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

Page 3 of 5

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."

Expectedly, it ruled that the EPA was wrong, asserting that the gas was naturally occurring. The ruling caused the feds to backpedal.

In the end, Lipsky not only lost his case, but also was countersued by Range, claiming he was part of a conspiracy to defame the company by providing a "misleading" video and falsehoods to the media. Wilson was named as a co-conspirator.

"It's such bullshit," she says. "All [Lipsky] did is send me a video, and it was over a month after the EPA made their ruling. Like most of the blog, I'm just linking to stuff that's already out there. This is how insane and aggressive this company is... Industry can go on and say never once has there been a case where it has been proven, blah, blah, blah. But on the ground, we know better. We know that when they frack, our water gets contaminated."


Where the science of fracking is concerned, engineer Tony Ingraffea and geologist Terry Engelder agree on almost everything except this: "Tony thinks fracking should stop, and I don't," says Engelder, a Penn State geologist credited with discovering the state's potential for fracking. "I believe that economic health has to come before environmental health is worked out. Tony is arguing for environmental health at any cost."

In 2006, Dominion Exploration and Production contacted Engelder, asking whether extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, which runs from Ohio to Maryland, would be worth its time. Engelder's calculations revealed that nearly 50 trillion cubic feet of fuel lay beneath the ground, making it the largest deposit in the country. "I kept looking at that number, thinking to myself, Merry Christmas, America," Engelder says.

But almost as soon as the fracking boom began in Pennsylvania, so did the disasters. The worst occurred in Dimock, a small town of 1,400 residents. In 2008, Cabot Oil & Gas began leasing land from residents. Even those who refused were told that gas would be extracted from under their land anyway, because Pennsylvania law allowed for drillers to capture gas from nearby properties.

Soon, residents complained that their water had turned brown. Nearby creeks ran bright red with contaminants. Families reported that their children were passing out in the shower. Livestock was dying.

Nearly 8,000 gallons of Halliburton-made "fracking fluid" leaked from faulty supply pipes, making its way into streams and killing fish.

Though Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection fined Cabot $360,000 for contaminating Dimock's water and failing to fix leaks, the federal EPA ruled in May that Dimock's drinking water was safe. The state, meanwhile, continues to insist that fracking isn't hazardous. "There has never been any evidence of fracking ever causing direct contamination of fresh groundwater in Pennsylvania or anywhere else," the DEP's Scott Perry once announced.

But while environmental regulators continue to see no evil, Cornell University engineer Tony Ingraffea is just as vigorous in warning of the dangers. "Four years later, the industry is still trying to figure out what to do with their crap," he says. "Bad things happened. And bad things continue to happen."

His biggest beef is with the industry's misinformation campaign. Despite all evidence to the contrary, gas companies claim it's impossible for fracking fluid to come in contact with drinking water.

"They are simply telling downright lies because they think people are stupid, but this is really street-smart stuff," he says.

One of Ingraffea's studies debunked the natural gas industry's claims of being green. Because fracking wells and holding tanks leak up to a trillion cubic feet of methane gas into the atmosphere each year, their greenhouse effects can prove to be even more polluting than burning coal.

The industry responded as it usually does — by paying handsomely to have his findings refuted.

One major study by MIT — "The Future of Natural Gas" — was funded by the American Clean Skies Foundation. The president of that group is none other than Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, the second-largest producer of natural gas.

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Denise Grollmus
Contact: Denise Grollmus