A Few Takeaways from Gasland II and USA Today Article on Droughts

If you have not seen the documentary film on the real story of fracking by Josh Fox called Gasland II, which premiered on Monday night on HBO, you need to find the opportunity to watch. Seeing Gasland, his first film, is not a prerequisite, but that is worth watching as well. Fox has blended scientists and fracking experts with local, state and federal officials and the people impacted by fracking into a powerful story line. Below, I will highlight a few takeaways, but I will add to them some thoughts from an excellent piece in the USA Today by Wendy Koch called “High and Dry in Texas” which was printed July 10, 2013. Please note, I will flavor these takeaways with other research and reading I have done over the past 18 months.

Gasland II Takeaways

  • The fracking industry has known for some time the flaws in the fracking processes and has numerous internal memoranda and papers that indicate this. This is a key reason, Vice President Dick Cheney, the former President of Halliburton had language inserted in the 2005 Energy Policy Act that exempted frackers from the Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act and said they did not have to disclose the chemicals used in the fracking process.
  • The fracking industry employs a highly capable Public Relations firm who has represented the smoking industry and who the fossil fuel industry has employed to dissuade public opinion on climate change. They are responsible for the disinformation campaign to create debate over the issue and the commercials and ads that talk about how “safe and secure” fracking is.
  • Per a fracking expert who worked at Schlumberger, the largest fracker in the world, the cement used around the fracking casing to hold in the toxic water and gas fails 5% of the time immediately – he notes with 10,000 wells that is 500 failures and that is what is happening in Pennsylvania. Over time, the fail rate is higher as the pressure of the new processes is much greater than the older methods.
  • Per several Congress people, the fossil fuel industry has so much clout that the Congress people echo what they are told by the industry. One Congressman said “the fossil fuel industry owns the Republican Party.” Yet, the trouble goes further, as they also have an unhealthy influence of the Democrats including the President.
  • Several former government officials Former Governors Ed Rendell and Tim Ridge of Pennsylvania now represent public relations and lobbying interests for the fracking industry. This is an incestuous business which is unhealthy for us citizens as who is guarding the henhouse?
  • The EPA study showed fracking is causing the water to be toxic and the toxins in the water and in people’s bodies are the same as used in fracking fluids.  The disappointing part is the EPA was told to stand down on their latest report on Pennsylvania which was not publicized and led to the resignation of Lisa Jackson, the head of the EPA who was fighting this battle. The lower level EPA officials said they have been pressured to not pursue these issues, but have told families off the record in PA, fracking is causing their water woes and is found in the unpublicized reports.
  • While the President should be commended for his latest push on climate change action, he should be held responsible for his latest blind push into more fracking. This is highly disappointing that he is not more evenhanded in his review of this issue and has allowed the EPA or is responsible for bullying the EPA. This disappoints me to no end.
  • A key story to me, of which I was not aware, is the impact of fracking on climate change. I knew once you had obtained the natural gas to burn, while the burning was imperfect, its one saving grace is it is much better than burning coal. A Stanford scientist said that thesis is based on incomplete science. He said burning natural gas does release fewer toxins than burning coal, but when you add in the regularly occurring leakage of methane into the air from the imperfect fracking process, the process is actually worse than burning coal. This comment deserves much study, as the fracking scientists speak of the inability to contain all of the gases released.
  • Like Gasland, the people who live on and by fracking sites have been screwed and deserve better. In western states, these people do not even own the mineral rights under their land, so they do not get much compensation at all. This is the real fracking story. These folks have been lied to by the fracking industry, they have been lied to by the state and local officials and they have been betrayed by the EPA and elected officials. When industry masks the impact of what they are doing and the dangers their actions pose to humans, that is criminal.

USA Today Article – High and Dry in Texas

  • This piece focuses on the significant droughts in Texas where towns have run out of water. She discusses how climate change appears to have influenced these droughts. Per a study not noted, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) did a joint global study on climate change published last spring. The study noted while not all long term weather patterns can be attributed to man-influenced global warming, the evidence showed that climate change had impacted and made the droughts in Texas more severe.
  • She also notes the significant amount of fracking done in the state has contributed to the drought. Fracking takes 2 to 6 million gallons of water to frack with per frack. Critics have noted that fracking water is only 1% of the state’s usage, but she cites references that in the fracking areas, that percentage of overall water use for fracking is more like 20%. In other words, in the vicinity of fracking 1/5 of the water used is used for fracking.
  • The article notes it is only going to get worse as the planet heats up and more fracking is done in Texas. The problem that she notes and noted in Gasland II about the town of Dish, TX, is the elected officials and industry are not admitting there is a problem. If you don’t admit there is a problem, it is very hard to intervene. And, this is not just in Texas. Frackers and farmers are fighting over water in Kansas, Oklahoma and California.

