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Another April 20th, another accident while gathering hydrocarbons
April 20, 2011 6:58 PM   Subscribe

One year after BP's Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, a hydraulic fracturing operation in northern Pennsylvania experiences a blowout resulting in the release of fracking liquids. The use and chemical content of fracking liquids is a point of contention when debating what role natural gas will play in the future of energy.
posted by nowoutside (84 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Stop the world and let me off.
posted by nola at 6:59 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It would be nice if we taxed them at least.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:05 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


Fracking corporate frackers. Frack them.
posted by steambadger at 7:07 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


It'd also be nice if, when these companies destroy the environment, we don't pick up part of the tab.
posted by ofthestrait at 7:09 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Benzene and lead? Seriously? And these people aren't being strung up and burned?
posted by 1adam12 at 7:22 PM on April 20, 2011


Why do they need these additives? If I understand the process of hydraulic fracturing correctly, it's the pressure that does the work, right?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 7:32 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oh, if only Gasland were freely available to watch online.

I guess we'll have to content ourselves with this 25 minute interview with Josh Fox, who made the award-winning documentary about fracking.

Why we are allowing this procedure to happen and ruin our water tables is beyond me.
posted by hippybear at 7:34 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


If you aren't into fracking, maybe you've never been fracked right.
posted by kenaldo at 7:35 PM on April 20, 2011


If I understand the process of hydraulic fracturing correctly, it's the pressure that does the work, right?

Pressure breaks the rock, but then something has to be pumped in to keep the rocks open so the gas can flow. The chemicals are called propants and they are pretty nasty. Also drilling muds that lubricate the bits are very toxic.
posted by JPD at 7:37 PM on April 20, 2011


Benzene and lead? Seriously? And these people aren't being strung up and burned?

When the Tea Party, FOX News and the Republicans get together to dismantle the EPA, that's the end result. We reap what we sow.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 7:37 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Also they use chemicals to control the characteristics of the liquids they use for the fracking. Its not just water and proppant
posted by JPD at 7:43 PM on April 20, 2011


So, now they're fracking us as well?
posted by localhuman at 7:52 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, is this good news for someone?
posted by TwelveTwo at 8:38 PM on April 20, 2011


Canton, PA... wasn't that close to North Pittsburgh? Goddamn, these things keep getting closer and closer to home.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:41 PM on April 20, 2011


then something has to be pumped in to keep the rocks open so the gas can flow

Sand or a ceramic is used to "prop" open the fracture. Water is 99 percent of what's pumped down the bore. A gel is used to hold the sand in suspension until the rock fractures under pressure and salt is used as a breaker to loosen the gel so it all flows back up to the surface. It really isn't as nasty as they'd like you to believe. This illustrates what's in a typical frac job
posted by SeeAych4 at 8:41 PM on April 20, 2011


This illustrates what's in a typical frac job

Well, it illustrates what the natural gas industry wants you to know about what's in a typical frac job. energyindepth.org being a front for distributing natural gas industry propoganda and stuff.
posted by hippybear at 8:52 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


So, is this good news for someone?

In a "good news, everyone!" sense, yes.
posted by indubitable at 9:00 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It really isn't as nasty as they'd like you to believe.

hippybear is right. The link SeeAych4 is citing a from company that "is a pro-oil-and-gas drilling industry front group"

Sound the sockpuppet alert.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 9:08 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


ugh *is from a
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 9:09 PM on April 20, 2011


You keep buying, they keep selling.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 9:35 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Chesapeake Energy Corp. lost control of the well site near Canton, in Bradford County, around 11:45 p.m. Tuesday, officials said. Tainted water flowed from the site all day Wednesday, though by the mid-afternoon, workers had managed to divert the extremely salty water away from the stream.

Oh noes! Not salty water! Not that you should pour salty water into a stream or allow anyone/anything to drink it, but at the same time it's probably not the end of the world.

pro-oil-and-gas drilling industry front group

OK, but it would be good refute it using numbers, because numbers provide context. Pointing out the mere existence of 'deadly chemicals' is worrying without actually being informative. I have deadly chemicals right here on my (admittedly untidy) desk. A small bottle of Krazy glue. Some grain ethanol, a jar with some bleach in it, and so on. We can't judge the risk without any context, so let's have some from both sides of the debate.
posted by anigbrowl at 9:36 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why are you all surprised that methane would be pro-nat gas?
posted by MikeKD at 9:37 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why is the Onion always accurate in its news reports?
posted by DreamerFi at 9:38 PM on April 20, 2011


Of all the companies' wells operating in the Marcellus that this could have happened to, it's good that it is Chesapeake's. They are by far one of the most conscientious companies operating--they voluntarily disclose the content of their frac fluids, and cap any open wells they find, though they are not required to. You can see that from the landowner's reaction in one of the links--very different from what happened with Cabot in Dimock, where people felt they had been mistreated from the beginning.

In much of the Marcellus, there are thousands of feet of impermeable rock between the shale and the water table. The danger is not migration of fluids from the frac, but improper well engineering and cementing, blowout preventer failure, and water transport and treatment. Chesapeake and other big players have been moving towards on-site treatment and reuse of the water, to cut down on the risks and costs, and impact on roads, of transporting it.

With a Republican governor, unfortunately, the chance of a severance tax in PA are nil. And there is no way that Sen. Casey's FRAC Act, or anything like it, will pass the Senate or the House--this will not be a federally regulated activity for a long time, if ever.

