Financing the Seeds of Doubt on Shale
A review of funding provided to groups opposing hydraulic fracturing shows that NGOs and Foundations provided over $35 million in 2012 to groups working to block shale development which includes $100,000 for the creation of Gasland III before the second iteration of the pathos-driven film series is even released on HBO.
The scientific consensus concerning the safety of hydraulic fracturing and shale gas development is well established. After all, state regulators, officials in the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations, Democratic and Republican governors and independent reviews – including one spearheaded by the current Secretary of Energy – have all affirmed the process doesn’t pose a credible risk to the nation’s water and air. In fact, experience shows increased natural gas utilization brought about by shale development is ridding our nation’s air of greenhouse gases and toxic pollutants, and even helping increase renewable energy utilization in the United States. That’s one reason President Obama noted in his 2012 State of the Union Address that the nation’s abundance of natural gas means “we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.”
It goes without saying this is great news for most Americans. That good news is also a terribly inconvenient and credibility-decimating narrative for anti-shale activists such as Josh Fox. And yet, faced with overwhelming evidence that contradicts their public statements, critics are sparing no expense to prevent the public from recognizing such broad scientific agreement. It’s what happened with the launch of Gasland, and it’s looking ever more likely that this is what the marginalized activist community is gearing up to do again.
To wit: Months before the HBO premiere of Gasland Part II, Josh Fox has already secured $100,000 for the next iteration of his pathos-driven film series — whose original offering was widely panned by independent observers as being “fundamentally dishonest” and a “polemic.” It’s also why the Park Foundation, the organization funding Fox and just about every other anti-natural gas initiative, just committed over 11 percent of its 2013 grant awards to organizations working overtime to block hydraulic fracturing’s continued advance.
A review of the Park Foundation’s 2013 grants show that it’s increasingly worried about Americans recognizing that oil and gas production technology is not nearly as risky or tumultuous as the organization would like them to believe. Take for example, just a few of the group’s most recent contributions:
$100,000 to the International WOW Company for Gasland, Part 3
$125,000 to Food and Water Watch (one of the most aggressive anti-fracking groups in the United States) to “protect and conserve the nation’s water resources”
$40,000 to Catskill Mountainkeeper, Inc. “for its on-going comprehensive campaign against fracking”
$50,000 to Physicians Scientists and Engineers for Sustainable and Healthy Energy for general operating support
$60,000 to the Public Policy and Education Fund of New York for “its campaign against fracking in New York and related organizing work in the Southern Tier.”
$110,000 to the Sustainable Markets Foundation to help “coordinate a broad movement of opposition to shale gas drilling”
$20,000 to the Delaware Valley Arts Alliance for an anti-hydraulic fracturing web based talk show, and
$50,000 to 350.org for the advancement of their fossil fuel divestment campaign
Of course, the Park Foundation isn’t alone in its efforts to steadily feed misinformation into the public sphere. A recent report – titled “Fracking Survey 2012: Report on NGO and Philanthropic Efforts to Address Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing” – declares bluntly:
“Engagement of NGOs and foundations on this issue [hydraulic fracturing] is growing rapidly. The NGOs surveyed reported spending a total of $17.4 million in 2012; they hope to expand that investment of effort to more than double that figure in 2013.” (emphasis added)
The report also notes that “foundations surveyed reported investing a combined total of $18.3 million in fracking related grants in 2012.”
For those keeping track at home, that means opponents of hydraulic fracturing spent more than $35 million to further their cause – in 2012 alone. And they have the temerity to claim that they’re just the “little guys” standing up to Big Oil? Please.
Almost as important as the amount of funding being levied at the issue are the priorities that funding is being directed towards. Here, too, the report provides some clear evidence that, like the Gasland series, much of this funding is earmarked to disseminate largely false information, rather than informing and advancing the scientific discussion.
Revealingly, when asked what strategies this funding went to support, respondents overwhelmingly indicated it wasn’t being directed at advancing increased scientific understanding or research. Instead, as the report observes: “The NGO respondents gave highest priority to communications work and raising public awareness,” while 68 percent of NGO expenditures and 83 percent of foundation expenditures were dedicated towards efforts to influence activities at the state and local level. The graph below shows this in very clear terms.
That’s right: An internal survey of NGOs and foundations working to influence the public’s perception on hydraulic fracturingshows that, in their own words, they are pumping millions of dollars into states and local communities to advance talking points that don’t align with the scientific and regulatory consensus. As if it could get any worse, the study found a clear majority of this funding is being directed towards regions where supposedly “grassroots” groups and NGOs (think Catskill Mountainkeeper, as an example) are using talking points that are completely unhinged from reality. That region, of course, is the Marcellus Shale, to which NGOs and foundations funneled nearly $20 million in 2012.
As EID has noted time and again, this is a region where NGOs that appear in the “mainstream” have blatantly attempted to mislead the public with little concern for accuracy, much less a well-reasoned and informed debate. A few noteworthy examples:
Penn Environment’s attempt to claim water contamination in Pennsylvania with a picture of a flooded rig, which a review later showed to be located in Pakistan.
NRDC’s claims of “poisoned” drinking water in Northeastern Pennsylvania, which both the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared was safe.
The Sustainable Markets Foundation support for, and mailing of, publications to over 140,000 residents in New York claiming that gruesome scenes of environmental destruction were attributable to natural gas development when, in fact, they were not.
Activists funding an ongoing legal campaign to compel communities to ban hydraulic fracturing due to unfounded claims of health impacts.
And yet, despite being rebuffed at literally every turn, they’re going to avoid any sense of reflection on Gasland Part II and move full speed ahead with Gasland Part III? Remember, the Park Foundation gave Josh Fox’s production company, International WOW, some $150,000 for Gasland, and now they’re going to throw another $100,000 at him – on top of all the grants he’s received from various city, state and national arts organizations at taxpayer expense? You’ve got to hand it the guy – he knows how to hustle. As the Playgoer blog noted regarding the original Gasland, “what does a downtown director have to do to get on national TV? Make an HBO muckraking documentary, of course!” Apparently, making several such documentaries is the best path toward fame – or, perhaps, infamy.
Neither the Park Foundation nor Fox has learned there is a law of diminishing returns that applies to such antics. Gasland Part II is a pitiful rehash that led Fox into the cardinal sin of film-making – being boring. What will Gasland Part III be? We can only guess, but one suspects they’re venturing into Jaws III territory where things move from being boring to being a joke. The fact that they’re steamrolling ahead without any concern about the pushback against Gasland Part II shows that engaging in legitimate debate isn’t the goal here; it’s about flooding the zone, and things like facts or accuracy only delay that process.
The irony is that all of this money is being spent to oppose a process that has been proven safe, is improving our national economy, and increasing the quality of life for middle class Americans nationwide. Even more interesting is that these funds are presumably for environmental activism, and yet it’s natural gas – largely developed with the help of responsible hydraulic fracturing – that is helping the United States reduce greenhouse gas emissions and bring increased quantities of renewable energy into our nation’s power grid.
But if your work to date has not been based on facts and science, why stop now?
Debunking Gasland, Part II
Three years after the release of Gasland – a film panned by independent observers as “fundamentally dishonest” and a “polemic” – the main challenge for director Josh Fox in releasing Gasland Part II was manifest: Regain the public’s trust by discarding hyperbole and laying out the challenges and opportunities of shale development as they actually exist in the actual world. In short, do everything he did not do in Gasland. Unfortunately, Josh eschewed that path entirely with Gasland Part II, doubling down on the same old, tired talking points, and playing to his narrow base at the exclusion of all others.
Three years after the release of Gasland – a film panned by independent observers as “fundamentally dishonest” and a “polemic” – the main challenge for director Josh Fox in releasing Gasland Part II was manifest: Regain the public’s trust by discarding hyperbole and laying out the challenges and opportunities of shale development as they actually exist in the actual world. In short, do everything a documentary filmmaker should do, but which he chose not to do in Gasland.
Unfortunately for those who attended the premiere of Gasland Part II this past weekend (we were there), Josh eschewed that path entirely, doubling down on the same old, tired talking points, and playing to his narrow base at the exclusion of all others. The Parker County case? It’s in there. Dimock? Probably receives more focus than anything else. Pavillion and EPA? You bet. And yes, that damned banjo of his makes an appearance or two as well.
This isn’t Gasland Part II, folks. It’s Gasland Too.
Sure, the sequel has some new cast members and a few new claims. Somehow, Fox discovers that shale is actually worse than he previously thought: Earthquakes. Methane leaks. Well failures. Hurricanes. Heck, viewers were probably waiting for swarms of locusts to appear – fracking locusts, to be sure.
And there was plenty of spectacle, too. Yoko Ono was in the audience. So was former Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), the congressman who lent his name to the infamous “FRAC Act” that Josh so desperately wants to become law. After the movie, they joined him on stage, along with the Lipskys, John Fenton, Calvin Tillman, and the rest of the “cast.”
But the emotion-filled remarks afterwards – including a plea to push for Mark Jacobson’s “100% renewables” plan as the way to stop natural gas development – were also the perfect bookend to a movement that was always based on sensationalism over substance (Jacobson’s plan is, quite simply, pure fairy tale). The call to action was more of a cry of desperation (“Please, keep us relevant!”) by a filmmaker, and indeed an entire ideology, whose time has come and gone. As an early review of the film puts it, Gasland Part II “runs longer than the earlier installment, but ultimately it has less to say.”
So, beyond the bigger picture about the waning credibility of the anti-fracking movement, what was in Gasland Part II? Where did Fox travel, and with whom did he speak? Given that issues relating to Dimock have been explained ad nauseum over the past several years, we won’t go into detail explaining why opponents’ claims about that town are untrue. If you want the real story about Dimock, please go here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.
Similarly, the Lipsky case in Parker County, Tex., has been in the news for years, and most of it deals with fraud on the part of local activists, who strategized for months on how to deceive the public and get the EPA involved. The EPA dropped its case, too – not because of election year politics or industry pressure (as Fox alleges), but because real scientific evidence disproved any link between natural gas development and the methane in the Lipsky water well. In fact, most of what Fox tried to spin out of the case paralleled what several media outlets previously tried to manufacture as a story line, and each one has been completely debunked. It’s unclear why Fox would rest his laurels so heavily on a case that the public has moved past, but when you’re desperate to remain relevant, you often have to grasp at straws.
However, let’s look at some of the case studies and subjects that appeared in the film, and a full discussion about why reality, once again, tells a completely different story.
John Fenton (Pavillion, Wyo.)
Summary: Mr. Fenton was also featured in Gasland, providing clarity from the beginning that Gasland Part II is little more than a retread of the same themes explored in the first movie. Fenton has said: “When we turn on the tap, the water reeks of hydrocarbons and chemicals,” which he blames on nearby hydraulic fracturing. The town of Pavillion itself has become a flashpoint in the debate over shale development in the United States, premised chiefly on an unreviewed, draft EPA report from December 2011 that theorized a link between hydraulic fracturing and test results from two deep monitoring wells the agency drilled. In Gasland Part II, the EPA report is presented as proof that hydraulic fracturing causes water contamination, and Fenton (along with a curse word-laden scene with Louis Meeks) is the vehicle through which Fox presents it.
The Facts: Since at least the 1960s, the U.S. Geological Survey has documented poor water quality in the Wind River Formation, over which Pavillion sits. The reasons vary from naturally-occurring compounds to pesticide and agriculture runoff. Here are a few examples:
- USGS (1992): “Water quality is variable in the Wind River Formation because this unit has highly variable lithology, permeability, and recharge conditions. Dissolved-solids concentrations in water samples from this formation ranged from 211 to 5,110 mg/L.” (page 82)
- USGS (1991): “Dissolved-solids concentrations varied greatly for water samples collected from the 34 geologic units inventoried. Dissolved-solids concentrations in all water samples … were 2 to 14 times greater than the Secondary Maximum Contaminant Level of 500 mg/L set by the EPA.” (page 103; emphasis added)
- USGS (1989): “The ground water in Fremont County was ranked the fourth most vulnerable to pesticide contamination in Wyoming. … Six of the 18 focal pesticides and 1 non-focal pesticide were detected in Fremont County. At least one pesticide was detected in 13 of the 20 wells sampled in Fremont County.” (USGS fact sheet; emphasis added)
- USGS (1969): “Poor drainage resulting in salt accumulation has been a problem in many irrigated areas on the [Wind River] Reservation. McGreevy and others (1969, p. I58-I66) reported numerous drainage problems associated with the [Wind River aquifer], and Peterson and others (1991, p. 10) reported that seepage and salt accumulation became apparent in the Riverton Reclamation Project area shortly after irrigation started in the 1920s. (page 8; emphasis added)
Fenton is described in the movie as a person fighting back against the oil and gas industry, a cause he asked the viewers at the premiere to take up themselves. According to Bloomberg News, Fenton receives about $2,000 per year for each of the 24 gas wells on his property – a fact that neither Josh nor Fenton gave nary a mention.
Meanwhile, EPA’s report on water quality in Pavillion has been exposed as flawed by Wyoming state regulators, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Geological Survey. Don Simpson, a high ranking official for BLM, pointed to the possibility of “bias in the samples” from EPA’s research. In fact, Simpson says that EPA’s findings
“…should not be prematurely used as a line of evidence that supports EPA’s suggestion that gas has migrated into the shallow subsurface due to hydraulic fracturing or improper well completion until more data is collected and analyzed.”
Due to concerns over the EPA’s methods, the agency agreed to retest the wells, and the U.S. Geological Survey was brought in to do its own sampling. When the USGS completed its tests, the EPA prematurely declared that USGS’s findings were “generally consistent” with its own. The only problem? More than 50 of the EPA’s measurements were discredited by the findings of the USGS. In fact, the USGS effectively disqualified one of the EPA’s two monitoring wells due to low flow rates and poor construction.
These mistakes are critically important, because they show the EPA may have contaminated the very water the agency was trying to sample. For example, the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality observed mineral accumulation within one of EPA’s monitoring wells, which “indicates the well casing was not constructed of stainless steel as originally reported by EPA. This has been confirmed by EPA.” Using the wrong material for well casing can introduce new compounds into groundwater, which will then register in the samples taken from that well.
A Wyoming DEQ geologist added:
“You have low flow rates that increase the time water is in contact with those drilling materials [from the construction of EPA’s monitoring well], and materials used in drilling mud can affect groundwater quality. You don’t know if it’s biasing the results up or down.”
Indeed, photos and video from the Wyoming DEQ actually show some of the mineral accumulation and drilling materials found inside the monitoring well, which contributed to the refusal by USGS to take water quality samples from it.
Then there’s the issue of the depth of the EPA’s monitoring wells themselves. Pavillion’s drinking water wells are typically less than 300 feet deep, because state officials have known for decades that drilling deeper could result in striking one of the area’s shallow hydrocarbon deposits. But EPA officials drilled two monitoring wells to almost 1,000 feet. That’s important for at least two reasons.
First, EPA’s theory absolutely hinges upon on the detection of hydrocarbons in those monitoring wells — but you would expect to find hydrocarbons in a monitoring well that was drilled below the aquifer and into a hydrocarbon reservoir. Second, the test results from the area’s shallow drinking water wells simply don’t match what the EPA says it found in the deep monitoring wells. That means the EPA’s test results from the deep monitoring wells, however flawed, don’t have any connection to the shallow wells that actually provide people with drinking water.
Unsurprisingly, when the draft Pavillion report became public in late 2011, then-EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said: “We have absolutely no indication right now that drinking water is at risk.” And several months later, Jackson told reporters, “In no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.”
Furthermore, in response to the criticism of its methods, the EPA announced in January 2013 yet another delay in starting the peer-review process for the draft Pavillion report. The announcement of the eight-month postponement also noted: “This draft research report is not final … and should not be construed to represent Agency policy or views.”
- Casper Star-Tribune: EPA agrees to more testing of water wells near Pavillion to ‘clarify questions’
- S.S. Papadopulos & Associates, Inc.: Review of U.S. EPA’s December 2011 Draft Report
- EID: Enormous Differences between USGS and EPA on Pavillion
- EID: Six – Actually, Seven – Questions for EPA on Pavillion
The Parr Family (Wise County, Tex.)
Summary: Bob Parr moved into his home in Wise County, Tex., in 2001. In 2008, Bob and Lisa Parr were married, after which Lisa and her daughter moved into Bob’s house. Shortly thereafter, the Parrs claimed to experience health impacts, including nosebleeds, nausea, headaches, and breathing difficulties. In Gasland Part II, several photos of the Parrs are shown for dramatic effect, including their daughter’s nosebleed and Lisa’s skin welts. The Parrs filed complaints with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in 2010, which investigated and took air samples in the area. The Parrs, meanwhile, relocated to live in Bob’s office in Denton. The Parrs also filed a lawsuit against local operators, seeking punitive damages for environmental and health impacts.
The Facts: Since at least 2010, the Parrs have been working closely with Earthworks, an environmental organization known for its intense and ideologically-driven opposition to oil and gas development. Unsurprisingly, Earthworks has an entire page devoted to publicizing the Parrs’ story, and Lisa Parr was even a featured speaker at an Earthworks event. Sharon Wilson, a north Texas organizer for Earthworks (who also played a role in “educating” former EPA regional administrator Al Armendariz), flew to the U.S. EPA’s North Carolina office to present the Parrs’ story as one of four “case studies of health impacts caused by natural gas extraction in the Barnett Shale.” Wilson also paid a visit to the Parrs’ hometown (and blogged about the same company that the Parrs would later complain about) around the time the Parrs notified TCEQ of their problems.
Earthworks links to air sampling from TCEQ to support the Parrs’ case, which was completed in July 2010 (the group also referenced that test in a report submitted to the U.S. Department of Energy during a public hearing). Earthworks claims an outside environmental specialist’s tests “detected chemicals in [Lisa’s] blood and lungs that match the results of TCEQ’s air sampling.” For some reason, the Parrs’ own lawyer declined to identify the specialist who conducted the blood tests, although Earthworks identified him as William Rae from Dallas.
Of course, Earthworks did not include the full TCEQ sampling report in its write-up of the case study — just the table of measurements. Earthworks also omits any mention that TCEQ completed followup tests a few months later. It was a critical omission, because in the July 2010 results, TCEQ states the following:
“Preliminary review of the available literature indicates that short-term adverse health effects such as respiratory irritation and central nervous system depression related to these chemicals usually occur at concentrations greater than those reported. However, based on the observed adverse health effects experienced by the citizen and the regional investigator, the Toxicology Division (TD) strongly advises emission reduction from this facility.”
TCEQ went on to mention that it ordered the company “to reduce emissions” and requested a “follow-up sampling event to monitor ambient air near this facility.” Two months later, Earthworks claimed the exact opposite, alleging that TCEQ’s response was limited only to “laughably small fines” and no requirements to compensate the Parrs. A few days after Earthworks’ baseless critique, TCEQ released its followup sampling. From that TCEQ report:
“Reported concentrations of target volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were either not detected or were detected below levels of short-term health and/or welfare concern.”
To recap: A citizen complaint to TCEQ resulted in an investigation of local activity, and regulators ordered the company to reduce emissions. Two months later, all measurements were below any threshold that would trigger public health impacts.
Of course, Earthworks also cites TCEQ testing done on behalf of the Ruggiero family (who live near the Parrs) as evidence of high VOCs and other emissions in the area. More specifically, Earthworks references a January 20, 2010 test; one from February 5, 2010; and a test from March 16, 2010. Once again, Earthworks decided only to post the raw sampling data — not TCEQ’s conclusions and interpretations, which tell a completely different story.
“None of the reported concentrations would be expected to cause adverse health effects.”
For the March test, TCEQ came to an even more benign conclusion:
“Reported concentrations of target volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were either not detected or were detected below levels of short-term health and/or welfare concern.”
TCEQ also mentioned in all three tests that benzene concentrations were below health thresholds.
- Powell Shale Digest: Parr Petition against Aruba Petroleum, et al.
- Tex. Comm. on Env. Quality: Follow-up Air Sampling from Parr Complaint
- Tex. Comm. on Env. Quality: Wise County Air and Health Tests
- EID: EPA Official: ‘Crucify’ Operators to ‘Make Examples’ of Them
Calvin Tillman (DISH, Tex.)
Summary: Mr. Tillman, a former mayor of DISH, Texas, played a prominent role in Gasland, and regularly tours the country to recite talking points about the supposed dangers of shale. Tillman claims that natural gas development in his community created a range of health problems for local residents, and that those impacts will affect residents in other parts of the country where development is or will be occurring. Tillman decided to get active on the issue after a series of natural gas compressor stations were built near DISH, and he most frequently cites benzene concentrations as the key problem. In Gasland Part II, Tillman’s story was retold as if it were new, and he is shown driving around his (former) community, pointing out houses of residents who are suing the natural gas industry.
The Facts: The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) – which is responsible for regulating air emissions in the state – evaluated Tillman’s claims, specifically a report from Wolf Eagle Environmental that supposedly found harmful levels of benzene concentrations in DISH. As mayor of DISH, Tillman had contracted Wolf Eagle to conduct that test.
TCEQ’s investigation, however, found that the “highest potential 1-hour maximum benzene concentration is below the health effects level,” although the agency did stress the need for additional research. The problem was that the Wolf Eagle team measured benzene over an incredibly short period of time, which led TCEQ to conclude that it “was not possible to determine if residents were exposed” to the concentrations that Tillman had claimed.
In other words, Tillman’s consultants took a snapshot measurement and suggested it was what residents were being exposed to over a long period of time. That’s just not how credible scientific air sampling and analysis works.
It’s worth noting, too, that Wolf Eagle Environmental used to go by the name Wolf Eagle Environmental Engineers and Consultants, but later shortened its name after it was revealed that the company did not actually employ a single licensed professional engineer on staff. Wolf Eagle Environmental is also the firm that, through its employee Alisa Rich, helped devise a “strategy” with Parker County, Texas activists to get the EPA involved in a now-infamous water contamination case in 2010 – a strategy that involved creating a deceptive video to make regulators think a landowner’s water was on fire, which they blamed on nearby shale development.
In addition to the TCEQ’s findings, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) later collected blood and urine samples from residents in and around the town of DISH to assess whether Tillman’s claims were accurate. DSHS concluded:
“Although a number of VOCs [volatile organic compounds] were detected in some of the blood samples, the pattern of VOC values was not consistent with a community-wide exposure to airborne contaminants, such as those that might be associated with natural gas drilling operations.”
DSHS added that the sources of exposure were likely tobacco (those who registered elevated levels of benzene were smokers), public drinking water systems, which include disinfectant byproducts, and even household products like cleaners and lubricants. Although there were limitations to DSHS’s review (VOCs are only present in blood for a short period of time), the agency nonetheless stated that its findings “did not indicate that community-wide exposures from gas wells or compressor stations were occurring in the sample population.”
In early 2013, Tillman’s organization – ShaleTest – claimed to have found high levels of benzene in DISH once again, and cited a TCEQ report that found elevated benzene levels in Fort Worth. TCEQ, however, explained that neither reading crossed the threshold for health impacts. Tillman was once again guilty of using short-term readings to suggest a long-term exposure problem, a decision that TCEQ said was “not scientifically appropriate.”
- Tex. Comm. on Env. Quality: Health Effects Review of Ambient Air Monitoring Data Collected by Wolf Eagle Environmental Engineers and Consultants
- Tex. Dept. of State Health Services: Final Report: DISH, Texas Exposure Investigation (May 2010)
- Fort Worth Star-Telegram: “Benzene levels at Fort Worth, Dish gas compressor stations questioned”
- EID: Public Health and Hydraulic Fracturing: Get the Facts
- EID: Seven Questions for the Mayor of DISH
- EID: Gasland Star Sees His Shadow in Michigan; Good News for Shale?
Deborah Rogers (Fort Worth, Tex.)
Summary: Ms. Rogers resides in Fort Worth, Tex., and she previously managed investments for Prudential Bache, Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney. She currently owns a business of her own (Deborah’s Farmstead). This combined experience led to a three-year appointment to the Small Business and Agricultural Advisory Council of the Federal Reserve Bank’s Eleventh District in Dallas. This experience also got her into Gasland Part II, where she discusses the industry’s plan to export natural gas.
The Facts: Gasland Part II suggests exporting a portion of America’s abundant natural gas supplies is a conspiracy: get consumers “hooked” on natural gas with rhetoric about “energy independence,” then raise prices (by selling to markets where natural gas is more expensive) to boost profits – all at the expense of hardworking Americans. But like most conspiracies, this one requires a willful suspension of disbelief, and a substantial one at that.
First of all, despite the eerie and dark tone of the film in discussing “industry’s plan” to sell natural gas to our trading partners, proposed export facilities are actually in the public domain. They’re right on the Energy Department’s website, for anyone to see. The entire export debate has taken place in the public sphere, too – largely because U.S. law requires that government approval or denial be based on the public interest. Furthermore, the Department of Energy recently held a public comment period on the exports issue, which generated over 180,000 responses. If folks were trying to keep this behind closed doors, it’s quite possibly the most poorly executed conspiracy in history.
Second, and more importantly, the “rising prices” angle is just not credible. Fox references a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration and says in the film that prices could rise “by more than 50 percent.” Of course, that was just one of many scenarios considered, and was the least likely of all of them. It assumes, for example, an export scenario that rapidly materializes (which isn’t going to happen) and a resource base dramatically less than what the United States knows it has. In fact, the Potential Gas Committee’s latest report on technically recoverable natural gas in the United States showed the highest estimate in the organization’s 48-year history. The numbers were, predictably, driven chiefly by shale gas. The EIA assessment that Fox quoted, meanwhile, was based on old data, which EIA has even updated to show even more supply and production coming online in the coming years.
That’s why analyses from Brookings and Deloitte, as well as a landmark report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy, all found that the benefits of exports would outweigh the costs, and that any price impacts would be modest. The DOE report concluded specifically that exports would deliver “net economic benefits” under all scenarios modeled. A recent study by the Bipartisan Policy Center also found a compelling case for exports, driven largely by projected price impacts that were minimal.
As it turns out, allowing companies in the United States to access markets overseas actually helps the U.S. economy. For most, that’s basic economics. In Gasland Part II, it’s the Illuminati and the Freemasons working together.
So, the conspiracy behind the conspiracy – the man behind the curtain behind the man behind the first curtain: companies in the United States want to sell products to other countries. For the sequel to Gasland, could there possibly be a more pathetically fitting conclusion?
- Washington Post: Natural gas exports: A boon to the economy
- The Economist: For a cleaner world and richer America, Obama should allow exports
- New York Times: Benefits of gas exports far outweigh any price impacts
- EID: IPAA and EID Explain to Feds Why LNG Exports Make Sense
- EID: Exporting Misinformation
Methane ‘Leaks’ and Climate Change
Summary: Critics of natural gas development, armed primarily with research from activist professors at Cornell University, have suggested that natural gas developed from shale – due to alleged methane “leaks” – actually increases net greenhouse gas emissions. According to this theory, high leakage rates throughout the production, mid-stream distribution, and delivery systems negate the lower CO2 profile of natural gas. Cornell professor Robert Howarth is the “star witness” for this claim in Gasland Part II, going so far as to claim that shale gas is actually the “worst” form of energy in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, due to high methane leakage rates.
The Facts: The basis for virtually all claims about methane “leaks” through the development of natural gas from shale comes from a paper written in 2011 by Cornell professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea (both of whom appear in Gasland Part II, the latter of whom is also presented as an “expert” in well casing). Within months of its release, the paper had been debunked by experts at the U.S. Department of Energy and within the academic community. This includes a paper from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, which was commissioned by none other than the Sierra Club, an entity that opposes natural gas development. Subsequent reports by experts at MIT – including a lead author of the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC – and the Dept. of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory demonstrated that life cycle GHG emissions of natural gas developed from shale are not significantly different from those produced by so-called “conventional” natural gas development, contrary to the Howarth thesis.
