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.

It doesn't seem to matter that, over the past decade, fracking has left behind a widening trail of health and environmental disasters. Or that research indicates the influx of money and jobs promised by these companies falls far short of their claims. New York landowners still whisper stories of overnight millionaires just over the border.

That's because people are desperate to flee the pressure of another disaster, the one created by the housing crash. The difference is that fracking could imperil more than pocketbooks. There's no shortage of scientists and public health officials who warn that large-scale contamination may leave millions of people without usable water.

Chespeake Energy declined to comment for this story, and Range Resources did not respond to several e-mails and calls.

Fort Worth-area anti-fracking activist Deborah Rogers' investigative work has exposed the fallacy of the economic benefits of fracking. "It was more likely that they were drilling to meet debt service rather than for profitability."
Danny Fulgencio
Fort Worth-area anti-fracking activist Deborah Rogers' investigative work has exposed the fallacy of the economic benefits of fracking. "It was more likely that they were drilling to meet debt service rather than for profitability."
Kevin June was among the residents booted from Riverdale Mobile Home Park near Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, so that Aqua America could build a pumping station that would supply Susquehanna River water to nearby fracking sites.
Mark Hewko
Kevin June was among the residents booted from Riverdale Mobile Home Park near Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, so that Aqua America could build a pumping station that would supply Susquehanna River water to nearby fracking sites.

The natural gas industry has spent $747 million lobbying state and federal officials over the last decade, allowing it to continue drilling in 34 states. Few Americans are any richer. But a whole lot more have horror stories to tell.
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Sharon Wilson is often dismissed as an anti-fracking loony. Range Resources, one of the largest fracking firms in the nation, has even accused her of manufacturing false evidence in a conspiracy to defame the company.

But get Wilson on the phone, and you'll hear the commonsense tones of a Texas woman who just happens to have a blog full of links to disaster stories, some of which she's experienced firsthand.

In 1995, Wilson moved from Fort Worth north to Wise County, where she purchased 42 acres of land. "I gave up a great deal to move to the country, where I thought my children would enjoy clean air and clean living," she says.

Soon after Wilson arrived, so did Mitchell Energy. The company's owner, George Mitchell, had long known that a gold mine of natural gas lay deep beneath the shale that surrounds Fort Worth. He was dead set on getting it out, though geologists told him it was a pipe dream.

Undaunted, he spent 18 years and millions of dollars — with financing from the U.S. Department of Energy — to prove them wrong. By 1998, his company had developed a cocktail of water, sand and chemicals that could break through shale.

The first wells sprouted in 2000. But the onslaught wouldn't begin until 2004, when the Bush administration ruled that fracking "posed no threat to drinking water."

Bush's scientists would later be discredited, of course. You didn't need a doctorate from MIT to know that pumping toxins into the ground presented some sort of danger.

The Bush administration seemed to know this as well. A year later, Vice President Dick Cheney pushed a new energy bill through Congress. It not only exempted fracking from the Safe Drinking Water Act but also allowed drillers like Halliburton to keep the ingredients of their toxic cocktails secret.

The industry was presented with a golden opportunity: It could now harvest the riches buried deep beneath the soil while bearing no responsibility — or public scrutiny — for any damage it left behind.

By 2008, says Wilson, "You couldn't move without running into a well."

She remembers when the well that sits just a half-mile from her home was first drilled. "I can remember waking up one night," she says. "I saw the lights of the rig shining into my house, the sound of the engines and the generators going. The next morning, I woke up and the sky was just brown. It just stunk. It was awful."

Like her neighbors, Wilson received a knock on her door from a landman asking if she'd like to get rich leasing her property. But unlike most of the folks in Wise, Wilson didn't jump. Not because she couldn't use the money, but because "my mother taught me that nothing in life is free."

Instead, she drove to the well pads to see them for herself. That's when she noticed huge pits of putrid-smelling liquid nearby. These were dumping ponds filled with toxic water that was supposed to evaporate into the atmosphere. But they were lined with plastic tarps that often tore, allowing cancer-causing chemicals — like benzene, methanol, formaldehyde, hydrochloric acid, arsenic, barium and lead — to leak into the groundwater. In large doses, they can be lethal. But even lesser exposure can cause birth defects.

Wilson began regularly writing about fracking on her Bluedaze blog. In one post, she writes about a friend who witnessed the driver of a wastewater truck dumping his load into a pasture where cows were grazing. In another, she links to a Fort Worth Star-Telegram article about Wise's 3,998 active wells — and its title for the most polluted air in Texas.

She writes of people who report that their children are passing out in the shower due to gas leaks in their water supply. Others discover their farm animals are losing hair or dying after drinking from contaminated streams.

Wilson chronicles spills into creeks, ponds and rivers, as well as the bright orange flares that would light up the night sky, thanks to companies burning off "economically irrelevant" reserves. Then there are the fatalities here and there, usually workers killed by explosions.

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5 comments
RealFacts
RealFacts

"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)

RealFacts
RealFacts

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 fracfocus.org 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.

http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=82R&Bill=HB3328

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.

 

nervouslaughter
nervouslaughter

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 http://www.truthlandmovie.com so we can put this all to rest. This article is obviously slanted.

Grunwelt
Grunwelt

 @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.

Grunwelt
Grunwelt

 @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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