Appalachian Basin

UPDATED: Presenting, From the Wild Side – The Flowback (Part II)

The Flowback is a propaganda piece developed with the help of a group named the Sustainable Markets Foundation, which is apparently run on behalf of trial lawyers with money provided by two very famous families.  The facts about natural gas development contrast sharply with the fiction that constitute The Flowback. 

Update:  Bonnie Jones Reynolds has responded to our exposes relating to The Flowback, incredibly admitting most of what we wrote, bemoaning our research and making up some very poor excuses in regard to the rest.  It’s a lengthy diatribe, not unlike The Flowback itself, and the tone speaks volumes.  It’s a must read if you can get through it!

We earlier provided some essential facts regarding who’s behind the publication of a penny saver insert and propaganda piece know as The Flowback – some very wealthy NIMBY folks named Park and Rockefeller.  That is far from the worst problem with The Flowback, however.  It is, as we said then, not just wrong, but spectacularly wrong.  It is a cheap piece of fiction and here are the facts.

The initial issue (“Seventh Edition”) of The Flowback is a 22-page diatribe against corporations, hydraulic fracturing, natural gas development and modern life.  Let’s review some of the worst accusations against what are easily obtainable facts.

The Flowback (Front Cover):   “Broome County, have you spoken with your PA neighbors lately?  They are plumb out of water!”

The facts: Broome County adjoins Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, where several natural gas companies are active.  The Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) manages water flows in the region and says this:

SRBC estimates that, at full development, the natural gas industry may be using 28 million gallons of water per day, on an annual basis. While SRBC is concerned about water use by the natural gas industry, particularly water withdrawals in small, headwater, and sensitive stream systems, SRBC does have protective measures in place to minimize impacts to stream systems while allowing natural gas development to occur to meet the nation’s growing energy needs.

The SRBC also notes the following (emphasis added):

Using the Barnett-extrapolated assumptions noted above, the Marcellus shale development activity would require slightly more than 10 billion gallons per year (28 mgd x 365). Comparing that to the amounts approved for power production withdrawals, the annual volume for Marcellus development would be equal to what is withdrawn in a 3-day period for power production (3.44 B gpd x 3). Accordingly, the concern with regard to water demand associated with development of the Marcellus shale is not focused on the total quantity, but more on the location and timing of withdrawals and their impact on smaller order streams.

The facts speak for themselves.  Pennsylvania is not running out of water.  Moreover, Marcellus Shale development is a relatively minor source of water use.

The Flowback (page 4):  “What ‘poisons’ will enter your drinking water should hydrofracking be allowed in NY?  Over nine hundred chemicals, plus methane and radioactive elements (NORMSs).”

The facts:  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson says this:

“In no case have we made a definitive determination that the fracking process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater.”
April 30, 2012

“I’m not aware of any proven case where the fracking process itself has affected water.”
May 24, 2011

Where The Flowback gets “over nine-hundred” is anybody’s guess, as nothing is sourced, but here’s what the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) says on page 5-63 of its SGEIS related to high-volume hydraulic fracturing, where it lists additives periodically used in fracturing (and there are a whole lot less than 900, by the way):

“…any given individual fracturing job will only involve a handful of chemicals and may not include every category of chemicals.”

Moreover, anyone who wants to know more on this subject can access it easily at, where the following is noted:

The number of chemical additives used in a typical fracture treatment depends on the conditions of the specific well being fractured.  A typical fracture treatment will use very low concentrations of between 3 and 12 additive chemicals, depending on the characteristics of the water and the shale formation being fractured.  Each component serves a specific, engineered purpose. For example, the predominant fluids currently being used for fracture treatments in the gas shale plays are water‐based fracturing fluids mixed with friction‐reducing additives (called slickwater).  The addition of friction reducers allows fracturing fluids and sand, or other solid materials called proppants, to be pumped to the target zone at a higher rate and reduced pressure than if water alone were used.  In addition to friction reducers, other additives include: biocides to prevent microorganism growth and to reduce biofouling of the fractures; oxygen scavengers and other stabilizers to prevent corrosion of metal pipes; and acids that are used to remove drilling mud damage within the near‐wellbore area.

This site also includes the following illustration summing things up nicely based on data from some 30,000+ wells inventoried by Illustration of Hydraulic Fracturing Fluid Composition

Methane migration, of course, can happen with development of any well, including a water well, and occurs naturally throughout much of the region, but you wouldn’t know it from The Flowback.  A  primer on the subject of methane migration, authored by hydrogeologist Brian Oram, offers the following:

From the available data in the Citizen Groundwater/Surfacewater Database, it would appear that the natural background level of methane in private wells in Northeastern Pennsylvania ranges from not detectable or trace levels to over 28 mg/L.

Oram details sources and methods of correcting for high naturally occurring methane levels in his material and it’s well worth reading.

Finally, as for NORM levels, the acronym stands for “naturally occurring radioactive material,” which is the first clue there is less here than meets the eye from The Flowback.  It quotes DEC research but fails to give the full picture.  We discussed this at length in an earlier post and noted specific references, in the SGEIS, to this DEC website dedicated to NORM impacts and this Investigation of Naturally Occurring Radioactive Materials (NORM) in Oil and Gas Wells in New York State, which include 86 pages of detailed information on the subject.  Here is the conclusion (emphasis added):

Given the NORM concentrations identified in this report, there are no plausible exposure scenarios that will yield 10 mrem/yr dose rates at New York State oil and gas wells (see following section).  In fact, 91 percent of sample concentrations did not appear elevated above and/or were indistinguishable from background. The low survey instrument readings (within twice background) are consistent with the sample concentrations taken from the sites.  Hence, NORM contamination at oil and gas mining sites poses no threat to the public or the environment.

If there is any contamination from NORM, of course, it is most likely to take place at development sites and DEC concludes there is no such threat.  Moreover, recent studies by the USGS and others of radon levels in the pipeline delivering Marcellus Shale to market indicate there is no radon problem such as The Flowback would have us believe.  Here’s what the USGS said in their report (emphasis added):

A recent report by Resnikoff (2012) has led to increased interest in possible human exposure to radon as a component of natural gas in household settings.  The report, however, relied on theoretical calculations utilizing limited data from geologic analogs.  A decision was made to release our small and preliminary dataset because, to the authors’ knowledge, measurements of radon in natural gas at the wellhead have not previously been published for the Appalachian Basin.

The USGS also concludes (emphasis added):

Samples of natural gas were collected as part of a study of formation water chemistry in oil and gas reservoirs in the Appalachian Basin. Nineteen samples (plus two duplicates) were collected from 11 wells producing gas from Upper Devonian sandstones and the Middle Devonian Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.  The samples were collected from valves located between the wellhead and the gas-water separator.  Analyses of the radon content of the gas indicated 222Rn (radon-222) activities ranging from 1 to 79 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) with an overall median of 37 pCi/L.  The radon activities of the Upper Devonian sandstone samples overlap to a large degree with the activities of the Marcellus Shale samples.

The expert The Flowback replied upon, in other words, used a range 32 to 37 times that the USGS found in testing Marcellus Shale wells, which produced radon levels indistinguishable from other Upper Devonian formations.  You can read more here and here from our earlier posts, if you’d like, but there is simply nothing to the NORM issues raised by The Flowback.

There’s not much to much of anything in The Flowback – it’s a work of fiction – but more on that another day.  Stay tuned for Part III.


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