Tuesday 16th of August 2022

dirty little secrets .....

dirty little secrets .....

The EPA's findings about fracking's contamination of ground water have sent a shockwave through a gas industry in denial.

Thursday's stunning announcement from US EPA that implicates hydrofracturing ("fracking") as the cause of groundwater contamination in Pavillion, Wyoming is news that has rocked the world. But as groundbreaking and innovative as the investigation has been, the news comes as no surprise to anyone who has been following fracking closely.


Anyone who lives in a gas drilling area can tell you: fracking contaminates groundwater. Citizens have been shouting this at the top of their lungs in fracking areas since shortly after the process of hydraulic fracturing was exempted from the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2005, paving the way for the largest gas drilling boom in domestic history. The exemption, known as the "Halliburton Loophole", allows fracking companies to inject toxic chemicals under the ground in huge quantities and not report it to the EPA. But with this much fracking going on, with thousands of wells being drilled and fracked in 34 states, and with thousands of reported cases of contamination, the gas industry just can't keep their secrets buried; they keep bubbling up through the ground.


Since April 2009, I have been documenting the water contamination in the gas fracking field in Pavillion, Wyoming. The testimony of Pavillion cowboys John Fenton, Louis Meeks and Jeff Locker and their incredible families is some of the most stirring in our film Gasland. Since that time, I have been closely following the extensive three-year EPA investigation, and the results have shown over and over again that there were contaminants in the groundwater, which posed a significant health risk to the residents.


Yet the EPA withheld any language that sounded conclusive - until now. When the whole world is watching, when the gas industry is decrying a lack of science (even as they obstruct and smear the science that has been done), and when the health of the state of New York, alongside significant areas in 34 states and 50 countries worldwide is on the line, you want to make sure that your methods are precise and your statements are conservative.


So, when the EPA now says, "When considered together with other lines of evidence, the data indicates likely impact to groundwater that can be explained by hydraulic fracturing," that is something quite new. What is also clear is that the aquifer in Pavillion will never be cleaned. The contamination there, for the foreseeable future, is permanent. And considering that the permanent contamination of huge areas of groundwater in the US is now a scientifically proven risk, the Pavillion investigation, as extensive as it was, must become the new standard for investigating fracking complaints worldwide.


Having investigated fracking myself for three years, I have heard the same story hundreds of times, from residents in gas-drilling areas from Wyoming to Arkansas, from Pennsylvania to Texas. It goes like this: the frackers move in - and all of a sudden your water turns color, or can be lit on fire, or smells like turpentine or leaves burn marks on you after you take a shower. It doesn't take a genius to connect the dots.


And when reading EPA's water tablature from Pavillion, the notes are really familiar: a minor key refrain of benzene, xylene and other volatile organics, modulation over to glycol ethers and other chemicals in the antifreeze family, a bang-up chorus of thermogenic methane and a killer hook of acetone, naphthalene and 2-butoxyethanol. In fact, three days ago, practically the same list of fracking chemical ingredients found in Pavillion's water were found in water tests from Dimock, Pennsylvania - another poster town for fracking contamination of groundwater.


In Dimock, PA, like Pavillion, citizen's water went bad right after drilling and fracking moved in. Yet, the state agency, PA DEP, and the governor, Tom Corbett, have sided with the gas companies - and they deny any responsibility or long-term harm.


The EPA must intervene in Dimock immediately. An extensive study should be conducted there, with the same careful, methodical and thorough science that was employed in Pavillion. And while that study is conducted, the EPA should mandate that Cabot Oil and Gas supply the residents with replacement water; and the drilling moratorium in the area should continue.


It is hard to prove something that is happening thousands of feet below the ground. It's very difficult and costly, both in time and money. To prove that fracking has contaminated water, even as obvious as it can be to residents who can see the apparent cause and effect, takes extensive and expensive hydrogeological study. Hundreds of chemicals need to be tested over a period of years in a large sample area. In Pavillion, nearly 50 water wells were sampled, two deep monitoring wells were drilled and years of working with the immense pool of data was required. After viewing the EPA draft study (pdf), no one can ever again say that robust science has not been brought to bear on fracking.


But the trail doesn't end there. The gas fracking industry has been so poorly regulated for so long, the legacy of contamination and obfuscation has been allowed to run unchecked for so many years, that the EPA and the United States now faces a Herculean task of investigating the thousands of cases that mirror Pavillion and Dimock - from Texas, to Louisiana, Colorado, Arkansas, Michigan, New Mexico and more.


Beyond the US, Europe, South Africa, China and Australia are right now contemplating embarking on the "shale gas revolution"; they should take note of the EPA's findings. As the story unfolds, the real answer bubbles inexorably to the surface: fracking is deeply flawed; it is inherently contaminating in its present form and must be halted immediately. The empty excuses of the gas industry and the pro-fracking politicians who defend them just don't hold water.


Shale Gas Drilling's Dirty Secret Is Out


gassy epicentre ...

Add Quakes to Rumblings Over Gas Rush



YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Until this year, this Rust Belt city and surrounding Mahoning County had been about as dead, seismically, as a place can be, without even a hint of an earthquake since Scots-Irish settlers arrived in the 18th century.

But on March 17, two minor quakes briefly shook the city. And in the following eight months there have been seven more — like the first two, too weak to cause damage or even be felt by many people, but strong enough to rattle some nerves.

“It felt like someone was kicking in the front door. It scared the stuffing out of me,” said Steve Moritz, a cook who lives on the city’s west side, describing the seventh quake, which occurred in late September. It was the strongest one, with a magnitude of 2.7.

Nine quakes in eight months in a seismically inactive area is unusual. But Ohio seismologists found another surprise when they plotted the quakes’ epicenters: most coincided with the location of a 9,000-foot well in an industrial lot along the Mahoning River, just down the hill from Mr. Moritz’s neighborhood and two miles from downtown Youngstown.

