Appalachian Basin

The Rime of the Fact Checker

An op-ed in the Oneonta Daily Star entitled “The Rime of the Upstate Anti-Fracker” was recently brought to my attention as an example of the sophistry that counts for intelligent argument among the anti-gas special interests in our region.  The author, Art Siegel, introduces old myths to perpetrate new ones – a common tactic of our anti-gas friends.  He quotes Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner to suggest we, too, are about to kill the albatross and have it thrown around our neck for pursuing natural gas development.  Siegel, though, ignores the moral of the story – not to cast aside the natural gifts bestowed upon us.

I don’t want to get too philosophical here, but Siegel started it and one of the closing lines of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner says “He prayeth well, who loveth well, both man and bird and beast.”  It’s not, in other words, about the water, but living things and man has been gifted with not only water, but, also, resources such as natural gas that should be used for his betterment, not frivolously dispatched like the albotross.  It’s not the water that matters, but the man whose thirst it quenches and that man’s life has also undeniably been improved by fossil fuels, which must likewise be treasured and used for man’s good.

This isn’t all that Siegel gets wrong.  He says, for example, that “Eighty to 300 tons of ‘proprietary’ chemicals, the identities of which are unknown to the public, are used with the drilling water.”  This is a distortion.  A typical hydraulic fracturing job will involve 5,000,000 gallons of fluids and all but 0.49% consists of water and sand.  The fracturing “chemicals” are composed largely of acids, salts, petroleum products and guar gum, many of which are used in everyday household products, including chewing gum, candy and toothpaste.  Moreover, the  chemicals are not unknown to the public.  The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, for example, publishes the lists here and here.

He also says “the EPA labels oil and gas drilling by-products as the most hazardous industrial wastes in the nation.”  He neglects to mention we all drive around in cars filled with one of the most hazardous materials on anyone’s list – gasoline.  There is a much bigger problem, however, and it is that the EPA doesn’t rate the hazardousness of oil, gas, and geothermal wastes or include them on its hazardous waste lists because they are specifically exempted, being already regulated under other statutes.  Section 261.4(b)(5) of the EPA regulations states “The following solid wastes are not hazardous wastes … drilling fluids, produced waters, and other wastes associated with the exploration, development, or production of crude oil, natural gas or geothermal energy.”  Siegel can argue they should be regulated by EPA, rather than others, but when he says EPA already regulates and labels them, he is either mistaken or untruthful.

Siegel’s offers several other exaggerations and distortions, but let’s look at just one more.  He says “With an economy of scale throughout the full range of the Marcellus’ 95,000 square miles _ 6 to 10 wells per square mile _ the gas drilling industry claims it can provide enough gas to meet the nation’s current gas consumption needs for 100 years. Yet, the U.S. population of 310 million will reach 450 million by 2050, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That implied increased consumption would considerably shorten that projected supply period, even if current per capita use remained stable.”  He deliberately leaves the impression that 6-8 wells will be spread across a given square mile, but surely knows they will be clustered on one small pad, combining high economic returns with extremely small land disturbances.  He might also benefit by reading a recent article from Salon noting that according to the “U.S. Energy Information Administration, these advances mean there is at least six times as much recoverable natural gas today as there was a decade ago.”  Or, he could check the EIA report itself.

Siegel is, in a word, self-delusional if he thinks natural gas is an albatross around our neck.  No, Art, it is the flying albatross, the living one, a gift we dare not waste.


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