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So much for that ace in the hole
June 10, 2010 4:37 PM   Subscribe

In 2006, gas developers offered Josh Fox a hundred thousand dollars for the rights to seek natural gas below his land via the process of hydrolic fractioning. Curious as to what this entailed, he checked out what had happened in places where it had been practiced before. It caused him to make the documentary Gasland. He's been talking it up since then here and there.

Q & A after the Sundance screening. It will appear on HBO later this month.
posted by IndigoJones (34 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fracturing.
posted by kuujjuarapik at 4:48 PM on June 10, 2010


also Horizontal Drilling
posted by kuatto at 4:49 PM on June 10, 2010


D'oh!
posted by IndigoJones at 4:50 PM on June 10, 2010


I've seen that man at the very end light his tapwater in fire in the longer clip before, and it never fails to freak me right out.
posted by dabitch at 4:56 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've seen that man at the very end light his tapwater in fire in the longer clip before

Me too. (Not a double! Do NOT flag it as a double!)
posted by Sys Rq at 4:59 PM on June 10, 2010


I've seen the videos of people lighting their sinks on fire as well. Fairly common, albeit horrifying. But the pets and people losing their hair (PBS video)... this is the next fallout of the complete regulatory failure at the MMS. The gulf spill is just the beginning. Fatalities from water toxicity are going to be enormous, even though they were totally avoidable. This procedure needed to be tested for safety; it is obviously not safe; yet our policy on the matter is to put blind faith in the company that everything will be fine.
posted by mek at 5:05 PM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


So, I shouldn't drink bottled water, and I have to worry about my tap water becoming undrinkable. It's gonna be awesome when we don't have any clean sources of water left except for the water coming out of the tailpipes of hydrogen-powered cars.
posted by davejay at 5:32 PM on June 10, 2010


The worst part is much of this will take millenia to undo. We might has well have nuked it.
posted by humanfont at 5:33 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


It would have been the only way to be sure.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:38 PM on June 10, 2010 [4 favorites]


To be fair, we couldn't have done it from orbit, so caution is warranted.
posted by mwhybark at 5:55 PM on June 10, 2010


Seriously, though, humanfront isn't wrong. The only reason caution is warranted is that a nuke would show immediate results, and would visibly be a Bad Thing. On the other hand, companies can cover up the non-immediately visible results of things like this, like strip mining, like, say, so many other things simply because we don't see them right away, or because they affect a relatively small number of people. By the time we find out about it, the site with the problem is probably already worn out, so the company steps aside and apologizes, or the activity is so widespread that we collectively don't care about the consequences, as long as, sincerely now, it just doesn't happen again. Until, of course, it does, and worse. Then we rinse, lather, and repeat the people, or the shorebirds, or the river system until they're either clean, or people have moved on to the hot summer gossip story.

I mean, Lady Gaga was at the Mets game! She flipped people the bird! (Wait, birds might remind people) She flipped people off!
posted by Ghidorah at 6:03 PM on June 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


I love Mr. Boren's question. "How much more dependent would we be on foreign oil — [mumble] terrorism?". What a clown.
posted by kenko at 6:04 PM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


By the time we find out about it, the site with the problem is probably already worn out, so the company steps aside and apologizes, or the activity is so widespread that we collectively don't care about the consequences, as long as, sincerely now, it just doesn't happen again. Until, of course, it does, and worse. Then we rinse, lather, and repeat the people, or the shorebirds, or the river system until they're either clean, or people have moved on to the hot summer gossip story.

Gah. It's terrible up here in Canada, too. Considering what happened in Cape Breton, you'd think we'd be a bit more careful about stuff like that. A quick look at northern Alberta would suggest a big ol' Nope!
posted by Sys Rq at 6:49 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sitting here on the Marcellus shale. Gas companies are herding in the landowners and trying to get them to accept bottom dollar on mineral rights, and the tough thing is, thanks to the shitty economy in a lot of the counties, these people don't have much of a choice.

Local legend is of a half drunk old guy named Lenny. Stood up at a hotel conference room meeting and (supposedly) said:

"Ya gonna sell us a bridge with no nails. Take your bullshit back to wherever the hell ya came from. You forget, we're sitting in coal country and a bunch of us are still paying the tab for the same hook you dangled last time. You ain't from around here so I'll tell ya, things ain't so pretty in the Peanut*, and Bethelehem can't pay for heat in their schools, but someone's grandson in Pittsburg is drivin' a Mercedes, I'll tell ya. We got ourselves a town that's still on fire^. You wanna frak something, just use your thumb and figure out the rest. Set foot om my land, pray the dogs get you before I find my rifle."

