Appalachian Basin

EID Rolls Out the Welcome Mat for Gasland Star in Stark Co.

In February 2008, a mayor of a small town in north Texas issued a statement applauding a local natural gas producer for donating thousands of dollars to purchase new computers for the town library, and thousands more to help build a playground at City Hall. Less than 24 months later, a mayor submitted a brief to a court in Texas suggesting that same company had “raped and pillaged” his town.

Interestingly, those two letters were written by the same man: Calvin Tillman, the now-former mayor of DISH – a town of about 120 in Denton County, Texas. Last night in Canton, about that same number of folks turned out at the Oakwood Middle School in Plain Twp. to hear from the mayor, who now makes regular trips out to our part of the country to rally local opponents of shale development – first in Pennsylvania, then in New York, and now in eastern Ohio.

For folks who may not know, Mr. Tillman has become something of a celebrity among the small segment of the population who oppose oil and natural gas development on ideological grounds, starring in the anti-gas documentary Gasland, and teaming up with a national group that calls itself the Oil and Gas Accountability Project to get his message out to the masses. OGAP is based out in Colorado, but as exploration has expanded, so has its reach. It now has affiliates in Texas, Pennsylvania and even here in Ohio – all with a laser-sharp focus on shutting down development wherever it’s being considered.

So last night, the EID-Ohio team made its way up to Stark County to see what all the fuss was about. And we have to hand it to the mayor: He sure knows how to rally a crowd. His presentation was filled with harrowing stories about air that was sullied and water that was contaminated – all because of hydraulic fracturing, a technology which has been used in our country safely for over 60 years to stimulate the flow of everything from oil and gas, to water and geothermal energy.

You’ll recall that just this past year, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson testified to the fact that the technology is safe, a contention reinforced by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Ground Water Protection Council, and about two dozen top environment regulators hailing from states in which the technology has been deployed. Our task last night was simple: We wanted to make sure Mr. Tillman was aware of these testimonials, and we also wanted to get a bit more information on why his stories of “raping and pillaging” as a result of shale development didn’t quite square with the research and data collected by experts and scientists from his home state.

Take for example Mr. Tillman’s contention that natural gas development was responsible for dumping all sorts of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) into the air, putting his town’s residents at risk. In May 2010, the Texas Department of State Health Services took a close look at those claims, sending scientists to DISH to test residents’ exposure to those materials and produce a report based on what they found. Here’s that report. According to the researchers, “In Dish, we found no pattern to our test results indicating community-wide exposure to any of these contaminants.” Here’s another report confirming the same issued just six months later.

Buffeted by more complaints from Mr. Tillman, state health officials didn’t stop with those two reports — they actually went ahead and installed a 24-hour Automated Gas Chromatograph to monitor air quality right in his town. Two years later, those monitors have not registered a single measurement that exceeds state or federal health standards. Of course, Mr. Tillman doesn’t mention in his presentation – so at least one of the folks in attendance last night decided he would ask about it.

Now, to the mayor’s credit, he didn’t dodge that question – and eventually even conceded that “things have improved, tremendously” on issues related to air quality in his town. But even with that concession, Mr. Tillman kept pounding away on hydraulic fracturing – a common tactic among those opposed to development.

Truth is, these folks aren’t actually concerned about the use of fracturing technology – they’ve read the same reports we have, and know that the technology has proven time and again to be safe. What they oppose is oil and gas development generally. And they know that without the ability to apply this technology at the wellsite, we’ll have no ability to produce oil and gas in America – and not just from shale, but the whole kit ‘n caboodle.

But another fella in the audience last night wasn’t about to let ol’ Calvin off the hook that easily – he wanted to know whether the mayor was aware of any instances in which fracturing had been found to be dangerous. Now, you’d think that one of the opposition’s talk spokespeople would’ve been able to jump all over this question – certainly he must have hundreds of cases of contamination ready to cite — cases near and far, from every state in the country, and ones that must have happened very recently.

But as you can see below, the best Mr. Tillman was able to do was pull up an incident he said took place more than a decade ago in north Texas – a charge he even admitted was later found to be inaccurate by courts and regulators in Texas:

Whatever your opionions may be on the development of energy in America, one thing you have to say is that Mr. Tillman sure knows how to tell a compelling story. Unfortunatley for him, though — and the folks who appeared to buy most of what he was saying last night — it seems he has a tendency to keep important facts tucked away in his back pocket.

With a little bit of prompting, some of those facts found a way to make an appearance last night — weakening his case just a bit, but hopefully providing those in attendance with a little better, more balanced view of what he’s about and why he’s trying to stop the development of the Utica so far from his home.

