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?
If your goal is to shut down oil and gas development, but your arguments have been consistently debunked and rebutted by scientific facts and empirical evidence, there are two paths you can take: The first is to acknowledge that your goals are unsupported by the facts, and move on to another issue about which you feel passionate. The second path is to pretend that science and facts actually don’t matter, and that evidence contradicting what you desperately want to believe is actually somehow a personal attack.
If your goal is to shut down oil and gas development, but your arguments have been consistently debunked and rebutted by scientific facts and empirical evidence, there are two paths you can take: The first is to acknowledge that your goals are unsupported by the facts, and move on to another issue about which you feel passionate. The second, more aggressive path is to pretend that science and facts actually don’t matter (as activists in Michigan recently admitted), and that evidence contradicting what you desperately want to believe is somehow a personal attack.
Unfortunately for their credibility, opponents all too often take the latter path. This was on full display in a recent piece for the Huffington Post by Brendan DeMelle, managing editor of DeSmogBlog. Mr. DeMelle’s thesis is that news reports attacking the responsible development of oil and natural gas from shale are not only 100 percent grounded in fact, but that suggesting any flaws in that reporting is nothing more than ad hominem. In other words, critical thinking and questioning the accuracy of what’s printed in the news are simply unacceptable.
Most folks would strongly disagree with that notion. But we also have to remember that virtually every accusation made against hydraulic fracturing – from water contamination claims to air emissions to public health – has been swatted down by the facts. Waking up every day and having your talking points debunked would no doubt be exhausting, and the only way to deny the truth is to establish a different set of rules by which your claims can be judged – something other than science and verifiable evidence.
Here is a sampling of just some of Mr. DeMelle’s claims, but this time with a little more context:
DeMelle: “Reporters who write for publications ranging from Rolling Stone to Reuters to the New York Times have had their professional bona fides called into question after unearthing documents and facts that challenge claims that fracked shale gas is cheap, abundant, and clean.”
EID: Notice the rhetorical skill here. Mr. DeMelle is suggesting that folks at the New York Times and Rolling Stone are only guilty of reporting facts, and thus any criticism of these publications must by extension be a rejection of those facts.
In any event, let’s take a look at some of the “facts” that Mr. DeMelle is blindly defending.
The New York Times series (“Drilling Down”) was actually riddled with factual errors. Among them was the erroneous claim that coal mine operators disposing their wastewater into injection wells are bound by federal rules, but waste water from natural gas development is not. The reality is that both processes are regulated by the U.S. EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The Times also claimed drillers in Pennsylvania were allowed to dump “mystery liquids” into public waterways, which is also false. Under the Clean Water Act (by which producers are bound, contrary to what the New York Times suggested) operators aren’t allowed to dump a single drop of wastewater into surface waters. As for the water that is treated and released, here’s what former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection secretary John Hanger said: “Every drop of tap water that was publicly treated is required to meet the safe drinking water standard.”
Criticism of the New York Times for its reporting on this issue is actually far and wide, including most notably from the Times’ own public editor, Arthur Brisbane, on multiple occasions. Among the reasons for the paper’s flawed reporting (as pointed out by Mr. Brisbane) was its use of an intern at the Energy Information Administration (EIA) as both an “energy analyst” and an “official” in the same article.
Recall also that Rolling Stone cited the infamous study from Robert Howarth at Cornell University suggesting shale gas is worse than coal for global warming – a claim that’s been rebutted by the U.S. Department of Energy, universities across the country, Howarth’s own colleagues, and even a study funded by the Sierra Club. Rolling Stone also stated as fact that hydraulic fracturing caused the infamous flaming faucet in Gasland, a claim so divorced from reality that even Colorado regulators stated publicly that it was “not related to oil and gas activity.” And Rolling Stone also claimed last year’s study from researchers at Duke University represented the “first clear evidence that [hydraulic fracturing] was contaminating water” – even though the study says explicitly the opposite: “Based on our data (Table 2), we found no evidence for contamination of the shallow wells near active drilling sites from deep brines and/or fracturing fluids” (emphasis added).
This all begs a question: does Mr. DeMelle believe reporters have sole possession of the truth by virtue of their being reporters, or does the public have a responsibility to do its own critical thinking about what reporters may try to present as the truth?
DeMelle: “Quite often, rather than responding to the issues raised in a responsible fashion, industry PR shops have questioned the motives and qualifications of journalists who investigate the problems with shale gas development, and especially those who delve into the industry’s economic prospects. The attacks against reporters are noteworthy in part because they are so personal.”
EID: The term “glass houses” comes to mind here; how many times have activist groups and other anti-development organizations attacked the qualifications of University professors, state regulators, or even White House appointed councils for supposedly being in the pocket of “Big Oil”? Whenever research does not align with what opponents want to believe, they simply dismiss it as “industry funded” or “inadequate” – even when those facts are presented by none other than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Opponents even smeared New York’s state geologist after he told the truth about Marcellus Shale development.
Moreover, opponents of natural gas development have no problem attacking journalists with whom they disagree. For example, a recent Associated Press article exposing the shoddy science used by anti-shale groups was received with predictable anger by those same groups. Josh Fox said of the story: “From the outset, the premise of this article was biased.” Sharon Wilson, a well-known activist in north Texas who also works for Earthworks, wrote: “I’m just going to say this out loud: Whose water is this AP reporter carrying?”
Somehow, those comments (which represent only a small sample of a broader response) didn’t make it into Mr. DeMelle’s scientific analysis. How convenient.
As for accusations of personal attacks, Mr. DeMelle’s website DeSmogBlog is not exactly fit to cast the first stone. Consider just this small sample of items written by folks at that blog:
- In April 2009, DeSmogBlog claimed the oil and gas industry was guilty of spreading “propaganda” about the costs of new energy taxes.
