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Read the The Facts on Fracking article first!

Revisiting the Facts on Fracking

This is a letter in response to the The Facts on Fracking op-ed piece (Views, March
14) April 9, 2013
In their op-ed The Facts on Fracking (Views, March 14), Susan Brantley and Anna Meyendorff use a
highly speculative estimate of the gas supply in the Marcellus shale of Eastern America that prevailed
for years at the U.S. Energy Department. Using actual results from drilled wells, in 2011 U.S.
government geologists slashed the Energy Department figures by about two-thirds.
The writers more troubling claim is a well failure rate of 1 to 2 percent. Last fall, researchers at
Cornell University compiled data from Pennsylvania regulators reports to confirm failure rates due to
faulty cement and/or casing of 6 to 8.9 percent each year since 2010. These were wells just completed,
from which methane could migrate into the atmosphere as a green-house gas or contaminate aquifers.
Methane in aquifers has found its way into homes via water wells. Many American families have seen
their property values vaporize and their homes rendered unlivable. Drilling companies have settled
numerous lawsuits.
Earlier industry studies suggest that over time, cement or casing in half the wells drilled may
eventually fail. While calamities from leaky wells are unusual small comfort if it affects your
drinking water, or the water in your favorite stream let us recognize the magnitude of risk: More
than 6,000 wells have been drilled in Pennsylvania, with 100,000 planned. A dozen states have
industrial drilling.
Paul Roberts Friendsville, Maryland - - Winemaker and citizen representative on a state
commission studying shale gas development in Maryland.

The writers respond: Susan L. Brantley & Anna Meyendorff

We, like Paul Roberts, are seeking facts and sometimes facts are hard to find with respect to Marcellus
Roberts criticizes several points that we make. First, he calls our statement that the Marcellus
formation could contain 500 trillion cubic feet of gas highly speculative. However, given current
data availability, all estimates are at the level of speculation. In 2009, the U.S. Energy Department
estimated that the Marcellus shale may contain as much as 1,500 trillion cubic feet of gas, but usually
only about 10 to 30 percent of the gas is recoverable using todays hydrofracking technologies.

As Roberts points out, 500 trillion cubic feet of gas was estimated by the Penn State geologist Terry
Engelder. The estimate is for the technically recoverable reserve, or T.R.R. This represents not just the
gas in place but rather that which is likely to be produced from the shale. In other words, it takes into
account todays technology. The T.R.R. was also estimated by the Energy Department in 2011 at 400
trillion cubic feet.
All of these estimates are speculative, since they are assessments of how much gas we can recover
from a reservoir at a depth of thousands of feet in a field that underlies more than 100,000 square
miles in parts of eight states.
To date, most of the drilling has occurred in only two states Pennsylvania and West Virginia and
until 2010 Pennsylvania embargoed release of certain kinds of production data. Even today the state
controls the data release. Our point in citing 500 trillion cubic feet was to emphasize the fact that the
reservoir is large, and we stand by our statement that the Marcellus shale could contain this quantity.
The release of additional data will make future estimates less speculative.
Roberts also questions our estimate of a 1 to 2 percent rate of cement or casing construction problems
in wells, this based on estimates from engineers in the field. Since we wrote our article, we went back
to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection data online for Notices of Violations in
Marcellus wells and calculated a casing/cement problem rate of about 3 percent between 2008 and
March 2013. We dont know of any higher published estimates for casing construction problem rates,
but we note that a higher apparent rate can be gleaned from the data if repeats in the data set are not
Cornell researchers have raised considerable concern about loss of methane during natural gas
drilling and production, and this is both a valid concern and another area where additional data are
welcome. As we stated in our op-ed, we need these facts so we can understand and make decisions
about fracking relative to other energy sources such as coal.
We agree with Roberts that methane has sometimes found its way into water wells and that property
values have at times been harmed by various incidents. No one should neglect these risks. Like most
industrial processes, fracking can have negative environmental consequences, and communities and
governments must assess these risks by looking at the facts which, however, are not always easy to
Water quality issues, when they happen, often are litigated and the data are removed from public
scrutiny. When water wells or surface waters are tested by industry, the data are often not released;
likewise, homeowners often do not want to release their well water analyses. Many people in
Pennsylvania are cooperating on the database. We need these facts and many of us
are seeking them.

But in seeking the facts we may also find that shale gas has advantages over other energy sources such
as coal. For those of us who live in states in the Marcellus region, development of this resource may
occur in many cases right in our backyards. Are we ready for that?
Many would prefer to import energy from someone elses region and export the environmental
problems to someone elses backyard. Maybe its more ethical to use our own energy and be faced
with our own environmental consequences. If we dont like the local consequences, we must demand
regulations. But turning away from fracking without seeking the facts is neither the smart nor the
ethical choice.