  • Robert F.
    Posted at 1:39 pm, October 11, 2011 Reply

    I believe one of Mayor Tillmans big complaints about the rape of the town of DISH centers around air quality and the fact that numerous companies had chosen to place compressors and dehydrators within a few feet of the town borders and the effluent from these facilities literally buffet the town on a daily basis.

    We are aware of whats happening in Sublette County, Wy and the Pinedale Anticline where air quality in rural Wyoming is on par with major metropolitan areas like Houston and Los Angeles. The only source identified for this in an ongoing study carried out by the state of Wyoming is the Jonah gas field.

    The situation there is so bad it has reached non attainment status prompting citizens groups to sue the EPA and force them to come in and do the job that the state of Wyoming is unable or unwilling to do.

    Texans in the Barnett shale are experiencing the exact same issue with the air and also have issues with TRRC and TDEQ about their unwillingness to take the steps to rectify the problems.

    If you were really interested in balance as you say you would give an accurate overview of what Mr. Tillman has to say and not keep certain facts tucked in YOUR back pocket. The NG industry has big problems yet they continue to direct focus to one tiny aspect of it.

  • Chris
    Posted at 4:10 pm, October 11, 2011 Reply

    Hey Robert, welcome to the site. Glad you mentioned the situation out in Wyoming – did you see the report issued earlier this year by the Sublette Country Commissioners and Wyoming DEQ specifically related to air quality? Here’s a link: Among the key findings:

    Page 10: “A screening analysis of the data collected during this program was conducted to evaluate the potential for acute health impacts, excess cancer risk, and chronic non-cancer health impacts. This screening analysis indicates that there is no potential for significant acute health impacts from the TACs [toxic air contaminants] measured by this study.”

    Also page 10: “The potential excess cancer risk from the total set of TACs monitored at the 14 monitoring stations in this study ranged from 14 to 50 in one million. These are upperbound risks calculated using a conservative screening methodology that assumes a person breathes the average monitored TAC concentrations 24 hours each day for 70 years; actual cancer risk are likely to be significantly lower. These levels are significantly lower than the risks found in most urban areas, and even in rural areas.”

    Page 46: “Concerning the ozone measurements in the 14-month monitoring program, the highest 8-hour average concentration was 69 parts per billion by volume (ppbv) at Bargerville on February 23, 2009. The National Ambient Air Quality Standard is 75 ppbv for 8 hours. Because the highest measured concentration was less than the standard, it can be concluded that ozone levels at the five ozone monitoring stations and sites during the study period were low enough to avoid any direct health impacts.”

    Here’s a great write-up of that report from February in the state’s largest newspaper: One paragraph in particular really jumps out at you:

    “Research has shown that elevated winter ozone occurs in localized areas of the county when there is a strong temperature inversion and bright sunlight over snow-covered ground. When it appears these conditions are developing in Sublette County, DEQ issues an advisory, triggering oil and gas operators to reduce emissions until the inversion passes.”

    So again, looks like we’re talking about a temporary, seasonal impact; one with no adverse effect on public health; one that companies have invested literally tens of millions of dollars to reduce even further since 2008; and one that the state has the authority to limit even more if and when it’s needed. Is this the crisis you’re referring to? And how again is it related to Ohio?

  • Robert F.
    Posted at 3:00 am, October 12, 2011 Reply

    I feel its related to Ohio in that its relatively the same process being carried out in all the shale plays be it the Barnett, Utica, Haynesville, Marcellus or Fayetteville. Unless they have invented a different process that they are unwilling or unable to implement in Wyoming, then I can only assume they will be using the same process which will produce the same results.

    I asked a local permit engineer at a hearing where the standards they wanted to adopt came from. Specifically, who’s idea was it to do it this way. He answered that the industry had submitted this proposal based on what they were doing in other states where the activity was occurring. They reviewed the rules and standards and adopted them as their own rather than reinventing the wheel.

    Honestly it’s not so much the ozone that worries me although that is a factor. Rural Montana is not an urban environment, they should not be having these issues. Add the concentrations normally found in an urban environment with the concentrations found coming from the gas fields in a place like the Barnett and we are just asking for trouble.
    Another aspect that really worries me is the almost daily detections of BTEX chemicals and other toxic’s. I did some googling and found OSHA exposure levels for chemicals like Benzene and Xylene, but they all dealt with a grown adult working a set shift. They didn’t really give an estimate of acceptable exposure based on 24/7, 365 days a year.

    They most certainly didn’t give a base level of acceptable exposure to children. As a matter of fact Tom Ridge acting as natural gas spokesman on the Colbert Show indicated that exposing toddlers to BTEX chemicals would amount to child abuse, yet reports from the state of Wyoming that I link below indicate the industry is doing exactly that.

