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Discussion and Debate Increase on Environmental Hazards of Fracking

Fracking has become more and more a topic in the general media and part of the state and federal environmental energy agenda, with new stories appearing daily. A sample:

Secretary of Energy Steveb Chu has appointed an advisory panel, officially called the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board’s subcommittee on natural gas, to study the environmental issues around hydraulic fracturing and shale gas production.  Members of the subcommittee are John Deutch, former head of the CIA during the Clinton administration, in the Department of Energy during the Carter administration, now a professor at MIT, and former board member of Schlumberger, Ltd.; Daniel Yergin, IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates Chairman; Susan Tierney, Chair of the board of the Energy Foundation; Stephen Holditch, chair of the Department of Petroleum Engineering at Texas A&M; Fred Krupp, President of Environmental Defense Fund; Kathleen McGinty, former head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection; and Mark Zoback, geophysics professor at Stanford University. Steven Chu, Secretary of Energy, has charged the subcommittee to make recommendations on ways to improve safety of fracking in 90 days, and offer advice to other agencies within six months on how they can better protect the environment from shale gas drilling. . Beginnings of the subcommittee’s work have not shown promise: at the first meeting of the committee, Dusty Horwitt of the Environmental Working Group said its chairman John Deutch should resign because of his former ties to Schlumberger and Cheniere Energy. On the other side, Republicans including Darrel Issa (R-Calif), chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, have said that Chu’s subcommittee is composed primarily of Democratic appointees hostile to drilling interests. 

A New York Times article on the Eagle Ford Shale play in South Texas, dateline: Catarina, reports that more than a dozen companies expect to drill 3,000 wells in the Eagle Ford in the next year, doubling real estate values and filling restaurants and hotels. The times quoted IHS CERA’s Daniel Yergin as saying: “This is like adding another Venezuela or Kuwait by 2020, except these tight oil fields are in the United States.”

Opposition groups are springing up like weeds, such as “Sustainable Otsego,” an organization whose “moderator” is Adrian Kuzminski. Kusminski claims to have compiled a collection of documents, which he calls “Frack Facts,” of more than 2,000 pages, illustrating why fracking should be banned. See Kisminski’s remarks here.

Pro Publica, commenting on the Duke University Study that found a link between fracking and methane contamination of groundwater, said that drilling companies have collected baseline data on water wells in the vicinity of their drilling activity but have not made it publicly available.  “The industry is sitting on hundreds of thousands of pre and post drilling data sets,” said Robert Jackson, one of the Duke scientists who authored the study. Jackson relied on 68 samples for his study. “I asked them for the data and they wouldn’t share it.”

There are many news articles about the record $900,000 fine levied against Chesapeake by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for methane contamination of groundwater in Bradford Co., Pa. Under the DEP consent order, Chesapeake has 60 days to show that the methane has decreased in the 17 affected water wells to a point far below any health or explosion risk. If it does not, the company will have to restore or replace the water supplies or, if a family refuses a proposed fix, fund an escrow account in an amount determined by DEP to pay for the families’ chosen repairs. Read more:

BHP Billiton, an Australian company that recently purchased Chesapeake’s leases in the Arkansas Fayetteville Shale play, is now faced with multiple class action suits alleging groundwater contamination and earthquakes allegedly caused by subsurface disposal of produced water.  See article here.

Calvin Tilman, former mayor of Dish, Texas, whose town complained of environmental hazards from drilling and production operations in the Barnett Shale, has now started his own non-profit, ShaleTest, headquartered in Denton, to “collect environmental data, and provide environmental testing to lower income families and neighborhoods that are effected by natural gas exploration.”  He asks for donations.




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