Here are just a few of the statements from the expert community responding to the Howarth/Ingraffea research:
- “Howarth found a large fraction of produced gas from unconventional wells never made it to end users, assumed that all of that gas was vented as methane, and thus concluded that the global warming impacts were huge. As the [Department of Energy] work explains, though, 62% of that gas isn’t lost at all – it’s ‘used to power equipment.’” (Michael Levi, Council on Foreign Relations, May 20, 2011)
- “Here we reiterate and substantiate our charges that none of these [Howarth/Ingraffea’s] conclusions are warranted, especially in the light of new data and models.” (Cathles et. al., Response to Howarth, Feb. 29, 2012)
- “We don’t think they’re using credible data and some of the assumptions they’re making are biased. And the comparison they make at the end, my biggest problem, is wrong.” (Paulina Jaramillo, Carnegie Mellon University, August 24, 2011; full CMU study here)
- “Professor Horwath’s conclusion that gas emits more heat trapping gas than carbon flies in the face of numerous life cycle studies done around the world.” (John Hanger, former Secretary of Pa. DEP, April 12, 2011)
- “[A]rguments that shale gas is more polluting than coal are largely unjustified.” (Hultman et. al., GHG study of unconventional gas, Oct. 2011)
If all that weren’t devastating enough to the Howarth/Ingraffea paper, data released by the U.S. EPA in April 2013 (more specifically, the week before the premiere of Gasland Part II) confirm that methane emissions from natural gas systems actually declined as gas production rapidly expanded. Howarth and Ingraffea used methane emission data from EPA to arrive at their estimates, drawing from data that were published in 2011. But in its latest Greenhouse Gas Inventory, EPA actually revised downward its methane emissions estimates from natural gas systems. The revision was based on better data and the recognition that certain emissions-reducing technologies are far more widely used than previously thought.
As such, the basis for the “shale is worse than coal” talking point has not only been debunked by experts across the board, but it’s also premised entirely on inflated and outdated information.
The reality is that natural gas is providing net benefits in terms of greenhouse gas reductions. The United States did not sign the Kyoto Protocol, nor did it approve a government sanctioned cap-and-trade program. And yet it is the United States that is currently leading all developed nations in reducing CO2 emissions on an annual percentage basis.
The reason? There are actually several – but one of the biggest is that the U.S. power sector is using more natural gas, an increasing share of which is being developed from shale. According to IEA:
“US emissions have now fallen by 430 Mt (7.7%) since 2006, the largest reduction of all countries or regions. This development has arisen from lower oil use in the transport sector … and a substantial shift from coal to gas in the power sector.”
The U.S. Energy Information Administration agrees with IEA’s assessment. As EIA noted in April:
“U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions resulting from energy use during the first quarter of 2012 were the lowest in two decades for any January-March period. Normally, CO2 emissions during the year are highest in the first quarter because of strong demand for heat produced by fossil fuels. However, CO2 emissions during January-March 2012 were low due to a combination of three factors…[including] a decline in coal-fired electricity generation, due largely to historically low natural gas prices.”
EIA also observed that total CO2 emissions from energy consumption were at their lowest level since 1992.
For this reason, some of our country’s leading officials, regulators, and academics have contested the assertion that the utilization of natural gas in power generation doesn’t provide net environmental benefits. For example:
- “[A] long-term domestic supply of natural gas is expected to yield environmental benefits… [natural gas] has the lowest carbon dioxide emission factor at combustion of any fossil fuel.” (Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University, April 2013)
- “It boggles the mind why anyone who wants to reduce carbon emissions right now would oppose shale gas production. Nothing has cut US emissions more than low natural gas prices made possible by the shale gas boom.” (John Hanger, former Secretary of Pa. DEP, Dec. 31, 2012)
- “… carbon emissions are declining in the US more than in any other country in the world. The USA is the global climate leader, while Europe and Germany are returning to coal. The main reason is gas, which increased last year by almost the exact same amount that coal declined.” (Michael Shellenberger & Ted Nordhaus, Breakthrough Institute, March 2013)
- “Natural gas plays a key role in our Nation’s clean energy future.” (U.S. EPA)
- “Natural gas is the fossil fuel that produces the lowest amount of GHG per unit of energy consumed and is therefore favoured in mitigation strategies, compared to other fossil fuels.” (Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the U.N. IPCC, Nov. 2012)
- “On balance, we think substituting natural gas for coal can provide net environmental value, including a lower greenhouse gas footprint.” (Mark Brownstein, Environmental Defense Fund, Sept. 2012)
- “We produce more natural gas than ever before — and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen…. the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that.” (President Barack Obama, State of the Union, Feb. 2013)
Contrary to what opponents have claimed, the facts clearly show that increased utilization of natural gas – regardless of how it is developed – is helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
- U.S. Energy Information Administration: U.S. Energy-Related CO2 Emissions Lowest Since 1992
- Int’l Energy Agency: Global Carbon-Dioxide Emissions Increase by 1.0 GT in 2011 to Record High
- Los Angeles Times: EPA: U.S. greenhouse gases drop 1.6% from 2010 to 2011
- The Breakthrough Institute: Deadly Air Pollution Declines Thanks to Gas Boom
- The Hill: Study: Fracked gas far more climate-friendly than coal
- MIT: Report: Natural gas can play major role in greenhouse gas reduction
- EID: EPA’s Massive, Downward Revision of Methane Emissions
- EID: New Study Debunks Cornell GHG Paper. Again.
Hydraulic Fracturing and Earthquakes
Summary: Josh Fox (and a host of other anti-energy activists) recently leaped into a new area of criticism of hydraulic fracturing, claiming that it causes earthquakes. Predictably, Gasland Part II brings up the seismicity issue, chiefly in the context of California and the numerous known faults in the state. Fox previously adopted this talking point after seismic events that occurred in Youngstown, Ohio, in early 2012. In one interview, Fox declared “there is a clear link between earthquakes and fracking,” adding that the use of the technology in the Baldwin Hills (Calif.) oil field could “trigger a 7.4 earthquake,” a claim repeated in Gasland Part II to suggest nothing short of the apocalypse for southern California. Seismic events tied to injection wells, which were receiving wastewater from oil and gas development, have even given the media a license to link earthquakes to fracking.
The Facts: According to Bill Ellsworth, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey who authored a landmark report on seismicity and oil and gas development in 2012, the “clear link” that Fox alleges does not exist. “We find no evidence,” Ellsworth said, “that fracking is related to the occurrence of earthquakes that people are feeling.” Ellsworth later stated: “We don’t see any connection between fracking and earthquakes of any concern to society.”
The National Research Council has confirmed the USGS findings: “The process of hydraulic fracturing a well as presently implemented for shale gas recovery does not pose a high risk for inducing felt seismic events.” NRC added that “only a very small fraction of injection and extraction activities among the hundreds of thousands of energy development sites in the United States have induced seismicity at levels noticeable to the public.”
The reason for this is simple: the amount of energy needed to complete the hydraulic fracturing process is miniscule compared to what’s recorded during actual seismic events that can be felt by people. So small, in fact, that Stanford University geophysicist Mark Zoback (himself a member of the Dept. of Energy’s shale gas advisory team) told the U.S. Senate that the seismic energy released by the hydraulic fracturing process is “about the same amount of energy as a gallon of milk falling off a kitchen counter.”
Instead, what much of the press has failed to report accurately is that the stories of “fracking-related earthquakes” are actually seismic events resulting from wastewater disposal into injection wells. The U.S. EPA is in charge of regulating these wells (those used for oil and gas are designed as “Class II”), and often grants states “primacy” for enforcement – the well-established system in federal environmental laws since they were passed in the 1970s, which reflects the crucial role of states in regulating industry activity. EPA considers injection wells to be a “safe and inexpensive option” for disposing of wastewater, be it from oil and gas development or manufacturing or any other process.
Moreover, the link between injection wells and seismicity is actually well-understood and has been acknowledged by federal officials for decades, according to the U.S. Department of the Interior. For example, a series of small earthquakes around Denver, Colo., in the 1960s were traced back to wastewater disposal from a nearby chemical plant.
The risk of such seismic events, however, is incredible low, and in fact can be easily managed by making simple changes (i.e. reducing flow rates). As proof, there are more than 150,000 Class II wells in the United States. Only about 40,000 of them are used specifically for wastewater disposal (others are used for things like enhanced oil recovery), and only a handful of those 40,000 have been linked to seismic events of any significance.
Not surprisingly, the media has often failed to contextualize these facts, opting instead to use the search engine bait of “fracking” in the headlines. When he released a major study on induced seismicity in 2012, Ellsworth (of USGS) actually criticized the media’s role in misrepresenting his work and suggesting he linked fracking to earthquakes. “I was greatly surprised,” Ellsworth told E&E News, “to see how words were being used in the press in ways that were inappropriate.” Ellsworth added: “The public has legitimate concerns for which it needs good information.”
While academic and government experts alike note that seismicity is not a major concern associated with hydraulic fracturing, that’s not the case with every energy source. In fact, some of the very sources Josh Fox wants to implement on a wider scale have a much larger risk of causing seismic events. In 2011, Fox noted, “we’re for renewable energy …You know, I was just in Iceland, and there, it’s almost all geothermal and hydroelectric power.”
What Fox either doesn’t know, or conveniently omits, is that hydraulic fracturing is used in conjunction with geothermal power. For precisely that reason, France is now dealing with the repercussions of promoting geothermal while maintaining a ban on hydraulic fracturing.
And, whereas credible scientists have stated that hydraulic fracturing a well for natural gas recovery does not pose a major risk of creating seismic events, the same cannot be said for geothermal power. Researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory noted that the nation’s largest geothermal facility – The Geysers just north of San Francisco – was responsible for creating 30,000 seismic events in a span of less than three years – more than 300 of which were above magnitude 2, and six of which were magnitude 4.
The National Research Council also observed that The Geysers “has the most historically continuous and well documented record of seismic activity associated with any energy technology development in the world.”
We look forward to Josh’s next movie: the perils of the same geothermal power that he wants to expand.
- E&E News: Disconnects in public discourse around ‘fracking’ cloud earthquake issue
- National Research Council: Induced Seismicity Potential in Energy Technologies
- U.S. Department of Interior: Is the Recent Increase in Felt Earthquakes in the Central US Natural or Manmade?
- EID: On Shaky Ground
Well Failures and Casing Leaks
Summary: Opponents of shale development often cite a statistic that 60 percent of all shale wells will fail, which will result in polluted underground aquifers and damage to the environment. The claim originates from Cornell professor (and anti-natural gas activist) Anthony Ingraffea, who claims to have “industry documents” as his source. Ingraffea’s appearance in Gasland Part II was thus a foregone conclusion, and Fox spent nearly as much time running through Ingraffea’s CV as he gave to Ingraffea to repeat that talking point.
Riding on Ingraffea’s coattails, Josh Fox also cited the statistic in an op-ed last summer, as did Yoko Ono in a recent letter to the New York Times. Fox even made the talking point a key part of his short film “The Sky Is Pink,” released last summer. The actual source is a decade-old article that examined what’s known as sustained casing pressure, or SCP. There is indeed a graph on the second page detailing that, over a 30 year time span, 60 percent of wells will be affected by SCP. The graph appears in Gasland Part II, as well.
The Facts: The problem for Ingraffea – who fashions himself an objective scientist – is that the statistic he’s waving around has absolutely nothing to do with shale development. How do we know that? The caption under the graph from which Ingraffea pulled the statistic (and which the camera in Gasland Part II does not provide viewers enough time to read) actually states the following:
“Wells with SCP by age. Statistics from the United States Mineral Management Service (MMS) show the percentage of wells with SCP for wells in the outer continental shelf (OCS) area of the Gulf of Mexico, grouped by age of the wells. These data do not include wells in state waters or land locations.” (p. 63)
Read through that again. Notice that it is referring to activity in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Notice as well that it explicitly excludes any sort of data from onshore development. Shale wells in the United States are drilled onshore, not thousands of feet deep in the Gulf of Mexico – a fact that Ingraffea, Fox, Yoko, and all the other activists apparently hope the public never discovers.
This would be like preaching about the dangers of convertible automobiles based on statistics relating only to the performance of heavy-duty trucks. It reflects a fundamental ignorance of the very industry that these activists so desperately want to malign. It’s also hilarious that Ingraffea makes this claim in Gasland Part II immediately after Fox spends several minutes describing how the professor is the world’s most renowned expert on well casing and cementing. If that were the case, wouldn’t he be able to recognize something as basic as the difference between an onshore and offshore well?
As for sustained casing pressure (SCP), it’s actually a term that refers to the buildup of pressure between casing strings in a well. It does not necessarily refer to a leaking well, or even to a well that soon will be leaking. There are a variety of technologies and processes that can address SCP if it appears, too. Ironically, SCP reduction is the whole point of the document that Ingraffea believes is some sort of smoking gun. If you read the article in its entirety, it actually highlights what’s available to the industry to prevent, minimize and even fix SCP.
Once again, Fox and his disciples have demonstrated they do not understand the basic processes they’re trying to explain; and yet, they claim we should trust them anyway.
Let’s take a closer look at the onshore well “failure” issue, though, and this time with data that are actually relevant. An August 2011 report from the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) actually examined data that is relevant to shale development. GWPC reviewed more than 34,000 onshore wells drilled and completed in Ohio between 1983 and 2007. The data show only 12 incidents related to failures of (or graduate erosions to) casing or cement – a failure rate of 0.03 percent. Most of those incidents (more than 80 percent) occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, long before the current technology and updated state regulations that came online over the past decade.
The report also looked at more than 187,000 wells drilled and completed in Texas. The incident rate there: 0.01 percent.
So, far from shale wells suffering from a failure rate of 60 percent, data from hundreds of thousands of wells show that casing failures occur at a rate of no more than three one-hundredths of one percent. Of course, failure rates – however low they may be already – can always be made lower still. But can we at least agree that folks who rely on the “leaky shale wells” talking point should at least have a grasp of the basic facts – like, for instance, which data do and do not refer to shale wells?
- Ground Water Protection Council: State Oil and Gas Agency Groundwater Investigations – A Two State Review: Ohio and Texas
- Associated Press: Some fracking critics use bad science
- EID: For Josh Fox, the Sun Also Rises
- EID: 60 percent of statistics are made up
Lobbying and ‘Polluting Our Democracy’
Summary: The first Gasland wanted the public to believe that hydraulic fracturing was polluting drinking water. Gasland Part II suggests that the companies developing oil and natural gas from shale are also polluting our democracy through targeted lobbying and backdoor meetings with regulators. For that reason, supposedly “proven” cases of water pollution in Dimock, Pa., and Parker County, Tex., were swept under the rug by EPA, and President Obama vocally supported shale gas as merely a clever political move in an election year.
The Facts: Indeed, President Obama now touts the environmental and economic benefits of natural gas, something that Fox references as if to say “even he has turned against us!” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – which Fox had hoped would be the vehicle to shut down shale gas development – now openly says natural gas is a part of America’s “clean energy future.” A study commissioned by the Sierra Club found considerable environmental benefits from natural gas developed from shale, as compared to other energy options. Shale development has also expanded considerably since the release of Gasland.
Gasland Part II makes the audience believe that those facts are all essentially a conspiracy (notice a trend, here?), a series of back room deals and coordinated industry pressure that forced our regulators and elected leaders to abandon their responsibilities. Politics trumps science, Fox might say.
It’s a bold position to take, especially for a guy who claims membership in a group that stands accused of avoiding lobbying laws.
It’s also a fact that, even though some of the big organizations that oppose hydraulic fracturing do not include lobbying as explicit portions of their budgets, the line between explicit lobbying and what is, in effect, lobbying by another name is quite hazy.
Anti-fracking groups bring state lawmakers on “tours” of Pennsylvania to explain to them how supposedly dangerous shale development is. For a single statewide race, the League of Conservation Voters funneled $50,000 to its candidate of choice. We all know how those opposed to energy development use multiple conduits to fund their objectives, and also toss around lots of cash during campaign season. The head of the Sierra Club has even joined a broader “Democracy Initiative” in alliance with left-leaning groups to influence the public debate about a range of issues, many of which have nothing to do with the environment.
At its core, though, the “democracy denied” allegation in Gasland Part II is supported by little to no actual evidence. He interviews members of Congress who have vocally opposed oil and gas development (former Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Sen. Ben Cardin, Rep. Lois Capps, etc.), and correlates an election year to EPA’s “reversal” of decisions about water contamination in Texas and Pennsylvania. Since the evidence just isn’t there, though, Fox simply asserts it as truth. Because corporations, or something.
The real reason that shale development has expanded is not because of some nefarious plot on the part of industry leaders wearing black robes. Rather, it’s because people across the United States have recognized that there are massive environmental and economic benefits to be reaped: substantially lower air emissions, reduced reliance on imported energy, hundreds of thousands of new jobs, and a revitalization of American manufacturing. Both political parties are pushing for increased responsible natural gas production, and it’s because of the facts, not because they’ve been “captured” by Corporate America. Even Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) – certainly no shill for the oil and gas industry – has pushed back against groups who oppose domestic natural gas development. “I think environmentalists should want natural gas on the table as an option,” Markey said.
The emblematic example of Fox’s determination to see a conspiracy was his discussion of Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s election in 2010. Gasland Part II explains that Corbett ran on a pro-shale platform, mentions that Corbett was elected, and then continues to suggest there’s a broader back room plan that’s subverting democracy. Left unanswered: If Corbett, a Republican, ran explicitly on a pro-shale platform as Fox alleged, then wouldn’t voters take that into account? It’s not as if Pennsylvania is a bastion of right-wing Republicanism, either; the state hasn’t gone for a GOP presidential candidate in more than two decades.
What Fox sees as democracy denied is actually an example of democracy confirmed – it’s just that Fox didn’t like the results.
- Associated Press: NY Fracking Foes: Will Become Lobby if Necessary
- E&E News: ‘Big Green’ groups distancing themselves from Josh Fox
- EID: Poll: Support for Hydraulic Fracturing Still Exceeds Opposition
- EID: Key Democrats to Sierra Club: You’re Wrong about Natural Gas
Will Gasland Sequel Be Based on Same Fallacies as the Original?
This Sunday, Gasland Part II premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Here we provide a round-up and refresher of how the original film was received by select media, academics, and independent experts. Will the sequel address these problems, or just double down?
This Sunday, Gasland Part II premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. Below, we provide a round-up and refresher of how the original film was received by select media, academics, and independent experts. Will the sequel address these problems, or just double down?
“Fundamentally dishonest … a deliberately false presentation for dramatic effect … [T]his movie certainly contributes to more public misunderstanding.”
–John Hanger, former Secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (source)
“…one sided, flawed and personal in the Michael Moore mode.”
–New York Times (source)
“…a long, muck-raking polemic, peppered with sensationalism, emotionalism, and distortions.”
–Towanda (Pa.) Daily Review (source)
“Gasland incorrectly attributes several cases of water well contamination in Colorado to oil and gas development when our investigations determined that the wells in question contained biogenic methane that is not attributable to such development.”
–Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (source)
“[Fox] made errors and … spun some facts to their outer limits.”
–E&E News/New York Times (source)
“As [Josh] Fox may (or may not) be learning, using incomplete data to make sweeping observations may do his cause more harm than good.”
–Tom Wilber, former journalist and editor of Shale Gas Review (source)
“My biggest disappointment in Gasland was that, basically a guy that doesn’t understand the industry at all goes and tells a story – and it truly is a story and a lot of it is fiction and I can see people falling into it. But, as an expert in the hydrology near the surface and deep oil and gas I have a difficult time going through the whole movie. It really disturbs me the things he misrepresents….”
–Gary Hanson, director of the Red River Watershed Management Institute, Louisiana State University (source)
“Obviously, Gasland has a lot of pretty dramatic events. I think where I would differ with Josh is his conclusions that those problems are all related to fracking.”
–Jim Marston, Environmental Defense Fund (source)
“[I]t’s maddening to see how easy [Josh Fox] makes it for the film’s critics to attack him, and how difficult for sympathetic but objective viewers to wholly embrace him … Mr. Fox shows a general preference for vivid images … over the more mundane crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s of investigative journalism.”
–New York Times (source)
“‘Gasland’ presents a carefully crafted point of view. Not everything in the film’s narration is precisely accurate. Not all of its subjects are completely credible. Some major components of the story are missing.”
–Harrisburg (Pa.) Patriot-News (source)
“The movie [Gasland] has a critical flaw, and the flaw is that there’s a tremendous amount of innuendo in the movie.”
–Dr. Terry Engelder, Professor of Geosciences, Penn State University (source)
“One glaring error in the film is the suggestion that gas drilling led to the September fish kill at Dunkard Creek in Greene County. That was determined to have been caused by a golden algae bloom from mine drainage…”
–Washington (Pa.) Observer-Reporter (source)
“Fox’s defence for any lack of rigour was that he wanted to start a debate, rather than have the last word. But that doesn’t absolve him of the responsibility to thoroughly check his claims.”
–Financial Times (source)
“One of the clearest examples of a misleading claim comes from north Texas, where gas drilling began in the Barnett Shale about 10 years ago. Opponents of fracking say breast cancer rates have spiked exactly where intensive drilling is taking place — and nowhere else in the state. The claim is used in a letter that was sent to New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo by environmental groups and by Josh Fox … but researchers haven’t seen a spike in breast cancer rates in the area.”
–Associated Press (source)
“Sadly, the film’s baseless claims and wild exaggerations have garnered significant media attention, coaxed policymakers to pass laws and regulations detrimental to economic development and energy security and, here’s the kicker, led to it being recently nominated for an Academy Award in the feature documentary category. Given the lack of facts within the film, perhaps a nomination in the comedy direction category would be a better fit.”
–Dr. Michael J. Economides, Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, University of Houston (source)
“With so much need for a clear evaluation of natural gas drilling, the biased and misleading ‘Gasland’ is a missed opportunity.”
–Elizabeth Stelle, Policy Analyst, Commonwealth Foundation (source)
“Whatever your political sympathies, you can’t ignore the evidence that ‘Gasland’ is pure propaganda, not a documentary.”
–The Washington Examiner (source)
“Imagine someone telling people that they are living in an area where the chances of developing breast cancer are shockingly high; picture the alarm and worry. Then imagine if that same person had made up the story — yet was getting cheers from Hollywood stars for telling it. Stop imagining: Filmmaker Josh Fox has done just that.”
–Phelim McAleer, journalist and director of FrackNation (source)
- Associated Press: Some fracking critics use bad science
- Letter to Josh Fox: How about Including Some Facts in Gasland 2?
- EID: Debunking Gasland
- EID: For Josh Fox, the Sun Also Rises
*UPDATE* U.S. Shale is Undermining Russia’s Gas Monopoly
The Associated Press has a must-read story from this weekend about how hydraulic fracturing is “shaking up world energy markets from Washington to Moscow to Beijing.” The premise is one we’ve covered here at EID before, but it simply cannot be overstated: developing natural gas from shale is not only an unquestionable economic and environmental winner for the United States, but also re-centering global energy markets away from Russia and the Middle East and toward the United States and North America.
UPDATE (4/15/2013; 1:55 pm ET) This week, the Russian Academy of Sciences noted that crude oil exports from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) – including Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan — may drop 17 percent by 2040. The culprit? Increased supply from the United States, specifically from shale and other “tight” reservoirs. According to Bloomberg:
“CIS exports will decline to 293 million metric tons in 2040 from 355 million tons in 2010, according to the academy’s base scenario. Russian crude output will fall by as much as 50 million tons annually by 2020 in the report’s ‘shale breakthrough’ scenario, as high costs and the current tax system limit competitiveness on global energy markets.” (4/15/13)
Russian producers and President Vladimir Putin have historically opposed America’s shale development – and with nearly half of Russia’s budget coming from the production and export of oil and natural gas, it’s not surprising why. But as Moscow-based oil and gas analyst Ildar Davletshin noted, the country is beginning to be left behind due to its continued reliance on less sophisticated technology. Meanwhile, North America is only in the initial stages of a technologically-driven energy renaissance, which is turning the global energy mix on its head.
—Original post, Oct. 1, 2012—
The Associated Press has a must-read story from this weekend about how hydraulic fracturing is “shaking up world energy markets from Washington to Moscow to Beijing.” The premise is one we’ve covered here at EID before, but it simply cannot be overstated: developing natural gas from shale is not only an unquestionable economic and environmental winner for the United States, but also re-centering global energy markets away from Russia and the Middle East and toward the United States and North America.
From the AP:
The Kremlin is watching, European nations are rebelling, and some suspect Moscow is secretly bankrolling a campaign to derail the West’s strategic plans.
It’s not some Cold War movie; it’s about the U.S. boom in natural gas drilling, and the political implications are enormous.
Like falling dominoes, the drilling process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is shaking up world energy markets from Washington to Moscow to Beijing. Some predict what was once unthinkable: that the U.S. won’t need to import natural gas in the near future, and that Russia could be the big loser.
“This is where everything is being turned on its head,” said Fiona Hill, an expert on Russia at the Brookings Institution, a think tank in Washington. “Their days of dominating the European gas markets are gone.”
The U.S. presidential campaigns have already addressed the strategic potential.
A campaign position paper for Republican Mitt Romney said he “will pursue policies that work to decrease the reliance of European nations on Russian sources of energy.”
In early September, President Barack Obama said the U.S. could “develop a hundred-year supply of natural gas that’s right beneath our feet,” which would “cut our oil imports in half by 2020 and support more than 600,000 new jobs in natural gas alone.”
The story also includes some he-said-she-said allegations about the Russians possibly funding environmental efforts in Europe to ban or restrict hydraulic fracturing. It’s a plausible theory, given how continued shale development means more competition for Russian gas giant Gazprom, and the fact that “Gazprom owns media companies throughout Russia and Europe that have run stories examining the environmental risks of [hydraulic fracturing].” But it’s also a theory for which little tangible proof currently exists.
In any event, the AP notes: “Regulators contend that overall, water and air pollution problems are rare,” something most of us interested in the facts already knew (see this list of statements from regulators for more proof). And it was none other than Lisa Jackson, current Administrator of the U.S. EPA, who recently said: “In no case have we made a definitive determination that [hydraulic fracturing] has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.”
In sum, hydraulic fracturing is a safe and tightly regulated process that is creating jobs and undermining Russia’s control over European energy markets, all while helping to deliver a clean and affordable source of energy to American consumers.
For EPA, a Troubling (Email) Chain of Events
If you thought you knew everything there was to know about EPA’s fracking follies last year, a recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by E&E News (sub's reqd.) provides valuable insight into the agency’s deliberations on these matters. Namely, in a series of high-profile backtracks on natural gas EPA appears to be placing the unfounded claims of natural gas activists over the expertise of state regulators.
As has been pretty well and widely documented by now, EPA’s ongoing effort aimed at inserting itself into state investigations broadly focused on shale and hydraulic fracturing issues has not, heretofore, gone especially well. First, there was Parker Co., Texas; then came Pavillion, Wyo. And who can forget Dimock, Pennsylvania? In each case, EPA came, saw, and eventually retreated. Not because of some grand conspiracy or back-room dealing – but because in the end, after all the data was collected and all the numbers were run, the science simply wasn’t on its side.
But if you thought you knew everything there was to know about EPA’s fracking follies last year, a recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by E&E News (sub’s reqd.) provides valuable insight into the agency’s deliberations on these matters. Time and again reading through the emails, it appears the agency assigns greater weight to claims made by anti-shale activists rather than the testimonials and direction imparted by the professionals who regulate oil and gas activities on the state level. The same regulators, by the way, whose proven record led former EPA administrator Lisa Jackson to declare “states are stepping up and doing a good job” in regulating natural gas development.
Let’s examine these cases again, with the benefit of additional context from these newly recently internal EPA emails.
Parker County, Tex.
EPA’s troubled history in pursuing alleged claims of contamination first became publicly apparent following the agency’s fits and starts in Parker County, Texas. As we reported previously, the agency’s enforcement actions in Texas were pursued only after close coordination and prodding from local activists.
The collusion was epitomized in an infamous email from former EPA Region 6 administrator Al Armendariz, who gleefully alerted anti-shale activists of a forthcoming endangerment order again Range Resources:
“We’re about to make a lot of news…there’ll be an official press release in a few minutes … time to Tivo channel 8.”
Fifteen months later, EPA withdrew its order — no doubt due to the begrudging acknowledgment that its case was scientifically baseless. But the story doesn’t end there.
