Don’t Even Mention Natural Gas!

Farm reporter Dave Williams recently hosted a short-term radio program for WJFF radio in Jeffersonville, New York, where he mentioned natural gas in discussing a new hospital in neighboring Pennsylvania. The result was a nasty email demanding he correct his misinformation on hydraulic fracturing–a topic never even mentioned.

Dave Williams was the host of the temporary program called Pennsylvania Farm Country Radio Network on WJFF Radio Catskill in place of Farm & Country for the month of March. He is an outspoken supporter of farmers, farming and rural communities, including those located in the Marcellus Shale.

Williams received a confrontational email following a recent radio conversation with Ray and Ruth Wilmarth, long time residents of Susquehanna County. While the three talked briefly about natural gas development, the main focus was on the new Endless Mountains Hospital that Cabot Oil and Gas helped the community raise funds to build. After all, Ray Wilmarth is the president of the EMHS board of directors and this project was one that has been a long time coming for the county, made possible because of the economic stimulus from the natural gas industry in Susquehanna County.

Before you read through this comment take a moment to actually listen to what the Wilmarth’s discuss with Williams. Something the commenter did not do.  The radio segment can be downloaded here (the portion with the Wilmarth’s begins at 11:30).

Here is a screenshot of the email and the comment in its entirety:

Williams-PAFarmRadio

Dear Dave,

I was very disappointed and dismayed to hear the very misleading interview this morning, which amounted to an unabashed promotion of natural gas, which I think was inappropriate.

This was during an interview on today’s show which I heard on WJFF this morning, February 23, 2013. The information presented omitted a number of facts:

1. “Fracking” has been around for decades. However, the new fracking which has become prevalent in PA, horizontal high volume hydraulic fracturing, which has only been around for ONE decade, is such a ramped of version of the old style vertical fracking, that saying it has been around for decades amounts to an out and out untruth. (I won’t go so far as to say a lie, because to me that implies intent).

2. Methane has also existed in PA water, and lighting one’s faucet as a joke is appreciated. However, HVHF gas drilling does not just have issues with methane in the water, (which actually is not such a laughable matter in many instances), but ALSO with what happens to an average of five million gallons of fresh drinking water – it is turned into toxic waste – for each and every drilling episode. This is a FACT, not an exaggeration, and it is an insult to your listeners’ intelligence to mislead by not presenting the facts.

3. The instances of problems in regard to spillage and contamination by that toxic solution is a matter of serious concern,

4. The fewer livestock births noted in another part of today’s show, may well in part be due to still born livestock births which have been linked to HVHF.

I have written my concerns to my radio station WJFF, and I am sure you will also receive an onslaught of comments. In the interest of truth in media you need to correct your misleading information. If there is not time on a show to be fully factual when promoting an industry in PA, best not to present information at all.

Thank you for seriously reviewing your action – I and many others will not be marginalized by any shrug offs.

Wow! Dave really must have said something to hit a nerve with this person, right? But if you listened to the segment, which I hope you did, you will notice Dave never mentions hydraulic fracturing. Natural gas is mentioned in passing, but the main focus at the beginning of the talk was on the history of the family in the county and their first hand knowledge of decades old methane stories, such as Ray’s 1949 family reunion where a cousin lit his faucet on fire.

They then moved on to discuss the new businesses related to the natural gas industry and how they have become a part of the community, shouldering the burden of long needed projects, most specifically the Endless Mountains Health Systems new hospital project and Cabot’s donation and match fund. The conversation ends with the state of health care in the rural community–past, present and future–not natural gas.

During the entire six minute discussion, it only directly focused on the topic of natural gas for less than a minute, but that doesn’t stop the complainer from demanding a correction.

This comment reflects the same ignorance we often see associated with so much of the natural gas opposition: blindness to civilized discussion and immediate resort to intimidation tactics.

The commenter, Ann, is so caught up with her personal belief natural gas is evil she misses the overall discussion and disregards Dave’s entire program because she believes it to be “an unabashed promotion of natural gas.”