- On July 13, 2010, current DeSmogBlog research fellow Steve Horn said EID was creating a “disinformation freakshow” about the movie Gasland, calling us “industry spinmeisters” and “spin doctors” throughout the piece.
- In May of this year, DeSmogBlog accused university professors of being biased, referring to their product as a “Shill Gas Study,” among other things.
- And on July 29, 2012, DeSmogBlog accused folks who work for the oil and gas industry of “squealing with delight” as consumers paid more and more to fill up their cars and trucks with gasoline.
DeMelle: “One of the first people to raise questions about shale gas’s potential was Arthur Berman, a former Amoco geologist who, at the time, was a long-time contributing editor for an industry magazine called World Oil.”
EID: Those who follow EID know that we’ve talked about Mr. Berman quite a bit. We often disagree with him, but we’ve also noted the collegiality and professionalism he exhibits. That said, what Mr. DeMelle failed to mention about Mr. Berman is that he also sits on the board of directors for the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas. For those unfamiliar, that organization bills itself as “a network of scientists, affiliated with institutions and universities, having an interest in determining the date and impact of the peak and decline of the world’s production of oil and gas, due to resource constraints.” (emphasis added)
Is anyone surprised that someone who sits on the board of an organization committed to finding declining rates of oil and natural gas production is suggesting that – drum roll, please – natural gas will soon be in decline?
DeMelle: “Jim Cramer, the show’s host, also questioned Berman’s and the Times’ credibility, saying: ‘If we’re being duped by the nat gas industry, as this article suggests, then how come Exxon Mobil spent 31 billion to buy nat gas giant XTO? Were they fooled, too?’”
EID: Mr. DeMelle apparently doesn’t understand the difference between “questioning a person’s credibility” and “disagreeing with a person.” Anyone who isn’t working backward from the conclusion that journalists and other experts are victims of a grand conspiracy could recognize that Jim Cramer – though always outspoken – was not challenging Berman’s intellectual capacity. He was merely presenting an example of why Berman’s thesis was probably wrong.
If it’s convenient for Mr. DeMelle to pretend that this is a verbal assault on a journalist, then so be it. But offering an opinion in the public space also means you’re engaging in a public debate – that is, a discussion of differing viewpoints. Inherent in that is the presence of disagreement (it’s a debate, after all).
DeMelle: “It’s worth noting that Art Berman’s analysis is looking highly prescient these days. Official government estimates for shale gas have been slashed significantly.” (DeMelle, 8/2/2012)
EID: Irony of ironies: On the same day that Mr. DeMelle’s post appeared in Huffington Post, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) released its latest summary of America’s proved reserves of oil and natural gas for 2010. Here’s what EIA concluded: “Proved reserves of both oil and natural gas in 2010 rose by the highest amounts ever recorded in the 35 years EIA has been publishing proved reserves estimates.” EIA went on to say that natural gas proved reserves increased for the twelfth consecutive year.
Moreover, since Mr. DeMelle clearly believes Art Berman is a credible source, then why didn’t he include Mr. Berman’s outing of Rolling Stone author Jeff Goodell for falsely attributing statements to Mr. Berman? Is that also an “ad hominem” response, since it points out a critical flaw in reporting?
In any event, folks from DeSmogBlog might want to be wary about discussing energy markets and investments. Here’s an excerpt from a DeSmogBlog post dated April 2009:
Like carbon reduction plans, ramping up to renewable energy costs a lot in the beginning, but the costs decline as technology advances. In the U.S. this threshold effect is already beginning to reduce the costs of solar and wind. In fact, thin-film solar company Solyndra, which recently won a loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy under the 2005 Energy Policy Act (but only after a nearly four-year hiatus, and with the help of a $6-billion allocation from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act), expects to hit grid parity with coal in 2-3 years.
DeMelle: “Ultimately, industry proponents may find that these sorts of unsubstantiated allegations of animus are subject to the law of diminishing returns. The field is increasingly crowded with reporters and columnists who have had their professional credentials questioned, had their coverage labeled a ‘hit piece,’ or been accused of waging a ‘war’ against shale gas. And the investigative reporting that prompts howls from the shale gas industry increasingly earns respect and accolades from fellow journalists.”
EID: Does winning awards automatically establish accuracy? Josh Fox’s movie Gasland was riddled with errors, yet it won awards and was even nominated for an Oscar. The Society of Environmental Journalists, meanwhile, is giving a reporter who is suing the same industry that she’s covering an award for “outstanding in-depth reporting.”
The point here is that an award is less important than the accuracy of the news itself, and when the news frequently misstates the facts or omits important information (either deliberately or carelessly), the fact that it may earn “respect” from like-minded colleagues doesn’t change the facts – or lack thereof.
What Mr. DeMelle wants is an admission of guilt by the oil and gas industry about everything ever alleged against it, even if the problems don’t actually exist or the claims are more nuanced than what opponents like Mr. DeMelle want us to believe. And if the industry dare use novel things like “facts” and “science” to reveal the truth, then they’re apparently guilty of using personal attacks to advance an agenda. It’s an attempt to create a heads-I-win, tails-you-lose public debate that would establish credibility for opponents and guilt for the industry, both by arbitrary decree.
In short, Mr. DeMelle’s post is not a call for an informed public debate about complex issues; it’s an attempt to insulate opponents’ claims about oil and gas development from any scrutiny, and to stop publishing evidence that contradicts established dogmas. Ironically, that’s also a prescription for ending investigative journalism – exactly what Mr. DeMelle thought he was defending.