At the well, a local company has been disposing of brine and other liquids from natural gas wells across the border in Pennsylvania — millions of gallons of waste from the process called hydraulic fracturing that is used to unlock the gas from shale rock.


fracked .....

Nearly half of the landowners who have leased their ground to shale gas developers in the north-east of America regret doing it, despite the money, according to a new report by Deloitte.

In findings that will intensify opposition to the controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, some 47 per cent of respondents in the "new shale" states of Pennsylvania and New York, who have rented out their land, said they wouldn't repeat the experience.

Meanwhile, 48 per cent said they would advise family and friends against leasing their land for "fracking", a process which blasts sand, chemicals and water into shale rocks to release the oil and gas they contain.

Fracking has become increasingly controversial in recent months, as the process was found to have caused earthquakes in Oklahoma in the US and near Blackpool inthe UK.

A report by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), disclosed in The Independent last week, linked fracking and water pollution for the first time, prompting the shadow Energy Minister, Tom Greatex, to demand a full investigation into the technique.

But analysts say the Gasland documentary, which was nominated for an Oscar this year, has probably done the most to inflame opposition. In one scene, residents of Dimock, a small community in the heart of Pennsylvania's fracking industry, blamed the process for polluting their tap water with so much methane that they could light it.

Fracking has been banned in New York, although the move is being reviewed, but the practice continues in Pennsylvania.

While opposition to fracking is mounting in the US, many politicians are in favour of extracting America's plentiful supply of shale gas, which is dragging down household utility bills and reducing its reliance on energy imports from dubious regimes.


out of sight, out of mind .....

China's Sinopec and France's Total have announced deals worth nearly $US5 billion that would have brought a smile to Mike Yeager's face.

Last year the BHP Petroleum chief executive plunged nearly $US20 billion into a massive US shale gas play that has generated considerable scepticism, in terms of both its economics but more particularly its politics.

Around the world the 'fracking' process used to release unconventional reserves of oil and gas is producing intensifying controversy among communities concerned about contamination of aquifers and a growing conviction that the process - which involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into drill holes to release the oil and gas - is inducing seismic activity.

Only last week Ohio froze drilling in its north-western region after a series of small earthquakes amid fears that they had been triggered by fracking. Last year the UK halted drilling by Australian group AJ Lucas near Blackpool after 50 seismic events.

Despite those concerns Sinopec, China's second-largest oil company, and Total, one of the world's biggest energy groups, have ploughed billions more into US shale gas. The two companies already had positions in the sector in the US and are also major investors in the Australian coal seam gas sector - Sinopec is a shareholder and the core customer for the Origin Energy/ConocoPhillips APLNG project and Total is a major shareholder in the Santos/Petronas GLNG project and a customer.

The decision by Sinopec to invest $US2.5 billion in five new development projects with Devon Energy of the US and by Total to spend $US2.3 billion to buy into an Ohio joint venture with Chesapeake Energy (which sold BHP its original shale gas beachhead last February) and EnerVest can only be interpreted as a vote of confidence in the future of the sector despite low gas prices and rising community opposition.

The issues raised by shale gas and coal seam methane are slightly different, with the major worry about coal seam methane its potential impact on groundwater, given that the coal beds tend to be at relatively shallow depths. With shale gas, while there are also concerns about the impact on aquifers, reservoirs tend to be at depths well below aquifers and the primary concern is the connection between fracking and seismic activity.

BHP has been relatively unconcerned about the environmental issues raised by fracking, although it did voluntarily plug and abandon two water injection wells in Arkansas last year because of fears that they may have been related to earthquakes in the region.

It has pointed out, however, that not only has the shale gas industry in the US been operating for decades but that there was recorded earthquake activity in regions where drilling for shale gas is now occurring decades before there was a US shale gas sector.

Another point often made by the sector is that until very recently the sector was the province of junior companies. It is only very recently that the big energy companies started moving into the sector - the landmark transaction was Exxon's $US30 billion acquisition of XTO Energy only two years ago.

Development of shale gas reserves requires very significant amounts of capital, beyond the capacity of smaller players, which created the opportunity for the majors to move into the sector. The big companies have a conviction that their financial and technical capabilities will enable them to better deal with the environmental issues.

The investments by Sinopec and Total have been made despite the impact that the boom in shale gas activity has been having on gas prices in the US, where they fell nearly 30 per cent last year.

The majors appear to take the view that the centrality of gas to the long-term energy security of the US, the ability to leverage the existing extensive gas pipeline infrastructure, the potential for exports of LNG and their own ability to steadily improve the economics of producing the gas will produce a validation of their investments over the longer term.

For BHP, the continuing big investments by global energy heavyweights in the sector will buttress its confidence and that of its investors that the $US20 billion bet on the future of shale gas in the US will eventually produce a reasonable pay-off and a reward for the risks of being a relatively early mover at the big end of the sector.

A Seismic Shale Gas Injection

beyond toxic .....

After earthquakes in Lancashire and tales of poisoned water and flaming taps in the US, "fracking" for gas or oil in the English home counties was never likely to be easy. And so it proved when oil executives faced the fury of a village hall full of West Sussex residents in a clash over controversial technology that energy companies believe could open up major reserves of energy from underground rocks.

"What you are about to do will make our water beyond toxic!" Ella Reeves shouted at Mark Miller, the Pennsylvania oil man who had come to Balcombe to explain plans to search for hydrocarbons 800 metres under the Sussex weald. "It's about money for you, but for me it is about life."

Reeves was one of around 200 residents squeezed into the village's arts and crafts village hall to hear Miller, the chief executive of Cuadrilla, a multinational oil and gas company, explain why he might want to use hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" less than a mile from the village, which lies on the London to Brighton commuter line, just five miles from Gatwick airport.

