Fracked: The Movie

Gasland has already made a huge splash in the United States, by showing some of the problems with unconventional natural gas extraction. Another film has gotten into the mix, Fracked, which recently played to small audiences in Pennsylvania.

You can watch a trailer and excerpt here.

FRACK! The Movie Trailer from Frack The Movie on Vimeo.


Susquehanna named "Most Endangered River"

This week American Rivers named the Susquehanna River the most endangered river in the United States. Why? Massive unconventional gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. It seems there is no end to bad news in Pennsylvania on gas extraction.

They report:

“Natural gas drilling poses one of the greatest risks our nation’s rivers have faced in decades,” says Andrew Fahlund, senior vice president for conservation at American Rivers. “Without strong regulations, public health and drinking water will be threatened by the toxic, cancer-causing pollution that results from hydraulic fracturing.”

“The Susquehanna is one of the most ancient rivers on Earth. In its current state, it is a far cry from the pristine and primeval watershed that existed only a few centuries ago. The threat posed by the natural gas industry and horizontal hydrofracturing will eclipse the environmental legacy of the lumber and coal-mining industries combined, and as a long-time advocate for the protection of the Susquehanna, I believe we must call for an immediate moratorium on all water withdrawals and all natural gas drilling until the technology and legislation catches up with the desire and need to exploit these fossil-fuel resources,” said Don Williams, Susquehanna River Sentinel.

"Recent problems caused by poorly-regulated gas drilling in Pennsylvania include: ground water pollution in Susquehanna County resulting in loss of a community's drinking water, a blowout in Bradford County that went uncontrolled, allowing toxic fracking chemicals to flow into the Susquehanna, deadly accidents at a gas well site as well as chemical spills, explosions and fires. We call on the Susquehanna River Basin Commission to immediately impose a moratorium on any new drilling in the Susquehanna River Basin, as was done by the Delaware River Basin Commission,” said Jeff Schmidt, Director of the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter. "Until Pennsylvania, the SRBC and the federal government adopt new laws and regulations to fully protect public health and the environment from the dangers of Marcellus Shale gas drilling, no new drilling should be allowed,” Schmidt continued.

Don Williams, who writes at the Susquehanna River Sentinel, was on our show last year. He has long been skeptical of the gas industry and its impact on the Susquehanna, a river has called "a crown jewel." In a recent post, he lamented the Susquehanna River Basin Commission's response to the "Most Endangered" label which it sees as a way of raising awareness but not necessarily scientifically accurate nor enabling better regulation of the river.

Specifically, they respond, "Many in the public who oppose or are very wary of this practice believe the overriding concern relates to the potential impacts to water quality, which falls outside of SRBC’s regulatory responsibilities."

Williams sees things differently. Citing eight instances of water quality in the SRBC's compact, he writes the compact "appears to give the SRBC - at minimum - the opportunity to expand its authority if deemed necessary. I, for one, think it's long overdue."

In our search to understand what should be done with the gas boom, we are going to be exploring what stakeholders across the spectrum think regulation should be.

America's Rivers advocate the following four measures.

  • A moratorium on hydraulic fracturing along the Susquehanna until better protections are in place;
  • Analysis by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) of impacts to clean water, and issuance and enforcement of proper regulations.
  • Removal by Congress of loopholes that have helped the natural gas industry bypass major environmental regulations.
  • Passage by Congress of the FRAC Act of 2011, which calls for regulation of fracking by the Environmental Protection Agency and requires disclosure of the chemicals used in the procedure. The legislation would also repeal a provision added to the Energy Policy Act of 2005 that exempts the natural gas industry from complying with the Safe Drinking Water Act.

What do you think regulations should be?


Petitions, letter campaigns, and more petitions

Concerned citizens across Pennsylvania keep pushing local and state government to slow drilling. One of the more prominent ways have been letter campaigns and petitions.

At least three are on the radar today.

In Indiana County a well-pad has sprung up near the Yellow Creek State Park. It's caused some alarm to people who appreciate the park to push back against well development and request that the Indiana County Commissioners act responsibly. The petition reads:
Marcellus Shale fracking is spreading across PA faster than our current laws and ordinances can keep up. It promises economic development, but there are daily reminders that the process is rife with problems, such as ruining well water for many, and causing an elevation in the levels of harmful bromides in Pennsylvania's waterways. The immediate effects of well failures and spills that release thousands of gallons of toxic waste fluid are also of great concern.