*UPDATE IV* A Rolling Stone Gathers No Facts
As serious people continue to cite serious evidence in support of the proposition of responsible development, a fundamentally unserious account of the current debate was posted this week on the website of Rolling Stone magazine. Coming in at 6,200 words on the dot, the piece can most charitably be described as a not-so-quick (but plenty dirty) rehash of previously debunked charges and talking points, offered up by the same usual cast of characters that’s frequently wheeled-out and introduced anew any time a hit-piece is in the offing.
UPDATE IV (Mar. 8, 2012; 9:28 a.m.): Another thing from Goodell’s response that really chaps our hide. This statement: “But when it came time to answer more substantial questions, all traces of transparency vanished. A quick example: I asked Chesapeake three times to provide me with a statistic for the total volume of dirty flowback water the company handled in the Marcellus Shale region last year. I got no answer.”
In our last update (below), we inquired whether Mr. Goodell had access to the Internet. Assuming he does, he’ll be interested, we think, in this website: https://www.paoilandgasreporting.state.pa.us/publicreports/Modules/Waste/WasteByOperator.aspx. It’s operated and maintained by the Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection, and it tracks the volume, type and final disposition point of every barrel of wastewater that’s generated across the state (from both Marcellus and non-Marcellus wells). According to Goodell, this information is top-secret. And that’s true: unless you have a modem.
UPDATE III (Mar. 7, 2012; 5:35 p.m. ET): The full-scale, pell-mell retreat on the part of Jeff Goodell’s keystone sources – the people upon which the entire Rolling Stone narrative is based – continues this week, with peak-oil writer and solar advocate Chris Nelder joining Art Berman in distancing himself from things attributed to him by Goodell in his piece. From Nelder’s blog: The article “appears to have drawn heavily from my recent pieces on shale gas, although without direct attribution. … I should clarify that I do not agree with all of Goodell’s representations.”
So what do you do when the two sources you literally handpicked to help manufacture the thesis at the core of your 6,200-word article in Rolling Stone suddenly go sideways on you? If you’re Jeff Goodell, you write a detailed response piece to the mounting criticism of your work – but not so detailed that you actually acknowledge the existence of the statements from Berman and Nelder. Nah, you just ignore those.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Goodell’s reply was posted at 10:22 a.m. on March 6. Berman’s post went live on March 3, and Nelder’s on March 5. Is it possible Goodell doesn’t have an Internet connection?
UPDATE II (Mar. 5, 2012; 11:10 a.m. ET): The New York Post’s Abby Schachter has a must-read piece responding to the Rolling Stone story, appropriately entitled “Another shale gas attack full of hot air.” Abby highlights the gross mischaracterization of Art Berman’s comments about shale supposedly being a “Ponzi scheme.” Definitely worth reading in its entirety.
UPDATE (Mar. 4, 2012; 4:25 p.m. ET): Obviously no secret by now that we disagree strongly with Art Berman’s much-publicized thesis on the resource potential of shale. But as we’ve written before, he’s actually a lovely guy to be around in person, and, when things need to be corrected, a stand-up guy as well — taking to his blog over the weekend to set the record straight on how Jeff Goodell “mischaracterized” comments attributed to him in Rolling Stone. From Berman’s blog: “I never said that Chesapeake or any other company involved in shale gas drilling is involved in or resembles a Ponzi scheme. That may be what Goodell thinks but that is not what I said, think or imply.” Read the complete post here.
If you happen to oppose the responsible development of clean, affordable and enormously abundant reserves of natural gas from shale, it’s tough to imagine the past month-and-a-half being a period upon which you, when it’s all said and done, will look back fondly.
For these folks, the unraveling began in earnest on the evening of Jan. 24, when the president devoted a portion of his State of the Union address to the promise and potential of shale, suggesting that advancements in technology are “proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.” A couple weeks later, the Univ. of Texas released a 414-page, fact-based report on hydraulic fracturing, rendering judgment on whether fracturing technology is connected to adverse impacts on water (it isn’t) and providing new evidence of the presence of naturally occurring methane in drinking water. The study, out for nearly a month now and widely reported on in the press, has been met by a cacophony of crickets from the other side.
Back in Washington, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior derided as “urban legend” the myth of fracturing-qua-environmental scourge, lamenting to a House committee the “hysteria” that has come to distort the debate. On Feb. 9, the U.S. Secretary of Energy, winner of the 1997 Nobel Prize in physics, suggested to an audience in Pittsburgh that the development of shale “can free [the] nation.”
Last week, the International Business Times characterized EPA administrator Lisa Jackson as striking a “bullish tone” on the safety of fracturing at a forum in New Jersey. And just this week, President Clinton, himself up for a Nobel Prize, said the country needed to end its “ambivalence” over clean-burning natural gas, judging it a clear winner for our country. New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg followed that up with his own positive comments, suggesting that “with appropriate safeguards, I think fracking is something that on balance is better for this country.”
Against this backdrop, as serious people continue to cite serious evidence in support of the proposition of responsible development, a fundamentally unserious account of the current debate was posted this week on the website of Rolling Stone magazine. Coming in at 6,200 words on the dot, the piece can most charitably be described as a not-so-quick (but plenty dirty) rehash of previously debunked charges and talking points, offered up by the same usual cast of characters that’s frequently wheeled-out and introduced anew any time a hit-piece is in the offing.
But in the end, the story fails not because its original reporting is bad, though it is. It fails because nothing resembling original reporting can be found anywhere in it. According to an item posted on Friday by John Hanger, former Pennsylvania DEP secretary and CEO of PennFuture, a leading environmental group: “[Rolling Stone’s] Jeff Goodell … should split his pay with the NYT gas reporter, because Goodell regurgitates all the NYT’s greatest gas hits, including ones that the NYT public editor found to be misleading or false.”
Below, we take a look at some of the more obvious errors that contributed to what, in the end, was a pretty ridiculous piece.