But you don't need the EPA or even state government to slow down or stop fracking. People can just stop selling leases on their land. This is tough in places like the Marcellus region, where dairy prices are in the toilet and people are making $5000 or more an acre. But no one is forcing them to lease their land (although their has been some discussion of using eminent domain in some cases where a lone holdout would prevent a unified field), and there are no split estates (where the landowner owns the land but not the mineral or resource rights) in PA.

As we've seen this year, it doesn't take much for a popular revolt to start and spread, given the right circumstances. In this case, it would be landowners mistreated badly enough that others refuse to sell leases, and the drilling stops.
posted by oneironaut at 10:03 PM on April 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


*there has been...
posted by oneironaut at 10:05 PM on April 20, 2011


Oh noes! Not salty water! Not that you should pour salty water into a stream or allow anyone/anything to drink it, but at the same time it's probably not the end of the world.

Oh, come now. It's a bit disingenuous to quote that bit at the top of that article and then not also quote this part:
Officials advised the farmer on whose land the well was drilled that his cattle could no longer drink from the stream.
So, basically, a farmer has been told that a source of water for his livestock is no longer safe for his livestock to drink.

What would you do if you were in that situation? If you owned a farm which had livestock which needed water and a stream flowing across it since before you bought the property was declared unsafe for the animals to drink?

Would you dig wells? Would you truck in water? How would you handle that situation?

Safe drinking water is a rapidly diminishing resource on this planet, and fracking is ruining it more by the day. Whether it's by situations like the one in this article, with uncontrolled fracking solution escaping into above-the-ground waterways... or who knows what all that stuff is actually doing under the ground.

The scenes of people setting their tap water on fire from Gasland are pretty stark. What would you do if you found that your house's tap water could be set on fire?
posted by hippybear at 10:25 PM on April 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


I'm not sure that farmers refusing to lease their land is going to work if government sides with the mining industry. In Queensland, Australia, farmers started the Lock the Gate campaign to prevent mining reps from trespassing on their land. But the state government has said that if a farmer refuses entry to a mining rep, there is a *mandatory* negotiation period, followed by the company referring the issue to the Land Court. Once it's referred to the Land Court, the mining company has right of entry.

You can't eat coal, you can't drink gas. In Australia, fracking is ruining some of the very little productive farmland we have remaining.
posted by harriet vane at 10:27 PM on April 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


If you've got acreage and a backhoe you can make the mining reps go away.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 10:29 PM on April 20, 2011


It's a bit disingenuous to quote that bit at the top of that article and then not also quote this part: Officials advised the farmer on whose land the well was drilled that his cattle could no longer drink from the stream.

So, basically, a farmer has been told that a source of water for his livestock is no longer safe for his livestock to drink.


It's not disingenuous at all; I said in the very next sentence, which you quoted, that nobody should be allowed to drink it. Animals (cows in particular) are stupid and will drink salt water if they are sufficiently thirsty and then fall over sick and/or die. But it's not permanent. It's just salt water. It'll be fine a few days, depending on how strong the flow of the stream is.

Get a sense of perspective. A few thousand gallons of salty water is not an environmental disaster. It's a mess spread over one or two fields, amounting to a few thousand dollars' worth of inconvenience over a few days. It is not the next Deepwater Horizon, FFS. I am very much pro-regulation but this kind of tinfoil hattery undermines the case for regulation by being ungrounded in anything resembling reality.

Numbers are your friends. Use some goddam numbers, because numbers are what regulators use to make decisions because that's how we do science.

You can't eat coal, you can't drink gas.

You can't power your computer or boil water with good intentions either. There's a big gap that needs filling between existing renewable capacity and even the most minimalist conservation-aware modern lifestyle. Gas is at least vastly cleaner than coal and a lot more available than oil. In fact, the US has so much gas that prices have become laughably cheap and the only reason our oil imports haven't dropped is because we haven't been able to get new gas-fired plants onstream fast enough.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:11 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Water is 99 percent of what's pumped down the bore

That is quite a disingenuous comment. Or would you drink a glass of 99% water?
posted by Skeptic at 11:18 PM on April 20, 2011 [7 favorites]


Still not sure what that farmer is supposed to do about watering his livestock for however long it's supposed to take for that stream to clear up. I note you have no answer to my question about what to do in the meantime.

And what do you mean "it's a mess spread over one or two fields"? Where do you get that impression from the article? A stream was contaminated (doesn't say for how long to expect this to last), SEVEN households have been evacuated... There is no mention of fields anywhere in the article at all.

And we're not just talking salt water here. This is fracking fluid, which has a LOT of crap dissolved in it, much of which we aren't even allowed to know because the companies who are pumping this stuff into the ground (near water tables which are tapped for drinking water) aren't required by any agency or law to reveal exactly what all they're mixing together in order for them to work their fracking magic.

I'm much less concerned with the effects of this one spill, which sounds like it's caused major disruption in a tiny corner of the world, than I am with the widespread use of fracking across the country and the unstudied effects it may be having on groundwater which extends far beyond the plots where the drilling is happening.