    I don’t really know how you would classify that as safe. Even with all the reductions you claim they still achieved non attainment status? Must have been REALLY bad before anyone started actually paying attention.

  • Tim Ruggiero
    Posted at 7:25 am, October 12, 2011 Reply

    [editor’s note: Mr. Ruggiero’s original comment ran nearly 1,000 words. Our system isn’t setup to support submissions of that length, so we’ve tried to cut it back while still keeping intact the basic message it’s trying to convey.]

    Mr. Tucker: Once again, it appears that EID is cherry-picking bits and pieces of data from studies they agree with. I can tell you that Mr. Tillman is not opposed to drilling, and since I frequently do these presentations with him, I know that he doesn’t even talk about hydraulic fracturing for the most part. Hydraulic fracturing isn’t the issue.

    Industry, their PR depts or firms and Industry groups have mainatined for years now, and repeat this over and over, as if we hear it enough times, it’ll become a known fact: “There’s not one documented case of ground water contamination due to hydraulic fracturing.” This may actually turn out to be true. This is where I think the key problem with this statement lies-Most people think of or view ‘hydraulic fracturing’ as the whole process, whereas Industry sees hydraulic fracturing as one part of the process, which it is. Case in point: My own personal well water was tested by an outside lab with no ties to Industry prior to drilling. The test results showed our water to be virtually crystal clear. We had the same lab and another lab test our water again after the hydraulic fracturing. These test results now showed levels of chemicals present in our drinking water that not only were not there at any level before, they were identified as chemicals used in drilling. So, in all fairness, I cannot say with certainty that ‘hydraulic fracturing’ caused the contamination. I can say with certainty that some stage of the drilling process did in fact cause the contamination. There simply is no other possible way this water was contaminated. There is no other Industry anywhere around. Perhaps one of the many surface spills that were not reported by the operator as the law requires caused the contamination, or maybe there’s a bad seal on the cementing of the pipe.

    What does any of this have to do with Ohio? Well, for starters, it’s the same companies doing what they have always done, just in a different state. And while Aruba is actively setting up shop in PA, some much bigger companies, like Range Resources and CHK certainly have had their fair share of problems on the Marcellus as well. Like the record setting $1 Million fine CHK paid out recently for a well blowout. And Range Resources? well, with any luck, those settlement documents between Range and a certain homeowner will become public. Given that Range’s attorneys have openly commented that they do not want those records publicized, I can only imagine what Range has to hide. Perhaps we’ll find out soon.

    In the meantime, I’m sorry that I wasn’t able to join Mayor Tillman on this trip, so I look forward to seeing you or one of your scouts coming up soon.

  • Robert F.
    Posted at 2:22 am, October 13, 2011 Reply

    Just out of curiosity Chris, has the original EID blog entry been edited?

    Appears to be a paragraph or two added. Could you clarify?

  • Chris
    Posted at 9:37 am, October 13, 2011 Reply

    Nope, Robert — it hasn’t.

  • Chris
    Posted at 10:19 am, October 13, 2011 Reply

    Mr. Ruggiero, we’ve got nearly 500,000 active natural gas wells operating in America right now — and another 400,000 or so oil wells. Our record in drilling those wells over the past 100 years, by any legitimate metric, is pretty damn good — but it’s not perfect. And no one’s ever said that it was.

    In fact, here’s a presentation that Southwestern Energy gave last year identifying the specific methane migration pathways that have the potential to be created in cases where a well isn’t properly constructed (starts at 33:05):

    It’s certainly not a trivial issue, and no one would suggest that it is. But it’s also not an issue that’s limited to oil and natural gas. As I’m sure you know: it doesn’t matter whether you’re drilling a well to produce oil, gas, water, salt or geothermal heat. You drill a bad well, and you’re setting yourself up for problems — but to suggest those problems have anything to do with whether you fracture the thing at some later stage in the process is just plain wrong.

    Of course, the folks you run with down there don’t want to hear any of that. Because “Ban Fracking Now” fits better on a bumper sticker than “Let’s Update and Modernize the Law to Ensure Well Construction and Cementing Standards are Where They Need to Be.”

  • Robert F.
    Posted at 4:02 am, October 14, 2011 Reply

    “Nope, Robert — it hasn’t.”

    Thanks, guess I was mistaken.

    “Let’s Update and Modernize the Law to Ensure Well Construction and Cementing Standards are Where They Need to Be.”