The technique involves forcing thousands of gallons of chemical solution under high pressure into rocks to release oil or gas, but opponents say it pollutes groundwater, adds to greenhouse gas pollution and destroys local ecosystems.

The meeting on Wednesday night was the latest skirmish in the battle between environmentalists and the oil and gas industry over access to the UK's shale gas and oil reserves, which in Lancashire alone could deliver £6bn a year for 30 years, according to one industry estimate.

Supporters say it will improve the UK's energy security and the battle has intensified in recent months with anti-fracking activists scaling a rig in Hesketh Bank, Lancashire, halting work in November.

Balcombe laid on a more polite welcome, but after two earth tremors near Blackpool last year were attributed to Cuadrilla's fracking operations, the atmosphere was tense. A warm-up video screened by the meeting organisers about the toxic impact of the technique in America, raised the temperature to furious.

Miller and his two PR minders, all dressed in black, gritted their teeth as the film spoke of "red nasty water oozing out of the hill", "radium in waste products", "methane in drinking water" and how "our heaven has turned into our hell".

Fracking "threatens to destroy the environment and wreck lives", the voiceover said, adding frightening claims that the chemicals used in the US had been linked to bone, liver and breast cancers and disorders of the nervous system.

"I am going to be following a bit of a tough act with that video," said Miller as he took the microphone nervously. "I'm not sure I can."

He managed to explain that his company has acquired an exploration and development licence from the Department of Energy and Climate Change and that it only planned to drill a test well at this stage.

He said the pollution suffered in parts of America, where the fracking industry is huge and growing, represented "the poorest part of our industry". "Drilling and fracturing for natural gas is safe," he said to disbelieving tuts. "It about doing it right. Environmental incidents are rare."

By this point some in the audience wanted to hear no more. There were shouts of "you've gone on long enough" and "you're talking rubbish".

Anti-fracking campaigner Will Cottrell, chairman of the Brighton Energy Co-operative, claimed a 10-well fracking facility was "like setting off a 4.4 kilotonne nuclear bomb". Quadrilla said this was untrue, but the hall was in foment.

"You are in Sussex now and we will not be drove [pushed around]," shouted Alan Gold, 67.

"If you put fracking fluid down there at 10,000 pounds per square inch it is going to disturb our drinking water," yelled another man. "Go away!"

"Frack 'em and forget 'em, isn't it?" said a voice from the back. "It's all about the money."

"This is how they burn witches I guess," Paul Kelly, a director of PPS, Cuadrilla's public relations and lobbying firm told the Guardian. "I can think of dozens of oil companies who wouldn't put themselves through this in a million years and maybe they have it right."

"It has been pretty disastrous," added Nick Grealy, a former gas executive who promotes the shale gas industry for clients including Cuadrilla. "They were set up."

For many residents this was the first they had heard of the plans and they voiced worries about the millions of gallons of water needed for the operation in a drought affected area, noise and water pollution. Two young women spoke about their fears fracking would hinder their recovery from cancer.

Miller said the fracking technology used in the UK was designed to prevent pollution of water courses. He repeatedly said the well was only at exploration stage and that a further licence would be needed for extraction. He said the chemical used in the fracking solution was not carcinogenic.

Just one resident, retired Rod Jago, spoke up in Miller's defence. "Surely we should welcome any contribution to self-sufficiency provided it is safe," he said to gasps of disbelief from some of his neighbours. "All new technologies have teething problems. We wouldn't have trains or aeroplanes if we had meetings like this when they started."

A spokesman for Cuadrilla, whose backers include former BP chief executive Lord Browne, said said it was pleased to have been allowed the platform. "We couldn't answer all the questions and there was a great deal of confusion about some of the claims that were being made about America," he said. "In the European Union there are some very rigorous controls on groundwater pollution."

No Fracking In Home Counties, Village Residents Tell Oil Company

fracking hell .....

Starting Feb. 1, drilling operators in Texas will have to report many of the chemicals used in the process known as hydraulic fracturing. Environmentalists and landowners are looking forward to learning what acids, hydroxides and other materials have gone into a given well.

But a less-publicized part of the new regulation is what some experts are most interested in: the mandatory disclosure of the amount of water needed to "frack" each well. Experts call this an invaluable tool as they evaluate how fracking affects water supplies in the drought-prone state.

Hydraulic fracturing involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into underground shale formations at enormous pressure to extract oil and natural gas. Under the new rule, Texans will be able to check a Web site, fracfocus.org, to view the chemical and water disclosures.

"It's a huge step forward from where we were," Amy Hardberger, an Environmental Defense Fund lawyer, said of the rule.

Most fracked wells use 1 million to 5 million gallons of water over three to five days, said Justin Furnace, president of the Texas Independent Producers & Royalty Owners Association.

A June study prepared for the Texas Water Development Board suggested that less than 1 percent of the water used statewide went into fracking. Oil and natural gas groups say such numbers show their usage lags well behind that of cities.

But the data cited is a few years old, and drilling has since increased in places like the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas. The amount of water used for fracking is "expected to increase significantly through 2020," according to the state water plan published this month.

Dan Hardin, the water board's resource planning director, said water use for fracking was not expected to exceed 2 percent of the statewide total.

But drilling can send water use numbers much higher in rural areas, Dr. Hardin said. For example, he projects that in 2020, more than 40 percent of water demand in La Salle County, in the Eagle Ford Shale, will go toward "mining," a technical term that in this case means almost entirely fracking. Until recently, no water went toward mining there.

Researchers say predicting future water usage for drilling is tough, citing economic and technological uncertainties. Meanwhile, they want more data.

Jean-Philippe Nicot, a research scientist with the Bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas at Austin and the main author of the water board's June study, noted that many drillers already reported water usage to the Texas Railroad Commission. (The commission's new rule will be the first time water disclosure is required.)

