Drilling, Hydro-Fracking, Journalism & Bias

(This column was sparked by  “elb’s”  comments below and invites either “elb” or  the commentator of his/her choice to respond as a guest columnist. Although  I disagree that the available science urges us to give  drilling and hydraulic fracturing  a chance,  the point of Breathing is to offer a forum for intellectually-honest discussion.  “elb’s”  full comments can be reached by clicking the comment link to the right of this column under  “recent comments.”)

Dear “elb,”

I wish you’d cited to examples when you wrote, “Those thousands in upstate NY who rallied for gas drilling see more benefits than negatives, yet you have not even made the first attempt to understand their point of view or why they reached it.  Instead, you’ve inferred that they’re insane idiots who care nothing for the land, just their wallets.”

I’d be interested to know how my  statement, “People are moved by  threats they perceive  as  intimate and immediate.  Unfortunately  for pro-water advocates,  residents of New York and Pennsylvania face many threats — many of which seem more ‘immediate’  than the potential loss of their drinking water.   How will they pay their mortgages?  How will they pay their student loans?  Where’s their next paycheck coming from?”  infers that drilling proponents are “insane idiots who care nothing  for the land, just their wallets.”

In fact, I’ve written angrily as a  former farm laborer and construction worker that many  landholders have been forced by  economic circumstances to even consider leasing their  gas rights and I’ve  exhorted  Basin communities to take specific steps in defense of our Basin’s economy and local producers.)

When you say, “Yet I hear very little insulting, denigrating comments directed at the ‘other side’  from them, despite a passion equal to yours…,”  does that include your statement,  “Instead, you’ve taken the blindly narcissistic stance that ‘it’s not possible’  that you and your fellow supporters might be guilty — or even capable — of exaggerating risks?”

Does it account for  Mr. Noel  Van Swol calling pro-water advocates “dilettantes”  at the July 15th DRBC Hearing?

Your statement provides no substantiation that I’ve exaggerated my claims  so  there’s little I can say in response.

However, it seems to me that certain facts must be accepted before we proceed:

  • hydraulic fracturing fluid contains toxic chemicals capable of rendering a water supply worthless;
  • the only scientific investigative  study currently in existence is the one recently released by the Environmental Protection Agency;
  • polluted water  wells must be reported within six months of  the suspect gas well being drilled and fracked;
  • when screwing anything on the horizontal,  the object will remain stable… until it doesn’t;
  • The Texas Supreme Court recently stated, “The [drilling] design projects the length of the fractures from the well measured three ways…. Estimates of these distances are…at best imprecise. Clues about the direction in which fractures are likely to run horizontally from the well may be derived from seismic and other data, but virtually nothing can be done to control that direction; the fractures will follow Mother Nature’s fault lines in the formation.”
  • no governmental or ad hoc agency has the budget or staff   to oversee any aspect of drilling and fracking:  not the drilling and water withdrawals nor the actual  fracking and disposal of the resultant toxic waste water — a crucial gap that has been  recognized by the Delaware River Basin Commission;

Despite your assessment of my position  (“I see one thing over and over again on this blog — a true lack of an open mind. You’ve made up your mind about gas drilling, despite much evidence ((especially in western NYS and other areas inside and certainly outside the West) that it can live in harmony with the environment and local communities.”))  I am not opposed to drilling and hydraulic fracturing;  I am opposed to slipshod processes.

And most assuredly,  I am opposed to approving an  activity or technology just  because there are locations where it’s operated safely even though  a wealth of circumstantial evidence points to very specific harms elsewhere.   (Not all smokers die of  smoking-related diseases.  Does that mean smoking is harmless?)

To further  explain my objection to shoddy process,  I  opposed  invading Iraq without well-articulated reasons, proof and adherence to Constitutional law.  I was especially opposed to our  policy makers relying  on  Ahmad Chalabi’s vested-interest “clarifications”  since he was angling to  be  Saddam’s  replacement.

A reasonable person would have questioned the value of  Chalabi’s  “evidence” as I  now question the value of  drilling company vested-interest   “evidence” and “assurances.”