You can dismiss those concerns as tinfoil hattery, but I don't think it's ever wrong to err on the side of caution when things as basic (and heretofore regarded as safe) as groundwater are concerned. I'd rather not have the natural gas and have water I know will be safe to drink than have all the gas possible and discover 20 years down the road that everyone in the area has been drinking benzene all this time.
posted by hippybear at 11:27 PM on April 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


angibrowl, for those drillers that don't publish (refuse to do so) the contents of their fracking fluid, which numbers would you suggest one use?
posted by roamsedge at 11:35 PM on April 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's not disingenuous at all; I said in the very next sentence, which you quoted, that nobody should be allowed to drink it. Animals (cows in particular) are stupid and will drink salt water if they are sufficiently thirsty and then fall over sick and/or die. But it's not permanent. It's just salt water. It'll be fine a few days, depending on how strong the flow of the stream is.
They said the water was 'salty', they didn't say it was only salt in the water. I'm not sure where you're even getting that.
The washington post says:
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — A blowout at a natural gas well in rural northern Pennsylvania spilled thousands of gallons of chemical-laced water Wednesday, contaminating a stream and leading officials to ask seven families who live nearby to evacuate as crews struggled to stop the gusher.
The Wnep article says this:
"We've been able to limit the flow. We're still doing additional work to regain full control," said Brian Grove of Chesapeake Energy. He added there is no telling yet how much of that extremely salty water mixed with chemicals and sand has impacted the nearby Towanda Creek, but no gas has escaped into the air.
And, of course, we don't actually know what those chemicals are.
posted by delmoi at 1:34 AM on April 21, 2011


You can't power your computer or boil water with good intentions either.

You can certainly use solar power to run home computers and do a little boiling. The real energy sinks like air conditioning and heating water would be a bit more difficult.
posted by delmoi at 1:38 AM on April 21, 2011


Why is Sourcewatch alleging that Energy in Depth is a 'front group' when the EID web site clearly states that they represent the gas and oil producers?
posted by Anything at 2:04 AM on April 21, 2011


The real energy sinks like air conditioning and heating water would be a bit more difficult.

Not really. With net metering, you use the grid's electricity when your solar panels aren't producing as much as you use, but if your system is sized appropriately, it all evens out. I deliberately installed a PV system that makes more power than I use. Last month's electric bill was $0 dollars. That's for March in central New England. Next winter, I will be using a lot of the grid's power, but by then they will have collected enough of mine to completely offset that. I plan to replace my gas water heater, dryer, and stove when they get old.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:07 AM on April 21, 2011


"Front group" does not necessarily imply any occult backing.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:10 AM on April 21, 2011



oneironaut - you make some good points, however there are indeed split estates in Pennsylvania, lots of them, and a surface owner cannot stop a mineral rights owner from drilling, nor do they necessarily have much to say about what the mineral rights owner does on the surface.

In fact, the Commonwealth (choke) of Pennsylvania owns only about 20-30 percent of the mineral rights under its state parks, and our esteemed (choke) Gov. Corbett just reversed a policy to require impact studies when drilling on state park lands.

The Commonwealth also owns huge tracts of state forest lands (some beautiful country by the way) where it owns most of the mineral rights, and previous Gov. Rendell leased the more appropriate tracts for gas drilling, but Corbett wants to open it all up.

The PeeYay Dept. of Environmental Protection (choke) regulates, but it rubber stamps a lot of well permits.
posted by tommyD at 3:44 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


The scope of this accident is nothing near the extent of the Deepwater Horizon. However, it shows that there is some non-negligible probability of blowout at natural gas fracking wells, of which there are many (and growing). So, the cumulative effect of fracking on the environment may very well be large when you combine numerous, probabilistically inevitable accidents such as these- an environmental problem more akin to the thousands of leaking gas storage tanks than a catastrophic oil leak.

Also, Anigrow, don't expect oil imports to drop due to cheap natural gas- gas fired powerplants aren't going to displace any petroleum use because here in the US we don't use petroleum to generate much electricity, it typically goes to the transportation sector. The widespread use of natural gas in vehicles or the widespread use of electric cars would change this, but who knows where natural gas prices will be by then.
posted by nowoutside at 4:13 AM on April 21, 2011


Oh, and it's not just what the drillers inject into the well to frack it, but what the frack water picks up from the deep shale - including heavy metals, some of them radioactive, and some nasty salts.

The frack water that returns to the surface is supposed to be treated at brine/sewage treatment plants, but they are not all equipped to treat this stuff properly, and it ends up in the rivers. And in Pennsylvania, the groundwater has long been trashed from decades of coal mining and oil and gas drilling, so rivers are where we get most of our drinking water.

Pennsylvania-American Water Company, the state's largest private supplier of drinking water, recently announced it has installed radiation moniotrs at its treatment plants.
posted by tommyD at 4:27 AM on April 21, 2011


Kirth Gerson: "Front group" does not necessarily imply any occult backing.

Sourcewatch as well as everyone in this thread have referred to the notion of EID being a 'front' specifically for the very mundane energy industry. Do you think I'm illiterate?
posted by Anything at 4:28 AM on April 21, 2011


You can't power your computer or boil water with good intentions either
Seems like the third world is more advanced then.
Meanwhile in UK fracking firm battles to woo English villagers.
Never mind the spin, what do we know for sure about the controversial process of fracking? Answer not a lot. More from Scientific American.
posted by adamvasco at 4:54 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well, that Energy In Depth pdf was informative. I really appreciate the table that supplies a non-threatening use for every one of those scary chemicals they're pumping into the ground. Did you know that N, n-Dimethyl formamide is also used in pharmaceuticals, acrylic fibres and plastics? I feel safer already!
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:03 AM on April 21, 2011


hippybear wrote: "What would you do if you were in that situation? If you owned a farm which had livestock which needed water and a stream flowing across it since before you bought the property was declared unsafe for the animals to drink?

Would you dig wells? Would you truck in water? How would you handle that situation?

Safe drinking water is a rapidly diminishing resource on this planet, and fracking is ruining it more by the day. Whether it's by situations like the one in this article, with uncontrolled fracking solution escaping into above-the-ground waterways... or who knows what all that stuff is actually doing under the ground.
"

You seem to be asserting, without evidence, that this is a permanent issue. My guess is that it wouldn't be, that it would take a while to flush the excess salt and crud from the stream and make it safe for drinking again, whether by natural action or by human intervention.