    This sounds great here on the internet but the reality out here in the gas field is the industry constantly lobbying for less regulation and fighting to keep the EPA out. States are ill equipped and poorly funded, they cannot keep up. Where they have 20 inspectors available, they need 200.

    There are gas pads and compressors in the state that have NEVER been visited by an inspector, ever. I’ve made the calls to DEQ myself and been told that they do not have the manpower required. There are 4 1750 HP compressors 1/4 mile from my home that DEQ has never seen despite numerous complaints about the noise and smell.

    Taxing the industry to fund proper oversight is out of the question, they rely on self policing by the industry itself .

  • admin
    Posted at 6:39 am, October 14, 2011 Reply

    75 percent of U.S. EPA’s 18,000 staff sit in cubicles in Washington, D.C., Robert. You want to know why industry is weary of tossing out a successful state-based regulatory regime that’s been in place for over a century in favor of a new one directed by EPA? Let’s start there.

    Back to Ohio for a minute, if we can: If you’re concerned about the staffing levels here, I’d suggest you take a look at the following document — it’s an independent review of the regulations (and regulators) governing oil and gas development in Ohio:

    Take a look at what they have to say about staffing on page 6. Also note who was part of the review team: Wilma Subra, board member of the Oil and Gas Accountability Project (OGAP) and another person who was featured in Gasland. Why don’t you give the report a read and let us know what you think of it?

  • Robert F.
    Posted at 9:22 pm, October 14, 2011 Reply

    “DMRM has 21 full-time-equivalent(FTE)oil and gas inspectors”

    Which is exactly what I was talking about. 21 inspectors with promises to add another 8 expected to cover several thousand projects scattered out over several thousand square miles on projects that change on a daily basis.

    Pennsylvania DEQ administrators who are in the same situation have already stated this is inadequate, they need 200.

    I’m sure the Wyoming officials are in much the same predicament and lack of oversight has resulted in them having air quality rivaling Houston or Los Angeles as I showed in previous comments. Industries position is to whitewash it and say it will get better but the fact remains they are the sole cause of it and its not really getting better.

    If NG was as clean and green as the TV commercials make it out to be the air quality in Wyoming would be near pristine. The reports clearly show that its FAR from that and have identified the only source as the Jonah gas field and the Pinedale Anticline.

    You can have strong rules and favorable reviews of those rules but if states lack the funds to enforce them and state lawmakers are unwilling to see that they are enforced then the rules are useless.
    Repeating the same process be it the Marcellus, Barnett, Fayetteville or Eagle Ford shale plays is going to produce the exact same result.

  • Shawn
    Posted at 11:23 pm, October 14, 2011 Reply

    DMRM has 30 full time inspectors and will have 10 more in the next month. They will continue to hire inspectors as development continues. Our regulatory program is and will be sufficiently funded. Please review the stronger study linked above to continue to educate yourself on Ohio’s oil and gas program.

  • Robert F.
    Posted at 3:54 am, October 18, 2011 Reply

    “DMRM has 30 full time inspectors and will have 10 more in the next month.”

    I’m sorry Shawn. On the bottom of page 5 from the link given to the STRONGER review by Admin above it clearly states:

    “DMRM has 21 full-time-equivalent (FTE) oil and gas inspectors assigned to five of the seven field offices.”

    As I stated above, even with the number posted by Shawn it doesn’t impress me that much. We are talking several thousand sites scattered over several thousand square miles.

    Wyoming has serious problems with their air and lack of oversight of the industry got them there. The industry will lobby the state of Ohio to adopt the same processes that caused the problems there.

    But I’m sure the industry is promising Ohio that “they wont do to them what they did to those other states” if I may quote Mayor Tillman.

  • EID Ohio » Blog Archive » Occupy Youngstown?
    Posted at 5:54 am, December 02, 2011 Reply

    […] worried about the truth getting in the way of their anti shale crusade.  We have already debunked Calvin Tillman during one of his recent Ohio visits.  Energy In Depth also has a very detailed debunking of Josh […]

  • EID Ohio » Blog Archive » Welcome Back, Calvin!
    Posted at 1:58 am, February 02, 2012 Reply

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    Posted at 10:18 pm, July 20, 2012 Reply

    […] FACT: Mayor Tillman, one of the stars of Gasland and a professional, paid activist, has been the primary promoter of this claim, and has been acknowledged as a source in this statement. If you recall, EID-Ohio was on site the last time the former mayor of DISH, Texas visited Stark County, where we had an opportunity to debunk his oft-repeated claims. Our full post on Mr. Tillman’s trip to Plain Township can be found here. […]

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    Posted at 10:18 am, August 09, 2012 Reply

    […] 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 […]

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