More personally,   having been a teenager myself,   when my kids  told me  the party they were attending was safe, I automatically checked with the chaperones.  Loving our children or liking corporations doesn’t absolve us of using  common sense.   If people behaved rationally and  with the “common weal”  firmly in mind,  we’d have no need of laws or oversight  or even newspapers and discussion fora.

Which leads rather nicely to the issue of the  report released by the Environmental Protection Agency concerning  water contamination in  Wyoming about which you say, “Instead, you’ve decried the gas drilling industry’s propaganda (of which there is plenty) in favor of Earthworks’ propaganda: a press release that only hints at the fact that the EPA (1) has not yet determined the cause and source of the contaminated wells, and (2) only THREE of the 11 contaminated wells — out of 39 tested — had a toxin specific to fracking. How does that qualify for sounding a nationwide alarm, let alone the environmental catastrophe you’re constantly trying to whip your readers into a frenzy about?”)

What follows here are

“In interviews with ProPublica and at a public meeting this month in Pavillion’s community hall, officials spoke cautiously about their preliminary findings. They were careful to say they’re investigating a broad array of sources for the contamination, including agricultural activity. They said the contaminant causing the most concern – a compound called 2-butoxyethanol, known as 2-BE  – can be found in some common household cleaners, not just in fracturing fluids.

“But those same EPA officials also said they had found no pesticides – a signature of agricultural contamination – and no indication that any industry or activity besides drilling could be to blame. Other than farming, there is no industry in the immediate area.

“…according to EPA investigation documents, most of the water wells were flushed three times before they were tested in order to rid them of anything that wasn’t flowing through the aquifer itself.

“‘It starts to finger-point stronger and stronger to the source being somehow related to the gas development, including, but not necessarily conclusively, hydraulic fracturing itself,” said Nathan Wiser, an EPA scientist and hydraulic fracturing expert who oversees enforcement for the underground injection control program under the Safe Drinking Water Act in the Rocky Mountain region. The investigation “could certainly have a focusing effect on a lot of folks in the Pavillion area as a nexus between hydraulic fracturing and water contamination.'”

(Conclusive, “elb?”  No,  but certainly worthy of  a moratorium until full explanations are available.)

  • a link to an earlier introductory article  and
  • a link to the EPA’s actual report (which I was unable to locate despite searching for over an hour)

We don’t have to argue the content; readers can decide whether or not I am attempting to  “whip [them] into a frenzy”  or whether I’m reasonably  concerned by the consequences  we see in Wyoming, Fort Worth,  Dimock (PA) and elsewhere of  “rushing to judgment”  as we did in Iraq.

Isn’t it rational to wonder why  those with the least are risking the most and  well-heeled energy corporations are poised to make out like bandits yet again?

Is it whipping readers “into a frenzy”  to remind them that corporations aren’t always honest and government  overseers are not always  concerned for the well-being of the “People.” (We have ample evidence of this given the recent economic meltdown and the collusive actions  of the Securities & Exchange Commission, ratings agencies and other financial pirates who  secured obscene profits for a few  while huge numbers of us lost our life savings and homes.)

Is it particularly onerous that I would raise those issues when our very water supply depends on drilling companies caring more for the water and our welfare  than they do their profits?  Is that me falling prey to “Earthworks’ propaganda” or is it a reasonable caution given  the times  in which we live and the fundamental nature of corporations which is to increase profits for their shareholders?

“Unlike the people you reached out to farther down the Delaware Valley, where gas drilling is likely never to come,”  you write, “most landowners in this area have done their homework and — untainted by the desire to hear only the facts that support a pre-set point of view — have come to a different, far less extreme conclusion.”

I’m left to assume  that their “far less extreme conclusion” is to  lease their gas rights…?     How is jumping in with both feet, no matter their reasons,  “far less extreme”  than  my position which I reiterate here for the umpteenth time:

“I want  the DRBC to table all drilling and fracking applications until after an  Environmental Impact Statement has been issued and independent, scientific studies have evaluated  the cumulative impacts of drilling, fracking and waste water disposal on the Delaware River Basin.”

Rather than being  part of a frenzied rush to drill,  I’m trying to  set the brake on  a run-away train.  (Imagine how much better we’d be sitting if   caution and science had informed  President Bush’s Iraq War strategy before he launched  “Shock and Awe.”)