I'm not saying we should just let this sort of thing happen and be all Pollyannish, but we needn't be Chicken Little, either.
posted by wierdo at 5:13 AM on April 21, 2011


Since fracking seems linked to the creation of man-made earthquakes in Arkansas, it seems like a good idea in light of the Fukushima fiasco not to do fracking near a nuclear plant.
posted by nickyskye at 5:16 AM on April 21, 2011


hippybear wrote: "Still not sure what that farmer is supposed to do about watering his livestock for however long it's supposed to take for that stream to clear up"

I believe that the company operating the well is responsible for trucking in water until the stream's water quality issues are resolved.
posted by wierdo at 5:18 AM on April 21, 2011


Joe in Australia: . Did you know that N, n-Dimethyl formamide is also used in pharmaceuticals, acrylic fibres and plastics? I feel safer already!

Me too!

That surely does sound like the kind of thing we should be pumping into the environment on a gigantic scale! I'm all in favour of this now.

wierdo: My guess is that it wouldn't be [permanent], that it would take a while to flush the excess salt and crud from the stream and make it safe for drinking again, whether by natural action or by human intervention.

You know, if it were just salt and crud, I might be willing to go along with your guess, but when we're talking about DMF and benzene and who the hell knows what else? I am not sure anything is worth the cost of those getting into our water supply. If those chemicals are what they are prepared to tell us about, and there's other stuff they feel the need to keep secret? I'm terrified.

How would people feel if they were pumping liquid radioactive waste into the ground? I'm sure that there would be an incredible public outcry, and there's no way they could get away with it. Yet I would rather that than this. At least radioactivity is easy to trace, and the risks are well understood! The poisons and carcinogens they are using right now are far more insidious.
posted by nowonmai at 5:50 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nowonmai: The funny thing is, if they were up front about it I wouldn't be nearly as concerned. If they'd said something like "we're pumping in all sorts of solvents and plasticisers and crap, but we don't think it will harm you because it's deep underground and tends to stay there" I'd at least presume they might be talking sense. But when their defense relies on providing talking points to idiots I'm not going to give them the benefit of the doubt.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:19 AM on April 21, 2011


I can speak to this from the experience of a family who has leased gas rights on land in northern Pennsylvania for fracking - the answer is that there's no easy answer. Where our family's land is - Susquehanna County - is a relatively rural-poor area. Except for farming, which has been eroding due to children of farmers wanting to get off the farm and move to areas where more jobs are, there's not much in the way of economy. Family farms in my area are principally milk cows, which require near constant milking, supervision, and tending. Most farmers are, in a sense, married to the land. As the farmers age, running a dairy farm becomes a more and more perilous, not to say physically taxing enterprise.

Enter the gas companies.

Now, I cannot remember what my father leased our land for, but he was one of the last to lease. The other farmers in the area with very large holdings (> 1000+ acres) leased early, at around (I think, but don't quote me on this) $250/acre for a 5 year lease (again, I think this is what the price was). Now, to someone who hasn't had any financial liquidity their whole lives, retirement is now attainable from leasing the very land that has had to have been worked, near constantly, their whole lives. The land, in a sense, is now working for the farmers in a way that was impossible to fathom just 20 years ago. When the gas companies approached my father, everyone around him had already leased, so it was just a matter of time (think the Burns Slant Drilling episode of The Simpsons) - they'll get your gas, it's just a question of if you get paid.

A lot of the dynamic in the Northern Tier is the landed vs. the non-landed; or, it could be said, the haves vs. the have nots.

It's a discussion fraught with non-solutions, no black and white answers, and not real good judgement calls. Do I wish, for the sake of our land, that my father hadn't leased? Yes. Am I happy that my parents have financial security as they approach their golden years? Yes. Do I understand the frustrations of the people with no land? Yes. Do I understand why farmers, who have had the land tied up in their families for generations 'sold out' so easily? Yes. Am I angry about the noise, the digging, the drilling, the non-stop light? Yes.

Sorry for the long post - this is something that comes up every time I speak with my folks. It's a dynamic of the local economy, and is an issue that my parents, my brothers and I have all fought with each other about over the last several years.
posted by jivadravya at 7:03 AM on April 21, 2011 [11 favorites]


I'll write more later about what fracking has done, at least in my limited experience to our land, and how it's a problem that I wish we wouldn't have had to deal with.
posted by jivadravya at 7:05 AM on April 21, 2011


I believe that the company operating the well is responsible for trucking in water until the stream's water quality issues are resolved.

That would be excellent if that were true. Do you have a citation for this possible factoid?
posted by hippybear at 7:05 AM on April 21, 2011


tommyD, thanks for correcting oneironaut about mineral rights in PA. Here is an interesting article that helps to put this aspect of the issue in perspective. Why does the natural gas company's access have legal priority over the landowner's right to enjoy his trees, land, etc? <-- Rhetorical question...
posted by Shike at 7:56 AM on April 21, 2011


hippybear: "That would be excellent if that were true. Do you have a citation for this possible factoid?"

Gasland and local knowledge. I actually lease mineral rights in Arkansas, and have grown up around the conventional gas industry. Generally, when whatever is clearly their fault, the gas companies do the right thing so they don't get sued. They do, after all, rely upon landowners to lease their mineral rights to them. If a given operator has a (known) bad record, whether with not compensating for damages or not paying royalties or whatever else, it becomes harder for them to lease other properties in the future.