Dr. Nicot would like to see more information about whether the water comes from aquifers or reservoirs, or has been recycled from other fracking operations.

Texas also needs better information about what is in water that has been in the earth and comes up in a well in addition to oil or gas, said Mark A. Engle, a geologist with the United States Geological Survey's Eastern Energy Resources Science Center. That water can contain materials like grease and radioactive elements.

"Texas ranks pretty much dead last of any state I've worked with for keeping track of that sort of data," Dr. Engle said.


New Texas Rule to Unlock Secrets of Hydraulic Fracturing

super fracking .....

Oil service companies roll out new technologies to break up more earth more cheaply

Few energy industry practices have sparked more controversy than hydraulic fracking. First, wells are drilled horizontally below the surface, allowing a single bore or pathway to reach vertical pockets of oil and natural gas trapped between formations of shale and other rock. Then high-pressure jets of water, sand, and chemicals are pumped into the ground to create fissures through the rock so oil can seep out and be retrieved. Regulators, environmentalists, and academics are studying whether the practice can damage the environment.

Undeterred, oil services companies including Baker Hughes and Schlumberger are continuing their quest to devise ways to create longer, deeper cracks in the earth to release more oil and gas. These companies are no longer content to frack - they want to super frack.

High crude prices and newly accessible oil and gas embedded in shale rock in North America are driving the wave of innovation. The more thoroughly that petroleum-saturated rock is cracked, the more oil and gas is freed to flow from each well, raising the efficiency - and profit - of the expensive process. For example, the growing use of movable sleeves, a tubelike device with holes that fits inside a well bore, lets drillers target multiple spots to dislodge entrapped oil. This technique can reduce the $2.5 million startup cost of a fracking well near the Canadian border by up to two-thirds, according to a recent analysis by JPMorgan Chase. Multiply such savings by hundreds of wells added in that area each year, and you start to understand why the industry is so eager to hone the process. "I want to crack the rock across as much of the reservoir as I can," says David A. Pursell, a former fracking engineer who's now an analyst at Tudor Pickering Holt in Houston. "That's the Holy Grail."

Baker Hughes has set its sights on creating "super cracks," a method of blasting deeper into dense rock to create wider channels. The aim of the technology, branded as DirectConnect, is to better concentrate the pressure of fracking fluids to reach oil or gas farther from the well bore, which existing methods fail to do as effectively.

The company also is trying to speed up the fracking process. Wells usually are fracked in steps, as plastic balls are dropped down to plug the well at various stages and isolate different zones for fracking. It can take days to get a drilling rig to the site and fish out conventional frack balls, which can get stuck over the course of 20 or 30 preparation phases in a typical well before production can begin. With land-based rigs renting for up to $30,000 a day, reducing such delays is critical. So Baker Hughes has developed disintegrating balls, which turn into powder "like an Alka-Seltzer" after a couple of days, says Rustom Mody, vice-president for technology.

Schlumberger, after six years of research, has developed a technique called HiWAY. The technology can generate bigger cracks in surrounding rock formations than current methods by combining fiber with typical fracking materials such as sand so the stuff clumps as it's being pumped in repeated pulses and at high pressure into the side of a well. The number of customers using HiWAY in North America has grown from two a year ago to more than 20, Schlumberger says. Chief Executive Officer Paal Kibsgaard told investors in October that the HiWAY technology is yielding larger oil and gas production while using less water and sand than conventional fracking. (Schlumberger, in a quiet period prior to the Jan. 20 release of its earnings, declined comment.)

Halliburton, the No. 1 provider of fracking services, also based in Houston, is trying to reduce the amount of materials and labor used on each well. It's rolled out RapidFrac, a series of sliding sleeves that open throughout the horizontal well bore to isolate zones for fracking. Fracking fluid is then injected at high pressure through multiple holes exposed by the sliding sleeve, cracking the surrounding rock. The process can be faster and cheaper than the most popular fracking method, which involves sending an explosive charge down the well to blast one hole at a time.

The critics aligned against fracking, let alone super fracking, aren't impressed. "If critics already think fracking is bad, theoretically, super fracking would be super bad," says Kirk Sherr, president of Regester Larkin Energy North America, an industry consultant. Doctors attending a fracking conference in Arlington, Va., in early January called for a federal moratorium on the technique in populated areas until the health effects are better understood.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is studying whether fracking can contaminate water resources. The technique also has raised concerns about excessive water consumption because of the millions of gallons needed to frack each well. And local officials in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Ohio have voiced concerns about recent outbreaks of small earthquakes in areas where drilling has been accelerating. Seismologists and academics doubt that fracking itself has caused the quakes. "The fracturing process is not causing the problems that are perceived by the public," says David B. Burnett, director of technology at Texas A&M University's Energy Institute. He also says the wider or deeper fractures that result from super fracking won't create bigger environmental problems. "No change in fracturing technology would change that," he says.

However, a 2010 study by seismologists at Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas at Austin found that the injection underground of wastewater from the wells may be affecting subterranean pressures in the rock, triggering tremors. Says Amy Mall, senior policy analyst at the National Resources Defense Council: "Just like any other type of fracking, we need a lot more independent scientific data and research to understand the risks and how best to prevent them." Yet as long as high oil prices create big profit incentives to pursue extraction techniques beyond conventional drilling, energy companies likely will continue to explore ways to squeeze money from rocks.

Like Fracking? You'll Love 'Super Fracking'

meanwhile ….

This is a story about water, the land surrounding it, and the lives it sustains. Clean water should be a right: there is no life without it. New York is what you might call a “water state.” Its rivers and their tributaries only start with the St. Lawrence, the Hudson, the Delaware, and the Susquehanna. The best known of its lakes are Great Lakes Erie and Ontario, Lake George, and the Finger Lakes. Its brooks, creeks, and trout streams are fishermen’s lore.