You also state, “We are all actively working to avoid the kind of environmental holocaust you relish describing, even though the fact remains that no catastrophe on the scale you fear here has ever been seen in the U.S.”

I’m sure that your  reasoning will provide  comfort  to the residents of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island which were, I’m sure you’ll agree,   ground breaking events in their own right.

(I would appreciate you forwarding to me copies of   gas leases  which “avoid the kind of environmental holocaust”  you believe I “relish describing….”  Or perhaps you could include them in your rebuttal as evidence of  lessors’ efforts to protect our Basin.)

As to your insistence that information printed by ProPublica is propaganda, please consider Mr. Lustgarten’s  credentials  (“Abrahm Lustgarten is a former staff writer and contributor for Fortune, and has written for Salon, Esquire, the Washington Post and the New York Times since receiving his master’s in journalism from Columbia University in 2003. He is the author of the book China’s Great Train: Beijing’s Drive West and the Campaign to Remake Tibet, a project that was funded in part by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.”) and the fact that he has chosen to work for ProPublica as a respected news source.

Then, please,  provide evidence of your assertion that ProPublica spews propaganda as well as  examples of  gas industry propaganda.

So you see, I completely agree, whether or not it’s my ” blog to do with as [I]  please,”  readers should demand  that we  provide  well-researched and balanced information for them to chew over in a civil venue.

In return, I ask the same of you and whomever you choose to write your rebuttal which I will be pleased to publish here.

9 thoughts on “Drilling, Hydro-Fracking, Journalism & Bias”

  1. A few years ago I drove through a Navajo reservation in New Mexico where extensive gas drilling was taking place. Without exaggeration I couldn’t drive through fast enough the area! Dust, noise, smells, lights, machinery. (The Navajos who lived there were walking around like the “living-dead.) This is no exaggeration. I saw it with my own eyes. Gas drilling is now banned in New Mexico.Should we give it a chance here? Why?
    The only people making money on this deal are the gas companies. For the short term gains of a few is it really worth the sacrifice of all of our more valuable resources; water, air, soil, plants, wildlife, farmland forests….peace?

  2. Dear Babette. Your point is well-taken but Maria specifically stated she was driving through a “Navajo” reservation and was speaking to that particular location in the context of a specific environment. How’s your foot? lol, Liz

  3. My relatives own a few hundred acres – and they signed the leases. I say great ! If one has the property and has the chance to make a lot of money to help the family, kids, and donate to charity etc etc ….by all means – yes.

    The way the world is, you take advantage of opportunity. I mean that in the “business” sense
    of the word. Now – if wildlife gets negatively impacted, or resources tainted etc etc or worse – then it is wrong and will be stopped or corrected.
    This won’t be a free for all ….at least my relatives will see to that. We love the outdoors and i have traveled enough around the world to know how valuable and important it is to keep this planet as clean as possible.

    I work in the energy business for 16 years – if we as a country want to have lower prices and save ourselves from importing – natural gas is a direction to go ….you can’t rely on just wind, solar etc – we don’t have the grid / infrastucture
    and just the sheer size of this country to have those technologies alone power all our homes, let alone everything else.

    That is a reality. Don’t listen to people in the gov’t that don’t know what they are talking about.

    We as a country have no excuse not to shift from an importer to a “creator” of energy. Like anything else in life, we just have to do it intelligently.

  4. Hey Shawn, welcome! I have to say, right off the bat, you’ve got a lot more faith than I in “best intentions.” My organic-growing family & the farmers I worked with as an adult were wonderful caretakers of the land. They had to be. Unfortunately, over the years, they were forced to compromise in order to stay in business. They were forced to use pesticides & antibiotics in order to compete on a large-scale with factory farms. And now, our caretakers are in the unhappy position of having to do business with corporations who have pretty rotten track records as caretakers. I’ve run out of trust, Shawn, for corporations and Congresspeople who’ve made the decisions that robbed Pennsylvania of 220,000 + industrial jobs in 5 years (pretty astonishing, when you think of it) and whose policies stock my local grocery with tomatoes from California instead of Honesdale or Cochecton. For all those reasons and many more, even though I understand why some people feel the need to lease, I just don’t see myself trusting the same corporations and corporate-driven government my neighbors are placing their bets on. Not when so much is at stake.