The lack of common sense regulation is clear in the Yellow Creek Conservation Zone where a company started drilling a fracking well without permission. We, the undersigned organizations and individuals believe that the ordinance which regulates the Special Recreation and Conservation Zones is currently not adequate to protect the conservation zones from the potential hazards of deep gas shale fracking. Therefore, we ask that the County Commissioners immediately revise the zoning ordinance to keep deep gas shale fracking outside of the county's conservation zones.
Just a few weeks ago, I drove to Indiana and in the space of a couple of miles I was treated to the joys of sharing the road with a line of Halliburton trucks. In places like Bradford, Tioga, and Clearfield counties these trucks are an overwhelming fact of life with hundreds a day in places.

On the state and regional level some other groups are encouraging other actions. These include PennFuture's work to push the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission to adopt a severance tax. PennEnvironment is urging you to help stop drilling on college campuses.


Seven Questions on Shale Gas Development

I had the fortune of typing up all of the questions that the audience wrote for Dr. Tony Ingraffea last night. There were over thirty and some of them really spoke to some of the issues that we've dealt with on Sustainability Now. So I took the opportunity to take a few of them and put a few of them together and then post them here for us to consider.

1. What are the projected impacts of Utica Shale development?
If you don't know, the Marcellus Shale is only one "unconventional" shale play in Pennsylvania. The Utica Shale is much bigger. It stretches into Quebec and well south of us. It's thousands of feet below Marcellus and holds trillions and trillions more cubic feet of natural gas. Right now, it's not economically viable to get at in Pennsylvania. But my home sits atop and so does my beloved Rothrock State Forest. I have a friendly acquaintance who said, "When I saw the map of the Utica Shale, I felt like an endangered species. It's that big. The impacts will be astronomical.
2. Maybe someone in the audience can explain why Penn State professors are not speaking out on this issue. Is there academic freedom on the issue of gas drilling in Pennsylvania?
This is something of a "myth" as Dr. Ingraffea might call it. There are a lot of prominent people, especially in the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences who are quite pro-gas. Dr. Terry Engelder is the most noticed. However, there are several Penn State faculty who have signed a statement that is yet to be released by PennEnvironment that questions the benefit of Marcellus development. I don't know what the status of that signing statement is but I personally know at least two faculty who are signatories.
3. If Central Pennsylvania gas production all comes to fruition, about how many square miles of wells will exist?
You can track existing impacts at sites like FracTracker and the Nature Conservancy's interactive map.
4. Can you comment on the Duke study released on May 9th?
The research in that article finds evidence that there is "methane contamination of drinking water associated with shale-gas extraction" from the Marcellus and Utica shales. "In active gas-extraction areas (one or more gas wells within 1 km), average and maximum methane concentrations in drinking-water wells increased with proximity to the nearest gas well and were 19.2 and 64 mg methane (n = 26), a potential explosion hazard." At distances beyond 1 km they found no such problems. Importantly, the researchers "found no evidence for contamination of drinking-water samples with deep saline brines or fracturing fluids."

You can read the full article here.
5. Why has science in the US become such a target of hysteria? Can serious policy be developed in such a context?
This question is so important. It is far beyond the scope of this blog to say much about it. But Americans, and particularly conservative Americans (though not exclusively) have real trouble with science and some of the authority it comes to have. There are very serious disputes between segments of the public, politicians, and scientists over a host of things. These include climate change, the theory of evolution, and whether or not immunizations cause autism.

The vast majority of scientists working on climate change recognize that humans burning fossil fuels have forced the climate and are accelerating those climate forcings. Rates, extent, scale, etc. are open to debate. But not the cause. Of course there are people who, for ideological reasons, simply won't believe it. Short term economics are more important so they deny climate change because it's easier than accepting it and still saying economics are more important. Or God wouldn't let it happen so it's something else like sun spots.

