By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
But get Wilson on the phone, and you'll hear the sweet, common-sense lilt of a Texas girl who just happens to have a blog full of links to disaster stories, some of which she's experienced firsthand.
In 1995, Wilson moved from Fort Worth to Wise County, where she purchased 42 acres of land. "I gave up a great deal to move to the country, where I thought my children would enjoy clean air and clean living," she says.
Soon after Wilson arrived, so did Mitchell Energy. The company's owner, George Mitchell, had long known that a gold mine of natural gas lay deep beneath the shale that surrounds Forth Worth. He was dead set on getting it out, though geologists told him it was a pipe dream.
Undaunted, he spent 18 years and millions of dollars — with financing from the U.S. Department of Energy — to prove them wrong. By 1998, his company had developed a cocktail of water, sand, and chemicals that could break through shale.
The first wells sprouted in 2000. But the onslaught wouldn't begin until 2004, when the Bush administration ruled that fracking "posed no threat to drinking water."
Bush's scientists would later be discredited, of course. You didn't need a doctorate from MIT to know that pumping toxins into the ground presented some sort of danger.
The Bush administration seemed to know this as well. A year later, Vice President Dick Cheney pushed a new energy bill through Congress. It not only exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act, but also allowed drillers such as Halliburton to keep the ingredients of their toxic cocktails secret.
The industry was presented with a golden opportunity: It could now harvest the riches buried deep beneath the soil, while bearing no responsibility — or public scrutiny — for any damage it left behind.
By 2008, Wilson says, "You couldn't move without running into a well."
She remembers when the well that sits just a half-mile from her home was first drilled. "I can remember waking up one night," she says. "I saw the lights of the rig shining into my house, the sound of the engines, and the generators going. The next morning, I woke up and the sky was just brown. It just stunk. It was awful."
Like her neighbors, Wilson received a knock on her door from a land man asking if she'd like to get rich by leasing her property. But unlike most of the folks in Wise, Wilson didn't jump. Not because she couldn't use the money, but because, she says, "My mother taught me that nothing in life is free."
Instead, she drove to the well pads to see them for herself. That's when she noticed huge pits of putrid liquid nearby. They were dumping ponds filled with toxic water that was supposed to evaporate into the atmosphere. But they were lined with plastic tarps that often tore, allowing cancer-causing chemicals — like benzene, methanol, formaldehyde, hydrochloric acid, arsenic barium, and lead — to leak into the groundwater. In large doses, they can be lethal. But even lesser exposure can cause birth defects.
Wilson began regularly writing about fracking on her blog, Bluedaze. In one post, she writes about a friend who witnessed a driver of a wastewater truck dumping his load into a pasture where cows were grazing. In another, she links to a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article about Wise County's 3,998 active wells — and its title for the most polluted air in Texas.
She writes of people who report that their children are passing out in the shower due to gas leaks in their water supply. Others discover their farm animals are losing hair or dying after drinking from contaminated streams.
Wilson chronicles spills into creeks, ponds, and rivers, as well as the bright-orange flares that would light up the night sky thanks to companies burning off "economically irrelevant" reserves. Then there are the fatalities here and there, usually workers killed by explosions.
People from around Texas and as far away as Colorado, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania began contacting her with horror stories of their own, begging Wilson to post home videos of their own flaming faucets and dying animals.
Steven Lipsky was among them. He was just another Texas homeowner with a flaming faucet. But he also had something else: confirmation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that fracking had left his water laced with benzene, capable of causing cancer and birth defects. The danger had forced his family to evacuate their home.
After Wilson posted video of his combustible faucet, Lipsky sued Range Resources for poisoning his water. He also asked the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees environmental issues in the state, to back the feds' finding.
But Range Resources knew that if Lipsky won, thousands of homeowners would set upon the industry, seeking restitution for poisoned land. So it hired the best scientists money could buy — in this case, Harvard and MIT grads as well as Halliburton's experts. Then it took its case to a Railroad Commission already stacked in its favor.
As the Dallas Observer detailed, nearly every member hearing the case had a financial interest in Range or one of its subsidiaries. Even Ethical Corporation's Entine, who is critical of anti-fracking arguments, admits that "the Railroad Commission is totally corrupt."
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.
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.’”
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.
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.”
“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,’"
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/
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.
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.
@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.