According to emails sent on January 4, 2011, former EPA communications officer Betsaida Alcantara and Associate EPA Administrator Seth Oster were corresponding with Josh Fox, the producer of the widely discredited 2010 documentary ‘Gasland.’
Following that exchange, Alcantra remarks to Armendariz that “Josh spoke very highly of you fyi!” Armendariz response was even more concerning as he noted “it was good working with [Fox] for Gasland, we try to keep in touch every so often.” (emphasis added)
The regional administrator not only happily accepts the interview, but then shifts into the film-maker’s production assistant, asking his colleagues to arrange an outdoor interview where Fox “can get good background shots.” Helping Josh Fox get the best scenery for one of his hyperbolic films is hardly indicative of an administrator — or an agency — interested in being a neutral arbiter.
Now, compare that exchange to communications between senior EPA officials and the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC), the state regulatory body that oversees oil and gas development in Texas. The Commission tried to warn the EPA that the agency’s findings were “premature” due to RRC’s ongoing investigation and a lack of data supporting EPA’s assertions. Armendariz’s response to those repeated warnings consisted of one single word, that word being “stunning.”
In separate correspondence, Steven Chester, Deputy Assistant Administrator at EPA for enforcement and compliance, and Bob Sussman, then Senior Policy Counsel to Administrator Jackson, attempted to console the regional administrator after RRC Commissioner David Porter calls for Armendariz to be terminated over the flap (the regional administrator would later resign only to later gain employment with the Sierra Club).
Wait, what? On the one hand, senior EPA officials are giddy to receive praise from a known and discredited activist filmmaker; on the other, they reject the pragmatic advice of state regulators and then chastise those regulators for expecting the EPA to base its actions based on sound science.
A similar situation can be seen in correspondence unearthed by a Scranton Times Tribune FOIA request that yielded more than 3,000 emails relating to EPA’s actions in the small town of Dimock, Pa. Like the FOIA request in Texas, that correspondence shows an agency quick to respond to dubious claims from activists that, in this case, were rejected by state regulators. Here again, senior level EPA officials seemed to provide more credence to activists’ claims than the findings of state enforcement agencies who actually have expertise in the field.
To wit: In original correspondence EPA’s Chief of Groundwater and Enforcement in Region 3, Karen Johnson, sent Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) official Scott Perry an email confirming that the water in Dimock did not pose a threat to human health. In fact, Johnson even sought to assuage Perry’s concerns that EPA’s involvement would inflame the situation; a real concern given sensitivities with the topic at the time. From the email (page 284):
From: KarenDJohnson/R3/USEPA/US 11/07/2011 07:43 AM
To: “Perry, Scott (DEP)”
Subject RE: Dimock visit
Believe me we aren’t going to do anything to do that…the guy from ATSDR hopefully can alley fears about health effects…I’ve been going through the data , even the “outside” analytical services agree with range of sampling already done just fine…can’t figure out what is going on..
I’ll let you know how it goes…
Karen D. Johnson, Chief
Ground Water & Enforcement Branch
That sentiment would later be solidified when EPA sent an email to Dimock residents on December 2, 2011, stating “the data does not indicate that the well water presents an immediate health threat to users.”
But four days later, Josh Fox sent an open letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson calling for her agency to intervene in Dimock because state regulators had allegedly “failed.” No evidence, no facts, just a classic attempt to garner headlines. Within two days of receipt of that letter, EPA staff in Washington, D.C. organized a conference call between Jackson and officials from Region 3 to discuss the agency’s ongoing efforts in Dimock. From the emails (page 496):
From: Ann Campbell /DC/USEPA/US
Sent: 12/08/2011 06:17 AM
To: Cynthia Dougherty, Ann Codrington, Fred Hauchman, Jeanne Briskin, Linda Boornazian, KarenD Johnson, Victoria Binetti, Carrie Wehling, Jon Capacasa
Subject: An Open Letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to Intervene in Dimock, PA because the State of Pennsylvania has Failed
Folks – below is the letter from Josh Fox to the Administrator that was discussed during yesterday’s call. A briefing has been scheduled for Friday, Dec 16 to provide the Administrator with background on the situation in Dimock, any analysis or conclusions that have been drawn from the review of the state’s data, and options, if appropriate, for dealing with the situation. Bob will be setting up a prebrief to prep for the Administrator’s meeting early next week so I’d like to spend some time on this during the Tuesday workgroup call.
Seemingly in response to Fox’s baseless claims, EPA announced a few weeks later that they would “perform water sampling at approximately 60 homes in the area of Dimock, Pa.,” based on what the EPA termed potential “health concerns.”
In other words, the EPA – based on hard data that had also been reviewed by state regulators – agreed that Dimock’s water was safe. But shortly after receiving Josh Fox’s open letter, they abandoned their evidence-based conclusion. As Al Armendariz might say, stunning.
In each of these examples, EPA either ignored efforts by state regulators or placed a higher emphasis on the unsupported claims of known – and discredited – anti-natural gas activists. And remember, these are the same activists who tried to instill fear in the public by promoting breast cancer claims in Texas — which, predictably, were later rebuffed by actual health experts in an Associated Press review titled “Some Fracking Critics Use Bad Science,” where even the AP explained the lack of basis for anti-shale activism.
In the end, EPA’s actions against oil and gas operators in at least two high profile cases were directly related to pleadings from known and discredited anti-natural gas activists, and directly against the findings of actual regulators. Little wonder, then, why the EPA has been consistently forced to back track in each of these cases, as scientific investigations yielded different results than what activists’ talking points would suggest. It happened in Texas, it happened in Dimock, and — barring an internal EPA shift away from giving primacy to opponents’ claims over regulatory judgments — chances are it will happen again.
Actual Data Tell Very Different (and Very Good) Story on Worker Safety
Opponents of natural gas have settled on a strategy of trying to build a new and pathos-driven narrative around the oil and gas industry – namely, that the work it does is exceedingly dangerous, and no amount of oversight can make it safe. However, the oil and gas industry’s number one priority is safety, for both its workers and the environment in which it operates. This commitment comes across in pretty vivid detail for those who take just a second to look at the actual facts.
Unable to pick-up traction on their standard set of claims and accusations, opponents of natural gas have settled on a strategy of trying to build a new and pathos-driven narrative around the oil and gas industry – namely, that the work it does is exceedingly dangerous, and no amount of effort, technology or oversight can make it safe (notwithstanding the fact that over nine million people in the U.S. work in the oil and gas business).
Part and parcel of this strategy is to get folks to believe that oil and gas companies don’t care about their workers, and that they routinely put their employees’ lives in danger just to make a quick buck. Josh Fox’s new short film, which he calls “CJ’s Law,” attempts to advance this narrative.
Unfortunately for Josh – and fortunately for our workforce – a review of available state and federal data suggests the narrative is completely unmoored from reality.
Now, make no mistake: not a single death or a serious injury that happens at an industrial worksite is acceptable to anyone. But in rare cases, accidents and incidents do occur, even with the most stringent regulatory system in place anywhere in the world, and the combined investment of literally billions of dollars each year into new processes, systems and technologies designed and proven to make the workplace even safer.
But Fox isn’t just saying that oil and gas companies don’t care about their employees, as scurrilous a charge as that may be. He’s also saying that the industry’s track-record on safety is bad, a contention echoed by a reporter at E&E News in a piece filed the week after Josh’s new video hit (and featuring the same interview subjects as Josh used).
First-off, let’s acknowledge right at the top that some element of risk is present in just about any job anyone would have in America. Whether you’re a flight attendant, a crossing guard, a bartender, a foreman at a construction site, a technician at a water treatment facility, or a contractor on a drilling rig – there’s always going to be some risk associated with doing what you do, even as that risk is continously lessened and properly and closely managed.
But hey: working on a rig HAS to be more dangerous than working behind a bar, right? Well, actually — not according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
According to BLS statistics, the fatality rate for “mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction” is lower than a lot of other industries you might be surprised to see on this list. Here are just a few:
- aircraft pilot or flight engineer
- steel workers
- farming and ranching
- truck drivers
- taxi or limousine drivers
- waste management
Again, this isn’t to say there is no risk involved in developing oil and gas resources. But this information does suggest the claim that wellpads are “among the most dangerous workplaces in the country” might be a little hyperbolic.
The 2011 National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries also lists the total number of fatalities, and notes that the number of fatalities from oil and natural gas development is exceeded by many other industries. Those include, but are not limited to:
Motor vehicle operators (851 deaths); Transportation and warehousing (733 deaths); Construction (721 deaths); Agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting (557 deaths); Construction trade workers (511 deaths); Government (495 deaths); Truck transportation (474 deaths); Professional and business services (424 deaths); Installation, maintenance and repair occupations (362); Manufacturing (322 deaths); Local government (294 deaths); Retail trade (266 deaths); Building and grounds cleaning maintenance occupations (265); farming, fishing and forestry (262); Crop production (238 deaths); Leisure and hospitality (224 deaths); Sales and related occupations as a sector (228 deaths).
A review of additional federal statistics highlights the industry’s commitment to safety, and also the progress that continues to be made. In fact, the number of injuries in the sector has been declining even as the industry has significantly increased its operations, which of course has resulted in U.S. oil and natural gas production reaching production levels that are exceeding or nearing historic highs.
Such an achievement doesn’t come without a very targeted focus on ensuring the safety of worksites. Eric Esswein, a Senior Industrial Hygienist at the National Institute of Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), made this very observation last year when he visited several areas undergoing shale development, concluding that the oil and natural gas industry “runs very, very safe work practices and sites.”
Esswein’s experience is backed by federal statistics. According to data released by BLS late last year, injuries in the oil and natural gas industry declined in 2011 by an amazing 33 percent. The injury rate – 0.8 cases per 100 workers – is well below the national incidence rate of 3.5 cases per 100 workers. Having an incident rate so far below the national average doesn’t happen by accident.
The oil and gas industry’s number one priority is safety, for both its workers and the environment in which it operates. And it’s a commitment that comes across in pretty vivid detail for those who take just a second to look at the actual facts.
Subtraction Through Addition via the FRAC Act
Desperate for something to advocate for on visits with friendly legislators during periodic trips to Capitol Hill, opponents of natural gas were able to secure the introduction of legislation a couple years back called the FRAC Act. A recent review found the only thing the FRAC Act would achieve is to cripple the U.S. economy, reverse a nearly half-decade long trend of falling CO2 emissions, and undermine production of what President Obama himself called “clean power” in his recent State of the Union address. Only in Washington could this possibly make sense.
Desperate for something to advocate for on visits with friendly legislators during periodic trips to Capitol Hill, opponents of natural gas were able to secure the introduction of legislation a couple years back called the FRAC Act – legislation that seeks to wrestle regulatory control over hydraulic fracturing from the states and place it firmly in the purview of the U.S. EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
That SDWA has been the law of the land for nearly 40 years and was never written, and has never been used, to regulate hydraulic fracturing is, for opponents, merely an inconvenience; granting regulatory authority to the EPA means another layer of bureaucracy through which oil and gas operators would have to navigate, which in turn means a slowdown if not an outright halt in development. The FRAC Act has become something of an obsession for folks opposed to responsible shale development, with none other than Josh Fox using it as the main “thing to do” after he misled the public with Gasland just a few years back.
Even though the FRAC Act has gained exactly zero traction in the U.S. Congress (even Henry Waxman intervened to stop its advance back in 2010) two U.S. Senators – Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) – have nonetheless tried to bring it to life by including the full text of the act as part of a bigger carbon tax bill. That’s what makes a recent report by the Hudson Institute, entitled “Institutional Choices for Regulating Oil and Gas Wells,” incredibly timely, as the report makes it abundantly clear why this proposal is a less than stellar idea.
Of course, before even discussing whether the federal government should insert itself into this conversation, it’s worth asking: Are state regulators failing to meet their responsibilities? After all, if it’s not broken don’t fix it. According to officials at the EPA – the agency that opponents so desperately want to regulate hydraulic fracturing – there is no indication that state regulation isn’t adequate. As former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson recently observed: “States are stepping up and doing a good job,” which of course came not long after EPA’s Drinking Water Protection Division chief said he has “no information that states aren’t doing a good job already” regulating hydraulic fracturing.
With that as background, the Hudson Institute study presented four fundamental questions often used to determine the appropriate level of regulation for any activity:
- Do any potential environmental problems involve large trans-border effects?
- Would uniform standards protect large network or scale economies in the affected industry?
- Which level of government is likely to possess better information?
- And is the federal government more attentive to the public welfare than the states are?
In considering the above, the study found “these considerations imply that state-level control [of hydraulic fracturing] is a superior option” and that “given current evidence, the case for the FRAC Act is weak.” Here’s why:
The first question wasn’t very difficult to answer. Hydraulic fracturing has been applied more than 1.2 million times since 1947 and has compiled an exceptional record of safety and execution during that span. This is a fact confirmed by state regulators, multiple independent reviews and the U.S. EPA under three separate administrations. In addition, a recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology study noted that natural gas development from shale produces results in dramatically lower air emissions than other studies have acknowledged. And we’d obviously be remiss if we didn’t note that natural gas produced from shale is enabling the United States to lead the world in carbon emissions reductions. This is a trans-border effect that even the most ardent opponent of natural gas development should relish — if such opponents were actually interested in reducing emissions.
On to the second question: Would the natural gas industry and environment would benefit from a uniform set of regulatory standards on hydraulic fracturing? Uniform standards may sound nice in the abstract, but the realities of shale demonstrate otherwise. From the study: “The complex nexus of economic and environmental issues involved with oil and natural gas exploration and production are likely to frustrate efforts like the FRAC Act to impose simple sweeping schemes.” It added that a uniform regulatory scheme for oil and natural gas development “is likely to be very badly wrong in most or all specific cases” due to the “vast disparities among major natural gas plays that further magnify the case for decentralized control and diverse standards.”
Of course, these concerns apply whether states or the federal government are more likely to possess better information and thus implement a more effective regulatory program. In addressing that third fundamental question, the study notes that shale basins and even individual oil and gas wells are so unique that it would be virtually impossible for the federal government to fully understand the scope of information required to implement a successful regulatory regime. This is especially the case given funding and staffing limitations. The study lists just a few of these unique considerations including:
…geology, hydrology, and climate differ greatly from one shale basin to another. Some shale plays are actually in metropolitan areas; others are far from population centers. In some basins, water is plentiful; in some it is scarce. Water laws are diverse; so is the quality of local infrastructure and the demands it must satisfy.
Finally, as for attentiveness to public welfare, the study noted that “the demands on EPA resources would escalate rapidly” and, unless funding kept pace (an extremely unlikely scenario, especially given the current budget environment), “both the quality of the permitting process and the growth of economic output would be bound to suffer.” That’s right: placing control in EPA’s hands would actually create more of a burden for the agency itself than it would be able to handle! But that’s probably what opponents want: an agency so overwhelmed that it has to stop issuing permits altogether.
Which brings us to the potential hidden motives in the legislation. While supporters of the FRAC Act declare the bill is simply a means of achieving greater chemical disclosure (which is already happening at the state level, mind you; see FracFocus.org), the Hudson Institute recognizes a much more nefarious result: Placing regulatory authority under SDWA would make the whole process subject to “citizen suits” authorized under section 1449, which would “unleash a torrent of litigation” that “would both retard operations and chill innovation” by providing a “hunting license for any interest group seeking a pretext for litigation.” The study notes the likelihood of this occurring is quite high given ideological opponents of shale, like the Sierra Club, would be provided an open door to “unfettered legal obstructionism” that “entails high risk of snarling [natural gas development] in regulatory and legal gridlock.”
Of course, that would mean destroying the millions of jobs, increased economic competitiveness and the opportunity for the United States to achieve greater energy independence – but ideological opponents of responsible shale development have never much cared about those details.
Taken together, the study’s findings demonstrate why former Colorado governor Bill Ritter (D) called the FRAC Act a “new and potentially intrusive regulatory program” back when it was first introduced in 2009 (back then, the entire bill came in at fewer than 45 words; today, it reads more like a press release than genuine legislation). The study also paints a pretty clear picture as to why the act has failed to advance in two separate sessions of Congress under both Democratic and Republican leadership: It’s just a really awful piece of legislation.
However, none of these details seemed to matter to Sens. Boxer and Sanders. By knowingly including legislative language that could grind to a halt the very technology responsible for our nation’s precipitous drop in carbon emissions, two U.S. senators have completed a rather impressive feat: Introducing a bill that is both designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions and prevent deployment of the technologies necessary to achieve those reductions.
So, in the end, it appears the only thing the FRAC Act would achieve is to cripple the U.S. economy, reverse a nearly half-decade long trend of falling CO2 emissions, and undermine production of what President Obama himself called “clean power” in his recent State of the Union address. Only in Washington could this possibly make sense.
RFF Survey Destroys Myth of Shale-Specific Risk
To hear opponents of shale development tell it, the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing is a new and “dangerous” technology – so “inherently risky” and full of threats unique to the process that we should just shut the whole thing down and call it a day. But a recent survey of experts turns this carefully crafted talking point on its head by noting risks associated with developing oil and natural gas from shale are no different than the ones that industry and regulators have been managing well for over 100 years
To hear opponents of shale development tell it, the combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing is a new and “dangerous” technology – so “inherently risky” and full of threats unique to the process that we should just shut the whole thing down and call it a day.
The talking point about shale as being new and different and inherently unsafe is actually part of a sophisticated messaging strategy by activists to separate in folks’ minds the relatively uncontroversial act of drilling an oil well with the virtually identical act of drilling an oil well and then turning the drill bit horizontally. Technically, they may be the same. But because the public isn’t scared of vertical wells, opponents have worked very hard to convince them that shale is an entirely different enterprise – and a much scarier one than they may think. To wit:
“Fracking has been around for decades, but the techniques, technologies and chemicals used to reach new, remote gas reserves are more intensive and riskier than conventional gas drilling.” – Food and Water Watch, the case for a ban on gas fracking
“In January, I will introduce legislation to create a statutory moratorium on all fracking activity in Maryland. This moratorium will stay in place until and unless we have a science-based review of all the safety risks involved.” – Maryland State Del. Heather Mizuer (D), “No study? No fracking” (Baltimore Sun, September 12, 2012)
“Fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing, is a dangerous drilling technique that endangers our state’s water, air, wildlife and public health. – Center for Biological Diversity, California protect yourself from a fracking explosion
“Everyday the facts of fracking become clearer. The process is inherently contaminating, and no amount of regulation can make it safe for people living near or downriver from it.” – Josh Fox, “Ban fracking now” (USA TODAY, May 6, 2011)
But what if the risks associated with developing oil and natural gas from shale were no different than the ones that industry and regulators have been managing well for over 100 years now in the context of traditional vertical oil and gas development? What would that do the opposition’s talking point?
Well, could be we’re about to find out. Earlier this month, the environmental research group Resources for the Future – certainly no shill for oil and gas – released a survey of experts’ opinions on the “risks” associated with developing oil and natural gas from shale. In the end, experts with varying backgrounds identified 12 consensus items of concern, the vast majority of which, the experts declared, not only weren’t unique to shale – but not even unique to oil and gas development in general.
According to RFF director Alan Krupnik, “only 2 of the consensus risks identified by the experts are unique to the shale gas development process … The remaining 10 consensus risks relate to practices common to gas and oil development in general, such as the construction of roads, well pads, and pipelines and the potential for leaks in casing and cementing.”
In case you were wondering, the two risk activities RFF identified as being unique to shale were “the storage of fracing fluids onsite before they’re used and after they flow back.” Of course, that’s not technically accurate either, as plenty of vertical, non-shale wells are also fracture stimulated every day and thus generate wastewater that needs to be properly managed on site. But hey, at least they’re trying!
For just one example of how the “unique” risks from shale are already being addressed, look no further than the industry’s use of closed-loop drilling systems. These systems reduce impacts to the environment by completely separating waste materials where development takes place and capturing drill cuttings, flowback fluids and other materials at the point of extraction. Those materials are then channeled directly to sealed containment systems. Even well-known (if lightly regarded) anti-energy groups such as Earthworks have stated that closed-loop systems “isolate waste products from the environment” and “can greatly reduce or eliminate the discharge of toxic drilling wastes on site.”
For these reasons, regulators across the country have recognized the technology as an approved “best management practice,” and many states require their implementation. As a result, the use of closed-loop systems has increased significantly in states like Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Alaska, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and Ohio – just to name a few. Cabot Oil and Gas uses the technology in all of its operations. Chesapeake Energy uses the technology extensively in its Utica and Marcellus Shale operations, as does Chief Oil and Gas – among many others.
The fact that currently available technology is already being used to reduce and manage risk is, everyone can agree, very good news – especially when you combine it with the fact that water recycling is also being used increasingly nationwide. Recent reports highlight that operators in the Marcellus, as one example, are using water recycling to treat over 90 percent of the water used in their operations. Additionally, a recent study from Duke found that natural gas development from shale produces less wastewater than so-called “conventional” wells on a per-unit basis. These factors not only reduce the likelihood of spills from the storage of fracturing fluid additives and flowback on-site, but also significantly reduce the freshwater needed to fracture a well – another common concern listed by the experts polled.
Taken together, a pretty clear picture emerges: shale development utilizing hydraulic fracturing is not a “new” and “dangerous” technology with unknown and unmanageable risks. Rather, the risks are well-understood, carefully managed and tightly regulated. In fact, the only risks “unique to shale development” – notwithstanding that they’re not actually unique — are being addressed effectively by industry and state regulations.
In the end, the RFF survey confirms what most objective observers already recognize: Shale development, which is made possible through the combined use of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling (among many other things) doesn’t pose unique risks to the public, but does provide unique benefits – like jobs, revenue and opportunity for places and people that can certainly use the boost.
*UPDATE* SEJ Award-Winner a Litigant against Industry She Covers
We've pointed out here at EID on several occasions how the press has chosen all too often to cover hydraulic fracturing without a full grounding in the facts. Many times, this is borne not necessarily of a willingness to distort the truth, but there are unfortunately too many examples of the opposite being true. And for at least one reporter, a conflict of interest is actually being rewarded.
UPDATE (9/6/2012, 12:14pm ET): It seems that the Society of Environmental Journalists caught wind of EID’s coverage about the Denton Record-Chronicle — or, perhaps, just did some research of its own. In any event, an update has been posted about the awards ceremony next month, in which the SEJ Awards Committee acknowledges “the appearance of a conflict of interest” at the Record-Chronicle. The update also notes that the newspaper has declined the award, which we can only speculate was due to the issues surrounding one of its reporters suing the industry that she was tasked with covering objectively.
—Original post, July 16, 2012—
We’ve pointed out here at EID on several occasions how the press has chosen all too often to cover hydraulic fracturing without a full grounding in the facts. Many times, this is borne not necessarily of a willingness to distort the truth, but simply because explaining complex geological and engineering processes is tough work. Let’s be honest: Can you explain what an annulus is without using Google?
But there are examples – far too many, in fact – where coverage of this important issue cannot be explained in any way other than “agenda-driven.” These examples are especially troubling, not because the reporters have an opinion (don’t we all?), but because it’s clear the reporters’ motivations and opinions are actively preventing them from being objective.
One such is example is at the Denton Record-Chronicle in north Texas, for which reporter Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe covers shale development in the region. The headlines for her columns stories include things like “Lowering the Boom” and “Practice Lays Waste to Land,” and the content for those stories flows seamlessly from there. In one particularly inflammatory piece, she suggested the incidence of breast cancer in the area was related to natural gas development in the Barnett Shale – even though the counties that have the most Barnett Shale activity actually have breast cancer rates well below the national average (independent public health professionals have also confirmed the safety of development in the area). Not exactly a commitment to objectivity, huh?
When EID discovered that fact last summer, we contacted the Record-Chronicle and asked how such an egregious conflict of interest could be allowed. Certainly if a reporter on the shale beat was found out to own large shares of stock in a natural gas company, there would be justified outrage at the inability of that reporter to remain objective. Doesn’t the same thing apply if the shoe were on the other foot?
The newspaper’s response: Nope.
The Record-Chronicle said it had already reported on the lawsuit once (a single line buried several paragraphs deep in a lengthy article, mind you), and Ms. Heinkel-Wolfe agreed not to report on the specific companies she was suing. (Of course, if she’s reporting about an entire drilling practice or the industry writ large, then she’s including, by definition, every company in that industry – including the ones against which she is a plaintiff.)
That the referee was also trying to play in the game was damaging enough. But the story actually just got a lot worse.
Not only has the newspaper refused to acknowledge the serious problem with this situation, but the Society of Environmental Journalists recently announced that Ms. Heinkel-Wolfe was actually being rewarded for “outstanding in-depth reporting” for her stories about natural gas development. SEJ said the series “is the result of a strong commitment to quality journalism” – a statement made apparently without irony, either.
Also of note: SEJ suggested the series contributed to a new public disclosure law for the state of Texas. Let’s set aside the fact that deliberations on that law were taking place more than a year before it was enacted – a fact that contradicts SEJ’s interesting timeline of events. But is SEJ really touting the ability of this particular reporter – who refused to adequately disclose vital details about her own background to the general public – to force public disclosure?
SEJ’s “Vision and Mission” page says that the organization’s purpose is to “strengthen the quality, reach and viability of journalism,” all with respect to ensuring that the public is better informed about environmental issues. But how does a conflict of interest “strengthen the quality” of journalism, and what message does it send that SEJ would reward it?
Reporters have difficult jobs, especially those tasked with covering the oil and gas industry. The many processes involved in drilling and completing a well would be difficult for anyone to comprehend, especially journalists who live under tight deadlines and must turn the complex into the simple, often in half as many words as they need.
But reporters also have an obligation to the public, who rely on their stories to become informed citizens, and from which their own opinions can be formed. When bias is injected into a newspaper story, how is the public to know about that bias unless it is clearly stated? And if a reporter has financial interests or existing legal disputes that can be materially impacted by his or her reporting, shouldn’t basic journalistic ethics dictate that the person abstain from covering that subject – or at the very least explain that potential conflict with a disclaimer before every story?
All of this begs an important question: How could a professional organization overlook such a significant issue?
Recall that it was SEJ that sent a letter to a House subcommittee objecting to the arrest of Josh Fox (who had broken committee rules by attempting to film a hearing in February without credentials) on the basis that he is a “journalist” who is merely “informing the public” about hydraulic fracturing. No other organization would consider it proper to award a reporter for covering an issue over which she’s also a litigant. But then again, no other group would seriously suggest that Josh Fox is a journalist – except, apparently, SEJ.
And finally, because we believe in disclosure – of which SEJ is also apparently a big supporter – there’s one other thing worth pointing out: One of the SEJ’s sources of funding is none other than the Park Foundation.
*UPDATE* EID to Fox: How about Including Some Facts in Gasland 2?
Today, EID sent a letter to New York filmmaker Josh Fox with a humble request: include facts and context in the forthcoming Gasland 2. We believe that Mr. Fox, as a self-described "journalist," should welcome these recommendations, considering that journalism is a relentless pursuit of the truth and should not be a conduit for advancing an ideological agenda.
UPDATE (8/24/2012, 12:01pm ET): EID has sent a separate letter directly to HBO highlighting the problems with the original Gasland, as well as reinforcing the facts sent directly to Josh Fox. The letter highlights, among other things, the important distinction between the true spirit of a fact-based documentary and what Mr. Fox is actually trying to do.
August 24, 2012
President, Documentary and Family Programming
Home Box Office, Inc.
1100 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036
Dear Ms. Nevins,
Later this year, Mr. Josh Fox – director of the movie Gasland, which was broadcast on HBO – will be releasing a sequel, Gasland 2. Based on media reports and statements from Mr. Fox himself, the film will be shown on HBO and broadcast to millions of viewers.
As you are probably aware, Gasland created a great deal of controversy, due in large part to questionable assertions and claims contained in the movie. Shortly after the release of Gasland, Energy In Depth highlighted many of the inaccuracies and factual distortions in the film (see enclosure: “Debunking GasLand”).