I would encourage each of you to see these documentary films (at least Gasland II) and read as much as you can about fracking, including this article. If you concur with what I am about to say, please reach out to your state representatives, governors, federal elected officials and let them know of your concerns. My comment is simple. Fracking is not safe and cannot be made safe. The industry knows this and does not want you to know this. And, if you still wonder, go back to my Vice President Dick Cheney comment – if fracking were so safe, why Vice President Cheney did you feel the need to exempt frackers from the Clean Air Act and Safe Drinking Water Act and give them a hall pass on disclosing the chemicals they use in fracking? In trial law, that is called the smoking gun.

 

 

Gasland Part Two – Continues to beat the real fracking story drum

Let me first say I am not an expert on fracking and I am certainly not a scientist. But, I am a truthseeker and read and watch as much credible news and science sources on this subject. I say this as Josh Fox, who produced, directed and narrated the award-winning documentary “Gasland” about the underlying story of fracking that the fossil fuel industry does not want you to know, was shouted down by one of Bill Maher’s guests on his show for not being a scientist, an attempt to discredit his extremely strong base of knowledge on the subject. Fox appeared on “Real Time with Bill Maher” on Friday as he has made a follow-up documentary called “Gasland II” which will air on HBO July 8. I have written many posts about fracking, but if interested, you can read more about “Gasland” with this link to an earlier post:

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/gasland-a-view-of-the-real-fracking-story/

Fox began his exploration of fracking when he was solicited by a fracking company to drill beneath his land in Pennsylvania. What he found in his exploration in talking first hand with affected people who live on or near fracking sites is a very compelling argument against fracking. What he found by talking with scientists who know and measure the subject is also a very compelling argument against fracking. From what he shared about “Gasland II” it will be beating the “real fracking story drum” even more. It was quite apparent from his work, study and discussions with people who have witnessed first hand or know the subject matter and are not influenced by the fossil fuel industry, that Fox knows his subject fairly well. So, when Niall Ferguson, a Harvard history professor on Maher’s show tried to discredit him, it actually backfired on the Harvard man.

I have noted before that my father told me when people shout or name call, their argument is weaker. And, what I have observed on Maher and others’ talk shows, just because you are an expert or knowledgeable on one topic, that does not automatically make you an expert on all topics. This was not the first time on this show that Ferguson tried to shout others down and not let them talk. So, when Fox finally said you have not allowed me to say anything, Ferguson said you have had enough air time. This was not the Crimson’s finest moment. When Fox was allowed to speak, he showed a tremendous grasp of the issues and shared why we should be concerned.

Let me pause for a moment and note that I did not watch “Gasland” until January of this year. My concerns over fracking began two years ago and were raised when I heard Dr. Sandra Steingraber speak and read her two books – “Living Downstream” and “Raising Elijah.” My concerns became even greater when I read Steven Solomon’s book “Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization.” By the way, Solomon’s book is the best history and forward-looking book you will find, so maybe Professor Ferguson could give it a read. I also have read summaries of various studies by the University of Texas and several scientific and news reports. Here is what I have found, which jives with what Fox is seeing.

The risks of fracking are known and have been masked by the fracking industry for years. This is why Vice President Dick Cheney, who was President of the largest fracking company in the world, inserted language in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to exempt frackers from clean air and water acts.

Fracking causes air pollution. The fracking engineers say that at least 5% of the methane, arsenic and mercury gases escape into the atmosphere. There is no way they can harness all of these gases.

Fracking causes water pollution. The chemically toxic water they frack with finds a way into the water table. Water alway does. The chemicals are carcinogenic and cause other issues for humans and animals.

Disposing the water beneath the ground has been proven in Arkansas, Ohio, Oklahoma and in the UK to cause earthquakes. Note, the fracking doesn’t, but the disposal of water deep ground does. Fracking was shut down temporarily in the UK for this reason.

Fracking trashes the infrastructure and environment around the fracking site with road damage and environmental degradation. Fracking does create jobs, but most of them are hired guns from outside of the state. So, the frackers make money, the landowner makes money, the workers from out-of-state make money, and the state and its residents are left holding the bag on environmental and healthcare costs.

– But set all that aside. Fracking takes a huge amount of water. At 2 to 6 million gallons per frack, ten to twelve fracks per well and 1,000 or so wells in an area, that is 20 to 72 billion gallons of water. Water is one of our two dearest resources and we have water concerns already. If you think I am all wet, the frackers and farmers were fighting over water in Kansas and Oklahoma last year and are fighting, as of this writing, in California. Since they grow so much food for us, this should give you pause.

My wife laughs when I say this, but “I didn’t make this stuff up.” Yes Professor Ferguson, I am not a scientist. I am a business person who reads a lot. I am also well aware of Return on Investment (ROI). Treating the environment poorly and using up dear resources which impact people need to be factored into all ROI equations. And, I know a lot of developers as well. Not all, but a typical developer’s modus operandi is “get in, make your money, get out and leave the problems for others.” What I have found is an industry who spends a lot of money trying to misinform others on what needs to be a more open discussion about the pros and cons of fracking. And, as any history professor would know, industry data at its very best is “subjective” when the source has a vested interest in the outcome. At least that is what this non-scientist, non-historian thinks.