*Allentown
^Centralia
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 7:22 PM on June 10, 2010 [27 favorites]


NOW on PBS interviewed Josh Fox and showed some clips from the film on March 26, 2010. The comments section is filled with some serious gas industry trolls.
posted by wcfields at 7:53 PM on June 10, 2010


mek: ... this is the next fallout of the complete regulatory failure at the MMS

Pardon the quibbling, but the MMS has nothing to do with onshore oil and gas development (save the exception of Native American royalties).

If you are looking for a regulatory scapegoat, the relevant agencies will typically be the BLM for Federal lands, and State Oil and Gas Conservation Commissions.
posted by blicero at 8:03 PM on June 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


I researched this for a term paper (after hearing Fox interviewed on The Story); even looking only at the Propublica stuff (the epicenter of anti-HF articles), it seems like this really isn't about 'hydraulic fracturing', but about accidents and irresponsible behavior by energy companies. There are thousands of wells that were drilled with horizontal shafts and hydraulic fracturing, and most of them don't have these issues. But it's a virtual certainty that accidents and bad-actors will happen (a lot of the negative articles are actually about chemical spills and pollution at the surface), so wariness is not unjustified.

Also, both sides of the debate seem to be cherry-picking sources and bending the truth, for example the Bainbridge House Explosion is normally reported as 'House blows up' rather than a fire in the basement. Both sides will cite old reports, or ones which have been redacted, but then the credibility of the report writers/redactors is in question.

I don't mean to defend the oil companies, but I didn't get the impression that if multiple conventional wells had been drilled to cover the same area as one of these problematic fracking operations, the affected landowners would be any better off.
posted by unmake at 8:13 PM on June 10, 2010


You don't mean to defend the oil companies, but you talk as though the only possible two options are "drill this way" or "drill that way", when it's clear that the least problematic solution is to "not drill at all".
posted by breath at 8:40 PM on June 10, 2010


Acid Fracture Treatment is the name of my next psychedelic bluegrass trio.
posted by carsonb at 8:49 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I give NPR a lot of shit, but Fresh Air today was really well done and had two very disturbing interviews. My grandparents have oil wells on their North Dakota farms; after hearing these interviews the first thing I did when I got home was to email my folks and see if the rights to natural gas extraction were also sold. I'm looking forward - with awful trepidation - to seeing Gasland. And I was very impressed with Josh Fox from his Fresh Air and Moyers interviews; thoughtful, articulate, genuine and passionate. [Thanks for posting this, IndigoJones]
posted by Auden at 8:51 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


when it's clear that the least problematic solution is to "not drill at all".

Totally agree with that - but it wasn't my point. Hydraulic Fracturing has made it economically feasible to drill in these areas. Eventually, as energy becomes scarce conventional wells might be feasible. These articles don't make the point that HF is inherently more dangerous than conventional drilling. I don't understand why the campaign is anti-fracturing rather than anti-drilling. If someone's beating people up with a baseball bat, it would be ridiculous if the reportage focussed on it being an aluminum bat.
posted by unmake at 9:04 PM on June 10, 2010


[gah! yes, the natural gas rights were sold with the oil rights... God, I hope they never do fracturing on my Grandma's land. God damn it.]
posted by Auden at 9:32 PM on June 10, 2010


Hey! I was thinking about posting on this today, I'm glad it's getting covered.

I don't have much to add to this, except to say that shale drilling is especially crazy, because it can be done in public lands areas. I was living outside the Monongahela National Forest in WV and the surface rights to several areas nearly went up for public auction to drilling companies, since a good deal of the land rests on shale deposits. In Pennsylvania, drilling in a couple of forests has already begun. I think there's definitely a notion that natural gas drilling is somehow safer than more conventional extraction methods, and it's taking actual wells and the resulting problems to show that this isn't true.