    Water is a finite resource and an incredibly small percentage is actually potable or accessible. (Here’s good link: http://www.lenntech.com/specific-questions-water-quantities.htm) Many agricultural areas are already struggling with drought-flash flood cycles. (http://drought.unl.edu/droughtscape/2009Winter/dswinter09-2008review.htm) Water wars are already erupting around the globe. What will be the cost of water in the future? Especially if a drilling accident pollutes an aquifer? What will be the cost of clean up? No matter what we’ve been told, it will take years of enormous pressure to ensure the gas companies clean up Dimock, Pavilion and Fort Worth. What will the water cost then? What will it cost us to irrigate our local food supply? I can’t think it’s worth the risk. Like it or not, the reality is that we can live without gas. We cannot live without a fresh water supply That said, it breaks my heart that so many of our landholders are having to make such a terrible choice. Certainly, in Dimock, some landholders believe they made the wrong choice between clean well water and a lease check.

    Most lessors say their leases protect themselves and the land but I have serious questions about the two I’ve seen. Perhaps there are better ones? Like your family’s?

  5. To Lizbucar –

    I hear your plea and plight, and being in big industry i have seen a lot as well ….times and things change – for better or worse. But one thing is clear – the world consumes more and more energy as time goes by – and that will certainly not change.

    This country needs to explore and use our natural resources – eventually prices will go up more and more and people will not be able to afford
    it ….many can’t afford it now. We can’t be slaves to other countries, some of them really not nice people at all, and continue to pay the price to import fuel. Time has come to change that.

    Gas is a surefire way to keep prices lower and have cleaner air. Actually, I have been to many nuclear plants and from professional experience, THAT technology is really the way to go. It’s the cleanest, and extremely safe – and the waste can be treated and reused …..this country is learning from France and England who recylce much of it. Chernobyl never should have been built / created, and TMI was a mix of “bad luck” problems to a degree – but we have learned so much. I know the true story behind both – believe me, today is a different world when it comes to “modern” NPP’s.
    But that is a different topic …;-)

    Unfortunately big business can and is cruel – i don’t see that changing. One has to try to adapt, learn and survive. I am not trying to be trite or take it lighty – but that is reality.

    As far as my family and it’s leases – i know there are many stipulations and protections built
    in the lease – my family is quite aware of the things that can and do go on with “big business”.
    Yes – water is a irreplaceable resource, as are the woods, ecosystem and animals that live around us.

    I can only speak for my family in that the
    gas drillers will face Hell itself if they screw up ….that i do know.

  6. MY foot is fine.

    MY response was not specifically to Maria – it was a generalized history specific statement.

    The links I provided supported your efforts and provide critical info that you could reference.

    How’s YOUR foot. Don’t expect any more from me.

    this should support keeping things focused = it’s a good example.

  7. Dear Shawn,

    Given that neither of us has much trust in corporations or government and that we both admit there are toxins and accidents happen, I guess what I don’t understand is why my position is unacceptable to people wanting to sign leases. In other words, what’s objectionable to gas drilling proponents about:

    “I want the DRBC to table all drilling and fracking applications until after an Environmental Impact Statement has been issued and independent, scientific studies have evaluated the cumulative impacts of drilling, fracking and waste water disposal on the Delaware River Basin.”

    It’s a wait & see position not hard & fast opposition to drilling.

    If you’re interested, I’d be happy to publish your response as a guest editorial.

  8. Hi again –

    You can publish / print my 2 responses above
    if you want …..drilling is already starting in some parts of PA , it’s important that EVERYONE
    keeps an eye on the drilling and stays honest.
    I don’t think anything will postpone more wells to be drilled down the road, but –
    We as a society can (hopefully) be honest, do our homework and make sure the gas companies do their jobs correctly and honestly. And hopefully the mistakes and really bad outcomes will have served
    as a heads up that things need to be controlled
    every which way.

    Take care and good luck to all of us …

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