Fracing debate continues
December 8, 2008
(Editor’s Note: We received the following Letter to the Editor from Perry Walker, of Daniel, Wyoming, in response to a release by Kathleen Sgamma, Director of Government Affairs with the Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States (IPAMS). Ms. Sgamma’s release was in response to articles by Abrahm Lustgarten which appeared in mid-November in the Denver Post and on ProPublica.org website. See the Related Links section at the bottom of this page for hotlinks to the original articles, as well as another article on the topic by Derek Farr with the Sublette Examiner newspaper.)
Letter to the Editor
By Perry Walker, Daniel, Wyoming
One has to wonder what the oil & gas industry is so worried about. It must be concerned about something because it is collectively smothering the American TV audience with incessant breast-beating commercials. Most recently, readers have been treated to a corporate litany of half truths under the guise of a "guest opinion" from IPAMS (Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States). This corporate papal bull from the IPAMS Vatican begs clarification.
First, let it be known that gas is not clean burning. Under conditions of perfect combustion it generates two products…CO2 and water vapor. While the latter is some-what benign (although it too can be a greenhouse gas), the former is now well established to be the green house gas of most dire consequence. So the assertion that natural gas will help reduce green house gas emissions is dubious at best. The claim that natural gas emits "just over half" of CO2 liberated by coal is curious because this seems to deny the coal industry’s claims of seeking engineering solutions to the problem (even though they are paltry and will likely be futile) and sets up a contest between two energy industrial mafias for the hearts and minds of the public.
The most egregious statement made by Ms. Sgamma goes to her reference to "…small and temporary environmental impacts of development through advanced technologies such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracing." Colorado has many recent examples of aquifer and stream contamination as does Wyoming. The consequences of error are too far reaching to simply declare that fracing is innocent. Ms. Sgamma’s recital to the effect that 60 years of "exemplary" safety using fracing actually invokes the sage caution that "absence of proof is not proof of absence." Her statement that "…since…1948, there has not been a single documented case of contamination of drinking water, and studies conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency have found that fracing is a safe method…" actually begs the question how much specific research has been done and have the right questions been asked and explored? Usually the answer is No.
It is a fact that Clinton and Bush era studies have been politicized by lobbying from industry in Washington with the result that science has been censored inside and outside the EPA…a practice that gave birth to the phrases "Bush Science" and "junk science." Examples are easy to provide but editorial space is limited so readers will have to look to the internet, but start with EPA-816-D-02-006 and pay attention to the numerous caveats and escape clauses contained therein. This is also due in large part to the dismal scientific understanding of underground behavior regarding aquifer communication, recharge rates, and transport mechanisms connected with subterranean fracture inter-linkages. These factors need to be included in Ms. Sgamma’s flawed logical assertions that "fracing occurs many thousands of feet below freshwater aquifers, and protective metal piping surround wells at the depths where freshwater is found."
Lastly, her references to extensive regulatory attention to the fracing issue is misleading. Almost without exception, the body of regulation has been created reactively. That is to say, environmental disasters have literally seeped out of the ground and lawmakers have been left to scramble to craft corrections too late. Furthermore, federal and state regulators routinely circle each other waiting for each to make the first move and pass the buck while citizens are caught in a physically sickening gridlock.
A looming problem not yet publicly articulated has to do with the drilling of gas wells which also requires the drilling of water wells to supply the drilling process. It needs to be remembered that once underground water reserves are contaminated, the damage will likely persist for generations. There is a growing scary scenario about water in the West which foretells, in the next 20 years, serious shortages of potable water being pulled from flowing rivers and from aquifers. While fracing may indeed be pivotal to recovery of the West’s natural gas, there presently is far too little credible science and far too much industry cost-cutting "trust me" intonations being brought to bear on the issue. This latter behavior goes to the continued 20th century corporate behavior model of stall, deny, dig in, and character assassinate the critics. We may be seeing an impending collision in front of the flagpole between the need to protect and preserve disappearing water resources and the rush to extract every cubic foot of gas and barrel of oil.
Could it be that the fossil fuel energy industry is seeing the specter of its extinction at the hands of renewable energy initiatives and is bellowing like dinosaurs watching the preverbal asteroid barreling in upon them?
Granted, this may be decades in coming but it is starting to happen now. Time will tell.
(Editor's Note: We welcome comments and continued discussion on this important debate. Letters to the Editor must stick to the issues and not contain personal attacks. We challenge writers to document their sources for any allegations or items they present as understood "facts" - we can easily link back to those sources if you provide the URL. We reserve the right to edit submissions that we deem to contain libelous content.)
Drilling process causes water supply alarm - By Abrahm Lustgarten, ProPublica, November 17, 2008 (Denver Post)
Buried Secrets: Is Natural Gas Drilling Endangering U.S. Water Supplies? - Abrahm Lustgarten - November 13, 2008, ProPublica.org
Hydraulic fracturing is crucial - Kathleen Sgamma, Director of Government Affairs, Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, November 24, 2008 (Pinedale Online!)
Story questions hydraulic fracturing safety - Derek Farr, Sublette Examiner, December 4, 2008
Articles on drilling and water quality - Pinedale Online, November 17, 2008
Pinedale Air Quality - By Perry Walker