In Arkansas, they have to successfully lease a rather substantial fraction of all the mineral rights in a given pool before they can go to the oil and gas commission and force the remaining owners into a lease. (there's a term for that which I can't remember at the moment)

Also, if I remember correctly, there's a clause in the lease about them (and the other working interest owners) being liable for any damages caused to surface landowners.
posted by wierdo at 8:09 AM on April 21, 2011


Safe drinking water is a rapidly diminishing resource on this planet, and fracking is ruining it more by the day. Whether it's by situations like the one in this article, with uncontrolled fracking solution escaping into above-the-ground waterways...

Some perspective, please. This was a blow-out: surface water -- not groundwater -- was polluted by the spillage of several thousand gallons of brine + hydrocarbon. A pretty bad accident, but an extremely rare case, the impact of which is magnified many times by the optics. Not even close to the pollution resulting from run-off from paved roads and drive ways in a medium sized city. Not excusing the operator at all, but the most recent reports are that the well is controlled, being capped, and testing of downstream locations indicates contamination is either absent or below limits.

or who knows what all that stuff is actually doing under the ground.

Umm, what? Frac fluids open up fractures and fill the newly created volume, then they flow back under formation pressure to the surface (*). Frac'd reservoirs are nowhere near close enough for frac fluids to go from reservoir through newly created fracture to freshwater acquifer. In this case, contamination resulted from a blow-out at the surface, and no groundwater was affected.

(*) Which is where there is a big water management problem. There is not enough capacity to treat this water to release standards in Pennsylvania (or in other jurisdictions for that matter). Most operators re-use frac fluids, but eventually treatment and disposal is needed regardless. One common approach is to re-inject the fluids into a deep reservoir -- either a produced oil or gas reservoir or deep saline acquifer.

Which leads to this:

Since fracking seems linked to the creation of man-made earthquakes in Arkansas,

Not so. Earthquakes in Arkansas were associated with a disposal well, not a frac operation.
posted by bumpkin at 8:10 AM on April 21, 2011


Sourcewatch as well as everyone in this thread have referred to the notion of EID being a 'front' specifically for the very mundane energy industry. Do you think I'm illiterate?

I think you're applying a very narrow definition of the term "front" - to mean a hidden interest. The term is not so limited. It is very commonly used to describe associations of people or groups that have a common interest and wish to present a united front. That you don't seem to be aware of that common usage does not make you illiterate.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 8:15 AM on April 21, 2011


The definition Sourcewatch itself uses is this:
A front group is an organization that purports to represent one agenda while in reality it serves some other party or interest whose sponsorship is hidden or rarely mentioned.
In any case, I apologize for being cranky.
posted by Anything at 8:23 AM on April 21, 2011


In this case, contamination resulted from a blow-out at the surface, and no groundwater was affected.

A lot of the drinking water in PA comes from surface water. It's nice that surface water means that most of the pollution will move along, but surface water and groundwater have a way of connecting -- that benzene and lead end up somewhere, they don't just dissapear.
posted by backwords at 8:51 AM on April 21, 2011




Some perspective, please. This was a blow-out: surface water -- not groundwater -- was polluted by the spillage of several thousand gallons of brine + hydrocarbon. [emphasis mine]

Yes, THIS was a blow-out which polluted surface water.

I was examining the issue from a much larger context, and there is plenty of evidence from across the spectrum which shows that fracking is harming groundwater.

Sorry if I wasn't clear that my discussion of fracking springboarded from this specific incident to a broader examination of the process. I will be more clear in the future.
posted by hippybear at 9:12 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


It is often said that fraking fluids cannot contaminate water wells as they can't migrate from the strata being fracked to usable groundwater tables because there are several thosand feet of strata between them. And this is true.

But that's not the problem. The problem is the difficulty in sealing the outside of the well casing to the surrounding rock. When the seal is bad, frackwater under high pressure (or gas) can migrate up the borehole and contaminate shallow (< 200 feet) aquifers. Such borehole migration is a problem with shallow (1,000 to 2,000 feet) gas wells as well as the deep (5,000 feet plus) Marcellus wells.
posted by tommyD at 9:28 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


tommyD, thanks for that as well--I know at least that split estates are not as big an issue here as they are out West; many, many more people in PA have mineral rights, and that accounts I think for most of the leases that have been sold. And enough don't have split estates that a large-scale landholder refusal would have a massive impact.
posted by oneironaut at 9:41 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


There's a big gap that needs filling between existing renewable capacity and even the most minimalist conservation-aware modern lifestyle. Gas is at least vastly cleaner than coal and a lot more available than oil.

If the only way we can power our current civilization is by destroying the water tables on which we and our biosphere depend, then every effort should be made to stop us.

This isn't eating the seed corn, this is burning down the house for heat.
posted by General Tonic at 9:51 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's worth noting, by the way, that while the fracking fluid does contain some sodium chloride (table salt), when they say "salts," they're referring to chemical salts, of which table salt is just one out of many.
posted by Jon_Evil at 10:01 AM on April 21, 2011


You can't power your computer or boil water with good intentions either. There's a big gap that needs filling between existing renewable capacity and even the most minimalist conservation-aware modern lifestyle. Gas is at least vastly cleaner than coal and a lot more available than oil. In fact, the US has so much gas that prices have become laughably cheap and the only reason our oil imports haven't dropped is because we haven't been able to get new gas-fired plants onstream fast enough. - anigbrowl

anigbrowl, it says in a link on your profile that you have been employed by National Power. Isn't that the same company that became Npower - "Npower (stylised as npower) is a UK-based electricity and natural gas supply company.