Far below this rippling wealth there’s a vast, rocky netherworld called the Marcellus Shale. Stretching through southern New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, the shale contains bubbles of methane, the remains of life that died 400 million years ago. Gas corporations have lusted for the methane in the Marcellus since at least 1967 when one of them plotted with the Atomic Energy Agency to explode a nuclear bomb to unleash it. That idea died, but it’s been reborn in the form of a technology invented by Halliburton Corporation: high-volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing -- “fracking” for short.

Fracking uses prodigious amounts of water laced with sand and a startling menu of poisonous chemicals to blast the methane out of the shale. At hyperbaric bomb-like pressures, this technology propels five to seven million gallons of sand-and-chemical-laced water a mile or so down a well bore into the shale.

Up comes the methane -- along with about a million gallons of wastewater containing the original fracking chemicals and other substances that were also in the shale, among them radioactive elements and carcinogens. There are 400,000 such wells in the United States. Surrounded by rumbling machinery, serviced by tens of thousands of diesel trucks, this nightmare technology for energy release has turned rural areas in 34 U.S. states into toxic industrial zones.

Shale gas isn’t the conventional kind that lit your grandmother’s stove. It’s one of those “extreme energy” forms so difficult to produce that merely accessing them poses unprecedented dangers to the planet. In every fracking state but New York, where a moratorium against the process has been in effect since 2010, the gas industry has contaminated ground water, sickened people, poisoned livestock, and killed wildlife.

At a time when the International Energy Agency reports that we have five more years of fossil-fuel use at current levels before the planet goes into irreversible climate change, fracking has a greenhouse gas footprint larger than that of coal. And with the greatest water crisis in human history underway, fracking injects mind-numbing quantities of purposely-poisoned fresh water into the Earth. As for the trillions (repeat: trillions) of gallons of wastewater generated by the industry, getting rid of it is its own story. Fracking has also been linked to earthquakes: eleven in Ohio alone (normally not an earthquake zone) over the past year.

But for once, this story isn’t about tragedy. It’s about a resistance movement that has arisen to challenge some of the most powerful corporations in history. Here you will find no handsomely funded national environmental organizations: some of them in fact have had a cozy relationship with the gas industry, embracing the industry’s line that natural gas is a “bridge” to future alternative energies. (In fact, shale gas suppresses the development of renewable energies.)

New York’s “Little Revolution”

While most anti-fracking activists have been responding to harms already done, New York State’s resistance has been waging a battle to keep harm at bay. Jack Ossont, a former helicopter pilot, has been active all his life in the state’s environmental and social battles. He calls fracking “the tsunami issue of New York. It washes across the entire landscape.”

Sandra Steingraber, a biologist and scholar-in-residence at Ithaca College, terms the movement “the biggest since abolition and women’s rights in New York.” This past November, when the Heinz Foundation awarded Steingraber $100,000 for her environmental activism, she gave it to the anti-fracking community.

Arriving in the state last October, I discovered a sprawl of loosely connected, grassroots groups whose names announce their counties and their long-term vision: Sustainable Otsego, Committee to Preserve the Finger Lakes, Chenango Community Action for Renewable Energy, Gas-Free Seneca, Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy, Catskill Mountainkeeper. Of these few (there are many more), only the last has a paid staff. All the others are run by volunteers.

“There are so many people working quietly behind the scenes. They’re not in the news, they’re not doing it to get their names in the paper. It’s just the right thing to do,” says Kelly Branigan, co-founder of the group Middlefield Neighbors. Her organization helped spearhead one of the movement’s central campaigns: using local zoning ordinances to ban fracking. “In Middlefield, we’re nothing special. We’re just regular people who got together and learned, and reached in our pockets to go to work on this. It’s inspiring, it’s awesome, and it’s America -- its own little revolution.”

Consider this, then, an environmental Occupy Wall Street. It knows no divisions of social class or political affiliation. Everyone, after all, needs clean water. Farmers and professors, journalists and teachers, engineers, doctors, biologists, accountants, librarians, innkeepers, brewery owners. Actors and Catskill residents Mark Ruffalo and Debra Winger have joined the movement. Josh Fox, also of the Catskills, has brought the fracking industry and its victims to international audiences through his award-winning documentary film Gasland. “Fracking is a pretty scary prospect,” says Wes Gillingham, planning director for Catskill Mountainkeeper. “It’s created a community of people that wouldn’t have existed before.”

Around four years ago, sheltered by Patterson's stay against fracking, little discussion groups began in people’s kitchens, living rooms, and home basements. At that time, only a few activists were advocating outright bans on fracking: the rest of the fledgling movement was more cautiously advocating temporary moratoria.

Since then a veritable ban cascade has washed across the state. And in local elections last November, scores of anti-fracking candidates, many of whom had never before run for office, displaced pro-gas incumbents in positions as town councilors, town supervisors, and county legislators. As the movement has grown in strength and influence, gas corporations like ExxonMobil and Conoco Philips and Marcellus Shale corporations like Chesapeake Energy have spent millions of dollars on advertising, lobbying, and political campaign contributions to counter it.

Shale Shock

Autumn Stoscheck, a young organic apple farmer from the village of Van Etten just south of New York’s Finger Lakes, had none of this in mind in 2008 when she invited a group of neighbors to her living room to talk about fracking. She’d simply heard enough about the process to be terrified. Like other informal fracking meetings that were being launched that year, this was a “listening group.” Its ground rules: listen, talk, but don’t criticize. “There was a combination of landowners, farmers like us, and young anarchist-activists with experience in other movements,” she told me. Stoscheck’s neighbors knew nothing about fracking, but “they were really mistrustful of the government and large gas corporations and felt they were in collusion.”