We are concerned, given Mr. Fox’s repeating in public forums of the claims he made in Gasland (despite clear evidence showing them to be false), that the content of Gasland 2 will suffer from similar flaws. For that reason, Energy In Depth recently sent a letter to Mr. Fox recommending the inclusion in Gasland 2 of several important facts about hydraulic fracturing and the development of natural gas, many of which directly contradict the information he presented in the original film. A copy of that letter is attached (see enclosure: “Recommendations for Gasland 2”).
While HBO’s programming decisions are the exclusive right of HBO itself, we encourage you to examine the breadth of evidence – compiled by scientists, state and federal regulators, and independent experts – affirming that hydraulic fracturing is a safe and proven technology, and that the development of oil and natural gas from shale is a tightly-regulated and well-understood process.
For example: Mr. Fox’s central claim in Gasland was that hydraulic fracturing contaminates groundwater. But earlier this year, U.S. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson stated publicly: “In no case have we made a definitive determination that [hydraulic fracturing] has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.” In fact, the emblematic scene in Gasland – when a Colorado resident ignites his tap water – has been refuted directly by state regulators who concluded the methane was “not attributable” to oil and gas development (then-director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, Dave Neslin, offered to speak with Mr. Fox on camera during the filming of Gasland, but Mr. Fox declined). Colorado’s current governor, John Hickenlooper (D), said earlier this year: “We can’t find anywhere in Colorado a single example of [hydraulic fracturing] that has polluted groundwater.”
A documentary is by definition a factual report, which means it is neither politically- nor agenda-driven. Although we are hopeful that Mr. Fox will include our recommendations, his active participation in rallies and other events urging bans on hydraulic fracturing – all since the release of Gasland – leads us to believe that Gasland 2 will not be an objective presentation of the facts, but rather a narrative that works backwards from a preordained conclusion – the complete opposite of what your subscribers would expect when tuning in to watch an HBO documentary.
Lee O. Fuller
Energy In Depth
—Original post, August 22, 2012—
Today, EID sent a letter to New York filmmaker Josh Fox with a humble request: include facts and context in the forthcoming Gasland 2. We believe that Mr. Fox, as a self-described “journalist,” should welcome these recommendations, considering that journalism is a relentless pursuit of the truth and should not be a conduit for advancing an ideological agenda.
It’s worth highlighting one of the more important recommendations in the letter; namely, the need for accuracy on well casing and failure rates. As readers of the EID blog know quite well, Mr. Fox has cited failure rates for wells that are all over the map — from stating that one in every six wells will fail (as he noted in The Sky Is Pink) to even claiming a 50 percent failure rate. But data from actual onshore wells show the failure rates are nowhere near what Mr. Fox has claimed. According to a 2011 report from the Ground Water Protection Council, failure rates in Ohio and Texas over the past 20 to 25 years are 0.03 percent and 0.01 percent (respectively) — and most of the incidents are from the 1980s and 1990s, long before newer technologies and updated regulations took effect.
We believe inclusion of these data — along with several other important facts — would not only make for a more enjoyable film, but also improve Mr. Fox’s own credibility.
The text of the letter is below, and can also be accessed by clicking here:
August 21, 2012
Mr. Josh Fox
c/o International WOW Company
37 Grand Avenue
Brooklyn, NY 11205
Recommendations for Gasland 2
Dear Mr. Fox:
As someone who has consistently claimed to be a “filmmaker and journalist” – as well as someone who cites his own work as being protected by the Freedom of the Press clause – you are no doubt aware of the numerous responsibilities associated with being a legitimate, working journalist. Among these responsibilities is an unflagging commitment to accurate reporting.
You have also stated that your latest film project – Gasland 2 – will be released soon. “I think we’re going to see it this summer,” is what you said in an interview last December. For that reason, Energy In Depth would like to recommend a few segments (if they are not already scheduled to appear in the film) that would demonstrate to your audience that this effort is not guided by blind ideology, as was on display in Gasland – but rather by a commitment to fact-based journalism that seeks to tell the truth about a topic as important as natural gas development.
What follows is a short list of facts and recent announcements that we hope you will consider incorporating into your film:
1. An Update on Dimock: In the original Gasland, Dimock, Pa., was portrayed as a town irrevocably harmed by natural gas development. In particular, your film sought to convince viewers that hydraulic fracturing had contaminated water. Because any legitimate investigation focuses on the facts, we recommend including in Gasland 2 the conclusions released earlier this year by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which completed four rounds of extensive sampling of water wells in the area. From EPA’s release announcing the results of that sampling:
“The sampling and an evaluation of the particular circumstances at each home did not indicate levels of contaminants that would give EPA reason to take further action. Throughout EPA’s work in Dimock, the Agency has used the best available scientific data to provide clarity to Dimock residents and address their concerns about the safety of their drinking water.”
We urge you to include these facts, as viewers might otherwise be led to believe hydraulic fracturing had contaminated water in Dimock, a conclusion that is demonstrably false.
2. Experts Debunk Breast Cancer Claim. In your recent short film, The Sky Is Pink, you attempt to connect increased rates of breast cancer with development of oil and natural gas from shale. But as you know, experts with the Texas Cancer Registry, the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, and even Susan G. Komen for the Cure have all dismissed that claim as lacking in evidence. The Associated Press called the supposed link between breast cancer and development “one of the clearest examples of a misleading claim” used by opponents.
Scientists, and those interested in the scientific process, often develop hypotheses that are later disproven by empirical facts. Admitting that one’s hypothesis is incorrect should not be seen as an embarrassment, but rather a reflection of one’s sincere commitment to a fact-based dialogue.
3. The Truth about Flaming Water in Colorado. The most notable scene in Gasland is when a Colorado resident lights his tap on fire, an event that the movie links to nearby oil and gas development. But the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) – which regulates oil and gas development in the state – investigated that particular well (and several others) and concluded the complete opposite. Here’s what COGCC said:
“Gasland incorrectly attributes several cases of water well contamination in Colorado to oil and gas development when our investigations determined that the wells in question contained biogenic methane that is not attributable to such development.”
4. EPA’s Recent Statements on Hydraulic Fracturing. In May 2011, Lisa Jackson, current U.S. EPA administrator, said: “I’m not aware of any proven case where [hydraulic fracturing] itself has affected water.” In April of this year, Ms. Jackson reaffirmed this conclusion, stating: “In no case have we made a definitive determination that [hydraulic fracturing] has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.” And in remarks at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey in February, Ms. Jackson said the following:
“[Hydraulic fracturing] requires smart regulation, smart rules of the road. What it doesn’t necessarily require…is that all that smart rule of the road setting be done at the federal level. There are states that have been regulating oil and gas development for a long time.”
Since Gasland focused so much attention on the supposed need for direct federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing, particularly by the EPA, we believe your viewers should be informed that even the EPA itself doesn’t necessarily agree with that position.
5. The Truth about Well Casing/Cement Integrity. In The Sky Is Pink, you argue that the failure rate for cementing or casing on wells drilled into shale and other tight formations was 16.7 percent, or one in every six wells – an improvement, we suppose, from past declarations by you on television that the failure rate was much higher (the numbers you cited changed with each appearance).
But according to a comprehensive report from the Ground Water Protection Council in 2011, which utilized real-world data in states across the country, cementing or casing failures in Ohio over the past 25 years occurred at a rate of only 0.03 percent, or one incident for every 2,833 wells drilled. More than 80 percent of these occurred in the 1980s and 1990s, well before modern technology and updated regulations went into effect over the past ten years. In Texas, the incident rate was even lower: 0.01 percent.
We also believe it would be useful if you informed your audience, regardless of how small it is, that at least one of the documents you referenced on failure rates was actually an advertisement for a product that can help reduce casing pressure volumes in the Gulf of Mexico.
6. Updates from EPA on Parker County and Pavillion Claims. In 2010, the U.S. EPA issued an order against Range Resources in Parker County, Texas, for allegedly contaminating water wells, despite clear and available scientific evidence showing the methane was naturally occurring. State regulators and independent experts confirmed that it was biogenic methane after the EPA issued its order. With all of the evidence clearly pointing to natural causes, earlier this year EPA withdrew its order against Range. Weeks later, a video surfaced of EPA Region 6 administrator Al Armendariz (who issued the original order and also appeared in Gasland) saying his strategy of enforcing the law was to “crucify” oil and gas companies. Mr. Armendariz later resigned and joined the Sierra Club.
In Pavillion, Wyo., the EPA issued a draft report in December 2011 claiming fracturing was “likely” the culprit behind its discovery of chemicals in groundwater. But evidence that surfaced soon after the report was issued, including but not limited to the EPA’s flawed methodology and improper sampling techniques, forced EPA to suspend peer review of its draft report, and order a completely new battery of water tests for the region. As you know, that report was the focus of a Capitol Hill hearing which you attended – and at which you were arrested, as planned, for filming without the proper media credentials. After your arrest, you issued a statement stating that you featured Pavillion in Gasland as an example of hydraulic fracturing contaminating groundwater, adding that “I have continued to document the catastrophic water contamination in Pavillion for the upcoming sequel GASLAND 2.” But EPA’s Region 8 administrator, Jim Martin, has said the following about EPA’s findings:
“We make clear that the causal link [of water contamination] to hydraulic fracturing has not been demonstrated conclusively, and that our analysis is limited to the particular geologic conditions in the Pavillion gas field and should not be assumed to apply to fracturing in other geologic settings.”
Given the above evidence, your audience should know the full story so it can make its own judgment. Since you already plan to discuss Pavillion in Gasland 2, it would be quite easy to add these important facts.
7. Natural Gas Helps United States Reduce CO2 Emissions. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released a report this month that found total CO2 emissions in the United States have fallen to a level last seen in 1992. This decline is attributable in no small part to the increased use of natural gas, and is made possible by large deposits of natural gas in shale formations across the country. As the Associated Press noted:
“In a surprising turnaround, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen dramatically to its lowest level in 20 years, and government officials say the biggest reason is that cheap and plentiful natural gas has led many power plant operators to switch form dirtier-burning coal.”
As someone who has called for an energy future with lower emissions, this is clearly something that should interest you. And, in as much as your film will include commentary and opinions, this is an example of an intriguing story that is actually grounded in empirical data.
While there are certainly other important stories that should be described in Gasland 2, we feel that including these in particular will help fill the credibility gap that was created after the release of the original. With the public hungry for a reality-based dialogue about this issue, we hope that you will avoid the kind of sensationalism and hyperbole that needlessly instills fear by obscuring, misstating, or even ignoring the truth.
Residents who have concerns about future oil and gas development deserve to have their questions answered with facts and an honest commitment to responsible discourse. Leveraging fear and uncertainty to advance an agenda is not only irresponsible, but actually does a disservice to the public.
It is our hope that your stated commitment to journalism is more than simple rhetoric, and that you will serve the public’s interest by incorporating these facts into your latest film – however inconvenient they may be.
Lee O. Fuller
Energy In Depth
Credit Card Pitchman Shouldn’t Quit His Day Job
Alec Baldwin – yes, that Alec Baldwin – recently took to the Huffington Post to explain what he deems to be “The Truth” about hydraulic fracturing. There was only one problem: Mr. Baldwin’s claims, like most of his movies and his persona as Jack Donaghy in “30 Rock,” are not exactly based on or in reality.
Alec Baldwin – yes, that Alec Baldwin – recently took to the Huffington Post to explain what he deems to be “The Truth” about hydraulic fracturing. There was only one problem: Mr. Baldwin’s claims, like most of his movies and his persona as Jack Donaghy in “30 Rock,” are not exactly based on or in reality.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in his decision to uncritically reprint what Gasland star Josh Fox emailed him to say – which unfortunately didn’t include any mention of what state regulators have said about hydraulic fracturing, or what U.S. EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has said on multiple occasions. Heck, even President Obama – for whom Mr. Baldwin has a strong political affinity – has given high praise to developing natural gas from shale.
Nonetheless, we decided to highlight and debunk (yet again) the items Josh Fox suggested he repeat:
BALDWIN: “This 2009 piece from ProPublica that refers to a Garfield County, Colorado, study that contradicts certain gas industry assertions about methane in drinking water.”
FACT: The first summary conclusion listed in that study (which can be found here) states quite clearly: “Impacts from petroleum activity are not currently present at levels that exceed regulatory limits.” Why is this line important? Because it is indicative of what opponents routinely try to hide from the public: Namely, that the presence of a particular substance does not necessarily indicate a threat.
As any expert or regulator would acknowledge, it’s the exposure or concentration that determines whether something is toxic or unsafe. For just one example, hydrochloric acid would burn someone’s skin if applied directly, yet it’s one of the most common chemicals added to swimming pools – and we’re pretty sure Alec Baldwin is doing fine.
BALDWIN: “This 2011 report from Scientific American that describes significant aquifer contamination from fracking fluids in Wyoming.”
FACT: The report listed here is actually a reference to EPA’s testing in Pavillion, Wyoming, the same testing that produced a shoddy “draft report” for which peer review had to be suspended so EPA could re-test its wells, a decision made after experts identified significant flaws with EPA’s sampling procedures. And just weeks after releasing that draft report, EPA’s Region 8 administrator Jim Martin told a Congressional panel:
“We make clear that the causal link [of water contamination] to hydraulic fracturing has not been demonstrated conclusively, and that our analysis is limited to the particular geologic conditions in the Pavillion gas field and should not be assumed to apply to fracturing in other geologic settings.”
So, even if the EPA had somehow linked contamination to hydraulic fracturing (which it didn’t, but Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Fox want us to believe it did), extrapolating its findings to other parts of the country would be inappropriate – precisely what Mr. Baldwin was attempting to do by mentioning it in his column!
Also, as a point of fact, this “report” was actually just a cross-posting of an article on ProPublica. Anyone who reads through the entire piece would see this italicized disclaimer at the bottom: “From ProPublica.org (find the original story here); reprinted with permission.” Mr. Baldwin apparently didn’t want to use the same source twice, so he pretended that another source (which has a more official sounding name, Scientific American) reported those details.
BALDWIN: “A 2011 New York Times article that refers to the potential “first crack in the armor” of Rex Tillerson’s claims about fracking-related contamination.”
FACT: The Times’ piece was at one point heralded by opponents of hydraulic fracturing as a sort of silver bullet, as it supposedly provided an example of the process contaminating ground water. To reach this conclusion, the New York Times teamed up with the Environmental Working Group to highlight a well drilled in Jackson Co., W.V., in 1982 that was linked to water contamination. But the West Virginia-based laboratory commissioned to investigate the well said that it “did not conclude that hydraulic fracturing caused the contamination…” Even EWG admitted “it is possible that another stage of the drilling process [other than hydraulic fracturing] caused the problem.”
It’s also worth noting that the report of the incident was written by an EPA contractor in the 1980s, several years after the alleged incident occurred. Why is that important? Just a few months ago, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson stated publicly: “In no case have we made a definitive determination that [hydraulic fracturing] has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.” If the EPA’s report actually said what Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Fox think it says, then why would Lisa Jackson state that her agency has never made such a conclusion? Perhaps that’s why the example is barely mentioned anymore – except by those like Mr. Baldwin who are ideologically committed to The Cause.
BALDWIN: “This article from Food and Water Watch in April of 2012.”
FACT: First of all, it’s interesting that Mr. Baldwin would italicize “Food and Water Watch” as if it’s a news outlet. F&WW is an activist organization, funded by the Park Foundation, and wholly committed not to safe natural gas development, but to an outright ban on hydraulic fracturing.
Second, and more importantly, the “article” referenced is document where FWW claims that developing natural gas from shale isn’t really creating that many jobs, and the economic growth associated with development is a fantasy. While it’s odd that an organization would attack hard-working men and women in a particular industry by pretending they don’t simply exist, it’s also completely false. A report from IHS-CERA noted that, in 2010, natural gas development from shale supported one million jobs throughout the economy. In the Barnett Shale in north Texas, natural gas development has generated nearly $6 billion in tax receipts for the state. In 2011, the Eagle Ford Shale in south Texas supported 47,000 jobs and generated more than $3 billion in salaries and benefits to Texas workers and their families. Realtors admit that shale development is strengthening the housing market, and state data from Pennsylvania shows that Marcellus Shale development supports more than 238,000 jobs across the Commonwealth.
BALDWIN: “And this article from a March, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone.”
FACT: This is the same Rolling Stone article that not only regurgitated debunked talking points from opponents, but also used others’ content without citing them. The author, Jeff Goodell, even misattributed quotes from “experts” in order to advance a convenient narrative.
But the most significant problem with the Rolling Stone piece was its willingness to ignore or even deliberately contradict clear and well-understood scientific facts. Goodell claimed a 2011 study from researchers at Duke University provided “the first clear evidence that [hydraulic fracturing] was contaminating drinking water” – even though the researchers stated clearly that “we found no evidence for contamination of the shallow wells near active drilling sites from deep brines and/or fracturing fluids” (emphasis added).
Goodell even went so far as to claim, based on a New York Times story, that operators were “dumping millions of gallons” of radioactive wastewater into rivers and streams, “largely without regulatory oversight.” But former Pennsylvania DEP secretary John Hanger said that “testing of drinking water at the tap and in stream totally debunked the main radiation narrative of the New York Times article.” Hanger later wrote that there is “no radionuclide pollution of drinking water in Pennsylvania. Zero. None…But that truth will never catch up to the lie cleverly spread and repeated.” (You can read Hanger’s full dismantling of the Rolling Stone article here.) Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell (D) suggested the purpose of the original New York Times piece was nothing more than to “gratuitously frighten Pennsylvanians,” and on the facts it was “a mighty swing and a miss.”
BALDWIN: I’ve got more if you want it.
EID: Please, humor us!
Mr. Baldwin’s article was not intended to form a scientific basis for future study, or even to use available science to prove a point. To his credit, Mr. Baldwin actually admitted as much, stating: “I am quite certain that not many minds will be changed here.” Instead, the article was – like so much written by activists who oppose hydraulic fracturing – designed to spread fear and foment doubt in the public’s mind about what most would consider settled science. Creating that kind of uncertainty doesn’t require a factual or even a scientific basis; it only requires appeals to emotion, some targeted headlines, and a manufactured assumption of guilt for the industry.
In short, what Mr. Baldwin presented in his short column is nothing new, and the information he presented has been and remains debunked. That Mr. Baldwin, as a Hollywood actor, has a major megaphone to repeat those claims does not make them true. But, repeating those claims does have the unfortunate effect of shifting the public debate away from facts and science – exactly the opposite of what you’d expect of someone claiming to state “the truth” about anything.
But then again, if your goal is to undermine the clear safety record of hydraulic fracturing, facts and science must be absent by necessity, because relying on them would contradict your preconceived narrative.
And by the way: Isn’t there a photographer somewhere Mr. Baldwin can be assaulting rather than writing ridiculous columns like this?
Gasland Star Sees His Shadow in Michigan; Good News for Shale?
Gasland star Calvin Tillman made his way up to Northern Michigan this past weekend, flown up by activists to gin up support for their efforts to prevent responsible energy development from taking place here. Of course, these days, Tillman only travels to shale states with the greatest potential to generate jobs, revenues and cost-savings for consumers. Guess that makes him a harbinger of good news!
What do you do as the ex-mayor of a community of 120 people to get attention when your term has ended, you’ve moved out of town, and your 15 minutes of relative fame have expired? You search out new places to go, looking for opportunities to generate press clippings in areas that haven’t yet been subjected to your now predictable routine.
That’s what happened in Michigan this past weekend, as Calvin Tillman — the former mayor of tiny DISH, Texas (famous for selling its name for free cable) — did a quick strike tour of Northern Michigan to pitch his message to anti-shale activists about the supposed hazards of natural gas. Organizing the weekend tour were two anti-gas groups; “Don’t Frack Michigan” and “Ban Michigan Fracking.” As the videos below will show, the comments and questions posed by these groups provided a great deal of entertainment — and in some ways actually overshadowed Tillman, who, to his credit, came off as a fairly polite sort of guy – even as did his best to avoid the truth.
In what’s become his standard operating procedure in other parts of the country, Mr. Tillman only shows up in areas where genuine shale development is still considered nascent – picking and choosing places where the potential for a massive influx of shale-related jobs, revenue and opportunity is greatest, and then doing his best to stop that progress before it can even get started.
Understood in those terms, the fact that Mr. Tillman would choose to come to our state to peddle his distortions should be seen as tremendous news for Michigan energy consumers, mineral-owners, and small businesses – after all, he wouldn’t have come here if he thought we were sitting on a dud.
The EID team in Pennsylvania and Ohio have followed Tillman closely over the years, and you can read some of their takes on him here and here. He got his first taste of fame a few years ago when Josh Fox put him in Gasland, where he claimed natural gas facilities were spewing massive volumes of benzene into the air and causing health problems for his family. Well, it took several months, but state health officials in Texas eventually debunked his claims. See this document here, and in particular the section about how the DISH residents’ “exposure to certain contaminants was not greater than that of the general U.S. population.”
Back up in Northern Michigan this past weekend, Tillman didn’t have a whole lot to offer on this tour, even though he was the main event. His circuit involved four stops: Harbor Springs, Gaylord, Charlevoix and Traverse City, where he repeated previously debunked statements from earlier performances. He argued, for instance, that large-scale fugitive emissions from natural gas compressors and other infrastructure had impacted his family’s health, despite evidence from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) indicating “the highest maximum benzene concentration is below the health effects level observed in animal and human studies.” Here’s some more of what he offered:
Although the event organizers hyped the tour as a chance for Tillman to talk about how “hydraulic fracturing” forced “him to move his family away from DISH,” Tillman, for his part, had very little to say about fracturing. Maybe that’s because, for all the hand-wringing, there actually isn’t many oil or gas wells in or near DISH to be found.
Instead, Tillman mostly focused on air quality in DISH, which he says was adversely impacted by pipelines and compressor stations – citing a study written by another anti-shale activist that has since been discredited by state health and environment officials in the state. Indeed, Tillman blithely dismissed (9:49) conclusions to the contrary from the TCEQ study, which he described as being conducted to “protect the industry” – a common rhetorical tactic employed by folks who don’t have anything of substance to rebut it with.
Curiously, Tillman insists here that EPA “reneged” on its enforcement duties in Parker Co., Texas, Pavillion, Wyo. and Dimock, Pa., never disclosing that each of these situations represented instances in which EPA had to back off on its initial claims because of faulty procedures or bad data. He also suggests (0:55) that a homeowner in Dimock was told by EPA that his water was fine, but not to drink it. What he doesn’t say is that the reason EPA offered that recommendation is that the water supply in question had elevated bacteria, from a malfunctioning septic system. You can learn all about that one here (see 8:35 in the video) and decide for yourself what kind of credibility Tillman and his Dimock activists actually have.
You can also watch this video to get more of Tillman in Michigan, as he makes one unsubstantiated assertion after another: claiming 5,000 people came out to a Washington rally when the actual numbers were about 20 percent of that; (3:12), quoting Martin Luther King and Teddy Roosevelt; and otherwise presenting himself as some sort of hero and martyr. Someone who actually matters.
What was most fascinating to me, though, was the hyperbolic conversation that both preceded and followed Tillman’s presentations. There was the gentleman in the video above, for example, who makes it explicitly clear (2:45) that what makes him “really mad about it (natural gas development) is that it’s going to destroy prospects for alternative energy” – apparently unaware that, thanks to shale development, the U.S. is actually leading the world in CO2 reductions.
But I was especially taken by this Harbor Springs introduction, offered by a local activist:
Notice how this woman argues for rejection of science in favor of making decisions based on the heart: “Don’t be intimidated by the facts or the science because in your hearts I think you know we don’t want this.” Thankfully, this woman doesn’t work at DEQ.
Then came the monologue from a fellow named Ellis Boal, a perennial candidate for just about every elected office in our state, and someone who apparently wasn’t satisfied with the purity of a group called “Don’t Frack Michigan” – explaining (5:00) why he formed his own group called “Ban Michigan Fracking.” Later, Attorney Jim Wilson of an outfit called “Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation” makes an impassioned over-the-top argument (15:49) that hydraulic fracturing represented the “end game for the planet.” How’s that for hyperbole?
One great question came from the audience in Traverse City, however, captured in this video. As you’ll see, a polite gentleman inquired of Tillman where he might find evidence that hydraulic fracturing had actually polluted water (7:10). Tillman’s answer was to “go home and watch ‘The Sky Is Pink,’” Josh Fox’s latest theatrical farce (debunked here by EID), which of course provides no such substantiation.
This was perhaps the defining moment of the entire Tillman tour. Brought in as an expert who would link hydraulic fracturing to every conceivable ill known to man, when asked by a supporter for evidence, he could do no more or better than to refer to a Josh Fox movie-short that, itself, offered nothing new whatsoever.
But then, that’s Calvin Tillman: a purveyor of recycled and unfounded assertions that, when actually tested, when actually asked to produce data or documentation or substantiation, fails to deliver – every time Thankfully, his message landed with a dull thud in Northern Michigan – netting only a single mention in a small, local paper despite holding four separate events across four separate venues over three full days. Maybe folks up here are actually smarter than he thought.
About that Rally Tally
Blame it on the heat. Or the Olympics. Or the ill-timed AP story about how anti-gas activists routinely distort science. Whatever the reasons, Saturday’s anti-shale rally in Washington didn’t quite generate the kind of attention or attendance its organizers hoped it would. But EID was there, and grabbed some pretty good pictures and video for our trouble.
Blame it on the heat. Or the start of the Olympics. Or the ill-timed Associated Press investigation revealing how top anti-gas activists routinely distort and misrepresent science. Or even EPA’s decision to announce earlier that same week that Dimock’s water was, is and has always been safe to drink – demoralizing those who had dined-out on that talking point for years.
Whatever the reasons, Saturday’s anti-shale rally in Washington didn’t quite generate the volume of attendance and attention its organizers thought it would, and as a result, didn’t collect as many mentions in the press as they hoped it might. But neither heat nor hypocrisy kept EID away from the day’s proceedings – even as we struggled to understand why folks from areas where no shale development is taking place (New York) would travel to another city where no oil and gas development is taking place (Washington), to lobby for legislation that even the event’s organizers admit is going nowhere.
But hey, to be fair: some folks actually did show up to this thing, as the picture below makes clear. Writing in the Huffington Post today, a woman named Stefanie Penn Spear with a group called EcoWatch says the turnout exceeded 5,000 people. The police officers I spoke to on site Saturday put the number closer to 1,500, and pictures like the one below suggest it could have even been even smaller than that:
Phony attendance numbers aside, the other aspect of the day’s proceedings that could have definitely benefited from some independent verification was the speaker presentations themselves.
For starters, they all basically read off the same script, with two or three sentences reserved for a personal intro, followed by a five-minute recitation of talking points that must have been scribbled in long before last week’s Associated Press article ran. How else to explain that at least half of the speakers at the podium cited that same discredited talking point about cancer rates in Texas that the folks over at the Susan G. Komen Foundation debunked? These activists may be good at generating press, but from what I saw, it doesn’t appear that they’re any good at reading it.
Of course, given the background of those presenting, it wasn’t surprising that every single speaker failed to mention that hydraulic fracturing has been used since the 1940s, or that even the Environmental Protection Agency has, on at least a dozen occasions, confirmed that fracturing technology is safe and not responsible for any adverse impacts to groundwater. The presenters also failed to mention that regulators in over 15 U.S. States as well as the Groundwater Protection Council have all come to the same conclusion.
While facts and science were in short supply, hyperbole, sensationalism and — give the devil its due — creativity certainly were not. The first speaker provided a bit of a treat for the audience with her rendition of this “little light of mine.”
This was followed by a sermon, of sorts, about hydraulic fracturing. Though it’s not entirely clear to us which church this fellow belongs to:
But actually, what was even more interesting than the performances on stage were the opinions of some attendees who seem to think that everyone who doesn’t share their worldview is conspiring against them.
One such attendee – Ray Kimble – is a water hauler from Dimock, Pa., who just happens to be engaged in a lawsuit against a natural gas producer in that region. As mentioned earlier, the EPA recently joined the Pennsylvania DEP in declaring Dimock’s water is safe – once and for all. Like so many others in the audience, this attendee appears to refuse all objective assessments provided on the safety of hydraulic fracturing including those from the state and federal regulators who indicated after an extensive four year review that oil and natural gas development had no impacts on his water supply.
