The argument of Keystone protestors is not that there’s One True Way, but that eventually there has to be some way. Somebody’s got to start taking these dire warnings seriously and do something, something specific and concrete. You can’t support Doing Something but oppose Doing This Particular Thing forever. Sooner or later, people have to draw lines and take sides. Progress does not happen without struggle.
Maybe Keystone isn’t the right line. Maybe the next line won’t be the right one either. But the longer folks like Revkin hover over such fights at an ironic distance, never quite satisfied with this target, or that spokesperson, or this policy, or that strategy, the more they’re going to get blowback from people gripped by a sense that there’s not a lot of time left to fuck around and at the very least we have to stop making it worse. The ranks of such people are growing. At some point, dithering over incrementalism in the imaginary center will come to be seen as a failure of moral clarity and judgment. I wouldn’t want to be the last person dug into that trench.
daveliepmann: “And it's never been explained to me how we dispose of the massive amounts of contaminated wastewater. ”
Although the results are preliminary — the study is still ongoing — they are the first independent look at whether the potentially toxic chemicals pose a threat to people during normal drilling operations. But DOE researchers view the study as just one part of ongoing efforts to examine the impacts of a recent boom in oil and gas exploration, not a final answer about the risks.
"This is good news," said Duke University scientist Rob Jackson, who was not involved with the study. He called it a "useful and important approach" to monitoring fracking, but he cautioned that the single study doesn't prove that fracking can't pollute, since geology and industry practices vary widely in Pennsylvania and across the nation.
Yet while many people have focused on the potential threat from the chemicals, experts have come to believe that more routine aspects of the drilling process are more likely to cause problems. Poor well construction that allows excess gas to escape, spills of chemicals or other fluids that take place at the surface, and disposal of wastewater are all issues of concern.
While the lack of contamination is encouraging, Jackson said he wondered whether the unidentified drilling company might have consciously or unconsciously taken extra care with the research site, since it was being watched. He also noted that other aspects of the drilling process can cause pollution, such as poor well construction, surface spills of chemicals and wastewater.
Jackson and his colleagues at Duke have done numerous studies over the last few years that looked at whether gas drilling is contaminating nearby drinking water, with mixed results. None has found chemical contamination but they did find evidence that natural gas escaped from some wells near the surface and polluted drinking water in northeastern Pennsylvania.
On Friday, DOE spokesman David Anna added that while nothing of concern has been found thus far, "the results are far too preliminary to make any firm claims."
What strikes me as most significant is not only the establishing of probable pathways, but Engelder and others’ reaction to that finding. In years of reporting on this issue — and the waste injection well issue, which really concerns the same questions about pathways — the public explanation has consistently been that no underground migration at all is possible. We’ve been told we know this because of logic (there is so much separation there is simply no way…) and because of geology (the Marcellus and other layers are so impermeable no fluids can get through them, or there are no fractures or faults to allow movement). This is what the oil and gas industry trade groups say in public, it’s what the regulators say (the New York SGEIS, for example), and so on.
In the scientific community geologists are less universally confident, but the consensus conventional wisdom is still largely the same: This can’t happen. It’s virtually impossible.
And yet the National Academy of Sciences article published yesterday says that it is happening. (And in the first articles in my series about injection disposal wells I cited several other cases in Ohio and Florida where it happened through natural pathways). When yesterday’s research came out, I expected the gas industry, for example, to struggle to address the idea that pathways exist, but instead they tell me they have long known that underground migration happens. The question, they now ask, is how long does it take? Engelder says the same — that even though the public has generally been led to believe upward migration is impossible, he has long known that it happens in some places. Well since when? And why haven’t these same people discussed the potential of natural pathway migration before?
Hundreds of pages of federal documents released by the government to The Associated Press and advocacy groups through the Freedom of Information Act show regulators have permitted fracking in the Pacific Ocean at least 12 times since the late 1990s, and have recently approved a new project.
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