How do you construct rational policy in this context? I guess that depends on your definition of rational. If you have to include people's values, attitudes, and beliefs in the calculations of political action, then the rationality of politics in a representative democracy might be fundamentally opposed to the forces of nature and long-term human interest. But they might still be rational.
6. What would responsible development of this resource look like? Can we slow it down?
Dr. Ingraffea spoke to this quite eloquently. At the most basic level, he suggested pressing our elected officials regularly and intelligently. Be organized and effective. Press for regulation. Press for effective restitution for violations. This is a representative democracy right?
7. I am meeting with my state representative next Friday. What 3 things do I need to understand about Marcellus and Utica development to ground my meeting with him?
Note what I said above about regulation, restitution, and pressure. Next Friday May 20th, PennFuture is holding an event with Representative Scott Conklin. I suggest attending. More details pending.

Dr. Ingraffea interview on WPSU

Emily Reddy of WPSU interviewed Dr. Anthony Ingraffea yesterday in light of his presentation on Shale gas myths and realities. You can listen to it here.

He discusses frack water recycling and whether or not natural gas is really less problematic for climate change. In short, methane (CH4) is a is about 33 times more intense greenhouse gas than CO2 over 100 years and over 100 times over a 20 year period. So much methane (CH4) seems to be lost to the atmosphere in the extraction, production, and transport of natural gas that it might produce more climate forcing than CO2. That runs counter to the notion that natural gas is a "cleaner" fuel. You can learn more about Ingraffea's findings in peer-reviewed literature by reading his most recent research article at this link.

Additionally, as a university person and a believer in the role of public and free education, I was pleased to hear Reddy ask him about university's role in these issues.

What myths and realities do you wonder about regarding shale gas?


Anthony Ingraffea: Development of Natural Gas from Shales: Some Myths and Realities

“Marcellus Shale, Fracking, Fossil Fuels-again”
Tuesday May 10th 7:00 PM
Location: HUB Auditorium
Penn State Campus, University Park, PA
Cornell Professor Anthony Ingraffea
Development of Natural Gas from Shales: Some Myths and Realities
We will evaluate myth and facts concerning some of the more notable issues involved in development of unconventional natural gas wells in shale formations.

Among these are:
  • Such development is a 60-year-old Well-Proven Technology
  • Operators in PA are Recycling 90% or more of their fluid wastes
  • Gas Migration from Faulty Wells is a rare phenomenon

Sponsored by:
Penn State Eco-Action
Sierra Club Moshannon Group


Clearwater Conservancy
Halfmoon Township
Juniata Valley Audubon
Little Juniata River Association
Penn State Center for Sustainability
Rock Ethics Institute
Science, Technology and Society Program
Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited
Sustainability Now Radio
CNET coverage made possible by Halfmoon Township


Pennsylvania gets double whammy on gas drilling

First, the public gives DEP a black eye. Then a neighboring state is taking us to court.

Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection has stepped back from its policy regarding on-site violation. On March 23rd, an internal memo was leaked to the press directing all DEP inspectors to run potential violations by DEP Secretary Michael Krancer. There was an immediate outcry from citizens and local, regional, and environmental organizations. It looks as though that may have played some part in the policy's reversal.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, DEP is saying that Krancer's intent was not clearly stated. Some, like Sierra Club's Jeff Schmidt aren't buying it. The article quotes Schmidt as saying, "I think they never intended for it to be public, therefore they never planned to deal with it if it became public. Now they're coming up with one story after another to change history." Activists in the blogosphere, on Facebook, and Twitter seem to agree. And history now has the recent well blowout in Bradford County.

That threat to public health and the environment have prompted Maryland's attorney general to sue Chesapeake Energy. The attorney general's statement begins as follows:
BALTIMORE, MD ( May 2, 2011) - Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler today announced that he has sent a letter to Chesapeake Energy Corporation and its affiliates, notifying the companies of the State of Maryland's intent to sue for violating the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) and the Clean Water Act (CWA). On April 19, thousands of gallons of fracking fluids were released from a well owned and operated by Chesapeake Energy into Towanda Creek, a tributary of the Susquehanna River, which supplies 45% of the fresh water in the Chesapeake Bay. In his letter, Attorney General Gansler notified the company that at the close of the required 90-day notice period, the State intends to file a citizen suit and seek injunctive relief and civil penalties under RCRA for solid or hazardous waste contamination of soils and ground waters, and the surface waters and sediments of Towanda Creek and the Susquehanna River. The State also intends to seek injunctive relief and civil penalties under the CWA for violation of the CWA's prohibition on unpermitted pollution to waters of the United States.
You can read more about the suit at The Baltimore Sun.

There are now a few high-profile lawsuits in the work. Do you think Maryland is in the right on this?