I’ll Take Natural Gas Facts Over Hearsay Any Day
Have you ever noticed when someone outside travels to Dimock, Pennsylvania, searching for truth, all he/she ever reports is hearsay? Take Carol Schoonmaker’s recent guest essay published on MPNNow.com titled Learn the Lessons of one Small Pennsylvania Town, which details her decision to separate fact from fiction. There’s just one problem with Carol’s heart felt trip, where are her facts? Below is my follow up essay submitted to the same paper: Learn the lessons from a little unbiased research — A Pennsylvania resident responds. In it, I clarify and correct some of Carol’s claims with first hand knowledge of the area and industry.
Now before you start to question my integrity and agenda, let it be known that I do have thirty-five years of broad experience in oil & natural gas and high-tech start-ups after graduating from Princeton University in 1973 with a degree in environmental engineering. It might surprise you though; I do not work for the industry here in Pennsylvania. Instead, for the last fifteen plus years, I have lived in Susquehanna County buying, restoring, and selling fine antique pianos for PianoGrands, a company I started in 1995. My intention here is to present a balance and fair assertion of what’s really going on.
The best arguments are made with facts — no surprise — that are quantifiable and verifiable. Scientists work that way, and no responsible researcher starts out with the answer and makes up data to fit a preconceived notion.
Unfortunately, that is just what Carol Schoonmaker and her colleagues did on their field trip to Dimock, Pa. (Guest essay, April 29) Sadly, no amount of data or rational argument can change the mind of someone who already has the “facts” made up in their head.
The errors in the submitted essay are truly head-shakingly painful. As a long-time resident of Susquehanna County with a scientific background, and living just minutes from Dimock, allow me to point out some of her errors and relay actual facts.
Ms. Schoonmaker and her colleagues apparently did not make an attempt to educate themselves on the subject of natural gas. There are vast amounts of material available on the Internet and numerous other sources. She seemed to already know what she wanted to find, period. Thus: “We went to Dimock with no previous planning or ideas on what we would do.”
“We had heard …” is a common thread.
In reference to tankers, “We had heard they (sic) used to transport the water for fixing broken-up paved roads …” Please, contact PennDOT for their water road repair instructions. Water trucks obviously supply the wells — that’s why they call it hydraulic fracturing as hydro means water.
Ms. Schoonmaker spoke to the local postmaster. If he disclosed that “clients” were receiving monthly checks, he broke privacy laws. That notwithstanding, is your local postmaster the best source when conducting natural gas-related research?
Onward into the expedition, the group pulled up to an anti-natural gas billboard and the attendant informed them that his water “had four kinds of uranium in it, far above the safe level …” This would be new to science — since there are only two principal isotopes of uranium — and moreover, multiple recent tests conducted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have shown Dimock water to be safe.
Another head-scratching statement was that brine water was used to suppress dust on dirt roads and “we could see the gray hue of it on roads we traveled.” Our county is the bluestone capital of the world, and because of this, all our unpaved roads are bluestone gray. Bonus question: What does PennDOT use to salt the roads in the winter?
More errors in her op-ed: The parking lots full of RVs are not “man camps,” they are the temporary offices used at the drilling sites. Indeed, contrary to Ms. Schoonmaker’s assertion, a high percentage of employees in the gas industry are local residents. Regarding fracturing fluid, she contends it contains diesel fuel, which is utterly false. If you want to know exactly what additives are used, this information is easily obtainable with a quick Internet search. The white barrels of “hazardous waste is what we are told” actually contain a desiccant used at production sites to remove water vapor from the gas stream.
So there you have it, a field trip to open the eyes of the unenlightened and to warn of the disasters to follow. “We felt we heard what we had come for …” — and flash to the Dimock 1,400 — “Our informant expects Dimock to become a ghost town.”
Ms. Schoonmaker’s misleading and error-filled opinion piece is not credible and does a disservice to the discussion, to the residents of Dimock and to other concerned citizens. While the natural gas industry (or any industry for that matter) is not perfect by any means, at the very least we should have discourse based on facts and rational arguments.
Note: Christopher Acker is a businessman with a degree in geological engineering and is a long-time resident of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania.