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    Anti-Shale Gas Activists "Study It To Death" Strategy Threatens Natural Gas Development
    By Jon Entine | June 15th 2012 01:26 AM | 18 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s rumored retreat on fracking shows just how powerful an anti-science, fear-based campaign can be. If reports are correct, Cuomo will restrict fracking to a few counties in which gas shale is far below the water table, and allow a veto to localities that are dominated by anti-fracking radicals. It's all in the name of ensuring the safety of drinking water, he purportedly believes--or protecting his political base.

    Cuomo's decision validates the anti-frackers’ “study it to death” strategy. Their goal is to create the illusion that horizontal fracturing pollutes drinking water — even though the Environmental Protection Agency has publicly (if reluctantly) acknowledged that there is not one documented case of such pollution.

    In three places where activists recently launched grandiose scare campaigns — Pavillion, Wyo.; Dimock, Pa., and Parker County, Texas — the EPA reflexively sided with protesters, claiming industry was at fault for polluting groundwater. In each case, it funded expensive studies to prove it — then backtracked when scrupulous scientific research showed fracking did not threaten drinking supplies.

    From a scientific perspective, no reason exists to even suspect unknown health or environmental issues will turn up — because hydraulic fracturing is not new technology. It has been perfected over decades and tweaked in recent years to horizontally access deeply buried shale gas.

    Fracking is basically pressure-pumping soapy water mixed with minute amounts (a fraction of a percent) of chemicals into wells 3,000 feet or more below the surface — far below the water table. (The mix suspends sand particles so they flow into the fissures generated by the enormous pressures, cracking the shale so gas can escape.)

    The mix is then pushed into a holding pool next to the well and disposed of under regulations that have been dramatically tightened. Residue remains, but only at the well depth, far from water supplies.

    Comprehensive restrictions in place in such states as Pennsylvania, and proposed for New York, will further limit potential problems.

    Why, then, do environmental groups demonize fracking?

    Actually, most of them welcomed the shale-gas revolution just a few years ago. The Sierra Club, for one, helped fund a breakthrough study at the Green Design Institute at Carnegie Mellon University that concluded that shale gas is a fantastic, low-carbon replacement fuel for higher-carbon-generating oil and coal.

    But now, abundant natural gas has made the alternative-energy industry economically uncompetitive. That — and the success of dishonest anti-fracking propaganda like the film “Gasland” — prompted an about-face.

    The Sierra Club recently launched a strident campaign, portraying fracking as a “violent process” that “poisons” us. What about the Carnegie study? Forgetaboutit. The group no longer mentions it. Instead, it’s calling for “new research” to document (yet unfound) dangers.

    The EPA appears only happy to oblige. It has already wasted untold millions of taxpayer dollars trying (and failing) to find fracking dangers, but it recently requested $14 million to work with “partners” to “assess [new] questions,” as agency chief Lisa Jackson told Congress. She also wants cash to study the “environmental justice” impacts of fracking on disadvantaged communities.

    That request sparked an understandable rebuke from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska): “That seems to presume there is a [negative] impact,” she noted. “Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to look for such impacts only if you discover there is a link between fracking and contaminated water first?”

    Christopher Portier, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health, announced in late April that the Institute of Medicine would spend millions more to study “whether shale gas drilling poses a threat to public health.” The day of the announcement, he kicked off an all-expenses-paid two-day Washington “roundtable” on the issue, with luminaries from the public-health establishment on hand.

    The CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health announced that it’s launching a worker study — even though the safety challenges are little different than those the natural-gas industry has handled for decades.

    The real goal of the anti-fracking complex? To gum the works.

    In congressional testimony in May, activist Cornell professor Robert Howarth (whose work is funded by the anti-fracking Park Foundation) demanded yet more studies to fill what he calls a “research gap” — and said that fracking be stopped until “experts” (i.e., scientists from the activist community) can “confirm” that it’s not harmful.

    How much money will be wasted studying shale-gas extraction, which has been evaluated for years and shown to be safe?

    The fracking revolution has fueled an energy boom, saving billions of dollars and boosting the fragile economy. New York, in particular, is just plain lucky that we have all these energy reserves.

    But that innovation and economic advantage can be frittered away if ideologues’ scare campaigns prevail.

    Jon Entine is a senior fellow at the Center for Health&Risk Communication and at STATS, both at George Mason University.

    Comments

    MikeCrow
    It's too bad we can't identify all of the people who let the precautionary principle run amuck, and let them experience how the world will be if they successfully shutdown the whatever industry they have targeted, in this case while everyone can enjoy $3/MCD natural gas, they should have to pay $20/MCD. Same with nuclear power, GMO food, life saving medicines, 100 MPG cars, etc, etc.
    Never is a long time.
    Yeah what a tragedy if we lived in balance with our environment. Or if we were forced to pay what things really cost. Or if the freemarket had to function in a true cost economic system.

    Destroying our nation for profit is unpatriotic. Water doesn't just light on fire. The dirty fuel industry dumping everything they got behind this... Don't be so nieve and pretend the immediate financial incentive is worth more then the long term loss to our nation....

    and certainly don't be so intellectual disingenuous as to propose that it probably isn't the fracking that is poisoning the water.

    When you live in a state where every river was poisoned by industrial processes, where Superfund sites like Love Canal are in every county you too would be just a bit doubtful that big commercial interests are perfectly safe to be around. My personal faith is not particularly strengthened when I discover that not only can *I* not see the MSDS paperwork for the fracking chemicals, but neither can the medical community. If it's just soapy water, why the reticence to share the 'trade secret' contents? I'm not anti-science. I'm pro-history. Remember Love Canal. If the ground water gets tainted, who will clean that up, and how? Isn't the groundwater precious and difficult to replace?

    Sen Murkowski's notion that we should simply allow commercial fracking until people get sick is astonishing and very much upside down. It's not her job to protect commercial interests from the concerns of the people, it's her job to protect the people from the concerns of the commercial interests.

    Finally, the third leg of the triad, jobs. There aren't any. The drillers have a contract crew that comes in, drills, cleans up and leaves. The production wells require almost no personnel and therefore, no jobs. The local boys don't drill, the local boys don't operate the production facilities. One or two might get hired as security but that is hardly the job environment that GE, Kodak, Carrier and Xerox provided in their heyday.

    I'm not anti-science. I've seen with my own eyes the damage that big industrial processes have done to the land, the air and the waters of New York. I'm sceptical that the new kid on the block is going to be any better than his predecessors were. And so rather than wait until we prove that fracking has contaminated groundwater and ruined a community, why not make it incumbent upon the drillers to prove that fracking can NOT contaminate the groundwater? Who is more important, the transient drilling company or the people who have lived in the community for generations?

    The anti-frackers might very well be using a fear based campaign. People trusted GE and we got PCBs dumped in the Hudson. People trusted the tanneries and we got a Mohawk devoid of fish. People trusted Hooker Chemical and ended up getting relocated. Why should I trust the gas companies today? '...shown to be safe.' Have they really proved their techniques, chemicals and processes are completely, 100% guaranteed safe? Or is there actually some degree of risk - something I really should be fearing? Is there a 1% chance that I can no longer drink my tap water? 5%? 10%? If you want to talk science, then do so. Put the numbers out there and let the local community decide if (for example) $100,000 a year in tax revenue is worth risking a 1% chance that a spill will force them to buy water elsewhere.

    Dear Non-Scientist Communications Specialist from George Mason University,

    You're not writing science here, you're writing a pro-industry opinion piece.

    The assertion that hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling causes no water pollution is patently false and unscientific. In the study "Methane Contamination of Drinking Water Accompanying Gas-Well Drilling and Hydraulic Fracturing," four scientists, three of whom I know personally, found that 61 of 68 hydraulically fractured, horizontally drilled wells had elevated levels of methane in the water. The scientists write that we don't know what effect elevated levels of methane have on the human body, so we should do a study to find out if that is helpful BEFORE we begin drilling. It's not ideologues calling for more study. It's SCIENTISTS calling for more study.

    If you would like to read more actual science on the issue that was omitted from your "no pollution" industry tag-line repetition, check this out: http://www.pnas.org/content/108/20/8172.