Rolling Stone: “Fracking, it turns out, is about producing cheap energy the same way the mortgage crisis was about helping realize the dreams of middle-class homeowners.”
- Federal Reserve economist: “Natural gas prices that slumped to a 10-year low this month could save U.S. consumers $16.5 billion on home energy bills over the course of a year, according to a senior economist at the U.S. Federal Reserve. U.S. households might see total savings from lower gas prices of as much as $113 billion a year through 2015, including tack-on effects such as lower product prices and higher wages generated by cheaper fuel.” (Bloomberg, Jan. 25, 2012)
- IHS CERA: “If shale gas had not radically changed the picture beginning in 2007, the US would have to rely on large quantities of … imports, and US consumers would be paying over two times more for natural gas. Savings from lower gas prices amount to $926 per year in disposable household income between 2012 and 2015. In 2035, these savings would increase to nearly $2,000 per household.” (Dec. 2011, p. 37)
- Associated Press: “A 35 percent collapse in the futures price the past year has been a boon to homeowners who use natural gas for heat and appliances and to manufacturers who power their factories and make chemicals and materials with it …. Residential gas and electric customers are saving roughly $200 a year, according to a study by Navigant Consulting.” (AP, Jan. 16, 2012)
- Columbus Dispatch: “[Columbia Gas of Ohio] is reducing the average monthly payment per household from $82 to $53, a savings of $29, or 35 percent. The savings will vary based on each customer’s energy usage. … The abundance of natural gas is behind the low gas prices.” (Columbus Dispatch, Feb. 29, 2012)
- Harrisburg Patriot-News: “[A]ccording to a Public Utility Commission calculation, the decrease in natural gas prices has saved Pennsylvania energy consumers $13 billion in the last two years. (Patriot-News, Dec. 11, 2011)
- Benefits extend to areas even where no development is taking place: “Natural gas heating bills are lowest in 10 years” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Jan. 18, 2012)
RS: “[N]ew studies suggest that because of fugitive emissions of methane from wellheads and pipelines, natural gas may actually be no better than coal when it comes to global warming.”
- According to (even) The New York Times, mythology behind Howarth study “fading fast”: “Lawrence M. Cathles of [Cornell] … has offered a fresh rebuttal to the conclusions of a team led by Robert Howarth, a biogeochemist at the university. … [T]he notion that gas holds no advantage over coal, in weighing the climate implications of energy choices, is fading fast (to my reading of the science and that of many others).” (Andy Revkin, NYT, Feb. 29., 2012)
- Cornell scientist: “The data clearly shows that substituting natural gas … will have a substantial greenhouse benefit under almost any set of reasonable assumptions. Methane emissions must be five times larger than they currently appear to be before gas substitution for coal becomes detrimental from a global warming perspective on any time scale.” (Response to Howarth, et al.’s reply, Lawrence M. Cathles, Feb. 29, 2012)
- Sierra Club-funded researcher: “We don’t think [Howarth is] 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.” (CMU researcher Paula Jaramillo, as quoted by POLITICO [subs. req'd], Aug. 24, 2011)
- PA DEP: “I don’t know if you can find anyone these days that defends that [Howarth] study.” (Gas Business Briefing, May 26, 2011)
- EID documents on Howarth/Cornell: April 2010 // May 2011 // Aug. 2011 // Sept. 2011 // Oct. 2011 // Jan. 2012 // This Week
RS: “’In the Marcellus, the boom has just begun,’ says [Tony] Ingraffea, the Cornell engineer. ‘The idea is to drill everywhere.’”
- Actually, since the “Marcellus boom” began in Pennsylvania, fewer – not more – wells have been drilled across the state. According to PA DEP, the total number of wells drilled in Pennsylvania over the past six years has dropped 29 percent, even as the volume of natural gas produced on a daily basis in the commonwealth has increased roughly 12-fold in that time. (DEP end-of-year reports, 2011).
- That drop is due in large part to advances in horizontal drilling technology, which allows producers to access significantly greater volumes of natural gas from significantly fewer wells.
RS: “According to Arthur Berman, a respected energy consultant in Texas who has spent years studying the industry, Chesapeake and its lesser competitors resemble a Ponzi scheme, overhyping the promise of shale gas in an effort to recoup their huge investments in leases and drilling.”
- Mr. Berman is a well-known critic of resource plenitude, serving on the board of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas, which promotes “cooperative initiatives in an era of depleting petroleum resources.” Mr. Berman has written extensively on the subject, but his work has been rebutted on several occasions – most notably by the energy investment firm Tudor, Pickering and Holt in this memorandum. From the APSO: website: “If Berman is right, we will not see large increases in shale gas production through 2011.” [ed. note: He was wrong.]
- UBS Investment Research: “Amongst publications written by research analysts, the article included findings made in a study done by Art Berman, who alleged that shale producers overstated recoverable resources per well. We do not consider research from Mr. Berman new as he has been crusading against data supporting vast shale gas resources for years, despite supply and productivity continuing to exceed expectations.” (William Featherston, UBS, June 2011)
- “Respected energy consultant” Berman’s position on automobiles: “The idea of private transport needs to go away. The idea that you can just drive yourself anywhere you want to, whenever you want to, and – oh, well the answer is, ‘I’ll just get an electric car.’ No, that’s not the answer.” (Berman, Cornell Law School, April 1, 2011; 03:44:50 to 03:45:25)
- In a follow-up to his piece yesterday, Rolling Stone’s Jeff Goodell cites a recent item by peak-oil author Chris Nelder as even more proof that resource estimates associated with shale are overblown. Goodell: “As Nelder points out, when you look at actual proven reserves, we have only about 11 years worth of gas.” In EID’s rebuttal of the Nelder piece, we explain the half-baked methodology Nelder uses to manufacture that number – as well as all the “bad facts” he has to ignore along the way to make it “work.”