Out of such neighborhood groups came the first grassroots anti-fracking organizations. Stoscheck and her colleagues called theirs Shaleshock. One of its first achievements was a PowerPoint presentation, “Drilling 101,” which introduces viewers to the Marcellus Shale and what hydraulic fracturing does to it.

When Helen Slottje, a 44-year-old lawyer, saw “Drilling 101” at a Shaleshock forum in 2009, she was “horrified.” She and her husband David had abandoned their corporate law careers to move to Ithaca in 2000. “We traded corporate law practice in Boston for New York State and less stressful work -- or so we thought. New York's beauty seemed worth it.”

When news reports about fracking started appearing, the Slottjes thought about leaving. “I kept saying, ‘What’ll happen if fracking comes to New York? We’ll have to move.’” “Drilling 101” made her reconsider. Then she visited Dimock, Pennsylvania, 70 miles southeast of Ithaca and that sealed the deal.

By 2009, Dimock, a picturesque rural village, had become synonymous with fracking hell. Houston-based Cabot Oil & Energy had started drilling there the year before. Shortly after, people started to notice that their drinking water had darkened. Some began experiencing bouts of dizziness and headaches; others developed sores after bathing in what had been their once pure water.

For a while, Cabot trucked water to Dimock’s residents, but stopped in November when a judge declined to order the company to continue deliveries. The Environmental Protection Agency was going to start water service to Dimock in the first week of January, but withdrew the offer, claiming further water tests were needed. Outraged New Yorkers organized water caravans to help their besieged neighbors.

“When I went to Dimock,” says Slottje, “I saw well drilling, huge trucks, muddy crisscrossing pipeline paths cutting through the woods, disposal pits, sites of diesel spills, dusty coatings on plants, noisy compressor stations -- you name it. So I decided to put my legal background to work to prevent the same thing from happening where I lived. We’d been corporate lawyers before. We know the sort of resources the energy corporations have. The grassroots people have nothing. And they have this behemoth coming at them.”

In May 2009, the Slottjes became full-time pro bono lawyers for the movement. One of their first services was to reinterpret New York’s constitutional home rule provision, which had allowed local ordinances to trump state laws until 1981. In that year, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation Division of Mineral Resources exempted gas corporations from local restrictions.

“I spent thousands of hours on the research,” says Slottje. “And then last August we were brave enough to go public and say the emperor has no clothes.” The Slottjes’ reinterpretation of the provision was simple enough: the state regulates the gas industry; towns and villages can’t regulate it, but what they can do is keep its operations off their land through the use of zoning ordinances.

Zoning Out Fracking

The town of Ulysses is nestled in the heart of the state’s burgeoning wine country in the Finger Lakes region. In 2010, a grassroots group, Concerned Citizens of Ulysses (CCU), asked the Slottjes to speak with members of the town board, which controls Ulysses’s planning and its zoning laws.

The board members opposed fracking, but couldn’t see how to prevent it. While the board talked with the Slottjes, CCU activists drafted a petition. If enough registered Ulysses voters signed on, the board would have the popular backing it needed for declaring a ban. Ann Furman, a retired schoolteacher who helped found CCU and write the document, recalls, “The petition was pretty specific: ‘We the undersigned want to ban hydrofracking in the town of Ulysses.’” A six-month-long door-to-door campaign followed.

“There was a lot of education going on in Ulysses at the town board and at forums, as we were going house to house. Even people who would sign the petition would say, ‘Tell me a little bit more about it.’ And in that next 15 to 20 minutes you would do a whole lot more education.” In the end, 1,500 out of 3,000 registered voters signed. This past summer the Ulysses town board voted to ban fracking.

Middlefield, 119 miles east of Ulysses and home of the grassroots group Middlefield Neighbors, enacted a similar ban. So did Dryden, 22 miles east of Ulysses. An out-of-state gas corporation that leased land for drilling in Dryden is suing to get the zoning ban declared illegal. A Middlefield landowner is suing that town on the same basis. The cases are pending.

Meanwhile bans proliferate. Six upstate New York counties have zoned out fracking, including Binghamton, which declared a ban in December. An organic brewery in Cooperstown, the Ommegang, mobilized 300 other businesses, including Cooperstown’s Chamber of Commerce, to support more bans in the region.

Chefs for the Marcellus, a group headed by Food Network star Mario Batali, has urged Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban fracking at the state level. “Call it home-rule democracy,” says Adrian Kuzminsky, chair of the Cooperstown-based organization Sustainable Otsego. “If local communities can seize control over their destinies, a giant step will have been taken toward a sustainable future.”

This past October, activists were preparing to take on the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). That agency finds itself caught in a perpetual conflict of interest: on the one hand, protecting the environment; on the other, regulating the industries that exploit it. In fact, the 1981 legislation exempting gas corporations from New York’s home rule had been written by Greg Sovas, then head of DEC’s Division of Mineral Resources.

Guidelines for the hydraulic fracturing industry were first issued by the department in late 2009 and rejected in 2010 under withering public criticism. Then-Governor David Paterson declared a moratorium on fracking in the state pending DEC revisions. Revised guidelines appeared this past September in the form of 1,537 mind-numbing pages bearing the title, “Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement,” aka the “SGEIS.”

A World of Water

In study groups and online tutorials, activists prepared to write letters of commentary and protest to the Department of Environmental Conservation and Governor Cuomo, and to speak out in public hearings the department was organizing around the state. Thousands attended these. Pro-gas speakers predictably stuck to the twin themes of the jobs fracking would produce and the economic renewal it would bring about.

Opponents included an impressive line up of scientists (among them Robert Howarth, co-author of last year’s landmark Cornell University study, which established the staggering greenhouse-gas footprint of fracking), engineers, lawyers, and other professionals. A letter sent to Cuomo by 250 New York State physicians and medical professionals deplored the DEC’s failure to attend to the public health impacts of fracking.

