenic methane can be found in medium-deep and structured shales (Figures 13 and 14). The reservoir has an advantage over others in that it is folded and faulted, which increases the potential for the presence of natural fractures (Figure 4).

 

Only a handful of wells have been drilled in the Utica, most of them vertical.

 

… Drilling and hydraulically fracturing wells can be water-intensive procedures; however, there is very limited Canadian experience from which to estimate potential environmental impacts.”

 

http://www.ernstversusencana.ca/a-primer-for-understanding-canadian-shale-gas-energy-briefing-note

 

“Calgary-based Mooncor Oil & Gas Corp. wants to develop a resource in Ontario that has been largely overlooked by its rivals: shale gas. … 

… What about Ontario’s own shale resources? “The question obviously comes up,” said Terry Carter, petroleum resources geologist with Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources. … Carter said the Marcellus zone doesn’t offer much in Ontario. “Almost all of it is beneath Lake Erie,” he said. “Kettle Point and Blue Mountain would appear to have better potential.” Both have what Carter described as biogenic gas, created when bacteria in fresh water come in contact with organic-rich bedrock. The bacteria eat the organic material and produce methane. ‘The natural gas is being produced in real time, just like in a landfill site,’"

 

http://www.thestar.com/business/article/782552--alberta-firm-eyes-ontario-s-untapped-shale-gas

 

And finally, as a. mcelroy seems so enamoured with what our Alberta regulators have to say, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) formerly the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board (AEUB or EUB), formerly the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) admits that:

 

The potential for hydraulic fracturing to contaminate “useable water aquifers” with fracturing fluid chemicals and natural gas “is a recognized risk” –  http://www.ercb.ca/reports/r2011-A.pdf

 

But, as in the US, when those risks become reality, they ignore us, blame nature, and try to bury it.    http://www.ernstversusencana.ca/

 

GFlakeGasWatch
GFlakeGasWatch

Mcelroy uses the only tool in his bag. Deny there's a problem until you cannot keep it hidden anymore and then throw money at it. That seems to be the industry answer to everything. Here is the story about the Leightons in PA who have Chesapeake (CHK) gas migrating into their well and into their home from a gas pad over 1/2 mile from their home. DEP says without a doubt that it IS CHK's gas. Its not being quickly handled or resolved by CHK's cheesy vents. http://stateimpact.npr.org/pennsylvania/2012/08/28/more-than-three-months-later-methane-gas-is-still-leaking-in-bradford-countyThen there iss the story of the Hallowich family also in PA who's home was ruined by Range Resources. After years of fighting they finally reached a settlement that they aren't allowed to speak about because Range insisted the records be sealed. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/10/photogalleries/101022-energy-shale-gas-drilling-pictures

Ask Mcelroy how many Hallowichs there are across the country.  How many people have been forced to remain quiet in order to have the problems caused by shale gas drilling "quickly handled and resolved."  Truth is that no one knows. Could be 20, could be 2000. No one knows because no one is keeping records of that.

a.mcelroy
a.mcelroy

The title of this story is completely misleading and wrong. Wells using high volume hydraulic fracturing (the process called fracking that anti gas drilling activist are against) have been drilled all over PA, Ohio, WV and Texas without environmental disaster or any significant problems. Have some landowners complained, yes? Have many of these complaints been investigated by environmental agencies in these states and been found to be unrelated to natural gas drilling, yes! Have there been very rare instances of problems, yes, but the problems been quickly handled and resolved by natural gas drillers and government agencies. Therefore, have there or will there be any environmental disasters, no! In addition, Mr. Mayer's story here is an example of someone complaining that natural gas damaged their water when it in fact had nothing to do with it! 

 

The problems Mr. Mayer experienced are from naturally occurring biogenic methane. "Methane gas occurs naturally in groundwater aquifers in most geological sedimentary basins worldwide . . . Methane gas exists in a dissolved state in groundwater underground and will “bubble out” when pumped to the surface. For those on private water well supplies, spurting taps is a common result of this phenomenon." Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development http://environment.alberta.ca/02883.html. Thermogenic methane comes from natural gas drilling and it can be tested for as it was in Mr. Mayer's case. The article states the DEC "staff concluded that the gas in Mr. Mayer's well was naturally occurringt" meaning that he had biogenic methane. In the movie "Truthland" (free to watch online) a man in New York lights his water on fire and there was no drilling anywhere near his property. Sound familiar to this story? 