    You cite Richard Howarth as an anti-fracking activist scientist because his research is funded by "an anti-fracking Park Foundation." He was at Duke University in January almost tripping over himself to ask natural gas executives for more money to conduct more scientific research. From what I have personally gathered from the man, there doesn't appear to be much of an agenda behind his science; he just wants more money to do more research on a hot topic, something few scientists ever have the opportunity to do. So get his email and put him in touch with whoever is paying you & other conservative communication specialists to write all these non-scientific pro-industry opinion pieces. (What pro-industry opinion pieces? These: http://www.jonentine.com/).

    My personal view on fracking after speaking with many scientists, engineers, and oil & natural gas executives? It is absolutely physically possible to safely hydraulically fracture and horizontally drill without significantly harming the environment and public health if sufficient safeguards are put in place. However, there is still a great deal of unsettled science that must be figured out first before we begin the conversation about what appropriate health and environmental safeguards look like. One major comprehensive EPA study related to potential water contamination incidents and risks associated with hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling won't be out until 2014. Without more studies like this one and the one related to elevated levels of methane in drinking water, if we start widespread fracking, then we are gambling citizen's health and environmental well-being in an unnecessary and irrational rush to drill. Once we know the risks, then we can avoid them. Until then moving forward under uncertainty that can easily be resolved in 2-3 years by further scientific research is a moral hazard that may well result in innocent people getting hurt.

    That's why it riles me when I read someone at George Mason University who ought to be a CONSERVATIVE give science the beltway brush-aside and tcherry-pick facts to call anyone saying "let's wait for science" a crazy enviro against development. Many of the people against immediate fracking are not enviros: they are conservative landowners in rural areas who want to retain their property rights against state laws written by supposed conservatives that take their property rights away via forced pooling. These landowners, regardless of political affiliations, want a scientific approach that protects their land and their health, and they don't want fracking to happen until the science is settled and risks are fully understood. But, thanks to big governmenr industry hacks like yourself, anybody who favors a slower, low-risk, high-reward, harm minimization approach is "gumming up the works" of the anti-private-property-rights machine you're paid to write for.

    We're going to get to the gas boom, and we're going to be energy independent, but hanging rural people out to dry is not the way to do it.

    Yours Sincerely,

    Rural & Ornery

    The general resistance to fracking comes from the very industry itself and how it acts. It told the public shale reserves were equal throughout a given shale region. This has proved wrong. It told the public there was zero chance of water pollution. This has proved wrong. Shale gas king Chesapeake Energy is in the midst of financial meltdown. The industry, led by Dick Cheney, is exempt from clean water regulations. The industry resisted stating what was in fracking solutions. It enacted a furious land grab for leases then whines and complains natural gas is selling to low after telling the public low natural gas prices are what makes shale gas so great. Now the shale gas industry tells everyone financial gold lies in wet oil infused shale gas not in dry shale gas. The oil and gas industry do not respect the American public and the American public is waking up to this fact.

    Age old saying Mr. Etine, "We are not judged by what we say, only by what we do" and no amount of magical feel good writing is going to change this basic tenant of human nature.

    UvaE
    Cuomo's decision validates the anti-frackers’ “study it to death” strategy. Their goal is to create the illusion that horizontal fracturing pollutes drinking water — even though the Environmental Protection Agency has publicly (if reluctantly) acknowledged that there is not one documented case of such pollution.
    However, the EPA has not exactly jumped to conclusions, one way or the other.
    Here's the EPA plan from Nov 2011 to study the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water. The first report will only be released later this year.

    Although it's possible they won't find anything, I wouldn't consider the study a waste of tax dollars.

    They should have started the investigation earlier.  EPA announced in March 2010 that it would conduct a research study to investigate the potential impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water resources.
    Gerhard Adam
    While the following article is completely unrelated, it illustrates precisely why there is a fundamental distrust of industry and government when it comes to decisions regarding profitability versus public interest.
    Oddly enough, 13 years ago, a government scientist predicted that the toxic-biological-time bomb from mining phosphate was destined to go off. Although alarming, word of the two-headed Brown trout came as no surprise to Dr. A. Dennis Lemly, a research scientist with the U.S. Forest Service, under USDA’s jurisdiction.
    http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/site/toxic-time-bomb-spawned-two-headed-brown-trout-greater-yellowstone-ecosystem
    Unfortunately, experience indicates that if there are problems, then most industry will do their level best to cover them up.  I have never heard of a single instance where something was started and industry voluntarily backed down, saying that it was unsafe or inappropriate [at least if it was profitable].

    So, if this incident, or any others is about science, then let's stop the nonsense and get full transparency on scientific papers and publications.  No more hiding behind pay walls for publications or trade secrets when it comes to public safety or concerns. 

    If, important trade secrets did require protection, then there had better be a lot of oversight and documentation provided by the regulatory agency demonstrating the safety and monitoring of activities. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    Seriously, what is so objectionable about a Cumulative Impact Study? It's all in the name of ensuring the safety of drinking water, right? And what about 100 years from now when the industry "science" protecting our water tables is deteriorating? Future generations will have no one to blame but us.

    Gerhard Adam
    The real goal of the anti-fracking complex? To gum the works.
    I suppose I could ask what the goal of such a comment is too?  In the first place, you couldn't possibly know such a motivation, and in the second, it's simply a thinly veiled attempt to vilify those opposed to fracking.
    How much money will be wasted studying shale-gas extraction, which has been evaluated for years and shown to be safe?
    Again, you can't possibly know that, because the degree to which this is occurring has never been seen before.  So, you can't claim that it has been used for decades and then claim that it is a "revolution" that is promoting growth.
    A pair of university studies that came out over the past few months, one from the University of Texas and the other from Stanford, showed the process of fracking itself doesn't appear to pose a risk to drinking water. The studies found no record of a drinking water supply being contaminated by fracking fluids injected into shale formations several thousand feet below the Earth's surface. But the studies reported that shoddy drilling practices, accidents and poor oversight above ground have led to contaminated water wells.

    "I'm not trying to deny the existence of contamination, but the mechanism by which that contamination occurred is not the hydraulic fracturing mechanism," said Mark Zoback, a geophysics professor at Stanford University who studied this form of drilling for natural gas. He also served on the Energy Department's committee that examined fracking.
    http://www.cnn.com/2012/03/09/us/new-york-fracking/index.html
    It's nice to know that when it comes time to assess safety, the "experts" will be engaged in this kind of hair-splitting argument.  I'm sure that will make a huge difference to those left with contaminated water. 

    Mundus vult decipi
    I'm sorry - but I have to step in here. I am a researcher in public health at a well respected research university - Yale (you may have heard of it?). I have seen first hand the destruction of Marcellus well drilling in southwestern Pennsylvania. Greene county, Washington County, Fayette County, Westmoreland County, it's the same story, over and over and over. Promises of (possible) well meaning young men to put in a "little" well (similar to what folks have had there for generations), drilled in the typical means, using just water and sand, maybe some small pipings, no disruption to their lives. Old fashioned, intelligent farmers sending their pennies to Mitt Romney's campaign, trying to be good Americans, taking pride in sacrificing for American's domestic energy supply, no matter the consequences. They are taken advantage of, and then left in dust by the DEP, the industry, and the government. These are our families and our veterans, our farmers and rural America - and they are unhappy.

    Now, let me explain public health. It was founded by Jon Snow, really, when cities in England began getting sick of cholera and dying. He was the first to use a GIS system to map the sick and find the source. Ironically, it was the water, a well that had become contaminated and was shut down. Now it is our job as public health professionals to figure out what issue is occurring here. People and animals are getting sick. Who know why? But there has been a change in the environment and the health of our people, and we should figure out why. Maybe it's the stress, the noise, and the emotional issues associated with spending your life savings to retire in the county, only to have it rudely interrupted. Maybe it's the water. Maybe it's the air. Maybe it's just fear. Either way, we do have a responsibility to find out what is causing people to be ill, and just like Jon Snow in London, we cannot judge or make conclusions until we have gone down there ourselves.