Climate change was another big theme at the event, with most speakers doing their best to ignore or minimize the fact that, thanks to natural gas, the United States is now leading the world – yes, leading it – in the annual percentage decrease in carbon dioxide. For this speaker below, that progress was not enough. For her, no energy is good energy unless it is delivered to us … from heaven:
With energy from heaven still eluding scientists, these activists relied on petroleum fueled vehicles to get them to and from Washington, D.C.
So, in the end, what was accomplished? Boil it all down, and what you have is a smaller-than-advertised turnout for a rally against a technology that’s been in use since the Truman administration; led by people where no shale development exists; doing their best to deny the jobs, revenue and opportunity that shale development makes possible to people they’ve never met; all while ignoring the obvious environmental and security benefits that natural gas continues to bring online.
So, in other words: nothing much at all.
AP to Josh Fox: Actually, You’re Wrong
You’re a New York filmmaker whose arguments about the supposed dangers of natural gas development have been slowly unraveling since the release of your film about hydraulic fracturing two years ago. And then, to top it all off, the Associated Press examines what you’ve said and finds it to be unsupported by the facts. What do you do?
You’re a New York filmmaker whose arguments about the supposed dangers of natural gas development have been slowly unraveling since the release of your film about hydraulic fracturing two years ago. Regulators and scientists from across the country have taken issue with the sensationalism you’ve injected into a debate that used to focus on science and facts, debunking all of your favorite arguments along the way. You’ve been arrested for pretending to be accredited media on Capitol Hill.
And then, to top it all off, the Associated Press examines what you’ve said about public health impacts from natural gas development and concludes that your statements are not only unsupported by evidence, but so egregious that actual experts are explicitly refuting them.
What do you do?
If you’re Josh Fox, you apparently double down and issue a public statement complaining that the AP didn’t cite enough examples from your latest documentary — equally divorced from the facts as your previous one — in its assessment of those facts.
In case you missed it, the AP took the time this past weekend to research what critics of hydraulic fracturing have been claiming, and then asked some actual experts for their responses to those claims. The results were reassuring for those of us interested in a fact-based dialogue, but not for those who desperately want to believe, contrary to reality, that hydraulic fracturing is unsafe.
Among the more egregious claims routinely used by opponents is that drilling is linked to increased rates of breast cancer, specifically in north Texas. It’s also the central claim in Josh Fox’s latest film, The Sky is Pink. But according to the AP, the claim just doesn’t mesh with the facts:
Opponents of fracking say breast cancer rates have spiked exactly where intensive drilling is taking place — and nowhere else in the state. The claim is used in a letter that was sent to New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo by environmental groups and by Josh Fox, the Oscar-nominated director of “Gasland,” a film that criticizes the industry. Fox, who lives in Brooklyn, has a new short film called “The Sky is Pink.”
But researchers haven’t seen a spike in breast cancer rates in the area, said David Lee, a professor of medical anthropology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
David Risser, an epidemiologist with the Texas Cancer Registry, said in an email that researchers checked state health data and found no evidence of an increase in the counties where the spike supposedly occurred.
And Susan G. Komen for the Cure, a major cancer advocacy group based in Dallas, said it sees no evidence of a spike, either.
When the AP asked Fox for evidence of the spike in breast cancer, he cited a press release that “doesn’t support his claim,” according to the AP, as well as a newspaper report, which an epidemiologist says is “not based on a careful statistical analysis of the data.” Oof!
The AP also told Fox that cancer researchers say breast cancer rates didn’t increase, contrary to his statements. Fox then began to backtrack, resting on a claim that the rate increase was “widely reported” (as if that means anything) and that the issue needs “much deeper study.”
Beaten by the facts (yet again), Josh Fox nonetheless could not let the truth stand. On Tuesday, Fox sent out a lengthy statement in which he angrily claimed the AP story was “biased” and ignored reports from the “award-winning Denton Record Chronicle” – the same paper that has refused to acknowledge the clear conflict of interest with its shale beat reporter, Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe, also being a plaintiff against the natural gas industry.
As you can imagine, it was all downhill from there.
Fox referenced his latest “documentary” – The Sky is Pink – six times in his statement, clearly capitalizing on the attention to plug his movie instead of address the substantive critiques of his claims. With a few minor exceptions, Fox’s statement reads more like a tantrum that the Associated Press didn’t advertise his movie enough. Of course, the AP was too busy getting the facts about the claims made in that movie, choosing to print what’s true instead of what Josh Fox wanted them to print.
Fox’s outrageous outrage was accompanied by some remarks from Sandra Steingraber, to whom Fox refers as a “renowned expert” in this field. As a quick aside, and for those unfamiliar with Ms. Steingraber, she has described hydraulic fracturing in such calm and collected ways as the “tornado on the horizon” that will hamstring your ability to “ride your bike along country roads” (no, seriously). She also thinks hydraulic fracturing is a “human-rights crisis,” and that “If we mitigate [hydraulic fracturing] to kill fewer people, we’re still killing people.” Sounds like a disinterested scientist for sure!
Ms. Streingraber’s statement attempts to cast a cloud of doubt over what experts have actually said – essentially saying “we can never really know, so Josh therefore isn’t wrong, and thus he is right” – before citing another common activist talking point: that childhood asthma rates are “more than double the national average” in Tarrant County, Texas, an active county for Barnett Shale development (also home to the city of Fort Worth).
The claim is clearly made to suggest that shale development is causing a spike on asthma rates. But if that were the case, then the entire Dallas-Fort Worth area would have also have an elevated rate of asthma. After all, if there’s a causal connection between development and asthma as Ms. Steingraber is clearly suggesting, then we’d obviously see it throughout the Barnett Shale region, where some 18,000 wells have been drilled.
But according to the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS), the two regions that cover the Dallas-Fort Worth Area (DSHS Region 2 and 3) actually have childhood asthma rates that are below both the statewide average and the nationwide average.
Clearly, suggesting a casual connection between asthma incidence rates and development based on just a portion of a much broader area is a dangerous game, mostly because it begs another question: If there is a causal connection, then why isn’t the incidence rate higher for the whole region where development is occurring?
That’s clearly a question Mr. Fox and Ms. Steingraber don’t want to answer, no doubt because it would force them to admit that they cherry picked data (or even deliberately misrepresented the truth) in an attempt to scare the public.
But thanks to the AP’s reporting, they don’t need to admit that. We already know it.
For Josh Fox, the Sun Also Rises
They say that 82.3 percent of statistics are made up on the spot. Watching the video released by Gasland star Josh Fox this week – cleverly titled “The Sky is Pink” -- one wonders whether that figure might be in need of a slight upward adjustment.
They say that 82.3 percent of statistics are made up on the spot. Watching the video released by Gasland star Josh Fox this week – titled “The Sky is Pink” — one wonders whether that figure might be in need of a slight upward adjustment.
Set aside the distracting, out-of-focus camerawork and characteristically creepy, overwrought narration, and the argument that Josh and his team attempt to put forth goes something like this: No natural gas well is safe. All of them fail and leak. And most damning: Industry studies and memoranda – memos previously buried in industry “drawers” — prove it. Memos so confidential, it took us a full three minutes to find them online (more on those later).
In fairness, Fox doesn’t say that every well is destined for failure. In a column submitted to the USA Today last summer, Fox argued that five percent of wells experience “an immediate failure of the concrete casing.” Eight months later, in February, that figure had jumped eight-fold, with Fox telling DemocracyNow! that “casing that protects the groundwater cracks in 40 percent of the cases.” That same month, he suggested to Al Jazeera that the actual failure rate was closer to “50 percent” (20:16). In his new film (09:23), he settles on a new number: 16.7 percent. Hey, at least we’re improving, right?
Of course, not mentioned anywhere in the new 18-minute film is the Aug. 2011 report issued by the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), a study that draws on real-world field data and case descriptions from regulators representing two of the most heavily drilled states in the country: Texas and Ohio. According to that study, more than 220,000 oil and natural gas wells were drilled and completed (fractured) in these two states over the past 25 years, 16,000 of them horizontal wells targeting deep shale formations.
Take your pick from any of the failure rates that Fox has cited over the past year: If he’s right – or even close to right – shouldn’t there be thousands of confirmed cases of water contamination from faulty wells and compromised casings? Unfortunately for Josh (but fortunately for everyone else), the GWPC report tells a very different story.
According to the report, available here, more than 34,000 wells were drilled and completed in Ohio over a 25-year period from 1983 to 2007. In total, 184 incidents were recorded over that span in which oilfield activities – all categories – were found to have contributed to an adverse impact to groundwater. That’s one incident for every 184 wells drilled.
Break the numbers down further, though, and you find that of those 184 incidents, only 12 were related to failures of or gradual erosions to casing or cement. That’s one recorded incident for every 2,833 wells drilled, representing a failure rate of 0.03 percent. And according to the report, greater than 80 percent of all incidents happened in the 80s and 90s – with very few problems registered as modern technology and updated regulations came online over the past decade. Of note: not a single event relating to the fracturing process was found to have affected groundwater.
From the report (p. 46):
Stimulation by hydraulic fracturing has been a routine part of completing most oil and gas wells in Ohio since 1951. During the study period (1983-2007), the DMRM estimated that 27,969 oil and gas wells were stimulated by hydraulic fracturing. … During the 25 year study period, the DMRM did not identify any groundwater contamination incidents caused by hydraulic fracturing.
So that’s the story in Ohio, how about Texas? According to GWPC and the Texas Railroad Commission, more than 187,000 wells were drilled and completed in the Lone Star State from 1993 to 2008, including 16,000 horizontal wells. Two-hundred and eleven cases of groundwater disturbance tied to oilfield activities were recorded in that span, or one incident for every 889 wells drilled.
Just as in Ohio, none of those were related in any way to hydraulic fracturing. And very few were generally related to the integrity of the well either – a total of 21, according to the report. That boils down to an error rate of 0.01 percent – a far cry from the estimates put forth by Josh and his gang.
Speaking of those estimates: from whence did they actually come? In his video, Fox cites five “industry” documents – memos and PowerPoint presentations he says reinforce his view that mass well failures are not only a common occurrence, but an inevitable one. In the film, he says these documents “fell off the back of a truck” (07:35) – implying that they were previously kept secret, locked away in the “drawers” of the industry (presumably he means the wooden variety!).
In fact, every one of these documents is readily available online – here, here, here, here and here. As you can see, most of them are modeling papers; short, technical commentaries in petroleum engineering journals (some more than a decade old) that deal with best practices mostly in the context of well integrity issues (in abandoned wells, mostly) far offshore.
In one such document, prepared almost a decade ago, and which essentially runs as an advertisement, the authors argue that their products can help operators reduce casing pressure volumes in the Gulf of Mexico.
To Fox, this represents evidence of well failures en masse. But as any legitimate petroleum engineer will attest, detection of pressure in a casing string doesn’t necessarily mean that the well doesn’t work – and it certainly doesn’t portend environmental ruin. Thanks to remedial actions referred to in the industry as “work-over” activities, these issues are commonly and easily addressed. Which is why, in contrast to what Fox says, it’s simply not the case that thousands of wells are failing every day, contaminating tens of thousands of potable water sources. No matter how much he may wish it were so.
Another document that elicits great excitement in the Fox video is a PowerPoint deck delivered by Mark Boling of Southwestern Energy in Nov. 2010 – a presentation in which EID’s Lee Fuller and Scott Anderson of the Environmental Defense Fund also participated.
As you can see in the video of the event itself, there were no earthshattering revelations that came to light on this panel. It is indeed true, as Mr. Boling indicated, that a well that’s improperly cased and/or cemented can in rare cases act as a conduit for methane gas (which is not considered a health threat by EPA) to migrate into formations where it otherwise wouldn’t belong. No news there.
Of course, that’s true whether you’re talking about an oil well, a gas well, a geothermal well, or a well that’s intended to produce water. But in a typical sleight-of-hand, Josh represents these remarks as major, monumental news – suggesting in his video that the same conduits that could allow methane to migrate are also allowing fracturing fluids to emerge from two miles down up into potable drinking water supplies above.
Incidentally, that’s a charge that has been categorically rejected by dozens of state regulators and engineering and academic experts. Even EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has called it out for what it is — a lie – telling reporters in April that “in no case have we made a definitive determination that the [fracturing] process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.”
Of course, no mention of any of this is made in the film released this week. But then again, the film’s really not about hydraulic fracturing, is it? A quiet concession by Fox, perhaps, that his previous strategy of focusing his entire campaign on attacking a well completion technology with a demonstrable, 65-year track-record of safety probably isn’t the best play moving forward.
Faced with what’s become a mountain of evidence and steady stream of credible testimonials that directly contradict just about every single thing he says, Fox has decided to double-down on his thesis, continuing to fly around the country (and even the world) with an eye on promoting his upcoming sequel to Gasland. We suppose that’s his right. But that doesn’t mean he is right. In this case, as it turns out, the sky is actually pink – presaging the twilight of a national campaign that, from the start, has been built on a foundation of distortion and disinformation.
Or, at least, isn’t it pretty to think so?
The Re-Education of Bill McKibben
The environmentalist who praised new natural gas development and demanded Congress use as much of the stuff as possible is now teaming up with Gasland director Josh Fox to shut down the natural gas industry? That's quite a flip flop.
One of the biggest hurdles to expanding the responsible development of any form of energy in America – oil, gas, coal, wind, solar, nuclear, wood chips – is dealing with people who prefer endless debate and controversy over real action and workable outcomes.
Unlike most Americans, who simply want good answers to reasonable questions about where and how they get their energy, some folks have a bigger stake in keeping the argument going than coming up with solutions. Sometimes, the stakes are ideological. Other times, they’re financial. Since controversy tends to attract TV cameras, sometimes vanity is what’s at stake. More often than not, it’s a bit of all three.
Truth be told: we’re not entirely certain of what drives Bill McKibben, the founder of the environmental group 350.org, although we have noticed he’s no stranger to book tours or the speaking circuit. In fact, McKibben has published more than a dozen books and you can request his services as a speaker through the same agency that represents supermodel Claudia Schiffer, TV doctor Sanjay Gupta, zookeeper Jack Hanna, cable news host Al Sharpton and actor-pundit Ben Stein.
But whatever motivates McKibben, he clearly prefers a good argument to a good solution, based on the way he’s been talking with respect to natural gas recently.
Our story begins in 2009, when McKibben felt so strongly about the environmental benefits of natural gas that he was willing to go to jail in support of them. According to TIME magazine, McKibben was among the “eco-celebrities” who attended a protest outside the Capitol Power Plant in Washington, D.C. “demanding that the plant switch from coal to natural gas power.” Here’s what McKibben said in the build up to the protest:
“There are moments in a nation’s—and a planet’s—history when it may be necessary for some to break the law … We will cross the legal boundary of the power plant, and we expect to be arrested.” http://goo.gl/B8EDc
“[I]t would be easy enough to fix. In fact, the facility can already burn some natural gas instead, and a modest retrofit would let it convert away from coal entirely. … It would even stimulate the local economy.” http://goo.gl/K8TVT
A year later, in 2010, McKibben published a book called “Eaarth” (yes, that’s Earth with two As). In the book, McKibben said he supported natural gas and welcomed the expanded production made possible by horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing in shale:
“Sometimes the news is a little better … the last year has seen new discoveries of natural gas that could help wean us off dirtier coal.”
“And lately, at least in the United States, we’ve found some new supplies of natural gas, which is a good “bridge fuel” between dirty coal and clean sun.”
The term “bridge fuel” means two things in the realm of climate-change policy. First, it’s a recognition that gas-fired power plants produce, on average, about half as much carbon dioxide as coal plants, according to EPA. Second, gas-fired plants can also help expand the amount of renewable electricity on the power grid. That’s because they can start up and shut down much more quickly and efficiently than coal plants, providing vital backup power for solar panels and wind turbines, whose intermittent output varies with changes in the weather.
While on his book tour for “Eaarth,” McKibben explained the “bridge fuel” concept this way:
“At the moment, solar panels are more expensive than coal and will be for a while. … In the transition, we’ll be using a lot of natural gas to make electricity…” http://goo.gl/RnxcQ
Jumping forward to 2012, McKibben is ready once more to put his liberty on the line at a protest about natural gas. This time, the demonstration is planned for mid-June in the halls of the Ohio state legislature in Columbus. Here’s how the organizers are promoting the event:
“[W]e need to shake Columbus with the biggest anti-fracking gathering yet seen in the U.S.”
“[W]e’ll be taking over the Ohio statehouse for a people’s assembly…”
“We used to think that natural gas might be a help in the fight against climate change–but new studies have demonstrated … it may be just as dirty as coal.” http://goo.gl/s77Cy
Wait, what? McKibben, who once risked arrest as a natural gas supporter, is now willing to be jailed as a natural gas opponent? The environmentalist who praised new natural gas development and demanded Congress use as much of the stuff as possible is now teaming up with Gasland director Josh Fox to shut down the natural gas industry?
That’s quite a flip flop. Clearly, McKibben has some ‘splaining to do. Here’s how he justifies his new position on natural gas:
“I was originally encouraged at the thought of major natural gas finds … [but] in the last year I’ve been joining with others to actively oppose fracking.” http://goo.gl/RQTAQ
“Well, even when it’s burned natural gas has a big carbon footprint – not as high as coal, but as the International Energy Agency pointed out, a global energy mix heavy in natural gas would still leave us at 660 parts per million CO2, i.e. Way Too High. Worse, when methane escapes from these fracking operations unburned, that [methane] is a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2 – and the early science makes it look like lots and lots of methane escapes from these fracking operations, perhaps enough to make them worse than coal mines…” http://goo.gl/WmzTY
How convenient. As environmental activists who oppose natural gas get more and more media attention, McKibben decides that the facts about natural gas have changed – conveniently freeing himself up to join his fellow activists in front of the press photographers, TV cameras and microphones. But the facts haven’t changed. McKibben is just cherry picking numbers and studies in a desperate attempt to cast natural gas as a high-carbon problem, when he very well knows – or at least, should know – that it’s actually a low-carbon solution.
Let’s deal first with the “lots and lots of methane” charge. That’s a reference to the widely discredited Howarth et al study out of Cornell University. Anti-shale activists still cling to this study, which alleges natural gas is more carbon intensive than coal, even though Howarth’s theory has been rejected by EPA, the Department of Energy, other academics – including other Cornell faculty members – former regulators and independent analysts. Even research supported by environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and the Environmental Defense Fund, confirms that natural gas is much less carbon-intensive than coal. Even McKibben undercuts the Howarth paper by admitting the carbon footprint of gas is “not as high as coal.”
Now, let’s tackle McKibben’s distorted representation of IEA forecasts. The way McKibben tells it, IEA is saying the world needs less gas, not more, to lower GHG emissions. But that’s simply not true. The IEA predicts the world needs 26 percent more natural gas, along with increases in other low-carbon energy sources, to stabilize atmospheric CO2 concentrations at 450 parts per million and limit the worldwide average temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius:
“In the 450 Scenario, global energy-related CO2 emissions peak before 2020 and then decline… The share of fossil fuels in the global energy mix falls from 81% in 2009 to 62% in 2035. … By contrast, natural gas demand grows by 26%…” (IEA factsheet, p. 2)
To get around this forecast, McKibben gets creative – opting to manipulate and contort a special “what-if” scenario that’s completely separate from IEA’s regular energy and environmental forecasts. That hypothetical scenario assumes massive increases in worldwide natural gas production (larger than anyone believes are possible) and rules out the possibility of carbon capture and storage (CCS) ever being available as a useable technology. So instead of assuming the construction of between 65 and 130 carbon-capture plants by 2035, as the IEA does in its standard scenario, this scenario pessimistically assumes zero will be built:
“Widespread deployment in gas applications for power generation and industry of technologies, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), has the potential to reduce emissions from gas consumption significantly in the long term, which could result in stabilization at lower levels, but [the scenario] does not allow for this…” (IEA report, p. 120)
That would be big news to the Obama administration, which is working on as many as 10 carbon-capture demonstration projects at present:
“Up to ten integrated CCS demonstration projects supported by DOE are intended to begin operation by 2016 in the United States. These demonstrations will integrate current CCS technologies with commercial-scale power and industrial plants to prove that they can be permitted and operated safely and reliably.” (White House CCS report, p. 10)
It would be even bigger news to the folks in Beulah, North Dakota, who work at a plant that’s capturing carbon dioxide right now, today:
“Dakota Gas captures and sells CO2 produced at the plant to two customers and transports it through a 205-mile pipeline to Saskatchewan, Canada, to be used for enhanced oil recovery in the Weyburn and Midale fields. The first CO2 was sent to Canada in October 2000.” http://goo.gl/dRHgg
But even under the pessimistic scenario that McKibben relies on, IEA still says the world needs more natural gas to bring down GHG emissions:
“[N]atural gas has an important role to play in complementing low-carbon energy solutions by providing the flexibility needed to support a growing renewables component in power generation.” (IEA report, p. 43)
So, according to the IEA, the U.S. and the rest of the world needs more natural gas, not less, to cut GHG emissions and add large numbers of solar panels, wind turbines and other low-carbon electricity sources to the power grid. Sound familiar? It should, because that’s what McKibben said he believed – and what he was willing to be arrested for – back in 2009. He restated that belief in his 2010 book, and still again on the publicity tour for that book.
But that was before environmental activists grew bored with the talking points they cribbed from Al Gore’s 2006 movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and found in Gasland a new way to demonize the energy development that supports the American way of life (which they despise). These days, the really inconvenient truth is that America has an abundant, affordable supply of natural gas which will bolster the nation’s energy security and is already cutting GHG emissions from the nation’s power plants.
Sadly, environmentalists who accept these facts now find it harder to grab headlines, get their face on TV, raise money, secure research grants, or even sell books. The path of least resistance, and greatest reward, is pandering to the most extreme voices of the environmental movement.
Times change, and apparently McKibben has decided he must change with them. But the facts have not changed – they’re still the facts. In a rational world, that would matter. In McKibben’s world, though, it’s all about McKibben.
*UPDATE III* Fox, ABC, and Truth in “Journalism”
During yesterday’s House Energy and Environment Subcommittee hearing on EPA’s draft Pavillion report, things got off to a circus-like start when New York filmmaker and Gasland producer Josh Fox deliberately violated committee rules to get himself arrested. But there's another story involving Mr. Fox and the Gasland crew that suggests his PR stunt may have involved something deeper and more disturbing...
UPDATE (see bottom of page)
During yesterday’s House Energy and Environment Subcommittee hearing on EPA’s draft Pavillion report, things got off to a circus-like start when New York filmmaker and Gasland producer Josh Fox deliberately violated committee rules to get himself arrested. The stunt worked, and news of the hearing largely focused on Fox’s arrest. The hearing itself actually should have made significant headlines, especially when the EPA backpedaled from its own accusation in the draft report about hydraulic fracturing causing water contamination.
But there’s another story involving Mr. Fox and the Gasland crew that suggests his PR stunt may have involved something deeper and more disturbing.
As the hearing officially began, ranking member Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC) stated that ABC News had also been denied the opportunity to film the hearing, and the subcommittee should allow for greater access. Miller challenged the standing rule that no outside unaccredited filming was allowed, in part by stating:
“…it’s clear we have space in this room to film this hearing. If you claim that rule does not allow them to film, or allows you the discretion to turn them away, I move the rules be suspended so the fella who wanted to film for HBO be allowed to film this hearing and that ABC be allowed to film this hearing and all God’s children be allowed to film this hearing until the room is too full for us to conduct our business.”
The fact that even ABC had been turned away showed an unwillingness to allow public access at all, Miller suggested. The congressman’s motion to allow ABC (and Josh Fox) to return and film the hearing required a vote, which requires a quorum, so the hearing was suspended for 45 minutes until enough members could be rounded up to enter the room and vote (the motion was ultimately rejected).
Had ABC not been one of the outlets trying to film, it’s unlikely that such a spectacle would have occurred. Would a sitting member of Congress really hold up a major public hearing to accommodate the demands of a non-credentialed, camcorder-wielding activist? In that sense, ABC provided a convenient cover.
But after the hearing ended, an interesting revelation was made: As it turns out, ABC didn’t send a film crew to the hearing at all. As POLITICO reported, the videographer who had been turned away was actually hired by Gasland producer Trish Adlesic to film the hearing, not by ABC. It looked, at least for the moment, like the situation was nothing more than staffers receiving conflicting (and bad) information.
Or was it more deliberate?
Adlesic, the Gasland producer, and Matthew Sanchez – its editor – both attempted to film the hearing, and both were turned away. All of this demonstrates a broader and more coordinated effort on the part of Josh Fox’s crew — something beyoned what Fox later referred to as an act “done in an impromptu fashion.” The hearing, it should be noted, was broadcast live and in its entirety via live stream on the subcommittee’s webpage.
But how did ABC News play into this?
Last night, after seeing the countless news stories about Fox’s arrest, the Energy and Environment Subcommittee released a statement about Josh Fox and the reason Capitol Hill police removed him from the room. That statement also referenced ABC:
It has been misreported that the Committee turned away an accredited ABC News crew prior to the hearing. While a film crew arrived at the hearing claiming to be with ABC News, the ABC News Washington bureau confirmed to the Committee it was unaware of sending any crew to tape the hearing.
It appears, then, that the videographer in question was not only hired by a Gasland producer, but had also falsely claimed to be representing ABC in order to gain access to the hearing.
Of course, by then, the stories had already been written. Not only had reporters already submitted stories referencing ABC News being kicked out, but activist groups were already creating petitions citing the “unlawful” act of denying “journalists” access to the hearing. As one such group, Water Defense, wrote in a plea sent out only hours after the hearing:
Josh [Fox] was charged with unlawful entry. An ABC News crew was also asked to leave. Since when is it unlawful for filmmakers and news organizations to document a hearing of major public importance?
With his efforts to uncover the truth about fracking and the natural gas industry, Josh Fox helped give our movement a huge boost and educated millions of Americans about this important issue. He and others should be allowed to film all Congressional hearings on fracking in order to better inform the public on this important issue.
All of this raises important questions. Did Josh Fox and his crew tell other activist groups that ABC had been denied entry? Did those organizations know the ABC angle was merely a foil? How many other times has Fox’s crew used false identities and pretenses to gain access to the places they seek?
And above all, if a group of people is willing to be dishonest about something like this, what won’t they be dishonest about?
Gasland 2 is scheduled to be released later this year.
UPDATE (Feb. 2, 4:28 p.m. ET): Josh Fox just appeared on MSNBC’s “News Nation” with Tamron Hall to talk about his arrest yesterday, and his contention that he’s so important now that Republicans in Congress have decided to essentially “blacklist” him from entering the Capitol complex. Fox delivered his usual screed against developing natural gas from shale, but Ms. Hall, the anchor, also recited some misleading talking points about Gasland that Fox himself may as well have written for her.
Here are a few of the biggest errors in the segment:
Tamron Hall (0:22): “But instead of letting him [Fox] in, Capitol Hill police hauled him off in cuffs.”
FACT: Josh Fox was not arrested for merely being in the room. He, like everyone else there, had every right to attend, observe, and report on the proceedings. He was let into the room, but was asked multiple times to take down his camera equipment, which he refused to do. This was not, as Hall suggested, about Fox being able to attend the hearing, but rather his deliberate decision to violate the rules relating to filming a hearing — a hearing that was being broadcast via live-stream on the subcommittee’s webpage.
Hall (0:42): “Did you have the proper credentials?”
Josh Fox (0:44): “Yes.”
FACT: No, he did not. As the Committee’s rules clearly state: “Personnel providing coverage by the television and radio media shall be currently accredited to the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Galleries.” Fox was not. He admitted just seconds after this, however, that “there is proper protocol” and that his crew “went through the proper channels,” but they did not receive credentials because they were attempting to gain them late in the evening before the hearing.
Hall (1:51): “Literally, the drinking water coming from the faucet in people’s homes lights up on fire due the [gas] drilling practice…”
FACT: This is actually one of the biggest falsehoods of the entire film (and Josh Fox knows it). Colorado regulators debunked the claim that the infamous “flaming faucet” was due to gas production. In fact, the state of Colorado determined conclusively that it “was not related to oil and gas activity,” but rather naturally-occurring methane. Fox, predictably, continues to claim the opposite, despite the facts.