Your cheerleading outfit has a stain on it.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 10:47 AM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Still not sure what that farmer is supposed to do about watering his livestock for however long it's supposed to take for that stream to clear up. I note you have no answer to my question about what to do in the meantime.

Oh for crying out loud. The same thing he would do if another farmer contaminated the stream by releasing animal effluent into it (which farmers used to do all the time until regulators started slapping them on the wrist): move the cows into the barn for a few days or a week and let them drink from a trough. It's a stupid question because anyone who's ever thought twice about how a farm works is aware that Shit Happens and animals often need to be moved around. What if it rains too heavily in winter and the field is flooded, making it unsafe for the cows? Will you shake your fist at the heavens?

And what do you mean "it's a mess spread over one or two fields"? Where do you get that impression from the article? A stream was contaminated (doesn't say for how long to expect this to last), SEVEN households have been evacuated... There is no mention of fields anywhere in the article at all.

I get that impression by thinking about it. There is no mention of fields, but if the guy waters his cows at the stream then that means they're in pasture. This is obviously not a built-up urban area if there are only 7 households in the vicinity. Rural land is subdivided. Land with a stream running through it is by definition irrigated, which means - at least in Pennsylvania - that it has vegetative growth. Subdivided land with vegetative growth is called a field.

As for the mess being spread over one or two fields, we can infer that from the mention of thousands of gallons. At most that means 6 o5 7 thousand gallons, or they'd be talking about 'almost ten thousand gallons.' Let's call it 7500, not least for the fact that there are 7.5 gallons in one cubic foot of water (as a European, I would rather use the metric system but innumerate anti-technologists like yourself have slowed its adoption and left the US trailing the rest of the world). So, we have possibly 1000 cubic feet of water. If it were an ice cube it would be 10 feet on a side plus a little for the freezing expansion. You could fill a small pool will 1000 cubic feet. Or about 30-40 bathtubs. It's not that much water.

And we're not just talking salt water here. This is fracking fluid, which has a LOT of crap dissolved in it, much of which we aren't even allowed to know because the companies who are pumping this stuff into the ground (near water tables which are tapped for drinking water) aren't required by any agency or law to reveal exactly what all they're mixing together in order for them to work their fracking magic.

Fracking fluid is just as likely to include walnut shells, sand, or coffee grounds. Yes, it can also include some hazardous chemicals at low concentrations, which pose a risk of environmental hazard and whose use must be carefully monitored. But don't give me that 'not allowed to know' argument - the way you find out what's in a fluid you're worried about is by taking it to a lab and analyzing it, which I'm pretty sure opponents of fracking have done in the past. Look that up. Make your argument based on actual data instead of anecdote and handwaving.

You can dismiss those concerns as tinfoil hattery, but I don't think it's ever wrong to err on the side of caution when things as basic (and heretofore regarded as safe) as groundwater are concerned.

And how close are fracking wells to groundwater, on average? I'm not advocating dumping fracking fluid into the drinking water. But you're saying it's an ever-present risk, so you clearly know all about it. Tell me what fraction of groundwater tables have changed since fracking became popular and what concentrations of chemicals are present in water that were not there before. I am entirely willing to restrict or even oppose fracking on the basis of actual data. I'm not willing to do it on the basis of 'we can't even know what effect we have on the earth, man, so we should not do anything anywhere ever...except where our computers are concerned, because we enjoy posting our vague uninformed worries on the internet.'

I'd rather not have the natural gas and have water I know will be safe to drink than have all the gas possible and discover 20 years down the road that everyone in the area has been drinking benzene all this time.

Enjoy your coal pollution then. I'll send you the bill for the asthma medication and you can explain why 10x the greenhouse gas seemed like such a great idea.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:16 AM on April 21, 2011


Enjoy your coal pollution then. I'll send you the bill for the asthma medication and you can explain why 10x the greenhouse gas seemed like such a great idea.

I live in an area where most of the electricity comes from hydroelectric for a reason. But nice try.
posted by hippybear at 11:47 AM on April 21, 2011


anigbrowl, it says in a link on your profile that you have been employed by National Power. Isn't that the same company that became Npower - "Npower (stylised as npower) is a UK-based electricity and natural gas supply company.

Yes, as in 'supply to the public.' When I worked for them as a quantitative analyst around 1992-1993, they ran power plants; I'm not aware of any extraction activities, but then I haven't lived in the UK since 1996 so I don't really keep up with what they're doing these days. The UK has had natural gas plants for a long time, although most was imported as LNG.

Your cheerleading outfit has a stain on it.

It might if I owned any shares, bonds, or had any other connection with the company in the last 18 years, or indeed any firm in the energy sector. I make no apology for having once worked for an electrical utility. One of my wife's friends is a cleantech investor, and we had a non-business dinner with him once. Also, I have had coffee with someone who develops solar panel technology, whom I met via MeFi. Anything else you'd like to know? Ask me about why I have never even owned a car and prefer public transport or walking.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:53 AM on April 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I live in an area where most of the electricity comes from hydroelectric for a reason. But nice try.

Have you heard of this thing called the national grid? For someone who's so worried about the big picture, your suggestion that it's OK for people to burn coal elsewhere because your local electricity comes from hydro is laughable hypocrisy.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:58 AM on April 21, 2011


Anyway, that knee-jerk reaction aside, you've done some pretty remarkable exegesis here without much real data to back it up.

Assuming that saying "thousands of gallons" somehow actually denotes a specific amount, for starters. You begin with a basic assumption about what that nebulous phrase means, and then lay out an entire scenario based on that fallacy. Including some arithmetic! I'm impressed you'd go that far to back up your claims based on nothing but a three word phrase in a newspaper article, but okay.

