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.

People from around Texas and as far away as Colorado, Wyoming and Pennsylvania began contacting her with horror stories of their own, begging Wilson to post home videos of their own flaming faucets and dying animals, including Steven Lipsky, a Texas homeowner we wrote about in April. ["Fire in the Hole" by Brantley Hargrove, April 26, 2012.]

Lipsky had confirmation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that fracking had left his water laced with benzene, which is capable of causing both cancer and birth defects. The danger had forced his family to evacuate their home.

After Wilson posted video of his combustible faucet, Lipsky sued Range Resources for poisoning his water. He also asked the Texas Railroad Commission, which oversees environmental issues in the state, to back the feds' finding.

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.

Range Resources knew that if Lipsky won, thousands of homeowners would set upon the industry, seeking restitution for poisoned land. So it hired the best scientists money could buy — in this case, Harvard and MIT grads as well as Halliburton's experts. Then it took its case to a Railroad Commission already stacked in its ­favor.

As our previous story detailed, nearly every member hearing the case had a financial interest in Range or one of its subsidiaries.

The Railroad Commission ruled that the EPA was wrong, asserting that the gas was naturally occurring. This caused the feds to backpedal as well.

In the end, Lipsky not only lost his case but Range countersued him, claiming that he was part of a conspiracy to defame the company by providing a "misleading" video and falsehoods to the press. Wilson was named as a co-­conspirator.

"It's such bullshit," she says. "All [Lipsky] did is send me a video, and it was over a month after the EPA made their ruling. Like most of the blog, I'm just linking to stuff that's already out there. This is how insane and aggressive this company is...Industry can go on and say never once has there been a case where it has been proven, blah, blah, blah. But on the ground, we know better. We know that when they frack, our water gets contaminated."

Where the science of fracking is concerned, engineer Tony Ingraffea and geologist Terry Engelder agree on almost everything except this: "Tony thinks fracking should stop, and I don't," says Engelder, the Penn State geologist credited with discovering the state's potential for fracking. "I believe that economic health has to come before environmental health is worked out. Tony is arguing for environmental health at any cost."

In 2006, Dominion Exploration and Production contacted Engelder, asking whether extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, which runs from Ohio to Maryland, would be worth its time. Engelder's calculations revealed that nearly 50 trillion cubic feet of fuel lay beneath the ground, making it the largest deposit in the country. "I kept looking at that number, thinking to myself, 'Merry Christmas, America,'" Engelder says.

But almost as soon as the fracking boom began in Pennsylvania, so did the disasters. The worst occurred in Dimock, a small town of 1,400 residents. In 2008, Cabot Oil & Gas began leasing land from residents. Even those who refused were told that gas would be extracted from under their land anyway, since Pennsylvania law allowed for drillers to capture gas from nearby properties.

Soon, residents complained that their water had turned brown. Nearby creeks ran bright red with contaminants. Families reported that their children were passing out in the shower. Livestock was dying.

Nearly 8,000 gallons of Halliburton-made "fracking fluid" leaked from faulty supply pipes, making its way into streams and killing off fish.

Though Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection fined Cabot $360,000 for contaminating Dimock's water and failing to fix leaks, the federal EPA ruled in May that Dimock's drinking water was safe. The state, meanwhile, continues to insist that fracking isn't hazardous. "There has never been any evidence of fracking ever causing direct contamination of fresh groundwater in Pennsylvania or anywhere else," the DEP's Scott Perry once announced.

But while environmental regulators continue to see no evil, Cornell University engineer Ingraffea is just as vigorous in warning of the dangers. "Four years later, the industry is still trying to figure out what to do with their crap," he says. "Bad things happened. And bad things continue to happen."

His biggest beef is with the industry's misinformation campaign. Despite all evidence to the contrary, gas companies claim that it's impossible for fracking fluid to come in contact with drinking water.

"They are simply telling downright lies because they think people are stupid, but this is really street-smart stuff," he says.

One of Ingraffea's studies debunked the natural gas industry's claims of being green. Since fracking wells and holding tanks leak up to a trillion cubic feet of methane gas into the atmosphere each year, their greenhouse effects can prove to be even more polluting than burning coal.

The industry responded as it usually does — by paying handsomely to have his findings refuted.

One major study by MIT — "The Future of Natural Gas" — was funded by the American Clean Skies Foundation. The president of that group? None other than Aubrey McClendon, CEO of Chesapeake Energy, the second-largest producer of natural gas.

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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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