Hall (2:02): “It is stunning, saddening, and sickening I believe to watch this [Gasland].”
FACT: We actually agree, but it’s because the movie is full of misinformation, not because the film is an accurate portrayal of what happens when you drill and complete a natural gas well, something industry has done in this country more than 1.2 million separate times.
Fox (2:13): “This was the Republicans holding a hearing with a panel full of gas lobbyists…” Seconds later (2:40) he again accuses the Republicans of “loading up the panel with gas lobbyists” to question the EPA’s findings in its draft report on Pavillion.
FACT: Here is who was actually on the panel: Jim Martin, EPA Region 8 administrator; Tom Doll, State Oil and Gas Supervisor for the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission; Kathleen Sgamma, Vice President of Government and Public Affairs for the Western Energy Alliance; and Dr. Bernard Goldstein, Professor and Dean Emeritus of the Graduate School of Public Health and the University of Pittsburgh. If that list doesn’t sound like a line-up “full of gas lobbyists” to you, it’s because it is not.
Fox (3:12): “[Y]ou have the journalists trying to report on this situation being hauled away in handcuffs.”
FACT: There was an entire section of the room filled with journalists using their computers, cell phones, and notepads to report on the hearing (I was there, and talked to a number of them). Many filed their stories while seated in the committee room. The hearing was also being broadcast online, so many more were likely reporting on the hearing from the comfort of their own home or office desks.
Fox (3:43): “[T]he campaign for fracking has backfired because what it does is contaminate ground water.”
FACT: No, it does not. As EPA administrator Lisa Jackson has admitted, there is no evidence that the hydraulic fracturing process contaminates ground water. State regulators from across the country have similarly affirmed its safety record, and even EPA’s Jim Martin (who testified at the hearing yesterday) has stated that, despite EPA’s careless statements in the draft report on Pavillion, “the causal link [of water contamination] to hydraulic fracturing has not been demonstrated conclusively.”
UPDATE II (Feb. 9, 3:07 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this post stated that the hearing was being broadcast on C-SPAN, but we’ve been informed that it was not in fact covered by them. It was streamed live on the subcommittee’s web page, which also has the hearing archived in full. The post has been updated to reflect this.
UPDATE III (Feb. 10, 2:16 p.m. ET): The Society of Environmental Journalists, which was funded in part last year by the anti-shale Park Foundation, has penned a letter to Rep. Andy Harris, Chairman of the Energy & Environment Subcommittee, in which they stand up for their fellow “journalist” Josh Fox. SEJ writes: “Journalists come in all stripes, and documentary filmmakers have a long and storied history of informing the public about important policy matters, especially the sorts of environmental protection issues Mr. Fox covered in his film, ‘Gasland’.” In case you’re wondering, the letter was not sent ironically; they actually think that Gasland is about “informing the public” on “environmental protection issues,” and not a fact-free screed against responsible energy development. But here’s the bigger point, which has been made clear over and over: The hearing was being webcast live online, and is available to watch in its entirety online. Plus, there were at least 11 (real) journalists in the room who were reporting on the hearing. None of them were arrested, because none of them tried to turn an important hearing into a circus by deliberately violating the rules. This wasn’t about public access, which was clearly available.
Pavillion Hearing Raises More Questions for EPA
After a theatrical start to a hearing inside the stuffy walls of the Rayburn House Office Building, witnesses testified today about EPA’s recent draft report on water quality in Pavillion, Wyo. The report, which attempts to link hydraulic fracturing technology to groundwater contamination, has been widely criticized...
After a theatrical start to a hearing inside the stuffy walls of the Rayburn House Office Building, witnesses testified today about EPA’s recent draft report on water quality in Pavillion, Wyo. The report, which attempts to link hydraulic fracturing technology to groundwater contamination, has been widely criticized for the poor methodology upon which it is based, as well as obvious errors in sampling and testing procedures that EPA itself now concedes are real. And perhaps worst of all, the EPA hasn’t exactly been receiving requests for transparency with open arms.
The first to testify today was Jim Martin, administrator for EPA’s Region 8 office, who defended the agency’s report but also included an important caveat in his remarks:
We make clear that the causal link [of water contamination] to hydraulic fracturing has not been demonstrated conclusively, and that our analysis is limited to the particular geologic conditions in the Pavillion gas field and should not be assumed to apply to fracturing in other geologic settings.
Immediately following the release of EPA’s draft report, a series of questions began to emerge not just about the report’s finding on hydraulic fracturing, but even the process itself that EPA used to test ground water. Martin’s public admission that no causal link exists between water contamination and hydraulic fracturing followed in the wake of those questions, but was unfortunately made nearly two months after the EPA claimed such a link was “likely.” Martin claimed today, however, that the EPA merely “hypothesized potential pathways.”
Tom Doll from the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission added to the mounting list of questions, accusing the EPA of using a “limited data set” to make “technically inadequate conclusions” in its report. “No data was provided by the EPA for the Pavillion Draft Report showing the producing depth, well construction or producing aquifer isolation,” Doll noted in his prepared remarks. During questioning by the Committee, Doll pointed out that the groundwater that the EPA tested for its report is different from the drinking water used by Pavillion residents, and the methane EPA analyzed was not the same as any potential biogenic methane that could be found in drinking water.
Doll also called into question the EPA’s focus for the report, which began as a means of helping local residents solve problems related to their water quality. “The EPA report does not address the need to solve the landowner’s water supply issues; rather the report only addresses hydraulic fracturing,” Doll added.
In December, Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R) wrote to the EPA about the report, saying he was “troubled by the EPA’s dismissal of the practical concerns raised by the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC), Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), and Encana related to the nature and the protocols employed in conducting the sampling procedures.” Doll noted at the hearing that the EPA did not reach out to WOGCC as it was preparing its report, a fact that Martin disputed on the basis that EPA had reached out to DEQ. WOGCC regulates oil and gas development in the state.
Kathleen Sgamma of the Western Energy Alliance criticized EPA’s draft report, noting that the industry is justifiably held to extremely high standards and regulators should be held to a similarly high standard in their research and conclusions. “The public trusts EPA to protect the environment, follow the law, and use sound science as the foundation of its regulatory work,” Sgamma said. But, in the case of Pavillion, “EPA’s own data and methods have raised serious questions” about their report and “led to concerns about unscientific methods, and lack of transparency and peer review.”
While the focus of the hearing was on the Pavillion report, the participants also engaged in a broader discussion of natural gas development. Professor Bernard Goldstein of the University of Pittsburgh, whose testimony was “based upon personal discussion” with environmental activist groups, called for a slowdown in development until public health impacts could be determined.
But public data compiled late last year found that key health indicators actually improved across the board in Denton County, Texas – the heart of shale development in the United States. That followed the release of a separate study that found “no significant health risks” associated with developing natural gas from shale.
Goldstein also likened hydraulic fracturing to a “two-ton bomb” and, echoing remarks from Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC), accused the industry of keeping fracturing fluids a secret (Miller’s opening statement included the term “secret sauce” when referencing the additives). Last year the Ground Water Protection Council and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission established the website Frac Focus, which provides well-by-well information of the additives used during hydraulic fracturing. In the past year, both Texas and Colorado have passed laws that incorporate Frac Focus into their statutory requirements on disclosure (and, of course, EID has also maintained a publicly available list of those chemicals for years).
As today’s testimonies show, EPA’s report on Pavillion continues to spur more questions than answers; not about hydraulic fracturing, but rather about EPA’s own conclusions and methodology. EPA essentially confirmed (by way of omission) that it had not consulted WOGCC for its report, which suggests the EPA either didn’t think to seek adequate guidance, or deliberately ignored a state regulatory body in a report that focused on a process regulated by that body.
And, by making politically charged accusation that hydraulic fracturing “likely” caused water contamination, the EPA has undermined its own credibility with its broader national study on hydraulic fracturing. Will that study suffer from the same systemic and methodological flaws as the Pavillion report? Will the EPA seek proper guidance and provide transparent testing results? Will it contain statements about hydraulic fracturing that are more befitting of a political debate than scientific inquiry? Will the EPA once again have to backpedal from its initial “findings,” as it was forced to do in the hearings today? The fact that those questions even have to be asked, and indeed are being asked, is troubling in and of itself.
Regarding the Pavillion report and the EPA’s credibility on hydraulic fracturing, Doll from the WOGCC perhaps summed it up best. “Based on a limited sampling and an inconclusive data set from Pavillion Wyoming ground water, EPA’s conclusion is now national and international fodder for the hydraulic fracturing debate,” Doll said. “Now the quality of the hydraulic fracturing debate suffers and the EPA’s science itself is questioned.”
A comprehensive study released this month brings some much-needed clarity to the ongoing – and increasingly, national — discussion over methane migration in northeastern Pennsylvania. The study, which includes an assessment of over 1,700 pre-development water samples taken in Susquehanna County, PA, offers a number of important facts, figures and general findings — including the fact that pre-drill tests found methane to be present in 78 percent of the water wells sampled.
The study also found that the source for methane in the area isn’t the Marcellus Shale, as some folks continue to suggest- it’s the thermogenic gas-charged sandstone in the Catskill Formation- the primary source for water wells in the region. Indeed, the researchers found that the isotopic signature of thermogenic gas in the area, including samples utilized in Duke University’s earlier study, suggest that the signature of methane is consistent with methane found in the Catskill and Upper and Middle Devonian deposits. From the piece:
The present study, however, shows that the isotopic signatures of the Duke Study’s thermogenic methane samples were more consistent with those of shallower Upper and Middle Devonian deposits overlying the Marcellus Shale. This finding indicates that the methane samples analyzed in the Duke study could have originated entirely from shallower sources above the Marcellus that are not related to hydraulic fracturing activities.
Indeed, these researchers found a much more likely culprit for this methane than the development of shale. In reviewing, the Pennsylvania Groundwater Information System- a database of wells, springs and groundwater quality throughout Pennsylvania- researchers found:
“[M]ost water wells completed in the Catskill formation (bearing significant thermogenic gas) contain only limited grouting, and are unsealed so as to draw groundwater from multiple water-bearing horizons and-or fractures.”
The study also examined whether or not natural gas production can exacerbate these previously existing conditions leading to an increased likelihood of methane intrusion in this area and others. The study split its data into two sets including those located in “gas producing areas” (within 1 km of natural gas operation developed prior to 2011) and those in “non-production areas” (no wells developed within 1km prior to study). In comparing these samples the study found:
[I]t was noticeable that methane concentrations in water well samples exhibit no relationship to existing [natural] gas production activities.
The studies observations seem to confirm findings of a November 2011 study conducted by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania which found no significant relationship of methane concentrations in water wells and correlated distance from natural gas production operations.
Adding to all of this the study also examined historical data regarding methane’s presence in water in the region. In reviewing over 200 years of records the study found that methane has been present in the area in significant quantities long before natural gas development began- dating as far back as the 1800′s.
The study paints a well researched picture that methane in the area is in no way associated with natural gas production but instead is a natural part of the sandstone aquifer, and immediately underlying rock strata, which are highly charged with methane, filled with natural fractures aiding its quick passage, and are interspersed with many water wells that “lack proper sealing and casing” thus enabling migration.
The study did make one very important correlation; namely, that methane’s presence in water wells in the region correlates strongly to topography. In fact, the study found “a clear relationship with surface topography, with measurably higher dissolved methane concentrations in water wells located in valleys relative to upland areas”. This was evident in the break-down of samples collected for the study. While only 51 percent of the samples obtained with methane came from wells in a valley setting, approximately 88 percent of well samples containing dissolved methane concentration in excess of 7,000ppb (current action level established by PA DEP) were located in low lying areas.
These results are supported by historical data as well. Testimony from water well developers in Susquehanna County note that water wells with gas shows are most commonly observed in valleys. In addition, similar conditions were observed in a study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in West Virginia in 1997-2005 where data showed significant methane concentrations existed only in wells locate in valley or hillsides as opposed to those found on hilltops.
This critical info likely won’t deter future attempts by folks likes of Josh Fox and Mark Ruffalo to blame all methane in water on hydraulic fracturing. But it will go a long way in helping the residents of Pennsylvania understand the unique factors of their geology hopefully leading to the development of suggested standards in the proper construction and maintenance of private water wells.
Folks in Dimock have had enough. They are, in fact, declaring “Enough Is Enough” and starting to speak out against the ongoing effort aimed at maligning their community, aided and abetted by a fawning media inclined to believe anything that is said about natural gas producers as long as it happens to be negative. Things reached a tipping point last night at a Dimock Township meeting where Binghamton mayor Matt Ryan showed up to interfere and — how do you say this politely? – got his head handed to him on a platter.
Dimock residents have put up with a continuous barrage of insults and hyperbole over the last three years as Josh Fox, Bobbie Kennedy, Jr. and like-minded charlatans have abused them in the name of natural gas obstructionism. They have watched and listened as professional activists use the power of the press to perpetuate the myth that Dimock water is polluted. They have tolerated the incessant meddling of others in the affairs of their community. Last night, however, one meddler, Mayor Ryan of Binghamton, who apparently has trouble running his own city, went just a bit too far — and residents gave him the heave-ho. See for yourself and note how Ryan tries to intimidate Township officials with direct legal threats:
Residents also spoke out on the absurdity of what has happened to their community as natural gas opponents have latched onto it as a symbol and tool to make their case, weak tough it may be. There’s little more that needs to said beyond what the people of Dimock themselves said last night, so take a look:
This is far from the end of the story and we’ll have more to report very soon, I expect, so stay tuned.
Earlier today, Gasland producer Josh Fox appeared on MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan show, where he rattled off his same tired, debunked talking points like a broken record. However, Fox – who’s become somewhat of an MSNBC regular – was forcefully challenged on the facts by Ratigan, and pressed to outline his energy ‘plan’ to fuel America’s economy on exclusively wind and solar. (NOTE: According to the independent U.S. Energy Information Administration, wind and solar provided 0.54 and 0.09 of America’s energy needs, respectively, in 2008.)
As you’ll see, while Fox waxes poetically about the ridiculous and fictional notion that wind and solar can exclusively drive America’s economy, Environmental Defense Fund’s Elena Craft – an air quality specialist – tells Ratigan this: “At EDF, I think we’re realists. We realize that natural gas is part of a diverse energy portfolio.”
This from the interview (er, Fox’s ‘propaganda speech’):
Dylan Ratigan: “Do you have a plan to run American energy on sun and wind?”
Fox: “Yes, of course.” (Yet Fox doesn’t offer such a ‘plan’; perhaps because such ‘plan’ doesn’t exist.)
Ratigan: “I get it. You believe natural gas will ruin the universe and cannot be solved. If you have an alternative, I’d love to hear it. … If you want to make a speech, put it on YouTube. I want to have a conversation to solve the problem with you. I’m not looking to get a propaganda speech from you.”
As they say: the more things change, the more things stay the same.
Earlier this week, after hobnobbing with Hollywood’s elite, New York City filmmaker Josh Fox made the trek to Conway, Arkansas to spread misinformation about the responsible development of clean-burning, job-creating American natural gas development.
(facebook.com/gaslandmovie; accessed 2/3/11)
At a Hendrix College panel on Tuesday, sponsored by the school’s Environmental Concerns Committee, the Gasland director, true to form, lodged a host of unfounded claims about hydraulic fracturing. “Some critics doubt some of Fox’s finding, but he stands by his research,” reports KATV.
And speaking of critics, John Hanger, who served as the top environmental watchdog under former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and previously as president of the state’s leading environmental organization, PennFuture, has been less than shy about this sentiments toward Josh Fox and his hatched job of a documentary. In the lead up to the Oscars, the former Department of Environmental Protection secretary writes this on his blog about Gasland’s bogus and debunked claims regarding shale gas development:
The film presents a selective, distorted view of gas drilling and the energy choices America faces today. If Gasland were about the airline industry, every flight would crash and all airlines would be irresponsible. … Gasland treats cavalierly facts both by omitting important ones and getting wrong others.
While Gasland “is dedicated to the non-profit organization Damascus Citizens for Sustainability,” according to the film’s Wikipedia page, director Josh Fox is demanding top-dollar for appearances.
In minutes from a November Hendrix College Student Senate meeting, it’s noted that Fox’s “original standard fee is $7,500, but the lowest he will go is $5,000.” In addition to the requested fee, Fox requested airfare from, yes, New York City. Clearly the most logical region for any Pennsylvanian to travel through. This from the minutes:
For: Speaker Josh Fox, director and creator of GasLand
When and where this event will occur: Worsham, next semester
Master Calendar Confirmation: Dependent on Josh Fox’s schedule
Details: We want to show the movie GasLand about natural gas drilling. This is a pertinent issue to the students at Hendrix and the community of Conway. … The ECC will pay for the film rights and Josh’s food and lodging.
$304.20 – Roundtrip flight from New York City to Little Rock, AR
$5,000 – Josh Fox’s fee
His original standard fee is $7,500, but the lowest he will go is $5,000.
But hey, it’s not as if “America’s Enemies Don’t Want U.S. Drilling,” right?
Segment link: http://tinyurl.com/5wrku6x
Host: “Energy In Depth … actually has a webpage out called ‘Debunking Gasland.’ And they call out that clip that we showed [the Markham well clip]. They say that [the] methane is biogenic or naturally occurring, and that there are no indications of oil and gas related impacts to water wells. What’s your reaction?” Josh Fox: “This is insane. … The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission confirmed that [the Markham faucet] was oil and gas related.” (6:28)
But that’s a lie. Here’s what Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) inspector John Axelson actually found, according to the report he filed in Sept. 2008: “Collected water sample from [Markham’s] domestic water well. … Dissolved methane in well water appears to be biogenic in origin. … There are no indications of oil & gas related impacts to water well.”
- “[T]he water well completion report for Mr. Markham’s well shows that it penetrated at least four different coal beds. The occurrence of methane in the coals of the Laramie Formation has been well documented in numerous publications by the Colorado Geological Survey, the United States Geological Survey, and the Rocky Mountain Association of Geologists dating back more than 30 years.”
- “Laboratory analysis confirmed that the Markham [well] contained biogenic methane typical of gas that is naturally found in the coals of the Laramie–Fox Hills Aquifer. This determination was based on a stable isotope analysis, which effectively ‘finger-printed’ the gas as biogenic, as well as a gas composition analysis, which indicated that heavier hydrocarbons associated with thermogenic gas were absent.”
- “[A]ll oil and gas wells near the Markham well were drilled and hydraulically fractured in 1991, except for two wells that were fractured in 2005 and 2006 … The records do not reflect any pressure failures or other problems associated with these wells that would indicate a loss of fracture fluid or gas from the well bore into the surrounding geologic formations.”
Fox: “It’s fluids injected down a wellbore that breaks apart rock formations where gas is trapped and has opened up other formations to drilling throughout New York and Pennsylvania that weren’t able to be drilled before. And somehow these chemicals, which are very dangerous, neurotoxins and carcinogens and the gas itself migrate into the aquifers…” (4:33)
But that’s a lie – according to environmental regulators in Pennsylvania:
- “It’s our experience in Pennsylvania that we have not had one case in which the fluids used to break off the gas from 5,000 to 8,000 feet underground have returned to contaminate ground water.” (Fmr. DEP secretary John Hanger, as quoted by Reuters, Oct. 4, 2010)
- “Just a note about fracking: First of all, it’s standard operating procedure in Pennsylvania. And it’s important to point out that we’ve never seen an impact to fresh groundwater directly from fracking.” (DEP’s Scott Perry, May 27, 2010)
- “If there was fracturing of the producing formations that was having a direct communication with groundwater, the first thing you would notice is the salt content in the drinking water. It’s never happened. After a million times across the country, no one’s ever documented drinking water wells that have actually been shown to be impacted by fracking.” (Perry)
- “How many wells has fracturing damaged? I assume you’re referring to ‘how many drinking water wells.’? And in our experience, it’s been zero.” (Perry)
- “I think some of the criticism has been useful, and I think some of it is uninformed, and some of it deliberately uniformed. There are some folks who want to shut down the [shale] industry and are willing to say anything to accomplish that goal.” (Hanger, as quoted by ProPublica, Feb. 10, 2010)
Host: “First of all, how did you even come to find out about this, and how did you slowly start to become an investigative reporter?” Fox: “This all sort of happened to me by accident, I live in the upper Delaware river basin in Pennsylvania… I was approached to lease my land for natural gas drilling in 2008. … Some of my neighbors [in Pennsylvania] were saying there were real environmental hazards.” (1:34)
But that’s a lie – according to Josh Fox himself:
- “I’m 36, grew up in New York City. One of my earliest memories is of the 1977 blackout when I was five. My whole neighborhood was destroyed. Every store window smashed and looted, Riverside Park [Upper West Side] was blaring with boom boxes and with heat. It was a loud place to be.” (Josh Fox, interview with indieWIRE magazine, Feb. 4, 2009)
- “Josh Fox, the New York artist whose fears about Marcellus Shale … near his family’s summer home in northeastern Pennsylvania inspired the movie … Fox has practically become a full-time activist since the movie was released last year, and now spends much time organizing anti-drilling groups, which use the film for fund-raising purposes.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, Jan. 25, 2011)
- “Josh Fox is based in New York City” (media advisory sent by Gasland PR agent Josh Baran, Feb. 9, 2011)
- Frm. PADEP Sec. John Hanger: GasLand’s Josh Fox is a “Propagandist”
o “In an interview with The Inquirer on Wednesday, [DEP secretary John] Hanger was harshly critical of Fox, whom he called a ‘propagandist.’”
o “Hanger dismissed Gasland…as ‘fundamentally dishonest’ and ‘a deliberately false presentation for dramatic effect.’”
- Fact-Check: Colorado State Regulatory Office Debunks Gasland
- Denver Business Journal: “In Colorado, COGCC officials have said repeatedly that the state agency — after years of testing — has never found a link between fracking and groundwater contamination.” (11/1/10)
- Financial Times: Claims in the film are “Absurd”
o “By failing to evaluate the claims of his interviewees more carefully, he has left himself open to the kind of takedown carried out by Energy In Depth.”
o “There are key problems with the film’s claims.”
o “Fox’s defence for any lack of rigour was that he wanted to start a debate, rather than have the last word. But that doesn’t absolve him of the responsibility to thoroughly check his claims. … This is absurd.”
- Longtime NYT Editor, Columnist on GasLand: “One-sided, flawed … in the Michael Moore mode”
- Towanda (PA) Daily Review: “If you want a relatively quick overview of the natural gas phenomenon, watch the 60 Minutes program. And by way of contrast, see “Gasland” and learn for yourself the difference between a responsible report and a hatchet job.” (Editorial, 1/19/10)
Wash. Examiner Columnist: “Gasland is more agit-prop than factual documentary
Nat’l Environmental Group “Gushes” Over Economic, Environmental Benefits of Shale Gas, Then “Lauds” Gasland Filmmaker’s Efforts to Halt its Responsible Production Two Days Later
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“The oil and gas industry doesn’t want a golden Oscar statuette to grace the mantle of ‘Gasland’ filmmaker Josh Fox.,” reports E&E News today. Why? Well, according to the Academy’s official website, a feature-length documentary film must maintain an “emphasis … on fact and not on fiction.” As we know, however, independent experts, film critics, environmental regulators, and elected officials from across the political spectrum have called attention to fact that GasLand is a work of “fundamentally dishonest” “hatched job.”
Energy In Depth – a national coalition leading the efforts of debunking GasLand and holding its Manhattan-based director and anti-natural gas activist Josh Fox accountable – has taken these facts directly to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. EID’s executive director, Lee Fuller, sent a letter earlier today to the Academy. This from E&E News:
An industry group sent a letter today to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, saying that a litany of errors in the anti-drilling film should render it ineligible for best documentary feature.
“The filmmaker alternates between misstating and outright ignoring basic and verifiable facts related to the impact of these activities on the health and welfare of humans, wildlife and the environment,” said Lee Fuller, executive director of Energy In Depth (EID), in a letter today to the academy.
Fuller wrote that the errors he cites demonstrate that the film does not live up to the academy’s requirement that award winners must maintain an “emphasis … on fact and not on fiction.”
Key Letter Excerpts (NOTE: Click HERE to view):
- As found on the Academy’s official website, on a page entitled “Special Rules for the Documentary Awards,” a feature-length documentary … must maintain an “emphasis … on fact and not on fiction.” As we demonstrate below and in the attached, the film GasLand…falls short of this description in a number of significant ways.
- GasLand puts forth a thesis on natural gas development in the United States founded on a mistaken understanding of the process required to access these resources, and factually incorrect interpretation of the myriad rules and regulations in place designed to safeguard those operations wherever they may take place.
- GasLand draws heavily on testimonials from individuals who actively oppose natural gas development in general, and the use of hydraulic fracturing … many of the people and stories featured in GasLand are the same people and stories featured in a forerunner to the film released in 2009 called Split Estate, which, although committing many of the same errors as the Academy Award nominee, received, for whatever reason, none of the hype.
- The many errors, inconsistencies and outright falsehoods catalogued in the appendix attached to this letter – and the many more we withheld for sake of brevity – cast serious doubt on GasLand’s worthiness for this most honored award, and directly violate both the letter and spirit of the published criteria that presumably must be met by GasLand’s competitors in this category.
- Colorado has had “no verified incident of hydraulic fracturing harming groundwater,” commission director David Neslin told me — either from fracking chemicals or methane from the gas well itself.
- If we want to take the reasonable approach, it will require first of all a recognition, in Neslin’s words, that “just because someone can light their tap on fire doesn’t mean their water has been contaminated by an oil or gas well.”
- According to Gasland, fracking pollutes groundwater with terrible consequences. But there’s no credible evidence that this is happening. None. … A thorough EPA study has concluded fracking is safe. And the head of [EPA’s] Drinking Water Protection Division told Congress last year that there’s not a single documented instance of fracking polluting groundwater.
- Nonetheless, it’s generally agreed that “Gasland” is a slick piece of agitprop.
- Whatever your political sympathies, you can’t ignore the evidence that “Gasland” is pure propaganda, not a documentary. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has already damaged its reputation by nominating “Gasland.” It would truly be embarrassing if they actually gave it the award.
“Gasland” vs. Colorado
By Vincent Carroll
The Denver Post
When President Obama challenged Congress last week in his State of the Union to set a goal that “80 percent of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources” by 2035, he pointedly included natural gas in the mix. So would anyone remotely familiar with the obstacles to relying solely upon renewables.
But don’t tell that to Josh Fox, director of the film “Gasland,” which has been nominated for an Oscar. Natural gas “contributes to global warming and climate change,” he told reporter David Brancaccio last year on “NOW” on PBS. “It will run out. . . . We’re transitioning from fossil fuels to other fossil fuels? It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Perhaps this attitude explains the liberties Fox takes. In one scene replayed in the PBS report, for example, a man puts a flame to his faucet, which bursts into a ball of fire. Talk about fallout drilling fallout!
Except for one problem: The man lives in Weld County, and his well has been thoroughly investigated by Colorado regulators — and specifically by scientists at the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission. Their verdict, issued Sept. 30, 2008: “There are no indications of any oil- and gas-related impacts to your water well.”
So is the commission in bed with industry? Hardly. When the legislature revamped the agency in 2007 and ordered a rewrite of drilling rules, the industry threw a fit. Their complaints reverberated so loudly that Republicans thought they had an issue to exploit against former Gov. Bill Ritter — until he decided not to run for a second term.
So what does explain a faucet bursting into flame? As the commission explains in its “Gasland Correction Document” (see it at cogcc.state.co.us), “Methane gas is common in water wells in Colorado. It occurs naturally . . . as a gas in coal or black shale seams” and “as a byproduct of the decay of organic matter.”
Commercial natural gas is also created by the decomposition of organic matter, but in “rocks buried deeper within the Earth.” It also consistently contains “heavier hydrocarbons such as propane, butane, pentane and hexanes.”
The well in question extended 530 feet into the Laramie-Fox Hills aquifer, which contains methane gas, and had “penetrated at least four different coal beds.” Tough luck, but no scandal.
