Marcellus Shale

Vestal Shale Gas Debate A Trip Down Bad Memory Lane

This past week the anti-natural gas crowd held a public meeting in Vestal, New York, Broome County at the Methodist Church. The meeting was sponsored by several anti-shale gas groups including Vestal Residents for Safe Energy, Citizens Action, New Yorkers Against Fracking, Sierra Club, Town of Union Citizens Against Fracking, and City of Binghamton Against Fracking. The groups brought in Adam Flint, Chip Northrup, and Sandra Steingraber to speak against natural gas exploration. Following Steingraber’s presentation she introduced “surprise” speakers (more on that below). While we have all heard these folks speak before, each new telling of their story reveals something new, something bizarre, combined with the same old fairy tales; and how seldom they get their facts correct!

Our Man Flint

Adam Flint is a local face among natural gas opponents. He is from the Vestal area and is quite involved in the anti-natural gas movement in Broome County. He introduced both the speakers and discussed ways to get more involved. He mentioned a push for petitions and letters to the editor emphasized the importance to his friends of removing natural gas supporters from office and replacing them with people of his ilk.

Illustration of Enhanced Geothermal System

Interestingly, Flint told the crowd he is switching his house to geothermal energy. While I personally love geothermal and hope one day to heat my own home with it, I’m not sure Flint realizes recovery of geothermal energy on any significant scale typically involves drilling down into the earth and fracturing the rock to allow a passageway for the heat to reach the surface through pipes.  See the illustration to the right to see how the development process works

Isn’t it ironic Flint is against hydraulic fracturing, but he is going to employ an energy source that frequently involves the very same fracturing and stimulation techniques?

Even more ironic, is the fact several of those groups who sponsored the meeting in Vestal (see list above) had “Against Fracking” in their titles.  “Fracturing for me, but not for thee” seems to be the rule, but, hey, inconsistency has never been a staple for our friends on the other side.  Who needs that anyway?

Check out Adam Flint’s presentation below:

Cow Chips

Chip Northrup spoke next. His presentation was typical of what he normally offers, a field of cow chips, as he dumped on the shale gas industry like some adolescent debate club member.  He started out by listing all the things he’s done that impress him and which he expects will impress everyone else.  He bragged how he had owned both on and offshore oil rigs (in which he was a passive investor), for instance. He then resorted to trying to convince the audience the natural gas industry is no different than the tobacco industry, suggesting, without evidence, all industry lawyers were lying. According to him the natural gas industry has “fracked” the Environmental Protection Agency, whatever that juvenile claims means (4:43).  Apparently, in Chip’s world, any EPA report that comes back saying hydraulic fracturing isn’t the cause of a problem, means the agency has been co-opted or is lying. The EPA, of course, tested numerous wells in Dimock and found the water is within drinking quality standards.  Moreover, those tests were conducted under industry protest, giving them added credibility.

Chip also argued hydraulic fracturing has only been around since the 80’s and had not been going on for decades as claimed by the industry.  I wonder what this 1955 article referencing a “company hoping to capitalize on a new extraction method, the fracture process” is all about then?  Even if it had only been around since the 80s, it would still be decades, but Chip never said he was a mathematician, of course.

Next among the cow chips being flung around the room in every direction by Chip was his claim the money made from shale gas development will leave the state.  As I noted earlier in the Economics of Shale, this is anything but true.  Numerous New York businesses and communities are already benefiting from what’s happening across the border. Even the opposition effectively surrenders this point when they say anyone who wants natural gas is “greedy” and only in it for the money.  Which is it?  Well, Chip wants it both ways, of course.

He says there will not be any local jobs (8:16). Has he heard of Vestal Asphalt and its spin-offs?  Many people with whom I graduated now work in Pennsylvania for the natural gas industry. Then he goes on to complain about how he was supposed to debate a guy from Chesapeake and he expected the company to fly someone up on a jet to go toe to toe with but they just sent “some local guy” (17:46).  Obviously, Chip thought the company should have sent in its CEO if it was going to debate someone of his stature, he being the “great one” in his own eyes.  This guy is the sultan of snarkiness, if there ever was one, and it was all getting very tiring at this point, but that wasn’t the worst of it.

Notice how, about 9:27 Northrup, curses, remembers he’s in a church, acknowledges he cursed, and then curses again!  Was it outrageous?  No, it was simply childish, which is, over and over again, the impression one gets listening to this incredibly self-impressed individual.  At about 16:00 he said Energy In Depth reported the Duke Study to be faulty and attempted to dismiss it by noting the companies go to great lengths to prevent methane migration.  Pardon me for not following that logic. Finally, he attempts to degrade Attorney Scott Kurkoski (21:08) with more of his teen-age antics, offering nothing of substance and relying upon name-calling.

“Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee”

Next Sandra Steingraber of Ithaca College spoke. One thing I have noticed in her presentations is she always speaks more about her own accomplishments than she does against natural gas development. During her presentation she did manage to squeeze in some incorrect information and misleading statements about natural gas, though. Her presentation began with a showing of the trailer for her video “Living Downstream” which is about “industrialization” and, mainly, coal plants.  There was nothing new and anyone can capture the gist of what she said from what we reported a year ago here at this blog.

Steingraber made a big point, in this presentation, however, of arguing natural gas development makes water disappear. This simply isn’t the case. She also seemed to argue fresh water is independent of the larger water cycle. She discussed the way the water traveled from streams to river, from rivers to lake and from lakes to oceans.  Once it reaches the ocean, last I checked, it was no longer fresh water but salt water and no longer drinkable, yet we get it back through evaporation and other natural processes.  The water doesn’t disappear forever in that case nor does it with natural gas development as we illustrated earlier in Tom’s posts.

Let’s look at some numbers provided by the Vestal Gas Coalition’s own Stephen Howland. This proves natural gas doesn’t make water disappear. Please follow this closely!

Water Usage and the Combustion of NG

•5,000,000 gallons of water per well (typical maximum fresh water – usually reused/recycled)

•9,000,000,000 cubic feet of natural gas produced per well (Marcellus Shale – Wysox well estimate)

Combustion of Natural Gas (Methane)

•CH4 + 2 O2 → CO2 + 2 H2O (water) + heat

•1 cubic foot of gas (at STP) burns to produce 0.0189 lbs of water

•9,000,000,000 cubic feet of natural gas produces 170,138,661 pounds of water

•8.34 pounds per gallon of water

•170,138,661 pounds of water = 20,254,603 gallons of water

One gas well may take 5,000,000 gal of water to hydraulic fracture but the gas produces 20,000,000 gallons of water when consumed.  The net gain is 15,000,000 gallons of water!  The same principle applies to gasoline and 1 gallon of it, when combusted, produces approximately 1.1 gallon of water (Did you ever wonder what that liquid dripping from your tailpipe was?)

Tugging even harder on on the heart strings, Steingraber mentioned she left her home state of Illinois and moved her son to New York to keep him away from cancer. She implied natural gas coming to the state would yield increased cancer rates and thus put her son in danger again.  Curiously, the National Cancer Institute says New York State, Illinois and, believe it or not, Texas, all have cancer rates similar to the U.S. as a whole.  Moreover, it is New York City and environs that has the lowest cancer rates in New York State.  How can that be with all that industrialization?  Could it be that economic development actually contributes to good health?

She also referred to respiratory diseases. She mentioned shale gas truck traffic and, specifically, the water trucks which she apparently believes bring all the water to well sites. What she failed to mention to the audience, who most likely have never even seen a shale gas well site, was that most gas companies are now using a closed loop systems that allow for recycling of water and much of the fresh water is now piped in from nearby fresh water reservoirs rather than being trucked in. It’s also worth revisiting some statistics from a study of health conditions in Texas.

Denton County Texas Key Health Indicators 2000-2008

(Health Data for Denton County, Texas Before and After Natural Gas Development)

Doesn’t look so bad, does it?  Watch the rest of Steingraber’s theater presentation here:

Steingraber’s “surprise” guest speakers were the Sautners.  It certainly wasn’t too big of a surprise, as they have been all over New York State arguing against natural gas. They claimed their daughter was getting sick and could not even shower without passing out.  Contrast this with what the EPA said.  More to the point, why wouldn’t you move if you feel your kids are in danger?  Why wouldn’t you take the money you had been offered and buy a home somewhere to save your kids if they are honestly getting sick?  Somehow their arguments don’t resonate.

All in all, it was just another crazy night with our friends on the other side – more scare tactics, more name-calling, more outrageous claims and more nonsense.  Their noise increases and their recycled claims get wilder as their credibility dwindles.  When your “surprise” speakers are the Sautners, who generate more Google results (39,800 for “Craig Sautner”) than “Joseph Martens,” the New York DEC Commssioner (18,800), you’ve more than exhausted your claim to anything fresh.  But, so goes the debate over upstate New York’s future.  This one was just another trip down bad memory lane.

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