Appalachian Basin

Artists Against Fracking? No, Artists Looking for Relevance Part 3

This week, we’ve been looking at the group “Artists Against Fracking” and their misinformation campaign to stop natural gas development in New York. Part I delved into a recent radio campaign by Michelle Williams, and for Part II we’ve been looking at co-founder, Sean Lennon’s, recent opinion piece in the New York Times. So, let’s just take another few moments to Imagine if all these artists took the time to do some real research on natural gas development.

Really? Where Do We Even Begin?

When the gas companies showed up in our backyard, I felt I needed to do some research. I looked into Pennsylvania, where hundreds of families have been left with ruined drinking water, toxic fumes in the air, industrialized landscapes, thousands of trucks and new roads crosshatching the wilderness, and a devastating and irreversible decline in property value.

Natural gas has been sold as clean energy. But when the gas comes from fracturing bedrock with about five million gallons of toxic water per well, the word “clean” takes on a disturbingly Orwellian tone. Don’t be fooled. Fracking for shale gas is in truth dirty energy. It inevitably leaks toxic chemicals into the air and water. Industry studies show that 5 percent of wells can leak immediately, and 60 percent over 30 years. There is no such thing as pipes and concrete that won’t eventually break down. It releases a cocktail of chemicals from a menu of more than 600 toxic substances, climate-changing methane, radium and, of course, uranium.

When they showed up in your backyard? This was a pipeline company–not new at all for New York–especially with the large amounts of natural gas consumed by the state. When they showed up in Nicole’s backyard in Penn Township in Pennsylvania, she also did some research and has continued to ever since. She didn’t “look into Pennsylvania”; she lives there.

Let’s talk ruined drinking water first. Despite the fact there have been zero cases of hydraulic fracturing fluid contaminating ground water, surface spills and methane migration can occur. The most notorious case of an issue in our area is Dimock, Pennsylvania in Susquehanna County. But guess what? Even in Dimock, which has made headlines for years and been the poster child for the anti-natural gas movement, the water wasn’t ruined. The methane has been treated and not only has Pennsylvania’s DEP said the water is safe, so has the EPA, and as such Cabot is now able to resume operations. Loren Salsman, one of the impacted residents, describes what occurred in the following video from Truthland.

Does this look like an industrialized landscape?

Truck traffic is an issue and one companies have been working on. Some use fresh water ponds like Exco’s in the above video where they pipe water to their well sites. Others, like Seneca are getting even more creative in their piping efforts. Check out this project which has the potential to reduce traffic by over 200,000 trucks!

Property values being in decline is also a well-placed myth. We attended the Pennsylvania Board of Realtors convention last year, where we learned from the individuals who would know, this isn’t the case. Tom’s done further research as well:

What we found for areas affected by natural gas development was rather astounding.  We learned, based on eight comparable sales over the last year (some 336 acres in land in total), that farmland values in Bradford County, Pennsylvania averaged $6,984 per acre for properties of 10 acres or more.  Fourteen sales in Susquehanna County (1,182 acres) averaged $4,993 per acre.  Sullivan and Wyoming County properties averaged $5,579 and $7,215 per acre, respectively.  Lycoming County saw an average value of $4,547.  Not bad, right?

Natural gas is a clean energy source–more on that in a moment. In those 3-5 million gallons of water per well, much of which is now recycled from other wells, 99.95 percent of it is water and sand. The other ingredients differ by well, but can easily be found on It’s usually a handful of additives, 10 or so, but definitely not 600.

Now, Mr. Lennon, think about this. Methane is the product in natural gas development. It’s the source of income for the landowners and profit for the companies. Do you really believe companies are allowing their dollar signs to just leak into the atmosphere? The leaking gas well statistic has been debunked, as we discussed in the post earlier this week on Michelle Williams’ radio campaign, but in case anyone missed it, please be sure to read this post.

According to the [Groundwater Protection Council’s August 2011] 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.

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.

Can We Count the Number of Times This Has Been Debunked?

Gas produced this way is not climate- friendly. Within the first 20 years, methane escaping from within and around the wells, pipelines and compressor stations is 105 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. With more than a tiny amount of methane leakage, this gas is as bad as coal is for the climate; and since over half the wells leak eventually, it is not a small amount. Even more important, shale gas contains one of the earth’s largest carbon reserves, many times more than our atmosphere can absorb. Burning more than a small fraction of it will render the climate unlivable, raise the price of food and make coastlines unstable for generations.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, when speaking for “the voices in the sensible center,” seems to think the New York State Association of County Health Officials, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the New York State Nurses Association and the Medical Society of the State of New York, not to mention Dr. Anthony R. Ingraffea’s studies at Cornell University, are “loud voices at the extremes.” The mayor’s plan to “make sure that the gas is extracted carefully and in the right places” is akin to a smoker telling you, “Smoking lighter cigarettes in the right place at the right time makes it safe to smoke.”

Few people are aware that America’s Natural Gas Alliance has spent $80 million in a publicity campaign that includes the services of Hill and Knowlton — the public relations firm that through most of the ’50s and ’60s told America that tobacco had no verifiable links to cancer. Natural gas is clean, and cigarettes are healthy — talk about disinformation. To try to counteract this, my mother and I have started a group called Artists Against Fracking.

We see Mr. Lennon has been reading some Cornell papers. You know the ones that have been debunked by several other reputable institutions, and ironically, even another Cornell professor. Even the EPA’s findings don’t match up with Howarth’s hypothesis.

Here’s a check back in to reality. Natural gas is a major reason why we have the lowest carbon emissions levels in 20 years in the United States and are leading the world in reducing our carbon footprint. Even the American Lung Association supports natural gas as a clean energy source.

The American Lung Association supports the increased use of natural gas as a transitional fuel for the production of electricity, as a cleaner alternative to biomass, coal and other fossil fuels.

Burning natural gas won’t render the climate unlivable by any means. Here’s the byproduct of what occurs when methane is burned or combusted.

Of course, Lennon then makes a leap indicating, in a very round about way, that natural gas has links to cancer. He may want to check out this AP story that hammers Josh Fox for the same assumption.  Don’t take our word for it, ask the Susan B. Komen Foundation who happen to have great concern on the issue.

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 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 Simon Craddock 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.

Where’s the Love?

My father could have chosen to live anywhere. I suspect he chose to live here because being a New Yorker is not about class, race or even nationality; it’s about loving New York. Even the United States Geological Survey has said New York’s draft plan fails to protect drinking water supplies, and has also acknowledged the likely link between hydraulic fracturing and recent earthquakes in the Midwest. Surely the voice of the “sensible center” would ask to stop all hydraulic fracturing so that our water, our lives and our planet could be protected and preserved for generations to come.

We agree with Lennon on a couple of things here. Being a New Yorkers is about loving New York and his father did have the means to choose to live anywhere. Many of his fellow New Yorkers do not have that same luxury and are struggling to find ways to hold on to the land they love and has helped define them as New Yorkers for generations. It is time we come to a “sensible center,” with the potential for regulations on natural gas development in New York to pass as early as next week. Stopping this tremendous economic potential won’t help preserve anything for generations. It will seal the deal on more farmers leaving the state and subdividing their land so many others love to behold.

It is time to stop the fear-mongering prevalent throughout letters such as these and stand up as New Yorkers to ensure this opportunity comes and is handled in a safe responsible manner for all. It is time for a “New” New York!

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