As far as how many fracking wells are close to groundwater? I don't think there's any hard data on that, but here's an anecdote:
What we do know fracking solutions contain are benezene, ethyl-benezene, toluene, xlene, formaldehyde, and hydrochloric acid. All have been found in the drinking water after hydrolic fracturing has been begun. What we don't know is whether this is from the water and fracking solution that remains in the ground or is from spillage from the 15 to 30% of the water and solution that comes back up after the rock is fractured.

In Dimock in Susquehanna County Pennsylvania a number of wells have become polluted with hazardous materials since Cabot Oil began drilling. Some wells have methane gas in the water causing a well house to explode and others have been able to light their water on fire. Cabot has admitted to the contamination.
And anyway, the entire situation shouldn't be a choice between coal pollution and bad drinking water. Sadly, we're going to end up with both, so you can enjoy your asthma medication while you try to find something safe to swallow the pills with.
posted by hippybear at 12:00 PM on April 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


anigbrowl wrote:

Yes, it can also include some hazardous chemicals at low concentrations, which pose a risk of environmental hazard and whose use must be carefully monitored

Yes, the Tea Party of Pennsylvania have definitely proven that if nothing else they are stewards of the environment and take a long view on issues such as this. That's probably why Governor Corbett stacked his transition team with fracking company executives. So he can keep a close eye on them. I smell astroturf...
posted by any major dude at 12:01 PM on April 21, 2011


Anyway, I'm done. Have fun with the thread, angibrowl.
posted by hippybear at 12:01 PM on April 21, 2011


But don't give me that 'not allowed to know' argument - the way you find out what's in a fluid you're worried about is by taking it to a lab and analyzing it, which I'm pretty sure opponents of fracking have done in the past. Look that up. Make your argument based on actual data instead of anecdote and handwaving.

This is kind of a specious argument. Assuming you could even get a sample of the fracing fluid, what do you suggest they analyze for? Just tell the lab "everything"? It doesn't work that way. You need to know roughly what you are looking for (VOCs/SVOCs/PAHs etc) and then specify analyses. Besides, there are cases of those chemicals above showing up in people's wells anyway. These are not anthropogenic. I don't have the data (I would love to see it) but it was shown in Gasland.

To be honest I think they took some liberties in Gasland and pretty much pushed the sky is falling thing to the limit. But I also think that if that is what it takes for the public to wake up and start forcing the regulatory agencies to do the bidding of the people they are supposed to protect and not the will of big business then I am all for it. The fact that these operations are excluded from the Clean Water Act is absolutely mind numbing. I work in the remediation industry, and the methods and permitting we have to do to discharge clean water (non-detect, post remediation) is somewhat staggering, while these guys get a free pass. Unreal.
posted by Big_B at 12:11 PM on April 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


The NIMBY-ness of the natural gas discussion is awe-inspiring.

That fracking has occurred for decades in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, and a host of other western / fly-over states is a-okay. No one has minded the cheap gas and interstate pipelines.

But heavens forbid that it happens anywhere near Josh Fox's second home. Then we must grab our banjo, drive cross country (in our Prius, I assume) and stop it post-haste!
posted by blicero at 12:11 PM on April 21, 2011


Assuming that saying "thousands of gallons" somehow actually denotes a specific amount, for starters. You begin with a basic assumption about what that nebulous phrase means, and then lay out an entire scenario based on that fallacy. Including some arithmetic! I'm impressed you'd go that far to back up your claims based on nothing but a three word phrase in a newspaper article, but okay.

It's called being literate. It's easily observable that news media reports things using common orders of magnitude and tends to round to the nearest large unit. If they had said 'tends of thousands of gallons,' I have assumed that could mean anything up to about 75,000.

As far as how many fracking wells are close to groundwater? I don't think there's any hard data on that, but here's an anecdote:

So you have no idea and are too lazy to find out.

Anyway, I'm done. Have fun with the thread, angibrowl.

Poseur.

Big_B, I have family members who work in remediation and agree that this should not be excluded from the CWA, and also with your worries about regulatory capture. Your observations and those of TommyD are serious and worthwhile. But I hate uninformed hippie bullshit just as much as I hate dishonest corporate bullshit.
posted by anigbrowl at 12:18 PM on April 21, 2011


The fracking material could be rainbow unicorn farts mixed with angel eyelashes... and it still has the potential to cause problems. It's not a matter of what the fluid contains but what the fracking process releases from the natural environment. Radiation is one issue.

From the Post-Gazette article

"Public drinking water intakes do not often test for radiation levels, but the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority will do so this year because of issues raised by the Times article, said Stanley States, authority water quality manager."

As for Wyoming - They're having some problems of their own.

From yesterdays Billings Gazette

"Wyoming was one of 15 states in which oil and gas service companies injected hundreds of thousands of gallons of water containing potentially hazardous chemicals and known carcinogens into wells from 2005-2009, a report by three House Democrats said late last week."

---------------

I am also done with this thread. Proceed with the astroturfing.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 12:22 PM on April 21, 2011


In Dimock in Susquehanna County Pennsylvania a number of wells have become polluted with hazardous materials since Cabot Oil began drilling. Some wells have methane gas in the water causing a well house to explode and others have been able to light their water on fire. Cabot has admitted to the contamination.

Hippybear - While Cabot has admitted to the contamination, there has been bad water in Dimock for at least 20 years. (we're in Rush, which is down the street, PA-speaking from Dimock). There was never a recourse for anyone in Dimock as there's not really an authority to deal with those things. The story goes that Cabot, in order to continue to drilling elsewhere has, in some instances, taken responsibility for the Dimock situation. I am not a Cabot apologist, and I'm going to look for a cite of Dimock's historical water problems, but I'm not sure what I'm going to find.

