Appalachian Basin

Welcome Back, Calvin!

Energy In Depth-Ohio welcomed back  Gasland activist Calvin Tillman  as he visited Ohio again, this time with his sights set on Athens.   As you may recall, the EID-Ohio team was there to greet the Mayor at his last visit this past fall in Stark County.  Since then his story has changed a bit including new elements and accusations.  Like his last visit,  all of his claims lack any facts, studies, or data supporting his assertions.  In fact, the overwhelming amount of data contradicts the Mayor at every turn.

Mr. Tillman began his presentation by revisiting his old, oft debunked, remarks on air quality in DISH, Texas.  Unfortunately, we don’t have new video footage of Mr. Tillman’s old narrative as he wouldn’t allow us to record his remarks.  However, that part of his presentation can be found on our previous post.

We did capture Mr. Tillman’s question and answer session which is where the real excitement took place.  Below an individual  asks Mr. Tillman if it is possible to feasibly enjoy the economic prosperity from natural resource development while ensuring that the environment around us is safe?


Mr. Tillman refuses to answer the question directly.  Instead he side-steps it and immediately embarks into his assertion that natural gas activities in DISH adversely impacted the town’s air quality.  His theory is founded entirely on a study he commissioned by a group called Wolf Eagle Environmental.   The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) challenged these findings.  It conducted an internal review of this study and found  “it is not possible” to draw the types of conclusions that appear in that report.  Interestingly, Wolf Eagle Environmental did not then (and  still does not) employ a licensed professional engineer on its staff.

Once the Wolf Eagle evaluation was debunked, Mr. Tillman wouldn’t stop there.  He then accepted an offer from the national Oil & Gas Accountability Project (OGAP) to fund a second study of a similar type.  Seeing this trend, Texas state health officials installed a 24-hour Automated Gas Chromatograph to monitor air quality in DISH to ensure there was access to real-data, as opposed to politically biased studies.  What did those monitors find? Two years later, they have not registered a single measurement that exceeds state or federal health standards.  More on that can be found here.

Despite what all the data shows, Mr. Tillman continued to assert that natural gas operators were responsible for benzene emissions problems in DISH.  Below are just four examples of the extensive data, monitoring, and completed studies that refute the Mayor.  We think the data speaks for itself so we provide it below without much additional explanation:

1. May 2010 study from the Texas Dept. of State Health Services (DSHS)

“In Dish, we found no pattern to our test results indicating community-wide exposure to any of these contaminants,” said Dr. Carrie Bradford, the DSHS toxicologist who led the investigation. “We were looking to see whether a single contaminant or a handful of contaminants were notably elevated in many or all of the people we tested. We didn’t find that pattern in Dish.” (News Release, 5/12/10)

“DSHS paid particular attention to benzene because of its association with natural gas wells. The only residents who had higher levels of benzene in their blood were smokers. Because cigarette smoke contains benzene, finding it in smokers’ blood is not unusual.” (News Release, 5/12/10

2. Sept. 2010 study on air quality in Barnett region (Dallas, Ft. Worth) by  TCEQ

In December of 2009, TCEQ began a study on air quality in the Barnett Shale region. 220 natural gas production sites were surveyed, and the study confirmed no “detectable levels of volatile organic compounds (VOC) or levels that cause short-term or long-term health concerns.”

Based on the results of the tests, TCEQ Chief Toxicologist Dr. Michael Honeycutt reiterated the fact there is “no need for widespread alarm,” a fact certainly in conflict with Mayor Tillman’s agenda.

“In fact, the majority of the testing during that trip found no detection of volatile organic compounds at all…As a matter of fact, had we not seen the things that we did, I’d have been very surprised.”

– John Sadlier, Deputy Director of the Office of Compliance and Enforcement, TCEQ (9/2010)

3. Dec. 2010 – TCEQ did an air quality study of DISH, Texas  to determine what was happening in the area:

This study was conducted specifically in DISH to alleviate any concerns the Mayor or the residents of DISH may have had regarding air quality. Most would be comforted by the fact the study found no danger or health risks related to the containment wells. For the Mayor, it was another study showing his trending contradiction of fact:

“All reported target carbonyl concentrations were either non-detect or below their respective short-term AMCVs and are not of any short-term health or welfare concern.” (Key Findings, 12/13/10)

 4. Feb. 2011 – another air quality study of Fort Worth, requested by the city: 

This study (completed less than a year ago) demonstrates the consistency of these findings – at great inconvenience to Mr. Tillman’s story:

“No pollutant concentrations were observed that exceeded any published short-term (or acute) health benchmark published by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), EPA, or the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.” (Natural Gas Air Quality Study Interim Report Executive Summary, 2/11/11)

What is clear in just a cursory review of the data is that Mr. Tillman’s  claims concerning air quality issues fail to measure up to the facts. That much we expected, as he’s carried his well-told tall-tale far and wide from Canada to Pennsylvania.

However, the Mayor was not content to rehash the old bag of tricks. This time, he attempted to make hay by making sensational (however, untrue) statements on hydraulic fracturing:

For the record, oil and gas activities are highly regulated in Texas and Pennsylvania to protect groundwater.   Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale wells require multiple, redundant layers of steel casing and cement as well as strict quality controls to protect groundwater.  In the video, Mr. Tillman claims that 2 out of 5 Pennsylvania residents (40%) will have contaminated water if they live within a mile radius of an existing well.  This is simply not the case. In fact, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has not documented a single case of drinking water contamination related to the stimulation of an oil or natural gas well. In April 2009, the Ground Water Protection Council stated that the chances of groundwater contamination due to this process are as low as 1 in 200,000,000.

But you would assume the Mayor recalls correctly what happened in his own town when Mr. Tillman suggests that a local Dish family’s water was contaminated by a nearby well stimulation procedure.   According to the Texas Railroad Commission (RRC) there are around 14,000 producing wells in the Barnett Shale, most of those drilled since 2001.  In all of these cases, there has never been a recorded case of hydraulic fracturing contaminating a water table. Groundwater is protected from natural gas and oil wells by seven layers of steel casing and cement.  This is a fact, confirmed just this past year by EPA administrator Lisa Jackson when she testified to Congress that that she wasn’t aware “of any proven case where the [hydraulic fracturing] process itself affected water.”  This is a statement reinforced by the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of the Interior, the Ground Water Protection Council, and by over two dozen environmental regulatory acencies in states throughout the nation.

The reality is that hydraulic fracturing is a game changer, allowing the extraction of at least six times as much recoverable natural gas today than was possible a decade ago. The implications for energy security are startling as the technique is being utilized to unlock resources which can dramatically increase our domestic reserves and production of needed energy sources. The risks associated with the well stimulation process are very low and the potential rewards are extremely high, a finding confirmed by no less a respected institution than the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Here in Ohio, these benefits are stark and greatly needed, including the creation of 200,000 jobs and $12 billion in wages.



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