When you see three mainstream media (Vanity Fair, HBO, and Bloomberg) covering the esoteric practice of hydraulic-fracturing (also know as “fracking”), pay attention. Vanity Fair’s report, A Colossal Fracking Mess; HBO’s report, Gasland; and Bloomberg’s report, Shale Game, all detail the nasty practice of fracking – a process used to release natural gas and oil from the earth.
How nasty is fracking? Watch this amazing video of a homeowner demonstrating one of the toxic side effects of Fracking taking place on land near this man’s home.
This video was posted a year ago, and has had about 130,000 views. Though it took a year for the story to hit the mainstream media – the cats out of the bag.
Burning water is just one of the side effects of fracking. Tests of fracking runoff show presence of benzene, ethylbenzene, toluene, boric acid, monoethanolamine, xylene, diesel-range organics, methanol, formaldehyde, hydrochloric acid, ammonium bisulfite, 2-butoxyethanol, and 5-chloro-2-methyl-4-isothiazotin-3-one. (Recently, in congressional testimony, drilling companies have confirmed the presence of many of these chemicals.) In the Vanity Fair article, Theo Colborn, a noted expert on water issues and endocrine disruptors, said that at least half of the chemicals known to be present in Fracking fluid are toxic; many of them are carcinogens, neurotoxins, endocrine disruptors, and mutagens.
HBO’s Gasland is a detailed journey around America, visiting the various communities where shale gas exploration is having an impact on health and wellbeing of the community. Special attention is given to the Marcellus Shale, which poses high risk to ground water for residents of Pennsylvania and New York. All three reports detail this.
Each well needs 82 tons of assorted chemicals to get it producing. New York has banned shale gas drilling statewide until it adopts new rules. “We firmly believe, based on the best available science and current industry and technological practices, that drilling cannot be permitted in the city’s watershed,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in an April.
While the Vanity Fair and Bloomberg reports provide for gripping reading, Gasland’s use of video and narrative delivers a powerful compelling punch. After watching, I was thinking how grateful I was to not live in any of the numerous communities exposed to the toxic side effects of shale gas exploration.
Dimock Township in Pennsylvania is one of the towns that features in all three reports. The Bloomberg report says:
Victoria Switzer, who moved to Dimock Township, Pennsylvania, to build a $350,000 dream home with her husband, Jimmy, in 2004, had no idea how shale gas would consume her village of 1,400.
She says she found so much methane in her well that her water bubbled like Alka-Seltzer. Neighbor Norma Fiorentino says methane in her well blew an 8-inch-thick (20-centimeter-thick) concrete slab off the top. The $180 bonus Cabot paid to drill on Switzer’s 7.2 acres (2.9 hectares) and the $900 in royalties she gets each month don’t compensate, she says.
To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, “The 10 most terrifying words in the English language are ‘I’m from the oil company an I’m here to help.’”
Transitioning from Fossil Fuels to Renewable Clean Energy
Gas/Oil production is peaking. The easy oil and gas has been consumed. What remains will increasingly be harder to get to and more complicated to extract. Witness the BP Deepwater Horizon debacle in the Gulf. The business of oil/gas extraction will get increasingly messy and rife with political and legal risk.
In 1950 we could produce 100 barrels of oil using the energy of 1 barrel of oil. So the Energy Returned on Energy Invested (ERoEI) was about 100:1. Today that ratio has fallen below 10:1. Similar low ERoEI can be found for other fossil fuels. The chart below shows the ERoEI for various forms of energy. The highest ROI is in wind and solar. This is where we are seeing double-digit growth.
The oil/gas industry has 100 years of inertia propelling it forward. The golden days of fossil fuels are behind us. The industry is a dinosaur now – kept alive by our addiction to fossil fuels. Renewable energy is our future. The faster we can make the transition, the less damage will be done as the beast staggers to its rotten end.
Bryan Walsh, one of my favorite environmental reporters, just published this evenhanded video that looks at some specific examples of toxic fracking related events in Pennsylvania, the heart of east coast gas extraction. The devastating impact on homeowners and communities is tragic.
Fossil fuels – RIP.
Congress Releases Report on Toxic Chemicals Used In Fracking by Jay Kimball