New Cracks in the Frack

Pesky little complaints like pollution, flaming water and abandoned homes continue to cast doubt on the argument that drilling into shale will benefit all.

New Cracks in the Frack
Ask someone like Jon Entine, a science writer for Ethical Corporation, to describe the sort of person who claims hydraulic fracturing presents a pollution nightmare in waiting and you quickly find yourself pummeled with talk-radio invective: "ideological blowhard," "leftist loony" and "upper-middle-class lefties."

But none apply to Fred Mayer.

When a reporter arrives at his 200-year-old farmhouse on a cloudy June day, one of the first things Mayer asks is, "Do you know who Glenn Beck is? You should really listen to him. Now that man knows what he's talking about."

Fred Mayer of Newark Valley, New York, got a $58,200 check from Fortuna Energy — and a kitchen faucet he could light on fire.
Mark Hewko
Fred Mayer of Newark Valley, New York, got a $58,200 check from Fortuna Energy — and a kitchen faucet he could light on fire.
Sharon Wilson moved to rural Wise County, Texas, so her "children would enjoy clean air and clean living." Instead, she ran into Mitchell Energy's fracking operations.
Danny Fulgencio
Sharon Wilson moved to rural Wise County, Texas, so her "children would enjoy clean air and clean living." Instead, she ran into Mitchell Energy's fracking operations.

The 62-year-old Vietnam vet's yard in Newark Valley, New York, is full of patriotic flags. His rotund body is covered in tattoos, with barbed wire wrapped around his thick arms and an Iron Cross on his left fist.

The first time he heard of fracking was in 2008. In the natural-gas drilling process, millions of gallons of water — mixed with sand and more than 596 toxic chemicals — are pumped into shale formations 8,000 feet below ground. The shale is fractured to release the natural gas it holds inside.

Decades ago, Shell Oil attempted to drill on Mayer's property in hopes of retrieving the river of black crude that resides just under the rock formation. "They never were able to do it," he says. "They couldn't get through the rock, so they gave up."

Shell eventually sold its lease to Fortuna Energy. Mayer thought nothing of it until 2008, when his neighbors started getting leasing offers from gas companies that had a new way of drilling that could get through the thick layers of shale just fine. Only this time they were in search of natural gas, often heralded as the greenest fossil fuel.

Mayer gave Fortuna a call, only to find that his father had leased their property for just $4 an acre. Since Dad had passed away, Mayer told Fortuna that the agreement was null and void. Fortuna countered with a new offer: $600 an acre. Mayer soon received a check for $58,200, with a promise of more to come.

But it wasn't long before Mayer received another surprise — this one less pleasant. One morning he turned on his kitchen sink. Instead of water, the tap hissed with gas. Mayer grabbed his lighter and held it to the faucet, watching it burst into flames.

Though Fortuna had yet to drill on his property, the company was already at work six miles to the west. Mayer called the New York Department of Environmental Conservation to file a complaint in January of 2009. His case was assigned to an investigator, though no one actually came out to investigate.

"[Our] staff concluded that the gas in Mr. Mayer's well was naturally occurring and that no investigation was warranted for several reasons," says Emily DeSantis, an agency spokeswoman. Not only was Mayer's residence more than a mile away from the nearest drilling, DeSantis says, but "naturally occurring methane is commonplace throughout the state."

Mayer knew better, of course. His water hadn't become flammable until Fortuna began drilling nearby. More than three years later, he can make every faucet in his house dance with flames. He can't drink from his own tap. Sometimes the gas pressure builds up so much that it'll blast coffee cups from his hands while he does the dishes.

Still, Mayer was less upset by the contamination than he was about not making money from it. About the time he signed his lease, then-­Governor David Paterson watched as drilling devastated neighboring Pennsylvania, where thousands of contamination complaints have been filed. In one incident near Pittsburgh, toxic wastewater ended up in the Monongahela River, leaving 850,000 residents without drinkable water. So Paterson banned fracking in New York.

As Mayer sees it, his water is already contaminated, and he could use his 17 percent cut of Fortuna's drilling profits. According to Public Policy Polling, about half of southern New Yorkers agree, hoping current Governor Andrew Cuomo will lift the ban so they can begin reaping the riches promised by companies like Chesapeake Energy, Range Resources, Cabot and ­Schlumberger.

Phoebe Buckland, a spokeswoman for Talisman, a Canadian company which acquired Fortuna Energy in 2002 and recently renamed it Talisman, had this to say about her company's willingness to address concerns about fracking:

"Our company believes that shale gas is one of the greatest energy opportunities in a generation. We have been listening to concerns and trying to take a lead in developing responsible shale development. We believe it can be and should be developed safely. Earlier this year, we developed our shale principles in response to public concern about the safety of drilling for shale gas. We believe it can be developed safely, and we've created guidelines to mitigate and manage environmental risks to our shale gas development. We try to go above and beyond regulation."

As for the chance that New York might lift its ban, Buckland said a number of New York leases have expired and that her company isn't currently drilling for shale gas because of plummeting natural gas prices. "If they allow shale gas development in New York, Talisman will consider if it can compete against our other projects," she said.

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"Though hydraulic fracturing has been used for over 50 years in Texas, our records do not indicate a single documented contamination case associated with hydraulic fracturing." (Texas Railroad Commission’s Victor Carrillo, 5/29/2009)


You obviously did not do your homework on this one.  First, the additives in fracking fluids are all listed on material data sheets at all drilling locations.  Also, you can go to to see where drilling companies voluntarily post the additives in the drilling fluid. Had you done any research at all you would have also seen Texas Bill HB3328 that REQUIRES A WELL BY WELL POSTING OF ALL FLUIDS USED IN THE FRACKING PROCESS AT EACH AND EVERY WELL. Since you are unable to do proper research before posting an article his is a link to said bill.

Again if you did any research at all you would find that in Pennsylvania The Marcellus Shale falls under eight federal and eleven Pennsylvania acts or laws which regulate the impacts of drilling. Before a well is even drilled, thousands of pages of documentation must be filed and all locations are regularly examined by industry and regulatory inspectors. Again do a little bit of research instead of watching a flawed documentary . Hydraulic fracturing has never been regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Moreover, the Energy Policy Act of 2005 earned the support of nearly three-quarters of the U.S. Senate (74 "yea" votes), including Ken Salazar and then-senator Barack Obama. The safety of hydraulic fracturing is well documented, with zero confirmed cases of groundwater contamination in 1 million applications over 60 years. According to Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Oil and Gas Management director, we’ve never seen an impact to fresh groundwater directly from fracking.



The water being lit is old news. It's happened before fracking was even incorporated and in non-fracking states and towns. I highly suggest watching so we can put this all to rest. This article is obviously slanted.


 @RealFacts You obviously dismiss the possibility of any collusion between government and business on this one. What can I say? If you believe that thousands of pages are produced, read, digested and then acted upon by an objective government regulator (who just might be influenced by campaign contributions and higher-ups), well if you believe that, I guess you can also dismiss the dead fish, flaming faucets and other documented effects of fracking.


 @nervouslaughter Yes, methane has always been present to some degree; I recall some people in KY where I visited attributing occasional fireballs in the holler to divine or malicious spirits. However, I don't recall the gas coming from plumbing inside homes. I guess you could claim too that ice melted before global warming, therefore it's not happening now at more alarming rates.

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