Part-time Cooperstown resident James “Chip” Northrup, a retired manager for Atlantic Richfield (ARCO, America’s seventh largest oil corporation), in one public agency hearing called the performances of pro-gas speakers “disgraceful” and the SGEIS “junk science.” Citing an industry study that shows 25% of frack wells leak after five years and 40% after eight, he said, “Everybody in the industry knows that gas drilling pollutes groundwater… It’s not... whether they leak. It’s how much.”

As 2012 began, the movement was demanding that the department withdraw the SGEIS. In mid-January, DEC spokesperson Lisa King said that once all the comments are tallied, “We expect the total to be more than 40,000.” Earlier, agency officials had told the New York Times they didn’t know of any other issue that had received even 1,000 comments. (Ten thousand letters were mailed from the Catskills’ Sullivan County alone on January 11th, just before the commentary deadline.) Gannett’s Albany Bureau has reported that anti-drilling submissions outnumber those of drilling supporters by at least ten to one.

Sustainable Otsego’s website lists 52 serious and fatal flaws in the document. A letter posted at the website of Toxics Targeting, an environmental database service in Ithaca, elaborately details 17 major SGEIS flaws. By January 10th, when the Toxics Targeting letter was sent to the DEC and the Governor, it had more than 22,000 signatures representing government officials, professional and civic organizations, and individuals. (The DEC counts this letter with its signatures as only one of the 40,000 comments.)

At a November 17th rally in Trenton, New Jersey, to celebrate the postponement of a vote on allowing fracking in the Delaware River Basin, Pennsylvania and New York activists pledged future civil disobedience. “The broad coalition of anti-frackers has been operating on multi-levels all at once,” says Sustainable Otsego’s chair, Adrian Kuzminsky. If the governor approves the SGEIS “there will be massive disillusionment with the state government and Cuomo, and from what I'm hearing there will be ‘direct action’ and civil disobedience in some quarters.”

At the moment, in fact, the anti-fracking movement in the state only seems to be ramping up. Should the government approve the SGEIS in its current form, lawsuits are planned against the Department of Environmental Conservation. And a brief “Occupy DEC” event that took place in the state capital, Albany, on January 12th may have set the tone for the future. Meanwhile some activists, turning their backs on established channels, are already working on legislation that would criminalize fracking.

This past November, Sandra Steingraber told a crowd of hundreds of activists why she was donating her $100,000 Heinz Award to the movement. The money, she said, “enables speech, emboldens activism, and recognizes that true security for our children lies in preserving the... ecology of our planet.”

She raised a jar of water. “This is what my kids are made of. They are made of water. They are made of the food that is grown in the county that I live in. And they are made of air. We inhale a pint of atmosphere with every breath we take... And when you poison these things, you poison us. That is a violation of our human rights, and that is why this is the civil rights issue of our day.”

Ellen Cantarow’s work on Israel/Palestine has been widely published for over 30 years. Her long-time concern with climate change has led her to explore, at TomDispatch, the global depredations of oil and gas corporations. Many thanks to Robert Boyle, sometimes called “the father of environmentalism on the Hudson,” for sharing his expertise for this article.

Shale Shocked - Fracking Gets Its Own Occupy Movement

leaky futures .....

Greenhouse gases are leaking from some US gas drilling sites at up to double the expected amounts, raising questions over the use of gas as a low-emissions fuel, according to researchers from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The report has implications for Australia's coal seam gas industry, which is marketing itself as a source of clean energy.

The industry body, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, said that, regardless of how coal seam gas emissions were calculated, they would all ultimately be accounted for under the federal government's carbon price plan.

The US researchers calculated that about 4 per cent of the gas being extracted at a Colorado shale gas field was escaping as methane, a highly potent heat-trapping gas that is accelerating global warming. The gas industry in the US has argued that not more than 2 per cent of the gas brought up by drilling escapes into the atmosphere.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists stumbled upon the findings during an air monitoring experiment, when unusual levels of methane were detected and traced back to the gasfield.

''Our analysis suggests that the emissions of the [methane] we measured are most likely underestimated in current inventories and that the uncertainties attached to these estimates can be as high as a factor of two,'' said their report, which is published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Geophysical Research.

Small extra amounts of methane can make significant differences to climate change because it is up to 100 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

It also has a shorter life span than carbon dioxide, meaning that most of the warming effect of gas released today is concentrated into the next two decades, a crucial period for avoiding future tipping points into dangerously rapid climate change.

The study comes in the middle of a global boom in gas extraction and fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, that has resulted in an increase in the use of gas fuel in many countries.

The Greens seized on the US research to argue that similar studies should be done in Australia to find out if greenhouse emissions from the coal seam gas industry were as low as the industry has said.

"The coal seam gas industry's claims to be better for the climate than coal are increasingly being called into question by the evidence," Senator Christine Milne said.

"Given these results from field measurements in the USA, it's no wonder the industry in Queensland, NSW and across Australia is fighting hard to stop credible measurements of its performance being done.''

The chief operating officer of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, Rick Wilkinson, said in a statement that ''irrespective of the credibility or accuracy of the report in question, the important thing to note is that unlike the American industry, Australian gas producers will very shortly have a carbon pricing scheme that requires they pay for all emissions and provides an even greater incentive to reduce emissions."

The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency has previously told the Herald that it monitors scientific developments in the measurement of greenhouse gas emissions and would update its accounting methods if required.

New study Dirties Coal Seam Gas Image

on the putskirts of town .....

from Crikey …..

Deep impact from Queensland's long pipeline of projects


Whistleblower Simone Marsh is to be commended for bringing into question the environmental impact assessment scheme in Queensland, which is supporting the headlong development of more than $70 billion in mines, railways, pipelines and port developments.

