Energy In Depth

Fracking

Welcome to DeSmogBlog's portal to our coverage of fracking and the unconventional oil and gas industry. 

Shale Gas Bubble: Bloomberg News Confirms NY Times Finding That Fracking Boom Is a Bust

Image credit: Shutterstock/Complot

As news outlets across America take a more rigorous look at shale gas and fracking issues, it’s encouraging to see how the media coverage is finally starting to cut through the oil industry’s misleading rhetoric to explore the realities of the myth of gas as a viable ‘bridge fuel.’

The gas industry’s loud-mouthed front group, Energy In Depth, repeatedly attacked The New York Times for their excellent Drilling Down series last year, focusing particular ire on journalist Ian Urbina. EID’s penchant for attacking the messenger shows no sign of letting up in 2012, but as other news outlets look more closely, they are not only confirming what the NY Times series found, but also adding additional evidence of the many problems with shale gas development.

The latest effort from Bloomberg News, “Shale Bubble Inflates on Near-Record Prices,” illustrates how the media’s grasp of the unconventional energy industry landscape has evolved and improved in recent months. 

This excellent reporting by Bloomberg confirms many of the facts that The New York Times reported last summer in “Insiders Sound an Alarm Amid a Natural Gas Rush” and “Behind Veneer, Doubt on Future of Natural Gas.”

While many major outlets have covered the myriad environmental and public health risks of fracking and related drilling practices, the NY Times and now Bloomberg have both exposed the fact that the economics of risky and expensive unconventional gas recovery simply don’t match up with industry geologists’ claims of a “nearly limitless” supply.

Investors are increasingly taking notice of the unpredictable nature of this industry and questioning its risky behavior. Is there really as much gas down there as the industry claims? If so, how much is economically recoverable?

EPA Connects Dots Between Groundwater Contamination and Fracking in Wyoming

The tables turned on the gas industry today with the release of a new report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) connecting the dots between fracking and groundwater contamination in the state of Wyoming, located in the hear tof the Niobrara Shale basin.

The report is sure to leave many saying, “Well, duh!” and also asking, “What took them so long?” The perils of fracking for gas in the Niobrara Shale were made famous long ago by Debra Anderson's documenary “Split Estate.” 

Report Comes on Heels of Citizen Action in Dimock, PA

The Wyoming report comes on the heels of a large citizen action involving a water delivery to 12 Dimock, Pennsylvania families, led by “Gasland” Director Josh Fox and actor Mark Ruffalo. The action centered around another case of water contaminated by Cabot Oil and Gas. Cabot was delivering clean drinking water since 2008 to the families after it contaminated their water, but recently, the Pennsylvania DEP ordered that Cabot was no longer responsible for transporting water to these families. 

Put another way, cases of water contamination are nothing “new.” 

In fact, EPA first tied fracking to contaminated underground sources of drinking water in 1987. In a 25-year old investigative report, discovered by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Earthjustice, the EPA outlines how fracking for shale gas contaminated a domestic water well in West Virginia.

More recently, four Duke University scientists released a study in May 2011 linking methane contamination to groundwater on fracking sites.

Smeared But Still Fighting, Cornell's Tony Ingraffea Debunks Gas Industry Myths

Cornell University Professors Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea made waves in April 2011 when they unveiled what is now known simply as the “Cornell Study.”

Published in a peer-reviewed letter in the academic journal Climatic Change Letters, the study revealed that, contrary to the never-ending mythology promulgated by the gas industry, unconventional (“natural”) gas, procured via the infamous hydraulic fracturing (fracking) process, likely emits more greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere during its life cycle than does coal. DeSmogBlog documented the in-depth details of the Cornell Study in our report, “Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate.”

Since the report was published, the Cornell Study has receieved serioius backlash from the gas industry, in particular from Energy in Depth, the industry's go-to front defensive linebackers on all things fracking related. DeSmogBlog revealed earlier this year that Energy in Depth is an industry front group created by many of the largest oil and gas companies, contrary to its preferred “mom and pop” image. 