RS: “The Oscar-nominated film Gasland exposed the dark underbelly of fracking, interviewing residents who could literally light their faucets on fire, thanks to the gas that had contaminated their drinking water.”
- Fmr. top environmental regulator in Pa.: “In an interview with The Inquirer on Wednesday, [DEP’s 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.’” (Philadelphia Inquirer, June 24, 2010)
- Financial Times: Claims Gasland are “absurd”: “By failing to evaluate the claims of his interviewees more carefully, [Josh Fox] has left himself open to the kind of takedown carried out by Energy In Depth.” (Financial Times, Jan. 2011)
- Colorado state regulators: “Because an informed public debate on hydraulic fracturing depends on accurate information, the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission would like to correct several errors in [Gasland’s] portrayal of the Colorado incidents.” (COGCC Gasland Debunked document)
- Longtime NYT editor, columnist: Gasland is “one-sided, flawed … in the Michael Moore mode.” (Peter Applebome, June 9, 2010)
- Fox in his own words: “Well, I don’t care about the reports from 1976 [about naturally occurring methane in groundwater]. There are reports from 1936 that people say they can light their water on fire in New York State. But that’s no bearing [sic] on this situation. At all. … There is methane in groundwater. It happens. … It’s not relevant.” (Fox at Northwestern Univ., May 2011)
- PA DEP fact sheet on methane in groundwater (2002, pre-Marcellus) // Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story on methane in water wells (1983)
RS: “Last year, The New York Times documented how gas drillers were dumping millions of gallons of irradiated wastewater loaded with toxic chemicals into Pennsylvania’s rivers and streams, largely without regulatory oversight.”
- Former DEP secretary John Hanger: “[T]esting of drinking water at the tap and in stream totally debunks the main radiation narrative of the New York Times article … Pennsylvania American Water Company also tested drinking water at 5 of its treatment plants. Fourteen other drinking water suppliers did the same. All tests prove the drinking water drawn from rivers and streams for public water systems has radiation at natural or background levels, is safe to drink, and has not been at risk. Of course, the NYT has refused to inform accurately or fully its readers about the results of these tests, since they destroy the article’s fundamental narrative.” (Facts of the Day blog, Feb. 20, 2012)
- More from Sec. Hanger: “There is no radionuclide pollution of drinking water in Pennsylvania. Zero. None. See the tests results that have been documented in numerous posts in this blog. But that truth will never catch up to the lie cleverly spread and repeated.” (Facts of the Day blog, Mar. 2, 2012)
- Current DEP secretary Mike Krancer: “We deal in facts based on sound science. Here are the facts: all samples were at or below background levels of radioactivity; and all samples showed levels below the federal drinking water standard for Radium 226 and 228.” (DEP press release, Mar. 7, 2011)
- Fmr. PA governor Ed Rendell (D): “If the goal of your report about natural gas drilling was to gratuitously frighten Pennsylvanians, then congratulations on a job well done. If it was to deliver an evenhanded examination of the critical balance that must be achieved between job creation, energy independence and environmental protection in regions with large natural gas deposits, then it was a mighty swing and a miss.” (NYT LTE, Mar. 5, 2011)
- NYT public editor: “My view is that such a pointed article needed more convincing substantiation, more space for a reasoned explanation of the other side and more clarity about its focus. …[It] went out on a limb, lacked an in-depth dissenting view in the text.” (Arthur Brisbane, July 16, 2011)
- Marcellus operators in Pa. approaching 100 percent recycling: “An analysis by The Associated Press of 2011 state data released Friday found that of the 10.1 million barrels of shale wastewater generated in the last half of 2011, about 97 percent was either recycled, sent to deep-injection wells, or sent to a treatment plant that doesn’t discharge into waterways.” (Begos, AP, Feb. 17, 2012)
RS: “In January, the Energy Department cut its estimate of the amount of gas available in the Marcellus Shale by nearly 70 percent, and a group affiliated with the Colorado School of Mines warns that there may be only 23 years’ worth of economically recoverable gas left nationwide.”
- Here’s what that “group affiliated with the Colorado School of Mines” actually said: “When the results are combined with [DOE’s] latest available determination of proved dry-gas reserves, 273 TCF as of year-end 2009, the United States has a total available future supply of 2,170 TCF, an increase of 89 TCF over the previous evaluation. … The growing importance of shale gas is substantiated by the fact that, of the 1,898 Tcf of total potential resources, shale gas accounts for 687 Tcf (“most likely” value), or approximately 36 percent.” (Potential Gas Committee, April 27, 2011).
- MIT puts the figure at 92 times’ worth: “For this study, we have assumed a mean remaining resource base of around 2,100 Tcf [in the United States] — about 92 times the annual U.S. consumption of 22.8 Tcf in 2009. … This resource growth is a testament to the power of technology application in the development of resources.” (MIT, Future of Natural Gas, June 2010)
- Washington Post: “The stories … all suggest that the United States might have far, far less natural gas — which is expected to provide a cheap, abundant energy source in the decades to come — than previously thought. Terrible news, right? Well, hold up. As it turns out, some of those stories may have been somewhat premature — and appear to be based on a slight misunderstanding of the USGS survey.” (“Hold Off on those Shale Gas Obituaries,” Brad Plumer, August 26, 2011)
- Bottom line: If those opposed to shale development genuinely believed that no natural gas was down there, they wouldn’t be opponents of shale development. Because there would be no development.
RS: “’The more land they acquire, the more capital they have to spend upfront,’ says Deborah Rogers, a former investment banker who …looked into the firm’s financial statements after the company sunk wells near her property in Texas.”