 

One can actually make the inference that Mr. Mayer would benefit from natural gas drilling. In fact, he already has to the tune of $58,200. That was simply his signing bonus for signing a lease on his 97 acre property and no drilling was ever done there. I am guessing most people would not mind getting that much money just for signing their name. Mr. Mayer is actually upset he is not getting more money. The 17% he refers to is his natural gas drilling royalty payment. Landowners get royalty when drillers drill, and then sell, the gas that is underneath your property. The royalty is actually a share of the revenue from drilling, in this case he would get 17% of all revenue from the well. If High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing was allowed in New York Mr. Mayer and the other landowners around him could be receiving thousands of dollars an acre in royalties per year in addition to their original bonus payments.  Let's say his 17% royalty netted him $1,000 an acre per year for ten years (modest estimates given the current production of Marcellus wells), that's $970,000! Sounds like he is upset that he's not getting that money and the only way he would get it if from safe natural gas drilling under his property. Landowners in PA, OH and WV are already getting these types of royalties without any environmental or water problems whatsoever. I have met and spoken to many of them but again, as mentioned above, there will always be landowners who complain. Unfortunately many complaints are founded on the jealousy that another landowner is getting more more money than them. This actually seems to be Mr. Mayer's main issue.     

 

In conclusion, Mr. Mayer got $58,2000 (alot of money for most people) for doing nothing and he seems to be upset primarily because he wants more money. The biogenic methane in his well is naturally occuring and if drilling were allowed it would actually give him and thousands of other upstate New Yorkers (including struggling farmers) money in their pockets. Natural Gas Drilling is highly regulated and is being done safely without damage to water supplies or the environment. It should be allowed in New York but unfortunately it has been banned for four years and the ban continues. If the ban is lifted and Mr. Mayer eventually gets his royalty money without any adverse affects you won't hear him complaining about drilling anymore. 

 

Note about me: I work for a Western New York based land service company that serves both oil and gas clients and renewable energy clients. I care about the environment and would not support this process if it really did damage the environment or ruined water supplies. The facts show that this process does not destroy the environment or ruin water supplies and I believe it's important to get that message out because there is alot of misleading and false information out there from anti-drilling activists. There will always be rare accidents, as with any industrial process, but previous accidents that have happened with natural gas drilling have been fixed and did not have any long term impacts. It makes no sense to completely ban an activity that benefits millions of people because there is a risk of an accident, especially ones that can be fixed. Natural gas drilling has already lowered the energy costs for millions of homeowners across the country (just look at your home gas bill) and reduced US carbon emissions to 1992 levels! You can find me at @atmcelroy.

kimfeil
kimfeil

 @a.mcelroy bla bla bla...your pay check depends on fracking people. I live in Arlington TX ground zero to 55-60 padsites in URBAN areas.  If you care about the truth, then you'd help me advocate for responsible drilling (there is no such thing as safe drilling).

1) use electric rigs

2) invent frac sand catchers that work so we don't have to breathe in toxic, silica dust during fracturing.

3) Flowback into open hatch containers using SCRUBBERS so the steamy, white clouds of hydrocarbons don't go into our neighborhoods and schools.

4) mud farming and spreading brine on roads is NOT safe so test and post the results and prove our food is safe from this run off stuff

5) Green Completion equipment should be immediate or stop until you have the equipment. We should have to wait 2.5 years because man made global warming is happening now. Don't confuse warming and cooling periods with cylical events.

6) Cement casings fail-they rot...migration happens-please invent another material that stands the test of time.

7) Stainless Steel is corroded by brine waters...the two don't mix so don't marry them! If you think that methanol will stop the corrision...then tell my body not to metabolize methanol into formaldehyde...cause once migration happens from rotted casings (injection wells too) and once it take years to get into our water...I don't want to be prematurely injected with formaldehyde like in a morgue-I want to die a natural death.

 
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