I thought I would take time this week to discuss the red herrings that have been used to divert our attention from the important things going on in the Marcellus Shale and hydraulic fracturing in particular. As you know, the definition of "red herring" is something used to divert attention from a person or organization's actual goals.
The Gasland fiction that premiered last week was effectively debunked here and on a number of web sites YET I did not see this once in the mainstream media or significant electronic media outlets. I submitted a Letter to the Editor to the WSJ that I have yet to hear back on regarding these issues.
I will be the first to admit that the water issues related to natural gas development are ones that are complex and require professional attentional to ameliorate. But, the fact that the industry is deluged with a range of false accusations make it nearly impossible to get actual facts in front of the public and stakeholders. So in no particular order, my favorite Marcellus shale red herrings:
- My water well is contaminated with natural gas only after fraccing was done in our area.
Sorry but the PA DEP has studied this extensively and have noted that biogenic natural gas occurs in over 300 private wells throughout the state PRIOR to any Marcellus shale development. This is a non-issue but continues to gain credibility. The wells are thousands of feet below drinking water wells and the gas follows the path of least resistance which will be the well itself. Migration of the gas through the earth into shallow drinking water wells has not been documented in any Marcellus shale drillings.
- My water well is contaminated with frac chemicals.
Again, sorry but the chances of this route of exposure is nearly impossible. First of all, frac fluids are nearly 99.5% water and sand, so any chemicals are in low concentrations. Next the flowback is closely monitored and the water flows into lined pits or frac tanks. The water is then either shipped off-site for disposal OR reused in fracing. In PA and WV it is illegal to land apply frac water thus there can be no 'willful' contamination of drinking water. Accidents do happen but since drilling has begun in PA and WV, there have been only a handful of accounts of frac water accidents and NONE of those cases are currently showing water contamination in the local wells. Further, the contamination found in wells blamed for the frac water are typical industrial pollutants found in wells throughout the region PRIOR to hydraulic fracturing. Items like benzene, toluene, xylene and other organics are often found from leaking underground storage tanks (fuels) and from industrial degreasers.
- Drillers use over 800 chemicals in their frac fluid.
Okay this is where things start getting ridiculous. Over the last 10 years of work in both the Barnett Shale and Marcellus, we have seen no more than a handful of specific compounds in typical frac water, most of them available to anyone (items like salt, polymers and corrosion inhibitors are typically added at low concentrations). The PA DEP in their zeal for disclosure recently sent out an itemized list of compounds that COULD be in frac water but as it turns out this list was a list of any chemical that can be on a drilling site, not really the same. You have heard the saying before, "you are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts." Due to the cost and volume, it actually behooves the driller to minimize chemical use.
- Drilling is using all of our fresh water... we are going to run out.
The last one is my favorite one, in that hydraulic fracturing as an industry type uses less water per day than most large coal fired power plants (for cooling). Further, a city with a population base of 50,000 people actually use more water per day and create more pollution per day than ALL of the drilling in all of the Marcellus states.
As I have stated many times in the past, there are serious water issues related to drilling but there exists a multi-billion dollar industry ready and capable of handling this challenge. Clear and fair regulations are important but the solutions will not come from "blue ribbon panels" or government officials, rather they will come from the industrial water treatment marketplace. It has served you for the last 100 years, and it will continue in the Marcellus Shale.
Until next time...