Fear: The Strategy of Activists

Here are quotations from several sources designed to scare people.

  • “Rapid development of fossil-fuel resources has the potential to transform landscapes and biological communities before the resulting impacts are fully understood.”
  • “The biological impacts of shale energy development are numerous, and include water scarcity, habitat loss, and various forms of pollution that can cross terrestrial and aquatic boundaries, extend beyond the immediate footprint of the operation, and may interact to affect ecosystems in unexpected ways, making cumulative impacts assessment imperative.”
  • “The most rapidly growing source of natural gas in the U.S. [the Marcellus Shale] underlies one of the country’s highest diversity areas for amphibians and freshwater fish.”
  • “The AP found that Pennsylvania received 398 complaints in 2013 alleging that oil or natural gas drilling polluted or otherwise affected private water wells, compared with 499 in 2012.”
  • “Just hearing the total number of complaints shocked Heather McMicken, an eastern Pennsylvania homeowner.”
  • “Natural gas producers have been running roughshod over communities across the country with their extraction and production activities for too long, resulting in contaminated water supplies, dangerous air pollution, destroyed streams, and devastated landscapes.”

This is what you read in the media.

The above quotations are from: a Blog, USA Today, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the same NGO that helped kill nuclear power.

Of course, few, if any, of these scare scenarios have any substance in fact. They are open ended and designed to scare the reader who is otherwise uninformed about fracking, or for that matter, about most energy issues, including global warming.

But, why don’t they have any substance in fact?

It’s essential to understand that in virtually all cases, fracking takes place several thousand feet beneath the water table, with layers of rock between the shale and the water table.

It’s virtually impossible for fracking to contaminate wells and water supplies, or harm biologic communities and fish. It just physically can’t happen when the fracking operation takes place thousands of feet below any lake, river, steam or water source.

There are a few instances where the shale formation is closer to the water table, such as in Arkansas, where it’s only a thousand feet below the water table, and in Wyoming, where the geology is unique.

The scare movies about fracking have shown people lighting water coming from their water faucets, supposedly proof that fracking contaminated wells.

The attached picture was published in the National Geographic Magazine in 1980, long before fracking was common.

Photo from August, 1980 issue of National Geographic Magazine
Photo from August, 1980 issue of National Geographic Magazine

It shows a man in Minnesota lighting the water coming from his well, because naturally occurring methane gas had seeped, naturally, into his well.

This was also the case in Pavilion Wyoming, a widely publicized case where wells had supposedly been contaminated by methane. The EPA couldn’t prove the drillers had contaminated the wells, after two attempts to do so. See, Good News About Fracking  and Fracking Indictment.

Even today, researchers from Stanford University, as reported on August 14, by McClatchy News, are studying Wyoming for evidence that fracking has contaminated water supplies, and they admit they haven’t been able to do so.

This doesn’t mean there can’t be problems associated with drilling.

Note that the complaints from Pennsylvania haven’t been categorized, but merely try to blame fracking.

About 40% of the water used in the fracking operation flows back from the well, and this water is contaminated and should be properly disposed of.

The industry is addressing this issue.

It’s estimated that within five years, 50% of the waste water from Eagle Ford shale operations will be recycled. Marathon, for example, is also developing methods for recycling water In the Bakken.

Have accidents occurred where contaminated water has spilled onto property, or been improperly disposed of? Probably, but the incidents have been rare. The industry is working hard to make certain accidents don’t happen, because the industry knows it can be castigated for any such occurrence.

The NRDC claims there is dangerous air pollution, but that’s because the NRDC believes that all fossil fuels cause global warming. Natural gas is methane, and methane is worse than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.

While some natural gas has leaked into the atmosphere, with no real cause for concern, the real problem has been that drillers have flared excess natural gas that flows with oil from the well, because they had no way of transporting the natural gas from the well site.

Even this problem is being addressed with the advent of equipment to compress or liquify the natural gas at the well site, for use as a fuel for powering engines.

Then, there is the claim of water scarcity in the scare stories.

In many areas there are abundant supplies of water and there is no scarcity. In Texas, where there could be scarcities, only one percent of potable water usage is for fracking.

But even here, the industry is taking steps to limit the use of potable water, such as by reclaiming waste water.

With respect to water usage, more than 50% of the water Marathon uses in the Eagle Ford is considered unsuitable for drinking, agriculture, or livestock. Marathon said, “We’re using water that otherwise wouldn’t be used anywhere else.”

The media, of course, is complicit in the efforts to scare people. Again, as the saying goes, “If it Bleeds, it Leads.”

At best, the media industry is merely trying to sell newspapers, magazines and TV shows … at worst, it’s perpetuating ignorance that harms America.

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