In reading the commission’s reports, you can’t help but be impressed by its thoroughness. When gas drilling is implicated, its analysts say so. “Gasland” depicts three Weld County landowners and one in Garfield County with wells allegedly polluted by gas development. The state linked one of those cases — and only one — to drilling.
The filmmaker claims that the remarkable surge in drilling across the nation and soaring estimates of recoverable gas reserves represent not a boon, as most energy realists believe, but a threat.
“It’s looking like this is at the expense of our water throughout America,” he told Brancaccio, pointing in particular to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, as the culprit. Yet when contamination has occurred in Colorado, it’s been linked to spills or unauthorized releases, for example, or failures in the cement or casing in a well. But fracking itself, in which high-pressure fluid (typically 99 percent or more water but also various chemical compounds) is injected into rock formations containing natural gas, has not been implicated.
Colorado has had “no verified incident of hydraulic fracturing harming groundwater,” commission director David Neslin told me — either from fracking chemicals or methane from the gas well itself. Which is not surprising, since the chemicals or gas would usually have to migrate through thousands of feet of impervious shale first.
Neslin said he was “disappointed” in “Gasland,” noting his agency receives “dozens of complaints every year that water wells have been impacted. All are investigated. A relatively small number result in confirmation that the problem is attributable to gas development.” When that occurs, his outfit orders remedial action.
Meanwhile, as Neslin told an Environmental Protection Agency hearing last year, the commission requires periodic tests for “over 2,000 water wells in the San Juan Basin in Southwestern Colorado . . . . Thousands of oil and gas wells in that basin have been hydraulically fractured, and if fracturing fluids were reaching these water wells, then you would expect changes in the chemical composition of the water.”
And yet no such changes have been detected.
Energy production is an industrial process that involves its share of problems, accidents and, yes, pollution. We can try to deal with those side effects reasonably, as Colorado and many states do, or we can spread fear. But if we want to take the reasonable approach, it will require first of all a recognition, in Neslin’s words, that “just because someone can light their tap on fire doesn’t mean their water has been contaminated by an oil or gas well.”
Nothing but hot air in ‘Gasland’
By Mark Hemingway
Jan 30 2011 – 8:05pm
For anyone who cares about the environment and the economy over glamour and gossip, the biggest Oscar surprise of 2011 is that the film “Gasland” was nominated for best documentary.
While Hollywood is typically in the business of creating legends, one would expect films nominated for this particular Oscar to have some tangible relationship to the truth. You’d be very hard-pressed to say that about “Gasland.”
The film explores the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” This is a process in which a solution that is 99 percent water and sand — along with tiny amounts of chemicals — is pumped into rock strata deep underground at very high pressure to help extract natural gas.
According to Gasland, fracking pollutes groundwater with terrible consequences. But there’s no credible evidence that this is happening. None.
Oil and natural gas engineers have used this process more than a million times in this country to harvest otherwise unreachable oil and natural gas deposits. A thorough EPA study has concluded fracking is safe.
And the head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Drinking Water Protection Division told Congress last year that there’s not a single documented instance of fracking polluting groundwater.
Nonetheless, it’s generally agreed that “Gasland” is a slick piece of agitprop. The film’s pivotal scene involves a Colorado family turning on their water taps and so much gas comes out that they light them on fire.
However, the state of Colorado’s Oil and Gas Conservation Commission issued a press release stating that they had investigated the flaming water taps of the landowners in 2008 and 2009 and concluded it was naturally occurring methane, unrelated to oil and gas drilling.
“Unfortunately, ‘Gasland’ does not mention our … finding and dismisses our Markham finding out of hand,” notes the commission.
One of the subjects of the film is John Hanger, head of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Hanger is “a liberal who spent years in the mainstream environmental movement.”
After watching it, Hanger called the film “fundamentally dishonest” and “a deliberately false presentation for dramatic effect.”
Shortly after “Gasland” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and won a special jury prize last year, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., then head of House Energy and Commerce Committee, ordered hearings about the safety of fracking and the need for federal regulations of the process.
Waxman is one of Congress’ most tenacious liberals, and after issuing subpoenas to eight energy companies, he mysteriously dropped the probe pending further study.
Then last October, Scott Anderson, a senior policy adviser for the Environmental Defense Fund, told the publication Energy and Environment that “in the vast majority of cases, if wells are constructed right and operated right, hydraulic fracturing will not cause a problem.”
As for the need to federally regulate fracking, Anderson was not concerned about it.
“The states actually have a lot of knowledge and experience in regulating well construction and operation. We think that states have every reason to be able to tackle this issue and do it well,” he said.
The Environmental Defense Fund is one of the country’s biggest and most liberal activist organizations. If they say fracking is not a problem, it’s not a problem.
Of course, we all know why “Gasland” was nominated. Hollywood is largely comprised of bleeding-heart environmentalists. But a bleeding heart shouldn’t make you soft in the head.
Whatever your political sympathies, you can’t ignore the evidence that “Gasland” is pure propaganda, not a documentary.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has already damaged its reputation by nominating “Gasland.” It would truly be embarrassing if they actually gave it the award.
MORE INFO DEBUNKING GASLAND
EID Fact-Check: Debunking GasLand (Fact Sheet)
Frm. PADEP Sec. John Hanger: GasLand’s Josh Fox is a “Propagandist”
Fact-Check: Colorado State Regulatory Office Debunks Gasland
Denver Business Journal: “In Colorado, COGCC officials have said repeatedly that the state agency — after years of testing — has never found a link between fracking and groundwater contamination.” (11/1/10)
Financial Times: Claims in the film are “Absurd”
Longtime NYT Editor, Columnist on GasLand: “One-sided, flawed … in the Michael Moore mode”
Towanda (PA) Daily Review: “If you want a relatively quick overview of the natural gas phenomenon, watch the 60 Minutes program. And by way of contrast, see “Gasland” and learn for yourself the difference between a responsible report and a hatchet job.” (Editorial, 1/19/10)
Wash. Examiner Columnist: “Gasland is more agit-prop than factual documentary”
WASHINGTON – Earlier today, the HBO film GasLand, produced by Manhattan-based stage director and anti-natural gas activist Josh Fox, was nominated by the Academy Awards for an Oscar in the documentary feature category. Subsequent to the announcement, Energy In Depth executive director Lee Fuller issued the following statement:
“While it’s unfortunate there isn’t an Oscar category for propaganda, this nomination is fitting, as the Oscars are aimed at praising pure entertainment among Hollywood’s elite. Without doubt, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences nominated Gasland for its work in the field of art, not science.
“As responsible, job-creating American oil and natural gas development, enabled by environmentally-proven hydraulic fracturing, continues to drive economic growth and strengthen our nation’s energy security, we have a responsibility to appeal to science and facts. This film, however, as a host of independent environmental regulators have confirmed, fails woefully short of these fundamental objectives.”
MORE INFO DEBUNKING GASLAND
Frm. PADEP Sec. John Hanger: GasLand’s Josh Fox is a “Propagandist”
- “In an interview with The Inquirer on Wednesday, [DEP secretary John] Hanger was harshly critical of Fox, whom he called a ‘propagandist.’”
- “Hanger dismissed Gasland…as ‘fundamentally dishonest’ and ‘a deliberately false presentation for dramatic effect.’”
Fact-Check: Colorado State Regulatory Office Debunks Gasland
Denver Business Journal: “In Colorado, COGCC officials have said repeatedly that the state agency — after years of testing — has never found a link between fracking and groundwater contamination.” (11/1/10)
Financial Times: Claims in the film are “Absurd”
- “By failing to evaluate the claims of his interviewees more carefully, he has left himself open to the kind of takedown carried out by Energy In Depth.”
- “There are key problems with the film’s claims.”
- “Fox’s defence for any lack of rigour was that he wanted to start a debate, rather than have the last word. But that doesn’t absolve him of the responsibility to thoroughly check his claims. … This is absurd.”
Longtime NYT Editor, Columnist on GasLand: “One-sided, flawed … in the Michael Moore mode”
Towanda (PA) Daily Review: “If you want a relatively quick overview of the natural gas phenomenon, watch the 60 Minutes program. And by way of contrast, see “Gasland” and learn for yourself the difference between a responsible report and a hatchet job.” (Editorial, 1/19/10)
Wash. Examiner Columnist: “Gasland is more agit-prop than factual documentary”
Faced with state takeover of city pension fund, Pittsburgh City Council opts for massive increase in parking-meter fees – while spending time and money on bizarre crusade against Marcellus
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Now we know why Maryland’s called the “Old Line” state. Following up on a column in the Baltimore Sun this week that was filled with tired old talking points on hydraulic fracturing and shale gas, some actual honest-to-goodness facts were put forth in today’s paper by Erik Milito of the American Petroleum Institute (API). In his must-read Baltimore Sun response, Mr. Milito – a retired U.S. Army Major who directs API’s upstream division – writes this under the headline “Shale gas extraction is safe”:
Del. Heather Mizeur fails to account for previous studies by the EPA and what natural gas development has the potential to do for Marylanders. Just last month, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson noted to NBC Nightly News that previous federal studies have shown no scientific evidence of contamination and that hydraulic fracturing can be done responsibly to develop the energy resources we need to keep our homes comfortable and get to work every day.
Delegate Mizeur is correct in stating that the vast natural gas reserves found in the Marcellus Shale region are a game changer. There is enough natural gas to create hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs and provide Americans with a stable, domestic energy source for generations to come.
Repeating unproven accusations about the hydraulic fracturing process does a disservice to those searching for ways to boost state revenue and get Americans back to work.
And while we’re on the subject of correcting the record and debunking unsubstantiated claims regarding the tightly-regulated development of clean-burning, homegrown energy resources, Colorado Oil & Gas Association’s Tisha Schuller separates fact from fiction in response to Josh Fox’s latest iteration of smears. Here are highlights from Ms. Schuller’s AskMen.com piece:
On Fluids Used in Fracturing, the Technology’s Importance to Energy Security
Hydraulic fracturing can sound frightening, however, I want you to know that this is a highly engineered, managed and monitored process. Truly, for over 60 years, the process of hydraulic fracturing has been conducted safely. But don’t take my word for it. Lisa Jackson, the head of the EPA, recently said so on national television. Currently, over 90% of wells are hydraulically fractured. Hydraulic fracturing is important to all of us because, without hydraulic fracturing, we don’t have access to domestic natural gas resources.
I have two small children and live in the mountains where we drink from a domestic well. I get the concerns about hydraulic fracturing fluids — so here are a few facts to remember. The hydraulic fracturing process uses a mixture comprised almost entirely (99.5%) of water and sand. The remaining materials, used to condition the water, are typically found and used around the house. The most prominent of these, a substance known as guar gum, is an emulsifier commonly found in ice cream. (Emulsifier, by the way, is something that makes something gooey.) The average fracturing operation uses fewer than 12 of these additives, according to the Ground Water Protection Council — not 600. I don’t want 600 chemicals injected at one time into the ground either.
The entire universe of additives used in the fracturing process is known to the public and the state agencies that represent them. Here in Colorado, for example, operators must maintain safety sheets for any chemical products brought to a well site.
On Tired, Debunked Claims About the “Halliburton Loophoole”
Opponents of hydraulic fracturing often blame the so-called “Halliburton Loophole” in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 for protecting hydraulic fracturing from federal regulation and exempting it from restrictions of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).
Remember: Hydraulic fracturing fluids are not being injected into drinking water. They are being injected into the oil- and gas-bearing formation, the one that has been geologically isolated for millions of years. The shallow drinking water aquifers are protected by layers of metal pipe and cement that make up the well bore.
Hydraulic fracturing was never intended to be subject to the Safe Drinking Water Act and it has never been regulated under SDWA — not in the 60-year history of the technology, the 36-year history of the law or the 40-year history of the EPA. … The 2005 Energy Policy Act was nothing more than a restatement of current and practiced law.
Every step of drilling, including hydraulic fracturing, is regulated carefully and with pride in Colorado by our Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC).
State Regulators Confirm That Fracturing Has Never Impacted Groundwater
The Environmental Protection Agency, Ground Water Protection Council, Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, and others have all examined the process and found it to be safe. In Colorado, operators have to apply to get a permit to drill, describing all of their surface and downhole activities through the COGCC.
Despite the assertions in the movie Gasland, the COGCC has investigated hundreds of cases and to date has found no water well contamination attributable to hydraulic fracturing. And these include the flaming faucets and the bubbling surface water in West Creek Divide wetland, both of which were determined to be naturally occurring methane or gas unrelated to drilling.
State regulators in Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, Ohio, New Mexico, and Alabama have also stated the same conclusion that not one case of contaminated groundwater has been caused by hydraulic fracturing.
GasLand director Josh Fox has big night over on MSNBC – but how much of what he said actually squares with the facts?
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A longtime New York Times editor says Gasland is “one-sided, flawed,” and done “in the Michael Moore mode”. A “propagandist” is how the top environmental watchdog in Pennsylvania, Dept. of Environmental Protection secretary John Hanger, described Gasland’s Josh Fox. And the reviews just keep rolling in.
The latest one? This week the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) – yes, the official, state oil and gas regulatory body of Colorado, presided over by Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter – issued a document debunking a host of groundless claims lodged in the film Gasland, particularly about the 60 year old energy stimulation technology known as hydraulic fracturing.
For context, here’s COGCC’s chief mission:
- The efficient exploration and production of oil and gas resources in a manner consistent with the protection of public health, safety and welfare
- The prevention of waste
- The protection of mineral owners’ correlative rights
- The prevention and mitigation of adverse environmental impacts
Here are key experts from COGCC’s ‘Gasland Correction Document’:
- “[W]e concluded that Mike Markham’s and Renee McClure’s wells contained biogenic gas that was not related to oil and gas activity. Unfortunately, Gasland does not mention our McClure finding and dismisses our Markham finding out of hand.”
- “Indeed, the water well completion report for Mr. Markham’s well shows that it penetrated at least four different coal beds. The occurrence of methane in the coals of the Laramie Formation has been well documented … dating back more than 30 years.”
- “Based on these results, the COGCC has concluded that the gas seep on Ms. Bracken’s property resulted from the fermentation of organic matter by methanogenic bacteria. This is not uncommon in wetland areas, such as those that exist along West Divide Creek.”
Hydraulic fracturing – which has been safely used to stimulate oil and natural gas production in the United States more than 1.1 million times – has never been credibly proven to impact groundwater: not in Colorado, Pennsylvania, or in any other energy-producing state. And that’s no accident. This critical, proven and tightly regulated technology is effectively regulated by individual energy producing states. And without it, enormous amounts of job-creating, homegrown oil and natural gas reserves would remain out of reach. Understand that, and now you understand the true motivation of Josh Fox.
CNN uses Binghamton HF hearings as launch point for day-long primal scream against shale gas – but how much of it actually squares up with the facts?
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Fictionalizing the Facts: Fox’s Flaming Faucets
By Peter Wynne
The Hancock (N.Y.) Herald
July 14, 2010
If you watch Josh Fox in his movie “Gasland,” listen to the narration he wrote and read some of the interviews he’s giving to the media, you’ll likely be convinced he was born among the green hills of Wayne County, Pa., and grew up in a little house on a dirt road in the middle of the woods. More than that, the house was built by his parents, who taught him his first word, “hammer.”
Fox gives out details like that and does it with seeming sincerity, but his heart-warming tale is mostly a fantasy, just so much bait to hook an audience and pull viewers over to his side. The movie’s straight-talking Josh Fox, who wears jeans and a baseball cap and finger-picks a five-string banjo, can’t be trusted to tell anything like the whole truth.
Fox is playing a role in his movie. Besides being a film director, he’s an experienced actor who eight years ago was already claiming he had appeared in more than 60 plays. He’s also a playwright with at least 16 stage plays to his credit. In fact, it’s in the program notes for one of those plays — in 2002 at the La MaMa ETC theater in New York City — that he mentions his acting experience.
In those notes, he also volunteers that he “was born and raised above 96th street and grew up almost entirely in Manhattan,” adding that he’s “a graduate of Columbia University with a degree in Theater Arts.”
That doesn’t sound at all like the star and narrator of “Gasland,” and it’s because the Josh Fox of the film is basically a fictional character. His father does own a modest house on the unpaved John Davis Road in Milanville, and Josh no doubt spent some time there as a child, when he wasn’t growing up “almost entirely in Manhattan.” As with everything else in the movie, Foxed picks only the facts that help him win his case and fills the gaps with fiction.
Fox is a capable and well respected artist who works mostly in a tradition that can be traced back to the leftist propaganda theater of the Great Depression, things like Marc Blitzstein’s “The Cradle Will Rock.” He clearly understands that audiences will view him and his crusade against gas exploration with far greater sympathy if he represents himself as someone born and bred in the countryside he says he’s defending, and not just some Upper West Sider whose parents were well enough off to have a rustic retreat for weekends and summer vacations.
He claims he refused an offer of nearly $100,000 as a signing bonus for leasing the drilling rights to the Milanville property. He says that in May 2008 he got an offer of $4,750 an acre on the family’s 19-1/2 acres, but offers of that much money just weren’t being made on properties in northern Wayne County at that time.
The Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance, whose members then represented something like 60,000 acres, was struggling to get high-bidding Chesapeake Energy to increase its bonus-money offer from $1,750 an acre. And large aggregations of property were attracting much higher offers than little stand-alone parcels.
The fictions aside, one of the gravest and most consistent problems with “Gasland” is the way Fox ignores the huge differences in geology, production techniques and government regulations that exist across our vast and diverse country. He lavishes generous amounts of screen time on things he observed in Colorado, for example, but very little of what he saw there is germane to Pennsylvania or to many other states.
He points out, for example, that gas wells in Garfield County, CO, are very closely spaced, and this is supposed to be a warning to the rest of us. But what he doesn’t say is the wells are spaced this way because natural gas in Garfield County is found in lens-shaped pockets of porous sandstone that are entirely surrounded by gas-free solid rock.
The only way to extract gas from these “lenses” is to drill into them vertically from above, and efficiently exploiting a gasfield of this type requires placing wells just a few hundred feet apart.
The Marcellus Shale allows — almost requires — an entirely different approach. The shale continuously covers thousands of square miles in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. Here a driller can bore down to the shale, 6,000 to 8,000 feet below the surface, and then extend the wellbore horizontally for a mile or more.
The same well pad can be used for multiple wells that extend outward like the spokes of a wheel, and a single location can be used to drain the gas from beneath many hundreds of acres. Here well pads can be spaced thousands of feet apart.
Out West, Fox also found evaporation ponds, which are used there to concentrate the tainted water that flows back to the surface from a newly fracked well. The flowback or “produced” fluid is sprayed into the air so that much of the water it contains evaporates, reducing the amount of fluid that has to be trucked to a disposal site. This is a technique designed for remote desert settings and cannot be used in Pennsylvania; our Department of Environmental Protection won’t allow it.
An industry group called Energy in Depth has prepared a rebuttal to “Gasland” that runs to nearly 4,000 words and carefully details some of the dozens of factual errors and outright fictions that can be found in the film. It would make no sense to repeat them all here, when the reader can find the piece online.
One subject worthy of comment is Fox’s flaming faucets, which provide some of the most arresting images in the movie. These are kitchen faucets that spout flames because the water wells supplying them have become contaminated with highly combustible methane gas and someone sets it ablaze.
Fox filmed these scenes in Colorado and lets the viewer conclude that the problem was caused by gas drilling, as the homeowners interviewed seem to believe. The most dramatic sequence of the lot, filmed at the home of Mike Markham in Ft. Lupton, gets about 10 minutes of screen time, but there’s no mention that the methane in the water came from bacterial contamination of Markham’s well, which is what Colorado state investigators determined.
In any case, Fox’s basic goal in “Gasland” is to convince his audience that hydrofracturing, or fracking, poses a grave and imminent threat to the environment and every living thing in it — in Pennsylvania and everywhere else. However, fracking has nothing to do with methane in water wells, which is the product of “migration” or “seepage.”
Methane contamination of water wells can be dangerous, to be sure. A methane-gas explosion in Dimock in Susquehanna County at the start of this year blew apart the underground enclosure of a water-well system and left a gaping hole in the ground.
A recently drilled gas well was less than 1,300 feet away, and gas seems to have migrated upward from a pocket 1,500 feet below the surface, along the outside of the steel well casing, which seems not to have been adequately cemented in place. The gas then seeped through the ground to the well enclosure. At least that was the scenario suggested a month or so later by the DEP.
It should be pointed out, however, that methane seepage is nothing new in northeastern Pennsylvania. Francis Tully, a Thompson resident who drilled literally thousands of water wells in the region starting in the 1940s, says gas seepage is relatively common in our area.
In an interview published in “The Hancock (NY) Herald” in February, the now retired Tully remarked that in his time water-well drillers often found they could flare matches at faucets. Near Clifford in Susquehanna County, he said, nearly every water well has natural gas in it, and people drink the water there all the time without harm. (Clifford and Dimock are about 20 miles apart as “the crow flies.”)
Back in January 2007, a brief video of a flaming faucet in Susquehanna County was posted by a homeowner there on You Tube. That was months before any gas wells had been drilled in the county.
Images of flaming faucets can be frightening, even though they’re totally irrelevant, and Fox is hoping, of course, that viewers will associate the unsettling emotional experience he has put them through with the idea of fracking. If you look at the headlines showing up in the popular press these days, you have to admit his tactic is working very well.
If “Gasland” were being offered to the public as an artistic endeavor, a scary, apocalyptic cautionary tale, it mightn’t be too bad. But Fox casts himself in the role of a “gas-drilling detective,” a downhome journalist presenting his findings in a film documentary, but he cherry-picks the facts for their shock value and blends them with at least an equal helping of fiction. The consequences of this deception could be profoundly destructive and longlasting.
Peter Wynne, who’s also a native of Manhattan, spent many years working as a journalist in New York City.
- In an interview with The Inquirer on Wednesday, [DEP secretary John] Hanger was harshly critical of Fox, whom he called a “propagandist
- Hanger dismissed Gasland … as “fundamentally dishonest” and “a deliberately false presentation for dramatic effect.”
- Critics say Fox, who stars in his own movie in the style of Michael Moore, presents a one-sided portrait of natural gas extraction. Energy in Depth … called Gasland “heavy on hyperbole, light on facts.”
FLASHBACK – Sec. Hanger as CEO of top environmental group: “Since our founding by The Heinz Endowments and the Pew Charitable Trusts in 1998, PennFuture has changed the landscape in Pennsylvania for both environmental protection and the economy. … If we are to truly move our state, our nation, and our world into a new clean and green future and solve the problem of global warming, we know we have a long road ahead and many challenges to meet.” (4/14/08)
‘Gasland’ documentary fuels debate over natural gas extraction
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Wed, Jun. 23, 2010
John Hanger might think twice the next time a documentary filmmaker knocks on his door in the state capital.
In a documentary about natural gas development that premiered this week on HBO, Pennsylvania’s secretary of the environment receives a decidedly unflattering portrayal at the hands of Josh Fox, who made the movie Gasland.
Fox portrays Hanger – a liberal who spent years in the mainstream environmental movement – as an equivocating tool of the natural gas industry. In one of the film’s signature moments, Fox pulls out a bottle of water he says was polluted by a Marcellus Shale gas well and challenges the state’s top environmental regulator to drink it.
A clearly uncomfortable Hanger declines. At the end of the interview – Hanger appears for five minutes of the 105-minute film – the secretary detaches the microphone from his lapel and walks out of his own office.
In an interview with The Inquirer on Wednesday, Hanger was harshly critical of Fox, whom he called a “propagandist.”
Hanger dismissed Gasland, which won a Sundance Film Festival award, as “fundamentally dishonest” and “a deliberately false presentation for dramatic effect.”
Fox, contacted in New York on Wednesday during a promotional tour, shot back: “It’s John Hanger himself who’s dishonest.” He said the secretary was disingenuous to present natural gas development “as anything other than a disaster.”
The flap encapsulates much of the polarizing debate that has erupted around shale-gas drilling, which relies upon a controversial technique known as hydraulic fracturing.
Fox became interested in gas drilling early last year when an operator offered his family nearly $100,000 to lease its 19 acres in northeastern Pennsylvania, in the heart of the booming Marcellus Shale natural gas play. Fox sets out on a mission to expose the evils of natural gas.
Critics say Fox, who stars in his own movie in the style of Michael Moore, presents a one-sided portrait of natural gas extraction. Energy in Depth, an industry website, called Gasland “heavy on hyperbole, light on facts.”
NOTE: Click HERE to read the full Inquirer article on-line.
- Debunking GasLand (Fact Sheet)
- Longtime NYT Editor, Columnist on GasLand: “One-sided, flawed … in the Michael Moore mode”
- Dan Boren: Gasland Has Many Inaccuracies
- No Second Acts for GasLand
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (June 21, 2010)
Stewart: “The industry itself has put out, they put out, literally, to debunk your film, it’s from Energy In Depth – EnergyInDepth.org. It says when you say there’s 596 chemicals, they say 12. … They say that fracturing was never under … [cut off by Fox].”
- Report: “Although the hydraulic fracturing industry may have a number of compounds that can be used in a hydraulic fracturing fluid, any single fracturing job would only use a few of the available additives [not 596!]. For example, in [this exhibit], there are 12 additives used, covering the range of possible functions that could be built into a fracturing fluid.” (page 62, report from U.S. Dept. of Energy / Ground Water Protection Council)
Stewart: “They say they were never under those auspices. They say in this document that they were never under the Safe Drinking Water Act – that they were always regulated by the states, and that the states have very strict regulations.”
- Fmr. EPA administrator (and current White House advisor) Carol Browner: EPA does not regulate – and does not believe it is legally required to regulate – the hydraulic fracturing of methane gas production wells under its [Safe Drinking Water Act] UIC program.” (letter, May 5, 1995)
CNN: America’s Newsroom (June 18, 2010)
- Energy In Depth: “Fundamentally, we’re talking about a process in hydraulic fracturing that’s been used now for 60 years. It’s been in commercial service for 60 years. It’s not new. It’s not unregulated. It’s not exotic…And as recently as a couple months ago, when the U.S. Senate Committee asked top administrators over at EPA if they could identify a single case of groundwater contamination associated with hydraulic fracturing, the answer was: Not one.”
- EID: “The interesting thing is that the gentleman that was in the film — in fact, being show right now with the flammable faucet — he’s from Colorado, and the regulators went out to that well, did their surveys of it, did their research, collected data and came forward with a conclusion that that natural gas was … naturally occurring. That report was widely known, and it was available before the movie came out. And I think if the director was looking to give an even-handed account of what was actually happening, the reality of the situation wasn’t reflected in that film.”
- Cont’d: “Hydraulic fracturing has been aggressively regulated for years on the state level. It was never covered under the Safe Water Drinking Act — Josh was misstating the facts on that one as well.”
WTAE-TV – Pittsburgh (June 21, 2010)
- EID: “Chris Tucker … said ‘Gasland’ director Josh Fox ignored a scientific report that showed the gas in the water in the Colorado example was naturally occurring and had nothing to do with drilling. ‘The film director has that report. He had access to the report before he went there, but obviously that doesn’t make for as good a story, and so he decided to exclude that,’ Tucker said.”
- Reporter links to EID’s materials: “An industry group called Energy In Depth gave Team 4 the following web links as a rebuttal to claims made in the ‘GasLand’ movie: Debunking GasLand // GasLand Debunked (PDF)”
So what’d he think of the write-up? According to one columnist for a major national daily with whom we both spoke, Fox’s primary critique of the EID fact-check was that we had based it off an “earlier print of the film,” not the new and improved version purchased by HBO. That iteration was going to be different, we were told — different from the film he had previously screened in dozens of places all across the country. After all, it was an HBO product now. And certainly a network with more than 30 million U.S. subscribers couldn’t be expected to just run any picture show it got its hands on without conducting a thorough job of vetting and reviewing it first. Right?
Our curiosity was officially piqued. What would Fox decide to change? The possibilities were endless. He could decide to strike the portion of the film on Dunkard Creek, which even the local press in the area have derided as a “glaring error.” Maybe he’d decide to toss-in a quick mention of the report from Colorado regulators on the Markham well in Fort Lupton, which found the methane in the water had nothing to do with oil or gas development.