Angry Email Warrants a Reality Check

Because Williams’ discussion with the Wilmarths was not about natural gas–it was about a new hospital and the history of a family in a county where natural gas development is taking place–we’ll take some time to respond to the “facts” Ann provides about subjects Williams never brought up.

Ann: 1. “Fracking” has been around for decades. However, the new fracking which has become prevalent in PA, horizontal high volume hydraulic fracturing, which has only been around for ONE decade, is such a ramped of version of the old style vertical fracking, that saying it has been around for decades amounts to an out and out untruth. (I won’t go so far as to say a lie, because to me that implies intent).

Reality: Hydraulic fracturing has been around for decades and the same process used throughout its history is still used today. The misconception is that some sort of new, much more powerful method is being utilized in Pennsylvania; however, this is completely false.

Hydraulic fracturing is completed in stages like it always has been done. A stage is a predefined area where hydraulic fracturing takes place. A stage could be 50 feet or 500 feet. In a stage, fluid under pressure is used to open up the shale. Once the process reaches a peak, a point where fluid pressure cannot break anymore shale, propent, or sand, is mixed into the water and forced into the formation. After a sufficient amount of sand is pumped into the formation, the process is stopped and the stage is plugged. After some preparation, the next stage is started. This process is continued until the well is completed.

The only difference with today’s hydraulic fracturing operations is the number of stages found in each well.  The process is precisely the same.  Horizontal drilling allows for more connection with the desired formation by drilling the wellbore inside the formation instead of through it. Vertical wells only touch a formation for a few hundred feet. Only 2 to 3 stages are utilized in a vertical well. With horizontal drilling 10, 20 and even 30 stage wells are possible.

The technology has been improved upon to be more efficient, safer and more environmentally sound than those wells hydraulically fractured in the 1940’s, but it’s still the same process.

Ann: 2. Methane has also existed in PA water, and lighting one’s faucet as a joke is appreciated. However, HVHF gas drilling does not just have issues with methane in the water, (which actually is not such a laughable matter in many instances), but ALSO with what happens to an average of five million gallons of fresh drinking water – it is turned into toxic waste – for each and every drilling episode. This is a FACT, not an exaggeration, and it is an insult to your listeners’ intelligence to mislead by not presenting the facts.

3. The instances of problems in regard to spillage and contamination by that toxic solution is a matter of serious concern,

Reality: There are actually a few inaccurate statements here, but at least the topic is one that was partially discussed in the program. First, the methane present in Susquehanna County is from shallow formations, not the Marcellus Shale, and has been the source of party tricks for years in the county as Ray described in the discussion.

How does methane get into water?  For a number of geological reasons, natural gas created in one formation may travel to another formation if the right variables exist, primarily porosity and permeability. The Marcellus Shale is unique in that its geological make up has acted as a reservoir and seal from other formations. In fact, some scientists have theorized the bountiful supply of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale is because gas from deeper formations has actually been trapped by the Marcellus formation.

Next, the water used during hydraulic fracturing is not as toxic as suggested by the commenter. In fact, until a few years ago, flow back and production fluids were treated at municipal treatment facilities and discharged back into waterways for consumption. Yes, the fluid that returns to the surface is briny and saturated with naturally occurring compounds like barium and calcium, but these compounds can be easily filtered out.

The only reason these fluids do not continue to be treated at municipal treatment plants is volume. These plants could not keep up with the demand to treat waste water from hospitals, factories and residential homes–which is actually much dirtier–in addition to production and flow back fluids. That is why the industry voluntarily chose to use underground injection or the recycling process to handle these fluids.

To date, a number of Marcellus operators have implemented recycling fluids and have significantly reduced the amount of fresh water need to hydraulically fracture; an indisputably beneficial reuse.

When methane is burned, carbon dioxide and water are created. This is basic science. If you calculate all of the natural gas produced from one well and compare it to the water used to hydraulically fracture that well, you find more water is produced from the utilization of that natural gas than was lost in the hydraulic fracturing fluid.

