UT Shale Study

Much Ado About Perceptions and Less Ado About Science or Regulations http://tinyurl.com/UT-Fracking Concern with the public perception of fracking is an overriding issue of the report. Eighty five pages of the report deal with opinion polls and how to address fracking in the media, including strategies for keyword searches on the Internet. The study’s first topic of enquiry was on the public’s perceptions of fracking. The authors seem more interested in how fracking is perceived, than in quantifying its impacts. This mirrors the gas industry’s interest in using university-based reports to bolster their credibility. This frames the study as an exercise in addressing the public perception of the issues, rather than a scientific enquiry, which it clearly is not. “2.1.1 Media Coverage Media coverage of hydraulic fracturing, a critical and distinctive component of shale gas development, was assessed for tonality (negative or positive) and reference to scientific research.” Not surprisingly, the public opinion poll and media analysis is the most comprehensive and professional work in the entire report. The authors frame the debate by asking the wrong questions, address issues with a considerable amount of tendentious spin, and ignore or dismiss information that is unfavorable to their biases. This is particularly evident in Section 2, the summary. 2.2.2 Fracking and Groundwater Contamination The authors narrowed their focus to five (5) relevant questions about what they identify as the most contentious issue, groundwater contamination. By so doing, they limit the enquiry to answering the questions posed, which are not comprehensive to the problems of groundwater contamination. “The concerns over hydraulic fracturing and related activities have a number of dimensions, but hey can be summed up with a few relevant questions: 1. Does the composition of additives to the fracturing fluid pose extraordinary risk drinking water? 2. Does fracturing fluid escape from the shale formation being treated and migrate to aquifers? 3. Are claims of hydraulic fracturing impacts on water wells valid? 4. Does the flowback and produced water after fracturing have a negative impact? 5. Does hydraulic fracturing lead to well blowouts and house explosions?” 1

The authors neglect to mention the most common sources of groundwater contamination: drilling, spills and gas well leaks. In lieu of that, they list some relative rare events, one of which – house explosions - have nothing to do with groundwater contamination. Meaning, if they can demonstrate that your house is not likely to explode, your well water should be OK. The act of drilling itself is likely to increase turbidity in groundwater. Spills from trucking, drilling or fracking operations are likely to contaminate groundwater. More importantly, the gas wellbore itself is the most likely pathway for groundwater contamination. 1 This is common knowledge in the industry,2 but the authors chose to set up the perceptual straw man of an exploding house, rather than address how horizontal shale gas well bores can contaminate drinking water. 3 Let's address each and discuss how the authors answered their own questions. Chemicals in frack fluid. The paper trots out some of the usual industry rationalizations about fracking fluid - about how some of the same chemicals can be found in “non stick spray for frying pans. . . cosmetics etc. Or in a chemistry lab. Or, in the case of the flowback, a nuclear bomb. They note that many of the more toxic and carcinogenic chemicals identified in the Waxman Committee Report “are no longer used” after acknowledging that there are no federal and few state requirements to actually disclose what is in the frack fluid. They make no recommendations about disclosure, and conclude by noting that the frack fluid is injected “several thousand feet below the surface.” Without commenting on the fact that it can spill on its way to the frack, and it comes back with the flowback. Migration of frack fluid to aquifers. They discuss the least likely vectors of contamination, the frack going out of zone, and ignore the most likely vectors: surface spills of frack fluid and fracking flowback. They fail to address the long term probability of fracking contaminates entering aquifers via natural hydrological flow mechanisms, as discussed by Tom Myers.4 To give you an illustration, (that Myers does not resort to), if the frack is run into or near a natural thermal uplift – such as the upward movement into a thermal or mineral spring the natural transport could carry the frack water to the surface – within a matter of hours. In an area where natural faulting is poorly mapped, this could be a real problem.5

1 2 3 4 5

http://www.scribd.com/doc/65577477/How-Gas-Wells-Leak http://www.scribd.com/doc/80574646/Well-Failures http://www.scribd.com/doc/88489724/Horizontal-Well-Leaks http://www.scribd.com/doc/97207776/Ground-Water-Impacts-of-Gas-Wells http://www.scribd.com/doc/81397215/Fracking-New-York-Faults