- Former investment banker? “In a telephone interview, Rogers said that she was once a model with the Ford agency, and left the job to join a one-person firm in London as an assistant. She returned to the U.S. and was briefly a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch. Now she’s raises goats and is the founder of Farmstead, a dairy that makes artisanal cheeses.” (Jon Entine, RealClearPolitics, July 1, 2011)
- Naturally, no mention of the fact that Rogers sits on the steering committee of the fringe anti-shale group OGAP. Entine: “Imagine how the reader … would have assessed Rogers’ credibility if … she had been introduced as ‘Deborah Rogers, a goat farmer, cheesemaker and activist who has tangled repeatedly with Chesapeake and lectures for anti-fracking NGOs?’”
RS: “‘Done right, drilling and fracking does not pollute drinking water.’ This, in essence, is the mantra … Everything we do is safe and environmentally responsible. Trust us.”
Don’t trust us? How about these guys?
- Dept. of Energy experts panel: “The Subcommittee shares the prevailing view that the risk of fracturing fluid leakage into drinking water sources through fractures made in deep shale reservoirs is remote.” (SEAB interim report, Aug. 2011)
- Environmental Defense Fund: “I think in the vast majority of cases, if wells are constructed right and operated right, that hydraulic fracturing will not cause a problem.” (EDF’s Scott Anderson, E&E TV, Oct. 27, 2010)
- Park Foundation-funded Duke Univ. researcher: “It’s important to remember that the Marcellus Shale is five, six, seven thousand feet underground in many cases, and a typical homeowner’s well is only a couple hundred feet underground. … Again, we did not find any evidence for contamination from [fracturing fluids].” (Duke’s Rob Jackson, Bloomberg TV, May 10, 2011)
- Stanford Univ. professor: “It is somewhat ironic that nearly all of the reported problems associated with shale gas development have been attributed to hydraulic fracturing, when in fact the exact opposite is the case.” (Prof. Mark Zoback, Aug. 30, 2011)
- Regulators in Pennsylvania: “There has been a misconception that the hydraulic fracturing of wells can or has caused contamination of water wells. This is false. Hydraulic fracturing is not new in Pennsylvania; it has been going on here since about the 1950s and has been standard practice since the 1980s.” (DEP testimony to U.S. House T&I Committee, Nov. 16, 2011)
- EPA in 1995: “[G]iven the horizontal and vertical distance between the drinking water well and the closest methane gas production wells, the possibility of contamination or endangerment of USDWs [underground sources of drinking water] is extremely remote.”
- EPA in 2004: “Although thousands of … methane wells are fractured annually, EPA did not find confirmed evidence that drinking water wells have been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing fluid injection…”
- EPA in 2009 (hearing before Senate EPW Committee): Sen. Inhofe: “Do any one of you know of one case of ground water contamination that has resulted from hydraulic fracturing?” Peter Silva, EPA asst. administrator for water: “Not that I’m aware of, no.”
- EPA in 2010: “’I have no information that states aren’t doing a good job already,’ Steve Heare, director of EPA’s Drinking Water Protection Division said. He also said despite claims by environmental organizations, he hadn’t seen any documented cases that the hydro-fracking process was contaminating water supplies.” (Dow Jones, 2/26/10)
- Testimonials from environment/water regulators in PA, OH, TX, IN, MI, LA, OK, CO, KS, AK, SD, WV, WY, and more – all pulled together in a single fact sheet.
RS: “It’s also impossible to know what chemicals are flowing out of the wells, or how toxic they are, because companies … are not required to disclose the compounds they use in fracking operations. Providers of fracking fluids … claim that the composition of such fluids can’t be revealed without disclosing trade secrets. In 2005, the industry lobbied hard for what’s known as ‘the Halliburton loophole,’ which exempts it from federal disclosure requirements.”
- Greater than 99 percent of fluids are composed of water and sand, and the small fraction of what remains includes common industrial and even household materials that millions of American consumers use every day. By both weight and volume, the most prominent of these materials is a substance known as “guar.” Sounds scary, right? It’s actually an emulsifying agent more typically found in ice cream.
- As it relates to disclosure on the federal level, operators are bound by requirements of the Community Right-to-Know Act (passed in 1986), which mandate that detailed product information sheets be drawn up, updated, and made immediately available to first-response and emergency personnel in case of an accident on-site. (OSHA Standards, accessed Mar. 1, 2012)
- More recently, an effort led by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) culminated in the creation of a searchable, nationwide database with specific well-by-well information on the additives used in the fracturing process. As of yesterday, the database had detailed disclosure information posted for 12,627 wells posted online (30 times the number initially up when the project went live last April).
- Only the laziest reporters continue to perpetuate the “Halliburton Loophole” myth. The truth? Hydraulic fracturing has never in its nearly 65-year history been regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. In fact, SDWA isn’t even a disclosure bill; the word “disclosure” only appears twice in the entire 77,000-word text, and only in sections unrelated to underground injection (search the legislation here).
- Language adopted in 2005 simply reaffirmed the fact that states were best equipped to regulate the fracturing process. The 2005 energy bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support — with 74 “yea” votes in the U.S. Senate, including ones from the top Democrat on the Energy Committee; current Interior secretary Ken Salazar, then a senator from Colorado; and then-Sen. Barack Obama. In the U.S. House, 75 Democrats supported the final bill, including the top Democratic members on both the Energy & Commerce and Resources Committees.
- Fmr. Clinton EPA administrator Carol Browner explains: “EPA does not regulate – and does not believe it is legally required to regulate – the hydraulic fracturing of methane gas production wells under its UIC program [under the Safe Drinking Water Act].” (Browner letter to David Ludder, Esq., May 5, 1995).