Lastly, companies use multiple layers of containment to protect the environment around well sites. Many are using closed loop systems where no chemicals ever see the light of day, but are instead immediately and at all times kept in closed containers, and companies are working to reduce the potential for spills by reducing the number of trucks on the road. Can spills happen? Sure. Are there preventive measures in place to ensure if they do, any potential impacts are lessened. Absolutely–and these only keep improving.

Ann:4. The fewer livestock births noted in another part of today’s show, may well in part be due to still born livestock births which have been linked to HVHF.

Reality: There have been no studies to date proving causation between livestock and other animal fatalities, including at birth, and natural gas development. Oswald and Bamberger attempted to find causation, but even they admit their study wasn’t successful in actually proving anything. Perhaps this is because they only looked at a handful of incidents and never thought to compare their largely anecdotal data to thousands of other results where livestock is fine, but I digress. The point is this; Ann’s claim is completely unsubstantiated.

Are Listeners Like Ann Why WJFF Hasn’t Had Any Diversity in Natural Gas Programming Content?

Ann: If there is not time on a show to be fully factual when promoting an industry in PA, best not to present information at all.

Reality: Williams didn’t even discuss hydraulic fracturing nor was it his intention to do so, but if we must point fingers about presenting both sides of this story, perhaps Ann should direct her concerns at the radio station itself. WJFF has some explaining to do. Why is WJFF, a public radio station, only airing one side of the natural gas story?  See for yourself; here’s some of the content they’ve had on the station:

This American Life: Game Changer

Host Ira Glass tells the stories of two professors, each making a calculation that no one had made before. One gets acclaim. One ends up out of a job. The first, Terry Engelder, a geologist at Penn State, was estimating the amount of natural gas that’s recoverable from the Marcellus shale, a giant rock formation that’s under Pennsylvania and several other Eastern states. The second, Conrad “Dan” Volz, at the University of Pittsburgh, estimated how much toxic crap—chemicals and pollution from gas exploration—might be getting into water supplies

Making Contact: No ‘Fracking’ Way: The Perils of Natural Gas Drilling

While the BP oil spill has increased calls to use natural gas as a so-called ‘clean energy’ alternative, activists are sounding the alarm bell about this controversial gas drilling technique – hydraulic fracturingThis week, we’ll hear excerpts from the movie “Gasland.” We’ll also hear from people from Pennsylvania to the mountains of Colorado who are trying to prevent the toxic fallout from ‘fracking’ before it starts.

Special thanks to Josh Fox, the producer of ‘Gasland,’ and to Alton Byrd and Rachel Zurer for helping to produce this show. Featuring:Walter Hang, Toxics Targeting President; Josh Fox, ‘Gasland’ movie producer; Weston Wilson, EPA employee not speaking on behalf of the EPA; Oil and gas industry executives; Pat Farnelli, Norma Fiorintino, Ron & Jean Carter, Dimock, PA residents; Dr. Theo Colborn, Endocrine Disruption Exchange President; Paul Light, Grand Valley Citizen’s Alliance President; Rachel Waldholz, High Country News Correspondent; Maurice Hinchey, New York State Representative, 22nd District; Wes Gillingham, Catskill Mountainkeeper Program Director.

World Renowned Scientist Dr. Theo Colborn on the Health Effects of Water Contamination From Fracking

We speak to Dr. Theo Colborn, the President of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange and one of the foremost experts on health and environmental effects of the toxic chemicals used in fracking.

WJFF also presents a regular program called Trailer Talk, which is adamantly anti-gas and supported financially by the Park Foundation, which is perhaps the most anti-gas entity to be found.  Is it too much to ask that a public radio program at least occasionally present both sides?

Then again, this presents the side of the argument Ann is asking to hear, so the programs probably didn’t raise any alarms with her, despite not including all of the factual information available to dispute what was said. One has to wonder if others who share this same attitude as Ann (that you only need to “be fully factual when promoting an industry in PA” – emphasis added), have made it so easy for individuals such as Josh Fox to take advantage of so many.

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