Dr. Anthony Ingraffea wrote a must-read piece this week for CBC News, “Does the natural gas industry need a new messenger?“ 

In his article, Dr. Ingraffea discusses and debunks many key gas industry myths, which he explained “always have at least a kernel of truth, but you have to listen to the whole story, carefully, not just the kernel.”

“With decades of geopolitical influence and billions of dollars on the table, it is not surprising that the gas industry has perpetuated…myths to keep the public in the dark, regulators at bay, and the wells flowing,” Ingraffea writes.

Let's review four of the myths exploded by Dr. Ingraffea:

Gas Industry Front Group Called Out By RFK Jr Attempts To Spin Facts Yet Again

The oil and gas industry has a long history of resisting public accountability and protective standards, and generally avoiding tough questions about its practices and attacking its critics. Just yesterday, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. wrote a piece in the Huffington Post titled, “The Fracking Industry's War On The New York Times – And The Truth,” about this evasive behavior in the context of the industry’s current embrace of fracked unconventional gas and the many questions about the safety of fracking.

Kennedy (full disclosure - Bobby is my former boss and a good friend) applauded New York Times' reporter Ian Urbina for his investigative efforts in his latest installment titled, “Rush to Drill for Natural Gas Creates Conflicts With Mortgages,” part of the NY Times extensive and ongoing “Drilling Down” series on the numerous perils associated with the rush to drill for gas.

A short recap on what that story found: People have signed over a million oil and gas leases in the past decade, but the leases sometimes let gas companies use their land in environmentally risky ways. Banks are not paying attention and often don’t know about these leases, so they pass along mortgages to investors that carry undisclosed risks, which is analogous to the way that the sub-prime mortgage disaster unfolded. The conflicts between the leases and the mortgage rules are clear, verified and wide-reaching.

Infamous 'Energy in Depth' Front Group Goes on the Attack

As if on cue, the oil and gas industry demonstrated Kennedy’s point, almost instantaneously attacking Urbina, yet again. 

The fracked gas industry’s chief apologists – Energy in Depth (EID)** – which I previously revealed as a front group launched by some of the largest oil companies on the planet (despite its claims to “mom-n-pop” roots), posted a blog titled, “Lenders’ Bagels?,” desperately attempting to divert attention away from legitimate and serious questions raised by Urbina's New York Times story about the way that oil and gas leases impact mortgages. 

The EID piece is noteworthy for a couple reasons: It entirely ducks the very real conflicts that the New York Times highlighted, and it is riddled with factual inaccuracies.

Economic Benefits of Unconventional Gas Drilling Overblown by Industry PR

A new poll suggests that Pennsylvanians are supportive of unconventional gas drilling in their state. Not because it is safe, but because they are convinced the economic benefits outweigh the risks to public health, water supplies and the environment. This kind of reasoning indicates that gas industry rhetoric is having an impact: advertise the benefits, downplay the risks, convince people that you know what you’re doing and there’s nothing to worry about.

And this is just what the industry has done. 

According to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Pennsylvanians are a receptive audience to the extensive public relations campaigns waged by gas interests to confuse the public on the contentious issue of unconventional gas drilling. Between Exxon Mobil’s commercials, Chesapeake Energy’s first-person testimonials from “true Pennsylvanians,” and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association’s billboards lining the highway, industry is leaving no public opinion stone unturned.

President Obama’s Fracking Panel Unmoved By Pennsylvanians’ Water Concerns

On Monday, the Natural Gas Subcommittee, from Energy Department Secretary Stephen Chu’s Energy Advisory Board (SEAB), held its second public meeting.  Around 400 people packed a cramped auditorium at Washington Jefferson College in western Pennsylvania to discuss the effects of hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking) on water supplies, air quality and other threats from the controversial practice.

The crowd split into two camps, those opposing and those supporting the highly contentious drilling method which has spread across Pennsylvania. Fracking opponents argued that fracking is a dangerous and destructive process that must be banned immediately, while those in favour yelled out “drill, baby, drill.”