RS: “Last year, scientists at Duke University … published the first rigorous, peer-reviewed study of pollution at drilling and fracking operations. Examining 60 sites in New York and Pennsylvania, they found ‘systematic evidence for methane contamination’ in household drinking water … The study caused a big stir, in part because it was the first clear evidence that fracking was contaminating drinking water.”
- Quite the opposite, actually: Duke researchers find evidence that hydraulic fracturing is not contaminating drinking water. From the paper: “Based on our data (Table 2), we found no evidence for contamination of the shallow wells near active drilling sites from deep brines and/or fracturing fluids.” (Duke methane paper, May 2011)
- Bloomberg: “[Duke] found no evidence of the chemicals used as part of the rock-fracturing process common in natural-gas drilling.” (Bloomberg, May 9, 2011)
- Brown Univ. geologist: “The data presented [by the Duke researchers] simply do not support the interpretation put forth that shale-gas development is leading to methane migration from the Marcellus into shallow groundwater.” (LTE in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Sept. 2011)
- Respected New York hydrogeologist: “[Professional hydrogeologist John] Conrad also criticized the study for not starting with ‘baseline tests for the wells they sampled’ … ‘While they point to higher methane concentrations, we don’t know what the original water quality was before drilling occurred,’ he said. ‘That’s a data gap that could be very significant for this study.’” (Philadelphia Inquirer, May 10, 2011)
- EID documents: Duke rebuttal // “What They’re Saying” quote round-up
RS: “[Sherry] Vargson noticed not long after production began in 2009 that water in the trough out back stopped freezing on cold nights. Inside the house, the faucet began to sputter and spit. Her husband seemed to have a lot of headaches, and Vargson felt nauseous if she stayed in the shower for more than a few minutes. Acting on a tip from a friend, she had her water tested. It was loaded with methane.”
- Water well equipped with a methane venting cap before first rig ever arrived: “A comparison of samples taken before and after drilling indicate the quality of the Vargson water to be virtually unchanged. The Vargson’s residential water well was equipped with a venting cap predating our operations. We have advised the Vargsons to clean and maintain their existing vent cap to better accommodate its intended function of venting the preexisting methane in their water well.” (Chesapeake response to Rolling Stone, posted Mar. 2, 2012)
- Cornell rebuttal to Howarth GHG paper: Latest paper from Dr. Cathles in response to Howarth, Ingraffea
- New Univ. of Texas study: Fact-based regulation of shale development
- Carol Browner letter: Proof positive that EPA has never considered HF to fall under SDWA
- Flashback: Last April’s rebuttal of NYT/Berman – still relevant, as Rolling Stone makes same exact errors
For two new reports linking earthquakes and shale gas production, there’s more than meets the eye.
There have been countless stories this week about two new reports – one from the United Kingdom and the other from the state of Oklahoma – drawing a connection between seismic activity and hydraulic fracturing. The headlines paint a bleak picture for such a safe and important technology: Reuters says, “UK firm says shale fracking caused earthquakes.” Rolling Stone asks rhetorically, “Wait, Now Fracking Causes Earthquakes?” By the time the Natural Resources Defense Council chimed in, the message was that hydraulic fracturing triggered two “relatively large earthquakes, with magnitudes 2.3 and 1.5.”
But were these seismic events “relatively large” as the NRDC claimed? Not really. In fact, in both the U.K. and Oklahoma the seismic activity measured was less than a magnitude 3. The U.S. Geological Survey – filled with people who actually study such things for a living – states that even magnitudes as high as 3.9 are often unnoticeable to those in the area.
So we’re not talking about roads being twisted or buildings and houses slipping off their foundations. Heck, we’re not even necessarily talking about your cup of coffee rattling on the table. What we are discussing is, according to the USGS, “similar to the passing of a truck.”
But don’t just take our word for it. We’ve read through the reports and gathered the key facts, so you can now see for yourself what these reports actually say about hydraulic fracturing.
U.K. GEOMECHANICAL STUDY ON SEISMICITY (November 2011)
NO RISK TO PUBLIC SAFETY OR PROPERTY
- “These events were reportedly felt by a small number of people but neither had any structural impact on the surface above.” (p. 1, Executive Summary)
- “If these factors were to combine again in the future local geological limits seismic events to around magnitude 3 on the Richter scale as a worst-case scenario.” (p. 2, Executive Summary) — [NOTE: What does a magnitude 3 seismic event feel like? According to the U.S. Geological Survey, "many people do not recognize it as an earthquake" and vibrations are "similar to the passing of a truck."]
- “Even the theoretical maximum seismic event of magnitude 3 would not present a risk to personal safety or damage to property on the surface.” (p. 3, Executive Summary)
- “In the past, mining induced earthquakes in the UK with magnitudes up to ML=3 caused no or only minor damage (Bishop et al., 1993). The associated earthquakes were located at shallower depth compared to the induced seismicity in the Bowland Shale.” (p. 44, Full Report)
- “Even the maximum seismic event is not expected to present a risk. In the UK area near Lancashire there have been many seismic events induced by mining induced seismicity that caused events up to magnitude ML=3.1.” (p. 52, Full Report)
SEISMIC ACTIVITY IS ‘RARE,’ OCCURRENCE DUE TO ‘UNUSUAL COMBINATION OF FACTORS’
“There have been more than a million similar treatment operations in the world over the last 50 years or so and there are only two cases where similar seismic reactions occurred.”