    Hank
    . I am a researcher in public health at a well respected research university - Yale (you may have heard of it?).
    This is what we call a red flag - for one, invoking your school on a site like this is goofy.  Second, Yale is a good teaching school but hardly a top flight research institution.  Not bad, obviously, but your working there is hardly a trump card in an argument.  The fact that you think it should be says you want to try and argue by authority and that doesn't cut it in America.  Finally, what exactly is a 'researcher in public health'?  Are you an immunologist, an epidemiologist?  What makes you especially qualified to know fracking is dangerous, aside from your cursory knowledge of history?
    Funny you say that actually. Yale is one of the top research institutions (if not one of the best), although not the best teaching school. The school of public health is considered one of the top three public health research programs in the world. Yes, epidemiology. Hence why I invoked the father of epi, Jon Snow. I'm not saying I know it's dangerous, I'm saying there are health issues in areas where there is drilling, and the people in these areas deserve the respect and attention that we give all US citizens. My credentials don't make me valid, but I have visited numerous drilling communities, and I have seen first hand what's going on, and what these people are about. That is where I speak from - first hand, objective, outsider views, validating what people have said. These are not environmental extremists or hippies like they are painted in the media. The people I have met are just parents and grandparents, living on a piece of land, trying to enjoy the time they have left in the world, and they are being taken advantage of. And now they are sick.

    This article is troubling. It's unclear what it's purpose is, although it is clear it attacks the credibility of members of the public and professonals in the science field who call for more study and debate on the use of a technology that's costly and impactful in many ways, including the use of billions of gallons of water and tons of chemicals per year in the U.S.

    The labelling of the quantity of chemicals used in fracking as "minute amounts (a fraction of a percent)" is disturbing and potentially misleading. While it's technically true that in proportion to the millions of gallons of water used, the amount of chemicals present do equal a small percentage of the whole, what's left unsaid in the article is that given the massive amounts of water used in fracking operations, that "fraction of a percent" adds up to tons of chemicals. In one 4 millon gallon fracking operation alone, that "minute" percent of chemicals can total up to 80-330 tons of chemicals. For the overall scale of these operations, in 2010 the EPA estimated 70 to 140 billion gallons of water were used in 35,000 fracking operations in the U.S. ( See: http://www.earthworksaction.org/issues/detail/hydraulic_fracturing_101 ).
    The amount of water (and chemicals) used in fracking operations just in the U.S. each year is equal to what numerous cities would also use in a entire year. So, in essence, these are incredibly large and Significant amounts of water, chemicals, and environmental impacts for the public and scientists to consider, and when necessary, to reconsider and re-evaluate.
    Lastly, the article's focus on criticizing the biases of multiple professionals is confusing and one-sided (given the author's failure to disclose his own biases), and does not seem helpful in furthering public understanding and consideration of the science involved in the scale and impact of this technology.

    "In three places where activists recently launched grandiose scare campaigns — Pavillion, Wyo.; Dimock, Pa., and Parker County, Texas — the EPA reflexively sided with protesters, claiming industry was at fault for polluting groundwater. In each case, it funded expensive studies to prove it — then backtracked when scrupulous scientific research showed fracking did not threaten drinking supplies."

    but the EPA study seems to actually link groundwater contamination to fracking:

    http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/energy/environment/story/2011-1...

    "The EPA's found that compounds likely associated with fracking chemicals had been detected in the groundwater beneath Pavillion, a small community in central Wyoming where residents say their well water reeks of chemicals."

    see also here: http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/03/us-usa-fracking-epa-idUSBRE842...

    Hank
    The problem is that they were linking fracking to contamination without evidence.  Why not blame BPA for earthquakes if jumping on an anti-science bandwagon is all it takes?   A judge had to actually order the EPA to do real testing, not junk science correlation, before it can declare everything fracking.

    Oddly, in the 1970s and 1980s environmentalists were critical of the EPA. Now, all of science (outside the EPA and kooky special interests) is.
    Linking without evidence?

    Interesting. I have not read their report.... it is open for public comment through October and then will go through the peer review process... i suppose the evidence or lack thereof will come out...

    ... but nevertheless, the statement made by Mr. Entine in his original post is misleading at best. It does not appear to me that the EPA has not backtracked from claims of groundwater contamination in the face of science in Pavillion, WY, at least.