Given the circumstances it was not surprising that the pro-frackers won the evening. This was due, in large part, to the work of gas industry front-group Energy in Depth who sent out emails to Pennsylvania and New York residents supportive of fracking, offering them airfare, hotels and meals to attend. Tickets to see the Pittsburgh Pirates play the New York Mets were even offered, although later retracted.

Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Our Water, Health and Climate - Report

The United States is at the center of a high profile controversy over the threats posed by unconventional gas drilling, particularly surrounding the industry’s hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling techniques. Amidst the dirty energy industry’s rush to drill the last of America’s dwindling fossil fuel reserves, a growing number of independent scientists, politicians, environmental organizations and impacted citizens are urging the nation’s lawmakers to adopt a more cautious and informed approach to the fracked gas boom.

The oil and gas industry, however, is fighting back against calls for caution, suggesting that it has everything under control – much like it did prior to BP’s offshore drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

In a new report released today, “Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens Water, Health, and Climate,” DeSmogBlog details the concerns that scientists, cancer specialists, ecologists, investigative journalists and others have raised about the unconventional gas boom. Featuring original interviews and unpublicized reports, “Fracking The Future” delves into many of the key issues in the unconventional gas debate.

DeSmogBlog is calling for a nationwide moratorium on fracking, citing the fact that the potential impacts on water, health, and climate appear greater than previously understood. A moratorium is necessary to protect the public while fracking is studied much more thoroughly in order to determine if the risks of this practice outweigh the benefits. 

Gas Industry Working Overtime to Smother Revived FRAC Act Efforts To Rein In Hydraulic Fracturing

Last week, US Senators Robert Casey (D-PA) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) reintroduced legislation to the Senate that would close the oversight gap that the gas industry has taken full advantage of since 2005. The “Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act,” commonly known as the FRAC Act, would close the Halliburton Loophole in Dick Cheney’s infamous 2005 Energy Policy Act, which exempted hydraulic fracturing from the auspices of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

Hydraulic fracturing is used in 90% of all unconventional natural gas wells in the U.S. and involves the injection of millions of gallons of water, sand and dangerous chemicals into the ground. The bill would also require that the natural gas industry publicly disclose the chemicals they use to drill for unconventional gas. These chemicals, including potent cancer-causing agents, are protected as industry trade secrets.

The FRAC Act was originally introduced as a set of twin bills to the House and Senate in 2009 but died in the last session of Congress. According to new supporter Senator Frank Lautenberg, the FRAC Act will give the EPA the necessary backing to, at the very least, properly investigate and assess the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing.

The industry’s aggressive lobbying campaign against the FRAC Act is part of a larger agenda to limit federal oversight of gas drilling. The legal void created by the Energy Policy Act in 2005 essentially crippled the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to properly monitor the boom in gas fracking activity, especially the potentially serious threat to drinking water supplies. A long history of industry pressure on EPA scientists is also present on this issue, leading to the narrowing of scope in the EPA’s investigations and the elimination of critical findings when it comes to certain fracking threats.

Natural Gas Industry Rhetoric Versus Reality

As the recent natural gas industry attacks on the Oscar-nominated documentary Gasland demonstrate, the gas industry is mounting a powerful PR assault against journalists, academics and anyone else who speaks out against the dangers of hydraulic fracturing and other threats to public health and the environment from shale gas development. DeSmogBlog has analyzed some of the common talking points the industry and gas proponents use to try to convince the public and lawmakers that fracking is safe despite real concerns raised by residents living near gas drilling sites, whose experiences reveal a much more controversial situation.

DeSmogBlog extensively reviewed government, academic, industry and public health reports and interviewed the leading hydraulic fracturing experts who challenge the industry claims that hydraulic fracturing does not contaminate drinking water, that the industrial fracking fluids pose no human health risk, that states adequately regulate the industry and that natural gas has a lighter carbon footprint than other fossil fuels like oil and coal.

Below are ten of the most commonly repeated claims by the industry about the ‘safety’ of hydraulic fracturing and unconventional natural gas development, along with extensive evidence showing their claims are pure rhetoric, and not reality.

Pages

Subscribe to Energy In Depth