I saw this documentary at the Sarasota Film Festival, and was pretty impressed. Josh Fox is definitely a major part of this movie - it's also a story about his quest with his banjo and he uses his banjo as a kind of a revolutionary grassroots symbol. Anyway, it's very well produced and it got a very good reception by the retirees at the SFF, which was surprising. A few people in the audience started to cry when they were doing the Q and A afterwards. I talked to him for a moment, and he seemed like a nice guy - I was a little surprised to find out he was a member of a theater group in NYC, but that also explained a lot of the savvy editing and graphics in the film.
posted by ajarbaday at 10:49 PM on June 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Shale gas production from another perspective:
“Following is the last column that I wrote for World Oil. It was to have appeared in the November 2009 issue of the magazine. It was ready to send to the printer when John Royall, President and CEO of Gulf Publishing (the parent company of World Oil) pulled it at the last minute based partly, if not largely, on pressure from Petrohawk Energy, a major participant in the U.S. shale plays. Petrohawk does not deny that a top executive exerted pressure on World Oil. I decided to stop contributing columns to World Oil. On November 5, 2009, John Royall fired World Oil Editor Perry Fischer, but gave no reason. I am grateful for ASPO–USA’s generous offer to publish this article.” Arthur E. Berman
Excerpt:
Let me be clear. We do not dispute the volume of gas resources claimed by operators. We do question the reserves that, by definition, must be commercial on a full-cycle economic basis.

The time has come for the companies that operate in the shale plays to show the data that supports their optimistic forecasts for natural gas supply in the US. The economic viability of shale gas is a serious issue with profound implications for capital investment, alternate energy research funding and national policy. To simply say that those that have doubts about shale plays are wrong will no longer satisfy the many intelligent people who follow this debate.
Article can be quite technical, here are others in the same vein (some of them more readable for the layman): Shale gas shenanigans, Shale gas: a review of PBS coverage of “Gasland”, Shale Gas Estimates Perhaps Optimistic - An Interesting and Worrying Talk at ASPO, etc.
posted by samelborp at 1:25 AM on June 11, 2010


A comment on a linked forum: "There is a risk involved with anything, should we put a moratorium on automobiles and highways so we can sit back and study in order to find a way for the world to be perfect?"

Hey, good idea!

"It's not going to happen idiots, get used to it."

Oh. Well, then. I guess all we can do is sit back while the water and frogs and bees and snakes and soil and trees go away. Because...

"because unlike yourselves they are hooked up with an industry that makes PROFITS."

All bow down!
posted by Twang at 3:06 AM on June 11, 2010 [3 favorites]


I mean, Lady Gaga was at the Mets game! She flipped people off!

Seriously? She flipped people off? Why in the world am I finding about that in this thread?

I should be reading about that information where it belongs: on the front page of Metafilter.
posted by flarbuse at 4:58 AM on June 11, 2010


A project at the MIT Media Lab called ExtrAct provides tools for communities impacted by natural gas development. "Its objective is to create and distribute open-source, web-based tools for mapping, analyzing, and intervening in this industry based on supplementing data obtained from state and federal agencies with user generated reports, complaints, and experiences."

The guy who offered Chris Fox that $100K is called a landman. Landman Report Card is part of the ExtrAct project: "Find out who's at your door." What do do if a landman comes knocking.
posted by beagle at 5:02 AM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is a huge issue in DFW: everything west of Dallas has basically been drilled to hell, and the mayor of the tiny town of Dish has been in the news a lot because he's taken on the gas companies. But there have been many many horrifying and sad stories of toxins, burning water, ruined land, and blatant cronyism/destruction, and really, that's only the tip of the iceberg.

The tiny town of Dish got tired of the runaround and paid 15k for its own tests, finding neurotoxins and carcinogens at unacceptable levels near compression and metering facilities.

Oh and we've started having small earthquakes linked to the drilling.

Great local blog that tracks all this/fights for change here.

And beagle, I'm going to send her your link, thanks for posting that.
posted by emjaybee at 7:33 AM on June 11, 2010


argh, sorry for "tiny town of Dish" double paste. It's tiny but that's not the official name.
posted by emjaybee at 7:33 AM on June 11, 2010


Come out to the Palace Theater (James St in Eastwood) tonight (Friday) at 7:00 pm in Syracuse, NY to view "Gasland" and have a chance to interact with Josh Fox during a post-film Q&A. Facebook Event Invite here.
Tickets available here.

posted by franklen at 9:17 AM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]


Gunga galunga. This guy's narration is straight out of Caddyshack.
posted by phaedon at 11:27 PM on June 11, 2010


Josh Fox on the Daily Show.
posted by homunculus at 8:46 PM on June 22, 2010


A Colossal Fracking Mess: The dirty truth behind the new natural gas.

Know the Drill
posted by homunculus at 8:49 PM on June 22, 2010


The industry response. An article published by the Joint Landowners Coalition of New York, Inc. whose tagline is, "To foster, promote, advance and protect the common interest of the people as it pertains to natural gas development through education and best environmental practices."
posted by small_ruminant at 3:52 PM on June 29, 2010


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