But then again, adding in that little disclaimer would sort of ruin the flammable faucet scene, wouldn’t it? How about that bit about the endangered species in Wyoming? That part’s factually incorrect as well, and easily confirmable as such. Would that segment make HBO’s final cut? EID had to find out – even if it meant staying up well past its bedtime to do it.
So we watched the film, again. And what do you know? Dunkard Creek’s still in there. And so is the flammable faucet. And so is the phantom claim that natural gas exploration in Wyoming is rendering the sage grouse extinct. Incidentally, if that’s true, someone should tell the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission. It might want to discontinue its sage grouse hunting season. Ditto for the mule deer. We shouldn’t be hunting endangered species.
So what did he actually change, then? In the final analysis, unfortunately, not a whole lot. Take a gander for yourself:
Previous version: “In 2004, the EPA was investigating a water contamination incident due to hydraulic fracturing in Alabama. But a panel rejected the inquiry, stating that although hazardous materials were being injected underground, EPA did not need to investigate.” (31:32)
HBO version: “In 2004, the EPA was investigating water contamination incidents due to hydraulic fracturing across the country. But a panel rejected the inquiry, stating that although hazardous materials were being injected underground, EPA did not need to investigate.” (30:17)
- Mercifully, someone informed the director that the 2004 EPA investigation in Alabama he previously cited did not actually take place. His new version for HBO excludes the mention of Alabama, but unfortunately still mischaracterizes EPA’s course of study in this area.
- In the new version, Fox says that EPA “was investigating water contamination incidents,” but then the agency apparently decided it “did not need to investigate” those incidents. Which one is it? Did EPA conduct an investigation focused on hydraulic fracturing in 2004, or didn’t it?
- Here’s what actually happened: In June 2004, EPA released the conclusions of a nationwide study on the relationship between the fracturing of coalbed methane wells and underground sources of drinking water. What did it find? “In its review of incidents of drinking water well contamination believed to be associated with hydraulic fracturing, EPA found no confirmed cases that are linked to fracturing …”
- More on the scope of research involved in the EPA study: “In addition to reviewing more than 200 peer-reviewed publications, EPA also interviewed 50 employees from state or local government agencies and communicated with approximately 40 citizens who were concerned that CBM production impacted their drinking water wells. EPA made a draft of the report available for a 60-day public comment period in August 2002.”
Previous version: “What I didn’t know was that the 2005 energy bill pushed through Congress by Dick Cheney exempts the oil and natural gas industries from Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Superfund law, and about a dozen other environmental and Democratic regulations.” (6:05)
HBO version: “What I didn’t know was that the 2005 energy bill pushed through Congress by Dick Cheney exempts the oil and natural gas industries from the Safe Drinking Water Act.” (5:03)
- Once again, kudos to Fox for at least having the decency to convert what was previously an outright falsehood into a respectable distortion. As he concedes here, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 contains no such exemptions to the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Superfund law, or any of the other “dozen” statutes he cites. Click here for EID’s fact sheet on the various federal laws that apply to each step of the energy development process.
- The 2005 energy bill does, however, contain language relating to hydraulic fracturing and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Here’s what it does: It makes crystal clear Congress’s long-standing position that hydraulic fracturing was never intended to be regulated under SDWA, and that the process is best regulated by state experts and officials on the ground, not by EPA staff in Washington, D.C. Is that what you would call an “exemption” to the law? Not exactly. It was simply a restatement of current law: how it is, how it was, how it’s always been. For the past 36 years.
- As for the claim that the Vice President of the United States “pushed” the bill through Congress, consider: The Energy Policy Act of 2005 earned the support of nearly three-quarters of the U.S. Senate (74 “yea” votes), including the top Democrat on the Energy Committee; current Interior secretary Ken Salazar, then a senator from Colorado; and a former junior senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. In the U.S. House, 75 Democrats joined 200 Republicans in supporting the final bill, including the top Democratic members on both the Energy & Commerce and Resources Committees. That’s quite a push.
Two minor changes — that’s all we noticed in watching the “new” version of the film on HBO last night. Of course, we did pick up on a few little things we missed the first couple times around. For instance, Fox does an interview with one woman in Colorado, who is shown coughing on camera and stating that natural gas exploration is the reason “I’m never healthy.” In the next scene (27:48), she’s shown holding a cigarette. The woman also blames natural gas development for the occurrence of methane in her water well. For what it’s worth, Colorado regulators disagree: “COGCC sampled the McClure water well on 3/25/09. Sample results show naturally occurring biogenic methane gas in well and no impact from O&G [oil and natural gas] operations.”
Next up for GasLand? An encore airing on HBO slated for Thursday afternoon at 1 p.m. EST. Check back at energyindepth.org for updates and additional points of debunkery from the film. Tough to imagine we’re through with this yet.
Josh Fox makes his mainstream debut with documentary targeting natural gas – but how much of it is actually true?
For an avant-garde filmmaker and stage director whose previous work has been recognized by the “Fringe Festival” of New York City, HBO’s decision to air the GasLand documentary nationwide later this month represents Josh Fox’s first real foray into the mainstream – and, with the potential to reach even a portion of the network’s 30 million U.S. subscribers, a potentially significant one at that.
But with larger audiences and greater fanfare come the expectation of a few basic things: accuracy, attention to detail, and original reporting among them. Unfortunately, in the case of this film, accuracy is too often pushed aside for simplicity, evidence too often sacrificed for exaggeration, and the same old cast of characters and anecdotes – previously debunked – simply lifted from prior incarnations of the film and given a new home in this one.
“I’m sorry,” Josh Fox once told a New York City magazine, “but art is more important than politics. … Politics is people lying to you and simplifying everything; art is about contradictions.” And so it is with GasLand: politics at its worst, art at its most contrived, and contradictions of fact found around every bend of the river. Against that backdrop, we attempt below to identify and correct some of the most egregious inaccuracies upon which the film is based (all quotes are from Josh Fox, unless otherwise noted):
Misstating the Law
(6:05) “What I didn’t know was that the 2005 energy bill pushed through Congress by Dick Cheney exempts the oil and natural gas industries from Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Superfund law, and about a dozen other environmental and Democratic regulations.”
- This assertion, every part of it, is false. The oil and natural gas industry is regulated under every single one of these laws — under provisions of each that are relevant to its operations. See this fact sheet for a fuller explanation of that.
- The process of hydraulic fracturing, to which Fox appears to be making reference here, has never in its 60-year history been regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). It has, however, been regulated ably and aggressively by the states, which have compiled an impressive record of enforcement and oversight in the many decades in which they have been engaged in the practice.
- Far from being “pushed through Congress by Dick Cheney,” the Energy Policy Act of 2005 earned the support of nearly three-quarters of the U.S. Senate (74 “yea” votes), including the top Democrat on the Energy Committee; current Interior secretary Ken Salazar, then a senator from Colorado; and a former junior senator from Illinois named Barack Obama. In the U.S. House, 75 Democrats joined 200 Republicans in supporting the final bill, including the top Democratic members on both the Energy & Commerce and Resources Committees.
(6:24) “But when the 2005 energy bill cleared away all the restrictions, companies … began to lease Halliburton technology and to begin the largest and most extensive domestic gas drilling campaign in history – now occupying 34 states.”
- Once again, hydraulic fracturing has never been regulated under SDWA – not in the 60-year history of the technology, the 36-year history of the law, or the 40-year history of EPA. Given that, it’s not entirely clear which “restrictions” in the law Mr. Fox believes were “cleared away” by the 2005 energy bill. All the bill sought to do was clarify the existing and established intent of Congress as it related to the scope of SDWA.
- Interest in developing clean-burning natural gas resources from America’s shale formations began to manifest itself well before 2005. The first test well in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania, for example, was drilled in 2004. In Texas, the first wells in the prolific Barnett Shale formation were spudded in the late 1990s. But even before natural gas from shale was considered a viable business model, energy producers had been relying on hydraulic fracturing for decades to stimulate millions of wells across the country. The technology was first deployed in 1948.
- The contention that current energy development activity represents the “largest … drilling campaign in history” is also incorrect. According to EIA, more natural gas wells were developed in 1982 than today. And more than two times the number of petroleum wells were drilled back then as well, relative to the numbers we have today. Also, while it may (or may not) be technically true that fracturing activities take place in 34 states, it’s also true that 99.9 percent of all oil and gas activity is found in only 27 U.S. states (page 9, Ground water Protection Council report)
(32:34) “The energy task force, and $100 million lobbying effort on behalf of the industry, were significant in the passage of the ‘Halliburton Loophole’ to the Safe Drinking Water Act, which authorizes oil and gas drillers exclusively to inject known hazardous materials, unchecked, directly into or adjacent to underground drinking water supplies. It passed as part of the Bush administration’s Energy Policy Act of 2005.”
- Not content with simply mischaracterizing the nature of existing law, here Fox attempts to assert that the law actually allows energy producers to inject hazardous chemicals “directly into” underground drinking water. This is a blatant falsehood. Of course, if such an outrageous thing were actually true, one assumes it wouldn’t have taken five years and a purveyor of the avant-garde to bring it to light.
- The subsurface formations that undergo fracture stimulation reside thousands and thousands of feet below formations that carry potable water. These strata are separated by millions of tons of impermeable rock, and in some cases, more than two miles of it.
- Once again, to characterize the bipartisan 2005 energy bill as having a “loophole” for hydraulic fracturing requires one to believe that, prior to 2005, hydraulic fracturing was regulated by EPA under federal law. But that belief is mistaken. And so is the notion that the 2005 act contains a loophole for oil and natural gas. As stated, hydraulic fracturing has been regulated ably and aggressively by the states.
(1:32:34) “Diana DeGette and Maurice Hinchey’s FRAC Act [is] a piece of legislation that’s one paragraph long that simply takes out the exemption for hydraulic fracturing to the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
- Here Fox is referring to the 2008 iteration of the FRAC Act, not the slightly longer (though equally harmful) 2009 version of the bill. The legislation does not, as its authors suggest, “restore” the Safe Drinking Water Act to the way it was in 2004. It calls for a wholesale re-writing of it.
- Here’s the critical passage from the FRAC Act: “Section 1421(d)(1) of the Safe Drinking Water Act is amended by striking subparagraph (B) and inserting: (B) includes the underground injection of fluids or propping agents pursuant to hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil and gas production activities.”
- Why would you need to “insert” new language into a 36-year-old statute if all you were looking to do is merely “restore” it?
Misrepresenting the Rules
(1:00:56) “Because of the exemptions, fracking chemicals are considered proprietary … The only reason we know anything about the fracking chemicals is because of the work of Theo Colborn … by chasing down trucks, combing through material safety data sheets, and collecting samples.”
- With due respect to eminent environmental activist and former World Wildlife Fund staffer Theo Colborn, no one has ever had to “chas[e] down a truck” to access information on the materials used in the fracturing process.
- That’s because there’s actually a much easier way to obtain that information: simply navigate to this website hosted by regulators in Pennsylvania, this one from regulators in New York (page 130), this one for West Virginia, this one maintained by the Ground Water Protection Council and the U.S. Department of Energy (page 63), and this one on the website of Energy In Depth.
(1:03:33) Dr. Colborn: “Once the public hears the story, and they’ll say, ‘Why aren’t we out there monitoring’? We can’t monitor until we know what they’re using. There’s no way to monitor. You can’t.”
- According to environmental regulators from Josh Fox’s home state of Pennsylvania, “Drilling companies must disclose the names of all chemicals to be stored and used at a drilling site … These plans contain copies of material safety data sheets for all chemicals … This information is on file with DEP and is available to landowners, local governments and emergency responders.”
- Environmental regulators from Fox’s adopted state of New York also testify to having ready access to this information. From the NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) information page: “The [state] is assessing the chemical makeup of these additives and will ensure that all necessary safeguards and best practices are followed.”
- According to the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), “[M]ost additives contained in fracture fluids including sodium chloride, potassium chloride, and diluted acids, present low to very low risks to human health and the environment.” GWPC members include state environmental officials who set and enforce regulations on ground water protection and underground fluid injection.
Mischaracterizing the Process
(6:50) “[Hydraulic fracturing] blasts a mix of water and chemicals 8,000 feet into the ground. The fracking itself is like a mini-earthquake. … In order to frack, you need some fracking fluid – a mix of over 596 chemicals.”
- As it relates to the composition of fluids commonly used in the fracturing process, greater than 99.5 percent of the mixture is comprised of water and sand. The remaining materials, used to help deliver the water down the wellbore and position the sand in the tiny fractures created in the formation, are typically components found and used around the house. The most prominent of these, a substance known as guar gum, is an emulsifier more commonly found in ice cream.
- From the U.S. Dept. of Energy / GWPC report: “Although the hydraulic fracturing industry may have a number of compounds that can be used in a hydraulic fracturing fluid, any single fracturing job would only use a few of the available additives [not 596!]. For example, in [this exhibit], there are 12 additives used, covering the range of possible functions that could be built into a fracturing fluid.” (page 62)
- In the documentary, Fox graphically depicts the fracturing process as one that results in the absolute obliteration of the shale formation. In reality, the fractures created by the procedure and kept open by the introduction of proppants such as sand are typically less than a millimeter thick.
(50:05) “Each well completion, that is, the initial drilling phase plus the first frack job, requires 1,150 truck trips.”
- Suggesting that every well completion in America requires the exact same number of truck trips is absurd. As could be guessed, the number of trips required to supply the well site with the needed equipment and personnel will vary (widely) depending on any number of factors.
- As it relates to a source for Fox’s identification of “1,150 truck trips,” none is given – although it appears he may have derived those numbers from a back-of-the-envelope calculation inspired by a chart on page 6-142 of this document from NY DEC. As depicted on that page, the transportation of new and used water supplies, to and from the wellsite, account for 85 percent of the trips extrapolated by Fox.
- Unrepresented in this chart is the enormous growth in the amount of produced water that is currently being recycled in the Marcellus – with industry in Pennsylvania reusing and recycling on average more than 60 percent of its water, according to the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
- According to GWPC: “Drilling with compressed air is becoming an increasingly popular alternative to drilling with fluids due to the increased cost savings from both reduction in mud costs and the shortened drilling times as a result of air based drilling.” (page 55)
(51:12) “Before the water can be hauled away and disposed of somewhere, it has to be emptied into a pit – an earthen pit, or a clay pit, sometimes a lined pit, but a pit – where a lot of it can seep right back down into the ground.”
- The vast majority of energy-producing states – 27 in total, including all the ones to which Fox travels for GasLand – have explicit laws on the books governing the type of containment structures that must be used for temporarily storing flowback water. A number of producers today choose to store this water in steel tanks, eliminating all risk of that water re-entering the surrounding environment.
- GWPC (May 2009) “In 23 states, pits of a certain type or in a particular location must have a natural or artificial liner designed to prevent the downward movement of pit fluids into the subsurface. … Twelve states also explicitly either prohibit or restrict the use of pits that intersect the water table.” (page 28-29)
- GWPC (April 2009): “Water storage pits used to hold water for hydraulic fracturing purposes are typically lined to minimize the loss of water from infiltration. … In an urban setting, due to space limitations, steel storage tanks may be used.” (page 55)
Flat-Out Making Stuff Up
(53:36) “The Pinedale Anticline and the Jonah gas fields [of Wyoming] are directly in the path of the thousand year old migration corridor of pronghorn antelope, mule deer and sage grouse. And yeah, each of these species is endangered, and has suffered a significant decline of their populations since 2005.”
- 0 for 1: Three species of the pronghorn antelope are considered “endangered,” none of which are found anywhere near the Pinedale Anticline. Those are: the Sonoran (Arizona), the Peninsular (Mexico), and the Mexican Pronghorn (also of Mexico). According to the Great Plains Nature Center: “The great slaughter of the late 1800s affected the pronghorns … Only about 12,000 remained by 1915. Presently, they number around one million and the greatest numbers of them are in Wyoming and Montana.”
- 0 for 2: Only one species of mule deer is considered “endangered”: the Cedros Island mule deer of Mexico (nowhere near Wyoming). The mule deer populations are so significant in Wyoming today that the state has a mule deer hunting season.
- 0 for 3: The sage grouse does not currently have a place on the endangered species list, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) – and “robust populations of the bird currently exist across the state” of Wyoming, according to the agency. Interestingly, FWS recently issued a press release identifying wind development as a critical threat the sage grouse’s habitat.
- That said, producers in the area have taken the lead on efforts to lessen their impact and reduce the number of truck trips required to service their well sites. As part of that project, operators have commissioned a series of independent studies examining additional steps that can be taken to safeguard the Anticline’s wildlife.
(8:07) “And now they’re coming east. They’re proposing 50,000 gas wells along a 75-mile stretch of the Delaware River and hundreds of thousands more across New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia. From 1972 until now – my whole life – all of this has been protected.”
- Not even the most optimistic scenario for future development in the Marcellus Shale in general, or along the Delaware River in particular, comes anywhere close to 50,000 natural gas wells. A recent study by Penn State Univ. projects that by the year 2020, producers will have developed 3,587 shale gas wells. A study conducted for policymakers in the Southern Tier of New York predicted a maximum of 4,000 wells for that region.
- Where Fox comes up with his 50,000 figure is unknown. The protections to the area apparently in place since 1972 to which he refers are also unknown.
(19:27) “One thing was resoundingly clear: If the industry’s projections were correct, then this would be the end of the Catskills and the Delaware River Basin as we knew it. And it would mean a massive upheaval and redefinition of all of New York State and Pennsylvania.”
- According to the Energy Information Administration, Pennsylvania is already home to 55,631 active natural wells; New York, according to DEC, is home to roughly 14,000. Again, even assuming the most active development scenario, Marcellus wells are expected to account for less than 10 percent of all wells in these two states over the next 10 to 20 years – not exactly the type of dramatic “upheaval” and “redefinition” that Fox suggests in his film.
(31:32) “In 2004, the EPA was investigating a water contamination incident due to hydraulic fracturing in Alabama. But a panel rejected the inquiry, stating that although hazard materials were being injected underground, EPA did not need to investigate.”
- No record of the investigation described by Fox exists, so EID reached out to Dr. Dave Bolin, deputy director of Alabama’s State Oil & Gas Board and the man who heads up oversight of hydraulic fracturing in that state. In an email, he said he had “no recollection” of such an investigation taking place.
- That said, it’s possible that Fox is referring to EPA’s study of the McMillian well in Alabama, which spanned several years in the early- to mid-1990s. In 1989, Alabama regulators conducted four separate water quality tests on the McMillian well. The results indicated no water quality problems existed. In 1990, EPA conducted its own water quality tests, and found nothing.
- In a letter sent in 1995, then-EPA administrator Carol Browner (currently, President Obama’s top energy and environmental policy advisor) characterized EPA’s involvement with the McMillian case in the following way: “Repeated testing, conducted between May of 1989 and March of 1993, of the drinking water well which was the subject of this petition [McMillian] failed to show any chemicals that would indicate the presence of fracturing fluids. The well was also sampled for drinking water quality, and no constituents exceeding drinking water standards were detected.”
- For information on what actually did happen in Alabama during this time, and how it’s relevant to the current conversation about the Safe Drinking Water Act, please download the fact sheet produced last year by the Coalbed Methane Association of Alabama.
(1:28:06) “Just a few short months after this interview, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection suffered the worst budget cuts in history, amounting to over 700 staff either being fired or having reduced hours and 25 percent of its total budget cut.”
- DEP press release, issued January 28, 2010: “Governor Edward G. Rendell announced today that the commonwealth is strengthening its enforcement capabilities. At the Governor’s direction, the Department of Environmental Protection will begin hiring 68 new personnel who will make sure that drilling companies obey state laws and act responsibly to protect water supplies. DEP also will strengthen oil and gas regulations to improve well construction standards.”
Recycling Discredited Points from the Past
Weston Wilson (EPA “whistleblower”): “One can characterize this entire [natural gas] industry as having a hundred year history of purchasing those they contaminate.” (33:36)
- Mr. Wilson, currently on staff at EPA’s Denver office, was not part of the team of scientists and engineers that spent nearly five years studying hydraulic fracturing for EPA. That effort, released in the form of a landmark 2004 study by the agency, found “no evidence” to suggest any relationship between hydraulic fracturing and the contamination of drinking water.
- Wilson has a well-documented history of aggressive opposition to responsible resource and mineral development. Over his 35-year career, Mr. Wilson has invoked “whistleblower” status to fight dam construction in Colorado, oil and gas development in Montana, and the mining of gold in Wyoming.
- Wilson in his own words: “The American public would be shocked if they knew we make six figures and we basically sit around and do nothing.”
Dunkard Creek: Fox includes images of dead fish along a 35-mile stretch of Dunkard Creek in Washington Co., Pa.; attributes that event to natural gas development. (01:23:15)
- Fox’s attempt to blame the Dunkard Creek incident on natural gas exploration is contradicted by an EPA report – issued well before GasLand was released – which blamed the fish kill on an algal bloom, which itself was fed by discharges from coal mines.
- EPA report: “Given what has been seen in other states and the etiology of this kill, we believe the toxin from this algae bloom led to the kill of fish, mussels, and salamanders on Dunkard Creek. … The situation in Dunkard Creek should be considered a chronic exposure since chloride levels were elevated above the criteria for long periods of time.” (issued 11/23/09)
- Local PA newspaper calls out Fox: “One glaring error in the film is the suggestion that gas drilling led to the September fish kill at Dunkard Creek in Greene County. That was determined to have been caused by a golden algae bloom from mine drainage from a [mine] discharge.” (Washington (Pa.) Observer-Reporter, 6/5/10)
Mike Markham: Fox blames flammable faucet in Fort Lupton, Colo. on natural gas development
- But that’s not true according to the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). “Dissolved methane in well water appears to be biogenic [naturally occurring] in origin. … There are no indications of oil & gas related impacts to water well.” (complaint resolved 9/30/08, signed by John Axelson of COGCC)
- Context from our friends at ProPublica: “Drinking water with methane, the largest component of natural gas, isn’t necessarily harmful. The gas itself isn’t toxic — the Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t even regulate it — and it escapes from water quickly, like bubbles in a soda.” (Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica, 4/22/09)
Lisa Bracken: Fox blames methane occurrence in West Divide Creek, Colo. on natural gas development.
- That assertion has also been debunked by COGCC, which visited the site six separate times over 13 months to confirm its findings: “Stable isotopes from 2007 consistent with 2004 samples indicting gas bubbling in surface water features is of biogenic origin.” (July 2009, COGCC presentation by Margaret Ash, environmental protection supervisor)
- Email from COGCC supervisor to Bracken: “Lisa: As you know since 2004, the COGCC staff has responded to your concerns about potential gas seepage along West Divide Creek on your property and to date we have not found any indication that the seepage you have observed is related to oil and gas activity.” (email from COGCC’s Debbie Baldwin to Bracken, 06/30/08)
- More from that email: “These samples have been analyzed for a variety of parameters including natural gas compounds (methane, ethane, propane, butane, pentane, hexanes), heavier hydrocarbon compounds including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes (BTEX), stable isotopes of methane, bacteria (iron related, sulfate reducing, and slime), major anions and cations, and other field and laboratory tests. To date, BTEX compounds have not been detected in any of the samples.”
Calvin Tillman: Fox interviews mayor of DISH, Texas; blames natural gas development, transport for toxins in the air, benzene in blood.
- Tillman in the press: “Six months ago, nobody knew that facilities like this would be spewing benzene. Someone could come in here and look at us and say, ‘You know what? They’ve sacrificed you. You’ve been sacrificed for the good of the shale.’” (Scientific American, 3/30/10)
- A little more than a month later, Texas Dept. of State Health Services debunks that claim: “Biological test results from a Texas Department of State Health Services investigation in Dish, Texas, indicate that residents’ exposure to certain contaminants was not greater than that of the general U.S. population.” (DSHS report, May 12, 2010)
- More from the agency: “DSHS paid particular attention to benzene because of its association with natural gas wells. The only residents who had higher levels of benzene in their blood were smokers. Because cigarette smoke contains benzene, finding it in smokers’ blood is not unusual.”
Anything we miss? Guess we’ll be seeing you at the movies. Maybe not this one, though.
WASHINGTON – We might not have been entirely sure whether mobile devices were actually permitted in the theater last night, but that didn’t stop Energy In Depth from live-blogging (via Twitter) the Washington, D.C. premiere of GasLand – an anti-energy documentary that’s short on facts, but long on hyperbole, distortion and serially hilarious inaccuracies.
The movie, with a run-time of 107 minutes, elicited nearly 30 separate entries from EID on its Twitter page online (that’s one tweet every 3.8 minutes!). Below is a transcript of the night’s proceedings:
- live blogging from “gasland” showing — the anti-natural gas film. stay tune for more! about 16 hours ago via mobile web
- josh fox told us no copies for sale – guess he doesnt want an EID fact ck about 16 hours ago via mobile web
- gasland claims frac fluids unknown – ck pa’s website, and EID for these fluids, made of 99 about 16 hours ago via mobile web
- percent water and sand. fact about 16 hours ago via mobile web
- josh should know theres good info on gas drilling at EID, if hes truly interested about 16 hours ago via mobile web
- gasland claim: 05 energy bill exempted HF. fact: HF has never been reg by the feds. ever. about 15 hours ago via mobile web
- no mention of recycled water technologies in gasland — why are we not surprised? about 15 hours ago via mobile web
- gasland interviews thoe colborn: call the credibility police about 15 hours ago via mobile web
- again, frac fluids not “secret” – visit EID to find em all about 15 hours ago via mobile web
- colborn: gas producers dont know whats in frac fluids. what are MSDS sheets again? about 15 hours ago via mobile web
- gasland demonizes US energy industry … very sad, esp since 9 million americans work in the industry about 15 hours ago via mobile web
- his barnett “expert”? an envir defense fund academic. just the facts, huh? about 15 hours ago via mobile web
- enter mayor tillman … we had a feeling about 15 hours ago via mobile web
- tillman’s own “study” cited in gasland. remember, the one thats been flatly dismissed? about 15 hours ago via mobile web
- attack on LA’s oil, gas industry. wonder what the 50k folks there that work in industry think? about 15 hours ago via mobile web
- gasland cites fish killed in dunkard creek. too bad EPA’s dismissed that one, too. about 15 hours ago via mobile web
- gasland says PADEP had massive staff cutbacks. fact: rendell just added 68 new staff to oversee gas production about 15 hours ago via mobile web
- gasland claim: frac act simply removes HF “exemption.” fact: HF has never been regulated by EPA about 14 hours ago via mobile web
- DeGette the darling of gasland. about 14 hours ago via mobile web
- degette mischaracterizes own bill. says frac just about “disclosure.” failed to mention epa would have to issue permits about 14 hours ago via mobile web
- audience howls at petroleum distillates. wonder if anyone here is eating gummy bears? about 14 hours ago via mobile web
- @LoveCanal2020 05 bipartisan energy bill clarified congress’ original intent of SDWA. fact. about 14 hours ago via mobile web
- also, dont forget fmr epa chief browner’s letter in 95 saying HF never reg by fed govt. ck EID for memo about 14 hours ago via mobile web
- josh fox says nat gas industry operating without regulations. news to us. about 14 hours ago via
- woman asks: is robert kennedy jr doing anything to ban HF, since he has a record of going after EPA? interesting. about 14 hours ago via mobile web
- ask if prices will go up if frac act is passed? fox says yes. he’s right for once tonight about 14 hours ago via mobile web
- fox says “everywhere he went he saw water contamination” — where exactly did he go again? about 14 hours ago via mobile web
- hanna from philly bashing corbet for supporting gas production. does hanna know shale gas created 48k jobs last yr in PA about 14 hours ago via mobile web
- WHAT THEY’RE SAYING: America’s Shale Gas, with Help from Hydraulic Fracturing, Turning “Rags into Riches”
- Release: EID Statement on House Inquiry into Safe, Responsible Use of Hydraulic Fracturing
- Frac In Depth: For more than 60 years, America’s energy producers have relied on hydraulic fracturing
- Fact Sheet: HF Opponents Say the Darndest Things
- Issue Alert: When Gummy Bears Attack
- GWPC Study: State Oil and Natural Gas Regulations Designed to Protect Water Resources
- Graphic: What’s In Frac Fluids?