Common sense would dictate an environmental impact statement into a proposed mine or development would be undertaken to assess whether or not the project should proceed -- a basic risk/reward assessment. But the EIS process in Queensland is actually designed to allow projects to go ahead with whatever conditions are necessary to mitigate and minimise the environmental risks.

Farmers in the fertile Felton Valley in Queensland discovered their naivety about the purpose of the EIS when a coal mine and petro-chemical plant were proposed a few years ago.

"We thought our case would be the first mine to be stopped by an EIS," farmer and former president of Friends of Felton Rob McCreath told Crikey. But local residents were shocked to discover no coal mine in Queensland has ever been stopped by an EIS and their prime food-producing farmland was not protected.

"The mining companies draft the EIS terms of reference and employ consultants to write the EIS and, when it's approved, the company monitors itself," he said. "It's totally rotten. It pretends to be a process to decide if projects should go ahead or not. But it isn't."

Mines and other developments have been awarded approval despite the EIS process, from national parks to at-risk and heritage-listed environments such as the Great Barrier Reef and even in the suburbs of cities, where gas miners are preparing to move in with drill rigs. And Queensland's vast coal deposits, combined with the discovery of methods for mining the coal seam gas in those deposits, has spawned a "gas rush".

ABC's Four Corners this week exposed the pressure on Marsh to assess $38 billion in gas mining projects without having time or the basic data to make a proper assessment. Santos published full-page ads contesting her claims.

At stake now are another 31 significant projects in Queensland that are under EIS assessment. Many of them are very large and complex proposals that risk damage to the Great Artesian Basin from the drilling of thousands of gas wells, and damage to the fragile Queensland coastline bordering the Great Barrier Reef or adjacent islands and the seabed. Projects include: 

·                  LNG Santos gas mine to extend the already approved 2650 gas wells over 6900km2 of gas fields and add a further three gas fields to cover a total of 11,190km2 in the Bowen and Surat Basins

·                  $15 billion Arrow (Shell) LNG plant at Curtis Island near Gladstone

·                  $12 billion twin coal terminals at Hay Point with six rail loops and dredging of 13-15 million m2 of seabed to create up to eight offshore ship births

·                  $8.1 billion Galilee Coal open-cut and underground coal mine near Alpha, and a railway line and new port at Abbot Point near Bowen

·                  $7.1 billion Carmichael Coal mine and rail link north-west of Clermont

·                  Uncosted 60 million tonne/year thermal coal mine 300km west of Mackay

·                  $4.4 billion Gladstone Steel factory to produce 2.5 million tonnes/year near Gladstone

·                  $4.2 billion underground and open-cut Kevin's Corner coal mine to produce 30 million tonnes/year, 160km west of Emerald

·                  $4.2 billion open-cut South Galilee Coal underground coal mine and onsite village, 12km from Alpha

·                  $2.2 billion Yarwun Coal export terminal, 11km from Gladstone, to ship 25 million tonnes/year and potentially expanding to 50 million tonnes/year

·                  $2 billion Central Queensland Integrated rail link from the Galilee Basin to Abbot Point and Hay Point

·                  Uncosted Goonyella to Abbot Point rail line from Moranbah to Abbot Point near Bowen

·                  $1.5 billion open-cut and underground coal mine (Byerwen Coal Project) west of Mackay

·                  $1.5 billion deepwater harbour and six new ship berths; deepening and widening the shipping channels at the Port of Townsville and reclaiming 100ha of the harbour for new berths and bulk cargo storage and a rail loop

·                  a $1.4billion dam near Taroom with a capacity of 888,000 megalitres and a pipeline to Dalby;

·                  $1.25 billion 900MW coal-fired Galilee Basin Power Station near Alpha

·                  $1.2 billion Fitzroy coal export terminal between Rockhampton and Gladstone

·                  $1.12 billion open-cut thermal coal mine at North Surat, 3km from Taroom

·                  $1 billion coal export terminal at Balaclava Island near Gladstone

·                  Uncosted project for widening and deepening of the Cairns shipping channel in Trinity Inlet to accommodate mega-cruise ships

·                  $700 million extension of Acland open-cut coal mine near Toowoomba to 7.5million tonnes/year, almost double the current production

·                  $652 million open-cut thermal coal mine near Wandoan

·                  $500 million underground Wongai Project coking coal mine to produce 1.5 million tonnes/year, a 20km conveyor and export coal terminal beside Cape Melville National Park at Princess Charlotte Bay near Cooktown

·                  $434 million project to extend and build weirs at Eden Bann and Rookwood on the Fitzroy River near Rockhampton

·                  $418 million new runway and air terminal at the Sunshine Coast Airport at Marcoola Beach

·                  $400 million bauxite mine and port at Pisolite Hills, 50km from Weipa on Cape York

·                  $400 million second channel 9km long and 200m wide in the Port of Gladstone to allow two-way shipping

·                  $390 million marina at the Gold Coast with 390 marine berths and 290 dry berths at Harbour Island

·                  $252 million extension at Shute Harbour Marina with 395 berths, a 109-room hotel, commercial precinct and 52-lot housing development

·                  $160 million quarry in Tallebudgera Valley, Gold Coast covering 220ha and producing 2 million tonnes of rock/year

·                  $76 million urban water supply Emu Swamp Dam at Stanthorpe.


Assuming all the proposed significant projects go ahead, it's critical independent monitors be established to identify environmental damage caused by the simultaneous construction of onshore open-cut and underground mines and vast gas fields, pipelines and railway lines, port expansions and excavation of the seabed for shipping lanes and berths in several locations.

Rob McCreath believes the public could have more confidence in the EIS process if companies proposing developments were forced to pay a fee to the government, which then could employ independent scientists to assess projects in the best interests of the public.

As it is, a small army of environmental scientists will be needed to assess the combined environmental affects on wildlife of the current projects and how the developments are likely to affect flora and fauna, surface and underground water, marine environments and greenhouse gas emissions