2

Fracking impacts on water wells. This section lists the usual industry denials –that the contaminants were pre-existing, but offers no statistics of well failures – when such information is readily available and indicates that, out of every well shale gas well completed, a failure rate of approximately 7% can be expected, or one in every 15 wells. So if the well pad site had 15 laterals, there would be close to 100% expectation of some failure. Fracking flowback. This section fails to address where to dispose of the flowback if injection wells are not readily available. And if they are available, how they can be used without precipitating earthquakes, which the authors fail to address. Well blow-outs and house explosions. No statistics given, except they state that blowouts are “under-reported” which squares with another bit of industry propaganda.6 What house explosions have to do with groundwater contamination is unclear, but the authors seem pleased to report that such explosions are relatively rare, which must be most reassuring to many readers. 2.2.5 Water Usage. The authors mercifully do not equate the water used for fracking to that used on golf courses, but do give its annual equivalent as being the same as used by “5 million people”. Of course, for that to be relevant, the people would have to regurgitate, expectorate or urinate fluids laced with arsenic, strontium 90, radium 226, benzene, etc. into pits that precipitate earthquakes. 2.2.6 Frack flowback containment and spills. No research, no statistics, no real recommendations, just some anecdotes, including this pithy one: “One experiment in West Virginia involved an intentional release of about 300,000 gallons of flowback water in a mixed hardwood forest followed by observation of the effects on trees and other vegetation. Ground vegetation was found to suffer extensive damage very quickly followed by premature leaf drop from trees in about 10 days. Over two years the mortality rate for the trees was high – greater than 50% of one species.” Which would simply tend to confirm flowbacks usefulness as a weed killer. 2.2.8 Health Impacts Will end with this quote, because after you read this, you simply toss the study in the trash: It may also be worth noting that the gas industry has been using hydraulic fracturing for over 50 years, but the studies examined in this review did not find any direct evidence for health impacts on workers in the industry or the public living near oil and gas industry activity. No health impacts on workers in the industry. I personally knew/know oil field workers that were either killed on rigs or blown sky high. So their summary conclusion is a bit misleading.

6

http://www.scribd.com/doc/97190149/Truthland 3

No health impacts on the public. The key phrase is the studies examined in this review. Meaning they selected studies to fit their world view. Hardly peer-reviewed science. Section 3 – Public Opinion Survey and Media Coverage Analysis The authors fail to state why the extensive public opinion poll and media coverage analysis have anything to do with regulating shale gas industrialization. Curiously, this section is the longest, most professional and least biased of the report – since it was evidently done by a professional polling and public relations consulting group; of the type that has been involved with similar shale gas PR efforts. The number of pages (85) devoted to opinion polls and media strategies indicates that this is the core concern of the report – how fracking is perceived, and how those perceptions should be dealt with by regulators and the industry. Section 4 – Environmental Impacts of Shale Gas Industrialization Most of this section is simply an elaboration of the topics introduced in first sections. The authors cite their sources extensively. However, while the authors discuss current papers on various aspects of shale gas industrialization, they fail to suggest any regulatory solutions; see for instance section 2.4 Disposal, Recycling and Reuse of Fracturing Water. A policy maker could read this section and have no clue how to address the problem – or even regulate it; such is indeed the case in New York, where there are no environmentally sound or economically viable options for frack waste disposal.7 Some sections, notably Section 3 Noise Pollution – are simply arguments for local ordinances, where enforcement at property lines is not uncommon. 4 Surface Spills – likewise addresses some solutions – if regulated, such as the use of nontoxic fracking chemicals: “By far the most effective approach to mitigating the risk from surface spills is to avoid the use of toxic chemicals by using non-toxic fracture fluids.” This is discussed by the industry, but is not a requirement, only as a rhetorical distraction. 6 Groundwater Contamination This section addresses what is probably the most common and insidious problem of drilling shale gas wells in areas that use groundwater wells for drinking water: methane contamination from gas bearing strata: A common contaminant in drinking water wells is methane. In the past it has been assumed that such methane is biogenic coming from microbial breakdown of organic matter in the aquifer. Increasingly, however, analysis of methane in aquifers above gas shale reservoirs (such as the Marcellus in Pennsylvania and the Barnett in Texas), has proved to be of thermogenic origin and isotopically similar to the gas in the underlying shale.
7