–Stefan Baisch, German seismologist and one of the report’s authors (Nov. 3, 2011)
- Although the report concludes that it is “highly probable” that hydraulic fracturing “triggered the recorded seismic events,” the report also notes that this was due to “an unusual combination of factors including the specific geology of the well site, coupled with the pressure exerted by water injection.” The report finds that this “combination of geological factors was rare and would be unlikely to occur together again at future well sites.” (p. 2, Executive Summary)
- “[I]t is unlikely that another well in the Bowland basin will encounter a similar fault with the same critical stresses and high permeability into which fluid can be pumped.” (p. 2, Executive Summary)
- “[T]he probability of a repeat occurrence of a fracture-induced seismic event is very low due to the unlikelihood of specific factors combining in the same way again.” (p. 3, Executive Summary)
- “Since the chance for any single factor to occur is small, the combined probability of a repeat occurrence of a fracture induced seismic event with similar magnitude is quite low.” (p. iii, Full Report)
- “[I]t is quite likely that the new wells will show no strong seismicity at all.” (p. 48, Full Report)
- “Since earthquakes in Lancashire are rare we can be confident that the chance of triggering large earthquakes [with hydraulic fracturing] is negligible.” (p. 49, Full Report)
- “[I]t cannot be concluded that all stimulation treatments are likely to cause unusual seismicity. We deal with just a single case and it is possible that this was just a very unlikely event that happened in the first try.” (p. 50, Full Report)
CONFIRMS HYDRAULIC FRACTURING DOES NOT CONTAMINATE GROUNDWATER
- The study evaluated the potential for groundwater contamination and found that hydraulic fracturing operations in the area “occurs at a depth of around 3km, whereas groundwater aquifers do not exist beyond a depth of around 300m. There is a very thick, impermeable formation of rock above the Bowland shale with acts as a confinement layer. There is another rock barrier above this impermeable layer that will prevent any fluid migrating upward. The confinement layer and the barrier prevent any fluid getting into permeable layers of rock above.” (p. 3, Executive Summary)
- “[T]here is negligible risk of fluid breaching into permeable layers.” (p. v, Full Report)
- “[I]t can be concluded that it is very unlikely that the fluid would ever leave the Containment Layer.” (p. 41, Full Report)
OKLAHOMA GEOLOGICAL SURVEY REPORT (August 2011)
AREA WELL-KNOWN FOR NATURAL SEISMIC ACTIVITY, ‘IMPOSSIBLE’ TO LINK TO HF WITH ANY CERTAINTY
- “[T]he uncertainties in the data make it impossible to say with a high degree of certainty whether or not these earthquakes were triggered by natural means or by the nearby hydraulic-fracturing operation.” (p. 1)
- “South-central Oklahoma has a significant amount of historical seismicity” (p. 2)
- “The Eola Field…contains a highly folded and faulted thrust system” (p. 3)
- “Given the analog recording history for most of the Oklahoma Geological Survey’s recording history it is difficult to determine whether the character [of the earthquakes in question] is uniquely different from that of earthquakes previously observed in the area. There have been significant numbers of earthquakes occurring in this area in the past…” (p. 21)
- The authors note that many pieces of evidence “suggest that the earthquakes observed in the Eola field could have possibly been triggered” by hydraulic fracturing, but they further caution: “Simply because the earthquakes fit a simple pore pressure diffusion model does not indicate that this is the physical process that caused these earthquakes. The number of historical earthquakes in the area and uncertainties in hypocenter locations make it impossible to determine with a high degree of certainty whether or not hydraulic-fracturing induced these earthquakes.” (p. 25)
SMALL SEISMIC ACTIVITY POSES NO PUBLIC THREAT
- “The earthquakes range in magnitude from 1.0 to 2.8″ (p. 1) — [Again, the U.S. Geological Survey on magnitude 3 seismicity: "many people do not recognize it as an earthquake," vibrations are "similar to the passing of a truck."]
- Although there is “a clear correlation between the time of hydraulic-fracturing and the observed seismicity in the Eola Field…subsequent hydraulic-fracturing stages at Picket Unit B Well 4-18 did not appear to have any earthquakes associated with them.” (p. 21)
- “Whether or not the earthquakes in the Eola Field were trigged by hydraulic-fracturing these were small earthquakes with only one local resident having reported feeling them.” (p. 25)
What’s the takeaway here? After being used more than 1.2 million times over nearly 65 years in more than 25 states, hydraulic fracturing has a clear record of safety, most notably in the fact that there has not been one confirmed case of groundwater contamination linked to this important well completion technology. Proper modeling and mapping of the subsurface is an ongoing process, and as technology improves so does our understanding of things deep below the ground, including fault lines. This technological advancement allows companies to see things – and in the case of fault lines, avoid things – that previously would have been tough to do.
The industry’s record of safety has not been a static process, but rather the result of a dynamic approach that constantly looks for ways to improve. Although the seismic events described here are minor, these two reports nonetheless include some important recommendations about how best to address subsurface issues in the future, and companies the world over will likely be paying pretty close attention.
UPDATE (Jan. 10, 2012; 2:10pm ET)
According to Bloomberg, scientists in the U.K. have confirmed the safety of hydraulic fracturing, especially as it relates to hydraulic fracturing. From that story:
Drilling for shale gas in the U.K. won’t cause dangerous earthquakes and poses little risk to the environment given appropriate safeguards, scientists said.
“Most geologists think this is a pretty safe activity,” Mike Stephenson, head of energy science at the British Geological Survey, said at a briefing in London today. “We think the risk is pretty low and we have the scientific tools to tell if there is a problem.”
That’s good news, too, because it looks like the U.K. is going to increase its estimate of recoverable natural gas from shale. Also from Bloomberg:
The U.K. could have more shale gas the previously thought, Stephenson said. The British Geological Survey is reviewing its estimates for U.K. onshore shale gas resources. The survey originally estimated that there is about 150 billion cubic meters of shale gas onshore, compared with about 300 billion cubic meters of conventional gas resources…Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. says it’s found more natural gas trapped in the shale rock around Blackpool in northwest England than Iraq has in its entire reserves.