It's been a ridiculously busy day at work, and I'm brain-dead, but I want to address this in fuller detail a little later.
posted by jivadravya at 3:03 PM on April 21, 2011


That fracking has occurred for decades in Texas, Oklahoma, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, and a host of other western / fly-over states is a-okay. No one has minded the cheap gas and interstate pipelines.

Oh, hey - look at this.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:10 PM on April 21, 2011


The whole "It wasn't a problem in states X, Y, Z" thing may just be because people in those states don't care?
Not really. With net metering, you use the grid's electricity when your solar panels aren't producing as much as you use, but if your system is sized appropriately, it all evens out. I deliberately installed a PV system that makes more power than I use.
Oh yeah of course. I'm just talking about what you need to power a desktop PC and be online. Not that much in terms of costs these days. With a laptop or net book only you would need even less energy. It's not the 21st century stuff that takes most energy consumption, it's 20th century advances in comfort like AC and whatnot.
Enjoy your coal pollution then. I'll send you the bill for the asthma medication and you can explain why 10x the greenhouse gas seemed like such a great idea.
Methane is, like, 100 times as potent a greenhouse gas compared to CO2. If any of it leaks then you end up with much worse greenhouse gas situation then with coal or oil. So I find "Natural Gas is better for greenhouse gas emissions" stuff kind of B.S.

Beyond that, it's just a temporary fix anyway. There isn't really any reason why Wind and Solar shouldn't be our major investment focus. Nuclear reactors may be a good idea, and maybe not. But natural gas still emits CO2 and it is itself a potent greenhouse gas.

Anyway anigbrowl is just spouting some ridiculous nonsense (calling the fluid just 'salt water' which is absurd. We don't know whats in it but a lot more then sodium chloride) and other statistical bullshit, like the 10x figure for CO2 for coal or whatever. The most CO2 reduction figure I've ever heard was like a 30% reduction by burning Methane. But that ignores the methane release itself.
posted by delmoi at 6:26 PM on April 21, 2011


Speaking of numbers -- this site, marcellusgas.org, is a gateway to a database of official statistics on numbers of wells drilled, gas harvested, fees paid, environmental violations reported, and so forth, in Pennsylvania. I spoke with the creator of the site, and one of his points was that the amount of revenue that the state gets from this gas is tiny compared to the value of the gas being mined. And the amount of gas that has been extracted is tiny compared to what's going to be extracted. Evidently, this won't be like Alaska, where every citizen makes out to some extent. The land-owners are making some money; the citizens in general aren't getting in on the action, though.
posted by pressF1 at 7:18 PM on April 21, 2011


In Dimock in Susquehanna County Pennsylvania a number of wells have become polluted with hazardous materials since Cabot Oil began drilling. Some wells have methane gas in the water causing a well house to explode and others have been able to light their water on fire. Cabot has admitted to the contamination.

Hippybear - While Cabot has admitted to the contamination, there has been bad water in Dimock for at least 20 years. (we're in Rush, which is down the street, PA-speaking from Dimock). There was never a recourse for anyone in Dimock as there's not really an authority to deal with those things. The story goes that Cabot, in order to continue to drilling elsewhere has, in some instances, taken responsibility for the Dimock situation. I am not a Cabot apologist, and I'm going to look for a cite of Dimock's historical water problems, but I'm not sure what I'm going to find.


With respect to the methane contamination issue, I really think this needs to be separated out from the frac fluids problem. The presence of methane in a well, especially in a place like Pennsylvania, is not at all surprising based on the geology. The health issues are different too. Sure people being able to light their water on fire and well houses blowing up are decidedly not a good thing, but this is a far different problem than the potential VOC/SVOC/PAH contamination from frac fluids. One is immediate - fire, explosions - and one is chronic: nervous system damage, birth defects.

This also goes back to the "they've been doing this for twenty years" argument. Drilling and fracking has been going on that long, but the chemical mixtures are a relatively recent technological addition.
posted by Big_B at 9:21 PM on April 21, 2011


Enjoy your coal pollution then. I'll send you the bill for the asthma medication and you can explain why 10x the greenhouse gas seemed like such a great idea.
Methane is, like, 100 times as potent a greenhouse gas compared to CO2. If any of it leaks then you end up with much worse greenhouse gas situation then with coal or oil. So I find "Natural Gas is better for greenhouse gas emissions" stuff kind of B.S.


If I had meant CO2, I would have said CO2. The CO2 contribution of natural gas when burned is about half that of coal, but this omits sulfides and various other impurities which affect albedo, which was why I said greenhouse gas instead of CO2. As of 2008, Total coal emissions are 2125 MMTCO2e (million metric tonnes CO2 equivalent), and total natural gas emissions are 1242 MMTC)2e. However, natural gas emission include all natural gas sources; the CO2 equivalents for natural gas production for fuel appears to be less than a tenth of that for coal.

Methane is itself a powerful greenhouse gas as you say. The gas industry produces ~200 MMTCO2e annually, due to leaky storage containers, waste, and burning. ~100 comes from coal mining, and a smaller amount (~25) from oil field burnoff. Agriculture contributes ~250 and landfill about ~225. These numbers are approximations extrapolated (just now, in my head) from this data source, or you can view the full report in pdf form here. The 2011 report is late and may come out next week as a supplement to the Annual Energy Outlook, if I read the DoE website correctly.

I am not an expert on these things, but contrary to what you imagine I do not just make stuff up.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:26 AM on April 22, 2011








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