http://www.scribd.com/doc/65435029/SGEIS-Fracking-Flowback

4

Conspicuously, the authors did not discuss shale gas wells as a likely pathway for methane contamination into groundwater, although the literature on this is extensive within the industry8 and the scientific community.9 They reference such methane leakage in the body of the report, but not in the summary – which the press and politicians read. 7 Impact on Landscape Fails to even mention the most obvious impact: the impact on people, buildings or livestock. The editorial implications of this section is that shale gas industrialization is relatively benign. 8 Atmospheric Emissions The summary fails to discuss methane as a greenhouse gas. Fails to discuss area air quality studies in Colorado or Wyoming. 9 Health Impacts Is limited almost entirely to a discussion of studies of Dish, Texas residents. While the authors acknowledge that chemical pollutants are associated with shale gas industrialization, they dismiss their significance with this rather callous remark: Unfortunately many of these contaminants are also associated with vehicle exhausts, gas stations, smoking, dry cleaning operations, and gasoline driven snow blowers, weed wackers, lawnmowers etc. 10 Discussion The authors’ conclusion begins with this bit of understatement: One gas industry leader has admitted that “development of the Marcellus Shale in the Appalachian Basin is not without controversy” 10.2 Water Contamination This section far goes out of it way to deny that shale gas well bores are a highly likely source of methane migration. The author uses all the usual rhetorical gambits: that the methane (all of the methane) was already there, that it was always there, and therefore, what ? A little more from a shale gas well bore will not hurt ? What the author ignores are the studies that demonstrate that shale gas wells are highly likely to mobilize methane from gas bearing formations, up the well bore, outside of the outermost casing, and into groundwater. 10.3 Long Term Risks of Groundwater Contamination This section narrowly focuses on the odds of the frack going out of zone directly into an aquifer, contaminating it immediately. We know that happens – fracks have hit well bores and caused them to fountain. Assuming it is a relatively rare occurrence, it sidesteps the more likely probability of the frack fluid coming into contact with a natural movement of water, which would bring it into contact with an aquifer.10
8 9

http://www.scribd.com/doc/76174462/Schlumberger-Gas-Leak-Study http://www.scribd.com/doc/65704543/Casing-Leaks http://www.scribd.com/doc/97207776/Ground-Water-Impacts-of-Gas-Wells

10

5

10.5 Health Issues The authors have a knack for understating the risks; for instance: Epidemiological studies of the general population, that may have relevance, do not demonstrate a definitive association with natural gas production. For example, based on data from the state of Texas, Lupo et al. (2011) have concluded that mothers from areas with “the highest benzene levels” were “more likely to have offspring with spina bifida” than women in areas with “the lowest levels [of benzene in the atmosphere]”. To the extent that exposure of pregnant women, babies and young children to high environmental levels of benzene, formaldehyde, other VOCs, PAHs, HAPs and fine particulates can be tied to gas extraction, a variety of medical risks become worrisome (Duong et al., 2011; Lupo et al., 2011; Pandya et al., 2002; Sacks et al., 2011; Perera, et al. 2009; and Slama et al., 2009). Not surprisingly wildlife embryos are impacted in a similar manner to human embryos (Hamlin and Guillette, 2011). There are indeed a lack of studies of the health impacts, and this lack of information is not helped by the non-disclosure-agreements on gas leases, or the gag orders imposed on doctors in Pennsylvania at the behest of the gas industry.11 10.6 Are Regulatory Frameworks in Place to Minimize Environmental Risks ? Short answer: no. But this section tangentially mentions the Schlumberger study of gas well leaks, with the editorial hope that new types of cement will cure the problem. The gas industry and service companies are actively developing improved cement types to effectively seal well casing and prevent leakage of produced water and/or gas into freshwater aquifers. Schlumberger (2011) has suggested that cement sheath damage or debonding can allow gas to migrate to the surface and that there are “thousands of wells” that are impacted by this phenomena. The authors offer no regulatory solutions. No compendium of best practices. They do mention the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER), as a clearing-house for best-regulatory practices. STRONGER reviewed the New York DEC, and found it lacking in ways that have persisted to the present.12 In all, an extensive, but fairly transparent white-wash of shale gas industrialization, with an over-riding concern about how fracking is perceived by the general public. James L Northrup

11

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/03/for-pennsylvanias-doctors-agag-order-on-fracking-chemicals/255030/
12

http://www.scribd.com/doc/76085928/Worst-Practices-at-the-DEC

6

Cooperstown

7

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Special offer for students: Only $4.99/month.

Master your semester with Scribd & The New York Times

Cancel anytime.